Michael Varnum May 2010 Untitled
Lionel Lynch’s memory of his own history was scant. Lynch became each day less and less the man who journeyed across the Atlantic on a third class steamer cabin in mid-winter from Dublin two years before. He had not changed his name, though the man in Dublin had told himself that this would be his first action as an American man. With each shovel of coal in the acrid engine room, he thought it over. Why should he change his name? It had a magnificent, leonine ring to it: fine, respectable and simple all at once.
“I’ll not be shovelin’ coal, I ken promise ye that.” Douglass McSimmons was below deck with Lionel Lynch. The game of cards they had played at first docking in Liverpool had just broken up.
“Aye, me brother’s mate ha’ a job jes’ waitin fer me in America. A clean one, one for a ma’ such as mesel’ who looks to ha’ a wife and family.”
Lionel stayed behind to keep the man company. Lynch wasn’t a drinking man and so was considerably more attentive than the others who had sat on the upturned barrels arranged for card play. McSimmons had, Lynch learned, never met the man who was to give him the job at the Gazette, and was counting on a letter he was unable to read as sole proof of his identity.
“Are ye ne named McSimmons, then?”
This was the first and only question Lynch had been asked at the interview for gopher at the post.
“Leonard and I had different pas,” Lionel explained, having taken care to insert the brother’s name from the original document into the forged copy. “I did not get on with my mother’s first husband.”
“Aye,” the man named had replied, “I never got on wi’ me stepfather, neither. Boozy ol’ coot, ne fit te black me ma’s boots. Well, lad, post is yours. We’ll shake hands on it, then?”
Donald McSimmons had died quietly. Lionel reasoned that the shock from the cold waters would knock the lad out right quick enough and he told himself that most any seafaring man would pray to be half so lucky as to meet his end like a man at the hands of the sea.
Lionel Lynch was not to remain long in the position of postmaster for the Gazette, but soon fulfilled his fate as manservant to the theater’s owner, Padraic Sinclair. That the men were third cousins was a mystery to both, but once they had met the two very quickly became inseparable. Lynch’s meeting with Sinclair awakened in him a predillection toward a rather lordly servitude that filled a vacancy in his life while sating his social climbing nature.
Padraic Sinclair had first met Lynch due to a whim of Sinclair’s mistress. Hilde Goodman suggested that Sinclair hire an accountant for the theatre. What Hilde did not say was that she, who had no great knack for figures, who indeed had lived and would persist in living hand to mouth her entire life, was remarkably more skilled financially than Sinclair himself, who presumed to run and manage a theatrical company. That by and large the players and hired hands were ignorant, boozing, and cavorting illiterates was, Hilde knew full well, a great blessing, as this made them easier to manager but a firmer hand was nonetheless required.
Hilde had instructed Sinclair to dispatch a messenger to hire an employment advertisement in the Gazette. After Sinclair had waved a permissive hand at her, Hilde had taken the money given her for the errand boy and the posting fee and silently departed. In an afterthought, Hilde entrusted herself with the errand. She passed a little group of street urchins, whom she employed now and again, without so much as a nod.
“I said I’d like to post an advertisement, if you please.” Hilde was ill-used to waiting and made this plain to the grubby-looking child behind the desk at the paper. “Straight away,” she added sharply, pushing the shiny nickel across the counter with a gloved hand.
Before the young boy could collect the coin, Lionel Lynch had stepped forward and placed his own larger hand over the money. Without a word, the boy shrank away, and Hilde blinked in surprise at the tall, imposing man who seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
“At your service, madam,” Lynch cooly intoned, an unctuous smile painted on his pallid face.
“An Irishman,” Hilde breathed, causing Lynch’s smile to diminish.
“Dublin,” said Lynch, gathering himself up in a dignified posture.
“Ah, sir, my employer is a fellow countryman of yours, to be sure.” This she said in reserved tones with a careful nod that was calculated to offset any unintended offense toward the carefully groomed man who towered over her.
