Rollie’s Farm

by David Moloney

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For the last eighteen years, on the day after Thanksgiving, while still digesting and  dehydrated, I sell Christmas trees at a local fresh cut tree farm: Rollie’s Farm. Owned and named after Roland “Rollie” Perron, it is the only farm left in Lowell, MA.  Lowell, a former mill town turned college city, has the fourth highest population in the state. So, Rollie’s Farm is a welcomed small business. He owns fifteen acres of land and has stuffed fifteen thousand trees onto it. Rollie’s is a true throwback. The tractor ride to the fields is an old converted, pop-up camper with custom benches that serves as a wagon. Trees are sawed down by hand. We shake the trees in the rumbling Lit’l Shakee tree shaker, and rid them of pine needles, cones, abandoned bird’s nests, and papery beehives.  There’s wildlife not found anywhere else in the city: a rafter of turkeys, a bald eagle, woodchucks, and evidence of a bear (scat near the tall firewood pile). The rustic farm and its bearded owner are the real draw for the thousand or so customers that return each year. They pretend, for an afternoon, they live in Vermont or upstate New Hampshire, some other part of New England not overwhelmed and tired from endless traffic and long grocery lines. City dwellers, for the most part, love being in the city, but there’s a reason why we escape north for vacations.

The extra money during holiday season is welcomed, but isn’t the sole reason we get almost the same crew back each season. We have a small twelve-man team of engineers, welders, teachers, IT salesmen and cooks. We get to dust off the long johns and escape our enclosed workspaces for frosty New England mornings, saws and sap; the hard work of hoisting big trunked trees out of wagon campers, ripping them through too-small bailers, tossing them on cars. We welcome the soreness. Infrequent contact with physical work isn’t a bad problem to have. I wouldn’t tell a person who does stone work for a living that they don’t realize how good they have it, that each morning they should prepare for a moment of enlightenment during the strenuous work, when your body performs like it was meant to.

I only see many of the guys I work with once a year for three weekends. We don’t communicate much otherwise. But there’s also something intimate in our distance.  That Friday after Thanksgiving we return to the farm as if we’d been working together year round. Inside jokes carry over, hugs, ribbing, stories from workers who came and left, eccentric customers who we may banter and wonder about in years they didn’t show up for their tree. After the long day, Rollie has beers ready inside the farmhouse. We pile in, needles and all, and warm our cheeks. Over beers, we tell stories of the farm, the people we’ve lost, and the ones who are still kicking.

Rollie is going gray and there are always rumors that he plans on selling the farm so developers can cram sixty houses in place of Balsam firs. I don’t know what they’ve offered him, but I can imagine it’d be enough to cover anything he’ll make from selling Christmas trees for the rest of his life. But he values hard work, and I don’t think he can leave it.

When I first started working for him at fifteen years old, I wanted to prove I could make it on the farm. I picked corn with him at 5:30 am and then worked my shift at the vegetable stand later in the day. For a week, I took the city bus to the outer edge of Lowell, changed in the barn, and built a greenhouse. I mowed in the fields to make room for seedlings, and then planted rows of Corkbark Firs with Rollie. He wasn’t talkative, the money wasn’t great, and the work was repetitive and strenuous, but I kept coming back. I hadn’t grown up with knowledge of tools or how to work with my hands. Rollie offered a different kind of place for me. There was openness, dirt under my nails, and certain rigidness in his criticism. He wouldn’t get angry or yell. He would just tell me I was tying tomato plants wrong. Then he’d show me. Then he’d make me tie them right. It was what a fifteen-year-old boy needed, or at least what I needed. Boys won’t listen to their fathers the same way they will a coach or boss or teacher.

If I had to poll the work crew, I imagine they’d all have a similar reason for working for Rollie. Even as we age, we still yearn for rusty tractors, cut-your-own tree farms, cash only payments, offline friends,a place where you don’t feel the connected weight of the world. And there’s promising news: Rollie just ordered a thousand more seedlings.


David Moloney is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.

