Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Last Saturday I was having coffee with a friend. We had just finished talking about all of the insincere details of our lives when I heard the Baron start laughing. He's got a very distinctive laugh that never sounds the same any time you hear it, but you always know its his. When I turned to see the source of the laughter I saw someone choking on their bread. My friend ran over and administered the Heimlich Manuever. When it was clear that everything was ok the cafe's patrons clapped and shook my friends hand, but behind all the noise, echoing off the buildings, I could hear the Baron laughing.
I've been told that, until he explains it to you, you'll think the Baron has a cruel sense of humor, but once you get the joke, well you might as well follow him out the door into the night because nothing else is funny anymore. That's why I like to be prepared. I know the Baron likes wine, an old Mamba told me once. So, I've started buying wine every week. I'm not sure what type the Baron prefers, but I know he's well versed in every style.
I know he's coming to visit me, but I don't know when. So I'm going to settle into things, keep buying wine. When the Baron comes dressed in his black tuxedo I'll ask him to sit down and tell me a joke... after we drink some wine.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
In an effort to stop this, or perhaps to celebrate it, she began counting. It is not known how she came to possess knowledge of numbers at such an early age. Those who knew her, and knew of her obsession, would claim that it was simply an innate skill, or perhaps she invented her own numbering system that simply fell into accord with the generally accepted system of numbering the rest of us use.
As she aged she grew into a normal and beloved person. She married, birthed children, and even took care of a dog for many years. Aside from her obsession with counting each infinitesimally small moment of her life it could be said that she lived a rather mundane existence. As a result of her counting she could perfectly remember every moment of her life, even her dreams. If you asked her she could tell you the angle of the sun as her parents wished her a happy first birthday.
When she died the powers that be decided she had no use for an afterlife because she had already attached herself perfectly to each moment of her life. Her soul was allowed to rest until Time was instructed to flow backwards once again.
Her reverse life was, and is, fraught with despair as she was forced to perfectly divorce herself from her existence. In this way she spends eternity in perfect despair and perfect joy, the paragon of living.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The beard itself began as unremarkable stubble on the pale face of a pre-pubescent Harrison Hardigan. Perhaps it was in an effort to impress the young girls at school, or perhaps it was a misguided effort to save money on razor blades, but one day on the school's lawn Harrison H. Hardigan swore in front of the flag, with his hand over the Holy Bible, that he would never ever shave his beard. He swore that no razor would cut through the hairs on his face. Among his remaining family members it is whispered that Harrison vowed the uniquely binding oath to spite his father, who was a barber by trade.
Several times during these years he attempted to shave the beard off, and when that didn't work he would attempt to turn the scissors and razors on his wrists. However his oath to the flag and the Bible held so firmly that the scissors and razors dulled against his skin.
Then came the unfortunate day when Harrison attempted to catch a young red haired woman who had fallen out of a dormitory window. Her bones shattered as he caught her in his arms. He shouted for help and was immediately arrested for assault. The woman’s parents asked the judge to lock the young man away for life. They assured the court that their daughter, still unconscious in the hospital, wanted Harrison to be put in prison. During the proceedings Harrison sat meekly in front of the judge, and would not utter a single word in his own defense.
Harrison spent ten years in prison. Upon his release Harrison struck out to find gainful employment. He worked a series of low paying jobs and was fired from each one. Once, while working at a construction site he had rushed to the aid of a fellow worker trapped beneath a pile of rubble. Harrison threw the stones and boulders aside with ease. The man’s life was saved but the stones landed on the houses and buildings in the surrounding area. The construction company was forced into bankruptcy to pay off the damages. The man Harrison saved would later complain about the loss of his job.
So Harrison began the lonely life of a vagrant. He walked around the country and begged on street corners. In every town he found the need for his strength. In Atlanta he pulled children out of burning houses. In Seattle he pulled a sinking ship safely to the shore. In Omaha he saved workers from a stampede at the stockyards. He stopped runaway trains, and cleared wreckage. He once held a collapsing building up for three days as the residents calmly moved their possessions out on to the street. Instead of gratitude Harrison was met with anger and hate. More often than not he was blamed for the catastrophes he had saved people from, and the townspeople would run him out of town in a great mob. At the back of every mob was a red haired woman.
One day, while Harrison was silently begging for change on a street corner, a man in a suit approached Harrison. He was an advertising agent and was putting together a promotion for a razor company. The idea of the campaign was to film homeless men shaving their beards. The commercials showed before and after shots of the men, who were given suits to wear in the second photo. The man in the suit contracted Harrison for the promotion, despite Harrison’s silent warnings and promises that the beard would not submit to any mortal blade.
