Into the Clouds

You were, as the kids these days might say, tardy to the party. In your misguided, frantic, and seemingly pathological efforts to keep everyone’s attention on you, you neglected the ever-important duty of keeping track of what your competition was up to. They one-upped you, and it was almost like you were asking for it.

Some would probably say that your failure was rooted in your pride, that because you felt you could rest on your laurels, you got your just desserts. You know that’s not the truth. You know how vigilant you have been, guarding your turf jealously, steadfastly monitoring the grounds for infiltrators.

But while your eyes were on the ground, your competitors were taking to the skies, building castles in clouds. You probably could have seen that coming. You’re not dumb, you know. You apparently just let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that simply because you were one of the first kids to stake a claim on the block, you earned for yourself some kind of exclusive say in where the future explorations and innovations might go.

We beg to differ.

Your notion of innovation apparently involved incessantly revisiting that first trick you learned to do, constantly adding new zoom-zooms and wham-whams, bells and whistles, pieces of flair. And that worked, for a lot of people. They say you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you’ve carved out your considerably large corner of the market in those people. But some weren’t fooled. Some began to see the emperor’s clothing for what it really was.

And that was when they began to take to the skies.

Don’t worry, though. We see you’re beginning to catch on now, too, and that you’re starting to develop some real estate in the clouds, too. And maybe you’re right; with that significant chunk of the market share you’ve accumulated over the years, you’ll probably do fine even if you are “tardy to the party.”

Congrats on docs.com, Microsoft. You’re moving into the twenty-first century.

The Shoeless Shoemaker

As his family had done for countless centuries, the cobbler labored long hours each day to make shoes for the good people of the village. The shoe-making techniques his family passed down through the years yielded shoes that were of peerless quality, and the good people of the village would wear no other. When his son grew old enough to begin learning the secrets of the trade, the cobbler told him the story his father once told him, about a time when the first shoe-maker in their family was very poor and down to the last of his leather for shoes. His problems were solved by dwarves who came in the night and made perfect shoes for him, so that he soon became renowned through the village and the country as the best shoemaker in the land.

That was the source of the family’s superior shoe-making trade, the cobbler explained to his son, and it has been handed down through the years, father to son.

And so the father taught the son.

The cobbler also instructed his son on one other point: each year before spring, the son should do as his father and his father’s father and so on had done each year, which was to craft a pair of small outfits, two small shirts and coats, two pairs of pants, and two small pairs of shoes, all of which should be set out on the porch step on the first spring morning. Each spring their family had done so, and each spring the clothes were gone. This, the father instructed the son, was how they ensured that their shoes would continue to be of outstanding quality.

For many years, the father and son worked side by side in the shoe shop, and each year at spring the father crafted clothes to set out on the first spring morning. The son smiled at his father’s superstition, but took no part in it. If his father was content to make clothes each spring that were doubtlessly taken away by the neighborhood children, such was his choice.

When the son had a wife and child of his own, his father took ill and passed away, leaving the family shoe shop under the younger shoemaker’s watchful eye.

The younger shoemaker was diligent in his practice of his father’s shoe-making techniques, and continued to earn the praise of the good people of the village and country for making the best shoes in the land. The first spring morning came and went, and the young shoemaker set no clothes on his porch steps, nor did the thought of doing so ever cross his mind.

Before the moon had completed its first cycle of the spring, the young shoemaker had taken ill. His feet swelled and grew, and became tender and painful to the touch. He could not stand on his feet to do his work, nor could he conceive of covering his feet with shoes, socks, or even a light sheet as he lay in bed.

His wife did her best to make the shoes in his absence, but already the word had spread across the land. He became known as the shoeless shoemaker, and his family quickly grew poor and lost their home.

Terminus

This was written in response to a suggested experiment approach, involving rewriting part of Genesis as a way of working in a distinctive voice. I’m posting it today in honor of Zombie Jesus Day. Enjoy!

