The Comedian's Notebook: A New Character

~ During work today I checked back on the Rasmus building. Nothing has changed. Maybe no one knows it’s empty. Maybe everyone assumes it's just another forbidden lobby of some ritzy group of lawyers. Why is it empty? Where would I go to find that out? The bench was still there, but no old Indian woman. So I sat on the bench.

    Was I still at work?

    “You're probably wondering why I've called you all here tonight,” I said to the empty room. “It's because, frankly, I am sick and tired of these fucking rainbow-colored flowers everywhere. What is this, kindergarten? Seriously. Grow up people.”

    When I stood up to leave I beheld two gargoyles over the front doors that I had never noticed before. They could have always been there, I'd just never looked up.

 The Committee broke my sock drawer this morning. I still managed to make the bus, but only at great embarrassment. I huffed and puffed and had to look in every jacket pocket before finding my wallet with my bus pass. I only made it because the bus was late. Someone from The Committee probably got reprimanded for this oversight.

    I had it timed perfectly. Finished my coffee, all my work stuff was by the door and ready to be picked up, just had to put my shoes and socks on. I pulled out my drawer and . . . as if pushed from behind, the entire thing fell on my foot, which immediately started bleeding. Motherfuckers!

    What's more, they knocked a sandwich out of Verena's hand today. Now it's personal. She was walking to wherever she usually eats lunch (I'm not THAT much of a stalker) and one of them was hiding behind the copy machine because he reached out and snagged the edge of her sleeve on the printer tray which yanked her hand from underneath her plate and all her food fell into the carpet. Probably got a promotion for that one. However that works.

    The gargoyles were on either side of the doors and each one was too high to get to. But I simply had to get closer. Outside, were benches chained around the caged trees. I peeked out the glass doors like a suspicious neighbor and my gaze zeroed in on two Jehovah's Witnesses. Or maybe they were Morman missionaries, I can't tell the difference. Two guys in suits who clearly aren't businessmen.

    “Excuse me, fellas,” I jumped out of the door right as they were passing by. Unfazed. Impressive. “I stopped by to do some work right above the inside of those doors right there and I was wondering if you could maybe help me move this bench to just inside the lobby.”

    “Isn't this bench city property?” one of them asked.

    “Probably but I don’t think they're attached and anyway we'd be moving it a grand total of seven feet. I could do it myself, but it'd be so nice to have a bit of help. Just hold the door or something and then you can be on your way. I'll get it back outside.”

    The first one looked to the other, obviously the leader and the leader shrugged. An affirmative response. The bench was indeed chained to the tree, but only decoratively it turned out. We slipped the chain over the foot and slid the bench across the sidewalk. Follower-Mormon-Witness held the door open for me and I pulled the bench in. For some reason, I wanted confirmation that what I was doing was . . . normal. So I asked.

    “Does that look normal to you?” I pointed at the gargoyles. Follower-Mormon-Witness stepped inside with me. As soon as the door closed behind him he became visibly nervous without his partner. I stood, pointing until his gaze followed my finger.

    I whispered in his ear, “Listen, I know that your people were dosed with copious amounts of radiation during the nuclear testing by the US government, and I understand how that would make anyone want to live in space, but I've got a better offer. You like to laugh at all?”

    He lowered his gaze to me. “Actually, I'm a Ceremonial Speech Instructor.”

    I flinched. “Lose the dignifier, dude. No one needs to know your religion.”

    “Well, it's . . . who I am,” he said, and pointed at the gargoyles.

    “Bullshit, you're more than that,” I explained. “Sorry for my language.”

    “What were you going to do with those?” he asked.

    Leader was staring through the door as if he couldn't see us.

    “Those?” I said, “are for seeing. Here, I'll go first.” I stood on the bench and was face to face with the gargoyle. It was a bit awkward, but by squishing my cheek against its mouth, I could get both of my eyes into the eyeholes. I was looking into an empty club. Not one that I'd seen before, although maybe I have. All the lights were on, but all the seats were empty. There was no microphone on stage, nor any sort of backdrop. Not a menu or drink adorned any table. An empty house.

    “Are we in a lobby or something?” I heard him ask to no one.

    “Woah,” I said. “Heavy. Hey dude,” I called down to him. “Maybe you can relate to this.”

    “I want to look through mine,” he said and pointed to the other gargoyle.

    “All right,” I said, “but we gotta slide this bench.”

    Follower-Morman-Witness seemed thoroughly uninterested in the fact that his Leader was banging on the doors and pulling at them, trying to get in. Not a sound was heard from our end. Leader cupped his hands against the glass and pressed his face to it. He became increasingly frantic with his pounding and glanced behind him more and more often. I noticed the crowd on the sidewalk all seemed to be running from something and the sky had taken on an eerie sick yellow color.

    Sometimes, right after a rainfall, and directly preceding sunset, the whole world turns a pumpkin shade.

    Leader's face grew slack and pale, then sweaty. As he sweat, rashes spread over him. Members of the rushing crowd started collapsing and scratching themselves bloody. The sickness from the sky spread to the ground in a gaseous haze. The only sound I heard was the sound of Follower-Mormon-Witness screaming as he looked into the eyes of the gargoyle.

    I grabbed his pant leg. “Goddammit man calm down and let me see,” He didn't get down off the bench but stepped to the side and faced the interior wall of the building. The vision through the gargoyle was the sightline of Leader. Standing right outside the building. He checked his watch, glanced at a pretty girl, then glanced at his feet quickly. I turned back to Follower who had taken a seat on the bench and was rubbing his eyes. Glancing back outside, the day went on like any other.

    “Tough truth,” I said, “but it's over now. The only question is: what are you going to do next?”

    He looked up at me, almost in tears. “But I really believe in my religion,” he sputtered.

    “According to that,” I said, pointing to the gargoyle, “you've been wrong about quite a few vital things in your life.”

    He was on the verge of total collapse so I grabbed his shoulders and knelt in front of him.

    “Look, that's no reason to just abandon everything,” I said, “you ever been to court?”

    He shook his head.

    “Of course not,” I answered, “stupid question. I had to go to court as a teenager for . . . I don't even remember now,” which was absolutely true, “but I stood in that courtroom and saw other kids my age stand before the judge and answer questions. He caught one of them in a lie, then moved on. But every time this kid would protest his innocence, or the severity of his punishment, the judge responded with 'I already caught you lying earlier, so now I don't have to believe anything you say.'

    “Now I'm sure that being a judge is hard, especially to teenagers who hate your guts, but I still thought that was unfair. Does that sound unfair to you?” I asked.

    Follower nodded.

    “In the same way, just because you were wrong about a major life choice,” I said, pointing up to the gargoyle, “is no reason to believe that you'll always be wrong about everything. All I'm asking is for you to live with me . . . for just a few moments if you can . . . in 'What-If?'.

    He seemed to calm down and then looked out the window at his Leader.

    “I'm not gonna stop you, you wanna finish your day with him,” I said. “In fact, I gotta get back to work myself.”

    Follower stood up and opened the door.

    Leader looked back at us. “What're you guys doin' in there? Everything working out?”

    “I just want you to look at something if that's alright,” said Follower.

    “Oh yeah?” Leader took a step inside the door and rounded the bench. “Gruesome, what're these for, a theater?”

    Follower motioned him onto the bench and said, “Just look inside that one.”

    Leader stuck his face to the gargoyle and after a few moments said, “Yeah? What'm I looking for?”

    “What do you see?” asked Follower.

    “Just the darkness, which I'm assuming is the wall,” said Leader. He stepped back. “You want me to check the other one?”

    “Yeah, would you?” I asked. He stepped down and we moved the bench. He got a similar sight from my own gargoyle.

    “Just the wall, is that what I'm supposed to see?” he asked.

    Follower and I looked at each other and shrugged. “I guess it is,” I said.

    “You're exactly where you're supposed to be in life,” said Follower.

    “Yeah I know,” said Leader.



Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 7)

   The front door opened and Frank came out with plates of raw and seasoned meat on it. “You, are just in time -,” he said. When he saw Penny looking at the raw meat with revulsion he laughed, “- to help me get started cooking. Go inside. Chinonso will hand you stuff.” Penny went inside and participated in the assembly line which brought out more plates of meat, ears of corn and various root vegetables.

    “I couldn't get enough water boiling for all of them,” said Chinonso, “so Frank said we'll just eat them raw.”

    “They're better that way,” yelled Frank as he came back in.

    “I made several pots of tea and poured them in this jug,” said Chinonso. “Be careful, I filled it too full so you have to tip it to get a cup. It won't burn you, but it will spill.”

    “Here, let me get that,” said Frank and he took a cup from the side of the sink and grabbed either side of the jug with his hands.

    “Be careful you shouldn't do that,” said Chinonso.

    But Frank wasn't listening. He lifted the jug and tipped it forward so carefully that a thin stream of tea poured right into Penny's cup and he filled it without spilling a drop. He set down the jug and walked over to the sink. “Are these the tools from Yaser?”

    Chinonso nodded. “I don't know what they were covered with, rust or something. They looked like they had been used in war surgeries,” she laughed, “but they're clean now.”

    “I realized, in my infinite wisdom,” said Frank, “that I brought virtually no utensils. Same rookie move I made when I moved out of my parent's house to go to college. Luckily, Yaser said he and Dani had tons of random stuff. Maybe their cabin used to be an equipment shed or something.” He gathered up the collection from the sink and walked outside.

    Penny was going to follow him and ask him about Ryleigh, who was no longer by the campfire, but she heard a noise behind her. Cezar's door creaked open and he hobbled out of his room, carrying a laptop attached to a dark box. Wires of different colors ran up his arms and into his headpiece.

    “Do you want help?” Penny asked.

    “Thanks, that would be great,” said Cezar, “just be careful not to disconnect anything. Not the end of the world, of course,” he gave her a glance, “but annoying to put back together and reset.”

    “Heck I'd probably get it right the first try,” she said, helping him move down the hall. He didn’t laugh. When they got outside, the rest of the group applauded. Dani put down her instrument and rushed to the patio to move chairs for Cezar.

    “Thanks,” he said.

    “We didn't think we'd see you at all,” she said. “Moving must be such a pain.”

    “Totally worth it,” he answered. “The temperature out here is perfect.”

    “We're thinking of sleeping outside,” she said.

    “Who is?” asked Cezar.

    “Well,” said Dani, gesturing to the expanse of wilderness around them. “Anyone who wants to I guess.” 

With deliberate artistry, Frank arranged the corn and the meat leaving enough room to turn and flip them without hitting each other. 

    When he was almost done, the band laid their instruments down. Everyone moved closer to the fire - even Cezar - and they shared stories about what they had done to get the grant and what their dreams were afterward.

    “Still,” said Frank, “I guarantee that none of your teenage selves thought you'd be here right now.”

    “Is that supposed to be good?” asked Yaser.

    “I guess I'm speaking for white America here,” said Frank, “but my teenage self would never forgive me the life I lead. I was supposed to be a famous director by the time I was twenty-two. That was going to be my peak year I decided. My breakthrough into the Oscars. And anyone who didn't live their dreams was clearly lazy and shallow and had no higher ambitions other than to be a Middle-Aged Boredom Junkie.”

    “What's that?” asked Cezar. “Exactly what it sounds like?”

    “More or less,” said Frank. “I came up with that caricature when I was a teenager, of course. I assumed that all middle-aged people did was sit at home all day and do nothing until their kids came home and then grill them about every aspect of their lives because the kids were so much more interesting than the adults.” He waved some smoke away from his face. “But lemme tell ya, middle-age ain’t as glamorous and easy-going as I thought.”

    “You make it look easy,” said Penny. “Chopping wood and cooking and cleaning and knowing all the tools . . .”

    “Aw shucks,” he said in a mock-hillbilly accent. “Having kids makes you multi-task. Doesn't give a damn that science says it ain't possible. When there's no other choice, you learn everything. But shit, Chinonso probably knows that better than anyone.”

    “No reason to put me on a pedestal,” she said. “People treat me with kid gloves everywhere I go once they find out where I'm from. There's no need for it. All our lives are different.”

    “Why aren't we all able to switch lives yet?” asked Yaser. “I mean, with virtual reality, to see what a day in someone else's life is like?”

    “Why don't we have white camels?” asked Cezar, staring directly at Penny.

    “Well, there'd be privacy issues,” said Dani.

    “We wouldn't watch 'em use the bathroom,” said Frank, surprising Penny.

    “But that's a huge difference in the way that other people live,” said Dani. “We'd have to.”

    “People would volunteer to do that,” said Chinonso.

    All conversation stopped and turned toward her. She shrugged. “I'm just saying. At the college that my first, well, the doctor I volunteered with, worked at, I met people who were doing studies on sex. There are certainly people who want the world to study their own shit.”

    The group burst out laughing at hearing Chinonso swear. Frank pulled the rest of the meat off the grill and served everyone seconds. Since no one thought to bring Graham Crackers and marshmallows, Frank took out several chocolate bars and held them close enough to the fire so they melted onto pieces of bread. 

    Cezar's machine emitted periodic beeps. Penny helped him back inside to his room. Once inside he said, “Do you remember what I asked you out there?”

