Stopover

“Hi. You beat me here. Have you ordered?”

“Just coffee.”

“Miss… Another coffee, please?”

“How long will you be in town?”

“I’m just passing through. I stopped for gas. I decided to drive for a change, instead of flying. See the country and take some time to think.”

“Sure.”

“I wasn’t going to stop.”

“Looks like you changed your mind. It’s been a long time.”

“Seems like forever. Seems like yesterday.”

“You look good. Rumpled, as usual.”

“I’ve been driving, but yeah, I guess I’m still the rumpled type. You look good. Better than ever. When I came in and saw you, I…”

“Let’s not get carried away. A long time is a long time.”

“Is that a new scar in your eyebrow?”

“I got clocked by my son’s dump truck in the sandbox.”

“I heard about your marriage. Fill me in.”

“Let’s see. Got over you. Met a man. Got married. Two kids. I teach at a community college. It’s a quiet life. All of a sudden I’m halfway to forty. What about you?”

“No wife. No girlfriend at the moment. No children. Making a living with the writing. Never got over you.”

“Whoa.”

“I’m sorry. Where did that come from? No, I know where it came from. I just didn’t think I’d actually say it. Stupid.”

“You never came back. Never wrote.”

“Sorry. Pretend I didn’t say that. Forget I said that. ”

“Said what?”

“Right. Thanks. After you married, I couldn’t imagine coming back… So we’re both thirty-five. How did that happen?”

“Get yourself two kids, a teaching job, and a husband who flies airplanes and you’ll find out.”

“It went by fast?”

“Fast enough. You?”

“Fast, but a grind. I never thought I’d make it to thirty. In my head I’m still in my twenties.”

“You were thirty-five at nineteen. I’ve kept up with your work. On the page, you sound like you’re in your fifties.”

“My God.”

“No, it’s a good thing. You impress the hell out of me. You always did. When I read your stories, I sense a very large spirit.”

“You know me better than that. Evelyn Waugh came across as a wonderful human being in his books. He wasn’t. I write like I write, but it’s just a style. It comes naturally. I spend my days alone in a room. If I ever had a spirit, it’s shrunk to the size of a raisin.”

“That’s not what the media says. You’re in Paris, you’re in Vientiane. You’re in Bali. You’ve got a girl on your arm.”

“I’ve seen the world, that’s for sure. I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do with travel. And then some.”

“Did it change you, seeing the world?”

“Travel changed my perspective but I don’t think it changed me.”

“And the women on your arm?”

“On the arm. Not in the heart.”

“Poetic.”

“Sorry.”

“I won’t lie. I’m almost jealous.”

“You don’t look jealous. You look…”

“What?”

“I’m trying to remember. I know this look. It always got to me. It’s a wary look. Not a happy look. By the way, did you pick this booth on purpose?”

“Of course.”

“You’ve probably been in it a time or two since I left.”

“Many times. With my two kids standing where you’re sitting, looking over into the next booth and giggling. You always said you wanted children.”

“I do want children, but I need a wife first.”

“I’m amazed you’re still single. You seemed so pro-marriage. You said you’d marry me on the spot if I’d go with you. How close have you come since then?”

“You’re as close as I’ve come, and I blew it.”

“…Yes, refill it please. Thanks.”

“There’s that look again. I’m sorry. I’ll restrain myself. It’s just that I’m sitting here having feelings I didn’t expect to have. I’d say more than I already have if I thought it would do any good.”

“So we’re getting right to it? No, it wouldn’t do any good for you to say more, but I won’t lie. You and me together, that was the best time of my life. Followed by you and me apart, which was the worst, and I’m sitting here remembering it.”

“I don’t need to remember it, because I never forgot it. If you could do it over, would you make the same choice?”

“To stay here and go to college instead of running off with you?”

“Yes. Knowing what you know now.”

“I have my children now. That changes everything. Permanently. I’d stay, because otherwise, my children wouldn’t be here, and they mean more to me than you or my husband. So no, I wouldn’t go with you. What about you? Would you still go, knowing what you know now?”

“No, of course I wouldn’t. I could have sat in a room here and written just as well as I did in New York. I didn’t understand that then, but I understand it now. I didn’t have to leave, at least not then. I could have married you and learned my craft, and your children would have been our children and I would have saved myself ten years of regret. No, of course I wouldn’t have gone.”

