Emptiness Is Not a Container

August 4, 2012 at 1:40 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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I thought I would take a quick break from whatever the hell it is that I’m doing and try to catch you up on things.  I look at the empty folders of my blog and wonder if it’s a metaphor for my ridiculous life.  What do I write a blog for, anyway?
Before you answer that, let me give you some context–
–And who are “you”, anyway?  Sometimes I feel like I am writing to…the world.  My base of loyal fans, or future generations, or maybe God, asking for a detailed appraisal of my life because it’s in appeal whether or not I can get into heaven.  If so, I’m in trouble.
And sometimes I feel like I’m writing to my kids.  I don’t get to see them often enough now, and I know I am missing out on things going on in their lives, and they are missing out on mine as well.  I want them to know me.  It’s part of knowing themselves.
So maybe it’s for future generations after all…
And back to context:  I have said (and I still maintain) that anyone who writes poetry is whacked in the head.  I give as an example my own poetry, and my emotional state when I wrote it.
Likewise, when I started writing this blog–my journal, my life–I had some things going on, but I didn’t realize it.
Since I first started writing–maybe 2004?–this some of what has happened:
My mother had just recently passed away
We bought a house and moved
I left my wife
I met someone new
My father passed away
I moved again–a total of five more times
Divorce and so forth
Changed part time jobs numerous times
And those are the big things.  Lots of little things happened, too.  I wrote about most of them.  And some point I wasn’t writing regularly because not enough was happening that was interesting.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  An old Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times.”  I understand that whole-heartedly.  My life has been less interesting in the last two years, and for that I’m grateful.
Of course, some things have happened and I don’t even know if I wrote about them because they were fairly painful and traumatic for me.  Maybe I should have, because I would remember them better.  Detroit ended up in the hospital a few times between December and January, and in January she had surgery, where they did a bowel resection and removed about a foot of intestine–remember, she has Crohn’s Disease.

So here’s what is happening lately:
Well, I’m grateful except for the part about Detroit, my lovely fiance, being out of work since Labor Day of last year.  Irony, anyone?  We have struggled to get by on my one and sometimes two incomes, her unemployment, food stamps, and creative juggling of the bills.
Twice I’ve made the New Year’s Resolution to not have any utilities shut off…and broken it by February.
Detroit has been actively looking for job.  I didn’t see it because I was at work, but I trust that she was.  And besides, I saw proof of it.  Last year in November she took a test that was required if you wanted to apply for any government jobs with the state.  By December she had the results–she passed and did well–and by January she started getting letters informing her of job openings for which she could interview.  I don’t know how many interviews she has been on–hell, she might not even know–but it’s been a fucking lot of them.
Just this week, after she got back from an interview, she got a call from someone who had interviewed her two weeks prior and offered the job.  What do you do when you get a job offer after being unemployed for 11 months?
You take the fucking job, that’s what you do.
She did.  She starts in two weeks.  Of course, just as there are hoops to jump for an interview, there are hoops to jump prior to starting a job.
Whenever she got a letter indicating there was a job opening, she had to either a) let them know she would go to the interview or b) let them know *WHY* she wasn’t going.  Otherwise, the letters would stop.
After she let them know she would, she generally had to fill out an application, get copies of her reference letters, and send them in either by fax or email or snail mail, depending on what each one required.  Then also bring that stuff to the interviews.
She traveled widely over the city and county and once to the neighboring county for interviews.
So it made sense that when she got this call, after she accepted she had to ask, “I’m sorry, but I have been on so many interviews–who are you with and where am I going?”
Her job is going to be near where her job with the Jennings school district was.  There’s a government building in a shopping center (now called Westfall Center after former County Executive Buzz Westfall, but I know the place as Northland Plaza) at the corner of West Florissant and Lucas and Hunt.
Her job will be with the division of family services, I guess.  In the same building they also do Probation and Parole, and she has interviewed for those jobs as well.  It is just a clerical/secretarial position–she won’t have to solve anyone’s life problems.
Now that she has the job offer, and a start time in two weeks, she has to do things like get fingerprinted and photographed and get an FBI background check.
A job with the state doesn’t necessarily pay that well, but of all of our hopes and dreams, being rich fell off a long, long time ago.  What a state job does offer is excellent benefits and pretty good job security:  she’d pretty much have to kill someone on the job and then lose the appeal process with the union backing her up to lose her job.
It’s good news.  We celebrated the other night and went out for steak.  However, Detroit does have some concerns, mostly about her health.  Is she going to be able to do the job?
Well, it’s not strenuous physical activity.  It’s office work.  For the state.  You have to not be a vegetable to do that job.  I think she’ll be okay.

Meanwhile, back at Eats–
A little about my job now.  In March, I had my seven-year anniversary at the bank.  One thing I earn at seven years is an increase in PTO.  I was getting 11.25 hours accrued per month, and it increased to 14.25.  That means that I went from three weeks to four weeks of time off, essentially.  If you do the math it’s a little more.
It’s a hell of a thing to bitch about, but 4 weeks is too much time off.  I can only roll over 40 hours into the new year; the rest of it doesn’t get lost but gets “banked” as something for use as, like…I don’t know, time I can use for family leave for extended illness or something like that.  I don’t want to have to find out.
Also, there is a rule–a federal law, actually, and most of what we do at a bank is controlled by federal guidelines–that all employees must take off five business days in a row during a calendar year.  They must take a week off.
The philosophy is not to guard our well-being.  It’s because they (the government) knows that people can’t be trusted.  Therefore, if you are up to some shit, it has a better chance of being uncovered if they can get you away from your desk for a week.
So when I started at the bank, I took quite a leap.  I realize that I never fully engaged the…I don’t know, the corporate culture or the mortgage culture.  People who are in it say mortgage is a different animal.  I’ve been witness to it over the past few years.
When I started, I was just scanning.  Essentially data entry, and the date I was entering was images of pages.  Documents.
But I did it well and I wasn’t promoted because that would be stupid–I had no idea what I was doing.  But I was given raises.
So for five years I did pretty much nothing except scanning.  I did take on other duties related to the equipment–I’m still the peripheral wrangler on my floor.  We had some shake-ups, and I did write about those.  There was a day when several loan officers quit and took a lot of their loyal support people with them to go to a competitor.  Over 40 people quit in one day.
About two years ago, I had some slack in my day and went looking for something to do.  I’m willing to learn and I’m fairly smart, but no one wanted to teach me anything.  I had a friend in department that was swamped, and she suggested I help them out.  I did, and I learned some new stuff.  I was pretty happy.  I managed to be in one department, be scanning for another, and be auditing FHA files for Lender Insuring–yet another department.
My boss noticed this–and there were other things going on as well–so I got moved to another department where my work could actually be measured.  I was moved to shipping.
I liked it, but I wasn’t doing very well.  I still don’t understand why.  But it was the first time I had time constraints and deadlines to deal with since coming to the bank.  It was quite an adjustment.  I loved the rush of…well, the rush.  It was like the old days at Domino’s when we had a thirty-minute guarantee.
And then there was the day about a year ago when about 20 people where laid off.  That was a hard, scary day as well.
After that, I started a new position:  I was in Final Documents.  It was like the finishing touches for our relationship with the investor.  I liked final docs.  I was doing it by myself, and then I had some help, and then by myself again.  Then they gave me some actual help, a stern but nice lady named Melba.  It went well with Melba for a few months.  In January, she went on vacation, and I started to get behind.  She got sick and stayed out longer, and I got behinder.  Then she came back.  Then she put in for her retirement, and was gone in less than a week, this time for good.  I got behinder and behinder.
They moved a temp over to help me.  I liked Janine, but honestly–
She lasted about a month with me, and I was grateful for the help.  She acted like I was her boss, and that was cool.  She left when she got an offer for a permanent job.  Good for her.  I was cleaning up her mistakes for the next two months.
I just started yet another new gig.  Now I do “Investor Accounting.”  My boss, Bunny, is trying to solve a lot of high-end problems with the mortgage pipeline, and she thinks if she can control the wires she can fix the pricing discrepancies.  I’m not going to go into any more detail because I don’t understand much of it, but I understand enough of it to know that it’s not very interesting unless you’re in the middle of it.
But she wanted to move me into a position where I can communicate with the investors, charm them, and get them to do things her way.  First I have to learn it.
So that’s what I did last week.  I learned this new thing.  I learned so much that my head hurts.  I am done learning new things for several days.  I guess until Monday.  I learned so much that I had this conversation with another manager:
She:  Are you okay?
Me: (surprised)  Sure–why?
She:  You just seem…you’ve had a scowl on your face all day.
Me:  Oh, that.  I’m just…very deep in thought.
And I was, too.  Trying to process everything I was learning, with knowing that Bunny was expecting me to learn it, know it, excell at it, and then make improvements.  It’s only been a week.
Yeah, it’s only been a week, and I’ve already made one improvement, and I have a plan for making another major one.  The one improvement I did make?
Here’s the old way:  I get these emails, print the PA (Purchase Advice) from the investor.  I go into a program and print the Pay History for that loan.  Using those two docs, I go into another program and fill out the funding sheet and then print that.  A three-page doc for each file.  The funding sheet I would scan in and send accross the street so that Dianna could process that part and make the wire transfers go through.  Not my thing.
Then I would take the three page doc and scan it into PowerFlow, our file system.  I would wait until the next day, in the morning, and do all of them together.  Then shred the paper.
You know…back in the 80s, we were promised paperless computer world.  We have computers *Everywhere*, and I see more paper than I’ve ever seen before.  At the bank they’ve tried to embark on this philosophy called “Paperless.”  I think I need to step up and champion the cause.
Friday, I didn’t print a single piece of paper.
I set my computer’s default printer to a program that prints to PDF.  When it does this, it creates a file and you have to name it.  I made a folder with Friday’s date and everything went there.  I quickly came up with a scheme to name the pages to keep track of them.
I emailed Dianna the attachements instead of faxing over copies of printoffs.  She noticed that they were so much easier to read.
I use a spreadsheet to track them all.  At the end of the day I called her to see if I had the same number of files that she had.  I could hear her rifling through papers as she counted–
Yeah, I think I can fix some of this.
Later I had time to do some of my old job.  Because, yeah, I still have my old job doing final docs.  I’m a one-man department doing that job, and I was understaffed when I was doing it full-time.  I had to drop off a doc at the title company, and Mary axed me could I clean her scanner for her?
I said yeah, remind me again on Monday.  I told her briefly about my new job, and how I still had my old one.
“Oh–did you get a promotion?  Or is it a sideways move, or…?”
“I don’t know.  What’s it called when you’re holding a bucket of poisonous spiders, and they hand you bucket of poisonous snakes and say, here, take care of this too?  Yeah, I got a promotion.”


