Blowing Smoke

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word by Grant McLaughlin

colour by Michael Ward

Every time I see that sign, I can’t help but wonder what was the conversation behind that choice.

Could they honestly not come up with something better?  In all their brainstorming sessions, was that really the best in show?  No one involved thought for even a moment that maybe they should go with something more eye-catching?

‘Cause I’m not gonna lie.  I can rattle of all kinds of better ideas.  It feels like every time I’m there I come away having thought of yet another superior choice.

Is there honestly someone out there who grew up dreaming of the day they would be the proud proprietor of this: a tiny island of a shop amidst an ocean of parking lot swept up on the side of the latest superhighway.  A forgettable piece of detritus that they could finally call their own.

Wouldn’t want to ruin that with a memorable moniker.

The lack of creativity is extremely galling.  We already know that all we’ll find inside are shoddy sunglasses, miniature American flags, and a shit ton of cheapo cigarettes.  That Family Feud list of things that no one needs.

The least they could do is dress it up with a better sign out front.  A façade on the façade, if you will.

Are they describing the activity?  What you’ll be buying?  Just in case their patrons are so slack-jawed as to need the extra hint.

It could be a command.  An imperative order to any who find themselves wondering what they should be doing with their lives.

Or maybe it’s simply old school arrogance.  A belief that through their very existence they will be patronized.

“In my mind, it’s always been a concession.  They know the tides of history have come out against them, the studies are damning, the fix is in.”

It’s a white flag.  A desperate plea.

We don’t have a good reason to convince you, but we’re hoping you’ll do it anyways.

A discount name to match our discount product for you discount people and your discount dreams.

As rallying cries go, it isn’t terribly inspiring.

But I keep coming back, so I guess it doesn’t have to be.

 

 

“Everything Will Be Great”

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word by Kate Shaw 

colour by Micheal Ward 

spinnign no, spinning how long have i been here thirty minutes? an hour? i think it’s been hours

Stop counting the seconds and try – just TRY – to act like a normal human being and enjoy yourself.

 it’s so loud here and i think i’m going to fall over why am i lauhging

That happens. Things are funnier when you’re drunk. Just calm down; most people take laughter as a good sign.

 i want to leave

            You’ll regret it as soon as you get to your room.

 but i’m not having fun i want to go tobed

It’s not even 1. Hayden won’t be home yet, and then how will you feel?

 i don’t um, it doesnt matter

You’ll feel like an idiot for leaving early and being home hours before your roommate. It does matter.

        Why didn’t you talk to her? She was being friendly.

i don’t…i can’t! i can’t think and it is is so loud

You don’t have to think, just talk to someone. Standing mute by the wall is a shitty way for you to start the best four years of your life.

i can’t do this alone

So find someone to talk to!

 no no i can’t be here alone, at this school

Well you are. And everyone else is dealing with it without any problems.

 i know

            Have another beer.

i dont want another i want to go

            You’re being ridiculous.

 

[At this point you push off the wall you’ve been clinging to for what has only been, in actuality, about forty minutes. Your senses are shocked by the rush of gravity that pulls you side to side, lower and lower; your body has become a pendulum and you have no control. Someone helps you stand and you just laugh. Once you’ve collected your swinging limbs and whatever scrap of composure you can find, you start a determined march out the door and down the stairs (you only trip once).]

 

[Getting across campus to your dorm takes five minutes or maybe thirty, and there are silly slobbering messes of students strewn across the paths like litter. You laugh at them too, although you don’t know why.]

 

[Climbing the stairs to your floor appears to be a seemingly insurmountable task, yet somehow you find yourself curled up (giggling) on your bed so you must have accomplished it somehow. It’s this moment when you finally stop laughing. In the dark, Hayden’s empty bed comes fuzzily into focus.]

 

i dont know how todo this

I don’t know how to do this.

 

 

From the author: “There are two kinds of social messages I wanted to address with this piece: The belief that alcohol necessarily leads to “a good time,” as depicted by the artist, and the fallacy that everyone at university is adjusting to their new lifestyle immediately (and better than you). For me, the Bud Light ad on a random street corner spoke to the omnipresence of the belief that life is more fun when you’re drunk. I thought there was a dissonance to be captured here: the true experience of a first year student at university versus the societal messages he or she has internalized about what the experience should be, which ultimately break down.”

