Tag Archives: Sam

[Writing Prompt] John and Mary

This is an unusual prompt – instead of thirty minutes to write one story, the author is to write three different stories from the same prompt, taking ten minutes for each one.

The prompt is simple: John and Mary meet. What happens next?

Before you tell me I cheated, let me say it here. I cheated. It’s really more of one big story than three separate ones. Anyway, here’s what I ended up with.

First Story
She was the only one I ever truly hated. When you really hate a person, I mean, when you truly loathe them, something happens inside you.
I used to wonder about my purpose in life. People came and left and it all seemed meaningless. Twelve, twenty-five, thirty, there was nothing for it. Nothing for me.
Mary changed all that. Something about her cherry blossom eyes, her dove-down hair, and the way she said my name that sounded like a badger strangling a cat on the fourth of July.
It was only when she said my name. Otherwise her voice was like soft pudding. That’s how I knew from the moment I met her the feeling was mutual.
Ever since that moment, we have hounded, dogged, and generally made each others’ lives miserable. When I see her there’s nothing else. Just the fury. I don’t wonder what the purpose of my life is anymore.
It is to ruin Mary Smith’s.
Second Story
I remember that night in the bar. John sitting there with his hangdog persona. Just like a lightbulb with a screw loose or an ashtray with too much tray. Everything about him screamed loser, loner, miserable waste of space pimple on the otherwise perfect prom face of the universe disgusting filth slime victim of his own self-destruction mouth breather wheezing sucking in and out in and out on MY air. That’s right, I can’t say “John” without emitting several high pitch squeals of existential anguish and aggression along with an array of colorful explosions. So what? He started it that night. His violent attack on my fragile psyche began with one simple word.
“Drink?”
Third Story
I can tell you what happened next. Not many people understand what happened between John and Mary that night. I can’t say I do, entirely. I do take some responsibility. I did introduce them. John likes dove-down hair and cherry blossom eyes, I thought they would hit it off. They were getting along at first. She accepted his drink and he started regaling her, I don’t remember the precise details of about what. She was all smiles, until she said his name. Mary will never admit this, but she’s always had trouble with the “JO” sound. Poor John is so sensitive he just didn’t understand she didn’t mean it. He was convinced that she wanted to insult him. It all went downhill from there. He compared her unfavorably to a frightened water buffalo, she told him he was too close and needed to give her a few planes of existence of space, and, sadly, the rest is history.

The Magnet Game and the Littlest Tree

There were two grandchildren at the lakehouse on Friday. To protect their identities, let’s call them Mac and Jason. As I will do when making a space for myself at a family party, especially one in which I do not know anyone very well, I brought out my secret weapon.

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I call this “The Magnet Game,” and it has the distinct honor among games that even among the vast breadth of people with whom I share it, it has universal appeal. I have never gotten the impression that someone does not like this game. Below is a brief description of the goal of the game, to place magnets on the board without letting them touch each other.magnet_gameBut, even the perfect game cannot become a hit on its own.  This is where Mac and Jason come in. When I first arrived, the elder grandchild Mac was occupied building a cardboard gingerbread house from a kit. Jason, however, was begging people to play ping-pong with him. When I suggested a new game he could play, he was all over it.

Three years old, Jason Immediately fell in love with the magnets, but struggled with the rules of the game. Early on, he would deliberately make the magnets stick to each other and smile broadly when I would say ” Oops, you have to take those.” At the end of the game he proudly announced “I have the most magnets.”

“Yes,” I agreed. ” that means you lose.”

This did not trouble Jason, who rushed upstairs to inform his brother Mac and try to get him to join us. After Mac refused, Jason and I played another game, which Jason was again thrilled to lose. A second attempt to summon Mac met with more success. When Jason lost a third game, Mac took it upon himself to make sure he felt appropriately bad. I wondered if I should intervene, but there was no need. Jason loved losing this game as much as he did winning.

When Mac and Jason returned upstairs and I put the game away, I considered it a success. What I did not expect was that an hour later Jason would be asking to play the magnet game all over again. This continued throughout the day. We would play the magnet game for fifteen minutes until Jason got distracted from his string of delightful losses and ran off, then after a break he would want to start all over again.

