awkward, short stories

Cutting-edge technology, sans manners

I enter Moronfabs on a bitter morning in March. In the refurbished brick and mortar building, on a busy, potholed Somerville street, I find shelter from an air that had scathed my skin like a cold razor. I’m 15 minutes early for my interview.

For some reason, reception is up four floors. I’ve already seen three quarters of the building, before I’m received. Furthermore, there’s no one there to receive me. Just a vacant iPad displaying an NDA stands atop an empty reception desk. A signature on the digital doc will notify my interviewer that I’ve arrived, the soulless iPad assures me. I produce my digitized John Hancock. The pixelated line drawn by my own digit, the most technologically advanced way to scribe one’s endorsement, looks bastardized against that same identifying mark scrawled on paper with ink.

I spend those 15 minutes waiting alone, in a mock lobby where potential co-workers pass by. They don’t offer so much as an acknowledgment of my presence. That’s OK. I’m too busy wondering where they got that R2-D2 end table. Perhaps it serves as some conversation piece to subtly indicate that this office and its occupants are fun, despite any other evidence I can observe from the young professional parade coldly gliding by.

A few more minutes pass; it’s now 10:03 a.m. He’s three minutes late for our scheduled appointment. Finally, the ice breaks, as my would-be hiring manager, all 6’2″ of him, enters my whereabouts. He greets me with a half-assed handshake, whisking me through unexplored bowels of the office building. A kitchen adjacent to the lobby teems with uber-casually clad workers. Through there lies a sales room. Slightly more stylish, cooler cats man terminals and adorn headsets, vocally pushing the company’s product to prospective buyers.

I am introduced to none of them.

The next thing I know, after much more whisking through anonymous conference rooms and workshops, I find myself in a small office with a single table. A laptop sits in front of me. Its screen broadcasts two Germans, teleconferencing from Deutschland, which is six hours ahead of our early A.M. Their lack of response to my presentation and thousand-mile stares–I can almost hear the German beergardens calling them from the other end–urge me to rush through the remaining slides. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. And that place, right now, is Germany; population: this 2-dimensional duo quite literally phoning it in.

I look over at my hiring manager, whose brow gleams with sweat. Will his colleagues accept me? What will they think of his lackluster recruitment efforts? I’m reminded of my overly self-conscious mother, perpetually concerned with how her child’s behavior will reflect upon her.

Not that there was much oxygen in the small room to begin with. But post presentation, it feels like even that thin air has dissipated. If a whole room could have a lump in its throat, it would be this one. For what seems like an eternity, I’m locked in a little, stale closet, with strangers, whose collective body language clearly conveys that they’ll never be co-workers. I long for that cold, outside air.

My now defunct hiring manager follows my rushed presentation with an abbreviated tour of company departments. At best, as he breezes through half-baked explanations for the various areas of his workplace, it feels like a formality fueling justification for my visit. After all, this failed engagement burned a half day from my current job. If I had been contracting, that would have also equaled one half day’s pay.

At last, my tour guide and I reach the exit. A brisk and long-awaited goodbye, capped with a handshake, ends my brief career at Moronfabs. I brave the gray, unforgiving air outside once again. As I look out the window of my meandering Uber ride, upon little reflection, I know the job’s not mine. What may sound like sour grapes is, in fact, relief. I’m thankful to be heading toward a place where I actually like the people. At no other time does that seem more important to me than in this cab.

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short stories

The Bachelor

“If he doesn’t choose my daughter…” the fine red veins were visible in the backs of Mr. Snyder’s eyes. The retired detective’s dimming lights protruded so far from his face, they looked as if they may fall from their sockets.

As Snyder shook his head, the air held heavy in the severe silence. Then, the shaking stopped. And those two strained optical globes shrunk back under their wrinkly eyelid canopies.

“… I’ll kill him.”

The camera crew had barged into the Snyder Family’s home not 20 minutes prior, and Papa Snyder had already worked himself into a homicidal frenzy, imagining his only daughter’s heart broken by the bachelor and the heinous game show he came from. Show producers decided to cut his couch interview short, at this admission of premeditated murder.

They brought the bachelor into the next family’s home. Maybe Mr. Marsh, Desiree’s dad, wouldn’t be so threatening in the face of his potential son-in-law.

The two sat on the shinily upholsetered couch. Eyes locked. The bachelor, a silver fox called Kent, held the stare to not expose his fear. Mr. Marsh: Zen.

“What is it that you’re planning with my daughter?” He was eerily calm.

