The Mouse, the Pigeon, and the Tanka (Weekly Writing Challenge)

Technically I already answered the Weekly Writing Challenge on my other blog. But darn it, there is a story to be had here.

The early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.” -Jeremy Paxman

**********

The mouse had a plan.
He’d go out into the land.
Maybe a nice man
Had left a meal he found bland.
Late night munchies from a band?

House_mouseThe mouse ventured out
Towards a quite popular park.
Though he some doubt
About escaping a lark
Or a mean dog who would bark.
 

He became angry,
clenched his jaw and got brave,
Made himself mangy,
And scurried from his enclave,
Looking for food he could save. 

It was there he saw
A rather worrisome sight.
His nerves became raw
As he neared, ready to fight,
The pigeon lit by sunlight. 

The pigeon saw him.
He cocked his head and cooed.
On a simple whim
He lifted a leg, pooed,
And ignored what had ensued.
 

The mouse crept closer
For he saw food in the lane
Right by the grocer.
The bird thought the mouse mundane.
The mouse thought, “Whatta birdbrain”. 

So he took the treats,
Gave the pigeon a quick nod,
Went down the streets,
Took a nibble of old cod,
And felt that the bird was odd. 

untitledHe’s seen the bird since.
Near a park, by a swing.
It never looks twice.
The pigeon pecks at its wing,
The mouse grabs everything. 

With his limbs so full,
Carrying back his next meal,
Pausing in the lull,
The mouse wonders, “What’s the deal?
This supposed ‘threat’ ain’t real!”

(Weekly Writing Challenge) In Which Pooh and His Friends Meet The Walking Dead

This week’s Writing Challenge wanted things set in a different locale.  I suppose I could have taken their suggestions.  But once I thought of Winnie the Pooh playing in the world of The Walking Dead, I didn’t want to imagine any other amalgams.  So, with apologies to Kirkman and Milne, that’s what you get.  (It isn’t quite an entry for The Tall Tales Tavern section, but it’s close.)

P.S.  This  is my 200th post.  ???  That’s insane.
———-

No brain at all, some of them [people], only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake, and they don’t Think.” -A. A. Milne

One day, Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, and Eeyore were off on adventure. They had, at Tigger’s insistence, been visiting the nearby lands. Tigger was absolutely sure that there might be others just like him in this other place, and so they traveled until they came upon a strange scene. Christopher Robin had been forced to stay behind after a little bit, but the others had traveled on. Now, they found themselves entering a building.

It was the first building that they had seen all day that wasn’t built around a tree or a cave. The entire place was one big square with high walls made of a very grey looking stone, Owl said it was called “koncrate”, with tall fences all around. The fences were much bigger than ones around their friends’ gardens. These were big and scary and had sharp points at the top. However, with what they had just seen, Tigger had urged them all to run inside.

prison photo from Wiki Commons

prison photo from Wiki Commons

“Hurry up, hurry”, Tigger said to the others.

“You’ve gotta see this place”, declared Roo.

“We have other matters to attend to”, Rabbit said as the group entered through a large, heavy door. “What about Christopher Robin? He looked to be in quite the state.”

“Pooh, those other creatures were a bit scare- scare- scary”, said Piglet. What do you think that we should do?”

Pooh sat there and he thought. And he thought. And he thought some more. However, Pooh was a bear of very little brains. He watch as Owl flew in and perched on a rusted-metal railing.

“Owl”, Pooh said. “Did you see where they took Christopher Robin?”

“Took him?” Owl was confused. “What makes you think they took him?”

“They was gettin’ all rough with him”, Tigger said. “They was swarming him from the left, they swarmed from the right. They was on top of ‘im. Why, if I hadn’t been spending my time gettin’ Roo to safety, I could have tackled them all. Being the champion people-pulling-off-er is what Tiggers do best.”

“I wasn’t scared”, Roo said.

“Oh, that?” Owl started to chuckle. “They weren’t going to hurt him. No, that was a game that people play called pig pile.”

“Aaaaahhhhh”, the other animals all said to voice their understanding.

“It is really quite an old tradition”, Owl continued. “When a person comes to another that they haven’t seen in a while, they jump on top of him. And if there are more people around, they jump on too.”

“But Owl”, said Piglet. “What about Christopher Robin? He was making such an awful noi- noi- noise. Are you sure those were people and not Heffalumps? I couldn’t get very close but they sure did seem like they could have been Heffalumps. Or maybe even Woozles”, he said with a shudder.

“Piglet has a point”, Pooh said. “We have hunted Woozles before and they travel in groups. I have seen their footprints. Their groups keep getting bigger and bigger. I am a Bear of no brain at all, but I don’t want to dessert Christopher Robin. Of course, I don’t want to break up any family fun, either. Oh, bother.”

“Well Christopher Robin knows what he’s doing”, Rabbit said. “He would want us to trust him and to let him think of a plan.”

“I agree, Rabbit”, Pooh said. “But he was making a rather awful noise when we left him.”

“That’s not a noise”, Tigger insisted. “Why, you want a terrible noise, you should hear a Tigger on the prowl. When we’re ready to strike, there’s nothing more terrifying. We hunch back like this. We wiggle our tails, like this. And we let out an absolutely fur-crawling growl like this,

Worraworraworraworraworra!”

“Hallo there, Tigger”, Pooh said. “Would you mind doing something else? I think you have upset poor Piglet.”

“That’s because I’m fierce”, Tigger said as he wagged his tail excitedly. “I’m ready, I’m brave, I’m courageous. Who cares if those fellas were walking around missing a few arms or legs?”

“What’s wrong with someone losing a body part”, Eeyore asked.

“Oh! Eeyore! I hadn’t even seen you come in”, Rabbit said.

zombie-md“That’s okay”, the grey donkey said. “You don’t have to pay attention to me. Nobody ever does. Nobody ever remembers to check on me. Maybe they’re like me. It isn’t their fault that they don’t have an arm here or an eye there. Maybe somebody took their limb and used it as a door knocker or a back-scratcher.”

