Driver’s Side Airbag #42
52 pages

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Soul Kitchen
by Alan Catlin

Greasy fat fried foods, hot yellow gas bubbles, long-handled porous bins, black-edged flat-skinned potatoes, how do you want them? cooked

The black matted floors, the melting rubber edges, the scum and the muck that sticks to the skimming feet as they walk behind the food lines listening for orders, timing the cooking meat, watching the convector ovens, the steaming racks of meat, the flat hot trays, the boiling soups, the radar rays

The waitress leaning over the line: why isn’t it ready
                                                   why isn’t this right
                                                   whose dinners are these
They’re yours they’re awful, they’re undercooked, look at all that blood

The broiler heat, the raising bubbled skin, the long red scars, printed t-shirts, tattoos: skin never grows here because I’m a cook I like dark meat best I like it hot I want it now! My name is Mad Dog, what’s yours? Never marry a waitress if you need it fast we’re always out of it I’m a backdoor man

Outside she says let it bleed, I like it raw inside she says I guess she wanted it dead, she won’t eat it this way so kill it next time ok ok?

Deveining shrimp, boning the broiled fish, boiling lobsters live, the hot pots and pans, the spattered grills, the steam-thick stove, three dozen welded cherrystone clams, leftover butter burn it again, the waitresses don’t care, what do they know?

Hey asshole, since when does medium rare sound like incinerate? This place isn’t a restaurant, it’s a crematorium

Slicing onion, garlic, ten tons of lettuce, chopping tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, radishes, anything that moves goes in the salad - if it’s dead it doesn’t belong here, we’re not in business to serve the dead

Pulling out oven trays, the black caked grills, the clinging flame, the filet flame, the juice that spatters and drips and falls inside the heat

Sweating, always sweating, beer pitchers turn warm at the mouth, the rims are always chipped, the food is always hot, cut lips turn red, black and blue, cooked on the outside, rare inside

She was going to throw up if she took another bite, what’s wrong with you guys, don’t you care?

And it wasn’t even my order

Skillet grease, sauté chef, ok cut ‘em up, don’t waste nothing maximum efficiency rats, I know there’s a recipe for dead rats

I think you killed her It might be hard to prove but it’s all your fault and I’ll swear to it in court I don’t know what could have made you do it

Percolating coffee, hot blue flames, tempered steel knives, the cross-cutting scars on the cutting block top, the smell of the grease drain, the roar of the gas pilot jets

Man you’d better lay off that cooking sherry like I told you, you look just awful

Heat-blistered skin, white-headed open sores that never heal, deep purple fingernails, blood oozing from the seams, red-shot eyes

What’s this?
It’s a knife and I know how to use it
I know it’s a knife, I mean what’s this on my plate?
I’m serious about the knife
Very funny

The swinging kitchen doors, high-stacked oval trays, plastic covered plates, the tentative balanced load, food serviced with a smile by our highly trained staff of professionals direct from our spotlessly cleaned kitchen

The pale grey mophead, the grease-thick floor, the after work mounds of blood-covered white shirts and checkered pants

Hey Mad Dog how do you know if the ovens are off?
Light a match See your face around town, you hear

It’s always a pleasure to serve you

At the Texas Border
(with apologies to Celine)
By Matt Samet

They have bigger problems at the border . . . No right to search me over those goats behind me . . . Or that bitch in front, a real Texas cow, sloppy lips and everything, her face a puddle of make-up, collapsing in on itself . . . And her three kids, squealing brats, the lot of them . . .Stuffed to the gills with coke, heroin pouring out their ears . . . their eyes . . . their asses . . . A white rain of powder on the ground behind them, trails of the stuff, the drug dogs slinking along like ferrets, strung out . . . furtive . . . licking the stuff up and loving it . . . Their muzzles peppered in snot.

"Sir, where you coming from sir?" . . . It's a woman from border patrol; short, fat, butch-haircut and Texas mean . . . She waves the lady with the kids on through and plants a hand on my chest . . . I cough . . . Her voice is patronizing, a sing-song melody of rot . . . Sir, we're going to bust you sir . . . Sir, we don't like the way you wear your hair, Sir . . .Sir, you look tired and disheveled, Sir, and you're traveling alone, Sir. . . Sir, what kind of sick, weird, perverted, drug-dealing child-diddler travels alone, Sir? . . . Sir?. . . Sir? Sir?

"Juarez," I tell her, that border bitch, the smelly ape . . . She has star-shaped rings of sweat around the armpits of her blue denim shirt . . .a logo emblazoned on the front . . . Border Patrol. She stinks to high heaven of desperation . . . desperation and shit. The odor of the bathroom is upon her . . . the odor of industry. Cold tile bathrooms, a whole history of them, syphilitics lining up at her apartment door to get their nightly suck-off, lepers in the back, crossing swords on a dirty mattress. . . She stands up to piss, the filthy trodge. She'd suck off a goat for a handful of change and a breath mint . . . She can see the hate in my eyes.

