While I Was Working #60: Poorly Worded

Still working on stuff, so I present another expert from the same story that gave birth to While I Was Working #48: Crushing Defeat

I don’t pride myself on much. In fact there are really only two things that I can think of, and that’s rather low isn’t it? Considering how much of an arrogant bastard I am, there should be lots of things ranging from the ease of which I get up in the morning all the way to the carefree way I go to sleep at night. (And while I really am pretty great at both of those things, they’re still not something I give myself credit for. That’s thanks to god and a glass of warm milk.) But that’s not the case. The truth is I can afford to hate the entire rest of my being—and I do—because I put so much stock in those two things. And that probably explains everything about my life and the state it’s in.

The first is the “Best Vocabulary” Award I got in the fifth grade. I have this hanging above my bed in my ridiculously cramped apartment, and most girlfriends assume that it’s there ironically—some sort of joke on grade school or something. This is why I’m not married. I had the best goddamn vocabulary in the whole fifth grade class of Garfield Elementary School goddamn it, and the whole world should know.

Maybe this shouldn’t be as important as it is. After all, I did kind of give myself the award. See what was supposed to happen was that every one in the fifth grade class was supposed to get some sort of superlative in the yearbook, as voted by their peers. “Best Dressed”, “Class Clown”, that sort of thing, you know. The person winning didn’t have to be the one with the most votes as no one was allowed to win more than one award. (This is good, as one person—Marco Murray—would have swept most of the major awards, including “Most Likely to Succeed.” He is currently employed as a bellhop at a Hilton in Bakersfield, California. In retrospect, this is entirely predictable.)

I didn’t appear on a single ballot. Other than my own of course, but that’s obvious isn’t it? I had played it safe, going with the category I felt I had the best chance with—“Best Me I Can Be”—which was there for the person with the most off putting personality, in the theory that this person would be the one who caved to the littlest amount of peer pressure and outside influence, thus being the best “Me” they could possibly be. But one vote can hardly win, and since my vote was in the category full of outcasts who didn’t get many votes, they could hardly just give it to me.

The teachers didn’t know what to do in this situation—it had never happened before, there wasn’t an explicit rule stating that every student had to have a superlative, and there were more supposed to be more categories then students anyway. But there weren’t that year, and for a little while the teachers were scrambling for a solution, worrying that just putting me in some random category would tip the students—who obviously must have banded together to exclude me in a fit of Nixonian behavior—to the fact that their votes had no meaning. 10 years old is a little young to be robbed of your faith in democracy.

Eventually it came to talk of respecting the student’s wishes and leaving me out, and praying that I would somehow not notice this little fact. That’s when Mr. McAlister, a social studies teacher who was about the only one who ate their lunches in the teacher’s lounge and still liked me, called me into the office and explained the whole deal. He explained that he “got” me, and that I would likely have a hard time in life, and that the least this school could do was let me pick what be said about me in the yearbook. He asked me what I wanted and after two seconds I responded with Best Vocabulary. He just nodded. I really did have a good vocabulary.

Nobody ever noticed that category wasn’t one included in the original ballot and come graduation Mr. McAlister presented me with a certificate to immortalize it. This certificate has hung above my bed ever since, and if there’s ever a fire in my ridiculously cramped apartment that would be the thing I run in to pull out. I’ve always been very tempted to seek out Mr. McAlister, as he really did seem to understand me, which is a feat I have never been able to properly manage. I want to know what he thinks of my life now, and what advice he could give me to improve it.  But then, he was an elementary school teacher, so he probably made more than a few mistakes in life himself.

See, that’s exactly the sort of asshole thing to say that Mr. McAlister would get me to curb.

The second thing I take pride in is course my exceptional skill as a lover.

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While I Was Working #59: Once Again Without Emotion

This had better happen by the time I’m hitting my forties, or else I’m screwed.

(Also, I know this is dialogue free and more than a little uncooked, but I have several things I’m writing right now that have the potential to be real honest to god stories instead of idea holders. I might take a week off from the blog to work on them, but we’ll see.)