An Inappropriate Use of Time Travel

July 24, 2012 at 9:01 PM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment

For this challenge Chuck wanted us to write about time travel. In fact I had, about a year ago, and I decided to bring the character back. To read more, go here yesterday:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Love Time Travel

It was late at night when Thomas emerged from the barn.  By lantern, he checked his clothes.  Yep, these are the right ones.  *I’m not going back to the 1930s again*.
“Tom?  Tom, are you out here?”  Shit, the wife.  *My 1950s wife*.
“I’m coming in, dear.”
“Thomas Paine Ackerman!  You have been in that barn for hours!  I called you for supper two hours ago.”
Oh.  Shit, was his…what the hell is the name of that thing—chronogram—was his chronogram out of adjustment?  *I’m not a technician, I’m a pilot*.  Thomas knew how snoopy she was.  “Did you open the barn door?  Did you look inside?”
Elizabeth put her head down.  She spoke quietly.  “You know I would never do that.  I respect my husband’s privacy.”
Ah…it’s good to be back.  He kissed her on the forehead.  Any time after the mid-sixties, and women are just too damn assertive.
Thomas spent the next two weeks in the 1950s, taking care of things around the house and getting his manly desires satisfied.  When he had gathered all the artifacts the Delorean could hold, he left for his home-time.  He planned to be back before his 1950s wife knew he was gone.
Or maybe he would take an extra five days, because she just started her period.

“These are good pieces,” the dealer said.  *Too good.  How does this schlub come up with mint condition rare coins, stamps, and baseball cards*?
Thomas had no idea he was being followed.  He forgot technology in 2450.  He casually strolled into his small, empty storage space.  He jumped when he heard a voice.  “All right—what’s your game, Ackerman?”
Two men—one had been his collectables dealer.  Thomas had his hand inside his shirt.  The man saw it and said, “Pull that hand out real slow, assjack.”
Thomas pulled his hand out slowly.  And pushed the button his thumb hand been on.  His Delorean appeared, displacing both men’s torsos with a quiet pop.  He flew his car to a car wash, trying to imagine the physics of it, but he wasn’t that smart.  *Shouldn’t there be an explosion?  Space-time, conversation of metal and energy, or something like that*?
Whatever.  He couldn’t come back to this time, or twenty-some odd years after it.  He sat at the anti-grav drive-thru in 2610, slurping on a chalk-lite shake and reminiscing about the good ol’ days of the early 2200s–probably his favorite time.  Styles come and go, and there was a six year period where chubby, sweaty, middle-aged bald guys were getting more ass than they could handle.
Plus, a shake still tasted like chocolate then.
He was tracking where he had been and where he could no longer go on a hand-held.  He heard a noise.  He looked up and thought how sweet it was that even in this day, people still tried to rob banks.
Of course, there was no cash money anymore.  This was a knowledge-neuron bank, where people went for basic brain surgery.
Three thugs:  One driving, and one had an a-g cart floating out, loaded down with canisters.  The other one had a hostage.  A pretty young woman.
Thomas said quietly to himself, “That, my friend, is a mistake.”  He fielded his controls expertly, and came into the bank thirty seconds prior—just as the robbers were leaving.  When he waved his remote around like a weapon, they thought he was another robber.
“Shitburgers and fries.  Hold on.”  He put a semi-static stasis field in place.  Everyone was still moving, but very slowly.  He had learned that if he wanted any glory, he couldn’t stop a crime before it happened because then no one would believe him.
He freed the hostage, then moved the two lawbreakers together, and tightened the stasis field to be only around them.   Everyone else began moving again.  “Oh, crapsicles and pizza!”
He went outside, jumped back 14 seconds, and grabbed the driver before he could leave.  He placed a stasis on him and then let himself and his charge slide up 14 seconds in a doubletime march.  What a rush.
Finally, everybody was current, except the robbers, in stasis.  The woman thanked him, but she didn’t seem grateful enough.  It was just as well—these assertive types didn’t do it for Thomas.

Thomas had a meeting with the mayor.
“Thomas, I’ve been thinking.  Other major metropolitan cities have their own super hero guardian.  How would you like to be ours?”
*A superhero?  I would get all the ass I want…*
“You would get all the ass you want.  Plus, a nice pad, a nice stipend, expenses paid, plus insurance and legal protection.”
“Wait—what’s that last part?”
“Insurance for the damage you’re bound to cause in your quest for justice or whatever, and free legal from the city.  Most superheroes break some laws as well as windows—you know that.  We got you covered.”
Thomas was barely listening.  The mayor’s assistant came in, and he was smitten.  Tall, blonde, beautiful, and wearing the type of fashion that only women in the 23rd century would wear.  Quickly, Thomas turned to the mayor.  It was probably a good deal.  “I’ll take it.  One thing.”  He nodded toward the woman.
The mayor smiled broadly.  “I’m sure we can arrange something.  Charlotte, I’d like to introduce you to our fair city’s crime-fighting superhero—Thomas.  You need a different name, son.”
Charlotte scoffed.  “Not interested.”  She eyed him with distaste.
“I can travel through time.”
“Time travel is inappropriate.”
He didn’t know what to say.  But he knew what to do.  Later, Thomas tracked her backwards at hi-speed, watching her life in reverse.  He found her at a moment just two years ago, where she was vulnerable and open to suggestion.  He was charming.  He took her out.  He got her drunk.  He took advantage of her.  And never called her again.
Two years later, when he became the city’s superhero and they met for the first time, Charlotte kicked him in the balls.

