Good Riddance, Baltimore

Today I gave a two-week notice of resignation to my employer. In two weeks the date will be March 1st, which is the date of my birth–merely coincidence, but it sure is snazzy. Especially telling, because on my birthday, March 1st, I’ll be packing my things and moving up to Rochester, New York. Returning to the motherland, so to speak (although I lived in Rochester only as an infant). A relative from the Coene side of the family–my father’s side–has insisted I move into the spare room, so I can get a fresh start recovering from the pathological dishonesty and financial hardship that has dragged down my life, of late.

I’m humbled, really, by such good fortune. I’ll miss the more meaningful work of special education, but, honestly, I need something with less responsibility (see: liability), and more compensation; I need to concentrate on writing without fretting over the lives of limited children, or the bills I cannot pay. Assuming all goes smoothly, the position I hope to fill satisfies both of these needs, with the added bonus of a new environment that isn’t so new as to be totally foreign. And, given my family ties, I’ll have a decent network of support should calamity decide to pop in and remind me of my place.
Abrupt, this change; but it veers the right way.
So, Baltimore, you polluted tank of stale air, you scene without art, you scene for the scene, you cesspool of poor etiquette, of ignorance and thick racial tension, of drug-induced body counts and ubiquitous sexual diseases, of elongated rats and confounding traffic patterns. Let us declare the things in which Baltimore leads the nation! Why not? Say syphilis! Say gonorrhea! Say rape reports! Say incarceration percentage! Say drop-out rates! Say–listen carefully, now, for the hollow silence of gaping class divide–percentage of households having the highest income!
Long have I carried resentful thoughts towards Baltimore, for reasons beyond these obvious mathematical facts. True to the quality of discussion around here, the response I often get is, “If you don’t like it, leave.” Well, to all you uninspired souls who have said as much to me, I say: “Okie-dokie.”
Before I wrap things up, let me show a bit of gratitude. Baltimore has injected me, repeatedly, with potent doses of cynicism. The Good Shit. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write with so embittered and paranoid a tone. So thank you, for that.
My name is Michael J. Coene, and I’m dropping the god damned mic on Baltimore.
Published in: on February 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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Everything is Medium: Black Boss

    Since the beginning of 2011, digital photographer Chris Schatz has been hard at work on his ambitious new project, “One Photograph a Day”. From the first day of the year to the last, Chris is going to take one photograph for each of those days and post it on his blog.
    I am excited to announce I will be collaborating with Mr. Schatz on his effort. For one in every five of his daily photographs, I will write a short story inspired by the image. The stories, and the pictures, will be posted on both of our blogs.
    For more of Chris Schatz’ photography, including photos from the project I have not written about, check out his blog.
    I hope you enjoy The Bloggery of Michael J. Coene’s collaborative effort with Christopher Schatz, “Everything is Medium: Literary Interpretations, One Photograph a Day!”