  1. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day before the end. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it displeased him.
  2. And God said, Behold, I have taken from you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be forbidden.
  3. And from every beast of the earth, and from every fowl of the air, and from everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have taken every green herb for meat: and it was so.
  4. And God cursed man, and God said unto them, Be barren, and die off, be starved by the earth, and subdued by it: and be dominated by the sea and its fishes, and prey to the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
  5. And God said, We have destroyed the man We made man in our image, after our likeness: and let them no longer have dominion over the fish of the sea, or over the fowl of the air, or over the cattle, or over any the earth, or over any creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
  6. So God destroyed the man bearing his own image, for the image of man repulsed him; male and female he destroyed them.
  7. And God destroyed the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  8. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
  9. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day before the end.
  10. And God cursed them, saying, Be barren, and die off, and vacate from the waters in the seas, and let fowl be no more on the earth.
  11. And God said, Let the waters expel mercilessly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
  12. And God destroyed great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters expelled mercilessly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
  13. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day before the end.
  14. And God said, Let there be no lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them cease to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
  15. And God cast them out of the firmament of the heaven to no longer give light upon the earth,
  16. And to no longer rule over the day and over the night, nor to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  17. And God destroyed the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he destroyed the stars also.
  18. And let them no longer be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
  19. And the evening and the morning were the third day before the end.
  20. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  21. And God said, Let the earth bring forth no more grass, no herb yielding seed, and no fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
  22. And God looked upon the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it no longer mattered.And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be scatter among all places, and let the dry land disappear: and it was so.
  23. And God looked upon the firmament He called Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day before the end.
  24. And God dissolved the firmament, and allowed the waters which were under the firmament to rejoin the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
  25. And God said, Let there be no firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it cease to divide the waters from the waters.
  26. And God ceased to call the light Day, and the darkness he no longer called Night. And the evening and the morning were the last day.
  27. And God saw the light, that it no longer mattered: and God sutured the division between the light and the darkness.
  28. And God said, Let the light appear no more: and light was no more.
  29. In the end, God destroyed the heavens and the earth.
  30. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Eggs

I could still taste the runny yolks in the back of my throat as I walked along the red-brick sidewalk, my vision blurred slightly by the few persistent tears I couldn’t quite manage to suppress. The only thing Jeanine does worse than babysit is cook eggs. She definitely can’t cook eggs like Mom, who cooks the bacon first and uses the bacon grease to fry the eggs. And she can’t cook the eggs like Susan, the woman who used to be our morning babysitter. Susan was better because she didn’t even usually cook eggs, and made us toast with gravy instead. She called it S.O.S., or stuff on shingles. She said some people think the first S stands for something else, but we should just call it S.O.S. instead. She was way nicer than Jeanine, but she got a regular job so she couldn’t be the babysitter to come wake us up for school in the mornings anymore. Now it was Jeanine and Gerry, they took turns on different days. Gerry is really pretty, with blonde hair and a friendly smile. Jeanine is always in a bad mood. Gerry doesn’t make eggs, she usually gives us a choice between cereal or oatmeal. She says “do you want cold cereal or hot cereal,” because she says the oatmeal is hot cereal. I like both better than eggs.

Jeanine made fried eggs this morning, like usual. I told her before that I only like scrambled eggs, but she doesn’t care. She set our plates on the table in front of each of us, and I could see right away on mine that it was going to be tough to eat these eggs. The white part was slight gooey in some places and burnt in others, and the yellow was the same way. She told us to hurry, so I started eating my toast, trying to think of ways to get out of eating the eggs. When Tim was little, he used to hide food he didn’t want to eat under a little ledge that was part of the way our kitchen table was shaped, so he could come throw it away later. This table wasn’t like that, so I would have to come up with something else.

Eat your eggs, she told me, as I tried to work out a plan. She stood and looked at me after she said it, so there was no way out. I cut off a little part of the white, and accidentally got some of the runny yellow leaking onto it. I brought the fork slowly to my mouth, wishing it was cinnamon-flavored hot cereal instead. I tried chewing for a second, but knew I needed to get it over with fast. I swallowed, and felt the sliminess of the egg in my throat. Before it got halfway down, I felt my stomach heave. I hate throwing up, so I fought it back. It came out as tears, instead, so before she could see me cry I stood up and yelled at Jeanine.

