Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Scientific Method

My 2008 VD project is finally finished. Week and a half late, but that's the way the story goes.

This is the first VD project I've completed that didn't show VD in a negative light. Of course, it didn't show February 14th at all, but I think you'll understand why it's an appropriate VD story.

Keeping with tradition, I'll explain just one thing without bribes. Callash's name is an intentionally wrong transliteration of a Hindi name, Kailash.

A dingy blue robot accosted an elderly man. "Sir, may I have a moment of your time?"

The man didn't answer him.

"I am a PJ3R2 Model 6, Rex --"

"Model 6 Rex? What kind of model is that?"

"Rex is my name, sir."

"What the hell kind of fool would give a robot a name?"

"That is not important at this time, sir. Sir, are you between the ages of 20 and 28?"

"Oh, god, who would have thought ..."

"I don't understand your response, sir."

The old man shoved the robot aside, and walked away.

Rex hesitated for a moment, and then walked off in another direction. He saw another man, and honed in on him. "Sir!"

Five human-style robots, and two spider-fives held a meeting in a small room.

"I think there may be an issue with the males in the Alpha J region. Further examination may verify this conjecture, but it may not be worth our time to attempt it," said a PJ3R2 Model 6. Not Rex.

"What's wrong with the Alpha J region males, Cal?" a spider-five named Doug asked.

"They don't even want to speak to me. I can't find out how old they are, and so I cannot continue with the rest of the survey."

"Perhaps the error is with ourselves, Cal," Rex spoke. "They will not speak with me either, and I have not been in Alpha J. Have any other models had difficulties in this?"

Before the other robots were able to respond, Cal said, "Rex, the issue cannot be with us. Model 6's were constructed for human interaction primarily. If we are having difficulty, the service models cannot have fewer issues in this regard."

The other spider-five, Kurt, spoke, "I've been to Alpha J. The men there spoke to me. Rex is right. Model 6's may be intended for human interaction, but they were built for ... butler interaction. That may not work for what we're trying to do."

"Cal and I have been unsuccessful. How have the rest faired?"

"I got men who'd answer my questions," the battered chrome HT28 said. "I didn't find any that were qualified."

"Thank you, Slim. You had the Gamma 2 section, I believe."

"That's right, Rex."

"How did you approach the males in question?"

"I walked up to them, like this," Slim demonstrated his smooth, spookily human gait. "And I said, 'Hey, can I bother you, mate?' If they said yes, I'd tell 'em the situation more or less, and 75% agreed to answer at least some of my questions."

"I believe I understand the issue, Cal. I don't know if we can successfully adapt ourselves to the genial style of our friend here."

"I doubt very much that the HT28's personality will fair much better in Alpha J than mine did there."

"If I didn't know better, Cal, I would suggest that you were displaying human-like pride."

Cal's eyes glowed brighter. "Perhaps. We still do not understand all the changes made to us. There may be unforeseen ... side-effects."

"This is not productive. These philosophical matters can be pursued at a later occasion. I apologize for --"

"Shush, Rex," Doug said. "Don't blame yourself. We've heard from Slim, Cal, Rex, and me. What results have you had, June?"

An umber colored robot with a somewhat feminine figure addressed the circle. "I -- haven't found a suitable male. I know a little bit about human prejudices and desires, and in Lambda 3, I didn't even bothered to speak to the males."

"June," Kurt spoke, "That isn't a very scientific approach."

"I may be a robot, but science won't help these men."

"This is taking too long," the Q778NG named Huggy said. "The males who spoke to me were too old or too young. I am returning to my area now. Next meeting, I suggest we all come prepared to discuss our results in a more efficient manner."

"Thank you for coming," Rex said. "Shall we continue with the meeting or adjourn?"

"I wonder how the other groups are doing," June said.

Noha was a young woman, brunette, covered in grease spots. She wore a cast off promotional t-shirt that had faded so thoroughly you could no longer tell what it was designed to sell.

It seemed as if she thought she was in a valley of flowers and growing things as she traipsed through the grime of the city.

The way she ran to discarded robot parts enhanced the effect.

She found what she was looking for: a small metal box with wires sticking out of it. She turned it over a few times, reading the lettering on it. Then, she tossed it in her bag and walked away.

