Friday, October 28, 2011

Our Past Future

I need your help. I really, really need your help.

I'm working on a project that involves creating some objects representative of the future that we thought we'd be living now, when seen through the eyes of 1930-1960's society. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, because I want to keep it slightly secret agent, but I need some assistance getting started and this is where you can help.

The first thing I need... Drills. Old electric drills. A lot of them. They don't have to work. What I had in mind were these:




I also need old vacuum tubes.

If you see something like this in your basement and you want to get rid of it, or you're out someplace like an antique store, yard sale or flea market, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! You'll be a part of making a cool art project.

email me at bugman82773atgmail.com or text me at 413.271.4041 and let me know what you have or where you saw it. I will greatly appreciate it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Work Stories

This week Rachel gave us a prompt to write eight stories, each comprised of only fifty words. 

I haven't really felt like writing. As easy as all of the other assignments have been, this one was difficult. It wasn't a difficult assignment, but the act of sitting down and writing was hard. There's so much going on right now and none of it seems like it's turning out right. Trying to be creative under these circumstances is nearly impossible. I don't play the tortured artist well.

So if writing is going to be work, I decided to make them all about work. Some are real... some are fiction... some are a mix. All I know is that I want to fling my macbook into the river right now so I'm not reminded of things.

I'm tired. I'm glad I don't write about my personal life in my blog any more. My life doesn't need any more editing.

Work Stories

Tim pulled on the gorilla suit and mask in the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror through the eye holes and wondered how much longer the “Going Out of Business Sale” would continue. Feeling his hot breath reflected at him, he picked up his sign and went to work.

A lady came up to the front desk and told me her friend hurt her finger in a deck chair at the pool. She had her hand wrapped in a towel and when she unwrapped it, the tip of her index finger was snapped off at the first knuckle.

Everything Ted touched turned to shit. We asked him to help unload the bronze sculpture from the truck. When we placed it, the pedestal collapsed like a house of cards. The rest of us just looked at one another and knew we could only blame ourselves for bringing him along.

The sun beat down on me and I picked up the sports bottle and took a large swallow. The Seagram’s Seven and Seven was the only thing that made calling BINGO on the pool deck tolerable. Their vacations to the beach were my misery, but they never discovered my secret.

There is a certain look to back roads in the south, where asphalt fades to a unique light grey. By day you count remains of the previous night’s armadillo casualties and note the occasional snake or gopher turtle. Once he’d even seen an alligator belly up in the hot sun.

“You’ve got a long row to hoe.” doesn’t make sense to anyone that has never had to do it. He gripped the rough wooden handle, conscious of the blisters forming at the crook of his thumb. From this vantage, bent over at the waist, the foreshortened rows stretched on forever.

Mornings before work he’d go for a swim. He wasn’t a strong swimmer, but he’d continue through the waves until they became slow swells and he couldn’t make out people on the beach. And on some mornings, it was all he could do not to swim to the rising sun.

Dad chopped that tree all day. It was a huge sweetgum, with big branches that liked to snap off in a windstorm. He cut it with an axe, as though a chainsaw was an insult to either him or the tree. With a final squeal of protest, it crashed down.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy _ _th Birthday, Mom!


Best mom EVAR!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Welpa

The prompt for this week was a little unusual. Rachel gave us a choice of two options. The first was to use the same word in each sentence of the exercise. The second was to make up a word and write about it, but never overtly define it.

I took a while to decide which direction I wanted to go. I was leaning toward the first option, but the idea of making up a word fascinated me. I read an article about the unit of measurement called the smoot today, and that made the decision for me. It seems that one Oliver R. Smoot, while performing a fraternity pledge prank at MIT in 1958, used the length of his prone body as a measuring stick. He and his fellow pledges proceeded to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge by picking him up and laying him down across the entire span. Each smoot was duly marked on the bridge. The marks are repainted to this day by MIT students. Incidentally, the smoot is 5'7" or 1.7018 meters and the bridge measures 364.4 smoots. MIT grads are wont to utilize the smoot anywhere they can and the smoot is a unit of measurement for both Google Calculator and Google Earth.

