A Beginning. But where to go from here?

As tends to happen from time to time, I’ll be rummaging through some random folders on my computer when I’ll come across something I’d written a long time ago and done nothing with. Naturally, this is exactly what happened to me today. The beginning of a very incomplete story follows below. It was last saved to my hard drive on July 14, 2003. I remember writing it, but I have no recollection of where I was going with it. It’s a pretty good bet that I didn’t know where I was going.

So I’m calling to you, my readers, to help me out here. Between the six of you, I’m sure you can come up with a good suggestion for the direction to take this. Should it include supernatural elements? Is Bartleby really dead? Is it a dream? Are these characters metaphors for something else? What are your thoughts? Perhaps we should turn this into writer’s workshop of sorts. The forum is now open, please contribute.

With every passing second, Bartleby lost more and more money. He sat to the right of the dealer at a Las Vegas casino’s blackjack table. He started out with a bankroll exceeding $10,000. It was his wife’s inheritance. Her parents had recently been killed in a plane crash. Hard to believe that someone who started out with that kind of scratch could find themselves down to their last $200.

In a casino across the country in Atlantic City, Joseph made more money in three hours than he’d made in a month at his job. Joseph had started out with a bankroll of $200 and had so far won well over $10,000. It seemed he couldn’t lose. Joseph worked the graveyard shift at the Digger Steel Corporation. Bartleby worked as a digger at the Steelmount graveyard.

At exactly 7:06 am, both men stood from their tables. Bartleby rose from his chair slowly, looking a bit dazed. As he stretched, he shoved his hands into his pockets out of nervous habit. He was startled to find that he had one chip left. It was a $50.00 chip. For a split second Bartleby pondered how he could turn this $50 back into the $10,000 he had begun with. In a last minute decision, he flipped the chip to the dealer, thanked him for a lovely ass kicking, and walked out the front door.

Joseph stood up with his eyes wide and his smile wider. He raised his arms high above his head as he stretched. He had cashed all his chips for ten $1000 chips. As he reached into his pocket, he found an extra chip. It was worth $5.00. Joseph looked at the chip and mentioned to the dealer how it really was his lucky day, then he put the chip on the table and made another bet. Joseph lost after hitting on fifteen with the dealer showing a two. He glared at the dealer, turned and walked out the front door.

At 7:48 am, Bartleby was crossing a street a few blocks off the Vegas strip when a drunk driver lost control of his Chevy Suburban and slammed into Bartleby. Both the driver and Bartleby were killed instantly.

At the exact same moment, Joseph was crossing a street a few blocks off the Atlantic City Boardwalk when a drunk driver lost control of his Chevy Suburban and slammed into a tree that stood between the Suburban and Joseph. The driver was killed instantly. Joseph didn’t have a scratch on him.

Not dying that day was the worst thing to ever happen to Joseph.

The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

I was glancing at some of my old columns for Negative Waves when I came across one that I’d forgotten about. The column had to do with finding inspiration for writing stories and such. But the column itself was bookended with this fictional story I’d thrown in there. Since I have nothing else to really write about today, I thought I’d go ahead and post the story portion of that column.

So the other day, as I’m talking to a girl in a bar, she interrupts me while giving me a strange once over look. She puts her hand on my shoulder, squeezes, then slides it down to my upper arm, and squeezes again. I felt a bit like Russell Crowe in Gladiator when the old gladiator is checking him out. Finally, this girl says to me, “Do you work out?”

“You bet,” I lied with a straight face.

“I can tell,” she smiled while staring me in the eyes.

It isn’t difficult to tell that I had this girl in the bag. It’s amazing what simple human intuitiveness can do for a person.

Our banter continued for several more minutes.

“I’m a dancer,” she told me. I could smell the coconut oil on her, so I didn’t doubt her.

“Is that right?” I said humoring her.

“Hmm, mmm,” she replied while her tongue suddenly slipped from her mouth and moistened her upper lip, leaving just the tiniest sheen.

“Where do you dance?” I asked, trying not to let my voice crack.

“Anywhere you want me to,” she said as she slid her arm around my torso. Her fingers pinched my nipple. I knocked my beer over on the bar.

In a moment of clarity, I looked at her as she looked at the spilt beer which was spreading across the bar. I placed my hand on her chin turning her head to look at me. Our eyes locked in a tractor beam gaze that sucked our faces closer and closer together. Before our lips touched, I pulled back, whispering, “I don’t have anything in my nose, do I?” It kind of felt like I had something in nose.

She took a quick look, then grabbed a beverage napkin from the bar, held it up to my nose and said, “Blow.”

I did.

She wiped underneath my nostrils with the expert hand of a pediatrician, flicked the used napkin over her shoulder, and grabbed my head with both hands as she planted a violent kiss square on my lips.

As the beer that had been spilled on the bar began to trickle to the floor like a leaky faucet, our lips were locked in a kiss so passionate, the mariachi band playing that night was blushing. Her hands still gripped the side of my head as I wrapped my arms around her.

Without warning, she released my head and pulled her lips from mine.

Then she slugged me.

