Hot Summer Strikes Again

DMZ Lines drawn

Part 1: the bus arrives

The war that never truly ended, began again over an incredibly minor attack on one’s ego. The two countries had been continuously at each other’s throats since the supposed end of the Korean war. In recent years if a person read the news they would see two things. One, America meddling with the two country’s unstable relationships, always standing behind the South as the big force that no one wants to mess with, but continuously egging on the North. And two, North Korea’s continuous absurd threats and proclamations which it does not follow through on. After his father died, Kim Jong-un seemed ready to surpass his father in these absurdities. As supreme leader of North Korea, he told the world that he was the greatest  in a number of unlikely categories (basketball player, leader, superhero, etc), and also his threats to attack, to bomb, to destroy South Korea, came and went with a regularity that they became a joke to much of the world. The son who cried wolf to the world. It seemed that one day he would have to really do it. After the world became passive against him, sure his threats were idle. The boy-turned-dictator of a poor and struggling country. His immaturity was obvious, but that certainly didn’t rule out a failed attack, when his ego told him he must stand up or shut up, no matter if he was doomed to fail.

So recently, once again, things began to heat up in South Korea. There was one difference this time though, I was there, I was there with a class of PSU students who came to teach English and explore the country and culture. I don’t want this to sound like I was some kind of hero in the events that follow though. Oh no, much the opposite, I was merely another observer, witness to some unexpected involvement of my classmates and the attack of Mr. Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea.

We arrived in Seoul after our teaching at two ten day summer camps, and spend a few days touring the area curtsey of the South Korean government which was hosting us. Then a group of us decided to stay behind in Korea for an extra week after everyone else went home. It was about fifteen of the thirty PSU students, but I shared a hostel with five of those students, with a few other cameo appearances along the way. In Seoul we learned that we could tour the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It was a chance to say we had visited North Korea, where Americans were definitely not allowed due to our country’s aggressive behavior against their government. But before we had a chance to go we heard news stories that landmines had been planted in the area, and that South Korea would begin a loudspeaker campaign along the border, shouting Anti-communist propaganda, pro-freedom propaganda, and most dangerous of all, K-Pop! One in our group, Grant, seemed wholly unconcerned, so we talked with locals, and they didn’t seem worried. We figured, hey they live with this every day, right on the border of the North, and likely Jong-un’s first target. So fuck it! We went on the tour anyway.

Here is the part about the Jong-un ego. The man who recorded the loudspeaker announcement made a fatal error in formality. In one recording, while reading the dialogue written earlier by a young woman of the South Korean military, he accidentally referred to the supreme leader as oppa, which in Korean is what you call an older man if you are a woman, or if you are romantically involved with someone. So this sounded like the message of a boyfriend talking about his man. Of all the messages there was just this one slipup, this one word deviation of what could be accepted by Mr. Jong-un.

The boys on both the North and South Korean side of the DMZ had a good laugh about the supreme leader’s new sexual orientation. Homosexuality being such a joke to everyone, and still such an unaccepted act for someone, especially the dictator of an entire country, that the joke spread. Murmurs and laughs on behalf of the supreme leader spread all the way up to Jong-un’s palace staff. Until sitting on his patio, napping by the pool, the joke was overheard by the man himself—Jong-un. He arose from his tranquil daydream furious.

“What the fuck did you say?” He screamed at the man, who was behind his personal pool bar. And from the belt of his security officer, he shot the man, already cowering, dead on the spot.

Into his meeting room, Jong-un’s top fifteen advisors met to discuss this rumor. They assured him they could remedy the situation. That they would have the recording changed.

“Who is this man shouting into my country as if he were my boyfriend?”

“Sir, sir, we assure you it is just a propaganda messages, they are trying to stir you,” his advisor pleaded.

“I will kill this man!” Jong-un wailed.

“Sir, sir, please, it is just a recording we will stop it,” the advisor went on.

“I will go down there right now. He wants to suck on something, it can be the barrel of my gun!”

“No, no, sir, please you must not expose yourself, you are safer here,” another advisor pleaded.

“Supreme Leader, you must not go, tonight we have a surprise dinner for you,” the first advisor bargained. “It is your favorite, human baby and mango sticky rice. ”

“Yes sir, and we have three new boys for you to try out, very fresh,” the second continued.

“We have word that it is already changed, sir,” a third stated it. “You spoke and the message complied.”

“No, no,” Jong-un continued. “Prepare my jeep, I go now to confront this man, this coward who lies about me.”

“But sir we do not even know who recorded the message, how can you find him?” A doomed advisor put in.

“You, shut up!” Boomed Jong-un, upholstering his gun. “I will go find this man with the booming voice, I am the supreme leader! You dare think there is anything I can’t do?”

“No, no, sir. Sorry sir,” the doomed man cried. But it was too late, he was shot down in his chair. The rest of the advisors quieted immediately and fell in line.

“You jeep is ready sir,” entered a new voice, followed by complies, of encouragement to the supreme leader.

“I have the biggest dong!” Jong-un cheered.

Part 2: Danze-off

At that time I was starting the DMZ the tour. Our group was solely myself and the other Portlanders from my hostel: Tabina and Grant, the inseparable duo of cocktails and long naps. Summer and Lily, the dance crazy clubbers, and most productive of the group. Myself and Daniel, the old men. The six of us had been out late the night before, but still made the 7am wakeup call to go on the tour. We were all a little delirious, save for Lily, who was smart enough not to drink all you can handle sugar bomb cocktails at Ho Bar XXVII.

