LaborArts


 
CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK / LABORARTS
MAKING WORK VISIBLE
2016–2017 CONTEST
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2016–2017 Contest Winners


The title of this contest—“Making Work Visible”—captures the essence of the work done by the young authors and artists who won prizes in the seventh year of this CUNY/LaborArts contest. The poems, fiction, non-fiction and visual art display imagination, thoughtfulness, and an ability to make links between individual lived experience and larger social issues.


Open to all CUNY undergraduates, contest entries are judged according to originality, content and style. Student writers and artists both draw upon history, upon close observation of the world around them, and upon a wealth of first hand experiences to link their work to the spirit of labor arts. Every year professors judging the contest reflect on the value of providing opportunities for the students to seriously interrogate their own life experiences and that of those around them.

From Jenny Lai’s poem “Nail Salon”:

She nods when you talk to her about your day
even though she doesn’t understand your language
because your money is more important than her voice.

“My father’s hands are wrought iron.” The first sentence of Renée Jarvis’ very personal story “Hands and Feat” gives us a visual image drawing us directly into her tale.

Each work will affect you in some way—you’ll learn something, be inspired, be surprised.

We sincerely hope that these young authors and artists continue on with their work—their voices demand to be heard.

Photographs of students and from awards ceremony ©Brooklyn College, David Rozenblym



Kara Stephens

First Prize, Nonfiction
Kara Stephens  English, Women’s and Gender Studies, Brooklyn College

Cuddle Cafes and the Japanese Schoolgirl: Compartmentalized Commodification

From BuzzFeed, 2012

The fetishization and hypersexualization of schoolgirls in Japan is seen throughout the country. The desire for these girls has led to the creation of countless businesses, all attempting to profit off of exploitation. Within these businesses is a trend: each one caters to a specific, singular desire. One such business is the cuddle cafe. In this paper, I research their recent popularity in Japan. I give a brief overview of the existing sexualization of the schoolgirl figure, as well as a look at other businesses that successfully commodify youth and sexuality. Throughout the paper, the term "schoolgirl" is used to refer to a Japanese girl of high school age, ranging from approximately fifteen to eighteen. The vague nature of the term is intentional: it demonstrates how the lines of age are consciously blurred within their sexualization. Keeping in mind my position as a researcher with an outsider’s perspective of the culture and country, I end with an examination of the United States’ own cuddling services, and study the ways in which they differ from those in Japan. This research is done with the intention of proving the ways in which Japan’s cuddle cafes both contribute to and encourage the sexual exploitation of Japanese schoolgirls.

Schoolgirl sexualization is deeply embedded within Japanese culture. It is not confined to pornography, where this fetishization has become so commonplace that it is now a genre on pornographic websites across the world. Throughout Japan, schoolgirls are advertised as sexual objects in everything from manga to pop music. Japanese pop, usually referred to as J-pop, has become a popular source for the commodification of the schoolgirl. J-pop’s target audience is not adolescents, despite their songs appearing most relatable to a young audience. Rather, J-pop is specifically geared toward middle- aged Japanese men that engage in schoolgirl fetishization. Their performances are sexually charged, aiming to please the men that fill their audiences and buy their merchandise. After shows, the men are allowed to shake the hands of the performers, often engaging in short conversations with their favorite member of the group. J-pop does not sell music; it sells the girls that perform it.

The J-pop group AKB48 became infamous after their music video for the song “Heavy Rotation” went viral. The video features over a dozen of the group’s members on a set meant to represent a child’s bedroom: the floor is covered in bright, multicolored padding; the walls are decorated with pink butterflies; pillows and stuffed animals can be spotted every few feet. In stark contrast to this setting, the members of AKB48 are dressed in lingerie and fishnets. The video alternates between group shots of several girls and close-ups of an individual girl’s thighs, hips, and backside. More than once, the performers straddle their microphone stands, which are topped with oversized flowers; in other shots, they are seen sleeping and cuddling teddy bears, still dressed in corsets and stockings. The video also includes a scene in which the girls are dressed as kittens, biting into pastries that shoot out cream ("Heavy Rotation"). The video makes childlike innocence indistinguishable from eroticism. The youth of AKB48’s performers implies a demand for the genuinely young: some of the girls in the "Heavy Rotation" video were thirteen years old at the time of production (“AKB48 Birthdays”).

As in J-pop, schoolgirls are often sexualized in anime and manga. A large portion of manga, which “permeates Japanese culture,” represents schoolgirls as weak and defenseless, as well as inherently sexual (Ripley and Whiteman). In mainstream manga, schoolgirls are never depicted as actually engaging in sex— but existing just beside the mainstream is a market for exactly that. Many manga stores in Akihabara, Japan’s “anime district,” include adult-only sections. Within them, the manga displayed is incredibly graphic. While this alone would simply be considered pornography, there is a disturbing trend within the sex shown: it is impossible to tell whether or not the feminine characters are adult women or actual children. They are often drawn wearing “school uniforms, hair clips and innocent expressions,” partaking in “violent sex acts” with the male characters (Ripley and Whiteman). Because manga is drawn, rather than photographed or recorded, it is impossible to definitively prove whether the characters are actual children or consenting adults taking part in role play. This intentional vagueness is what helped seuxal manga evade Japan’s ban of child pornography, which became law in June of 2014. Whether or not these drawings are meant to be of actual children, this sub-genre of manga is designed to forge a connection between school-age girls and sexual relationships.

The condemnation of child pornography has not made the sexualization of schoolgirls any less extreme; if anything, the obsession is growing. Within Japan, searches for “Japanese schoolgirl” on Pornhub increased 191% from 2014 to 2015 (“Pornhub’s 2015 Year in Review”). Mediums such as music videos and manga, which enocurage the viewing of schoolgirls as seuxal commodities, have created a demand for the companionship of these girls. The demand has become so extensive that specific services have been created to meet it. Throughout Tokyo, high school-aged girls attempt to use their fetishization to their advantage. Dressed in their school uniforms, they invite men to join them inside joshi-kosei, or JK, cafes. The girls that work in these cafes “earn about $8 an hour to socialize and serve food and drink to men often more than twice their age” (Ripley). The popularity of these services shows just how intense the desire for schoolgirls is within the culture: men are willing to pay just to sit in a room with them. At the surface level, these cafes provide a way for the recipients of hypersexualization to profit off of it. In reality, however, the girls that work at these shops are often in danger. A common pattern develops: men who patronize the JK shops will ask the employees out on dates. The girls, under the impression that they will be paid for their time, agree to the dates. Once alone with the men, and outside of the safety net that the cafe provides, the girls often become victims of rape, human trafficking, and/or forced prostitution (Ripley). Their uniforms and youth have become intrinsically related to being sexal objects, and in the eyes of the men who commodify them, they are products rather than people.

The JK cafes alone are not enough to curb the demand for the companionship of a schoolgirl. They are missing two important elements: youth and physical interaction. In these cafes, the schoolgirl fantasy begins and ends with the girl’s uniform; there is nothing else within the shop to confirm the youth of the girls. Second, and perhaps more importantly: these shops do not allow for any form of touch between the customers and the workers. The tables at which they eat provide a barrier between their bodies; the men risk being banned from the cafe if they try to encroach on a girl’s space. In response to both of these issues, and the growing demand for physical companionship, Japan has made another attempt at a solution: cuddle cafes.

Soineya, Japan’s first cuddle cafe, was opened in the fall of 2012 (Simonitch). The shop’s customers pay money to cuddle with employees, and there is a menu of options with varying prices for additional services. The idea behind the cafe seems relatively harmless: it provides a way for customers to relax, and gives them an outlet for physical connection that they may be lacking in their personal lives. In practice, though, these cafes simply provide another outlet for the fetishization of schoolgirls. Masashi Koda, who owns Soineya, claims that his employees are all “from 17 years-old to 25-years-old” (Cho). According to the application, however, any girl in high school is welcome to apply. This means that a girl as young as fifteen would be eligible for a position at the cafe. The problem is not one of legality: the age of consent in Japan is thirteen, and children are allowed to hold a job at age fifteen. Rather, the problem stems from the simultaneous infantilization and sexualization of the girls working in the cafe.

Just as in the “Heavy Rotation” music video, the entirety of Soineya is decorated as a child’s bedroom would be. Each of the seven rooms in which customers can cuddle is “decorated with stuffed animals, heart-shaped cushions, cloud-shaped lamps, and accessories that play lullabies” (Cho). A CNN video taken inside the cafe shows similar findings: softly glowing heart-shaped lamps on the walls, children’s purses and dress-up clothes, stickers, and pastel pillowcases patterned with princesses or cartoon kittens (“Want to Cuddle a Stranger?”). The rooms are small, constructed out of half-walls and bed sheets. Each one barely fits a mattress. The size of the room provides little choice for the employee but to be in close proximity to their client at all times (Cho). The girls themselves are paid to engage in the schoolgirl fantasy. They wear pajamas, as seen in a second video taken within the cafe. The employee on camera wears baby pink pajamas covered in white rabbits, and lacy socks patterned with hearts (“The Japanese Love Industry”). Outfits like these are designed to emulate femininity, innocence, and above all, youth. If the customer prefers, he can pay a fee for the cuddler to wear a school uniform, or a sailor suit (Cho). The customers themselves are permitted to bring pajamas, but are allowed to wear whatever they enter the store in as well— in both videos, those receiving the services are dressed in street clothes, displaying an obvious juxtaposition between the workers and clients. The cafes actively encourage the desire for childlike innocence, taking care to continue the fantasy from start to finish.

While cuddle cafes are not meant to provide sexual interaction, Koda and others running similar shops are very aware that the driving force of their businesses is sexual desire. This is most obvious in Soineya’s menu of offered services, and in how prices rise as the services grow more and more sexually charged. The most inexpensive service, standard cuddling, is priced at $40 for twenty minutes. There is a steady increases in price for longer sessions ($77 for an hour, $206 for three hours, and so on). Customers can even spend the night at the cafe: a ten-hour session costs approximately $645. If cuddling is not enough for the men, there are more intimate services offered as well: for $13, a customer can get three minutes of resting in a girl’s arms, petting her on the head, or getting patted on the back. For the same price, the girl can rub the customer’s feet for three minutes— and for double that cost, the customer is allowed three minutes of rubbing the girl’s feet. Another service, and perhaps the most sexually charged, follows the same pattern as the foot massages. For $13, the girl spends three minutes with her head resting in the customer’s lap. For $26, the situation is reversed (Simonitch). In the pricing system, one can witness the compartmentalized commodification of the schoolgirl. Men pay to have their fantasies lived out before them. As they pay for individual services, the fantasies become more realistic, more catered to their individual whims and desires. The popularity of Soineya is due to the way it capitalizes on the fetishization of schoolgirls. The business is not about the physical act of cuddling, but about who the cuddling happens with. Were the employees not schoolgirls, the business would have an entirely different customer base— or simply not exist.

The cuddling services offered in Japan stand in contrast to those in the United States. While the U.S. is certainly not a pillar of gender equality, the cultural fetishization of schoolgirls does not exist to the same extent that it does in Japan, creating a difference in their cuddling service markets. The Snuggery, a company located in upstate New York, provided the inspiration for Koda’s own business (Cho). Jackie Samuel founded the company in 2012, and like Soineya, the offered services do not include sexual interaction. Aside from this grounding principle, though, the two businesses have very few similarities. The Snuggery only employs two women: the founder, and a woman only referred to as “Colleen” on their website (The Snuggery). While Colleen’s age is not specified, her short biography explains that she has a college degree, as well as specialities in several subjects. Samuel herself was twenty-nine when she started the business, and her customers are typically within her age range (Compton). Pictures of both of the women are provided: they are focused on their faces, void of any theme or decoration. The Snuggery charges $60 an hour, almost double the price at Soineya. Differences do not end with price and age: other than an overnight stay, the Snuggery does not offer any of the extra services that Soineya does. The Snuggery does not have a set location; the “snugglers” go to the homes of their clients. Nothing in their business model is designed to emulate childhood, innocence, or sexual desire.

