Remember Arn Anderson?

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“Remember Arn Anderson?”

I didn’t hear any response.  The guys are in a booth and I’m at the counter.  My head hurts and I pour Cholula on my omelet in order to give it flavor.

“He was a wrestler,” the same guy continues.  “Oh my god.  He had a brother, right?  Well, do you remember when we would watch TBS on like Sunday nights?  It was always the final match of the episode or whatever right when dinner was ready?  This was the days when Mom insisted the TV had to be off.”

He stops.  Perhaps to sip his coffee.  I get a crispy nugget of bacon stuck in my teeth.  The Western is shaping up.  My feet are cold.  It’s a steamy day inside and out.  The cook whose head pops up through the pass-through window from time to time must be sweltering back there.

“Dammit, man.  We must’ve watched that shit every week for what…a year?  More?”

He laughs.  I bite.  Chelsea, the lone counter girl, scrolls through her phone.

I can’t hear the friend’s responses because he’s facing away from me.  It’s weird to sit here and hear one side of a conversation.  I pretend to look at the classifieds that somebody who had been beside me left.  Did he give me a glance and assume I needed a job or is that something that people do at diners?  I’m not a regular or anything.  I just wanted to sit at a counter and have coffee and not think about work or home or my kids.  For an hour.

“Oh man.  Those were some crazy fun times, right?  Seems like a lifetime ago.”  He pauses again.  I want to order two buckets of coffee to shove my feet into.

The classifieds are shit.  And, though it takes me a moment to realize, they’re four days old.  I have no choice but to imagine how many uncleaned hands have scanned this creased paper and how washing my hands has to happen even though I’m using a fork.

“Guess it sorta was,” he says, I assume, in reference to the ‘lifetime ago’ comment.  I don’t know if he said anything in between.

“Order up!” the tiny man from behind the window calls.

Chelsea springs into action as quickly as anyone else her age with a phone such as hers.  That is, she sighs, scrolls a bit more, squeezes her phone into her apron’s pocket, and stretches in the same manner that people who actually work while they’re at work do.

“I’m so tired,” I hear her say to no one.  Somebody down the counter says she can use his hotel room while he’s at the office.  I think she says “Not that tired,” but someone around me clanged some dishes and I may have missed it.

Without staring, I casually watch her—eyes on newspaper, eyes on her, back and forth—whisk two plates toward the guy’s table behind me.  The wrestling guy whose booth-mate is inaudible.

“Your friend not coming?” I hear her say.

“As fate would have it…”

She puts down both plates, though I’m still pretending not to be engaged in this.

“Well, I’ll take it back–”

“Could you leave it?” he asks.

“Umm…” She probably bites her lip here.  I can tell this exchange will be a major part of her Snap story this afternoon.  “What’s that?”

“That’s…my friend Matt.”

“What’s his picture doin’ over there?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya…is it Chelsea?”

She agrees to his pronunciation.

“I’ll tell ya, Chelsea.  That there is my best friend Matt and he’s not here in body, but he’s here in spirit.  Do you believe in that?”

“What, the spirits?”

“Yes.”

It hits her.  “Oh my!  Did your friend…pass away?”

Her reaction to his apparent nod confirms her suspicions and deductions.

“Sir, I am so sorry,” she says, finally.  “I didn’t mean to–”

“It’s fine.”

“No, I mean…I was…not so nice earlier.”  I don’t know what she’s referencing, so I’m left to assume she was less than courteous when she first talked to him and offered coffee.

“It’s fine, dear.  You couldn’t have known.  He was my friend.  And my brother.  My actual brother—not like one of those guys who you call brother but–you get it.  Different dads though.”

“Oh,” was all she could muster.

“Thank you.  It’s fine.  We used to come in here a lot more often back in the day.  My therapist said if I talked to him more—god, I sounds crazy when I say it out loud like that.”

“I am so sorry, sir.  Here.  Look.”

I hear paper torn.  “My manager says he’ll allow me one screw-up per shift for the first month.  After that, I gotta pay for my mistakes.”

It seemed like a fair policy, and the wrestling guy agreed verbally.  My feet got icier somehow and my omelet was just as cold as my feet.

“Enjoy your pancakes, sir.  I’ll be back with some coffee later.”  He told her it wasn’t necessary.

I don’t need the classifieds.  That is, unless there’s an opportunity for me to go back a week and not tell Turner what I said that led to getting fired.  I’d love a job, but forty-one is not usually the desired audience of the listings that announce “Trainees Needed.”

