Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Snake, the Dog, and the Paramedic

Around 1989, I worked in casting at Ralph Edwards/Stu Billet Productions in Los Angeles. This job consisted mostly of Xeroxing scripts, and videotaping the auditions for cheesy day-time TV shows, like Superior Court, or the ill-fated Family Medical Center.

Since anyone who uses a copier regularly becomes well acquainted with the copy machine fixer person, I became friendly with Jon, the copier guy. He was a tall, broad-shouldered surfer-like dude (I don't know if he really surfed, it's just that most any native LA male under thirty looked like that). He had dirty-blonde, sun-highlighted curls, cut neatly around his face, but still kinda long. He was tan and always wore faded t-shirts, cut-off shorts, and sandals.

One day Jon came in with a cast on his arm. "Dude, what happened?"

"Oh, man ... It's a long story."

"Well, I'm gettin paid. Let's have it." I gathered he had grown tired of telling this story, but I didn't care. I just wanted to use up some minimum-wage time.

"Ok, so Saturday, I'm taking a shower ...", he started out slow, using the letter opener that I never used to relieve an itch down in the smelly, nether regions of his cast. "... when all of a sudden, I hear my wife screaming bloody murder. So I run out naked and soapy, thinking she is being raped or something and see her up on the dresser pointing under the bed - 'Snake! Snake!'"

Phyllis, the divorced, single Mom at the adjoining desk perked up at the mention of naked and soapy. She joined in enthusiastically, "So what did you do then?"

"Well", looking at Phyllis now, he bends over with his arms out in front of him, "here I go down on my hands and knees, trying to see what's under the bed." Phyllis' eyes grow wide behind her brown frames as she blurts, "Oh, my god!", but then quickly covers her gaping mouth with both hands.

A few office folk wandered in alerted by the Phyllis alarm. Jon was in a groove now, "It's dark and dusty under there and I'm not crazy about sticking my arm in, so I crawl slowly further while my eyes adjust to the darkness - only my butt and legs are sticking out now."

He gazes wide-eyed into the faces of his audience and pauses for effect. "I look around under there for a while, but don't see anything snake-like. So I'm just about ready to come out, when the dog comes up and sticks his cold, wet nose smack-dab right in my asshole!

The room erupts in giggles and smirks, as we look around at each other in disgusted amusement. Undaunted, Jon continues, "I scream and jerk up, hitting the back of my head hard on the metal frame of our antique bed, which knocked me unconscious.

So now, my wife thinks that I've been bitten by the snake and calls 911." Here's where the locations guy from across the hall with the comb-over interrupts in a mousey voice, "And that's when you broke your arm?"

"Well, when I come to, my wife tells me not to move - that I have been bitten by a poisonous snake and if I move, the venom will course through my veins, straight to my heart, causing severe cramping, violent convulsions, and finally...death.

I'm confused and light headed - and now scared, so naturally I obeyed.

"When the paramedics arrive, they crowd into the small room and start looking around my body for the puncture wound. One guy - this really big dude - says, 'So, where's the snake?' My wife shrugging says, 'I dunno.' and all three of them start darting their eyes left and right over their shoulders and to the corners of the room.

"Quickly, the captain says, 'Well, we better get him outta here so we can find the wound...' or something like that. So they put me on a stretcher and lift me up high to get past the dresser.

"That's when the snake reappeared.

"The poor thing just wanted to get out of this room that had become too crowded and so went by the quickest route, which just happened to be right between the big guys' legs. Seeing this, my wife thought it an appropriate time to summon another blood-curdling scream, pointing at big man's feet and holding her mouth with her eyes all bloodshot and bugging out.

"The effect of this was to make him do a little dance like one of the elephants in Fantasia. While not the ideal response for a trained professional, this was certainly more gallant than the other guy - the one at my head, who just dropped me, and holding up his hands, walked quickly right out of the house, into the ambulance, and shut the door.