There is a distinct sense of privilege surrounding the Snuggery’s business model: these women feel safe and protected in their work. When asked about the possibility of a customer becoming sexually aroused, Samuel is confident in saying that she could “just communicate” to the client that sexual interaction is not an option. This attitude is one of a person that is in control of their business. The girls at Soineya do not have quite as much freedom of the women working at the Snuggery. While at work, employees of Soineya do not have complete body autonomy— their interactions with clients are negotiated by their boss. There is also a force driving Soineya’s business that does not control the Snuggery’s. This is not to say that the desires of the Snuggery’s clients are any less sexual than those of Soineya’s clients. The difference is in the age of the women being sexualized. The Snuggery is not trying to sell the idea of youth or innocence; the business is focused entirely on the act of cuddling. The women working in the Snuggery may be commodifying physical interaction, but they are not doing so while still in childhood. Conversely, the act of cuddling seems to be the last priority at Soineya. There, the most important part of the service is the perceived childishness and sexuality of the employees.

Cuddle cafes are not the driving force of the sexualization of the Japanese schoolgirl. Were they to be shut down, the market would still have countless outlets for this kind of commodification; new businesses would likely exist in their place in a matter of weeks. The cafes do, however, actively encourage exploitation. By providing men with a service that lets them interact with the young girls they desire, especially in an environment such as Soineya, there is an understood acceptance and approval of the fetishization of children. Japan’s commodification of physical interaction is not unique. It is not inherently bad, nor is it automatically based around youth and innocence. Businesses like cuddle cafes exist because there is a recognition of the demand for schoolgirl companionship within a larger sphere. Cuddle cafes may be nothing more than a passing trend, but the culture that they exist within and profit off of has no intention of disappearing.


Kerissa Marcellin

Second Prize, Nonfiction
Kerissa Marcellin  Health Administration, NYC College of Technology

Night mares at the Dream Hotel

Hotel Room, Kyle Scully, 2007

The Dream hotel is located two blocks away from the famous, busy tourist area of the Highline, a busy tourist area surrounded by a few other hotels such as the Maritime Hotel. Many refer to this hotel as the “party hotel.” The Electric Room, PHD Rooftop, as well as the Bodega Negra Cafe´ and restaurant, are all part of the hotel. The block is usually busy all the time, especially at night. Celebrities such as Rhianna, Movado and Beyonce´ often visit this hotel and throw parties at the rooftop bar. To the right of the main entrance is the Bodega Negra cafe which has stools outside and even when it’s cold there’s never an empty seat, so imagine what it’s like in the summer when everyone’s out. Right before the end of the block is the employee entrance. It looks like the entrance to a strip club because of the colorful lights showing the letters XXX and graffiti of all types such as naked women tied up to a chair all over the walls of the ramp but it’s not. It is also a famous spot where everyone stops to take pictures.

At the end of the block, a halal truck always has a line outside with hungry hotel and construction employees as well as tourists waiting to stuff their faces with his famous chicken gyros and pita bread. Many say he’s the best around so this would explain why there’s always a crowd. In the winter, I’d say the hotel is located on one of the coldest blocks in the city. The cold wind hits your face and makes it hard to breathe, then you find yourself walking extremely quick to get away from it blowing directly towards you, tossing you left and right. I usually hate going to work in the winter because it’s always so much colder on that side of the city, but then again I love it because you don’t feel hot and sweaty when cleaning these loathsome rooms.

When I first moved to this country six years ago from Saint Lucia, I started working as a family babysitter. I barely got paid and after a year I sought something new. My brother who currently worked at the Dream Hotel as a maintenance guy spoke to the Director inquiring about open positions and of course being that he had a good name I was given the job. I was hired at the Dream Hotel four years ago and although this wasn’t my first time working at a hotel, I was amazed at how inviting and unique everything was. Outside the hotel is a fancy beach like theme where the pool can be seen in the middle of the two towers, North and South. The pool is surrounded by benches giving off that natural beach experience as well as cabanas and of course, its own restaurant and bar. When you’re in the lobby you see people swimming in the pool above because the bottom of the pool has circular areas made of glass.

The first day of training everything seemed overwhelming, from making the bed to scrubbing the bathroom tiles and tub, cleaning unflushed feces which stuck to the corners of the toilet and urine stains all over the seat. I would turn my head, afraid to speak to my co-worker out of fear that something of that toilet bowl water might splash my face and god forbid, enter my mouth while I was scrubbing it off with the toilet brush. I thought to myself this has got to be the worst job ever. However, my trainer and I continued taking turns to make the bed and clean the bathroom. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over.

After two days of training with my new colleague, it was now time to work alone. I was a little nervous and forgot how to make the bed. Considering I am almost six feet tall and the bed is less than two feet high making the bed was the most difficult thing to do. It involved bending over, trying to tuck the corners of the first two sheets in then placing this huge comforter over the sheets. I then had to place the third sheet. By then the bed looked higher but I was still out of breath by the time I tried to tuck the first corner in of the comforter and all the three sheets. I sat down and tried it the lazy way but it just wouldn’t come out right. After the bathroom and the bed were done, I had to dust every corner, table top and let’s not forget the mirrors. There are so many and they are huge and circular shaped like everything else in the hotel room. The windows are also round. After I was done wiping everything spotless the pain in my arms and my shoulder was unbearable. It was only my first day and I was considering quitting. A regular hotel room should take thirty minutes to clean but I had already spent two long hours in this room and I wasn’t done vacuuming or mopping the bathroom floor yet.

Finally, it was time for my second room. I walked in and I was surprised to see how filthy it was. Condom wrappers as well as used ones were all over the room. I couldn’t believe how messy the guest was. I doubled up my gloves and started picking everything up such as shopping bags, unwanted clothes, papers and left over drinks, and chucked them into the garbage bag. After picking up all the trash the room looked easier to clean and I was done in one hour. However, completing the room in one hour didn’t help because it was 7:00 pm and my shift should’ve ended at 4:30 pm but I was still cleaning. I only had seven rooms to clean which is half of the total number of rooms which you are required to clean daily. Eventually the supervisor told me I could leave and gave the remainder of my rooms to the PM staff to complete.

On my way home, it took me ten minutes to walk to the train station. It’s usually a two-minute walk to the station but I had no energy left and I couldn’t wait to get home to soak my body in Epsom salt.

The following day was better and I worked at a quicker pace. I managed to finish all the rooms I was given by approximately 6:00 pm. As days, months and weeks went by I was better at time management and I would complete all my rooms on time. It took me six months to get used to being a Room Attendant. There were still nights when I cried myself to sleep and most times I crawled into bed like an 80-year-old woman suffering from arthritis and terrible back pains. I had just moved to this country from Saint Lucia and there was never a day where I didn’t feel like moving back home. Every phone call I made to my mom in Saint Lucia only ended with me begging to come back home for I was so tired of this place and I couldn’t take it anymore.

Today, after four years I have trained new employees and I am one of the quickest workers. There are days when I sit down and look back at how far I’ve come, from crying myself to sleep at nights and soaking my body in Epsom salts so the aches and pains would go away. There are days when a regular room would take thirty minutes but I’d usually be done in fifteen minutes. However, every day is different, there are days when I still take an hour to clean because some of these guests leave their rooms so filthy when they checkout. I find all sorts of things in these rooms daily, from sex fetish toys, to cocaine and marijuana. There are still days when I feel like quitting. Although I am used to pain and cleaning all sorts of things I still feel embarrassed that I am a Room Attendant and this is what I do for a living. I have applied for many jobs and received many job offers from other hotels to get a better position but the paycheck can’t compare to what I get paid right now. Many people ask me where I work or what I do for a living and they’re usually surprised at my response. I run into guests sometimes and they often say “you’re too pretty to be working here” and sometimes I just smile, say thank you and walk away.


Robert Schipano

Third Prize, Nonfiction
Robert Schipano  Human Services, NYC College of Technology

Youth Empowering Youth

Youth Empowering, Gladys Berrios, February 2017

I work at a Young Adult Internship Program sponsored by The Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, located on the corner of Catalpa Avenue in Ridgewood Queens. This program in not located in a building, but in a rustic church that has been in the community for hundreds of years. With cathedral ceilings, stonewall foundations and rusty metal fences, “The Church on the Corner” can be described as a building straight from Hogwarts. Funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the staff and I open our doors to about thirty participants in each cohort, who come from all over the five boroughs. With three cohorts a year, we have been servicing about ninety young people a year since 2011. The populations we serve are young men and woman between the ages 18–24 who are currently not in school, or are unemployed, which means they have not held a job for about a month. This 14-week program is a paid internship, guaranteeing a job placement, earning a total of $3,800 in the allotted time. Once completing the 14 weeks, the participants enter a nine-month follow up phase where we continue to keep in contact with them. The follow up phase is designed to get each of our participants to an outcome. If the participant does not land an outcome once the 14 weeks are completed, it is my job to continue working with them until they are placed in either an educational or work based.

Our space consists of two separate offices where the Program Director and Job Developer sit, an open floor where the Facilitator, Assistant Administrator and participants work and, if you walk up a couple steps you will see the Direct Supervisors office, where my co-supervisor and myself work. Our room is elevated because, when talking with the participants, any information shared is confidential. For the first four weeks of the program, the participants are required to be on site to attend workshops that help them become workforce ready. The workshops prepare them for the world of work, school and life itself. Work Readiness workshops include: Resume & Cover Letter Writing, Email Etiquette & Customer Service Skills, and Job Interviewing Techniques & Public Speaking. Some of our Educational workshops may include: Relationships & Dating, Nutrition & Healthy Living, College Survival Tips, Financial Literacy & Budgeting, and First-Aid & CPR. In addition, guest speakers will visit our program to make presentations and participants may also go on field trips. After the first 4 weeks, the participants complete the rest of the 10 weeks by reporting to their respective worksites where the job developer has placed them based on the interest the participants shared. Throughout the internship, I led many of the workshops to better prepare them for obstacles that might come along the way. I also lead in-group discussions, meetings and individual sessions with the participants, working with them directly to help them.

Being a Direct Supervisor at a Youth Internship Program, I am responsible for the participants in my caseload. When they are assigned to me, I become not only their supervisor, but also their therapist, mentor, “big brother” and basically someone who is there for them when they need someone to talk to. When meeting each person, I sit with them one-on-one to understand who they are, what they have been through, and what their goals are during and after this program. I am a 24 year old myself, around their age, which helps them accept the help that I can. It is not easy but as I establish rapport with each of my participants, they slowly open up to me, trusting me with private information. Establishing rapport consists of getting to know who they really are, not the person who they should be at a job. I am the type of person who would rather break an individual down to help them become a stronger person instead of allowing them to mask their weaknesses. Being in the Human Service field, you must keep an open mind with any issues that can be shared between the supervisor and participant.

On a normal day, during the first four weeks in the program, I run around like a chicken without a head, making it my duty to get to know each person on my caseload. Learning thirty new faces, thirty new names, and thirty new personalities, I quickly come to realize that this job requires a lot of heart and dedication. Each participant has their own story as to how they got to this point in their lives. One young woman is currently pregnant and is looking to support herself and her new baby. Another just graduated from high school and needs money, and another is here to supply an income for his family and help pay their rent. Although their goals seem easy, a handful of participants really struggle to find themselves, and it is up to my co-worker and me to help them do that.

Since I am a direct supervisor to these thirty strangers, who I now have to gain trust from, my line of work is very hard when it comes to establishing and maintaining boundaries. Boundaries are when the staff and participants establish this line of professionalism that sets guidelines when interacting with each other. This insures that our job will get done and the 14 weeks will go smoothly and also be successful. Writing about some of my participant’s struggle’s would be unprofessional, but I will say this much, not everyone can do what I do. To become someone’s mentor comes with huge responsibility. The job I have now, I do not go to just get paid, because believe me the money is not here. I do, however, wake up every morning to get ready and go to a place I love being at. To meet 30 new faces, three times a year, presents new obstacles, challenges, and personalities that I am not afraid to conquer. One thing I always tell my group, “I don’t care what you have done in the past, all I care about is the young men and woman I see that stands before me and the men and woman that you will become once the program ends”.


Jenny Lai

First Prize, Poetry
Jenny Lai  Psychology, Brooklyn College

Nail Salon

Nail Salon, Art Hazelwood, September 1997

She bends her neck to scrub your toes.

She stiffens her arms to trim your cuticles.

She twists her fingers to place diamonds on your nails.

