A Class Act

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


Elin found herself struggling to stay awake.  She tried to sneak in a nap on her desk, but she encountered the same problem that every student at John Quincy Adams High had.  student-desk-mdThere was only one way to sit comfortably in the chair-desk combination.  If one tried to lean forward, fold their arms, and use the desk as a pillow, they quickly found that the desk was so high that it dug into their chest.  If they tried to limply slouch against the attached chair, the low lumbar frame threatened to send them falling backwards onto the ground in a majestic head-over-heels one-eighty.  Elin had seen it happen many a time.  Once, after a particularly fun weekend made up of a hot date and some movie marathoning, she had almost succumbed herself.  That’s what friends are for.

At the desk to her left was Katelyn and at the desk to her right was Stan.  The three of them made for an unbeatable team.  Katelyn was practical and organized, Stan was creative, and Elin kept them focused.  On that almost-fateful morning, Katelyn had kicked Elin awake and Stan had slid forward and quietly pushed her back into her chair when she started to tumble from her chair.  The desk had squeaked and squonked.  Elin had shrieked in surprise.  Yet, thanks to her friends, by the time Mr. Simonds had turned his attention away from the board and to her, there was nothing to see.

Mr. Simonds was quite the sight himself.  He was a flurry of energy.  Mr. Simonds was sometimes on time for his Applied Civics class.  (“It’s History, guys.  Just call it History class.  Social Studies if you want to feel like you’re special”, Mr. Simonds had said.  On the first day he removed his special occasion-fedora and took off his glasses.  Elin had heard him mutter something about “politicians” and “frickin’ board” as he breathed on his glasses and rubbed them on his wrinkled shirt.)

There was an ongoing bet as to whether or not Mr. Simonds would make it inside the door before class started.  Elin had no spare income to risk when it came to the wager.

“We want you to enjoy your youth”, her parents had cooed with matching grins.  “You have plenty of time to be an adult later.  You’ll be making money for decades.  Don’t worry about it yet.”  The no-job mandate necessitated her asking for money every time she had a date.  Which meant that she had to find out the nicest way to ask them each time.  Which invariably meant that her parents wanted to meet the guy first.  Whether or not her parents would approve of her next suitor was enough gambling for Elin’s life.

The rules were simple.  Linus, the most timid person in class, was in charge of holding the bets.  He was a threat to no one and therefore the least likely to think he could cheat the winners out of their cash.  (“Suspenders?  Really?  Oh Linus”, Elin often thought to herself.)

three-men-gambling-sitting-at-poker-table-playing-cards-betting-party-pen-ink-drawingThe odds were fifty/fifty that Mr. Simonds would be on time.  Other days he had a shot at having his briefcase open before the bell, but he always seemed extra rushed on Mondays.  The betting was always the most active then.  (Mr. Simonds often wondered why his class was always so punctual.  The truth was that no one wanted to miss out on the action; not even the never-bets like Elin.)

Monday was also coffee day.  It was guaranteed.  A sure thing.  Once Geoffrey, the mastermind behind the betting, had offered odds that Mr. Simonds wouldn’t have a cup of coffee.  Only once.  He got cleaned out that day.  Geoffrey adapted.  Now Linus held stacks of ones dependent on whether or not Mr. Simonds would spill on himself.  Those odds were pretty well set at five to one.  It was Elin who had made the best suggestion.

She saw him rush to get out of his car once.  There had been no one around him, the ground was clear, and no puppies were nipping at his heels.  Yet, Mr. Simonds proved himself to be incapable of getting out of his car without dropping half his things.  As he leaned to retrieve them, he dropped the other half.  Then, apparently out of nowhere, Mr. Simonds tripped.  Not a simple, catch the edge of one’s toe on the crack in the sidewalk, skip from one foot to the next to regain one’s balance, thus resulting in an undignified gait.   No, this had been a full-on, no coming back from it, tripping over one’s feet, arms flailing out to the sides, shoe flying off of one foot, face slamming into arm which slams onto the concrete, cavalcade of clumsiness.  Had he not left his coffee cup on the top of his car, he would have been inconsolable.  (As it turned out, he dropped it in the hallway; trying awkwardly to open his classroom door.)

129272-049-d6bf85edElin almost felt bad suggesting the bet to Geoffrey.  However it had been too delicious to pass up.  Geoffrey set the odds at an hundred to one and even let Elin name it.  She christened it “The Dick Van Dyke”, and looked around in mortification as she realized no one else had been exposed to the classics like she had.  Still, she felt the name was perfect and stuck to her conviction.  (Also, unbeknownst to them, she wanted to salute her parents’ love of the classics.)

With a payoff that high, Geoffrey had established a hard set of rules.  He and the bet-maker had to be witness to the event.  Geoffrey was a stickler when it came to an hundred to one odds.  No one had ever collected before.  “I just saw a Van Dyke”, kids would scream as they pleaded for money.  Geoffrey would only shake his crewcut-covered head.  “No really, look at him!”  “He always looks like that”, was everyone’s standard reply.  Mr. Simonds was a bit of a mess and it was on display for the school to see.  That was part of the reason why people still took the Van Dyke.  Everyone held out hope that they might see it.  The rumors would be borne out in some epic explosion of limbs and paperwork.  Perhaps there would be some caffeine splashes to top it off.  Hope ran eternal in the halls of JQA; especially where Applied Civics was concerned.

Turning to her right, she saw Stan fidgeting.  Stan’s creativeness never really came out neat and tidy.  Little sparks of creative energy shot out of him, scarring any bystanders that got too close.  He was always a sight to see.  This morning, as Stan tried to get his hair under control, he was in rare from.

“You doing okay there Stan?”  Elin spoke quietly as she checked in with her friend.  Her concern and subdued tone had a two-pronged purpose.   One, she knew Stan hated having his picture taken.  Two, she knew it must frustrate him having his ex-girlfriend watch his frustration from two seats away.

Elin had tried to be happy for Stan and Katelyn.  Quietly, and sometimes in frustrated rants to her parents, she knew that her two friends dating was never going to work.  Katelyn was pretty, contained, and organized.  Stan was a bit spastic, sometimes incoherent, and fraught with self-doubt.  Elin had been a bit confused when the two started lingering behind her in the halls, whispering a short conversation between classes or just happening to be talking when she arranged to meet one of them.  She had her suspicions, but wasn’t prepared for seeing the two of them kissing and groping each other like two octopi super-glued together.  And behind the school dumpsters?  Elin knew that sort of tackiness had to have been Stan’s doing.  She just couldn’t believe that Katelyn had gone along with it.

Sitting between the two of them, once an innocent situation; had turned into quite a chore.  A month ago it had required Elin to pass notes between the two.  Their mutual love could not possibly wait that extra fifty-five minutes to describe how they pined for the sight of each other and how they yearned to proclaim their love.  Elin had considered switching seats with Katelyn, but she was afraid that Mr. Simonds wouldn’t remember her name and his seating chart would wreck her GPA.  Sure, Katelyn’s grade was only .2 lower than Elin’s.  But when hitting your parents up for cash, every grade point counts.  So she had been relegated, quite literally, to the friend caught in the middle.  And that was only last month.

This month, she was struggling to be the post break-up friend.  And both of her friends had equal claim to her.  When Elin would ask Katelyn how she was doing, her English-loving friend would pull out a pad that she kept just for this sort of correspondence, and scribble out a detailed note, full of adjectives and adverbs, heartily fleshing out with alarming precision, exactly how she felt.  However that turned out to be the key to the three’s current status.

vector-illustration-of-two-high-school-students-sitting-at-their-desks-passing-a-note-which-is-actually-a-blank-sheet-of_16362691As Mr. Simonds had strolled up and down the aisles, trying to find the way to best present the information about the electoral college, he passed by Katelyn’s desk.  Katelyn was scribbling furiously and therefore did not notice Mr. Simonds approach as he discussed the pros and cons of Texas and California’s weighty presence.