I get up.  It’s time for me to go.  I have to change something in my life.  The wrestling fan is well into his bottom pancake.  I didn’t know some people ate them one at a time and worked their way down.  There is no one in the booth across from him.  There is, however, a wooden-framed picture across from him.  Kind of behind a syrup bottle.  The guy has on a John Belushi “College” sweatshirt and holds a football.  I see all this in the split second that I glance at the table.

I remember losing my brother a decade ago.  This guy and I could be friends in another life.  But who talks to strangers in a diner other than the waitresses?

I gotta piss.  This has been happening more and more lately.  It just hits me with little warning.  I’ve been pissing more and more in public these days.

The diner restroom is exactly as you’re picturing.  Its odor is the combination of cheap air freshener and truck driver stools.

The door swings open and I’m mid-flow.  It’s the wrestler guy.

“Yeah.  It was mostly improvised.”

“Huh?” I say.

“Told ’em you just died.  Brought that picture from school.”  He listened for a second more.  I zipped up.

“Aight, buddy.  I’ll be over soon,” he said.  He zipped and turned toward me and tapped a button on the bluetooth in his right ear.  “What’s good, man?” he asks me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Short Stories – A Brief History

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I wrote a horrifyingly bad story in college that somehow merited a tiny scholarship.  About ten years later, I was awarded a year’s subscription to a now-defunct writing magazine in a contest among readers to create opening lines to novels based on a photograph.

I read comments from writers about how they are constantly haunted by creating stories in their minds.  I do the same thing; whether I am in convenient stores, public restrooms, or my garage, I find myself buzzing with story ideas.  I’ve only recently learned that this is not what everyone else does.

So, I’m posting some stories I’ve written over the years.  I’ll add some periodically, but I’ll only identify the new ones by the date they were finihsed.  Some go back to college–I am officially a story hoarder.

 

Face Up For Luck (first novel) excerpt – Ch. 5

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CHAPTER FIVE

~1993~

            “Another one?  C’mon, man! You ain’t even gonna give me a chance?” Brent was desperate.  Erik Gwynn was a master at Monopoly.  Brent’s father, watching them one day, had told Erik that he should enter a Monopoly tournament.  Erik would always shrug it off saying it was always just luck.  They were at the dining table in Brent’s house.

“Yes, my man.  Another one.  That’s the name of the game.  I need hotels on my reds: Kentucky, Indiana, and Ill-i-nois.”  Erik wasn’t much of a braggart, but he stretched the pronunciation of the Land of Lincoln just to irritate his best friend.

Brent sighed heavily and fished out three hotels from inside the cardboard lid.  He begrudgingly placed them on the instructed spaces and looked at his paper money.

“Look, man.  This is useless.  I’ve got…two hundred and seventeen dollars, one railroad, a property for each color of the freakin’ rainbow, and I’m in jail!  I don’t want to be a quitter, but I can call mercy.”

“Okay, okay,” Erik said.  He began counting his money to see if he had topped his record, but Brent snatched away his bills.  He wasn’t mad at Erik, he just didn’t feel it courteous to add insult to injury.  Once the game was boxed up, Erik followed his friend to his bedroom.

“Well, what do you want to do?”

Brent emerged from his closet without the game.  “I dunno.  You wanna go shoot some stick?  I at least have a chance of beating you there, right?”  Brent lightly punched Erik’s shoulder.

“Ahh, I don’t know.  That place gets too full on Saturdays.  I don’t like big crowds.”  He knew what he wanted to propose, but he had to make it sound out-of-the-blue.  Erik let his eyes focus on a poster of Christina Applegate.  It was time.

“I know.  Let’s go ridin’!”  Riding and cruising were now two distinctively different activities.  The former included physical activity, the latter, two seats and an engine.

“Our bikes?  Dude, we can drive now, remember?”

“Yeah, I know.  But we only went like twice this summer.  I know it sounds stupid, but listen.  I know we started our senior year today, but, I don’t know.  It’s like, I’m not ready to.”  He watched Brent’s eyes to see how big of a fool he had just made himself.  “C’mon, man.  One last time.  We’ll go anywhere you want.”

“Anywhere?”  Erik nodded.  “Even Katie’s?”

Erik hesitated.  It had actually worked.  “Ah, man, I don’t know why you want me around when you visit your girlfriend.”

Brent laughed.  “Yeah, I wish.  C’mon.  Let’s go.  Dude, did you see her in English today?  I love the first day of school.  The girls always dress so damn fine!”

The route Brent and Erik had always taken when they rode bicycles was half free-spirited and half-exercise.  Brent Myers had been given a personal weight-lifting system for Christmas when he was fourteen.  His father had been a wrestler at the college level, and even though Brent had no interest in rolling around on the mats with the guys, his father instilled in Brent good physical health.  When Brent, through the assistance of his parents, got his own car, however, he suddenly found less and less time for working the weights.