She holds her breath for 10 hours a day
in a box filled with all sorts of chemicals
because your money is more important than her health.

She nods when you talk to her about your day
even though she doesn’t understand your language
because your money is more important than her voice.

She bows when you wave goodbye
with your new glittering hands
and your cash in her blistering hands
because your money is her life.


Nina DalleyHood

Second Prize, Poetry
Nina DalleyHood  Liberal Arts, LaGuardia Community College

9 to 5

Untitled, Joshua Dylan Brauns for International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 1990s

9 to 5
Isn’t always
9 to 5
Sometimes it’s the night shift
10PM to 3AM
Black coffee and red eyes Sometimes it’s getting up at 5AM
For a two hour trip
Two trains and a bus
It’s funny how they call it
Rush hour
When everything moves so slowly Sometimes it’s three hours here
And five hours there
Whenever you’re lucky enough
To get the call
Meanwhile
You troll eBay and DePop
Trying to sell your prized possessions So you can make rent this month
9 to 5 isn’t always
9 to 5
Sometimes it’s $10 in your tip jar From a gracious old man
Sometimes it’s
A colorful story from a patron Sometimes it’s
Seeing the child you helped raise Take her first steps
Are we making ends meet?
Are we getting enough sleep?
Are we committing a slow suicide?
Is this all there is
To life?
Regardless
We pick ourselves up
Dust ourselves off
And clock in.


Nathania Fields

Third Prize, Poetry
Nathania Fields  Education, Queensborough Community College

Deprived Giver

Christina Huang SEIU/CIR resident physician at Montefiore Hospital, Belinda Gallegos, 2001

Scrubs must be clean
Even though Mrs. Henry in 234 just vomited all over you
And Steve is hollering about how the remote won’t work

Hour 12
Your favorite patient just died
And you’re trying desperately not to cry

Your favorite doctor just called you an imbecile
And Mr. Williams just shit himself for the 3rd time today
Don’t you dare cry

You have not gone on break
Or eaten anything at all today
And Steve is calling for you, again

Hour 18
No replacement for the night
And your kid is calling your phone for the 2nd time
You can’t own up to the “I’ll be late again tonight”

Throbbing feet, growling belly, and an unguilty guilty conscience.
Wipe the tear before someone sees.


Renée Jarvis

First Prize [Tie], Fiction
Renée Jarvis  Creative Writing, Brooklyn College

Hands and Feat

American Dream, Renée Jarvis, December 2014

My father’s hands are wrought iron. Rough and black, always twisting, with the kind of knots that only show at the joints if your fingers have been tousled too many times. In the winter his hands never sought refuge under mittens and gloves but longed for the clear Caribbean heat, parched by homesickness. In the summer, he would reminisce about real beaches; ones with white sand and turquoise sea, where you could look up and see the clouds, look out and see the ships, look down and see the fish. New York City beaches were muck and dust and murk to him, and New York City summers were stagnant, stifling things that muddled his mood. The other two seasons weren’t so egregious, but even after two decades in America he never failed to lament each year that spring bloomed trees barren with nothing to eat, and autumn only produced bland, crisp apples.

Still, he stayed. Waking at three in the morning, every day my father would shower, shave, dress up, skip breakfast, and leave the house for the hotel he worked tirelessly. He was never late, almost never absent. His vacation days could be stacked to reach the moon. Our money could not.

My mother’s hands became wrinkled long before any crow stepped on the corners of her eyes. The soft grooves in her skin told a story repeated — despite five generations and a whole new country, she lived the same wash and sweep and clean and cut and carry and soothe story lived by her foremothers. So much water had dried her palms out, leaving her to regularly lather those long brown fingers with the cocoa butter kept in her purse. On Sundays, she blasted Mahalia Jackson and hurriedly adorned her nails, painting the middle digits a different color from the other eight. The little joke never lasted too long, as washing dishes and watching children chipped away much of the polish by Wednesday.

She liked America more than my father. To her, there was something relieving about the changing of the seasons. Back home she had been teased growing up for hating the heat, carrying an umbrella no matter the weather. Island breeze didn’t do enough for her boiling blood, but the respite of autumn was always welcome. In this manner, housework and caregiving suited her — during summer, there was always air conditioning at work, which could not be said for our apartment.

My parents loved one another very much. They had to in a city, a country that did not love them at all. Two of the many vertebrae of this nation, they were left no choice to be each other’s backbones. Out of this love blossomed six beautiful children who somehow never missed a meal, even if that meal was crackers and hot chocolate for dinner, or broccoli stems and potted meat for breakfast. My siblings and I ate. We played, we loved, we fought, and we’d be damned if we didn’t pray and read too.

The six of us were all capable children, but I was the golden myth. The youngest, the smartest, the most likely to get rich, the one who excelled in each subject and remembered everything she had ever seen. Destined to become a lawyer, my mom would say, since I loved to lie and debate.

My father said I was destined to be a doctor because of my attention to detail and interest with the inner workings of the body. At age four I once asked him what people looked like behind our skin. From then on he was sold.

But when I gathered the courage to tell my parents I didn’t want to use my brain for law or for healing, they laughed at me.

“Yuh gyal,” my mother began, her syrup voice embellished by an amused rasp. “Yuh mussi tek wi fi fool.”

My father’s deep, loud voice jumped in, chuckling out words. “Ah joke yu ah joke?”

I, of course, was not joking at all. As I explained how serious I was about my dreams, how I’ve known what I wanted to do since I was eight and filling up my journals with sketches and doodles, I watched their faces fall flat into disbelief, then ripple up in anger. Each line on their faces was perforated with pain. I saw crimson disappointment and the throbbing ache of being forsaken. I was the one who was supposed to do this first generation thing right. I was the last one who could.

“Art is my dream!” I had said. “I want to create I want to paint and sculpt, and –”

“Yuh tink we come yah fi dreams?” my father erupted.

My mother recoiled a bit and blinked, conflict etched in the drooping corners of her mouth. My father’s brows twitched. They both knew well that that was all they had come to America for.

Dreams.

Each one of their beautiful babies was a dream, one for every night but the Lord’s. Each sibling before me faded into job-hopping mediocrity, save for my second-oldest brother who had gotten a decent government job with good pay. He was their proudest outcome, but I was their prized potential. They had left their own dreams behind decades ago, burying their desires under multiple jobs and prayer all for the chance to raise a great success. And now, I was throwing away all their work for “crayons and Play-Doh”.

We argued. My parents held on to their vicarious visions for my future and implored me to rethink. They couldn’t feel what I felt when I painted, nor could they see the inspiration I saw in the world around me, and I couldn’t feel the hope and the faith they had when they raised me all those years. I cried at least three times before I stormed out into the night, calling up any friend who would take me in for a few days.

My home became a haunted hollow. Each move I made was hardened, for fear that I would shatter again under their expectations. When the school I applied to accepted me, the space that had grown between my parents and me widened. Darkened. Morphed into a kind of silence I had never experienced in such a full house.

Despite that, I excelled without their approval, just as I had done with it. Four years of fine arts training, and I received not one question about my late hours in the studio, the job I kept to buy hundreds of dollars of art supplies, the galleries and the exhibits and the tons of drawings that piled up in my closet. They did not care about anything I did until I graduated. A degree, at the very least, was something to be respected, and watching me walk at commencement was the closest they would get to seeing their dreams for me come to fruition. But I added a small stipulation to their attendance.

After I walked, after we took the obligatory graduation photos that would surely be shown off to relatives, we took the E train back to my college. I took one hand each, telling them to cover their eyes with the other, and guided them into the building where my final project was on display. My father’s hard, citrus peel callouses graced my left palm; my mother’s soft, slack- skinned fingers pressed against my left. Once I let their hands go, I held my own out and told them to look down.

My hands are knotted, wrinkled and scarred, covered in evidence of my work. X-Acto knives have had their way with my flesh on numerous occasions. Holding paintbrushes for hours at a time swelled the upper corner of my right middle finger. Kneading and washing my hands sucked the bounce from my skin.

We compared our fingers to one another’s. I had my mother’s withering skin, my father’s callouses, and a lovely hybrid of the two — crinkly, round knuckles. I gestured behind me, then watched as they observed the six paintings.

They had never seen my work before that day and I felt the guilt leaching out of their eyes. Drifting in a sea of shapes sprinkled with gold and muddled by texture, they stood speechless. On the canvases before them were their hands, so realistically portrayed in shades of brown, each subtle arch and crackling line placed with tender diligence. The dabbled space around those hands shimmered in a lavender-emerald-cerulean celebration of the limbs that lifted and motivated me. And in each painting, complicated into a flower that sat in their cupped palms, were my hands, streak-stroked black and gold.

I saw my mother tearing up, and held in a jovial giggle.

“What is that quote you used to tell me, mom?”

“A mind...” She paused to swallow her emotion. “A mind is a terrible ting to waste.” My father nodded his head slowly, his lips slipping into a smirk.

“A dream is, too.”


Ethan Barnett

First Prize [Tie], Fiction
Ethan Barnett  Human Rights and Social Justice, Brooklyn College

A Different Beast

Franklin publicity clipping, The Evening Star, 1956

Opening

This play has been inspired by historian and activist John Hope Franklin, author of over 20 books including From Slavery to Freedom (1947), The Militant South, 1800–1861(1956) and his autobiography Mirror to America (2005). Franklin started his academic career at Fisk University, where he was mentored by his friend and colleague, Ted Currior. Currior took a strong interest in Franklin and was a significant influence on his decision to obtain his PhD in History from Harvard University, where he graduated from in 1941. After completing his PhD at Harvard, John would go on to teach at Fisk University, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, Howard University, Brooklyn College, University of Chicago, and the University of Cambridge.

 

Narrator begins

A Different Beast
Written by Ethan Scott Barnett

 

Act 1: The Firsts

LIGHTS UP – A RADIO IS PLAYING BROADCASTING A CIVIL RIGHTS ACTION. LIGHTS UP ON A HUMBLE KITCHEN WITH A DINING ROOM TABLE FIT FOR TWO. ON THE TABLE ARE TWO STACKS OF PAPER. A BOX LABELED “LIBRARY RETURNS” IS VISIBLE. A MAN IS DRESSED IN A NEAT WOOL SUITE, A WHITE COLLARED SHIRT, HIS TIE IS DARK BLUE WITH POLKA-A-DOTS. HE IS ON THE PHONE. HE PUSHES HIS GLASSES UP FURTHER ONTO HIS NOSE AND EXAMINES ONE OF THE PAPERS IN FRONT OF WHILE SPEAKING ON THE PHONE. HE PLACES THE PAPER ON THE TABLE AS HE BECOMES AWARE OF WHO HE IS SPEAKING WITH ON THE PHONE.

John

Yes, this is he… the New York Times, huh? Yes, Mr. Fines, I’m familiar with your work…you have-have you?… No, no, I don’t mind at all…can you hold one minute… (He turns down the radio) No Hope is my middle name. Yes, that’s right. Funny thing. I’m not the first john Hope, I was named after the first African American President of Atlanta University. Yes-Yes. Me? I was originally born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma but we moved Tulsa during primary school… Yes. Yes. Well I’m honored as well, Mr. Fines

A WOMAN ENTERS. SHE IS CARRYING A HANDFUL OF BOOKS AND A BAG OF GROCERIES, SHE LOOKS AROUND THE ROOM. SHE IS CHATTING AND STOPS SUDDENLY WHEN SHE SEES THE MAN ON THE PHONE. HE MOTIONS TO HER AND SHE APPROACHES. JOHN CONTINUES TO TALK ON THE PHONE

John

Oh really? I certainly appreciate the gesture. I look forward to reading the article. Oh you’re very welcome, and thank you sir. Well it was great talking to you, yes. and good day to you too!
(hangs up the phone)

THE WOMAN STARES AT HIM WAITING FOR AN EXPLANATION

That was Benjamin Fine from the New York Times. Apparently, he found out about the position at Brooklyn College and wants to run a story about the first Negro chair at a white institution”.
(they both laugh)

Aurelia

(Smiling) Oh that’s wonderful, John. The New York Times!! They make such a big deal about being “the first”

John

It’s as if they forget that whites are the people who are opposed to colored’s working in their institutions. Think of all the so many so called firsts that go unnoticed

Aurelia (holding John’s hand)

(Pause to reflect) …Yes I know. All the people we’ve met in the past who just didn’t have an opportunity. Think what could have happened. Remember Will Thomas?

