Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Anti-Jeff: Part 4

There was a click.

At first, I prepared an entire speech. I took my government-issued writing utensil and government-issued lined paper and wrote out a whole speech, but in the end I decided to go with a punchier approach - the kind that left the Jeffs confused and dead, in that order. Now my whole plan was ruined.

I pulled the trigger again.

There was another click.

One of the Jeffs stood up. I pulled the trigger for a third time, but the only result was that damned clicking.

Jeff grabbed the gun out of my hand.

"Tim was right," he remarked. The other Jeff made a little sound of approval as the first one examined the gun.

"We knew you were an enemy from day one, Sam. Tim planned all of this. He's one of the best Jeffers out there. We're quite glad to have him."

At this point, I was fairly convinced that someone had replaced my government-issued with water with non-government-issued water and I was, in fact, hallucinating.

"We replaced your phone wiring with a direct line to Jeff headquarters. We pretended to be the police and acted like we didn't want to use your house. We hoped that you would let it go. You had been a friend for so long. We didn't want to hurt you. When you went out on your own we were crushed."

I tried to make eye contact with the other Jeff. He didn't look at me.

"We knew you were tracking us here, so when you asked for a gun, we gave you this one. It's a real gun, Sam, and we knew you'd show up with it. The only issue is that the safety controls are reversed. Quite an efficient little problem solver. With you gone, the Jeffs can be free to continue our plan to overthrow the government and set up our own regime."

He clicked the safety to the safe position which was, in this case, the non-safe position.

"No long speeches," he said, "no melodrama. This ends here."

"You already made a speech," the other Jeff commented.

"Yes, and I already said that when I was about to shoot you," I added.

"Yes, well, no more long speeches. This ends here, after my other long speech."

He pulled the gun up to my head. My heart was hammering in my chest.

"Feeling tired?" Jeff grinned.

Now that he mentioned it, I was feeling a little weary. My eyes ached.

"This room has a slightly lower oxygen concentration than that of the normal atmosphere. As I scare you with this gun, you'll panic and start to need more air. Eventually you'll faint and fall to the ground, thus activating a multi-contact electrical pad in the floor, killing you instantly."

"Wow," I said, feigning awe.

Jeff smiled. "I know! It was all my idea."

"No, it's just that it sounds sort of..." I petered off.




"I was going to go with," I paused here, for the dramatic effect I so duly deserved, and then shouted: "inefficient!"

I bolted for the door, squaring up my shoulder, aiming, making contact. The door smashed open.

"Hey," the sitting Jeff yelled, "shoot him!"

I vaulted off the catwalk. The gun went off. The bullet struck the railing next to my hand. It sparked. I landed on a box. It collapsed. I sprinted past three more government-issued crates, under a government-issued forklift, and past a government-issued economy-sized bottle of ketchup-flavored-condiment. Bullets whined by my face.

Outside, I raced to my car, throwing myself over the hood and into the driver's seat. I revved the engine and raced down the long industrial driveway back onto the interstate.

As I drove away from the warehouse that evening, I knew what future lay ahead of me. Immediately, I would have to switch cars as soon as possible, of course - I now knew that the claws of the Jeffers reached further into the government than I at first feared. In the long run, though, I could never return to my home, and I would not let myself risk my family's safety by contacting them. I would have to travel alone, rely only on myself. An early death was inevitable, but I would just have to hope I could take a few of them down with me.

My old life was over. I had one purpose. I have one purpose. Nothing remains but the enemy.

I am the Anti-Jeff.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Turn Around

I have missed opportunities before, that is an understatement, I have missed so many opportunities I could fill up a blank dictionary with a list of opportunities I have missed, it would look like this: didn't talk to a girl, didn't try to jump over the fence, didn't grab you and shake you and say what happened we were best friends and I told you everything, I told you about all the opportunities I missed, and now what, what, what, so what follows is a list of reasons to turn around.

It starts with the photograph - I like relating a photograph to a post, even if it is by saying that if you don't look up from that book you will get struck in the head by a dumpster, but unfortunately that is how I have to relate a photograph to a post in this case, so here: if you don't look up from that book you will get struck in the head by a dumpster and I'm not sure what that stick figure is doing with his legs and with his arms but whatever he is doing you will be doing and it doesn't look comfortable, so look up from that book if only because you should be ducking right about now and also look away from the teacher every once in a while, because even if there weren't any dumpsters in the parking lot that evening I'm sure there was someone with a brightly colored shirt that wouldn't have minded some eye contact, that wouldn't have minded your smile, and that didn't mind your smile when you smiled at him (if only briefly).

