Stuck

Stuck
Gina Giardina

I was trapped; the noontime feeding-frenzy encircled my car as we all waited for the light to turn green at Airway and Woodman. The smell of gasoline punched its way into my car and I looked around for the culprit who no doubt would have failed those old Ohio emissions tests. It was behind me—an old beat-up pickup truck with a rebel flag framing its license plate.

When I was a child, I spent a good bit of time in Knoxville, Tennessee. My entire family lived within fifteen miles of one another so Thanksgivings, Christmases, and many summer vacations were spent there. Beater trucks parked in front yards, coon hounds running fence lines, and huge families filing into Cracker Barrel after church every Sunday were all scenes I was accustomed to. These scenes play back in my head on occasion, fond memories set to the sound of a Hee-Haw banjo or a Charlie Daniels fiddle.

My Dad, to this day, loves country music—Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. I grew up with these sights and sounds, so my decision to hang a huge rebel flag in my bedroom when I was about twelve years old was simply about identity.

“If the south woulda won, we’d have it made,” I sang, not having a clue about ambiguity.

I proudly wore cowboy boots and bow-lo ties, blasted my favorite twang on my car radio once I was old enough to drive, and even wore a cowboy hat to school. Eli Clare talks about culture and how it lives in and on our bodies in his memoir Exile and Pride: “The body is home, but only if it is understood that place and community and culture borrow deep in our bones.”

“Where did you park your horse?” Coach would ask as I strolled through the hallway on my way to my first period Spanish class at Beavercreek High School—my boots clicketing against the floor.

I don’t think I ever replied with anything other than a smile, but I do wish I would have said something clever like, “Next to your car. Careful you don’t step in anything.”

I could say that comments like Coach’s never bothered me—I was going to be who I was going to be and no one could stop me! But the fact that I recall them just proves that those comments did affect me. Teachers and coaches have so much influence on young lives, and many of them have forgotten that.

Thankfully, I was one hell of a stubborn kid! I still smiled and said hello to passing strangers, many of whom looked at me like I was nuts. At home, my mother and I sat on our front porch swing—talking, rocking with Vince Gill or Reba McIntire, or just listening to the crackle of the ice in our glasses of sweet tea. The negative symbolism of being a southerner was far from my mind until I became an adult. So when I saw that rebel flag on the man’s pickup truck, it struck a nerve.

The stench of it nauseated me, and I prayed that my own symbolism might out-scream the flag’s proclamation. The fact that my rainbow sticker was on the ass of my car suddenly seemed well-planned as I thought, “Kiss it.” But as I glanced at the truck again in my rearview mirror, I saw that no one was in the driver’s seat.

I had bought the car about two months before. Always the type to keep my cars long after they are paid off, I opted for a new small four-door sedan. I was 23 years old, and this was my first new car. As soon as I drove it off the lot, I sped to The Import House in Yellow Springs to find the perfect rainbow sticker—a long thin rainbow bar. I cleaned the bumper, pulled off the white backing, and labeled myself.

My girlfriend at the time did not understand why I would stick something, anything to my nice new car. “Why do you have to share your business with strangers?” she asked.

I didn’t really understand it either, but it had taken me so long to find a community that accepted me, I felt that I needed to proclaim my allegiance, just like all the people who stuck American flags on their cars after 9/11. I felt that if I didn’t state this allegiance, it would mean that I was not proud. It would mean that the others had won. It would mean that I was ashamed.

“I parked my horse right next to your car, asshole! Watch out when its tail rises up!”

The light was still red. My mind raced—Who in the hell was driving that old clunker behind me?

I shifted in my seat and glanced in my side mirror. A scruffy man was walking towards me, sporting a “If the south woulda won” muscle shirt.

The light was still red. The lunch crowd still boxed me in. What had I done? Why was he out of his car? I didn’t think to roll up my window at the time, though I know better now.

The man didn’t say anything until his tattooed arm had reached inside my car and grabbed the collar of my shirt.

“Faggot,” he screamed, his eyes red.

All I could do was try to roll up the window, trapping his arm. So many times I’d heard about hate crimes and thought how I’d be the one to kick everyone’s ass. Those thoughts were nowhere to be found amid my fear.

