[Activity 1] “Snoopy and Maker’s”

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Every year the faceless family south of us erected over-sized inflatable holiday decorations, killing perfectly good grass and lowering property values in our entire ZIP code, Dad would say. Mom’d say let ’em be and Jeremy always announced that this would be the year he’d puncture and steal them in the night. I’d never invite boys over until well into spring when only a yellow patch of land proved they’d been stored in their backyard shed. Dad would drink Maker’s more each time a boy held out his shaky hand to introduce himself the way Mom had taught him only seconds earlier in our narrow kitchen that always seemed to have a burned-out bulb.

When our twins were old enough to get wide-eyed at electric decorations, they’d gawk at the twenty-foot Snoopy snow globe next door, but Frank would just ride the brakes and hum along with Deano. The year Jeremy got released on Christmas Eve, he pulled Frank aside to tell him jail was better than marriage while the girls dressed Ken in Barbie’s outfits and Mom hovered over them with a bit lip as she struggled to open another bottle of Maker’s.

[This was inspired by George Saunders’ “The Sticks”, a flash fiction piece we discussed on Jan. 9, 2019 in my graduate fiction writing workshop class.]

Nanowrimo – Warmup Day 6

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I’ve been doing some catching up this morning.  Here’s my Day 6 (minimum 600 words) on a story based on street art.


Sat. 10/20 Day 6 –  600 words story based on a picture of street art found online

walt whitman street art

Barry needed the waiter to drop the check as soon as possible.  Brunch had been disastrous, though it’s very possible no one else in Sweet Sensations knew it.  His wife Elenor sat across from him and perused through her purse without offering any explanation or reason for doing so.  He assumed it was to bide time until he could pay and they could leave and she wouldn’t have to look at him any longer. Their child, a boy neatened up for the Sunday morning meal, fidgeted idly with a plastic toy made to look like a cell phone.  It didn’t beep, but Barry almost wished it would so they could react to some type of sound.

He knew she was lying about the night before and he couldn’t think of what to do.  As a wedding coordinator, she was often gone for twelve- to fourteen hours many Saturdays, especially during the fall months when some brides prefer the backdrop of crunchy, colored leaves and the ability to be hot and outside but not uncomfortable.  Elenor had, over her nine year career, developed business friendships with photographers, bakers, caterers, priests, ministers, disc jockeys, and hotel managers. In the early years, she focused so much on the business that she never allowed herself time to become too social outside of the events themselves.  Five years earlier, when she’d become a little disappointed with the dip in business, Barry encouraged her to re-brand herself and helped her invest in advertising. It worked to a degree and she was rejuvenated with the bookings that bolstered her position in town as a reputable and fairly priced wedding photographer.  

Then they had Dominick and she was torn because she loved the baby endlessly but her business suffered.  The season was dry with business because she turned down some offers without telling him. The desire to sleep next to her first baby on a rainy Saturday morning, waking only to feed him and coo with him and tickle his minuscule feet swept any cash she’d make taking photos under the rug.  For the most part, Barry didn’t mind. He loved having her home too. Being a dad meant a new series of responsibilities and adventures virtually every day. On the days Elenor was gone, he found himself taking their son to the mall, the park, and even an art museum.

It was at brunch today, however, that art re-entered their lives.  With the check finally paid, Barry, Elenor and the baby exited the restaurant and walked in silence toward nothing in particular.  The damp air was warming rapidly as the sun emerged from behind thick white clouds. Downtown was brightening up and more and more cars were populating the main drags of the sleepy city.  They turned at a corner and he stopped. A large mural of Walt Whitman covered by springtime flowers looked back at the three of them. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that Elenor had lied about the night before.  She didn’t know he’d found a phone number on the floor of their bedroom. For all he knew, she didn’t even know she had it herself. He no longer cared who “Mike” was and chose not to picture the two of them dancing, kissing, or anything else.  Barry had been a supportive husband, but in this moment, staring back at one of his writing idols, he realized that feeling betrayed was useless. Confronting her for having a good time–something he’d stopped doing since their son was born–was completely unfair.  He reached for her hand and she took it. Her grasp indicated that Barry’s suspicions were true, but in this moment it was irrelevant. He hard kissed her and pushed the small of her back into his waist. Their son giggled at a bird or something below them.

 

Cleanout

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I was supposed to be home thirty minutes ago, but I decided to pull off and wash the minivan anyway.  My dad is the kind of dad who, upon arrive at my house for Christmas will notice the state of my vehicle’s cleanliness long before he acknowledges the decorative seasonal changes to my 1600-square-foot home.  He also purposely calls my daughter by my name because he thinks seven-year-olds like that kind of stuff.

Mom is different.  She’s the kind of mom who is already taking off her coat before she’s fully inside the home.  She’s pushing up the sleeves of an outdated white holiday sweater that she seemingly cannot remember wearing the year before to our annual get-together.  It doesn’t bother her that she’ll be wearing the same garment in each year’s picture, which, of course, one of us puts online for weeks this time of year.

