This image was taken by Harper, my granddaughter, six years old, of her brother Emerson, 3 years old.
SLR Nikon D3200
This image was taken by Harper, my granddaughter, six years old, of her brother Emerson, 3 years old.
SLR Nikon D3200
“The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.”
― Rita Mae Brown
Stephen King wrote about a Dark Tower in New York in book four, Wizard and Glass. Number two Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was built over the Rose to protect it. But there is a real tower in Manhattan called Titanponte and it is downtown at 33 Thomas Avenue, which is about a mile from my loft.
“I don’t think he’s in the story, Mickey.” New York City was grey and dirty as usual. Stank from the subway threatened to knock me down.
He said, “Yeah, I know. He isn’t a normal character. But I recognized the name, I just can’t remember where.”
I told him the real Dark Tower was an NSA building run by AT&T. Acronyms. When I was a kid there was a homeless guy in our neighborhood, Badger, who used to make up acronyms for us kids to use in our spy games. I hadn’t thought about him in years. I always pictured myself as James Bond, as a girl.
Badger told me that was good, that I’d be in cognito since most people are looking for a tall man with a British accent. I had to look it up; I was such a poser. Soon after that he began buying me milkshakes at McDonalds. He always sat next to me in the booth. I never thought about it at the time, but he had plenty of money to buy me drinks and snacks. It seems strange that he made out like he was homeless. Thinking back on it, I doubt he was.
I bit Badger’s earlobe off when he put his hand down the front of my jeans. Then I braced my back against the wall and shoved his skinny ass onto the floor with both of my Chuck Taylors. He was a dipshit perv, but he created cool names, I still remember the one he made for my secret spy organization: S.H.O.C.K. Secret holographic organ collection kids. Yeah, looking back on it, the guy was a little wacked; He must have had a thing for pre-pubescent pussy. I told him that if he touched me again I would find where he slept and cut his balls off. I carried a folding knife, which wasn’t very long, but it was sharp, and I used it to make my point, pun intended, by flashing it across my palm and showing him the blood running down my arm.
I only saw him once again, coming toward me on the sidewalk. He crossed the street before reaching me. I guess I scared him with all that bullshit. Back then I was a lot of talk. But I didn’t question my power, and neither did anyone else. I was fierce.
I have never told anyone about that.
Michael interrupted my thoughts. “Do you think they have something to do with each other? Like the real Dark Tower, Titanponte, is a reflection of the tower in Mid-World? That maybe, Roland is somewhere in our world, fighting the evil that threatens to eat us alive?”
“You’re a nitwit, do you know that? Ok, I’ll play along, who’s Henry Raymond Glass then.” There are a few reasons I keep Mickey around. In addition to his sensitivity and uncut sexual prowess, his brain works in a special way. I like to think of him as half in half out. He’s half in this world with the rest of the pathetic humans and half out of it, into some other, more peaceful, mindful world; that inner world where imagination rules. Michael has a dreamer’s spirit, he can see doors where most see walls. He knew who Mr. Glass was, he just didn’t realize it yet.
Michael was like a pit-bull with a shank bone when a problem found its way into his brain. I knew he was on to something. Interrupting him with a reality check just made him dig for it; and he did. While I transferred the ACH files and covered our tracks, I got a call from Mari.
“Theodora, I must see you.”
“What’s the matter? My line is encrypted, we can talk.”
“Where are you, we need to meet.”
I gave her the address of the Starbucks down the street. We didn’t need to be causing a scene at Think. I liked that place, I want to come back. On the way down the block, Michael said, “I don’t know how they are related, but they are. Henry Glass and King’s book are connected. One leads to the other. My dream left no mistake about that.”
“I remembered why I woke up.”
We walked a few steps. I almost fell for it and asked him why, but at that point Michael was just playing with me. He smiled and waited before continuing. “A man I never saw before shoved a hard cover book into my hands and pushed me backward into an elevator shaft, I fell and screamed. The book was The Dark Tower, and the dude’s name was Glass. That’s too much coincidence even for me.”
“What did he look like?”