The DMZ tour began with a look across a giant green field at North Korea on the other side. We could see the guards from both sides with binoculars, and could faintly hear the loudspeakers blaring in Korean. Our guide gave us a history of the conflict between the two countries, and how this four kilometer wide, heavily guarded, piece of land separated the two countries. The tour seemed like it would be pretty boring, just an opportunity to say you had stepped foot in North Korea, but the day was still young. At around noon we went further into the DMZ over an old bridge, and unloaded from the bus. The North Korean officers were about a hundred meters away, and hardly noticed us tourists, just a normal day on duty.

Now up close the loudspeakers boomed in Korean, and the soldiers stood in their green military kakis, legs apart and AK47’s in hand. It really was very cool, this part of the tour. We looked at these soldiers, people who would likely love to raise their guns and fire a few hunks of lead our way. A big fuck you to us tourists, gawking at them in their poverty and lack of freedom. Like the kid at the zoo, pounding on the Gorilla glass, pointing and laughing at one he thinks inferior. Though cruel in some respects, it was incredibly exciting, what danger lay across the invisible line that divided the DMZ from North Korea?

Then, as we looked them over, and talked amongst ourselves, they began to stir. Shouts came, and the guards on the frontlines got close, and as word traveled between them, they became visibly disturbed. Many seemed not to know what to do, they waved their hands in the air, rifles still slung over their shoulders, and saluted those who had approached. The new men pointed fingers, and though silent from our positions, yells were visible. Some ran off, others got into guard position awkwardly and with too much show.

We were all still in the phase of saying “What the fuck” amongst each other, trying to understand…when we saw the man, the man himself, Kim Jong-un, come barreling up between them. We of course didn’t have any idea who he was, but he seemed important. He wore a finer blue and gold uniform, metals and military decorations covered his chest, and they all gave him so much space, so much fearful respect, that we knew this man was special. Now we were silent, but that silence was broken when he pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots in to a guy on the front lines, one who had turned to him to answer question.

“Whoa shit, don’t mess with that man,” Grand laughed, never phased too much.

The tour guides who had come with us, began to run towards a building behind us, and to speak rapidly in Korean. We followed them inside, where we found Korean soldiers, quiet and glued to a panel cut into the brick building which allowed you to look out.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. Everything will be alright,” the guide told us without a hint of belief in his voice. He was practically peeing his pants.

We babbled amongst ourselves of what to do. Grant seemed unmoved by the events, he joked of the craziness of the man with the gun. Tabina smacked him. Daniel tried to reassure us that we would get on the bus and leave. Lilly, Summer and me tried to stay calm, but we talked to fast and jumped to conclusions (some correct). Basically everyone was in shock at just seeing a murder, and at the fear of all of the guards around us.

The men at the window shrieked, and tensely yelled at each other. One backed up and went into the bathroom, we didn’t see him come out till everything had transpired. I pushed my way up to see what was happening, just in time to see the man with all the metals and his entourage of guards, rush past the window.

The door opened. Guns drawn the men entered and the lined the insides of the small room, yelling at us. We got our hands up, and some got down on the ground. We could not understand the shouts of the man with the metals that came next, but later we were told he wanted to know who was yelling across the border? Who was calling him a gay man?

The South Koreans inside lay quiet. I looked around at every person, and fear covered the faces of our Korean friends, and most of my group from the states. Grant still seemed slightly amused by the situation, like this was a damn good show, and Summer, something in Summer was not right. She looked like she was going to do something. In my mind I screamed No, just submit! I tried to make eye contact with her, but she would not look over, her stare was trained on the man in charge of the room, yelling at all of us. And then it happened. Summer—the tall wavy haired, dancing queen from Lake Oswego—spoke.

“Uh, can someone tell us what is going on? Maybe we are just in the way?”

Jong-un stopped speaking and looked at her, and I think something in Summer must have snapped, she couldn’t take anymore.

“Yeah? What do you want from us little man?”

Well Jong-un didn’t take being talked to in this tone very well. He came up to her shouting and put a giant, shining, silver hand cannon in her face. But the look Summer had was hard to interpret. She seemed more angry than scared. Standing a shoulder above this man, who seemed so powerful, she was cautious, but she looked dangerous as hell.

Breaking the silence that we were all feeling, the silence of guns drawn and unanswered questions. Fittingly, the loud speaker changed from monotonous speech, to “Good Luck,” a past number one K-Pop hit. As it slowly led in, beats swaying and mysterious, Jong-un began to move from side to side slowly, his finger came up and snapped with the beat. And with the first solo by Beast’s Jun-hyung, the supreme leader’s eyes shifted to the ceiling in an overly empathetic connection to the song.

Why, why you leave me alone. Baby,” the emotional lyrics cried. “I’m still, still, loving you…”

            When the song quickly built and broke with distorted electronic beats into a chaotic futuristic dance, seeming unable to contain herself Summer’s hips began to jerk. Her arms went over her head and she looked down and Jong-un, gun still pointing at her, and began to menacingly shake her shoulders. A taunt, and telling of no, you can’t threaten me. A challenge was made, plain to see by all who could feel the music and energy exploding in the room.

Now I want you to know where I was right now. I was screaming in my brain, Noooo, what the fuck are you doing Summer, he is going to kill us all!

Instead, Jong-un lowered the gun, looked her in the eyes, and started twerking like you have never seem a short chubby, man in uniform do. The metals on his chest began to jingle—like the starting bell of an Olympic event. The two crazy people in the room went off, dance battle begun.