With the smoot as my guide, I decided to invent a word. I thought about making up a unit of length or time, but neither seemed to work for me. Then I recalled something that Superbomba Lucy Diamond-Philips posted on Facebook one time. It was just two words, but brought back all sorts of memories and the kind of universal good feeling that I ascribe to very few things in this world.

So I had the definition, just not the word. I wrote the entire piece out, but struggled for a while on the word. I translated the English into several languages, looking for words that looked authentic. I finally found something that I modified a bit and it sounded... real... to me. It had the soft, round, earthy sound that I was looking for. I had welpa, a word to describe something everyone knows, something that is fleeting, but unmistakable, something that stays with you your entire life.

Welpa

    “Some people can’t stand it, you know,” Stacey said. “Welpa. Some people hate it.”

    “Nobody I know,” he said. “It reminds me of the beginning of things.”

    “I hate welpa.”

    Ben stared at her for a moment. “You don’t like welpa?” he asked.

    There were things about her that he would never understand. In all the time that he’d known her, she’d never once shown any sense of nostalgia... any evidence that she’d ever lost something or someone she’d cared for.

    “It’s filthy and gross. It makes me want to vomit,” she said.

    It was plain to see that she was telling the truth. She did hate welpa. This wasn’t just her being contrary or trying to pick a fight. She did that at times. It was usually late at night when he was too tired to think. They would go around and around, Stacey growing more angry and Ben losing steam, but knowing that he couldn’t actually sleep until the disagreement had been resolved.

    Stacey sat back on the bench and folded her arms over her chest. Ben sat quietly beside her, unsure of what to say.

    They’d had this dog, Angie, when Ben was a kid. She’d been named after the Rolling Stones song, which was strange, because he never recalled his parents actually listening to the Stones. Angie got pregnant by some dog roaming the neighborhood and had three puppies. The first two were stillborn, but the third came out healthy. Angie nursed that pup and he grew fat.

On Sunday afternoon, Ben cleaned the box in the corner of the porch where Angie kept the yet unnamed pup. He ripped up the week’s newspapers into long strips and used them for bedding. He removed the puppy and lifted him up to his face. Its tongue curled in the shape of a “U” that seemed more natural than anything he’d ever seen. His eyes, just starting to crack open, were blue like the ocean and the ears were just flaps and wrinkles. The welpa enveloped him. He set the pup in a small cardboard box and removed the old newspaper, smeared with puppy poop, and put it in a big plastic garbage bag. He then wiped the floor of the box with a soapy rag and let it dry, before putting the newspaper and puppy back inside.

    Sunday night he came back and found Angie curled up with her legs hanging out of the box and the pup dead on the floor. She had eaten the top of his head, leaving intact the lower jaw and the tongue... the tongue that had been a perfect U, but was now flat.

    Sitting there beside Stacey, he recalled the welpa and the smell of the newspaper and the soap. And he remembered the way Angie jumped up and wagged her tail when she saw him, having already forgotten her pup.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Daytime Television

This week's assignment was to write something from the perspective of someone we know. I thought about writing it from the perspective of one of my kids or my dad, but that just seemed like it would end up a little too self analytical. So I finally chose to fictionalize a family based on a real family that my dad used to see on house calls. As a kid, I used to go with him to this house, set in the middle of an auto salvage. It was one of the more bizarre experiences of my childhood... and that's saying a lot.

Daytime Television


“Carl!” she yelled. “Carl, come here!”

The sullen faced boy appeared in the doorway. “What?”

“Get me a Coke,” she demanded.

Carl turned and went into the kitchen. From where Carlene sat in the living room she could hear the fridge door open and cans rattle as one was removed from the plastic six pack holder. The door to the cabinet where the glasses were kept squealed open.

“Shut the goddamned fridge!” she said, and was rewarded with a ‘thud’ from the other room.

Carl returned from the kitchen with a glass of Coke in his hands. He stepped over his brother, Scott, who lay contorted on the floor, drooling. “Here, Ma,” he said, handing her the drink. Carlene sat in a flowered armchair beside a table covered in half empty glasses and an ashtray crammed with cigarette butts. She took a final drag on her cigarette and crushed it out in the ashtray, dislodging some of the butts already there.

“Pick that shit up,” she said to Carl, pointing to the butts on the floor. “And wipe your brother’s face.”