"So now my heads on the floor, my feet are in the air, and it's too late to alter the forward motion of a three hundred pound dancing paramedic."

Jon paused again, but no one could talk, so he added, "My arm got caught in between the stretcher and the floor ... I landed on my arm and the big guy landed on me."

Finally, after catching her breath and wiping away the tears, Phyllis was able to utter, "And the snake?"

"Oh yeah, we both landed on the poor snake. It turned out to be what's commonly called a worm snake – about six inches long, pink, absurdly non-venomous, and in this case - flat."

Strangely, there now arose a polite applause and a few cheers as the crowd dispersed and everyone went back to what they were pretending to do before. This was Hollywood after all, and everything is a performance.

Ironically, Jon was later cast as a paramedic in an episode of Family Medical Center.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Two Rivers

Once there were two kingdoms at war: Mninga in the East and Mnanga in the West. At the top of the tallest mountain in the East lived the Queen of Mninga, and 1000 of her daughters and 1000 of her sons. Likewise, at the top of the tallest mountain in the West lived the Queen of Mnanga, and 1000 of her daughters and 1000 of her sons.

Each palace was physically protected from the brutalities of war due to its altitude, but the two Queens could see clearly down into the valley to behold all manner of atrocities and the greatest of suffering as her sons died violently on the battlefield.

Each day, as the Queens spun spider silk into armor, they gazed out of their windows and into the valley of war below. Each watched helpless as she witnessed the fate of her doomed brood. Every sword to strike a fatal blow moved the mother of the fallen knight to weep 1000 tears. Each tear ran woefully down the castle walls, eventually forming a gushing river below.

The two rivers wound down the mountains, through the valley, and into the rival kingdom where the water was used to turn mills, cool turbines, and irrigate crops. The mills turned to supply power to tanks and air ships. The turbines roared as the workers forged swords and shields and the farmers grew super foods to strengthen the will of the soldiers. The scientists and Generals contrived to improve their yields. The economy thrived and unemployment was at a record low.

One day the Minister of War reported to the Queen of Mninga. His deep voice echoed from his immensity, “Your Majesty, we have lost too many brave knights to the Minangan savages. We must again supplement our troops lest the war effort falter.” The Queen stared gravely at the Minister and then leaned her head back on her throne. Her eyes rolled back and her mouth opened wide. Her breast heaved as she grasped the arms of the golden, bejeweled chair. From each of her forearms grew blisters and lumps, swelling and pulsating as she writhed in pain. Veins and arteries slithered and clotted forming organs and members. Her legs shot out stiff from her petticoats as her calves grew the same protrusions.

From each calf, she bore two male infants, which she nursed presently to adulthood and clad in the spider-silk mail. From her forearms were delivered two female infants, which she nurtured on regurgitated royal jelly. The Queen was weary and wet as she dismissed the Minister with a glance. He diffidently corralled his two new recruits and their two nurses toward the door bowing and saying, “As you wish, my liege,” adding under his breath, “This shall do ‘til the morrow.”

As she recovered, the Queen looked out the window to the East. There lay the Wild Forest, thick and dark. On this day, there was a movement that caught her eye–a small animal, perhaps wounded. She dispatched a guard to recover the thing and determine its allegiance. It turned out to be a young maiden, not more than fourteen. She was naked and savage.

The Queen took it upon herself to domesticate the child as she was in need of a cleaning lady. She dressed her in peasant rags and named her Dnira, which meant “ignorant.” Dnira cleaned up nicely and soon learned to keep the Queen’s chambers in order, blissfully swabbing the tears, mopping the afterbirth, and dusting for spider dross. She often hummed while she worked, sometimes whistling like a bird. She was not bothered at all by the weight of the world.

