REPORT A PROBLEM
SCENE – Set of a talk show. THE PANEL, seated.
Enter STEAMED DUMPLING
SD: Lads, do you know the mark of a tried-and-blue 'Merican?
PANEL: Tell us, please!
SD: The folk of some nations, as strange as it seems,
Elect their officials based on omens and dreams.
PANEL: And that's how they get such barbaric regimes!
SD: But true-bred 'Mericans, boy I tell you what,
We don't vote from the head or the soul or the gut,
Yes, great as we are, we just vote from the butt.
PANEL: The butt! Hurrah! We vote from the butt!
Enter PETE PUNDIT
) Is this a political talk show I see before me?
Into their discussion I'll chime,
To get that sweet, precious screen time.
Hark, learned men of the panel; analysts of our democracy!
Allow me, a humble pundit, to join you, exposing greed and hypocrisy!
PANEL: Let him speak.
PP: A comprehensive health plan's not enough,
Your foreign policy is not a factor,
If you want to prove you've got the proper stuff,
Shoot down some birds and ride 'round on a tractor.
PANEL: You're elitist and absurd,
if you don't shoot down a bird.
SD: To understand the mood of the nation,
And to point out their values and logic misguided,
We've invited these folks for a brief conversation:
A group of those voters who're still undecided.
Enter a band of UNDECIDED VOTERS, dancing gaily.
VOTERS: We are undecided voters,
Small-town folks and city slickers,
Come, political promoters,
We pine for bright pins and stickers!
We hear there is geopolitical tension
And something about a war, is that right?
We admit, we haven't been paying attention,
And most of us aren't too terribly bright.
PP: Underestimate the butt vote at your peril.
Fine. Yup. So...
! I was experimenting.
But why do I feel as if I've been on a three-day bender? Why am I suddenly filled with guilt and remorse? Why do I feel so...
It's a drug. Absolutely no more rhyming, I mean it! (Would anybody like a... ...)
RHYMING: DON'T PLAY THAT GAME.
I won't let a little thing like three days of utter
tarnish what could be a very promising month. I'll get up, dust myself off, and accept that there are certain things that I cannot change.
Maybe something good will come of this.
“Harold, lookit these muffins. Pick one, huh? Look, they've got blueberry, raspberry, apple... Harold, will you come over here and look at these muffins? Ma, c'mere, they've got muffins. Harold, which one? Pick out a muffin, Harold. Ma, will you get over here and look? They've got all different kinds. Harold, which one?”
“Everything's great. We just found some nectarines, they weren't on our list. That was a nice surprise. Don't put that in the cart, pal. No, put it back on the shelf. Put them back. You love nectarines.”
“Put some capers on there and you've got a
When I was a kid, I had to go to confession sometimes. I hated it.
I usually made things up. I was a really good kid, and I couldn't think of any
sins that I had committed.
The alternative was to tell the priest that I hadn't done anything wrong. I had paid enough attention to know, though, that this would be construed as
, which was even worse than punching your brother (or, actually,
about punching your brother).
“I'd like to confess that I'm about to make up my confession.”
“So... don't do that.”
i like to wait about a minute into the end credits.
and i like to imagine pedestrian number five jumps up and says to his assembled family and friends, “there i am, that's me!”
and he points and gestures to draw their attention to his name in the credits as it scrolls by.
and his mother thinks “that's my boy”
and his fiancée thinks “why am I with pedestrian number five and not George Clooney”
and his friends think “how much longer do we have to sit here, we could have done that, the pizza is ready”
and so on.
She came over while I was working and started asking me some questions. How long have you been here, and so on. There was a glint in her eye, and she played with her hair in a strangely compelling way.
This made me so nervous that I started to point out the three different scanners in the office and describe their noises.
an effort to be humorous; I just couldn't think of anything else to say.
This one is a sort of VRRRRR!
And this one is VR-CHONK-VR-CHONK!
And this one goes HRM?-RAWWWWWR~!
How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow morning and received a spreadsheet?
The contents of the spreadsheet: your activities of the previous day, carefully noted, minute by minute. Would you spit out your coffee and resolve to change your life? Would you call in sick to work and fly kites with your friends?
What I'm getting at is, would it
OK, let's have a look at that spreadsheet, there. Huh... Wow... ...
. Did you really watch TV for five hours and eat that whole bag of potato chips? For real? That was the
I don't want to write
I just want to bang on the desk all day
Do you ever just stare at a blank screen? You'd think that after a while, you would start to hallucinate or something, and then you could write about that.