 

On the painter: “Phyllis Lutjeans, Museum Educator and former curator, has said of Ward’s work: “Although Michael Ward may be called a neo-realist painter his work can ultimately be described as abstract realism. The picture image is photographically realistic, but within the context of the painting his compositions are complex and almost abstract. Deciphering the work section by section one sees how a multitude of individual complete compositions are put together to form the entire work. For me the viewer is confronted by a realistic image that puzzles us and clearly tells the story simultaneously.”

 

On Travel, Identity: “Try being your own friend”

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“Try being your own friend”

word by Annie Rubin

colour by Kosisochukwu Nnebe

“Try being your own friend.”

It was an exhausting job; he shook his head and hung up the phone.

The plane ride had felt long and treacherous, with each dip of the wing he was certain they would nose dive through the sky, be compelled to grab for their yellow life vests stored either directly beneath the seat or above you in the overhead compartment.

He would search frantically for the flight attendants out of the corner of his eye, secure. If they were still passing through the aisles with a variety of drinks and Skymall paraphernalia, he’d have no reason to panic.

The streets were shimmering with a blue-black slickness as he marched with conviction in the direction of the hotel.

The streetlights were flickering in and out of view. There was an unsettling echo of footsteps that he couldn’t swear were his own. Perhaps this was part of the adventure. Perhaps he was en route to be mugged. In either scenario, he found it best to focus his gaze on the road ahead, calculating the distance between fear and safety. Two hundred meters, now one-ninety…

In the lobby, he smoothed the lapel of his suit. It was one action in a whirlwind of unfamiliarity that brought him a moment closer to home. He couldn’t understand the startling sense of discomfort he experienced, surrounded in the idiosyncrasies of this place. The country felt oddly reminiscent of something he’d seen once in a dream, or maybe it was just that things felt so cartoonishly similar to images he’d stared at for months in preparation for the journey.

This recognition was stained by the fact that everything was just vaguely different than what he was used to. The water faucets, the scent of the stagnant air, the accents, of course a language he had never learned as his own.

Should this culture have been a piece of him, imparted by nature, somehow inherent in his blood? He wandered into a pizza joint out of habit or homesickness.

This was not his home. This did not remind him of the meals cooked by his grandmother; this was nothing reminiscent of his college chants or practiced habits or the inside jokes, memories collected into phrases and images that composed his true identity.

Maybe he was searching for something profound; maybe he wanted inspiration—confirmation that he had a home, a country, a culture that reflected his unique self. Instead, he was left in a state of flux: what was truly his? The room had fresh floral wallpaper and he felt nostalgic for a place that had until now, never truly understood him.

 

 

From the author: “I was inspired by the juxtaposition of the poised human look and the fragility of nature reflected in the vibrancy of the flowers. This led me to question identity, especially how to maintain a sense of self against a backdrop of an ever-fluid environment. The concept of identity raises questions about the significance of cultural background, and exposure, where the protagonist explores his familial history by visiting the country where his family comes from, realizing that he has little to no connection with a place he has never been, himself.”

Waterlogged Love

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Waterlogged Love

word by Keah Hansen

colour by Tomasz Kartasinksi

16 minutes left of class. The seconds drift onto the floor, clustering like fallen leaves or crumpled love notes around her converse shoes.  Laughter seeps sideways from her mouth – I inhale her sounds. Filling the blank spaces on the corners of my notebook with cryptic doodles.  Inside jokes nestled on the pages, shading in the loopy curves with tenderness.  She slips me a mint, like any other day, under the roaming eyes of the teacher and spinning discussion, which floats to the florescent lights in a hazy, vapid way. I follow the din upwards, over her curly hair and alight on the fire alarm, with vague notions of apprehension and pensive yearning.

Today, the mint is imbued with significations, defining our comfy closeness on her worn yellow couch and clandestine ice cream escapades (alternating spoons of chocolate ripple and gossip) with flaming gravity. We snicker together over something trivial, then with giddiness I alone levitate equidistant to her forehead. The bell sounds and the class streams out. We tumble to the water fountain together and pause. She splashes over me with her usual locutions while I take a long sip of water.

