Choose Your Own Adventure – Start

(This is another weekly serial. The choice that gets the most votes will continue the story.) 

START

Daryl stepped out into the muggy autumn of Albany, New York.  Carrying his briefcase, umbrella, and lucky hat, he took a look at the city and reaffirmed that he hated it.  He hated everything about Albany.  He hated the crammed housing, outdated and rotting.  Every fifth building was condemned in the Albany downtown districts, where the poor people like Daryl lived.  Plywood boards covered the windows of such houses, accompanied by a yellow notice from the state inspectors warning of asbestos, dangerous levels of lead, and rampant disinterest in a dying city.

 

Daryl also hated the muggy weather.  Albany was a grey wasteland after the summer months.  The rain came in the fall, with its grey mists and biting cold.  The skylines and horizons that he glimpsed from his office windows disappeared in the fall, swallowed by a bleak nothingness and water droplets on the window pane.  The occasional headlights strobed through the miasma and that was it.  The whole city stank of rain filtered through car exhaust.  The winter was even worse, and that was always one surprise snow storm away.

 

The day that Daryl had stepped out into was another dreary and humorless day.  He wore his usual Monday outfit, a brown checkered sports coat that matched his hat and darker brown pants.  The briefcase was also a brownish tan.  His sister had dubbed him the brown-brown monster of Monday’s, but he didn’t care.  Daryl was beyond caring about what the people of Albany thought of him.  He hated all of them and just wished to be ignored.

 

The morning was already busy.  The sky was misting rain down upon the city wasteland, a problem compounded by the cars kicking up more water with their tires.  It’s the kind of environment were not even an umbrella could help.  Albany was determined to saturate Daryl with its emanation.  Resigned to the fate of being coated in a watery film, Daryl locked the door to his house and started towards his bus stop.

 

The sidewalks were crowded, and his fellow pedestrians insisted on using umbrellas despite their futility.  Pushing through the crowds, Daryl had the misfortune of finding himself behind a gaggle of old women.  The women seemed determined to be fat and waddle in his path, taking up as much space as their corpulent selves could take.  The three of them dominated the entire sidewalk, and they kept turning towards each other to talk about the asinine and the obvious.  Yes, the weather was bad today.  Yes, they would probably have frizzy hair.  Yes, it would be nice to have taken a car instead.  Daryl knew all these things, but the fat women appeared to be as stupid as their conversation, and if he could just get past them he could be done with them.  He couldn’t get past them.  They were oblivious to their heft and how it blocked the young man.  They kept waving their umbrellas about perilously at eye level whenever their bulk careened around to say something else stupid to their friends.  It was too much, and Daryl decided to cross the street just as a bus came to a screeching halt inches away from Daryl’s face.

 

Daryl hadn’t seen the bus.  He cursed himself for being caught so unaware.  The bus also cursed by blaring its horn at Daryl.  It was a completely useless gesture, as Daryl was already keenly aware of the several tons of metal that had come to a screeching halt a handbreadth away from his own person.  It seemed to make the bus driver feel better, as well as several of the patrons aboard who had stumbled about due to rapid deceleration.  Daryl patted the front of the bus and continued to his office.  A gloom settled on Daryl as he trudged on.  He was upset that the bus had stopped.  So many problems could have vanished if the bus driver had just kept going.  The more Daryl thought about it, the more he became upset about the whole thing.  He could have just disappeared into the fog like everything else good in Albany.

 

Daryl arrived at his office.  It was a small office on the third floor of a rundown building.  Like most of Albany, this building had been beautiful and sturdy a few decades ago, but years of neglect had worn it down to this passible and creaky old thing.  Daryl shook his hat twice to remove the few droplets of water and hung it upon a hook before taking his seat.  Daryl’s office was really a cubicle, but he insisted on calling it an office to make himself feel more important.  The office was unimpressive.  A light grey countertop served as his desk, where an old boxy monitor sat on top of an old boxy tower.  The counter was also armed with a white electric pencil sharpener and old phone with a long coiled cord.  He sat on a black office chair that was supposedly good for his posture, but would recline too far if the slightest weight was pressed against the backrest.  The various parts of his office were composed entirely of a greyscale color palette, which is why the first thing he did was take out his red and blue pens and place them behind his keyboard.  They made Daryl happy even though he didn’t use them.  Something about the color breaking through the bleak and dreary gave Daryl hope that he’d get through another day.

 

As soon as Daryl had settled his boss approached holding a stuffed envelope.  Daryl hated his boss.  The boy was a full decade younger than Daryl and hadn’t worked nearly as long at the office as Daryl had, yet he had been promoted above Daryl.  Daryl suspected nepotism, but couldn’t prove it.  The boy’s name was Carter McCoy, and he was in the habit of greeting each of his employees and asking what tasks there were going to do that day.  It was a silly and useless ritual that Daryl didn’t have time for.

 

“Hey Daryl.  Quite the day we’re having.  It’ll probably rain like this for the rest of the week.  Anyway, you got something in the mail.”  Carter waved the envelope around.  “What are you working on today?  Did you get the orders through for the Capital Region precincts?”

 

Daryl made a mental note that Carter was still holding onto his envelope.  Was this some sort of power play?  Was Carter lording his authority over Daryl?  It was hard to tell.  Daryl just faked a smile and promised he was getting close to having the Capital Region clients taken care of.  Carter smiled.  He spoke about how important those clients were.  Then placed the envelope on Daryl’s desk and strode away.  Daryl rolled his eyes at his boss’ departure.  He knew that clients were important.  His job paid him money to take care of clients, of course they were important.

 

Rather than begin the task of checking spreadsheets and making innumerable phone calls, Daryl opened the envelope.  It was a large orange envelope, the kind with a metal clasp that could be bent to hold an envelope shut.  There was probably a name for it, but Daryl didn’t know it.  He cut through the tape holding it together and dumped the contents on his desk.

 

He knew what the contents were the moment they spilled onto his desk.  Daryl’s uncle had passed three weeks ago.  At the funeral, his mother informed him that while she was the will’s executor she didn’t want to deal with it.  She lived in Salt Lake City and her brother’s house was in the small town of Watervliet, New York.  The now vacant house was just a few miles north and easily accessible by bus, if Daryl wanted to put in the effort to clean it out.  Daryl didn’t want to put in the effort.  His uncle, the late Cameron Stewart, had been an odd man.  Throughout Daryl’s life, the few interactions he had with his uncle were unpleasant.  Cameron was harmless but he made people uncomfortable.  His personality was off and he didn’t identify social cues, leading others to wonder how far the Autism spectrum he had wandered.  He’d ask invasive and inappropriate questions in large gatherings.  He’d insist that others hear him out on his latest conspiracy theory.  He bulled over attempts to change the subject when it suited him to talk about subjects that others found devoid of interest.
When Daryl was young, Cameron would often comment on how Daryl took after his uncle, and Daryl hated it.  His sister teased him about it often, saying that Daryl would grow up to be a crazy old man.  In the early days of the internet, Cameron became the relative that passed along every chain letter, every crazy article of pseudo-science, and pledged his support for the investigation of the latest internet conspiracy theory.  Daryl had successfully blocked his uncle from his life.  Despite living only two dozen miles away, he hadn’t seen his uncle in over a decade.  The old man was finally dead and the world was better for it.  Daryl didn’t want to go to his house.  He didn’t want to help his uncle, even after his death, tidy up the last bits of his life.  Daryl just wanted his house to be bulldozed and then set ablaze, an idea he often entertained about Albany at large.

There on his desk were the things found on his uncle’s body when he had died: a set of keys, a cell phone, and a wallet.  There wasn’t any money in the wallet, Daryl was disappointed to find.  There were only a few plastic cards, a few pictures of family including one of Daryl and his sister back when they were in elementary school, and a USB drive hidden in a zipped compartment.

Daryl shoved the trinkets aside and went to work.  He prided himself on being the most useful person in the office.  Hours passed.  Daryl was finishing the tasks for the local precincts when he received a phone call on his personal cell phone.  Personal calls were not permitted during working hours, but the infuriatingly inept McCoy had stepped out for one of his innumerable short breaks he was in the habit of taking.  Daryl answered.

The voice on the other end was his sister, Karen Hesh.  Karen was seven months pregnant with her second child and had taken to calling Daryl more often than usual.  Daryl assumed this had something to do with maternal hormones, as this same behavior happened last time she was pregnant.  “Hey bro!  I was wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight.  Aaron’s out tonight, and I figured it’s time we caught up.  I’ll make your favorite: spaghetti!”

