Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing it In

     “So what should we do for New Year’s Eve?” asked Trevor at the lunch counter.
     “Let’s hang out at Jay’s Tavern,” said Gary, taking a bite out of his burger. “They have a good house band and give out free champagne at midnight.”
     “Yuck!” Joan crinkled her face in disgust. “There’s no way I’m ringing in the New Year at that filthy dive, and don’t talk with your mouth full. Why don’t we go to my friend Mandy’s house? She’s having a few friends over to watch movies all night long.”
      Gary rolled his eyes. “Boring! I want to have fun, not sit around watching chick flicks with a bunch of sobbing girls.”
     “Well it’s better than hanging out in a room full of drunks,” said Joan.
     “It’s New Year’s Eve,” said Gary. “You’re supposed to be in a room full of drunks. And if you do it right, you’ll be one of them.”
     Joan sighed. “What’s your vote, Trevor? How would you like to spend New Year’s?”
     “I’m glad you asked,” said Trevor. “I’ve done a bit research on various tribal traditions and I think we can pull together an authentic fire ceremony to give a farewell blessing to 2011 and an open-hearted welcome to 2012.”
     “Hmm,” Gary rubbed his chin. “That actually sounds kind of cool.”
     “All we need,” continued Trevor, “Is an unflawed sacrifice. A spotless goat would be ideal, but we can probably find something at the pet store. It’s okay if it doesn’t bleed enough because we’ll have to provide a good amount of our own blood anyway. And we should practice the dance because we’ll have to do it naked for three hours in the moonlight.”
     “You know,” said Joan, “I’ve never really given Jay’s Tavern a fair chance.”
     “Will Mandy have popcorn?” asked Gary.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Beating the Odds

     “Well Roger, you’re a lucky man.” The doctor pulled the blood pressure strap off Roger’s arm. “Not many people walk away after being struck by lightning.”
     “I believe it,” said Roger, rubbing his arm.
     “I’d like to run a couple more tests, but I think we’ll be done soon.” The doctor reached for his clipboard. “I hope you learned your lesson about working on a ladder when you hear thunder.”
     “Sure did, doc.” Roger looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot, then leaned in close. “So, between you and me, what kind of super powers do you think I could expect from this?”
     The doctor lowered his glasses. “I beg your pardon?”
     “You know… super speed, mind reading, the ability to stop time—that would be a good one. In your professional opinion, what do you think I’ll get?”
     “Um… I’m sorry Roger, but you’re not going to ‘get’ anything. Lightning doesn't work that way.” The doctor scribbled a few notes and walked toward the door. “I’ll send the nurse to finish up. Remember, you’re lucky to be alive.”
     Roger’s mood sank. Suddenly, this whole project seemed like a complete waste of time.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Naomi's Star

     “Happy Birthday Naomi!”
     All of her friends clapped when Naomi opened the present. The blue and white shoes were just what she wanted, and they would go great with her cheerleading outfit. Even the tough football players at the party had to admit they looked pretty cool.
     “Thank you everyone. This is the best birthday ever.” Naomi thought she might cry.
     “Actually,” said Scott, pushing his way up to the table where she sat, “you still have one present left.”
     Whispers shot throughout the girls in the room. It was well known that Scott and Naomi liked each other, and the early signs of their romance were in the air.
     “Why Scott, you shouldn’t have.” Naomi blushed as she took the box from his hand.
     She had to restrain herself from ripping it open like an animal. Instead, she carefully and nonchalantly pulled the wrapping paper off the narrow box, as if Scott’s present wasn’t the one she had been waiting for all day. She finally reached the inside and pulled out a frame. It took her a few seconds to interpret what was written on it, but when she did her heart melted.
     “You bought me a star?” Naomi looked up at him with her big green eyes.
     “Sure did,” said Scott, adjusting his letterman jacket. “I had it registered and named after you.”
     “Awww…” said the other guests.
     “Why Scott, this is the sweetest gift anyone has ever given me.” Naomi knew for sure she would cry now. “Do you think we can see it?”
     Scott nodded. “You bet. We’ll need a strong telescope and a clear night, but I have the coordinates. It’s on the edge of a galaxy called NGC-5195.”
     A hush spread across the room. Another guy standing near Scott snickered, but tried to hide his face as he did.
     Naomi set the frame down on the table and pushed it away. “You mean the exceptionally small galaxy NGC-5195? The one that is basically dwarfed by its neighbor, the much larger M51a?”
     “Um… yeah.” Scott began to feel uneasy.
     “I see,” said Naomi. “Well, would anyone like more cake?”
     As she stood to fetch the cake, people began to whisper again. Scott wasn’t certain, but he thought he heard someone mutter the word “cheapskate” under her breath.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


