Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Analogies and Metaphors

Future Novelists... These are actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays (sorry, I'm posting without credit because they're source unknown.)

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two other sides gently compressed by a thigh master.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

He spoke with wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She grew on him like E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

She had a deep throaty genuine laugh like that sound a dog makes just before he throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad, as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six foot three inch tree.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7 pm instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star crossed lovers raced across a grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resemble Nancy Kerrigan's teeth. (gee, sorry Nancy, wherever you are)

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

"Oh, Jason, take me!" she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a really duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a landmine or something.

He was deeply in love when she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

Her voice had that tense grating quality, like a generation thermal paper fax machine that needed a band tightening.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Did I put on a parachute? Do I even have a parachute? This, I think, I don't really want to know. To know the answer is to defeat the purpose of the moment, which is to jump. Jump without knowing, and more importantly, if possible, without caring. I'm holding on to something. I look: it's a metal handle welded to a rib that curves around the fuselage of this airplane. It's strong, utilitarian, useful; the opposite of almost everything else in my life. It's one of the reasons I'm here. To find, and to grasp, something irrefutably solid and immovable, the purpose of which is single-minded: to give steadiness to someone like me when he needs it.

Reminded of the airplane, I become aware of the noise and the vibration. I look up and see an open door. Next to it, a man dressed in a brown jumpsuit and bright red helmet and gloves and goggles. And parachute. He is pointing at me and waving his hand to come forward. I realize I've just woken up from a dream - that I fell asleep while the plane climbed to jumping altitude. And I know I must have a parachute on. My hand slaps down over an oval clamp over my belly button; yes, of course I do. Still, the tiniest part of me wonders, how would I know if I'm awake, really? and I get up and stumble forward toward this young man and I stop next to him - waiting for instruction? - and he motions me on forward, into the mouth of the open door. My hands instinctively reach up on each side and grasp the frame and what do I find? Two more of those fine, reassuring metal handles, sized and placed exactly as needed by someone standing in this door, facing outward, ready to die.

I turn my head to the right to see his face and before I can glimpse his eyes, I feel his hand on my back and a push and the metal handles fail me, or I fail them, and I'm out. Falling.

Have I done this before? I seem to remember doing it, yes, or else I remember dreaming that I did. Then I remember that once, on a cold day drinking juniper tea from an incredibly fragile teacup handed me by a small brown woman with no teeth and a bright red scarf hiding her hideous hair, I wrote a little poem in which I floated like this, and remembered floating like this, and down I floated, wind whipping as if punishing me for something, eyes full of tears despite my goggles and unspoken apologies, arms extended in surrender, glimpsing something like the earth and trees and water and sand turning below me, turning slowly, then quickly, tumbling out of sight finally, and my thought at that moment, my final thought, was, I remember remembering a dream that became a poem that became life that became ....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

#fridayflash: Gratitude Pill

Herr Docktor Franz Kelling, considered a genius in the pharmaceutical biochemistry world, was anything but when it came to his home life. He lived alone with his fourteen year old daughter Kara. Alone because his wife had left, fed up with both of them. Consumed with work, Franz spent little time with his daughter, and when he did, he found her increasingly angry.

"You're never here and when you are, it's 'Kara do this, Kara do that, Kara do the dishes, Kara take out the trash!' You can't be around me without telling me what to do!"

"But ... but!!" he sputtered. "I'm your father! I feed you and house you! You should be grateful. You must do as I say! You WILL do as I say!"

"OH!!" Kara stomped off to her room and refused to come out.

Being a scientist, Franz naturally started thinking about some technological fix to this drama. "I wonder. What if I make a pill that makes people grateful? I might have to slip it to her in her meal, but ...."

Within a few weeks, he had it. A small pill that lasted for a week or more. The Gratitude Pill. He couldn't resist patenting it and when he did, his institute found out. "Franz, this is brilliant work, but why did you not tell us you were working on something so fantastic? The public will claw down our doors to get this! And of course, since you did the work here, you must share the patent with us."

The institute rushed testing and approval and got the pill on the market in record time. They were right: the world was stunned: a pill to make people feel grateful? Wonderful! It would change the world! It was very possibly humanity's salvation. Who would lie or steal or kill or wage war for that matter, if they felt grateful to their neighbors? It outsold any other pill ever produced.

