Friday, April 10, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

My boss’ name was Tina. She was an Asian woman of about forty years? I was twenty at the time, so I have no idea. She was from China, as were two of the waiters, a husband and wife team of about seventy that got their work done and talked to no one. Every morning, I would (probably not) shave, shower, put on the black pants (size 48) that I bought at Goodwill the day I got the job. They were almost twenty sizes too big, but I would fold the front over and, under my black apron that never got washed, you couldn’t tell at all. I did wash my white, short sleeved shirt, but I did not iron it. And I wore their stupid bow tie. Like a monkey.

Every morning, Tina, five feet with the force of ten thousand suns worth of stress, would tell me that I needed to iron my shirt. I would smile and nod and not even think about doing it. I was aware of a few things. First, it was a godawful job. Terrible hours. Horrendous pay. The only upsides were that the old people were cool, the Mexican dudes in the kitchen were cool, and I ignored basically all their rules. Two, I spoke Spanish and English and no one else could do that fluently. And finally, I just honestly didn’t care about anything. Not really. And I was hung over every single time I went to work. And I smoked weed with the Mexican dudes every single day after work before going home to mainline cat cuddles and bourbon.

There were two waiters from the former Czech Republic. They had seen shit. You could tell. I never would have presumed to ask. They were nice. Friendly. They kind of doted on me in a big sisterly way, and I was OK with it because they were both pretty cute and they had awesome accents. One day, the cuter of the two (who used to tell me about how much she missed her husband, oh the humanity) gave me an iron. I took it home and put it on the counter and then started drinking. And I never ironed my shirt. I never even seriously considered it. The more they asked, the less likely I was to do it. And I had the residents in my corner. And the Mexicans. I called them gringos and they called me vato loco.  It was a terrible job and it was also like a big old hug. I played piano for the residents and they were excited I was in college. I was a king.


  1. This reads like truth. Is this part of your real life series? I like it!

    1. I love its ambiguity, like it was both terrible and wonderful, a Schrodinger's job. I also love "going home to mainline cat cuddles and bourbon."

    2. I dig this little vignette, the way you presented it. You have a knack for knowing just the right details to draw the reader in and keep him/her there, in the scene, in the MC's head. And I"m with David - "going home to mainline cat cuddles and bourbon" is a great line.

    3. Man, I love that, soaking in the details. And "going home to mainline cat cuddles and bourbon" was my favorite line, too.

    4. Oh I don't know I really liked "ten thousand suns of stress" and "oh, the humanity" a lot too. Great vignette and yes, it read just like your truth.

    5. You're definitely a king, Dan. This is absolutely spot on and so very well realised. I can almost smell the vegetables and the sauces cooking. You're a master of this type of writing.

  2. “Look, I’m a respectable guy. Not like the guys you see on those TV shows. I have a family. I have a job. It’s just… Sometimes, a guy gets lonely, you know what I mean?”

    “We’ve been married for twenty years. I love my kids. It’s not right that I’m punished for one second of weakness.”
    “I’ve been on the street since my parents kicked me out. You do what you gotta do to get by, y’know? You do what the client’s willing to pay for, and if you do it well, you might even get a bonus.”
    “So I was at Mikey’s, that’s a bar I like to go to. Nice, clean place. Bar stools six feet apart, little robots that bring you your drink. It’s not like the old days, shoulder to shoulder, talking to the bartender in whispers. But it’s like my home away from home, see?”
    “Mikey lets me into his bar for free, long as I pay attention to the rules. Believe me, I understand rules. You don’t work the street without knowing the rules. The Enforcers make sure of that.”

    “So this one night, I’m looking over the other people in Mikey’s, looking for who I’m gonna make lucky for the night, who’s gonna make me lucky for the night. You look for good clothes, not too much jewelry, but some. You look in their eyes, see if they’re hungry.”

    “And I saw him. Hunched over the bar, two drinks in front of him. He was eyeing me in the mirror. He looked so lonely.”
    “Like I said, I’m married, but sometimes, sometimes I get these urges. I don’t know where they come from. I know better to act on them. I mean, the consequences…”
    “I saw the QR code on his shirt, scanned it with my phone. I typed in ‘Lookin’ for company?’”

