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**PRINT: 1997, by C.T. Ballentine (with an assist by Doug Milam), the first in our 8.5-by-11-inch mini-broadsheets series, easily printable on readers' desktops. We encourage active participation in distribution from any interested parties. Follow the main link above for more.

**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHAND’s 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

WING & FLY: A MESSAGE FROM HAROLD RAY -- Nerves of Steel Feb. 8! | Todd Dills
MINNIE LEE's FUNERAL Anne Whitehouse
BASEBALL Alec Niedenthal
UNBEARABLE LIKENESS Christopher Fullerton

Jill Summers

This story debuted live with Summers' Jan. 14, 2010, reading as part of THE2NDHAND's series of the same title. Join us at the next event Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler. Details here.

"May my countrymen have muscles of iron, minds like thunderbolts, and nerves of steel."

These are the words of a swami, of one who is the master of himself, free from base senses and unfounded fears. These are the words of one who is steady, of one with great patience and courage -- undaunted, unfearing, unfrightened and above all unshakable -- and of someone who expects the same of his countrymen and possibly -women, though more likely just the men, if we are being honest. The path to this state of enlightenment has been defined many times over, has been trod by many. Now all that remains is to embrace the tenets -- wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline and concentration, effort, speech and action righteous in intention -- to examine these in plain view over the map of one's own life, and to ask oneself, So you think you have nerves of steel? Well do you?

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

Wisdom. When I was a kid instead of a monster in my closet, I thought that there were a pair of Italian gangsters under my bed -- one tall and self-assured, the other short and self-doubting, both wearing suspenders, knickerbockers and flat caps. When I would forget the threat of their presence and accidentally hang one of my arms over the side of my twin bed, knuckles sweeping the floor, the tall one would order the short one to chop my hand off. When I invariably remembered that they were under there, and jerked my hand back in time to avoid amputation, the tall one would bonk the short one on the head and reprimand him for missing his chance, and I would count my fingers and breathe a huge sigh of relief. This went on until I was about 17.

Righteous effort. One year at camp I worked up the courage to sit with a new group of friends in the dining hall, but on my way to the ice cream sundae bar I slipped on an individual butter pat that had been dropped on the floor butter-side down and slid head first into the taco station. I didn't see them much after that.

Ethical conduct. When I was in music school I was a student of a very stern German violist who loved to tell me "worst German student better than best American student." As the semesters wore on I began to dread my lessons and eventually sent phony word to him that I had been called back home for a "major personal family emergency" that was "too major" and "too personal" to discuss in detail, and that I would not be back for the rest of the semester. When I saw him step onto a bus I was riding a couple days later I crouched down behind the seat in front of me and closed my eyes tight. When I opened them he was standing over me. He said, "For shame," before taking a seat a few rows back.

Mental discipline. I recently developed a system to ensure I will get someone's voicemail if I have to call them. It requires two phone lines, both ready to go with the number in question on speed dial. I use the first line to call and get the person's phone ringing. After the first ring, I use the second phone to place a second call to the number. This second call will necessarily go immediately into voicemail. At this point it is safe to abort the first call, and leave the voicemail using the second phone. Even if the person answers the first phone, your subsequent second phone voicemail will alleviate any blame or concern over the first phone-call hang-up, because really, who can understand all this technology these days. It took me about 30 minutes to devise this system, and I use it on average six times a week.

Righteous speech/Righteous action. I was in my car getting ready to leave for work one morning when a veritable cruise ship sidled up street-side next to me and blocked my passage. It was one of those gorgeous Chicago spring days, all dewy and sun-logged, with Don Bluth bluebirds shitting four leaf clovers all over everything, the kind of morning that tends to depress me as a reminder that everyone else is happier and more attractive than I am; and so when I saw a decrepit old man emerge from this ridiculous boat car it actually improved my mood. He was visibly distraught and so I rolled my window down and asked him what he needed. He began motioning to me and to his bumper with his flaccid see-through hands flapping in the breeze. He made a gurgling noise accompanied by a few spit bubbles, which I took to mean that he wanted to show me something.

I grabbed my pepper spray off my key ring (just in case) and joined him between our bumpers where I was able to make out the words, "you," "park," and "hit" from his litany, which continued with increasing agitation and bubbliness. There was a small dent and several scuffs on his bumper and several seemingly correspondent marks on mine, just as there would be between any two random bumpers in the city. I contemplated and quickly abandoned the notion of trying to explain the concept of a bumper and its particular relevance in a city like Chicago.

"No -- I didn't hit you," I tried to tell him. But he became more animated and gestured more wildly with more yeses and yous and bubbles. My good mood was waning and I checked my watch. "Listen, I don't know what to tell you," I told him, getting back into my car. I started it and realized he was still blocking me -- I wasn't going anywhere unless this thing abandoned port. And so I leaned out my window and screamed at him, "Get out of my way!" The force of my breath propelled the extra sagging skin back from his skull, but he did not move. "Get out of my fucking way, old man!" I yelled again, adding a "That's right!" when he started shuffling back to his car, looking scared and flustered, neighbors poking their nosey heads out of their windows and doors. And then he pulled his car back out of my way, and hit the car parked behind him. And because I not only lack nerves of steel but have personality of crap, I yelled, "Ha-ha, look who hit who now! Ha! Ha-ha, old man, ha-ha," before speeding away.

Righteous intention. What's it called when you accidentally crap your pants a little when you were only expecting a fart? A shart? I did that once when this guy I had a crush on in high school was coming to visit me from Atlanta and I got nervous and tried to lose a few pounds with laxative tea before he got there. I ended up having to throw my underwear into the lawn refuse trashcan in my parents' garage and free-ball it for the first hour or so of our visit because the shart came about four minutes before he got there and the whole time he was talking to me all I could think about was whether or not my dad was going to try and take the trash out and announce his gruesome discovery publicly to the household.

Righteous concentration. This same guy went with my family on a pilgrimage to see the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Conyers, Ga., a few months later. I was drinking a can of 7-Up too quickly when it was announced to the crowd that the apparitions had come and the drastic drop in temperature combined with the sudden craning back of my head to look up into the sky caused me to vomit a huge volume of carbonated foam back up into my mouth and out all over the front of my Outback Red button-up henly. "This is so fucking weird," he said.

"May my countrymen have muscles of iron, minds like thunderbolts, and nerves of steel." I have considered these words and examined them in plain view of my own life; I have asked myself the question and I have emerged on the other side of enlightenment; may my people have sphincters of iron, minds made of more than pudding, and nerves unburdened by meaningful human contact. Do I think I have nerves of steel?

The answer is no.


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