Sunday, July 26, 2020

Trickle Down Wishes

         The weight of a U.S. twenty-five cent piece is just about 2.3 grams and is composed of something called “cupro-nickel” and has been that weight since the 1960’s.

In 1984, if you asked Gary Bleckner, well, he would have a different point of view.


          “These damn things weigh a ton,” Gary remarked, heaving a sealed bucket off the hand truck and onto the floor of the cavern. “How much ya think’s in here?”
         “Dunno. Couple hundred bucks?” Dennis responded, swinging a second bucket next to the first.
          “Nah. No way. There gotta be more than that. Gallon jugs full of qwar-ders...I’d say...a grand a bucket.” Gary tore the tape that sealed the bucket off the container and pulled the top off to reveal coins of various denominations.
          “I thought it was supposed to be quarters?” Dennis questioned Gary, wiping his hands on his Levi’s and kneeling closer to the opened receptacle.
         Disregarding the interrogation, Gary asked, “Indiana Jones? Didya see that one? Now THAT’S a movie. I don’t know about all these pirates and blood a kids movie?” Gary thrust his hand into the open bucket, lifted out a handful of coins, and began scattering the change on the ground. “And this ain’t the treasure? You know, when I was twelve, I would have killed for a bucket of quarters.”
          “‘Cept it’s not’s pennies, too.”
          “Ah. Still. You know what I mean.”
          The two men slowly took turns pulling up handfuls of change, one at a time, and sowing the ground with the fortune.
          “Eh. I don’t know Gary. I like the Gremlins one. Made me laugh,” Dennis suggested, “I know it’s a kids movie...but it was cute. My girl loved it.”
          “Oh yea? You like that one? You know I worked on that one?” Gary offered casually, slowing his pace and peering at the credulous Dennis who was kneeling and catching a respite. Gary turned back to the bucket of change. “That whole eatin’ thing was my idea ya know,” scooping a fresh handful and continuing, “...I was cleaning up green slime shit in a kitchen for goddam three hours and I told Steve that this mess reminded me of the time this old dog of mine got into the bottom shelf of the fridge while we were sleeping and got sick. Damn dog got into a jello mold that my wife made. Looked like ‘Nam!”
          Dennis, shifting his glance to a sideways head tilt, likening himself to Gary’s fabled retriever, considered whether he would chew on this story any longer. The quiet was loud.
          Gary cut through the silence, “Yea I guess those things were pretty funny lookin.”
          And the men continued, shuffling around the artificial rock cavern tossing piles of coins at the earth.
          “What is this supposed to be anyway, a cave?” Dennis questioned, walking over to the edge of some pooling water and looking up at the ceiling of the space.
          “It said, ‘WISHING WELL’ on the production work order,” Gary answered.
          “I guess that explains the coins? Are they supposed to be wishes? Maybe from the hole up there?” Dennis pointed to a gap in the cave ceiling, where an old wood barrel dangled from a rope.
          “WORK ORDER. They give us the order and we work. Don’t ask so many questions!” The obvious tension built from Dennis’ earlier inquisition had yet to dissipate.
          Dennis, understanding Gary’s tone, responded in-kind, “So did Steve get you the job here?”
          “Yea-- Steve, right....It’s like I’m always saying...the union has weight. Maybe not as heavy as these goddamn buckets of qwar-ders...but the Teamsters take care of you. And THAT’S why I am voting for Reagan next week.”
          Dennis listened to the pitch, and a few clumsy verbal somersaults, all the while nearing the end of his bucket of change.
          “The Teamsters got me this job. And The Teamsters say to vote Reagan. I suggest you do, too.”
          “I’m not so sure. Remember the airlines? What about all this bustin--”
          “Dennis. This is the movies. Ain’t got nothin’ to do with the airlines. And while we’re at it, one piece of advice. They are always listening. Someone heard me talkin’ once and they even used one of my lines in that Goblins one.”
          “Right. Gremlins! So watch what you say! You want to keep working around here? Keep talking like that! You’ll be beggin’ for coins instead of throwing them around a cave!”
          In his heated defense of the Teamsters, Gary began to stumble. Tripping over an untied lace and losing his grip on the damp cavern floor, his steadying steps only found piles of soon-to-be discarded wishing coins to slide across. In what felt like a lifetime, the next few seconds Gary watched the inevitable tumble and fall draw nearer and he considered whether one of these coins was his own dream. His own wish. And whether he could take it back? Whether he could take it all back?
          And as he closed his eyes and prepared for the darkness he felt it...the strong sure hands of Dennis.
          “Careful there. I got you. You can’t keep working if you Die!” Dennis quipped confidently.
          Loosening his grip on the steadied Gary, Dennis stepped back to his bucket. In one motion he lifted the almost emptied bucket of coins and splashed the remaining change over the pool of water.
         Gary closed the other bucket and used it as a seat. He pulled a flattened pack of Winston’s from his breast pocket, lit up, and took a pull.
          “Die? Ah shut up. You know what it’ll say on my headstone? Garys. Never. Say. DIE,” punching his pinched cigarette with each word.
          In one week, an election would be decided, and somewhere off set, the not-so-great communicator, Gary, had inspired the bucket load.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Practical Guidelines for the Magically Uninformed

