Saturday, February 4, 2012

Near-Unknown Facebooker Calls it Quits, No One Notices.

By B.D., Drumming in the Dark Staph Righter

At some time in the past two months (the exact date and time is impossible to pinpoint due to apathy) a once-hopeful, enthusiastic, positive, smart, persistent poster to facebook simply stopped posting--citing "because who gives a drunk fuck?" as the main reason.
As of this time an estimated 700 million facebook users have not noticed any difference whatsoever in thier social networking experience that could be attributed to this change. Sarah X, a facebooker from Shitswallowsville, S.C. sums it up this way: "who quit facebook? sum loser dude? idk wtf ur takking abowt. hey, check out my hawt new profile pic!"

In another comment on what meaning there might be in the departure of Bob "Zilla" DeVore (age 52, from Chicago, IL) from the social network, Zack Gnarly from Greasy Palms, NV said: "Who cares? Quitting is gay. Hey, check out this awesome video!"    
According to a self-described "friend" of Zilla, he "wrote the best comments. He always had something witty to say. I read some of his blogs and I didn't always get what he was talking about, but he was a really good speller."
No other information is available on this story. We would post updates in the future as more information becomes available, but who would give a drunk fuck?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I knew it wasn't about ME...

...or "Cleaning off my desktop"

About 3 weeks ago I heard the old Carly Simon song You're So Vain on the radio. Yes, I still listen to oldies on broadcast radio.

I remembered that I always liked the song, primarily because of the quirky bass intro and a great guitar solo. I know I'm supposed to enjoy pop songs for the lyrics, but that's how I am: it hits me musically or it doesn't hit me.

I wanted to know the names of the musicians. I Googled and Wikipedia-ed.

The info that came easily through my search was all about how Carly Simon had never revealed who the song was about. Did I care about that? It's a SONG. Why do I need to get caught up in entertainment gossip just because I like a song?

I searched a little past the surface and found the names of the crew:

album "No Secrets"
Produced By Richard Perry
Jim Gordon – drums
Richard Perry – percussion (Cowbell. In precisely the right amount. It DID NOT need any more cowbell. I love cowbell played tastefully in the proper place and the right amount. I like comedy too. Enough cowbell is enough.)
Mick Jagger – backing vocals
Jimmy Ryan – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Klaus Voormann – bass

The possibly-apocryphal story behind Mick Jagger's rare backing vocal on this song runs thus: Carly Simon is in the studio rehearsing vocals with Harry Nilsson, Mick Jagger walks in and says "Wha choo doin?"--I guess if you're Mick, you can just walk into anyone's studio--Carly says "Hey Harry Nilsson, would you excuse Mick Jagger and me for a few minutes? I have an idea." Harry says "Of course, Carly Simon. I think Mick Jagger would be a MUCH better backing vocalist for this song than I."

So we had ""Yo so vayne, I betchoo thaynk the song is abow choo, don choo?"

Warren Beatty was so vain he thought it was about him.

Here's an easy guitar transcription:

Am (2)

You walked into the party

F Am
Like you were walking onto a yacht

Am (2)
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye

F Am
Your scarf it was apricot

F (½) G (½) C (½) (Am) (½)
You had one eye in the mirror as

F C

you watched yourself gavotte

G (½) F (2)
And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner, they'd be your partner, and



Chorus:

C (2)
You're so vain

Dm7 C
You probably think this song is about you

Am
You're so vain (you're so vain)

F G (2)
I'll bet you think this song is about you--Don't you? Don't you?



Am (2)
You had me several years ago

F Am
When I was still quite naive

Am (2)
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair

F Am
And that you would never leave

F (½) G (½) C (½) (Am) (½)
But you gave away the things you loved

F C
And one of them was me

G (½) F (2)
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee, and

Chorus

Instrumental Verse (sing last line):

G (½) F (2)
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee, and


Chorus

Am (2)

Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga

F Am
And your horse naturally won

Am (2)
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia

F Am
To see the total eclipse of the sun

F (½) G (½) C (½) (Am) (½)
Well, you're where you should be all the time

F C
And when you're not, you're with
G (½) F (2)

Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend, wife of a close friend, and

Chorus

/ C - - - / - - - - / Dm7 - - - / C - - - /

C (2)
You're so vain

Dm7 C
You probably think this song is about you
C (2)
You're so vain

Dm7 C
You probably think this song is about you



/ C - - - / - - - - / Dm7 - - - / G (hold) /

and a video:




So then--after like 30 years and about a week after I started thinking about it--Carly Simon finally comes out and tells the world that You're So Vain was about David Geffin. As though we really wanted to know.

I've always had the gift of these of precognitions, but only about really trivial things.

The fun thing about pop songs like You're So Vain is making up your own lyrics:

...clowns in my cornflakes...underwear spy...what the heck is a gavotte?...

...or mathematical analysis: if a man has two eyes to start with and one is strategically hat-dipped while the other is in the mirror, he has zero eyes left for seeing Carly Simon as she looks at him and comments on how vain he is.

Now there's one less thing on my desktop.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Review of Banana Shpeel

I don't get paid to write entertainment reviews. I'll write a review if some piece of entertainment moves me in some way; if it gives me feelings that I want to process in writing; if it makes me think.

I went to see Cirque du Soleil's Banana Shpeel--written and directed by David Shiner--at the Chicago Theater because I was invited by my friend Mike Smith. He had won a contest on Facebook. He entered a video of himself playing trombone while hula-hooping.



The prize was that he got to perform in the lobby of the theater before the show and free tickets for a bunch of friends. Since I was the appreciative friend with a car, I drove Mike to the theater that night, arriving about an hour before the show started.


While we were hanging out before showtime, we chatted with a few theater and Cirque employees. One told us confidentially that "There's a reason vaudeville went away." The reason wasn't stated at that time, so I was left to ponder why vaudeville--THE most popular entertainment of its time in the 1920's and 30's--had gone away.

I didn't have to wonder for very long. Banana Shpeel led me to the answer. As often happens, one good answer led to more questions. So I write.

One of the first questions was why the promoters of Banana Shpeel would solicit performers on Facebook then give away a bunch of free tickets. I think it was to generate a buzz and fill some seats. The Chicago Theater had lots of empty seats that night, even though the FOMS (about 50 Friends Of Mike Smith) made a good, high-spirited effort to fill as many seats as they could.

My second question is a little more difficult to ask, let alone answer. It has to do with the entertainment world in general and vaudeville more specifically. From its inception in the late 1870s, vaudeville was designed to appeal to a broad-social-spectrum audience. Vaudeville and circus were the original "something for everyone" shows. Cirque du Soleil was a reinventing of circus and Banana Shpeel was--I suppose--conceived as a different direction and new offshoot of Cirque. They made circus into something new and exciting; now they are trying to do the same for vaudeville.

One of the problems of circus was that people knew that animal performers were treated badly, so Cirque du Soleil omitted animal acts from their shows. One of the problems of vaudeville was that people knew that human performers were treated badly--that in front of a restless, jaded audience, entertainers had just a few moments to do something spectacular; that they were generally over-worked and under-paid, that dancers and acrobats would push themselves to the limits of their abilities, often causing themselves disabling injuries in the process and then...well, a broken performer is an out-of-work performer. Many circus and vaudeville performers ended their careers with something that went approximately like "You gave your all for the show and now you have nothing left. Buh-bye!"

Banana Shpeel begins with a pair of clowns (Daniel Passer and Wayne Wilson) who introduce the premise, the "story" and the evil vaudeville producer--the "been there, seen that, you've got ten seconds to impress me" Marty Schmelky, played gloriously over-the-top by Arlington Heights native Jerry Kernion. Schmelky is ridiculously costumed in the colors of money and is purposely loud and mean. Once Schmelky has come to the stage, I begin to put the pieces together: the two clowns aspire to be more like Schmelky. Their slapstick is mean-spirited and they are obviously in awe of Schmelky's wealth and power. These are all intentional parts of the show. Banana Shpeel is trying to tell me something about the seedy world of mass-market entertainment in the context of a mass-market show. It's the perfect irony if they can pull it off.



To waste just a few more of the seconds that I have to impress you, I have a little something to say about critics. To watch a skilled, hard-working performer and then rant about how much you didn't like what that person did is one of the most pitiful and useless things in the world of entertainment. Our world is afflicted with dislikia. It's too easy for us to say what we don't like. I guess critics feel some responsibility to their readers to steer people away from bad entertainment: to tell people when it seems necessary "don't waste your money on this one, folks." If show business is an ocean and performers are fish-in-the-sea, critics are bottom-feeding algae. I'm a freelance reviewer: still a bottom-feeder, but more of the catfish variety.

After setting up the premise of open auditions for Shmelky's Follies, the clowns call out seat numbers. Of course, the people who come to the stage are cast members, but we are supposed to believe that they are just people from the audience. I actually did have a moment of "Gee, I hope they don't call MY seat number." I wanted to believe the premise.

First up is a wacky Brazilian guy, played charmingly by wacky Brazilian guy Claudio Carneiro. He does some sort of shtick that is immediately rejected by Shmelky and is told to leave the stage. Next an elderly guy (Gordon White) with a walker is summoned. He moves very slowly to his position, then very slowly reveals that he will perform as a mime. We see Shmelky's impatience right away and the old guy character becomes someone we sympathize with. He too is rejected and asked to leave the stage, but before he makes his excruciatingly slow exit, he tries once more: he's not just any mime. He's also a ventriloquist. A ventriloquist mime. At that point, the slow pacing helps. It takes the audience a few seconds to put those pieces together and respond with the show's first big laugh.

Brazilian guy comes back with a fake mustache and some slightly different shtick, but we recognize him because of his beaming smile. Thus far, the two "rejects" are considerably more fun and charming than the clowns or the producer. Yes, this show is definitely trying to say something.

There's a chase scene to get Claudio offstage so that the auditions can continue. Next up is a strange little guy whose bare legs are visible beneath his trench coat: another easy-to-identify character. He's a flasher/pervert, played by Patrick de Valette. Once again, in spite of our knowing that he will be immediately rejected and berated by Shmelky and in spite of our identifying him as a social outcast, he is fun and funny. Shedding his coat to reveal a wiry underwear-clad body, he launches into a ridiculous (but quite skillful!) "interpretive dance" that becomes an uproarious chase scene. He eventually disappears behind the curtain.

The comedic tale is thus set up. The clowns and the producer are the villains, the social outcasts are the heroes, the audience has no idea what will happen next. So far so good.



What happens next is that the elderly mime/ventriloquist's dummy comes to life in the form of a diminutive painted clown played by Tuan Le. He does a hat juggling routine that keeps getting more and more amazing. My jaw was on the floor. I've seen some pretty great juggling before. I've worked with a few pretty great jugglers. This guy was simply the best juggler I have ever seen anywhere at any time.