John

Of course!! head of sanitation, right? (She nods) He had an extensive understanding of Carter G. Woodson’s work, even going as far as quoting passages from The Mis-Education of the Negro and asking my opinion on it.

Aurelia

Yes, there are so many like him, John. (they reflect for a moment) There was Jupiter Hampton, he was the first colored to have his poems published

John

And Mary Jane Patterson

Aurelia

first women to earn a Bachelor of Arts!

John

And from Oberlin no less!

Aurelia

I wonder if the first negro to wear socks received a Times article?

John

(laughing) They must have! Along with the first to stich trousers!

Aurelia

What about that fellow who shipped himself up north?

Henry “Box” Brown? They believe he was the first, but he definitely wasn’t the last! Then there was the first negro to choose death over slavery.

Aurelia

We all know how that ended!

Both laugh…

Aurelia

(composed) Still; I can’t help but be excited. New York!! when would we leave? This is surely something wonderful, how should we celebrate?

John

Well, if things go as planned, it wouldn’t be until the end of the summer. (he continues reading and stops) Are you sure that you don’t mind leaving Spingarn?

Aurelia (thoughtfully)

I have grown to love the community here. The kids, the faculty, practically everyone. But New York could bring great things!

John

Yes, great things!! Brooklyn could be a gas! They’ve got it all.

Aurelia

It would be great to raise Whit in such a place! So different from the South

John

Yes!! A safe place for our son. (they pause and dream again) Would you want to get a house?

Aurelia

A house!! Oh I’ve wanted a house. When I was small we lived close to the Mayfield’s. Lizzy Mayfield she was bout a year younger than me. They use to come by when her mama worked at the Springers up on Highfield. Anyways her mama made the best cornbread in the whole of Goldsboro. one time I was supposed to go meet uncle Hubbie, you remember him he came to our wedding --out near the that southern park I saw Lizzy and her mama walking passed us. I called out to her but she never turned just kept moving--- almost like in shock confused, I don’t know. By the time I reached on home I saw their house had a big lock on it. Later on in church Mrs. Jenkins told us that the landlord had locked them out. Poor Mrs. Mayfield didn’t have a chance to get her belonging. For a while she would just come back and stare at the house. But time passed and we never saw them again. They locked them out of their house, John. I hear they moved in with family who they didn’t know for a while. I hear that didn’t go well and they just moving around for a long time. Everyone deserves a home. Could we afford it?

John

A house? Well, I’ll be both Chair of the Department and a professor. And don’t forget, I’ll be…

Aurelia and John

THE FIRST!!
(they both laugh)

Aurelia

Well a house would surely make us feel more at home, maybe even a backyard for Whit to play in.

John

There’s a chance I’ll have my own office

Aurelia

Your own office!! Who would I share my dining room table with?
(she laughs)

John (Optimistic)

That’s right!! ……You know…Brooklyn is sounding better by the second!

(THEY LAUGH. JOHN CONTINUES READING THROUGH A STACK OF PAPERS AND AURELIA MOVES ABOUT PICKS UP THE LIBRARY BOOKS AND EXITS. LIGHTS FADE)

End of scene

 

Scene 2: A pass in Brooklyn

The Franklin’s apartment in Brooklyn. Rose sits at the kitchen table with Aurelia.

Aurelia

Do you want some more coffee?

Rose

no, thanks, but one of those cookies would be wonderful

Aurelia passes a cookie

you said you’ve lived here how many years?

Rose

It will be 6 years in March, when I first got here is was just white families up and down the block.

Aurelia

How did you get the apartment then?

Rose

I passed! (pause) It was winter and they had no idea I was colored.

Aurelia

and you don’t worry about folks finding out?

Rose

I’ve been faced with this my whole life, you learn to go back and forth. My curls used to shine like a diamond when I was a little girl. All my mother needed to do was take that little comb and twirl it one time and I was Shirley Temple: No Bojangles. Everyone called me Shirley. My granny, my cousin - they friends and even strangers. The first time I heard a stranger call me Shirley it was at the train station. My mama was taking me to see my Aunt Verna up in Baltimore. And just like she always did my mother curled my hair before we left the house. I wore my little pink dress with my patent leather shoes. And as soon as those patent leather shoes hit the train station, I heard the stranger say "M’am," we kept walking but the M’ams got louder and closer. We were rushing cause we didn’t want to miss that train. But the stranger ran after us and stopped us. He told my mother that he needed to ask her questions. Questions about her little Shirley temple looking baby. He didn’t think that her little baby could be hers. So he asked her about me and asked me about her. I thought white was a shade so when they asked me if I was white I looked at my skin and said yes and he asked who my mother was and of course I was about to say Mama, but she jumped in with “I’m just the maid” and she gave me the eye, yall know the eye. She looked at the train station, heard the train and saw that it was arriving. Looked at me, looked at him, and then she looked down. The train had arrived. PAUSE. And mama got the seat in the front with Shirley Temple.

Aurelia

The train arrived. but now more Negros are moving in?

Rose

About 2 years ago a Negro family won a court case against a racist landlord, after that I haven’t had to worry.

Aurelia

Hmm…Maybe we should look into that?

Rose

Their case was different, you can’t really sue someone for a private transaction, with a realty company it’s easier to prove they’re racist.

Aurelia

What about your son?

Rose

He’s uptown…he’s darker skin and when he got older he realized why I got the apartment and felt that it wasn’t right. He thought I was trying to hide something.

Aurelia

Well aren’t you?

Rose

I’m letting whites make their own assumptions, if they don’t realize what’s right in front of them – that’s their problem

Aurelia

And your son? He’s on his own?

Rose

No, no, he’s got his Kenneth and Mamie Clark, they don’t charge him that much and he’s got community in Harlem

Aurelia

You don’t ever get lonely?

Rose

Of course I get lonely, we all get lonely. Listen… I’m just doing what my mother, my mother’s mother and her mother’s mother had to do. There is no real negro. Everyone of us is smiling and saying thank you mam acting happy when we sad, half of us got a belly full of hopes and dreams that we know wont come true… and the other half don’t know who the enemy is or something and all the while we just wanna sit down and rese Passing is financial security, if you wanted the job, you didn’t say anything – you let them decide. Loneliness is a small cost when you get a good house, clean grocery stores, better education and more job opportunities. Sure – you need to travel some ways to find community…

BOTH PAUSE AND SIP THEIR DRINKS

Aurelia

What about when your around our folks?

Rose

They’re not dumb, they understand the situation. Some people don’t like it, but I think that if most coloreds were given a chance, they would pass too.

End of Scene

 

Scene 3: Popping In

LIGHTS UP ON JOHN AND AURELIA. THEY ARE WALKING AND LOOKING FROM SIDE TO SIDE. JOHN CARRIES A NEWSPAPER. IMAGES OF BROOKLYN STREETS ARE PROJECTED IN THE REAR. THERE IS A FREESTANDING BLOCK OF STEPS THAT ARE ON THE STAGE

John

(pointing)

Here’s that 2 story house I read about. It has 2-bedrooms on the top floor and there’s a full kitchen and bathroom on the main floor

JOHN MOTIONS TO AURELIA AS HE MOVES UP THE SOLITARY FLIGHT OF STAIRS THAT ARE CENTER STAGE

John

Should we knock?

Aurelia

They’ll think that we’re rude!

John

(convincingly) We can just let them know that we were in the neighborhood and stopped by, if anything we can come back another time!

Aurelia

Hmm, well we’re here already

They ascend the steps and face the audience. As they look out, a light suddenly flashes - encasing them in a flood of light

VOICE 1

(sharp tone) What do you want?

John

Hi, I’m John and this is my wife Aurelia. We saw in the Flatbush News that your home was for sale, we were wondering if we could receive a tour?

THE LIGHT REMAINS SHINING ON THEM CAUSING WHAT SEEMS TO BE SOME DISCOMFORT

VOICE 1

in the Flatbush News? Well, it’s sold.

John

(pleading)

but it’s in today’s paper?

VOICE 1

(harshly)

Well it was a mistake, it’s sold. Goodbye.

LIGHTS RETURN TO NORMAL. AURELIA DESCENDS THE STEP

John

(turning to Aurelia)

what do you think that was about?

HE LOOKS AROUND FOR HER AND SEES HER DESCENDING THE STEPS.

Aurelia

John, I think that’s how white people feel about coloreds in Brooklyn.

End of Scene

 

Scene 4: The State of the State

LIGHTS UP ON AURELIA ON AN EMPTY STAGE

VOICE 2

New York Real Estate, this Corrine speaking. How can I help you?

Aurelia

Hello, I’m calling about the home for sale at 1784 New York Avenue?

VOICE 2

I believe that property is still for sale, could you tell me more about your interest in it?

Aurelia

Well, my husband, son and I have been living in Brooklyn for 3 months now and our apartment is starting to feel a bit small. The house sounds perfect from the ad, the back yard would ……

VOICE 2

Yes, the house is rather wonderful. I visited the owner when they first put it on the market. There are two bedrooms on the top floor with one full bathroom and then in the ground floor you’ve got a living room, kitchen, and an office. The backyard is small, but there’s enough room for a barbeque.

Aurelia

Oh that sounds wonderful!

VOICE 2

yes, you know, I’ve got a son of my own, he’s 4 – his name is Michael and if my husband and I hadn’t moved to Canarsie, I would have chosen this house in a heartbeat. The neighborhood is a true gem, the neighbors have managed to keep the filth out, probably one of the last neighborhoods in Brooklyn in that condition.

Aurelia

I’m sorry, the filth?

VOICE 2

Yeah, you know – them Negros… I don’t have a problem with them or anything. But, they don’t know how to keep anything good. If they’re into messing up their own neighborhoods and letting the properties go kaput, that’s their problem, but don’t let them come into my neighborhood and lower the property values with all the monkey business! You ever have to deal with them?

AURELIA LOOKS OUT TO THE AUDIENCE

Aurelia

Well, I would say that I’ve had none of the negative encounters that you are insinuating that Negro’s bring.

VOICE 2

Where did you say you were living again?

Aurelia (guardedly)

I didn’t, but we’re currently living on Eastern Parkway

VOICE 2

and what is the cross street?

Aurelia

Nostrand… THERE IS A LONG PAUSE… Are you there?

VOICE 2 (coldly)

I can take down your number and call the home owner to see when the best time for an appointment would be. How does that sound?

Aurelia

(warmly)

Very well, the sooner, the better. My number is

THE SOUND OF A DIALTONE INTERRUPTS HER

Aurelia

(frustrated) Hello? Hello? (to herself) “filth”? “monkey business”? I can’t be bothered

THE LIGHT ANGLE SHIFTS AS AURELIA MOVES TO ANOTHER AREA OF THE STAGE

VOICE 3

Hello?

Aurelia

Hi, I’m calling about a house for sale? Is this two-hundred and forty-five Bedford Avenue?

VOICE 3

This’a 2-4-5 Bedford Avenue, I’m Jack, my friends call me Mack and my mother calls me John. How’d you hear about the house?

Aurelia

Well, I saw it in yesterday’s real estate section of the New York Times.

VOICE 3

That sounds a- bout right. It’s a real beaut, I’ve been putting in work for the past 5 years, git’n ready to sell it and I’ma just about finnshed. Justa need to give the masta bedroom one more coat of paint and it will be ready to go. I decided to go with perra-winkle blu, my wife usedta love that color before she left me for a woman. I ain’t mad, justa wish she given me a heads up – if she told me five years ago, I coulda landed me a shweet replacement nowa just got myself. Nuf about me, how about urself?

Aurelia

My husband John, our son Whit and I moved up from Washington D.C. just over 4 months ago. We have been living in a lovely apartment, but we feel that we won’t be able to call ourselves Brooklynites until we purchase a house

VOICE 3

Nowa, that’s jus wonderful. My dada was from D.C. and my momma was from Bama, I was raised in Bama till I was 18 and then I went off to war. That was one hulva time, got them nazi sons a bitchs u know. Well den I got back, was all sortsa fuked up and I don married the first gal I met. That was Lulamay. And that same week, my uncle Herbert died - Herb originally owned the house, but he left it to me, thought it would bring me “good luck” well u c how that played out. I’ma just move back to Bama and become the mayor of Mobile.