So, a car wash was suddenly in demand.  My daughter Frankie and husband Lance were instructed to make a cheeseball and some cookies from one of those cheap prepared rolls you can buy anywhere for a couple bucks.  Those, remarkably, are the only kind my dad likes.  Mom will make more once they’re there, and there will be about fifty left after everyone has either fallen asleep or headed back home.  I’m bound to find Lance in bed or in the kitchen with a handful later tonight.

There’s a line at the car wash because it’s two days before Christmas, sunny, and everyone wants to get the salt off their vehicles at the same time.  I’m behind an old Camry, which, for a split second, I thought was the exact one I sold to someone in town about three years ago.  Of course, it isn’t it, but it reminded me of my life pre-van.  Lance wanted the van–or at least that’s the story I plan to tell other parents forever–before I even mentioned it.  Frankie was never a problem to get in and out of the old sedan I’d had since college, but it needed way too much upkeep by then, and we were toying with the idea of more children still in those days.  Frankie’s still the only one, but this car in front of me makes me wonder if she’ll ever have a baby brother or sister some future Christmas morning.

I’m handed a receipt and a guy starts scrubbing stuff off the front fender.  He’s wearing sunglasses along with the required shirt-and-tie uniform.  It’s like he’s on his way to an audition for Reservoir Dogs right after today’s shift.  The satellite radio my husband has to have is set to a “traditional holiday” station, but I switch it off for local news and something poppy.  He doesn’t know I still listen to Top 40 stuff whenever he’s not around because he’s very passionate about music and I think I might just destroy his soul if he learned that I’m into teeny-bopper stuff that our daughter is starting to ask for for Christmas.

The guy scrubs the sides and rear and I watch the Camry evaporate under the thick gray noodles that separate the wash from the outside world.  The local DJ is at the mall and is reporting live.  Something about heavy foot-traffic near the Victoria’s Secret across the hallway.  Girls are screaming about something nearby.  I look toward the empty passenger seat where Lance would be sitting and flinch to change the station.

“Ma’am!” The fake Mr. Pink bellows with his hand encircling his lips.  He must have said it a few times.  I look up and he’s waiving me to pull forward.  I check my side mirror as if I’m in real traffic and see four or five cars who are probably frustrated a bit with me.  In college, I suggested to a friend that we work on a design to put up a “Sorry!” sign in our back window for times when we know we fucked up while driving.  It never made it to a prototype, but I think about that when I do stuff like this.

Victoria, the name for the van that Frankie assigned the day we brought it home, slides under the set of heavy tarp-like noodles and I can see the old Camry’s taillights.  It takes me a few seconds to question why they’re at that angle.  Victoria and I are on the treadmill and advancing forward toward the first stage of the wash.  A kid named Billy Voltaire–age sixteen–is covering an Elton song on this station all of a sudden.  The red taillights of the Camry grow larger with each second.  Then, a ker-CHUNK that stops my car and thrusts my head forward.  I’m not hurt at all, but I get my first ever taste of whiplash.  The kid’s voice on the radio couldn’t be worse right now, so I smash the power button so the butchering can cease.  Water is blasting my windshield, but it’s not circling around the vehicle the way it usually does.  Of all things, I think of what it might have felt like to be the victim of those horrendous days of being assaulted by fire hoses.

My car is halted but all the machinery around me continues to hum, spurt, blast, and wheesh water and soap.  I can hear muffled yelling from, I presume, more would-be Tarantino characters, but they do not seem to be able to hear each other clearly.  No one, I’m wagering, knows how to shut everything off.  The Camry’s lights are bright red.  The driver must have his foot on the brakes but I can’t figure out why.

Then, those lights move.

They slant some more off to the right.  If it helps, it reminds me of watching the car in front of you slide off the road slowly, powerlessly, and pathetically.  It’s definitely not on the treadmill anymore.

I suddenly have to pee and the water jets from all around are not helping whatsoever.

I stretch my head up and around the steering wheel–the way people do when they’re desperately trying to get to the bottom of the reason for the stopped traffic at 6:24 pm on a Thursday–to no avail.  The only result of my useless searching is a crink in my neck.  That’s what Gramma called them anyway.  She didn’t finish–or go to–medical school but she always seemed to have words and remedies when she was alive.  Mom has never been as confident in her at-home cures, and I’m ready to take Frankie to the Quick Clinic every time she says words like “bellyache” or “itchy.”

I’m thinking about Gramma and her firm stance on everything from democracy to salisbury steak when I see my engine lights static-flash.  My eyes go straight to the gas gauge–the only one I confidently know how to remedy–and learn that Lance did not, in contrast to what I swore I heard him say this morning–fill up the van.  These symbols all bare the ROY-G-BIV standards, but their figures are irrational garbage to me.  I know lights shouldn’t be on.  I know Lance is somehow responsible.  I know the Camry’s lights haven’t moved and that I still have to pee.

There’s a twenty-four ounce sippy cup, miraculously, behind me between the kids’ seats.  There’s also miniature toy wrappers, folded stickers from the grocery store, a baby toy Frankie hasn’t touched in months, and a healthy stack of fast-food napkins that are white or recycled brown.

The water in the car was shuts off.  Like, all of it.  The men are all yelling.  Loudly.  Profanely.  Gramma would jump out of the car, somehow avoid any drips from overhead machinery, and give them all a lesson on language and manners.  Me?  I’m pretty sure I’m gonna try to piss in my kid’s sippy cup.

