Sunday, April 12, 2015

On the Way From Toledo


I was dawdling over my fifth cup of coffee at Deacon’s when it happened.

It was just after six am and I’d been busy keeping my counter stool warm for the last 45 minutes. I’d been at the R. A. Stranahan Arboretum with Chester since three thirty that morning, getting B-Roll for a piece on how the Arboretum keeps their collection of magnificent urban flora warm and alive during these brutal Toledo winters. To be honest, I’m pretty sure nobody cares in the slightest about trees in the cold months, but who am I to argue? I don’t pass out the assignments, I just cash the paychecks. Next my editor will have me doing a story about where the ducks go when the pond freezes, and I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been a thing anybody has cared about since the 50s.
After filming the ever-suspenseful winterizing process for the Arboretum, (They wrap the trees in scarves and give them giant mugs of hot cocoa. Well, that’s not true, but what do you care?) we opted for a late-night/ass-break of day breakfast over at Deacon’s Diner. The diner wasn’t in Toledo proper; it was further southeast, in Abingdon, near the lake. Deacon’s is nothing fancy, but with their motto (It’s Supposed to Taste Like That) how can anybody resist?
One incredibly unhealthy (and therefore extra delicious) breakfast and two steaming cups of Joe later, Chester and I were satisfied and warm. We swiveled our stools around to look out of the windows behind us. At just after five twenty, it was still black as sin outside. The small oases of light that the parking lot lamps made where reflected back in the countless snowdrifts around the lot’s perimeter. This led to great views of piles of dirty snow, and little else. The small herd of parked cars were huddled as close to the entrance as possible, to make the door-to-door journey more tolerable for the patrons. Truck drivers weren’t so lucky. They had to park at the far end of the lot and hope they made it to the building before their balls froze off.
Currently, there was only one truck parked. It was an old bruiser of a vehicle. I couldn’t see it since it was so far from the window and the falling snow did its best to obscure everything outside, but the distinct neon green cab and the word “Micmac” in large, black Helvetica letters are clearly visible from the warmth of the diner. Chester and I played a little game of “Coming From? Going To?” with the semi, to keep our minds occupied.
“From NORAD, to Area 51,” I said.
“Neither of those places are near here. You’re an idiot. I say Mount Rushmore to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Chester replied.
“How very National Treasure of you,” I said. How about the Overlook Hotel, all the way to ‘Salem’s Lot in Mai…”
The discordant chime of the entrance being opened brought us out of our game and forced us to turn our attention to the front door. The fact that somebody was coming into the diner took everybody by surprise, because, as far as I could gather from the nonplussed expressions being universally worn around the room, nobody had heard a car pull into the lot or park. And with the odd, echo-y sound effects falling snow can create, we should have all heard a parking car as well as feet shuffling on the wooden floor of an empty room.
A stranger entered the diner. Which is actually a more ominous thing to say than it really is, when you consider that besides the doughy cameraman on the stool to my left, everybody else there was a stranger to me. Hell, who knows if there is even a Deacon? The new customer was borne in on a cloud of snowflakes and frozen wind. He was a tall man, though his height was most likely augmented by his large, black boots. He was wearing a black suit with the lithe ease of a person who is probably not used to wearing anything else. He looked like he slept in that suit. Not that it was wrinkled, or anything, it just had an air of belonging on him, like he was unsubstantial underneath and much like taking the wrappings off a mummy would lead you to an empty space (if cartoons are any gauge of how the Egyptian mummification system worked, that is) I got the feeling that if you removed his suit, you’d find an empty space there too, where a body should be.
He walked directly up to the counter and sat down on the stool next to me, waving the waitress over.  Being next to me, I didn’t really have the opportunity to study what he looked like, because just staring at random people a foot away from you is usually frowned upon in society. I turned around back to the counter and tried to ignore the odd sensation I felt when the stranger had walked in. My eyes traveled around the room as much as they could without me turning my head too much and making a spectacle of nosiness. I knew it couldn’t just be me and the pervasive, shared uneasiness confirmed it. I saw nothing but looks of bafflement mixed with dread. As if everybody in the diner was 75 percent sure they had just eaten raw chicken and weren’t entirely sure which end it was going to come out of, but they knew it was going to be explosive. The room filled with the tangible weight of looming, but incoherent apprehension.
I reined in my eyes and focused on the cup in front of me, my conversation with Chester forgotten. That’s when the stranger spoke.
At this point, I wish that I had that Mary Lou Henner disease, because looking back on it, I barely remember anything he said. And we just talked a few hours ago. Maybe my brain didn’t want to remember his words. Maybe as an evolutionary thing, our brains are wired to delete the really bad stuff. I’d heard stories from vets about being in war and blacking out, their minds turning off to scenes of utter violence and destruction. Or maybe it’s like people who had traumatizing events happen when they’re kids, but only remember after several expensive psychiatric appointments.
