Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Bear Claws (fiction exercise)



               Working in a tannery is exactly what you think it is. Though, I suppose how you think about converting dead animals to handbags is a function of where you come from.
                Dave comes from Nebraska. But he's actually a city guy. I don't know why I thought someone from Nebraska would have a concrete allergy, but that's how things come to me.
                "Diane, you wouldn't believe my drive to work."
                "Dave, you know what a car is?"
                His face twisted in the same way as someone who fingers an old plastic surgery botchjob scar. "Yeah, Diane, I even get bucks off for taking driver's ed in high school."
                I refrained from lunging at him about knowing what high school was. "Alright, so how are the orders today?"
                "Decent, order came in from Giuseppe about those custom bear claw bags. But we're running out of bear claws."
                "Don't know what to tell you."
                Dave fidgeted with the zipper on his Adidas jumper. "You could tell me, oh, maybe that you keep proper inventory so I don't have to tell Giuseppe that I have to take a lunch break to the Yukon to slaughter him an endangered species."
                "Oh shit, these things are real?" My curiosity flared.
                "No, of course they're not real. But think about the type of sick fuck that would dream up a purse that looks like Yogi and Booboo and you'll know these aren't the type of people who like delays."
                "Fashion Mafia." I sighed.
                Dave was serious. He drew back his breath like a longbowman taking aim at a head over the barricade. "Damn skippy they are. Except they won't break our kneecaps. They'll come in here and douse all our products in red paint and call it a PETA action just for fun."
                "Fucked."
                "Yeah, fucked."

                Working in a tannery is exactly what you think it is. Though, I suppose how you think about being threatened by someone who knows the difference between mauve and lavender is a function of where you come from. Some people wouldn't take it well. Maybe I didn't take it well, but I didn't want to let it show.
                We worked under a bowling alley in the NYC west village. It was nice to hear the rhythm of bowling above me. A drop, creak, then cracking of the ball against the pins. Hopefully a strike--those made me happy. Dave used to make me laugh, but now that was mostly out of habit. See, Giuseppe was calling on us for larger and larger orders and Dave didn't want to refuse. Maybe that's where Dave came from.
                I plucked a fresh Juicy Fruit from the wrapper. "Dave, I need to work on something normal before the bear claws. Skeeving me out."
                "Even though they aren't real?"
                "Especially because."
                "Alright, start on that Boskov order of riveted clutches."
               
                Music to my ears, even with the exhaust ducts blaring. The hides for these bags had been curing for about a month, so I was ready to soak and remove the salt. For the rest of the day I got into the rhythm. We had machines to help us, but the handsewn touches kept me sane.
                All day, I worked on this, Dave was still working on bear claw bags in various stages of production. Using the machines, he was like a machine. I admired Dave's tenacity. Throughout the day, Giuseppe called to check on him. Dave kept each conversation short. "Yep, on it boss." And "of course, you'll have it."
                It was 6:30pm and we were still working. I was starting to get dizzy, but Dave couldn't be bothered by either of our physical discomfort. We were behind in orders and needed to push out product. Giuseppe walked in with another man shaped like one of Gumby's rectangular enemies.  Fashion Mafia are exactly what you think they are.
               