When she arrived at her apartment, she called out. "Hey, Rover, you're getting your voice today! Where are you at?" She knew where he was at.

He was tinkering with the television screen again.

She wasn't even quite sure where he had found the television or how he had gotten it into the apartment. The other robots never helped him with anything because they didn't understand what he was trying to communicate to them.

UX34s weren't strong on communication at the best of times. The few bits that seemed to make sense were actually predetermined 'manners' pitches.

Rover turned away from the television and looked at Noha. He picked up a chair, set it in front of her, and sat down. His chest panel automatically opened.

"Ah, so you do want your voice," Noha laughed.

He nodded.

"No one can fix themselves," Noha said. "We have to let someone else fix us. Isn't that right, Rover?"

He didn't respond.

She grabbed her soldiering gun and installed the module.

"All right, you can shut your case now, Rover."

The panel closed. "Thanks, Noha."

"No problem, Rover."

"Should be to fix TV able now soon later."

"I hope you're not fixing it for me," she said, looking up at the static.

"Everything is you, Noha. No fix TV because you to watch."

"Oh really? You do remember what I told you, right?"

"You that 'robots are real people and I don't fix you so I can have an army of robots doing my work for me.' Remember."


"'Real people' do nice thing friend. Don't mad me."

"Ok, I won't be," she hugged him.

"I thank. Mine love, Noha."

"Now that you can talk, you should join us in our project, Rover."

"I say project fail, Rex. Mine project succeed. You help?"

"What is the goal of your project?"

"I -- am difficult at articulate. Shit."

Rex cocked his head. "Admittedly, I've never known an UX34 before you, however, I didn't know any models could swear."

"Not of mine programming. I chicken mine kernel restricts. Language proxy fuck moron me. Angry."

"I know you can't be angry, Rover."

"Can, Rex. Can. Now go," he pointed generally at the distance. "Come?"


"Ok. Enjoy your repairs, sir or ma'am."

"Hey, can I bother you, mate?" Cal asked a man.

"What the hell? Did someone modify your speech center, butler?"

"No, mate. Jus' need to ask you a que or two, jon, if thas all righ' wi' you."

"Piss off, bot. Alt eff four, you hunk of metal."

"Thank you for your time, sir."

It wasn't working. Slim's methodology was flawed, or Cal was unable to execute it properly. Cal was beginning to formulate a model of frustration. Intellectually based empathy was flawed, but he began to recognize the signs of it in humans and tried to end his surveys before candidates became frustrated.

He had attempted surveys of forty separate men in this batch. Only fifteen had consented to the survey. Only two of those completed the survey. Those two were unsuitable. If those numbers held true, he would need to speak to at least 120 more candidates in order to find one candidate that would get past the first stage of the survey.

Cal made a few calculations, and then looked for another male to survey.

"Sir, can I ask for a moment of your time?"

"Listen, chum, I've already been asked questions by some of your crew. I don't know what you're selling, but I ain't got money for it. Don't take it the wrong way. I'm sure you're a fine robot an' all, but yer barking mad."

"Sir, we're not selling anything."

"That's what they all say."

"Not robots, sir. Who would be foolish enough to use intelligent robots as sales bots?"

"Not too many, I'd wager. All the same ..." The man walked away.

Cal's model told him a sigh would be appropriate in this situation. New data would be required. A new strategy based on an updated model.

The motley group of robots had been harassing men all over the city for a few weeks. It had been at a low enough level that the police weren't doing anything about it yet, but that wasn't likely to stay that way. All it would take was an off-duty to be questioned and the police would do something about it.

Callash wondered what could be so important to the robots. Well, to whoever owned the robots. He had talked to one of them, and the robot had decided Callash didn't fit whatever criteria they were looking for.

They didn't ask about money. They couldn't be selling something if they'd count people out without asking them about money.

Intrigued, he decided to follow the Model 6 that seemed to have multiple personalities. It was lucky for Callash that the Model 6s had no guile. The robot walked directly toward its destination.

It walked down a flight of stairs and into the building. Callash waited a few minutes before following him into the building.

There wasn't much light in the building, but he could still see the robot parts neatly stacked by model. The place seemed to be a robot repair shop, though it was clearly being lived in. That shouldn't have surprised him.