Review: Boy With a Knife

by David Moloney

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On April 12, 1993, in a Dartmouth High School classroom, Karter Reed stabbed Jason Robinson in the stomach, an act that would take a brother, a son and athlete from his family, and also send a sixteen-year-old Karter Reed to an adult prison for twenty years.

In Jean Troustine’s most recent book, Boy With a Knife, she recounts her over one hundred letters and subsequent relationship with Karter Reed. The relationship between Trounstine and Karter is a perfect match, though Karter was the one to reach out to Trounstine. Trounstine has been involved in women’s prisons for over twenty years and teaches Voices Behind Bars: The Literature of Prison, to students at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, MA.

Although at the heart of this book is Karter’s fight for justice, there is also a great deal interwoven throughout Karter’s story about how this country deals with juvenile offenders, particularly violent ones. Trounstine writes, “On average, approximately 250,000 youths are currently processed in adult courts each year.” The history of incarcerating juveniles as adults is well detailed and explored by Trounstine, most effective when the hard facts, history and academic studies are braided within Karter’s own juvenile–then adult–journey through the process of trial, incarceration, rehabilitation, and the parole board. But Karter’s story itself can get buried beneath the studies and history at times. For instance, when Karter is awaiting his parole board hearing, I wanted to know the outcome rather than the history behind the parole board.

A good deal of criticism on this book has been its one-sided portrayal of Karter’s fight for justice without any attention paid to the victim’s story. While this is valid, the perspective Trounstine takes is not warped, or without empathy. The book has less to do with the act itself than the institutional flaws of juvenile incarceration in this country. And Trounstine clearly stands on one side of the argument on whether juveniles should be incarcerated as adults. If you’re looking for opposing arguments on the subject, you won’t find it here. She writes in the Introduction, “Karter’s story itself makes the argument why we must stop incarcerating juveniles in adult prisons. Kids are hardly incapable of change.” Trounstine uses facts, as well as other state’s models, such as the Missouri Model, “which stresses therapy instead of punishment,” to sustain her argument.

At a recent reading for the book at River Run Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH, protestors sent posters to the store denouncing the glorification of Karter in Boy With a Knife. The idea Trounstine glorifies Karter is misplaced. Karter just happens to be a juvenile sentenced as an adult, who became rehabilitated, and who contacted Trounstine at an opportune time. The relationship sparked a book necessary for an ethical conversation that needs to happen, regardless of which side you position yourself on. 


David Moloney is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.

Self-Storage

by David Moloney

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I’m not attached to possessions. I come from a middle class Irish family, where our heirlooms are silverware sets passed down through maybe a generation and a half (as “priceless” as they are worthless) and photo albums. Those are kept tucked away like rare coin collections. But otherwise, we only keep what we can house. Anything more is easily discarded.

This is to say, I was unprepared when a year ago I started working part-time at a storage facility in Lowell. The grounds have about four hundred units. The first floor is accessible from the outside, the second floor units are indoors and up a flight of stairs. My job is to scan the grounds for faulty doors, trash clean-up, run payments, and open units for new customers.

On Storage Wars, you see warring professional buyers purchase units after only a peek from the doorway and “discover” a rare collectible or two.  So, when the facility scheduled an auction for delinquent units, I excitedly signed up to work it. I wanted to rip open the units in front of fat wadded treasure hunters like Dave Hester, watch the auctioneer with a cowboy hat rattle off numbers faster than the Micro Machine dude. I wanted to see buyers chewing their fingernails, doing math on their phones, calling their partners in a last second frenzy. It was exciting television, but it wasn’t reality.

The auction was held on a chilly morning in March. A maintenance worker cut the locks off the units the night before. No one had seen inside of them but the customers who had failed to live up to the contract. Trucks and vans lined the dead end road, people stood outside the office smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. They looked tired, cold, and, I hate to say, downtrodden.  They looked like someone was forcing them to be there.

The auctioneer was no different. He had a button down shirt, light overcoat, and wrinkled khakis. He wore dirty sneakers and cautioned me to only open the units when he gave the order. He wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat nor looked like he’d ever owned one.