                He was fingering the claw of one our signature bags. "Dave, my boy. What's the holdup?"
                Dave jolted up. "Almost there, just need to keep working. We have to take the claw part and attach it to cowhide and add a few more things to assure the bag's structural integrity. It's our most complex piece yet."
                "Right. Right, well do you know how much I need these bags?" Giuseppe slung the bag over his shoulder and walked around Dave to start giving him a neck massage. "This is a floor model. That means this is my last available unit. That means I'm not making the three grand a pop at a steady clip like I was making when you were shipping regularly."
                Dave tried to turn to explain. "But we're--"
                "Shhhh." Giuseppe slapped him and forced Dave's head forward and continued the brisk neck massage. "That means... I'm not happy. And we like being happy, right? I mean, human beings like being happy. And I'm just  a man, David. Just a man who wants to be happy. You going to make me happy?"
                Dave's voice got soft like a defeated puppy dog. "Yes, I want to make you happy."
                "Of course you do. I just needed to remind you of that." He stopped massaging Dave and pointed at his goon and then pointed to me. "Take her shirt off."
                I tried to say something, but my lungs forgot how to hold air. The goon grabbed me, stood me up and roughly pulled my knit shirt over my head.
                "And the bra." Giuseppe stared with arms folded.
                As he fumbled for the clasp, I elbowed the goon in the stomach, but he quickly recovered and bear hugged me down to the ground, pushed my face to the floor.
                Giuseppe pranced over to me, holding the bear claw bag. "See, I can tell Dave likes looking at you. Makes him happy. And we all want to be happy, right? But I need to remind him what bliss looks like." Slowly, he lowered the claw to the skin of my back, paused it there for a second, then I started to feel pressure, the claw digging into my muscle, dragging downward.
                Dave shrieked, "no!"
                "No? Why no, Dave? You have something to tell her?"
                "Listen man,  I'll get you the bags." He was emphatic with his flailing limbs, like some Italian caricature. "Just leave her alone."
                Giuseppe didn't budge. "Do you have something to tell her or not?"
                "Yeah, I dig her. I mean, I dig you."
                "Poor choice of words, Dave." I mustered to say under the weight of several hundred pounds of mafia meat. The walrus without flippers tried to scoop out half my back. I held in the scream best I could.
                "The lady's right." I could hear Giuseppe grinning. "Maybe you love her? Want to take her out. See, you get a lot more from your employees when they're happy. Where are you from, woman?"
                Talking eased the pain. "Here."
                "You were born under a bowling alley? No, where are you from, who were your parents, what did they do?"
                "I didn't know my parents."
                "You were an orphan?"
                "Yeah." I just wanted it over.
                "Oh sweet girl, I had no idea. See, I walk in here thinking one thing and you go and surprise me with another. Which orphanage?"
                "St. Michael's."
                "Then you see, we went to the same orphanage." He stood up and tapped on his goon's shoulder. He pulled me up and drew my face dead close to his. "I want you to go home now. Get a good meal in you." He pulled out his money clip, peeled off a hundred and smudged it into a handshake.
                I looked around for my bra and shirt. "O...kay." I backed away towards the door.
                Giuseppe unboxed a cigarette, but didn't light it. "Life is all a function of where you come from, don't you think?"

For several years... (fiction exercise)



                For several years, I was afraid to use hair gel. Then one day, I used it. It was a Tuesday--practice for Friday night when I would light it up on my own. See, I'd been beating around the bush, calling it toy names. "Hair gel-o, harrrrrrrr jells, hairy mary." Didn't make sense. All to deflect my discomfort with what happened years earlier. Why wouldn't I want to slop up the do like Dean? Ride in a Harley and scurry across the country with nary a care to my name? Now with the grease gooped in my mane, I was the main event, ready to stride down the boulevard and kick ass.
               
