bioStories Blog is an extension of the online magazine bioStories: Essays from the magazine, news, updates on contributors, and other features appear here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


by Annalise Mabe
Poppy showed us where the safety was. How to hold real still while your finger pulled the trigger. We shot at the wall of slate across the river that rose high, shouldering trees that reached the sky. And then into the muddy bank on our side, tracking the bullets through their tunnels. My sister and I ran to pick up the flattened bullets, mined gold—a Kentucky rush.

Nana told me how they met:
Poppy was Cecil then, at twenty-five. 5’7” in a white polo shirt and khaki pants he had cut off as makeshift shorts, leaning up against the rust-metal chain-link fence outside the local pool. Nana was Sylvia at eighteen with brown-baked freckle arms. In white and red nylon she watched water for days in hot-as-hell Elizabethtown. As the lifeguard on duty, she taught the kids how to swim. Cecil wanted to check her out. This was after their phone call, but before their blind coffee date at the Dairy Queen.
            Nana told me how cool she thought he looked. I can hear her eighteen-year-old thoughts seeing him for the first time.
“You looked like a drowned rat” he said later over quarter coffee.

No one tells you what they’re really thinking, or what they really remember. I would tell you that when he died, I thought of the words “hard working,” and “loving.” I would tell you that I remembered the Thanksgiving when he baked the bread rolls on the same cooking sheet that he used to dry jalapenos. That when we bit into them, our mouths were on fire; that we laughed once we figured out why.

I wouldn’t tell you that when he died, I didn’t cry right away. That the first memory my mind could procure was when I begged for a Frosty from the backseat, how he said your tastebuds’ll freeze; what’s the point. 

Or that I was instantly small again, looking up at the glass thermometer on the bookshelf with its lovely red inside that he said not to touch because you’ll break it. The one that I touched anyway, and broke, making the glass and mercury glitter on the floor.

When he was twenty-one, Cecil worked the pumps at a gas station that stacked cans of oil into a promotional pyramid. It was 1957. Before Sylvia, before my Dad, before my Uncle, before my sister and me, before any of us.
His cousin, Walter Barnes, came in piss drunk at 6 PM as the sky was just melting into pools of florescent soft-serve. Walter was giving everyone a hard time and stumbled into the oil cans that crashed down and rolled until stopped by some inevitable corner shelf of instant soup. Cecil had a temper and didn’t put up with shit. He took his hot coffee, tossing it on Walter, who, offended, left but only to return, swinging the glass doors open with a 38 caliber pistol.

Their backyard in Florida was a forest for young grandkids.
It was my sister’s turn to seek. I ran, her Mississippis calling out behind me. I saw the evergreen-painted shed with its white trim. I grinned. It was the best hiding spot, so long as she wouldn’t hear the metal door screech open.
There was a ramp to the entrance, so I teetered up. I opened the door to the spider dwelling dark, the smell of gasoline from the lawn mower that enveloped my body. It was just like the smell of their garage where all the wrenches, screws, and hammers hung.

The front of the newspaper read:


Cecil was twenty-one, his cousin Walter Barnes—22. Walter was already on probation on a safe-breaking charge when he thought it wise to blow a bullet through Cecil’s side. Cecil lay on the gas station floor holding his stomach, waiting for the ambulance that threw fits, stuck behind a train on the tracks that blocked its way into town.
Finally, at the hospital, the doctor reported: the bullet missed your vital organs.
The paper concluded: “Barnes is being held as a probation violator. No charge has been placed.”

I had a recurring nightmare as a child. Nana and Poppy’s evergreen shed in the backyard was a growing monster with trim, white teeth. It didn’t move, but it loomed in the corner of my eye, silent and watching. I always have nightmares and I always remember.

In 2008, Poppy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at seventy-four. Meanwhile, at eighteen, migraines led me to a doctor who suggested an MRI. He called Mom and I back to the clinic after the brain scan to go over the results:
“We found something, but we don’t know what it is. It’s a suprasellar lesion, or a mass. We’ll have to do more scans.” Mom didn’t say a word for almost a minute.

