Category Archives: Short Stories

Goodreads Shenanigans! Giveaway Winners

I just wanted to take a quick minute to say congrats to the winners of the 2013 Goodreads Shenanigans! giveaway (which ended March 4th):

Smily H.
Athina S.
Aaron L.
Carl G.
Eliza B.
Rhonda F.
Chris P.

The press review copies all went out in the mail this morning (one is even headed to Canada).

I know it was a giveaway and just about everyone likes stuff, but I still can’t help being incredibly humbled that 589 people entered the giveaway!

In the end, I hope you all enjoy this short collection!

Shenanigans Goodreads cover

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Reading: “We Always Trust Each Other . . . ”

Me reading my short story “We Always Trust Each Other, Except for When We Don’t,” at The Loft Literary Center around this time last year. The event was put on by Grey Sparrow Press and it was an absolute blast! (Thanks to David S. Atkinson & Shannon Mooney for recording it!!)

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Mr Twitchy: A Story In-Progress

I used to think the world was fucked.  I did.  I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me and me alone to see it unfucked. That’s really what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that.  It’s not a particularly flattering characteristic I have. I’m trying to be more positive.

But I mean like this fucken guy here, right?  This fucken guy’s making it real hard on me.  I’m in the food court at the airport a good 30 minutes before my flight is set to take off and there’s this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathing gizmo. And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet.  Seriously, he’s hovering there, basically lurking, like a real, bonafide creeper, lording over it like it was his own Lolita or something sick like that.   I mean, c’mon, Humbert Humbert, it’s iced-fucken-tea, for Chris’sakes!

I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before, but here is someone, right here in front on me on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. True story. He’s real twitchy bastard, too. And Mr. Twitchy Conniption-Fits and I are about to cross paths.  I just paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself and the iced tea carafe is contiguous—that means butted up to next to, right?—it’s contiguous to the soda fountain.

So in any case, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed right-smack at my personal mug by Mr. Twitchy, the iced tea gizmo whose got a real serious case of trouser ants, I’m guessing, based on all the pacing he’s doing.  I depress the Coke’s soda trigger while I watch him watch me out of my periphery, taking a foamy sip in the mean time.  I’d like to point out that I think it’s just totally irresponsible—regardless of cup ounceage—to fill the whole thing up if the soda water-to-syrup ratio is all snafu’d but, that being said, I’m vouching right here and now, that this airport’s Coke is as refreshing as Coke gets.

I top my 22 oz. cup off and pop one of those opaque plastic lids on it because, even though I’m going to enjoy my Coke and Polish dog—I got myself a Polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention it—right here in the lounge while I wait for my flight, the lid will preserve maximum soda fizziness in between free refills, of which I plan to get at least two and which are also really just the bees knees if you ask me—free refills, I mean.

My polish dog is OK, but it’s sort of dry.  It’s got wrinkly skin like an old man’s—the dog does.  My own sensitive skin is smooth as a baby’s ass in case you got confused about who or what had the old man skin.  But so anyway, a sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with.  A stale bun, though, is just snafu altogether. Unless maybe you are one of those professional hot dog eater guys who soaks the bun in water to choke it down, but that shit’s disgusting.  Seriously, I’d tell ‘em that too.  So yeah, a dry-on-the-outside dog’s still got the potential to’ve retained some of its juiciness at its little Polish core; but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe, entirely—no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever.  Feed ‘em to the pigeons, I say.

So what all this boils down to, the reason I’m telling you all of this, is that I don’t like to take pills on an empty stomach.  Pills on an empty stomach gives me the fucken gurg’.  That’s the point I’ve been trying to get to but Mr. Twitchy’s got me all attention deficit.  I’m not exactly scared of flying—scared of crashing, yes—but scared of flying, no.  I just can’t take all the loud mouthbreathers and annoying tourists talking among themselves too-loudly and babies crying and all that other commotion that makes flying a real pain in the ass and far more stressful than it really needs to be.  I, myself, like to pop a Xanax or two and simply enjoy my flight.

Which is what I was going to do just now, pop two Xanies, but I can’t find the bottle.  I just had it in my hand like ten seconds ago, and now they’re calling for my flight to board. I guess I’d be more worried if I hadn’t just lifted the pills off the girl whose house I stayed at last night and who I probably won’t ever see again. C’est la vie and all that.  I think her name was Nicky-something-or-another…

Anyway, I’m rambling, so let’s flash forward a little, shall we?

While we’re boarding, the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full.  What few people there are, still rush to pack the plane but I’m like, what’s the point?  I dawdle a little, scanning the food court one last time for the bottle of Nicky’s Xanax and end up boarding dead last.  I knew the line rushers would snap up the choicest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but I was pretty sure no one was going to willingly take the rearmost seats, a fact I never really understood, especially on such a thinly-booked flight.  Probably because of all the extra walking.

The back of the plane on a thinly-booked flight is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom.  There’s a far smaller “random-asses-to-toilet-seat” ratio, plus I won’t have to sweat the three refills I got before boarding, just the imminent sugar crash from 66oz. of refined sugars.  So that’s why I dawdle.  I’m in no rush bringing up the rear of the boarding line.

