Monday, February 28, 2011

Another Day, Another Knight

The knight entered her cave with as much bravado and needless spectacle as she’d come to expect, waving his sword high above his head and charging into the entryway. He tripped over her tail the way she’d planned for him to and collapsed in a loud, clattering heap of metal. She gave him a second to straighten himself and then calmly, almost lazily placed her very large claw on his very small sword.

The knight lifted his helmet to see this, let out a rather pathetic yelp and tried to back away, ending up with his back against her tail. She gave him a somewhat intimidating look, letting the steam curl around her fangs as it rose out of her mouth. The man’s skin turned white and his shoulders dropped underneath their armor plating.

“Now, before you start screaming, let me assure you that I’m not going to kill you now,” she said, letting her voice echo off the stalagmites hanging from the cavernous expanse above. She was impressed that he didn’t blanch more at the sound and felt herself growing more amused. His initial reaction had been so like the others she didn’t think he’d be anything more than another snack. But the way he clasped his metal plated legs to his chest plate now made her think he might have some uses after all

“N- now?” came a small, almost squeaky voice from inside the helmet.

“Ah, we’ve got a live one our hands. Good to see can you listen. So many of your fellows can not,” she said, waving her head in the direction of the bone pile in the far end of the cave. She watched him tighten his grip on his legs and smiled the tiniest bit.
“So it’s obvious that I can kill you at any time that I please, and it appears that you’re smart enough not to do anything stupid in the interim,” she said and waited for him to react. He just starred down at the claw firmly planted on top of his sword and then looked back up her.

“Good! So, then- you will sit and listen to my proposition,” she said. She moved slightly to better allow her mass to spread out over the warm rock that made up the floor of her cave. She was going to make herself comfortable, even if he wouldn’t.

“Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly fond of loud, boisterous men barging into my home and trying to kill me everyday. I live a relatively quite life, for a dragon, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to live out my time peacefully,” she said and watched his face for a reaction.

His eyebrows furrowed for a moment, leading her to believe that he was actually considering his response. She was surprised again and waited for him to speak.

“Well,” came the small voice, a little more firm in it’s pitch now, “you are intruding in the kingdom of Goligeth,” he said. He stated it as a fact, not a threat and it pleased her that he wasn’t attempting to flex the might of his king.

“It’s good that you mention that because the fact of the matter is that your king is actually intruding on my domain,” she said. The small knight tilted his head up to look at her, almost as if he would make eye contact. She waited for him to do so but he settled his gaze slightly downward. She didn’t think it a deliberate sign of respect, probably more of a safety measure lest she bespell him with her eyes. But she appreciated it nonetheless.

“I came here over three thousand years ago, back when this land was nothing more than mountains and volcanic ash. Your king’s predecessors settled only 432 years ago but, like all humans, assumed the land was theirs for the taking,” she explained.

“Ah, I see,” the knight replied. She didn’t really believe that he did actually see her point, but he was at least listening.

“Now, as I said, I don’t desire much in life- I live a relatively quiet existence. In fact, I’m willing to wager that you and the rest of your king’s helpers didn’t even know I was in here until relatively recently. And you wouldn’t have known I was here if this volcano didn’t start petering out,” she explained. It was a fact that her warm and cozy home had started to get more and more chilly over the years as the active volcano her cave was located next to cycled further into its dormant season.

“So, forgive my intrusion, but if you like warmth, like most dragons, and this volcano is starting to slumber, then why don’t you just move?” the knight asked, keeping his gaze just below her eyes in as close to direct eye contact as he could manage. She was startled that he knew something, anything about her kind. It was a characteristic of most knights she’d encountered to believe that the entire world revolved around their kingdom and therefore to know little to nothing about other ways of life.

“How do know so much about my kind?” she asked.

The knight let out a sigh, and removed his helmet. “The truth is, I’m not a knight,” he answered as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He had released all the bravado he’d entered with and allowed his entire posture to deteriorate as if he weren’t used to holding himself completely upright. “I sort-of inherited this job from my uncle when you- uh…” he nodded his head towards the bone pile in the far corner.

She followed his nod and felt ever the slightest bit embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, as if she might have meant it if she’d known him any better.

He waved her apology away as if it were a fly. “I hate to say he had it coming, but I’ll leave it at that. The only reason I came here is because of my father- he was concerned that the king would take our farm if our family line was disgraced,” he explained with a tone that said neither the death of his uncle nor the prospect of his father losing his farm really upset him all that much.

“Seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for the king to do,” she sighed. “So- you’re a farmer?”

“Technically speaking, no. I have more experience with livestock,” he answered as if embarrassed by his lack of farming experience.

She studied him for a moment. Based on his appearance now, the information he’d shared and the general lack of fear, anger or anything else adversarial she began to entertain the idea that he might be just what she was looking for.

“Well, I have a proposition for you,” she began. She straightened her chest more as a formality than to appear intimidating, but she was fine with intimidation as a side effect. “Part of the reason that your king’s knights didn’t start bothering me until relatively recently is because, up until relatively recently, I had a servant who kept this place hidden. As I said, I’ve been in this mountain for far longer than your kingdom has been around.