“What did you all do for fun when you were dating?” I asked Nana one night.

“Well,” she said, “Cecil liked to hunt for groundhogs and drive us through the rural roads on his motorcycle. He’d take out his rifle and kill them—the farmers wanted them killed! Those groundhogs would eat up the vegetables and dig holes the perfect size for a horse or cow to put its foot into ... anyway, we’d swim in the quarry. I’d collect goldenrods. The summers were beautiful. Just beautiful.”
“And later, when you had Dad and Uncle Gary?”
“Oh, we travelled. Poppy saved so that we could see every state and the provinces in Canada, too. Since he was a math teacher, he made a modest salary but he was frugal. He said to spend your money on experiences. Not things.”
I wondered what it was like, driving around the country every summer.
“He had wanderlust. He wanted to see all these different places.” Nana said. “I was content with my immediate boundaries, but he, here’s this guy who was raised in Podunk Kentucky who was driven to drive everywhere. That was him. That wasn’t me. I was just along for the ride.”

Memorial Day, 2009, the end of my senior year in high school. My mysterious brain lesion remained under watch while I distracted myself with beach days with my best friend.
Driving back with the windows down, my phone vibrated in the cup holder. Dad’s name scrolled across the screen.
“Hello?” I said, rolling the windows up.
“Hey, Anna,” Dad said softly. He couldn’t say it, almost. “Poppy passed.”
“What? How?” I asked. I regretted it, instantly.
“He took his life,” Dad said. Then he was quiet. I saw him standing somewhere, probably at Nana’s, crying quietly, trying not to let me hear.

In college, I started working at a bakery, frosting red velvet cupcakes, our best seller, with cream cheese frosting. We had rows and rows of jarred, dyed sugars for sprinkling and decorating.
One day, I scraped the sides of a mixing bowl with a rubber spatula, slow to let the batter fold over itself, dripping like syrupy paint. I got lost thinking of the quick, spiraling events that had happened just three years ago. Of what he said to Nana the night before, “things he never told anybody.” How Nana told me that one night, he steadied his weak arms on the kitchen counter and said: “I didn’t think it would be like this.” Of the glass thermometer with its mercury inside, like the red on his chair, like the batter I made while I worked and forgot where I was.

I was told the details later. Poppy sent Nana to the store to buy flour, or flowers. I can’t remember.
I imagined, in the empty house, he shuffled his sandaled feet, his chemoed body to the utility closet. I don’t know if that’s where the gun was, but this is what I pictured. I didn’t want to picture it, but I did.
I saw him outside, alone, sitting in a lawn chair on the grass, the evergreen gasoline shed looming in the back. I wondered how many minutes he let pass. I wondered if he was scared or if he couldn’t wait.

Six years later, I will tell you the truth.
I’ll tell you that Poppy was a quiet man. That I don’t remember him being sentimental, or talking much at all. That when he did, it was useful. A teaching moment so that I’d remember the algebra equation and the balance on each side of the equal sign, or how to set a fish hook. That I’m proud of him for taking control of his life, even if that’s a thing I’m not supposed to say.

Annalise Mabe is completing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of South Florida where she writes nonfiction and poetry. Her work has been featured in The Offing, Animal, Proximity Magazine, and is forthcoming in Hobart. She reads for Sweet: A Literary Confection and is a poetry editor at Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. She also teaches English composition and creative writing at USF.

Friday, September 25, 2015

New and Recent Books by bioStories Authors

This fall sees a number of recent and forthcoming publications by members of the bioStories "family", including:

Eleanor Fitzsimons Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew will be released next month in Ireland and the UK and is scheduled for publication with The Overlook Press in the US in Janusary.

