Thursday, December 26, 2013

Story 14: LEAF WARS: Rakes! Vs.! Blowers!

               It was a balmy December 22 – the final leaves that had been clutching to their branches had been ripped off by high winds at last, and the bodies now blanketed the lawns, getting tracked in everywhere as they simultaneously smothered the hibernating grass.  These were almost-perfect conditions for the neighborhood’s annual LEAF WARS.
            As the contestants emerged from their home bases, they already were armed in their hats, coats, jeans, and special sneakers.  The coats were doffed later on as it became too unseasonably hot, but no one wanted be seen as the first weakling to do so.
            The gloves were selected and put on carefully by the amateurs – the serious players went sans.  The same applied for sunglasses and lip balm, all of which were potential impediments.
            Next was the selection of weaponry, wherein the true contest lay.  The unspoken debate raged over which was superior in efficiency, the rake or the blower.  Some argued that each item actually complimented the other – those some never won.  These were the same people who were satisfied with their scoopers, mini-rakes, dustpans, and a job well done.
            A hush fell over the street as each person sized up the enemies who lived closest to them.  Already, points were being added and deducted for leaves winding up lawns not featuring the originating tree; the number of trees on the property divided by the wind’s velocity times the amount of fencing; and how many children (their own and borrowed) enlisted to assist.  Those who used lawn service were disqualified.
            At the sound of a paper bag snapping open, they were off.  Blowers roared to life and rakes scraped the very skin off the ground.  The winner would be determined not by the number of bags filled (which could be fudged by not packing each to its utmost potential), but by whichever first had its lawn picked clean and the participants inside drinking hot cocoa or cider, after factoring in the aforementioned handicaps.
            Some devious blowers could offload a bit of their quantity by forcing leaves onto a neighbor’s property under the guise of a passing wind: this was extremely risky and rarely worked, as the referees were the neighborhood porch sitters and they see everything.
            The competition heats up when more bags are needed and a time-out is called while trips to the local home improvement store are made.  The remaining contestants spend this lost time glaring at each other and calculating whether there are any possible benefits to pile diving.
            Usually, the contest boils down to two sets of players of any combination (rake-rake, rake-blower, blower-blower).  As the calluses get the better of them, they frantically cut corners in removing each leaf and instead aim for 95% lawn greenage.  The winner signifies triumph by stapling the last bag shut, throwing the tool of choice into the air, and dashing inside to soak their hands in ice.  The second-place teams stops wherever it is and leaves (pun intended) the rest to Nature, since there is no point in continuing.
            The denuded trees continue to brew their next batch of colorful garbage, and the town prepares to implement curbside leaf vacuuming the following year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Story 13: The Chef

Propping the cookbook open, the pages kept flopping over – she had to use the salt and pepper shakers as a paperweights.  She rummaged through the cabinets for the right pots, she took out all the measuring cups and spoons, she got out all the cutting boards, and she cleared the rest of the countertop – this meal had to be perfect.
The kitchen door opened.  “Hey, hon, about how long do you think –?”
“Patience, my love.”
“Right.”  He left.
She began the endless chopping, slicing, mincing, and dicing, all of which generated pretty much the same results.  With the sweat getting into her eyes and mixing with her onion-induced tears, she took a break to wash the mounting pile of dishes.
The kitchen door opened.  “So, what can we call this dish again?”
“A surprise.”
“OK.  I’ll go back to –”
“Please do.”  He left.
She was only on the first paragraph of the recipe and already was behind schedule.  How long does it take to boil a pot of water, anyway?  And then, would she have enough time to create the sauce before the potatoes were done cooking?  She had not mentally prepped enough and was paying for it in spades.
“I took out the salted butter?!  Son of a –”
“Hon, do you need any help?”
“Yes – could you parboil an egg and make a roux?”
“Don’t make offers you don’t mean.”
The oven had been pre-heating for the past 30 minutes and the fresh herbs still had not been thoroughly plucked.  Why did human beings only have two hands and 10 fingers?  She took another break to sob in the corner while watching the soufflé to make sure it didn’t run over.  Then, she had to re-arrange bowls for the third time to make room to knead dough for the bread.
The kitchen door opened.  “Hon, I just wanted to let you know that it’s almost midnight –”
“GET OUT!”  A jar of pimientos sailed past his head and crashed in the dining room.  He went to clean it up as he breathed “Oh my God.”
The timer went off, the meat was ready, the vegetables were steamed.
“That’s it?  It’s all done?  It’s all done, ahahahahaha!”
From inside the kitchen: “Hope you’re all ready for gourmet cuisine!”  She came in carrying a tray full of bowls and casserole dishes, placed it in the middle of the table, and sat down heavily in her chair.  “Whoo!  ‘No Fuss Meals’, my foot!”
“Hon, this looks delicious.”  He ate a few bites.  “Can I make a suggestion?”
She froze in mid-garnish.
“Seeing as it’s just the two of us, it’s OK to just order a pizza once in awhile.  You don’t need to cook all this every night.”
She considered this for a moment.
           “Where’s the fun in that?”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Story 12: Sinister

