Death of Salesman essay, is Willy a helpless victim of society?

Is Willy Loman a helpless victim of society or a tragic hero?

Azure James

In the play Death of a Salesman, despite assurances to the contrary, Willy Loman is not a helpless victim of society. Rather he is a victim of his own severe delusions regarding The American Dream. As the story progresses, and Willy’s delusions begin to shatter, Willy becomes shattered along with them like a mirror, and all the broken pieces amount to only a shadow of his former self. Normal outside challenges combined with a severe lack of inner fortitude lead to Willy’s demise. He was not simply a victim of external forces, for if Willy would have probed deeper into his own psyche, he could have revealed some of his own delusions; superficial materiality, emphasis on likeability, or delusions concerning Ben and Howard’s personality traits. He could have looked deeper into his own mind and revealed the motivations of his own behavior, such as his own fear of abandonment stemming from childhood. If he had the introspection to reveal these patterns, as his son Biff did, Willy Loman could have led a happier, more honest life.


The Salesman had a number of positive characteristics, meaning the best for his sons, providing for his family and nearly paying off their house, and generally working hard. Along with Willy’s positive characteristics were a number of fatal flaws, which eventually contributed to his death. Willy’s friend’s son Bernard, as a lawyer, is dedicated to hard work and ingenuity. Bernard believes in a timeless morality– that hard work and determination can lead to success. Yet Willy, in contrast, doesn’t follow in Bernard’s footsteps very well. Instead, he thinks Biff can get away with stealing a crate of footballs, never tells him or Happy to work harder, and avoids looking at ways in which he can improve the execution of his job. Willy strong believes that superficial qualities lead to success, such as being handsome or charismatic, yet pursuing these characteristics never actually leads to any success, financial or otherwise, in his own life. Willy ends up as the play begins as an erratic person and has trouble getting by, even in the best of circumstances. The commencement of Death of a Salesman demonstrates this well – with Willy Loman driving crazily and erratically.  He is not making enough money to survive or thrive, and has been trapped in the same life situation for a seemingly endless amount of time. His boss, Howard, is about to fire him, although he does not yet know. It is difficult to identify exactly what has brought about Willy’s faults, but it is clear he has been in this same situation for quite awhile and that he could have avoided his baleful situation. By the time the first scene of the production starts, Willy is already in a very difficult position.


Suddenly Willy’s friend Charlie offers him money and a job, for no reason at all aside from that he is a good friend. This again proves that Willy is not a victim of a cruel society. “Society” itself is actually offering him a valuable opportunity to break out of the situation that he has encaged himself in. Some of Willy’s faults include confusion, self-contradiction and pride. The latter fault, pride, is what prompts him to reject Charlie’s kind offer, denying a valuable opportunity to improve his lot and save his life.  His self-contradiction puts Willy in a prison of unsureness and uncertainty. He becomes paralyzed and unable to move houses or change jobs. Willy’s strong sense of pride creates a similar predicament. The character Happy is a mini-version of Willy—and we also see these qualities demonstrated in him as well. Many people could take a situation like Willy’s and improve it by means of some virtue. But Willy stops himself and continues driving relentlessly into the brick wall of his own destruction, both metaphorically and concretely. He is not a victim of society, he is a victim of his own self-sabotaging nature.


Macbeth is a good example of a true tragic hero which we may contrast Willy against. Compared to Macbeth, Willy has several faults, not just over-ambition, Macbeth’s prime fault. He is deluded in his shallow interpretation of the American Dream. It all crumbles before him when he perceives that his own son—Biff—betrays him. Part of the package of Willy’s dream is that he always projected the same yearning for success upon his son Biff. There is a critical part in the story at Frank’s Chop House when Biff outright rejects his father’s idea of the American dream. Even though Willy, as a salesman, does his best to sell him on the idea, Biff severs himself from his father at that point and calls him a “phony little fake.” This also fuels Willy’s long-time fear of abandonment, stemming from his own childhood. Biff’s taking over his own life and fate benefits him as he is free to do what he truly enjoys, but it is a recipe for disaster in Willy’s psyche. From this point on the out-of-his-mind salesman is pushed over the edge.  

Sadly, this fate was avoidable, as by taking Howard’s job or by truly looking at himself and thinking with ingenuity Willy could have changed his circumstances. Unlike Macbeth, Willy has several character flaws that all contribute to his downfall. His obstinacy, pride, and delusional thought patterns doom him to failure.  He is clearly not a victim of society– he is a victim of himself.

The Warning Shot

“It’s in the Constituition- the right to bear arms. It protects us from tyranny,” said Jack Williard, speaking as if he were reading a rehearsed speech from a conservative playbook. He took another sip of beer and rested his coozie against his t-shirt.

“No,” replied Alex, shaking his head in unacceptance. “That was written for muskets, not AR-15’s.” He was dressed in a nice tucked button down shirt and tan slacks.

“If a robber comes in my house, I’m shooting him dead,” replied Jack the stone wall.

“Well I would fire a warning shot, even if I had a gun.” Alex looked off at the ground beside him.

“I’m sick of arguing about this. You just won’t listen. Let’s go talk to Grandma Elizabeth and she’ll tell us who’s right.” Jack smiled a little too confidently, inspired from the beer.

