Dependably Durable (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(If you don’t make a habit out of checking The Daily Post, you really should.  They help with my writing more times than I care to admit.  This week is no different.)

O Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught.“ –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Book Review The Fifth AssassinMiranda pulled a grocery bag out from under her kitchen sink.  She laid it on the table next to her trusty scissors, masking tape, and her crisp new copy of Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin.  She had a regiment that each new book went through after it arrived at her doorstop.  The procedure had worked every previous time and she was not about to take chances now.

With a few quick folds, confident cuts, and strategically placed pieces of tape, the stalwart and robust construction paper was ready for its new inhabitant.  Miranda smiled and hummed to herself as she made the last few adjustments and then placed her new book in the waiting embrace of the sturdy book cover.  The last pieces of tape were put on, but Miranda made sure that they never so much as grazed the new book itself.  She moved the paper book jacket from where she had relocated it to the bookshelf. She tittered and tsk-ed at the ornamentation.  Such decorations were for display, not for travel.

Miranda smiled at the paper-clad book that sat on the table in front of her.  She cleared off the errant lengths and scraps cast off from the brown bag and let them fall slowly into the recycling bin.  She had gotten what she wanted from the former grocery bag.   After she meticulously put the scissors back in their drawer and the tape back on the shelf, all that remained was her prize.  She smiled at the anticipation of tearing through the new suspense novel, albeit gently and with respect for the white pages.

The book sat on the table, a tone of daring calling from behind the thick brown cover like a siren trying to lull in sailors at sea.  In an almost imperceptible voice, it beckoned to Miranda.  C’mon.  Gimme a read.  You know you want to.  Just give in.  You don’t really think you’re going to be able to wait it out, do you?  Succumb to the temptation Miranda!

As much as she wanted to dive into her newest purchase, she knew she would have to wait.  She had endured a long day at the office and her brain was done for the night.  Miranda knew herself well enough to play out what would happen if she tried to start any reading.  She would wake hours later with a string of drool right down the middle of the page.  Her book’s new binding would ha be stressed from the weight of her head pressing against it.  Once was enough to teach her a lesson.  She had all of Meltzer’s books.  She had devoured The Inner Circle and had waited impatiently for the years to pass until this new book was available.  Miranda could wait another twelve hours to learn all about The Fifth Assassin.

She turned the lights in her house off one by one.  A quiet and still mood encompassed Miranda’s home and she was lulled into a quiet sleep as she thought about how unfortunate the title of the book was.  Any book with the word “assassin” in the title was bound to attract attention.  Resting her head on her pillow and closing her eyes, she could see picture various scenes playing out.

On the bus there were plenty of strangers that plucked nonsensical conversations out of the air at the slightest cue.  Miranda half-dreamt of crazed people accusing her of being pro-gun because she was reading such a book and imagined some sort of anti-N.R.A. person feeding her their views and opinions.  Instead of being allowed to read her enjoyable selection of fiction, Miranda would be forced to politely nod and “mm-hmm” along.

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Then there were the conspiracy nuts.  A book with a picture of Washington, D.C., the American Flag, and that loaded word, could only add to up something lunatics would cling to fervently.  She could practically smell the wackos with their drug-addled minds telling her “the real truth, the truth they don’t want you to know” about the Kennedy assassination.  No, Miranda decided as she fluffed her pillow and pushed such awkward social interactions from her mind.  It really was better to keep the cover of her book under wraps.  After all, it had worked quite well in masking her embarrassment when she had read Fifty Shades of Grey.

The next morning arrived and brought with it an increased anticipation.  Miranda weighed the pros and cons of calling in sick for work.  Realistically, there was no earthly reason she could give that would delay the presentation that she had to give that day.  She had spent the last two weeks working late in order to prepare the ideal approach to win over the board of directors.  Yet her love for books was doing its best to push her work obligations out of her mind.  The battle of pleasure over responsibility was a short one, and Miranda regrettably slipped out of her comfortable pajamas and into pantyhose and tight shoes.

Her bus was still a good ten minutes away.  That gave Miranda five minutes to get to the bus and a five minute buffer zone for herself.  Miranda pondered at the possibilities.  She had long ago learned that writing your name on the cover of a book was just as inviting to random commuters as any provocative book title.  She didn’t want to meet anyone, she just wanted to read.  (Well, within reason.  If the guy was really cute, Miranda wasn’t going to complain.)  Still, the brown surface needed something.  Her habit was to leave the paper unadorned.  This time she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the thing alone.  How could she decorate it and still maintain some anonymity?

Looking once more to the clock on the wall, Miranda saw that her five minutes of leisure were quickly fading away.  If she was going to act, she would have to do so immediately.  Her mind still wasn’t made up.  She looked to the scraps of paper in the recycling bin.  And that’s when she saw it.

Crawling across the floor was, without a doubt, the largest spider that Miranda had ever seen in her life.  She stared at it in horror.  The body resembled some sort of grotesque Ding Dong and the legs were like flexi-straws that had been caked in brownish-gray mold.  The creature was some sort of freakish mutant love-child of a daddy longlegs and a tarantula.  She did her best to stifle her instinct to scream, but the beast was skittering along the tile floor.  Worse yet, it was making a beeline for her legs.

Acting purely on adrenaline, Miranda grabbed the closest thing to her.  The book felt heavy in her grasp and she clasped it firmly between her two hands.  Bending her knees ever so slowly, she looked the spider in what she guessed were its eyes.  She squinted; her two neatly groomed eyebrows reached towards each other to form a menacing V-shape.  Glaring at the spider, she gave it one last chance to crawl off into some dark corner in retreat.  The spider did not relent.

“Grraaaah!!!”  Miranda screamed angrily as she shifted both her hands to the back of the book and slammed it down on the floor with all her might.  Sure enough, she had hit the target dead-on.  The spider, no match for the weighty literary skill of Meltzer’s writing, was now a splatter on the homemade book cover.  The kitchen floor somehow survived relatively splatter-free.

Miranda reached for a paper towel and did her best to remove the bug’s guts, limbs, and other bodily stains from the cover.  She felt as though the germs and bits of carcass were no longer a threat.  Also, her worries about her book coming across as plain and uninteresting were over.  She checked her book over as she scurried out the door.  Happily, she found that the binding and the corners of her new hardcover were still in excellent condition.  She laughed as she thought about her high-tech friends’ and their reading methods. 

Let’s see an eReader take out a monster like that and not shatter their precious screen, Miranda thought to herself triumphantly.

Questionable Circumstances

A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” -Bruce Lee

(I was asked to write a play.  I took a little David Ives inspiration and crafted what you see below.) 

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Characters: 

Karen, in her mid-late twenties is an attractive/athletic woman wearing standard drab-looking uniform.  She’s a little haggard from the day she’s having, but still a sight for sore eyes. 

Lucas is in his early thirties.  He’s no poster-boy, but he does alright for an average fellow if he’d remember to run a comb through his hair.  He’s a smart cookie, prone to playful discussions on nerdy topics.  

 

Location:  An apartment hallway.  Karen stands with a small box and clipboard in her hand in the hallway on one side of the door while Lucas is in his rather disheveled apartment on the other side of the door.

 

(Knock on the door, Lucas opens it to find Karen standing there in a delivery uniform holding a small box)

Lucas:  May I help you?BenBois_French_parcel_post

Karen:  Is this 624 81st Ave, Suite #512?

Lucas:  Does this look like an office complex?

Karen:  Is that a no?

Lucas:  Are you a lost?

Karen:  Did you order a parcel?

Lucas:  Who wants to know?

Karen:  So you’re not expecting a delivery?

Lucas:  Did I say that?

Karen:  Have you said anything helpful yet?

Lucas:  Would you like it if we started over?

Karen:  Are you going to answer any of my questions this time?

Lucas:  What can I do for you?

Karen:  Is this the office for Mortimer VanHoffner?

