12-String

By Lee Harold

 

Let me tell you some bullshit. My buddy Taylor grew up with no parents. His uncle
who was really a cousin took guardianship after Taylor’s grandparents died a year apart
from the other. Taylor had space to sleep in but he never had a home.

The mom built a new family in Middle America. Richard, the uncle, lives in Riverside,
CA. While Taylor grew up with his dad’s parents, near Fife in Washington, his Dad split rent
with opiate addicts in downtown Auburn. King County court allowed custody between
discharge and conviction so Taylor grew up downtown. During one particular Auburn
summer, he met a girl named Amber who lived across the way. The way he described it, he
was DiCaprio and she a time-displaced Ruby Keeler, together two warm bodies sharing an
attic, dust glowing in gold sunlight under a cracked collapsing roof. Taylor played her guitar
while they smoked their fathers’ stuff. Soon after, Taylor turned thirteen and his dad lost
custody to his grandparents.


Taylor thereafter spent the school year in Washington and summers in Riverside. I
hadn’t met him yet, but my buddy Spencer had. He told me of a saxophone player whose dark
hair fell to the small of his back, who hunched rat-like and smiled with yellow teeth. A state-funded middle school art program gave Taylor a community.

I met Taylor in public high school through another arts program, high school theater.
Sophomore year there was something; I swear to god, we could each smell it on each other.
One morning I broke down. He held my head and I his shoulder. His hair smelled like
Spencer’s. We had an hour before school began so we stole away to the piano in a practice
room down the hall and swapped stories over chords.

We both loved our fathers because they had left us. Before high school he lived with
his dad but his dad hit him and dangled him from his throat against the kitchen wall until
one day Taylor was left alone. His larynx bounces when he speaks. Before high school I
curated a playlist for my dad’s funeral. My head dips as I fight the stutter he bequeathed me.

One thing Taylor and I could do, quite well I’ll add, was sing. That was easy. He caught
me at every chorus and I held him up at every verse. We supported each other those
mornings in the practice room. Taylor supports every person he knows like he plays rhythm
guitar: he makes space, adds fills, shifts his sound to accommodate their melody.


Since his dad’s release, Taylor tried to stay away from the downtown side of the Green
River. He had moved in with a mutual friend of his father and his uncle between freshman
and junior year. Amber stayed with her father in that old Auburn home and Taylor wasn’t
around as much to help her out. If he was there, Taylor told me, she’d be alright; she wouldn’t
hurt.

Later that year, Taylor went to Middle America to meet his birth mother. Back in the
dressing room he narrated images from the trip as he swiped through them on his phone.
His mother’s husband played guitar, too. The picture showed the man mid-strum while
Taylor played support on the keyboard behind him. The woman in the picture was Taylor
with bangs. Her second son looked like Taylor at ten. We enjoyed the pictures from his phone, but our attention was drawn to a mysterious trunk below the costume rack. Gifted to Taylor as a parting present from his mother that Christmas, the trunk contained a twelve-string
guitar. He looked up and, with a shrug, declared the guitar community property. 

We split off after months of playing guitar. I enroll at Santa Clara, Spencer at UW.
Taylor wouldn’t compromise. He auditioned on the 12-string and enrolled in Cornish College
of the Arts. Remember, this kid had no parents and no savings, so anything the government
wouldn’t grant he’d have to pay back. Taylor excelled.

We met for Christmas at Spencer’s frat — he had joined a frat — to catch up and jam
out. Taylor slayed. From drums to keyboard to bass to guitar he led the session. But he was
anxious, constricted. He said he was growing but he couldn’t write music, not there.

We walked up University Avenue. Oil streaks reflected neon light down the street. The
rain had turned to mist. I noticed by headlights how thin Taylor had become. Walking beside
me he said all people have no one to trust but themselves. We are ultimately alone. Other
people pretend but at the end of the day we are the only people who care for ourselves. Over
the sound of rain, I held his collarbone and agreed. I told him I cared for him and he didn’t
need me. There is nobody stronger. Spencer’s near, I tell Taylor. Twenty minutes any day, I
said, and I guarantee he’s with you.

Taylor dropped out of Cornish and took a quarter off to work, which culminated in a
transfer to Seattle Central for Zoology. He explained the change on the light rail a year later,
and I nodded; the animal kingdom amazes. Back at the frat where Spencer’d been crowned
Social Chair, I processed a stack of facts Taylor rattled off about the elephant shrew. Sengi
run cyclical trails and eat whatever steps inside. The trail is a trap, he told me

Stoned, we watched The Matrix.

Next day we trekked to Taylor’s home on Capitol Hill in preparation for La La Land.
He was open, engaging, earnest. He’d gained weight and spoke freely as we passed a pawn
shop on Pine.

I asked about his downtown apartment because I pay a bit for rent in Silicon Valley
and even more for school. With a job and two roommates Taylor said it’s alright. Not easy,
he breathed. Not easy, I echoed. But my school offers community events and Spencer’s got
frat community aid. I asked if he rations compulsively like me and he asked if I remembered
the 12-string. After paying a Cornish loan and losing his job piping cupcakes, Taylor had to
make rent. So he took stock of his room, picked up two guitars, and took a walk over to Pine
Street. I didn’t ask which two he took; I recognized them on the way to the theater.