Hilde at once explained herself and her mission, and when the little woman’s back was turned, Lionel Lynch had pocketed both the nickel and the copy meant for citywide publication. In a matter of hours, Lynch applied as the personal secretary of Padraic Sinclair, who managed the opera house in town. Once employed, Lionel had more or less ignored all expenses accrued by Hilde out of a modicum of loyalty he felt toward her for having kept silent about the many things she very shrewdly and silently observed while both were in association with the theater. They worked together side by side for a full year.
In the end, Hilde had found herself to be, at thirty-five, pregnant with what could only be Padraic Sinclair’s child. She had told Lionel that she was leaving town to nurse an ailing aunt. When Lionel saw Hilde depart on the first of spring in 1892 with a carpet bag he knew to be all but empty, he held his tongue.
On that gloomy day, Hilde had made haste for the part of town where unfortunate girls such as herself sought out men who performed for them special surgeries. She drew about her the thick shawl that had once been her mother’s and kept to the shadows of the streets.
“I’ll not tell the doctor your age, Miss Brown,” the nurse had muttered unpleasantly as she handed Hilde a glass of sour whiskey. “He might object to it altogether. You’ll need all your strength. Ha ye no husband, then?”
Hilde disliked the woman’s tone, and replied tartly, with half-lidded eyes, “I imagine he’s out this minute having a pint with yours. Do you fancy we should meet them after?”
The nurse flushed and swept dramatically from the room.
At twenty-seven she had made the journey to America on the arm of a young bespectacled, quiet Irishman, who’d intoxicated her dreams with honeyed talk of a promise of a better life.
“You keep me locked away in this filthy rat trap, Rickie.” Hilde had once been a dancer, and Padraic Sinclair did not altogether do away in his mind with the possibility that she had once been a dancer of some gifts. Her form and face were yet good, if not altogether beautiful, as she had the small but stout and athletic build of a carnival actress.
“My dear Hildegard, I told you very plainly when we were in England that you would not care for a town life in America.” He silenced the protest on her lips with a mere touch of his fingers. Hilde was still in her nightclothes, which sometimes she wore for hours in the day. She was acutely aware of this habit, and once confessed to a close friend, a dressmaker at the Loring, that she did it at first to entice Padraic into purchasing for her some new garment or other of the kind she had enjoyed in London.
As this memory faded, the pills that Hilde Goodman had swallowed with the alcohol caused the room to swim like the wide mad Atlantic she’d traversed as a young English woman. The moon had been full and bright on her first night at sea, just as it was then on the night of her death. Two days later Hilde Goodman died in a rat-infested rented room in San Francisco, far from any soul who knew her real name.
a poem of Detroit by Martine Compton
for Diane DiPrima
Are you doing the work, or
are you kicking at someone
for not wearing
pressed clean by your one and only
or are you doing the work?
Are you kicking
at the woman
seated next to you
in the cannery cafeteria
who happens on a Tuesday
to be drinking corporate milk
(all she can afford, she takes the bus)
–have you examined
your shoe brand lately?
Who are you standing on,
this girl hold her tongue
about you just the other day?
What I’m saying, I’m saying
are you doing the work?
Are you feeding
a stranger brother soldier
your leftover bread
or are you singing
in the shower
in your little red head?
Hoping the world will
stop on your sidewalk and toss you
a coin? Ask for your autograph?
Are you making love
to a fellow revolutionary
or are you
fucking a droid while you
watch her watch television?
Is she emptying your head
while she takes up your bed?
What I’m saying
What I’m saying is
watch who you knock
on your way down
and just what
do you think tough means,
warrior oh great
tattooed god of
hard cold music
Watch who you
think you can eat.
She’s small in the shoulders
her daddy’s been mounting her
since she could crawl—
think twice before bombing that shopping mall.