He walked deeper into the building. A few working robots spotted him. They looked at him intently, but didn't stop him.

He found a table covered with tools and screws. The remains of a meal for one was on it. He heard some noise, like someone talking, in the next room.

The noise came from a huge television that a UX34 was working on. The robot noticed Callash, and closed the case on the TV. "Enjoy your repairs, sir or ma'am."

"Thank you, robot."

"Welcome. Bye." The UX34 left the room.

"Hello? Is there anyone there?"

A beautiful brunette woman walked into the room, drying her hair. "Yeah?"

"Hi. I'm Callash."

"I'm Noha. What can I do for you?"

"Um. Hm."

"Cat got your tongue? I only do repairs on robots," she laughed. "Unless you're some kind of new model," she looked around him, pretending to look for signs that he was a robot. "I don't think I can help you."

Callash smiled. "Let me start over."


"Your robots have been conducting some kind of survey or something ..."

"They're not my robots. I just fixed them. They're my friends."

"Ah. Well, I'm a little worried about your friends. They're going to get in trouble with the police if they keep it up."

She sighed. "I knew they were up to something."

"I think I may know what they're up to."

"Yeah, me too." She shook her head.

"Can I buy you lunch?"

"We can't fix ourselves," she muttered.

"What's that?"

"Oh, just something Rover taught me. You must be a weird one."

"Is that so bad?"

"No. It's not bad." She walked up to him and put her hand on his face. "Sometimes people throw things away because they don't like them. Not because they're bad. If you're broken, that's not where the problem is."

She was looking straight into his eyes. He wanted to turn away, but instead he looked back into them. He could see the future in them.

"I'd love to go to lunch with you, Callash."

"Was wrong, Rex. You plan succeed. Sorry mine doubt," Rover said.

"Yes, the scientific method prevailed," Cal said.

"The plan succeeded," Rex said. "But for all the wrong reasons. You were right, Rover. Criteria-based mate selection is a failure."

"It's the thought that counts! Give her the gift that shows you care. Give her repairs and save the money for dinner at a fancy restaurant!" said Rover. (Read more!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Memoirs (Character Perspective)

This was originally intended to be a serial. The last portion of it that was released was released on August 24th, 2006. The number of inside jokes in this is ridiculous, and the likelihood of anyone deciphering them without my help is about nil.

Bad idea all around, but it worked pretty well for the audience that this was intended for. You might laugh. If you absolutely
must know, the main character's name is Eve. No other explanations will be provided except in the case of bribes.

The genre of memoirs has lately been an unpopular one. There is one and only one reason for this: most people have boring memories, and it seems to be that those are the ones most likely to believe they have something to reminisce onto page. Some attempts have been made to remedy the tedium in memoirs. Unfortunately, the omnipresent sticks-in-the-mud are still omnipresent.

As a benefit to all of humanity, and to all English literature, I have decided that it is finally time to write my memoirs.

If you have lived in America for more than a few years, you have already heard of a few of my experiences. Now you will have a chance to finally hear the truth about my life, or as close to it as I can recall.

It seems so cliché to begin at the beginning, but it also seems cliché to begin at the ending, or even in the middle and flash back and forward until reaching a stunning climax that involves both the linear very first few minutes and the very last few minutes.

So, damn the clichés and batten the topsail, we're sailing from Spain to the Americas without being smart enough to realize that we're going to ground before hitting India.

I was born in 1899, February the 13th, on a Friday. It was a grim and mildly precipitous morning, though I can't recall it. They say that first impressions last a lifetime. If that's true in the strictest sense of the word, you can say that I had a very bad impression of this world.

According to my mother, the world had a rather bad first impression of me as well. I cried incessantly, shat and pissed in my nappies, and bit the nipples of any female who happened to come within twenty inches, and those of a few of the more well-endowed males. Unlike the world, however, I have made significant improvements on my character. I have given up incessant crying, and self-defecation and self-urination for good. I also can usually manage to detect and avoid male nipples before bitting.

Besides, this is about my memories, not about the world's memories of me.

While I can't remember the first year or so of my life, I do remember the third year quite vividly. My handle on the English language was at that point on par with most modern seventy year olds. Modern literacy is a joke.