My nostrils pick up the unmistakable scent of Barbasol wafts down the gangway, which really proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning.  But I see that it isn’t necessarily an old man giving off the smell, it’s Mr. Twitchy, who I think looks fantastically overloaded with caffeine and nerves.  The guy’s got a real case of the sweats going on, pit stains spread around his torso from shoulder blade to nipple on both sides. I suddenly feel bad for the poor bastard which makes me feel good because I’m thinking positively about someone else again for a change.

There’s a twenty-something girl in front of me who has been clicking away on her BlackBerry—and snapping her chewing gum, some mango-mint bullshit, which, speaking of lather, gets me all in one—since I first noticed her.  I’m pretty sure that before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday, but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which is pretty par for the course for me, really. I can tell these things just by looking at someone like.

I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend—an observation I kind of want to tell her about—but the fact that the line is moving forward (without her), and the gangway is too narrow to get around the person in front of you in the event they are a dawdler, makes me think I should tell her to pay-the-fuck-attention.  But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the planet’s unfucking, so I just clear my throat irritably instead.

Flash forward some more.

I’m flying to Chicago to listen to this writer guy read from his new book which is you know, kind of long, his book is, in my opinion, but whatever.  He’s supposed to be the next big thing but I’m always skeptical about the next big thing.  Really, flying to Chicago is just an excuse to ditch Nicky, and when I lie to someone, I go all out, even despite my recent attempts at self-improvement.  A buddy of mine texted me last night about this writer guy’s reading tonight, and so last night I was all like, hell no, but this morning, waking up next to Nicky, I was all like fuck yeah.  This was before I stole her pills.  Some habits die hard.  What was her last name anyway…?

Once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the bathroom because, even though I don’t have to worry about taking a piss for fear of an overcrowded lavatory, being at the uncrowded back; it doesn’t mean I don’t have to actually piss. However—and this is something I just really couldn’t believe—the lavatory is already occupied, which means someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the keep-seatbelts-fastened sign, probably the BlackBerry chick—a circumstance that also really burns my personal biscuit.  But when the door finally opens, it’s not the BlackBerry chick but Mr. Twitchy instead.  I have to piss so bad that my eyes are probably turning yellow, so I don’t say anything confrontational.  I’m kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes.  Plus sky marshals are no joke and don’t take kindly to passengers throwing bows if you get me.

Right as I’m about to shut the door, one of the flight attendants asks if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really don’t since I’m terrifyingly allergic and will consequentially puff up like the Michelin Man if I even eat just one.  I ask her for pretzels instead, a request that—oddly similar to Mr. Twitchy back in the airport’s lounge—actually almost sent this person into serious conniptions because now she’d have to notify yet another flight attendant—one who distributes pretzels instead of peanuts, given that she has only peanuts to distribute—that she herself was unable to satisfy my snacking needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally unproductive things to her internal locus of competency. But in fairness to me, all of this was precipitated by circumstances that are completely out of my control.

So after evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that had been left on my seat.  As I munched on the salty, half-stale victuals, I pondered the disappearance of what’s-her-name’s lifted bottle of Xanax and its current potential locations.  I start to get nervous when I consider that some TSA asshole may have picked them up and located their proper owner from the Rx label, where upon she, what’s-her-name?, Nicky, proceeds to inform authorities that they were in fact stolen from her this very morning, and then the whole kit and caboodle gets linked back to me and I have to spend time in a courtroom explaining my actions to a judge, which, I mean, really, thanks but no thanks.

My brief reverie is broken by a commotion halfway up the plane.  Flight attendants were scrambling here and there and the only things I can see are two feet protruding into the aisle.  It’s one of the choice seats in the emergency exit row with extra legroom which, of course, meant that person would not be able to perform the duties in the event of a…

The plane shudders emphatically, violently like a ship hitting an iceberg which causes the cabin lights to flicker.  The captain’s voice tries to come across the PA system but gets cut off when the power flickers again.  Turbulence shakes the fuselage and I’m positive that, had I not just used the facilities, I’d have wet myself right then and there.  A very unbecoming scream escapes my lips but the rest of the passengers are too freaked out to notice.  Windspeeds at takeoff were gusting to 50 mph so I assumed this was going to be a bumpy flight.

To take my mind off the violent shaking—I start making my way up to the center of the plane where the ruckus is occurring.  The seatbelt lights overhead ding repeatedly like someone got the button stuck.  Since it can’t make up its mind, I just figure the system’s gone on the fritz.

Once I make it to the emergency row, I see that the feet belong to none other than Mr. Twitchy.  The flight attendant who’d been doling out peanuts earlier acts as if she’s never seen me before and asks if I know CPR.  In return, I look at her like a deer in the headlights.  The truth is, I know CPR, but Mr. Twitchy has a strange looking foam accumulating around his mouth and I know there’s no way in hell I’m giving him rescue breaths without a breathing barrier—or even with, truth be told.

There are a lot of Jesus Christs! and You gotta be kidding mes! and Fucks! being tossed around in a verbal exchange of disbeliefs.  What I gather from the four flight attendants is that there is not a single medically trained person on the entire flight and this guy, a Mr. Oliver, is in need of something along the lines of a miracle.

Amidst the panic from the downed passenger, the light flicker again, the seatbelt ding goes berserk resulting in an annoying stutterlike effect, the lights blink twice and then nothing, just the most abrupt and unwelcome silence I’ve ever heard… or not heard…

The floor tilts a little forward and we feel like we are dropping.  It’s very clear that the plane has lost all of its power and we are gliding at an unreasonable speed toward the earth.  I scream again, high pitched and shrill, like a teenaged cheerleader, this time eliciting a few Oh my Gods! and a Will someone shut him the fuck up!? which I found somewhat offensive given the current predicament.