With the next song we were all marched outside, and the battle continued. We lined up. Grant again seemed unconcerned with the gun in his back, turning and telling the guy to knock it off. Tabina was rooting her girl on. Lily seemed to be making eye contact and gestures with one of the cuter North Korean guards, maybe her future husband. Grandpa Dan was telling Summer to cool it, quite aware that we might all be killed here.

For three more songs they battled. Jong-un’s demeanor became much more fun alive, but he never put his gun down, never did the unstable danger leave his eyes. Visible heat waves surfed the desolate baked earth, which seemed to emanate heat, and they both sweated like crazy, but Summer seemed to be winning in terms of moral and the crowd applause that decide in a dance battle.

Ka-kao!” Simultaniously all of our phones sounded with a new Kakao Talk message. It was from Mary-Jo asking if we wanted to hang out tonight.

We are kind of busy right now, Daniel texted.

After this epic dance battle maybe, Grant replied.

Big Bang came on next. Bang Bang Bang. We knew this song well, we danced to if for our fifth grade class dance competition. Summer’s hands came up, clapping to the beat, swaying and jerking, all perfectly with the music, this was not freestyle, at least not the first forty-five seconds of the song. Then the gait of her dancing began to take her backward, step by step towards North Korea, into the middle of the DMZ.

“No.” Yelled our guide, but she could not hear him.

Jong-un followed her, but he was not dancing, he was walking, strong struts, his pistol down at his side.

Summer finished the song, she had danced like a wild god, dirt flew in the air, fake guns flying. In the style of Big Bang, she was over the top bad ass. It was a huge production, a show of who is the shit, and who is shit. It was violent, sexual, and full of a style that said, you can’t stop this. And then she stood staring at him, waiting for his next move, confident that he could not better what she had just given.

Kim Jong-un looked at her, his anger swelled and consumed into a calm, and he played the final move. He raised his arm, the silver of the pistol, catching light as it aimed death at Summer. Then a laugh came from him, demonic as it bellowed from his gut and hastened into a maniacal cackle. His finger on the trigger, he took a step closer to Summer.

BOOOOOMMM!!!!

In an instant Kim Jong-un was torn to a million pieces by one of his own country’s landmines, and sprayed onto everyone. A finger here, some bone fragments there. I gold ring smacked me in the cheek (I took it as a souvenir.)

And that was it. Event closed. Winner decided. The North Koreans went back to the north, minus one who tried to accompany Lily, only to be shut out by the other South Koreans. We got into the bus, used moist towellets to clean off the blood, and went back to our hostel.

Ho Bar again tonight? Then Ocean club, Summer is hot tonight! Tabina texted to the other PSU students of our group.

And that’s the story of how North Korea got their new president, Kim Jong-sung

The Tools of Living

Obviously, when he first got to South America he was a tourist. Tours, treks, hostels—he burned through money and felt joy in doing places—”I did Santiago last week. Did Patagonia…Did Peru…Columbia…I really want to do Brazil next.”—as if an entire country could be summed up so easily. It was less the experience as it was being able to say he had done it. He met friendly locals, cool business owners, and other tourists from all over the world. There was a real tourist culture that came from the feeling of knowing that you were all travelers—that you had left your old lives behind. You had balls because it did take a lot of courage to go out into the world on your own, or even with a close friend. Not groups of friends though, the experience was different. Easier, muddled, disconnected from the culture you traveled to. Yes, being alone was where you proved yourself.

The locals had a special tourist culture as well. They knew how to read foreigners, and how to sell to them. It was a salesmanship at least understandable, and at times the most unique, adaptable, weird bearded guy you’ve ever met. These guides, moto-taxis, hook-ups or “friends” could see a tourist coming from a mile away, and knew just what to say to force them to stop their intended march past. They knew how to surprise, how to joke, and how to convince in godlike ways.

The superficial hostel hoping didn’t last long. At around two months he became bored, started to see through the monotony of his travels. It takes a certain amount of unhappiness to motivate a person to reach for the next good thing. When his travels started to feel repetitive and mundane he realized it was time for the next adventure.

Jamie Howard came to South America after years of sitting on the desire to go, letting it build till it was ready to explode. It wasn’t that he was afraid to leave the country, he just kept getting held back. School, though unnecessary in his own mindset, could be useful in the future. It could make life a little easier down the line, and make getting a job teaching English a possibility. School was slow because he also had monetary restrictions—meaning he was broke. He had to be really. If he wanted the government to pay for his school he had to be poor, very poor, and he was not rich enough to pay for school himself. He was trapped on the cusp of poverty and comfortability. Real poverty was never an issue though, not in America. Jamie was always saving, he could save in nearly any situation, but from his income those savings equaled—not very much. The secret, he would say, was to live below your means, no matter what those means were. Jamie saved for years at those low means. South America was to be an escape from money and restriction, at least the way he imagined it. An educated guess he would say. In South America he imagined he could live cheaply, experience something new daily, and get a good paying job merely because of the language he spoke. He imagined money would not be a worry, and his life would be filled with a sun-soaked happiness.

Jamie found volunteer jobs on the internet. He had intended to wwoof from the beginning. He traveled out to local farms and got room and board for his work. He wanted it to feel like old cowboy times; just working the meal line; an honest day’s pay for and honest day’s work, but most the of the time it was more of an tourist operation. They were real farms, but there was an air of fakeness to them. That salesmanship again, present in the way he was treated. Maybe there were too many other white people there for him to feel special, he wondered. So he worked his way to new places, got better at searching out farms that felt more authentic, improved his Spanish, and made friends who pointed him in the right direction. Eventually he found himself a part of a family. A community too. A small rural town in Chile. He would help in their grape farms and the smaller family garden, which at two acres was not so small at all. He didn’t work too hard, and didn’t get paid at all, but his family was generous. The meals at home were delicious, and they even took him out to restaurants once in a while. When they did the family’s table was always the focus of the restaurant. His skin color made him a celebrity, and his new family by association, but it was not as bad as it was in other places. Here it was respectful, not greedy. His new family was poorer than he, but they did not try to take his money. He justified that it was a fair trade: he gave them work and made them special in town; they fed him and gave him a way of living that he could not achieve on his own. The truth was that the real trade was in the friendships they gave each other, the trade of cultures that enriched both.

