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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Two Stories
by Willie Smith

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Special on the Jews

"This is disgusting. Woody - shouldn't you be in your room with your homework?'
     "Now, Hon. Let the boy watch if he wants. This is history. There's a lesson to be learned. This is why we fought the War."
     "It's OK, Mom. I finished it all this afternoon on my paper route."
     We fell silent as jackbooted storm troopers goosestepped across the tube. In overvoice, Walter Cronkite explained the German people knew almost nothing of the camps; despite the involvement of some of their country's largest corporations. They had been told the Jews were simply being relocated. The Jews were told the same. Until the gas gushed out, and there was no longer anybody left alive to hear.
     German civilians appeared hard at work in good clean factories. Housewives cooked strudel over immaculate stoves, while listening to floor-model radios. Other housewives smiled while ironing, sewing or changing diapers - similar radios in the background.
     My own German heritage came to mind. Meager, really. My grandfather - Mom's dad - emigrated when he was eighteen. He died of cancer before I was born. Mom sometimes wondered aloud if maybe the twelve-hour shifts he worked all his life at the boiler plant didn't have something to do with the cancer. He had little schooling. Raised on a farm somewhere in Germany, Mom could never remember. Was largely self-educated. German - his native tongue. Of which Mom never learned a word. Granma was second-generation Scotch-Irish. Mom, as she herself put it, had been raised American.
     Grandpop Schmidt's field glasses currently constituted the most powerful instrument in my arsenal. Mom called them binoculars, but they weren't. The objectives lay in direct lines with the eyepieces. Meaning the device contained no prisms; was thus inferior to what is technically known as binoculars.
     "And yet the fact remains," Cronkite asseverated, as Auschwitz flipped back onto the screen, "that virtually in their own backyards, staggering numbers of Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were being, on a daily basis, ruthlessly slaughtered."
     I thought of the 1864 Indianhead penny I'd sold to Johnny for five bucks. It was from Great-Grandpop Shelton, who had died when Dad was a teenager. It was an heirloom. I wasn't supposed to sell it. Up my spine travelled a tingle. Hoped nobody'd find out.
     Grainy film showed losers in striped pyjamas stacking flat naked corpses.
     On the Indianhead I'd managed to inflate somewhat the value. Coin book listed it as four-fifty. I'd harped on the legibility of the word "LIBERTY" in the Indian's headband. Elevating the coin to virtually mint condition. Worth at least another 75 cents. I let it go for only the extra half dollar because I was in a hurry to liquidate.
     Johnny must've told Jack. Because later in French class, right before the bell rang, Jack yelled across class at me, "Hey, Jew! " And when he got my attention, he sneered, "Heard you made another five today, Jew!"
     Who were the Jews? What - were they all skinny? Are all skinny people Jewish? I'm kinda on the slim side myself.
     Well, no. I knew a Jewish kid once. Bobby, who lived down the street a few years back, till his dad transferred to Fort Lewis - over on the other end of the continent. Bobby was a chunky kid a year older than me. He looked like anybody else. Except he was Jewish, and that made him, well... different. His nose wasn't perfect. And of course some of these people -
     The film cut to a parade of wafer corpses being piled beside ovens...
     - had been fat or medium fat or medium. Before the War. Before Germany went what you might call legally insane. And all Jack meant by Jew - pulling his nose and jeering - was my determination to do anything to scrape together enough dough to buy the telescope. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was letting the ends justify the means, but...
     "This is horrible," Mom muttered. "How on God's earth could anybody have done this?"
     I guess that's what Jack meant. Or did he really think I was... was I...?
     "This is why we fought the War, Hon. We had to put a stop to it."
     OK... I was at least a quarter German. Plus, also from what Mom reported (Granny Schmidt died in a rest home when I was a baby), at least one-quarter Scotch-Irish. Dad, the oldest of twelve kids raised in the Philly slums, knew little about his own roots. He always said he was told the family was English with maybe some German or Polish. Most Jews seemed to come from Germany or Poland. Did Jack know something I didn't - another item my parents hadn't yet seen fit to reveal, or weren't themselves fully aware of?
