Short Fiction

The Speechwriter

Hillary paced back and forth in front of the speechwriter; her hands entangled and writhing behind her back, grasping for the right words to firmly express her frustration. They’d been locked in this office for the past two hours struggling to put the finishing touches on what would be the biggest speech of her life. The Democratic National Convention was just an hour away, 60 minutes before she would make U.S. political history, and she was going to be damned if her speech wasn’t impeccable.


The speechwriter, a forty-something white guy who also wrote for her husband during his Presidential tenure as well as other, lesser political constituents, knew what she was asking for, but not why, or how it would work in the context of the speech or the occasion. He shuffled his feet, showing his hesitance before ever speaking it, and began to respond but was immediately interrupted as Clinton’s frustrations boiled over.

Have you ever given a speech in front of thirty million people, Joel? Can you even begin to imagine the amount of pressure I am under right now? Do you know what people are going to say about me, what the media will say about me if I go out there and give a dry mouthed speech? Did you even watch Tim’s speech? Did you see his Trump impression?

Joel kept his eyes down, skimming paragraphs for opportunities while waiting for the rant to end. Outbursts like these were something he had grown accustomed to working with Hillary throughout the years. He knew it came from a good place though, a drive for perfection, and once she was able to vent her frustrations they would continue to move forward again. Ma’am, with all due respect…

Oh, shove your respect up your god damn ass, Joel. This is my moment. My convention. My stage. I want jokes, I want goofs, I want gaffs, I want memes, references, impressions, and I want MORE of them, Joel. Save your bland message speeches for that low life from Illinois. Give me the zingers.

Mrs. Clinton, with all due respect, I think we’ve got a pretty good ratio as it is. I mean, we’ve got the “odd” jab at Trump. I think that could be a good one if you downplay the first “odd,” but really emphasize the second. The crowd will go crazy. Here, you reference Hamilton, that will be great for your upper-class African American demo, and the middle-aged white women who want to show solidarity with the upper-class African American demo demo.

What about the science line? We kept that in, right? Can’t we work some kind of Breaking Bad reference in with that? “I believe in science, bitch,” something like that? Or, maybe just like, I pause and cock my head at the camera, “Science, bitch!?” Hillary followed the exclamation with a throaty imitation of cheering.

I don’t think that’s really appropriate for…

No, you’re right. What about Bernie? We’ve got to work in some kind of low key goof on that guy, he was such a pain in the ass the past six months. And even now, he can’t just get up there and say, “hey, Hillary’s great, vote for her, blah, blah, blah?” He’s got to ramble on for thirty minutes about godknowswhat? And of course he brings up that damn TPP deal, despite…he just talks too much. And what’s up with his mouth? He’s always stopping to lick his lips, like he should be wearing a Camelbak when he gives a speech. Not to mention he let those twerps in the audience cheer for what seemed like an hour. Can’t get the guy to shut his mouth in any other circumstance, but put him in front of a few cheering knuckleheads and all of a sudden he doesn’t know how to speak. And God help me if I see those motherfuckers in the Wikileaks shirts during this speech, I’m going to go fucking nuclear. Do they not understand where they are?

I think we’re getting a little off track, ma’am. Let’s just focus on refining what we’ve got, I think it’s a great speech. We have to walk the line between substance and fluff. The truth of the matter is you’re going to be the first female presidential nominee in U.S. political history, and you’re running against a guy who is by all accounts a narcissistic lunatic. You don’t have to do much here except stay the course.

The speechwriter knew this persuasion wouldn’t sit well with Hillary, but this long of a tangent was unprecedented in their collaborations and only seemed to be getting longer; he was grasping at straws.

Joel, I didn’t get here by “staying the course.” I’m making history tonight, the DNC is making history tonight; I want my speech to reflect that.

Of course, Mrs. Clinton, I didn’t mean to insinuate anything. Maybe we could bring Bill in, get a fresh pair of eyes on the speech?

Hillary returned to the tufted leather executive chair, and picked up the phone without responding to the speechwriter. While they waited for Bill arrive the speechwriter continued to comb through the monologue. By his measure it was all there. The speech may have lacked the poetic breeze of Barack’s, or the emotional authority of Michelle’s, but it was dogged, and policy-oriented; not spectacular by any means, but representative of Hillary’s practicality. He knew the jokes were a reach for her, and they needed to keep it light, but too much would spell disaster, despite how adamant she was about putting in more. She wanted this moment to feel like a celebration, like thirty million people were all somehow in the same room reveling in a momentous occasion with their best friend.

Bill entered the room teeth first with the air of a sixteen year old who just got stoned for the first time. He stood between Hillary’s desk and the speechwriter’s sofa and shared grinny glances with both before casually placing his hands behind his back and halfheartedly stifling his smile.

Bill, thanks for coming in, we’re at a little bit of an impasse on the speech and wanted to get some fresh ears on it.

Sure thing, Joel.

OK, well, we’re trying to strike a balance between message and levity. I really feel like we’re there, or close at least. I’m afraid of going too far…

That sounds wonderful, Joel, just lovely.

Alright, well, we’ve got the “odd” jab that I know you liked.

Hilarious, really, truly funny.

We’ve got this extended sequence where Hillary points out all the different countries that make Trump’s products.

Just wonderful, love it.

OK, we’re making it a point to thank Bernie for his support and for pushing the party forward.

Absolutely, Bernie’s magnificent.

Hillary swiveled her chair around at this remark, knotted her fingers, and rested her hands on the desk.

I really think we should try and work in some kind of low-key jab at Sanders. A “Bern” if you will, Hillary smirked, leering for approval. I mean the guy was really a pain in the ass during the primaries.

Without question, Hill, really stick it to his pompous ass.

And I would like to do some kind of impression too. You saw Tim’s, right? Why can’t I do something like that?

Oh boy, that was great. Did you see that, Joel? Who knew Timmy was keeping that in his back pocket?

I do a pretty good Melania. What if I got up there and just started repeating Michelle’s speech from Monday, but in a Melania voice.

That’d be a real hoot, babe. Bill, genuinely chuckling at this point, kept his hands carelessly rested in the small of his back.

Hillary sat stock straight in her executive chair, pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes, and spoke in a gravely and accented, robotic voice: “Kids like the black boy who looked up at my Donald, his eyes wide with full hope, and wondered, ‘Is my hair like yours?’”

Too good, Hill, too good. Say, you’ve got something in there about Donald’s hair, right, you’ve got to, that'll kill, 'buh-leeve me'.

I think we’ve lost the thread here a bit. If we could get back to the speech real quick, I think here, where you’re talking about being poised, and having the right temperament we could probably fit something in about his Twitter account. Something about not trusting the man who uses Twitter like a 12 year old gamer gate sympathizer with the nuclear codes?

Maybe I could tag it with, “hashtag delete yourself.”

No, you've already kind of done that, and I really don’t think you want to say “hashtag 'anything,'” in any speech, let alone the speech accepting the Democratic presidential nominee.

Hillary took a few moments to gather her thoughts, staring reflectively at the ceiling, before adding: What about my hot sauce?

Excuse me?

Should I bring up how much I like hot sauce again? I’ve got some right here in my purse. "My plans for middle America are hotter than Mad Dog 357!"

No, I think we’re alright on the hot sauce mentions.

We could workshop it a little bit. That was just off the top of my head.

She really does love hot sauce, Joel, 'buh-leeve me.'

No, no, I think we’re good on that front. Overall I think it’s a really solid speech, and I’m really happy with it. I think once you get out there, and get going, you’ll turn into something special. Right now we’re just overthinking it.

After settling into a friendly silence following the deliberation the moment had come. Hillary stood up and took Bill’s extended hand effortlessly. As the two walked out of the office Hillary turned and asked the speechwriter one final question.

Joel, what if as I approach the podium I did the Hulk Hogan ear cup?

Buzzer Beater

Aldon checked the remaining time on the clock. He glanced at his surroundings, registered the positions of everyone around him, took a moment to formulate his game plan for the remaining forty-five seconds. He visualized a path accounting for possible obstacles, pitfalls, actions and reactions. He imagined everything falling into place just as the last second ticked off the clock, he imagined hands held in the air, high fives, chest bumps, shoulder grabs and ear to ear smiles; all to the deafening adoration of his peers. Aldon took pride in his consistency. This unwavering effort, from the time the clock started until the second it stopped, kept him energized during lulls and breaks; but he secretly enjoyed moments like this. Everything previous to this rendered meaningless in the face of an expiring clock and one final shot. He could feel the nervous energy pulsing throughout the floor, a mixture of excitement and fear. The anticipation of an ending coupled with the fear of it not being the desired outcome, but cherishing every second of it.  Aldon was the maker of that excitement right now. His jersey felt heavy with meaning, a symbol that represented a community of people all rooting and working together for a common goal. He checked the clock again. Aldon was ready. He clicked the print button.

The mouse click reverberated in his head like a gunshot. Aldon realized his error before the printer had even begun printing. He was mid-stride when he heard the spools fire up; the sound had become a Pavlovian reminder to check the printer’s ink levels. He watched the output tray nervously, hoping for the best. The whirring gears suddenly sounded as loud as construction work in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Everyone in the office stood slowly from behind their desks, lifting their heads over the cubicle walls and silently hoping that the printer had enough residual ink to print the weekly calendar for the conference room.

The paper slipped out from between the feed rollers at a faster than normal velocity, something else Aldon would have to look at, slid over the output tray, and flew into mid-air. Aldon, frozen in place, watched as the paper floated to the floor. It weaved back and forth in the air, teasing its contents, and eventually landed face up. A brief feeling of exhilaration rushed over his body as he saw all of Monday through Friday printed in glorious 1,200 DPI black and white, followed by the conference room hours: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, and a slightly faded, but definitely passable, 12:00. But at 1:00 the black softened to a middling-gray and lightened drastically more by 2:00. By 3:00 the gradient was harsh and blocky, and barely visible. By 3:15 the printed calendar gave way to one-thirds of untouched, brilliant white, printer paper.

Aldon checked the wall clock: 5:00. He looked around the office for support, but his co-workers had already started filing out of the door one at a time. Each person wore the jersey of their favorite team or player. The procession resembled a line of homecoming game losers more than an office full of customer support specialists heading home after a long casual Friday. He grabbed his over coat and headed for the door as well, leaving the paper on the floor.

Aldon ran through possible explanations as he walked to his car. With the initial shock of the moment gone, he could now concentrate on why it happened. He knew he should have changed the cartridges earlier in the day when Dale had tried printing some church fliers, but couldn’t remember why he didn’t. Renee, that was it, Renee needed help with her speakers. Renee’s speakers weren’t working. Turns out they weren’t working because they weren’t turned on. Not that different from her malfunctioning monitor last week. “Everything’s pink,” read her email. Turned out to be a loose serial cable that she “swore she checked a dozen times.” Clearly those were bigger mistakes than forgetting to change the ink in the shared printer, a task anyone could do, but because of the timing, everyone would remember the printer. Regardless, it was Aldon’s mistake, he should’ve changed the ink and he didn’t, he would have to own up to that. Learn from that. Make sure it didn’t happen again. He would come in early on Monday, before any meetings were scheduled, refresh the ink and paper supply of all printers on the floor, and print out the calendars.

While sitting at a red light, Aldon’s phone chirped. He pulled the phone from his pocket, it was a notification from Twitter, a mention, the content of the message hidden. As the light turned green, the phone chirped again. Aldon glanced quickly and noticed a second mention notification, and then a third, followed immediately by a fourth, fifth, and sixth. He placed the phone back in his pocket. The chirping continued, albeit muffled, until Aldon reached another stop light and turned it off. He glanced at the car in the lane next to him, but looked away awkwardly when he realized the driver was already looking at him. He forgot temporarily about the notifications and focused instead on the other driver: did he feel just as uncomfortable being caught watching a stranger? Was he thinking about whether or not Aldon was thinking about catching him looking into a stranger’s car? Then, he realized the other driver had never looked away. He was still staring at Aldon. He brought his attention back to the other driver, who was staring intensely now, by pretending to check for something in his glove box. The glowing red light in Aldon’s periphery changed to green, but the driver continued staring until the car behind him blared its horn, at which point the driver spit on Aldon’s passenger side window, and sped off.

Once home he tossed his cell phone, along with his keys and wallet, onto his kitchen counter and headed upstairs to take a shower. It took his water heater a few extra minutes to get warm during the winter months so he turned it on first and then got undressed. While he waited, Aldon grabbed his laptop to see what was going on with Twitter and why he received such a sudden influx of mentions. By the time Aldon had left work, around thirty minutes ago, he’d already accumulated fifty six new notifications. He clicked on the Mentions tab and read the first one from local beat reporter Rebecca Harvey.