Tom had heard all the horror stories of course. About the guys who brain leaked right out his ears after they plugged him in, or the one where the person who laid down every cent they had only to spend the rest of their (very short) life inside a vintage Intellivision, or the women who went to an unlicensed and woke up in a new body just fine, only to discover behavioral programming that forced to be an unwilling accomplice to a series of brutal murders. They had even made a movie of that last one, and Tom had seen it seven times in the theaters.

In fact if there was one thing that Tom was really going to miss about his old body it would be being in that darken theater with a crowd of other people, munching on popcorn, taking swigs of cherry cola, watching the lights flicker on the screen. He knew most of the experience could be easily simulated—taste was just chemical signals being sent to your brain, and they had long discovered how to duplicate those in a positronic. Soon enough all Tom would have to do to taste popcorn or cherry coke was to wish it, and it would be so, and all of it without having to go through the trouble of actually having to eat it. Sure, right now Tom, with only the parts that god had given him, was sure there must be a difference being the two, that having the physical thing must make the process different somehow, more meaningful, but logic (and all the doctors) said they wasn’t. The human body was already just a series of electric currents, just a squishy one. Once he plugged in he would learn how true that really was.

But movies? The robot bodies didn’t watch movies the way a human one did. The robot body would experience the whole movie in one instant. It would download it and immediately know everything about it. Every plot line, every joke, even the names and film history of every actor and key grip who had worked on the production. It was telling that cinema was a dying art form, kept alive only by those who had refused to upgrade. Once you plugged in, the desire to make movies, or write books, or play music seemed to disappear. It just wasn’t worth it when your new mind could conceive of any possible combination in mere moments.

And that was a bit scary, Tom admitted, and he would miss it, but seeing the film about the upgrade co-opted by crime was actually what finally convinced him to plug in. He had always planned to do it at some point before his body started betraying him, but before he hadn’t seen much advantage to it other than the unlimited lifespan. But the film had sold how much fun it would be to have a perfect body, to run endlessly, to jump small buildings in a single bound, to never have to sleep or eat. He wasn’t planning on robbing any banks with his new body, but everything else seemed open.

Of course he couldn’t afford one of the official models, with built-in rockets and even simulation skin. No one but the very rich really could, not yet. Not with the original company who made the breakthroughs still holding all the patents. But once you plugged in, bodies ceased to have much meaning, and you could always go up a model when you got the money. Sure, the one Tom was going to get looked like something out of a cheesy ‘50s sci fi flick, with two sets of light bulb eyes and an extra arm or two. But that was pretty cool on its own, and it wasn’t like there was any social stigma attached to having a sub-par body. To those who still hadn’t upgraded you were just an android, and all the androids knew that in the end they were all just software anyway. The model you were in at that moment was temporary, you were eternal.

Still, not having the dough meant going with an unlicensed, which meant hearing all the horror stories again. Tom was sure at least some of them had to be true too, enough peopled died during the upgrade process anyway, especially during the beginning when they hadn’t quite figured out all the kinks. But these days it was pretty safe, and if you were dumb enough to not check around and read some reviews about the unlicensed offering to plug you in, then that was on you. Maybe if you were that stupid, you weren’t worth having around for the rest of the universe anyway. Going to an unlicensed was bound to be more risky than official, but Tom felt those dangers were great exaggerated by the Company to discourage people from not using them, even though they still got their fees for data storage. All of Tom’s friends who went unlicensed didn’t have any complaints and the guy he was going to came highly recommended. It was a little weird that the guy was still 100% human himself but it wasn’t  like that was illegal.

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While I Was Working #58: Grab Bag Vol. 8

Not happy with these (they’re even more imcomplete than my usual standard), but everything I got cooking right now deserves a little more work. 

Her name was Ella Kirkpatrick, and she was wonderful.

