Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Truck

     “Here you go, buddy,” Jason said as he handed the check to Robert. “Two thousand big ones, although I still think the truck is worth more.”
     “You’re a friend, I’m not trying to milk you dry,” Robert said, taking the check and handing Jason the keys. “Besides, I’m hoping you and your new truck will be around to help me move a sofa next week.”
     Jason smiled. “Sure thing. Anytime you need a favor, you let me know. You have lifetime truck privileges after the bargain you just gave me.”
     “Glad to hear it.” Robert pulled out his cell phone and started texting.
     “What are you doing?” Jason craned his neck trying to look at the phone screen.
     “Oh, nothing.” Robert continued to text quickly. “Just letting a few people know I sold the truck to you.”
     “I never knew you were so tech savvy,” Jason said with a laugh. “I’ve gotta run, but let’s grab a beer this weekend.”
     The two men shook hands and Jason climbed into his new truck. Robert continued to text furiously as it drove away. When he finished, several minutes later, he closed his phone and took a good long look at the sunset before him.
     “Free at last,” he said aloud. “Free at last.”

     Ten minutes later, Jason pulled the truck into his driveway. His phone rang three times while he was driving, but he let all the calls go to voicemail. He climbed out of his new vehicle and was just about to check his messages when the phone rang again.
     “Hello… Hey Jimmy! I haven’t talked to you in ages… Why yes, I did just buy Robert’s truck… What? You need to move some lumber next Tuesday… Sure, I’d be glad to help…”
     As he spoke, he followed his usual habit of grabbing the mail, unlocking the front door, walking straight to his computer and logging into his email account.
     “No problem…. I’ll see you then. Later Jimmy.”
     Jason hung up the phone, which immediately rang again. He didn’t answer it, though, because he was astounded by what his saw on his monitor. He normally received two or three emails a day, but seventeen messages arrived in his inbox in the past ten minutes. New messages appeared every few seconds, and each one had “borrow truck” or “favor to ask” in the subject line.
     Only then did Jason begin to comprehend the curse of truck ownership. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vampire Seth

     There once was a vegetarian vampire named Seth. Seth only ate beets—or more accurately, sucked juice out of beets.
     Seth loved tomatoes, but was allergic to them and would get itchy all over whenever he tried to suck tomato juice. He liked carrot juice, but it turned his skin orange so he usually avoided it. And most other vegetables were so starchy that he couldn’t get any juice out of them with his vampire fangs. He had to use a juicer and it always made a big mess to clean up. Beets were just easier. After all, nothing bled like a beet. If you ever tried to squeeze the juice out of a turnip then you probably understand.
     One evening, right after sunset, Seth was shopping at his local food co-op when he met a beautiful employee stocking produce. He didn’t notice her at first because local organic beets were on sale and he was busy filling his cart with them. She noticed him, though.
     “Nice cape,” she said from behind.
     Seth looked up and was immediately drawn to her beautiful, slender neck (even though he was vegetarian, all vampires have a thing for necks). Then he saw her long, jet-black hair, her pale complexion and her slender fingers delicately stacking a pyramid of avocados.
     Seth knew he was in love. In a flash, he imagined their whole life together. He saw himself spending long nights walking through dark alleys with her, caressing her neck and impressing her by turning into smoke. His senses tingled when he thought about tucking into a double-sized coffin with her at dawn. He even had a glimpse of their future family, with little vampire babies turning into bats and flying around the room while they sat together and watched Conan O’Brien. And the best part was, she worked at the food co-op so she was probably vegetarian-friendly. That was a dealbreaker for Seth because he thought meat was really gross and even the sight of it made him feel sick.
     “Um… thanks,” Seth said, then took a quick glance at her nametag. “Nicole. Thanks Nicole.”
     She grinned at him and nodded toward his shopping cart. “It looks like you really like beets.”
     “Sure d-do,” he said with a little stutter. He hadn’t felt this nervous in centuries! “Do you, um… like beets?” As soon as he said it he felt like an idiot.
     But she only smiled wider. “I do,” she said. “Being a vegetarian and working in the produce department, it’s hard not to like them. They’re actually one of my favorite vegetables.”
     Seth’s heart would have leapt out of his chest if it were still beating! This woman was clearly his soul mate—if he had a soul—and he had no doubt they were meant to spend the rest of their lives together—if he was alive.
     “Although,” she continued, “they’re not my all-time favorite vegetable. That would have to be garlic.”
     Seth froze in shock. “Garlic?” he repeated.
     “Yep, garlic for sure,” she said. “I eat more garlic than anything. Actually, I don’t enjoy a meal without garlic, even beets. I really drown them in it, and I won’t eat them any other way.”
     Seth felt as though someone shoved a giant oak stake through his heart. Without another word, he walked away from her and his cart of beets and kept going right out of the co-op. His castle was ten miles away, but he walked the whole way there without flying. When he made it home, he just sat on the drawbridge and stared at the crocodiles in the moat. He almost didn’t even bother to go inside at sunrise, but at the last minute he pulled himself together and dragged his feet through the door.
     Oh well, he thought to himself as he settled into his coffin. I guess she wasn’t the one. Maybe next time…

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heroes

     Kids on the playground used to ask, “If you could be a superhero, would you rather have the power to fly or be invisible?” Sometimes that question sparked a long debate because people usually leaned strongly toward one power or the other.
     It seemed like the people who preferred flight were the thrill seekers, which makes sense. The ability to fly allows freedom and adventure. You can go wherever you want, you can soar like a bird and you’d probably get a nice adrenaline rush. You could also get away from your troubles whenever you needed a break. I bet flying is very meditative and has a nice zen quality to it.
     The curious kids chose invisibility. At face value, you would think being invisible just allowed you to hear better gossip or to sneak into a place you were not allowed to enter, but I don’t think invisibility is only about invading privacy and breaking rules. I think the kids who wanted to be invisible were observers. They wanted to people-watch and witness life at the ground level. They wanted to see firsthand how the world worked. They were the scientists and the thinkers who only wanted to witness human interaction without disrupting the scene.
     Personally, I don’t think either flight or invisibility would be very practical super powers. If I had more options, I’d choose the ability to vaporize a person with my mind. I could see that coming in handy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Before Cheats

