Seven Stories in Seven Minutes

Mystic Mountain Nebula Fantasy

If you are a fast reader, anyway. Here is a new batch of micro-fiction, in the tradition of

Five Very Short Stories

and

Six Tiny Little Tales

Just Boring Enough

Valerie spent a lot of her time bored. If something wasn’t happening, no one around her was talking or dancing, or nothing around her was on fire or falling over, she was bored. Some days she was so excruciatingly bored she thought her boredom might tear a hole in reality. One sunny day in March—a Tuesday if you must know—that’s exactly what it did.

Valerie was lying in her bed starting at the ceiling when she heard it. It sounded kind of like ripping fabric and kind of like a light bulb shattering against the sidewalk. She sat up. She looked around for the source of the noise.

And there it was. A hole, the size of a large pizza, floated in the air next to the window. She dropped off the bed to her feet and walked up to it. The edges were frayed. Inside the hole was…she couldn’t quite say what it was. She could see it. That was no trouble. She just couldn’t figure it out. It was like looking at nonsense. Not something that was nonsensical. Just nonsense itself. She reached out to try to squeeze it closed, then pulled her hand back. If the hole closed, it would be gone.. She did not know what in the world this thing was, but she certainly knew what it wasn’t. It most definitely was not boring.

A rumbling noise reverberated from deep inside the hole. Valerie leaned forward to listen. A head popped out. Valerie gasped and leapt back. The head was colored green, only if green was actually purple. It had three heads for eyes, and a large eye for a personality.

“Hey!” said the head. “What is so this now?”

“It’s a hole,” said Valerie. “I think I ripped it.”

“What did you un that for?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Valerie protested. “Well, maybe I did. I was just so bored.”

“Well, knock it up! You can’t be loopings holes in our commensurate. We need that to coexpectorate.”

“Whating holes in your what?”

“Just strop it off!”

“Um…okay. Only…I don’t know if I can. I mean, it might happen if I get bored again.”

“Hmm, that is a pickled,” said the head. “Give me of minute.” It disappeared into the hole. Less than a parsec later, it reappeared. “Here you go.” It tossed her something. She grabbed it by the missing end. Her eyes widened. It was kind of like a stick, only it whirled moonlighting and threw off nanometers.

“What is it?” Valerie said in a tone she had never used before. She figured out later it was awe.

“Not is,” said the creature. “It isn’t.”

“Isn’t what?” said Valerie.

“Boring,” said the creature. Valerie grinned. The creature turned and ducked back into the hole. Then, with a sound like water zipping topwise to the left, the hole closed up, and was gone.

Abstract Contracts

“Ms. McCoy,” said the client in a deep, chocolate coated voiced as he walked through the door to my office. “Nice to make your acquaintance.”

He made with the polite talk, but I recognized that hard look in his eyes. With some clients, you lean forward and act flirtatious. With some clients you put on sympathetic airs to ease them into proposing what they are about to propose. People with the look he had in his eyes are here to talk business.

“Never mind the niceties,” I said. “Tell me why you are here.”

“Very well. I have a problem that is right up your alley.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Who’s the target?”

“Anxiety,” he said. He heard the quick intake of my breath, and smirked. “I thought you might like that.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “That’s a dangerous target. Just because it is personal doesn’t mean it is cheap.”

“I know. I’m prepared.”

He slammed a heavy briefcase on the table, followed by an even heavier duffel bag.

“Half now,” he opened the briefcase. “Half on completion.” He opened the bag.

The briefcase was packed with prima materia, cut with White Esthesia. By the clarity of the sheen it looked at least 70% pure. The bag was stuffed with cash.

“Do we have a deal?”

I nodded. “It’s done.”

When your pipes are leaking, you go to a plumber. When someone breaks into your house, you call a private security firm. My name is Willow McCoy. When you need an abstract concept bleeding, face down in the dirt and the obsolescence, you come to me.

Midnight Gardner

You can’t use just any old shovel to dig a star out of the sky. You needed a special kind, with a polished white oak handle, and a head made of a metal you can only find in a certain place, at a certain time. It takes skill, and craftsmanship, and a few whispered secrets. If you want to do any midnight gardening, you need a proper star shovel. And old Artie Dustman makes the best.

Artie’s real last name is Sandovsky. His family’s made star shovels for as far back as they went. And all that time, they’ve been the Dustmen to all the world. It is a dying art. Artie knows it. It was a dying art when his mother took up the hammer and the plane, and so with her father, and his father before him. Artie never thought of doing anything else, though. This is his secret, and this is his love.

The whole field of midnight gardening is dying out. It’s  been dying out for hundreds of years. Ever since some far-too-clever fool put two ground glasses lenses into a tube and called it a telescope, the number of midnight gardeners has dwindled. With all of those people looking at the sky, climbing up in the night and digging out a star just no longer made any sense.

Artie’s daughter wanted nothing to do with the trade, when he offered to train her. She’s a Sandovsky, but she’s no Dustman. He has no one to pass along his secret. When he goes, the Dustman goes with him. The end of an age. Sure, there are others out there making star shovels. But it won’t be the same. If you’ve never taken one of old Artie’s shovels, pressed all your weight up against it to wedge it into a dense plot of sky… If you’ve never pulled up a gleaming star, planted it in your very own patch of midnight soil, and watched what bloomed forth…well, then you can’t really understand.