Jamie told himself that he would write once he had the time and space to do so. South America was to be that space. He knew that there would always be other obligations, but he figured it would be almost easy while traveling. So much inspiration lay in wait for him on his journeys, and so much free time. There’s a big difference between writing for pleasure and obligation. The words just come out differently; they lack heart when they are forced. He had hoped pleasure lay in South America, and it did much of the time. He would wake up with the sun, the cultural norm where he now lived. Some days he had a hot cup of coffee, others tea and breakfast. He would go sit in the field soaking up the sun and looking out at the crops to be worked, or the mountains in the distance, their forested peaks behind flat farm land were picturesque. Or he would sit in the cool square shack he called home, big enough for his one person bed, a desk, and still room for working out or yoga. The floor was dirt, his bare feet planted on the earth. He spent plenty of time at his little desk in front of shutters that opened to fresh air and sunlight, without the barrier of a window separating him from the outside world. Some mornings he went on long walks, or went to town to get breakfast and be visited by curious townspeople who wanted to practice their English. Jamie did not write a novel, this was no writer’s fantasy of easily completed books, but he wrote what he felt and enjoyed the writing. It was beautiful like his surroundings. Beautiful like the beauty he began to find in his heart. A happiness in him that could well tears to his eyes at unexpected moments of overwhelming emotion. He had reached the point where his expectations, even the long-shot possibilities, had been surpassed. Where to go next, and when, were a complete mystery to him.

One morning, as the sun rose with Jamie, he had the urge to work. His shorts lay bunched on the chair beside his bed. He slid into them and walked out his door into the field without a shirt or shoes. He walked till he found root crops in need of weeding. He got down on his hands and knees, and dug his fingers into the soil, pulled it up and sucked the soil smell into his nose. So clean, he though. He worked for a few hours allowing himself to be side tracked with the movements of little insects foraging and worms wriggling in the upturned soil, with the good morning waves from his family, and with moments to take in the feeling of the breeze rushing across his bare sweating skin. His back ached and it felt good. He worked till he was done, a feeling he knew only when it came. When it had, he stood, breathed a deep and relieving breath, and went to the house for breakfast and cold tea. He had a full day ahead of him, what would he do? The possibilities are endless, he though.

My Story by Yash Ere Singh

My name is Yash, Yash Ere Singh is my whole name, but please just call me Yash. I come from Moolathara Village in southern India. It is in the Palakkad District, in the state of Kerala. Kerala is no doubt where you have heard of, but I have never been there, in fact I have never in my nineteen years left my village. I was a rice farmer in Moolathara. I was, but I am no longer. My family has lived on the land here, in a small house among the paddies, for many generations. When I was a boy I would help in the harvests, and planting of the rice. I would hand my mother, or brother, seeds as they nestled them into small mounds of soil below the thin layer of water in the flooded fields. As I grew older my father and grandfather taught me to build the minor embankments around the paddies to hold in the water which we flooded them with. In rice farming the water is the most important element. It is the life of the rice plants, what they drink in order to grow. Without it they die. Like me, the water is their life source, and death. We farmed rice where I live in southern India because the rains here were hard, and there is much water deep down in the soil. There was, anyway.

My favorite time was the harvest. This had to be timed between the rains. We got to use big rounded blades called scythes, and cut the rice stalks at their base. I was not allowed to do this till I was older though. I would collect the stalks and put them in piles. Later we would take handfuls of the stalks and beat the tops, the rice pods, onto a metal screen tilted at a 45 degree angle, above a tarp. The rice would fall through the mesh onto the tarp. We collected it in this way. Later we spread the rice out on the road to dry, and let the winds blow away the chaff and other light material of the rice that flaked off. We swept the rice around throughout the day to encourage more chaff to fall off, until after a few days we collected it up and it was ready for selling. My real favorite part was what we did with the stalks. We put them in big piles in the fields and burned them. The flames were big and powerful. Even at a distance the heat that came off the piles was incredible, and the pillars and plumes of black smoke that twisted into the air, and up to the unknown, never failed to hold my attention and imagination. I wonder if I saw them today if I would be transported back to the awe of my youth? Or if now I am too hard and cold to feel the wonder that I did back then?

My family was, me, my mother and father, my grandfather (my father’s father), my older brother Rut, and my younger sister Abi. We were not a rich family, but we got by. Our house was in the middle of our paddy as I said. We had a few papaya and coconut trees, some ponds with fish, and a small garden built on raised beds of soil. Really my house was build around the water, or should I say within it. When the rains came everything got wet, so we had to build raised areas for us to live on, and paths to travel on when walking around farm. Our primary source of income was from rice. My brother did get into politics, but that was not till later. My brother is only a few years older than me, so we, my sister included, were all in school. This was still ten years ago in 1993, when Coca-Cola was just moving in. They began building their factor on the edge of town, but since we also were on the edge of town, we were quite close and could see the factory in the distance. Sometimes I would sneak out to the fence that surrounded it and wonder what secrets lay inside. Many in my village went to work for Coca-Cola when they were building, and later, in the factory. In this way many thought Coca-Cola was a friend, to give so much work to our village. But not my father, he said they would hurt us.

