Friday, April 27, 2012

A DAY AT THE OFFICE

This story is not particularly good. But it isn't terrible, either. It's somewhere in-between. BUT FIRST, a question to which I probably already know the answer.

I'm over halfway finished editing the second draft of mindtrip. Once I finish, I am contemplating printing three readers' copies for proofing purposes. Anyone interested in a giveaway for a free copy of my newest, most favorite book I've ever written? Because I'm thinking of making a contest. I KNOW! This blog is a desolate wasteland, and you accidentally stumbled upon this entry, and why in the world would you want to read an entire book written by the same person who wrote the story below?

But I have to ask.

Comment below if you're interested. Maybe in a couple of years, we'll all look back and reread this entry with a real sense of sorrow, like, there will be zero comments and no new entries and also I died in a fire. But who cares, because it's Friday, and it's beautiful outside! NOW: my story.

I actually remember writing this - I was 23, 24. Back when cussing was totally rad. I actually still work with William, except at an entirely different office that is two hundred miles from where we were. Back then, part of my job description was technical support. But two thirds of the time, customers would sometimes call to complain about things that I couldn't actually do, like cancel their magazine subscriptions. I actually started to dread the ringing phone. Was this really a typical day for us seven years ago?  Of course it was.



Another Day at the Office

If a man’s life is a carrot, then fear is the grater that rips and shreds his very existence to orange flecks in the salad of destiny. As the telephone rings and clangs into my ear, I understand the nature of fear and marvel at its capacity to keep me from getting even a bit of work done.

The hateful woman that I am avoiding is named Tina, and she is the most wretched person in the existence of the universe. She has called three times in the past week, each time complaining that she has been unable to reach me for a month because my line is always busy. I have not reminded her of our very recent communiqu├ęs, but that is only because I have other fish to fry. Some people use their words to coax and cajole, some to sooth and please, and others use them as battering rams designed to smash in the fucking face of the guy on the other line. Tina is the master of aggression, and I am weary of parrying her clumsy smashes and thrusts.

Tuesday, for instance. I’d been pouring myself a glass of scotch when the phone rang. I was hoping that it was Pizza Hut - our pizza had been fifteen minutes late at the time, and my coworker William and I were getting hungry - but, to my dismay, it was Tina again.

"HEL-LO!?" Tina shouted at me over the thin copper line. "I GOT THIS THING YOU SENT ME, BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH IT!" I’d still not learned to recognize the harsh dissonance of Tina’s shrieky voice, and I pleasantly asked what thing she’d received in the mail. "YOUR PROGRAM, WHAT THE HELL ELSE WOULD I BE TALKING ABOUT!?" Tina yelled, and sensing blood, she started tearing at the proverbial neck of the lamb. "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!? HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN BUSINESS!? DO NONE OF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THIS THING!? CAN YOU CONNECT ME TO SOMEONE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS SOME SHIT!?"

I cannot connect her to anyone who knows some shit, and so now I am pretending the telephone is merely a device designed to keep me awake throughout the day. "William," I begin, but William already knows what I’m going to say. He passes me the scotch silently. William would be the best bartender if only he had a bottle of good olives and some vermouth hidden away in his desk, but he only has a modest array of hard liquors, two bottles of soda water, and a jar of pickled onions, so he’ll have to settle for Decent Bartender of the Month.

The phone rings again, once, and then falls silent, only to blare again thirty seconds later. William leans over his notebook; his lips move silently as he composes another verse of his latest rap opus:

Bitches fall on they kneez lickety split    
Honkey ass motherfuckers always ridin’ my shit
 
"Pretty good," I allow, "but ‘bitches’ is so misogynist, don’t you think? Maybe you should use ‘skanks’ or ‘hoes’ - those terms are a little more empowering."

William smirks, but I can see that he’s mentally rewriting the line, optimizing the verse by decoding inflections, syllables, and beat into a near-organic line of noise and then re-encoding it with even fresher dips and beats. Even a single change of a syllable can mean an hour’s work for William, who is to rap what Edison was to hard science. He is a motherfucking perfectionist, and it shows in each of his phat beats.

We are gentlemen in the prime of our lives, in our glory years, and the only thing keeping us back is this hateful buzzing telephone. Just for kicks, I pick up the phone, clamping my nose with my thumb and index finger to give a nasal quality.

"Hello, thank you for choosing AT&T," I speak in a monotone. "Please hang up or try your call again." Then, both of us unsuccessfully stifling our laughter, I hang the fuck up. It sits there silently for a few seconds as if unable to believe our audacity and then rings again, over and over.

