Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reeses Penance

Having angered the chocolate gods by not partaking of the glorious bounty they provided John knew he would have to make a grand gesture to win back their favor.  He'd never actually performed the ritual himself and being one of the only practicing cocoalics in the area he didn't know how to find someone to ask.  So he turned to the area he usually turned to for obscure information: the internet.

Thanks to the wonder that is Youtube John was able not only to find someone performing the ceremony, but also a step by step instructional video that showed him how to follow suit.

The most difficult part was getting his hands on enough Reeses pieces to fill the tub.  But once he was settled in with the cleansing peanut butter chocolate candies washing his sins away he knew it was worth it. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sunshine and Rainbows

"So, exactly what happened?"

"It had been a pretty busy day, being the night before Halloween.  Going to a haunted house is the single most popular activity in the month of October.  And after being rained out so many evenings we knew we were going to get slammed.  It's not uncommon for us to get hit with upwards of a thousand people on a night like that so I was just praying to get through the shift without collapsing.  In hindsight I should have known something was wrong, even on crowded nights like that we won't get six SnR's in an hour."

"S N R's?"

"Sunshine and Rainbows- it's our code to tell the other actors to chill.  When someone freaks out, starts losing it, and they don't have somebody with them capable of calming them down the nearest actor is supposed to step in and guide them through.  We call out Sunshine and rainbows so everyone knows to swap out the act for soothing voices and reminders that it's ok, it's not real."

"Did anyone that came through tell you what they saw?"

"Nobody knew what they saw!  Blood, gore- that's all part of the show.  A real body in there isn't going to instantly pop out on your radar with all the special effects.  Strobe lights, fog machines, moving parts, more sounds than WWII- it's sensory overload.  One real body in all that mess?  It's a wonder we found it at all."

"How did you?"

"Well, after we had to call in the medics for the last one that came through- this guy was having a full on panic attack and those look a lot like heart attacks- we had to shut down anyway.  We did walk through from the end backwards and the front on.  We met in the body room and we found him."

"The body room?"

"It's made up to look like a meat locker with bodies covered in plastic hanging from the ceiling that you have to wade through.  Stan had been in the corner popping out at people.  That's where we found him, slumped over with his butcher's costume covered in real blood.  If people hadn't slipped on it they probably wouldn't have even seen him...  There's a reason you're not allowed to touch the actors."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Ghost Story I'd Like To See

Sir Benjamin Thomas is not widely talked about by the other members of parlament as his policies and votes were neither controversial or terribly revolutionary but it is obvious when talking to those who knew him that he made a large impact on many lives.  He is described as a considerate and kind gentleman who possessed warmth and an air of approachability uncommon to those of his profession.  Which is why it surprised me to hear somewhat ominous stories of his ghostly prescence from villagers in the pub.

They say that you can see him roaming the orchards on misty evenings holding a lantern aloft or hear him in the stables talking to his prized horses when no one is there.  I also received reports of piano music coming from his quarters which have remained unoccupied since his death.  In order to verify these reports I have traveled to his estate on the outskirts of this small hamlet looking for the truth.

I am greeted at the gate by a young woman who introduces herself as Lily and informs me that she was his headmistress.  She seems pleased not only to give me a tour of the grounds and show me how very well maintained she and her late master's other servants are keeping the estate but also to have the opportunity to discuss Sir Thomas whom she was obviously very fond of.

She describes him to me much like others have as a kind gentleman of warmth who was softspoken in all areas of his life.  What she adds is an element of familiarity reserved to those who observed him in his daily actions while in the privacy of his home.  She states that he was the most fair master she or any of his other servants had ever encountered and displays an obvious sadness over his loss.  It is only when I ask her of the tales I have heard of his haunting that her disposition changes.

"Oh, what rubbish," she scoffs, informing me that a man of such quiet nature could never make such a ruckus, either during his life or afterwards.  She emphasizes his desire to keep peace within his household during his life and her firm belif that his dispositon would not change so after death.  She does, however, inform me of her and the other servants knowledge of the exact moment of his death.

"He would always be sure to say goodbye to each of us indivdually whenever he left for London.  We would all line up at the main gate to review our duties during his absence and he would say goodbye by shaking each of our hands," she says.  "The physician, of course, would not allow us in the room when he became very ill although I tried my hardest.  I would have tended to him better, i'm sure and had his sister not insisted I would never have sent for him at all.  As was I was outside the door when I felt it."

"Felt what?"

"Felt him shake my hand to say goodbye.  As soon as I experienced the sensation I knew, before his physician emerged to inform us that he had passed.  I already knew and so did everyone else."

