Archive for Prose

NotGraphs Short(er) Form: An Actual, Final Swansong

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I was ready. I had received last sacraments, and the important thing about last sacraments is that, vis-à-vis the other sacraments, they’re last. Sacrament-wise, it doesn’t get more poignant than that. I had also eaten my last meal. Do you want to know what it was? Sure you do. Now that we’ve been granted a bit more time, you want all the details of what turned out to be my penultimate meal, because, yeah, given last night’s stay of execution, I did have a small bowl of cereal this morning.

Anyway, since all reasonable predictions had indicated an earlier NotGraphs expiration, my “last meal,” as scheduled, had been what I call NotGraphs Lasagna, i.e., a base of meaty insight topped with layers of blistering wit and simmering genius, all crowned with lasagna noodles and ricotta cheese … and, OK, perhaps a sprinkling of “I’m not unpopular, just misunderstood.” I had made my peace.

But then the Royals had to go and score seven runs in the second inning of last night’s game, prompting not only a rousing chorus of “Yay, baseball!” but also an 11th-hour call from the Internet governor and a quick return to my cell, i.e., my desk, in which custody, reintroduced, I was forced to plot my actual valediction.

What does one write, one thinks, when one has already written THE END?
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The Story From Those Story Ideas: The End

writer

The noon sun broke early through the writer’s window. It fell across his face like the white-hot glare of a thousand pissed-off editors, especially if those editors were using Twin Turbo hair dryers on the high-heat setting and also directing the sun’s rays onto his left cheek by way of a large magnifying glass.

“Ow,” he muttered to himself. “Also: ohhhhh.”

Roused into an aching sense of awareness, he opened his eyes and felt the wet goo beneath his face, his body. He groaned. Was it some kind of stew?

“Oh,” he muttered, again to himself. “Also: ewwwww.”

Granted, he had woken in someone else’s vomit on several occasions, often three or four times in a single morning, but until today, never his own.

No, never his own.

After showering, and also after tossing his vomit-covered business attire (i.e., terry cloth robe) into the neighbor’s yard, he brewed a cup of Sanka and returned to his desk. There would be no moonshine today. There would be only Sanka – no, wait. There would be only Folgers. Folgers Instant! Because Sanka, he suddenly and depressingly discovered, has no caffeine!

“Stupid Sanka,” he muttered. “No wonder I couldn’t stay awake.”

Sipping Folgers now, he sparked up the laptop and looked back on the previous day’s work, none of which, currently, he could even faintly recall.

In an instant his eyes went wide, like ocular pantomimes of Vaudevillian shock.

“Whoa, what the hell is all this?” he said to himself, the same self – well, no, a different self entirely – who had authored this carnival of the truly bizarre.

“Secret time portal?”

“Meat-Is-Murderers’ Row?”

“Billy and the Giambisaurus?”

“Drew Butera in ‘The Ballad Of Gregor Blanco’?”

And that, he realized, was just Part 1.

“Oy,” he muttered. “Also: ugh.”

And yet despite his disgust, he was committed to the finishing the story. “It’s what the readers would have wanted,” he said, “if either were still reading.”
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NotGraphs Longform: The Story From Those Story Ideas Part 2

writer

Minnie Prospect, a Minneapolis lawyer who was once a Twins prospect, leans against the rusted fence of the first-base dugout and gazes at his ragtag team. He never thought he’d be here, at a derelict diamond in the heart of the inner-city rough, but here, he’s discovered, is not only where he has to be, owing to the creative sentencing he accepted after his DUI conviction, but where he wants to be, molding his motley squad of scamps and rapscallions into a winning outfit.

The writer nodded. This was good – really good, like Disney good.

“I mean, you couldn’t write a script like this!” Coach Prospect declares, just as the final inning of the David Versus Goliath Little League championship game begins.

He turns to little Jimmy Dugan, sitting on the bench while his teammates man their positions. “I mean you couldn’t write a script like this. You’re only 12, and, as I understand it, something of a math whiz but otherwise a bit of a dullard. No, only a gifted writer could write something like this, something so inconceivable that Disney couldn’t help but pay a milllllion dollars for it: Seriously, a ragtag team of scamps and rapscallions whose now-sober coach has lifted them, against all odds, to the title game against a heavily favored Yankees team composed entirely of spoiled rich kids whose parents make the typical stage mom look like a Marianite nun?!”

Again the writer nodded. He pictured himself on the red carpet with Kate Winslet, though Kates Beckinsale and/or Blanchett would do.

“And yet, despite our shot at the championship,” the coach intones, to no one in particular, “it’s not just the game of baseball that’s important. No, what’s important is the most important game of all – the game of …”

The writer searched for just the right word: Existence? Sentience? Poker?

“…life.”

Now, just as the Yankees’ Richie “Affluent Richard” Richierich strokes a bases-loaded line drive to left-center field, Minnie Prospect calls out to his team: “Game Of Life!” Having practiced the GOL drill many times, the Mini Prospects promptly assume a large “V” configuration. Then, speeding headlong as an unstoppable unit, they obliterate Richierich before moving on to a local mall, where, in the form of a spirited flash mob, they perform the original musical “V Really Is For Vendetta,” after which they are signed to a three-year engagement at Wynn Las Vegas.

Envisioning a lucrative homonymic tie-in, the coach declares, “We win!”

The writer leaned back, triumphant. Hollywood, here he came!

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NotGraphs Longform: The Story From Those Story Ideas

writer

Part 1

Flummoxed, anxious and angry that he had done this to himself, the writer took a big swig of tequila and gazed once more at the list of 30-plus story ideas, in search of the one idea he could turn into the promised, and surely long-awaited, narrative.

Idea 1: More stories from the future about how people celebrate Jeter Day.

