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The August Corpse Project 2014

Originally added to Roving Brooklyn in September 2014. For more information on Roving Brooklyn, read our letter.

The August Corpse Project is an experiment in writing theatre. Borrowing ideas from two different projects (31 Plays in 31 Days and The Exquisite Corpse Project), Thirty-one writers (including both the Undeadly Theater Company and Roving Brooklyn founders) have put together a madcap piece of writing that is as messy, weird, and exciting as its origins imply. 

Roving Brooklyn is proud to provide hosting for the completed project on our website. It is available to read in various eBook formats.

Download:

.epub (6.9 MB)
.mobi (6.6 MB)
.pdf (4.6 MB)

These files are built from the original PDF and each page is included as an image. 

Web and eBook files contain chapter marks and an interactive table of contents. PDF does not. 

visual art

sexxxy art project

Originally added to Roving Brooklyn in April 2014. For more information on Roving Brooklyn, please read our letter.

sexxxy-art-project-header.png

Snapchat can be used to send nude images to other people. Nothing is stopping them from taking a screenshot of those pictures. Only trust.

Advertisements have long come under fire from activists and social commentators for featuring unrealistic portrayals of female beauty. With Photoshop, models can be altered even further.

With these two realities in mind, digital artist Kathryn Leslie takes the average and mundane and turns them into something "sexxxy," using Snapchat's drawing features to alter photographs with crude stick figures of women in a state of undress. Leslie's simplistic drawings serve to underscore the twisted nature of how we are asked to view the world.

Sex sells, so why shouldn't sex sell everything? And yes - even Easter. 

Statement from the artist:

I wanted to explore the female form through Snapchat. The cartoonish female I've created reflects what I see as the absurdity of women in advertising. Her body serves as a metaphor for the rigidity and stiffness inherent in society's perception of women and of the feminine role.

Furthermore, because each piece is inherently ephemeral and transient, the images in this gallery are documentation of my art, not the actual pieces themselves. Some pieces in this series are not shown here, as we were not able to preserve them before they were destroyed by Snapchat; those creations are gone forever. 

However, have they truly disappeared? Are they forgotten, or do we forever remember them? The same could be asked of much of the media we consume daily.

Plus, I've also gotten really good at drawings cartoons of women in Snapchat.

- Kathryn Leslie, April 2014

On Hiatus

Welcome!

Thank you for visiting Roving Brooklyn. As you can see, it’s a little different than the last time you visited. You may be asking yourself, “What happened to Roving Brooklyn? Is it dead?” I would answer you with a resounding, “Yes and no!” We have decided - for the time being - to put the name Roving Brooklyn and the website on hiatus.

When Adam and I launched Roving Brooklyn over a year ago, we hoped that it would be a platform for our fellow New Yorkers to pursue their artistic endeavors, and to explore new ones for ourselves. We have been more than pleased with the success and reception of our projects such as Spacebook and Dear Rachel, but the success of our zine, Things Created by People, has blown us away.

TCBP has been a powerful tool for us to pursue our goals. With each issue, we’ve expanded our artistic network in and outside of NYC, and each issue has provided enriching and diverse content to our readers. The nature of the online magazine gives us the ability to host not only articles, fiction, poetry, and photography, but audio and video content as well. We felt that Roving Brooklyn’s goals and objectives as a collective had been fulfilled in TCBP.

Adam and I got together and asked ourselves, “What is Roving Brooklyn doing that TCBP isn’t or can’t?” We couldn’t come up with a clear answer! We are pleased with the traction our online publication has gained, and we want to make it the focus of our future work. We don’t want to give up the name Roving Brooklyn, or give up the hope that it can be something different from, but just as impactful as, TCBP. We expect to re-launch the Roving Brooklyn name with a new focus and new goals in the future. We hope you will come along for the ride!

Sincerely,
Thomas Baldwin
Co-founder of Roving Brooklyn & Things Created By People

P.S. You can still see all of the old projects at Roving Brooklyn both here at TCBP and around the web. Check them out:

Spacebook
Dear Rachel
Sexxxy Art Project
The August Corpse Project

article

Selected Tweets (Book Review)

Selected Tweets , by Mira Gonzalez and Tao Lin. Published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books.

Selected Tweets, by Mira Gonzalez and Tao Lin. Published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books.

I first encountered Mira Gonzalez’s poetry in college when her first book, I will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together, had a certain kind of ring to an insecure, just turned twenty-year-old. Her poetry has a self-awareness to it that made me feel less alone in poor decision making, especially since she takes way more drugs than I ever will. This emotional quality resonated with me, being an educated twenty something with a job, an internship, and on track to graduate from an excellent college, but still somehow feeling lost in the world. I read Tao Lin’s works for the exact opposite reason; while Mira seems to care despite her insistence that she doesn’t, Tao is completely estranged from his emotions. His characters interact with each other in a detached, selfish manner, not that far off from people I know. Their work functions in a similar way within the “alt lit” category, but each have a different effect emotionally.

Selected Tweets, a collaboration between Mira Gonzalez and Tao Lin, is not new content, as all their tweets are freely accessible on their twitter accounts, but somehow the thought of combing through thousands and thousands of tweets and crafting two hundred pages of a timeline seemed like something that would speak to me differently than reading twitter on my phone during my lunch breaks or scrolling through it while trying to drag myself out of bed in the morning. They start pulling tweets from 2010 and end in 2014, using tweets from multiple twitter accounts they run. These multiple twitter accounts are meant to track different moods of the writers; for example, Mira has a @Miracrying account for her depressed tweets and @Miraunedited for her NSFW tweets. The tweets track the two writers from New York to California, through bad drug trips and live tweeting movies, all boiled down to spare thoughts strung together in a crafted timeline.

