It was a big risk.



C. Hollander


Live Wires
An Observer

When I am reading something uninteresting and limiting in some way, and it's not what I want to be doing, my condition, Familiar Mediterranean Fever, flares up. My nerve endings feel like live wires. It’s painful.

I wonder if, when a person is dishonest or inauthentic, something similar happens to a lesser degree. Or perhaps not. Since society promotes a fake identity, after a while people probably lose awareness and fail to notice the constant fibs and compromised behavior they’ve adopted in order to get along and fit in.

When I was growing up, I had a desire to be fully independent, but when I imagined what would happen if I came out to my family, I suspected I might lose control over my life, my rights, and my freedom. I could imagine growing up and never being allowed to get a job in order to survive on my own. It was a big risk. And, in fact, this did happen to a certain degree when I later came out in college.

Even now twenty years later, I continue to be scared at a knock on the door or the phone ringing, because I am afraid of people seeing what I'm really like. There's nothing to be ashamed of, but people might judge me, squash me, and make me suffer.

By the time I was twelve, I was aware that I had to hide because I was gay, and also, because I was a girl who preferred to look and act like a boy. I liked to play sports and other activities allowed for boys, but not girls. I grew up in the South where it was crystal clear what you could or could not do based on your gender.

I wanted to be able to achieve because if I could feel proud of my accomplishments, then I’d have a defense against the shame I felt for being different. I hoped that people would be happy for me too, since it might protect me against ostracism. Instead, my teachers and my parents—they all viewed my achievements as somehow taking power away from the boys because they had to be the best. Whenever I won an award, it was never acknowledged or announced over the school loudspeaker. But if a boy won an award, you could count on it being announced and remarked upon.

It is interesting the kinds of binds society can put people in.


S. Miller

In 1991, Jake, Janet, Nin, and I sat on the roof of the shitty bungalow Jake and I rented, watching the sunset ignite. Though L.A.’s smog caused health problems and shortened our lives, it also endowed the sunset with abundant particulate matter that produced an abstract masterpiece of red, orange, and pink, fading away within minutes. Soon darkness would fall and the Fourth of July fireworks would commence, lighting up the sky over Santa Monica, about fifteen miles north.

Our tiny rental sat on a busy street opposite the enormous El Segundo Chevron Refinery. The refinery occasionally had “unplanned flaring events.” Giant balls of fire belched from the refinery’s smokestacks, caused by mysterious malfunctions. The refinery never disclosed to the surrounding communities the details of each averted catastrophe; in fact, the refinery preferred that we ignored them completely, as if such a thing was possible. These flaring events were like fireworks, in that they lit up the sky and were the result of combustion, yet they hid, shy and retiring, behind a twenty foot high chain link fence, wishing we would turn our attention elsewhere.

Janet and Nin were sisters who were born in Canada but grew up in the U.S. They renewed their green cards every ten years and had no interest in applying for U.S. citizenship.

“So you can’t vote here?” I asked.

“Nope,” said Nin.

“Are you going to return to Canada and live there?”

“Nope,” said Janet.

Jake harrumphed and said, “The only reason you know the lyrics to ‘O Canada’ is because of hockey games.” We laughed. Nin laughed from her belly and Janet laughed with her shoulders.

We drank Tecate out of cans while we waited for the fireworks to start, continuing to banter while trying not to fall off the pitched roof.

When it was dark enough, the fireworks show started, illuminating the sky in the distance, each burst born of incandescence and luminescence. Magenta became pink then white, green became yellow. As each one winked out, our anticipation of the next spectacle—was that the last one? Would there be more?—was as exciting as watching the show itself.

Jake started singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Nin and Janet joined in.

I didn’t immediately join in. I wasn’t sure why singing the national anthem felt deeply inauthentic. In the past, I had sung the anthem because it was required for school events (especially in elementary school where we had to sing it weekly at all-school assemblies). I always had trouble singing the melody, which demanded a vocal range that I lacked. I especially disliked the moment where I had to sing the word “banner” over a four-note arpeggio. “Ba-ha-ner-her.”

I grew up, I went to college, I met Jake. We occasionally attended hockey games at the L.A. Forum, where, at the beginning of each game, the announcer would ask us all to stand and sing the anthem. That’s where I first encountered Canada’s anthem. I loved singing the first line, “O Canada!” because the cadence was like a lover’s sigh after a long intimate act, in contrast to our anthem’s contorted lyrics, which were about war— rockets and bombs and a flag.

Fireworks symbolized battle, of course, and the Fourth of July commemorated the War of Independence. I, however, preferred to enjoy this holiday along the lines of how most people celebrated Christmas: by mostly divesting it from its original meaning, because at the time, I found patriotism interchangeable with nationalism. I felt that singing the national anthem was a form of propaganda and control. It was part of the military-industrial complex’s agenda to convince people to get themselves killed in wars, and to convince others to cheer them on.