     I do have a rather large nose...
     And it wasn't just that loudmouth prick Jack. Since the onset of the telescope campaign, over the past couple months, several of the guys had begun to call me Jew.
     "You can trust your car to/The man who wears the star! "the television sang.
     "My God," Dad sighed. "Another stinking ad. The most disgusting invention of modern civilization has got to be the singing commercial!"
     "I'm going upstairs." Mom got to her feet. Turned her wrinkled face on me:
     "Are you sure you want to see the rest of this?"
     Dad frowned. Picked a cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket. Stuck the pill between his lips. Lit it.
     "The big, bright TEXACO star!"
     A handsomely uniformed man with applepie teeth held forth the nozzle from a gasoline pump. Smiled wholesomely.
     Without taking my eyes off the commercial, I reiterated it was OK, the homework was under control. (A joke: I did my homework religiously. Got good grades because I liked to study, to read, to know, to get to the bottom of things. But Mom had tried to leverage me from the tv on the homework issue - I was flipping it right back in her face).
     "Well, if you're sure..." she said uncertainly. Then left the den, muttering maybe she'd do a little extra cleaning in the kitchen. Trudged up the carpeted stairs to the floor above.
     For a split second the screen went blank. Then, from a balcony, Hitler was haranguing the multitudes. Incomprehensible German scratched and barked like a knife and fork cutting steak on a melmac plate. Cronkite narrated: "While Nazi armies rampaged over the map of Europe, hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported from the occupied countries. They were rounded up, crowded into boxcars and routed directly to the death camps. To this day it is unclear exactly how much cooperation was received from the civilian authorities of such nations as France, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Greece and the western republics of the Soviet Union.
     "Gosh," I heard myself mumble, "why does everybody hate the Jews?" Then mentally hit myself -this was something you thought, but didn't say.
     Dad exhaled smoke. I distinctly heard Hitler, on the twenty-year-old film, say: "Ich habe...!"
     Thanks to a library book, I had been teaching myself German on the side. Ich habe meant "I have. " The rest of Hitler's shrieking and growling was lost on me.
     "Not everybody, Son. Your mother and I don't hate them. You'll remember Captain Warshall and his family who lived down the street. During the two years they were stationed in the area, they never caused a problem. I believe you and his son Bobby even played together a few times. Sure - your mother and I both grew up poor in Philadelphia, where many of the Jews were better off than we were. But only people who are sick in the head do all this hating that is fundamentally irrational."
     Anger seemed to be creeping into Dad's voice. "Oh. I see." Best let it go. Dad had a temper. Mom said it was his job made him edgy. He boiled over quick, when things didn't make sense.
     At the front, knee deep in mud, a helmeted Nazi raised to his eyes a pair of... I squinted at the screen... yes: field glasses.
     The advertized cost of the telescope, shipping and handling included, was $200. The sale of the Indianhead boosted me over the hundred dollar mark.
     With the scope - a six-inch Newtonian reflector - I could observe the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's red spot, the Martian polar caps; hunt galaxies and nebulas like the Lagoon in Sagittarius, the Smoke Ring in Lyra, Andromeda in Andromeda. Jewels I'd only read of, whose photographic plates I'd drooled over. All just $95 distant.
     At the end of the month I'd collect a cool twenty-five clams off my paper route. Maybe sell my old Washington Senators baseball cap; now they'd moved to Minnesota, tout it as an antique - slap an extra buck on top.
     Back at Auschwitz, they were ripping off the Jews' clothing, tattooing on their shoulders numbers. This was a bit sickening.
     "Dad," I averted my gaze from the Motorola, "did Captain Warshall make a lot of money?"
     "He was in the Army, Son." He at once grinned and frowned at the tube. "You'll never get rich by diggin' a ditch!"
     Inside my head rang the rest of the jingle: You're in the Army now/You're not behind the plow... I mumbled, "Did he make more than you?" Aware I was on shaky ground - adults don't like money talk.
     "Oh, no," he smoked. "As a GS 10 Civilian Employee, I make almost as much as a full Colonel. Now let's watch the show, Son."
