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Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
11:39 pm - Last Chance LJI (Not really): In the Garden
[I've put this up too late, so I believe I'm out of the running, but here's what I have.]

In the garden of your mind...

I've discovered a trick for feeling better about myself: watch old episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Seriously. There's something about watching it that makes me feel better.

Of course, I also feel a little silly. For all my cynical heart, it's hard not to smile with him, not to respond in kind when he greets me, zipping up that silly sweater. I feel foolish, waving back at him; I also feel a little bit freer, a little bit more relaxed. I'm alone, by myself, no one to judge or criticize me. If I want to talk back to him, why shouldn't I?

Sometimes my comments are a bit mean, or silly. It's hard to resist the temptation. When Mister Rogers visits a weather station and watches them fill up a weather balloon, and is told they are filling it with hydrogen, not helium, I imagine a very different Mister Rogers, one who talks in a car showroom voice: "Hydrogen, you say? Well, I'll be. Y'know, I think it's time for Ol' Fred to light up one of his stogies, let me get out my lighter--" Sometimes my imagination is an awful thing.

And still I can't be truly mean or nasty to Fred Rogers, even in my living room, even in my mind. It just doesn't feel right. I mean, if there was any human being who I would nominate for sainthood, he's it. Everything he seemed to be on that show, from every report I've ever read, from anyone who ever knew him, that's who he really was: someone of bottomless kindness, compassion and understanding; someone who took joy in life and was entirely unashamed to let it show; someone who wasn't blind to life's injustices and pain, but somehow never let it dominate his spirit.

Maybe that's the real humiliating thing about watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood: he shames us. Watching him, I can feel defeated by my own inability to live a life so free, so reveling in pure joy. And yet I also feel moved to keep trying.

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Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
11:55 pm - The last chance (LCI)
One last chance
One last glance
One last dance
One last romance...

(P.S. Yes, I competed earlier this season already...)

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Monday, April 28th, 2014
6:56 pm - Week 7:No True Scotsman
Dr. Trask looked at the readings on the screen another time. Yes, the predicates were all valid; all inference rules were accounted for, as were all the fundamental axioms. He knew he should go over the code for the problem description, but he didn't want to; he knew it would have no mistakes. He had been over it fifteen times already; there were no mistakes to be found.

He covered his hands with his eyes. "Walter...what do you think?"

"We have to go public with this," his assistant answered. "You can't sit on these results forever."

Trask nodded. He knew Walter was right.

Forty-three years of his life he'd spent building the thing: the most sophisticated automated deductive problem solving system ever built. It was now as sophisticated an artificial intelligence as had ever existed in human history. It drew power from supercomputers on six continents, its digital neurons connected by high-speed internet links, constantly exchanging packets of intellect. It was a system designed to answer any question, any question at all...definitively. It was only inevitable that the question would be asked.

Sighing, he looked over the results one last time. There would be controversy over this one. People would dispute the answer. There might be war. But to withhold the answer...it was unthinkable.

He had to publish it.

Tapping the screen before him, he began to dictate the memo. "Results for query #229631 to the Gödelian Ontological Deduction System: Does God exist. Answer follows..."

NOTE: This entry probably needs some explanation: researching the phrase "no true Scotsman", I discovered it's attributed to philosopher Antony Flew; I also read about his embrace of deism, after a lifetime of atheism...which led to articles about the proof of the existence of God, including the interesting fact of using an automated logic solving computer to solve the proof (in reality, it supposed proved the existence of the divine).

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Monday, April 14th, 2014
6:30 pm - LJI Week 5: The better mousetrap
"Hmm...what if, when Reyna's caught picking her pocket, Georgianna holds her, so she's still in place when the guards come...and she squirms, so the player can try to get away, but can't move..."

Making a video game is an interesting experience. I'm currently working on a demo for a small JRPG type of game, with a feature where the player can pick other character's pockets. It makes sense: one of the main characters is a street thief, and I thought it would be a novel feature to let the player choose to be a thief and decide to steal things. Of course, this can't be allowed to continue for long, so if you do it enough, the 'cops' start coming after you...

What's interesting is how, once I get started, I keep wanting to add features to the game: what if, instead of yelling for the guards, a character decides to fight the thief? What if she gets dragged into intrigue by dint of something she steals? What if, instead of just stealing from characters, she steals from the store, while the shopkeeper's back is turned? How would the player know if his back is turned? I keep thinking of new things to try, and then see if I can do them.

It's kind of like writing a story, in that I get to think up new things that happen to a character and write them out. But it also requires writing code: I have to make the 'back end' that responds appropriately as the user does things. That's not really a problem, of course: writing code is what I do for a living, and I enjoy it.

I know that what I'm making isn't the most original or novel thing, though. One time, when I explained this project to a friend of mine, she explained to me it wasn't a real game. Her boyfriend worked for one of the big game studios, working on the next Call Of Duty killer, or whatever it was--that was a real game.

It's not entirely unfair. A guy who builds birdhouses in his basement shop for a hobby, and a guy who frames two houses a week for a living are both, technically, carpenters. And yet it's not really fair to say they're both doing the same thing. But it's also not fair to say that the guy building birdhouses isn't doing anything 'real'.

Sometimes I feel an urge to create...and yet it's hard to get started: I want to control how it works out, predict what will happen. I often do my best work if I can let go of that altogether--trust the process, let things happen by themselves. It's enormously hard for me to do, precisely because of the 'birdhouse' issue: Sure I've made something, but is it real? Was it worth the time? And if it wasn't...what was the point? Why didn't I do something that would have been, so to speak, more profitable?

The answer is easy to forget: the process itself is its own reward. Yes: I may not have anything really valuable at the end of all this work. But I felt pleasure just while doing it.

Sometimes building the house matters more than who ends up living in it.

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Monday, April 7th, 2014
6:51 pm - Week 4:Back riding
Rog was standing outside the rec center, sipping a can of Coke, when Biff and his friends came swaggering out like a little army squadron.

“Hey, Heidigger, we want to talk to you.”

Rog Heidigger swallowed his mouthful of cola, feeling his insides tighten up. Biff was a year behind him in school, but that was because he’d been held back a year. He towered over Rog, just like he towered over the other kids in his class. Rog was very aware of this as Biff stood in front of him.

“We don’t want you to play in the next game.”

“What?” Rog blinked.

“You heard me. Tell coach you’re sick. Tell your mama you wet your pants and gotta go home. But you’re not playing this next floor hockey game.”

“Yeah,” piped up one of Biff’s friends, “we’re sick of you shooting at our goal!”

“Or stumbling and missing the puck, or any of the other dumb-ass things you do. You shouldn’t even be playing this game.” Biff said.

“But you can’t play without me!! You’ll be down a team member! You’ll have to forfeit!”