Donald Dewey has seen a number of books recently released, including the double novel The Fantasy League Murders/The Bolivian Sailor, The novella All the Aliens in the Neighborhood, and most recently in nonfiction, Characters of an Actor, his biography of Lee J. Cobb.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


by John Guzlowski

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the near northwest side of Chicago, an area sometimes called Humboldt Park and sometimes called the Polish Triangle. A lot of my neighbors were Holocaust survivors, World War II refugees, and Displaced Persons. There were hardware-store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russian Gulag. They were our moms and dads. Some of us kids had been born here in the States, but most of us had come over to America in the late 40s and early 50s on US troop ships. 
As kids, we knew a lot about fear. We heard about it from our parents. They had seen their mothers and fathers shot, their brothers and sisters put on trains and sent to concentration camps, their childhood friends left behind crying on the side of a road. Most of our parents didn’t tell us about this fear directly. How could they?
But we felt their fear anyway.
We overheard their stories late at night when they thought we were watching TV in another room or sleeping in bed, and that’s when they’d gather around the kitchen table and start remembering the past and all the things that made them fearful. My mom would tell about what happened to her mom and her sister and her sister’s baby when the Germans came to her house in the woods, the rapes and murders.
You could hear the fear in my mom’s voice. She feared everything, the sky in the morning, a drink of water, a sparrow singing in a dream, me whistling some stupid Mickey Mouse Club tune I picked up on TV. Sometimes when I was a kid, if I started to whistle, she would ask me to stop because she was afraid that that kind of simple act of joy would bring the devil into the house. Really.
My dad was the same way. If he walked into a room where my sister and I were watching a TV show about World War II—even something as innocuous as the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes—and there were some German soldiers on the screen, his hands would clench up into fists, his face would redden in anger, and he would tell us to turn the show off, immediately. Normally the sweetest guy in the world, his fear would turn him toward anger, and he would start telling us about the terrible things the Germans did, the women he saw bayoneted, the friends he saw castrated and beaten to death, the men he saw frozen to death during a simple roll call.
This was what it was like at home for most of my friends and me. To escape our parents’ fear, however, we just had to go outside and be around other kids. We could forget the war and our parents’ fear. We’d laugh, play tag and hide-and-go-seek, climb on fences, play softball in the nearby park, go to the corner story for an ice cream cone or a chocolate soda. You name it. This was in the mid 50s at the height of the baby boom, and there were millions of us kids outside living large and—as my dad liked to say—running around like wild goats!
In the streets with our friends, we didn’t know a thing about fear, didn’t have to think about it.
That is until Suitcase Charlie showed up one day.
It happened in the fall of 1955, October, a Sunday afternoon.
Three young Chicago boys, thirteen-year old John Schuessler, his eleven-year old brother Anton, and their fourteen-year old friend Bobby Peterson, went to Downtown Chicago, the area called the Loop, to see a matinee of a Disney nature documentary called The African Lion. Today, the parents of the boys probably would take them to the Loop, but back then it was a different story. Their parents knew where they were going, and the mother of the Schuessler boys in fact had picked out the film they would see. At the time, it wasn’t unusual for kids to do this kind of roaming around on their own. We were “free-range” kids before the term was even invented. Our parents figured that we could pretty much stay out of trouble no matter where we went. We’d take buses to museums, beaches, movies, swimming pools, amusement parks without any kind of parental guidance. There were times we’d even just walk a mile to a movie to save the ten cents on the bus ride. We’d seldom do this alone, however. Kids had brothers and sisters and pals, so we’d do what the Schuessler brothers and their friend Bobby Peterson did.
We’d get on a bus, go downtown, see a movie and hang out there afterward. There was plenty to do, and most of it didn’t cost a penny: there were free museums, enormous department stories filled with toy departments where you could play for hours with all the toys your parents could never afford to buy you, libraries filled with books and civil war artifacts (real ones), a Greyhound bus depot packed with arcade-style games, a dazzling lakefront full of yachts and sailboats, comic book stores, dime stores where barkers would try to sell you impossible non-stick pans and sponges that would clean anything, and skyscrapers like the Prudential Building where you could ride non-stop, lickety-split elevators from the first floor to the forty-first floor for free. And if you got tired of all that, you could always stop and look at the wild people in the streets! It was easy for a bunch of parent-free kids to spend an afternoon down in the Loop.
Just like the Schuessler Brothers and their friend Bobby Peterson did.
But the brothers and Bobby never made it home from the Loop that Sunday in October of 1955.
Two days later, their bodies were found in a shallow ditch east of the Des Plaines River. The boys were bound and naked. Their eyes were shut with adhesive tape. Bobby Peterson had been beaten, and the bodies of all three had been thrown out of a vehicle. The coroner pronounced the cause of death to be “asphyxiation by suffocation.”
The city was thrown into panic.
For the first time, we felt the kind of fear outside the house we had overheard inside the house. It shook us up. Where before we hung out on the street corners and played games until late in the evening, now we ran home when the first street lights came on. We started spending more time at home or at the homes of our friends, and we stopped doing as many things on our own out on the street: fewer trips to the supermarket or the corner store or the two local movie theaters, The Crystal and The Vision.  The street wasn’t the safe place it once had been. Everything changed. Now we were conscious of threat, of danger, of the type of terrible thing that could happen without notice.
We started watching for the killer of the Schuessler Brothers and Bobby Peterson. We didn’t know his name or what he looked like, nobody did, but we gave him a name and we imagined how he might look. We called him Charlie, and we were sure he hauled around a suitcase, one that he carried dead children in. Just about every evening, as it started getting dark, some kid would look down the street toward the shadows at the end of the block and see something in those shadows. The kid would point and ask in a whisper, “Suitcase Charlie?”
We’d follow his gaze and a second later we’d be heading for home.
Fast as we could.
Home again, we’d catch our breath and sit down at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and a sandwich. Our moms and dads would come from the living room or the basement and sit down across from us. They’d want to talk. They’d smile and ask us why we were home so early. It wasn’t even ten o’clock, time for the nightly news.
We’d tell them about how we were playing outside, joking about stuff, making up stories about Suitcase Charlie, trying to scare each other, nothing but joking around.
They’d nod and say, “It’s good to laugh, good to joke around.”
We wouldn’t tell them about the fear we felt, the fear they knew in ways we never would.