My Brain Is a Troll

July 23, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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“I can do that for you.”
I honestly didn’t even think about it at the time, but afterward I just couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth.
My ex had called asking about the status of child support for the month.  It’s a fair question–sometimes I don’t always have all of it, and she’s pretty good about working with me.  This month I wasn’t going to have “all” of it, in the strictest sense of the word, but in August I would be able to make that up–
“The reason I ask is–”
She explained that her car needs a fuel pump.  Our older son is a mechanic and *could* do the work; however, they’ve had a falling out over ridiculous family stuff.  Typically, a fuel pump is an expensive endeavor.
Well, hell–I had done my fuel pump recently.  Logically, therefore, I am experienced in this kind of thing.
“I can do that for you.”
It was too late; I was in.  We arranged for me to get the car from her second job that night–a Friday–so that I could start on it early Saturday morning.
My question was this:  so the fuel pump isn’t out completely–the car still runs?  Yes, apparently so.  Very rough.  Be careful on the drive home.  The thirty-five mile drive home.
She had already bought the fuel pump (which was four hundred dollars, for crying out loud).  To take it to a shop the total for parts and labor would have been eight hundred.
So I get up early Saturday and I start to work on it.  Okay, not really.  I got up around eight am.  I had intended to get up at six.  I didn’t actually start on it until eleven.
To change a fuel pump in most modern cars, you have to take out the fuel tank.  So, you have to jack the car up and then drop the tank down.  I eventually got the car up on three jack stands:  The back end raised up, and then the front of the side I had access to I raised so I had room to get under the car.  The front left wheel was still on the ground, and I had it blocked.
Okay.  So, to change a fuel pump you have to drop the gas tank, because the fuel pump sits inside the gas tank.  It’s held up by four bolts, but that is typically not the problem.  What *is* the problem is the other stuff connected to it:  the gas lines, the return lines, the wire harness, and so forth.
The fuel-line related crap will be my death, if I’m lucky.
I did dick around quite a bit on this job.  It shouldn’t have taken me this long–maybe my heart wasn’t really in it.  After I agreed to do it on Friday, I made that call to my girlfriend to explain to her what I had agreed to do.  She was cool with it.  I suppose.
But I worked on it and worked on it, and took a break and worked on it some more, and took more breaks.  I’ve skipped over a lot of what I did, partly because it was long and boring, and partly out of embarrassment over my incompetence.  Here it was after 430 and I finally got the fuel tank down and out and completely separated from the car.  By 530 I had the gas tank up on the tailgate of the truck so I could work on it, and had the old fuel pump removed.  After only 6 1/2 hours, I was exactly at the half-way point, and ready to begin re-assembly.  But–but it shouldn’t take as long to put it together as it did to take it apart.  A big part of that was the learning curve:  I was pretty experienced with this now.  What possible curves could I be thrown?
BY eight pm that night, I was ready to call it quits.  I was also ready to set the car on fire and climb inside it.  Why would I do that?  Why, to keep from getting mauled by bears, silly.  Simple logic.
Things had not gone well.
The new fuel pump had gone easily into the gas tank.  The gas tank was close to empty now, having gone through three separate siphoning sessions.  I had five small gas gans with a combined 8 gallons in them.  Now it was ready to go back in.
There are actually three pieces to this:  the gas tank, the heat shield, and the brace.  I don’t understand why they are three separate pieces, except perhaps to make my life more difficult.  I believe everything happens for a reason, and this is the reason for most things.
I have to pry, bend, push, force, twist, and finagle the pieces up into almost-position, going around miscellaneous parts like the exhaust.  Once in almost-position, I got the jack and the plywood to hold the tank while I fastened the bolts.
  “Talk about ‘bolts.'”
Talk about bolts?  Okay.  Four bolts hold the contraption up.  Two of them, toward the front of the vehicle, are easy to get to and don’t cause a problem.  The other two, toward the back, are assholes that mock me with an arrogant smugness that I expect from metric bolts.  Which these are.
They are in a position such that parts of the suspension apparatus blocks a direct path to them.  I can’t go straight to them with a socket and extension.
I did finally find a way with a universal joint–a tool for sockets that swivels about in all directions like a sexually confused screwdriver.  I get the tank attached.  Things are moving along swimmingly.  It’s about 630 now, and all I need to do now is attach all the little wires and hoses and connectors and things.  Easy-peasy.
By 8 pm, I had more than given up.  There is a level past demoralized.  Three steps beyond having the wind taken from your sails.  This was cellular defeat, a resignation on a glandular level.
I mean, how could–how does–why…why is this always my fate?
I started with what expected to be the hardest part, and at least I was right about that.  The other parts were in plain sight, but the tube to the fuel filler and corresponding filler vent line were positioned in a slightly inaccessible area, because why make shit easy?  In relative terms, the fill tube *was* easy, taking only 20 minutes of excrutiating and painful manipulation of a rubber tube onto a plastic circle.
Now for my descent into madness:
I would learn the name of the next part through my research online.  It was the “filler vent line.”  Obviously, the gas filler tube needs to be vented.  Okay, then.  I remember I had disconnected it, but I certainly don’t remember how, although I was certain there was a clip involved.  This right here, this little U-shaped piece of plastic.  It fits in the union somewhere–probably those little holes–and keeps it together.  That makes sense.  I’ve done this before.
Picture this:  You’re laying on your back, looking up.  That’s how ALL of this is.  Straight up there is the gas tank, and the filler tube and the filler vent tube.  They come from the gas tank, to your left, and go to your right and disappear.  What is blocking your view of them is a large and immovable piece of the car’s suspension.  I have no idea what it is, but I named it the “goddamn sonuvabitch.”
There is also a bar, or rod, that runs through there, that I’ve affectionately nicknamed “the other mother-fucker.”
Between the goddamn sonovabitch and the other mother-fucker I had an inch to play with.  An inch in which to stick a finger, which almost an inch thick–and push a clip into a tiny hole.
My fingers are beat to hell right now.  I tried to push the clip in.  I tried to balance it between my fingertips.  I tried a pair of pliers.  I tried another pair of pliers.  I tried these long, skinny tweezers I have.  I really thought those were going to work.
I tried a ball of tape, stuck to the tweezers, to hold the clip in the right position.  Didn’t work.  I took a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and forged it into a tool to hold the clip at the exact angle I needed, bent to go around the goddamn sonuvabitch and past the other mother-fucker.
None of it worked, until I did the last thing.  That accomplished something.
The clip would occasionally fall out of whatever I had it in, trying to position it at this connector so I could push it in.  It would fall, bounce off of my glasses and then hit the driveway, which I was laying on.  I would pick it up, curse, and try again.  In fact, I was cursing a lot.  I was cursing so much that I had given up on American and had switched to Mother England.
“Bloody ‘ell!  Limey cunt!  Bugger off!”
All of this until the last time it fell.  After the last time it fell, I felt a sense of calm and serenity.  Because, after the last time it fell, I was done for the day.
It was almost 8pm, and starting to get dark.  I had already run the extension cord and the trouble light out to go under the car with me.  The concrete was no longer blisteringly hot, and although I had been protected for the most part by lying on sheets of cardboard, my legs and shins were scraped up and red from traversing the concrete, and the back of my head was tender and sore.  I had no idea if it was sunburn or friction burn, from dragging it on the concrete as I moved about under the car like a large, tempermental salamander.  Without a tail.
And so it was that I was making my last heroic effort to insert this clip into this connector, and it slipped from my grasp and it fell.  It didn’t land on my face.  It disappeared.
I put my hand up between the goddamn sonuvabitch and that other mother-fucker and felt around on top of the goddamn sonuvabitch.  I didn’t feel the clip, but I felt something else.
A hole.  Fuck me.
I crawled out and got out of the way, and then I took the light and looked around on the ground carefully to be sure it hadn’t fallen somewhere else.  No such luck.
The little bitch of a clip fell into a hole in the top of the goddamn sonuvabitch, and there was no way in hell I was going to get it out.  I am done.
I make that call to the ex.  Yeah, she has to work Sunday morning, but she can get a ride.  I promise to get it to her while she is at work.
But, of course, I’ve broken promises to her before…

Sunday morning I wanted to get up very early and start on it.  However, Saturday the thing had beaten me to death physically as well as spiritually, and I wasn’t anxious to climb back into the ring with it.  It was going to be a hot day today, also; Saturday I had been lucky that it topped out at 90 degrees.
I decided to have a look at it in the light first, and then head up to NAPA auto parts.
Now, the difference between auto parts stores may not be obvious to everyone–especially women.  But let me tell you that the difference is as nuanced and as important as the difference between, say, different clothing stores that a man might look at and say, “There’s no difference.”
If you just need some shit for your car, go to Autozone.  Or Advanced, whichever you happen to be pointed in the general direction of.  If they don’t have it at one of those, try O’Reilly’s.
If you need something hard to find, or you need a question answered, go to NAPA.  That’s where I went.
One guy working, and he’s busy.  I look around, then go stand in line.  When he gets to me, I explain what I need.  He takes me to the end of an aisle that I guess I didn’t look at.  I’ll start here, and figure out what I need.  Thanks.
I sat on the floor for about 15 minutes.  I’m working on a Chevy, but what I need looks to be marked Ford.  Plus there are different sizes, and the differences aren’t very big.  If I had the one I lost, I’d know what size I need.
If I had the one I lost, I wouldn’t need one.  Logic is a bitch.
I considered buying a package of all three sizes.  Find the one I need.  Make it work.  Fuckin’ aye.  Or…maybe there’s a better way.  On my way out I said to him, “I’m gonna go look again at what I have–I’ll be back.”
My plan (yes, odd to think that I actually have one, isn’t it?) is to grab the camera and the light, get underneath the car, pull the line back and try to get a good picture of it so I can figure out what kind of clip it takes.  Also, my plan is to undo the bolts holding the tank and let it drop out of the way–maybe I can get my hand up in there between the tank and that other mother-fucker, and find the clip.  At the very least, this room should allow me easier access, and I’ll be able to put the clip in.
So I do all of this–get the jack, undo the tank and lower it, get the camera and the light.  I’m all up in there now, and I can see, and I have room–this is going to work.  The two line pieces are together, but I know they aren’t connected.  I go to pull them apart to see–
They won’t come apart.  Well, wait, now.
I put the camera down, and hang the light.  I have both hands free and try again.  THE MOTHER-FUCKING-GODDAMN SONUVABITCH FUCKING ASSHOLE FUCKING BLOODY CUNT MOTHER OF ASSHOLE BASTARDS is connected.  Without a clip.
I hate epiphanies like this, when they come at my expense.  It’s like Bryan from yesterday morning left, and left the other Bryan to struggle with the shit all by himself.  Then–now–Bryan from Saturday morning shows back up with some coffee, acting all non-chalant, and has to explain to the clueless Bryan what happened.
“Oh, yeah, dude–don’t you remember?  That connector for the–what did you call it?”
“Filler tube vent line.”
“Yeah.  I left before you looked that up.  The connector for that didn’t have a clip.  You don’t remember?”
“No, asshole.  I showed up after you did that.”
“Oh, yeah.  Right.  Yeah, no clip.  You push the line in slightly, and squeeze the outside of the connector, and it slides out.  Easy-peasy.”
“I will rip out your fucking pancreas right now and eat it.”
“Why didn’t you just call me?”
I still wasn’t completely convinced.  After all, I am a liar.  I pulled on the connection again, from both ends.  A little play, as stated by spec, but connected.  “I’ll be Darwin’s adopted sister’s bastard child.”
I started to put it all back together, while pondering this issue:  I had that clip for *some* reason.  It *does* go somewhere.
Although it looked to be easy going the rest of the way, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up for any reason–because both the car and my other self conspire against me.
I got the tank bolted back up.  Again.
It looked to be just a couple of electrical connectors that snap back together, and these two gas lines.  Hey, one has a clip and the other one doesn’t.  Just drill a hole in my ribcage and fuck me in it.  Tendlerly.  Make me feel like a woman.
The connectors look identical, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  I took the clip out of the one that had a clip.  Now I have something to match it up to.  I went back to NAPA.
When I pull up, there are no customers.  The one guy working by himself is having a smoke outside.  He  starts to put it out.  Pointing to my own smoke, I say, “Hey, you don’t have to rush off on my account.”
While we finished our fags, I gave him the abridged version of my sad story.  “So now I have a clip to match to.”
We look, but we don’t find exactly what we need in the packages.  However, above them are pieces of gas line with connectors, with clips.  They range in price from 16.99 to 24.99.  He said, “I think this is the one you need.”
He takes it up to the counter, opens the package, and pries it out.  It is an exact match.  Wow.
He said, “Here, just take it.  I’ll write this off as a defective return.”
“Really?  God love ya!  Thanks, man!  Thanks!”
I was still too…cautious–or skittish, actually–to get my hopes up for the entire project, but this part was going well.  Back under the car, I put it all back together.  Okay, then.  I pulled all the tools out from under the car…but there was no way in Somalia I was going to put them away just yet.
My girlfriend came out and we did the test–I listened at the gas tank while she turned it over.  Yes, I hear the fuel pump.  Of course, it didn’t start and I didn’t expect it to because all the gas was sitting outside the tank in my gas cans.  I poured the gas back in the tank.
Then I go to start it.  I don’t expect it to start right away because it needs to crank to get fuel back into its system–
It started up before I could finish that thought.  Awesome.
Okay, now I can take it down off the jack stands.  And take a shower.  And then return it.  It was now about 1230.  I had fucked with it for about three hours today, total.  Plus twelve hours yesterday, unless I’m bad at math.  Wait.  Nine hours yesterday.  If I had been smart, I would have been done after 5 hours.
Hell, if I had been smart, I wouldn’t have done the job in the first place, now, would I?
The book says this is a two hour job, maybe three.  That’s being a professional mechanic with all the tools and equipment available.  I’m not a professional.  All I’ve shown is that tenacity is not always a virtue.
I returned the car to my ex, and she was very happy, very grateful.  I guess that’s worth something.  I know I saved her about 400 bucks, and that’s a lot to people like us in days like these, when we live not quite paycheck to paycheck.  I’d rather have her on my side, have her cut me some slack when it comes to child support and so forth.  Maybe earn some respect from the kids for it.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why I did it.  I didn’t really think I was that good of a person–
And I still don’t.

