Fruits

“Okay, fruits this time!  One for every letter of the alphabet.”

“Apples!”

“Bananas.”

“Clementines.”

“Durian.”

“Eww, the stinky fruit?  Etrog.”

“Etrog?  What’s that?”

“It’s from Judaism.  Figs.”

“Grapes.”

“Honeydew.”

“Indian figs?”

“Sure.  Jackfruit.”

“Kumquats.”

“Ooh, it works this time!  Lemons.”

“Melon.”

“Nectarines.”

“Oranges.”

“Pears.”

“And we’re back to Q.  Any ideas?”

“Quince?”

“I thought that was a veggie.”

“Look, let’s just move on.  Raspberries.”

“Strawberries.”

“Tangelos.”

“Ugli fruit!”

“Gross.  Vanilla.”

“Watermelon.”

“No clue on X.”

“Yellow plums, though!”

“And finally, Z.  Um.  I’m stumped.”

“Hey, we got the majority of them!”

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Vegetables

“So, can you come up with a vegetable for each letter of the alphabet?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, can you name a vegetable that starts with each letter?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Try!”

“Avocado.”

“Bok choy.”

“Carrots.”

“Dandelions?  Do those count as vegetables?”

“Sure, why not.  Eggplant.”

“Fennel.”

“That’s not an herb?”

“Herbs aren’t vegetables?”

“Point taken.  Garlic.”

“Habanero peppers!”

“Nice one!  Iceberg lettuce.”

“Jicama.”

“Kumquat.”

“That’s a fruit.”

“Oh, damn.  Kale.”

“Lettuce.”

“Mushrooms.”

“Napa cabbage.”

“Onions.”

“Peppers.”

“Q?  Does any vegetable start with Q?”

“Quince!”

“Well done.  Radish.”

“Sweet peas.”

“Turnips.”

“U?  I’ve got nothing.”

“Me neither.  SKIP!”

“Vidalia onions.”

“Watercress.”

“X?  Again, the toughest thing in the world.”

“I don’t think there is one.  Yams, though!”

“And finally, Zucchini!”

“We did it!”

Motivation

The man stared down at us from the podium, his eyes glittering as he gazed out at the sea of upturned faces.  “Motivation,” he thundered.  “Motivation is the guiding force, the one driving energy that I hope you all have.”

His voice was resounding, drowning out the rustle of four hundred graduates in ill-fitting plastic robes.  I could hear someone talking behind me, holding a whispered conversation with their neighbor.  I tried to block out the noise, focusing on our speaker.

“Motivation,” the man repeated.  “Sadly, I can tell you right now, from right here, that most of you will fail this simple test.

“All it takes in life to survive is motivation.  And I say that, so simply, it sounds so easy!  All you need to do is know what you want, work for it, and all your dreams will come true.  It sounds like the kind of advice we tell to naive young kids, the kind of sugary crap that is bottled up and sold by every half-hour animated kids show on television.  ‘Work for what you want, and you will succeed!’  And we all know, inside of us, that it will never be that easy.  We have all learned to see the more cynical side.

“And yet, there’s a reason why we continue to bottle up and sell this garbage.  At its heart, when you dig past the layers of bullshit and overly sweet goo, there is truth there.  Motivation, hard work, really is the key to success.  The problem is that nobody truly understands just what hard work truly is.”

Around me, I could hear more fidgeting.  People were getting antsy.  We had been cooped up in this hot auditorium for hours, waiting in a gigantic, single-file line to receive our high school diplomas.  Now, people wanted to leave, to head off to the parties, the celebrations, the drunken bonfires and pointless cheering that would mark our leaving of this level of education.

“See, here’s the issue,” the speaker in front of us continued.  “When we hear of hard work, we think of a long day’s effort.  We think of hard work as the dedication to show up at a job every day, for eight hours each day, five days a week, for forty years.  We imagine doing that, and we think to ourselves, ‘that is hard work.  That is the motivation that will get me to where I want to be in life.’

“And when we imagine that, we’re wrong.

“The problem is that working eight hours a day, forty hours a week, two thousand hours a year, is not the maximum.  That’s the minimum.