I started reading Selected Tweets straight out of a hangover from my 23rd birthday party. I had been whining about turning twenty-three for the past month, mostly because a) it makes me feel too old to be making the same mistakes I’ve been making, now that I’ve graduated and have a full time job, and b) I should have my life much more together than it actually is now that I’m supposed to be a “real person” at 23. Throughout reading I had to take anxiety naps on my parents’ couch, stressing about the security deposit on a new apartment and work emergencies coming through my email. Taking notes on the same iPhone note as an in-depth breakdown of my finances seemed appropriate until I grew jealous of the fact that the writers could afford drugs and their rent.

Mira’s first tweets on her main account sound like typical college student tweets. I’ve had the same conversations, but in the dining hall, not on social media. She writes these tweets as stream of consciousness; they don’t seem as fully formed as the later tweets. As the months and years progress, she starts to get wittier and her tweets start to resemble her work, becoming fully edited and thought out. There is a traceable timeline through her life starting with college, dropping out, moves, and job changes. She doesn’t shy away from posting heavy topics on social media: the boys she sleeps with, the drugs she does, and all as explicit as a late night bar conversation. It somehow works, maybe because they mostly deal with insecurity and depression, and the self-awareness of insecurity and depression. With appearances by her eating disorders and her emotional unavailability, reading her tweets is like spiraling into the darkest corner of early twenty something life, but it works as a relatable timeline.

Her thoughts on everyday life and pop culture have a sly humor to them. Among my favorite tweets, even before reading this book, are when she harnesses Drake lyrics to her depression. One of the best ones, “no old friends either”, takes what should have been a celebratory lyric and makes it about being lonely. Who hasn’t listened to Drake’s music and felt the angsty “I’m better than you” feeling and then realized that actually, you aren’t Drake. I’m pretty sure none of the people I hang out with started from the bottom; can we feel we can celebrate being here? Then again, I’m not sure Drake started from the bottom either.

She tweets about her lack of emotion, and the very fact that she draws attention to it proves just the opposite. Her sexual adventures showcase the gender differences: even though she sleeps around like a guy, there is a different way she discusses it as a girl tweeting. My own last “romantic” encounter closely resembled her tweet, “Ramble nonstop until the person gets overwhelmed and stops paying attention to you.” She obviously cares about what this other person thinks of her, and what Twitter as a whole thinks of her; however, showing her detachment makes it ok to be broken off and unavailable.

I may be speaking for myself or simply the group I surround myself in, but her tweets are a good estimation of the feelings of those trying to pursue something greater than the typical, and the selfishness of choosing your own emotions over anyone else’s. A close relationship may lock you out of pursuing your own interests. Depression from not being good enough or not creating the art you want to make. Eating or not eating your way into looking the way you think you should. Mira is smart, funny, and talented, which shines through in seemingly inconsequential tweets.

When I got to Tao Lin’s section, he provided a different challenge. While I could piece together Mira’s tweets to a semi-story and connect with them, Tao’s were too fragmented, too much like thoughts and not enough substance to hold my attention. He is more disconnected than Mira, less emotionally observant. His humor is different than hers, and I think taken better as actual tweets. I was a little drained reading them pieced together for pages. His tweets range from describing dreams (they feel bleak), his thoughts on the world (“sperm whale are kind of shaped like Xanax bars”), to his immediate actions, including minute details into his eating habits. It’s like reading stream of consciousness writing, except of someone who is consistently high.

Tao's thoughts border on existential, and he is less self-centered than Mira. Although he recounts his random actions, it comes from a place outside of his own experience, and from a place of his interactions within the world he lives in. It works less when put together in a book form, however, as it becomes tiresome to read his collected thoughts. They started to blend together, and I began to skim while reading, nothing sticking out in my mind. His different accounts are confusing as well. I almost wish the accounts were presented as a single timeline. At the end of Tao’s section comes his poetry from the notes on his iPhone. The notes don’t differ much from his tweets; he states several time how he is experimenting with stream of consciousness. I think that these notes work as well as his Twitter account, which is what makes it so amusing to read on Twitter. I much prefer to read his thoughts as tidbits while scrolling through my feed, as it functions more as a thought and holds my attention longer than in a collected work. I also may have absorbed his philosophical wisdom if I had read it in an altered state of mind.

In between scrolling through the 400 pages of tweets on my iPad and mainlining massive amounts of water, reading these tweets years later, I realized not much has changed since I started reading Gonzalez’s and Lin’s previous works at twenty. I still drink too much when overwhelmed emotionally, I still shut down when someone upsets me, I still have a fascination with the unattainable. But reading these tweets as a collected group is a comfort because we don’t have to figure these things out. I’m sure someone meeting Tao or Mira would picture them as semi-functioning people (they both are able to pay their rent?) but they use Twitter as an outlet for their darkest thoughts and emotions, which is not that far out from those who seem to have it all together.

Selected Tweets is available from Hobart Books. Review copy provided by the authors. You can follow @Tao_Lin and @miragonz on Twitter.


Brittani Hilles works as a book cheerleader (or in publicity) at Macmillan. Her hobbies are networking, gin, and depressing literature. She rarely tweets at @bch248 and will respond to an email at brittani.hilles@gmail.com probably sooner than a text.

video

Spacebook Episode 11 - "Infurna"

Thomas Baldwin came to me in 2013 with an idea: record audio of people talking about the objects that were in their desks. I told him we should take video instead, and make it about the whole room, not just their desks.

