Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

Social problems = “This is the way society is.”
Through the eyes of an outcast narrator in a story, either the world is a problem or the narrator’s way of seeing things is a problem.
(What does it mean if the way of thinking that makes the narrator an outcast has been developed as an attempt to adapt to the society in the first place?  Certain individuals will inevitably be disconnected?)
Society as an untouchable superpower.
The same people who create it are somehow powerless to change it.
Society: anything constructed by a group of humans that cannot be changed by a single human.
*    *    *    *    *
The narrator’s word is the only word.  The narrator is the God of its own story.  Yet this God is imperfect and unaware of its implicit patterns and contradictions.  The reader is aware of the God’s imperfections and takes pleasure in realizing all of its hidden patterns.  The reader is on par with God and therefore becomes a God herself.
*    *    *    *    *
It seems that we are collectively annoyed by advertisements.  After years of repetition, the increase in advertising has numbed our ability to analyze or even verbalize our annoyance.
The billboards; shall we tear them down?
Perhaps a sarcastic drum circle will suffice.
*    *    *    *    *
The suburbs are demonstrated by hilariously artificial boundaries.  Low wooden fences and narrow tracts of flowerbeds signify the self-compartmentalized division of lives and properties.
Nature is also sequestered and molested at whim.  Grass is kept separate from the ivy.  Trees are neatly framed by cement set rings of red brick.  Suburban areas where plants are allowed to grow free should be approached with a sinking feeling of distrust.
*    *    *    *    *
A thin, faceless man films himself with a camera connected to his computer.  He threatens to cut off his right arm, live on the internet, if his favorite celebrity won’t have a face-to-face conversation with him.
The video is picked up by blogs and eventually the mainstream media airs his story.  Word comes from the celebrity’s agent that there will be no meeting.
Stunned, the man chokes when he hears the news.  He decides to back out and stops updating his website.  A few weeks pass and the man actively tries to forget about the whole incident.
During those few weeks a group of angry forum users discuss the incident and decide to force the man to keep his promise.  The forum users find the man’s address by hacking into his personal accounts.  They arrive at the man’s house as a mob.  The man is punched in the face by the first one through the door.  For the next three minutes, the man begs for his life.  The mob destroys his couch and leaves.

I walk by the camp’s infirmary, standing gray walls that don’t seem to be promoting health, and feel a combination of anger, homesickness, and guilt, all at once, knowing that a little girl inside is suffering for a belief that was forced upon her at birth.  My steps are continually wobbly because I’m five years old, my shoes are untied, remaining that way because I don’t want to attract attention from the older girls who already seem annoyed by my unchosen young age, and asking one of them to stop and help tie them would also stop the line’s momentum.
The gray infirmary becomes shrouded behind more and more trees as we continue walking, the girl inside, who the other girls say is close to death because of her crazy parents, lies in a bed behind a window with a curtain that is never open.  I walk slow, not just because of the laces, but also because a part of me wants to see her in person, envious of the girl.  Being cared for by a team of nurses in the room, on the verge of having no responsibilities, even for a kid, the whole camp silently offering their sympathies, no one expecting you to be the hero in complicated games you are to young to understand, I think her situation is, in a way, comforting.
My Mom sent me a letter, which made me happy, but now I don’t know what to do.  I want another letter, or cookies, like the other kids who don’t think about their parents until a counselor tells them they got a package.  I think about my parents, sitting at home, proud of their decision, which didn’t involve my opinion, to send me away for the summer.  Before I got the letter I thought I would never talk to either of them again, my new home the cramped and smelly cabin, forever sleeping among girls who remind me I am the youngest.  Camp’s atmosphere does not promote the flourishing of sensitive girls, with heavy wool blankets that make my exposed skin itchy and red, spiders crawling on the ceiling at night, and food that isn’t good enough on its own to taste good, with syrup, ketchup, and barbecue sauce coming with every meal.
The only real difference between the girls and me is that we get excited about different things.  I saw a massive squirrel running vertically up a tree a few days ago, my mouth formed into a smile without my control, it almost looked like my cat back home, and just as I was about to point it out to the girl standing next to me, she squealed in excitement as a boy lifeguard walked by in the distance.