Intriguged I ask if anyone else is as firm in this belief as she and sure enough as we tour the grounds she introduces me to gardeners, stable keepers, cooks and other servants who all attest to the same thing.  In the kitchen she introduces me to one girl in particular, no more than 12 years of age, whome she informs is her daughter, Rose and says was very close to the master.  Rose has a bright disposition and smile uncommon in any servant and seems, much like her mother, very happy for the opportunity to talk about her late master.

"Did you feel the sensation of someone shaking your hand when Sir Thomas died?" I ask her.

"Yes," she smiles, "but I was the only one who got a kiss on the cheek."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Party Pooper at the Monster Mash

Jeff had never willingly signed up for this. Public relations was supposed to involve some miracle-working, sure. But the whole reason he’d signed on for some of the older clientele was to avoid all the drama and Hollywood bullshit that the divas and A-listers and other wanna-be stars tended to throw at their representatives. He didn’t want to handle press releases about drug overdoses and break-up rumors and other crap, he just wanted to manage schedules, send out replies and help out those that had paid their dues to the industry. Dracula seemed like an obvious choice, having retired from pictures decades ago and now doing nothing more than consulting on re-makes and speaking at specialty film festivals. The one exception was his annual Halloween party which, unfortunately, got bigger every year.

The guest list was more complicated than he would have thought. All the oldies were there- the werewolf, the mummy, Frankenstein, Stephen King. But Drac had a penchant for bringing “new blood” into the mix by inviting the lesser-known stars from new releases. A whole crew from Japan flew over ever year to shuffle around. There were always a host of zombies on hand- new stars from whatever adaptation had been filmed that year. He would even invite the new horror-film directors and novelists that were starting to get talked about in the public domain. To say it was a circus was like calling the Oscars a typical awards show.

Security, surprisingly, was not the biggest issue. There was more muscle in Hollywood than at most body-building competitions and it was easy to find a company that wanted their name on the event. The catering tended to be a little tricky as the menu had to be incredibly diverse while maintaining elegance. But luckily chocolate fountains handled blood very well and this particular company had an agreement with a local cattle factory for bundles of spare parts at a killer price. The decorations were easiest to come by, people would actually compete for the opportunity to showcase their new take on horror chic hoping to get credit in the pictures from the event.

No, none of that was an issue. The issue was the old, reliable guests. After Frankenstein’s newest bride found him canoodling with one of the stars from Quarantine last year and made a scene truly worthy of the “Hell hath no fury” adage he actually contemplated bringing in police to oversee the event. But Drac was whole-heartedly against it and instead the security was outfitted with tranquilizer guns. But still, Jeff worried.

He held his breath every time a new guest entered at the front gate, squinting to see through the mob of paparazzi parked outside and make out who was in the car to prepare the security team. He camped out at the door having his assistant grab and direct people as soon as they were greeted by their host. He had activities going in every room and enough booze, food and other accoutrements to keep people occupied for a year. And the staff were well equipped to direct the problem guests away from each other and keep them busy. All seemed to be going well until a growl like nothing Jeff had ever heard came from the main dining area.

Jeff ran faster than he would have thought physically possible, his adrenaline skyrocketing and propelling him with the speed of a demon. He found the huge, ornate table smashed at one end by what he recognized as the spinach monster from Six String Samurai who Drac had invited after befriending him at a film festival exploring the genre of live-action anime. He grabbed a random party guest who was bolting out of the room and asked what happened.

“I don’t know, I don’t even know what that thing is!” she shrieked. “All I did was comment on how good the spinach dip is!”

Jeff had to hire an industrial cleaning crew and a host of contractors to clear out and rebuild the dining room. The catering company, needless to say, was never called for another party. After concluding the business and referring Drac to his asshole competitor, Jeff retired from public relations.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Learning to Sign

Is it just me or do doctors have the most illegible signatures, and writing for that matter, ever?  I always thought that there must be a class in medical school for learning to write that badly so that you could unlearn all the basic tools of letter formation drilled into you in grade school.  With that preface, I present the following story:

He looked like someone who hadn’t slept in over 45 hours would. Bags the size of walnuts under his eyes, tinted the bluish/redish purple that comes from hemoglobin degradation- he knew the term now- and hair and clothes that obviously needed a wash. It was a condition that everyone else in his class was suffering, some just wore it better. But it wasn’t the puffy eyes and hobo chic that bothered Greg when he looked at his friend. He was worried. No one else would notice it, but he did.


“Hey Ben, wait up” he called to his friend as they exited the library.

Ben looked over his shoulder and, not paying attention to where he was going, walked head-long into the glass doors that opened onto the quad. His arm full of books prevented him from doing any real damage to himself, but he dropped his load in a big pile at his feet. Greg came over and helped him gather his books.

“Wow, you’re worse than I thought, man,” Greg said as he picked up the painfully heavy anatomy book.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know you’re tired and all but you’re better coordinated than that.”