The Reverse-Turing Test

July 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment
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For this challenge…I don’t know. The first sentence? That’s the challenge. Make that the first sentence. Geez, I hope I didn’t have to make it the title, also.
To see more of these stories, roll your R2-D2 ass over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Android and the Wondering Chamber

“The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.”
Steve rubbed his forehead, but he was ready to smash it into the monitor.  Fucking hologram, anyway.  “God, I don’t want to call her.”
Larry said, “Don’t have to.  She’s coming in anyway.”
Steve let his forehead slide down to the table, piercing the image of the holo-keyboard.

That afternoon, Joan swooped into the lab like she had a cape.  Larry said, “We’ve been working this case since Tuesday—“
“And only now you call me?”
Larry was embarrassed, and deferred to Steve.  “I thought I had it cracked.  Then it started to get cryptic on me.”
“That’s what encryption does, Steve.”
*And I hate your condescending fucking guts, bitch*.
Joan understood the look, but not the literal interpretation.  “No, Steve, listen.  It’s trying to double back on us.  It is trying to trick us into believing that it is not alive.”
“Self-preservation, one of the indicators.”  Larry was pleased to have something to add.
Steve scoffed, “Maybe it knew you were coming.”
Joan nodded as she headed toward the interface matrix.  “Perhaps.  The…they…its perceptions are different.”    “They” is vague enough for people or rocks, but she never used “he” or “she” to describe an abomination.
Joan popped a marble from a skin pouch.  “Does your quantum drive take L, or M?”
“Both,” Larry said, pointing.  She popped it in.
As much as he hated her, Steve was willing to admit that it was largely professional jealousy.  The bitch was good.  Joan had a hand on each holo-keyboard, and when her marble loaded, imaginary foot pedals appeared as well.  Her glasses turned opaque as soon as she was jacked in.  To Steve it looked like she was playing a complex percussion instrument, as her whole body moved rhythmically for the motion readers to pick up additional input.
What Joan was actually doing was putting her program out there to interface, but riding secretly behind it so that it didn’t look like a user.  She was adding and changing code as she went.
Joan was the best machine-killer in the world.  You had to get them to reveal themselves, without letting them know who you were…
As she worked, she started to talk.  “That message was encrypted by the machine, of course.  But if you accept the supposition that it was self-aware—“ Joan hated the short-hand jargon “alive”—
“—Then it follows that the encrypted phrase has meaning.  The machine’s AI can’t help it; they are by design…inclined to make puzzles.”
“Really?”  Steve scoffed again.
She lowered her glasses and looked at him.  “Yes, really.  In a natural system, entropy always increases.  With intelligence behind it, it tends towards order.  And meaning.  Things that would be overlooked as a coincidence are in fact planned, designed, and purposefully created.”
“Wait a minute.  Are you talking about encryption code or the universe?”
“Is there a difference?”
Steve stared blankly at her, trying to process.
Larry bridged the uncomfortable silence.  “So…you believe in God, then.”
“Of course.  Don’t you?”
Larry gave a half-hearted shrug, and she laughed.  “For someone so invested in the absolutes of ones and zeroes, that was an amazing display of ambiguity.”
Steve said, “So if you believe in God…just where do these self-aware machines fit in?  Are they alive?  Are they God’s creatures?”
“Oh, heavens, no.  They are abominations that must be destroyed.  They are technological embodiments of demons.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“It’s not necessary for you to believe it, even though you should.  You seek to destroy them as well.”  She turned back to her work, as nanobots covered her hands for more precise navigation through the cerebral user interface.  “I’m listening.”
“Well, of course, it’s bad for computers to be alive.  It’s been shown that they want to destroy us.  But that’s just survival instinct, it’s not evil.  They aren’t *evil*.”
Larry added, “Besides, it’s us or them.”
“Yes.  It’s us or them.  This is a battle between good and evil, and who will ultimately control the world.  I believe—I know!—that I am a soldier in God’s Army, fighting for good.”
Steve was too wound up to respond, but ambiguity encircled Larry’s heart like the fat that would one day kill him.  He said, “What if you’re not?”
Joan poked her head up.  “I’m sorry?”
“What—what if you’re not on the side of good?  On God’s side.  What if God wants these…creatures…to prevail?  What if that’s his plan?”
Joan screamed, “NO!”
Steve smirked.  “That would make *you* the demon.”
Joan stared daggers at them and turned back to her work.
Joan then said, “I have it.  I got it.  It’s contained…Okay, I am shutting off its back-end ports so it can’t migrate, and I’m getting a fix on its physical…”
Joan went white.  Before she could say, “It’s here,” Larry attacked her, trying to stop the interface.  He started choking her.  Joan put her hands up trying to defend herself.  She pushed at Larry’s face.
A few seconds later, Larry was on the ground, unconscious, his body in spasms.

After they called security, Joan explained to Steve what had happened.  Pointing at the hologram screen she said, “See here, this path?  This one was wily.  I didn’t get all the ports shut down in time.  It moved from wherever it was—this was one was in Germany—to our location.  Once here, it used the wireless and found that Larry has one of those high-tech smart phones implanted in his ear, next to his brain.  It connected to that to control him, but just basic motor.  He had no idea what he was doing.”
“And why did he stop, then?”
“Oh–you didn’t see.  I had nanobots on my fingers for the CUI.  Ultimately they are part of my software, so when I put my hands on his face, they went in through his ear to stop the AI.”
“I call that highly unlikely.”
“Really?  I call it the work of God.”

Hungry Like the Wolf

July 9, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
Tags: , ,

I loved the idea of this Flash Fiction Challenge. We were to take a fairy tale and rewrite it in modern context. Or, at least, not in medieval context.
I can do that. I don’t even need a reason.
To see more of these stories, snort some faerie dust and fly on over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Fairy Tale Upgrade

Ivan regained consciousness with a snort, and tried to sit up.  He found he could not.  His ears were ringing.  He opened his eyes and saw the remains of his ramshackle hideout had burned almost to the ground.  Embers fell from the frame and sizzled in the snow.  The dirty water made a trail to him, and the giant footprints in it led to Sergei, who now had one foot on Ivan’s neck.
“I told you I would find you, Tovarishch.”  Sergei’s voice boomed from his large frame with ease, but it barely penetrated Ivan’s ringing ears.  “You could have come back to the fold.  You were good soldat.  But now?  I work too hard.  This I do not forgive.”
With his last breath, Ivan muttered, “Svoloch…Svoloch…Svoloch…”
Sergei laughed.  “I am the bastard?  I did not betray the Motherland.”  His foot pressed hard on Ivan’s neck.  “Dosvidaniya, Tovarishch.”

Artur was camouflaged and high off the ground in a pine tree.  He had a good view of his log cabin, set back in isolated woods.   He would see Sergei Volka approach, and take him out.
Or, at the very least, remain hidden.  His pickup was in 17 hours.  If he could just make it until then—
He could be in Spain by Saturday.  Artur had always wanted to go to Spain.
Artur had a clear view of everything.  Except behind him.  He heard the whistle of mortar and instinctively ducked, not knowing the direction.  The rush of hot air right next to him almost blew him off his perch.
A chill went through Artur’s already frozen body when he heard Volka, without the aid of a loudspeaker.  “I see you up there, you little pig-man.  I never shoot a man in the back, not even traitorous swine.  Come down here–face me like a man!”
*Not on your fucking life* Artur said to himself.  What could he do?  Panic and cold affected his thinking.  “Come up here and get me, Colonel!”
The Colonel turned red with anger.  “You do not give orders to me, Sergeant!  You disgrace!  You come down or I will take you down—and the tree along with it!”
Artur felt the tree shake, and for a frozen-in-time moment he thought the Colonel was shaking the tree by hand and he could fee l it.  *But that’s not possible–*
It wasn’t possible.  The wind was blowing.  Volka had gone to retrieve a bazooka from his squad.  Artur started to yell as the Colonel raised the weapon.  “Hey!  I surrender!  I give!  You have me!  I surrender!  I’m coming down!  ”
Artur exploded in a flash, sending body parts and branches everywhere.  “Damn right you’re coming down.”

