Saturday, August 29, 2015

Oh God, why me?

A writing exercise on the theme Oh God, why me?

The Usual

First, Phil fell out of bed, the impact awakening him from a tumultuous nightmare involving sex and chainsaws. He lay on the floor like the woman on TV who has fallen and can’t get up, except that he had no button to push to call for help. The night before, his girlfriend Gail had boarded a flight to Tokyo to play house with a Sumo wrestler. So Phil remained prone and alone, with an egg growing just above his right temple. In pain, he could think of only three words: Ty-Le-Nol.

Eventually he got to his feet, performed his usual ablutions, ate his usual bowl of Froot Loops, donned his usual clothes, and headed as usual to his proofreading job. Unusually, a pizza delivery car raced down the street, splashing mud on him “from head to toe,” as he observed, though he disliked the cliché. There was no time to turn back and change, so he boarded his usual trolley and found the last empty seat.

At the next stop, a sixty-something lady got on. A gentleman as usual, Phil offered her his seat. “No thank you,” she said. “You look like you need it.”

The trolley wobbled along, and Phil observed a young man speak to her. While she was distracted, another young man reached into her purse and lifted her billfold.

“Hey, you!” Phil said. “Ma’am, the guy stole your wallet!” He looked around to other riders, but as usual, no one wanted to get involved. Then the thief brandished a switchblade, so Phil said no more. He left the trolley before his usual stop, then reached for his cell phone to call 911, but it was gone. He checked for his wallet: it was gone as well. He’d have no cash for lunch, never mind trolley fare home.

For three long blocks, a bitter wind stung his face; he was ill-prepared for the weather, as his usual stop dropped him off in front of work. Passers-by ignored him.

Finally, he arrived to find all of his co-workers standing on the sidewalk. “What’s going on?” he asked the receptionist.

“Fire drill. God, what happened to you?”

Grateful for sympathy, he began his tale of woe. A minute into his story, she said “Whatever,” and turned away.

A half hour later, his boss called Phil into her office. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but we’re letting you go.”

Saturday, August 22, 2015


A short writing exercise on the theme "Ultimatum"

Which one do you love more?

“You have thirty seconds to decide,” says the man behind me. “Which one do you love more?” In front of us sit my parents, strapped into chairs behind a plexiglas window. His tongue brushes my earlobe.

“Please don’t do this,” I beg.

“It’s up to you, Maria. Which one lives, which one dies? Pick one, or else they both die.”

Within my reach are two buttons. The left button kills Mother, and the right one kills Father. Taking no action kills them both. A timer counts down with large red digits. My head swims, and I am short of breath. This is punishment for my part in the insurrection. My parents despise the regime as much as I do, but they have warned me that resistance is too dangerous.

Father’s lips move. “Me,” he seems to say.

Mother’s lips move. “Me,” she seems to say.

“Fifteen seconds,” the man says.

“Let them go,” I say. “Take me instead.” He ignores my plea.

My parents have done their imperfect best in my seventeen years. Father could be harsh with the palm of his hand; Mother with the lash of her tongue. But they love me, and I them. And we loved my elder brother, whom we watched hang this morning.

“Decisions, decisions.” His hot breath is on my ear. Ten seconds left on the timer. Nine. Eight. Seven. “God hates you, and so do I.”

Six. Five. Four. There is nothing more for me to say. My hands shake, palms sweat. Father and Mother close their eyes.

~~ Idea borrowed from William Styron's Sophie's Choice~~

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Message in a Bottle

A short writing exercise on the theme of "message in a bottle," specifically communicating with your younger self


Davey and Darlene were making out in the back seat of his Dad’s Henry J, sucking each other’s tonsils at the drive-in. She was easy about everything from the waist up, but getting in her knickers was a no-no. “Oh baby,” he whispered in her ear, along with other romantic shit his big brother Mel told him made the girls go limp. What was about to happen was he was going to go limp, which was not the idea at all.

“You’re just like all the boys,” she said.

All the boys, yeah. Half the guys in high school had done Darlene at least once; he had his best pal Mikey’s word on that. So what was the matter with him? Finally, she pushed him away, sweetly but firmly. “Let’s watch the movie.”

Which she did, as he reached for his bottle of Narragansett and swigged the forbidden brew. Jesus,
Mary, and Joseph, why did they have to sit through Peter Pan before Stalag 17 came on? Some fairy twinkle-toed across the big screen as the moon rose behind it.

Davey stepped out of the car. He drained the last dewy drop and held the amber bottle up to the moonlight. He saw handwriting through the glass bottom. It said, “You’re screwed.”

“Huh?” he muttered.

“You know what I said. You’re screwed six ways from Sunday.”

Davey looked around and saw an apparition, a man who looked like he’d lost a few bar fights. “I had to show up in spirit,” the man said, “because I couldn’t fit the whole message in the bottle.”

“What do you want?” Davey said.

“I’m your older self, here to say enjoy life while you can, since it’s going to turn into one unholy mess. First, don’t worry about getting laid. She’ll do it with you during the second feature, and you’ll knock her up.”

“But I’ll wear a—”

“You forgot them. Your unwanted son will spend most of his short life in juvie, by the way. From tonight on, your life is one long string of mistakes.”

“But tell me what they are so I won’t make them!”

“That’s not how it works, kid.  The future’s already happened, and no one can change it.”

The apparition disappeared. Was Davey going nuts? What was in that beer, anyway? Then he promptly forgot the meeting.

Back in the car, he reached for Darlene.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Money is the motive

A short writing exercise on the theme of money as the motive

Slick Willie

Let me tell you I got this friend Willie, he was in for a thirty-year stretch but just got self-paroled. See, he puts this ladder up against the prison wall and whaddya know, the spotlight catches him. So he looks right up at the tower and waves, yelling “It’s okay!” and the dumb butts let him escape.

Long as I’ve known him, he’s robbed banks. “That’s where the money is,” that’s how a newspaper quoted him. Me, I mostly rob the five-and-dimes like Woolworth’s, and right now I’m doing a nickel for it upstate. But Willie puts on a disguise, walks into a bank waving a Tommy gun, and just like Bob’s your uncle he walks out with loot. The gun’s always unloaded, he says, because a loaded gun might hurt somebody. The bank tellers never know that, though.

So why does he do it? Money’s the motive, sure, but I think there’s something else. There’s a pure joy in the act of it, like the robbery itself is a work of art. It’s like the way Joe Dimaggio smacks a double, the way Enrico Caruso hits high C, the way Pablo Picasso paints whatever the fuck he paints. It’s like getting up and going to work at a job you love.

Not everyone appreciates Willie’s dedication to his art, of course, like cops and judges. He’s spent as much of his life in the can as out of it, and dollars’ll get you donuts he hasn’t seen the inside of a prison cell for the last time. But if he does come back inside, he has a lot of friends to look out for him. He’s never been known to hurt a soul, and he loves to teach his craft.