I remember only that the stranger’s name was Mr. Brooks and he said he was a collector. Not entirely sure what he collected. I’m pretty sure I made a joke about Antiques Roadshow which he laughed off with a wave of a very thin, papery, translucent hand with faint streams of blue veins peeking through the skin. He mentioned that his collection had more to do with rare, but non-valuable items. He owned one-of-a-kind possessions with value only to a small number of people in the world. It didn’t make much sense to me, but then again, I collected lunchboxes featuring cartoon characters when I was a kid and in hindsight, that doesn’t make much sense either.
I know that I asked him why he was in town, but his response is somewhere, lost in my foggy brain. He was in town on business. Though, who has business in Toledo in the middle of December, is a mystery to me. Something about flowers maybe? I think he mentioned flowers blooming. From what I had just seen at the arboretum, I was pretty sure that flowers didn’t bloom in the winter, but I distinctly remember the word Rosebud.
And here things get even more disjointed. You know how in dreams you end up changing locations, or the people around you will mutate into other people, but instead of being confused by the environment being so fluid, you just go with it? You’ll be in your bedroom, say, and then you turn around to walk out and all of a sudden you’re at work. Shit like that. Well, that’s kind of how the rest of things went with Mr. Brooks and our conversation. One minute he’s sitting next to me and I’m trying to wash the taste of something disturbing he told me (Something about cats? Dogs? A couch?) out of my mouth with a swig of coffee, and the next minute, he’s gone, the stool’s empty and I’m just staring into the black abyss of my mug of coffee, feeling uncomfortable without knowing why. Like somebody walked on my grave.  I know that sounds weird and overly dramatic. I can’t help it. As a journalist, I’m supposed to be entirely objective; I rarely get to tell any stories with emotional content or depth. So please excuse my attempts to channel a better storyteller. Anyway, like I said: disjointed.
However Mr. Brooks managed to disappear from Deacon’s, the diner instantly let out a collective sigh of release. We all felt better. He had taken the oppressive vibe of dismay with him and left us to contemplate how to spend the rest of our day. Most of the early morning customers cleared out, emptying the parking lot with them. Even the big rig in the back left.
Fifteen minutes and another cup of coffee later and we’re back at the beginning of the story. Life is circular like that. Like a big old pointless circle that goes around and around, usually trapped in place. At least wheels get to travel. Especially the 18 wheels of a tractor trailer.
It was just after six am when I got the call.  Seems that a couple of young girls had decided that sledding at Dark O’Clock in the morning was a good idea. Turns out that it is was the worst idea. One of the girls went down a hill that led straight out onto I-98. I guess they figured that by going so early in the morning, the road would be empty enough that cars wouldn’t be a problem.
My editor called me while I was still at Deacon’s. He had us go over to the hill to try and get whatever footage and interviews we could. You know how it is, if it bleeds, it leads. So, we paid our bill and headed over to eastern Abingdon to learn what we could.
It was a horrific scene, to be sure. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Nobody needs to know what happens to a 105-lb human body when it encounters an 80,000-lb monster of metal and noise. I tried to interview the surviving girl, but she was hustled away before I could speak to her. Losing a sibling can’t be easy, a twin even more so. I was able to interview the truck driver, but he wasn’t much help. His words kept sputtering and he was too dazed to get anything out other than his breakfast from Deacon’s that he’d thrown up on the side of the road. I stayed there with Chester for about 40 minutes, but nobody was very talkative. From the cops, to the guys tasked with cleaning things up and getting the remains to the hospital, it was a wall of silence. I hadn’t expected much in the way of good quotes anyway. It was a tragedy, but not a rare one. Well, I guess an identical twin seeing the death of their other half is a rarity, but that kind of tidbit won’t bring in The Great Unwashed or boost the ratings.
The only thing that did stand out to me is that at one point, after the sun had risen and the snow had stopped falling, I looked up to the crest of the hill and even from 70 yards away, I could see a single figure up at the top. I couldn’t make out the details of the figure’s face, but their black clothing stood out in stark contrast to the frigid ocean of white around them. The person was just standing there, looking over the busy scene at the bottom of the hill, full of bright, rotating lights, loud engines and people scurrying around, busy in their morbid work. The next thing I knew, the figure was gone, disappearing into the snowy landscape.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that the body of the deceased girl had disappeared from the county morgue. Just vanished. Nobody knew what had happened to the remains. It became quite the scandalous mystery, for about two weeks, before people lost interest. And in the end, there was no body to bury under the tombstone for Rosemary “Rose” Budston.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