Biff shook his head. “No we won’t. Frankie can sub for you. Anybody’d be better than your hopeless ass in there.”

Rog felt sick. He’d only started playing floor hockey because he’d liked it when they made him play it in gym class. Next thing he knew, mom had signed him up at the rec center, and he had no choice--she’d paid sixty dollars, she told him, he’d better play. He found he wasn’t good at it outside of gym. And he found that Biff was there.

He’d never have gone if he’d known Biff would be there.

He couldn’t fight Biff. Even if he wasn’t scrawny, even if he knew how to throw a punch, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t fight him. He seen his aunt and uncle, seen the bruises. He would never fight someone. Not even Biff.

And yet...something inside him spoke up.

“No,” he mumbled, voice small.


“No!” Rog could feel himself breathing deeply, feel his heart pounding. What was he doing? “I won’t drop out. Not even for you.”

Rog knocked the Coke can out of his hand, sending it in a high arc through the air. He pointed at the spilled soda. “Lick it up.”


By this time, Biff’s friends had gathered in a circle around them. Rog realized there was no escape.

He thought of every time Biff had tripped him at school. Every time he’d taken Rog’s lunch money. Every time Biff had made the class laugh and then made the teacher think Rog caused it, getting him in trouble. And he decided he’d had enough.

“No! You always make me do whatever you want, just ‘cause you can fight! I’m sick of it!”

“You wanna fight, you little puke?”

“If that’s what it takes to make you shut up, then yeah!”

And something happened. A look came over Biff’s face; his eyes darted around to the other kids, and Rog realized...he was scared.

Finally, he dropped his chin and muttered, “You’re not worth it, you slime.”

He walked back inside. One by one, his friends followed, leaving Rog by himself.

Rog picked up the now dented can to put it in the trash. He could hardly believe what he’d done. He felt terrified.

And yet...somehow...proud.

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Monday, March 31st, 2014
6:29 pm - Week 3: In Another Castle...
"George Hasselworth pulls his blue Axelrod Aero extended minivan into the driveway of his modest suburban split-level home. It is beige with green window trimmings; the windows are double-glazed, and the siding is aluminum. His lawn is carpetgrass, a nice green, and his wife, Janet, tends to boxes of azaleas by the front walk, which generally grow well, but this year she's having a problem with snails, due to the unusually warm spring."

Aluxes cleared his throat before looking again at the parchment before him.

"George and Janet's house is in an upper-middle class suburb of a city called Fairbrook. There are three supermarkets and a fire department, along with two gas stations and a convenience store. The mayor is Harold Wheatly, and is not well liked in the community, but has been reelected three times due to his strong stance on the education tax initiative--"

"Oh. My. Gawd!" Hilda interrupted, her blue witches' hat quivering. "Enough with the setup. Just get to the story!"

Aluxes was indignant. "I'm just trying to give you some immersion--"

"We get it." Basil cut him off, not looking up from the sword he was polishing. "We're immersed. Just start!"

"Fine," Aluxes sniffed indignantly. "As George Hasselworth pulls his blue--"

"You already said that!!"

"--his blue minivan into the driveway," he continued, "George hears a thump. He has trouble--"

"What did the thump sound like?" Estelle asked.

Aluxes rolled his eyes. "Like a 'thump'. A noise, you know?"

"Well, can I tell anything about it?"

"Like what? It's just a 'thump'."

"Well, was it mechanical? Or did it sound like he hit something?" Estelle persisted.

Before Aluxes could answer, a voice interrupted. "Hey, have we got any mead?" Cyrus called from the larder.

Aluxes raised his voice. "Yeah, it's next to the dragon's tooth!"

"But this stuff looks like wolfsbane! And it's warm!!"

"Not the stuff on the counter! The mead is on the other side! In the permafrost spell bucket!"

"But I don't...oh, wait, I found it. Never mind!"

"So what did the thump sound like?" Estelle asked again.

"Why don't you roll bones," Aluxes sighed, "and make a perception check?"

"Which score does that use?" Estelle looked doubtfully at the scroll before her.

"Perception!!" the rest of the people at the table shouted.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to yell at me..."

"What about the rest of us?" Basil asked.

"Look, just everyone make a perception roll."

Everyone gathered around the table did so. As each set of bones stopped rolling, a wispy number shimmered in the air above them.

"Okay, let's get your scores...fourteen...nine...twelve...Felix, are those your bones?"


"...seven...seventeen...Estelle, what do your bones say?"

Estelle pouted. "Two. Lousy cheap bones..."

"You know, you'd have a better perception score if you'd chosen something besides 'hairdresser'..." Basil grinned.

"Oh, shut up!! It's not fair, you and your seventeen! You chose 'auto mechanic' and our first encounter is broken minivan! And besides, you've got those lucky bones!"

"What's lucky about them?" he continued grinning, now innocently.

"Carved from a dragon's femur? Of course they're lucky. I still don't know how you afforded them!"

"I slayed that dragon myself! And you know it!"

"Yeah, but you also had to pay someone to carve them for you," Hilda answered.

"And it was worth every farthing. Speaking of which: what do we, heh, perceive, oh gamemaster?"

"Oh, are you all done arguing now?" Aluxes said cooly, raising an eyebrow. "Well, the rest of you don't notice anything. But Basil, who is riding in the back of the van, by the way, hears the thump and realizes that the minivan's transaxle just lost a fluid pump. Which will cost..."

Aluxes rolled his own, larger set of bones.

"...1280 dollars to repair. The van will be undrivable until it's repaired."

"Aw, nuts," said Hilda, "and as George I have to pay for it, right?"

"That, or get the money from somewhere. Or walk a lot."

"What about having it towed? You said it was 'undrivable'." She turned to Basil. "Can the mechanic repair it here?"

"Sorry, I need a shop to do that," Basil answered. "Towing is another 200 dollars."

"Two hundered dollars?!" Hilda said, outraged. "You're part of this family!"

"Actually, I just carpool with you guys. I'm the neighbor. It says so in my character description."

"Okay," Cyrus said, sitting down at the table with his mead. "So where's the nearest bar?"

Before Hilda could respond, there was a loud banging on the thick oaken door of their hovel. Aluxes rolled his eyes again. "Maybe if we ignore it..."

"You know we can't do that," Hilda said, rising to open the door.

Outside the door, she saw nothing, until she looked down. Gareth the Gnome was there.

"Dragons are attacking the village!!" he cried in his squeaky little voice.

"Again? What color are they this time?"

"Um, red? Or maybe green? Curse the gods, how would I know? You know gnomes are color blind!"

She rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine. Basil," she called over her shoulder, "get the unicorns ready! Estelle, make sure you have enough spells in your book! And Cyrus, be sure you transform into something useful this time!"

"What's useless about a giant moth?!"