"Juarez? What were you doing in Juarez?" she asks.

"Seeing the sights." I say.

"In Juarez?" She pronounces the name loudly, incredulous . . . Juarez is a dump, a trash-hole, a murderer's paradise . . . They stand outside the factories at night, dragging the girls off into the cactus and slitting their throats with rusty paring knives . . . No one cares, least of all the police . . . The murdering fiends, they rape the corpses . . . like animals, the fuckers . . . The dogs come in wild packs to suck the marrow . . . The genitalia are cut out and sold to Americans as ashtrays or flung into the bushes to pickle in the heat . . . Finest Mexican leather, señor, the vivisected twat of my threadbare sister . . . She never had a chance nowhere, nothing . . . No one goes down there to see the sights . . . I know she knows this. The place is an ooze, factories sucking up sewage from the river . . . leaving it to dry in the white of the sun then selling it back to the locals as sausage, chorizo, what-have-you . . . And the air . . . A nightmare, darkness at noon, like living inside an oil drum brimming with filth, an unctuous fire that laps at the trash . . . You're better off not breathing at all . . . A real joke. No one goes to Juarez . . . They're dying like flies down there, legs snapping off, dragging themselves by the elbow down to the Rio Grande to get a last foaming sip of mud. They watch the sun bubble and snap overhead . . . They pass out in featherbeds of feces, piss drizzling back onto their stomachs . . . belching sulfur and farting blood . . . That river is like a big urinal . . . It stinks of death.

"Yes, in Juarez."

"I see. Come this way sir," she says . . . The other Border Patrol donkeys come running over, eyes agog, their stomachs spilling over the tight black strips of their belts, rolls of fat that sweat and glint, lined with hair, the dirty apes . . . Finally, some action, a strip search . . . A real thrill! Fuck them! . . . They're stealing my air, rushing me along a drab grey hallway with numbered doors on each wall, each door double, triple-locked. They throw one open and press me inside . . . I'm up against the back wall of the room in the dark . . . They're laughing and joking and slapping one another on the back, I can hear them, smell the cloying marzipan-stench of their camaraderie . . . Soon they'll have me bent over a table and the contents of my briefcase strewn all over the floor . . . My products, my things . . . Nothing illegal there, Jocko . . . I'm selling vitamins to underprivileged blind lesbians in wheelchairs . . . I'm a fucking saint . . . modern-day . . . Let me go.

"Let me go!" I yell. "Let me go!" . . . nothing doing . . . They have my pants down . . . The lights come on . . . They have faces like jackals, hungry and lean and yellow-eyed. They push me even further to the back of the room.

"Turn around!" they bray in unison. They're well-trained, these donkeys, I've got to admit . . . Only the finest . . . Civil servants
. . .I'll give them the brown-eye, if they want . . . You can tickle my small intestine Sammy, clean as a whistle, not a drop of smack . . . Go on up there, fuck me silly!. . . Have a go at my descending colon, see if I give a hoot! Whoopee! That feels so good!

I smell latex . . . They're strapping on the gloves, the whole slobbering pack of them . . . The light comes on and I can see them glaring . . . leering . . . gaping . . .japing . . . They're going to fist me rotten, I can taste it . . . Suddenly there's barking out in the hall, the drug dogs are going batso! Two hounds come scurrying into the room . . . They're big, German Shepherds . . . They bite . . . They snarl . . . They're black and furry, charging around the room and gnashing their teeth . . . the bullies . . .the Nazis
. . . The lights go out and a heavy quiet settles in . . . My guts are boiling, I'm sweaty and hot . . . Then I smell blood . . .The air fills with whines and yaps . . . I hear tearing and screaming, a few drops of blood come glancing off my teeth . . . The lights come back on . . . Those monkeys are really getting it now! . . . The dogs have them backed against the walls, cowering and shitting in their skirts . . . They're holding hands and singing Kum-Ba-Ya, giving each other back rubs and talking about their feelings, telling ghost stories around a campfire, strumming guitars and smoking the peace pipe . . . Pathetic! Grotesque! The monkeys stretch like balloons, their skin all tight and shiny and ready to pop . . .A dog digs in with his tooth . . . The air whistles out! The other dog joins him . . . They leap! . . . They thrash! Soon all the monkeys are deflated, piled atop each other like a heap of discarded corn husks or frozen condoms, crackling underfoot in an alleyway littered with cats. The dogs leave the room . . . I can hear their fingernails clicking on the tiles outside . . . I gather my things up off the floor and move slowly to the door . . . I'm wise, I've got my eyes peeled for another dirty trick . . . You never know . . . the fuckers . . . But the dogs are gone.

I cross my fingers and walk out into the American sun.

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