     Hollow-eyed guys in striped pyjamas were being lined up in front of a ditch. The squad shouldered arms. Aimed.
     Into the den drifted a familiar smell. Acrid, sweet, greasy, clean. Smoke issued from the rifles. Like tenpins, into the ditch collapsed Jews.
     If I had Polish blood... silvery taste... not Polish - polish. Mom was upstairs polishing the silverware! The smell - from pink goop used to make the silver shine. Schein is German for "shine" - pronounced the same.
     Had the sight of all these dead Jews brought out Mom's German blood? She was up there making the silver - the essence of money - pure and shiny. Purging it of the least suggestion of Jewishness. Was I secretly a Jew, and was Mom afraid...?
     "Dad," I blurted, "was Grandpop Schmidt an Axis sympathizer?"
     "Don't be ridiculous!" Into the beanbag ashtray on the floor beside the easy chair he stubbed out his butt. "Your mother's father came over to this country well before World War I. He was an American. Like me, he didn't fight in the Second World War - he was too old, I have my bad eyes. But we both contributed to the war effort. I drudged as an entry-level clerk at the Pentagon. Grandpop Schmidt worked even more overtime than usual at that boiler plant up in Philly - making a small fortune in time-and-a-half, I might add... whatever gave you the idea...? Ah nuts, another damn ad!"
     He glared down at his shirt pocket. Breathed heavily, impatiently - fighting the battle against lighting another cigarette.
     "You can trust your car to/The man who wears the star!"
     "We just saw this one!" He yanked up a filter-tip. Popped it into his mouth. Flipped open his lighter. Poised a thumb over the tiny wheel. "Dammit - why must they beat us over the head with this crap!"
     The butter knife - that's what had been lurking in the back of my mind: Grandpop's butter knife! Bet I could sell it to some shop or one of the guys at school for a good $25! Maybe Mom was polishing it this instant, increasing the value as she rubbed. Although just a silver plate utensil, the handle was stamped with the effigy of Kaiser Wilhelm. Grandpop brought it over on the boat. Mom claimed he insisted it always appear at his setting on the table. Grandpop worshipped the Kaiser.
     But I guess, after what Dad just said, it didn't mean anything. Just a quirk. Or if he was Jewish, or part Jewish, maybe that's how he hid it; with feigned loyalty to the presumably Aryan Kaiser.
     "Fill your tank with TEXACO!"
     Mom pronounced it Wilhelm. Vilhelm is correct. But I never pointed it out. Being almost thirteen, I knew when bringing up such details was worthless. Especially with folks like Mom, who failed to complete high school, due to the Great Depression.
     Over the flint Dad scritched the wheel. Sparked fluid and scorched tobacco clashed with silver polish aroma.
     OK - approach an antique store first. Hope to leave the guys out of it. If Jack found out, he'd yell Jew so loud... would violence erupt, me get slugged? Jeez, all I wanted was to find out more about the universe. I'm not the violent type...
     The show returned. "We shall never know," Cronkite intoned, "the precise number of those who perished at the hands of their Nazi butchers. The figure given so often of six million slain can be no more than an estimate."
     Across the screen, assisted by American GI's, skeletons limped from a liberated camp. The camera panned over emaciated corpses littering a barbed wire perimeter. Close-upped on hollow cheek, bugged eye, slack jaw, toothpick neck. Pelvises, ribs, thighbones - visible in stark detail through the skin of the dead. Stacks and stacks of murdered wafers. Slumped against a wall, a swollen skull on a sack of bones - gasping; a fly crawling the orbit of a lidded eye.
     Jude is German for Jew. Was the word once in English pronounced Yew, You and Ewe?
     Dad smoked. Cronkite kept quiet. The camera rolled and rolled.
     I couldn't pull away my eyes. Each corpse, each wafer, each breathing skeleton pleaded for them to stare. A chill swept over my own skin. I felt Mom's bony hand scrub the soaked rag over the heirloom, as though the butter knife were the crazy bone at the tip of my elbow. Another second of such silence, and I would burst like a meteor striking Earth's atmosphere.
     I cleared my throat to say something, anything. Heard myself babble: "If we fought the War because they were killing the Jews, how come we didn't discover they were killing the Jews till after the War?"
