Thursday, June 22, 2017

Story 191: You’ll Only Really Be Famous After You’re Dead

            “What am I doing wrong?”  Friend 1 asked Friend 2.
            Friend 2 was in the middle of constructing a very convoluted and unstable medieval society and could not afford to be distracted.  “You’re gonna have to be specific: wrong about what, your life path?  Your decision to move to a suburb instead of an urb?  Having a crush on your co-worker?  Your career choice?  Your haircut?  Your – ”
            “Knock it off, you know what I mean!”
            It seemed that the world-building would have to wait until a more opportune time, sigh.  “I really don’t, there’re just too many choices.”
            “You’re hilarious.  I’m talking about my artwork!”
            “Oh, that again.”
            “Why aren’t I famous and making a billion dollars by now?!  I’ve been at it my whole life!  Practically.  Why does no one recognize my talent?!”
            “Maybe because you don’t have any.  Sorry, that was just a reflex, I didn’t mean it.”
            Anyway, I’ve done all I can possibly do to push my works of genius onto the unsuspecting public, I’ve advertised myself like crazy, I’ve built such an online platform that I could take a nose dive off it – short of busking in the street and throwing my paintings at people, what else can I do to make any kind of money off my only life skill?!”
            Friend 2 gave this a few moments of actual serious consideration.  “Well, you know most artists are only truly famous after they’re dead, so maybe you should just die.”
            “You’re really sick sometimes, I feel obligated to point out.”
            “Oh, I forgot the air quotes; I meant ‘die.’”  She did the air quotes this time.  “As in, not really dead, but your online audience thinks you are.  A social media death, if you will.”
            “I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”
         “You have all your stuff for sale on your Web site and you’re always on all those other networks, right?  So, once it’s announced all over there that you’re dead, what’s online is as real as reality and your work will be worth a fortune because now it’s tragic.”
            “I’m pretty certain that’s considered fraud.”
            “Not if someone else is the one saying it and you’re not involved.  Then you come back later, say it was all a mistake that that someone else made, and your work will sell even more since they’ll be post-resurrection.”
            “I don’t know, it all seems so… underhanded.”
            “It is, but do you want results or not?  You also probably want to hire a stranger to do this for you – I’d do it for free, but the authorities’d probably trace it back to you.”
            “If I pay someone they’ll trace it back to me, too!”
            “Good point.  Maybe find someone who’ll do it pro bono – ooh, I know a guy I’m going to blackmail, this’ll be perfect!”
            Friend 2 arrived at Friend 1’s apartment.  “So – how’s life in the great beyond?”
          “Terrible.  That guy you made me give all my passwords to so he could hack my accounts?  He’s absolutely awful.  What exactly do you have on him?”
        “Everything.  He did great work, though – you’re officially dead as far as cyberspace is concerned.”
            “I know, and I feel miserable.  All my friends and relatives are freaking out!”
            “Oh, you actually have real friends online?”
            “Yes!  Why, don’t you?”
           “Heck no – I don’t want any of them knowing my business.  Total strangers, though, they’re cool.”
            “I should’ve known this’d happen before I went along with your stupid idea!”
            “I resent that; you have results, don’t you?  Isn’t the money rolling on in as we speak?”
           “No!  It isn’t rolling on anywhere!  My bank account is frozen while my family is trying to habeas my corpus!”
            “Ohhhhh…. But you’re stuff’s selling like hotcakes, right?”
            One painting sold.”
            “See!  That was one more than you’d sold last week!  You’re making progress!”
          “I’m ending this: I’m coming back to life, I'm confessing all, I’m going to jail, and this nightmare will all be over.”
            “Let’s not be hasty now – you wouldn’t want the authorities tracing this back to me, would you?  I thought we discussed this.”
            “I would want it traced back to you!  You and your… consultant!  I can’t believe I let you convince me this was any sort of good!”
            “Well, you weren’t famous before, and now you’ll be so famous that you’ll probably have a court television show based on you.  I honestly don’t understand why people always complain when they get exactly what they want.”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Story 190: Neverending Summer Traffic

            The self-proclaimed Head of Household entered the kitchen where the rest of the family had been at their various activities: a declaration needed to be made.