Lucas:  You really think I’m a Mortimer kind of guy?

Karen:  Can’t there more than one type of Mortimer?

Lucas:  What kind of parent would subject their kid to that kind of name?

Karen:  (laughs)  How do they ever fit his full name on forms?

Lucas:  Do you think that Mortimer is ever not mortified or mocked because of his morose moniker?

Karen:  How long have you been holding that joke in?

Lucas:  Why should I reveal such personal information to a complete stranger?

Karen:  Did you ever ask my name?

Lucas:  Do you know for a fact that my name isn’t Mortimer?

Karen:  Would it help to smooth things over if I told you I’m Karen?

Lucas:  If I introduce myself as Lucas, will you promise not to call me Luke?

Karen:  Got some identity issues, do you?

Lucas:  Got some directional issues, do you?

Karen:  You think this is funny?

Lucas:  Do you know that this is the most fun that I’ve ever had answering my door?  Do you think I have lovely women come knocking every day?

Karen:  Should I be happy for you?  Are you going to help me or what?

Lucas:  Don’t they give delivery drivers directions?  Or better yet, maps? 

Karen:  You’re some sort of expert at this?

Lucas:  I have to deliver packages to know that it helps to have a final destination for them?

Karen:  Haven’t you ever depended on the kindness of strangers?

Lucas:  What’s an attractive gal like you doing schlepping around boxes for a living?

Karen:  Did I say this was my career job?

Lucas:  Was I given any evidence that it wasn’t?

Karen:  Do you know how hard it is for a Stanford graduate to get a job with benefits these days?

Lucas:  So you’re not a professional?

Karen:  What sort of insinuation are you making?

Lucas:  You didn’t think I was calling you a “professional”, did you? 

Karen:  Were you?

Lucas:  That would be pretty stupid of me, wouldn’t it?

Karen:  Have you ever felt a door slam in your face before?imagesCAQQ7I83

Lucas:  Do you make a habit out of breaking guys’ hearts?

Karen:  What?

Lucas:  You wouldn’t intentionally stomp on my feelings would you?  You wouldn’t be so cruel as to walk away from all this fun we’re having, would you?”

Karen:  This is your idea of fun?

Lucas:  You’re not enjoying it?

Karen:  Is this how you would spend your lunch break?  Do you know what it’s like to have the boss track every second of every day?

Lucas:  So it’s not me you’re irked at; it’s your job?

Karen:  When did I say that I don’t like my job?

Lucas:  Do you love your job?  Do you find it challenging?

Karen:  Do you know how challenging it is to get you to answer a question?

Lucas:  Do you realize how hypocritical it is of you to ask that?

Karen:  Are there women in the world that find this charming?

Lucas:  You don’t enjoy a debate here and there; a conversational crossing of swords?

Karen:  You don’t really get out much, do you?

Lucas:  And you do?

Karen:  Would you believe that I like to have a little more fun than you do?

Lucas:  How so?

Karen:  Have you tried going out?

Lucas:  To where?

Karen:  You’ve never heard of clubs?

Lucas:  Aren’t those places designed to make your ears bleed?

Karen:  You’re going to make assumptions just like that?

Lucas:  Are you saying I’m wrong?

Karen:  You’ve never been to one, have you?

Lucas:  Did I say that?

Karen:  What about restaurants?

Lucas:  What about them?

Karen:  Do you ever eat out?

Lucas:  Why do you ask?

Karen:  Aren’t there three pizza boxes stacked in your trash can over there?

Lucas:  How do you know that I ate all those myself?  What if I have a girlfriend?

Karen:  What girlfriend would come over to a place like this?

Lucas:  What’s that supposed to mean?

Karen:  Do you carefully position rat traps around your living quarters, or do you just throw them around and hope for the best?

Lucas:  Why are you so dead-set on me having rats?

Karen:  Would it be a big surprise?

Lucas:  What if I promised you that I’m just going through an unorganized streak?

Karen:  Are you trying to set some sort of record?  Is there an official from Guinness adding up the days?

Lucas:  Haven’t you heard that all geniuses are messy?

Karen:  So you’re a genius now?

Lucas:  Did I say that?

Karen:  Didn’t you imply that?

Lucas:  Would you agree that we’re both reasonably intelligent people?

Karen:  Who in their right mind would describe anything about this whole ordeal as reasonable?

Lucas:  Why don’t you just accept that I’m a fairly nice guy?

Karen:  What sort of nice guy doesn’t offer a hard-working gal who’s been driving around all morning the opportunity to use a restroom?

Lucas:  Do you need to use the facilities? 

Karen:  Can’t you tell when I’m kidding?

Lucas:  You’ve figured out by now that I’m not Mortimer, right?

Karen:  Mortimer would have offered me a drink by now, why haven’t you?

Lucas:  What if I was hoping to get you a drink later?

Karen:  What’re you trying to say?

Lucas:  What happens if I ask you out?question_cedric_bosdonna_01

Karen:  Wouldn’t you find out if you actually tried?

Lucas:  Are you the kind of woman that gets offended when guys try to hit on her at work?

Karen:  Do you get a lot of people telling you that your apartment looks like a mail and parcel service depot?

Lucas:  So you’re not afraid of me, but you’re afraid that I breed rats?

Karen:  Don’t you get by now that I was teasing you?

Lucas:  Do I strike you as the sort of person who likes to be teased?

Karen:  You’re used to dishing it out, but not taking it, aren’t you?

Lucas:  Did I say that?

Karen:  Is that a no?

Lucas:  They don’t make many women like you, do they?

Karen:  Are you complimenting me?

Lucas:  Isn’t it obvious?

Karen:  You don’t have much practice in all this, do you?

Lucas:  So why are you letting me fumble so?

Karen:  Can’t a girl have a little fun? 

Lucas:  Do you ever wish that things were different?  Do you wish you could take a break from the same old activities with your friends and find that one someone who gets you more than anyone else?  Don’t you yearn for that one person who you know you can call after a hard day and they reassure you that everything’s going to be all right?  Don’t you wake up some mornings; look at the things in your life, and wonder?  What if this is all well and good, but there’s that certain person that could make everything seem a thousand times better just by having them in your life?  Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Karen:  Have you been reading my diary?

Lucas:  Should I?  Are there really juicy parts in there?

Karen:  You’d love to know, wouldn’t you?

Lucas:  Am I helping my chances here?

Karen:  What if I told you that you were right?  What if I listed off the long string of guys who spent more time in the bathroom working on getting their hair to look disheveled than they did asking me how my day was?  What if I was tired of being around guys who did their best to have a “good time” with every female in the room while stealing money from my purse?  What if I told you that my most recent relationships were more interested in themselves than my opinion?

Lucas:  Why don’t you try something new?

Karen:  Something along the lines of the Lucas 2000?

Lucas:  Haven’t you heard the buzz about the many daily stresses I cure and soothe?

Karen:  So you’ll give me a backrub at the end of a hard day?

Lucas:  You’ll push me to try some new adventures?

Karen:  You don’t have a prison record, do you?

Lucas:  How long do you think I would last behind bars?

Karen:  You don’t think an orange jumpsuit would suit you?  What about me?  You’re not just asking me out because of how I look in this uniform, are you?

Lucas:  Who told you about my love for industrial tones?  Who could resist a woman in baggy clothing and cotton baseball caps?  Don’t you know the allure those oil stains and wrinkles have over a man?

Karen:  Would you believe that I clean up nice?

Lucas:  Can I ask you to think the same about me?

Karen:  What if I assure you that I take my dates very seriously?  Do you realize how much I like dressing up after wearing this all day?  Can you imagine my hair coming down, the slinky dress, and a desire to have fun?

Lucas:  (nervously clears throat)  Is it getting hot in here?

Karen:  What about you?  Do you have a pair of shoes that aren’t tennis?  Have you ever used shoe polish?  You look pretty handsome in a button up charcoal shirt and a nice pair of slacks, don’t you?