“No, dude- it’s just these fucking finals have got me all up in my head and I’m not paying attention,” Ben explained. “I’m fine, though.”

“You are not fine, and you’re coming with me,” Greg said, standing up with the stack of books he’d picked up and walking out with them.

“Wait, gimme my books!” Ben called after him. He received a poisonous glare from a co-ed in his bio class and realized that shouting after making a huge scene with the books was probably not the best idea.

“Dude, gimme my books,” he whispered after him.

“Nope, you’re coming with me and if I have to hijack your books to get to follow then I will.”

Greg kept a steady pace across the quad and Ben followed on his heels, trying to wrangle the papers and other loose items that he’d hastily stacked back up. He almost barreled into him when Greg stopped short to peer over his shoulder and make sure he was following. They arrived back at their dorm and Ben expected to stop and receive his books so they could split off to their different rooms. But Greg kept going up the stairs the common room and Ben begrudgingly followed. When he arrived he roughly and loudly plopped the books down on the table which caused one of their dorm mates who had fallen asleep on his reading to bolt upright and let a startled “Whah!”

“Sorry,” Greg said in a hushed tone.

The man glared at him momentary then went about violently rubbing his eyes, seemingly trying to re-start them. Ben settled his stack on the table next to the books Greg had finally released and went about trying to reorganize the pile into its original form.

“Sit down for a second, talk to me,” Greg said. He was going for caring, concerned friend with the kidnapping but realized he might have come off as slightly more asshole. Ben’s refusal to look at him as he sorted through his papers supported the theory.

“Man, I so don’t have time for this. I got two exams tomorrow and at this rate I’m gonna flunk both of ‘em,” Ben complained.

“Well, which one are you more worried about?”

“The signature final.”

“Seriously? You’re actually this worried about the signature final? Dude, that is, and you’re not gonna find a single person on this campus who disagrees with me, the single easiest class we get. Sign your name illegibly, easier than breathing,” Greg argued.

“Ok, so I’m retarded, I can’t sign my fucking name so no one can read it, what an asshole I am,” Ben berated himself. Greg realized that demeaning his friend’s troubles might not have been the best tactic and tried to think of something he could do to make up for it. He wanted to help him, after all, not make him feel worse. He looked down at his hands somewhat sheepishly and noticed the stack of books. He had an idea.

Greg stood, grabbed the pile of books, picked them up, and raised them to his chest. Ben pushed up from the table to follow suit, thinking that they were moving again. Greg quickly slammed the stack back down on Ben’s right hand. He screamed and pulled his hand out from beneath the books.

“Fuck!” Ben said with the kind of passion that can only be created by intense physical pain. “What the fuck are you thinking?” he said, massaging his hand.

Greg grabbed a piece of scribbled-on loose leaf paper out of the stack, put it down on the table and handed Ben a pen.

“Sign your name.”

Ben cautiously took the pen from him and tried to hold it in his injured hand. He placed the tip down on the paper and applied pressure, then promptly let out a small yelp of pain.

“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Greg said. “Just sign it.”

Ben slowly, painfully scribbled the letters down on the paper. He inspected it afterward and found it to be completely illegible. He couldn’t help but smile despite himself.

“You are such a fucking piece of shit,” he said as he looked up with that smile.

“That’s the thanks I get for helping you ace your final?”

“You didn’t ask me what the other exam tomorrow is,” Ben reminded him.

“What’s the other exam?”

“Microsurgery,” Ben said angrily.

“Oh.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brain Drive

The American Red Cross wants my blood. They sent me a brightly colored e-mail letting me know that enough time had passed since my last donation that I was eligible to donate again. That nice man Ira Rosenberg from the temple where I last donated called to let me know they were having another blood drive. A volunteer left me a voicemail saying that there was one located near my apartment this weekend. And they were all very nice.

And I’ve got good reason to respond. In addition to the thanks of the American Red Cross and the patients I will help, I’ll have the gratification of knowing that my blood could save a life. And I will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gas card. And I’ll receive a complimentary stainless-steel travel mug. Not to mention the free cookies, pretzels and juice I’ll get when I donate. Pretty nice incentive.

Now, I can’t help but wonder why other people can’t use this tactic. People like to get stuff for their efforts. That old expression, you catch a lot more bees with honey than vinegar. Employers get it, for the most part. Overtime for extra hours worked and, increasingly rarely, bonuses for high production. Non-profit agencies seem to get it: a tax break for giving in your old clunker or donating money to disaster victims. Hell, even parents get it: bribing their kids with toys, outings and sometimes even money for good grades. So why not, I have to wonder, Zombies?

