Polite People

Hoisting his pack higher onto his shoulders, Kremly shielded his eyes from the glare of the dropping sun and sighed deeply.  His feet hurt, his fifty-two year old knees ached, and the backpack made him tighten his neck and stretch forward like a turtle.  Leaning against a parking meter he crossed his arms over his chest and mentally sorted through the cash and loose change in his pockets.  His mind drew a clear picture of the total, some of it tucked into his dirty jeans and socks, the rest scattered through multiple locations inside his faded, blue jacket.  Nodding thoughtfully, he surveyed the length of the sidewalk, gauging the dwindling, evening pedestrians.

A gray, Honda Civic lurched to a halt beside the empty parking spot associated with his meter.  The driver, a thirty-something woman with a brown ponytail and a bright yellow tee shirt, began the painful process of sidling into the slot.  Turning around to watch, he openly judged the woman’s efforts.  Having never driven a day in his life, he had no clue about the finer points of parallel parking, however, he didn’t let that stop him from raising his eyebrows in question as the lady cranked her wheel and jammed her back tires roughly against the curb.  Seeing the way she tightened her mouth and didn’t look at him, he began motioning her forward with one hand, displaying the manly patience he knew would make her stomach begin to eat its own lining.  After a minute, she gave up and allowed him to wave her forward and back, guiding her small car perfectly into the spot.

“Thank you for the help.”  Shoving the door shut behind her she stepped hastily toward the meter.

“Oh, no problem.  Being in the right place at the right time is kind of a skill of mine.”  He smiled again, open to praise, while watching her make a production out of locking the Honda until it beeped.  She was a bare inch taller than him.

“Yeah, thanks again.”  Digging inside her stylish, brown handbag she pulled out her smartphone and started thumbing the screen.  “Thank goodness there’s an app for these meters now.  Who has time for this anymore?”

“I can surely appreciate that.”  He smoothed his voice into an amber stream.   “I work in sales and it seems like I’m always running out of time.”  He had moved away from the meter to help her park and now stood just behind it.  “Do you know about sales?”  He kept his voice casual, but what came next was never a surprise.

Shoving her phone back into her bag, she looked up and gave him a tense smile.

“Yeah, look, I need to get moving.  I’m a little late for a meeting and don’t want to get in trouble with my boss.  I’m sure you understand.”  Her eyes flicked nervously toward the building behind him, then skittered quickly away.

What she wasn’t looking at was a restaurant, a rather pricey one where the waiters brought skewers of dripping, sizzling meat right to your table and sliced it directly onto your plate.  He had never eaten there.  He watched her walking her eyes carefully over the other buildings, doing what he thought of as a Killdeer Tactic.  Killdeers were ground nesting birds who would fake an injury, dragging one wing along the ground and running in the opposite direction of its nest.

“You get good mileage with that hybrid?  What’s it get?  Thirty some miles to the gallon?”  He stared interestedly at the Honda, letting his eyes stroll over it.  “Seems like a lot of people are getting hybrids these days.  Save the planet and all that.”  Leaning slightly to one side he looked at her tires.  The little spines left over from being poured still stuck out on the front ones, indicating they were fairly new.

Surprise at being openly ignored froze her expression, and for a few seconds she didn’t respond.  He waited her out, knowing she wasn’t the type to just walk away.

“It gets around thirty-six in the city.”  Her voice was flat and uninspired.

“Yeah, I thought so.”  He pointed at the bus stop sign.  “I don’t drive.  I need to get home to my family.  Do you think you can spare five dollars?”

Taking a slow breath she stared him down, her expression hardening.  The urge to be polite was a strong and crippling one.  Polite people were his bread and butter, particularly the women.  He knew she had been expecting this, but clearly wasn’t sure how to escape.

“Anything really.”  He generously expanded the offer.  “I just need to get home.”

Twitching slightly, as if to reach into her purse, the woman started to deflate.  The look in her eyes changed from hard to resigned.

“Five is about all I’ve got.”

“I sure appreciate it, Miss.”  Kremly stepped closer.

“You know what?  I think I’ll just go.”  She backed away from him, her eyes turning cold.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.”  Turning on her heel she walked directly toward the restaurant and went through the door.  The smell of perfectly cooked meat sailed out behind her.