    Penny just stared, unsure of what he was talking about.

    Cezar shook his head, “Never mind. I'm just tired. Thanks for all your help.” He closed the door.

    Penny adjusted the patio chair as far horizontal as it would go. The temperature had not dropped at all. Yaser slept by the fire, curled up on a tarp in front of a lawn chair. Someone else's feet were visible on the other side. Probably Dani.

    In Penny’s half-dream, someone opened curtains in her room, trying to get her to wake up. She opened her eyes. Everything was much darker than she remembered and she blinked until the roof of the patio came into focus. She sat up a little and had a crick in her back which meant it was definitely time to stop sleeping this way.

    The sound that woke her happened again. A cautious rustling of leaves became more steady. Flushes of fear bloomed in her upper chest before her brain spoke up. The noise was probably any number of squirrels or groundhogs looking for leavings. The fire was down to a dim red glow in the base of the pit. She couldn't see if Yaser and Dani were still there or not. Penny stretched and stood up which was when she saw it. Walking from the path they had hiked in on, passing right by the fire pit, was a white camel. Cezar's question came back to her like someone swinging a baseball bat through wind-chimes.

Much taller than a person, it ghosted through the campsite. Bobbing its neck like a pigeon, the camel turned slightly and headed in the direction of the other cabin. During its turn, Penny saw that it was wounded on its side. But not really, something was drawn or burned onto its hyde. Some type of symbol that she couldn’t see too well. She didn't want to move and freak the camel out, so she waited for it to leave. It continued on its way with the calmness of an animal trained for new riders. When she was reasonably sure she couldn't see it anymore, she went inside.

    Penny didn't expect Cezar to answer her knocks, but she also didn't want to wake anyone else. Assuming he was awake, she pushed down on the handle and opened the door. His room was pitch black. No lights from his various computers shone. In fact, his computer was gone. The box that he had brought out with him tonight was missing also. So were the usual wires she had gotten used to seeing right by his door. Moonlight shone through the open window and his bed looked exactly the same as it always had, untouched. She whispered his name and flicked on the light, her eyes confirming the truth she already knew. Cezar was gone.

Based on the . . .

The Happy Heart Doodle Cloud is a series of children’s books featuring several colorful bear-like creatures that can draw on their chests in order to express deeper emotions and thoughts than their linguistic skills, which are intended for a pre-K age range.

There’s Aply, Beebles, Cadrick, Dempsy, and Zwip, Yerk, Xevon, and Walri. The latter alphabet letters introduced a higher vocabulary and more difficult concepts.

The plot of each book tends to focus on one of the characters exploring a new segment of the Doodle Cloud, and then trying to find the right expression for that new segment. For instance, in book 9 of the Cadrick  series, Cadrick must deal with a broken cloud. He’s never encountered jagged edges before and the other members of the group initially think that he broke it until he draws the path he took earlier on in the day on his chest, thus giving him an alibi. The group is thus forced to deal with the fact that things decay and can break on their own.

It was this book which gave the impetus for a television program. Early attempts at pitches were unsuccessful due to the lack of dramatic structure inherent in stories for pre-K. However, once the notion of decay was introduced, it was off to the races.

The prolific appearance of the books granted early seasons of the show much fodder to work with. However, subtle changes began to appear. Sickness was introduced in one episode, as well as little cloud creatures that became pets that gradually died. Possessions became important as the characters began to steal each other’s pens in order to make other characters do what they want.

The overall tone of the show remained joyous and innocent, the occasional blips of darkness serving only as a discord right before the happy song resolution where things return to normal. 

When rights to the film were bought, a series of writers came along to try their luck at this lucrative project. The end result being the film we know so well as Double-H-DC.

While the story maintained the tone of the show and the themes dealt with, it was the computer animation and character redesign that brought the most criticism. Gone were the simple colors with the white chest for writing on. Each bear was densely shaded, closer to a real animal, and each had a piece of metallic apparatus which caused its pen to work in different ways. Zwip’s helmet used the pen to draw where its eyes went whereas Dempsy’s gloves gave each finger a pen.

The film also introduced the iconic villain., Cloud Developer Irick, who flattens clouds for parking lots. It is unclear if he parks cars from Earth or from some unseen celestial realm.

While reviews of the film were harsh from initial fans of the show - and their parents - a new generation who had not grown up on it drove the toy sales. A video game soon followed which took place in Irick’s dark realm. The bears each were granted a special ability as well as the mechanics given to them by the movie. Aply could build helpful structures for climbing or hanging from and Xevon could breathe underwater.

The ending of the video game hinted at further development by showing stills from an upcoming comic series about the life of Irick. A former gas-attack soldier from WWI, his eventual goal was to flatten all clouds since clouds were what killed all his friends.

After the successful run of Irick’s origin story, a noted YA author (who is actually six people all writing under the same name) got the rights to the book series and continued the further mechanization of each bear. Gone were their life on the clouds and they descended to a hellscape Earth, inhabited by roaming bands of technically literate early teens while the ruins of cities housed the analogue and dictatorial adults. While each bear had an adventuresome series, after a while the fans began to question what the bears were doing down there in the first place. The series ends with the bears vanishing into a fog. Said author’s contract was not renewed so the franchise went back up.

The marketing of the final film was a viral hit as bits of bear machinery began to appear on what were clearly movie posters. Short pre-trailers began to show a disfigured Irick huffing a noxious gas like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. The dystopian imagery of the books was present, although society hadn’t degenerated quite as far, and the kids were replaced by adults.

Cloud was revealed to be the title, with a bloody heart as the O and the plot centered around a group of scientists experimenting with the gasses found inside of mummified WWI corpses. It turns out, these gasses housed the bears who were put there by Irick to stop them from running havoc all over the world. The bears would murder people with their pens and machines and then the people’s spirits would communicate their eternal agony on the bears’ chest pieces. The bears fed off of human agony, being created by gasses meant to poison and kill people. The only way to trap the bears was to trap a person there with them, engaging in eternal battle and Irick is that person.

He is hesitant to admit this at first, being given a new lease on life, albeit in a dying world. But once he sees his duty, there is no alternative.

The film itself got favorable reviews as being thought-provoking, suspenseful and ultimately, compassionate. While clearly an R-rated horror film, development execs began to wonder, maybe with the violence and stakes toned down a little, you could possibly make a kid’s book out of it.

The Comedian's Notebook: Porn, finally!

~ Every sound we can make will eventually have to represent a number since numbers go on forever. There's a numerical value to that last sentence. And this addition, and this one, and this one . . . 


~ Things that are not funny:

4: ‘Tell us how you really feel.’

5. Putting the word ‘porn’ after everything. I guess this is more an attempt to sound . . . observant more than funny but it’s still wicked annoying. ‘Competence Porn’ to describe movies or TV shows that depict someone doing a specific job really well. ‘Natural Porn’ which is probably a real form, but in this case showing people living nicely with the smallest possible carbon footprint. ‘Apocalypse Porn’ is certainly a thing since everyone secretly wants to live in a world where their mistakes will all be magically erased someday . . . Spoiler alert: you already do, but that eraser just takes slightly longer than you have to live. ‘Poverty Porn’ is similar to this, where people guilt themselves over how badly other people have it. This is more a form of masochism, but I suppose that still counts as sexual. 

This has gone on far enough. Not everything that people enjoy watching or talking about is a form of pornography. Underlying all this is, of course, the assumption that enjoying pornography makes you evil, or at least dumb. Even with all these sex shops popping up and the ‘sex-positive’ movement, pan-sexuals, polyamourous, and the new openness of BDSM culture. Sure you’re an enlightened couple who can play with your sexuality but if you watch a recording of others doing it, you’re an agent of oppression and an accessory to exploitation. Maybe the word ‘porn’ will go the way of the word ‘rock star’ which now just means someone who’s really good at something. I guess ‘rock star virtuosity’ is just a euphemism for ‘competence porn.’ 


The Comedian's Notebook: So what do you do all day?

~ Work has been busy and I haven't said much to Verena in the past few days. But today, she was all chatter. To the point where I thought we might get in trouble. 

    She seems somewhat disaster-prone in her everyday life. She loses and/or breaks: computers, lamps, chairs, shoes, desks, rugs, glasses, cups, necklaces, jewelry, phones, her car, garbage cans, bottles of bleach, the bathtub, guitar strings, drumsticks, cardboard animals, slabs of sidewalk, a whole turkey  . . .

                                She mentioned not wanting to speak at her brother's charity event. He wanted her to introduce him, not in a comedian way, but just say a few nice words about nice things. She's felt awkward about her brother's religious favoritism and how his charity only works with church-based organizations and she'd have to keep the tone religious in nature which she assures me she's not so . . .

                                     pens, an elevator, cookie jars, the racist bits of Fantasia, a treadmill, free weights, mouse holes, bells, the dry-cleaning, hyphens and other rarefied punctuation, the fridge, hummus, a copy machine, ointments, socks, propellers . . .

                                            I tried to assure her that it was okay. Although this always gives religious people hate-fuel when a non-religious relative can't see that 'family is more important.' Oh yeah? Tell that to Abraham! And while we're at it, why don't you lead a Muslim prayer at my wedding? I don't follow Islam, but I just want to see you squirm.


~ What if all these fake debt collectors that try to get money out of gullible people, are really people driven mad by fake debt collectors themselves? Say that your partner answers the phone (you still have a landline) and that person makes a bunch of shit up and says the police are on their way unless you give $500 right now, blah blah, and s/he hangs up. But now they know that people live there and call back several times every hour, from different phone numbers. Some of them are phone numbers you recognize so you answer. The police can do nothing about this because it's all so broken up and may be based internationally where there are no laws to prevent it.

    Your partner, even though s/he knows it's not real, cannot stand being home with this phone that both of you need. So you get really mad. Who are these fuckers? And you call back and harass them. Only the numbers you call are all the fake ones they've been using and you're inadvertently perpetuating the cycle.

    Of course, the flaw in this is that you don't know how to disguise your number. So maybe you look up how to do this. Maybe you just restrict it every time. Maybe calling and threatening complete strangers is lots of fun.


~ There are some bizarre religions out there. I think the founders of this city followed orders from things that have never been named.    – Verena just called. My stomach jumps for joy when I see her name on my phone. Reminding me about the show. Of course, it's all I ever fucking think about! What else is there? My five minutes are set in stone [much like the Drzji vows carved in the dedication of the Community College Science building] and if Verena never wants to speak to me again afterward, well, at least I didn't offend her at work.

    That's never going to happen, though. Girl spends so much free time at comedy shows and never once has she come off as overly sensitive. I wonder if her boyfriend died? Hopefully of some bowel disease carried by those immigrants he's working with just kidding! just . . . kidding . . . !!! . . . Maybe we'll leave that part out of the routine.

    I wonder if people being helped wonder about the social lives of those helping them. Is my volunteer doctor a cheating card player on the weekend? Does the emergency vet who saved my cat's life free of charge masturbate to hugely illegal pornography? Maybe, the worse people's secret bad habits are, the better they behave in public . . . that's why I'm such an asshole, because secretly, I'm a saint.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 6)

    Penny returned to her room and re-read the brochure for this trip and the grant information that preceded it. The information was comforting, and it reminded her of discovering the program. How she see-sawed back and forth about applying. Her first stint abroad had been paid for initially by her own savings. Once there, she got a part-time job for an American non-profit. 

    If the wireless lasted for more than minutes at a time, Penny could probably debunk everything Cezar had told her with a few clicks. Although he could then take the conspiracy-theorist’s path that all information which countered his theories was, in fact, disinformation. There were also questions that Penny couldn’t answer. She couldn't explain how she'd found out the code of his broken device. Maybe he'd planned it all in advance. Maybe there were a few right ways to do it and she'd just gotten lucky.

 At any rate, hanging around in her room on a gorgeous day was pointless and would only serve to strengthen Cezar's case of an imposing and conspiratorial world. Why was she reading the brochure that got her here when she was, in fact, here? Penny set the papers down and left her room. 

Chinonso puttered around in the kitchen sorting through pans and utensils. She turned on the water and started rinsing and seemed so absorbed that Penny didn't want to ask if she could help. Also, she didn't want to help.

Outside, Frank was no longer on the porch. The wind picked up, causing a ripple along the trees as if all of the leaves were waving. She watched their colors shift for a few minutes before becoming aware of an intermittent cracking sound. She followed the noise behind the cabin and there was Frank with an ax. He kept his wrapped arm closer to himself, like a T-Rex.

    “Did Chinonso send you out here about the thawing meat?” he asked while setting up the half-log he just chopped. 

    “I know nothing about that,” Penny said.

    “Thawing meat tends to look questionable,” said Frank. “But I always forget that she grew up without much technology. Probably didn't even see a refrigerator until after she left. One second.” He swung the axe. “I brought quite a bit of meat which was in the freezer and now it's thawing in the sink. I told her if she needed the sink she could set it in a pot filled with water somewhere.”

    “That's probably what she did,” said Penny. “She's rinsing dishes.”

    “Yeah, I should probably check on that,” said Frank. “But I'm almost done here. Definitely a fire night.” He looked to the treetops.