“This is why I don’t like barbecues, because of all you conservative nuts, but sure, if you’re so into it.” pouted Alex. Reluctantly, he followed Jack over to the table where the older folks were sitting.

“‘Scuse me, Gram, me and Alex here were having a fight–“

“What sort of fight?” she asked quickly, jarred suddenly from her conversation of seat cushions and window shades.

“About guns.”

“Them again,” said Grandma Elizabeth, laughing. “Sit here a moment, will you, Alex?” She talked in a gentler way than Alex but much more authoritative voice than Jack.

“See, I know you’re a modern liberal. Believe it or not, when I was a girl, I knew someone a lot like you. They had ’em even way back then. This was about eighteen sixty when this event happened. I knew the man, James, his name was, when he was sixty or seventy. Back when he was a young man he had an expensive Standardbred horse that had won a few races in its day, and he used to take the girls on rides in his green surry. The most expensive one they sold.”

“Yeah,” replied Alex, a little impatient about the history lesson.

“So he was nearly a vegetarian, didn’t believe in violence, had a little trouble at school but got by in the end. His papa had a musket, he tried giving it to James, and James stuck it above the fireplace and then promptly forgot about it.  One night, believe it or not, a thief entered his property, hearing about the expensive horse. He brought a bridle and some carrots, enough to fool most horses. James got up, pulled a lantern off the wall, and took the musket off the fireplace. You wouldn’t believe how scared he was seeing some stranger putting a bridle on his most prized animal.

He had a real conflict of interest at that point. James would never be the sort to shoot someone, unless he was about to be shot himself, but he couldn’t just stand there and let his fortune ride away, either. So he acted like you would.

‘Get away from that horse or else,’ shouted James. The thief saw him with the rifle and tried hopping on the horse. He slipped off and fell on the ground.

‘I’m going to take a warning shot,’ informed the young man. He aimed the rifle in the thieves’  general direction and fired, terrified that he would hit his horse or the thief. Once the robber got on his feet again, he noticed James had fired his only shot, so he ran up and hopped on the horse. As the stranger galloped away laughing, James kicked himself and decided he’d had enough of warning shots and vegetarianism, and a year later about that time he was a pretty tough customer. The point is, in eighteen sixty, you didn’t have warning shots. Now ‘nigh everyone acts like he used to it seems. Way ahead of his time, but not so smart, that man was.”

Alex silently stared at the ground, processing all the information. He didn’t know what to say. There were a few moments of silence, then Jack started smiling and chuckling.

“Took a warning shot with a MUSKET,” laughed Jack obtusely. “What the hell.”

The Beast

“Why exactly are you so interested in this?” asked John Ivans, standing uncomfortably in his doorway. His guest was Jarl Winslow, English multimillionaire and eccentric. Their Pacific town had never seen anyone of his stature and it made John quite uncomfortable.

“I need him for my private collection. It’s a big affair, very exclusive,” replied the sure, foreign tone of Jarl’s voice. He was overdressed, wearing a creme blazer and white pants, making him stand out that much more.

“Well, I’ve thought about it a lot since you last called, and I can’t really refuse.” He summoned up his courage for a moment. “I’m not honestly so into this whole idea, but if you insist, I’ll help you out.”

“Thank you very much. You will have no complaints regarding payment, that I can assure you.” Jarl slid two hundred-dollar bills out of his black shell cordovan wallet. “Your advance.” John took it carefully, regarding it as one regards a dying bear on a bear hunt.

“Are you sure?” he stammered.

“Extremely. I shall see to to-morrow,” replied the gentleman, tipping his hat briefly and departing.

– – – – – –

“I suppose this man is the best in the area, as far as his knowledge of the land goes. We will have a shot at success with him on our side,” said Jarl confidently.

“The Sheriff wouldn’t recommend anyone but him, I don’t think,” said Robert Crawford, private investigator. He sighed and  watched the road as he drove. Crawford had served in Chicago for ten years, seen a lot of tough stuff, and developed skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Anything during this trip would be a total piece of cake. The Northwest was a joke compared to a Midwestern metropolis. Or so he thought…

– – – – – –

The next evening, before sunset, Winslow, Crawford, and Ivans took the long drive to the edge of the county, where the woods were so thick there was scarcely a house. This was the area where there had been several sightings in the past years.

“But you seriously have an actual mermaid?” asked John Ivans, barely believing his ears.

“That is a secret. You would have to see for yourself, but I do not let guests in often. Perhaps I will invite you sometime later,” replied Winslow. The car slowed down, kicking a few final pieces of dirt into the air before stopping entirely. Crawford got out of the driver’s seat and leaned against the hood for a minute, breathing in the fresh mountain air. The three men stood silently for a moment, then started to study the treeline.

“Well, I think I’ll take a look n’ see if there’s any tracks,” ventured John.

“Of course,” said Jarl Winslow, putting on his brush poncho to keep his blazer clean. They walked down the hill before the treeline and the tracker pulled out his special tools, a multicolored flashlight and a rangefinder. Crawford stayed behind, hand on the butt of his Ruger Redhawk forty-four magnum. Something about the woods didn’t seem quite right to him, although John Ivans seemed to think it was normal. The sun was almost brushing against the horizon already.