She gave me a right-cross to the chin that put me on the floor. I looked up and saw a hazy shadow I assumed to be the girl that had made me see stars both with her kiss and her fist. I wasn’t sure, but I think I was in love.

I was stunned, to say the least.

As I slowly came around I could see she had begun to cry. I was still laying on the ground. I propped myself up onto one elbow and rubbed my chin. The beer that had been trickling from the bar was now dripping onto my head. I pulled myself to my feet with the help of a couple bar stools. The girl leapt at me. I flinched in panic only to have her wrap her arms and legs around me in a solid embrace. She whispered in my ear, “I only hit the one I love.”

I could understand that. Or could I? I wasn’t sure anymore, what with the sore jaw and all. As I stood at the bar with this beautiful stranger wrapped around me like an odd fur coat, I reached to the bar and picked up my beer. I took a pull and downed half the bottle. It was clear to me that this night was just getting started.

“What’s your name, Doll,” I asked the girl.

“I can’t tell you, if I tell you, you’ll kill me,” she replied.

Hardly the response I was expecting, but I accepted it.

“You don’t have a man’s name, do you? I mean, you’re not a man, or were at any time a man, were you?” I inquired.

“No, darling, nothing like that,” she said. I finished the rest of my beer.

I hadn’t even been at the bar for more than 20 minutes and already I’d kissed a strange woman with more fire than a four-alarm blaze, spilled a beer on my head, been clocked in the face by the same girl I’d kissed, and now I stood with that girl attached to me like a cartoon starfish on the face of Bugs Bunny. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, but apparently the sound of her name would make me want to kill her.

Little did I know how right she was. And little did I know just how young the night was.

The Camping Trip (When Bears Attack)

Have I ever told you about the time that I wrestled a bear? It was pretty exhilarating, I must admit. And really, I thought for sure I was gonna be killed, but luck was on my side that day. It happened about ten years ago when I was out camping with some old friends from high school. We were sitting around the campfire, drinking some root beers and ginger ales, roasting marshmallows and telling stories about the various forms of community service we’d been performing lately.

The night grew particularly dark as there was no moon that evening. In addition, a cloud cover had moved in from the northeast and made visibility virtually nil. One of my friends, growing tired from our full day of chopping wood for other campers, decided to retire to the tent. There were eight of us total on that trip. As it happened, a good night’s sleep was just what the doctor ordered for all of us, so we all decided to hit the sack. We stumbled around the campsite for a few minutes, with flashlight beams bouncing around, as we tried to put away all the food. We took the necessary steps to assure a relatively tidy campsite so that we’d be able to wake up in the morning and launch right into our morning prayers without having to do much preparation.

Everyone climbed into the tents. I was the only one who remained. I took one last look around to make sure everything was in order. It was. I realized, however, that before climbing into my sleeping bag I should really take a walk to the camp’s community bathroom. More than anything, I just wanted to splash some soap and water on my face, as I was sure it was grimy from our full day.

You see, in addition to volunteering to chop wood for everyone, we had also spent some time rescuing a trapped worker from a local coal mine. It was particularly random that we should happen upon a coal mine in the middle of Wisconsin’s Bong Recreation Area, but needless to say, upon hearing the muffled cries for help, we jumped into action. It didn’t take long for us to secure a country-mile’s length of rope to the back of one of my friend’s hybrid sport utility vehicle. Since we were all eager to be the one to climb down and assess the situation, we drew straws to see who received the honor. As luck had it, it was me.

The rope was tied around my waist as I was lowered slowly into the opening of the mine. The cave-in had destroyed the mine’s elevator system along with the secondary ladder escape route, so being lowered in was the only option. I had our trusty Coleman lantern in hand, a first aid kit, and a few Powerbars with me as well, as I slowly descended into the dark abyss. After what seemed like hours, I was finally able to make out the bottom of the shaft. There, laying prone beneath a fallen wooden support beam, was the mine worker whose cries for help we heard earlier. He had clearly lost consciousness. I became paranoid that I arrived too late until I saw the faint movement of his upper body rising and falling with each strained breath he took.

I yelled out to him, “Sir! Sir! Are you okay?”

His eyes slowly opened just as my feet finally touched the ground next to him.

“Am I dead?” was all he could ask.

“No sir,” I replied trying to sound as much like a living, breathing human as I could. The last thing I wanted was for my voice to resonate off these stone walls in such a fashion as to lead this disoriented blue-collar hero to believe that he was hearing the voice of a creature from beyond. “You’re not dead. You’ve been involved in an accident. The mine in which you have been laboring has collapsed around you. Can you move?”

He raised his arms in an attempt to sit up. He clearly had movement in his upper body, but his lower half was still pinned securely beneath the wooden beam.

“I’m stuck,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” replied trying to sound confident. “We’ll get you out of here.”

With that I quickly untied the rope from around me and secured it to the beam. Luckily, before descending into the mine I had thought to establish a system of communication with the others using only rope tugs. I pulled the rope three times quickly, followed by one isolated tug, then followed by a succession of four bursts of seven tugs each. This would indicate to the others that I had secured the rope to a fallen object that needed to be moved in order to complete the rescue.