While picking a berry from the very same tree the squirrels politely warned him about one day earlier, Dave mulled this undeniable truth…

Talking squirrels are jerks. 

Thus far, the Magical Forest lived up to its name, but its magic had yet to reach Dave's stomach.

Dave was torn between trusting these tree-rats or sampling the delicacies that these chatty rodents were clearly hoarding for themselves.

So that morning, with the squirrels out foraging, he decided the tree's vacancy was an invitation. 

“What makes them the experts?” Dave said, rebelliously tossing the ripened morsel into his mouth. “Hm. Tastes itchy.”

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Chippening

          “When I was young my father would spend summers mending fences and clearing brush around our farm. Every morning I’d run to the window, just as he would cross the tree line at the edge of our homestead and disappear for the day. I can still picture him in his overalls, caked with dirt and muck, and swinging his wood ax, it’s long wooden handle smoothed to satin by use and the passage of time.
          At dusk he’d return, his hands would be cracked and blistered from the heat of the sun, glistening from the sweat of his work, and battered by the order he was laboring to create.
          His ax, he’d return to its place with force, into the side of the stubborn old swamp maple just below my bedroom window. Each day, slicing though the air and chopping a new notch in the body of the tree. It was as if he was putting the day to rest with the last bit of strength he had left. Each day leaving a new chink in the armor.
          I can still hear the - CCCRAACKK - of the ax. It was like the sound of a slap. A single note of applause. Try it .You can mimic it. I swear it is the same noise. Each morning he'd take the ax. Each night he’d return it - CRACK.
          Today, when I think about it...when I try to really remember those hot summer days...I struggle to picture him coming home. I can’t visualize him walking up from the woods. Nor can I see him tired, or triumphant, or defeated from the day. And I certainly can’t see him replacing the ax. And maybe - the more I think about it - maybe it is because I never did see him come home? Maybe I couldn’t watch, maybe...he just looked too tired, too hunched, and too broken.
          But I can feel it, the same way you can feel a rainstorm or the color of dusk, you know? I can still feel him coming home...and I can hear the sound of it. I remember the crack.

Every evening. Crrrr-Ack.

A little deeper. CRACK.

A little deeper still.

          Then came that morning. The morning of 'the Chippening.' I ran to the window expecting to start the day, except, it was much later than usual. And when I looked out from the window, the ax and my father were already gone. The ritual was broken; all that laid behind was the tree. The old battered maple, no longer upright. No longer standing. Its top laid low around its base, its branches looking up at its trunk, roots and crown now level with each other. It must have splintered and fallen in the night.
          The odd part was that I never heard it fall. When my father came home at dusk, I heard the CRACK, like I usually do, but I never heard the tree fall.

I saw the ax, I saw the deep cuts...I saw the Chippening.

Deep down, even then, I thought it would hold.

Deeper and deeper, I saw that ax make room in the trunk of that tree. Deeper and deeper, until there was not enough to hold the weight. And then that morning came, while I was in bed, while I wasn’t there, while I wasn’t watching - it toppled.

No one was there to see it.

I was only there to see what was left. The remainder. The Chippening.”


          Patrick looked at the man, giving the man’s story a beat and time to linger. He considered everything he said, took a large gulp of suds, and responded thoughtfully, “I think it would make more sense if you called it ‘The Chipping.'”

The man finished his drink and let Patrick buy his next round.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Trust the Process

Undecided, Dave began to sink into the muck.

As frenzied grains of silt muscled over each other to smother him, he thought, "Maybe the voting process here in the Kingdom of Mud is dirty?"