Sometimes it will be that simple, but I have found that it is often much worse, I have found that oftentimes people who do not look around get run over by trucks and buses and sadness, out of the three getting run over by sadness is not the worst but it is the longest - getting hit by a truck and a bus happens quick, just boom, and then that's it, but getting hit by sadness is like feeling something eat away at your stomach, is like watching a slow-motion punch because you will be sitting around and you will not look around and then suddenly you are sad because someone you love has left and will never come back or someone you love was never there in the first place and you were imagining it the whole time or someone you love has become someone you don't love, has become someone you just know, or even someone you don't know at all, someone you never met.

So when you are done reading this please get up, please look around a little bit, and if you see someone who makes you smile go ahead and smile and don't stop smiling until they look around and see you and start smiling too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

N's Last - Part One

It was a cold day, grimy day - the kind where the sun shines bright and the week-old snow looks gray and oily in the harsh new light - and Bill's punch was quick, unexpected. It sent Theo reeling, toppling back onto the pile of reject submissions - a thousand of the worst stories ever written cushioning his fall, a million imprecise words delivering him from a concussion that would have left his ears ringing for months.

Bill lowered his voice. "We have to publish it."

It started a half hour ago. The courier pulled off his hat as he climbed the stairs, N's last tucked under his arm, stuffed inside one of those padded minella folders that comes with a string to keep the flap shut.

Theo signed for the package at the door and dumped it on the pile with all of the others.

At first, he and Bill had rented out a PO box - the second-smallest one they could find - but as their circulation increased so did the number of submissions they received. Now Fiction published every month to a few thousand subscriptions. Not bad for two guys who worked out of a dingy little office above a record store.

Theo stood up from the beat-up leather couch and lit up a cigarette, wandering over to the window. This was how he and Bill spent their Sundays - reading submissions. Most of them were lousy, some redeemable, and only a tender few really readable, really excellent. These were the ones that were published each month, and that was what Fiction was - a collection of excellent fiction from unknown authors. Bill clutched the story he just read in his left hand, folding it up as leaned against the sill.

"Got anything?" Bill asked, looking from up from a ten-pager about a goldfish that wouldn't die.

"Nah," Theo replied. He turned from the window to throw the little bundle of paper into the rejects. "One man's fight against the car wash industry. I'm thinking no."

Bill gave a little snort as Theo once again surveyed the mountain of submissions. He picked out a thick, padded minella envelope from the top of the stack and meandered back over to the couch. Taking a drag from his cigarette, he carefully untied the string, pulled open the flap, and dumped the contents of the package onto his lap.

His eyes got wide.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On Jumping and Catching

I've had two experiences that bordered on religious. The first happened when I was seven. I dreamt I was an adult, driving down a hill. I looked up saw God.

The second involved a frisbee.

I have seen a million things move through the air - footballs, shoes, sandwiches - and each has moved a different way. I have seen things soar through the air; I have seen things fly through the air; I have seen things push air out of the air while they barrel towards their intended victim.

It was winter. This was appropriate. Winter is a time for preciseness. We were at a hat tournament. It was cold. I was clearly the worst player on my team. Everyone resented being stuck with me, except for Joe. Joe was tall, and he had a beard and a beanie to protect against the icy wind. He was friendly. He coached me through my biggest mistakes. He was the only one who would throw to me.

After one point where I had made a good cut and dump, Joe came up to me, rubbing his raw hands together and smiling.

Good play. You got in and out of the cutting lane quick so I could make that pass to you.

Thanks, Joe.

It was a couple plays after that that it happened. One of the players on our team with a phenomenal backhand hucked it long to Joe. Joe followed it. His defender stayed tight. The disk slowed down, and both passed it. And then suddenly Joe planted a cleat into the frozen ground. He stopped short. His defender tried to stop himself but he slipped. Joe sprang up opposite to the direction that only milliseconds ago he had been sprinting. He caught the disk. His gaze dropped to the ground. He landed.

It was in that moment, though - the one right before the disk was in his hands - that I finally recognized a new verb. Things can soar and fly and barrel, sure, that's fine (if you're into that kind of thing). What disks do is different. Disks hang. Disks stop completely. Disks wonder if they left their oven on and pause for a second, contemplating whether they remembered to press the off button after they took out the brownies. Disks think their cell phone is ringing and pause to rummage through their backpack before they realize the noise is coming from somewhere else. Disks have a moment where they are simply not moving.