Watching her go, Kremly silently cursed himself.  The sale had been made, damnit.  He knew better than to push the space issue, especially with women.  Let them come to him.  Never the other way around.  Still…

Looking thoughtfully at the restaurant he again counted the money in his hiding places.  A good meal was always a beautiful experience, especially if you had someone to share it with.  

Pushing his sore feet and knees into motion, he resettled the backpack and followed her through the door.

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Monologue #16 – More Editing and Audio Stuff

The audio recording is moving along.  I am learning as I go so things are going to be rather choppy in the beginning.  The sound of my own voice is a point of deep interest to me.  What it sounds like inside my head versus what I hear on the recording is not the same thing at all.  Evidently, blind terror renders me extremely monotoned.  I am struggling with myself to read out loud in same manner that I read to myself in my mind.  I have all sorts of inflection and stuff in there, but it is challenging to get myself to bring that out into the light of day.  I can’t even say, with absolute certainty that it’s because I’m shy, since I’m not… really… anymore.

If anyone is interested, I’m using Audacity, a free audio recording program that you can download here.  I went to Best Buy and bought a Snowball iCE microphone and a fairly decent set of headphones.  My final purchase was a 1 TB external hard drive to back everything up on.  The cost of getting this idea of mine started was less than $200.  I even went to the trouble of making a small, sound deadening box out of stuff I had lying around.  It works okay.  If I shut all the windows, close my bedroom door and feed my two cats before I start, I can get a respectable recording.  Mastering the track is a different matter.  As I said, I’m learning as I go so the first ones will be the rawest.  

One of the things I find the most interesting is the editing.  I’ve been focused on two particular stories to kick off this project.  Both of them have undergone major rewrites because of this.  As soon as I started recording them all sorts of problems cropped up.  I found a bunch of unnecessary information, as well as a ton of sentences that were simply too damn long.  I tightened things up, recorded again and found myself changing more things.  I think I’ve gotten them really close to their final form.  

Take care and enjoy your cook-out on this fine Memorial Day.  =)

Snippet #14

The suction cups left tiny, slightly raised marks on the window.  They would be easy enough to clean off.  A little window cleaner and some paper towel would make short work of it.  A blind toss over one shoulder sent the old, sun-bleached, striped cat with its slightly maniacal smile zinging onto the car’s hot dashboard.  Landing face down, it’s faded eyes scorched against the sun baked vinyl while the squeaking sounds of window washing pattered through the car.  It only took a few minutes.  The car door slammed shut and the new, brightly colored cat clung to the glass where the old one had been, it’s large, heavily lidded eyes unblinking as the old one passed in front of it on its way to the dumpster.

Shock

Carol shushed Derrick with a wave of her hand, pointing, with her eyes, at the small, robotic cleaner sweeping through the room, towing its cart along behind.  Round, plastic framed glasses hung from a silver chain around her neck, bouncing awkwardly against her large chest.  The blue button up she wore with its abundance of pink flowers did nothing to distract the eye from the obvious.

Looking very much like a rotund, mechanical spider riding an automated vacuum disk, the multi-limbed machine stopped at a narrow panel set into the office wall. It was marked by a sign that read Janitor.  The panel slid to the right, vanishing into the wall as a good pocket door should, and the Janitor began gathering supplies.  

Lips compressed to a thin, judgemental line, Carol watched until it had filled its cleaning cart and moved on.

“I’m certain that thing records everything we say and plays it back for Mr. Colson.”  She pushed a stray piece of rust colored hair behind her ear where it curled obediently below her lobe.

“That seems kind of petty.”  Derrick looked blandly at her.  His own glasses, gold framed and styled for a much older man perched securely on his nose.  “Why bother with us?  We’re nearly the ground floor?”

“That’s exactly why.”  Carol leaned back in her chair to look down the walkway.  The janitor was no longer visible.  “If the ground floor of the business becomes unstable it will affect everything above it.”  She had kept her voice low but the last few words were nearly a whisper.

“I think Shock is just a cleaner.  Quit picking on him. “  Derrick frowned at her.  “You spend too much time thinking everything is a conspiracy.”

“Shock?”  Carol gaped at him.   “You have a name for him?”  She looked like she tasted something bitter.

“No, he has a name for himself.  It’s programmed into him.”