“Your cooking is gross! I wish you weren’t our babysitter!”

I left the house right away, and on the walk to school I settled down some.

***

I don’t know how I always let him get under my skin like that. It was a perfectly good morning, with the only exception being that it was my morning to go wake up Colleen’s kids. She’s good friends with my mother, though, so going to wake up her kids, feed them breakfast, and send them walking to school before I go to school myself two or three times a week isn’t so bad. But this morning it was a little harder than usual, because I was running a little late. For a family that doesn’t have much money, the kids are sometimes very spoiled. I had a hard time waking them up, as they usually just roll over and go back to sleep after the first one or two times I rub their shoulders. So today I had to resort to yelling, a good old “rise and shine” like my dad used to do.

They finally started getting ready, so I went downstairs and started their eggs. Five kids, five eggs, five pieces of toast. It’s not so bad; I can usually whip it up in about ten minutes, if I cook two or three eggs at a time. Of course, their stovetop is uneven and the frying pan slightly misshapen, so sometimes the eggs don’t cook very evenly. I finished buttering the toast while the last three eggs were cooking, put the food on separate plates for each of the kids, and took them out to the table.

The middle kid glared at me. He has never liked me, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. I think he might have a crush on Gerri, the senior cheerleader who wakes them up when I’m not around. I don’t think she even makes them breakfast. I looked at the clock and realized I needed to get going if I was going to be on time to school. I told the kids to finish their breakfast, and while I tried to remember whether I’d brought my geometry assignment, the middle kid pushed his plate away and started screaming at me. His brothers and sisters started laughing when he stormed out the front door, so I told them to finish their breakfast. I already at some oatmeal at home, but if the kid wasn’t going to eat his egg I didn’t want to let it go to waste.

The Story

Tell me a story, she said. Her voice was sleepy and her eyes half-closed.

I began to tell a story.

In English, she said, as she did every night. I want to hear a story in English.

But you won’t understand.

It doesn’t matter. I want to listen to you tell me a story in English.

Very well, I said, as I did every night. Where shall our story begin?

***

Once there was a young man who grew up happy and loved, very much contented with the place that he called home, and the people he loved, his friends and his family. But like in the beginning of many stories, the young man reached a certain age and began to sense that something was missing, something he would not find at home.

And so it was that after much waiting, the young man bid farewell to his tearful family and friends, and promised to return once he’d found what he was missing.

After traveling many places, the young man eventually found himself in an incredibly beautiful place, far from his home. Everything about this place seemed quite perfect to the young man—the scent of the air, the way the clouds floated lazily in the sky, the radiant colors of the sunrises and sunsets, the lush landscape filled with majestic trees and rolling hillsides. Everything felt right about it, as if it was precisely the place he was looking for. The young man stayed in this wonderful place and came to know the people, their language and their culture, and felt himself very much at home.

Soon, he met a quiet young woman who smiled and looked away whenever he was near. Eventually the young man summoned the courage to talk to her, and soon they fell very much in love. She complimented him on his ability to speak her language, but each night she asked him to tell her a story in his own. She loved the way his voice sounded as he softly spoke words she would never understand. Each night the young man created a new story, but every story told of a young man and woman falling in love and growing old together.

The young man eventually began to wonder about his mother and father, as he had not been home for many years. He wanted to bring his lover to meet them, but before they could leave she became pregnant, and so they waited for the child. They had a son together, followed by two daughters, and their children grew up happy and loved, very much contented with the place they called home and the people who loved them, their family and friends. He thought often of returning home; first he was too ashamed to return because he’d waited so long, but in time the young man grew to become an old man, and he was too afraid because he thought his parents might be gone.

When the young man’s son reached a certain age, he began to sense that something was missing, something he would not find at home. He bid farewell to his tearful parents, promising to return when he found what he was looking for. The young man and young woman grew old together, each day missing their son more than the previous day, but grateful to have each other’s love as their source of hope that he would find what he was looking for.

