Monday, March 25, 2013

Tuba & Drum, Slowly: Chapter 1: Optimist

When the tuba nearly fell off the cart on which it had barely been perched and when Tommy helped catch the tuba and looked into the woman's eyes as he did so, he almost but not quite fell out of love with McKinley and into love with the woman with the tuba.

Almost, but not quite.

The woman with the tuba also had a drum, and both were on a cart that the resort made available for guests to bring their luggage in but nobody ever used the carts themselves because bellhops like Tommy were standing around the lobby waiting to do that for them.

"I've got this, miss. Uh, ma'am," Tommy told the lady with the tuba, who smiled and thanked him and wiped her forehead under her bangs and stood up straight and sighed, which had the effect of seeming to wipe off her mood like erasers cleaned a blackboard, the vestiges of it still visible but ready for something new.

Her husband, it must have been, looked back long enough to make sure Tommy and the woman had things right and then continued walking and fumbling with his wallet and his own suitcase as they crossed the grand lobby of the Marquis Resort And Hotel to check in.

It could take as long as twenty seconds to cross the lobby and when one did so, as Tommy did hundreds of times per day (in season), one walked across carpet that appeared lush, still, but which was slowly getting thinner and thinner and more threadbare, carpet that once was deep crimson but had muted to a burgundy that did not glow in the shafts of sunlight that streamed down from different angles in widening rectangles from the upper reaches of the three-stories-high lobby.  The burgundy of the carpet did not invite one to walk on it but sat idly, as did the man who, on the far side of the lobby, watched as his brother and his brother's wife walked around the edges of the scattered furniture clumps, some in sunlight and some in the sort of hazy shadows that can exist but barely in between so much other light, his brother walking ahead and carrying a small suitcase while his brother's wife helped the bellhop with the tuba and the drum and a small cloth duffel bag that sat between them on the cart.

This man had been sitting there for nearly an hour, largely unnoticed even by the bellhops, who paid little attention to guests who drew little attention to themselves.  This man was named Carter, and he was the exact middle of the five children who were reuniting here on the island where Dad used to take them for summer getaways, up until Carter was seven years old and they hadn't come here anymore, after that.

Carter wondered if Dad would come to the Eisenhower's reunion.  Carter almost hadn't come himself, but had decided he'd better, after all, and in his pocket, Carter felt the folded pieces of yellow legal pad, densely covered with a handwritten speech, written in blue ink on his lap while he'd sat in the airport in San Francisco, on the legal pad he'd taken out of his briefcase for just that purpose, before leaving the pad, the pen, and the briefcase sitting on the seat and getting on to the plane with nothing more than a paperback book he'd bought at the airport.

Carter wondered if Zoe -- that was her name, Zoe was Harry's wife -- would turn out to be nice, as his mother had once said she was, or flaky, as his father had said she was.  The presence of the tuba and the drum and the duffel bag argued equally forcefully in both directions.

He watched them as they neared the desk where Tommy moved quickly to shore up the balance of the packages on the cart and offered to take Harry's bag, too (Harry gave it to him idly and without much other thinking, focusing on handing his credit card to the desk clerk).  It was only moments at the desk, both Harry and the clerk frowning at the machine which read credit cards for the few seconds before it spit out a receipt, and then key cards were passed over and Harry, Zoe, and Tommy moved unsteadily with the cart, with its tuba and its drum and its duffel bag and its small suitcase, off of the burgundy carpet and onto the hard-tiled floors towards the elevators near the desk.

Carter watched them watching the numbers above the elevator.  There were only three numbers, and only two elevators, both showing that they were on the third floor, where other Eisenhowers were staying, as well, Harry the last of them to check in, unless his father was going to show up, which many of them suspected he would not, gathering from the comments dropped in emails and conversations hammering this weeklong reunion out:

"...Dad's got that meeting"

"Mom never liked the place, and if she won't go Dad won't that's why we stopped going there, remember" -- that one from Lily, who never used punctuation and who, when questioned about it once by Carter said "I'm a stay at home mom.  Punctuation is for offices.  You try raising kids and see if you worry about semicolons."

Carter had two children and used semicolons.

The twos changed simultaneously to ones and both elevator doors opened.  A family got off of one, and the Eisenhowers and Tommy got onto the other.  After a pause, during which Carter could see the tuba, and Tommy, but neither Zoe nor Harry, the doors shut and he watched as first the two lit up, and then the three lit up.

He wondered what room they were in, and decided it didn't matter.  He had not checked in under his own name, anyway, and was staying on the first floor, near the back, one of the few rooms one could get on the first floor.  From his room, he could see down the lawn to the old battlements, a wall and tower that stood above a rocky cliffside that looked out onto Lake Michigan, and he could, anytime he wanted to, during the week, stare out his window at those battlements and wonder at a time that wars had been waged on lakes, with navies vying for control of relatively tiny portions of water that were surrounded by land, armies lining the shores and watching ships fight in a bathtub, as it were.  It seemed inconceivable, now, when most ships were too large to even navigate to inland lakes, when gulfs and bays were considered minor in naval warfare and theaters of war were the entire size of an ocean, the "Pacific Theater" and such, that once there had been a need to defend this island.

Carter wondered if he should go downtown, or go to bed.  Or go look up the others, up on the third floor, and start meeting (again and in some cases for the first time) their children and wives and husbands, explaining why he wasn't on the third floor with them. The thought of doing that four times, in seriam, made him tired again, more tired than he had felt the night before, leaving his office with the near-empty briefcase, just the legal pad, the pen, and the small plastic fish he had taken from the novelty lamp in the corner of his office, the lamp shaped like a lava lamp but filled with water and bobbing, bubbling plastic fish that roamed up and down as the water circulated.

So he didn't go up there.  But, he thought,  with them all here now, they would begin making their ways down to the lobby, the pool, the game room, the miniature golf course, the exercise room, all preparatory to the dinner in the restaurant where they'd reserved one of the two private rooms,  already labeled (Carter had seen) "Eisenhower Dinner" on a card outside it, and he'd have to have all those conversations at once, and more, and he didn't want to, so he stood up abruptly and turned towards the four sets of oversided bronze-and-glass doors that flanked the revolving central door that led into the lobby, and decided that he would go downtown.

It took him 27 steps to get from his couch to the doors, and another three to get through the revolving door, his cushion of air-conditioned inside atmosphere carrying him out into the heat of the early afternoon. The drive led a quarter-mile down to the main road, and several pedicabs waited off to the left.  The doorman smiled at him.

"Cab?" he asked.  "Or bike?"

Carter sighed.  Cars were not allowed on the island, except for emergency vehicles. He did not want to walk to town.  But he did not want to sit in a pedicab and make conversation, and it was hard enough not to pass the time with a regular cab driver; if the driver was pedaling you somewhere and wanted to talk, how could you not?

But a grown man on a bike seemed rather ridiculous.

Then again, who was watching him?


"Bike," he said.

"Room number?" the doorman asked.  Carter told him -- 17 -- and the doorman made a note on a pad and jotted down the number of the old-fashioned seeming bicycle that stood in a rack near him, bicycles the Marquis had specially made just for its guests, each one designed to look old, and somewhat childlike, in adult proportions, each one sturdy and bright-colored with yellow and robin's egg blue and red, and each (Carter knew, from the website) equipped with a chip to prevent thefts and help you find your way around the island using the bike's own GPS.  ("Your cell phones won't work here!" the website helpfully reminded.)

He sighed and got on the bike and with a pat of the papers on his hand, he rode slowly but with increasing confidence down the quarter-mile leading to the small road that would take him to town.  His back was to the hotel, and he blamed the air resistance for forcing a few tears out of his eyes as he rode.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Violins Is Never The Answer.

This is in support of PT Dilloway's anti-violence crusade. Read more about that at his blog. You ARE against violence, aren't you? Don't make me beat the answer out of you.


In the end, it came down to a choice between eating one of us, or eating a Carrot.  And NOBODY was talking about eating a Carrot.

For one thing, how would we kill it?

I'm probably getting ahead of myself.  My name is "Scout," and no, it's not like the girl in that book about mockingbirds and yes, I know what the book about mockingbirds is and no, I've never read it and yes I picked my own name and no, I don't always talk like this but I'm scared right now so give me a break, will you?

If you must know and I suppose you must, because you don't know anything about anything from the looks of you, I chose the name "Scout" because that's my job.  I'm supposed to look for food only I haven't been looking for much lately on account of nearly everybody is dead.

