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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800+ words – Short Story involving an heirloom

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**An impromptu short story I put together today**

Gina’s last wish was to be at her grandmother’s dust-riddled apartment a full hour away from work.  Her boss had okayed her absence under these circumstances, but she knew he had to say that and most likely did not mean it.  After only being there for three months, she’d figured out that Jim Michaels was a complete asshole but was probably her best bet at having a shot at a real publisher.

It’s not that Gina and her grandmother fought or had some sort of long-standing feud.  Nor did she have any disdain for either of her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles.  She just simply hated funerals.  Her abhorrence of the traditional, and at times quite ceremonial, send off into the ground, was for Gina a collosal waste of time, money, and energy.  Of course, she knew she could not share these ideas with anyone–especially today, since it was going to be the last time anyone ever saw her grandmother’s actual face.

“When you’re dead,  you’re dead,” she’d argued to a friend once over coffee.  “Do me a favor, Jeanette.  Don’t even tell my parents I’m dead when I’m gone.  It’ll totally fuck up their plans.”

Rightfully so, this bothered Gina’s friend.  However, it had bothered her so much that Jeanette contacted a therapist without Gina’s knowledge or consent.  When the initial appointment time came, Gina was willing to talk to the guy but assured her longtime friend that she was only going because it meant something to Jeanette.  It was the only session.

After her grandmother’s small funeral, there was a smaller reception and some friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had catered in some coffeecake and chicken salad sandwiches, apparently two of Grandma Lola’s favorites.

“Gina, do you have to head back tonight?” her mother asked without looking at her.  The sandwiches were gone, and a pitiful amount of crumbs covered the bottom of the second of two cakepans.

“Mom, I told you earlier,” she said.  “Dad?” It was evident that her impatience with her mother would not be put on hold during this somber late afternoon.

Her dad cleared his throat.  “We just thought, hon, that you could come to the house.  We…have something to discuss.”

Gina’s eyes scanned the room.  Her brothers and cousins were watching an evidently amusing video on one of their phones.  Kade, the oldest of the cousins, spat out brown crumbs at the climactic moment.

“Can’t you just tell me here?  I really can’t risk oversleeping and being late.”

Her parents peered into each others’ eyes.  It wasn’t an amorous glare, though.  Gina wondered if they had ever looked at each other the way they do in movies in theaters and the ones in her head when she reads.

The question remained unanswered and was interrupted by a slow series of family departures.  Everyone bid everyone else well.  The male cousins shared bizarre streetgang handshakes; the girls pecked each others’ cheeks–both were recurring actions that Gina could not comprehend but simply, shyly shrugged off this time.

“Gina,” her mother said as she swept away the crumbs from a central table into one of the two pans.  “My mother had a will.  Everyone is meeting tomorrow to discuss it before we go to lunch.”

“Mom, I just can’t…”

Her mother held up a hand.  “I know.  I understand.  Duty calls.”  She sighed and straightened the area where an apron would be if she’d had one on.

Without Gina realizing it, the room had emptied and Gina suddenly felt like she was in the principal’s office.

“I spoke with the attorney who handles…these things.”

“Deaths?”

Her mother bit her lower lip.  “Yes.”  She softened, realizing perhaps that she didn’t need to sugarcoat mortality with her grown daughter.

Gina watched her mother’s eyes drift to the side.  “My mom was…all my life, she was pretty much an open book.  What is it?” she sort of laughed.  “She wore her heart on her sleeve?”

“Guess so.  She didn’t really mix feelings, did she?”

“No, we girls always knew immediately when she was mad at one or all of us.”   She bit that lip again and examined the tiled floor.

“The woman worked harder after Grandpa got sick than she or anyone else I’ve known has their entire lives.”

“I know what you mean,” Gina said.  “Feels like we saw her less and less when I was in high school.”

“Well,” her mom said.  “She sure was tricky about everything.”

“What do you mean?”

That small laugh again.  “It turns out that…well, you know how she used to tell you stories when you slept over at her house?”

Gina nodded.

“Do you remember what you talked about after the stories?”

“Well,” Gina said.  “I remember she always wanted me to have some…plan.  You know?  Where am I going to school?  When or if I want to marry, travel the world, have kids…that type of stuff?”

“Do you remember any of your answers?”

“Mom, that had to be…” she quickly calulated…over twenty years ago.  Even if I could remember it obviously hasn’t come true.”  Her eyes went downward.  “Kids’ dreams never come true.”

“Here.”

Gina’s eyes were back up and say an old brown leather woman’s pocketbook.

“What’s this?”

“It was hers.  Her attorney says this is what she’s left you.”

“Gee,” she said, biting her lower lip.  “I’m so…moved.”

Her mother began to say one thing but switched gears.  “Trust me.  I’ll be there’s a reason.”

She unsnapped the lone button and withdrew a plane ticket and a handwritten note, signed by the deceased.

“What’s it say?” her mother asked.

“‘Darling Gina,’” she read.  “She hasn’t called me that in years, Mom.”

Her eyes watered.  “I know.”

“‘I’ll make this quick because I don’t like to waste time.  I’ve left each of you children $25,000 from…well, let’s just say some money I earned over my life.  You are hereby ordered to quit that job you told me about a month or so ago and get to Europe.  I don’t care how long you stay or if you even come back.  The world is too big to stay in one place though.’”

“Well, Gina?  Surprised?”

“Nothing that woman surpises me anymore.”

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.

 

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.