“Ar-hem”, Owl said as he flapped his wings and ruffled his neck feathers. “I hardly think that is what happened here”, he said. “Why, if something was borrowing body parts I am sure it happened entirely on accident. If the persons asked for their parts back, they would get them. Any creature can make an honest mistake like that.”

“Well I want to know what we’re going to do”, Rabbit said. “I want to go back to my home and water my garden. This building is nowhere near as warm and inviting as my place. Why, look all these drab and gray walls. There are hardly any windows. There is no color at all. And do you hear that? Those things are trying to get in. They keep moaning and throwing themselves against the fences.”

Rabbit was right. As the others stopped talking, they could hear it. A low, moaning, troubling sound of a horde trying to get enter.

“Owl”, said Roo. “What does this mean?”

Roo pointed to a sign above the door with large letters saying, PRISON RULES, followed by a number of instructions beneath it.

“Why, those are the instructions for a game that is held by the owner, a son of Pri, I imagine. That way any creature that shows up late can read those instructions and join in the fun. This Pri and his family must have quite a few parties.”

“A party? It must be nice to be invited to that kind of party”, Eeyore said. “Not that I ever was.”

“Excuse me”, Pooh said. “But has anyone else got a rumbling in their tummy?” He laughed at himself. “I should like to fill it. Piglet, are you hungry?”

“Why, yes”, Piglet said. “I think I am.”

“Well then there’s only one thing to do”, Rabbit said. “We must find the kitchen. Certainly a place this large must have one.”

“I wonder if they have any honey”, Pooh said to no one in particular.

“Oh good” Roo said, “Food!”

“That sounds like an excellent plan, only we mustn’t eat too much. I’m sure that’s listed in the rules”, Owl offered.

“Rules, thppppb.” Tigger had stuck out his tongue and was shaking his head. “Tiggers don’t like rules. We like bouncin’. So I’m going to bounce to the kitchen. And I’ll do it fast. C’mon, Roo!”

The group of friends all ran around the building. There was a series of long hallways with lots of small rooms. But there was no food behind any of the heavy doors, only uncomfortable beds and very tiny wells with a little water in each of them. Eeyore thought the metal switch at the base of the well was interesting. He could not only see his face in the water, but on the metal surface too. But then he pushed the lever and the little whirlpool in the lake tried to take his ear away. After that, he felt he would rather find some food.

Soon, they entered another room. In it, were rows of shelves. On the shelves were boxes of food, cans of food, and boxes filled with cans.

“Oh, there doesn’t seem to be any jars”, Pooh said sadly.

“This isn’t proper Tigger food”, Tigger said. “These are as bad as haycorns and thistles. Tiggers don’t eat this stuff.”

“I don’t even see a single carrot”, Rabbit said.

“Pooh”, Piglet said as he pulled at his friend’s leg. “Couldn’t we go home now? I feel my bravery is just about full for the day. I’d like to get out of this place. Maybe we could play some Poohsticks?”

“That does sound rather more inviting than this”, Rabbit offered.

“I will bow to the whims of the majority”, Owl said. “However I would like to stretch my wings and see a few more trees.”

“Tiggers don’t like being cooped up”, Tigger said. “Let’s bust outta here.”

798px-The_original_Winnie_the_Pooh_toysEveryone agreed. They missed the hundred acre woods and it was beginning to get dark out.

“Are they going to all come running towards us as soon as we open the doors?” Roo looked excited as he ran back and forth between all his friends. “Do you think they’ll try to jump on us too? I think that would be fun!”

“Oh, I don’t think they will give us much notice”, Owl said. “They didn’t seem to notice us before. They seem to prefer their own kind.”

“We don’t want to be rude”, Pooh said.

“No, of course not. We will be perfectly polite”, Rabbit said. “However, Owl is correct. They only wanted to visit with Christopher Robin. They certainly didn’t invite any of us to tea. And no wonder, if this is the kind of food that these creatures like.”

“Well, they’re not Tiggers, that’s for sure”, Tigger said.

“Pooh, do you really think it will be all right?”

“Yes Piglet”, Pooh said. “I believe that we shall all get home fine.”

“Are you sure- sure- sure?” Piglet rubbed his hooves together and started to feel quite small in such a big moment. “I’m scared.”

“Piglet, there’s no need to be scared”, Pooh said.

“There isn’t?”

“No”, Pooh said as he chuckled. “Wouldn’t you want your best friends with you when life got frightening and troubling?”

“Yes Pooh.”

“And aren’t we friends?”

“Oh yes, Pooh”, Piglet replied with a smile.

“You bet we are, ol’ buddy!” Tigger bounced and laughed happily.

“Then as long as our friends are along, everything is just fine. I’ll take care of you, and you’ll take care of me.”

“Quite right”, Rabbit said. “Now let’s head out”, he said a slight twinge of his whiskers.

“Besides”, Eeyore said. “If they are all going to jump on somebody and take away their tails, it will probably happen to me. That’s how it always goes.”

Roo ran to the door and pulled on it. He pulled again. And he pulled some more. Tigger and Rabbit came alongside and they pulled too. The door was a lot heavier from the inside than it had been on the outside.

Owl flew up high and urged them on. Roo pulled on the door. Tigger pulled on Roo. Rabbit pulled on Tigger. Piglet pulled on Rabbit. Pooh pulled on Piglet. And Eeyore pulled on Pooh. Finally, the door began to open.

The friends ran out, Owl flew ahead, and the gate was opened. A sea of strange people walked up. They never even looked at the animals. They rudely shuffled forward, a tired look in their eyes and a strong hunger in their bellies. Soon, there were no people left outside.

Sensing that no one wanted to talk with them, the animals headed home. Roo jumped around and talked to Tigger about what appendages he would like to do without. Eeyore looked and made sure his tail hadn’t been trampled on or had gone missing.