“Oh,” you'd write, “just now I spaced out and thought I was in an egg-toss.”
But no, you just sit there, and the screen stays blank, and nothing gets done.
Fortunately, there is always the theme of the blank screen, which, I notice, has saved many 100words writers from having their batches fall into oblivion.
Everything goes smoothly at first. We're in the office, or in my apartment, or
... and things are definitely starting to head in the right direction.
Just as it starts to get good, something always happens. There are spiders in the bathtub, or some crazy guy bursts through the door, or she turns out to be some sort of freaky egg-in-the-chest alien.
There's screaming, the police are called, we're all brought down to the station, and by then I've snapped out of it. Daydream over, man.
I have not successfully completed a sexual fantasy for four years.
That guy is in the park again. Violent, angry screaming.
I guess I could go downstairs and try to talk to him. I won't, though, because I am fairly certain he would eat off my face.
I would like to find out what the matter is, though.
“What's up with the screaming?” I'd ask him.
He might tell me he is dissatisfied with the way his life has turned out.
The world has abandoned me
,” he might say.
“It can be a cold place,” I might say. “But I'm trying to sleep, so keep it down out here, OK, Screamy?”
Let's say I've admitted to myself that she makes me miserable. (She probably makes you miserable too, because you think, “what, is he writing about her
So the thing to do is to avoid her, right? I did that for a few months, and noticed the introduction of a certain
to my daily life.
But (you'll have to trust me here) if she called
up and asked
if you wanted to get a drink, you wouldn't hesitate to say "yes," either.
*misery more fun than equanimity
*maybe I missed her
*why did I do that
Today in the park, I imagined we were in a rowboat.
You were wearing a dress and one of those big floppy hats.
I rowed us around the pond and sang for you,
and the curious ducks swam over to quack at us.
We quacked back at them, those ducks,
and they swam away, confused.
We tied the boat to a tree and found a good spot for a picnic.
A lentil loaf, a jug of wine, and thou beside me on a blanket!
We watched the sunset and stumbled home arm in arm, singing, to finish the wine.
When the entire world and everyone in it makes you feel sick and miserable, you might think to yourself, “maybe it's
It probably is.
But do you really want to change? Maybe you're a pretty nice person, and your problem is the fact that people are selfish and rude and inconsiderate. Rather than change and fit in, you'd prefer to go around wearing a sandwich board that says:
"There are other people in the world, and their feelings are as real as yours."
Everyone would laugh and throw tomatoes at you, but you wouldn't know what else to do.
CANDY FOR EVERYONE
Do you really want me with my finger on the button?
You really need to think it through, because if you give me the button, I'll put it right on top of my desk. There won't be a cover for it; it'll be right there and I'll do nothing but look at it all day.
Look, I'll be honest... I'd press it within two minutes. My finger would trace a circle around it, and then run back and forth across the smooth, rounded top. Then I'd smile and wonder how much pressure it would take...
The feeling of confusion and disorientation is a kind of pleasure. One of the few, maybe.
My house has mirrors and strange echoes and leaping papier-mâché skeletons.
When I look at my television, it tells me which household chemical will dissolve my baby.
My park has twisting paths and wild-eyed ducks. There are strange men in long coats, obscured by trees. There are girls who jog.
The pencils in my office are all broken, and there is seething, seething, seething. The structure of reality is not sound there, or anywhere else, I think.
I like our world, mostly.
Maybe I ate something bad, I don't know. I started to feel bad on Tuesday, I wasn't able to eat anything on Wednesday. Now it's Thursday, and I'm too weak to move.
I spent nearly the whole day in bed, staring at the ceiling. Colorful specks of light danced in front of my eyes.
I tried to imagine what was happening inside of my body. From the way I felt, I determined that every cell in my body had obtained a tiny chainsaw, and was hacking away at his neighbor. It took me four hours to come up with that.
The first hint of a change of season was in the air today. I get the feeling we're going to skip fall altogether this year and go straight into winter. Cold, lonely, unbearable months are ahead.
I try to cheer myself up by thinking about the cozier aspects of winter: a hot bowl of soup in my warm apartment while I watch the snow come down, and so on, but it doesn't work. I'm afraid.
The sunlight is weak in the winter, even at noon, and it's completely dark by 6:00 p.m. Just thinking about it is making me shiver.
Sometimes when I'm doing this I think about those lucky people who are able to express themselves through music or dance, which are much better suited to expressing the immediacy and volatility of emotion.
Those of us who sit here every night, trying to think up something to write, have only the clumsiness of language, which sometimes feels so inadequate for the task.