“Working a job, putting in the hours, merely establishes a baseline.  It’s not just holding a job, because everyone does that!  No, for true motivation, you must rise, head and shoulders, above the rest of the world.  If you’re at the top of your class, you need to find a smarter class.  And if you’re not at the top of your class, you had better fight to get to the top of it.

“To succeed, you need to take on all the work you can handle, to set your sights on the highest peak and never waver in your constant fight to get there.  And yes,” he continued, pounding on the podium, “it will be a fight.  It will be a fight that will take years, a fight that will be fought in a thousand battles every day.  You will question the path many times, be constantly tempted to abandon your course.  And most of you, at some point, will give in to temptation.”

By now, whispered conversations had sprung up all around me.  The man was gazing out into the crowd; he had to have noticed.  But I almost felt as though his eyes were resting directly on me.

“Motivation,” he said firmly.  “Motivation is key.  Do you have it?”

Moving Forward

I stared at the pile of mementos sitting before me.  How untidily they were piled there, in that heap.

At the bottom, pulled down by its weight, I could see the medallion.  I had barely managed to graduate with honors.  When I had been presented with that medallion, it had validated all of my hopes.  For a moment, I had known that I could overcome challenge, and I had naively marched forward, certain that, bearing this talisman, all problems would fall before me.

The thick stack of papers, there, those were my stories written for a critical writing class.  The professor had praised both their composition and execution, telling me how I was a “natural born storyteller.”  I had returned home that day after class with a beaming smile that just wouldn’t seem to vanish.  Of course, then I had filed the stories all away without making any attempt to publish them, but that warm glow stayed with me for weeks.

Two small matchbox cars.  Those had been given to me by the kids I babysat one summer, small tokens that represented so much more.  Every day, I had been forced to pry them away from me to leave, as they hugged me, telling me how much they loved me and wanted me to stay.  They had picked out these cars, their favorites, to bestow upon me.

The bookmark, sitting near the top of the pile, had come from my girlfriend at the time.  We had dated for years, and she knew that I was constantly losing bookmarks.  It had been a great present, and I had made sure that, of all the bookmarks, this was one that I never lost, never misplaced.

So many more items, each a memento of my past.  The blurry pictures from my Bar Mitzvah.  My first paper that had received an A in college.  A copy of the school paper with my article on the third page, my name in ink for all to see.  Bottle caps from the first drinks I had ever consumed.  A roster from my fraternity.  So many belongings, tiny treasures that represented an integral part of my past.

I struck the match.

At first, the flame didn’t want to take, and it flickered on the edge of life.  After a moment, however, it recovered against the soft breeze and flared up, leaping into angry red life.  I held out my hand, the match suspended above the pile.

For a moment I was paralyzed.  I took a deep breath, willing my trembling hand to still.  Then, with a sigh, I released the match.

I had soaked the pile in plenty of lighter fluid to ensure that it would all go up evenly.  The match ignited the fumes, and the fire roared into life.  I watched my things burn, so many remembrances that were gone in a matter of seconds.

As the flames died down, I turned and walked away.  The sun was shining down, and the soft breeze ruffled my hair.  The world stretched out before me, filled with promise.

On the practical hilarity of poop jokes

Today, I’m going to tackle a treasured trope of many low-budget films and television shows – the poop joke.

This joke has existed since time immemorial, probably even to the point of being scrawled on the walls of caves, down below the actual important artwork that all the museums prefer to focus on.  While there is at least one poop joke present in just about every single comedy in existence, and I can guarantee that there isn’t a human alive who hasn’t laughed at at least one poop joke, they are still considered to be at the ass end of comedy (see what I did there?).

The question is, why?

Why do we consider poop jokes to be such shit?  I think that the first and foremost reason is that they are clinically overdone.  One of the best ways to ruin any joke, no matter how hilarious, is to overuse it.  The first time a monkey hits a man in the genitalia with a softball, it’s hilarious.  It will leave people literally rolling on the floor laughing (or ROTFL, for short).  However, after they’ve seen this on a commercial fifty times in the last three days while they want to just keep on watching Castle without such interruptions blocking Nathan Fillion’s sexy face, such antics aren’t nearly as funny.

