Thursday, April 30, 2020
On Writing Character
Here's a link to a book of writings that was put together on Blurb...
From which perspective are you going to tell your story? Think of 3 books you've read. What perspective were they written in?
What would be the advantages or disadvantages of telling the story from one of these perspectives?
So where do characters come from? One place to look would be archetypes...
While archetypes draw from the collective unconscious, another place to look would be from one's own experiences. Either a family member, a friend, someone you met at a bus stop, you at a younger age, or a combination of these.
It has been said that good characters write themselves. Here's a character sheet to help:
the first instance of dialect writing is from Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
If you think about it everybody has a different vocabulary, favorite words, syntax, common used sentence structures, inflection, tone, etc. And to make characters distinct dialect is often used. Filmmakers the Coen Brothers really excell in this, capturing different socio-economic classes, education, region, and time periods in their films...
Have a guess where these people are from?
Dialect can be difficult to write but it is essential to make your characters sound like different people.
I always carry a notebook or piece of paper and pen with me and if I hear someone say something interesting I write it down and try to keep it as close to what the person said as possible. Think about a character in the last film you watched. What made their speech unique? Now sometimes the opposite can be true but there has to a reason for it, example would be if the character talks like their parents because they are very close to them, also good friends often to begin to talk like eachother, borrowing each others words and speech patterns, or sometimes to mock the other.
Assignment: Write a short dialogue between 2 or more characters and try to keep their speech very different.
FOOTNOTES: Sometimes character serve to act as a springboard for the other character, such as in the case of 'My Dinner With Andre'
Wally: Well, why...why do you think that is? I mean, why is that, I mean, is it just because people are...are lazy today, or they're bored? I mean, are we just like bored, spoiled children who've just been lying in the bathtub all day just playing with their plastic duck, and now they're just thinking, "Well, what can I do?"
Andre: Okay. Yes. We're bored. We're all bored now. But has it every occurred to you, Wally, that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money? And that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks. And it's not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who's bored is asleep? And somebody who's asleep will not say "no"?
Andre: See, I keep meeting these people, I mean, uh, just a few days ago I met this man whom I greatly admire, he's a Swedish physicist, Gustav Björnstrand, and he told me that he no longer watches television, he doesn't read newspapers, and he doesn't read magazines. He's completely cut them out of his life because he really does feel that we're living in some kind of Orwellian nightmare now, and that everything that you hear now contributes to turning you into a robot.
Andre: And when I was at Findhorn, I met this extraordinary English tree expert who had devoted his life to saving trees. Just got back from Washington, lobbying to save the redwoods, he's 84 years old, and he always travels with a backpack cause he never knows where he's gonna be tomorrow. And when I met him at Findhorn, he said to me, "Where are you from?" and I said, "New York." He said, "Ah, New York. Yes, that's a very interesting place. Do you know a lot of New Yorkers who keep talking about the fact that they want to leave, but never do?" And I said, "Oh, yes." And he said, "Why do you think they don't leave?" I gave him different banal theories. He said, "Oh, I don't think it's that way at all."
Andre: He said, "I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they've built. They've built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners, and as a result, they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made or to even see it as a prison." And then he went into his pocket, and he took out a seed for a tree and he said, "This is a pine tree." He put it in my hand and he said, "Escape before it's too late."
Andre: See, actually, for two or three years now, Chiquita and I have had this very unpleasant feeling that we really should get out. That we really should feel like Jews in Germany in the late thirties. Get out of here. Of course, the problem is where to go, cause it seems quite obvious that the whole world is going in the same direction. See, I think it's quite possible that the 1960s represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished and that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now, and that, from now on there'll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. And there'll be nobody left almost to remind them that there once was a species called a human being, with feelings and thoughts, and that history and memory are right now being erased, and soon nobody will really remember that life existed on the planet.
Often the characters want something from each other. What do you think the different characters want in the following clips?
There is a large buffet table and two WAITERS to serve them. The room is darkened and Hammond is showing slides of various scenes all around them. Hammond's own recorded voice describes current and future features of the park while the slides flash artists' renderings of all them. The real Hammond turns and speaks over the narration. HAMMOND None of these attractions have been finished yet. The park will open with the basic tour you're about to take, and then other rides will come on line after six or twelve months. Absolutely spectacular designs. Spared no expense. More slides CLICK past, a series of graphs dealing with profits, attendance and other fiscal projections. Donald Gennaro, who has become increasingly friendly with Hammond, even giddy, grins from ear to ear. GENNARO And we can charge anything we want! Two thousand a day, ten thousand a day - - people will pay it! And then there's the merchandising - - HAMMOND Donald, this park was not built to carter only to the super rich. Everyone in the world's got a right to enjoy these animals. GENNARO Sure, they will, they will. (laughing) We'll have a - - coupon day or something. Grant looks down, at the plate he's eating from. It's in the shape of the island itself. He looks at his drinking cup. It's got a T-rex on it, and a splashy Jurassic Park logo. There are a stack of folded amusement park-style maps on the table in front of Grant. He picks one up. Boldly, across the top it says, "Fly United to Jurassic Park!" HAMMOND (on tape) - - from combined revenue streams for all three parks should reach eight to nine billion dollars a year - - HAMMOND (to Gennaro) That's conservative, of course. There's no reason to speculate wildly. GENNARO I've never been a rich man. I hear it's nice. Is it nice? Ian Malcolm, who was been watching the screens with outright contempt, SNORTS, as if he's finally had enough. MALCOLM