Free falling in a dark and unpowered plane is not a pleasurable experience.  I can’t see myself recommending it as something persons might want to put on their bucket lists.  There is an overwhelming sense of doom and panic in the air so thick you can taste it and it’s really fucken salty.

Some of the passengers are crying, others are crossing themselves and saying Hail Marys.  I’m promising no one in particular that I’ll stop stealing women’s anxiety pills and sometimes their underwear, if we can just pull through this alive.  I also begin looking around for Mr. Twitchy because his unconscious body is no longer where the flight attendants left it.  In fact, he is now crammed headfirst under the seat of an overly large man sweating more than seems physically possible.  Impossible sweating.

Some people say that situations like this prompt one’s life to flash before their eyes.  This is not true for me either.  Whoever wrote the book on near death experiences must be a liar or incredibly underqualified to be speaking on the subject.  My first reaction is to imagine the ticker tape on CNN.  It’s going to read Plane falls out of sky in giant ball of flaming death!—I don’t think they use exclamations on professional national news stations but my visions has them for sure—and then I think about how they’ll probably misspell my name later on when they do one of those memorials to those passengers who died.  It’s a small flight so this seems realistic at the time, not to mention we are all plummeting rapidly to a collective certain death.

I also start to think about Mr. Twitchy and to what extent his utter fuckedness is quantifiable in what in all likelihood is our last minutes (not exactly) “on” this planet.  I’m trying to think about what could have been wrong with him before the plane all of a sudden more or less started falling out of the sky.  And then it hits me: his mouth.  It all starts coming together and I get a little pissed because I realize he’d chewed up what was likely the rest of “my” pilfered Xanax.  I’m not sure to what end a person would or could rationalize consuming a half bottle of anxiolytics but that’s precisely what Mr. Twitchy did.  In between adrenalized shots of terror, my anger surfaces because he stole “my” bottle of pills—which I’d already stolen prior, but that isn’t the point; who argues semantics on a crashing plane?—but pills that could certainly help in this situation, especially if crushed up and snorted.  I might literally punch a screaming child in the face right now for just one of those little orange beauties.

But that in and of itself is a forgone conclusion.  I can see a white cap sticking out of Mr. Oliver Twitchy’s front pocket, and if I wasn’t going to give the guy mouth to mouth, I sure as hell wasn’t going to fondle around inside his pocket.  I stop what I’m not doing to think about how lucid I seem given the fact that we are plummeting toward terra firma at an alarming velocity.

‘Winsome Mshindi’

The cold and the ice’ve really stoked a fire in those old bones of his.  He runs with the gait of a racer, front legs straight out—each extension producing a crack like Jack London spitting into the cold—rear legs tucked with nails clawing into the earth to propel him forward.  He looks magnificent.  Stride—crack—stride—crack... Who knows how long his old shoulder will hold out.  But for now, it’s holding out long enough.

Winter is nearly here and we both know it, Winsome Mshindi and I.  His name beholden to a double entendre of irony. A greyhound that never raced; his shoulder injured in training when he was a pup which makes Win-some more like Win-none, or Never-did.  Winsome is not really at all what you’d call winsome, by which I mean, handsome—but he is endearing as all get out.  His ears are too big, twin radar dishes atop his head, as are his feet.  His tail, too long and bushy.  But he’s got two eyes that suggest an orneriness not found in older dogs and Mish—a name he’s really grown into—Mish is thirteen.

Stride—crack—stride—crack... slushy grass and mud fly from his feet, his legs still in possession of a fair amount of power that, even with a bum shoulder and old age working against him, makes Mish faster than most other dogs, young or old, in an all out sprint.  But Mish can’t help his instincts. After all, greyhounds are bred to hunt rabbits.  He rounds the corner of the yard, taking a path around a burning bush in the corner, sees something, and tries to make a cut like a halfback spotting a hole to open field.  Mish—bless his 91 dog-year old heart, makes the cut on that bum shoulder and chestplants into the ground at roughly 25 miles per hour.  Tough as hell, even in excruciating situations, he only yelps when he first hits the ground, probably out of surprise.  When he slides to a stop after skittering across the frosty grass, he’s panting, hard.  He looks up at me with a look like, WhoaDidja see that?  I did see it and the thud he made hitting the ground made my stomach lurch.

Mish isn’t getting up.  It’s like he’s telling me he just needs a minute to collect himself—he’s really just tough as hell.  When I get near him, he pops his head up and kind of hoots a little, a sound like an owl makes, refusing in his toughness to whimper or whine.  However, the hooting sound, I know, he only makes when he’s really hurting.

I feel pretty terrible because I know how he gets jazzed up like this when it’s just me and him, especially with a chill in the air.  Like he’s showing me that he can still do it, that he can still pull his weight alongside his four brothers, and that he’s not so worthless as to require going back to the metal box at the humane society where his previous owner’d left him three winters ago, left him when he was 10 years old and 10 pounds underweight. When I took him in, I made him a promise that only one of us could understand the way men understand things, but I’d promised—in a verbal contract I intended to uphold—that he’d never go back to a metal box again.

