A Good Paddling
Yes, it was better back then, far better to be alive.
They put the groceries on a conveyer belt at the A & P,
which carried them far below. They were taken outside
to a spot in the parking lot. One didn’t push one’s cart across
the gravel back then. It was called civilization, this; what is it
The angry man called me a motherfucker when I brushed up
against him in the subway. Of course, I had never laid eyes
on this man ever before. He was a fool. I could scarcely care,
I wanted to say, but I said sorry. I’m terribly, terribly sorry,
my dear, for touching your tender shoulder.
No, we weren’t rebellious at all. We obeyed. It was all about
Yes, sir, and knowing when to stop. Although there were those
among us, like Matt, who had a well-cushioned ass. He provoked
the flat-topped coach to strike; he grabbed his polished paddle
and swept it across Matt’s backside. It made him laugh.
We said, Ma’am? not What? If we wanted to thrive, we had to submit.
There were rules in my day, not chaos. We had no rights. Our parents
stood with the school against us. What? was thought rude. It was not
permitted. They called it respect, but we all knew it was obedience.
The men were just back from the war. They were fighters. They were
prepared to knock our teeth out.
It was a tough time and we were expected to take our clothes off. No
if ands or buts. Get your pants off, strip. We took showers together
in the nude. Modesty was a sign of femininity. No blushing, no hard-ons.
Get your ass into the pool. Boys in those days were expected to be men;
we were in training to kill.
Those were the good old days, and don’t forget it. I was there. Kids
didn’t tell their teachers to fuck off. Not back then. Adults ran the world.
Our lockers didn’t lock. Mom and dad left the doors wide open. Mother
let the car run when she dashed n for milk. Kids stayed in the car. Some
people believe in progress. Things are always getting better. I laugh.
Dandelion wine and hand-made soaps
are worthwhile. They’re a matter of life
and death. We need them now more than ever.
We’ve got to keep the madness at bay. We need
skills to stay out of Bedlam.
City life is sexy, and is not to be missed, but if you
like Johnny Cash, you need to plant your own corn.
You’ll need to raise rabbits. We must go back to polishing
our own boots. Hand out the saddle soap, get out the rags.
Let’s get our hands dirty again; let’s work up some sweat.
We must take it back before the Beatles. The Fabulous Four
are part of the problem, along with dark memories of JFK
and a morbid interest in his assassination. Forget about it.
Let’s go all the way back to FDR and the fighting spirit.
We should watch reruns of Gunsmoke.
It’s not that boys can’t be girls. It’s not that girls
can’t have dicks. Let the kids playhouse as long as they learn
to make strawberry preserves and dill pickles. Someone
has to pick the cucumbers. Someone has to muck out the stalls.
It hardly matters who feeds the chickens. Pick up a shovel.
Candle-making is a worthy task, along with bee-keeping.
This is good. Let’s go back to doing it all by hand.
Keep your car, keep your smart-phone, keep your
glow-in-the-dark dildo, too, but someone has to learn
how to butcher a hog. Someone needs to learn how to darn.
It’s not that cosmopolitanism is unpatriotic; no, not that.
It’s that it teaches people to prefer rice over potatoes.
It instructs people in the use of exotic practices like drug-
addiction and sexual debauchery. Many are wasting away.
It’s okay to be cool, but it’s much more important to fend for oneself.
It’s not normal to like people.
Do you think FDR had pals? Stalin? The Medici?
After mom and dad there’s nothing.
Who do you think wishes you well?
As Philip Roth explains, no one makes time for anyone without sex.
You love the one who lets you pat her rear.
The others are waiting to rob you.
You can pretend, we all do.
Go ahead: tell yourself they love you.
Family is divine because it involves money.
He’s your best friend, yeah, yeah.
He loves you as your father did, for sure. Yeah, right.
She’s your wife’s best friend and you like her, too. Of course.
If she is not sucking you, she’s worthless.
How’s that for soul searching?
Goodbye is better than lies, that’s what I am saying.
I wonder why we gather in the first place.
We eat and drink and waste words.
Breaking bread, spilling wine.…
We squabble when the bill arrives. What is friendship?
Roth gets it right…if there is no fucking, there’s no commitment.
No guy would trade time with her for a time with him.
She’s the vital visit because it ends in bed.