From the inception and at its core, Spacebook has been about object history. Thomas and I believe that every object has a story, and that the stories you choose to feature in your room(s–we quickly expanded beyond the confines of the bedroom) say something about you.

Around the same time that Thomas and I made the first Spacebook episode, I saw the Long Portraits of Clayton Cubitt. Long Portraits are exactly what you think they are (unless you think they are something other than the video equivalent of a photographed portrait, in which case, Long Portraits are nothing like you think).

Cubitt’s portraits reveal so much more about the subject than a single frame could. Take this Long Portrait of Graciella Longoria, recorded on the first anniversary of her father’s death:

Cubitt’s portraits can be excruciating to watch. He is asking his audience to spend up to five uninterrupted minutes watching a single subject. The subject does not leave the frame. The frame does not move. But the audience’s patience is rewarded; the portrait of Longoria is much more complex, more emotional, and more three-dimensional than just a single frame.

(Cubitt continued to explore how video [and other things] can change the traditional portrait in his series Hysterical Literature, which features women reading while an assistant “distracts them with a vibrator.”)

In his One Shot Stories series, Josef Kubota Wladyka takes the idea of a Long Portrait one step further (or one backwards): he adds words. A voiceover, to be specific. While you can argue that adding words to a portrait defeats the purpose, the strength of a good story is hard to deny.

It also fits well into the aesthetic of Spacebook. The idea coalesced quickly: a long portrait, taken inside or in front of a larger space that means something to the subject, and a voiceover explaining why it has meaning. I wanted to make the first one of these portraits in 2013; it took me two years to finally do so.

I find this idea–this new way of making a Spacebook episode–interesting for many reasons, chief of which is the change in dynamic between private and public spaces. In many Spacebook episodes, the objects in the subjects’ private spaces are artifacts of experiences in public spaces­–museums, foreign cities, high school. (See Episode 3 - "Bramhall" for the prime example of this.) In these new Spacebook episodes, I will be able to explore the personal, private stories behind a subjects’ connection to a public space. While it is not a perfect 180 turn, it is a great and interesting parallel.

Spacebook has been a lot of things over the two years since Thomas and I made that first episode. Above all, it has consistently been a place of experimentation–in style, in form, in subject matter. This mini-series of long portraits is another step in that history of experimentation. 

Click here to read more about Spacebook and watch past episodes.


Adam Cecil is a writer living in Brooklyn. He is also the Managing Editor of this zine. You can find more of his work on his website.

essay

Home

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

"Are your roommates home tonight?"

It was inorganic phrasing though the intent was clear. I was at an apartment party in Brooklyn, celebrating the end of a friend’s battle with lymphoma. It was a small gathering, but just big enough for there to be a new person for you to meet in each corner of the loft. To this very day, I have no recollection of the name of the sandy blonde haired boy I was speaking to that night. I do recall the feeling of warmth rising from my cheeks to my ears as I blushed with slight, hopefully unrecognizable, embarrassment at his question.

“My roommates? Yeah, they are.” I frowned. My roommates have probably been sleeping since 10pm, I silently added. I then imagined my mother and father innocently in bed, a muted black and white Arabic soap playing on the television, my father’s snore stifling nighttime’s suburban cacophony.

I felt no need to offer the fact that my parents were my roommates. As well as my two older brothers. And my dog. And a cat that would probably be pissed if he knew I referred to him as "mine."

***

It was May 2013 and I was graduating. I had been dreading this moment since September, as it was a year earlier than my original classmates. But that was always part of the plan. NYU was my dream school; its tuition was my father’s nightmare. Subtracting a year from my path to a humanities degree was my aim in order to relieve the financial stress.

Moving home to New Jersey upon graduation was also part of the plan.

That summer, I found myself involved in constant conversation about my unemployment and living situation. I received phone calls on Monday afternoons from friends and family inquiring about my employment status. As if it was normal for a person at work to place a personal call. I am since convinced purgatory is sitting in your childhood bedroom on a Tuesday afternoon eating stale chips and watching Breaking Bad as a post-grad, periodically checking your spam folder to see if maybe you missed a potential employer’s response.

When I finally accepted (read: was offered) a job in the fall, my old worries were replaced by new ones. All of my friends were experiencing the same routine I so badly wished I still had: classes, sorority events, early (and free!) film screenings at the Cantor Film Center, the luxury of peeing in any NYU building they pleased. I was working a 9 to 5 (sometimes 6, 7, 8) job that had me frowning most weekday mornings as I got ready. It wasn’t a job I wanted, but one I felt obligated to accept simply because it was a job and I felt shame for being unemployed for the summer as it was. As much as I dreaded going to work everyday, it became an escape; a way back into the city I loved, a reason to be there, to pretend I was still part of it.

Albeit, work could only keep me for so many hours. I still wasn’t waking up to the sounds of construction that I once detested but began to deeply miss. Waking up in the bedroom I grew up in all my life felt foreign. The Die Hard posters on my wall, the mess of clothing covering any suitable path into and out of my room, the sound of my brother brushing his teeth in the bathroom in the morning – all of these signs of normalcy felt wrong. There was an electrifying quality of New York City life that I craved, but more than that – I felt like moving home meant I was moving backwards.