I can tell you that if the American Red Cross invaded my neighborhood, broke down my door, strapped me down and stuck a needle in my arm I would not respond well. And if they did that to everyone else I knew I’d be pissed. And if the world as I knew it pretty much ended because they did that to everyone all over the world? Well, no wonder people hate Zombies. They’ve got it entirely wrong.

What they should do is send out e-mails to people letting them know they’re eligible. Let them know how many zombies will be saved from starvation thanks to them. Offer raffles for gas cards or other perks. Bribe them with cookies and juice. Come to their office or church or community center with a van and well-trained brain technicians who will make the process as quick and painless as possible. I gotta think they’d get a better response.

So on behalf of zombies everywhere I ask you to donate. Come on, you’re not using it anyway. Might as well give it to someone who really needs it, right?

The need is constant.  

The gratification is instant.  

Give brains.™

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ode to the Treehouse of Horror

Of all the Halloween traditions that I wait for with baited breath, the Simpson's Treehouse of Horror has got to be among the top five.  What could be better than settling in on the couch with your favorite tv snacks and watching a re-cap of the year's trends, movies, news events and favorite plays performed by the characters we've grown to love over twenty years of hilarity?  I look forward to it with the same excitement I hold for Halloween itself.  Just as the leaves turning, the air cooling, the days shortening and the apples ripening means fall is here The Simpson's annual Halloween show means that my favorite holiday is just round the corner.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rain, rain go away

This weekend I was supposed to go to a haunted hayride.  It rained all day Friday and the place was closed.  Then, I was supposed to go apple picking at my favorite orchard.  It rained all day Saturday and that place was closed.  Just about every activity I wanted to do, save going to the movies, was closed.  Anger doesn't cover what i'm feeling.

I always associate November rain with absolute gloom but i've discovered something worse: October rain.  When all the fall harvest festivals and pumkin patches and apple orchards and hayrides and corn mazes and scare-crow making contests and gourd weigh-offs and costume prades and everything that is resplendent about the season get cancelled because of FOUR dark, gloomy, cold, soaking-wet days of rain someone needs to pay.  I don't know who.  But when I find out... adjectives haven't yet been invented to describe what I will do to them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The American Dream

Today I was listening to one of my clients talk about the beginning and end of his first marriage. He and his first wife, like many people from that generation, married young. Why? Because that was just what you were supposed to do when you were young and in love. There weren't really any other options society approved of.

Just two months into their marriage he got drafted into Vietnam. He did the best he could, sending his meager pay home to his recently discovered to be pregnant wife while watching his buddies die around him. He somewhat miraculously did not end up as a statistic after two years out there and was able to return home.

He was greeted by two strangers, one who he knew long ago and one who he'd never met. He tried to go back to school, using the money from the GI bill to fund a couple of semesters at college. But one income wasn't enough to support a young couple with a baby. And unfortunately his wife had frivolously spent a lot of what he'd sent home. So he quit school and went to work driving a bus.

At that time, and technically even now, that wasn't too bad of a gig. You got great benefits, decent pay, and they were unionized. He was perfectly happy just to be alive with a family and steady pay. She wasn't.

She didn't want to be married to a blue collar worker. All her friends at the bank where she worked wore business skirt-sets and had fancy houses paid for by their white-collar husbands. They had nice clothes and took exciting vacations. They got their hair done and went out to elegant restaurants. She came home to an apartment, a screaming child and an exhausted husband. They didn't talk about this, of course. Because they didn't know each other well enough to talk on an intimate level.

When they married they were defined by family values. After the war he had his family values and a raging case of disillusion with mankind. She had her family values and a voracious appetite for all the pretty things she couldn't afford.

They stuck it out for more than ten years despite being miserable with each other for most of it. They did the customary things couples do when trying to save a marriage- they had more kids, they put money aside for family vacations, they focused on work. And then finally, they gave up. What struck me so much about my client’s story wasn't the tragedy, but the familiarity.

A lot of people don't know that there was a big spike in divorce rates after WWII. Those young soldiers, like my client, came home to wives and places they didn't recognize. And because they were heroes, they got a free pass to do things usually considered taboo. But the financial boom that followed evened things out. There was no financial boom in the 70's. There was a societal revolution. Feminism, racial renaissances, political upheaval and the invention of a little thing called "No-Fault Divorce".

Politicians love to throw around the divorce rate as if it's some sort of proof of the moral decline within our society. I think that's horseshit. Haven't people always, from the very beginning, just been doing what they were told?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Piece by piece

I got into it for the right reason, if there is such a thing. It wasn’t for a lack of options. Well, I’ll admit- it was partly for a lack of other well-paying options. But it wasn’t for an inability to do anything else like some people say. I have lots of other skills, lots of other abilities. There's just nothing else that I know of which pays this well without the threat of jail time.