This made the Queen’s melancholy that much more apparent. She could not understand why she felt so sad. Everyone had jobs and everyone had food, and clothing, and shelter. Her kingdom thrived, yet she still cried. And more than ever the tears flowed out the window and down the wall, taking small bits of sand as they ate away at the mortar, wearing the jagged rocks smooth and spilling into the river below. Finally in desperation, the Queen cried out to the firmament, "Why must I be so unsatisfied?"

Suddenly, a small bird landed on the window sill, startling the Queen to silence. It tilted its head to one side, then the other, and began to sing a simple song as it hopped about. Temporarily forgetting her troubles, the Queen became amused by the blithe performance. At length, she smiled and clapped, but this frightened the bird and it hopped toward the edge of the sill. Looking back at the Queen, it pooped out a black and white mixture before flying away.

Disgusted, the Queen turned and summoned Dnira, “Remove this filth from my view!” The cleaning peasant noticed a seed in the midst of the excrement and unashamed, she picked it out, examining it. She recognized its scalloped edges and dropped it lovingly out of the window and onto the tear-moistened rocks below.

The seed took root and over the years grew to be as tall as the palace. Its branches stretched up to the Queen’s window, obscuring her view. Wild animals made their home in its branches and the little bird raised a family in a nest made of the Queen’s hair and royal threads. The Queen rejoiced in watching the young animals grow and play. She smiled and clapped. The little bird would sing and dance just out of reach of the Queen every morning.

The Minister of War was not pleased. He pleaded with the Queen, “A drought is threatening to dry the entire valley. There will be no water for crops and the economy will collapse!” He tried to show the Queen the dire situation in the valley below, but the foliage of the tree obstructed his aim. He called for the royal secateurs and began lobbing off branches. The Queen protested, but the Minister was possessed. He climbed out the window, his obese bulk teetering on the ledge. The little bird cowered in its nest with its clutch. The Minister reached to sever the remaining branch. The bird pecked at his hand. The Minister recoiled, slipped and lost his footing. He fell screaming to the rocks below.

The Minister’s carcass floated down the dwindling river, plugging up the main outlet into the valley. The Mnangan turbines ground to a halt, seizing from the heat. Great clouds of steam rolled into the heavens as the workers removed their hats and wiped their soiled brows.

The two Queens met in an attempt to revive their war economies, but fell in love instead. The royal matrimony joined the two kingdoms and spread love throughout the valley bringing affection and tenderness to the sons and daughters for the first time in their lives. And they lived happily forever after…

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Crying Room (Chapter One)

The Crying Room is a sound-proofed out-building in the woods. No one knows who built it or exactly how long it has been there. It has just always been a fixture of the neighborhood – somewhat of a legend, especially among the teens at the age when they spend a lot of time in the woods, smoking, looking at dirty pictures, or making out.

In my day, it was situated on land that was technically owned by a Mr. Cristlicht, but he had never been seen on the property and it’s not like anyone actually surveyed for property lines back then. Those woods were in the center of several neighborhoods and they were ours as far as we were concerned. Anything found in them was fair game – first come, first serve. In any case, ownership of land seems so abstract that it borders on the absurd. It doesn’t really apply to The Crying Room anyway. That was different.

Paths entered the wood from many directions, but all convened to one eventually and ended formally at the little shed, where the path became paved with flagstones and moss. It was a single room, rustic and cabin-like from the outside, but quite modern and finished inside.

The room was only big enough for one person. A single wooden, yet comfortable chair was in the center of the small space. The chair was carved ornately from an ancient tree stump, which grew right up from the dirt floor. It was dead in the sense that it never grew much in the enclosed space, but alive in the sense that it never decomposed. The solar tube in the ceiling let in just enough light to allow small suckers and branches of greenery to thrive and stay green – even in the dead of winter.

The walls were stucco or cob and seemed organic – no sharp corners or edges. They were painted a layered blue, green, and yellow that was applied in a way that made the walls seem three dimensional – almost see-through.

One way that it achieved its sound isolation was because it was basically a room within a room, complete with a double door – one for the inner room and one for the outer shell. The thick, wooden outer door had a heavy, carved latch to hold it closed from the inside. The inner door possessed but a single dead-bolt and otherwise looked just like a wall.