John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s AlmanacOntario Review, North American, RattleAtticus Review, and many other print and online journals here and abroad. His first novel Suitcase Charlie, a mystery set among Holocaust survivors in Chicago, is available from Amazon. His poems and personal essays about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany appear in his forthcoming book Echoes of Tattered Tongues (Aquila Polonica Press, March 2016). Of Guzlowski’s writing, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz said, “He has an astonishing ability for grasping reality.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hallmark Moment

by Joseph O’Day

Another Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting with my ninety three year old mother in her parlor watching TV. She’s in a cushioned chair in one corner; I’m to her left on the couch. At the end of the room facing Mom is her wide-screen Toshiba HD television propped atop a Quasar console. She had me buy the Toshiba a few years ago when the Quasar wore out.

We’ve managed to keep my mother at home by hiring caretakers who alternate shifts with my sister, my wife, and me. I learned quickly that this job of caretaking requires lots of sitting and watching: Mom watches TV and me, I watch TV and Mom. I’ve tried to make the time productive by cleaning and tidying up, doing bills, or attempting to read or write, but I get sidelined by the loudness of the TV and by her repeated requests to rise and walk around. Even with a walker, she’s unsteady and at risk for falling, so I’ll assuage her concerns, for example telling her the milk definitely was returned to the refrigerator and promising to check again to make sure. I’ve figured out tricks to get me out of her sight, out of her mind, like staying in another room, but near enough to respond. However, I’d rather she knows she’s not alone, so I’m back on the couch.