            Addressing each in turn, Head of Household stated: “Life Partner; Mother; 2.5 Children – ”
            “Woof!”  Child 0.5 replied.
            “ – since none of you can agree upon the very important decision of where we should go on our summer vacation, I am pulling rank and telling you all where we are going to have the time of our lives this year.”
            Child 1 whined, “But Mom, I really wanted – ”
            “For the last time, we are not going to the North Pole!  Now, considering the multiple factors of logistics, projected return on investment of entertainment value, and budgetary restraints due to the seven weddings we are obligated to attend this year, I have decided that it would be in all our best interest to use an old stand-by: we are going to The Shore.”
            Everyone else, including Child 0.5, gasped.
            “And not just any The Shore: The Jersey Shore.”
            The same all screamed (or howled) in terror.
            “What are you thinking?!  Do you hate us?!”  Life Partner stood to make his point.  “Do you have any idea of the traffic that we’re going to hit going down there?  And back?!”
           Head of Household shifted her feet slightly.  “I am well aware of all that; my calculations demonstrate that the final destination is more than worth it.”
            “Oh really?”  Life Partner countered.  “And what are we going to do about Grammy, hm?”
          Grammy chimed in: “What are you talking about?  My father used to drive us in worse conditions every single weekend.  Now those were vacations, let me tell you.”
            Child 2 decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Why would we want to go to The Jersey Shore anyway – we’re in the middle of Canada!”
          “And?”  Head of Household rejoined.  “You want to go to The Shore here?”  Silence answered.  “That’s what I thought.  All right, start packing: we’re leaving in six months.”


          Standing outside their caravan, Head of Household had reached the end of her 20-page checklist: “Last but nowhere in the least – does anyone need to use the bathroom before we leave?”
            “You already had walkies.  And we’re off!”
           They made good time, then threw it out the window upon the last leg of the journey: that sluggish morass, that generator of curse words, that bottleneck-rubberneck-steaming neck of trapped souls, sunburned hopes, and dehydrated dreams that is the Garden State Parkway.  [It really only is like that between Memorial and Labor Days – the rest of the year, outside of rush hours and holidays, it’s not that bad.]
           The caravan was one of the thousands of ovens literally inching forward as all processed to the mythical Shore, that wonderful place that included the paradisiac lands of The Beach, The Boardwalk, and The Tiki Bar.  Head of Household refused to allow Life Partner to take over the wheel, not when they were a mere 117 miles from their destination.
          Grammy was buying some new songs for her player and decided to head off the so-called argument she was hearing up front: “You know, this still doesn’t beat the Traffic Jam of `65.  Took two days to advance half a mile, and we had to refuel about four times.”
            Child 1 was curious: “Was there a gas station close enough so you could pull over?”
            “Heck no!  And lose our place in line?  Nope, me and your great-aunt and great-uncle took turns finding one.  On the last go-round when I went, by the time I came back the car was gone: met them at the hotel the next day.  Probably was scared to death at the time, but it makes for a good story of how tough and indifferent we all were way back when.  Anyways, Dad started carrying extra fuel ever since.”
            “That was on the checklist, Mother!”  Head of Household was beginning to crack but could not lose face.
            Child 2 got an idea.  “Mom, want me to walk ahead and see how far this goes?”
            “Absolutely not!”
            “Why not?”  Life Partner countered on principle.  “He’ll probably get there before we do.”
          Head of Household quickly calculated the risk and benefits of continuing what would ultimately be a losing argument and grabbed Child 0.5’s leash.  “Here, go walk the dog to that hill and you can confirm for us that this continues all the way to Exit 0.”
            “Yes!”  Child 2 walked Child 0.5 across the six lanes of stationary traffic to the grassy side of the parkway.  He and the dog breathed the fresh air and took their time getting back.
            Head of Household released the brake for two seconds before settling in again for the next hour.