“I brought two trail cameras,” informed John, placing one strategically on a tree and marking it with yellow tape. “We can come tomorrow and see if they find anything.”

Crawford nodded resolutely. They traveled another hundred yards and put up the next camera, but Ivans did not see any tracks except for one belonging to a small rabbit. As night fell, Crawford found himself feeling a bit off, scared of the slightest things. Winslow seemed to be acting less exuberant but not as affected as Crawford. Ivans kept to himself, and no-one else could tell what he was thinking and feeling. They headed back to the vehicle, tense but relieved to be done for the night.

– – – – – –

Winslow had never believed in the beast until he was driving out in the country after a secret business meeting. There, in the middle of the night, he saw a coyote run by. After stopping the car and listening resolutely, he saw a dark figure rushing through the leaves and heard horrible, gruesome sounds emanating from the forest. The canine yelped, and a fearsome deep-voiced mammal grunted and roared. Whatever it was, it made him think the old Indian legend was true. From then on, he was determined to capture it. 

– – – – – – 

After checking the cameras the second day, the men saw nothing of value.

“I do not want to sound heavy-handed, but are you sure there are no other steps to take?” inquired a disappointed Jarl Winslow. John stared at him for a second, then a light slowly came on in his head.

“Wait– I know. There’s an old man that lives around here, and if anyone knows about this creature, it’s him.”

“Where does he live?”

“He’s in an old shack a mile past the end of old Mill Road. It will be a hike to get there. No-one else lives in that entire section.”

Half an hour later, the trio found themselves trailblazing through the underbrush on the way to the house. The land was desolate and wild, teeming with energy.

“What do you know about this creature, Mr. Ivans?” asked Jarl.

“Not a whole lot, aside from what my dad told me. The Natives called him Dvahamochak, and they used to tell them stories about him to keep their kids from going outside alone. It scared them pretty well. There were no sightings for a hundred years, but recently they’ve started up again. Nowadays, around here we call him Big D.”

Winslow laughed for a moment.  “Do you know anyone who has seen him?”

“No, not personally. We’re almost there. I’m going to set up another camera that views his house.”

“Good idea,” said Crawford, who had been silent for ten minutes.

The shack was from the generation that made things the old way, by hand with local materials. Logs, not plywood; nails, not screws. It was not in the best of shape, however. Crawford wondered how anyone could live in such a tiny area. Winslow broke the nervous waiting feeling as they stood in front of the house by knocking decisively. It was silent again for a minute.

The door opened, revealing an old bearded man with a face full of wrinkles.

“Who is this?” he asked, surprised.

“Jarl Winslow, Detective Crawford, and John Ivans,” said the millionaire, sweeping his hand. “We’ve come to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind, about this local legend.”

The old man looked scared.

“Uh, what are you asking?”

“Well, Willie, we thought you may have had some sort of contact with this creature, living out here like this.”

He felt suspicious about the whole matter.

“No, I’ve never seen it. I’ve never even heard of it. There’s no Sasquatch around here,” he pouted, looking at the ground.

“You’re sure?” followed Winslow.

“Yes, darned right.”

Winslow caught a look at the interior of the house, which was a total mess.

“Mister Willie, if you would like, I could get you some new furniture, a new bed? It seems the current one is… not in such good condition,” offered Jarl.

“No. No! There’s no point in that,” snapped Willie, slamming the door abruptly.

The men left downtrodden, again, and even Winslow found himself feeling that there was barely a point in their continued search.

“What did you think of Willie?” John said to Detective Crawford.

“He was pre-ty weird,” he replied concisely. The journey back was easier since there was already a trail, and before long, they were back in town, forced to wait another night. Morale was low, but Winslow and Ivans decided to give the cameras one more chance.

– – – – – –

“Oh my gosh,” said John, staring wide-eyed at his trail camera. “Look at it.”

“That’s just Willie,” said Robert Crawford, unsure what to think.

“I don’t think so,” replied the tracker. “It’s as tall as the whole house! And it looks like it’s about to wait in front of the door or go inside!” He could barely believe his eyes. “And look at this one, he’s going in the opposite direction, and it looks like it could have even been inside the house!”

Crawford could barely believe their success, but Ivans had stunning evidence. Besides, the bipedal thing caught on film was much taller than a person, especially Willie.

“Something is not right here,” said Crawford. “Willie must be hiding something.” He grasped his revolver again. Ivans felt for his pistol in his pocket as well, just to be sure. Winslow had stayed in town, tired of their past failures and feeling a little bit under the weather.

“We have to go talk to him again,” declared Crawford.

They knocked on the door, but nobody answered.

“Open the door!” shouted Crawford. “Or I’ll kick it down!”

The detective got ready to bash the door down but John stepped in and turned the handle, opening it. Crawford looked slightly embarrassed. Willie was inside, sitting on a chair, staring directly at them.

“We want to know if…” said the detective, cut off.

“No! He’s never been in here!”

John flashed a quick glance at Crawford and nodded.

“We found pictures of something, it looks like–“

Willie stood up and ran past at the two men, pushing John off to the side and escaping through the door. Quickly, Detective Crawford was onto him. They collided and Willie fell to the ground. The detective pulled out his firearm and pointed it at the old man while yelling.

“Where the frick is Big D?”

“He was never here!”

“I’m serious, we have pictures. Why are you denying this?”