“Um, um, I care for your daughter very deeply,” Kent’s velvet tone aimed to cool Mr. Marsh’s concerns.

“But how can you sit there saying you care for Desiree, when you’re currently courting three other women??”

Marsh’s voice rose at the utterance of “women.” To Marsh, Kent was afront to all females now, not just his blood.

“Ummm, that’s just the game.”

“This isn’t a game! This is my family.”

“OK. Cut!” a producer, off in the murk of the makeshift set in Marsh’s living room, called this second segment to a halt. The bachelor’s presence did not seem to help the situation.

In the sanctuary of neutral territory–a bar down the street–they set the lighting for Kent’s talking head atop a barstool.

He looked directly, desperately into the camera.

“I mean, I guess I didn’t expect them to react so aggressively,” Kent’s metallic eyes shifted back and forth looking downward. His whole body squirmed in the backless seat. His voice quivered. His shoulders shrugged. “What did these guys expect?”

“Okayy, Kent,” the producer yelled from off screen.

Kent dismounted from his cushioned perch to meet him. The producer put his consoling hand on Kent’s high shoulder.

“OK, we still have two families to visit. You ready for this?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I signed a contract, right?”

The producer, calmly, carefully: “Yes, yes you did.”

The show’s production van–a white, beat-up, unmarked box–followed two car lengths behind Kent’s chauffeured black car to the third home. Inside the back, black-leather seat, Kent felt the onset of flop sweat, but tried his best to calm his nerves, lull the butterflies in his stomach, and muster the resolve to confront his next would-be in-law. The buttery leather squeaked as Kent sunk into the warm confines of the car seat, the last comfort he’d experience for hours, maybe days.

Suddenly, a strong vibration in his hip startled Kent. The producer was calling.

“Kent, we’re about 10 minutes out from the next house. You don’t have to come in to join Kathryn and her family.”

“So, will I just sit out here like a creep?”

“I mean, it beats risking your health, no? I’ve heard Kathryn’s dad is 6’3″, 250. He’s also an ex-marine.”

“Semper, fuck.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t go riffing on the Marine Corps’ sacred motto. Actually, forget I said ‘ex-marine.’ Those guys are marines for life.”

“This is not helping.”

“Oh, ya, sorry. Like I said, you don’t have to come in.”

“I really like Kathryn. I can do this.”

“Ooookay.”

INSIDE KATHRYN’S HOME

The family’s in the kitchen. The whole crew’s in the kitchen. Everybody’s trying to separate cowering Kent from Kathryn’s dad Gary, clutching the bachelor’s throat with ferocious, unbridled, old-man strength.

“I’ll rip your head off, you salt’n peppered prick!” The anchor tattooed on Gary’s throbbing forearm bobbed in the warm kitchen light, as this father of three throddled the young bachelor. “If you hurt my daughter, I’ll end you. Do you understand me??”

Gasping hopelessly for air, Kent could barely utter vowels, let alone an affirmation that he’d exchange vows with this angry marine’s youngest princess.

“Well, what is it?”

“Garryyy!” the marine’s wife shrieked from the threshold of the next room. “Let him go! You’re gonna kill him!”

“That’s the idea.”

“Sir, sir!” the producer finally came to Kent’s rescue. “We’re sorry. We’ll get him out of your home.”

The marine finally released his grasp of the now coughing Kent.

“Get him back to the car,” the producer instructed his other crew.

As they ushered the bachelor through Kathryn’s childhood home to the front door, Gary hung back breathing heavily. Veins popped out of his temples. His face, beet red under the overhead light gently swaying from the melee a moment ago. He cradled his heavy head in his hands as his wife consoled him.

“Gary, you gotta control your temper. This is Kathryn’s choice.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She shouldn’t have to compete for a man. The guy should just know, with not a shred of doubt in his heart. I guess nothing compares to a father’s love for his daughter.”

Gary was now sobbing into his giant meat claws.

Kathryn entered the kitchen from the back staircase.

“Dad, dad! It’s a game show. Do you have any idea what this is going to do for my acting career?”

Gary lifted his crying mug from his mits and looked at his favorite daughter.

“So you’re not in love with him?”

“I mean, he’s kinda cute, I guess. I think you raised a smarter girl than that, though. Daaadd. I’m not an idiot. I’ve made it to the ‘visiting the family’ stage and I still only have a 1 in 4 chance of marrying this guy. Not exactly great odds.”

“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that, sweetie.”