Now I begin to get it: the ironic comedy and the mean-hearted slapstick are just stage-setting for the real entertainment. After the incredible hat juggling there's a musical number (featuring a really great band. I wasn't able to find the names of any of the musicians. They deserve lots of credit for making the show work) and a great dance number featuring brother-sister tap duo of Joseph and Josette Wiggan. When the slapstick comes back, it is annoying. By then, I am seeing what the show is capable of and it is really great entertainment. That is UNTIL it gets stopped by the clowns.

Daniel and Wayne are the two characters whose names are revealed to the audience. I had to look up the names of the other performers. Daniel and Wayne are both great at what they do and are (to me) obviously highly skilled actor/dancer clowns. It is the show that forces them to be annoying characters.

This is foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez. She's great too. Awesome, in fact, and swell to look at. But her act and costume reminded me that vaudeville might at any moment degenerate into a girly show. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but here's a highly-skilled performer--world-class talent even!--and I'm looking at her scantily-clad spread legs...maybe it's just me...














This is either acrobat/pole dancer Dima Shine or Russian hand balancer Dmitry Bulkin. The man-on-the-pole who performed the night I was there was nothing short of incredible, but neither the Cirque nor the Web told me exactly what his name is.

I couldn't find a photo of gymnast/balancers Jeff Retzlanff and Kelsey Wiens, but I thought their routine was breathtaking.

The show also features vocalist Alexis Sims, sister-brother tap dance duo, Joseph and Josette Wiggan, singer-actor-dancers Robyn Baltzer, Alex Ellis, Adrienne Jean Fisher, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Luke Hawkins, Kathleen Hennessey, Adrienne Reid, Anthony J. Russo, Melissa Schott, and Steven T. Williams.

Plus a really great band! Band Leader Robert Cookman directs the Banana Shpeel band featuring drummer Iohann Laliberté, bassist Bobby Brennan, multi-instumentalist James Campagnola (who mostly plays keyboards in this show), cellist Peter Sachon and a horn section composed of Roland Barber on trombone, Jean-François Ouellet on saxophone and Scott Steen on trumpet.

I had two main motivations for writing a review: one was that I wanted to have a written record of the names of all the great performers. The Cirque's website didn't tell me who these people are, so I found as many names and photos as I could. These people deserve credit.

My second reason for writing this review is to say the long version of: "Parts of Banana Shpeel were AWESOME!!! Other parts...meh."

All in all, this show is full of wonderful performers who are trapped in a show that holds them back from their potential. The clowns are great, but in the context of the show, they are forced to be annoying. The circus performers are spectacular, but in the context of the show, they're unknown bit-players.

On closer examination, Banana Shpeel is camp: it pokes fun at its own art form. It presents a vaudeville show as a way of displaying the inherent evils of the vaudeville form. It attempts to do to vaudeville what Little Shop of Horrors did to movie musicals: it tries to make fun of itself and let the audience in on the joke.

I get it.

But where Little Shop of Horrors succeeded, Banana Shpeel fails. LSoH let its talent shine. Shpeel holds its talent back.

I wouldn't have gone to Banana Shpeel if I hadn't gotten in for free. As it was, it was an enjoyable night with great friends. If I had gone alone and paid to get in, I'd have been tempted to ask for my money back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Personality Test

This test is posted here for informational purposes only. You may read and answer the questions if you wish--including copying and pasting it elsewhere--but no personal information will be gathered here and no results will be given.

To be clear: this test is here for YOUR information and entertainment ONLY

1) Do you make thoughtless remarks or accusations which later you regret?

2) When others are getting rattled, do you remain fairly composed?

3) Do you browse through railway timetables, directories, or dictionaries just for pleasure?

4) When asked to make a decision, would you be swayed by your like or dislike of the personality involved?

5) Do you intend two or less children in your family even though your health and income will permit more?

6) Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?

7) Would you prefer to be in a position where you did not have the responsibilities of making decisions?

8) Are your actions considered unpredictable by other people?

9) Do you consider more money should be spent on social security?

10) Do other people interest you very much?

11) Is your voice monotonous, rather than varied in pitch?

12) Do you normally let the other person start the conversation?

13) Are you readily interested in other people's conversations?

14) Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing?

15) Are you often impulsive in your behavior?

16) Do you speak slowly?

17) Are you usually concerned about the need to protect your health?

18) Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch?

19) Are you normally considerate in your demands on your employees, relatives or pupils?

20) Do you consider that you could give a valid "snap judgment"?

21) Do your past failures still worry you?

22) Do you find yourself being extra-active for periods lasting several days?

23) Do you resent the efforts of others to tell you what to do?

24) Is it normally hard for you to "own up and take the blame"?

25) Do you have a small circle of close friends, rather than a large number of friends, speaking acquaintances?

26) Is your life a constant struggle for survival?

27) Do you often sing or whistle just for the fun of it?

28) Are you considered warm-hearted by your friends?

29) Would you rather give orders than take them?

30) Do you enjoy telling people the latest scandal about your associates?

31) Could you agree to strict discipline?

32) Would the idea of making a complete new start cause you much concern?

33) Do you make efforts to get others to laugh and smile?

34) Do you find it easy to express your emotions?

35) Do you refrain from complaining when the other person is late for an appointment?

36) Are you sometimes considered by others a "spoilsport"?

37) Do you consider there are other people who are definitely unfriendly toward you and work against you?

38) Would you admit you were wrong just to "keep the peace"?

39) Do you have only a few people of whom you are really fond?

40) Are you rarely happy, unless you have a special reason?

41) Do you "circulate around" at a social gathering?

42) Do you take reasonable precaution to prevent accidents?

43) Does the idea of talking in front of people make you nervous?

44) If you saw an article in a shop obviously mistakenly marked lower than its correct price, would you try to get it at that price?

45) Do you often feel that people are looking at you or talking about you behind your back?

46) Are you "always getting into trouble"?

47) Have you any particular hate or fear?

48) Do you prefer to be an onlooker rather than participate in any active sport?

49) Do you find it easy to be impartial?

50) Have you a definitely set standard of courteous behavior in front of other members of your family?

51) Can you "start the ball rolling" at a social gathering?

52) Would you "buy on credit" with the hope that you can keep up the payments?

53) Do you get an after-reaction when something unexpected such as an accident or other disturbing incident takes place?

54) Do you consider the good of all concerned rather than your own personal advantages?

55) When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?

56) Does "external noise" rarely interfere with your concentration?

57) Are you usually "up-to-date" on everyday affairs?

58) Can you confidently plan and work towards carrying out an event in six months time?

59) Do you consider the modern "prisons without bars system" doomed to failure?

60) Do you tend to be careless?

61) Do you ever get a "dreamlike" feeling toward life when it all seems unreal?

62) Do you speedily recover from the effects of bad news?

63) When you criticize - do you at the same time try to encourage?

64) Are you normally considered "cold"?

65) Are your opinions insufficiently important to tell other people?

66) Are you so self-assured that sometimes you annoy others?

67) Do you keep "close contact" on articles of yours which you have loaned to friends?

68) Do you enjoy activities of your own choosing?

69) Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?

70) Do you completely condemn a person because he is rival or opponent in some aspect of your relations with him?

71) Do you often "sit and think" about death, sickness, pain and sorrow?

72) Are you perturbed at the idea of loss of dignity?

73) Are you always collecting things which "might be useful"?

74) Would you criticize faults and point out the bad points on someone else's character or handiwork?

75) Are you openly appreciative of beautiful things?

76) Do you sometimes give away articles which strictly speaking do not belong to you?

77) Do you greet people effusively?

78) Do you often ponder on previous misfortunes?

79) Are you sometimes considered forceful in your actions and opinions?

80) Do you accept criticism easily and without resentment?

81) Are you usually undisturbed by "noises off" when you are trying to rest?

82) Are you likely to be jealous?

83) Do you tend to put off doing things and then discover it is too late?

84) Do you prefer to abide by the wishes of others rather than seek to have your own way?

85) Do you find it easy to get yourself started on a project?

86) Do you bite your fingernails or chew the end of your pencil?

87) Do you "turn up the volume" of your emotions just to create an effect?

88) If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?

89) Are there some things about yourself on which you are touchy?

90) Do you have few interests and activities that are your own choice?

91) Do you ever get a single thought which hangs around for days?

92) Are you a slow eater?

93) Can you be a stabilizing influence when others get panicky?

94) Would you stop and find out whether a person needed help even though they had not directly asked you for it?

95) Are you prejudiced in favor of your own school, college, club or team, etc.?

96) Do you pay your debts and keep your promises when it is possible?

97) Do you sleep well?

98) Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?

99) Do you prefer to take a passive role in any club or organization to which you belong?

100) Are you logical and scientific in your thinking?

101) Does the youth of today have more opportunity than that of a generation ago?

102) Do you throw things away only to discover that you need them later?

103) Would you give up easily on a given course if it were causing you a considerable amount of inconvenience?

104) Do you "wax enthusiastic" about only a few subjects?

105) Do you rarely suspect the actions of others?

106) Do you sometimes wonder if anyone really cares about you?

107) Do you turn down responsibility because you doubt your fitness to cope?

108) Do you sometimes feel compelled to repeat some interesting item or tidbit?

109) Do you tend to exaggerate a justifiable grievance?

110) Is your facial expression varied rather than set?

111) Do you usually need to justify or back up an opinion once stated?

112) Do you openly and sincerely admire beauty in other people?

113) Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?

114) Would you consider yourself energetic in your attitude toward life?

115) Would a disagreement affect your general relationship with another person?

116) Does a minor failure on your part rarely trouble you?

117) Do you sometimes feel that you talk too much?

118) Do you smile much?

119) Are you easily pleased?

120) When met with direct opposition would you still seek to have your own way rather than give in?

121) Provided the distance were not too great, would you still prefer to ride than walk?

122) Do you ever get disturbed by the noise of the wind or a "house settling down"?

123) Is your opinion influenced by looking at things from the standpoint of your experiences, occupation or training?

124) Do you often make tactless blunders?

125) Are you suspicious of people who ask to borrow money from you?

126) Are your decisions swayed by personal interests?

127) Can you get quite enthusiastic over "some simple little thing"?

128) Do you frequently take action even though you know your own good judgment would indicate otherwise?

129) Are you in favor of color bar and class distinction?

130) Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears, or such like?

131) Can you quickly adapt and make use of new conditions and situations even though they may be difficult?

132) Do some noises "set your teeth on edge"?

133) Can you see the other fellow's point of view when you wish to?

134) Do you go to bed when you want to, rather than "by the clock"?

135) Do the "petty foibles" of others make you impatient?

136) Do children irritate you?