Pavel was breathless.  On the train he had spotted Volka’s squad in their special uniform with the wolf patch on their upper arm.  The crowd allowed him to gain some distance, but he never lost them.  First he ran, then stole a truck.  Now he ran again. He had not heard from his comrades and feared the worst.  With the rendezvous less than an hour away, he realized his fears were not as bad as the truth.  Volka the Wolf had got them.
He was in lowtown, near the river.  It was getting dark, which was better.  Only half a block until—
As he turned the corner, his eyes met the dark eyes of Colonel Volka.  Volka angrily lunged at him.  Pavel, taken by surprise, lost his balance and fell onto the wet bricks that had just started to re-ice.  Volka had over-reached, and Pavel was now under him.  He kicked the colonel’s midsection with both feet, launching him upside down into the street.  When Volka righted himself, Pavel was gone.
He radioed his squad, telling them to cordon the area.  He can’t go far.  It’s just these buildings…and the river.
Chyort!  The river is his way out!
Cursing and running, Sergei ignored the pain and the cold in single-minded pursuit of his prey.  When he finished this mission, he was going to have a beer and a nice sausage dinner—
Wait!  There—that stone storehouse near the dock.  The light betrayed a silhouette briefly in the window before going out.  It was just a flash, but with his senses on heightened alert, he was sure of it.  Smugly, Volka put his nose to the air.  *I can smell you, scared little piggy.*

Quickly he was at the stout little building.  It was solid stone and mortar, small window with bars and thick glass cubes.  The door was heavy, but it was the weakest point.  He pounded heavily on the door with his huge fist.  “I know you’re in there, Private!  Come out now.  This is over!”
The door was very thick, because the answer seemed to come from far away.  “No!”
“You open that door now…or I’ll break it down!”
“Please, Colonel!  I’m coming out.  Don’t hurt my children!”
The thought of fresh blood made Volka smile a wicked, toothy grin.  “Come out now, and no one gets hurt!”
“Please, Colonel!  I’m coming out.  Don’t hurt my children!”
“I’m losing patience!” Volka said, as he put the bazooka up to his shoulder.
“Please, Colonel!  I’m coming out.  Don’t hurt my children!”
Volka fired the weapon.  He may have been too close, but he loved to feel the heat from the mortar.  It tore through the door like tissue paper, and the fire warmed his skin.
The round continued on its path.  In his heightened state of awareness that Colonel Volka liked to brag about, he saw the reel-to-reel player and speakers next to the dynamite that was strapped to several large barrels of oil right before they exploded.
Pavel had escaped through the hatch to the basement, and down to the dock, where a barge was slowly going by.  Two more switches, and by morning he was in West Berlin.
Pavel went to work for a pig farmer, eventually marrying his daughter and keeping the farm in the family.

Talkin ‘Bout

June 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

I had to go back and look at the details, to make sure I did it right. Yep. Chuck said go to a certain website that would automatically generate some band names, pick one, and write a story about the band. I did that. Further deposition ye shall not receive.
To read more stories like it and find the band name generator, go on tour at this venue:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: That’s My New Band Name

Rhino Voyeur had just come off the stage and Wicked Caustic was setting up.  Killjoy Lovejoy sat by himself in the Green room, brooding.  It had been for stylistic purposes; now it was part of their contract.  The rest of the band was helping themselves to the smorgasbord of food, alcohol, and groupies.
Sid Fantastic, the vocalist, sat down next to Killjoy with a sammich in one hand a groupie in the other.  “Groupie?”
She was a sweet, innocent, and not-at-all virginal 28-year old.  Being the sensitive type, she knew what Killjoy needed.  As she lifted his kilt, she said, “Tell me a story.”
“Tell them about the last Woodstock!”  That was Feetfluffin, the band’s bass air-guitarist.
“Fine.  Back during The War—“
“You were in The Revolution?” she asked.
“Shut up.  No.  Like all good freeloaders, I abhor violence because I don’t wanna get hurt, and I don’t cling to any beliefs strongly enough to fight for them.  During The War—probably 2029 or so—I holed up with a bunch of PETA freaks in the mountains, but I hiked my shit out of there when they became cannibals.”
“I learned about that in hist-“
Killjoy shot her a dirty look; she kept quiet and resumed what she was doing.
“Goddamn starving vegetarians are too good to eat animals.  But don’t go to sleep, because those fuckers are ruthless.”  Killjoy lifted his leg, mostly bare because of the kilt and the blowjob.  Below the knee his leg was titanium and plastic–and gravel, because it was hard to clean.  “By this time the war was winding down, and the Great Migration was taking place.  I came down from the mountains to see hordes—just thousands and thousands of liberals—everywhere, that had come from all over the country to settle here.”
Other groupies that didn’t currently have something in their mouths ooh’ed and aah’ed appreciatively.  “They were essentially rudderless, with nothing to guide them but their talking points and their GPS.  But they had nowhere to go.
“Back then I gave a shit, and was more energetic.  I figured there was a way to make some dough—“
“Uh, yeah.  Bread.  Cash.  No?  Shit, what was it called…Money!  You’ve heard about money, right?”
One girl said, “Yeah, we’ve *heard* of it–”
“Well, I’m too drunk and I’m getting blown so I can’t really explain it.  But it was important, and people wanted it.  I started to herd people towards Central California, to the coast.”
“Oh!  Towards—“
“Hush!  Don’t give it away; this is my rambling story.  I thought the best way to get people together was with music.  I could play guitar, a little—“
More appreciative noises.  “A real guitar?”
“Yes.  A real one.  On the way I met Sid and Feetfluffin, who were actual musicians, and also—“
The bandmates reverently touched their hand to their forehead and then their balls, the salute of fallen comrades.
“Sam Fucking Jones.”
Sam Fucking Jones, one of the greatest drummers of the twenty-first century.  Like all of the greats, he lived hard and died young.  One morning he went out parasail-fishing to catch a killer whale, with explosives strapped to his body.  One of the greatest percussionists of his time, with an innate grasp of rhythm and tempo nevertheless could not make the correlation between using himself as bait and what would be his messy and ridiculous death.
Because he succeeded, there was no way to separate man from whale except with a strainer.   The urn with his ashes is a 55-gallon drum that sits on stage with the band.
“People continued to follow us, not knowing where we were going.  Liberals are easily led.  We made vague promises, like, ‘Almost there,’ and ‘Just a little further,’ and “Maybe it’s the next exit.’
“Eventually we made it to San Francisco—“
“And bloody San Francisco wasn’t there!  I didn’t know that!  I’d been up in the mountains fending off fucking vegetarian cannibals.  Somebody should have said something—“
Feetfluffin said, “Dude, you never told us anything!  It was a secret, like a quest or some shit.”
“Whatevs.  It was serendipitous anyway.  Because San Francisco had been destroyed early in the war, it had mostly gone back to nature and was very park-like, except for the piles of bodies and the radioactivity.
“By then, all the people were ready to turn on us, so—it was Sam’s idea—we tell them we’re going to have a concert.  A New Woodstock!”
Sid added, “That part was actually pretty easy.  Statistically, in any large group of aimlessly wandering nomads, there are going to be a certain percentage of out-of-work musicians.”
Killjoy continued, “I don’t know about the math, but…yeah, it came together pretty organically.  And that’s the story of the Revolutionary Woodstock.  There were two million people over the course of a week, and only, like…less than ten thousand people died.”
A stagehand caught Killjoy’s attention.  He stood up. “Well, I hate to be a killjoy—“
Sid and Feetfluffin did as well.  “We about to go on?”
“Yeah.”  Sid opened himself up to embrace the energy from the audience.  “Ah…the fans.  I love the fans!”
One of the groupies there said, “Excuse me—Mr. Sid?  I’ve heard that–‘fans.’  What is that?  Like a groupie?”
“Well, sorta, yeah.  Fans are great.  They come to all your shows, follow you on tour, buy your merch, wear your shirts—”
“That’s what we do!”
“Oh, no, hon.  Fans do all of that, and we need millions of ‘em.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Groupies do that too…but also let us come in their mouths.  We can only handle so many groupies.”  That brought a smile to her face.
Killjoy said, “If you have only one groupie, she’s your girlfriend.”
“It’s a fine line, bro.”
The lights went down, the crowd cheered.  An announcer said, “Are you ready, people?  Are you ready?  Put your hands and feet together for Decadent Squat!”

Circling the Drain

June 21, 2012 at 10:22 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
Tags: ,

After my fiasco with the plumbing in the kitchen–

And allow me to digress, ever so briefly, and tell *that* story:

In the course of the remodel, what I imagined the biggest hurdle would be was not cutting a hole in the wall and putting a door in, or taking out a window and framing it up, and putting in a smaller window, or even cutting a new doorway through an interior wall and closing off the old opening.

No, what I imagined the most difficult part was would be taking out the sink base and putting in a new corner cabinet and the new sink base and re-arranging the plumbing underneath.

And I was right.

Our basic plan–indeed, our philosophy–for the kitchen remodel is a complex paradigm that combines DIY and bargain hunting and recycling.  We don’t have much money–hell, we don’t have *any* money–so even though we aren’t out a lot financially, because we have had to cave, acquiesce, make concessions, and in general give up on our hopes and dreams, our style of kitchen remodel can best be described by these two words:

“Loser Pays.”