          Life Partner was skimming the newspaper: “Huh.  I guess if we lived here we would’ve remembered that this was 4th of July weekend.”
            “I remembered,” Head of Household said in a strained voice.  “It was the only weekend this summer I could get off from work.”
            “Oh.  Still.”
            “Not another word, I’m begging you.”
            Child 2 re-entered the caravan: “There’s a huge accident up ahead, looks like about 10 cars all crashed into each other and everyone’s being diverted to the shoulder.”
            “Oh, thank goodness,” Head of Household sighed.  “Not for them, I mean – it clears up a little after all that, right?”
            “Nope; piles right up again.”
            “You know,” Grammy said while mixing a cocktail, “back in the Traffic Jam of `61, about 20 cars crashed one right into the other, all because somebody wanted to make a left turn where a left turn could not physically be made.  Your Great-Aunt Peggy was born during the times of that Jam – our neighbor car was driven by a veteran Army medic, so that all worked out.  I learned a lot that day.”
            Head of Household started to slump on the steering wheel, then saw the brake lights of the car ahead go out; she quickly advanced the precious centimeter.
           Child 1 felt compelled to ask: “Is it too late to turn around and do a staycation?  It’ll be cooler.”
          Head of Household responded with all her restraint: “We are staying the course to the wondrous, glorious, pristine, all-roads-lead-to-The Shore where all is bright and happy and nothing bad ever happens, ever!”
            “What Shore are you talking about?”  Grammy asked, then settled back to take a nap.  This may become the Traffic Jam of `17, she thought, but she had lived through worse back in her day.  This one was amateur.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Story 189: Useful Injury

            (Friend 1 lies stretched out on his couch, holding his injured head, when his phone rings.  He stares at the caller ID for a few moments before answering with a stuffed-sounding nose)
            Friend 1: What’s up?
            Friend 2: “What’s up?”  That’s what I’m calling you for, man – Receiving said your face got all messed up, what happened?
            Friend 1: Nah, it wasn’t anything, I’ll be in tomorrow `cause they won’t give me any extra time off for this.  It’s too embarrassing to ask for anyway.
            Friend 2: Word is that one of the truck’s brakes failed and ran you over.
            Friend 1: What?!  Ow, no, that wasn’t it and I really don’t want to talk about it, OK?
            Friend 2: C’mon, I won’t tell.  You gonna be scarred for life, you think?
            Friend 1: No!  I don’t think I will be.  What if I will be?!
            Friend 2: Spill it.
          Friend 1: All right, I was moving some boxes on top of a fixture in the back when a really heavy one on top fell off and landed on my face and almost knocked me off the ladder.  And yes, it was my own fault for not checking how they were stacked first.  Happy?
            Friend 2: Not really; that’s kind of banal.  So what’s the damage?
            Friend 1: About 15 journals and 30 sets of stationery.
            Friend 2: Not in the box, on your face!
           Friend 1: Oh, a bunch of cuts, black eyes, and probably a broken nose.  Maybe I’ll get an X-ray if it still hurts; I dunno, I really don’t feel like it.
            Friend 2: Broken, huh?  So you look pretty awful right now, you’d say?
            Friend 1: Yeah, I’d say that: thanks for your concern.
           Friend 2: Mind doing me a favor and coming to the bar on Main with me for a few minutes?  I’ll drive you to the E.R. or wherever after to get your X-ray.
            Friend 1: I don’t know, you’re one of my shadier friends; what’s this about?
          Friend 2: No need for details, you don’t have to do a thing except sit there, plausible deniability, etc., whaddya say?
            Friend 1: I guess I could use a ride; I’m starting to feel dizzy –
            Friend 2: Be there in five.
            (At the bar on Main, Friend 2 sets up Friend 1 on a barstool)
            Friend 2: Right, just hang out here for a bit.  What drink don’t you like?
            Friend 1: Uh, um, well I hate whiskey –
            Friend 2: (Gives money to Bartender) One shot of whiskey for my friend here.
