What if?: June 2006

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Overheard at a BBQ

[I've been a wee bit busy of late. I know, I said that last time too. As I missed the previous assignment, I combined it with this assignment. Hopefully you can follow it okay. I had fun writing it, at least. -Paul]

"The first time I heard "Sportin' a Woody" by Dangerous Toys, I was over at Samantha Miller's house and we were dancing around her living room like idiots."

"Aw, come on Frank, not this story again."

"What do you mean? I haven't heard it yet."

"Yeah, Steve, why do you always have to be such a dick? Let Frank tell his story."

"Thank you, gentlemen. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by Mr. Grumpy-butt over there..."

"You're going to burn the hamburgers, Frank. Either cook, or tell your story and let someone else manage the food."

"Is he always like this?"

"Steve? Usually. I'm not sure why we're still friends with him, honestly."

"Thanks Mike, I love you too."

"Don't flip him the bird, Steve, there are kids running around. Why don't you have another beer?"

"Because Dan's fat ass is blocking access to the cooler."

"Holy crap, Steve, did the wife cut you off or something? You've known Dan for a whole hour and you're already treating him like an old high school buddy."

"Bite me, Mike."

"Okay then, beer for everybody. Thanks, Dan. As I was trying to say, I was at Samantha's - she was a crowd favorite in high school, by the way - and we were dancing around like idiots to whatever raucous music we could find.

"I see you haven't outgrown your idiocy."

"Do you want me to burn your burger? Anyway, I'd never heard the song before and thought it was a riot. The second time through the chorus I decided I'd jump on the couch and perform an aerial crotch thrust, singing at the top of my lungs."

"And then her dad walks in, right?"

"Who's telling the story, Mike? I've got Steve over there on his fancy little chaise lounge giving me the riot act, and now you're trying to usurp my narration. I'm sorry that you have to witness this, Dan."

"That's okay, but the brats are flaring up..."

"Oh crap!"

"Just spray some water on the coals."

"I told you you were going to screw up the food. Get out of the way, Frank."

"Fine, take the damn tongs. Bend over and I'll show you where you can stick them."

"Easy there, big guy. Let Steve handle the meat, since obviously his own meat isn't getting handled, and you can finish educating Dan here about Samantha's dad, the warden."

"No way, he was a warden? At a jail?"

"Oh yeah. The door flies open and he's standing silhouetted in the doorway, the lamp light reflecting off his shaved head, and I'm jumping on his leather couch grabbing my crotch in front of his seventeen year old daughter."

"Hot, seventeen year old daughter."

"Crap, man. What did you do?"

"He shat himself, and begged not to be fed to the ass-rapers at the prison."

"Would you shut the hell up already? Damn, Steve."

"Hey Mike, isn't that your kid over there?"

"What, Dan? Oh... Jonathan Adam, where are your pants? Don't you run away from me!"

"We'll help you coral him! Frank, keep an eye on the..."


"That's the extent of the recording?"

"Yes, sir. That's all we have."

"Well it's worthless! I don't give a damn about what his idiot friends did in high school, I want to know why Steve Gheffer isn't in our custody!"

"I understand, sir, but we were lucky to be able to salvage even this much. The tech said that the recording device was destroyed in the fire, and what was left of the tape had been severely damaged. It's a miracle that they were able to extract as much as they did."

"I don't care if they extracted the gospel of Jesus, there isn't any useful information about Agent Gheffer. How the hell did this get so screwed up?"

"We think that he must have somehow detected our surveillance, and planned the barbeque as a cover to go underground. It appears that he planted some sort of incendiary device in the grill, which set fire to the house when it detonated. He escaped with his wife and child in the confusion."

"And nobody saw him leave the premises?"

"No, sir. There was a general state of panic as people fled the explosion. The details of everyone's memories of the event were lost in the chaos."

"It's amazing that nobody was injured considering the scale of the damage."