Without a word, William turns the set over, unplugs the telephone cable, and slides the whole telephone unit into his desk. He then locks the desk carefully, puts the key in his front pocket, and leans back over his notebook. "Problem solved," he says, his only words to me this entire afternoon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cannibal Lee

Okay, enough original content! Back to re-posting old stuff.
I have no idea when I originally wrote this - I was in my late teens or early twenties. It was definitely a really, really, really long time ago. I still like it, but I fixed a few things that always bothered me.


Ten or eleven years ago,
In the kingdom by the sea,
There lived a girl that I dated a while
By the name of Annabelle Lee
And we'd go out to dinner when the restaurant said
We could "buy one and get one free."

We dated maybe a year or so
In the kingdom by the sea
And were happier than two doped-up drunks
Myself and Annabelle Lee
When she caught some sort of fatal disease
And died, quite suddenly.

"Bummer," I said, and got take-out Chinese
Without my Annabelle Lee
I sat around in my underwear
And watched a little T.V.
But little did I know that a deadly space virus
Turned my love into a zombie.

So late that night, she knocked on my door
My beautiful Annabelle Lee
"Who is it?" I cried, and reached for my gun
Which was sitting right beside me
(I had to watch out for thugs and fools
In my kingdom by the sea.)

All I heard was a choked grunt
And a scratching that sounded eerie
"Hang on," I yelled, and holding my gun,
I opened the door slowly
Mumbling "I don't have any money, man,"
Figuring it was just some junkie
Imagine the look of surprise in my eyes
To see my Annabelle Lee.

"Bitch, you dead!" I protested, a little aggrieved
As she murmured and fumbled at me
There was dirt in her hair and an unbalanced stare
In the eyes of my Annabelle Lee
"Fresh brains," she expelled, as I suddenly smelled
The embalmed corpse now clawing at me.

 Without a clear thought, I aimed off a shot
At the beautiful Annabelle Lee
And she jerked to the side but kept coming along
Drooling quite cannibal-ly
I tried to remember the lessons I'd learned
From Romero and Lucio Fulci

I ran to the shed and threw open the door
Looking around frantically
I noticed the machete, all iron and heavy
And grabbed it with fervent glee
With my machete, I was finally ready
To take on my Annabelle Lee.

For the moon shines above and I wait for my love
My beautiful Annabelle Lee
My biceps will strain as I destroy the brain
Of the zombified Annabelle Lee
And so I shall wait for my now ex-girlfriend
And wish I was watching MacGyver again
In my apartment there by the sea
Without zombies gnawing at me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

PURE GOLD

Before Rebecca and I were married - before, I think, I moved to Texas - we decided to come up with a list of a hundred things that made us happy.

One hundred is a very arbitrary number. By the end, I was really stretching to finish the list. That's fine. We're grown-ups now, which means making our own arbitrary numbers. SEVEN! Seven current obsessions. Seven things that make me happy, because I have a cold and I need cheering up.

(1.) Cookie Butter.

If you live near a Trader Joe's and you haven't tried cookie butter, you should hide your face. I did. I hid it up until this weekend when I finally bought a jar. Cookie butter tastes like graham-cracker flavored Nutella, little sugar sprinkle bits and all. Only it's somehow even better.
Here is what we've eaten it on so far:
* An empty spoon.

(2) Pomegranate Jigsaw Puzzles.

I like jigsaw puzzles. Okay? I'm a grandma posing as a thirty-year-old man. Pomegranate jigsaws are spectacular because the pieces are really thick and click together in a way that I'm not talented enough to describe, other than "Lego-like". I just invented my new favorite adjective.
Also, all of their puzzles are really pretty.

(3) Game of Thrones.
Is it weird that this feels like an embarrassing confession? Really, why does my brain equate 'fantasy' with 'punch in the kidney'?  I don't know. I think I've been burned too many times. This may be the first fantasy book I've ever read without stale archetypes or magick faeries.

(4) Guided by Voices / Boston Spaceships / Robert Pollard.


Why is Robert Pollard SO GOOD? I don't know. Did you know that, by law, every blog post mentioning 'Robert Pollard' must also contain the word 'prolific'? Can't arrest me now. So far, he's released two albums this year - with a third due out in June and another in early Fall. And, for the most part, they're usually unusually fantastic, though - like lutefisk - they usually take a couple of listens for the hooks to grab. What a terrible simile.
His music is more than a little daunting, considering how many records he's put out. Two that are both fantastic and entirely different: "Let it Beard" by Boston Spaceships and "Alien Lanes" by Guided by Voices. Both are like listening to an alternate-reality Pandora: a couple dozen songs that sound as if they were recorded by entirely different bands.

(5) Cabin in the Woods. Go see it. Don't watch the previews. Don't read the reviews. We'll talk later.

(6) Daniel Manus Pinkwater


I'm on a Daniel Manus Pinkwater kick. I'm sure everyone's noticed by now. The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death is one of my top ten all time favorite books. It's brain comfort food.