     Dad grunted; obviously also hypnotized by the horror inside the tube. "Europeans have a problem, Son. Too many people. Too much history. Too much hate. Not enough logic."
     "Is... greed also, uh, a factor?"
     A starved inmate - beyond revival - appeared to die on camera.
     "Yes, Son."
     The show ended in silence.
     The screen blanked. Then thrust us into a jingle about gasoline.

Image by Burnell Yow and the Digital Exquisite Corpse Project

Looky-Loo from Hell

Jesus drifted down the Tuesday night street. Seedy neighborhood. Couple blocks off Broadway near Pike. He wore an olive drab Army blanket cinctured with a junked electrical cord. Beneath this robe, to matted pubic hair, clung Simon Peter. For no other raiment did the Lord wear.
     He passed the mouth of a tavern. Wandered on. Nobody in there needed saving. Drink helps man suffer. When man suffers - God farts. Feels an infinite sense of relief, as the holy musk wafts over a hell of maggots delirious in excrement.
     The adjoining storefront - squatted conveniently under the block's lone street lamp - housed a pawnshop. Closed, gated, locked. The glitter of Mammon gleamed behind its barred window. Cameras, wedding rings, boomboxes, wrist-watches, electric guitars. Amid the jumble even the odd boomstick - refurbished shotgun, shined-up shot-out deer rifle.
     He encountered next a hole-in-the-wall laundromat. Fluorescent light bathed dingy machines that resembled cells waiting to encase - from the waist down - the damned. Beside one, he glimpsed a fat middle aged beerdrunk folding faded boxers.
     "Cleanliness is next to," Jesus mumbled, sniffing himself, "demonic possession - known as schizophrenia unto the Pharisees." Next minnow schools of thought pondered what those boxers next would be next to. Flashes of striped shorts squeezed around flabby thighs, squirmed toward an oozy foreskin of a flubbery peanut. He struggled to escape this worldly muddle, this skull static...
     Jesus' cogitation settled on the .357. Thank God this was a free country. He was free to think anything. He patted the robe's left breast. He wanted to think about the Smith & Wesson. Carefully about the fully loaded rod he thought. Thus cleansing assiduously his mind. He pushed through the black door into the shop beside the laundromat.
     A plywood partition - three feet beyond the threshhold - allowed him to go only left. His sandaled feet shuffled over the cement floor three yards that way. Then stepped through a beaded curtain into the lefthand corner of a bright-lit space little bigger than a two-car garage.
     Rack upon rack of magazines lined the walls. Up the middle of the store ran shoulder-high shelving crammed with videos for rent. At the far end, perpendicular to the shelving, a makeshift counter stretched the two-car width.
     Behind the counter hunched a muscular youngish man in a black motorcycle jacket. Shaved head, gold earring through one lobe, silver stud in opposite nostril. He seemed to be reading the magazine spread out before him; but his eyes roved stealthily over the handful of customers; brushed the latest to tinkle through the curtain.
     He tongued abstractedly his left eye tooth (a bouncer a decade ago chipped it; a jagged fang he was proud of; refused once to let a jail dentist cap). Rolled eyes back down at the page over which he had been daydreaming.
     Behind the man yet more magazines and videos were tacked display-wise to the recently hung dry wall. The place smelled of sawdust, new paint, fresh nails, old building; plus a hint of animal fetor.
     Halfway up the left aisle Jesus halted. Lifted off the wall - from amidst the riot of gaudy offerings - a random title. Began, like the rest of the engrossed clientele, through pages to flip.
     Layout after layout of stark photos. Full color, scarlet-bordered, minimal text. Sometimes, for many pages, not one single printed word.
     He failed to believe his eyes. Never before had he imagined the existence of such a lot of harlots!
     With growing disgust, dismay and something uglier yet, God's Only Begotten lingered over the organs, the positions, the emissions. Punchdrunkenness set in, as he waded into blow after blow of depraved tableau. Body shots, hooks below the belt, jabs outta nowhere, unexpected kicks. Turning to the centerpiece, he froze with loathing: two sodomites doubly impaling a magdalene.