It wasn't always like this. But, then, you wouldn't know that, would you? Look at you, all buried and dead here and sitting in a caved-in grave, just a skeleton all gaping at me. You wouldn't know that because you're one of the lucky ones.  You're dead, and I don't even know what I am doing talking to you except that if I talk to you maybe I won't go crazy.

On the other hand, if I talk to you maybe one of them finds me or maybe a Carrot finds me.  It hasn't been all  too long since them Carrots got the upper hand, even without hands, and I don't want to fight one of them.

Maybe I'll talk to you quietly.

So nobody but me and you hear and maybe you don't hear but you probably hear, somewhere.  Heaven, maybe, if there's a Heaven.  Ought to be one, after all this.


Scout is crazy.

But, then, everything is crazy, including the people who go around saying everyone is crazy, including me, maybe, too, probably certainly because if EVERYTHING is crazy then I am, too. "Everything" must of necessity include me, but you've got no choice except to believe me, crazy or not, because I am the narrator of this story, and if you don't believe me, who will you believe? A fourteen-year-old girl crouched in a tunnel below a graveyard talking to a skeleton because she thought it smiled at her?


Let me tell you what happened.

Oh, shit, they're coming.


What was that?

Was that a sound?

I suppose I will have to fight anyone who comes near me and I don't even care if it's Gina.  Especially if it's Gina.  Do you suppose it's Gina? You don't suppose anything, do you?

I'm sooooooooooo hungry.

You look like you were hungry, too.

Maybe I should've eaten something. But how could I?

Maybe there aren't nothing but persons left anymore to eat.  Even if it was okay to eat a person but I don't want to I wasn't going to eat her.

I hope it's not Gina.  I don't want to have to fight her.


All right, so once upon a time about twenty years ago maybe give or take 40, who can count, there was a recital at a high school and a girl named Gina had to play a violin solo.

That's how it all started because you never know where things are going to start and you don't know where they are going to end.

And Gina played her violin solo and at the end of it, almost everybody in the auditorium stood up and applauded her, very polite-like, but enthusiastic, if you get it, like parents do for someone else's kid, all except this one guy, Tom.

Tom didn't clap.

(I am Tom.)

(I didn't clap.)

(That's how I know what happened.)

You haven't seen Scout, have you?  I've been looking for her.


Mama told me once, when I was little, that it wasn't always like this, that once there was a time when people could walk around and in the sunlight and all and when everything and I mean everything didn't try to kill you.

Mama's old enough to know that time, but this is all I've ever known, when everything and I mean everything tries to kill you, even my kitten.  Even my SOCKS once tried to strangle me while I was sleeping and now I go barefoot, mostly,  because who needs that?

Dad says Mama's just telling stories, but I think that's because Dad blames himself.  And everyone blames Dad, too, and says he's the guy that started it all.

You seem nice.  Can I call you Mr. Skeleton?  You won't try to kill me, too, will you?

I miss my kitten.


Tom, that's me, I didn't clap.  Tom didn't clap and people noticed and Gina's dad noticed and Gina's dad got madder and madder during the recital and he kept shooting glances over at Tom and Tom paid no attention to Gina's dad and didn't even know Gina's dad and Tom ignored Gina's dad.  He just didn't clap because he thought his daughter ought to be the one to get the solo and so he wasn't happy and didn't think, Tom, that's me, didn't think that Gina played all that well, but then Gina's dad when everybody got up and was walking out of the auditorium at the end of the recitals Gina's dad he pushes Tom, that's me, he pushes me and he says:

"What'sa matter, isn't my daughter good enough to play music for you?"

And I am not about, was not about, to take a bunch of grief from some blue collar guy who couldn't even get hired at the trucking company and so I shoved him back and said

"Keep your fat fingers off me, you dickhead."

And Gina's dad he swings at me and he punches me right in the face and I stumble into the seats and I trip over them and fall down and I knocked out two teeth.  I still haven't gotten them back.  See?  Right 'ere.  And over 'ere.

What was that?

I bet it was Scout.

Have you seen her? I've got her a new kitten.  This one probably won't kill anyone.


I'm awfully scared, Mr. Skeleton.  I hope nobody finds me here.  I can't believe they were cooking people but there's nothing left to eat and nothing left to cook and no place we can't go I mean can go to find more food.

Mama said once there were places you could go buy food and it came in cans and boxes and bottles and stuff.  I had a bottle once but then the Carrots broke in and Dad threw the bottle at one and we got away.

Mama says Carrots didn't use to be at the top of the 'food chain,' but I can't imagine anything eating a Carrot.

I think I have to go now, Mr. Skeleton. I think Gina might be coming.  Mama said that Gina wasn't a real thing anymore that she's long dead, but I think Gina's real and I think I hear her or maybe it's Carrots.  Either way, I better go.  It was nice talking to you.

Mama would've liked you.  Before they cooked her, I mean.  After they cooked her I bet she didn't like anyone except other people up in Heaven.


I caught up to Gina's dad out in the parking lot. He was getting into his car and I ran after him

And I caught him and I pulled him by the shirt collar and I punched him in the back of the neck and I punched him again and I punched him then when he was on the ground and I kicked him in the ribs for good measure and he didn't get up anymore, and barely even moved and I stood over him and I said:

"Your daughter's violin isn't worth shit to me,"

and I stepped on his hand as hard as I could and he didn't react or anything.  They said at my trial that he was probably already dead from when I punched him in the neck the second or the third time.  The coroner wasn't sure which one did it.

I was found guilty, as you'd guess, because so many people saw it and I didn't even try to run, and I'd have probably gone to jail because we don't have a death penalty in our state, or we didn't -- living now is a death penalty anyway although I guess it always was it was just that back then even though you knew you were always going to die, it wasn't all in your face like it is now, where every day you're confronted with the fact that you're probably going to die that day, and that was before we decided that we'd have to eat some of the others and poor Lottie lost the first drawing.

I didn't eat her.  I'm not that mean.

Anyway, back then you didn't always think how you were going to die because there was all this stuff that distracted you like television reality shows and sunshine and delivery pizza that made life seem pretty great, and I was thinking as the judge was coming in and he was going to send me to prison that I was going to miss a bunch of that stuff and then Gina's mom who was at the sentencing hearing pulled out a gun and started firing.

I suppose she was trying to hit me.


It goes:

Meat-eating animals like lions and dogs and birds.
People, mostly.
Other animals that didn't used to eat meat.

It's harder to tell where to put stuff that shouldn't even ought to be alive, like socks and trees and one day a chair, things that suddenly just well up and start attacking.  Everyone says it's 'cause of all the hate but  how would that happen? Can a bunch of hate just start making things attack? Probably not.

But that's what they say, anyway.  They say that things started going bad when Dad got shot at, or maybe before, and that it all escalated, to a crazy point, to where it's clearly out of hand and could never happen only it did happen.

Because we're all living it, and there's Carrots running around eating people.  Mama said it was always like that, just a step at a time and that each step seemed so little that you never knew it was crazy until it was crazy, so don't say things can't happen.

I wish I had someone else to talk to now.  I miss Mr. Skeleton.  He was nice.  Quiet.


Then everything seemed to snap.


"Then everything seemed to snap," Dad said, and that's when I took off.

You seem nice.

Maybe I'll talk to you for a while.  At least until I hear something.

They cooked Mama and they probably ate her but I don't really blame her because that's what you've got to do.  We were all looking for something else to eat but there hasn't been anything in a week, not since they ate my kitten and I don't blame them for that, either, because the kitten tried to kill me.  Dad said he'd get me a new kitten but I'd rather have Mama back, only she lost.

People don't care about other people, Mama always said, and that's probably true except she cared about me.

You're a doll, right?  I haven't seen a doll in a long time. Probably since I was three.


So it wasn't long before people realized I'd escaped, but by then things were haywire and nobody much cared, or maybe everybody much cared but not about me in particular.

When those bailiffs went down and the court reporter went down and the judge started hollering and a siren went off, I took off running and some guys got in my way and I pushed them over.  I was in handcuffs but they were in front of me, my hands were, and I shoved them and they shoved me and I just felt something, you know?




This was what we were meant to be.

Like how probably Columbus felt when he sailed toward what he thought was the edge of the world.


Some little thing twisted and the spigot was opened and a bunch of people behind me tackled Gina's mom and then I was in the hallway and I heard them just beating her as people rushed around and there I was in the orange jumpsuit that I still wear today because why change? There's no jails, now, not really, not for a long time, and I saw Gina.

Gina with the violin.

Gina who had my little girl's spot.

Scout looks like my little girl used to look.  I thought I heard her up ahead.  Scout doesn't even answer anymore to any other names.  "Scout's my name," she says, and she won't answer to anything else.