The light turned green, and I inched forward, his arm still trapped. I would have driven off with him attached to my car, but thankfully, he did move his arm and run back to his truck.

I drove and drove, fearfully aware of everyone in every car around me. I thought about not going back to work. My boss would understand, but I’d have to explain it. I tried hard not to let my personal life into my work because the words teacher and homosexual don’t always harmonize, especially in a military environment. So I went back to work.

The smiles and everyday hugs of my preschoolers eased the remainder of my day. But as soon as I got home, my girlfriend helped me remove the rainbow sticker from the back of my car. I realized that to me, the sticker meant acceptance and pride in a specific group of people. But to others, it was a slap in the face—a shouting defiance of “the norm”—a statement that threatened the “good ole boy” life.

This experience made me think more about symbols and their connotations. It made me realize that although I did not have any desire to inflict harm on someone whose culture was different from my own, I did judge it. The beat-up pickup truck wreaking havoc on the environment—the rebel flag—the muscle shirt—the wording on the front of the shirt. To me, these meant violence and ignorance.

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker with a rebel flag that said, “If my flag offends you, you need a history lesson.”

It did offend me. I’m thankful to that individual for prompting me to dig a little, but it made his ignorance even more clear. That version of the Confederate flag was not even used in the Civil War. The “stars and bars” that represented the southern states actually has red and white stripes and a circle of white stars in the corner.

Yes, it offends me because the flag now seen in popular culture has a meaning far deeper than the pride I felt as a 12-year-old lying on my bed staring up at the emblem that made me feel closer to my family back in Tennessee. Bigots tore the pride from my flag, as if they themselves used a permanent marker to draw the huge X that now reaches across its borders.

As an adult, that symbol and the danger it promotes makes me want to take a big permanent marker and write ROSA PARKS in the middle of it. It makes me want to cut out the letters O-B-A-M-A and make a new flag to be proud of. But I won’t do that. I won’t do that, because yes, I am scared. I am scared of those few remaining “good ole’ boys” that still have gas-guzzling pick-up trucks and gun racks and misdirected anger. I won’t do that for the same reason I took that rainbow sticker off. Fear.

Those sheet-wearing bigots—their proud hatred—that scares the shit out of me. Those bible-thumpin’ judgers—their devotion to personal gain and self-preservation—that scares the shit out of me.

So I will sit quietly in the back of the bus. I will avoid establishments that do not like “my kind.” But while I do that, I will observe. I will learn. I will educate myself so that the layers of grit and grime on my own glasses can be noticed and wiped away. It’s harder to see people with that layer between us. I want to be a better me—a more aware me. Follow or leave. That is your choice.

But me…I will be free.

about the author
Gina Marie Giardina is an English graduate student at Wright State University, with a focus in Composition and Rhetoric. A Technical Writer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, she has been employed by the base for eighteen years. Gina has had two essays published in WSU’s Fogdog Review and various poems published in Stepping Stones Magazine and previous editions of Mock Turtle. Her recent awards include WSU’s 2011 Library Research Award as well as WSU’s 2012 English Department Poetry Contest and 3rd place in the 2011 Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest. She would like to thank her dad (Sam A. Giardina), Dr. Annette Oxindine, Dr. Barry Milligan, Dr. Adrienne Cassel, and Dr. Kelly Zaytoun for all of their encouragement and support.

Shagging Flies

Shagging Flies
Bill Vernon

Thanksgiving day, early afternoon, and I wasn’t happy. Leaning against the Harmon Park backstop, staring at the infield: it was nothing but half-thawed mud. Ice glittered in the depressions at the batters’ box. I felt abused. “I knew it. We can’t play here.”

Behind me, Dad came up with John. “You boys want to sit at home, and let the weather get you down? Let’s work up an appetite for dinner.”

John said, “We’ll get dirty playing here.”

Despite my own angst, I smiled when Dad shook his head in disdain. He turned, motioned with the hand holding two balls for us to follow him, then led us behind the fence out into right field. He stopped on the foul line and pointed the bat in his other hand toward the outfield. “Go on out there. Time to exercise. I’ll hit you some flies.”