In a matter of seconds, the beam was lifted from the gentleman’s torso and he crawled out from beneath it.

“I think I’m okay,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s broken.”

Wasting little time, I quickly gave the rope tugging signal indicating that I needed another eleven feet of rope. With the extra slack supplied in an instant, I quickly tied myself to the higher portion of the rope (figuring this would allow me to communicate more effectively with those above) and then tied the end of the rope around the grateful miner. Once we were both secure, I offered the man a Powerbar, which he hungrily devoured.

I gave a quick quadruple tug to the rope, indicating that we should be pulled up. It took some time and effort, but eventually we reached daylight once again. The miner was incredibly grateful. So much so, in fact, that he gave my friend Ed a great big kiss right on the lips. It sure was funny to see Ed with all that black soot or dirt on his mouth after that dirty miner gave him his thank you smooch. Strangely, however, no sooner had the miner detached himself from his grateful liplock, than he took off running. Clearly he had to get home to his family to assure them of his well-being.

Afterwards, we sat around the mouth of the mine shaft for some time. We felt the need to let the adrenaline wear off. Gary went to the car to fetch some ice-cold Capri Suns from the cooler when he returned with that morning’s newspaper, which we had happened to pick up in town earlier that day. He pointed out a small headline on the bottom of the front page that read, “Escaped convict ‘The Kissing Killer’ still at large.”

We all looked at one another with round eyes as we realized what we had done. We let a possibly injured, tired, hungry, and thirsty victim of a mine collapse run off into the forest all alone while a maniacal escaped convict was on the loose. We all just joined hands and prayed that he would make it to his family safely before he came face to face with this Kissing Killer.

As I continued my walk under the dark night sky to wash the dirt and grime from my face, I felt a sense of pride in having helped to save the life of a man who toiled so hard to provide for his family. But I couldn’t help but shake my head when hoping that he had made it home safely.

Putting the days events behind me, I finally reached the community bathroom. I went to one of the stalls and did my business. Then I walked to the sink and let the yellow run from the water before reaching my hands underneath it and relishing the feel of the cool water as I splashed it on my face. I took my time washing away the day’s events from my skin. It felt good to spend the day helping others in so many different ways. I knew then for what it was that I was put upon this earth. I was meant to be a servant to others. I made a mental note to put up a Craigslist posting as soon as we returned to civilization.

I dried my face off thoroughly, applied some Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream, and made my way back to the campsite. I walked as briskly as I could given the state of darkness I was faced with. My flashlight, though effectively cutting a path through the darkness, wasn’t one of the stronger flashlights we’d brought on the trip, and it was fading. I thought nothing of it until I heard a rustling in some trees nearby. I glanced in that direction, but couldn’t make anything out in the darkness. I continued on.

I had only traveled perhaps another twenty feet or so when the rustling returned. Initially, I had thought that the sound was that of a racoon, or possibly a possum. It would not be uncommon for creatures like this to be rustling around in the foliage. However, I reconsidered these notions after this more recent occurrence of the disturbance. This was clearly a much larger creature. I scanned my memory looking for any trace of knowledge regarding the surrounding wildlife when I was suddenly thrown from my feet.

Something had jumped from the darkness and pushed me to the ground. I heard some heavy breathing coming from behind me. Is it possible that I was about to come face to face with a bear? But bears aren’t known to be found in this southern region of Wisconsin. How could this be happening. Slowly, as I listened to the sharp breathing, I stood up. I slowly turned around to face the beast that was certain to ensure my doom.

My eyes went wider than a Lincoln Continental. Standing there in front of me, was former Chicago Bear wide receiver Tom Waddle. He was clearly disoriented and appeared to be foaming at the mouth. As I stood with my mouth agape, Tom Waddle let out a roar that seemed impossibly inhuman. No sooner had the echo of his cry ceded into the night, than I found myself rolling along the gravel path with him on top of me. The struggle that ensued was akin to nothing I had ever experienced before. For more than forty-five minutes the two of rolled and wrestled there on that darkened pathway leading to the campground’s community bathrooms and showers.

Tom Waddle was relentless. Finally, he put me in a sleeper hold and had me moments away from unconsciousness. Struggling mightily to simply stay alive at this point, I reached out frantically for some sort of weapon that I might be able to brandish in order to fend this mighty Bear off. My hand found only handfuls of pebbles and the tiniest of twigs. Just as my vision began to fade and I thought all hope was lost, my hand felt something. What’s is this? Was it something I could use?

Despite my failing senses, I realized that my hand held the very Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream that I had earlier applied to my clean and dry face. Not being able to consider any other options, I was able to remove the top from the Replenishing Cream and slide my fingers in to extract an extremely healthy portion of lotion. With all my remaining strength, I reached up to Tom Waddle’s face and smeared the cream all over his face. To my surprise, he fell off of me immediately.