And it wasn’t because of all that psychobabble bullshit you hear on daytime talk shows. My father never abused me, my mother wasn’t one of those woman that feminists are so concerned with, I knew enough about ‘normal’ to know that this wasn’t really it. (Not that stripping is so abnormal, but it certainly is at least a slightly skewed view of normal sexuality.) And it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was getting into. At least, I thought I knew enough at the time. I thought my expectations were pretty realistic.

I expected to be ogled, I expected to be manhandled every now and again, I expected the requests for a “private show” and all the rest. I expected the objectification. The guys who see you as something to be owned or rented out instead of as a person. The ones that’ll go for that grab and then laugh with their friends over it. I always expected they’d be the ones to go home and beat their wives for not having dinner waiting for them.

I even expected that some of the guys wouldn’t be the run of the mill college co-eds or alcoholics or bachelor party participants or married dudes. The first fetishist I got wasn’t all that big of a shock. A little unnerving, sure, but not surprising.

I even, sadly, expected the lost boyfriends. The “nice guys” who’ll ask you out in the coffee shop or the bookstore, be all thrilled and attracted during those first few minutes of the date, talk about activities you might do together based on common hobbies. Then comes the inevitable question about what you do for a living and you lose any hope of getting the guy to look at you like a potential girlfriend again. I expected all that, on some level. And I was ok with it. Not happy, but ok.

What I didn’t expect, and what I couldn’t prepare for was the shift in world view. I don’t know if it’s cynicism or if I’m jaded. Or, on the other hand, if I’m seeing the world clearly for the first time and have simply lost my childhood fantasies about the good of mankind.

The world view I’m talking about is the one that lets you see, or at least hope to see the good in everybody. The one that lets you look past the bad behaviors and mistreatment of others and seemingly cruel dispositions to the wounded soul underneath. The one that says that the person drooling over you is still a real person and they’re just thinking with their junk instead of their brain. That’s the one I used to pride myself on having. That’s the one I’ve lost.

I used to feel bad that they weren’t getting laid at home. Wonder if their wives were the kind of women that took all the fun out of sex, made them feel guilty for wanting to tie you up or whip you or something. Wonder if they were a virgin and didn’t know any better. Pity the regulars who must’ve been stuck in two addictions at once. I used to think everyone had a story, even the assholes.

And when I say assholes I mean the ones that try to grab you despite the signs all over and the big, beefy security guards standing right next to them. Usually they’re just drunk, just stupid. And I used to think I could handle it just fine. The tough cookie, the girl who won’t let nobody touch her unless she wants to be touched. The girl you had to respect or at least treat like a human being because she forced you to. I used to defend myself, tell the security team I didn’t need an escort. They of course told me that I did, but I didn’t believe them. That was before the first attack.

I made out ok, altogether. The guys got him off me before he did any real damage, before he could get me into his car. But he would’ve if Bernie and Nate hadn’t been leaving right then. After that I got a little paranoid, or so I thought. Didn’t even try to walk through the floor alone. Even the grabs and the pinches were a threat then.

I used to wonder why some of these guys would look at me the way they do, why they’d stare right into my eyes and not seem to register anything. Cause the ones that avoid eye contact- that stare at your boobs or your ass or your legs but never look you in the eye- they’re no real threat. They’re either too horny to remember that there’s a real person under that body or they feel so guilty that they’re only seeing the body they can’t look you in the eyes and let you know that’s all they’re seeing. Harmless.

But the ones that look right at you and see nothing? They’re scary. Cause real people will look at you and see you. Maybe not notice, maybe not pay attention to you, but still see you. All those people walking down the crowded streets and not really registering that yes, you are a real person with hopes and dreams and a family and all the rest of it? They’re not really ignoring your existence, they’re just busy.

But these guys? The ones that see the body and the dancing and the rest of it and seem to be only registering body parts? The ones that can look right into your eyes and the only spark of recognition that registers is the fact that they are eyeballs as compared to ‘windows of the soul’? They’re the ones that’ll cut out those eyes, dismantle that body, kill that person the same way that some people slaughter cows or cut up prime rib. Whatever it is that connects the body to the person- whether it’s a soul or a spirit or something else entirely- they don’t see that. They see meat. Boobs, ass, hands, legs no different than breast meat or thigh meat or wings or whatever. Pieces of meat in a butcher store.

How do I know this? Because one of ‘em got my friend Keisha. It was, officially, the second attack. The cops claimed it was a serial killer, a really sick whacko that was unusual enough not to worry about. But I saw his eyes when he tried to get me. And I’ve seen those eyes since. Not frequently, not reliably, but I’ve seen them.

On the guy who sits in the corner watching from a distance. On the man who won’t talk, even when you ask his name. Then he’ll look at you and you know why. On the man who stops in just to grab a drink on his way home to his wife and family, he says. Then you see him peer over at you, and you see the eyes.

