Prompt: Comedy of Errors
Love and peace,
- Image: New Yorker Magazine
Prompt: Comedy of Errors
Love and peace,
Prompt: Plot of Earth
On this plot of earth right here, I am sick, so may I present a few of my favourite cartoons without further preamble?
The terrorists were successful. They created an atmosphere of abject horror and fear which was exacerbated by the fact that no one knew their agenda. They made no political, social, or personal claims or aired any such grievances. They seemed to have one goal, which they accomplished efficiently. One of their kind had been pursued and killed but there were no clues, no leads, no trails to follow—just a tall, unkempt figure with half his head blown away.
The terrorists murdered one young blonde woman every night, and left her beheaded body on the lawn outside the homes of innocent people.
The bodies were collected and stored in a repository as identification procedures were set in motion and evidence was gathered. While the external investigation continued, the repository was fitted with audio and video monitoring. Why? It was believed no one, not even the staunchest or bravest, could stomach duty in a building that housed such a number of dead young women.
So when sounds began emanating from the repository one night, those tasked with monitoring the site were alarmed. What were these sounds? Muffled, but human. Were they calls for help? Cries of pain or despair? The live video was blurred and only fixed on the entryway, not inside where the dead lay in rows.
The first moving figure on the video monitor was a hazy figure that emerged from the locked room. An intruder? Impossible. The alternative was equally impossible.
So possibilities were set aside, with no reasonable impossibilities to take their place. Those tasked with monitoring stood and stared at the monitor, immobile, in a void empty of ideas or consequence.
Another unidentifiable figure appeared behind the first.
It was a tall man, unkempt, bloody, his pupils surrounded by whites, emitting primitive howls of rage directed explicitly at the camera lens as he approached it. Women, whole but blood-soaked, appeared like an army behind and around him.
An army of the dead, recruited by their murderers, and as full of rage.
Yes, that was a dream I had last night. I honestly have no stomach for gore in movies (or in the world) but somehow there was a dream logic that allowed horrifying images to direct whatever narrative there was in this story.
Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.
Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.
The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.
“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?
“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.
They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.
“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.
“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.
“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.
“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.
“I can pay you,” Leep said.
“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”
“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”
“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”
Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.
“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.
“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.
“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.
“And the story?”
Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.
It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.
“Oh my god,” said Amanda.
People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.
“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”
“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”
“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”
Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.
Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.
This was the best date he had ever been on.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
While “please” and “thank you” are magic words, “I should have”, “could have”, “would have” are words of doom and regret. Or anyway, of wistful longing or face-palming annoyance.
This past week my brother has been visiting, just as winter finally struck the valley. He managed to drive up during a break in the cold and snow— a weather window— and while he was here the winter temps and wind conditions grew more and more precipitous. He wasn’t able or prepared to stay for a month, so how to best judge the right moment to climb into his snow-tired vehicle and brave the mountain passes for six hours?
He could stay on an extra week no problem, but the forecasts for later in the month were for even colder, more wintery weather which might not break until March. So we collectively decided that today, Wednesday, February 13 was The Day, the weather window. No snow predicted, clearer skies, warmer temperatures.
As an aside, the snow here in our valley has been of the light, sparkly, twinkly, powder kind, not the heavy wet dump of mountain communities or the coast. So there was the element of leaving the safe, pretty snow for the dense, dangerous kind.
There is no surprise ending. Aside from navigating through the briefest of blizzards half an hour after his departure, brother had no problems and drove through the mountain passes and highways and byways without much problem, although he passed countless abandoned cars and trucks in the ditches, remnants of yesterday’s storms. This morning the drivers of those vehicles could be heard throughout the land, cursing: “I shoulda waited until Wednesday.”
Unrelated to winter driving conditions but to today’s prompt, “should”, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons?
Wherever you are, enjoy your weather windows (even if they are only of the looking-through kind)!
Gordon Ping was angry.
He shaved with a hand razor, examining with disgust the crusty lines deepening around his mouth and eyes. He dressed carefully for work, re-ironing the pair of grey polyester trousers that he’d worn the day before. He wore a white polo shirt fresh out of the dryer, which smelled of lilacs. He disliked the smell of lilacs. His ex-wife left the box of dryer sheets and he was frugally using them up, and now the odor made him angry, too.
She said she didn’t like the way he looked anymore. She said his face and body told stories about his insides the way a house exterior says much about its occupants. Fuck her. He wasn’t a thatched cottage (far from it, as his hair was thinning too)— he was a man with man challenges and man problems. Maybe he didn’t spill his guts to this woman at every turn: that was down to her. She questioned his version of events, his opinions, his decisions to such an extent that it was no longer valuable to share with her. If he wanted nit-picking judgements he’d go talk to his boss.
Thomas Agent, rich asshole and micro-manager. All Gordon did was put on a cheap royal blue smock and push a cart of external mail and inter-office packages around the four floors of the company, but Agent personally conducted his three-month review and later, his annual review.
“Tell me, Gordon” — who said he could use his first name? Presumptuous asshole. “Tell me, what do you find the most challenging about your job?”
