Non-Sequitur

“Hey guess what? It’s free writing day today!”

“It is?”

“Yeah! You can write about whatever you want! No prompts, no twists, just you, baby! Go for it!”

“Alright! Free writing! I can write about…write about…huh…write about what?”

“Well, I mean, surely there’s something you wanna talk about. Something you wanna throw out there for the good public to read.”

“Yeah! Course there is! It’s just…just..I don’t know what it is.”

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

“Shouldn’t you know?”

“Shouldn’t you? You’re my brain, Start giving me ideas!”

“Oh, great. Once again, it’s up to me. I’ve gotta do everything around here, don’t I?”

“As a brain, isn’t that kind of your job?”

“Well maybe I need a break.”

“I think you’ve had enough breaks already.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?

“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve almost thrown away important papers or almost walked into doors because you weren’t paying attention?”

“Hey! I was thinking about important stuff.”

“Video games are important stuff??”

“No, you’re right. You should just stop buying them. It’s not like you’re really interested in them anyway.”

“What are you talking about? I love video games!”

“So you’d say they’re important to you.”

“…”

“Thought so.”

“Would you mind terribly if we got back on track? I still don’t have anything to write for my free writing piece.”

“Ok, ok, let’s think. Well, I’ll think. You just sit there. As always.”

“Oh for – ”

“I’ve got it! You could write about your failed romances!”

“What?!”

“Yeah, you could write about the various crushes you’ve had and the relationships that didn’t work out!

“Sure. That’s what people want to read. How much I suck at romance.”

‘Yeah, it’ll be great! You could talk about your awkwardness when it comes to flirting and how you’re kind of like a rom com heroine right now!”

“A rom com heroine? That’s just sad. I don’t wanna be a rom com heroine! I wanna be a rom com hero. You know what? Screw rom coms! I wanna be the action hero who saves the day and gets the girl!”

“Saves the day from what? Long commutes? Kitchen disasters?”

“It’s a fantasy. We can invent something for the hero to stop.”

“That’s it! Why don’t you write a fiction piece? People love those. Tell em a story!”

“Yeah, ok. I can do that. A story. But what story?”

“Hmm…I dunno. You could..ahh..oh, I’ve got it! I’ve got the perfect story! Oooh, this is gonna be so good! They’ll love it!”

“Awesome! So what’s the story?”

“Alright, well, it’s about this boy called Jack. He’s really lazy and isn’t much help to his poor widowed mother. Anyway, one day she sends him to the market to sell the family cow, cos they’ve got no money, see? And he meets this guy who’s selling these beans, and – “

“Jack and the Beanstalk?”

“…What?”

“You’re describing Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“Hey, that’s a great name! Jack and the Beanstalk…I like it. But how’d you know there’d be a beanstalk? Did I foreshadow too much with the open – “

“No, Jack and the Beanstalk was only my favorite fairy tale, that’s how I know!”

“Whaa? What are you talking about? This is a totally original story. I just made it up right now.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You made up the story of Jack and the Beanstalk?”

“Completely original.”

“Does your story, by any chance, involve a castle in the clouds, a giant who says ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ and a singing harp?”

“…”

“Does it?”

“…”

“There you go then.”

“Ok..so..umm..ok. Forget Jack and the Beanstalk. You could..uhh..”

“No, forget it. We’ve spent all this time talking about nothing and I still don’t have a blog post! We’re suppose to write like 400 words! I can’t even string 4 words together right now!”

“The length of that previous sentence says otherwise.”

“Shut up.”

“Well you’re rude. So we’re done here?”

“Yeah, shut it down. No post today.”

“Great. I’ll go on break then.”

“Hey, now wait just a – OW! Where the hell did this door come from?!”

“Later, chump.”

“Come ba – DAMMIT! Stupid doors!”

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Neighborhood

A lizard crawls along the sidewalk  It isn’t in a hurry to get wherever it’s going.

Afternoons in the summer are always quiet. Everyone’s too full from lunch and it’s too hot outside to do anything. This year, a lot of the kids in the neighborhood aren’t around either. The Dorsey girls are at camp, Eric and Libby are at their grandma’s for two weeks, and Willie’s in summer school. Poor Willie. He could never catch a break.