The cops called me paranoid when I kept calling to report the guys. They’d say “Oh, are you that stripper that keeps calling?” Like I wasn’t a witness or potential lead anymore, just “that stripper”. Objectified yet again. They’d tell me there were no news leads but sure, they’d take down the name of this guy that looked at me funny, have someone interview ‘em. Yeah, right. There were no interviews, no calls, just the cops getting the crazy stripper off the phone with false promises. They never caught the guy.

And now I see things differently. I see the potential fierceness behind the innocent flirting. I see the potential danger in the invite for a date. I see the way some guys look at you with those eyes. I don’t know what’s behind them. Maybe nothing, maybe that’s how they do it. No connection, no soul or whatever. Just a brain dismantling you piece by piece.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why there's no IT guy in the mafia

My apartment was a complete mess and it occurred to me that simply disposing of the trash and cleaning off the coffee table wasn't going to do anything more than make more space for me to mess up. I needed an entire overhaul of my entire organizational system. I needed professional help.

So I went to google, typed in "cleaning help" and came up with around 99,500,000 hits for everything from Stanley Steamers to semi-professional cleaning ladies. One particular site advertising "trash management consultants" caught my eye. I clicked on it and was redirected to a brightly colored, sparsely texted web page with a single telephone number and the phrase "Let us take care of your problem." It was so simple, so reassuring, so mysterious- I had to call.

A man with a relatively thick north Jersey accent answered and asked me how I came upon the site. "Uh, google?" I answered. He asked if I was aware of the services they provided. I said "No, that's why I called." He asked if I had a package that needed to be picked up. I said, "Huh?" I could tell he was trying to ask me something specific without actually asking, but I hadn't the foggiest idea what.

Finally he asked: "What is the nature of your problem?" So I told him, messy apartment, regular influx of garbage, lack of organizational skills, in need of a cleaning consultant. I must of said something that made sense because he simply made an "Uh-huh" sound and asked when I might be able to meet with one of their consultants. He gave me an appointment for the following Tuesday with someone he referred to as "Mr. S." I thought it odd to schedule a meeting for a cleaning service in Riverside Park but he simply informed me that they were "remodeling" and it was "safer" that way.

The following Tuesday I was at the park benches by the duck pond at precisely 1:30pm with a folder containing some photos of the biggest problem areas in my opinion, a list of questions I'd thought of and a pen. At precisely 1:35pm a bald man in a cheap-looking suit with curly black hair sticking out from the open collar of a bright red shirt walked by. I didn't think much of him. Two minutes later he came back and sat down in the bench next to me. He looked over and said "You looking for Mr. S?" Flustered, I responded in the affirmative. He moved over to my bench with an outstretched hand.

I gave him mine to shake. He kissed instead. Taken somewhat aback I pulled it away as gently as I could and asked him about the strange meeting place. He asked what the person on the phone had told me. I explained that I'd been informed they were remodeling the office. He said that's what it was, as if he hadn't known.

He said that he'd been expecting someone very different based on the problem described. For such a big job, the pricing would have to be negotiated before regular services could be guaranteed and a business arrangement could be entered. I told him it wasn't all that big of a deal, it was just one apartment and I brought out my list of questions. I explained the problem in detail, the annoying mail piling up, the clothes in disarray, the lack of spaces to put everything. And I showed him my pictures, explaining that I'd seen Martha Stewart do some amazing things with some plastic bins and a lable-maker and maybe something like that would be helpful, especially in the kitchen.

He listened, looked over the pictures, waited for me to finish. He looked at me for a full minute, seeming to study me. I couldn't understand what the issue was but I didn't want to seem rude so I just waited. He simply said "Good luck with your label-maker", got up and walked away. I couldn't understand what had happened. I thought I'd been very polite, very informative about the help I needed. I left the park without any real grasp as to what had gone wrong.

A few months later I saw that same bald man on the 6 o'clock news in a sea of flashing cameras getting pushed into the back of a police car with the headline "Minasola family goon captured. Prosecutors believe he may be the key to bringing down the head." I blinked at the tv and promised myself I'd go back to the yellow pages from now on.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Weird Work Day

I've always hated the fact that my office doesn't have any windows but never so much as today... when the power went out... at 2:30pm in the afternoon... on a Wednesday. I can't describe how odd it is to find oneself sitting at a desk, writing up progress notes by candlelight. It's not something I ever imagined doing. I somehow think of work as one of those places that is more insured against natural mishaps. All the computers and routers and networks running out of that building, it's too put together to be sitting in the dark. Plus the generator, the back-up lights- you'd think that if it did go out the network would re-boot. But it didn't. We had emergency lights and an alarm, that was all that worked. It was full blown lights out, complete with someone stuck in the elevator. (She got out without too much of a panic attack, thankfully.)