So if you see old Artie peddling his wares by some dusty street corner, pick up a shovel, will you? It won’t set you back much. Maybe you’ll use it some day. Maybe you won’t. Either way, it’ll cost you next to nothing make an old man smile.

Simple Solutions

“Thank you for calling Simple Solutions tech support. What seems to be your problem today and how can I offer a simple solution?”

“There’s…something wrong with my computer. Something terribly, terribly wrong.”

“Very well. Can you relate the nature of your computer related problem?”

“These…things. They’re in there. They are in there and they are reaching out.”

“Things? I’m sorry, ma’am, could you be more specific?”

“I feel asleep at the keyboard. My husband tells me not to, but I had so much work to do. They crawled out.”

“I’m afraid I need more detail if I am to assist you, ma’am.”

“I dream about them. I’ve always dreamed about them. It was the keyboard. It had to be. They…they crawled out of my dreams.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but if your problem is not specifically computer related…”

“Don’t you get it! They’re in there, now! My husband…they ate his desires. All he did was check his email. He was only on for five minutes. The send their tendrils through his fingertips and their echo through the monitor. They ate his desires. All he has is hate, now.”

“Ma’am, I can’t…”

“And my neighbor’s kid! He sometimes piggybacks off our wi-fi. I let him, because his father’s an asshole and he’s a sweet kid. But…his eyes. They’re gone now. They took his eyes.”

“Have you tried turning your computer off and turning it back on?”

“And my daughter! She…what?”

“I asked if you tried turning your computer off and turning it back on.”

“No, I didn’t think…okay. I’ll try it. I’ll try anything. Give me a minute while it boots.”

“Of course, ma’am.”

“Huh.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It looks like…that did it. They’re gone! I can’t believe they are gone! This is amazing! You are amazing!”

“Will you be requiring any more assistance today, ma’am?”

“No, no, I’m fine! I am just brilliant! Oh my god!”

“Thank you again for calling Simple Solutions. Feel free to contact us again whenever you encounter a problem that could use a simple solution.”

Pure Silver

When Melissa’s mommy told her that nothing rhymed with silver, it broke the little girl’s heart.

“Silver must be ever so lonely,” said Melissa. “With no one to rhyme. Are there really no words, mommy? No words at all?”

“There might be some, lost and forgotten,” said her mother with a smile. “Maybe in the Babbling Mountain. That’s where the lost and forgotten words go, when no one needs them anymore.”

“Can I go there? Can I go there and find orange and silver’s friends?”

“Only on the back of a unicorn, when the day is the night, and chicken soup rains from the sky. Now go to sleep.” She kissed Melissa on the forehead, and turned the light off as she walked out of the room.

Melissa didn’t go to sleep. How could she? There was so much to do. She walked over to where her stuffed animals lived and pulled out Jennifer. Jennifer was her unicorn. Jennifer could take her to the Babbling Mountain. Of course, Jennifer was only a stuffed unicorn. Melissa was small, but she wasn’t stupid.

It took her almost the whole night to teach Jennifer to wake up. When the sun rose, Melissa was exhausted. But she couldn’t go to sleep. She had work to do.

“Mommy, how many black markers do we have in the house?”

“Only a few. Why?”

“I’m going to need more. Oh, and can you make chicken soup for dinner?”

All that week, Melissa went around to all of the neighbor’s houses and borrowed all of their black markers and all of their bottles of ink. And every evening she asked for chicken soup, but she only ate the crackers. On Thursday night, she slept. Tomorrow would be a big day.

And it was. No one seems to remember that day in the middle of summer, when the day was night, chicken soup rained from the sky, and a little girl rode a unicorn all the way to the Babbling Mountain. But it happened. We know, because if we want to say female lamb, we can now say chilver. Few people use the word, of course.

Melissa doesn’t care. She is just happy that silver has a friend. Now and forever.

His Face

You should have seen Dion’s face after the prank I pulled on him the other day. Seriously, you wouldn’t even recognize him.

When he woke up to find that fake man in his bed with him, he threw off the covers and shrieked.

I literally fell to the floor laughing.

“Steve!” he yelled at me when he saw me. “What the hell, dude?”

“Oh man, it’s too bad you were facing away from me. I wish I could have seen the expression on your face. You should have heard the scream you made, like a little girl. Priceless.”

“What is that? A body?”

“Nah, it’s a dummy,” I knocked on the plastic head. It made a dull thud.

“Not cool man, not cool.” Steve pulled his pants on. “I could kill you for this.”

“What? You want to kill me.”

“Yeah, Steve. I think I do.”

“Damn,” I said. I pulled the .45 out of the back of my belt and shot him in the head. His face exploded into a hot mess.

I know he probably wasn’t serious when he said he wanted to kill me. But you can never be too careful. If he went ahead and did it and I could have prevented it, I would have felt like an idiot.

Wind Conversion

The wind speaks to me. It whispers secrets not spoken in a thousand generations. It tells me of the vast vistas of gray, when life was nothing but a dirty stain in a deep patch of ocean floor. It spins tales of the great behemoths who crushed the earth beneath their feet, and of the language they spoke, the songs they sang, and the arts they mastered, all of which mankind will rise from the muck and fall into dust without suspecting in the slightest were ever there.