(7)  Audrey


She's gotten pretty good at cheering me up. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blind Luck

A NEW STORY. I haven't written a new story in forever. I figured I'd try, at least, during one of Audrey's half hour naps. So I wrote a prequel to my first novella, Noisome Beasts. And now, against my better judgment, I'm posting it.


“She thinks she’s so cool,” said Todd with a scowl.
“Who?”
He pointed at a woman across the street. She walked down the sidewalk carefully, holding a dog’s leash in one hand. “She’s wearing really expensive sunglasses, even though it’s pretty cloudy. And she’s got a cane. I saw a rad cane like that at a garage sale once and I asked my mom to get it for me, and she said no. She said I’d just knock over her planters again.” It was true. Todd had to replace one after he broke it doing a sweet skateboard trick. Considering how ridiculously low his allowance was, he’d barely been able to afford three Symphony candy bars that week. He usually got four and put the change in his ‘emergency’ fund, which was eventually spent on Magic the Gathering cards.  
Todd was seventeen years old.
“I don’t know,” his friend Edgar said carefully. “I don’t think she’s trying to be cool. I think she’s blind.”
“What?” Todd squinted at the woman as she followed the dog down a side street. “How can you tell?”
“Well, I don’t know. Just look at her.”
“You have blind-ar, huh?” Todd poked Edgar in the stomach and laughed. “Makes sense that you guys can recognize each other.”
“That’s insensitive,” Edgar said. “I’m not blind. I’m myopic. There’s a difference.”
“I can’t see any difference,” said Todd, and laughed hysterically again.  

Edgar crossed his arms and stopped dead in his tracks.  He stared at the sidewalk, lips pursed.
Todd stopped too. There was no point in going to Pizza Land without Edgar, because he was the one who had all the money. “Did you find a quarter?” Todd finally asked.
“No. I’m upset.”
"Just a bottle cap, huh? I’d be mad too. Once, I thought I found a dollar, and it just turned out to be -" 
“No, Todd. I’m upset because you think it’s funny to be myopic. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t have empathy.” Edgar took off his thick glasses and thrust them at Todd. His eyes looked squinty and small, and Todd felt uncomfortable, as if he’d seen Edgar without pants. “It’s terrible not being able to see. I’d give anything to have twenty-twenty vision. But that doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?”
Todd shrugged. It was funny, that was all. Blind people fell down a lot and couldn’t find the bathroom on their own; what wasn’t hilarious about that?  “If I say yes,” he said carefully, “would you still buy us a pizza? I’m really hungry.”
“Well, I’m not,” Edgar said. He shoved his glasses back on and walked down the sidewalk quickly, leaving Todd to scan the sidewalk just in case Edgar really had seen a quarter. Stranger things had happened.
“Wait up!” he called as Edgar stomped away. “Listen, you can choose the toppings this time!” 

But Edgar was inconsolable. Todd turned his shirt backwards as he ran down the sidewalk. When he caught up with Edgar, he gasped and said, “Look, I dressed myself like a blind person! Now you can laugh at me and we’ll be even.”
“That’s not how it works,” Edgar insisted, though he couldn’t suppress a snicker.
“Then explain it to me. I want to make this right. I feel really bad.” Todd’s stomach rumbled again.
“I don’t think there’s a way.”
“What if I donated money to charity?”
“You don’t have any.”
“Oh.” Todd thought for a while. “What if I wished really, really hard? What if I wished that no one would ever be blind?”
Edgar shook his head. “It’s a nice sentiment, but the thing about America is that everyone can live here as equals. You can’t discriminate like that. What if I said I wished no one was named Todd?”
Todd looked down at his shoes, ashamed. When he thought about it that way, it really was hateful. Even just imagining Edgar saying the words made Todd want to knock him over and run.
“Maybe you could just cover your eyes for a while,” Edgar said. “Then you’d understand what real blind people go through every day. Then maybe you’d feel sorry for them.”
“I could yell an apology,” Todd offered. “Maybe the blind woman would hear it. She can probably hear really well.”
“Forget it,” muttered Edgar.
“No, I like your idea.” Todd covered his eyes. “Here I am! I’m blind. It’s so good to be here, in this country.”
“Blind people aren’t immigrants.” Edgar grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him.  “Todd, you have to take this seriously.” He handed Todd his glasses. “Try putting these on.”
Todd slipped them on dubiously. They were greasy and had bits of cheese puffs on the lenses. He looked around at the blurred landscape. “Is this what it’s like to be blind?”
“Can you see anything?”
“Not really.”
“Good. Come on, step over here. See how well you like it.”
Todd moved his foot experimentally. The world bowed and buckled around him. It looked like he was walking along the surface of an enormous soap bubble. “I don’t think so,” he said. He moved his head around, taking in the entire sidewalk. “This is what it feels like to be drunk, I bet. Do you think blind people feel drunk all the time?”
“Give me back my glasses,” Edgar said.
Todd handed them back.