     “Yes, yes... I understand, Mr. Stevens. I’ll take care of it right away.” Ms. Parkson sighed as she hung up the phone.
     Pulling herself out of bed, she grabbed her blue robe and wrapped it around her frail body. She usually enjoyed the authority that came with her job as a landlord, but not when tenants woke her up at midnight. The young man in apartment 3B was making a racket again, probably from a late night party. She was usually skeptical about leasing rooms to young people for that very reason, but he seemed so polite and quiet when he applied. If he couldn’t learn to respect his neighbors then he would have to hit the road.
     Ms. Parkson could hear the music from down the hallway. Sure enough, it was coming from the man in 3B. She pounded on the door for a full minute before he answered.
     “Hi, Ms. P,” said the tall youngster when he saw her. He pushed his long blonde locks out of his eyes. “Have you been here a while? I didn’t hear you knocking.”
     “Well I’m not surprised with all that noise!” She was too old to let some handsome young man woo her with his charm. “Don’t you know it’s after quiet hours? You’re waking up the whole building with your stereo and your loud party, and I have to hear all the complaints!”
     “Gee Ms. P, I’m sorry. But it’s not a stereo and no one is here except me. I was just practicing with my guitar.” He held up his guitar for her to see.
     Ms. Parkson peeked around the door. Sure enough, no one else was in the room. “That music was coming from you? It sounded pretty good. Kind of like a young Elvis.”
     The young man sighed. “I wish. Elvis is my hero, but I’ll never be as good as him.”
     “Well you can’t give up that easily,” she told him. “You never know what can happen.”
     He shook his head. “No, it’s already too late. When Elvis was 22, he had been on the Ed Sullivan show three times. I’m 24, and I haven’t been on the Ed Sullivan show once.”
     “Of course not,” she told him. “Ed Sullivan’s show ended in the early 70s. He died over thirty years ago.”
     “What?” The young man’s eyes grew wide with shock. Ms. Parkson thought he might cry. To confirm her suspicion, he sniffled a little and buried his head in his arm.
     “Oh come on now,” she said, reaching up to pat him on the back. “There’s no need for that. You’ve got a sweet voice and gift for that guitar. If getting on the Ed Sullivan show is your dream, then don’t you let anyone or anything get in your way. You just keep on practicing until you’re perfect, and let the world decide.”
     It took some time to cheer him up, but Ms. Parkson thought she did a good job. She returned to her own room and crawled back into her bed as the sound of his guitar filled the building. When her phone rang again, she pulled the plug.
     Those inconsiderate neighbors weren’t going to squash that young man’s talent. She was the landlord and if she wanted them to put a cork in it then they had better do so. This kid was going places, and Ed Sullivan had no idea what was coming his way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Office Abuse

     “Darn it!” Brady kicked the copier just as Patrick walked into the printing room.
     “Whoa, calm down.” Patrick placed his hand on Brady’s shoulder. “No need for such violence.”
     Brady mashed a few buttons on the control console with no results. “I’m going to be late for a meeting because this blasted machine decided to get jammed right when I need to make copies of my presentation!”
     Patrick pushed himself between Brady and the copier right before he kicked it again.
     “It’s time for you to take a deep breath, Brady. Getting angry at the copier won’t help it work any better. If you want it to respect you, you must first respect it.” Patrick patted the machine as if it were a wounded animal.
     “Unbelievable,” said Brady. “I’m about to miss my meeting and you want me to respect this hunk of junk.”
     “Shhhhh… there’s no need for such language.” Brady put his hands on each side of the copier, as though he were blocking its ears. “Maybe you should try being nice to it for a change and see what happens.”
     Brady was about to speak again when Patrick raised a finger to silence him. Then Patrick leaned over the top of the machine and softly stroked its lid like he was petting a dog.
     “You’re a good copier… yes you are. You work so hard and put up with a lot of abuse, but we all know this office couldn’t run without you. You make copies all day long without so much as a thank you. I know you deserve better. Such a good copier…”
     Brady was ready to start kicking Patrick instead of the machine. He was sure his coworker had completely lost it, but a moment later the copier roared to life. Light flashed out of its lid and perfect copies of Patrick’s presentation began filling the output tray. Brady’s mouth dropped open in disbelief.
     “Here you are,” said Patrick, handing him the copies.
     “Thanks,” said Brady taking them out of his hand.
     Patrick nodded toward the machine. “I’m not the one you should be thanking.”
     Brady looked over his shoulder to make sure no one else was watching. “Um, thanks… copier.” Then he rolled his eyes and stomped out of the room.
     As soon as he was gone, the copier made a beeping noise.
     “No, it’s not your fault,” said Patrick, petting the machine again. “He’s just got a bad attitude. Just remember that you’re better than that, and you don’t need to take any revenge.”
     Seconds later, they heard Brady’s scream echo throughout the office.
     Patrick shook his head. “If only the electric stapler was so forgiving.”