Nothing is fucking challenging about being a fucking mail boy at age 48 except the fucking people, like you. “I find many of the employees distracting. They start chatting and slow me down. It’s hard to complete my daily tasks.” Daily tasks. A helpful term he’d learned at his first review.
“And what do you see as a resolution to this problem?” Thomas Agent was a man who thought he was subtle but was as transparent as cling film. Still, he had no eyebrows, which threw Gordon off balance at times. They’d been permanently singed and traumatized into non-existence after his briefcase exploded. The authorities believed his tale of ignorance as to where the bomb came from, which seemed lazy and complacent. Anyway, he was actually lucky to be alive.
He was lucky, period. Gordon Ping had more education than this son of a bitch, but far less luck. Health problems: diabetes, lung cancer, and a host of allergies kept him off the upward ladder, and he found himself having to start over again and again. He was introverted and some mistook this for pride or disdain, which slowed his progress. Who wants to promote or work for an unlikeable man? Well, guess what? His introversion did develop into pride and disdain— why not? He was better, smarter than most of the delusional, self-serving morons he lived and worked among. He learned to hide his disdain until it was simply no longer possible. Thus his wife telling him that his face now betrayed him, and broadcast his bitter contempt instead of hiding it.
She was a hypocrite in her own right. Pretending to be feminist but refusing to help support him after the divorce. If he’d been the main breadwinner you can bet he would have had to pay alimony. But no, she could afford the lawyers and he was recovering from a collapsed lung— no contest.
So he found himself sitting faux-humbly before Thomas Agent as he sipped tea infused with ginseng, believing it to have life-enhancing properties, discussing the challenges of dropping packages clearly addressed with the recipient’s name and location to the correct cubicle.
“Well, Mr Agent,” said Gordon.
“Call me Tom, for heaven’s sake, Gordon.”
Gordon closed his eyes for two seconds. “What I see as a resolution to the challenges of my job, is: headphones.”
“Ms Cohen thinks I need to be alert and that headphones could cause mishap,” said Gordon. “I’ve asked several times.”
“Good,” said Thomas Agent. “I see where headphones could help you do your job more efficiently; thank you for the input. This could resolve the issue of complaints of slow mail delivery etc, that we’ve received about your work, Gordon.”
And so it was that Gordon Ping, 48, divorced, angry, disillusioned, got a pair of inexpensive Philips On-Ear Sound Isolating headphones, which while not high quality, did a superb job of allowing Gordon to ignore conversation, so he was able to push his little trolley among four identical floors and deliver his mail without having to communicate with humans, and instead listened to Swedish rock and roll.
It is hard to be angry when listening to Swedish rock and roll.
They say growing older is an adventure, though who is “they”?
Today is my birthday and time to reflect blah blah blah… Nevermind, I had a great day and a fine feast and my brother drove up to surprise me— coming to the door just as I was cleaning the toilet. The roads were clear despite frigid weather, bitter winds, and a frozen lake. Only last week a dozen blindingly white swans were our companions, wondering whether to continue their journey south. This week they decided: yup.
But what was I doing cleaning the toilet on my birthday? That is a question for the ages and for aged, of which I am not; though someone tell my body.
Ursula Le Guin had this to say about old age:
I’ve lost faith in the saying “You’re only as old as you think you are,” ever since I got old.
I’ve known clear-headed, clear-hearted people in their nineties. They didn’t think they were young. The knew, with a patient, canny clarity, how old they were. If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.
I’ve never heard anybody over seventy say that you’re only as old as you think you are. Younger people say it to themselves or each other as an encouragement. When they say it to somebody who actually is old, they don’t realize how stupid it is, and how cruel it may be. At least there isn’t a poster of it.
But there is a poster of “Old age is not for sissies”.
Look at me, I snarl. I am a sissy. I always was. Who are you jocks to say old age isn’t for me?
Old age is for anybody who gets there. Warriors get old. Sissies get old. In fact it’s likely that more sissies than warriors get old. Old age is for the healthy, the strong, the tough, the intrepid, the sick, the weak, the cowardly, the incompetent. People who can run ten miles before breakfast and people who live in a wheelchair.
If you eat your sardines and leafy greens and SPF 150 and develop your abs and blabs or whatever they are in order to live a long life, that’s good, and maybe it will work. But the longer a life is, the more of it will be old age.
The compensations of getting old, such as they are, aren’t in the field of athletic prowess. I think that’s why the saying and the poster annoy me so much. They’re not only insulting to sissies, they’re beside the point.
I’d like a poster with two old people with stooped backs and time-worn faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation. And the slogan would be “Old Age Is Not for the Young.”
I thought of that passage from the book No Time to Spare today, on my birthday. I thought about how I treat old people, and how people may soon treat me. Then I got drunk. Happy birthday!
In keeping with Wednesday tradition, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons, the first of which is loosely connected to today’s prompt, “adventure”?
Now I’m off for a ten mile run!
Love and peace,