Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joel

Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:30 a.m.


Joel has an angry, cynical heart. It throbs bitterness and pulses spite. He wears a broad-brimmed black hat in an attempt to convey his black, boiling derision for the world, but he has too much of a baby face for it to be effective. This only makes his disposition worse. He despises everyone around him, even the strangers on the L; he hates that they have jobs to go to, and iPods to listen to, and books to read.

Joel lost his job right when the economy tanked in 2008. He wasn’t so angry before that. He never found another job, but now he doesn’t really want to find one. Disgust is his full-time job. It doesn’t pay well, but surviving off food-stamps, and charity, and his parents makes his feelings even darker. He is the king of ill-wishes, the champion of disdain.  

I just realized that in a few days I get to go to the burbs and see my puppies. This fact makes my job practically unbearable. I must push through!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Zach

Seen waiting for the Red Line to 95th at about 8:15 a.m.

People always tell me I look good. I believe I do have a certain kind of charm that is greatly helped along by my sense of style. And this morning I had an epiphany: I must help other men to dress this well. But I have to do it in a quick, easy-to-understand format so they’ll actually bother paying attention. There’s only one way to do this. How can I convey my whole fashion sense in one well-phrased 140-character tweet?

Let’s see. First I have to break my style down. If I’m being honest, I’m one part 1950’s heartthrob (jeans with rolled cuffs over black hi-top chucks), and one part hipster poster boy (Ray-Ban sunglasses, tight black jacket, strategically mussed hair OR meticulously combed hair, depending on the day—mussed today). So, if I write: “Bottom half #TheFonz + Top Half #RyanGosling = #fashion”…yes, that should do it. Perfect. I still have tons of room to link to pictures for further clarification as well. All of you who follow @zachattack89, you’re welcome. 

The soundtrack to this post is probably this song. Speaking of Ryan Gosling, the internet gods have been good to us today. Happy Holidays, from Drunk History.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bill & Other Stories

Bill: Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:30 a.m.

Bill clutched his cup of coffee and stared out the window with sad eyes, searching for something he’d lost. It was hard to tell if he was sad because he missed the thing he’d lost, or if he couldn’t remember what he’d lost. The latter seemed more probable; his gaze leapt from one window to the next, from the faces of fellow passengers to the ceiling of the train. It was as though he hoped something would jog his memory. But Bill was old, and his mind was old. He had possessed many things, loved many things. Loved too many things—they were squeezing out through the folds of his brain. He knew he’d probably never find what he was looking for; he hoped that it was worth the trouble. 

I thought you might also like to read my rejected Machine of Death 2 story. I never did post it to that tumblr.... Anyway, the title of the story has to be the death prediction, so this story is called "Suicide":

Roseanne isn’t very old, but she is old enough to know that she and her family are harbingers of tragedy. She spends most of her days huddled in a plain wagon with her mother, watching the horses kick up dust as her father drives them from town to town, bringing his message and The Contraption.

Her father is a missionary; he helps people accept God’s will. Her family travels to villages along rivers, at the bases of mountains, lost in prairies, on top of fault lines. As soon as they arrive, the curious citizens fly from their homes and clamor for The Contraption, desperate to know their fates. Roseanne prefers not to look at The Contraption. Its glass vials, brass cranks and gears, and its long needle draw her mind to torture devices rather than God’s saving grace. Instead she watches the soft paper money slip from people’s trembling hands into her mother’s outstretched basket. Sometimes she stares into the eyes of the frightened children and tries to comfort them with a smile.
 
She has noticed that in the towns selected by her father, the people tend to die in similar ways. When they are near rivers, the predictions read “flood”; near mountains, they say “avalanche.” Her father’s sermons are perfectly crafted to these natural disasters. After everyone is tested, her father stands on the back of their wagon and speaks to the people. His voice is like a torrential downpour--the importance of his words soaks through the skin of his audience and fills them right down to the marrow. When he encounters those who are to be consumed by wildfires, he encourages them to let the light of Jesus burn in their souls. When he encounters those doomed to die in a flood, he preaches that they must let God’s Word rush through their hearts like water. When he encounters those who will be crushed in earthquakes, he reminds them that God can make the foundations of their sinful lives crumble so that they can be born again.