It was watching Joe pluck the hanging disk out of the air that winter morning when I realized jumping was something I didn't care about. Everyone watching the game wasn't looking at Joe's form - his stomach pulled in tight, his spine stretched to the breaking point. Instead, we were looking at his hands, his fingers, which seemed to give at the moment of contact, which instinctively changed to a backhand grip before he hit the ground, which were cold and dry and raw but clenching the disk with a sort of quick tightness. It was at that moment that I learned something important:

It's not the jump that matters. It's the catch.


This, along with On Jumping and On Catching, will be on Miscellaneous Serials as soon as I get the theme photo.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How It Will Happen

Here is how it will happen:

You will have been flirting with her for a little while - maybe since the first day of school, when you saw her and smiled a little bit because you liked her hair, you liked her shirt, you liked the way she slipped a pen into her back pocket like it belonged there - and after a few months you are friends but on this day something changes for you and her, and it starts with a note that you scribble on the back of the business card you took from the Chipotle just off-campus, which says, in your semi-legible handwriting, What are you thinking about?

You are asking only because today she seems a little distracted and so you slide the note on her desk when the professor's back is turned so he can write on the board (integration of inverse trigonometric functions) and she looks at you and you wink and she reads the note and scribbles under it, nothing, which you were very much hoping she would not write because nothing is nothing; nothing means nothing; nothing will forever and always be good for abso-freaking-lutely nothing but this time nothing is not good enough for you. You demand more.

So you scribble back, no, really, which means very little by itself but in context it means everything, in context it means I am your friend and I have been your friend since the first day when I liked how you slipped that pen into your back pocket like it belonged there and I want to know what you were thinking about and I will not accept nothing, and she gets what you are saying and so this time she thinks about it a little longer.

You have almost forgotten about the note when she puts it on your desk a few minutes later, and when you look up her cheeks are red and her eyes will not meet yours and so you open the note and there it is: I was thinking about kissing you.

You stop breathing, momentarily.

The professor says class is over and she gets up like her seat is on fire and makes a run for the exit but you are pretty quick (and you only knock over one desk it falls with a bang don't stop to pick it up that part is imperative) so you leave your bag at your desk and you catch her arm in the hallway and she turns and tilts her head up because you are taller than her and she goes to give you an excuse she goes to apologize but you do not want an apology what you want is to explain that the reason you smiled at her on the first day of class was because you liked the way her pen fit in her back pocket like it belonged there and every day since you smiled at her because you were thinking about kissing her but for god's sake don't tell her that or at least don't tell her that right now because what you do right now is ten times better than that what you do right now she has been dreaming about what you do right now is you take her and you kiss her, once, for a long time.

After that you should probably go pick up the desk you knocked over, and then maybe ask her if she wants to get dinner or something.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Scenes 7

I set up a sentry gun (Dustbowl; Part 3; Cap 1) and we made it last about an hour.

I felt the pencil hit my face and it hurt more than I expected but it did not hurt enough to matter what hurt enough to matter was your face which looked sort of like you had just kicked a puppy by accident and since first grade when people have hurt me and offered to let me hurt them I knew it was stupid so I always said no but this time I wanted to hit you with a pencil so you'd feel better and so you wouldn't be sorry and so instead of a frown on your face you'd have a mark and a smile just like me.

I did not know I could get that happy about someone asking for a bagel with cheese.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Question Four

There is no question four. If there was, it might have been a question about the acidity of stomach acid, which I would have answered effectively and efficiently (in as few words as possible). I like to think it would have been something more, though - a question of free will, of whether the chemicals that circulate through our bodies control us or if we control them; a question of love, maybe, asking if we really feel attraction towards one another or if we are the simply the result of years of chemistry piled up; a question of fate that asks if we are masters of our own destiny or if we're just the result of some unfortunate cosmic joke; a question questioning the question that has had humans lying down on the ground and staring up at the starry night sky and pondering since the dawn of time: the question of whether we have any part in the process or if we're really just monkeys pulling levers. We may never know what question four was, but I hope it was something like that. I would have had a good answer.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

On Catching

I've caught footballs and disks; I've caught my finger in a door and up with my sister during a bike race; I've caught several species of conversations and fish. I've caught colds, fevers, and, on one occasion, a particularly nasty bit of stomach flu. I'm an unusually lucky person, so once I caught a straight on the river and split the pot on what would have otherwise been a devastating hand. I caught a girl, too - she was walking backwards (too close to the conductor's stand) and then suddenly she was falling backwards and then only a tiny bit after that she was hanging on to my arms, apologizing like a crazy person and looking a little shaken up.

