my trivia blog, fillmybrain, has been turned into a paperback and an ebook, now available on amazon.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Thursday, October 20, 2016
the root problem is that those who own the franchises for the majority of the world's religions see them as a matter of, 'if you can't use religion to control people (and thereby gain money and power), what good is it?'
the need to feel that we are a part of something larger than ourselves - even if that something is a group of folks who think that they are more 'in the know' than 'religious folks' - is hard-wired into our monkey minds, right alongside sex, late-night pizza cravings, and the desire to kill anything 'other'.
religious leaders turned this need into a means of production, but never got past that stage, or even realized that there might be something more.
religion (and politics) is all about story. if the audience identifies with the characters, finds comfort in them and vindication, they will do almost anything to support that story. while this is clearly a form of mental illness, it can be useful for more than convincing people to give up their money, kill, or die.
story can be used to convince people that they are not someone who would kill for, die for, or be misled by storytellers. that they each have a story that is just theirs, written and lived by them, and that their story is the only one that matters... not religion, politics, ideology, philosophy, country, ethnicity, gender, sport teams, television, books, or anything else.
and that's just the beginning.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
This is a snippet of a scene from the next Andi McCarthy (Nerd Girl) book:
Fast Eddie lived out on the north side of town, where split-level houses built in the 70’s were divided by scrubby fields. Eddie looked like Bill Murray, kind of - acne-scarred and balding - and he had 5 or 6 kids (Sarah was the only one I knew by name, and then only because we were in the same Lit class) who all looked completely different and didn’t seem to have a mom.
There was a large crowd gathered in the dark in front of his house, mostly guys, and I could hear Eddie preaching about the aliens over a cheap speaker.
“I didn’t believe in them, at first,” said Eddie. “I was skeptical, just like you. I thought it was my kids pulling a prank, ‘cause the aliens are little fellers, just like them. But then they took me to their spaceship, and we went up into space.
I want to make it clear: They didn’t probe me. Instead, they showed me the Earth, and you know what I saw? From outer space, there are no borders between countries. This planet just looks like a marble - a little, blue and green marble with clouds.
“And the aliens said to me with their minds - that’s how they talk - ‘Eddie, we like you guys. We like football and Skynyrd and Coors. But you’re messing up your planet and we don’t think you’re gonna last. You need some direction, and we want to help. We’re picking random people to endow with wisdom’ - that’s just how he said it, endow with wisdom - ‘and we picked you, Ed, on account of you seem like a man who’s got his shit together.
“‘We’ve got this machine that can juice up your brain. It can make you a genius, Ed, about anything that you want to know. All you gotta do is tell us what subject you think will do your planet the most good.’
“I thanked them and blinked a few times, ‘cause that’s a big honor and a tough question to ask a guy when he hasn’t even had his supper yet. I told them I’d need to think about it.
“‘Take all the time you need,’ they said. ‘As long as you’re with us, time doesn’t exist, so your kids won’t even worry about you.’
“That was really cool, ‘cause that was on my mind, you know. So I stayed with those guys a bit, and they picked up other folks and filled them with wisdom about stuff, and I listened to the things that they said they wanted to know. One lady asked to learn all languages, so she could help people communicate better. Some guy from Grand Rapids wanted to know how to get us to stop fighting over oil and shit. Some old gal - I think she was from Pensacola - wanted to know how to cure every worldly disease.
“All these folks were endowed with wisdom and let loose, until finally it was just me and the aliens again.
“‘Well, Ed,’ they said, ‘do you have any idea what you want to know yet?’
“And I said, ‘Yes, I have. I’ve always wanted to know more about car parts.’
“This stunned them. ‘Car parts?’ they said. ‘You want to know everything that there is to know about car parts?’
“I said, ‘Yep; I’ve thought about it a lot and that’s what I think will do the world the most good, ‘cause the guys down at Auto Matt’s don’t know jack shit.’