When I reach for it, my car begins moving forward and the water jets blast my driver’s side window.  I feel like I’ve been caught by a principal or priest for thinking of devilish things.  I actually say “Shit!” and jam my ring finger against the steering wheel.  The Camry is getting closer.  Or, specifically, I’m getting closer to it.  I’m longing for the time, a few moments ago, when that dipshit kid ruining a classic song was my only problem.

I hear a screech and realize it means I’m about to stop again.  I didn’t recognize it the first time, but I’ve already adjusted to this hellish nightmare of a situation that my brain stopped me from getting whiplash a second time.  I pee a little.  Not a lot–like Gramma did before she passed.  I love how my vagina can stop things on its own and not wait for any permission from me.

“Ma’am!!” I finally hear.  It’s Mr. Orange.  Maybe.  At this point, nothing is certain.  Lance loved Mr. Orange the most, I think.   The guy is looking right at me.  Actually, he’s probably curious about the sippy cup between my legs.  I reach for the automatic window button.  “NO!  Don’t roll it down!  It could start up again anytime!”

“Okay,” I say, and casually toss the empty clear cup to the passenger seat.

“My man-a-ger is on the way.”  He’s talking to me the way Lance and I used to talk to Frankie before she started school.  He even has his hands around his mouth as if my window was the equivalent barrier of bank vault.  I want to be anywhere else.  “He can fix it, but it will be about ten more min-utes!!”  I consider telling him that he’s shouting way too loudly, but he’s already gone.  He didn’t offer to extract me or anything.  He’s clearly more concerned with keeping me dry, which, of course, is ironic in the worst way.

He’s gone, and I hear a few more muffled shouts.  The Camry has been stagnant the entire time, and I have to wonder about its occupant(s).  Is she(?) like me?  Did she have to wash her car for the same reasons I did?  Now?  On December 23rd?  Is she alone?  Is she always alone?

She’s probably smoking a cigarette.  I miss them.  Now, that is.  I don’t ever want to smoke around Lance or Frankie, or with other moms even when they talk about it.  I don’t want to smoke when my mom says something insulting.  I don’t want to smoke when I think about my useless degree hanging in the office that no one in the house uses.

But I want one right now.  I’d do anything for a quick cig.  Even if Mr. Brown were to jump in my car, I would probably ask him for a Marlboro Light 100 before I interrogated him about entering my car without my permission.  I close my eyes and think about smoking.  In the dorms.  In my Camry.  In my life before Lance and a family.  Before worrying about holiday baking and finding matching stockings for our faux fireplace.

The thing is, the pee impulse goes.  My eyes open, and I turn on the radio, and the teen wannabe is gone but replaced with something even more drab and revolting.  Lance would shit.  My mom made me a little picture frame that’s designed to hang from the rear view mirror.  It has three panels, but she only filled one.   The other two have stock photos still of those picture-frame models.  White shiny non-smoker teeth.  Vest jackets and denim.  High tan boots on the woman and perfect child-actor hair on the kid who’s unnaturally acting as if he doesn’t want his picture taken. I ask myself why I didn’t fill these with Lance and Frankie right away.  What mom doesn’t do that instinctively?  Of course I should have used that degree to do something other than find Lance and get pregnant.  Of course I should have told Davey Bennings that I loved him too when I did.  Of course my mom shouldn’t have dug that hole in the backyard without calling the gas company first.

The Camry girl in front of me has it made.  She’s still free.  Free to go anywhere once she’s out of here.  Free to live her life and use her degree and wait for kids and stay unmarried and eat cookie dough and never enroll in a pilates class if that’s what she wants.

What am I saying?  I don’t hate my life at all!  I love Lance and Frankie and cylinder cookie dough. I don’t like vest jackets or cigarettes.  I love reading books to my daughter in terrible, untrained voices and hearing her laugh when her dad tickles her neck.

A knock on my window.  My eyes had closed.

“Ma’am?”  He’s older and looks like my eighth-grade science teacher.  He motions for me to roll down my window.  I do it.  “Go ‘head and put ‘er in neutral again.”

I rattle my head and smile at the sippy cup beside me.  Shift.

“Here’s four free car washes, Ma’am.  We’re awfully sorry.  Have a nice Christmas.”  He looks toward the exit.  The Camry is gone.  “You’re free to go.”

I thank him.

 

 

The Start of Something – Chapter 2 (2016)

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~Chapter Two~

–I’ll never fucking understand why fucking adults think I’m screwing with them when I tell them their fucking plate is goddamn hot.  Never fails.  Every time.  College kid or grandpa.  Men more than women, I’ll grant ya, but they all do it.  So I got tired of it, ya know?  It can’t be their first time in a restaurant, right boss?

Bill, I know.  People are idiots.  You and I see it all the time.  But you also are old enough to understand liability.  Of course the plate should not have given that guy third-degree burns, but…

–Isn’t it first-degree?

What?

–I think first-degree is the least worrisome.

That doesn’t make sense, Bill.  First.  It’s top priority in a burn center.

–Well, it was the lowest level.  And I’m sorry it happened, but goddamn.