There’s an obstacle to my being productive, though, that’s more disruptive than my mother’s demands to get up three times in an hour. It’s not the temptation of the peanut butter crackers on the kitchen counter or Snickers ice cream bars in the fridge, or even my wish to lie back on the soft couch for a nap. Rather, it’s a TV station, the Hallmark Channel, and its afternoon movie romances, with titles like Puppy Love or The Wish List or Recipe For Love, and story lines like “A perfectionist makes a list of qualities she’s looking for in a mate, finds an ideal guy, but is instead drawn to a kooky barista who encourages her to loosen up.” Predictable, sentimental, addictive as hell.

When I mentioned this to a co-worker, he reacted badly—“If I watched Hallmark I’d never admit it”—making me wonder if he might be a closeted Hallmark guy.

In front of guests at a dinner party, I asked another friend if he watched. An ex-Marine, he glared at me and let out a two-tone low-high “Nooooooo!”

My own habit started last summer. I arrived at my mother’s to find that the previous caretaker had left a Hallmark story on. It was about a woman attracted to a brilliant astrophysicist, unaware an aneurysm had caused him to have short-term memory impairment. He’s kind and gentle and one evening directs her attention towards the clear sky, explaining fascinating facts about star constellations and the universe. They’re young, shy, and falling for each other. He conceals his impairment by recording their conversations on an electronic pen for later review and by scattering post-it note reminders around his apartment. His sister warns that if he cares for this woman, he’d better reveal his problem. But he fears he’ll lose her. When she inevitably discovers the notes and recordings, she’s repulsed and breaks up before he can explain. This causes me to jump at the screen; they’re so right for each other!

I realize the story should end well—it’s Hallmark after all—but I want to see them reconcile, to witness their embrace. Problem is, the show has thirty minutes left and it’s Saturday and my wife’s turn to stay with my mother and my turn to get to church for the 5:30 mass. Since it’s ridiculous to miss church for a TV show, I plead with my wife to stay focused and fill me in later. After church, she tells me “yes they got back together” and mentions that there was “also something about brain surgery to correct his memory problem.”

“Did they perform the surgery?” I ask.

“I think so, but I got a call and don’t remember much else.”

Many of the Hallmark stories have a similar path: two people are right for each other but something interferes. In the end, they realize how much they care and their love overcomes all. They’re attractive, often rich, successful … this can get monotonous and boring. I’m usually seduced anyway, but sometimes left with the feeling that I’ve wasted my time.

So I’ve tried to avoid the TV. I’ll mute it—Mom only grasps the visuals anyway—and turn away to read from my iPad or key my laptop or clean the kitchen or tidy up the dining room. But I’ll see the show’s characters reflected on the iPad and laptop screens. Or I’ll take an inadvertent glance at the TV from the kitchen or dining room and wonder what’s going on. I’ll grab the remote, press the info button, and I’m done.

During my teen years, I had a friend at the YMCA, an elderly guy, who’d discuss everything with me. He’d attended law school, was incredibly well-read, loved discussing politics, was a proud liberal, had strongly held opinions. He could be tough with someone espousing anything but harsh reality. I once told him that there’s someone out there, one special companion, for each one of us. He smiled and said “Joe, you’re a romantic and I love you for that.” He may have rubbed my shoulder or given me a hug, as he’d done on occasion, but he was saying I was young and na├»ve, and would learn in my own time about the harshness of life. He wouldn’t be the one to bring me down to earth.

I’m sitting in my mother’s parlor. The colors of this room, once a vivid mix of white and aqua, have faded since her renovations forty years ago. The wall-to-wall carpet is darker and threadbare in spots; the couch and chair, though well-kept, show wear, their edges frayed. The white paneling that made Mom so proud seems outdated, as does the white drop ceiling with its built-in light. However worn this room may be, the bright color scheme and five windows and cushiony furniture lends a cheerful, cozy ambience.

On top of a white table next to Mom’s chair is a phone, a box of Kleenex, and a framed 3 x 5 photo, circa 1980, of my parents. They sit at a restaurant, shoulder to shoulder, looking up to the photographer, Mom smiling, Dad savoring his meal. When I hand it to her, she rests it on her stomach, holding it with both hands and silently focusing on it. After several minutes, she asks me to return it in place next to her.