Scott had rubbed his face into the carpet where there was a pile of cat litter and it stuck to the saliva on his cheek. He hadn’t been right since he was born. Scott had muscular dystrophy and his hands were curled up on his forearms and back was shaped like a question mark. He was skin and bones.

Carlene turned back toward the dead console television with the smaller television on top. Rod Roddy was telling Elaine Norwood to COME ON DOWN! and a skinny bitch from Pasadena came tearing down the aisle. Bob Barker looked pleased with himself.

Carlene drank from the glass as Carl ran through the front door. She looked out the window into the yard, such as it was. The house was surrounded by junked cars, some stacked as high as the second story windows. A path led from the front of the house to the back of the salvage yard office made of old car radiators set into the sand. Everything in the house smelled of old, burned oil and grease.

Carl was halfway to the office when she shouted, “I want you back here by five o’clock!” He waved to her before disappearing through the back door of Martin’s Auto Salvage. She looked down at Scott and saw the cat litter still clung to his cheek and his tongue lolled from his mouth. She made a half-hearted attempt to get up, but realized she had nothing to wipe the boy’s face with and settled her considerable weight back into the chair.

“$2,301,” Elaine from Pasadena said to Bob. The Marine wearing his dress blues beside her had just bid $2300 and looked like he wanted to shove a bayonet into Elaine’s neck.

In the enormous, filthy fish tank on the wall adjacent to the televisions, one of the huge oscars emerged from the murk to place one eye against the glass. It looked at the boy on the floor, then to Bob Barker and then finally settled on Carlene, who was lighting up another cigarette. His gills pumped a couple of times and then with a wave of his fins, he settled back into the gloom of the tank.

Scott squalled a bit and she looked down at him on the floor. With her foot, she slid a bowl of dry Captain Crunch over in front of him. Scott immediately began pinching bits of cereal between his two hands and up to a mouth filled with crooked teeth.

Carlene turned her attention back to The Price is Right and saw that fool, Holly,  trying to close the door on a dishwasher. It kept falling open.

“When are you gonna fire that girl?” she asked Bob. Carlene was convinced that Holly was just trying to get attention ever since the time her nipple poked out of her dress back in 1981. Bob paid no attention to Carlene and kept on going with the showcase showdown. Elaine was bidding on a brand new kitchen and appliances from Whirlpool and a Hoover vacuum.

“$4570,” she told Bob.

“$5100,” said Carlene.

Scott grunted and spit out bits of Captain Crunch, disgusted with Elaine’s poor estimate of the value of the showcase.

Carl hollered outside as he cut his leg on the rusty fender of a Karmann Ghia.

Elaine jumped up and down on the television because, despite the fact that she was not as good as Carlene in guessing that the actual value of the showcase was $5213, she was better than the Marine in his dress blues who had overbid.

And one of the fish, the female this time, appeared. She pressed against the glass and looked out the window at the junked cars and then at Bob and Elaine. She then stared at Carlene for a bit before she finally settled on Scott, who had given up on using his hands and now ate from the bowl like a dog, but kept his horsey-eyed gaze on the television. A single bubble emerged from her mouth. Then she swam back into the darkness, and remembered when she was just a small fish, and lived in the Amazon.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Female Marines in Afghanistan

Via Pictures: A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

As much as I hate the thought of our military being used in "the war on terror", I can't help but hope that an image such as this one make some of the oppressed women in these countries wake up. Seeing a woman not only as an individual, not just chattel that passes from her father to her husband, not someone to be covered up because of male shame, not someone subject to the backward, superstitious nonsense of a misogynistic religion,  but a human being that will carry a rifle and will fight to keep from being any of those things.

Maybe one day there will be an "Arab Spring" of sorts for women and they will stand up and refuse to be treated like this any more.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Jack... in progress.

I'm of two minds posting this piece. It's my workshop piece and rough, but I think the process is just as important and interesting to see. It's an idea that's been running around in my head for a couple of months, but I haven't been able to get it on paper until now. I decided the class was the best place to work on it, as it isn't the kind of writing I normally do. It needs to be fleshed out a bit, but I'm getting down the bones here.

Jack

    The vidscreen pinged and Will slid across the desk to face it. He touched a button on the screen to activate the transmission and a face appeared. It was like looking at a younger version of himself in the mirror.