I know, Bill.  Look.  Please let me go back and handle it.  Look.  It’s a quarter to ten.  We close in a little over an hour.  Maybe just hang back here and you can start on closing.

–I thought he was kidding, Brian.  I really did.

I know, I know.  Look.  We can limit the damage.  The EMTs are coming on our dime.  Let’s just make sure we look proactive at this point.

–Fuckin’ hate lawyers, man.

We all do.

–I’m not gonna get fired, am I?

He deep-sighed, then stared at me for an uncomfortable four seconds.  I watched the flimsy red stick click between the three and the four.

Look, Bill.  I’m going to talk it over with HR now that they’ll know about the EMTs coming.

My foodslime-covered kitchen shoe fall from my left knee.

–I’ll just go.

No, please.  Don’t.  It doesn’t have to…I mean…I’m telling you you’re not—

I flipped a raggedy single on his desk.

–Just mail my last fucking check, Brian.  And fuckin’ thanks for the support.

* * * * *

“You did not!” Stacey cried out with that grin that’s all but forced me to hang around with her.

“Yeah.  Fuck that place.”  We’re at Legs, which sounds like it’d be a strip bar, but they are known for their southern-fried chicken. And lord help us if any of the ladies who work here start disrobing.

“Shit, man,” she said, the smile diminished quickly.  “I don’t want to work there if you’re not.”

Stacey’s a real sweet kid.  We’d been hanging out for about six weeks off and on.  All the girls at that place have to tie their long hair back or pin it up.  When we go out for drinks after work–like straight after work, still smelling of gravy and shit–she lets it down.  I think she waits until we’re seated because the first time she did it, I felt like I was watching some shampoo commercial and I think she caught me staring.  Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and bounced a little.  I replayed those moments in my head for several lonely nights in those days.  Somehow the dark hair gets curlier the longer we stay.  If we’re at a table, I usually sit across from her and I’ll get caught just looking at those locks.

“Well, I feel a little bad about just taking off–probably shot my chance at a referral.”

“Yeah,” she said, still examining her tall pilsner glass.  She only just ordered domestic bottles before we met and came here together for the first time.  The shit these kids don’t know astounds me.

“Think I shoulda stayed?”

She shrugged and looked away, then pursed her lips a little.  Almost pouty, but it didn’t last long.

“You’re too nice, young lady,” I stated, then signaled Bobby for two more tall ones.

She grinned and turned to me.  “I know.  I mean, I know why you took off.”  She ran her fingers down the slender glass, wiping away the condensation.  “Sounds like you were going to get the ax after you clocked out.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, anyway…what are you going to do now?”

Bobby put the beers in front of us.  Without prodding, Stacey downed the rest of the first and reached for the new one before swallowing.

I offered my glass to be tapped with hers.  A small, congenial smile crept across her face.

I grinned, foolishly.  Drunkenly.  “I have no fucking idea.”

We laughed, then chugged.  We got chicken wings, fried pickles, and a big basket of fries.  She talked about how unhealthy all that shit was.  I told her she had nothing to worry about.  I’m pretty sure I actually said “Gather ye rosebuds, Miss Thang” to which she laughed but not for the right reason.

The food was gone in minutes.  Some dudes across the bar clapped when a game ended.  Nobody else from our restaurant came in, so I was antsy to get the fuck out.  Bobby dropped a glass while trying to dry it.

“You gotta any weed, l’il lady?”

She smiled and nodded.

“Well, fuck!  Let’s get high.  Fuck this bar and their overpriced, fucking flat-ass beer.”

Bobby hollered to us that he heard that.

“It’s actually Gina’s, but…”

“She won’t give a fuck.  Just a bowl.  C’mon.  Drink up.  Let’s get out.”

Stacey told Bobby thanks as I flopped a twenty on the soaked bar.

—–

I woke up alone on Stacey’s couch and had a beer in my hand.  Of course, it wasn’t upright and was now nearly empty, but my shirt was soaked.  Must’ve been high as fuck not to care whenever that happened.  The TV was on, but it was a fucking exercise video series infomercial.  Each testimonial after the other made me want to die or at least take a huge dump.  I hadn’t done that—not the level that was brewing so early in the morning, anyway—at Stacey’s before.  A plan quickly entered.  I found a ten at the top of my left pocket.  When she came out of her bedroom in a bra and sweatpants, I suggested she snag some of that gourmet coffee from the corner.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  She looked great, but I felt like total shit.  And I had to take one.

She complied and I was able to mask my embarrassing shit with some of her perfume.

By the time she came back, I’d found another shirt I’d left or that she’d stolen.  “I got you a mocha.  Is that alright?” she asked.

I was standing at the open refrigerator door.  “Sure.  Thanks for going.  Man, what a night, huh?”

“You. Were.  Hilarious, though.”

I looked up at the closed freezer door.  Nothing but her words had caught my attention.  “Really?”

“Oh my god, yes!  Gina told me after you passed out that she was sorry for ever saying anything bad about you.”

What a thing to tell a person, huh?  I had no choice but to play it cool and be appreciative.  Of course, I didn’t give one absolute fuck what her stringy roommate thought of me.  I knew she thought I was too old to be hanging around their apartment, and I suspected she had a bit of a crush on Stacey herself.