All The Awkwards


I want to reclaim the word “awkward*.” I don’t mean awkward in the sense that you and your bro want to celebrate a particularly good play in a sporting event so you go in for a high five and he goes in for a fist bump. I mean…

Shit. What is the actual definition of awkward anyway? Let me start over.

To me, the word “awkward” has been watered down way too much in recent years. Much in the way that skulls somehow got painted pink and bedazzled until they stopped being symbols of death and transmogrified into cutesy decorations fit only to be worn by ridiculous teens, “awkward” is now just a dismissible foible instead of the status-maintaining safeguard it was installed to be.

To be awkward is to fail to grasp the simplest of human interactions and customs. It doesn’t denote a lack of intelligence or anything. Just a certain…”not getting it.” While existing around other creatures of the same species tends to be a no-brainer to most, to some it’s a grueling gauntlet of unavoidable peril, crushed feelings, misheard words, misunderstood intentions and a general pain in the tokus.

You know. Awkward.

I’m awkward. Really awkward. There’s nothing cute about it. It’s not an “oh you!” kind of situation. I don’t comically bump into things while I walk in a clumsy, yet endearing way. Example? Here’s a conversation between two normal people (I assume):

Bob: Hi Deacon! How are you today?

Deacon: Salutations Bob!** I’m doing alright. Can’t complain. I’m just on my way to the store to buy napkins. Bye!

Bob: Bye!

Now, here’s a conversation with me:

Bob: Hi Josh! How’s it going?

Me: Shit man. It’s already two in the afternoon and I’m not nearly as drunk as I should be.

Bob: Well, maybe you should consider putting your pants back on. You’re starting to scare the Chuck E. Cheese employees. Not to mention the kids.

Me: But this is the best way to see the flesh decay and fall off of my rotting bones as the inevitable march of time slowly destroys us all!

Bob: Security!

Me: SKIBALL!!!

It’s not fun. It really isn’t. I’m in a perpetual state of befuddlement about even the most basic things. Like facial expressions.  A real grumbacher.  Are people supposed to practice smiling in the mirror? Probably not, but I do. Getting the ends of my mouth to curl up takes practice. Plus I find that people are less put off when your face isn’t just a blank slate, (by the way, people who smile at nothing in general when their faces are in a resting state scare the shit out of me.)

Also, tact can be a fairly alien concept to me. I’ve been accused of speaking without taking into consideration such foreign notions as other people’s feelings, or how my words may come across. I have enough trouble trying to convey coherent thoughts and ideas; making sure my words go down with a spoonful of sugar seems like extra credit for me. Gotta crawl before you can walk.  I’m not tactless in an “I keep it real” way, just an “I don’t know any better” kind of way.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m on the spectrum. But I know I’m not. That’d be a cop out. An easy excuse for my uncouth mannerisms. Then things I say and do could be quickly waved away as the behavior of a buffoon. I could walk up to somebody and just piss myself while maintaining their gaze and they’d just give me a gentle pat on the head, a reassuring “there, there,” and send me on my way, knowing I tried my best and I’ll probably get Jell-o later as a reward.   