“Pppppthhhit,” raspberrying the grains lemmying into his mouth, he finally conceded, “Alright, you win! It's a great Kingdom!”

Victorious, the fine silt cheered. In unison they ebbed, erred, and burped Dave onto the shoreline of the muddy pit.

United, the dirt droned, "Mmmmmajority rulessss."

Dave, catching his breath, remembered the rest of the world beyond this isolated hole and this very vocal minority.

He settled.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Hi, I'm Dave.

The voting started promptly at the beginning of time.

Air didn’t bother showing up, quite literally, gone with the wind. And water, well, water flooded the polls early but couldn't collect enough to sway the moot.

Eventually it came down to Fire, the most combustible, who sparked some interest and then wanted a recount before there was even a vote. However, this protest was stifled when Earth shook things up with her nominee, Dave.

Dave waved, and it started to sink in. He spoke, "Hi, I'm Dave, and I think I'm ready to be your guy."

He was not ready.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Prepping and Scrapbooking for the End of the World

Photographs were well out of fashion even before the lights went out. Sure, there were a few elderly holdouts, the random polaroider or scrapbook enthusiast, who were still stowing away photos like they were out of style - which they were - but, in the end, when the shit hit the - motionless - fan, physical memories disappeared in, and with, the cloud.
If it were safer to scavenge the homes on the mainland Jessica might find more things worth saving, or maybe just something that could trigger a fresh memory. As her desperation grows, she might someday become more willing to take those risks, searching for longer periods of time and in more dangerous areas. For now, it is safe on the island, water locked and accessible by a single path on a surfaced sand bar, exposed only twice each day. 
Perhaps, this is why Jessica loved the drawing so much, why she still loves the drawing…even now.
Time hasn't been able to take this away from her yet, although, it's trying. Inviting the sun to bleach the picture's colors, and conspiring to let water stain the paper's fibers. And most foul, when Jessica isn't looking, time crawls into the drawing's resting spot, flecking edges and massaging its crumbling corners. Jessica knows. She sees the evidence of how well-traveled the artifact has become: a collection of dust at the bottom of the Ziploc she keeps it in, a little more each day. 
One day the drawing will split and shatter and she will have to risk closing her eyes longer and longer, tighter and tighter, to un-jar the memory. 
For now, when she wants to see, when she wants to remember, she still looks at it.

"Miss Jessica! Miss Jessica!," a tiny girl in a pair of oversized jeans and a pink bedazzled shirt gallops to a young woman in a red sundress.
 "I made you this because it's Spring!," the girl exclaimed, waving a stiff piece of construction paper in Jessica's face. The girl's gaped mouth reveals a gummy grin where a few teeth float in space like stars in a washed-out New York City night skyline. Flopping atop the pudgy girl’s round head are a pair of lopsided pigtails; the left side spraying into the unusually cool April afternoon.
"Turn around and let me fix this," Jessica spun the giggling child around, took hold of the askew braid and went to work resetting it. 
"Now," she continued, "when I'm done with this MESS you go clean the mess YOU made!"
"Okaaaay Miss Jessica," the girl responded, squinting her eyes at the gentle tug-of-war being waged against the back of her head. Jessica loved this about her students, the strange mannerisms and built-in behaviors that they all had, or eventually picked-up. Signals and triggers indicating the miraculous moments of change. Jessica was a captain, her ship aptly named, ERIKSON1, and these were the little times where the tailwinds of growth caught the sails and ushered her, and her crew, across the ocean of knowledge toward the land called, "adulthood."
Jessica wrapped off the tip of the weaved hair and gave it one last playful tug, "Now go clean up all those markers, before I tie YOU in a knot!" 
The girl squealed, threw her hands into the air, tossing aside her drawing, and darted wildly toward the scattered pile of markers, safety scissors, and paper scraps. Released from the girl's grasp, the artwork launched into air and fluttered to Jessica's feet.
Glancing, not yet registering what she was looking at, Jessica continued to wade in what the girl had said. Letting her sentence spill into the different cracks in her brain, the meaning behind the phrase was already onto its third or fourth permutation, as thoughts often behave, before Jessica really started looking at her gift.
"...because it's SPRING!" The phrase hung in the air as Jessica lifted the artwork to her face. 
Whether it was in their DNA or part of some prehistoric imprinting process, Jessica didn't know, she just knew what to expect from any child's drawing. The unsteady lines and attempts at symmetry, like haphazard clues, and answers to questions like, "How is she feeling?", "Are there any developmental things going on?", or a common one "Is everything alright at home?" 
The drawing never felt strange, and certainly not indicative or prophetic of anything. Misshapen circle-people closing-in around a tree that is in-turn springing up toward a sun and the girl's name boldly displayed, 'MEKA'. Nothing strange at all. After all, she made this "...because it's Spring." 
It was not until she heard the soft music from the little girl that she felt the first uneasy ping of terror at the center of her spine. There were only a few notes, and while there was some rhythm, the repetition of these few notes veered it further away from anything one might call a song. The biggest similarity is that it felt complete, in Meka's methodic notes Jessica heard finality.
Jessica, frozen, pointedly asked, "What's that song, Meka?"
Barely pulling herself from her task the girl responded, "It's not a song, Miss Jessica."
"What is it?"
"Them. They hum. You'll hear them, too, Miss Jessica."