@MNGR_Jen  speaks about @DaRealAldon: Wish we could get it back, but at the end of the day, we made a lot more mistakes than just low toner.

The statement was standard fare from Jen, who was known for her unique brand of stoicism, especially following a Friday night like they’d just had. The room had begun filling with steam, and the laptop screen was fogging. Aldon scrolled up to read the next tweet, also from Harvey, before it disappeared into the mist.

@DaleBML on @DaRealAldon: You hope to avoid those kind of mistakes, but to point out one person is unfair. We all needed to do better.

That tweet was followed by a reply from Harvey herself.

@RHarveyWKLA: Full story at 7, only on @WKLA.

Aldon closed the laptop and got in the shower, not really sure what to make of the office’s comments. They were clearly trying to be supportive, but he thought he saw a tinge of blame, it was Twitter though, so who could really tell. One thing he was sure of was Dale trying to cover his own ass, hoping no one noticed the church fliers, which he had been reprimanded for on multiple occasions. It had become one of those things you just live with: Dale was a good teammate, he brought a lot of intangibles to the office, so what if he occasionally tried printing hundreds of poorly designed church bulletins. You take the good with the bad, and Dale was mostly good.

After his shower, Aldon set the laptop down on the living room coffee table and walked to the kitchen. He pulled a twelve inch skillet from the cabinet, set the stovetop burner to medium-high, and checked the microwave clock: 6:19; he walked to the freezer and grabbed a frozen meal for two, pulled apart the opening, dumped the contents into the skillet, and covered. He set the timer on the stove for ten minutes.

Aldon returned to the coffee table. He sat down on the couch and cracked the laptop open again. The still open Twitter page reminded him of Rebecca Harvey’s “full story at 7.” The notification bubble on his Mentions tab had given up, and read simply “99+.” Aldon knew better than to wade through the unending, nameless criticism; knew there would be a handful of political, pandering-but-neutral statements from his co-workers, that the majority of posts would be at best cheap shots, and at worst hate spewed bile meant only to provoke, but he couldn’t help it.

@custserv_GOAT: some ppl jus not made 4 end of day.  give it 2 me all day. every day. #GOAT #NEAL

Neal’s not so subtle jab at Aldon had already been retweeted over 500 times, with most people tagging Aldon and adding their own emoticons. He wasn’t surprised by the sentiment, Neal had always been a firebrand for the company: not as useful as he thought he was, always shocked and indignant about his lack of use. What was surprising was the popularity of it. Aldon didn’t expect this level of response to what he felt like was a fairly routine mistake. They were only a few weeks into the fiscal year, everyone was still getting their legs, fresh recruits were adapting to a new system; these types of mistakes wouldn’t happen come end of FY 2015. Maybe it was just Neal’s amusing-when-not-exposed-to-it-everyday brand of self-delusion that people were supporting. He scrolled up.

lmao wtf wat up @DaRealAldon??? dat print game doe

How much do they pay you again @DaRealAldon?

Hey @DaRealAldon, just stay home next time.

@DaRealAldon shouldn’t be allowed within 5 feet of the printer, dude’s got no print game. Stick to what you know #conferencecalls

Y’all so focused on @DaRealAldon’s print game, but what about that hairline? #letitgo #letitgooooo

He’d cleared the vanilla statements from his co-workers and was now in the thick of the anonymous Twitter mob. Aldon knew it was only downhill from here, especially considering the basically harmless nature of the first handful of tweets. He had a decision to make as the next few moments would define the rest of his weekend: he could stop now, let his dinner finish cooking, maybe watch a movie and spend the next few days putting Friday night behind him, or, he could dive headfirst into an Olympic sized pool of internet hate. Aldon dove.

Fuck you @DaRealAldon, tired of rooting for such a group of losers

mess up like that again and better watch your back. @DaRealAldon #notplaying #igotbullets

@DaRealAldon bald ass milk dud looking mother fucker hope you die for real

I hope @DaRealAldon’s mother gets raped by a pack of wild dogs

@DaRealAldon is nothing but a thug in a suit. Go back to the hood and sell drugs if you’re not going to play to win.

fuckin cunt @DaRealAldon

@DaRealAldon good for nothing nigger

His face grew hot, his whole body tensed, the heat quickly traveled to his chest, then shot down to his arms and legs, mutating gradually from seething rage to unnerving queasiness. He placed his hand on the laptop lid, his thumb unconsciously applied increasing amounts of pressure to the screen until a black hole outlined by pinks and yellows and teals grew from the epicenter of the weight. He was trying to decide whether to close the laptop and put it away for the weekend, or to close the laptop and smash the thing against his living room wall. He knew most of the comments were from throwaway accounts, hoped at least; people purposefully trying to upset, threaten, or intimidate, whatever the reason known only to them. But the knowledge of deliberate provocation was as maddening as it was comforting, and always left Aldon with the same question: why? He’d read a couple of interviews with people confronting their internet trolls, but they all seemed to boil down to the same thing: a lack of control. When pushed they all say, “I just couldn’t help myself,” not, “I think it’s funny,” or “I just don’t like you,” or “I wanted to be acknowledged.” It may start out as that, just for laughs or a way to get somebody’s attention who would otherwise never interact with you, but it always ends by losing control; the hatred becomes habitual, second nature. Something that’s as natural a reaction as a doctor checking your patellar reflex. A subconscious act woven into the fabric of a person’s biology.

His attention was broken by the bleating of the stovetop timer. He wasn’t sure how long it had been going off, so he stood up quickly and jogged to the kitchen. The frozen meal had melted into a cooked one. It was frothy and bubbling underneath the lid, with small amounts of sauce spilling over the sides. He returned to the couch and, against his better judgment, opened the laptop. His Twitter notifications had reached their unknowing pinnacle again. Faced with another mountain of hate speak he turned the laptop off. He found his cell phone and put them both in his briefcase for work, where they would remain until Monday morning, and threw the briefcase in the trunk of his car. Aldon sat down with his dinner, it had cooled enough to eat, and turned on the television. The local news station was finishing up their weather forecast. Aldon was hunched over his food, elbows on the coffee table, when he heard a female anchor announce, “Thanks Bob, and now to our biggest story of the night: “What’s wrong,” Harvey paused for dramatic effect, “with Aldon?” Aldon froze over the plate of lukewarm pasta, strands of spaghetti still hanging from his mouth. He grabbed for the remote without looking up, turned the television off and finished his dinner, and weekend, in silence.


The office was typically empty any time before 8:00; Aldon had at least an hour before anyone else would show up. Despite the rough start to his weekend, he was able to relax and recoup for the majority of it; he felt refreshed and ready to improve on the parts of his game that lead to last week’s debacle. He set the briefcase down at his desk and then headed towards the supply closet. In the closet he was reminded of one of Dale’s best qualities: he was a great organizer. Everything was in its right place. No stray sheets of printer paper were sticking out, and the ink cartridges were separated into three equal stacks, each stack representative of the printer it resupplied. One shelf held a tower of pen boxes two feet tall; neatly arranged with the appropriate ends flush and facing out so as to identify the pens inside. He grabbed enough paper and ink cartridges to restock all three multipurpose printers on his floor. He started with the one right behind his cubicle, the one he knew would be empty, but as it turned out, they were all empty. No one else had been maintaining the printers despite Aldon’s repeated one on ones.

He returned the extra paper to the supply closet and tossed the old ink cartridges into the recycling bin. Aldon still had some time before anyone else would show up for work, so he explored the floor, taking time to appreciate the things he missed in the middle of a busy day. The first thing that got his attention was the bulletin board that Renee maintained outside of the break room. She did a wonderful job with it week in and week out. There was really no one else on the team who could design a bulletin board like Renee, and Aldon had the thought that if the company hired Renee only to maintain that bulletin board, it would be worth it. Before returning to his cubicle, Aldon visited Neal’s desk. It was a total mess: crushed soda cans, candy bar wrappers, a headset left hanging over the edge of his desk, dangling by its 3.5mm cable. Aldon had no idea why Neal still had a job with the company. He returned to his desk and pulled out his cell phone, powering it on for the first time since Friday night. He set the phone to the side while it booted up and logged onto his work computer. As he waited for the email client to load a slight vibration from his cell phone registered on the desk. Aldon looked over at the illuminated lock screen. Another notification. He swiped it away, and put the phone back into his briefcase.

Tales From the Recording Studio

Kanye sat in the recording studio; equalizer lights bouncing up and down on the console as an unfinished song looped in the background. His arms outstretched in opposite directions, his hands gripping the edge of the console. His shoulder blades pulled back, almost touching, head hunched, eyes watching the lights jump up and down. He was trying to concentrate on the task at hand: finishing the song looping in the background, the song that would continue to loop in the background until he finished it, but was having a hard time focusing with all of the noise coming from the back of the studio where a small group of his close friends, and a couple of producers, were gathered. 

The song looped again, Ye had lost count of how many times it had repeated. The beat had dissolved into soft matter, there were no longer any peaks or valleys, no crescendos or silences, just a murmur living beneath pieces of unintelligible conversation. He looked away from the console and to the group at the back.  Kanye focused on a woman sitting at the end of a couch. He was unsure of who the woman was exactly, maybe a girlfriend, or a friend of a friend, but she was beautiful, and wearing a low-cut top that seemed barely capable of keeping her voluptuous chest concealed. Her whole outfit looked more appropriate for a night out at the club rather than a gathering of friends. The group didn't notice him staring, the mystery woman included, but the longer he stared the more the music came back into focus, and his thoughts began to materialize.

Kanye's hand left the console and shot upward, he let out a harsh "shush," and the room fell silent. He continued to stare at the woman, except this time she stared back, along with the other guests. Kanye used his free hand to find his pen and the composition notebook he wrote all his lyrics in. He didn't break his stare until he opened the notebook, and began to write. He was writing so quickly that the letters began to run together, but he knew if he slowed down the inspiration would pass him by. When he was done, he looked to his recording engineer and said, "alright, I'm ready." He left his notebook on the console and walked to the vocal booth; the engineer returned to his seat at the console and put his headphones on. Before Kanye entered the booth he returned to the console and scribbled one last line in his notebook. He then studied it intensely, mumbling the words under his breath, trying to perfect the cadence before returning to the booth.

In the booth, Kanye put his headphones on, stepped up to the microphone, and closed his eyes in concentration. The engineer looked down at Kanye's notebook, found the lyrics he had just written down, and read them to himself:

your titties

let 'em out

free at last



The Painter

I've been painting for about ten years now. I would say my major influences are Freud, Hofmann, and Kooning; the work Frank Auerbach was doing in the fifties was really incredible too, he’s definitely someone I keep a close eye on. It started mainly as a curiosity; I found an old, unused, canvas in my father’s attic after he passed, and I have just been building on that ever since. I definitely lean heavily towards the abstract; I enjoy playing with texture, and perspective, one brush stroke can change the entire feel of a painting. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s not. I definitely struggle with over analyzing my own work: I'll spend days examining a brush stroke, trying to figure out its place in the painting as a whole, or manipulating it in small ways to try and make it fit in with the rest of the painting while still maintaining its voice. Which I think is probably the most difficult aspect of painting for me: at what point do I step back and let the work speak for itself, flaws and all? A lot of time the mistakes in a work of art are its most potent ingredients, but how do you know which mistakes those are? I guess there’s something to be said for someone like Picasso who could just churn out work after work with no seeming regard to, quality’s not the right word, but, reflection maybe; don't get me wrong, Picasso was certainly a genius, but you can't produce that volume of work in that span of time while still holding yourself to a higher set of standards, or at least I can’t, but I'm obviously no Picasso. You also have to consider the audience. In Picasso’s time there wasn't much going on, a guy could paint thousands of paintings and every one of them would be loved because his audience didn’t have anything else to do. With the internet, people’s attention spans are lessening by the minute, and it’s great for getting your work out there, but it’s also a double edged sword, because as easy as it is to display your work or reach a wider audience, it’s just as easy to then have that work swallowed up by the flood of ever-updating content that the internet provides. I’m sure there were hundreds of more skilled painters than Picasso in his time, but because of his prolificacy, and happenstance, they were never recognized; Picasso was kind of like the internet of his time: quantity wins out over quality. Again, don't get me wrong, Picasso is great, I'm not bashing Picasso, I’m just saying. Anyways where were we?