So, overuse.  But that can’t be the only reason that film critics bite their pencils in half when confronted by a toilet joke.  Which is ironic, because those pencils are a great source of fiber.  But why else are poop jokes considered to be the lowest common denominator of humor?

Perhaps it is exactly because these jokes are so easy to relate to.  From the top-paid CEO to the janitorial worker in his employ, everyone laughed at a poop joke at some point in their life.  To a thirteen year old, the latest Adam Sandler comedy is hilarious.  But to the rest of us, these jokes are a symbol of how low we once sat, how we once considered such jokes to be the pinnacle of humor.

We may have moved on.  We may have evolved.  Over the course of our lives, we may have dragged ourselves up into the peaks of high society, raised ourselves out of the coffee and into the cream.  We have no inclination to look back, and don’t want to see our roots.  When such a simple joke is able to pull at our strings, to remind us of how we once started off among the shit, we groan, forcing it out of our consciousness to avoid such frustrating realizations.

Finally, perhaps because of how we dislike poop jokes, we have imposed a stigma upon them.  No matter how many times you attend the White House Correspondents’ dinner, you aren’t likely to hear a lot of comments on the brown stuff.  Why is that?  Because we have decreed that such jokes are the products of low class, and should not be associated with the upper class.  They have risen above such vulgar and derisive forms of humor!

Allow me to draw a parallel to horse meat.  Recently, there was a scandal over the discovery of horse meat in beef sold in Europe.  Horse meat, by the way, happens to be healthier in just about every way versus beef.  It’s lower in calories, less fat, more lean, cheaper to produce, less cholesterol, and is overall assumed to taste better.  However, because we have imposed such stigma on the act of eating horse, horse meat is considered to be vulgar and not worth consuming.

So not to beat a dead horse, but I have a reason for trying to avoid poop jokes.  Despite the fact that just about every human being, alive or dead, will get a poop joke, they tend to signal to the reader that the subject matter is low-grade, inferior, not valuable.  Much like poop.

And that’s too bad, because such jokes are literally dropping out of me on a daily basis!

This is only an update in the merest sense of the word

Sorry, folks, no fun story for you today.  I am currently moving, packing everything that I own somehow into my car so I can make it in one trip.  Because real men don’t go back for a second trip.  Plus it isn’t feasible.  So yeah, that.

Because of this, this day’s update is (temporarily) postponed.  I will now make empty promises that I will come back and fill it in, but in all honesty, there’s only about a 50/50 chance that it will happen.

More stories to come soon, promise, once I have my life reassembled.

First World Problems

One of the most bothersome issues I find in my writing is a lack of internal motivation.

Now, I feel that I need to clarify this statement.  I have plenty of ideas, and I certainly have a powerful drive to succeed.  My parents raised me with the core idea that I could succeed at whatever I put my mind to, as long as I was willing to devote the time and energy into improving my ability and making the necessary investments.

And you know what, random strangers of the internet?  Things have worked out fairly well.  I got into college on my first shot, plus a very nice package of perks.  I’m soon headed off to graduate school (admitted on the first round of applications).  I score at the top percentiles for most exams.  I am financially stable and secure.  I have a wonderful social life, companionship, and pretty much every basic need is filled.  I can manage my money, have a medley of hobbies to pursue, am a decent cook, and am doing fairly well in just about every aspect of my life.

Please note, before taking too much offense at this preceding paragraph, that I am not bragging.  No, quite the opposite – this is my issue!  I have no trauma in my past, no tragic flaw, no corruption or demons within that I must battle, no haunted face staring back at me from my mirror.  I am, to summarize, doing very well.

This really shouldn’t irk me.  Success, which is truly what I have achieved, shouldn’t be a drawback.  It should be something to celebrate, something to rejoice in and enjoy!

And yet, I occasionally find myself wishing that I did have some flaw, some character defect that I must strive every day to overcome.  And my motivation for such a flaw is nearly farce.  Curious yet?  Think you’ve guessed the reason?  Here it is:

I see other writers, other people in all different areas and fields, who can draw strength and inner focus from the challenges they have overcome.  Through their conquering of their inner demons, they find motivation, courage, and remarkable insight into the human condition that allows them to insert depth and emotion into whatever they pursue.