137) Are you less talkative than your associates?

138) Do you usually carry out assignments promptly and systematically?

139) Would you assist a fellow traveler rather than leave it to the officials?

140) When voting, do you vote the same party ticket straight rather than studying the candidates and issues?

141) Do you frequently dwell on your past illnesses or painful experiences?

142) Do you get very ill at ease in disordered surroundings?

143) Do you usually criticize a film or show that you see or a book that you read?

144) When recounting some amusing incident can you easily imitate the mannerisms or the dialect in the original incident?

145) In subjects about which you are not expert, are your own ideas of sufficient importance as to tell others?

146) Do you have a tendency to tidy up a disorder of somebody else's household?

147) Can you accept defeat easily without the necessity of "swallowing your disappointment"?

148) Do you often feel depressed?

149) Are you ever ill at ease in the company of children?

150) Do you get frustrated at not being able to do something rather than finding a substitute activity or system?

151) Are you sometimes completely unable to enter the spirit of things?

152) Do you rarely express your grievances?

153) Do you work in "spurts", being relatively inactive and then furiously active for a day or two?

154) Does the number of uncompleted jobs you have on hand bother you?

155) Do people enjoy being in your company?

156) Could you allow someone to finish those "final two words" in a crossword puzzle without interfering?

157) Do you consider the best points of most people and only rarely speak slightingly of them?

158) Do you laugh or smile quite readily?

159) Are you definite and emphatic in voice and manner?

160) Are you effusive only to close friends if at all?

161) Are your interests and fields of knowledge so important as to give little time for anything else?

162) Would you like to "start a new activity" in the area in which you live?

163) Would you make the necessary actions to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?

164) Is it easy for you to relax?

165) Do you have little regret on past misfortunes and failures?

166) Does the idea of fear or apprehension give you a physical reaction?

167) Can you trust the decision of your judgment in an emotional situation in which you are involved?

168) Could someone else consider that you were really active?

169) Do you find it hard to get started on a task that needs to be done?

170) Are you opposed to the "probation system" for criminals?

171) Do you spend much time on needless worries?

172) In a disagreement do you find it hard to understand how the other person fails to see your side, and thus agree with you?

173) Do you cope with everyday problems of living quite well?

174) Are you usually truthful to others?

175) Would you rather "wait for something to happen" as opposed to you causing it?

176) Do you spend too freely in relation to your income?

177) Can you take a "calculated risk" without too much worry?

178) If you were involved in a slight car accident, would you really take trouble to see that any damage you did was made good?

179) Do others push you around?

180) Do you make allowances for your friends where with others you might judge more severely?

181) Do you often ponder over your own inferiority?

182) Do people criticize you to others?

183) Are you embarrassed by a hearty greeting such as a kiss, hug, or pat on the back, if done in public?

184) Do you frequently not do something you want to do because of other people's desires?

185) Are you sometimes convinced of the correctness of your opinions about a subject even though you are not an expert?

186) Do you often find yourself "going off in all directions at once"?

187) Do your acquaintances seem to think more of your abilities than you do?

188) Is the idea of death or even reminders of death abhorrent to you?

189) Having settled an argument out do you continue to feel disgruntled for a while?

190) Are you friendly in voice, attitude, and expression?

191) Does life seem rather vague and unreal to you?

192) Do you often feel upset about the fate of war victims and political refugees?

193) Do "mere acquaintances" appeal to you for aid or advice in their personal difficulties?

194) If you lose an article, do you get the idea that "someone must have stolen or mislaid it"?
195) If you thought that someone was suspicious of you and your actions, would you tackle them on the subject rather than leaving them to work it out?

196) Do you sometimes feel that your age is against you (too young or too old)?

197) Do you have spells of being sad and depressed for no apparent reason?

198) Do you do much grumbling about conditions you have to face in life?

199) Do you tend to hide your feelings?

200) Do you consider you have many warm friends?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From Beyond the Veil

AAAAAAAAAIEEEE!

Did I scare you? No? Oh. I didn't think so.

Perhaps I'll be scarier when I'm dead, but then only if I was living dead.
How about this video...does this scare you?




There's a bit of a shocker in the end credit montage. Ego is indeed the scariest thing of all.

Monday, April 13, 2009

notes for note writing

In the past few weeks I've had thoughts about writing pieces on these themes:
Military drumming versus trance drumming and the different emotional states that arise from each.
Listening to Nirvana Unplugged at the Seattle coffee shop on Easter morning, perhaps with musings on the differences between Chicago and Seattle and why I live in a place I like less.
Brother can you spare me a solo?
TNT as sung by Carlos should probably contain the words "Actually I think I might be able to explain the reasoning behind that. You see, it's due to the fact that I'm TNT..."
Somewhere between too much and not enough is the mysterious, nearly undefinable quantity called "just right".
I'm getting old. Last week I spent nearly two full minutes thinking about things that were completely unrelated to sex.
Travel by air: the views from above.
Fake niceness only SEEMS nicer than genuine rudeness.
Country song: "I still miss my ex, but my aim is improving" Buy More Bullets Remix.
Note to self: Don't include song title listed above in any public posting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

True? Love, a novel in progress

I suppose I could blog about anything I want to blog about. I could do a journal of day-to-day stuff, write poems, post my photography, do political rants or rants about religion. I could write porn. I could post pictures of naked people. I could do anything I want and if I get in trouble for it, do I really care? No. Not really.

I'm writing a novel. It may need to be extensively edited later and it is far from being finished, but such as it is, here are the first chapters of the first draft of my first novel. It is as true as any fictional story.

My Novel: True? Love
by Bob DeVore, self-published on the Internet, first on MySpace, then on Multiply, now on the Blogger network--2008.

This is a work of quite amateurish fiction. All persons, places and events appearing in this story are entirely the product of the author’s nightmares and any similarity to any actual persons, places or events is purely coincidental. The author apologizes if anything in this story even remotely resembles the truth. That would be accidental and completely unintentional. The author has no idea what the real truth is.


Chapter One: Warren Peas, otherwise known as A Sale of Two Titties


The lies men tell are numerous and diverse, although they often adhere to a standard formula so that even without an obvious signal, other men know to go along with it.

We are being purposely gender-specific in saying that it is men who lie. Women never lie. The author would like for you to know at this point that he is a woman so that you can be confident that everything he says is completely true.

Even though the lies men tell are nearly infinite in variety, they all fit into one of two classifications: there are the lies men tell to save face and there are the lies men tell to save their asses.

It isn’t always the concealment of misdeeds that causes men to lie. It is often simply a fact of nature that men are forced to lie because they don’t really know the truth.

Brad carefully typed the words “the meaning of life” into the Oogle search box in the Oogle toolbar at the top of his Oogle homepage; a window in a window in a window on his computer—Brad’s window to the world. “You can find anything on the Internet”, he self-satisfiedly said to himself in a way that indicated his self-satisfaction.

Before he clicked the search button, he hovered his cursor over the box, causing a drop-down menu to do what drop-down menus do, namely: drop down. On small tabs on the drop-down were a few of Brad’s other recent Oogle searches: “does god exist”, “is there an afterlife”, “what is truth”, “does the universe go on and on forever or does it end somewhere and if it ends is there something else after that” (long tab for this one) and “what do women really want?”

This last one was rather a rhetorical mooted point since—as far as Brad knew—the one thing no woman wanted was Brad. Truth be told (not that Brad—a man—could tell it) his recent volley of Oogle searches was really just a way to push that “what do women want” search to the bottom of his search history so it would disappear from the drop-down menu. He didn’t want to be reminded that among all of the things he didn’t know, what women want was near the top of the list.

So Brad (not his real name since fictional characters don’t have real names) clicked “search” while silently reminding himself that with just a few more Ooglings, he could begin to forget that he had no idea of what is was that he lacked that women wanted.

At the exact same moment—according to the strictest Einsteinian definition of simultaneity—on the other side of the same town—a medium-sized city in the Midwestern Affiliated Regions of Solumbinia—Tiffany (her actual name. No lie this time) was conducting an Oogle search on her own computer, similar to and perhaps complimentary to but significantly different from Brad’s search. Tiffany (or Tif as she was sometimes known) searched for “an honest man”.

Point four-three seconds later, the powerful Oogle search-motor dutifully displayed the results: 437,958,219 pages found for “an honest man”, but all the pages were from works of fiction. Another forty-three hundredths of a second elapsed in which Brad and Tif remained completely unaware of one another even though they each had jobs that brought them separately to the same building each day of the week, Brad’s in a cubicle on the thirty-seventh floor from 9am to 5:30pm and Tif’s at an impressively-polished desk on the fifty-eighth floor from 9:30 to quarter of six. Tif never came to work early and Brad never stayed late. Immediately following the aforementioned eighty-six one-hundredths of a second, another brief interval of time elapsed during which very little happened that was of any significance to Brad, Tif, you or me, but this was a VERY brief period of inactivity because in a first chapter, one wants to keep the story moving.

The reader might assume at this point that—despite all odds—this story is shaping up to be a standard “boy meets girl, notices girl’s inner beauty as an asset quite apart from girl’s prodigious outer beauty, boy tries to win girl’s affection but girl supposes that boy is just as dishonest as all the other boys who have tried to steal her heart so boy must undertake some challenge to prove himself worthy then manages to get a first date with girl but ends up alienating her in some clumsy, stupid, avoidable way which leads to him needing to save the world in such a way that he could afterwards rightfully claim that the world now owes him something but instead he shows genuine compassion by letting the world off easy, impressing the girl so much that she decides to give him a brief kiss off to one side of his face before realizing that she really doesn’t like the way his breath smells” story, but the writer has no intention of writing some heaving-bosom novel that will be published directly to paperback and merchandised alongside copies of this month’s “Better Houses and Lawns” and “Ladies Room Journal” at the local Wallbrown’s drug and discount store.

So I’m going to keep Brad and Tif away from one another as long as possible unless they declare some kind of literary mutiny.

And they really can’t do that.

This is MY lie—on my sacred oath as a gentleman trying to be the best woman a man can be.


Chapter 2: The Runt for Head October

The very next thing Brad did was to log in to his account at I-needadate, using his screenname DudeManly4782 and his password--which showed on the screen as ******************** so that Brad could feel secure as he typed in ohpleasepleaseplease! The speakers attached to his computer immediately hummed to life with the opening chords of the new Frascal Ratts song that was set to play automatically on his profile page, causing Brad to wince and grab the scrollbar with his cursor (in the shape of a single red rose) to move down to the music player where he quickly clicked the pause button to stop the music. He never really liked Frascal Ratts, but he assumed that women did. His profile on I-needadate wasn't for him after all. It was to attract chicks.