Eric was only ten years old then, probably a little too old for a babysitter. But he never complained about it, and anyway, his parents like tossing what money they could to Ella, whose mother had been a high school classmate of theirs way back when. The Kirkpatrick family had been on hard times since Ella’s father had abandoned them when she was only two, and Eric’s parents—who were about the closest thing to landed gentry in town—felt it was their part to help the family out, $11.50 an hour at a time.

He supposed that he would have complained about the babysitter like all his friends were if it hadn’t been for the night his parents had driven down to the Cities for the touring performance of Into the Woods. He had been particularly rowdy that night because he had gotten a hold of a pixie stick—a forbidden treat in the Fitzwilliam household. The good Dr. James Fitzwilliam did not cotton to candy, except for, strangely enough, cotton candy, and even that was to be strictly regulated, given out at the same rate as he would any other prescription drug. But Eric had gone full junkie that night.

Ralph MacManus wakes up one morning and over at the sleeping form of his girlfriend Ashley lying next to him, and in one moment realizes that they have been together now for four years, living together for more than half that time, that he has rather absent-mindedly been researching engagement on the internet in his free time, and that he has absolutely no real idea how any of that happened.

He can remember beginning the relationship as mutual friends of Karen, the girl Ralph had a crush on since the second grade. But Karen had always been unattainable–she had a boyfriend, or really needed to be single right now, or had come out as a lesbian. Ashley had always been around, and it was clear that she maybe kinda sort of liked Ralph a little bit, and so when it became abundantly clear that Karen and him just weren’t going to happen ever, he didn’t seem the harm in taking Ashley out for a few dates and getting to know her better. But he never figured it would be anything serious, that if they ever actually reached a stage where they could call themselves boyfriend and girlfriend, they’d break up soon after. But that had been four years ago, now they’re serious, now they’re bonded.

And Ralph supposes he was there for it, all the romantic diners, all the vacations spent together, all the major life decisions, but this morning it feels like he’s just been on auto pilot the whole time, and wants the years back.

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While I Was Working #57: What’s This Suffering Remind You Of?

You can probably imagine where it was supposed to go after this.

It wasn’t exactly Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin in a petri dish full of mold, but the creation of the so called “love potion pill” was an accident, the history books say. Dr. Anton Koval, a brain chemistry expert, was running clinical trials with a new batch of anti-depression drugs that had unknowingly been contaminated during the manufacturing process thanks to some improperly cleaned needles. This inadvertent addition mixed with an experimental drug already meant to attack depression from an unconventional angle produced quite the unexpected result: Dr. Koval found that all of his patients had developed a close emotional attachment to him, even far beyond the usual bond between patient and doctor. This attachment even included strong sexual attraction, even among male test subjects who had formally identified as heterosexual, a change that did little to elevate their depression. This side effect was found across the board—the bond was formed regardless of age, gender, or race.

Dr. Koval soon found that other doctors taking part in the tests who had received different shipments of the drug were not experiencing the same effects. Immediately Dr. Koval went to work on this problem and after many months of research and experimentation to find the contaminating agent, he was able to duplicate the results with a new batch of test subjects. Everyone taking the pill almost right away “fell in love,” this time not with Dr. Koval himself, but with the female nurse administering it, and stopped just as quickly when no longer taking it. Further experimentation allowed the affection to be more strictly directed—one group of subjects been hopelessly infatuated with Henry Frederick Stuart, an English prince who had been dead sine the 17th century.

When he first published these results in the American Journal of Medicine though, Dr. Koval took great pains to never frame it in terms of “love.” He referred to it exclusively as an “attraction” pill, but when the media got ahold of the story the connection was inevitable. The publication cause no small amount of uproar and instantly the drug was banned in most every country. But a black market does exist and if you are concerned about a recent crush, make an appointment with your local MD today, and get tested for the telltale increase in lipid production.

