Posts tagged ‘renewal’

August 11, 2011

Spot 003: From Order Comes Freedom: Renewal


by Mike Handley


Her sustained notes on a skyward-pointing clarinet leave listeners gasping. Vocally, she could be Satchmo’s much more talented sister.
A jazz icon, she’s performed for presidents plural, here and abroad, and she’s appeared in the HBO series “Treme.”
Her smile can unfurl fiddleheads. Her voice is a defibrillator. And there’s a reason the locals call her the Clarinet Queen. Although these have combined to put her name in lights for more than two decades, it’s a French Quarter crossroads that restocks the fridge, both figuratively and literally.
Doreen Ketchens is proof that talent does and does not pay the bills.
Saturday mornings, she and Lawrence the Sousaphone player hoist the giant umbrella, unfold chairs, bungee the open briefcase containing CDs to the suitcase with more, position buckets emblazoned with dollar signs toward the front of their paved stage, and then plug in the microphone. It’s their weekend ritual at the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets, where they delight crowds, except for a crotchety woman down the street who calls the police, even though the badges have turned a deaf ear to the familiar complaint.
Whether she’s there for us, or we’re there for her, Doreen’s talent and the band’s soulful blend of Dixieland standards keep passers-by immobilized for hours. How could she not return to the streets, this woman who has performed in the Lincoln Center in pearls?
For her, it’s about renewal and survival, about going home and keeping the home.
Nobody does it better.


Mike Handley is a career journalist, artist and member of the zipper club who mourns sausage made from non-flying things. His musings can be seen at, and his paintings at



by Bill Lapham


When they woke, they inspected the weapons they had cleaned the night before—M-4’s, 240’s, 203’s and the venerable M-60—ate breakfast and formed the “Huddle.” Only Weapons Squad, Baker, Brown, De Jesus, Callahan and Jakes huddled up before a patrol. They would gather in a circle, arms on shoulders, heads together, iPod sound system blaring Drowning Pool’s “Soldiers”—cranked. They would scream the line: “On your feet/who’s with me” stand up and slam into each other. Then they would scream the line: “THIS is for the soldiers/THIS is for the soldiers” while pounding on each other with fists, usually at half to three-quarters power. There wasn’t anything like it done anywhere in the theater of operations, let alone their regiment. These five guys, who had been together for three combat tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Afghanistan again, had come from all over the United States to form this particular warfighting team. You weren’t accepted as a member unless you got the shit kicked out of you by its collective; you didn’t go on leave without getting beaten black and blue; and you didn’t come back from leave without suffering the same fate. Better to stay connected with the team, get into the routine and stay there, than to go away and fuck off. That was soft shit: made you think and act like a civilian, and they did not countenance civilians. Civilians were clueless. Not them. When the song ended, they were dancing on a razor’s edge, and ready.


This story continues here. See Authors page for Bill Lapham’s bio.



by Gita Smith


A belief in orderliness was the backbone of Jean’s world view. She believed in the rule of law. She liked cities laid out on a grid. She thought that a hanging hem on a woman was a sign of slovenliness.
Jean liked movies with linear plots (she hated “Inception,” which was about layers of dreams within dreams). “I’m not without imagination,” she told Howard as they left the theater. “But that was chaotic.”Howard drove a bulldozer. He came home regularly at 5:30, scraped mud from his boots in the garage and slipped off his dirty clothes. Then he was ready for his evening pleasures: a small plate of cheese and Saltines, a short glass of bourbon, television, one hot meal and bed.
Jean and Howard didn’t like unplanned detours, save one. On every anniversary, Jean blindfolded Howard who threw a dart at a wall map of the world. Wherever the dart stuck was where they would go for their vacation. The rule was, no backing out, even if the dart landed in Pakistan.
Come August, they set out, feeling like vagabonds from the 60s. Howard let his beard grow. Neither one wore a watch (unthinkable back home). Jean, with her no-iron skirts, felt like an exotic gypsy. Even the sex was better, although neither could have told you why since their routine never varied.
“We are not who we are,” Howard would whisper to Jean, their secret holiday motto. “And we are not who we were,” she would answer.


See Authors page for Gita Smith’s bio.



by Joe Gensle


Shower. Carbs. Bus to the gym. Seven days a week. I lift every day and do a mile on the treadmill. I been doin’ it just over two years, leading up to this first race.
I’m only 5’8”, but agile and quick. Gunny calls me ‘Pinball.’ His favorite expression is, “Pinball, on the point!” I’m hardcore Corps. Love the shit.
I’m in the ‘Hell Hounds‘–an infantry platoon, 3rd Marines, near Kabul. We start a sweep on a compound with suspected Taliban. We train and train to clear hidey-holes like these, and excel at it.
Word’s out: You want it done? Send the ‘Hell Hounds’ and it’s mission accomplished. We earned the rep, take pride.
But guys get it. I did. Boom! Lights out. It must have been a grenade or booby trap that found me waking up in the U.S. without a right leg.
Twenty-six months of therapy and workouts with a prosthesis, then a metal, spring-looking thing that replaces it so guys like me can actually run.
Race day. I’m in the 100-yard dash, a guy clips me. I go down… and can you believe this shit? I fracture my shin bone twenty feet from winning.
Ignoring pain, I got that down! I low-crawl across the line, roll onto my back and laugh, “Dead last, without a leg to stand on!”
You prepare to train and train to be prepared. You give 101% and God picks the results.
You live to finish. You just gotta….
Know what I mean?