Aaron Hesh was Karen’s husband.  Daryl didn’t like him much, but he was polite to him.  There wasn’t a real reason to dislike Aaron, but Daryl did for reasons he wasn’t proud of.  Aaron made lots of money, had better looks, had a wealth of friends, and had a very happy romantic relationship.  Daryl didn’t have those things.  Daryl tried to soften the refusal of his sister’s invitation.  “I’m not sure if I can.  I got this package in the mail.  Did you know that mom was going to dump Uncle Cameron’s will on me?  She wants me to clean out his junk so she can sell the house.”

“Creepy Cameron?  Spooky Stewart?  That really sucks.  Well it’s not like he’s going to mind if you put it off.  Which would you rather do?  Have a nice spaghetti dinner with your favorite sister, or go through Uncle Cameron’s creepy doll collection or whatever it is he’s got stored up in there?”

CHOICE:
Travel to Uncle Cameron’s House to help clean it out #1
Have a nice spaghetti dinner with Karen #2

A Dying Man’s Love

[Translated from French]

Death is eminent, I suppose for us all, but for me, my death comes swiftly.  I don’t care.  A much worse fate awaits me after I die.  I’ve never disillusioned myself with the prospect of heaven or hell.  For me, it is enough that the moments I lived are steadfast and locked away forever.  I lived my life to the fullest, and each second of my existence was to lay unashamedly on the universe’s timeline.  Those moments are eternal, and even though we’ve moved past them, they still exist, and they will exist forever.  The brightest of these moments is the moment when I met her for the first time and fell in love.

I will be erased.  Every last noble deed I’ve ever done will be expunged.  The moments will be rewritten.  My life will be replaced with a lie.  This would not be such a great loss, for many great men have been defeated and their conquerors wrote terrible things about them in the histories which eventually became truths; I find myself in good company here.  What tears at my soul is that this terrible deed will be done by the only person I ever grew to love in this life.  She loved another.  He was a terrible man who used all manners of abuse, torture, manipulation, and imprisonment to take what I loved in her and change her into something else.  His victory will be complete, for when I die, she will tell the tale of how I was the monster and he was the savior.

In my final moments, I must tell my story, but I don’t know who I shall tell it to.  Like most of my life, I find myself alone.  My death is merely seconds away.  Perhaps it is fear that makes me reach out to connect to someone before I’m undone.  Perhaps I’m talking to God?  In life’s last plummet, I desperately want to tell my story before I’m erased.  Perhaps the illusion of God is enough.  I need a judge.  I need a witness.  I need closure.  I need someone else to see me for who I truly am, because the one person in life I’ve ever loved never saw me for who I am, and she never will.

I grew up in a small village, so tiny the map makers didn’t even bother to waste their ink including it.  The universe cursed me on the day of my birth, for I was a great man in an inconsequential town.  Perhaps if I were born in Paris I could have met some equals to my greatness.  Alas, I was not.  From a young age I knew that I didn’t fit in.  My best friend was the town fool, leeching off my accomplishments as if he too could become great from proximity.  As I grew up, the prospect of traveling the world in search of other great people did occur to me, but there were two things I loved about my little province.

The first was the outdoors.  I loved to hunt.  I found the structure of nature exhilarating.  That the universe could be so cold and uncaring and yet take the time to create the countryside I relished in was magnificent.  It was the only part of my life that made sense.  I was a part of it.  I saw its beauty.  I understood the minds of the beasts.  I understood the patterns of the seasons.

When I hunted the water fowl I could see everything, and in those moments I was one with existence.  I saw the birds, but not only did I see where they were, but I saw where they would be.  I saw the wind, invisible to most, and the path it would take my prey.  I felt the carelessness, for the birds had no suspicion that I was there.  I was camouflaged, inside my very surroundings, a part of the landscape.  I aimed, not with my gun, but with my eye.  The gun was a part of my arm, an appendage I found after birth, not bound to my body, but bound to my identity.  I was the trigger.  I was the hammer.  I was the buckshot spat forth by the expansion of gunpowder.  I was gravity, pulling the shot into a perfect connection with the fowl.  Bang! One.  Bang!  Two.  Bang!  Three.  I was the greatest hunter in the whole world, or at least what I knew of it.  No one I knew could take shots like me.

The second love I found was her.  Like myself, she was a bright spot in this mud puddle of a town, too great for the townspeople to see and understand.  She dreamt of far off places, meeting royalty, experiencing new cultures.  They thought she was so peculiar.  The town couldn’t understand her greatness, for she wanted more than any of them could have planned for themselves.  She excelled them all, and I in my hubris, I thought that I deserved her.

I wooed her once.  It ended poorly.  She spurned my advances and showed me the door.  It was a public humiliation, I felt, but the townspeople didn’t seem to care as much as I did.  I took solace in the tavern that I haunted with my best friend.  I told him that I had been thinking.  Perhaps I didn’t deserve her.  Perhaps the greatest curse that could befall a man is to be forever engaged with a woman he deserves.  She understood that.  She read the great philosophers.  She read the great romantics.  Despite having no romantic engagements before, her breadth of literary knowledge gave her lifetimes of experience to draw upon to understand the core of love.  I didn’t.

It was the greatest epiphany of my life.  The moment that I’ve locked away as the distilled essence of my life.  I can still taste the beer I was drinking, smell the cedar from the fireplace, feel the fabric of my tunic, and hear the tavern chatter.  I don’t remember the sights, because all I could see was her.  Before I thought I was in love.  Silly young man that I was, I didn’t understand it was only infatuation.  Now I knew her.  Now I was in love.

I never saw her again.

It is the greatest crime the universe could work against me.  I never saw her again, after the moment I fell in love, at least, not whole.

While I was thinking about how to redeem my terrible first impression, she was called away.  The magistrate who ruled over our province had taken her as some sort of security for the crimes committed by her family.  She was his prisoner, his play thing, his conquest.

I didn’t know what happened to her.  This terrible deed had been done in secret.  I searched everywhere when I’d noticed she’d gone missing.  She was not in the town; she was not in the countryside.  Months went by.  It wasn’t until I interrogated her father, a man who had recently been released from prison, that I heard the story.  I thought it was a lie.  The old man, frazzled with fanciful imagination told of his imprisonment and that his daughter was also held captive.  He had been set free because she had martyred herself, a sacrifice of a bright soul to appease the corruption of a dark one.

Why would the magistrate take an interest in some peasant girl?  Everyone knew that the magistrate was a recluse, and no one had seen him for years.  Why would the magistrate do such a thing?  Why would he hold some peasant girl hostage?  It gave reason to everyone else to doubt the old man and think him insane, but I grew suspicious.

Deep in my heart I knew the answers to these dark questions.  It was because she was the greatest woman in all the land.

Shortly after her father had escaped, she came back to the village.  She had a fantastic story.  She’d been held hostage by the magistrate, her father’s story had been true.  He’d imprisoned her all this time.  The first time she tried to escape, the magistrate had set his dogs on her.  Her clothes were loose fitting.  Her eyes were sunken in and contained a confused mania.  She wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, pale and dirty as it was.

I asked her who did this to her.  She said that no one had done anything to her.  The magistrate had treated her kindly, had given her the run of the castle.  She described impossible events, coping mechanisms of manic origin.  Each tale grew wilder than the next.  Magic, mystery, and conflicting details muddled her story.  At one moment she told of a late night romantic evening with the magistrate, where everything was so perfect that the teapot’s hiss sounded like music.  The very layout of the castle was so inviting that every appliance was inviting her to the castle, not as a prisoner, but as a guest.  She was learning to love the magistrate.

It was clear that the woman I loved was either locked inside this confused creature.  Or, perhaps, she was gone forever.

This is how I know the universe is cold, and that no loving god could ever exist.  While I was strengthening my character up to her requirements of any potential husband, this magistrate was holding her hostage to tear her down to his level.  He had tortured, abused, manipulated, and fought her.  He broke her will as someone breaks a stubborn stallion.  He violenced his way into her heart, crushing her independent spirit and rewarding any sign of love until he’d trained her to love him.  Maybe he wanted her love, or maybe he just wanted to destroy something beautiful.  Like a dog loveably loyal to an abusive owner, the only person in this world that I ever loved was brainwashed.  She did what she had to in order to survive, but when reality became too unimaginable, she imagined her own world and lost herself in it.

The signs of abuse were clear upon her body.  Bite marks that could have been made by a wolf.  Deathly thin.  Shivering from exposure.  It wasn’t until she spoke of her imprisonment that I glimpsed how deep the abuse went.  At some points she described her captor as a monster with gnashing teeth and tearing claws and satan’s horns, but other times she said he had kind eyes and was kind and gentle, but further contradictions issued for the when she spoke laughingly about his temper.  She couldn’t make eye contact with me as she spoke, just looked far off into a world only she could see.  She couldn’t speak of the servants, only their tools, as if inanimate objects were doing their chores about the castle, for there was no humanity to be found in that awful place.  She had clung to tools as a child clutches onto a doll, desperate to find someone to love her even if it was her own imagination.