White Space

There’s no way an old set of fishing hooks could have a smell on their own; there’s just not enough material to leave a scent on.  But still, my mind ran along on its own to fetch up the reek of live worms shivering in wet mud, beetles spraying their stink, dusty moths from the rotted trunk of a pine tree; all the free live bait waiting to be captured in the backyard which the hooks had once been used for skewering.
Of course there were lures, too.  Some of them unused.  Bug-eyed shrimp made of stretchy rubber and little green minnows with flexible tails, still in their plastic casings.  I left everything in the tackle box as I  had found it, except for a water-droplet shaped, two-pound weight used for deep-sea fishing.  Felt too good in my hand.  Had to keep it right there in my palm and let the light, coal gray iron swing the momentum of my arm for me as I walked into the trees.
Grown into the ivy, under it, entangled in its branches and detritus, musty brown bottles of beer still remained.  They were like the roots of some overgrown, towering giant.  Deeper into the woods, where I guessed my tree fort had been, I could find only one remnant.  A foothold level with my chest was stuck to a tree by a single brittle nail; its head poking crookedly from the center.  The rope swing, the rest of the footholds and the flag were all gone; even the yellow paint we left on the bark was not to be found.  Everything but that one rusty nail and a piece of scrap-wood remained.

Arthur stopped in his tracks and slowly tilted his head back, forcing a stream of businessmen to move hastily out of his way. A surprise met him on his daily routine. Everyday Arthur would walk around his city, usually in the morning, scrupulously monitoring every sidewalk, building, bus stop, light pole, garage door, chain like fence and store front for new advertisements.
In a mysteriously collective and synchronized fashion, the city always updated its empty spaces with new ads during the wee hours of every Monday morning. Arthur usually memorized all the advertisements by Sunday night when it was time for a fresh installment. He did this by dividing the streets into a grid pattern and scouting each sector, depending—with some pride—solely on his philosophy of disciplined attentiveness. No matter what emotion the ad roused in him at first glance, he would digest every image with patience and meditate for great lengths of time on every phrase.
What surprised Arthur was that—on a Sunday afternoon—after a full week to realize every billboard, he somehow missed one.  Arthur felt a strange urge to locate the ad’s shadow and place himself in the center of it before allowing himself to look at it. After scanning the cement, Arthur found the rectangular area; it framed the exit of an underground transit station almost perfectly.  It was a bright day with only a few smudges of gray overcast in the sky, yet Arthur distinctively felt the chill from the billboard’s shadow on the backs of his hands and in his nostrils as he inhaled air through his nose.
Arthur felt secure in the shade, as if the barely noticeable box shape was a force field blocking out all the unpredictable organic figures of pedestrians that scurried past him. He was happy in spite of his self-imposed isolation. A chubby kid wearing a propped up A’s baseball hat mimicked Arthur’s intent stare to the great satisfaction of a group of teenagers who stood nearby.
Arthur didn’t notice the people around him. He was too pleased to see that the billboard used his favorite style of advertising: the rhetorical question.
“Are you connected?” After studying many different types of ads, Arthur learned how to avoid looking at the brand name before first contemplating the message of the ad in his mind. He believed a person should take feely whatever message the ad was offering before seeing who wants you to take it. That was the only method for an impartial participant in the dialogue as a whole.
“I am connected to you,” Arthur responded in his mind to the father in the ad who stood slightly ahead of his family with an outstretched arm, offering the viewer his own cell phone.
This message reaffirmed Arthur’s belief in the cultural brilliance of the advertising industry; it was always forcing the observer to question personal assumptions about happiness and the ignorance that allows for a false sense of everyday satisfaction. The white noise from people walking straight past the ad without taking the time to observe it made Arthur feel sad. “Are they connected?” Arthur wondered about the crowd.
Arthur’s train of thought came to a halt when he blurted out the word “PISS.” It was as if his mind was warning him beforehand of the smell he was about to realize. He looked down and discovered that he had been standing in a pool of stagnant urine.