I was nine when the Coca-Cola factor moved into my town. There was a vote as to whether they were allowed in , but my father said it didn’t matter, the local government was getting paid by Coca-Cola, so they would be allowed to build. I was young and I was excited. I said YES to Co-kah, as we called it. On special occasions my mother bought me the sweet beverage, and I loved it. It was a great treat. So in my child mind I assumed that when they moved in next door they would share Coca-Cola with me, like all neighbors share and trade what they have with each other. I figured they would be a part of our community, in this positive, sharing way, of which I understood community. They did share with us, but it was not bottles of Co-kah, it was the waste[i] from the process of making their many sodas.

In the years that followed Coca-Cola’s moving to my village, many bad things happened. It was a slow process but the signs were always there. The factory was surrounded by a strange smell. It smelled burnt, but also mixed with chemicals and sweet at the same time. My mother said she knew the smell, she said when she was a girl her brother had gotten injured and lost his leg. She said it was the smell that came from his sick leg as it slowly died; gangrene.  But I don’t think this was accurate. When you smell dying, infected flesh, you know it is bad, but the smell that came from the factory was both good and bad. It would be like covering my uncles dying leg in sugar and baking it.

There was also a stream that came out of the factory. It was very dirty. We were told to stay away from it because we would get sick if we played in it. One boy did, Maagh, a boy a few years younger than me who I went to school with. He played in the runoff often, and then one day he did not come to school. At first I thought it would just be for a little while, but he never came back. Something went wrong inside body, and his organs stopped working[ii]. He died after a few months. The river was blamed for his death, and we were even more afraid of it; everyone avoided it at all costs. But my father said we could not avoid the stream, that it was seeping into the soil and that we were all drinking it because it was going into our water. He said he could taste it. Some people said there were holes in the earth inside the factory fence, that were filled with the same sludge as in the stream. My father was right, but at the time he did not know the science behind it. Our whole town was connected by and aquifer that lay beneath us and held all our water. Many of us had wells, and there was a big one in the center of the village. These wells tapped into the aquifer, and yes we later learned from studies done by concerned people like my brother, that Coca-cola was contaminating the whole aquifer.[iii]

There was also something worse than the contamination that Coca-Cola was doing to our water. They were using too much of it[iv]. In my traditions we have a kind of connection with nature. We know that it gives us life so we take from it sparingly so it will not get mad and go away from us. We looked at the water as a present from the gods. The rains that came, enabled us to grow our rice and quench the thirst of ourselves and our animals. When the rains did not come we believed it was because we had angered the gods. After Coca-Cola came, the gods became angry. The rains began to slow and drought came to us.

As the years past I grew into a man. I was married to Kavisha, my neighbor’s daughter. We tried to start a family of our own, but Kavisha could not get pregnant. Maybe it was because of the sickness in the land, and a chemical I have heard mentioned called DDT[v]. I became very poor too. My father’s lands dried up. Water would not come, and so rice would not grow. My sister had died also, over the course of a few years. The doctors did not know why she got sick, but we all knew it was from the chemicals coming out of the Coca-Cola factory. After my brother became a politician, he would show us facts of how Coca-Cola was illegally drawing too much water from the earth. That they had made six huge wells that stole 1.5 million liters of water a day[vi]. He said they were running their factory in ways not mandated by the government. He said that Coca-Cola saw the water as money. That they stole it and then resold it. He said the water belonged to the people and that the factory took more than their fair share. This was my brother’s view though. I agreed that Coca-Cola was taking too much, but I did not care for his political ways. I thought he overcomplicated it. I believed nature and I were one. I did not think water was a legal right, I thought that the water and the earth were my family. When we lived in harmony, life flowed more smoothly. The gods were happy. Nature and I shared the same gods, and we were gods by the same respect. This is what I believed, but I don’t think about my beliefs very often anymore. For me there was also the reality of my situation in front of me. So I did what I could to get by. When we could no longer grow rice, I went to work for Coca-Cola.

I worked in the shipping department at Coca-Cola, stacking the heavy crates into trucks to be hauled away. Millions of bottles of that sweet liquid I craved as a child, went through my hands every day. The company sees these bottles of sugar water as a commodity to make profit by, but I see the soda as the water of life I once knew, dirtied by their process. I read once that it takes nine liters of clean water to manufacture a liter of Coca-Cola[vii]. I would rather have the nine bottles of water. I did not want these bottles of soda, I did not want to drink them. I only wanted water. But sometimes I did drink Co-kah because there was no water to drink. My brother showed me a letter[viii] Coca-Cola had written in response to his colleagues official complaint to them. It said they had set up rainwater harvesting ponds which held 27 million liters of water. I believed it too. The factory was huge, and in it somewhere was enough water to flood my father’s rice field. And the fields of our neighbors. In it was enough water to fill the town’s wells which now held a thin layer of silt filled water at their bottoms. Somewhere in the factory was enough water for me to fill up an empty coke bottle and bring it home to my wife.