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Party

     “Hi Charles,” said Dylan, pushing his way to the punch bowl. “Having fun?”
     “Indeed,” said Charles. He had to speak above the jazzy Christmas music coming from the living room. “I always enjoy a good holiday party. And I’m so glad they decided to make it a potluck. I love to prepare food.”
     “Yeah, I agree.” Dylan refilled his cup of punch. “What did you bring?”
     “Me?” asked Charles. “I prepared a cheese tray.”
     “No kidding? Me too.” Dylan toasted him. “What did you do for yours?”
     Charles took a cup of punch from the table to toast him back. “Well, first I selected a delicate Hervé Mons Camembert—my favorite from the Normandy region of France—and I rubbed it with a coat of white wine. Then I baked it with some fresh Oregon hazelnuts and garnished it with freshly ground parsley sprigs from my herb garden. Lastly, I surrounded the plate with thinly sliced prosciutto and cubes of my own homemade sourdough boule. I think the nutty richness of the Camembert provides a delectable balance to the savory meat and the thicker texture of the warm bread. What did you do for your cheese tray?”
     “Well,” said Dylan, “First I spread a pack of Saltines across a plate and coated each one with a thin layer of mayonnaise. Then I took a can of Easy Cheese and used it to draw a picture of a Christmas tree onto each cracker.”
     “That sounds very… creative,” said Charles.
     “Thanks Chuck. Good to see you.” Dylan toasted him again and returned to the living room.
     Charles cursed under his breath after Dylan left. Why didn’t he think to make his cheese plate look like Christmas trees?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Davidsville Inferno

     So far, all of the stories I've written on this blog were fictitious, or mostly fictitious. This one, however, is 100% true. I wrote it as part of a creative writing class I took a couple years ago and it seemed appropriate for Christmas. Happy Holidays everyone!

     When my oldest brother David was in middle school, he received his first electric train set for Christmas. It was a tiny N-gauge train with tracks less than half an inch wide, and it fit perfectly on a small table in his bedroom.
     David loved that train. He spent several months crafting miniature structures to set up around it. He carefully glued and painted matchboxes, scraps of wood and other miscellaneous debris to build an entire town. The town was complete with quaint houses, a diner, a hardware store and many other clearly labeled buildings. He named it Davidsville, as printed on the Davidsville City Hall.
     Although he loved to show me and our other siblings the train, David was always nervous about people touching his delicate little town. Dad was especially prohibited since he had his own obsession with trains and loved to tinker with them, often beyond repair.
     Years later, the train set and all its decorations, along with most of our childhood memories, ended up in the attic of our suburban Pittsburgh home. When David left for college, Dad jumped at his big chance. He dug out the set, attached the tracks to a large sheet of plywood and brought Davidsville back to life. It became his new hobby, and the tinkering began. Mostly, Dad just played with the layout, but during the holidays he liked to display it on top of our upright piano in the living room, right next to the Christmas tree. He would cover the board with fluffy fake snow and set all the buildings on top of it. He then added a few red candles around the tracks, and they would only be lit the nights we opened presents. I had to admit that he did a good job; it looked just like a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.
     David liked it when he saw it on his holiday breaks, although he confided to me that he had some reservations. “It bothers me that Dad is playing with my train,” he would say. He was still very protective of fragile Davidsville.
     One Christmas, when I was 13 years old, David studied abroad in England and was unable to be with us. My other older brother Jon and sister Kristin were home, along with Mike and Pia—family friends from Denmark—so we still had a full house. Our family has a tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve, so after church we gathered in the living room with plates of cookies and lots of anticipation. Dad fiddled with his camera and Mom ran around taking care of all the details. She dimmed lights, played a Christmas CD and made sure all the decorations were turned on and lit up. Part of her routine included lighting the candles that Dad set up on the train set, which she did casually while asking Pia questions about Christmas in Denmark. As her match approached one of the wicks, a small spark fell off and drifted slowly to the fake snow beneath it.
     It turns out that fluffy white stuff is inflammable. Highly inflammable.
     Within seconds, the entire bed of snow burst into flames. Mom jumped back safely as the blaze soared into the air, licking the ceiling. I anxiously waited for one of the adults to do something, but everyone just froze and stared at the inferno. After a few seconds, Dad darted out of the room.
     Pia finally took action. She fetched a pitcher of water from the kitchen and poured it over the fire. Within seconds, the flames died down and left only a loud sizzling sound and a lot of smoke. The fire was out and everyone let out a sigh of relief.
     An instant later, Dad ran back into the room carrying a fire extinguisher.
     “Stand back!” he shouted, reading the instructions and pulling the pin.
     “But Dad—“ my sister started.
     Dad squeezed the handle and a huge white cloud filled the room.
     Between the smoke of the fire and the even denser fog from the extinguisher, I could barely see the person standing next to me. Breathing wasn’t easy, either. In a mass of confusion and coughing, I followed the crowd out the door and onto our front lawn to escape the toxic air that filled the house. Snow was falling heavily and the wind was freezing, but I was grateful to be outside.
     Dad was the last one out, and he dragged with him the plywood that held Davidsville. As soon as he pulled it down the steps of the front porch, he hurled the whole thing into a pile of snow. I could still hear it sizzling.
     “You know,” my brother Jon said to him as we all stared at the smoldering heap, “Pia put that fire out before you turned on the extinguisher.”
     Dad just shook his head. “Better safe than sorry.”

