Monday, September 11, 2017

ISSUE #149: Samuel Cole, Elisabeth Fuchsia, Emperor X

Photograph by Elisabeth Fuchsia

​b​y Samuel Cole

Before this round of sobriety, I was seriously contemplating how to snort my mother’s cellulite, figuring we’d both benefit from the process. Colors had lost all excitement. Seasons had become a series of black and white John Virtue paintings. Days, months, and years had blended into an amalgam of seismic coddiwomple and race course immovability. Party-fun, my kind of fun, craves continuation even when the brain, suffering from actual starvation, begins to lose its mind, its reality, and its two little girls. I’ve always been attracted to desperation. And White China cocaine. Black Tar, too. And booze. All trademarks. All heads. All right. Open vein: insert fairytale. My mother gave up on me years ago. My father died of alcohol poisoning when I was nine. My attorney moved to Barbados, and my parole officer promulgated two options: straight-and-narrow rehabilitation or prison-cell recidivism. For once, I chose temperance over temperament. For me. For Mom. For Dad. For my two little girls. For my exhausting ex-wife. Drink coffee. Stay wired on caffeine. Document the journey in a pocket size journal— I’m on the last page— a gift from Eric, my sponsor/accountability buddy, the strongest voice of influence I’ve ever known. In case I do relapse, at least I can retrace some of the steps I did climb. Step six: We’re entirely ready to have God remove all defects of character. Booyah, if that isn’t me.

Issue #149 soundtrack: Emperor X “Allahu Akbar”

Every morning, I swim a few laps in the Uptown Gym pool— scholarships are offered to the clientele of the Promise Heart Sober House, my and 19 others' slow-track-back-to-civility living situation. Eric says submersion, even with chlorine, helps detoxify maladaptive behavior. After the swim, I walk across the street and order a large caramel latte at the Starbucks inside Target Greatland. Eric says isolation is deterioration’s fondest aspiration. Being alone, he says, like Benzodiazepine, masturbation, and video games, can become a replacement addiction if one isn’t careful. I hate, and love, that he’s been clean for 12 years. He’s forgotten that abstinence to an addict often activates the compulsion to avoid it. Every month I add another shot of espresso. I’m at five. I want to be at six. Eric says seven is God’s magic number. So seven it is. I quit cigarettes, too. All or nothing this time. I can be a bit of an asshole sober. I’ve thanked Eric a billion times for the journal, in which I’ve written a personal mission statement: Stay clean, be kind, and strike up a meaningful conversation with someone new every day. Eric believes meaningful conversation advances a mindfulness narrative. Fucking optimist. He’s handsome, has bundles of hair, works in marketing, and drives a cappuccino-colored BMW. I’m on government assistance with thinning hair, no job prospects, and three pairs of Guinness flip-flops—it’s called osmosis. Keep up.

I spot two teen girls sitting at a red table, slurping strawberry Frappuccinos and giggling about whatever teen girls find funny, probably me. I name the chunky girl Gigi, huge boobs like my Aunt Gigi, and not that I know any, the other girl looks exactly like LuAnn. God, I miss my little girls.

“What can get ya?” Bob, my favorite dead-eye barista, asks.

“Large caramel latte with seven shots please.”

“Seven?” He sounds impressed, holding up as many fingers. “Feeling dangerous today, are we?”

“You have no idea.”

“If you can stand it, you can do it,” he says.

“That used to be my life mantra.”

“Used to? What is it now?”

“Isn’t the weather great today? The birds are singing. The sky’s so open and blue. I sure can’t get enough of days like today, no siree bob.” I talk loud, trying to say normal things that normal people say to a barista. I’m about as normal as a goat without legs. Eric calls us Moment Men, says our troubles begin and end with life’s harshest drug— impulsivity. I have a hard time imagining him stealing his grandmother’s pearls to buy heroin or breaking a cop’s jaw during an arrest for a fourth DUI. He, however, didn’t seem a bit surprised when I told him about an attempt to outrun the cops— blood alcohol level at 0.22, 14 points over the legal limit— driving 105 MPH down Jolsen Road, smashing headfirst into the back of a Sedan, injuring two teen girls who were waiting for a red stoplight to turn green. Eric says an admission of guilt exhumes from rock-bottom collapse first-rate forgiveness. I hope he’s right. He also recommended I title the last page of the journal CLARITY and then wait with expectancy for revelation to reveal itself. He tries so hard to be helpful. What I really need is a mind reader who can rewrite my code and turn me into salient sustainability. Eric says a life devoid of wishes is already dead. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he does get it. I add eight Splenda to the latte and take a seat at the red table beside Gigi and LuAnn. Bring on some meaningful conversation, bitches. I dare you.

“This place is super creepy today.” LuAnn stands, glaring at me for a second before facing Gigi. “I need to get going anyway. My mom’s on her broomstick again about me cleaning my room.”

“Be nice.” Gigi stands. “For real.”