“In the beginning, there wasn’t a human soul for over a continent and I had no troubles. When people started taking over land and this area started cooling I found it necessary to employ the services of someone to keep curious explorers out of this mountain side, and so I took on a servant. My faithful Osfrid served me for over 80 years. But unfortunately he has passed away and since I have been plagued by people of all kinds, not the least troublesome being your kingdom’s knights.”

She paused again, giving him time to digest. It was a lot to take on for anyone and she didn’t want him jumping into the decision simply to save his life. The look of concentration on his face made her think that he was actually considering her words rather than just looking for a way out so she continued.

“My proposition is this: you become my servant. You shall keep a farm if you wish, do whatever you like with your life. Your soul duty shall be to prevent anyone from coming into my home.”

It was then that his brow furrowed as if he were thinking it over very hard. She enjoyed the way the lines in his forehead deepened and his frown made his chin tuck in. The expression looked as if the issue he was figuring out in his head was a type of work that he was not accustomed to and she couldn’t help but smile slightly. He actually went to put his head in his hands and then grimaced at the feel of the metal from his gauntlets.

“Without inadvertently indicating any sort of disrespect, can I ask what’s in it for me?” he asked, with a tone that indicated more than the appropriate amount of fear.

“Hmmm, you are smarter than you look,” she said smiling down at him. With the dexterity that a creature of that size would never have been suspected to possess she drew back her claw from his sword, straightened herself and stood. Her head brushed against the top of the cavern and his face dropped as he watched her rise.

It was clear from his expression that he believed she was straightening up for the death blow or to snap down and swallow him whole. But then she surprised him by nodding downwards. His eyes dropped from her head slowly and then his mouth fell open as he beheld the large hoard of precious metals, gems and the like that had been nestled beneath her belly like a nest of eggs.

“Because I pay much better than your king,” she grinned at him.

He gulped so hard that the sound made a noise. “Alright, then,” he said.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

If I wasn't me...

If I wasn’t me then other’s words might be my own. Their ideas, their thought processes, their flashes of creativity and plot twists might come from my mind. If I wasn’t me I might have written a novel and even shown enough talent to be published.

It I wasn’t me I might have that thing which is so elusive and unfathomable to me- confidence. I might possess the sort self- aware grin that only comes from knowing that you have it. (Whatever it is.) If I wasn’t me I might possess a powerful sexuality that I could wield like a weapon- using my body in subtle ways to get what I want from the opposite sex. If I wasn’t me I might demand respect.

If I wasn’t me I might not fight so hard to be heard or shut down when I wasn’t. I might let others come to me and ask for my knowledge, my insight, my help or instructions. I might sit, calmly, quietly while the rest of the world fought and simply wait my turn to speak my peace. If I wasn’t me my words might have an impact greater than even I could know.

If I wasn’t me I might find it impossible to sit back and watch. I might have a million different activities taking up my time, my energy, my strength. I might be that person that everyone says is always racing around like an energizer bunny- their hands in everything, stunning others with the amount of energy they have to conquer so many different areas so easily. If I wasn’t me this might be easy.

If I wasn’t me I wouldn’t see the world like I do. I might see the good in each and every single person I met. I might even bring out the best in them. Or, conversely, I might not see any good in the world at all- not even friends or family. I might sit on the edges of life watching others like a tiger stalking an elk through the long grass. I might see people as food, or fun, or simply distraction and I might use them for nothing more than that. If I wasn't me I would see the world through a different set of eyes.

If I wasn’t me I might know why the hell I was here, or at least believe I know. I might pursue a goal with the sort-of stead fast diligence that can only come from the truly devout. I might never question, never wonder, never doubt. I would simply know, and no one would be able to dissuade me. If I wasn't me I might hold true to a set path.

If I wasn’t me I might be one of those people that I’ve seen way too many movies about. The ones that are beautiful without knowing their beauty, influential without knowing their influence, wanted without being able to ever accept such wanting. I might be fearful of committing myself fully to anyone in any respect, afraid to lose myself. The sort of fierce independence that looks really good on the young and rebellious, and really sad on the old and retired. If I wasn't me I might be one of the beautiful untouchables.

If I wasn’t me I might not care like I do. I might be one of those assholes who screwed other people over with such ease and ended up getting what they wanted. The sort of ease that only comes from truly not knowing how your actions affect others, and not caring if someone points it out to you. Being me, I always like to think those people eventually get their comeuppance- but I’ve yet to see any evidence to support that idea. If I wasn't me then my guiding motivation for every action might not be guilt.

It I wasn’t me… then the world wouldn’t be the world. It would look, feel, seem different. I would interact with it differently. Events would happen differently. Conversations would end differently. If I wasn’t me- then I would be a different me, and I probably wouldn't be wondering what it was like to be someone else in the first place.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Conditioned- A Story In Five Parts- Part Five

Day Three hundred and Nine

I walk into my office. A bald girl is sitting in the waiting room. She has no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair left on her head. She ate it all. I know because when she first started coming here she still had hair. I talked to her in the past, tried to make some progress. She screamed at me until she was horse and then kept screaming. I walk past her now, don’t even nod.