The last destination on Kent the Bachelor’s family tour was the Jackson home. Gina Jackson greeted Kent, the show producer and crew at the doorway. Wu-Tang played faintly from somewhere inside.

“Hi, guys. Kent, you’re gonna have to tell my dad that you’re gonna pick me. I know that’s not part of the rules. I’m just a little concerned for your safety, okayyy?”

The producer stepped between them.

“Gina, Kent’s just here to meet your folks. We can’t make any promises like that this early in the game.”

As if from nowhere, Gina’s dad suddenly descended upon the frontstep conversation.

“Hey, Kent, if you hurt my daughter, I’ma sew ya asshole shut and just keep feedin’ ya and feedin’ ya and feedin’ ya.”

Deep inside of the Jackson home, the Wu-Tang rang on…

“M-E-T-H-O-D MAN! M-E-T-H-O-D MAN!

A wet spot expanded rapidly in the crotch of Kent’s $120 jeans. He froze, as steam rose from the warm moisture heavily flowing below his waste.

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Profiles

Rob & Big

The MTV series Rob & Big was like an episode of MTV Cribs, except you never left. You didn’t want to leave.

Show co-stars and collectively lovable knuckleheads, Rob Dyrdek and Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin, were just too damned fun to hang out with.

It was perhaps a natural progression for Dyrdek, the skateboarder who went pro at 16. He had grown accustomed to commissioning fellow camera-weilding skaters to film him. Those gliding Spielberg’s couldn’t resist catching lightning in a bottle at every trick Dyrdek executed on Ohio skate parks.

Landing in L.A. not too much later, Dyrdek parlayed that GoPro practice into the everyday of reality TV, which was booming circa the mid-2000’s. In between impromptu skate sessions, Dyrdek and Big Black imaginatively unlocked the fun at every turn, by a collaboration borne of mutual respect for one another.

Two peas in a pod of pure, positive attitude

20170623_robAndBig500_HERO

From left: Big Black, Meaty, Rob Dyrdek, as the Death Row trio

Rolling on 22’s, the dual, Zen mind saw promise in every character they met, down whatever path their murdered-out UAV would take them.

DO WORK.

That was their mantra. From 2006-08, when the show aired, a drowning American economy had near seized into a doldrum of prosperity for much of the middle and lower classes. I was preparing my thesis in journalism. Our professor had suggested the entire class produce content for a news website that would focus on young professionals striving to survive in an unyielding market at most ventures. College grads were settling for part-time jobs, over-qualified, underpaid and marred by impossible debt from what seemed then like pipe dreams of success. They had gambled on themselves and had lost. Now, the federal banks were looking to collect. By any means necessary—an indentured servant barista, for instance, shilling double-hot lattes to the Baby Boomers, with long-established equity, who could afford them. Hey, at least Starbucks offered healthcare.

I chose to entitle my thesis, “Do Work!” It followed two contractors aggressively seeking residential construction work throughout the South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts. They were brothers. They were independent businessmen. They’d buy vacant lots and build houses on spec (speculation that, once complete or near completed, the house would sell to a would-be homeowner). Just like so many college grads desperately searching for income, Brothers Jared and Shane Crowley were also gambling on themselves. They weren’t sitting around their Marshfield office waiting for incoming client calls. They were hitting the streets in their trailored red pickup truck. Picking up jobs. Specking out houses and building them and selling them. They were, in my eyes, the embodiment of ‘Do work.’

Of course, I had gleaned this from the do-or-die attitude promoted by Mr. Dyrdek and Mr. Boykin. Those two had neither the time nor the luxury to think, to sit and ponder in these quicksand times. Sink or swim. Do or die. Do work.

A cross-country road trip soon followed my graduation, upon completion of that thesis (which earned an ‘A,’ by the way). We took the scenic route in a Subaru, first dipping down into Washington, D.C., then to Arkansas, clear across Texas, stopping in Austin and El Paso. We wedged the Grand Canyon in there. We completed the trip rolling into Hermosa Beach, in Southern California, for a night, ultimately reaching our destination in The Valley, Burbank. My colleague had enlisted in an L.A. Emerson satellite program for film. I was just along for the ride and flew back east a few days later.

I mention this anecdote not as some acknowledgment of closure having completed and submitted my ‘Do work’ thesis successfully. That’s merely coincidental. You see, one particular garment had protected me this entire road trip across 3,000 miles. It was a ‘DO WORK!’ hooded sweatshirt. Big Black’s unmistakable face filled out the ‘O’ in “WORK!” His official signature, “Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin,” lined the bottom of his most popular catchphrase. Its fabric emulated Big Black’s male stripper name, “Black Lavender.” From head-to-waste, I was draped in crushed velvet every time I donned the garment.