     The fleshpot crucifixion fired his blood with ice, set on edge God's teeth. Under the robe, riding the local disturbance, Simon Peter shifted grip.
     The Lord lowered hand to groin. Stroked - eyes to the abomination glued - in order to comfort the disciple. One-handedly thumbed to the next page... where the sodomites, in four panels, anointed strumpet bosom with Satanic ectoplasm. Jesus reeled - uncertain he wanted Satan, at this particular moment, behind him.
     What on earth was he doing here? How had this come... this come... come about?
     The signs. Hand lettered on typing paper. The flyers had caught his attention, had guided him. Plastered on the phone poles of Broadway, Pike, Pine, even a couple downtown. "The Cloven Hoof - Devil's own variety of adult material."
     Signs? Verily, challenges - to beard the Evil One in his den. He rubbed beneath the robe his beloved disciple's head. Yea though Beelzebub himself stand nigh, Simon Peter need nothing fear. For when in the presence of the Lord, to be found wanting in faith is the sole terror.
     Simon Peter chewed nervously; but nonetheless dug nails trustingly deeper into his Master's ringlets.
     "Hey!" the skinhead behind the counter yelped. "There's no touching yourself in here!"
     Jesus paged awkwardly forward: three Jezebels sprawled in a circle, licking one another's pudenda. No narration, no caption. He wished to know their names, that he might number them among the damned on the Judgement Roll. He scrutinized faces, leg curves, breast sizes, the least contour of their shames; hoping thereby to recognize each as she rose when The Trumpet sounded.
     Simon Peter inched toward his Master's navel, now increasingly in the loins less room than ever. The right hand of the Lord intensified its efforts to soothe.
     "Look - you in the - what is it - wool blanket: I'm talkin' to your butt!" the clerk, whose name was Hotdog, sneered - becoming fully alert, aware he had a potential problem in the store. "You gonna masturbate, hike up to the park - they got a public toilet."
     The redhead - spread crotch about to receive the brunette's tongue - boasted in the Boat a unique Little Man. At the tip something like a polyp folded in on itself to resemble a pinheadsized sailor cap.
     Jesus was committing this detail to memory, when into another chamber of his Allknowing sank the comprehension he had once again become, in this wicked Creation, a taunt target.
     He interrupted his inspection of the damning evidence. Glared up. (Continued to grope, through the robe, for the confused disciple... pinned the wretch at last at belt level. For his own good. Simon Peter in this crisis needing intervention to maintain faith.)
     Emerging from behind the counter, the clerk turned out to be somewhat squat. The shaved head - mounted on a plump neck - brought to mind the gross magnification of a clitoris ordinaire. A sweat-glistening acorn pinkening with hot blood.
     The monster approached. Poked a finger at the Christ: "Get out, you longhaired scumbag! I got a license to protect - you're 86-ed!"
     Magazines rustled back onto racks. Not-wanting-to-get-involved footsteps swished. At the Lord's back, the curtain clattered with the leaving of all half-dozen customers. Such loyalty doth the Devil inspire. Such comfort provideth he.
     As the Master's wrath rose, the flagpole Simon Peter had been balanced atop wobbled, teetered; then - periscope-like - collapsed. Desperately the disciple scrabbled to anchor forepaws on midriff flesh. But to no avail. For, street person that he was, Jesus ate from the dumpster, and but little, and the skin was spare and taut. Nor did the hand any more offer support. For the Master to his breast had raised it, that the fingers might be closer to the .357.
     Hotdog had been mentally (keeping half an eye on the shop, pretending to read his favorite magazine Guns & Ammo) designing a website. Meditating soundbites. Mulling over remodeling the back room into booths. Dancers bring in big bucks. He knew some gals would gyrate damn near for free.
     He was more than just a clerk. The owner had already upped his wage for the flyer concept. He was an idea man. If he held a college degree, instead of a rap sheet, he would by this time - age 29 - be a Madison Avenue bigwig. Director of Marketing. Chairman of the Board.
     And here now slips in this homeless kook. Beats the bishop in delicto. Scares off the honest dough. Thinks nobody'll notice under stinking wool? Jeez - the bulge; and it's... wiggling?