Owl flew just above Rabbit. The two talked about what reason there might be for the unemotional creatures ignoring them so rudely. (Eventually they decided that they would only have people for dinner and tea, not animals such as themselves. As Rabbit offered, they lacked his refined sense of taste.) Piglet, still anxious over what they had seen, held Pooh’s hand tightly.

Pooh was confused. He could have sworn he had seen Christopher Robin in the crowd. But when he had walked by, his friend hadn’t waved at all. Christopher Robin had sauntered by; the same tired look in his eyes that the rest of the people had. Perhaps this new game has him tired, Pooh thought to himself. It will all work out once I get some food in my tummy. Pooh was almost certain that there was honey at home. Or perhaps Rabbit would offer him some. Maybe they could all have a picnic under Owl’s tree.

Soon, the seven friends would all be home and they could forget all about those unwelcoming creatures. They still had each other. What more could they want than that?

 

(Here, we’ll end on something a little cheerier.  It’s all in good fun!)

Dough is Better than “D’oh!” (Weekly Writing Challenge)

No really. You should use the Weekly Writing Challenge.  Do it!  Or don’t.

“Nothing can bring peace but yourself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

———-

Work was vexing Alan. Traffic had been terrifying, as usual. Sleep was not nearly abundant enough. And purring kittens were not allowed at work.

However, no one ever said Alan couldn’t make cookie dough at his desk. His hands and soul found a tranquil peace in the kneading and gnashing.

 

lead_chocolate_chip_cookie_dough_560px

Intermission: Horrbily Awry

Howdy,

No, I haven’t given up writing.  I can’t do that.  However, I do worry that my stories start to sound the same.  And I don’t want to crank out the same thing over and over with only little details changed.

However, I ain’t done yet.  Like it or not, I still think I have more stories in my brain.  If you want to jump ship, unfollow, or go about your business; now’s the time.  Be free!

For the rest of you… hi!  Long time no chat.  I find I have stuff to say that doesn’t always fit in a story.  Y’know, personal opinions, jokes, musings; stuff like that.  So, I’m here to officially announce… a second WordPress site!  What!!!

…Of Course, This Could All Go Horribly Awry” is live.  Now.  Click away!  (And follow if you’d like.  Up to you.)  I have thoughts on Jesus’ DNA/ blood.  I have an elevator question up my sleeve.  And you know I have opinions about stupid movies.

If you like my attitude, maybe even my style?  Join in.  These’ll be less fine-tuned (certainly less pictures from public domain), and much more personal.

And if you don’t want to join in?  That’s understandable.  For you, this video so you don’t feel like I wasted your time.  Enjoy!  Gratis!

Football is for the Birds (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(The Weekly Writing Challenge wanted me to go all gonzo.  This, if you ask me, is a perfect way to describe sports fans.)

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter S. Thompson

**********

There are energies that refuse to be contained.  They ignore the laws of physics, the urgings of common decency, and they defy all logic.  Such is the boundless exuberance that I experienced last Friday.

Walking into work I was cheerfully greeted by my coworkers.  The normal uniform of black pants, replete with the array of creases and minor stains that come from work wear and iron-shunners, was joined by bright blue t-shirts.  These tops, all shiny and covered in hashtags and the giant number “12” on them, echoed loudly the celebratory nature of most of the city.

If spirit were mid-rif tops, you could see all of Seattle's belly-buttons.

If spirit were mid-rif tops, you could see all of Seattle’s belly-buttons.

I, a person who does not mind being the odd man out, ignored the choice to dress differently.  I tucked my black polo shirt into my black pants, kicked on my black shoes, paid my hair that I assumed was still combed, and went out onto the busy floor.

Customers bustled back and forth with the sort of amped-up attitude that is normally saved for Black Friday shoppers.  Outside on the streets, random citizens could be heard to bellow “Sea-HAWKS” as forcefully as possible to no one in particular.  Like some sort of tribal call from one hilltop village to the surrounding clans, he hoped that his boisterous call would be answered in kind by a likewise enthused comrade in spirit.

Seattle: Where the subtle need not apply (image from here)

Seattle: Where the subtle need not apply (image from here)

If a painter had wanted to capture the scene, she would have only needed three colors; blue, green, and black (The black is to paint all the “other” objects.  Trees, people, lakes; that sort of thing).  All the buildings with high-tech lights have changed their palettes.  The twin-tower hotel has one building rimmed with green, the other in blue.  Pacific Science Center’s arches are blue.  Little blue flags decorate small office windows but beam with big pride.  Even the Space Needle is not immune.  The body is alit with a blue hue while the very top is taking a hint from the nearby construction cranes.  Yes, much like its leaner but buffer cousins, the Seattle landmark is topped with a giant blue flag with the number “12” flapping and billowing for all to see.

Back inside my store, things were not much different.  There was a constant wave of blue and green filling up peripheral visions.  Scarfs, beanies, jackets, hoodies, caps, baby onesies; all were clad in a two-tone color scheme.  If you were to look for a guy in a Seahawks jacket, you were sure to have many fellows to choose from.  The variables changed.  Some jackets were faded with age and some had flaking letters.  The new converts were easy to find; their apparel was fresh and crisp, much like their recent interest in the NFL.

A woman, dutifully clad in a Seahawks scarf, had been excitedly chittering and chattering to one of my more sports-loving coworkers.  As she made her way towards the exit, she turned her attention to me.

“How ‘bout those Hawks, eh?”  The woman smiled merrily in front of me.  It was difficult to tell if she was missing a few teeth or if they were off from the color that chompers usually have.  Her glasses were small but thick, and her matted white hair lay limply by her cheeks, like a pom-pom ready to be shaken back to life.

Image from here

Image from here

“It’s quite a thing”, I added.  My hope was to be agreeable, but not to reveal my level of disinterest.