    “Can I, um, help with anything?” she asked.

    “This ax probably weighs more than you, no offense,” said Frank.

    “I thought that no one put their food away,” said Penny. “Guess I didn't look in the freezer.”

    “Yeah, I didn't want to say anything,” said Frank. He moved several logs from a woodpile closer to the stump he was using as a chopping block.

    “Where did all the wood come from?” Penny asked.

    “There's a shed to the side, attached to our place,” said Frank. “So I'm kind of cheating.”

    “There's no 'kind of' about it,” said Penny. “We're all cheating. Hot water, heat, plumbing, waste taken care of, electricity, I can't believe we're not rioting over the shitty wireless.”

   Frank lifted another log onto the stump.

    “When did you learn to chop wood?” she asked.

    “Oh, just growing up,” said Frank. “Plus, I always lived kind of far away from people. All the neighbors were spaced out. It was good property, and I got to live a more-or-less outdoorsy type of life while my ex-wife jet-setted around the world in her cor-por-ate jet.”

    “So the kids stayed with you?” asked Penny.

    “Most of the time,” said Frank. “They were in school, of course, and I got to be a house-husband. Anyways, long story short – too late, I know – the pressure just ate her up and I didn't really notice. She was drunk every time she came home. Eventually, fifths were hidden under couch cushions and behind the toilet and in her makeup case and all that. She disappeared somewhere into her parent's neck of the woods during our divorce, but it's finalized and everything. I haven't had any contact with her since. I got the kids, that's how fucked-up she was. Judges do not normally reward the man with much.”

    “Where are the kids now that you're here?” she asked.

    “They're staying with a neighbor. Good friend of mine, they get along with his daughter and they love his house. He's a weirdo with vintage tastes. Really good with memory and stats so a few years ago, he quit his job to play cards for a living. Online mostly. Still hasn't matched up his old salary but enjoys the freedom and loves taking impromptu trips. They'll be fine with him for a few days. Hell, probably forget all about me.”

    He set up more pieces of wood. “Listen, I don't remember much about last night, so I'm real sorry if . . . well.” He rubbed the bandage on his arm. “News to me.”

    Penny shrugged. “You don't remember, at all, running into me in the hallway? Right before you burnt yourself?”

    “Not a moment,” said Frank. “I don't drink much anymore, but when I do, it seems to be all or nothing. I foolishly thought that the change of scenery and being surrounded by new people would keep me responsible, but . . . I guess not. I've never been a violent man . . . right?”

    “Oh god no,” she said. “You were just . . . playing with wires and it was scary. I mean, we're not completely cut off from civilization, but help wouldn't come fast in an emergency.”

    “I know,” he said. “But hell I've said sorry and not meant it so many times in my life. Anyways.” He raised the ax. “Why don't you just relax? Maybe the Bionic Man in there needs something. Aw, that's not very nice of me. I gotta stop giving people nicknames in my head.”

    “What am I?” asked Penny.

    Frank shook his head. “Shit. Stock White Girl #1,” he said. “Two and three live over there.” He pointed towards the other cabin.

    “Well it's good to be number one, I guess,” she said.

    “Yeah well, don't let your head explode, it's only because we're chance roomies.” He continued to chop wood. Penny headed back inside.


    Cezar's door remained closed, so Penny helped Chinonso sort dishes for a while and then asked if she wanted to go for a hike. Chinonso declined, preferring to tidy the kitchen. She had some food of her own that she was going to prepare as well so Penny took a few nutrient bars from her room and hiked to the other cabin. No one in sight although she thought there were noises coming from within. Bangs and scrapes of people moving around. Maybe they were all fucking and that was the party cabin that Frank should have been a part of. Hadn't Frank mentioned two girls living in the second cabin? Why did Yaser and Dani act so weird upon her mentioning Ryleigh?

    There was no sign of Ryleigh’s path to the emerald mountains. Thoughts of Cezar's theories kept punching through Penny’s brain. Were they even on government land? What would it be like, to have memories operating on you that you didn't know you had?

    While ruminating, she heard faint sounds of that strange music from yesterday. The sounds grew clearer as Penny neared her cabin. Ryleigh stood around the fire-pit. Her stool was much shorter and missing its triangular top. The chains still hung from its sides but extended much farther.

    “Hey stranger,” said Penny, trying to be amicable. “Where've you been all day?”

    Ryleigh swung two of the chains back and forth so the bottoms rapped against each other, occasionally missing. She raised her head with almost comic slowness and met Penny's gaze.

    “Yes?” she said.

    “I, for the life of me, cannot find that path you showed me yesterday,” said Penny.

    Ryleigh's smile widened, with the same slowness. “Oh hi,” she said. “It's so nice to see you.”

    “Yeah,” said Penny. “I've just been out, exploring. Just on the path we came up on because –” she gestured behind the cabins.

    “My opponent,” Ryleigh whispered, putting her hand to her lips and then speaking again, “is working with prosperity.” She clanked her chains a few times and shook her head back and forth like a child.

    “Ryleigh,” said Penny, “who is your opponent?”

    “We're all winners,” said Ryleigh, looking around. “I think the gig's starting soon. I'm sure the food afterward will be scrumptious.”

    “Even though no one's looking at us,” said Penny. “I'm going to whisper something into your ear, is that alright?”

    Ryleigh rested her head on her shoulder.

    “Are we not supposed to talk about the emerald mountains?” asked Penny.

    “Why would you want to go there?” asked Ryleigh.

    “Because they're amazing. Very pretty. I want to take pictures,” said Penny.

    “But you can't take pictures,” said Ryleigh. “Didn't we go over this?”

    “Yes,” said Penny, “but I can at least try. Tell me how to get there, where's the path?”

    Ryleigh lowered her head again and swayed her chain back and forth. “No one claps for me,” she said. “Strive for leverage and . . . what?” she asked.

    “I don't know what you're saying,” said Penny. “Come back to me. Where were you when nobody knew where you were?”

    “You just answered your own question,” said Ryleigh. “And if they find me, I'm in trouble again. But for right now? I'm free.” She looked up at the treetops. “Please . . . don't give me away . . . I can barely walk . . .” she leaned backward against one of the sitting logs and hoisted herself onto it like an old woman. She picked at the gloves she wore before going back to swaying the chains.

    “Ryleigh, aren't you warm?” asked Penny.

    Ryleigh looked to the ground and shook her head back and forth. Penny tried a few more times to get her attention, but she continued shaking her head. Penny thought that Ryleigh must be really high, maybe even on LSD or mushrooms. Not wanting to be responsible for a panic attack, Penny left Ryleigh alone.

2nd Person: The Movie

FADE IN:

INT. YOUR BEDROOM - DAY

Your alarm could have been going forever, it’s set to such a subtle sound.

You reach over to your phone and turn it off. You sit up and look out the window. Bright. Of course it’s bright. That’s why you can’t sleep.

YOU

Fuck everything about today, yesterday and tomorrow as well as everything that came before and everything that will come after.

INT. YOUR BATHROOM - DAY

No one wants to see this.


INT. YOUR KITCHEN - DAY

Toast again? Really? We thought you’d be a cop on the edge or something. Cops on the edge don’t make toast.

You make a gun with your hand and point at the burnt bread on your plate.


YOU

You’re toast!

Great. Dad jokes. Shows a real exciting life of the mind atop the magnificent physical specimen we’ve seen so far. Let’s try another approach.

(We tried one but had to delete it)

As you finish breakfast you stare into a corner. Movement catches your eye. You go in for a closer look.

What you thought was a dust ball is actually an enormous beetle caught in a spider web. The spider attempting to eat it is tiny in comparison. At least someone is eating well today and putting in a bit of effort.

YOU

Hey Mr. Snarky commenter, why don’t you put in a bit of effort? So far your cinematic masterpiece has been a bit of suburban ennui. We’ve seen it all before. Boring!

Fine.


EXT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY

You take your coffee to the only table meant for one person. Two attractive people at the table next to you give you a quick disgusted glare, then move their chairs to get even an inch further away. 

You sit and stare morosely at the world passing you by.

YOU

Really screenplay? A lonely coffee shop scene? It’s not even a scene. There’s nothing going on.

You still don’t get it do you? We are engaged in a game of chicken. Waiting for something to arrive. We are an amateur screenplay. We know all the tropes. You are trapped.

YOU

Fine. At least I’m not in any danger. 

You sip your black coffee. Bitter, like life.

YOU

Coffee isn’t supposed to taste good. I just want the chemical in the bean that magically comes out with hot water.

Is that an attempt at philosophy? Heaven forbid you be entertaining at all.

YOU

It’s not my job to provide you with entertainment!

The patrons are not-so-subtly staring. Time to go!


EXT. RIVERSIDE - DAY

You stand on the embankment, leaning against the guardrail.

YOU

And how many people are lucky enough to live by a major river? Seriously, this one has boats and lifts and shit. You’re not going to get through to the average person with this.

Actually . . . the majority of the human population lives by a large body of water of some sort. You head down to the grass. People are jogging along the edge of the river. They stop at a building by some docks. A bathroom perhaps?

YOU

So, you want me to go over there? Score some drugs, find a glory hole? Or I know, a dead body.

If there were a dead body there, everyone would know. Only professional screenplays think that dead bodies don’t smell. You can smell a dead squirrel from across the street over passing cars and tall grass. A dead body in a house would stink up the neighborhood. Now, hop to it!

There’s a boat on the dock and a long-haired man sleeping on its bow. Sleeping is a calm word. He looks more spread, like his bones gave out and he collapsed. An invisible booze cloud surrounds him.

YOU

What is this? What are you doing here?

You step onto the boat like you belong on it. 

YOU

Oh no. This guy could be a nut job.

In that case . . . you roll him off the boat with one hand. He snorts a bit, but then curls up beneath a lamppost. The passing joggers are actively averting their gazes. How does it feel to be one of the invisible people?

YOU

I can’t drive a boat -

You slip the rope off the . . . dock holder thing . . . 

YOU

Oh, real professional.

Shut up. In the movies, everyone can drive everything. A boat is no problem. It goes where the river goes.

YOU

So . . . our adventure is just beginning I take it?

Actually, I’ve got other work to do. Nice knowin’ ya!

YOU

Hey! Come ba-


EXT. RIVER DOCK - NIGHT

You wake up under the dandelion glare of a streetlamp. You hear the water at your side, but see only blackness.

YOU

Fuck everything about today, yesterday and tomorrow as well as everything that came before and everything that will come after.

God, you’re all so predictable. Get up!

YOU

Don’t even know what town I’m in. That boat had my ID, everything.

We’ll start slow. I know where there’s an empty apartment.

YOU

Is there booze there?


I don’t think so. He was very boring.

YOU

Kinda like I used to be, huh?

Yep. Now hop to it! You’ve got another life to inhabit before you learn your lesson.

The Comedian's Notebook: An Evening Stroll

~ What on fucking Earth could my upstairs neighbors be doing? There must be around fifteen people up there repeatedly hitting every square inch of floor space with hammers at varying intervals. I don't even hear any talking. Just constant banging. Like a buffalo stampede. Although I guess that does drown out every other noise.

    And here I was, trying to write.  –  Landlord just stopped by right after all the banging stopped. Came by with some techie to look at getting cable through the wall, setting up new internet or something. The prominent red scimitar on his jacket looked really familiar. Maybe I should ask Linos about it. Speaking of which; Spoiler Alert: There's no such thing as a Tryphon Design. Of course, I don't know this yet . . .


~ Linos talked to his buddies for a while before introducing me. He wouldn't even let them come to the table. Two of them seemed irritated, but the tall gangly one who received most of his attention didn't give off any vibe of being bored.

    “This is Petronius,” Linos said.

    “Not really, I'm just Pete, but Linos doesn't like that,” said Pete, shaking my hand. His goth demeanor betrayed by his personal warmth. He introduced me to the other two. Sverrir (or Sam) and Yaqoob (or Jake).

    “Why don't you lead us?” asked Linos.

    “Well,” I said, “I spend most of my waking hours delivering to various businesses downtown, so I'm afraid whatever path I take won't be spontaneous.”

    “We don't know that,” said Sam.

    “All right,” I said, immediately thinking of the walking path I take on a slow day and I know I'm going back to virtually no work. At this time of year, the fountain is shut down, but during the spring and summer, it's glorious. A globe-shape of water with all sorts of currents that make it look like a floating reflective orb. Also, it mists which is especially refreshing to walk by. During the cooler part of the year, however, the metal sprinkler underneath it is visible, and, while strange-looking, just makes the eye pass over it. Like a rusted heap in a junkyard. The group stopped there and Jake pointed out the scimitar (hence my retconning it into the above narrative).

    He jumped up the side of the fountain and walked in it, which is something I'd never considered doing before. Of course, I'm never out here this late. I'm always out here during the day when it's crowded. Still, no one ever goes into the dry fountain. Even though there's loads of change in it.

    But there was no change now, which was another oddity. Every day I swear I see change in there. A shadow-group must collect it at night. Maybe they work for the city and add it to the budget.

    “Here it is,” said Jake. He motioned us to join him on the side of the fountain and he trace-outlined the shape with his fingers.