You were talking about mistakes and knowing when to release something.

Right. It’s a difficult line to walk. I get the feeling that most artists struggle with this question no matter what the medium is. When is something truly done? I've spent days in my studio just staring; trying to figure out where to go next, what to add, what to take away, it’s taken me literally days to just add a line. I mean, as a journalist is there a desire in you to keep editing, to keep going back to an interview or an investigation and re-interpret or re-word or ask more questions?

Of course. There are articles that I could pull up right now that I would make changes to, from huge sweeping changes that would change the entire tone of a piece to grammatical changes, or word choice changes.

Exactly. That’s exactly what I'm talking about. The feeling of putting something out there and knowing that in two or five or ten years I’m going to look back at it and say to myself, what was I thinking? The act of painting comes very naturally to me, and I’m very easily inspired, but I lack that ability, the ability that Picasso had an abundance of, to just let it go, to let the work speak for itself. That feeling is what I want my work to express; I want people to look at my painting and see equal signs of exhausting struggle and jubilant creation. I think calling it a lack of confidence is a bit lazy. Maybe Picasso was extremely confident with his work. Ok, maybe he was, maybe he was over-confident, who’s to say, I'm not judging. But I don't think it’s a confidence issue, I'm very confident in my work, I just want to keep improving it, the challenge is recognizing the point at which your improvements become impoverishment.

Yeah, I get it; I think it’s something that most people struggle with regardless of what they're doing, I think there's a natural human tendency to want to improve on the past. Alright, well, you want to show me around? Do you have a studio set up here, or do you have a rental space you use?

Everything’s in the garage. That’s where I do all of my work, after I discovered the canvas, before I even started painting on it actually, I decided to convert my garage into a studio. I wanted everything to be just right: no distractions, no excuses, everything I would need to be within arm’s reach. I added sound-proofing, got new brushes, a new easel, renovated the lighting, and added a pretty nice sound system; the only original piece was the canvas itself. With the sound proofing and mounted speakers I'm able to eliminate all outside noises and get the perfect mix of ambient sound that allows me to create.

That’s where you keep all of your paintings too? Do you have any at galleries?

Everything’s in the garage, like I said: I wanted no excuses. That’s why I like having my studio in my home; I can wake up, walk downstairs, and get started. I don't need to go to a gallery or a storage unit if I want to make a simple change. It’s right over here.

Do you mind if I take some notes while I look around?

Go right ahead. Let me put some music on for you. I've perfected an ambient noise playlist that really helps me focus. I don't know if I mentioned this earlier, but I also put up drywall when I renovated the garage. Along with the foam soundproofing on the walls, I used this new paint product with soundproofing technology mixed in called HiFi PaintHD, so the paint itself is soundproof. Anyway, go ahead and have a look around.

Ok, thanks.


  • Single car garage
  • Sparse
  • Ambient music playing, possibly rainforest, lots of frog sounds
  • Walls painted royal blue
  • 4x4 squares of soundproofing on walls
  • Concrete floors accented w/oriental rugs
  • Supply chest on western wall, 4-5ft tall by 2-3ft wide
  • Chest contains A LOT of brushes/paints
  • Stool, easel, black canvas in center of garage
  • Stool and floor around easel covered in paint
  • No sign of other paintings, stored in attic?

In the supply chest over there I noticed that you have a lot of different types of brushes and paints. Do you use those specifically to evoke different emotions? What is your thought process when picking a brush and paint combination?

I could spend hours talking about the different brushes and paints I use; as it is I spend enough time online researching and ordering them, but to answer your question, yes, I use them mainly to evoke a response, but also just to experiment. For me, one of the greatest joys of painting is discovering a magical combination of brush and paint that you never knew was possible, I think that comes through in the work too, and for a viewer of the work, I would imagine the revelation of seeing something they never knew could be done in a painting would be exhilarating.

Tell me a little bit about this painting you’re currently working on. How often do you start with a black canvas? Is there a typical timeframe for your paintings? I also noticed a lot of paint on your stool and the floor surrounding your easel, is that a product of your painting style?

My style really varies depending on the mood, like I said earlier, sometimes I will sit and stare at the canvas for hours, using tiny brush strokes, other times I'm almost literally throwing paint onto the canvas. It really just depends on the mood I'm in, but I'm willing to try anything. I’m very experimental. I've been working on this painting for ten years now, it truly is the culmination of all of my experimentation and effort, and it best represents me as an artist. Everything I've learned over the past decade is on the canvas.

And where is that painting at? Do you keep the rest of your work in the attic?

The attic? No, we just use that for Christmas decorations, I'm not really sure what’s up there to be honest.

So where do you keep the rest of your paintings?

What do you mean the rest of my paintings? The painting is right there on the easel; didn’t you just look at it?

Do you only have one painting?

See, you reporters are all the same. You're all just looking for the next Picasso. That guy was a freak; he produced like thirteen thousand paintings in his life, that’s insane. Has anyone even seen all thirteen thousand? I bet some of them are just like, “here’s a circle,” “here’s a leaf,”  “here’s a piece of bread,” but because it’s Picasso, it’s genius. Who wants to look at a painting of a piece of bread anyway? He ruined it for the rest of us, you know. It’s like, take a break you jerk. You know what I'm saying? Go take a nap or eat some tapas or something. How would you feel if there was some journalist out there producing Pulitzer Prize winning content every other day for seventy years? Picasso may have painted a lot of individual paintings, but he never put the time and dedication into one painting like I have. My painting has layers, literally thousands of layers. But you didn’t notice any of that did you? All you saw was a “black canvas,” because all you were looking for was a painting of some weird shaped women with crooked eyeballs. My painting weighs over fifty pounds; does Picasso have a painting that weighs over fifty pounds? I don’t think so.

I guess you have a point there, I was just expecting more than one painting is all.

Yeah, you and everyone else.

The Ballad of Will Ferrell finished

The lights in the trailer were turned off save for a handful of the high wattage bulbs framing the mirror Will stared into. The disparity in lighting between the blacked out trailer interior and the mirror lights reflecting off Will’s makeup created a soft glow outlining his face. Will stared indifferently at the mirror, looking into his own eyes: beyond the sagging afro and smeared face paint, his skin feeling taut after his outburst, catching glimpses of something, but what exactly?


The director had entered the trailer without Will noticing, and before he could respond all the lights were turned on; forcing him to lower his head, and chasing any immediate response from his mind.

Will, that was great. I’m not exactly sure what you were going for, but it was hilarious. I really think you’re onto something.

It wasn’t a joke.

You’re goddamn right it wasn’t a joke, it was fucking hilarious. Fortunately someone on set was recording with their phone, so we don’t have to wait for the dailies to come back.

What do you mean someone was recording?

One of the lighting guys had his phone out and was recording you improv. He got pretty much all of it. He already put it on YouTube and the thing has taken off; it’s gotten close to half a million views in a little over an hour. #FerrellFreakout is trending in North America across Twitter and Facebook, on Instagram people are posting pictures of themselves yelling and tagging them #FridayFreakout. Let me read you some of these tweets.

I wasn’t joking, Adam.

“All I asked for was ‘no pickles,’ is that so hard to underst…IHATEYOUIDONTWANTTHISCHICKENSANDWICH! #FerrellFreakout”

“Such a beautiful day outside, glad I’m stuck in rush hour traffic. IHATEYOUIDONTWANTTHISTRAFFIC #FerrellFreakout #sarcasim”

This one is just a GIF of a raccoon trying to cross the street with its head stuck inside a can of ravioli. All it says is “IHATEYOURAVIOLIIDIDNTWANTTHIS #FerrellFreakout #FeralFreakout?”

I wasn’t joking Adam. I mean, I don’t hate you, but I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to do something important. I want to have a message, a real message that’s carried throughout the movie. I want that video taken down. This isn't a joke. That guy shouldn’t have been recording me, that’s not right.

Will, I totally understand, we’re on the same page, but we have to jump on this. It could be great marketing for Funny or Die, or the movie; maybe even a quick spot on SNL when it's released, the monologue practically writes itself. You don’t have to be involved with every aspect, but if we could get another video out by the end of the day, something “candid,” no more than thirty seconds long, we could have a marketing juggernaut on our hands. Just hang out in your trailer for a little bit, start thinking about another freak out, a quick sketch that we could knock out before or after a scene from the movie, we’ll keep the cell phone camera to add to the authenticity; I'll get the writers to knock out a few ideas. We could be looking at five million views by the end of the day easily, fifteen to twenty million by the end of the week. That’s powerful stuff, Will. I’m going to send Maria back in here so she can get your makeup and wardrobe ready. Maybe an hour, hour and a half and we can get back to it; only when you’re ready though, take your time.

Adam didn’t wait for a response from Will before exiting; he swung the trailer door open and stepped out as giddy as a student on the last day of school. Before the door had closed a hand slid in and drew it open gently. Maria approached Will from behind, avoiding his eye contact in the mirror.

Are you ready Mr. Ferrell?



Mark was sitting in the back of the classroom. He always sat in the back, but unlike most other times, today he was early; fifteen minutes early to be exact, and no one else had arrived to the lecture hall yet, so he sat in the back row and stared out at the empty expanse. At least one hundred empty seats, probably empty since last night's class over twelve hours ago. Mark wasn't sure of the numbers, but he certainly had never experienced a classroom like this before. The experience quickly became unnerving, escalating rather quickly from curiosity to creepy. Mark suddenly felt like an unsuspecting college student in a horror movie, or an unknowing contestant on a hidden camera prank show. To take his mind off the paranoia he took his phone out and started browsing Facebook.

His News Feed was filled with standard fare for a Tuesday morning, which is to say, not much. He scrolled through what seemed like an endless stream of posts about traffic, waking up early, or pictures of food, the last making him regret skipping the cafeteria and heading straight for class. He switched to YouTube and scrolled through the front page, which was full of videos vaguely related to his search history; he eventually chose a video titled “twirl-a-squirrel.” As he tapped on the video an ad began to load. His eyes went immediately to the bottom right corner to look for the “Skip this ad” banner, but instead saw a countdown timer indicating the ad was unskippable.

The American Cancer Society insignia faded in from black followed by the text “The American Cancer Society has an important message…” Mark understood that these ads were usually contextual and was curious who thought an ad about cancer would be good before a video of a squirrel spinning itself off a bird feeder, but as the introductory text faded out a new sentence faded in providing some clarification: “brought to you by Will Ferrell.” Mark was no longer watching the seconds tick away from the banner timer. As the last sentence faded away, Will Ferrell faded in, looking directly into the camera, wearing a rumpled button-up shirt and jeans, and standing against an all-black background.

Hello, I’m Will Ferrell. Every year there are over half a million deaths caused by cancer in the United States, and more than one and a half million Americans are diagnosed with cancer. Together we can make a difference. Please visit the American Cancer Society’s website at, and look for the link at the top that says “How Can I Make A Difference.” By clicking on that lin…IHATECANCERWHYDOESITEXISTPLEASEHELPYOUREATERRIBLEPERSONIFYOUDONTHELP.

The video ended with Ferrell wild-eyed, panting, and fading to black as the American Cancer Society’s web address appeared, followed by #IHATECANCER. Eventually the professor walked in, and not long after that a throng of students who all took seats in the first two rows, leaving Mark still unacknowledged at the back of the room. His stomach continued to growl, reminding him of his poor decision to skip breakfast. Before the professor began his lecture, Mark opened Twitter and posted, “why am i up so early. uggghhhhh. so hungry. im about to #FerrellFreakout if i don’t get some waffles. #IHATETHISCLASSWHYDIDNTIGOTOBREAKFAST"

The Ballad of Will Ferrell

He sat in a collapsible director’s chair; hunched over a dog-eared copy of some unjacketed hardback, his elbows balanced on the chair’s armrests, his fingers were knotted, while his thumbs fashioned a platform for his chin. His eyes darted back and forth across the pages, he was reading at a rate he didn’t know he was capable of while his stylist continued to poke and prod at his head. Why can’t I do something like this? I can do something like this, I’m not just a clown, I can be subtle, I will do something like this, what’s stopping me?, I don’t care what people expect, I’m going to do it; the more he read the more critical he became; his thoughts slowly pooling into a lake of indignation.

Ok, Mr. Ferrell, how does this look?

Will hesitated, read to a natural stopping point, and looked up. The mirror was framed by forty high wattage light bulbs that focused all attention in the trailer on him, irradiating every aspect of his face and hair, while seeming to dim his surroundings. His hair had been teased out into a six inch afro: a perfectly shaped crescent; the kind of hairdo only obtained through high paid stylists on movie sets.