We need all the fringe elements
to listen to your words,
yes, you, anarchist
who used to take the bus.
Talk to her, too.
She what she can do.
Little girl lost
might just need
a big bad brother.
And you might need
the way she grows up to be
the only E.R. nurse
not watching t.v.
when you’re: so pretty so
high so noonday gone
you rip out your hospital i.v. That one day
your heart rips
and you just slip?
What I’m saying
What I’m saying is
look around you.
You think we never not once looked
at you, cross-eyed suspicious?
You think I never saw
you think my life was just
a bit too delicious?
Do you think
do you really believe
it isn’t imminent?
You’re free to, I’m free to
believe it’s over. That we’re
cooked. Done overdone.
That this is a ruse.
But refuse it.
That’s all I ask of you
from the flipside
of this here looking glass,
I see you.
Do it, done.
It’s been begun,
beguine it anyway,
stop the clocks’ tick-tock
‘cause they’re not human
no way to live life.
Don’t let their pale white faces fool you.
Their minute hands are
tied to a forgotten teatime hour,
and by now,
we’re all drinking gin.
Hippo met Charles at the diner on a Thursday morning, the first of spring. The snow stuck to the ground like a mean drunk and there was a bitter chill in the air. Hippo turned up his jacket collar as he wheeled his way along the ramp to the restaurant. Charles had already ordered, and Hippo settled on oatmeal, his appetite not being up to corned beef hash that morning.
“I’m real sorry that kid plea bargained, Hip. Got off with a slap on the wrist. I’m tellin’ you, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen in Vermont,” Charles grumbled.
Hippo rolled his shoulders in a diffident shrug. “Ah, Michigan’s not so bad. There’s always Canadian radio.”
Charles grunted and nursed his coffee. On the diner’s P.A. system, Al Green’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” streamed into George Harrison’s “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” in a musical passing of the pining lover’s torch.
“Heard from Catherine?” said Charles.
“Why?” Hippo said guardedly.
Charles sighed. “Have you heard from Catherine?” he said as if speaking with waning patience to a small child.
“No. Why? My ex-wife havin’ another kid?”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Do I look like I’m—“ Charles clanked down his coffee cup and at once assumed a combative stance. “Now, why in hell would I make up a story like that?”
Hippo closed his eyes. “Easy, buddy. Just a fig’re of speech.”
“Just… passin’ along the news. Don’t be jumpin’ down my throat.” Charles shifted uneasily in the plasticine booth.
“Maybe if your mouth wasn’t the size of a swimming hole I’d less likely be tempted,” came the D.J.’s reply.
Charles was about to respond but thought better of it.
“Well,” Hippo said, “Pass along my congratulations.”
“You could…” Charles scratched his stubbly chin thoughtfully, “…do that yourself.”
Hippo merely chuckled.
“You at the station today?” Charles ventured.
“Do you think I’d be sittin’ here with you if I was?” Hippo growled.
“Jus’ makin’ conversation.”
Hippo shook his head and squinted at the window. “That ain’t conversation. You want conversation? Hell, I’ll give you conversation.” Hippo wheeled his chair around to address a grizzly looking pallid man in Dickies overalls who looked to be a hundred having coffee alone in the corner.
“Hey, Rickets!” Hippo called.
“Yo.” The old man’s voice was a deep, scratchy bass.
“How’s the leg today?”
“Oh, it’s hurtin’ me some. But I get by.”
“A little of the witch’s brew in your joe?”
“Oh, no, there’s no shine in my coffee today. I got syphillis, my doctor says. And he should know.”
“Oh, why’s that, Rickets?”
“’Cause his sister’s the whore give it to me. Not as I got nothin’ ag’in’ her, she’s just doin’ her job. She got three young ‘uns. One of ‘em’s got real talent. Figure skater. She’s goin’ to the State Championship Finals. Kinny’s her name. She said if she gets the blue ribbon she’s agon’ give it to me.” Rickets’s mouth contorted into a gummy grin and with two hands he snapped a fly out of the air that wasn’t there. “But you know I kent take it,” Rickets added, “Wouldn’t be Christian.”