Ad Wake (beginning)

When he woke up in the morning there was an ad wrapped around his neck above his pajama shirt’s collar. The ad looked like the smooth material of a necktie and when he looked up or turned his head to the side the brand’s name would flash in sleek blue letters below his chin.
He went to the bathroom, took off his socks and noticed two ads on the bottoms of his feet. The ads had pictures of magnified green germs, sharp teeth poking through their slimy skins, warning him of the embarrassing dangers of foot odor. Sitting on the toilet, holding his calf in his hands, he looked at his feet and read about the psychological findings of doctors who confined one man with stinky feet in the midst of a small family of people with fresh-smelling feet, thanks to the help of the product being advertised, and how the smelly man was quickly ostracized, left alone in the bathroom much like he was at the moment.
Having checked the rest of his body and finding only one more ad on his stomach for a health food store, the man slipped into his suit and left his apartment. The first person he saw once outside his building was a man who lived down the hall from him whose name he did not know. The man was sweating, looking down at the sidewalk as if ashamed. A rectangular ad had been stretched over his mouth. Scrolling across the miniature screen, the ad read, “I didn’t brush my teeth last night. Why? Because my toothpaste ran out. After work, I’ll be sure to pick up some Toothpaste brand Toothpaste so this won’t happen again!”

Leeland Lee continues working at the Unique Eats café after his wife, Lori, dies. During breakfast and lunch Leeland is always busy with his hands, breading chicken to be deep-fried and wiping the mayonnaise off the counter for the next burger. The customers compliment Leeland’s timely and delicious meals, but his boss, a middle-aged woman from Ohio, begins acting vaguely sour towards him. At first she just mumbles as the day progresses into the afternoon, but eventually she tells Leeland he spends too much time listening to the radio during evenings. Agreeing to focus more on his work, Leeland remembers hearing a news story about how dentists have the highest suicide rate out of any professional occupation.
Besides stealing individual ketchup packets from the supply room, Leeland spends his lunch breaks hoping that his oldest son will find a way to bring in a decent sum of money. At home, Leeland’s son sleeps on a thin foam mattress in the garage. Occasionally Leeland believes that his son is high on marijuana when he comes in late, eyebrows clenched nervously as he steps off his motorcycle. Leeland never questions him directly and his son never explains how he found his girlfriend in a sleeping bag with another girl who was their mutual friend. While his son lives in the garage he feels his sexual confidence diminishing. He offsets his insecurities by losing himself in motorcycle repair jobs that bring in enough money to pay for Leeland’s electricity bills.
Eventually Leeland and the middle-aged woman start arguing loudly with each other at work until some customers start to complain. Leeland is fired one Saturday afternoon without ceremony. Later that day, as he drives his truck home, he hears on the news that a fire destroyed the roof of a llama ranch in Thermopolis.
Leeland’s oldest son saves up enough money from his repair jobs to open up his own motorcycle shop and steakhouse. After initially shying away from the idea—for unknown reasons—Leeland’s son asks his Dad to be the head chef of the steak house. Leeland accepts the offer and begins working on a menu. All of the entrees he chooses are different cuts of steak, except for his signature “Leeland burger”: a regular hamburger with bacon on top of everything else.
Word came from Billings, Montana that Leeland’s oldest daughter was pregnant with another child and his other son was recovering from the loss of his mother. Although he is quiet and hard to classify, he excels in math and reassures his sister that he is not depressed. Leeland wonders if his boys will all have houses in Unique someday.
Some of the customers who were locals at the café where Leeland first worked as a cook migrate to the steakhouse and repair shop. When people order by just saying “I’ll have a burger” Leeland corrects them calmly by repeating: “one Leeland burger, coming right up.”