    “Hi,” he said, “You’re going to be a little disoriented for a while. Don’t worry, it will pass. My name is Will.”

    The face on the screen looked puzzled. “Where am I?” he asked.

    “You’re in a hospital, of sorts.”

    Will had known all along how hard this would be. That’s why they selected a relative to be a part of the awakening process. The ideal match was the grandfather-grandson pairing. What a family member might lack in the psychology department, they made up for with the ability to assist the patient with their sense of identity.

    “Was I in an accident? I can’t remember anything. I can’t even remember my name. It’s on the tip of my tongue.”

    “It’s John, but everyone called... calls you Jack,” replied Will.

    “Jack... yeah. I don’t remember the accident. Was I hurt badly?”

    “It was pretty bad, yes. You were in a hospital for a while,” said Will.

    Jack’s eyes dropped and he looked at his body. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He examined his body for evidence of injury. “I don’t seem hurt.”

    “They fixed you up as best they could.”

    “I feel fine now,” said Jack. “Am I allowed to have visitors?”

    “For now, they want you to remain isolated and keep communication just between us,” replied Will.

    It was then that Jack noticed Will’s eyes. There was a golden ring where the iris would normally be. He started to speak and then halted.

    “My eyes?” asked Will.

    “Yes. I’m sorry. I’ve just never seen anything like them.”

    Will leaned closer to the vidscreen and the golden irises contracted. “It’s early 21st century technology. I had them done when I was about eighteen. They grow them in the lab now. Too much of a hassle to have them replaced now with bioprosthetics. I’ve gotten used to them.
    “Bioprosthetics?” asked Jack.

    “Prosthetics made from human stem cells. It took a long time for the ethical considerations to be worked out. They debated it for years in Congress until it became less of a moral issue,” explained Will.

    Jack paused for a moment. “Did they use bioprosthetics on me?”

    “No. You were a... special case,” said Will.

    “Tell me about the accident.”

    Will knew that this moment was why he had been chosen to do the awakening. He was to deliver the news that could only come from family. “It was a car accident. You were driving home for Christmas and a car lost control going the opposite direction on the interstate. It crossed the median and hit your car.”

    “I remember,” said Jack. “I remember hearing somebody crying. Were there other people in the car?

    Will looked at Jack’s face in the vidscreen, struggling to remember. “Your wife and boy, David were in the car.”

    “Are they ok?” asked Jack, growing frustrated.

    “David was in the car seat and didn’t get hurt. Your wife...” Will swallowed hard. “Your wife, Ann... she didn’t survive.”

    Jack remembered Ann. He recalled her voice, but not what she looked like. “Why the hell can’t I remember?” he yelled at the screen.

    “Like I said, it was a bad accident. You’ll remember more in time,” said Will.

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Jack rose from his bed to answer it. He’d still had no visitors. Two meals had been delivered by the small hatch in the wall. He’d taken a wholly unsatisfying shit on what he’d hoped was the toilet. There was no water in the bowl, but there was a button that, when depressed, eliminated his waste with a suction sound like an airplane lavatory. The vidscreen pinged again and he touched the button to answer.  He saw Will’s face, his mouth smiling, but forehead creased with concern. Since their first conversation, he’d begun to recall bits and pieces of his life.

    “Why can’t I see my parents? Why are you the only person I’m allowed to talk to?” asked Jack.

    “Jack, there’s a lot you don’t know... a lot I need to explain to you,” said Will.

    “So start explaining,” demanded Jack.

    “After your accident, something happened. A lot of people died. Most people died.”

    “What do you mean, ‘most’?” asked Jack. “Was there some kind of nuclear thing? Terrorists? No, wait... let me guess. A meteor?”

    “No, Jack. No terrorists... no dirty bombs or meteors. It was germs. And not even bioterroism. It was plain old germs. It boiled down to overuse of antibiotics. There was a superstrain of bacteria that was resistant to antibiotics. There wasn’t much to do but watch people die.”

    “My parents? What about David?” asked Jack.

    “Your father survived and so did David. Your mother wasn’t so lucky.”

    “And you... You survived,” said Jack.