John and I trudged with dramatic reluctance through the grass into centerfield. When I figured we were far enough, I turned around to face him.

“You ready?”

“Yeah,” John yelled back.

I put my glove on, not about to give up a good sulk, not after leaving an excellent book on the cozy chair by the fireplace to come here, not with a big football game on television. Damn. Already my toes were damp.

Dad tossed a ball up above his head, grabbed the bat with both hands and swung effortlessly. “Crack!” The ball rose directly between John and me. I ran back but the ball landed 20 feet away.

“Move it!” Dad yelled. “Get some life out there!”

I picked up the ball, turned, and “Crack!” here came the other, right at me. I didn’t even move, just lifted my glove and caught it. I half-heartedly threw one ball, then the other back, but nothing was rolling today. Even though the outfield felt firm underfoot, the ground was wet under the grass, and the grass was thick and tall. It hadn’t been mown since season’s end, three months ago.

In spite of an impulse to go in and get the balls for Dad, I didn’t. He could get some exercise, too. Dad walked a third of the way out to us, picked them up, went back to the foul line, turned around and yelled, “Get the balls to me.” I was glad he didn’t sound mad.

He hit the next one to John, then to me, and we threw the balls back harder. The throws came easier as we warmed up. Our legs loosened up, too, as Dad hit the balls farther to our sides. We ran and felt good doing it. The balls were getting wet, but so what?

“Now call it!” Dad yelled, and hit a short one.

“Mine!” John yelled, running forward. He caught the pop up and threw it back.

Dad deliberately hit the balls between us and ahead of us so we were running to the ball and back into position. A rhythm developed. We took probably 20 hits each that way.

“Over our heads!” I yelled. “We need practice going back.”

Dad put them just over our heads at first, then farther so we had to turn at the crack of the bat to reach them in the air. That spread John and me farther apart, and Dad hit into the gaps between us, to our sides and before us. We called for the balls as we ran, often catching what looked uncatchable. “I didn’t think I could get that one,” I yelled one time.

Dad said, “Never give up on a ball. You don’t know what you can do until you try.”

He hit them as fast as we threw them back. Our aim was to throw the balls back so they stopped at Dad’s feet or bounced up so he could catch them barehanded.

The sun came out as we played. Everything looked better in sunlight. Eventually, though, the glare was low enough to blind John and me if we looked in that direction. By that time, Dad’s hits were shorter and softer. He accidentally hit several grounders as if the bat were too heavy to handle. We ran up and threw them back quickly, afraid Dad would quit if we didn’t. My feet were soaked, and the balls were, too, and both were mud- and grass-stained. But we’d take whatever he’d hit us as long as he’d do it.

John and I both ran forward to get a grounder that ended up just 50 feet from Dad, and he waved for us to keep coming in. “You boys worked up an appetite?”

“I’m hungry,” John said.

“Me, too,” I said.

“Then let’s head home. By the time we get cleaned up, it’ll be time to eat.”

“Are Joan and Frank and the kids coming?” I said.

He nodded. “Besides turkey, we’re having a duck Frank shot last week. And a rabbit. A little bit of each to get a taste of the wild.”

I carried the balls in my gloved hand, John carried the bat, and Dad walked between us with his arms over our shoulders. The three of us sat together in the front seat of the car, John in the middle.

As the motor cranked up, I think I said, “Thanks, Dad.”

I hope I did.

about the author
Bill Vernon’s poems, short stories and non-fiction have appeared in four poetry chapbooks, anthologies and journals, such as APPALACHIAN STORY, HIPPOCAMPUS REVIEW, YANKEE, ALBANY REVIEW, CINCINNATI REVIEW, BLUE UNICORN, THE ARCHER, GRASSLANDS REVIEW, POETRY OHIO: SPECIAL ISSUE OF THE CORNFIELD REVIEW, THE RUNNER, HEMLOCKS AND BALSAMS, and PASSAGES NORTH. Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

More Than a Massage

More Than a Massage:
The Healing Touch of Mary Ann Townsend

Tara Pettit

It’s the 1970s—a time period in which strict limitations and expectations for the “new, professional, working woman” are still in place. Radical was a mother working full time at the office alongside men, abandoning her domestic duties and child-rearing responsibilities for a life as the household bread-winner. Beyond radical and almost incomprehensible was the rare woman diving head first into a career path of her own, pursuing entrepreneurship and dare say, passion, in a field of practice that was largely undefined and unheard of by majority of the western population.