I swore vengeance.  Like the waterfowl, I had also missed the predator lurking in my countryside.  My beloved outdoors had hidden a monster from me, and so had turned traitor.  My world had collapsed with her sanity.  I forged the strongest hatred, the kind inspired by love, as I tenderly touched my beloved’s cheek and swore to remove the cause of her mind’s damnation from the world.  I could not protect her, but I could initiate justice.

When I made my intentions known, she tried to stop me.  She reached into a bag and pulled out a mirror.  Her eyes were wild, trying desperately to see a world the rest of us could not, found only with the aid of her failing mind.  “No!  He didn’t hurt me!  He’s gentle and kind!”  She yelled, fumbling the mirror into my hands.  “You see?  Do you see?”

I looked at the mirror, silver and ornate, but otherwise common.

“It’s magic!  Just like the castle!  It’s a magic mirror that shows whatever my heart desires most!  ‘Mirror, show us the kind and gentle soul who loves me more than anything else in this entire world.  The person who would never ever harm me, would take care of me forever, and would see to my happiness every waking day’.”  She looked at the mirror and pointed.  “Ha ha!” she yelled.  I told you it works!

I looked at the mirror and saw exactly what she described.  The man I saw was crying.  I did not recognize the man at first, for I had never cared enough about someone to cry for them, not until that awful day.  From that moment on, my heart never stopped weeping.

The girl was sick, and needed treatment.  My heart was a sword aflame and needed to be quenched in the magistrate’s blood.  I sent her to a safe place out of harm’s way while I did what I must.  I rallied the town about me.  We could not let such an evil person lurk in the shadows, loom over us with power, and threaten us from every corner.  We would not sit by while we brought up our young in this town, sacrificing our children to the magistrate’s whims and appetites.  This magistrate must be killed, his servants scattered, and his kingdom forever overthrown.  It was time to take action.  So consumed with fervor was I that the entire village knew it was time to follow me.

With rebellion on our lips and revenge a stirring in our hearts, we laid siege.  The servants and villagers clashed.  The magistrate was a coward at heart, letting his servants fight for them.  They loved him and would sacrifice themselves for him.  The magistrate was a puppet master, for these servants suffered daily for the sins of their lord, and yet he convinced them to love him.  I stalked the grounds to find my nemesis.  I’d never hated until that day, and it fueled me.  It kept me warm.  It kept me brave.  It kept me strong.

I found him in his own chambers, and we fought.  He was larger, stronger, and more well versed in fighting than I ever was.  His royal upbringing giving him a distinct advantage over me.  I fought with passion.  He fought out of indifference.  Clearly I was outmatched.  The footing of his quarters went out to the castle ledges where our fight continued.

That is, until she showed up.  I don’t know why I hadn’t made sure she stayed behind.  Here she was amidst our combat.  She looked at me in utter horror, screaming at me to stop.  She loved the magistrate, and tried to interfere.  It hurt deeply to see this confused creature try to protect her own predator.  I couldn’t let that happen, not again.  I had to stop him.  I had to destroy him.  I couldn’t crush him the same way he crushed her, but perhaps I could kill him.  She would hate me for all her life for it, but it was for her benefit.  If I truly loved her, I had to remove the magistrate from her life forever.

I knew the magistrate was a better fighter than I and I had no hope of killing him in a dual.  Perhaps a more honorable man wouldn’t do what I did.  While he was distracted by her sudden appearance, I took my dagger and stabbed it into his back.  While he recoiled in pain I grabbed the monster and tried to throw myself out the window while dragging him behind me.  I had no fear then, because when he destroyed her, he destroyed me as well.

As we fell off the castle, I looked back to see her.  She was right beside us, lunging forward.  She was so beautiful.  I remembered the girl from months ago last summer.  Her eyes had focus.  Her body had determination.  Her movements had purpose.  Her face had courage.  She reached for us as we fell from the ledge, her hand reaching out to us both.  The magistrate and I both let go of each other as we fell, each reaching out for her.

It was her choice to make, which of us would live and which one of us would fall.

Her hand whisked away as she clutched the magistrate’s uniform.  My hands closed on air, and soon I found myself surrounded by the same.

So in these final moments I love her, I hate her, I pity her, and I miss her.  My beautiful Belle, you chose wrong.  So lost are you in your expansive imagination fueled by your excessive library reading that you cannot see who is the monster and who is the hero.  When you chose him, I knew your spirit was lost and no longer inhabited your body.  When my body breaks against the rocks below, my spirit will be released, and it will forever look for yours.  It should not be hard, for your spirit always shown so brightly in the darkness.  Perhaps my death is a blessing, for it is the only way that Gaston and Belle can ever be together.

Yelp Reviews For Drug Dealers

I’ve been fascinated with Yelp Reviews, ever since I read one by a poster named Bruce B.  I thought to myself that Yelp Reviews are just unexpected short stories.  It’s a format that people aren’t utilizing enough to bring a smile to one another’s faces.  That’s when i happened to drive past a marijuana dispensary in Colorado, and I just couldn’t resist the urge to write one such short story to bring a smile to everyone’s face.  After all, drug dealers need yelp reviews too!

(PS – Don’t do drugs, stay in school, drink your milk, winners don’t do drugs, DARE to keep off drugs, listen to your parents, Take a bite out of crime)

(The original yelp review)

Let’s say that hypothetically I went to Maggie’s Farm because I was curious.  I’m from out of town and I’d heard things about Colorado and the things you could buy.  It was a harmless bit of curiosity shopping, this fictional situation that in no way happened.  Afterall, purchasing marijuana is a federal crime, even if Colorado doesn’t care.  I obviously would never go to a marijuana dispensary such as Maggie’s Farm.  (It shares a parking lot with a couple other stores.  It’s the building with all the bars in the windows.  The door sticks a bit so make sure you give it a good tug.)

I allegedly went to Maggie’s one night to see what all the fuss was about.  It’s weird.  The front lady took down some of my information (supposedly), and then sent me into the waiting room.  The place smells like weed.  I mean, the place probably smells like weed.  I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been to Maggie’s Farm, and I’ve never smelt weed, because I follow all of our great country’s laws, even the misguided ones.

The waiting room was designed for stoners.  We all took a number, but folks would get up and scoot down to the next available chair, causing a wave effect.  I guess the numbers are for some other purpose?  The musical chairs routine is not doing any favors to the stereotype of weed smokers.  I thought it was dumb.  I mean, I would probably think that such a thing was dumb if I ever saw it occur.  It wasn’t until I theoretically saw the security guard with a gun who asked me to scoot down with everyone else to make room that I partook in the game of jumping chairs.  The line is fairly long, so make sure you have a good hour on your hands when you stay away from this place and don’t go inside.

The merchandise here is expensive, but it is also quality stuff.  If I were the kind of person who bought drugs illegally, I could probably compare the price of an independent black market contractor to Maggie’s Farm (Maggie’s is more pricey), but I’m not the kind of person who buy’s drugs.  Also, I could also compare quality (Maggie’s has some good stuff, and the edibles are delicious and oh so effective!).  It’s nice to know that the drugs I may or may not have bought were safe, as opposed to other things I might have bought from a hobo downtown with a sketchy eye twitch.

The staff is quite nice, and they can answer any questions you might have.  I asked a bunch because I don’t know anything about buying this kind of thing (S vs I?)

Lots of hoops to jump through (not their fault, but still there), the place allegedly smells strongly of weed, the prices are a bit high but are very reasonable, and the quality is fantastic.  It’s too bad I’ll never go there, because I stay away from drugs.

Violent Generosity, The Way It Should Be

A cloud of huffing fog emanated from the breath of shivering humanity, shining in the neon lights of the dark parking lot.  The air was cold and crisp, with the sharp scent of snow stinging the nostrils of all those that dared to deeply inhale the night chill.  The parking lot itself gave the impression of a snow globe, the bright lights washing out the stars and covering the sky in a murky haze that put a claustrophobic ceiling above the huddled masses.

The shoppers had been there for hours to buy some new things, having just eaten a meal that signified all of the things they were thankful for.  The wind was unforgiving, coming straight down the parking lot and cutting through the clothes in all of the gaps.  Rich people with money playing homeless for a night, but just half a night, because in a few hours they were going to splurge their wallets with reckless abandon.  They crowded up against the wall of the store, bundled up in their winter gear as they waited for the blackest of night, when Black Friday truly began.

The crowd, with one mind, started chanting down a countdown from 20, as various models of last year’s cell phone verified that midnight was within reach.  Excitement stirred up the masses as they prepared themselves for the American version of the Running Of The Bulls.  What had been a collective of social solidarity huddled outside for warmth was going to turn into a capitalistic nightmare at the end of this countdown.   The stampede was ready; it just needed someone to open the gate.