    “Yes. I survived. It affected my heart at the time. They replaced my heart with a continuous flow artificial unit. I don’t have a heartbeat. It was experimental then, but given the circumstances, many people got them. There were unbelievable advances in mechanical and electronic prosthetics. I ended up with an artificial pancreas, cochlear implants, a plastic colon, and replacement knees and hips as well as the eyes. Even my hair isn’t real. There are times when I wonder how much of me is really me.”

    “And I lived,” said Jack.

    “Yes,” said Will. “You did. You were in a coma when it happened.”

    “How do you know so much about me? Are you family?” asked Jack.

    “Yes, I am,” he said. “David was my father.”

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Will pressed the button. He had attempted communicating with Jack for two days, but Jack had refused to answer. They had monitored him and noted that he’d not eaten or even risen from his bed.

    Jack had dark rings under his eyes. “There are no mirrors in here,” he said.

    Will knew that the contradictions were starting to pile up in Jack’s mind. It was at this point that there was no script and he was unsure of how to proceed.
    “Why are there no mirrors? And how can I be your grandfather?”

    “Jack... I told you that you were in a coma for a long time, right?” said Will.

    “That doesn’t explain this. I can’t see my face, but I can sure as hell see my body. It isn’t the body of a grandfather. And it certainly isn’t the body of someone who is the grandfather of someone old enough to be someone’s grandfather.” Jack exclaimed.

    “Jack... coma wasn’t exactly the right word. You were in, what they called at the time, a vegetative state. You didn’t respond to stimulus and they were unable to record brain function. But you were special. You weren’t affected by the bacteria. And that made you very valuable scientifically,” said Will.

    “So they experimented on me?”

    “Yes... and no,” replied Will.

    “Well, did they or didn’t they?”

    “Do you remember how I said that there was a debate that lasted for years in Congress? It was finally solved by you, or rather, your case. When the bacteria began killing people, they decided to move those deemed “expendable” out of the hospitals. It was the early stages of the epidemic and they assumed that you would just die anyway. But before they could move you out, the bacteria swept through the hospital and you survived. They didn’t know why, but you did, so they took you to a research facility in Boston to study you.’

    “That still doesn’t explain things,” said Jack.

    “They discovered that you had a genetic mutation that had allowed you to survive. But the problem was, in order to isolate the mutation and be able to synthesize it... you might not survive the process. It went all the way to the Supreme Court until finally, a resolution was found. They digitized you.”

    “What do you mean, they digitized me? How is that possible?” asked Jack.

    “It wasn’t, or rather, they weren’t sure until they tried,” replied Will. The morality of utilizing someone who was in a vegetative state, that legally could be taken off life support and allowed to die, was a question that was only answered by making an electronic copy of your brain and storing it on a computer. David refused to let them use your body, so it became a matter of national security and they essentially commandeered your body for science. But you were saved here. They reconciled their decision to terminate your biological body by making an artificial intelligence proxy of you. You could live on.”

    Will turned off the vidscreen and went back to bed.
* * *

    Over the next few days, Jack refused to eat or answer the vidscreen. The first day, he flung the food against the wall. The second, he let it remain in the wall hatch. He didn’t really need to eat, nor was the food real. But the act of eating was part of the illusion. It was required to maintain that illusion. Everything, the room, the food, the airplane lavatory toilet, even Jack, were electrons flitting around in a server somewhere.

    Will watched on, dismayed.

    “Again?” asked the doctor?

    “Yes, although he came a lot farther this time.”

    “Give it another day,” said the doctor. “If he doesn’t respond or eat...”

    “I know,” said Will. “I know.”

    Jack stayed in bed. Will watched over the next day as his grandfather became hazy around the edges, like a dead fish that has been left in a fishtank. He wondered what his father would think of this. If, given this knowledge, he would rather have just let them strip mine him for his DNA and leave a shell behind. A shell certainly, but one that could be buried and returned to the earth. Will pulled up the other vidscreen. He called up the program “Jack in the Box” and hit a few keys.

Cancel       Restart       Delete

    He tapped the screen and it went dark. His golden irises opened wide and his heart continued it’s steady hum. And somewhere in the large server, the electrons rearranged themselves.