See Authors page for Joe Gensle’s bio.



by Paul de Denus


It’s that time of month again and I’ve got a confession to make. The old man’s made it clear that we all got to go today. Shit, it’s not even Sunday. He says it’s a sort of “divine intervention” moment, a time to expel guilt, renew the spirit, and wipe the deep stains from our souls. Sounds to me like we’re changing our underwear. I don’t know what he’s done to feel guilty… other than to yell and falsely accuse me!!! of punching my little brother when he, asshole!!! started it!!
Anyway, this confessing thing is quite embarrassing. And trusting a complete stranger with your most intimate failings is sheer lunacy. I, for one, will opt to blatantly lie. And I’ll use my trusty routine of standards too: lied, swore, had bad thoughts. Through the grate, I can see its Father Farrell sitting there in the dark. He’s young and might give me a pass. He looks like he’s writing stuff down. Maybe he wants to be a novelist someday, perhaps write a ‘tell-all’ book to rival the Bible… hehe! Shit… is that blasphemy? Fuck, that’s a mortal sin I bet. God I’m so doomed.
Little brother insisted I go first. Fine. He’ll get his. He’s going to say the same bullshit I’m going to lie about and Father’s going to see he’s shitting him and hopefully call him on it. Then we’ll see if there’s such a thing as “divine intervention” … or righteous punishment for telling Pop on me.


See Authors page for Paul de Denus’s bio.



by Sandra Davies


Jake and Jessica, Rory and Rowena, eleven months between the brothers and similar between the neighbouring girls who grew up either side of them. To Jessica, such alliterative symmetry presaged their futures. And even after she’d outgrown childhood there was a sizeable part of her which believed that the logic held, would hold, until Jake returned from his first term at university and pointed out, not urgently, the naïve illogicality of that, thereby tumbling her into two years of misery and dislocation, which she buried under a façade of manic gaiety. When she in turn left home, it was as a bright-polished, stone-hearted maiden.
Jessica did not finally relinquish hope until she saw Jake’s face as he and Marietta exchanged their marriage vows in the summer before her final year. Pride, in her intelligence, prevented her failing to work, lack of it, in her perception of herself as too unattractive to maintain a relationship, ensured several months of intended casual but in actuality lacerating promiscuity, at the end of which her sole desire was to escape.
Three months of near-solitude in South America might have fully healed her had she not met Tom; a month of mountainous passion taught her much, as did his last-minute confession, as he put her on the plane home, that he was indissolubly married.
Rory met her at Heathrow, familiar, friendly and, two months later, startling her with a confession that as far as he was concerned, it had always been Rory and Jessica.


See Authors page for Sandra Davies’s bio.



by Grey Johnson


I have an imaginary apartment at the corner of Main and Fairlee, over a small café with a charming name, where the tinkling of cups and sidewalk shuffle rise to my windows on the mornings that I leave them open; it is surrounded on three sides by breezy glass, its walls are a warm buttercream yellow, and there is only a fabulous bed drenched in white cotton for my furniture. I never vacuum, as it is too loud, but I enjoy sweeping and seeing little dust motes float in the early sun. My lover (I know his name but am not telling) thinks my writing is wonderful, and is never concerned about his role in inspiring me, or the suggestive content of what I write; he visits, sometimes for lengthy stays, but knows he can never claim part of my space as his, and he is not troubled by this, either – he even respects my girlfriend and does not interfere in our special friendship. I imagine that my children, parents, and friends have all forgiven me for leaving my husband, and many of them wonder aloud about what took me so long. In my imaginary apartment, I am wondrously free of mental illness, and have the energy and enthusiasm to lead the life I want. I imagine that some love remains for my husband, having been transmuted away from the suffering we both felt, into a kind and warm regard, and a sincere wish for happiness.


See Authors page for Grey Johnson’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown


I am trying really hard to remain calm at this moment, but feel so indignant that I want to yell and pound my fist through a door. I was robbed again tonight. I lost my passport again. I know. It was stupid of me to be carrying it back and forth to work when I should have left it home in a safe place, and I usually do. The thing is after returning from HoW2, I never got around to taking it out of the knapsack type bag I used on that trip and use to carry my papers and things to school every day. I also lost another computer, and a little item of great sentimental value among other stuff, which for the most part is replaceable. That little handmade booklet with signatures and good wishes from friends met for the first time in person at HoW1 cannot be replaced. I know. It was careless to leave my bag in the back seat out of sight under a big loose-leaf binder in Álvaro’s car while the two of us stopped for coffee for fifteen minutes at Starbuck’s. Fifteen fucking minutes! I was looking for a bit of a pick-me-up after a long day at work, and had no idea I would instead be pushed back and have to work my way forward again. It is said, “From order comes freedom.” I don’t know if that is true, but I am feeling disorderly just now, and it’s restrictive as hell.


See Authors page for Michael D. Brown’s bio.



by Bill Floyd


Eddie says I should just ditch the handwritten pages along with the rest of the shit that’s not pawnable, but something makes me hold onto them. I forget about them until that night, when I find the folded sheets in my pocket all rumpled and creased. Smoke curls from the day’s last cigarette as I scan the words by lamplight. There’s like five different short stories, really short, nothing like the bullshit they made us read in class back when I was in school. Something happens, like in a dream where you suddenly realize you’re naked and ashamed. The stories are about this guy and his life, the ladies he knows and his friends and what he thinks about shit. The way the words are strung together gives me this weird feeling. I keep the pages in a box under my bed, along with my stash. Eddie’s all like why the fuck am I writing in a little notebook all the time now. He thinks maybe I’m snitchin. So I show him my stories and he’s just puzzled. The whole crew makes fun of me, but I don’t care none–I finally found some shit I can keep.


Bill Floyd lives in North Carolina, where he writes novels and flash fiction.



Illustrations for Spot 003: All photos shot by mdjb. The town center is undergoing a major renewal to make this city, the state capitol, more of a tourist attraction and belatedly bring it into the twenty-first century.