Friendship is a passing emotion, an association.
It’s an arrangement of convenience; it offers nothing.
Like sponging a sticky table, the leftovers; not enough for a meal.
This and that, all gone but a chip on the pheasant glass—-
A remnant, a crack, hate to throw the thing away.
Can’t bring myself to do away with him.
He’s my best friend.
That stain on the coffee table.
I should have been more careful.
I should have used a coaster;
Hate to see the love drain away.
The scar disappears or remains on the surface.
It’s been quite a blow, this
recent event. They’re moving the Confederate
flag from my back yard. Never mind, it’s on private property.
The city council and the home-owners association
ordered its removal when they learned
I’d put it up to honor my dead uncle, Robert E. Lee, Jr.
I am a distant – very distant – grand nephew
of the once-famous general. At first,
they demanded the flag be burned by torch,
that is, to be burned “alive,” whilst flapping in the wind.
Someone finally said, perhaps
it was the fire chief, that setting fire
to a flag in mid-air violates city ordinances,
not to mention be an insult to tradition.
Flags are meant to be lowered and folded,
not set on fire, someone pointed out, thank the Lord.
The city council is on a mission.
They knocked down all the statues in the town square,
including one of Abraham Lincoln and replaced him
with a statue of a prancing dolphin in mid-air.
The council president’s got it into her head that dolphins
are rarer than Lincoln.
My flag is gone now. I sent it to a historian in Osaka, Japan.
He’d not heard of Robert E. Lee, wasn’t sure about the American
Civil War. He collects historical memorabilia, including
samurai swords and souvenir flags of the Rising Sun.
It’s against the law in Japan to destroy the past.
Olive Oyl-sama and Popeye-san
A lot of Japanese women, young women, that is,
dress like Olive Oyl. The girls seem to like Olive’s
floppy hat of a dull hue, often the color of hay. They
are especially fond of the gigantic shoes Olive Oyl always
wears, big-toes and clunky, like those of an American GI.
These are hot in downtown Tokyo, worn with knee-high socks,
met halfway by flapping culottes. Their underwear might be
bright, but the rest of their outfits are gray. Japanese Olive Oyls
wear long-sleeved pull-overs with mittens, their finger-tips exposed.
These days the Japanese gals prefer their nails painted and decorated
like a Victorian broche; they follow the trends of the American DMV.
Some wear sunglasses wherever they go. Others not. On top of that,
many wear an artist’s smock, the sort of thing found on shop girls
selling flowers. It, too, will be the color of a French baguette. Dressed
like Russians peasants harvesting sunflowers, they are slim.
Japanese men don’t try to look like Popeye. They don’t, in general,
go for the cartoon look. They prefer, I would say, the look of Woodrow
Wilson. Yes, it’s always1917 at Tokyo station, with all the men in shades
of gray or those who are not, in black. Brown is a forbidden color
in the Ginza, better suited for gangsters or foreign salesmen.
The business class seems to be guided by Wall Street’s strict
code, “dress WASP.” Men and women in Japan may love each other,
but one doesn’t see a lot of co-mingling. Business is a separate affair.
The men in black and gray go their own way. They prefer to meet
in back rooms filled with ashtrays. It’s a smokers’ paradise. Many
women smoke, too, but they stay away from the men.
What do Woodrow Wilson and Olive Oyl have in common, you ask?
This is my question. Is it a mismatch or a perfect fit? Who knows?
In any case, these are the uniforms of this island nation, a State that tried
to be a ruling empire. Perhaps this is the answer, to be found in the fact
of Japan’s failure, its military defeat.
Perhaps this explains the prevalence of cartoon characters. Not just Mickey,
But Hello Kitty. All one can say for sure is this: Olive Oyls and Woodrow
Wilsons, wherever they may be, seem happy together. The place works.
And besides all that, when they get together, rumor has it, the costumes
About the Author
David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Canada, and Lithuania. His poems can be found at Expat Press, Cardiff Review, FRiGG, The Drunken Llama and Trouvaille Review. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. Three new anthologies in 2019 include David’s work: Universal Oneness (India), Passionate Penholders (Singapore), and Suicide, A Collection of Poetry and Prose (UK). David’s first collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published in 2017. His newest collection, Bluff City, will appear this fall, published by Terror House Press. He lives in Tokyo.