When Jason asked me to play with him, I encouraged him to invite others. This had limited success at first, but soon we were not playing hidden in the basement, but upstairs at the prize position in front of the football game With Mac and Jason’s father and grandfather. After being told a dozen times that he had lost, Jason now viewed it as a part of the game. Whenever any two magnets would touch, he would jubilantly thrust his diminutive finger out at the player and shout “you lose!”

When Jason stood up to leave and said “I want to play another game,” his father and grandfather said, “you can play another game. We’re going to play another round of this one.”

After the event, Alice and I picked up a Christmas tree from her mother. I want to call attention to this Christmas tree because for a long time my mother has been very proud of her tiny Christmas tree. Let me show a picture of our Christmas tree. I do not have a picture of my mother’s Christmas tree, but rest assured ours is tinier.  img_20161125_201202294

As Jason would say with a broad smile on his tiny face, “you lose!”

Freewrite: Human Garbage Can Vs. The Cookie Fairy

Here is a prompt I found on a writing website:

One day you come into work and find a cookie mysteriously placed on your desk. Grateful to whoever left this anonymous cookie, you eat it. The next morning you come in and find another cookie. This continues for months until one day a different object is left–and this time there’s a note.

So, here is my story.

They call him the human garbage can. This is not to be confused with human garbage, in fact, he considers it a compliment. His mother, for whom the noble impulse not to waste food was more of a compulsion and his father, a man famous for his iron stomach and a holder of t-shirts from close to a hundred restaurant eating challenges saw their son’s plastic bag-lined aluminum stomach as nothing short of a dream come true.

His parents never had trouble getting him to eat his vegetables. Rather, they had to make sure that one or the other of them was at the table at all times until everyone’s plates were spotless, or they would be. At three he had to be taught not to eat the bones of the chicken, even though he had already figured out how to leverage them against the sides of tables until they snapped into small enough pieces that they could be swallowed. At five years old he began to cry when burnt beans stuck to the bottom of the pan were scraped out into the garbage and won the right to have these mixed into his own supper instead. At ten he was memorizing recipes for orange peels, cherry pits, sour milk, and the grease from cooking chicken along with detailed analyses of the real expiration dates on food, which were oftentimes much further in the future than the packaging claimed. By eleven and a half, his leftover casseroles had halved the family’s food budget, although he was the only one who ate them. His doting parents no longer fed him, they simply gave him access to the kitchen after they and his older sisters had finished eating. In college, he amazed his dorm-mates with his ability to deconstruct a milk jug with a pocket knife and use a rubber spatula to scrape out an entire tablespoon of extra milk.

At 25, an office-worker at a waste-management facility, Bryan Clax seemed to have adjusted to society. He kept his true passion for making the most out of food at home. Until the cookie. The cookie, a wide, thin sugar cookie with big chocolate chunks, was perfectly edible. From childhood, Bryan had trained his nose to be acutely tuned to any signs of rot or danger, and this cookie was none of those things. But where had it come from? It was just sitting there on his desk, as if a cookie fairy had come to place it there as part of some arcane trial. He didn’t even like chocolate chip cookies.

Bryan tried to offer it to his co-workers, but they had heard about his habits and no one trusted his expert opinion that it was safe. Finally, just to be rid of it, he wolfed the pastry down and sat to work.

The next day there was another cookie. Thick, moist peanut butter. Bryan did like peanut butter cookies. He ate this one without thinking. When the following day a mint cookie with a dot of raspberry jam was there, however, he panicked. He looked at Paul working silently on his computer, his bald head and long beard bobbing to a beat on his headphones. Mary was chewing gum and paying no attention either. Or maybe it was an elaborate trick. He had already made a fool of himself demanding that someone in the office eat the cookie for him on Monday. He ate the cookie.

This continued for a month. Bryan watched his weight assiduously and was horrified to see his body’s response to daily cookies, but they were there. No one else would eat them, so it fell to him. Another month passed and Bryan could see a distinct paunch forming underneath his shirt. Still the cookies kept coming. He could not let them be wasted.