“So they put me in their machine, and they filled me with automotive knowledge. I know everything there is to know about hemis, valve covers, fuel filters, slant sixes - everything. And just like I promised those little fellers, I’m passing my knowledge onto you.“If you head back to the barn, I’ve got everything you need to make your ride as smooth as alien wisdom can make it. I’ve got the best used tires, rebuilt trannies, and stereo systems in the galaxy, and all at reasonable prices. Kids, why don’t you take our guests back and show’em what we’ve got?”
“If you head back to the barn, I’ve got everything you need to make your ride as smooth as alien wisdom can make it. I’ve got the best used tires, rebuilt trannies, and stereo systems in the galaxy, and all at reasonable prices. Kids, why don’t you take our guests back and show’em what we’ve got?”
Thursday, February 18, 2016
"John? John! Wake up. The baby's crying."
"Mhm?" He blinked one eye, the other gummed shut with sleep.
"Danny's crying," his wife mumbled, buried beneath the blanket. She didn't stir. "Your turn."
John grunted, rubbed his eyes, rolled out of bed on sweat-sticky feet. What time was it? Jeezus. Four-fucking-thirty, and he could hear his son shrieking down the hall, really working up to it, now. He sighed, and went to see what he could do.
Danny was standing up in his crib, barely visible in the deep-sea glow of the nightlight. He lifted his arms the moment John came into the room, sniffling, as tightly wound as a telephone wire.
"Whatsa matter, buddy?" murmured John. "Hmh?"
"Up," Danny commanded, wide awake. In the dark, the circles under his eyes made him look like a raccoon.
"Time for sleep, buddy," John tried. "It's night-night time."
Danny stamped his feet impatiently, dancing. Had he picked that up at daycare?
"Uppa! Daddy, up."
John sighed. Mary had begun to wean Danny the week before, but Danny had other ideas. He would take a bottle if he had to, but only accompanied by at least a half-hour in the rocking chair.
Another night's sleep, shot to shit. Ah, the joys of parenthood.
"If I pick you up, do you promise to go to sleep?"
"Up," Danny agreed.
John sighed again and bent to scoop him up. Danny nestled into the crook of his shoulder and, via the secret known to all babies, was instantly asleep. He would stay that way, too, unless John tried to put him back in his crib, or failed to stick a bottle in his mouth within the next ten minutes or so.
Shuffling to the kitchen, John grabbed a mostly-full bottle from the fridge and warmed it in the microwave, resting his cheek against Danny's fine hair. He hummed absently, a deep rumble that often sent Danny to sleep. Sometimes it even kept him there. ‘Daddy Magic’, Mary called it.
Twinkle twinkle little star…
Daddy Magic. Power to put babies to sleep.
… how I wonder what you are…
Power to make boo-boo's stop hurting and heal.
… up above the world so high…
Power to make everything right and safe in the world.
… like a diamond in the sky…
John stopped the microwave just before it beeped, shook the bottle to make sure it wasn't too hot, and carefully made his way downstairs to the family room, avoiding the minefield of scattered toys on the way. He sat in his worn rocker-recliner, settled Danny into the crook of his arm, and placed the nipple against the boy's tiny lips.
Without waking, Danny began to drain the bottle, small gurgles punctuating his breathing as he made the milk all gone. He opened one eye for a moment, staring directly at John with a mild frown. Then he smiled the beatific, delirious grin that came only when he was asleep. John smiled back, and the eye rolled up into Danny's head as he wandered off to see the wizard.
The bottle was empty, drained to the dregs. John wondered if it was just his imagination that Danny felt exactly that much heavier.
He flipped on the TV, knowing that if he put Danny down now, he'd wake right up and still want to nurse, no matter how full his belly was. He could take the boy to bed with him, but Mary always slept on the floor when he did that. According to her, Danny kicked in his sleep, hard. John slept too soundly to notice, but he had woken more than once to find Danny sleeping sideways on the bed, with his own ass hanging off the edge.
I'm going to be groggy for my review, he thought, frowning at the talk show host, who grinned smugly back at him. Groggy and - let's face it - more than a little scared.