I’m just awkward.

And it has cost me a lot. I routinely bungle friendships, relationships, napkin-buying jaunts, etc. A life that’s a comedy of errors is one thing when it’s directed by Truffaut, or if it happens to Ignatius Reilly, but it’s demoralizing when it’s your actual life. It’s frustrating, because as far as I can tell, we’re all looking at the same 3-D illusion, but only you guys can see the goddamn schooner.

The answer, by the way, is not to “get out there and interact more,” with people. That’s callous advice, dispensed by those who don’t understand the problem enough to care about a solution. That’s like telling a nerd that if he wants to get beat up less by bullies, he needs to hang out around more bullies. That’s a recipe for pummelings galore. I’ve found that the best solution for me is to stay away from people. I’m never going to figure out how to be less awkward. And you normies will never be tolerant of somebody who’s confusing and contrary, seemingly for the sake of shits and grins.

So I try to limit my social interaction. Because I know better. Being “awkward” may sound like some opportunities for hilarity, but it’s not. It’s not a good thing, no matter how you slice it. And if I have to live with the never-ending and sometimes far-reaching consequences of my awkwardness, then I’ll at least own it.

I’ll own all the awkwards.


*Don’t even get me started on reclaiming the word reclaim.


**”Salutations”. See? I already got the hellos wrong. How do you people do this?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

How to Lose a College Scholarship in Ten Days (The Lost Entries)

I used to tell myself that I could never regret anything in life as long as I learned a lesson from it, (of course, I also used to tell myself that I could fly, which is how I ended up in traction for eight weeks, but I digress). My belief in that was sorely tested the day I was kicked out of college (for the second time no less.)

College certainly isn’t for everybody and that’s something I proved quite well with my 0.0 GPA (did you know that college has these things called “classes”? and in these classes people “study” from “books”? I was completely flabbergasted to learn that. What’s next, scores and grades based on merit and skill? That’s crazy!)

The first time I was kicked out of college made my parents furious. They tore their hair, ripped their clothes, gnashed their teeth and wailed to the heavens. Which is all bad, but it could have been worse.

The second time I was kicked out of college, it was worse.

There was no wailing, no gnashing, to tearing or ripping, simply a sad look and a light declaration of disappointment. Ah yes, the disappointment, always a million times worse than a slap in the face. It doesn’t bruise you physically, just mentally. You know that you’ve exasperated somebody to the point of frustration and resignation when they say they’re “disappointed.” I’d rather my parents kick me out of the house.
           
But they didn’t kick me out of the house, so I had to do it myself. With two suitcases and $200 in my pocket, I left my home to make my way in the world, thereby demonstrating to my family once and for all that I was somebody and I would make something of myself!
           
Didn’t really work that way though. Within a week I was broke and homeless. I lived in the stone cellar at the house of a friend of mine. My friend didn’t actually live in the house, see, he had neglected to pay his electricity bill for about, oh, four months, which means that he spent all of his time enjoying the air-conditioning at his girlfriend’s apartment two towns away, while I suffered through one of the hottest summers I’d ever known, trapped in a dead house with no food. Good times!
           
Finally, I could take no more. So, I went to the local Army recruiter station. One thing led to another and within a few months I found myself in boot camp at Fort Knox.
           
Because I do have (at least some) skill in writing, because I was an English major and because I didn’t know any better. I joined the Army as a journalist. For five years, (including two tours in Iraq, motto: Come to Iraq, you might not die!) I wrote hundreds of news, feature and personality stories, as well as movie reviews, restaurant reviews and vacation spot reviews. I learned a great many things and got oodles of real world experience that I never would have had if I had stayed as an English major in college. Like how to shoot a gun with one hand while shooting with a camera in the other one (a very valuable skill that has served me well since I left and became a marketing director). Or, more practically, how to interview people, talk to them and ask good questions. I honed my (limited) writing skills. I made important contacts in the newspaper world and I got my stuff published in newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs all over the world. I was translated into a dozen languages and even had some of my pictures featured on CNN and Fox News, (though bragging that I got something on Fox really isn’t a good thing.)
            