The lack of humility before nature that's been displayed here staggers me. They all turn and look at him. GENNARO Thank you, Dr. Malcolm, but I think things are a little different than you and I feared. MALCOLM Yes, I know. They're a lot worse. GENNARO Now, wait a second, we haven't even see the park yet. Let's just hold out concerns until - - (or alt. version) Wait - we were invited to this island to evaluate the safety conditions of the park, physical containment. The theories that all simple systems have complex behavior, that animals in a zoo environment will eventually begin to behave in an unpredictable fashion have nothing to do with that evaluation. This is not some existential furlough, this is an on-site inspection. You are a doctor. Do your job. You are invalidating your own assessment. I'm sorry, John - - HAMMOND Alright Donald, alright, but just let him talk. I want to hear all viewpoints. I truly do. (or) I truly am. MALCOLM Don't you see the danger, John, inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force ever seen on this planet. But you wield it like a kid who's found his dad's gun. MALCOLM GENNARO If I may.... It is hardly appropriate to start hurling Excuse me, excuse me - - generalizations before - - I'll tell you. MALCOLM (cont'd) The problem with scientific power you've used is it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge yourselves, so you don't take the responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you knew what you had, you patented it, packages it, slapped in on a plastic lunch box, and now you want to sell it. HAMMOND You don't give us our due credit. Our scientists have done things no one could ever do before. MALCOLM Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should. Science can create pesticides, but it can't tell us not to use them. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it can't tell us not to build it! HAMMOND But this is nature! Why not give an extinct species a second chance?! I mean, Condors. Condors are on the verge of extinction - - if I'd created a flock of them on the island, you wouldn't be saying any of this! (or) have anything to say at all! MALCOLM Hold on - - this is no species that was obliterated by deforestation or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot. Nature selected them for extinction. HAMMOND I don't understand this Luddite attitude, especially from a scientist. How could we stand in the light of discovery and not act? MALCOLM There's nothing that great about discovery. (or) What's so great about discovery? It's a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery I call the rape of the natural world! GENNARO Please - - let's hear something from the others. Dr. Grant? I am sorry - - Dr. Sattler? ELLIE The question is - - how much can you know about an extinct ecosystem, and therefore, how could you assume you can control it? You have plants right here in this building, for example, that are poisonous. You picked them because they look pretty, but these are aggressive living things that have no idea what century they're living in and will defend themselves. Violently, if necessary. Exasperated, Hammond turns to Grant, who looks shell-shocked. HAMMOND Dr. Grant, if there's one person who can appreciate all of this - - (or) What am I trying to do? But Grant speaks quietly, really thrown by all of this. GRANT I feel - - elated and - - frightened and - - (starts over) The world has just changed so radically. We're all running to catch up. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but look - - He leans forward, a look of true concern on his face. GRANT (cont'd) Dinosaurs and man - - two species separated by 65 million years of evolution - - have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we have the faintest idea of what to expect? HAMMOND I don't believe it. I expected you to come down here and defend me from these characters and the only one I've got on my side it the bloodsucking lawyer!? GENNARO Thank you. One of the WAITERS whispers to Hammond. HAMMOND Ah - - they're here.
Casablanca cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) sacrificed himself with a "We'll always have Paris" and "No good at being Noble" airport farewell speech to ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman):
Rick: Because you're getting on that plane.
Ilsa: "I don't understand. What about you?"
Rick: I'm staying here with him [Renault] 'til the plane gets safely away.
Ilsa: "No, Richard. No. What has happened to you? Last night..."
Rick: Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then and it all adds up to one thing. You're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.
Ilsa: "But Richard, no, I've..."
Rick: Now, you've got to listen to me. Do you have any idea what you've have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we'd both wind up in a concentration camp. Isn't that true, Louis?
Renault: "I'm afraid Major Strasser would insist."
Ilsa: "You're saying this only to make me go."
Rick: I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Ilsa: "What about us?"
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have - we'd - we'd lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: "When I said I would never leave you.."
Rick: And you never will. I've got a job to do too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now. Here's looking at you, kid.
INT. GAS STATION/GROCERY - DAY Chigurh stands at the counter across from the elderly proprietor. He holds up a bag of cashews. CHIGURH How much? PROPRIETOR Sixty-nine cent. CHIGURH This. And the gas. PROPRIETOR Y'all getting any rain up your way? CHIGURH What way would that be? PROPRIETOR I seen you was from Dallas.
Chigurh tears open the bag of cashews and pours a few into his hand. CHIGURH What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo? PROPRIETOR I didn't mean nothin' by it. CHIGURH Didn't mean nothin'. PROPRIETOR I was just passin' the time. CHIGURH I guess that passes for manners in your cracker view of things.
A beat. PROPRIETOR Well sir I apologize. If you don't wanna accept that I don't know what else I can do for you. Chigurh stands chewing cashews, staring while the old man works the register and puts change on the counter. PROPRIETOR ...Will there be somethin' else? CHIGURH I don't know. Will there?
The proprietor turns and coughs. Chigurh stares. PROPRIETOR Is somethin' wrong? CHIGURH With what? PROPRIETOR With anything? CHIGURH Is that what you're asking me? Is there something wrong with anything? The proprietor looks at him, uncomfortable, looks away. PROPRIETOR Will there be anything else? CHIGURH You already asked me that. PROPRIETOR Well... I need to see about closin'. CHIGURH See about closing. PROPRIETOR Yessir. CHIGURH What time do you close? PROPRIETOR Now. We close now. CHIGURH Now is not a time. What time do you close. PROPRIETOR Generally around dark. At dark.
Chigurh stares, slowly chewing. CHIGURH You don't know what you're talking about, do you? PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH I said you don't know what you're talking about.
Chigurh chews. CHIGURH ...What time do you go to bed. PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH You're a bit deaf, aren't you? I said what time do you go to bed. PROPRIETOR Well...