I set the journal on the table and twirl a pen between my fingers, a task designed to prove that I have both the skill and determination to accomplish the task. Eric calls it control-based fidgeting. So what if it is?

LuAnn walks away, disappearing through the electric doors. Gigi lingers. “Cool trick. You a magician or something?”

I stop twirling the pen and set it atop the journal which I slide up, up, up, and away. Go away. But she doesn’t move, ogling the journal and the pen. Fourteen. Ten. Eight. I also like to count backwards, and never in order, another way of conciliating a severe social anxiety disorder. I quit Effexor, too. Eric doesn’t know this. Neither does my doc. Eighty-eight. Three. Four-hundred and six. She steps back. Not nearly far enough. Six-thousand. Eleven. Nine-hundred and fifty-nine. “I’ve definitely been under a few spells in my life.”

“So you believe in the supernatural?”

Nosey little chubster. “Like palm reading and tarot card stuff?”

“Palm reading is for amateurs," she says, "and tarot cards, like fortune cookies, offer silly ambiguity.”

Articulate little bitch. “Do you believe in the supernatural?”

“I’m a mind reader.”

“Really? Are you any good?”

“Did you hear about that school teacher in Lansing who sold research papers to students for profit?”


“Called it,” she snaps. “And that was two months before my paper-trail investigation had even started. I knew that teacher was up to something sinister. I could feel in my senses, keeping after class C and D students who never turned in a research paper a day in their life. And all of sudden they’re A students.” She laughs an unfunny laugh. “No, I don’t think so. Not on my intellect.”

“What happened to them?”

“What do you think happened? They were found guilty and punished because failure gets what failure does.”

Damn. She’s harsh. “How much do you charge for a reading?”

She sits across and pulls from a yellow purse a thick, pink notebook. “Ten bucks for 15 minutes and one dollar for every minute after that.” She opens the notebook. “You got ten bucks?”

I remove from my wallet the 10 dollar bill Eric gave me for an emergency—cash, to be spent on something spontaneous and useful: something unexpected, besides narcotics, that generates joy. I wonder if my little girls have their own thick, pink notebooks. And if so, what, if anything, have they written about me? So many months away. So many failures. So much for being a hands-on dad. Or a positive influence. Or their, or anyone’s, hero. I slap the 10 dollar bill on the table. “I’m in.”

“I’m Sarah by the way.” She turns a page and writes on the top the date, time, and place. Her handwriting, similar to her voice, is a combination of uphill highs and traceable lows. “I don’t do height and weight and age stuff. What I do is observe, ask, process, and offer insight based on germane findings. Are you ready?”

“Insight away.”

“What’s your name?”

“Greg.” I straighten my posture. Eric says good posture conveys the impression of active involvement. He needs to stop reading so many self-help books. And I need to find out what this mind reader chick knows. Or doesn’t. Hmm.

She writes Greg, followed by a question mark. “Mindreader-dot-com says a name reveals what sort of storm percolates within. Typically, the shorter the name, the bigger the cyclone.”

“Actually, my name’s Peaches Honey Blossom Trixie Belle Tiger Lily.”

She laughs. “Good one. Greg.”

“I have to ask, why mind reading and not cheerleading or lifeguarding?”

She studies my face, similar to the way my little girls stare with fascination at the mop-top mannequins at the mall. “Your skin tone reminds me of the color of beer my dad drinks.” She pops her lips. “You ever heard of Duvel?”

“I have.” Wonderful. Now I’m being compared to beer.

“You ever drank it?”


“Is it good?”

“It’s not my favorite, but yeah it’s pretty good.”

“What happened to your teeth? Why are they all chipped and yellow?”

I cover with a hand my mouth. “My dentist does meth.”

“That’s not true,” she says. “What happened to your eyes?”

Fifteen. Ninety-nine. Four. “What do you mean?”

“You have sad eyes. Why are they so sad?”

“Aren’t you supposed to tell me?”

“My dad’s eyes are sad, sadder now that his mom, my grandma, died. Did someone close to you recently die?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“Might that someone...” she pauses, staring at my trembling, dry-from-chlorine hands, “be a part of you?”

OMG. “Mindreader-dot-com is no joke, is it?”

We sit quiet for a short time. Now that her voice is off, I suddenly want it back on. Perhaps she is a mind reader. Perhaps she is clairvoyant. Perhaps she does know the whereabouts of this clarity I seek.

“You have children, don’t you?”

“I do. Two girls named Robin and Roxanne who live with their mother, my ex-wife, in Milwaukee. They’re 12 and 13.”

“I have a sister, too. Her name’s Melia. She just turned 10.”

“Is she a mind reader?”

“She’s a cheerleader and a lifeguard.”


“No.” She smiles. “But she is an all-time brat.”

“That’s too bad.”

“What’s wrong with your hands? Why are they so dry and shaky?”

I set my hands on the table. Eric says transparency, even shaky transparency, is healthier than opacity. “I swim in the morning, and the chlorine hates my skin.”