“They’re gonna win it on Saturday!”  She said as her teeth displayed her fervor.

“Well, they just might”, I added.

“Naw”, she said as her excited eyes danced and her head swooshed from side to side as she shook her locks in rebuttal.  “Them other folks don’t know how to play in the weather.  Our boys do.  They’re gonna win!”

I considered offering the bevy of clichés that ran through my head.  However, as pertinent as counting eggs before they are hatched and pride coming before the fall was, I couldn’t do it to her.  I feigned a slight smile and replied, “They just might.”

Still somewhat irked by my lack of interest, she realized I had been as cooperative as I was going to be and she bounded off to find a fellow supporter to root with.

“What’s going on?”  My coworker approached me out of curiosity.  A delightful, warm, and charming woman looked quite cute in her brand new Seahawks shirt.  She had gone all out; the area under her eyes was covered in blue decals, her short brown hair was pulled back in a Seahawks headband, and the wrist was adorned in a blue Seahawks jumbo-sized rubber-band.

“Oh, I wasn’t giving her the response she wanted”, I replied with a shrug.

“And why not?”  The small gal, about a foot shorter than me, moved a few inches closer to me.

“I just don’t root for anyone”, I answered.  “I don’t have a team.”

seahawks-hd-blue-wallpaper“The Seahawks are your team!”  The response was not so much an offering of help, but an edict.  Her normally adorable eyes grew large and serious.  The unspoken message of her unblinking look spoke louder than our Guinness record-breaking fans; get on board.  Now.

Clearly, there was no such thing as “somewhat” supporting “my” team.  Only complete and utter excitement would sate the passionate community around me.  Forget going the whole nine yards; only one hundred yards would content the rabid devotees that threatened to overwhelm me if I didn’t hungrily rush the field with them.  When surrounded by sports fans that are yearning for a championship, the rest of us must tread lightly least we are accused of foul play.

Phone Your Friend (or, “Phone; Your Friend?”)

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” -James Thurber

———-

PHNFGHT

In the battlefield of my mind, all army helmets look like turtle shells

There have been many phones over the course of my life.  I can count them all on one hand but the adventures we went through together are endless.  I was dragged kicking and screaming into the cellular age, and I am still wondering when one of the sides is going to win the conflict.

The first salvo was thrown in the form of a Samsung flip-phone.  This phone was forced upon me.  I have never seen myself as important enough to need a portable communication device.  However, as part of an upheaval at work, I was overruled.  As it was explained to me, it was desired that I be readily available “just in case”.

To ease the transition, the cost of the phone was covered by my boss and I was allowed to charge two-thirds of the monthly bill back to the company.  All that, and I was granted the request that I could keep my phone turned off on Sundays.  Honestly, it was a rather beneficial arrangement; even if it was hoisted upon me.

The phone itself was rather unassuming.  This was back in the days when small was the biggest selling point.  It did not matter that my coworker could not type in numbers on his phone without using the very tip of his fingernail.  He was proud that the battery was bigger than the phone itself, and that when the devil was all put together, it resembled a matchbox car.  Ah, the simpler times of early cellular phones.

My durable little Samsung was about the size of miniature computer mouse.  It fit neatly in a small pocket, and it survived a swim in Lake Washington.  For a first phone, it was benign.  That little guy was an excellent covert operative in the campaign to lull me into dropping my guard.

Then the RAZR marched in a set up camp in my life.  Now, I was not of the elite club.  I did not get my RAZR at the start when everyone else was getting theirs.  I believe I was invaded by the RAZR3.  When RAZR’s were starting to turn pink and everyone was starting to be drawn-in to the iPhone hype?  That was the time when I went “high-tech”.

Yes, this phone could take pictures!  Video too!  And the buttons were raised with glowing lines in-between so the whole keypad looked like an alien insect’s thorax.  Yes, with my RAZR (and the not-so impressive looking plastic case that hung loosely to it), I was ready to go.  800px-Motorola_RAZR_V3i_03I could now play Scrabble on my phone.  I could sneakily take pictures of my friends when they were drunk.  Later I would look at the low-resolution, poorly-lit images and shake my head.  I tried to remember which of my friends now resembled a dark smudge with the beer glass nearby.  The digital age had caught up with me and I was curious at what would come next.

Along came another Samsung product, the Glide.  (After the RAZR, it was nice having a phone that was named after an actual word.)  The Glide encompassed a higher-resolution camera, but it was an epic struggle to conquer it.

This phone was my introduction to commercial touch-screen technology.  I had used touch screen computers and registers, but never one so demanding.  Unlike the last two phones, this screen was uncovered.  Scratches and cracks were now an everyday threat.   No more could I defiantly slam the phone shut with a hinge.  No, I had to use up what could have been dramatic seconds to push my thumb to a button or a screen sector.  The only protective measure I could buy was a bulky rubber case.

800px-Samsung_Captivate_Glide_-_SGH-I927_-_011

brought to you courtesy of Wiki Commons. Specifically, these folks.

To my dismay, when I tried to take a photo my thumb had to go right in the corner, against the high ridges of the case, and try to tap that one little corner “just-so” where the button was located.  To say that the widescreen display and I had a hate-hate relationship is putting it mildly.  However the videos I played on my phone looked better, sounded better, and this phone had a slide-out keyboard!  Texting, by then a must-adopt form of technology, had never been easier.  The phone had a decent weight to it, like a grenade in my hand, waiting to explode.

After growing constantly weary of the bulk of the Glide (sliding keyboards take up valuable pocket space), I waited once again for my plan to expire.  Thus I met my latest attacker of my sanity, a smaller brand that goes by the name of… um… something.

The actual model is as forgettable as the company that sent it into battle.  I chose it because out of the three pages of phones my provider offered, it was the only one that was free and did not require an upgrade.  Despite all the glowing accolades my friends toss my way, I do not yearn for a smart phone.  The quickly-sapped battery, the fully-exposed screen, the double or tripling of one’s bill; it is not for me.