“Well, God Bless, Rickets. I hope Kinny wins.”
“Thank you, Gus. Thank you kindly.”
Hippo spun his wheelchair back around again to face the table. He said to Charles with a raised coffee cup, “Now that’s conversation.”
The men finished their coffee in silence and Hippo got to the check before Charles could snatch it up.
a poem by Martine Compton, ROCHESTER, MI
The sky shakes loose its icy ashes,
the hurling tantrum of some Vesuvius
roaring to life in Midwestern Midwinter.
Today’s blizzard, thick in the throat of the newspapers.
Pressed into my neck, I found a tag,
tattling on you:
Where You’d Been.
A graceful gift, nonetheless.
An honor to frame me first
in kittenish ebony
bepearled with confectionary buttons–
and next it goes
to your skin, offsetting
the glossy ringlets and fringed, black lace
about your dancing eyes,
which nature gave you.
I know the range, the cost,
the shop girl hesitation that hovers
about a twenty,
the Andrew Jackson No of it–
leaning instead toward two bottles of wine,
some sturdier sandals
or the fleeting shelter of a fitting meal.
I did not wash it;
Its price tag once clipped
then slipped to my bathroom floor.
The storefront name printed black-on-blue.
I had never heard of it
so it must have been cavelike,
burrows deep, the train nearby.
The date betrayed your destination:
my old home.
What sent you there?
Had you thought of me
when you strode, city-free
thou feminine raven,
as the crow flies,
getting there slow
The trains must have summoned you.
They speak underground and in dreams.
And you, impervious to suburban Wonderlands,
press brave your head to the rumbling tracks
and listen for the next,
the next, the next…
Tell me of them, still.
Write of California–
of fencing with drone-headed long-gones
made too heavy for castles built on air.
Do not give up the pulsing Mediterranean
the moonboots, the snow.
Do not swallow, oh my fellow,
the casual negation with which
they pronounce your name.
Laugh at the plywood bed,
the salty blemishes of 57 other nights
you left in a crooked house on wheels,
and a stacked deck of hard time,
laid in wait
until the gossip of the mountain ranges
trembles its way
to a tardy avalanche
in Northern California.
it should be springtime
It has covered my body all these years.
I can not say it’s kept me warm,
so second-skin has it become.
Its odor, my scent;
its stains, my overlooked mistakes.
It suited itself to a purpose
when I had one in mind–
and if this succeeded, I am no judge:
it is gone now from memory.
See, it is on me:
I wear it still.
It is heavy with ordinariness
and reeks of dissatisfaction.
If I remove it,
I will feel a chill at once.
There is nothing to change into.
Nothing that I can see.
But this is weakening the skin of me.
If I do not shed my past
how can I choose to be free?
(PARIS TO LONDON)
Subject: Honore de Balzac
Date of Interview: 19 October, 2010
Rrring, rring. >click<
B: Bonjour, madame. Comment…
CF: I said “Hello”, not “’ello”, pal.
B: Ah! Pardon. If you please, to speak with…Charlotte Fee.
B: Bon! Eh… un moment, sil vous plait. (Aside, Presumably to waiter:) No, non! Je nais voudri pas le Beef Wellington mais le Filet de Plotte Ancienne. Oui. Toute suite! (To me:) Eh… a thousand pardons, madame.
CF: May I help you?
B: Ah, yes. I received your letter that asks me to call this number to redeem and claim my Publisher’s Clearing House banc-note for one million pounds. Is this Mees Charlotte Fee?
CF: Ah! Monsieur de Balsack! Yes, how good of you to call!
B: Enchante, madame. Enchante. Now…
CF: Yes, Mr. Balsack, I first…
B: Ah, BalZac, if you please, Miss Fee.