The twenty or so professional buyers followed me to the first unit, a five by ten. The auctioneer gave a nod and I pulled it open. Some buyers huddled around me with tiny flashlights; some used the ones on their phones. The small unit turned off most buyers immediately. When the auctioneer cleared the crowd, I took a look inside: a shop vac, filled black trash bags, picture frames, a cordless phone. The auctioneer opened the bidding at $15. His cadence was poorly executed. No one bid until his final, “Do I hear fifteen, ten, five? No five, no five, how about five?” A woman raised her hand and after he pointed quickly her way she walked off and he told me to close the unit. I caught up with the buyer on the way to the next one. I asked her what she saw worth buying. She told me the shop vac has gotta be worth at least five.

There were units that smelled so badly I couldn’t believe they sold. The buyer’s had to put up a hundred dollar deposit and empty the unit within 72 hours. Everything. Even the trash. Some buyers bought three units of junk and spent the next three days cleaning them out. One buyer, a man who was wearing the same clothes as the day of the auction, told me he had to rent a dumpster.

“When all’s said and done,” he said, “I might make two-hundred dollars.” He had two consignment shops that brought in a lot of foot traffic, he explained, but not many buyers.  He seemed happy about it, though.

When I took the job, it was the customers that initially interested me. I was sure I’d meet people in-between homes, awaiting a sale or purchase, maybe a husband tossed out and living in an apartment until he could rally himself. But I found those cases are rare. Most of the customers are just people with too much stuff.  In the end, it reminded me more of Hoarders than Storage Wars.  The units fed the compulsion to accumulate; as if the most successful hoarders were the ones who’d found the means to house their possessions at whatever means possible, for as long as they could. 


David Moloney is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.

The Leaves are Dying

by David Moloney

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Our maple trees have been diagnosed with a fungal disease, causing ugly tar spots on their leaves and premature defoliation. As much I, a New Englander, root for summer’s demise, I don’t welcome any afternoon raking sessions, let alone before pumpkin beers hit the shelves. Year after year, our foliage is a tourist attraction; the vibrancy of decay—a draw for out-of-towners not privy to drastic change of season. As a life-longer, I hardly recognize the gradual change of a season anymore, and certainly don’t rightfully appreciate it. Maybe it’s the every now and then reneging that, yet charming, promises the coming season too soon: a snowstorm on Halloween, beach day in March.

The disease, more specifically Rhytisma acerinum, is caused by extended periods of wetness—this same wetness that brought on our lushest summer in thirty years. The bloom and bounty of flowerbeds and tomato gardens were a result of over 130 inches of rain. But now our lawns are littered with infected leaves, curled into themselves, sickly marked like smoker’s lungs. My frequent resentment of homeownership is inflamed by walking my daughter to the car. We feel the leaves dumping on us from above unseasonably early—an effect of this illness.

Regardless of the current state of the maple leaf, I am not ready to rake a single one. To even begin to amp myself up for the loathed yard chore, I need to come to terms with the very idea of a society that necessitates raking. What did they, as in homeowners, do pre-rake, pre-yard waste management trucks, pre-leaf vacuum services? Surely, the leaves didn’t suffer. It must be a purely ascetic reason for collecting the leaves, a menial task that holds great importance within our communities. Homeowners must all take part, collectively, gather up all the dead leaves and bag them in the overpriced, thirty-gallon leaf bags, or if you have kids, the plastic Jack-O-Lantern ones that serve two purposes: a stash for leaves and a yard decoration. I have yet to hear a reasonable argument for raking. But I won’t Google why we do it. It’s the same reason I won’t look up why we draw hearts the way we draw hearts. I’ll still do it regardless of my findings.

Where I live, there is a considerable obligation to rake, especially when you share a lawn with a neighbor, as I do. Ron, my neighbor and weekly backyard drinking partner, is relentless on his lawn’s cleanliness. He mows at the precise time before the grass gets to a length where unevenness is evident. He rakes frequently enough that I’m comfortable saying he is ahead of the trees themselves, ahead of this disease. Only errant leaves from slacking neighbors find their way onto Ron’s lawn. And they don’t remain long.