When the time for filming came the production crew found that all of Harrison’s predictions came true. They tried every razor the company produced. None of the razors could cut through mystical beard. The advertiser called the company, who quickly sent a man in a lab coat to examine Harrison’s facial hair. When the scientist could find no way to cut the beard he contacted his supervisor. After a brief conversation the man in the white coat asked Harrison to come back with him to the company’s headquarters.
For the next several decades the razor company employed Harrison as a consultant. His job consisted of sitting in a chair while men in white laboratory coats attempted to cut his beard. Several options were tried, pneumatic scissors, diamond blades, focused plasma beams, and microscopically sharpened edges. Nothing worked on the supernatural hairs. Despite the all of their failures the company advanced man's understanding of shaving technology by leaps and bounds. NASA sent inquiries into the project and soon the company had a government grant to cut Harrison's beard.
When his vision cleared he was gripped with a sudden terror of words he began to speak without end. Narrating the events of his life he told her of the flag and the bible and the girl on the ground. He told her about the man trapped beneath the rubble and the long years on the road. He became lost in an endless stream of words until he was no longer narrating his life, but the events of every person’s life he had ever met. He told her childhood stories of the lab technicians. The histories of all of the towns and people he had saved poured from his mouth. In great detail he described the lives of people he had never met.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
$250. The Coyote wanted six hundred. Six months of scrimping and saving, and this was all he had to show for it. He’d eaten ramen every day, he bought day old bread, dented cans, and he walked to work. He’d asked for a raise, or some sort of change. However, the restaurant was strapped for cash, or at least that’s what his manager told him. Six months of hard work and Miguel was only $250 in the black.
He’d already paid rent, he’d already bought enough bland and outdated food to last him another two months. It was the Coyote that was his problem. He had said that there were unforeseen expenses relating to the transportation of his Maria. Last Tuesday, on his way home from the gas station where he bought his cigarettes, Miguel had called the Coyote from the usual pay phone. As Miguel tucked his change and an ill-fated state lottery ticket (it had come free with the purchase of two packs of cigarettes) into his wallet, he listened to the sound of traffic and the ringing on the other end of the line. In Miguel’s weary state the sounds merged into one soothing melody.
When an unpleasant voice suddenly spoke into his ear, Miguel was startled out of his momentary stupor. The Coyote began the conversation with his usual sinister politeness. Miguel listened as the faceless man told him of the many dangers the desert held for unwary travelers. He listed off the usual threats: vultures, cacti, snakes, scorpions, and -of course- Coyotes. Miguel knew what he meant.
After the conversation Miguel asked his manager for the raise again. He’d done dishes, he’d sliced so much celery it made him physically sick to smell it anymore. He had mopped, he had swept, and he had taken all of the garbage out. The young immigrant had performed every single mind-numbing task the manager could think of, and still there would be no raise.
The neighborhood kids who worked in the kitchens in the afternoons and on weekends, tried to make small talk. Miguel replied in kind, made jokes, his English was decipherable, just not pleasant. Despite their mutual attempts it was beyond the abilities of either to connect with the other; they could not know his existence.
Every morning at four Miguel unlocked the restaurants back door. For the last six months he had been tasked with baking the restaurants bread. This morning was no different from the last six months. The monotony of the morning seemed to stretch into the future, giving Miguel visions of himself as a withered old man opening the restaurants doors hours before the sun rose, and locking them hours after it had set. Immediately upon entering he turned on the ovens. They took an hour to heat up, a hurried tortuous hour. While the ovens transformed the backroom from a cramped ugly workstation to a hellish one, Miguel had to unload the day’s shipment of fresh produce.
The days labor was long and monotonous. Celery was sliced. Soup stock was boiled. Bread was baked. Long lines of glistening produce passed under Miguel’s knife. With each slice of the knife another hungry, bloated, mouth was fed. At ten o’clock that evening the manager finally let Miguel clock out. After a short conversation about the impossibility of a raise Miguel began the trek home.
Halfway to his apartment Miguel stopped at the pay phone he used to contact the Coyote. He was going to ask for more time. But the words stopped in his throat when the Coyote greeted him on the other end of the line. The Coyote talked for several minutes, and then with a chuckle he bid Miguel farewell.