     We spent the next couple hours airing out the house and cleaning fire extinguisher debris. With all the windows and doors open, everyone had to wear heavy coats. Sticky white paste covered the piano, the TV, the walls, most of the carpet and the good side of the Christmas tree (we left it on the tree because it was too hard to clean and because it resembled snow on an evergreen, despite the noticeable chemical smell). We scrubbed a long time before somebody looked up and realized the ceiling was covered, too.
     Presents still managed to be opened, although it turned into a late night—probably the latest my parents ever let me stay up at that age. The next morning, Christmas Day, there was still a distinct burning smell and a hazy, smoky look in the air.
     Around noon, Jon put on his hat and gloves and dug the wreckage out of the snow. All that remained were some shriveled metal tracks, a lot of ash and one little house. It was a white wooden house—one of the first ones my brother built—and half of it was charred black.

    I don’t remember a single present I received that year, but it’s still the most memorable Christmas of my childhood. David still has that little half-burned house and it sits on his mantle. He did forgive my father for tinkering with his train, and he now owns a new electric train that he shares with his own son.
     Dad is not allowed anywhere near it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best Present Ever

     Brian tapped his fingers against the steering wheel as he waited in his car. Since he was parked in a tow zone, he kept an eye on his mirror to make sure a meter maid wouldn’t surprise him with a ticket. He checked his watch for the twentieth time and swore under his breath.
     “Where is she?” he said aloud.
     In answer to his question, the passenger’s door swung open and a young blonde woman hopped in with an armful of shopping bags.
     “I know, I’m late. But it was worth it because I found the perfect gift for my brother.” Sylvia gave Brian a kiss as she tossed the bags in the back seat.
     Brian started the car and pulled away. “I’m glad, sweetie, but I don’t understand why you have to wait until Christmas Eve to do your shopping. Now we’re going to be late meeting your brother for dinner and we don’t have time to wrap whatever you bought him.”
     “Not necessary,” she said, unzipping her thick coat. “Check it out.”
     From inside her coat, she pulled out a squirming brown puppy and held it up to Brian’s face. The sight surprised Brian, causing him to almost swerve off the road. The car behind him honked.
     “Isn’t he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” She said it in a baby voice as she kissed the puppy’s head.
     “Sure, cute,” Brian said, keeping his eyes on the road. “Did your brother want a dog? I don’t remember him talking about it.”
     Sylvia pressed the puppy’s cheek against her own. “He never mentioned it, but that’s why it’s such a great surprise.”
     “Isn’t he allergic to dogs?” Brian pulled onto the highway.
     “Only a little.” She held the puppy up in the air to look at its big brown eyes. “His face breaks out and he has trouble breathing, but that’s it.”
     Brian checked his mirrors as he merged lanes. “And doesn’t his landlord have a strict rule against pets?”
     She shrugged. “Maybe he’ll just have to pay a pet deposit or extra rent. Worst case scenario, he’ll have to move. Why are you being so negative about this?”
     Brian sighed. “Sorry, Sylvia, but a dog is a big deal. That’s a lot of responsibility to thrust on your brother.”
     “Well I had to do something big to make up for last year.” She set the puppy on the floor by her feet.
     “That’s true,” he agreed. “He did tell you not to put real candles on his Christmas tree.”
     “It’s not my fault his tree was so dry,” she said. “If he watered it more often then it wouldn’t have been so flammable.”
     “In-flammable,” he corrected her.
     “Don’t start.” She pointed a finger at him. “This is the most awesome gift ever and my brother is going to love it. By the way, he has to pee.”
     Brian pulled into the emergency lane and hit the brakes—a little too late. Sylvia opened the door to let the puppy out, but there was already a distinct and odorous puddle on the floor below the passenger’s seat.
     “Isn’t he adorable?” Sylvia asked as they leaned against the hood and watched the little guy bounce around in the grass.
     Brian was about to say something, then decided against it. “Yeah, adorable,” he said instead. “So what breed is he?”
     “Great Dane,” she said. “And the cutest one in the litter.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Shopping