So this is where my story ends. My father is not the man he once was. He is old and angry, he drinks rice wine and yells. He does very little with his time. My mother is much the same. She has retreated from life. She sits in our house, in a kind of daze. She helps Kavisha with housework, but there is not much to do, because there are not many living in my house anymore. My father and mother watch a lot of TV now, sitting next to each other not speaking. My brother tries to change the world. He wants to make India a better place, and he want to fix the wrongs that have been committed to our village, and to others like it. He knows the water is key to fixing our problems, but he only sees it as tool. He lives in the city now, and drinks water from bottles. He sends money home to us sometimes. But it is not money that we need, it is purpose. We, my father and I, my family and ones like it, we need to go back to the past. We need our hands in the earth. Wet hands, our feet suctioning in the mud as we plant rice. We need to work, backs bent—hard work. We need the days before harvest, watching the sky, deciding when the rains will come, and when there will be respite from them to let our rice dry. Now there is only respite from the rains. I need to go back to being to that kid watching the flames roar over cut rice stalks, and the black smoke twisting into the sky. But we cannot go back to the past, so on my walk to work, I stare at the silver pillars which protrude from the Coca-Cola factory, and now and then I see thin white smoke wafting up into the air. It is not the same, but it is better than nothing.

*

*

*

*

*

[i] Vandana, Shiva (2006). “Coke Pepsi and the Politics of Food Safety.” Z Space. Retrieved from:  http://www.zcommunications.org/space/viewCommentaryPrint/2690.

[ii] (See i). The effects of exposure to this waste are not fully documented, but it contains high amounts of Cadmium and Lead. “Cadmium has the potential to cause effects like kidney dysfunction, damage to bone, liver and blood. lead affects the central nervous system, kidney, blood and cardio-vascular system” (Vandana 2006).

[iii] Vendana, Shiva (2005). “India: Soft Drinks, Hard Cases.” Mindfully.org. Retrieved from:  http://www.midfully.org/water/2005/India-Coca-Cola-Pepsi12mar05.htm.

[iv] (see i and iii).

[v] (see vi)

[vi] Office of the Perumatty  (2003, September 18). “Panchayat Letter to Coca-Cola.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_perumattyletter.html.

[vii] (see iii).

[viii] Coca-Cola India (2003, November 5). “Response from Coca-Cola India.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_cocacolaletter.html

Ryan

Ryan

A man sits in his apartment, lonely and lazed on the couch watching bad TV. An advertisement comes on for a dial up prostitute service. There are beautiful girls, made up and shining, perfect tits and their vagina’s ready to be filled. He dials and they offer a number of names to choose from. He chooses Ryan. He pictures a twenty-four year old redhead, hair to her shoulders the same length all the way around and curled in at the bottom towards her neck. He pictures blue eyes and fair skin and a porno plays out in his mind.

A knock at the door.

Ryan enters, tall, with short black hair and a black leather jacket. His jeans are black, as are his shoes, but he wears a tight white T-shirt.

The man is dumbfounded. “You are a man?”

“Yes?”

“ I was expecting a woman.”

“Ryan. I’m Ryan. You ordered me. Hey can I use your bathroom a minute?”

The man nods and points at a door across the room. He feels trapped, he did order Ryan, but surely the ad had only women. When Ryan comes out he tries to explain but Ryan expects payment.

“I came all the way down here fella, so how do you want it? What are ya into?”

“I’m terribly sorry, I don’t want anything.”

“Then why did you order? I can’t come all the way down here just to be sent home, I have to make money, right?”

“Yes, I can see that, but I don’t want to fuck you. I could try but I don’t think I’d enjoy it much,” the man pleads. “You know?”

A smirk pulls on Ryan’s face, “Yes I suppose you wouldn’t, but I still need to get paid.”

The man pulls money out of his pocket. He counts through the bills, all folded separately and disorganized in his pocket. He counts them out. “How about I give you fifty?” he asks, holding out an offer of cash, and still leaving some folded bills in his reserved hand probably equaling thirty bucks, but it’s hard to tell.

Ryan thinks hard, and accepts swiping the money and heading for the door.

“How much would it have cost me?” the man asks.

“Depends on what you would have wanted.” he pulls out a piece of paper, and on it are various sex acts with prices: 1 night $130, anal $30, facial $20, cuddling $40, whipping $25 etc.

The man looks at the list, he had expected it to be more expensive. Ryan has left and the man stumbles to the door still looking at the paper, then looking out the door at Ryan leaving down the hallway of his apartment he calls, “Have a good night, Thank you.”

Ryan puts a hand up over his head, waving but not looking back.

Hamburger

He was born of grass and grain, broken to the smallest elements, reprocessed in way of protein, fat and carbohydrates, and grew into the left rear of a black and white spotted Hereford. Life was slow, his host was lazy and fat, and so thus was he too. He longed to work and flex his muscles but exercise existed only in the way of walking and casually drifting during the graze. Over the years he grew bigger and perfectly marbled with delicious fat.

One day his host was thrown into a chute and a needle full of steroids was pumped into him. It burned for days. This was just the beginning of the pain he would feel in his life. The shots would continue, always in the ass, always in him. Then one day, he and the spotted Hereford would be herded inside a truck and transported for a grueling 400 miles, then carted into a factory and put in a long line of others just like them. The fear of his host would send endorphins into him and he would tense with the fear as well. As they approached the front of the line the fear great unbearable and the meat of his whole body was tainted. Then a bolt tore through the skull and brain of the spotted Hereford and it died.

He did not die though, his lifeblood drained slowly from him, and strength of his cells depleted slowly and agonizingly. He was hung from a hook among thousands of other parts like him. It was cold, colder than he had ever been, and he didn’t move for almost a week. Then he was pulled down by a short man with a thin black pervert mustache and short hair, and brown skin of course. The man brought him to a small room, and cut him, his body, from the the bone he was connected to. Next he was shoved into a grinder with hundreds of others, all abused and unhappy like him. They were torn apart and mixed together.

He was packaged next. In hundreds of different packages pieces of him struggled on Styrofoam, encased in saran wrap. He could hardly breath and felt himself beginning to rot, a hundred fold times at once. He was then moved in another trunk and placed in a store.