I can be subtle, Maria, and poignant, and affecting. I don’t need to yell. I can write stuff. I don’t just make up everything on the spot. I have things to say, important things, funny things, important-funny things, funny-important things. I’m not a clown Maria. I have a voice.

Of course, Mr. Ferrell.

He stood up and walked to the full length mirror hanging on the outside of his closet door, his afro falling right in line with his face paint, blousy, bold-striped, top, red suspenders, and matching parachute pants.

I’m going to show them, Maria, I’m going to show them that I can make sense; I’m going to give them something to think about. I’m not just a fool here to say the first random, or dirty, or randomly dirty, or incredibly, uncomfortably, inappropriately, unpleasantly, nauseatingly dirty thing that comes to mind.

Good luck, Mr. Ferrell.

Before exiting the trailer, Will slipped on the size twenty red pleather shoes lying next to the mirror; as he applied pressure to the heels, he noticed a dog-toy like squeak.

Hey Maria, looks like Fred got the squeakers to work.


Will was in the middle of shooting a film called The Ballad of Randy Gunthrie, the story of America’s first homosexual rodeo clown trying to make his way to the top of the rodeo clown circuit. The movie was going to be a scathing attack on right wing conservatives and tea partiers, exploding their conservative social values and exposing their hypocrisies. The scene Will was headed to the set for now involved the first major confrontation between Randy and the movie’s villain, Texas Ted Texas, otherwise known as T, the top ranked bareback horse rider in the nation. The scene involved the oversized and awkwardly shaped Randy executing a series of precision ballet moves after T had been thrown from a disreputable bronco he was unfamiliar with. Embarrassed by the dumping, T disgustedly watches Randy while lying on the ground. After the bronco is penned T is helped up by his cronies, and they confront Randy with a suggestion for a different approach to rodeo clowning:

What’s with the dancing Gayndy? You know this is a rodeo, right, not some public rest stop?

These are very complex ballet moves, T, requiring the utmost concentration, I’m not just dancing all willy-nilly, besides, with the amount of room needed, I highly doubt you’d be able to execute these moves in a public restroom.

Yeah, well, I’m sure you know more about that than me. People come here to see riders, not some fat ass clown doing ballet; all you need to concern yourself with is getting that stud’s attention, jumping in one of those barrels, and staying the hell out of my way.

Stud huh? Didn’t realize you had such affection for the horses T.

Good one gayboy, now you want to be a clown. Hey, I got a better idea of how to make people laugh.

With a jerk of his head T signaled his back up to approach Randy. They grabbed him by the shoulders, wrapped their arms underneath his, and planted their feet in the manure riddled dirt. As Randy struggled to break free from the comically small restrictors T advanced slowly, and with a lightning quick swiftness struck Randy on the testicles.

Ow, my nuts!

The scene ends with T’s buddies dumping a hunched over Randy to the ground, his face landing next to a pile of horse muck, and strutting back to the locker room. After the director yelled cut, Will stood up and beat the dirt off of his billowing costume.

That’s good. Will, we’re going to do the “nuts” line again. I need something a little funnier than just “nuts.”



Ow, my beans!

That’s good, let’s roll with the bean theme, just as many as you can think of.

Ok, sure.


Ow, my pinto beans! Ow, my black beans! Ow, my baked beans! Ow, my cannellini beans! Ow, my lima beans! Ow, my low sodium beans! Ow, my kidney beans!

Good. Let’s go in a different direction, whatever comes to mind, just a couple more. Action.

Ow, my dick spurs! Ow, my danglers! Ow, my truck nuts!

Ok, that’s good Will, let’s take a break.

The director stepped away from the camera and approached a group of writers who were watching from behind a lighting rig; they all held heavily worn and marked scripts in their hands. The committee formed a circle and began conferencing. Will was left standing in front of the camera, the surrounding lights slowly raising his temperature, beads of sweat forming at the base of his perfectly coiffed afro. He looked around at the rest of the crew, most of which were checking their phones or examining their nails; nobody seemed particularly interested in the spontaneous meeting, and after a few postural adjustments and head nods the whispering stopped and the director returned to his position next to the camera.

Will, we’re going to keep rolling, I want you to spit out as many as you can and we’ll find the best one in post.



Ow, my bits! Ow, my buttons! Ow, my knobs! Ow, my jollies! Ow, my tallboys! Ow, my smallboys! Ow, my Munchkins! Ow, my hedgehogs! Ow, my nuggets! Ow, my berries! Ow, my kernels! Ow, my blinkers! Ow, my pellets! Ow, my BBs! Ow, my Black Eyed Peas! Ow, my apps! Ow, my truffles! Ow, my Cocoa Puffs! Ow, my cashews! Ow, my Jelly Bellies! Ow, my unsalted almonds! Ow, my Milk Duds! Ow, my Tootsie Pops!

That's enough food ones. Try to stay away from name brands, we don't want to have to pay licensing fees for a nut joke. Try to think hillbilly, but liberal-equality-hillbilly. You're from the country, but you're different from all the others, if there was such a thing as a blue state hillbilly that's what you'd be.

Ow, my…..Ow, my…male…vaginas...

Ow, my repressors!

Ow, my...gender pay gaps!

Ow, my…..danglers!

You said that one already.

Ow… beans!

We’ve got beans covered, Will.


The declaration spilled out of Will’s mouth like a torrent of water breaking through a shoddily constructed dam: words jumping in front of one another, jockeying for position, trying to be the first one out, racing to beat the oncoming sobs. Will didn’t stick around to see the crew’s reaction; he didn’t want them to see his frustration, to have to deal with their platitudes of compassion. He ran back to his trailer, using the excess fabric wafting from his forearms to wipe away his tears, unintentionally smudging the face paint he sat in make up for three hours to have applied, his shoes squeaking in stride.

The Future and Arthur Ale

Preface: This is the beginning to a larger project that I've been working on for the past few years. This piece in particular was written about three years ago, and I've been slowly tweaking and editing it since then. The reason I'm releasing it now, instead of as whole with the other parts, is that it revolves around a technology that at the time of conception was just a vague inevitably, but with the tech world continuing to move at a break neck pace I've felt the need to get it out before the idea becomes antiquated. I'll continue working on the remaining parts and releasing them as their finished. 

This is the future.

This is the future.

Is this my future?


Arthur throttled the pen in his left hand and glared at his notebook. The palm of his right hand covered his mouth while its digits encased the span of his face; he pulled down, slowly, tight lipped, stretching first the bags under his eyes, then the invading three day stubble he’d accumulated since the weekend, clenching his jaw so hard he thought his teeth may crack under the pressure. The gesture had the same effect as a father exhausted by a disappointing child. “I tried,” the motion said; if it said anything beyond a frustrated string of poorly stifled expletives. Arthur’s hand dropped to his cold steel desk; the contact drew his attention away from the notebook. He remembered the tiny bulge in the middle of his palm, scanned for it, and concentrated: the bulge was so diminutive you wouldn’t have known it was there unless it was pointed out to you. So innocuous that it could have appeared after a handshake with a business partner, or a walk through security clearance, or “New Member Orientation.” Maybe it had been there his whole life, given to him by his little league coach or an elementary school teacher. So many possibilities swam around in Arthur’s head that it would have been unmanageable to pinpoint its insertion. His stranglehold on the pen tightened.

Arthur could never accurately express his thoughts in writing, often sitting down with the best intentions of capturing the lyrical and revolutionary thoughts whirling around his head, but usually sinking into this same position; shoulders slumped in exasperation, one or two quickly scrawled wholly unremarkable fragments of thought, and a head full of self-criticizing cynicism. This was Arthur’s current state as he worked at the bulge in his palm.

After a few minutes of observing his cumbersome, outdated tools Arthur swiveled and looked out of the window of his 23rd floor office. His view of the encompassing desert was breathtaking, and the envy of all 22 floors below him, or at least it was when Arthur was working on those floors. Any desert defies description. It has to be felt, witnessed, woken up to, explored and surrounded by to have a meaningful impact. Even in his current state, the beauty of the vast expanse of desert, hemmed by a range of mountains, was not lost on Arthur. The whole reason he moved West was for this view; he could stare out of this window for hours, the sun drifting lazily through the sky, casting light and heat across miles of nothing. Arthur turned back to his desk, picked up his pen and stained his notebook: Mountain or Building?


The Federal Government’s “New American Landscape Initiative" led to sweeping redesigns of old architecture and strict regulation of new construction. NALI's objective was simple, yet grand: restore the Great American Landscape. This was accomplished by forcing every commercial building in the country to install a "synthetic landscape simulator;" instead of store fronts with busted windows or burnt out neon signs, a projection of the natural regional landscape would be shown. The East Coast was restored to rolling mountains full of Dogwoods and Pear trees, all with seasonally appropriate leaves; thousands of acres full of tall, thin trees that you could imagine Confederate soldiers running through. Out West the industrial complexes were the main attraction; taking on the form of jagged and jutting mountain ranges: tree-lined, snow-capped, or dry as death depending on the region. They typically encircled cities, providing “natural boundaries and vistas” for the ensnared community. The greatest range is ExxonMobil GM, rivaling in length what used to be the Rocky Mountains; but Verizon with Google is said to be challenging it with the first bi-coastal compound.

However NALI proved to be a short-lived benefit for smaller businesses that either couldn't afford, or didn't care about the relatively low maintenance costs that the simulators required. After a few years projections would fade, one dead pixel would become a group of dead pixels. Other immediate issues were landscaping conflicts; companies that didn't hire planners were left to their own discretion, and there was no regulation for maintaining the solidarity of city blocks. This resulted in mismatched projections: a row of crepe myrtles would be abruptly ended by a row of wax myrtles, or three different types of liriope growing on the same block; leaving some areas looking more like an organic patchwork than the “Great American Landscape.”

The pronounced irony of NALI was its required use of the Augmented Reality Lens. Because the projections are made to be viewed natively, a device would have to be created, and worn, with one mandatory function: when activated it allows you to see the business behind the projection. All ARLs share this utility along with supplemental features based on the model you choose: lower end models will push a lot of context sensitive adds to you, higher end models remove most ads and give you directions, vital statistics about people and businesses, real-time translations of foreign languages, and an endless stream of downloadable apps, making the possibilities endless. Brand specific ARLs provide discounts for entering an associated brand's store or visiting their website, while also pushing advertisements. Once Macrosoft introduced their “revolutionary” ARL, the iRL¸ it wasn't long before people stopped using their lenses as a supplemental tool and started leaving them on 24 hours a day.


Arthur switched to his ARL. He could see that the distant mountain range was in fact another business; although he knew this instinctively since there were no natural ranges left, he didn't know which one it was however. Around him the landscape changed from hues of orange and brown to an endless matrix of grey buildings; whatever creativity the architects gained in the freedoms of NALI's projections, they forfeited in actual architecture. Buy one get one advertisements floated by store fronts, irradiated colors flashing on and off, back and forth, zig-zagging and blinking; within it all, a beacon in the shape of a red cross was pulsating. If he wanted to, Arthur could have gotten directions directly to the beacon, he'd splurged on a top of the line iRL two years ago when he got his first promotion.

Arthur looked down at his hand. His behavior implant was gone, but the black-inked cavity left from prying it out was bleeding heavily, leaving a trail that ran down his hand and between his middle and ring fingers. According to his iRL he had lost approximately 1.5 liters of blood and his heart rate had been steadily increasing from 68 to 89 to 100, 105; at 107 an ambulance would automatically be alerted to his condition. If his implant hadn’t of been removed it could have administered a Recommendation to temporarily slow down Arthur’s heart rate, and one to dull his thoughts.

Arthur opened the three-quarters length office window so he could feel the wind blowing. It was the one thing that could never be simulated or controlled, and it was always windy out West. He felt the wind push him briefly, whipping his jacket back and flattening his shirt to his neglected abdomen. His iRL provided statistics: 31 mph gusts from the northwest. He leaned out of the window, placing his hands on the open frame, tempting the wind to grab him. It took control of his hair, forced his eyes closed, pressed into his nostrils and mouth without permission. He could feel the full strength of it, weaving in and out of his limbs, throwing his hair and tie in a different direction every second. When he opened his eyes again he could see the ambulance his iRL had alerted, and spotlighted, for him tearing through the streets two blocks away. The wind was so exhilarating that Arthur knew he had to step out onto the ledge to appreciate its full force. Arthur stood erect, with his eyes closed and head held high. The only thing he could hear was the windy silence of his 200 foot elevation. His right hand slick with blood, streaking the window next to him; his left grasping the window frame aggressively; he didn’t remember letting go.