“You know, I said that I got over you. Most of the time I do think I’m over you, but I don’t have any romance in my life to speak of, any more than you do, if you’re telling the truth. But then, most married couples don’t. Romance is for when you first meet and feel like you’re walking on air. It doesn’t last.”

“It lasted for us, as I recall.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have lasted forever. It would have been gone by now.”

“It doesn’t feel gone. Were you walking on air when you married your husband?”

“I love my husband. Did I say that already? Well, I do. He’s a friend. I trust him. I like him. I admire him. There was never any romance there, at least on my side, but even if there had been, like I say, it would have been gone by now. My days are about my children and my students and a man who sometimes wants me to be his mother and sometimes his housekeeper, who spends his time with flight attendants while I spend mine here in town with the same friends I’ve had all my life. What I don’t spend a lot of time doing is thinking about you and me. I wasn’t going away with you and you weren’t staying here, so now I’ve got my life and you’ve got yours. Our life together, our love, that just got… cut off, I guess. It got cut off the night you walked out of here. Ten years from now, neither of us will remember or care. Ten more and we might forget to mention it to our grandkids if they happen to ask, which they won’t.”

“You’re that bitter?”

“I’m realistic.”

“You don’t sound realistic. You sound angry. Listen. Life in the future doesn’t have to be like life in the past. Just because you’re not in love now doesn’t mean you can’t be.”

“Fine. Those women on your arm? Is that your future?”

“Those women on my arm equal several years of bad dates… All I’m saying is, sometimes you can see the error of your ways and turn it around and do something different.”

“As in, I could go home and collect the children and leave with you now? Like I didn’t before?”

“No, I didn’t mean that.”

“As in, you’re staying here now, like you didn’t before?”

“Would that be so wrong?”

“I probably want it more than you do. But if you chop off your arm, you can’t change your mind later and decide to sew it back on again. It’s gone for good.”

“What kind of analogy is that?”

“A bad one. Let me think of another… You have a large patch of fertile ground. You could cultivate it, build on it, base your life on it. But no, you choose to let it lie fallow. A forest grows on it and animals come to live in the forest. Finally, years later, you change your mind. You decide that you want the fields and the home and a life based on that patch of land. To get it, you’ve got to cut down all the trees and kill all the animals and turn the place into a wasteland full of stumps.”

“Jesus. Go back to chopping off your arm, please.”

“Look, I’ve got regrets, just like you. Yes, I’m angry, at both of us, especially me. I’m bitter. But I also have a life. Maybe not the best life, but a good life.”

“I’m not angry or bitter, but I’ve got an ache that won’t go away. I’ve been stuck with it for a long time. I keep waiting for the regret to fade. It hasn’t. I thought that if I came back, if we talked, if I could look at you and sit down with you like this, it might pull me out of the past. It might help me heal.”

“Well, I’m so sorry about your healing, but something just got torn back open over here.”

“I was stupid to come. Selfish.”

“You were stupid and selfish not to come sooner. I’ve been waiting forever. I haven’t felt this alive since I supposedly got over you.

“Can I…”

“No you can’t. Don’t even think about it.”

“My God, you’re lovely… There was a moment that night when I finally made the choice to leave without you. I’d been thinking about whether I should or not, or could or not, but there was a moment that night when I finally decided. That was the moment I wounded myself, and the wound never healed. You’re right. I cut off my arm. I cut out my heart. Now I can’t separate the hurt from the memory. I love you but it doesn’t matter, because that stupid kid made that stupid decision. It’s as if a ghost or a curse won’t let me touch you again.”

“It’s not a ghost or a curse. It’s my children. It’s my life. I settled for less when you left. It didn’t cure the pain but it dulled it. Or it did until now. It gave me my family and my career.”

“I settled for less, too. I just didn’t know it.”

“It’s going to hurt like hell when you walk out that door.”

“I could stay.”

“That would hurt worse.”

“Can we do this again?”

“Sure. Give me an hour for the tears to dry. Make that a day. Make that a couple of years.”

“I’ll stop for gas on the way through.”

“Call me when you do.”

 

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Trailers for bad sequels

18 of my trailers for bad sequels.