All this information was conveyed to Adam in pamphlet form as he waited in the doctor’s waiting room. He wasn’t much concerned about the love potion pill exactly—there were much scarier pamphlets, and anyway he and Jeanie had just celebrated their third anniversary together, and it was generally agreed that anyone on the drug for that long would either grow immune or their liver would explode—but the phone call from Dr. Bork had been quite ominous. A week ago he had gone in for a routine checkup and everything had been cool until he got out of work late one night to find a voicemail from the hospital that was nothing but, “Mr. Kimball please call and set up a follow up appointment at your earliest possible convenience.”

He called the next day was given a time right that afternoon, which was when he really started to freak out. So he got to the office an hour early and read every terrifying scrap of paper in the place and was convinced at various points that he had cancer, AIDs, malaria, early onset Alzheimer’s, and accelerated athlete’s foot.

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While I Was Working #56: Hat’s Off

This brief character sketch was based on a real hat I wore every single day for two years, though I hope I wasn’t as bad as this guy.

Somehow, thanks probably to a mixture of age, constant use, and the fact that he washed his hair about once a presidential administration, Marco’s favorite Dodger’s hat had started to go a little green. This was only really noticeable when you were looking very closely, but once you saw it you could never un-see it, and it bothered Marco just a bit. Sure, a littler discoloration was probably the least of the hat’s problems—he had on more than one occasion been able to scrape congealed oil and grease from the brim with a credit card. (Hey, dad did always say to put his money in oil didn’t he?)

Thinking more of the disgust others might feel at that fact than any discomfort of his own, Marco had tried to clean it a few times, mostly by dunking it in bowls of hot, soapy water. That just left the water greyer than a cigarette smoker’s lung though, and forced him to wear a damp hat. What was he supposed to do? Not wear it? Not happening buddy. It would dry on the go. (Marco would grant that perhaps, just perhaps, maybe mold had a little something to do with it going green, and that these occasional “bathes” weren’t doing it any favors.)

Whatever it was though, it wasn’t going to stop him from wearing it every single day. It had seen him through four years, most of high school, an unexpected parental divorce, and the loss of his virginity. It also, on occasion, on those rare days when he wore it the correct way, kept the sun out of eyes, just a little. There was no way he was giving it up until the day it rotted of his head (which considering how frayed it was getting, was probably going to be within the next three months.) And even then, he was planning on repurposing it into a visor. Visors were pretty boss.

So it had gone a little green. You know what else turned green? The Statue of friggin’ Liberty, and people loved that uggo. (Marco would give her a 4/10. Not saying he wouldn’t do her, but he’d have to be pretty drunk first.) And anyway, the hat was a pretty good metaphor for his evolving position on eco-friendly efforts. (And moss or mold or whatever it was, was a part of nature, right? See, he had this “going green” thing down pat. He’d be getting with those hippy dippy chicks who didn’t shave down there any day now.)

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While I Was Working #55: Never Believe It’s Not So

On the whole, Kyle was finding that he was a hell of a lot better wizard when he was drunk. That was the only way to explain it really, how else could he have ended up this morning on his broom, when in his more sober hours he had left it in the closet. A closet protected by an old school, straight up Ancient Egyptian curse that could only be undone after passing the Breathalyzer spell. Any attempt to open the door after blowing over a .08 would cause rains of frogs, the waters of the Earth to turn to blood, a plague that would ultimately wipe out the human race, and the person who did it would have a really itchy back. It was a little bit of overkill Kyle would admit, particularly the part about the itchy back, which was just sadistic, but that was the sort of extreme mood he had been in at the time. And that wasn’t even the only impenetrable protection he threw on the door—there was also a standard combination lock he brought from a hardware store a few days before. And sure, Kyle was a certified Third Class Warlock, earning the right to wear the blue cloaks on Non-Causal Fridays, but he still had a really hard time figuring those things out. The number of spins required was totally non-intuitive.

So never could it be said that he had not taken the necessary steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Hell, laying down that curse that used up all the eye of newt and hair of virgin that he had, and that last one had stopped being a renewable resource after prom senior year. Really, it should have worked. But he had a real fuzzy memory (and it would stay fuzzy and his eyes would keep pounding because all the best hangover cures called for a healthy pinch of eye of newt and he wasn’t getting paid again until next Friday) of walking out of one of the bars, holding out his arm very dramatically, and having the broom fly straight into his hand. (Well, after a few missed grabs maybe, and at least one face-plant, but still.)