Joe bought one of him, and Steve, and Mary, and Phil and Irene. A restaurant named Dottie’s Cafe bought him in bulk. Slight variations of his torture happened in their homes and businesses. His body mutilated with burning spices, and left to sit and marinate in pain. Then heat, always heat. They burned him alive, till most of him was dead. Some left more alive than others, but always his outsides were charred. Then he was eaten.

Chewed up and swallowed, mixed with different acids and pushed through the stomach of a human, and now and then a dog. There was not much left of him any more, his senses no longer wished for it to stop, wished for those peaceful days in the field, getting fat in the sunshine. At this point he just went with the flow, which eventually ended up coming out of his new host as shit, or passing through the element process again and becoming proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The parts that just became shit, ended up on the ground. It sucked him up and produced grass and other new vegetable life with what little nourishment was left of him.

He never died, just continued on and on, but it could be said that there were parts of his existence that he enjoyed more than others.

The Mechanical Beast

The Mechanical Beast by Jon Raby

This story began long ago – three years ago for Awlison, one of seven pups – but well before this the story began. It began when there were forests less inhabited by humans, when wildlife had room to run, and hunt, and live. When humans were not encroaching on the wilderness with buildings and toxic run off, and the systematized harvesting of so many homes within the forest. This story should begin before all of these terrible forces of destruction but it will not, instead it will jump right into the middle.

A truck slammed its breaks and from behind the metal grill, a deep, low pitched honk steadily yelled in all directions. The she-wolf could feel its intention was focused at her, she froze not knowing what to do, for a split second all of her being just stopped. What this huge beast was she did not know, but she was aware that it could surely outrun her, and was large enough to kill her quickly if it wanted to, if she could only know where its head was located.

When the honk stopped she came to her senses. The giant beast of a truck was no longer moving, she had not been attacked. She was still alive. Quickly she darted out of the street and back onto the small black rocked ground next to a building. She was unaware of her surroundings as she had never seen things like this before. When first she ventured into this unknown world a few hours earlier somehow her senses had been scrambled. Now she knew not which way was home, something she had never before been at a loss of, and the things she saw seemed to get stranger and stranger. Colored lights, big machines, strange structures, even the animals here wondering in a daze completely unaware of her, and seemingly each other as well as they passed by without a glance. They went inside of structures, which looked to her a cross between a tree and a cave, and came out again a few minutes later with something white in their paws that they put to their mouths again and again.

The sun had not yet risen, but soon it would. Awlison had ventured into this city setting in the middle of the night on the trail of a raccoon. She was hungry and had to feed the puppies in her stomach. She and her mate lived in a section of the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming, where the elevations range from below five thousand feet and jump to over twelve thousand. It is a place where farm land is sunny and within thirty miles snow banks stand six feet high. Awlison was just a wolf though, in fact a sheltered wolf, she had never ventured down to the farm lands to pick off sick calves. She lived high up in one of the ranges and trekked through the snow to her den. Only with puppies in her belly and a sick mate at home, did she dare to travel so far away from home, and to such unknown places. On the trail of the raccoon she knew she was in danger, but the drive for food had pushed her to follow her prey farther than she should have, and when it ducked under a parked car and then scrambled out the other side and up a building, she had already lost her bearings. Slowly she had begun to pull them together and realized where she was, or maybe better to say she realized she had no idea where she was. The smell of a local restaurant smoking meat at two in the morning had encouraged her to push on, and the excitement of this never before seen place had dulled her senses. In those early morning hours she pushed into the city much farther than she should have.

Now she was fully aware of her stupidity. Hiding in darkness against a dumpster on the asphalt of a cafe parking lot, Awlison’s mind ran frantically with fear and need. She needed to get back to the forest, but which way had she come? She was nearly a full day’s run to her den and to her mate. She knew that if she could find her way out of this place and back into the woods, she could make her way home to him, but the hunger she felt was more than just an urge, it was weakness in her muscles.

The first rays of the sun shot down on the road in front of the cafe, only slightly visible to the wolf. A door opened from the rear of the cafe, and a man headed directly at Awlison. She pushed back against the wall with nowhere to go. Her butt tucked under her, and her spine formed a large C shape. She stared intensely at the man as he approached, ready to fight if need be, but again the obliviousness of these animals surprised her. He came within feet of her, threw a garbage bag in the dumpster, turned and headed back to the door he had come from.

A growl rumbled from the wolf’s chest and out of her sharp teeth, “Grrrrrrrrrr.” It ended in the name of her mate, “Rrrr—eg”. She called for him, a longing that traveled over mountains and through the distance that lay between them. And he heard her distress, laying on the floor of their den, he pulled his strength together and tried to stand. He could not though, a dead salmon he had eaten contained parasites that had infected his body, Salmon Poisoning it is called and ninety percent of canines who get it die. Grreg’s body was trying desperately to fight now, but the parasites were winning.

Awlison sat for a while, still lost on what to do, but it was time to go, she could not stay in that parking lot forever. She tiptoed forward out of the dumpster’s shadow, and slowly to the corner of the building. On the street there were a few more people. As the day was beginning more and more people would arrive, but the wolf did not know this. She watched them, meandering along, though no turns lay in their path, always they held something in their paws.

She was able to move behind building for a while, across little parking lots and driveways and under bushes. She found holes in fences to push through, but this was difficult with her wide belly. She came to a brick wall with no way past but to go to the street. Creeping along it, to the end she came to the black asphalt, another car sped past, still some unknown creature to the she-wolf, causing her to pull back. She built herself up for a moment and with an energized fear she jumped into the road, and ran across it. A man watched, surprised to see a wolf in town, and pulled out a phone to call the police. He believed a wolf in town must be crazy and dangerous, so it must be shot. This was only sometimes true, and not in this case.