     Ralph clutched the bucket of Legos as though his life depended on it. It was the last jumbo Lego set in the department store and he had to race down an aisle to beat a middle-aged couple to it. Now he eyed everyone who came near him in the checkout line. It was a dire situation, and nobody could be trusted.
     “Wow, I’m surprised we had any of these left,” said the young cashier when she rang him up. “They’ve been very popular this year.”
     “No kidding,” said Ralph, swiping his credit card.
     She handed him his receipt. “Thank you, sir. You’re going to make some little boy very happy with this.”
     Ralph paused. “What do you mean?”
     She pointed at the large bucket on the counter. “The Legos. They’re going to make a great gift.”
     “Oh, right,” Ralph said. “Yes, the Legos are a gift… for a little boy. He’ll be very happy to get them—my little boy, that is—for Christmas. Because they’re his present. I mean, it’s not like they’re for me. It’s not like I’m using them to build a 14-foot-tall statue of Betty White. Why would I do that?”
     Without another word, Ralph grabbed the Legos and rushed out of the store.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

He Knows When You're Sleeping

     Owen closed the bedroom door and tip-toed down the hallway to the kitchen. His wife Lily was preparing a pot of herbal tea for the two of them.
     “Did Carter finally fall asleep?” she asked, filling his favorite mug.
     “I think so.” Owen took a seat at the kitchen table. “It took a while because I told him all about Santa Claus. He’s finally old enough to understand it.”
     “That’s so sweet.” She took her own seat and cupped her warm mug in her hands. “Although I still feel some hesitation about telling him those stories. It feels like we’re lying to him.”
     “Nonsense.” Owen held her hand. “Believing in Santa is part of childhood. I wouldn’t want to deprive him of those memories when he’s older. Besides, it gives him another reason to behave.”
     Lily smiled and sipped her tea. “You’re probably right. If he’s interested then I wouldn’t want to crush his enthusiasm.”
     “Oh he’s definitely interested,” said Owen. “He wanted to know every detail about Santa and hung on my every word. Honey, I wish you could have seen how big his eyes got when I told him. I’ve never seen him so focused. I think I should dress up as Santa one of these nights and surprise him in his room.”
     “You two are adorable.” She leaned over and gave Owen a kiss. How could her family be more perfect?

     A few doors away, Carter lay in his bed, wide awake. Under the covers, he clutched the baseball bat he retrieved after his dad left the room. He kept one eye on the window and the other on his closet. Somewhere, somehow, there was a crazy old fat man who dressed like the devil and watched his every move. The thought made Carter tremble with fear, and he didn’t understand why his parents left him alone when this maniac could be anywhere. If he did show up, Carter wasn’t going down without a fight. He had his trusty bat, and although his teacher scolded him for it, he wasn’t afraid to bite.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


     As I headed out to check my mailbox, I saw little Davy Goldner and his cousin Phillip fighting on the sidewalk.
     “Good afternoon,” I said, walking over and breaking up their feud. “What’s going on with you young fellas?”
     “Hello sir,” said Davy. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is on TV tonight and we both want to watch it.”
     I knelt down on one knee to match their height. “Well that doesn’t sound like anything to argue about.”
     “But it’s past our bedtime and we have to watch it the next day,” said Phillip. “Davy says we should Tivo it, but I think we should just download it from the internet.”
     “Tivo is higher resolution,” said Davy.
     “Is not!” Phillip shoved him.
     “Is too!” Davy shoved him back.
     “Whoa, whoa!” I pushed the two boys apart with my hands to calm them down. “I think you young men need to appreciate the conveniences you have these days. When I was your age, we didn’t have Tivo or the internet.”
     “Did you have to watch all your shows on DVD?” asked Phillip.
     “You’re a dummy,” said Davy. “They didn’t have DVD either. They used big black tapes. I know because my daddy has a box of them in the attic.”
     I laughed. “We had videocassettes when I was older, Davy, but most of my life we didn’t have them either.”
     Phillip scratched his head. “So how did you watch anything?”
     “Well,” I said. “We had a book called TV Guide, and it told you when everything was on that week. If there was a show you wanted to see, you had to plan to be in front of the TV when it aired. And if you missed it then tough luck.”
     “No way!” both of the children’s eyes were wide with disbelief.
     I nodded. “It’s true. And Christmas specials like Rudolph only came on once a year. If you couldn't watch them when they played then you had to wait a whole year before you could see them again.”
     “That bites!” said Phillip.
     “Sure does,” agreed Davy. “It sounds like we have it easy.”
     “That’s big of you to say, Davy” I patted him on the shoulder. “Back when I was a kid, the only possible way to see a movie whenever I wanted was to ask my father to buy me a 35mm film print and order our butler Nigel to project it for me in our home theater. Of course, that was only convenient in the winter, because the theater in our summer home had a very small screen that I was embarrassed to show my friends. My father could be so cheap sometimes.”
     A car horn honked from behind me. I turned to see Nigel leaning his elderly head out the window of my limousine.
     “Are you ready to return, sir?” he asked.
     “I’m coming, hold your horses!” I told him, then turned back to the children. “Just remember guys, you have an easy life. I really had to suffer when I was your age.”
     And with that, I picked up my mail and took my seat in the back of the limo so Nigel could chauffer me back up the driveway to the east wing of my family estate. It felt good to have imparted a sense of value into those spoiled young children.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