I sprang to my feet as I watched the former Boston College star writhe on the ground beneath me. He pawed at his face with his Bear hands and roared in pain. Clearly, the Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream was having some sort of chemical effect on him. I didn’t dawdle, but rather, turned immediately and ran to the campsite. I roused the others quickly explaining what had happened. At first they didn’t believe a word I said. It was only after I lifted my shirt and showed them the battle wounds I’d suffered that they came to their senses. It seems that during our scuffle, Tom Waddle had scratched the number “87” into my skin. This was the number Tom Waddle wore as a Bear.

In a matter of minutes we returned to the scene. Former Chicago Bear wide receiver Tom Waddle was still laying on the gravel path. He was motionless, however. Carefully, we checked for a pulse. He was still alive. The Replenishing Cream did not kill the Bear, it appeared to have only sedated him.

We quickly called the campground officials to the scene. In no time, an ambulance arrived and Tom Waddle was taken away.

The eight of us returned to the campsite, unable to fully comprehend what had happened. I fell asleep to visions of an interview Tom Waddle once gave after an amazing game where he caught pass after pass over the middle only to take the beating of lifetime. I remember the interview well. Local sports caster Mark Giangrecco had asked Tom a question, but all that Tom Waddle could reply was, “I’m not feeling too good right now.” This was a legitimate response considering he had more than likely been concussed.

The next morning we awoke and gathered in our usual prayer circle. No sooner had we said our amens then one of the campground rangers pulled up. He sauntered over to us, wishing us a good morning.

“We got back some information regarding your Bear attack last night,” he said. “It appears that the strangest set of circumstances developed resulting in your confrontation with him.”

We stood enraptured as we listened to the ranger.

“As I’m sure you boys are aware, the “Kissing Killer” has escaped from a local prison,” explained the ranger. “As it happened, Mr. Tom Waddle was out hiking by himself when he came face to face with the killer. Mr. Waddle explained to us this morning that the killer jumped on him, planting a kiss square on his lips. He said that when the killer released his liplock, he thought he was about to be killed. But instead, the killer said, ‘I’m gonna spare you, buddy. I got some help from a stranger today and I’m gonna go ahead and pay it forward. So consider yourself lucky.’ And with that, the killer planted another wet, sloppy kiss right on the mouth of Tom Waddle.”

Upon hearing this most unbelievable of revelations, the fellas and I all looked at one another.

“Well that doesn’t explain the crazy way Tom Waddle was behaving last night,” said Henry. “Why did he attack Mikey outside the bathrooms?”

“As a matter of fact,” said the ranger, “that’s where the story gets particularly interesting. It seems that after the Kissing Killer bounded away, Tom Waddle laid there for a moment before he could feel the saliva of the Killer still upon his lips, face, and tongue. Reaching quickly for something with which to wipe the offending fluids from his person, Mr. Waddle unknowingly grabbed a handful of poison oak leaves. It seems that he wiped these leaves right over his tongue. The resulting reaction sent Tom Waddle into a demented state of mind. He spent the next several hours wandering around the forest until he happened upon you.”

Needless to say, the group of us was dumbstruck at the story we’d just heard. We thanked the ranger for filling us in on everything and he went on his way.

We spent the next hour packing up all our gear as we prepared to head back into the city. That fateful night that I was attacked by a Bear was never spoken of again, but it’s something that will never be forgotten.

A Short Story

Just Wanted a Drink

It’s not that I didn’t like to be pelted with garbage, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it that day. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’d lost my wallet, I also managed to lose my sanity. A wallet can be replaced. Credit cards can be canceled. A new library card obtained. But sanity? That’s a little tougher to replace.

It started when I walked into that bar after band practice. I guess I didn’t really feel like going home that day, so I stopped at a bar I’d never noticed before. It was called “The Mirage.” Sure, a blatant slap-in-the-face warning that something wasn’t right, but sometimes people just want to ignore the signs. Especially a guy like me, who doesn’t believe in signs unless they tell me which door to go through if I have to piss.

At first everything was normal. I ordered a bourbon. I sat and drank, lit a cigarette and stared at myself in the mirror behind the bar. Why do they put mirrors behind bars anyway? Is it to make the place look bigger? Or is it so that the bar patron who bellies up can stare at themselves in a drunken stupor while they get lost in their own image. Who is that person? What has that person let themselves become? Why does that person keep staring at me? Stop it! Stop staring!

“Sir,” came a voice from above me, “I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to stop yelling at your reflection in the mirror. You’re scaring the regulars.”

I looked around to see that the place was empty.

“Regulars?” I said. “But there’s no one here.”

“See,” said the bartender. “You scared ‘em away.”

“But wait a second,” a shiver passed through me as I spoke. “I wasn’t even talking out loud.”

“You don’t need to speak out loud to disturb our regulars,” the bartender said as he disappeared into a back room.

Being left alone in the bar made me painfully aware of how quiet it was. I stood to play some music in the jukebox. As I took a step away from my stool, I suddenly became aware that I didn’t have my wallet. I had a little over a buck in change in my front pocket, but I didn’t have anything else. How was I going to pay for this drink, let alone play any music?

Damn. I really wanted to hear some music, too.

I stepped back up to the bar.

“’Scuze me,” I yelled out, hoping the bartender would come back. I assume he had gone to stock some beer or something. But I got no response.