Lucas:  So… you’re saying I’m allowed to ask you out?

(The two smile with each following question.  They only get more eager with each possibility)

Karen:  It sounds like that’s the case, doesn’t it?

Lucas:  Will you go on long walks with me?

Karen:  Will you distract my mother when she starts asking me why I’m not married?

Lucas:  Can we stay up late just talking about the thoughts in our heads and the hopes that we have?

Karen:  Will you open doors for me and not answer your phone when we’re in the middle of a date?

Lucas:  Are you okay with the fact that sometimes I’ll have a collection of cardboard boxes and take-out containers here and there?

Karen:  Am I allowed to vent when people cut me off in traffic and I want someone to listen to me?

Lucas:  Don’t you think the possibility here is rather fantastic?

Karen:  (teasing)  You realize that at some point I have to go find this Mortimer guy’s office, right?

Lucas:  Are you free for dinner?

Karen:  When?

Lucas:  Could it be soon?  Don’t you want to strike while the iron’s hot?

Karen:  Is that really the best you can do?  Can’t you ask a gal out a little better than that?

Lucas:  Hey Karen, you seem like a rather fantastic person that I would like to get to know much better.  Would you let me take you out to dinner after work tonight?

Karen:  Of course I will, Lucas.  Thanks for asking.

Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

 (C’mon folks, it’s Saturday afternoon.  If you haven’t looked at The Daily Post and their suggestion for the week, you’re kinda lagging behind.  Hop to!)

Let me just begin by saying that there are two sides to every story. This is my side, the right one. “ –Easy A

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“I can’t believe that jerk almost killed me.” 

a3500_einstein1_gCarlos tore off his ski mask angrily and stormed in the door.  His hair raged like his temper; clumps of brown follicles thrust this way and that in an unintentional homage to Einstein.  The rest of his body was not keen to rest either.  His tempest of frustration surged.  Carlos tore off his gloves and jogging shoes.  He paced back and forth in his living room as he pulled of his jogging pants and shirt.

Making his way for the shower, Carlos still couldn’t calm himself down.  He stepped into the hot water and felt the moisture stream down on him.  Normally he turned the hot water on and then tempered it with some cold for the ideal amount of heat.  Tonight, Carlos let the shower spray out stinging pellets of scorching water to fuel his fury.  His sore body yielded and relaxed under the showerhead.  The physical exhaustion was ebbing, but not Carlos’ indignation at the event.

Carlos had thought going for an evening run would be a nice source of relaxation.  He had a ski mask that he wanted to break in for the ski trip that Connie and he were taking for Christmas.  Also, it had been getting colder outside and the thought of not having dribbling snot and sweat freeze to his face held an appeal for him.  In his dark-shaded attire, Carlos had made his way around the city streets.

The first few miles had been the same as they always were.  It took Carlos a bit to get his legs warmed up and loose.  In another mile, his lungs had adjusted to the thirty degree chill.  The only problem with Carlos’ chosen route was the lack of sidewalks.  The residential streets where he lived had nice little paved strips for him to travel on.  Besides the occasional garbage can that waited patiently to be picked up by early morning sanitation workers or mailboxes that took up permanent residence at the edge of the curb, the route was obstacle-free.  However, further away from the houses and mowed lawns were the city streets.

Back when the area had first been established, jogging was probably the furthest thing from the city planners’ minds.  No one was buying running shoes or meandering about the town for exercise seventy years ago.  So it was that the sidewalks soon gave way to vehicle lanes.   Carlos loathed racing in the same lane as cars, but he hadn’t seen any viable alternatives.  He wanted his ten miles and there were only so many routes available to him.  He wasn’t about to jog the same block over and over just because some moron on his Bluetooth couldn’t yield to a pedestrian.  Regardless of his stubbornness and his determination, Carlos would have admitted that the whole thing made him nervous.  The man had long been worried about an incident just like the one that happened that night.

For the first hundred yards on the street, things had been fine.  Carlos hugged the edge of the road, trying to give the cars as much room as possible.  Some cars honked at him, others swerved into the middle lane at the last moment.  All these activities were rather normal and the intrepid runner was able to take it all in stride.  That was before the blue four-door.

In the last stretch of the street route, Carlos noticed a car coming up behind him.  The headlights cast an eerie glow over his shoulder.  Unlike the other double-lit signs of approach, these were unyielding.  As the circles of light 549787_3225555432071_1788332779_nbecame more distinct, Carlos’ fear became greater.  To his left was the inside lane of traffic which was heavily populated with more vehicles.  To his right, Carlos saw the concrete barrier that kept him from falling off the edge and plummeting down a hundred feet to the lake below.  The car continued to approach Carlos.  He knew his escaping unharmed was entirely on him.  He scurried up onto the foot-wide perch on the top of the barrier and tried to keep from falling either down the steep drop or back into the path of the car. 

Suddenly, the blue four-door noticed the pedestrian.  It honked, swerved to the left, and screeched its brakes all at the same time.  The vehicles in the middle lane also stomped on their brakes and narrowly missed the other cars when they darted across the double-yellow line and back again.  The blue four-door somehow missed colliding with any other cars.  A man threw the passenger door open and screamed to Carlos who was lowering himself from atop the concrete wall.  He ignored the curses and angry shouts when he realized that the car wasn’t going to stop and apologize.  Sure enough, the car door slammed and the blue four-door sped away.

Carlos turned off the shower and dried himself.  His anger had almost entirely dissipated, but he still couldn’t understand why the event had happened. 

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians.  Yeah I was a little hard to see, but that’s the social contract people sign when they get behind the wheel.  Why couldn’t they stop gabbing at each other and focus on, I dunno, the road?  There was a time when joggers weren’t required to wear headlamps and reflective gear.  What happened to letting people not die?  There are too many distractions and too many displays in cars these days.  I’m sorry, but once you start putting DVD players in vehicles, you’re just asking for trouble.

Putting on a t-shirt and his most beaten up pair of jeans, Carlos decided to relax on the couch.  He knew he wouldn’t have the television to himself for long, so he pulled out The Three Stooges.  His wife never understood the comedic brilliance that they were performing.  Carlos got it though, and he was in the mood for some laughter.

Sure enough, as the credits started to roll, the sound of Connie’s car was heard as she pulled into the garage.  The car door slammed.  The door to the garage slammed.  Finally, Connie walked through the living room and threw her bags on the counter with a mighty thud.

“Unbelievable!”

“Honey?  Connie?  Are you okay?”

“You would not guess what happened to me.  Morons, Carlos.  We’re living in a world of morons!”

“Tell me about it.  I mean, just an hour ago…”

“I’m sorry dear”, she interrupted.  “Do you mind if I go first?  I want to… I mean… I’m so angry!”

Carlos nodded without saying a word.  He had pacified himself and his wife was clearly still incensed at her day.  He turned off the television, waved her over, and let his wife collapse onto him.  Connie sighed, slumped onto the soft cushions, and let her head rest lazily on Carlos’ shoulder. 

“It’s good to be home”, Connie said with an exhausted tone.  The relieved attitude didn’t last long.

“I still don’t see how anyone could be so stupid!”  Connie leapt to her feet and started pacing in front of the television.  Nothing that flickered across the screen could dare be as animated as the enraged woman was and Carlos gave her his utmost attention.

“You remember how Stan and I had to make this presentation downtown tonight, right?  That’s where I was for the last few hours?”

Carlos only nodded, knowing the questions that would be thrown out were only rhetorical.

“Well the whole thing went great.  I expect them to offer us a contract in the next few days.  Stan and I are happy little coworkers.  We head for his car since I left mine parked at the office.  We’ve talked about his hybrid before.  I wanted to know how it handled.  I mean, how much have I spent on gas in the last six months?

“Anyway, Stan offers to let me drive his car.  He takes the passenger side, I slide behind the wheel, and we make our way back to the office.  Traffic was awful.  There was some accident by the first intersection.  It blocked things up for I don’t know how long.  Then… then came the real kicker.