I mean, I don't have to tell you that I tried to kill Gina.  I didn't even mean to, really.   Or I did, because:


That thing had shifted and it was like Christianity all over again, the way Jesus changed the world by existing only I suppose I was the Jesus for this one, because when I think back I think it changed when I punched that guy, and people broke loose and felt free.


I grabbed Gina, who was the cause of all this, but I couldn't grab her even as I tried, I mean she was like a ghost, or maybe I was.

Maybe I was the ghost, I only just thought of that.

I bet that's Scout's voice, singing.


"A is for apple,
A A apple.

B is for ball
B B ball."

I know the  whole song.  I can still remember it.  Doll likes it, I can tell.  If her mouth wasn't worn off and dirty she'd smile at me.

There's a shuffling sound.  Behind me.  Or up ahead.

I wonder why Carrots became the king of all animals? Nobody ever expected that, I bet.  I found a book with a rabbit in it, a 'comic book' Dad said it was, and he ate Carrots and they were small and didn't eat him back.

Now, everything eats back.  It's like the whole world just cut loose.  We're on our own, now.  It's a state of nature, Dad said.

He says it's brutish and nasty.


Of course eventually there were bombs and whatnot, that's to be expected, but that didn't happen for a long time and the radiation didn't add much to anything.  It got warmer, for a while, a lot warmer and wetter and then colder for a while, and now it's back to normal but there's not much worth being on the surface for.  It's all windy all the time and the Carrots like it but nobody else really does.

Those Carrots creep me out.  They're eight damn feet tall and they don't have proper legs and they don't have proper mouths and they aren't right, nobody ever thought a freaking Carrot would be carnivorous and when they first attacked we couldn't believe it, nobody could, not even me, and that's probably what saved me because people were starting to turn on me and just as they were getting upset, just like everybody does once they figure out who I am...

"Lottie how the hell could you take up with him didn't you realize who he was?" but she didn't, not for a long time and I bet that drawing was rigged, they knew they wouldn't get me so they got her because everyone blames me but it was going to break loose eventually.


...and then those Carrots burst through the curtains in the hallway, it was at the water works, and we all laughed at first, they were bumbling around, almost, I thought they were people in suits at first but it wasn't funny when they grabbed that one guy, Rick? yeah, Rick, and they tore him into bits.


I remember Mom telling me to eat my vegetables.  Ha.  She'd get a laugh out of this, I bet.




"I'm scared."

"Of me?"

"A little."

"Scout, I'm not bad."

"What do you have?"

"A kitten."


"It won't hurt you, I think. I've been holding it for a long time now and it hasn't attacked me at all."


"I brought it with me in case I found you.  I didn't even think about eating it, even though I'm hungry."

"Thanks, I guess."

"I'm sorry about Mama."

"Me, too."

"We should be quiet."

"Are we going to die?"



"Yeah, probably."

"How soon?"


The water is dripping and we sit in silence.

The kitten turned out to be mean after all.

Scout says her eye socket doesn't hurt anymore.

I couldn't find the eye.

I could never grab Gina, and she floated through me or I floated through her and eventually everyone started reporting that they saw Gina.

Gina floated over New York for two days, and I was there and in that time 14,000 people were murdered, most of them by just two explosions and I probably got blamed for those.

Gina appeared in a monastery, a vision that all the monks saw.  One of them went to town the next day and instead of getting groceries he bought a gun and he went back and shot each of the others, one time, through the head, before shooting himself. That was not my fault.

Not my fault.

Gina's everywhere but I've never seen her, not since that day.

I wish people would blame Gina instead of me.

I mean, maybe I reacted instead of acting.

Maybe Gina shouldn't've stolen my daughter's place in that recital.

I told Scout we were going to find a new group of people and they would help us.



"Yeah, pumpkin?"

"Should we go up on top?"

"Are you cold?"


"There's Carrots up there."

"Why do they hate us?"

"Why does anyone hate anyone? Because we can."

"Is that why they kill us?"

"Yeah, pumpkin."

"I haven't been up on top in a long time."

"Me, neither."


"Yeah, pumpkin."

"I think my eye stopped bleeding."

"That's good."


I'm sorry the kitten tried to hurt her.

Damn kittens, even.

If I saw Gina, I'd try to grab her again and I'd drag her to some people, I'd find some people and I'd say:

"Her, it's her, it's her that did it, maybe I reacted to her but she was like a ghost and I flew through her"

Because I did, I flew through her and I was sitting on the floor and I looked back and she smiled and I hated her and her violin and I wanted to kill her more than anything, but she got away.

And I got away, and I got away again and again and again everytime someone figured out who I was, and then I'd end up in a new group and eventually things would go bad there, too, and they'd figure out who I was and I had to leave or fight or both.

I lasted a long time with this last group.  I bet they only turned on me because we ran out of food.

Maybe we should hunt Carrots?

Maybe someone should.

Carrots are so good at fighting.  They got the feeling more than anything else in the world, when that shift happened and it all broke loose, I guess.

But I got it pretty good, too.



"Yeah, Scout?"

"What was it like before this?"

"We lived in houses, not tunnels and tents.  We had something called television that would show pictures and tell stories, really fancy moving pictures with hilarious stories, always something new.  We would order pizza, you've never had pizza but it was delicious and you'd just call a guy and he'd bring it to you.  And then on weekends we would go in a boat and drive around on the water in a lake and dive in and swim.  The water was greenish and warm and you could feel the seaweed at the bottom of the lake tickling your feet."

"Did you know Mama then?"

"No, pumpkin.  I met her just before you were born."


"Yeah, Scout?"

"Did you eat her?"


"That's good."

"Yeah... yeah, it is good."


If I'd known it would all break loose, I might've still done it.

I mean, that was supposed to be my daughter up there.

Why would I clap for Gina?


I heard something and Daddy is asleep.

Doll, did you hear it?

I'll whisper so Daddy doesn't wake up.

I think it's Gina.

If it's her I'm going to ask her why it all happened.  One time Donna said that Gina knows why this is all happening.

I asked Daddy if Gina knows why this is happening, Doll, and he said 

"Gina is a myth

but he didn't look like Gina was a myth.

He got crazy looking in his eyes.

I think Daddy knows about Gina.



"Daddy? Are you there?"

"Daddy? Where are you?"

"Daddy, it's too dark.  Did you go somewhere?  Answer me."

"Daddy? I'm scared."



I didn't want to leave her, Doll.

I didn't want to take you, either.

But I was afraid you'd kill her.

I was afraid you'd kill her like the kitten tried to and like everyone tries to.

Like I wanted to.

Doll, I woke up and she was there, asleep against me and you know what I thought? I thought I could kill you.

It's that shift.


Maybe I wouldn't have done it all again, if I could go back.

Maybe we'll find Gina and tell her we take it back and see if she can stop this.  She can stop this, I bet.  She can stop everything and maybe slowly over time it'll go back the way it was and we'll kill the Carrots, we did stuff like that once before, right? We mastered civilization once before and maybe we can do it again.  I bet Gina is real and she's doing this, maybe to get back at me.

I'm sorry, Doll, about her Mama and about taking you but I bet you were going to come alive and maybe kill her, too.  That kitten was going to kill her, maybe it looked like it was just licking her face but it was going to kill her,  that's why I had to get it.

Anyway, we'll find Gina.

She'll stop.  I'll make her stop.







"Who is that?"


"I can't see you."


"Is that you, Gina?"



"Don't run."



"I've never fought in my life."

"It's time you learn."



"Where's Daddy?"

"You don't need him."

"Where is he?"


"Stay away from me."


I mean, she's a sweet girl, Doll.

Maybe she could be the first to stop all this.  Maybe if I was the first she'll be the last.  I've just got to find Gina, maybe, and tell her to knock it off.

Maybe it can unsnap.  Undestiny.

Maybe Scout never existed?  What do you mean?




"I saw her."

"How'd you find me?"

"She tried to make me fight."

"Don't fight. Not you, too.  Don't you fight."

"She tried.  I didn't want to."

"Keep on not fighting."

"Where'd you go, Daddy?"

"I've got to leave, pumpkin.  I can't stay with you."

"Why not?"


"If you leave me I'll die."

"If I stay you'll die."


Maybe Daddy will come back.

Maybe I'll go up on top.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Quotent Quotables

"She thought of the endless waves of pain that for some reason or other she and her husband had to endure; of the invisible giants hurting her boy in some unimaginable fashion; of the incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; of the fate of this tenderness, which is either crushed, or wasted, or transformed into madness;of neglected children humming to themselves in unswept corners; of beautiful weeds that cannot hide from the farmer and helplessly have to watch the shadow of his simian stoop leave mangled flowers in its wake, as the monstrous darkness approaches."