                All this trepidation started when I when I was thirteen. My brother Roddy was a high school senior and a bit of a ladies' man. By bit of a ladies' man, I mean this was the type of guy that didn't have posters of supermodels or supercars on his wall because he didn't even remember what his own room looked like. I loved Roddy, wanted to be Roddy. He could swindle my parents into giving him their car, cash, and even bake him a cake to go for a road trip to an inner city crack den. Not that he did crack. No, Roddy smoked people.
                "Cal, you done with the bathroom yet? I have to haul out for this girl. You wouldn't believe the mouth on her."
                I jumped, then barricaded the door with two washcloths. Like that would stop him. I had just smeared his hair gel in my scalp. "Almost out, Roddy."
                "Alright, bro. Look, I'll time you. We'll make it fun. If you get out in time, I won't pound you into burger. You like games, right?"
                "Yeah, love games, Roddy."I frantically tried to wash it out under the faucet. I banged my head, felt like I dented my brain. But it wouldn't come out. It was like the Venom symbiote bonded to me and wouldn't disjoint from my head  without some heavy coercion.
                "Cal, I'm going to tell mom I found you in there with porno mags if you don't hurry your ass up. I'm not gonna be late because my dumbass younger brother took too long in the can tweezing his nips--"
                "Roddy, Roddy, just come in, okay." I unclicked the lock.
                He opened the door. I was leaning over the sink, still trying to wash. Roddy started laughing like the time he saw my parents tell me there was no Santa. Bad memories.
                I punched him right in the gut. His head jerked down and bonked into mine and my head bounced off the bottom of the sink. We both limply lifted our heads.
                "Cal, you dumb nutella-loving--whoa, you alright?"
                I knew it wasn't good if he stopped mid beratement to check my well-being. I had a huge gash above my right eye. "Holy no."
                "Shit, mom and dad are gonna freak."
                "Yeah, they're gonna freak." I had to think fast. "Look, just take me to the hospital. You have dad's insurance card, right?"
                "Yeah, yeah."
                "Good. So let's go."
                "Maybe we should just bite the bullet here."
                "No. Because you know about dad and hairgel."
                "What?"
                "He never told you? I thought that's why you always hid it inside your guitar case. Look, when he was a kid, his parents caught him using gel and they thought he was some depraved devil worshipper ready to sacrifice a virgin to the altar or something. Crazy religious shit."
                Roddy looked at me like I'd just claimed I found a subterranean route to China. "Why would he tell that to you and not to me?"
                "Because he told it to me a few months back when Mom, me, and him were visiting cousin Andy in North Carolina and you faked sick on the trip so you could make out with that Jennifer girl in the hammock for three days straight."
                "So I'm fucked and you're fucked is what you're saying."
                "Fucked. He'll crucify us. But I have to take care of this gash, plus I'm sure they know how to get hair gel out at the hospital."
                "I know how to get the gel out, but look, take some of it from your hair and plug your cut with it. Let's go right now." Roddy started lacing up my Nikes for me.
                The gel in the gash burned and made my head feel bulbous and sour, like a ruptured quiche. Mom and dad were outside on the patio, soaking up the last ounces of summer twilight and their mojitos. We snuck out and fired up their Volkswagen Cabrio. I tapped a "hurry the hell up" rhythm on the passenger side armrest.
                "Hey, I need to make a stop at the pharmacy on the way to the hospital."
                "You serious, Roddy?"
                "We have time if I hurry. Not like you're actually dying. Man up, bitch."
                He was going to do what he wanted to do. It was okay, I guess. "Hey, at least drop the convertible."
                "Yeah, yeah, as we go." Roddy pulled out of the driveway and headed down the long road out to the main street. We lived inside a richly forested suburban development, secluded.
                He started to fiddle with the convertible top controls, but they were stuck.
                Roddy drove fast, but that night he drove faster. Faster and faster. He wanted to handle the car like Speed Racer, but he was more like Fred Flintstone.
                "Slow down, man." At the bend right before Lagrange Ave, my brother didn't slow down. Until he saw the deer parked in the middle the road. He swerved and the car flipped. Rolled and rolled and rolled into the front yard of someone with garden gnomes and pink flamingoes. One flamingo got lodged in the radiator grille. We both blacked out.
               
                At the hospital, my brother and I were in beds adjacent and our parents stood there talking to the doctor. I heard her say, "you're very lucky. Your two boys only narrowly survived the crash. The hair gel they were wearing formed a protective helmet and mitigated some of the skidding when the vehicle slid on its top. Very lucky indeed to have their brains still inside their heads."
                Dad was furious. Mostly because he couldn't even tell the story to his parents since they might bully him to sending us both to parochial school.
                Even though hair gel saved our lives, it also catalyzed the whole damned debacle.
               
                But you know what? It's a Tuesday. And I'm not thirteen anymore. Damn, I look good.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

It was all told to you in a dream (fiction experiment)

You step on stage and exhale. Feels like the first time. Wind and wind, wound and wound--the whole production is a quaffable coil ready to imbibe in with the eager audience. All of the sudden, the lights explode and your mind flashes to Saturday morning cartoons, 9am at 9 years old and riding the joy of a specially-syruped pancake breakfast. Have no fear, Underdog is here.
You lurch forward, your toes crack. Self-conscious, but no one heard, you assure yourself. There's a wrinkle on your shirt where your chest meets your abs; too much flexing and stretching pre-show. What was it she said before?