Dad and Mom loved watching TV in this parlor, laughing at the shows, discussing the news, cheering the athletes. When Dad died, the TV reminded Mom of these moments. She told me that watching it lessened the loneliness. She took over Dad’s chair until it was replaced by one that assists her up and down and elevates her legs. The corner spot is hers now, and the couch, her old spot, is mine. I turn my head from the TV and catch Mom looking at me. When I match her gaze, her eyes remain undeterred. I don’t know what’s in her mind, but her face is calm, content.

A Hallmark movie is playing: Meet My Mom—“A divorcee falls for a soldier who has become a mentor to her son. They’re hesitant to start a romance in light of the soldier’s upcoming deployment overseas.” My mother is comfortable and seems to be admiring these pretty people and assessing their hair-dos and manner of dress. I’m hoping the divorcee and soldier take a chance and allow themselves to fall in love.

Joseph O’Day obtained his BA and MBA from Salem State University and BS from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He has served as the Director of Pharmacy at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital since 1998. He has taken several graduate writing courses and is a long-standing member of Salem Writers’ Group. His writing focuses on the personal essay form, exploring family relationships and life transitions. Besides pharmacy and writing, he enjoys athletics and spending time with his family.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New Books from Writers Featured in bioStories

Two writers featured in past issue of bioStories have new books out this month. We encourage you to follow the links below to learn more about their work.

Word Citizen by KJ Hannah Greenberg; here's a review.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be by Carol D. Marsh, a memoir about the seventeen years she spent running a shelter for homeless women with AIDS in Washington D.C.

Learn more and support these writers.

Winter/Spring Issue Now Available

Our issue for Winter/Spring 2015 is now available. Swing on by the website to read 2015: Volume 5, Issue 1. Gathering all of the pieces published from the first half of 2015, we feature an eclectic variety of superb essays, including winners from our "Edders" themed contest, and work from Jean Ryan, Lou Gallo, and Sharon Frame Gay, among others.

