So You Relinquished Your Cat: What Now?

By Michael Gutgsell

Sharing your home and your life with a pet can be a real hassle. They take up time, energy, and resources to keep up, but ask any pet owner and you’ll hear a litany of what makes it worth it. I don’t want to get into that now. If you don’t already know the many wonderful aspects of having a pet, you’ve seen them in memes and videos all over the internet and heard about it ad nauseum from coworkers and friends.

But what about when it goes sour? Continue reading


Tall Orders

By Michael Gutgsell


Every evening, after landscaping for my neighbors or playing mannequin for a medical school, I would put on my uniform: skinny black dress pants and a quickly-fading black polo, and bike the five minutes to the Tavern. There I would tie a mini black apron around my waist and insert my black order book into the pocket, complete with my precise formula of change. Then, I would start my shift, making a circle around the room, picking up drink orders and placing down plates of food. I was disappointed to be twenty-three and living at home, squabbling with my parents over stupid things, working in an industry that reminded me how it felt to be “summed up and degraded,” as my journal from that time says. Most of the customers were regulars, and after learning their names and predilections, they often wouldn’t need to open their mouths to have what they wanted placed in front of them. Years after working there, I don’t remember all their names, but I remember their drinks.  Continue reading

Teaching, or Trying

By Michael Gutgsell

This month I am starting my fourth year in Chicago. I came to this city with big hopes that I would be able to leave behind part-time minimum wage work and the naive belief that an internship would open doors for me. I came to Chicago educated, hard-working, and excited for my new life.

I showed up at the refugee resettlement agency believing I was to be an assistant English instructor to adult refugees. Instead, after having me shadow all of three classes (in which the instructor read directly from a worksheet and had the students repeat after him for three hours), I was given control of an entire class for the rest of the year. Continue reading

Homeward Bound

By Michael Gutgsell

istock_generic_212070I stared at the plastic platters of five-buck sushi, agonizing. My stomach growled as I kicked myself for preemptively eating my lunch. That morning, I hadn’t had time to make breakfast before jumping on the bus to catch the train that would deliver me, an hour later, to the non-profit where I worked. I thought maybe I could make it until my three o’ clock lunch time, but I caved, and ate on the way to work. What I didn’t think of while eating my hastily prepared turkey sandwich was my lean debit card balance. Now I wasn’t sure I could afford lunch.

We’re only given a half hour break, and I had already wasted precious minutes. I picked out a tray and headed to the counter, figuring even if this caused my account to overdraw, I’d be paid tomorrow, so it would probably be okay. The late fees are exorbitant, but maybe the check would go through in time.

Continue reading

Sex Sells

IMG_0598By Michael Gutgsell

I would arrive to open the store at 11:45. I swung my bag and helmet on the counter, clocked in, and went about unplugging the fully-powered toys and putting away the chargers in paper bags I’d carefully labeled by brand: Lelo, JimmyJane, Fun Factory. My co-workers ignored my organization, usually just dropping the power strip behind the counter, chargers still attached. Nevertheless, I wrapped the cords carefully and placed them in the proper bag. Then I put the merchandise on their stands, making sure everything was lined up and dust-free. I counted the drawer, sent my manager and the owner the opening checklist, and gave the store a quick once-over before flipping over the open sign, flicking the lights on, and unlocking the door. Then I waited.

The day yawned before me. I sat behind the counter and endlessly, obsessively, edited my work playlist. I looked out at the bright day as the parade of men in candy-colored tank tops strutted by, flashing their muscles, their white teeth, their ridiculous short-shorts and designer sneakers. Continue reading

First Draft: Semester in a College Writing Center

By Michael Gutgsell

When I think of the college writing center, I think of a wall of windows with warm sunlight shining on two cushy couches, a small desk, and a kettle. It was the quietest part of campus for me, and it relaxed me walking into this cozy room with a plate of cookies on the table, a Google calendar open on the computer, and a peaceful couple hours to read or do homework until someone came in.

