Thaddeus Rutkowski

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The Wang Family, 1973

In the Wang family,
the grandfather, Qi Xing, is smiling,
as he should;
his English name is Cheer Sing.

The grandmother
looks more severe,
with her gray hair brushed back,
as if she is not well.

This is my mother’s family,
a grandfather I met once,
a grandmother I didn’t meet,
other relatives I’ve hardly thought of:
two uncles, their wives,
with a son each—my cousins.

They’ve gotten together here
in jackets that are almost identical,
designed for a look that’s suitable
under the rule of Chairman Mao.

After the Storm

I got on the phone to our utility company because I had a complaint. We’d been without electricity for days, and while I could live with this situation, I didn’t think our child could. She might have bad memories for years to come, and she might blame us, her parents, for not doing something about it. We could have taken her away from our lower-Manhattan apartment to a place that had electricity. We could have crossed to another borough, or gone to another state. We could have found a place with lights, hot water and heat.

But I took the easy way out—I called the utility company. Unfortunately, no one answered. As I waited on the phone, I was given several options for points of service—the main office, the new-business office, the mobile department, the steam-emergency number, the cancellation line, the operator—but each time I pressed a button, the original recording just started over.

The lack of a response led to a new complaint. I couldn’t tolerate the phone system at our neighborhood utility. I mean, here I was, at a pay phone because I had no home phone—the storm had knocked out everything but the phone booths. I was freezing on the street, and all I was getting was a recording.

I was ready to flag down a utility truck and accost the driver. But who knew if it was a real utility truck and driver? Maybe these people were thieves posing as utility workers. Perhaps they’d neutralized the real workers and stolen their uniforms. These people could have been sophisticated criminals, intent on gaining access to the apartments of innocent customers. In that event, I’d have a new complaint. I’d have to call the local police precinct and report that I’d been robbed.


Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. He teaches at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and at the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan. He is the recipient of a 2012 fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.