Jack Ass

Advertisement jingles. Slogans digested and regurgitated at appropriate times. James Maxon spewing the funniest line from last week’s South Park, Simpsons, or Family Guy episode, and if those were all re-runs, a phrase from Dumb and Dumber or There’s Something About Mary.
Quotes shot rapid fire at parties, when everybody’s drunk. James’s parents out of town, everyone crowded in the garage between the twin Hummers. Labels facing out on cans of Coors like some kind of commercial, James thinks.
End of the party and James is worn out from repeating dialogue from television to his girlfriend, Jen. Jen laughs when James pauses for a reaction but is secretly pining over the cheap beer she is drinking. She doesn’t want to ruin the month long progress of her bitter tasting teeth-whitening treatment.
The next day James, hung over in bed, sees a preview for a new show that will be airing on MTV. The show is called “Jack Ass.” Clips from the pilot show a man being electrocuted with a taser gun, another man being hit by a car and another running away from an alligator’s snapping jaws.
After staying up to watch the show and feeling unimpressed, James is surprised to hear nothing but rave reviews from his friends at school the following day. Instead of the usual circle of people shooting quotes at each other, everyone does impressions with their bodies. They imitate the face of the guy who rode his bike into the side of a porta-potty and the moves of the guy who wore a thong, dancing in a department store.
James asks his parents for a video camera. His Mom agrees and they take one of the Hummers to Circuit City. Whistling the tune of a Coke ad, James picks out a camera that looks shinier than the rest and has features he doesn’t even try to comprehend.
Standing at the top of the tall grass hill behind his house, James has Jen turn on his camera for the first time to film him ride down in a small wagon. Flying headlong into a bush, James tumbles through the branches and looks back to see Jen flashing him a thumbs up.
James’ parents go out of town again. They set up the camera stationary to film a beer chugging contest followed by a group vomit session.
Jen finds the Jack Ass theme song on Napster just like James asked her. They edit a short, six-minute video with the song looped twice over James and his friends imitating stunts they saw on T.V.
Instant respect granted at school. For a while, people stop quoting and repeating lines. They gather around James and do impressions of his own stunts, the vexed facial expressions when he forced himself to vomit on his side-yard, the dazed look after he crashed a shopping cart into some shrubs. James watched their mirrored gestures with his arms crossed in front of him, smiling, but not knowing where to go from there.

Two Friends

One friend’s art flourishes.
The other friend works for her overbearing mother at a flower shop and finds happiness while watching movies.

There was a man who lived alone in a house in the suburbs. His house annoyed him everyday when he remembered that he could not brush his teeth, shave, wash his face or even drink a glass of tap water because there were no sinks and no shower in his house. The man would often wake up and remain motionless in bed before rising just to wonder why his house had a perfectly functioning toilet and yet no sinks. Furthermore, what made this crucial shortage of a water source excusable when he made his decision to purchase the house? Yes, he was short on money and the house was shockingly cheap for being located in such a calm and quiet neighborhood in the suburbs with an oval-shaped lawn in the backyard and some free furnishings such as a plaid couch that smelled like mothballs and a 1950’s style polished wood kitchen table, but still, there was not one sink to be found.
The economic benefit of spending such a small amount of money on the house was gradually depleted by the number of meals the man was forced to eat at restaurants. Since the man could only stomach cheap fast food every few days—despite his economic situation in life, the man’s palate had always been sensitive to the quality and flavor of his cuisine—he was forced to eat at delis, taquerias and places that cost ten dollars or less for a single meal. The man’s job as assistant manager at an independently owned bookstore—what he believed was the only honorable profession for a man who loves books but has yet to be commercially realized—produced an extremely limited budget. As time passed, the accumulated expense of restaurant outings and several instances of diarrhea at work, which he blamed on the questionable sanitation practices of modern eateries, forced him to take a desperate action.
Besides the price, the lawn, the couch and the table, the house in the suburbs pleased the man greatly because it allowed him to go on avoiding the greatest fear he had ever known in life: making eye-contact with another human being for more than two seconds. If the man tried to stare any longer—something the manager at the bookstore always encouraged him to do when he engaged customers—the skin between his fingers would start to sweat, the pulse on his neck would visibly shiver and beat with violence and everything in his vision would go blurry, as if he was trying to read a book with small print underwater in a heavily chlorinated pool.
Showers were provided by the local Y.M.C.A. but any other form of water was unavailable to the man, making the bulk package of Macaroni and Cheese purchased with the last bit of his meager paycheck useless to him. The man worked two full days without eating; all the while his eye contact with his boss and coworkers shrinking from two seconds to lightning bolt glances, his deliberate enthusiasm almost completely dwindled away. On his third day of fasting the man broke down and decided to knock on his next-door neighbor’s door with an empty gallon container and ask for some water— even if it meant looking a stranger in the face.
On his way across his neighbor’s perfectly manicured front lawn, with a wide variety of immaculate yellow flowers and a brilliantly sparkling bird-feeder that looked like it could have been intricately carved by hand from a block of granite, the man almost turned back when he realized that other houses on the street might have the same problem as his own. The thought came to the man too late because his neighbor, sitting in a large reclining chair pointed directly at the front window, had watched the man’s timid approach and quickly got up to throw open the front door.
“It’s you!” Cried the neighbor who the man had never seen.
The man forced a weak cough before looking up from his shoes to see who addressed him. A short, yet imposing figure whose bodily construction appeared free from the rigidity of bones—just a vertical mass of condensed, tightly-packed pudgy white flesh—stood on the porch with eyebrows pointed in a menacing “V” shape.
“You’re the guy who can’t drive. You backed into my azaleas, didn’t you?”
The man’s neighbor pointed to a small indent in an otherwise straight line of bushes facing the street.
“You can’t even look me in the eye; it must have been you!”
The man’s hands started shaking, rattling the container that he clutched tightly.