A pause. PROPRIETOR ...I'd say around nine-thirty. Somewhere around nine-thirty. CHIGURH I could come back then. PROPRIETOR Why would you be comin' back? We'll be closed. CHIGURH You said that.
He continues to stare, chewing. PROPRIETOR Well... I need to close now -- CHIGURH You live in that house behind the store? PROPRIETOR Yes I do. CHIGURH You've lived here all your life?
A beat. PROPRIETOR This was my wife's father's place. Originally. CHIGURH You married into it. PROPRIETOR We lived in Temple Texas for many years. Raised a family there. In Temple. We come out here about four years ago. CHIGURH You married into it. PROPRIETOR ...If that's the way you wanna put it. CHIGURH I don't have some way to put it. That's the way it is. He finishes the cashews and wads the packet and sets it on the counter where it begins to slowly unkink. The proprietor's eyes have tracked the packet. Chigurh's eyes stay on the proprietor. CHIGURH ...What's the most you've ever lost on a coin toss? PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss. PROPRIETOR I don't know. I couldn't say.
Chigurh is digging in his pocket. A quarter: he tosses it. He slaps it onto his forearm but keeps it covered. CHIGURH Call it. PROPRIETOR Call it? CHIGURH Yes. PROPRIETOR For what? CHIGURH Just call it. PROPRIETOR Well -- we need to know what it is we're callin' for here. CHIGURH You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be right. PROPRIETOR I didn't put nothin' up. CHIGURH Yes you did. You been putting it up your whole life. You just didn't know it. You know what date is on this coin? PROPRIETOR No. CHIGURH Nineteen fifty-eight. It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails, and you have to say. Call it.
A long beat. PROPRIETOR Look... I got to know what I stand to win. CHIGURH Everything. PROPRIETOR How's that? CHIGURH You stand to win everything. Call it. PROPRIETOR All right. Heads then.
Chigurh takes his hand away from the coin and turns his arm to look at it. CHIGURH Well done.
He hands it across. CHIGURH ...Don't put it in your pocket. PROPRIETOR Sir? CHIGURH Don't put it in your pocket. It's your lucky quarter. PROPRIETOR ...Where you want me to put it? CHIGURH Anywhere not in your pocket. Or it'll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is.
Alternate Assignment: pair up with a classmate on messenger and trade off writing a story. An example of this I did with a friend is below:
The Man Who Chose To Live On An Elevator:
A Writing Experiment with Christopher Quain
Middle aged, overweight, and grumbling Arthur Namwen climbs a foot stool. With a kick of the aforementioned stool he squirms, dangling midway between the floor and the spot where he once stood. For you see Arthur Namwen has just hung himself, using a rope bought at a local hardware store, a boy scout manual borrowed from his youngest son’s bedroom, and a general understanding of the principle governing gravity.
However this is not the story of Arthur Namwen, as interesting a man as he was. This is, instead, the story of Curby Parker. The two men lived in different cities, kept separate lives, and never met, not even once; nevertheless their stories are the same. Both men woke up one morning, and when faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of going through another day or taking the path less traveled, chose the latter. Or in Arthur’s case the ladder.
Curby’s life, at moment, is in shambles, the details of which have been carefully organized and put into boxes. Boxes that will eventually be taken downstairs loaded into a pick-up truck and driven to a destination unknown, even to Curby. The cold callous decision to evict Curby, after not paying the rent on time, has actually been made by quite kind caring individuals.
Rent, for those unaccustomed, is a parasitic relationship between landlord and tenant, in which the landlord leeches, draining the tenant of nearly every last drop. True to a parasite, however, the landlord allows the tenant to hold on to some money, just barely enough needed to rebuild a financial empire, so the parasite can take it off the host at the same time next month. Curby, unfortunately, made a bad host.
Combing through a shoe box full of receipts Curby tries to decide what to keep and what to throw out. Someone, somewhere, had rattled on about the importance of saving these tiny bits of paper, for what reason he couldn’t remember. If he had remembered and, furthermore, checked these transaction records against his bank statement he would have discovered an egregious error making up for the rent discrepancy.
However he didn’t and after much deliberation he decides to toss the contents of the box out the window of his 30th floor solarium, but stops short after thinking one of these tiny bits of paper might cause bodily harm to someone down below. Walking along minding your own business the next second done in, decapitated by a flying bit of paper, defiant to friction, he thinks before chucking the entire shoe box into the bin.
On the cold solarium tile a futon bed rolled up looks a taco next to the writing desk mostly used for skinning spliffs. The rest of his belongings are boxed and stacked by the door like a Berlin wall separating his past from his future. With a long sigh Curby gazes out the window wall of the 30th floor at the bustling city below, a life sized ant farm. For the last six months he has come to call this post modern living experiment his home. In the morning the full glow of the sun would coax him to consciousness while at night entire floors of the great towers obscuring Stanley park would flicker and go dark reminding him even buildings, monuments to capitalism as they were, needed sleep. Like a god, from his vantage point he watches a businessman cross the street unaware he’s being scrutinized from above.
Curby’s friend Dave waits in a sputtering pick-up truck fussing with his hair and fiddling with the radio.
Descending with the first load Curby catches his reflection in the elevator mirror and stares a little too long. The laugh lines now fixed saddle his face made gaunt by harsh spotlighting. His eyes, bundles of coiled blue, didn’t want to be there. Curby felt as though he was falling, which he is and, gripped in the throngs of a panic attack presses the emergency stop button.
Dave sits diligently tuning between traffic, news, weather, and classic rock. Do you have any rock? Only classic. Is their any other? He’d often reverberate amongst social circles.