“I think everything’s going to be fine.  I figure we’re through the worst of it.  But no.  I’m driving along the city road and the most incredibly asinine person gets in my way.”

Carlos started to feel a tingling down the back of his neck.  He didn’t understand what it meant at that precise moment, but he soon would.

“Someone, some complete buffoon who’s too stupid to run on a track like a smart person, decides that the street is the perfect place to get his jollies.”

After that, Carlos could only stare on in horror.

“I mean, he wasn’t even smart about it!  Was he wearing white?  No!  Was he running in the opposite direction of the cars like he’s supposed to?  Of course not.  And why would he be out jogging at night time?  Is he suicidal?  Do joggers have some sort of death wish to offset their need to be healthy?  I mean, c’mon!”

“Uh, Connie?”

“So there I am.  I’m driving a car that I’m still trying to figure out, and there’s this jogger.  In the road!  Not off to the side, not on some sidewalk.  He’s in the flippin’ road!  Doesn’t he know that there’s a massive cliff on the other side?  Of all the asinine behaviors…  And he’s wearing all black!  Who wears all black anymore?  Emo-running is the hip new thing now?  I just, I can’t even believe it.  I need to take a shower and calm down.” 

Connie sighed and stopped pacing.  She looked at her husband, took a deep breath, and kissed him. 

“I’m glad I’m home.  Would you be a darling and cook dinner while I scrub this atrocious night off of me?  Thanks.”

“Uh, honey?  What kind of a car does Stan drive?”

“I told you”, she said as she made her way down the hallway.  “It’s a hybrid.”

“What kind?”  Carlos could feel himself twitch with fear as he asked the dreaded question.

13203533121548009075ski-mask-psd7675-md“I don’t know, Carlos.  It’s a hybrid.  His is blue.  It’s a four-door.  What do you want me to tell you?  And why is that new ski mask I bought you on the floor?  What have you been up to?”

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

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“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.

“Ralphie?”

“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…”

“What?”

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

Song Struck

A girl often has a man eating out of her hand by keeping him at arm’s length” -Unknown

**********

Anna stood in the darkness while Tony shone in the bright spotlight.  She had been scurrying around backstage all night.  Her job as stage manager demanded that she be everyplace at once while keeping tabs on all activities at once.  However, there was one moment each night when she allowed herself to stop and really watch the show.  It, not coincidentally, happened every time that Tony sang his solo.

Anna was a powerhouse of a woman.  She was young.  Her five foot height and dark, shoulder-length straight hair allowed her to blend into the background quite well when others were taking up the limelight.  But when Anna wanted to be heard, all eyes turned on her.  The actors’ stage presence came from their wild gestures or disarming good looks.  Anna’s ability to command attention of everyone around her came through sheer confidence and intelligence.  When Anna gathered people around her and began to talk, there was no doubt that she knew exactly what she was doing and what others should be accomplishing.  She had interned at the theatre in college and had quickly risen through the ranks.  Now, five short years later, everyone that graced that wooden pedestal respected and adored her.

The allure of being an actress had never appealed to Anna.  She didn’t like too much attention.  She appreciated when people would listen and consider the ideas that she put forth, but she wasn’t about to step out on stage and flash a winning smile to a crowd.  She was there to make others look good.  Anna wanted each show went off without a hitch; that was all

Over the course of the twenty or so plays that Anna had been in charge, she had observed plenty of drama taking place on-, but mostly off-stage.  The actors couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other.  He would date her, she would date him; and so it went.  Anna did her best to subtly remark that certain “shenanigans” shouldn’t be indulged at a professional theatre.  Yet, every so often, she would come across unmentionables.  Had she found them in dressing rooms then that would have been one matter.  She could almost pretend that those were props that had been left behind.  But she also found loose garments lingering around the sound booth, the catwalks, and in the audience when they hadn’t had any patrons.  It seemed that the actors loved only one thing more than struggling with their lines; struggling with their scene partners afterwards.

Anna rolled her eyes at the performers.  She was far too busy to let these men woo her or romance her.  As much as she liked her line-reciting compatriots, she had a certain opinion about them.  Actors, in Anna’s mind, enjoyed having the focus on them.  And only them.  In the social interactions that she had had with them after plays or late at night, they always seemed to lead the conversations back to themselves.  As a woman with actor friends, Anna was okay with that.  At the same time, she knew that it would never work as a romantic pairing.  Anna liked to have food cooked for her and her feet rubbed.  With the men that she spent her time bossing around, she expected to have her lunch absconded from the lounge and her toes stepped on in the darkness of backstage.

Still, as Tony stopped fighting with his fellow actress on stage, Anna couldn’t help but stare.  His short curly hair was adorable.  It wasn’t at all the type of hair that she pictured on a tall man with nice arms and a distinguished nose.  Somehow though, it worked for him.  He had the confidence that his fellow thespians did; he couldn’t have held his own on stage without it.  Yet, whenever she saw Tony, he always had a respectful way about him.  He actually stopped and looked her in the eye when he asked, “How’s it goin’?”  Most others, even Anna’s close friends, said such phrases in passing.  They never actually paused in going from point A to point B to get a response.  Tony not only stopped, he paid attention.

Anna, assuming her history with dating would maintain its tragic track record, told herself that Tony was gay.  It made sense.  He dressed well, he sang well, and he could dance.  He was nice to everyone and hugged anyone that needed it.  Anna told herself that he was not into women; he was just a perfectly nice person.  But that thought had been formed before the backrub of three weeks ago.

It had been an excruciatingly crummy day.  The lighting chief had been called out of town on a family emergency, ticket sales were lousy, and the next show was set to open soon.  Spirits were low and folks were grumbling as Anna tried to get everyone’s attention.  The director wouldn’t get off the phone and the lead actor refused to put down his latte and circle around with everyone else.

Tony, in all his charming brilliance, had done what any rational actor in the situation would have done.  He pretended that his butt was on fire.  He ran around the theater, patted his butt and screamed in comedic agony.  Anna found herself laughing along with all those assembled and caught her attention drifting to the supposed scene of the inferno.  She felt her eyebrows raise in satisfaction as her head bobbed along in agreement.  She was shaken from her physical critique as two strong hands came up behind her.

“Now that I have your full attention”, Tony’s strong voice boomed.  “I believe that the lovely Anna was trying to say something?  Anna, the floor is all yours.”

Anna had coughed in embarrassment, thanked Tony for the amusing introduction, and run down the clipboard of notes in front of her.  It hadn’t been the greatest meeting.  There had been some back-talk.  But the softening of the mood had clearly helped morale.

As the actors started to take their place on stage, Anna found herself sitting on her leather chair.  There were few sacred spots left in the tiny backstage area, but every person that walked around behind the curtain knew that the aged brown chair was off limits.  No one knew where it had come from.  Most assumed it was some prop pulled from The Man Who Came to Dinner, or some similar production.  Those that had tried it before its status as Anna’s seat had found the chair to be too small.  For the tiny stage manager though, the scratched, haggard, beaten up chair fit her just right.

As her petite figure collapsed onto the chair and her trusty clipboard fell onto her lap, Anna let her head fall back onto the top of the chair.  She closed her eyes, avoiding the sight of the numerous lights above that needed to be fixed.  It was then that the two strong hands returned to her shoulders.  The thumbs rubbed and dug their way into her tense shoulders as the palms pulled at the cluster of knots that had begun a summit on her upper back.  She felt the stress of the job lessen as her body went limp.  She moaned in contented pleasure.  “Ohhhh… that’s… yeah….”

“I’m glad you approve”, a familiar voice said.

“Tony”, she said without opening her eyes.  “Is that you?”

“It is unless you wanted somebody else to do this.  I’ve been told I can be a little too strong.”

“Mmmmm.  No”, she said, unable to wipe the smile off her face.  “You’re absolutely perfect.”