     “Oh come on, Lester. Let me set you up with my friend Amanda. You two are perfect for each other.”
     Lester signed. His lunch break was almost over and Mia hadn’t let him enjoy a single minute of it in peace. She pestered him from across their office’s tiny breakroom table ever since he clocked-out and she showed no signs of relenting.
     “Pleeeeease?” She leaned in front of him with her hands folded.
     Lester shook his head. “I’m just not comfortable with blind dates.”
     “Don’t be a coward.” She punched him in the shoulder. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
     Hi sipped the last of his soft drink. “I’ve had too many failed relationships in the past to jump in without knowing someone first. I’ve learned that there are a lot of qualities to look for in a woman before I get involved. If they’re not there, then it’s just a waste of time before we break up and hate each other. I’m tired of getting hurt.”
     “You’re so pessimistic,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “Maybe that’s why you’re still single.”
     He crumbled up his soft drink cup and tossed it in a wastebasket next to the table. “Look Mia, you don’t understand how many failed romances I’ve had. It’s made me picky and I’m proud of that. I want to get married someday and I don’t intend to waste any more time on dates that will lead to nothing. There is a long list of things your friend and I would need to have in common before I’d even consider meeting her, and even then there's no guarantee that we’ll like each other. I think the odds of meeting someone who is compatible for me are extremely slim, so yes, I’m a little pessimistic about it.”
     Mia rolled her eyes. “How about this, Lester… Amanda and I have been friends since kindergarten and I know her better than anyone. Ask me anything you want to know about her and we’ll see if she meets your standards.”
     Lester looked her in the eye. “If I do this and she falls short—which is likely—will you drop the subject?”
     “Scout’s honor.” She held up her hand in a pledge.
     “Okay then.” Lester rapped his fingers on the table while he thought about what to ask.
     There were so many things to consider—hobbies, religion, political views, age, social inhibitions, intelligence, temperament, music—he didn’t know where to begin. A lot was at stake on these questions and he needed to make sure he asked them in the right order. He took his time evaluating every possibility. Mia feared they would be late returning to work and was getting ready to punch him again when he finally spoke up.
     “Okay, first question,” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “Who’s her favorite Beatle?”
     “George.” She replied without hesitation. “Definitely George.”
     “George?” he repeated. “Why would anyone choose George?”
     Mia shrugged. “Amanda adores him. She always has.”
     Lester leaned back and thought about this.
     “Well?” she asked.
     “Okay Mia, set us up.” He stood up and walked toward the door.
     “Wait, that’s it? What about all your questions and requirements and high standards?”
     Lester stopped and looked back at her. “Well I didn’t expect you to say George.”
     He left the room and returned to his desk with a big smile. Amanda—what a great name! For the first time in years, he thought he might be in love.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking News

     “Wow, I can’t believe Kim Jong-il died.” Stephanie turned down the car radio when the news report ended.
     “I know,” said Jeremy from the driver’s seat. “Who was he again?”
     “The leader of North Korea.” She pointed at the radio. “The one they’ve been talking about for the last ten minutes.”
     “Right, right.” Darren nodded.
     Stephanie looked out the window. “I wonder how that will affect our relations with North Korea.”
     “It might end some tension,” said Darren. “It seems like there’s been hostility with them for a long time.”
     Stephanie gazed at the passing scenery. “You could be right. It might increase diplomacy, but it could also go the other way. What if his successor is more of a war monger? What if he wants to expand their nuclear authority?”
     “In that case,” said Darren, “We’ll need more mobile surgical hospitals over there.”
     “I suppose so… wait, what?” she broke her gaze out the window and looked at him.
     “The surgical hospitals. If this new guy is more aggressive, there will be more casualties. They can barely keep up with what they get now.” Darren shook his head out of pity. “Those poor doctors are so overworked. It’s a good thing they have such good senses of humor. Except for the rich ones, that is.”
     “Darren,” said Stephanie, “I hate to ask this, but do you actually know anything about North Korea other than what you’ve seen on MASH?”
     “Of course I do!” He looked offended. “What kind of idiot do you take me for?”
     “Sorry.” She reached over and rubbed his shoulder. “It was just a stupid thought I had.”
     “I’d say so.” He honked his horn at a car that cut him off. “I know a lot about North Korea. For example, I could tell you about their techniques of torturing people with scorpion poison, or how they have the technology to burn people on earth with satellites covered in diamonds.”
     Stephanie pulled her hand back. “So… MASH and that James Bond movie with Halle Berry?”
     Darren thought it over. “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eating Habits