When authorities demanded that I sing the anthem, I sang the anthem. But none of the authorities were sitting with us on the roof that night, so I didn’t sing. Instead, I started howling like our dog Spider did when a high-pitched or loud sound hurt his ears.

Nin and Janet stopped singing and laughed. Jake stopped singing and glared at me. “How dare you?” he said. “How dare you mock our country?”

“Sorry,” I said. I lied. I was not sorry, though I was unhappy my joke had backfired.

After that, we sat on the roof in silence, not singing or howling, watching the fireworks.


  1. “…building a patriotic American identity based on shared common goals and purposes is more desirable for a pluralistic society than focusing on similarities of culture and heritage [which is a form of nationalism]…Unity in one sense can be achieved through difference rather than sameness.” —Li, Qiong and Brewer, Marilynn. “What Does It Mean to Be an American? Patriotism, Nationalism, and American Identity After 9/11.” Political Psychology, Vol. 25, No 5, 2004.

  2. “Koksebek, the [Kazakh] herder, didn’t speak Chinese, and found it difficult to recite the [Chinese] national anthem and other patriotic songs that detainees were forced to learn. As punishment, he did stints in solitary confinement. Otarbai spent hours in their cell teaching Koksebek the songs by heart, one syllable at a time.” Mauk, Ben. Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State, The New Yorker, February 26, 2021.

  3. “Nationalists believe that their country is the best because they live in it. But patriots believes that their country is the best but there is always room for improvement.” — Wes O’Donnell

  4. Antimony is a metal used in fireworks to create glitter effects. It is nonmalleable. Its name is derived from the Ancient Greek words “anti” and monos” which mean “not alone.”

Additional research by K. Nielsen.


Causes and Conditions
C. Hollander


C. Tusan

Once upon a time a trio of superheroes, Mercy, Locksmith, and The Judge, roamed the city looking to fight for Good. They predictably got caught up in a battle with an ugly, smelly villain befitting of his name, Ogre, along with his ten genetically-altered, diminutive henchmen, The Minis. The setting of the battle was like any other battle of super-beings: out in public where mass carnage could take place. It was narcissistic, but no one gets into the superhero or villain business in order to remain invisible, unless you are literally the Invisible Woman.

In the middle of the recklessly destructive battle, a young boy in a t-shirt emblazoned with a big tear drop symbol walked up to the melee. He stood there for a moment, then shouted, “I am Crybaby!”

The battle halted momentarily as all of the superheroes and villains stopped fighting in order to look at this strange-looking kid with the odd name. “Is he one of yours?” asked Ogre to the superheroes.

The Judge looked Crybaby up and down and said, “I don’t remember fostering a child.”

“I am Crybaby!” the boy shouted again.

Mercy bent down to talk to the boy. “Little kid, you should move away from here for your safety. We’re here to protect people like yourself.”

“Come on, I want to get back to pummeling you all and laughing while I do it,” whined Ogre.

Crybaby lightly touched Mercy and said, “You’re still plagued with guilt and remorse because you abandoned your mother when you left home at the age of fifteen. Your mother had a Whippet problem that eventually killed her four years later when she fell asleep into a giant bowl of whipped cream.”

Mercy took a step back. “What? How did you know…?” Mercy started to sob.

Locksmith put a comforting arm around Mercy. “Look what you did, kid. Go home.”

Crybaby looked at Locksmith, closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. “You regret that in 2005 when you had the chance to step in front of a bullet shot by one of the Minis, you choose not to, and a five year old girl had her hand blown off. She was a piano prodigy who never played again and became a one-handed Vegas card dealer.”

As Locksmith cried, Ogre bellowed, “Hah! That was a good day. You were stupid, Locksmith.”

Crybaby walked up to Ogre, touched his hand, then said, “When you were in high school and puberty set in, you couldn’t control your hormone-ravaged body when you became nervous. One day you stood in front of the class to give an oral presentation. You had sweaty palms and your voice cracked. You blanked out completely and then you got a huge boner. Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Your friends, whose approval you sought, stopped hanging out with you and nicknamed you the “Jolly Green Boner.” That moment of humiliation haunts you every day. You’re still stuck in an endless vicious cycle of seeking approval and love, then when you don’t get it, you become angry and violent.”

At first, Ogre was stone-faced, then he too began bawling like there was no tomorrow. This triggered all of Ogre’s Minis to start weeping as well. It was a river of tears.

The Judge looked in dismay at the carnage around him, turned to Crybaby, and asked, “Who the fuck are you? And how are you doing this?”

“I am Crybaby. My super-power is sadness and I want to be part of your team.”

“Or what? You’ll make me cry?” said The Judge.

“No. I’ll just kill you.” Crybaby gave The Judge a cold hard stare filled with overwhelming sadness.

“Okay, you’re in, kid,” nervously replied The Judge.

Crybaby shed a single tear of joy.

The End

Montara Beach, California, U.S.A. Waves crashing against rocks as high tide approaches. A seagull is curious.

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