“You don’t understand,” whimpered the old man. He shouted into the woods in a bizarre way.

“We know it was around here.” John Ivans appeared behind the detective.

“Just calm down, put your gun away, and I’ll tell you,” said Willie, slowly getting up. There was silence for a few minutes, then Crawford obliged.

“See, me and him, we have… a relationship.”

The two investigators were stunned. Willie turned around, seeing something important, and ran off into the woods. Crawford drew his revolver and fired, the bullet bouncing off a tree. They lost sight of the old man.

“What the hell?” said Crawford. They followed after Willie, and after barely making it into the forest, they saw him standing right next to a gigantic lumbering ape-like creature, talking to it. They were barely twenty yards away. Crawford and Ivans stopped cold, amazed.

“I can’t believe it,” whispered John. The detective was silent.

Willie was talking to the thing, quietly at first. Then, the two men heard it.

“Go get them!” shouted the old man, pointing. Instantly, the beast gave chase to them through the woods and across the open field as Ivans and Crawford ran for their lives.

“Get your gun!” shouted Crawford, panicked. They spun around and fired at the beast as it got closer and closer to them. The detective emptied all six shots in his cylinder, and the creature dropped right at his feet at the last second. Behind it was Willie.

“Why… Why did you kill him?” he yelled, hitting the ground and pounding it. “He was my only friend!”

“That’s enough, Willie. You’re going with us.” Crawford walked over and handcuffed the crying old man. John stayed put, staring at the huge body of their target. It had barely been killed in time.

“The place for you is at the mental hospital, Mister,” said Crawford, walking behind Willie all the way to the car. What do you think Winslow is gonna think of all this?”

– – – – – –

In the red, carpeted room of Jarl Winslow’s private museum, the newest exhibit was receiving a lot of attention, more than anything else in years. Killed in a gruesome fight to the death with a Northwestern hunter, the body of a massive ape was displayed in all its viscous glory.Winslow billed it as one of the toughest, most heartless predators in the world.

Clash of Clans; why it is so popular

Clash of Clans; why it is so popular

by River Stratkotter

Clash of Clans is an enjoyable and addictive multiplayer strategy game. It is enjoyable because of the high-quality gameplay where you get to attack other players and win trophies. Clash of Clans can also become extremely addictive, and is very popular worldwide, one of the top games in a number of different countries. 

As a player, you can pillage other people’s villages, take their loot, and aquire more trophies. Trophies are used as a symbol of status within the game. You can upgrade your buildings, village, and townhall to unlock new buildings and defenses. I find these aspects very exciting while playing the game. Sometimes, upgrading can take days. 

Clash of Clans, for better and for worse, can become a highly addictive game. Most people find attacking other people’s villages to be very exciting and frenetic. Another addictive aspect is that it is difficult to get enough loot to upgrade something newly-bought. The adrenaline rush brought on by the game’s mechanics and upgrading system has made many players spend up to thousands of dollars on the game. 

It has very good ratings on both the Apple App Store and Google Play. Another way to see how popular the game is would be looking at how many total clans there are. (a number in the tens of thousands, and each clan can have up to fifty people) One reason for the game’s popularity is because it is free to download. Combined, all these factors make the game very popular. 

Aleksandr Pushkin: The Truth, Critical Essay

Aleksandr Pushkin: The Truth, Critical Essay

Azure Gallagher Michalak

“From ancient times sages were seeking

For the forgotten truth’s footprints.

And they for long were loud-speaking

The usual speeches of old flints.

They were repeating: “The truth-treasure Had hidden self into a well.” (5)

And, drinking water all together, were crying: “There we’ll find it, well!”

But someone faithful friend of mortals, (Maybe Silen this person was)

The witness of their disputes, thoughtless,

Had tired of water and of noise,

Left all attempts to find the holly, And thought about wine, the first, (10)

And, having drunk a bowl, whole,

Saw, on its bottom, the truth, lost.”

 -Aleksandr Pushkin, Yengeny Bonver translation [1]

One of the fundamental human attributes is the search for the Truth, the meaning of life. It has been a signature part of society ever since at least the beginning of civilization. People have attempted in myriad ways to try to find this universal truth; philosophy, religion, sports, math, science, and art are just a sample. And so Pushkin’s poem begins with a subject no less important than this; sages trying to find the meaning of life, the Secret that makes everything sparkle.

At the beginning, these wise sages track down footprints, and search widely for the remainder of the “truth-treasure”. They appear to be unsuccessful, and at the end, the situation becomes hopeless and the distracted wise men talk amongst each other whilst drinking water and making excuses, saying the truth must be hidden in a well. (5) As they are drinking water and still not finding the truth, it becomes apparent that this method is not working. The water in this poem stands for cowardice and blandness, and reminds one of the phrase “watered down.” It symbolizes the futility of their hunt for truth.

The search for meaning has been a failure for the wise sages, but someone else is now introduced, Silen or Silenus. At the end, only the person who became tired of the search actually found it. Silen was a satyr from Greek mythology, one of the first antinatalists. (those against bringing life into the world) This philosophy, of which a central tenet is overpopulation, has existed since long before the total human population was over one billion. Ironically, as Silen abandons the quest for the truth, becomes distracted and drinks wine, he actually discovers that truth lost at the bottom of his bowl. (12) The moral is that you cannot find the truth by furiously searching for it like the sages, only by letting it find you instead. The latter half of the poem could be miscontrued to support alcoholism, but in actuality the wine and water are symbolic for different ways of living, the former frenetically searching and the latter calm and collected. 