The wind weaves a tale in my ear,  over and over again, how for the first time in its existence it felt awe and rapture, as it carried the words of the Prophet outwards to the minds and hearts of unbelievers. I think it is trying to convert me to Islam. It’s making me uncomfortable, because I don’t know how to tell it that I’m not interested.

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Alarm

faulty alarm clock

For the DP Writing Challenge.

It was precisely 6:30 AM, Sunday morning. The one day this week I was supposed to be able to sleep in. Instead I laid there on a lumpy sleeping bag on top of carpeted floor, as the noise drilled into my head. It blared, loud and obnoxious, pounding in my skull and rendering sleep and rational thought impossible. As I tossed uncomfortably, my jaw clenched, I wanted to kill everyone in the world. Most specifically, I wanted to kill John, one of my closest friends. This was all his fault.

Of all of the horrible things created by humankind, the alarm clock is one of the worst. How can I say this, in a world with water-boarding, nuclear weapons, and spray-cheese? Torture methods and weapons of mass destruction are terrible, but they are done to you. They aren’t voluntary, and presumably can be all benefit if you are on the right side of the equation. Spray-cheese may be an affront to 99.99%* of all available gods, but at least it brings the user something passably resembling pleasure.

Alarm clocks, by contrast, are specifically designed to disrupt our purest and most natural state of bliss and happiness. They are the equivalent of a device designed to get you to stop playing video games after a certain amount of time by administering an electrical shock to your uterus. And honestly, it’s easier to imagine a person who has a fetish for the uterus thing. The alarm clock’s sole function is to beat our circadian rhythms violently into shape so they can be stuffed into the misshapen peg that is the modern work schedule.

Most of my childhood was mercifully alarm clock free. My mom always woke my brother and I up to go to school or church or other such functions. It was still an annoying process, but that’s only because I didn’t know how good I had it. The occasions where my father had to wake us up instead of my mother were more like using and old school clanging metal bell alarm clock and keeping it in my pants, but fortunately those were very rare. I sometimes set my alarm clock to wake up on days off of school to watch TV shows that were on before my usual 11:00 waking time. But in that case the alarm was empowering. It woke me up to do something fun I otherwise could not do. Plus, if I wanted to ignore it that was my call. I never fully understood the spiked collar that is the adult relationship with alarm clocks until college. Save for one night at my friend John’s house.

Two of my best friends in high school were named John and Matt. We all went to the same private school and lived miles apart. John lived so far away that the drive to school every morning took over an hour and a half. When we wanted to hang out outside of school, Matt and I made our way out to Long Beach Island and slept at John’s house. The island was awesome, and he had a sexy house with a floating glass staircase and highly slide-able hardwood floors.

On this particular occasion, we hung in John’s basement playing Daggerfall on the IBM Compatible, annihilating each other at Twisted Metal 2 on the Playstation, and watching Kevin Smith movies – the absolute pinnacle of cinema. One John’s little brother and his parents went to sleep, he and Matt and I gathered around the computer and surfed adult oriented websites. You know, financial planning, 401 Ks, issues concerning the upcoming local port commissioner elections. Nah, I’m kidding. I’m talking about porn. Late 90s porn, which was both inferior to and less horrible than modern porn. John and I loved both the titillation and the rebelliousness. I think Matt mostly did it to fit in with us, and because otherwise he would have been bored.

Eventually, round about 4 AM, we finally went into John’s room and went to sleep. John took the bed, and Matt and I slept on either side of the bed on sleeping bags. A comfortable enough arrangement. It took me the better part of an hour to go to sleep. I knew I would pay the late night Monday, because I did not sleep well during the week back then. My only consolation as unconsciousness took me was that I could sleep in the next morning.

Four seconds later, I jolted awake as the auditory manifestation of obnoxiousness assaulted my ears. I wrapped my head with my pillow and tried not to hate everything in the universe. A fucking alarm clock? It was Sunday morning, for Christ’s sake. Was John going to church? Why hadn’t he told us? And why did his friends have to suffer? I squeezed the pillow tightly and waited for John to wake up and turn off the stupid thing.
Two agonizing minutes later I realized it was not going to happen.

The bedside dresser that held the alarm was, of course, on the other side of the bed from me. So I stood up and felt my way along the edge of the bed. The sun had just started to rise outside, but the window provided insufficient light to actually see anything.. The only sensations in my word were the feel of the bed, the freezing cold of my bare feet, and the screeching noise stabbing into my brain. I made it to the other side of the bed, and walked over Matt’s sleeping body towards the alarm. I stepped on his wrist, but he didn’t wake up. No real surprise. If he slept through this noise, I could probably set his balls on fire with no reaction. At least then I could see what I was doing.

I got the table and fumbled around for the alarm. I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t on the table at all! In my half asleep state I considered the possibility that I was either dreaming or insane. Or maybe a tiny demon perched just inside my ear. A minute of blind and panicked searching revealed that the alarm was inside the top drawer of the dresser. I pounded the top of it with my hand, stumbled back towards my sleeping bag, and went back to sleep.