     When I was a child I played Pac-Man… a lot.
     Pac-Man was all the rage back then. My father used to drive me down to the local video arcade after school and give me three quarters. They had a few other games, but I stood in line for Pac-Man. Even though I was only seven years old, I have to admit I became pretty good.
     The problem with playing a video game too much is that you start to dream that you’re in the game, especially if it involves some kind of maze or puzzle you have to solve. Anyone who has ever played Tetris before going to bed understands this experience, but it was a new concept back in 1982.
     After one especially long day of gobbling power pellets (I cashed-out my allowance for some extra quarters), I curled up into bed with my stuffed E.T. doll and drifted away. Moments later, I found myself running through a dark maze with colorful ghosts chasing me at top speed. Eventually, the ghosts caught up and had me cornered. Just as they were about to close in, I woke up screaming.
     My parents rushed to my room. They were relieved to hear it was only a nightmare, but I was still shaken. Mom scolded Dad for letting me play that game so much, but he insisted it was still better than watching TV all day. She told him that if he was going to keep letting me play Pac-Man then he needed to make sure I wasn’t afraid of ghosts. She said it was his responsibility that I grew up as a normal, healthy boy without any ridiculous childhood trauma.
     The next day, Dad picked me up from school and told me he had a special surprise for me. He said that we were going straight home instead of stopping by the arcade, and that we were going to take care of my ghost problem once and for all. When we arrived at the house, he pulled a large cardboard box out of the trunk. I asked him what it was and he said it was called a VCR.
     It took Dad a long time to hook the machine it up to the TV, but he figured it out. He said it would be like having our own movie theater, and the first movie we were going to watch was going to show me how fun ghosts can be.
     Unfortunately, my father had never before seen The Exorcist and didn’t realize it wasn’t a comedy.
     I still can’t play Pac-Man without having a panic attack.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Generations

     My father ran into the living room with his new iPad. He looked extra giddy.
     “Hang up the phone, Sarah!” He waved his hand in front of my face to get my attention. “I just figured out how to Skype your sister in Portland.”
     “But I’m talking to her right now,” I said.
     “You’ve gotta see it,” said Dad. “This is unbelievable!”
     I said goodbye to my sister, who said she would wait for the Skype call, then hung up.
     Dad cleared the dining room table with a sweep of his arm. Several pieces of mail fell to the floor, but his attention was focused on the iPad.
     “It’s so easy,” he said, tapping the screen. Several windows appeared and closed, but nothing significant happened. “Wait, I did something wrong…”
     He fumbled with the tablet for a few minutes, then restarted the whole process. “Okay, I think I’ve got it now.” He tapped one more button and the whole screen went blank.
     “You know,” I said, “we can try this on my computer.”
     Dad shook his head. “No, no. It’s not the same.”
     He kept at it. I tried to give suggestions, but he insisted he knew what he was doing. Not wanting to upset him, I decided to keep my mouth shut and went to the kitchen to make a grilled cheese. By the time I was done eating it, I returned to hear the iPad dialing.
     “See? I told you I could do it.” Dad held the machine like a trophy.
     “Hello?” said a voice from the small tablet. It was definitely my sister’s voice, but the image was still blank.
     “Hold on, I can fix this…”
     I started to read a magazine, then watched The Godfather on TV before making dinner. I slid Dad’s plate in front of him at the table, but he was too busy tapping the screen to even look at his food. After cleaning up the dishes, I went to my room and connected with a few friends online. Then I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed.
     At about ten o’clock, Dad burst into my room.
     “I did it!” he said with a big grin. He held up the iPad and I could see a distorted picture of my sister on the screen, waving. She looked tired.
     “Nice work, Dad,” I pulled back my covers. “But you should still knock first.”
     “This was too important,” he said. “Now, don’t you want to say something to your big sister?”
     “Hi sis.” I waved into the tiny camera, then crawled into bed.
     “That’s it? Say something else.” He pushed the iPad in front of my face.
     “But I don’t have anything new to say. We already talked on the phone for two hours this morning. And she texts me every five minutes. And I Skyped her from my laptop after dinner.”
     Dad’s face looked blank, then determined. He pushed the iPad closer. “I said say something.”
     My sister and I chatted for a few minutes, repeating the same conversations we had earlier. Finally, when Dad was satisfied, he kissed me goodnight, turned off the light and left the room. As he closed the door behind him he muttered, “Amazing… just like in Star Trek.”
     The next day, I buried his iPad in the backyard.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Trot

     “Here, turkey turkey turkey!”
     Farmer Bob pushed his way through the chicken and geese looking for the fattened bird. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, but he finally found it sitting in a corner by the coop. He was a little disappointed with how light it felt as he carried it the chopping block. No matter, though, since it was only the two of them for Thanksgiving this year.
     His wife Beatrice was up early, already preparing their big meal. She passed him to fetch eggs as he sharpened his axe. On her way back to the house, she took a closer look at what he was doing, then walked over to his chopping block.
     “Bob,” she said. “There’s something wrong with this turkey.”
     Bob continued to work on the tool. “What do you mean?” he asked.
     “I don’t think it’s a turkey,” she said.
     Bob set down his axe and walked over to get a better look. He bent down toward the bird and examined it, head to toe.
     “You’re crazy, woman,” He finally said. “Them’s turkey feathers if I ever saw ‘em.”
     “They’re turkey feathers all right,” Beatrice said, “but they’re stuck on with tape.”
     Bob poked the creature before him. She might be right, but he wasn’t convinced yet.
     “Also,” she said, “That thing is mighty furry for a turkey. I think it’s the cat.”
     Bob didn’t want to admit he was wrong, but he did think it odd that the turkey didn’t put up a fight when he carried it over. Also, it was purring.
     “Why on earth would the cat be dressed up like a turkey?” Bob scratched his head.
     “I don’t know,” Beatrice said. “And why aren’t you wearing your spectacles?”
     “Couldn’t find ‘em,” said Bob. “Couldn’t find my truck keys, neither.”