It was three months later on an chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookie that Bryan snapped. He would not tell you this. He would say he casually and politely asked each person in the room by name to please stop sending him cookies. The story is different from the perspective of the people he named. No one stepped forward, and he ate the cookie.

The next day, Bryan’s desk was covered in cookies. A paper-thin wafer in a light coat of purple grape flavor powder rested precariously on his pencil holder. A still hot tray of macadamia nut cookies had left burn marks on his reports. A row of decorative cookies in shapes and colors for every conceivable holiday outlined his desk making a sugary rainbow. Oblong biscuits dipped in chocolate rested neatly on the keys of his keyboard. On his inbound papers holder sat an exquisite gingerbread house glued together with peppermint cream cheese frosting and featuring a full front yard complete with multicolored macaron stepping stones and a lady finger lamppost. A tiny gingerbread man smiled a huge frosting smile and reached an arm out in a gingerbread wave of greeting. In front of the picture of Bryan and his wife was a colossal chocolate chocolate chip cookie cake with “For Bryan” spelled out on it in white chocolate frosting. A graham cracker stand held the cookie upright so it could display its message to all.

Instead of no one looking, now everyone was. Bryan, still in his coat and carrying his laptop bag, was shaking, his mouth working in useless silence. Keeping watery eyes on his desk, he reached down to place his bag and struggle to remove his coat, which was now too tight after three months of cookies. When he was done, Bryan stepped towards the display. He reached out one tremulous hand toward the macarons and stopped. Then he took a breath, smiled at all his onlookers, and peeled off a sticky note. After writing something down and sticking the note to his desk, he picked up his coat and bag, and left.

“What does it say, Paul?” shouted Mary over her gum as Paul rushed forward to look at the note.

“All it says is ‘Free cookies.'”

In a few moments, an  email came in from Bryan to the whole staff, “I am working from home today. Someone has been very kind to leave me an elaborate cookie display, which I very much appreciate, but I have already eaten my fill of cookies. Please everyone help yourself to the cookies on my desk. Interns especially.”

Mary and Paul watched for the rest of the day as people they had never met throughout the office arrived and consumed each last bit of the cookie display until only the big cookie cake was left. Paul’s eyes stayed on that cookie for the next few hours while more people filtered in and left disappointed. The one huge cookie was not something people were ready to eat on a whim. Finally, as Paul looked on, Mary sighed and stood. “I suppose this has gone on long enough.”

She walked to the huge cookie, laid it on its side and cut it into eight pieces, spitting her gum into the garbage can and picking out the white chocolate “Brian” piece for herself. In an hour it and its graham cracker stand were gone. “I didn’t know you were a baker,” said Paul.

Mary swallowed her slice of cookie, “Who said I was?” she asked.

When Paul said nothing, Mary continued. “My friend is, though.”

When Bryan returned to the office the next day, he was overjoyed to find nothing but crumbs left on his desk. They were still perfectly good crumbs, and actually quite flavorful.

Informal Qualitative Personal Psychometrics

Two of my co-workers took an energy management class recently. I happened to join them the other day when they went to meet with some of their former classmates. It was a lunch meeting, so I had my usual salad. The people at the table who had not seen this before were aghast that I was eating what amounted to kale, spinach, lettuce, and carrots with no dressing whatsoever.

Without time to think of a better answer, I said “dressing is superfluous.” A little later I brought up the conversation again. I said I had considered a while ago what it was that made me reluctant to eat salad. The inconvenience of fast-decaying greens made it difficult in my house, but at my work the high quality salad bar resolved that issue. As I mentioned in last week’s post, eating in and of itself is a calming activity for me. Salad greens and carrots, I learned, were not outright unpleasant to eat so much as just boring. Therefore with an interesting main dish, a large salad is a perfectly acceptable side. I do not trust salad dressing as a regular part of my meals. In general, it’s a highly processed vector of salt, sugar, and other mysterious chemicals to wreck an otherwise healthful salad. The fat in dressing is supposed to be helpful for properly digesting salad nutrients. My mother is a public health researcher, and after a very long conversation that I had to repeatedly bring back on track when she reacted with horror to every hypothetical food I suggested as an example of the non-salad parts of my meals, I managed to get her to agree that if I am eating something fatty elsewhere in the meal there is no need for additional fat directly on the salad.