It was a warm evening, and the sun would not be setting for another hour.  They had passed Katie Maddox’s house every time they rode but had only stopped once.  Brent’s brilliant idea that day last summer had been to ask for something to drink as his ticket inside.  Unfortunately, Katie and her family were just about to leave on vacation that night, so Brent’s feet never experienced the interior of the Maddox home.

Now the boys were practically men—or at least that was the topic of discussion as they lazily wandered through side streets and through the elementary school parking lot.  Erik listened to Brent as he psyched himself up for the meeting at Katie’s house.

“You think she’s dating anybody?” he asked, afraid that Erik actually knew the answer.  “You guys’ve been friends for a while now, right?”

Erik paced slowly.  “Yeah, but it beats me.  What, you thinkin’ of askin’ her out tonight?  With me around?”

“No.  I mean, probably not.  I don’t know.  You could be there for mortal support and all.”

“Moral,”  Erik jostled.  “It’s moral support.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s what I said.  Anyway, should I wait until school?  It’d be a lot harder to do in the hallway with everyone around.”  They slowed their bikes to a walking pace.  Brent’s enthusiasm was turning on him faster than he could understand it.

“That’s true.”

“But it’d be embarrassing if she shoots me down in front of you, too.”  They began small circles at a lifeless intersection near Katie’s house.

“Don’t worry about me, man,” Erik assured.  “Whatever she says, we’ll just talk about something else on the way home.  Deal?”

Brent nodded.  They had already turned into the paved driveway of the gray split-level Maddox home.

“You knock.  Okay, Erik?” Brent requested in a harsh whisper.

Erik’s face turned quizzical.  “What’s the difference who knocks the door, dude?”

“Shh!  Just do it, okay?”

Mrs. Maddox answered the door.  The boys had been to her bakery a few times, but they would usually just go to the Dunkin’ Donuts three blocks further downtown.

“Yes?”

“H-hi, Mrs. Maddox.  Is Katie home?” Brent asked.  His voice cracked, and Erik turned away, desperately containing his laughter.

“Sure, guys.  C’mon in.  How are you doing, Erik?”

“I’m okay.”  The boys noticed the pile of shoes just inside the door.  Erik knew Brent wanted to ask him if they should take their shoes off, too.  He didn’t want to answer a question that wasn’t asked, though, so he nodded, and they slipped off their tennis shoes.

“That’s good.  I’ll get Katie.”  Mrs. Maddox vanished into the hallway.  Katie’s father was in a rocker watching the Atlanta Braves baseball game.  Upon closer evaluation, though, the boys realized he was asleep.

Katie entered wearing a long white tee shirt and her hair was wet and stringy.  “Hi, you guys.  What’s up?”  She had a white towel in her hand, and she bent from side to side, drying her hair.

Erik could see that Brent was doing a little too much ogling, and not enough relaxing, so he spoke. “We were just, uh, riding around and thought we’d come by.”  Erik was a little nervous, but he wasn’t putting as much pressure on himself as his friend was.

“That’s cool,” she said.  Her eyes widened.  “Oh!  Maybe you guys can help me.  Did you do you English homework yet for Miss Harold?”

Brent finally spoke, but Erik, for his sake, wished he hadn’t.  “We had homework?”

Katie and Erik peered at him.  “It was kinda stupid, I thought,” Erik said.  “She should’ve just asked us to write what we did over the summer.  Course, I’d have to turn in a blank sheet of paper, but oh well.”  Katie laughed, and she and Erik noticed Brent’s attention had been harnessed by the ball game.

“I didn’t think it was too bad,” she said.  “I don’t think I’ve ever written about my earliest memory.  What are you going to write about, Brent?”

“Huh?  What?”  He wasn’t embarrassed, he was acting.  And Erik picked up on it.

“The essay for English.  Did you pick an earliest memory yet?”

Brent thought a moment.  He even placed his forefinger and thumb on his chin, massaged imaginary facial hair, attempting intellectualism and comedy at the same time.  It worked.  She laughed.

“Well, there was this one time in first grade when I ate glue.  Do you think I can write a page on that?”

Erik was into the act now.  “I remember that, dude!  Mrs. Unger got so mad at you!  Katie, he had everyone in the class just rollin’!”  Brent, smiling proudly, felt easier now.  He knew he could count on Erik for the assist.

“What about you, Erik?” she asked.  She had stopped drying her hair.  “Did you eat anything in first grade that you weren’t supposed to?”