I resented my living situation and stayed in New York five nights a week. I was at Dollar Beers every Tuesday night (yawning by midnight as my friends were just getting started) and spent many nights on a blown up air mattress in my friend's narrow kitchen (complete with a slanted tile floor) in the West Village. I would say goodnight to my friend, whose hospitality remained persistent and unwavering despite the inconvenient size of her apartment, and attempted to sleep in the dark space, large enough for my twin size air mattress alone. I spent many nights peering through the dark at the shelf of pantry goods in front of me – mostly spices and oatmeal - feeling somber. It never made sense: my nights out were generally great or mediocre, at worst; and yet, I felt sad going to sleep. It wasn’t the discomfort of my back or irrational fear of rats running across my body, as these were things I ignored at least until the sun rose. It was a longing; a deep and equal combination of lacking and wanting.

It’s an ingrained habit that I call my parents everyday. During my nights in New York, I would text my parents when I arrived in the city, when I reached my (initial) destination, and make time to call at a reasonable hour feigning my bedtime. Their voices, whether tired, bored, or blocked out by the welcoming recognition of my dog barking to my voice in the background, would make my heart sink a little. This happened every time I spent the night away from home. I missed my parents. I missed my house. I missed walking in to see my aunts and uncles drinking coffee or scotch (depending on the hour) or my parents watching a movie in the family room. I missed my dog scratching my feet until I removed my socks so he could lick my feet and his desperate pleas for me to never go away ever again.

My house was a home I enjoyed being at. It was filled with love and security and it offered a place for me to hide when stressed or annoyed. My family provided a drama-free, problem-free zone. Walking into my house was equivalent to a sigh of relief.  And after months of making a home on friends’ couches, I began to prefer my own bed.

I think in order to make a home, the people you choose to live with trump the location of choice. This isn’t the same for everyone. Some people prefer living alone, or living in the “perfect” apartment with complete strangers. But for me, walking in to a face I want to see is what makes a home. My last year at NYU was part of the reason leaving New York City was so hard; I came home to a roommate I would gladly pry my eyes open all night just to stay up and talk to and lived down the hall from a best friend who supplied me with ingenious advice and, if not, a sympathetic “Oh, Nat” every time I had a problem. I was waking up to the company of people I couldn’t wait to hang out with, and for that, I was spoiled.

In the past two years, my friends have gone their separate ways, no longer making the hallway of Palladium, an NYU residential hall, the central location of convenience. My cherished roommate, Tamara, moved to San Francisco; my constant source of advice, comfort, and irritation, Josh, began to work inconsistent and long hours as an investment banking analyst; and, I, of course, had moved to New Jersey. Things were changing regardless of our wants. Oddly, I found it relaxing. I never wanted to look back at my past year and find myself in the exact same place.

Moving doesn’t need to be physical. I’ve found that living at home, though juvenile in reputation, has propelled me into adulthood faster than living on my own in New York would. I’m less spontaneous and more if-you-want-me-there-give-me-24-hour-notice. I don’t know if that qualifies as adulthood or the result of me no longer packing my travel toothbrush in my purse, but I would like to believe it’s the former. My friend Sal’s response to drama is, “I make too much money for this shit.” I follow the same concept, just tweaked a little: I have too little time for this shit. Living a dual-residential lifestyle is difficult and exhausting; the only way I can make the most of it is if I spend my time in the company of people who add to my life and make me happy. Living in New York set me on a routine in which I saw the same people every day. Commuting has forced me to carry an agenda around that allows me to write down reminders to grab dinner, drinks, or see a show with all the interesting people in my life that are easy to lose touch with.

And sometimes commuting has forced me into contact with people I have lost touch with, as I take the bus into the city with my former high school peers. Apparently it is more likely for me to run into an old friend on a late NJ Transit train than a bar in New York. Just ask my friend Rono Yick, who found me grumpy and tired on an 11PM train home but still thought it was a good idea to sit next to me. Rono is actually one of the few high school peers I’ve ran into in transit that has offered an optimistic point of view of commuting. Usually, I share sighs and grumbles with people, complaining about delays or the two hours of our day reserved for the road; not Rono. Rono told me, “It’s definitely challenging, and it keeps you away from living a ‘normal’ life with co-workers and friends in the city, but I think living at home is where I need to be. If it gets in the way of work, then I will consider other options.”

That was nice to hear, simple and true. I have friends who live of equal or longer distance to Manhattan from Brooklyn than I do from New Jersey, and while we agree that commuting sucks, it is something we make do for the sake of building a home. I read and write more than ever with my 50-minute bus commute to and from work. I see extended family and friends in the same weekend. No, I can’t be in two places at once, but I do my best to make it work for everyone, most importantly myself. It’s a tiring lifestyle – unique and common in its own respects – but never boring.


Natalia Lehaf is a writer and audio/visual artist living in New Jersey. Find more from Natalia on her website.

article

What Koreans, Afghans, and Greeks Can Teach Us About Homophobia

Photograph by the author.

Photograph by the author.

America has recently accomplished some real progress in gay rights; 37 American states allow same sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act was shut down, 61% of Americans support same sex marriage, and 70% of Americans can legally get married in the state in which they live. In contrast, Korea recently attempted its first ever gay pride parade. It was filibustered by conservative Christian groups, and banned by the Seoul Metropolitan police. In Korea’s latest survey on moral issues, 57% of the population said that homosexuality was “morally unacceptable,” while only 18% said it was acceptable, the rest said it was a moral non-issue. Yet, in Korea, male-to-male physical affection is ubiquitous. The same grumpy old men who would curse and spit at a man kissing a man will openly hold hands with their friends after a Saturday hike. It is common to see heterosexual, mid-20s Korean males holding hands or sitting on each other’s laps. Korea is one of the most homophobic countries in the developed world, yet Korean men can express their love for each other - verbally and physically - without the fear of being perceived as gay. Despite America’s recent progress in gay rights, the same American males who verbally support gay marriage still fear showing any outward signs of affection for other men. Though Americans have achieved some progress in gay rights, we have established a strict dichotomy of gayness and straightness that makes it extremely difficult for heterosexual men to have deep, serious friendships. The cultures that are the most homophobic are also the most comfortable with male-to-male physical affection. They reap the benefits of close male friendships while American men languish in isolation, too afraid to admit that they want and need to be vulnerable and close with another man.