Getting kicked out of college was what started the chain of events that lead to me becoming a well-respected war correspondent (get a load of the ego on me!) who had his two minutes of fame, (which means I still got 13 more to go.) What I lost by not finishing my education, I more than made of for with experience, knowledge and a whole slew of adventures. So, in the end, I don’t really regret leaving school, because it led to so much more.

Besides, I’m no fool. I signed up for the Montgomery G.I. Bill., meaning I get to go to school for much cheaper, whenever I feel like it. Look out college, I’m gonna get that English degree! Or at least teach all those young whippersnappers the proper way to do a keg stand.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Language of Love


What happens when you take a short story and run it through both Google and Bing translators a dozen times? You get a story that has traveled the length of English, Spanish, German, Arabic, Greek, Klingon --seriously, why that even a legit option?-- Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, Latin and finally English again. 
You get THIS:

It is love at first sight.

When they first met Gregg Francis down. It ended suddenly, his arrival, and was successful. His duties from his exile home in 10 years, his wife's car and he was hiding under the mattress of angry 20 year old porn, dirty garage next door was stolen. 

As a busy masturbation Cough changes from the worst, he lost his right hand and draw your imagination despair recommends car. Gregg saw anger and resignation as dark tail lights has melted, still around his ankles, he ran out of the room on the second floor in pants and a brick.

When Gregg returned to the room, he saw. If you've seen the original masturbation room, or how much you are thinking. When he came into the room, so that further deterioration of attention. The door behind him, he's the best smile closed.

This is a six months ago. Gregg Bullock as two inseparable. Gregg has done it all. Watch movies, eat,Barnes Noble Bookstore & super. We should not close the position.

When possible, Gregg secretly watch the audience, still alone in a small apartment in rent Gregg in his audience. Please enjoy the beautiful curves of the body. Vision, cannot calm thinking outside touch her, really happy.

Gregg decided to Toledo, take the time to prepare. Cities, work and life, and you always want, all new life, Brooke knew found it to be rich! Got power and respect! And his team made by Brooke together.

Even in the Dim light of a summer evening, Gregg Avenue block, the Navy, banking system, he was on his way home. It is to get money, your life, as long as the Gregg plan, the unknown aspects of love and leave in the evening in Toledo.

Depart from several corners of the contact section, bare brick walls and fly to another block to the South.

Hi,» said the shadow. white meat, which stopped the steps to do it. "
Gregg looks very nice person to block off the road. Summer sun and Gregg young latin it looks a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic hand dryer with stand, I think fall. Gregg as bathrooms, drinking wine do not know the final product, you know, the usual signs of drug use. In his spirit and Bay Park Community Hospital, a few blocks away, perhaps the only escaped narkomanka Hospital program.

"You are what you want in an American just bad," said Gregg.

Gregg depending caused panic eyebrows and looked at me. "We'll talk to people. Close to hell and give me the money! "

"I will listen to you my wallet, but nothing. Gregg said, but you should be able to leave the woman alone!. "

What is it? Shut up and give me your wallet! "the response and drug addicts.

Gregg in the Pocket, slowly moving his left hand pulled back his wallet as well. I think he only depends on the maintenance of peace and peace go hard and Brock Lesnar would go ahead. "It's all over in a matter of minutes, and we will make the child quietly," she whispered.

Preparing to gently pull my wallet and took it to Gregg addicts, it happened. his eyes Gregg addiction, you are mistress no pressure. Street. Life. Brook jumped in after cooked my hands, and then he was shot in the lane. Fan-shot echo brick wall, everything seems to be, but in fact started taking a few seconds.

Gregg bow. Interest is addictive, signed in front of the hole in the Penumbra only bloody thing wrong.In the foot, a man near and Gregg. Head and a variety of drugs. Only produced softball size coarse or crude oil, about a big hole. Brain, even in the whole body of land who knows what. Gregg noted the women to abhor. Shake. See her suck.