He reviewed his "Search for Dates" screen, which said that he was a man looking for a woman, barely noticing his own disgust that there were so many other options in that category. Instead, he focused on the helpful search hint at the top of the page: "Choose what you really want in a date. Be honest."

He had set up his date-search a few weeks prior, checking what he felt were the appropriate boxes at the time, but since the powerful I-needadate search motor (editors note: are you sure you want to keep saying "search motor" instead of engine?) had not yet found any good prospects, he thought it might need some tweaking.

Ages 20 to 50, check. Any hair color, check. Any body type, check.

Maybe I checked too many "anys". Maybe I seem desperate. Maybe I AM desperate. But should everyone KNOW that I'm desperate?

Eyes? Yes please. Lifestyle? Sure, why not? Interested in?

Here was the question he couldn't quite answer honestly. Was Brad looking for casual fun, someone to hang out with, a dinner/show companion, possible long-term relationship or other to be written in comments? It all depended on how well they got along, how they hit it off, how Brad felt when they spent time together, chemistry and physics and stuff. How could he say what a date might turn into when he hadn't even met her yet?

So he kept his previous selection--ask me later--and went directly to the page that had profiles of possible dates. Brad knew that this part of I-needadate was the part he would have to work if he was going to find a date this way, but something about it really bothered him. It was as though he was looking at cans of soup in a grocery store. The faces and screennames were just like labels on soupcans and the brief profiles looked just like nutrition facts and ingredient lists to him.

"This is no way to shop for a friend," he thought--almost out loud, then, "Hm! Did I hear what I just thought? A Friend! I'm looking for a friend! And a date. Yes, that's it: a female friend. That's what I want."

As Brad experienced this profound insight into his own interests, a photo caught his eye: the photo of a very kind-looking woman whose screenname was Hotbabe3764, known offline as Tiffany. Hovering his rose-shaped cursor over the snapshot of Tiffany caused a dialog box to appear on the screen. "Do you want to...send message, add to favorites, ask for a date or wiggle eyebrows at Hotbabe3764?"

Brads eyebrows (the ones on his actual face, not his virtual eyebrows) moved around without his willing them to do so, indicating that he was thinking about what to do next. He clicked "send a message", then stared at the blank box for quite some time with no clue as to what to say to Hotbabe3764. He sat and stared at the screen for so long that his computer decided that it had been left alone and activated Brad's screensaver, an animated 3-D bouncing ball. He shook the mouse to make the screensaver go away and stared at the blank message box for a few more seconds before clicking the back button to return to Tiffany (I mean Hotbabe3764)'s profile.

Hey Brad. Don't make it bad. Take your sad ass, and get up off it. The minute you let her under your skin, then you'll begin to feel the itching, twitching, throbbing, sobbing, thumping, bumping YEAAAAAAH! Na, nana, nanana naaaaa! Nanana naaaaaa! Hey Brad!

Ancient pop songs with altered lyrics tended to spring into Brad's head for no apparent reason, but sometimes they got him through indecisive moments. Brad bravely wiggled his eyebrows at Tiffany. Actually it was DudeManly4782 wiggling virtual eyebrows at Hotbabe3764, but eyebrows got wiggled and that's the important thing here.

Unfortunately, since this isn't a romance novel, what Brad didn't realize is that he was about to become...a heartless, grisly serial killer!

"No I'm NOT!" said Brad

"Oh yes you will,” said the evil writer.

"No, I will NOT" Brad reiterated, somewhat more firmly.

"Oh, we'll just have to see about that," said the writer, with an evil giggle.


Chapter 3:Gidget Bones Diary


Guess what, Mandy…I have a date! It isn’t a guy from the club—you know I don’t date those guys—or any of the stiffs from the office. Some of them act like they would like to date me, but I really don’t want to get into some crazy sexual harassment thing that might make me lose my day job. This is an actual date with a guy I met online.

I know what you’re going to say about meeting guys online, but I have my reasons. All the other guys I meet are so hung up on how I look, I don’t get to know them as people. Or they don’t look at me as a person. Or something.

It’s like, at the club, once you’ve danced naked in front of a guy they don’t look you in the eyes anymore. I could be talking to a guy there, but he’ll be staring at my boobs and just saying “uh-huh” no matter what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong: the money is nice and I enjoy feeling attractive and all, but I think it’s time for me to meet a guy who will like me as something more than a hot body. Sounds strange doesn’t it?

And then at the office, it’s like those guys don’t see me for who I am either. It seems like they’re all competing with each other to see who can score on the office hottie first. I don’t really want to be like the end zone in a football game, where a guys is going to slam-dunk me, do the victory dance for 30 seconds and then run away to the other end of the field.

I already decided: no office-guys and no club-guys.

This guy is different. We’ve haven’t met in person yet. We’re getting to know each other through messages on that dating service I subscribed to: E-You.

This is such a different thing for me that I’m kind of nervous, but it feels right.

I hope he’s cute. But really, more than that, I hope he’s someone I can talk to; someone who’s interested in what I have to say. It seems that way when we chat online. I just hope that when we meet in person, this whole rapport thing we’ve developed doesn’t melt into a puddle of raging hormones. I mean, I hope there are some raging hormones, just not the kind that makes us both lose our ability to talk to each other like people, kind of like you and I talk to each other.

Except with some romance in it. Um, I mean, you’re my best friend and everything Mandy, but I want to have a guy in my life who can listen to me and still want to cuddle with me after we do the wild thing.

I’m meeting him tomorrow night at the Dusty Duck. Do you think it’s a public enough spot? Not too dive-y? They serve food. Tomorrow they’ll be spinning dance music after 11 (if we stay that long).

Wish me luck!


Chapter 4: From Lawn to Lusk

Why am I doing this?” Brad asked himself. “Is it just for the money or the adventure or is there something I don’t know about myself?”

These are the sorts of thoughts that were simmering inside Brad’s mind as he piloted his huge black Stinkin Aggravator (or maybe it was a Frod Exploiter—it was hard to tell in the dark) through miles of near-empty highway, along mountain passes, through city streets, staying constantly alert for any signs that someone might be following him.

He had prepared for tonight in the usual way that he prepared himself for these jobs: by looking at the photos and maps, reading the profile of the target (then burning the info packet in his fireplace) double- and triple-checking the SUV to make sure that all the special equipment was working the way it should, packing his “tools” into the concealed compartments. There were many things about Brad that made him good at the kind of job he was doing tonight. He was thorough, prepared, experienced and capable, but none of that would have gotten him the contract he had for this night if one particular qualification had been missing: no one in Brad’s personal life knew about his independent contracting business. He got these good-paying jobs only because—other than his employer—no one knew he did this kind of work. He was unseen and untraceable.

Sometimes it seems like I’m living some other person’s life; as though this really isn’t me; as if someone else is calling the shots.” Here, Brad had to smile at his own unintentional pun. “…calling the shots. Good one.”

The Boss (whose name Brad didn’t know and didn’t want to know as long as the cash kept coming) had said the same thing about the current target that he said about every target: that it was someone the world would be better off without. Brad knew that The Boss said this to him to keep Brad from feeling guilty; to allow him to feel that his actions were proper, good and justified. Brad didn’t want to look into it too deeply because of the chance that he might find out that what he had been doing was not in fact a good thing to do. He merely reminded himself that he was good at his job and that for all he knew, he was making the world a better place by taking out the trash.

Brad didn’t call himself any of the words that others might call him. Brad knew himself as a person who did things that needed to be done. He was a contractor—like other contractors. He could tell people he did freelance consulting.

The target was exactly where the target was supposed to be. The two 9mm rounds went into the target in exactly the way small lead projectiles were supposed to go into undercover terrorists: one in the heart and one in the head in classic execution style. No one saw Brad come or go. He hadn’t left so much as a fingerprint, a stray hair or a clothing fiber at the scene that could be used to identify him. It was as clean and professional a job as any of the other jobs Brad had done. But still, something troubled him.

“Is this really who I am?” Brad asked aloud, as if there was someone to hear his question.

“Oh well. At least I have a date tomorrow night.”


Chapter 5: A Tinkle in Rime

Tiffany was surprised that she was feeling nervous. It was just a date, just a guy. It wasn’t as though she had any trouble getting people to like her. She met people all the time and people liked her. There was no reason—she kept telling herself—to be nervous about this.

It had started during the moment when she opened the door of her closet, standing there wrapped in two fluffy towels—one around her just-showered body and the other turbaned onto her still-damp hair—as she surveyed her clothing options for the evening. “Okay”, she thought, “let’s consider this carefully. Shall I wear some clothes tonight? These ARE my best towels after all. They even match.”

That was when she realized she was feeling nervous. She always tried to make herself laugh when she was nervous. “Yep”, she thought, peeking at the full-length mirror on the inner closet door, ”I look good in towels. If DudeManly is going to like me, he’ll like me in towels.”

At that point, she did manage a small jitters-busting giggle, accompanied by a few small thoughts that brought more giggles: “Yeah, right, he would probably love to have me show up wearing a towel” and a brief quick-time fantasy involving her towel getting caught in the car door as she arrived at the Dusty Duck. At some point, she decided that she was giving her brain too much leeway in her efforts to get over being nervous, so she shook her head to shake the goofy thoughts away, causing her hair-turban to loosen and fall to the floor. With a deep sigh that she used as a kind of mental reset button, she finally acknowledged to herself that she was being silly because she was feeling nervous about meeting DudeManly.

Ummm. Okay. Maybe this nice blue hoochie dress. It fits about the way my towel does.” She pulled the small curl of spandex out of the closet and looked at it. “No, that’s a little too…stripper-y. I don’t want to look like a stripper tonight.

Or maybe this nice sun-dress. When was the last time I wore this? Have I ever worn this?” She let her mind imagine herself running through a field of tall grass with sunlight glinting through her free-flying hair as DudeManly chased her playfully, all in a hazy, brightly-colored slow motion. “Err, I don’t seem to be having any luck with putting clothes on. I do know how to wear clothes, don’t I? I need to just pick out some clothes and put them on. This isn’t supposed to be about my clothes. It’s supposed to be about me meeting someone I can talk to. If I don’t get dressed—somehow—I won’t get out of this apartment to go and meet the guy I’m going to try to talk with. First things first: underwear. I am going to wear underwear.”

Making a firm decision felt good, like a step in the right direction. She would wear underwear damn it, and the moment it took to put underwear on would give her a moment to forget about being nervous and just get dressed. “Yes”, she thought, with new resolve as she rifled through the drawer that contained her drawers, searching for the right one, her thoughts becoming an audible verbal expression to indicate her increasing sense of commitment to a plan: “I am going to wear…THIS underwear! What’s more, I am going to wear (more searching) THIS bra! And if Dude doesn’t like me in this bra and this underwear, then he just doesn’t know what he’s missing!”