Once across the street the she-wolf was again able to make her way out of view, but the farther she went the less familiar things became. More buildings, more cars, everything became louder, she heard whistles and machinery from a not too distant factory. It seemed she was going deeper into the town but her senses told her this was the way to go. The truth was that she was close. The town lay in a valley diagonally stretching towards her home. She was on the correct side of the valley and needed only make a hard left to get out of the town and into the woods where her sense of direction would function better, but her current path kept her in the heart of town.

Eventually she came to a large field containing sheep, it stretched acres and lay on the corner of the town. Beyond the field she did not see mountains, instead she saw more grassland and then large buildings of a distant city. Awlison could not decipher the buildings as a city, and the green of the grass pulled her to enter the field. From within the house of the property a boy had seen her, his awareness keen due to an interest in his surroundings, far less dulled than that of an adult. When the boy told his father, the man grabbed a rifle and went out to protect his property. In the boy’s heart he was saddened for this mistake in telling his father, he felt something wrong in killing the wolf, but he was young and mutable and listened to his father’s instruction of halting a danger to the herd. The man drew the rifle to his shoulder and looked through the scope, scanning the field tactically in a zigzagging left, right, down; right, left down pattern to cover all the space that lie in front of him. He almost missed her, but then there she was, white fur blurred with gray interspersed throughout her straggly hair, kind of small he thought but still dangerous. He aimed the crosshairs a little in front of her, breathed in deep, and while exhaling steadily, he fired.

The shot rang out across the land, a high pitched sound of a bulled cutting through the air, tore the peacefulness of space. Before Awlison recognized any sound, the dirt in front of her face exploded, some kicked up into her eyes, blinding her, and the concussion smacked hard the inside of her ears. She spun, back the way she had come, running as fast as she could. Another patch of dirt exploded behind her, she shifted her course with each of these blows in a lawless escape. The man’s arm flinging bullets into the chamber, each with four jolts of the bolt action mechanism. He was firing too quickly and in the she-wolf’s instinctual movements she seemed to turn at just the right moments.

She made it off the property and onto the street, running at top speed in a panic past cars and people, the town now alive with the risen sun. They pointed and yelled at her, some in fear, and some in anger. Cars honked, the sound familiar to her now. After what seemed like an eternity she found a long driveway on her right and shot down it. There was an old rickety house at the end. She came up to a wood pile and burrowed her way between a crevice in the stack. This was not a good place to be but her body was weak, and the adrenaline could not carry her further. She hid in there for nearly fifteen minutes before thinking of coming out. Fear had overtaken her, she was transformed into a creature other than herself. Unknown to the wolf time was of great importance. Animal Control was on their way to the area and soon they would come down this driveway.

Looking at the house she smelled something. Chickens, she saw chickens. She crept out towards them, they were loose in the yard, foraging for bugs and worms in ground. When Awlison, the she-wolf, babies in her belly, wild with hunger and exhaustion, was close enough, she charged at a hen, grabbed it by the neck and killed it instantly. The other chickens squawked and ran in all directions calling out to no one and everyone at the same time. Awlison tore into her prey quickly, not taking it back to a safe place to eat, for there was no safe place. She ripped into its chest, blood rushed out of its still beating heart and feather flew in the air. She swallowed the meat without chewing it.

Still on all fours, she looked up and saw a man. He stood staring at her from the steps of the house. She jumped back a short distance, and got into a defensive stance facing him.

But the man did not move.

Her eyes darted left and right and then back to the chaos from where she had come at the end of the driveway.

Then the man spoke. “Alllllrrrriiiighttttt.” he said. Very slowly and softly.

The wolf did not understand his word, but the tone soothed her a little.

He backed up slowly and pulled the screen door open with a hand behind his back. He continued to face her. The door squeaked, but he stayed calm.

Awlison wanted so badly to run, but she rooted herself, waiting for her surroundings to make the first move so she could react.

But the man did not give her reason to react. “You’re oh-kayyy.” He assured her, and stepped slowly backward, one foot now inside his house.

She just watched him, not moving a muscle.

The man barely moved as he turned his head off to the left, and his eyes followed further to the side of his house and beyond. In his mind he told her: this way.

She took her eyes off him and followed his direction.

Eyes on her again, his mind pointed past his house and focused on an image of tall yellow grass, and then a forest in the distance.

Awlison was too relaxed, she tensed again.

But the man exhaled and stepped backward all the way inside the house. “Go–” he said to her loud enough for only him to hear. And he was gone behind shadows.

She stood there not moving, but she could feel him inside of her head, urging her to move to the side of the house. One step at a time she crept to the calling, the chicken still in her mouth. On the side of the building she could see broken down cars and metal scrap. The large beasts lay in wait for her, but they did not move, they were not alive, she could now tell. With courage she walked to them, sporadic head and eye movements still darting in random directions. Behind the bone yard of old machinery was a long field and way off behind it were trees.

The she-wolf just stared for a moment. Letting her senses tell her what to do and if she was safe. In confirmation with the latter she scarfed some more chicken meat down her throat, then leaving most of the carcass on the ground, crept off through tall yellow grass. Then she broke into a run and headed for the forest, and for her den with Grreg inside working hard to win his own battle for survival.

She heard the man again in her head. She felt praise from behind her, as the man stood behind a window watching her run off. “Good girl,” he said, under his breath.