My reflection stared back at me from the behind the bar as I thought about what I should do.

“What are you looking at?” I yelled at the reflection.

I downed the rest of my drink and yelled for the bartender again. No answer. I guess I could just leave. I don’t have any money anyway. Now would be my chance to skate without worrying about it.

The problem was, I really wanted another drink.

I hopped down from my stool again, feeling a little lightheaded as I walked to the end of the bar. The door the bartender had disappeared through was closed. I tried to listen for bottles being shuffled, or cases of beer being moved, but I heard nothing.

I went to the door and opened it.

“Can I help you?” said the man standing there. This was not my bartender.

“Um, I was looking for the bartender,” I said.

The room the man was standing in didn’t belong in a bar. It was small in size, but the ceiling had to be fifty feet in the air. The walls were lined with books. Hundreds of volumes of books. Not one of the books had a name on its spine. There was no way of reaching the books higher up on the shelves. No ladders. No nothing.

“Aren’t we all?” said the man. “Can I interest you in a gas station attendant instead?”

“A what?” I was starting to think that someone was fucking with me. “I don’t think so.”

“In that case, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave,” he said. Then he pushed me. I fell backwards through the doorway and landed flat on my ass. As I looked up the door slammed shut, only to open back up immediately. The bartender stepped out carrying a case of beer and two bottles of spiced rum. Stairs behind him led to a basement.

“Everything alright?” he asked as he stared at me laying on the floor at the end of his bar.

“I think I need another drink,” I said.

“Well, I tend to have a policy against serving drinks to patrons who order while on the ground,” he said with a smile. “But I’ll make an exception.”

“I don’t have money,” I blurted out. “Lost my wallet.”

“I know,” was all he said as he filled my glass. “Now sit down and enjoy your drink. I’ve thrown some credits on the jukebox. Why don’t you play a few songs?”

“Thanks,” was all I could manage. How’d he know I didn’t have any money? How’d he know I lost my wallet? And what the hell was in that room?

I lit another cigarette, not sure if I ever even finished my first one. It tasted like the greatest thing ever. I closed my eyes as the subtle burn of the smoke was sucked down my throat and attacked the tissue of my lungs. I exhaled and watched the smoke linger around my head like a cartoon thought bubble.

Pulling myself from my reverie, I sauntered to the jukebox and played a song. All that came out over the speakers, though, was a woman’s voice. “Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve. Soft serve.”

“Soft serve,” I said. What’s going on here? I turned to the bartender, “I think your jukebox is messed up.”

But the bartender wasn’t there. In fact, the whole bar wasn’t there. I stood staring at my reflection in the mirror that was now behind a row of ice-cream machines. Soft-serve ice cream machines. This wasn’t right.

“Sundae?” said a voice behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and stumbled to get away from the voice. In my haste, I tripped over myself and once again, landed on my ass.

“What?” I said. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“I’m Lacy,” she said. “Where I come from isn’t important. What’s important is that you get your sundae. I know how you like hot caramel, strawberries, and Rice Krispies over your ice cream. I’ve got that right here.”

“Actually, I don’t like ice cream at all,” I said.

“LIAR!” screamed the woman. “LIAR!”

And she threw the sundae at me. I closed my eyes waiting for it to hit me square in the face.

Nothing.

I opened my eyes slowly to find myself sitting at the bar. Once again I was looking at myself in the mirror behind the bar. The bartender stood at the other end of the bar, quietly humming as he wiped down some bar glasses.

“I think I’m gonna get going,” I said to him. “Thanks for the drinks.”

“Anytime, partner,” he said to me. “Travel safe.”

“Sorry I can’t pay you,” I said. “I’ll stop in again and make up for it.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” he said without changing his expression. “Travel safe.”

Not sure what to say, I just nodded, turned and walked out the front door. What a day, I thought to myself. My brain seemed to twinge slightly as the bells attached to the front door chimed. The door slammed behind me as I stared at my feet. I took a deep breath, ready to forget about the last two hours of my life when something slapped me upside the head. A rolled up magazine fell between my feet.

As I looked up, I was greeted by a wall of flying tomatoes, banana peels, crumpled up newspapers, empty soda cans, and all other sorts of garbage. It hit me like a barrage of punches. In the face, stomach, legs, back of the head, every part of my body was stinging as I was assaulted.

I realized then that not only was I not in the mood to be pelted with garbage, but I also didn’t like it very much. I didn’t like it very much at all.

Next – A Written Art Piece

In May of 2004 a group of people from my office organized a company wide art show. Being as we’re in the publishing business and surrounded by scores of talented artists and writers, the chance for all these people to display their talents was just a great, logical idea. The theme of the show was “Rebirth.” It consisted mostly of art pieces, but there were a few of us that submitted writing pieces. I think all the writing was poetry, with the exception of mine, which was this:

Next

He’d been waiting in this line for so long, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could take it. He looked at his watch. Yep. Just as he thought, he’d been in line for 32 days. That explained the beard.