That is, until Hermosa Beach. We stayed at a guy’s house my friend and travel companion had known from back home. All that I know is that I slid in with the hoodie hanging on the handlebar of my roller luggage. We strolled into his room, slept over. When we left early the next morning, the coveted sweatshirt was nowhere to be found. Had her friend stolen it? Could the smooth, black velour have slipped from my luggage’s grasp on an errant turn navigating the outside stucco hallways of the Spanish Mission-style apartment building?

I felt true loss that day, en route to L.A. True loss that I hope to regain, by a very simple, but profound idea—perhaps even what that hoodie represented.

From the lips of Dyrdek himself:
“The number one rule: Always surround yourself with good people.”

Since that fateful West Coast day a decade ago, I’ve scoured the Internet for that hooded sweatshirt. That particular design has been discontinued. And lesser search results take its place on every Google query I’ve ever performed. No matter. It’s not about the hoodie. It’s about Big Black. It’s about Rob Dyrdek. And, most importantly, it’s about Rob & Big. For three MTV seasons, they captured lightning in a bottle by surrounding themselves with good people and positive ideation.

That’s a principle I won’t forget, a Black Lavender ideal I can’t possibly lose. Through the teachings of Rob & Big, I know that the crushed velvet velour of true creation, compassion and empathy folds around every bend. As long as you’re looking. As long as you’re surrounded with good people.

Don’t relent. Do work.

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short stories

Pratt v. Pratt

PRATT

A blank stare. Vacant blue eyes and a gaping mouth peered into the camera. Streaks of blond hair struck back from Pratt’s painfully wrinkled forehead.

‘He has to know I am the original PRATT. There can BE only one PRATT. And that is me. That other guy’s such a douucche bag. He knowws I came first, into the limelight.’

Pratt’s words hung on that Californian twang, tinged by the silver spoon of entitlement. He hadn’t earned a nickel to his name, yet he drove a blue-speckled metallic black Maserati. A shock of black lightning he’d speed through the night like a possessed supervillain.
 

PRATT

‘What’s this guy’s problem?’ Pratt’s eyebrows shaped an apprehensive face. His voice lilted with concern. He shook his head working out the reenactment of engaging with the other Pratt in his mind. ‘He keeps calllling me to say that HE is the only real Pratt. I don’t think he gets that there can be two Pratts.’

Pratt’s eyes gaped wide into the camera. Bags hung beneath them. Beads of sweat glistened on his temples under the gently buzzing lights.
 

VENICE BEACH BIKE PATH

The two Pratts met on the double-lane bike path. Two figures walking slowly toward each other, silhouetted against a setting sun over the Pacific Ocean horizon. They stopped about 10 feet apart, straddling the dotted yellow line that divided the bike path’s two lanes. Both sets of piercing blue eyes held the other’s in heavy focus.

‘Dude, LAaaa is not big enough for both of us Pratts,’ Surfer bro Pratt broke the silence. ‘I suggest you eitherr get outta here, unless you want me to kick yerr ass.’

‘Listen, I realize we’re both named “Pratt.” It’s not exactly an uncommon name.’ Pratt thought he could persuade his eponymous opponent with reason. ‘I’ve met tons of Pratts in my day.’

‘Yeahh, but were they yerr cousinz, bro??’

‘No. Complete strangers. Much like you and me.’

‘I highhly doubt we are strangers by noww, bro.’

‘Yeah, I know. You keep calling me to scare me away. Well, it’s not working. I deserve just as much right to be in LA as you.’

Just then, the more sinister Pratt leapt into attack mode. Much like a Kung Fu master flying through the air in a jump kicking swoop (at least that’s how he pictured himself in his mind), Pratt sailed toward his self-inflicted foe. ‘If you won’tt listen to my words, then, bro, listen to the cold steel of my unforgiving, flying foot!’

The receiving Pratt simply stepped to the side. Pratt fell to the ground and a cyclist nearly ran over his head. ‘Watch it, broooo!’

The good Pratt shook his head. He couldn’t believe he had to spend his Sunday afternoon dealing with this moron. ‘Listen…’ Pratt said. He was always trying to get the bull-headed Pratt to listen. ‘Listen, man, I don’t want to fight you. You’re just going to have to live with the fact that I’m here, as well.’

