Stranded

I was shipwrecked and alone on an uninhabited island with nothing but a solar powered MP3 player with a single pop song on it to keep me company. Surely I will go crazy. At first I am careful to only play the song occasionally out of fear I will grow tired of it, and having no alternative. But it’s a good song and there’s plenty of sunshine here to recharge the battery and before long I am playing it constantly and dancing around under the shade palms, naked and free.

After a time I grow anxious about being rescued. I miss normal life and I do not want my loved ones to worry and fret. I also miss coffee terribly. I get the idea to scribe a message on the upper part of the beach by digging trenches in the sand to form the letters. Perhaps someone in a passing airliner will notice it. I work for days on it, early in the morning and at dusk when it is not so hot. In a week or so it is finished:

BANG, BANG, BANG!

ON THE DOOR, BABY!

[cut to: brief animation of calendar pages turning one after another]

A year or two later they find my skeletal remains scattered about in the pristine white sand, headphones still plugging the ear cavities of that dopey, grinning skull, an MP3 player, with its solar cell lapping up endless sky, churning out that beloved pop song on repeat.

Simile Makeovers LLC

”A Face-lift for your Low Functioning Similes”

Case Debriefing

Subject: “Like taking candy from a baby.”

I assembled our crack team of analysts as soon as the boss transmitted the new assignment. We can usually hammer out a simile makeover in one session as my people are some of the best in the field. 

Our team consists of Kaplan, a portly and opinionated cab driver; Peggy, who used to work in human resources at a large insurance firm until they downsized; Weber, a freelance cartoonist; and myself, the sole liaison to our secretive employer. 

We convened within the hour to our usual rendezvous at Starbucks and went to work. We use the free and open brainstorming method to get started. Almost immediately Peggy suggested that there was nothing wrong at all with the original simile. This evoked affirmative murmuring from around the table. “It’s a classic,” she continued, “what do they expect us to fix?”

“You know how it is, Peg,” I said . “If they knew what they wanted they’d just write it themselves.” We never knew who the client was or what they intended to do with our output.

“Might I suggest,” Kaplan said with a raised finger as he shoved half a pumpkin spice scone into his face. We waited patiently as he chewed and finally dispatched the pastry with an audible gulp. “Perhaps the client doesn’t like the fact that babies have all this candy. Sugar is not good for infants.” Or portly cab drivers for that matter. This was politely left unsaid.

Peggy nodded eagerly in agreement. “High fructose corn syrup is the devil. Candy is loaded with the stuff.”

Weber jumped in. “All the more reason to take the candy away. Perhaps they want something more high concept. The action is pretty straightforward. You have a baby with candy. You steal the candy. Conclusion? It was pretty easy.”

Peggy brightened noticeably. “It’s easy to steal from a baby because we are bigger than them and can outsmart them and overpower them, but is that the easiest thing you can think of? It would be easier to not steal from a baby.”

“As easy as doing nothing at all.” echoed Weber.

Kaplan let out a harrumph. “Too easy.”

“Yeah,” replied Weber, “there’s nothing left to call back the original. We fix similes, we don’t create new ones from whole cloth.”

“Why aren’t we into that market, anyway?” said Kaplan. “Nobody wants new similes? Seems like we could use some new ones.”

“We’ve been over this before,” I said. “Find us some clients and we’ll start knocking them out.” 

“I think Peggy’s on to something though,” said Weber. “Babies aren’t total pushovers. They can scream and they can grip the candy with those tiny hands. And they have filthy diapers and germs. I’m not sure I’d want candy that’s been anywhere near a baby. The client is right, this simile is weak.”

“Like taking candy from a dead baby,” Kaplan blurted. Peggy gave him the look. The one she’d given him many times before. 

“Okay, look,” he continued, “of the many types who like candy I have to say that babies are the most vulnerable to potential smash-and-grabs. Cry as they may and the diapers notwithstanding.”

“Like making babies and eating candy.” I offered.

“Noted,” said Weber, “though I’m not sure I like the shift in tone.” 

“Let’s break it down,” Kaplan said. “We have three points of departure. You have the candy, the baby, and the act. We can change any two by my estimate and still have call-back to the original.”

“The baby’s got to stay,” Peggy said.

“Second,” I said, raising my hand.

“Third,” added Weber.

“Fine,” said Kaplan. “Now, what can we do to this baby that’s totally easy? What can we do that just screams effortlessness. Come on people. Get a cappuccino if you need one. Find a gear and let’s get this thing done.”