CF: Balzac. Yes, I see why you stayed in Paris so long. Now, if you please, Mr. Balzac, a few preliminary questions. I have to record this, ca va?
B: Ah, er, of what…nature are the..questions to be, Miss Fee? You see, I am at dinner, and…
CF: Tax purposes, Mr. Balzac. Formality, I’m afraid.
B: Ah. Proceed.
CF: You wrote upwards of ninety novels in your lifetime, but your stated ambition was to write one continuous one of the life of Paris. Is that so?
B: Yes, and I succeeded. Many of the characters of la comedie humaine happen to be in many other works and the real character, as I say, is Paris herself.
CF: Yes, that’s nice. Your characters seem to spend an awful lot of time emptying their purses. What is your response to writer Henry James’ observation that the real protagonist of your work is the twenty franc piece?
B: Henri James? Who in God’s name is he? I do not know him, he must be American.
CF: Well, the Yanks like to think so, but he spent most of his life here in England.
B: Well, I do not know him. Ah, un moment! Yes, zut, I do! He is the man who is always trying to get a table at le Cafe Procope. Terrible dresser.
CF: But you were already dead then.
B: As was he. Only no one could tell the difference in his case.
CF:How could you be at the Cafe Procope? Isn’t it always busy with, you know, the living?
B: Yes, but they save me a table.
CF: Aurore Dudevant, or George Sand…
B: Do not mention that woman’s name to me! Was it she who gave you my place of residence?
CF: No, but—
B: (Sighs and laughs fondly) Ah, what a woman she was! I did love her, but terrible apartments she had and her daughter, Solange, whew, what a sow! Mais, in her own mind, no man was ever good enough for her!
CF: Did you and she…
B: Solange? Non! I would not involve myself with such a child as she! Non, I prefer, madame, les femme sof, how to say, experience. And Aurore, Madame Sand, she was not quite a woman. Not quite a man, but quite a writer. A ninny, nonetheless. Do not tell her where I am. I still owe her ten thousand francs, and she would only give it to de Musset and, voila! It is off to the races!
CF: You wrote Lost Illusions about a period in the history of printing when purists of literature looked down on the newer “printed” books that were being mass-produced in never-before-told quantities. In it you also predicted the eventual death of newspapers.
CF: What are your thoughts on the internet?
B: I enjoy the pictures. And I think it must be a very good way to meet les femmes. But you must be very, very certain she is a woman.
CF: What are your thoughts on media mogul Rupert Murdoch?
B: Do you know of his Chinese wife, Wendi Deng?
CF: What about her?
B: Last stop.
B: The man is gay as a French horn. And I should know.
CF: Because you’re gay?
B: Non! I am French.
CF: Honest mistake. Are you seeing anyone now?
B: No, thank God. I am dead. Women no longer occupy my mind.
CF: Is that true?
B: (Aside:) I’m on the telephone, woman. Eat your dinner. (To me:) Yes.
CF: But while you were alive, you had quite an appetite for women, particularly older women?
B: I do not deny it. And they, let us not forget, had quite an appetite pour moi!
CF: Why is that? Your tastes, I mean.
B: It is as the American, Benjamin Franklin, who often came to Paris, said to me once, “It is a better thing to make an old woman happy, than a young woman unhappy.” Besides, les filles, they have no money, so…
CF: Did he not die nine years before you were born?
B: It is true, the man was dead, yes, but in Paris, death, madame, can not stop the conversation. Nor does it stop social climbers from trying to get a table in Parisian restaurants.
CF: You changed your name, didn’t you, when you got famous? You added the “de” before your surname?
B: Non, yes, but it was my father who did that, originally.
B: He was a social climber.
CF: Moving on. If I may?
B: Please. (Aside:) Mon chien ne le mangerait pas. Je ne paierai pas.
CF: Statistically, the readership of the classics of literature tend to be largely female.