Plus one that didn’t make it into the contest:

Transformers: The City Wars

Narrator: First, there was Metroplex, the Autobot city. Then, there was Trypticon, Metroplex’s Decepticon enemy, a city of equal size and power.

Scene: Two cities, facing off, with helicopters and jets in the air, subway trains and buses whizzing around, and buildings sprouting up in menacing fashion.

Narrator: Now, Metroplex and Trypticon have been joined by…

Scene: View from 10,000 feet. Two more cities appear, so that two cities are facing off against two other cities.

Narrator: Gothumoplex and LA-ypticon!

Music: Loud, annoying techno.

Scene: Coming closer, we see two NFL football teams crossing over from Metroplex and Gothumoplex to two neutral stadiums, and two more teams heading there from Trypticon and LA-ypticon.

Music: Loud, annoying pro-football orchestration.

Narrator: These cities will struggle… to the death!

Scene: Robots playing football. We see a number of obvious penalty-type plays. Football transforms into a soccer ball, but that’s just a joke in bad taste.

Narrator: Gothumoplex is in a rebuilding period. They had a lousy draft. What are you going to do? LA-ypticon is cheating on the salary cap.

Scene: Half time. Robot coaches give unconvincing pep talks. Players are injecting suspicious oils into their rear modules.

Music: Madonna in the halftime show.

Narrator: If you love your sports fast and loud… If you love it when your favorite player transforms into a carzy, out-of-control bazooka… You must see…. Transformers: The City Wars

Boy Finds Live Grenade On Easter Egg Hunt

[Headline, CNN]

I was going to write a word or two here based on the followup CNN article, “Boy Tries to Open Easter Egg by Pulling Its Pin,” but I decided not to go dark. As of this post, then, we can imagine that the grenade is still nestled in the Easter basket.

The photo shows the boy with a big grin, because his frustrated buddy is still out in the field trying to dig up the Easter landmine he has found, and getting all muddy in the process. I was going to write a word or two here based on the followup CNN article, “Other Boy Stomps on Live Landmine in Frustration,” but again, why not capture the scene while the sun is still shining?

This is the first Easter egg hunt I can recall where the Easter Bunny is wearing a Nazi helmet. Hitler, at the age of five, found no eggs on a hunt, only some stale Chanuka gelt. When the difference between Chanuka and Easter was explained to him – that is, the difference between gelt and chocolate bunnies – he first conceived in his brain his most disturbing notion: that he would gain control of all the chocolate bunnies and eggs in the world, and rid the world of all stale gelt. Too bad he didn’t find that live grenade!

For more, see also “Boy Finds Blackbeard’s Treasure by Using Metal Detector on Easter Egg Hunt.”

Scientists Want To Know: Are Men More Attracted to Women With Redder Genitalia?

Pretty in Pink

What does the color of our genitals have to do with evolution? Scientists Want To Know.

[Headline and subheads, Slate]

10 facts based on my team’s experiments and studies:

1. When the male member is bright red, in all or in part, the female is not attracted to it. Other unpopular colors: blue, mauve, and green.

2. In the female, flourescent purple and green pubic hair is becoming increasingly popular.

3. Identifying oneself as a scientist does not gain one automatic access to a woman’s genital region. In fact, even saying that you’re a doctor doesn’t work well on a bus or subway car.

4. If a woman’s careful rouging of her genitals causes the couple to be late to the ballgame, more harm is done than good.

5. When using a standard color chart to measure and record a woman’s hue “down there,” standard lighting is required for consistent results. Holding a flashlight in your teeth and going up under the skirt will not provide a true reading.

6. Some colors are scarier than others. A lot scarier.

7. 0.4%  of women demonstrate a “chameleon” effect. That is, the color of the intruding male organ will cause the female genitals to change to a matching color. In many cases, when the color goes black, it won’t go back.

8. Some scientists claim that the sense of smell here is more important than the sense of sight.

9. If you’re paying $100 for it, as opposed to $10, you’ll probably appreciate its color a lot more, no matter what it is.

10. 71% of the scientists on my team recorded incorrect data because their glasses steamed up.

Digging a Hole

John was told by his parents, from the beginning, that he could become whatever he wanted to become. He could do whatever he made up his mind to do. As a young man, he took this seriously.