    Her sexuality was as naked as her naivete. She was his Lolita, yet he had turned thirty just seven days ago.
    She was self-conscious, but never shy. Her eyes were large and aquamarine. Her pupils were tiny holes, lost in the center.
    She was smart. She loved to read, or at least enjoyed reading enough to comprehend the literature of it. She was proud of her intelligence, but hesitant to show it. She answered questions as if the answer was hard to put together, even though she had it ready and assembled.
    Happiness for her seemed a far away thing. Far, but still within reach–a resource requiring careful management. If ever she touched happiness, she reveled in its warmth for only a moment, then snatched her hand away, fearing overexposure.
    Her skin was pale olive, young and shining, more butter than earth. She was prettier than she believed. She was prettier than she was willing to believe.
    Her hair was straight and black, and shimmered in the artificial lighting of his dull grey classroom. Her voice was sultry, soft and sleepy, yet somehow clearly audible from across the room. A pair of full lips, writhing with life and vigor, lay coiled in waiting beneath her anatomically balanced nose. She was emblematic of the American idea of “exotic” women, yet she carried herself as if she’d never heard moronic questions regarding her nationality. Her natural citizenship was made obvious by how lazily she donned denim jeans and band t-shirts–such things were not new or exciting on her.
    Frustrating to him–for he was far from statuesque–was her homely behavior. Her body language suggested a plainness that simply was not there. She seemed afraid of men’s gazes, yet in her fear, also seemed to yearn for their approval; perhaps due to her slightly overweight figure, which was enhanced, not encumbered, by the extra pounds. Sadly, America has trained her women to be ashamed of fine curves and good health.
    She was beautiful and truly, though the descriptive may have been cliche, “beautiful” was the only applicable word.
    She was his student, and her name was Sophia. He was newly thirty, at the peak of his arrogance; a product of both fading youth and blossoming wisdom. He had just begun to use words like “heart rate” and “DOW jones”, but still ate whatever he wanted and never looked at his 401(k) plan. He taught Science Fiction at a community college, and Sophia was one of his students.
    Her attraction to him was transparent, and he believed she was both aware and ashamed of this. She stole glances at him even when he wasn’t speaking, and blushed deeply while speaking to him directly. When speaking to the other students, she still blushed, but for them it was the pink of carnations–for him, the roiling red of molten lava.
    He imagined life for Sophia was a struggle, an incessant, exhausting hardship. She seemed detached from her peers even though she desperately sought their approval, and the resulting awkwardness seemed to frustrate her into submission.
    Often he wondered why she behaved so meekly, despite those aquamarine eyes and that buttery olive skin. Perhaps her first boyfriend had cheated on her, or her father had touched her inappropriately. Maybe she’d never had a boyfriend; maybe she’d gotten this far without a male unit present to re-charge her self-confidence, to show her how beautiful she really was. Maybe her only sexual interaction thus far was with some mechanical device–which would have explained how she managed both an ashamed posture and a transparent sexuality.
    However, the Science Fiction teacher believed–or rather, he wanted to believe–Sophia’s ignorance of herself was because she was just too damned smart.
    One day, the Science Fiction teacher decided he could not take it any longer. She had written a marvelous paper on Asimov’s The Gods, Themselves, in which she compared the Rationals to women, and the Emotionals to men. This was remarkable because Asimov clearly intended exactly the opposite effect, but Sophia managed to put together a convincing paper that stated otherwise. As he dismissed the class, most of which had not read enough of the Asimov novel to participate in the day’s discussion, he asked for Sophia to stay.
    “Sure,” she said. Failed attempts at breeziness plagued her shoulders as she waited for the other students to leave. She hoisted her backpack, resting it more comfortably below her tail-bone, and hooked her thumbs into the straps, so that her elbows stuck out a bit.
    The Science Fiction teacher became aroused.
    “Sophia,” he said, once the other students had left. “May I ask how old you are?”
    “Nineteen,” she said.
    “Nineteen? My goodness…”
    She giggled at his use of the word “goodness”, which seemed like such an old-man thing to say. Sophia did not think her Science Fiction teacher was an old-man; not yet.
    “I’m thirsty,” she said suddenly. “Do you mind if I have a drink while we talk?”
    “Not at all,” he replied. He watched her slide the backpack from her shoulders and set it on the floor. Nervously, she unzipped the smaller front pocket, and produced from it a small cylindrical can–black with gold Japanese lettering printed on the side. She struggled a bit with the tab. The carbonation hissed at her when it finally cracked open, and she squealed in response. Roiling red lava began to spread from her chest to her cheeks.
    He would have offered to open it, but knew from her essays that she valued female independence above all else. So he patiently waited, and let Sophia conquer the can on her own.
    “What is that?” he asked, indicating the drink with his pen.
    She giggled again.
    “It’s Black Boss!” she declared, presenting it to him. “It’s a silly Japanese coffee drink. Isn’t it cool?”
    “Cool?” he said. “Well, I… ”
    The Science Fiction teacher looked at this can, this novelty beverage most likely from a nearby dollar store, and saw how happy it was making her. He imagined her standing before a mirror, holding up several cans of different-colored drinks before deciding on this one. Sophia was enchanted by the sheer oddness of possessing such a thing. Her previously introspective shell had been dismantled, and the metamorphosis revealed a mere child within, star-struck by the very thought of being unique.
    All romantic perceptions of Sophia shattered like stained glass in his mind. He dismissed her. She shrugged and left, not the least bit curious as to why he had asked her to stay in the first place, proudly wielding her can as the classroom door clicked shut behind her. Clearly, she hoped passing students in the hallway would have more questions regarding the origins of Black Boss.
    The Science Fiction teacher sighed, remembering how excited he had been to show his best friend Sean a signed, first edition copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The book was currently somewhere in a box, lost to the musty seas of the basement. He realized he hadn’t spoken to Sean in years.

Black Boss

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