B: And often, both! (Loud gufffaw)
CF: Yes, I get it. In your work–
B: Pardon. I am enjoying this conversation, madame, but we are getting nowhere. Perhaps I could come to you. I can take a taxicab. The driver will wait while I cash the check.
CF: Wait! There’s someone here who wants to speak with you. Madame Sand…
Interview by Martine Compton www.undertheroot.com
I first met Jennifer Brown when she poured me a drink in 2001. A mutual friend, with whom we both have since lost touch, introduced us at The Heartland Café Buffalo Bar where Ms. Brown was working as a bartender, and after that our friendship was off to the races. Now, she is responsible for the creation of my myriad underpants and it is my privilege to interview her.
When did you first begin sewing?
I love this question. My great-grandmother was a seamstress and I remember her allowing me to nurture my catlike curiosity among her notions, fondling spools of thread, wrapping myself in linens. The actualization came from inside a high school (sewing) classroom from another woman in my life who was a quietly grounded person. I have always admired the human body and simply wanted to swaddle it. The drive to master design was, and continues to be, secretly the adventure running concurrently to my desire for body movement.
What is the origin story of Under the Root?
While sitting among friends and drinking licorice tea, I made a decision to take all the scribbles of thoughts, designs of underthings. Also vital was my will to put my cards on the table toward a contribution to satisfying human desire in a new way. I began with my black lacquer Singer and a heap of vintage findings. The closer each design came to its end, the closer I had grown to the root of what came before me.
You said you got the name from a children’s book. Tell me about that.
As a young girl, I moved with my mother and family quite a bit. Each town had a library and inside is where I found my world. These archival houses remained a constant. The authors, the aisles, and solace had me captivated. I chose an illustrated volume from the children’s shelves that I remembered as “Under The Root”. Although the name of the author had eluded my memory later in life, the stories she shared with the world had branded my journey. One day, a stranger reminded me of the author while I spoke to him about the nature of the stories. I smiled, thanked him, and quickly ran to find the books. Zilpha Keatley Snyder is her name and although I had remembered the name of the book incorrectly, my soul shook as the pages turned. (Newberry Honor writer Zilpha Keatley Snyder published “Below the Root” in 1975. –Ed.)
You run your own business. How is it rewarding and how is it a pain in the ass?
There is a yin and yang with every step. The rewards in each decision feed the growth of further ones. Some provide a simple kick in the head. Many times I have been thwarted by unseen obstacles which then have led me to challenges in the mastering of my dreams.
What are your clients like?
My clients are thinkers. They are often artists themselves or people who value art. I see and hear them shout from the rooftops. They are women and men wrapped in nostalgia, changing the shape of our universe with their breath. I think it is important to tend to the gardens of life with song and through my continued relationships with clients I see many who go about life in this way.
Name some of the cities of the world your clients hail from.
The city list has expanded over the past couple years. Pieces have landed in London, Chicago, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Stratford, Toronto, Vrilissia (Greece), Highlands Ranch, Edmonton, Seattle, Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Berlin, Brussels, Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Helsinki, Greensboro, Austin, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Oakland, just to name a few.
How did you learn to promote yourself? Do you have any advice for
fashion designers who are new to the biz?
Marketing and promotion begins with knowledge of the niche for your works. After an initial leap into your industry, my best advice is to remain true to your work and have a balance within your personal versus business life. Do what you say, follow through, and be sure to be the best at what you do. Know who you are.
What has your experience been with the Post versus in-city orders?
The United States Post Office has been a true cohort in the delivery of items to their landing places. Each piece carries with it, the essence of the studio here and the client’s character sewn throughout. While the post office is a valuable tool, absolutely nothing replaces face to face clientele. I can read the subtle cues and see their body forms firsthand. (Note: Federal Express uses inordinate amounts of gasoline/fuel as all of their U.S. packages ALWAYS go to their Tennessee warehouses before any other destination and are shipped from there, regardless of the proximity of sender to recipient. Good to know about the U.S. Postal Service’s reliability, Jen! –Ed.)