When the line clicked off, Miguel went numb. He went to the liquor store and overdrew his bank account several times. Then back to his apartment. His mind glazed over, and hours later, he realized that he had turned on the television and opened a now flat beer. Between Wheel of Fortune and the nightly news the lottery numbers were announced. Remembering the little scrap of paper in his wallet, Miguel checked the numbers, and began to sob.
It never happened. It couldn’t have happened. Even if it had happened it was too late. Miguel wandered the streets for a few days, with the ticket clutched in his hand. It didn’t matter how much money this insulting scrap of paper was worth. He had bought it because of the promotion; really he had wanted the pack of cigarettes that came with its purchase. He almost threw it away, but instead, he tucked it into his thin, worn down wallet, then the only piece of paper the faded leather held.
She was dead, and he was rich in America; the wrong half of the dream came true, and it was now a nightmare. He wandered the streets for days, clutching that filthy insignificant scrap of paper. Somewhere in a dessert far away a coyote howled at the moon as it ran across the sands.
Nothing else in the car was disturbed. The usual garbage in the wheel wells was in it's place. The fast food wrappers and cups all held their positions, like staunch soldiers in trench warfare. Only Jesus had taken it upon himself to move, to go over the trench into No-Man's Land.
The morning sun was warming the automobile. Soon Brian's armpits became damp with sweat. He was still staring over at that Plastic Jesus, who stood on his abalone shell. Finally, with a shrug, Brian turned his wrist and started the car.
His work was only ten miles away, but the drive took an hour. The cause was, of course, the esoteric manner in which the city had laid out the highways and surrounding streets. They had built an overpass directly above Brian's house. It really was a marvel of engineering. The tall elegant pillars that supported the road almost always glistened in the morning and evening sun. When the city builds an overpass directly over your house they never make it easy to get on the highway. They should install convenient on and off-ramps nearby, but they never do. The excuse the city council gave was simple, direct, and utilitarian. They didn't want to move anymore houses than was necessary.
As compensation for the overpass above his roof the city gave Brian ten thousand dollars. That was enough to take a couple of years off mortgage payments, but not enough to move. His house was now the least desirable dwelling in the county. All of his neighbors left. The neighborhood became a dark silent place.
The solitude was why Brian had purchased the Plastic Jesus, to keep him company on the long drive to work. When you pressed the button at Jesus' feet a recording spouted out various parables from the New Testament. After six months of constant pressing Jesus' voice had become demonic. Brian no longer pressed the button.
The drive to work took twice as long as usual, and instead of parking, Brian drove around the block. He only made sharp right turns, hoping that the force of the turn would move Jesus back over to his side of the dashboard. After an hour of turning right Jesus was still anchored to the passenger side. Brian stared across the sea of fast food wrappers and plastic bags. Finally he gave up.
When the police arrived at city hall they cordoned off the block. When news crews started arriving the police erected barricades. It took several hours for the hostage negotiations to come to an end, even though everything moved along at an eerily ordered pace. The council members were the most unusual hostages. Instead of crying and begging for their lives they laid out the reasons for their decisions. Everything came down to sound, logical, reasoning. There was no malice, only the cold apathy of Utilitarian zoning policies. There were no casualties, but Brian was still charged with several felonies. The sentencing was quick. The public defender had several other, more desperate, cases.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the Judge was very understanding of Brian's circumstances. Instead of time in prison Brian was sentenced with several thousands of hours of community service. He was allowed to return home, where everyday a van would pick him up, and make the long commute to the highway.
As he walked up and down the highway, carrying his pointed stick, Brian found thousands of Plastic Jesus figurines. The ditches along the highway were full of them. They were in their wrappers, fresh and new. A smile lit Brian's face as he gathered the figurines into the pockets of his orange jumpsuit. Suddenly the bridge, the dashboard, the wrappers, even the loneliness all made sense. Next to the ditches filled with Plastic Jesus figurines the city council's decisions and stoicism made perfect harmonious sense. In the light of his unknown discovery life became bearable, and the universe unfolded before him. He filled his allotted trash bags and returned to the van for more.
Years later the city decided to demolish the overpass. The city had shifted to the south, and a different more direct route was needed. The most striking aspect of the bridge was that its pillars still sparkled in the morning and evening sun. Truly it was a miracle that the decades of car exhaust hadn't dulled the shimmer of the white concrete. When the zoning inspectors came to vacate the old dilapidated house below the bridge they found the door unlocked. They found the house in perfect order, save the incredible layers of dust that covered every inch of the residence. In the center of the house they found the mummified remains of a man. The body was lying on the floor, arms outstretched. Surrounding the naked corpse were thousands of grimy Plastic Jesus figurines.