Close, intimate male friendships are essential for mental and physical well-being. Dr. Dean Ornish says “I am not aware of any other factor – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and [chance of] premature death.” According to one study, friendship is more effective at treating depression than cognitive therapy or antidepressants. And, yet, 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 45 reports feeling lonely on a regular basis, and 1 in 5 college students reports being “chronically lonely.” Niobe Way, a Professor of Applied Psychology at NYU, blames a sort of masculine posturing that American men tend to develop in the course of their adolescence. One student, who was interviewed on the topic of friendship while a freshman in high school, told Way:

[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.

But, by his senior year, he had this to say about friendship:

[My friend and I] mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.

Korea has one gay celebrity. If you Google “Gay celebrity in Korea,” the only result will be “Hong Soek-cheon.” For many Koreans, homosexuality is a lurid, outlandish concept. One Korean American who returned to his ancestral homeland said that Koreans “completely ignore the reality of gay people who exist. They pretend that it’s just this fairytale from the West.” Many Americans view Korea as the same kind of uncanny, alien place. Maybe you are one of the 10 million people who saw Conan’s recent video, where he swam in pools and sat in close proximity with old, naked, sweaty Korean men, while they commented on each other’s bodies. This sauna was in New York but it was still a mostly accurate representation of the Korean sauna experience. It was, however, sanitized for American audiences. They missed the part where old naked Korean men soap up each other’s plump, glistening buttocks. This is usually done between friends, but it is also acceptable to ask a stranger “could you please suds-up my buttocks?” (Or some approximate translation if your Korean is up to par.) In Korea it is completely acceptable to caress the dimples on a strange man’s lower back. But, sadly, if you kissed that same man on the lips, you would be met with stares, shock, and likely even shouts of profanity and reprobation from old men who weathered a regime that once arrested men for having long hair or women for having short skirts. In cultures where homosexuality is taboo, heterosexual men can experience a level of comfort with each other that people in more “progressive” cultures cannot.

Homophobic societies consider homosexuality to be so improbable that they are completely comfortable with being physically affectionate and intimate with other heterosexual men. Many straight, relatively progressive Americans can’t put their arms around another man because they fear being perceived as gay. Most Americans would consider it unthinkable to hold hands with their friends, as my students do when a game of English Grammar jeopardy can be won or lost by just a few points. Many straight, relatively progressive Americans will never know the comfort and closeness that comes from participating in a massage train. Many will never experience “the [platonic] love between a man and a man which is more powerful than that between a man and a woman,” that a Greek friend of mine described.

My time as a Protestant Christian missionary in Greece taught me a lot about how much homophobia obstructs the function of healthy, male friendship. Growing up in the states, I remember, at the age of 8, feeling a distinct sense of shame that I still gave my Dad a goodnight kiss on the cheek. I remember my friends returning from a bible distributing, house building, sightseeing trip to Ethiopia and hearing the shock, wonder, and lurid excitement in their voices when they recounted school boys walking hand in hand on dirt roads. When I flew to Greece and started working with a Christian nonprofit that catered to Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, Moroccan, and Syrian refugees, I remember talking with a friend and trying to hide my discomfort when he gave me a friendly neck message. I tried to smile when an Albanian friend would rest their hand on my thigh while we drank coffee together, and I tried to forget the violation of a coarse beard against my cheek when an Afghan would greet me with a traditional kiss once on my left cheek, then my right, then my left, then my right again. But, once I got used to it, I found a sense of almost delirious happiness in constantly being close to other people. I felt closer to people with a single digit English vocabulary than I have with some people I have talked to for years. I became comfortable talking about my doubts and fears rather than repeating the same jokes, rating the same women, and rehashing the same games and matches and fights. But, when I came home, I found that when I would laugh at a friend’s joke and pat their thigh, the look in their eyes would be like someone who had just seen a huge wasp land on their nose. In their eyes I saw that feeling love or connection with another man was something to be feared. Behind those eyes lay an American mind that perceives the enjoyment of another man’s touch as intrinsically, irretrievably “gay.” And, even if we profess to be progressive, as long as we think that feeling gay or being seen as gay is something to be feared, we continue to give homophobia control of our affections.

In the 4 months I spent in the U.S. after returning from Greece, the first man to say “I love you” to me was my partner. My beer pong partner at a frat party near Union Square. He was clutching my shoulder in one hand and a PBR in the other. It turned out he was from New Jersey too. We had met in line for the urinals, talked for a bit, then our conversation stopped until both of our respective penises were no longer visible. “I fucking love you man, we should definitely hang out in Jersey sometime,” he said, before leaving to meet up with a Tinder date, never to be seen again. Drunken “I love yous” are the only time most American males get to express affection for another man, and they are a poor substitute for a true, deep male friendship. These friendships require throwing off the feelings of shame and latent homophobia that still run in supposedly progressive minds. They require the boldness to shout, as Jonah Hill and Michael Cera say in the privacy of their tent in Superbad:

EVAN: I love you. Why don't we say that everyday? Why can't we say it more often?

SETH: I just love you. I just want to go to the rooftops and scream, "I love my best friend, Evan."

[...]

SETH: "Boop."


