'Lost and Found' by Wester Wagenaar

Lost and Found

The central location of the Lost and Found ensures a continuous stream of forgotten items. Scarves, gloves and umbrellas are golden oldies; wallets, keys, and telephones are commonalities; laptops, dentures and walking canes are rarities. And then there's the stuff Satoshi brings in, the one person who doesn't abide by the unwritten rules of the Lost and Found.

Satoshi is my most loyal patron. Every morning when I put on my uniform and get to work, I look forward to his arrival and his drop-off – one item each day. Yet, today, as I stir my vending machine latte even after the milk and coffee have become indistinguishable from one another, my eyes keep bouncing to the clock on the wall. Four o’clock. Satoshi is late.

You see, Satoshi is a punctual man. I don’t know if he wears a watch underneath his long-sleeved, white turtleneck sweater, but he never fails to visit at five past ten – during the quiet slot sandwiched between breakfast and lunch – or at five to four – before most employees are allowed to leave their work duties. Satoshi’s visits evade the daily rushes, one more reason why I’ve quietly grown fond of him over the months.

Most people drop off the objects they find only when the station is busiest, turning their action into a public display of good-will. To them, the Lost and Found resembles a karma well. They do not stuff the non-monetary object in their backpack, but neither do they track down the owner to return their property. They just drop it off here and that’s already enough. To them, it doesn’t really matter whether the rightful owner recovers said item. They’ve done good, now they can gloat about it. Without exception, they leave my booth, straighten their backs and swivel their heads, checking to see whether passers-by have picked up on their good deed.  

I remember how Satoshi entered one day, his frizzy black hair almost completely covering his eyes, a glance directed at his feet rather than me. I must have worn a trained smile at the time. His feet remained pointed inwards as he stood there, motionless, unresponsive to my practiced ‘how can I help you?’ He slid his backpack off his shoulders and, beneath the counter and just out of my sight, he rummaged. Raising himself, with a thud and a hollow clang, he dropped the object on the counter. Before I could take a proper look, he disappeared into the maze of the underground station, taking long strides, his chin still tipped to the floor. In front of me lay a slow cooker.

When on the fifth consecutive day he dropped off a Cookie Monster toaster, I discarded the phrases I’d been trained to use and disrupted his usual dart to the exit. I had thought of a quirky remark the day before, in case he showed up again, but ended up blurting out something else entirely.

            ‘Cookies?’

I felt like an idiot.

To my surprise, he responded, with a voice much lower than I had anticipated. He kept his vowels within his mouth, mumbling rather than voicing his words.

            ‘I prefer bread over pastries.’

            ‘Where’d you find it?’

            ‘Long story.’

            ‘Care to tell me?’

And he did. He told me, slow and nearly inaudible at first, how he had sat down at the park five minutes from here. Opposite him was a sausage stand, stationed next to another bench. On it sat an old man, cross-legged, tearing apart bread and feeding the crumbs to the birds. Satoshi noticed the man wasn’t clenching stale bread, but a piece of brown toast, the outlines of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster burnt on it, freshly popped from the blue toaster at his elbow. Satoshi’s eyes followed the toaster’s cord and found it discreetly plugged into the sausage stand, the cord of the grill hanging limply beside it. It took two full rounds of toasting before the vendor discovered his sausages weren’t shifting from their raw pink and he chased away the elderly feeder of birds. The Cookie Monster toaster was left behind, forgotten, on the bench.

            I tried hard to stifle a laugh because I didn’t want to scare him off. ‘What’s your name?’

            ‘Satoshi.’

            ‘Mine’s Rose.’

Every subsequent day, Satoshi’s items came with a story: a colourful potted plant left in a sandbox to soak up sunrays; a canvas stuck in-between two vending machines so tightly, that when Satoshi tried pulling it out, the top layer of the artwork ripped off, revealing some still life of grapes underneath; a full-length mirror a man forgot at a nearby bus station, only when discovering his twin wasn’t sitting beside him on the bus, that he’d lost his brother. Each day, looking through the cased opening behind the counter, Satoshi’s eyes remained fixed on the objects he had delivered, and whenever he finished his stories, he lifted his head and a thin, slanted smile appeared on his face, as if to say he loved what I had done with the place. 

I look at my booth differently since Satoshi started visiting. His things have started piling up, but they are now objects that seem to belong here; imbued with the memory of anecdotes, they stopped feeling foreign to me. Meanwhile, the rest is junk waiting to be retrieved. About half of the owners of delivered items do indeed drop by and collect their stuff, the rest I throw away after the standard period of a month. Satoshi’s items, however, remain in the booth with me.

I never told Satoshi I understand what he is doing, pondering instead how far he would take this. I listen to his stories, carefully, as if the truth is to be found in the pretence, in the breadcrumbs of the Cookie Monster toaster, behind the paper that covers the still life. I feel that with every item Satoshi brings to the Lost and Found, I become better equipped to understand him. When he dropped off a guitar with broken E strings, I wondered whether he stopped playing after the strings snapped. When he delivered a set of used crockery, I wondered whether he was eating from plastic plates and cups at home. When he brought an expensive-looking make-up kit, I wondered whether it once belonged to a girlfriend of his, or whether he performs in a theatre group at night. Satoshi’s stoic face never confirmed nor dismissed any of my tacit guesses.

I turn to the clock yet again. Twenty-seven past four. The hope I felt before gives way to a sense of betrayal, and then morphs into the fear that perhaps something has happened to Satoshi.

To calm my mind, I walk past the shelves of labelled cardboard boxes and through the doorless opening to the back. The room has never been wide, but it feels smaller than ever. I sidle alongside a wooden nightstand, careful not to knock over a pile of bowls and dishes, and reach a clearing with a stool in its centre. As I sit down, facing potted houseplants and a floor lamp with a swooped base and a metallic pull-chain, I feel comforted. The flora and floor lamp are Satoshi’s, of course. The same goes for every piece of artwork, kitchenware and book, each item carefully stacked or placed on shelves. Next to the blue Cookie Monster toaster, I notice the ironing board, the cover a Hawaiian print, and instantly remember its sad tale Satoshi shared. I decide to put it against the full-length mirror where it belongs. The toaster I lean against the colourful potted plant, before sitting again, allowing myself to calm down.

A loud clattering from the entrance of the Lost and Found makes me shoot up from the stool. I scuttle back, rushing over to the counter after passing Satoshi’s belongings. A cold gust whips and twists my hair as I step through the opening. I find the back of a hunched man, his arms almost touching the floor while hauling in something massive. The man seizes his grunts of effort as he drops the rectangular object and turns around.

It’s Satoshi, wearing an apologetic smile. He tries to stand straight, but the gesture is offset by flushed cheeks, continuous panting, and sweat stains round his armpits. He sidesteps, revealing what’s holding the door open: a two-seater brown leather sofa.

            As always, Satoshi directs his gaze to the room in the back, but the usual smile does not appear on his face. I am distracted however, by his pyjama pants and the toiletry bag perched on the couch. My hands grip my side of the countertop and I can’t help but look away – Lost and Found, the mirrored text on the window reads. I feel deflated, guilt lumped at the bottom of my stomach. I slowly swivel my head back to Satoshi and find that, for the first time, he stares at me directly. When I meet his eyes, they confirm my suspicion.  

'Lost and Found' by Wester Wagenaar appears in issue 20 of Gutter Magazine. You can subscribe here.

'Gas Chamber, Gas Chamber, what do we have to pay?' by Joshua Lander

Gas Chamber, Gas Chamber, what do we have to pay?

Seeing as antisemitism is back in fashion, I thought I’d make some money out of it. My being Jewish means I am something of an expert on the subject of Jew-hatred, so I wanted to share with you some of my experiences dealing with antisemitism in Glasgow. For the antisemites amongst you this should come as no surprise: Jews are shamelessly opportunistic.

I want to begin with a confession: the stories below are strewn together from my own shaky memories. Subsequently, some of the details may be inaccurate in places, and exaggerated in others. For the antisemites amongst you this should come as no surprise: Jews are famously duplicitous.

Honestly though, I am a shit Jew. I don’t keep Kosher, I don’t do the holidays, I don’t do Friday night dinners, I don’t speak Hebrew, I don’t do Israel, and I’m completely shit with money (although I did once get funding from the Rothschild Foundation).

In-fact, my entire family are a (wonderful) cluster-fuck of assimilated, secular, non-believing, pork-eating, multicultural hybrids. I guess I am the worst of the bunch because I do nothing but talk about how shit we are at being Jewish. I am the worst kind of Jew—the self-loathing, self-depreciating, Philip Roth-reading, de-Jewed-Jew. I’m telling you this so that you’re clear on one thing: I am not Jewish; I am Jewish. More ish than Jew, I’d say (but of course I’d fucking say that!). Nevertheless, when my mother sent me off to a private secondary school in the well-off suburbs of the west end of Glasgow, I became very fucking Jewish. I was Joshua Mordecei Rothstein Lander; I was nothing but a nose.

In my fourth/fifth year of school some classmates created a song for this nose which they called, ‘Grandpa was in the Hitler Youth’. This dubiously tilted tune begins pleasantly enough with a violin playing Klezmer music until Hitler’s voice takes over, as a crowd bellows with adoration. All of this melts into silence, however, as the cacophony of sounds is replaced with the hiss of gas. In case anyone is tempted to consider this a sympathetic appraisal of the Holocaust, my sixteen-year old classmate then counts to three in German, and launches into a rollicking machinegun fire chorus accompanied by screeching guitars and the following lyrics:

Shekel shekel money money
shekel shekel money money
shekel shekel money money,
Jew-ish bread!

I remember finding this hilarious. It was so ridiculously comical. This was antisemitism at its most banal, unthreatening, hollow, and absurd. However, in the second verse the two budding musicians up the ante. The singer puts on a strange accent that is supposed to mimic a shtetl Jew, and sings the following:

Gas chamber gas chamber
do we have to pay?
Gas chamber gas chamber
run away!

Gas chamber gas chamber
do we have to pay?
Gas chamber gas chamber
run away!

Listening to the song now, I am struck by the curious combination of insidious antisemitism and ignorant ‘banter’ (a key word I shall return to). Whilst the chorus is idiotic and innocuous enough, this second verse is a bit more weighted and venomous. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to decry the song for being antisemitic; it was, and sort of still is, a joke to me. The song felt more like an homage than an assault on my personage, particularly as we all listened together and laughed. Antisemitism can be a very amicable affair.

I began to wonder if I was a little too close to offer an objective viewpoint, so decided to play the song to my friends and work colleagues, most of whom are not Jewish. The results were fascinating: both colleagues and friends were shocked, horrified, and flabbergasted; some didn’t want to hear it, and some became incensed, outraged, and almost offended at my own cavalier indifference towards this clear and disgusting performance of antisemitism. I was amused not because of how racist the song is, but at how surprised my non-Jewish friends were at how blatant the antisemitism is. I was surprised by their surprise, and confused by their outrage, apologies, and discomfort.

Being Jewish is an uncomfortable affair. To be Jewish in Scotland required me to develop a strong sense of humour, especially when faced with antisemitism that purported to be a ‘joke’ free from any form of malicious intent. Looking back, I remain sympathetic to the antisemite’s plight. After all, I used to laugh along. When I was at school I wouldn’t have dreamt of calling my classmates antisemitic or racist; I would have defended them and their right to freely express themselves. I was that guy.

However, after spending five years researching anti-Jewish stereotypes I’ve come to realize that I’d internalized antisemitism’s insidious logic. My secondary school education taught me that my Jewish identity was a joke, it was hideous, ridiculous, undesirable, and my role as the performing ‘Jew’ was to laugh along in order to validate and make acceptable their antisemitism.

Antisemitism was an everyday occurrence in my secondary school life. My nicknames were ‘Jewboy’ and ‘half knob’—two appellations I found offensive, but not devastating. It helped that my family and I were so secular and divorced from Judaism. I hate to think how I’d have coped if I had been a ‘proper’ Jew. Indeed, the jokes were so ridiculous, relentless, and constant that I became quite numb to them. I had no idea if I had half a penis or not; nobody had ever bothered asking me this before I arrived in the west end of Glasgow.

There was only one other Jewish boy in the entire school when I joined. I know this because a history teacher singled me out in front of the class before watching a Holocaust documentary to ask if I was able to handle the contents, and not cry like the other Jewish student had. A content warning that split class in terms of what to watch: the spectacle of six million dead Jewish bodies piled up in impossible heaps, or me, now the archetype token Jew, whom Mr Smith promised would cry. I wanted to be stoic and brave, but not for myself; I wanted to impress Mr Smith, and show him I was better than that weak-willed other Jew. I didn’t cry.

The word ‘Jew’ was hurled at me every day, but I only remember one teacher ever asking if I felt like I was being bullied. She was the Religious Studies teacher. I told her, very sincerely and honestly, that I did not feel as though I was being bullied. It was, after all, just a joke. Sadly, she was eventually driven out by the relentless bullying she herself suffered from the students.

I was never physically bullied for being Jewish, but it could have been a factor in some of the violence I experienced. In my third year we had double English classes that were wedged between lunch. One of my classmates placed a metal ruler on the storage heater at the start of first period. These heaters reached an unbearable heat, and never turned off. Just as we were packing up to leave class, the boy, covering his hand with his jumper, lifted the burning hot ruler and plonked it on my left cheek. I screamed in agony, much to the boy’s delight/horror and my English teacher, who was talking with another student, shushed us for making such a racket, and carried on chatting, oblivious to the massive ruler-shaped indent on my face. I ran to the nurse’s office for treatment, who sought out the deputy rector, who brought in the rector, who brought in the unaware (and possibly drunk) English teacher, who was understandably horrified. The boy got one day’s suspension. They weren’t going to punish him until my poor old mother intervened.

Having told this story to other Jews, they have suggested to me that the boy was motivated by antisemitism. I am unsure of this: I doubt he sought to hurt me directly because I was a Jew, but he undoubtedly did target me because I was small, weak, and Jewish. The combination meant I was vulnerable. My Jewishness probably did influence his target selection.

On my final day at school, as is tradition, we wrote farewell messages on our shirts, mostly from students in the years below. Mine was covered in antisemitic scribbles, including a massive swastika drawn on the back of my shirt. This was seen as a rather hilarious joke by my peers. Elsewhere, the teachers were indifferent. In-fact, they were probably relieved that I was leaving so they wouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense anymore. Antisemitism is a pain in the ass when you’re not Jewish.

Even at the time that swastika unnerved me. It’s one thing being demonized by boys that are bigger and older than you, but there’s something deeply unsettling about being belittled by children several years younger. I kept the shirt for a year or so, but eventually threw it out; looking at it was a painful reminder of what I did not want to be: A Jew.

I went on to study at Aberdeen University and was free to do with my Jewishness as I wished. I learnt how to joke about my religious identity freely, and would often cite it as an excuse for my lack of physical prowess or strength. I learnt how to be funny by being self-deprecating, and would eventually learn that this was basically essential to every Jewish person’s survival.

However, school was not quite done with me yet. One day, a boy from a few years below sent me the most peculiar message on Facebook: ‘Nazi Hunter’. This senseless message completely paralysed me. I grew anxious and afraid. But why? There was nothing within these words that should inspire fear, and yet there I was stuck in terror. I blocked him and frantically Googled how to secure my Facebook page. Recently, I met this boy in Chunky Chicken. He was with his school friends. They recognized me, and as we were leaving they called out my name. Politely, I went over and said hello. We discussed how a boy a couple of years below me recently took his own life. They, in turn, revealed that someone in their year died of a drug overdose, before one of them added, ‘But you wouldn’t care about that; he was Muslim.’

Once again I froze. The remark was pointedly antisemitic, but its insidiousness was tucked away under the joke of my alleged indifference. I guess this is what we’d call a micro aggression. I told them to have a good night and left. I couldn’t tell my friends what had happened. How could they have understood? Maybe I should have said something, but that’s the power of racism: it robs its victims of agency, it rips language from you, and leaves you powerless to explain what happened.

My aim here is not to demonize or shame these young men. Can I blame them for their antisemitism when it was not called out, punished, or explained to us? Whose responsibility is it to teach young people how to behave to minorities? Let’s return to ‘Grandpa was in the Hitler Youth’. My classmates wrote that song: I listened and laughed in order to try to fit in and play my part. No adults intervened to explain what else to do or how else to behave. It took me years to learn that you and I write the racism our children sing. I am writing this now to rewrite that song, to explain why jokes matter. How we speak and treat one another matters; indeed, language and how we use it, matters. If we fail to recognise each other’s humanity through language, we collapse into jeering crowds. Ultimately this is the price we pay: gas chamber gas chamber, we cannot run away.

This essay appears in the latest issue of Gutter Magazine. You can subscribe here.

Vacancy: Guest Reader for issue 21

Gutter Seeks Guest Reader for Special Issue With BAME Writers’ Network

Gutter Magazine is looking to hire a guest reader for issue 21 of the magazine. The reader can specialise in either poetry or prose and should identify as a person of colour. Details on how to apply are below.

The reader will help to choose the final selection of new writing for the Spring 2020 issue of the magazine. Gutter publishes a wide array of new writing from around Scotland and the world, and in our next issue, guest-edited by Alycia Pirmohamed and Jay G Ying, we will include featured work by BAME writers in Scotland.

By extending our programme of guest-editors and readers we hope to expand the experience of those selecting the work for the magazine and make Gutter more reflective of the writing scene in Scotland today, for this particular issue we are keen to recruit a reader who identifies as a person of colour.

The reader will be required to read roughly 200 submissions throughout October, and discuss the work they would put forward for the issue with other editors at a meeting in early November. The fee is £200.

Applicants should send a CV and short covering letter outlining whether they would prefer to read poetry or prose, and their interest in the position, to contactguttermagazine@gmail.com by September 10th.

Gutter Magazine issue 20 is out now and can be purchased here.

'Colin doesn't work here any more' by Morag Smith

From Issue 20

Colin doesn’t work here any more

I mean the cute one with grey eyes who
stacked the shelves on Saturday nights, always
knew the different kinds of face pack
and feminine hygiene products
I’d asked him to my big sister’s wedding;
guess he’d had enough of Health and Beauty

He was a customer merchandise supervisor
I loaned him an inspirational book
I’ll not get that back, will I? It’s really
quite upsetting, he could have let us know
somehow; I don’t suppose he even read
‘How To Stop Worrying And Start Living’

The lad’s alright, we used to chat a lot
about Lance Armstrong and the future of socialism
while he fetched me razors from the top shelf,
he had a brain and years ahead of him;
he’s thrown off the shackles of corporate slavery
and gone and joined the bloody revolution!

No goodbyes on the Facebook page
Instagram and Snapchat non-responsive
Best quality staff uniform discarded
Name badge cracked as his sense of duty
The old seven speed Raleigh Roadster
mysteriously missing from the garden shed
— Colin has left the building


Morag Smith is a European Scot, who lives in Paisley and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies.

Gutter is 10 Years Old!

Gutter Cover.png

TEN YEARS OF GUTTER

Scotland’s magazine of new writing celebrates its 10th birthday with new design and a special 20th issue featuring Alasdair Gray interview.

In the last 10 years Gutter has published more than 650 writers including well known figures James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, & Alasdair Gray, as well as many emerging writers who have gone on to further publication.

Scenes, zines, live lit nights (indeed, whole publishing companies), referenda and prime ministers (at last count, three), have come and gone; but as we said when Gutter launched in 2009, we’re in this for the long haul.

Our first and tenth issues’ Editorials were manifestos of sorts, reflecting upon the multiple meanings of our title as noun and verb. It feels important to restate our values as we move into our second decade: the purpose of this magazine is to provide an accessible forum for the best new Scottish prose and poetry—where newcomers share pages with esteemed, established voices. It’s been our honour to publish everyone: from complete unknowns, yet to make their mark, to Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and more (welcome, William Boyd and Leila Aboulela).

As Editors, nothing beats the thrill of discovering a fresh, exciting voice. Gutter remains both Scottish and International, something more vital than ever. For us, it is not a duality. In issue 01, we coined a word for our outward-looking, inclusive editorial stance, a stance rooted in this diverse, vibrant city where we are based: Cosmowegianism. It remains at the heart of our approach.

We also said we wanted to encourage writers who take stylistic and thematic risks, who challenge the status quo, and who represent unheard or marginalised voices. As we launch this twentieth (twentieth!) issue, we hope our back-catalogue bears witness to our efforts to do so. We may not always get it right, but our successes give the sense we are part of something necessary.

We are delighted that Carol McKay, who opened issue 01, also opens issue 20. One of the privileges of a decade reading and publishing new work is the ability to take a longer view, to see writers progress and grow. Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians, to see all time is all time. Across 20 issues, we have published 1511 pieces of prose, poetry and drama by 679 writers. Not just the same writers: on average, each issue contained 32 writers making their Gutter debut, and 4 writers never published anywhere before. Since making their Gutter debuts, those 679 writers have won 28 literary prizes and published 339 books or chapbooks between them.

Sadly, in that time, we also saw some wonderful contributors pass on. It was our honour to have published them and been a small part of their existence. So it goes.

As we approach our adolescence, it’s interesting to reflect on our transition from upstart on the margins of Scottish letters to something of a ‘fixture.’ Complacency is the last thing we desire, so we pass this milestone with renewed commitment to publish the best new writing and challenge the status quo.

To Make It New (as Chu Hsi maybe said, and as Ezra Pound recycled, via 2 Corinthians), we have embarked on a renovation of the magazine, more reflective of our fledgling cooperative and progressive ethos. You will notice the new masthead and header font, which we hope remains instantly recognisable as the Gutter our readers love, whilst evolving the design (we also take the cover pattern in a new direction that we think speaks of murmerations, movement and multiplicities.

Gutter 20 sees us move to a larger font with more generous margins (and gutters) which we hope makes for a more readable book. What doesn’t change however is the price; despite rising print and postage costs. We are grateful for the support we have received from Creative Scotland, but now more than ever, we need you and your friends to subscribe.

The Gutter Interview is now The Conversation (with the inestimable Alasdair Gray discussing his recent translation of Dante) and we present a new non-fiction section—Scance—for memoir, creative non-fiction and essays. Scance is a Scots verb meaning to give a critical or appraising look at, to investigate, refect upon, or scrutinise something; it is also to boast or embellish, and a noun for a gleaming thing. Whichever way, we hope you like the Scance in the Gutter.

Thanks for reading the magazine, and allowing us the privilege of being a wee part of Scottish Letters. We’ve some exciting plans for issues 21 and 22, so here’s to the next year and the next decade of Gutter Magazine.

Join us to celebrate Gutter’s 10th birthday with a little low quality fizz and high quality readings at the Scottish Poetry Library on the
24th of August

- The Editors