In my small, windowless office I throw my stuff down on the desk. I don’t turn on my computer, I don’t answer the phone. Someone walks into my office. It’s the bald girl, her large gut hanging over the belt of her stained trousers. She asks me to call her sister. Her sister’s dead. I know this because it’s the same delusion she’s had since the beginning. I tell her I can’t call her sister, say I’ll talk to her later.

She starts crying. I say “calm down” quietly, cause I know she won’t. The sobs become elongated, exaggerated, child-like. I don’t even hear them anymore. I say it again, “calm down, please- we can’t call your sister, you know that.” She starts screaming at me. “I want to call my sister!” I tell her we can’t, again.

She bangs her fist on my desk, screaming that she wants to call her sister. I stand up, grab my coat and my bag, walk past her. I leave my dim, windowless office. I leave the crowded waiting room where the drunk man is snoring, the teenaged mom is beating her child, the receptionist sits oblivious to it all.
I walk out my office.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conditioned- A Story in Five Parts- Part Four

Day Two hundred and eighty one

I walk into my office. The waiting room is empty. It would seem strange if I weren’t too tired to really notice. Inside my small, windowless office I throw my stuff down on the desk. The chair creaks as I sit down. I look at my computer, beckoning me to turn it on, start sorting through e-mails. The phone blinks at me letting me know I have messages. My cell vibrates in my bag. I just sit and look at the walls.

It seems somehow like they’re getting darker. Can’t really tell- the florescent lights tend to mess up your vision in the corners. What I wouldn’t give for a window or something. Something to remind of the real world that’s still out there. I haven’t seen much of it lately.

Something’s off. I don’t what it is. But I’ve got an uneasy feeling, like I’m waiting for something. Like a bomb’s gonna go off and I should tense myself in preparation.

Then the crying starts and I know what I’ve been waiting for. I’m used to the sound by now, it doesn’t jar me or even surprise me. But I shut the door anyway because it’s annoying. I sit back down at my desk, recommence staring at the wall. The phone starts ringing. I ignore it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conditioned- A Story in Five Parts- Part Three

Day One hundred and twenty-seven

I walk into my office. There is teenage girl sitting in the waiting room. She’s got a stroller with a young infant in it. She’s violently shoving a baby spoon into the infant’s mouth. The infant is screaming, crying. His eyes are red, his face blotchy and bloated. The teenage girl starts screaming at him to eat his food, curses at him. Part of me want to say something, do something. But instead I just keep walking, making my way to my office. I hear her smack the kid behind me, the sound echoes a little. I stop for a second, then keep walking.

In my office the phone is ringing. I don’t answer it. I just got in, I need two seconds to- my cell starts vibrating. I want to ignore it, but I answer. There’s an emergency at one of the houses. I drop everything, run back out to my car.

As I pass by the teenage mom and her toddler I see the teenaged girl is crying now, too. Crying louder than her kid as she keeps jamming the spoon into his mouth. The food is all over the kid’s shirt, spilling onto the floor. I run past them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conditioned- A Story in Five Parts- Part Two

Day Sixty Three

I walk into my office. There is man asleep in the waiting room. He looks like he’s homeless- unshaven, unwashed, clothes torn and dirty. He snores loudly. I know he’s not homeless, he’s my ten o’clock- here early. I walk past him, put my stuff down on my desk. There’s a thousand e-mails, as always. I check the voicemail first- someone died last night. I’m in shock, I don’t know what my next step is.

I feel like I should cry, or be upset or something. But my head jumps to the job- what paperwork needs to be filled out, what reports need to be filed, who needs to be notified first. I don’t even think of the family or friends that might be flipping out over it, though that’ll inevitably be more paperwork.

Someone starts crying out in the lobby. Loud, exaggerated sobs. It still jars me, a little. But I’m getting used to it. I walk to the door of my small, windowless office and look out. Someone is sitting with her, trying to calm her down. I close the door so I can get my work done.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Conditioned- A Story in Five Parts- Part One

Day One

I walk into my office. Or the building where I’m told my office is located. I expect my new boss to greet me there. They’re not there. I ask for them at the front desk, am told to wait, take a seat with the others. The guy on my left has some sort-of skin condition. I don’t know what it is, just that it makes all the skin on his face and scalp flake off in large, powdery white chunks. I half-wonder if I can catch it by sitting there. I hope not.

My boss arrives, apologizes for being late. Walks me back to my office. I say back because there is technically a short hallway leading there but the whole building is basically one large mass, and the waiting area sits right in the middle. There’s a copy machine next to the door, we have to push through some people to get in. Inside there are three desks haphazardly arraigned, one computer sitting on a wobbly desktop- the kind of thing you’d buy at Staples for thirty bucks and have to kick yourself when it broke cause you should’ve known better. My desk is shoved up against the back wall. I take a seat, am told to start by seeing if I can log onto the system. I can.