Margot pretends to look at the laptop I found for her. All she does all day is dance her fingers over the keys like she’s practicing to be a pianist or somethin. “I don’t need anything except Word,” she tells me when I ask if I should find internet hook up. I’m rakin and scrapin muddy finger nails across my scalp. Dredgin up loose dandruff from the roots. Salt crystals and used up hairs dust the shoulders of my Ramones jacket; unbuttoned, no shirt underneath. Almost ready. Margot blows the dust off the computer screen. Our eyes get caught feelin each other out in the clean mirror. Mirror and computer: only fuckin things that stay fresh around this shit-brown apartment. They never get caught changin color beneath the grime.
I hustle around the kitchen a bit lookin for Margot’s canvas grocery bag till I see the handle stickin out from a heap of stale t-shirts. “What’s this doin ova here?” I bark at her. She just sits there propped on her pillows. Right on queue those damn tick-tackin keys start up; the same tired response.
The flea market closes at four, which means no time to play guessing games. No yellin at my damn self till she points out somethin obvious. “Why don’t you stick around? We’ll have lunch, you know, the fridge is still full of pastrami. Bunch of sandwich stuff left.” By the time I’m done explaining to her about makin healthy scratch, (not some bullshit sandwich payroll) enough to have full pockets till next Thursday and have rent comped, I might as well be talkin to my shadow. Tick-tack tick-tack. Speakin her own language while I justify our income to the spotless fuckin mirror.
Finally outside movin again. Flyin down the street on my 1975 Vespa that looks more like a miniature bulldog motorcycle. I nearly tap the bumper of a BMW when I remember to find a pay phone and call up Jed before I do anything. “Dirty Dean,” Jed calls me. He knows my name’s Kurt. Says I have James Dean’s smug face except with crusty sweat around the neck, darker bags under the eyes. The perfect guy to fake the whole filthy dirt-bag act. So dirty the pigs don’t look twice, he says.
“Vintage shirts. They’re paying out big and it aint gonna last. Oh, and any electronic shit that even vaguely resembles an ipod. Don’t matter if it works.” Sometimes I wonder if Jed’s a fair partner. Seems a logical question since I’m the one stealin while he sits on his ass rakin in profit on ebay. It’s true, though, that he’s stuck payin the bulk of the internet bill.
Back on my bike and I’m kickin up sand, haulin through the litter caked driveway that opens up into the market. I see tired hordes of people like buzzin flies, hummin their foreign language, crowded around old car engines, chipped squirt guns, used socks. The most pathetic souls on Earth. Like weather patterns or dishwashers, their cycle of poverty is sure fire. Poor depending on somebody poorer to buy their broken-down, dirty old shit. They’re like my fingernails before I do a job.
I stroll down a couple aisles till I get to the fruit stand then I load up the grocery bag with rotten bananas and mangos, sure to attract flies as my cover. Everyone starts reacting the way I want them to. Eyes dart towards busted lawnmowers, bowie knives with American flags on the handles, bootlegged c.d.’ s—they’ll look at dog shit before they make eye contact with me.
Finally I see a booth that looks worth my time. A dark old man wearing an over-sized cowboy hat that makes his head look puny sits in a rocking chair next to his lady, her hands spasm with tremors so she can barely knit.
“Lemme see that Marlin,” I tell the guy.
“This is a Barracuda, my grandfather was a master of taxaderm—“
“Whatever you say pal. Get it for me,” I point to the fish leaning on the van behind him. Right as he turns his back I plow some old t-shirts and a walkman down my pants.