The Importance of Being Existential

[Lady Bracknell and Algernon have
just exited into the music room.]

          JACK
Don't worry Miss Fairfax, nothing will
come of all this. In my experience
nothing ever comes of anything.

          GWENDOLEN 
Pray don't talk to me about nonexistence,
Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me
about nothing, I always feel quite certain
that they mean something else.

          JACK
I do mean something else.

          GWENDOLEN
I thought so.

          JACK
Nothing is or is not, but that
thinking determines the matter.

          GWENDOLEN
Lady Bracknell has a way of coming
suddenly back into rooms, and thinking
has never made it not so.

          JACK
I should get to the point then. There's
something I desperately need to
discuss with you.

          GWENDOLEN
Critical Race Theory?

          JACK
Um… no. I am in love with you Miss Fairfax.

          GWENDOLEN
Romantically?

          JACK
Madly. I know that's terribly conventional
but it feels utterly unique somehow.

          GWENDOLEN
Are you sure it isn't existential angst?

          JACK
It's hard to tell the difference
sometimes, isn't it?

          GWENDOLEN
Oh, very, Mr. Worthing. Very.

          JACK
I fell in angst once. This is different.

          GWENDOLEN
Oh, I'm sure it's nothing, Mr. Worthing.

          JACK
I'm sure that it's not, but you asked
me not to talk about nothing.

          GWENDOLEN
So long as you don't mean something else.

          JACK
Marry me, Miss Fairfax. Before you
change your mind. Or I mine.

          GWENDOLEN
I've never believed that one should
marry for angst.

          JACK
Well, then do it in haste. Does this
village have a vicar?

          GWENDOLEN
Not any more. Now we have a
meteorologist.

          JACK
Does he preside at weddings?

          GWENDOLEN
He talks about the weather. Is it true
what they say?

          JACK
You would have to wait until
they say it. In my experience, the
voracity of statements not yet made
is exceedingly difficult to ascertain.

          GWENDOLEN
They say that love is forever.

          JACK
Oh, that. No, I think they mean
existential angst.

          GWENDOLEN
It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.

          JACK
Sometimes I feel it's just a thought.
Other times I think it's just a feeling.

          GWENDOLEN
Maybe we should just talk about the weather.

          JACK
When people talk about the weather, they
usually mean something else. It makes
me quite nervous.

          GWENDOLEN
It's all weather, Mr. Worthing. Everything
is exactly like the weather.

          JACK
I was afraid this all would come to
nothing, Miss Fairfax. And now
it actually has.

          GWENDOLEN
It's a wonder anything happens at all,
Mr. Worthing.

[Lady Bracknell fails to come suddenly
back into the room. Awkward silence.]

With all respect to Mr. Oscar Wilde.

Gender Blender

A Social Researcher named Fender
Mixed HE, SHE, and IT in a blender
But the sample got out
And it spread all about
Now we all get to pick a new gender

* For the record, please refer to me as He, Him, or “Hey You!”

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.

Measure for Measure

I like to go down to the hardware store with my yardstick and inspect all the yardsticks. You know, what if they’re off? Vigilance, my friends. Trust, by all means, but verify.

A heads-up Match Between a Reigning Champion and an Off-brand.

Once I found one that was 1/64th off by the 20 inch mark and I complained. The clerk deferred to the store manager like they always do and this guy accused MY yardstick of being the one that was wrong. Pretty much what I expect in a country that has clearly lost its moral compass.

I was escorted off the property as I hurled threats at them. “You’ll be hearing from the folks at New Yankee Workshop!” I couldn’t wait to file my report. What outrage! I fear for the future of my country.

Where do companies go to get the measurements to make a ruler? I mean, without stealing them from a competitor. Is there like an official yardstick kept in a vault somewhere and you go in with some newsprint and charcoal and make rubbings?

You could just buy a Stanley tape measure and copy the marks off onto a stick. Sell it as a ruler. There’s no oversight. The whole business stinks to high heaven.

So I set up a stake-out on the hardware store. (I’m not allowed in there anymore.) Watch the comings and goings for suspicious activity. Keep an eye on things. Vigilance, my friends.

Amphibian

“I’ll take Amphibian Lushes for a thousand, Alex.”

According to Three Dog Night, Jeremiah was one of these.

“What is a bullfrog?”

I’m sorry, the correct response was, “what is a wino.”

[contestant registers dismay]

Wait, the judges are saying ‘bullfrog’ is technically also correct.

[contestant pumps fist triumphantly]

Enough Rope

So I gave them enough rope 
like you said, and they 
tied me up with it.

I bring this up, because 
if you'll recall our conversation 
you had said, and I quote...

Yes, I'll hold.

There Will Be Blog

It played out slow, like danced-out
Music, a trace of smoke from
A years-old fire, like doubts sneaking
Peeks at a once-proud confidence

I’ve had my encounter with the covid-19, or at least suspect I did. One night of fever and feeling quite ill, followed by a week of mild flu-like symptoms. I was already in self-isolate mode and well stocked for supplies so no biggie. At day five I called Family Medicine at UTMB and they got me right in for the test. Being aged sixty-five gets you something like a senior discount in this particular pandemic. During my examination I got to revisit my blood pressure issue and got a new stronger scrip right there on the spot. The covid test came back the next day, negative, but with the caveat that they’re seeing a lot of false negatives.

Two weeks out and I’m feeling back to normal, newly resigned from my job, looking at a thin gruel of future to sustain me. The new blood pressure meds are working great though. About the only good set of numbers I’m seeing these days.

Stability is sodded
with an eagerness to perceive
that things aren’t changing.

aging: —a gradual dissipation of vanity, by force if necessary. Resistance is possible, though the subject’s levels of self-absorption must increase four-fold in proportion to the level of sustained mirror gazing desired.

Being is the tiger’s tail
these bodies come and go

Being is the monkey’s grin
if only it weren’t so

Notebook, April 2020

Subterranean TP Blues

The toilet paper aisle is void
of anything to buy

The hoarders came like locusts
and we had to wonder why

But now we see the auctions up
on eBay rising fast

I’m down to one thin precious square
I’ll have to make it last

Stay well everyone, and for now, stay put.

Signed: Quarantined in Galveston