There were no windows in the walls or door and the whole structure was built into the side of a steep hill such that the only thing that really showed from the outside was the door. Lush vegetation had grown all around as if being watered by the years of tears that flowed so readily while inside its walls.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cats vs. Chickens

Chickens are not nearly as much fun to squirt with a hose.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who Says?

“Is not.”

“Is so.”

“Is not.”

“Is so.”

“Who says?”

“Tommy Myers said his brother’s collage professor read it out loud in front of the whole class.”

“Hmm, well maybe … but I don’t see how it would fit … Do you think we could go down to the creek?”

“MOM! We’re going to the creek. One time Jess and I caught a crawdad and pulled its claw off and hooked it up to a shocking machine and made the claw open and close with electricity.”

“Whoa! … What kind of shocking machine?”

“Well it was an electronics kit that my brother put together that could shock you.”

“Why would anyone want to be shocked on purpose?”

“'Cause it was totally cool! That’s why. You hold a metal rod in each hand and turn up the pulse rate until your hands start jerking and twisting and you couldn’t let go even it you tried.”

“…Where is it now?”

“Uhh…It’s laying in the driveway all rusted.”

“Oh … Do you like pimento cheese sandwiches?”

“Hell yes! I’ll get my Mom to make us some when we get back. She puts extra mayonnaise on ‘em. Then we can sneak in to my sister’s room and steal some pot. Her boyfriend buys an ounce every week and I take some when ever I want.”

“Don’t they notice?”

“Not as long as you don’t take too much. If you get greedy, you’ll get caught. But even then, they would think it was Jess ‘cause they don’t know I smoke. I told them I was afraid of it.”

“Didn’t they laugh and make fun?”

“Yeah, Kenneth punched me in the stomach and said I looked like a shark … But I'm the one laughing every time I take some of his pot that he has to flip burgers to pay for.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pickle Named Nose (and Onion)

Chapter 1 - Inside

Pickle Named Nose and Onion lived in a glass jar on the second shelf of a refrigerator on Lexington Avenue. Onion was warm-natured and liked to sit down a lot. He really enjoyed living in the cool brine made from vinegar and sugar. His favorite activity was watching the mold grow on cheese.

Pickle Named Nose liked adventure. He wanted to travel and see the world. He often daydreamed of being a bus driver on a big city route and stopping for spaghetti and croutons on the way home from work.

Pickle Named Nose had a great idea.

“Hey Onion, I have a great idea”, said Pickle Named Nose.

“Oh no”, sighed Onion.

You see, Pickle Named Nose was famous for having "great ideas" – like the time he took Steve Peagram, the eighty-pound Lab for a walk with Jellyfish and Toaster - or when he insisted that he and Onion fly a helium balloon to celebrate Melana Melor’s second birthday.

Onion pleaded, "I just want to stay at home today and maybe go swimming in the lemonade or something. I don't want to hear anything about any great ideas. I don't want to go on any adventures. Let's just hang out here with the Lemons today."

Pickle Named Nose appeared to give Onion’s plea the utmost consideration. He lifted his chin and gazed thoughtfully upward wearing his thinking face. After some time, Pickle Named Nose became very animated and yelled, "Here comes the Mom to get milk for the Cheerios. It's now or never!"

And with that Pickle Named Nose bounced off the sponge cake, slid down the soup tureen and wriggled across the raspberry Jello to the bottom shelf of the fridge and flopped out onto the kitchen floor like a flounder on a fish boat.

"C'mon Onion", he whisper-yelled. "Let's go!"

Onion was reluctant to go on any adventures with Pickle Named Nose. But he was even more reluctant to let Pickle Named Nose go on any adventures without him. Onion had rescued him from certain disaster more than once and today was a day just like any other day.