     “I’d like the prime rib, no sides.” Karen closed the menu and handed it to the waiter.
     “Good choice,” he said, then turned to Rick. “And for you?”
     “I’ll take the special,” he said, handing over his menu, too.
     After the waiter left, a wide grin spread across Rick’s face. He was beaming, and he couldn’t help looking at Karen.
     “What is it?” she asked. “Did I say something funny?”
     “Not at all,” he said. “It’s just a relief to hear that you eat meat. The last woman I dated was a vegetarian and it caused a lot of problems for us.”
     Now it was Karen’s turn to grin. “I can understand that. To be honest, I was worried about the same thing. I’m a total carnivore, and I would hate to be with someone who thinks eating meat is offensive.”
     “Exactly.” Rick took a sip of his water. “I mean, some vegetarians are more tolerant, but my ex was very outspoken about her beliefs. I couldn’t eat soup made with chicken broth without hearing an hour-long lecture about it. To keep the peace, I ended up becoming vegetarian myself for the last few weeks we were together. It made me miserable.”
     “I can't believe you went that far." Karen unfolded her napkin and spread it across her lap, still smiling. "You certainly won’t have to worry about that with me, Rick. I would hate it if you gave up meat. To be honest, I think we're a good match.”
     “I was thinking the same thing.” He picked up his wine glass. “I’m really glad I met you, Karen.”
     They clinked their glasses and sipped their wine, keeping eye contact the whole time.
     The two lovebirds continued to chat about their similarities until the waiter returned with their dishes. Karen’s eyes lit up when she saw her juicy steak. Rick’s special also came with a large cut of beef, along with a side salad. He inhaled the aroma and savored every bit of it, grateful that he could once again enjoy the food he loved.
     “Bon appétit,” he said, taking a forkful of salad and shoving it in his mouth.
     Karen watched him and froze, wide-eyed. A look of horror spread across her face.
     “Karen, are you all right?”
     “That’s so gross,” she said, pointing at his plate.
     Rick looked down at his food. “What do you mean? You said you eat meat, too.”
     “I said I’m a total carnivore. I only eat meat. If you’re going to devour those vegetables in front of me then I’m going to be sick.”
     Without another word, she covered her mouth with her hand and ran to the bathroom.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jedi Mind Trick

     Ryan stumbled into the kitchen with a huge yawn. He was still groggy from waking up, and he prepared his morning bowl of cereal with half closed eyes. It was a routine he had done a thousand times before and his motions were automatic. It wasn’t until he sat down at the kitchen table that he realized someone else was already there.
     “Geez, Dave!” he said with a jump. “You scared the living daylights out of me.”
     “Sorry,” said his roommate. Dave didn’t look up, but sat quietly at the table and stared at a salt shaker in front of him.
     “No worries,” said Ryan, now wide awake. “What are you doing up so early, anyway?”
     “Practicing,” said Dave, still staring at the salt shaker.
     Ryan took a seat at the opposite end of the table and began to eat his cereal. “How’s that working out for you?”
     Dave broke his concentration. He looked away from the shaker and rubbed his eyes. “I can’t do it if you keep distracting me, Ryan.”
     Ryan set down his spoon. “Sorry, but you’ve been working at this for a long time. Are you sure you have these powers?”
     “I told you, it's scientifically proven!” From underneath the table, Dave produced a worn-out paperback book that he shoved in front of Ryan. It was titled Harnessing Your Psychic Abilities.”
     “I’m just saying,” said Ryan, “You’ve been putting a lot of effort into this. Locking yourself in your room for weeks, meditating all day, fasting until you’re about to pass out... you’re killing yourself and you still haven’t seen any results.”
     Dave snatched the book back. “You want results? I’ll show you results, but you have to stay quiet and not create any distractions.”
     Dave took a deep breath. Then he leaned forward and once again focused his eyes on the salt shaker. His gaze was intense, and Ryan could see veins throbbing in his forehead. Dave seemed to be holding his breath the whole time. Two minutes passed before Dave finally let out a burst of air and almost collapsed, gripping the table for support.
     Dave gasped for breath. “See? What did I tell you?”
     Ryan leaned forward for a better look. “It hasn’t moved,” he said.
     “No,” agreed Dave, “but it was close. I’m telling you, I could feel it.”
     Ryan went back to his cereal. “I know you mean well, Dave, but sometimes I think we should just buy a new remote for the TV.”