I would not say that this phone has been kind to me.  The receiver volume is far too low and I hunch over to hear what the other person is saying.  (I refuse to believe that this is old age setting in.  It cannot be.  The phone must be to blame.  It must!)  The camera is fine, the mini-keyboard is okay; it is, to sum it up, adequate.  I have a phone that I have no strong loyalty towards, and it clearly is plotting against me.

Why bring all this up?  Why relive a decade of phone usage and the quirks and trials we have quarreled over together?  Well, my biggest complaint about the most recent phones is actually something my provider has done.  At some point, “They” decided that my voice mail should be number one on my speed dial.  That was the cannon-shot that still resonates across the battlefield.

On my first two phones, my best friend was my number one speed dial setting.  I held down “1”, and soon I was directed to her inbox.  (Best friends understand when the other is too busy to answer.  Which for her, is always.)  She has always been number one. CELFGHT Ever since high school, long before “cellular” got shortened down to a four-letter word (in many, many ways), she was my comrade in arms.  She is the one I go to, the one who all “romantic possibilities” are judged against, and the one who knows all the dirt on me.

When a company turned combatant disregards that bond, they have committed a dishonorable affront.  “They” should be number two, not her!  Her birthday is tomorrow.  Can I really face her knowing that some group of satellite dishes and towers thinks she should be demoted the rank of number two?  (She might actually appreciate it.  If anyone likes a good “number two”, joke it’s her.  Potty humor; I tell ya.)

Still, I get my revenge.  The first call that I make when any phone is activated, the number that I have had memorized all this time?  It is her.  I call the best friend first, everybody else come later.  That is how it has been for almost twenty years, and that is how I like it.

Of course, in a cruel way of showing me I can only control so much in the cellular versus human conflict, the call inevitably goes to voice mail.

Writer’s Digest(ion)

I will follow my instincts, and be myself for good or ill.”  -John Muir

**********

Consider this your first and only warning; if you are a person who finds that the sight of someone being sick makes you sick?  Then perhaps this story is not for you.  Hypochondriacs should take this as their cue to exit the story.  Should you decide that a story on nausea will not sit well with your stomach, I shall even give you the moral up front.  Ready?  It all comes back to the beginning.  The third part of a movie trilogy should make a reference to the first part.  Comic book origins will be retold (and in some cases retold and retold and retold; I am looking at you, Superman).  From the ground we come and to the ground we all return.  Food is no exception.

Consider yourself warned.  It's -that- kind of story.

Consider yourself warned. It’s -that- kind of story.

Happily, I tend to be like that episode of Seinfeld.  I throw up once every decade or so, usually less.  When folks ask why I do not drink, my hatred of puking is often cited.  Everything about vomiting sounds horrible.  There is the sight of one’s breakfast returned to them in the evening, the smell, and that tightening of the abdomen that you cannot control.  I do pretty much whatever I can to avoid that sort of occasion.  Still, even I get food sickness.  Again, I am fortunate enough that it does not happen too often.

The first memory that I have of such illness was in college.  I had been working as a cashier the night before and had been on a break.  I, much like Winnie the Pooh, had a rumbling in my tummy.  And the loading dock had a vending machine.  So, in all of my infinite wisdom, I put in my change, made a selection, and chomped away.

Now, in case this is not a lesson that you have learned already, let me make it abundantly clear.  Never, under any circumstances, buy meat from a vending machine.  Certainly not one at work that you know is only sporadically restocked with fresh product.  I know what you are thinking.  “Oh, but it’s vacuum sealed.  That means it’s okay, right?”  I am sure there is some scientific mumbo-jumbo we could throw back and forth, but here is my stance on the matter:  No.  Don’t do it.  Ever.

However, hindsight is twenty/twenty.  I was nineteen.  I was a silly college kid who was munching on two small logs of meat, enjoying the slightly spicy sensation in my mouth.  Had I known that I would soon be reliving that spiciness, I would have been less enthused.  (They later not only moved the vending machines, but they stopped carrying the meat sticks.  Still, whenever I see a vending machine of any variety, I approach it with a wary eye.)

Work ended, I slept, and the school day was upon me.  I was scheduled to perform some sketch in drama class that day, but my tummy was rumbling in a different sort of way.  (Instead of Winnie the Pooh, picture Tigger exercising his right to be “bouncy pouncy” over and over.)  I told the T.A. that I was not going to be up for assignment.  She told me it might affect my grade, and I nodded as I made my way out of class.

Right outside of the drama building there is a small patch of grass.  There are little concrete pathways around the perimeter, the brick building serves as a wall, and a tennis court is visible from its soft green terrain.  In the summer and spring quarters, it is not unusual for the students to set up a volleyball net and have a go at relieving their study-induced stress.  The grass is just big enough for the court and ten to twelve students, but no larger.  In the fall, the leaves lay happily on this patch of greenery.  It is, to put it simply, a pleasant escape from the large dwellings of academia.

I walked down the stairs of the drama building, and not ten steps into that grassy field, I fully embraced my own “escape” onto the grass.  Had I stayed in class five minutes longer I would have become the star of the day.  No one would have doubted my dedication to keeping an audience’s attention.  However, I was always more of a backstage tech than an actor, and therefore I was quite happy that my performance was seen by no one except whatever poor bugs were crawling around in the grass.  I groaned out thanks to God that my vomiting hadn’t occurred inside, and I made my way home.  That was my oh-so joyous food poisoning of ninety-nine.

It only looks like it's your friend.

It only looks like it’s your friend.