     Out from the robe, at the feet of Jesus, plopped flat on his back Simon Peter.
     The clerk's stomach quavered. Back he stepped in revulsion. The bum had shit! Sure enough, he smelled it - an extra, added hogo over and above the foul carcass wrapped in threadbare blanket.
     Into his mind crowded Lysol thoughts, swab buckets, latrine detail, the absolute most demeaning aspects of the job.
     Then the brownish rancid mass twitched.
     Hotdog snapped a hand behind his back; under the leather jacket: beneath the belt of his jeans. Grasped the handle. All this while in the process of realizing he had here - as it righted itself and scurried across the cement - not feces, but rat.
     OK - rats. Growing up in bluecollar suburban White Center, he had often, out by the dump, blown away dozens during a single hooky afternoon. Rat after rat gleefully sacrificed on the altar of perversity. Then it had been a mere .22 target pistol. He had never seen the results on a rodent at close range of a .38.
     Gears clashed as hate shifted to fascination. He at once grinned, sweated, gnashed teeth. produced the snubnose. Focussed, fired; missed. Before he could again trigger, not only had the rat vanished under the shelving, but out of the corner of an eye he perceived the bum had trained on him some kinda hog leg.
     In the life of Hotdog no more thoughts appeared. There came only simultaneous muzzle flashes with accompanying roars. His aim was frantic and bad. Jesus', on the other hand, was perfect.

The Lord contemplated the ruined skull on the fresh corpse. Glanced over at the scar on the cement where the clerk's earlier shot had hit. The other miss - whizzed past Christ's shoulder - must've ripped through magazines, metal rack, dry wall; maybe dimpled the inner wall to the lowlife laundromat. In his righteousness of trajectories, he knew the fiend's little gun couldn't've shot clear into the next structure. The beerslob (still over there folding underwear?) was safe; unless otherwise tonight, for his sins called to account.
     Timidly, Simon Peter thrust his nose out into the light, inches below a box labeled ANAL EXTRAVAGANZA. Anthracite eyes myopically sought the sacred foot.
     The Lord replaced the Smith & Wesson under the robe. The warm cylinder nuzzled his left nipple. He noticed, off to the left, flopped open on its spine, the magazine he had dropped - bringing forth the rod.
     Verily, he would know those sluts. His memory, at The Trumpet, would pin them. One more time - from high above - his eyes ran over the redhead's pale areolas. Counted pubic hairs on the brunette. Imprinted the blonde's breast mole.
     He sighed. wished he could spend the night memorizing all the bodies and faces captured in every magazine and movie inside this windowless sheol.
     But at some point the authorities would arrive. Drawn perhaps by the shots. Although likelier, in this neighborhood, not till it happened some anonymous. Spotted the body. Disappeared to use a phone.
     After which the cuffs, the questions, the lockup. The inevitable transport in restraints down the freeway to Western. For an involvement along these lines, detained for up to a year. He could ill afford to lose such time from the Ministry.
     He grew aware, gradually, of a tickle ascending his calf; the knee; the thigh. Simon Peter scaling back up into the Holy See, the Rock of a Church not yet secure. The rapture of an America guarded everywhere by handguns and moral outrage. The freedom to choose, at any moment, whom to send to hell. A United States of God forever alert to any the least threat to The Way.
     Scratching his beard, he drifted through the curtain, up the corridor redolent of acrylic and plywood. Out the door. Onto the sidewalk.
     He would come back. After the heat died down. Oh, maybe one or two of the page-turners had noticed a robed prophet. But none would come forth. For heathen fear the light of day, nor
do they feel fealty to their demon.
     He melted into the shadows of the vacant street. He would return perhaps next week - to scrutinize, to catalogue. So what if a sodomite recognized him from tonight? At worst the swine would cringe away to some other stye of lust. For the Lord inspires in his worshippers love, but in they who know him not - paranoia.
     Eight blocks distant, a barely visible bank clock read in orange numerals: 11:12. He blinked. He'd been staring a lot. It was 42 degrees. Drizzling.

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