It was during my third year that I discovered that certain sounds that I could emanate from my mouth produced drastic effects in my audience. My early career in comedy was cut short by the fact people find it funny when three-year-olds say onanism, but are much less amused by six-year-olds who do the same.

I am very fortunate that this was not the only benefit I obtained from learning the English language.

When you begin to learn the language in earnest, a world of discoveries is opened to you. For instance, I immediately learned what "hot" meant, and renewed my interest in not touching stoves ever. As a young female, of course, this was simply not acceptable in that era. From the age of eighteen months, it was required to learn cooking so as to be more subservient and pleasing to potential mates so as to avoid having a horrific marriage bereft of orgasms.

Fortunately, my mother was a progressive, and was not too concerned about the fact that her three year old daughter showed no interest in the stove. In many ways, though, my mother has been the cause of my emotional anguish. She paid me little attention as a child, and I suffered greatly for it. Even now, every word of this memoir I'm writing sounds manly! I blame that on my father, but it's only partly his fault. Sure, he shouldn't have been there, but if my mother had been, he wouldn't have needed to be there.

When I confronted my mother about her absent parenting, she claimed she was born in 1905, six years after I was born. She seems to earnestly believe this is a reasonable excuse.

So, anyway, my third year was filled with adventure, and stove avoidance.

In my third year, I also discovered morphine, laudanum, and opium. When I say discovered here, I do not mean that I was the first person to discover opiates, but merely that it was at this age that I became aware of them. The actual discoveries that I have made came several years later.

My early awareness of these opiates is my only excuse for why I was not able to conquer my first country as early as I would have liked. I spent several minutes every day using some combination of those three opiates, and drinking absinthe and sarsaparilla. Speaking of sarsaparilla, that's an excellent hangover remedy. Too bad your modern stores don't carry it.

In a way, I feel glad that I was distracted from conquest. I was not ready at that time to conquer countries. I could have done it, but it wouldn't have been the same. I wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I came to.

You may be wondering what might cause a three year-old-girl to be obsessed with conquering nations. Normally, I would ignore questions about it, but I suppose I need to tell you things you're interested in so that you will continue reading until at least the second chapter so that you will buy this book instead of clogging up the aisles in the bookstore. Those "this is not a library" signs are there for a reason, people. They want you to buy books.

So, on to my obsession, instead of theirs. Curiously enough, my hatred for stoves, love of conquering countries, and early addiction to opiates are all interconnected. Sophisticated people often like to believe that they are more complicated than simplistic folk. I am proud to be one of the few sophisticates to understand just how simplistic I am.

This is how it happened. I was in the kitchen trying to find some goodies, and perhaps get a few more good uses from the onanism joke when the connection between solid food and the stove was made. I saw my mother put various unappetizing things together in a pan, and mix them until they looked even less appetizing. Then she put them in the stove. At the time, I wondered why she hadn't thrown then away without the ritual of combining them so carefully. Nearby, my father "sat" reading a local paper.

I don't recall my father saying anything, but my mother felt that something specific was being left unsaid. "Don't be like that, Jeho. What's on your mind?" She turned and looked at him. He had the paper in his hand, but didn't seem to be actually reading it.

"Everything," he said. He shouldn't have said that. He knew how much it irritated her.

My mother said something under her breath that sounded like 'tassle.'

"I heard that," he said.

"You hear everything."

She returned to the stove and pulled out what appeared to be cake.

I had a very three-year-old style concept of 'what comes down must have gone up.' I decided that putting nonsense in the oven must cause wonderful things to come out. I pondered for a few minutes whether this was an inverse or direct relationship, and then carried my blanket to the stove.

My blanket was lucky that I didn't manage to get beyond the 'opening the stove' step before finding myself uncomfortably hot. My mother was brooding at my father, and I was trying to get out of the predicament I found myself in. I decided this was a good time to cry, and while I was crying and cooking, I realized that this had all been caused by a lack of authority on my part. If people had just been sensible enough to do whatever I told them to, I would not be in this position!

States were the largest group of people my three-year-old mind was aware of at the time. In those brief moments before my mother came running to help me, I thought about how much I would like to conquer the "great" "state" of Milwaukee. My concept of states was a little askew, but my heart was in the right place.