“Really?  Didn’t she say once to you that I was the kind of guy who probably gives out Busch Light to kids at Halloween?”

“She was kidding.”

“Well, anyway.  I’m glad she’s finally warming up to me.”  I didn’t actually give a shit though.  I’ve learned that no two female roommates seem to have the same system in place when it comes to guys they bring home.  Some are way over the top with friendliness, and others seem to pretend I’m invisible.  Only one ever actually flirted with me, but I shut that down pretty harshly.  I don’t even think I went back after that one.

So it was no surprise that Gina was standoffish toward me.  Again, don’t care, but that divide made for some unwanted commentary from the girl I did like.

About a week later, though, I knew I’d never probably have to deal with Gina anymore.  I had stayed again at Stacey’s place.  We were both exhausted after working together, so we just picked up some movies and this bad-ass baked spaghetti that somehow tastes better than anything my grandma used to put out at Thanksgiving.  We both crashed on the couch during the first movie, and I woke up around two with her head in my lap.  Not sexually or anything.  Drooly, actually.  So, I carried her to bed and we slept for another handful of hours.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel tired, which was rare.  I wassomehow motivated to do something nice.  That sounds like I don’t do that very often.  Anyway, I ran out to the store to get some breakfast shit—for Gina and even a guy if one was in her room—and made it back before anyone else was awake.  I put a pot of coffee on, quietly cleaned the dishes we’d all tossed in the sink, and then prepared to cook the one thing I know how to make well:  omelets.

“I gotta pee!” Stacey announced as she rushed behind me toward the bathroom.  She left the door open and the sound of her urine hitting the water–a sound that I absolutely cannot stand unless it’s my piss—put a dent in my mood.  Taking the high road, though, I made myself a cup of coffee.

“What’s all this?” she asked.  I’m not sure I heard her flush, which was also a little fucked up.

“Just thought I’d make everybody breakfast.  You like omelets, right?”

“Ummm…sure!”

That felt like a no, but I wasn’t going to offer anything else.

She turned on the TV and curled up under a blanket she once told me her grandmother made for her.

I was in the middle of making hers when she sighed loudly and said “Man!” in a jealous way.

“What’s up?  What are you watching?”

“These houses are insane.  Man, I wish I was famous.”

I stirred the eggs and tried to imagine what she wanted in hers without asking.

“You wouldn’t be worried about losing your privacy?  Your independence?”

“Nah.  Fuck all that,” she said coolly.

“Well,” I said, still not looking away from the stove.  “Tell me this:  Would you rather be Harrison Ford-famous, or like, guy-who-can-make-a-pancake-look-like-Harrison-Ford-famous?”

Nothing.  Then, sadly, “Who’s Harrison Ford?”

Even though she said she loved it, it was the only omelet I made for her.

The Start of Something – Chapter 1 (2016)

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I know what you’re thinking already.  Another shitty story from some nobody dropout whose life goals were unachievable and nothing more than chaotic pipe dreams.  I get it.  I prefer, though, to think of myself as a victim of society—or perhaps societal values.  Isn’t it interesting how much time, effort, and money we spend looking forward to the next “vacation” where we can finally “let go” and “relax”?  What many people don’t see in me is that I’m calling that mentality total fucking bullshit.  

That’s insane.

And we should all be ashamed to think that’s why we were placed on this gorgeous fucking planet.

Now.  Hear me out.  I’m a server.  Some call it a waiter.  I take food orders from people in restaurants, bring that food out to them, fill their fucking teas, waters, or beers in some places, and scoop their tips.  It’s not a mind-bending type of life or career.  It’s cash.  It’s mundane most of the time.  It probably has interesting roots—I imagine ancient Egyptians or something bringing meals to those in political power and rewarded with some trivial trinket or item of small value.  

Like most people who do my job, I did not sit around in high school looking forward to the day where I would be lambasted by a boss who’s on a uniform-neatness kick, stuck in an awkward position to listen to some grandma bitch about how her kids don’t bring her grandchildren over often like they used to, or worried that a girl at the restaurant I’ve been seeing is either cheating on me or looking for ways to let me down easily.  No.  Nothing terrifically dreamy about those scenarios.  Scenaria?  Anyway, I took this job when my college “career” went to shit and I haven’t done anything else.  It’s kind of like G-rated stripping or prostitution.  By no means is the money close to what I assume those girls take home, but in a way it’s the money (and the ease of obtaining it) that’s kept me here almost eight years.  

Eight years.  

Man that looks like a huge number when I type it out.  It’s shitty because it’s pretty much the same thing every day, but there are no two days alike.  I mean, one day, I’ll get some regulars, have some repeated conversations, help the new kids with the shit on the computer, and eventually sneak out of there with my ninety- or hundred bucks.  Once in a while, something crazy will happen in the kitchen.  Or they’ll play a block of AC/DC tunes at like the perfect time in the server alley.  

But I keep going back.  And I wonder if other people keep going to their own jobs with the same perspective.  Do they truly think they are adding to the value of their company, the community, and/or the people with whom they work?  Is it just a paycheck?  Is it just something people do in order to save up for that trip to Disney, Cozumel, or Venice?  Is working a job where the return is strictly financial worth our time?  