“What’s this?”  He pulled the pad out from underneath Katelyn’s leaden arm.  She leaned on it with all her might, but offered no audible response.  Katelyn was obedient; the good one.  She might indulge in a little wager once a month, but she’d never be risky enough to take the Van Dyke.  She behaved.  So when a teacher caught her, she had one response.  She sat there like a frightened rabbit. One could almost see her nose twitch and her eyes go wide, ears flattening down as she awaited her demise.

“That’s mine”, came a voice to the right.

“Yours?”  Mr. Simonds looked to Stan with a skeptical eye.  “This”, he said, holding up the piece of paper with damning words written in feminine cursive, soft and flowing, “is yours?  How so?”

“Oh, well, that’s easy.”  Elin still remembered the look of concentration that had been evident on Stan’s face as he worked out the answer.  “See, Katelyn and I, we broke up.”

“You were dating?”

“Sure.  Everybody knew that.”

“Everybody?  Did you hold a press conference that I missed out on?”


Mr. Simonds shook his head.  “Never mind.  So is this some sort of communal property?  A  hotly disputed matter in your distribution of shared treasures?”

“No, nothing like that”, Stan replied.  “See, I might have gone off on her when we broke up.  Said a few things I shouldn’t have.  You know how it can be when you end it with someone you care about, right Mr. Simonds?”

A look flashed over Mr. Simonds face.  He quickly hid it as he looked out the window, his fingers holding the note reached to adjust his tie.  Then they returned to their previous position as he remembered he wasn’t wearing one.  He took a slow breath and turned his attention back to Stan.  “I fail to see how my relationships have a bearing on this matter.”

“Well”, Stan continued.  “I was all mad saying this and that.  Katelyn was all, ‘You’re gonna eat those words, Stan!’  Got quite upset.  And now, well, I realize that I shouldn’t have said what I did, y’know?  And I tried to apologize before class.  But she got all mad.  Starting writing on that pad.  She muttered, “Oh, you’re gonna eat these words all right.”

“These words?”  Mr. Simonds, for the first time, started to look at what was written on the paper.  Katelyn’s eyes somehow got even wider before she buried them behind her hands and shrunk into her desk.

“Well lemme see”, Stan sad as he leapt up and grabbed the paper from Mr. Simonds hand.  “Jerk, selfish, not worth…”, Stan pretended to read as he nodded his head.  “Yep.  These are them, Mr. Simonds.  So now, you know what I’m obligated to do.”

“And what exactly, is that?”


crumpled-paper-ball-14477875Stan quickly crumpled up the paper and shoved it in his mouth.  Feverishly he worked to squish the paper down, chomping and gnashing with gusto.  Incredibly, by the time Mr. Simonds had collected himself, Stan was just swallowing the paper with an audible glump-like sound.  He turned to Katelyn, but his volume was raised for all to hear.

“Are you happy now, Katelyn?  I ate those words.  Now give me back my headphones.”

The class cheered.  Rumor had it that Geoffrey had stood on his desk and even Linus had managed to clap a few times until the fear of discovery overtook him.  Elin never knew for sure; she was too busy staring at Stan.  Part of her wanted to jump up and hug him.  Another part wanted to punch him in the stomach.   She knew he would pay for his moment of valor.

“See me after class, Stan.”

“Certainly sir”, Stan replied as he victoriously sat back in his chair.

“And Katelyn.”

“Yes sir?”  She had removed her hands from her face just in time to see Stan’s performance, but the fright from before was now replaced with disbelief.

“Please restrict your writings and notes to those of a scholarly nature.”

“Yes sir.”

“And for goodness sake child”, Mr. Simonds said before shuddering.  “Give the boy his headphones back.  You don’t want to risk his questionable hygiene.”

“Yes sir”, Katelyn said with a smile.

Elin wondered that day if the two of them hadn’t dated already; would that action have been enough to get them together?  Thankfully, it served the purpose of making the three of them friends again.  Yet the former-lovers still tried to hide their inadequacies from the other.  Elin continued to have the role of mediator thrust upon her.  One does not want their ex to see them struggle with everyday hiccups.

Elin looked to Stan, former eater-of-paper, a pathetic victim of his hair.

“This little clump is out to make a fool of me”, Stan lamented.  “And I’m irked that my parents cut back my lunch money.  Stupid picture day”, he said as he attended to his hair with no result.

“What, they won’t give you three dollars for lunch anymore?”11954269361175104003moneybags_john_olsen_01-svg-med

“Well, they will”, Stan said as he licked his hand and tried to subdue his locks in a cat-like manner, “but they won’t give me six bucks anymore.”

“What in the world do you need six dollars for?”  Katelyn looked over at Stan, looking past his hair issues for now and addressing his finances.  “How many lunches are you buying?”

“I was buying two”, he said to his two friends.  “Kind of.”

“Explain”, Elin said with a sigh.

“Well, my parents are trying to get Crystal to be responsible with money.”

“Your little sister is more responsible than you are”, Katelyn retorted.

“Yes, but my parents don’t know that.  So they’ve been giving me six dollars to buy both our lunches.”

“Uh huh”, Elin replied.  “And exactly how much of Crystal’s three dollars has found their way to her?”

“Two”, Stan said quietly.

“Stan!”  His two friends showed their disbelief in unison.  Katelyn looked at Elin.  Elin looked at Katelyn.  Katelyn shrugged and then gestured towards Elin.  Elin nodded.   She then turned towards Stan, ready to attack.

“Stan, how is a teenage girl supposed to buy lunch with only two dollars?”

“I dunno.  I mean, whenever I see her in the cafeteria, she always has this group around her.  She’s always standing right by the serving area with trays heaped with food.  People are always clapping her on the back, hugging her.  Maybe her friends give her food.  She’s certainly popular enough.”

“So you think that is acceptable that her friends feed her.  And they feed her because you, her brother, her kin, her family; are too selfish?  That you’re stealing nutrients from her body?”

“Oh come on”, Stan said.  “She eats plenty at home.  This is not some starving child in a third-world country.  You should see this gal and her snack foods.  I’m only keeping a dollar.  Well, was.”

“And what”, Katelyn asked, “were you spending all these extra dollars on?  It wasn’t on me.”

“Hey, this is not an ex conversation.  This is a sibling conversation.  We agreed not to have those before class, remember?  We get all mad and yell-y.”

“Well then I’ll ask it”, Elin interrupted.  “Hey Stan, where’d all that money go?”

“I had to pay back Geoffrey.”

“And what was so expensive that you went into debt with Geoffrey?  Some cool new techno gadget?”

Stan shrank a solid two inches in posture.  A sheepish grin appeared.

“Ugh”, replied Katelyn.

Elin responded by smacking Stan upside the head.

“I think you two know me a little too well”, Stan said.

“What was it this time?  What did you have to have?”

“Elin, you wouldn’t believe it.  This is like, the coolest thing ever”, Stan said as his excitement took over.


“It’s a remote controlled truck.  Well, kind of.  The EMC-0815 is more like a remote-controlled platform.  You should see the bed on this sucker.  It can carry anything short of a toddler.  I mean, a dog could sit on this thing.  It’s huge.  Powerful too.  This sucker can zip all over the backyard.  Well worth the money, I assure you.  This thing is like a drone, but on ground.”

“Because buying a drone would be silly.”drone-in-clear-sky

“Of course.”

“Well, at least he has some common sense”, Katelyn interjected.

“Some”, Elin quipped.

“Come on girls”, Stan said.  “You think I would buy a drone?  Pff.  No way.  At least, not until the price point comes down.  Thus suckers aren’t cheap.”

“So you’ve spent all your sister’s money—“

“Not all, Katelyn”, Stand interrupted.  “Some.”

“—on a glorified food car?”

“What’s a food car?”

“Oh come on”, Elin replied.

“The food car”, Katelyn repeated.

“No really.  What’s this food car?”

“In the cafeteria”, Katelyn answered.  “You pay five bucks and it zips your food to you?”

“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about”, Stan said.

“You eat in the cafeteria every day!”  Elin shook her head.  Stan could be very selective in what he allowed his senses to perceive.

“Lunch is thirty-five minutes”, Stan replied.  “That’s two and a half minutes to get there and two and a half to get to class.  If I scarf down my food in five, that only leaves me twenty-five minutes for video games.  I don’t look around and see what others at doing at lunch.  My guys and I have high scores to battle over.”