‘Bro, I will never do that, bro.’ Pratt was still lying on the pavement coughing on sand kicked up by the drive-by cyclists. ‘You may have won this round, bro, but I will not give up. You better get busy moving or get ready to fight, bro.’

Little did the ignorant Pratt know, Pratt (the more educated one) had been recording this entire rendezvous with his phone.

‘Is that a threat, bro??’ The good Pratt baited his evil “bro.”

‘You better believe it, brooo. You should fear ferr yerrr life. One dark LA night, when yerr walking down Santa Monica Boulevard, you better watch yerr backkk, brooo. You may just see a Maserati’s headlights over your left shoulder. That’ll be me, brooo. Comin’ for you. And I don’t miss.’

‘So you’re threatening to run me over with your car?’

‘You won’t even see it comingg, brooo.’

‘But you just said I’d see the headlights over my left shoulder.’

‘It’ll be toooo late, brooo.’ For some reason, Pratt had still not gotten up from the ground. Maybe he liked dwelling at the bottom of humanity. Just lying on the path, as cyclists and longboarders weaved by.

‘Ooook, then,’ even-tempered Pratt said. ‘I’m going to leave now.’ As he turned to leave, Pratt reached into his pant pocket. Yup, the phone recorded it all.

Later that day, Pratt paid a visit to the local police station. He pressed charges against the evil Pratt, armed with evidence of his life threatened. Pratt’s Californian-singed voice signature imprinted on the audio tape was too good to mistake for anyone other than that awful bro Pratt.

From thereon, Pratt could not go within 500 feet of Pratt. As it turned out, Los Angeles was big enough for the both of them.

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awkward

Don’t make me take off my sunglasses

Had a call in this morning to FedLoan Servicing. They’re the suspect school loan servicer who swindles me out of $710 each year on an errant monthly payment claiming they failed to process my income adjustment plan. I made two attempts in the past two months to avoid this, yet they consistently drop the ball. Third year running.

Don’t make me take off my sunglasses.

I have to remember two dozen passwords for double the online accounts that manage my personal admin. I have a running text file that I update frequently to keep these logins inline. Yet, I continually find myself hitting the ‘Forgot password’ option and resetting.

Don’t make me take off my sunglasses.

I’m in my mid-thirties approaching a doldrum of social activity as past friends get married, have kids and do other things they’re supposed to do to remain relevant in this given American society. I’m finding less and less in common with these folk. It’s not that I don’t want to change; I just want to follow a unique path, not one laid out from likely decades of manifested destiny.

Don’t make me take off my sunglasses.

I did manage to steal away some time to reassess life priorities. Work is certainly not the be-all, end-all; it’s merely a method through which to tread financial waters and pay homage to society’s true god, the Almighty Dollar.

Hey, capitalism, don’t make me take off my sunglasses.

But I did briefly escape the imposed American Dream to ponder, find peace of mind in the stillness of inactivity and complete lack of urgency. Zen.

And I’ve found a purpose, better than anything anyone else can tell me. I’ve located it within.

Alright, lemme take off my sunglasses now.

I got work to do.

#DontMakeMeTakeOffMySunglasses

 

 

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Verse

Art

Art
Picasso’s ‘Girl before a Mirror,’
Is art
Van Morrison’s ballad ‘Into the Mystic,’
Is art
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ written and directed by John Hughes

They trace frequencies onto the media of paint, vinyl and celluloid, respectively. Each of these art forms require adept skill with instruments through which the artist conducts his energy.

An instrument conducting energy through a given medium.

Creative writing, however, remains one of the only art forms in which its instrument and medium are the same—the written word. The written word, which can be read, heard, said, sang, seen, and most importantly, thought.

Or is the medium the brainwaves of the prose reader? His instrument, like a player piano, is the script before him. While his eyes scrawl words latticed like hanging ivy all over the page to project a play within his mind.

Brainwaves.

The thick, gooey cerebral medium, as still as an endless well, as violent as sea squalled swells a thousand miles off the coast of any shore. When a brainstorm strikes, conjuring a nor’easter of electric, swirling connections, the artist must tune the vibrations from the source, the eye of the storm, staring straight up through the heavens concentrating ever upward into a golden recursive spiral, drawing the levity on down to his fingertips, where speech meets screen in the form of the printed word.

Just like the vibrating needle recording rich sound’s footprint on liquid vinyl.

Just like a painter’s fluid arm brush strokes the blank canvas.

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