Then the side effects kicked in. Everyone who took the pill for more than a few weeks (most of the world) began to feel terribly guilty. Guilty for all those years they had failed to be grateful. Guilt, naturally enough, quickly became resentment. Some dealt with it by ignoring their friends and loved ones for as long as they could. When they began to feel guilty about doing this, they once again turned to the Gratitude Pill. And so the circle turned. Others dealt with their guilt by buying and showering their friends and loved ones with presents. This resulted in a world wide spending spree that so pumped up the world economy that when their friends, feeling guilty themselves, returned the gifts, or just dumped them on the doorsteps of local charities, the world economy deflated like a punctured balloon. The national economies spiraled down into recession and unemployment. When things got unbearable for people, they either killed themselves, or spent what little they had to buy Gratitude Pills. And so the circle turned.

Franz, not insensitive to all this, decided to create a solution to this problem. He promptly invented a No-Guilt pill. Predictably, there was instant world-wide demand for this. It was all the factories could do to turn them out by the billions.

Franz's institute was by this time fantastically wealthy. They showered Franz with bonuses in addition to his patent earnings. During this time, Franz learned that wealth was no solution to his problem with his daughter, who had adamantly refused to take any pills of any kind, and who sensibly inspected her meals before eating.

The side effect of the No-Guilt Pill, of course, was a world wide wave of criminality.

Franz was appalled when they came for him and charged him with masterminding and amplifying crime around the world. His institute discharged him and claimed no knowledge of his work or intent, and thus saved itself, however feebly.

Franz's daughter came to visit him in prison. "Hello father. I just wanted to tell you in person that I'm off to see the rest of the world now that you're no longer around to imprison me in our home. And to say thanks for the money I've inherited, and for going away to jail so I can lead my own life. For all of that, I'm just terribly, terribly grateful!"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lady of the Marshland

Teddy Keller had a friend. Her name was Alice Mason. He was eight, she was ten. She lived two doors down the shanty row by the tracks. When Teddy wondered why she played with him, that fact, being his neighbor, seemed as good a reason as any. She was, he thought, rather pretty for a girl, though she liked to dress rough and wear her hair under an old watch cap and run hard and be tough like the boys in their school. She even tried to be a bully when she first met Teddy. But he just laughed and refused to play and so she gave that up. It was only an experiment anyway, she told him.

They walked the sedge by the tracks on Saturdays, out toward the marsh opposite the yards, away from town, trading urban scruff for barren sandy flats with mud pits and the odd grove of poplars and willows, where their imagination could stretch and there was room to run. There, she quickly assumed the role of Queen Alice, Lady of the Marshland. This meant Teddy had to be her squire and run imaginary errands for her, which he tried until he tired of being told what to do. From then on, he was The Invader, bent on breaking through her defenses and crushing her armies. He liked doing this and however clever Alice thought she was being in countering his offensives, he always found a way to break through, which usually meant tackling her directly and throwing her into the gorse, which he declared her prison. She would scream in protest and giggle as he tried to pin her shoulders to the ground. Then he would insist she shout "Give!", which she refused to do until, finally, she did. Then the game seemed over and he would release her, with promises of peace in the land, to which she would agree. Then they would play castle, with he the prince and she the princess, with their father, the King, being off waging war on the Persians or perhaps visiting kings in surrounding countries. Alice would then declare her intention to hold grand tea parties for visiting grandees while Teddy spent his time nearby but not quite in the castle, jousting with his cavalry. Then dusk and their stomachs signaled time to walk back home. This too seemed a good time for Teddy, because they could be who they really were, and talk about school and other friends and how things might be when they grew up.

"Mum says I might work in Aunt Fergie's china shop in town next summer," said Alice. Spring was well on them with showers and sprinkles and mists. They sat in the doorway of Teddy's da's tool shed and looked out over the network of steel tracks in the switch yard beyond the rusted steel fence that bordered his parent's property.

"What would you do?"

"Dunno. Dust things probably. I don't want to go. Sounds boring to me," she said.

"We could still play, right?"

"Suppose," she said. Then, "I might just run away though."

Teddy thought about that. "Where to?"

"Dunno. Maybe up to Swansea. Da took me there with him once. There's lots of ships. I could go anywhere."

Teddy looked out over the noisy, smelly train yards. "Can I go too?"