“You’ve never heard someone call out, ‘Food car!’ during lunch?”

“No Elin, I don’t think I have.”  Stan stopped and thought.  “Wait, you mean ‘Football!’?  That?”

“No Stan.  Food.  Car.”

“I always thought they were yelling ‘Football!’.”

“Why would they be yelling that during lunch?”

“Why would they paint half their face one color and the other half another color?”

“You know Elin”, Katelyn offered, “I’ve always wondered about that one myself.  He has a point.”

“And that’s why you two dated”, Elin responded.


“Can we get back to this food car thing?”  Stan was confused and it didn’t sit well with him.  “There’s an EMC-0815 roaming the halls of this school and I don’t know about it?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We thought you already knew”, Katelyn replied.

“Yeah”, Elin said.  “You pay five bucks, they put your food on the thing—“


“Sure, that”, Elin continued, “and it drives right over to your table.  Gives you more time to visit with your friends and you don’t have to get up.  Put your order and your money on the thing—“

“The EMC-0815.”

“Stop it.  –and it zooms your food right to you.”

“We thought you knew, what with your sister running it and all”, Katelyn said.

“What?!”  The look on Stan’s face was one that Elin would remember for years to come.  She never knew her friend’s face could go so white without a fever or plague involved.

“She really must rake in quite the tidy profit”, Elin said.

“Makes you wonder who the real scam artist in the family is, doesn’t it?”

“She’s dead”, Stan said as he started to get up from his seat.  “I’m going to her class and I’m gonna crush her.”

“Really?”  Katelyn looked across Elin and shook her head ever so slightly from side to side.

“You’re not going to do a thing”, Elin replied.

“Why wouldn’t I?”  Stan fumed with rage.

“For one thing”, Katelyn offered, “we have school in two minutes.”

“But think it out, Brainiac”, Elin ordered.  “If you want to get her in trouble, you have to tell your parents.”


“So that would involve telling them that you bought a gizmo.”

“EMC-0815”, Stan said, much more subdued than previously.

black-and-white-vector-illustration-of-teen-arguing-with-parents_133942358“Which would involve telling them that you’ve been taking money from her.  And really, from them”, Katelyn pointed out.

A sigh was the only response Stan had.

“Although at this point, I’m pretty sure Crystal has enough money to buy her own gizmo”, Elin said.

“Yeah.  Probably one that can go up hills faster or have some sort of amphibious capabilities”, Katelyn added.

The bell rang, signaling the beginning of class and the end of Stan’s rage.  He sighed again and went back to fidgeting with his appearance.

“I think you resign yourself to calling it a draw”, Elin replied.

“And what’s with your hair today”, Katelyn asked.  “You look all, I dunno…, funny.”

“Mr. Simonds better be very entertaining today”, Stan said dejectedly.

The door burst open and Mr. Simonds, stumbling over himself, half fell into the room.  He was struggled to carry his briefcase, stacks of papers, a coffee cup, his keys, and his special occasion-fedora.  His necktie was thrown over his shoulder and one of his shoelaces had just come untied.

A look over horror swept over Geoffrey’s face.  He cast a panicked look at Linus, whose hands were quite full of bills.  Geoffrey reached for his wallet.  He worriedly kept one eye on Mr. Simonds as he scrambled to see how much cash he had brought today.

Lawnmower Men

Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.” -George S. Patton


“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to an outdoor exhibition like no other. Where champions are made and the defeated are sent home with green on their fingers and shame in their hearts. I’m Bob Roberts—“

“—and I’m Bill Williams. Bob, what we have here is a true battle between styles. The two competitors could not be more different in their schools of thought, their preparations for this day, or their attitudes.”

“You’ve got that right Bill. Why, look at the machines that these two will be operating. Richie, the clear underdog in this bout, is lawn-mowergoing old-school. That push-mower of his has been in the family since before he was born. He told me earlier today that he learned how to curse by watching his father yank on the cord, swear, and yank again. It has become standard ritual for their family to pull, engage in profanity, pull harder, and watch the engine engage. Truly, Richie carries on a sort of rough, rugged, cowboy-like coarseness to his approach.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more Bob. While Richie is all white tennis-shoes stained green and classic mowers stained black by gasoline, Augustus strives to achieve sophistication and prestige in his approach. His rider-mowers are always top of the line. He seems to have a brand new mower every season, don’t you think Bob?”

“I gotta agree with you Bill. I hadn’t seen chrome hubcaps on a riding mower before the great match of 2013.”

“Wasn’t that the one where leaves of all shapes and shades of yellows and brown covered the playing field?”

“It was indeed, Bill. And Augustus made short work of those unsightly nuisances, all while cutting the grass underneath.”

“He certainly has the equipment to get the job done. Now, help me and the audience at home out. Is that a solar-cell on the back of Augustus’ mower? In his unending attempt to tame the green, has the technically savvy combatant gone green himself?”

“No Bill, but I can see where you might believe that. If anyone was going to throw in high-tech accomplishments, “just because”, it would be Augustus. But no, that is a spoiler.   He claims it takes the speed of his vehicle up a solid mile per hour, while deflecting cats and birds from his warm engine.”

“Bob, I’m not sure I have ever seen a cat try to hop onto either athlete’s mower during a match.”

“I’d have to agree with you Bill. However both men are dead-set on their techniques and will tolerate no opinions or interference.”

“Hence the lack of any sort of crew or maintenance workers for these two titans of the turf.”

“You got it Bill. In almost every other sport, you will find some sort of coach, advisor, or at least a guy with a gas can and tires. Not here. Theirs is the first and last call in all decisions. The success, and failure, rests entirely upon their shoulders.”

“But Bob, to be fair, it isn’t often that a tire-change happens during a lawn-mowing event.”

“Indeed, Bill. But you never know when you will have to top off the gas tank.”

“I can’t imagine the stress Bob. That sort of catastrophe could really send a guardian of the grass into a spiral. And yet, both of these men know that they have to tame the terrain completely; no patches can be missed by their well-honed eyes.”

“Bill, I feel that we should pause for a moment and comment on a trend that has yet to be broken.”

“I think I know what you are referring to Bob.”

“I think you do too, Bill. Once again, we have a lawn-mowing competition between two men. Women have yet to break into this sport.”

“You couldn’t be more right, Bob. I asked the family members before the match, and at least from their perspective, they, and I quote, ‘really didn’t see the point”. Harsh words. The sport has been derided by many as ‘pedestrian’ and ‘not an actual sport’ by many, and these two women are no exception.”

“Tell us more, Bill.”

“Take Richie’s mother for example. When asked if she would compete one year, she stated that mowing the yard was Richie’s chore. Why, if he didn’t take the green today, she threatened to withhold his allowance.”

“I thought that was just a rumor.”

“No, Bill. Now, there have been unconfirmed reports that Richie would lose his T.V. time, including videogames, if he made a poor showing here today. But most agree that is disinformation from Augustus’ camp.”

“Now Bob, I notice that once again Augustus’ wife is absent from this bout. Does her legendary disinterest continue?”

“It sure does, Bill. All the neighbors are well aware of Suzanne’s stance on the matter. ‘It is hardly a sport.’ ‘He is competing against a little kid.’ ‘Just mow the yard and leave me out of it.’ Surely she could put up a fight on the field here, but her lack of drive to join in appears to be as strong as ever. I do not think we will see a husband and wife team in this district anytime soon.”

“You never know, Bob.”

“You never know, Bill. That’s what we love about this game.”

“If game is the right word, Bob.”

“Agreed, Bill. Agreed.”

“Why, look at their pre-performance rituals. Richie spent hours and hours resting up. Critics have looked down on his style. They say he is, ‘sleeping in’ or, ‘slacking off’. Yet, Richie will respond to those by saying that he has to get his head right before lacing up his sneakers.”

“Whereas Augustus is up early in the mornings, ready to go. Why, if not for the noise ordinance and the long history of 800px-Early_Toro_brand_riding_lawn_mower_-_NARA_-_285450complaints against him, the man would surely have mowed some practice laps around the neighboring lawns. As we found out from 2011’s infamous three a.m. match, the community simply will not stand for lawn-mowing before a certain time.”