By the time your words are on the screen and your HTML tags are in place, the feelings that inspired them have moved on and developed in twelve different directions, and you are already a different person...
Tomorrow there will be a seminar, and I will lead it. “Lead the seminar,” they said, “and lead us to greatness.” How could I refuse?
I prepared my teaching materials at my desk and tried to think up some appropriate jokes.
The new girl is avoiding me. Perhaps I should not have imitated the sounds of the scanners so accurately. She still makes me nervous, so it is just as well. The only other sound I have to imitate is the fire alarm.
That's what I will say to her if she approaches me again.
The seminar went well, overall. The students sent text messages while I spoke. I stabbed one of them with my letter opener, and they gave me their full attention.
I made good eye contact and my jokes were well received. From her desk, the new girl saw the respect the remaining students gave me, and she noted my confidence and ability to speak English fluently. I think she was impressed.
My boss says I am a credit to the organization. He gave me a beautiful silver-plated letter opener to replace the one I left in the student.
After I explained that the student had been sending text messages during my seminar, all charges against me were dropped.
My boss is proud. “After I am gone,” he told me, “this whole company will be yours.”
The new girl and I have reached an understanding. Sometimes we go out for coffee. She told me my boss' gift of a silver-plated letter opener was not an accident. She claims it is an indication of my destiny.
“You are one letter opener away from the gold-plated letter opener,” she said. “You know what you have to do.”
Killing people with letter openers gets easier with practice. I am the boss now.
But, we have discovered, once the gold-plated letter opener has been achieved, a new goal appears on the horizon. There are platinum letter openers, and jewel-encrusted letter openers, and laser-guided letter openers. We are eager to obtain these letter openers, and the power they represent.
All we want is a better life for ourselves.
Our co-workers are all gone, and the lecture hall is empty. We hear drums from the accounting department as they prepare for war. Let them come.
I sat at my desk chuckling to myself.
“What's so funny?” asked a co-worker who walked in.
“Oh, I'm just thinking about self-replicating nano-robots running amok and destroying everything.(1)”
That's what I
have said; it was the truth. I didn't want to blow her mind, though, so I said I was thinking about a joke I heard. I don't think she believed me.(2)
. It isn't actually all that funny.
2. This co-worker is of a suspicious nature as it is, and the sound of laughter only enhances her paranoia.
There is a spider the size of a small dog lurking in here somewhere.
There probably isn't, actually. For some reason, though, I can't get the idea out of my head. I have to get up and look behind the couch every few minutes.
As I see it, the spider must be hundreds of years old to have grown to such a size. He has been around long enough that he has learned to speak several languages. I wonder if he likes peanut butter and jelly.
As I think about the (probably) non-existent spider, my fear turns to sympathy.
(happy or sad?)
I have a morning routine on the weekdays. I wake up and think that I might call in and pretend to be sick. I pour myself a bowl of generic-brand cereal (lately it has been Nutty Nuggets) and wish that I had enough time to make myself a cup of tea.
This morning I danced around in my robe, listening to
. I made a pot of tea and fluffy pancakes with real maple syrup. I watched MST3K on YouTube. Did any of the billionaires or monarchs of the world have a happier Saturday morning?
Who hath prophetic vision sees
In future times a ten ton cheese...
The cheese odes of James McIntyre (1828-1906) throw into question the wisdom of making any attempt to express one's self at all.
In the above-quoted “Prophesy of a Ten Ton Cheese,” McIntyre's characteristic sincerity and enthusiasm cannot disguise the fact that he seems to have wasted a good deal of his time on a sloppy poem about a hypothetical big cheese.
... And what am
Maybe the smart thing to do is just forget your literary ambitions and get into reality television like everyone else.
(Note: Just skip this one. I can't think or write about anything else right now and I want to go to bed.)
Remember I said I was trying to avoid her?
She was here yesterday. She looked pretty and smelled nice.
We ate Chinese food and ran around in the rain and went to hear an author we both like. She explained the economic crisis to me.
This morning she sent an e-mail, and she called me tonight to invite me to pick apples with her this weekend.
She isn't making this easy on me,
and I like it.
She put up a cork board downstairs because she wanted to have a place where everyone could post notes. She was trying to foster a sense of
, which she felt was lacking in our building.
She decided to get the ball rolling with what she called “a fun note.”
“Fall is here,” she wrote, “an ideal time for STEW. Post your favorite stew recipe here!”
Someone wrote “
” in black marker on her note the day she put it up. The day after that someone stole the board.
MORAL: Most people do not really like stew that much.
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