The pull pin now pushed Curby, engaged, experiences a sensation akin to de ja vu. Delicate and humming. The numbers tick by so pleasantly, the gentle rumblings above so reminiscent of something indefinable as of yet. The reflective quality of the green carpeting gives one the sense of riding along on a floating bit of earth, attached by a few fragile roots made up of faith and coiled metal.
“Where the futch is he?” thought Dave. He thought a lot of things. He thought of himself as a recovering 'swear-a-holic'. He thought people people living in high-rise apartments must inevitably go at least a little insane. He thought it mysterious that always on this flapping radio he had to choose between crap and recycled crap. He thought of how he had acquired his sputtering truck.
Gayle had been screaming, “It's my cork-stopping dope you flubber!” (Dave's substitute cuss words.) Imagining her say it like that took some of the sting out of the memory. She had barricaded herself in the boy's rumpus room and was periodically throwing things at the door. Toys mostly. Dave could tell by the sound. “Wheak!” said the duck as it thumped against the door. “Humpff!” said the elephant as it failed to open the door. “Crash!” Said the fire truck. “Crumple.” said the pictures.
When he thought she was about out of ammo or at least down to the plushy toys he took a chance popping his head in the room. “Thump!” “Twang!” “Shudder.” said her foot long bowie knife sticking in the door frame. He remembered her snub-nosed thirty-eight as he recoiled. “Boom!” went the gun. Closed went the door! “Poof !” went the wall by his head.
He sprinted through the kitchen pausing long enough only to snatch some random keys off the counter knocking over a full pot of coffee in the process. His first thought was, “I'll have to clean that up too. Crap!” His second, “No the fudge I won't!”
Once outside he looked at the keys in his hand. The decorative tag said, “FREE PUSSY! tomorrow...” (“Oops. Thought Dave, “Kitty!!!”) Of the half dozen vehicles on the lawn only one made sense. It stood three feet taller than any other car out there. Monster tires holding up a monster engine powering a monster truck. It took him three tries to climb up into it. He figured the owner was that little Daddy's girl who had passed out on the see-saw this morning. Mindy? Mandy? Candy? Kandy. With a kay and if you're lucky with an okay! Hehehe...” – he could hear her saying it. Was that what had set Gayle off? He figured he'd better bring Kandy or else Gayle would probably kill her. He dragged her the ten yards to the truck. Then took four or five tries to push her up in it. Just before he pulled away he heard Gayle screaming, “You'd better not leave you mather-forker!” He didn't even try to find the road. There was a freshly-plowed field in front of him and he drove straight across at about forty miles an hour. He went through creeks, forests and almost off a bluff into a river that day. Kandy-with-a-kay snored through it all.
In actuality Kandy-with-a-kay was also a bluff. Kandy-with-a-kay a.k.a. agent Townley (who incidentally, never stayed in one place for too long) had his identity surgically altered to that of a nine year old girl. He underwent several intensive proceedures in order to infiltrate the cast of a children’s TV show; The High ABC’s with Captian Sock Beard. Townley got put on the case after the show’s charismatic host, hiding behind the floppy headed Captain, delivered a tirade denouncing the world bank. Soon excerpts from the book of Revelations crept into the fun time story minute and there was more and more talk of boarding a rocket ship bound for paradise. Agent Townley switched out the punch bowl mere moments before it was served in the taping of the ‘final episode’. The kid’s show host in custody, innocent lives saved, and mission accomplished; Townley decided to stay the way he was. Publicly Townley told his fellow contemporaries he kept the changes because one never knows when duty may call. Privately he liked the way the underwear rode. The others at the agency shrugged it off, since it wasn’t an original idea at all; for decades J Edgar Hoover wore panty liners in the interest of security, both personal and national.
Inside the monster truck, Kandy-with-a-kay comes to with a monster hang-over. She looked around the cab, taking fresh stock of her surroundings, with cold reptilian eyes. The wheels in the sky may keep turning but not in this car. Click went the radio off. A conversation, coming from the parking lot, lingered in the thick air around Kandy’s poxied head. She rolled pin prick excuses for pupils and smacked her dry junky lips. Suddenly she snapped into action and grabbed a Nancy Reagan lunchbox at her feet. She opened it and breathed a sigh of relief. Townly had picked up a nasty habit while staking out the Soviet Block and for a long while did a good job at concealing it. Then, as the story goes, Townley got cocky and careless. Leaving little brown bottles out in the open. Talking about wanting to get ‘knocked out’ far too often. The writing was on the walls. When Townley’s handlers learned of her penchant for chloroform she went from a decorated field operative to an utter laughing stock. Townley was long overdue for a comeback.
“So what about your stuff?” A voice clearly identifiable as Dave’s drifted into the cab.
A cadence and inflexion unfamiliar to Kandy replied, “Monte Cristo, dunno, give it to a farfinuggin bum, unless you want it.” (Curby had known Dave for years and he supported his friend in his swearing cessation, as he had witnessed more than his fair share of shocked old ladies and fine shop-keeps reduced to tears. One time he was even belted by a purse for mere association with Dave.)
The subversive flippant air in this alien voice aroused suspicion in the seasoned agent’s heart and she climbed the dash to get a better look.
Out of focus, Dave kicks at gravel and asks, “So what exactly are you going to do?”
“Live in an elevator I suppose.”
This transgression could not, would not, be tolerated and snapping into action the little girl jumps slash falls from the cab. Curby and Dave’s attention is quickly turned in the direction of the wailing. Kandy-with-a-kay has broken her ankle. Or has she...