For me, on the other hand, a spoiled upper-middle-class white kid, born an American citizen, raised in a loving two-parent family, gifted with a good education, and with plenty of career opportunities in my field – what insight do I have?  I have not had any experiences with the rougher side of life.  The closest I have come to tragedy is on the cinema screen.  Knowing this, how can I hope to convey such depth and strength of feeling in my work?

I hope that, by now, you are actively cursing me.  Much like a spoiled, petulant teenage girl, I am complaining because my life is “too good.”  What arrogance!  How dare I mock my success, spit in the face of the great sacrifices that others have made to raise me to this position?  And I know, deep inside, that I am happy to not be fighting demons.  I am happy that I have not had to endure tragedy, that my life is a cakewalk.

Yet still, sometimes before I drift off to sleep (in my own apartment, paid for in full, without debt, what a stuck-up ass), I wonder whether I have not yet truly lived.

Barista To The Angels, Part II

Link to Part I!

Gabriel didn’t even spare a glance over his shoulder.  “Maybe, but as an archangel, I outrank him.”

This didn’t quite sit right with me, but who was I to question Heavenly politics?  A tiny voice in the back of my head whispered that I would have to draw up some rules for the shop.  I caught the scent of burned fabric as I made the archangel’s drink.  Rule number one: any arsonist must pay for all damages caused by his flaming sword.

Unlike Gabriel, the rest of the angels ordered their usual drink, a large regular coffee with seven creams and sugars.  A small part of my soul felt soiled by making these drinks – the sweet liquid in the cups I passed across the counter appeared nearly white.  Each angel politely accepted his steaming drink from my hand, dropping another gold coin on the counter.  Gabriel leaned casually against the counter and sipped his espresso as I worked, kindly keeping his wings angled away from my workspace.

I made it through the angelic rush without trouble, although I was already beginning to run low on cream.  As the last angel strolled out through the locked door, I sank backwards onto my stool behind the counter, staring at the pile of gold coins on my countertop.

Gabriel set down his cup with a clink.  “One angelic quirk – while they understand the concept of money, they really haven’t managed to master inflation, or commodities exchange,” he said, a small smile playing about his lips.  “It took them a couple thousand years to figure out that gold could be traded for things.  I haven’t even tried explaining fiat currency to them.”

I raised my head to stare at him.  “Angels are real,” I said, trying to convince myself that these words were true.  “They wear halos, carry harps and flaming swords, they can walk through locked doors, and they drink really sweet coffee.”  I wondered if the shop’s wallpaper contained some sort of hallucinogenic adhesive.

Gabriel shrugged one shoulder as he brushed a bit of lint from his lapels.  “Try not to dwell on it too much,” he replied.  “Just keep plenty of cream and sugar on hand for the morning and lunch rushes, and you’ll do fine.”

The archangel strolled towards the door.  He paused briefly at a large scorch mark on my carpet, caused by an errant flaming sword.  With a wave of his hand, the carpet miraculously restored itself.  “One other thing,” he added with his hand on the doorknob.  “In order to keep our existence secret, perhaps this door should simply remain locked.  It might be better, all around.”  With that advice, he slipped out of my shop.

After that first day, I spent a long time sitting in my unopened coffee shop, pondering what had happened.  The angels kept on returning, two large rushes per day, six days a week.  It turns out that angels take the whole Day of Rest thing very seriously, and refuse even their weak coffee on Saturdays.  Sunday through Friday, however, I woke up before the sunrise, standing in the locked room of my coffee shop, certain that this would be the day the angels didn’t come, that the glamour would finally fade.  I’d end each day with another pile of gold coins, feeling even more lost than when I believed it was nothing but a dream.

At first, the gold was a big help.  I sat down one day with a pair of scales and worked out that the angels paid me roughly $700 for each cup of coffee.  All in all, I earned about fifteen thousand dollars a day.  I very quickly paid off my loans and bought out the shop, and hired an assistant.

