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 soufflĂ© 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.