"Love you Brooke", he said. "He saved our lives. Thank You. "

The only answer is still smoking pipe.


ORIGINAL VERSION

It was love at first sight.
Gregg Francis was down and out when he first met her. His life had come to an abrupt and complete halt. He had been fired from his job, kicked out of the house by his wife of ten years and his car had been stolen from the motel parking lot while he was busy inside his dingy room, furiously masturbating to the 20-year-old porno mag he found underneath the mattress.
He was lost in his fantasies and working the desperate motions of his right hand when the familiar throaty cough of his car’s engine caught his attention. Gregg ran out of his second-floor room with his pants still around his ankles, staring in anger and resignation as the tail lights melted away into the darkness.
When Gregg walked back into the room he saw her. He had no idea how long she’d been in the room or if she saw him in his earlier onanistic activities. But his concerns melted away when he entered the room. A smile appeared on his lip as he shut the door behind him.
That had been six months ago. Since then, Gregg and Brooke were inseparable. In everything that Gregg did, he took Brooke with him. To the movies, dinner, the local Barnes and Noble mega bookstore. She never left his side.
Whenever possible, Gregg would sneak looks at her in public, and when they were alone together in the small studio apartment that Gregg rented, he stared at her openly. Admiring her curves, her body, her beauty. His heartbeats would falter at the sight of her and at the thought that she was truly his. He couldn’t have been happier.
Gregg decided that he had spent enough time in Toledo and he was ready to move on. Find a new city, job and life, and he knew that with Brooke his new life would be everything he had always hoped for. He would be rich! He would gain power and respect! All because of what he felt he could accomplish with Brooke by his side.
So in the gloaming one summer night, Gregg and Brooke made their way down Navarre Ave. to the bank machine nearest his apartment. Gregg’s plan was to get out as much money as he could and leave Toledo that night for parts unknown, with the love of his life.
 As the couple turned the corner on South  Coy Rd., a shadow detached itself from a brick wall and bared their way.
“Hey whitemeat, not another step,” the shadow said, “you’re just gonna stop right there.”
Gregg took a good look at the person blocking their path. In the sinking summer sun Gregg could see that he was a young Latino with a visible twitch and a 9mm semi-automatic Glock in his hand. Though Gregg wasn’t familiar with drugs past the alcohol he didn’t drink so much as bathe in, he recognized the signs of a habitual drug user. It made sense, Bay Park Community Hospital was just a few blocks away and this junky had probably just escaped from a treatment program at the hospital.
“We’ll do whatever you want man, just don’t hurt us,” Gregg said.
The junkie just stared at Gregg, his eyebrows dipped in consternation. “You don’t need to talk man. Just shut the hell up and give me your money!”
“Listen, I’ll give you my wallet, but there’s nothing in there. But please just leave the woman alone!” Gregg said.
“What? Shut up and give me your wallet!” the junkie replied.
Gregg slowly moved his left hand to his back pocket to pull out his wallet. He just wanted to keep the junky calm and get the ordeal over with so that he and Brooke could go in peace. “Keep quiet baby and this will all be over in a minute,” he whispered to her.
Cautiously, Gregg pulled the wallet out and brought it in front of him and got ready to give it to the junkie when it happened. Gregg looked into the junkie’s eyes and could just see that he and his lady weren’t going to make it off of S. Coy Rd. alive. The next thing he knew Brooke had leapt into his hands. Then a shot rang out in the alley. The echo from the gunshot reverberated on the brick walls for what seemed like an eternity, but was really just a few seconds.
Gregg looked down. At his feet lay the junkie, a small hole in his forehead and a light trickle of blood were the only signs that there was something wrong. With his foot, Gregg turned the guy over. The back of the junkie’s head no longer existed. All that was left was a large hole, about the size of a softball, which was ragged and raw. Brain matter and who knew what else, littered the ground underneath the body. Gregg turned away, disgusted, to focus his attention on his lady. She was shaking. He sighed contently.
“I love you Brooke,” he said. “You saved our lives. Thank you.”
Silence was the only reply from the still smoking barrel.