Friday, December 16, 2011


     Lucas stomped snow off his feet before entering the house. It was a brisk day, and the rush of warmth from the fireplace felt calming. After pulling off his boots and hanging up his thick coat, he carried a shopping bag to the dining room table where Amanda was preparing to wrap gifts.
     She was arranging her rolls of wrapping paper when he walked up behind her. Lucas knew what she was thinking and dangled the shopping bag in front of her face before she could ask. Her eyes lit up when she saw it.
     “You found one?” She snatched the bag out of his hands and peeked inside. “You did! A remote control helicopter! I thought all the stores were all sold out.”
     “That’s the last one in the whole city.” Lucas pulled out the chair next to her and took a seat. “And believe me, I looked.”
     “Oh, thank you dear.” Amanda gave him a kiss and immediately began wrapping the toy. “This is exactly what your nephew wanted. He’ll be so excited.”
     “I’m sure he’ll love it,” Lucas said, looking at all the gifts stacked on the table. “And I hope it means we’re finally done shopping.”
     “Yes, we are. I know it’s been a hassle, but I’m nervous about your whole family coming over for Christmas. I want everything to be perfect.” She stretched a few layers of paper across the box. “Will you please pass me that roll of Scotch tape?”
     “Sure, here you go,” he said, handing her the tape. “And they’ll have a great time even if you don’t get them everything on their wish list.”
     She wrapped tape around the package. “I know, but Christmas is such an important time for them. Remember, my family isn’t from America and we never celebrated it. My folks never understood why someone should get a free gift they haven’t earned. This is our first Christmas together, and it means a lot to me to experience your traditions. Can you hand me the hot glue gun?”
     He found the glue gun in her wrapping supplies and passed it to her. “I’m glad to see you so excited. Just remember that Christmas is best when you’re spending time with your family, not when you’re focusing too much on the presentation.”
     “Oh, don’t worry about me,” she said, strategically gluing the loose seams of wrapping paper. “I’m enjoying every minute of it. Duct tape, please.”
     “Here you go. I’m glad you’re having fun," he said, "but be careful not to get sucked in. It’s easy for the holidays to make people obsessive, especially if Christmas is new for you.”
     She carefully stretched several layers of duct tape around the box. “Obsessive? Me? I hardly think you need to worry about that. Staple gun.”
     “I don’t see it,” he said, rummaging through her tools. “Oh, here it is. I didn’t mean to call you obsessive. I just think it’s easy to misunderstand the holidays.”
     “I think I’ve got Christmas figured out.” She pounded staples all over the box, emptying the gun, then held it up in the light. “What do you think?”
     Lucas examined her handiwork and chose his words carefully. “You know, we do want him to get inside the box.”
     “If he expects to get a toy for free then he’s going to work for it. Now, where’s my barbed wire?”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Family Time

     Mr. Richards was sitting in his favorite armchair reading the paper when his son Timothy bolted through the door and ran up the stairs, carrying his instrument. No less than a minute later, Timothy ran back down the stairs with a skateboard.
     “Hi Dad. Bye Dad.” Timothy barely looked at his father as he reached for the door he just entered.
     “Whoa, slow down! Where’s the fire?” Mr. Richards set his paper aside. “Don’t you have time to talk to your old man these days?”
     “But Dad, Bobby and the other guys are going to the skate park. I don’t wanna be late.” Timothy started to pull the door open again.
     “It won’t ruin your day to spend two minutes talking to your father,” said Mr. Richards. “Now, why don’t you tell me how your banjo lesson went today?”
     Timothy gave a loud sigh and marched into the living room. He took a seat on the sofa, opposite Mr. Richards. “It was okay, I guess.”
     “You guess?” asked Mr. Richards. “Did you learn any new songs.”
     “Just one,” said Timothy. “An old colonial tune. And I played it all the way through the first time without any mistakes.”
     “That’s wonderful, son!”
     Timothy beamed with pride. “Yeah, and it was a tough one. The instructor said I had natural talent.”
     “I could have told you that,” said Mr. Richards. “You picked up the banjo in no time. Are you and your friends still thinking about starting a group?”
     “Oh, for sure,” Timothy said. “We’ve got my banjo, a washboard player, a fiddler and a harmonica, and we’ve already hashed out a few songs. It’s all mellow folk music, but that’s what we like. And we think we can play at the farmer’s market next week for our first performance. The only problem is, we can’t agree on the band name.”
     “Well,” said Mr. Richards, “What are you considering?”
     “I like The Vomitorium,” said Timothy, “but Bobby just wants it to be Hurl.”
     “Hmm…” Mr. Richards mulled it over in his head. “They’re both strong, but I think you can do better. What do you think about Puke Bucket?”
     “Puke Bucket?” Timothy’s eyes lit up as he thought about it. “You know, Dad, that’s actually pretty good. I think that might even be better than The Vomitorium.”
     Mr. Richards smiled. “Well, I used to be a folk player myself, back in the day.”
     “Wow, Dad, I can’t wait to tell it to Bobby. He’s gonna flip out!” Timothy jumped out of the sofa and ran toward the door. Just before he disappeared through it, he turned back to his father. “Thanks pop. I’m glad we took the time to chat.”
     “You’re welcome, son. And thank you.”
     Timothy smiled at his father and ran off. Mr. Richards picked up his paper again and opened it to the Real Estate section. He cherished these special moments.