Four seconds later, my eardrums exploded. The fucking snooze button. I had hit the fucking snooze button. I stood up. Still no one else woke up, even at this hell-spawned device’s second attempt. I lurched back over. I slipped on a piece of John’s blanked and landed on my knee. Pain lanced through me, but I barely cared. I stoop up and head towards the dresser, stepping on Matt again, and yanked open the drawer. It was a little bit lighter in the room, now. I could see the alarm a little bit. It had what looked like 200 buttons. I had no idea what they were all for. I hit one that I hoped was the off switch. Then I gathered all of the clothes in the drawer, and some of the ones from the drawer below, and smothered the clock as thoroughly as I could in fabric. Then I stomped back towards my sleeping bag and went to sleep.

Four seconds later, someone rammed a Phillips head screwdriver into my skull. The snooze again? The pile of clothing was massively underwhelming soundproofing. I leapt to my feet – only then remembering the pain in my knee – and marched over to the dresser. I opened the battery compartment on the bottom of the clock, pulled out the two AAs, and threw them behind the dresser. I looked over at John. He was still asleep, with his mouth hanging open and his whole countenance an expression of effortless peace. I won’t say that I seriously considered grabbing one of his pillows and holding it over his face until he stopped breathing. Of course I won’t say that. That’s not the sort of thing you should ever write down. I trudged back over to my sleeping bag, lay down, and, finally, went to sleep.

I yelled at him about it the next day for almost 20 minutes. Mostly he just laughed. His mom told me that he had a hard time waking up to alarms. It wondered why he bothered. A year later, as we all prepared for college, John’s mom got him an alarm shaped like a truck. It was very loud, with a violent vibration, and a honking noise, and then two or three other noises that were just as bad. I can only assume it was designed for parents who were afraid their children might drop out of business school and become truckers, and this was to instil in them a deep hatred of all truck related things. We all laughed that this alarm would probably work, for once. Secretly I thought, “good. Now you get to suffer.”

The three of us were such good friends, back then. Matt and I are still very good friends, although he is Matthew now. I haven’t spoken to John in almost 15 years. Sure, he went to college in the south and the two of us went to the same school in Massachusetts. Sure, he lives thousands of miles away and I can get to Matthew’s place in half an hour. There are solid, incidental reasons why we drifted apart. I know this.

But then there are the moments of lucidity. You know the ones. They usually happen as you are watching a sunset, 24 consecutive waking hours after you watched the last sunset. Or when you have had so many margaritas that you are now calling your wife Margarita, and your margaritas Susan, even though your wife’s name isn’t and never has been Susan. Those moments where revelations slam into you like meteorites, and they don’t mean anything to anyone else, and they don’t make the normal kind of sense even to you when you think about them later. During those moments, I think that maybe I never forgave John for the alarm clock.

And if I did? The dude totally had it coming.

 

 

 

 
*Nyarlathotep approves of spray-cheese for fairly obvious reasons. So, a bit more surprisingly, does Crom.

This is a true story. The names have not been changed, because I am a jackass.

 

More of This Week’s Daily Post Writing Challenge

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  4. Join me for a writing challenge at The Daily Post | Butterfly Mind
  5. Doormats Insult My Intelligence | Bumblepuppies
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  7. Injecting object | Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me
  8. The Coat of Many Pockets | Musings of a Soul Eclectic
  9. Approaching your 30′s with a big question mark? | Sober Rants
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  13. Weekly Writing Challenge: Object – Andrea | sailingthroughthefog
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  15. Him | Emily Schleiger
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  36. Roadside Assistance (Fiction) | Toss the Typewriter
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When Not To Not Dance

Caravaggio's Guitar Hero

If your high school was as lame as mine – and I’m betting it was – then you might know the exercise in humiliation that is Air Band. If you are not familiar with it, Air Band is a competition whereby various groups stand on stage wearing badly made costumes and dance and lip-sync to terrible music. At my school it was a competition between grades. Normally this is the sort of thing I avoided like it was…well, like it was Air Band. But my girlfriend was in it. That meant I was in it too.

Each grade was assigned a musical decade. The sophomore class got the 70s. The segment my girlfriend and I were in was Motown or disco related, or something like that. I don’t remember what song we “performed,” or how we did it. During the lead up to the performance I was terrified. I didn’t have stage fright, exactly. I’ve always been comfortable talking or performing in front of crowds. But I did not like to dance, and it blew my mind that people in the 70s didn’t find their outfits embarrassing at the time. My only consolation was that my best friend also got roped into it and the prospect mortified him and strongly as it did me.

He dropped out the day before the performance.

My only job on stage was to dance next to my girlfriend for two minutes. I told myself over and over that I could do that. It was quick. It was simple. Realistically, it had a less than 30% chance of actually killing me. Those were pretty good odds. None of it helped. I wanted desperately to back out, but they already had to scrounge for someone to replace my friend who won’t be mentioned but might have just recently had a baby. I wasn’t sure how angry my girlfriend would be at me if I ditched. I did know exactly how sad she would be. That was much, much worse. So I went ahead.

As the curtains opened and the music swelled I clinched my jaw so tightly it ached for days. Everyone around me started to dance. My girlfriend looked over at me, her eyes alight with anticipation. I just froze. I couldn’t dance in front of these people. It was too humiliating. So I just stood there. My girlfriend danced, and the other girls danced, and each of their partners dance. And I just stood there. The godawful music pounded away. I saw my girlfriend’s tense look through her forced smile.