Jonathan Friedel is working as a token white guy at a cram school in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea. He is also the founder of the Monmouth County Chocolate Milk Mile, and has sat in the back of police cars in three different countries.

script

A Farewell to the Queen of Conway

A virtual play by Michael Doshier

We’re in Conway, Arkansas. It is night.

You take the exit and drive onto the Waffle House parking lot off US-65. Two seconds ago you crossed the city limits and now you’re here at its welcome center. Outside, teenagers dressed in either camouflage or Abercrombie smoke cigarettes, give each other piggy-back-rides, and generally act a fool. They’re a little tipsy. You’re intimidated but only cause they’re so young and immediately remind you of being that young, an emotion layered in complications ranging from jealousy to nostalgia. You walk in after gifting them with your precious nervous smile.

You sit at the booth and a 25-year-old waitress named Kasey takes your order. She’s a stunning Scarlett Johansson beauty – dirty blonde, a sweet face with crooked and missing teeth, a body to die for, and a welcoming, truly sexy alto voice and southern accent that makes your heart melt like the cheese grits on the cooker. She smacks her gum and gives you a smile. You just order a coffee, which I can humbly but confidently inform you is a mistake. I don’t care how hungry you are or are not - get the hash-browns –smothered, covered, chunked, and peppered. You won’t regret it (for at least another hour or so). 

Please press play:

Over by the jukebox, which is playing this mess of a “song” (“Waffle House Family Pt. 1” is its name. There is, mercifully, no part 2) another Waffle House employee sits at a table, folding up images of Sassy Patty (late 50s), placing each photo in an envelope. You notice this process but pay little attention. She doesn’t notice you. She’s focused. She smiles to herself. She cries to herself. She leaves, and, with much hesitation, drops the envelopes in the mailbox by the adjacent motel. She kisses the palm of her hand and pats the mailbox twice. Once firmly, once incredibly gently. She lights a cigarette and moves to her truck, as the smallest tinge of the sun rises in the distance as if to accompany her on her way home.

I haven’t been back in years, but tonight, I’m feeling nostalgic (the teenagers got to me too) and I can’t sleep. I’m staying at my parents’ house for the holidays. I need a coffee and a chocolate chip waffle to fill the stomach with blood and pass me the fuck out (or however the human body works). I also need some company, being back at this establishment so deeply, intrinsically connected to my adolescence – a place where I once thrived at the ages of those kids outside. I used to make people just like you nervous (and yes, we are making fun of you once you’re inside.)

Tonight, I sit across from you. 

On the one hand, I feel as if I have not found my soul mate. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in love in a real way, so I know I haven’t been in love in the soul mate way. But on the other, more prominent hand – the hand that you learn to throw a ball and masturbate with (my left hand) – I know that Sassy Patty was my soul mate. 

Sassy Patty enters.

Sassy Patty was the night manager at one of the two Waffle Houses in Conway, Arkansas. The one we’re at right now. She wasn’t always the night manager. Like any worthwhile achievement, she worked her way up to night manager, the ladder of which included strong recommendations from my friends and I as we sat at our booth – THIS very booth actually - and wrote letters to the CEO of Waffle House about how perfect she’d be for the job. This wasn’t the only time we did that, either – one time, one of Patty’s waitresses

SASSY PATTY
interns

waitresses… Kasey, was in trouble with management for apparently yelling at a customer in a way that felt racially charged. Kasey assured us she had a black boyfriend, so we spent all of our energy that wasn’t being used inhaling hash-browns to write to Management about the progressiveness of Patty’s particular Waffle House (which we did – and do – believe in, by the way, but perhaps we should have considered gathering more proof than Kasey’s unseen and possibly fictional better half before attaching our names to Project Save Kasey’s Career). This was our relationship with Waffle House – it was our home, and Sassy Patty, and whomever Sassy Patty liked on her staff-

SASSY PATTY
And whoever didn’t bug the shit out of me OR fuck shit up all the time behind the counter.

… were our family. We were 18.

Now look, I’m a writer in the sense that I really, really want to be. The new screenplay I was working on earlier this year featured a 20-page section about Sassy Patty. Two young adults visiting her at her home and smoking cigarettes out her window, discussing the ins and outs of her life, her opinions on current affairs and pop culture – which she would have even if she actually had no idea what she was talking about.

SASSY PATTY
I’m right here, jackass.

Hey Patty, I’m struggling to remember something – who was the first person to win American Idol again?

SASSY PATTY
Kris Motherfuckin’ Allen, that’s who. Only one that matters anyway.

See.

It was a perfect Sassy Patty scene in that it didn’t progress the plot at all. In that way, it was similar to my time spent within the confines of this Waffle House in that it was a break from plot – a gated community, a shielded “safe space” with her.

The scene made no sense in regards to advancing the overall story, and the script was running fifty pages long. It had to be cut. Then, about a week after highlighting her section and pressing the delete button, I got a call from my best friend Raven informing me Patty had died. Months ago, actually; her second family just hadn’t been clued in yet.

Are you familiar with the idea of a “safe space”? Well let me tell you one thing, you’re sitting in one right now. And it’s a great idea, too – that we are responsible for creating an environment in which everyone is comfortable and welcome. It’s something I heard a lot about in R.A. training in college – something you get certificates for to place on your door so people know you’ve been trained to provide a space where they can feel safe.

Sassy Patty did not need any training.

Sassy Patty was a pioneer of safe spaces, having created one at her Waffle House without even realizing it or being told to.

Patty truly loved the Waffle House and would remind us constantly that

SASSY PATTY
This is the best Waffle House in the STATE!

And then, to celebrate, we’d put “Friends in Low Places” on the jukebox and scream it together, her smoky growl taking the melody to places so low, Garth Brooks never dared dream them.