I was driving to the store on a Sunday when I saw a postal service truck turn down a street.  It didn’t register until I observed again that it was a Sunday when I saw a postal service truck turn down a street.
The whole thing struck me as disproportionately ominous.  There probably was a above-board reason why there was a postal service truck driving around on a day when there is no mail delivery – I just couldn’t think of any.
Mail trucks need gas, too: was it looking for a gas station in a residential area?
Was it making an extra-special delivery that just could not wait another day?
Was one of the employees bringing the truck to another post office?
Did someone steal it?
I decided, against all reason, morals, and mores, to follow that truck, wherever it might lead.  If it led to a warehouse full of drug dealers and dead bodies, at least my curiosity would have been satisfied before I was horribly murdered.
As I stalkerishly drove after it, I thought of other humdrum things that are really disturbing when pondered over longer than the 0.5 seconds they take to cross through my mind.  For instance:
The sound of birds chirping long after the sun has set.  Shouldn’t they be sleeping?  The same applies to the sounds of geese honking as they migrate in the middle of the night.
The sight of children walking the roads during a school day.
Road kill that remains in the same spot for days.
E-mail error messages from accounts where the original message had not been sent.  If it failed to be delivered to those non-intended recipients, where else is this message going?
A phone calling you back to finish the message you had cut yourself off leaving.
When your pets memorize your schedule and know when to wait in the window, then scream at you when you come home late.
Left-handed people suddenly using their right hand for no good reason – ironically, even if only to not be thought of as sinistra.
The list goes on.
We traveled down street after street, with no end in sight.  I hung back a little so as not to make the tail too obvious, so I almost lost the truck when we came to a traffic light.  At that point, another car that had been hovering in our wake tried to get into the same lane where I was: all eight of our tires screeched on braking.
I got out of the car at the same time as the other driver and did a quick scan.  “No damage!”  I hurriedly ducked back in.
The other driver said, “It’s OK, I’m in a hurry, please let me go first and I’ll be out of your way!”
Panic made me blurt out the truth.  “You don’t understand – I’ve been following that truck and I can’t lose it!”
The other driver froze.  “I’ve been following it too, for an hour.  It hasn’t stopped yet.  I have to know –”
“Why is it out on a Sunday?!!” We both had the same thought.  At long last, I had found a kindred spirit.
As I settled back in my car, I said, “You’ve invested more time in this – go after it, and post somewhere online what the answer is!”
He got back into his car and yelled through an open window.  “I will!  I promise!  If I don’t make it, let the world know my story!”  He sped away on bald tires.
“Godspeed!”  I shouted after him.  I never saw him again. 
I drove back to the main road under a metaphorical cloud – I may never know where that truck was going, what it was doing, or why I cared so much when I had grocery shopping to do.
Some time later, I found this message posted online:
           “Just got out of jail for harassment of a postal employee.  Turns out the truck was making Sunday deliveries now that it’s the Christmas/Hanukkah season.  Well played, USPS – well played.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Story 11: Walk for Life

            The feature story cut to the reporter on the scene, the only person at the event who is dressed in a suit.  He speaks with an English accent, which underscores his authority.
            Reporter: I am standing here in Seaview Towne, surrounded by, literally, tens of thousands of people, all gathered together for one purpose: the 757th Walk to Kill Breast Cancer.  I cover this event multiple times each month, and I am always amazed at the dedication and support that this cause consistently generates.  The time, effort, and funds entailed truly are admirable.
            (He brings the cameraman to the registration booth)
Registrar: (To a Registrant) Good morning, thank you for supporting the Walk to Kill Breast Cancer.
            Registrant: (Pauses in handing over a check) Hold on – I thought this was the Walk to Kill Juvenile Diabetes?
            Registrar: I think that got moved to next week.
            Registrant: (Turns away muttering) Again with the stupid breast cancer, thinks it’s better than everybody else.
            Reporter: At the stage, we have the party D.J.s from a local radio station here to warm everyone up for the grand event.
            (The camera swings over to show the dancers exercising, then starting to strip; the image cuts to the Reporter, standing next to a Walker whose shirt is covered in decals)
            Reporter: I am standing here with a local resident who has broken all sorts of records with the staggering amount of money she has raised for this event: over $300,000 from 52 different sponsors.  Tell me, miss, how did you manage to raise so much money, virtually single-handedly?
            Walker: Well, my employer (Points to the top center decal on her shirt) wanted me to walk, so I said, “Sure”, and I kept telling people I was walking, and people kept asking me to walk for them for their jobs, so I said I’d walk for whoever’d give me money.  Woo-hoo!
            Reporter: I think it is fantastic that you were able to raise all that money to donate to such a worthy cause.
            Walker: (Blinks) Yes.  Donate.  All that money.  All that money….
            (Cut to a dog wearing a T-shirt and riding in a cart)
            Reporter: (Squatting for the interview) Tell me, Rover, how did you score such a sweet gig while everyone else here has to slog through the trenches, hm?
            Rover: Huff.
            (Starting pistol)
            Reporter: (Suddenly standing at the top of a fire engine’s ladder) And they’re off! (Watches for a few moments) Getting 20,000 people to fit through one entrance is a bit slowgoing, so let’s come back when they actually start walking, shall we?
            (Commercial break)
            Reporter: (On the ground) Hello, welcome back to our coverage of the Walk to Kill Breast Cancer.  The initial bottleneck at the start of the Walk has eased up, so the participants’ speed has advanced to zombie as they wind through the town.  They must traverse 5 km of the pre-established route, else the whole thing is meaningless.  I am now trespassing through private property to get a view of the front of the mob. 
(Cut to a boardwalk)
Reporter: As you can see behind me, some intrepid participants are utilizing the now-free beach to ease their claustrophobia, and one forward-thinking lad brought his own surfboard to advance in the event.  (Looks out at the ocean – the camera follows his gaze) Those waves may appear calm now, but I wouldn’t want to be here come winter, if you take my meaning. 
(He is overrun by walkers-turned-joggers; cut to the middle of the town)
Reporter: I am standing here at the last leg (Winks) of the Walk, and we seem to be missing half of our participants.  However, their donations have already been submitted, so the only thing lost is their own personal pride.  (Goes to a water station) The kind folks at a local supermarket have generously been supplying free water bottles to the walkers, and – ooh!  Lawn decorations at half off!  Johnny, quick, give me my wallet.
(Cut to the Finish Line)
Reporter: (With a garden gnome tucked under his arm) Ending where it all began, the Walk finishes in the same gathering place as where it commenced.  There are several hundred stragglers remaining who are now dodging traffic as we speak, since the roads have finally re-opened to automobiles.  Well, that concludes our coverage of the 757th Walk to Kill Breast Cancer, and it appears to have been another smashing success.  I will sign off this report with one final shot of the many, many, many cars all struggling to leave town at the exact same time.  (He hops onto a helicopter)
(Cut to an aerial view of the lines of cars inching towards the town’s lone exit)
Reporter: This is Channel 12,345, reporting live, from the only way to travel.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Story 10: What Not to Put on Your Résumé, What Not to Say at the Interview