"What isn't? Come on, people, we have another disaster to avert!"

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Monday, March 17th, 2014
5:29 pm - LJ Idol Week 1: Jayus
I still remember the day. All of us from my department had gathered in an unused conference room to lunch together, as we so often did then (they've since remodeled the office and we now have a proper lunch room). One of my coworkers sat contemplating the plastic fork they'd given him at Med Kitchen.

"You know, why does a fork always have four tines?" he asked.

Without missing a beat, I answered, "Because if it had three tines, you'd have to call it a 'threek'."

This got, like, a huge laugh. From everyone. Enormous. The biggest laugh I've ever gotten from my coworkers. It happened four years ago, and I'm legendary in the office for this line. It still gets trotted out every so often: the day Rob actually told a funny joke.

Which always strikes me as funny, since I didn't, in the moment, think it was a particularly funny line.

I'm better known at the office for delivering painfully unfunny jokes: cute puns, subtle ironies, obvious punchlines. I’m sometimes referred to as the ‘Joke Killer’: my friends have learned to love me for my ability to butcher a joke in the delivery--"Oh, yeah, he was carrying a dachshund, didn't I mention that part? Yeah, he walked in carrying a dachshund...", but it's rare that I get them to laugh out loud as I hoped when I started my delivery.

I at least know better than to deliver a horribly inappropriate joke. I remember an old "Life In Hell" strip about horrible bosses, including the one who tells awful jokes: we see a boss delivering just the punchline--"...and then they all got AIDS and died."--and Binky chuckling weakly, a pained look on his face.

Joke telling like that? Yeah, I don't do that. But something in my delivery is lacking: I can't choose to deliver a joke and have it stick, I can only throw them out there and hope they don't die.

I've tried to figure out what I do wrong. Sometimes I ask others, and the answer I get is that I try to hard: I labor over the setup, I make too much evident effort at getting the delivery just right, I telegraph the ending so that it isn't a surprise. I think they're right, but I don't know what to do about it: how do you do something effortlessly, but with intent?

What I'd like to be is the class clown: the guy who can turn any situation into a lark, who can wrench your viewpoint just enough to show you the absurdity of what we call life, somebody who makes you laugh, but not just laugh. The guy who, after the joke is told, makes you feel a tiny bit more enlightened. Or at least happier than when you started.

I don't do that. Yet. I don't know how. Maybe someday I will.

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Monday, March 10th, 2014
7:39 pm - The space(s) between
This isn't the introduction I originally wrote.

No, first I wrote another introduction. That introduction was a perfectly good piece of writing, that quoted one of my favorite songs and talked a bit about who I was, and what I do, and why I am in this contest, yet again. Typical stuff for an LJI intro, right?

Well, I didn't like it. It meandered. It didn't have a point. It felt lifeless on the page. It seemed bland. But it was what I had, so I put it up so my beta reader could see it.

She didn't say anything about it being bland or uninteresting. Maybe she didn't think it was; maybe she thought so and was too kind to mention it. Her comments were useful and supportive and kind, but none of those comments made me decide to trash that intro, my first intro, and start over.

No, what made me decide to start over was this: she noticed that I type two spaces after every period.

I knew of this controversy: how many spaces after a period? One or two? But I had never been challenged with it in my own writing.

I looked it up online, and…boy, did I find material about it. It seems everybody has an opinion about the matter: the MLA, the Chicago Style manual, gorram Slate magazine…on and on and on. Here's what I learned: typing two spaces after a period apparently started with manual typewriters, which used a monospaced typeface. All letters were the same width, as was the space; in order to make the ends of sentences stand out, it became an informal tradition to strike the space bar twice after sentence termination, putting a wider gap between each sentence.

All well and good, but the days of monospaced fonts (and manual typewriters) are long gone. We live in a proportional typeface world, and typography experts insist that a single space after a period is all that's necessary. To add more is, quite literally, a waste of space.

The typographers didn't settle things, of course. There are passionate, angry arguments on both sides of this issue; you only need throw a stone on the Internet to find them. They say the reason academic debates are so heated is that the stakes are so small; this was proof of that dictum.

It seemed so trivial. I mean, who really cares, right? T-shirts about cannibalistic grandchildren to the contrary, it's obvious that the amount of whitespace on a page shouldn't be a life or death matter to anyone. (Remember, grammar doesn't kill people--editors kill people.) This wasn't a debate I wanted to get sucked into.

And yet I felt the anxiety of the double-spacers. Two spaces was a tradition, and you don't mess with tradition. Two spaces was how my pappy learned me, and two spaces is what I would by god type!

Or so I felt, anyway. As I quickly realized, actually I just really really, really didn't want to have to unlearn a deeply ingrained habit. And at that point, I was disgusted. Am I really so stuck in my ways that I can't even type differently? Does habit have such a grip on me?

So I made a resolution. This season for LJI, not only will my entries be of unparalleled brilliance (as always)(and please kindly refrain from snickering!!), but I will make all of them with not two, not zero, but one and only one space after each sentence termination…even if I have to resort to search-and-replace to do it. I do this not because I think one way is better than the other, or because I care about what professors at the school of internet pedantry might say, but just because I don't want to be told what to do, even by my own brain. I want to be able to switch modes as necessary, and feel comfortable doing it.

I will trust all of you to keep me honest. Remember, I'm counting on you.

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Monday, March 3rd, 2014
8:39 am - Insanity check: joining LJ Idol, season 9
It may or may not be detrimental to my mental health, but I'm joining LJI again for season 9! Enjoy!

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Friday, July 5th, 2013
6:08 pm - LJ Idol: Exhibit B -- Week 7: Hands
Are you tired of always having to reach for a tool when working on your car? Or how about getting a spoon in the kitchen, preparing a meal, having to reach all the way across the table? Who has time for that?

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--Screwdriver (Flatblade, Philips AND Xorbeld fitting)
--Air compressor
--Laser pointer
--Meat tenderizer
--Tuning fork
--Cheese grater (industrial use ONLY)
--Cigar lighter
--Crochet hook
--Counterinsurgency device
--Tracking beacon
--Salt and seasoning shaker
--Miniature ventriloquist's dummy
--Ball point pen
--Contraceptive device
--Magnifying glass
--X-Ray scatter detector
--Oil pan
--and many more!!

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Betelgeusian Army Hand is not available on all planets, and subject to local restrictions. Your Betelgeusian Army Hand may differ from content package. Cost of the Betelgeusian Army Hand does not include the cost of surgical implantation, medical recovery expenses, or indemnification insurance. Planet Betelgeuse Consumer Technologies is not responsible for any damage inflicted by the Betelgeusian Army Hand once installed on a recipient, including damage inflicted upon the recipient him, her or itself. Betelgeusian Army Hand is shipped C.O.D. All sales are final. This offer void on Antares.