I’d gone over to Eli Fletcher’s house in the morning. We played some games and swam in his pool. Then he had to go for a doctor’s appointment so I came back and decided to hang out on the porch. Sometimes it’s fun to sit in one place and watch the world move around.

Our next door neighbors, the Gundersons, are both at work. They’re a nice married couple, probably in their 50’s, but they don’t have any kids. I think that’s kinda strange but Mom says it’s not so unusual nowadays. The lizard slithers into their yard, heading for Mrs. Gunderson’s vegetable garden. She’s not gonna be happy about that when she gets home.

Mr. Tanner walks past reading something, a list of some sort. He’s wearing a hat and a long coat, in spite of the weather, silver rimmed glasses perched on the tip of his nose. His forehead’s all crinkly, which means he’s thinking hard about something.

Kathy Harmon’s out walking her two dogs, one beagle who kinda looks like Snoopy and a shaggy terrier of some sort. They’re both wagging their tails as they sniff everything in sight. Kathy’s our regular babysitter, though I don’t like to call her that anymore. She’s just a girl that watches over me when my parents are out. She smiles at me with perfect white teeth, chestnut hair framing her face, and waves. I wave back, getting a funny feeling in my stomach.

Mrs. Pauley’s over in her garden, pulling out weeds. She lives across the street from us, pretty much always has. Mom says the Pauleys were some of the first people to move into this neighborhood, and the only ones that never left. It’s just been Mr. and Mrs. Pauley here for as long as I can remember, but I heard they have six sons who’re all grown up and living with their own families. Mrs. Pauley also has a sister named Mabel who visits sometimes. She always hands out ugly sweaters to people when she’s here. I got a vomit-green one last Christmas. She’s a weird lady.

Mrs. Pauley’s nice. She’s smiling whenever I see her. Her eyes are very blue, and look like they see right through you, but they’re always twinkling. Or they used to, anyway. I remember she used to be very chatty. Often, she’d have long conversations with my mom or ask me about school.

Mr. Pauley was nice too, and sometimes came over to help my dad with yard work or to play ball. But he died three months ago and then Mrs. Pauley got quieter. The funeral was nice. It feels weird to say that, but it’s true. Everyone was there. The Gundersons, the Allens, even Eric and Libby’s grandma had come up to pay her respects. There was a lot of crying and a lot of big speeches about what a great guy Mr. Pauley was. I kinda miss him.

Things haven’t been too good for Mrs. Pauley lately. I heard Mom and Dad talking about it the other day. She doesn’t have any money now. Her kids are busy with their lives and don’t speak to her as much. Only one of them showed up to Mr. Pauley’s funeral. I think they could still send her some money though. But they didn’t. She couldn’t pay rent this month. It’s weird. I always thought people who lived in houses owned them. But turns out you can rent them, just like apartments. That’s what Mr. and Mrs. Pauley did. Mom and Dad said she’d probably going to be evicted soon. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.

A car pulls into the driveway. I look at the license plate: GRH 1517. Adding 5 and 1 makes 6 and 1 more makes 7. I like it when the numbers on license plates add up like that. A fat man in a dark blue suit gets out of the car. It’s Mr. Finnick, Mrs. Pauley’s landlord. He takes a deep breath and his shoulders droop a little. He looks tired. Mrs. Pauley looks upset.

Two more people in dark suits get out of the car. As one of the men adjusts his jacket, I see something glinting. A badge pinned to his belt. The police? Looks like Mrs. Pauley’s in trouble. Mr. Finnick starts talking. I can’t really hear what he’s saying, but he’s speaking in the kind of voice my mom used when I was younger and she wanted me to eat some broccoli. The two police officers stand around, arms crossed.

Mr. Finnick pulls out some papers and shows them to Mrs. Pauley. I can see the tears running down her cheeks. She shakes her head, sobbing. Mr. Finnick is speaking a bit louder now, saying something about regret and necessary actions. Mrs. Pauley shakes her head again and yells, “I’m not going anywhere!”

I almost fall off the porch. It’s the first time I’ve heard her yell.

Some of the neighbors come out of their houses to watch. Mr. Finnick looks around and lowers his voice again. I can feel the sweat running down my back, but it’s not cause of the heat. Things are going to get bad.