Daddy Was a Thief

by Perry Glasser

We are not talking about armed robbery or breaking and entering. Not even pickpocketing. Daddy was no crook. You’d risk a punch in the snoot for even suggesting such an idea. Honest, square-dealing, he was no cheat, either, not even at gin-rummy, the card game he played at low stakes with cronies or his children for the sheer fun of the banter.
“What’s the name of this game?”
“That’s what I’ve got,” he’d say and lay down his cards, laughing.
My father, Dave, considered smash-and-grab guys to be lowlifes; he thought of himself as law-abiding. Unless you count his years as an old man, unsteady on his feet from several toe amputations when he might sneak a mini-Mary Jane or cherry-flavored hard candy from the acrylic bulk sale candy bins at the food market, he never so much as shoplifted.
My mother would scold him, but he’d dismiss her nagging. “They expect a certain amount of the stuff to disappear. Like grapes.”
“That’s not the point,” Muriel would say with exasperation, pushing their cart into the next aisle while Dave inspected the caramels.
His behavior was partly denial, but it was more defiance. A diabetic whose wearying last years were little more than dragging his failing body from one physician to the next, Dad preferred to believe that purloined candy had no effect on his blood sugar. His logic was persuasive; if no one saw him eat, how could the candy be counted against him? The podiatrist, the endocrinologist, the internist, the ophthalmologist, and the vascular surgeon—what they did not know could not harm Dave.
The disease eventually killed him, despite the nutritionist who had prescribed an Exchange Diet, a scheme by which people might control the glucose levels in their blood by attending to the carbs that they ate. Dad understood the instructions to mean you could exchange a body part for hard candy, a deal he did not think was all that bad. The sawbones did their work until his heart failed under anesthesia, yet another case where the operation was a success, but the patient died.
This final event of his life also proved his post-eighty-years philosophy: You have to die of something. A worldview worthy of Lucretius, his resignation was a counterpoint to more than a decade of imposed rules he hated, rules compounded by a regimen of ever-changing pills whose names he never troubled to learn but identified by color and shape. Maybe other men ingested medications; Dad took pink for blood pressure and several shades of blue for everything else.
The body that betrayed him had been his ally most of his life. My father was an articulate man who had enjoyed three semesters of a college education on his football scholarship to William and Mary, quite a turn of events for a Jewboy from the Bronx in 1933. After he left school and worked at odd jobs requiring muscles and not much else, Dad settled on being a housepainter. He hauled drop cloths and ladders, not to mention five-gallon buckets of paint, brushes, sawhorses, rollers and God alone knows what else. In a day when colors were mixed on the spot from pigments whirled by hand into white paint, his eye could match any hint of color in a rug or upholstery. He started his own company, but he was a better craftsman than businessman; rapid expansion in the post-war boom led to bankruptcy in the mid-1950s. His greatest regret was being unable to pay the workmen whom he considered his pals.
Later, Dad maintained an upscale clientele on Park Avenue and the wealthier suburbs north of New York City. Decorators adored his precision and neatness; he charmed client housewives. While painting never could make him rich, most years Dad was able to support a wife and three children in our two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of a building on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, a tonier address than most. When money became scarce, Mom returned to the workforce. I was the youngest, so they looped a hemp cord stringed through a door key around my ten-year-old neck so I could walk home and let myself into the apartment after school.
I am still neurotic about not losing my keys, patting my pants or coat pockets repeatedly. I inspect the floor near my seat before exiting a movie theater. There is no telling what may be inadvertently lost in the dark. It is simply prudent.
As a similar matter of prudence, Dad’s clients locked their liquor cabinets. It was not as though he’d earned their distrust, but everyone knew painters were notorious drunkards. Fact was, no one ever saw Dad touch a drop other than at bar mitzvahs, weddings, and, later in life, at the Irish wakes that marked the passing of his childhood friends. I never saw him drunk, though on a few occasions I did see him merry and bright-eyed with wine. I am sure that clients also placed their silverware and jewelry under lock and key, just in case the soft spoken, well-mannered man in white overalls had sticky fingers.
Their precautions were misdirected.
Dad’s palms itched, but only at the sight of their books and records.

I was mall-shopping with my daughter, Jessica, when some doo-dad in a technology-computer outlet made it into my pocket. The store chain is long gone, bankrupt, either by the collapse of the earliest technology boom or by desperadoes like myself who while passing a workbench littered with wires and screws and circuitry palmed a $.79 adapter plug before a furtive run to the parking lot.
Such items were unmarked; they were probably not even for sale. But that did not prevent a security guard from emerging from behind some one-way glass to pursue me to the car. He was a skinny guy, all red goatee and sunken blue eyes, jeans hanging on his hips like unfurled sails.
My daughter—maybe she was fourteen—looked on while I explained I had had every intention of buying the item, but since it had no wrapper and no price-tag, I’d assumed it was junk and put it in my pocket to keep my hands free and then simply forgot to check at the cashier. Even as I spoke the lie, I realized how lame it sounded. My daughter, Jessica, always my ally, never engaged in adolescent histrionics. No eye-rolling, no deep sighs. She’d come into my custody when she was eight, and we were partners in most things, in this case, partners in crime. I think I could have risked smuggling a valise filled with heroin through airport customs, and even if Jessica would have looked bright-eyed and forthright as a Girl Scout selling peanut butter cookies.
I offered to pay for the doo-dad then and there, but since it lacked any price-tag, the security guard could not tell me its cost. I asked if he was sure it was the store’s property: after all, it had been on a table with a litter of other parts. Maybe another customer had abandoned it. But he was not having any of my excuses. I suppose he had heard them all before. I was fairly sure he could not legally stop me in the parking lot, much less ask me to empty my pockets, but the niceties of law seemed irrelevant on the sunny afternoon.
I handed over the doo-dad. The rent-a-cop sternly told me that he had a photo of me that would be posted in the security office. If I ever showed up in the store again, he would personally make certain the police would be summoned. I imagined a darkened booth festooned with Polaroid pictures of ruthless shoplifters taped to the walls, all of us crazed and desperate wives and husbands, all of whom were steps away from the slammer, all of whom would be incarcerated after a police car came bearing down on us in a Code Three lights and sirens scream.
In our car, Jessica stifled her giggles. “A photo?” she said, and lost control. She laughed harder. She was not humiliated. This was just another day with her father the lunatic. I asked her not to share this story with her friends, and she informed me there was no chance of that.
I smiled and said, “We’re entitled.”
Even as I said so, I remembered Dad and his loot.