Don’t fucking ask me.  I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if I knew any of the answers to my own questions.  

So, how do I manage through the muck of restaurant work year after year?  It’s pretty much with moments like this:

Me:  Hey, there.  I’m Bill.  You must be new this week.

Newb:  Hi.  I’m Latosha.

Me:  I’m sorry.  What?  How do you say it?

Newb:  Luh—tosh—uh.

Me:  Oh.

Newb:  What’s that supposed to mean?

Me:  Nothin’.  It’s just…

Newb:  It’s just what?

Me:  I mean…I thought it’d be pronounced differently.  I saw your name on the floorplan…

Newb:  Oh.  I get that a lot.  How were you thinking it should be pronounced?

Me:  I dunno…maybe like, er….”Mike.”  Or  “Jeremy”…

Newb:  What the fuck?

Me:  Dude, it’s cool.  I mean, I don’t care.  You’re gonna want to hide that adam’s apple a bit more.  

Newb:  My real name is Benjamin, but please don’t tell anybody, okay?

Me:  It’s all good, Latosha.  Glad to have you aboard.

And now I’ve got that dude on the hook for a big favor for about a week.  He might cover me while I duck out for a smoke or just give me one of his parties or something.  I don’t press for shit like that anymore.  That’s one thing I’ve learned about this job:  The money is fairly steady and reliable.  At least, in the course of a week or so.  People on commission jobs probably get what I’m trying to say way more than salary fucks.  You can have several shitty days in a row and your income is a direct result of that.  Some salary fuck can miss work, fuck up, stay late, get reprimanded by a superior—all in a couple days’ time—and still get the same exact paycheck as he did last time.  So, I have no clue why anyone would want to make enemies at a restaurant.  When servers are happy and work together, they make more money.  It’s not fucking college trig, ya know?  Come in, do your shit, put on a sunny disposition if you have to, and skidaddle with your cheddar for the day.  

My problem is not that I don’t look to the future for something better.  It isn’t that I really want anything else.  I’m content with making decent cash, paying my rent and utilities, and spending the rest however the fuck I want.  If I’m dating someone, I’ll blow a lot of cash on her early on.  If it fizzles out, so what?  We had fun, right?  We didn’t plan a safari for six months and eat fucking generic mac and cheese every night until the big trip either.  

So, I actually like what I do—even if it isn’t what I thought I’d do as I’m nearing 30.  It’s my life, ya know?  Why the fuck does anyone else care?

I’ve dated tons of servers too.  Most of the time, it’s short-lived and one of us ends up leaving the restaurant only to just pick up a job elsewhere by the end of the week.  It’s probably common in college towns this size.  It’s the only city I’ve really known, though.  When I say date, I should be more articulate.  I show interest in a girl and typically a group of us go out for drinks or whatever.  I make a move and it’s either received well or it’s received poorly.  I’m cruising at about a sixty-five percent success rate.  Most of the rejections stem from them having boyfriends or at least claiming they do.  I’m not all about trying to wreck anybody’s good thing.  If they’re lying about being in a relationship, at least it saves me the embarrassment while I’m getting hammered at four bucks a drink.  The girls are all pretty good natured and usually just drift away.  Maybe they go home for summer break or maybe they find a better job.  Some are crazy and some are super horny.  You don’t know me all that well, but trust me when I say I’m very respectful toward them all and I take it all in stride.

Except for one girl .  Real quick, lemme give you dudes a heads up on a certain type of girl.  She was twenty when she started and I was the first guy she hung around with since she’d left her hometown to come to college.  She was pretty and had joined a sorority, but it was not like the type you may expect.  They had been on probation for like three years for some super fucked-up shit that went down during homecoming or rush or whatever, and they were basically desperate to get a new breed of girls in their club.  Mellaaddy (pronounced as “Melody” but yeah, it was fucking spelled like that) jumped at the chance and was rising up the authority totem pole quite quickly.  Well, here’s the red-flag, gentlemen:  She ran a sorority-presidential campaign by using the new-found popularity of those vibrantly colored vinyl or plastic bracelets.  She’d thought it was quirky to make a hashtag with her name on these and give them out to the girls who were in the sorority or trying to be in the sorority.  

Then she gave me one to wear.  

And she wasn’t fucking around either.

“I don’t get it.  I’m not even a student…”

“Oh, I think it’s cute!  If you wear it at work, maybe people will ask about it and you can tell them—”

“Oh.  Okay.  Well.  Thank you.”

“Put it on.”

“Now?”

“Sure!  The election is in two months and I really want to win…”

It’s pretty obvious, I hope, that she and I didn’t make it to the night the votes were cast.  

I kept the fucking bracelet though and it’s on the shelf next to my shaving cream behind the mirror in my bathroom.  Every day or so I see it and am reminded to keep the crazies at a distance.  

It’s worked so far.

And I’ve also figured out the girls who were so fucking mysterious to me through late high school and into college.  This just happened last week.  The girl’s name is Kendra, and she’s probably around twenty-three.  Not too young, I know, but she looked a little younger but acted a lot older.  Does that make sense?  So like, her age was an average of her look and her personality.  Something like that.