That’s some bullshit — he had to sell two guitars! He had to sell his mother’s guitar.
The last thing he had of his mom he sold for rent. If I need rent, I have parents to beg, piggy-banks filled by suburban birthdays. I’d have sent money if he’d asked for help. His uncle
might have helped, too. Later I learned even Spencer never knew; Taylor didn’t tell anyone.

La La Land ended at four and Taylor got off at the Capitol Hill stop. Spencer and I
locked eyes in the light-rail. Inspiration and cohesion rarely intersect, but in that instance it
was understood that we had to help Taylor.

We would wait four minutes for our friend to walk ahead and then we’d dash to Pine.
The clerk would ask $500 for the guitar and the trunk. I would take Spencer’s card to a close
ATM, stack his savings with chapped fingers. Entering the Pawn Shop, Spencer and his slim
fingers would strum the solo to “Stairway” on a 12-string, astounding the clientele. I wouldbrag to the clerk as I passed him the cash that Spencer had once been accepted to Berklee
College of Music.

We would play the 12-string on the street, trade riffs and melody like we did in the
dressing room. Sound travels poorly from concrete to ear but we had always played more
for fun than for quality. The sun set when Taylor left the train, so we would sing in darkness
and strum away the cold.

Music brought us together in high school, a shared love of punk rock and blues riffs.
Powerful ballads and Jeff Buckley impressions tied us to the 12-string and home. When we
would return with his instrument saved, our best friend would act cool but rejoice internally.
We would play on gear from his roommates and drive late into the morning home to Auburn.

But that’s all bullshit because after Taylor left the light rail station, Spencer and I just
sat and imagined buying back the 12-string. We drove South from Greek Row and stopped
at the light on Pine. Capitol Loans was locked but through the window I saw the 12-string.
Spencer turned his head, dark but for the red light.

“I wish I could buy it for him,” he said, but he just returned from Whistler, Canada,
and I water down spaghetti sauce in Santa Clara, California, and Christmas approaches so
we drive on and wince when the radio plays “Stairway.”

"Lebanese Music" by Bethool Haider

By Bethool Haider

Distracted for a moment, you see a sprig of jasmine, white like peace and delicate in its beauty. In that moment, you forget everything else around you: the ghostly neighborhood, the cramped balconies clothed in bullet holes and rubble. Then it comes back. The Israeli occupation of 2006 is no place of beauty, and thousands of visitors are evacuating. Dripping with sweat from hours under the hammering sun, they pack onto ships like sardines, eager to leave Lebanon. One of the videos of these refugees stands out: the evacuees dancing and enjoying music, “[managing] to have some fun and forget about the war” (RHM Productions), not merely surviving, but enjoying. This use of music has, in part, been keeping Lebanon alive in times of strife— in other words, almost always. Many Lebanese citizens use music as an escape and mouthpiece for emotions, harnessing its power to conjure wistful images and express political opinions. Music can capture feelings and release political tension, allowing Lebanese citizens, among others, to use it to wrest some control—either illusionary or real--over their politically chaotic world.

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"Creating the Elevator" by Patrick McDonell

"Each of us has a place where we feel comfortable.  For some it’s a church, for some a mosque, a sanctuary, a movie theater, a stadium, a market.  I feel comfortable in a kitchen.  And it’s not that surprising, because I’m a good cook...I’m not a dishwasher as they say in the restaurants of Rome.  In Shiraz I had a good restaurant...Soon I’m going back to Shiraz.  I know I am." (Clash 19)

        This is stated by Parviz, the first of many characters who help narrate Amara Lakhous’s novel, Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio.  In this brief passage, Parviz outlines a thematic discourse that is present throughout the novel and throughout much migrant literature irrespective of time and location.  This is the discourse regarding “place,” a concept which is much more complex and interesting than a mere plot point on a map or a chart.  Rather, place is a space imbued with certain qualities and even an identity.  It has psychological power and meaning.  When Parviz talks about being comfortable in certain places, he is referring to this dynamic in which places are given the psychological power of comfort and empowerment.  This discourse on place is one that is inherently a part of the immigrant experience.  Immigrants arrive in new spaces that have few if any meanings or attachments for them.  The goal of an immigrant generally is to turn meaningless space into meaningful place, though this often leads to conflicts with others by whom certain places have already been created and to whom the presence of migrants alters the essential qualities of that place.  This tension can be found reflected in migrant literature.  The creation of place is a process which the characters of Clash of Civilizations and all migrants, real or otherwise, undergo.  Though the creation of place is fraught with potential conflicts, the existence of dynamic migrant literature indicates that immigrants are simultaneously establishing real and literary “places” within their adopted homelands.