“Black shaggy hair, wide lapelled suit. And glasses, gold wire rims.”
We ordered coffee and sat in the comfy chairs., Mari came in a few minutes later with a gust of frigid wind – a storm was blowing in. We hugged and I gave her my coffee.
“What the fuck, girl?”
“The escort service has been giving me fits since you beat the shit out of my client the other night. He was some sort of big wig. Now he claims that I set him up to rob him. The service fired me. I got thrown out of my apartment, Theo. I have nowhere to go. And someone is following me.”
This is why I avoid relationships with people. When I get close, someone always gets hurt. I said, “You can stay at my place. I have plenty of room.”
“I’ll pay you back. I’ll wait tables if I have to.”
“Bullshit. This ain’t about money, sister. Don’t sweat it. Hey, this is Michael. Michael, Mari. I think I mentioned her.” They shook hands. But Mari was distracted. She kept looking at the door.
Michael said, “Do you need to eat? You look frozen, maybe a warm cup of soup?”
Mickey has a good heart, though all the time he was talking to her he was glancing at her breasts. I know, I was thinking the same thing; Mari is beautiful. But he was right, the coffee helped the color return to her face, but her lips still looked a little blue. We got a cab back to my place. Mari could soak in my oversized tub and Mickey and I could talk a little more about his strange nightmare.
I needed to check on this asshole client. I thought after I broke his nose and tased his ass he would be smart enough to back off. It’s always the dumb, pencil dicks that cause the most hassle. Small penis, big bank account. I would have to do something about that.
While Mari soaked, I got a notification from the server we had hacked to insert the ACH files. My bot worked, though I never doubted it would. When they verified the size of the file to make sure it hadn’t been altered, which of course it had, there was an automatic routine that I planted to lie to them and cover our addition. Once checked, my program would delete itself. At midnight all sorts of money would move all over the world, and not only the paltry sums that I showed Mickey. My project was about to initiate. I am sure Mr. Carver wouldn’t see this one coming. Fuck him.
“And you’re working for no one but me”
–George Harrison, Taxman
“Let me tell you something about money, Mickey. It ain’t real. It doesn’t even exist. If you know this, you can have as much of it as you want.”
We were making breakfast. I have a flat top griddle on my stove and I take every opportunity to use it; I love that thing. We were making sausage and pancakes. Jack Cade wasn’t much of a father, but he taught me to cook – and we made most everything from scratch since we were usually broke.
“That’s bullshit,” Michael said, “you wouldn’t have your privilege if you didn’t have money. Money is power, kiddo. And you know it.”
Michael thinks I inherited my wealth. I have never told him that I use the electronic banking system to syphon money. He isn’t ready to graduate to full-blown pirate. He thinks we are just playing. I allow it, but someday soon I will raise the curtain. For now, I am laying a broad foundation, showing him a little here and a little there.
He was manning the spatula, the ham-handed fool. I said, “See the little holes on the pancakes, Mickey? That means it’s time to flip those suckers.” He dropped one half on, half off the griddle.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll clean it up.” He went in search of paper towels.
I flipped the others, checked the sausage, and salvaged the flopped one, wiping the stainless around the stovetop with a rag I keep on the warming shelf. One of Jack’s frequent odd jobs was line-cook in a busy lunch joint. He taught me to multitask on an eight burner. “Don’t hassle over it,” I called, “I got ‘em.” Michael was rooting around in the pantry.
I checked the toast in the salamander and said, “What the hell are you doing in there?”
He returned with an empty towel tube and a porcelain cream pitcher in the shape of a dairy cow. “This is cute, where’d you get it?”
I said, “Be careful with that, it’s rare.” I lied about finding it in a curiosity shop in Seattle. It was actually one of the few items that Jack gave me. I bet he found it in someone’s garbage or stole it. I said, “I don’t use it; it’s too fragile. Put it back, ‘k?”
We ate and lounged. Snow drifted by the uncurtained industrial windows near the kitchen table. The city sky looked like a dirty steel pot; the snow would probably turn to sleet in a few minutes: fucking New York winters. I poured more coffee. Michael read on his laptop. I said, “Here, give me that, have you ever heard of an ACH file?”