“Hmmm. Jeter Day. In the future,” he muttered. “Well, that’s a pretty long time away. How the hell am I supposed to …?” Confounded, he turned to the second idea, which he called Idea 2. A boy’s parents are murdered by a mugger, so, as a rich adult, he fights crime at night in New York City while wearing a cape.

The writer took another swig and muttered, “OK, this is ridiculous.”

When muttering to himself, he had always got right to the point.

“It’s only 8 a.m.!”

And so he brewed a cup of Sanka and poured it into his bottle of Cuervo.

“OK,” he said, more softly now, and taking a sip. “Where were we?”

By “we” he meant himself (even if the sentence “Where were himself?” sounded not quite right), the same “self” that had done this to himself. For indeed, on Sept. 26, the writer had challenged readers to concoct story ideas, and from the best of those ideas, he’d written, he would craft an intriguing and perhaps titillating story! This was the time. Armageddon was nigh. It was now, as they say, or not ever.

But how, from among the dozens of ideas, could he pick just one?

He turned to Idea 3, which was the third idea on the list: With lower starts, greater bullpen use and injuries, have we seen the last 300-game winner?

“Oh, c’mon,” he muttered, “who do you think I am … Jeff Sullivan?”

It was then that he had an idea, his first, which he called Idea 1A: Lounging on the velvet balcony of his luxe Manhattan loft, which he had purchased with profits from his three-part series, “Have We Seen The Last 300-Game Winner?”, the writer John Paschal reaches out and, with the fiery tip of his Cuban cigar, pops the Tino Martinez balloon that hovers above the weekly Jeter Day parade. Laughing maniacally, he summons his butler, Jeeves Jr., to come hither and hold the cigar while he unzips his (i.e., Mr. Paschal’s) ermine trousers, upon which achievement he (i.e., Mr. Paschal) proceeds to pee on the great procession. Then, just as Mr. Paschal has achieved an arc of golden magnificence, a caped avenger swoops in and – BIF! BAM! POW! – takes him in for questioning in the theft of Jeff Sullivan’s work.
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Derek Jeter Day, 2038

Jay opened one eye to see a different, smaller eye staring back at him.

“Dad! Guess what day it is?”

Jay slowly opened the other eye.

“Son, what time is it?”

“It’s two fourteen. Do you know what that means? It’s Derek Jeter Day.”

“That’s great, buddy. Happy Derek Jeter Day.”

“Can we open presents now?”

“Not yet, Danny. Daddy needs to sleep. The gift baskets will still be there in a few hours. Go back to bed.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Well I can’t not sleep. When it’s time, I’ll get you from your room.”

“OK.”

Jay closed his eyes again. He felt the weight lift off the bed and heard Danny’s tiny footsteps moving away. He rolled to his right side, sighed, and drifted off again. Read the rest of this entry »


Scene from a Blogger’s Funeral

Guests file into the Iroquois room at the Downtown Marriott while a man playing an electric piano finishes a Bach toccata. There is an urn on a handcrafted oak table at the far end of the room. The music stops and the crowd quiets. A man begins to speak.

“Good morning, everyone. I’m Mr. Temple’s lawyer. Mr. Temple requested that I head the proceedings today in the event that his original choice for emcee, Tom Hanks, was unavailable. As Mr. Hanks has also passed, here I am.”

“I’ve been instructed to keep this very short, and I will try my best to do so. I’m sure many of you have some things you would like to say about the deceased, but Mr. Temple laid out very specific instructions about how this ceremony should proceed, and none of them include others sharing their feelings. Mr. Temple did express an interest in having Tom Waits perform the song ‘Young at Heart’, as Mr. Temple was certain he would die before Tom Waits. This is not the case however. He also asked that I simply read this prepared statement and play the accompanying video presentation.”

The lawyer clears his throat and opens a piece of paper.

“‘Dear people who came to see me dead; there is a very good chance that you and I had a strong bond — an important relationship. I never really found the time or the interest to get close to people, so the fact that you knew me well enough to attend this event points to the fact that you were one of the few special people in my life. I want you all to know that all the special times we had — all the indelible memories we created — pale to this.'”

A screen raises from behind the urn. A video plays.

The lawyer continues.

“‘The fact that I love this more than I love any of you is more my fault than yours, but that’s the way it goes. And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Tom Waits.'”

The lawyer trails off on the last sentence, clears his throat, then folds the piece of paper nervously. He nods to the piano player.

“Thank you all for coming.”

The piano player begins singing “Young at Heart”. It’s not as good as Tom Waits.


Olfactory Hues

evening baseball

I smelled baseball last night.

As we look across the horizon to Spring Training, Opening Day, All-Star Weekend, we make pictures in our heads. We take images already emblazoned in our brains, rearrange them slightly in order to make them different, and apply them to new events. This pastiche serves as reasonable brain fodder as the ice melts off our downspouts, but it is not baseball. There are visions, certainly, but other senses need to be filled. The humid air against the skin. The chatter, the organ, the clapping against the ear drums. And the smell.

I smelled that baseball smell last night. I breathe in sharply through my nose right now and I am greeted with nothing but the odors of dust, wet dog feet, and radiated heat. But last night, as I lay in bed thinking about Spring Training, I inhaled and it was there. Just for a second. It wasn’t hot dogs or freshly-cut grass. It was just the night air. It was that smell that happens just after opening a car door and stepping out on a June evening. It’s that smell that happens when you sneak out in your slippers to deposit the last of the trash before the truck comes tomorrow. It’s that smell that accompanies those moments when you are bathed in the yellow light of a street lamp, walking, laughing, and realizing that what is happening is a perfect moment.

I’ve been trying, but I can’t bring it back — that night air. All I need to do is wait. I don’t know when it will come, but it will. And I will recognize it because it will smell like it always has. It will smell just like it should.