As Arthur fell he continued to look at the grey mass of buildings, every one as indistinguishable as the next; each passing second bringing them closer. Context sensitive ads rushed up to offer him double frequent flyer miles on every flight purchased with a new DiscoverAMEX card, 25% off any new pillow-top mattress purchased in the next 30 minutes. Arthur closed his eyes; his iRL was flickering in and out of service. When he opened his eyes again he was falling through the side of a mountain: leaving a long deep scar in the synthetic landscape as he fell; bits of mountain exploding all around him, fluttering like gold dust as he ripped through the shroud. 1s and 0s, he thought. Can you make a mountain out of 1s and 0s? And the last thing Arthur thought was: Where’s my notebook


Week 04 Day 05 - Resignation finished

George woke up in a panic. His heart was beating hard, dread smothering his entire body. His wife was gone, so were the girls, the sun whitewashed everything outside. George looked at the digital clock, he had truly slept in today, the subtle whines of Jack not enough to wake him; it was already noon. At some point the attention-starved dog had given up trying to get George’s attention and gone back downstairs to his bed. That’s where George found him after showering and changing into normal clothes. He had felt energized by yesterday’s walk and decided he would do the same today. The weather was a carbon copy of yesterday’s, inviting George to spend all day outside, but he and Jack continued on their walk briskly. The Saint Bernard and old woman were nowhere to be found today, but the hacking dog was right where they left him, almost exactly so. Without Beethoven’s warning, George and Jack caught the hacking dog unawares; despite being surprised, the salt and pepper dog resumed its same monotone grunting, at the same volume and rhythm, with the same accompanying hop as yesterday, as if an invisible hand had flipped a switch and set its gears in motion.

When they arrived back at the house George immediately set about the task at hand, avoiding yesterday’s pitfalls of coffee and video games. He opened his laptop, navigated to the websites for the various universities of the area, opening each in a different tab, and began searching the employment opportunity pages. Out of four different schools only one had any information technology positions listed, and it required way more expertise than George had. This was George’s biggest lead, what he felt would be the most workable option; the misfire left him searching for where to go next. As a whim he decided to check out the job postings for the surrounding cities; interested to see what his position would have net him, but the results were the same as the universities: nothing relevant.

George began searching generic technology terms matched with “jobs” to see if he could force inspiration. After fifteen minutes of the arbitrary exercise he began to notice a pattern: one website kept showing up every time, no matter what he searched. He followed the link, recognizing it as a paid advertisement as he did so.  It was a website to help you build your own blog, or photo gallery, or e-commerce shop; “whatever you need.” George had always wanted to be a writer, or more appropriately to write, calling himself a writer always felt pretentious, especially having not written anything of substance, but with most other things in his life the passion had taken a back seat when his first and second daughters were born. Now, with no job, George had ample time to dive in. It wasn’t a solvent idea for work, but it could keep him creative, or motivated, and it could be used in a resume depending on what he was applying for.

In no time at all George had convinced himself that this was the way to go, and he had already conceived of a format and preliminary content by the time he’d entered his bank account information. He released the not-insignificant funds for service, his own website with custom domain name and email, without thinking about the ramifications on his savings.

The first step for George was presentation, specifically a name. George wanted a title that was meaningful on different levels, intriguing, but also vague enough to be meaningless or take on any definition the reader inferred. Song titles, lyrics, movie quotes, idioms, famous speeches, all passed through George’s mind but none met his requirements. He got up and walked over to his bookshelf, searching for inspiration. He decided he would find it in the most weathered and creased book on his shelf, the book that reignited his interest in reading, and spawned his desire to write: Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. His immediate thought was to turn to Fanshawe’s passages in The Locked Room; the passages, of a friend who had lost his mind and locked himself in a room threatening suicide, were unsettling despite being read out of context, but did not inspire a name. He flipped back to City of Glass remembering the red notebook Quinn uses as an improvisational detective and the greater notebook theme that runs throughout most of Auster’s books; but The Red Notebook, or any variation of, seemed too generic and too obvious a nod to Auster.

After spending some more time with City of Glass, and ultimately striking out, George turned to the middle story, Ghosts, and was immediately taken by the first sentence: First of all there is Blue. Later there is White, and then there is Black, and before the beginning there is Brown. It was decided: this would be the inspiration for the title of George’s blog, he just had to rejigger it a bit, and justify the meaning and misappropriation of something he loved so much for something as trivial as a blog that he had no idea what to do with, and then he’d have a title.

Week 04 Day 04 - Resignation continued

Four hours later George set the controller down on the living room table; his coffee still three-quarters full, now lukewarm at best. He stood up and stretched, trying to shake loose the atrophy that comes with sitting hunched over for four hours straight, and walked back to the laptop. He pointed the cursor to the search bar and mimicked typing imaginary words, tapping the surface of the keyboard rhythmically, until deciding on what to search for: jobs.

“Jobs,” unsurprisingly, returned nearly one billion results, half a page of ads, and a dozen local listings for temp agencies. George began half-heartedly skimming through pages, looking for appealing keywords and legitimate offers, dismissing what was obviously spam; he needed a spark: something that would provide him with direction, but he didn’t know what that was, or where to get it. After a discouraging five page expedition, farther than George had ever ventured in search results before, he checked the clock on the laptop: 01:30 pm. His wife would be home in less than three hours, and with her the girls; there was no way George could get any work done with the girls home, and what could he really accomplish with less than three hours left? If you add in the time it took to find a solid offer, it was probably more like two and a half hours, two if he took a shower, which he still hadn’t done today. George wanted to take his time with any application he found, less than two hours wasn’t going to cut it. He decided that in order to have the energy he needed to spend time with his daughters this evening he should take a nap, besides, George had been employed for the last five years of his life, not moving on from a job until he had another one firmly in place, and taking no time off to transition: he deserved a day off. He closed the laptop again, this time shutting the whole thing down beforehand, and trekked upstairs to take a nap.

When George’s wife woke him up the first thing he saw was the gray-blue sky outside their window, it was the color of wasted time. He looked at the digital alarm clock on top of their chest of drawers: 05:13 pm, and George thought, is it five o clock already?

Hey, we’re home, can you come down stairs and watch the girls while I cook dinner?

Yeah, sure, of course.

His wife didn’t wait for him to get out of bed, instead leaving before he even finished his short, half-mumbled, response. George knew that that probably wasn't a good sign. He could hear his oldest daughter running around downstairs, jabbering to herself, or to Jack, or to her sister, it didn't matter really, just excited to be home. George sat on the edge of the bed and stared down at his pajamas that he had now been wearing for almost twenty four hours straight. He contemplated changing, but decided against it because he hadn’t showered yet, telling himself he would definitely change after taking a shower. He put his slippers on and went downstairs.

George and his wife held a conversation while George acted as a horse for his daughter to ride on, occasionally grabbing her calves and straightening his back, bleating an unspeakably bad impression of a horse’s neigh.

So, how was your day?

It was good. How was work?

Work was fine. What did you do? Did you find any jobs?

Yeah, I just kind of took it easy.

So, “yeah, I found some jobs,” or “yeah, I just kind of hung out and played games all day?”

George pulled up and held his daughter to his back, unleashing a horrible braying that would never under any circumstances be mistaken for a horse’s neigh, it was not the noise George thought he was going to make.

Ok, let’s not do that anymore.

I don’t know, I tried to look for some jobs, but I really couldn’t focus, so I took the dog for a walk, made some coffee, cleaned the house a little, but, I don’t know, I just couldn’t figure it out. I think I got too much sleep, so I was kind of out of it all day. You know how that happens sometimes, if you get too much sleep you end up feeling more tired than if you didn’t get enough?

Sounds terrible. So you didn’t find even one job to apply to?

No, but I will tomorrow, I just needed a day to unwind, to get my bearings after yesterday.

George was unsure how his wife took this answer as she didn’t respond or extend the conversation any further, just continued to cook, while George continued to play. After dinner George gave both girls baths and put them to bed while his wife cleaned the kitchen. Once the girls were asleep George helped his wife finish with the kitchen.

I really hope you find a couple of jobs to apply for tomorrow.

I will, I just needed a day to settle down.

They finished cleaning in silence. George ended the night by taking a shower and changing out of his twenty seven hour old pajamas.

Week 04 Day 03 - Resignation continued

When George got home he was still in a haze about what had transpired during his improvised exit interview; the conversation about it with his wife worked nothing loose and left his wife even more confused and worried about what would happen. Despite the unusual start to the morning, and the following impassioned interrogation by his wife before she left for work, the remainder of the day unfolded like any other: play with the kids, feed them, and put them to bed. It wasn’t until after his daughters were both asleep for the night that George thought about his exodus from Public Utilities or what he planned to do. He grabbed a beer, sat down at the dining room table, and crouched over his open laptop. George couldn’t stop thinking about how normal everything else had seemed despite the monumental decision he’d made earlier, how easily he’d forgotten about all of it. Unsure as to why he sat down at the laptop, George leaned back in his chair and closed its lid. The resulting space showed his dog, Jack, sitting on the floor opposite of where George sat at the table. The two stared at each other, blinking idly. What is he thinking right now? George thought. Is he disappointed in me? Are dogs able to sense big events in life? He knows, somehow he knows. He knows, and he’s judging me. Where is my food going to come from dad? How are you going to feed me? Why is he just staring at me? What does he think he is communicating to me right now? Is he wondering what I’m thinking about like I’m wondering what he’s thinking about? Maybe he knows I’m thinking about what he could be thinking about and is trying to comfort me by being as unconcerned as possible. Jack shifted his weight gingerly from one haunch to the other, unloosing a clipped fart that could’ve been mistaken for an untied balloon flying by overhead, his ears perking up as if to say: whoops! George let the dog outside. He sat back down at the table taking sips from his beer and trying to avoid thoughts of the upcoming days: what would he do, where would he apply, what does he want to do, how long would his savings really last. When he heard the dog scratching at the door, he let him back in, finished his beer, and went to bed.

The next day George’s wife was working the morning shift, and she dropped their daughters off at their grandparents; for the first time in eighteen months, since the birth of their first daughter, George was able to sleep in. He was awoken eventually by the soft, extended whines of Jack, who, George speculated, was sitting at the top of the stairs locked out behind the child safety gate installed a month ago. George lay in bed for few minutes, letting the dog whine, starring at the ceiling. When he realized he was in danger of falling back asleep he abruptly threw his legs out from under the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. He stood up, stepped into his slippers and met Jack at the top of the stairs. As he pushed through the gate and walked down the stairs, the dog excitedly followed him: constantly looking for a way to bypass George’s sluggish pace, anxiously jutting his nose between leg and wall, but ultimately trailing until they reached the bottom. George stood in the doorway while the dog went out. He took in the fresh sunlight and light breeze, welcomed it into the stale house, reveled in the majestic feeling that is a day off work with no immediate responsibilities; his mind began to whirl with choices, but was humbled when he remembered the surrounding circumstances. He closed the door and sat down at his laptop. George opened the lid and pulled up his homepage; before searching the internet for jobs he pinged his own brain for ideas. As he was doing so he noticed the surging sunlight outside increase its intensity: a day that already seemed perfect swelled with even more sunlight. He could see the dog out back bouncing up and down, dive-bombing the ground with his front paws, and thrusting his snout into the dewy grass; chasing butterflies, leaves, or his own shadow. George felt unprepared to start his job search and decided he needed some breathing room from just waking up before he would start. He exchanged his slippers for sneakers, grabbed the dog’s leash and collar, called him back inside, and headed out for a walk.

George and Jack used to be old pros when it came to walking outside, but with the birth of his two daughters, and a move to a new, less-friendly, neighborhood, their skills had withered. Despite the dog’s undisciplined zigzagging fifteen feet in front of George, something that would have never happened eighteen months ago, presumably in search of every smell to cross his path, the walk was very pleasant.  As they approached a two-story cape cod, Jack inhaling the earth beneath his snout, George noticed a giant Saint Bernard, which he immediately nicknamed Beethoven, lying down on the porch alongside a woman in a rocking chair. The woman looked to be in her mid-seventies, and the Saint Bernard appeared to match that in dog years. As George and his dog drew closer Beethoven’s head darted up and began to follow them. The laid back nature of the woman, gently rocking in her chair, paying no mind to the massive Saint Bernard, led George to assume the dog possessed the same slipshod attitude, despite its alert posture.  As they reached perpendicularity with Beethoven, he bounded off the porch, sprinting straight for them. George was caught so off guard that he froze in place, making him look a lot calmer about the situation than was truthful, while Jack dove back, shielding himself from Beethoven with George’s legs. At the last second a steel-cable revealed itself and yanked the Saint Bernard backwards, undoing his last three feet of progress. As George and his dog continued on, the Saint Bernard barked, continually testing the distance and strength of the lead. The woman continued to rock in her chair, never acknowledging George and his dog, or the demon incarnate that was Beethoven.