Out of nowhere, he instantly remembered the chocolate chip cookie he had shared with Katie before he went to the hospital the night his dad died.  He almost allowed the pain to overcome him, but held himself together.  Taking a deep breath, stretching his eyes, and turning his attention to the television, he finally answered.

“I’ll prob’ly write about my dad.”

“Oh.”  Katie felt so stupid.  Of course he’d pick that topic.  She wanted to just sink under the carpet.  “Maybe you should get this guy home so he can start writing about the glue incident.  I’ll see you guys at school.”

Erik followed Brent down the steps, but hearing a tap on the screen door behind him, he turned and saw Katie mouth the words “I’m sorry.” He nodded and whispered a silent, “It’s okay.”

It took Brent under a minute after leaving the driveway to analyze the visit, and throughout the ride home, it never occurred to him that he had never had the chance to ask her out.  The sun was setting and the street lamps had just turned on, emitting a cool orange haze for most of the ride home.

“Okay man.  Fifty-fifty.  Shower or pool?”

“What?” Erik asked.  His first thought was that Brent was making some sort of bizarre invitation.

“Dude.  She was all wet.  Was she just out of the shower or just out of the pool?”

“Oh.  I don’t know.  Shower?”

“Wrong.”  Brent smiled.

“Wrong?  Oh, you know the truth?”

“Sure!  You probably didn’t notice, but she was wearing a bikini under that shirt of hers.  I could just make out the straps, but when I saw them, I could see the whole suit.”

Erik laughed.  “You perv.  They have special places for people like you, ya know.”  They turned onto the elementary school property and muscled their bikes through the tall grass and into the parking lot.  If there was something to talk about, they would do it here as they aimlessly cycled through the parking spaces and walkway.  When they used to ride every day, they used to attempt tricks on this lot, but they had given that up the summer Erik began working.

Brent didn’t say anything else about Katie.  Erik assumed that was because he had burned into his brain the image of her without the long white shirt.

“Can’t believe we got homework on the first day of school.  My brother told me Miss Harold was tough, but I never expected that.”  Brent was never confused with a dutiful student.  He procrastinated everything in his life, whether it be homework or brushing his teeth.

“Yeah, but it’s only a page, right?  We gotta do this one ‘cuz it’s only gonna get harder.  That’s what everyone told me last year.”

The sunset blazed the landscape.  The wind brushed the multi-colored leaves together, spilling some to the earth and filling the unspoken moments.

Brent didn’t like to admit how tough school already was becoming, but he agreed.  They talked about girls, baseball, and Erik’s job before going home.

Andy – A Novel (2013) Excerpt 3 – Pre-Approved for ALL Audiences!

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[The main character has visited his 12-year-old son in the boy’s room as he’s preparing to go to a female classmate’s birthday party.  The kid does not know what to take her for a present.]

“Well, you’re probably wanting to avoid something too personal like jewelry, right?  Might send the wrong message?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, do you like this girl?”  I sat on his bed and he stood holding the same pair of jeans he’d had since I arrived.

“I don’t know.  You mean like…like her?”

“I, uh…think so.”

“I mean, she’s nice and stuff.”

“Okay.  I think I get it.  If I can correctly decipher your coded phrasing, I think you’re saying she’s cute, single, and you want to let her know you like her, but since the whole class will be there, you’re afraid to announce that to the world, mostly because you are insecure that she will not reciprocate the same feelings.”

He stared at me.  “What?”

“Nothing.  What about a gift card?”

Andy (2013) – Excerpt 2 (Warning! mature readers only)

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The Sunday morning before we took Liam to camp, Val and I had had a discussion concerning the rap music Liam had purchased with a gift card he received for his birthday.

“Val, let me just read these lyrics to you.  Perhaps you don’t know what our son listens to these days.”

“I know,” she said, “but is it really that much different than when we were kids?  The magazines are calling that artist a genius.”

“Hon.  This guy has a song called ‘Rape My Dick.’”

“Oh.  Well, I’m sure it’s no big deal.”  She returned to her much-more-important gossip magazine.

Then I went to his room and found him trying to set the world record for slowest packing job ever.

“So, son.  I’ve read through some of the lyrics of your favorite song.  And I quote, ‘Come on, come on.  Come on, bitch/Come on, come on. Rape My Dick.’  Poetic.  It may be copyright infringement though, son.  I feel like that may have been lifted from A. R. Ammons…no wait.  Rita Dove.  Definitely a Dove.”

“Who are those people?”

“Nevermind.”

“Dad.  You know I don’t really care for the lyrics, right?  I mean, is it that much different than what you liked when you were my age?

I hated it when the teamed up without my knowledge.