Kathy’s dogs start barking. Mrs. Pauley’s still yelling and crying, her face bright red. Mr. Finnick’s trying to stay calm, but his voice is rising too. More people gather. The officers look tense.

The neighbors start asking questions, demanding to know what’s going on. The officers try to keep them back, but there’s not much they can do. It’s not against the law to help your neighbor. At least I hope not. There’s a lot more shouting now, voices trying to speak over each other. My heart’s pounding its way through my shirt.

A few people, like Mr. Allen and Mr. Holson, stand in front of Mrs. Pauley, shielding her. They pay no attention to the officers, who are telling them to stay out of it. Mr. Finnick’s done talking now and stands with his fists clenched. Everything goes quiet. Even Kathy’s dogs aren’t barking anymore. Only Mrs. Pauley’s soft sobbing fills the air.

Another car pulls up near Mrs. Pauley’s house and a man with sandy blond hair gets out. He hasn’t shaved in a few days and looks a bit scraggly. It’s Mrs. Pauley’s son, the one who was at the funeral. He marches over to his mother and talks to her in a tone that’s so calm it’s almost spooky. The two of them have a long discussion. I wish I could hear what they’re saying. Everyone else stands there in silence, waiting.

Mrs. Pauley gets agitated again. From what I can tell, it looks like Mr. Pauley Jr. wants her to move out of the house. I think he wants her to live with him. But she refuses. She’s not going to leave. Finally, the officers step in and tell her she has to go. Mrs. Pauley looks really scared.

My dad comes home from work just then. He asks one of our other neighbors about what’s happening, and walks over to Mrs. Pauley’s yard as soon as he finds out. He asks the officers to wait a few minutes and takes some of the neighbors aside to discuss something. A little while later, they all nod and go up to Mr; Finnick, saying that they’ll all pitch in to pay Mrs. Pauley’s rent. They’ll figure out something more permanent later. After even more talking, everyone agrees. Mr. Finnick and the officers leave. Mr. Pauley Jr. stands around awkwardly, then says bye and leaves too.

Mrs. Pauley stays in the exact same spot in front of her door, still crying. But there’s something different. It’s not a sad kind of crying. All the neighbors gather around and comfort her. It’s pretty amazing.

The Pauleys have been in this neighborhood for years. They built their family here. But I guess a family isn’t just the people that live in your house or that share your name. Anyone that cares about you, that shares your happiness and sadness, that laughs with you at your jokes and cries during your tragedies, is your family. This whole neighborhood is Mrs. Pauley’s family.

The next day, Mrs. Pauley smiles when she sees me. It’s the first time in months that I’ve seen a smile on her face. She calls me over and gives me a hug. Now, I’ve kinda grown out of my hugging phase, and I get squirmy when people hug me. But I don’t struggle when she does, and I hug her back. I’m glad she’s still here.

Wrongheaded

What’s my worst fear? My worst fear? Boy, that’s a tough one.

Uhh..wow..I’m not sure. Flying? Lightning? Zombies? Ok, so not zombies.

I’m afraid of lots of things. I’m a pretty awkward kinda guy, so being anxious about stuff kind of comes with the territory.

My worst, though?

Being wrong. About everything.

I’m hesitant to make some decisions, say some things, do some things, because I don’t want it to be the wrong thing. Maybe the person I love doesn’t feel the same about me. I say something sweet, something heartfelt and she just rolls her eyes. How much would that suck? Knowing that I blew it because of my dumb words? Maybe that’s why I’m single.

Or even starting a new job, like I just did. My old job wasn’t great. In fact, it sucked. But it offered stability. They weren’t really gonna fire me unless I did something really unforgivable like, I dunno, punching someone in the face. It was an easy paycheck. But I wanted to actually do something with my talent and be a proper writer. So I found a job I liked, managed to get hired, and said goodbye to my old employer. Man, that was a tough time. I had no idea if I’d just kick started an awesome new career or made the stupidest decision of my life. I thought about going back to my boss and saying, “Look, there’s been a mistake. I think I’m just gonna stay here, if that’s ok.” I almost did just that.