Now, on top of this reluctance to rake, there’s a shoddy rumor the disease can leech into your lawn. By the spring, there’ll be nothing left of all our summertime efforts: the watering, weed-whacking, patterned mowing. It’ll all be for naught. This has spurred compulsion by many lawn hobbyists, the ones on my street included. They’ve taken to daily raking. A local weatherman (not sure why he’s the expert) delivered advice on tar spot prevention: elbow grease! Get out there and not only rake every leaf, but destroy them all.

Each day after work, as I park out front, I have a clear view of Ron’s conjoined lawn; an unspoken agreement that an oak tree divides our landscaping responsibilities, the property line noticeable by the differing grass length and leaf accumulation. I have a moment where I don’t turn the engine off or the radio down. I think about the weatherman’s advice and I welcome the destruction of the trees themselves at the sake of my lawn, and why stop there. Or, I can drive away and find a night job bartending in avoidance of dealing with the leaves.

I don’t find Ron’s devoutness in yardwork inspiring. It’s terrifying. I worry about my failings, not only as a neighbor, but as a man. If the leaves accumulate and begin affecting other yards on the street—the wind sweeping my sick leaves into yards absent of trees, other men out in flannel shirts raking, playing the part, looking up at my house and cursing, hoping to find me outside in the middle of the day getting my mail in my pajamas—I might be destroyed along with the lawn. And what if one gets fed up enough to invade my yard and clean it? I couldn’t then stroll out as if I were planning on raking at that very moment. I’d be punished and bound to watch an angry baby boomer with a bad heart furiously slay my very being as I hide behind a curtain.


David Moloney is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.

Devils at the Stateline

by David Moloney

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In a woeful attempt to find an adjunct job for the Fall, not much established itself as definite. As for outlook, I shot for hopeful, but landed on urgent, so I returned to my old job at a Stateline package store. The store’s sign stood tall overhead for passerby, announcing the tax disparity between Massachusetts and New Hampshire: Low beer/cig prices before you hit Taxachusetts. But the two states didn’t only share a difference in tax code. MAGA hats were prevalent on the northern side of the border, along with Confederate flag bumper stickers, or the actual flags waving above muddy Ford F-150’s. To me, the occupants were driving around in too close proximity to my blue state with their “Old Joe” middle fingers out the windows. But working that counter, selling Rave menthols and twenty packs of watered down beer to customers who shared different worldviews meant the job was just a job. I held no prestige. I couldn’t forbid selling to anyone when I wasn’t the owner. I merely owned tenancy in myself, but so did Wells Fargo and Great Lakes student loans.

Anyways, there was Michelle, a peculiar woman I worked nights with. She first introduced herself, about a month back, as a prophet of the Lord. She entered the store with an air of familiarity: raspy, smoker’s voice, bloodshot eyes, a pooch for a belly signaling years of Budweiser consumption and little Debbie night caps. Not as a ribs-through-robe prophet, with long, silken hair, sandals, and plaintive authenticity found in scripture. She was but of the maddening, contemporary flesh, chubby with a fondness of thirsty Thursday’s on the lake, not something dreamt up by early writers: a calm, preaching of what an all-loving God would reveal in the coming age. There was no direction in her proclamations. She told me, rather quickly into our first shift, that I had demons around me. They weren’t satisfied demons; the demons surrounding me were hungry. You never know when crazy is going to show itself, or what crazy really is. I thought I knew crazy, until I’d seen Michelle, wearing the store’s black button down, a Dunkin Donuts large coffee straw sticking out of her breast pocket, tickling her sun-burnt cheek, explained how when God decided it was the end, giant grasshoppers would be tasked with removing the sinners.