When the countdown reached five, some unsuspecting cashier opened the door, just barely jumping out of the way to save her own life.  The first in line were sprinting, sprinting, to get to the most coveted of deals.  The race to the riot was on, but in this store things were slightly different.

The Heifer Project International (HPI) had finally opened up its first large box store to compete with other large box stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  Customers could go in and buy miniatures of animals, farm equipment, water filters, and many other boons for the developing world and those that struggle to survive in it.  These miniatures could be turned in for the real thing, which would be sent to a family in need in some third-world developing country.  This year they decided to partake in the madness that is Black Friday.  They were a new store.  They weren’t ready for the swarms of people that had arrived, wallets in hand.

The first display to be demolished was the heifer stand.  What took a minimum wage warehouse worker and two volunteers 2 hours to set up in a glorious display was torn apart in seconds.  The display was a sprawling mass, arms writhing about to grab, lift, pull, and even steal any box that had a picture of a cow on it.  These cows were 20% off, after all, and those savings were worth the shivering, sweat, tears, and blood.  The last few boxes were pulled in various directions by an unrelenting tug of war.

The shouting match had begun.
“Let go!  I need this for a noble Peruvian soul who is trying to start his own farm from nothing!”
“No way!  This heifer is going to a recently orphaned teenage boy in Chad that is raising his sisters!”
“I’ve got a girl on my list, who needs a cow to restart her farm in Ecuador.  Give it to me!”

Shoppers were now fighting each other at the heifer display, and the chaos spread throughout the store.  The water buffalo stand was hit next with a fury of ravenous commercial hysteria.  One man climbed from behind the display, falling over once he grabbed a water buffalo figure someone else had their hands on.  He fell into the current and was never seen again.

The mob was not contained to just that.  The rabbit isle was cleaned out in 4 passes by one man with a shopping cart and a mission.  He simply stuck his arm out and ran forward, fashioning a make-shift snowplow that dumped every last rabbit avatar into his cart.  He was the first to sprint to the check-out desk, but not without losses.  As he pushed through the ever-expanding cluster of humanity coming through the doors, people reached into his cart to steal a rabbit or two.  He made it to the check-out counter with half of the two thousand rabbits he had started out with.  The clerk started to scan them as quickly as she could.  “Got a thing for rabbits?”

The man just smiled at her with the radiance of unrestrained competitive generosity.  “I’ve got enough rabbits for all 100 families in need on my list.  I’ve been saving up since September to make them happy.”

The cashiers hadn’t been hit yet, but they would be.  The shoppers were still pouring into the store and fighting each other.   In the “Women’s Empowerment” section of the store (yes, HPI has a Women’s Empowerment section, your local Wal-Mart doesn’t?), a group of third wave feminists were having a shouting match with a group of first wave feminists over which was more helpful: sending girls to school or launching small businesses.  The second wave feminists had all grouped their money together for a gift of reconstructing an economic structure in Rajasthan, India, and they were on their way to check-out, forming a human wedge to protect the carrier of their purchase.

Engineers, plumbers, and other blue-collar construction workers were the best organized, distributing the various water wells, irrigation pumps, and water purifying stoves between them.  With less money to spend than some of the other shoppers, these guys and gals weren’t able to wipe out their section of the store as quickly, they just wanted to hang around and see other folks with the same priorities.  Each purchase of a water system for them was a victory for each of them, unlike the bedlam of the sustainable farming section which was overwhelmed with environmentalists, vegans, and vegetarians attempting a coup over the faculty of HPI.  A loud thud trumpeted their victory as an entire shelving unit was pushed over, sending more figurines on the higher shelves sprawling on the floor.  A carpet of people hit their knees to grab the various plastic figures of crops, fruit trees, and garden baskets.

The store was bankrupt of inventory in 45 minutes.  Shoppers late to the brawl waited near the warehouse entrance, where the stockpilers would come out with a cart full of new figurines from the back.  They never made it further than 10 feet into the store before they were ambushed.  The warehouse workers took to the new strategy of loading up a cart and just pushing it out into the store, chumming the waters for the shoppers.

The checkout tables were an uproarious ruckus.  It was 1 in the morning, and HPI had not anticipated the crowds for today.  Swiping the purchases as quickly as they could was not quick enough.  The lines grew restless.  Some took to calling out for gifts from their neighbors.

“Anyone got a beehive?  I’ve an elderly couple in Guatemala that can’t do the hard labor for the veggies or live stock.”
“I’ve got seven girls on my list, and I want an education for all of them!  Anyone got any leftover educations?”
“I got an entire village set with gardens, educations, and live stocks.  I need an irrigation system to complete the set!”

The closer the crowds got to the cashiers the more obnoxious they got, each yelling for the cashiers to hurry.

“I need to go to the HPI store in the next city over!  I didn’t get all the geese I wanted!”
“When do you restock?  I’m not leaving until hunger is solved or my bank account runs dry!”
“Do you have an online catalog?  I wanted to help five hundred families, and I only got three hundred varieties of plants before you ran out!”
“Are you sure there aren’t any more educations to hand out?  Can someone check the back?”

The cashiers went as quickly as they could.  Money was being literally thrown at them; they were not able to keep up.  Tills were being run to the office, overflowing with cash.  Credit card machines were going down as they couldn’t take the violent swipes from the throng of people.  Checks were pulled out next.  Sometimes people further back in line would throw money at the cashier just to clear out the person in front of them so they could make their own purchase.  To further facilitate the chaos, the crowd started chanting “No change! No change! No change!”   Even when the cashiers tried to shove money into the hands of their customers, the customers wouldn’t take it.  “No Change!” they yelled, and ran off into night, dumping their figurines in a recycling bin, finally ready for Christmas to begin.

20 Reasons YOU Hate Click Bait “Articles”

1.) Click bait whore’s out someone else’s hard work and passing it off as their own. The guy that wrote ’10 things you liked about the Goonies’ is getting paid from your nostalgia, taking the work of the filmmakers of Goonies and cashing out on it. He’s a parasite trying to steal someone else’s spotlight.

2.) No real content included, just Pics and 2 sentences to try to link whatever the content is to some picture of Tina Fey rolling her eyes.

3.) You are wasting your time. Right now. You could be doing anything, but you are not. You’re reading Click Bait. You’re only at #3 on the list and you’re not going to stop. It’s not that funny. It’s not that good. You don’t get a cake at the end.

4.) You could have been reading Pessimistic Ponderings instead, a blog that has creative stories, rants, and other forms of mockery directed at the main stream awfulness you encounter in your daily life. It’s refreshing to read someone that doesn’t feel obliged to like things just because other people do.

5.) You’re just being tricked into thinking that pictures of Tina Fey are the same thing as a creative article.

Seriously…enough of the Tina Fey .GIFs

6.) At the end of the article, you’ll be disappointed at how sophomoric and trite the whole experience was.

7.) You MUST read this ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL crappy post about vague opinion and popular sentiment which will ALWAYS use hyperbolic language to make you think this is NECESSARY and get you to click.

8.) The ‘points’ aren’t explained very well.

9.) The humor is fart humor, aimed at the unthinking masses. Humor made to make everyone laugh is light, overdone, and stupid. It’s Two And A Half Men humor. If you want to be really funny, you need to pick a niche audience and absolutely destroy their preconceptions. Attracting as many people as you can doesn’t allow for that…it needs the unthinking and bored masses.

10.) Have you noticed how many times I’ve said “you”, as if this web page knows anything about who you are as a complex and thinking person? How many assumptions have I made about you, thinking that just because I’ve written something down that you’ll nod and agree with what I’ve said?

11.) Each of those other stupid click bait articles has the same superior and snarky tone that assumes you agree with their brand of ‘snark’, writing as if you share a secret joke about how superior you are to whatever it is the article is posting Tina Fey gifs about.

12.) These aren’t useful. It’s just an excuse to see more Tina Fey.

13.) These things clog your facebook, making it much harder to see pictures of the kids your high school friends had, catch up on the progress of that one guy’s paleo diet, the various libertarian rants of that one relative, morally superior digs from that handful of vegan friends, and those uncomfortably sexy pictures of that one relative that’s very proud of his abs or her cleavage.

14.) Someone is being paid to do this. It’s their job. Their job is to not do any work, not think at all, and hardly put forth any effort.  There job is not complete until your job is not complete…and it’s now closing time.

15.) Many sentence fragments.

16.) People read this garbage, but not your blog that you pour your heart and soul into.

17.) You’ve lived through the 80’s and 90’s. You don’t need a recap. That’s what Netflix is for.

18.) Which _____ are you from this movie/TV series/book? The obvious one that you have been picking! Why take this quiz? Just decide which one you are, because 4 very biased questions that lean towards an obvious character in an attempt to generate add revenue is beneath you.

19.) Want to read an idiot’s thoughts on the latest celebrity ‘not-scandel’ that isn’t really news at all? Me neither.  I don’t need a list of 20 things rehashing everything Kanye West or anyone else has done that is human.