It wasn’t often that Kaplan took command like that. Everyone sat up and took note. His pastry was gone and he seemed antsy. 

“Then again, you could take candy from the break room refrigerator,” I countered. “That’s completely easy.”

“Someone else’s candy?” asked Peggy.

“Of course.”

“Well, easy if you possess no trace of a conscience,” she said.

“Are you implying…”

“Who here has, or has had, a baby? Anyone?” Kaplan asked impatiently. 

Silence around the table. “Good grief we are the barren lot aren’t we?”

“I had an abortion once,” Peggy offered shyly.

“I payed for an abortion one time,” I added helpfully. 

Then Weber let fly his brilliant coup de grâce. “Why don’t we just give the candy to the baby.”

Kaplan sat up straight and pointed his stubby finger at Weber. “My god. It’s perfect. Completely removes the negative connotation while retaining full call-back.”

“Like giving candy to a baby,” repeated Peggy. “That is slick.” 

“Table that and let’s vote,” I said.

The motion passed 4-0 in favor. Like I said, my people are the best. It was almost as easy as, well, never mind. I formatted the report and placed it in the hollow tree trunk in the park at midnight per my standing instructions. We were positive the client would be thrilled. We’d taken a stumbling half-functional simile(1) and transformed it into an almost certainly improved simile.

Notes:

1. The wanton use of similes in literature is a cautionary flag.

This was written in 2014. I think I may have submitted it to McSweeney’s at one point.

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Selfhood

(Flash Fiction, 850 words.)

I had fallen into a kind of grumbling funk recently, upon reflecting that I was clearly not the protagonist in my own life story. I’m not sure ‘story‘ is even the right word here. My days are something like the output of a random event sequencer stuck on repeat. Like being a fly on the wall in a room where nothing much ever happens. A peaceful work-a-day grind, neither happy nor sad. Then again, I was not beset with overwhelming problems either. Somehow I became fixated on it. I couldn’t help wonder what life might be like in the plot-driven fast lane.

So, if not the protagonist then what role did I occupy? I wasn’t even sure. I might have been the plot-point casualty, that character whose sole function is to get killed off in order to inject an element of dread into the narrative without a lot of messy exposition. But I’m getting on in years and that seems increasingly unlikely. I could be the comic relief, but no one thinks I’m funny at all.

Then I started toying with the idea of marrying a protagonist. I could at least be an accessory after the fact in a yarn that’s actually going somewhere. In a fit of myopic brilliance I concluded this was a fine idea.

Then I met Anne.

Continue reading “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Selfhood”

The Back Nine

Adrift in the wilds for how many seasons—I no longer kept a count. The days don’t belong to calendars any more, the clock is an angle of light, the seasons become ciphers in broad strokes. Hadn’t seen another human face in scores.

I keep off the game trails lest I become game myself, but I keep tabs, know where they lie. The bears tend to leave me be, but you never know. I sling my hammock up in the canopy and it’s a real charge to hear them down there in the dark. Wondering how interested they’re becoming in me. I trap for meat, saving the rifle bullets for the attack that has never come. Bear, or wolf, or man, it seemed inevitable.

One day late morning, a whiff of campfire smoke. I plot a course of avoidance and three days later, again. I switch from avoidance to pursuit—I’ll go down in a fight if that’s the way it is. Damned if I’ll be prey. I pick up the pace, less stealth, weapon at the ready. Here’s some sign then, human tracks brushed over with pine needle, clumsy, done in haste. Ground cover is sparse here, stick pines scattered like tossed coins, reaching straight up, their lacy foliage lapping up the sunbeams high above. Then I see him.

A stick himself, wrapped in rags and a cut-down blue sleeping bag, a bulging lumpy kit slung over one shoulder, holding a golf club like to swing at a baseball pitch. Crazy hat looked like a nun’s habit. I leveled the Winchester at a sapling three degrees right of his heart. Yo, keeper. What say we ease into this.

Wilders know how to settle a sudden tension. Those that jump to guns are mostly dead by now, the rest of us develop a keen appreciation for alliances. Thing is, I had not had an interaction in so long I was livid with doubts. You forget how real it is when your nerves are lit for battle and your wisdom is calling for calm.

He lowered the club and I eased off the trigger. You tracking me? I ask straight up.

I am not sir. Headed east and south.

That rabbit fresh?

Yessir. Fresh this morn.