A few very long minutes later it was all over. I never had to do that again. I was tense and achy and emotionally exhausted and very, very relieved. What’s more, I had gotten through it without having to dance in front of anyone. I ignored the problem and it actually went away. I covered up my fears with a blanket and hid in a trashcan. I beat the system, and the best thing was there would be no consequences!

We left the stage and sat down to watch the rest of the Air Band. All I could think about was my decision not to dance. I couldn’t have paid attention even if I had wanted to. There was a YMCA that was just as respectful as you might imagine, and some senior girls with skimpy shirts, and someone doing Bananas in Pajamas. The whole thing took about forty more minutes. Four minutes after it was all over I was made to regret my decision.

I was barely out of the auditorium when a few of the seniors, still dressed in their Bananas in Pajamas costumes, came up to me in the hallway and told me they “really loved my dancing.” I pretended there was a chance they were being serious. Willful ignorance is a nerd-superpower in high school. I tried to ignore them.

During the next few days I was barraged with insults and mockery that I could not ignore. Those days were…not so fun. I chose not to dance like everyone around me was doing order to avoid embarrassment. In so doing, I made myself the biggest jackass in the entire Air Band performance, an event basically designed to let people get on stage and look like jackasses in a socially acceptable manner.

A few days ago I went to a climbing gym with my friends. I really wanted to do it, but it was a new experience and therefore it made me nervous by default. I am exponentially more experimental and outgoing than I was in high school. But that nerdy kid who wouldn’t dance is still in here, and in uncomfortable situations he takes over the show. As I sat in the locker room and put on my gym shoes, I considered going out there but not doing any actual climbing. I didn’t know how to climb, and I was worried I would look like a jackass. Everyone would identify me as Club Footed Outsider, throw their sweat socks at me, and sing camp songs about what a colossal asshat I was.

That’s when I remembered Air Band. None of those people out there cared whether I could climb. Even if they were all experts, even if new people rarely came into this gym, they wouldn’t be paying attention. In fact, the surest way I could think of to make sure I did look like a jackass, other than taking my pants off and streaking around the gym – which I only seriously considered for a few minutes – was to stand around and not do any climbing. In other words, trying not to look stupid is often the best way to make sure that you look really really stupid.

So I put my shoes on and I went out there and climbed. And you know what? No one pointed at me the whole night. Even when I landed on my leg badly after my very first climb and spent the rest of the night groaning and limping like a jackass. Because you know what? I am kind of a jackass. Honestly, it’s a big part of my charm.

Dancing badly on stage is not going to change anything.

Everyone is Stupid (even you)

This is a bit harsh, and a bit preachy and self-indulgent. You can rightly accuse me of all of these things. My only defense is that I already knew about it.

Let’s face it: People are stupid. Everyone knows this, even the stupid people themselves. It’s such a cliché even saying it out loud is embarrassing. The trick is that we all think everyone else is stupid. We, and maybe those that agree with us, are the only ones that have it all figured out. But the fact is that everyone is stupid. The human brain is basically a piece of shit. Oh, sure, humans have done amazing things with our crappy hardware, but not without a ridiculous amount of stumbling in the dark and breaking toes in the process. It took the better part of 100,000 years for our neolithic ancestors –who were genetically identical to us as species – to create a technology that even the least advanced people living in the world today would find laughably primitive.

Humans are prone to superstition and magical thinking. We leap to conclusions with little no to evidence. We do things for irrational, emotion-driven reasons and then fight bitterly to justify what we did as reasonable. We suck at math. We suck at communication. Our observational apparatuses ignore almost all of the stimuli around us and do a shitty job of interpreting the few they actually pick up. We rarely cite sources when we make sweeping generalization, and an embarrassingly small number of us even care.

If you are like most people – and I’d bet my parietal lobe that you are – you are thinking right now that you don’t exhibit these flaws as strongly as most people. You are wrong. Oh, sure, you might be part of the tiny intellectual elite who takes this kind of thing into account. But I can assure you just about everyone reading this believes themselves to be in that special minority. That fact alone is reason for doubt.

But just as that bird house for your mom can be built with the crappy public school wood shop equipment, impressive feats of intellectual prowess can be achieved by that bundle of neuroses and jury-rigged cognitive functionality that is the human brain. This is obvious, and I’d be even dumber than I am claiming everyone is if I didn’t admit it. The key to doing it is also obvious, and it’s the same thing it requires to build that bird house even though the circular saw sparks and there is never a fresh piece of sandpaper. Socrates figured it out over 4,000 years ago, and I’d bet my occipital lobe he wasn’t the first. The key is this: know that your tools suck, and how to work around them.

Science is the most powerful device human kind has ever discovered, as evidenced by the computer you are using to read this article. The underpinnings of science are built around the fact that the universe is complicated and the human brain is a piece of crap. Don’t trust your ideas without testing them. Don’t trust your tests without repeating them over and over and over. Don’t trust your conclusions about your tests until you’ve done other tests that lead to the same conclusions, in case your first tests sucked in a way you didn’t see because you are an idiot. Don’t trust those conclusions until other people have repeated your tests and others that gave supporting results, just in case your method was stupid because your stupid brain stupidly did something stupid it was too stupid to even realize.

The biggest problem in the world isn’t that everyone is an idiot. This has always been true, and as a species we’ve done pretty fucking well so far with school cafeteria tater-tots for brains. What humans have created with neural structures that evolved for finding edible bugs and producing kids that don’t die as fast as other people’s kids is bloody staggering. No, the biggest problem in the fact that people are unwilling to admit that they are idiots.