    “You walk by here all the time?” asked Sam.

    “Of course,” Linos snapped. “He passed through the Tryphon Design, of course, he led us here.”

    “You're reading a bit too much into this,” I said. “What's up with the –?”

    They all shushed me at the same time.

    “In a few days, you'll see,” said Linos and he walked away with Pete. Then Jake. Then Sam.


~ Good Guy/Bad Guy Routine: . . . for instance, here’s two books by Bill Cosby. I just have these. Does that make me a bad person? I’m a volunteer for the Children’s Literacy Program at the Library, and these were in a donation. I stopped them from being put in circulation. I’d like to sell them on eBay to some rape apologist. I dunno, forty bucks for the pair. Then I’d give the money to a homeless person. There’s a lady I see downtown, she always says hi to me and smiles. She has a sign. I don’t carry money when I work, so I can’t give her anything. But I’d give the money to her. So that she’ll have to fuck me. I’ll dangle it like a carrot. Maybe use an actual carrot too, if she’s hungry. We’ll tell our children that that’s how we met. Daddy saw this homeless woman on the street and they struck up a friendship when everyone else treated her like she’s invisible. (Add more, make relentlessly long.)


The Comedian's Notebook: My Life

~ Need to research love songs whose lyrical implications are terrifying. Heard a story, (can't recall where, maybe apocryphal) about a radio DJ who got a call from the same guy at the same time every day requesting the same song because his girlfriend broke up with him and that song reminded him of her. One day, she called in at the same time as well and berated him for being a total pansy on the air and embarrassing her. He must have mentioned her by name, or maybe someone recognized him.

    Don't see how anyone even listens to the same thing as anyone else. I suppose there are always ‘cool kids' who seem to be in-the-know despite the fact that everyone streams their own music and is not subject to corporate whims as much. Maybe that's a possible topic.

    The dreams of rock-stardom are even farther away from happening than they were thirty years ago. Gone are the days of a Beatles-style impact on pop culture. The talent has spread to everyone, and everyone is pissed about it. No one cares about your creation. You now have the means to shoot a movie on your phone. But what you really wanted was for no one else to have those means.


~ Someone in line at the store argued with the clerk about how evil the store was for offering rewards cards now. Committee Member? asked my brain. Yes . . . but for who? I wasn't late. I live right across the street. Probably for someone behind me, and their timing was a little off. It must be hard being a Committee member. It requires precise knowledge of the movements of a person, without relying on sociological generalizations.

    There were frustrated people behind me, but I didn't want to interview them . . . lest they think that I'm a Committee Member. So I followed the arguer outside to his car. He was a middle-aged man with a goatee and a very messy car with a few extremely liberal bumper stickers. He drove off and flipped me the bird. Although looking back on it, maybe he was flipping off the store behind me.


~ My studio apartment is not very glamorous for someone of my age, but it is more expensive than most studio apartments and is in a more quiet part of town. I don't often think of this which is why I'm writing it down. What exactly is the average person supposed to have at any given point in his or her life? There are people who ‘own’ houses and cars but live under so much debt that they never get a moment's peace. The charade is all-consuming. At least, it gives me comfort to think that it is. Is that what all these movies about upper-middle-class ennui are about? Do we all secretly hope that everyone else is faking their happiness the same way? 

    Uh-oh, these are some douchy questions that might be more at home on NPR. Are we all secretly suffering on our comfy couches? I'm going to name my first special that. Are We All Secretly Suffering On Our Comfy Couches. AWASSOOCC. Almost spells ASSCOCK. Let's work on that. Are Secret Sufferers Comfortable On Couches Kind? . . . A Single Suffering Child Of Captive Karma. Nope. Venturing into douche territory again, although I like the asscock idea.


Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 5)

   “The color I chose for the 'circuit board' as you so call it,” said Cezar, “is the color of a special type of gas used by a research arm of the US government. Alone, it's simply an unhealthy hallucinogen, but in conjunction with very specific moderated doses of psychological suggestion, it can implant certain . . . even nonhuman, thoughts and behaviors. Whatever is perfected here, goes to be used on the public. These cabins are the testing ground.”

    Penny had no response that wasn’t bemusement, so she politely froze.

    “Sorry,” said Cezar. “I should have gone into that with a lot more disclaimers than I did. Things like 'You're not going to believe this at first' and 'I know this sounds crazy but . . . ' I apologize. But before you ask any questions I have a confession.”

    He took the metal ring off his head and meticulously unhooked all the wires from his arm until he was no longer attached to any machinery. He leaned forward and took a deep breath, then peered into each of Penny's eyes.

    “You might be okay, for now,” he said. “But they've definitely got you.”

    “You don’t . . .” said Penny, pointing to Cezar’s discarded machines, “need those.”

   “Standing sounds great right about now,” Cezar said. He stretched, elongated like a cat and paced in a few circles, then leaned his hands on the back of his chair while he spoke to Penny.

    “I'm not really sick,” he said. “Nor am I a grant student writing a book on researching some disease. I find what the government has been up to awful and I want the world to know. My device there is a monitor of sorts. There's more to it than that but anyway . . . the fact that that symbol is in your head, that you knew how to fix it, that you've seen it before, means that you've already been in an installation and tested.”

    Penny shivered. “That's fucking impossible,” she said. “I've been here the whole time.”

    “Sure, I'd vouch for that,” said Cezar. “But obviously you know things that you think you don't. They haven't got to me because they only test the fit.”

    “This could all be art,” Penny said. “What if your thing doesn't do anything? Please don't fuck with me like this. Did you know what Frank was up to last night? You're all fucking crazy.” 

Cezar held up his hands. “Please,” he said. “If you want to leave, leave. But I'd ask that you hear me out completely first. I'd say look it up, but our wireless is suspiciously unreliable,” said Cezar. 

    “Well, what are we doing here then?” asked Penny.

    “They must have tweaked the program somehow,” said Cezar. “I've applied numerous times under various fake identities, with histories and not. Must be testing a new phase because no one here is very prominent . . . no offense.”

    Penny shook her head. “What proof do you have? This is all just a bunch of stories. Maybe you programmed that thing to respond to that design. Artists are so weird.”

    “Now you're just listing every possibility,” said Cezar. “I have no reason to mess with you or anyone. I want to stop this. Maybe someone else knows the design, would that help?”

    “What about the emerald mountains?” asked Penny. “I went looking for Ryleigh earlier and Yaser had no idea who I was talking about. Then Dani invited me in to see her. Well, or at least one of them was being cagey.”

    “Stop right there,” said Cezar. “See how scrambled your memory is? They stood right next to each other with conflicting stories?”

    “Yes,” said Penny. “Ryleigh was there, in the back. Or at least, that part I'm unsure of.”

    “Penny,” said Cezar. “I told you all this with little forethought, but I still stand by the fact that more information is better than less. If we could pretend we're still ourselves for a little bit, that would be good. For me at least. I could continue to get work done.”

    “Are the mountains real?” asked Penny.

    Cezar was quiet for a moment and then shrugged. “Ryleigh wants you to think they are. I personally find their color distressing.”

Holy Books - XV: The Tax Man

1 It’s only a matter of time before they start coming to your door again. 

2 Unmistakable in poofy red velvet shoulder pillows. Giant black leather book with a quill pen. What are they writing in there? 

3 They don’t appear for the purposes of taking notes on your sorry existence. They come for the tax. 

5 Those of us old enough remember the unmistakable perfume they wore. It carried on the breeze before they arrived, and even though they knew it gave us time to prepare for their arrival - hiding our assets, relatives, means of income, extravagant luxuries, recreational substances and outfits and devices - they wore it anyway because  the attitude of their office is more important than reporting the truth.

6 When the motorcades receded in the distance, a collective sigh of relief settled over the towns. They never arrived in a motorcade. Only left in one. 

7 No one has ever heard a single one of their cars, only the collective. And those scholars, trained in perfect pitch, prodigies from birth to whom even the slightest breeze is a symphony, cannot place the tone of their vehicular mass. The term Auto Group has been added to the lexicon of musical theory, but that is about it. Definitions remain elusive and argued over, as well as arguing over the merits of arguing over them.

8 Academics place the Auto Group in the same category as the infamous word Fortiboulneimb, which everyone learns and no one knows what it means. 

9 When adults use it around children, the children pretend to know and the adults overhearing this exchange shake their heads in shame. Who is so under-confident that they would purposely use a word for which no definition exists, just to sound smart.

10 Attempts to look up the word only lead to other books and websites promising the definition which leads to more of the same. And yet, there it is in the earliest curriculum as one of the primary vocabulary words.

11 The closest we’ve come to defining it is in medical circles, where the utterance of the word brought forth a splatter on someone’s lab samples. Initially distraught at the damage to their research, like all great scientists they studied the dishes under a microscope just to observe the extent of contamination and came up with a new subset of mucoproteins. These remain the only specimens ever discovered and, although many attempts to recreate the circumstances of the mucoprotein’s birth, they remain a single unique entity produced by a single unique utterance.

12 But I was just talking about the tax man. Yeah, fuck those guys.

The Comedian's Notebook: Into the Tryphon Design

~ Do I attract weird people? Someone at the show tonight (an open mike I went to by myself, thank you very much, I can't stalk Verena as a full-time job) was wearing a shirt with an overview picture of our fair city. It (the shirt) looked homemade, or home silk-screened, whatever you call it, and had points labeled on the city with arrows leading outward. Each arrow said something. Palace. Pyramid. Sun Tower. I forget the others.

    We were standing at the bar and a very drunk Dude-Bro in front of us was ordering drinks for like, ten people. Maybe it wasn't that many but he was having trouble enunciating and the other guy saw me staring at his shirt. So on a whim I asked him about our local geography.

    “Not geography,” he said. “Locational Iconography. That's what I call it.”

    “So there's a bird I noticed recently, in a building that I frequent,” I said.

    “Marieke Shem,” he said, interrupting me. “In the Rasmus building, yeah, that's famous. But subtle.”

    “Can't believe I missed it for so long,” I said.

    “That's its purpose,” he replied. “In the story taught to 5th degree Blaanid's, the bird flies the world through space, so they symbolize it by subtle placement.”

    “I understood only the second third of that sentence,” I said.

    “Second third,” he nodded. “You a comedian?”

    “Well,” I gestured around, “isn't everybody?”

    “I'm just here for the architecture,” he said, “meet some buddies later and we walk a path.”

    I nodded, then glanced back at the bartender who gazed at us with pained longing.

    “That guy?” said the shirt-wearer, pointing to the Dude-Bro, “he's from The Committee.”

    “What?” I asked. It was the only thing I could say.

    “They know I come here to wait for something with very specific timing, and they're trying to thwart me,” he explained. “But what they don't know is,” he raised his voice and leaned toward the Dude-Bro, “I'm early as shit, dumbass.”

    I turned away, hoping that my body language might not give away that I was just talking to this guy. The Dude-Bro froze for a moment, then regained his drunken posture, grabbed whatever glasses were in front of him and walked away. We got to the front of the line. I immediately shook it off as coincidence, or that the shirt-wearer was just fucking with me.

    “What'll you have?” he asked. I liked him. He was chubby, with dark hair and a beard and glasses. Somewhat darker. Reminded me of a young Fidel Castro almost. Still, he seemed awkward yet forthcoming in a way I found amiable. That last sentence doesn’t sound like me.

    “Oh uh, Jack and Coke,” I said.

    He ordered his drink and then doubled both of ours. “Don't worry about the tip either,” he said. “I got this.”

    “Thanks,” I said, “I was planning on staying for most of the sets, um you're meeting - ?”

    “Yeah, but I don't know when,” he said. “Let's grab that table over there. I always watch the show until it comes time for walking. Of course, I'd love to go up there myself, but I got nothin' to say.”

    “Hold on,” I replied, “you just told me a mouthful about . . . hang on, Localized Iconography. That's something.”

    “Yeah, but it's not funny,” he said.

    “Oh, people will laugh,” I replied.

    “That's probably very true,” he said. “Maybe I should just go up there and be totally honest about my interests, and that'll make me the best comedian in the world.”

    I sipped my drink. Strong. Good. “Best don't mean shit,” I said. “The best comedian is fucking hoeing a field somewhere. No one will ever hear him . . . or her.”

    He nodded. “You signed up tonight?”

    “Nah,” I said. “Still doing research. I've got a . . . date with a friend for when we're gonna go up. At Inderjit, I think.”

    “First time for both of you, huh?” he asked.

    “No. Not for her. She's been doing this for years. I think. First time for me. I been working on stuff for quite a while, though,” I said.

    “Nice. Don't worry. I'm not gonna ask you to try out material on me,” he said. Then he pointed. “You see that chandelier?”

    I made the affirmative gesture with my head which irritates me when I see it written in books.

    “That's a design following the Tryphon patterns. He was an ancient Greek mathematician/occultist. Known for kind of, jumping the gun on stuff. He talked big without knowing much and reached insane conclusions without any evidence. However, someone traced these drawings of his in an unlabelled notebook and well . . . people who claim to have done that, or be involved with it in some way mysteriously vanish. Theories vary from the designs being so strange that they scramble your brain, or that they're passages to other worlds that no one can come back from. You notice how no one stands directly underneath it.”