Aurelia

Uh Jack, I don’t mean to be rude, but could you tell me more about house?

VOICE 3

oh of course – It’s 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, it’s got an enormous dining room and a even a doggie door. You got a dog?

Aurelia

no, no pets. How are the neighbors?

VOICE 3

The neighbors are jus fine, we ain’t got no colordz, I bet u hear about them colordz in Brooklyn. They tryna take over everything, jus cause they got 1 negger over at ebbets field who can hit a ball, they think they deserve everythang!

Aurelia

Well, (Hesitantly) Jack…I must tell you that me and my family are colored and we are perfectly good people, it isn’t right to judge people on the color or their skin

VOICE 3

(Angrily) how dare u! What makes u think i would ever sell my house to a negger, i put so much work into this house! I inherited this house! I ain’t looking to have it ruined by no negger! What would my uncle say! Back in Bama, niggers knew their place, here in new york they tryna take everything. No way, no how – no niggers ain’t ever gon be allowed.

AURELIA MOVES TO ANOTHER AREA OF THE STAGE AS IF TRYING TO ESCAPE THE CALL. SUDDENLY SHE STOPS AND MOVES WITH DETERMINATION

DAVID’S VOICE

Hello?

Aurelia

(Softly) Hi, I am calling about the house for sale at 1885 New York Avenue, is this the correct number?

DAVID’S VOICE

Yes, this is David. I own the house. How did you hear about it?

Aurelia

(Unconvincingly) oh, well a friend of mine who works at Brooklyn College mentioned hearing about it in the newspaper and I thought I would inquire further.

DAVID’S VOICE

Not sure I know anyone at Brooklyn College, but it’s definitely for sale, I’ve been looking to move for some time now. (AURELIA GIVES A THUMBS UP TO THE AUDIENCE) Would you want to come check it out later this week?

Aurelia

(Shuffles through calendar) Of course, I’d like to bring my husband.

DAVID’S VOICE

no problem, probably best for the whole family to see the place – How about Saturday morning?

Aurelia

Excellent, we will be stopping by around Saturday at 10am.

DAVID’S VOICE

Great, what was your name again?

Aurelia

(Pausing) Aurelia Franklin

DAVID’S VOICE

See ye then, Aurelia.

They both hang up.

Aurelia

(TO THE AUDIENCE)

Well, after 3 months of trying to find a house, we’ve got out first meeting. I’m not sure how easy this would have been elsewhere but, Brooklyn has really shown its true colors.

(pauses, looks down and takes a deep breath)

John enters. Their eyes meet. They begin walking together as Aurelia continues

A few days later we set out to see the house as promised. When we arrived, David opened the door to greet us. It was the oddest thing, he just stared at us. And then he turned and walked away…

John

Where do you think he’s going?

Aurelia

He wouldn’t call the police would he?

LIGHTS UP ON A LIVING ROOM IN HARLEM.

Rose

(laughing hysterically) So, he threw back 3 shots of bourbon and invited y’all in... and you went it? (serious tone) Is my home so unwelcoming that y’all would risk your lives like that?

Aurelia

(playfully) Oh stop, not every white person is looking to cause trouble. He was just surprised, not many Negro’s are looking to move into white neighborhoods. And we love living in your home, if it wasn’t for your hospitality, who knows where we’d be.

Rose

(practically) Now that ain’t true, most Negros wants to live in a white-neighborhoods, unless you can pass, but they just have some common sense and stick to their side of the borough. You don’t know how stubborn whites are here!

Mamie enters the room. She sits exhausted.

You alright Mamie? Girl I know you are running up and down these days

Mamie

(sighing) Three arrested on day one-hundred and ninety.

Rose

I gotta give it to you Mamie. I can’t wait 2 days to get my electricity back on and here it is you on the 119th day of a boycott

Mamie

Yeah but three got arrested.

Aurelia

What’s happening?

Rose

Haven’t you been reading the Amsterdam News, a group of mothers’ in Harlem looking to get their kids an equal education and now they got themselves wrapped up in court cases, a damn shame!

Mamie

(passionately) The Harlem Nine is a little more than that Rose, we’ve got a group of mothers who are have gotten together to fight the Board of Education, these women are tired of sending their kids to inadequate schools. Kenneth and I have been working to bring evidence showing that the schools have been declining.

Aurelia

(takes a sip of tea before speaking) Well, why we should settle for less! We’re working hard and deserve just as much. Nurturing this country for too long without getting what’s ours!

Rose

and you think that house is going to be yours by tomorrow? They gon throw everything they got at you – before you get that house, you’ll see.

Mamie

(Passionately) things aren’t going to happen in a day, Kenny and I have been work with the families in Harlem, because we can’t stand it anymore! We need people to see the light, things aren’t going to change unless you fight!

Aurelia

John is planning to call up our lawyer to see what options we have.

Mamie

Have you thought about asking the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for help?

Rose

(practically) You know the NAACP ain’t been nothing since Ella Baker left in 53’! Now, that is a woman who knows how to get things done. She was FOR Harlem!

Mamie

she’s working for Southern Christian Leadership Conference these days, I’m not sure how well the South is treating her, but she’s got those ministers working for her out.

Aurelia

(Tired) from the treatment we’ve been receiving here, the South is looking pretty good right about now.

Rose

Oh it’s not that bad! Hope is still alive; you just need to let your community help you out or just pass! How long before they sell it to someone else?

Aurelia

He said he’s in no rush - would wait until we get the money, hopefully it won’t be too long. The John and David really hit it off, I think they might even go to a Dodgers Game together.

Rose

(Skeptical) They’re going to sit in the stands together?

John, Kenneth and young Marcus enter from the Kitchen

Aurelia

I’m telling you, David means well. Apparently his mother received a lot of hate-mail during the war, lots of anti-Semitic comments coming their way and the Negro’s were the only ones who would treat them as humans.

Rose

That’s Negros for ya, no matter how bad they’re treated, always turning the other cheek – going high, when everyone goes low – tuh.

Marcus

I don’t know why y’all even associate with those people

Rose

(quickly turning to her son) hushya mouth. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Marcus

(looking at Rose) the only reason you live in that apartment is because you can pass, not everyone recognizes you’re a Negro, Mama

Rose

Anything I do, I do for you baby

Marcus

Do you understand how confused I was as a child not being able to hold your hand, hug you, or kiss you in public?!...Having to walk three steps behind you mama?!

SILENCE IN THE ROOM

Rose

Marcus, it wasn’t easy for me either. My momma looked like you and she suffered. I’m just trying to do right by you

John

Marcus, those sound like hard days. But there will be harder. But in spite of everything you have to believe in yourself

Marcus

All I’m saying is, uncle Kenneth and Mr. Franklin are working real hard to get into white institutions, what about making our own institutions better?

John

Marcus, have you graduated high school yet?

Marcus

yeah, last year

John

and how was it?

Marcus

(cooly) It was alright, nothing special – it was high school I’m done now.

Kenneth

How about the conditions of the classroom?

Marcus

you know, same old books, covers falling off – conditions are garbage. We been haring text books, rats in the cafeteria, tight classrooms, you gotta get their early if you don’t want to sit on the floor

John

See – that right there, is why we’re pushing to get schools desegregated.

Mamie

We’ve been working with the Harlem Nine because they deserve more, not because we want a headache! Young negro children are getting their education in the freedom schools as we speak here. These parents created these schools rather than have than an inferior education that comes out of segregation Do you understand? Half of the problems suffered by black children come out of segregation. I was an adult who experienced racism like everyone else in this room. Yeah was a first too "Although my husband had earlier secured a teaching position at the City College of New York, following my graduation it soon became apparent to me that a black female with a Ph.D. in psychology was an unwanted anomaly in New York City in the early 1940s” I had to make way on my own” You do what you can. Right I am fighting for nine mothers who want that integrated education for their children. And they are going to get it.

Marcus

(passionately)
Yeah, that’s fine, but what about our communities? Bed Stuy, Harlem, The Bronx - they’re falling apart left and right!

Kenneth

How do you expect us to fix them if we don’t have educated people with steady work?

Marcus

(Hotly) Well…I don’t know about all that, y’all going to college just feels like you’re leaving your people. Tryna move into the white area…people would assume that you think your better den us.

John

We have no intention of “leaving our people”, but we also need to focus on making the best of our situation and if that means breaking the color barrier – so be it!

Marcus

yeah, that’s why you’re at Brooklyn College working under the white man.

John

“Working under the white man?”

Marcus

Brooklyn College ain’t nothing but well to do white people - who are looking to get away from Negros! Why didn’t they get you housing!? They don’t care about the negro!

John

I was just six when mother and I were ejected from a train for sitting in a white-only car. My father was so embittered by his treatment as a black lawyer that he moved his family to an all-black town after resolving to “resign from the world dominated by white people.” Yet my parents insisted that I was the equal of any other human being, and my mother repeatedly urged me to tell anyone who asked me about my aspirations that I planned to be “the first Negro president of the United States.” If you believe in yourself, you won’t be crying; you’ll be defying.”

Marcus

How many other colored professors they got in History?

John

Well just myself, (hopeful) but it is about where they could go! I believe that 50 years from now, Brooklyn College could have a faculty that is 50% Negro and a history department that values Negro history just as much as I do.

Marcus

Lets see how that works out. I’ll stay in Harlem and work with the people. Seems to me black folk spend their life dreaming about being equal to whites and they spend most of their life trying to make that not happen

End Scene

 

Scene 5: Knocking on your door

JOHN IS ALONE ON STAGE. HE SIFTS THROUGH WHAT APPEARS TO BE LEGAL PAPERS AND STOPS. HE SEES THE AUDIENCE AND MOVES TOWARDS THEM ADDRESSES.

John

Why is it so impossible to get a loan? I’ve got a lawyer who says it was harder than HE expected. I guess there are no banks interested in helping the Negro “jump the color line.” It still seems so incredible. I asked him, have you tried all the banks? “Not all of them” (feigning lawyers’ voice) “but it’s going to take some time – it’s hard to get through to these people.” HOW MUCH TIME? (to audience) You’ve only seen half of the trouble we’ve been through. Aurelia has called house after house for weeks and we’ve finally found someone to sell in a neighborhood close to the college and now I must think about time. Taking my time! They tell me that I have to think of myself as lucky! Lucky! For getting as far as we have. What is the reason for denying me a loan? What is it? They use codes like (HE AIR QUOTES) “I’m out of zone,” but all that means is that they really don’t want to help the Negro. I don’t believe you can have a peaceful, multiracial society when people are parceled or separated out, ghettoized, Balkanized or however you want to say it, I think people have to learn to live together at a very early age, seems to me in the long run the only way you can bring about any kind of peaceful, diverse society. We are in a civil rights moment in this country and I don’t see the North as having any great virtue.

(HE MOVES FORWARD TO THE AUDIENCE)

A young man just left my office. Nice decent young man one of the many white students at the College who wants to understand what’s going on in this country. We talked about DuBois and civil rights and every thing all young Americans need to know about.

Did I tell you that he visited my office because he had missed class? Good manners. I would expect the same from my son. “Dr. Franklin, please excuse my absence. We had a family emergency” he said “Of course,” I said. “these things happen. ” Is everything okay? I asked. Turns out that his family was moving and the movers were late and so he stayed on to help.” A very nice young man. He said they moved - right down the road from here. Right down the road. (Pause) I wished him well. I wished him well

LIGHTS UP ON KENNETH WHO IS SITTING IN THE CORNER. HE HAS BEEN LISTENTING

Kenneth

What did you expect coming here? You southerners cross that Mason Dixon and you think you think “a change gon come”. Listen John, I have a Ph.D from Columbia, I was the first in my job too, John. That first that we laugh about. But it’s not funny. Cos every step of the way there were all of those institutional boundaries that tried to stop me from not being first, but being who I wanted to be. But with all the struggle now, how can we find our way? Look at all the social problems that faces the poor black man., the lack of social welfare organizations to address race and poverty issues? We complain but what about the poor blacks?