Well, this dude rolls up and is just standing near the kitchen pass-through.  Not in the way or anything.  But standing there.  It’s a place where either really forward people stand if they want something like napkins or a ketchup bottle that actually has ketchup in it, or a spot where past or present employees linger to get someone’s attention.  This bulky dude was the latter.  He was dressed like a biker—probably was one, I suppose—and it was still pretty warm out so he had a short-sleeved shirt under his leather vest.  I didn’t catch the local brotherhood of riders’ name on the back (something like Sons of Halitosis or Evil Do-Gooders, I’m guessing) but I did notice the rather unsettling red bulbs emerging from his forearms on both sides.  It was one of those things the eye catches and you know you’re already staring at it too long, but it’s so fucking intoxicating to examine that on the one hand you’re peering into some chemically charged abscess while subconsciously weighing out what you think this fucker is going to do to when he realizes you’re staring at his fucking ghastly arm.  People who wear that much black leather aren’t typically the most secure people when it comes to visible abnormalities or proper English.  Thus, I looked away as quickly as I could, but those bulbs lingered in my mind for days afterward.  

So this dude is just chilling there, and if he’d looked like anyone else less menacing I might have struck up a simple “May I help you” scenario, not so much as to appease whatever his request was but rather for my own selfish get-those-fucking-things-away-from-me needs.  That, and some dopey newbie sweetly asked him if she could get him anything and all he said was Kendra’s name.  I passed by during this brief exchange but could tell with his single word response that he was probably itching to get back on the road (presumably not toward a dermatologist’s office, I might add) and was growing impatient with each passing second.  

Kendra took her sweet ass time getting to him and had a muffled conversation right outside the pass-through.  I busied myself with making drinks and remembering where the damn state-required sanitation pumps were because I was not a hundred percent that Gruff Daddy’s arms didn’t come in contact with my own.  This was just last year, and I have my whole life still to live.  

About a half-hour later, I had a few seconds next to Kendra and asked if that was her boyfriend.  

“Who, Keith?”

“I don’t know the individual’s name.  The guy who wanted you a little bit ago.”

“Keith.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t you know Keith?  He’s a dish guy.”

That at least spoke to the irritations on his arms.  “Nope.  Never seen him.”

“Well, he only works weekends here.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  That’s why.  Anyway, no.  He needed a ride.”  She paused, but not for anything other than stifling a burp, I think.  “You know I’m like, super gay right?”

“I..did not know that.”

“Yeah.  So.  No.  Not my boyfriend.”

“Mmmkay,” was all I could muster.  I was suddenly sixteen and completely thrown off by looking at a woman who was into other women.  I’m sure I’ve known more, but Kendra was astronomically more comfortable with her lesbianism than anyone else.  This was only like the third night we’d worked the same shift.  

The place was getting quieter and a bunch of the other servers were already gone or about to go.  Kendra was wiping down a drink station and I was filling an ice bucket.  I thought, what the hell.

“Sorry if I said anything wrong earlier,” I began.  I knew she didn’t give a shit.  I mean, she wasn’t like offended or anything.  She was proud of who she was.  I wanted to make jokes.  I wanted to sarcastically say all the things I knew other people had said to her over the last several years (or however long it’d had been since she first came out) like “But you’re so pretty” or “Do you think it’s real or just a phase?”  All the stuff that it’s pretty uncool to say now.

So, instead, I began by apologizing unnecessarily.

“It’s good.  I just thought you should know.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”  She had a tinge of nervousness in her voice.  She probably knew I wasn’t some college douche, but at the same time I was still a man.  A guy.  And we have a fucking long-ass record of asking dumb questions.

“Isn’t it funny that you and I probably get off to the same porn?”

She fucking lost it.  I blindsided her and she had no way to reply.  She cackled so loud that it caused Misfit Brian to emerge from his hole of an office to ask what the noise was.  

“Seriously!”  I continued.  I had her hooked now, boy.  “I mean, we barely know each other, but I feel like you and I could discuss multiple girl-on-girl videos we’ve both seen!”  

She snorted.  I was all jittery.  I get like that when I say something that gets such a positive reaction.  People who don’t know me too well will comment from time to time that I should be on stage somewhere.  I’m not trying to believe it’s just that easy, but it is very close to a medicated high when it happens.  Like a non-sticky orgasm.  

“You’re too funny, dude,” she said when she caught her breath.  What are you doing tonight?”

A porno reel began in my head, but I knew any joke there would fuck things up.  

“Shit.  Nothin’ special.  Get some fuckin’ tacos or something and watch a movie or something.  Think about what I did with my life.”

Her face shifted to serious, not knowing if I was being genuine or sarcastic.  “That’s fucking deep, man.  Seriously.  Wanna meet my roommate?”

I did, absolutely.  But I had to stay cool and somewhat indifferent.  “It’d be alright, I suppose.”  Then, toward the nothingness of the nearest wall, I announced, “Guess you’ll have to wait a day, Ben Affleck!”  She laughed and bit her bottom lip.  Still sexy to me, whether a girl likes dudes or not.  “What ya wanna do?”