Now beckoning spells were quite common and Kyle knew plenty of them, but they all required a lot of time and concentration, and scrolls had to be lit of fire at very specific intervals. Last night he had done none of that. He was pretty sure he had whistled. Now back in school the test for beckoning spells was to get a spoon from a nearby table full of objects to come flying towards you. And it had taken Kyle two hours (not an uncommon time in and of itself) to, instead of the spoon, get a block of wood and a carving knife, which nearly took his head off in the process. Afraid of failing, Kyle had immediately started making his own spoon using the two. His instructor had to admit that was pretty clever, and had let him slide by.

But last night the broom had come lickety–split skedaddle, and that left him here: nursing the second worst hangover of his life, floating 3 ft above his bed, his body and the blanket forming a crude tent. But his back wasn’t itchy at all, so everything was alright. Achy sure, but that was going to happen when you feel asleep on a short stick of wood.

(The worst hangover had been when he had turned 18 and the Witches Council had spent five hours casting all sorts of complex magic at him just to make sure he wasn’t the was the Chosen One of Prophecy. Kyle could have told them that—he had actually met the Chosen One, real nice guy, bit of a Messiah complex, but that was probably to be expected—and it was a real hassle having all that magic coursing through you. For the next two weeks various body parts were turning into frogs, but they gave you free beer, so Kyle considered it a net gain.)

The night after that had been the first time he had fallen asleep on his broom, though certainly not the last. It seemed to happen during every stressful period of his life, sometimes (like last night) only through some truly impressive drunken magic. On the whole though, Kyle wasn’t about to complain, nor was he ready to come back down to earth any time soon.

Most people would find it pretty hard to cook breakfast while flying on a broom, even with magic, which was a lot like cooking most of the time anyway. But Kyle was an old pro by now, and already had a stack of pancakes plated by the time his roommate finally woke up.

“Back on the broom again I see.”

“That’s a weird way to say, “Oh, sweet, pancakes. Can I have some?” Was that French?”

“Oh, sweet, pancakes. Can I have some?”

Kyle’s roommate Brent was a black cloak, which meant he was a dark wizard, though he maintained he just worked for the government. But since, after wizards had revealed themselves to humanity at large in the 1800s and (after some brief skirmishes with the more religious types) solved all of mankind’s problem, the new wizard governments declared war on the giants mostly for the hell of it, leading to a bloody, going on 100 year, conflict, most people didn’t see the difference. (In their defense of course, those years of peace and prosperity had been pretty boring.) Still, Brent was pretty good about paying his share of the rent on time, and he kept all the neighbor kids away, what with his devilish goatee and glowing red eyes, which was pretty nice.

“Nah, you got to say the magic word first.”

“If I said the magic word it would take 90 minutes, your ears would explode, the pancakes would transform into fish, and I’d have to drink tea the rest of the day so my throat could recover.”

Brent had a slight British accent, not befitting someone from Nebraska, but supposedly such a dialect was a requirement to join the Dark Wizards Guild. Kyle just nodded.

“Fair enough. Ours is a guttural language.”

And with that Kyle slid some of the pancakes onto a different plate with just the wave of his hand, feat of magical prowess he normally didn’t process, but hey, he was still just a little drunk. They ate pancakes together in silence for a while, Brent reading the morning paper, and Kyle desperately trying to keep his plate balanced on the end of the broom. Even with being an old pro though, he got syrup over approximately 30% of the kitchen, but since that was still a better number than the last time he tried using the toilet, Kyle counted it as a victory.