            The Supervisor looks up as her Assistant knocks on her office door.
            Assistant: Your 10:00 interview is here.
            Supervisor: Thank you, send him right in.
            After her Assistant leaves, the Supervisor pulls out a sheaf of papers stapled together and scans through them, a slight furrow in her brow.  She looks up again as her Assistant escorts the Applicant into the office and closes the door behind him.
            Supervisor: (Dropping the pages onto her desk, stands and shakes the Applicant’s hand) Hello, thank you for coming in this morning.
            Applicant: Oh, thank you for seeing me.  I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you about the job.
            Supervisor: (Smiles and indicates the chair in front of her desk) Have a seat.  (They both sit in the appropriate chairs) Did anyone out there offer you something to drink?  Coffee, water?
            Applicant: Yes, she did – I’m good, thanks.
            Supervisor: All right, let’s begin, then.  (She picks up the stapled papers again) I must say, I found your résumé to be very impressive.
            Applicant: (Blushes) Thank you.
            Supervisor: As librarians, you know we have that hair-in-the-bun, shush-everyone image – stigma, really – that we always like to disprove to the public.  It’s especially encouraging when someone with experiences such as yours joins the profession.
            Applicant: (Laughs awkwardly)
            Supervisor: (Puts on a pair of glasses) I really just have a few questions on some items here.
            Applicant: Oh?!
            Supervisor: (Looks up momentarily) Between your bachelor’s and master’s degrees, you had a few positions in different fields.  For a year after college, you joined the Peace Corps – that’s very admirable.
            Applicant: Oh yeah, that – it wasn’t.
            Supervisor: Wasn’t what?
            Applicant: Admirable.  Of me, I mean.  I couldn’t find a real job and my life was pretty much garbage at that point, and I’d always heard that volunteering is good for self-esteem.  I really just wanted to surround myself with people worse off than I was, but when I got there I knew I was a fake.  I only stayed out of embarrassment.
            Supervisor: I’m sure you did some good while you were there.
            Applicant: (Shrugs) Eh.
            Supervisor: (Turns a page) Well, after you came back to the States, you went on to work at a car dealership.  Customer service experience, then?
            Applicant: Oh, actually I had thought that the employees could get free cars and I needed one.  Turned out they just get a discount.
            Supervisor: (Looks at the page) You were there for three years.
            Applicant: They had really good coffee.
            Supervisor: During that time you earned your master’s degree, then you have a bit of a gap between that and your next job.
            Applicant: I took some personal time off – family.
            Supervisor: Oh – I hope you don’t mind me asking, did you start a family?
            Applicant: No, I was burying family.  They just kept dying around then, back-to-back.
            Supervisor: Oh, I’m so sorry.
            Applicant: It’s OK – everybody dies, right? The funeral home started waiving fees after awhile, so it all worked out.
            Supervisor: (Clears her throat) I see you then moved on to work at a public library for about two years, during which you were summoned to – (Holds up the papers to the Applicant) am I reading this right? – a Congressional hearing?!
            Applicant: (Laughs) Oh, that has been the highlight of my career.  Although, (Whispers) I can't really talk about it.
            Supervisor: Was the hearing directly involving you?
            Applicant: Who knows?
            Supervisor: One last question – (Reading from the last paper) it says here that you have a personal Web site, but when I looked it up I saw that it distributes pirated movies.  Did I enter the address correctly?
            Applicant: You most certainly did.  I can you get you a special deal on one that hasn’t even come out in theaters yet, if you’d like.
            Supervisor: You do know that we take copyright law very seriously and infringement is to be avoided whenever possible?
            Applicant: It’s OK, it falls under fair use: I’m educating my customers on how to stick it to the man.
            Supervisor: Well, that about wraps this up.  (Stands and sticks out her hand) Thank you again for coming.
            Applicant: (Stands and shakes her hand) So, should I expect to hear from you within a week?
            Supervisor: Absolutely not.
            Applicant: Fair enough – could you give me advice on anything I could improve in the future, then?
            Supervisor: Yes: on your résumé, replace pretty much everything we talked about today with “Personal Time Off”.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Story 9: Amorous Peacocks and Posing Giraffes

              The zoo was open year-round, but that day was especially busy due to the influx of young.  Their herds scattered as they made strange noises, ate everything in sight, and disturbed the established residents.  There was comfort in knowing that, by 2:00 p.m., they would be corralled by their keepers and noisily shipped back to the elementary schools from which they came.
            Before entering the front gates, a main feature of the zoo was the peacocks.  They strolled by the guests, not actively begging for food but deigning to eat anything that just happens to be tossed in their direction.  The males were looking for dates, as evidenced by their full plumage out on display, those shameless hussies.  They would attempt to trap the females within a cage of their feathers, but the girls knew better and would not be fooled by these hookers.  They knew that the price – the responsibility of bearing and raising babies – was much too high.
            Admission was a suggested donation of $15 – anything lower would be thrown back into the person’s face and a ranger would drive them off the property.  Parking was wherever a car could fit, with shuttle transport available for those parked past the mile point.
            One section of the zoo featured a replica of a savannah and included tourists on safari and poachers.  Those taking photos focused on the runway giraffe, a model who would pose for the audience so her fellow captives would not need to suffer the shame.  She strolled in front of the viewing platform, batting her eyes and swiveling her hips, then strolled back to the hay wain where she rested for two hours after her ordeal.  After she had had a baby, though, she smacked the cameras out of people’s hands with her head and brayed something that sounded very close to: “[Beep]ing paparazzi!”
            The reptile house had its own charms – the snakes in all varieties always sent a thrill up the spine, especially when one could see the shape of a small pig through the boa constrictor’s body.  The chameleons were a cheat, though: the zoo claimed they were so good at camouflage that no one could ever find them, when most people suspected that those displays actually had been empty of animate objects for years.
            The lions slept a lot in the back of their pens – roars would be heard, although they were at the same timbre, pitch, and duration on the hour, every hour.  One did attack the fence when a guest acted antagonistically toward him (the guest was subsequently put to sleep).
            The bears were a bit confused in their set-up.  The black bears were kept in the same area as the polar, and they all were expected to play together.  The black bears stayed in their trees, and the polar bears looked upon their inappropriate fake rocks and stream as solidarity with their brethren dealing with the melting Arctic.
            When exiting through the gift shop, the free-range cats herded the unwary to the black hole that is the animal shelter.  Once inside, few escape without a life companion or two, or five: the eyes get you every time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Story 8: The Walking Tour de Towne