Do you have any ambitions to design for the stage? The movies?
I am so glad you have asked this question. My answer is yes. The desire to design pieces for stage, film, and movies is a very real quest which has a place in our journey as a company. (In the past, Under the Root has designed tap shorts, etc., for performers. –Ed.)
What kind of photographers are easiest to work with?
Photographers who work organically are my favorite. Their approach is not forced; they catch images with the ease of their eye, instinctively. There exists a separate process for each photographer on a personal level. The ones which stand out for their capabilities, confidence, and magik (sic) continue to set my heart aflutter with the images they capture! After answering this question, I see that I feel and think exactly the same way in regards to the models, hairstylists, and makeup artists with whom I have worked through the years.
Who are your favorite designers? Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are
two you’ve mentioned. What do they mean to you?
This question is a tough one so I will do my best to offer a perspective. Good designers of any medium, including storytellers, are true to what their craft means to them. These are the ones I admire. These are the ones I do not try to understand. I thank all such designers for allowing the struggle to happen within them and sharing what comes after the whole house burns down. They stand their ground. It is a foundation which began before them, and they build another block with the tools available. I hope to do the same.
What kind of message do you try send with your work?
Hope for a wakeful life, a magically sound existence, a breath of fresh air, secret handshakes with a blush, and a kind arm around our human experience. It is not all birds and tra-la-la sewn throughout the works; darkness is present (in the process) and sometimes louder than light, creating things more beautiful than we ever imagined. It is inside the dark space where many of us are most fruitful. There needs to be a hope for these times too, which can seem bereft of hope.
What is the most fun aspect of your calling?
A silent joy happens within me when a piece is finished. I feel a whirl of laughter begin in me when a design turns out just right. I know, too, that somehow the day will begin again with more obstacles for me to try to cartwheel over.
Do you consider yourself an artist, a business woman or both?
I am not sure an artist sums up how I see myself from my perspective. Although, a business woman I strive to be. The artist and business woman in me stumbles around sometimes, but there is a bit of each working Under The Root.
Jennifer Brown’s once little cottage industry business now boasts clientele this wide world over, and though the miles divide us, my friend and I and I keep in touch. Every woman and man I have turned on to her work invariably thanks me and they become repeat customers. I hope, dear reader, you will join their happy ranks. Thanks to Jennifer Brown, I know that when I die, even if I have made no other mark in this world, I can say that I inspired a line of Under the Root intimate wear. Jennifer Brown’s “Blasphemous Bloomers” will live on beyond my mortal existence. I recommend them in siren red.
–Martine Compton, Pittsburgh August 2010
PHOTO CREDITS VIEWABLE ON UNDERTHEROOT.COM
Mum, giver of life, consoler of the lonely, walker of dogs, maker of beds: you are the family glue. It is I, the blond lost son. We’ve been living in KL for about a week now and are both well if a little over-retailed at the moment; in fact, we sick of it all but that is the price we pay for living in a meshopolis.
A highlight was seeing the world’s largest open air aviary today—the variety was incredible. Horn bills, raptors, black swans and one hundred other types I can not name. There was a huge thunder storm while we were there. The deafening thunder and blinding streaks of lightning amidst the ornithological soundtrack was something to behold!
Really concerned for Gav’s health. Truly hope that a full recovery is imminent. Hope you are well. Are you enjoying the nest now all the birds have flown?
You ended your last email with the words: “The news from the house is probably boring, really.” This could not be further from the truth. When I got home that night, just to let you know how untrue that was to me, I composed the following words:
Know that the certainties and regularities of home are of comfort and reassurance to me.
An article on travel writing I came across emphasises the importance of making something out of precious little. I feel that the vastness of the pyramids, the grandeur of a palace, the remoteness of a desert, the dazzle of a fine restaurant…these things speak for themselves. They may excite, may astound, but one can live without them. To be deprived of the oxygen of family love is to lose the fuel for the engine of my existence. Your art gives the mundane life, makes the common special.