My boss says ‘great’ and tells me to just start there, that he’ll run back to his office and start e-mailing me everything. He reminds me that it’ll take a little time to get acclimated, tells me not to get overwhelmed, says to be patient. He leaves, frazzled by his phone which hasn’t stopped ringing for the two minutes he’s been here with me. I wonder if I’m gonna get any training, hope I will.

Someone in the waiting room starts crying. Then screaming and cursing while she cries. I hear a high-pitched soft-spoken voice trying to console the crying woman. She cries louder. I wonder what I should do- should I try to talk her down? Her screams make my gut clench, my adrenaline pump. What’s it called? Fight or flight? I should know that. Her crying gets louder and continues. I go out to see if I can help.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Things You Can’t Tell Just By Looking At Her

Everyone who’s stopped at the diner on their drive through town to the interstate has seen her there. Always at the same table in the corner where the shade drowns the otherwise bright sunlight filling the room. She always had the same faraway look in her eyes, the same simple cup of coffee. Some people have thought, mistakenly, that she was just people watching.

They’ve noticed the wedding ring, the earrings dangling from her wrinkled, elongated ear lobes. They’ve noticed the way her hands shake just a little as she stirs her coffee- something not at all unusual for a woman her age. They’ve noticed the bags under eyes where her skin sags, the crows feet from years of smiling. They’ve noticed all the usual details one might pick up on if one paid attention to the woman sitting in the corner of the caboose diner.

What they don’t know is that she fell in love with a farm hand on her father’s land when she was only 15. How she had a wild (at the time) affair in the rafters of her father’s barn well before marrying age. How she married this boy as soon as he turned 18 and was old enough to inherit his father’s farm. How she valued nothing more than looking out at the cornfields as dusk fell, watching her son play in the dirt and waiting for her husband to come home to the meals she’d prepared. The peace she’d felt during those mild evenings and the satisfaction that came from knowing your world is as it should be.

They don’t know how she felt when her husband came home with news that he was drafted and would be sent to fight the Nazis. How she worried herself so much during the years that he was gone she developed a heart condition which would remain with her for the rest of her life. They don’t know the passion, fear, pride, and horror that her husband relayed to her in his letters every single week. And they don’t know how she almost died when the postman failed to deliver one.

They don’t know how strange it was to reunite with her husband after that separation. How her son didn’t recognize him and how she herself failed to see the same man she married most nights when they bed together. How his eyes displayed the same faraway look she now had herself and how she found it difficult to impossible to connect with him.

They don’t know how secretly disappointed she’d been when her husband went from working the land to fixing the farming equipment that was now so common. How annoyed she was when he came home night after night with another ruined pair of overalls from grease stains she could never get out. How she found most of her joy during that time coming from watching her son age and grow fiery and wild- traits her husband had tried so hard to discourage in him.

They don’t know how angry she’d been when the factory moved into town and that little caboose diner was built just down the street from her house which used to be surround by farmland. How much she bemoaned the small town innocence lost. Or how guilty she’d felt the first time she walked down to the corner to sit and have a cup of coffee while her son was in school.

They don’t know how close she was to her son, her one remaining joy from a true connection with another human being. How they shared an intimacy so vivid that her husband would never understand. How she loved to listen to her son’s stories of school and friendships and activities that she could never do because she was born a girl. How she loved him more deeply than she’d ever loved someone before or after him. And they don’t know how she’d felt when he too was drafted for the next war.

They don’t know, and arguably could never know, how she felt when she received the telegram from the war department after her son had been in Vietnam for no more than three months. How she’d crumbled on her kitchen floor and stayed there in a daze until her husband came home that evening. They don’t know how that letter severed the small connection she and her husband still shared, and how they mostly stopped talking after that day.

They don’t know how angry and bitter she’d grown as she sat and watched the news reports day after day with footage of the horrors the other young American boys faced in a land so foreign she couldn’t imagine it, how obsessed she grew with knowing how much the death toll had raised, how many different nightmarish scenarios she imagined for her son’s death.

They don’t know how secretly relieved she’d been when her stranger of a husband was hired at a company manufacturing farm equipment and was gone for days at time selling machines to farmers all over the southwest. They don’t how strangely angry she’d been that he’d sold the farmstead because there was “no reason to keep it.” How she saw as him taking the last thing from her he could take.

They don’t know how deafeningly quiet her house grew when he was gone or how she missed him despite all the oceans of isolation between them. They don’t know how she sat day after day staring out at the fields which used to hold cornfields as far as the eye could see and marveled as the landscape changed.

They don’t know about the paintings she did which she never dared to show her husband, or the long walks she took for hours on end into Brower county because there was no one waiting for her at home. They don’t know about the repairs around the house she learned to do herself or the magazine subscriptions she sent away for because the articles reminded her of fantastical lives outside the world she knew.

They don’t know how she found her only joy day after day in walking to the diner for that cup of coffee and engaging the guilty pleasure of buying something she could have so easily made herself. They don’t know how much she hated the one or two days a week when her husband came home and sat in front of the tv drinking the beer she had to keep in the refrigerator just for him, and how much she grew to resent him for denying her that walk to the diner to get her coffee.