--Vladimir Nabokov, Signs and Symbols.

I am available to host these, if you'd like. I've got a tuxedo. Ok, I will RENT one. Happy?

Once you've come up with a brilliant idea for something -- workout program, new home product, baby outfit, whatever -- what are you going to do with it?

You COULD try to get some corporation to take a look at it.  Ask the guy who invented Rollerblades how that goes.  (HINT: HE LOST A LOT OF MONEY).  Or you could sell it on your own.  But how are you going to do that? Not door-to-door, right? NO WAY. That's for suckers, and people starring in Arthur Miller plays.

The best way to sell your thing is by going to the drtv producer Script To Screen.  These guys help you create a selling spot for your product or service.  While it's an 'infomercial,' don't think some guy standing in front of a laughing audience speaking in a weird voice.  That's not what Script to Screen does.

Think about when you see infomercials.  You've probably watched at least 1 or 2, maybe more in your life.  What gets you to start watching? What gets you to keep watching? For me, the first thing has to be it has to be a product I want to actually find out about, of course.  But after that, I want something that's entertaining and informative, not dumb.  I have to be able to see the product being used, or explained.  It's got to be kind of fun or interesting to watch.

And these guys can do that.  These are the guys who helped Body By Jake, Oreck Vacuum, the Nordic Track, and other products you probably already have, make their commercials, and they can help you from the beginning all the way through the end. They'll help you develop the concept, work on the script, get locations, even find you a host.

Commercials sell everything.  Those names I mentioned didn't become household names just sitting around.  This could even work for books, or indie movies -- things that Kickstarter is overcrowded with.  So check it out.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mjolnir whose thunder could render asunder (Friday's Sunday's Poem)


To me
Feels free.

That's despite
All the tight
Rules to write

You see,
It's only

When confined
In a bind
That we find

Our words free.
To be

Words, they must
Have been thrust
Into such

That we

Being meant
to be sent
In torrents

you see
Is for we)

Where was I?
Oh, that's right:

(Did you see?
That's neat:

Can bend words, 
Be absurd,

By rules...

And then it can shift on a dime,

A poem can twirl, and dance, and keep time
To the strangest of beats and the oddest of rhymes
A poem is an orator dancing ballet
Leaping away on legs that could power her clear up to the sky
Arms held in a circle and almost-not-quite
Flying away on invisible wings
To the beat of invisible drums, out of sight.
That power!
That strength!
That tumultuous tremor
That quivers 'neath soft silken skin like the hammer
whose thunder could render asunder
The heavens we find ourselves all living under
But yet it does not,
For the hammer's restrained --
As are the balletic, kinetic refrains
Of a poem,
Whose words have of course to be trained
To behave
And to mind
And that's why we have rules
Like meters and rhyme 
schemes and other things fools
Might not understand, or worse yet, take for granted,
And, unknowing, unleash some 
Abom'nable stanzas
Of free verse and other prose
Posing in costumes and
Dancing like poetry -- but not quite, no not them.
For the freedom of writing outside of the lines,
Of ignoring iambs and eschewing near-rhymes
Is a mirror-box freedom, a fractalous twisting
That traps thought in seemingly-endless wide vistas.
Freedom's not freedom, not when you have not
Been cooped in a cage or been tied in a knot.
To truly know freedom
One must have been confined
And that's true, too, if not truer, for freedom of minds!
Consider the chaos of children at play,
In contrast to dancers within a ballet:
Each scene full of movement, each hard to define.
But over here, children are tumbling and bumbling and rumbling and stumbling and hitting and spitting and flitting between their games and their slides and their swings and they're nice and they're mean and they smile and cry and laugh sing shout fall down...

While over here,
Dancers move carefully 'round
In a well-defined pattern whose intricate bounds
Demonstrate subtle beauty nowhere else to be found.

The dancers, it's true, could spring forth with abandon
And fly up and swing round and come down and landing
Alight on their feet and then scamper away
But then they'd be children.
And there'd be no ballet.

is free
To go see

what words could
(maybe should?)
if they're good

Maybe be,
but, see,

Can exist
Only if
Rules twist

Words to be
not free:


About the poem:  I've often remarked, one, that I don't write about writing, but I'm going to do that a bit here, and two, that I think poems need to rhyme and have rhythm and meter and the like to separate them from prose, and so, with rare exception, I almost never write "Free Verse" anymore.

Yesterday, Andrew Leon -- a smart man and great writer -- wrote a blog post about poetry, in which (I'm pretty sure I read it right) he agreed with me, more or less: poetry requires those elements that set it apart from prose, and that free verse, devoid of rhyme or meter, is not poetry.  It's just prose, in different shapes.


Electric lighting arcs its unsubtle, harshly yellow deathrays over the blank surface of the highway, making the entire nightscape a parody of nature: black tar where grass grew, hideous mottled yellow where the sun cannot shine.

I just made that up, now, and I think it's very evocative.  But is it poetry?

What about

Electric lighting arcs 
its unsubtle, 
harshly yellow 
over the blank surface of the highway,
making the entire nightscape a parody of nature: 

black tar 
grass grew, 
hideous mottled yellow 
the sun cannot shine.

Is that poetry, now?  The divisions I chose were deliberate, setting off each phrase, and mirroring the companion sets at the end, but is it poetry?

I think not.

Free verse is to poetry what a bunch of kids playacting a movie scene is to cinema: if not one being a mockery of the other, it is at best an imitation, perhaps not devoid of its own charms and fun, but, still, one is not the other and cannot be, because one does not follow the conventions of the other.  Kids do not have a soundtrack by John Williams, or cinematography, illumined on a giant screen in a dark theater.  Movies do not have kids dressed as Darth Vader.  Each has its merits, but each is not the other.

And looked at in that way, free verse is simply prose, striking a pose.

So this poem is meant to illuminate that difference, first in the way it uses its words to lay out the rules of poetry -- the first rule being that there must be rules.  

But it also highlights another aspect of poetry, something that prose cannot do. Poetry is not limited to the meaning of words, and words are not limited in poetry.  Writing a poem, trying to rhyme words, forces you to expand your vocabulary, because you must find words that match each other in length and syncopation and sound, and forces you to experiment with word order and structure, to make the syllables fit and the meaning still carry through.  When I write poetry, I stop periodically and read it aloud (the way poetry is meant to be read) to make sure it flows.  I never do that with prose.

(A benefit of writing poems, proper poems with rhyme and rhythm, is that it lets you carry over the ideas of structure and expanded vocabulary and word order to your prose, making it more poetic, and letting you use the structure of the words themselves sometimes to convey meaning.  I did this a lot in my book Eclipse, a sci-fi book where you wouldn't ordinarily expect to find poetic elements.)
When you write prose, you can just splatter the words down.  A post about poetry would read, well, exactly like this paragraph you're reading.  But a poem about the rules of poetry must follow those rules, and that helps it convey meanings and feelings on more than just the level of the meanings of words.  Just flipping words around from their expected order, to fit a meter, focuses the attention on those words and how they relate to each other.

Consider this line from my poem Lazy Bones Jones

The mouth leads to the gullet, itself quite a fear
 Filled with protrusions and lumps and things queer.

The repetition of protusions and lumps to make the line work emphasizes how many there are, instead of saying "his belly was lumpy," and the use of "things queer" focuses your attention on those words, because they are out of order, and queer is an unusual word, there mostly to rhyme.

Another thing about poetry: poetry's rhythms and meters can make words fit even if they do not rhyme -- think of songs you might have heard that don't rhyme, but you don't notice, because the meter and beat of the song carry you from word to word, forcing you to pay attention to the entire world of the poem,  not just the words.  Free verse and prose do not do that; they exist only in the words themselves, not in the environment of a poem.  By bending words around, moving them to fit a rhythm, you call attention to the words and at the same make them part of a whole, like putting a picture in a museum's room where other paintings might complement it and make you see things you hadn't seen before.  Blank verse -- unrhyming poems written in iambic pentameter -- is like that. It has a rhythm to it that carries you along.  Paradise Lost is written in blank verse.  So poetry doesn't have to rhyme, necessarily, or it doesn't have to have rhythm, but it must have one or the other, or it lacks both of the two essential elements of poetry.