At Trinity Prep, he thought that he might like to become a professional athlete. He made the varsity teams in soccer, baseball, and basketball, but soon understood that he wasn’t good enough at any of them to play at the college level. On the other hand, his grades were excellent and he took an interest in math, science, and foreign languages.

At Harvard, John thought at first that he might like to become an astronomer. His interest waned when he learned that astronomy involved a great deal of numerical analysis and night work and, for him at least, wasn’t as romantic as it had seemed at first. In the end, he majored in English Lit.

When he graduated, he had his choice of entry-level positions at all sorts of companies. His parents were extravagantly wealthy and well-connected. Because he hadn’t yet made a commitment to any particular field of endeavor, he chose to skip the offered jobs and instead arranged to spend a year of his life seeing the world.

He was in Australia when he was notified that his mother and father had been killed in an automobile accident. His parents had sent him off to school at the age of six. They had never been close to him, or him to them. He was sorry that he had lost them, but no more than sorry.

He returned home, where his financial advisers assured him that he would be earning more every year, in interest and investments, than he was likely to spend. With the legal work complete and the estate in order, he returned to his tour.

He felt the weight of his fortune as he traveled. He saw in the world so many places where he could apply his wealth for good. When he returned to the U.S., he set up a foundation in his parents’ name and endowed it with more than half his capital.

The foundation funded all sorts of projects around the world, addressing issues of hunger, health, the environment, regional tensions, and pure science. John participated in the grants process, but found himself wanting something more as a focus in his life. He wanted to accomplish more than distributing money to the world.

Restless on a spring day, he found himself interviewing a young woman who had submitted a small proposal for the support of an initial round of trial excavations at an archeological site in central Africa.

“You’re looking for hominids?” he asked the young woman, Gili, studying her executive summary and area maps.

“The site’s potential is amazing,” she said. “Off the charts. But hard to reach.”

She pointed to an area northwest of the border between the Central African Republic and Congo.

“Rolling savanna. Nothing in any direction but a few native villages. One of the poorest areas in the world. With the tsetse fly, also one of the most dangerous. Of course, we’ll be taking precautions.”

“What’s so special about this site?”

“Over the past several million years, a large lake grew and shrank there,” she said, drawing an outline on one of the maps with her finger. “Periodic eruptions lay down layers of tuff over the sediments on the shores. In addition, alluvial fans off the flanks of the volcanoes covered the area. We have an organized record of animal and vegetable fossils just waiting for excavation. These strata cover the period of time from the earliest known hominids to today.”

“How do you know what’s beneath the surface?” John said. “How did you find this area in the first place?”

“I’ve been working with two South African paleogeologists who spotted the site while out doing mineral surveys. Pure chance. There is some Pleistocene faulting in the site area. The men found two hundred and fifty feet of strata exposed in a cliff. The edges of the fossil beds are magnificent. We’ve identified a sequence of terrigenous clays, sands, silts, and limestones – a Pliocene layer of wetland. We’ve got datable rocks. We can map the rest of the shoreline using cores and trenches and build a model of the area as it changed over three million years.”

“Why my foundation?” John said. “I’d expect the principal institutions in archeology would be falling all over themselves to fund this.”

Gili colored.

“They would,” she said, “and they and their preferred scientists would take control of the enterprise in a heartbeat. I’m in the position of a Donald Johnson at the moment, before he found Lucy. I don’t care about the fame, but a major find at a site like this would set me up for a lifetime of study in my field. I want to make a start out there before any of the big boys come in.”

John sat back.

“Do you know the Mirny diamond mine?” he said.

Gili shook her head.

“It’s in Siberia. It’s a giant hole in the ground. Three-quarters of a mile across. A third of a mile deep. I remember standing and looking down into it. I asked my guides if any fossils had been taken out of it. They couldn’t tell me. I remember thinking at the time that I’d like to dig a hole like that, not to find diamonds but to find everything from the past that it contained.”

Gili laughed.

“We won’t be digging anything quite that big,” she said. “We’re more likely to be crouched down uncovering a bone here and there from the surrounding breccia, using a dental pick and an airscribe.”

“I’ll OK the grant,” John said, “providing that I get to come along with it.”

