Tag Archives: meta

Astroturf

This is what happens when you fall behind:
you write a “this is what happens” poem
like you’re some Great Artist in the know, some
ageless linguistic mystic, comma here,
example there, extended metaphor
to illustrate the wisdom of your oh
so timeless take on the nature of man.
And you can, because you use phrases like
“the nature of man” and own it, and oh
there’s that interjection again, all the
best poets make such exclamatory
motions, and this is what happens when you
commit your life to art, and oh what a
life and oh what a world oh if only.

The End Of The Story

The story is a building and I take the elevator to the seventh floor, the seventh story. I knock on her door but there’s no answer and I’m too impatient now, too energized, thriving on adrenaline, and of course I have the keys, so I unlock the door and step into her story, her world, where she lives.

It’s not a bedroom or a living space, like many of the stories in the building. Instead I find myself standing in an alleyway behind what looks to be an old fashioned movie theatre. It’s certainly not what I expected to find, but the setting doesn’t matter either way because once I find her we can leave this place and build a whole new story on our own.

She steps out into the street, all dolled up in soft subtle makeup. She wears a short fringe dress and pearl necklace, her raven hair done up with a feather and a silk scarf flowing across her exposed clavicle; the design is exotic, expensive, like nothing I’ve ever seen, and the scarf seems to go on for miles. She walks arm-in-arm with a handsome man dressed dapper in a business suit, with golden cufflinks and a silk tie. A little boy walks in front of them. He’s eight years old, or ten, I can’t decide. He has the same raven hair as Mary Sue, and the features of his face are just like the man beside her.

She has a family. I never knew she had a family. A child. A life. She never told me her story. How could she keep that a secret from me, after all I’ve done for her? After everything we’ve shared?

I feel the betrayal boiling inside of me and as I clench my fists in rage I notice something cold and hard between my fingers. I look down and realize that I’m holding a gun, an M1911 .45 caliber pistol, or maybe a six-shooter, I can’t decide, with a Russian name emblazoned on its side. It’s the same gun I stole, the one that was meant for her, and I realize that I never changed the story after all. Everything that’s happened, it was all part of the story. This was always how it was going to go, and it doesn’t affect me either way. I’m just doing my job.

Mary Sue looks up to see me standing in their path, the shock and surprise spilling all across her pretty face. I take a step forward, my left foot splashing in a well-placed puddle. She throws her arms up in surrender. I hear her say something and it sounds like it could have been my name, as if I ever had one. So I point the pistol, pull the trigger, tell the story. The hammer flies forward, knocks the bullet down the barrel, a small explosive force that sends it coursing through the air and through her chest. It shatters her necklace and I watch the string of pearls as they fall to the ground. I let off another shot just to be safe and then turn my attention towards her husband. I pull the trigger three more times and watch as the young boy falls to his knees. He sits in a puddle of blood and cries, cradling his mother’s lifeless body. I drop the gun and escape down the alleyway, back into the building, into nothingness, leaving the boy to deal with the damage and live out the story all alone.

Mary Sue was the only person who ever showed any interest in me, ever believed in me, believed that I could be a story. She was right, and so I shot her dead, just because the story demands it. I thought I made a choice and saved her life, but it turns out that I’ve just been a story all along. I guess that means I finally got what I wanted, although it didn’t turn out quite the way I’d planned. It may not be a happy ending, but it is The End, and if nothing else, at least I’ll be remembered.

I think Father would be proud of that.

Storytime Dreams

I told Mother this morning that when I grow up, I want to be a protagonist in my own story. She just laughed as she set a plate down in front of me with two strips of bacon, two slices of toast, and two eggs over easy. “When I was your age, it was every boy wanted to grow up to be a firefighter, or astronaut,” she said. “Now everyone wants to be the protagonist in their own story. If everyone was a protagonist, then who would do the work that makes the world go ‘around, huh?”

She always delivered the guilt trip over things like this. “Can you imagine if Ms. Mott wanted to be a protagonist? Who would be left to teach you about reading and arithmetic? If everyone was a protagonist, there’d be no one left to teach you how to be a protagonist!” Ms. Mott was my second grade teacher. She was beautiful, blonde, and buxom, and she was very understanding and patient when I needed help on my math homework.