“Bob, the man simply has an eye for detail. He even has a specific wax that he will use beforehand, and I have heard that four coats is the minimum that he will apply.”

“Bill, the outdoors can be tough on a lawnmower. He wants every challenge he competes in to end with gear that looks like new.”

“Can we even call Augustus’ machine a mower, Bob? Experts have derided his choice. Their claims are that he has what is technically a tractor, as evidenced by the mounts on front where a snow-plow might be affixed.”

“Yes, Bill. There have certainly been many eyebrows raised, and not just at the twin cup-holders; which many feel shows a lack of endurance or dedication to the craft on Augustus’ part. Richie’s best friend, Jack, has been quite vocal that, ‘Old Man Aug ought’ta play fair’.”

“True words, Bob. Still, Richie claims that he can defeat his challenger on any mower.”

“It looks like we’re about to find out, Bill. At least, I sure hope so. But those clouds in the sky are a far cry from the blue skies we were promised.”

“Bob, the forecast today only called for a twenty percent change of rain. Even that could spell trouble.”

“Wet grass is clumpy grass, Bill.”

“Don’t I know it, Bob.”

“It appears that Augustus is ready for the clouds. One o’clock in the afternoon, and just like every other match, his headlights are on. Even the high-beams.”

“It wouldn’t be a mow-off if Augustus didn’t turn on the headlights in the middle of the day on an empty lawn. Ridiculous.”

“He certainly took it poorly when you asked him about it several years ago. Would you walk us through that, Bill?”

“Bob, I can’t. Legal says the court’s settlement is centered on my silence.”

“Crap, I forgot. Sorry. Well, no time for that folks! The men have grabbed their controls and they are revving to go.”

“Right you are, Bob. Right you are. As fans know, there is no referee. Anything goes. That includes the start time. Since we strive to have a gentlemanly sport, all matches start off with the head-nod…”

“There it is, Bill! They’ve nodded to each other and there they go!”

“Augustus’ vehicle, as always, starts at the first flick of the key. Why, I can hear the blades whirring away already!”

“Bill, Richie is having trouble getting ‘Ol Beater’ to start up. But that is nothing new to him. There’s the pull. The curse. The pull. Another curse word. The pull. Two curse words– And it’s on!”

“Bob, the one thing that Richie has going for him right from the start is turning.”

“He sure does, Bill. While Augustus may have a fancier mower, the time it takes him to turn with its length and wheel base is considerable. That really costs him in the fine detailing around trees and gardens.”

“So true, Bob. Why, look at Richie navigate his mower. He saw the small patch he missed and executed a perfect three-sixty, then was back on his course like nothing had happened. Unless Augustus has some sort of sensory program installed on his rig, he won’t be able to see missed spots until he’s making his second approach.”

“I can’t get over it Bill. Richie is really knocking out the detail work. He’s already tidied up around the elm that they planted over Sparky’s body. And that thick patch over the sewage pump is already tamed.”

“At the same time, Augustus is struggling to get around the rose bed. His wife may be the one who planted those flowers, Bob, but Augustus is the one that brags about them to any rotary club or floral shop he passes by.”

“Bill, I didn’t know that Augustus belonged to any rotaries.”

“He doesn’t. But he has often felt his wins here should be counted as contributions to the community.”

“Well Bill, his contribution to the course is substantial. He’s finally taken care of the slight hill and the garden. Now he simply has to keep mowing the big stretches.”

“Now Bob, take a gander over at Richie.”

“Yes, he has already gone to his first removal of the bag. This game is all about appearances, and that includes taking the clippings and throwing them onto the compost heap. It takes time to unfasten, carry the canvas bag off the course, and fasten the bag back on. Any other person might turn off the mower, but Richie refuses, knowing how temperamental that start-up can be. He’s already back to work, mowing over the small patch that fell from the un-bagging.”

“Bob, maybe it is for the best that Richie’s mom doesn’t observe these games.”

“Bill, I have heard rumors about Christina threating, ‘I’m gonna tell Mom!’ But so far that hasn’t happened.”

“And the sport is relieved for that small miracle, Bob.”

“Bill, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we officially have precipitation on the field.”

“Yes Bob. I can feel the rain falling on me and my lawn-chair. This could spell disaster.”desert-lightning-1408110525Yi1

“Bill, if any two champions can face the elements and rain it in, it’s these two.”

“Bob, that was a terrible pun.”

“Well this is looking like a terrible situation, Bill. I can see the wet hair and foreheads officially making life difficult for our two warriors.”

“Correct, Bob. The grass may not be soaked yet, but Richie is having a hard time with that second bag of grass.”

“At the same time Bill, Augustus is trying to keep the rain from accumulating on his brand-new mower. I’ve never seen a man try to drive and dry off his mower with his scarf at the same time.”

“This event always brings us something new, Bob. Why, this last second drama reminds us that—“

“Hold on Bill! Thunder! Thunder could be the nail in this match-ups coffin!”

“Bob, if it is up to the two men, that won’t stop them.”

“Maybe not Bill, but I have a feeling… and yes! There she is! Richie’s mom is demanding that he come inside! Trust her maternal skills to keep her child safe from pneumonia.”

“There is also the matter of the lighting, Bob.”

“You got it, Bill. Absolutely.”

“This match might technically go to Augustus now. With no refs, there really is no one to judge if Richie’s removal from the game is outside interference, or a forfeit.”

“Oh! Are you seeing this! Are you seeing this Bill!”

“I cannot believe it!”

“Bill, this is incredible! Augustus, worried about his lawnmower being out in the rain, is driving off the field without finishing! He’s already calling to his wife to bring out some towels!”

“I can’t really see his wife rushing out to help Augustus. She’s a pretty avid reader.”woman-reading-a-novel-in-the-comfort-of-her-home-361x544

“You are correct Bill. I can see her through their living room window. I can’t be sure, but it looks like she is shaking her head. Yes, yes she has officially turned her attention back to her novel.”

“Looks like Augustus will to have to dry off his machine himself. Perhaps deservedly so, Bob?”

“He did cease play of his own accord. This might be considered by many to be a disgrace.”

“His fans would argue that the lightning chased him away. He was only being prudent.”

“Bill, I have a feeling his obsessive cleanliness regarding his tractor is what stopped him.”

“You know I agree with you Bob. But either way, this match is over. No winner; a first in this region. Looks like we’ll have to wait until next year to see who will be Gladiator of the Grass.”

“Bill, it occurs to me that we’re sitting on aluminum chairs. In lightning. Care to join me for a cold one indoors?”lawn_chair_12

“Beer me, Bob. Beer me. For Bill and Bob—“

“—and Bob and Bill—“

“So long, Lawn Lovers!”

Be Kind, Rewind

The salesman knows nothing of what he is selling save that he is charging a great deal too much for it.” -Oscar Wilde


“Come on folks, come on over!”

There are many intriguing sights on the waterfront.  In the early morning the construction workers begin their work.  The paper delivery man fills up the metal stands with the latest news.  The back of his van gathers more and more yesterdays, now much less exciting and imperative than they had been just twenty-four hours ago.

The second set of ferries makes their way to the pier.  Not the first ferries; those early transporters of cars and commuters are the fanatics.  They get up a little too early.  The boats after those, they are the early rising (but not too early) workers that get things ready for the rest of the world.

“It’s never too early for a good bargain!  Why be just any ol’ early bird who gets the worm when you could be the wise and savvy early bird who nabs a salmon?  Why be a boring sparrow when you can be a fearsome eagle, swooping down on only the best?  Yes, my deals are like nothing else out there!”

The water is remains calm, but also dark.  The streets shine their lights, still on a low setting so as not to waken the neighbors.  The beacons, the LEDs atop stadiums and the worker lights can all be seen across the lake.  The artificial lamps add a pleasant orange glow that tides the citizens over until the sun deigns to officially approve of the new day with its presence.  The world will wake up soon, but the bustle and drive has not quite kicked in to full speed yet.