He folded the last pancake, poured syrup on it, and stuffed it in his mouth. Licking the excess from his fingers, he spoke around the mouthful, “Nope.”
“ACH stands for Automated Clearing House.” I opened a text file from one of my cloud drives and spun the screen toward him. “It’s just a text file.” I pointed at a line. “The funds come from here, and flow there. This is the amount, and this is the bank. The rest is a description. Files like this move all the money in the world.”
He was chewing. “Hmmm.”
I said, “You have to be a bank to upload one– but it’s easy to hack in and insert extra lines into an existing file. They upload them every night and download return files in the morning. That’s it. That’s all money is. Numbers in a text file.”
He wiped his mouth and finished the last drips of his coffee, tipping the mug over his opened mouth and smacking his lips. Michael had some peculiar, yet endearing habits. He said, “Show me.”
I lifted my sweatshirt and stuck out my tongue.
“Very nice,” he said, “but that’s not what I mean. Yeah, no, do something. Show me how money moves. For real.”
“Ok smart-ass. But I have to set things up, and it’s Sunday, so we have to wait. If you really want to see an ACH hack in action, we’ll do it Thursday when the most deposits are made. Files drop at midnight; Friday morning is the best time to withdraw funds.” He was standing behind me now with his hand inside my sweatshirt, massaging my left tit. I leaned my head back against him.
“So,” he said, “We can do it later? Good. That leaves this morning free.”
Michael is such a horn dog. That’s part of the reason I keep him around.
Making an ACH file is cake. As I told Michael, it’s just a simple processor file, like the ones the SUXNET virus infiltrated to take control of Iranian centrifuges. As long as you give the processor proper instructions, money moves. If there are insufficient funds the transaction comes back in a return file.
ACH transfers are internal bank to bank transactions, and normally banks are the only ones who use them. But banks give FedWire network access to certain non-banks. They call themselves financial services; collection agencies, check recovery firms, and the like. I have access to everyone, but these companies are easier to hack than a bank. Unfortunately, stealing from a bank is a one shot deal; you can never do it the same way again. I’d been planning a project for months that I would initiate on Thursday. Michael and I would craft a file to move small amounts from several sources. These transfers have to be masked through many accounts to avoid detection long enough cover erase our tracks. I’d to show Michael a map of the transfers, he likes graphics. ACH hacking is more art than science; it’s a slight of hand.
I told him I was busy until Thursday so I’d have enough time to get everything ready. The file we made would syphon off a few thousand micro-amounts and aggregate them in forty other accounts around the world. No one would notice, and even if they did, unauthorized debits are always refunded. The complexity makes them impossible to trace.
From there I’d shuffle them around over a couple days. Bellagio called it crossing. Eventually they will be posted in an off-shore account and withdrawn. We’d end up with ten thousand or so, but Michael would be suitably impressed. I would put his transactions my insert for the check recovery company and his tests would upload at the same time as my attack. I never burn a bridge without making it worth my while.
My project will involve much larger sums and have bigger consequences. It makes me wet just thinking about it.
“Most people don’t realize that two large pieces of coral painted brown, and attached to his skull with common wood screws can make a child look like a deer.”
–Kurt Cobain, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die
I have a misshapen body. I know, I know, I should love myself. But society is completely fucked, and there’s more urgent shit to worry about. At least that’s what I tell myself. My Russian swim trainer, Bella, told me when I was a kid, “People in your society hate themselves, Theodora. They’re taught to despise their bodies.” I knew what she was talking about. Everything in my life from TVs to billboards told me my body was wrong, and that everything would be fine if I’d just buy the right deodorant, eat the right cereal, or wear the right fucking shoes. I spent my entire life trying to block that bullshit out.
Jack said I was born in the ocean, but he never said more. I was a water craving geek, and geeks like me live inside our heads; we ignore our bodies anyway. So I dealt with it by not dealing with it.