It took another reset-sigh to get herself back to the present moment. “Ummm, Tif, sweety?”she said to herself, “He probably isn’t going to see our undies tonight. Remember: we’re a good girl. We don’t show a guy our undies on a first date.”

It went on like that for a few more minutes. Eventually, Tiffany pulled out a pair of jeans and put them on, then hemmed and hawed about what top would go best with the jeans and which shoes and…eventually, with great effort, she was able to leave her apartment.


Brad had only a slightly easier time getting dressed that night than Tiffany did and that was only because he didn’t have quite as many clothes to choose from. But still, he fretted a bit about looking good and he acknowledged that he was feeling nervous and—like Tiffany was doing at about the same moment—he reminded himself about why he was going on this date tonight. His reasons seemed a little different from hers (not that they were able to compare notes at that point: It’s only you and I who can see what is happening in these people’s heads) but it came down to a very similar thing. Brad wanted someone—maybe it would be Hotbabe and maybe not—who could know him for who he really was and could love him.

That should be easy enough, shouldn’t it? Don’t we ALL deserve to be loved, even a stripper, even an assassin?

Brad dressed in good jeans, a decent shirt and some boots, then he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror—not a full-length mirror, but he didn’t need to see how he looked below the neck. He looked at his face, looked himself in the eyes, looked at the part of himself he wanted Hotbabe to see while they talked.

“It’s going to be a good night”, he promised himself.


Chapter 4.5.1: The Hell-hale Tart

“Lair” is probably one of the more common words that we might choose as the name of the place where It lurked and lounged, awaiting Its moment, but “bunker” or “double-wide prefabricated home on wheels” might serve just as well. We want to have some way of telling something about It because even though Its basic nature is quite easy to describe—pure malevolent evil—very few of Its physical qualities will admit any simple descriptions and if the truth is to be told (which it really can’t be told here) even Its location in space-time is a rather iffy, indefinite idea.

We can think of It as having a roughly-humanoid body, for example, with arms and legs and a head at the top where Its ravenous mouth yawned lazily beneath Its wide-open eyes, but if we think of It in that way, we must remember that a construction crane has an appendage we call an “arm” and the pressure in any high-pressure system can be called a “head” and the part of every river where it empties into the sea is known as a “mouth”. The Beast we endeavor to portray in our imagination can be thought of as having these parts—as having a definite physical form and as being in a particular place—but these are only the roughest of guidelines to let us imagine the unimaginable.

It actually has an incredibly devious way of appearing quite non-descript and unremarkable until just before It strikes, remaining completely unnoticed until Its victim has been thoroughly trapped, and at that moment Its “true face” will momentarily appear to be anything the doomed soul fears deeply. Living flesh is Its food and nourishment, but disabling, paralyzing fear is Its favorite seasoning.

So although we can often convince ourselves during our happy rational moments that such monsters do not exist and even though we might be content to think of this monster as lying on Its back in Its hovel waiting for the moment when It would take Its next meal, these imaginings are only approximations. It was actually anywhere and nowhere; It was actually made of All The Evil That Ever Was and at the same time made of nothing at all; and It lay in wait, but Its waiting was an active inactivity.

Likewise, It could have many names in many languages and It could answer to those names and could hold the most erudite of discourse with any or all thinkers and sayers-of-names, but no name—secret or mundane—could be used to control It.

Its real name was therefore simply It.

It was hungry for the sort of double-value meal that might be named “Brad and Tiffany attempting to fall in love.”

Mmmmm. Such delicious fear!


Chapter 4.5.2 Omer’s Hilly-ad

Kind Reader, be cautioned and bolden thine heart
For herewith approacheth the difficult part
Departs for a moment the bits to bring laughter
And thereby to strengthen the parts that come after
The Poet intends not to ridicule suff’ring
But breaks into verse with a view toward buff’ring
For true horror lurks both in world and in thought
And if we won’t look or won’t see, tell me what
Meaning can be here contained in a tale
worth telling.

The young girl has a name that her parents gave her
But naming her name now does nothing to save her
Hers is a tragedy not rare enough
Though rarely we see it: our hearts are not tough.
Starving, near-useless, never to learn why
Her fate is to live but a short time, then die.

She knoweth not even that she is a she
Knows not of the glory a woman can be
Never learns that within her life-seeds could be carried
Or that she could live long enough to be married
And thenceforth to reclaim a renewal of life
Created of love.

The rice that was declared unfit on that night
By the Dusty Duck’s chef and was heft in a white
Plastic bag to a dumpster that sits in the alley
Of a mid-priced café in a sub-urban valley
and yet this food—rejected and tossed
Could have saved the life of a child.

Bad enough already, but it gets worse.
I continue, shielding us both with my verse.

Because even though you might say I control it
The story’s not mine. I’m just here to unroll it.
I’d love for life to be all sweetness and honey
With always enough food, enough love, enough money
And never with fear or with pain may we live
with never an urge to do aught except give.
I’d sincerely love to live in perfection
Where no stories need to be told.

It was there, collecting and feeding.
Feeding It-self while others stood needing.
The girl-child could not be consumed by Its terrors.
Fear could not touch her, her soul free of errors
Of greed or of hatred or dishonest vice.
With all hope denied her, she never thought twice
And though it’s a thing quite beyond our belief
Sleep without waking was—to her—a relief.

No, she was not the focus of Its hateful attack
She was only unbless-ed to live in a shack
By a side of a road where a man whose heart hated
Was driven to crimes here to be related.

Welcome to Spirituality 202: The Next Level. You may remember from Spirituality 101 that we began to approach the subject of coping with one’s feelings in a perfect world. The writer (a dedicated liar, you’ll remember) is unable to report at this hour that a perfect world actually exists, and so in the next level we shall begin to explore coping with feelings in a world that might contain some imperfections.

A few notes: in all cases, the writer is not to be thought of as a guru, master or teacher of any sort. At best, the writer is simply a fellow student who is learning through writing. The roles can, may, should and probably will be reversed at some point. Eventually, it will be you talking and me listening. And I’ll be quite grateful for that opportunity.

Secondly, we will be confronting the subjects of reality and truth. This novel is a work of fiction—quite outside of the set of objects called “truth”. From the perspective of a place outside of the set, I hope to get a look at the set in the same way that one can see the earth as a whole only from a place at a distance from the earth. We are outside of truth, looking in.

In the third note, I would like to ask you if love exists. If you answer that “yes, love does exist”, I would like to ask that you notice where and in what manner it exists. Please notice at this point that your answers are your own and I will make no attempt to lead you toward any particular answer. It will be enough for my purposes that I point out to you that if love can be in some way “real” then hate can be real in the same way; that hope exists in the same realm where fear exists—but maybe not at the same time. And—if these things exist at all—unlike some other things that exist, love, hate, hope and fear exist mainly because we believe they exist. Unlike most physical objects and unlike some mental objects, these spiritual objects become real only because of our belief in them.

And they don’t exist if we don’t believe.

As an example, I—the lie-teller—believe that the monster I have named “It” actually does exist beyond these pages, however “I” do not exist except as a storyteller here in these pages, a free, no-obligation gift that is included at no charge as part of your MySpace account. I haven’t specifically asked Tom if this is okay, but on the other hand Tom has not specifically told me that it isn’t okay. As long as I don’t show photographs of naked humans or use really offensive language, I don’t think Tom will mind.

Without further preamble, the rest of chapter 4.5.2 continues this way:

Heroic verse is for the singing of the deeds of heroic people; people who are not gripped and frozen and consumed by fear; people who might rightly feel fear, but are not victimized and controlled by It. Recounting the deeds of cowardly people is not an appropriate use of heroic verse.

Neither Brad nor Tiffany ever met Roger, but they both met Roger’s cousin Mikey. Roger never traveled from his native country of Ijoq (right next to Ijog in the Oroborian Gulf region) to the place where Brad and Tiffany lived: the A.R.S. (short for The Affiliated Regions of Solumbinia, a “free”, populocratic, Western nation.)

Mikey traveled to A.R.-ia on a secret mission: to carry out a terrorist attack. As part of Mikey’s efforts to blend in and be inconspicuous (and perhaps for some other, more-secret personal reasons) he visited the Honey Hive and came face-to-face (in a manner of speaking) with most of Tiffany’s outer beauty. He tipped reasonably well if somewhat awkwardly.

Brad “met” Mikey under less-friendly circumstances. Mikey was Brad’s target on the night before Brad met Tiffany.

Bad news travels quickly. During the same moments in A.R.ia while Brad and Tiffany were preparing to meet one another for the first time, Roger had learned of his cousin’s death and—quite distraught and angry—drove a car full of high-octane vaxoline fuel (vaxoline is a plutroleum distillate, used to fuel just about everything in this alternate, fictional version of the world) into the offices of Shrubco International, an A.R.ia-based plutroleum company that was drilling for the precious fuel within the nation of Ijoq.

The car blew up, causing a huge chain-reaction explosion of the entire Shrubco complex, sending pieces of super-heated debris flying at high speeds in all directions.

The evening news reported that five A.R.ians died in the explosion and that property damage was expected to add up to billions of Solumbonians.

There were no news reports that included the injuries of the large number of Ijoqis who lived in the immediate area, as if no one who wasn’t an A.R.ian really mattered.

Neither Brad nor Tiffany caught a news report that night. Neither was affected by this sad news when they sat down to enjoy a dinner together. It wasn’t completely necessary to include this part of the story except as a way to show what kind of world Brad and Tiffany lived in and how great were the challenges that came between potential lovers and that which their hearts truly desired.

Just before the car exploded, Roger saw It, but to Roger It looked like a foreign God, speaking in a foreign language, defiling Roger’s homeland.

Chapter 6 The Feces/Fan Incident

Ethan-- the parking attendant at the Dusty Duck--was listening to either Spritzeny Beers or Chupak Boocoor as he watched Brad's ten-year-old Loyola Cabron pull up to the curb. He noticed the look on Brad's face: a look that said "I don't really want to valet this car" and--

sorry, phones ringing brb~

"Hello?"

"Hi, is this Mr. Zilla? Mr. Bob Zilla, the writer?"

I couldn't quite place the voice, but I know that it wasn't a telemarketer. Someone selling magazine subscriptions or security systems wouldn't have called me Zilla or a writer. In fact, it could only be someone who knows me pretty well; so why didn't I recognize the voice? "Yes, this is Bob," I said, "Who's calling, please?"

"Mr. Zilla, my name is Tiffany. I'm a character in a story you've been serializing on MySpace."

Uh-oh!

"Oh!" I remarked as the first syllable of what might turn into a protracted utterance of hesitant stammering sounds, "I wasn't expecting a call from you. In fact I had no idea that it was even possible for you to call me."