The kill swung from his kit, limp ears at the level of his thighs. He had clubbed it coming out of its hole, which impressed me mightily. My traps lately were always sprung or untouched and I had a hankering for meat. I had a bag of fresh mushroom and some radish and we were soon working up some vittles.

Trust is not a thing appears fully formed and time would tell. Camp divided, each to our side with a fire in the center. My Winchester leaned against a trunk behind me, his club in the dirt beside him. A damn golf club. Then it occurred to me.

Don’t tell me, you’re the ‘Lost Linksman.’ Our eyes met with fresh caution and curiosity.

Silly story had been making the rounds of the back country forever. Some country club dandy, not right in the head, tees off and slices into a wooded rough, gets lost. Keeps playing his lie and slices further into the wild. Terrible golfer, and with mental problems too, they say. Obsessed with it, before long he’s lost his ball and his way back. He retreats into survival mode, nothing but a wedge and a whiskey flask to fend off the elements. Years on, the sightings become more outlandish and legend-like, a kind of Bigfoot. Crazy man come at’ya roaring like a beast and swinging. They say his canines had grown into small tusks.

No man, he said. A smile crept onto his filthy, hairy face. That bob was nuts I tell you. This is his club right here.

You took it from him.

I kill’t him is what I did. Come at me like a bull hog and I bashed his skull with a cypress knee. The smile receded. His eyes cast downward at the pictures in his memory. It was right believable in the telling.

Talk is a dressing for the wound of life and liars practice a pointed kind of treachery. We ate charred hare and spoke of other things. Better days. All the troubles. We wonder where trouble comes from. The stars do seem to turn on a point within us, so when we see ourselves as the center of all things it feels inarguable. But it just ain’t so. I aimed to part with him the morrow, I being proven trustworthy of my own self and him not so.

We slept on the ground and come morning the camp perimeter was crisscrossed with possum tracks and he was gone. My Winchester was gone. In its place, a golf club, once wielded by the Lost Linksman himself. I mean, if you’re buying what he’d been selling.

Out here, the law is not practiced in court, it’s the ply of reason, catch as catch can. No hearsay, I am my own witness. At bottom it’s no less civil for the lack of wigs, robes and procedure. I picked the wedge up and swung it a few times. I’d never touched one before. I knew he’d try and cover his tracks. Knew too, he weren’t much good at it.

Photo: Village Creek State Park, Texas. ©2020

Full Metal Jacqueline

This illusion in which we had dwelled for so long suddenly had a hole smack in the middle of it, revealing what appeared to be another establishment of illusion on the other side. The rough hewn opening hovered before us, its edges glowing like fog caught in high beams. Totally daft. Must be the drugs, I thought. Jackie took the cigar from her mouth and spit a fleck of tobacco to the side. “What kind of Lewis Carroll horseshit is this?”

So she saw it too. Dang. Like my mama used to say, “tripping is as tripping does.” Jackie was an orphan and regarded my parental references with disdain. The reality appearing through the portal looked daunting, but I have always felt that doors were an inducement to forward motion.

I considered for a moment that if William Blake had used windows instead of doors in his famous line, then Huxley’s book would have been called The Windows of Perception, and Jim Morrison would have called his band The Windows, and Microsoft would have had to fork over a tidy sum to his estate for licensing. What a tangled web. Jackie caught my eye just then and said, “whatever you’re thinking about just forget it.” She knew me pretty well.

Grumbling, she grabbed her beat up old Telecaster and made for the opening. “Are you coming or not,” she said, cigar smoke fuming from her nostrils. Reluctantly I followed, hoping that the folks on the other side shared our fondness for dope, raves and thrash metal.

Photo-composite, metal objects and flower.

The Breakfast Link Enigma

Private detective Mickey “Spike” Leroux and his able assistant, Archie Oberman, are on the case of an international plot to make everybody even more stupid than they already are.


The teaming cobwebs obscured almost completely a faint outline upon the wall marking what I believed to be the hidden doorway. The shape of it flickered under the beam of my torch and with a fireplace poker found leaning nearby I cleared the sticky dressing all away. Rather badly hidden for a secret entrance, I thought, but shy angels never did the Devil thwart and I felt we’d arrived at the linchpin of the matter. I then remembered an intriguing detail from an old Victorian novel about a horrid effect in an unholy attic, and I began feeling all around the embossed hinting of a doorway, seeking the catch which I hoped would open the secret compartment. “This could be it,” I said.

Continue reading “The Breakfast Link Enigma”