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"The Aristocracy of the American Higher Education System" by Tisha Harnlasiri

When American politician Horace Mann termed education “the great equalizer” in 1848, he demonstrated enormous faith in the idea that a person’s mobility in life was not contingent on his being born into wealth (Rhode). Society at large appears to agree with Mann: more than ever, high school students have been urged to apply to colleges and to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, a trend which points to the belief that receiving a higher education is the surest path to the “American Dream.” For low-income students, however, educational statistics reveal a more disheartening story behind the American higher education system: among the nation’s 193 most selective universities, wealthy students outnumber low-income students by 14 to 1 (Dreier). On the other hand, more than half of low-income students who receive aid through Federal Pell Grants attend public two- and four-year colleges, institutions which are historically known to be the least funded and most resource-deficient (Dreier). These statistics are indicative of a “zero-sum-game” within the system: as wealthy students continue to be admitted to selective universities for their competitive SAT/ACT scores and extracurriculars, low-SES (socioeconomic status) students are forced to poorly-funded colleges where they are falling behind in degree attainment and shouldering large student debts. Although the college education system has long been touted as a socioeconomic equalizer, it inherently exacerbates wealth inequality in the United States by catering to the privileged and affluent who can more easily invest in quality education. This increasing issue of classism begs us to reconsider the value of learning much beyond its so-called market worth, a step which is key to sustaining the feasibility of the “American Dream.”

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"A Traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner" by Laura Kastilani

          Thanksgiving, the pinnacle of any American holiday, is when my family gathers not to eat a whole oven-roasted turkey with cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes with rich gravy, but rather to feast upon a ten course “Chinese Thanksgiving” meal. This includes a juicy roast duck with its head still on instead of turkey, a steaming pile of freshly-made rice infused with coconut milk in place of mashed potatoes, a bok-choy and garlic sauté because my family never had a taste for creamed spinach, fried rice made with honey baked ham, and of course to end it all, pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, along with other exotic ice cream flavors like durian or taro. My sister and I always joked that we never got to experience a real “American Thanksgiving Dinner” like the rest of the kids at our elementary school who would chatter about savory stuffing and buttery bread rolls when our teacher asked what we had for Thanksgiving the next day. I honestly did not even know what cornbread was until I stumbled upon a Rachel Ray cooking show. I mean, why would you put corn in bread? However, I now consider my hybridized Thanksgiving experience as a part of my ethnic identity.

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"Censorship of the Female Body" by Esther Young

          Media’s treatment of the female body is a disappointing reflection of what this culture deems beautiful or ugly. In American culture, body hair is considered ugly and even trespassing social media safety guidelines. Even women’s hair removal product companies, though aimed at selling their razors and shaving creams to women, do not allow the appearance of actual body hair in their ads. This censorship conveys the message that a woman in her unaltered, unshaven state is unacceptable and even offensive. This upholds a double standard of beauty. While photos of bikini-clad women in their unaltered states are censored, naked celebrities photo-shopped to glossy, toned “perfection” are splashed across magazine covers and the same social media sites that censor nipples and female body hair. Women in their natural states are censored while photo-shopped images of the female body are used to sell and make profit, while promoting an unnatural and idealized standard of beauty. Meanwhile, ads showing men with pubic hair peeking out from the top of their Calvin Klein underwear are also freely displayed.

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"The Bronco" by Avery Ikeda

          It’s exactly four minutes past two in the morning, and my dorm room is softly illuminated with Christmas lights and the glow of cell phones. My feet dangle over the edge of the sink counter as I lean back into the cold embrace of the mirror, watching the three girls sprawled across my bed. My best friends. The twins are tossing popcorn at each other, with Cayla opening her mouth as wide as possible to catch Calli’s lopsided underhand. Laura is laughing along, ignoring the missed kernels that we’ll have to vacuum up tomorrow. My body feels restless in its inertia, and I’m suddenly hit by a wave of claustrophobia. We need to get out of this room, this 20 by 11 foot box made smaller by the two beds and piles of clothing scattered throughout. I stand up.

          “Let’s ride the bronco.”

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"Political Satire in the Daily Show" by Angelina Poole

        The recent discussions prompted by the Ferguson police shootings have renewed interest and awareness to the issues of racism and police brutality in the United States.  Some argue that the issue is not racism and that those who disagree are simply “playing the race card.” Others argue that racism, racial profiling, racial prejudice, and the like are very much still occurring today and are a relevant issue and should be discussed.  Political humor can be found in multiple forms of media, from TV shows like South Park or The Daily Show to online sites like The Onion to even literature.  It is typically used to highlight controversial issues, provide a new way of looking at a subject, or simply to entertain, using a topic that is well known to the mass public.  Satirical forms of media, such as The Daily Show, serve to bring issues to the forefront for discussion, while news programs, like FOX News, attempt at maintaining a moderate tone.  Although The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a satirical news program designed to both praise and criticize aspects of current events and politics, Jon Stewart’s Ferguson monologue openly addresses the issues of news program coverage and police brutality in order to highlight the extent to which racism is prevalent in current society.  The shooting of Michael Brown served to escalate the social unrest felt both in Ferguson and nationally, as well as bring the problem of racial prejudice to attention.

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