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Will slid across the desk to face it. He touched a button on the screen to activate the transmission and a face appeared. It was like looking at a younger version of himself in the mirror.

    “Hi,” he said, “You’re going to be a little disoriented for a while. Don’t worry, it will pass. My name is Will.”
   

The Turn

Last week's class went well. It's a good mix of people and everybody seems to have a fair amount of talent and education. I didn't make an ass of myself, either... at least as far as I can tell. I read my assignment and everybody laughed in the right places and not at me. Success!

In class we reviewed a piece by Robert Coover in a recent issue of the New Yorker that was a pretty challenging piece to follow. It was definitely nothing close to a linear narrative... it felt kind of like being between two mirrors facing each other and seeing yourself reflected to infinity, except every third reflection was a stranger.

This week's assignment was even more difficult than last. Rachel gave us the task of writing something that, at some point, turns. There is a flashback, tangent... something... that leads us away from the main narrative, and then comes back again. Or at least, that's how I interpreted her direction. And this was supposed to be in one page, which I failed miserably doing. It's hard enough for me to get a cohesive idea going in one page, much less put some kind of departure in it.

So I did my best... and somehow it involved food again. The last three pieces I've written have featured food prominently. Perhaps I have a problem.

Pecan Pie

    The waitress stopped in front of the booth and whipped out her pen and order pad. “Know what you’d like?” she asked.

    “Just coffee,” said Jeff.

    “And you, sugar?”

    “I’ll have a coffee too, and a slice of pie,” said Andy.

    “Sure. We got apple, cherry, peach, pecan, (she pronounced it PEE-can) blueberry, rhub...”

    “The pecan, (he pronounced it pe-CAHN)” Andy replied, and the waitress squinted at him a second and wrote on her pad. He wasn’t sure if she was irritated at his interruption or the way he pronounced it. She ripped off their order and stuffed the rest of the pad in her apron and the pen behind her ear.

    “I don’t believe she likes you,” said Jeff. “I try not to annoy people with access to my food when I can’t see them.”

    “All the same, it’s pe-CAHN where I’m from.”

    Then Andy found himself sitting at a card table with his two cousins from Michigan and a kid from church that they’d brought home because they were Christians and didn’t like to see people go without on holidays. A plate sat before him with a bit of dry, white meat, (mom had given one leg to the kid from church and the other to Uncle George), a small mound of mashed potatoes and a larger mound of stuffing. Stuck over on the side was a tiny portion of canned cranberries, which he never ate, but was put on his plate anyway. They were on the porch and it was hot. A fan spun noncommittally above them. The unusually warm weather made the typically non-seasonal Florida Thanksgiving even less so.

    The kid from church had already eaten all the meat off the bone and was gnawing at the cartilage on the end. In fact, everything was gone from the plate. Even the cranberries were gone, with only a pink smear to indicate they had ever been there. He didn’t say much, and Andy didn’t want to start a conversation with him.

    Andy ate the stuffing and mashed potatoes and enough turkey that he knew he wouldn’t get hollered at for wasting food while people were starving in Armenia. The cranberries remained. The kid from church kept his head down and tried not to make eye contact with the Andy or his cousins.

    “Mom... I’m done. Can I have some pie?”

    Andy’s mom brought over four plates and set them in front of the kids. There were three slices of pumpkin and one pecan, which she placed in front of the kid from church.
    “There was only one slice of pecan left, so it will go to our guest” she said, smiling. “He told me how much he just loves pecan pie.”

    The kid from church smiled and thanked her. Andy hated him a little for getting the pie, which he’d wanted, and for eating the cranberries, which he didn’t.

    Then Andy picked up his fork and cut off the point of his pecan pie, 1200 miles and thirty years away from that hot Thanksgiving at the kids’ table on Grandma’s porch.

    “How’s the pie, sugar?” said the waitress, pulling her hair back behind her ear.

    “It’s great... just like mom’s,” Andy replied.

    “Get you boys anything else?”

    “No,” they replied in unison.

    “Here’s the check then,” she said, placing the bill on the table with a smiley face and her name, “Pearl”, written in large, looping script.

    A streetlight flicked on low and slowly brightened as it warmed up and illuminated the snow which had just begun falling outside.

    “I think she’s forgiven you,” said Jeff.