As they walked down the street, Todd felt proud of himself. Empathy. That was a strong word, a word that he’d heard in dull English class lectures and on television shows starring strong-chinned doctors.  And, for a fleeting moment, he’d experienced it. 
Being blind wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was pretty bad. “I guess blind people aren’t as terrible as I figured,” he said at last. “I guess I shouldn’t have made fun of them.”
“Sure,” Edgar said quietly.
Now he had apologized, and Edgar would buy him the pizza he deserved. Todd felt proud, like he was a real adult. I’m going to write this on the calendar, he told himself, but by the time he got home, stuffed with mushroom-olive pizza and Dr. Pepper, he’d forgotten it. But he didn’t forget to draw sunglasses on all the Magic the Gathering cards that Edgar had left over at his house.  It was a good idea. That way, he’d always know whose cards belonged to whom.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What is this.

This seems to be a story I started writing (but never finished) in August of 2008. I don't know where this was going, but it looks pretty exciting.


When we first learned of Ms. Gregor’s elopement and subsequent resignation from the Finneway Private School for the Talented and Bright, we were stalwart in our denial. For hadn’t we loved her over all other teachers? Offered gifts of polished fruit and cheap jewelry? Followed her lessons bright-eyed and cheerfully day after day? She was our first love, and like all first loves, she stayed burned on our hearts; we would never accept the loss.

When, a week after Ms. Gregor vanished, the hapless, weak-willed substitute teacher announced that a full-time replacement would be joining the class the following Monday, we chased her out of the classroom with our jeers and catcalls. Ms. Gregor replaced! Surely it was a bad joke. Our dear, beautiful, wonderful instructor would surely return in a few days. She wouldn’t have left us permanently, not without tears and gnashing of teeth and despair.

And yet, that Monday, we had our first glimpse: he sat under the tall oak tree gnawing an acorn and shaking nervously. His beady eyes flashed as he stared at us, and then he wordlessly ran up the tree. No longer able to stare down the interloper, we sullenly gathered our supplies and marched to our classroom.

We shuffled into the classroom as we had when our dear Ms. Gregor had attended our study body; had greeted us every morning with a smile and a gentle “hello, class.” We sat calmly in our seats and awaited the new teacher. Written on the chalkboard, two words: “PROFESSOR SQUIRREL.”

And then he was there; he dashed into the classroom, jumped onto Ms. Gregor’s desk (the desk where we’d had so many tests graded, so many hearts bursting with love) and stared at us.

The laughter slowly started in the corner of the classroom and spread over us. We laughed and laughed at his bushy tail, his black eyes, his ridiculous whiskers. Professor Squirrel jumped in surprise and ran up the coatrack in the corner of the room where he chattered angrily at the class.

Friday, April 6, 2012

GUEST POST!

I made a guest post over at Rebecca's blog! It's about the birth... of a baby. You can go read it.

Go Fish - TO THE DEATH!!!

I was in my very early twenties when I wrote this. To this day, the only card game I really know how to play is Go Fish. If you're going to play cards, that's the way to go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Chicken Man

For anyone who grew up reading Daniel Manus Pinkwater:  the Chicken Man was fantastically, amazingly real.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Walk! An Instructional Pamphlet Inspired by the Cereal Box.

Forget waiting until tomorrow. Let's do this now.
Originally, I planned on posting each story with a little cute introduction on where the story came from, when I wrote it, and blah blah blah. But I honestly don't remember writing this. The file is dated 2005, which probably means I was very young and very stoned.

Exposition

To conclude five months of suspense: yes, the baby was born. She is fantastic.

Let's go back a decade.

In my late teens and early twenties, I wrote short stories. I posted them on my Livejournal, an unmatched medium for self-publishing in the early aughts. I collected the rest on various websites (all hosted by Emily Stallings!) Two sisters named Sarah and Rebecca Stephens read them, and they liked them enough to come and visit, so I married one of them.

But after a few years, I let most of my stories disappear from the internet. Partially because I was embarrassed by my early work, but mostly because I was lazy, and who would want to read any of it again? I'd started writing my first novel and decided I was done with short stories. Once I was in print, everyone could read my Real Books.

That was four years ago. Four years ago! I haven't even sent out a query letter in the past two years. Once I finish the second draft of mindtrip, I plan on submitting it to agents again, but I'm not as optimistic as I used to be. I might wind up sitting on yet a fourth unread novel.And isn't the whole point of writing to share creativity with the rest of the world?

Rebecca said: why not repost your old short stories on your blog? At least that way, people would be able to read your older stuff again. And if they like it, you could maybe post some newer stories. She's pretty smart.

So, starting this week, I'll be posting my short stories. The first will go up tomorrow. GET READY!