The hooting is getting more and more intense and I think he’s telling me we might be at an impasse out here in the cold and the sleet.  Because, as I can clearly see, he isn’t getting up on his own.  The sleet starts coming down harder and it makes everything that’s going on feel that much worse. I realize I have to carry him inside.

When I scoop him up—one arm under his chest, the other under his belly—my right arm immediately goes hot and I can feel that my sleeve is soaked clear through to the skin.  He finally concedes to the pain and whimpers a little, the look he gives me is almost apologetic.  I tell him don’t even think twice about it; kids and old people pee all the time and he’s like a crazy, old mixture of both.

I’m joking aloud with myself because it’s the only thing that stoppers up my tears.

The sleet comes down harder and harder but I think Mish needs a trip to the vet.  I resolve then and there to carry him everywhere he needs to go for the rest of his life if I have to because he’s owed that at least.  You get owed certain things when you are dropped off in a cold metal box in January, neglected and underweight.  The universe owes you comfort and love and a warm place to sleep in your twilight years.

It’s the first sleet of the year so it isn’t sticking to the pavement very well.  I decide I’m going to wait it out and then drive Mish to the vet, so I carry the old man back to my bedroom and lay him on my own bed, mostly because it’ll be easier than picking him up all the way off the floor later.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Mish hates being put on the bed but tonight he’s completely quiet about it.  He even wags his bushy tail a couple times to confirm his approval.

The news says the sleet should let up within the hour which is literal good news.  Mish and I are going to wait it out on the king size bed like it’s a slumber party for two and watch TV until then.  I realize I don’t care what it’ll cost to fix him up or how much pain meds will cost for him because I feel compelled to honor my promise to him, a promise I intend to keep.

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Flying, with a good chance of irritability

(Fiction)

I used to think the world was fucked. I did. I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me to unfuck it. That’s what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that. It’s not a particularly flattering characteristic I have.

Like this fucken guy, here. I’m in the food court at the airport and there’s this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathing gizmo, right? And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet. Seriously hovering, lurking. I mean, it’s iced-fucken-tea!

I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before, but here was someone, right here in front on me on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. He and I are about to cross paths, too. I paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself and the iced tea carafe is contiguous to soda fountain.

In any event, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed directly at me by the twitchy, iced tea guy. I depress the Coke’s soda trigger and take a foamy sip. It’s just totally irresponsible — regardless of ounceage — to fill up the whole cup if the soda-water-to-syrup-ratio is all snafu’d, but this airport’s Coke’s as refreshing as Coke gets.

I top my cup off and pop an opaque plastic lid on because, even though I’m going to enjoy my Coke and hot dog — got me a polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention — right here in the lounge while I wait for my flight, and the lid preserves maximum fizziness in between free refills which is all just really the bees knees.

My hot dog is OK but sort of dry with wrinkly skin like an old dude, the dog itself does.  A sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with.  A stale bun is snafu.  A dry on the outside dog still has the potential to’ve maintained some of its juiciness at its dog-core, but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe — no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever. Feed ‘em to the pigeons.

Flash forward and we’re boarding now and the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full.  People rush to pack the plane, but I’m like, what’s the point?  I dawdle a little and board dead last.  I knew people were going to snap up the cherriest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but no one ever willingly takes the rearmost seats, which I never really understood, especially on a thinly-booked flight.

The back of the plane is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom.  Less random-asses-to-toilet-seat ratio, plus I won’t have to sweat the three refills I got before boarding. So that’s why I dawdle.  No rush in bringing up the rear of the boarding line.

The scent of Barbasol wafts down the gangway, which really proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning.

The girl in front of me has been clicking away on her BlackBerry — and snapping her chewing gum, some mango-mint bullshit which, speaking of lather, gets me all in one — since I first noticed her.  I’m pretty sure that, before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday, but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which is par for the course for me, really.

I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend — an observation I kind of want to tell her about — but the fact that the line is moving forward without her, and the gangway is too narrow to get around whoever’s in front of you, makes me think I should tell her to pay the fuck attention.  But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the unfucking of the world, so I just clear my throat instead.

Once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the bathroom because, even though I didn’t have to worry about taking a piss being at the uncrowded back, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to piss.  However and this is something I just couldn’t really believe — the lavatory was already occupied, which meant someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the keep-seatbelts-fastened sign, a happenstance that also really pisses me off.  But when the door finally opens, I had to piss so bad that my eyes were probably turning yellow, so I didn’t say anything.  I’m kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes.

While I was waiting, one of the flight attendants asked if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really didn’t since I’m terribly allergic and will puff up like the Michelin Man if I eat just one.  I asked her for pretzels instead, which — similar to iced tea guy in the airport’s lounge — actually almost gave this person conniptions — because now she’d have to notify yet another flight attendant, one who distributes pretzels instead of peanuts, that she herself was unable to satisfy my dietary needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally unproductive things to her sense of internal sense of competency, but all of this was precipitated by circumstances that were completely out of my control.

After evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that had been left on my seat.  As I munched on the salty, half-stale victuals, I pondered a scenario that would likely be best pondered with one’s two feet planted firmly on the ground: What if the plane lost all power and began plummeting to earth, but one of the more proactive passengers says to himself, fuck this, and chews up then swallows a whole bottle of Xanax and a whole bottle of sleeping pills, downing them with a couple of those overpriced mini bottles of Jack Daniels they serve on airplanes.  But then instead of crashing, the power comes back online and the pilot rights the whole shebang after a few minutes of freefall with only seconds to spare like in various action movies everyone has seen.  But only now, the previously proactive passenger is full of potent narcotics and is well in excess of the legal intoxication limit, and the kicker is that, on a sparsely-peopled flight such as this one, there isn’t a single medical professional on the flight.  So, like, what does this guy do?  To what degree is this passenger’s complete and utter fuckedness quantifiable?  Fingers down the throat?  I mean, I probably wouldn’t touch him. Personally.  But that’s just me.

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The Corrector: Not Quite A Love Story

(999 words)

I gotta say man, I said, you might seriously be the world’s biggest grammar nazi.

Yeah? he said.

Like, ever.

Why do you say that?

Because you spend hours—I’m betting it’s literally hours—every day, correcting people. That’s why I say that.

But good grammar is an important part of life. It should be. I mean, what would it sound like, in the professional arena, if people couldn’t—and thus didn’t—ever speak properly?

A hell of a lot less irritating than if they always did, I tell you that.

The world needs, I don’t know, grammatical justice.

No, the world needs food, and supplies for starving people.  The world needs an answer to global warming and unchecked CO2 emissions. The world needs to invest resources into renewable energy.  The world does not need grammatical justice, at least not as bad as it needs those other things.

I could do it.

Do what?

I could bring the world some grammatical justice. I could totally do it.

I’m sorry, did we just have a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing just happen?

Yeah, I mean no—listen, check it out.  I could be like a superhero grammarian; I could even be called The Grammar Nazi, only I’d be a good Nazi who, like, strives for equality and justice in English sentences.

I think you just said you wanted people to start calling you the Grammar Nazi in a totally and completely serious sort of way, which, even though I just actually heard you say that, I’m still having trouble believing it, even though I know you did say it and very little time has lapsed in the interim.

So are you being facetious or what?  I think it’s a good idea!

OK, so what then, superhero—what would you do?  What would your super power be? Send grammar offenders off to concentration camps to work on their spelling?

No—

—And so let’s also just put aside the complete insensitivity you’re showing to a historically tyrannized people for right now, and despite the fact that the Grammar Nazi would very clearly be a super villain, not a superhero—the Grammar Nazi is just a plain-ass fucken retarded name, in general.

Now who’s being insensitive?

That’s not even the point.  The point here is the thing that you’re missing.  I’m not suggesting to you that I’d like to become Captain Retardo or something—which would be the insensitivity equivalent of you going by the name, the Grammar Nazi—I’m saying that you can’t just go out and act like an insensitive dickner to a whole group of people like that just because you are on a personal crusade against typos.

What about the First Amendment though?

First Amendment won’t help you much to prevent receiving a good-old-fashioned-passionate-ass whoopin’, now will it?

Hmm—I see your point.

So if you’re serious—and I don’t know how you really could be—but if you’re seriously serious, then the Grammar Nazi is just fucken out. Bye bye! Gone.

…..

…..

OK then, I got it!  How about, “The Corrector!”?

Now we’re dealing with a whole new set of superhero issues.

Such as?

Such as, do you wanna be a fucken B-list fucken superhero?  The Corrector sounds like he’d fucken hang out with Judge Dread or some shitty superhero like that.  Some wack-ass second-rate superhero, like Luke Cage, or fucken Aquaman. I mean, name three people who could really tell you who Judge Dread is.  Name one time Aquaman fought bad guys on fucken Mars. Name one time Luke Cage ever did anything fucken interesting.

Geez—this is turning out to sound like more work than it’s worth.

Hey, look; you can’t back out now that you got me thinking seriously about this.  So what else you got?

White Out.

Gay.

You’re being insensitive.

You’re being a dickner.

Then how ’bout The Deleter.

No. Sounds like a hitman.  A shitty hitman.  Sounds like if Luke Cage became a hitman, and how shitty that would be—that’s what I think of when I hear The Deleter.

Wow, critical much?

C’mon, what else you got?

The Correct-o-nator.

Better, but it sounds like either a badass cybernetic organism, OR an overpriced blender.  On second thought, I’m not feeling that at one all.

I dunno—I’m outta ideas.

That sucks.  That’s a shitty attitude.  That’s like the Luke Cage of attitudes, right there.

C’mon man, I’m trying!

Try harder.

This is me sighing exasperatedly.

This is me not really giving a speck of shit.  C’mon man, you’re the one who wanted to be a super hero grammar-…guy—or whatever. This was your idea in the first place. You can’t just start stuff and then decide you don’t wanna finish it.

Grammarian.

Again, whatever.

OK, I think I got it.

And what you got is—?

Perfecto Correcto!

Hmmm… I don’t hate it.  I mean, I definitely don’t hate it.  It sounds a little fruity, but I definitely don’t hate it.

That’s it then.  Perfecto Correcto, that’s me.

All righty. That’s you. So what are you gonna do now, Perfecto?

I’m gonna go grammarnate the masses, that’s what I’m gonna do now.

Grammarnate?

Yeah, grammarnate the masses. That’s what I’m gonna go do.  Right now.  Starting with the Internet.

Oh boy, here we go again.

What?  Where are we going again.