Finally breakfast ended though, with all the plates put away and the syrup removed—cleaning spells were among the least complicated and only required one goat sacrifice, and everybody had at least three or four of those hanging around. (Of course, this would only necessitate another goat sacrifice to clean up the remains of the first one. And so on and so on in what experts from the Iowa Institute of Magical Practice and Theory—Kyle and Brent’s shared alma mater, Go Iguanas!—called the Goat Cycle Paradox. They were even rumors of a restaurant in Midtown that had been continuously sacrificing goats since 1973, though that turned out just to be a Greek place. In practice the spell would generally stop working after the third goat and a 24 hour waiting period was needed before trying again.)

But Kyle and Brent just left the goat entrails for the cat, who was chewing on some large intestine when Brent spoke up again.

“Now that that’s over with, can we taking about you going back to your security blanket?”

“It’s not a blanket, it’s a broom. Unless you’re talking about the Robe of Protection I wear sometimes at night, which, okay, maybe security blanket is a fair way to describe it.”

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While I Was Working #54: Cool as Icing

“Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean are you absolutely sure this is what you should be doing?”

That’s Mike, trying to be the voice of reason. How cute. But he’s such a wet blanket that firemen use him to put out fires sometimes. And I mean that literally and figuratively, because I used to be a real pyro growing up. His amazing damp powers may have saved me from jail, or at the very least, from a serious talking to from our preschool teacher about where I had come across an industrial welding torch. (eBay, duh.)

But he’s dead wrong tonight because the only fire I’ll be producing tonight is the white hot flames of desire in Alexa’s heart. Let’s just call it a little bit of heartburn, know what I’m saying? Of course by heart I mean her downstairs lady parts. High five!

“Yes I’m sure Mike, god. However, thanks to my respect to your renowned mind,” Mike got a 29 on the ACT, amazing I know, “I am willing to hear you out on this. What pray tell are your major problems with my current course of action? Enlighten me as to the flaws in this plan o’ mine.”

“Like, like, I dunno, all of it? You do realize that you’re about to climb inside a cake meant for your brother’s engagement party just so you can pop out during the toasts and ask the sister of your soon to be sister-in-law, this girl who you’ve known for all of what? Three weeks? Ask this girl to marry you, based entirely on that one time you guys got drunk together and made out a little before she eventually went home with a different guy?”

Do I realize? What sort of fool question is that? Of course I realize it, I’m the one who came up with it. I didn’t get the idea out of a book, that’s for damn sure. Not like you fine folks right now, as you read my smash hit famous guide to winning fine maiden’s fancy. Though if you got this book from the library and didn’t spend your hard earned money to help me put an addition to my already Olympic sized pool, then you are dead to me. And soon I am going to find you and you’ll end up being dead to the rest of the world too.

Do I realize? Jesus Christ. Does Mike realize that I’ve even gone so far as to make a diorama detailing my plan in action, just to attract potential investors? True, I only really showed it to the cake guy, who seemed pretty unimpressed, but hey, that’s fair. The man can make a cake shaped like your face, he’s clearly a genius. (Visit Johnny’s Cakes and Confections, right off Highway 43. Call 555-4355 today.) I even made a diorama about what will happen after I pop out of the cake, me and Alexa doing while everybody watches and gives me thumbs up and Gatorade afterwards.

Also, way to spoil my whole evil plot to any secret agents who might be listening in, Mike. Jeeze, what are you, the exposition fairy or something?

“Mike, please. Of course I thought this through. Clay figurines have been made. And trust me, me and Alexa shared a moment. And by moment I mean I touched her boobs. She’s going to go for it.”

“That’s the really scary part: from everything I’ve seen of the girl, god help me I think you might be right.”

“Good, we’re in agreement then. Now help me apply this nonstick spray to my face. The cake’s chocolate and I don’t want to jump out looking like I’m in blackface.”

You know it feels weird having an aerosol can in one hand without a lighter in the other, screaming, “Awwww yeah!” at the top of my lungs. I must do that again sometime, perhaps with my new bride.

It takes a while to grease a man up, and even longer to get that greasy man inside a cake. Do you know how they get people in those cakes? I do, but I’m not going to tell you, because I want “How do they get the stripper inside the cake” to live in your google search history forever and ever.

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