I found her seriousness comical at first. But then, it was disconcerting. Were their demons around me? I pulled packs of blue Parliament and silver Montclair out of the overhead slots, rang up make-your-own micro-beer sixer’s for the bearded (dare I say it) hipsters, exchanged empty propane tanks for fresh ones, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the hypothetical demons hovering over me.

 

Sure, we all have demons. That isn’t a fresh take on the metaphor. It had come to my attention though, that certain demons were running amuck, ostensibly as stridulating insects, swarming man-eating locusts, but visible only to the new age prophets such as Michelle. Michelle told me that her husband couldn’t see the fanged hoppers, which was a shame, because they only came to him when he slept at night, and he was a restless sleeper. She seemed to believe he would benefit from a sight or two of the demons. It would be a relief; his heavy caffeine consumption wasn’t to blame for his restlessness, nor the sleep apnea, which his fat ass (her words) could use as a crutch. He needed a manifestation of the demon to reveal itself. To him, there was no sense in her ramblings, she said. Her words, warnings, meant nothing. He needed to take sight of what she knew to be true. Because she could see the demons, she argued, she was relieved of the suffering. She could see their hunger, and welcomed it. Everyone’s hunger, she said, was worth satisfying. She could see the gluttony, the alcoholism, the neglect of oneself, the lack of faith, the ones waiting to be fed on, their destruction, as satisfying both God and the demons. God sent her, and others like her, to attempt salvation. The demons just reaped the battles she failed to win.

As she rang up her customers from behind the counter we shared, with a smile on her face, each customer walking up with their vices, paying for their demons, she held her confident smile. There was always that long straw in her pocket, and every so often she bent her face towards it, and rubbed her cheek on the paper covering. I wondered if she knew a majestic comfort in the touch, the wood pulp embrace of the straw covering, that I was missing. 


David Moloney is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  He currently teaches writing at UMASS Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University.


Winners and Losers

by David Moloney

A five year old’s birthday party at a Taekwondo school sounded like a bachelor party at an opera house. It didn’t make sense to me. I imagined kids clumsily kicking foam dolls, or throwing limp-wristed punches at padded walls, getting barked at by dudes in doboks until they collapsed in defeated tears. I didn’t imagine it was a place where a room of four- and five-year-olds would have barrels of fun.

There were twenty or so kids who attended. The school's Master told us to remove our children’s footwear upon entry. My daughter May ripped off her socks without hesitation and hurried over to the group. The kids sat on a blue mat and we parents were scattered throughout three rows of bleachers. The Master announced that we would have a day of fun and games in honor of Oliver, my nephew, the birthday boy.

The first game was dodge ball. I wondered how May would do with losing. May is dainty, cautious, and sweet. She would have been my first target in middle school gym class. The way the kids were so unsure of themselves made me remember the days of slinging the ball at the weaker kids first, the ones you knew would just stand still and frozen. I looked over the kids and I could instantly pick out the ones who would lose first, and the ones I would have hid behind early in the game.

Halfway through the game, a small boy lost and one of the instructors guided him off the mat. He cried. The parents in the bleachers exhaled a cohesive “awe” as he ran to his father. The instructors kept the music playing and the game going. The kids still in the game gave no attention to the boy crying. They played on, and no one else cried when they lost. The boy sat on his father’s lap and never rejoined the party.

May pirouetted her way around the bouncing ball. She twirled and skipped carelessly, as if she may not have even been part of the same game. She made it to the final four. When the ball finally found her, she walked off the mat smiling without searching me out in the bleachers.

*

There’s a growing concern among millennial parents about the absence of dodge ball in school. I’ve heard the argument that kids need to learn how to lose, that not everyone can be winner. My uncle Billy calls it the “pussification of America.” I’ve been entangled in this argument and I’ve championed the need for dodge ball, the need to “un-pussy” America. I’ve laughed in reminiscence about head-hunting the slower kids, the dainty kids, the kids like May.

The first thing my family mulled over at the after party was the dodge ball game and the crying boy. There was a collective praise from my siblings, my father, and my uncle Billy, about the way the crying boy was handled by the instructors.
    