    “He didn’t reply via text. He just nodded. I got up and left.”
    “I followed him, not too close. Eight feet, just to be on the safe side. Went out into the parking lot. He was standing by an old VW van. He smiled at me.”
    “I opened the sliding door on my van, crawled into the back. Watched him through the window. He looked nervous. I saw him glance around, making sure no one was watching.”
    “God help me, I got into his van. ‘Close the door,’ he said. and I did.”
    “He was so innocent. ‘What are you looking for,’ I asked him.”
    “He wiped sweat from his brow, and said, ‘I’ve… I’ve never done anything like this before.”
    “After we dealt with the money and talked specifics, he seemed to calm down a little bit. Maybe it felt more like business to him.”
    “His scent was intoxicating. Something between danger and innocence. Being this close to another human being brought forth all sorts of animal instincts. Forbidden instincts.”
    “I reached across the space that separated us and put my hand on his hand. He gasped, just from the touch. His flesh was cold, so very cold.”
    “His fingers were long, and warm, and gentle. To feel such softness on my own hand, my own flesh was a shock, a welcome shock.”
    “And that’s when there was a knock on the window. ‘Open up,’ a voice shouted. Flashing red and blue lights. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”
    “My whole life flashed in front of my eyes. I could see the headlines: CEO Busted. Second degree social intimacy. Unmarried hands touching.
    “I didn’t think prison would be so bad, but it looks like we’ll be spending the time in solitary.”
    “I knew better. I can only hope my wife and kids forgive me when it’s all over. I’ll never touch anyone again.

    1. Wow. This whole thing is such a departure for you, and you nail the shifting perspective and the sense of dystopian wrongness and human weakness. This is so good.

    2. This gives me goosebumps. It's just so...dark.

      I love the way you can tell a whole story with only dialogue, and I love that at first there is that question of "what's happened?" that keeps the reader wondering...until the shape of things begins to emerge.

      Great piece.

    3. Leland. This is so wonderfully chilling. I loved how you spooled it out and drew us in.

    4. Compelling Leland. I want more of this. It is so different from you but I think there's so much more possible, you could take this anywhere.

    5. I love the concept and the way you deliver this, Leland. It's so very well realised too. It's a masterfully well written series of vignettes which build to a chilling finale.

    6. I agree. Way to step out of your normal themes. And the coldness.

  3. Though he was kind of an awkward boy, when he walked out on the edge of his momma’s property he felt like he’d donned a new layer of being a man, protector of his kinfolk, even when the woman in the open convertible laughed uproariously at his sincere warning.

    “Aren’t you precious?” she said, her smile in the gloaming more alive than the leaking sun.

    He enjoyed a quiet life in a small place, perfectly liked by most. He’d only ever had one fight, and that was with Harlan, his good friend, and almost right away they’d laughed about it and grabbed each other’s heads and knuckled them. He once got mad at his mom, but in hindsight that only made him ashamed because his anger had been misplaced and wrong, and she hadn’t deserved it, didn’t deserve it, most likely would never deserve it. And even on the off-chance she deserved it, it wasn’t his call. She sewed spectral deer and ranges of purple hills on handkerchiefs. In her garden she told him where to dig.

    In back, a possum sniffed and lurched her awkward course through brambles. She had lost one of her litter earlier and knew the dearth of sympathy in the world. The clanking proximate of rail assemblage assailed her ears, and she somehow dreamed her life anew, alert to her lost joey. How is it possible the owl might return to her one mislaid and mewling thing?

    When will such perplexities be resolved?

    He was instantly lost. The gap in her front teeth spoke of secrecy and darkness, even in as wide a grin as she turned on him like a torch. She was from away, an away he couldn’t draw even on the sketchpad he carried everywhere, though he eventually tried, with pencils, charcoal, and pastels.

    There exist parts of the world that won’t be rendered.

    Earlier that season, when the winds had whipped themselves into a frenzy, a young vixen made a nest back near the wooded place, and the boy would go check on it, not too close to spook them, not too far to lose interest. He was a kind boy who loved the living things on this pained earth. And he liked to draw them and give them their names.

    “Get in,” she said and made it sound like a fun thing hiding something joyless. “There are places we could go.”

    Even when they’re cruel, women are so appallingly generous.

    He did hesitate, but only for a second or so, and then he climbed in her car, watching an eruption of starlings above the field across from his home find their shape and bloom like a cowl. On the radio he heard a James Brown song that made him want to laugh at first but then cry.

    “I’m nobody. No one,” he said, then managed to blurt, “What is your name?”

    “You can call me Glorious this time around.”

    And then, oh Christ, she laughed, and he did too, though he didn’t know why, and he sensed it was the gravest of errors in a short life mostly bereft of them.

    “Which places do you want to visit?” he asked. “I should go tell my mom.”

    “You should, but you won’t.” And she laughed again, that sound like a waterfall turned to ice. She gripped his thigh hard, and he felt something there, like she’d injected something dark and slow and persistent under his skin, something that squirmed toward his privates and maybe his heart.

    Under darkness, attentive to the shifting traffic of small things, the silent owl also seeks sustenance yet asks for no name.

    Truth is, under bland and quieting skies, the rutted road ahead like a broken arrow, a sudden breeze like the ghosts of childhood whispering, Glorious had taken him, but also it can’t be denied he’d allowed himself to be taken.

    1. "Glorious had taken him, but also it can’t be denied he’d allowed himself to be taken." - That's the way of most things, if only people would admit it! Great ending line.

      As usual, the way you use language is an awesome thing. I especially love some of your descriptive phrases, simple enough but effective because of the precise word choice - "the leaking sun" is one; "bland and quieting skies" is another.

    2. Oh, damn. This is beautiful. I loved, loved that first line. Snagged me right in.

    3. Another wow wow wow, and the tenuous balance of that last sentence. I love it.

    4. Yes,language more often than not leading me to smiles at something funny but still dark. For me it started with "She sewed spectral deer and ranges of purple hills on handkerchiefs." and continue many times after that. It held me captive and I loved it too.

    5. You're a master of metaphor and you always choose such apt comparisons, very often surprising us with your insight. You're a natural poet/lyricist and I'd love to witness you and Dan facing off together. Brilliant as always, David.

    6. Careful what you wish for. 😉 D, maybe I'm reading this wrong, but I read darkness, pain and reflection and acceptance? This is powerful!

  4. The Guitar Who Forgot How To Play

    Over in the corner she stands,
    the guitar who forgot how to play.
    Back when I still could bend my hands,
    we’d play each and every day.

    Now all she does the year ‘round
    is keep dust from hitting the floor.
    That’s a burden to bear heavier than it sounds.
    and I can’t bear the burden of not hearing her anymore.

    So I’ll sit her curves upon my knee,
    take her in hand and disregard the pain.
    Strum her strings to see if she’ll sing to me.
    Perhaps we'll make beautiful music together again.

    Ouch, that hurts my hands as well as my old ears.
    Looks like she’s lost it, I have to say.
    But I’ll never give her up, though, not in a million years.
    We’ll find a way, me and my guitar who forgot how to play.

    1. This is is sad. I get it too. I can no longer form barre chords for too long before the pain in my fingers gets too much. Getting old sucks.

    2. This is heartbreaking and beautiful.

    3. It's lovely, and so sad. I concur, getting old sucks. I love the last line, the hope in it.

    4. Poignant... and I think a lovely song.

    5. Very nice and not so sad. For me there's love here which made me happy. Definitely a song.

    6. This makes me so very conscious of the loss of my callouses. I really do need to pick my guitar up again. This is such a sad refrain, and really hits close to my heart.

    7. Sweet and sad. I like this a lot, and I've been playing every day lately!

  5. Lavabo Inter Innocentes Manus Meas

    I believe I had it a few weeks ago,
    but I’m never really sure.
    On a good day, control’s a slippery thing
    that’ll squirt from my hands as if
    they’re covered with soap suds.
    I hate this feeling; it’s akin
    to my senior moments, when I walk
    into a room and forget why I did.
    Did I ever have it?
    I'm certain of one thing, though:
    doing everything I can to stay alive
    and, by that same token, keep you well.
    But, if you can’t control yourself
    and this all goes to hell…
    at least I know MY hands are clean.

    1. Oh, that last line. Our hands will all be clean.

    2. This contrasts nicely with the story of Pontius Pilate, who though he washed his hands, declaring "I am innocent of this man's blood"... a haunting poem.

    3. The main problem I hear that many people have now is that their hands become dry and inflamed from 'over-washing' and that they end up getting caught red-handed. I love the wit and panache you serve this with, Joe.

    4. Deceptively wrought piece. So many inroads.

  6. Part 1

    The Council, Quarantine Edition

    “Forty-three-and-a-half.” Forty-Four tapped his fingertips against the table.

    “I can’t see any of you.” Her voice through the speakers was faint. Then suddenly loud enough to make him flinch. “Why can’t I see any of you?”

    “Forty-three-and-a-half,” he said gently, rubbing his temples with one hand. “Turn your camera on.”


    Michelle set a cup of coffee next to his laptop, out of his computer’s video range. As she departed, he caught an eyeroll. He turned back to the screen, at the only square without an ex-president in it. Or, in her case, an honorary ex-president.

    “The little icon on the bottom that looks like an old-fashioned video cameras. Or…you know what, ask Chelsea to help you.”

    “Oh. I got it!”

    She smiled from the row of images, but it did little to erase the tension on her face, the shadows and lines that were deepening. They all looked like that these days. Some mornings, in the mirror, he saw not just his father but his grandfather. He returned his focus to the screen, recognizing Forty-Three’s den, heavy with the hunting lodge vibe, one of his own paintings hanging on the wall behind him. Then Thirty-Nine’s modest study, a mason jar of sweet tea beside him. Forty-Two sat in the big chair in his library, a row of biographies about George Washington taking up an entire shelf of his bookcase. It was a nice chair. He remembered the feel of it from his last visit. He missed visiting people. He missed having a beer at Earl’s.

    Forty-three-and-a-half’s image shifted as settled herself into the window. “It’s a comfort, at least, to see you all again.”

    “Wish our next time is under better circumstances,” Forty-three said, a new gravity to his face. “As our first point of order—Forty-four, I apologize, I was speaking out of turn.”

    “No, no,” he said, waving a hand. “I think given the circumstances, we can dispense with Robert’s Rules of Order.”

    “Okay, then. I have concerns about using this format. Security concerns. This is not exactly the most secure way—”

    “Oh, who gives a fuck about that anymore,” Forty-three-and-a-half cut in.

    Forty-Three’s boyish grin was a welcome sight. “Noted, Madam Almost-President.”

    “That wasn’t funny, W.”

    “Then why is Laura back here laughing?”

    “Can we please return to the task at hand?” Forty-four said. “Noted that we’re sacrificing a modicum of security for expedience, and that the question on the table is grave enough to warrant the consequences.”

    “Noted,” Thirty-nine said.

    “Agreed,” Forty-three and Forty-two said together.

    “Agreed,” Forty-four repeated. “Now, ostensibly, the best thing we can do first is take the safe and necessary steps as recommended, and model that behavior and our concerns for the American public. Create some PSAs, not a whiff of politics. Use some humor, if you’re so moved. But there will be an end to this, or at least a pause, and come November, there will be an election.”

    1. Part 2


      Forty-three-and-a-half shifted nervously in her chair.

      “We’re…” Forty-three visibly swallowed. “We’re not gonna try to neutralize the target again, are we?”

      “Not the best course of action at this time,” Forty-four said. “I’m fairly certain the rest of you agree.”

      The expression on Forty-three-and-a-half’s face led him to believe that she might want to do it with her own two hands or at least had some new ideas on how to make it look like an accident. He shifted his focus away from her window.

      “This is why I’m proposing Operation Firewall.”

      Forty-three’s left eyebrow quirked. “We’ll build a wall and make Forty-five pay for it?”

      Forty-four allowed himself a brief smile. “Essentially, but not exactly. Let politics take care of itself. We have bigger issues at the moment. We combine our estimable resources to create a firewall between humanity and this virus. In essence, we’ll do what he hasn’t—make America safe again. Or at least as safe as humanly possible.”

      “Are we gonna make masks?” Forty-three piped up, reaching for something off to his left side. “Cause I got some great concepts.”

      “Interesting, but maybe put a pin in that.” Pouting, Forty-three pushed an object to the side. “I propose, owing to your winning partnership in helping in other pandemics around the world, that you and Forty-two combine forces to give the people national, rapid testing.”

      A smile brightened Forty-two’s face. “We can do that. I know we can do that. George, buddy. We’ll get the band back together. Call Bill and Melinda, get Bezos and Musk in on it, too.”

      Forty-four nodded. “I know you can do it.”

      Forty-three-and-a-half sighed. “He’ll just take the credit for it.”

      “We have no control over that,” Forty-four said. “But at least it will get done and it will get done quickly and competently. In the meantime, we implement Phase Two.”

      All the windows on his screen registered faces in question.

      He took a deep breath, index finger poised on his trackball. “I’ve invited a guest speaker.”

      Another window appeared. Various mouths opened and eyes blinked.

      Forty-three-and-a-half was the first to fire. “Barry. What are you doing? Do you honestly believe—after what she did to you?”

      Forty-four held up a hand. “I know what you’re thinking. But give me a minute here. Let her speak for herself. Please, continue.”

      “Hello, and I thank you to be allowed to help. I stop drinking Kool-Aid, this is what they say? He is bad man, I know that now, and that I was very wrong, and I want done with this business.”

      “He’ll ruin you,” Forty-three-and-a-half said. “You get that, right? He’ll paint you as a traitor.”

      “I don’t care, do you? I get better offer from other billionaire. Me and Barron, we move to blue state, we will be heroes.” Her smile turned sly. “Now, where do we start?”

    2. Ha ha, I cheered at the end. I so wish this would happen. And you let it unfold at a perfect pace here, with authentic-sounding dialogue and everything. I loved it.

    3. Oh my goodness! That ending! I love the whole thing, but that ending is so perfect. I wish this was real life.

      Also “We’ll build a wall and make Forty-five pay for it?” made me laugh out loud.

    4. Yes, I meant to highlight that line and forgot! Also, I only just noticed "I don't care, do you?" Perfect!

    5. Bitterly ironic and sardonic, and I think it might just work... quick, I've got a Zoom meeting to interrupt! I love this whole series, you know?

    6. From your laptop to you know who's ears. Loved it.

    7. I love the dialogue and characterisation on this. I'm ashamed to not be as familiar with the numerical order of many of the earlier presidents as I should be, but I think I can make out most of them. It's fabulously well written, by the way.

    8. Too funny. Sticking the landing! I can tell you have a blast with these.

  7. Technician Jones led him through the door, “This is the man,” he said, dropping the pitch of his voice. This is the one we call The Pilot.”

    Doug shook his head. “I can’t see anything. Is this some sort of joke?” He took another look at the mound in the middle of the room, trying to see past the technology into its core. Deep inside, there was what looked like a barrel, too small to be what he’d expected. “Are you saying that he’s in there? How old did you say he was?”

    Jones nodded. “Yes, and he’s thirty-five. He’s a man, just like you or me. He’s – I think he was about sixty-five inches at the time of the launch – but, you know how it is, it depends on gravity, the way you bear your weight, lots of factors you’d think about until you began to develop the technology. He’s suspended inside in a kind of nutrient broth, tucked up snug with his arms wound tight around him and his legs bunched together. It’s the most economical use of the volume we can enclose. He’s a volunteer; in fact, he was one of the scientists who helped develop the technology. He knew what it would entail: he approved the design for the casket.”

    “And you’re saying he’s in there? All of him?”

    1. Whoever it was who’d named the enclosure a casket must have had a sick mind, but looking at it, it seemed to him that a corpse would have felt claustrophobic if he’d been offered this as his final resting place, let alone a man who'd be kept alive in it for what would now be thirteen months. It was inconceivable that he could remain sane in there for even a small fraction of that time, but the reports which Doug had received seemed to contradict his initial assessment.

      That was why he’d requested this interview.

      The technician was now at his workspace, dismissing the usual generic screensavers, then logging into what seemed a simple password prompt.
      It was at odds with the rest of the security Doug had seen earlier – magnetic pass-cards supplemented with biometric facial scans and then a spoken response - but now they were through those, he guessed that the need for further stringent restrictions might not be necessary.

      “Commander Hayles is fit and well. He’s conscious and he’s fully responsive and if you’ll wait, he should be able to answer a few of your questions. Naturally, there’ll be some restrictions due to the need for confidentiality but if limit your enquiries to just generic matters he should be good to reply to almost anything you’ll ask.”

      The largest of the room’s monitors occupied most of one wall, standing above a water cooler and one of the more advanced pod-based coffee machines. There were also several prominent banners bearing sponsors’ logos, none of them familiar to Doug, although one referred to aerospatial design and another to communications. It suggested that this room was the focal point of some major-league budgetary spending and it seemed odd that was so little to show for the vast volume of money that must have been coming in.

      There must be more here than what he was seeing for them to stay interested.

    2. I want more! Very intriguing situation, and "the casket" comparison is chilling.

    3. Intriguing indeed! Dark enough to keep me reading!

    4. I have so many questions. And they ain't "generic matters". More please!

    5. Returning to comment on the later entries, and I can only ditto the others. Would read more.

    6. Wow, your imagination. Always want more.

  8. I.
    My eyes see maybe too much.
    To do justice for the current squeaky wheel,
    Seems like an option for those who give a shit.
    So no one likes my difference of opinion,
    I’m not judging.
    I’m not even pretending to judge.
    Just chilling
    like I know what’s going to happen
    But it still busts me wide open when I do.
    Know, I mean.
    What the hell do I need a gift for if
    I don’t care enough to open it?


    His shade is not eatable.
    Or drinkable.
    Or even alive.
    His shade is memorable.
    And yeah, I might take a taste
    But not because it tastes good.
    I do it to let whatever his shade is
    Inside me.
    A little at a time.
    More and more lately.
    He is becoming, part of me, and then
    I am everything.

    1. I love "His shade is not eatable"... brilliant line... and I love the openness of the soul of both of these.

    2. And the tension between the two meanings of "shade" really works.

    3. I love the note eatable line too. Really, love the whole thing. Super cool

  9. III.

    I hate you so much
    it burns like twin clogs filled with hot coals under my feet.
    I can stand here forever
    and only measure the heat against how much of your love I’m getting.
    It’s a prideful thing to love the thing you make.
    I know that. And I know that’s your excuse.
    What’s really at hand is something more
    lunar and mercurial.
    Like a cycle within a plan within a pithing circle.
    In every eccentricity that abounds
    Erykah Badu ain’t gotten nothing on you.
    You’re a whipping post in the storm.
    Something to hold onto or to flail myself against.
    Mother, can you spare anything at all?
    I’m a ragged mess of need.
    I’m fruit of a rotten tree.
    I’ll never indulge, only repulse.
    And without you,
    I’ll never see what I want to be.

    1. Love it all, but especially the final five lines. I might be misreading, but there's an implied return of the "shade" from part II., especially in the final line. There's something paradoxical about it. Love it!

    2. You've captured such bitterness and venom here, Lily. I'd hate to be on your bad side. This is fabulous though - all three of them are - I'm simply dumbfounded, really...

    3. Hey Mark, these are a device I'm thinking about using for a character I'm writing who happens to be a poet. She also has some traumatic relationships she has to overcome and they've made her a little intense. I, on the other hand, am a pussy cat. Meow. lol.

  10. Sometime tomorrow

    When this is over
    We will meet
    And it will be as if
    The weeks did not exist.

    It will be like yesterday.

    We will fall into place
    As old friends do,
    And talk of simple things
    As we always did.

    We’ll be slightly wiser,
    And place more value
    On transient things
    When this is over.

    1. This is so delicate and gentle, transient things within transient things.

    2. Makes me want to pick up my guitar and start fingerpicking

  11. This has a wistful, melancholic air to it. It's quite lovely. I hope you're right.


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