It wasn't a tree, it was an explosion. And those weren't people.

Meka knew.

Jessica still has the drawing, it is clipped to a refrigerator, well rather, inside a refrigerator. A small Norge, a little bigger than the fridge Jessica used in her dorm room, except, like everything now, this one is much older.
She found it washed up on the shore a few months ago, wearing a mop of seaweed and barnacle five-o'clock shadow. After managing to pull it a safe distance from the current, she dug a hole to obscure it from anyone who might notice her from a distant shoreline. She filled it with the things she needs, like food, and water, but also, books, clippings, menus, the leftovers she has collected from before everything happened, and of course, the drawing.
The fridge is a time capsule, and buried in the dunes just beyond the shore line, near the center of her island, where she spends the evening watching lightning bugs dance, her things are safe.

Safe from them

Whatever they are, they don't like the beach. Meka knew this. It has something to do with the Sun. Maybe with a combination of the salt and heat, life can't take root. Things have trouble growing here, everything except Jessica. 
On that small beach island she is safe. Memories stowed away with food and water. Eventually, she knows, someone will discover what she already has and venture to join her on this oasis. And she can wait.
She isn't alone, she has the drawing and that adulteress, time, to keep her company.  If she blinks her eyes tightly and she stares at the sunset she even has that day to wait with her, she can  feel it slowly fluttering to her feet.

Far off she can hear them humming.

1 Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development describes how a child perceives the world as safe and good.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Status Updates and How to Demonize People with Differing Ideas in the 22nd Century

“Ready to elevate your productivity? Time to show your team your full potential? Prozipichol is a once-a-day skill germinator that will bring out your best…,” an ad played through Laura’s optic nerve, seemingly graffitiing her kitchen counter and ivory backsplash.
“This is perfect,” Laura remarked, disregarding the ad and waving her outstretched hand at arm’s length, letting the artificial light of her kitchen’s digital output screen pour between her fingers. She was admiring the shade of pink that she had burnt into her fingernails earlier in the week, and how the color perfectly matched the Rose’ she has just poured into a large stemmed glass.
While advertisements danced in her periphery, the status bar at the top of her projected personal feed blinked red with unviewed alerts. This is a common side-effect of the lock-screen period that occurs during advertisement play. In those slipping moments, Laura’s badge rate plummeted, no-doubt, a result of an article she posted as she stepped out of office compound “73-2.” The article in question, “FIVE Enhancements to Eliminate Desk Mate Competition this Fall Work Season!” had a word count that pushed content limits, but she took the risk to meet the personal feed quota and to unlock scroll pace restrictions for the next several hours.
“UGH ID-IOT’S…It’s LIT-ERALLY pictures and words.  Stop acting like BABIES,” Laura yelped, directing her frustration toward the irritated and deliberately blinking inbox, and the realization that there was very little she could do to immediately alleviate the damage she had caused. Unable to quell the inflamed appendage, Laura instead focused on slowly rebuilding her bruised digital reputation, vigorously scrolling through highlighted topics, whimsical musings, and informative jabs.  
Laura had a knack for media mining. In fact, it is what led to her upgrade from the evening to the morning shift, in the first place.
When she made the change, she was admittedly apprehensive.  She knew several workers from the early morning teams, and they had a reputation for being short-spoken, pointed, and homely. Today, however, Laura has grown accustomed to the A.M. shift. Beyond the more suitable hours, and the notoriety within the neighboring residential blocks of holding place in a sought-after time block, Laura found the job easier. Simply put, there are more people home between the hours of 12:00 and 6:00 A.M., offering greater opportunities for completing account tasks.
 “-Livernegy is recommended for anyone struggling with Holographic Exposure Disorder, or H.E.D.-,” ads continued to glide through her direct line of sight, rattling around in the empty spaces in her head, creeping into the hallways of her mind, and gently coming to rest in the soft folds of sinew and brain tissue.
Laura’s satisfactory completion rate often allowed her to escape the confines of the billing offices ten…fifteen…even twenty minutes early. On this particular morning, she was making fists with her toes and gliding toward her living room with a glass of wine by 6:26 A.M; between leaving work and making the commute home, this represented a full four minutes earlier than the Resource Board calculated when they first offered her a five-year contract for morning block. Laura loved when she outsmarted the suits on the Resource Board.
For the uptick in her daily routine and close rate, Laura credited the optometric surgeon she visited for enhancement. Enhancements were common for workers in this shift, at least, more common than those in the evening schedule, who had not yet accumulated the necessary hours to qualify for a shift lottery. And for those who had accumulated the necessary hours, they often did not have the collateral for a work loan.
When Laura applied for the surgery, it was calculated she would likely need to clock equivalent to three more full contracts to repay the time leveraged in the loan. This was a calculation that Laura scoffed at… 
...Laura loved when she outsmarted the suits on the Resource Board.