     The old Fort pickup hurled down the highway at 90 mph. The turkey at the wheel was still filled with adrenaline. I’m gonna make it, he thought. His left wing hurt from the feathers he plucked, but it was worth it for the distraction he created. Rolling down the window, he tossed the old man’s glasses onto the road. He should reach the Mexican border by nightfall, then finally be free of this sadistic American holiday.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Time of Thanks

     Ding Ding Ding!
     Ronald Davidson clinked his glass to get the attention of the fourteen people seated in the large dining room. The conversations stopped and all eyes turned toward him. Holding his glass of white wine, Ronald stood up and addressed the entire group from the head of the long table.
     “It’s such a blessing to have you all here today,” he said. “I can’t remember a Thanksgiving when so many relatives and loved ones were able to join us. I know we’ll all remember today for the rest of our lives.”
     The members of the Davidson family smiled and looked at each other adoringly. Even the children were touched.
     “Now,” Ronald continued, “to keep with our family tradition, it’s time for us to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for this year. And since nobody ever likes to go first, I’ll start. I’m thankful for my beautiful wife, my loving children, this house that has blessed us for so many years and for the Baltimore Ravens, who are going to whip San Francisco this evening.”
     The family chuckled and Ronald sat down. His son, William Davidson, stood up from the seat on his father’s left side.
     “I have to say,” said William, who had his father’s eyes and his mother’s nose, “I’m also thankful for my family, and to have grown up in this house. And I’m thankful for my job and my beautiful fiancĂ©e Vivian.” Vivian, in the next seat, blushed as he said it. “But I’m especially thankful that the San Fran 49ers would never let a team from Baltimore humiliate them on their way to the playoffs.”
     The comment garnered a few more laughs. William took his seat and Vivian started to stand. Before she could move, however, Ronald was out of his chair again.
     “One more thing,” said the father. “I forgot to add that I’m thankful the 49ers quarterback has never lived up to a challenge like Baltimore’s fourth-ranked defensive unit.”
     He sat down and William got back up.
     “Well,” said William, “I’m thankful that I’m smart enough to realize the Raven’s linebacker sucks so bad that he hasn’t had a sack in three games.”
     Ronald jumped up before William could sit down.
     “Well I’m thankful that I’m not some west-coast-hippie-loving slacker who thinks a kicker who had two field goals blocked last week should even be on the team!”
     “Well I’m thankful I’m not a narrow minded, conservative old fogey who supports a linebacker who can’t even walk across the field—“
     “Ahem,” said a meek voice from across the room.
     The voice was subtle, but it silenced the two men. Everyone turned to look at Great-Grandma Davidson sitting in her wheelchair at the far end of the table. As the oldest member of the family, she held the respect of a king. Her frail figure leaned forward as she struggled to speak.
     “Ahem,” she said again. “I just want to say that it’s a wonderful blessing to see all of you together. I’m 96-years-old now, and my health has been declining, so this will likely be my last Thanksgiving. I hope everyone knows how much it means to me to see that you all love each other.”
     The faces around the table turned back to Ronald and William, who still stood facing each other. Both of the men now hung their heads low.
     Ronald spoke first. “I’m thankful I have a son who’s not afraid to stand up to his foolish old man.”
     William gave his father a light punch in the shoulder. “I’m thankful I have a tough dad who taught me how to stand up for myself.”
     “Aww…” said voices around the room as father and son hugged. Both men were a little teary-eyed when they finally sat down.
     “That’s so sweet,” said Great-Grandma Davidson. “Now it’s my turn. I’m thankful the Green Bay Packers are going to kick both of your asses to the moon when it counts.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Roommates

     “I’m so excited to be living here!” Tiffany jumped up and down as she hugged her best friend.
     “Me too!” said Kathy, hugging her back. “I’m going to have so much more fun with you than I did with my last roommate.”
     “For sure! I never met her, but she sounded like a drag.” Tiffany stopped jumping and looked around her new room. “I think I’m all done unpacking. What do you want to do tonight?”
     “Well,” said Kathy, “a bunch of my coworkers are going to a bar, and that cute mail boy is going to be there. Wanna come?”
     “I’d love to!” Tiffany started jumping in the air again. “What time?”
     “We can leave as soon as I finish my sculpture.” Kathy walked toward her own room.
     Tiffany followed. “Your what?”
     “My ice sculpture,” Kathy said, opening her bedroom door. “Didn’t I tell you about my hobby?”
     Tiffany’s mouth dropped when she looked into the room. In the center of the space, standing in a wide plastic kiddie pool, was a seven-foot tall block of ice. Half of it was carved into the shape of an eagle in flight.
     “This is amazing!” said Tiffany, walking around the work in progress. “I had no idea you were so talented.”
     “Thanks,” said Kathy as she stretched a pair of safety goggles over her head. “I try to do one every day to stay creative. Then I let them melt on the sidewalk and start another one when the ice delivery comes. That’s also why I keep my room so cold.”
     Tiffany noticed she could see her breath. Even though it was November, the air conditioner was on high. “Brrr,” she said, holding her arms. “You must really like doing this.”
     “Oh yes,” Kathy pulled some leather work gloves onto her hands. “It helps me relax.”
     Then she picked up a chainsaw and revved the engine. The loud roar made the whole house shake. Kathy started to carve the sculpture and white shards of ice shot out in every direction. Tiffany ran to a corner for cover.
     Kathy had to shout to be heard over the noise. “SOMETIMES, WHEN I HAVE INSOMNIA, I GET UP AT TWO IN THE MORNING AND DO THIS FOR COUPLE HOURS, THEN I SLEEP LIKE A BABY FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT!”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Burden of Responsibility