One of the major steps of growing up is the moment when you realize that adults don’t know what the hell is going on. They know more about the world, of course, but the amount they don’t know on just about any subject of any complexity is always going to outweigh what they actually do know. Of course it is. The world is complicated, and its potential depth of knowledge is deep. This is easy enough to accept. What is less easy to accept is the natural conclusion of the thought: You are almost completely ignorant about everything. Sure, you might be an expert on pulmonary surgery, and I won’t call you ignorant about that particular subject. But even a micro-specialization like that can only be understood to the extent that humans understand it at all. Until people stop dying from surgery, I’d say we still have a long way to go.

On any subject, be it political, scientific, economic, or social, the among you do not know outweighs the amount you know by a vast margin. All of your opinions are founded an hilariously incomplete information. The people who disagree with you don’t necessarily do so because you are smarter than them. They might know something you don’t know, and you might not be aware of it. How could you be?

The fact is that everyone else does know things you don’t know. You know that idiot neighbor you have? The one who lives on Cheetos, quotes Jerry Springer like it is Shakespeare, and digs holes for a living? There is something he knows about and understands much better than you do. You might have a higher IQ than he does, be much better educated, and be able to wipe the floor with him in Trivial Pursuit. But there is absolutely some particular field where if you went up against him you would embarrass yourself. This is an absolute guarantee. If you have never observed this in another person, then you are too stubborn or you have not been paying attention.

Okay, so everyone is an idiot. What’s the solution? Am I suggesting that no one have an opinion about anything? That no one fight political battles, or try to get their ideas taken seriously? Of course I am not. What I propose is much simpler. You just need to admit that you are an idiot, and your knowledge on everything is incomplete. You need to accept that even when other people are demonstrably wrong, they may have some reason for believing what they believe that you don’t know about. If you go around scoffing about how most people are idiots, while tacitly exempting yourself from stupidity, knock it the fuck off. You are part of the problem. We’re not going to solve this whole human condition thing until we all accept the massive limitations of our own intelligence. Empathy, the next vital part of the equation, is likely to follow.

At least, I think it is. I certainly hope it is. I might be wrong.

Also, don’t feel too bad if you didn’t realize that Socrates lived more like 2,500 years ago, not 4,000. If you accepted it without questioning, then you should feel bad. But don’t worry about it. We all do it. Every single one of us.

Friendship in Another Language

Baguette Tradition

 

It took 20 minutes into my first day of my first real cook job for the chef to start yelling at me. How was I supposed to know I was supposed to bring my own knives? They don’t teach that in culinary school. After he berated me for 10 solid minutes, the chef straightened his hat, told me to borrow a knife from someone else, and stormed off. I already felt no confidence at all. I wasn’t really qualified for this job. Now I had to ask one of the other cooks for a knife. On my first day. I didn’t know whether to ask the scary woman from Texas who looked like she could bench press me, or the old woman in the pantry station who had worked there for 30 years and told me she had little patience for “all the new idiots they keep hiring.”

I was cringing in the corner, trying to work up my nerve, when I heard a voice from behind me.

“Here,” he said.

I turned around and saw a short man with glasses. He put a knife on the table next to my cutting board. Before I could say, “thank you so much!” he stepped to the left of the board, pulled out another knife, and started to help me chop carrots.

His name was Claude. He was one of the dishwashers. Later that night, I made him a badass sandwich for his dinner. Over the next few weeks he helped me prep whenever he was caught up with dishes. I made him food, and did my best to make his job easier. Claude was my first friend at the Sheraton. On one memorable occasion, the power went out in the hotel. It was South Florida during hurricane season. It happens. Claude and I were the only two who volunteered to stay. We spent a few fun and very strange hours making sandwiches for the hotel guests by flashlight.

During the next few months I made many more friends among my coworkers. It turned out the scary Texas woman and the pantry veteran were both very nice, once they realized I could handle myself. More employees joined the crew: a few fellow culinary students some temps from South American and Romania, and a new, much nicer, chef. By the time I got my first employee review six months after my hire I was friends with nearly everyone there, and legitimately close with a few of my fellow cooks.

My friendship with Claude, however, never went beyond that casual camaraderie we developed during those first few weeks. It was sad, but not surprising. Another data point in a pattern I noticed before, but never wanted to admit to myself. Claude was Haitian, and his English was about twice as good as my French. My French was terrible. Also, he didn’t speak French. He spoke Kreyòl. Claude was not the first example, but it was the first time I really accepted it: I couldn’t be genuinely close friends with someone who was not fluent in my language.

For me, friendship is all about conversation. Whenever I take an online quiz about what Muppet or Lifesaver’s flavor I would be, I always mark “great conversations with friends” as my ideal way to spend a Saturday night. I fell in love with my wife because during the early part of our relationship we spent hours into the night talking and giggling about anything and everything. My favorite leisure activity is tabletop roleplaying, because a good session of a roleplaying game is just a fantastic conversation where you have superpowers and you get to double cross your friends with no consequences. I can have great conversations with people with vastly different backgrounds, opinions, education levels, or political worldviews.

But it’s impossible to have a great conversation with someone when you don’t speak the same language.