They don’t how little emotion she felt when her husband died during a business trip at the relatively young age of 63, or how detached she’d felt as she donned her black dress for his funeral. They don’t know how he’d watched so many young, pretty girls walk into the viewing, inconsolable over a man they shouldn’t have known at all. They don’t how many suspicions that had settled for her, or how much pain it’d caused her to find that that, too, didn’t really evoke much emotion from her.

They don’t know how much about herself she discovered after her husband passed. How thrilled she’d been when her paintings were exhibited in the public library and mentioned in the local newspaper. How she reveled in the young lovers she took despite what the neighbors thought, or how much pleasure she’d experienced with them that her husband had never given her. They know how she kick them out of the house the second they did anything that reminded her of her son when he was their age, right before he’d gone to the war that killed him.

They don’t know about the trip she took to New York city all by herself, or how disappointed she’d been with this place she’d read so many magazine articles about. They don’t know how happy she was to return to her still relatively small, quiet town and how she swore she’d never leave her natural home again.

They don’t know how she aged reading poetry in the local library with the other older woman in the bookclub. How she became an active member of the town board and voted on which company would take over the factory left vacant years ago. How much of a staple her presence in that little diner was to the townsfolk. How much they will all miss her when she finally has her stroke at age 87 and passes on.

No, all they would know from their cursory glance as they stopped at the diner for a quick cup of coffee and bite to eat before getting back on the local county route that connected the two highways, is that she was an old lady sitting in the corner of the diner sipping coffee.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another Unwanted Public Opinion

I’ve discovered something worse than Christmas decorations at the very beginning of November: Christmas decorations at the end of February.

I have ranted in the past about how much I dislike the fact that Christmas dominates commercials, department store windows, mall decorations, radio stations and the like for the entirety of November in the past and have suggested legislation to prevent townships from putting up decorations and whatnot before December 1st. (Knowing no policy makers my protests have been ignored, but still.)

Well, all of those sparkly garlands on street lamps and wreaths on every door pale in comparison to the absolute travesty of a lawn full of Christmas decorations at the very end of February. January? Ok. I don’t LIKE it because we are in fact in a new year and should take notice of such, but I‘ll grant you a week to take everything down.

But the end of February? Are you F***ing kidding me? And don’t give me the excuse that it snowed and you needed to wait for the snow to melt to dig everything out and pack it away- you had those decorations up on the first of November, they’ve had their time! There is no excuse for leaving them out and then waiting for the snow to come and bury them. That’s just f***ing lazy!

There’s this one particular house I pass everyday on the way to/from work that- in the beginning of November- had a lawn filled (seriously, it looks like they bought out Walmart’s entire stock) with cheap, inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments. Back in November it looked tacky.

Now? Now I can honestly not think of any reason whatsoever why those people shouldn’t be shot. Seriously- the township fines you for not having proper trash removal, letting your backyard fill with too much stuff, not parking your car in a designated area. How can there be no fine for leaving a hundred deflated lawn ornaments in your yard in February? At that point the ridiculous odometer can’t measure the situation- it’s sick.

I have a solution, of course. But for reasons I’ll never understand homicide is deemed illegal no matter how much of a waste of space the shit head is. I disagree with this. I’m not saying you should make it easy (like as easy it is to get the weapon to kill the person- 3 days for a handgun?). No- you can make us fill out tons of paperwork, go through all the usual red tape, etc, etc. But if we’re wiling to do that and have a valid case? No reason homicide shouldn’t be allowed.

Stupid politicians never listen to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Pitchman

He didn’t wait for the lights to come up, or for the normal din of small talk and chatter to die down. He liked his voice to be the first thing to hit their senses, to set the tone.

“Training seminar,” he said, and waited a beat for the heads to snap to the front. “Just say the words and you have to fight a reflexive roll of your eyes.” The lights came up on him and he waited for his eyes to adjust. He surveyed the crowd. Each head was turned in his direction. The hook never failed.

“I can imagine what you’re thinking right now. Memories of unimaginably long and over explanatory power point presentations, awkward and uncomfortable group exercises that require you to accomplish boring tasks using the same teamwork techniques you learned in high school, reviews of company policies and vision statements that have no meaning whatsoever… I know, trust me- I’ve been there.” He meandered across the stage with the lazy yet confident stride that had become his trademark.

“And I bet I even know what you’d think if I told you I had a better way. You’d think of overzealous salesman who conned your company into signing its managers up for the newest ‘experiential workshop’ that promised the audience ‘an awakening to real office dynamics’,” he continued, exaggerating the quotation marks with his fingers while lolling his head to the side. “Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not what Hamilton White is offering you.”

He paused again, letting the name of the company which he prided himself on pronouncing as if he’d said it a thousand times before, resonate in the minds of those looking at him. He held the pause for longer than was comfortable, letting the tell-tale cough ring out and the uncomfortable shift in their seats.