This is the lifestyle Mary Ann Townsend found herself living during this transitional period in history, passionately pursuing a profession that was not only unfamiliar, but wildly misinterpreted and discounted along with other practices considered fringe at the time. However, what was not and could not be casted into society’s imagined cesspool of illegitimate professions and unsubstantial career explorations during those professionally trying times was Mary Ann’s determination, perseverance and overall vision for an emerging practice that today lends itself to immense credibility, bridging the gap between physical and mental well-being.

Mary Ann became a pioneering female figure in the development of massage therapy as a legitimized, certified field of work from the moment it occurred to her to develop a business utilizing these healing services in the Midwest region. Although at the time the idea of massage as a therapeutic outlet was circulating west coast regions like California, as with many revolutionary ideas and practices, the more conservative Midwest lagged behind in the implementation of such novel notions, leaving it up to some of the boldest to familiarize these areas with new streams of thought. So it was with the idea of “massage,” a term that was typically associated with “massage parlors,” or prostitution, and a concept that was hard for the average person at the time to link to medicine, health or therapy.

“Being part of such a revolutionary time for massage has been exciting and very educational,” she says.

Mary Ann did not always know she wanted to be a massage therapist, but she did always know she wanted to work with people. This led her into her initial career as a social worker after she received a degree in social work from Antioch College in Yellow Springs. However, as a rehabilitation counselor, she felt “boxed in” with the old style medical model that was used in the field and realized she could better apply the skills she had developed from her college studies to pursue her interest in more well-rounded and expansive ideas regarding human health.

After connecting with a college friend who shared the same passion for massage therapy, and then continuing on to become certified in the practice, Mary Ann’s vision for establishing a massage therapy business met reality. However, the road to success was trying and the battle to obtain credibility and respect was long and painful. Likewise, because it was not an established profession, materials and necessary facility amendments were hard to find.

“We had to make most of our own equipment, including massage tables and oils. I also had to design and create the layout of the building and after six months we were able to open it to the public. We were literally the first business of this type.”

Once the business was in operation, Mary Ann and her partner quickly realized that massage therapy didn’t even have listings in the business yellow pages. This changed, however, when the owner of the local Yellow Pages became a client of Mary Ann’s and worked with her to create the very first Yellow Page listing for massage, one of the many “firsts” Mary Ann brought to the evolution of professional massaging.

While an official Yellow Page listing evoked a sense of establishment and progress for the business, it actually created whole new obstacles for Mary Ann and her partner to overcome regarding legitimacy and clientele expectations.

“It was a struggle working with male clients who had not transitioned to the understanding that we were not a ‘massage parlor,’ no matter how many ways you told them. You can imagine the kind of calls we received because of this transition that had not happened in people’s minds.”

Furthermore, the idea of massage as a tool for mind-body healing was largely discounted by the general public and became a road block against the overall vision Mary Ann had for her business, which emphasized the connection between our mental and physical state. The ideas were apart of unexplored territory at that time in the medical community, which made it that much more difficult to effectively market such holistic concepts in mainstream culture. Nevertheless, Mary Ann forged ahead, working with her struggles rather than against them in order to learn new strategies to overcome—a mechanism that drove her to achieve and which she had adapted from earlier life experience.

“I had several tragedies in my family that really fueled me to do something creative and pioneering.”

Mary Ann’s business gained even more clientele through repeat referral as her healing methods, combining therapeutic bodywork and mind work, were discovered to be truly effective and even life changing for many of her customers. Mary Ann can attest to the power that her healing touch has had on countless people suffering physical ailments that, through her careful exploration of tensed muscle and bound body tissue reveal deeper internal issues.