Some Other Stories I've written:
The Trouble with Jacobson
The plaque that hangs on the wall of Longfellow’s grocery store chain holds Jacobson’s likeness. The elder Jacobson looks as if he’s been caught a bit off-guard, as if his soul has been stolen, ripped from a seamless serenity and thrust into the spotlight. His face is like the before picture on some late night television infomercial: lumpy, sagging, and badly lit.
He stares at us from under a checkered wool cap. His eyes alone tell a story, a story of idyllic times that are so distant now they seem almost fictional, like tales from a brightly colored children’s book.
In black lettering over a gold frame it reads: ‘Our Favorite Customer.’
- - -
The three dimensional representation of Jacobson is hunched over a display rack. His weathered face inches away from a plum. There’s a head jerk and a kind of shiver and after a moment he’s back to contemplating the riddle of the plum.
You see, Jacobson had just had a system reboot and they seemed to be happening with increasing frequency. To some, it appeared Jacobson was suffering from the early on-set of alzeimers. The truth was far from it. Jacobson’s memory was not in danger of slipping away into an irretrievable abyss but rather the vast weight of his innumerable experiences threatened to tax and twist his form until it was unrecognizable. In short, Jacobson was on the verge of another aberration, an episode so unprovoked, indiscriminate, random, and seething that to the unaccustomed observer it appeared to be anything other than what it was; part of Jacobson’s normal daily routine.
- - -
At register number three, Skid is the personification of punk rock. He’s transmogrified the counter top into a drum kit. Turning ball point pens intended for customer credit card receipts, drop slips, and an array of other cashier related jobs, tasks, and responsibilities into beat sticks.
Sneering he hits the register’s enter button like a high hat symbol. Ding. It opens and he slams it closed. Instantly bored he flips through a gossip rag and disinterested tosses it back upsidedown in the rack. His face pierced with a myriad of studs, loops, and bars lifts happy as a pre-occupied soccermom enters into Skid’s world, banging the cart.
She was a former beauty contest finalist, having put on a few pounds since then she’s still a smoker in her AYSO sweater.
“ Hello Joshua,” Mrs. Robertson says superseding Skid’s sobriquet.
“ Heeelllloo Mrs. Robertson, how are ya?” Skid asks becoming erect, standing up rigid that is.
Mrs. Robertson’s response is tepid at best,“ fine, fine, I’m doing fine. Is that forty weight motor oil?” As she points with her cell phone at Skid’s thirteen liberty spikes hair-doo.
“ Egg-whites,” he corrects.
She starts,“ sharp. Well at least now I see your point…”
“ It’s on my head,” he finishes with a smirk n’ wobble.
“ Yes, that’s great. You know I’m kind of in a hurry today Joshua so…”
“ Please call me Skid.”
“ No.” She replies.
- - -
In a fluorescent grotto Jacobson growls holding the plum like a talisman. He’s sweating profusely.
His lips tremble. His speaks in a gruff raucous baritone voice reminiscent of God, “these used to be a pound for a nickel, a nickel!”
His face glowing like chaotic embers from a freshly stoked fire the old man squishes the ripe plum in a wet purple supernova. Bearing his dentures in utter disdain, the plums pulpy contents ooze between clenched fingers.
Speaking through grit teeth he gurgles, “What’s happened to the world?”
- - -
Juan the bagboy, decisively distant, bags Mrs. Robertson’s products with care. Hands down he is a model of efficiency.
Skid, groping her goods asks, “what’s with all this low carb junk Mrs. Robertson? I was under the impression that one of the perks of livin’ in the po-mo age was a selection of designer foods engineered for maximum flava, rich in sodium, nitrates, corn syrup, lard extracts, trygliceratebenzotine, yellow dye number seven…” Skid rambles while beep, beep, booping items across the laser scanner in the counter.
Mrs. Robertson thumbs through the gossip rag and mumbles, “Yeah, well, you know.”
Sensing her absence from the conversation Skid keeps going with vigor, “I mean who’s eating this stuff. All the nutritional information is measured out in milligrams; it’s more like the grocery store’s in the pharmacy. Who’s buying this stuff, Mr. Robertson? He isn’t going soft on ya is he? Cause if he is going soft, there’s this pill he can take, it’s this blue sh…”
Digging in purse she looks up sternly.
“Shurbert, two for one, can’t go wrong with that buy.”
“Hey gogurts, ten fer a buck, wow,” Skid continues.
Mrs. Robertson exhales loud and steady. While diving back into her purse she does a double take noticing Skid’s sleeves are missing.
“Skid, where’s the rest of your shirt?”
“The manager told me I shouldn’t wear my identity on my sleeve.”
“So you got rid of your sleeves?”
“And my name tag.”
- - -
Languishing in suspended animation suddenly Jacobson lets roar the cry of a grizzly bear with his chest puffed out and arms cocked back.
The fruit sit mocking him from a different era in a foreign tongue that only scallywags can decipher. And Jacobson was most definitely not a scallywag. He lashes out pummeling the peaches, pomegranates, and pears. The cardboard dam gives way and the pile of produce goes spilling causing Jacobson to go slip, slip, sliding stumbling bumbling, tip top tumbling down to the cold pulpy juice drenched concrete, like a poorly executed Russian folk dance. He lands with a great grunt.
“Mahhhhh,” echoes through Longfellow’s grocery store.
“What was that,” Mrs. Robertson exclaims.
Beep. Beep. Boop.
“What was what,” asks Skid.
Boop. Boop. Beep. Beep.
“Oh I thought that was in my head, four hours of this a day can really get to ya. It was probably something to do with the air conditioner.”
“Maaahhhhhh,” Jacobson lets out another howl.
“There it is again!” Says Mrs. Robertson.