"Well, it IS possible. I CAN call you. I can speak to you. I realize this might be kind of a shock, but just because you made me up, that doesn't mean I'm not real and it doesn't mean that I don't have my own feelings."

"Uh," I said as a way of showing my amazing intellect.

"In fact, Mr. Zilla--"

"Please. Call me Bob."

"Actually, I'd prefer to keep it formal at the moment, " she continued, without missing a beat, "because I have some real concerns about the way the story is going."

"I see. Okay, please go on." I began to brace myself for the worst. I was sure that Tif would be telling me some things I really didn't want to hear. But--funny thing about problems--they don't go away just by ignoring them. I knew I'd have to listen to what she had to say. I suppose I even admired the courage she was displaying by calling me in the first place. Well, courage AND a total break with the traditional relationship boundaries between a novelist and a fictional character.

"In particular, I really don't see why I have to be a stripper. I don't even understand why you would want for me to be a stripper. This story doesn't have any pictures in it, so you don't actually get to see me naked. And I can't think of any other reason a writer would make the female lead in his story have to be such a skanky kind of ho. I'm really NOT that type of girl at all, you know."

She seemed to have no trouble getting to the point: she had said a mouthful and then barely took a moment to reload before saying another mouthful.

"Um, look, Tiffany: I have not portrayed you as "skanky" or "a ho" or anything of the sort. I haven't actually even used the word "stripper"(here, I had to scramble to my notes to see which words I actually DID use) "nor do I plan to make you seem skanky in any way. You're a stripper for a couple of reasons: I needed to make you a character who was kind of vulnerable, someone who has a need to be seen as pretty, someone who craves attention and also someone who has a secret that she might hide from Brad. If you look at it that way, you are actually a part of ME. You're the character who represents all of those sorts of things that are actually parts of me--Bob."

"Fine," she said, unimpressed, "If YOU want to be a stripper, Mr. Zilla, then YOU go take your clothes off in front of strangers. Don't make ME do it for you just because it's part of YOUR sick fantasy."

"Sick fantasy?!? Now look here, Miss..." Steam was beginning to rise from my ears, near my red, overheated cheeks. The nerve! My own character calls me up to tell me off like this? Is that gratitude? Is that respect? No. It ain't no gratitude or respect and it ain't proper at all. Now this chick was going to get a piece of my mind. If I could spare any..."In the first place, you are a fictional character. You are the product of my imagination. No one blames you for the way you are. Readers are smart people. They know that you are who you are only because I made you that way. If it's your reputation you're worried about, you needn't concern yourself with that."

"No, Mr. Zilla, that really isn't it. I just don't know that I really want to be in this story of yours."

"Are you calling me to say you're quitting?"

"Well..."

"Do you realize what that means, Tif?" I waited a few seconds to see if she would have an answer. "If you aren't in this story, you don't exist." Those words felt very strange as they came out of my mouth, as though I was saying something that--even though true--was something I really shouldn't be saying. "You're fictional. You can't exist without a story to be in." The re-phrasing only made it slightly more palatable.

"So you're saying that I can be a skank or I can be not-at-all?"

Is that what I was saying? Not exactly...

"I'm saying that you can be the kind of character I write you as. I made you the main female character in my story--let's be blunt here, Tif--because I like you. I want you to be a person who has some challenges and some flaws, but who still manages to find something good in life. I want you to find love and truth and all the good stuff like that." I paused to take a breath in, then let it out, then take another. "Just like I want those things for myself."

"I'll think it over. I still don't see why I need to be a stripper. Ill think about it and I'll get back to you."

"Have a nice date tonight, Tif."

"Thanks. Bye."

k im back. phone call went well...where was i? o yeah--

Ethan-- the parking attendant at the Dusty Duck--was listening to either Spritzeny Beers or Chupak Boocoor as he watched Brad's ten-year-old Loyola Cabron pull up to the curb. He noticed the look on Brad's face: a look that said "I don't really want to valet this car" and--Ethan understood why a guy wouldn't want to let a stranger park such an old car. Ethan spent most of his Friday and Saturday nights parking other people's cars and he was well familiar with all the different types of people who put their vehicles in his care. He gave Brad a small smile that was intended to put his client at ease. Brad gave Ethan a nice tip--a five Solumbonian bill!--and so Ethan was able to classify Brad: he was the type who tipped before getting his car back in one piece.

The next car that came to Ethan's valet booth was also a Loyola, but a much newer one and the much more luxurious Maximoose model. The woman who hopped out of it didn't seem to have any anxiety about leaving her car with a stranger. And she didn't give Ethan any money up-front. Ethan classified this driver (Tiffany, but Ethan didn't know her name) as an "after-tipper". She would give Ethan a couple of solumbs only AFTER her car had been returned to her.

Brad sat at a table facing the door so he could see Tiffany when she came in. He reminded himself that he was going to have a good time tonight and that he wasn't nervous. "I'm not nervous" he said to himself. "I'm here to have fun. I'm not nervous. No, I am not at all nervous and I am here to have fun--"

rrr! sorry its the phone again...

"Hello."

"Hello, is this Bobzilla, the author?"

"Ah, hello Brad. I've been expecting your call. This is Bob, but I don't really call myself an 'author; more just a writer or storyteller. 'Author' sounds stuffy and conceited.

"Okay, whatever, as long as you're the guy who's writing this story that I'm in. I'm calling because I have Some Serious Concerns."
(I joined in on chanting those last three words as though it was the chorus of a familiar song. We said "some serious concerns" together, Brad and I. I felt that it might make him feel better knowing that we all have serious concerns.)

"You aren't alone, Brad. I heard from another character just a few minutes ago who said the same thing. And to be honest, I have concerns, too."

There was a pause at the other end of the phone line. I noticed that—unlike most of the moments in this story—over the phone, I couldn't actually hear Brad's thoughts. Writers of this type of fiction kind of depend on being able to know what the main characters are thinking, writing out the parts of their internal processes that the reader needs to see in order to understand the character. Throughout most of the story, we get to know exactly what Brad is thinking, but here on the phone now, I can't hear his internal voice. I have to wait for him to speak.

"So," he finally continued after a few moments, "since EVERYONE has concerns, maybe you won't be so sympathetic about MY concerns. It's the old 'you've got your troubles, I've got mine' routine, eh?"

"No, that's not it at all, Brad. I only mean that you aren't the only concerned citizen in this story. Maybe I'm not saying it the right way. I'm actually a lot better at writing than I am at talking. I'll listen to you. Please tell me what's on your mind."

He let out a sigh—in the manner of one who has decided to just go ahead and say what he's going to say—then he spoke in clear, careful tones: "I really just don't understand why you would want for the central male character in your story to be a murderer. You do realize--don't you, Mr. Zilla?—that whatever traits you give ME will be seen as traits of your own. Your readers will know that the 'hero' of your story is your own alter ego." (at this point, as I sat with the phone against my ear, listening to a fictional voice, I think my mouth was hanging open a little bit. I had no idea that Brad knew this kind of stuff) "When you make your hero a murderer, you make your readers think that you yourself somehow identify with a person who murders."

I let a slow four-count pass before I responded. I knew I wasn't going to be able to bullshit my way out of this. "I understand what you're saying, Brad, but you aren't a murderer. You're an assassin. You don't kill for fun or at random or purely by your own choice. You do assignments. Yes, you kill people, but only when you're hired to do so and the people you're assigned to kill are always bad people."

"Do you believe in that, Bob? Do you actually believe that some people are 'bad' people who deserve to get killed?"

This was so not fair. How does this guy know how to get to me?

"No," I admitted, "I don't really believe that there are people who are inherently 'bad'. It's just that I think that a lot of people DO see things that way: that there are good people and bad people. Especially in stories. Stories are supposed to have good guys and bad guys."

"Okay," he said, trying to recap what I was telling him, "because of some outdated method of storytelling that you don't even believe yourself, you made me a 'good guy' who kills 'bad guys'. Is that what you're going to tell me to make me feel better about myself?"

"Let's try a different way of understanding it." At this point I was beginning to realize that Brad wasn't going to accept any partial solutions. "Why does a storyteller tell stories in the first place?"

"Because it's just who they are?" he offered.

"Well, sure, but also because they feel that they have something to say; something more than can be said in another way."

"Okay, so you're telling a story to share your great wisdom about life," he said, with just a bit of sarcasm.

"I am trying to share something, but not really because I think I'm some fountain of wisdom and truth. If I just wanted to preach, I'd write essays. I'd get on my soapbox and I'd spout my opinions at the top of my lungs, getting all red in the face and always insisting that I'm absolutely right about everything. In a story, people get to see the situations for themselves. They get to make up their own minds about what's right or wrong. A story shows interactions and conditions and situations and lets the reader or listener think for him or herself."

"But you're the storyteller. You make the decisions about what the story is going to show."
"Only partially. To a great extent, you are as much in control of the story as I am, Brad. You do things in the story that I can't do by myself. You create the story as you go by being the person you are."

"Yeah: the fictional person I am, " he replied, still skeptical. "Left to my own preferences, I really would not have chosen to be a killer. I just want to find a nice girl to love. That's the only thing that's keeping me in this story at all."

"Understood."

"Just promise me one thing, Zilla: No matter what, you won't put me into some kind of crazy situation where this woman I'm meeting tonight becomes my target. I will outright refuse to even think about killing a woman I'm supposed to be trying to love. I'll take the Exploiter (or Aggravator or whatever my work-car is called) and I'll drive the hell out of this story if you so much as hint that I'm going to get an 'assignment' like that. Do you understand me?"

I doubt that many other writers have ever been placed in this position: being threatened by their own characters. It's quite undignified. But he has a point. "Okay, Brad. No killing the girl. I promise."

"Good. I'm not certain I can trust you, but as long as we understand each other, it should be okay." A pause, then, "and one more thing, Mr. Zilla? If it isn't too much trouble, would you mind writing some sort of physical description of me? Something that says I have an honest face and kind eyes? Without that, I think the readers might be a little scared of me. You want them to like me, don't you?"

"Yes, Brad. I want people to like you. I'll see what I can do. By the way, are you at the Dusty Duck now?"

"Yeah, I'm here waiting for this Hotbabe3764, talking to you on my cellphone, getting dirty looks from the other diners."

'Okay, just try to relax. The woman you're going to meet tonight is very attractive and smart and has a great sense of humor. I think you're really going to like her. Just have fun and be yourself."

"Yeah, " he said with barely-audible laugh, "I'll be 'myself'—whoever that is."



Chapter 7: A Meal Other Than Breakfast at a Place Other Than Tiffany’s

Brad didn’t realize it as he drove to the Dusty Duck that night, but his personal vehicle—a Loyola Cabron—had just turned 10 years old. Happy birthday Cabron!