“I had come from a family that was not ‘touchy, feely,’ so this was really an opening in my life to have this kind of contact with people and feeling totally comfortable. I became more confident in my skills and the emotional intimacy that can occur as you get to know people and their bodies is pretty connective.”

After 32 years, Mary Ann has become renowned in her profession and has massaged countless bodies, including stars like Frank Sinatra and M.C. Hammer. She has undoubtedly left a legacy in the massage therapy profession, but even more importantly to her, in the lives of some of her closest clients.

“I have met so many wonderful people. Being able to sit at the bedside of dying patients and having that intimacy with them has been very special.”

For Mary Ann, her work has been infinitely more than working out the back kinks. Mary Ann’s massages are about bringing your whole self to the table—physical, mental and emotional- and allowing all three parts, which are naturally connected, to be worked out, kneaded out, by the hands and ears of another human being. She treats each person individually and specifically to their needs, while never valuing one over another.

“I have realized over time that no matter where you travel or who you come into contact with, people basically want the same things in life. I have heard all types of people’s stories and learned about their lives just through conversation and bodywork.”

Humbly, Mary Ann has spent her life, her career, in dedication and service to others. She acknowledges she is fortunate that her passions and interests have aligned with what she has felt called to pursue as her life’s work and that she has been able to utilize struggles she has faced in her life to transform her into the person, the masseuse, she is today.

“I have morphed qualities of myself into something productive and have learned about myself through learning about other people, entering challenging relationships and through the nature of my bodywork. It’s helped me to have faith, live in the moment and pursue mindful living.”

about the author
After fleeing her birthplace of Brookville, Ohio, to immerse herself in the progressive culture of Athens, Ohio, Tara Pettit pursued journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. She broke free from her hometown mold by becoming an impassioned cultural observer and writer. Tara found herself drawn to environmental and social justice reporting and has written for various publications, including the InterActivist, Athens Messenger, Collective for Women, Southeast Ohio, and BookPage. She considers herself a sort of “ramblin’ woman” who dabbles in many different activities and projects, which often lead her to her next literary idea. Currently, Tara is a writing partner with the United Nations, and has been devoting many of her freelance writing projects to her interests in Ayurveda, nature and social justice.

Unexplored Country

Unexplored Country
Ed Davis

G. C. Murphy’s toy department stretched down two long aisles. Bikes, Barbies and bows and arrows; jacks, jump ropes and etch-a-sketches; six-shooters, Bowie knives and Winchesters; lugers and bazookas; scooters and skates galore. That day, for some reason, I ignored them all.

A confirmed cowboys-and-Indians kind of eleven-year-old boy, I have no idea why I wound up staring at model cars. I’d never built one, probably didn’t even know anyone who built them. Surely, I sensed it would test me—and I’d get no help. Did some part of me realize building models was a bonding ritual between fathers and sons, that maybe I was trying to get my dad back?  Did I think that, as soon as I gave up, he’d dash in, his taxi double-parked outside, wearing his maroon corduroy sports coat, his sleek hair Elvised back on his high forehead, mock-punch me on the chin, laugh and assemble it for me while I watched those long, yellowed fingers that manipulated steering wheel, cigarette and coffee cup so skillfully?

Not consciously. The year before, on Christmas Eve, my father got out of jail.  Arrested a few months earlier for non-support, he had been released early because his wife, my mother, had signed some papers my grandparents would not have approved.  Then, while Mom flounced through the apartment singing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” with Brenda Lee on the radio, I waited nervously, wondering which dad would appear: the happy guy smelling like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Aqua Velva who called me “Butch” and covered me with wet kisses; or the mean hillbilly who’d slapped my mom while I begged him to stop?

Neither one showed up, and while Mom had cried almost every day since, I made twice-or-thrice-daily pilgrimages to the local eateries for the greasy hamburgers, Twinkies, Lucky Strikes and Reece cups that took her mind off her absent husband. Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn did it for me. And the occasional gift to myself.