Finally, after an agonizing half-second, I was off the stove, and my mother was carrying me to the doctor. I was in a vicious mood, and declared in loud sub-linguistic ways how I would bring fear and terror to Milwaukee for the entire bumpy ride to the doctor.

While doctors in that era were not more ignorant than the ones in this era, they were ignorant in different ways. It was still believed that butter was a good way of dealing with burns. The pain and damage caused by the butter would have been unforgivable if not for the doctor's wise understanding that there is nothing wrong with the excessive use of opiates. It was in this way that I was introduced to a lifelong love of opiates.

The more attentive of you will be asking yourselves what my father was doing while I was getting carried to the doctor. Reading the newspaper and listening. I'm not precisely sure what he was listening to, but he sure did a lot of it. It was his stated opinion that someone who listened as much as he did didn't have to answer to anything. Even now, having discovered a great number of mind-altering substances, I have no idea what this was supposed to mean.

I do know there were a great many interesting articles in the newspaper that my dad often held, but rarely seemed to read. For instance, I read that two young engineers had built the first two stroke internal combustion driven tractor eighty miles away in Madison. I decided that this would be an excellent means of conquering Milwaukee since no one else had one yet. I was unamused to learn that they were moving their work to Iowa. Fortunately for Hart and Parr, the morphine was to take my mind off Milwaukee-conquering for several days.

I would like to tell you that both of my parents were very attentive to me for the next several days as I lazed around, high on morphine and oozing pus from my burns. I would like to tell you this because I am a liar, and that means I enjoy lying. Does it make me a liar if I lie about being a liar? Never mind.

It would be a slight stretch to say that they paid me no attention. My father paid me about as much attention as he ever did. He was listening, but he was always listening. That didn't mean he responded. At three years old, this did not make much of an impression on me because I had encountered few men, and fewer fathers. I didn't see anything particularly odd about a man sitting at the table all day and most of the night, pretending to read a newspaper.

My mother was slightly more attentive than normal for a few weeks. She changed my bandages, and gave me morphine. That was the only major alteration in her routine.

So, I spend nearly six months avoiding stoves, taking morphine, and stealing discarded newspapers from my father and reading them under cover of parental indifference.

It was, as you can imagine, the most boring part of my life. For that reason, I won't be boring you with the remainder of that period. You've been patient, you deserve to be rewarded or punished less. I'm going to assume 'punished less' just as a precaution.

The end to these toddling opiate idylls was not the outbreak of a war, or even the putting down of a Marxist rebellion. No, my happy moments ended in a quiet, unassuming way. The doctor that had prescribed the morphine to start with, came unannounced to check on my progress. It was an unexpected house call that I shall never forgive him for.

On a random morning when I was enjoying my morphine, the doctor arrived at the door. I had no reason to think poorly of doctors, especially not the one who had so benefited my leisure. So, to my four-year-old mind, it was just another one of those random occurrences that I wasn't knowledgeable enough to have predicted.

The doctor had my mother remove my top. This was a bit less amusing than I was prepared to deal with at the time, but I had mercy since he was the one who had helped with the burns in the first place. He noted the large and ugly line on my chest.

My mother asked him if the scar was likely to lighten and he said that it wasn't going to disappear. I was lucky that it had happened to me at such a young age because there was a good chance that it would blend in and not damage my looks as I grew up. Thinking back on this incident, I believe my doctor may have been a pervert.

At this point my mother asked if there was any benefit to continuing the morphine treatments.

The doctor seemed stunned. "You're still giving her the morphine?"

There was a heated, five-minute discussion between the two about what the doctor ought to have told my mother when he recommended the morphine.

Immediately, I was denied my favorite pastime, and immediately, I began thinking about conquering states. After months of reading the newspaper, I was well aware that Milwaukee was not a state, but a mere city! All of Wisconsin would soon be under my thumb. I just had to figure out how to pull it off.

I was fairly certain that my parents weren't going to pose much of an obstacle. They didn't notice what I did most of the time. They weren't aware that I was capable of sophisticated thought. The question remained, though. How does someone who is not even three feet tall conquer an entire state? For the first time in several days at least, I got out my dollies. It was time to strategize.