“See how they didn’t even look at him?” my father asked. “That’s how you do it.”
    
This sort of praise was expected from my family. I am one of four children, and growing up, there was always a respected competitiveness amongst us. No one ever wanted to lose, even if the sport or spelling bee or game of flashlight tag didn’t include siblings. We always wanted to dominate. It came from the top down. My father wasn’t easy on us in games. He was notorious for the line, “I’ve never lost a game of (insert game here).” That included games against his children. He never let us win.

*

A string of snowy days the week after the party brought me to dusting off our Wii and setting it up for May. We sampled the games to find out which ones she was coordinated enough to play. She picked up Swordplay quickly, the game where two Mii’s battle on a platform with light saber type weapons until one gets knocked into the water below. May beat the A.I. fighters quite easily. Then, she challenged me to a duel.
    
Up until this point, our game-playing experience had been cooperative contests against a common enemy: get all the chickens back in the coup away from the hungry fox, build a rainbow so the Ponies can run underneath to a star dusted freedom. But now, I held the controller and stood against her.
    
May’s idea of trash talk was to make fun of my Mii’s ordinariness.
    
“Look at your eyes,” she said, “they don’t sparkle like mine.” She had insisted, when making her Mii, to have the eyes that were diamonds.

Best of three rounds, and without thinking I beat her round one. Her Mii fell into the water and she spun to me in disbelief.  She yelled, “Daddy,” and in that moment I realized the position I’d put myself in.

She then told me she was going to kick my butt in genuine confidence.

The next round, May swung up and down a few dozen times and my Mii fell into the water. She cheered.

Round three I made sure to make May work for it. I blocked her wild slashes until her arms were tired and the swings became tiny chops. I brought myself close to the edge and May gave a final sweeping blow.

When you’re the one of the kids in gym class with a good arm and good hands, when you can flatten to the floor under a high throw, leap over a bouncing ball, you love dodge ball. You count down the minutes through math class until you can roll around and smash a red ball off kid’s foreheads.

When you’re a kid and you’ve lost hundreds of games of chess to your father, trying to out-maneuver him, figure out why you can’t beat him, and, then, finally win on one foggy morning in a camper at Lake Sebago, the victory stays with you like a proud scar.

But when you have the say on whether or not someone else wins or loses, when you control the outcome, the game changes. You’re a giant gripping the ball as swarms of easy-target little people run around your feet.  You’re a teacher. You have knowledge of cause and lasting effect, of inevitable outcome.

As my Mii floated in the air with his normal-looking eyes, stayed suspended there for a moment, then plopped into the pixelated water below, I knew this first allowance of victory wouldn’t be my last. I’ll shelve the ball until she is ready to throw it back.


Letter from the (Web) Editor: Assignment's Winter Reading at The Old Court

During the past year, what I've noticed most in the writing submitted (accepted or not) to Assignment is the haunting presence of place-as-character in nearly every piece. We're still a small, local publication with traffic mostly in northeastern New England. Our contributors are primarily based out of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire area. We've had contributions written about the backyards of Manchester NH, the marinas of Newport RI, the barcrawled thoroughfares of the Merrimack Valley in central MA. In each piece, there's this overwhelming sense that the story's keystone character is not the narrator's consciousness, but the setting through which it travels. This is true for our first print issue as well: post-9/11 Manhattan (more specifically, a Portugese restaurant), the slums and suburbs of Pittsburgh, and the changing neighborhoods of Brooklyn dominate their respective stories.

Because of this, we had the idea to unite Assignment's Bay Area (Boston's Metrowest) writers for a small reading at someplace local. There, we'd celebrate some of the mag's Massachusetts-infused writing. I'm thrilled to report that myself, Online Only contributor David Moloney and good friend of the magazine Ted Flanagan will each read from some of our work on December 30, 2015 at 7:00PM at The Old Court (upstairs) in downtown Lowell, MA. The three of us are, also, either a current student or graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction, which most notably saw two of its faculty members nominated for 2015 National Book Awards. Assignment's editor and SNHU MFA's director, Benjamin Nugent, will moderate the event. Admission is free, but we'd love it if you'd buy a beverage from the bar to support the venue.