Aquarius Burley was a patient man. But his patience was reaching critical mass. Plus, he wasn’t wearing the right shoes for this. Fortunately, the pain in his legs gave way to numbness. He had to glance down occasionally to make sure his lower extremities were, in fact, still there.

At some point during his wait, Aquarius noticed a floor tile with a crack in it that resembled the western border of the state of California. He was sure there was some sort of significance in this, but he’d be damned if he could figure out what it was. He did find it a little disturbing that he had the time to stare at the floor for so long. But what he found even more disturbing was the fact that he’d actually moved backwards, away from the California crack. What kind of line moves backwards, he wondered.

Aquarius felt his head start to swim. His brain began to feel like it had been squeezed into a tupperware container – one meant for a couple cheese slices, or half a hot dog, but not a brain. Aquarius felt himself withering. He was certain he was near the end.

Just in front of him, a fresh-faced woman said, “You don’t mind if I just jump in front of you do you?�? Aquarius had lost the capacity to speak about seven days ago. In his mind he screamed, “Of course I mind, you self serving trollop!�? But his voice was paralyzed.

The only thing Aquarius could do was stare at the ground. He noticed that someone must’ve spilled some water in front of him, as there was a small puddle at his feet. It was only when the person behind him bumped him that Aquarius realized that the waterfall of drool cascading down his chin was the source of the puddle.

Where was that California coastline?

In a last ditch effort to reclaim himself, Aquarius mustered all the energy he could. He tried to flex his atrophied muscles. He tried to remember a time when he was able-bodied. For his effort, all he got was a soft PPFFFTT. Aquarius’s digestive tract betrayed him, and the trollop in front of him began to regret her decision to jump ahead in line.

The only one of Aquarius’s five senses that still seemed to be functioning was his sight. But then again, maybe that was failing as well, as he could not see anyone in front of him. This must be it, he thought. This must be the end. He’d lived a good life, he thought. Then he remembered the time he got his thumb stuck in that revolving door at that one hotel. That hurt. He tried to avoid those things.

The room began to spin before it started to go dark. He could feel himself slumping to the ground. Suddenly, in the darkness he could see a bright light. He wanted to follow it. It looked so peaceful.

Before he could begin his journey into the unknown, Aquarius Burley heard a voice. It was his salvation speaking. That voice became his strength.

“NEXT!�? the voice bellowed.

Aquarius leapt to his feet. His faculties regained.

“Box of Marlboro Mediums, please,�? he said.

And suddenly, all was right with the world.

The Road Less Traveled Is Closed For Repairs

I was rummaging through some old writing folders and came across this. I’m really not sure why I started writing it. Likewise, I have no idea what to do with it. So I thought I’d just post it here. It’s an interesting piece which I’d enjoy reading some reaction to.

If the Road Less Traveled Is Closed For Repairs

It was sad, really, to think about how little had been accomplished in such a long period of time. She had dreams, sure. But everyone had dreams. She had ambition, too, though. Not everyone had that. But what she didn’t have was direction. No, she had none of that. No one told her what her potential was. No one told her how to go about something.

She didn’t think to ask.

It was sad, really, to think about how much she had sacrificed in such a short period of time. How was it possible to have lost so much? How was it possible to have gained so little? She knew that she’d have a challenge in front of her. She knew that in order to succeed, she’d have to try again.

She didn’t hesitate.

It wasn’t really a question of sadness, it was more a question of madness. She’d been on this path for so long, she forgot what her destination was. She hadn’t even seen a map in ages. Her sense of direction, though historically keen, was disabled. Her only hope was her persistence.

She pressed on.

She was glad, really, that she chose this direction. It would lead her somewhere. Of course, she had long passed her original target. But she didn’t care. Hell, she didn’t even know. She just wanted to see what happened next. And it was what happened next that took away all that she’d wanted.

The road ended.

It didn’t matter, really, that this was the end. The journey was complete. She had gained so much along the way that she didn’t honestly think she could take in much more. All that knowledge to comprehend had left her head in a spin. She didn’t want to travel any further.

She felt relief.

Then it happened, then it clicked. She didn’t know that it would be this easy to understand, to see it, to regain all that she thought she’d lost. She never knew what it meant to be lost until she was found. But even that wasn’t enough. She had to be the one to find herself. She was all that mattered. She was the one. She was the only one.

She stood.

A quick spin, a glance to the sky, and a hearty bellow from that spot in the body that everyone forgets about. Everyone except for her. She’s always known it was there, she just needed a reason to dig down and find it. She just needed a reason to look for a new path. She just needed a reason to ask, to not hesitate, to press on, to find a new path. She just needed a reason to stand up. Now, she needed a reason not to continue.

She had no reason.

It was done. Like the smell of a reupholstered easy chair, she permeated the atmosphere with her multi-colored bursts of beauty. How she was able to project these auras was unclear.

One thing was clear.

She had discovered a new path. It was new hope. It was new ideas. It was new scenery. It was all new. And new was good. New was so very good that it almost made her laugh out loud. How would she express what she’s feeling right now to those who would never understand where she had been? That didn’t matter. It wasn’t important to express it to others. All that was important was that she knew where she had been. And all that was important after that came down to one thing.