“No!” he yelled, and got the reaction he was looking for as people shot up in their seats. “No, friends- I am talking about honest-to-God knowledge that will actually equip you to be better at your job. Because the fact of the matter is that there is no one method for getting what you want out of your employees. “Strengths assessments” only works for people with strengths, company bonuses only work for those who actually believe in the company’s profitability and cheap incentives require a more in-depth knowledge of what each individual employee actually wants than you can ascertain in a single weekend. No, there is no short cut to getting what you need.”

He looked out at the audience, gauged the faces turned toward him. Some eyebrows raised, some heads shook and whispered to the neighbors, some just continued to look at him in anticipation. He held their gazes, waiting for the drop.

“But, there is a short-cut to genuine knowledge.” He paused again, shifted his stance, smiled. “Would you believe me if I told you that we could teach you the skills you need to accurately read, determine motive, and direct your employees in one weekend?” He waited. Some people nodded, some frowned, some laughed. “Seriously. I don’t claim to know how it works but I know it does. You know how I know? Because I did it.”

He stepped down from the stage, walked over to a man at the end of the third aisle. “For example,” he said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder which caused him to look up. “You sir, are here because your HR director suggested me. Am I right?”

The man looked up at him with raised eyebrows and nodded.

“And you, ma’am- you’re here because you have to write up your company’s training plan for the year, correct?” he asked, walking over to a woman on the other side of the row.

“Yes, that’s right. How did you know that?” she answered excitedly.

“And you,” he said ignoring her and waving to a man three rows back, “Yes you- you’re don’t really believe in any of this stuff and you’re mostly in it for the free lunch, right?”

The man he referenced with the collar too tight to be comfortable nodded gruffly and folded his arms.

“I understand, and I used to be just like you. But that was before I signed up for these amazing courses and I learned the secret to reading people, just like I read you. Did I talk to any of you before I came out?”

Three heads shook.

“Did I have a chance to interact with you or ask you questions about why you came here today?”

The heads continued to shake and he made his way back to the stage.

“Everyone of us has our own foundation on which to build these skills. We all have a different way of getting to the same place. But I promise you that these trainings are the best way to discover how to motivate your employees, how to assign the right people to the right tasks and how to grow the talent you have in your company.” He paused, looking out at the crowd again, waiting.

“And now I will hand the stage over to Richard Blamin from Hamilton White and let him fill you on the details of this amazing training. Thank you.”

He stepped out of the room before the applause died down, allowing the front salesman to take the stage. The cold air hit him and he took a sharp breath, grateful for the reprieve. He could feel his heart beat starting to slow, his muscles starting to unclench. The adrenaline would linger in his veins like it always did, reminding him how much his show had taken out of him again.

He grabbed his pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and banged one out with trembling hands. He could still hear them applauding his showmanship. He hated them for being so gullible and buying into his farce. But at the same time he loved them for making him feel like more than what he was.

A lonely man smoking a cigarette, biding his time until his 8:30pm flight.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Recommendation for the Single on Valentine’s Day

Hello all!

Today is Valentine’s Day. The day when those in relationships are guilted into buying sappy cards and fattening chocolates (or jewelry if you’ve got a really pushy lady) for those we love and the day when those who are single feel judged by society for not having someone to buy sappy cards and chocolates for. All in all, a truly ridiculous day.

Now me personally, I did the exchange of sappy cards and chocolates with my sweetie yesterday so I’m perfectly fulfilled. But I remember being single and feeling lonely on this day in the past. (And then feeling ridiculous for feeling lonely on a stupid Hallmark holiday. And then feeling lonely all over again when my friends in relationships bragged about what they got from their sweeties. And then feeling more ridiculous for comparing myself to them. Etc, etc.)

So, in hopes of encouraging those who are single to NOT feel lonely and consequently ridiculous and/or in hopes of consoling those who paid too much for overpriced chocolates, I have a recommendation: My Bloody Valentine. It’s a movie. You should rent it. Now.

It came out in 3D back in 2009 and contains everything you need to get through Valentines Day: doomed relationships, a loveless marriage, and a psycho serial killer terrorizing the townsfolk with a pick-axe! (Not too mention more blood and gore than a Quentin Tarantino movie! Anyone wish for something other than chocolates in their heart-shaped box? We got you covered!)

So, if you’re unattached this February 14th don’t give in to the silly feelings all the commercials might encourage you to feel. Go out, pick up a fun movie and your own chocolates (they should be on sale by the end of today!) and laugh at one of the funniest slasher films ever made! Trust me, it’s a worth-while way to spend your time.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

211 in 2011 Update

Hey!

It’s me, Bev. You know- the crazy writer who runs this thing. It feels odd, even now, referring to myself as a writer. But the blog and the NaNoWriMos and the new twitter account and the constant thought that “I should be writing right now” must be symptoms of the disorder, right? Might as well refer to myself as a member of the club.

First off, to those of you who have read something- anything- posted so far this year: thank you! Your comments have been read and appreciated more than any sane person could possibly appreciate them. (I am not saddled with the strain of being sane, so I can appreciate them far more.)

Secondly, to those who haven’t read: why am I talking to you? You don’t even bother to read this crap!