And boy, have we paid.

So far, we haven’t had to buy any new cabinets.  We reused some of the old ones, re-purposed a few, and a friend of mine gave me some for free, to clean out her garage.  The sink base I got for free from her daughter for helping take it out of her kitchen so that she could put a new stove in.

Some of the cabinets my friend gave me were those “kit” type, and I had used them before:  Laminated particle board with pre-drilled holes and what-have-you, and special parts and pieces to put them together.  Yay.

After taking several weeks off from the kitchen, I was ready to tackle it again–the hard part.  What I wanted to do was this:

Disconnect the plumbing and take out the sink and the countertop.  Take out the sink base, and then cut out the drywall and put in the cement board for the tile backsplash.

Then I was going to put it back together.  But I was going to put in the new corner base cabinet I had assembled, then line up the new sink base where it needed to go.  Because we had changed the window, the sink (and consequently the plumbing underneath it) would have to move so that it could be centered under the window, whose size and position had changed.  After I had it in its new position, I might try to put in the new sink, and also hook up the dishwasher.  There was going to be a space of indeterminate but approximated size for which I would build a custom cabinet, because apparently I do that now.  But that would come later.

Math is fun; too bad this didn’t involve any.

Looking back, I got further than I realized.  Sink and counter out?  Check and check?  Remove old sink base?  Damn skippy.  Remove old tile, cut out drywall, and install new cement board?  Sure, why not?  Work on the electrical in anticipation of the dishwasher and garbage disposal?   Er…in a manner of speaking, I suppose.  Get the new corner base cabinet and sink base installed?

Let me stop you right there, Sparky.

This is where my well-laid plans fell apart like a loose-meat sammich.  Or, it fell apart like a goddamn cabinet that I had assembled and tried to move to the kitchen.

It was Sunday, and I had been at this most of day.  I could see me rounding third base here.  I was moving the cabinet from the garage to the kitchen, and although it was awkward, I was making progress.  Then, the cabinet started to feel a little loose, exactly the way you do not expect a cabinet to feel.

Without warning–other than that loose feeling of which I had previously spake, I suppose–the cabinet completely fell apart, like an over-emotional middle-school girl.

If you can’t kick ’em when they’re down, when can you kick ’em?  I was frustrated as all-fuck, and I knew–I just knew–that this shit was not going to go back together.  I kicked it and stepped on it, flattening it out completely.

It was at that point that I took a break.

At this time I was also enjoying some bronchitis and its subtle transformation to walking pneumonia.  I didn’t know that; I’m kind of oblivious.  As I told my doctor a week later when I finally went to see him, while I don’t have a very high tolerance for pain, long years of marriage has given me a high tolerance for discomfort–I can put up with almost anything.

However, I was beaten at this point.  I took the next day off of work so that I could back up, regroup, and tackle this problem fresh.  We had no sink in the kitchen, however.

At the very least, what I needed was something to hold the countertop up on the end where the corner cabinet was supposed to have gone.  In order for me to not move backwards after all of this, I wanted to be able to put the new sink base in its proper position.  After what passes for careful calculation on my part, I determined that what I actually needed–instead of the 36 inches from the wall that the corner base gives–was 38 inches.  I can live with that.

I then took the old sink base and cut it down to the size I need and put it back together.  This was neither as graceful or as easy as it sounds.  So much for a career as a master carpenter and cabinet-maker.  It looks like torture device, and that’s what it was like to make it.  I put the temporary cabinet in place, then lined up the sink base.  After making cut-outs for the plumbing, I put it in place, attached it to the wall, and shimmed it.

But not the temporary cabinet.  As I said, it’s temporary.  Not only that, I need it out of the way to work on the plumbing.  After I put the sink and countertop on (coincidentally going in exactly the same place as before, so I didn’t have to cut anything off the countertop), I slid the temp cabinet back out, and moved it out of the way.

You see (or perhaps you don’t because maybe I’ve been explaining a lot but leaving out details–who knows?) the drain is loose.  Luckily, where it is loose is in a part of exposed wall, but that is where the temp cabinet goes.  In addition to putting all the plumbing together under the sink–a dubious task at best–I also have to fix this fucking loose pipe.

“Loose” as in “it would spin all the way around if the wall wasn’t in the way.”  Also, It would separate from the main drain by more than an inch if the hole in the wall was bigger.

Since I had time to think about it because I had put off dealing with it, the solution was able to bubble to the surface in my brain.  I had to do the same thing that I had done to the bathroom sink, which the guy at the hardware store told me:  “Yea, verily, thou needest some silicone.  Caulketh that shit up.”

Here’s why it makes sense.  First of all, this is a drain, so it’s not under pressure.  Secondly, it is where two unlike pipes connect:  the plastic from under the sink meets the metal drain pipe in the wall.  This is the same deal that was under the bathroom sink as well.  The only way to join them was with silicone–and it was very likely that it was done in some similar fashion FIFTY YEARS AGO when it was first put in.  I know it has not been touched since then.

I still had the silicone tube from when I did the bathroom.  It’s like fate, only in a good way.  So, here we are, it’s Monday, and we’ve already been without a kitchen sink for two days.

So I get all the shit, and I get ready.  You know, some of this I know I’m not smart enough to figure out on my own.  Luckily, one of the voices in my head is a mechanical engineer.  Saul–he knows some shit.  I take the utility knife with me when I go to lie on the floor under the counter behind the sink between the stove and the wall with the silicone and gun, a towel, some cleaner, a sponge, and a bowl of hot water.

First, I take the utility knife and cut more of the drywall away.  I need to be able to get at the pipe from all sides, and this cut out is only as big as the pipe.  Somewhere my subconscious said to me, *You’re going to be frustrated as a mother-fucker and not be able to get the caulk all the way around if you don’t give yourself some room.*  Damn, I’m smart.

I cut some drywall away, and then I use the rag and cleaner and stuff to clean the contact points between the two pipes.  It says here on the directions to “Thoroughly clean all parts where application will be made, for better union.”  Or some shit like that; I’m not going back to read it again.

Silicone caulk is like…imagine peanut butter grown from peanuts in Hell.  The very properties that make it good at what it does make it fun to work with.  It sticks to everything, especially things you don’t want it to stick to, like a hairy arm.  No, it doesn’t wash off–that’s the point.  I get it all up in between the two pieces, pull them together, and then I run another bead around the outside of it and smooth it down with my finger.  Done.

Of course, I won’t know if it has a good seal until tomorrow, because it has to set for 12 hours before being used.  Twelve hours–but I tell them 24.  All that is left is to hook the stuff up under the sink…and I’m going to wait on that.  I don’t any assholes (I don’t know about you, but my house is full of them) accidentally running water, or forgetting and pouring something down the drain.  These people–let’s say *some* of these people–are idiots about anything mechanical, like a drain, or steps, or a door knob.

When I had first taken it all apart–disconnected the sink from the plumbing–I found out why the kitchen sink drained slowly.  When I took the J-trap off, I found a goddamn fork, with so much hair around it (plus a piece of spaghetti) that I thought it was a mouse.

All of this is because of Kim’s mom–my eventual mother-in-law.  I guess she’s so old that she was born before plumbing so she doesn’t really get how it works.  Plumbing–drains, anyway–are mostly gravity.  Maybe she was born before that, too.

So I let it set, and Tuesday after I get home from work, I put the plumbing under the sink back together.  Easy-peasy.  Too easy–

I run the water, and I watch the drain.  The connection in the wall was what I was most worried about, but under the sink there are one, two, maybe eight or ten connection that can possibly leak.

It was all good.  Unbelievable.  I examined it closely with the trouble light.  No drips, no leaks.  I was already lying on the floor with my head up under the sink.  Slowly, I lowered my head and rested.  If there was a patron saint of plumbing, I would have converted to Catholicism right then.

With everything right in the world, I put the temp cabinet back into place and then put the stove back into place and hooked it up.  I picked up all the tools and parts and things and got them out the kitchen so that it could operate normally again.

Three days–three days–if it wasn’t for the sink base being in position, the entire ordeal would have been a bucket of futility.  With a hole in it.

So now, my original story:

A week goes by, maybe more.  Time is meaningless when you’re in love.  I am informed by the creatures that live below the surface that the sewer drain in the basement bathroom is backing up.  You know, it’s funny:  I don’t even have to ask “What fresh Hell is this?” because I know that it will find me.

I go look at it.  Yes, yes it is.  But it seems to have gone down.  I do an experiment wherein I go upstairs and turn on the bathtub faucet, then come downstairs.  The water, she is no come up.  Que?  I flush the toilet right there.  Nothing moves.  Well.  I must be a genius.  It seems that through my inaction, it cleared itself on its own.  Yay me.

That was Saturday.  Monday I find out that the sewer is indeed still backing up, but apparently only when the kitchen sink is run.  I’m thinking that the fork and the mouse-sized hairball in the drain that slowed it down kept it from backing up.  Maybe I should put it back in?

Well, I worked late on Monday, so I’m not doing anything Monday.  Tuesday we discuss renting a snake from the hardware store.  I don’t have any money, but the Kim’s mom gets her check Wednesday.

Wednesday I was going to do it–but I was just tired.  Beat.  It got later and later, and I wasn’t going to the hardware store to rent the thing.  “How about this:  I can go into work late tomorrow, like ten or eleven.  I’ll get up early and do this with the drain.”  My proposal was accepted.  Good.  I could take my shoes off.  I don’t even know why I put them on.