She would never give up.

A Christmas story sure to warm your hearts.

So with Christmas coming up, I thought that I should tell you the story of my Christmas last year. It was truly a special one. It all began when I went to the mall to get some last minute shopping done. It wasn’t going well, I kept getting distracted by the kids lined up to see Santa Claus.

Okay, so I was more distracted by the knowledge that I was so close to Santa, but couldn’t actually see him. They really do a good job of hiding him back in his little North Pole workshop. There’s not even a window into which an eager guy like myself can focus his peepers to get a little glimpse of the big man. It’s evil, really.

So, I did what I had to do. I waited in line.

C’mon, like I wouldn’t wait in line to meet John Lennon or Loni Anderson if they were letting kids sit in their laps. This might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I mean it was Santa Claus!

So I waited in line. For forty-five minutes I waited. I got into a fight with the kid behind me because he said that Kenny from Southpark could beat up Meatwad from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I told him that he was outta his mind. Meatwad would kill Kenny!

His mom finally had to separate us, which was lucky for him, cause I was about to give him a knuckle sandwich. Fortunately, it was about then that a little elf, who looked like she had to be a 20-year old Phys. Ed major at a local college told me I was next.

“Is that your son?” she asked me as she looked at the kid whose underestimation of Meatwad’s intelligence and braun would surely come back to haunt him one day.

“Him?” I said with a snicker. “Ha, nooo. I’m here alone.”

“You’re here to see Santa by yourself?” she asked as she gave me the once over.

“That’s right,” I said. Then added, “But what time do you get off work? I’d love to take a little elf like you out for a drink after work.”

“Uhm, like, I work until Christmas. I’m an elf and we elves don’t get any days off until Christmas is over,” she said as she smacked on her Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum while looking disinterestedly toward the rest of the line.

“Oh, right,” I responded, “I get it.” And I gave her a little wink.

She lifted her arm gesturing for me to enter Santa’s workshop. I gave her my sultriest look as I walked past the velvet rope she had removed to allow me to pass. Then I turned quickly to the kid behind me and stuck out my tongue as I hurried toward Santa.

“Ho ho ho,” came the voice as I entered. It was him! “And how are we this fine day?”

I entered and closed the door behind me. “I’m fine, Santa. That’s a cute little elf you got out there. Maybe you could put in a good word for me.”

“Um, sure, sure.” Santa said looking past me. “So, do you have a kid with you?”

“Nope,” I said. “Just me.”

“Hmmm. I see,” said Santa. He looked around as if looking for some help.

I stepped toward him and slid myself right into his lap. I tried to sit gingerly, as I’m aware that I’m pushing 200 pounds.

“So what would you like for Christmas?” Santa asked with a voice that would have made you believe I was sitting on his chest and not his lap.

“What, am I crushing you Santa?” I asked.

“Actually, I am about to turn 78 in a month,” he said.

“Don’t you mean more like 478, Santa?” I said smiling. I wasn’t just some kid, I knew Santa had been around forever.

“Right, well, either way, maybe you wouldn’t mind sitting in that chair over there,” he said. “Every now and then Santa likes to have a face to face conversation.”

“Gotcha,” I said. I hopped off his lap and pulled up a chair so that we were sitting across from each other. I crossed my legs and leaned back like I was sitting down to chat with an old friend. It really was amazing just how comfortable ol’ Saint Nick can make a guy feel.

“So, now, what can I do for you?” he asked me.

“Well, you know, I’m not really here to ask for gifts,” I said. “I know your hands are tied in that department. I mean I asked for plenty of stuff when I was younger that you never delivered. Don’t get me wrong, you brought me plenty of good stuff over the years, I understand that every kid can’t get everything he asks for. I’m not bitter about it at all. But the fact of the matter is that I’m just not really here in that capacity.”

“Alrighty then — um, what’s your name?”

“Mike.”

“Alrighty then, Mike, what is it I can do for you today?” he asked me.

“Well, I guess I’d just like to see how you’re doing, really. Is everything alright? I mean this world of ours just keeps growing and growing and growing. How is it that you can keep track of everyone? How is it that you can truly tell who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? I mean I had a girlfriend once who was really naughty, but I didn’t know that until it was too late. I mean I suppose you’ve got magic on your side, she just had crabs. But you see what I’m getting at?”

“No,” he said, staring at me blankly. “I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Let me ask you this, Santa,” I said leaning forward to get closer to him. “What is it that you want for Christmas?”

Santa just sat there staring at me. For a moment I thought he might have died.

“Santa?” I said, just to make sure he hadn’t.

“Yes,” he responded breaking out of his reverie, “I’m sorry. It’s just that no one has ever asked me that before.”

I smiled to him and leaned back to await his response.

“You know what?” he began. “I’d really like a really comfortable pair of boots. I mean these things are killing me. I’d also sort of like to get an iPod or something. Those trips all over the world on Christmas night can really be dull. By the time I’m done, I’ve got the sound of jingling bells in my head until Memorial Day. And I’d really like a nice bottle of good scotch. I mean I’m not talking Dewer’s or something. I’m talking about some 18-year oak barrel aged scotch. Something from Scotland, or Iceland, or Greenland or some place that has a land at the end of it.”