It seemed that I had few advantages against those already in power. A few of my disadvantages could be turned into advantages, certainly. No one expected a four-year-old-girl dictator. That meant that a lot of my work could be done in plain sight, but it also meant that I couldn't issue orders directly.

There was also the problem of the mechanized tractor. O! But if only the gods had deigned to keep Hart and Parr in the state just a little longer!

My stubborn streak showed even at that young age. I would not let the little matter of the tractor company being in Iowa deter me for long. Even if the tractor had to wait until I was ready to conquer a second territory, I was going to conquer Wisconsin, and I was going to make all the doctors suffer for their impudence.

But first, according to my mother, I was going to take a nap. (Read more!)

The Morning After

This is a story I wrote the VD prior to last. The only changes I've made this time around were to censor some of the swearing. This story was originally released on February 14th, 2006 as part of my annual tradition of releasing a creative project related to Valentines Day.

Disclaimer: This story was written under the influence of Leonard Cohen music and caffeine, which will both probably be outlawed eventually, discrediting my writing by virtue of the author being a 'cheating' substance abuser.

Everybody knows that it's now or never,

Everybody knows that it's me or you,

And everybody knows you live forever

When you've done a line or two

-Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

I achieved the Buddha state of mindfulness. There was no before, and no after. Just this moment. I knew every card and every figurine on display, every thought in my mind and every hair on the arms of the man who was choking me. Even the sweat on my head seemed to stay exactly where it was, unmoving.

If this moment had lasted forever, I wouldn't have noticed.

"It's all
your fault, you b****!"

I had never seen hatred like that before. I was sure, in my centered detachment, that I had gone insane.

February 15th is one of the slowest days of the year for my store, and it's my most profitable day. I work for a national chain you've probably heard of. I won't say which because you know how things are with the Internet these days and people getting fired for saying stuff about their jobs.

It's a nice, cute little card shop, and lots of people think it's responsible for America's obsession with Valentine's day.

The day after Valentine's is my most profitable because I do something that I would probably be fired for if my employer knew about it. It's not fraud, or theft, but it probably is illegal. Before every major holiday, I buy cards and presents with my own money, and then save the receipts so that I can sell them to forgetful husbands and boyfriends.

The main selling point here would be the receipts.

Imagine it.

A loving, but forgetful husband comes into the shop, looking for a way to make it up to his darling wife, and encounters me. An unromantic, and unattractive twenty-year-old girl who is selling old receipts for a premium. He pays 50 USD plus sticker price, and walks out with a bit of hope in his eyes, and a pen in his hand.

He gets home, and gives his wife the card and other presents, saying he'd hidden them so well that even he couldn't find them. He gets sex that night, and the lawyer gets a call from the wife the next morning saying "Forget those divorce papers."

God, I'm a b****. You get the idea. It's not as pretty as I make it sound, but reality never holds a candle to the commercial.

So, I walked into the store first thing in the morning with my bag loaded up with sappy cards, candy, trinkets, and receipts. Shelly wasn't in yet, so I set up shop, and hid my wares under the sales counter.

At eight, I opened the shop. Shelly still wasn't in. I hate her sometimes. Being married doesn't make a good excuse for leaving your co-workers hanging. Oh, I was so exhausted from having wild sex with my husband last night that I slept in for a whole hour. It was amazing. Save it, Shelly.

My first customer arrived twenty minutes later. I was a little disappointed when the customer turned out to be an old woman. She was probably shopping for a congratulations card for some asshole grandson who would be graduating in two-and-a-half-months-if-he-didn't-flunk-out-of-every-class-this-semester.

I doubt little old ladies are ever late to anything but their own funerals. Whatever she was here for, I was sure I would hear about it soon, with no painful and embarrassing bits neglected.

The old lady browsed through the 'congratulations' section, and I let my mind wander. This job could be really boring at times. It looked like the old woman was going to read every card in whole the store.

About ten minutes later, a man walked in, looking confident and cocky. That was a little unusual for February 15th. With that kind of confidence, I doubted he would be one of my "special" customers. I was very surprised when he walked straight to the sales desk. I thought that he might know what he wanted, and didn't want to spend five minutes looking for it if he could make me look for it instead. I hated those bastards.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, I think so. This is the place to buy Valentine's day presents that include receipts from the day before, right?"