He did notice that some of the Cabron’s acoutrements weren’t working as well as they had a few years before: the windshield wipers needed an occasional nudge to keep them sweeping the mist off of the glass, some of the door locks didn’t always lock or unlock on the first try, the driver’s seat was not as comfy as he would have liked and the interior had a rather dingy look. The big black Stinkin Aggravator was a far more impressive vehicle, but Brad only used the Aggravator for work. The rest of the time it sat in a parking garage downtown in a space leased monthly under an assumed name. For all anyone knew, the Aggravator belonged to a Mr. Billy Bigbucks.

Besides, the 10-year-old Cabron went a lot further on a gallon of vax than the Aggravator (or was it an Exploiter?) did. Like most cars owned by A.R.-ians, Brad’s Cabron had a faded “Affiliated We Stand” bumper sticker. Practically everyone had bought one right after the tragic events of 10/9, whether the car they drove was A.R.-made or Happonian.

Those bumper stickers were very important to most Solumbinians. Everyone felt so horrid after 10/9, so distrustful of one another that they needed some way of showing that they were loyal A.R.-ians and of knowing whether the person in the next car was also a good Solumbinian or a potential terrorist. The A.R.S. is a nation of immigrants, after all; made up of people from many other countries, affiliated only in their belief in freedom, truth, justice and the Solumbinian way. The stickers came in three varieties: “Affiliated We Stand”, “This Land is AR Land”, and “In Goodness We Trust”, each with a graphic of a boldly-waving green, white and purple A.R.-ian flag.

No one thought very much about why the 23 Oroborian dissidents (all registered as “legal aliens” living in the A.R.S.) had carried out the attacks on that autumn day; why men would hijack airliners and crash them into the three towers of the Global Commerce Center in New Blight City (and nearly crashing another plane into the Green House itself! That would have been a horrible blow to AR-ian morale even though President Shrub wasn’t in the Green House that day). No one thought very much about why these men could have been so angry with any and all A.R.-ians that they would sacrifice their own lives to randomly kill anyone who happened to be in the GCC towers that day. No one thought about the irony (or was it mere coincidence?) that Oroboria was a major supplier of plutroleum, that the airplanes exploded violently because they were full of plutroleum fuel, that Shrubco fuels powered all of the transportation in all of the Western world, including all the cars that now bore the bumper stickers.

No one thought about these things because President Shrub was not directly affiliated with Shrubco Industries. He just happened to be brother, son, uncle, nephew and cousin to all of the official owners of Shrubco. He just happened to be bosom buddies with Sheik Yermoneymaker, King of Oroboria. It was all pure coincidence.

Even later, after the war had started, after President Shrub had ordered attacks against Ijog and Ijoq, no one questioned it and no one bothered to remember that the hijackers had all been Oroborians—not Ijoggers or Ijoquis.

But people DID notice that as the war continued, the price of vax kept going higher and higher, and so did the profits made by the plutroleum companies. And Shrubco was just another global plutroleum company. Coincidence.

The phrases “conspiracy theory” and “paranoid delusions” will not be used in this novel—a work of fiction. In fiction, the conspiracy is not just a theory and the paranoia is not just a delusion.

Brad didn’t drive his huge black SUV work car to his date that night, in part because he couldn’t afford to use so much vax and still buy a nice dinner for Tiffany. That’s all you really need to know about why he drove his old Loyola Cabron instead of the much more ostentatious Aggravator. Forget about 10/9 and conspiracies and terrors and politics. Forget that Tiffany was born a Soslim in Ijog whose family moved to the A.R.S. while Estephania (her ungainly given name) was a small child so that they could live in relative freedom. Forget about everything else. Dates are not about such matters. Dates are about having fun.

She spotted him from where she stood next to the greeter’s station. It had to be him because he was the only guy in the place who was sitting alone, looking at the door. Their eyes met in about the same amount of time it takes to ignite a can of vax with a match.

She noticed that he wasn’t difficult to look at—no strain on her eyes. She estimated that he was about the same age as she was and that he was dressed reasonably well for a casual date. The next thing she noticed was that he had an honest face and kind eyes. Enough for now. She would inspect him more closely once she got closer. If he hadn’t been an acceptable age, dressed okay and with a face that at least appeared to be the face of an honest man, she’d have turned around and left without even saying hello.

Brad thought “Is that her? That has to be her. I hope that’s her.” He maintained eye-contact as Tiffany sauntered (? Hm. Does Tiffany “saunter”? I wouldn’t want to say that she jiggled or bounced to the table, or that she moved like a gazelle or some other animal known for gracefulness. She’s graceful—she IS a dancer after all—and she moves with a mindful confidence, taking none of her steps without awareness and intent. She doesn’t exactly “stroll”, “wander”, “meander” or “promenade”, nor does she “sashay”. It’s just that “saunter” sounds somehow masculine. What’s the feminine equivalent of sauntering?) to the table, and Brad stood up from his chair to greet her. It was an old-fashioned gesture—a gentleman rising when a lady enters a room—and quite outdated, but Brad was sincere about it. It was a gesture that said “I want to show you respect. I can pull your chair out for you or you can have MY chair or I am prepared to be of any service you might wish for.” All the same, Brad chided himself a little bit for his antiquated attempt at politeness and hoped he didn’t seem too desperate. He held his hand out toward Tiffany.

“Hi! Are you Hotbabe3764?”

“Depends who’s asking,” she replied slyly. “Are you DudeManly4782?”

“Yeah,” he said with a small giggle, but a not-nervous-not-nervous-I-am-NOT-nervous kind of a giggle. “You can call me Brad.”

“Nice to meet you, Brad. I’m Tiffany.” She took his hand and shook it, laughing slightly at the formality of the gesture, but enjoying the formal excuse to touch hands. “So,” she said with a giggle, “Wanna make out?”

The five orifices in Brad’s face—his eyes, nostrils and mouth—all dilated at the same time: his sensory organs suddenly opening wider as a way to bring more information into his brain. Tiffany seemed very amused by his new expression and she laughed out loud for a few seconds, then caught her breath to say, “I’m sorry! That wasn’t fair. On the way here tonight, I was thinking about ways to break the ice and I thought about how funny it would be if I said…if I asked…”

Brad’s facial apertures returned to their normal sizes—in fact, a few of them narrowed just a bit as he said, “Sure. Yeah, that sounds like fun. Let’s make out.”

“Oh, I didn’t say we were going to make out. I was just checking to see of you wanted to.”

They stood there for a few moments. An Oogle search-motor could have found billions of pages of information in the amount of time that Brad and Tiffany stood looking at one another. There are hundreds of statistics about X-events happening every Y-seconds in Z-world and many of those things happened while Tiffany looked at Brad and Brad looked at Tiffany, but those things didn’t happen in their immediate vicinity. It is difficult to say exactly what DID happen between Brad and Tiffany during that moment, since they weren’t speaking or moving much or having any audible thoughts.

Brad finally broke the silence. “I take it you like to laugh.”

“Yes,” said Tiffany. “I make silly jokes when I’m nervous.”

“Ah. I do that too, but I sing mine.”

“Mm,” she mmed. “Have you been singing tonight?”

“Humming a little bit.”

“Okay. So we’re both a little nervous. That’s normal, right?”

“On a first date? When you’ve never met someone before? When you are hoping you’ll like each other and have some fun? When you’re hoping you don’t make a bad impression?” Brad tried to summarize the kinds of things that had been making him feel nervous and say them to Tiffany in some genuine way to put them both at ease. “No,” he claimed with an eye-roll. “That wouldn’t be normal at all. People on a first date DO NOT act normal. Let’s get some wine so we can make a toast to abnormality.”

“Good plan,” she said, smiling broadly.

---Memories of Midnight Confessions

“Bless me, Uncle, for I have forgotten how to love,” said Tiffany formally through the opaque screen to the anonymous counselor on the other side. “It has been nearly three years since I last held someone.”

“I understand,” said the voice, “These things happen. Are you about to try again?”

“Maybe,” she said hesitantly. “Maybe I’m ready to try again.”

“Why have you waited so long?”

“I was angry and I felt betrayed.” Even though the feelings were difficult, Tiffany appreciated having this chance to let them out.

“Were you angry with the one you loved, or with yourself?” If you’ve never been to confession, this might sound like a rather deep question so early in the conversation, but this Uncle was well-trained in the method and this was very much the normal approach in these matters.

“Both, I guess,” Tiffany stared at her hands, folded on her lap. She knew that it would be up to her to get the most out of this confession and she was prepared to dig as deeply as required.

“And you do know,” continued the skillful Uncle, “that most anger and feelings of betrayal have fear behind them, don’t you?”

“Yes, Uncle. I know that.”

“Don’t worry now. This is your time for healing. Don’t be afraid of healing, even if it seems a little painful at times. Try to tell me what happened that made you angry.”

“I loved my boyfriend and I trusted him, but then I caught him in bed with…” she stopped suddenly.

“Niece, you don’t need to tell names here. And anything you do tell here is absolutely confidential. If you need to tell a secret, you can and you can be completely confident that no one else will ever know what you tell me here.”

Through tears, Tiffany finally forced the words out: “…in bed with…another man.” She drew a deep breath. Getting those few syllables out of the way seemed to open the blockage. She would be able to tell the rest now. “Uncle, I know you can’t really see me from the other side of the screen, but I’m a very attractive woman. I just couldn’t—CAN’T—understand how a man could be with me and yet still crave attention from…from another guy.”

The Uncle listened—and true to his training, listened beyond the words the young woman was saying—and thought, his graying head nodding slowly as he tried to understand how to be helpful. “What if,” he suggested, “it didn’t actually have anything to do with YOU?”

There was a pause. It was the kind of pause that happens when someone is thinking instead of making a quick dismissive answer. It was the kind of pause that indicated that a new thought was being considered.

“That hadn’t occurred to me” she said. “I’m used to taking responsibility for everything that happens to me. Isn’t that the mature way of seeing things? Isn’t it better not to blame others for the things that happen? Isn’t it better to say ‘What can I do better?’ than to say ‘YOU did something wrong’?”

“Yes, Niece. It IS better to take responsibility for yourself. But all the same, where other people and other factors are involved, sometimes the best you can do is to make your own choices and let other people make theirs.” He paused to listen. “Maybe you weren’t the one who made the bad choice.”


Meanwhile, Brad was vaguely but acutely aware that the last time he had attempted to have a girlfriend, she had stopped seeing him (citing such standard breakup phases as, “It’s not you. It’s me” and “I think we should see other people”—as though looking at each other had somehow made all other people invisible) for a reason she never said but which Brad knew full well: Brad kept a secret. He never told anyone about his “contracting business”. He couldn’t tell anyone, not his best friend, not his therapist, not his minister (if he had one, which he didn’t) not his attorney and certainly not a woman he dated for a few weeks. How could he tell her? “Yeah,” he might say, “I love long walks on the beach with pretty sunsets, cuddling near a nice fireplace on a cold night, meadows full of wildflowers in the springtime, puppies and kittens and –oh by the way –I kill terrorists on contract.