     I ran into my friend Jeff earlier today. He was walking a pug on the end of a long leash.
     “Hi Jeff,” I said. “How’s the new dog sitting business?”
     “Business is slow,” he said. “I only have one client, but she’s very wealthy and pays me well. She said that if I do a good job then she’ll recommend me to the members of her pug club. They’re all rich and like to travel, so it could lead to a lot of income.”
     I looked down at the obedient little pug sitting by Jeff’s feet. He wore what looked to be a cashmere sweater.
     “I hope that works out for you,” I said, kneeling down to let the dog sniff my hand.
     “Thanks. I’m feeling good about it,” he said. “I’ve looked after this little guy every day for the past month and the owner is coming home tomorrow. I think she’ll be very happy.”
     “Tomorrow?” I asked, looking up at him while petting the dog. “Wow, you must be nervous.”
     He laughed. “Not at all. Why would I be nervous?”
     I stood up. “Are you kidding—with how much is at stake on this last day? You invested so much over the past month and your whole financial future all depends on how well you do over the next 24 hours. I’d be a wreck if I were in your place.”
     He stopped laughing. “I guess I didn’t think of it like that.”
     “Just imagine, Jeff, this tiny dog could get hit by a car, choke on a chicken bone or get mauled by a bigger dog. He’s so small he may even get picked up by a hawk. Or he might chew through some power cord and electrocute himself. Maybe you'll knock a big book off a table and crush him. Or suppose he was lying on the couch and you sat on him by accident. Anything could happen in a day and your whole livelihood depends on it, not to mention your reputation. People don’t like dog killers, you know.”
     Jeff looked down at his ward. “You make a good point. Now I’m a little scared.”
     “Oh, don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m sure you’ll do great. Just remember to keep the dog alive for one more day... Keep the dog alive for one more day... Keep the dog alive for one more day…” I repeated those words to emphasize their importance.
     “Okay, okay, I’ve got it,” he said.
     I repeated the phrase a few more times just to make sure it was forefront on his mind. “Keep the dog alive for one more day… Keep the dog alive for one more day…”
     “I said I’ve got it, now stop it!”
     As he said it, a car screeched on the road next to us, blasting the horn. The pug had wandered off the curb while we were talking and was nearly hit. He scurried back, unharmed, and Jeff quickly scooped him up into his arms.
     “Close call, Jeff. You may want to consider a shorter leash. And remember: keep the dog alive for one more day…”
     I kept repeating it as Jeff ran away. I like to do what I can to help my friends.

Top That!

     "Wow, that movie was freaky," Trevor said as they walked out of the theater and into the lobby.
     "Do you think there really are people with webbed feet?" asked Joan.
     "Oh, I know there are," said Gary. "I once knew a girl with two webbed toes."
     Trevor took one last slurp out of his soft drink cup before tossing it in a trash can. "That's wild, but I once worked with a guy who had two thumbs on each hand."
     Joan punched him in the shoulder. "He only had two thumbs on one hand, and that's nothing, because I used to play with a girl who was born with her knees backwards."
     "Oh yeah?" Gary held the door open for them. "Well, I once met a guy at a bar with no legs, just feet attached to his torso."
     Trevor jumped in front of them both, blocking their path. "That's nothing! I went to high school with a girl who was born without a head!"
     Gary and Judy stared at him in silence.
     "I didn't know her that well," Trevor continued. "She was really quiet."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wildlife

     “Greg! You made it!” Katie, my sister, gave me a big hug before I could even step through the door.
     “Good to see you” said her husband Robert, peeking over her head. I shook his hand while still hugging Katie.
     “Thanks. I’m glad to be here.” I had to peel her off. “It was a long drive from Missouri.”
     “I’m sure it was,” Katie said, “but it’s your first time in Albuquerque and I have lots of plans for us while you’re here.”
     Robert picked up my suitcase and led me to the guest room while Katie told me about all the events, restaurants and historical sights she wanted me to experience. I did my best not to yawn, but I had been in the car for over twelve hours.
     “Let your brother rest,” said Robert, just before disappearing into the kitchen. “He was on the road all day.”
     “Of course, of course,” she said. “I’m just so excited to see you. By the way, did you see any Southwest wildlife while you were driving?”
     “As a matter of fact, I did.” I took off my coat and threw it on the guest bed. “There were lots of lizards, a few deer and some big birds I’m pretty sure were hawks. Oh, and I saw a meerkat run across the road.”
     “A what?” Katie asked.
     “A meerkat,” I said. “He was a furry little guy that scrambled across the road, then stopped and stood up on his hind legs.”
     Robert reappeared and handed me a bottle of beer. “I think that might have been a prairie dog.”
     “No,” I said. “It was a meerkat. I know because I saw a documentary about them on PBS.”
     Robert and Katie looked at each other, then back at me.
     “Sorry bro,” said Katie, “but I think Robert’s right. It was probably a prairie dog.”
     I shook my head. “Nope, it was a meerkat. I’m positive.”
     “Meerkats live in Africa.” Robert reached over with a bottle opener and popped the cap off my beer. “It was a prairie dog.”
     “No it wasn’t!” I shouted. “It was a meerkat, damnit!”
     I didn’t want it to turn ugly, but a guy can only take so much. After all, this was the fifth time this month somebody told me I didn’t see a meerkat in the wild.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crime of Fashion