First thing, the Internet is, like, infinite, not to mention impossible.  And second thing, Grammarnate is a stupid word. Who’s gonna take you seriously if go around talking about grammarnating motherfuckers… OK, you know what, because of that fucken work I hate, we’re nixing Perfecto, too.

Wait, what? But why?

Because now I’ll always associate it with that stupid madeup word that shall not be uttered ever again.

But—

But, nevermind, from now on, you can call yourself The Corrector.

Why The Corrector?

Because it’s situationally accurate, not offensive or insensitive and it doesn’t piss me off.

That’s your only criteria?

That’s about it.

Wow.

Wow, indeed.

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A Most Dangerous and Mysterious Man

This, in some form or another, is going to be my submission for Opium Magazine‘s 7-line
short story contest
.

[UPDATE 9/9/10: Below is the current iteration that I submitted this a.m. for the contest. Cross your collective fingers!.]


A man on his phone at a urinal says, “I’m being chauffeured around today, honey, because I
keep falling asleep at the wheel.” He and I are both relieving ourselves when he says this—both
of us adhering strictly to the unwritten two-men-pissing rule: one empty urinal between us,
eyes forward. But when I overhear his admission of recent—and seemingly chronic—narcoleptic
fits while driving, I cannot help but turn my prying gaze, midstream, toward him. Who is honey?
Should she or he not already know this man is a repeat somnolent driver? I want to ask, but he
absconds before I can adequately shake and zip, leaving me only a wet pantleg to mull over.

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The Black Hole Cometh: A Short Story, 1st [“complete”] draft

(This is draft “1.1” of my newest short story “The Black Hole Cometh.” More revisions will likely follow!)

BUFORDSVILLE RETIREMENT COMMUNITY — aka: The Old Folks’ Home, The Home for Oldies, Old Mold’s Bar and Grille, McMoldy’s, the Stairway to Heaven, The Last Train Stop to Nowhere, The Dead End, Hell, The Black Hole, etc. I’ve heard them all — was located in a part of town no one would (or could) ever mistake for “the best.” This is a simple and inarguable point of fact.  The part of town itself in which BRC called home was seedy and old — the phrase abject disrepair springs to mind when one thinks about both subjects either together or separately.

And being that the old part of town is where the more useless… sorry… mature citizens were expected to “retire” — and I use the term retire loosely — the whole situation would be funny and ironic in a kind of way that something truly ironic is funny, but only then some supreme master of the obvious says something like “no pun intended,” when, in fact, a pun was mostly obviously intended.  The pun itself however constitutes such unimaginably poor levels of quality and creativity that, when uttered, causes standersby to laugh uncomfortably because the situation has taken a turn toward the excruciatingly awkward[1] but that’s a whole other story.

The point of this story is that the Black Hole was basically just a weird fucking place to work at or have anything else to do with in the first place.  The neighborhood, as I said, was one of the oldest in Bufordsville, and it showed.  This area was well known to even those not born and raised in Bufordsville because of the overall poverty, violence and gang activity.  There was a shooting just about every night within a few square mile radius of BRC which pretty much meant we were at ground zero.

A few months back, the BRC’s man with the plan (and check-signing authority), Bob Delaney, hired a young new guy named Gary — who had the unfortunate last name, Indiana — as a geriatric nurse at Bufordsville Retirement Community.  Gary, by the nature of being both male and a nurse — two provisions that only served to double his unfortuity, specifically where he and his general interactions with other members of staff and BRC residents[2] alike were concerned — had a rough go of it from the gun.  He was the only male nurse on staff, and he was also the only member on staff under the age of 58, replacing me as the resident spring chicken (as BRC, like the society at large, was where the medical community sent its aging professionals, in the twilight of their careers, as well).  Consequently, every corner of the facility had a distinct, unmistakable scent of Brylcreem, Old Spice Original and Youth Dew in spades.

Being 28 and fresh out of nursing school, Gary Indiana may as well have been employed at a retirement facility on Mars for all the familiarity he felt at the BRC.

Bufordsville Retirement Community was also home to a sort of local folk hero, though hero is perhaps not the right word —more like, celebrity — a seemingly ordinary housecat of indeterminate breeding named Blackie[3], whose name, while not exactly adhering to all of the diversity and sensitivity sections of the BRC policies and procedures manual[4], was certainly much better and more appropriate (not to mention far more racial- and culturally-sensitive) than the nine-lived celebrity’s first two names: Old Pussy and Mr. Spooks.

No one could really say for sure if it was his half-missing ear or his two disparate-colored eyes that lent him the special abilities that almost everyone’s always attributed to him, and which have also garnered him such notoriety, but without adding too much conjecture to the whole mix, the damned cat seemed able to predict a BRC’s patient’s death with a startling, uncanny level of accuracy that, in truth, kind of freaked more than a few of us out.  I mean, you just knew a resident was warming up to cash in his or her chips if someone on the night staff reported seeing Blackie curled up on that elderly resident’s pillow.

Blackie isn’t the only reported and documented feline allegedly privy to this special, though freaky, ability.  Oscar, a tortoiseshell and white cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Providence, Rhode Island has accurately “predicted” the last days for more than 50 patients.  He spends his time pacing from room to room, rarely spending any time with the patients — he’s kind of an antisocial little fucker — except those with just hours to live.  If Oscar’s somehow kept outside the room of a dying patient, he actually scratches on the damn door trying to get in. I believe I read that in one of the British newspapers Gary’s always leaving around.