Whenever I'm at a reading, I'm reminded of the last lines of Ben Lerner's 2011 novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. It is my favorite paragraph in all of American literature (it's also my favorite novel). The story chronicles the various relationships and artistic misgivings of its protagonist, Adam Gordon, an American poet, during his time abroad in Madrid on a prestigious research fellowship. In the final scene, Adam is preparing to read some of his recently published poems to a large audience in a skylit art gallery owned by one of his peers. Earlier in the story, he read at this same gallery, but did so while battling a crippling episode of panic.

Much of the novel's conflict is anchored in Adam's anxiety, as well as his warped perception of himself and how others in turn perceive him. Each of these internal tensions is at times exacerbated and mitigated by the language barrier between he and his Spanish friends. He often leans on his inability to translate English thought into Spanish speech as a conversational exit strategy when things get awkward. It also functions as the excuse he uses to rationalize why he can neither communicate with nor understand the depths of the several Spanish-speaking lovers he takes during his tenure abroad. The concepts of both concrete and abstract translation--literal and figurative--thus factor heavily into Adam's character arc: he struggles to translate the inner workings of his soul into his physical self, into the physical moment, into his relationships with others, into thought, into speech, into English, Spanish etc.

One of Adam's friends/lovers, Teresa, spends a great deal of the novel translating the poetic contents of his notebook into a cohesive Spanish chapbook. She eventually uses the press at the art gallery to publish the finished product. It is, arguably, the grace with which Teresa shuttles between her Spanish and Adam's English--her world and his previously inaccessible internal one--that has ushered the novel to this conclusion. Teresa is at Adam's side in Atocha's final scene, as the two of them prepare to read to the audience at the release party for the chapbook. The last paragraph is only two lines:

'Teresa would read the originals and I would read the translations and the translations would become the originals as we read. Then I planned to live forever in a skylit room surrounded by my friends.'

In those penultimate moments before the reading begins, the barriers that once separated Adam from Teresa and his other Spanish-speaking peers shatter with absolute finality. Perhaps, too, this helps bridge the gap that disassociated Adam from himself. In that gallery, he experiences some form of self- and communal love, and so the novel ends.

Whenever I attend readings I am, without fail, transported to Adam's skylit room described here. It is (and readings are), above all, a place of profound and unfiltered community. And so at the end of Assignment's setting-heavy year, there's no other environment where I'd rather celebrate our publication and its supporters than at this reading, in that figurative skylit and eternal place.

We at Assignment hope to see you at The Old Court on Dec. 30. We'll be upstairs, in a barlit room, surrounded by our friends.

- Daniel Johnson

We would like to thank The Old Court for hosting us. If you’re attending, please be sure to buy a beer and tip the bartender.

Please contact Daniel Johnson,
Assignment's Web Editor, with any questions. For more details, refer to the event's Facebook page here.

Saturdays at Furey's

by David Moloney

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Whenever we would pull up along the littered sidewalk outside Furey’s Cafe on the outskirts of downtown Lowell—me in the passenger seat of the mini van, my father driving—I always got a sense the brick building was closed. There was nothing on the outside inviting customers to stop in, no neon signs, doors propped open, teasing music to passersby. The black doors in the front of the building were gated and padlocked.

We went on Saturday afternoons. I’d follow my father inside the side door and I’d hurry past smoking patrons seated in the shadows of the café and up to a stool at the bar. Peg, the bartender, would fill me up a coke and start the grill behind her. She was the mother of a kid who was in the same bowling league as me, so the connection with someone I knew made the entrance to the otherwise dark bar on a well-lit Saturday not so strange. Any anxiety I might have felt was also mitigated by the safety of my father’s presence, who had brought me along, as if he thought showing me his money drop-off for the bar’s weekly football pool would make it all cool and familiar to me, as if introducing me to the men he drank with and the bartender who answered the phone when my mother called asking where he was would help me settle in while he paid his tab and checked his numbers.