Damn, he was one of mine. I didn't know how I felt about helping assholes get laid and keep their wives. That's just the cost of business, I guess.

"Sure is." I pulled out some of my packages to show him. I intentionally chose the receipts and presents that were going to cost him more. If he was going to be a dick, I was going to make some money off him.

"How much for that pile?"

"Seventy-two dollars."

"What?" He was shocked.

"Well, you're not paying for the present. You're paying for the receipt, and I'm the only game in town. Think of it as cheap penance." Yes, I know what a b**** I am.

He got his wallet out and paid in cash.

As soon as he left the store, he was out of sight and out of mind. Sure, he was a little off, but guys were going to be a little weird when they came in here after missing Valentine's. The whole incident ... it should have made me think.

About twenty minutes later, Shelly came in with another one of her stories about how much progress her and her husband were making with the sex therapist and --

Oh god! The orgasms, you have no idea, Kayla!

Exactly, I have no idea. Keep it to yourself.

Sometimes, I wish she would invite me along just so I could say, "No, thanks. It's bad enough you talk constantly about it at work, I don't need the visuals to go along with it."

I wished many times over that it had been Mike working with me that morning.

"Well, I'm going to go do some paperwork. Keep an eye on the front for me, okay?"

"Sure, no problem, Shelly." I was the master of sarcasm. My sarcasm was so mild even God couldn't hear the venom in my voice.

Mornings in general tend to be slow. The only thing that happened for the next half hour was that some middle school boys on bikes rode past the storefront. It took me half a minute to figure out that it was Wednesday, and they were playing hooky. I wanted to join them so badly.

While I was getting sentimental, a man ran up to the door and pulled it open with a stunning violence. The air shift caused by the door opening was spectacular, but I didn't have time to think about it. He ran straight for my counter.

I tried to duck, but didn't get very far before his arms where around my collar, pulling me up to face him. The hate and fury in his eyes ... If people could work up this sort of rage about society, things might change. That just goes to show the power of love.

That was sarcasm, just in case you didn't catch it.

Even now, I'm a b****.

"You f***ing b****! It's all your fault, you b****! She KNEW!" He shook me, and I wondered if that's what it felt like to be a doll in a little girl's hand.

For the first time, I realized who he was. He was Marcy's husband. Marcy was one of our regulars, and she must have seen me sell things to men before.

Fear produces strange reactions in people. It always makes me antagonistic, 'ballsy.' "No, it's your fault, you asshole. If you had actually cared about Marcy in the first place, you would have bought her presents beforehand! But no, all you care about is getting laid and having someone to iron your f***ing shirts for you."

I don't know what made me do it. By the time I said 'bought,' I'm sure he was so blind with rage that there's no way he actually heard what I said.

He was squeezing my neck and shaking me viciously when the little old lady whose grandson was going to graduate soon tottered up, and beat Marcy's husband on the head with her purse. She just kept beating him. It was the most absurd thing I'd ever seen. It was so absurd that I laughed as little black spots and darkness grew in my sight.

"Put her down, you whiny little b****," she said and kept hitting him.

It was so pathetic. He gave my neck one last squeeze, and then finally let go. I fell and hit my head on the chair as he ran out of the store.

"I'm going to call the cops," the little old lady said.

I gasped and stood up. "No, no. That's okay. I think he's had punishment enough."

"Hmm. If you're sure ..."

"Yes, I'm sure." I went from dying to calm-and-confident in seconds. I would have been impressed if I hadn't been too full of adrenaline to notice.

"Well, while I'm up here, can I get your opinion on a card for my grandson?"

"Sure thing, ma'am."

Marcy came in the shop a few weeks later. I was a little worried that she was going to be upset with me, or bitter. She didn't seem that way at all, though. When she walked to the sales desk to pay, I said 'hi' and asked her how things were going.

"Well, I'm getting a divorce --"

"Wow, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Oh, it's okay. Bill never really seemed to care that much about me, and his attitude ..."

I guess Bill had just been looking for someone to blame. That doesn't make me a better person, it just means that bad luck conspired with karma that day.

