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Weekly Featured Essay

In this week’s featured essay, David Raney, while exploring the blurring of lines between OCD and “normal” obsessive behavior, asks this question: “Has average ever been a useful synonym for normal?”

Edge of Obsession

If I told you that when I was a kid I used to double numbers over and over, 2-4-8-16-32 until they became page-crossing monsters lined up in identical pairs, you might say “Man, that’s pretty OCD.” I used to collect license numbers, too, peering out the windows of our station wagon and copying them into the green lines of a journal my dad had given me. But that was mainly to feed a fantasy of telling baffled police that yes, as a matter of fact, I did know the plate number of that blue Gremlin, getaway car in the crime of the century.

Nerd hobby or superhero daydream, whatever that was it didn’t last. I must have tired of writing numbers in rows and not solving crimes. But I still recall old addresses and phone numbers and can recite pi to fifty places, which friends consider amusing or strange depending on their own relationship to numbers. And I have my habits like anyone. In coffee shops I always order a double espresso, because why tempt the writing gods unnecessarily, and I always put new groceries behind old, fresh towels at the bottom of the stack. These are probably relics of a college stock boy job, I tell myself. On the way out the door I always pat my pockets for the holy trinity—keys, phone, wallet—but I don’t do it ten times. Maybe three.

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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Janitor

I’ve burned human feces on remote outposts, I’ve dropped bombs down mortar tubes, and I’ve rushed out to inner-city murder scenes late at night. I’ve been told by stern-faced cops I needed to “get the hell out of here now” or I’d be arrested. I’ve been singed by the pulsing heat radiating off a 1,600-degree Fahrenheit steel slab in a hot strip mill; burning fiercely like an indoor sun, the steel’s heat was enough to make me stagger back. I’ve live-broadcasted vacant house fires where billowing, black smoke choked the whole block. I’ve been followed by police cruisers as an intimidation tactic after reporting on city council meetings. I’ve been shot at and cursed at. Readers have left me rambling, profanity-laced voicemails; prisoners have sent me long, discursive letters in chicken scratch handwriting.

One could say I’ve had some interesting jobs.

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Living with Alexa

Growing up in the 1960s, I was immersed in all things science fiction, including the Robot Novels of Isaac Asimov, which I devoured as a pre-teen reader, and the original Star Trek series televised during my high school years. Although I loved Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, I didn’t have much interest in acquiring my own android companions. But I was fascinated with using the power of human speech to control seemingly inanimate objects like they were somehow my servants, waiting to do my bidding with a simple verbal command. I relished watching those Star Trek episodes where Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Scotty controlled the Enterprise with nothing more than their commanding, logical, sultry, even broguish voices. I often dreamed about the possibilities of some voice enabled device about my house. In the era before personal computers, I had already begun to develop my own simple computer programs in high school and I taught myself about computing and automation that would eventually become the foundation for my career in computing at Brigham Young University.

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A Fallen Feather of a Boy

Yuelong Ma was a transfer student. For almost two years, he was in our class, but his presence was hardly felt. Our inability to take notice of him wasn’t his fault; my previous headteacher ruined things for him from the very beginning. On his first day with us, the headteacher briefly introduced him, saying only “Yuelong Ma used to study in class 8, but from today on, he will be with us.” He was sort of lanky. He had big eyes. Before I could cast a second glance, the headteacher sent him to her office to do some errand so that he would not hear the rest of her speech. But when the door closed, she hesitated to resume, knitting her brows and biting her lips. She was a very young teacher, and in retrospect, it must have been a tough issue for a novice headteacher like her to address. She wanted to do right. The silence built to a depressing note, and we started to whisper to each other. She cleared her throat and said, “There were some irreconcilable issues in his old class, and I volunteered to accept him into our class as I think he is kind.” She paused, glancing at our faces, and continued, “But he is still a bad student. You guys should never play with him. Just leave him be.”

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Walking

by Michelle Cacho-Negrete

My experience is the same as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s who said, “My mind only works with my legs.” I’ve written every essay, thesis, short story on my feet. My mother insisted I was even a rambler in utero, the truth of that confirmed by an article proclaiming babies walk in the womb. They press their tiny feet against the uterine wall and push off, those first circular strolls an introduction to the exhilaration of movement. My mother was an incessant walker: the mile and a half to the Brooklyn/Manhattan subway, then climbing stairs to her third-floor job as a file clerk, enjoying a brisk lunch-time jaunt, and later reversing the sequence to go home.

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Those Boys

by Susan Moldaw

Despite my skepticism, about a year ago I went to see a medium at a mindfulness spa in Arizona. The medium met me in the hotel lobby and led me to a small, windowless room with two straight-backed chairs and a desk between them. We sat and faced one another across the wood divide. She had full cheeks, a snub nose, and a blond bouffant that fell blowzily past her shoulders.

“You’re here because your father wants you to understand he’s with you all the time,” she said. Her clear voice conveyed authority. She tapped her high-heeled sandals against the concrete floor.

I reached for the box of Kleenex on the desk, my rational mind already a muddle. My father died five years ago.

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An Unreasonable Couple

by Marlena Fiol

On June 9, 1941, two years into the second Great War, as Nazi troops advanced deep into the Soviet Union, a young, single, adventurous doctor named John Schmidt boarded a ship in New York for the eighteen-day trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a stopping point on his way to Paraguay. The Atlantic Ocean was a war zone patrolled by Nazi submarines. Because the U.S. was still neutral, the ship’s name and two large American flags were painted on both sides of the hull. At night, the ship sailed fully lit. It was a mighty blazing vessel, making its way through dangerous waters, carrying among its passengers a zealous man on a mission.

After spending a few days in Rio, John boarded a plane that took him across the vast land of Brazil. He arrived in Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay, on a cold rainy afternoon in mid-July. Gaunt and emaciated from almost constant diarrhea and vomiting during more than a month of travel, he deplaned and breathed in the smoky, sweet, heavy, pungent odors of Paraguay.

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Hot Work

by Joyce H. Munro

I’m pretty sure I know how the fire started, though I can’t be certain. Newspaper reporters weren’t certain either. You can read evasion all over their conclusion: “The origin is supposed to have been a defective flue in the basement of the Riverside Hotel.” Defective flue, my eye. Something more combustible happened down in the basement that night in 1875.

Eight o’clock—closing time at Nat’s Oyster Saloon. Knowing Nat, he probably told his kitchen help to go home early, business was slow anyway. Then he stayed on alone to close up the place. His pride and joy. Recently opened in downtown Milton, Pennsylvania, on the lower level of his father’s new hotel. The place of resort for gents and ladies. Good square meals at reasonable prices. Best desserts in town. Fresh bivalves served in any style desired. Raw. Baked. Stewed. Scalloped. Fried.

If you’re like me, you eat your oysters on the half shell or fried. Forget chopped-up or soupy. My husband likes them fried, he, being from the south where frying is de rigueur. Ever since we moved to the Philly area, he’s been on the lookout for restaurants serving decent fried oysters, but there’s only one that meets the desires of his taste buds—the Oyster House in Center City. So on occasion, we have resorted to frying them up ourselves.

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MORE RECENT WORK: Like what you’ve been reading? All the fine essays published throughout the history of the magazine can be accessed via the contributors/archives page.


Winter/Spring: Volume 7, Issue 1 New Issue Released!  

Twenty-two essays from Volume 7, Issue 1.


New Anthology Released

We are pleased to announce publication of our new anthology Encounters, which features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.


Issue Reviewed at NewPages

Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.