“I’ll remember that when I ask you out to dinner one day”, Tony replied with a laugh.

Anna’s constantly working brain shut down.  She didn’t think and she didn’t organize or plan; she let go.  The veins her forehead loosened.  The groups of knots and nerves released.  She felt herself falling asleep in the chaotic environment.  Anna couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so at peace at theatre.

“Oops, I gotta go”, Tony apologized as he stopped.  “They’re calling me for my death scene.”

Anna was almost unconscious and only managed to reply with a, “mmm-hmm”.  And then, as she was about to mentally clock out entirely, she felt something press against her lips.  This was no quick peck or gesture of friendship.  She could have sworn that the sensual touch had lasted a good ten seconds.

Anna fought to wake up.  No was standing near her.  Blinking her tired eyes, she saw Tony on stage in the middle of a scene.  She had obviously been out of it for a few minutes.  She started to wonder if she had imagined the whole thing.  Tony probably hadn’t kissed her. The stress of the day had thrown her for a loop.  The backrub had played tricks on her weary brain.  Anna knew that she had imagined that kiss.  That was the only answer that made sense.  Or was it?

Three weeks later and Anna couldn’t take her eyes off of Tony.  She wondered if he knew just how sexy he looked when he was singing to a full house.  She smiled at his voice, his smile and that cute head of hair.  She looked in awe at the way he kept the entire audience’s attention.  Anna knew she should pinch herself and get back to work.  She didn’t want to.  It wasn’t helping that Tony was singing one of her favorite songs.  She swooned each time she heard, “Just the way you look… tonight.”

There was one performance oddity that Tony had.  At first, like the kiss, Anna doubted if it was real or not.  Yet, it happened with insane regularity.   Every time that Tony sang his solo, without fail, he would glance off stage to Anna.  It didn’t matter where she stood, he somehow found her.  For one, fleeting moment, he would look right at Anna and wink.  Then he went right back to performing his tune to the audience with no one the wiser.  Anna tried to convince herself she was wrong, but she had been doubtful of that reasoning for a while.

She mockingly winked in return, half encouraging and half teasing the strapping man.  With Bambi-eyes and a cheerleader’s look on her face, Anna crossed her arms in front of her chest, stood on tiptoes, and exaggeratingly mouthed, “I love you!” in as obnoxious of a face as she could manage.  The first time she had heckled him, Tony had almost lost his concentration.  Like a pro, he took his surprise and turned it into a laugh, making the patrons love him even more.

Anna was afraid to admit it, but she was getting rather smitten with Tony.  She was going to have to confront him one of these days.  He actually listened to her.  He was undeniably attractive.  And the two clearly had similar interests; one doesn’t enter the theatre life for casual jollies.  Anna let her head rest on a breaker panel.  She had no desire to take her eyes off of Tony.  His song was almost over and she wanted to enjoy him glowing perfectly on stage for as long as possible.  Her cheeks started to flush.  Anna grabbed her handy clipboard and covered her face with it.  She couldn’t believe she was blushing.  Biting her lower lip nervously, Anna knew she’d have to corner Tony at the after-party.  She’d find some out of the way spot for them both to talk.  If nothing else, she was going to kiss that man with all her gusto.  Of all the performances being given tonight, Anna was determined that hers was the one that Tony would remember.

Too Young to Patronize (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(Oh Weekly Writing Challenge; how you often save me from falling into a writing rut.  This week, we’re asked to take a side on whether or not children are welcome out in public.)

Babies love theater.  Bring them, no matter how young.  It is perfectly acceptable to give birth in the car on the way over and then bring in the baby, still dripping, into the theater.  Babies love theater. “–Eric D. Snider (More comments on theater behavior can be found here)

**********

Pic from here

As the neon marquee sign glowed overhead and the street lights did their best to bring visibility to the outdoors, patrons hurried into the warm theater.  A group of seven males high-fived each other, careful not to jostle their buddies’ thick glasses or bump into their vintage t-shirts.  The thinner, cooler males pulled their girlfriends close and made fun of the nerdier set.  Then, coming out of some darkened corner that only births Greek tragedies, came The Woman.

It wasn’t The Woman herself that terrified all that she came into contact with, it was her small child.  She pushed the high-end stroller in front of her.  Other moviegoers sneered and shuddered at the presence of the wheeled contraption.  Like the Bubonic Plague or an Obama sticker at a GOP gathering, the monstrosity was to be avoided at all costs.  To the people around it, there could be no greater sin in the practice of watching a new movie than to bring an infant with you.

The Woman was either unaware of the criticism being shot her way by eye-daggers and mental threats of throwing popcorn, or she didn’t care.  She was on a mission.  She strutted through the crowds, giving no heed to those around her, and made her way straight to the ticket-taker.

“I ordered my tickets online.  They should be waiting for me.”

“Okay then.  Just head over to that kiosk behind you there and it will print them up for you”, the usher replied.

“Ucccck.  You mean I have to walk all the way over there?”

“It really isn’t that far.  See those restrooms about twenty feet away?  There’s a computer right there that can take your credit card and pull up your reservation.”

“I know you’re not gonna make me walk my stroller all the way there and all the way back?”

“Well miss, there are an awful lot of people here and it is impeding their path.”

“I’ll lose my place in line!”

“Actually, I think those folks right there were first”, the staff person gestured.  “Also, there are no strollers allowed inside the theater.”

“No strollers?”  The Woman’s face lit fury.  Her expression showed that not only had an ice cube been dropped down her shirt, but the ice truck driver had run over her foot as it drove off.  “Why can’t I take my stroller inside?”

“It is our policy that strollers be parked outside the theater.  The fire code demands that all walkways be clear, so we can’t have them inside.”

“What about wheelchair spots?  Don’t you have those?”  The Woman’s demanding tone showed no sign of backing down.

Meeting The Woman’s determined mindset, the usher replied with a tone that showed their long history of answering such questions.  “Yes, ma’am”, they said, purposefully upgrading The Woman from a pleasant “miss” to a troublesome and irritating, “ma’am”.  “However, as you yourself have just pointed out, those are for wheelchairs.”

“Why can’t I use one of those?  What if there’s room?”

“Ma’am, this movie has been advertised for months.  It has been talked about for years.  This may very well be the biggest picture of the summer.  There will not be room for your stroller.  Even if there was, as I explained to you, we can’t have them inside.”

“That’s preposterous”, The Woman exclaimed.  “What am I supposed to do, put this kid on my lap?”

“If you didn’t buy ‘this kid’ a ticket; then yes.  That is what we would ask you to do.”  Other employees had noticed the line behind The Woman growing.  They moved in to help, but the senior staff person sent them away with one quick look.  The usher had started this fight, and they were determined that they were going to settle it without any help.”

“What are you, ageist?”

And this pic’s from here

“No, ma’am.  In the right settings I think kids are adorable.  However, I personally feel that when you bring a child whose hearing isn’t fully developed into a three hour movie full of loud explosions, then there is a health concerned involved.  Additionally, I would question your child’s ability to maintain their composure and not cry or scream during all the darkness and loud noises.”

“That’s only your opinion.”

“Five bucks says it isn’t”, the usher offered.

“Come again?”

“Let’s take a vote.  If you can find three people in this line of, what, forty folks all waiting to see this movie?  Looks about right.  Yeah, if you can get three of these people to say they’d rather see a new film, on opening night, at midnight, with your child than without?  Then I’ll give you five bucks.  Shoot, I’ll make it twenty.  However, I’m willing to wager that everyone here just wants you to take your kid home and come back when it’s a more age appropriate movie and time.  You know, a kids movie.  What do you bet?”

The Woman’s face turned a deep shade of red.  She pulled her stroller close to her.  The Woman looked at the crowd behind her.  On their faces she could see them all smirking and daring her to take the bet.  Her teeth clenched as she pushed her stroller away from the usher. 