    “Yeah, well, it's a chandelier,” I said. “People notice that it's extremely jagged and instinctively don't want to be vulnerable.”

    “But look,” he insisted, “there's always a clear circle underneath it. That can't just be reptile-brain activity.”

    “Why not?” I asked. “It explains a lot of what we do.” I sipped more of my drink, which was now half-empty. “Check out Dude-Bro dancing.”

    “What?” he asked. “Oh, him.”

    “Sorry,” I said, “that was how I labeled him in my head. Hey, wait a minute. What's your name?”

    “What's my label?” he asked.

    I thought for a moment. “Fidel.”

    He laughed. “Okay okay, that explains the behavior of airport security around me.”

    “You really get stopped?” I asked.

    “Commonly enough that I have to plan ahead for it,” he said.

    “So what's your name,” I asked, “is it suspicious at all?”

    “Linos,” he said. “It's Greek, but that doesn't matter to some hillbilly TSA agent. If it ain't John or Mike, then it's suspicious.”

    “Alright, Linos,” I said. “What's all this about The Committee?”

    He leaned forward as if discussing something confidential. “The Committee is an affiliation of people designed to . . . cause unrest.”

    “Like, incite riots?” I asked.

    “Far more subtle than that,” he said. “They trace people's movements, and then hinder them by inconvenience. They'll send cars to make sure you don't cross the road in time for your bus. They'll have people wait in line,” he gestured to Dude-Bro, “to make you late for something else. The more ballsy ones will remove objects from your pockets or backpack that you purposefully packed for a certain outing –”

    “Hang on,” I said. “The resources to pull this off would be tremendous. How come no one's talking about it?”

    “We're talking about it,” he said.

    “But . . . but the sheer number of people who would have to be in-the-know about this . . .”

    “It's staggering, I agree,” he said. “But think about it. The vast majority of people who go to college never graduate and end up stagnating at some job that they hate. Tons of people think that they're geniuses and don't go to college at all and somehow expect the universe to recognize their greatness and take care of them. As life grinds these people down, they use the internet to search for, um . . . unconventional lines of work. Nowadays, it’s just an app. The assignments start simple. Usually driving. Good salary. For instance: Be at this intersection at this time to make sure this person is on this side of the road. If they are, you get a bonus.”

    “Look,” I said, “your logic of down-on-their-luck people taking immoral jobs I have no problem with. It's just again, the scale of this operation. And you said a salary. Who funds this?”

    “Money comes from way up top,” he said, lifting his hands. “But they don't really know what it's for. Politicians, lobbyists, rich power-players who for some reason have noticed that by funneling money through these routes, power is sustained, or even increased. Eyes are not focused on them the more people's petty problems consume them.”

    “So, Dude-Bro is here, getting paid to mess with you . . . and now he's just fuckin' around on the clock?” I asked.

    “I don't work for them,” said Linos. “His assignment was compromised by me not being in a hurry.”

    “So why are you a target?” I asked.

    “Because I noticed,” he said.

    “Sounds like confirmation bias,” I said. “You want to see a pattern, so you do.”

    “Well then finding confirmation bias is a result of the same fault,” he said, sipping his drink.

    There was something wrong with his statement, but I wasn't sure what, nor did I want to argue with him. He was friendly and interesting. Instead, my drink gave me an idea.

    “Want me to get rid of him for you?” I asked.

    “Excuse me?” he replied.

    “Dude-Bro,” I said. “Look at him. The guy couldn't be more clueless. He's dancing alone, and not in the cool Billy Idol way. He's a joke and everyone can tell.”

    “He'll never admit to being part of it,” said Linos.

    “Oh, I know that,” I said, “because it backs up your story. I have a better idea. Wait for me.”

    I got up and walked across the dance floor. Apparently this was not a sacred space that would push away people like me who have never danced. There was no Cool-People-Only bouncer. No one even noticed.

    Despite what I thought of him, Dude-Bro looked like a successful person. Sure he had the douchy hair, but he was clean-shaven, his clothes were nice, his teeth were white. Every move seemed so effortless. He was probably buff. Someone whose self-image consumed their almost every thought. I wished I could look like him. I wished I wasn't embarrassed to take my shirt off in front of people. I am by no means fat, but I'm not toned. I wished that people wanted to be me, the way I wished that I could look like him.

    He was occasionally flailing in ways that made other dancers give him a wide berth. I tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey Dude-Bro,” I yelled into his ear.

    He turned to me and smiled. Actually smiled. “What up man? You lookin' to party, I ain't your dealer you might have me confused with someone else, but best of luck to ya,” he turned back to his invisible partner.

    “No,” I yelled, grabbing him by the shoulder. He turned around, his face a mask of fury. “Look up there,” I pointed.

    While he was distracted I pulled him three steps forward to directly underneath the chandelier. I couldn't quite bring myself to look up as well, despite the silliness of Linos' warning. Dude-Bro froze and went slack. His jaw drooped and his head lolled forward slowly. I didn't even think about it then, but I'm sure all the music stopped. It was like I turned off a robot. He stopped breathing. I involuntarily followed his gaze down just in time for him to lift his leg and stamp on my foot.

    “Motherfucker,” I screamed into the echoing unfocused silence and I involuntarily looked into the design of the chandelier.

    The clanging began all at once. My head was full of marbles trying to escape and the sound skipped around like static on the radio. I felt myself falling off a ledge and I stepped back, and was back on the dance floor. Normal music, normal feeling, normal . . . everything. Except that, Dude-Bro was gone.

    I looked around, saw enough to notice that I was on the edge of a circle on the dance-floor that no one was occupying. Linos half-got-up out of his chair. I practiced walking and found I could do it. 

Linos seemed cautious of my presence. He waved his hand in front of my eyes. “Hey. Can you hear me? Don't go anywhere, I'll stop you, I swear.”

    “I'm not . . . I'm fine. I'm not leaving. Why would I leave?” I said, surprised I could talk.

    “Dude-Bro took off,” he said. “It all happened so fast that no one noticed, but I saw you pull him into the Tryphon Design. You looked too. What happened? You actually pulled him, like, he had his heels up and everything but when he saw it he almost knocked you over fleeing. But you looked too.”

    “It's just loud in here,” I said. “He stomped on my foot and it hurt more than I was expecting. That's all. But, it turns out, we're both still on this mortal plane. So, no passage to other worlds, eh? Too bad.”

    “I dunno man,” said Linos. “He looked pretty freaked. I got a few pictures of him, so we'll see what happens?”

    “What are you expecting to happen?” I asked.

    But Linos was looking behind me and waving to his buddies. They joined us and my adventure will continue but goddamn my hand is tired.

The Comedian's Notebook: The End is Everywhere

~ Today I had to deliver some emergency ink to an office building. The person who delivered there before me had forgotten the ink, and it was a rush. I’d delivered to this building and this company countless times before, but failed to see that there was no floor number written on the invoice. So, on autopilot, I went there, expecting to be the big hero.

    They moved. The lobby was empty. I walked in off of a busy street into a nearly deserted building. It was cold and rainy outside and normally even the homeless people frequent lobbies such as these. But no one was in there. Or so I thought. In the far corner, on a park bench was an Indian-looking woman holding a stone tablet. I walked over to her, expecting to maybe find elevators, but they had been walled over. 

    The woman looked up at me as I approached. I don't think she could see, even though she had gorgeous eyes.

    “Can you . . . read?” she asked, holding the tablet up to me.

    There was something wrong with her fingertips. They looked black and blistered. I touched the tablet and looked at it. Various symbols that didn't mean shit to me adorned it.

    “Um, sorry, but I don't understand them,” I said.

    She raised her hand in the air and then lowered it onto mine. Her fingertips felt like rocks. She gently ran my fingertips along the symbols carved in the slab and said some words aloud as she passed over them. Words I could not understand.

    Once we hit the bottom, she said, “It only affects my people. This is the perfection of their weapon. It is the end. Our time is over.” She let me go and leaned back, cradling the slab like a baby.

    “Do you . . . do you need some help?” I asked. Not sure what I meant. But I did have a cell-phone.

    “Everywhere I go,” she said, “it will be the end. There is nothing more. Thank you.” She became so still I was afraid to move. Her eyes darted up at me like startled birds. “Talk about me if you must,” she said and waved her blackened fingertips like she was painting in the air. “You may go.” And she returned to her statuesque demeanor.

    I reverse-wheeled my hand-truck of printer ink out the door. My phone rang immediately. Yeah, they moved. Yeah, no one told me. Yeah, it was all fine.


~  In order to persevere against impossible odds . . . having an Indian woman tell you it's all over for her people doesn't help. Heck, even a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, heterosexual, cis-gendered, American male has problems. Maybe he was abused as a child. You know, he was born a boy and his parents actually raised him as one . . . You hear that silence? That's the sound of a million Trigger-Warning's cocked and loaded and aimed at my head.

    I need a smoother transition into the child-abuse joke, but it's a start.


~ Changing a tire and driving a stick-shift are HUGE points of pride for people who know how to do them. Despite their continued insistence on how easy they are. 

‘Kids these days can’t even change a tire.’ 

‘A stick-shift is a modern theft-prevention device.’ 

What kind of asshole takes pride in making fun of other people for not knowing how to do things they were never taught? How many of these stick-driving tire changers can churn butter? What? You don’t know how to churn butter, or use a well? When I was your age I knew how to churn better and use a well. That must make me a better person. What I didn’t have is a nice climate-controlled vehicle to get to work and back and go on vacations with.

These car-people are really just jealous because what the kids today have is access to all the finest pornography worldwide, for free. They can just hang out with their friends, learn about and have all the great sex they want; instead of trying things you saw in a magazine in your dad’s shoebox that was printed thirty years before you were born.

So have fun playing with your stick and jacking your rod!

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 4)

The ready heat and adjustability of the shower made Penny again feel guilty for staying in the woods with all these luxuries. She kept it short, and wondered if Cezar or Frank ever bathed.

Cezar probably had some apparatus to zap off the daily grime, molecule by molecule. Frank would sleep the day through. Chinonso was probably used to bathing by hand and Penny was surprised to see her in the living room with a bag full of traditional female bathroom accouterments.

“What?” Chinonso shrugged. “I am a lady too.

“It's all yours,” said Penny. “I doubt the men will be using it anytime soon.

There was coffee in the cupboards. And filters. How thoughtful. Wherever people were expected, so was coffee. She took a cup with her to the porch. Her next plan was to locate the trail from yesterday.

She saw the waste bins behind each cabin. Five of them, shut and locked tightly, each for specifically labeled things like garbage, recycling, cleaning and sanitizing products. Any sort of strong smell would attract animals.

What she'd assumed would be an easy trek confounded her on the very first step. There was no discernible path. Ryleigh had no trouble finding it. Maybe knocking on the other cabin's door would be rude at this time. Whatever time it was. She wasn’t going to go back inside and check. 

The slope was gradual. She was glad she hadn't brought her coffee along. Farther down, a patch of bushes blocked what would have been the easiest route. Loose rocks dominated the steep sides of the hill and Penny stopped, wondering where she could go. To the left and to the right, the steepness only increased and the path she had walked down with Ryleigh had been fairly straight. On this side of the mountain she had to watch her every step. If she walked to the left she'd eventually be behind the other cabin and she was sure the path had been between them. The only explanation was disorientation.

Penny gave in, heading to the other cabin. Yaser sat on the front porch, sipping coffee, much like she had been a little while ago. He turned when he heard her footsteps.

    “Good morning,” said Penny, waving.

    “Hello,” said Yaser, and waved back.

    Penny stepped onto the porch. “So, you guys were given coffee as well, huh?”

    “Yes,” said Yaser. “The first thing we did together was go through all the drawers and cupboards like we had snuck into someone else's house. Why do people do that?” he asked himself and shrugged. “It was exciting anyway.”

    “Great,” said Penny. “I noticed that no one put anything in our cupboards. Weird isn't it? We can't wait to look at all the space we have, but then we don't know how to use it.”

    “Well,” said Yaser, gesturing to the forest, “at least all this is being used well.”

    Penny nodded. “Totally agree. I was just out walking and . . . is everyone up?”

    Yaser raised his eyebrows. “Everyone?” he asked. “Dani went out a while ago, I don't know, hiking or . . . bundling. She took some string or twine with her.”

    “What about Ryleigh?” asked Penny.

    Yaser looked confused, then said, “Her name's Dani, is that right?”

    Penny nodded. “Dani, yes, but I'm asking about Ryleigh. She showed me a path last night that I was sure I'd be able to find again, but today I couldn't.”

    “Ah,” said Yaser, “too bad. No street signs, eh? Maybe you're just good at following people.”

    “Well,” said Penny, “I'd like to ask her myself, is she in there or –?”

    “No one's in there,” said Yaser, staring into the woods.

    “Oh, did she go hiking with Dani?” Penny asked.

    Yaser shook his head. “I already told you, Dani went off alone. Gathering wood, maybe? I don't know what she planned on tying up, but we haven't had a fire out there yet.” He pointed in the direction of Penny's cabin which had the fire pit in front of it.