***

Was it a happy story, she asks, as she does every night.

Yes, I answer. The young man finds what he was looking for.

The 100% Perfect Burrito

This week’s writing experiment. with apologies to Haruki Murakami

One beautiful August afternoon, at a food truck on some narrow side street in west LA, I ate the 100% perfect burrito.

Honestly, there was nothing about it that made it particularly delicious. It didn’t seem to have any special ingredients. The underside of the tortilla had been left on the grill slightly too long. It wasn’t especially appetizing. But still, I knew before I even took a bite: It was the 100% perfect burrito for me. The moment I smelled it, my tongue became moist with saliva, as I anticipated savoring its every bite.

Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of food—a pizza with crisp pepperonis, say, or a bacon-wrapped hot dog, perhaps. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at a plate at the next table to mine because something about a dish has captured my attention.

But no one can insist that his 100% perfect meal correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like tortillas, I can’t recall the texture of that burrito’s ground-flour wrapper. All I can remember for sure is that there was nothing especially gourmet about it. It’s weird.

“Yesterday on the street I ate the 100% perfect burrito,” I tell someone.

“Yeah?” he says. “Tasted delicious, eh?”

“Not really.”

“Your favorite restaurant, then?”

“No, I bought it from a food truck. I can’t seem to remember anything about it—the flavor of the meat or the texture of the melted cheese.”

“Strange.”

“Yeah. Strange.”

“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “did you take down the name of the food truck? Are you going to follow them on twitter?”

“Nah. Just had the burrito and went on my way.”

The food truck drove from east to west, and I walked west to east. It was a really a wonderful August afternoon.

Wish I could have seen the person on the food truck prepare burritos. Twenty minutes would be plenty: just watch how they grilled the meat, how they folded the tortilla. Discover how the complexities of fate had wrapped perfection in a thin wrapper of wax paper and tin foil. The burrito had surely been peppered with mystical seasonings, ingredients from a time when children played happy and free on the corner lot, sand in their shoes and joy in their hearts.

After speaking with my friend, I felt I should have taken down the name of the truck, or at least made note of its appearance, or where and when I had seen it. Having failed on these counts, what recourse did I have? I could track down all of the food trucks on the west side, one at a time, sampling their wares. Ridiculous. I’d gain all sorts of weight, and who knows whether I would even be able to recognize another burrito as coming from the same truck.

Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good afternoon. I believe I once at the 100% perfect burrito; could it have been served at this truck?”

No, who would believe it? Or even if they did, they would probably not be able to recreate the experience for me. Sorry, the employee could say, we may have made the 100% perfect burrito for you, but we have since changed our produce suppliers and have not had the same luck with avocados that we once had.

It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably be through with burritos. I’d never recover. I’m nearly thirty, and I know that losing touch with the flavors of youth is a simple fact of growing older.

I recall walking away with my burrito, as the truck’s ignition roared to life behind me, and they prepared to drive away. I walk a block further, slowly eating the burrito, and turn: the truck has already turned a corner as I am nearly halfway finished with my snack, the taste of sour cream and grilled onion lingering on my palate.

The Proclamation

Last week’s submission for my fiction class. Enjoy.

As the time for him to walk onto the stage drew nearer, Philip’s deep sense of pride at having been chosen to read his essay at the town celebration became all the more completely eclipsed by his intense nervousness. This year was a big celebration—one hundred fortieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—so everyone was talking about how the crowd would be the biggest one until, of course, the big one-five-oh. Among all the seventh graders in Hardin County, Kentucky—proud birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, only Philip had been ballsy enough to write an essay about the vast differences between what it meant to be a Republican in Lincoln’s time and what it means now.