            When visiting London in all its Roman glory, do not leave it behind forever without doing at least one walking tour.  The guides know everything about everything, and it is great exercise before, during, or after high tea at Brown’s.
            The tour of Old Westminster meets below the local Underground sign.  The participants huddle in small groups, unsure whether they are all gathered for the same event or just looking to pick each other’s pockets.  The tour guide arrives in a hurry:
            Tour Guide: Right, who’s here for the Old Westminster Tour?  (Hands hold pamphlets into the air) There’s 20 of you?  Blast.  All right, 5 quid each, hand it over, come on, come on, come on!  (Collects the fee from everyone)
            Tourist: Are you sure you’re our guide?  You have an American accent.
           Tour Guide: You’re right, let me check: git.  Any other questions before we begin?  Right, (Sets her watch) we have exactly two hours starting now.  (Walks past the group, then turns) It’s your money we’re wasting: let’s move it!  (At the corner) Right, most of you should understand English no matter where you come from, but in case you panic, (Points to the traffic signal) the hand means “Stop” and the man means “Go”.  If you cross the road when you see the hand instead of the man and get hit by a car, then too bad for you.  And make sure you look to the right before crossing, since traffic’s on the left.
            Tourist: Why do they still drive on the left when most of the world drives on the right?
          Tour Guide: I don’t know, why do we still use feet and Fahrenheit when most of the world uses meters and Celsius?  Because it’s too blooming hard to change it all!  (The man appears and the group crosses unharmed) Right, (Points to Parliament) anyone know the name of that?
            Tour Group: Big Ben.
          Tour Guide: Wrong!  It’s St. Stephen’s Tower – Big Ben is the bell inside.  Impress your friends.  (They walk to a promenade on the water) This here is the Thames – a tidal river, if you can believe it.  Yes indeed: a whole lot of rubbish washes up on shore twice a day.
            Tourist: (Points) Is that the London Eye?
         Tour Guide: Yes, also known as the Eye-Sore, the Monstrosit-Eye, and, my personal favorite, Sauron.  You can see from the Eiffel Tower from the top of it.
            Tourist: Really?
            Tour Guide: No!
            Tourist: Rude.
            (They move on)
           Tour Guide: (Indicating a building) This was where some Roundhead offed some Royalist – (Sees two tourists have lagged behind) oi!  (To the main group) No one else move from this spot, if you value your lives.  (Runs to the stragglers) You can either keep up or be left behind to the natives.  I already have your money, and no one knows you’re here.  (Grabs their arms and shoves them back into the main group)
            (They walk down some streets and stop in front of an old building)
            Tour Guide: This is a bank.  It used to be a church, until it was desecrated.
            Tourist: Don’t you mean deconsecrated?
            Tour Guide: You heard me.
            (They walk down some more streets)
       Tour Guide: This is Downing Street.  Anyone know the most famous address here?  (Silence) Number… 10?  10 Downing Street?  If I said “1700 Pennsylvania Avenue”, would you know what that meant?  (Confused silence) I didn’t think so.  10 Downing Street is where the current Prime Minister resides.  Would anyone like to see it?  (Heads nod) Well, you can’t, because no one is allowed to see it; the guards at the beginning of the street would kill you.
            Tourist: How do the other people who live on this street get home?
            Tour Guide: There are no other people who live on this street.  The ones you see are fake.
            (The tour ends at Westminster Abbey)
            Tour Guide: Would anyone like to see Westminster Abbey?  (Heads nod) Just pay £40 at the door.
            Tourist: How come England never joined the E.U. and adopted the Euro?
            Tour Guide: You know the state of the Euro lately?  Exactly.  (Searching her pockets) Now, anyone got a ciggy?  (She is answered by blank stares) A cigarette?
            Tourist: (Pulls out one) I have some in my fanny pack.  (The Tour Guide slaps her)
            Tour Guide: Potty mouth.  Any questions?  Was anyone actually paying attention to any of this?  (She is answered by the sounds of cameras clicking at the surrounding buildings) `Kay, cheers.  (Walks into a open taxi and speeds off)
            Tourist: Does anyone know where we are?
            The sounds of dogs howling nearby close out the day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Story 7: Crashing on Home