“You say you don’t wanna be taken?  Well I’m the one who should be weeping, what with the low low, bargain-basement prices I’m offering today only!”

No one has yet informed Pete Fanstro of any of this.  In his mind, four a.m. is the perfect time to make that first big sale of the day.  Pete strives for that sale that will make his ledger happy and fill the pages with black pen instead of the dreaded red.   That is, if Pete were to keep a ledger.  He finds such matters as accounting and budgeting to be trifling, stifling, and something best worried about by—”

“Fools!  Fools, I say!  Only a fool would pass up these amazing deals!  The big chains won’t offer ya these kinds of sales!  You can’t go surf for these massive discounts online.  And why would you want to?”

Pete likes to imagine himself an entrepreneur.  He has dreams, or “schemes” as his ex-wife would call them; that he knows for certain are guaranteed hits.  Regrettably, the rest of the world is not in synch with how Pete thinks.  He believes that true happiness has already been offered up to the public and they have rushed past it.  Pete sees himself as an antique dealer, but one with a very specific market.

“VHS tapes!  As great today as they ever were!  Now on sale for your own personal enjoyment!  Relive the childhood days!  Bask in the warm glow of a screen that fast forwards and reverses before your very eyes!  No silly ‘scene selection’ or ‘menus’ to worry with!  No internet connection required!”

vhs-cassette-tape-600x400Pete spent several years trying to collect enough tapes to fill his temporary structure.  To call it a building would be charitable.  The structure is as questionable as the ripped and splotchy cardboard sleeves that adorn some, but hardly the majority, of the hundreds of video tapes.  The walls are made of a metal that resembles tin or steel, however the rust muddies up any attempt to categorize the mystery material.  The garage door entrance that rolls up and down rattles only slightly more than the walls in a rainstorm.  However the brown/gray/green building leaks enough to keep any outdoorsman content.

“High quality goods here!  Some folks would try to sell you SLP tapes at a SP price!  No sir!  I could try to sell you Titanic on one cassette, but I offer you the original two-tape set!  No shortcuts were made to the standards in our establishment!”

The “goods”, have made themselves right at home.  Embracing the waterfront setting, the VHS tapes have taken to the moisture as much as possible.  They enjoy their showers in the rain.  When the tables are bumped just right, the kids’ videos are only too happy to dive into the puddles that have accumulated on the concrete ground and bathe themselves in the grime-infested waters.  Mold makes friends with the cardboard; the two have quite the loyal relationship, never being found far apart.  Batman logos have been faded gray, Superman logos have shifted to white and pink, and Die Hard’s battered container looks the part.

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  We need a little excitement this morning!  So, for the next five minutes, and only the next five, if you come up to ol’ Pete and you buy ten VHS tapes?  I’m going to offer you a dual-deck VHS player for the bargain price of ten dollars.  That’s right, only ten dollars!  These marvels of electronics used to sell for hundreds.  Now one can be yours!  Take the tapes and record back and forth.  How you say?  Well, since we want your day to start off right, I’m going to throw in this blank 120 tape, mint in package.  For you sir, free!  Yes, you put the blank in the record deck, you put the movie in the other, and you can make your own edits!”

Mr. Fanstro tends to skirt the laws and regulations.  He does not pay rent on his space outside the abandoned building.  He knows that one day he will have to move.  For the moment, landlords seem more occupied turning pristine lots into apartment buildings than worrying about empty warehouses show no promise.  Police and federal officials could crack down on Pete for not paying taxes or for encouraging patrons to violate the wavy warnings that show in black and white before each movie.  Yet, the sad truth is that patrons and profits are so unfamiliar to Pete’s stand that it is not worth anyone’s time to enforce any rules.  His is a failed business by most standards.

“I know you’ve got different standards than most!  You want a movie with all the boring parts taken out!  Well you just record and pause, record and pause… and whammo!  Your very own personal edit!  Break the little tab off the corner and it will be yours to treasure forever.  What’s that?  Change your mind?  Why, one little piece of tape over that hole and you can record again!  Make a different tape over and over forever!  Live with one tape for all of eternity and never settle for the studios cut!  The choice is yours!”

Pete is no threat to anyone.  He resembles Saturn in many ways.  He is an oddity, has a large presence in his universe, and consists of the most curious rings.  His head is almost bald, but a small friar-like ring of hair clings on in defiance.  A series of almost-circles covers his head, made up of impossibly bushy eyebrows that often court a uni-brow label, a small patch at the back of his head, and a mustache that is full and comical.

600px-Girl_twirling_Hula_Hoop,_1958Further down he has a triple chin which has slid down his neck and hangs there like a hula hoop, wobbling and swooshing around, but never going away.  His arms are constantly in motion and the way he gesticulates and spins from prospective customer to the tables behind him creates the image of a cyclone of sales spinning faster and faster.

There, in his middle, is quite possibly the biggest spare tire a man has ever had.  Pete has lost quite a few pounds over the ages and his torso shows that.  But this sizeable perimeter of mass has refused to give up the ghost.  It juts out, creating something of a shelf for Pete’s elbows to rest on in those rare moments when his arms are not flailing about.

And then there are his knees.  Rain or shine, cold or warm, Pete insists on wearing shorts.  “Only a stuck-up salesman wears slacks”, he has often said.  “Wearing shorts gives me freedom of movement and makes the people know I’m one of them.  That’s crucial!”

Yet his knees are quite peculiar.  They are quite knobby, but his skin is rather loose.  So it appears that two poorly handled mangos have taken up residence in the middle of each leg.  The pair protrudes like their own little moons, maintaining a lopsided orbit in the solar system that is Pete’s physique.

“Sights like you won’t see again!  Lost World-Jurassic Park, still with the lenticular card that came with it!  Both Schumacher Batman films; complete with their ensemble covers!   And wait’ll you see the deal I offer you on our Jim Carrey collection!  It’s only surpassed by our Adam Sandler exclusive collector’s set!  You won’t find these steals elsewhere, because I’ve got ‘em right here!”

A large percentage of passersby feel sorry for Pete.  They wonder how he can possibly feed his family.  Nearby vendors, those patient or stubborn enough to tolerate his constant huckster calls; have never seen him with enough money to make a deposit.  They do not realize that none of this is for money, it is all for fun.

“Remember fun?  GooniesBack to the FutureAladdin?  Well, we got yer fun right here!  Don’t be a fool, be a memory-maker!  Share these bits of perfection with the whole family and still have some money for popcorn!”

cup-25180_640Anyone who has ever bought a cup of soda has ensured Pete’s livelihood.  There is a plastic lid for most cups.  And those lids have a small x-shaped hole in the top for the straw to go through.  Pete invented that x-shaped slit.  Every lid made, through the wonders of patents, has helped Pete’s bank account.  One would never suspect that the curious person in front of them, sagging in odd places and wearing too-short shorts, is the richest man they’ll ever come across.  But Pete has better things to talk about than money.

“VHS stands for ‘Very Highest Standards’!  Come, embrace the joy of it!  Cherish the memories!  You’ll never come across a store quite like mine ever again!”

Halloween is for the Birds

Drama is life with the dull parts cut out.” -Alfred Hitchcock


Folks might leap to the conclusion that I outright hate Halloween. That is not quite the case. If others want to craft intricate costumes and go to parties, then I have no problem with that. I simply do not have that drive myself.

But I do appreciate when decorations go inappropriately wrong

But I do appreciate when decorations go inappropriately wrong

A large part of that stems from having met my quota for costumes. I work in a movie theater. When we had a big superhero flick opening, I was the one most willing to don the outfit. I was the person that dressed up as Batman four of five times. I put on a Spidey suit more than once. And I am here to tell you that the Iron Man suit is the most comfortable getup you will ever find. (The suit itself was not overly confining and the fake muscles were like little pillows you could take a nap on. ‘twas bliss.)

That being said, I should mention that most superhero movies come out between May and July. As the summer heat starts to really kick in, costumes become more problematic. batguysFor example; consider the setting for Batman Begins. It was Father’s Day weekend. We had invited some rather well-known Batman creators to come hang out with us on a sunny day. Our lobby is an all-glass building. And there I was, in a full-body, all-black, snug-fitting Batman costume, next to creators that I admire and tried not to geek-out over, all as the sun beat down and made that suit feel like my own little oven. I believe the best descriptor would have been “toasty”.