And i'm sitting there, in the semi-dark, straining to see the paper by the dim light and my co-worker says how this must be what it was like back in colonial times. Huh? Their computers didn't work? No, they only had candlelight and had to write with quill pens and it took a month to deliver a letter. My thoughts? No wonder they went blind by thirty.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kinemortophobia

So, i've been trying to read Max Brook's World War Z. If you're not afraid of zombies, I suggest you pick it up. It's sort-of fascinating. Not the living dead part, that's sort of been done. The cinematic landscape is littered with apocalyptic visions of swarms of the living dead, those nightmares are already in place. No, what's fascinating is the way he describes the breakdown of contemporary human functioning. The politics, the social landscape, the international business break downs, the money to be made. I'm just starting to get into the post-war landscape and how the U.S. government went about winning the war and rebuilding. It's interesting to find myself picking up the book and not feeling the weird physical sensation that is fear.

Because for the last month, that's all there was. The stomach clenching, the increased heart rate which you don't notice until after you've put the book down, the hyper-awareness of the floor creaking or a dog barking or god forbid, an unexplained noise. Every time I would go near the book i'd feel that physical sensation, Yet I kept going back.

I started out reading first thing in the morning with the sunlight streaming in through the windows, reassuring me that it was just a book and I was safe afterall. I'd read a few chapters, then go down stairs, have my breakfast and put something stupid on the television while I ate. Before you knew it zombies were no longer on my mind. That worked fine. Get scared, distract myself, move on.

Then, stupidly, I read it before going to bed. Don't ask me why i'm only afraid of the dark when thinking of zombies. Show me every Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th movie ever made and i'm fine. I'll sleep like a baby. Michael, Freddy and Jason combined and I snooze away. But one zombie and i'm a goner.

Looking over the dresser to see if the closet door has creaked open, compulsively looking behind me at the corner to see if the shadow has changed at all, pulling the covers up tight around my neck so nothing can bite me and listening like a dog for any noise. And I lay there thinking "This is insane. You are bat-shit insane. Zombies don't freaking exist! What is wrong with you?!?" And then the floor creaks downstairs and I jump under the covers.

And here's what I don't understand: why World War Z? These are the old school zombies. The slowly walking, moaning, arms outstretched, limping along at a snails pace zombies. What real threat do they pose? The rage-virus zombie from the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies, those I understand. They run faster, jump higher, and bite harder than the old school zombies. Plus the second you're bit you turn into one of them. That's fucking scary! But these guys? They're slow and shambly. They're undead- decaying, easily shot in the head from a distance. So why so scared?

Maybe because of how Brooks describes it- no where to hide, no way to escape. Entire cities being taken over in days. Miles of land littered with a slowly marching army of the undead invading every safe zone, every highway, every home. The idea that you're not gonna be up in a clock tower picking them off with a rifle for more than few weeks before your supplies run out and there's no way to get more. The idea that there's no help arriving, you're trapped. The idea that the vast majority of the human population is either dead or undead and coming to make you dead. The idea that they don't die- ever- until you destroy the brain. Freeze 'em, they'll thaw out and start walking again. Shoot 'em anywhere but the head, they keep coming. Chop off their legs, detonate them, disassemble them- any part left over will keep crawling along. The end of the world, with zombies.

I guess my point is it's a good read. It's gotta be if somebody as bat-shit crazy scared of zombies as I am will keep reading it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cyndi's Call- Part Two

Sykes was careful not to make any eye contact with Brown during the relatively long drive over to Miranda Winn’s house. He scanned the road ahead, fiddled with the radio, tapped his finger on the steering wheel and otherwise occupied himself. He stumbled upon the oldies station which happened to be playing some old school stadium rock from a weird band called Queen he’d seen a frightening picture of once and turned up the volume so he could hear the sound better. A slow but triumphant sounding chorus of “We are the Champions” streamed through the speakers and he smiled to himself, wondering how such cheesy music could have been outdated. Brown leaned over and violently switched the sound off. Sykes frowned to himself but kept staring straight ahead rather than risk a reaction. He knew Brown better than he thought he did and he certainly didn’t want his partner taking out his frustration from his interaction with the captain on him.

Brown leafed through the file trying to force himself to pick up the details about the case. 8:57am on Tuesday September 22nd the call had come in. The report indicated that the women on the other end sounded panicked, scared and otherwise emotional in ways Brown and many others didn’t expect from machines. She gave the details of Ms. Winn’s schedule, the last time she was seen, her normal whereabouts on a Monday night and the logical reasons as to why something was wrong. The woman hadn’t come home for her normal workout that evening which was scheduled every night at 9pm. They were supposed to do Yoga, Cyndi had informed the officer. Mondays were stressful for Miranda and she would never miss her cool down time.