There are two words for “truth” in Russian, Istina and Pravda. The former is “divine truth” and the latter is subjective truth, the word used in this poem. [2] Of all the ways of searching for the Truth, some are direct and some not as direct; some use a physical method to bring psychological and spiritual satisfaction to their lives, others try to find it directly at a higher level. It seems the old men were trying this higher spiritual or philosophical approach without success. Silenus’ approach, on the other hand, was reminiscent of Forrest Gump, Sling Blade, or any simpleminded but generally happy people.

“The Truth” is a compliment to the physically-dwelling and simple-minded, stating that only by enjoying life can one find any remnant of the truth, not by trying to directly capture it. By being less intelligent, one is aware of less problems and life may appear better. Abstract worries or ideaologies may not obscure vision in these people. As the overused cliche goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” Many appear happy with their lives lived simply, on farms or the wilderness. 

One of the issues with this poem, and with Pushkin and Russian poets in general, is the fact that meaning is often lost or occluded in translation. Russian only shares primitive roots with English, and compared to French and Spanish it is quite difficult to translate. The numerous translations of this piece in particular make this fact painfully obvious. Neither of them are alike or even very similar. A literal interpretation is below, and it seems that the Yevgeny Bonver translation is actually inferior in a way, using rhymes that do not fully fit together and feel quite false. A fitting example is: “The truth-treasure has hidden itself into a well/ and there we’ll find it, well!” 

Literal Translation

It has long been looking for the wise

Traces of the forgotten truth

And long, long interpreted

Longstanding rumors elderly.

Asserted: “Truth is holy In the pits, cleaned up secretly “

And, happily drinking water, Shouted: “Here we find her!”

But somebody, mortal benefactor (And almost old Silenus)

Their stupidity important witness,

Water and cry tired,

Left our invisibility, First thought about wine

And, drained to the dregs the cup

Saw the truth at the bottom.

Although some of the English grammar and all of the end rhymes have been taken out in this version, it has more of the Russian character and arguably more impact than the translation at the beginning of this essay. Nevertheless, Alexsandr Pushkin is considered the Shakespeare of Russia, and “The Truth” is one of his more fascinating poems, on which many hours of research can be spent. It is very thought-provoking, a useful way to start philosophical discussions, and although the English version may not have the same impact as the original, it is still high-quality piece of classic poetry.




this is it; the Apocalypse

Everything was silent. I stood by the front window, staring outside at the neighborhood.

Something happened to the southwest, instantly appearing, as if a nightmare. A horrifying ashy explosion followed by a resounding crack. It reached up, gargantuan, through the sky, a slim brown spire of ash surrounded by a grey dusty pillar. The top of the cloud spread out suddenly and boldly into a shape resembling a mushroom.

The type of fear it created was not just physical, it was existential and undeniable.

My best friends, Ryan and Rinzal were in their house just across the street. I rushed to the front door, flung it open and yelled to my friends to come quickly. I could see through the window that Ryan heard me, and made a hand signal saying “one minute”, disappearing into the back of his house.

Thirty seconds later, my friends ran frantically across the street, briefly looking back at the explosion several miles away, which was now spreading up and outwards even more. With a momentary relief, they were safely inside my house. Ryan had brought a slingshot and Rinzal carried a set of poker chips under his arm.

“It’s not safe here. The radiation is going to go right through these windows,” I stammered.

“We should take a roll of that black plastic and tape it over them,” suggested Rinzal. He was thirteen years old, shorter and slightly younger than his brother and more cerebral.

I rushed to reply. “No, we can’t do that right now. Lock the front door.”

Rinzal ran to the front door and speedily spun the lock, making our house a step more secure.

“Come on. We need to get the supplies,” nagged Ryan worriedly.

“I have a bucket in my room,” I shouted, running towards it. “Go, get everything out of the cupboards.”

We worked very quickly to scavenge together food and other useful items. I brought an orange supply pail prepared for emergencies, and my friends took almost everything out of the kitchen.  Nonetheless, we forgot a number of things in our haste.

“The only safe place to go is in the basement. It will protect us from the radiation. Even if someone gets inside our house they probably still won’t find us there.”

My friends were worried.

“Are you sure?” asked Ryan. “Isn’t it just dirt down there?” He might as well have said it was too creepy for his taste.

“It’s the best spot,” I replied. The trapdoor to the basement was in the kitchen, covered up by a rug. I removed the cover and got a screwdriver out to pry open the trapdoor. Rinzal filled glass jars up with water and laid them next to me as I worked. Finally, the trapdoor popped open and I removed it, setting it to the side.

In front of us was the old wooden staircase leading into the basement. There were cracks in some of the steps, and they did not look absolutely reliable. At the bottom was a plain white wall. It looked as if there were no rooms in the basement, but once we descended to the bottom, we saw identical rooms on either side of the staircase, both rectangular and the size of the inside of a bus, between the two of them. We unloaded the supplies on the right side of the landing. There was a huge, black millipedal bug with ten body sections on the wall across from me. I gasped, horrified.