Flash forward fourteen years.  I am now an enlightened movie usher.  I know how my stomach works, I have control over my abdomen, and I had just taken the food handler’s permit test the week prior.  For the fourth time in a row, I had scored one hundred percent.  I was much wiser than the college-version of me.  I brought my food with me and happily placed it in the work microwave.  Being a professional food handler, I knew exactly why the instructions on my turkey pot pie warned me to make sure the food was heated to one hundred and sixty-five degrees.  Yet one of the many amenities you will not find near a work microwave (such as forks, napkins, plates, or canaries to sing you a merry song), is a thermometer.  I followed the instructions, thought the food was a little cool in places, but decided that everything would work out just fine.

Again we fast forward to the day after.  I was having a rather quiet day at work.  I had watched an episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., done some reading, and generally kept the store from falling into a state of catastrophe. The usual customers had come in, there was a sense of calm about the place; all was well.

Then I started to feel cold.  Then warm.  My temperature is always pretty steady.  I can wear shorts in the fall, flannels in the spring; I don’t suffer great shifts in warmth.  Yet, the store felt cold all of a sudden.  I looked at the thermostat panel and everything seemed like it should be fine.  A few minutes later I was still feeling odd.

I found myself light-headed even though I was sitting.  I hadn’t moved quickly and I didn’t feel overly feverish.  I started to wonder if the sickness that had been sweeping through my coworkers had finally decided I needed to be dealt with.  My stomach protested the loudest.  I acknowledged its grievances and took action the only way that seemed logical.  I headed to the bathroom.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Thankfully my store has a reputation for being clean.  Even the bathroom floors are clean enough to sit on without complaint.  I can now attest to that fact.  Sure enough, with a little effort, some “secret ingredients” that I’m hopeful that the KFC next door has never used were vomited up.  It took a few tries, but I got it all out of my system.  I was rather pleased at how mild a case it had been.  Honestly, an hour later I was feeling much better.  (Which should serve as a lesson on gluttony; never buy two pot pies, nor should you opt for the Hungry Man size.  And if you do, nuke the crud out of those things.)

Now the question you’ve all been wondering.  Why the sam hill am I telling you this?  Am I bragging that I’ve only had food poisoning twice?  Am I this desperate for a story?  Am I a masochist when it comes to masticating?  Nope.  I simply want to point out that what goes around comes around; food for thought, if you will.  And that will become clearer when I share the piece of information that I left out.

Let us revisit the vending machine that I purchased the meat from.  I told you that they moved it, but I did not go into details.  The truth is, they moved it only a few feet, just around the corner.  In its place, they put a filing cabinet.  And on top of that filing cabinet?  Why, they gave us a nice little microwave; the same microwave that I heated up my pot pie in.  I in effect poisoned myself twice; both in the exact same spot.  I returned to the scene of the crime, in more ways than one.  It may take fourteen years, but much like an ill-chosen dinner will prove; what goes around comes around.

Being a Good Friend (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(It’s not my typical way of writing a story, but the Weekly Writing Challenge wanted me to be all personal.  So, I’ll tell part of a story that’s been three hundred and fifty years in the making.)

When we really want to hear, and be heard by, someone we love, we do not go rushing into noisy crowds.  Silence is a form of intimacy.  That’s how we experience it with our friends and lovers.  As relationships grow deeper and more intimate, we spend more and more quiet time alone with our lover.  We talk in low tones about the things that matter.”  Brent Hill, Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality

**********

“Why do I feel like I’m always the one talking when we get coffee?”

“I always feel like I’m unloading on you.”

“Now, don’t tell anyone else I said this.”

Much of my life is spent not talking.  As someone who slings coffee twenty hours a week, you’d be amazed, stunned, and entertained at the things people tell me.  When I go on a walk with a friend, odds are that they’ll have more to say than I will.  Oh sure, I have my opinions.  I spend hours a day thinking and arranging my thoughts.  However I can almost guarantee that I’ll be the quiet one.  And what can I say; it’s all in my upbringing.

Now, my quiet stance can be traced to my family numerous ways.  For one thing, we’re all nerds.  My brother, my sister, my mom, my dad, the in-laws; every adult wears glasses.  For each child that’s born, you should simply start taking bets on when they’ll get the ol’ four-eyes nickname.  It’s a foregone conclusion.  Our idea of “family visiting” is sitting in the same room reading our books or surfing our laptops.  That’s quality together time on our world.  Doctorates, analyzers, engineering degrees; we’ve got ‘em all.  I was taught about DOS prompts (ask your parents) when I was five.  We’re nerds who always have our noses in a computer screen or a book.  However, I think our religious upbringing plays the biggest role in me being slow to speak.

Nine generations ago my family started being Quakers (or Friends, if you prefer).  They tried it out a few hundred years ago, it worked for them, and it carried forward.  Now, here I sit, content with my religion.  Some family members have found different routes that work better for them.  (We still love each other regardless.  Honest.)  For me, I can’t imagine anything other than Quakerism.  I don’t like every single thing about my church, but the history works well.  I like how they treated Native Americans, women in leadership, and their roots in The Underground Railroad.  Also, and perhaps most pertinently to this, they are big on sitting and listening.

800px-Treaty_of_Penn_with_Indians_by_Benjamin_WestThere are two kinds of Quaker service, programmed and unprogrammed.  Programmed will flow like most church services.  There is a message, some songs, and announcements.  But my favorite part is where, for at least ten minutes after the message, we sit and listen.  We listen to the thoughts in our heads, to what God’s telling us, and to what our fellow congregants feel led to share.  Go with me Sunday morning and you’ll sit in a large room with a solid chunk of silence.  In this busy world, it’s quite freeing.

Unprogrammed is a more extended version of those ten or so minutes.  There is no planned message, no edict on how to proceed.  The gathering simply sits and enjoys the quiet until someone feels like they have something to share.  Many times there will be an hour where no one says anything.  Whichever service one attends, programmed or not, there is a concentrated effort to spend time in silence.

That works for me.  I wake up at four in the morning and spend a good thirty minutes reading my Bible, scratching the cat, and making very little noise.  When I get on the bus, that’s another thirty minutes for me to sit still, not listen to music or read, and try to filter out the noises in the world.  By the time I’m at work, I’m about as calm and centered as I can be.