The water is icy and clarifies my thoughts.  6 months of uncertainty.  6 weeks of contemplation. I’m bobbing here, staring at the grandeur of the stars from this makeshift raft. Her crocked elbow is my mooring.  The water ebbs unceasingly. I feel seasick (or is it butterflies?).  She’s never had a boyfriend.  We’ve held hands in the hallways. Oh to hell with it, I dive in.

My statement, a small confession of love, comes to her in small timid waves. We are the last ones in the building. I’m fixated on those worn converses again; her feet dance nervously while I’m a shipwrecked mess, letting the waves pass through my lips. The rocks hold me steadfast on the hopes for our relationship; they are sharp and make my voice waver more than I’d like.

Her features are catatonic. She contorts her face into a sympathetic smile. I surface into the glaring sunlight. Her face is burnt; she doesn’t understand my watery, viscous existence. These mermaid musings mean nothing to her. My ears are clogged. I feel the palpable pressure of her discomfort; my skin is cracking as impressions of my declaration sink into her body.

Another bell sounds. I slink back into the water, my element. Half coherent and murky, I don’t need to define myself or reveal my pinings to anyone.  I’ll cry tonight, alone, but gather my tears as jewels. Later, I’ll string them together and wear them on my neck, something beautiful and brave.

For now, I drift away.  A current pulls her brisk minty existence away from my waterlogged love.

 

 

From the author: “I was inspired by this artwork to write a story about an experience of revealing your romantic affection to a friend of the same gender.  The blue material at the bottom of the piece expressed to me both bed sheets and water.  I interpreted the water as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, which I related to coming out with your sexual orientation. 

The positioning of the legs also gave me the impression of figuratively “diving in” to a relationship or a new experience.  The opaqueness of the blue inspired me to think of the colour as a form of protection, which I developed later in the story.  Furthermore, the vertical tiered nature of the piece affected the progression of my story, while the Facebook friendship sign symbolized the ambiguities of relationships, especially during adolescence as we have a tendency to question our sexuality.”  

 

On Heteronormativity, High School: “Easy”

word by Alisha Mascarenhas

colour by Tomasz Kartasinski

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The bend in her legs is relaxed; easy.

She folds one beneath the other, waiting for the night to set in.

The loop in each clean, white hightop precise and dangling with that quiet anticipation that comes after sucking back the frenetic bubbling of the first beer. Giddy elation that rises to the sternum.

From where I stand in that hot pit of a parking lot all I can read on her body I feel in my hands: blunt fingers softening into the pinch of polyester jacket pockets.

All my life taught how to be seen by men, I don’t know what it is to look at a girl. I never gave myself permission. I want to know how to look without inhaling her; to let my gaze settle on her whole being; the space she inhabits and the retreat of a sleeve that licks her inner forearm.

She won’t look at me. At home with the other queers I’ve found ease in a different norm. Ambiguous friendships warmed by late night snuggles on that long, blue couch in my apartment, kisses on the mouth and other quiet affections. Sometimes sex.

But to her, I’ve decided, I’m someone to compare haircuts and outfit choices with. She might squeeze my hand later, or borrow my jacket as we walk home. We might share a cigarette and she won’t give a second thought to what’s passed between us. To her, I’ve decided, I’m another girl and she won’t ever look at our intimacies as anything other than sweet, dry and easy.

If she calls, it will be easy. The gesture only half thought through as she decides what to do with her Sunday afternoon. Not the tense thrill of an inhale that catches at the throat. Not the fleeting imagination of all the ways our bodies might move against one another. I’m a girl. We are girls. She’ll talk about boys. Girl talk. Girl love: not a boy-girl kind of a thing.

She won’t need to think about what to wear or how she smells. She might take a shower just to clear her head of the day; show up at my front door with her hair disheveled to eat ice cream at the kitchen table as I shrink into the wall across from her, afraid that if I get too close I might feel her breathing.

When we part, she’ll give me a little squeeze. Like a friend. Like girls do.

From the author: “I wrote this as a commentary on how systemic narratives of heteronormativity seep into the ways girls are taught to relate to one another and to their desiring selves. It is a response to how friendships between girls are mediated by romantic relationships with boys: constricting the kinds of intimacies that are permissible. I chose to use the words “girls” and “boys” to speak to a process of revisiting an adolescent self: a critical time during which heteronormative scripts can be particularly forceful.”