20.) Do you need some idiotic talking points for some position that thinks two sentences of snark and a joke are enough to sort out a legitimate opinion about a complex issue?
This post took me 5 minutes to write. I did it while watching “The Voice” on Hulu and eating dinner. That’s how easy this is. That’s how much of a waste of your time this is. Ditch the click bait. Find someone worth your time that challenges you and opens your horizons to read. Get yourself ready and head out into the world.

November Announcments

Today is Monday, the day I talk about the issues concerning Friday.  Today’s issue is: Blog Writing.

Hello my faithful following of fans, all 20 of you.  It’s time for a fireside chat with me, the author of Pessimistic Ponderings.  I started the blog in an attempt to force myself to write again.  I like writing, but I’ve gotten lazy due to a lack of audience.  Writing isn’t easy, as folks don’t think about it after they leave college.  I’ve tried starting a few writing groups, but it seems that I’d have to go to graduate school and become an MFA to find the people that would be interested in such a task.  I’m not about to put myself through the trauma of graduate school because to an outsider, graduate school looks like a special version of hell.

I want to be an author.  I really do.  This blog was an attempt to get out of the rut of not writing and force myself to knock the rust off my one talent.  I’ve written only one novel in my lifetime, and at the age of 31 that is sad.  I should be doing more.  The one novel I’ve written was just after I graduated from college and it’s titled: “Babe, A Guy’s Version Of A Love Story.”  It’s not edited and it desperately needs to be edited, but I wrote it.  It’s 124 pages of comedy and drama and I love it.  I felt an immense amount of pride in that accomplishment, and I want to do it again.

A few Novembers I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo, a competition to write the first draft of a novel in one month (at least 50,000 words.  I’ve attempted it 4 times so far.  Each attempt was awful and I deleted the result (or hid it on a secret file deep in the forgotten places of my computer).  This time I’m going to try again and see it through.  The first time I attempted it I wrote a vampire story that my friend Jimmy sort of dared me to write, but I didn’t get very far in it and from when I hear, he’s taking the idea back.  The second was the furthest I’ve gotten was 23,000 words in a zombie story that never actually mentioned any zombies.  The third and fourth attempts were with the same story that was going to be a “Ender’s Game” situation married to “1984”, and both attempts did not go well.  NaNoWriMo doesn’t produce the best work, but it does produce a first draft, and that’s something to work on.  I’ll be participating again this year.

So what does that mean for this blog?  I’m not shutting it down, but I am going to relax a bit.  In order to dedicate more time to NaNoWriMo, I’m going to stop writing the Friday “The Issues” posts.  Currently I spend about 3 hours writing a post (about an hour a page).  It’s not my best work, but it is good practice.  I feel like I’m rushing these stories out there, but I justify it because you are getting more than what you paid for.  The trouble is the economics of the situation.  I spend about 3 hours a post and the entirety of my audience spends about an hour and a half reading them.  It’s a bit disheartening, but I’ve soldiered on hoping my readership would expand.  It has, a bit, but I’m still spending more time writing than people are reading.  Currently, I don’t receive any kind of reimbursement for writing these blog posts.  I’m cutting back my weekly commitment to this blog from 6 hours a week to 3, because writing two blog posts a week and 12,500 words per day in a novel I haven’t really fleshed out yet is too much.

Maybe to celebrate NaNoWriMo, I can post the worst parts of the story I’m writing for everyone to laugh at.  I need to keep the same pace I maintained while writing The 2nd Grade Mafia, writing about 2,000 words a day, which comes out to around 3-4 pages.

After November I’m going to take it easy to enjoy the holidays and take a break from the insane self-imposed workload I’ve put on myself.  I’m giving myself an extra week to finish the NaNoWriMo competition, because a week of November I’ll be on vacation and I need to enjoy that vacation rather than stare at a notebook.  Maybe I can get to 30,000 words this year!

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Getting In Trouble Is Great Practice For Staying Out Of Trouble

Week 6, Day 1  When I got back to school, my books hadn’t magically reappeared like I hoped they would have.  The girls had them on lock-down somewhere.  I could feel their eyes probing my expression as I searched for them.  I shut my desk and smiled up at everyone.  It was the best tactic I had.  I wasn’t going to worry about those books.  The girls had them and there was no guarantee that they’d ever turn in my books even after I stopped reading.  They might keep them forever out of spite, and based on their recent switch from normal to evil, I dismissed those books as collateral damage in their misguided war against me.  The difference between the girls and I is that I was used to being in trouble.  The punishments looming over my head were annoyances, but I could deal with them.  There was no use worrying about that now because it was out of my hands.  I was going to forget about it and be happy, because that was the only way I knew how to conquer their fear tactic.

It was time to fight back.

One thing I learned from reading is that bullies don’t like an enemy.  So far I’d managed the damage they threw my direction, but this only encouraged them to throw more trouble my way.  If this kept up, they only needed to overload my life with misery until I couldn’t manage it.  A school of 200 girls would eventually win, so ‘ignoring the bully’ was out of the question.  I needed to go on the offensive.

Fighting back would be difficult.  I lived in conservative Iowa, which is protected as a time capsule by the rest of the world.  Things were backward here.  The girls were immune to any penalty for their crimes unless their crimes were severe.  Previously this year I had been attacked by a girl who just started punching me repeatedly, the first two sucker punches in the face.  I slapped her hand hard to make her stop.  A teacher saw this and immediately came to stop the fight.  The girl was coddled for being so innocent and defenseless; I was punished for hitting a girl and had all my recesses taken away for the day to think about what I had done.  I did think, confirming over and over that I had done the right thing.  The reason I was in trouble was twofold.  The first reason is that I didn’t tell on her first, because the first person to tell doesn’t get in trouble.  The second thing I did wrong was that I was born a boy.  Girls and boys were treated differently, I had noticed over the course of three years in school.  Girls were always innocent no matter how malevolent.  Boys were always guilty and were expected to just take any abuse.  Getting the teachers involved in this would be difficult, because I couldn’t be the first one to tell,  it had to be a girl.

I had one advantage.  The girls didn’t know that I was fighting back.  I’d played possum long enough to surprise them when I turned lion.

First recess came around and the girls all formed their reading circle.  I approached their circle, my own book in hand.  “I want my books back.”

The girls didn’t answer me, they just stared at their books.  It was a free chance to read each of their expressions.  A schism was forming, like I thought would happen.  Girls tended to follow the rules, be nice to everyone, and be much better human beings than boys.  Three out of five of the girls looked nervous and reluctant.  This shift to organized crime was out of character and they didn’t like it.

“I said I want my books back.”

Megan was the first to answer, talking in an angry and sarcastic tone.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I laughed.  Laughs can convey a great range of things.  I felt like mine conveyed victory.  The girls all looked up from their books.  Speaking couldn’t break their obvious attempts to ignore me, but laughing could.  They were expecting anger.  Jubilation from their victim was something that scared them.  “That’s funny, Megan.  It’s funny because everyone here knows that you are lying.  You don’t have to admit it, we all know it.  That makes you a liar, Megan.  You’re a bad guy.  A villain.  A cheat.  A sneak.  The problem with liars is that they can’t be trusted.  Maybe one day they’ll say something like ‘I promise that none of you will get in trouble for stealing Steve’s books’, and the next day they are telling the principal exactly who did what, because the first person to tell won’t get detention.  The first person to tell is a good guy.  Liars aren’t, and will say anything they need to in order to save their skin in that moment.  The only question is, which of you is going to tell on the others first?”

I walked away.  I could hear Megan scramble to her feet, as she got up to go tell on me, exactly as planned.  I imagined that she was going to tell on me for calling her a list of bad names, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.  I turned around and said to the girls, “looks like she’s beating you to the punch.  She’s probably ratting you all out right now.”

The girls looked scared now.  I walked away.  Any moment a teacher would come swooping down on me, and I needed to be out of earshot when that happened.  I needed the girls to think that Megan had told on them and not me.

Sure enough, Ms Hotchkiss came stomping my direction with Megan in toe.  Megan was behind the teacher and was smiling with such vehemence that I knew I wasn’t wrong to call her a villain.  “Mr. Steve.  Megan tells me that you called her a liar in front of all of her friends.”

“Really?”  I asked innocently.  “What was she lying about that would make me say such a thing?”

Hotchkiss turned her attention to Megan.  Megan wasn’t ready for this.  Her plan was to tell on me and get me in trouble and that’d be the end of it.  My plan was to force her to confess.  I had to tread carefully here; one wrong move and I’d be in trouble for name-calling.  Megan was caught off guard, assuming she was in trouble because of Ms Hotchkiss’s sudden attention, when really Ms Hotchkiss was waiting for her to clarify what I was supposed to be in trouble for.  Good kids tend to get really nervous when it comes to the recess authorities.  I had plenty of experience with them and knew how to keep my cool.  I needed a loaded statement that either confirming or denying would still land her in trouble.  Megan looked infuriated at me before yelling “nevermind!”