           The island was typical Caribbean, with its lush jungle, white sand, moderate-to-hot temperature, and water that was clear and not putrid.  The people who lived there tried to get by on the main industry available in that job market – tourism.  Otherwise known as foreigner bum-kissing.
            The interior of the island was quiet, but as you made your way towards the shore, the sounds of revelry could not be missed.  On the day The Manly Men and their following arrived, the once-pristine beach was enveloped in a seething mass of humanity, stretching from one end of the island to the other with nary a break.  Those not ensconced in the painstakingly setup beach chairs made do on their own beach towels or in beach cabanas with beach butler service.
            The other tourists were mildly miffed – the barbecue tucked away in the island’s interior was now overrun by screaming, starving fans who disturbed the serious picnickers who were only trying to enjoy their hamburgers in peace.  Those who came to study the local flora, handily labeled with their scientific and common names and surrounded by roaming chickens, gave up on making any progress in their research that day.
            The stage The Men used on the beach was an authentic replica of The Great Barrier Reef, destroyed parts and all.  Michael, Andy, Sandy, and Luke dove off their private luxury tender and swam to shore as clown fish, then ditched the costumes and fooled around for two hours on their fans’ dime.  The show abruptly ended when they announced there was to be an obstacle course event, had a path to the water cleared among the nearly-nude bodies, then ran into the sea and swam back to the cruise ship that was anchored a mile offshore (Michael almost didn’t make it and had to be towed by a local kayaker).  With none of the island’s charms worth sticking around for, the audience bled out onto their own rollicking tenders, bounced across the sea, and were flung into the ship, the closest thing to solid ground they were going to get.  Once emptied, the island began to breathe again.
            The party boat meandered its way back to reality, as all things must end in the fullness of time.  Souvenir sales were racked up by the hundreds, last-minute food and alcohol were downed, more photos than could be seen in a lifetime were developed and purchased, and the breakfast buffet was torn to shreds as the mainland horrifically drew nearer and nearer.
            Still at full speed, the ship came crashing into port on the waves of euphoria.  After their farewell strip show the night before, The Men had snuck away and stood at the bow for hours, waiting for this moment.  Clasping each other’s hands, as the ship met land they leapt as one into the air, gliding in a graceful arc before landing gently into their limousines through the sunroofs.  Having endured traumas beyond expression, they were never seen by their subjects again.
            The remaining cruisers braced themselves to face the many trials of disembarking and scattering to their respective homes at the four corners of the globe.  Relaxing vacations can be quite exhausting.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Story 6: Cruising on the Party Seas

            You cannot truly consider yourself a citizen of the first world until you have gone on a cruise.  It is the ultimate experience in decadence, from the never-ending supply of food, to the never-ceasing flow of liquor, to the never-stopping consumption of diesel fuel.  Even the staff members act as if their jobs are fulfilling, and maybe they are – one likes to think they get to fit in a round of mini-golf every so often.  For some people, a cruise is one of the rare times in their lives when they do not have to work and can truly enjoy themselves.  The world seems to stop as you sail on the floating hotel.
            There usually is a pool deck at the almost-tip-top of the ship, just below that area where a strong wind can shoo you right overboard.  On the first day, before embarking on the voyage, hopefully your muster station is located on that deck so you can sidle over to the hot tub after being sorted into orderly lifeboat lines – lines that will not exist when the ship actually sinks.  The sun gently sets on the horizon, the ship slips out of port, and you glide onto a lounge chair towards relaxing, soothing bliss.
            But wait, what is that noise?  In the now-darkness, you peer through the deck windows and spot, sailing parallel to you, a sister ship.  However, this is not just any ship: lights shooting from it are streaming into the sky and across the water, music is insistently pulsing through the night, and the sounds of cheering crowds echo into the sea.  The ship itself is bouncing up and down on the water in time to the bass beat.  This monstrosity, my friends, is a party boat.
            That’s right: The Manly Men Cruise is in full swing, and the extravaganza has exploded across all decks.  The band members – Michael, Andy, Sandy, and Luke – continue to satisfy their fans’ every wish by standing closer to them than they ever would in normal circumstances.  They do not even need to sing their own songs at this point: they can get away with karaoke as tunes are shuffled by a D.J.  The screams of the crowd take care of the rest.
            Another way they have driven the audience wild is their choice of costume – for this show, they arrived on the deck’s stage dressed as mermen.  This becomes somewhat awkward as they spend an hour hopping around on their tails, but no one cares.
            The crowd around the stage has formed an impromptu mosh pit, the better for all to swarm in comfort.  An intrepid, tiny fan manages to crawl on the floor and squeeze between people’s legs, reaching the empty front section that was semi-barricaded in some semblance of crowd control.  She runs from left to right, holding her professional camera at stage level and keeping the shutter open to create an almost-video, straight into the arms of one of The Men's bodyguards, who picks her up and tosses her into the waving arms of the audience.  She is then crowd-surfed to the nearest waiter, who is all too ready to take her drink order.
            In another section of the jumping crowd, a tall girl with long curly hair cheers with the others and sings along with The Men.  She also surreptitiously lifts cell phones, wallets, and cruise cards from her neighbors as she is crushed against them, tucking each item into her bra straps under her shirt.  She starts to pull a phone out of the jeans pocket of the girl next to her when the intended victim instinctively puts her hand on the same spot.  Looking at the tall girl, she reaches up and pulls off the long, curly wig, revealing the tall girl to be an average-height boy who had discovered a perfect opportunity to obtain others’ possessions.  The other victims, huddled together when they realized that they had been left bereft, see this interchange and mosh their fellow moshers to reach the thief.  The almost-victim beats the boy with his own hair, the others surge upon him, and he succumbs to justice.
            The Men sing on, having been blinded by the constant flashes of camera lights and deafened by the music and screams of adoration years ago.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Story 5: Extreme Apple Picking