Finding an assistant who wouldn’t be bothered by having his entire worldview turned upside down was a significant challenge, I had to admit.  After sifting through an endless pile of theology and psychology majors, I ended up picking a college student majoring in computer science.  I don’t think his gaze ever rose to meet my eyes, much less high enough to spot a halo.

Despite the ease of the job and the huge amount of money made each day, I always left the shop feeling dissatisfied.  Eventually, I ended up heading down to local homeless shelters and other donation centers at the close of each week, giving away the bulk of the week’s income.

However, I did take some of the funds and use them for a new sign.  Call me pretentious, call me self-centered, but even though no customer ever saw the outside of my permanently shuttered shop, I felt a new sign was necessary.  I had to hire a custom designer to build it for me, but the name is perfect.  “Heavenly Grounds” just has the right sound to it, don’t you think?

Barista To The Angels, Part I

I can tell you, nothing changes your world view like an angel wandering into your coffee shop.

I had just signed a lease on the location a few months ago, wedged between an organic food market and an overly modern art boutique.  I expected an interesting crowd.  My first customer, however, managed to raise the bar to a whole new level.

The man wandered in a day or two before the store was scheduled to open.  I was standing behind the counter making sure that the cash register was working.  “I’m sorry,” I spoke up.  “We haven’t opened yet…”

My words trailed away as I took in the man standing before me.  The man wore an oversized fedora and was dressed in what appeared to be three trench coats, each of a different color and cut, layered on top of each other.  Many more examples have since confirmed to me that angels are comically bad at disguising themselves.

The man ignored my comment and politely requested a large coffee, seven creams, seven sugars.  Not quite sure how to respond to such single-minded politeness, I made him the coffee.  “That will be three dollars,” I told him.

Beneath the brim of his fedora, the fellow’s eyes looked unusually blank.  He reached into the pocket of one of his coats and withdrew a large gold coin, which he set on my counter with a solid thud.  Apparently considering payment complete, he took a long drag of the coffee.  “Ooh, this is excellent!” he said in delight.  “Wonderful!  Expect more of us tomorrow!”

Clutching his drink, the man turned and exited via the door before I could say a word.  After he had left, I slowly moved out from around the counter.  I checked three times, just to be certain.  Yes, the door was still tightly locked.  I turned back to the counter, toying with the heavy golden coin as I tried to make sense of what had happened.  A man had just walked in through a locked door, obviously in some sort of disguise, to order a cup of very watered-down coffee!  What was happening?

The next morning, waiting with trepidation behind the counter, I watched in amazement as nearly two dozen angels poured inside through the locked door.  This time, there was no second-guessing their origin.  The beings wore white robes, vaguely reminiscent of togas, and halos bobbed above their heads.  Some of them carried harps or lyres under an arm.  A few even bore swords strapped to their waists, the blades of which appeared to be on fire.

The angels clamored forward to the counter.  Despite their halos, I caught a few subtle elbows jammed into sides as they jockeyed into a rough line.  The first angel in line smiled beatifically at me.  “Large coffee, seven creams, seven sugars,” he said, already laying another one of the gold coins on the counter.

My brain was returning nothing but static and fuzz.  Busy signal, please try again later.  “What’s going on?” I asked.  “Who are you?  How did you get here?”

The angel looked confused.  “Seven creams, seven sugars,” he repeated, sounding less certain.  Behind him, I could hear discordant notes as one of the angels struggled to tune his lyre.

We could have remained at that impasse all day, staring at each other in mutual confusion.  Fortunately, A slim, dapper-looking gentleman in a gray suit broke the stalemate, squirming irritably past the angel.  “Hello there,” the man said, extending a hand across the counter.  “Name’s Gabriel.  Sorry about this.”

Acting on autopilot, I accepted the proffered hand.  “This?” I repeated.  Large white wings extended out from Gabriel’s shoulders, mesmerizing me as they waved back and forth.

Gabriel waved one hand vaguely at the assembled angels.  “Listen, don’t worry about this.  Your shop just happens to be at a nexus of intersecting loci, with real termini at nearly nine of the fourteen dimensions.  Basically, it’s really easy for us to access, so it’s very convenient for grabbing a morning fix.”