“You can visit any time.”

“I don’t want to visit. I want to work. Consider me an intern, starting at the bottom. Will that be a problem?”

“If you’re truly at the bottom, no,” Gili said. “But if, because of your money…”

“We’ll write an agreement into the grant,” John said. “The entire amount goes into an escrow account, from which you’ll withdraw what you need, when you need it. If at any time I become a problem onsite, you’ll have the power to send me home. If you think you can handle it, I’d also like to increase the amount of the grant. We might not dig a Mirny hole, but I want you to do as much as you can without breaking the project.”

He wanted badly to invite her to dinner when they were finished, but knew that she’d feel she had to say yes, which might spoil the present feelings of good will and the evening. He went home and made dinner for himself alone. He didn’t see Gili again until they were both in camp on the savanna in Africa.

When he arrived, John joined workers from the villages who had little or no experience at a dig. A mixture of tribes were represented: Bagunda, Akasele, Dakpwa, Aouaka, and others. Sango was the language of the camp. John began picking it up immediately.

He worked and learned along with the rest, using a shovel and jackhammer and wheelbarrow, removing the modern strata, making the site ready for sieves and fossil discovery. He remained completely apart from Gili and her staff. He had had an airstrip built for them in advance, and invited them to use it as necessary, along with the two cargo planes that he stationed there.

With the task of clearing the top layers away, down to the first horizon of interest, work began on the actual excavation and evaluation of the most recent of two and a half million years of depositional history.

At night, John studied textbooks and journal articles on paleontology, the Permian era, excavation techniques, and related topics. He listened in on the staff conversations in camp, which often lasted past midnight. Gili made occasional requests for special funding, for resources to expedite their work. John never refused her.

As word of the dig spread throughout the academic community worldwide, the site began to receive visitors. John made a third, smaller plane available, for traffic in and out of Bangui, Mbandaka, and Goma.

One day, he noticed that there were fewer workers in the grid than usual. By this time, he was speaking Sango well. It was a creole language, not so hard to pick up. John asked his coworkers why so many of the workers were missing that day.

“Fever in the villages,” he was told.

“Do you have doctors?”

“No doctors.”

That night on the camp satellite phone, he arranged for doctors to be flown in and for clinics to be built in the region, sufficiently endowed to ensure their future survival.

As he learned the art of excavation, he began to spend more time with Gili and her staff during the day, as a student and eventually as a friend. His support of their work never wavered. The project was bounded by the seasons and whenever he could help speed things up by granting extra funds, he did so. The camp kept its collective eye on the calendar.

The ground began yielding signs of large mammal butchery, the manufacture of stone artifacts, and other archaeological debris. The camp was electrified when the first bones of genus Homo were found.

John was as content as he had ever been. He did not want the dig to end, but it finally became impossible to ignore the approach of the rainy season. Clouds built in the afternoon sky, at first on the far horizon and then, daily, closer to camp. The cloud formations were immense, literally mountains in the sky, fifty shades of white and gray, impossibly complicated. As they came closer, John could see lightening glowing within them. Sudden bolts reached to the earth. Wind sheared the floor of the clouds flat. A gray light like dusk shadowed the land beneath them, as curtains of rain hung down.

Soon, Gili and her staff struck camp, sent the workers back to their villages, and left the site and Africa.

Two seasons later, and two million years deeper in the dig, John heard a cry of delight that, he knew, signaled a significant find. He stood up with the workers around him. They crossed the grid strings and gathered around a kneeling man. John could just make out, exposed in the matrix that held it, the curve of a skull. It was the find that would write him and Gili and the man who found the bone into the history books, and define for the three of them the course they would follow for the rest of their lives.

My 18 entries, plus others, in a book-blurb contest

http://writing.worth1000.com/contests/28522/artistic-license-10

Goodbye and Good Riddance

I’ve made a comfortable living as a writer. I sold my first piece forty years ago and I’ve done fine ever since.

I was living in the mountains when I received my first acceptance. Of course, everything was done by mail in those days. Mail and fax. I lived ten miles from the nearest store or telephone, which suited me. They say that one of the major drawbacks to writing is loneliness, but I like being lonely.