When I find something that bothers me, I sit with it.  I turn it around in my head.  I try to figure out how this one incident fits into the big picture.  I can’t guarantee that I refrain from outbursts altogether, but my go-to behavior is to be quiet and think it out.  Save the discussions until I’ve fully formulated my thoughts.

That’s how I end up being the listener with most of my friends.  Even in school I was the quiet one, though comics certainly helped that along.  But when my friends and I go for a walk, odds are they will be saying what is important to them.  I’ll take what they say and try to listen.  If I feel like I have something to say, then I will.  However most times I’m supposed to be shut the sam hill up and let them vent.  I find that my friends need less advice in their lives and more hugging, so that’s what I do.

And yes, I realize that sometimes it is hard to get a conversation out of me.  I can go months without chatting with a new coworker.  I can spend three days sitting at home without calling or checking in with anybody.  I see the downside to the way I do things.  I’m certainly not the exciting one at any party.  Yet from where I’m sitting, I think it’s better to keep my trap shut, process all my thoughts, and then be sociable.  It’s worked for eight other generations of Quakers, so I’ll take my cue from them.

Cereal Adventures

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

**********

Nighttime was in earnest.  The college campus that often bustled with activity was almost somber in tone.  Classes had started two days ago and the activities around the grassy lawns hadn’t quite begun for the year.  Laura opened her door just a hair and listened.  A few doors down a stereo was barely audible, but nothing else.  Laura threw her door open, her living quarters now open to all who might be in the vicinity.  Yet, as she stood there with her hands on her hips and a majestic pose, she was greeted with… nothing.

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

There were no young people running franticly through the halls with rolls of toilet paper streaming and waving behind them, no blindfolded and terrified males nervously tiptoed around as they suffered the indignities of initiation.  As disgusting as Laura thought public displays of affection were, she would have even settled for a couple groping and slobbering over each other as they decided who would say “Good night” last.

Laura felt betrayed.  Here she was, stuck in a dorm, and there were no shenanigans to partake in.  Years and years of romantic comedies and frat humor flicks had convinced her that she was in a world of wacky hijinks and excitement.  So where were they?

She was aware there were things to do.  She could feel her newly assigned twelve-page paper calling to her from her tiny excuse for a desk.  In the corner, next to her bright-blue desk lamp, two massive tomes beckoned to her.  The books demanded tribute in the form of highlighter marks and scribbled notes; their pages glowing with impressive wisdom.  Laura’s jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed as she felt the stress kick in.  She had no hunger for knowledge at that moment, just the old-fashioned nagging in her tummy.

Laura returned to her desk, sneered at her homework, and lifted the biggest book only to retrieve her student I.D. from its resting place underneath.  Having obtained it, she let the book fall back to the wood surface with a satisfying “thunk”.  Laura looked at herself in the mirror and shrugged.  The loose ponytail kept the hair out of her face, which was important for what she had planned.  Her “I do my own stunts” t-shirt and flannel pants were “cute enough” for venturing out.  More importantly to her, they were comfortable.  In a final act of defiance, she slid her feet into her dog slippers and headed out.

"Fear me!  Or Beer Me.  Whichever."

“Fear me! Or Beer Me. Whichever.”

The door locked after some effort with a newly-cut key, and Laura was quickly confronted by the hallway’s Panther painting.  The Panthers were everywhere on campus.  The inescapable school mascot bared its teeth, threatened to attack with its claws, and generally annoyed the new student.  She was here for the biology program, not the jocks.

If she were cornered, Laura would admit that she liked sports.  Her dad was on a softball team and her cheers were always the loudest.  She had participated in track and did well, though was never driven enough to be the best.  Her new school had a different view on the matter.  They were determined to let everyone know that they were, without a doubt, the greatest college team ever; despite what their scores were.

“Panther Power!” was painted in bold red letters with jagged edges accented with black and white to ensure that one’s full attention was directed at the jungle cat.  As if those mighty words weren’t enough, many of the displays had sub-posts beneath the panther image.  “Tear ‘em apart!”, “Rend your way to victory!”, and the worst of them all, “No one says no to a panther!”  The last of the phrases was, either by mistake or through incredibly poor planning, put up in the campus’ main cafeteria.  The two biggest fraternities warred back and forth every day over whose supposedly brilliant idea it was to use the absurd phrase as a pick up line.  Too often, when a girl turned down the opportunity to date a guy whose shirts were tighter than hers, he had his retort all planned out.  Sometimes it was with a wink, quite often a guttural roar or a raised eyebrow.  In the end, they all tried to assure the lucky lady that no one said no to this panther.

According to Laura’s high school English teacher and college confidant, the women had learned to deal with it over the decades.  Some freshmen girls thought it was cute, but most just accepted it as one more silly ritual.  The women would make a retort about neutering the boys, the women would be accused of having their claws out; it was one of those things.

Laura didn’t feel assimilated to the “Panther Pack”.  She had husky slippers and she liked them.  Her favorite aunt had given them to her the winter before she had moved away from Laura’s family.  Her aunt always encouraged Laura to do things that nobody else would.  Laura thought it appropriate that it was her aunt’s canine gift that was now shedding its fuzz on the floors that were covered in cat paw prints.  Plus, the slippers were unbelievably soft.  After all the years of use, they still kept that mysterious inner warmth about them.  She only wore socks when she had to; the slippers were better than any shoes could ever be.  The only downside to the worn and faded apparel was that they no longer yipped reliably when she squeezed the ears.  Years of micro-chipped barking had come and gone.  Now, if she jumped on a flat surface hard enough, she could sometimes get a little squeaky, metallic sound to emanate from them.  It was not a concern for Laura.  She liked the footwear because of how they felt and the impish nature they brought out in her, not because of the defunct technology.