“How about Disneyland?” I asked.

“Oh! Ho! Ho ho ho!” he bellowed as he pointed at me. “That was a good one.”

We laughted heartily together for a moment, then as the moment slowly came to an end, we settled back into our chairs, staring at our legs as we contemplated the delightful exchange we’d just shared.

We sat in silence for a brief moment when the cute little elf stuck her head inside the workshop. “Santa, are you ready for the next little boy?” she asked.

“Um, no, not quite yet,” Santa said. “We’re gonna be a few more minutes.”

As she gave me an odd look and closed the door, I shot her another wink. Then Santa said, “Want some Schnapps?”

“I’m sorry?” was all I could say.

“Peppermint schnapps,” he said. “I always keep a couple bottles in my boots. Make days like this go by so much easier. Plus, it smells like candy canes. No one thinks twice.”

“Sure,” I said.

He reached into both of his boots and pulled out two bottles of Dr. McGillicutty’s peppermint schnapps. He tossed one over to me. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

I thanked him as I caught the bottle. We unscrewed our respective schnapps bottles and took a healthy pull.

“Santa, there’s a question I really need to ask you,” I said.

“Shoot.”

“Do you eat all the treats that kids leave out for you?” I asked.

He smiled, leaned forward to look at me closely, then gave me a look that seemed to inquire as to the seriousness of my question. “Are you nuts?” he said.

I took a swig on the schnapps as I waited for him to continue.

“Do you have any idea how many people would like to knock off ol’ Saint Nick? Father Christmas? Santa Claus? It’s a lot, I can assure you.”

I was stunned. “I suppose I never thought about that,” I said. “But who would want to kill you? All you do is bring joy and happiness throughout the world.”

Santa leaned forward and said with a whisper, “It’s the Jews.”

I almost shot schnapps out of my nose.

“Santa!” I said. “That’s just not fair assumption.”

“Oh, believe me, I’m not assuming,” he said. “In fact, a few years back I caught this one kid sneaking into his neighbor’s house and dropping rat poison all over the cookies they’d left out for me. Turned out he was jealous.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” I said. Having grown up in a predominantly Jewish community, and having a group of friends that include people of all races and religions I found myself offended.

“Please, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Catholics, Christians, Muslims, Buddists, and Pastafarians that’d like to get their hands on me as well,” he explained. “To be honest, it’s the Republicans that I’m most worried about. And besides, I’m actually Jewish. Not many people know that. As it happens, Mrs. Claus is Jewish, I converted. But my PR guy thought it would be best to keep that under wraps.”

“I gotta say, Santa, I’m just really not sure how to take all this information,” I said.

“Well take it for what it is, an old man a little high on schnapps talking with a new friend,” he said with a smile. Then he raised his schnapps bottle as in a toast and took a pull. I followed suit. “It’s a dangerous world out there these days. What with all the political correctness that everyone seems to be so concerned about following. There are some radical thinkers these days that would love to pick me right outta the sky with a hunting rifle. I’ve lost three Blitzens that way.”

“Oh my, that’s horrible,” I said.

“You’re telling me,” Santa said. With that, he laid his finger aside of his nose, then leaned forward and pulled another bottle of schnapps from his boot. He leaned back with a thump and stared absently into space. “Got a light?” he asked.

I hadn’t noticed, but he’d slipped a Winston in between his lips. “Sure,” I said. I hopped up to light his cigarette, taking care not to ignite his beard.

“Well, Santa,” I said as I slipped the lighter back into my pocket, “It’s been great chatting with you.”

“Mike,” he replied, “the pleasure has been mine.” He shook my hand and looked me right in the eye. He flipped me a wink and I turned to leave. As I walked through the door, I heard him launch into a coughing fit. I looked back to see his belly shake like a bowlful of jelly.

I waved good-bye as I exited Santa’s workshop. My face was glowing from a combination of the warm schnapps and the warm conversation. I knew then what my Christmas shopping for the afternoon would consist of, a trip to the shoe store for a new pair of boots, a trip to the Apple store for a fresh iPod, and a trip to Binny’s Liquor Depot to find an expensive bottle of scotch. I also stopped off at the Disney store to buy some Mickey Mouse ears to rest on the scotch. I’m clever that way.

Christmas couldn’t arrive quickly enough. I wrapped up all the packages and set them near the fireplace so he couldn’t miss them. Luckily, I happened to have a dreidel as well, so I left that out also. I could hardly sleep, I was so excited for Santa to get his gifts.

The next morning I sprang from my bed. I ran to the living room to find it full of discarded wrapping paper. Santa had found the gifts and taken them with him. Then I spotted a note.

Dear Mike,
Thanks so much for the wonderful gifts. You’ve truly made my Christmas. I know you said you didn’t want to ask me for anything for Christmas, but you may not have realized that you actually did ask me for something. Below is the phone number of that cute little elf you had your eye on. I put in the good word for you.
Merry Christmas!
~Santa