“Because what I asked her was if she knew which of the girls stole books from my desk in order to frame me with the library lady.  Megan said she knew who it was but that she wasn’t going to tell me.”

“I did not!”

Megan didn’t even see the trap.  She had denied a detail of a story, which still left her guilty.  She needed to deny the entire story to stay in the clear.

“Ms. Megan, do you know who stole Steve’s books?”

Tears welled up in Megan’s eyes.  It was too late.  I was dismissed from the conversation, as Ms Hotchkiss liked to deal out verbal scoldings one on one, something I was very familiar with.  I smiled and walked over to the old slide.  The girls in their reading circle were frozen in fear.  I winked at them.

“I don’t know who has the books, but the safest place to hide them right now is in my desk.”

Week 6, Day 1, Night 1  The fallout from Megan’s capture was severe.  Megan couldn’t keep quiet.  She’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to navigate the principal’s office.  She was scared.  Everyone is, their first time in the principal’s office, but there are a few rules you don’t break, such as telling on one of your friends and dragging them into your misery.  Megan did herself no favors by ratting on everyone she knew who was involved.  Ms Hotchkiss called together a parent meeting with all of the girls’ parents to talk about bullying.  So many grounded with so little effort.  To top it off, each of them had to write me a letter of apology, which meant that ten minutes of reading time was wasted on a letter I probably wouldn’t even read.  That’s one hundred and forty minutes right there.

The school did still see fit to hold me responsible for the books I’d checked out.  There wouldn’t be the usual threat of detention, but I needed to be responsible for the property I borrowed.  I’d have to pay for it with my allowance, but that was a small price to pay to get out from under the girls’ current form of blackmail.

Week 6, Day 2  It happened suddenly.  I was walking on my way to TAG (talented and gifted) when a hand reached out and pulled me into the girls’ restroom and pinned me against a wall.  There I was, surrounded by a host of my classmates and a couple of larger fifth graders for muscle.  The girls from my class were red-eyed from crying, and looked particularly cross with me.  I didn’t expect them to call in reinforcements.

I didn’t recognize the girl who was holding me against the wall.  She was much larger than I was, but as a very short kid (the shortest in my grade), this wasn’t an accomplishment.  Maybe a third grader?  Either way she had too much muscle backing her up for me to break free.  She spoke with a tone of bullying authority.  “Hey Steve.  We noticed that you’re still reading.  We already told you what would happen if you didn’t stop.”

“You sure did.  Can I go now?”  I tried to sound dismissive, but this unexpected show of force had me nervous.

Their leader pushed me harder against the wall.  “It’s not funny.  We’ve still got the books.  You’re still in trouble if you don’t return them.”

I looked up at the ceiling and made a face of exaggerated thinking.  “Not really.  Hotchkiss knows that they were stolen.  The library lady likes me.  I call her ‘Book Worm’ to her face and she likes it.  She got me a book for my birthday and Christmas last year.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed.  This wasn’t going to plan.  I imagine they thought I’d cry and wet myself, but that wasn’t what they got.  No one had told them that the school had forgiven my future crime of late library books.  The time to strike was now.  I looked back into the eyes of their leader, still holding me against the wall.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.  If your plan is to beat me up, you can.  It’s going to be hard explain why all of you needed a hall pass at the same time to go to the bathroom once they find a boy bleeding on the floor of the girl’s bathroom, but I’m sure that all of you combined could actually beat me up.  I’m not even going to swing back, because I’d hate to crowd the detention hall with you.”

A scared voice from the back whispered “what are we going to do?  He’s going to get us all in trouble again.”  It was Megan.  She looked miserable, probably staying up all night crying about getting caught.

“You’re right, Megan.  I am going to get you all in trouble.  I just haven’t decided how yet, but I’ve got options.”

This wasn’t going as planned.  I refused to be afraid and they only had fear tactics.  Their leader snared “get one of his books out.”

To my surprise, they had it.  I recognized the cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I watched the book carefully.  I didn’t see whose bookbag they pulled it from, which was disappointing.  Their leader turned to look at it, then sneered back at me.  “Throw it in the toilet.”

I couldn’t see, but I heard the splash.  My mind raced to keep ‘unscared’.  The best I could do was formulate half a joke about the Island in the toilet.   Still, that was a week’s worth of chores down the drain.  Their leader turned back to me.

“This is what is going to happen next.  You can read all you want to.  Next week, if you want your books back, you’re going to give me the slip of paper with your minutes on it before you turn it into Hotchkiss.  I’ll keep your minutes, and you get your books back.  If you don’t do this, you’ll never see your books again.”

“Fine.  It’ll cost me two months of allowance, but it’ll cost you your character.”

“That’s not all, pipsquek.  Think long and hard before you try to defy us again.  We can get to you in more ways than this.”  The leader fished something out from her pocket.  I recognized the tiny salmon colored lunch ticket, because I had drawn a Viking on the back of mine.  It looked like I was going hungry for the next few days, but that also gave me more time to read.  “We can get your lunch tickets, we can get your homework, we can make you miss the bus, we can tell on you for all sorts of things, we can make the boys hate you, we can make you unpopular, we can spread rumors, and we can keep this up forever.  Who are you going to take to the dances in High School when all of the girls hate you?  Who are you going to go on dates with?”

I smiled at them all.  “None of you deserve me.”

A punch landed soundly in my stomach, knocking the wind out of me.  I collapsed to the floor, fully expecting to get kicked next.  Nothing happened.  I decided to risk another quip.  “You know something?  I’m glad you did this, because now I know that I’m the good guy in this story, and that each and every one of you is the bad guy.  You’ll know it when you look in your mirrors tonight while brushing your teeth.  You’ll think ‘I’m a bad guy’.  You’ll know I’m right because you’ll be angry with me or angry with yourself, but either way you’ll be an angry bad guy.  You can’t win.  Even if you win the competition, that ice cream won’t even begin to get rid of the taste of turning into a monster.”

“Get me that minute’s sheet or your life is going to be miserable forever!  You see, you might be acting strong now, but you won’t be.  The library books were just the beginning.  What will you do when your sister comes crying to you because everyone decided to stop being her friend?  We can get her too.  If you turn in another minutes sheet, you and your sister will see just how bad things can get.”

The girls filed out of the restroom and all went back to their classes, leaving me alone in the girls’ bathroom.  I let out a sigh that went from relief to despair.  I wasn’t holding up well.  I was a social kid.  The isolation of Read A Million Minutes was taking its toll.  I didn’t want to be the nerdy kid that had to sit by himself at recess.  I wanted to be the kid that got to do what he loved and still had people like him for who he was.

Threatening my sister, Kristen, was taking this fight to a whole new level.  She was leading her Kindergarten class, putting up more minutes than her entire class.  Effectively, she canceled me out in the school competition.  It wasn’t fair for her if she was punished for reading.  I couldn’t do this to her also.  It wasn’t fair to ask a Kindergartner to be a social outcast in her second month of school.

Maybe it would be easier to just give up.  I could recapture soccer, the friendship of the boys, the neutral tolerance of the girls, hours of free time, and peace of mind.  For the first time I considered quitting.

I got up and looked in the toilet.  The girls had made a mistake here.  Explaining how my library book wound up in the girl’s bathroom wouldn’t be easy.  The hall passes contained the list of possible suspects.  The trouble was that I couldn’t be the one to tell anyone about the book, because I had a hall pass also and it might look like I was dumping my own books to frame someone.  Instead, I just left.

Week 6 Reading List: The Beast, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Swiss Family Robinson, Johnny Tremain

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Just Because Your Little Girls Are Angels, It Doesn’t Mean They Came From Heaven

[This is part 3 in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  The first post in this series can be found by clicking on this link.]

Week 5, Day 2 Once a week we had library time, which was a chance for us to check out a book from the school library.  I loved this time of the week because I could pick up more of the authors I liked, their books were right on either side of the book I had previously selected.  This week was different.  I quickly rounded the library to the fiction section where I had collected all of my books.  They were gone.  All of the books in the fiction section had been checked out.  That was impossible!  It would take every kid in the school to check out that many books.  Or maybe…

I turned around to see a bunch of girls giggling by the doorway.  They weren’t even in my grade, these were fifth graders.  Each held a stack of seven books, the maximum amount we were allowed.  Their leader mouthed “look in the back”.  I went around to a little bookshelf to see that the only books remaining were the entirety of the Babysitters Club series.  More giggling ensued when they saw my disappointment.  Yet the library was sacred, and I wasn’t going to let them hurt me on my turf.  I approached the librarian to see if there were any books that had been turned in and had yet to be put on the shelves.  The girls bristled, as they hadn’t anticipated this move.