On Family: “No applause for a hero”

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“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,

So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

“Teach Your Children,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young

 

‘What a fucking spread!’

‘Who woulda thought?’  Frances agreed.

‘Bagels, lox, whitefish, coffee, salami, bologna, provolone, macaroni—”

‘Chicken salad!’

Several parents crowded the cream cheese station at the back of the auditorium.  Henry admired his wife’s breasts as she crouched to pick up a tomato.  37.5% of the couples there were gay.  Mr. Hall, the middle school coordinator, wore a pesto green suit.  The hunchback look worked for him.  Everyone there paid $2.75 to ride the train to P.S. 463 if they didn’t hop the turnstile.  But by the looks of it, there were a few who might’ve jumped.

‘Hey!’  Caleb, 4’6”, rushed over and hugged his parents.  ‘Thanks for coming!’

‘Our pleasure!’

The chatter inconspicuously petered out when Mr. Hall tapped the microphone.  ‘Family, friends, distinguished guests: thank you for coming to P.S. 463’s annual Role Model Day!  In humanities this year, the students considered adolescence.  In lieu of their studies, they reflected on their role model’s unique qualities that they hope to emulate as rising middle schoolers.  Today, you will hear some of their thoughts.’

A little girl climbed on stage.  Mr. Hall adjusted the microphone stand appropriately. She looked down at her notecard: ‘Hi.’

After a pause, the audience realized it was being invited to exchange greetings.  ‘Hi!’

She continued, ‘My name is June Langley and my role model is Hermione.  Most of all, Hermione is a genius.  One day, I want to be a genius.  Hermione also helps Harry beat Voldemort again and again and again.  I want to defeat evil, too!’  June bowed, and the crowd cheered.  An ‘I love you sweetie!’ and, ‘You are a genius, babe!’ were made out from the clamor.  Surely it was June’s parents.

Another girl stepped on stage.  Her name was Anne Carney.  She had no index card.  Her role model was Serena Williams.  Serena, she informed the crowd, always wins and hates to lose.  Anne does, too, she tells the full house.  When she grows up she wants to be successful, like Serena!  The sound level meter for June’s speech reached a higher altitude.

Now Caleb hurried up the steps.  He took a piece of crumbled paper out of his pocket and unwrinkled it.  This had BOY written all over it.  Not once did he lift his eyes.  ‘My name is Caleb Monroe and my role models are my mom and dad.  Mom wakes up everyday at 5:00 and packs my lunch.  She fills the fridge with my favorite snacks.  Dad fought in court for my autistic brother Fred to go to a good school.  He drops me at basketball practice after school and always wants to play.  They are exhausted from work and then come home and cook.  If there is no food, they go shopping.  And tomorrow they’ll do it all again. They do not get paid for this job, and never ask for anyone to clap for their demanding work.  Being a parent is so heroic.  There’s no applause for a hero.’

The audience has no idea how to respond.

 

word by Jacob Goldberg

“After I learned that “La Practique Du Calcul” roughly translated to “basic calculus,” I wanted to write about how difficult calculus was for me but easy for others.  With that in mind, I hoped to sketch a story about something that I feel is at once important, simple, and uniquely hard: showing appreciation and love for those that really matter to us.”

colour by Julien Coquentin

real

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It’s winter and it is snowing pastel. Réal is selling the magazine again, in front of the pharmacy. He is a camelot in French. It means he stands on the corner and holds out a periodical to passers-by. In this digital age, one would expect a mobile app to do the job – but Réal is ubiquitous to me every day, in every weather.

His permanent frown had led me to assume he was a grumpy guy. My dad would have said Réal just didn’t flex his smile-muscle. I had just moved to the area where he was assigned, and he had quickly become a landmark to avoid. Crossing over to the southern sidewalk, dodging his broody stare, I would wonder if he was trying to repel us.

Us, one-time customers, potential long-term subscribers, do we get a smile?

I might have irreversibly fallen for the comfortable trimmings of preprogrammed greetings: into barista prickly welcome, fake customer service friendliness, miscalculated voicemail inflections. All I had to do was talk to him, and his forested eyes lit his nested face, teeth standing strong like elder mountains, uncovered by a dissipating set of clouds.