Onion, being more wide than tall, was not as athletic as Pickle Named Nose, being more tall than wide. He slipped on the rim of their jar and dropped like a rock toward the floor.

Hitting the floor at full speed from the second shelf would've been pretty unfortunate for Onion, but just as he was almost there, the Mom shut the refrigerator door, squishing him which was even more unpleasant.

Onion made a noise like, "Pffft" and leaked some juice on the floor.

The Pop came in and immediately questioned, "Why is the refrigerator door opened?" This type of question customarily went unanswered as the Pop looked around inquisitively with his hands turned up and eyebrows raised.

Pickle Named Nose used this opportunity to pull Onion from sight under the fridge with the Dust Bunnys. They knew they could not make the slightest sound. They didn't even breathe.

You see, if the Pop saw any food unattended or not in its container, he would eat it immediately, and ask questions later. They knew that to a Pop, a pickle goes perfectly well with cereal and that a little thing like dust and hair on a squished onion was scarcely an inconvenience. They had even heard of some bizarre urban legend called the three second rule.

Just then the Pop stepped in the onion juice, which soaked thoroughly into his sock. He muttered some language that Pickle Named Nose and Onion could not understand and then slowly closed his eyes, shook his lowered head in defeat and just went back to bed.

Onion regarded the Dust Bunnys, who were a bit uneasy about the unexpected intruders of their breakfast. Onion pat Little Baby Dust Bunny on the nose and said, “Good morning, Little Baby Dust Bunny.” Mrs. Dust Bunny tried to smooth things over by asking, "Would you two like to join us for breakfast?"

Onion immediately shook his head up and down, while Pickle Named Nose quickly scrutinized the breakfast items. There was a big bowl of dust and side dishes of hair and dead skin, and apparently a bug leg to share for desert. “Uhh, no thanks. We’re off on another adventure!”

The Mom and Melana Melor were ready to walk out the door for Briar Rose Home Nursery. Luckily for our adventurers, the back door was right next to the refrigerator.

Pickle Named Nose was poised in sprint position, ready to run like the wind at a moments notice. He knew that the screen door had an Old Spring with a bad disposition that would slam the door prematurely on anybody that pretended they weren’t in a constant state of urgency. He knew that the Mom would not politely hold the door open for a pickle or an onion. He also knew that if he didn’t hold on to his hand, Onion would get squished like a Grape.

The thick wooden door was opened and Pickle Named Nose was set to strike. The Mom stopped to zip up the child’s knitted sweater and put on her knitted cap. Melana Melor looked down and seeing Pickle Named Nose and Onion off on another adventure giggled and made a snort like a pig. Onion looked back with wide eyes, smiled and waved his fingers with his hand right next to his face.

Then the screen door moved and Pickle Named Nose shot through Melana Melor’s feet in a serpentine pattern like an Olympic ice skater, dragging Onion wildly behind him. They frantically searched for a hiding place lest they be discovered by the Mom.

They hid securely behind Sarah the Cat’s food bowl. Pickle Named Nose was panting dramatically for effect.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jaden Church (Part 1)

Jaden Church was born blue as the sun rose pink on Arlington, Virginia. His mother was dead by sun set. The doctor had little motivation to save her as she had no insurance and the family clearly could not afford the expensive and protracted life-saving techniques. There were many insured patients in line for hip replacements.

The nurses began working devotedly with the baby, but the doctor shrieked impatiently that they were wasting time. The shriveled, blue thing was wrapped submissively in a towel and designated for the trash. The grandmother was led from the room and told by the doctor that sometimes God’s plan is not for us to comprehend. He left her alone in the corridor as the intercom belched more important matters.

The old lady stood blank in the long hall for some time, invisible to the underpaid workers rushing by. Jolted from her stupor by a bump to her hip, a nurse impulsively begged forgiveness while rolling a large stretcher past. On top lay a soggy hospital towel concealing its ugliness from the sanitized world. The nurse parked it near some stainless steel doors and rushed off. Instinctively, the old lady grabbed the soggy lump and walked indifferently out the door.