I have met my quota. Let the others adorn silly attire. I would rather not walk through the workplace and be attacked by fake cobwebs, but I chuckle when people squeal at a fake rat or some other harmless decoration. My annoyance at low-hanging skeletons is balanced by seeing those folks freak out over a spider that is clearly not real.

No, what I hate are birds.

Popcorn. When you introduce crumbled and spilled pieces of popcorn around an area that is half outdoors, you often acquire some trouble. Trouble with a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” that stands for pigeons. Oh, how I hate pigeons.

Running after pigeons and waving my arms wildly is beneath me. I am not three. I would rather walk up to them, use my height and loud stomping feet, and lecture angrily. I maintain my calm demeanor when met by the feathery cretins. I clomp around, I yell, and I throw things in the general vicinity of their perch but never actually at them. (I would never hit the little twerps, no matter how much I want to. I believe fear of being hit will suffice just as well as being bonked on the noggin.)

I am, in all ways possible, sick of this crap.

I am, in all ways possible, sick of this crap.

Monday I came across a particularly vexing pigeon. We had just installed some very ugly perch-pokers so that the birds would no longer sit above our entry doors and atop our sign. We thought our days of cleaning gobs, lakes, and assembled masses of poop were over. Sadly, this one pigeon had found a new railing to perch on. So I did what anybody would do and chased it off.

When I ventured back outside a few hours later, there was the pigeon again. “What do you think you are doing?” The pigeon continued to sit there in a curled up feather ball. If it were a puppy or a kitten it might have been cute. But I have seen what these little fecal-factories eat and how often their feathers fall out. “Cute” is not an attribute they possess.

“Hey! Scoot!”

The pigeon looked up a bit. There were elements of sleepiness and a touch of contempt in its beady little eye. There was no trace of repentance for trespassing in that tiny-beaked visage.

I waved my arms towards him as my feet stamped their disapproval onto the floor. Closer and closer I got until it flew up the staircase. I followed it and shooed it some more. Reluctant efforts to escape my badgering were made. At last, I got the pigeon to fly off into the rain. Only a random feather or two and a collection of poop were left behind.

You understand story structure. You know there is always a third arc. You know the villain of the story must return one last time to do epic battle with that noble hero.

(A refresher: I am the hero here. Me. I tear tickets and provide customer service. Pigeons create unsanitary environments and plague my existence. Me-good. Pigeons- harbingers of death and messiness.)

I came out to what I assumed was an empty area. It was after our daytime hours. The crowds were winding down. A pleasant stillness had descended on our grounds as it often does. Everything was okay. Until I saw it.

There was the pigeon. Again. Perched on the stairway railing. Again. Asleep over a giant collection of poop. Again. This time we both played for keeps.

I made my feet beat like warning drums. It ignored me. I yelled. It gave me the look of insolence. I approached closer. That was when the real fun began.

I neglected to mention that this stairway was halfway between the second floor and the ground floor. The pigeon had options on how to retreat. This time, it went down. I chased it, it flew downstairs. I chased it again. It circled to the left and perched on the floor. I chased it again. It circled more to the left, this time threatening to go in the office door. I chased it again. It circled to the left and threatened to go into the bathroom that had its door ajar. I chased it again. The bird circled to the left (Did it know that there was more than one direction to fly? Take a right, mix things up! Further proof that pigeons are idiots) and swooped over my head. I was convinced that the ne’er-do-well was out to scratch me or open its payload doors on my face. Thankfully, I escape unmolested.

After another series of two or three chases, the bird went up the stairs, out the upper courtyard, and flapped away into the rainy night.

I chose to believe that I had really won that time. Despite its greater reluctance to flee, I wanted to believe that our story had come to a conclusion. However, a tiny part of me was still cautious. In horror films, the unstoppable killer that is “slain” often comes back once more.

Those were the sort of thoughts I had as I walked to the downstairs bathroom a few hours later. I was ready to go home. My shift was coming to a close. And if I could just go the bathroom, bide my time in the theater, and keep anything from catching fire then I would be done for the night.

I walked up the railing, hoping that I would not see the same sight as before. It was clear! (Well, the poop was still there. But the giver of gifts had fled the coop.) I had won! Victory was mine. Strutting like a peacock, I walked to the restroom.

The door to the restroom tends to have its door propped open. This is partly to make it easier to find, partly to get fresh air from the outside, and partly to avoid that whole door-opens-into-someone’s face moment. (Which is comedy gold if you are prepared for it; less so if you just want to dry your hands and get out.) I strolled up to the urinal and took care of things. All was well. Or so I thought.

I like to think I have a feel of what is going on in my surroundings. I always recommend having a grasp of any unknown people or elements around you. At that moment by the urinal, my peripheral vision sent a warning straight to my brain.

I was not alone in the restroom.

There, by the sink-counter, was a bird. At least, I was pretty sure it was a bird. It was a large mass perched on the marble surface right by the door. My heart rate shifted into gear. I gulped. I knew exactly what had occurred.

The bird had plotted my demise.

We were in a confined space. Its wings, talons, and beak gave it the distinct advantage. It had been spurned and wanted payback. In order to get out the bathroom door, I would have to get past the beast bent on revenge. I zipped up my pants and did the only thing I knew I could do.

I turned around quickly, inhaled a sharp breath of courage, and charged towards my attacker! I would meet it face to face.

Or, as the case was, face to rubber.

For it was not the dreaded enemy of the skies and discarded corn that faced me. Instead, I was confronted by a fake vulture. The prop had been left there by my coworkers in their festive attempt to liven up the place.

Only the fear is real.

Only the fear is real.

Annoyed and embarrassed, I went back to my pigeon-less existence and finished my shift grumbling,

“fr#@*^-in’ Halloween…”

Hitchcock gets it.

(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,


“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!)

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.



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.

The Trek to Oyster Doom

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness; that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” -Theodore Roosevelt


A friend of mine, let’s call her “Dawn”, often spoke of the wonders of a certain hike.  Dawn and I even had plans to travel the route with a group of our coworkers.  But as these things often go, plans fell apart.  A year or two passed without me ever seeing this mysterious Oyster Dome.  All I knew of this mysterious land was that Dawn and several other friends spoke of the plentiful joys that this scenic escape had to offer.

Now, given those accolades and emotional urgings to explore said land, what could I do?  Early this week I finally made the trip out to Oyster Dome.  However, after my adventure I have found a more appropriate name.  I choose to call that most “exciting” of places, Oyster Doom.

The warning signs were plentiful; I just chose to ignore them.  Caution flag number one was the drive there.  I tend to be a little frightened by detours.  I am sure that the folks who place those imposing and unyielding orange signs know what they are doing.  However I like my roads to run in a straight line.  Therefore, I had some trepidation about driving down a stretch of freeway where there existed an infamous gap in the road.  Oy.  I have issues driving where chunks of the road is missing.  Sure, it worked for Speed, but I was alone.  Sandra Bullock was not behind the driver’s wheel encouraging and coaxing me on to victory.  (A point which I happen to think is a cruel injustice.)

Oops.  But it's getting better?

Oops. But it’s getting better?

To be fair, the detour was just fine.  Personally I think a few more signs would have been helpful.  But when in doubt, follow the semi-trucks; works every time.  Thanks to those multi-wheeled behemoths, I was able to get back on the highway with no problems and two exits later I was cruising down a quiet little paved road looking for a place for the trailhead.

The guide book claimed that there would be parking along the side of the road.  The book and I disagree on the term “parking”.  When I think of parking, I like to have bold white lines spray painted on the ground.  Ideally, there are concrete blocks on the ground or some sort of barrier to ensure that one’s car doesn’t go out of bounds.

The “parking” here was a strip of gravel.  On the edge of a cliff.  With a speed limit of 55.  I’m sorry, what?  In every story I’ve ever heard of a car parking along the side of a lonely road, it tends to end up with some guy carrying an axe and chasing them into the uninhabited woods.  (Showing their courteous side, the planners of the park even gave the crazed woodsman a way to hide the evidence; simply shove the innocent hiker’s car off the road.  No railings to get in the way, just a nice steep drop and tall trees to cover it up for ya.)