     Donald took a lot of pride in his socks. He wore striped socks, argyle socks, checkered socks and socks with all sorts of funky patterns. Sometimes he wore 80s-style socks with bright stripes across the top. Other times he wore solid-colored socks in every color imaginable. On holidays, he wore socks with images to reflect the holiday themes. Usually, his socks matched the clothes he was wearing, or the mood he felt. Other times he mix-matched his left and right socks just to spice things up a bit. People often complimented his socks, but sometimes bullies made fun of them. Donald didn’t mind because his socks were his passion. He put a lot of work into his sock choice every day and he acquired an impressive collection over time. There was only one type of sock forbidden in his wardrobe: Donald hated plain white socks.
     White socks were boring. White socks were common and unoriginal. White socks showed every speck of dirt on them. When Donald saw someone wearing white socks, he thought of little kids whose mothers dressed them, or helpless middle-aged men whose mothers still bought socks for them. Plain white socks made him cringe, and he would rather walk barefoot over broken glass than to be caught wearing them.
     One day, Donald’s worst nightmare became a reality.
     It started on a brisk autumn morning as he walked to his favorite coffee shop for a cup of tea. He had just selected a pair of yellow and brown polka dot full crew cotton socks with medium-gauge ribs and extra heel supports and he thought they matched the season perfectly. There he was, minding his own business when he strolled past a dark alley. Without warning, a hand grabbed Donald and pulled him into the alleyway. When Donald regained he bearings, he saw a man in a dark trench coat holding a suitcase in his left hand and a gun in his right. The gun was pointed at Donald’s chest.
     “Here’s the deal, buddy,” the man said. “I have ten thousand dollars in this suitcase. It’s yours if you put on these white socks and let me take a photo that I can post on Facebook.” The man set down the suitcase and pulled a pair of atrocious plain white socks out of his coat pocket. “If you refuse, then I shoot you. You have one minute to decide.”
     Donald had feared this exact scenario for years! He couldn’t believe it was actually happening. This was his most dreaded decision, and no matter how many times he imagined it in his head he never knew which choice he would make. He weighed the pros and cons of each, and his nerves were overbearing. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his palms felt clammy.
     “Thirty seconds left,” the man said.
     Donald thought he should just do it, as other people would surely agree, but one look at those crime-of-fashion foot warmers made his stomach turn. He had survived for decades without succumbing to the white socks he loathed and it pained him to think that streak would all end here. No matter how many times he pictured himself pulling them on his feet, it just didn’t feel right.
     “Ten seconds.”
     Donald didn’t want to do it. He felt noble standing firm in his resolution. He felt that to refuse, to take a bullet for his passion, would allow him to die the death of a hero. It would bestow upon him the honor that most people never found in their lives. He wanted that honor, but he also wanted to live. He wanted to live a long life and to see and do many things he had not yet done. He was scared—scared to die.
     The man cocked his gun.
     “Okay, okay! I’ll do it!” Donald said. And he did it. He put on the socks and posed for a photo.
     The man held true to his word. He gave Donald a briefcase containing ten thousand dollars in small, unmarked bills. Donald used some of the money to buy more socks, but it just didn’t feel right. The money felt dirty. His socks never gave him the same joy again after that fateful day. It was like each and every pair he owned knew that Donald betrayed them. Donald felt like a phony. He had his good days from time to time, but they never lasted. Every so often, the photo of Donald wearing white socks resurfaced on Facebook and it brought the turmoil of that tragedy back to his mind in full bloom. Life never again gave him the sense of hope that it once did. The years passed and Donald succumbed more and more into isolation and depression.
     He always wondered if he made the wrong decision.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me

     “I don’t understand, Judy. Why do you want to break up?” Todd reached across the table to hold her hand. He struggled to maintain composure in the busy coffee shop.
     “We want different things, Todd. Surely you’ve noticed.” Judy let him squeeze her hand, though she did not squeeze back.
     Todd looked at her with big, tearful eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
     “Well,” Judy said, “for one thing, I want to get married someday. You don’t.”
     “Is that really a dealbreaker?” He asked, a hint of desperation in his tone.
     “That’s not all, Todd. My family is very Catholic, and they don’t approve of your beliefs. They think you’re part of a cult.”
     Todd shook his head. “No, no… the followers of Zantar the Great are not a cult. It will all make sense when he returns to this planet to turn the faithful into pure energy. Just give it time.”
     Judy smiled, but her eyes were unyielding. “I also want to have children, Todd, and you were castrated.”
     Todd squeezed her hand harder. “But Judy, just how important are children? After all, we have the squirrels.”
     “Actually Todd,” she said, “I know you love the squirrels, but they’re a bit much. I mean, you have over thirty of them roaming free in your apartment. I’m pretty sure three or four are rabid.”
     “That can’t be all, Judy. There must be something on your mind you’re not telling me.”
     Judy sighed. “I don’t know what else to say, Todd. It also annoys me that you wear plaid shirts with striped ties, that you sleepwalk into the kitchen and bring sharp knives back to the bed, that you sweat blood.”
     “What’s really bothering you, Judy?”
     She pulled her hand back and stood up. “It’s over, Todd. Just accept it.”
     She walked away from him and left the coffee shop without looking back.
     Todd stayed at the table for a long time, hurt and confused. “I shouldn’t have bought that plaid shirt,” he said to himself. Then he made a mental note never to wear it again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guidance Counselor

     “Come on in, boys,” said Ms. Grayson. “Have a seat.”
     Billy and Ryan, the Meyer twins, bumped into each other when they tried to walk through her office door at the same time. They fumbled their way through, then took the two seats in front of her desk.
     Ms. Grayson leaned forward and smiled. “Since you both will be graduating high school soon, I wanted to take this time to talk with each of you about your future plans. Have either of you thought about a career you’d like to pursue?”
     The boys looked at each other, then Billy spoke up. “I have, Ms. Grayson, but I’m kind of torn. You see, part of me really wants to be a space cowboy, but another part wants to be an accountant.”
     Ms. Grayson leaned back in her chair and thought this over. “Well, for what it’s worth, I can tell you that there is a better job market for accounting, and you won’t have any trouble finding a school that will give you a good degree. Also, as an accountant you would be much more likely to get a good dental plan.”
     Billy nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good point. Thanks Ms. Grayson.”
     “And how about you,” she asked, turning to Ryan.
     “I’ve been thinking about it, too, ma’am,” said Ryan. “I really want to teach biology, but sometimes I also want to be a space cowboy.”
     “Hmm,” said Ms. Grayson, tapping her fingers on the desk. “Between those two, I would definitely recommend being a space cowboy.”
     Both of the young men thanked her and left the office.
     Billy envied his brother for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hardcore

     “You know,” said Arnie as he crawled into bed, “I’m thinking about getting a mohawk.”
     “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Michelle without lifting her eyes from the book she was reading.
     “Why not?" he asked. "You don't think it suits me?”
     “No,” she said. “It’s because you’re bald.”
     “I’ll have you know that I was a hardcore punk rocker back in the eighties,” Arnie said. “I saw the Sex Pistols in concert, and I once made an anarchy symbol on the back of my jean jacket with duct tape.”
     “I don’t doubt it,” she said, still reading.
     Arnie put his hand over her book. “Are you even listening to me?”
     And so they discussed it late into the night until Michelle finally agreed that Arnie should get a mohawk.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Housesitter