None of the words that had just come out of this angel’s mouth made the slightest bit of sense.  “Angels are real?” I asked.  I felt rather dumb for asking the question when the evidence to the contrary currently stood in front of my eyes, waiting for coffee.

The angel in the suit across the counter rolled his eyes.  “Yeah.  Now, I’ll take an espresso machiato.”

“I think that angel back there was first,” I said tentatively, nodding at the angel Gabriel had shrugged aside…

Link to Part II!

The Mad Three Buy A Bar: Corkscrew’s Night

Introduction to the Mad Three

The first part of this story: The Aftermath



This night was wild – just how I liked it!

As soon as Franco had come in, demanding that we open up a bar, I had seen a golden opportunity to practice my mixology.  Most of my friends now refused to taste the drinks I made, even though I had worked out nearly all of the errors!  The MSG and soy sauce debacle was far behind me.

Unfortunately, as the night progressed, there was disappointingly little interest in my specially designed and printed cocktail menu.  I had spent hours laboring over the names and mixtures, but nobody was ordering!  For the first half of the night, I was stuck doing nothing but popping the tops off of beer bottles and making basic martinis for Franco and all the girls he tried to hit on.  How dull.

I was thankful, then, when I went back to grab more vodka and encountered Jack, worrying away as usual.  He may be constantly in a state of despair, but I do have to admit that he’s good at noticing potential problems.  Fortunately, I’m a born problem solver!  As soon as I heard that there was a thief, I knew that a booby trap was the answer.

Okay, maybe I got a little excited.  My order of self-defense equipment had just come in the mail earlier that day, and I was just raring to try out the pepper spray.  The stuff was super fun to spray, too – that might have been why I didn’t quite want to let go of the trigger.  Oops.  Sorry, Jack.  Didn’t mean to splash you with that.

Hey, keep on working through it!  Ignoring Jack’s slightly pathetic cries of pain, I headed back out, booby-trapped bottle tucked ever so innocently under my arm.  Behind the bar, I tucked it in among the other bottles below the bar, making sure that it was on top where it would definitely catch the thief’s eye.

I meant to mention the decoy bottle to the other bartender.  I had opened my mouth to inform him, but I didn’t remember his name, and it was far too awkward to just grab him by the shoulder.  So maybe I’d just not let him know.  The thief would probably swipe the bottle before the other bartender noticed anyway.

A little later, the bottle had almost completely slipped my mind when Franco came up to the bar, grabbing me very rudely.  “Hey, give me three more martinis,” he demanded.

I was first going to make a rejoiner about having some patience, but my eye fell on the decoy vodka bottle, and a much better plan came into my head.  “Sure,” I replied, reaching for the bottle.  Being careful not to inhale the fumes, I poured out the three martinis for him, barely repressing my giggles.

Being sure to stay nearby, I watched Franco’s antics closely.  Sadly, he didn’t drink any of the tainted martinis himself, but my hopes were lifted a moment later, when he took the mixture of capsaisin and alcohol to the face.  Hah!  I laughed openly as he went stumbling off to the back room.

Unfortunately, I had been distracted by watching Franco’s fall from grace.  Behind my back, the other bartender had continued using the bottle of vodka that I had taken out.  The booby-trapped vodka bottle!  Now, there were at least a dozen martinis behing handed out, all of which had been poisoned with an unhealthy dose of pepper spray.

Before I could grab back the martinis, patrons were grabbing for their drinks, and the angry cries were mounting.  I could hear other people passing on the girl’s cry of “roofies.”  The other bartender was backing away helplessly, his eyes wide.  There was nothing to it.  I would have to step up and be a hero.

I shot the other man a look, trying to communicate, “don’t worry, I’ve got this.”  Putting down the glass I was holding, I put a hand on the bar, hoisting myself up so I was standing on the wood.  I raised my hands, making sure that I had the attention of everyone in the bar.

“Calm down!” I shouted.  This did not seem to appease the angrily muttering crowd, so I pressed on.  “Don’t worry!  You haven’t been roofied!  It’s just pepper spray!”

Strangely enough, this still didn’t seem to be making anyone any calmer…