In What Is Poetry? I strove to show how limiting words, how trapping them in a structure, can make them mean more, not less.  The very act of limiting the words, of the minimal syllables in many of the stanzas (most stanzas have only half the syllables, or so, of a haiku, which is a form of poetry I dislike because so many people think they can write one) demonstrates the strictures of poetry.  The short lines require short words, the frequent line breaks force you to keep involuntarily pausing, only to go back and re-read the poem again as a continuous sentence.  It's a poetic equivalent of the steps to the United States Supreme Court, steps that the architect made deliberately a length that forces a regular-sized man to shorten his pace: the steps are too long to take in one full stride, but too short to make two regular strides across, so as you approach the building, you are forced to alter your gait and slow down. This poem does that, using the architecture of a poem to demonstrate the point the poem is trying to make.

The words used in the poem, too, demonstrate how that shape affects them.  At the start of the poem, each stanza alternates between free-sounding words and confined-sounding words: free and see versus thrust and bind, but then when the poem talks about poems being sent in torrents, the structure of the poem breaks down, and when it recaptures itself, it is in the original tightly-wound format, but the words of confinement are gone.

Reading a poem is as much about reading the meaning of the words chosen and their order as it is about reading the meaning of the words as they fit in the sentence.  Rhyme and rhythm help make that point.

And, then, finally, there is the shape and feel of a poem.  The shape of this poem -- I will explain a bit although I don't ordinarily do that -- is meant to evoke the symbolism at the heart of it, which is (of course) a dancer.  It begins controlled, and small, and whirls out of control, and spreads and tumbles... and then winds up again.  The confinement of the first few stanzas, as I said, breaks, and the poem spills out and for a bit stops rhyming entirely and loses its rhythm before catching its step.

And, if you look at it, it resembles the silhouette of a ballerina. That, too, was intentional.

As always, all Friday's Sunday's Poems feature a hot actress.  This one is Danielle Fishel.

Turn that frown upside down? I say NO WAY, WHY NOT JUST GET RID OF IT ENTIRELY?

In the course of all the reading I do every day, I come across things that sometimes get me thinking, like this information about botox san diego from Dermacare Laser & Skin Care Clinics.

The information talks about Botox, which is a procedure I've always had some questions about: injecting a face with toxins? Needles?  Toxins?  Seemed weird to me.

But the site says that some 3.3 million Botox procedures were done in 2005 alone, and that the FDA has approved Botox as a cosmetic treatment; in fact, it says it's the ONLY such treatment the FDA has approved, and the side effects seem minimal and not very worrisome to me.

So that seems okay to me, and the site says it can smooth out frown lines, even severe ones, on a temporary basis, with repeats every couple of months.  It does that, it turns out -- the site says -- by reducing muscle activity, so all those millions (?) of muscles in your face aren't always working so hard to frown and push your brows down and make you otherwise look like you disapprove of the things around you.

Which is something I may need, what with the sheer amount of frowning I have to do these days.  Mr Bunches ALONE generates about 23 man-hours of frowning per day, and let's not even get into Mr F and the way he eats Pringles.

It does go to show, though, that you shouldn't really judge any procedures until you at least get a little information about them.  And if you'd like more info about the Botox treatments, click that link up above.

Friday, March 8, 2013

An Ode To The McDonald's Cheeseburger: An Epic Poem of Conquest, Angels, Cheeseburgers, and The End Of The World. (Part 2)

Part one of this poem is here.  To be honest, it probably won't make any more sense if you go read that part first, but it can't hurt, can it? Unless you drop your computer on your foot while you read it, it can't hurt you.

Hell On Earth Means That Purgatory Is No Picnic, Either.

Up up we flew, up and away
From all the terrors spawned on Earth that day.
Not cow'rdly flight, but sensible, okay?
I mean, you try fighting demons without even a plan.

Below me spread a map of pain:
A sprawling sight of floods, volcanoes, flame
I tried to tell myself I'm not to blame
But, really, I'd brought this on us all and had to fix it.

My dragon-steed, who went by "Winifred,"
Had chosen for us a course for safety. Led
-- by instinct or by learning can't be said --
To Purgatory by him, I tried to figure out what to do.*
*We had some time, because it's a long trip from Earth to Purgatory, even when you're flying by dragon.

I mused
(To the tune of Moonlight Sonata)

How can I
Fix this mess?
What could ever
All the harm
I have done

All that I 
Wanted was
Just to celebrate
thing that I loved so well
Now look at what has resulted
On Earth, it's Hell

How was I
To have guessed
That the start
(Hey, up there!)

Of my quest
Would be marred
So quickly

(Listen! We're...)

Would lead to

(Hey, um...)

That's what they'll
Say of me:
"That's him! Hell
he set free!"

(Are you...)

Now my burden
This is;
My task to fix it,

But what can 
I do I'm 
Just an
Ord'nary guy?


One man can't
Hope to stand
Up against

Look out!)

Wait, did you
Say something


Were you talking
To me?


Sorry, I was
Lost in thought
As you'd guess
I've a lot

On my mind
Right now, kind
of important to


Well that's rude
I thought we


were friends, you
know even though
we just met...

Even as I stopped my singing and planning
Winifred's insistence got more demanding.
He ducked and he looped, his great red wings fanning
The air as he attempted to avoid capture.

But the giant net still got us.


This one's for the ladies! Or men, if this thing happens to be your thing. I'm not judging.

Let's say you are a lady.

And let's say you are a lady who feels that perhaps "up here," to speak euphemistically, could be a little... more.

And let's say that you as this lady also feels that perhaps the ol' Southern Hemisphere is a little... too much.

Is there perhaps something that can kill two birds with one stone?

I'm glad you asked, because this breast augmentation pittsburgh center, the "Advanced Liposuction Center" has an answer, and that answer is "Yes."

What they can do at Advanced Liposuction Center is takes fat from areas of the body where it's hardest to lose -- the butt, etc. - - and transfers it to those areas where you can't really add much on your own.  (The "boobs," as scientists call them.)  This procedure can result in a more natural, smoother feel to the augmentation and at the same time help slim your appearance in other areas, plus it doesn't interfere with mammograms.

So while plastic surgery is a pretty big step, and maybe not for everyone,  this seems like a novel way to attack a couple of problem areas at once.  And I'm no scientist, but it seems to me that taking something that was already in my body and moving it someplace else is a way better idea that taking something from OUTSISDE my body and putting it in there.

Unless that latter something is a Snickers bar.  I might be okay with that.  Depending on where you put it.  Anyway,  I digress. Check that link for more information if you're interested.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Ode To The McDonald's Cheeseburger: An Epic Poem of Conquest, Angels, Cheeseburgers, and The End Of The World. (Part 1) (Epic Poem)

This poem began nearly a year ago, and due to the vagaries of how I write, I've only just gotten around to working on it again, so I'm reprinting part one, which originally appeared on Thinking The Lions, and then continuing....

Part One:  All Things Considered, I Might Have Been Better Off Sleeping In Or Just Cleaning The Gutters.

One day when I woke up I had a great thought,
And I said to myself well I really had ought
to follow that thought or that thought was for naught...

And so I went outside and sang to the Heavens*:
 *To the tune of the one part of Beethoven's 9th symphony that everyone knows
because everybody knows Angels only speak symphonese:

Come now angels gather 'round me
Harken to the words I say.
I am composing one great ode
to the humble cheeseburger
I ate yesterday.

I want to make a poem about McDonald's Cheeseburgers
An epic rhyming feat about my lunch.

And I want it to be the greatest thing in history.
If you'll help me that's what it'll be.

And the skies they split open with such a great noise
That I trembled lest all the tumult wake the boys!
For the boys, woke by noise, would want to play toys.

And so I said to the Heavens keep it down.

Then the first Angel reached me and said with stern tone
For this task you call to our Heavenly home?
The home where we roam in our robes and coron'*
*Sometimes apparently angels speak in regular verse and also they are not good with rhyming. Corona is a synonym for halo.  Don't feel bad. I had to look it up, too.

And so I said: Well, yeah. And then added*
*this time to the tune of Habanera from Carmen

Who else was I 
Supposed to call on
For this great task I
embark upon?

The angels on high
Are aptly suited
To help this guy
Achieve his masterpiece

In fact, if you think
About what I ask
You'll come to see it is 
the perfect task.

The more you ponder
My humble request
It seems a wonder
You don't think you're best.

 By now other Angels had reached our tableau
And they looked at each other and shrugged just like so*
*picture an Angel shrugging. It's magnificent!
Just so did they shrug and they turned then to go.

And so I grabbed the first one by the arm.

And that Angel he spun his face angry and twisted
You dare so to touch me? You should have desisted!
Now desist your resisting or face painful dismissing!

And so I said: No. I need you.

His wrath, as I watched him,  grew greater than great
He swelled up, he did -- with a venomous hate
'Twas then that I saw I had made a mistake,
I saw these were not angels.