But I took the plunge and now here I am, an almost month-old food blogger. Awesome. Guess that worked out. But what if my future blog posts suck? What if my editor just shrugs and says, “I dunno man. Why did I hire you again?” Or what if she decides that food blogging isn’t what she wants to do anymore and goes off on a tour of Australia or something? I’d be pretty screwed.

So that’s that. I could keep going, listing what ifs and maybes. There’s so much that I wish I’d said or done in the past. Things could have turned out differently. Would they have turned out better? Well, I’ll never know now. But what if I’ve made all the wrong choices? Maybe I’ll look back on my life years from now and go, “Shit”. Or maybe I won’t.

I just don’t know. And that freaks me out.

The Immortality of Memory

An Ordinary Day In 2045

I trudge into the little room and stare at the boxes laid out in front of me. Another day of sorting and meticulously arranging the memories that others have forgotten. It’s not the most glamorous job there is, but it has its moments.

It feels like I’ve been working as a Sorter forever, but it’s only been ten years. It’s about the only thing I can do now. My bones tend to creak when there’s any more exertion involved, and I get tired easily. My own memories of life have started to fade in and out, sometimes blending together into vivid tapestries that were never really painted to begin with. So I go through the memories of others, living the lives that they no longer do, sharing in their joys and sorrows.

First up in today’s haul, an old box of toys. Batman action figures. Now that takes me back. I pick up one of the figures and examine it. Was this mine? No. I never had that one. I wonder what did happen to my old Batman collection. It was lost ages ago, and I can’t even remember where it all went. As a younger man, that would have upset me a lot. I’d be devastated about losing a collection I’d spent so much time amassing. It seems so insignificant now, nothing more than a bunch of plastic.

And so it goes with all things in life. Every loss seems catastrophic in the moment, a black hole from which one can never emerge. But as time starts to cover the cracks left behind, it creates some perspective. Losing your lucky keychain or your favorite shirt doesn’t seem quite so important as it did then. It’s not the worst day ever, or the end of the world. You almost feel sorry for your younger self, agonizing over such trivial things But there are some losses that even time can’t take the sting out of.

Losing the people in your life is hard, whether it’s best friends moving away across the world or close relatives dying. It takes away a part of you and leaves a scar that never heals, no matter how much it may fade.

But every loss, no matter how big or small, can help you discover something about yourself. You may find that you’re more resilient than you thought, able to find light amidst the darkness and to find new reasons to smile even as the old ones disappear into nothing. Or you may realize that you’re not as strong as you believed yourself to be, falling apart like a house of cards when you lost a bit of stability.

How you cope with loss can help you see who you really are, both in terms of the relationships that are gone, and the ones that you now have. A whole new world opens up to you. It’s a world that’s more unpredictable than the one you knew, one where the things you hold dearest can be snatched out of your grasp at any time by the chaos that rules the universe. It’s a scary thought, and may lead you to lock yourself up in your mind, throwing away the key. Fear of loss may lead you to hold onto everything with an iron grip, searching for control where you have none. Or you could choose to accept the way of the world and appreciate what there is without worrying about how long it will stay.

It’s not an easy thing to do. To this day, it’s something I’m working on. I think back on the many losses I’ve suffered over the years. They made me feel helpless, like I had no control over my life. But of course, that wasn’t true. I had control over my choices and my decisions. I could live in constant fear of losing, holding onto everyone I loved so tightly that I might just smother them. Or I could focus on making memories, creating moments that would live to be immortal even if the people sharing them didn’t.

And that’s what I find myself surrounded with. Immortality. These boxes, full of objects lost and forgotten, are preserving stories, or parts of them anyway. I put the Batman figure in my bag. My grandson will love it. Who knows what adventures he’ll take it on, what stories he’ll tell with it. One day, this simple toy will be lost again, relegated to the past. He’ll be very upset; it’ll be the end of the world. But his memories of the toy and his adventures with it will never be lost. He will have them forever.

Yikes!

So it just occurred to me that I’ve been neglecting Tales of Unusual Strangeness a bit. Nothing posted in almost two weeks?

Oops.

I’ve just put up another story:  https://unusualstrangeness.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/apocalypse/

Now I just need to stick to a regular posting schedule.

Let’s see how that works out.