The librarian, a kindly old woman, said “I’d give these to you, but only the fifth graders have been to the library.  These are way too advanced for a second grader.”

With some quick talking and a promise to take care of them, I convinced her that I was up to the challenge, and I checked out all of them.

Week 5, Day 3  It was time for silent reading, a fun ceremony where we all got to read and Ms Hotchkiss got to drink some coffee and grade some papers.  This was the only time that the boys put minutes on the board, it seemed.  I was delighted, because I got to read again.  I was halfway through Hatchet and I wanted to know what happened after Brian had accidently kicked the porcupine.  I went to lift the top of my desk to find that it wouldn’t budge.  I tried again, but nothing happened.  I stood up to give it a good go, but when I heaved with all my might the desk didn’t open, it just flipped over.

Ms Hotchkiss whirled around, “Steve, what is it that you are doing?”

“My desk won’t open.”

“We don’t throw desks around just because they don’t open.”

Julie raised her hand, but proceeded to talk without actually being called on.  “Ms Hotchkiss, the reason his desk won’t open is because Steve glued it shut.”

That’s silly, why would I glue my own desk shut?  Oh you lying jerk!  Ms Hotchkiss zoomed across the room, sailing like a foxtail on the breeze through the maze of classroom clutter.  She descended upon me so swiftly that I was unable to enact any kind of verbal defense of my innocence.  One sniff and she confirmed that my desk was indeed glued shut.  “Steve, it’s very bad that you glued your desk shut.  We also don’t throw our desks.  That’s something bad kids do.  You know what else bad kids do?  They go to the principal’s office.

“But I didn’t do it Ms Hotchkiss!  It had to be the girls-“

“We also don’t tell lies to get out of trouble.  We take responsibility for our actions.  Come along now.”

I had to sit in the principal’s office without a book for all of silent reading, and for the first recess.  All the while I sat, staring at the clock, watching my minutes slip through my hands into oblivion.  I had zero minutes because of this charade.  The girls had two hundred and eighty.  I had to read five hours when I got home just to catch up.

When I got back to class, the janitor had pried my desk open and removed all of the rubber cement.  He gave me a scolding about respecting other people’s property.  I tried pointing out that I don’t even own rubber cement, but that just made him angry, because now he thought I’d lost a bottle of rubber cement somewhere and it was vandalizing some other part of the building.  I didn’t listen to him; I didn’t have to.  Not only was there no rubber cement in my desk, there were no books that I’d checked out from the library.  All of them were gone.  If I didn’t return them by next week I’d get a detention every day until they were returned.  I couldn’t get detention, I had to take the bus home.  The girls had sent their message loud and clear.  I couldn’t even risk telling on them, because sitting on the board was my name with a checkmark behind it.  One more instance of misbehavior and I was in for a detention.  Who was going to believe that the girls were all a part of some massive conspiracy, when I, the class clown was so much easier to blame?

On the bus ride home, Paige sat next to me.  She lived in my neighborhood, and it was especially hurtful that someone from my street could turn on me.  “I’m sorry about the desk and the books.”

“Thanks.  Do you know where they are?”

“No.  They hid them in case you asked Ms Hotchkiss to search all the desks in the room.  I think the third graders have them now.”

“Paige, I’m going to get in trouble if they don’t give me those back!  I told the librarian I’d take special care of them.”

“I know.  I’m supposed to tell you that if you stop reading this week, you’ll get the books back.  We’ll put them in the book return and nothing will happen. You won’t get detention, and you’ll get to catch your bus.”

“Paige, they can’t do this!  This is stealing!  This is lying.”

Paige sighed, because I just wasn’t getting it.  When she spoke next, her voice was curt and condescending.  “If you keep reading, your books are going to stay missing for a month.  Then they’ll show up on the library’s doorstep one day, except they’ll have been washed in a tub, colored with crayons, every fifth page will be missing, and we’ll smear them with mud.”

“Paige, tell them no!  I’ll have to give up my allowance to buy those books back, and I’ll have to miss the Scholastic Book Fair!  They’ll take away my library card.  They won’t let me read anymore.”

“Then you know what to do.”  Paige got up and went to the front of the bus with the rest of the girls.

Week 5, Day 4 I had to borrow a book from my aunt and uncle, my babysitters before school began.  Technically I stole it, but both of them were working on some unrelated project and were unavailable to be asked.  It was the first time I had delved into Stephan King.  The Green Mile started off in a pretty scary place, unlike all of the previous books I had read.  The characters seemed much more mean than they needed to be.  It was an eye opening experience.

At school I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  The boys were jerks and the girls were nefarious.  I just wanted to sink into my shadow and disappear.  That wasn’t going to happen today.  Today was the day that Ms Hotchkiss had updated her bar graph.

I was still in first, but there were more bars.  Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, the girls were in fourth, Paige was in fifth, and the boys didn’t matter.  The girls all collectively bristled.  If Hotchkiss had kept the girls together they would have won, but she didn’t.  Somehow this was my fault, and I could feel the malevolence of their resolve strengthening around me.  The only way they’d win is if Cassie could beat me by herself, otherwise the girls’ bar graph would just keep splitting.

Silent reading approached and I took out The Green Mile,taking a peek at the girls around me.  It was hard to read their expressions.  I hadn’t stopped reading, despite their threats to my library books.
It was a strange mixture of expressions, showing some kind of disappointed respect.  The girls were at a crossroads.  They didn’t really want to steal my books, rip them apart, and frame me for a crime I didn’t commit; they just wanted to win the competition.  I smiled over my book at each of them, because even though they were debasing themselves they still weren’t getting what they wanted.

The problem with silent reading was that it gave the girls a solid 10 minutes to come up with a plan.  Courtney was the first to pounce on my rebellion against the mafia’s tyranny.  “Ms Hotchkiss!  Steve is reading a bad book!”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up and looked at my book.  “What’s that you are reading?”

“The Green Mile by Stephan King.”

“Will you come to the front of the class, Mr. Steve?”

The girls all put their books down, watching what would happen.  They had been prepared to make threats of getting me in trouble, but seeing the consequences carried out was something else entirely.  I gauged their expressions as I approached Hotchkiss’s desk.  Some of them were ready to give in to this, uncomfortable with what they had become.  The others sat resolute in the face of my destruction, determined to finally crush this boy that dared to defy their collective might.

Ms Hotchkiss didn’t have much patience for my surveying of the classroom.  “Steve, have you been faking your reading this entire time?  There is no way that you are reading a Stephen King novel.  That’s way above you level.”

“No it’s not!  It’s about a prison guard in a nursing home. It’s easy for me.”

“Steve, I think that you’ve been pretending to read and putting up fake numbers.  A few of the girls mentioned that you’d checked out books from the fifth grade section, and they think you are faking your reading.  Are you lying just to win?  Are you just pretending to read?”

My voice cracked, as I was on the verge of tears.  The girls weren’t satisfied with trying to stop my minutes, they wanted to wipe away everything I’d done, as if this whole time I’d been sacrificing my recesses for nothing.  “No, I’m not!  I can read it to you!  It’s easy for me.”  I was not going to let Ms Hotchkiss disqualify me from all my hard work.  I opened the book and read quickly and confidently, putting Ms Hotchkiss through one of the most surreal moments of her life as a second grade boy read aloud the story of a botched execution of a prisoner via electric chair.

“Uh…nevermind, Steve.  That was some good reading.  Can we get you a different book?”

From that moment on, for the rest of my second grade career, Ms Hotchkiss would always have a hint of worried panic in her expression when she looked at me.  She also called home to make sure everything was okay.  Mom was furious with my uncle for letting me get my hands on the book, but it wasn’t his fault really.  My uncle switched out The Green Mile for a couple of books from his Doc Savage collection.

Week 5: Voyage Of The Frog, Sign Of The Beaver, Redwall, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Number The Stars, The Green Mile

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV….

I’m Saving Sexy Halloween

Today is Friday, the day I talk about “The Issues”.  Today’s issue is: Halloween Costumes for Women.

Something happens around college time to women everywhere during Halloween.  Rather than dress up as a witch or a mummy or any of the other classic costumes which served them so well in their childhood, college ladies decide it is time to push the envelope.  It’s time to really push the envelope.  It’s no longer time to dress up adorable in an effort to get candy, it’s time to get a costume that will turn heads.  We’re going for a different kind of sweetie this year.  It’s time to go out as a sexy [fill in the blank].  Maybe it’s a sexy nurse, or a sexy police officer, or a sexy witch.

This isn’t a bad thing.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to get in trouble with folks for saying this, but I don’t really care because I’m a guy with a blog and that makes my opinion worth more than yours [citation needed].