But now, in the face of this peril fast-growing
This demon in front of me burning and glowing
I felt I must act, and so did, without knowing
What the results would be.

I punched the demon.*
*Some might say this was foolhardy but then again, how many of those people have ever thought they were calling angels to help them only to have unleashed a pack of demons on the world? I thought so.

It didn't do nothing, that punch with my fist,
And so I decided I might as well hist*
*hist is an onomatopoetic word describing a sound used to attract attention: 'hsst!'
Something more powerful yet, to assist.
Like maybe some sort of friendly dragon.

Now those who this report are beginning to doubt,
And who wonder aloud "What's he talking about?"
Who ask "How can he call these creatures? Well how?"
To them I say: shut up.

It's an epic poem.

I called for a mighty fierce beast-thing, just right then,
A dragon who'd stand by my side, fight as my friend:
An ally of flame-breathing, high soaring ken.
Something fierce, you know?

And this is how I did it
(To the tune of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2"):

Please heed my call.
(My call.)
Please come help me out.
Help cast demons out
Only you can assist me right now.

(Then I really got into it)


With your scales so sharp, and stro-ooo-ong
Oh, dragon,
With your teeth and wings and fire-so-oo-ong
Fiiiiire soooong!
Won't you please come right alo-ooo-ng.

(Flute interlude)

I cast my pleas skyward; they went not unanswered.
As something fierce grew in the distance, my chances
Were looking much brighter, with this new enhancer:
The dragon, still a tiny speck, was on his way.*

But the demons around me then seized me and bound me!
My hands to my side as I lay on the ground, the
Demons surrounded me, glaring sneeringly down to see
My helpless form, struggling.

And the head demon said:
(To the tune of Beethoven's Rage Over A Lost Penny)

So you thought you could escape?
well you just cannot
well you just cannot
You cannot avoid your fate
No you just cannot
You cannot.

You will be a witness to our rule of fear

Reign of tears!

For many years!
You have unleashed powers that will now stay here
Reshaping this world in our visages!

You are merely our first prize
There will be others
There will be others
All will fall before your eyes
See the price of pride!

And with that, the lead demon raised his arms.

A mighty crescendo sounded.

The dragon landed, not far away.

And a volcano arose, beneath the head demon, erupting lava:

Magma erupting,
The world corrupting,
The people disrupting,
The demons stood amidst the fire, laughing with a manic glee.

Cities collapsing
Our timeline elapsing
The demons, perhaps
Forgetting in their triumph for a moment about me

Turned eyes up to Heaven
And said "Now, our brethren,
We start our accession
And so I took that one brief opportunity

To flee.*
(*With the help of the dragon.  I'm no idiot!)


Monday, March 4, 2013

For lives they have soured by being devoured (Friday's Sunday's Poem)




He moans and he groans
And as he does that he sits on his throne,

is scheming and planning.
His pains make him groan as he plans and he moans
And what does he plan, this not-quite-a-man?
He plans
For his hands
To grasp tight round the spans
Of the neck of some woman, some child, some man
He hungers, he does,
for the humans outside here,
For he is alone here.
Alone night after night here
And here isn't quite here
This palace where
sits alone.

(whose name, you should know
Was bestowed by his father, a demon
Whose only
Connection to
Was, alone, only to name him then leave him alone.
name is frightfully apt, this
that has trapped him
within its confines,
The name and its rhymes
Marking out all the lines of his life and his manner, the way of his times.
bones are lazy, it's true
Not quite bones, not at all
For they don't really do
What bones are expected to do when connected, these bones have rejected their usual role.
Instead, these bones sag.
Sag? They lag!
Oh, they drag!
They seem more like rags and because of that lack
himself has gone slack.
Like a flag on a day with no wind.

Imagine a great greasy bag full of seething
And you'll have a picture, of sorts
Of this being.
His hands, they are droopy, his eyelids all loopy.
The skin on his necks rolls
and tumbles away
From the rest of his body, as though it can't stay.
His legs, how they slither,
A slimy, slow seeping
Made all the more horrid
because they are creeping
Below the most awfulest parts you could see:
His mouth up above
And his stomach beneath.
The mouth is extraordinary,
Oddly fantastic.
It seems to be made of the strongest elastic.
It's miles wide,
Or looks it on sight,
But it's blackness makes measuring too much a fight.
The mouth leads to the gullet, itself quite a fear
Filled with protrusions and lumps and things queer,
Almost as if there's some fighting inside
Fighting for freedom
things still alive
His measureless shapelessness
Can't be defined.
is just one of a kind.

(And Thank God!)

Have you sinned?
If you have then you'd better begin
To make plans for a visit
has a role in this life,
His place in the scheme is to get rid of strife.
And how
does he make all that trouble just cease?

He eats you.

As quickly and nice as you please.

has a singular talent,
A horrible, wonderful special endowment.
lazy bones
of his don't just do nothing,
But allow him to roam the earth
Stuffing and stuffing
His face (and his throat and his stomach, it's true)
And he stuffs all those parts of his body



Whenever you do something
Your lies and your cheating, they sound like a song
And it
won't be long
comes slumping along
to your bedroom your boardroom your
vacances maison.

And then, when he finds you
He binds you,
he binds you, As soon as he sees you
Those hands of his seize you
Round your neck they confine you
To sternly remind you

Then he opens his mouth up
And leaning down over you
Puts you
Inside 'er.

And there in his belly
Inside of the beast
You'll meet all the others:
the most
the least
The sinners, the haters, the leavers and liars
Who are slowly digested --
No cleansing hellfires!
For Hell's just a myth, a legend, a story
The truth is more awful, more scary,
More gory.
Those who cause pain, who rend, rip, and murder
Don't spent all eternity
Burning their fervor
In pits full of brimstone
Sins are atoned
For lives they have soured by being devoured
Who returns to his throne
In his kingdom of pain where he lives all alone
To await the next clarion call ringing out
A gunshot,
A handslap,
A scream or a shout,
Some sound of performing nefarious deeds.
And then when he hears that,
And he'll cast all about
His eyelids all droopy his mouth in a pout,
'Til he finds what he's looking for, and he'll light out

He'll slouch to his next sumptuous feast, his banquet --
And if you aren't mindful,
He might get you yet!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Neil Gaiman reads my blog!

I suppose it's only fair -- I read his books, from time to time, so I can appreciate that, like me, Neil Gaiman wants quality writing and storytelling of the sort that I bring to the table.

(Or wherever it it you read it. Maybe you read my blog at your office. Or the pool.  Or on a plane. Wherever you read, I bring it.*)

(*It being "quality writing and storytelling." Remember?)

Anyway, longtime reader(s?) of this blog will remember that earlier this year, I posted a story called "The Electronic Fish Tacos From Jupiter Save The Day??!?", a surprisingly-dark story about the end of the multiverses and subsequent creation of new multiverses that will serve as a springboard to future Seal Team i stories as those Amygdalans spread throughout the new creation.  (If you haven't read it, DO!)

In that story, a computer known as Zero (created by Michael Offutt, on loan to me for the story) went mad and tried to save the universe, or destroy it, (the computer is insane, remember) by creating something based on a book it had just read:

"Unfortunately," the bearded man interrupted, "Zero has taken up reading."
 Michael nodded. "A way to pass the time."
 "Also unfortunately," the bearded man said, "Zero is not exactly bound by the ordinary literary conventions of reading, and tends to skim and start books and stories in the middle or, worse yet, to simply go by the covers or titles of the books." ...
  "Zero," the bearded man said, leading Darth to the transporter module, "Had just begun skimming through John Steinbeck's works." ...  Andrew said "Zero has created something that was intended to destroy the universe, based on a misunderstanding of John Steinbeck's work, but now that has reversed, unfortunately for us," but nobody heard.

What Zero created, of course, was "The Grapes Of Love," which are carnivorous sentient tiny grapes that fly around the universe destroying everything that is trying to destroy the machine that will save the universe. (Long story. Again, read it.)



Yesterday, Neil Gaiman began one of those horrible Twitter games where people do dumb stuff for hours and hours and none of it is ever funny but people think it is.  This game was "Title Swap," where you switch the words of a title of a book around, and it is every bit as painfully unfunny as that sounds, but here is how Neil Gaiman kicked it off:

Which is, I am sure, the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, March 1, 2013

If An Aardvark And A Komodo Dragon Were Actually To Decide To Engage In Combat, It Almost Certainly Would Not Go Like This, But, Then, Maybe It Would As There Are Many Things About The Natural World We Do Not Yet Understand. (Short Stories With Long Titles)

An aardvark and a komodo dragon ran into each other one day, an unlikely prospect as one of them lives in its region, and another lives in its own region, and it does not seem as though those regions would overlap.  Do not expect, though, more specifics than that about which region each lived in, for what good would it do to tell you that the aardvark roams the savannahs of the southern African continent (if that is what it does, and where it does it, also unlikely, as aardvarks do not seem the type to roam, but more the type to stroll leisurely,  or perhaps stand and ruminate for lengthy periods of time)? What good would it do? It is not central to the story, whereas the fact that these two happened to meet, at all, is, in fact, central to the story, as it led to a battle to the death, as so often such meetings do.