“Ryan, will you please get rid of that bug?” I asked nervously. He looked at me dumbly.

“No! Rinzal, won’t you kill it?” he asked. Rinzal shook his head. I cautiously approached the monstrous insect, thought about cutting it in half, but couldn’t stomach the thought of actually doing it.

“Please, Rinzal! I can’t…” I whined. He looked at the ground and thought for a moment.

“Ok,” he conceded. I backed off and sat on a creaky step as Rinzal got rid of the creature with his slingshot. Afterwards, we went back upstairs to dispose of its body and get the rest of the supplies. I rummaged around the kitchen for a moment for a deck of cards and jug of water, took one more quick glance out the front window at the grey wintry street, then descended down into the depths, putting the trapdoor on top, slightly ajar. The stairs groaned as I descended them and felt the heaviness that often comes along with going further underground. A miniature version of the bug I had just seen, about an inch long, crawled on the floor, but I ignored it this time and it moved away and disappeared into a small nook.

I turned right at the bottom of the stairs into the room where Rinzal and Ryan sat. Its central feature was a red plaid couch, next to which were two square coffee tables. At the furthest part of the room, where the trapdoor would be if the wasn’t a dividing wall between the room and the staircase, was a flatscreen television on the wall. I pressed the button on it, but it would not turn on. It was impossible to tell if it was because of the bomb or the faulty electronics, but the situation would not be changing any time soon.

It was encouraging to be with company in this room, and it made me feel less lonely. Rinzal mumbled something to his brother. He nodded.

“You should have brought your supplies over. Did you lock your door?” I asked Ryan.

His face showed guilt. “Yeah I locked it. We can get the stuff sometime later.”

“Hopefully,” I replied, not wanting to think much about it. “Good thing you brought those chips and slingshot, though. We’ll be using them a lot.”

“I got that little Nerf gun too,” said Rinzal.

“Cool,” I replied. “Good to have stuff to do. What about the rubbing alcohol and soap? Those were in the bathroom.”

“We’ll get it later after things calm down,” said Ryan, face serious. I nodded. Risking any more exposure at the moment would be extremely foolish. Silence reigned while we stared at the walls and breathed nervously. I felt a vague weight pressing down on me from up above.

Having never seen the other room before, I stepped over the bottom landing of the staircase to it. It was identical to the first, except it had a dirtier carpet and no furniture except a counter and small freezer at the far end. Something about this room on the left felt isolated and quiet, and it was filled with a cold grey, spacious energy. I stood in the center of the room for a few moments, not thinking at all, just doing nothing. More time passed, during which I heard Rinzal and his brother quietly conversing. For the first time since the bomb fell, I felt a sense of space, similar to the feeling of being alone in the countryside on a winter’s night.

For a bit, I just wanted time to think. I sat down, back against the wall. There was a newfound sense of freedom, of imprisonment. Thoughts, worries, and quiet passed through my head. In the air I could barely hear a sound. Slowly getting back up, I inspected the two pieces of furniture in the room, seeing if anything inside them was useful. We had brought a few things, but the more I thought of it the more it seemed there was almost nothing in the basement. After eight hours, we could perhaps take a speedy run back up to get clothes and books, the previously-forgotten supplies. 

I went back to the first room, where Ryan and Rinzal sat uncomfortably. They were obviously not used to doing nothing or being so confined. We surely had things to do, many of them, but it somehow felt sacrilegious to entertain ourselves at such a dismal time. I sat on the couch as well, pleased to find there was room for three people on it.

“I’m going to take a nap,” declared Rinzal.

“Where?” I asked, realizing that there was nowhere to sleep except on the couch only after I said it. “C’mon, Ryan, let’s go in the other room.” 

We grabbed up the poker chips and cards, turned the light off in the right-side room and settled down for some poker on the floor in the other room. Now, it felt possible to do something aside from sit quietly. The chips went back and forth until I eventually lost, and by then we had slowed down a lot and become quite distracted. In the bucket was a bag of crackers which we munched on, happy to finally hear some other sounds from breathing and silence. 

Rinzal manifested from the shadows of the right room, rubbing his eyes.

“I can’t sleep,” he complained. 

“I know,” I said. He never usually slept during the daytime anyways. 

“Why don’t you play a hand or two?” I asked. Time flew by as we played round after round of many variants of the game. Later, after an improvised dinner and some conversation, it started to get dark out. I decided enough time had went by for us to take turns quickly blacking the windows out, barricade some weak points, and get clothing and reading material. 

A compilation of dreams

A Compilation of Dreams. Prepare for some unusual dreams, unless every dream is unusual, in which case prepare for normal dreams. 


You are minding your own business in the house. The mailman comes to the door, and you hear a metallic bang. After getting the mail, you realize one of the pamphlets is very official-looking, definitely from the government.




The veiled threat at the end of the correspondence feels fake in some way, but it still carries some weight. You know the real point of this is so the government can keep a registry of all their people and send them to the gulag if necessary. Communism in America has arrived.