Thirdly, as an update to anyone who is at all interested in how I’m doing with my challenge: well, the number of posts so far should tell you. If I were to go about things in a standardized, regulated method (like the tortoise) I should have written at least 16 posts for January. I made it out with 17. So, that’s actually right on track, surprisingly.

It feels like I’ve written far less than I’m supposed to. Afterall, there’s only 11 months left in the year, right? And the year will inevitably throw a lot of things at me that could easily derail my writing plans. It seems that if there were ever a time to build a healthy buffer it’d be now.

What’s the problem, you ask? Simple- the same boring, redundant, painfully repetitive problem that always interferes: my inner citric. The voice that pops up and tells me the idea-ish thought that I have is either entirely too stupid to write, or entirely too good to be written well by me (because I’m not capable of that) and squashes it before it’s even had the chance to build into a real idea. Yes, that is the source of all my neuroses and it has plagued my conscious thought since my earliest memory.

Wise friends of mine who are capable of far more impressive feats of creativity than I say that it is important to keep a squeaky mallet on hand to beat that little voice into submission. I don’t seem to have an internal squeaky mallet. I can use logic to argue with the voice- but a debate is not an instant quashing like I need.

How do I plan to solve this? Well, I don’t know. I’d love some ideas, though. So, I’m hereby opening up a suggestion box for you to utilize on the blog. (See it? It's up at the top right under countdown!) In it, I will be accepting personal feedback (though comments are still deeply appreciated), suggestions for how to kill that inner critic in my head or stories of how you fight yours, writing challenges and/or any and all ideas you may have for stories you think I should write.

And as grateful as I am for your comments I will be equally grateful for your input. Possibly more so. In fact, I might take your input out to dinner. I might drop a roofie into your input’s drink when it’s not looking. I might do dirty, dirty things to it when it’s unconscious. I will most certainly be grateful. So start dropping those suggestions!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

End of Shift

I shrugged my bag higher up on my shoulder and it slipped back down to its niche within a second. The shrug had become reflexive, I knew it wouldn’t help. But much like everything I did now- searching through the darkened folds of my purse for my car keys, clicking my tongue absentmindedly- it just came without thinking. I got a whiff of the stench of french fries wafting across the parking lot and another reflex happened: my stomach tightened in disgust.

I thought back to a time when I actually enjoyed that smell. When some days I couldn’t resist the urge to cross the concrete plain to the drive through and get myself an envelope of salty fried sticks. When I’d lick my fingers in happiness and laugh at the fact that I was destroying my pledge to eat healthy.

Now I looked across the dark, wet vastness at the steam rising from the kitchen vents and wondered what could have driven such a compulsion. Like so many other things in my life that had gone away I couldn’t understand why it was ever there to begin with.

I opened the door to my old jalopy and jammed the key into the ignition, my hand already so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers as they turned the hard metal shape. The engine struggled like an 80 year old cough and I pushed hard on the accelerator. The angry music I’d had on before I started my shift drowned out the sound of the engine as the radio blared on and I snapped the dial off with an angry grab.

I watched the dashboard light up and waited for the heat and the smell of fumes to come through my vents. I wondered how the hell I had gotten here. Another pointless shift ending with another cold night and nothing to move on to but my shitty apartment and the blissful glow of cable tv.

I’d had so many dreams, so many passions, known so many intelligent people who were going to help me make this life something like what I thought it could be. But as the years passed and my life changed less and less I found myself coming to the point where I couldn’t believe in meaning anymore. The point where meaning, like all of the other dreams I gave up, was just another fairy tale.

I shiver in my seat and had to shake of a sob that almost erupted from my throat out of nowhere. I closed my eyes and was embarrassed at the moisture that had cropped up there. I knew better than to allow myself to think of anything other than radio lyrics after finishing the work week. Stupid sentimentality made me weak again.

I snapped the radio back on and turned up the volume trying to drown out the thoughts in my head. The high pitched angry lyrics of Offspring came on and I forced myself to sing along to a song I had loved in high school. Then I shifted the car into drive and sped out of the empty parking lot.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The "Bedtime" Story

“Ok, what have we got here?” he asked outloud picking up the book the ridiculously eager child handed to him. “The Secret River”, huh? Sounds good… ok, let’s see what we’ve got here. Eh-hem,” he cleared his throat and focused his eyes on the first page. He silently thanked god for the large print and extra space between the sentences. “There is a dark forest far away in Florida,” he began reading.

“No- skip that part, that part’s boring,” the little girl said with a role of her eyes.

He eyed her suspiciously for a moment and then gave a reflexive smile. Her mother had told him this would be a challenge and he had laughed at her. Humoring a five year couldn’t be that difficult. “Ok, which part do want me to skip to?” he asked, flipping a few pages in. “Oh, how about we skip to the puppy- he looks cute, huh?” he asked, showing her the illustration of a beagle curled up on a mat.

“No, skip to the part with the tyrannosaurus rex,” she said excitedly, eying him with wide, bright eyes.