Here is how they met, these two previously-unknown-to-each-other now-mortal-enemies.

aardvark was standing in line outside a coffeeshop when komodo dragon happened by.  It may surprise you that neither aardvark nor komodo dragon has a name, not even a first name, not even a nickname, but then, that is the way of the animal world.  They know how to tell each other apart, animals do, without the use of names.  Their languages do not work the way ours do, involving many more scents and motions than we would ever utilize to communicate, even subconsciously, and they live in cultures where the individual is not as important, as, say, survival, and so they rarely worry about individuality because they are so often worried about survival.

That is true of many animals, if not all, excluding the "human animal" as we like to style ourselves.  We worry very little about survival and worry a great deal about who is on television that night, and so we have the time to devise names and then shorten those names and then make puns on those names.  You will never see a group of salamanders, for example, sitting around calling each other "Gary Larry Bobarry Banana Fana Fo Farry."

They don't go in for that.

When aardvark saw komodo dragon he did not immediately react and that might have been enough to make komodo dragon react in return, for who can tell how these things start?

"I would like to eat you," komodo dragon told aardvark, suddenly, and it should be noted that they did not speak english.  This is a translation, and a loose one at that, but the essence is being conveyed.

"I should like you to not," answered aardvark back, firmly, and he moved forward in the line for his coffee.

"Then we are at an impasse," komodo dragon reasoned, and aardvark nodded, a little.

"Yes," he agreed. "Yes we are."

"But I am hungry," continued komodo dragon, and he opened his mouth wide to show how empty his belly was and how  hungry that made him, but aardvark noted also that the gesture emphasized komodo dragon's teeth, and he felt in his own mouth his own feeble teeth, more suited to eating tiny insects than other larger animals.

"There is a fine restaurant around the corner, one that serves steaks.  You could have them prepare it rare, if you'd like, although I understand they frequently warn against the consumption of undercooked meat, these days."  aardvark pointed hopefully, and added, "I, myself, am rather undercooked, as well."

"The thing is," komodo dragon pointed out, "I do not have a reservation.  And I am a komodo dragon."

"The restaurant is not likely to discriminate."  aardvark had reached the counter and ordered a medium coffee.  It was not what he had wanted.  He had been planning to order something frothy, something whipped, something chilled, perhaps, but komodo dragon was distracting him and, it must be admitted, worrying him.  This was not natural, this komodo dragon attempting to eat him this way!

"I propose..." komodo dragon said, and paused for dramatic effect, "A series of contests."

Aardvark sipped his coffee.  It was hot and bitter.  He considered.

"Go on," he said.

* * * * * *

komodo dragon: 0  aardvark: 0

* * * * * * 
"FOR THIS CHALLENGE" shouted komodo dragon, in his Russian accent, or perhaps it was a Russian accent.  Probably Eastern European at any rate, aardvark thought but he was not an expert on accents, per se, and listened as komodo dragon shouted over the wind "WE MUST EACH PARACHUTE OUT OF THIS SMALL AIRPLANE AND SEE WHO CAN COME CLOSEST TO THE TARGET DOWN THERE."

aardvark had surmised as much, when they got on the small airplane, but that did not overcome a minor fear of heights as he stared out the open door, watching as komodo dragon strapped on his parachute.  He himself had never parachuted before, the very idea being ludicrous! He is a ground animal, an earth-pig, and should not be up in the air.  But he could not falter, as he did not want to be eaten, not by this reptilian giant, not by anything.  He had always thought of himself as near the top of the food pyramid.  There were animals above him, those who he could expect to fear and perhaps meet in a moment of unguardedness, but he was careful, and fast, and smart.  He worked out.  He read all the latest magazines.  He was going to be unpredatored and at best be food for carrion-eaters.

But then a chance encounter outside a coffee shop and he was in it now.

komodo dragon pulled down his goggles and watched aardvark do the same.  Start tough his grandfather had always taught him.  Someday you will take over the business and you do not start with little challenges.  That lets the prey gain confidence, and later rounds will be harder.  Start with the toughest thing you can imagine.

komodo dragon was not sure this was it, or that this was a good idea.  He had asked then, that day:  "What if prey wins the first challenge? Will it not get more confident even then?"

Grandpa had spit to his right and looked at the sun they basked in, then scratched the hard-as-rock-dirt ground they lay in, the riverbed that in rainy season would be thrashing with water and downed trees and drowning animals, easy pickings for komodo dragons who wished to fish half-sodden food out of it.  Not for us! grandpa had taught komodo dragon.  We hunt.  We challenge.

"Win the first one," grandpa had told him.

And komodo dragon launched himself out of the doorway, aardvark shortly after him, the wind whipping more ferociously at him, now, from two directions, the strong wind that pushed back against the plane and now shoved him violently to his left and underneath aardvark, and the fake wind that was the air pushing at him as he fell through it, the buffeting force of air particles that he ordinarily moved through with no difficulty but which now fought him as he fell through them, fought him as ineffectively (he hoped!) as aardvark would. He had never tasted aardvark.  He hoped it did not taste like chicken.

The air did not hold him up but he tired of fighting it and sinuously laid his large limbs alongside his bulky body, pulling his tail straight and dropping like a dart, faster, faster fasterfasterfaster shooting through the air, angling himself towards the target.

Having never been skydiving before, he wondered how long he could wait to pull his chute.

aardvark tumbled and rolled, blinded, his goggles askew, the wind causing his eyes to tear up, his mouth opened in a 0 of panic, and he saw a green giant blur below him as komodo dragon shot past, back towards the target.  In his mind he knew he should count to 10 but he couldn't wait and his little hand-claws pawed furiously at the ripcord.  He heard billowing, puffing, flowing, and he felt a jerk and a tug.  The parachute spread above him and all feeling of falling stopped.  He was floating, dangling at the bottom of a series of cords that held him to his savior, that sheet of nylon spread gloriously and brightly above him.

Below him, komodo dragon rocketed back, a thin green line now, lower and lower and lowerlowerlower until aardvark held his breath in suspense: would he fail to open his chute in time?  But a small red dot ballooned into a crimsonfloweryexplosion and komodo dragon was floating down serenely, thousands of feet below him.

And headed in the right direction.

* * * * * *
komodo dragon 1   aardvark 0

* * * * * *

aardvark waited patiently for the timer to click down.  There were still twenty minutes remaining in the time allotted, and his souffle would be ready in 10.  All he had to do was bide his time.

"No komodo dragon will be able to cook," he had gambled, and he might have been righter than he knew.  komodo dragon's station was a mess, a slather of raw meat still on the counter, blood on the floor, powder on his nose and his apron a bedraggled mess.

* * * * * *

komodo dragon 1  aardvark 1

* * * * * *

"We don't have to do this, you know," aardvark told komodo dragon.

"I think it is absolutely necessary," returned komodo dragon.  He gripped the edge of his pen in his front claw and stared at the paper.

"SHHH!" said the librarian.

"Have you tried antelope?"  asked aardvark.  He wondered why komodo dragon had chosen this challenge, and he thumbed idly through the sheaf of papers before him.

At the table across from him, a few antelope looked up and frowned.

"Natural selection," he whispered to them.  "Circle of life.  Don't get huffy."

"SHHH!" the librarian told them, with a warning look.

"Too stringy," komodo dragon said, and began writing again.

Now the antelope frowned at him but after a moment each decided that trying to convince a predator of their merits as a meal was probably not an argument they should win.

"Good luck," muttered one sarcastically to aardvark as they got up to head for safer territory.

aardvark ignored them this time and wrote on his own paper.  He had plenty of time.

Had I but just three wishes, he wrote, and continued

I'd wish them all on you.
One wish would be cast to the stars
To pray they shone on you.

Then left with just two wishes
Which could be used or saved,
I'd give the second off to time
And bid you longer days.

With one wish in my pocket
And you still standing near
I'd wish away all evil harm
So that you'd never fear.

I'd then have no more wishes
And need no more, my dear.
With your life safe and long and lit
My conscience would be clear.