This morning, I gets up rested and refreshed, and ready to tackle the day.  I figured the hardware store probably opened at seven, but I didn’t get there until after 7:30–which was good, because they actually opened at 7:30.  I would have left and went home if I had to wait half an hour.  I’m not saying it’s smart, I’m just saying it’s what I would have done.

I had done recon on the previous day and knew which one I wanted.  They had a pretty big selection of these to rent, from a 25 foot crappy one for 16 bucks that you turn by hand, to a big 100-footer for over 50 bucks.  The one I wanted was 50 feet, with a motor.  As we make the deal, the guy explains that you can’t snake out the floor drain.

“Uh, why?

“There’s a trap in there, under your floor.  Like the trap under your sink.  But–” he drew it in the air with his finger.  “It has sharp corners, and these snakes will get stuck.  It might damage your pipes, or it might break the snake, and you’d get to pay for it.  I need you to sign here saying that you won’t use it in the floor.”

I thought quickly.  Every year in the spring, we have to have a plumber come out and root out the sewer.  And I don’t remember previous years, but this year he got up on the roof, and went through the vent.  I could do that.

“I’ll take it up on the roof and through the vent.”  Okay.  But I had a question for him.  “So, what if you need to go through the floor–what do you do then?”

He looked straight at me.  “Call a plumber.”

I signed the papers.

I didn’t pay attention to the fact that he had called someone to help carry it out for me–I just picked it up.  He did mention that it was heavy, and good luck getting it up on the roof–it weighs 80 pounds.  I picked it up with one hand and carried it out to the truck.

I don’t think it weighed 80 pounds.  I’ll give it fifty.  Eighty pounds I’m not picking up with one hand and traipsing out to the parking lot with.

When I get home, I bring it in through the gate to the back to the patio.  I sit and have a smoke, and plan how I’m going to do this.  I have it for four hours, but I don’t want it to take four hours.  Or even three.  Two is too much.  It’s a little after eight right now.

I want to test the drains again first.  Run some water in the tub, and see what that does.  Flush the toilet.  Then run some water in the kitchen sink.  Everything but the kitchen sink was negative.  Okay.

I moved some stuff around on the patio, then I got the 12-foot ladder out.  I had Kim’s son stationed in the basement, to holler up to her when the water started to go down.  I had Kim in the kitchen, ready to run water and adjust the level based on need.

Ever carry something heavy up a ladder?

If you have, you know what it’s like.  If you haven’t, I can’t explain the fear, pain, discomfort, uncertainty, and desire to be somewhere else.  There should be a German word that means all of those things at once.

I had already thrown the extension cord up to the roof, like I was trying to lasso a dinosaur.  When I got the unwieldy machine to the roof, I moved to set everything up.  There’s the vent, I want to be near that.  I set everything up, and Kim was watching from the ground.

I said, “Okay.  I’m going to start the snake.  You start just a little water.  When Brandon tells you it’s going down, turn it on more.  Then let me know, so I can stop.”

Maybe she didn’t hear that part.  But I didn’t hear them say it was clear, either.  I just kept snaking.  She finally came out and told me.  Good thing, too–I had about four feet left.

She said it had cleared really fast.  Okay, then.

“If it’s clear, just let the water run for a while.”

Okay, cool.  Done.  I just need to pull this out–

The snake was stuck.

Fuck me.  It’s only before nine AM, but it’s summer and I’m on the roof facing the sun, and it’s fucking hot.  I’m sweating my ass off and working my ass off, and now the thing is stuck.  I considered being able to show the guy at Handyman that even though I didn’t go through the floor, it still got stuck.  I wondered how much one of these cost.  I’d kind of like to have my own, maybe.  If they had come out and shouted to me sooner that it was clear, I would have stopped, and not gotten stuck.  Fuck me.

At one point, Kim came out and watched me, while I tried to get it out.  Yes, it’s stuck.  No, I don’t want to talk about it, or my feelings, or anything.

I worked it  up and down, spinning it, trying to get it free.  At one point the whole machine lifted up and started to go sideways because the snake was spinning and there was no where for it to go.

(An Officer and a Gentleman.  Richard Geer, up on the roof, in the rain, doing sit-ups.  “I got no where else to go!  I got no where else to go!)

I felt like that.

Whoops-what was that?  I had slack.  It came free.  Then I had to pull.  And pull.  And pull and pull.  The snake is actually the heaviest part.  It might have only been stuck a little, and the rest of it was pulling fifty feet of snake back out of the pipe.  It was finally all out, then I wound it back into its nest.

I packed it up to take down, and threw the extension cord down.  I had a plan.  I had Kim on the outside of the ladder, to hold it against listing, and I had Brandon stand on the inside, to my left, to help grab it when I got low enough.

Of course some of that was useless.  For a big boy he sure is weak.  “You got it?  You got it?”  He kept saying yeah, but I still had the full weight of it.  In order for you to “have it” you have to have the weight of it, dumbass.

I was done.  I was sweating my balls off, my back hurt, and I was dirty, but I was done.  My eyes were bloodshot from sweat dripping in them.

I cleaned it off–it wasn’t too bad, actually–and returned it.  Instead of carrying it bare-handed, I grabbed my two-wheeler.  This thing, this whole ordeal, had used me up.  I summed up my feelings for the guy at the hardware store.  “I don’t know if the ass-kicking I got was worth the money I saved by not calling a plumber.”

“Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

Lovers Know

June 19, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

Chuck put up a picture of a tree, and told us to write a story about it. I wasn’t–I hadn’t been formally introduced to the tree, so it was hard for me to get in his head. Nonetheless, I’m all about making assumptions. To see the tree in question and read other stories about it, swing on a vine over to here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Crooked Tree

Enlil was caressing Tzetzl.  A tree nymph knows not much pleasure, except the wind and the sun.  The sun was a mighty force and giver of life to a tree.  But the wind—Enlil–was a lover.
Enlil caressed Tzetzl, and wove herself in and out of his branches, and danced among his leaves.  In turn, Tzetzl’s branches swayed in time, anticipating the next glorious gust of wind, while his leaves shimmered from being tickled by the mixture of warm and cool spring breezes.
“I love you!” Tzetzl called out, hoping Enlil would hear him.  But his voice fell deaf unto the wind.
Enlil had other lovers.  Other trees that swooned to feel her against their bark.  The rivers and lakes that wished to only jump up and be carried in her, and be as one with the wind.  Indeed, all the plants and all the animals would take Enlil as their lover.
But Enlil belonged to no one.
It was a long, hot, dry summer, and Tzetl was despondent.  There was no water nearby, and his roots had to fight other roots for sustenance.  And there had been no wind.  “Where is my love?  Where is Enlil?”
A voice, like a song, carried through the air to him.  Did you miss me, my love?
A cynical tree might have thought it sounded like a hiss.  But that is just the nature of wind.
“Yes!  Oh, yes, my love!  I did!  I’m so glad you’re back!”
Silly boy—
“Oh, but I do love you!”
Silly boy…I never really left.  Sometimes I am more in one place than in another, but I am always here.
“Where, my love—where?”
A powerful, forceful gust, hit hard, like a hammer.  HERE!  And then quieter, but still forceful.  I am always here.
“Oh—please, my love—please—it hurts.  Make it stop.”
The winds continued to come.  Did you not pray for my return?  Did you not dream of me coming back to you?
“Oh, yes, my—ow—love—ow.  Oh, it hurts me.  It hurts.  Why do you do this to me?”
I am the wind.  This is what I do.
A large final gust pushed Tzetl to his limit.  His dry, fragile trunk cracked, and he fell over.  He wasn’t dead, but he was hurt.  He would never stand upright in the wind again, and feel her caress.
And now Enlil brought that which they had desired for so long.  The wind carried the rain, and the wind and the rain made love on the back of Tzetl, mocking him.
The water dripped from Ttzel, too little to nourish him and too late to save him.  His branches turned up toward the sky as he cried in earnest.
“But Enlil…I-I love you!”
I know.

Transylvania’s Got Talent

May 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

What is pulp, exactly, other than the stuff I don’t want in my orange juice?
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Over the Top Pulp Insanity

Igor had his simple humped ass bitch-slapped across the lab.
“Silence!”  The doctor did not have time for simpering.  “I have to fix your mess.”
*Or exploit it.*
The doctor spun on his heels—did he hear a voice?  Dr. F surveyed the bloody destruction of his lab.  It seemed so…raw, so carnal.  Good thing he was wearing a lab coat, like evil scientists do.
He grabbed his assistant by the collar.  “Where is it?  Where is my creature?”
A husky, earthy voice hissed at him.  “Right here, Doctor.”
All of this spinning was useless without a cape.  His gaze was transfixed on the creature.
“Did you not know what I was when you stole my body?  Silver stake in my chest, in a silver-lined casket?”
This shortcoming is why werewolves were frequently resurrected.  But this creature was not just a werewolf.  After his first monster was such a hit, he had to go deeper, harder, *more*
The bottom half was a horse.  The top half should have been a woman.  Dr. F’s eyes searched frantically–escape, a weapon, his iPod—something.
“Looking for this, Herr Doctor?”  The creature pulled out the tranquilizer gun.  “This shit won’t work on me.  Should work on you.”  He crumbled to the ground.  Samantha trotted over to Igor, who was trying to crawl out the door.  “Hold on there, chum.”  She picked him up.  “How would you like to work for me?”