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. We'll throw out the net and wait. He'll snare himself in it again. He's a fool to think he can hide with a family. I expect you to make a full report of your failure to the Director."



Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Daddy took off from work yesterday so he could clean up downstairs. Mommy and I cleaned and took you downstairs for the first time! You didn't like it at first (I guess it was a new and strange environment) but I held you for a while, we talked about downstairs and eventually you played with the toys in the den. You loved the ball crawl that Mommy bought for you. It's definitely much cooler downstairs for you and we've pretty much baby-proofed the basement.

SNSW: "I see, I see." Whenever you want something you point at it and say "I see, I see". Your hair is growing like crazy and soon we'll be going to the dentist for those eight teeth you have!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Shake, Rattle, and Soul

The first time Nan heard Miles Davis playing "Milestones" she was sitting on the floor of a brownstone apartment on E63 Street, wearing a pair of men's Champion sweatpants and an old Princeton tee shirt. The clothes belonged to the man who owned the apartment, but she was not wearing them as the result of some sordid encounter. Rather, he'd arrived home unexpectedly, causing her to spill the McDonald's strawberry shake she was enjoying—along with premium cable television, all over the front of her clothes.
John Lawrence traveled often. Nan wasn't quite sure for business or for pleasure, but had advertised for someone to "house sit". It was an easy way for a college student to make some cash. She was to take in his mail, and water his ficus. "I've had it since college, you know," he told her, "half a dozen moves and I've never let anything happen to it." The tree was huge for an indoor plant; the pot it sat in was at least two feet in diameter. Nan suspected he got this apartment, with its high ceilings and bay windows just to house it. It seemed tremendous for just one man. One bedroom sat vacant except for a coat rack and a box containing LP record albums. The other three rooms were tastefully, though minimally decorated—in fact the tree and the sixty-inch television, along with a six by nine foot Oriental rug and some pillows, were pretty much the only furniture in the living area.
"So, explain to me again exactly why you were enjoying this fine meal in my living room this afternoon?" he asked her.
He wasn't exactly angry. If anything Nan got the sense Mr. Lawrence was amused by the situation, especially by making her repeat the whole story, which on the surface essentially made her look like a fanatical bubblehead.
"It's actually all the Knicks fault," she said.
"The Knicks," he repeated.
"The basketball team."
"I've heard of them yes."
He was enjoying this, compounding Nan's embarrassment.
"They lost last night, and my roommate's boyfriend had money on the game. He kicked the television and broke it."
"Broke it? Good God," he commented as he made his way into the kitchen area.
"Yes, see that's why I was here."
"Whose was it?" He asked.
"Pardon me?"
"Whose television set was it?"
What on Earth did that have to do with anything, she thought. He grabbed a kettle off the stove and began adding water from the faucet.
"It was mine actually."
"Well how rude. I don't suppose he's going to pay for a new television, seeing as he lost his money gambling," he said. Nan couldn't help but smile at the ludicrous tone the conversation was taking.
"No. No, I doubt it. Anyway, that's why I needed to watch your TV." She smiled, as to punctuate why it all made perfect sense.
"Yes, to watch a soap opera, you mentioned that."
"I know it sounds silly but," Nan hesitated, feeling sheepish. "They were going to reveal Marley's killer. This has been dragging on for months; there was no way I could miss that."
"Marley's killer?" He asked, concerned.
"Would you like some tea?" He asked her. "I'm sorry I don't have any shake fixings."
Nan tried to discern whether or not he was making fun of her or trying to make her more at ease. He seemed comfortable enough— pleasant and polite, the whole "making-herself-at-home-in-his-apartment-while-he-was-gone" incident forgotten.
"Tea is fine, thank you."