Gone, But Still Here

How would I feel if some event that I attended, and enjoyed, were taken away from me? Sad, pissed off, grumpy. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer is ‘I don’t know’. Well, the answer’s actually longer than that. I’m sure I’d hate losing the event and feel upset about having it taken away from me, but I’d also find something else to take up my time. Any ill feelings would eventually subside and be replaced by acceptance and nostalgia.

As a real-life example, I haven’t exactly lost an old event, but an old place. The shopping mall that my family used to visit every weekend for a night out, that was the site of many a delicious childhood meal, has recently undergone renovation. The whole mall’s been closed off with the promise of re-opening under a brand new guise.

Now the truth of the matter is, that mall kinda sucked. Back when we only had a handful of places to choose from, it was a shopping hot spot, but in today’s Dubai, it was a dinosaur that had somehow dodged the meteor. But I still liked going there for the nostalgia factor, and the food court on the top floor was a reminder of all those Thursday nights with my family.

All that’s gone now, soon to be replaced by a shiny new coat of paint. Yay. The march of progress in this city can be frustrating to watch, tearing down the simple little things to make way for the next big thing. Why not just leave some things as they are? I get that it makes sense from a business standpoint: if it’s losing money, make it better. But my childhood self wants that crappy little mall, complete with the tiny bookshop that had a strict ‘No Reading’ policy, the Hallmark store where I’d browse through random knick knacks sometimes, the little video store where I’d search for video cassettes of my favorite cartoons and, of course, the food court with the A & W in the corner.

Just thinking about it as I write this post makes me feel like I’m 9 again.

Losing a regularly visited place like that really sucks. But, like I said, the resentment’s passed. I’m not angry or upset about losing that place, because I haven’t really lost it. If I close my eyes, I can still remember it in vivid detail, from the aromas of various cuisines drifting through, to the games that used to be at the adjoining arcade, to the fountain that greeted you immediately after entering the mall. It’s all still right here,

Whump!

William Grumble

745 Wilford Park

Citysburg

Mayor Gregory Keller

1490 City Hall Drive

Citysburg

 

Dear Mayor Keller,

I am writing to you on behalf of the residents of Wilford Park.

It has come to our attention that there has been increased superhuman activity in our neighborhood recently and it has been a major disruption in our lives. Last week, for example, when the super criminal known as The Bungler ran amok through the city, he apparently chose to hide out in our building. It goes without saying that we were quite anxious and eager to see him captured.

I must commend Nocturnal Man for putting a stop to the villain’s rampage, but something must be done about the collateral damage caused by their clash. That evening, I was at home, enjoying a nice hot cup of tea when I was startled by a sound that I can only describe as ‘whump’. It was caused by none other than Nocturnal Man himself, jumping onto my roof in pursuit of the villain.

Throughout the subsequent battle, many such ‘whumps’ were heard as these powerful beings tossed each other around. While the eventual capture of The Bungler is laudable Nocturnal Man and his many associates, such as Night Woman and Moon Boy, have been patroling the area since the incident, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, filling the air with a chorus of ‘whumps’.

It is becoming unbearable. I fully support the work that these heroes do, and believe that our city is safer for them being here, but is this the price we pay for security? Must we tolerate a barrage of ‘whumps’ so that supervillains can be kept at bay? We, the residents of Wilford Park, certainly will not stand for it.

Thus I take it upon myself to inform you that we have very recently formed the League of Disgruntlement, an organization dedicated to keeping our rooftops and neighborhoods free of those that go ‘whump’ in the night.

Our first order of business will be to take control of City Hall, so that we may better convince you of our position. However, we do not wish to cause any major disruption in the city, and would therefore be much obliged if you could arrange for 15 entry passes for me any my fellow committee members.

Once the passes have been issued, we will march together to your office, and will most likely have to hold you hostage until our demands are met. We deeply regret the inconvenience, but it is necessary to regain our peace of mind.

Together, I am certain we can reach an understanding and put an end to these incessant ‘whumps’ once and for all.

I shall await your response with regard to the passes, and look forward to capturing you soon.

 

Respectfully Yours,

 

William Grumble a.k.a. The Chairman

Head of Wilford Park Housing Committee

Chairman of The League of Disgruntlement