    “Yeah, that would be nice,” said Penny, “but you don't know where Ryleigh is?”

    “There's Dani, ask her yourself,” said Yaser, pointing.

    Dani was indeed walking toward the cabin, emerging with two large bundles of sticks under each arm. She had a small sack attached to her belt-loop as well, which bulged.

    “Hey guys,” she said. “What's up um, Penny, is it?”

    Penny nodded. “Yes, Dani, right?”

    “Right,” said Dani, smiling. She leaned the bundles against the wall and opened her sack. Carved chunks of a spongy white substance popped out of the top. “Lion's Mane,” she said. “Grows in the wounds of trees. Totally edible. But I'll cook it in something. Do we have any pans around here?”

    Dani directed this question at Yaser who stared back at her for a moment then shook his head.

    “That's so cool,” said Penny. “I'm sure we can find something if you guys don't have anything.”

    Yaser was still shaking his head.

    “Well, too bad,” said Dani.

    “Have you seen Ryleigh today?” asked Penny.

    “Of course,” said Dani. “She's probably reading on the couch or something.”

    “Nope,” said Yaser. He stood up and began examining the bundles that Dani had brought.

    “Did . . . she leave?” asked Penny.

    “I'm sure she's here and would love to see you,” said Dani, stepping aside from the door.

    Yaser stood next to Dani. “No one's here,” he said. 

    Dani stood by the door with her hand on the knob, prepared to open it. Yaser stood next to her, waiting for Penny's next move.

    Penny uttered a less-than-half-hearted-chuckle. “I'll just . . . come back later.”

    “I'm sure it's no trouble,” said Dani.

    “No one here by that name,” said Yaser.

    “Okay, uh, later,” said Penny, her smile breaking under Yaser’s stare. She almost headed back to her own cabin before deciding to check for a path. 

Their cabin had the exact same waste bins as she did, but above was a black window. Something white ran along the inside sill, a little mouse maybe. Penny took a few steps closer and gazed into the window, slightly above her sight-line. The white shape pressed against the bottom of the glass and slid out of sight. 

When she got back, Frank was outside with coffee. The wrinkles in his face resembled an eroded cliff. His eyes were half-shut but he grunted an affirmation as she walked by.

    “Morning Frank,” said Penny.

    “Ugh,” said Frank. “It is a good morning, just not for my body. No one was supposed to know I'd be hittin' the sauce, but I guess someone found out.” He held up his bandaged arm. “Don't remember this one bit.”

    “Yeah, well . . .” said Penny, not entirely believing him. “You found the coffee at least.”

    “That was you?” he asked. “Thanks. Maybe I'll clear my head in the fresh air once I get the strength to walk.”

    Chinonso's voice rang out. “You just be careful about getting dirt in it. It’s important for the wound to breathe, but not to get infected.”  

Inside the cabin, Chinonso sat on the couch. In front of her, the radio lay strewn about the coffee table. “It's completely fried.”

    “Well, I guess that's not surprising,” said Penny, gesturing outside to Frank. “Considering the flash. Do you need something? I'm sure we can use . . .” she stopped, remembering her altercation, “. . . the other cabin's. Hopefully, they wouldn't be weird about it.”

    “It's no big deal,” said Chinonso. “It was just ugly in its charred case. I'm going to hide it in a cupboard somewhere. Maybe we don't get charged for it.”

    “I doubt that'll happen,” said Penny. “It's their responsibility to make sure we have one of those. Who knows? Maybe they've wanted a new one for years but couldn't get money from the state. Now they can.”

    “He did them a favor,” said Chinonso. “Who could have guessed?” She picked up the debris and went off.

    Penny planned on going to her room but saw Cezar's door was open so she poked her head in. “Good morning,” she said.

    He nodded back at her, then resumed whatever it was he was doing. He wore the same clothes as yesterday and his bed was perfectly made. Maybe, like Frank, he also had some secret chemical means of operation that he wasn't telling anyone about. Penny thought he was going to snap at her, but instead he said, “The possible number of combinations that might fix what is wrong with my virtual circuits is around um, fifteen . . . followed by eighteen zeros.”

    “Oh, I was hopeful for a second that you said –”

    “Yeah,” said Cezar. “Me too. Even if I could do one per second, it would take over the age of the universe to try them all.

    “Virtual circuits?” asked Penny, nudging her way beside him to look at his screen.

    “Please don't take offense to this,” said Cezar, “but I was searching for a much simpler concept to illustrate what I'm actually doing in order to help you understand.”

    “Oh, that's fine,” said Penny. “I appreciate it. So you're just rearranging these . . . little wire things into the spindles around the holes?”

    Cezar paused. “Among, other arrangements yes, that's part of it.”

    “I like the evergreen color you've chosen for the board,” she said. “It reminds me of . . .”

    “What?” asked Cezar.

    “Can I try?” Penny asked, slowly moving her hand toward the touch-pad. “I don't wanna yank out your cords or anything.”

    “No, go right ahead,” said Cezar. He moved his chair to the side and Penny sat on her knees in front of the screen. “I'm very well attached. Maybe you'll chance upon . . .”

    “One in . . . ten to the eighteenth?” she asked.

    Cezar nodded. “One quintillion,” he said. “Very good.”

    “You just mentioned it thirty seconds ago,” said Penny. She wasn't even watching her fingers, but they picked up on the intuitive nature of his set-up right away and began forming the design in her head out of the virtual electronic pieces. Once she had used every piece she sat back.

    Cezar gave a tiny laugh and pressed a combination of keys on a separate keypad. A few sounds happened and lights lit up and he leaned back, speechless.

    “I got it right?” she said.

    Cezar poured over her design for a few moments. “There's no way that would have been part of a systematic series of options I created. Where did you get that?”

    “I'll show you,” she said. “The color you chose for the 'circuit board' reminded me of the color of some mountains I saw yesterday but couldn’t find again this morning, but I realized that they look like . . .” she stopped, seeing the look on his face.

    “I'm blathering,” she said. “Never mind. I'll get you the design.”

    “Oh, I understand probably better than you think I do,” he said.

    When she returned with the paper she told him about the sand dunes on her wall and how she had traced the image from them. The negative space of the emerald mountains.

    “Has anyone else seen these pictures?” asked Cezar. “Of the sand dunes?”

    “Frank has,” said Penny. “I remember him looking in and saying, 'weird.'”

    “That doesn't prove what he actually saw,” Cezar mumbled.

    “What was that?” asked Penny.

    “Nothing,” he said. “Listen, I'm going to close my door while we talk, is that all right?”

    “Of course,” she said. Although she wanted to help, it seemed important for him to close the door by himself. He was clearly quite weak, and he gave two suspicious glances down the hall before returning to his seat.


Story Starters for Kids

Once upon a time there was a baker. He shared a shop with a butcher and a candlestick maker. (Bloody bread and wax, eh? You get me son?) The fair was in town that week and each of them had arranged a day off to spend riding rides, petting animals and playing games.

On the first day, it was the butcher’s turn. ‘You know those games are all rigged,’ he said. He went to the fair, spent all his money and didn’t win anything. He even got sick on one of the rides.

The next day it was the candlestick maker’s turn. ‘You know those rides are not safe,’ he said. And he spent all his money and got sick from a hot dog stand.

‘That wouldn’t’ve happened if they were my hot dogs,’ said the butcher.

The third day it was the baker’s turn. He loved the tents, smell of sawdust and most of all, the gathering of community. The very first game he tried, he took aim at the floating cup and, woah, he won a shot of scotch for your old man!


- - -

. . . but the owl who refused to hoot would not budge. ‘Hooting for no reason keeps other creatures awake,’ he said.

His mother tried to explain that hooting deepened the night and made a restful sleep possible for the other creatures but the owl did not understand. So, without him knowing, she signed him up to lead the forest May Day Parade.

‘It’s an opportunity for everyone to see what you can do,’ she said. She didn’t have to tell him that the forest community were all wondering what little owl’s purpose was since he never hooted at night. 

(Don’t they eat mice or something? Why is there a mouse in a goddamn royal guard uniform?)

‘And I don’t have to make a sound?’ asked little owl.

‘You just lead with the baton,’ answered mother.

And on parade day, little owl marched with the other critters all around the forest paths, gathering more celebrants as they went. (That’s a big word for a kid’s book). They marched along the brook, through the meadows, over the edge of the valleys and it was a beautiful day. 

Little owl enjoyed leading, never having to say a word, only gesture with his baton the direction they were heading next while behind him the animals sang and danced.

It was almost too soon (but not really) when he saw the end of the parade route, and at the end, waiting for him, was a shot of scotch for your daddy!


- - -

. . . toot toot!’ said the flute

and the horse danced around with glee

the only noises he’d ever made before 

was a snort, a neigh, and winnie


the flute he’d found beside the brook

must have been used on the last holiday

but no one he found, as hard as he looked

so by himself he had to play


‘You know’ thought the horse

‘there’s never enough days where we just celebrate,

if I could always make up my own

no one would ever have to wait’


he galloped along, home to his friends,

with news he could not wait to share

everyone would be invited - 

Badger, Owl, Snake, Mouse, and Bear


the horse found his friends sitting on a downed log

just staring at the forest floor

when they saw his excitement they said

‘hey didn’t we send you to the liquor store?

where’s our scotch you french-burger piece of fuck!?’


- - -

. . . and once more, the alien missed and Teresa’s shot flew right past him into the goal. She hadn’t even broken a sweat. 

The alien sulked. “By now you must realize I’m not much of a soccer player.”

“That’s okay,” said Teresa. “Maybe you enjoy other things the way I enjoy soccer.”

With a glint in his eyes, the alien said, “that’s what I’ve decided to tell you. I’m not really a soccer player. I’m a spy.”

Teresa’s eyes widened. “A spy?”

The alien nodded. “On my last trip to Earth, we parked on top of a restaurant. I was fascinated by all the smells. So every night, when the others were asleep, I would sneak into the restaurant and play with the ingredients. I got quite good if I do say so myself.”

(I’ll bet that place got shut down right quick.)

“Oh no,” said Teresa. “Was it called Ed’s Eats?”

“Yeah, that’s it!” said the alien enthusiastically.

“But that’s where my daddy used to work. It got shut down because it was so messy!”

(Thanks Obama, higher minimum wage, a tip jar AND a place for tips on the check!?)

“Oh no,” said the alien. “Do you think that was my fault? How can I ever make up for that?”

“You could . . . “ said Teresa with a grin, “let me try some of your recipes.”

“Yay!” said the alien. And the first thing he did was take Teresa under the bleachers with a bottle of scotch. No, not like that you pervert! Jesus, what the hell is wrong with my kid?

The Comedian's Notebook: Memmeroids

  ~ Verena and I are at an ice-cream tasting today. It’s more of a promo thing for a new shop, not hoity-toity like wine tasting. No spittoons as far as I can see. However, more strange animals. I don't ask, mainly because I don't want to look stupid in front of her, or like I buy into something I don't.

    The tasting is held in the middle of a massive outdoor market, but you had to pay to get into this area. At the gate (I say gate, I mean, roped-off entrance) there was a statue of a giant fire-breathing horse rearing up on its hind legs. No one else commented on it. I didn't say anything to her because I figured everyone else would be talking about it, but no one else was. How frustrating.

    We get in and looked at their menu which is laid out like an altar, although she thought it was a compass. What was the company's name again? South of Salvation? Nah, couldn't be . . . but something like that. Putrid Corpse Peanut Butter is the first one I try. Then she has Burn In Hell Roasted Banana. I hate bananas. Fruity ice-cream I think defeats the purpose. Raped By Spikes Strawberry Chocolate is the one she likes.

    She runs into a fellow comedian, a guy, but he’s fat, so I figure not a threat. Neither am I, but that's just how my brain has been operating lately. I never knew I could be so competitive.

    He runs an open-mike every other Thursday at a place called Inderjit. Pretty modest about it, which impresses me. He said anyone could do that so don't get the impression that people who put together shows are anything special, which is good because I was getting that impression. I wondered if Verena ever fucked her show-runners. But of course not, she's so sweet. But there's this late-night side to her that I've never seen. After her last set, we just parted ways. The weakness is all within me. Her laugh melts me.

    Melted, like this tiny bowl of Mammary Vivisection Vanilla Mint that I've forgotten about. Delicious. An employee comes up to us with a clipboard and asks us what flavors we've tried and our various opinions of them. I ask her about the mural hanging behind the tasting table with the company name on it.

    “Mural?” she says.

    The tapestry of burning babies pissing on a third-world mass grave, I reply. Maybe I don't say it quite like that.

    “Oh, it's not actually the company logo,” she says, “but we like his work so much that the owner said we could hang it here. He's really concerned about where society is heading which is why we only use local, free-range, cave-aged, organic, natural, barrel-molded, dolphin-safe, artisanal, sustainable –”

    “Please feel free to come by and do five minutes whenever you feel like it,” says Stafford. (Verena's friend.) “It's not exactly Lavish, but you'll get honest feedback without people being dicks about it. Honestly, they'll just ignore you if you don't grab their attention. Which is exactly what you want. You'll know what's bad, and no one else will remember. The only reason I started this thing is so I'd have a place to try material at least once a week. I go to other open mikes but this one is my real testing ground and it helps so much you wouldn't believe. I'd love to have more regulars.”