“It’s creepy that you call it a him.”  Crossing her legs at the ankles, she settled into her chair and picked up a pen, twirling it thoughtfully through her fingers.  “Does he talk to you?”

“Actually, yeah.  He can hold a decent conversation while he works.”  Turning back to his computer, Derrick chuckled.  “Too bad he’s a Cubs fan.”

“Shush, here he comes again.”  Snapping her chair around to face her desk, Carol grabbed her mouse and started clicking at various files on her screen.

“Come on Eileen, oh I swear what he means.”

The rhythmic, metallic voice took her by surprise and she froze.

“What the hell?”

Derrick snorted laughter.

“He heard it in the kitchen the other day.  Shane was playing the radio while he microwaved his lunch and decided to serenade Shock.”  Rolling out into the walkway, Derrick gave the Janitor an encouraging thumbs up.  “Chances are he’ll recite the wrong lyrics.  Shane isn’t known for his excellent hearing.”

Carol’s eyes flashed with victory and she jumped on the point.

“So he does record things!”

Derrick sighed heavily.

“Of course he does.  He also records the number of supplies he needs and provides Mr. Colson with a printout.  You might want to cut back on your paper consumption.”

Carol’s jaw dropped open as Shock wheeled by.

“Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye.”

Monologue #15 – Audio Narration, and Twin Peaks

It looks like I missed a Snippet this week.  I am disappointed about that, but I’m not beating myself up over it.  My weekend has been far more social than I’m used to and my sleep schedule has become rather skewed.  To make a long story short, I’m off my game this week.  I have a short story scheduled for Wednesday, but that is as far as I have gotten.

In other news, my wife and I are working on putting some of this blog into an audio form.  Having never narrated anything before, this is a learning experience for me.  I have enjoyed a few audio books in my time and certainly listen to a lot of narrated work on various YouTube channels.  I strongly urge those of you with a love for all things creepy to give CreepsMcPasta a try.  He narrates Creepy Pasta stories and is a very talented speaker.  I haven’t set a deadline for this project, it’s just something that we’re working on.  Most likely, you’ll just begin seeing SoundCloud players embedded at the tops of various posts.

Twin Peaks!  Is anyone excited about the third season on Showtime?  I have been power-watching the series on Netflix to get myself up to speed.  I am very curious about how it will be received.  I feel like ABC really encouraged its premature death by moving its timeslot around so much during the second season.  As a creature of habit, changing things too much can cause me to reject something entirely.  David Lynch is a truly inspired writer and while much of his work can leave the average person scratching his head and muttering to himself, it’s still very memorable.  If you are unfamiliar with him please look up Blue Velvet, Naked Lunch and Mulholland Drive to get an extra special glimpse into his surreal style.  The collaboration of Lynch and Mark Frost, which gave us Twin Peaks, along with the prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has definitely left a mark in the minds of an entire generation of viewers.  I look forward to what the third season will bring.  That reminds me, I need to pick up a subscription to Showtime for the next few months.  I’m going to go do that right now.  Cheers!

Smashing Pumpkins – Samson

Watching Sara Chimner trudge listlessly into the room, head down, brown hair hanging loose in her eyes, Samson tried to imagine what it would feel like to work at McDonalds on the grill.  Sure, people suffered everywhere but, at least as a fast food line cook he wouldn’t have to deal directly with eight year olds.  From the looks of her, Sara would be an unwilling participant today.

“Good morning, Sara.”

At the sound of her name, Sara sighed and slid into her seat, putting her head down directly upon the desk top, arms hanging down by her sides like a rag doll.  Eyebrow arching upward in fascination, he wondered if he was too young to get a vasectomy?

“Is something wrong, Sara?”  Rising from his desk he swallowed his own sigh and walked toward the child’s seat where he knelt down beside her.  “Did something happen?”

Like a marionette, her right arm rose into the air, nearly whacking him in the face, and her hand opened to expose a single, opaque tooth, the bottom edges slightly darkened.  He stared obediently at it.

“We all lose our baby teeth, Sara.  It’s nothing to be upset over.  Your adult teeth will grow in and fill the gap.”  He thought his rational explanation was a good start.  He watched her close her hand again around the tooth and rest it on the desk beside her head.  His jaw tightened.  “Did you lose it on the way to school, this morning?”

