Author Archives: Charles Bivona

About Charles Bivona

Poetic Writer, Writing Professor, Educational Activist, and retired Ass Model: I've worn many hats. Luckily, I look good in hats.

Writing Boundaries

I’ve been doing this for a little over five years now, moving through my corporate-owned, hamster-wheel life, paying close attention, reporting on the street-level reality of the collapsed U.S. economy.

I’ve tried to poetically express the pain the Great Recession caused my friends, my family, and my neighbors. I have failed a lot, but I’ve kept at it, every day—five years of working to understand what’s really happening, to write critically and honestly about what I discover.

And I’ve even made a little money, the ultimate validation in my country, at least enough money to pay the substantial hosting fees to keep this poetic web show going. And it is also a true story that in 2012 the IRS officially started listing my profession as Writer. Source of Taxable Income: Writing. Word. Up.

So, it perplexes me that friends and family members—and friends of family members—still approach me with ridiculous career suggestions, or dead-end cubicle jobs I should “try to get.” And then there’s the creative masterminds who tell me what I should and should not write about, and what form I should or should not write in. We can’t forget them. And then there’s the people who say that they think poetry should always rhyme.

Actually, those people are fucking idiots. Just ignore them.

My deeper point is, what exactly must a writer do to be taken seriously, to be respected as a professional in this broken culture? I mean, writing every day + making money = professional writer. No?

Or do I have to play a writer on a reality TV show to deserve my identity in America?

Maybe it’s because I don’t write books. Some have said that, my former boss at the university said that. Could that be it? Do I have to become the Balzac of Kindle to be taken seriously? Maybe.

Whatever. My real point is this, finally: at the very least, and I’m asking this sincerely—begging, really—could you naysayers please just shut the fuck up and leave me alone already? I’m writing.

Thank you for reading along.

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Another Dead Friend

He used to stand outside his apartment building, looking defeated and smoking cigarettes. Or he’d pace the sidewalk slowly, his eyes locked on the ground, his shoulders slumped. I watched him from my window for a month before I introduced myself, before I discovered he was a physicist stuck in a dysfunctional dissertation process, working landscaping jobs to pay his bills while he jumped through profit-driven academic hoops.

A year later, he landed a professor job, an adjunct position at a local university. And just like me, he was eventually passed up for a promotion to full-time by a less qualified academic with superior ass-kissing skills.

He was angry about that the last time we spoke, seemed even more defeated than usual when he stopped by last week. He invited me to Atlantic City to see a concert, just to get away.

“I’d love to,” I said, “but I’m broke. I have to work.”

He understood, but was clearly disappointed. So he went alone, his girlfriend also had to work, and yesterday afternoon he was found dead in his hotel room.

“I kept calling and calling but he wouldn’t answer,” his girlfriend said, standing on my porch last night. I held the door open, stunned, not sure what to say, just listening.

“I had to argue with the hotel for an hour to get them to call the police,” his girlfriend continued, red-eyed and sobbing. “Finally they got into the room. They found him laying on the bed, his books were scattered around him, and he was dead. Just dead.”

He was thirty-one years old. No one knows what happened, his girlfriend is emotionally destroyed, and I just don’t know what else to say about this at the moment. Sorry.

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Eviction Court

By that time, we’d cut out our grocery bill in an attempt to catch up on the rent. Losing my professor job in 2009 hurt us badly. So, I started taking trips to the local charity food back once every two weeks. It wasn’t enough. The eviction notice came in the mail a few months later.

My apartment manager said the owners would definitely negotiate a payment plan, but I had to show up in court. I had to deal with their lawyer—and pay his $300 fee—that was how the owners wanted it.

Court turned out to be the jury assembly room in my county courthouse, and a recorded message from a retired judge who was clearly cast because he spoke English and Spanish, and not because he read from cue cards comfortably on camera.

For the next ten minutes of stammering, our DVD judge explained to the roomful of overstressed people that the court had no authority to compel the property owners to accept our payment plans. The owners could, if they so desired, remove us from our homes in the next seven days—with the assistance of court appointed officers, of course.