“Of all the… I never…”

“Well now you have”, one of the nerds said as he puffed out his large chest and even larger belly.  The logo on his shirt was made prominent by the new posture, and also by the swooping cape that fell behind his round shoulders.

The Woman took her child and returned to her double-parked car.  After a few minutes of bustling and fumbling with the car seat, she returned home.  There, without disturbing anyone else, she let her child fuss and squirm as she watched a movie on her television.

Intermission- Postaday vs. NaNoWriMo

Well, my book is written–let it go. But if it were only to write over again there wouldn’t be so many things left out. They burn in me; and they keep multiplying; but now they can’t ever be said.” -Mark Twain

**********

Howdy,

This is your heads up that I won’t be Postadaying in November.  I’ll be too busy staring at my computer screen, cursing myself for having writer’s block, and generally wishing that the whole process came easier.

Yes, once again National Novel Writing Month is coming.  For those of you that haven’t tried it?  You should.  It may very well kill you, but what a way to go!  Who wouldn’t want to spend a gray and dreary month of bitter cold hunched over their computer typing 50,000 words in thrity days?

It sounds more fun than I make it out to be.  Honest.

NaNoWriMo
Just WRITE, darnit.

I’ve “won” three times.  The first was a story about a teenager getting an unexpected superpower and an arch-nemesis that came with it.  Two years ago it was a girl who came across a virtual reality machine and quickly became addicted to it.  Last year I wrote about a boring old night-stocker at a grocery store, and how his life changed when this mysterious woman entered his life.

I’ve gone from seventy-three page stories to one hundred and twenty-six page stories.  (Ya gotta love dialog.  It fills up space like nothing else.)  Each year it gets a little bit easier.  And after all, that was the whole point of me posting six times a week; practice for when the next novella wants to fall out of me.

I have my plot (A jerk wins the lottery.  He’ll be Scrooge-loveable, honest), I have a computer bought specifically for writing, and I think I have the time.  But that means I’ll be shunning WordPress.  I’m sorry, there’s just no way I can write a novella and twenty-five short stories in one month.  It just ain’t gonna happen.  Besides, I could use the time to think of more ideas.

Go back and read some old stories.  They’ll tide you over.

and about 150 other stories you haven’t read yet.  C’mon, already!

I’ll try to still stop in.  I tend to complete my novellas early.  Hopefully I’ll go back to being a daily writer after NaNoWriMo, but we’ll see.  In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to enjoy not having to scour Google for clip art and delight in writing more than four thousand words a day.  And of course, I highly encourage you folks to tackle the same challenge as I.  😀

The Hollow Failure of the Musical Cup

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

**********

Clyde couldn’t believe how difficult the task before him was proving to be.  He thought he’d have his challenge licked in fifteen minutes.  He sat at his desk with a computer monitor glowing on his reddened face.  Drops of beer lay in random specks around the surface.  And there, in the middle, was a blue plastic beer-cup turned upside down.

Try it, you’ll like it!
(Pic from Free Stock Photos)

Once more, Clyde rewound the video.  He cursed the actress for her talent.  She sang along with a lovely voice, though a hint of showbiz boredom appeared to be looking out from her beautiful eyes.  Clearly, she had practiced this feat hundreds of times.  There, poised to entertain in a formal dress, sat the woman.  She took the plastic cup that had been handed to her by the host.  She was obviously taking a moment to focus and prepare.  Soon, clapping along, the woman performed a simple tune complete with acoustic accompaniment from the plastic cup.  Clyde wanted to hate this woman for her skill, but the act was simply too enchanting.  He had to be able to repeat it.

I really wish she wouldn’t go so frickin’ fast, Clyde thought to himself.  She even says that she should be doing it slower.  How am I supposed to keep track of her movements?  Clyde watched as her long and graceful arms moved and swooped around each other.  He felt his fist thud against the desktop.  He couldn’t tell when she was passing the cup in an arc up into the air from hand to hand and when she was actually tapping it.  Slower, woman!  Why can’t you just move slower?

The hard part for Clyde was replicating the rhythm.  He believed that once he could mentally lock-in each tap on the cup, both hand-offs, and the mid-air thumps, then he would be able to sing along with his mini bongo-drum.  The easy part was getting confused, missing a beat entirely, or watching as the cup slid along the surface.  The libations that lubricated the wood were only making Clyde’s failures faster in coming and more disastrous.  The blue cup slipped, fell over, and often times skittered to the edge.  The drunken man started to wonder if the cup wanted to jump to the safety of the beige carpet below where it would no longer be repeatedly beaten or struck.

After an hour, Clyde felt like he might have a handle on the moves.  All he had to do was clap clap, tap tap tap, clap, and then stomp.  That was followed by more clapping, a hand over with a thump…   That was where the confusion set in.  Clyde tapped along as best as he could.  He got the impression that he was close.  His confidence rising, Clyde tried to sing along.

“You, er, I gotta a thicket; er, ticket for the lawn; long way around.  Son of a mother.”  If Clyde’s motor skills had warmed up at all, his hand-eye-song skills were still quite lacking.  He clicked off the screen in irritation.  He clapped and tapped to his own beat.  Soon, a drum solo was in full session.  He slapped his denim jeans, thumped on the cup, and clicked the plastic container against his watch. 

The “music” that came forth was about as majestic as Clyde’s beer-enhanced breath.  He stood up, danced around his living room, and tapped on the cup with his fingernails.  Feeling his oats, and the effects of the alcohol, he belted out his own little tune.  “La la ha!  Ha ha la la!  Boom!  Boom!  Boomity la-ha!”  For his grand finish, Clyde took a deep breath, focused on his stomach muscles, and belched.  The impressive, yet rather disturbing burping sound, echoed across the sparsely decorated room for a solid seventeen seconds. 

Thrusting his hands in the air, Clyde beamed in his victory.  “Take that, you stuck-up actress!”  His bitter retort was met and unanswered by the still-blackened monitor.  Clyde was done trying to repeat someone else’s song.  I’m an original, I’m a dadgum artist, he reasoned as he loosened his belt two notches.  Cups were made or drinking, not playing.  With that, Clyde swooped up his blue plastic cup and made his way back to the kitchen, stumbling more than he chose to acknowledge.  He was determined to find appreciation for his musical genius from the icy-cold companions that waited for him in the fridge.

**********

(If you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect, you must.  You really must.  Also, if you watch the video in slow motion, Dave sounds quite drunk.  Appropriate, no?)  😉

A Shoe-In Plan from the Tall Tales Tavern

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” -Dr. Seuss

**********

To any visitor unfamiliar to The Briar Patch, an old man and a woman in a corner booth with sketches and pictures in front of them would be the least abnormal thing in sight.  The left over hairs from the Jabberwocky’s last that lay loosely from the rafters made strangers stare with wonder.  The rabbit bartender usually raised a few eyebrows to the uninitiated crowd.  Those curiosities were in addition to the standard assembly of trolls, the ageless nymphs, and the talking farm animals.  Yes, The Briar Patch was always a place of wonders, so it’s no wonder that these two normal looking elderly people didn’t draw much attention.

The old oak table that the two occupied was still loose from the last time Calamity Jane decided to kick off her cowgirl boots and dance on the make-do stage.  An assortment of pages ripped out of fashion magazines were placed in the middle of the wood surface.  Closer to the two people were pictures of the nearby woods and architectural sketches.  As they sipped their hot tea and cold ale, the two talked excitedly about the woman’s plans.

“I keep telling you Myrtle”, the man exclaimed.  “You could get what you want for much cheaper.  I’m no slouch at such crafting matters, but it’s going to take me years.”

“What’s time?  We both have plenty of time left and you darn well know it, Horace”, the woman replied.  “I want it done to my specifications and I think you’re the right one to do it.  Even if Cinderella says otherwise.”