You are inside a machinery room, a homemade piece of wooden furniture in front of you. On the floor, a gigantic book from the 1970’s with a gaudy yellow cover, on it an old-fashioned face in obvious crude printing dots, black hair slicked back, smiling at you. This is it. “11 Easy Woodworking Projects”, subtitled in a heavy, all-capitals font,

-Simple woodworking projects with no metal or other materials

-No wood pulp finishes, only quality finishes

-Only pure cotton accessories 

The author is Kyle, written in lime green, but then you look and see that his first name is Drescott, it was just impossible to see at first since it was almost the lemon-juice-color of the rest of the cover. It was published in Arizona, where the author was born. Why, you wonder, does everything from Arizona seem so much tougher and more unshamed than anything from the rest of the country? Who else would publish such a book?

3. The past in your hand

At a Slavic market, you suddenly discover a shelf full of old Soviet peanut butter jars. They are complete with red labeling and a propaganda photo of Lenin wearing an ushanka. Written in pencil on the bottom are dates from 1996-98. But the facts are- the Soviet union did not exist in 1996, and they did not have peanut butter in the first place. What a mystery.

russian peanut butter

…………..Professional Artist’s Rendering……………….

Life on the farm- an essay

A SPECIAL PLACE: Pastural Farm

Azure Gallagher Michalak

Among the fondest memories in my life are those of summer 2014 on Pastural Farm. People often came and went, but the two permanent residents were Dan and Jane Barson, friendly, rugged folks with warm smiles. They had revitalized the main farmhouse from a neglected state after they moved in in the late nineties. Near the house, three dozen hens and a few roosters strutted about proudly, although they would scurry away frantically if anything larger than a chicken approached them. Largest among the three barns on the property was the dairy barn. This huge barn was built more than a century ago, and still stood rigid, roof uncaved, almost like it was new. It had a giant hay loft and ample room for cows and calves.

The foremost of my recollections are those taking place in the milk house and parlor, for I spent many long hours there milking the cows, cleaning the pipelines, and carefully filling glass jugs with scrumptious buttercream-hued milk. Every bovine had a name, Silver, Henry, Raven, Dora, and Cindy being a small selection. The former was a gargantuan brown bull, and the second his younger, meeker twin. It is a bad decision to be dishonest at a dairy farm, because if you claim you can handle moving a bull and fail miserably halfway through the job, it is your fault. The same rule does not generally apply to safer jobs indoors. The cows possessed the most differing personalities, some faultless and others very troublesome. One was so misbehaved that she repeatedly struck me in the face with her tail until I developed an eye infection. It is no wonder that some farmers wear goggles when milking. The job was a perplexing mixture of chore and fun. It was tiring and repetitive, and one time when I was sick and unsteady I was forced to use the cow’s backs as a support to get off my knees after attaching the milking machine. At the same time, many sunny days were spent listening to conservative radio or country music, talking to friends, or singing and humming pleasantly to the cows as the twice-daily chore was underway. The reward was fresh creamy milk, made even more perfect by the addition of chocolate syrup. It was always worth it.

After finishing the night milking, it was time for dinner, an ever-expanding assortment of quality food. My labor went unpaid, but the food made it worth it. Jane, Dan’s longtime partner, would do the traditional wives’ work, cleaning, homestyle cooking, and baking, as well as bedding and feeding the calves and looking after the chickens. Company would often come over in the evening to break up the monotony, and we spent many pleasant nights talking and eating with friends until midnight or even later. During the daytime, there would always be a homemade desert on the table; orange cake, elderberry pie, homemade jam. Amish donuts, or brownies. Lunches would often be simple and quick if there was a lot of work to do outside, so Dan and I would grab a bologna sandwich, egg sandwich, or a quick slice of “egg pie” with hot sauce or homemade pepper mustard. I do not eat eggs, but always made exceptions at the farm, since they were very different from the store-bought kind. The quintessential beverage was milk, and I was a great guzzler of it. I was known to drink at least three cups a day, sometimes six and up to nine. More trips were made to the milk tank when I was at the farm than at any other time.

I first learned to drive at the farm. My vehicle of choice was a 1978 blue Ford tractor, a reliable vehicle with a huge amount of play in the steering wheel. Shifting the gears was difficult and nonsensical at first, but Dan slowly explained it to me until I understood it well enough to drive by myself. I did a number of jobs successfully with that machine, although I almost hit a fence post while towing a huge trailer behind. Still, it was preferable riding stately Trooper, the bay Warmblood horse, in my opinion. There were many other tractors on the property, a temperamental old International often found doing field work, a huge White tractor with dual wheels, and an antique Farmall with a broken engine block which was never fixed. I learned how to tinker with the engines of two John Deere mower tractors I had bought for little over a hundred dollars. After failing to repair them, I traded them for a 1968 Cub Cadet and 1994 Lawn Chief which I partially fixed. After driving the tractors around for a while, Dan and I went on an errand in the surrounding hills when our car got a flat tire. He calmly called his friends while we stood outside in the hot summer weather. We talked for a while about relaxing topics, and I asked which plants were growing on the side of the road. He told me the names and uses of every single one, to my surprise. Ten minutes later, a friend pulled up in a noisy custom pickup truck with a spare tire for our Crown Victoria, not at all bothered by our call for help. People in the mountains are not afraid to help one another, a valuable lesson for everybody.