The court was basically allowing us to use the room for mediation, for a chance to sit down with the owner’s lawyer and present our payment plan, in the hopes that something could be worked out to keep us all in our homes.

The DVD ended. People began shuffling around, looking for the correct lawyer.

“It’s like the days of Feudalism in the place,” I said to the guy sitting next to me as we both stood up, “the landlords have all the power. This court is nothing but a puppet show.”

And I could tell by his mixed-emotional facial reaction that he only half knew what the hell I was talking about.

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Millionaire Doctor

I’ve been developing this character I call Millionaire Doctor, who sometimes represents my current doctor, but more often is an amalgamation of all the terrible doctors I’ve encountered in the United States.

Like the thirteen urologists who told me the severe pain of prostatitis was all in my head—just my anxiety—for over a year, until I found the fourteenth urologist who had a penchant for the obvious.

Like the twelve Ophthalmologists who insisted, for eighteen months, that my inability to read was not a problem with my prescription glasses—after all, their machines were perfectly callibrated—it must be a problem with my clinical depression. The thriteenth Opthalmologist discovered that I’d been fitted with a presciription that was about ten times too strong. By then, my left eye had been permanently damaged by the strain. Sorry. It happens.

Or how about the Orthopedic Surgeon who charged me $25,000 for knee surgery after my car accident, and then sabotaged my legal case by taking a vacation—one of the six he takes every year—whenever a court date was scheduled for my trial. Eventually, we had to abandon the case.

“He just doesn’t like to go to court,” one of his doctor friends told me, laughing. “He does that all the time.”

Yet this particular Millionaire Doctor always takes the car accident cases, because big money. And my knee still hurts, you fucking quack.

The American medical field, in my experience, is awash with greed and incompetence. The stories and tweets about Millionaire Doctor are my creative attempts to cope.

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No More Televised News

I quit all televised news, disconnected the cable. Talk radio fell off my radar next.

These days I only read the newspapers, the transcripts of political speeches. I find it’s easier to remain critical in text, easier to spot bias, easier to avoid being manipulated by a gifted orator. Just the words of the page for me, thanks. No performance necessary.

I’ve learned to balance out the capitalist cheerleading of the mainstream media with the historical blind call for a global revolution from some of the alternative media sources.

Speaking of which, unless you’re talking about an inner revolution, a revolution of human consciousness and thought, you can count me out. Malcolm X was on point when he said “revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way.”

I have no interest in cheering on or fomenting the collapse of the society my nieces and nephews live in, and I’d like to leave the children with a slightly better world even though I have no child of my own.

I would like to be a member of a generation that does not leave a mess for the generations that follow, and I would especially like to be a member of the generation that finally abolishes war.

How sad it is that I live in culture where these are considered naive things to hope for.

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Afternoons with Cedric Hill

He had more than a few good years with the kidney one of his closest friends gave him, but about two months ago—for whatever reason—Cedric’s body began rejecting the organ. 

He asked me to meet with him in his hospital room to discuss the projects we’ve been collaborating on—a dramatic film, a documentary, and now a TV pilot. Despite what he described as excruciating pain, we discussed social media strategy for two full hours.

Since then, Cedric has been stopping by my apartment now and then, after his dialysis appointment at the hospital just down the road. He is always pushing me to write more, to post more, to publish more, to stop holding myself back.

And now I can’t blame my health problems, my aches and pains and stomachaches manifested by my unreasonably high anxiety. The one time I tried that excuse, Cedric didn’t mince words.

“You know they drain out all my blood every week, right?” he said without blinking, this half-angry smirk on his face. “Do you know how much that shit hurts?”

I responded with silent squirming, so Cedric drove the point home.

“Just shut the fuck up and write.” he said. “I don’t even wanna hear it.”

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Meditation Practice

I’ve never been good at going to Buddhist centers. Being a lapsed Catholic, those places have always felt too much like church for me. 

I’ve also never been much into chanting phrases that mean nothing, or pondering the emptiness of myself and others.