You're a lumberjack?  Okay, but explain the mask...

You’re a lumberjack? Okay, but explain the mask…

Now, folks that know me will attest that I am a might stubborn.  I had already driven out to the park.  It was broad daylight.  And I had managed to find the tiny little path of dirt that was to be the start of my expedition.  I figured I’d roll the dice and take my chances.  That was when I came upon the next sign of impending danger, which was an actual sign.

The short version:  "Dangerously dangerous danger!"

The short version:
“Dangerously dangerous danger!”

After reading the entire notice I realized that I had no intention of hiking along the closed route.  Why would I add wet rocks, another cliff, and the threat of angering thousands of bats to the already treacherous day?  Still, the words, “close this area” effectively concerned me.

Having considered and dismissed all warnings, I hit the trail.  It hit back, hard.  I am a tall fellow, but those hills are not for the faint of heart.  Or knees.  Or ankles.  Or lumbar.  Uphill the path led and uphill I went.  As I crested the first ascent, I was greeted by another mighty mound of dirt.  Things tend to happen in threes and so another hill presented itself.  Of course, the more the merrier, right?  Bring another order of steep earth to table one!  Apparently Oyster Dome is one big block party and the hills are only too happy to RSVP.

To the park’s credit, there were plenty of trails.  At least, I think they were trails.  The first few miles were dotted with white splotches on trees.  I can only assume that those white blobs were meant to identify the route as correct and safe.  Of course, those markers were utilized when there was a massive hill or glacier rock on one side, and a steep cliff on the other.  It was much like walking down the grocery aisle and having a staff person ask that you refrain from taking your squeaky-wheeled shopping cart and leaping and bounding over the high shelves.  Further into the woods; when

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

the trails started to get confusing?  That’s when the white splotches conveniently disappeared.  (I maintain that the mystery guy from the horror movie is to blame, but I haven’t yet figured out how.)

With or without markers, the routes appeared regardless of my desire for them to c ease.  There was the aforementioned closed trail that didn’t need the professionally-made signs to ward me off.  I think there was a glacial view trail, but the word “glacier” invokes two mental thoughts to me; slippery and sharp.  Needless to say, I declined the invitation.  And then there were the little paths that sure looked like trails.  A patch of dirt here, a wide expanse of forest there; my fear of getting lost only increased the higher up I journeyed.  I prefer not to take the Lord’s name in vain, so I did my best not to mutter, “Dear God I’m going to die”, “Dear God this is terrifying”, and “What in God’s name were these people thinking?”  However, I assure you that statements very similar in tone to curses ran around in my head as I looked at each intersection with concern.

In the end, I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I followed the slugs.  Come on, what animal looks like it prefers the safest path possible?  Slugs, that’s what.  A cougar, a bear; even snakes would have been wildlife that might have sent me packing.  But I am a Washingtonian.  Slugs are our friends.  If a path of dirt is deemed a suitable strolling area by a slug, then I am going to follow along.  Scoff if you must, but much of the success I had in getting up to that summit was from a slug pointing the way with its antennae and sage wisdom.  (And yes, a trail of slimy goo.)

At the end, I would say that I would make this trek again.  It really is not all that far from where I live and now that I know that the terrain’s grade is equivalent to trying to climb out of a well, I am prepared for the climb.  I have an idea of which trails will not lead me to my demise.

Also, I firmly believe that the view is worth it.  Or rather, I choose to believe that what should be the view is majestic.  I could not say myself.  When I got up to the top; when I finally broke free of the tree line?  I was met by a 180-degree view of clouds.  Add in a smattering of trees, some clouds, and then really smother that sucker with another layer of clouds; that is the sort of “picturesque” moment I experienced.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike.  If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike. If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

I shall try again.  I was almost attacked by a non-existent axe-murderer, my knees are still sore, and I have never been so afraid of being lost in the woods as I was that day.  The moral in all this is that hiking buddies are highly underrated.  Take someone with you to take in all that nature has to offer; even if it kills you.  Because of Dawn’s recommendation, I have just the person in mind.  What better way to thank her than by taking her along?  No good deed goes unpunished, y’know.

Giving ’til it Hurts

A dignified and respectworthy thing, and there is small merit about it and less grace when it doesn’t cost anything.” –Mark Twain, on charity


Travis Jackson pulled a sweatshirt out of his closet and felt a sneer overtake him.  Once, a long while ago, he had been a rabid fan of the Tulsa Tortoises.  Now, a decade later, he couldn’t bring himself to watch a game.

It really wasn’t all that surprising.  Travis had bought the sweatshirt in his early college years when he and his roommates would all pile into his friend’s cramped two-door and drive down to the stadium whooping and cursing excitedly.  Every time they went Travis would wear his sweatshirt in support of his team.  It had kept him warm when the harsh weather pummeled the open-air stadium.  It had acted as a napkin, sopping up the nacho cheese and beer stains; both of which resulted from his enthused state and his friends’ clumsy ways.  It even had a tear from the parking lot brawl when the other team’s fan had dared to mock “Swifty” Samuels’ defensive skills.

Decades later, Travis looked at the sweatshirt and knew he would never wear it again.  His beloved stadium had been torn down and replaced with a new, more pristine, family-friendly venue.  The players he used to cheer on and high-five after he waited outside the gates had rewarded him by quitting or trading away for big paychecks.  When the notion of nine dollar beer was combined with all of those changes, Travis just couldn’t muster up any interest.  The idea of going to a game had once been exciting, now it held as little allure to him as the pathetic piece of clothing in front of him.

trash-bag Looking through his closet, Travis realized just how out of touch his attire was with his current tastes.  As he pulled out a pair of pleated slacks and several baseball caps, all the result of Christmas gifts from past girlfriends, a pile of clothing started to grow.  Only minutes later, Travis was stuffing piles of clothing into a large garbage bag.  The sides puffed out in bumps and bulges as he strained to pull the top closed.

That’s quite a haul, Travis thought to himself.  I really should donate this stuff instead of tossing it out.  Somebody’s gotta want that sweatshirt.  Right?

Travis was dubious about the truth of that last notion, but regardless he walked towards the kitchen.  He went to the table and moved a pile of bills.  Then he moved a pile of newspapers.  Underneath those were another stack of bills.  Oops, he thought as a sheepish grin appeared.  I forgot about those.  At last, resting on the bottom of the chaos, resided the telephone book.

The telephone book hadn’t seen much action.  In fact, it was in mint condition.  Travis hadn’t needed it before, even though it was two and a half years old.  As he turned to the last third of the book, he began to recall the experience of flipping past hundreds of pages to find the category he wanted.  Life before internet searches sprang into his mind.  Travis thought back to “simpler times” as he pulled out his smartphone and dialed up the number.

On the first ring, Travis heard the pick-up on the other end.

“Hi, My name’s Travis Jackson and-“

-Click-.  Charles looked at his phone in confusion.  He didn’t know what to think.  Surely they wouldn’t have had any reason to hang up on him.  He was trying to do a good deed and these people were supposed to facilitate that.  No, it must have been some sort of mistake, he told himself.  He was just about to redial the number on his phone when he was startled.

He couldn’t be sure, but Travis could have sworn that he saw something drop out of the sky.  He left his phone on the kitchen table and ran to his living room window.  There, much to his surprise, he saw a man in armor running across the grass while another man ran up to his door.  Three ropes seemed to be hanging above his lawn.  Turning his gaze upwards, he saw a helicopter silently hovering high above his house.

081104-M-5023B-005Panic started to overtake Travis.  Were all those movies right?  Is this how the invasion begins?  These guys are trained and have serious gear.  How am I supposed to fend off a wave of intruders?  He started to pace the living room frantically when the men did the last thing that Travis ever expected.

They knocked on his door.

It was a short, brisk, three-rap knock; one which somehow conveyed their efficiency.  Unable to think of a better response, Travis called out in response, “Hello?”