A muffled no came from the still form.

“When did you lose it?”

“Yesterday.”

Thinking she sounded rather bitter, he tried a different tactic.

“Do you know about the Tooth Fairy?”  Every child knew about the Tooth Fairy, right?  This particular mythos was still alive and well, being preached to every child on American soil.  He fully expected Sara to acknowledge the question with a positive response.  He was more than a little startled when she raised her head and fixed him with eyes lacking any spirit of life and told him just how much she knew about it.

“I put it under my pillow last night.  It was still there this morning.”  The brown eyes were puffy and red, having shed silent tears of grief all the way to school.  Her lips, normally full, seemed thin, drained of their usual vibrance.

Looking at her now, he could see she had taken a serious blow to her ego.  That a child this young could have her mental legs knocked out from under her by being overlooked by a made up entity that bought children’s teeth for a living seemed absurd.  Part of him wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her, to rattle some sense into her.  The Tooth Fairy is a lie!  It’s all a big lie!  Get over it and get on with growing up.

None of that was possible though.  Samson’s sense of reason struggled to get a grip on his anger.  He was expected to tell these children that the world was round, the sun rose in the east, and that two plus two equals four.  If he told Sara the Tooth Fairy was a lie, he would, effectively face a firing squad.

“Did you tell your mother?”

“No.”  Sara dropped her head back onto her desk, this time using her arm, the one still holding the tooth, as a cushion.  “It fell out after I went to bed.”

So she had just stuffed it under her pillow.  Samson could see it as clearly as if he had been there.  It had never crossed her mind to get up and show her parents the tooth.  Sara had absolute faith that her parents told her the truth in all things.  To have her tooth still with her when she awoke had been far more tragic than just the loss of a quarter.  That tooth meant that her parents were not the all-knowing gods she had thought them to be.  They had been wrong.  Those red eyes weren’t about the tooth, they were about the loss of innocence.

“You need to tell your mother.  Mom’s have a secret way of communicating with the Tooth Fairy.  If you don’t tell her then she can’t send the message and the Tooth Fairy doesn’t know to come.”  He almost patted her on the head but caught himself.  Never touch the children.  Straightening he went to his desk and pulled a couple pieces of tissue from the box and walked them back to her.

“Here, let’s wrap the tooth up nice and safe and put in the front pocket of your bag.  As soon as you get home today, give the tooth to your mom.  Can you do that for me?”

Sara turned her head on her arm to look at him again, this time with a small flicker of hope in her eyes.

“Uh huh.”  She sniffed and sat up enough to drop her tooth on the tissue.

“There, all safe and sound.  Let’s go put it in your bag, okay?”  He stepped back to give her room to get out of her seat and lead the way into the hall.  

Sara’s bag was pink and purple with flowers all over it, a miniature back-pack, complete with straps to go over her shoulders.  Samson handed her the wrapped tooth and watched as she zipped it securely into the small front pocket.  He gave her an encouraging smile that felt unnatural for him.

“Let’s get back to our seat now, and start our day, okay?”

Monologue #14

What about visual cues?  What about those nervous habits that people have?  How many of  these things make their way into your writing?  I often find myself studying people while I work, watching how they turn their feet when they walk or hold their face when they make a bet.  The look on the face of a guy who is chasing his money is vastly different from the lady who has just arrived and is buying into the game for the first time.  Chasers have a hard, pinpoint look in their eyes.  They remind me of bird dogs going on point.  They have the scent of their prey and know they way.  The lady who is just sitting down may be a regular or not, but her eyes are clearer and more open to the upcoming experience.  Her smile is natural.  The Chaser?  He’s usually angry.  More often than not it’s anger at himself but it comes out in a numerous ways.  He’ll verbally abuse the dealer for dealer him crappy cards, or he’ll chastise another player for taking a questionable hit.  He can even blame the waitress for distracting him at a key moment.

All of these things go through my mind every time I sit down to write.  Which of these cues will make it into my writing that day?  It’s possible that none of them will.  It’s possible I’ll forget all about them in favor of being lost in the craft of piecing words together.  My balance can be tilted toward getting something to eat rather than fine tuning a character to be more three dimensional.  It’s really just a daily crapshoot and I put my money on the line and pick up the dice like everyone else.  Some days I win.  

Happy Mother’s Day!