 Laura’s eyes battled through another ad:

Relanthrepa…a doctor prescribed insomnia inhibitor that soothes away the daily side effects of media implants…”

The words echoed around in the back of her skull while a dimmed image projected on the backs of her eyes. It was 6:29, and the advertisement pace had increased as the mid-hour feed update crawled closer. Laura was prepared. She took a sip of her wine, badged a check-in from her friend - it was important to make sure she kept up with the dialogue of the day - and plopped herself in front of a large digital screen in her living room.
While she busied herself at the screen, scrolling feverishly through headlines, a middle-aged man projected from her implant into the space between her and the screen. He spoke…

“When my doctor told me I might not be able to walk again…I was scared. What would my boss think?
…And what about my family?”

A montage of the man playing catch, running, and dancing flashed before her, meanwhile, a gentle-sounding narrator juxtaposed the images with a series of spoken side effects. Laura’s finger continued to slide vertically, bottom to top, tossing information upward, into orbit, at an exponentially dizzying rate.

“- is common in the first year with only one in five cases being reported after 15 months…Cellucocus, skin de-densification, and implant irritation have all been experienced within the first month’s cycle…if this occurs consu –“

“HA! Such garbage…little shhHITS,” her volume climbing over the fine print of the ad. The target of her ire appeared at about 80 or 90 articles deep into her personal feed, where she isolated a dialogue from a fellow worker, Ann. The post, which Ann made from her work desk, offered reported evidence of the benefits of increasing personal productivity to elevate oneself from morning to afternoon block.
Laura met Ann during her initial training period, when she filled-in on the afternoon rotation and learned the procedures for account receivables directly from Ann. She never liked her.  Ann’s propensity for using colored paper, and ink, irked her. For Laura, it felt dangerous for anyone to identify with behavior so “stupid,” or as she once read in an article, “off-grid.”
When these concerns began to simmer, she voiced them to her desk mate. When the worries boiled over, she expressed her observations to the credit changer stationed at the lunch room collection desk. And when this did not satiate her need for a proper resolution, she reported the results of her investigation to a table of morning workers she had met from complex “73-1.”
“There is something creepy about anyone who would intentionally avoid implants. This shit is dangerous,” she remarked to the workers, and anyone within ear-shot.
Laura knew she would never see eye-to-eye with Ann, or noon-shifters in general. "Ask anyone...," they have a reputation for being wordy, self-centered, and radical. An assumption that was validated with Ann’s clearly biased dialogue feed.
“Disgusting bitch,” Laura gulped from her hand-heated Rose’, contemplating the proper course for isolating the vile misrepresentation which she was subjected to. The only option is to separate herself from the feed, but not before she alerted anyone within 6-degrees.
Laura took a deep breath, mouthed a large sip of Rose’, and began to craft the perfect response. She wrote, “Okay, Ann. So I read your…interesting…articl –“  

Bleeding and spotting may occur beyond the first month’s cycle...,” an ad warned of a series of necessary side effects while Laura built her scathing retort, only stopping to blink-refresh her status bar, waiting for someone, anyone, and the trickle of badges that would hopefully follow.