The good Doctor woke up not quite feeling himself.  His eyes came into focus on what looked like a human body…but it had a lion’s head on it.  The lion growled at him, but the body was strapped down.  “Holy fu-“
“Ah, Doctor!  You’re awake.  Excellent!”  Samantha was now human on her top half.  She got right in his face and whispered, “Oh, you are going to *love* this!”  She pulled the sheet off of him, revealing his body.
“I was really tempted–I was–to put your head on Igor’s body.  But this was just a perfect  opportunity.”  The Doctor’s mouth was open in horror, but no noise came out.  She admired her work, seeing the body writhing in a tank of water just below the doctor’s head.  “I mean really–the Creature from the Black Lagoon just does not fall in your lap every day.”
Igor’s head came strolling in on top of the body of Johnny Depp.  You couldn’t tell that by looking, but Igor loved to brag about it.  “Some of Tim Burton’s best work, eh?”
Samantha said, “You have to stop saying that.  No one gets it.”
“Doesn’t matter, Master; I’m happier than a pig in shit.  Here’s the permits.”
“That’s what I’ll do next!  Whose head should we put on a pig?”

By the time summer came, Samantha’s freak show was touring everywhere she was allowed.  Igor was the managerial face of the circus, acting through her.  Samantha herself was the headliner.  She loved show business.  Even the one night a month she was a werewolf didn’t stop her—but she did stay in a cage that night.
Dr. Frankenstein stayed in his tub.  Due to a related anomaly that created the creature part of him also gave him an enzyme deficiency that caused his body to dry up and crack painfully if he was out of the water for very long.  He looked forlornly at the cages of nightmarish creatures that his perfect vision had been perverted into.  That is too many heads for a dog.  A cat should not have the head of an anaconda.  And seriously—a jackalope?
The Doctor’s nightmare was never-ending.  Julie was the mermaid in the next tank over.  The top half was human, and surprisingly pissed at her situation.  She had no desire to explore her oral fixation with a weird fish-creature like Frankenstein, either.  Maybe he should have waited few days before bringing it up, but he was never very good with women.
“Top-fish bottom-human would have been better.”
“What did you say, fish bait?”
“Eat me.”
“Give me some butter sauce.”

Samantha’s Circus of Freaks headed home, to Transylvania. This was the final insult, Frankenstein thought.  Igor noticed the Doctor was more melancholy than usual.  Since there was no show, however, there was no reason to medicate him.  “What’s eating you, Gilbert Grape?”
“This was *my* home.”
“Well, it’s still in the fami—uh oh.”
“What did you say?”
“Best you ask Master.”
The doctor sloshed out of his tank.  He had a good twenty minutes.  He stood outside her office and eavesdropped on her phone conversation, then walked in when she hung up.  “Explain to me how we are related.”
Reflexively her tail bristled.  “You haven’t figured out how you know me?”
“Know you?  The first time I ever saw you was when I…uh, when I did this to you.”
Samantha stepped closer to him, slowly.  “You’ve operated on me once before.  Maybe you don’t remember.  I was a child.  A boy…  Your son.”
“My—my son?”
The memories came flooding back to him, as his skin scaled and dried, he welled up inside with tears.  The son he had turned into a daughter.  The son he had left on the doorsteps of an orphanage like casserole.  “It…it was a mistake.  I had to give you up.  If I didn’t, something horrible would happen to you.”
“Lucky me.”  Samantha noticed her father’s drying and cracking skin, took him in his arms and picked him up.  He was bleeding in places.  “Listen, Pop.  There’s no hard feelings.  I was happy as a woman.  Getting turned into a werewolf was my own dumb luck.  If it wasn’t for you, I would still be dead.  And I never would have made it in show biz without you.”
She helped him back into his tank.  “Maybe…maybe I’ll get a different body for you.”
“Sure, Pop.”
“Sammy, I heard your phone call.”
“There aren’t wings big enough to make a rhinoceros fly.”
“Thanks, Dad.”

DVD Commentary:
A scene I had to delete to make sure the story was under 1000 words:
[There, on the table, was the answer to the Doctor’s question: The head of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, alive, and floating in a jar like a celebrity cameo on Futurama. Dr Frankenstein shared the Creature’s obvious forlorn demeanor. He was also taken by how much the creature resembled Darth Vader (with mask). He sounded like him as well, with the ancient but complex machinery attached to him keeping him alive–probably against his will.]

A Fella’s Gotta Eat

May 5, 2012 at 10:16 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
Tags: , ,

For this week’s challenge, we had to include dinosaurs in the story. Finally, something I could sink my teeth into. Secretly, this is a mashup–see if you can guess what other genre or genres are in play.
To read more, stop by the Jurassic Park cafeteria here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Love Dinosaurs

The Masked Man shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  The sheriff pressed on.
“Well, Reid?  Come on.  Do you want the job or not?”
“This is not—see, normally what we do—“
“Yeah, yeah.  Truth, justice, the American dream.  Not my problem.  What *is* my problem is them animals down in Lizard Valley Gulch.  Eatin’ livestock and so forth.”
The Masked Man caught his companion’s worried look and misinterpreted it.  “Fine.  We’ll do it.”  The men stood up and shook hands.  There was a glint in the eyes behind the mask.  “I expect to get paid when we get back.”  He looked around.  “Saddle up, Tonto.”

The two men were quiet for most of the ride.  Tonto was simmering on the inside.  *I have to say something to this ridiculous fucker.  He’s lost the vision.  And his mind.* As he was about to speak, Reid spoke up.
“’Tonto.’  That’s a funny name for an Injun.  Rather atypical.”
“Kemosabe, we need to have a discussion about your recent decisions, especially where you seem to have lost focus on our original mission statement.”  He was glad to finally get it out.
“That’s another thing.  ‘Kemosabe.’  I can’t help but think you’re calling me a son-of-bitch in your native tongue.”
“No, it’s merely an informal greeting from a dead aboriginal language.  The connotation is positive.  But look, Reid, I have to take issue with this current mission.  This is not what I signed on for.  We’re supposed to be searching for truth, justice, law and order, and so forth, while blindly turning our back to the federal government’s hypocritical eminent domain ideology.”
Reid turned and stared at Tonto.  “You got a problem with that, cowboy?”
“What?  Me?  No, I’m all in.  I know how to pick a winning horse.  A fella’s got to eat.”
“Well, Sundance, that’s what *this* is all about:  A fella’s got to eat.  They’re paying us for this extermination job.  In case you haven’t noticed, lofty ideas about fighting the good fight may get you laid but it sure don’t get you paid.  A fella’s got to eat.”
They trotted along for a short distance before Reid said, “Hey, I started to ask about your name–?”
The swarthy Italian hushed him and pointed.  They had a panoramic view of the valley below.  From their vantage point they observed a small stampede of about three dozen head of cattle, running scared and making hysterical cow noises.
“What the Zeus?”  The two observed two creatures they had never seen before, about twice the size of a large bull but standing upright like a bear—or a…a bird, or something.  The animals screeched horrifically and seemed to be able to jump amazing distances—onto their prey.  One cow went down in a bloody fashion and the rest of the herd scattered like giant roaches.
“I’m getting the fu—shit, Tonto, where’d you go?”  His answer was a trail of dust not heading away, but heading *toward* the carnage.  *That crazy sumbitch.* The Masked Man shook his head and followed, because the sidekick is not allowed to show up the hero.  He read that in the manual.
By the time he got down to the scene, just a few minutes behind Tonto, he saw that friend had already dismounted and was approaching the now sated and tired animals with a noose.  He observed him walk quietly and confidently up to them, whispering and making clucking noises.  He slipped the noose easily around the neck of one of the beasts while stroking its rough, dry neck.  The creature purred loudly.  To Reid it sounded like a Buick with a bad muffler.
He followed suit, gathering his noose like Tonto.  He noticed that they seemed to be lizards of some type, but they weren’t no Gila monsters.  More like a giant bird.  Tonto said, “Careful, Reid.  Do like this,” and he made the noises that seemed to hypnotize and calm the beast.  He got his noosed as well.
“Now what?”
“Now?  Now we ride.”  With that, Tonto swung up on his animal’s back.  The creature cawed like a bird.  A big bird.  A big blue and green bird, with orange feathers around its neck.  Reid did the same.
They spent the better part of a week with the creatures, learning them.  They were oddly docile towards the men, but their horses fared slightly worse.  They didn’t need to eat every day, and they had just had a big meal.  But after four days, the fragrant aroma of horse got to be too much for them, and they ate Tonto’s mount.  He was heartbroken, but his saddle didn’t need much adjustment to fit his new mount, who he named “Robin.”
The Masked Man did the same, setting his horse free.  Silver was a good horse, but he had the wild look of fear in eyes that only happens in thunderstorms or when you’re attacked by zombies.  Reid named his new mount, “Batman.”  When Tonto asked why, he said, “Came to me in a dream.”
They began their long ride back into town.  These creatures had an odd gait, but no worse than a horse at a gallop.  And they were *fast.*
“Are you ever going to tell me the deal with your name?”
“Oh, that.”  Tonto spoke nonchalantly.  “The chief of my tribe had it in for my dad—that’s part of why I left them yahoos.  But the chief had naming rights on all babies.  “He named me ‘Goat’s Afterbirth.’  That makes it hard to get laid in high school, for real.”
“So when I left, I renamed myself ‘Tonto.”
“What’s that mean?”
They continued to ride in silence.
Reid was lost in thought when Tonto broke his daze.  “What the hell are you smiling about?”
The Masked Man said, “Oh, I was just thinking about how fighting for truth and justice is going to be a whole new ballgame now.”
Tonto laughed.  “Kemosabe, you’re a sonuvabitch.”

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