As he speaks, the people cling to the slips of paper on which their death predictions are printed, nervously folding and twisting them. When he is finished, they scream “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” Some speak in tongues. They give him more money, and offer him provisions for his journey. Roseanne feels bad for them. She knows that The Contraption can lie. A few years ago it told the dusty coal-mining people of Candor that they would die by hailstorm. But in reality, hailstorms destroyed the crops in the towns below. Heading into winter with no food, most slowly starved to death. 
 
Roseanne confronted her father about this. Her throat tightened as she asked him why, despite the predictions of The Contraption, God had left Candor so unprepared for its death. “God did not leave them unprepared,” he calmly replied. “He gave them plenty of warning. If they were unprepared, it is because they did not believe enough in Him.”
           
“Father, why won’t you let us test ourselves? Why can’t we use The Contraption?”
           
His back stiffened, and his eyes narrowed. “There is no need to test ourselves, for our fate is already clear. We are called to bring The Contraption and God’s Word to the people. We will die doing God’s work.” Her mother sat silently in the corner and stared at the hem of her dress. Roseanne wanted to reply, but could think of nothing else to say. Her father went back to his map, plotting their course.
           
This is the memory that is currently keeping her awake. It is a cold night, and she is bundled in hand-stitched quilts from various grateful women. She is not certain that she wants to spend the rest of her life doing God’s will. She tries to imagine herself handing people their predictions, pressing the paper into their palms with a compassionate firmness. She mentally composes speeches, telling people that their fortunes are not so horrible as they seem; with complete trust in God, they can weather any storm. Her stomach hurts. No matter which way she turns, she cannot make herself comfortable.
              
As her parents sleep, Roseanne wiggles her way out, crawls into the wagon, and uncovers The Contraption. The moonlight makes its brass parts seem duller, but its needle glistens and appears sharper than ever. She pricks her finger without hesitation and turns the handle. Minutes pass, and her arm tires, but she continues. Finally it emits the small strip of paper: SUICIDE. She feels vindicated.
 
Yep, so...there's that. I still like it, even though it did get rejected. As a last little treat, I've been working on my flash fiction using Rose Metal Press' Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Each section has a little exercise at the end. The first challenge was to write a story only using "he said, she said," etc. The two had to be having an argument, and their had to be a subtext. Here's mine:


He said I should have some cotton candy. She said I'd spoil my dinner. He said it wasn't a real county fair experience without cotton candy. She said he was being ridiculous. He said it would just be this once. She said he always said that. He said nothing. Nobody asked me.

So I cheated a little at the end...oh well. Anyway, hope you're all having a good day!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Desiree

Seen on the Brown Line to the Loop at about 12:10 p.m.


Big and bulging, head covered in a beret, feet clad in expensive knee-high boots, body bundled in a bold-colored coat, Desiree's arms are looped with bags and bags and bags--bags filled with boxes, bags filled with bargains; they spread out below her bust and make her bulky body even more rotund as she bustles off the train.

Maybe bigger people are simply more compelled to buy. If they are hoarders of the home--buying clothes, buying shoes, buying jewelry, buying knick-knacks--then perhaps they are also hoarders of the body--buying burgers, buying sodas, buying Chinese food, buying deserts--burying them within their bowels; boarding them in their belly-fat.

But then again, maybe not. Every day I see sallow-cheeked skinny people who are not wanting in sustenance, who are certainly not stingy about spending, swathed as they are in simple, subtle elegance.

Alliteration! It's fun. In other news, I got new glasses today:


Oooohhhh yeah. Sexy glasses. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tommye

Seen waiting for a Red Line train to the Loop at the Fullerton Station, at about 8:15 a.m.


Tommye looks uncomfortable, her torso leaning back too far from her thin hips and toned legs, as though the two halves of her body have a strong desire to separate. A Northface fleece is zipped over her formal work attire; running shoes cover her stocking feet.

Tommye looks ready to run, is ready to run. She wants to run straight out of her black dress and her black tights and, in only her cotton underwear and sports bra, head somewhere else. Not anywhere else. Most places would be too much like here, now. She wants a place where she doesn’t have to go to a drab, windowless office, or grow stiff from sitting at her cramped desk, or stare at the harsh glare of a computer screen all day, just to make a living. Tommye wants to spend her days moving, flexing, bending, reaching, crouching, walking, running, dancing. She wants to go to bed with her muscles aching from too much exercise rather than too little.