As they rounded a corner to a side street they could still hear the raucous Saint Bernard in the background, but the noise was slowly being overtaken by what sounded like a chronic smoker having a viscous coughing attacking. George immediately regretted the decision to take the side street and was already thinking of possible ways to avoid the potential interaction with the hacking man: George’s experience with smokers was that the more phlegm they had in their throats the more they wanted to talk to you, while working said phlegm out. The closer they came to the hacking man, the louder the hacking got, and the more rhythmic it got. George began to think that it was too regular to be an unexpected attack, and was more than likely a routine cough to clear out the hacking man’s lungs so he could fill them back up with more smoke. As soon as the duo passed a row of Medora Juniper trees the volume of the coughs skyrocketed, and the cougher was revealed to not be a man at all, but a salt and pepper coated dog with different colored eyes standing behind a chain-link fence. The dog’s bark sounded like equal parts cough, choke, and bark, while not being particularly committed to any of the three. The strain caused the dog’s front legs to hop off the ground about a foot, and made the barking seem involuntary, despite the consistency. George and Jack stared in unison at the hacking dog as they walked down the street until it was obscured by the converted trailer attached to the chain-link, at which point the dog stopped coughing/choking/barking; presumably to continue smoking.

When they returned home forty five minutes later, George realized that he hadn’t said a word all morning. It was an inspirational realization that left George energized with the possibilities of sustaining it for the rest of his life: getting by on smiles, or nods, or variations of insignificant throat clearings. No more miscommunications large or small, no more miscued greetings in hallways, or awkward conversation at check-out lines. The daydream quickly evaporated with thoughts of his oldest daughter, and how every morning started with entering her room and talking gently to her, trying to elicit some new form of gibberish she had developed in her sleep.

George sat back down at the laptop, still open from his earlier, tapped it awake, and stared at the homepage. Trying to think of the exact keywords to search that would find his perfect job, George was having difficulty collecting his thoughts. He stood back up and went into the kitchen to make coffee. He still felt a little groggy from the morning, possibly sleeping in too much, although the thought seemed absolutely ludicrous to George at this point in his life. He folded his arms and watched as the coffee grinds floated in the boiling water; fighting each other for a place at the top, the rest being submerged and used as support. After five minutes he pushed the filter down and poured himself a cup. On his way out of the kitchen George checked the microwave clock and saw that it was only a quarter past nine. Much like his speaking revelation, George recognized that he hadn’t bothered to check the time since waking up, and was surprised when he saw how early it still was, way too early to be looking for jobs, George thought. From the kitchen George looked to the dining room where his laptop was positioned, still open, the screen now a dim glow, eventually turning off. George checked the microwave again: 09:16 am. Wanting to wake up a bit more, to get his brain working so he could be in top form when filling out applications, George headed to the living room. He needed time for the coffee to take effect and to play some video games.


Week 04 Day 02 - Resignation continued

George sat in the driver’s seat of his car; everything was a blank from the moment he left Bess’s office to the moment the car door closed. His only regret was not being attentive enough as he walked out to validate his cartoonish impressions of the office staff; there was no going back inside now though. He placed his hands on the steering wheel, and pressed down on the gas, but instead of the familiar, delayed lurch forward from his ten year old compact, there was nothing.  A quick shot of panic filled George’s chest before he realized that the car was still in park; he grabbed the gear shift, but it was locked in place: the car wasn’t even turned on. George needed to reset, to get things back in order. He got out of the car, stretched, shook his arms and legs, thought can birds live on Doritos alone?, got back in the car, put his seat belt on, put one hand on the steering wheel , started the car, put the car in drive, put his other hand on the steering wheel, and pushed down on the gas; finally escaping the parking lot.

Hey, what’s up?

I quit my job.

The extended silence led George to pull the phone away from his ear to check the status of the call.

You did what?

I quit my job.

Why? I mean, you haven’t talked to me about this at all. What are we going to do for money? My job can’t sustain us and all the bills and everything we have to buy for the girls. What are we going to do about money?

I’ll figure something out. We’ll be all right for a few months with my savings.

How much do you have in savings? How can you be sure that’s going to be enough? What if something major comes up and we have to use your savings for that? What if you don’t find a job before your savings runs out?

We’ll be all right. We can go over the financials tonight, so we have a better understanding of where we’re at.

I hope so.  I wish I could quit my job like that. You know I’ve been talking about how much I’d like to stay home with the girls. Anyway, what happened?

I don’t know.

What do you mean, you don’t know?

I mean, I don’t know, I just, I showed up for work and I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t go to that job anymore.

So, what did you do? You just walked in and told Bess you quit?

Not exactly, I had this whole spiel…

You had a spiel? So you were planning this? Why didn’t you say anything to me about it?

I didn’t know I was going to go through with it, if I knew for sure I was going to go through with it, then I would have talked to you about it, but, I just decided on my way in, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

But if you had a spiel then you were planning for longer than just this morning.

Yeah, I had been thinking about it for a long time, but I didn’t think until this morning that I would go through with it.

What time this morning?

I don’t know what time. Some time this morning.

Why didn’t you talk to me about it before you went to work?

Because it was after I left for work but before I got to work. Come on, if at any point I knew I was serious about it, before I went to work, I would have talked to you.

So what happened?

I don’t know, I went to Bess’s office first thing, like before I went to my office, and I was going to give her this well-thought out, articulate, resignation, but I sat down weird, and then I couldn’t start thinking about how nobody was in the front office and those things kind of threw me off, and I just started rambling.

You sat down weird? What does that even mean?

I sat down without taking my bag off or putting my coffee down, so my bag was like wedged in between my leg and the chair and it was hovering over my crotch like I was trying to hide a boner. And then I didn’t know what to do with my coffee so I just left it in my hand.

That is weird.

I know.

Ok, so, anyway, what did you say?

That’s what I mean, I don’t know.

How could you not know, you just said it what, twenty minutes ago?

Yeah, it’s just kind of blurry. It was just a lot about how I couldn’t sit in the office for thirty years and there’s never enough work to do and all the crazy things James has said to me and how I lied during my interview.

Wow, so you really went for it huh?

Yeah, I guess so, and it ended with Bess telling me to go see a doctor. All I said was thanks.

Did you cry?

What? No, why would I cry?

I don’t know, seems like a pretty intense situation, for some reason I default to crying when I get overwhelmed. I probably would’ve started crying.

I guess I did have a moment when I thought I should have cried. I mean, I had the thought, should I be crying right now, I’m overwhelmed. But I didn’t, that would’ve only made it worse. I think that counts though, I was basically crying without the tears. My words were my tears.

What are you a robot? Based upon my calculations I should currently be expressing my emotions in the form of tears. System failure. No algorithm for tears. I have no tears. I am overwhelmed. My words are my tears. That doesn’t count; you have to cry actual tears.

Ok, well by that definition I didn’t cry then.

You should have cried.

Look, I agree with you, we just disagree with the definition of crying.

You’re on your way home now? What are you going to do? You should start looking for a job today.

Yeah, I’m on my way.

Week 04 Day 01 - Resignation

George shifted the car's transmission from drive to reverse, palmed the headrest of the passenger seat, turned his head clockwise from twelve to four, and backed his car into the farthest possible parking space from the entrance of the Public Utilities building; he wanted the extra distance to mull over his forthcoming announcement.

George arrived to work only five minutes earlier than normal, but the building’s interior seemed completely different: there was no one yet in the front office, no doors left sociably open, no one wandering the halls, and only a handful of needed lights turned on. George’s inner monologue took a back seat to the thoughts and images of his co-workers arriving like locusts in the next five minutes and franticly opening doors or turning on lights. He continued down the thinly-lit hallway to his boss’s office, passing by his own in the process.

Good morning Bess.

Good morning George, how are you?

I’m ok; can I talk to you about something?

Sure, have a seat.

George entered the office, closing the door behind him, something that Bess took note of. Instead of putting down his coffee and removing the laptop bag slung around his shoulder, George just sat down, awkwardly trapping the bag in between the chair’s armrest and his leg, and leaving his arm at a ninety degree angle, coffee thermos in hand. As George stared at Bess he tried to remember the much-rehearsed opening line of his resignation, but couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid laptop bag wedged by his leg and how much of a psycho he must look like after closing the door to his boss’s office unsolicited and then sitting down without making any of the adjustments that a normal human being would make. He was also getting flashes of the front office staff arriving for work: running in and out of offices turning on and off lights and opening and closing doors like a Benny Hill sketch. When George noticed Bess shift uncomfortably in her chair he realized he had already begun talking.

I just don’t know if I can do this for the rest of my life: sitting in an office all day, behind a computer. I mean, what am I even supposed to be doing anyway, what are my job responsibilities? I don’t have any work to do, so I just sit in my office, and I can’t do anything on the internet because it will show up on the usage report, so I just sit. I just sit in front of a computer all day and do nothing. I sit and I think to myself I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I think about how my dad worked for thirty three years as a firefighter without complaining. I don’t know if that’s what he wanted to do with his life. I don’t know if he didn’t sit in his office at the firehouse and have those same thoughts. Am I not man enough? Whatever that means. Is my role as a father, and husband, and provider, just to shut up and father, husband, and provide? Obviously firefighter is a way cooler job than whatever it is that my job is, but doesn’t everyone hate their job to some level? Am I just being dramatic? I’m very grateful for the job and opportunity, don’t get me wrong, but it’s making me hate everything. I don’t enjoy anything anymore because Monday through Friday I’m trapped in a windowless interior office with literally no more than five minutes of work to do. And then I think about how ungrateful and over privileged that sounds, and how lucky I am to be in a better position than probably ninety nine percent of the country, if not the planet; so I don’t say anything, and I’m not complaining, or at least I’m not trying to complain. I compare all of this to my dad because that’s the example I have, but I didn’t know him well enough to ask any of those questions, and now he’s dead so I can never get those answers anyways. And that’s what I do for eight hours. Yesterday, I got trapped in a two hour long conversation with James about whether or not Bon Scott was gay because of the lyrics in Dirty Deeds and then he started talking about sending death row inmates to islands populated by cannibals so we don’t have to spend our tax dollars on them anymore. I mean do you know the lyrics to that song? He just kept saying no no no, he says ‘backdoor man,’ don’t you know what that means? He’s a backdoor man, man, he’s gay, that means he likes guys’s backdoors!  He ignored literally every other word in the song and just kept referencing backdoor man; it’s like he was purposely getting it wrong to push my buttons. It takes a lot of effort to misinterpret something that poorly. Have you seen him use the ice cream machine? It doesn’t make any sense. It was one of the stupidest arguments I’ve ever had in my life and it was followed up by an argument about feeding people to cannibals which is THE stupidest argument I’ve ever had in my life. I can’t work with someone like that, even though there’s going to be someone like that wherever I go. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Do I just suck it up and sit my office for the next thirty years because it provides for my family? In the face of that all other options seem incredibly selfish. Why shouldn’t I be happy with that? I have a job that more than provides for everything I need. Woe is me. But I just can’t do it. I can’t force myself out of bed another morning to go to a job I hate for another day to spend another eight hours starring at my dumb reflection on a blank computer monitor. Thank you so much for opportunity I know you took a chance hiring me for the position and I do really appreciate it. I hate that I’m leaving you holding the bag on this, but I don’t know what else to do. I really can’t do it another day. I just can’t. This can’t be what I’m supposed to do with my life. There are so many other things I would rather do with my life. I practically lied about all of my experience in the interview anyway. I don’t feel I’ve done a bad job per say, but I’m sure you could find someone way more qualified for this position than me. I don’t even enjoy computers that much for starters.


All that stuff about my experience with databases was a lie; I had worked on one before that interview, and I had to watch hours of YouTube videos to finish it, which I guess could be a commentary on the modern workplace, I don’t think it’s that terrible, but it definitely sounds bad, I watched YouTube videos to learn my job. I even bought one of those Databases for Dummies books, which is a total piece of shit. I mean who’s going to read eight hundred pages about databases? I suppose you could use it as a reference but even then, have you seen it? It’s the size of a phonebook, it’s not even a regular book size; it’s probably like sixteen hundred regular book pages.