I knew Patty from the ages of sixteen to twenty-one. That particular Waffle House was the place to be, as it was one of only two establishments – the other being the other Waffle House – open 24/7, and teenagers hate sleeping at hours kept by adults. We would go there after we’d completed whatever our other night activity was – drinking, sobering up, watching movies, driving aimlessly around, or talking about deep shit while smoking packs on packs of cigarettes on our elementary school playgrounds. But visiting Patty at the Waffle House was never the after-party to any of this mindlessness; no, the other stuff was the pre-game. We were hungry and tipsy to the point that the mere concept of hash-browns left us in a daze of desire, let alone hash-browns covered, smothered, chunked and peppered (Waffle House language for cheese, sausage, tomatoes, and jalapenos added). And yet that wasn’t even why we went. Not even close.

You know, I’ve only been to the other Waffle House in Conway once, and it was because I was high and pleaded with my friends that I couldn’t go entertain a conversation with Patty in this state. I was terrified I’d act weird and she would take it as shade, or that I would act obvious and she didn’t approve of drugs – this is a few years before the medical marijuana progress of today, plus the state I was in was purely recreational. I later learned Patty wasn’t a stranger to a little Greenpeace International herself, and would have been totally fine with this part of my life. 23-year-old me wishes he could go whisper it into 18-year-old me’s ear so I could’ve gotten one more night with her.

From the ages of 16 to 18, I learned all about her time in the Navy. The time she got into a bit of a tiff with a fellow SEAL. This anecdote, interestingly, derived out of some Sassy Patty life advice.

SASSY PATTY
I learned in the Navy that quitters don’t EVER win. Quitters get rolled under the staircase so that Sassy Patty don’t get in trouble! That’s what happens to quitters!

The woman on the receiving end of their brawl woke up and survived, by the way, and became one of Patty’s best friends (which is not surprising and sort of sums up Patty’s entire thing in a nutshell).

I learned all about all of the years she had spent as a truck driver before joining the Waffle House team-

SASSY PATTY
I was the best trucker in the state!

I learned of the great love between her and her husband. I learned that he had passed and, while Patty went on an occasional date, she never expected to marry again. That was her one true love and he was gone. There was no point – and if you didn’t really catch my tone, Sassy would say that sentence as if it were a truly-meant shrug. I learned that this was one of the main reasons she didn’t fear death and instead embraced it, so that she would be reunited with him.

I learned of Sassy’s great love of Harry Potter.

We always tipped her well, though I hope well enough. I always remember feeling so awkward about the moment the receipt came. She was our friend, and we spent every night with her we could, yet the receipt was a reminder that Sassy didn’t get off ‘til 7am and couldn’t leave with us.

Patty and I took an immediate liking to each other that grew and grew as if it could never stop. Perhaps I wasn’t the most “popular kid in school,” a concept I don’t remember very well now but vaguely know was, like, a thing I thought about occasionally – BUT at Waffle House, it was cool to like Sassy Patty – and Sassy Patty loved the crew of which I was a proud member. She didn’t just love us, she knew our names. We were greeted, personally, one by one, when we walked through the door, like royalty. So we were always the coolest at the Waffle House; no matter who else was there that night, we ran the show. You can take all the pictures you want with this woman and caption them on Facebook about how funny she is and what a good time you had, but I’m over here laughing ‘cause I know Patty secretly hates this and probably you. She whispered it to us.

And then, after one final tearful night, I left.

For years while studying writing in New York, Sassy Patty was my muse. It started after I presented a sketch about her to my freshman class and got the biggest laughs of the day. I called her to let her know what a hit she was, hoping she understood they were laughing at her big vibrant incredible personality, not at a stereotype. …Hoping that I hadn’t painted her as a stereotype.

For the rest of my time in college, I continued to write about her – placing her in all sorts of scripts she could star in – not some actress to PLAY her, but ACTUALLY her. I made it my mission to make Patty Motherfucking Lytle a star! And every time I’d go home for Winter Break or Summer Break or Spring Break, she’d ask:

SASSY PATTY
When am I gonna see ya on TV?!

And I’d explain, “YOU’RE going to be the one on TV, Patty! YOU are the star.” And I genuinely did think I was going to make this woman a star – this woman who was one of a kind, in the actual sense of the expression that makes you THINK about the expression, not just acknowledging it’s a cliché set of words and you know what they mean when put together. There was

No.

One.

Else.

Like.

Her.

In.

This.

World.

She was the only individual that was this. This wholly unique, wholly perfect creature deserved the spotlight whether she wanted it or not (I never asked).

The closest I ever came was giving her a copy of the script I had written for her. She read it in the booth next to me, noted the inaccuracies I had made, but cried a bit and said she would be framing it. To celebrate, we put “Friends in Low Places” on the jukebox and screamed it together, her smoky growl taking the melody to places so low, Garth Brooks never dared dream them. 

I never came out to Sassy Patty; I was far too protective of losing our bond and the many risk assessments I’d done in my head had always bolted out of the closet screaming a resounding “NOPE!” I wasn’t used to adults taking kindly to gays at this point – not enough of us in Conway had come out yet to watch our own community make the slow, beautiful progress it can boast now, nor had I moved to New York yet and seen a world where literally no one gave a fuck (except one randomly homophobic R.A. I met senior year who was probably super fucking terrible at creating safe spaces). And Sassy was a tough, God-fearing, Southern-with-a-capital-S woman. 