Of course, he knew better than to submit that essay. The essay contest was judged by several prominent Republicans, so he submitted instead an essay about how proud Hardin County should be of having such an integral connection to the only United States President yet to have had a patent in his name. In the “ringer” essay, as Philip liked to call it, he wrote extensively about how shameful it was that the commercial boating industry of Lincoln’s time had failed to pick up on his ingenious ballast tanks, which would have worked wonders to help buoy ships over shoals. The essay judges fell for his trick, and now he was set to read his real essay in front of this large crowd.

As he waited in his seat, next to the podium on the rickety stage in the hot Autumn sun, Philip felt a drop of sweat dribble slowly from his knee down the side of his calf. He knew he shouldn’t have worn his favorite black corduroy pants. Would the man at the podium—an ass of a man with an ugly bowtie and a bushy moustache—ever just shut up and introduce him already? At least the white button-up shirt he’d worn wasn’t soaking up as much heat as his pants. He wondered if these Republicans knew his father was a die-hard Democrat; it would explain why they hadn’t given him a bottle of water, or anything at all to help with his parched throat. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Finally, the bow-tied brustache man introduced Philip to the crowd and initiated a round of applause. Philip stood up slowly, clutching his essay tightly in his sweaty left hand while the brustache man overzealously shook the right one. He stepped up onto the small box they had provided for him behind the podium, set his papers down, and looked out at the crowd. Now standing, he could clearly make out the scent of funnel cakes and corn dogs, and he felt a drop of sweat form on his temple and roll slowly down his cheek.

“Republicans,” he said, not yet looking down at his paper. He had memorized the entire first paragraph. “Republicans are not today,” he said. He stared out at the crowd of people who had come to celebrate Lincoln’s birthplace, and he didn’t see a single person who wasn’t white. The edges of his field of vision, too, began to go white, and he felt the box below slip out from beneath him as he collapsed behind the podium.

My Onion Wanna-be Piece

Every week we’re supposed to write a short (250-500 words) piece of fiction, based on a list of experiment ideas. Last week I submitted this, based on the experiment “Chronicle,” which suggests trying mimic the style of writing used in newspaper articles. Naturally, I gravitated toward an “Onion” style piece. I will try posting my other experiments here, as well, in the weeks to come. Enjoy!

Area Man’s Attempt to Use The Secret to Remove Ants from His Bathroom Horrible Failure

Fresno (AP) – Local twenty-something Jack Jackson recently sought to employ techniques learned from reading the back cover of a recently popular self-help/spirituality book entitled The Secret, which suggests that readers can effect profound change in their lives through focused positive thinking.

Jackson rents a single room in a condo located in the Fresno Townhouse Association of central Fresno. “I also have my own bathroom,” he stated in an interview, “and I can use the washer and dryer any time I want.”

Jackson claims that he has noticed ants in both his bedroom and bathroom before, and even occasionally an ant or two in the shared kitchen space. They have never really bothered him.

“They’ve never really bothered me. I just let them be, same as spiders,” Jackson mentioned, seeming overly proud of himself. “Sure, there have been times when I left a cereal bowl in my bedroom, and that’s my bad. But after the recent wet spell, the ants in my bathroom were out of control.”

Saundra Meyers, the woman who rents the bedroom to Jackson, verifies that he has, in fact, left food in his room. “He’s just like a teenager. Pizza boxes sit in his room for days, and you can see the trail of ants carrying away crumbs, but he doesn’t do anything about it.”

After scanning the back cover and first few pages of popular New Age spirituality book The Secret while waiting in line at Target one evening, Jackson began to think that maybe his best bet would be to use the “law of attraction” to “manifest” a bathroom free of ants.

“I don’t know if the mouthwash attracts them or what. I always put the lid back on tightly, but it doesn’t seem to matter, and I always feel bad when I smoosh [sic] the ants. So I tried envisioning a bathroom without ants, and really believing that it would become a reality.”

After three days of positive thinking, Jackson’s attempts to use The Secret failed. He then borrowed a can of Raid from Meyers, who gave him a vaguely disapproving “I-told-you-so” look.

The New Site

This site has come about as a way of exploring more professional means of showcasing my work as I begin to get more serious about writing professionally. I’ve only just begun setting up the site, so check back soon for stories and updates.