    “Thanks,” I say, shaking his hand, “sounds like a good place to start.”

    “You want to really shake on it?” asks Verena.

    “What do you mean?” I ask.

    “Two weeks, okay, three weeks,” she says. “I've got a few new things I want to try, if you can have a solid five minutes in three weeks, we'll conquer Stafford's Stage.”

    Stafford laughs. “Why the fuck did I not think of that?”

    “You're too humble,” says Verena.

    “I'm calling it that from now on,” Stafford asserts.

    “You are not you fucking coward,” says Verena.

    “See what she does to people?” Stafford turns to me and asks.

    I reply, “All the time.”

    He wanders after the clipboard girl saying, “This Zen Cushion Coconut is amazing.”


~ My first attempt at comedy was around age ten or eleven. Probably the most common age for people to claim certain things occurred at, but fuck it. I did a week-long performing arts camp of some sort that my parents drove me to every day during summer vacation. Maybe it was two weeks, time is so strange at that age. I was the only one who choose to do comedy as my end project. My first bit was a fake commercial I stole from a kid's show that I liked. No one cared. My second bit I made up. I asked my parents about an embarrassing adult disease.

    “Hemorrhoids,” my mother immediately answered.

    The bit I came up with was about a disease called Memmeroids, which created false memories of great accomplishments. You talk about your great accomplishments, only to be force-fed reality by your gleeful friends/family/spouse/exes . . . Only, when I went to perform it, I said Hemorrhoids each time until the end, when I realized I'd been saying it wrong the whole time. So I changed it to Memmoroids at the last minute. No one got it. Everyone clapped because they're sympathetic adults. Life could be worse I suppose.


The Comedian's Notebook: Impressing the Fuck Out Of . . .

    ~ Sitting with Verena at Vicario. Comedy night . . . and pasta. They have happy-hour Italian dishes like Sacrilege Spaghetti, Anti-Christ Antipasta, and Blasphemous Bruschetta. I almost can't believe this place is real because during the day it's supposedly very upscale and isn't even open between 3 and 6. Then they have the dinner seating and that ends at 9. Then . . . this.

    There's traditional religious imagery on the walls. Virgin Marys, crosses. Although the strange shapes adorning the heads of many of the saints, I find out through Google, are pinecones.

    “What're you doing?” asks Verena.

    Oh shit, I'm not even fucking paying attention to her even though her douchy boyfriend is on a trip somewhere.

    “Pinecones,” I say, pointing.

    “What?” she asks.

    “All of these,” I find a picture on the drink menu, “weird dotted hats are actually pinecones.”

    “Oh,” she smiles and nods.

    I'm boring her. Does she already know this? 

“A lot of religious traditions use it to represent, um, enlightenment, spiritual achievement. Aloofness.” I close my eyes and lay my hands out by my sides. When I open my eyes it looks like she's genuinely laughing. I dig deeper.

    “The reason it occurs in so many cultures who never contacted each other is that the human pineal gland,” I touch the back of my head, “which serves various purposes in various creatures looks kind of like a pinecone.”

    “How do other creatures have a human pineal gland?” she asks.

    Still waiting for food, but at least we're talking. I hope to keep this up until our server comes back.

    I shake my head. “That's not what I meant. Other creatures have a pineal gland. Birds, reptiles. They just use it for different shit, or it uses them . . . or something.”

    “What does it do in people?” she asks.

    “It's supposedly our dormant third eye,” I say. Her reaction is not generous.

    “What does it really do, though?” she asks.

    “Melatonin,” I say, surprising myself. “Sleep stuff. That's melatonin, right?”

    She nods and sips her soda. “I think so.”

    We should really start drinking. “You want a real drink, I mean when our server comes back?”

    “Like what?” she asks.

    “Like . . . whatever you want,” I say. “I came here to see you, just pretend you've got an expense account.”

    “Oh, come on,” she says, “you don't have to pay for everything.”

    But then it won't look like we're on a date. “It's okay, I want you to be comfortable.”

    “Yeah, this is great,” she says. “I've never performed here so I'm a little nervous.”

    “Don't be,” I say. “Are any of your friends here?” I immediately regret this just in case she jumps up to talk to someone else.

    “No,” she says, “but they probably wouldn't show up for another hour or so, if any of them signed up. I don't know that many people. Still pretty new here.”

    I see our server approaching from behind and ask Verena – as friendly as I can muster – “Where's Angelo?”

    She finishes her soda and shakes her head. “He's on a trip, California, chronicling four immigrant families who work extremely long hours for little pay for the families of politicians with strong anti-immigration platforms.”

    What a huge piece of shit. Another globe-trotting do-gooder with a pretty and talented girlfriend. The payoff for being a good person your whole life is enormous. I don't care what anybody says. It's us narcissists who have to fight the real battles. Still, I got the answer I wanted. He's gone.

    “That's so great,” I say, nodding.

    Our server arrives, just in time for me to change the subject. I ask Verena about her schedule, how she works hours similar to mine but still manages to perform and see other shows. Where are the good places? We make promises that next time we'll definitely perform together.

    I wonder how long her boyfriend will be gone. I need to impress the fuck out of her with a routine before he gets back. Deadlines are good for you I hear. We eat and have a cocktail. She goes on stage, one in a long line of sign-ups. She's better than I thought. I feel bad for thinking that. I wonder if I'm reading too much into the blasphemous imagery all around me.


~ Impress the fuck out of someone really has a double meaning doesn't it? Is that person withholding 'a fuck'? I think they are. We're all withholding 'fucks' from each other. Each of us has our own combination. The one that will release the 'fucks'. But there are shortcuts aren't there? Sometimes attempted burglary of ‘fucks’ occurs with alcohol and drugs to blow the safe. No one’s impressed by those fuckers though.

Holy Books - XIV: The Speed Round (Part 2)

A Biblical Epic in Six Parts (4-6)


Inheritance Floor

1 None of the kids determinately knew if the adults allowed them to peek onto the Inheritance Floor or not. 

2 No adult would admit to having done so before their time, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lying. How could you resist the temptation your entire life? With the floor so near and accessible? 

3 Some people’s parents lived a long time and you wouldn’t get to see your Inheritance Floor until your were too old to make use of it. Or until everything that it could tell you about life had happened or you knew already.

4 Weighing the options, Lorenz decided that looking was better than not. 

5 The not-knowing would trouble him for life, and after all, his parents were fit and healthy. 

6 What could be so bad in your future that knowing it would ruin your life? Terminal illness? Some horribly early demise? And if you knew, then maybe you could prevent it or act differently.

7 Lorenz spoke his plans to  friends at the dinner table. It was his little brother Marco’s birthday, but Lorenz was allowed to have friends over as well. He spoke plainly to all, but none of the adults could understand or keep up with the slang adopted by the kids these days. And all the kids kept quiet about it, even though few, if any approved.

8 “They have to know that it could happen,” said Lorenz, when his brother confronted him after dinner. “The room isn’t guarded at all.”

“You gonna let anyone else see?” asked Marco.

“I dunno,” said Lorenz. “There’s gotta be something in it for me if I do, though.

9 One of the other dads walked by, coming back from the bathroom. Had he actually taken his beer in there with him?

10 “Don’t you kids go outside and play anymore?” he asked. “Looks like a . . . Parliamentary meeting in here. Let’s see some action.” And he wandered off to sit in the living room.

11 “It’s now or never,” said Marco. “They’ll get suspicious the more we huddle up like this.”

“Do you think we need anyone to run distraction?” asked Lorenz.

“Nah,” said Marco. “We just need to disappear.”

12 Lorenz kept the question to himself as to why his brother was now suddenly into this idea whereas before he had sensed nearly universal dissent. Maybe because Marco felt there was nothing at stake for him and would gain some cheap excitement.

13 To make small talk while walking along outside the house, Lorenz asked the other boys where their Inheritance Floors were. 

14 I think mine’s in the attic.

Under the pool.

The door next to the bathroom medicine cabinet.

Somewhere in the garage. Haven’t really looked because there’s so much junk. Could be behind any number of piles of boxes.

15 Lorenz’s was in the basement. A side door which lead beneath the lawn. The front area had a dim lightbulb which illuminated gardening tools and pieces of old lawn equipment. 

16 An innocuous door, the same dirt color as the wall, lay in the only corner where the light failed to reach. You could almost think it was just an old door that someone propped in a corner, and didn’t actually lead anywhere.

17 As a single unit, the group took steps forward like they were exploring an ancient pyramid. Lorenz put his hand on the knob and gave one last glance to his brother and his social group.

18 The knob turned easily and Lorenz took a deep breath and glanced in with one eye. Then the rest of his face, and then his entire head. The group had collectively stopped breathing behind him.

19 After a few moments he leaned back out and looked at them.

“What is it, what did you see?” asked Marco.

20 Lorenz’s expression gave no indication of his future. Instead, he slithered around into the Inheritance Room and slammed the door shut behind him.

21 Marco rushed forward, but the knob wouldn’t budge. He banged on the door and yelled for his brother as all his friends scattered, but there was no answer.


Roses and Flame

22 One way to rid the disease was by smell. 

23 While germ theories of old ridiculed this notion, it was an indisputable fact that within the town square, where the pink flames were kept lit, no one caught the illness, and those who had symptoms found them abated.

24 The rose rocks which generated the flames had been collected by Tlalli for her grandmother’s jewelry shop, merely for their aesthetic value. They were particularly popular with athletes, for the rocks responded to body heat, and gave off a pleasant odor. 

25 Any who attributed actual health benefits to the rocks were derided in the mainstream. But Tlalli’s family remained okay, those who stayed near the rocks. 

26 It was her idea to burn them indoors, and when the sick got better, she and a small group collected more rocks and burned them in the town square, taking advantage of the breeze that bottlenecked through alleys leading to widespread dispersal of the smell.

27 Most of the town had fled due to the plague. It is mankind’s nature to leave areas where great danger is perceived rather than find a solution to that danger. Most danger is more powerful than us, despite all our accomplishments.

28 A general premise of Tlalli’s grandmother was that solutions to problems are found either around or within the problems themselves. Like is with like, and nature is not thrown together as a hodge-podge with related things spread unconnected to each other. 

29 Tlalli knew that as long as she could keep the flames burning, she would not get sick. Even if the rest of the town deserted her she would stay here and tend to the fire. 

30 She had it pretty good what with being able to go outside. There were many shelters around her. The rocks burned long and she knew where to find more.

31 Even with more villagers heading out. Some to seek the feral children and join them, some to seek the hunters of the feral children and join them.

32 Eventually, a traveller would come to her. Maybe a band of them, sick and dying and she could cure them with the flower-fire. And news of a possible end to the plague would blossom.

33 Even with the strange machines flying overhead going toward the distant castle, Tlalli would stay well as the rest of the world went collectively mad.


Timepiece’s Whispering Blight

34 This one has to be the best I’ve ever done, thought the puppet-maker. 

33 Are we sometimes too unique for our own good? Despite increasing evidence to the contrary, I believed that the world would remain somewhat similar throughout the years as I practiced and perfected my craft. That by the sheer singularity of my direction, all eyes could not help but focus upon me in wonder. 

34 But no one cares. And why should they? I resent their normalcy and they resent my difference. They resent my lack of attention and I resent theirs. 

35 No one wants reminders of how easily controlled they are. Such reminders are dubbed archaic and cumbersome. And those doing the reminding are derided as being controlled themselves by the very thing they claim to be acting against.

36 I’ve gotten rid of clocks if you must know. Sure, most of them don’t audibly tick anymore, but some do, and they were the first to go. The ticking is there, whether you can hear it or not. 

37 I wonder if time itself is the cause of all the rot in the world. When did we notice this happening? The notion is so insidious it must have snuck in before language. 

38 Maybe that’s why people instinctively give up on puppet shows. The mechanisms are too obvious. In fact, the only reason puppet performances ever get praised is due to the artistry of the operator. 

39 We’re just so damned clever that we have to appreciate how it’s done rather than what it is. Because ‘how it’s done’ has an end, and ‘what it is’ is eternal. Hence the very particular tense.

40 I’ve become so relentlessly hypnotized by the concept of linear change, and its reflexive perception as ‘decay’ that even the absence of reminders of time are unable to totally clear my vision. 

41 The day itself seems to expand indefinitely, but all the external trappings are still there. 

42 Anyone can experience this at night, when the anxieties disturb one out of sleep, and the very notion of time seems fearful. We can make use of that in a positive way during the day, but does anyone want to hear about that? No. Because it reminds them too much of the existential night terrors. 

43 No coincidence that many fears in darkness and sleep involve dolls and puppets and clowns and such. Ultimately, the fear of your fears ravaging you. Strip that away to what it really is and you’ve got the fear of being buried alive, which is really the fear of death. Like death somehow is like being awake, only trapped in a dreamless sleep forever. Awake with the echoes of your own thoughts. This is of course, irrational madness because your thoughts end and do not exist in eternity. If time applied to you after death . . . that’s the real worry.