I have always considered this a character flaw. I am one of those people who likes almost everyone, even people who I should probably avoid. Not only did it bug me that I couldn’t get close to a non-English speaker, it made me uncomfortable. It always felt vaguely racist or something, even if I couldn’t exactly say why. It’s the kind of thing you might think, but you aren’t supposed to say out loud or admit to. Especially since it is difficult for many of us not to make emotional judgments about the intelligence of people who struggle to communicate in our language, even when we know intellectually that those judgments are unjustified.

The culinary industry is full of non-native English speakers. Claude was not the last person I felt I could have been good friends with, if I didn’t have this block. There was Ivan the Romanian cook, and Vicente the Mexican dishwasher, and many other coworkers, associates, and classmates over the years. I never wrote off these friendships as impossible. I kept trying, only to be disappointed and frustrated each and every time.

Until Salvatore.

Salvatore was a Mexican dishwasher who was promoted to be my assistant when I was promoted to lead prep cook and baker. His English was close to non-existent. Nearly all of the cooks at this particular high-end steak house (think $40-$96 dollars for a steak with no sides) were Mexican, and nearly all of them started out as dishwashers. This included the sous chef, the lead broiler, and the lead saute, who were three of the most competent people I have ever worked with. Salvatore was the best dishwasher they had at the time. That meant he got promoted.

He was a nice guy and a hard worker, but I was hesitant at how well I could communicate what I needed to him. Fortunately, the daytime dishwasher, Grande, spoke English and Spanish both fluently, and so was available to translate. It was rarely necessary.

Salvatore and I immediately had a good working relationship. He was a visual and kinesthetic learner. When I needed him to do something he had not done before, I showed him. After one or two demonstrations he picked it up.

While we worked, Grande translated some of the jokes that I made to Salvatore, and some of the jokes he made to me. Grande wasn’t going to win any awards for translations, but it was enough to make the prep shift a fun work environment. Plus, some jokes did not require translation, including the reigning lord and ruler of line-cook humor: the dick joke. I could put two oranges next to a baguette and have Salvatore in stitches. Or make references to “me pinto,” Mexican slang for “my penis.” It didn’t take long before I knew words for various body parts and sexual acts in Spanish, and Salvatore knew them in English. When I was young and pretentious I found this kind of humor beneath me. In kitchens, in the thick of it all, I learned to love it.

I taught Salvatore other English words, as well. He was a quick study. Rising the ranks at this restaurant explicitly required learning English, and Salvatore wanted to learn. Since the kitchen was made up mostly of Mexicans, Spanish was also necessary, and I wanted to learn. I taught him about food, and American culture, and he taught me about the Mexican slang and cultural elements I needed to ask for help and fit in with the rest of the cooks.

One day, about six months after Salvatore and I started working together, I came in to find a punishing prep-list. 12 hours of work to do in an 8 hour shift, and it absolutely had to get done before dinner service. I pulled Salvatore aside when he got there, and told him what we needed to do. Over the next few hours the two of us flew across the kitchen, slicing and buttering bread, forming crab cakes, cooking lobster, and making sauce after sauce after sauce. We worked like two arms on a single body, as fast and as hard as either of us had ever worked before. By the end, we both collapsed, laughed, patted each other on the back, and each told the other he was awesome in a mutated combination of languages.

That was the moment it struck me. Salvatore was my friend. Not like Claude had been my friend. Or Ivan. Or Vicente. He was a real friend, more than any of my native-English speaking coworkers with whom I had enjoyed some splendid conversation. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice my barrier disintegrating. I didn’t see that my stupid rule was thrown out the window. I had a friend, and neither of us could communicate with the other – verbally, at least – on anything higher than a 4th grade level.

It was easy, after that. Once a barrier like that is gone, it’s gone. I find non-verbal friendships a lot more accessible, now, and I probably always will. I don’t know if there was something about Salvatore that did it, or if I just had some growing up to do.

It doesn’t really matter.

A Present for the Other Guy

1953 Food Ad, Sophie Mae Peanut Brittle Candy

I’m certainly not going to write a post about Valentine’s day. That picture above is just coincidence.

I really wasn’t going to write one, even when I saw that the Daily Post Challenge was a Valentine’s Day themed story. Then I thought of this one, and I had to write it.

Warning here. This story has discussions about sex and alternative lifestyles. Since I don’t usually write about that kind of thing I felt the need to say that if you don’t want to read about that, don’t. Is this kind of warning necessary these days? It might be. better to be safe.

Threesome clothes pins

“You’re getting Anna a tin of peanut brittle?” Tammi asked with a roll of her eyes. “Seriously?”

“It’s not for Anna,” said Steve. He put the brittle back on the shelf. “I already got Anna stuff.” He indicated the basket that hung off his arm. It contained a stuffed kitten on top of another stuffed kitten, a science-fictiony looking book, and a package of high-end salted caramel.

“Is it for me, then?” Tammi squinted at it. “I do love me a good brittle, peanut or otherwise.”

“When did I ever get you a Valentine’s present? No, it’s for…Andrew.”

“Andrew? You are buying peanut brittle for the guy who is plowing your wife?”

An elderly woman walking by stared at Tammi. Steve cringed.

“I wouldn’t call him the guy who is plowing my wife. More like…”

“Let us conduct a brief questionnaire, shall we? Question one. Is he or is he not plowing your wife?”