She wants to run, but instead she gets on the train to downtown, speeding away from her desires. 

Work, write, go-go dance, work, write, go-go dance, work, write, go-go dance. That's pretty much my life right now. I'm enjoying myself immensely, except for the work part. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gary

Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:20 a.m.

Gary points his lump of a nose towards the rain-streaked window and thinks, thinks, thinks. The drops of rain fracture the glow from streetlights and neon signs into broken halos, and Gary finds himself trying to count the pieces. No! No. Focus.

His sad eyes glance down at his lap, at his wringing hands, and then back to the gloomy, gray horizon. He thinks, thinks, thinks. He thinks about how the money’s all gone now, that last dollar bill slipping from his hand in exchange for a black coffee. He thinks of all the rejections from prospective employers, the hours waiting for non-existent phone calls, and the cold, typed voice of the emails from nameless secretaries: “We regret to inform you that the position has been offered to someone else.” He thinks of his children, how he can’t support them. He mumbles their names, and their names are heavy on his tongue and lips.

What will he do? What should he do? What can you do when you have nothing? Desperation. This sick, slippery feeling in his gut must be desperation. What’s that saying? Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

DWChitown was awesome last night. It kind of ended up being more of a brainstorming session, which was a fun new departure. I don't think I have too much else to say right now...

Have you guys read any of NPR's 10 Best Novels of 2011? I haven't read a single one. I should do that. You know, right after I read all the books I still haven't read that are sitting on my shelf.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aaron

Seen on the Red Line to the Loop at about 5:30 p.m., December 12th, 2011

Aaron mostly looked like any other commuter, wrapped in layers to keep out the cold, carrying a black backpack. But his eyes were astonishing, extraordinary, brilliant. His irises were light brown, almost amber, and so bright that they could either smother you with comforting warmth, or pierce you with sharp cruelty; it all depended on Aaron’s mood. Though he was a young man, his eyes were old. They had filtered images of so many people, places, and experiences that his pupils conveyed immeasurable depth. It seemed that if you put your face close to his, nose to nose, and locked your commonplace eyes into his, so wondrous, you could see the universe and all its constellations shimmering away. They were the kind of eyes you’d like to get lost in, fall into, be enslaved by, forever. 

I saw Aaron on my way to see a production of Oedipus the King for which my sister wrote the music! It was awesome. Let's see. What else is new? Drivel & Wit Chicago is meeting tonight. Always a good thing. Also, I am writing a novel that Leta and I brainstormed a while back, and it is scary. But I have to believe I can do it. If people like Stephen King can pump out two books a year, I can certainly write one in an undetermined amount of time. We shall see...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Maxine & Natasha

Seen waiting for the Red Line to 95th at the Fullerton Station at about 8:25 a.m.

Maxine reached forward and grabbed Natasha’s hips, sliding her thumbs into the front pockets of her pants. Natasha shoved Maxine’s hands away.

“What? Don’t ya love me anymore?” asked Maxine, her lips curling up into a sly smile.

“Of course. Of course I do. I just wish you wouldn’t do that.” Natasha folded her arms in front of her chest. Maxine’s smile fell.

“Is it that you don’t want people to know?”

“I don’t care if people know.” Natasha pulled her hair into a ponytail. “Why can’t you ever just hold my hand or something? Why do you always have to go for my hips?”

“Because they’re round and thick and beautiful, and mine are straight and ugly, and I’m jealous of you, and I love you.” Maxine’s right hand started toward Natasha; Natasha slapped it.

“Cut it out. It just feels like too much in public for me.”

Maxine’s eyes narrowed. “So you do care if people know!”

“No I don’t! It just makes me uncomfortable. You’ve got to respect my space. If you really love me, you’ll understand that.”

Maxine frowned and turned away. She sighed, watched her breath float away, and turned back. “Fine,” she said. She grabbed Natasha’s hand. “Fine. Am I still making soup tonight?”

Natasha moved closer to Maxine. “Yes. Chicken noodle sounds fantastic.”

It was their first fight. It had been fast and sharp, and it had been accompanied by the sound of trains moving forward. They both felt relieved.