John

(Understandingly) I can’t imagine being faced with a similar fate. But it ironic, Kenneth that here I am struggling to find a house? Not because I can’t find one, but because whites wont sell to a Negro. Tell me, will I be considered first when they do decide to sell to me?

Kenneth

(curiously) But you cant be surprised. Tulsa? Fisk, Atlanta, Christ even DC. you know the struggle by now. (Pause) But at least you’ve managed to sort out this department

John

I did, that’s been the easiest part of the job. I’m teaching 5 classes this semester – never has my work load been so demanding. Press agencies are calling from all over the world looking to get a comment on the “humanity of Negro in New York or the lunch hour sit in Greensboro or the problems at Little Rock… ( he exhales) The president checks in regularly, ( laughs sarcastically) but I’m still being blocked from living in the neighborhood.

Kenneth

Still think Brooklyn was the dream? You could go back to Howard?

John

Kenneth some of the best students I have ever met were at Howard but my presence at Brooklyn College is helping to move the Negro race forward, I can see more institutions following. Everyday something new is thrown at us, we’ve got to keep pushing,

Kenneth

John, YOU are helping the Negro move forward, the institution is doing what’s best for them. I understand that we must help one student at a time, but we need be realistic.

John

It is a combined effort, the few who helped me here have a compassion towards colored’s just like you and me.

Kenneth

What does it matter their dedication to scholarship, if you can’t even get a house?

John

It all matters, the scholarship, the students and yes, the house – if we are to do this, we must fight on all fronts. A few months ago Aurelia experienced several phone calls that left her quite shaken. Racism in the North, is similar to that in the South – it cannot be contained by geographical boundaries!

Kenneth (pauses)

How long? and after all this time you’ve had no luck?

John

Very little, the only gentleman that would actually meet with us had no idea we were Negros before our arrival. He had to take several shots of Bourbon before he even let us through the door! If only bourbon could solve the problems of the Negro in this country
(he laughs)

Kenneth (speechless)

I mean you were on the cover of the New York Times for heaven sakes, how many coloreds’ can say that?

John

Kenneth did I ever tell you the story of train ride in North Carolina? not so long ago, it was 1945 and a group of us took a train from Greensboro to Durham after commencement exercises at Bennett College. All the blacks were crammed into half a car near the front of the train: You could imagine after the commencement, the kids going home, parents, all that sort of thing. And there we were, all pressed up like sardines in that hot coach. Half the coach was for blacks, half for baggage, right up behind the engine where you get all the sparks and smoke and stuff." I looked in front of the car and I saw an empty car, there were maybe four of five men lounging in there. So I asked the conductor if we could possibly use the car. He looked at that empty car, then he looked at us and he said no. He said those were German soldiers and they couldn’t be moved. They couldn’t be moved!! (they stare at each other) I am wondering, Kenneth if that loud declaration of segregationists isn’t better than these coveted signs that we live with in the North

Kenneth (desperately)

have you shown them the article, it’s The Times - they have to respect you!

John

If they don’t respect me as a man, why should they respect my profession?

Kenneth

Then what is the point of all this?

John

The point is that we must affirm what we know—that we are people, with history. And this fight for our rights must be recorded along with the rich history that is our contribution to this nation. WE do this through scholarship Kenneth! But that by itself is not enough. I am dedicated to the advancement of the Negro in society and take our rightful place at the table, other than that – we are all just common men.

Kenneth (distressed)

Well, I wish you the best my friend…

John

And I wish you the best with the Harlem 9

Kenneth

Neither do I… (Sincerely) Happy New Year. And as for the house? I will secure a bottle of bourbon for when we meet again

(They both laugh)

John

Happy New Year Kenneth (Hangs Up)

(HIS LAUGHTER MORPHS INTO A SERIOUS GAZE. HE LOOKS AT THE DOCUMENT THAT HE IS HOLDING IN HIS HAND AND STUDIES IT FOR A MOMENT. THEN WALKS OFF WITH A SENSE OF PURPOSE)

Black out

 

Scene 6: Brooklynites

SEVERAL MONTHS HAVE PASSED. THE FRANKLINS ARE AT HOME IN THEIR EAST NEW YORK APARTMENT.

John

Now, which bank did you say it was? … (Listening into the telephone/writing down on paper) ok, I got it and when should we come down to sign the papers – today won’t work, I’m teaching class until 6. (enthusiastically) Great, tomorrow at 10 works for me, and thank you – I’m sure you understand how exciting this is for us. Thank you, yes! See you then!

Aurelia walks through the apartment door just as John is hanging up.

Aurelia

(calling from the living room) John, are you home?

John

Yes, I’m in the kitchen

Aurelia walks into the kitchen

Aurelia

(curiously) what’s that grin on your face?

John

I’ve got some news, (gestures towards the chair) Come! Sit!

Aurelia takes the seat across from John

Aurelia

Is this good news or bad news?

John

Would I be smiling if it was bad news?

Aurelia

(Matter of fact) I’m not sure anymore, Brooklyn may be getting to you

John

(taken a back) Oh that’s nonsense, of course it’s good news. Go ahead and take a guess!

Aurelia

(pauses) Whit made another painting?

John

No…

Aurelia

You finished a chapter in your book?

John

Not yet

Aurelia

We’re going out dancing!?

John

No…sorry

Aurelia

Are you sure this isn’t just a surprise for you?

John

Give it one more try

Aurelia

(Pauses for a moment) We got the loan?

John

We got the loan!

Aurelia

but how!?

John

Robert checked in with every bank in New York and we finally found one where we have a chance, we’re all but confirmed

Aurelia

what’s left to do?

John

Tomorrow at 10am, we go to the bank…

Aurelia

and…

John

and we sign the papers!

Aurelia

John Hope Franklin, you better not be fooling around!

John

(Seriously) Aurelia…tomorrow…at…10am… We are signing for our home!

 

Scene 7: Brooklyn’s Best

JOHN AND AURELIA ARE UNPACKING THE BOXES IN THE NEW HOUSE

John

(pausing for reflection) Who would of thought that we would accumulate so many things?

Aurelia

I remember our days at Howard when we were sharing a table for everything! Now, we’re moving into our first house

John

I know, it took some time, but I’m glad we finally have a place to call home.

Aurelia

It’s truly a blessing.

John

(stepping into the living room) Ah, this room is beautiful, we should start placing the boxes in here

HORN HONKS IN THE DISTANCE

Aurelia

Could that be the movers?

John

I’ll go check

JOHN MOVES DOWN STAGE.
HE LOOKS OFF TO STAGE RIGHT MOTIONING THE TRUCK

AURELIA

Is it them?

John

Looks like it

THE CAR HORNS INTENSIFY…AURELIA JOINS JOHN DOWNSTAGE

Aurelia

What’s happening? is it them?

John

It looks like some kind of traffic jam. I’ll go check

HE EXITS TO STAGE RIGHT. AURELIA CONTINUES TO LOOK FROM THE STAGE. THE CAR HORNS BLARE

Aurelia

Is Everything Okay? John, What’s Happening?

John (OFF STAGE)

We’ve got a problem

Aurelia

What? What’s happening?

JOHN ENTERS

John

They’ve blocked the truck

Aurelia

Who?

John

The neighbors?

Aurelia

What? but why?

John

seems obvious?

Aurelia

Can’t you reason with them?

JOHN EXITS AGAIN

John

I’ll try

SHE LOOKS ON FROM THE STAGE AS ANGRY VOICES ARE HEARD OFF STAGE

Neighbor’s Voice

(cutting him off) I’m telling you right now – there – is - no - way – I – am – moving my car to let any negro into my neighborhood without a fight.

John (OFF STAGE)

I ask you to have reason, we will soon be neighbors!

Neighbor’s Voice

(louder) NO WAY IN HELL, I’M MOVING MY CAR!

John (Enters again)

There’s no reasoning here

Aurelia

So What Shall We Do, John? Was this all a Mistake? What shall we do?

HE LEAVES AGAIN AS SHE LOOKS ON

HE RE-ENTERS WITH A BOX AND PLACES IT DOWN AND TURNS TO EXIT AGAIN

Aurelia

(CALLING TO HIM) What?

John (calmly)

Well, we will have to unload from the street.

HE EXITS

AURELIA SHAKES HER HEAD AND RUNS OFF FOLLOWING HER HUSBAND?

END OF PLAY


Kyle Williams

First Prize [tie], Fiction
Kyle Williams  Creative Writing and Linguistics, Brooklyn College

We Grant You Our Time and You Grant Us Travel Stipends

Untitled, Joshua Dylan Brauns for International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 1990s

 

Subject: Cubicle

In my awkwardly-heighted cubicle there is a thin film of dust over almost everything. There are unsolicited manuscripts from 2003. In the second drawer of the desk there is a small hammer which I will occasionally open the drawer just to look at, to make sure it is still there and is, in fact, a hammer, placed innocuously next to white-out, a paperclip, and three different boxes of staples, all opened and none emptied. Most unsettling, though, are the post-it notes. There are many of them, all written on with different hands in different colors. They list the responsibilities of an intern checking over production manuscripts: read frontmatter; check TOC, folios, running heads; look for stacks, widows, orphans. These are my responsibilities when I sit in this cubicle, every day, but these are not my post-it notes. They are the ghosts of former interns, who sat where I sit now, doing what I am doing now, who may have paused over the hammer the same as I do now, or who may even have placed it there to begin with. There is no way of knowing and I wonder where in the world they are, if they still are, or if anything still exists in the blurry world outside of this cubicle.

#

Fellow interns and I write these emails back and forth over email, as something like stress relief. We have no union, and no one really cares about our presence one way or another. Our time here is limited and our duties are meager: we are the definition of temporary and unnecessary. We’ve even been told so, at times: the office does not require us to run; we are not needed here. But with the way things work in so many of these yuppie industries now, it’s a necessary step toward (possible, not-guaranteed) employment if you’re not already rich and well-connected—even then, those people just tend to get the better internships, the paying ones, the ones at high-profile companies that might give a human resources hirer pause. This is not our first internship, and in a month-late welcome meeting with the executive (he got his start in the seventies, of course), he expresses surprise at this.

“I didn’t realize you’d all come from other places before here,” he says.

“Of course we did,” we think but don’t say. “There is no other way.” (And, “Please hire us,” we whisper because we can’t stop ourselves. “We would very much like to have a guarantee that we will be able to pay our rent in two months, when our loans run out, or when we graduate, or when our savings run out. We have nightmares about Sally Mae scratching at our windows in the night—do you know, can you hear with us what that sounds like?”)

#

Subject: Bathroom Conversations

I've never had great conversational skills, but that doesn't really matter when the people talking to you don't really view you as human. It's rare to be spoken to and looked at at the same time. Even when they look at you, they don't normally catch your eye-line—it's more like a hazy glance cast in your general direction. The exception to this is in the bathroom: for whatever reason, this is the place of communion. It is not a large bathroom. There are two urinals (one of which is broken, and when flushed does not stop running water, spilling it onto the floor) and two stalls. If there is more than one other person in there, it's crowded. And yet, you never know when you're going to catch an important five-man meeting of senior editors, looking one another in the eyes while their voices echo on the tiled walls and one or two or three of them with their dicks in their hands. No one is ever more interesting in who you are and what you're up to than when you're trying to take a piss. There's something in here about Rabelais' grotesque: the community of bodies as bodies eating, shitting, fucking together—but does that fit inside the contemporary notions of antiseptic cleanliness signaled by the "Kills 99.99% of Bacteria!" handsoap, and the smell of bleach? Why here, of all places, do you want to know how I'm doing? Why here, where most people are stilled to silence by their collective shames of flesh and excretion, do you want to have a conversation about my future? Why here am I most human— why is it in the bathroom you’re searching for my eyes?

#

“Good morning!”

“Hello,” she says, not looking up from the computer screen. She is my boss today; the interns rotate.

“How are you today?”

“Fine.” She punctuates her answer by pressing the enter key on her keyboard. She turns to me, where I am standing in her doorway, because I do not really know when I am or am not supposed to enter the sanctum of her office, and anyway both of the available chairs are occupied by her purse, her coat, her books.

“I love the view from your window.”

(I do love the view from her window. It’s filled with watertowers at varying heights, and crossed through by fire escapes. It feels like the scenery I came to New York for: the mess of jungle metals and incongruent skyscrapers.)

“Did you have a nice weekend?”