I had to question Réal about his salesmanship. We had broken down our assumptions, flooded the gutter with cigarette breaks and all apprehensions of human contact had melted away with the season. Had he ever tried to vary his approach? Tried talking to people directly? I wanted to ask him, in a medical way, would he try smiling?

I said, Réal, how can you get more people to buy your magazine?

He gets fifty percent commission – the rest goes to support persons without homes. Increasing the clientele helps people in need. I wanted to feel that I could help Réal help customers help the magazine help the homeless.

He said he had tried many approaches, but the way he was doing it right now was the way that worked best for him. It just wasn’t him otherwise.

His frown was his unique selling point and I was someone who had fallen for it.

It is nice that flowers come right after snow. You would expect the castaway autumn leaves to leap back onto their branches, like a rewound tape, so as not to startle the scenery. Like an old hand-drawn cartoon, autumn colors swirling in reverse, smudging circles into the background. But spring here comes like an overdue vagabond, and Réal is a perce-neige in French. It’s Flower for “snowdrop”. But instead of insinuating gravity, perce-neige pushes its stem through the ice asking for the sun.

word by Hoda Adra

colour by Sam Rowe

From the author: “This foot goes naked every other second. It made me think of how someone could find themselves bare from one day to the next, how the cycle of homelessness can be brought upon by a single striking event. Conversely, the shoe appearing reminded me of the resilience I’ve witnessed, from support networks and individuals that work within and through issues of homelessness and displacement.”

people are clay

Quarrymen

The thud on the porch means that the newspaperman is now awake as well. The boy retrieves it (i.e. the paper) and takes with him to the bathroom the most important section of the New York Times: the Arts. He finishes shitting in about 3.5 min. but is in the bathroom for at least 26. He has had one hemorrhage from these marathons.

The cover story is titled: “Sgt. Pepper’s New Look.” The boy reads that The Beatles have reunited for a world-tour “with a catch:” they have surgically removed their heads and replaced them with various members of the Rosaceae family.

Details of how this is done safely are enumerated by Dr. Kumari in the Science Section.

As he gets dressed, the boy cleans his circular glasses and checks his Facebook for notifications. Avery wants to see the Beatles live. Caleb wishes him a Happy Birthday.

The boy is convinced his computer is Canadian, because red DNA strips appear below the words “favorite” and “color” [sic]. Sierra, his cousin, was so “inspired” that she got the picture of the four of them inked on the nape of her neck. The girl who wished him a happy birthday was a day early.

It is now 0630h and the boy leaves his house and walks to the subway, which is three blocks away. He nods to the man who works the opening shift at A&M Deli. The 15th Street Subway stop is bizarrely multi-leveled for a station that only services two trains, both of which run on the same track.

A woman sells churros out of a cooler that probably held beer over the weekend, given the smell. The boy realizes he has never once actually looked at the ceiling of this station and subsequently realizes how often he misses anything that is above eye-level.

The G train pulls in and the boy gets in the middle cart, and goes to his favorite seat (which is totally, undeniably, everyone’s favorite seat: the one by the window on one of the old trains).

He overhears a girl say: ‘If I got that done to my head, I would have certainly gotten carnations.’

A smell hangs on the train. The boy cringes at the omitted ‘had,’ but agrees with her assessment. He grows uneasy.

A few stops later, as the train exits the Smith and 9th Street Station, he peers out of the window and looks east as the sun is still creeping over Brooklyn’s horizon. This is the only time of the day that Gowanus Canal could be called something other than repulsive. Kentile Floors in big letters w/ Seraphs looks as though it’s been tattooed on the sky right next to the Chrysler Building.