I've caught wind of an evil scheme; I've caught eyes with a bright yellow shirt. I once tried to catch a bottle of honey mustard that was falling out of a refrigerator but instead I ended up catching an uncomfortable handful of someone else's flesh.

I've caught moments on a camera - smiles and frowns, celebrations and failures - and I've caught my dog in the act of stealing brie off the kitchen table and my sleeve on a nail and my breath after a ragged run in the rain. I have never caught fire - for that much I'm grateful - but I have caught a paintball to the shoulder (it stung). Once during a little league game the batter hit a neat little foul in the cage and I dived, my glove stretched out, resting on the dirt, and I caught the ball, sealing the inning up. I've caught the Eagles game on an early Sunday evening; I've caught snowflakes on my tongue.

I have caught a million different things in my life, and I will catch a million more - for better or worse, that is the kind of person I am. I catch things.

Monday, January 05, 2009

On Jumping

I went to camp between ninth and tenth grade - not a real camp, for we did not sing songs around a campfire or stay up late in the cabin listening to the rain hitting the soft wooden roof - but camp nonetheless. The cabin was replaced by a tiny fourth floor dorm room and the listening to rain by the playing of round after round of Texas Hold 'em until one-thirty in the morning.

I was in a play at the camp, but the week before we actually started the play we played acting games. During one of the games, for one reason or another, I jumped. I didn't jump high or in any particular manner, but I guess I did something weird, for as soon as I lifted off everyone laughed.

By an unfortunate twist of fate I had actually been making a joke at the same time I had been jumping, so I naturally assumed people were laughing at the joke (I thought quite highly of myself between ninth and tenth grade). Later, though, a girl who saw me jump asked me to do it again. I did, and she laughed again. I felt a little sheepish.


I dunno, just something about the way you jump. It looks really enthusiastic. Or possibly girly. Like a very enthusiastic girl!


It's not a bad thing.

No, yeah.

For the rest of the camp the kids that did the play with me tried to get me to jump, even going as far as to try to get the director to force me to jump during the production of the play (I was a monkey).

This is not meant to be a story about my sad, sad, childhood that was filled with kids making fun of me, and if I could change my jump I wouldn't. I'm glad that the other campers thought it was funny. I really liked camp - don't get me wrong on this count. Up until this point in my life, however, I had always figured that if you really commit to something you wouldn't look funny doing it. Taking my shirt off, dancing to the victory cadence, hugging strangers - I thought all of these things only looked silly because I looked (and felt) so uncomfortable doing them. And yet there I was, jumping with all of my might and without caring about what others would think of me, and there they were, laughing.

Friday, January 02, 2009


My sister and I went into Wayne a couple of days ago to take some portraits of people on the street. In case any are reading this, thank you so much for all of your help. I was really surprised by how cooperative everyone was. You were all great.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Scenes, Notes

One, Rachel:
I’m running towards the endzone and you have the Frisbee and I know what’s going to happen next it’s happened a thousand times and it will happen another thousand times it will keep happening it’s always been happening and will always be happening and you throw it and it’s perfect, it falls into my hands (that is the best feeling in the world) and I look back at you and our eyes meet and you smile.

Two, Esteban:
I can't remember how to find the volume of an area bounded by two lines rotating around the x-axis using the shell method and the bell just rung so there's only 8 minutes left, probably less by now because time flies when you're failing a math test and most of my paper is blank so I stare blankly at the back of your head and realize you probably also forgot how to find the volume of an area bounded by two lines rotating around the x-axis using the shell method because you've got your head down on your desk and there's strands of blonde hair everywhere around you and it looks a blind person just gave you a haircut.

Three, Meredith:
They played You Can Call Me Al and I danced and I could not stop smiling.


Thanks to everyone who wrote me scenes. They were all great. Picking three favorites was not easy.

A few other notes:

1. I apologize for the abruptness of part 3. With Bad Idea Man I got the story in my head and wrote until I got bored and then called that the end of a part. The story is not meant to be a multiple-part story.

2. Speaking of multiple-part stories, you can now read my longer stories over at Miscellaneous Serials. Those of you that found yourselves disappointed by my latest story should try reading it here. Hopefully you will be less disgusted. Each story at the new blog will also feature a related theme photograph. The one above is for Bad Idea Man; also included is one for Things Did Not Go As Planned.

3. Last night I had a dream where I was eating my dog.