Peg made huge fatty burgers over an open flame, a tall mound of twice fried hand-cut French fries with a pickle laid across the plate. I’d get it well done; my father would order a beer. The TVs mounted to the ceiling were all on a sports game or car race of some kind. The owner, Al, stood at the end of the bar, seemingly uninterested in anything but the TV in front of him. He would take drags on what seemed like six cigarettes at a time, filling the tiny bar with lung crushing smoke.

There was a regular, Brian, who leaned on the bartop and always welcomed us when we came in. He made me laugh, and I lingered his way when my father got caught up in conversation. He wasn’t shy about cursing in front of me or telling me crude jokes He prided himself on not putting a comb or brush to his hair in six years. When I first met Brian, he was in the midst of the uncombed streak that I found impressive, as much as a twelve-year-old boy could be impressed. His hair was short, seemingly cut on the regular, so when I asked him if the barber ever put a comb to his hair he told me no. He forbade it.

Some Saturday’s, once we left Furey’s—my father with his squares sheet that would go up on our fridge, me with a full stomach—we’d stop by his friend Lyman’s house on Temple Street. Lyman was a heavy set Irish man with a small apartment filled with baseball cards and clunky, primitive, pre-Bose surround sound speakers. He drank beer with my father, talked about sports, put Top Gun’s opening scene on, and cranked the speakers to show their might. I watched Sosa chase McGuire, then McGuire chase Sosa, with Lyman and my father.

Even after I stopped riding in the minivan to Furey's with my dad, after I once went there myself with a friend promising him the best burger in Lowell, I probably still thought about Brian and Lyman more than I realized. In my early twenties, I sported a similar hairstyle as Brian, made claim to an uncombed streak that would have made him proud. And though mine lasted only two years, I went the step further by never getting a haircut. At the time, I felt the misguided, immature pride I imagined, during my youth, Brian must have felt. I made sure to let everyone know about it. I’d sit with my long, curled hair, knotted, with a beer, and watch Top Gun on a cheap surround sound set, an attempt to relive the days in Lyman’s living room. I cursed Bonds each time he made it look easier than Sosa and McGuire ever had.

I never really processed why I was following the footsteps of men like Brian and Lyman. Maybe if my father brought me to an artist’s studio when I was twelve instead of a bar or a man’s lonely apartment, say, to pay down his layaway on a painting of the Lower Locks canal, I may have taken up painting, drank tea, and smoked a lot. Instead, I grew out my hair, drank in bars, bet on football, and enjoyed my burgers only over a flame.           

My father surely didn’t anticipate me being impressed by these men. He could not have seen that in my youth I was dissecting my accompaniment as his attempt to impress upon me the traits he sought out in a friend or companion. The visits to these places preyed on my pubescent values; sexual humor, good food served by a mother, the sanctimony of beer, sports, loud noises. It was not his fault, but a culmination of factors that all seemed to work together, to formulate a brain soft and pliable, like fresh Play Dough. A poorly assembled, in-person guide on how to make friends.

When I turned thirty, I did some self-reflection into who I was and how did that happen. Thirty is a milestone year and as a male in a telescopic, individualized culture, I found myself in a state of reflection I couldn’t shake. I am in no way claiming the things that shape us can be found in the people we met as kids, or can be narrowed down to a few Saturdays from the thousands of days from our childhood. But impressions, being impressed upon--those can have a lasting effect, one that can shape us into something we never intended.

There was one cold, weekday night some time ago when I drove through downtown Lowell, past the canal, the mills. The restaurants and bars were all but empty and I saw Brian stumbling on the cobbled streets of Lowell, the buildings serving as a wind tunnel, directing him ahead, his hair wild and uncombed in the breeze. He’d taken up smoking. A part of me wanted to pull up next to him, offer him a ride and ask him how long the streak lasted for. But I’d been drinking myself and there was no eagerness to extend my trip. Brian would be out of the way, I told myself. There was no way he wouldn’t be.