Beep. Boop. Beep.
“There was what?”
Just then, Jacobson covered in a purple film goes barreling by knocking over a ketchup pyramid.
Skid gestures with his thumb, “Oh him, don’t mind him, that’s only Jacobson.”
“He’s our most valued customer. Which means he throws alotta dough around the place.” With his head bent down, eyes looking up, and talking out of one side of his mouth like Dick Cheney he continues, “And I’m not talking about the stuff on isle seven.”
Mrs. Robertson is startled by a loud crash!
Skid gets on the intercom, “clean up on isle seven.”
- - -
At night Jacobson would dream of infancy, of light particles performing a delicate dance in the brilliant shaft on sunlight emanating from a window plane. He dreams in grainy color of great big slobbering golden retrievers and birds that would sing from the telephone wires, and a warm teet to hide in.
“Beans can’t lactate,” the old man shouts.
Making an awful mess in the dairy section, Jacobson stomps on cartons of an alien and disturbing substance to him: soymilk. The show he puts on for the surrounding shoppers is so far off-Broadway it’s
but, to his credit, it does have urban appeal. Topeka Kansas
- - -
Wincing Mrs. Robertson glares in Jacobson’s direction and is genuinely concerned, that she won’t make it to her nail appointment that is.
“Is he okay?” She asks.
Beep. Skid nods. Boop.
“He doesn’t look okay.”
He’s actually better than okay, he’s brand new. He’s like a jaguar,” Skid exclaims.
As Mrs. Robertson slowly pushes in her cell phone antenna with her chin she comments, “Or a lion.”
“I actually meant the luxury automobile which breaks down just as often. See ol’ Jacobson,” Skid thumbs at him,“ He’s got a team of specialists that work on em’; making upgrades, installing new parts, adjusting the timing, suspension, belts, cylinders, gaskets, brakes, steering, exhaust…”
Mrs. Robertson’s pizza flavored chips swing back and forth like a pendulum or a race car staging the light, never quite reaching the laser scanner. Mrs. Robertson motions for him to close the gap and accomplish the boop but Skid is miles away babbling about car parts. Juan’s taken advantage of the line slow down to double bag her groceries. Finally Mrs. Robertson takes Skid’s hand and leads him through the red beam on the counter.
Skid scans and prattles on, “Guy’s on his eighth liver. Beep. And probably his tenth heart. Boop. He’s like a hundred and seven years old, but you’d have to carbon date em’ to be sure. Ol’ man Jacobson’s a stem cell posterboy.”
Boop. Beep. Boop. Beep. Beep.
“Isn’t implanting stem cells still illegal?” Mrs. Robertson inquires.
“The law doesn’t mean nuthin’ when ya got Jacobson bucks,” Skid says, “The third world invites him with open arms.”
“And open wallets,” Mrs. Robertson quips.
“He’s been coming here since this place was a strawberry stand.” Skid explains, “He always pays fer anythang he breaks and with all the stuff he’s broken he practically owns the place.”
“That’s great,” Mrs. Robertson says sarcastically, “can you move any faster Joshua, I really got to go.”
- - -
Rapping her fingers together and humming to the flaccid soft rock overhead Jane, the regional rep of Longfellow’s busy’s herself preparing today’s free samples: coconut shrimp with kiwi salsa, back for a limited time only pending FDA review. She waits on the microwave to complete its rapid vibration of molecules.
She removes the breaded low-cost delicacies with a certain Victorian elegance, spinning around to address the curious crowd.
“Okay, who wants to be the first to try?”
As the crowd draws closer drooling with anticipation in a response that would make Pavlov proud, a shrill prehistoric bone-chilling cry rings out.
- - -
In the grocery store’s bubble Dave, the security guard, slumbers in a wooden chair propped up against the wall. On a closed circuit TV different angles of Longfellow’s flicker in black and white. The ear piercing audible onslaught sends Dave ricocheting rumbling rocketing to the monitor where Jacobson is seen clawing his way to the front of the pack. Recognizing the familiar old man Dave sighs, slants his chair, and slinks back into it.
- - -
With the power of a million stampeding wildebeests Jacobson flips up Jane’s tray of free samples summoning righteous indignation not seen since Jesus in the temple of the moneychangers. Coconut shrimp projectiles fly everywhere. Jane becomes unhinged and tries catching the tasty in-between meal snacks in mid-air. Unfortunately, Jane trips and lands face first in the kiwi salsa. Unfortunate for the worker’s comp. claim adjuster that is.
- - -
With Dean Martin cool Skid scans the last of Mrs. Robertson’s purchases.
Boop. Boop. Boop.
“How do ya wanna pay fer dat, Mrs. R?”
“Check,” she says.
“Then I’m goinga have to see some ID.”
Squinting and pursing her mouth, arms folded in protest stonewalling Skid.
Skid continues, “oh now ya wanna be friends huh?”
Amused Skid glances over his shoulder and shudders.
“Incoming!” He yells and ducks.
Mrs. Robertson remains unimpressed and rolls her eyes. Then seeing what Skid saw she hits the deck. An egg arches past hitting the divider wall with a splat!
“Wow,” Skid rises cautiously one eye above the counter.
- - -
At times Jacobson’s existence seemed unbearable. Memories haunted him. One day blurred into the next. The prices changed but Jacobson did not. Just like tuna can logos that would change from a big lipped
Caribbean fisherman, to a happy upright dolphin, and
eventually settling on a serrated golden crest; in the same way Jacobson was a
test of what the public would accept. The old man himself probably would have
put an end to the stem cell implants a long time ago if it were not for his
wife signing the medical forms like checks from a joint bank account.