And so Blackie isn’t alone in his gifts, but as far as anyone knows, he’s got the highest batting average: 100 percent, so far.  The inter-facility death pool was even shut down[5] since the hairy little bastard’s basically all but eliminated the element of chance and surprise.  When rounds would begin the next morning — as sure as death and taxes — if that cat was fast sleep and purring soundly on the resident’s pillow (and usually it’d be none other than Gary Indiana who’d find them — both the former patient and the sleeping cat — since no one else wanted any part of actual work that early[6] the patient was for sure guaranteed to have kicked the proverbial bedpan sometime during the night.

But people just really loved that cat.  Some of the old birds who had husbands staycationing long-term at BRC — old birds who spent their visiting time crocheting sweaters no one would wear and scarves nobody wanted — would bring knotted balls of yarn for Blackie, even though they only mildly interested him. Some of the more cognitively-questionable patients over in Psych. would “accidentally” turn their dinner trays over after eating only the pureed carrots — god only knows how anyone, even people who spend the vast majority of their day drooling all over themselves comatosely, can eat that mush, but they did.  And then Blackie would get several helpings of tuna casserole (tuna that was actually made with the less appetizing parts of a chicken) and mashed potatoes, or whatever side dish the residents were being served.

Why an animal that was seemingly the physical incarnation of the death’s own harbinger had remained so popular was anybody’s guess.  Aside from the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Blackie was pretty adorable with his crazy two-toned eyes and 1.5 ears, not to mention the fact that he was somehow almost completely hypoallergenic to all residents and staff, which of course really endeared him to those residents and staff who’d always loved animals but, due to a myriad of allergy-related problems, had never had any of their own since they loved the act of normal, uninhibited respiration even more.

So as I’ve said, Gary Indiana would be the one who’d find the dead BRC resident and the sleeping cat and, typically, he would also be the one who’d deliver the bad news to the deceased’s families over the phone because — I mean, really — who wants to deliver that kind of news before a person’s even had their morning cup of coffee?

To clarify, it wasn’t exactly that Gary, himself, was disliked by all of us around Bufordsville Retirement Community; we’d never say that about him.  He was just more or less addressed in a way that bore a resemblance to that of Patrick Swayze’s character in that movie, Ghost — as if Gary’d somehow found it extremely difficult to physically exist in the world like the rest of us did, trying without much success to interact with people and their surroundings.

The majority of the BRC staff, we just paid Gary as little attention as possible without too obviously coming off, ourselves, like a bunch of old washed- and used- up assholes trying to make his life as unpleasant as possible while he worked there.  I mean, that was, in fact, what we were doing — we just didn’t want it to seem so… obvious — hence our favoring of more stealth-like tactics we ultimately implemented under the guise of simply ignoring him.

Things didn’t get any less weird at BRC once Blackie started following Gary around every-goddamn-where he went, either.

During rounds, Blackie would trot alongside Gary.  When Gary went to the break room for coffee, Blackie went right with him.  Vending machines? Same deal.  Gary couldn’t hardly take a piss without that cat on his heels, lickety-split.

We started joking around that Blackie was trying to tell Gary something which, as you can probably imagine, Gary didn’t find nearly as amusing.  We didn’t think Gary found much amusing, actually.  The guy was weird even for the BRC.

And what else was weird was that the old people stopped dying around the place once the cat started following Gary.  It’s like death had given up his attention on everyone else and focused it on the young nurse named after the birthplace of the King of Pop.

No one was dying and Gary’s actions began getting stranger and stranger.  He stopped taking breaks, so we couldn’t rib him as we usually did.  He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks and he even started to smell a little funny, which, in a retirement community like the old BRC, was really saying something.

Someone even said one day they heard Gary in one of the bathroom stalls mumbling nonsensically to himself, Blackie was sitting just outside the stall door flicking his tail this way and that, purring.  Gary was saying stuff like, “how does it know where I live?” and “Oh god, I think I’m rotting…  It’s actually making me rot.”  Gary said a few more things but my colleague didn’t stick around to listen, preferring instead to “hold it,” as he put it, for six more hours until his shift was over and he could go home.  He said that smell we’ve been associating with Gary was even more unbearable in there where proper ventilation was almost nonexistent, too.

And by “it,” we all assumed Gary meant the cat, in reference to making him rot, but the fact that it knew where Gary lived and the effect that particular circumstance had on him just cracked our shit up.  Though, with respect to the overpowering smell, he very well may have been rotting — we weren’t sure — but that aspect was decidedly less funny.

What was also decidedly less funny was when we arrived at work the next morning after the bathroom incident to a squad of police cars parked in front of the main entrance doors.  Some shit of an indubitably serious nature had obviously gone down over night and we weren’t sure we wanted to be a part of it — we were all getting too old for this kind of thing.  The police were just going to tell us things or ask us questions that would ultimately require us doubling up the milligrams of our ACE inhibitors for a while.

When we walked in, our co-workers’ faces told us everything we needed to know.  Dying had once again commenced at The Black Hole.  The police presence only gave the sullen atmosphere a dark and ominous overtone.

Camera flashes were going off capriciously and police tape cordoned off the men’s restroom.  No one was talking; their shoes, all at once, had become the most interesting two things in the universe to them.