I mostly practice meditation like an old world Japanese farmer, sitting for a short time every day, focusing on the reality of my surroundings instead of the constant meaningless chatter in my brain. Sometimes I just follow my breathing—in an out—sitting or standing.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a line—at the post office, at the supermarket, in New Jersey traffic—I focus on the people around me, their posture, their facial expressions, their bits and pieces of conversation about debts, evictions, relationships collapsing. The whispered misery of the United States fills me with compassion, makes me want to embrace everyone in my country with love poetry.

We all suffer in such similar ways. We’re all so interconnected by it. After a couple of decades of really paying attention, human emotional interdependence becomes so obvious.

“We really do need each other,” I say to the people I meet when I venture outside my apartment. And every now and then one of these people, usually at some party, will say that I’m not a real Buddhist. Sometimes they get very angry about it.

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My Second Job Ever

He hired me to be the stock boy for his carpet store in Newark. Every Saturday, he picked me up in his Mercedes and drove me to perform whatever odd jobs needed doing.

Some days, I carried 50lb. boxes of marble tiles, hundreds of them, one by one up three flights of stairs to the third floor storage room. Other days, I cut carpets to size in the dilapidated warehouse across the street.

The boss always paid for my lunch.

On slower afternoons, usually in the summer—the store had no air conditioner—we both sat at a desk outside the store, greeting customers and chatting with the cops, the prostitutes, and the locals who walked by all afternoon.

He taught me a lot about the art of human conversation, and gave me a lot to think and write about, my second boss—a friend of my mother who was really more like an uncle.

After my ten hour shift, he paid me $25 in cash, a near fortune for a fifteen year old boy in the 1980s, and I used a lot of that money to buy alcohol with my girlfriend—both of us deeply troubled children.

Sadly, I lost that second job about two years later. My boss died, massive organ failure brought on by diabetes—if I remember—and the carpet store closed.

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An Average Student

She wanted to know why she never knew I was so smart. We were in the same homeroom in high school. We fooled around at a few parties after graduation, and lost touch when she went away to college. She found her way to my website after we reconnected at the twenty year reunion. She spent a few hours reading before she called me.

“Why didn’t I know you could write like this back in high school?” she asked, before asking the broader question. “Why didn’t I know you were this smart?”

“You didn’t know,” I said, “because I wasn’t, because what you see as intelligence is the result of twenty years of obsessive studying.”

“I guess,” she said, not really buying it, convinced I was born with a gift, convinced I’d kept my secret from her all those years ago, like a secret identity, and she wanted to know what that reason could be. Why did I lie to her like that?

“Think of it this way,” I said, finally, after fifteen more minutes of tense discussion, “I couldn’t write like this in high school, but I really really wanted to. Then, in college, I got obsessive about it, as I tend to do.”

I laughed. She didn’t. Instead, she said she was tired and quickly got off the phone. That was the last time we ever spoke to each other.

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Shedding

After my best friend died in 2010, I salvaged some artifacts from his apartment, one of which was his desk chair.

It was already battered when I accidentally tore one of the arm rests off moving it out of his place. Since then, I’ve been sitting on it every day, writing and reading and slowly wearing the tear in the upholstery into a giant gash of exposed cushion.

I was just going to duct tape it—yes, really—but the spring that held the chair back upright snapped last week. With a metallic ping the desk chair was transformed into more of a psychotherapy lounger.

“I think it’s time to let Sang’s desk chair go,” I said to Luz in a text. She replied with a sigh, and agreed when she saw the shape of the chair that night.

And so, this afternoon, I hauled it out, telling myself it was just a chair, and left it by the dumpster outside my apartment. Within an hour it was gone, loaded into a minivan some neighborhood kids told me.

“Some old guy took your chair!” the little boy yelled when he saw me, his sister standing next to him and pointing in the direction the minivan went.

“Well, I threw it in the garbage,” I said, “so it’s not my chair anymore, not that it ever really was mine, anyway.”

I smiled. Both of them smiled back the way children smile when you say something they’ve never heard anyone say before, and I went to gather my laundry, wondering with every step where Sang’s old chair was heading. My silly attachments.

Sang's Chair

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