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Monday, June 24th, 2013
3:14 pm - LJ Idol Week 7: Teddy Boar
"I'll never get out of this mess."

"O corsen, ya won't," said the wizened old man next to her. "Ya gotta turn to face th' DOOR t' see th' way out!" His cackle turned into a full throated laugh, which turned into a deep, wheezing cough that racked up from some place deep in his chest, and he doubled over, letting the phlegm come out. The bartender came over and clapped the old man on the back, leading him off of the stool and behind the counter, somewhere out of sight.

Tania pressed her lips in a tight line, embarassed. She had not realized she'd spoken out loud.

The drink was on the bar in front of her, a bead of sweat running down the side, cool, inviting. Alcohol might not solve her problems, she knew. But she longed for the comfort it would bring, however fleeting.

She picked up her martini and took a sip.

Okay, she thought, being sure not to speak out loud, time to take stock of what I've got. Two dollars cash. Whatever phone numbers I can remember, which aren't any good if I can't get to a phone. The clothes on my back. And…

And a one-of-a-kind cashmere fur teddy boar, the whole reason she was in this mess. It sat on the bar next to her, looking doleful with glossy plastic eyes.

She took another sip, shaking her head. Teddy boar. Another one of Wil's creations. It had been his dream to start this stuffed animal business; ever since they were kids, he'd had an unusual interest in fabric and sewing that got him picked on by the other boys in the neighborhood. Even more unusually, he'd been really good at it. And his interest didn't abate as he grew older.

Tania hadn't been interested in such things--she was content with her books growing up. But both of them eventually had grown up, and when Wil was ready to start a business making one of a kind teddy bears to order from exotic materials, he'd needed a business manager.

"See, Tania, I can come up with the designs, and sew and do all the work. But I need help dealing with people--selling, delivering, being the person people deal with. I need a manager." Wil shrugged. "Why not my older sister?"

Why not, indeed. She'd bossed him around most of their lives; she may as well do it some more. In any case, the two business courses she'd taken in college had never been put to use.

Thus had she become the COO of "Bearish Enterprises," makers of fine stuffed animals for people with, as she privately thought of their customers, too much money and too many kids to throw it away on. They would ask for unusual things (like a stuffed purple platypus) made from unusual materials (like woven moose hair), and he would figure out how to make it. Then once it was complete, she would hand deliver it to the customer, anywhere in the world.

You might think this would be an unsustainable business model, but you also wouldn't believe the prices people would pay for a stuffed animal. Enough that including the cost of the plane ticket to hand deliver the finished product was a mere pittance.

Wil was good at his work. Even now, Tania had to admire his ingenuity at creating a 'teddy boar': a cross between a teddy bear and a wild boar. It had the body of a standard stuffed bear, but it had a swinish nose, and little stuffed tusks, and a tuft of wiry black hair on its head. It was, improbably, cute.

It was also worth more than her entire bank account, if only she could find the person who was supposed to pay for it.

Tania was supposed to meet the customer in New York, at a bench in Central Park at noon. She had been bumped to another flight, though: she lost almost a full day. Unable to reach the customer by phone, she had gotten a cab from LaGuardia, hoping she could make it on time. And she might have, if only, dragging her purse and luggage, she hadn't gotten mugged.

He'd approached her with a knife. He'd left carrying her purse and cell phone, leaving her with nothing but the teddy boar.

He'd had no idea what this thing is worth.

Of course, to her it was worthless now, too. Who would pay her what the thing was supposed to be worth?

Without any money, she couldn't make a phone call. And if she couldn't make a phone call, she couldn't get out of this mess. And if she couldn't get out of this mess…

Tania's train of thought was interrupted by a shout from a nearby table.

There were five men, all with varrying amounts of gray hair, shouting and pounding the table happily, rattling something in their fingers on the table. Dominoes, she realized, they're playing dominoes. And as she listened, she recognized the oddly musical gutteral soup of their language: Polish.

It had been a long time since she'd spoken it with Gran'fa. She could barely understand what they were saying. When she was young, Gran'fa had tried to teach her the language as they sat on the patio in summer, at the same time he taught her to play dominoes.

She'd only learned a passable amount of Polish. But she'd gotten very, very good at dominoes.

Finishing her martini, she made a choice. She pulled a chair to the table, straddling it. The men looked up in surprise.

[Gentlemen, I want to make a wager. If any of you have a cell phone, I need to use it for ten minutes. But I don't want charity. I will play to win. And here is what I have to wager.]

She put the teddy boar in the middle of the table.

Another total improv piece: I didn't know what I was going to write when I set down the first line. Enjoy!

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Monday, June 17th, 2013
4:20 pm - LJ Idol Week 6, topic 4: It's Not Tacky If You Wear It Well (not used)
NOTE TO NEW READERS: For the LJ Idol contest, we were given a selection of four topics for the week; I ended up writing a piece for all four, but only chose topic two ("ha-ha") for final submission. The four previous entries are all of them.

From the Picayune Tribune, Wednesday 18 'For Sale' Section:

BARGAIN!! Entire closet of clothes from estate sale!! INCREDIBLE PRICES!! 2424 Lockmore St. Call first.

From the Picayune Tribune, Friday 20 'For Sale' Section:

FOR SALE: One pink-checked poodle skirt, size nine. This thing is UGLY! Mom does not understand. 10 cents OBO.

From the Picayune Tribune, Monday 23 'Dear Eunice' advice column:

Dear Eunice,

I recently came upon an incredible value in a closet of fifties clothes for a young girl. Since it is the start of the school year, I was looking for clothes for my youngest daughter, so I picked up the whole lot. Mission accomplished!

My daughter is now absolutely distraught, and has cried all night, insisting she cannot possibly start school next week wearing anything from this sale. I do not understand; I realize these may not be the 'hippest' clothes for a girl to wear, but really, they don't look so bad on her. One of them was an absolutely adorable poodle skirt, not unlike the one I always wished I had when I was her age. I simply can't understand what her problem is.

She is now insisting she would rather go to school naked than wear anything I have gotten her. I have appointments to keep; I cannot go shopping all over again. Please help!

At Wits' End

Dear AWE,

Children are indeed a tribulation! I don't understand what possible objection she could have, either. When I was a little girl, poodle skirts were the height of fashion! All you can do is assert your authority as parent; I'm sure she will come around eventually.

Aunt Eunice

From the Picayune Tribune, Wednesday 25 'Dear Eunice' advice column:

Dear Old Bat,

Boy are you out of touch! Youre advice to my mother [see Tuesday's Eunice] made her double down on her stubborness! Now she insists that I wear that ugly awful poodle skirt on my first day of eighth grade! If actually wore it I would never hear the end of it!! I WILL NOT wear that hideous THING ANYWHERE!!

If you can't help kids and parents get along, I don't know why your still writing for this dumb paper!!

No Poodle Skirts, Ever

Dear NPSE,

There is a saying that any outfit can be made to look good, if only you wear it with dignity. I advise you respect your mother's wishes in this matter, if you cannot find another solution. (Also, I hope you are studying grammar this year; yours needs help.)

From the Picayune Tribune, Thursday 26 front page (below the fold):


A local teen was arrested for suspected arson after she started a fire in the driveway of her home. Fire fighters arrived in time to contain the blaze, and no one was injured.

When investigators arrived at the scene, the teenager proudly stepped forward, accepting full responsibility for the fire. She was reported to tell onlookers, "At least I won't have to wear that awful thing."

Her name will be held from readers until arraignment.

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4:16 pm - LJ Idol Week 6, topic 3: Go Tell The Spartans (not used)
(this was partly inspired by someone sitting near me in Caribou Coffee: a representative for the apparently real website iambattletested.com, which seems to be some sort of athletic competition program. The representative's truck was parked next to mine, a huge black Dodge Ram truck with decals advertising the site.)


Are you male?

Are you sure about it?

Are you tired of wondering about it?

Of hearing that little voice that plays in your head, mocking you, questioning your vitality at every turn of your life? When the boss wisecracks about your name at the weekly meeting, making your coworkers laugh. ('Smalls' is a proud family name. And its pronounced "Ree-SHARD.") Or when you buy two drinks for that blonde at the bar, only to have her shoot you down (like she's going to do better). Or when you lose again at racquetball to Fred, and he makes a joke about your name, too (Ree-SHARD, damnit).

Well, get over it, you pussy!

The world is a shit sandwich, and it's crybabies like you that don't get the bread.

Face it: if you want to make it in this world, you gotta man up!!

And that's what our company is all about.

beaman.com is dedicated to the betterment of the male of the species; to restore our rightful place of pride in the order of the universe, and show once and for all that we are meant to be on top. And you can too.

In our patented twelve-week program, we convert your raw, fleshy nothingness into hard steel and battle-tested reflexes. Those who complete our program emerge with the tools to be natural leaders that command respect from others.

It starts with an intense physical training program that will get you into peak physical condition. But we don't stop there: we place each participant into high-stress conditions where you will be forced to develop the reflexes and quick thinking that will keep you alive in any situation.

You will be provided with the simplest of tools to enable your survival, including a hunting knife, a compass, and one day's worth of rations; then airdropped into an environment designed to test your physical and mental capacities to the utmost. Then you simply make it to the pickup point to complete your training.

To get there, you will encounter obstacles intended to further your male training--a series of 'living weapons' designed to push your capabilities to their breaking point. This is no video game--this is real life!

And when you make it to end, you can proudly claim a prize few ever have. Tales will be told of you; songs will be sung. And what more could any true man want?

beaman.com: The Key To Your True Masculinity.

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4:13 pm - LJ Idol Week 6, topic 2: Ha-ha, not to be confused with laughter
Trigger warning: Discusses sensitive political issues
Read more...Collapse )

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4:09 pm - LJ Idol Week 6, topic 1: South Indian Cuisine (not used)
Betelgeusian Cuisine

As befits the population of the Betelgeuse homeworld, Betelgeusian cuisine is very diverse. Naturally, it is built around their chief crop of krepens pildozj (to use its earthenized spelling), a species of semi-intelligent legume. These spud-like plants have a skin rather like an earth potato and an extensively vascular root system. As with the potato, krepens grow 'eyes' in time; however, krepens eyes have evolved to survive the exceedingly bright light of their home star, and begin to blink regularly as they ripen. When the eyes first open, they are an emerald green; as the legume grows to maturity, the eyes shift in color first blue, then finally to a deep violet--a shade which the native population describes, in a bit of self-reference, as pildoz'jn. It is at this point the krepens intelligence is highest, and is ready for preparation and ingestion.

A curious property of the krepens is its near indestructibility: thus it can be cut up, peeled, diced, pureed, and boiled without harm to its basic sentience. This property was discovered, the legend goes, quite by accident: when an early Betelgeusian chef, preparing a soup of non-intelligent urgz'rn stocks, accidentally tipped a bowl of krepens into the boiling water, he recoiled, expecting to hear screaming (krepens posess tiny membranes by which they can emit sounds just within the range of Betelguesian hearing), but did not; on further inspection, he found much to his surprise that the krepens were quite happy in the simmering water. Intrigued, he took another krepens and began cutting it up, finding that it seemed to retain all sentience, and indeed enjoyed the process (other than complaining that the spots where he had removed its eyes were 'itchy'). Thus did the rich tradition of Betelgeusian krepen't cuisine start.

The krepens, of course, has a symbiotic relationship with Betelgeusian digestive systems. As semi-intelligent entities, they enter a Betelgeusian and begin to clean out his/her/its system (remember that Betelgeusian are trigendered) by dint of absorbing all foreign agents that cause disease, chemically transforming them into inert substances. It is by this process that the krepens achieves the final stage in its life-cycle, becoming fertile and ready for reproduction, by leaving spores with its host. The acidic environment of the Betelgeusian stomach is necessary for the gestation of the spores, which are then harvested by later krepens passing through the same region. This process continues from the host's birth until his final maturation, at which point he/she/it can no longer host the symbionts--thus the derivation of the term pildojn'tvcz, which roughly translates into Earthican as "too old to eat".

If you plan to vist Betelguese, be aware that krepens pildozj are not compatible with human anatomy and are quite fatal upon ingestion.

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Sunday, June 9th, 2013
11:39 pm - LJ Idol: Exhibit B -- Week 4: If Wishes Were...um...
Once upon a time, there was a little gnome with a wart. This might not have been surprising, since most gnomes have warts. In fact, warts are treasured among gnomes; they measure and brag about who has the biggest wart, or the hairiest wart, or whose wart is in the most prominent place. A wart on the cheek is valued over one on the forehead, and a wart on the tip of the nose is most valued of all.

Our little gnome (whose name was Wallace), however, did not have such a lucky wart. That was his problem, actually: he had but a single wart, and it was neither large, nor hairy, nor prominently placed, nor ugly. It was actually tiny: a mere bump, half the size of a single pea, and pink as a newborn's derriere. There was not a hair on it, and it was in an almost invisible place, the back of his neck, just a little towards the right side.

This was cause for shame among the gnomes. Wallace's so-called friends were the kind who take delight in pointing out such things (as only true friends know how to get under your skin), and thus reminded him of his gnomish shortcoming as often as possible.

When he entered the Gnome's Playground (where all gnomes in the forest hung out) and approached his so-called friends, they would say, "Oi, look, here comes ol' clearskin!!"

For his birthday, Wallace's friends got him a razor. None of Wallace's friends could use a razor; their skin wasn't smooth like his.

And every so often, one of them would gesture to Wallace and rub his own face, telling Wallace there was a piece of dirt...right...there. Wallace would oblige and ask hopefully if he got it; his friend would tell him no, keep rubbing. So Wallace would rub some more, and his friend would say no, and this would go on for five minutes until his friend would say, "I guess it was just a wart...except, wait! I forgot! You don't have any!!" And then they would laugh.

This kind of torment continued for years; gnomes do not bore easily, after all.

Wallace did not say anything when his friends did all these things to him; Wallace was very private about his humiliation in his lack of a wart. But it still hurt. And thus every night, before getting into his little bed, he would pray to the god of all gnomes:

Oh, Brugher, ugliest god of all gods and special saint of the gnomes, I want to have a wart. A BIG wart, right in the middle of my face!! So that all my friends will love me and not make fun of me anymore! Please, bless me with this gift!

For months and months he said this prayer before bed each night, but no wart came. Yet he continued to say it until he could repeat the words without thinking. He began to repeat it in the middle of the day. Then twice a day. Soon he was muttering it under his breath as he walked though the Gnome's Playground. The words became almost a mantra for poor Wallace; and while he had almost given up hope that Brugher would ever listen, he continued to repeat the words, taking comfort in their rhythm.

Then one day, while looking for toad's tools in the garden (for Terry the Toad would pay him fourteen pollen for every hammer he could find), Wallace heard a grumbling behind him. He turned and gasped! as, in a flash of light, the gnome god Brugher appeared! Brugher spoke with a majestic cough:

Alright, Wallace Xenawl, for that was name your gnome mother gave you, I grow sick of hearing your prayer!

(We should note that the gnome god Brugher was known, even among his most ardent followers, for having an especially nasty temper.)

I cannot stand it!! Every day and every night, I hear about how you want a big, huge wart so badly! Well, fine then! I will give you the biggest, hairiest wart any gnome shall ever have!

Brugher may have intended this to frighten poor Wallace, but he was so excited that he began to dance in the curious fashion that gnomes call a 'jig'. Except that he only got two steps into the jig before there was an even larger flash of light than the one that had heralded Brugher's arrival, followed by the faint scent of frankincense.

Wallace was unconscious for several minutes after that.

When he awoke, he found himself looking at the ground. He tried to raise his head, but could not. And yet, his face was several inches from the ground. What was going on?

When he reached down and felt the tip of his nose, he discovered that he had the biggest, hairiest wart he had ever seen, right at his nose's end! Even from his vantage point behind his own nose, he could see how big and black it was, and when he felt over its surface, he found eleven, twelve, no, thirteen hairs!! He was so proud!

He started to lift his head in order to show off his new wart to his friends, when he discovered that Brugher, the god of all gnomes, had forgotten one detail: Wallace's new wart was so big and heavy that he could not lift his head. He was stuck!

However, Wallace did not care. He was so overjoyed with his newfound ugly mark that he could not contain himself. He cried great tears of joy that ran down his nose and soaked his wart; he said blessings to the gnome god Brugher; he shouted words of pure ecstasy into the evening air, so that they filled the garden.

It was these last sounds that attracted the cat, which came over and ate the helpless Wallace. (Cats, after all, are the natural enemies of gnomes; everyone knows that.)

When his gnome friends found what was left of Wallace--they knew him by the one boot the cat had not run off with--they realized what had happened. They all had heard his many, many prayers to the gnome god Brugher, and recognized with some awe the ginormous wart Brugher had blessed him with (for cats like to eat every part of the gnome except the warts).

And to this day, the gnomes all say: "You have to take life as it is, Wart Xenawl."

I didn't intend to write this bit of nonsense--I'd had a different idea planned--but when I sat down to type, this is what came out. So I'm running with it. The topic, if you couldn't guess, was If wishes were horses.

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Monday, June 3rd, 2013
12:30 am - LJ Idol: Exhibit B -- Week 3: Oh, lord, not [this] again...
I tend to the shelves, rearranging the little decks of cards and boxes of flash paper. Those damned kids, fiddling at the shelves, what their parents teach them, I'll never know. Then it'll be on to the wands, and then the rings, then the feathers and quills and gems. Then to dust the big tricks, the Egyptian Chest and the Zig-Zag Cabinet. God knows, a shopkeeper's work is never done.

I used to be a stage illusionist. I saw David Copperfield on TV when I was five and declared to my mother, "That's what I want to be." When I grew up I went to a performing school and learned stage magic. I met Denise, my assistant, and we began to assemble an act. We were good, doing all the classics: the woman sawn in half, the floating rings, three nights a week at the local hotel.

We were good...but not good enough. After two years, I had nothing to show for my work but a Ford Taurus with too many miles and a pregnant Denise. We got married and settled down.

It was her idea that we set up the store; she knew how much it would mean to me. It's been fourteen years I've operated the Aztec Lady, nestled in this strip mall along with the barber shop, a Subway, and that little space that never seems to stay the same. Six months ago it was a photographer's studio; it closed down with a visit from the police, and I never did find out what made them shut it down. Before that it was a dance studio, and it was a shame to see Mabel have to close it down when the dysplasia made dancing too painful for her.

Now the space belongs to that large guy with the patchy beard, trying to operate a slot car race track where kids can come in and race cars around the little track. I wonder how long he'll last; when I spoke to him, he didn't seem to have much grasp on operating a little business like this.

The first thing to do when running a business is to keep the customers happy. You learn that quickly, or you'll lose your store.

At first, I tried to sell only to those were serious about performing: to those who knew. There was only a small community of us in Montreal, and we all knew each other. I sold them whatever they wanted.

After six months I could barely make the rent.

You have to keep the customers happy. There had always been dabblers, people who thought this magic stuff was a lark. I used to sneer at them. They'd laugh, and leave, and my register was as empty as when they came in.

Denise's brother Crosby...he'd never been quite right in the head. He'd joined the Foreign Legion, gone to Zimbabwe or someplace, and never really come home. He sent us postcards from places whose name I couldn't begin to pronounce, with odd pictures on the front.

Sometimes he would call, and Denise would talk to him, and tell him how the store was doing. I didn't want him to know, but Denise does as she does and I've learned not to tell her different.

It was a month later that the catalog came in the mail. Crosby had sent it, hoping to help my business.

It was full of strange items, with fractured text in English that made no sense. "BLACK DOG Trick! Amaze friend or family! You transform! STARLIGHT STARBRIGHT!!" It had a crude picture of a human, and what might have been a large dog on its hind legs. There was a large green arrow running from the little human to the dog. Judging by the pictures on the box, it wasn't the sort of trick I was used to, with coins and scarves and little foam balls.

I thought nothing of it and left the catalog on the counter. One day after coming from the back room, I found a young girl leafing through it.

"What do you want? That catalog isn't for sale."

"Do you have this?" she asked, pointing at the "Black dog trick". I was about to say no when I saw the price: twenty four dollars. "I can get it for you. It'll take two weeks, put in a deposit now." Why a fourteen year old girl had twenty-five dollars I may never know, but she did; I made her a receipt.

It was twenty-four dollars for the trick. What she didn't know was the scrap of English in the back, that there was a discount for bulk orders. I got the best deal possible, one hundred at two dollars each, plus shipping and handling.

After two weeks, the crate arrived. On the back of each box was an area with a skull and crossbones, a single word "!!WARNENG!!", and more text with many more exclamation points. I couldn't read the rest of it; the characters were in a language I didn't recognize. I shrugged and set a display up in my window.

It was mostly girls that bought these things. They would come in, wide eyed, asking for the little kits from the catalog, often clutching a book and giggling something about "Jacob". I never knew who he was, some boyfriend I assumed. It didn't matter; their money was still good, and I could make the rent.

It was shortly after that they started coming back with their pets. Mice, rats, gerbils, a guinea pig or two, all claiming the trick had gone wrong, that this wasn't what the trick was supposed to do. Sometimes they were in tears, crying about what had happened to their friend and gesturing to the animal in hand. It was weird; sometimes whatever little rodent they held would stare at me, almost as if it understood me. Or recognized me.

It creeped me out. I'm just an old storekeeper. I didn't recognize any of these kids. I made a point of forgetting them once the sale was made. As long as their money is green, I don't care.

I head the jingle of the door bell and look to see a young blond teenager. This time she's carrying a little hamster. She's in tears, and asking for a 'cure'.

I'm no veterinarian, I tell her. All sales are final.

This is an intersection piece with sarcasmoqueen, see her entry here. Enjoy!

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Monday, May 27th, 2013
5:11 pm - LJ Idol: Exhibit B -- Week 2: Um...
I'm going to talk about a passage of writing that has deeply affected me; that gave me shivers when I first read it, and has haunted me ever since.

The passage comes from Warner Communications' 1977 annual report to its shareholders:

Entertainment has become a necessity. The statement seems unsupportable: can entertainment be necessary in the sense that food, clothing and shelter are necessary?...the problem in the above statement is not with the word "necessary," but with the word "entertainment." As recently as twenty years ago, "entertainment"--diversion, amusement--would have served adequately to describe the vast majority of movies, television, radio, popular print and recorded sound. But today the word seems inadequate, outdistanced by events. The role of these media is now far more various and crucial than the pleasurable passing of time. In their mechanical operations...the media [have remained] essentially the same. Yet in their personal and social usefulness, they are utterly changed...The pace of world industrialization that has steadily accelerated since the 19th century is widely believed to have effected a severe challenge to individual identity: an increasingly efficient and standardized world jeopardizes personal freedom, importance and opportunity, with a consequent sense of disenfranchisement of self...Having allowed technology to create the problem, man has begun using technology to redress it. With the exponentially increased availability of all forms of communication, the media of "entertainment" have been pressed into service to provide the individual with models of experience, opportunities for self-recognition, and the ingredients of identity...The movement of information--at many rates of speed, to many kinds of people--is the business of Warner Communications. And the phenomenal growth of our company, along with other leaders in the field, reflects a marriage of culture and technology unprecedented in history, and a commensurate revolution in the human sense of self.

Before I explain myself, I must acknowledge that this passage may be, at bottom, just pretentious nonsense--verbiage some Warner accountant conjured up to fill blank pages. In the annual report, the section above is headlined with a quote from Marshall McLuhan--and the whole thing reads like a half-digested gloss of The Medium Is The Massage, McLuhan's famous manifesto on how mass communication reshaped the course of humanity. In 1977, Warners had just spent $32 million to acquire Atari, Inc., then on the brink of making the 2600 VCS; they had also invested heavily in the QUBE cable TV system, the prototype for all future interactive television systems--high-risk, high-technology ventures that were unusual for the company. Both would prove to be financial failures in the short term (in 1984, after major initial success, Atari was hemorrhaging money, leading to a $40 drop in stock price; by that time QUBE was all but out of business, having racked up $875 million in debt). Both were also visionary experiments ahead of their time (today, the video game industry is worth $74 billion; and QUBE was the prototype of TiVO, Apple TV, and every other digital box under your television set--not to mention the incubator in which both Nickelodeon and MTV were developed). In other words, the above passage can be understood as the Warner Communications Corporation bloviating futuristic rhetoric to assuage investors' worries about high-profile tech gambles--no deeper meaning implied or required.

And yet: if you feel an eerie sense of displacement reading the above, you're likely feeling the same thing I feel. It's the displacement of encountering attitudes that permeate our present moment in their first, embryonic form.

Consider that the process of commoditizing ideas and feelings that they describe is now more pervasive than ever: you only have to read the news and hear, for example, of the acquisition of Lucasfilm, owner of Star Wars, by Walt Disney Corporation (just as in 1977, or even more so now, a "leader in our field")--then think of the above, and you can get the creepy feeling that this is all part of a program that has been orchestrated and carried out now for a very long time.

Have you ever loved--really just loved--a song? Or a scene from a movie? Or a story? Have you ever waited in line to buy a Harry Potter novel, or been to a midnight premiere of The Avengers, or downloaded Mumford and Sons or Nicki Minaj or for that matter an old Beatles track? Have you ever come home from a job you don't really enjoy and curled up with a story or a poem or a video game or a comic book or any creative work at all, just to escape the grind of daily life for a precious hour or two and check back in with the self you treasure most, the self it seems like the rest of the world wants to keep you from experiencing? That's exactly what they were talking about, over thirty-five years ago: a disenfranchisement of self to be redressed by technology, sold to you, the consumer, at an objective profit.

They are saying, in effect, that hopes and dreams, the most private desires, our fundamental happiness, are an endlessly renewable resource to be mined and turned into this fiscal year's revenues. You, me, all of us: our imaginations are, by design, a target market to be exploited.

I do not think this is evil. I certainly do not think this is a conspiracy on the part of the media conglomerates, the government, or anyone else. Warners, Disney, News Corp, all of them are simply doing what businesses do: earning money, distributing artists' and creators' product to a wide audience, as efficiently and profitably as they can figure out how to do it.

And it is, finally, a fair exchange. We get an even return in value for our dollars, euros, whatever: a momentary escape from whatever is unhappy in our lives.

There is no evil here. But to read this idea laid out in the bland, cheerful language of a business plan is...unnerving.

current mood: pensive

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Monday, May 20th, 2013
6:21 pm - You Gave Everything You Possibly Could -- LJ Idol (Exhibit B, Topic 1)
“Janice! Janice? Janice, I’m home! What’s for dinner?” I wonder where the wife is as the door shuts behind me. Augh, what a day, what a day...it’s good to get these boots off my feet, I think they’re giving me a bunion. It’s hard to bend down and work the laces nowadays...always wondering what else I can do as long as I’m down there.

Where’s the chair, where’s the chair...ahhh, there we are. Good to get my feet up on the table. Those peas will be the death me. Not much of this beer left...

“Nigel! Nigel?” Ah, here she is at last, her voice like a canary strangled in a rusting fence. How I love the sound of it. It’s amazing it is, all the work Janice does around here. Need the washing? Done! Want a clean plate? Done! Want a biscuit with evening tea? She’s already made four, just sit there and I’ll bring it, you needn’t fuss over a thing.

I know how to bake, after all. Not as good at it as she is, but I hardly get a chance to practice--she always shoos me out of the kitchen if I start to help, correcting me, telling me how I’m doing it wrong. The poor woman has baked my bread and tended my soup for so many years now, she’s got it down to a science. Of course I don’t cook or bake as well as she does, but how else would I learn? The woman can bake six pies in an afternoon, after all.

Oh no, it’s easier just to stay out of her way and let her have her head. She runs a tight ship, does Janice, I’ve nothing to complain of. Sometimes I wish I did, or at least something to do: a chance to fix the wiring, tighten the spigot in the laundry room that always leaks, things of that sort. But it’s always too late: Janice has already rung the repairman, he’ll be here at two, now just leave it be, you’ll only make his job take longer, he’s paid by the hour, you know.

The woman is a piece of work, alright. How she keeps going, I’ll never know. I only wish there was room in there for me to help. Once I was useful: I was a conductor for the railway, taking tickets, shepherding people to their destinations. I’d come home and Janice would have a meal ready, my socks clean and darned. It was comfortable.

Now I’m retired and there is no place for me here...nothing for me to do. She seems to love working, though, so I do what I know to do: give her ways to take care of me, and keep out of her way.

I go out to the kitchen to see what she’s got to. Probably coming back with the washing, or whatever she does while I’m at the allotment. I can get another can of beer while I’m out there.

Janice plops the laundry basket down on the table, my socks on top. She never mends the things properly, they’re probably why I’m getting this bunion, but do I say a word? No, of course not. She says nothing. Wonder what goes on her head? Oh, well, at the least the fridge is full of beer...I leave the old can on the sink, back to the front room.

I relax on the chair and pick up the paper, assuming my tired old role. The coffee table is clean, as always. “Janice, love, what’s for tea? Is it sausages?”

“I’ve made chicken stew with dumplings, Nigel, but would you really like sausages? I can freeze the casserole if I have to.” She smiles, the little wrinkles around her eyes reminding me why I married her. It’s best not to bring such things up. “Oh, and we can use some of your peas to go with it?”

“Ah, thanks Janice, you’re a gem, come here and give us a smooch.”

This was an Intersection piece with unmowngrass, click here to see her entry!

current mood: chipper

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Thursday, May 9th, 2013
7:41 pm - LJ Idol: Exhibit B -- Week 0: Introduction of Yunie Baby
There was no light down here. No real light, anyway, only the weird amber of the sodium vapor lamps, that never felt natural. Other than that, there was grey concrete, oil stains, and cars, lots of cars.

She did NOT like it down here. Not one little bit. She liked it even less than a cobra likes a ravenous mongoose. Which isn’t much at all. Underground garages were SCARY.

But this is where the instructions said to come. She looked at the index card in her hand, and there it was:

Go to the bottom of the parking garage on Shepard Place, and look for the door marked 2B. Press the button.

Why come here? Why follow mysterious instructions printed on an index card left on her desk at work? She wondered this as she searched for the door. But still her feet carried her forward.

It smelled odd down here, that acrid, gasoline-y smell that nearly chokes you. The cars here all seemed ancient, starting to rust. She slipped on a pool of some mysterious dark liquid, keeping her balance only by snatching at the hood ornament of an old Buick. When she pulled herself upright, the ornament came off in her hand.

Gingerly, she set it down on the hood, hoping no one had seen. She continued on.

“Maybe the door won’t be there,” she thought, or perhaps hoped. “Maybe I won’t be able to find it. That would be good: then I could say I looked and looked, and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty or anything, and I could get out of here and back to my nice, normal life, and everything will be...”

She turned a corner and paused. In the wall in front of her was a set of grey metal doors, the number “2B” clearly outlined in scratched black paint. On the wall next to them was a panel with a single button.

In dawning horror she realized: they were elevator doors. The button glowed faintly beside them.

If there was anything she disliked more than an underground parking garage, it was an elevator. They were fine as long as they worked right. It was when they stopped working that it was bad. Especially if she was in it.

For several minutes, she hovered by the doors, deciding whether to push the button. Could she do it? Would she? Finally it was the smell that decided her: anything to get away from these awful fumes.

She pressed the button.

The elevator responded immediately. With a great resonant shriek the doors pulled open. The light inside flickered on and off.

It took another several moments to will herself to step inside; stalling for time she hoped it might close its doors and go away. But it waited, patiently.

Taking a deep breath, she crossed the threshold inside. Without her touching anything, the doors closed behind her.

She shut her eyes, waiting. The car did not move. The light flickered irregularly. Why didn’t it move?!

It was with a flush of embarrassment that she realized she had never pressed a floor button.

As she did, she noticed the griminess of the elevator car: the ill fitting woodgrain finish, the odd stain across one wall that looked older than she was, the loose wires spilling like entrails from one panel near the floor. The elevator seemed to move slowly, with an odd vibration as it descended.

Descended. It suddenly occurred to her that she was moving down. Into the earth. From the bottom floor of a parking garage.

Where could she be going?

The ride seemed to take forever. With a jolt, the car stopped. She waited for the door to open.

And waited.

And waited some more.

The light went out and stayed out. Was she stuck? What happened to the light? Why didn’t the door open?

She was about to scream when the door suddenly opened with the same shriek as before. Beyond there was only darkness.

And a strange thudding. A musical thudding.

She stepped out of the elevator and towards a door. And behind that door, there was...

A karaoke club! And all her friends! Drinks, lights, a microphone, words on a screen, and the entire collection of K.C. and the Sunshine Band songs to sing along to!

She did leave until hours later.

So, this thoroughly ridiculous bit of story was an introduction to yuniebaby, who told me about herself that she 1.) doesn’t like underground parking garages, 2.) or being stuck in elevators, 3.) but DOES like singing karaoke. (She also told me some other things, but I couldn’t work them in.) However, the K.C. the Sunshine Band thing was my own contribution. Hope you enjoyed!!

current mood: creative

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