“I did. I don’t have anything for you yet today. Could you come back in maybe twenty minutes?”

“Of course!” I turn to leave, but she starts speaking again.

“I count them, sometimes. When I’m bored.

” “Is that often?” “Sometimes.”

“How many are there?”

“Nine. Most of the time.”

I count seven. But it’s her window. She doesn’t say anything else, so I go back to the cubicle and stare blankly at my email. This is the first internship we’ve had where our emails are actually our names rather than a string of letters and numbers, though it’s something more like a title-change promotion rather than anything that actually reflects worth.

#

Subject: Natural Light

There are no windows. I always thought that was a ridiculous thing people made up about offices like this, that there were no windows. Shut up—there have to be windows. But there aren’t. The offices have windows but their doors are often closed. No natural light comes into the pit: the world is well-lit fluorescence which shows amazingly well just how dirty the walls are: the handprints and scuffs from carried boxes or mail, looking faintly like someone dragging their nails for a grip as they’re being pulled away.

#

Only one of us is a person of color, of six. In a meeting with the executive meant as an informational meeting, a few weeks after the month-late welcome meeting, he opens the floor to questions and gets one about diversity: What are you doing, we ask, to address the serious diversity problem in the industry?

That is a huge problem, he agrees. The industry is eighty percent white. That’s a huge problem; we’re right. And part of the problem is that in order to get hired in the industry we need the experience of an internship, which means we need to be able to work for four months without being paid—which naturally leaves out those of us in the poorer classes. And it’s never been a hugely profitable industry, so those of us looking for more lucrative careers aren’t looking here. It’s a huge problem. We’re right.

(What he doesn’t give us is an answer. What are you doing? Nothing. There’s nothing to be done—the hands have been thrown up. Any other questions?)

#

I wait an hour for my boss to show up (this is not an uncommon occurrence: though we are always here by nine, many real employees arrive pretty much whenever the hell they want—we have to punch in but they, as fulltimers, do not), only to be informed by someone else that she is not coming in. She’s out all week, on vacation.

“Oh.”

Her assistant gives me something to proofread. It’s not real proofreading, though; that job is outsourced to people who are paid better than I am (read: paid, at all). My job is to check over the typesetting and fix minor errors: widows, orphans, stacks. I write poems with these, sometimes, just by taking the first words and last words of lines and seeing what happens:

He
appar-

was
pattern

moved
speech

first
 

for
 

here
instead

 
always

telling
 

of
 

“English”
and

outside
the

versed
vilific-

all
defiant

was
 

was
art,

is
and

madness
page?

and
 

always
such

that
an

madness
resonant,

#

Our supervisor is unreadable. When we ask him for work he gives it, but never makes any comment on what he wants, how we’re doing. It’s becoming a problem, because we all want him to be happy with us—we all want him to hire us. Then, coming in from the elevator, one of us goes to another, the closest one:

“Jon held the elevator for me.”

“Oh, that was nice of him.”

“Yeah, but then I overheard his conversation with the other editor in there: his girlfriend’s an author. She published a book with Knopf last fall.”

“No way. We need—”

“We need to look her up right now.”

And we do, because this is something: this is one thing we can use to humanize our experience, to know that we’re working under a human being—to bring him down to our level. He has a girlfriend. He has sex with her after her poetry readings. This is finally something we can hold on to, at least for a second: our supervisor’s girlfriend’s book, which we all read—passing around a single copy found at the Strand for cheap—and give three-star reviews on Amazon, signaling our feelings that is meanders, that it does not ultimately have anything to say, that it may end up being somewhat pointless.

#

Subject: Happy Happy Joy Joy

I never understood the concept of “happy hour”—not really, I mean. When I was a kid my mother would take me to work with her and we’d often end up there. There was free food— hotwings, peanuts, mini taco things, whatever—that could serve as part of my dinner, and my mother could get two drinks for the price of one. Sometimes three, if the right bartender was working. But nothing about it seemed happy: sticky tables and people talking too loudly about how much they hate their boss and that one fucking guy in accounting who won’t shut up about his brother’s start-up. I don’t know. What I’m trying to say is, does anyone want to get a drink after work?

#

Off the subway, I see one of us walking in the opposite direction of the office, toward me, though he doesn’t see me yet because he needs glasses. I’ve already got them. I hate them, but I stare at a screen reading for eight hours a day, so it was inevitable. I have given my eyes to an industry that has not yet given me anything (and may never).

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Just walking for ten minutes. What time is it?”

“Eight forty-eight.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s about that time. I get off at eighth, and I always walk by the building and think, Oh man, I just don’t want to go in there yet.”

My boss has returned this week from her vacation. I ask her where she went and she says California.

“I’ve always wanted to go to California,” I say.

“You should.”

And I just can’t help it, so I start laughing, and she laughs with me at first but stops, and says that she doesn’t have anything for me just yet, could I come back in ten minutes? and I’m still laughing a little bit by the time I get to my cubicle.

#

 
reassess-

My
securities

attracted
I’d been

Exit
years

#

We get emails sent to the whole office by the office manager complaining about the state of the kitchenette. There are coffee stains on the counter; there are stacks of dirty bowls and mugs in the sink, and stacks of clean ones on the coffee stains. And please, the sink is right next to the garbage clean, please empty out your cup before you throw it away. We’ve never met this person but we take a special pride in making her life just a little worse—our small impact on the workplace.

#

Subject: Small Noises Down the Hall

I know the man’s voice but not what he looks like. His voice carries over the cubicles but it’s never had cause to be directed at me; I’m not on its radar. But it’s very distinctive: it’s low but without a growl, and it extends the vowels at the ends of sentences. Right now it’s scolding someone. Through the keyboards I can make out something about Barnes and Noble, something about display tables—I can’t believe you would… We ran over this so many times… It’s just Barnes and. The woman’s voice is harder to make out; it’s just a high note constantly interrupted or spoken over, until he says they’re done talking. Then it’s just her, her small note, making these small noises into her hand. She’s crying. Is she crying? She’s—I’m not crying.

#

“How much longer does this last?” A real employee asks me. “When do you leave?”

This question comes often. It’s a reminder that there are no open positions and we will not be hired; it was never in the cards that we might be hired. And a reminder that our presence is tolerated, though not without some complaint. If someone’s lunch goes missing from the fridge, we’re the first to know, because we’re the first to be interrogated; we’re objects of suspicion and we answer your emails, sign your name, insert small typos you won’t notice because if we’re treated like a small annoyance to be swept away we might as well act like it.

“Through the end of April,” I say, taking a bag out of the fridge with a name on it that isn’t mine, that might be yours, that I kind of hope is yours.

#

The
uncere-

had
seemed

time
 

was:
called

was
coffee

#

After throwing out a full cup of coffee, my phone rings. It’s never happened before and I have no idea who might be calling me. I didn’t even think the phone worked. Do I have an extension? Do I extend?

“Hello?”

“Is Jan there?”

“Uh, no. No, this is—”

“Tell Jan to call me back.”

Then they hang up. We have no idea who Jan is. None of the offices have nameplates.

#

Subject: Jan

Every day now someone calls looking for someone named Jan. That is not my name. And as far as I know, though I admit to knowing little, no one who works here goes by that name. But he keeps calling, no matter how many times I tell him that I think he’s got the wrong number. When he repeats the number back to me I realize I don’t even know the number of the phone I’m sitting with. Does anyone know a Jan?

#

We don’t even particularly like one another, us interns. We smile politely at the floor when we pass by each other; we steal supplies from each other when we’re out on break. We represent threats to one another: if one of us is hired, that’s another job from the pool we can’t have, and there are always more of us than there are jobs. We don’t want to go back to school; our resumes are only good for this one job because it’s impossible to be anything else without five requisite years of experience you can’t have unless you had the job in the first place. Our self-worth is tied to this. We hate each other. We hate ourselves. Even though two of us are fucking. (Especially?)

#

“I’ve been working on this story.”

“I didn’t realize you wrote.”

“I just figured we all do.”

“Fair.”

“So this story: I’m trying to work out this thing where it’s just a long conversation between these two friends, right, but at the very end you realize that the one friend has been planning to kill himself the entire time. … And you can see hints of it throughout the conversation.”

“I’ve decided to take up food writing.”

#

Subject: Lunch

Everyday I eat lunch alone in a cubicle. It’s always leftovers from whatever I could make myself for dinner the night before, provided it wasn’t a twenty-eight cent package of ramen—which is sometimes the case, and then lunch is a peanutbutter sandwich. (Have you seen the price of jelly lately? For christ’s sake.) So I sit alone and eat and listen to the sound of my own chewing, the food dropping down my throat.

#

“Have you heard about this summer fridays thing yet?”

“No, what’s that?”

“So apparently in the summers, the entire industry takes off on Fridays.”

“… What?”

“I’m not even joking. It sounds like a joke, I know. But it’s not.”

“How?”

“Who the hell knows? This is a fake industry.”

#

The executive brings his dog to the office. It’s one of those weird ones with the nose that comes down like an oval, like the skull is seriously misshapen—one of us knows the name of the breed but the rest of us don’t. We just watch it wander, dragging its leash behind it on the floor. If it enters an office or a cubicle, small shrieks of excitement are issued by the inhabitant. The dog is pet; people lord over it as it sits there uselessly, doing nothing. We are not jealous of dogs, we think. But we are. We’re jealous of this dog.

#

“I have a headache, you know? Like behind my eyes?”

“Oh man, that sucks. Do you want aspirin? I have.”

“I think I’m just going to—I can’t tell, right, if it’s because I’m drinking too much coffee or not enough. And usually I diagnose it as not enough.”

“Yeah, it’s probably just not enough.”

“It’s not enough. I’ll just get more coffee.”

#

Subject: Open Mic TONIGHT!

Hey guys, I’m going to be reading some poems at an open mic down the street after work. It would mean the world to me if you came! Let me know!

(Two drink minimum.)

#

A new assistant has been hired, and it is not any of us. Even in our brief time here we have become territorial about our cubicles, but one of us is losing their cubicle to make room for the new assistant. They get a new computer, office supplies we were never given but should have been (a stapler, tape), and the cubicle is being professionally cleaned and repainted. The one of us that has to move now takes up space in the corner of the conference room—provided there is no conference—and has to work off of an IBM laptop that the tech guy handed over while shaking his head. We console ourselves by reminding that the situation is temporary, because we’ll all be gone in a couple of weeks. But then, we’ll all be gone in a couple of weeks.

#

We talk to our bosses, our supervisor. Do you have any practical advice on how to get a job in this industry? And without looking up from their work they answer, in so many words, No.

“It took me a long time to get a job, and I thought I never would.”

“A space opened up right at the end of my internship and my supervisor liked me.”

“My friend had this job before me.”

#

“Is Jan there?”

“I really think you have the—”

“Just tell her I called.”

“You never even said your name.” (But he hung up already.)

#

We ask: Do you like your job? And the answers start, “Well—”

#

Subject: AC

Every few hours there’s this sound that comes from the ceiling, like something being tossed down a long metal shaft. There’s an echo, and movement—irregularly. The first time I heard this I thought it was a bomb about to go off, or someone crawling through the vents. But it’s just the cooling system which, for some reason, sounds out like a hammer. And in each office the repercussions of this all sound a little different: in the production editor’s, there’s a low rumbling that drones out her already meager voice so that her explanations to me are unintelligible growls; in the publisher’s office, there is a light ticking you could almost mistake for a clock if it weren’t for it scratching sounds accompanying, like a small animal trying desperately to escape somewhere; and in the supervisor’s office, there’s just a sound like a heavy metal bat hitting a hollow pipe, which makes me flinch every time but doesn’t bother him at all. I ask, Are you just used to that? And he answers, What?

#

It is our last week. A couple of us have interviews for positions we know we won’t get. One of us is going back to school. The rest of us don’t know what we’re doing. We have some meager amount of money saved we could coast on for a month or two, but if we don’t find something, well. This internship was, ostensibly, to prepare us for employment in the industry; at the same time, it prepared us for unemployment—for disemployment in the industry. And god, we hate calling it that—industry—but our supervisor reminds us that our love of literature is largely pointless. It’s not about literature; it’s about publishing. Virginia Woolf is great but a corpse can’t go on a book tour; nobody reads Tom Hardy anymore. Instead, here is another book that everyone will praise for the summer and forget about in a few months; here is another experimental Norwegian novel that we will sell as “bleak”; here is another depression memoir; here is another book of poetry no one will read or buy but everyone will call brilliant. There’s no love here, we’re convinced—though we’re absolutely sure, and we can feel it in ourselves, that if one of us were hired, if we made our way inside, we would take off every Friday in the summer, and we would count the water towers out our windows, and we would have conversations in the bathrooms, looking one another in the eye.