Looking in the mirror, my eye is drawn to these freakishly wide shoulders, a broad torso made to look even wider by my large breasts: a swimmer’s back exaggerated by a little waist and generous hips. “Proud mama hips,” Bella called them. And after years of swimming, my thighs and biceps are muscled and large. I look like a cartoon.
I stand there and wonder, who the hell are you? Where did you come from? My body looks alien; not the Theodora in my mind. Bella sniffed when I said these things. She’d say, “You have strong arms and legs, smooth olive skin, thick, healthy hair. You will never be a great swimmer, but great is overrated. You’re a big, fast, beautiful girl, pchelka.” I didn’t buy it, I was never anyone’s little bee.
I have too many freckles; my checks are covered with them. You don’t even see my nose and lips; melanin spots dominate. And my eyebrows are always trying to grow together into one. I’d curse out loud when I tweezed them; but it was a losing battle. I gave up. My eyes are my redeeming feature. Jack called them Seven-Up bottle green; they are large and almond shaped.
When I turn profile to the mirror, my belly sticks out too much. My hair, which grows like kudzu, needs to be cut again; the damn braid is always in my way. In this evening light I look like an unfinished charcoal sketch, distorted, out of proportion. Dark smudges for my brows and pubes, and that braid snaking over my shoulder, curling at my hip, impossible to brush out, bound so it won’t escape.
My hair is dark but not flat black like Michael’s. Even right after he shaves his face and bald head are a shadow against his pale Irish complexion; like his hair absorbs the light. Together we look interracial.
Dirty blond, that’s me, with a tinge of red. Irish? Greek? Russian? I have no idea; Jack changed the subject when I asked. I have no real birth certificate or social security number, only forgeries. During a rebellious phase, before I realized there was nothing to rebel against, that Jack would let me do anything I wanted, I shaved off my hair. Once gone I noticed a mark on the back of my head. At first I thought it was a birthmark, an oval port wine stain about the size of a lemon. But I snapped a picture with my phone and made a Photoshop enlargement. The characters look vaguely oriental, but I can’t figure out what they mean. They may be the key to my past, but so far, Internet searches lead nowhere. If Jack knew anything, he wouldn’t tell me. And since we lived such a transient life, there are no records. I remain a misshapen mystery. I have that one hidden mark and a small scar the shape of a mouse that I can’t remember getting. But, only my most intimate relations will ever get a glimpse my little mouse.
The entire story so far can be found on the Theodora Smith page
“Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
— Maya Angelou
I woke up in my bed. My head felt huge, I could hardly open my eyes, like a hangover from a week long binge drunk, except, I haven’t binged on alcohol since I was sixteen. The light spelled evening. I couldn’t find my phone. Trying to sit up made every muscle scream. Though my mouth felt filled with kitty litter, I didn’t dare try to find a drink. Instead, I laid still and breathed slow. The technique helps me focus on healing. I needed to escape long enough to build up some strength.
I drifted into a half dream, still aware of the pain, but one step behind it. I thought about Mr. Carver and his message, and I knew I needed to check on Michael, and survey the damage to my loft, but all of those prospects were too far away. I had slept as much as I needed so I floated on my mattress listening to my breathing, punctuated by horns on Crosby three stories below.
Images bubbled up and faded: drinking wine with Michael, the black snow and ice splashed in front of us walking back from Starbucks, Mr. Carver and his friends Faulkner and Wolfe, Mari, an escort from Abalone Group. Her face wavering before my inner vision. Mari worked for the service nights, and took classes at Columbia days. I met her by chance, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I had forged an invitation to a fundraising dinner for Sam Bastion’s reelection campaign which required a plus one to complete my cover. I picked Mari up in a rented limo; she was dressed in an indigo silk gown with candy apple red stilettos. A midnight blue page boy framed her face. I told the Abalone that she would accompany Jay Smyth, but I didn’t specify Jay’s gender. Mari was surprised when she slipped in beside me. I wore a linen button down with a Lorenzo Cana tie and a pinstripe Brooks Brother’s three piece with my ostrich boots. My hair was tied up in a twisted braid. That was before I cut it and it was very long. I told her she was perfect. She blushed.