Some folks hate sexy Halloween because they think that it is demeaning to women.  I’m not sure how this is so.  Maybe they think that women dressing up as a sexy stewardess or a sexy policeman or a sexy construction worker puts forward an ‘anti-feminist’ ideal.  I think that’s unfair, because women can also dress up as a sexy hedge fund manager, or a sexy CEO, or a sexy scientist, or even a sexy president of the United States and still have a great costume.  High paying jobs always have a sexy counterpart, and I feel that this is insulting to the average worker who isn’t in a leadership position.  Nah, I’m just joking, it’s the ‘sexy’ part of sexy Halloween that people have a problem with, because being sexy is bad and anti-female, and even though that logic doesn’t follow, we still adhere to it because we live in the 1800’s.  With our 1800’s mindset, our culture has determined that sex is bad, being sexy is bad, and a woman being sexy is bad because…well…we’ve decided as a culture that sexuality is a primal and awful thing that is no longer a part of what it is to be human, therefore sexy people aren’t human people, they are objects.  I disagree with this entirely, and while I think it’s time to move on from the Victorian Era, it seems that many folks who share my planet feel differently.  Let me walk you down this rabbit hole as to why so many people hate sexy Halloween.

I’m going to give you a college level history class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  It all started when Queen Victoria decided that no one should ever have any fun, ever.  Now that the Puritans had left England a few centuries earlier, there were no outlandish prudes that took modesty and boredom to the extreme, and Queen Victoria missed that.  She thought it’d be great to bring that all back and ruin everything.  The first step to ruining everything was to make sex bad.  Sex, the greatest thing ever, was to become vulgar, rude, lowly, disgusting, and awful.  Why?  Because Queen Victoria hates you, that’s why.  Not only was sex bad, but everything related to it had to be bad as well.  Being naked was bad.  Being immodestly dressed was bad.  Being a flirt was bad.  Being attractive was bad.  Being attractive?  Yes, being attractive is bad, because if you are attractive and people notice, you are now a slut, because only sluts are attractive in a way that other people notice.  In fact, all women were now bad, because women have sex, and they have boobs, and they can be very attractive, and that makes them sluts.  Queen Victoria opposed women’s rights to vote because she didn’t want a bunch of sluts telling her what to do.  Queen Victoria hated attractive people, and sluts, and flirting, and sex, and women, and everything that had to do with fun in the bedroom.  Sex was uncool, and that’s how Queen Victoria liked it.

Many scholars wonder why Queen Victoria hated sex so much.  It doesn’t take a history scholar to figure it out.  I did it with a quick Wikipedia search.  It’s because she had nine children with Prince Albert, who is famous for…um…not being a comfortable partner to have nine children with.

The Victorian Era had other repercussions.  When you make sex bad, people stop doing it.  When people stop doing it, they become very industrious because they have a lot of built up energy and frustration to work out.  Now Queen Victoria had all of these industrious people sitting about, so she decided that it was now time to make the worst thing ever into something good: violence.  England decided it was time to use their military and embark in a great expansion of the British Empire.  This gave rise to other things, such as: not caring about what you do to third world nations full of people, romanticism of war, capitalism to the detriment of people (East India Company), exporting harmful goods to the detriment of the people you are selling to (Opium War), and other vices we still hold in high regard today.

I’ve devised a quick test to see if you are living in the Victorian Era.
——————————————————————————————————————————————
Q1: Which of these sentences would get edited before being said over your public air waves?
a.) The wife shot her husband and killed him.
b.) The wife touched her husband’s penis.

I see some of you giggling out there.  One of these is a terrible tragedy and breach of law, which ends one life and shatters the husband’s community of friends and family.  The other event should be so commonplace that it isn’t a big deal when it happens (although phrasing of this sentence might need some work due to reasons that I can’t explain in the Victorian Era).  We already know which gets censored.  A murder is entertainment and gets our many police procedurals started (NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, the list goes on forever) but if you dare to show a butt on one of these shows, it’s cause for an FCC meltdown and a $1.2 million dollar fine.

Q2: Which of these is an “epidemic”, as covered by your new sources?
a.) 3 Americans with the ebola virus, contained and monitored by the CDC.
b.) 4,500 cases of ebola in Africa.

The news has been in a frenzy over 3 people in the US having ebola.  3 contained people are apparently an epidemic.  Before that, there was no coverage about Africa.  There is still no coverage about Africa.  Africa is only mentioned as the problem from which this other problem came from.

Q3: Does your country have an unlimited budget for war, even when it claims it can’t afford simple things such as health care, food stamps, child care, or public education?
a.) yes

Q4: Does your country claim to be a peaceful nation, and yet sell more weapons than anywhere else, sometimes even fighting those same weapons in future wars?
a.) yes

Congratulations, you live in the Victorian Era.
——————————————————————————————————————————————

Back to sexy Halloween, because that’s what we all want to talk about.  I don’t think sexy Halloween is a bad thing.  When it comes to personal matters of modesty, I’m very much a libertarian.  If you want to dress up in the full burka, that’s fine.  If you want to travel about wearing only a speedo, that’s fine.  Dress up how you feel.  If you’re handsome, young, and in shape and you want to dress sexy, go for it.  If you are fat, old, and ugly and you want to dress sexy, go for it.  If legions of college girls want to dress sexy for Halloween, go for it.

That goes for the fellas as well.  I purposefully haven’t mentioned men dressing up sexy for Halloween being a problem, because we live in the Victorian Era, and that isn’t a problem.  In the Halloween of 2012, lots of very muscled men dressed up as Michael Phelps and walked around downtown in a swimmer’s cap and a speedo and nothing else.  No one said anything (the exception being a few exaggeratedly appreciative utterances of the word ‘damn’ from a lot of women and a select few of the men).  Men can do what they want, because centuries dead Queen Victoria liked men, and men can dress sexy if they want to.  No one feels like they have the right to tell men how to dress, just women.  Just to prove my point, remember the Yoga Pants “debates” from earlier this summer that flooded our Facebook feeds, where many conservative women were condemning pants for undoing feminism entirely, or men with no control over their sexual impulses condemned pants for forcing them to have sexual fantasies and a life riddled with sin?  (Links provided)  Those were absurd.

Well why do women dress up sexy for Halloween if we live in the Victorian Era?  I’m going to give you a college level biology class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  Humans evolved to be very young breeders back in our caveman days.  A couple was ready to have kids at the age of fifteen, reproduce as much as they could, then die at the age of 30 due to some problem involving their teeth growing in funny, the teeth of a saber tooth tiger, the gnawing teeth of hunger, the cold teeth of winter, or some other problem involving teeth.  In that fifteen year span the goal was to crank out up to eight children in the hopes that maybe three of them would survive to pass on their genes.  Humans became a species that needed to breed quickly and efficiently at the age of fifteen, and our genes reflect that.  So even though the Victorian Era issued in an attitude that hates sex, our biology hasn’t changed, and it drives us to do nothing but seek out sex right around the time we turn fifteen.

Now America has set up a very elaborate and complicated experiment when it comes to our children.  Despite their bodies being fully ready to be parents around the same time they enter High School, we still call them ‘kids’.  We tell them sex is bad.  Sex is something to be ashamed of.  Wanting sex makes Queen Victoria cry.  Having sex makes Jesus cry.  We heap loads of guilt upon year after year of sexual creatures known as high school students.  We also don’t tell them anything useful about healthy sexuality because we’ve deemed it “icky”.  This has consequences.

I’m going to give you a college level psychology class in about a paragraph, so hang on.  When you repress someone’s sex drive, they start to develop fetishes.  Humans are sexual creatures.  Our sexual selves make up a huge part of our personhood.  When we’re told to repress that, our minds don’t handle it too well because there really isn’t a good reason to repress our sex drives in unhealthy ways.  So the mind develops fetishes.  For most people stuck in the Victorian era, they end up fetishizing sex.  For some people it is feet.  For other people it is Yoga Pants.  For Queen Victoria, it was an unhealthy obsession with making sure no one enjoyed life.

So rather than help our kids navigate their sexuality, we instead guilted all of them into having fetishes that they can’t act on.  At least…not until they finally get to college.

That’s right, after years of sexual repression by teachers, parents, and other adult authority figures, our college students are sex crazy, and for the first time, they are free!  They’ve been in college for about two months, about as long as it takes for the freedom to really settle into the minds of these freshly released sexual prisoners, when Halloween rolls around.  How could sexy Halloween not happen?  This is the one time they get to express their sexuality for the first time, after bottling it up to the point of sexual repression.  Is it bad?  No.  It’s therapeutic.  Our college girls aren’t going to live their lives trying to impress a centuries dead queen from a different country.

What I’m saying?  I’m saying that Queen Victoria is the reason we have sexy Halloween.

Ladies, if you want to dress up sexy for Halloween to express an important part of who you are, go for it.