“My dad's hands shake a lot, too. I think it’s partly because my mom calls him a huge disappointment. But I also think it’s because he drinks too much Duvel.” She scribbles Duvel in the notebook. “My hunch is that you also drink Duvel. Maybe not exactly Duvel, but something within its family.” She stares at my coffee cup. “I also sense that you’re not drinking Duvel these days, drinking instead a substitute liquid to help meet your need for oral, mental, and physical satisfaction.”

I can’t speak. Or move. Crippled by insight. From a pubescent. I finish the coffee and hand-smash the cup as if it were a can of Duvel. “You’re good.”

“I also sense that someone, probably more than one person, has called you a disappointment.”

My stomach turns sour, as do a million neuron synapses exploding like bombs throughout my body, jolting me closer to the many names I’ve been called over the years: disappointment, drunkard, druggie, cheat, selfish, jerk, tool, liar, lost, weirdo, dry, super creepy. The part of my brain that craves addiction ignites, causing my salivary glands to want to go out and find as much instant relief as possible. Stay ardent, Greg. Breathe. Eight. Two. Ten-thousand. Eric says it’s best to forgive (and try to forget) the name calling. He says name calling, even nice names, is a risky exercise because it denotes branding, and branding is a risky exercise because it denotes leaving an everlasting imprint, and leaving an everlasting imprint is a risky exercise because it denotes leaving a scar, which is a wound, which is a cut, which is a trigger, which is a symptom, which is a genetic factor, which is the start, and end, to it all. I understand, though not completely. I believe names have their place, even bad names, clear reminders of the proximity between past mistakes, present struggles, and future authenticity. I want authenticity. My mom wants authenticity. My little girls deserve, and need, authenticity. I grab the journal and offer it to Gigi. “You don’t have to read my mind anymore, not if you have this.” Eric says the most reconciling thing a recovering addict can do to accelerate healing is to give away a most cherished possession, especially one that holds significant meaning. “Everything about me, good and bad, is in it.”

“That I didn’t see coming,” she says, sticking the 10 dollar bill, the journal, and the pink notebook into her purse, hiding my saddest hurts, cruelest blunders, and loftiest hopes. “You're sure you’re ready to give it away?”

“I wasn’t sure until right now.”

“How long have been sober?”

“Four months, three weeks, and two days.”

“Do your little girls know about your problem?”

“They do.”

“Did you tell them yourself?”

“I wasn’t sober enough to tell them, so unfortunately they had to hear it from their mother.”

“Do you think they would have liked it if you’d have been the one to tell them?”

“I think regular dads want their girls to see them as the truth and not as a lie.”

“My mom says my dad drinks because he hates himself. Do you hate yourself?”


“How can you hate yourself when you have two girls who love you?”

“That’s a really good question.”

“Do you hate yourself today, like right now?”

“Not as much.”

She sighs. “I want to ask my dad if he’s got a drinking problem, but I’m afraid of what he might say. I mean, what if he is? Then what will I do?”

“Love him and tell him so him every day.”

“How can I tell if he needs treatment?”

“Maybe you should read his mind.”

“I can’t mind read my parents. Maybe I’m too close, or maybe they’re too far away. But whatever the reason, I have no idea what’s going on with them.”

“Then all you can do is your very best. That’s all any of us can do.”

“It was nice to meet you, Greg.” She lifts the 10 dollar bill from the purse. “Keep it. Buy something for your girls. And keep swimming. Maybe one of us will become a lifeguard after all.”

“I can do that.” Can I? “It was nice to meet you, too, Gigi. I mean, Sarah.”

“Did you say Gigi?”

Damn it. “When I first saw you and your friend, I named you Gigi and her LuAnn.”

“Why Gigi?”

“You know, Gigi Lichtenstein, the top model mind reader from Paris who isn’t afraid to stop and talk to strangers.”

“You want to know the name we gave to you?”

Not at all. Three. Two. One. “Sure.”

“It’s not bad, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Name away.”

She laughs. “Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb.” Leaving me with a heart that can drop, surge, and skip after all. Please God, whoever he is, just let him be sober.

Samuel Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event/development management. He’s a poet, flash fiction geek, and political essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals, and his first poetry collection, Bereft and the Same-Sex Heart, was published in October 2016 by Pski’s Porch Publishing. His second book, Bloodwork, a collection of short stories, will be published in May/June 2017. He is also an award-winning card maker and scrapbooker. For more, visit

Elisabeth Fuchsia takes pictures of things that she likes and does other stuff, too. For more, visit

Emperor X is Chad Matheny, who has been performing live and releasing recorded music since 1998. His work previously appeared in Storychord Issue #20, and he performed at Storychord's 50th Issue Birthday Party in 2012 in New York City. Matheny lives in Berlin, where he helps operate Donau115, a small venue central to the Neukoelln neighborhood's booming experimental jazz scene, and volunteers as a music technology instructor with German NGO GSBTB in a program focused on supporting young refugees. For more, visit