Hair Thugs

by Kurt McGill
10th Arrondissement, Paris, France
She stopped abruptly, only fearing that her gawking might disturb the aroma of hot oil, chili, and garlic wafting over the Rue Ch»Éteau d’Eau: the Afro-Mixte Coiffure Zone. Whipping out her Pentax, she snapped placards of quaint Afro hair-braiding illustrations at Davina’s Afro Tresse Salon. A Congolese hair-thug – decked out in robin-egg-blue jogging togs and leopard print Nike sneaks – slid broken French over a cigarette without moving his lips to an Ivorian lookout standing next to him: “Chienne blanche capturerait notre image.” “White bitch would capture our image.” Over the years, she had occupied a hard-to-define position in relation to her subjects, blurring the boundaries between documentary and autobiographical narratives. There always remained a sense of the unresolved at play in her life and her art – a nagging sense that something is occluded and remained unsaid in her photos. But she invariably builds drama in her work by mix…
Jack Woo's Clams
by Kurt McGill

Reno, Nevada
“Vultures.” On the roof again today. That peroxided divorcee who blew her alimony on the craps table hasn’t been out much . . . her red Hyundai’s still sitting out in front of her room.
“Motherfuckin’ hot.” Thirty-nine buck shithole . . . death-rattle A/C. They let ‘em ripen up around here for a couple of days . . . minimum . . . down on the linoleum floor . . . all fuchsia and turquoise . . . while her poodle mistakes her toes for Doggie Bon Bons.
Two days is forever for a dog. Six broke-dick cable channels at the Thunderbird Inn had reduced me to reading the obituaries in the local paper: pancreatic cancer—complications of fifteen-to-one dry Martinis . . . Velveeta-induced frontotemporal lobar degeneration . . . diabetic asymmetric neuropathy—Twinkies-triggered . . . Lucky Strike epistrophy . . . black lung disease . . . 
“Is this place radioactive or just floating on a sea of shit?” 
And when you weren’t sick, but you were tired, and you’d…
Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India
That week the rains came. On the morning of July 21 there was a heavy shower and a good deal of thunder. In the afternoon it was hotter than ever. But the following day, cascades poured down from the leaden sky, driving us from the swimming pool in Nripendra Park to take shelter in the Narayan Pavilion. And, as if life wasn’t complicated enough already, a general uprising of the native population had started in Agra, moved rapidly to Lucknow, on to Patna overlooking the Ganges, and then to Kisanganj – within striking distance of our city. Now unemployed pulp mill and textile workers were tooling around in autoricks from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar menacing retired people who had worked hard all their lives and only wanted to pound the odd chapatti, tend their ridge gourd and okra, and run the irrigation on days when it was prohibited by the local council. I was as yet unaware how out of sorts I really was: fed-up with this heat…
by Kurt McGill
Red Light District, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico
Night must fall in the Tolerance Zone, the same way it does everywhere. Tonight it fell hard. I watched the shipping crate in the bed of the Escalade pickup parked behind the cantina: the crate filled with the ripe kumquats—three snuffed mail-order brides—that Yee Chung Toy tried to smuggle from Guangdong province to Veracruz, then across Mexico, through Ensenada, and into San Francisco.
Tried and failed. Those kumquats would have brought a nice price from some stodgy middle-aged Chinese businessman: a limping fishmonger, a balding importer of black fungus. Real cozy. But this fruit was spoiled, tainted, gone way wrong on the way over. When I opened the crate on the cargo ship—the captain knew something was not right by the stench—they were in there: fifteen, sixteen years old, not wearing a hot stitch, dead as sardines in a tin can.
The crate was intercepted en route from Yee’s freight forwarder and …
Useful and Accepted Definitions that will help you survive and proceed in the world...

IMAGINATION: Always "lively." Be on guard against it. When lacking in oneself, attack it in others. To write a novel, all you need is imagination.

FRICASSEE: Only good in the country.

ABSINTHE: Extra-violent poison: one glass and you're dead. Newspapermen drink it when they write their copy. Has killed more soldiers than the Bedouin.

Io non mori, e non rimasi vivo: I did not die, but nothing remained the same. In the evening it was the mosquitoes, and in the day tsetse flies with wings swept back like tiny jet fighters. I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive...


Ezra Pound: after Li Po

Red jade cups, food well set, on a blue jewelled table;
And I was drunk, and had no thought of returning;
And you would walk out with me to the Western corner of the castle,
To the dynastic temple, with the water around it as clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs …