~Meniscus Archives~

Summer 2004
Issue #4

May - August 2004

Visual Art and Spiritual Evolution
Andy Gmür
Biological evolution has advanced to the point that a 'spiritual evolution' is taking place. This natural process is happening, no matter if we are aware of it or not.

The Dehydration Epidemic
Jaime Larese
Our first step to improving a myriad of health problems is understanding dehydration and how much water we need to be drinking daily to maintain our fragile health.

What's Endangering Our Earth?
Jeff Hernandez
The everyday items that are meant to facilitate our lives, in fact may be harming us more than we bargained for. Organic chemicals are extremely cheap to produce and are very effective in their job functions.

Looking Forward to Clean Energy
Jon Heinrich
Fortunately, solutions exist and if we are able to raise awareness and convince our policy makers to consider it a priority, we can all look forward to a bright, energy-rich future instead of one marked by environmental, political, and social disaster.
Aaron Ades
You don't need to save for a rainy day if you create a system that is in harmony with the needs of the human animal. Create what you need and eliminate the reliance on things you cannot create.
Ten Things You Can Do to Help Your Earth
Chrystie Hopkins
Whether you live in New York City or Big Fork, Montana, everyday decisions that you make can impact the environment. The revolution starts at home. Here are ten things that you can do to help save YOUR world.
Derek Gumuchian
We are all one. In this article we explore the idea of the Earth as an entire entitiy and as our mother.
The Fabulous Sylvan Sisters
Dan Berthiaume
An hour later, Donna was lazily reclining in the passenger seat of Melinda's cherry red Volkswagen New Beetle, consuming a brunch consisting of a can of Diet Pepsi and a low-tar cigarette...
è bella Designs in Peru
Michael Weintrob
Photographer Michael Weintrob travels to Peru with è bella Designs, to capture how è bella has helped to revive the art of weaving and the Peruvuian economy.
Rough Around the Edges
Jonathan Alsop

Technically, first thing in the morning is the very best time to taste wine since your palate is fresh and unviolated. But I don't do it: the sight of daddy in his bathrobe on a Sunday morning slogging down a half-dozen bottles of wine could stay with a child.

Show Review:
Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda—Six Years of friends, funk and crack horns.
Jon Heinrich
Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda celebrate six years as a band by playing at Boston's Harpers Ferry. Opening up for Arcoda was Color and Talea and Caveman. 4/4/04.

CD Reviews:

Empty Food
Kerry Rumore
Fish Pond &
The Little Prince Discovers a Rose
Katie Molnar

Selections by Brian Gagné:

  • [It Fails to Pass]
  • Fever/Lever
  • Grief
  • Smallness annihilated in the scope of puzzlement
  • Untitled A

Spring Issue Launch
Club Europa,
Feb. 19, 2004

State of the Art,
Oct. 23, 2003

Portland, Maine
Aug. 30, 2003

Premier Launch,
Zeitgeist Gallery,
Aug. 14, 2003


The Fabulous Sylvan Sisters

By Dan Berthiaume
Published 5/15/04


Photo by Rob Hansen

Her eyes opened slowly and reluctantly. They were beautiful eyes; almond-shaped with long lashes and irises of a blue so light they almost appeared devoid of color. But the beauty carried a harshness, an edge of danger, a sense of calculating and unforgiving judgment formulating within those perfect orbs.

Donna Sylvan rubbed the slumber from those perfect eyes and stroked her smooth, equally flawless face. Tall, thin, angular, gorgeous and wealthy to an absurd degree, at 21 she had already graced countless magazine covers, guest-starred on tacky sitcoms and reality shows, and guaranteed the success of trendy nightspots from New York to Melbourne simply by being photographed having a good time inside. Having a good time was her unofficial occupation, although at the advice of her accountants Donna listed herself as an ”entertainer” on her tax returns.

Without demonstrating a hint of outward enthusiasm, Donna slithered her long, slender body along $2,000 pink silk sheets into an upright position against a hand-carved redwood headboard. Despite the array of penthouse suites and vacation homes she maintained in Malibu, Manhattan, the Hamptons, London, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo, Donna had spent the night in what remained her favorite residence: her father’s Beverly Hills mansion.

As president of movie and TV production empire Sylvan Films, Donna’s father Bill Sylvan was rarely home, and her mother, the one-time soap opera star and current socialite Bliss Toogood-Sylvan, had left behind Bill’s infidelities and temper tantrums long ago. That meant Donna had the 18,000-square-foot classically architected mansion practically to herself.

Her bedroom, the size of a studio apartment with its own full bathroom and kitchenette, was a mix of purple velvet and erotic artwork that one tabloid magazine had proclaimed in a headline as a “Swamp of Depraved Lust.” This came from a direct quote by an aspiring fashion photographer who Donna had picked up for a one-night stand and refused to speak to afterward. He got revenge and a healthy career boost by telling the story to a leading celebrity scandal sheet, comparing Donna’s bedroom to a “wetlands where promiscuity and sexual abandon breed to life.”

The heavy oak double doors shielding Donna’s private ecosystem from the world at large swung open, letting in an unwelcome burst of sun from the giant skylight in the hallway. Since Bill Sylvan was on location in Madagascar and the housekeeping staff knew never to disturb her before 2 PM, Donna realized only one other person could be responsible for the intrusion: her older sister.

Melinda Sylvan, 25, every bit as pretty as Donna but shorter, stockier and less severe, strolled into the room. “It’s almost 11 AM, Donna,” she announced.

“Thanks for the time update,” Donna replied. ‘Do you do the weather, too?”

Melinda tossed her curly blonde hair over her shoulder and sighed. “You are so irresponsible,” she stated. “You told me a month ago that you would help me at the rally today, and then you go out partying till God knows what time last night and totally blow it off.”

Melinda had made a name for herself as a teenager starring in a wholesome TV drama her father had produced about a God-fearing family struggling to keep its farm in 1930s Oklahoma. She had then obtained a degree in environmental science from UC Berkeley, and ever since had devoted herself as a full-time activist for ecological preservation in California while writing a column on sensible dating for a teen magazine in her spare time.

“Don’t get your granny panties all bunched up, Melinda,” said Donna, dragging out the vowels in her sister’s name. “I didn't blow off anything. I've gone out clubbing every Saturday night since I was 14. Why would last night be any different?”

“Great attitude,” said Melinda. “I try to keep up the family name and you've been tearing it down by whoring around since you were 14.”

“I suppose I could have been a respectable young lady like you and saved myself till I was 15,” said Donna. What Melinda had managed to keep secret from the tabloids and her parents, but not her kid sister, was that from ages 15 to 18 she had spent almost every off-camera minute on the set of “Family Pride” in a trailer having sex with the hunky young actor who played the town minister’s rebellious teenage son.

Melinda’s jaw dropped, then she set it firmly in an expression of rebuke that Donna had see many times before. “That was one boy and we were in love,” said Melinda. “I’m not saying it was right, but by age 15 you had slept with the prep school football team and half of your friends‚ older brothers.”

“Don’t forget Lorenzo, the hot school custodian with the Aztec sun tattoo on his ass,” Donna cheerily reminded Melinda, who stormed out of the dark, fetid bedroom into the welcoming light of the hall.

An hour later, Donna was lazily reclining in the passenger seat of Melinda’s cherry red Volkswagen New Beetle, consuming a brunch consisting of a can of Diet Pepsi and a low-tar cigarette. She had put on a pink halter-top, black microminiskirt and stiletto heels, which she figured would annoy Melinda even more than smoking in her car without asking permission. Melinda, decked out in her usual protest outfit of Sierra Club T-shirt, denim shorts, and sandals, disapprovingly glared at her sister but said nothing.

“Just because we’re hugging trees or whatever doesn't mean you have to dress like a refugee from a Dave Matthews concert,” said Donna. “You can save the environment in style.”

“We’re not hugging trees and I like the way I’m dressed,” Melinda responded curtly. “David liked it, too. You don’t have to dress like a tramp to get men to like you.”

“At least not dorky men,” said Donna. Melinda’s most recent beau had been a tall, bearded fisheries management grad student and environmental activist who Donna considered as interesting as the wood he so passionately defended. Melinda let the comment pass.

When the ash reached the filter of Donna’s cigarette, she idlely flicked the butt out the open passenger side window onto the highway. Melinda screamed so loudly Donna feared they were about to collide with a logging truck. “How dare you?” shrieked Melinda. “We’re on our way to a rally to save the forest and you throw your filthy cigarette butt out the window? It’s bad enough you pollute the air with the smoke from those things. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking you need to chill,” said Donna, indigent but utterly calm. “Sorry, I wasn't consciously thinking when I did that. I'll write a check to plant a tree to make up for it, or something.”

Melinda pounded her fist on the steering wheel hard enough to send vibrations through the whole car. “Throw money at the problem,” she exclaimed. “Great. That’s so typical of this whole consumer-driven society. Go around trampling and destroying everything and then make a fifty-dollar donation so you can sleep at night. Maybe you should have just stayed in bed this morning.”

“I’d say that’s a definite,” pouted Donna, slumping in her seat. For the rest of the ride she silently studied the bright, radiant colors of the fresh roses Melinda had placed in the flower vase that came as part of the Beetle’s console.

The rally took place in a large clearing at the edge of a forest in danger of being razed to make way for condominiums. A large stage and sound system had been erected and about 3,000 people, most of whom Donna quickly classified as “granola heads”, gathered around the stage. On the stage were an assortment of environmental speakers and activists, as well as a smattering of celebrities Melinda had lured with the Sylvan name and promise of free publicity. Donna observed the action from a folding chair at the rear of the stage, admiring the view of the nearby mountains and thinking how nice it would look from the deck of a luxury condo.

Donna shifted her head from the mountain view to look at a tall, muscular, well-tanned man of about 27 dressed in a silk shirt and white linen pants who was standing next to her. He was too well-dressed and good-looking to be anything but a celebrity who had tagged along for the exposure.