     Honk! Honk!
     “That’s my taxi,” said Jad, shoving a few last articles of clothing into his bulging suitcase. “Any more questions before I go?”
     “I think I have it,” said Andrew, looking over the page of notes in his hand. “Garbage goes out on Mondays, water the plants twice a week, plumber coming on Thursday to fix the garbage disposal... No worries, I’ll take good care of your home. I just hope you can enjoy your trip to Singapore without getting too bogged down with work.”
     “Thanks buddy. I’m sure you’ll be fine here, and I really appreciate it.” Jad had to sit on his suitcase to zip it shut.
     Andrew helped him pull the zipper around the last corner. “You’re actually doing me a huge favor, Jad. I needed a place to stay and I can’t believe I get to live here for five months. This place is awesome! I don’t know how you found a house like this for such a low price.”
     Jad struggled to pull the huge suitcase off the bed. It hit the floor with a loud boom! “Yeah,” he said, “I really got a deal on it. I was lucky to get in right after the last tenants passed away. They were pretty old.”
     “Oh, did they die in a hospital?” asked Andrew.
     “Nope.” Jad spoke through gritted teeth as he tried to drag the suitcase across the room. “They died in this bedroom, right about where you’re standing.”
     Andrew looked around his feet. “Right here?”
     “More or less.” Jad moved behind the suitcase to push it into the hallway. “The wife died somewhere in that corner after her husband chopped her up with an axe, but he hung himself in the bathroom.”
     Andrew followed him down the hallway and took a sideways glance into the bathroom as they passed it. “Really? Did you know about that when you moved in?”
     “Oh no,” Jad said, stopping when he reached the stairs. “I knew about the other victims, but I didn’t find out about the most recent tenants until I had been here a few days.”
     Andrew grabbed his arm. “There were other murders?”
     “A few. Two tenants ago, a guy stabbed his wife to death in the kitchen, then blew his brains out with a shotgun in front of the fireplace. The tenant before him had a dinner party and fed everyone rat poison in the dining room. And the police reports are a little sketchy, but it appears the tenant before that guy used this house to do science experiments on people he kidnapped around the neighborhood. Apparently he buried his victims in the basement, but they never found all the bodies.” Jad gave the suitcase a kick and it thundered down the stairs. “Before that, it’s hard to say which stories were real murders or just urban legends.”
     “Um, Jad—“
     Honk! Honk!
     “I'd better hurry. It sounds like the driver is getting impatient and I don’t want to be late for my flight.” Jad ran down the steps and strained to drag the suitcase to the front door. “Oh, before I forget, sometimes you have to jiggle the toilet handle to get it to stop running. And the switch for the porch light is by the window. And you might hear some creaking and moaning at night, but it usually stops after a couple hours. It’s okay if the walls bleed a little.”
     Andrew ran down the stairs after him. “Wait Jad—“
     “Oh yeah, I almost forgot.” Jad reached into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys and threw them to Andrew, who caught them as he reached the bottom step. “Don’t worry, Andrew, I trust you completely.”
     Honk! Honk!
     Without another word, Jad used all his strength to heave the suitcase off the floor and into his arms. He stumbled for a step or two, then ran out the door.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Safety First

     Two years ago, my best friend George and I went to a Metallica concert. We camped at the entrance overnight so we could get in early, and we ended up making our way to the very front of the stage. A huge speaker, almost the size of my house, towered over us. Fortunately, I came prepared.
     “What are you doing?” George asked when he saw me fumbling in my pocket.
     “Earplugs,” I said, producing the small foam cylinders.
     “Earplugs? You’re going to wear earplugs?” He punched me in the shoulder. “We camped out all night to get this close, and you want to block the noise? You must be crazy!”
     “Safety first,” I said, shoving them in my ears.
     Seconds later, Metallica took the stage. When the first guitar chord struck, I saw George crouch over in pain, clutching his head between his hands. I didn’t notice when he lost consciousness, but I really enjoyed the show.
     George lost most of his hearing that night. That was a real bummer because we couldn’t go to rock shows together anymore. He was so upset that he almost never left his house. I pleaded with him for months to come hang out with me, and I even learned sign language so we could communicate, but he always said he couldn’t enjoy life without sound.
     One day, about a year ago, I found just the thing to cheer him up. A local movie theater showed a Charlie Chaplin marathon. All silent movies. Reluctantly, George agreed to come out, and he grew more and more excited as we entered the theater. I think it meant a lot to him that we could share the experience in the same way.
     We found our seats, and just before the theater lights dimmed George reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses.
     “What are you doing?” I signed when I saw him put them on.
     “Safety first,” he said.
     I started to sign that he was an idiot, but the lights went out and he could no longer see me. Seconds later, the projector flickered on.
     I lost most of my eyesight that night, due to the intense brightness of the projector reflecting off the screen.
     Hanging out with George became even more difficult, but we still managed to get out once in a while. He would guide me and I would translate words into sign language for him. Last night, we decided to go to a wine tasting together. He led me up to the tasting counter and placed a glass in my hand. I set it down in a place where I could find it again and signed what the server was saying.
     “This particular syrah,” he started, “has strong notes of cinnamon and apple, with a touch of clove and a slightly musty aroma. You really need to inhale a strong whiff of its bouquet to fully appreciate it.”
     I could hear him pouring a glass. Immediately, I held my hand out to George and he placed a small piece of plastic in it.
     “What are you guys doing?” the server asked. I could sense that George was duplicating my actions.
     “Nose plugs,” I said, adjusting the clamp over my nostrils.
     “That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,” the server said. “How can you appreciate the aroma with nose plugs?”
     George and I said the words at the same time. “Safety first.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Drivers Ed