The one time I asked, he said, “They’ll never miss it.” He slapped his forehead in mock amazement. “You have no idea how many books and records this guy has.”
Maybe I was fifteen. The first album at issue was a Seraphim recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by Herbert Von Karajen conducting the Berlin Philharmoniker. The brown cardboard of the album cover was worn and frayed, so it must have been frequently handled. I thought the German spelling interesting, and I did not think hard about my father’s rationalization that the collector in the freshly painted apartment would hardly care. I still have the recording. The other recording he presented to me was a collection of arias sung by Maria Callas. At least I’d heard of Beethoven, but I was sure opera was awful. I still have that album, too.
Dad’s taste was not elevated: the albums had been randomly chosen. They were monaural at a time when our Magnavox fake walnut stereo cabinet featured a control knob for Volume and another for Balance, state of the art for stereophonic sound. Our family had begun to accrue vinyl records that had been specially made for that dawn of new acoustics, multiple track recordings. They were mostly big band music with absurd sound effects that popped and cracked and hurled sound from left to right like the ball in table tennis. Sound engineers could make that happen. Dad loved that stuff.
 “You never saw so many records,” he told me. “A whole bookcase of them; floor to ceiling. We spent half the day moving them so we could paint the shelves. When they are dry, tomorrow, we have to put the records back. How could they notice?”
Over a few years, in this way, I also obtained some hardcover books, often with dustcovers and a few in slipcases. Those might be illustrated; color plates were preserved under tissue paper. Most books were postwar classics. I remember Marjorie Morningstar and All the King’s Men. Unlike the records, they are long gone, but for all I know they were first editions. I still have a slender, numbered volume signed by Rebecca West. I believe the stolid outsized Atlas and Gazetteer that stood in our apartment’s built-in wall shelves came from the same source. The maps were colorful; the paper heavy.
Dad had no personal interest in these things. I am sure he could never have afforded to buy them; I am equally sure he acutely felt the gap between what he liked and what he was supposed to like. Though he lacked the financial means and personal passion to inject high culture into my young life, he stole it for me.

I wish I could write that I stole for my daughter, but that would not be true. I am not the Jean Valjean of the computer age. No one ever required a computer conversion plug to survive.
I also wish I could write this was the one and only time I shoplifted, but that would not be true, either. My crimes were always petty, pocketing an object I could afford, the money in my wallet.
It was about validation, the thrill of getting away with something. Everyone had so much; I had so little, and there were always hands in my pockets seeking to relieve me of what little I had. Braces for the kid? School clothes? Summer camp? Stealing was how I defied the circumstances that made me an itinerant professor and single parent. Morality is an abstraction. I was motivated by self-righteousness entitlement.
 Gaze, Universe, I steal with impunity, for I am destined to win.

In 2012, Perry Glasser was named a Fellow of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Creative Nonfiction. Riverton Noir, a novel, won the Gival Press Novel Award in 2011. He has published three collections of short fiction, as well as a collection of short memoirs entitled Metamemoirs (2012). Glasser lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts where he drinks staggering amounts of coffee while working on a young adult novel.