Unfortunately, as my reputation increased, I allowed myself to be lured down to the big city. I rented a loft and furnished it, acquired friends, acquired a husband. No more loneliness. What worked best for me in the city was writing in the morning, drinking in the afternoon, and sobering up in the evening.

In the mountains, I never read newspapers or magazines. I never watched TV or went to the movies. The Internet hadn’t been invented yet, thank God. I read books and essays, fiction and nonfiction, but nothing written later than 1950. My own work sold; that was enough for me. Life was good.

In the city, I discovered that readers had opinions about what they read. They were judging my work and I found out about it. They had always been judgin my work. I just never knew it.

I also discovered that the average reader is a knucklehead. Take this personally, please.

Try as I might, I could not avoid the critics, professional and amateur. I didn’t need to read reviews, or my mail. Every visit to my publisher exposed me to comments on my work. Formerly, I sent off a piece and let the editor have his or her way with it, me being none the wiser. As long as the checks kept arriving, I had no problem with that. Now, I couldn’t go to a party and get drunk in peace. Some moron would spoil the evening every time by cawing at me about something I had written.

I don’t criticize your work, or your face; don’t criticize mine.

My husband wasn’t a reader, so at least I didn’t have to contend with his opinions, which were bound to be of the bonehead variety. Along with his paycheck, he would bring home what he was pleased to describe as “feedback” from his friends, and share it with me at dinner. This is one of the reasons we quit eating our meals together. In fact, this might have been the principle reason I divorced him, this along with his swinish habits between the sheets (when I could manage to keep that top sheet in place).

“Where’s the dialog? Not enough dialog,” the critics would say.

“So is this enough dialog for you? Because this is all you’re bloody well going to get.”

Your paragraphs are too long, the critics

would say. Is this short

enough for you, Mr. Expert?

And my competitors! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, my competitors. Their story plots. Pre-Hawthorne, and not in a good way. Treacle. Always, in their stories, the fond family memories, the memories of their youth, always the brother or the dad, memories of the death of some friend or family member. Unutterably mawkish, turgid prose, and always, always the snappy last line. Jame Joyce? Marcel Proust? Sorry. Not enough dialog. Paragraphs too long. Too hard to read. Depressing.

Did I hit a competitor or two? With the knuckles of my fist, I mean. Only the males. Socking a male is OK. If I ever took on another woman, the tussle would have been labeled a cat fight, the subject of derision. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

Why have I decided to return to the mountains? Was it the incident with “Mr. Smith”? Perhaps. Let’s just say that my final problem with Mr. Smith provided the straw that broke my creative back.

If you publish at this site, or just read the work here, you have undoubtedly been gifted with Mr. Smith’s wisdom. I know I was, right from my advent in the big city. In fact, he was critiquing my work before I left the mountains; ignorance is bliss.

Every time I put out a story or other piece, Mr. Smith was there to provide comments, asked for or not. I found Mr. Smith showing up when I was at lunch in public, and when I was trying to think as I walked in the park, and at parties. I could not drink at a bar in peace.

Was he stalking me? Such was my defense at the trial. Did I have a license for my gun? In the mountains, everyone carries a gun. How was I to know that the big city was different? Such was my defense. Did Mr. Smith threaten me physically? Did he touch me? Or was I simply reacting to the accumulation of his various banal, wrongheaded analyses of my work’s content and methods?

And why did I shoot him “down there”?

In retrospect, I should not have chosen to defend myself. I thought that by the time the trial was held, I would have thoroughly purged the Smith toxins from my brain. I had no idea that hearing repeated quotes from his critiques would cause me to leap to my feet, rush the man, and with my iPad used as a club, re-injure those parts of him that I had shot before.

During my incarceration, I came to realize that Mr. Smith actually stood for all of you, you and your opinions. That’s when I decided to hang up my pen.

Reader, I reiterate: take this personally. You wouldn’t know a good story if it hit you between the eyes. You are incapable of appreciating fine, or even decent, or even workmanlike, writing. Who knows what is going on in that little noggin of yours. I don’t, and I don’t want to. I leave you to those hacks who seem to think that they’re actually writing stories; they aren’t.

And that’s it. I’m done being read by you and your kind. Go plague somebody ignorant enough to appreciate your… your “feedback.” Somebody like my ex.

Goodbye and good riddance.