George, I think you need some help; maybe you should go see a doctor

Ok, thank you.

George stood up, opened the door, and left. He felt refreshingly empty, and no longer regretted holding onto all of his belongings when he sat down, as he now had nothing to delay his exodus. The realization felt rewardingly efficient. 

Week 03 Day 05 - Father Daughter Day finished

If Santa was awake, you couldn’t tell. He still carried the same slumped over and defeated posture George noticed standing twenty feet away. Up close however he noticed a few more details: a thin layer of dark brown mud on the bottom his boots, intensely blue eyes, and a finely brushed white beard that merged perfectly with the fur of his costume. The man had all the trappings of Santa Claus, but something was missing. George couldn’t help but think of animals at the zoo.

George placed his girls in Santa’s ramshackle embrace: Sophia, ever-adaptable, on the right, sporting a confused half smile, that in future years would be spark numerous light-hearted questions about what George was thinking; and Charlotte on the left, her wide-eyed countenance conveying: I’ve just woken up and am slowly realizing I’m in a very weird place. As the photographer rattled his tambourine and snapped pictures, goading the babies to smile, George tried to puzzle together an explanation for the man despondency. What did he do the other eleven months out of the year? How do you become a professional Santa Claus? It seemed like a job that would require a passion to keep you involved, a passion that this man certainly lacked. The questions were not malicious, but a genuine curiosity for George. Before he could find any answers the pictures were over and Sophia was slowly sliding out of Santa’s hold, down the front of the chair, and onto the floor, until her pants had ridden up to her knees and the back of her shirt to her underarms. She remained there until George stood her up and adjusted her clothes. He held Charlotte, and prompted Sophia to show her appreciation.

Say thank you, Sophia.


Good enough. Thank you Santa, enjoy your holidays.

Ohthanyou merrchrimas, hrrmmm

George wasn’t sure if Santa had actually finished his gurgle before falling asleep, but he liked the idea of him falling asleep mid-gurgle. He stepped over to the cashier’s work station and was prompted to pick the picture and package he wanted. Seeing his daughters in the setting brought him unending joy, he was looking at a picture that would soon be an artifact saved for years, shown to relatives, friends, classmates, boyfriends, spouses, and eventually grandchildren. As much as George disliked the faux-sentimentality manipulated into every aspect of American culture, used exclusively for profit and not genuine emotion, he was finding that it was those moments that were having the most profound effect on him as a father, this one notwithstanding. That was until he looked half an inch north at Santa, who, at best, could be described as present. To Santa’s credit, his eyes were open, but his smile left a lot to be desired. It looked more like he was grinding his teeth than smiling; maybe he thought the beard would compensate for the lackluster effort, but it only exaggerated the problem. On top of all of that, Santa was the only unchanging thing in the series. George could understand if he had been smiling at the beginning and trailed off towards the end, but it was as if Santa himself were a picture the girls were getting their picture taken with. He may not have been able to force a complete smile, but he held the incomplete one flawlessly.

The drive home found both girls asleep in their car seats, and George’s thoughts returning to Sad Santa; specifically about the man’s parents, and what role they played in his life. A question he had been wondering about frequently after becoming a father. George began projecting the best possible future for his daughters, then realized he had no concept of what that would look like in twenty years, and conceded that was something for his daughters to decide and for him to facilitate; except, of course, if they wanted to be Mrs. Claus, or a wrestler; unless that’s what they really wanted.

George was able to carry Charlotte in successfully without waking her up. He knew he didn’t stand a chance of that with Sophia, and the thirty minute nap she got in the car would be enough to energize her for the rest of the day. George brought both girls into the playroom, leaving Charlotte in her car seat to nap, and sat down on the floor with Sophia. After a few minutes of digging around her toy chest she revealed a book called, Daddy’s Little Princess, something his mom had unquestionably bought for her. Sophia crawled into his lap with the book in her hands, and opened the cover. George, who was already very skeptical, started reading. The book opened with an illustration of a man holding a newborn baby and read: Today, daddy’s little princess was born.  George was doubtful, but he had not prepared him for this level of garbage, and it had only been the first page. He tried to close the book and prompt Sophia for something different, but she had already grabbed the next page and begun turning.  The next page was illustrated with the same man standing beside a little girl, holding her hand: Today, daddy’s little princess learned how to walk. Sophia grabbed a handful of pages this time, and turned them in unison, landing on a page with the man waving good bye to a backpacked elementary school girl: Today, was daddy’s little princess’ first day of school. Something began stirring inside George, but before he could check it, Sophia had grabbed and turned again: the man, next to a teenager wearing a cap and gown: Today, daddy’s little princess graduated high school. The image and description sent a severely unexpected torrent of emotion through George’s face, leaving him somewhat shell-shocked, all of a sudden wanting years back that he had missed with daddy’s little princess, feeling cheated. Sophia kept turning the pages: an older version of the man dancing with a woman in a wedding gown, followed by the now-grandfather staring in amazement at the daughter’s newborn baby. George was overwhelmed completely.

Ok, the end! Thank you, Sophia; we’re not going to read that book anymore, ok?

George took a deep breath. Sophia stood up and took a few steps with the book in her hand before she dropped it on the ground in exchange for a blanket. She flung the blanket over her head and started walking in circles, giggling to herself. She yanked the blanket off her head like an amateur magician pulling a tablecloth off a teeming dinner table. Sophia walked behind George, rested her head between his shoulder blades, and hugged his back. In that moment, George could stop worrying about plans, and futures, and what would or would not happen. In the next moment, Sophia buried her face in his back and started making fart noises.

Week 03 Day 04 - Father Daughter Day continued

The mall’s Christmas centerpiece was a twenty foot tall artificial tree decorated decadently in red, gold, and silver. The tree was flanked on both sides by similar trees that descended in height starting at fifteen feet and shrinking all the way down to five. The display formed the semi-circle backdrop for photos with Santa, the front half finished by a four foot tall green iron fence. George recognized Santa as the man stumbling through the exercising crowd earlier in the morning. He was sitting in a chair that was easily half the size of the twenty foot tree it was placed in front of, and he was asleep. George and his daughters were parked outside, waiting for a welcome. Unlike the Santa displays in movies, there were no elves running around, or lines that stretched through half the mall, filled with exhausted parents and irritable children. Besides Santa, there were only two other people in the attraction, both wearing red shirts with a green smock and black pants. The person in charge of printing the photos and cashing out was busy perusing Facebook, while the photographer had his face buried in his phone.

Excuse me, when do you open?

Ten minutes.

Is there a line, or anywhere I should stand specifically?

No. You can wait there. You know there’s a playground right down that hall if you don’t feel like waiting, we’re not going to be busy until late tonight.

Have you seen that playground? Everything’s shaped like breakfast food.

Yeah, it’s called The Breakfast Frolic.

It’s weird right? Who designs a playground around food?

I guess. The kids seem to like it though.

I just tried to eat breakfast after spending fifteen minutes in that place. I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to eat breakfast again.

That’s a little dramatic, it’s just a playground.

But who thinks about breakfast when designing a playground for a mall? That’s such a weird connection to make. All I can imagine is some jerk scrambling for inspiration because he’s late for a deadline, and he spills some coffee on his blueprint, or his wife calls him to breakfast. Then he’s like, that’s it, like it’s some kind of revelation. If anything the playground should be full of giant plastic shoes, or khakis, or have a ball-pit full of rolled up socks, with shirtless greeters giving the creeps to anyone that walks by.

What kid is going to want to slide down a pair of khakis?

Who knows? What kid wants to slide down a piece of bacon? Or spin around on a giant cup of coffee?

I don’t know, that sounds pretty fun; I think I would’ve loved that as a kid.

Kids love everything. They don’t care if the slide is a piece of bacon or a pair of pants, all they care about is if it’s a slide, and whether or not they’re going to get shocked when they get off. All I’m saying is whoever designed this breakfast playground is a weirdo. It’s just an observation.

Alright, look, I don’t totally disagree with you, I just don’t know why you’re so passionate about it.

I’m not passionate, like I said: it’s just an observation. It’s not like I’m starting a campaign to have the monstrosity removed.

You’re getting a little loud though.

I’m not getting loud; it’s just the natural inflection of my voice when I’m trying to make a point.

That’s called being loud.

Can we just get these pictures taken please?

Yeah, let me wake Santa up.


Week 03 Day 03 - Father Daughter Day continued

George walked aimlessly through the mall, leaning forward on the stroller's handlebar, it politely creaking under his weight. Sophia had adopted the half distant stare of all fatigued toddlers, and Charlotte had begun stirring in the lower seat. When George checked his watch he realized that Charlotte would need a bottle soon; he decided it was as good a time as any to grab breakfast. George found the only sit-down restaurant open that served breakfast and grabbed a booth. He sat Sophia next to him, and left Charlotte in the stroller until either her bottle was ready, or she had woken up fully.

Hi, my name's Jennifer, do you need a high-chair for your little one?

No, thank you.

Can I start you off with something to drink?

I'll just have a water, and can I get a water for her with a lid on it.

Sure thing, here are your menus, and some crayons, the breakfast items are on the first two pages. I'll be right back with your waters.

Thank you. Oh, and can I also get a cup of hot water, I need to steep a bottle.



The waitress hadn't even turned the corner before Sophia was putting the blue and pink crayons in her mouth and reaching for the orange. This was a losing battle for George, he knew complete removal of the crayons would result in a meltdown, so he had to be satisfied with removing them every ten to fifteen seconds from Sophia's mouth or nose until she lost interest. George began looking at the breakfast menu, trying to hone in on what he was hungry for, but quickly realized he didn't have much of an appetite. He tried to frame the search differently, looking instead for something he thought would be best to share with Sophia, but that didn't work either. The pristine, staged photos, looked dirty somehow, George couldn't quite pinpoint it, but there seemed to be an almost invisible layer of grime on the food. He had been looking at the menu so long it started to turn into a psychedelic optical illusion: everything moving in his peripheral, while the center remained neutral. George intensified his focus on the menu, looking for hard, undeniable, evidence of dirt on the food, what he saw instead, shocked him even more: the moving parts were actually kids, kids the size of ants running rampant on breakfast platters. Kids gliding head first down strips of bacon like slip-n-slides. Popping their heads out of blueberry holes in muffins. Diving from stacks of pancakes into a river of syrup, or relaxing in individual waffle pocket hot tubs.

Ok, here are your waters. Be careful with the mug, that water is extremely hot. Are you ready to order?

Have you seen that play area on the first floor?

You mean the Breakfast Frolic? Oh yes, the kids love it.

You don't find it to be weird?

Weird? I've never really thought about it, but no not really.

It's a playground where everything is shaped like breakfast food.

Yeah, the Breakfast Frolic.

I can't look at this menu without seeing kids all over the food. I look at this menu and all I see is kids crawling in and out of sausage links.

Sir, I can assure you that at no point during the preparation, cooking, or serving of our food, are kids allowed to participate.

What would you recommend I order then?

Everyone loves the waffles, they're the most popular breakfast item by far. We have a great meal that comes with two sides and unlimited waffles.

I can't do it. All I imagine are kids filling up those pockets with syrup and lounging in them like a hot tub.


Can I just get a cheeseburger?

Sir, it's nine thirty in the morning, we don't start selling lunch items for another two hours.

Just give me a kids sized order of scrambled eggs, and two pieces of toast please.

Ok, I'll put your order in, and have it out as soon as it's ready.

By the time the food came out, George had already fed Charlotte and put her back to sleep in the stroller. Sophia was able to feed herself, and did so dutifully, shunning all distractions and focusing solely on the task at hand. The waitress returned with the check, instructing George to take it to the counter whenever he was ready. After tidying up as much as possible and loading Sophia back into the stroller, they approached the cashier to check out.

Spending the day with daddy huh?

Yeah, I took the day off work.

You should take them to go see Santa Claus on the first floor, I bet they would love that.

Yeah, we might do that.