Twenty minutes later they sat, on the Oriental rug, listening to Miles Davis, while her clothes tumbled dry.
"How could you never have heard of Miles Davis? Jesus Christ what do they teach kids nowadays?"
He sat Indian style, still in his dress slacks and shirt. Nan sat opposite, sipping Earl Grey with milk and four sugars, gearing up to defend her generation.
"That's not fair! My parents were more of the Rat Pack crowd."
"Name one Frank Sinatra song besides 'New York, New York'," he said.
"'The Summer Wind'," she replied, setting down her mug, satisfied.
His eyes offered up what was his smile swallowed up in a sip of tea. He then set his mug down as well.
"Ok, I'll let it slide this time. But next time, I want you well versed in Miles, Chick Corea, and Coltrane.
"Next time?" She asked.
"It's ok to watch my TV Nan."
He got up and left to fetch her clothes from the dryer.
Nan sipped at what was left of her tea, but it was cool, and no longer held the same flavor as it did when hot. The notes from the saxophone drifted by lazily, not caring what the temperature of the room or her tea was. They just settled in her ears and puddled in mouth like caramel over ice cream. She closed her eyes and tried to float with them.
She opened her eyes to see John offering her clothes.
"You can dress in there," he said, gesturing to the almost empty guest room.
Nan got up and took the clothes, almost feeling like the party was over, and she'd been dismissed.
She stopped and turned.
"Who killed Marley?"

Friday, June 09, 2006


The first time Frankie heard Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by BJ Thomas, he was down at Riverside Park and he had just fallen off the swing. His dad picked him up and was singing that song to him. Mumbling through the verses and picking up the chorus strong and clear. Maybe that is why Frankie only ever knew the chorus.

He smiled. The muzak in the elevator was playing that tune. Frankie was riding to the top floor to meet with Mr. Schneider the President and CEO of Wanaco Products, Inc. His smile did not last long as this ride was not for pleasure, or even good business. This was most likely his last day at the company. His division was lagging behind in an already depressed business cycle. In every day terms the company was falling. Hard. Other divisions had been closed. Other directors had been sacked. He did not expect anything to go any different for him.

The doors parted and Jennifer looked up from behind her desk.

"You can go right in. You are expected." Her demeanor was neutral. Her look was one watching a dead man walking.

Frankie opened the door to Mr. Schneider's office. It was a typical executive office. Plush carpet. Wood paneled interior walls. Mahogany desk. Big leather chair facing the window. Two smaller chairs facing the desk. The chairs had small backs to make you sit up straight and not want to stay long. What was not normal was the view. The unobstructed view. The CEO of Wanaco had built into his office a retractable glass dome opening his office to the city below him. The wind wafted the corner of a paper on the desk, rustling like dry leaves at the end of fall.

"Quite a view isn't it?" Mr. Schneider turned in his chair to face Frankie.

Frankie came face to face with the man who held his fate on his desk. He was sure one of those papers was his termination notice.

"Yes, it is," Frankie attempted cool, but he felt like he was stammering. Frankie had no idea what to say so he said whatever came to mind, "Especially like how you can see the whole hover train line as it leaves the city from here."

"The sun usually sets in that direction as well. Makes for a glorious sight," Schneider seemed to size Frankie up as he continued,"at least when the climate engineers aren't mucking about with the rotation of the planet. They do that from time to time and it just ruins my day. Like now, look they are shunting the rain makers into the city. It was not supposed to rain today."

Frankie did see that the sky was turning gray, a sure sign that mist was being pumped in the upper atmosphere. He would have to go home in the rain, more insult to injury.

"Frankie. In Roman times when a unit had failed in the most egregious manner, the commander would line his men up and select every tenth man and kill him. This is where we get the word decimate. Deci meaning ten. Our company is falling apart and we have units that are failing in a most egregious manner. Like yours for instance." Mr. Schneider paused at this point to let his words sink in.

He continued. "You have been selected for decimation."

Mr. Schneider stood up. He was a tall man. Six-one or six-two. Frankie had only ever seen him sitting at meetings. He had always arrived to meetings early and had left after he had long vacated the meeting. As he came out from behind the desk he noticed that Mr. Schneider's legs had been replaced by upgraded cybernetics. In fact, Frankie had never seen these models before.