I knew “normal” kids didn’t buy their own Christmas presents, that parents were supposed to know what the kid wanted and get it for him. But my mom and dad never knew. When they had gotten me something, it was always wrong:  cowboy boots so tight they raised blisters in minutes, Davy Crockett buckskins big enough for a kid twice my size, gun-holsters so gaudy they glittered. That’s why I was standing here in the model department looking for something really special to make up for not getting what I’d wanted the day before.

The model department? What the heck was I thinking as I stood there scanning boxes with glossy drawings of biplanes, Hollywood monsters and aircraft carriers?  Who was I trying to impress when I finally chose last year’s classic Stingray? My best friend Pete played with toy soldiers, like me.  Mom shared my comic books, but that’s all.  I must’ve known I was on my own in this unexplored country of classic model cars.

I trudged those long blocks home dreading to confess I’d blown my Christmas bucks on a boondoggle: an impossible puzzle. My heart no doubt froze when I pulled from the box an instruction sheet that was all diagrams, no words. I had five bucks and a ton of desire riding on success (more than I knew or could say) and now it all depended on numbers and drawings, not even a voice on paper to coach me, a kid already dependent on language to survive.

I set to work, spreading trees of tiny plastic parts on the floor of my room. I got down on my knees in the lamp’s glow, five hundred percent focused, trying to make myself worthy of the parent who wasn’t there and ignoring the one who was, as she smoked and sang with Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash in the kitchen. Did I think that, if I solved the puzzle, I was going to provide Dad the very vehicle to get him home, for how could he fail to appear, to say how proud he was his Butch had built the world’s toughest model on his first try?

After two days of non-stop labor, I took the completed Corvette into the kitchen for Mom to admire. Propping up the hood to reveal the gleaming fake-chrome engine, I was boy-proud, son-proud. And my mom, bless her heart, bragged and bragged on me. I wanted her praise to give me back Christmas.  But the light that shone so brightly after her first words quickly dimmed. My eyes burned; the image’s edges seared like an old photo thrown into the fire. My mother’s praise was not enough, not even close. I needed my dad’s; I wanted him to lower himself to eye level with my accomplishment, lift the hood with one black-nailed finger, say something about eight-bangers, torque and pistons; zero to eighty in eight seconds; holding ‘er in the road; getting kicks on Route 66; white-line fever, six days on the road . . . car-talk, man-to-boy talk, contact.

Forty years later, I know I needed a language I would never find in books, no matter how many I read. Now I’ve written my own stories, in which fathers sometimes speak. They curse, fight and joke; some are good, some vicious, some sad, some broken. I hope they’re all real. Though I’ve tried to make my father speak to me, he never has, not really.  So I speak to him, tell him the story of how I grew up without him, half-joking that I “raised” my mom. Yes, I’ve always known he couldn’t stay—things would’ve probably been worse, not better. I’ve faced the fact I was a mama’s boy through and through, an Eddie, not a Butch.

But what if he had shown up and we had taken off in his car—not a ‘Vette, but a Chevy, a Ford, a Dodge—and we’d driven across America, gotten to know each other in close quarters? I would’ve told him everything—about homeless Huck, wise Jim and foolish Tom; about Gunsmoke and Wagon Train; about Mom crying in the dark and me wanting her to stop. Elbow propped on the open window, wind riffling his greased pompadour, a Lucky dangling from his thin lips, he would’ve listened, I know he would’ve, as we tooled down the highway, exploring new country together at seventy-five miles an hour.

about the author
West Virginia native Ed Davis recently retired from teaching writing full time at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He has also taught both fiction and poetry at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, and is the author of the novels I Was So Much Older Then (Disc-Us Books, 2001) and The Measure of Everything (Plain View Press, 2005); four poetry chapbooks, including, most recently, Healing Arts (Pudding House, 2005); and many published stories and poems in anthologies and journals. His unpublished novel Running from Mercy, won the 2010 Hackney Award for the novel, and his poem “Uncle Frank and the Boy” won “Best of Show” in the 2011 poetry contest co-sponsored by Mock Turtle Zine and Antioch Writers’ Workshop. He lives with his wife and cats in the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he writes, bikes, hikes and blogs on literary topics. Please visit him at http://www.davised.com.