Stepping outside the dorm’s side entrance, Laura couldn’t believe how quiet it was.  The Quad, the statues, even the tennis courts, famous for the drinks that were often “served”; all were empty.  Laura looked to her slippers, which grinned happily.  Whatever their owner had in mind, the feet-dogs were all too eager to join in.  Their pack was small in numbers, but they were entirely loyal to their commander.

The street lights glowed pleasantly along the sidewalk.  There were errant bushes here and there, but Laura had always felt safe on campus.  Maybe it was the dogs that she had with her, or perhaps it was the generally ho-hum nature of the grounds, but confrontations and muggings were the last thing she had to worry about.  Right now, it was hunger that was attacking Laura.  Happily, the cafeteria was open all night.

The front door slid open as Laura approached, waited patiently for the student to enter, and then returned to its resting state.  Laura headed straight for the cereal bar.  There, like some sort of plastic and industrial amalgamation, stood giant tubes full of carbohydrate delights.  The plexi-glass chutes stood tall before her.  Some filled were half way, some threatened to burst out the top.  All the chutes were transparent so the students wouldn’t have to bother with the pesky chore of reading the signs that dutifully decorated each tube.  At the base, each chute curved just enough to prevent too much food from spilling out, yet a small collection of grains and crumbs gathered around the bottom of each.

Bliss

Bliss

Taking a bowl and cupping it in both her hands, she held the container close to her stomach.  She surveyed the many choices.  Laura knew healthy food wasn’t going to suit her mood or her appetite.  She considered her options; there were bran flakes with real fruit added or perhaps the frosted whole grains.  In the end, she listened to her gut and selected exactly what her stomach wanted— Lucky Charms.

A small plastic scoop, presumably manufactured with ice in mind, was tethered to the counter.  Laura loosened the grip on the bowl and placed it on the shelf.  She picked up the scoop and started to fill the bowl.  Two small heaps of questionably-healthy food later, the college student’s brain began churning away.  Laura turned her attention from the bottom of the chute, filled mostly with brown pieces, to the top.  Two feet higher up there was an abundance of color.  The sugary marshmallows called out to her.  Those were the succulent bits she was after, not the commonplace dribble that looked bland and tasteless.

As she stood up on her tip toes, the cord that reigned in the scooped pulled in protest.  The fading chip in Laura’s slipper weakly chirped, encouraging her to keep trying.  A leg lift here, a slight twist in her arm there, and finally, success.  She found that she could just manage to get the scoop into the opening at the top.  She shoved the scoop in, pulled out an array of artificial colors, and watched as her late night snack came alive.  Pouring a carton of milk over her victory meal, Laura was elated.  Her hips slid to the left, slid to the right, and convinced her elbows to join in the fun.  A few moments into her celebration dance, Laura noticed two students who had been huddled over their books across the room were now smirking and whispering at her antics.  Laura shrugged her shoulders, tossed them the obligatory wave, and took her bowl to the cashier.  The expression on his face showed that he too had seen her dispensing methods and rhythmic swaying.

Too busy playin', Yo

Too busy playin’, Yo

“You really put in the effort for that cereal didn’t you?”  The fellow college student looked at her and was clearly amused.  Adorned in a wrinkled polo shirt, four-day gristle littering his chin, and untied shoelaces, he was clearly a master of proper etiquette and appearances.

“Hey, I like what I like.  Somebody had already picked all the marshmallows out of the bottom.  I was evening it up.”

“Yeah, some people really paw over the food.”

Laura caught what she felt was a Panther-reference, but let it go.  “Well, some of us have discerning tastes.  We connoisseurs of finer dining will go the extra mile.  C’mon, they taste better.”

“I was just having a little fun with you”, he said as he swiped her ID card through the register.  He noticeably glanced up and down, engaging in two very different kinds of checking-out.  “No need to get all catty about it.  I’m not trying to rub your fur the wrong way.”

“Uggggh”, Laura groaned she grabbed her card back.  “You wanna ogle me, that’s one thing.  I am rather adorable.  But you guys…. You just can’t stop will you?”  She turned to take in the rest of the cafeteria and gestured with her non-cereal laden hand towards her fellow classmates in the room.  All seven of them.

“C’mon people!  Break out of the imposed restraints!  Be yourselves, not some enforced false-community that dresses the same and acts the same.  Be a Vonegut, be a Picasso, be whoever you want!”

The fourteen eyes looked back at her and only blinked in reply.  A second passed; then two, and then ten.  The audience was no longer startled and they went back to scribbling in their notebooks and checking their syllabi on their laptops, their pencils and desktops adorned with the university’s mascot.

“Wow”, the scruffy cashier replied.  “You kinda lost it there.  Don’t you have any school pride?”

Laura glared and made her way towards the door.  She grumbled and hugged her cherished food.  It was the only ally, other than her always stalwart slippers, that knew how to have any fun.  She threw the polo-clad youth one last look and said, “Close, but no dice pal.  A pride refers to lions, not panthers.  You’re in college for crying out loud, read a book.”

6 Words Make 7 Stories (Weekly Writing Challenge)

Once again, the Weekly Writing Challenge gets me to do things a little differently.  Most of it was a request for video content, and I’ll certainly give that a go if the muse whaps me upside the head.  For now, the 6-word story appealed to me more.  And you get 7 of them.  Why?  42 is a great number, that’s why.

“I know that you’re probably sore/ ‘Cause I didn’t write any more
I just didn’t get to complete it/ So that’s why I gotta repeat it” -Weird Al, “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long”

**********

He flexed his biceps, she yawned.

dado_6The miserably wet cat yowls outside.

Children gasp as the page turns.

Man measures doorway and cabinet; curses.

The aliens land, look around, leave.

The camera started up without film.

He watched his ex-girlfriend drive away.

Avoiding Neverland

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...for all the ramblings of my cluttered mind....

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guclucy5incz5hipz

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