The wannabe-progressive, rally-attending, hopefully-forward-thinking, hopefully-less-ashamed-of-myself-now version of myself cringes that I never let her know the “real me” or whatever – I guess the complete me, as I was never realer than I was at Patty’s Waffle House. To be honest, it just wasn’t worth it to me. If Patty was homophobic, I didn’t want to know. And I didn’t want her to know either, because losing her as the sun that set my soul ablaze with comfort and contentment in this place whose fabric I was never quite able to weave all 6’4” of my body and spirit into naturally and without shame, would’ve crushed me.

I don’t think she would’ve had a problem with it, though. When I asked her what she thought about Lady Gaga, she said

SASSY PATTY
She reminds me of Boy George. I loved Boy George when he came out! People always tellin’ me, “But Patty! He’s a queer!” and I would say, “Hell, I don’t care!” (singing) Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, chameleon, you come and go, you come and go.

Once while I was here with my friends Kalee and Marina, I was paying my tab and told Patty gleefully, “Marina and Kalee are on a date!” This wasn’t true, and I never told Marina and Kalee – both straight – that Patty spent the rest of her days believing they were lesbians and together – but I was drunk and morally saw nothing wrong with testing these waters using my unknowing buddies.

SASSY PATTY
Well that’s nice! Looks like it’s going well! Why are YOU here with ‘em?! Come out and smoke a cigarette with me and give them some time alone! Jesus CHRIST, Michael!

See. I probably had nothing to worry about. And before our cigarette break, to celebrate the fake lesbian date happening before us, we put “Friends In Low Places” on in the jukebox and screamed it together, her smoky growl taking the melody to places so low, Garth Brooks never dared dream them.

I learned of Patty’s health problems my sophomore year of college while I was home on break. She told me over a cigarette that her doctor had demanded her stop smoking and she had a check-up the next week she wasn’t feeling hopeful about. A few weeks later, I heard she’d been fired for missing a shift.

And then, I couldn’t get a hold of her. She wasn’t answering her Facebook messages and her phone was disconnected. I asked around for new numbers, and finally got one from a reluctant employee I found on Facebook who told me shit had gone down when she was fired, and I wasn’t allowed to let anyone know where I got the number. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t expect Sassy to go without a fight.

I got ahold of her one more time over the phone. She told me she was doing better. Living with her family. I was happy to hear this. I promised her the next time I was in town, I would visit her no matter where I had to drive and I told her I loved her. And that was the last time I ever spoke to Sassy Patty.

You turn to look at our angel, but she’s out for a cigarette break. The sun has started to rise with a bit more intention, casting her shadow through the window and over our table between us. Kasey asks you if you want more coffee. Do you? That one’s entirely up to you.

I’m sorry I’ve taken so much of your time this morning, I just thought you’d like to know the history of this place and the star of this stage we’re sitting on. We’re enjoying our coffee on a Broadway set whose star flat-out murdered five nights a week in her prime. She was killer. She did the damn thing and never apologized once for it. And at this point, I’m unsure of my purpose without her – if my little rant is about appreciating your friendships because they can be taken from you, if in that sense it’s about the temporality of life. If it’s about the first person who I felt accepted by, or the first place where I felt accepted. If it’s The Amazing Tale of Two Wacky Worlds Colliding – that of a Rough-and-Tumble Navy-SEAL-Turned-Trucker Meeting a Sensitive, Closeted 16 Year Old and Forming a Six-Year Friendship that Felt Life-Long. (That does sound pretty epic, though, so let’s go with that one.)

All I know at this point is that Sassy Patty was one hell of a woman and has made many, many lives much, much happier and her death has shaken me.

SASSY PATTY
Aww thank ya, baby, that sure is sweet of ya.

You’re back.

SASSY PATTY
A cigarette only takes three minutes to smoke, baby!

One Christmas there was a Christmas tree hanging upside-down from the ceiling at Patty’s Waffle House. I guess this was Management’s decision because when we asked her about it, she responded

SASSY PATTY
We decided it was a symbol of how upside down the world is. Other than that, I can tell you it’s straight retarded.

The world is an upside-down place, Sassy Patty. And that statement is offensive.

It’s gotten even more upside down – if that’s geometrically possible – with you gone. I pray there are other “safe spaces” for kids like me in places like Conway, Arkansas. I pray that each kid that needs one gets her own Sassy Patty whether in the local Waffle House or elsewhere. I honestly pray for these safe spaces for everyone whether they manifest themselves in a Waffle House or a bar or a Drama classroom or a drag club. I wonder if any of the employees at the other Waffle House of Conway were someone else’s Sassy Patty. I wonder if the space contained within every Waffle House’s perimeter is magical for those willing to see it this way – or perhaps forced to, given their daily experience in other spaces. One time, the rapper Fabolous – do you know Fabolous? No? Well, good. This dumbass went on an anti-Waffle House Twitter tirade, and I so distinctly remember how intensely my blood started boiling, how deeply offended I became and how silly I felt but how legitimate it all felt as well. All I could do was press the stupid “Unfollow” button, a move that he didn’t notice but one that made me feel so powerful for having stood up for something I believed in. I wonder if anyone else un-followed him that day for similar reasons. And then I wonder if any of these attempts to turn her legacy into something universal and accessible for all can even be valid, keeping in mind that she was so deeply one-of-a-kind. That maybe she was just our angel we were lucky to know. And maybe other people get something great, but no one else gets a Sassy Patty.

What I do know is, Patty, you formed the only truly safe space I’ve maybe ever found. And I thank you for it every day.

I hope you’re dancing with your husband. And I hope that even in heaven, you bring this song to depths so deep and places so low, even Garth himself hadn’t dreamed em.

Please press play: