Sunday, February 5, 2017

Excerpt from DAVE! (A Novel from the Future)

December 23, 2030

Hey everyone,
To those reading this email, I want to say thank you. I’m trying this little social experiment before it’s no longer possible for anyone to do social experiments. Plus, my wife left me and I’m bored. I don’t understand it. I came home, and there she was, sitting on the couch, sobbing. The mascara making really unattractive streaks down her face, giving her a bawling Tammy Faye look. Reluctantly, I asked her what’s wrong. Her answer to my very legitimate question was a very uncalled-for slap across the face. It wasn’t the first time I had been slapped by her, but this one had some real meat to it. In fact, I can still feel it, if I think hard enough about it. Apparently she had some sort of idea in her head that I was cheating on her. I could care less about chasing strange. I don’t even like the familiar, never mind the strange. Sucks to say, but I’ve never had much of a sex drive, even as a teenager. Could be low testosterone. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve always felt like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. In either case, I had always been that way, and she knew it when she married me. Anyway, there was no convincing her that I wasn’t sleeping around The lipstick on the collar was just the design of my shirt. She bought it for me for Christmas, for fuck sake. I tried explaining all this to her, but she didn’t buy it. She didn’t buy any of it. So much for trust. Anyway, here I am in an empty house. She’s gone, and all she left me with of hers was her Terence Trent D’Arby CD collection. She said she could only listen to “Wishing Well” so many times. Whatever. I don’t have a CD player, anyway (I don’t think anybody does), so they’re of no use to me. I suppose I could find an old ripping program and upload them, but what would be the point? I can only listen to “Wishing Well” so many times, too. I would trade every one of those CDs to have her back, but it’s pointless in even thinking about it; her mind’s made up.
So here I am, writing this chain letter. All of you on my email list know who I am, but I’m hoping you will forward it to all of your friends, and add some stories of your own. Tell about your lives, tell about how you feel about the state of the world. Send the email to all friends on your list, and hopefully they’ll do the same. Keep this thing going. At least until email ceases to exist. Before the earth breathes its last breath, which may be sooner than we all think.
My name is Glenn Richter. I live at 125 Westboro Baptist Church Lane, Missouri. Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was a fairly successful real estate salesman. My claim to fame, and also my biggest sale, was selling an Oprah Winfrey impersonator an impersonation of Oprah Winfrey’s mansion. I made a pretty good living. I wasn’t rich, by any means, but I did all right, if I do say so myself. I was sitting on top of the world. Or at least, I was sitting somewhere around Finland. Recently, though, I had to quit my job as my wife was spreading rumors around town that I was a philanderer. I couldn’t really disagree, the main reason being I had no understanding of that word. But when I learned what it meant, which happened to be right before I caught her crying in the living room, and was able to call bullshit, it was too late. My reputation was ruined, and sales plummeted. No one trusts a philanderer.
I was a millennium baby, born on May 5, 2000, and grew up in a really small town in Kentucky. My father was a pipe fitter, or at least that’s what he called it. Some call it “porn fluffer”. Not a very prestigious job, and he’d often come home smelling of stale chlorine and coconut oil, but it paid fairly decent, and he was able to purchase a house in the suburbs, right outside of Loserville. We lived there with my two brothers. My brother Dennis, after he turned sixteen, decided he wanted to be my sister instead. My brother Cody was, and still is, a good-for-nothing drug addict. I say good for nothing, but he’s actually pretty good at scoring me drugs, when the mood hits me.
My mom was absent. She went insane shortly after my birth, and the last anyone had heard of her, she was living under a bridge by the Cumberland River, acting like a troll and demanding bridge crossers answer three questions before they pass. Since traffic went by at a rather quick pace, no one really understood what she was asking, so most just threw change out their windows.
So, this country. Dammit. It all started, I think, when Mel Gibson won the election of 2026. We thought we knew what we were getting. He seemed like an honest, down-to-earth type of guy. All of his racism and fascism and drunken ramblings were out in the open, so we thought he had nothing to hide. We thought. But everyone has something to hide. Everyone has an agenda. You, me, the mailman, the guy selling chicken wings from the front stoop of his apartment building, everyone. Every right winger’s dream, to build a wall across the Mexican border, came to fruition. But he didn’t stop there. He put a border wall around the entire United States, which included the borders of Mexico and Canada, as well as both coasts. Even republicans found that a little excessive. A lot of tax dollars were spent on that. That, and military. We decided to give up Alaska and Hawaii. For one reason, it didn’t make sense to build walls around them if none of us citizens could get in. We would have to build two very expensive highly-reinforced tunnels or bridges. The second reason, and what I feel to be the most important, is all of those offers that companies gave away, like McDonald’s two for one deal as well as their Monopoly game, were not valid in Alaska and Hawaii. Maybe there were other reasons, too, but I don’t work for the government, so I don’t know.
I, for one, miss being able to go to Hawaii for vacation. We used to do it all the time when we were children. Dad set aside a lot of his fluffer money for us to be able to take vacations as a family. While I spent most of my time hang-gliding, beach-lounging, and para-sailing with Dad, my brother Cody spent most of his time stoned as hell on Maui Wowie, and trying to score heroin; whereas my brother Denise, who was once Dennis, spent most of his time taking in the very large vagabond transgender scene that Hawaii had to offer. Selfish.
Now back in the day we never would have thought that Mel Gibson would have been elected president in 2026. Not because he’s a prick, not because of his time being spent making Apocalypto II (I thought the first one was awesome. The sequel, were it to ever be finished, would probably do as well as most sequels do), but because it was 2026. A number that is not divisible by four, and therefore, not an election year. But toward the end of Donald Trump’s reign, he decided he wanted “a couple more years”. This became somewhat of a slogan for his campaign, which was kind of lame and too vague to be much of a slogan, I thought. But he was so revered at that time, that people walked around carrying signs and wearing shirts that had that slogan on it: A COUPLE MORE YEARS! (My guess is he wasn’t that revered, and he paid to have his support teams seem larger than they actually were. And why not? He could afford it. The same way he paid to have protesters protest his own rallies.)
And so it happened. Trump was in for another couple years, which threw off the schedule of any future elections. Furthermore, to keep things consistent, they also changed the schedule of the Summer Olympics and Leap Year so that they could still fall on the same year as election years, as they always had been. This would apparently make things less confusing. Now, those are two international events, so you would think the rest of the world would put up a stink. But we’re America, so fuck you. (Of course, you know, that became America’s slogan.)
So yeah, Mel and that crazy wall. I realize that after 9/11, things changed for the worse. We suffered more frequent terrorist attacks. America’s distrust of Muslims grew. But we could have done something other than get every card-carrying Muslim out of the country, and send them to the Middle East. Most of them didn’t even hail from the Middle East. There were Muslims from Africa, China, the UK, and even ones born right here on American soil. Not only was shipping out all the Muslims wrong, the plan itself was expensive and poorly thought out. They were sent away with a small amount of “gate money”, much like prisoners get upon release, which helped ease their burdens a little. Maybe. But this gate money was funded on the taxpayer’s dime. Also, even though we got rid of the majority of them, some were left, and those, more often than not, happened to be the actual terrorists. Only the law-abiding ones left on their own recognizance. Also, we had no great plan to keep them from sneaking back in.
Donald figured he could get the wall built in those couple more years he had. That was a long shot. Masons were no longer allowed to exist, as they were thought of to be part of some cult, which was no longer allowed here. So there were really no skilled brick layers. But he gave it a try, and actually got a fair amount done, at least across the Mexican border, before his term was up and Uncle Mel finally got his turn in office to complete it.
He made us call him “Uncle Mel”. He thought that “Mr. President” sounded “too stuffy”. Now, I had my share of crazy uncles. One even insisted that he hailed from a meteorite that crash landed on earth back in 1806. Now, that would make him not only very old, but also very dead, as he would have burned up when the meteorite hit the atmosphere. Yeah, I had my share of crazy uncles, and I didn’t need one more. And I never had an uncle as crazy as old Uncle Mel. He had his share of stupid agendas, but priority number one was getting those walls up. We soon ran out of brick and concrete, and what was erected was a combination of brick, steel beams, chicken wire, wood, and “old-fashioned American ingenuity”. Whatever that was. Not very effective, but it was something, I guess. There were parts of the wall that were nice, that even had some decorations and some potted plants hung up, and those were the parts they tended to show on television. But we all knew how the rest of it looked. A lot of us lived by the ugly parts.
If the wall was the end of it, I could probably live with it. I mean, I don’t really know any Muslims or Jews, so it doesn’t really affect me personally. It sucks, however, I could deal. But there’s far more to this regime than some stupid barricade. Right at this moment, there are more poor people living in America than there have ever been in history. There are more legislations preventing any sort of anarchistic movements. Nowadays, you can’t say anything bad about the government. Trump passed laws preventing what he called “libel and slander” against his administration, making it a civil violation to even comment on something so innocuous as Trump’s hair. You could get the shit sued out of you. Nowadays, it’s a criminal violation, not a civil one, and you could end up in federal prison for badmouthing the government. Of course, you’ll note here that I really don’t give a rat’s sweet fuck about the law. I’m not going to continue living under this dictatorship and smile the whole time. Stalin’s dead. Hitler’s dead. Hussein’s dead. Bin Laden’s dead. This type of autocracy should have died along with them. Alas, here we are. The end of the world is coming, friends.
Maybe my mom’s craziness is genetic, and I’m being paranoid. But what tells me otherwise is I’m not the only one who thinks this way. We can’t all be crazy.
Something is going on. Society as we know it is in for some major changes. I don’t know what, or how long it will take, but we are on a downward slope to hell.
Anyway, Merry Christmas. Hope all is well with you guys. Ciao.

Glenn Richter.

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Excerpt from A is for Adam

1. The Sixth Day

A bug crawled across his face, waking him up.
"All right, all right. I'm up. Jesus." He wasn't sure who Jesus was, since he was the only living human in the Universe; it just seemed like the right thing to say. The bug crawled across his face every morning around this time, so he never overslept. He wasn't sure what would happen if he did oversleep, since he didn't have a job. He rolled over to check the alarm clock by his nightstand. But there was no alarm clock. Or nightstand. Or time.
The bug was hungry. Adam found a large bright green leaf, picked it up off the ground, blew off the dirt that had accumulated on it, and set it in front of his bug friend. Why the insect couldn't find his own damned food was beyond him. But his was not to question the ways of the Universe.
He needed to get dressed and start his day. The garden needed watering, and it wasn't like anyone else was going to do it. He opened the top drawer of his bureau, which was full of several different versions of the same piece of clothing: A leaf, like the one he just fed the bug, with a vine tied in a large loop through it. There was really no need for clothing, since modesty was a thing of the future. No, this wasn't out of modesty at all. This was totally utilitarian, to keep the sheep from nobbling at his privates. He had made several hundred versions of these leaf clothes , mostly out of boredom, and on the last few, he figured out how to make the knot adjustable in case he gained or lost weight. There were plenty of animals for him to slaughter, so he never had to go hungry, but it was a giant pain to have to constantly kill the animals, prepare them, and cook them, every single day. So some days he went without eating and lost a little weight. Fruits and vegetables were abundant, but they did very little to keep the weight on. Plus, he was getting pretty sick of the lack of variety.
One food he was curious about was the Fruit that hung from the special tree in the center of the garden. He was very tempted to eat one, just to see what it tasted like, since it looked delicious. But God said no. He was never sure why God said no. Something about how the tree possessed knowledge, and if he ate the fruits that blossomed from it, he would suddenly know things. At first it all sounded a little like science fiction to him, and a lot like bullshit. And so what if he did know things? What was the harm in that? But who was he to question God? Soon, however, he began to believe that maybe there was some truth to this knowledge thing after all. He often caught one of the goats eating a fallen Fruit from the Tree, and he was beginning to believe that the goat was becoming smarter than him. It had even learned how to walk on its hind legs, and was beginning to speak Arabic. This seemed a little too close to evolution, and he was quite surprised that God didn't put a stop to that right away. If this kept up, soon the monkeys may start turning into people. And that was some real messed up stuff. He stared at the Tree. Some day he was going to eat one of those Fruits. He'd be damned if he was going to be outwitted by a goat.
He stood at the edge of his garden, watering it. And a very large garden it was. Although large compared to what, he wasn't quite sure. There were fig trees and pear trees, juniper bushes and blueberry bushes. He would have been quite proud of it, were pride not a sin. It was beautiful, if he did say so himself, and he took great pains to make it that way. If any visitors did show up, they would be greeted with the most amazing sights and intoxicating smells. He had enough to feed an army, and it was a shame to let this all be for nothing. He couldn't help but feel that it was all quite wasteful. No matter; it wasn't he that was wasting it. It was whomever created this garden. Was that a sin to think that? He hoped not. So far, he was without sin, and he wished to keep it that way.

He had never been far enough out into the garden to lose sight of his own hut, so he had no idea just how massive it was. He had plenty to eat all around him, and there was no need to venture out any farther. But he was sure there was more to see way out there. More delights and wonderments that he hadn't discovered yet. So why not? He was curious, as well as bored. He was hoping curiosity and boredom weren't sins; he couldn't wait until God came out with a list or handbook or something.

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Excerpt from It'll End in Tears

It started out like any other day.  The alarm went off.  I got up.  I went downstairs and got the coffee started.  I went back upstairs into my home office and grabbed my weed box.  I scraped the remaining ashes from the previous night into the trash.  I put fresh weed into the pipe and went out on the back deck to smoke.  I came in and got ready to take a shower when I remembered something: Elisa had to get up early today to go to her meeting for work.  I could still hear the shower running when I approached the bathroom door.  Shit.  Well, I guess today would be one of those days when I wouldn’t take a shower, but I had to get in there to get my things.  I could use the upstairs bathroom to take my vitamins and fix my hair and take a shit.
“I just need to get my stuff,” I said as I opened the bathroom door, then thought how rude it was of me to not say good morning first.
“Good morning,” I added.
“Good morning,” I repeated a little louder when I got no response.
“Jesus Christ, you scared me,” she said as she dropped the soap.  God, she looked so sexy behind the frosted glass door.  She looked even sexier bending over to pick up the soap.
“Just wanted to say good morning,” I replied.
“Good morning to you,” she said, which put the conversation to rest.
I grabbed my toothbrush, the toothpaste, my vitamins and my hair gel and deodorant and went to the bedroom to get dressed and then into the upstairs bathroom.
Our bedroom is upstairs, but the “master bath” is downstairs.  When we bought the house there was only one bathroom, which was on the second floor, and we figured it would be much better to turn the downstairs library into a large, luxurious bathroom, rather than trying to expand the one upstairs and then adding a smaller one downstairs.  And you weren’t there to help, so don’t criticize.
On this day I had that blank okay feeling, and I knew when the morning weed wore off I would be back to feeling that way again.  Except then I’d also be tired on top of that.
I stepped out of the bathroom to find Elisa standing there wrapped in a towel.  I just wanted to rip that towel right off her and drag her into the bedroom to ravage her naked body, but instead I just said, “Hey.”
“Hey,” she said back, giving me the look of disdain that I knew so well.
“What?” I inquired, wanting to get whatever argument was about to ensue over with and get on with my day.
“You made a mess all over the kitchen counter.  There’s coffee grounds and weed everywhere.”
“I cleaned it up,” I said.  I did it half-heartedly, but still...
“Your bowl is still on the counter.”
“I didn’t even have cereal this morning,” I tried to joke with her.  I knew that wasn’t the bowl she was talking about.
“I’ll take care of it,” I thought, but didn’t say.  Instead what came out was: “Shut the fuck up, you dumb bitch.”
Now, most guys would get their asses wrapped up all nicely in a body bag for a comment like that.  But I’ve called my wife much much worse.  Slut, whore, bitch, and the ever-popular “C” word.  All in jest, mind you.  And normally I do get punched.  All in jest, mind you.  But today she was in no mood for joking or punching.  Today she had something on her mind.  And today I did not want to know what that was.
But she told me anyway.  “Why do you insist on smoking weed every morning?”
“I’ve been smoking weed every morning since the day we met, except for lately because I’ve been low on supplies.  Nothing’s changed.  Why do you insist on calling me out on it every morning?”
“I don’t know.  It’s getting old.”
“So is this conversation,” I said, which I thought was pretty clever.  “And besides, I’ve been without weed for over a year.  And now that I found a connection I’m going to enjoy every day that I have it.”
I had lost the only marijuana connection I had when a client of mine decided he was cured and no longer needed my help.  He had been “cured” for some time, I thought, but who am I to deny him treatment just because I didn’t think he needed it?  Plus, he had the stuff.  Probably not the best thing to do, buying drugs from a client, but desperate times...
“Look at you, you’re giddy every time you talk about weed.”
“Well, it makes me happy.”
“I’m glad something does,” she said.
I really didn’t like where this conversation was going.  Not one bit.  It sounded like this was about more than pot.  “Are we done here?” I said, looking at the clock.  “I’m going to be late for my first appointment.”
“Oh dammit,” she said, realizing that she had completely forgotten about the meeting.  “I just realized I’ve completely forgotten about the meeting.  Dammit.”
“Well, I’m outty,” I said, and moved in for a kiss.
“You smell like pot,” she informed me.
“I brushed my teeth,” I replied.
“Then it’s your goatee or something.  Something smells like weed.”
I made a mental note to rub some coffee into my beard, and opted for a kiss on her cheek instead.
“Have a good day at work.  Love you.”
“You too,” she replied, and I was out the door.
And now that I’m thinking of it, did she mean You have a good day at work too, or I love you too, or both?
And also, I forgot to clean off the counter.
I made it to work on time, but barely.  Of course, I had to speed like a bastard and I think I cut some old lady off, but they’re always doing it to other people, so why can’t I do it back?  No sir, I ignored the withered old finger sticking out of the window and continued onward.
And the second I met Bryan I realized that it wouldn’t have mattered whether I was late or on time or not there at all.  This guy was on a different planet.
[If I speak frankly about people it’s because I am frank. These are my notes, and I can write about people however I want to, because it’s for my eyes only.  And it’s about time us therapists rose up and told how we really feel about people instead of keeping up the therapeutic curtain.  A good portion of the people I see on a weekly basis are total fucking nutjobs, and Bryan is the King of Nutland.]
He’s not much to look at, about five-foot-seven and portly, semi-bald and sporting a mustache.  One thing I can’t stand looking at is a lone mustache.  Unless you’re a cop, or gay, or a gay cop, grow some chin hair to accompany that lip hair you got.
He has a strange way of acting that is not unlike that of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas- this paranoid, choppy quick-speak like at any moment something was going to burst through the door into my office and eat him alive.
“So, it says here you’re here because you lost your job,” I said, pointing out his answer on the dumb questionnaire that my receptionist makes all my new clients fill out for no apparent reason.  I mean, we’ll cover all of that material eventually.
“I didn’t lose my job,” Bryan answered.  “I quit.”
“Then why did you put ‘I lost my job’ on the form?” I asked, knowing damn well what the answer would be.
“I didn’t.”  I really didn’t want to hear his inanities at the moment; my mind was still wrapped up in what was going on at home, at just what Elisa wanted to say that she didn’t get the chance to say.  “Somebody else filled this out,” he said, sounding appalled that I would even question him.  “This isn’t even my handwriting,” he explained, with a tone in his voice that implied that I should know that.
“Well then, who the fuck?” I said.  [I find it’s best to speak to people on a level that they can relate with, rather than carry any air of pomposity.]
“I don’t know,” he said.  “Nor do I care.  Somebody was trying to send me messages.”
Oh here we go, one of T.H.E.M.
“Messages, huh?” I asked.  “What the fuck?”
“I’ve been trying to ignore them, but I just got to the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
“Well don’t beat around the bush, dude.  Spill it.”
“They kill people,” he whispered.
“Who does?” I asked.
“I don’t know, dammit.  I...don’t...know.”
The drama was kind of awesome.
“Well, I’m sure they don’t mean to,” I said, trying to follow whichever direction he was leading me.
“No, they do,” he said.  “And they’re messages meant for me.”
“Okay.  Fine, so they kill people,” I agreed.  “What makes you think I can help you?  I’m not an investigator or anything.”
“Because I’m not sure where else to go,” he said.  “Plus, I was hoping you could help me kick the drug problem I have.”
“Oh, so that’s what this is all about?  Drugs?  Let’s get one thing straight here, I can certainly help you with that, but when you come into my office, you’d better not be high.”  The irony was not lost here, by the way; I was pretty fucking stoned.  “If you’re high I can’t help you.  None of the stuff I’m saying will stick.  Not even the really sticky stuff.”
“I’m not high right now,” he said.
“And you still think people are leaving you messages?”
“So can you help me or not?” he asked.
Oh boy, do I want to deal with this guy?  Do I want to commit to that?
“Yes I can,” I said.  It’s what I get paid to do.  I begrudgingly added: “So tell me your story.”
“Okay, well it all started about a year ago.  I had been working there for a while and wasn’t really sure if I was into it or not.  But the job started to grow on me, you know?”
“And what is it you do?”
“I am... was a cable guy.”
“So I get up to this one house.  I had an appointment to tweak their signal.”
“Tweak their signal?” I asked.  “Is that the official term?”
“Your attempt at wit will only get you further from your goal,” he said, in a tone not unlike Hannibal Lecter.
“Which is...?” I asked.
“Making me well, Dr. Chavez.  Making me well,” he said, knowing full well my name was not “Dr. Chavez”.  He continued.  “Anyway I had an appointment to do some tweaking because their DVR was not working and they had a slow Internet connection.  And as I got up to the house I could tell right away that something wasn’t right,” he said, and then added, “I just got a real creepy feelin’,” with a tone not unlike that of an old gold-mining pioneer.
“So I went up to the door and rang the bell. Nobody came.  So I knocked, thought maybe the bell wasn’t working.  Still nobody.  So surreptitiously I opened the door.”
Surreptitiously?  Who says that?
“And came upon a most horrible scene.  It was an old lady, propped up in an easy chair, her throat slit from ear to ear, and a big slice of birthday cake in her lap.”
I would have left the birthday cake part out.  Too creepy.
“So I screamed like a banshee, and turned tail to run, but then I thought, No, you came here to fix the cable and that is what you’re going to do.  And that’s what I did.  I fiddled and tweaked and soon the DVR was recording fine, and the Internet connection ran as fast as a...well...a roadrunner.”
“And then what did you do?”
“Nothing,” he said.  “What could I do?  I couldn’t tell anyone. They’d think that I killed her.”
“Why would they think that?” I prodded.  “You could have just said you found her that way, as you did.”
“Yeah, but they would never believe me.  Look into these eyes, Doc.”
I did.  I didn’t see anything.
“These are the eyes of a killer.”
I examined them more closely.  A little red from the drug binge the night before, maybe, but they certainly did not look like the eyes of a killer.
“I’ve never harmed anyone in my life, but they would never believe that.  They’d lock me away for life.”
“Okay,” I said.  “So you found one dead old lady.”
“One murdered old lady.  A year ago.  Why are you quitting your job now?”
“Because that wasn’t it.  It kept happening.  The next one was not a month after that.  Snow on channel six.  A little child dead in his dead mother’s arms, both poisoned, from the looks of the froth on their lips.  And a few weeks after that.  Upgrade to the Premium package.  A young couple strangled to death.  And more and more frequently they came until it was every day, and now it’s every house I go to I find somebody dead in it.”
“Murdered?” I asked.
“Somebody murdered in it,” he said.
“Hmm,” I said.  It was all I had.
“So what do you think?” he asked.
“Well, like I said, I’m not a detective or anything,” I said.  I didn’t believe a word of what he was telling me, but that really goes without saying, c'mon.
“But what do you think it all means?” he asked.
“Why does it have to have any meaning?  Why do you think these are messages?  Maybe there’s some sort of strange coincidence.”
“Yeah, I told myself that,” Bryan said.  “For the first hundred or so.  Then it started to raise my suspicion.”
“And this whole time you’ve never been accused of anything?”
“No, that’s just it,” he said.  “Nobody ever found the bodies.  There were no reports of people dead or even missing.  It was as though none of it ever happened.”
“And what do you think?” I asked.
“Look into these eyes, Doc,” he said.  “These are the eyes of somebody who’s scared shitless.  Who’s scared shitless...but knows something.”
So I looked in his eyes again, to humor him.  But this time he was right.  They did look like that.
I didn’t know whether to keep patronizing him or to put an end to this fantasy right away.  Maybe I’m not a good therapist.  I have my doubts.
I let him ramble on and on about some other things, but I couldn’t concentrate anymore.  The weed was wearing off and all I was thinking about was whether or not Pauline had brewed any more coffee.  And the thing Elisa had to tell me.  The thing that went unsaid.

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Excerpt from Those Eyes

Ronnie decided that from now on he was going to control his destiny.  No more would he sit around and watch life happen.  He was going to take charge of the changes in his own life.  Ronnie Jones knew that Helen Hathaway was the girl he was going to spend the rest of his life with.  This is why he made plans with her for their future together.  This is why he stuck his rod in her.  This is why she was wearing his class ring.  This is why he knew she needed more than his class ring.
This is why he was standing in the middle of the local jewelry store, eyeing some gorgeous ring that he couldn’t afford.
The ring was a beautifully crafted, one carat diamond ring, with what appeared to be raised rose petals on the sides.  He wondered something.
“I wonder something,” he told the jeweler.
“Yes sir?” The jeweler asked him.  The jeweler was a short, portly man.  One that probably measured the same in diameter as he did in height.  He was well-groomed, from his polished wing tips all the way up to his perfectly coifed hairdo.  He had a pencil thin mustache, the kind that John Waters were to wear, had he been wearing his mutacsche back then.  Sorry.  Mustache is a hard word for me to type quickly.  His shirt was buttoned all the way up to the top, with a nice little tie dangling down.  It made people wonder just where he got a shirt with a neck size that big, and just where he got such a short tie.  He smelled of Old Spice, which was the smell of the year.
“Can I have things carved into the top of it?  Like put an R on one side, and an H on the other side, right underneath the rose petals?”
“Absolutely, sir.  We pride ourselves on our custom crafting here.”
“Great.  So how much will the ring come to altogether?”
“Um, let me see...” he flipped the price tag over.   “Ah yes, thirteen hundred dollars.”
Now for those of you thinking, hmmm... not bad for a one carat diamond, remember that this is the fifties, and thirteen hundred dollars back then was enough to buy a couple of record albums, a block of cheese, and a small farming community.
“Oh,” Ronnie said, and he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.  Back then, people would be foolish to carry that much cash around with them, but then again back then, people were foolish.  Just look at the hairstyles.  Anyway, Ronnie was foolish enough to have a silly hairstyle, but not foolish enough to carry around that much cash.  Actually, he wasn’t even foolish enough to have that much cash ever.  So he did the next best thing.  He reached into the part of his wallet where he kept his credit cards.  Just then, his heart sunk when he realized that it was empty.  Somebody must have stolen his Visa card.  His heart lifted a little, though, when he realized that nobody stole his Visa card, there was just no such thing in 1956.
“I’m sorry.  I don’t have that kind of money,” Ronnie said.
The jeweler looked at him with the most peculiar expression.  “Sir, forgive me if I seem rude in saying this, but I know who you are, Ronnie Jones.  What do you mean you don’t have that kind of money?  Your father is the richest man in town, as far as I know, and you’re telling me you don’t have any money?”
Ronnie didn’t know why, but he felt completely insulted.  He needed to teach this guy a lesson.  He pulled his arm back and punched the guy right in the stomach with all the strength he had.  Since the jeweler had his head turned, and since he had such a fat stomach, he never noticed.  Ronnie’s hand just sunk into his belly like he was gutting a fish, and then it slid back out.
He thought he’d try a different approach.  “Listen, I’m not really comfortable asking my dad for money.  He always tells me, ‘a penny saved is a penny earned, but a penny not earned never existed in the first place.’  I mean, sure, I’ve asked him for money to go the store, and maybe to grab a bite to eat, but this is a ring for my girl, man.  I kinda wanted to do this on my own.”
The jeweler looked at Ronnie with a mixture of empathy and malevolence, “I completely understand.  In that case, there’s nothing we can do for you.”
“Don’t you guys have some sort of credit program, or a contract with a private loan agency, or something?”
“You must be joking, right?” the jeweler said.  “We are a local neighborhood jeweler.  We’re not Tiffany’s.  Now get the fuck out of my store until you finally buckle and ask your pop for some greenbacks, daddy-o.”
And with that, Ronnie slumped his way out of the store, desperate to get that ring, but not so desperate that he’d ask his dad for one dime.

“So how was school today, son?” Ronnie’s father asked.  He was one month from graduating- Ronnie, not his father- and right now school was the last thing on his mind.
“Fine,” he answered.
Ronnie’s father was a tender, kindhearted man, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that by the looks of him.  He was probably pushing 278, but he wasn’t fat.  Not for his six foot four frame.  He was a big man, but he wore the weight well.  Like the jewelry store clerk, he always dressed nice for work, but unlike the jewelry store clerk, he wasn’t a jewelry store clerk.  Instead, he just happened to be the owner of the largest grocery store chain in the country.  It was a family-run business, as many things were in those days, and when Ronnie’s granddad finally had both feet in the grave, it was passed on to Ronnie’s father, whose name, coincidentally, just happened to be Freddy.  Ronnie planned on working in the store when he graduated, starting as a bagger, and quickly working his way up.  His father was going to give him a promotion every month until he was the general manager.  This would teach him the ropes of each position a little, and give Ronnie a feel for what it was like to be the low man on the totem pole.  Or what it was like to be the low man on the totem pole that got quickly promoted every month.
Insert untimely description of Ronnie.  Ronnie was what kids back then called a “greaser.”  He almost always wore a white T-shirt with his leather jacket, which was so beat up from it being so old, and from his wearing it every day.  His parents offered to buy him a new one, but he quickly refused.  He liked the beat-up look.  It made him look tough.  He wore jeans all the time.  Sometimes, on days when it was too hot to wear his leather jacket, he would roll up an empty package of cigarettes in the sleeve of his white T-shirt.  He didn’t smoke, nor did he condone smoking.  Ever since his great-great-great-great granddad died, those horrible memories had haunted him, and from that day forward he vowed never to touch a cigarette.  At least not while standing in front of a runaway train, as his great-great-great-great granddad did.  There was always a comb sticking out of his back pocket, and he’d check every once in a while to make sure it was sticking out.  If it wasn’t, he’d reach in and pull it out just a tad, so everybody could see he had one.  Not that he ever used it.  He wore his hair slicked back greaser style, a little puffy so it formed not quite a pompadour.  He looked like he should be busy ditching school and working on cars.  Not that he didn’t love cars; I think all boys did in those days.  He took great pride in his souped-up Ford.  And even though he was a greaser, he was not a grease monkey.  He took his car to the mechanic if it needed fixing or any special detailing.
The mechanic was a dirty old man, and it gave Ronnie the shivers every time he touched his car.  So Ronnie always asked that his son Shawn do all the work on it.  Shawn was an okay kid.  He and Ronnie weren’t really friends or anything.  Shawn was too busy being friends with Rotten Jim Applebaum.  You may ask why I am rambling, and I tell you that for once this is significant, so thanks for reading.
Anyway, back to the story...
“Anything exciting happen today?” Freddy asked.
“Uh...”  Ronnie thought about spilling his guts right there at the kitchen table, but that would have been nasty, especially since what they were eating looked a lot like guts.  Ronnie’s mom was a fine housewife, except she couldn’t cook for nothing.
Ronnie also thought about figuratively spilling his guts.  About the ring.  About how he needed thirteen hundred dollars to buy the thing.  About how much he loved Helen.  About everything.  He knew that if he did that, his dad would give him a blank check right there on the spot.  He knew what Ronnie felt for Helen.  Hell, she pretty much felt like family anyway.  His parents adored her.  In fact, his father would have probably said that a one-carat ring wasn’t good enough for her.  Why not go for the two-carat?
But Ronnie couldn’t speak.  Asking his dad for the money would also be the hardest thing he could ever do.
“I’ll leave you alone to your thoughts,” Ronnie’s father said.  “Obviously you have a lot on your mind.”
And with that, they spent a nice, quiet meal together for once.

AnchorThe next day, Ronnie was even worse.  He couldn’t concentrate at all through school.  He only had one thing on his mind, and that was the ring.  Oh, and Helen.
And speak of the devil, here she comes right now.
“Hey Ronnie,” she said, slipping her arms around him in a big hug.
He was instantly snapped out of his daze.  “Hey Helen.  I missed you yesterday.  How was your trip?”
“Oh it was okay.  I just wish you could have come.”
“Ah... I had some stuff to do.  Anyway, I’m glad you had a good time.  Listen; let’s do dinner tonight at Louie’s.  I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Oh no, not at all,” Ronnie said, and gave her a kiss.  “Not at all....”
Helen was definitely the best looking girl in the school.  Ronnie had no idea how he got so lucky to get a girl like her.  She had the sexiest body, with a rack out to there and legs that just wouldn’t quit.  Accompanying that luscious body was the most beautiful face he’d ever seen.  The kind of face you’d see on a porcelain goddess or in the movies.  The kind of face you would never see on a spider monkey.  She had the most gorgeous, flowing red hair and the most hypnotic green eyes.  Besides the fact that they were beautiful, there was something else about those eyes.  Ronnie felt like he’d been looking into them eyes forever, and he knew he’d always be looking in them eyes.  What they had was more than just love.  In those days, there was none of the new-age spirituality mumbo jumbo that floods the world today, so there was no term for this feeling, but had Ronnie known the word, he would have said they were soul mates.
Helen’s style was a little eccentric.  She wasn’t into wearing dresses.  She wore pants and shirts that were way too big and baggy.  Her T-shirts were usually printed with something.  Today she was wearing a T-shirt that said “SLAYER ‘98 TOUR”, whatever that was.  She was also wearing a silver chain necklace with huge links; the kind you’d find attached to a padlock securing somebody’s Doberman.  She had seven earrings in each ear, which was unheard of.  Yeah, she was weird, but she was popular.  And he was glad that she wore clothes that were too big for her.  That meant that only he knew what was underneath.  He watched her as she walked away, picturing her beautiful ass inside those baggy pants.

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Excerpt from Harm's Way

They were all packed in there like sardines, man.  Ankles, chins, elbows, pelvises, fingers, tongues, rotator cuffs, teeth, hair, bone, blood, urine, and fecal matter.  All piled one on top of the other so no one could tell where each began and ended.  Ben had a feeling that when he stopped the van it would be impossible to separate them.  He felt quite comfortable; he had the driver’s seat all to himself, so despite the complaints, he was not inclined to stop for stretch breaks, pee breaks, etc.
They had been driving for what seemed like hours, but was probably more like hours.  They had reached the end of civilization, or what passed for civilization in Vermont, and Ben knew from bitter experience that the 7-ELEVEN in St. Hockenberry was the very last stop before he had to make the long long trek down the long long boring road toward the Quebec border, where the camp was.
And there it loomed in the distance, like an oasis.  And much like weary travelers that had crossed the great desert to get there, they were all parched and hungry.  Ben himself could really go for one of those soggy prefab subs that they kept in the refrigerated case, right next to the cream cheese and jars of lemon curd.  Slightly behind the pints of goat’s milk and Trojan box that some discourteous traveler hadn’t bothered to put back in its regular spot when he got an inkling that maybe he wasn’t going to get lucky tonight after all.  Maybe he was a loser with wishful thinking.  And maybe he should have been nice enough to put the box of condoms on the back shelf, right next to the Ritz crackers and lantern batteries where he got them from.  His rudeness and thoughtlessness was probably the reason he wasn’t going to get laid in the first place.
Once they had all managed to un-Twister themselves out of the van, and stretch their muscles and re-set their joints back into place, they all walked together in a single line toward the store, strutting all cool-like, like in Reservoir Dogs.  This scene would be much more effective if I could sell the movie rights to this story; instead I have to just try and describe it as best I can, and hope you know what I’m talking about.
And into the store they walked, having an air about them of teenage greed and horniness, with a bitter aftertaste of mildew.
“Hello, my friends!  Welcome to 7-11!” The overzealous cashier said, a little too zealously.
Not one of them returning his greeting, they all got busy picking out what they were going to get.  The back of the van was already loaded with enough groceries to feed three battalions for three months, but they needed something to sustain them for the next three hours that it would take them to get there.
Ben got a Snickers bar, a bag of chips, and a Coke.
Adam got a pint of Cherry Garcia, of course.
Muffy and Buffy got a pack of Doublemint gum (how cute).
Darnell got a bag of Doritos and a pint of strawberry milk.
Brent got a tube of Pringles and a box of Nerds.
Kiera got a Slim Jim and a diet cola.
Jonesy got the munchies from the weed he had smoked before he left the house two hours ago, much to his dismay, and had his arms full.
Floyd got a bag of jerky and a copy of TV Guide.
Doris got nothing, for he was still in the van.  He had gotten his guitar out from the back and was happily strumming “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses.
“Hey, just where do you think you’re going with those, Chet?  You’re not TWENTY-ONE.” Brent asked, indicating the two cases of beer he was carrying.
“Well, I don’t know if I like this very much,” Brent squeaked.
“Hey man, stop being so square.  Don’t you want beer?”
“I...well...How are you going to purchase those?”
“With money, stupid.  What’s it going to take to get you to shut up?”
“I don’t know...I...”
“What do you want?  Anything, just shut up.”
“I need Sudafed.”
“Sudafed?  I say I’ll get you anything you want, and you say, ‘Sudafed’?”
“My allergies are going to be really bad, I can tell already.  And my prescriptions are weak.  And you have to be eighteen to buy Sudafed, and since you’re already breaking the law...”
“All right, fine.  I’ll tell you what.  I’ll get you a lottery ticket, too.  Go fill out a Megabucks card.”
“Yeah.  You gotta be cool, and you can’t be cool unless you gamble and drink, man.  So you can at least gamble.”
So off he went to fill out the card.  Man, it was just like taking his SAT’s.  He thought for a minute, and then filled out numbers that were significant to him.  He didn’t just want the easy pick.  One by one he filled in the numbers, THIRTEEN, EIGHTEEN, THIRTY-TWO, SIXTEEN, THIRTY-FIVE, THIRTY-NINE.  He brought it to Chet and watched him work his magic.
Chet slammed the beer on the counter in front of the Middle Eastern dude, rattling the Zippo display and almost knocking it over.
“Yes, my friend, can I help you?” the clerk asked helpfully.
“Just the beer, man.  Oh, and this,” he said, and handed him Brent’s ticket.  “Oh, and some Sudafed.  Oh, and a pack of Winstons.”
“May I see some identification?”
“Don’t I look twenty-one?”
“No, I’m afraid not.  I am very sorry, but if you do not have identification, I cannot sell you these things.”
“Aw, come on, Habib.”
“Look at my name tag.  Does it say ‘Habib’?”
He did.  It said “Hank”.
“I do not call every American John, why do they insist on calling me Habib?”
“My apologies, Hank.”
“Once again, I am very sorry.”
“Oh, you’re going to be,” Chet said, as he pulled a handgun out of the waistband of his underwear, which was actually not a handgun at all, but rather a very nice replica fashioned out of a block of processed cheddar cheese, the authenticity betrayed only by the fact that it was bright orange, and it was so old that it had grown quite funky.
Not even caring about the fact that it was obviously a sham, Hank reached down behind the counter and pulled out his very real shotgun.  “You do not do this.  You do not do this,” he explained to Chet.
“Woah, woah, okay.  Hey, calm down, man. It’s just cheese.  See?” he said, and took a bite of the stinky food.  “Hey, I was just trying to have some fun.  I’d never pull a real gun on you.  Gee, I’m awfully sorry about that.  It’s just, we’re going to camp, and we just wanted to have some fun, you know?  Figured we could get some beer.  And my friend here’s really sick, and he really needs the Sudafed and cigarettes and lottery ticket.  I could have had a fake ID made, but I’m much too honest for that.”
“My friend,” Hank said, “in my country, we have a saying.  An honest man is like a hive of angry bees.  Of course I will sell you these things; your honesty humbles me.  Get a few more cases, if you’d like.  It’s on me.”

AnchorSo out the store and back in the van they went.  “Said woman, take it slow,” Jonesy sang.  Man, that Doris cat could really play that thing.

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Excerpt from Degrees of Separation

  I suppose it’s possible to say that she has a flair for anyone attractive, not just Louis.  But at the moment Louis is her man, for lack of any better option at the moment.  At times she stands on stage, just looking at that poor, miserable sap sitting in the front row with that dumb-ass look on his face, and she thinks to herself, this is not the man I married.  And she’s right.  This is not, in fact, the man she married.  This is, in fact, some other guy entirely.  Some guy named Arthur Stanhope, who at the moment is one of the biggest soap operas of all time.  But she does not care much for soap operas, or Turtle Wax, for that matter, so she has no clue who this man is.  All she knows now is that he may or may not be her husband.  As she exits the stage, escaping from the painful glare of the floodlights, her eyes slowly adjust, and when she can finally see clearly, she realizes that he is gone.  She will never know the truth about him.
      But what’s worse is she will never know the truth about herself.  Who is she?  What does she want from life?  What kind of track is her train riding?  And who’s in the third car?  WHO’S IN THE THIRD CAR???
      Dammit, she doesn’t care.
      She goes to the bar to grab whatever’s left at 1:30, after all of the patrons have made pigs of themselves.  She’s left with a few cold Buffalo wings and a slowly melting ice cube that one asshole had carelessly left on the bar, melting, for all to see.  But she’s the only one who notices it.
      She thinks that in a way the ice cube represents her life, but she’s not sure why.  She was never good at metaphors.
      As it melts, it forms a small river, flowing down toward the end of the bar, which makes her realize that either the bar itself is not level, or the bar is completely level and the ice cube is just feisty.  Either way, the river makes its way down, down, down, flowing over a credit card receipt for a pretty hefty tab, the name Travis Dunn scrawled haphazardly on the bottom.  She takes a look around the bar, searching for this mysterious Travis Dunn character, but he is nowhere to be found.  The only man that she can see at the moment is a strange little guy with a peculiar grin and an even more peculiar hat in the corner of the room.  She hears his pager go off, and he rises quickly up and shoots out the door, neglecting to pay his bill.
      Whatever.  It doesn’t really matter to her who pays their tab and who doesn’t.  She doesn’t get a percentage of alcohol sales.  She doesn’t get much in this fucking place.  She really needs to have a talk with Myron about her future here.  Sure, she gets paid well by the customers, very well.  Well enough to eat, pay her rent, and pay her bills.  But it’s not enough to send her through school.  She’s falling behind on her tuition payments, and is in grave danger of getting her butt thrown out if she doesn’t make some effort to pay. Not only that, but she needs health insurance.  She doesn’t see why she or any of the other dancers here can’t get that.  This isn’t some seedy dive.  This is the Blue Iguana, the biggest strip club on the entire West Coast.  There are enough employees here to start a small colony, and possibly form a swell militia group somewhere in the Midwest, were they so inclined, so there should be enough here to get a good group rate on insurance.
      But talking to Myron isn’t easy.  Sure, he has a nerdy name. It should be easy to talk to a guy named Myron about ergonomics, stock market trends, email viruses, Will Shatner, Weird Al memorabilia, and pruning shears.  But not this Myron.  This Myron you can’t talk to about anything.  The name does not suit him. He’s the typical strip club owner- too many gold chains, too many v-neck shirts, too much chest hair, too much mousse.  Too long of a mullet for it to be acceptable in any modern culture.  And a hard-ass attitude.  “Get out there and take your clothes off, honey,” the look on his face seemed to say.  “I don’t pay you to stand around here talking to me about salaries and health insurance.  I pay you to dance.”  And even though his last name is McShea, he looks Italian to her.  She can’t quite put her finger on it, but something about him seems to suggest that he has slight ties with the mob.  Not that the mob is that tough on the West Coast.  They’d just as soon settle for a nice nose tweak or spit on your shoe than gun you down or throw you in a trunk.  But they are intimidating, nonetheless.
      So she decides to just let it go.  Tomorrow she’ll start looking for a second job to supplement her income.
      She runs her long pretty fingers under the length of the bar until she finds a discarded wad of chewing gum.  She uses her French-manicured fingernails to scrape the gum off.  She holds it up to her nose and takes a sniff.  Mmm, cherry.  She thinks about chewing it; sometimes gum still has its flavor even after it’s been stuck to the underside of the bar for a few weeks.  Instead, though, she wanders her sweet little ass into Myron’s office.  Even though he doesn’t work on Tuesday nights, he leaves his office unlocked, which is very trusting of him, but also very ignorant.  She picks up the receiver of a telephone (Myron’s), moistens her fingers with saliva (her own), wipes them on the earpiece of the receiver, sticks the wad of gum on it, and walks back out of his office.  Not a very deadly or even dangerous prank, but to someone in the Mild Mafia, he was sure to take great offense.
      But fuck Myron, she thinks.  She doesn’t want to offend him.  Nope.  That would be letting him off the hook way too easy.  She has taken enough of his shit in the five months she’s been working there to last a lifetime.  Why won’t he ever listen to her?  Shouldn’t a boss be open to their employee’s concerns?  She shouldn’t have to work two jobs to support herself.  That little fuck won’t do anything for anyone but himself.  For Christ’s sake, they have to get tested monthly working at that job, the state mandates it.  And he doesn’t even foot the bill for that.
      No, the chewing gum won’t be enough.  No sir.  Taking a minute to think, her plan is taking shape.
3 a.m.  All the customers have gone home for the evening. The last employee, Sue the manager, has just left and locked the door.  She makes her way from her car, carrying the can of gasoline she had gone home to get, to the back of the building, looking around her, making sure no one is watching.  Although whoever would be watching her at this time of night, be they vagrant or thief or ghetto thug, wouldn’t be friends with authority anyway, so there is nothing to worry about.  No one would run to the cops even if they did see her throw the can of gasoline through the window of Myron’s office with the lit match chasing it.
      It didn’t take long for that place to burn right to the ground.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  That place was all too close to being shut down for fire regulations anyway.  Sometimes for being over capacity, but you know Myron.  Squeeze anyone you can in here, then squeeze ‘em dry.  Quite a few times were for a lack of fire exits.  A couple of times were for frayed wiring.  And once for having Great White play there.

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