I told Mari that I was attending to get the measure of the candidate and that when I introduced her she should distract him with her cleavage so I could get a good look at him without him noticing. “Men reveal their secrets more clearly when they don’t know you are looking at them,” I said.
“Don’t I know it,” She replied.
We had a great time. $10,000 a plate dinners are a gas, especially if you aren’t paying. I strolled around during the cocktail portion of the evening like an oil tycoon with Mari draped on my arm. She played the role like she was born to it. I glad handed Bastion and slipped a Bluetooth bug into his pocket. Mari distracted him by standing too close while I assured him of his success. He was looking at her nipples, and hardly acknowledged me.
Mari and I spent the rest of the evening after dinner hanging out in the City Club library, drinking Lagavulin and talking about her dreams. I got her number and told her we should get coffee sometime. She tried to kiss my cheek when the limo stopped to drop her, but I pressed my body to hers, held her face with both hands and kissed her long and hard before she left.
I said, “Goodnight, Mari.”
She said, “Wow,” as the doorman closed me in.
I was pleasantly buzzed for the rest of my night.
When I returned home, I activated the bug. It gave me a satisfactory GPS location and an audio link, later I would break the security of Bastion’s local computer network and gain complete access. Satisfied that I was connected, I shut down my system and went to bed. I dreamed of spooning naked with Mari, my hand draped over her, fingering the delicate skin between hip and thigh. In the morning I took a cold shower; I felt teased and horny all day.
But that was not the last I saw of Mari. Some weeks later I followed Sarah Cargill to a nightclub as part of the surveillance on her husband, Citifund CEO, Brunner Cargill, but lost her on the dance floor. Heading to the ladies, I saw Mari with a client, a broad shouldered guy with a bald head. I caught her eye; we didn’t speak.
Earlier that day, on a whim, I’d gone in for a pedicure to get waxed. I was a swimmer when I was a kid, and I prefer bare legs, arms and pits. Call me old fashioned; call me colonized. The Works, essentially removing all the hair on my body in one shot, was cheaper. I had never gone full Brazilian before, but figured, what the hell. What could it hurt? Hair grows back, right?
Fuck me, never again. Besides the momentary pain of having the hair ripped out of my most delicate spots, raw naked pubes made me excruciatingly aware of my sex. The slight friction of my panties left me throbbing, wet and horny.
After I lost Sarah, I went to pee, and passed Mari on my way. In the bathroom I had to squeeze around a lesbian couple, lip locked with their hands up each other’s skirts. Once in the stall and relieved, I wiped, but continued rubbing, thinking I would have a quick orgasm and bolt.
The couple finished and left. I pictured their flushed faces, imagining I was one of them; my breathing grew deep and husky; this wasn’t going to take long. Just before I came, the door slammed open. I watched through the stall crack as the bald dude shoved Mari against the wall. She said, “Owe. Fuck you Simon, not so rough!”
Simon back handed her face and spun her around to the sinks, out of sight. My orgasm dissolved, I exploded out of the stall and lunged at him. He had pressed her face onto the counter, and ripped her underwear off. He gripped her hips, banging into her. I carry a rechargeable Taser the size of a disposable lighter. It’s tiny, but delivers 10,000 volts. I grabbed his shoulder, turning him away from her, and Tased his crotch. While he was convulsing on the filthy floor, gripping his balls with his pants around his ankles, I kicked him three times with my steel-toed Timberlines: one to the gut, one to the groin and one to the face. I heard his jaw brake.
I slipped a bug into Simon’s pocket and helped Mari wipe her bloody nose. She leaned on me and said, “Theo, you smell like vagina, and your panties are around your ankle.” I stuffed them in Simon’s mouth and left him moaning and shivering in fetal position. Mari I dropped at Mount Sinai Emergency and went home.
Michael had left a voice mail about coming over and I texted him a thumbs up. Between the adrenalin from Mari’s rape, being Brazilian hot and bothered, and my interrupted orgasm, I was energized to say the least. He didn’t want to have sex with me for a week after that.