“This false idol must come down,” Jacobson rages while rocking an isle.
- - -
Mrs. Robertson scribbles out the check while shaking her head.
“This is really out of hand,” she unnecessarily editorializes, “Someone should really stop him!”
“Usually Mrs. Jacobson is here to pick ol’ Jacobson up about this time. That is if she’s not busy snoggin’ the gardener.”
Bang. Crash. Bang
Skid leans into the crane necked microphone and presses the button, “Clean up on isle twelve.”
Two of Longfellow’s employees dart by, one with mop other with bucket.
Jacobson succeeds in toppling the isle. A wind escapes him preceding a bombshell.
Calmly Skid’s back on the PA, “Clean up on isle thirteen. Attention customers isle twelve is now isle thirteen. Please make note of the merger. Thank you and have a pleasant shopping experience.”
Backtracking the cleaning crew dashes down an isle, dripping, listening for the next shatter.
A lady behind Mrs. Robertson comes forward and pipes up, “what’s going on here, should I call the police?”
The mustached manager pops in with a clipboard and speaks authoritatively, “no ma’am don’t mind him that’s only Jacobson.”
Mrs. Robertson hands Skid the check remarking, “That’s beginning to be a theme around here.”
A jarring thud turns everyone’s head in Jacobson’s general direction.
With the stamina and endurance of an inflatable clown Jacobson bounces up, delivering a powerful,“ mah,” before taking a second charge at the cigarette case.
Juan has temporarily moved to another register and is doing the work of ten men while the rest watch the unfolding spectacle.
Jacobson butts the cigarette case like a mountain goat. It falls backwards hitting the wall. The impact vibrates Jacobson’s plaque from its perch.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Robertson says while hoisting herself up on the counter in a huff, tearing off her receipt.
“Have a nice day,” Skid says with a distant expression and monotone voice. The others stare dumbfounded at Jacobson crumpled up on the floor like a discarded piece of trash.
“I’ve cheated the clock. I want out of it. Out of here. Where’s Jacobson?” The old man speaks while lazily lifting a pricing gun to his forehead as Mrs. Robertson loco-motions out the sliding door.
He pulls the trigger. Clack.
In the plaque’s broken glass reflection Jacobson can now see he’s worth 99 cents, with inflation of course. He cries a little.
The security guard, having witnessed the incident rushes to the front of the store where the rest of the employees and shoppers have gathered, arranging themselves in a half-circle. In walks Mr. Jacobson’s trophy wife and a distinguished looking gentleman in a chauffeur’s uniform.
“Pookey what’s happened,” she says, “who’s responsible for this?”
Clearing his throat the manager takes two steps forward and replies, “um, yes, well you see Mr. Jacobson had a lil’…”
“Mr. Jacobson?!” She screams, “My husband’s name isn’t Jacobson, his name is Jacobson,” as she points to the chauffeur.
Juan pauses his work and looks up.
“My husband’s name is Longfellow,” Mrs. Longfellow states lucidly.
Everyone’s jaws drop, Skid smirks and exclaims, “Hey for minimum wage this is almost worth it.”
Anarchy Before 4th Period:
A Fly on the Wall:
Iure Omnia Insecta Appellata Ab Incisoris
by: Eric Coleman & William Watson
The windy, humid, Reverend looks out over the fat, sweaty, City. The sun sets slowly, slipping past the edge of the Reverend C. Shuttlesworth’s hopelessly flat earth. He lumbers lecherously at the windowsill, staring somberly with eyes like piss slits in the snow. The nagging insomnia left him feeling as though there were a rat in his head, running around blindly, punching everything in sight. Sleep seemed a dreamy beach island fantasy.
The Reverend wanted out, and unlike most of the six billion people on the planet who thought likewise he had the means to do it. He had his sticky fingers in the church revenue cookie jar. Through many, many months of skimming off the top, misreporting the collection plate take, and requesting funds for projects that didn’t exist; he had pilfered enough money to start life anew.
He was entangled in a tawdry love affair with a girl named Lucy. Oft times, after service, he met her in the confessional where she would play with his organ and he would proceed to take her in the rectory. Kneeling in selfless service, he gave powerful phews from the pews, and seminaried all over her face. It was only a matter of time until his wife, and subsequently, the congregation found out. A painful descent seemed inevitable if he kept it up, but he didn’t want it to end, ever. So he devised a plan to fake his own death. People told the Reverend to live like he’d die tomorrow, but the Good Reverend was one step ahead of them, he was living like he died had yesterday.
On the morrow, Sunday, his redemption was at hand. He wanted nothing more than to summon the courage; the Wilberforce, the volition; so that he might draft his final sermon. It was to be the mother of all sermons, a grand opus, a manifesto of his under appreciation, and even a suicide note of sorts. He was to assume a new identity. His whole life people had been telling the Good Reverend to ‘be himself’, but that wasn’t working, and now he was going to be someone else. And having discarded his old skin on a beach in Rio Janeiro he could once again be happy, he thought wistfully while sipping coffee.
After inspecting the two plane tickets with the hungry eyes of a gull, he closes the Bible hiding them in a prophecy sandwich with a side of coincidence. The good Reverend, staring blankly at the page, begins again.
Too often we bumble about our lives not being able to see the forest for the trees, tumbling along like an ant, following a scent trail left by other ants, reliving the lingering smells of past era, not really lost, but never truly found. Waking up, doing the same thing, until, one day, we can’t. Lost in the fog together.
Parachute nostrils flare as the Good Reverend leans back in his flimsy chair; taking a deep breath. He squints his milky feverish eyes.