It was the boy who farted.  He feels centered.  And as he stirred from his dusk-dreams, he looked out at the city’s silhouette, and he committed himself to the idea that for his 17th birthday, tomorrow, he will turn his neck into a vase as well.

word by Jacob Goldberg

colour by Eugenia Loli

From the author: “People, myself included, are heavily influenced by pop-culture. The characters in this story surrender their identities to The Beatles. What happens here is tricky: one thing is that the protagonist loses his sense of identity (one may wonder whether he ever had one in the first place, given its (viz. his personality) malleability; another is that when people so quickly look to celebrities (or preferably artists) on what it means to be Hip, we so often forget what made them “cool” in the first place. It was certainly not their style, but their artistry, and their ability to uniquely express who they are. This overwhelming loss of identity leads to loneliness.”

trying

23 july

When I was younger, my father was always telling me to try. Part of me wonders if I was born a quitter, for him having to say it as much as he did. And I regret that it was the last word he ever spoke to me, reaching through the helplessly jarred door, pleading me to find a way to the upper deck, to a lifeboat; not to give up. To get into the water and swim, survive, try. I let go of his hand when the sea was at his chin, and, my eyes bleary with tears, I climbed, up to the black sea, which was churning and roiling and flashing with blinding strobes of light. The lifeboat was tangled in rigging that had snapped and couldn’t be lowered. So people were leaping into the ocean. I had put on my swimsuit at the first alarm, so only had to remove an oversized shirt before grabbing the cold rails and hoisting myself over the side. The jolting shock of the water. The dark silence beneath the surface. Clawing through the swirling brine to punch above. Gasping at the air being sifted through the sheets of rain. And already, just seeing the black hills of water around me, as I climbed and descended the impossible swells simply by treading water, I wanted to give up. Yet I swore to him I wouldn’t. So I tried, to swim, crawling forward, taking in salty water twice, coughing, crying. I found the best I could do was to keep my head above, swimming on my back, from nowhere to nowhere. Just keeping afloat. My muscles red with panic. Windmilling my arms, kicking as if trying to shake off some wild animal clutching at my feet. Swimming for my life, for my father, who was still sinking to the bottom of his saltwater grave. Trying. For both of us. Trying.

 

word by Mark Lavorato

colour by Jeannie Phan

Leaves & Branches

4fd725e02e93dda6a65e345b539a1c2dFlywheel, clutch disk, crankshaft. Breaking it down to understand why it worked the way that it did. No, not how. Fan belt, rocker arm, alternator. You will itemize the parts, yes, all of them, for the project, with a brief description of their function, yes, every one, and how they affect the engine when it is running- it’s the logical place for us to start the class. Wise words from Telford, AUTO 1102A. Breaking down a family photograph to figure how odd shapes fit. Black palms smudged a hand-drawn draft of the 2010 Camry 2.4 litre, fingerprints smearing a tin hood, near a dent from the past winter. Bent, imperfect. Her mother out for the weekend, the garage cold, a window might have been left open, or the furnace had stopped working, but she wasn’t sure, and who was to blame her.

Her friend left when the heavy work was finished. Alone, with cylinder separated, she considered how their tastes were so different, seeing that their brains were formed under similar variables, having grown up in the same neighbourhood- over two fences- with similar families- alcohol holidays, massive debt- leaned on the same desks- MPS, NGDHS, The Gonq- and dated the same guys- straight white drunks. Twice, they dated brothers.

She liked Buzzfeed, her friend: Reddit. Maybe that was it. Her friend liked Vine, her: Youtube. Her: Gmail, Dropbox, Wikipedia. Friend: Yahoo, iCloud, Google. Mac? PC. Samsung? iPhone. Identical wiring soaking up different images and words to influence different tastes. She dropped the box wrench. She played out the thesis, considering how it explained her friends’ preference for pubs (from watching Arcade Fire and Chvrches videos) while she preferred the club (Drizzy VEVO).

Separating fan belt from crankshaft pulley, she compiled a list of things she had learned from the internet in 2013:  

1. Haters own keyboards 

2. Miley Cyrus invented grinding

3. People are happy on Facebook

4. All Americans own pistols

5. All gay people are white

6. All black people can dance

7. All hipsters rock beards

8. “Québecois” means “Franco-Québecois”  

9. “Anglo-Québecois” means “quiet”

10. Traveling makes you intelligent

11. Lizard people are a legitimate concern

12. Over 6,000 Québecois-white-tailed-deer were hit last year

 

She put aside the blueprint and tore out a new page

 

Things Learned Independent of The Gonq Buzzfeed Wikipedia Facebook Youtube Friends & Parents

 

 

words by Liam Lachance

colour by Naran Jalidad