"How did you ever get him to judge these, anyway?" asked aardvark, laying down his pen and looking at komodo dragon.

komodo dragon waved him away, scratching out a word on his own pad.

"Time!" said Robert Frost, the poet.

"SHHH!" said the librarian, and pointed to a sign on the wall, which said



"Understood," said Robert Frost, the poet.

The three of them walked out into the hallway, Robert Frost bringing up the rear and closing the door behind them, and made their way to the library steps.  Once there, out on the street in the fine fall afternoon, the sun streaming down to hit the sidewalk across the street but leaving them in a cool shadow, the poet turned to them.

"Okay," he instructed them.  "Read."

"Right here?" asked komodo dragon, eyeing the crowds walking past.  A few stopped and watched, and he felt self-conscious.

"A poet never fears the public," Robert Frost, the poet, told them.

"Is that a saying or something?" komodo dragon asked.

"Read," Robert Frost, the poet, commanded.

"Yeah! Read!" yelled an antelope from up the street.  komodo dragon looked at him, and he scampered a few feet further back, near the E bus stop.

"I will go first," aardvark volunteered, and without further preparation he read his poem, pronouncing the syllables crisply and not pausing at the end of the rhymes but instead reading it through as though spoken, the correct way.

"Excellent," said Robert Frost, the poet.

"Bravo!" yelled the antelope at the bus stop.  A few of the onlookers nodded appreciatively.  It was a fine poem, exactly the sort of love poem the challenge called for.

"Your turn," aardvark told komodo dragon, who riffled his papers nervously.  "This is for the contest, after all."

komodo dragon cleared his throat, and looked at Robert Frost.

"A poet never hesitates," Robert Frost, the poet, said.

"Seriously, are these actual sayings?" komodo dragon asked.

The E bus came and went, the antelope declining to get on.  Now all the waiting had raised an expectancy in the crowd and the relative quiet after the bus pulled away seemed almost silent, although a city of that size is never silent at that time of day (3:18 p.m., on a Wednesday, as it happens.)

komodo dragon held up his paper.

The crowd watched, not really a crowd, about 7 people counting the antelope as a person and counting Robert Frost, the poet, as a person as well.

komodo dragon looked at them all.

"My love poem," he said.

And he dropped the papers and grabbed the aardvark and ran off.

Behind him, Robert Frost, the poet, picked up the papers.  Most of them were blank.  Some had scratched out words on them.  The one komodo dragon had been holding had written at the top

Their once was a lady komodo dragon from Nantucket

Robert Frost, the poet, smiled slyly and tucked that paper into his pocket.

"A poet," he told an old woman carrying an onion who stood next to him, "Gets his inspiration from many sources."

* * * * * *

komodo dragon 1 aardvark, technically, 2

* * * * * *

aardvark struggled only momentariliy before deciding komodo dragon was too strong for him to wrestle away from.

The antelope hadn't even tried to help.

Circle of life.

As komodo dragon ran down the street, his mind raced.  Where should he go?  Traffic was busy, but who was chasing him? Maybe nobody?  He looked over his shoulder, saw that nobody was paying any attention. He slowed to a brisk stride, keeping a good grip on aardvark.

"We had a deal," aardvark mumbled from under his grasp.

"Had," komodo dragon said.  "I am a predator.  You are prey.  This is the way it was always going to end."

"Did you always plan to cheat?"

komodo dragon looked surprised.

"I am not cheating," he said.  He stopped, held aardvark up in front of himself.  "Why would you think I am cheating?"

"The contest.  I won."


"So you should not eat me."

"I am a predator.  You are prey."

"Then why the contest?"

"I gave you a chance at life."

"And took it away."

"No, you misunderstand.  When you were standing in line in that coffeeshop, you were doomed.  Whether or not I walked by, whether or not I gave you a sporting chance, whether or not you prevailed in the contest, even before you and I knew the other existed, before our lives crossed, you were doomed.  You were always going to die, and all that remained was the manner in which your life ended.  And when I saw you, that, even, was no longer in doubt.  You were going to be my prey.  But I gave you an opportunity, before the end, to live one last bit."

aardvark remembered how many afternoons he had spent, slumped in a chair, thumbing through copies of The Atlantic and wondering if perhaps he should not get a job, or get married.  A tear formed in his eye.

"Skydiving was wonderful, wasn't it?" he asked komodo dragon, who grinned fiercely.

"You were terrified," he said.

"I was," aardvark agreed, without regret or shame.

Then he wriggled free and began running himself.

komodo dragon immediately took after him, of course, and the chase lasted only a block, past the shoe store and the wedding dress store and the bakery, to end in the corner bodega, aardvark standing in the candy aisle, komodo dragon looming in the doorway.  There were three aisles to the store, and the door at the back was locked.  aardvark picked up a handful of Milky Ways, brandished them at komodo dragon.

"Really," komodo dragon said, his accent barely audible as he hissed.  The storekeeper watched them boredly.  "Is this a better way to end it? It will end, and it will end with you as prey, me as predator.  But my way had dignity.  You were given a chance to fly, to star, to teach the world of love via your poem.  And you chose not to leave on that note, but to die in a dirty bodega..."

"...Hey!" interrupted the shopkeeper.  komodo dragon ignored him.

"With a handful of candy bars as your ludicrous defense."

"I don't want to be prey," said aardvark.

"But that is the way of it," said komodo dragon.

aardvark dropped the Milky Ways, dropped to all fours.

"Let me ask you something," komodo dragon said.

"Why not?" aardvark said.

"Did you write the poem about someone in particular?"

aardvark shook his head, but he was lying, and komodo dragon knew it.

"Who was she?"

aardvark shrugged.

"Do you want to tell her?" komodo dragon whispered.

* * * * * *
game over

* * * * * *

komodo dragon hoisted aardvark up to the countertop.  The shopkeeper handed the phone to aardvark, who stood on the counter next to the beef jerky and the lottery tickets and cigarettes and fliers for missing cats, and dialed the number.  It had been five years!

Five years!

komodo dragon watched aardvark's paws shake a little as he held the receiver in one and toyed with the cord in the other.

The phone on the other end rang once.



It was picked up and he heard her voice, greeting him.

He couldn't talk at first and she asked if someone was there, who it might be.

"Go on," komodo dragon whispered.

"Yeah, go on, talk, man!" the shopkeeper said.

aardvark mumbled, "Hi, it's me," into the phone, and there was a silence on the other end of the line that only he could hear.  komodo dragon and the shopkeeper had to guess what was going on. After a long time, aardvark heard the voice ask if it was him.

"It's me," he said.

More silence. komodo dragon wished it was on speaker phone.  Was she talking? What was she saying?

"I'm sorry I left you," aardvark said into the silence.

"I was scared," he added.

The other end of the phone was still silent.

"But I'm not anymore," aardvark said.

Then he heard crying on the other end of the phone, crying so loud that even komodo dragon and the shopkeeper could hear it.

"What..." aardvark said, because he knew that crying was expected but was not sure why she was crying, whether it was new sadness or old sadness or both, leftovers made to look new.

She told him that the gypsy had promised her that aardvark would call her, once, before he died.

aardvark began crying, too.

"Prophecies are slippery," he said between tears.  But below him, komodo dragon's bright eyes glowed and his teeth were sharp and he still stood between aardvark and the door.

How else could this end? he thought, but he was not thinking, at that moment, of komodo dragon's teeth, only of the day he had walked out the door.

"I flew, sort of," he said into the phone, and she began crying again.

* * * * * *
aardvark flies, again
* * * * * *

In times of greatest danger, there are ways to bend the laws, if you really, really want to do so and muster all your energy.

Here is what happened.  It was not too extraordinary, but it was somewhere between ordinary and extra-ordinary.

aardvark shouted "I always loved you!" into the phone.

The shopkeeper clapped and laughed.

komodo dragon, sensing what was afoot, lunged and snapped together his terrible jaws.

aardvark had jumped as high and far as he could, using all of his might, to go straight up in the air, but as he was below the cigarette rack in the bodega he bumped into it and rolled to the side and crashed into komodo dragon's sensitive nose, falling to the floor and leaving komodo dragon gnashing his teeth onto his own tongue.

They all three froze for just a millionth of a second, until aardvark bolted out the door.

komodo dragon sighed.

"Aren't you going to get him? Or are you letting him go?" the shopkeeper asked incredulously.

"Neither. And both," komodo dragon said.  "I am predator, he is prey."

The sunlight, outside, hit that particular part of a fall afternoon that makes you remember that once it was summer but it will not be again for some time.

"I can be patient," said komodo dragon.


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