I had many long discussions with Jane while driving home from the farm, waiting for dinner to be ready, or being idle before the chores. We had an astounding synchronicity; our minds were very similar and despite our different backgrounds we were able to share a lot about life in those talks. History, politics, and living in general were our favorite topics. We lamented how true rural culture is fading away in America and around the world, the comforting clopping of horse drawn carriages and fresh country air replaced by the uncomfortable squeal of automobiles and polluted atmospheres of cities and towns. People, instead of helping their neighbors with their work, have turned to push them away or do not even know their names in the first place. I would have been sorely in need of advice from elders if it had not been for Dan and his wife helping me along with questions about my future or anything else that interested me. The most memorable discussion took place in the barn hay loft during a beautiful thunderstorm, when I realized how the sky looked exactly like a painting from the 1800’s, an amazing opalescent orange glow surrounded by cloudy black ink. We talked there for a long time, until the storm finally passed away. That night, I wished I was a painter.

From driving through the field herding the cows and sleeping in the quiet, expansive hay loft, to pigeon hunting, fixing cars, buying Amish baked goods, riding Trooper bareback down the road, and discussing the meaning of life, I find myself often missing Pastural Farms and the lessons it taught me about patience, humility, work, and fun. Perhaps the world would be a better place to live in if everyone would stay for a while at such a farm, as it exists in a far-off place where virtue is rewarded and dishonesty, laziness, and falseness are slowly tilled away. It all started by going to the barn sale and picking up Macguffey’s 1880 Reading Primer for a quarter, and that summer ended with me bittersweetly waving goodbye to Dan and Jane from the car as the orange autumn leaves skidded, drifting across the road.

azure james farm

Observations on Beverages for sale in the USA

Here is a typical selection of beverages at a corner store:

First Cooler       Second Cooler     Third Cooler      Fourth Cooler     5th-7th Coolers

Coke, Pepsi            Arizona Iced Tea   Energy drinks       Milk, chocolate             BEER

7up, mtn dew      Gatorade              ….with coffee too     milk, orange juice

root beer, etc         plain ice tea           bizarre drinks            mint milk

I could go on complaining about every single one of these beverages. They are good sometimes, but not healthy, and all have one problem or another, or perhaps five. (in the case of mtn dew) Milk and orange juice are the safest bets of the bunch.

The bottom line is although healthy, high quality food and drinks are becoming slightly more common in this “post-blindconsumerism” country, they still have not infiltrated our corner stores and half of the grocery stores. They still rely mostly on pop, which is pretty much only good as a cleaner and can actually be more expensive when you buy less of it. (I’ve seen 2 litres for $1 and 16 ounces for $1.59 before.)

If I ran one of these stores, I would do things differently. It would not appeal to as many people at this point, but there would be a larger, more interesting selection. More types of drinks exist in the world than we would think, and they don’t need to be filled with HFCS, caffeine, brominated vegetable oil, or artificial colors.

My version:

First Cooler                    Second    Cooler                Third  Cooler

Seltzer Water                    Fentimans’ soda                    Karoun Yogurt Drink

Flavored Water                   aloe drink                             Local 4% milk

tea                                     Bragg apple-                            craft beer

protein drinks                      cider vinegar drink

Rice punch                               Kvass

orangina, izze

A mid-air encounter

Bored, I skimmed through the Delta safety pamphlet and went over the overpriced food menu yet again.

“The captain has turned the seatbelt sign on. We will be arriving in twenty minutes,” boomed the flight attendant’s vaguely-accented voice. It sounded attractive, smooth, and slightly Slavic.

Every time I attempted to find something to do, I found it hard to stay focused, for my mind would drift back to that pretty flight attendant with her brown ponytail.

She must be Russian. It just sounds that way, not quite what you would hear from the movies, but definitely still Russian. Well, maybe it’s more of a Czech accent or something else like that. I suppose I don’t know all the little differences between those languages.

I  adjusted my position, moved the arm rest up and down and stared at the seat in front of me. Minutes went by.

But I just have to say something in Russian so I can infer if she’s from there or not. It would be cowardly not to. It’s obvious, though, that I will have the full intent to but not actually get a chance to say anything, or, even worse, chicken out at the last possible second. Oh, I would hate that! I can’t do that.

Not much later, doubt started to recapture the territory of my soul.

She can’t be Russian. And I’ll look like a fool, with everyone staring at me, if I say goodbye to her in Russian. Then I’ll be mad with myself for the rest of the day when I should really be enjoying it.

I decided not to say anything, but still felt disappointed somehow.

The plane touched down bumpily, brakes revving forcefully, filling up the whole cabin with soundwaves. The noise slowly diminished, and with relief, the aircraft taxied to the gate at a relaxed pace. Workers labored hurriedly to attach the boarding systems.

I was just as busy internally, though it appeared from the outside that I was doing nothing. After the ecstatic bing of the seatbelt sign turning off, I heard a familiar voice over the loudspeaker.

“Thank you for choosing Dyelta. Have a great day.”

Aha! Only a Russian would say Dyelta! I know it.

Beaming from the inside, I grabbed my suitcase and hustled up to the front of the aircraft where all the employees stood. I fatefully locked eyes with the young woman, the cause of all my torment and excitement.

“Thank you,” she said, by rote. It was now or never.

“Dasvidaniya!” I stammered.

“Dasvidaniya,” she replied, smiling.