            The field was set: row on row of fruit-laden trees standing around, waiting to be ravaged.  The call did not go unheeded, and thousands from across the land swarmed upon the apple orchard, taking all the produce in sight and leaving nothing but piles of fruit corpses in their wakes.  The trees were bred especially to take this type of punishment without tears.
            This year was unusual, in that bad weather and the blight had demonstrated the truest definition of decimation by knocking out one in every 10 apple trees.  The survivors also were filtered as to who had edible product and who still had to recover from last year’s harvest.  So, out of the entire orchard, only about 15 rows were pickable.  The mass of humanity was concentrated there.
            Even though the price per pound is adjusted to include the collateral damage of those apples eaten on site, do not be lulled into complacency – bailiffs patrol the rows and anyone seen taking a bite and tossing the remainder onto the ground will be beaten soundly with truncheons.  Upon regaining consciousness, the offender then must collect all the fallen heroes at the bases of the trees at the end of the day and cart them to the pigs for dinner.  So, before biting into that tempting fruit, ponder how best not to get caught.
            To keep things interesting, every so often a crop duster flies overhead and shoots applesauce at the crowds; the regulars come prepared with jars and spoons and set up a picnic blanket.
            When selecting apples, keep in mind for what use they are intended.  Braeburn is good for baking and is not to be confused with Red Delicious, which is good for nothing.  Golden Delicious, on the other hand, lives up to its name, but should not be confused with its evil twin, Granny Smith.  Ida Red is not bad either, but also can be mixed up with Braeburn or just about any other red apple in sight.  The only thing to Stayman Winesap’s credit is its name, in that it sounds like a character from a P.G. Wodehouse story.  The row for each variety is marked by a sign, but since everything is thrown into one bag, it is all rather futile.
            The carts to transport the apples also can be converted into a child carrier – just ignore the warning written on them.  Hours of fun offset the occasional tumble-out and tears.
            Occasionally, pickers encounter “Apple Jacks”, duals between rival pickers at each end of a row.  No one ever knows what the argument is about, but each party arms themselves with the biggest apple they can find and lobs it at the other’s head.  The one who does not pick up a mealy apple from the ground wins, so no one ever does.
            Various squash such as walnut, spaghetti, and the common pumpkins and gourds also have set up shop at the orchard, alongside an unnecessary row of sunflowers that were planted there just to freak people out.  The pumpkins are authentic imports to supplement the weak harvest; a few have “Made in Pennsylvania” still stamped on them.  When selecting one from the patch, try to make sure it has not already been pre-kicked.
            On the way to the checkout booths, be sure to be ensnared by more local foodstuff – the honey, jams, and hot dogs are just to die for.  Getting one of each type of item should make a full meal.  Everything is paid for in cash or check, so those who only brought credit cards will have to drive two miles to the nearest ATM as their pickings are held hostage until their return.
            Once released from the orchard’s grasp, dump the cart anywhere and join the queue of automobiles now desperate to escape the labyrinth.  Do not let them see you drive in the opposite direction of the line of cars stretched out to the horizon, since that is the faster route and once they find out, it will be ruined for everyone.
            As the sun sets on the massacre, the apple trees dream of a life where the worst to tear their babies from their arms is a harsh breeze.  We all have our fantasies.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Story 4: Renaissance Fairing

Disappointments early in life prepare you for bigger disappointments later in life.

            The trees were brimming with radiant leaves, leaves that were bursting with color as their chlorophyll abandoned them and bitterly clinging to life before finally, exhausted, they relinquished their grasp and plummeted to their mass grave that was the forest floor.
            The wind began to blow that cool, howling blow that shoved glorious Summer aside to make way for cruel Autumn, the season of death.
            Correction: Winter is the season of death.  Autumn is just the season of dying.
           Which makes it the perfect time of year for Renaissance Fairs!  You see one, you’ve seen them all, but each one has its own flair.  One not to be missed recreates 16th-century London, complete with plague.  Hard-core Renaissance Fair-goers, affectionately dubbed “nerds”, save this stop for later in their lives, in case it may be their last – survivors wear their Elizabethan collars and oozing sores with pride.
            Some fairs get a little muddled in their time periods and locales, as with the fair that was shut down soon after its debut for having Shakespearean plays performed next to American Revolutionary War re-enactments.  Another had the always-present joust followed by a lions vs. Christians match in a makeshift Coliseum occupying the same arena.  There never was a winner in the latter event.
            Speaking of the joust – each one follows the same basic formula, so it is always interesting to see deviations.  One featured a knight knocked off his noble steed who was jarred into speaking modern English and pulling a switchblade on his still-astride opponent, who deftly charged in the opposite direction with the aggressor running after him.  Another match saw the “maiden”, a guest selected by one of the knights to fight for, take up the sword she snuck in and soundly defeat her knight’s opponent, who was supposed to fall anyway.  She was banned for life from that company’s Fair.
            As you make the circuit, do not forget to purchase your period clothing, your period weapons, and your period funnel cake.  The period jewelry pieces especially are bargains at prices you will not see anywhere else.
            Long live cosplay!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Story 3: Musical Nights

           “Are you ready to rock?!!?”
            A leaf rustled.
            “I said, ‘Are you READY to ROCK??!!!??!’”
            Fireworks exploded around the D.J.’s speakers and, at last, the crowd did, too.
            It was one of the famous summer bashes at Good Times Rock `n Roll Diner.  The setup was behind the building to accommodate the customers/music connoisseurs who came to experience good ol’ music, nostalgia, and an extra 10% off all eat-in items.
            The boogie-woogieing and the doo-wopping, the shakin’ and the shimmyin’, the twistin’ and the shoutin’ – all were happening that night as they had happened decades before, in that innocent era of the Devil’s music.  Ah, the memories of 10¢ soda, 25¢ movies, stickball in the street, Mama always in the kitchen, Papa always at work, beatings by teacher, segregation.  Good times had by all.
            In hour 5 of the night’s festivities, an impromptu dance competition became heated when two couples attempted to out-hand jive each other.  They were taken away in stretchers, trembling all over in time to the music.
            One listener complained that the purity of the experience was diluted by the fact that the original vinyl recordings had been reproduced on compact discs.  The D.J. turned up the volume in response, with the rest silently agreeing that the sound quality was a bit improved on the new format.
            At one point, an old timey car arrived on the scene: it was held together by duct tape, and a lawn mower was its engine.  The driver was dressed in the trappings of the periods; that is to say, a mix of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even the 80s, when it all went horribly wrong.  He had a mullet, sunglasses, a sparkly shirt, a leather jacket, bell-bottoms, and disco boots, and he carried a boom box.  Once he saw where he was, he hopped back into his cute car and sped off to the costume party where he belonged.
            The trip down memory lane had finally reached a dead end as the sun began to rise for the new day.  The D.J. finished out the set with a tearjerker, leaving the three surviving listeners sobbing for their lost childhoods as he collapsed across his control board.  Reliving the past takes a lot out of your soul, and he would have to do this all over again next week.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Story 2: Harbor Trip