“Well yeah, but…”

“Case closed.” Tammi reached over Steve’s shoulder to grab the tin of brittle. She dropped it in her own basket.

“It’s more complicated than that. I mean, he is my friend.”

I’m your friend,” said Tammi. “I’ve know you way longer than Andrew. So why am I buying my own peanut brittle?” She took it out of her basket and tossed it into Steve’s.

“Yeah, but I feel like maybe I’m supposed to get him something.”

“Do you think he’ll get you something?”

“Well yeah, probably. He always gets everyone stuff. He’s that guy.”

“My cats did really dig that laser pointer,” Tammi admitted. “But like you said, he always does that. I certainly don’t feel obligated to buy him anything.”

“Yeah, but it’s different for me. The situation is different. What is the protocol here? Are you supposed to buy a Valentine’s Day present for your wife’s boyfriend?”

“What are you looking at me for? I don’t know the rules for your sick little lifestyle.”

“You are just so hilarious,” said Steve. Tammi grinned. “But seriously. Aren’t your people supposed to know about this kind of thing? Don’t you do it all the time?”

“Your people?” Tammi gasped. “I’m contractually obligated to pretend to find that offensive.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“You are asking me for relationship advice? Because of my oh-so-fantastic track record?”

“Yeah, but you must know people, like, in the community, who…” Steve cut off when he saw Tammi’s incredulous look. “Okay, fine, sorry. But I’m just worried that if I buy him a present I’ll look like a bitch or something.”

“Wow,” said Tammi. “That was actually pretty sexist. I’m impressed.”

“Bad choice of words. A sucker, then. Like…a cuckold or something.”

“Oh Steve,” Tammi touched him gently on the shoulder, “that ship has sailed.”

“Jesus,” Steve wrenched his shoulder away from her hand. “If you’re just going to be a jerk about it, then never mind.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” said Tammi, laughing. Steve glared at her. “Really, I’m sorry! I am!”

Steve sighed heavily. “Alright.”

“Oh, turn here. I need light bulbs.”

“Yeah, me too, now that you mention it.”

“Why do think you are supposed to buy him a present?” Tammi said a minute later as she bent down to look at the large packs of energy-efficient bulbs. “Just because he bought you one? Do you think Anna will be pissed if you don’t?”

Steve paused and titled his head. “No, it’s not that. It’s like…it’s hard to put it into words.”

“You always say that about everything. Try.”

“Well, I mean, I guess I appreciate him?”

“You appreciate him? For plowing your…” Steve shot another glare at her. She threw up her hands defensively. “For being with your wife?”

“Well, yeah. I guess I do. I mean, I know it’s weird. And at first I kind of hated him for it, even though I okayed the whole thing. And don’t you dare tell Anna I said that.”

“It’s in the vault,” Tammi mimed opening up her chest and throwing something inside.

“But now…well, our sex life has certainly gotten more interesting. And it’s pretty nice to get the bed to myself once a week.”

“Except for the cats,” said Tammi.

“Except for the cats,” Steve agreed. “And also, I don’t know. Anna just seems happier. Less stressed out in general. I know Andrew has something to do with that. Plus, even though I don’t have a girlfriend or anything right now, it’s kind of cool to know that I had the option. Like I have this hot friend, and if she ever, say, decided to switch teams…”

“Not going to happen.”

“Just for a single day, hypothetically, in the distant future…”

“No chance, dude.”

“Who says I’m talking about you?” Tammi stared at him. He smiled, and put a light bulb in his basket. “You got what you needed?”

“Yeah,” said Tammy. “This pack says they lasts 900 hours. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

They wandered out of the aisle.

“You really don’t think it makes me look like a loser?” Steve said after a minute.

“Steve,” Tammi stood up, and looked her friend in the eye. “There aren’t any rules here. The whole thing is weird. I thought it was crazy-weird when you first told me about it, and I’m suppose to be the wild one. No one is going to think you are a loser for buying Andrew a present. At least, nobody new.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“You’ve got good instincts. If you are going to screw this thing up it’s not going to be with a package of peanut brittle.”

Steve nodded. “See? I knew asking you was a good idea. Let’s go this way.” They turned down the toy aisle.

“Yeah. It usually is. You thinking about buying him an action figure?”

“It makes sense. But how am I suppose to know which ones he already has? Also what the hell do I know about action figures? I should have scouted out his apartment or something. I wish I hadn’t waited until the last possible second.”

“No need to break a long-standing tradition,” said Tammi.

“Fair enough. At least it was easy to get Anna some good stuff.” He looked into his basket. He squinted. “How did this get in there?” He picked up the tin of brittle.

Tammi shrugged. “You might as well buy it. Just in case. Maybe your subconscious was trying to tell you something.”

“Yeah,” said Steve vaguely. “Maybe.”

“Ooo,” Tammi reached over Steve and grabbed a Wolverine figure, claws full extended. “What about this one?”

Half Wise, Half Blind

Odin

These 33 word entries are kind of addicting. This week’s challenge is to write about love lost, without using any of the following words:

love
sad
tears
wept
heart
pain
I took a mythological approach.

Your fiery hair and wicked smile enthralled me. Our blood flowed as one, till you spilled it onto the frost. The day your child’s teeth are at my throat shall be our reckoning.