When I said this, one of my co-workers immediately identified it. “Psychometrics,” he pronounced. “You are using psychometrics.” I found this characterization amusing. I would normally refer to this as introspection, but it may also be reasonable to think if it as a sort of informal, qualitative, personal psychometrics, or IQPP. Just kidding. I’m going to refer to it as introspection.

One of the first IQPP introspection-based lifestyle improvements I’ve made surrounding food in particular has been to recognize the pace at which I cease to enjoy a food. I have long been aware that my second bite of ice cream is not as good as my first, and that by the time I get to the bottom of a large soda I am either hardly noticing the flavor anymore or actively feeling sick. Selling food in small quantities is not something that capitalism encourages. The economy of scale and simple matters of supply and demand mean that the more food companies can get you to eat, the more money they’ll make, even with extremely steep bulk discounts. At my work, I have an unlimited supply of free lemonade and every week we have our aluminum cylinder of peanut M&Ms refilled. It lasts about two days on average. This resolves the issue of purchase volume as I am free to commit myself to no more than one M&M at a time. All that remains is self-control. By focusing my attention on the diminishing pleasure achieved by each additional peanut M&M, I have resolved the age old paradox, “you can’t eat just one.” I also use the roughly quarter-cup plastic container given for these snacks when I feel like I want some lemonade. A sporadic single peanut M&M and a quarter cup of lemonade now and then maximize my pleasure-to-sugar ratio when I might otherwise be distracted by temptation or feel sick from overindulgence.

With Halloween nearly two weeks past now, we’re still receiving bags of candy in our break rooms. After helping myself to four pieces of candy, I decided it was time to stop. This did not relieve me of temptation, though. Introspection to the rescue! Shortly after picking up a full-size bag of sour skittles, I analyzed my response to it. Without even opening the bag, I was already enjoying the experience. The crinkling of the gaudily colored packaging paper and the feel of the rough sour crystal-coated skittles inside served as the lead-in to the eventual experience of eating this snack. I decided to try treating it as the entire experience, and walked back to the break room to put down the bag of skittles.

Another treat from my childhood, Nerds, is a small, tangy candy that comes by the hundred in colorful little cardboard boxes. Lifting one of these boxes in my break room, I felt and heard the candies jostling and bouncing around. This was part of the experience, no doubt like the skittles carefully designed to keep people coming back and filling up on more sugar. Again, I was able to make it the whole experience. Every single time I saw that particular box of Nerds I picked it up and tilted it, remembering the joy I had received from others like it as a small child while suffering none of the consequences of adding so much sugar to my diet.

Do any of my readers have healthy eating strategies? Share in the comments.

Real Virtuality

I had a password-protected version of this post up briefly when I was trying to send it privately to a couple friends to check it over. What I didn’t expect was that WordPress would email all my followers to tell them there was a new post that they weren’t allowed to see. Needless to say, this entry is no longer password protected. Please enjoy.

Today I entered an underwater paradise full of colorful fish and mysterious tentacled creatures that withdrew when I touched them.

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I entered a paintball tournament with people across the world.

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I defended my spaceship from an onslaught of violent drones, ducking and weaving to avoid their blasts.IMG_20161015_142227334.jpg

Alice concocted magical potions that caused her to grow to great sizes and control objects with her mind.

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She played catch with a suit of armor, enchanted a talking skull to float around the room, and skillfully sliced very apple-like fireballs fired from a gargoyle’s mouth in half.IMG_20161015_152429447_HDR.jpg

When she researched the spell to master all reality*, Alice became overwhelmed with her power and wreaked havoc on her little tower. Vials on their shelves exploded in multi-color blasts, tables, chairs, and astronomy sets spiraled into a cacophonic hurricane. The poor little talking skull took a crossbow bolt to the face and flew away with a yelp. It mattered not to Alice. The whole world** was hers to command, and nothing left would stand in the way between her and ultimate power***…

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When our host Joe removed Alice’s headset she reported feeling dizzy and a little nauseous.