"They are the latest. I had lost my own legs in the war." Mr. Schneider had noticed Frankie staring.

"Sit down." Mr. Schneider motioned Frankie to the chair on his left.

Frankie not sure what to make of this sat down. He had just been fired. But he sat down anyway.

Mr Schneider perched on the edge of his desk. His cybernetics feet digging into the carpet like talons wrapped around a branch.

He leaned in Frankie's direction, "At Wanaco we don't just fire our directors. We send them away." At that he pushed a button on his desk which morphed the arms of the chair Frankie was sitting into straps enclosing his wrists. Even though panic was rising in Frankie he was impressed. These chairs probably cost more than his whole house.

"Don't worry the straps are for your own protection. Don't want you losing a limb or anything."

The misting machines had done their jobs and now it was starting to rain. Frankie felt a drop hit his lips. It made him realize how dry his mouth had become.

Mr. Schneider pushed another button and a transparisteel pod enclosed the Frankie and the chair.

"You have been relocated, your assets sold and given to your wife and children. You won't work in this city again. Goodbye, Frankie."

Another button. Frankie plummeted into the depths of the city.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Your Song

Your Song

The last time I heard Smetana's Die Moldau, I was at the office, and we were fighting. Or perhaps 'fighting' is too strong a word for it. You were lashing out at me with every bit of hatred you have for every man in your life. Every man who has ever wronged you, every man back straight back to your father, every man who abandoned you. Every man around you is a target for you to sling your contempt at with well-chosen words. I was sitting trapped in your anger, trying not to shout imprecations at you, trying desperately not to start weeping like a child whose best friend has just hit them with a tiny, tight fist. Struck them over and over, trying to make something, somewhere, finally give. You didn't let yourself see the wounds you inflicted. Or did you? Did it give you pleasure to see me hurt?

You always were, and likely always will be a hater of men, won't you. You won't ever let it go, because you cannot let it go. No amount of prescribed medication will ever loosen the fingers of your grudges, each and every one clutched against your chest like a miser clutching at his gold. Deep underneath, no matter how much you say otherwise, you will never truly trust, never truly forgive men.

You hissed at me "You don't care." How I wanted to stride over to you and slap that look off your face and that expression out of your mouth. You don't know what I care about. You think you do, but you cannot know what I care about. You cannot fathom how deeply I care for you, even when you are striking out at me like a drowning swimmer. The older instructors always tell the trainee lifeguards that if the victim is fighting you, endangering your own life then the wise thing is to simply let go and let them drown. There are days, especially here of late, when you are flailing around and biting every helping hand. It is during those days that I wonder how long it would take you to drown if I were to stop trying to keep us both afloat, or would you simply go on flailing and trashing?

Days passed, we both stayed afloat, and I never heard "I'm sorry" come from your mouth, even though things got back to normal prety fast, as they always do. And like always, I swallowed down my anger and my vivid imagination and my hurts and I went on loving you, trying to help you when I can, and trying to stay out of your way when any help I could give you was not only not wanted but perhaps not needed.

I'll always be your papa, no matter how much you decide to hit me with your tiny, balled fists. And Smetana? He'll never sound the same, ever again.

I don't know if I'm real crazy about this one or not. It needed to be said, somewhere, so I took it and changed it into a story, of sorts. If you've noticed, it's sat here in the Drafts column for about two weeks now, and finally got completed, I feel a little poorly. If nothing else, it's honest and emotionally charged. Perhaps to the point of pathos, but this is your opportunity to tell me so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Beach Tales

I distinctly remember the first time the song "Surfin' Safari" by the Beach Boys was played in my presence. I was thirteen years old and we were on our way to the eastern shore. Our destination was Ocean City, Maryland. I had never seen the ocean before and was excited to get there. It was a summer vacation I won't soon forget.