The memory dissolved as I opened my eyes to the dusk filled room. Breathing didn’t hurt as badly. Replaying these events got my heart pumping. I almost forgot about the exploding door and being gassed in that cell. I got out of bed carefully, and peed like a racehorse. My phone was where I left it on the glass table in the living room. Any blast damage had been cleaned. There was no trace, and no wine stain on my cheap-ass Ikea rug. I checked my messages. There were several from Michael within the past few hours. Three days had passed.
The entire story so far can be found on the Theodora Smith page
Someone posted poems about sex
It didn’t make me want to read them
That’s not because I am too old to care
I didn’t want to be a voyeur
It’s her sex, after all
I didn’t feel invited for that,
And even if, I wouldn’t have gone
And it’s not because it’s risky
for me to talk about sex in public
Sex is common
Everybody has one
There isn’t anything special about sex
It’s only exciting because of
Sex is just a word
that’s pretty disconnected
I crave attachment, connection
The way I feel about you
When we are intimate, love
Our bodies together
That is what it’s about
New Post on the writer’s Road Trip by Karen.
It’s been a year since our summer road trip. We’ve covered thousands of miles since then, punctuated by two frigid cross-country, storm-eluding, highway-closing for Wyoming wind, driving the snow-covered-dirt-road-detour for miles, turn-the-car-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night to warm our metal tent parked at countless rest areas, fast-red-road-country crisscrossing moves to the farm; all the while remembering, whom this land once nourished.
It’s almost as if it’s taken half the year to catch our breath! Soaking in our rural sanctuary for recovery; and perhaps, to also forget, for a short while, how long and large this beautiful country really is. But even with the hardships of the road, there has been a depth of value to traveling that has settled into our lives, a bit like muscle memory becoming stronger, turning micro trauma into awakened conviction.
We’re living in a socially constructed world of never-stopping and never-ending production. This supreme disconnection from our…
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I went to the mountains with the overwhelming burden of my failing financial life embedded in my chest. Foreclosure, eviction, overdrawn checking account —I owned the whole ball—and it wormed its way to my deeper places like an alien parasite that grew and waited to burst through my chest taking my last bit of life force with it. It didn’t matter if everything else was going well in my life, that I was in my first year of a Ph.D. program that was expanding my horizons in ways I had never dreamed, that my chronic health issues were fading away due to interventions that no one expected to work so well, that my beautiful family was helping one another in all the nonmonetary ways beyond a mother’s wildest reveries, filled with a love, and compassion that surpassed anything I ever felt growing up. These whole-hearted accomplishments didn’t matter in a world that measured everything by late fees and economic bottom lines, that cared little for my family, or my life… or the precious grandchildren who might become homeless if I didn’t handle things right.
It didn’t matter if I was a casualty of a still looming financial crisis created by others, or if my husband Ron accidentally pushed the wrong button when opening his Fidelity Retirement account that sucked the five thousand dollars that would’ve circumvented all the above personal problems. No, it didn’t matter to our modern world if this single momentary error had created a cascading effect from which there was no normal safety net.
Read more: Taking my trauma to the mountain
Check out this new article on The Writer’s Road Trip!
I ate breakfast this morning on my friend’s porch in Prescott AZ. A left over piece of steak with a small omelet, fresh brewed coffee and buttered sourdough toast as I sat in the sun stretching like a sleepy dog in the non-humid, mountain surrounded wonder of this high desert. Whippoorwills punctuated waves of cicada white-noise. Breeze puffs rustled the junipers. I cut my steak with an Opinel French folding knife. We bought it in Portland just before we left – I have not had one of these knives since I was twenty four.
Karen and I are going to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in November of this year. Thanks. Everyone tells us that it is an accomplishment. I picked her up in Pluckimen New Jersey hitch hiking to the Delaware Water Gap in July 1975. We were hitched permanently before three months passed. But after only four…
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Trigger warning: feminism, women's rights
MAKING A DIFFERENCE, ONE STEP AT A TIME
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The Journal of Theodora Smith
spoken word poet & workshop leader
Engaged Learning, Research, and Practice for a Changing World
stories we tell ourselves