*virtual reality

**virtual world

***simulated power

Swimmer’s Ear

“We need to get some information before we can schedule a consultation with the doctor. Now these questions may get a little repetitive,” said the voice on the line. Her name was Amanda and she had gotten snippy when I’d been rude to her earlier, so she was definitely human.

“Ok.” I winced and moved the phone to my other ear.

“What’s your name?”

I told my name, carefully enunciating the letters.

“Ok, thank you. Now, what’s your name?”

I repeated my name.

“Thank you. Now can I get your name?”

I gave my name.

“What is the name of the patient requesting this consultation?”

I gave my name.

“What is your phone number?”

I gave my phone number.

“And an alternate phone number?”

I gave a backup phone number.

“And what is the name on the account?”

I gave Alice’s name.

“And what is your name?”

“I gave you my name already. Can we just skip these steps?”

“I’m sorry, this is required. What is your name?”

I sighed and gave my name.

This continued for thirty minutes. When I was connected to a doctor, he told me to stick my finger in my ear. “Does it hurt?” he asked. “Yes.” I said. Then he prescribed me ear drops and the strongest pain relievers he could offer. When I said I could handle the pain and it was mostly just annoying, he said, “Oh, just the drops, then.”

Alice says I should throw caution into the wind and swim even if it will exacerbate my ear. I have a policy of never doing exercise that will make me less healthy. That is the only value of exercise in my mind, so I do not have much to say to people who might think me lazy or cowardly for stopping for health concerns.

It’s going to be challenging to tell my triathlon team I have to bow out for a week, but I can try and make it up in the following weeks. I decided not to make my classic “this is proof exercise is bad for you” joke since I don’t want to discourage other people in the group who are trying to use this as an opportunity to get moving. That joke’s starting to seem a little immature anyway.

Honestly, I’m frustrated. I really did like the swimming, and I’m looking forward to getting this cleared up so I can jump back in the pool.

 

Writing Group

I recently tried to co-lead a writing group. The one I went to was getting so popular that it routinely had a waiting list almost as long as the roster of the event itself. The organizer was thrilled when I offered to help by splitting the group in two and letting the waitlist participate. When the library we met at closed for renovations we moved to a coffeeshop, noisy and with an implied expectation to buy expensive sugar and caffeine. I suggested my school library, which is huge and open to the public.

My group in the school library was a tremendous success. We found a place easily and it was quiet and undisturbed. A woman from India shared a poem using a ship metaphor to describe her life. Next we listened to a prologue of a post-apocalyptic medieval story. After the devastation, royalism returned, so it’s a story of futuristic princes and court politics.

Then I got a notification that the official organizer was moving the event back to the coffeeshop. As it turned out, her group got kicked out of their room. Understandable how that might upset someone. Shortly after we decided to split our groups. I would run one on the Tuesdays that hers did not meet.

This time I found out that I could reserve rooms at the library as a former student. So, we now had a guaranteed location where we would be the ones kicking people out if it came to it. Futuristic royalism again and another man maybe a little older than me came to share excellent, insightful writing advice along with the most metal short story ever written, about a noise band who play so hard their fingers fall off and they fuse with their instruments to become horrifying monsters. I read from my revised Cleaners novel, which is shaping up to be radically different from the online version.

The next week, I continued the successful reservation strategy and got the metal man and the poem-writing woman again. They both agreed that when one of my characters is thrilled that her house is so clean “It’s like my kids never existed” she is committing a crime against motherhood so ghastly that no real parent could possibly find her believable. The metal man read a supernatural heist / horror story about glowing blue rodents and the poem-writing woman asked for advice for a relative writing college admissions essays.

The metal man told me that I can’t use “giggled” as a synonym for “said.” He explained that this was simply a rule because you can’t giggle and talk at the same time. I see the concern, but I tried giggling and talking at the same time a few times, and I believe it is possible. This may be a rule I’ll have to break.