It didn’t matter that it took a full 72 hours before someone could be considered missing. It didn’t matter that human beings were not as perfectly on schedule as machines. All that mattered in Cyndi’s electronic cortex was the intent- it reasoned that an emotionally needed exercise would not be missed unless something was wrong. He couldn’t help but react at the audacity of the machine, assuming it knew better. Every artificial intelligence system he’d ever had the misfortune of encountering seemed to work like that. Their reasoning systems were more advanced, their logical analysis more careful, their assessment more correct than stupid human detectives. Of course they were all polite, of course they were all careful not to sound too condescending by voice modulation or some other artificial change. Didn’t matter. They thought they were better and that’s why Brown hated them.

This Cyndi had called every morning thereafter at the same time. When no patrol was sent out the calls went higher up. First to the captain, then the commissioner, one even made it to the chief’s desk. Didn’t matter that none of those contact codes were listed for public use. Didn’t matter that the standard 72 hours hadn’t passed yet. This machine assumed it knew better and it knew how to irritate the channels to get a response. When a call came to the media and the A.I. bleeding hearts outlets the shit hit the fan. No wonder the captain was so pissed.

He turned the page to read more about Cyndi. The c170-c was one of the “new age” electronic software systems. Like the personal assistants and housekeepers and other systems that people left in charge of their businesses, homes, health and other vital things that no machine should be left in charge of, this system was hooked into the Lynxus system. Lynxus was an ever expanding system integrating every piece of knowledge from every international operational system and “improving itself” daily. As such, the c170-c would never need to replaced, updated, or re-programmed. It would learn the personal patterns of the owner and train itself to become more efficient, effective and challenging. It would push the person exercising to reach the best of their abilities at any given time and integrate the latest health news into the tips and tools it taught it’s owner. Or so the brochure claimed.

Despite the fancy sounding resume, Brown wasn’t impressed. To him it was just another machine that thought it was smarter, better, than humans. It couldn’t understand the human mindset because it was superior to it. At least that’s what he believed and no one was going to tell him different. He shielded his close mindedness the way most people shield their kids from dirty movies and violent media. And there was no way that another overzealous exercise coach was going to change that.

Sykes pulled into the freeway of a nice single family home with a yard way too big for a one single woman. Brown knew the woman had to be rich to afford this level of software but even with that in mind he was impressed by the sheer size of space and the scope of the landscaping. It must take an entire crew a full weekend to keep this place up, he surmised. Sykes whistled his same thoughts in an exaggerated cat call.

“Lets do the nasty,” Brown said as he unbuckled his seat belt and pushed the passenger’s side door open.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Silly Saints

I learned today that there is a patron saint of throats apparently sainted after some catholic priest saved a little kid from choking on a fishbone. And now people go to church and have their throats blessed. I always knew that there were a lot of saints but I figured most of them were at least semi-practical: travel, wealth, health, stuff like that. I come to find out that there are thousands upon thousands of saints in the catholic literature. Many just got martyred and were sainted for dying. But many are patron saints of random things. There's patron saints of occupations, animals, countries, cities, royal classes, medical conditions, you name it.

Call me blasphemous but that seems just a little silly. I mean a patron saint of asses? Really? Yes, really. His name was Anthony of Padua. I quote SQPN, an online Catholic media resource: "A gifted speaker, he attracted crowds everywhere he went, speaking in multiple tongues; legend says that even the fish loved to listen." Uh-huh.

Well, at the risk of being smithed, I've decided to compile my own list of silly saints, Enjoy!

Saint Fluffy: Patron Saint of dust-bunnies, pocket lint and those weird little fluffs you find in your hair.

Saint Flipper: Patron Saint of Dolphins (duh.)

On the same token, Saint Lassie: Patron Saint of Collies

Saint Latex: Patron Saint of condoms, surgical gloves, and food packaging.

Saint Gunk: Patron Saint of toilet bowl residue, sewage, oil spills and that crap on the bottom of your shoe that you can't figure out the source of.

Saint Teddy: Patron Saint of stuffed animals, sexy lingerie and popular presidents.

Saint Coppertone: Patron Saint of sunscreen. (Seriously, there should be a saint for that!)

Saint Ccino: Patron Saint of coffee products.

Saint Vaginitis: Patron Saint of that "less than fresh feeling".

Saint Clippy: Patron Saint of paper fasteners, hair fasteners, and annoying microsoft mascots.

Saint Buzz: Patron Saint of noise-making insects, electrical equipment and caffeinated beverages.

And finally, Saint Monty: Patron Saint of non-sequiturs.

This list will will be updated as there are many, many more to announce.