As per Felipe's request: a gay couple. Yesterday Felipe suggested I didn't have enough minorities on my blog. I think this is probably true, but not entirely true. Sometimes the stories are about people who belong to minorities, but the fact that they are part of a minority isn't relevant to the story, so I don't mention it. For instance, Ralphie from yesterday's post was black. But that wasn't really important. Felipe was right, however, that all my stories have been about straight people (I think--it's hard to remember them all). So now that problem is remedied. I'm sure there will be more in the future.

 To be honest, I felt a little disingenuous writing these girls as a gay couple, because the only reason I was doing it was to fulfill Felipe's request, and because, out of the corner of my eye, it looked like one of them was grabbing the other's hips. She wasn't really. I realize that I probably do both when I write these, but I want the stories on PTKY to be more INSPIRED by the people I see, rather than me projecting previously conceived notions onto people. Is that weird? I don't know. Your thoughts?

I like this story, though, because it was an exercise in dialogue for me. I'm bad at using dialogue, so it's good to force myself. I don't think it turned out too badly. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Elias; Ralphie

Elias - Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:30 a.m., December 2nd, 2011


Elias plays with his iPhone as his eyes, shaded by thick brown lashes, stare out the window. His handsome face cannot hide his heavy heart. She is gone, and now there’s no point to it all—no point to this commute, no point to his job, no point to his iPhone (he puts it back in his pocket), no point to anything. Outside it is cold, but blindingly sunny. Nevertheless, Elias sees only dead trees and other signs of winter—bundled people walking quickly, bags of road salt in open garages. He looks to the horizon, searching for clouds to come block out the mocking sunlight and bury this awful world in snow.

Ralphie - Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:40 a.m., December 6th, 2011


Ralphie can’t sit still in his L seat. His tiny frame slides forward in the chair until his rear end almost falls off. He squeezes his eyes shut, clenches his fists, and holds his breath. None of it helps. He can feel the noises within him, alive, bouncing back and forth like a million birds living inside his ribcage. Now they are rising, fluttering up his windpipe and into his mouth.

First he bares his teeth and growls fiercely. It sounds not quite human. Heads turn looking for an angry dog, or perhaps an insane person, but they encounter only a little boy. The next noises are more musical; one note is quickly and sharply succeeded by another, as if he has managed to autotune his own throat. A few moments of silence, then an alternating cycle of clearly animalistic sounds: he exhales with a lion’s roar, and inhales with a snake’s hiss. RAWRR-sssss-RAWRR-sssss-RAWRR-sssss.

Ralphie’s mother looks on from across the aisle, her teeth pressed tightly together. She doesn’t want to meet the eyes of the other passengers. Surely they are wondering why she can’t control her child. But she knows she can’t stop him when he gets like this. She thinks his vocal cords are possessed or haunted. No amount of doctors, no amount of prayer, no amount of love can stop the noises.

Sorry for the lack of updates. Work was insane last week. Basically I ended up copying and pasting little pieces of html for two days straight. And now I have tons to catch up on this week. Ugh. It seems I wrote Elias last Friday and completely forgot, though. So two stories for you! Hooray. Hope you like them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Noah

Seen on the Brown Line to Kimball at about 8:15 a.m.

Noah leans his bearded face closer to the folded piece of newspaper, his eyes squinting in concentration. He moves his pen furiously over the page, as if he is in a hurry and doesn’t have time to look at the clues. For that is certainly what is occupying Noah’s attention—the Red Eye crossword puzzle. You imagine that his handwriting must be messy and cramped inside the tiny boxes.

If you looked at his paper, however, you would quickly realize that Noah is not doing the crossword puzzle. It’s doubtful that you could ever understand what he is writing.

Noah is writing the world. You didn’t think it was all left to chance, did you? Noah and those like him spend their days determining how others spend their days. With ancient symbols he sparks a romance, inspires a graduate thesis, starts a war. The strokes of his pen spell out the past, present, and future. His is the ink of emotions and needs. You should be careful not to jostle him, you should hope that the train is slow and steady, for with one small mark he can rewrite your entire life—or erase it altogether.

DWChitown was AMAZING last night! We had some really great discussions. I am so excited that I started doing it. We have managed to collect a freaking awesome group of people. Just sayin'.