“But that’s just to make the world safer and because the money’s good,” he’d add, if he ever got that far. But he had no plans to ever tell anyone. Ever. Anyone.

Tiffany also generally kept her night-job a secret from most people, but she would be willing to tell someone she trusted that she earned extra money by dancing naked in front of lonely men.

“Red or white?” Brad asked.

“Hm. I might have to think about that for a minute,” Tiffany answered. “The wine should probably match what we’re having for dinner and I hadn’t thought much about what I’d like to eat.” There were already two menus on the table and Tiffany directed her attention to one of them, thankful for a moment to have something to distract them both. The attempted humor in her opening line had made her feel…a little fluttery. “Food,” she thought. “I’ll think about food for a minute. That will relax me.”

Instead—regardless of what she had just told herself—Tiffany felt the need to make small-talk. “I wonder why they call wines ‘red’ or ‘white’ anyway. Red wine is kind of purplish and white wine is obviously clear—with maybe a bit of yellow. Red wine isn’t red and white wine isn’t white, but that what everyone calls them anyway.”

Brad chuckled. Tiffany liked the sound of Brad’s chuckle and she liked his grin as he said, “I guess it’s just one of those color-insensitivity things like “black” or “white” people. No people are actually black or white. Or yellow or red for that matter. Everyone’s kind of brownish. Some lighter and some darker; some with various undertones, but no one is any of the simplified colors that people use in casual speech.”

With that, Brad rolled up his shirt-sleeve and showed Tiffany the inside of his forearm. “See? People might refer to me as “white”, but I’m actually a light beige with hints of pink.”

She took a look at the proffered skin, surreptitiously glancing at the third finger of Brad’s left hand as well to check for a tan-line there. Most of the guys at the club had the third-finger-tan-line where a wedding ring normally covered that spot. The club-guys would remove the wedding ring in an attempt at appearing to be unmarried. That was something that was on Tiffany’s mental checklist for tonight: if he’s married, the deal is off. “Well that settles it then,” she finally declared, smiling in a way that Brad found quite disarming. “We’ll have pink wine, in your honor.”

“Okay, but I’m going to ask if they have any beige wine first.” Here, Brad’s gaze went to Tiffany’s bare shoulder, quite a nice shade of beige. At the same time, he looked for tattoos. Brad didn’t especially care for tattoos on girls, especially the lower-back ones. Something about tattoos on skin that shouldn’t enjoy all those needle-pricks just didn’t seem quite…wholesome to him. Tiffany didn’t seem to have any tattoos that Brad could see, but he’d remember to try to get a peek at her lower back. That thought made him mentally clear his throat just a bit. He thought, “Ahem! At some point, it may become appropriate to glance at her—ahem! lower, um, back.. ”

Tiffany seemed to notice that Brad was slightly distracted. A waiter passed their table and it could have been a good moment to order the bottle of wine they had just been talking about, but Brad’s attention seemed to be momentarily elsewhere. She decided to ask.

“Thinking about something?”

“Uh…oh, nothing really,” he stammered. But then he thought better of it. Why not try to be honest about it? What’s to lose? “I was looking at your shoulder and I just happened to wonder whether you have any tattoos. Or unusual piercings. Maybe I shouldn’t ask. I mean, it’s okay if you do…”

“And it’s okay for you to ask,” she said. “I don’t. I’m all natural: two pierced ears and two piercing eyes, maybe one tiny piercing through my heart, but no tattoos. And no boob job.”

“Ah. Um. Yes. Good.” Brad liked getting the sought-after information, but it was taking him a few seconds to process her references to her eyes, heart and breasts. “Boobs,” he thought. “We can call them boobs.”

“How about you? Do you have any tattoos or piercings?”

“No. None.”

Brad was grateful that the waiter came by at that moment. It gave him a chance to regain his composure and to be in control. “A bottle of your best beige wine, please,” then after an exchange of non-serious looks: “Just kidding. How about a bottle of white zinfandel? It’s pink isn’t it?”

“Yes sir!” replied the waiter, always happy to be a bit player in a customer’s fun evening. “White zin is the pinkest of the white wines! I’ll get that for you and I’ll be right back.”

There are of course many possible definitions of such time-related phrases as “right away”; one person’s brief instant is another person’s long wait. Even though the official global atomic clock in Bluepagan, Anglinia continually declared the scientific measurements of seconds, minutes, hours, days and years as the same for everyone, the actual passage of time was always subjective and idiosyncratic.

“Rowr” says Pippin, the writer’s cat, in response to my leaning back in my chair as I wonder what to say about the passage of time. “Thanks Pip, “ I say. “I’ll type that in.”

The waiter’s nametag said “Hi, I’m Rich”. Rich was at that moment serving customers at several different tables; most of them were having a fun night, but one couple—at table 6—had come to the Duck that night to break up. Breakup customers always needed near-perfect service. They would be flawlessly polite and cordial although demanding, but would be merciless in their criticism of any imperfections in their dining experience. Abusing the waiter was part of the breakup scenario and Rich had the knack of recognizing his customers’ moods. Table 6 was definitely a couple about to beak up; table 2 was a musical group of some kind coming from an afternoon gig; table 7—the small one in the corner—was a business traveler having dinner alone and table 5 was a couple on a first date. 6 needed a cup of soup and a perfect salad; 2 needed another pitcher of beer; 7 had gotten his dinner and could wait for a while, but would be needing a kind word soon and table 5 was looking for some white zinfandel to enhance their mood.

“I thought of a few questions I wanted to ask to help us get to know each other,” Tiffany began, but at that moment her purse emitted a sound—an electronic fanfare that signaled an incoming text message on her cellphone. “Um, excuse me a minute…”she said, reaching into her bag.

You have 1 new text message from Mandy! Click to view! She clicked.
“wazzup? is he cute? is he a psycho? do you need an out?”
“all good, yes, idk, no. cant text now. call u later, k?”
“k, but if I dont here from u by 1am, ill call”
“k. ttyl.”


“Sorry,” she said to Brad. “That was my friend Mandy checking up on me.”

“Oh, no problem. In fact it’s kind of nice that you have someone looking out for you. We’re meeting for the first time after all and you want to feel safe and everything.”

“Thanks. It’s nice that you understand. Now where were we?”

“You were about to ask me some questions so you could get to know me.”

“Oh yeah.” She paused for a moment. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t want to make this like a job interview. I just thought of a few questions to spark the conversation. There aren’t any right or wrong answers.”

“Fire away,” said Brad, vaguely aware that ‘no right or wrong answers’ was the exact phrase they always used in job interviews before they asked psych-profile questions.

“Okay: if you had been born a tree instead of a human, where would you want your roots to be?”

“That’s…a…hm, kind of a Baba Wawa question isn’t it? Does a tree get to choose where its roots will be? Isn’t that really just a random matter of where the seed happens to fall? I mean, I’m glad I’m a human instead of a tree. If I look around myself and I don’t like the place I’m at, I could go somewhere else.”

“Well sure, but it’s a trade-off, isn’t it? Trees don’t really die from old age. They have to stay in one place, but as long as it’s a good place, a tree might live forever.”

“I never really thought of it that way. I guess if I was a tree, I’d want to be in a national park right here in the good old A.R. of S,” Brad said, with a growing conviction that maybe life as a tree wouldn’t be so bad. He imagined being in a glorious natural woodland, surrounded in the springtime by wildflowers, his leaves becoming a riot of spectacular color in the autumn, nests of birds in his branches, squirrels scampering up and down his powerful trunk munching on his nuts…

“I think you’re right,” said Tiffany, “that a national park in this country would be the best place to be a tree.” She continued her thought internally: “as long as there wasn’t a plutroleum well underneath you. And as long as there was no major shortage of toilet paper.”

“But still, I think I’m glad I’m not a tree.” Brad concluded.

“Yeah, me too. Let me try a different question. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on 10/9. Where were you? And what kind of things did you think about?”

Brad stared at Tiffany for a moment. This was indeed quite a different question form the previous one. Did he want to answer this one? Was there perhaps something more he could say about being a tree? He took a breath and held it for a fraction of a second—unnoticeable to anyone whose nerve endings didn’t feel what Brad felt—and wondered if this lungful of air would be the one that would breathe openness and truth into a new relationship. “I was actually in New Blight City, about three blocks away from the GCC towers.”

“Oh my goodness.” Tiffany had never actually asked this question before and she had no way of knowing that the first time she asked, she’d be asking someone who had been so close to the tragedy.

“Yeah. A few minutes earlier, I was on the 57th floor of GCC-1, doing a job. I work in IT. I had flown to New Blight the night before to fix a server problem for…a company whose head office was there.” No need to say the name of the company. They were a subsidiary of Shrubco. “The job went well. I was done pretty quick and since my return flight wasn’t until the next day, I thought I’d try to catch a Wide Street show. I was on my way to buy tickets to The Pugilists of Pantalonia. I’d never seen a Wide Street show before and I thought this would be a good chance to do that.”

Tiffany didn’t say anything with words, but her eyes tried to say something. Her eyes wanted to tell Brad that she didn’t mean to ask about this if it was going to be too painful, but that she would listen to him even if it was. Her eyes wanted to tell Brad that it was okay, that he could tell her anything. But that he didn’t have to tell her anything. Tiffany’s eyes nearly knew how to say what her mouth had no clue as to how to put into words. Tiffany’s eyes said things no writer can write. Brad went on:

“It’s kind of funny, you know?” Brad tried to keep his serious story somewhat light-hearted. “So many things in life are just matters of dumb luck. If I had worked a little slower, I might have still been in GCC-1 when the plane hit. If I had been a slower IT guy, I might not have gotten the assignment in New Blight at all. I remember there was one guy in the office who wanted me to tell him all about how I fixed the server, but then his boss came in and had something that he needed done right away—seems like everything in New Blight is done in a hurry—and so I didn’t stand there talking to this guy. He, um, didn’t survive the attack.”



SOME NOTES:


“This place is AR place…” “Affiliated we Stand.” Major cities: New Blight, Sororaphilia, Mugajo, Santa Acrostic.

Ijog is near Ijoqu in the Gulf of Oroboria region, both are major suppliers of vaxoline, a fuel for everything, made from plutrolem.

The Loyola Cabron is a popular economy car from Happon (Hapanaisse)

There are rival factions of Soslims throughout the Oroborian world, mainly the followers of Idaman Jimi and Idaman Vic. King Ebbis of Oroboria is a loyal Jimiite.

Cystian televangelist Johnny Swagger.