Three of us who catch the 22 bus from downtown together every morning shuffled a little bit closer to the action.  Big Bob Delaney, sat on a bench just outside the breakroom adjacent to the bathrooms with his face in his oversized hands, rocking his head back and forth, the pigment across his balding crown all splotchy, as he was taking whatever terrible news he’d received rather terribly.

We asked the officers standing closest to the yellow tape what happened and they gave us a one word reply as stark and affectless as if this was the type of thing they witnessed on a daily basis: Suicide.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out who it was in there beyond the tape, but before we could verbally hypothesize among one another, we heard Bob Delaney behind us say: Gary… before his voice broke up and he reverted into a sobbing mess again.

The other part didn’t come out until later when the papers got wind of the story.  There were two bodies found dead in the men’s restroom that morning: that of both a 28-year-old male and a charcoal gray cat of an unknown age.

Now, I’m no animal lover, but what Gary did to Blackie was just sick and — pardon my French here — but it was just real fucked up, too.

Police determined the color of the cat by the removed and discarded pelt they found balled up in the trash can — Gary’d actually skinned him!  We were sure of one thing at that point and that was that Gary’d completely lost his fucking marbles.  The cat finally drove him over the edge we figured.  All over the walls and the mirror, Gary’d written Follow me now! Follow me now! in what was later confirmed by a team of crime scene investigators as feline blood, and when we heard that part, we all agreed we could almost hear Gary screaming those words at the top of his lungs.

I don’t think any of us realized the kind of lunatic we’d been working with for those several months.  No one could’ve foreseen what happened.  We all agreed that it was probably best not to tell the investigators that a few of us had the bright idea of hilariously transporting Blackie to and from Gary’s house once we realized the cat seemed to really like him.  We just thought it’d be funny.  That’s what we get for thinking, I guess.

But the story’s weirdness doesn’t stop there.  No sir.  There was a note — there always is, isn’t there?  We didn’t hear about this part until we read it later in the papers, either.

The note was actually, first and foremost, a sort of confessional.  Gary had a guilty conscience he’d wanted to relieve himself of.  And some say this is the saddest part: Blackie didn’t really have any special abilities, or at least any extra special abilities, so to speak.  Though, in my opinion, that’s not the saddest part.

Once Blackie had — what we realize now — accidentally predicted a few deaths, people started talking and getting excited about being a part of the BRC.  Staff members joked with residents, residents liked Blackie.  And hey, if they were in fairly good health, why worry about the cat?  He only predicted the sickest resident’s death, ones who died in their sleep, natural causes, respiratory failure.

But we were in for a shocker when we read what was in Gary’s note: he’d actually killed the majority of the residents Blackie’d predicted.  No one else got to work before Gary.  The night staff was lean and Gary always seemed pretty affable to them.  But the residents who were sick, who were in the last stages of their lives, anyway; Gary was sneaking into their rooms when the BRC was quietest and smothering them with their pillows!  Their bodies were just too weak and frail to fight him off.

He’d then locked Blackie in the room with the deceased and an hour or two later during morning rounds, he’d “discover” the scene as if he’d had nothing to do with it earlier.  He confessed all this in his note.

However, when the cat started showing up everywhere Gary went — which, as we later found out, basically consisted of the BRC and his house — he just started to lose it, bit by bit.  He thought the cat wasn’t actually the physical embodiment of death, but of karma.

Paranoia began seizing hold of Gary and, as a consequence, he began not sleeping, not bathing — thus the source of the odiferous odor that followed him everywhere.  He also began eating only very little.  At the end of his rope, he finally decided he had to get to the cat before the cat got him.

And he did.

Oh boy, did he! What a mess.

After the cat skinning and bloody painting exhibit, investigators said they believe Gary’d more or less panicked and plunged the knife into his own throat, which he immediately realized was a terrible idea by the wounds it left in him as he tried to remove it.

The whole scene was just grisly and I’m not sorry I didn’t see it firsthand.

So that probably brings us up to speed, I suppose.  Suffice it to say, that was the last day for a majority of BRC employees.  There was just no way any of us were sticking around after that.  We couldn’t be sure who we were really working with anymore, and when you can count the number of years you have left on your own two hands and feet, sometimes early retirement seems like the best course of action in the end.

Most of us didn’t work for the money, didn’t necessarily need it.  We worked for the camaraderie.  It beat greeting people at Wal-Mart.  But one thing for sure is you can’t have any kind of real professional, camaraderie once you’ve worked with someone who turned out to be a knife-wielding, elderly-suffocating loony toon.

Some of the others put in their two weeks, but not me.  I simply said to hell with it.  I needed all the time I could get to process how we all played a part in this event and never fessed up to it.

But like my dad — may he rest in peace — always used to say: a guilty conscience beats a prison sentence seven-out-of-seven days a week.


[1] Bad puns are, as a matter of fact, equitable in many respects to passing wind in a stuffy and crowded elevator and will under no circumstances whatsoever make you more popular.

[2] Or just people in general.

[3] Who also was really more of a charcoal-gray hue than black.

[4] Which, all BRC employees were given a 75 question True/False quiz over before commencing employment.

[5] Which had, at one point, been a seriously profitable on-the-side enterprise for me.

[6] And in hindsight, one of the reasons we all probably kind of resented Gary.

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