     Randy was sick and tired of people telling him what he could and couldn’t do.
     You can’t talk during movies. You have to wear pants. You can’t eat squirrels at McDonalds.
     It seemed like everywhere he went, Randy was reprimanded and scolded like a little kid. Well, he was 38-years-old and doggone it, if he wanted to teach his beagle to drive a truck then Sparky was going to get a driving lesson!
     His first challenge came when he tried to strap Sparky into the seatbelt. That darn belt just didn’t want to fit him properly. Randy tried twisting it around the little fellow every which way, but it wouldn’t take. Sparky was a good boy and just sat there, passive as ever. He didn’t seem to mind wearing a seatbelt one way or another, but Randy knew he’d hear no end of it from his nosy neighbors if he didn’t at least give the beagle some basic safety precautions. After all, there were a lot of bad drivers out there and you never knew when one of them would ram into his truck with Sparky behind the wheel.
     The seatbelt problem was resolved with about half a roll of duct tape. Once Randy felt Sparky was adequately adhered to the seat, he made sure the little guy was as comfortable as possible. This involved adjusting all the mirrors, tilting the steering wheel down as low as it would go and presetting the radio to Sparky’s favorite classic rock station. Randy pushed the seat forward, too, to move Sparky closer to the pedals. That’s when he noticed his next challenge: getting Sparky’s feet to reach the brake and accelerator.
     Randy cursed under his breath for a bit, then had an idea. He ran around his house and returned with a couple two-by-fours that were barely needed for his back porch. The two-by-fours were just the right length to connect Sparky’s short legs to the pedals, and with a little more duct tape they were in place. Thank god he didn’t have a clutch! Sparky licked the tape a little, but then lost interest and continued to just sit there, happy as a lark.
     Of course, Sparky couldn’t drive without controlling the wheel, but Randy already had a plan for that. He pulled Sparky’s favorite rawhide bone out of his pocket and used a little more duct tape to secure it to the top of the steering wheel, right at the 12 o’clock position. Sure enough, Sparky went at it and could just reach the bone through his improvised seat belt. He gnawed and gnawed that thing, turning the wheel left and right as he did.
     Randy stepped back and looked at his work with approval. There was still the issue of Sparky operating the windshield wipers and turn signals, but Randy didn’t think those things were really necessary; it wasn’t raining and Randy hardly ever used the turn signals himself. The only times he did use them was when he thought he was being followed. He would turn on the left signal just before turning the truck right, then look in the mirror to see if the car behind him behaved strangely. Sparky probably wouldn’t need to learn that trick, though, because he didn’t have as many enemies as Randy did.
     Yep, he thought for sure that Sparky was ready for his first trip down the road. He clapped three times—Sparky’s signal to start the engine, as they discussed over breakfast—but Sparky just sat there, chewing the bone. That’s when Randy realized there was no way for Sparky to turn the key or shift the truck into drive.
     Randy cursed under his breath again, then kicked an old toaster that was sitting on his lawn. He paced around the yard, still cursing, and imagined all those smug faces saying “I told you so!” He put so much work into this project, very nearly 30 minutes, and it infuriated him to see it all go to waste. He plopped himself down on his front steps and held his head in his hands, feeling like a failure. Once again, he couldn’t do what other people told him he couldn’t do.
     Then Sparky barked.
     Randy knew Sparky wanted to cheer him up, but he didn’t think even his best friend could help.
     Sparky barked again.
     Randy tried to ignore him.
     Sparky barked a third time.
     Randy shot up. Sparky was right, they’ve come all this way together and they couldn’t just give up now. He marched over to the truck and re-examined the situation.
     There was just no simple way for Sparky to move that key or the gearshift. If only those operations could be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel that Sparky could push with his nose... that would solve everything, but it would take a long time to build. While he was thinking about it, Sparky let out a small growl. Randy could tell he was anxious to start driving and he didn’t want to let the little guy down. He decided he’d start working on the buttons later, but for now he’d just have to start the car himself and then let Sparky do the rest. After all, Sparky would still be the one driving, despite who cranked the engine. He explained the situation to Sparky and warned him that he wouldn’t be able to shift into reverse yet, so he had to drive very carefully and only move forward.
     Once he felt Sparky understood, he turned the key and the truck roared to life! Randy told Sparky to be brave, and reminded him to stop for sirens like they talked about earlier. Then he shifted the truck into drive and jumped out of the way.
     Overall, Sparky was a decent driver. He had a little trouble with traffic lights, being colorblind and all, but he was a natural at merging onto the highway.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

They're Grrrrreat!

     If I could be any cereal box character, I think I’d choose Cap’n Crunch because he was always the hero. Whenever the Soggies were about to attack, the Cap’n would swoop in and save the day. Everyone liked having him around, and he always had plenty of his cereal to share. That’s important.
     I sure wouldn’t want to be that Trix rabbit. He was always getting shafted. No matter how hard he tried, the kids just kept taking his favorite cereal away from him. I don’t think that rabbit had much self esteem, and he probably had trouble getting a date. Women wouldn’t think much of you if you couldn’t even give them a cereal that had your picture on the box.
     I’m not saying the only reason I’d want to turn into a cereal box character would be to pick up girls, but if I did happen to wake up as a cartoon then it would be nice to know I’d be able to meet someone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Billy's Comet