“Yes, are you Mr. Travis Louis Jackson?  We received your call.”

“Already?”  Travis couldn’t believe it.  “Man you guys are fast”, he said as he unlocked the front door.

“Yes Sir.  We are”, the authoritative tone replied.

Travis opened the door and was met by three identical-looking men.  They all had on what Travis guessed were armored-plating over their camouflaged clothing.  Each wore a helmet that covered their heads except for near their temples where he could see that their hair was shaved very close to the skin.  All three eyes stared back at him through opaque sunglasses.

“Sir, where’s the target?”  The now-familiar voice came from the first mass of muscle on Travis’ doorstop.  He looked at the combat boots on the concrete step and wondered how long it had been since he last swept out there.

“Sir?”  The voice roused Travis from his distraction.  “We still have our mission”, the man prompted.

“Right, sorry.  It’s in the kitchen.”

With that, the leader turned to his two men.  He made a series of complex hand gestures.  The men nodded in reply and ran uninvited into the house.

“Uh, I could show you the way”, Travis offered.

“There’s no need for that, Sir.”

“There’s not?”

“No Sir.  Standard protocol is to brief ourselves on the object’s blueprints, and those within five blocks, before the incursion begins.  We memorized your house en route.”

En route?  Travis shook his head.  These guys’re hardcore.

Travis watched as the man put his hand to his ear.  Some sort of exchange was clearly taking place.  The man nodded in satisfaction.

“Copy that”, he responded.  “Maintain radio silence while I interrogate.”

“Wait, I’m sorry”, Travis interrupted nervously.  “Did you say interr-“

“Sir, the package has been acquired.  Our goal here has been accomplished with no complications.  However, we could use your help.”

“Uh, okay?”

“You see, these operations are extensive.  They require intensive training and perfect execution.  Would you agree that is what has taken place here?”

“Yeah.  You guys are almost too good at what you do.”

“We have to be, Sir.  That’s our job.”

“And, really, kudos to you.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  The imposing man took a step closer until there was only a foot of space between him and Travis.  “Now, I need to ask you a question, Sir.  Is there anything else in the house?”

“I… I’m sorry?”

“When we go to this sort of effort, we like to come back with more than our initial target.  We want to maximize the efficiency of our time.  So is there anything else in the house?”

“Wait, you want me to give you more?”

snowboarder-md“On our preliminary sweep through the area we noticed a snowboard that hasn’t been utilized in five years, a set of dining plates and cutlery that you clearly aren’t taking advantage of, some pots and pans that have never been used, snow tires, snow chains, screens that aren’t secured in your windows, cat litter for a pet that doesn’t appear to exist on the premises, tampons, jogging shoes that are collecting dust, a case of diet supplements, a shovel that is clean for a device that was created to move dirt, several reference books that we both know you’ve never read, and an “Ultimate AB-Builder” that’s hardly this year’s model.  Would you please confirm for me the presence of said items?”

“Hold on, you went through my stuff?”

“It’s all part of the procedure, Sir.  You’ll find a copy of the contract posted to your refrigerator door.”

“So, you just want to take all that stuff?  I didn’t give my consent for any of this.”

“We’re only trying to maximize our efficiency.  You do want us to maximize our efficiency”, the guard growled as he took the final step that closed the gap between the two men, “don’t you, Sir.”

Travis gulped as his belly almost grazed the armored pouches that held unknown threats above the man’s waist.  He wouldn’t put it past the man to have C-4 or some terrifying gizmo in those pouches.  His eyes darted back and forth, refusing to stare straight at the black ovals that covered the official’s glare.  He gulped again.

“No, no I wouldn’t want to do anything to upset you or your superiors.”

“We appreciate that, Sir”, the man said as he backed away and whispered into his wrist.  “Rest assured”, he said, returning his attention to Travis.  “We have left you with all the modern conveniences that you currently enjoy.  And if I haven’t already, let me express our gratitude for your giving spirit.  We would like to sincerely thank you for your generosity.”

As the man finished his sentence, the two other men ran by with their arms full of bags that Travis knew contained his former belongings.  He watched them go, rushed out the door with terrifying speed.

“Again”, the man said with a curt nod, “thank you for your help.”  With that, he rushed double-time after the men under his command.  Travis watched as the men hooked their loads onto the rope with carabineers.  The trio of workers and their cargo were lifted back up into the helicopter.  It was already flying towards its next destination, silently leaving Travis and his remaining property.

Man, he thought as the vehicle disappeared into the clouds, those Salvation Marine guys don’t mess around.

The Universe’s Largest Messy Room

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, “A house guest,” you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” -Erma Bombeck


“Ralphie, get in here right now!  You are in big trouble mister!”

Almost against reason, Ralphie walked up the stairs and stood in his bedroom doorway.  Seeing the look on his mother’s face, he decided not to venture inside.  He remained where he was, half in the hallway and half at the scene of the crime.

“What did you do?”

“I cleaned my room”, Ralphie replied as he looked to the carpet.

“No, I don’t think you did.”

“Well, there’s no stuff on the floor anymore.  And there’re no toys around.”

“Yes”, Susan admitted.  “But there are also no toys neatly put away on the shelves and no clothes folded up in your dresser.”

“There’s no stuff on the floor”, Ralphie repeated.

“Ralphie, tell the truth.  Did you use your tesseract dimensional storage unit to hide all your things?”

Ralphie only looked at the floor, wondering if some sort of escape hatch might open and help him escape his mom’s question.


“Maybe”, he said quietly.

“Now you know what your father said.”  Susan was exasperated with her son.  She thought that this matter had been taken care of before, but apparently it was time for her youngster to get a refresher.  “When your father invented a portal to fourth dimensional space so that we could access an infinitely sized realm, he gave you instructions, didn’t he?”

“He uses it all the time”, Ralphie argued.

“Yes and he’s an adult.  Adults get to make decisions that young people don’t.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is”, Ralphie said as he finally looked his mom in the eye.  “Dad stores his tools in there.  You told him he couldn’t keep his table saw in the garage anymore so he put in it the tesseract with that old clunker car and the extra dining room furniture.”

“Does he toss his clothes in there?”

“No…  He never said I couldn’t though.”

(Click to see the tesseract model.)

Susan sighed.  “I think you knew that you shouldn’t.  When your father places things into that endless realm of size and proportions, he makes sure to attach a special tracking device and a long cord to them.  Plus, he always puts on a pressurized suit in case the entrance’s walls buckle and gravity and oxygen are compromised.  Did you take those precautions?”

“I had Mr. Fluffin watch the door!”  Ralphie pointed to his stuffed bunny with the top hat.  Clearly, he believed there was no more responsible act than having his treasured toy act as his second in command.

“I told your father you weren’t ready for this.  I told him that you weren’t grown up enough.  If that doorway collapses, then we’re going to have an area that mimics the absence of space trying to merge with your bedroom.  Do you know what sort of calamity that could cause?”

“That depends”, Ralphie replied.

“Depends on what?”

“What’s a calm nighty?”

“A calamity is when everything goes terribly wrong.  Like in those comic books you read?  Every time a bad scientist gets careless, they get changed into a monster, right?”

Ralphie nodded, the images of scaly faces and claws for hands filling his head.

“Those accidents are calamities.  You don’t want to be the reason something like that happens, do you?”

Ralphie worriedly shook his head back and forth.

“And what about Rodney the Righteous Turtle?  Remember how he got lost in the tesseract?  How your dad had to send in a robot probe to bring it back?”

His eyes went wide as Ralphie remembered the turmoil that his favorite action figure had gone through.  Its shell-launching action still wasn’t the same.

“I’m going to talk to your dad.  We’ll see if he can get the probe to launch some sort of net over your things.  Hopefully they haven’t floated too far away from your portal.  If, if we can get all your stuff back, I expect you to take care of it.  Understood?”

Ralphie nodded again.

“That means you need to keep it organized and clean in this room.  You can’t just throw it into a boundless dominion with no shelves or physical constraints and expect it to be okay.  You need to take care of things here, in this room.  Got it?”

“Yeah”, Ralphie responded.  “Only…”


“Do we have to bring back the itchy sweater too?”

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