Forest for the trees… ants…
never truly found. Shit. Too full of tired cliché played out imagery, and
grandiose yet vague absolutes he thinks decisively. In a violent fit of rage
the draft is scribbled out in great slashing strokes of the pen and thrown
Next to the good Reverend a waste paper basket runeth over with failed abortions of his seminal sermon. He had been swallowed up in a big fish like whale of writer’s block. The harder he tried the smaller it got. He knew the explanation lie somewhere in the similarities between the macro and the microcosm.
With cold reptilian eyes the Reverend’s focus shifts to his wife, Lady Vera Parker’s, picture on the desk. The picture looked hardly anything like the woman he was married to. At first, early in the affair, he was able to justify it through scripture; quoting the story of King David and his many miscellaneous concubines. Eventually that got old, and the mantra became at least we don’t have kids. And Lucy missed her period. And the grains in the hour glass were running out.
The micro and the macro?
Lazy eyes caught his own reflection; John Wayne sized saddle bags, a layer of perspiration and neglect that had built upon the Good Reverend to point of making him look like a rotisserie chicken, and jelly for a spine.
The macro and the micro…
Someone across town, having no culinary training whatsoever, tossed an unopened macaroni and cheese in the microwave and pressed start.
The Reverend seized on the page schisming.
The Lord has given us so much visible and invisible, independent yet interconnected, real and imaginary. We feel that we are afflicted. That life needs to be hard. Too much or not enough. We must put our faith in God to guide us through the valley.
Before he was a snake oil salesman the Reverend had been an adulterer, a gambler, a sloppy con artist, a womanizer, a flim-flam man, an addict, a pusher, a liar, and a loud loiterer; until one night when he spoke to God. But the conversation was brief, for you see, God has call waiting, and the change was only temporary. Truth be told, while sometimes people can change one hundred and eighty degrees, most of the time the change is more like three hundred and sixty. However she, his wife, had stuck with him the whole way.
Somewhere, deep down, he knew he was faking, yet he pressed on.
So what for free will? Does life need to be hard or does it have to be? How can we reconcile free will with the encoding of genetic material? It’s all God’s plan, it’s-
The rang. That would be his wife. The one who sneezed for attention. The phone would ring until he answered. He did.
The conversation was curt, consisting of a cascade of yes muttered by the Good Reverend. He had agreed to pick up his wife after shopping and take her to the zoo; where he intended to leave her.
Returning to the writing desk he began again.
Whether peering through a telescope or a microscope we see shocking similarities? How is it that a trillion tiny cells make us conscious? Has consciousness created us so that it can see itself? That thing that cannot be explained is that God?
When aphids attack a plant, the plant sends out chemical Pheromones through cilia, fungus, in the soil to attract predators of the aphid. Is our existence any different? Unseen forces are at work in our daily lives. That, that is the proof of a higher power.
Finally, at last, a mighty spring tapped. The hand had jumped the brain this time. The Good Reverend was on a roll. Then the thought entered the Reverend’s head; what if God doesn’t exist or, worse yet, doesn’t care?
Then, then a fly entered the room. For an introduction it only bit him, square between the ear and neck.
Annoying. Irritating. Frustrating. Creeping. Buzzing. Disgusting. Seething. Terrifying.
Slap. Buzz. Silence. Then it buzzed. And Buzzed. And buuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeeed.
The bubonic ubiquitous zymotic zigzagging zeitgeist rattled around in his inner ear. Cursing the Good Reverend swatted spilling coffee, and ruining his final draft.
A thin strain of drool hung from its probiscus like that trailing a black hole; after it’s compacted light into shit.
Am I still writing, he thought, while speaking.
The boogeything flew right up the Good Reverend’s nose.
He screamed at the poor thing. Get out of here. Go. There’s nothing here for you. He tried desperately to reason with the frightful fistulous fiend. But the brutish bestial bastard was bent on staying a spell. Beelzebub. The fly flew to a spot on the wall and proceeded to climb higher and higher, in methodical yet spastic jerks, to a spot on the ceiling. It cut him to the bone.
Anguish. The Good Reverend was seeing spots and thought it likely he had rabies. The nuisance squatted, scrubbing thistly hands, as if it were praying, as if to taunt the poor mad Reverend. It twitched, sweaty eyed and indifferent. Pools of emerald shimmered, glinting off the fly’s exoskeleton. The Reverend, filled with an immense sense of dread, reflected a thousand times over in red segmented metallic eyes. His body writhes and contorts, looking cubist as somewhere behind him a fire burns, out of control.
And it was at that moment, in that instant; while stacking furniture to the sky, that the Good Reverend wished that he could fly. Not so much to chart the heavens, or gain a perspective to where he could see his own life as that of the bug’s eye view; but rather so he might squash the little fucker dead.
Frothing the rabid Reverend balances on the furniture fulcrum of his own making. The temple teeters and nearly topples. Posed on the edge of squish, the Reverend notices a development of the most curious making: A leak. Unrelenting.
Drip. Drip… Drip.
Suddenly, the floor above the Reverend’s head collapses, sending a torrent of dirty water rushing his way, and knocking him on his back. Luckily, a fraction of a nano second before the ceiling gave way to the wanton bath, the fly escaped the avalanche of drywall, wooden support beams, and asbestos insulation.
Regaining consciousness on the cold floor he is met with an entirely new scenario; a baby grand piano is about to crush him.
His last thought was that of Lucy; in the light of dusk, through the stain glass windows, she seemed so beautiful. What the Good Reverend did not know is that when genetic information is missing life reverts to symmetry. And he tried.
The phone rang but the Reverend could not answer for he were dead, the fly out the window, and so it ended not with a bang or a whimper, but rather with a reverberating C sharp.
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