The momentous day had come: the four-hour drive to The Harbor, followed by a four-hour drive back home.  The Bus felt as ready as it would ever be for this undertaking: tank full, oil changed, bathroom cleaned.  It would survive this journey; with any luck, its passengers would, too.
After many adventures throughout the now six-hour-drive, it was discovered upon arrival that The Harbor would soon be closing for the day.  The Bus did not risk life and tires to be turned away at the gates – not now, not like this.  The passengers at that point wanted to go home, but they were trapped by their only mode of easy transportation.  The Bus would not be foiled by museum hours.
It backed up less stealthily than it would have liked, since the beep-beep-beeps revealed its position.  It then reared forward, smoke pouring through its nostrils, as it kneeled and accelerated along the ground, reaching escape velocity just as it impacted the gates.  Tourists and employees alike scattered into the bushes and dove behind statues as The Bus flew through the air, arcing gracefully at a 45º angle until it descended into The Harbor with a mighty splash.  Fish and birds were displaced momentarily, then were able to resume their day.
            This disturbance did not go unnoticed.  The Whaler, resting peacefully in its dock as its parts were replaced one-by-one over the years, noted the unholy commotion.  Pirates have returned to these waters, was its fearful thought.
            The Whaler shook off its barnacles and shot out the hapless explorers crawling around its deck and in its bowels.  The screams of the slaughtered whales past could at last be ignored: there was work to be done
            Its sails unfurled, its helm pointed true, its cannons set at the ready.  Onward it sailed, to defend The Harbor, to defend life, to defend love, to defend revenue.
            The Bus continued its forward course until it sensed a ship approaching off the port bow.  It came about and faced The Whaler in all its menace.  Battle was at hand, and as its enemy had done, The Bus shot out the passengers seated inside it, the better able to maneuver in strange waters.  The passengers swam to shore, were taken in by the nearest restaurant, and were never seen again.
            The battle commenced!  Cannonballs were answered by the noxious flames shot from The Bus’s front grill.  Each vessel was mighty – The Whaler in size, The Bus in speed and pluck.  As The Whaler suffered singe-marks and chipped paint from the battle, docents everywhere wept.
            At last, The Bus chanced all by accelerating to ramming speed.  The Whaler, knowing that no quarter would be given and there would be no second attempt at restoration, hoisted a white flag in surrender.  The Harbor was yielded: The Bus was triumphant.  It coasted into The Whaler’s dock and took its place as the featured attraction of the Harbor.
            The defeated Whaler sailed onto the shore, dropped anchor in the main parking lot, and provided free tours of the town until the end of its days.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Story 1: VIP (Part Two of a Two-Part Pilot)

At this point in the evening the riff-raff had arrived, so the VIP package’s shopping experience was decidedly not “crowd-free”.  Vendors shot T-shirts out of cannons to the highest bidders.  The grand prize was a Manly Men sweatshirt containing actual Manly Men sweat.  At $1,000,000, it sadly did not move until it was stolen mysteriously later that evening.
Food and drink were the usual 200% markup.  If you preferred, you could have your own wine-and-cheese tasting, complete with a sommelier coming right to your seat to refill your glass and offer recommendations.  Chipped or broken glasses resulted in ejection from the arena: all were warned.
The opening acts were greeted with polite applause, interspersed with polite coughs.  One musician waited for the audience to be entirely seated and silent; he stomped off the stage without performing because his time ran out.  A juggler was the penultimate performer of the evening; she got a few “Oohs” and “Aahs” before she jumped to her seat in the front row and put on her own Manly Men T-shirt.  The silence was deafening.
Then: the explosions – the cymbals – the strobe lights – the disco ball – the lions!  The Manly Men appeared to the sounds of the audience members screaming in the agony of pure devotion.  The Men swung over the stage on trapezes in honor of their idols, The Flying Wallendas.  One of the twins – no one could say as to which – missed on a tumble, but was caught by 20 fans as they rushed onto the stage in 0.000002 seconds to save him.  He was plucked out by Security, the rescuers were tasered back into their seats, and the show began in earnest.
No one heard a word these guys sang, since everyone sang along with them.  They demonstrated their new four-part harmonic resonance on their old hit, “I Want You To Be Me,” but no one truly appreciated the genius.  It sounded better on the CD anyway.
About halfway through the show, a military helicopter appeared, shining a light through the arena.  Fans booed and threw their soda bottles at it, knocking it awry.  It was later discovered that the chopper was doing exercises on radio silence and the pilot had thought the concert was a gathering of an army preparing to invade the town.  The military personnel disembarked and sat in the aisles for the remainder of the show, blending their cheers in with the masses’.
For the finale, The Manly Men selected some of the fans who had been hanging from the rafters to sing with them on stage.  Most of them got a few words out before fainting, but one managed to belt out a favorite tune in a lovely soprano, securing a recording contract on the spot from a music exec. who just happened to be in the audience.  She was whisked away before she could be murdered.
After the finale, there were two more finales.  One involved The Men taking turns napping while the others forced out the song through vocal cords that refused to work anymore.  The second had them gathering the instruments they had played earlier that night and throwing them into the crowd, vowing to never play them again, since: “This was the best show, the best audience, the best night we have ever had, and nothing we will ever do afterward will ever compare!  Ever!”  Those impacted by the flying guitars and the drum set knew the truth of those words.
There was more to come at the after-party for the few brave souls able to endure the additional price.  The remaining 99.9% of the attendees sat in their cars, waiting for their chance to move forward a foot.  An hour later, freedom from the parking lot prison was attained.  No headlights were needed, since all was lit by the fans’ warm glow.  It proved that magic does indeed still exist in this world.  In that moment of bliss, everyone really was a VIP.
The after-party having petered out during that mass exodus, The Manly Men pole-vaulted themselves onto their buses, drove over the arena grounds past the never-ending lines of refugees, and sped into the night on to the next stop of their tour, screaming their freedom into the heavens before sleeping the sleep of the just.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Story 1: VIP (Part One of a Two-Part Pilot)