Clara Leonor Cruz-St. John

First Prize, Visual Arts
Clara Leonor Cruz-St. John  CUNY BA—Art and Cultural Resistance, Hunter College

 

Pan Americano, Oil on found objects.

This piece, a reinterpretation of the American flag, represents the exploitation of Latinx immigrants by American capitalists, who not only profit off their labor, but commodify their connections to family and home.

The title Pan-Americano refers to America the continent, source of a transnational working class, rather than America the country, which exploits immigrant labor. “Pan Americano” also means “American bread,” referring to the politically-driven economic necessity that brings immigrants to this country.

The inverted Boss Revolution cards reclaim the popular images of revolution that this widely used company has appropriated. Meanwhile the Western Union form is filled out with the lyrics of a famous Latin American resistance song.

The photographs evoke the myriad boundaries that break up our communities, from the US-Mexico border, to ICE detention centers and prisons, to barbed-wire topped fences across our neighborhoods.

The empty white stripes are a critique of the fragility and cultural void of whiteness and the hollow nature of the American dream. By incorporating the white wall I also pose a question about the complicity of “white cube galleries” in upholding this oppressive system.

The piece references David Hammons’ African-American flag, recognizing the centrality not only of Black art and culture in America, but of Black struggle as the forefront for progressive change for all working people in this country.

The artist is a Chicana restaurant worker, CUNY student and community organizer.


Bonnie Morano

Second Prize, Visual Arts
Bonnie Morano  Studio Art, Hunter College

 

Exploring New Territory, Oil on canvas.

The intention of “Exploring New Territory,” is to present a narrative focused on the working mother, the domestic father and the evolution of gender roles at home and in the workplace. The painting depicts a stay at home domestic father and a corporate working mother as a paradigm shift of contemporary life. Traditionally, the man is expected to be the primary wage earner and the woman is secondary, usually due to her dual role as worker and caregiver. In this painting, the mom and dad figures have chosen their respective roles based on preference and ability, not on the stereotypes and norms in the workforce.

The dad is a resourceful explorer character who has the ingenuity of strapping the baby, normally underfoot, to his back while he vacuums. His body is bent in a searching position and he has the vacuum hose as his hunting tool. Figuratively, he is exploring new territory as a domestic dad in a 21st century landscape where women are making strides towards equality in the workplace. He is not a feminized man, but rather symbolizes a modern masculinity that embraces the man as the nurturer.

The mom is smartly dressed in stylish and feminine business attire. The lavender blouse and facial make up underscores that she is not masking her femininity in the business world. She embraces her gender and is empowered to be a multi-tasking and productive woman who is drinking her morning coffee while reaching in her purse for, perhaps, a ringing cell phone.

I am a CUNY undergraduate seeking a degree after a decade in the workplace. I can relate to the mixed feelings of mom-guilt when I returned to work after the birth of my child along with feelings of motivation to achieve my career ambitions. I had often felt that I was supposed to take a backseat in the workplace due to my gender. This artwork is a way for me to liberate the woman that feels marginalized by gender stereotypes in the workplace and depict an evolutionary goal.

The evolution of gender roles is most poignant with the figure of the baby and the baby’s questioning gaze. The baby’s gaze at the viewer is meant to prompt the viewer to be inquisitive and ask the question- “Is this the new normal?“

The current political climate has brought issues surrounding women’s rights in the workplace to the forefront. In the spirit of creating an inclusive and egalitarian labor community, the evolution of gender roles is one way that a new normal towards progress can be achieved. The achievements of the current generation will impact the workplace environment for my own daughter as well as the many women in society that seek advancement and equality at work and at home.


Kristen Yonke

Third Prize, Visual Arts
Kristen Yonke  Childhood Education and English, Queens College

 

One of Us Has to Get Paid, Acrylic on canvas.

My acrylic painting was inspired by a video of Nev Schulman and his pregnant fiance´, Laura Perlongo about paid parental leave. Nev states in the video “the United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave.“ According to Google, there are only three states in the United States that provide paid maternity leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

I sketched by hand and transferred to a canvas, a painting of a new born in a crib seen through an iPhone camera. The woman’s hand (right) is taking the photo and is home with the child, while the man’s hand (left) is viewing the photo of his new born while at work. My painting depicts the man working to bring home a paycheck while the woman is home taking care of her child and recuperating after giving birth while receiving no pay. Nev also states, “Globally, moms get an average of 106 days of paid leave for a new baby, while dads only get an average of seven“, offering women more time with their newborns. I believe my painting speaks to the Labor Arts spirit because hard working men and women aren’t offered paid leave in order to provide a service to their newborns.

Below is the video of Nev and Laura:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAQPgcGP3oA


 

Background & Credits for 2016–2017

The CUNY/Labor Arts contest aims to expand student’s thinking about labor history, broadly defined, and is open to any undergraduate attending a CUNY college. Begun in 2010, it encourages students to write creatively and analytically about work and workers, to make art about work and workers, and to link their efforts to the spirit of LaborArts.

We would like to thank all of the students who submitted work for the 2016–17 contest, and to congratulate the authors of the prize-winning essays and poems and the creators of the visual art featured in this exhibit. All CUNY students are encouraged to begin considering possible themes for entries in next year’s contest. Guidelines for the 2017–18 contest will be available in fall 2017; the guidelines used for this contest are here.

The contest is funded by The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, and was made possible this year through the efforts of Professor Joseph Entin, Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh and Associate Provost Stuart MacLelland from Brooklyn College/CUNY; and Rachel Bernstein and Evelyn Jones Rich from LaborArts.

Special thanks to the judges: Professor Joseph Entin (Fiction), Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh (Non-Fiction), Professor Joseph Moore (Visual Art), and Adjunct Professor Rafi Kiureghian (Poetry). Many thanks to the Graduate Center for Worker Education’s director Lucas Rubin and his extraordinary staff, including Mohammed Sujon, Beatrice Tony-Jean, and Anselma Rodriguez, and to LaborArts intern Daria Mrozik.

The photographs of students and event speakers were taken by photographer at the Awards Ceremony, held at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in Lower Manhattan on April 19, 2017.


 

Making Work Visible—A Labor Arts Contest
2015–2016 Contest Rules

Nina Talbot Open to CUNY undergraduates, this contest offers cash prizes up to $1,000 in four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and visual art. Click here to read the winning entries from previous contests.

Entries should relate to labor arts—to portrayals of work and workers, as well as art by working people. Paid work and labor unions are only a part of the story — entries about unpaid work, immigration, family and community are also encouraged. Funded by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the contest aims to expand student engagement with the under-appreciated history of work and workers in this country, and to re-vitalize the study of labor history at CUNY.


Undergraduates in good standing enrolled at any CUNY institution are eligible to compete. Entries must be submitted by March 2, 2016 online at this link.

Prizes in each category: First Place: $1,000 // Second Place: $500 // Third Place: $250 // Honorable Mention $100.

 

Garment Worker

Here’s what makes this contest unusual —

Students submitting written work
must include an image that is related to the themes in their writing. You may include a link to: a) one of the images below; b) one of the images from this gallery; c) an image from any Labor Arts exhibit or collection; or d) an image from another source. Sample images from the LaborArts.org web museum:

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7

Students submitting visual artwork must include a paragraph (100-250 words) explaining how their work shares, and is a part of, the Labor Arts spirit. The statement must address the medium and the artistic tradition in which you are working.

Successful entries show thoughtful, original work on subjects relevant to work, to working people, and to the labor movement. Topics might include, but are not limited to: economic and social problems; issues of immigration; conflicts based on race, class, and ethnic identity; environmental concerns; child labor; women in the labor force; economic justice; globalization and international labor markets; organizing campaigns; crime and corruption; anti-labor campaigns; cultural and artistic visions; ideals and ideologies.

Entries are judged according to originality, content and style, by professors who teach undergraduates at CUNY. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Spring 2016.

For more information, contact Professor Joseph Entin and Acting Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh at mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu.

Click on this link for the entry form you need to submit with your work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Making Work Visible—A Labor Arts Contest
2015–2016 Contest Rules

Bao Lin Zhang Open to CUNY undergraduates, this contest offers cash prizes up to $1,000 in four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and visual art. Click here to read the winning entries from previous contests.

Entries should relate to labor arts—to portrayals of work and workers. Keep in mind that paid work and labor unions are only part of the story—entries about unpaid work, immigration, family and community are also encouraged. The contest aims to expand student engagement with the under-appreciated history of work and workers in this country, and to re-vitalize the study of labor history at CUNY.


Undergraduates in good standing enrolled at any CUNY institution are eligible to compete. Entries must be submitted by March 7, 2016 online at this link.

Prizes in each category: First Place: $1,000 // Second Place: $500 // Third Place: $250 // Honorable Mention $100.

 

Fasanella - Subway Rider #2

Here’s what makes this contest unusual —

Students submitting written work must include an image that is related to the themes in their writing. You may include a link to: a) one of the images below; b) one of the images from this gallery; c) an image from any Labor Arts exhibit or collection; or d) an image from another source. Sample images from the LaborArts.org web museum:

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7
  • Sample 8

Students submitting visual artwork must include a paragraph (100-250 words) explaining how their work shares the Labor Arts spirit. The statement must address the medium and the artistic tradition in which you are working.

Successful entries show thoughtful, original work on subjects relevant to work, to working people, and to the labor movement. Topics might include, but are not limited to: economic and social problems; issues of immigration; conflicts based on race, class, and ethnic identity; environmental concerns; child labor; women in the labor force; economic justice; globalization and international labor markets; organizing campaigns; crime and corruption; anti-labor campaigns; cultural and artistic visions; ideals and ideologies.

Entries are judged according to originality, content and style, by professors who teach undergraduates at CUNY. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Spring 2016.

For more information, contact Brooklyn College Professor Joseph Entin and Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh at mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu.

Entries must be submitted by March 7, 2016 at this link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Making Work Visible—A Labor Arts Contest
2016–2017 Contest Rules

Bao Lin Zhang Open to CUNY undergraduates, this contest offers cash prizes up to $1,000 in four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and visual art. Click here to read the winning entries from previous contests.

Entries should relate to labor arts—to portrayals of work and workers. Keep in mind that paid work and labor unions are only part of the story—entries about unpaid work, immigration, family and community are also encouraged. The contest aims to expand student engagement with the under-appreciated history of work and workers in this country, and to re-vitalize the study of labor history at CUNY.


Undergraduates in good standing enrolled at any CUNY institution are eligible to compete. Entries must be submitted by March 6, 2017 online at this link.

Prizes in each category: First Place: $1,000 // Second Place: $500 // Third Place: $250 // Honorable Mention $100.

 

Fasanella - Subway Rider #2

Here’s what makes this contest unusual —

Students submitting written work must include an image that is related to the themes in their writing. You may include a link to: a) one of the images below; b) one of the images from this gallery; c) an image from any Labor Arts exhibit or collection; or d) an image from another source. Sample images from the LaborArts.org web museum:

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7
  • Sample 8

Students submitting visual artwork must include a paragraph (100-250 words) explaining how their work shares the Labor Arts spirit. The statement must address the medium and the artistic tradition in which you are working.

Successful entries show thoughtful, original work on subjects relevant to work, to working people, and to the labor movement. Topics might include, but are not limited to: economic and social problems; issues of immigration; conflicts based on race, class, and ethnic identity; environmental concerns; child labor; women in the labor force; economic justice; globalization and international labor markets; organizing campaigns; crime and corruption; anti-labor campaigns; cultural and artistic visions; ideals and ideologies.

Entries are judged according to originality, content and style, by professors who teach undergraduates at CUNY. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Spring 2017.

For more information, contact Brooklyn College Professor Joseph Entin and Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh at mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu.

Entries must be submitted by March 6, 2017 at this link.