"Avery, I don't want us anymore. Your attitude recently... it's like damp seaweed and sticks and drips on me all sickly. What's the matter with you?”
“Michelle, you're imagining this. I think you're imagining I should be someone I never was. When you met me, what did you think of me?” You sit while she stands.
“That you were some kind of tin-can-phone messiah. You cared. The kind of guy who would tell stories to me at bedtime. The kind of guy who wouldn't give up because life is hard. Life is hard. You lose your analyst job, you have to find a new one. You skin your knee, you affix a bandage.” She hugged herself and shook as if drifting on an Antarcic ice floe.
“Oh, this is because I'm an actor now? That's not fair. So, I make less money than I used to--”
“You make less money than you used to because you think less of yourself than you ever did.”

You're on stage and exhale. Pancakes, this is all just syrupy pancakes. But your mother's not there to hand you the plate. Isn't that how you wanted it to be all your life? Just doing what you want, watching cartoons? Is this really that? Is it supposed to be harder than a balmy Saturday morning?

Friday, 8 June 2012

When We Believe

We want to believe. 

It's a universal human trait. Sports can bring this to center stage because instead of armies and religions, we can invest into our favorite teams without (usually) bloodshed. Last night LeBron James made many believe. Not that he's one of the greatest to ever grace the NBA--we already knew that. But we believed that's what a man looks like when he realizes his potential.

Let's step back a moment to 2008. It's the Olympics and Usain Bolt is the fastest human alive. The gun pops and the 100m race is off the blocks. Bolt immediately jumps ahead of his competitors, showcasing his aweinspiring speed and talent. For 9 seconds, the universal human spirit is enriched by the reminder of how great we can be. About how it's worth it to be the best at whatever you do. Not for the adulation, but for the sake of doing something no one else can do.

But then sometimes happens, something spirit-breaking. 

Usain Bolt showboats, eases up at the end, and effortlessly wins the race. He kicked his legs into the air and held his hands up. While he still beat the world record, he didn't fulfill his potential. Just take a look at the video for proof. http://bit.ly/E425E
 He was young and in peak condition and his world record could have been even better. But instead, he wanted to brag during the biggest moment of his life. And that's what I remember most about him: that he acted like a jackass and let us all down by scoffing at destiny. And now, he's slower than he was and is complaining about the new Omega starting blocks as an excuse for his time slipping. http://bit.ly/Kgda7x

He awakens the conqueror within.

Fast forward to last night. LeBron has the taste for blood in his mouth and the hunger for victory burning in his soul. His eyes flash focus. He dominates the court, every inch of it. Slamming down rebounds, exploiting every defensive gaffe, and puzzling the Celtics with  twisting, vexing driving lanes to the hoop. At halftime, he said he only wanted to be aggressive and keep up the aggression. And that he did. And we love him for it. He took what was his. He awakened the conqueror in us all. The pursuit of excellence that drives the building of cities and great romances. LeBron dominated for four quarters and rightfully annihilated Boston. And I believe once more that potential fulfilled is beauty incarnate.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Are you as good as you think you are?

Well, are you? 

Think about the last mistake you made. Betting it was wrought from the karmic crime of hubris. Hey, happens to me all the time. Whether I'm playing hard for the win in a match or even reading some work and incessantly analyzing. It's our nature to think we're good. We have to or else we get depressed. Comes from a very basic drive to breed--"my genes are better than yours," said your school-yard zygote to your competitors.

But what if they're not (and they probably aren't). There's always someone better than you are. Never forget it. In fact, cherry top it with that there are more than a handful people better than you at living, or cooking, or tennis, or riding a carousel, whatever. That motivates me, after I shrug off the feelings of inadequacy of course. If it doesn't motivate you to be better, examine why. Competition cleanses us of the extraneous and if you can't even be competitive with yourself, Houston--we have a problem.

"Brent, you're being judgmental." I can imagine you say, "it's only your first blog post back since 1989 Tiananmen." Alright, I'll ease off on the unsolicited advice. I was writing a book today (for work) and was reminded that most of my best work comes when feel good, yet don't trust what's coming off my finger-tips is my best work. One's first try is often the right direction, but usually never the complete, illustrated map. Kick your own ass every once in a while (not too often or you'll bleed on your favorite shirt accidentally and you don't want high dry cleaning bills).