44 But ultimately, there is no such thing as death. It’s an arbitrary line between two states, when in fact, everything is fluid. Is the leaf dead when it loses its color? Or when it falls from the tree? Well, which is it? 

45 Many leaves remain on the ground carpeting it in vibrant autumn flare. An artwork in itself. That’s a leaf fulfilling its being, and we would have declared it dead months ago! 

46 Dry leaves sit for fucking ever, and then slowly turn back into the dirt to be transformed into other things. And the cycle of a leaf is nothing compared to the cycle of a person. 

47 So where does its ‘leafness’ go? It’s always there. Whatever we determine to be its ‘leafness’ was there before it and there after it. It’s eternal. Timeless. We just named it wrong.

48 The puppet maker glanced back over the preceding pages in which he meant to document his latest and last creation. 

49 Blast! he thought. This entire journal has been nothing but a cleverly disguised paean to the notion of time. All the materials gathered, how I fashioned them and put them together. Experiments in their use. But all is not lost. For the world is ending and maybe within this problem is its solution.

50 Perhaps the family/friends/neighbors are right and I just need to get out more. 

51 Me and my puppet (I’ve spent my life making them, who really controls who here?) we shall trek north, to the most timeless place I can imagine. And maybe the world will continue changing, but not us. 

52 Because you make deals when you work with dolls, and they say more than you think. And their deep dead eyes share secrets when they get bored just sitting on a shelf.

53 I shall dismantle this shed and take it with me. Set it up in the frozen north, a final home for my puppet, and he will point me in the new direction.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 3)

 Dinner with Cezar was uneventful. She didn’t want to ask him endless questions about his childhood so she mainly just talked about herself in response to his questions. Guilt followed about being so easily self-involved. After dinner, Penny retired to her room but couldn’t bring herself to try and sleep.

For the third time, she checked her itinerary on the airline's website when the wireless went down. She'd done as much as she could on her spreadsheet regarding her finances, but she really needed to check the airfare and hotel rates. The lights flickered fifteen seconds later. Doing this was boring and the only reason she'd tried is because there was wireless up here. This was her being responsible on her trip. 

She kept hearing electronic noises which she assumed was Cezar's life-support equipment, but when the rattling happened outside her door she went to check on it. 

Squatting in the hallway, feeding a wire through a bored hole in the wall was Frank. He froze, then said “Hi.”

    “What are you doing?” Penny asked. “I thought that was Cezar's equipment making all the noise.”

    “I'm uh,” said Frank, looking down. “Mmm.” He waved his hand at her and she caught a cloud of booze-breath.

    “Frank, did you bring alcohol?” she asked.

    “I'm uh . . . whew,” he said and pulled the wire out of the wall. It had a tiny lens on the front of it.

    “Were you –?”

    He held his hand up in a stop motion and slammed his face into the wall, presumably looking down the hole. “What's on . . . blocked.”

     “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she asked and raised her voice, purposefully looming over his hunching form. “Trying to put cameras in the walls?”

    Frank kept lowering his arms, wanting her to lower her voice. “Not just you.”

    “Does anyone else know about this?” she asked.

    “It's what we're supposed to do,” said Frank.

    “Who's 'we'? What's 'what'?” asked Penny.

    “C'mon,” said Frank. “You've gotta know about all the parties up here. It's what we're supposed to do.”

    “You keep saying that like I understand,” said Penny.

    “It's like the Olympic Village,” said Frank, covering one eye. “You know? 'We all know what goes on but won't say anything' type of deal, you know?”

    “I'm calling Ground Base,” said Penny. She headed off to the living room, assuming the radio was in there.

    “Careful,” said Frank.

    “What?” she turned to look at him and almost tripped over another wire.

    “Aha!” said Frank. He burped and his cheeks bulged. A moment later he continued. “And there it is. All you young artsy beautiful people think you're so free and accepting of variety. But when it really shows up you're all . . .” he waved his finger back and forth while blinking his eyes and drinking a cup of pantomime tea. “Seriously, what was I supposed to do? I needed to work from home to support my ki- my children. The ex-wife is gone. We fought, alright? Sue us. Our relationship wasn't perfect. It was real easy for me to tell when I'm being sneaked, so I started doing the sneaking. Sorry, that doesn't leave me enough time to become Ken Burns. You want a drink?”

    “No,” said Penny.

    “I was just trynna do somethin' different. I thought everyone was here to party. But you're all so fucking serious. Here, I'll take it down. You call if you want to, fuck it.” Frank picked up a wire and trailed it to a tiny box which sat beside the leg of a chair. Penny would never have noticed it. “Lemme see here,” he said and a flash of white filled up the room with the smell of rotten eggs.

    Penny shielded her eyes and still only saw white when she closed them.

    “God fucking Jesus dammit!” yelled Frank and he kicked over the chair and fell backwards into the living room couch. Smoke poured from his arm and he waved it around while smacking it with his other arm. For some reason, the lights stayed on.

    “Woah, what happened?” Penny saw his skin already blistering.

    “Fuckin' shit, I blew something up,” he said.

    A door slammed  and Chinonso drifted through the smoke, holding a box. She placed herself on her knees in front of Frank.

    “Electrical burn, I think,” said Penny.

    Chinonso set the box by her side and took out paper towels and unlabeled glass vials. “This is going to hurt for a moment,” she said, “but that is just the disinfectant. Then I'll put something soothing on right away, okay?” She raised herself to her knees, staring Frank right in the eyes. “Okay?”

    “Yes ma'am,” he said.

    “Now look away,” she said and as soon as his head was turned she grabbed his elbow and pressed a wet paper towel against his blisters. He hissed, his entire body tensing except for the arm she held and she counted backward, not in English. Then she switched hands and placed another paper towel on there. Penny could swear she heard the sound of steam, but maybe it was just Frank’s sigh of relief.

    Chinonso balled up the first paper towel in her hand. Red-yellow blooms covered the entire thing so that it resembled a shredded piece of skin more than an absorbent sheet. She forced it into an empty beaker and capped it with a cork; all with one hand while still holding the soothing towel on Frank.

    “What is that . . . kit from?” asked Frank.

    “I assume there's one in every cabin somewhere,” said Chinonso, “but this one is mine. I've built it over the years. It's not the same one, obviously, from my childhood, but the contents are all the same. These jars are much nicer and the products are much purer.”

    “You a doctor or something?” asked Frank.

    “No,” Chinonso replied. “But people get sick and hurt themselves often. I just learned how to fix them. Maybe not heal, forever, like a doctor, but fix a lot of problems.”

    “Didn't you work with doctors, though?” asked Penny.

    “That was how I got to leave my farm,” Chinonso replied. “Helping other families, and then volunteering with the doctors.”

    “So they didn't pay you?” asked Frank.

    “That's not exactly what I meant,” said Chinonso. “I left the farm and worked with them and travelled from battlefield to battlefield until I was asked to come to America and I ended up in here, working with you.”

    “Well, thanks,” said Frank.

    “Now, how did this happen?” Chinonso asked.

    “He's been . . .” Penny made a drinking motion, “and playing with wires.”

    “I noticed you do things with lights,” said Chinonso, “very pretty. You should maybe restrict your drinking to when others are present.”

    “Thanks mom, will do,” said Frank.

    “Be nice, she's practically a trauma surgeon,” said Penny.

    “I was being nice,” said Frank, “just joking around a little.”

    “The worst drunks,” said Chinonso, “are the ones who never stop working. Alcohol is practically unnecessary guilt in a bottle. So maybe you take it easy and relax, okay? Your work begins later.”

    “Thanks,” said Frank, mostly to Penny. “I will.”

    Penny realized that she was jealous of Chinonso. Jealous that this woman had had such a hard life and the worst was over now. She secretly wished that childhood friends who contacted her on Facebook weren't doing so well so she would look better by comparison. Jealous when others got recognition for their deeds. Upset that she hadn't done their deeds.

    Penny distracted herself from these negative thoughts by staring at the dune photos in her room. Strangely enough, the sky was the most prominent part of the pictures. Maybe because the dunes themselves were the color of her wall and the sky in them was a vibrant blue, even the night photos. When her eyes relaxed she noticed that pieces of the sky fit together. She tilted her head sideways and tried it again. No doubt about it. Maybe it was just human pattern-finding, but the jagged edges of the sky and the dunes resembled puzzle pieces.

    Finding some paper from a notebook she never used, she pressed it against one of the dune photos and outlined it. After a moment, she saw a dune which fit in the empty space. The fitting photos weren't always close, but each piece suggested the next. 

She tore out several sheets of paper and cut them into photo-sized rectangles with the nail scissors from her bathroom bag. When enough of a pile was assembled, she traced the edges of the dunes from each picture, creating her own puzzle pieces.

When she was done, she had assembled an intricate and jagged symbol. The lines within suggested other shapes, or characters in a foreign language. Every picture on the wall was used. She wondered what would happen if she started with a different dune. 

After shuffling all the papers, closing her eyes and starting with a fresh piece, she quickly reassembled the same symbol. She'd chosen the same dunes to fit together each time, not on purpose, but because that was where they fit.

    The concerns of Frank's attempted spying left her at this point and she knew that his failure would have been inevitable. She would never have ended up as jerk-off fodder on someone's lewd website because Cezar was here monitoring things. Because Chinonso was here making sure everyone was safe. But ultimately, because Frank was a fuck-up and a drunk. She tried to feel sorry for him, but his disposition seemed inevitable and only changeable by his own actions. She fell asleep in a nest of dune drawings.

The Comedian's Notebook: Killing Hitler

~ Say what you will about Hitler, but he did kill Hitler. Would you kill Hitler? That's always the time-travel question. Most people say 'yes' but the right answer is 'no.' Hear me out! You're being asked to go back in time and kill a baby. With no knowledge of what the actual consequences would be. The only way saying 'yes' would be the moral choice is if you were assured that the only consequence of killing Hitler would be that The Holocaust never happened. In which case, there would probably be no Israel, but that's another story.

    You'd have to make it look like an accident because, how many of you, taking home a bundle-of-joy from the hospital would relinquish it to some nutcase in zany clothes with a strange accent claiming he's from the future and needs to kill your baby in order to prevent a genocide? 

‘So there’s the explanation, we cool? Cheers.' Dropkick motion.

Maybe the 2,500 cases a year of SIDS are just time travellers from the future preventing genocides. There's so many because killing one changes the continuity and new cases keep arising. C'mon future! Get your shit together. 

The real reason no one's killed Baby Hitler is because of all the nuclear testing we did in the forties. Messed with the atomic structure of the universe and any time travel before Hiroshima simply isn't safe.

    This will definitely need to be trimmed, but there're some keepers I think.

~ There's a giant bird with a sphere on its head carved into the wall right above the Rasmus Building elevators. I'm in there sometimes three times a day. How have I never noticed that before? It’s just carved into the wall and not colored in or anything, but it doesn't even have the Rasmus logo on it. Maybe it was there before they moved into the building.

~ Adding 'like an animal' to the end of stuff seems to get a laugh most of the time. For instance, 'I don't turn my phone off when I go to sleep like an animal.’ Maybe think of something more snooty and unexpected.

~ First staff meeting today and it was fucking torture! Do people do shit like that all the time? They must, I deliver things to them. Staples, paper, hardware . . . Apparently PantherFootWork has these meetings every quarter. That's their way of making it sound like less than four times a year. 

    Engman talked for fifteen minutes straight about how he felt he was getting shafted out of his break by two minutes a day because a lot of times he has to wait longer for the freight elevator. Marty was apologetic and explained the time-clock system (as if Engman doesn't know that) and outlined other possibilities for break options other than going all the way downstairs (yes, there are stairs as well) then asked if he had answered Engman's question. Engman then said no, he felt his question hadn't been answered and then started to repeat his initial monologue. Luckily, Marty interrupted him and said they could talk after.

    Oh shit, how could I forget this? Leo was wasted and had to leave. Holy fuck. His shift and mine normally only overlap for an hour or two so I don't see him that often. But when I saw him today I said, “Hey dude,” and waved and he looked at me without saying a word, then tucked his head into his shoulder and continued walking toward the meeting room.

    “You gonna stay awake for this?” I asked. ((So fucking sue me, I'm not a good conversationalist. I know I bitcha lot about what other people say, but this was just the spur of the moment because Leo was acting weird. Maybe I'll add things I say to my list of Things That Aren't Funny. Would that make you happy?))

    Leo mumbled something totally unintelligible and I got a blast of booze-breath right in my face. I was thankful that he sat at a far table. Unfortunately for him, he kept speaking up at different times. Marty stopped the meeting and asked him if he was okay. This actually happened two more times before Marty took him outside and sent him home. I guess he got a cab or took the bus or something. Marty assured us that he wasn't fired or anything because he wasn't technically working even though all of us got paid for being there.

    Marty seems to be at pains a lot of the time to not seem like he's got a corporate stick up his ass. And he doesn't seem that way to me anyway. I guess I don't really find him that approachable, but that's just because he outranks me in so many ways. Anyways, that was today.