"Do what you like," Alice said, sniffing a little. It was her Queen voice, dismissing the trivial thoughts of a vassal.

"Well I might do anyway," Teddy said, standing up suddenly. "I could take a train, be there before you are, you know."

"As you wish." Alice stood up too, rubbing her knees and brushing dust and cobwebs from her jeans, looking bored and restless. "But what can we do today?"

"We could go over the yard. Look in empty box cars," said Teddy.

"You know we aren't meant to go in the yard," said Alice, but there was a glint in her eyes.

* * *

A year later, plus a little, late spring when school was let out, Teddy and Alice met again at the fence by the train yard. They had played together less this last year. Teddy wondered why. "Mum is making me stay in and do things," Alice said. "She says I have to learn to work, to make money. I don't like it. I don't like it a bit." She said this with a tone Teddy couldn't remember hearing before. Something, a catch in her voice, the pitch a little different from what he was used to, made him feel strange.

"You're out now, right? We can have fun. It's almost summer."

"No. Mum arranged it with my aunt. I'm meant to go work in her shop this summer." Alice dropped to a crouch, arms wrapped around her knees, head on her arms. Teddy could see tears. He'd seen Alice cry before, but it had always been tears of pain from a scrape. This was something else. "I'll have to wear a dress and proper socks and shoes and everything. I'll have to scrub myself and be on time every morning. It's horrible! I don't want to do it!"

Teddy didn't know what to say, so he crouched by her side, silent as a sentinel, waiting for her mood to change. Finally Alice stood up, wiping her nose on her jacket sleeve. "I'm going. Don't follow me, okay? I just want to be by myself for a while."

To Ted's surprise, she didn't turn toward the narrow lane in front of their houses. She turned to the fence and slipped through the hidden gate they had made for themselves long ago. Ted watched her silently as she walked over tracks in the direction of the overpass, away from the switching house. She started to run. He watched, trembling with worry as she finally disappeared behind a line of box cars.

It was the last time he was ever to see Alice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

#fridayflash: My True Profession

“Be seated,” said the judge, seating himself at the bench. We all sat down. “Mr. Golden, you are accused of being smart but hopelessly pessimistic. In fact, the State has accused you of having no sense of humor at all. How do you plead?”

My attorney nudged me and we both stood back up. “Uh, your Honor, I ... I don’t know what to say. I have a sense of humor. I do. And I’m not a pessimist. So there must be some mistake. I suppose.”

“You suppose? A simple answer please. None of this hedging. Are you guilty of the charges as read, or not?”

“Uh, no. Not guilty, your Honor.”

“So noted. Prosecution may proceed.”

The prosecutor talked for a long time about my personality, how I am disliked by some and ignored by most, about my published works, both fiction and non-fiction. About how the critics, when they bothered to mention my work at all, uniformly complained, not about what I had to say, but about how I chose to say it. “Your Honor, considering that the accused is a writer of some note, even though he’s disliked by most of the critics, and considering that his work directly influences the attitudes and general happiness and welfare of the public, we intend to demonstrate through the evidence that his attitude, and specifically his unwillingness to lighten the tone of his work and to entertain the public, has a deleterious effect on the public welfare. We ask that a judgement be placed against him and that he be duly restricted from further harming the public by publishing his work.”

My lawyer, a young, inexperienced public defender, then rose. “Your Honor, defense pleads nolo contendere. While my client does not admit guilt, I have been unable to discover evidence to counter the prosecution’s arguments.”

I stared at him in disbelief. I thought he liked me at least. Well, not liked, exactly, but would do his best to defend me. I stood up. “I object!”

“Sit down and shut up, Mr. Golden. Attorneys, approach the bench,” said the judge.

So it happened that day that I was fined a hundred bucks for lacking a sense of humor. And then another two hundred when I objected and tried to prove my innocence by telling a joke so bad that the judge declared me in contempt.

In this way did I become, over time, a reasonably competent digger of sewer drain ditches. When my fellow diggers ribbed me and tried to engage me in humorous banter, I politely refused to participate, out of fear of making my situation even worse. Until the day the foreman fired me and had me arrested. The charge: lack of comradeship with my fellow workers, and no sense of humor.

Unemployed, with no useful skills and a demonstrated talent for offending people, I finally found my true profession, at which I am finally successful. I took up the only profession around where no sense of humor is required: literary critic.