I was so nervous the first few shifts, certain that I would come across as awkward and stupid, but to my surprise, I loved going over people’s papers with them, and it wasn’t difficult. Continue reading

It Wasn’t the Garden of Eden, But It Was Our Town

It wasn’t the Garden of Eden, but it was Our TownBy Michael Gutgsell

“I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young [..] You’re just a little bit crazy. Will you remember that, please?”

            – Thornton Wilder

One of the best things I did in college was work with an intergenerational theater group combining my college and the neighboring retirement community. The group was the brainchild of a fellow student who was gifted at organizing a diverse group of people. Once a week, a group of ten or so students walked the short distance to Edenwald Retirement Community, where we were met by a smaller group of residents in their theater.

Our leader, Eryn, would lead us in (too long, too gentle) warm ups, and then a few standard theater games. We would write skits to be performed at Edenwald by both the residents and students. In one of our shows we wanted to show the similarities of our community living experiences (and there were a surprising amount of those). It was like the Golden Girls, only more risque. Continue reading

Pet Shop Boy: Part 3

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Life was for sale at the pet store, and it went to whoever was willing to pay. The cost of a purebred dog was in the thousands, and even with all the problems from so much inbreeding, people still wanted them. Each breed had a specific set of prices you were able to use when making a sale. I made a single sale, to a gay man buying a Yorkshire Terrier. Instead of getting used to it, I became more uncomfortable with the practice. We loved the dogs that lived in our little cages, and yet we sold them to whoever was willing to pay, without screening them.

There was a Pomeranian I called Barnaby. He was gentle, quiet, and sweet, his coat white, brown, and tan. I took him out whenever possible to pet and play with him. All the feelings I didn’t feel for Carlos, all the loneliness and disgust were eased when I was with little Barnaby. I was just present. The price was insurmountable, but I started thinking about taking him home. I would get him lion cuts so he’d always look this cute, and we would be best friends and experience everything together. I could even take him to England and back to college. I started looking into it and talking to my parents, who were by no means dismissive of the idea. They wanted me to think it through, though, since it was a huge decision. I agreed. It wasn’t practical, but I loved the tiny dog.  Continue reading

Pet Shop Boy: Part 2

By Michael Gutgsell6

The work was numbing. I pulled products to the front of the shelves, turning them label-forward. When it was really slow, I would open a book about dog breeds and try to study. The Owner/Wife would waddle out of the back and tell me to do something productive, so I would take a feather duster and shift grime around. I hated how boring it was, and I hated that I was denied the opportunity to actually learn anything. A job like that dulls you, it blunts the edge of your mind. The summer slipped by, blank and uninspiring.

The store was usually dead, and the employees shuffled about, attempting to look busy – Barbara by the birds, Mike, the owners’ son, in reptiles and fish, the squinty-eyed manager Dave near the puppies, and me in accessories. The shelves were just tall enough that I could only see the tops of everyone’s heads. Barbara’s dyed hair was always piled high on her head in the same way, with a couple inches of gray getting longer every day. Barbara had a smoker’s wrinkled-paper-bag face and long fingers with brightly painted nails. She once told me, in a deadpan, defeated voice, that she “couldn’t afford to work here, but she couldn’t afford not to work.”   Continue reading

Pet Shop Boy: Part 1

By Michael Gutgsell

When I came home to Cleveland, where my parents had recently moved, the cafe where I had worked the previous summer had shut down. That was the first of a number of businesses that closed shortly after I left. A few years later I fancied myself the black widow of small, locally-owned businesses. With Cafe Limbo’s closing, I had no job to go back to, though I needed the money: I was looking forward to studying abroad in England for my junior year.

Though I knew I needed a job, it was difficult to actually find one. As the days turned into weeks, my mom got increasingly pushy. At one point she dropped me off on a road riddled with potholes and lined with boarded-up warehouses and told me to apply at every single fast food joint along the stretch.

“Look at this place! Do you want me to die in a Rally’s parking lot?” I practically yelled.  Continue reading