With words, Mum, you are truly an artist. Yours is a mastery of the play on words, the pun. Your skill with puns is but a drop of water in the ocean of your talents. Your wordplay shines as diamonds, rough and pure without polish.
Critical acclaim is only one measure of success. You are one of my literary heroes. It is not in our British nature to accept even genuine praise but you have shaped me more than have Fry, Wilde and Brand. For every professional recorded artist there are one thousand talented amateurs. Their close friends know themselves privileged when they hear those songs, read those words that few others may ever know.
Doubtless, I am biased, but not entirely without criticism. I know that comedy is not so easily forged and you have sharpened your tools and honed your talents so that a veritable furnace of emotions rages through your words. I hold them dear and in highest regard; I will eagerly consume your words on any subject.
So please, do not ever assume that your words are boring to me, especially when they inspire thoughts of all I cherish. You managed to convey to me, in all of five minutes, what some would gladly take as their daily emotional quota. Reading your email, I laughed aloud; I also felt sorrow and pity.
Never forget how your words have lifted up, cared for and enriched the lives of hundreds of people, most of all my own. Thanks for your love and inspiration.
Joseph Thomas Davies
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Mother’s Day 2010
It was the 4th of July. I chose to spend the afternoon at a local cafe reading and chain smoking, thinking, “It’s only been 2 months since the last time she and I woke up in the same bed.” It was a month since I saw her as a woman who would not be coming home with me that night. Perhaps we had been apart longer than I wanted to think. Perhaps for a long time I’d been waking up in the morning next to someone who wasn’t my lover. I’d been living alone in a crowded home.
I told myself that now with I could focus on being alone. Seated at an outdoor table, I tried my best to drown out the sights and sounds around me. Had I stayed home to read I couldn’t have believed myself to be a part of the street, the city and the world.
Once I got comfy in my seat, a loud, sharp bang sounded behind me. My first thought was bitter and removed and one I’d had many times before, “What a great holiday. Let’s celebrate America by blowing shit up.” Then the burning began in my chest.
In trying to draw a deep breath I experienced the distinction between trying and doing. All that I’d been ignoring, all the noises on the street before me, became screamingly loud. Tables rattled as they were upturned and patrons scrambled for cover, their shouts ringing in my ears. I followed suit and hit the ground; this came all too naturally to me. As I sat beneath the rubble of a shattered table, I felt the heat radiate from my back.
I began to see red, hearing more gunshots, now in the distance. I imagined they’d been fired by a scorned lover shooting his way out of a crowded street. It was then that I made the call.
I grabbed my cellphone. Feeling suddenly capable, I dialed the number for international emergency; Chicago was a metropolis after all. How she not see how I was filled with useful information like this, what a hand I could be in a jam?
“Chicago police, what’s your emergency?” a very insoucient voice chirped.
“There’s been a shooting.”
After I had informed the woman of the details of the scene, the location, and the amount of time that had elapsed since the shooting, I let slip that it was I who was, in fact, shot. I loved the attention that purred through her voice in two words: “Stay calm.”
She was focused on my well-being, on me. It felt as meaningful as if she had professed her undying love to me, and so I couldn’t help it when I said, “Please don’t leave me like this.”
I felt strangely contented by the possibility of death. I had come to the cafe hoping to run into my ex to tell her how wonderful my life was now. So instead I lied through my teeth to the operator. I sent the misguided bullet right over the phone to her. “Please,” I murmured, “Stay with me.”
She answered without missing a beat. “I’m with you, I’m right here. Help is…”
I closed my phone, having heard what I wanted to hear. I felt slightly guilty for putting a strange woman through the drama of my call. I closed my eyes, and as the sights and sounds faded I was truly a part of the city.