            Friend 1: I just said –
            Friend 2: (Takes the glass from Bartender and gives it to Friend 1) You don’t have to drink the whole thing, just sip it every so often.  Now, I’m going to be sitting with my… associate, right over there (Points to a fellow shady man at a nearby table), so when you hear me say “My friend over there,” take a quick sip, turn around to face us, and let nature take its course on your face.
            Friend 1: That’s gonna hurt and probably start bleeding again, and you said all I had to do was sit here.
            Friend 2: Right.  You don’t even have to get up.  (Slaps him on the shoulder and saunters over to sit at the shady table)
          Friend 1: (Sips the whiskey and painfully grimaces) Oh, I think some of my brains got knocked out of my ears.
            (Bartender comes over, wiping the counter)
            Bartender: So what’s your story?
           Friend 1: I’d like to say I was at a place like this on a Saturday night, some guy got in my face, I got in his, you know the rest, but it really was I got in a fight with a falling box and we both lost.
            Bartender: Yeah, the bar story’s better; the real one makes you sound clumsy.
            Friend 1: Aren’t you supposed to kiss up to me as long as I’m drinking here?
            Bartender: Why?  You didn’t pay for it.  (Continues on down the counter)
            Friend 1: (Mutters into the glass) At least fake it.
            Friend 2: (In the distance) My friend over there…
            (Friend 1 closes his eyes and leans on one hand)
            Friend 2: (Louder) My friend over there….
            (Friend 1’s eyes shoot open; he takes a quick sip, turns, and has a horrible look on his beaten face as he sees terror enter the eyes of the shady man sitting with Friend 2.  The latter unobtrusively gives Friend 1 a thumbs-up and turns back to the shady man; Friend 1 turns back to the counter as Bartender places a small glass filled with clear liquid and ice in front of him)
            Bartender: Here – on the house.
            Friend 1: Oh, thanks, what is it, vodka?
            Bartender: Tap water.  Hold it against your nose for 20 minutes; next time, ice that thing right away.  (Leaves)
            Friend 1: (Holds the glass gingerly against his nose) Helpful.
            (Friend 2 appears suddenly behind Friend 1, startling him into spilling some of the water)
            Friend 2: You did great!  Let’s go.
            Friend 1: But the nice lady gave me ice.
          Friend 2: (Drags him away from the counter) Why have ice when you can have prescription painkillers?
            Friend 1: You know, that’s a serious problem; epidemic, really –
            Friend 2: I completely understand.  (He pushes him out the door)
           (Two days later, Friend 1 is sitting on his couch again, now with bandages wrapped all around his head.  His phone rings; he sees the caller ID, sighs, and answers with an even stuffier-sounding nose)
            Friend 1: What?
            Friend 2: Hey, just checking in – you still look hideous?
            Friend 1: Of course I do, I don’t want to leave the house for a month, what do you want?
          Friend 2: Good, since you’re free right now, could you meet up with me in Vegas for a few hours?
            Friend 1: What?!!
           Friend 2: Don’t worry, I’ve got it all worked out, I just need your driver’s license number for the plane ticket.
            Friend 1: Good-bye!
            Friend 2: No, not the license plate, the license –
            (Friend 1 disconnects the call; Friend 2 calls him back)
            Friend 1: What.
            Friend 2: We got disconnected back there; as I was saying, you wouldn’t have to do a thing –
            Friend 1: Not doing anything!
          Friend 2: Fine, forget Vegas.  Could I pick you up in a few minutes so we can visit my brother?  He still owes me some money.
            Friend 1: No, no, no!  Ow, ow, ow.  Don’t call me ever again or I’ll visit you!
            Friend 2: There’s no need to get testy.  You wouldn’t have to do a thing!
            Friend 1: I definitely won’t now.
           Friend 2: Don’t hang up; where am I going to find another face like yours so conveniently at my disposal?!
            Friend 1: I’m sure you could arrange something for yourself.  (Disconnects and turns off his phone, lying back down on the couch)
            Friend 2: Of course!  Why haven’t I thought of that earlier?  I should just have someone beat me up so everyone then would be afraid of me!  I wouldn’t even have to do a thing!