Mother sat down at the table across from me in our tiny, cramped kitchenette and looked at the eggs on her plate. She sliced cleanly through one of them with the edge of fork; the yolk didn’t run, meaning she’d left them on the stove for too long. Mother always hated when the yolk was too hard. It reminded her of my father. That was why she was so sensitive about my dream of being my own protagonist — father had left her for the exact same reason. “I’m tired of living my life for the betterment of someone else’s story!” I heard him yelling angrily through the wallpaper of our rent-controlled apartment. “My father worked for the union for 55 years, and all he had to show for it was a boring old pension and some ungrateful kids. He would have been happier if he just had his own story. I’m not going to make the same mistakes as my old man.”

The next morning, my father was gone. By the end of the weekend, Mother had cleared out everything that reminded her of him. Well, except for me. I’d always had his pale blue eyes and moppy brownish hair — and now I had his foolish dreams as well.

“Well…maybe I can be an astronaut, and a protagonist!” I tried telling her before biting into my first slice of bacon. The crunching reverberated all throughout the empty hollow of my young head. I waited for the echo to die down before swallowing; there was still no response from Mother. I looked back down at the food in front of me, the food that she had so lovingly prepared for me, and I tried to appreciate each bite as I forced it down. The only other sound was that of Mother trying to fold the newspaper in order to read it properly — our kitchen table was too small these days to rest the pages on.

As I finished up my breakfast, all she said was, “Hurry up. You don’t want to miss the bus.”

The Nightshift

The story is a building. There’s an elevator from the second floor, all the way to the top, and no one’s concerned with etiquette. They push the button for the floor right below the one you’re going to. Why should they walk? They pay the same amount for rent as you. And they hate it when the elevator’s out of order, which forces them to walk. To walk through the story, up the back staircase and around the plot.

And then they call and leave an angry message for me when they come home from happy hour and find their keys don’t work in the lock that lets her into the Third Act and every time you fix the same damn problem for her she thinks you’re being tricky just to make your life difficult when really, she’s drunk and tried the wrong damn key again.

Just like she was last Thursday. And the one before that. And the one before that, and the one before that, all the way back to the beginning of the story.

Sometimes the toilet’s clogged. It’s usually because there’s some crucial piece of evidence to be revealed in a shock twist ending that was flushed away for safe keeping until the big reveal. It’s my job to keep the plumbing going, so the story can work.

I fix a lot of toilets.

My wife, Karen, wants me to start taking night classes at the Community College. She thinks this kind of maintenance work is below me. That I could do better than walking around in olive green khakis covered in stains with a 10-pound keychain that lets me access every unit in the building.

We’ve been married for 12 years and she still hasn’t realized that I work the night-to-early-morning shift. The Union gets us time-and-a-half for after hours, so I usually volunteer for those. That way, I always paid-and-a-half, and that keeps Karen happy.

Except she’s not happy, because I won’t go to night school, because I can’t go to night school, because I have work nights to keep her happy.

“Maybe I can look into taking classes at the University,” I told her over breakfast one morning after work.

“Why?” she said, and the yolk from her egg sandwich spread like ink over the bleached hair on her upper lip. “You’re not smart enough for a University. You’re just a janitor. Maybe if you worked the day shift, they’d actually treat you with respect there.”

I’m not a “just a janitor.” Sally Reynolds calls me “facilities faculty.” She defines facilities as, “something designed, built, installed, etc., to serve aspecific function affording a convenience or service.” In this case, that services is the stories. Sally lives on the third floor of the building. She brings coffee every day on her way home work and we sit and chat a bit. She tends bar somewhere in Generic Metropolitan Area. Memorizing dictionary definitions is one of her Defining Character Quirks, along with the upbeat hopefulness and crooked smile she shines so well. It definitely works her, the dictionary definition thing. Not everyone could pull it off, and sometimes I have to hunt down the OED to keep the story going, but in the end, it all works out.

The End. It’s my job to make sure that it does All Work Out. So I offer her Sagely Wisdom From A Blue Collar Worker, and she gives me a reason to get through my shift and get back home to Karen. I’d probably ask her out, Sally, but I know that she dies in her apartment on page 287 when the guy that she brings home that night turns out to be the killer. She doesn’t bring me coffee that night, so I go up to her room to check her on and find the body, because the story demands it.

I’ll go home the next morning, especially exhausted, and Karen will probably tell me she’s leaving me because the story demands it and I’ll wish that I asked Sally out after all. But I know that it would never work between us, because I know that’s not the story.