“There’s a shitty sports bar not far from here called Buckaroo’s.  I mean, it sucks if you have standards, but we go there because no one else does.”

“Is that Buckaroo’s – apostrophe S, or just Buckaroos—plural S?”

She glazed over.  “What?”

“Nevermind.”

“Well, it’s crusty and probably going to close before Christmas, but we like it.”

I nodded and said something about running home to change, but she cut me off.  

“Nah, don’t fuck around.  TNF tonight, boi!” she howled and whisked away.  I didn’t have time to say in my best droll voice that nobody calls it “TNF.” Thursday night football is the one exception, it seems, where Americans are willing to pronounce all five syllables.  

That was the night I met Valerie.  And Valerie brought some friends from high school a few weeks later.  And one of those friends brought her roommate who was looking for a job.  And that girl is Stacey who started at my restaurant.  Kendra quit a couple weeks before Stacey started.  I heard her bitchy girlfriend left her with no note.  Not that any of that matters, but I thought I should share how things work in my world.  We wait tables and get together and drink and usually start by making fun of the fuckers who gave us shit and complain about managers’ shitty micromanaging, and the straight girls would usually bitch about nursing classes being harder than they thought and the cosmetology girls would talk about hundred-dollar make-up and Kendra and/or Valerie and I would talk shit about the game that was on and how many women on the pro tennis tour were gay and whether or not gay men fantasize about threesomes with one girl but no one in our group could shed light on that one.  

They’d ask me if I went to school or if I ever went to school and I was nothing but forthright.  I gave them the story you’re reading now.  I went to school like most idiots who didn’t have a fucking plan and lost control of the situation and found myself unable to sign up for classes.  They told me the community college would take me and that my credits would transfer back but that sounded like a whole lotta years in the classroom not making money.  So I changed the game and balled in restaurants for forty hours a week for a while until I realized I could get a second serving job down the road and make another couple hundred or so.  Nothing was tying me down.  Nothing kept me from going after that easy cash, boi.  

If I wasn’t serving, drinking, or sleeping, I was usually reading in those days.  I mean, I told Kendra that first time she invited me to Buckaroo’s that I was going to watch some dopey movie, but that’s because you don’t tell people you’re going to hurry home and read.    

UWT #2 – “Buttering the Bread”

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Years ago, my creative writing instructor gave a short lecture during a workshop about this concept.  He may or may not have called it “Buttering the Bread” but that’s what I’ve called it for years.  Consider this type of storytelling and consider the point in it where you lose interest.

Tom got hungry, so he went downstairs for breakfast.  He normally ate toast, so he decided to open the breadbox, remove the Wonder bread, untwist the tie, and withdraw two flimsy slices.  Customarily, he re-tied the bread and returned it to its resting spot within the fly-free confines of the box.  Taking two steps east, he placed each slice in the toaster and pressed the lever with no more or no less authority than any other day.  He watched as the wired inside his dorm-room toaster heated to a bursting orange and sizzling red state.  Just when he could not wait any longer, the toast appeared innocently.  Tom took the butter from the refrigerator.  It was cold and hard to spread.  He’d learned from his grandmother that he could heat his knife quickly by holding it under hot running water.  It worked again, and he padded each slice with a unhealthy square of the stuff everyone calls butter but is actually margarine.  Tom had a big day ahead since it was his first interview, and he wanted to make sure he did not leave the house hungry.

—or—

Tom made some toast as he always does and thought about his interview.

Granted, the first one is considerably longer, but is it good writing?  Is it significant to the events of the story?  Is the author adding anything worthwhile?  Does it seem, perhaps, that he is just padding his word count total?

No.  No.  No.  Yes.

Don’t butter the bread.  Get to it and move forward.

Finding Your Legal High

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A week ago, my nephew and I had a brief chat that has since redirected (and refocused) my goal.  I had my laptop open and was skimming through the novel I started writing last November during NaNoWriMo.  I mentioned the word count (something like 36K) and he wanted to know what it was about.  I gave him some of the major points I could recall, but then I began thinking as I was talking.

I’ve had numerous excuses to explain why it’s not done: teaching HS and evening classes, family obligations, computer malfunctions, buying a house, etc.)  Where do those get me?

I do most of my writing within the confines of the month of November, but I never push myself as much during the other eleven months.  When I write–when I REALLY write–I get a rush that is unequaled by anything else I know.  I don’t mean to suggest it’s even in the same ZIP code as playing with my children, seeing my wife’s face when I’ve been a part of her happiness, or even getting through to one of my students about anything whatsoever–those are different “highs”.

No.  Writing, though, gives me that positive surge that reminds me how life should feel all the time.  I’m completely grateful for everything I have achieved in this life so far.  I do not often realize how good I truly have it.

But I want to take this just a few steps further and write a book good enough for a publisher to want to try to sell.  That’s been a goal for something like 15 or 20 years, and I’ve not pushed myself hard enough for it to happen.

I talk to my students a lot about the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset.”  I commonly remind students that growth is always possible if you want it badly enough.  I’d be a hypocrite to say that I’m just not good enough to be published.

Imagine a world where everyone loved what they did for a living.  Imagine a time where people sought out their goals and didn’t always play it safe.