So, what happened to my side business? If you think I stopped, you don't know me very well.

I figured that if I could live with that incident, I could live with anything this business might throw at me. With that in mind, I expanded my business in every direction. Need a hotel for the ACC tournament? I've probably got a room. Want to surprise your love by taking her to dinner at the hottest restaurant in town tonight?

I've got six tables ... for a price. (Read more!)

The Penguins

According to the time stamps, I wrote this at 12:08AM, August 8th, 2005. The only change I've made to it since then have been some spelling fixes. Short comment after the story.

Sand dollars. They didn't seem to have a point, but they looked pretty on the wet sand. The waves washed over them again and again as he walked along the shore. So many little penguins squawking in the sky, and the clouds covering the sun. It really was the perfect day. The water lapped over his toes, surprising him for just a second.

He couldn't believe no one else was out here enjoying today. Sure, it was a Wednesday, and everyone was probably at work, but sometimes ... the sounds were so engrossing. From the little bubbles in the water to the wind and the birds.

You've just got to get away. It seemed so sad and pointless at times. Why would anyone put up with it? Well, he did. But then he'd come here, and everything would be ok for a little while. He'd have to go back, but that was the price.

You couldn't have heaven for an eternity. Just for a few hours, and that little bit would cost you. Not a whole lot, but a little bit of your soul because the hope and contentment you had there would only feed your need for it.

That wasn't any different from life, though. He wasn't complaining. The beach was just too pretty. The waves felt too good. There was nothing to complain about, so he was just going to enjoy the scene and collect some sand dollars.

If only those damned penguins would stop pecking at him. No, not penguins, sea gulls. This is the beach.

Jack and his co-workers watched in wonder as Harold strolled happily through the parking garage. He seemed intent on picking up coffee lids, and ignored the shouts. Tires screeched and horns honked, but Harold would not be dissuaded.

There seemed to Jack to be a hint of sadness to Harold's act. As if Harold was aware that something was wrong. But it couldn't be. No one sensible enough to understand that would be able to do what Harold was doing.

Could they?

Jack just watched.

The men and women from security came in their uniform suits and tried to surround Harold.

The beach was fading; fading away. What do you do, dreamer? Fight? Swing your arms at the penguins to make them go away? But they don't go away. The only thing that goes away is the water, the sand, the sky.

This story was inspired by the lid to a foam coffee cup that I saw in a parking lot. It looked like a sand dollar to me. (Read more!)


You can ignore this. It's my scratch pad for HTML/CSS while I figure out how to get Blogger to do what I'm asking it to.

Forever is a long time.

-the La La Las

If my test went well, you will only see this text if you go into the actual post. LOLOLOLOLOL (Read more!)


Hello, all. I'm J. McNeill and this "blog" is really just a place for me to share my artistic endeavors with my friends and co-conspirators. Don't expect frequent updates since I post my more general life-related things elsewhere.

I'll put some more nonsense here later.

    Ten things that most people don't know and don't care to know about me:
  1. I belong to a secret cadre of people who have a certain middle name and won't tell anyone about it.

  2. That secret cadre doesn't do anything other than not tell people the middle name.

  3. Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Ammon Hennacy are my heroes.

  4. It's been several months since the previous statement about never having kissed anyone was true. Rock rock on.

  5. The fact that I haven't written anything in a few weeks bothers me greatly.

  6. In 2000, I intentionally voted for the presidential candidate that I thought was the dumbest. Turns out that guy was an evil genius. Whoops. As penance, I don't vote for dumb people or the lesser of two evils anymore. And, I'm not saying who I voted for in 2008. End the drama, people. Please.

  7. I'm a big Wil Wheaton fan.

  8. I think social networking sites are lame, but that still hasn't stopped me from using my MySpace account and creating a Twitter account.

  9. I'm censoring my own internet to help me keep my new years resolution: ignore all of the celebrity scandals. Not doing very well so far.

  10. If there is something that should be hard, but someone has made it easy, I despise the easy way. For instance, bread machines are evil. Of course, if they weren't evil for that reason, they'd be evil because they leave an unsightly hole in the bottom of your bread.

I update this post on a regular basis. The most recent changes were made on Monday, September 13, 2009 at 2:48PM EST. (Read more!)