He flipped the pages, scanning for the illustration of the dinosaur. Having never read the book he had no expectations of it and it seemed perfectly reasonable for a children’s book to involve such a thing. He kept flipping through, scanning the pictures and seeing nothing more than a little girl exploring a river. There were big fish, brightly colored landscapes and a boat- but no dinosaur.

“Hmm…” he said as he neared the end. “Do you know when he comes in?”

“Right after the dog,” the girl explained as if it were terribly obvious and he should have found it already.

He flipped back the beginning, found the picture of the dog and started scanning the words for some mention of type of large scaled creature. There was lots of information about the little girl, her dog, the river they discovered while out wandering- but no large, scaled prehistoric monster.

“Are you sure he’s in this book?” he asked, looking over the rim at her with a raised eyebrow. He’d gotten the feeling this may have been part of the regular initiation process and he’d simply missed the cue.

“Yeah- there’s the tyrannosaurus rex and he has to fight mothra but then they both decide to squash Manhattan cause it’s more fun,” she said, making animated movements with her hands as if they were trying to eat each other, then turning her fists to pound on the pillow in her lap.

“Uh- huh,” he said, watching her over the rim of the book while he continued to flip the pages absentmindedly. “Oh, and then does Superman come in a save everyone?” he asked, thinking he got the game.

“Superman? That’s ridiculous! There’s no Superman in this story!” she said with an insulted air.

“Oh, there’s not? What about- uh,” he said, looking around the room for a cue. “What about a big, purple hippo?” he asked, settling on one of the several oversized stuffed animals on the bed behind her.

“No- are you reading the right book?” she said, grabbing the book from him and now scanning the pages herself. “Mothra fights the dinosaur and then they stomp on Manhattan and there’s fire and explosions!” she continued in her same overly animated way, mimicking large explosive waves with her arms. “And then they get bored so the ballerina comes and teaches them how to dance and they put on a show and Mothra gets a really pretty costume like- Oh!” she said, throwing down the book and running off her bed to scramble around in her closet.

“Oh, ok, Lily- let’s settle down. This is quiet bed time story time, remember?” he said, trying to coral the excited child.

“No, look,” she said pulling a large, frayed pink tutu on over her head and doing a spinning circle in front of him. “And Mothra flies and dances and then the ballerina gets on the t-rex’s back and rides him like a pony,” she said, making a galloping movement with her hands and feet.

“Ok, Lily- why don’t you finish and then we can read the nice, calm river story, ok?” he said, attempting to push her in the direction of the bed.

“No!” she yelled and stamped her foot. She turned toward him with a pout and put her hands defiantly on her hips. “I can’t finish the story because uncle mark never told me the end!” she yelled, then folder her arms in a huff.

“Oh, I see,” he said rolling his eyes in understanding at the mess he was in. “Remind me to thank your uncle Mark when I see him,” he said with a grin. He made a mental note not to share babysitting duties with his younger son anymore.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Squatter

You’re gonna think I’m crazy… and the thing is- everything you know tells you you’re right. And I can even guess what you think happened. You find your sister like that and you’re bound to be a bit messed up about it. So you probably think this is a delusion brought on by PTSD or some shit like that. (I read about that.)

And if that’s how you’re looking at it, I can see why. It makes sense, it fits. People like it when things fit. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you can’t explain away what happens. You can’t file something into a pre-existing category. And when that happens you gotta wonder.

Like when they pulled her out of that tub- she should have been dead. You lose that much blood, your heart can’t keep pumping when there’s nothing to pump. Everything logical said she was dead, and I think she was. No one agrees with me, of course- cause they saw her eyes open again. But I know my sister. And that wasn’t her looking at me.

No, she died that day. They may have pulled her body out, stitched it up and pumped it back full of blood. But she was already gone. And I knew it. As soon as they let my dad and I go in- I knew that wasn’t her sitting in that bed. And those weren’t her eyes anymore. Someone- or something else- was looking out.

I’m sure that about now you wanna see if facts and logic can contradict my belief. You wanna point out that anybody would look different after trying to off themselves. That she was too depressed to look like the girl I grew up with. You wanna file me into one of your pre-existing categories and put me on the shelf with the rest.

But I know my sister- and I knew her depression. She was depressed for as long as I could remember. And that’s not what it was. And everyone else was too busy worrying about her to see that. To see it.

I don’t know what it was. I did a lot of research and I never figured it out. All I know is that it was evil. How’d I know? Because evil is opportunistic- that’s what my research told me. Evil takes advantage of the weak willed. No one is weaker willed than the dead. So it was the perfect opportunity.

That’s why “my sister” acted so weird after she got out of the hospital. That’s why she stopped talking and joking and squeaking. That’s why she gave everybody around her the death stare. That’s why her roommate in the crazy house wouldn’t stop screaming. It wasn’t cause she was crazy. Well, she might have been. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t see what I saw.

That thing inside her- whatever it was, wherever it came from- it wasn’t her. So don’t sit here and tell me that I killed my sister. I didn’t. My sister killed herself, I just took out the trash that was squatting in her place after she left.