“Wait, Cinderella?  Is she still telling that same old story?”  Horace pulled at the hairs in his head.  He had been going bald for the last three hundred years.  Happily, whenever he pulled a few wispy strands out, he found that they grew back the next morning.  It was handy being an immortal creature of fairy tales.

Pic from Wikipedia

“She says that no matter how many times she took her shoes back to you, they kept breaking.  She said you should have offered her a higher-quality product.”

“It’s glass!”  Horace shoved the papers away from him and grumbled into his ale.  “I told her every time that she came back to me with those impractical things that they were going to keep breaking.  If you wear glass shoes on a rock path, the glass is going to break.  If your prince steps on your feet while dancing, his boots are going to crack the shoes and possibly cut your skin with the shards.  And no, wearing glass slippers up close to a raging fireplace is probably not the best idea.”  Horace sighed.

“I don’t know what kind of enchantment her godmother claimed she put on them, but it has apparently worn off.  Those shoes will never last.  I tried to get her little feet into a sensible pair of wooden clogs.  But no, she wouldn’t have it.  Cinderella decided that she was living the royal life now and needed the attire to go with it.  Silly, fashion-hungry, nutjob.”

“Now, she really is a perfectly nice girl”, Myrtle offered.

“Nice, sure”, Horace admitted.  “But the girl is still a child.  Her prince found her when she was, what, seventeen?  They were married a month later.  Why, my Estelle was a good deal older than that when we tied the knot.  She must have been at least nineteen or twenty.”

“Truly, those three years imbued her with boundless founts of knowledge”, Myrtle said sarcastically.

“Look, I think she’s delightful to be around, so long as you don’t get her started on fashion.  She’s impractical.  And Myrtle, you’re being impractical too.  I talked the idea over with Estelle.  It’s not just me.  You should give up on this whole idea.”

“No.”

“Tell me again why you won’t go to a giant?  You could buy anything you wanted off them from all the money you’ve made off of tourists.”

“Have you ever been around a giant for any extended amount of time?”  Myrtle shivered at the thought.  “They claim that they can only get clean in a waterfall, so whenever we see them in the towns or in the densest forests they smell like you wouldn’t believe.  Now imagine what sort of unholy stench must emanate from their shoes.  I don’t want to even think about it, let alone live inside one of those.  Besides, I have high standards.”

Public Domain in the U.S. due to age

Horace laughed.  “The old woman who has lived in a shoe all these years has demands?  Your sense of style has really grown that much since your children moved out?”

Myrtle watched her tea bag as she dipped it slowly and methodically into the cup.  The water rose and fell with each dipping motion.  The lighting in the dim establishment was just bright enough that the old woman could see her wrinkled face in the reflection of the drink as little waves of liquid came and went.

“Do you know how many years we have left, Horace?  I don’t.  I doubt that know-it-all wife of yours does either.  I say, if we’re going to stick around until all stories come to an end, then we might as well enjoy ourselves.  I’ve spent centuries in that tattered boot.  No more.  I want a nice one-story, fashionable dress shoe as my retirement home.”

Her hand stretched to the other end of the table and brought the pictures back between her and Horace.  Page after page depicted the newest fashions, the hottest trends, and the longest lasting footwear that money could buy.

“I want a nice pair of sensible flats”, Myrtle described.  “Give me something that will let the sun in when I lounge about by the heel.  Also, I want the home to have high sides to keep the rain out when it starts to flood.  If I could have some sort of garden in the toe area; maybe some sort of open point at the end?  Come now Horace, I know you have more help up your sleeves than you let on.”

“What exactly are you getting at, Myrtle?”

“Those elves of yours.  I’ve seen them about town.  Offer to buy them a few honey-glazed cookies and they’ll give away all your secrets.  I think you should take advantage of them.”

“How so?”

“I want a house the size of a giant shoe.  You have a crew that can work wonders overnight.  Imagine what sort of productivity they could manage if you put them into different shifts working around the clock.  You’d be rich and I’d have a nice new home for my retirement.  A woman can’t climb up stairs forever, Horace.”

“Myrtle my friend”, Horace said as he paused to take a sip from his ale.  The drink was starting to go flat and the old man knew he’d probably need a fresh serving to get through the conversation.  He held up his cup for the bartender to see as he continued.

“Have you ever seen the contracts involved in elf employment?  Once I figured out those guys weren’t going anywhere, I tried to branch out into shoeing horses.  With all the carts and animals around it seemed like a guaranteed get-rich plan.  To shorten my tale of woe, I’ll only assure you that Elf Unions know exactly how to get what they feel is due to them.  Your shoe-home would cost a fortune.”

By this time the bartender had hopped over to their table.  He held out his paw expectantly.  Horace placed his empty container at the edge of the surface.  Br’er Rabbit shook his head.  Horace nudged the cup closer to the brim.  The vest-wearing critter only shook his head again.  Horace tried once more, watching as the vessel almost teetered over onto the floor.  Br’er Rabbit took his mighty right foot and tapped it impatiently on the dusty floor.  A low booming sound echoed with each tap of his paw and a small cloud of debris was gathering under the tabletop.

Seeing the bartender’s arms folded in defiance, Horace capitulated and placed five gold coins on the table.  Br’er Rabbit’s eyes lit up and his front two teeth showed.  He eagerly snatched the payment, put it in his breast pocket, and grabbed the cup from the table.  Whistling a merry tune, the bartender jumped and bounded back to the bar.

“As I was saying”, Horace persisted as he rubbed his temples.  “This house of yours is going to be a pain for us and will cost you a fortune.  Even if we don’t use the elves, I’m going to have to hire some outside help.”

“That’s fine by me”, Myrtle said, unrelenting.  “Hire those birds and squirrels that helped Sleeping Beauty.  I don’t care.  I want my house made to my specifications and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

“Wait”, Horace said as a notion in his head started to take shape.  “Those children of yours; I can’t even recall how many you have.  It’s at least a dozen, isn’t it?  How old are they?”

“Oh Horace, how old are any of us.  We’ve stopped keeping track.  No one really knows.”

“No, no.  I meant by normal standards.  What’s their perceived age?”

“Ah”, Myrtle replied as she thought back to the last time she had seen her offspring.  “I imagine they’re probably all in the twenty-five to thirty-five range.”

“Perfect”, Horace replied.  “I was hoping you’d say that.  How long has it been since they gave you a Mother’s Day gift?”

“What, that silly trend people are trying to push?  They’ve never subscribed to that, the little ingrates.”

“Maybe”, Horace said as some of the weight started to fall off of his shoulders, “just maybe they can be convinced to do their sainted mother this one favor for all she’s done for them.”

“And if I convince them?”

Horace grinned with joy.  “Then, Myrtle my friend, your labor worries are over.  We could have that shoe-house built for you in no time at all.”

Cooking with Claude

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Cooking with Claude

I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking.  If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.” -Andy Rooney

“Hello my Cuisinbros and Cuisinettes!  Welcome to the very first webisode of ‘Cooking with Claude’.  I’m Claude, and I’m going to walk you through those challenging menu items that seem so daunting to us.  If you’re like me, you sit down in a restaurant, order a fancy meal, and think to yourself, ‘If only I could cook these kinds of meals at home!’  Well why don’t we break down those borders right now?  Thanks for joining me.

“Today we take on a dish that taunts many.  This delicacy mocked me for years; the fluffiness, the flavor, the mouth-watering allure of it.  Yes, today we shall tackle an omelet.  I know!  You’re terrified; you fear for your pallet on such a first attempt.  But that’s why we’re doing all this together Cuisine-Crew.  That’s why we’re streaming this live with no editing.  We are teaming up to tackle this monster.  So let’s get to it.

“First off, you’ll need a few eggs.  I have a few extra in my fridge right here.  Huh.  They seem to have expired.  Ah, what’s a little disease between friends?  You’re not five years old, right?  Your immune system can certainly handle this sort of challenge.  Remember to never let those little inconveniences stop you from accomplishing what you desire.  Say, that’s pretty good.  We’re going to have to make up some t-shirts with that slogan!  Tell ya what; we’ll place a link right under this video.  You can snatch them and support our wonderful program here.  Twenty-five plus shipping sounds like a reasonable price, doesn’t it?  Let’s go with that.

“Right; back to the cooking.  That’s the reason you’re here and that’s what we’re here for.  Heretofore?  Wherefore?  I never really understood those words.  I suppose we could look them up, but we’re too busy cooking!  What we have here are three eggs.  Oh, and a bowl.  I really should have gotten that bowl first.  Hmm, this one looks a little too small.  That’s like a water dish for a kitten.  We want room to whisk, darnit!  I really should have washed the dishes first.  Now would probably be a good time to stop and edit, wouldn’t it?  Ha ha!!  Well we’ll have none of that!  I’ll just rinse out this cereal bowl.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

“All righty.  We’ve all seen Ratatouille, we know how chefs work.  What more is there to understand?  Take your egg; thrust it onto the edge of the bowl, and crack that sucker open!  Hmm.  A little drippy.  Okay, maybe we should crack with a bit less vigor.  I really should clean that up.  Ah well, time enough for that later.  A slippery floor never hurt anyone after Vaudeville, right?  Besides, it looks like the cat of the house has it under control.  Lap it up, kitty!  Let’s just grab another egg from the fridge to replace the first one.

“Okay, with a gentle, but still enthused thrust, crack that sucker onto the bowl!  There ya go!  See the way the shell just falls open and gives you a pleasant revealing?  Huh.  That is a surprise.  I’ve never seen an egg with red before.  It’s kinda runny too.  It was just a red dot, but now it’s sort of taking over the whole bowl.  Man, that’s actually pretty gross.  It’s like the chicken is bleeding itself all over the bowl.  Eew.

“Ahem.  No time to delay, let’s just rinse that egg out and try again!  We still have three more eggs to work with; we can make a go of it!  Oh, and in case I haven’t told you already, be sure to subscribe.  I don’t really know how often I’ll be able to do this, but I’m sure it’ll be a hit.  Go ahead, sign up, and you won’t have to miss a minute!  Fun and entertaining!  We’ll have aprons and t-shirts for sale.  Ah, isn’t this the great life?

“We’ve got our bowl all washed out.  Those whole egg one and egg two dilemmas are in the past.  We have a new egg, we crack it open, and….  Look at that!  What a great yolk.  Now, if you like to add just a dash of salt or a splash of milk, this would be the perfect time.  You know, we want to have all those additives in there before we really whisk it together.  If you’re vegan or allergic, why not substitute the dairy in the milk with soy?  It should really pair well with the egg and butter.

“What?  Why are you all trying to instant message me?  I really can’t take comments right now.  What are you, anti-soy?  You wacky vegans; you’re always so picky with your dairy consumption.

“Oh, but that reminds me, we really should get the pan going while we’re whisking.  Take a slab of butter, toss it on a frying pan, and really crank that heat up.  There.  That chunk’s about the size of my thumb.  That should do it.  Now I just add two more eggs.  There’s number two.  This is going to be quite the omelet!  I know; you’re hungry already.  So why aren’t you joining in?  C’mon, catch up at home!

“And here comes egg number three.  Huh.  This one feels a little heavy.  That just means it’s fat with flavor right?  We’ll just crack this guy open.  Odd.  Let me try this again.  We’ll crack…  Man, this sucker refuses to open.  Maybe if I chip away with this fork.  There we go!  We’ve got the shell started.  Aw, shoot.  It’s one big frozen mass.  There must be… yep, there it is.  A crack in the exterior; I guess this little guy’s gonna stay a solid chick-sickle.  Hey, a two-egg omelet will fill me up, right?  I mean, why not?

“Okay, time to check on our oven.  It’s been about a minute so hopefully that butter had been melting nicely while we talked.  …except it’s not.  Well isn’t that strange.  It’s still… oh, wait!  I forgot to turn the oven  on.  Hmm, I wonder why it won’t work.  What?  Oh, my cameraman is telling me the oven is gas.  I don’t actually know how to work one of these things.  Pilot?  What’s a pilot light?  This button over here?  Okay, but shouldn’t it turn out by itself?  I mean, we’re in the twenty-first century after all-

“Ah!!!  Man, that flame really jumps right up, doesn’t it?  Someone really likes to have a hot time in the ol’ kitchen!  Wow.  Good thing I trimmed my eyebrows before the show.  I’m not singed right?  Okay, good.  Keep in mind ladies, ol’ Claude keeps cool under pressure and his eyebrows tidy.  I’m just sayin’.  Women love a guy that cooks, right?

“Next up, we whisk our eggs.  I’ve got two eggs, I’ve added a splash of milk, and now I’ve decided that I do want some salt.  I wasn’t certain before, but now I’m gonna go for it.  Where’s that salt shaker…  Ah ha!  Thought you could get away from me, you little rascal?   These holes in the top look to be a tad crusted over.  I’m going to give the top a little tap.  I really want the salt to come out in a controlled manner.  A little tap…  Shoot.  I didn’t realize the lid would fall of like that.  Man that is not a small amount of salt, is it?  I mean, I can see little crystals forming together at the top.  I really think those lids should be stronger.

“What the-?  Oops!  We’ve got ourselves some smoke here.  I think this would be a great time to remind you viewers that you should always keep an eye on the burners.  You really don’t want your skillet setting off the smoke detectors.  Man that thing’s sensitive.  Shrill, too.  I always thought it would take more to set them off.  What?  You can’t hear me?  Okay, I’ll take the battery out.  We’ll have it be our little secret.

“Isn’t this fun?  And to think you could be waiting at a table for food and missing all this?  There’s no place like home… cooking!  Hey, that could be another t-shirt!  Man, I’m all kinds of quotable today!  Keep an eye out for that shirt too!  We’re gonna make sure we’re stocked up so you can get them as soon as your credit card clears.  Well, and I gotta have a big enough stack to make the trip to the post office worth my time.  C’mon, it’s like three miles away.  You folks know how it is.  Ahh, what’m I worried about?  I’m sure you’ll order plenty!

“Let’s check how we’re doing.  The smoke is almost all gone.  Whoops!  Better not hold that battery over the burner.  Ha ha!  Let’s put it over on this countertop out of the way.  We snagged a fresh pad of butter and it’s melting just fine.  Yeah, I think the pan is pretty well coated.  Time to add the eggs!

“Those eggs are on their way now.  I like to coax them along as they cook.  You just dab at the sides when they start to bubble with your spatula.  Wait.  Where’s my spatula?  Tim did you see where…  Darnit!  Your cat’s nibbling on the spatula!  Give that back!  Ugh.  Now there’re teeth marks on it.  Dude, your cat is just messed up.  I have to rinse this stupid thing off now.  Gah.

“I’d say it’s about time we finish this puppy up.  Take your spatula and nudge at the sides a little.  There it is!  That’s more like it!  I like to flip my omelet as soon as possible; make sure both sides are evenly cooked.  Simply take your utensil, get it under there and…

“Crud.  It broke.  Eh, scrambled eggs are acceptable.  Let’s all make scrambled eggs together.  If you have a nice omelet; well then congratulations to you.  But we’re making ‘em scrambled now.  Chop ‘em up!  Chop chop chop with your spatula.  Hey, look at all those pieces of egg deliciousness!  They’re starting to get a little brown so let’s pull ‘em off and toss ‘em on a plate.

“Terrific.  Eggs, scrambled, just like that.  It couldn’t be simpler!  Now all we have to do is dig in!  Let’s all try it together shall we?

“Oh my…  Ugh.  That’s nasty.  That is like the worst thing I’ve ever…  Dude, seriously.  I can’t even get that down.  How much salt fell in there?

“Tim!  The oven!  Your cat knocked the battery onto the burner!  Put the camera down!  Grab the fire extinguisher!  Move man, move!”

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