     Billy Dean owned a comet. His father discovered it the day Billy was born and named it after him as his first birthday present. It was called “Billy’s Comet” and it was so small it could only be seen with a very large telescope. It appeared once every 15 years, and its orbit came into view from the Earth for only 5 seconds.
     When Billy was a 15-year-old amateur astronomer, his father set up a telescope on a hill in a park so Billy could see his comet for the very first time. Billy stared into that telescope for a whole hour waiting for it. Unfortunately, seconds before it came, a Frisbee thrown by another boy hit Billy in the head, knocking him into the telescope and throwing it off track. By the time Billy’s father repositioned the telescope it was too late—the comet was already gone. The boy who threw the Frisbee didn’t even say he was sorry. He just laughed and made fun of Billy and his telescope, then ran off. Billy had to get eight stitches above his eye where the Frisbee hit him.
     When Billy was 30, his father set up an even bigger telescope in a window of Billy’s house so no Frisbees, baseballs, badmittens or javelins could hit it. Billy was getting married the next day, so it was a special wedding present for him. Billy, now pursuing a PhD in astrophysics, stared into the telescope for two hours because he didn’t want to risk missing his comet. But right before the comet came, a teenager down the street set off a bottle rocket. The rocket soared into the air right in front of the telescope and left a trail of sparks so bright that Billy could see nothing else. By the time the sparks faded, the comet was gone. Billy let out a cry, and the teenager who set off the rocket pointed at him and laughed. Minutes later, Billy noticed smoke in the hallway and realized the bottle rocket landed in his attic. The fire burned Billy’s house to the ground.
     When Billy was 45, his old father tried to show him the comet once more. This time, they rented an observatory on government property for the whole day. This was difficult because of Billy’s low status in the scientific community. Billy’s genius was so advanced that no other scientist could understand his theories on astro-gravitational physics and they ridiculed him for it, leaving him a poor, unpublished and unemployed space nerd. With nothing else to strive for, he and his father pooled all their savings together to rent the observatory and nobody else was allowed to come anywhere near it except Billy’s wife. The telescope was so big that they would see a big and clear picture of the comet on a large screen. While he was in the observatory, Billy’s wife came to tell him she was leaving him. It turned out she was having an affair with one of Billy’s former students and they were running off together. She called Billy all sorts of horrible names and said she was sick of his stupid obsession with comets. She laughed at him and turned to leave, but she slipped on one of the observatory’s slick metal steps and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck. Government guards outside heard the argument and burst into the room to find Billy standing over his wife’s body, which looked very suspicious. By the time the comet came into view, Billy was in jail.
     When Billy was 60, he was released from jail on the same day the comet was scheduled to come, His father passed away while he was incarcerated and he now had no money and no place to stay. He had no friends and felt unconnected to the world. Billy hated his comet and wished it had never been discovered. He didn’t even try to look at the comet that night, because he thought it was bad luck. Instead, he spent the night at a bar drinking heavily and running up a large tab that he couldn’t pay.
     While he was drinking, a young man came and sat on the barstool next to him. The young man had a big grin on his face. He tried to order champagne, but the bartender told him they didn’t have any. “Oh well,” the young man said, and ordered a beer instead. He kept smiling more and more. When he was halfway through the beer, he was smiling so hard it looked like it hurt. Billy couldn’t take it anymore.
     “Why the hell are you so happy?” Billy asked, then ordered another shot of whiskey.
     “I’m happy because I just defended my thesis,” the young man said. “I’m a student of astronomy and my professors told me I’ve made astounding progress in my theories about the physics of orbiting satellites.
     Billy grunted again.
     “It’s actually very fascinating,” the young man said, “although I guess it must sound like gibberish to the common man.”
     “Let me tell you something about orbiting satellites!” Billy’s ferocity startled the young man, who gave Billy his complete attention. Over the next hour, Billy astounded him with the revolutionary scientific theories and calculations he made over the course of his academic life. He ended his rant by telling him about a certain comet that appears every 15 years, and was scheduled to come that very night.
     “This is amazing!” the young man said, gawking at Billy in awe. “I can’t believe you’re keeping all this to yourself, and I can’t believe you’re not watching your comet right now! It’s been my life dream to have a comet named after me.”
     “If you want it, you can have it,” said Billy. “What’s your name?”
     The young man told him his name was Mark.
     “Well then, Mark, the comet’s all yours. It’s now named ‘Mark’s Comet.’”
     Mark couldn’t believe his luck! He thanked Billy over and over, and even paid his tab for him. Then he checked his watch and realized he still had time to see the comet. He thanked Billy one more time and ran out of the bar.
     Two seconds later, Mark was hit by a bus.
     The next day, Billy won the Powerball lottery and became a millionaire.
     Years later, on a warm spring day, Billy said to himself, “Hmm, I guess that comet really was bad luck.” Then he walked back inside his house made of gold.
    

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First Date

     “Okay, here we go,” Jacob said to himself. His finger shook as he rang the doorbell. “Please be pretty, please be pretty…”
     His heart pounded as the sound of footsteps approached the door. Jacob had never been on a blind date before, so he had no idea what to expect. His stomach knotted and for a brief instant he thought about running away. When the door finally cracked open, he stood in awe.
     Standing before him was the most beautiful, petite redhead he had ever seen in his life. She had big blue eyes and a smile that made his knees feel weak.
     “Hi,” she said, extending her hand. “You must be Jacob.”
     “Uh, yeah... Jacob,” he said, taking her hand and shaking it. “Are you Lindsay?”
     She let out a harmonic laugh. “Of course I am, silly.”
     “Right,” Jacob said, then remembered what he was holding. “Oh, this is for you… because, you know, you said you collected them in your online profile.”
     Jacob held up a small plush teddy bear. As soon as he did, he felt like an idiot. He wondered what he was thinking, giving such a lame gift for a first date. Now she would think he was a loser and never want to see him again!
     “Oh, how perfect!” Lindsay said, grabbing the teddy bear from his hands. “I love him! Come on in and I’ll put him with the others before we go to the restaurant. You know, Jacob, I have a good feeling about this.”
     A flush of relief flooded through Jacob’s body as he followed her inside. “Yeah Lindsay, I do too—“
     He froze two steps inside the door. In the living room stood dozens of tall wooden stakes, each driven into the floor. Near the top of each stake was a fluffy teddy bear, impaled through the chest. Most of them had their eyes ripped out.
     “This will just take a sec,” he heard Lindsay say from his left. Turning his head, he saw her standing next to an empty stake, still holding the bear he gave her. She brought the stuffed animal close to her face for a few seconds and whispered something inaudible under her breath. Then she ripped out its button eyes with her teeth and spit them onto the floor. She raised the bear over her head, screamed at the top of her lungs and drove it onto the stake with one fast, jerking motion.
     Lindsay stared at the bear with wide, trembling eyes as she took a few deep breaths. Then she looked up at Jacob and smiled. “Ready to go? I’m starving.”