Donna said hello and learned he was Brett Jenkins, a mildly famous movie actor who she dimly remembered making out with at a Berlin discotheque about three years earlier. Her attention quicky refocused to Brett, and they spent the next half-hour discussing clothes, private beaches, and ugly people who somehow managed to be popular. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to the day’s event.

“I mean, I like trees and all that, but do these people really have nothing else to do today?” Brett wondered aloud. “I gave up the chance to play golf in a foursome that included Jack Nicholson because my agent said this might get me in good with Bill Sylvan.”

Donna laughed so loudly that the Native American poet addressing the crowd from the front of the stage paused and turned his head. She stifled further giggling and whispered, “Daddy doesn't give a shit about any of this. He writes a seven-figure check once a year and then goes back to screwing starlets and terrorizing directors. I’m your ticket to Daddy. I’m his little girl.”

Brett slipped his arm around Donna’s shoulders. “That’s good to know, he said, “because I still may meet up with Jack later tonight and I could certainly impress him with a pretty girl like you as my date.”

Donna said nothing, but simply moved closer to Brett. She had been around Jack Nicholson once or twice and found him charming enough to consider sleeping with despite being close to the same age as her grandfather. She wouldn't mind meeting him again.

The poet concluded his verse to a round of hearty applause. Brett rolled his eyes and Donna laughed again, knowing the crowd noise would obscure the sound. Suddenly she leapt to her feet. “Let’s give the trees some edge,” she said, and ran to the front of the stage. She grabbed the microphone from the startled poet. Raising her arms above her head, Donna twirled for the audience. The applause was deafening.

“Hello, nature lovers!” Donna shouted into the microphone. “How do you feel?” The crowd responded with more enthusiasm than it had demonstrated all day. “All right! I love day spas and shopping on Rodeo Drive, but I love nature, too! Let‚s hear it for the trees!” The crowd roared in agreement. Smiling, Donna bowed, making her skirt hike up to expose even more skin than it would normally reveal, and handed the microphone to Melinda, who was frowning behind her with tightly crossed arms.

“Let’s hear it for my kid sister, everybody’s favorite party girl, Donna Sylvan,” Melinda said with minimal emotion. The crowd roared yet again. Her good deed for the day behind her, Donna flounced back to her seat and returned all her energies to raising Brett’s interest without making him think sex would be a sure bet.

The ride home took about 90 minutes with traffic. Melinda remained totally silent for the first hour, and Donna made no effort to initiate any conversation. Instead she fiddled with the business card of Brett’s agent, on which Brett had scribbled his cell phone number.

“I suppose you’re proud of yourself,” Melinda said, finally breaking the silence.

“Proud of myself for what?” asked Donna, steeling herself for the verbal deluge that was about to come her way. She had been waiting for this precise moment to light a cigarette, since Melinda was already going to yell at her, anyway.

“For ruining the entire event!” exclaimed Melinda. “We put together an educational, entertaining program on why these woods are worth saving and you ruin it within 30 seconds by tarting it up!”

“The program may have been educational, but it was hardly entertaining before I showed up,” said Donna. “Did you see the way the crowd responded to me? It was the best thing to happen all day! That footage will make its way to news shows all over the world! There’s no way those condos are getting built now.”

“Even if you saved those particular woods, you set back the movement as a whole,” said Melinda. “We’re trying to get people to take the cause seriously, and you turn it into one more tawdry episode of the Donna Sylvan Tabloid Sitcom.

“Stop being so dramatic, Bessie,” said Donna, calling Melinda by the name of the high-strung, serious farm girl she had played on “Family Pride.” “The people who already believe in the cause won’t change their minds because of me. The people who already think it’s a joke might use me an example, but nothing will change their minds, either. The other 95 percent of the world might see a pretty blonde girl in a miniskirt saying she loves trees and think twice the next time they’re about to litter. What else can you really hope for?

“Plenty,” said Melinda. She sunk back into silence. Donna returned to smoking her cigarette, carefully blowing the smoke out the window so it wouldn’t stink up the car. She began mentally sorting through her immense walk-in closet for clothes to wear that night. When she had finished her cigarette, she prepared to flick it out the window, then caught herself and opened the car’s ashtray. It was gleaming silver inside. Pure, untouched, virgin metal. She felt a pang of regret at sullying it with her cigarette, but better to wreck that little environment than the big one outside. Donna sat still for a moment, then decided to reignite the conversation.

“If it makes you feel any better, Melinda, I honestly think you did a good job today,” said Donna. “I think people listened.”

“Really?” asked Melinda. She kept her voice even and dull, but her mouth slightly twitched upward. "Definitely," said Donna. "As much as you could hope for." Then she leaned back, closed her eyes, and let the cool, fresh late afternoon breeze blow through the window into her face as she dreamed of another late night on the streets of Hollywood.

Daniel Berthiaume


Meniscus Magazine © 2004. All material is property of respective artists.