Week 03 Day 02 - Father Daughter Day continued

Before he knew it, and without giving it serious consideration, George was driving towards the mall. He remembered a children’s play area there that was always populated with buzzing kids, but the more he thought about his natural inclination to head to the mall the more he began to feel like a mindless zombie from a George Romero movie. Being a weekday morning the mall was not busy, the only visitors being senior citizens walking for exercise, who would disperse when the mall stores officially opened in an hour. George strollered his daughters through the geriatric herd until he found the play area. He was unsure what to expect from the play area, his only expectations for it coming from seeing so many kids there whenever they were at the mall, but what he saw caught him completely off guard; it was breakfast-themed: bacon slides, waffle climbing walls, muffin seats, a berry ball-pit. Dinosaurs, Saturday morning cartoon characters, generic shapes, all these options made more sense than breakfast. As George was unstrapping Sophia from the stacked double stroller, and removing her shoes, he couldn't help but think of the engineer who gets tasked with designing a children’s play area and thinks, breakfast! How many stamps of approval do you have to receive to ok a children's play area? How many people saw Donut Themed Play Area, and thought, I'm ok with this. Was he nervous right before unveiling sausage link crawl tubes to investors?

George held the entrance gate open as Sophia quickly wobbled in; the spongy safety floor made it difficult to push the stroller, so George found the nearest muffin he could, and sat down. He looked down at his feet, which he was using to test the floor's give. The floor was as equally breakfast themed as the rest of the area, with graphics of pancakes, blueberries, bagels, sticks of butter, and other various breakfast essentials patterned across its surface. George looked over at Charlotte, who was in the bottom part of the stacked stroller; she was looking back at him, and behind the pacifier in her mouth, she smiled.

Sophia was enthralled with the breakfast play area, and was currently laying on top of one of the many over-easy eggs, with her legs sticking straight up in the air, swinging them back and forth. George turned his gaze to the mall-walkers; envisioning himself among the crowd in thirty years; trying to make the connection between the toddler lost in amazement on top of a giant plastic semi-cooked egg, the adult judging everything around him including said egg, and the seniors who didn't give a shit about anything; the transition from each as equally impossible as inevitable. Just then Sophia let out a shriek that would have been more appropriate coming from a choked balloon, and when George looked up she was running towards the berry ball-pit, the shriek becoming more staccato with each step. He stood up and guided the stroller across the play area to the ball-pit where Sophia was now standing tentatively, staring at the massive collection of fake fruits. George set the brake on the stroller, and in one swift motion scooped Sophia up in both arms and dove backwards into the ball-pit, sending hundreds of plastic berries flying in every direction; father and daughter screaming in excitement.

From inside the ball-pit George noticed a disruption in the elderly flow, a lone senior walking in the opposite direction as his peers. George followed the anomaly through the crowd and began to pick up random features: tall, overweight, brilliant white hair, giant clomping black boots, and flashes of red. George could tell by the rickety gait that the man wasn't there for exercise, and he was almost convinced his eighteen month old toddler had a better grasp on the concept of walking than him. George returned his attention to the play area to check on Sophia who had crawled out of the ball-pit, and was now trying to climb a stack of pancakes. By the time George had escaped the pit, Sophia had settled for sitting on a pad of butter; realizing she had finally spent her reserve of seemingly endless energy, George decided it was time to move on.

Week 03 Day 01 - Father Daughter Day

A Quick Note: Unfortunately I have fallen off the short-lived wagon, and failed to live up to my promise of posting something every weekday. On Monday Squarespace was subject to numerous DDOS attacks in the evening that left my site inaccessible, leaving me unable to retrieve anything I had worked on earlier in the day, and unable to post anything new. Tuesday I tried playing catch-up and had planned to post the finished versions of both Day 01 and Day 02 in one post, but amid work meetings and the last episode of something I love very much: The Best Show on WFMU, I couldn't devote as much time to the writing as I wanted to. Today, day 03, I will be posting all content for the days missed. 


George shifted the car’s transmission from drive to reverse, palmed the headrest of the passenger seat, turned his head clockwise from twelve to four, and backed his car into the farthest possible parking space from the entrance of the Public Utilities building. He placed the car in park, but left his hand on the gearshift. The image of his two daughters, who he dropped off at his mother-in-law's every day, was still fresh in his mind: the youngest, Charlotte, only three months, was asleep in her car seat, wrapped in a blanket, while eighteen month old Sophia was in the arms of her grandmother, slowly realizing her dad was leaving, her face twisting with dreadful revelation. George tried to reassure Sophia, but the attempt had the opposite effect and she began wailing in anguish before he finished even one syllable. This was a new reaction for Sophia, and it was the first time George felt heartbroken for his daughter, like he was letting her down in some unknowable, unexplainable way. Unsure of what to do or how to comfort his panicked daughter, George stepped backwards out of the doorway like a cartoon character that’s tipped over an expensive vase. Before closing the door he glanced down at Charlotte who had been awoken by the outburst; when they made eye contact, she smiled beneath her pacifier.

George realized now that this was only the first in a series of irrational heartbreaks he would experience as a father. The scene continued to replay itself in his mind until he picked up his phone. He scrolled through the contacts until he found his boss’s name. There was a second's hesitation before selecting the office number and putting the phone up to his ear.

Public Utilities this is Bess, how can I help you?

Hey Bess, it’s George, how are you?


That’s good, hey, my daughter has a doctor’s appointment this morning that I completely forgot about, and she’s getting shots, so I think I'm just going to take her in this morning and stay with her the rest of the day, if that’s all right.

Oh, poor thing, well that’s not a problem at all, I hope everything goes well, I'll see you tomorrow George.

Ok, thanks Bess, have a good day.

George was unsure of how sincere his phony call-ins sounded. He felt like he was good at it generally, there were no alarming tones or hesitation in his boss’s remarks, but didn't everyone think they were good at lying? And his experience had been that the people who thought they were the best at lying, were actually the worst. Besides, George didn’t lie about anything major, it was a tool used mainly to get out of work; one that he had become easy to use, and that he relied on a little too much. George’s inner monologue was cut short when someone walked by the hood of his car and he realized he was still sitting in the parking lot.

His destination raised another question: what do I tell my mother-in-law? Fifteen minutes later, and standing at the front door with the doorbell’s ring a distant echo, George was still searching for the right explanation.

Hey George, back so soon?


Is everything all right?

Oh, yeah, everything’s fine.

Did you forget something?


Ok. Well, come on in.

George had clearly missed his first opportunity to explain his reappearance; he briefly considered not explaining himself at all, just gathering up his daughters’ things awkwardly, and leaving, but knew that that wasn't a viable option. The return seemed to be just as confusing to Sophia, who, having heard her dad at the door, turned around slack-jawed.


Despite the toddler’s spot on utterance being used to describe everything she saw: her mother, grandparents, the dog, her toys, it still made George feel special. She toddled across the living room, babbling a secret code only she understood, and wedged her head between his thighs while hugging his legs. George bent over, grabbed Sophia under her arms, lifted her up, and cradled her in his right arm; the slobbery cipher intensifying with altitude. His mother-in-law had begun gathering the few things of Sophia’s that had already been scattered around. He knew she wouldn’t ask him outright for an explanation, but he also knew it would be really weird if he didn’t offer one.

I really didn’t feel like going to work.

Oh, I can watch the girls if you want to go home and relax.

No thank you, I wanted to take them out, spend some time with them.

Ok, well, have fun. Are you dropping them off tomorrow?

Yeah, they’ll be here tomorrow at the same time.

After his mother-in-law was done stuffing the scattered belongings into their travel bag, George lifted the car seat, and prompted Sophia to say “bye-bye.” Once the children were secured in the car, he sat in the driver’s seat, started the ignition, and thought to himself, what do I do with a toddler and an infant all day?

Week 02 Day 05 - The Idiom Epilogue

George pulled the draw cord down. Once the hatch was within arm's reach he grabbed the bottom rung of the folding ladder and began opening it up. He climbed the tumbledown ladder slowly into the attic. Every floating particle in the confined space was irradiated by incoming sunlight; two dormer windows afforded enough natural light that no artificial light was needed during the day. George continued across the attic to his desk, which was placed below the western-most window, leaving a trapezoid of light showing on the desktop. He reached into the top drawer and withdrew a brown, fabric, hard-covered journal. He pulled a handful of pens out of the same drawer and tested each one on a scrap piece of paper until settling for a point-seven millimeter blue ballpoint. George opened the notebook, the flaring sun illuminating the white pages, and reviewed his previous entries:


Colder than a freezer in the North Pole, January 23rd, 1942

Happier than a tickled hyena, June 19th, 1948

Scared as a possum in a graveyard, January 3rd, 1950

He then added:

Slept like a baby, March 15th, 1953

Week 02 Day 04 - The Idiom finished

George's mom was known for being a little long-winded, but despite receiving a little too much insight into her personal life, George was satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. Feeling emboldened by the confirmation of his adage, George tackled the day's workload with an increased vigor.

George drove home excited to share the lyrical invention with his wife. When he walked in, she was preparing dinner.

Hey honey!

Hey, how was work?

It was good, listen to what I came up with today.


Ok, first, ask me how I'm doing.

I already asked you that.

No, you asked me how work was.

That's basically the same thing, I think.

Not really, I could be doing great because I'm no longer at work where I had a terrible day.

I guess, but I think in general they're substitutable.

Either way, ask me how I'm doing.

Ok, but I just want to say, whatever you're about to say would have been more impactful if you just said it the first time I asked you.

Well, it's not really appropriate when you ask "how was work?"

Is it dirty?

No, not like that, it just doesn't work when you ask like that, just ask me how I'm doing.


Pretend like we just woke up, or it's the first thing in the morning.


No, ask me how I slept.

That's kind of a weird question, don't you think?

No, not really.

How often do people ask you how you slept? Is that a common question around you're office?

Forget it then, just ask me how I'm doing.

Ok, how are you doing?

Great, thanks for asking, I slept like a baby last night.

Ew. Why are you telling people how you slept? And how do you know what a baby sleeps like? Have you ever even been in the same house as a sleeping baby? It seems a little braggy to me, I don't think people really care how you slept.

It's not braggy. They're asking how I'm doing and I'm letting them know that I'm doing great because I slept so well.

Why don't you just say that then.

That's boring, there's no poetry to it.

Poetry? They're not asking William Blake how he's feeling.

Maybe like Blake, my genius won't be recognized until long after my own lifetime.

You're really reaching for the stars on this one huh?

I think it works, the philosophy is sound. My mom liked it.

Oh, you mean the woman that birthed the "sweetest baby ever who never cried no matter what?" Pretty surprised she agreed with you. My mom watches babies for a living, I grew up surrounded by babies all the time. Sleeping like a baby, sounds like a nightmare I would have.

That seems a little over the top.

Just last night as a matter of fact, I had a dream that I was stuck in a loop, it just kept playing over and over again, and I couldn't get out of it. In the loop I would fall asleep, and then wake up three hours later completely starving and I couldn't feed myself. I had to wait for someone else to feed me.

In this dream, did you shit yourself too?

As a matter of fact, yes, I did. Turns out I was dreaming that I was a baby.

I get it. Look, I'm willing to accept that my witticisms may not be recognized immediately, but know this: I slept like a baby will be commonplace in the next fifty years.

Just like happier than a tickled hyena right?

I don't see why not. Hyenas laugh a lot. I think it works.

Week 02 Day 03 - The Idiom continued

George held the receiver to his ear for a beat, just to make sure Jeff had actually hung up. Once the extended silence satisfied George's curiosity he pressed the switch hook and quickly dialed another number.


Hey mom, it's George.

George? Aren't you supposed to be at work?

Yes, I'm calling you from work. I had a quick question for you.

Sure, honey, go ahead.

What does I slept like a baby make you think of?

Oh, that sounds lovely.

Right? Babies are always asleep, they don't have anything to worry about, no responsibilities, they can fall asleep whenever they want.

When you were a baby, I know I've told you this before, but you were just the sweetest baby. You never cried no matter how hungry, or tired, or wet. You were so quiet that your father and I thought something might have been wrong. But I think that just sounds great, I slept like a baby, very comforting. I would love to be able to sleep like a baby, but instead I've got to deal with this wretched menopause: hot flashes, and sweats, and anxiety. My hormones...

Ok, mom.

...are just so up and down, sometimes I don't know what's left or right, and sometimes I get really, I hope you don't mind me telling you all this sweetie, but I just get so excited around your father, and other times he just makes me want to spit. And I think my chest is getting smaller. But, sleeping like a baby sounds wonderful. I don't know when the last time I've slept like a baby was, but it sure does sound nice.

Yeah, well, I mentioned at a meeting this morning that I slept like a baby last night, and the people acted like I was crazy.

I think they're the crazy ones honey, cause that sounds just splendid to me. I'd give my pearls to sleep like a baby tonight, heck, I'd give my pearls just to nap like a baby. 

Thanks, mom, I'll call you later.

Ok, honey, have a good day.