When she got to her car, she laid the package on the worn seat next to her. The door creaked loudly as Maribel tried fruitlessly to shut out the blowing cold. She drove toward her estranged husband, who would not go to the hospital and so did not yet know that his only daughter was dead. At a stoplight, she was surprised to see the towel move. She opened the towel and saw for the first time the sunken face of Jaden Church.

Maribel was tired and could find no love in her heart for this blind runt that was probably retarded. She would not have even taken the baby if she thought it was alive. She had only wanted to make a point. She looked disgusted out of the cracked window and was unconsciously struck by the beauty of the dormant grasses and bare trees along the rural highway. The tall grasses that had crawled out of reach from the industrial mowers were an inimitable bronze-sepia color, encircled by the golden clumps of its mowed cousins and interspersed with the black, leafless branches of native brush and small trees. Together with the red clay and thick fog surrounding the scene, a most beautiful painting by the greatest artist in the universe was on exhibition for all eyes that see. A car honked and drove her forward.

The house was crooked and plain, yet in a “respectable” neighborhood. There was a couch on the front porch with various board games and books keeping it from realizing its duty. The screen door had not yet been fitted with its seasonal storm window and waved languidly in the wind. Maribel entered the kitchen to find the house a bit warmer within than without. She shut the door with her shoulder as she called to her husband.

“Joe, you need to come meet your…grandchild.” He was in the basement “studying”. After a lengthy silence, the sound of despondent footsteps echoed up the barren stairwell. He slowly navigated the corner at the top of the steps into the small kitchen. He kept his head down even after he was done with the steps and shut the door without a sound.

Joe was gray. His hair was gray, his skin was gray, and his eyes were gray. No color could whittle its way through his soul into the physical world. On this day, even the sweat pants and t-shirt were gray. Squinting through his thick, framed glasses covered in dandruff and greasy smudges, he managed, “Where’s Martha?” His wife’s only answer was a harsh look of accusation and disbelief.

He returned his gaze slowly to the floor and drifted habitually into the bathroom where he stayed for three days.


Joe was awoken early Sunday morning to the sound of a crying baby. He walked warily and confused toward the sound, peering in the dim rooms as he passed. The baby lay on the floor in the living room next to the broken TV. It was naked and purple from crying. The carpet near its bottom was soiled with a black tar-like substance which led predictably to the baby’s anus. A fountain of urine rose unexpectedly from a curiously large penis. This made Joe laugh.

He carefully picked up the baby and walked leisurely to the kitchen sink, where he cleaned the baby attentively with dishwashing detergent and napkins amid the dirty dishes. He laid the baby to dry on the kitchen table while he made himself a pickle-loaf and cheese-food sandwich with a glass of homogenized milk. The baby continued to cry.

At some point, it occurred to Joe that the baby might be hungry. He held his sandwich to the baby’s mouth, but it just kept crying. He tore a piece off and gave it to the baby, but that just made it worse. The baby began to choke and wheeze. As he cleared its mouth, he noticed it had no teeth. Joe gazed up to the stained ceiling tiles in laborious thought while scratching his stomach.

Suddenly, he took a bite of his sandwich and a sip of the milk. Chewing methodically, he leaned over the baby and began to drool the mixture into the baby’s gaping mouth. Initially, the baby choked, but in time – either out of gratification or desperation – it swallowed some of the substance.

After breakfast as the baby slept on the table, Joe put on his Sunday suit and modified his hair with his good hand. As he looked into the mirror, he saw the face of a man who had done something. He felt useful for the first time in a long time. He vowed to himself to not make the same mistakes this time around.

Then he turned off all the lights in the house, wrapped Jaden in paper towels and a red and green knitted Christmas stocking, and walked out the back door toward The Bloody Church of Christ.

Jaden slept soundly all through his first sermon.