"Surfin' Safari" began playing as we got onto the bridge that takes you across the bay and into Ocean City. The smells of the ocean were floating on the wind. We were packed tight into the family station wagon. Since dad didn't go, mom was driving and I was riding shotgun. I stuck my head out the window, captivated by the smells and sounds. The smell of the ocean was met with the smells of steamed crabs, cotton candy, carmel popcorn and Solarcaine. The boardwalk captivated me as soon as it came into view. I could hardly wait to get there. I could hardly wait to feel the sand under my feet. This was going to be the best vacation ever!

We arrived at our hotel at about 11 a.m. Mom checked us in and we carted all our stuff to the third floor room that would be home for the week. I couldn't wait to get out onto the beach. I wanted to check out the boardwalk. I wanted to do everything right away. My mother fished a ten dollar bill out of her wallet and told me to have fun and to meet her at five. The first place I went was a music store. I had to own that song. It spoke to me. That one song was to become the theme song to my summer.

I popped the tape into my walkman and set out for the boardwalk. That place looked like fun. I still had money left over. There were numerous food stands to choose from. I decided on a hotdog and chowed it down quickly so I could continue to explore this new place. There was a big haunted house that didn't open until dark. I made a mental note of that so I could bring my siblings there and watch them all get scared. The rides loomed just up ahead. There was a ferris wheel, a small roller coaster, a carousel, and various other carnival type rides. This place was going to be fun.

It was then I decided that I needed to be on the beach. This turned out to be a good thing to do as the beach was rife with women in bikinis. I was thirteen and raging hormones took over as I watched bikini after bikini pass in front of me. I found a small outcrop of rocks to sit on and just relax. There was a certain magic in the air. Either that or it was the rotting fish smell. Either way, I found a little piece of heaven right here on earth.

I must have listened to that Beach Boys tape a hundred times that first day. It was a greatest hits tape that contained many other nuggets of musical joy for me that summer. "Fun Fun Fun" was my favorite. It reminded me of my father's Thunderbird. That may have been my favorite, but to this day I listen to "Surfin' Safari every time I go to the beach.

Anyway, that summer trip to the shore was probably one of the defining moments of my life. It was there that I experienced my first kiss. Her name was Heather. She was from Baltimore, Maryland. I met her our first night there. She was coming out of the haunted house as I was entering with my brothers and sister. She said hi and giggled. I turned bright red and scurried myself into the haunted house. What a good time that was. There were real live people all dressed up as zombies. They would pop out when you least expected it. There was one really long hallway where a man with a chainsaw would come out from behind you, rev the motor and start running after you. Never mind the fact there wasn't a chain on the blade, it was scary then.

After going through the haunted house, we walked down the boardwalk a bit to meet mom. Heather sneaked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I about jumped out of my skin. She giggled. I turned red.

"I have to get these three back to mom." I said to Heather.

"Mind if I tag along?"

"Cool, that would be alright."

This is how Heather joined our summer vacation. She would come by the hotel in the morning, hang out with me all day and not leave until eleven at night. She was sweet and kind. We would go out on the beach in the morning and look for shells. She would always find the best ones. We even saw a hermit crab changing his shell. We named him Herman. Heather was my best friend for that week. If not for her I wouldn't have ever figured out how to eat a crab.

The night she kissed me, and make no bones about it, she kissed me, it was cool and breezy. She was getting a little chilly so I offered her my sweatshirt. She kissed me right then and there. Off in the distance there was a song playing, it was "Night Moves" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. I won't ever forget that song as long as I live. Her lips were soft. She was gentle with her kiss. I didn't know what to do, so like any thirteen year old boy, I shoved my tongue into her mouth as akwardly as possible. To her credit she didn't let on that it may have been akward or unwanted.

That summer will always stand out in my mind. Those songs will always carry with them a sentimental value that can't be replaced by anything else. Who can't name the first person who ever kissed them? Music is a part of our lives. I can associate things with most of the songs on my ipod playlist. I think we are all like that in our own way.