When word spread that The Manly Men were coming to town, the fans knew they had to do the whole kit’n’kaboodle on that one.  The best concert package was VIP Ultra, which many found to be worth the steep price: after all, the group was the biggest thing to hit this burb since… Elvis.  Or maybe even James Brown.
The concertgoers arrived at the venue having to navigate the treacherous maze of parking lots.  Coming alone was the better to take it all in, but the worse to navigate.  Approaching two boys wearing the clothing of arena employees and playing soccer, the most popular response to the question of where to park was: “Just leave it up there”, with an arm thrown in the direction of a hill.  The second most popular response was: “There’s a concert tonight?!”
Caveat: there was a difference between the VIP package and VIP parking, meaning the purchase of the former did not equal the purchase of the latter.  When no other lot in sight appeared to be open, though, you took your chances, and some potential poor sap’s spot.
Check-in for the Very Important People was at 1400 hours.  Arriving half an hour before that time, one was greeted by a long line of the adoring.  There was a grand collection of T-shirts, creative signs, and cocktail dresses.  Some unhappy male faces were sprinkled throughout, revealing themselves to be devoted boyfriends.  One man on the line looked happy: he wanted to be there.  Oh yes he did.
The line-waiters eventually were bestowed with the sacred talisman of the VIP, which would be added to collections everywhere.  The exuberance of the crowd gradually shifted to concerned annoyance as the wait time encroached upon the pre-paid special time with The Men.  Would the fans not receive the full experience owed to the VIP?  Would they need to demand a refund mightily, and post complaints online nastily?  It almost seemed that this would be.  Several people on the line relaxed on their beach chairs and finished the novels they had brought for just such an occasion.  Meanwhile, plans to storm the gates were underway, and grappling hooks were prepared.  A party was in place to fire its human cannon when the gate opened for a VIP group, one that somehow ranked above Ultra.  There was an unusually large number of people who were special that day – maybe everyone attending was, in fact, a Very Important Person. 
The remaining groups then rushed the gates – what about the lines?  A sense of order needed to be restored, and quickly.  Event staff members understood the danger they were in and began calling groups in the proper order, three hours after their initial arrival.  There was a nagging suspicion that the band members were still sleeping on their bus when the VIPs first had arrived – those who had that thought kept it to themselves, so as not to ruin it for everyone.
As the first line advanced to a new line, the sunburns advanced to second degree.  There were many notes to self: next time, bring a hat.
The staff guided the line-waiters to the main audience seats, where The Men could be seen closer than they would be four hours from then, during the actual show.  The individual band members then slowly and purposefully trickled out to the main stage, turning on the audience’s screams as each one arrived.  Four men made up The Manly Men – Michael, Andy, Sandy, and Luke – but Luke was missing, so Michael went backstage to retrieve him.  Not thinking, he brought his microphone with him, allowing everyone to hear:
Michael:  Hey man, it’s started, you gotta come out now.
Luke: (sobbing) I can’t do it, I just can’t face them anymore!
Michael: You have to!  Our salaries depend on it!
Luke: I can’t take all the adoration!  I can’t be on all the time!  Look at my hands – I can’t stop shaking!
Michael: You just need more of that energy drink.  I carry it in injectable form.
Luke: (sniffs) OK.  (Silence for a few seconds) Whoo-hoo!  I’m ready, world – come and get me!
During this exchange, the other two Men looked extremely uncomfortable and kept signaling their handlers to go backstage, all the while trying to distract the VIPs by performing gymnastics and their new stand-up comedy routine.  Once all four of The Men were out on stage, they opened up the floor to questions:
Fan 1: Will you marry me?!
Andy: Which one of us?
Fan 1: Any one!
Fan 2: This is a question for Michael: when you sing in C-minor during a song written for the D-major scale, do you find your emotions nearer to the surface, or have you decided to finally change key to explore your range in both the upper and lower registers?
Michael: (blinks) That’s two questions!  Next!
One fan shot her hand into the air and jumped in her seat, right next to the handler holding the microphone.  She stood and pointed to Sandy.
Experienced VIP: Hi, this question’s for you: I go around collecting VIP packages on concert tours, so what I really want to know, is your name J.J., or is it Ryan?
Poster boards pelted her back into her seat.  Barring the wrong names, it was a legitimate question – Andy and Sandy are identical twins, and everyone claims to be able to tell them apart.  There is an underground theory that they constantly switch during performances to see if anyone notices.
This special group was then herded to the final line to obtain the much-sought-after photo with The Men.  The feeling was akin to waiting in line for the Ferris wheel at an amusement park.  One fan left an offering of gold upon the altar positioned next to The Men, which was nice.  Another fan tried to sneak off into the bushes with Luke; he was rescued by Security, and the fan was tossed into the arms of the righteously indignant crowd.  The number of those on line reached into the lower hundreds, but all felt that ultimate goal was worth the wait.
When it was the experienced VIP’s turn, she was the only one who did not need to be revived by the paramedics before approaching The Men.
Handler: You can shake hands down the line and pose for the photo.
Experienced VIP: Thanks, but the drill’s the same at all these things.  (Shaking Michael’s hand) Great job, guys.  (Shaking Andy’s hand) Keep up the good work.
Sandy: (Shaking the VIP’s hand) By the way, my name is Sandy.
Experienced VIP: I will never remember that!
Luke: (Shaking the VIP’s hand) Hi.
Experienced VIP: You poor dude, they always stick you at the end.
Photographer: Who would you like to stand next to?
Experienced VIP: As with children, I do not have a favorite.
She crouched in the middle of the group with her head thrown back, tongue out, and hands forming “Y” in American Sign Language as the photo was taken.
Experienced VIP: Thanks, guys!  I only need 57 more of these and then I can die!
She ran away laughing, with her arms raised triumphantly in the air.