Word was out in the sales office that the new District Manager was a hard ass. Word had spread from cube to cube that poor third quarter numbers meant heads would roll. Everyone looked as busy as possible, kept one eye trained on the DM's door, and stayed long after he went home each night.
John had missed his first quarter number by a wide margin. His second quarter number didn’t even call to say hello, and his third quarter number had just laughed at him. He could tell himself that it was because he was working on so many other projects, that they took time away from his sales calls. The truth, though, was this:
He had burned out.
Sales was a numbers game, but it was a roller coaster, too. Some days you were rolling in it; others, you couldn't sell figs to a camel. It was a cliche, trite but true: No one remembered your glory days when you were down.
Some people love their jobs, he thought, but no company ever loved anyone.
The observation might not be profound or even terribly original, but it had the tang of bitter truth, and it was that flavor that followed him to sleep.
He was driving to work in the rain, which was wrong, because it was December and he lived in Minnesota, which meant it should be snow. Then he saw the line of tail lights, pulled up behind the guy in front of him, and wondered how late he was going to be.
John rolled down his window. It was balmy. The rain smelled of three-days-dead fish. Ahead of him, a semi-trailer was swiped across the grass of the median, a small car crumpled like an empty cigarette pack beside it. He heard sirens, saw swirling lights, and was just rolling his window back up when something hit the hood of his car.
What the hell?
The umbrella was child-sized, pink, nearly transparent. It lay against his windshield as if glued there. He tried his wipers, but they were useless. Finally, he put the car in park and opened his door to reach around and dislodge it.
The umbrella’s handle reached back. It wrapped around his arm with terrible speed, burning like bee-stings wherever it touched. John instinctively yanked his arm back, pulling hard, but it was like pulling against a knotted garden hose.
That was when he saw Danny inside the umbrella’s canopy, screaming as it closed around him like a Venus flytrap.
"John, wake up, you're going to be late. Did you hear me? You're going to be late!"
He blinked at Mary's back as she hurried up the stairs, disoriented. Her perfume hung in the air behind her, a trail for him to follow back to the land of the living. The dream hadn't seemed particularly real, even while it was happening, but it was disturbing on some deeper level. Work stress was getting to him more than usual. Yesterday, he had thrown up in the driveway. Mary thought he was coming down with something.
Danny was still asleep next to him. John looked at his small, peaceful face, the long lashes and Cupid's bow mouth.
Nothing for you to worry about, is there, pal? All you have to do is eat, play, and poop. You don't even know what work is, let alone unemployment. Followed closely by their friends, bankruptcy and divorce.
Mary set his coffee on the table next to him. John burned his tongue, but chugged it resolutely. Mary's coffee was merely horrible when hot; it was worse cold. The only good thing that could be said for it was that it got your synapses firing, as much from sensory bombardment as from caffeine.
He stood slowly, savoring the brief moment of peace. With a look almost of guilt, he smelled his son's hair. Fresh biscuits. Fresh biscuits and sunshine. Danny yawned himself awake, the transition from sleep to consciousness instantaneous.
"G'morning, buddy," John smiled. Danny looked around, but seemed content to stay with Dad. John made his way up the stairs, his back protesting at yet another night in the recliner.
"I'll take care of him," Mary said as she sped by, a bullet in a blue blazer. Just like that, Danny was gone, on his way to the changing table and daycare.
"Good morning," John said. He turned to look at himself in the hall mirror. His father stared out at him, trapped behind the glass. His PJ shirt was missing the top button.
"Time to wake up," he told himself.
The office was buzzing when he got there, the buzz of the beehive when the queen is on the prowl. John ducked into his cubicle and turned on his computer. The light on his phone was flashing, telling him there was a message waiting, and he wondered if he should listen to it. As a compromise, he walked to the mailroom to check his slot. There was nothing but the usual junk, but then the DM didn’t seem the type to fire by mail.
On the way back to his cube John stopped for coffee, noticing at the back of his mind how much faster everyone seemed to be moving. One or two people nodded at him. Others just stared. He wondered if they knew something he didn't.
Back at his desk, he found several emails waiting. None of them were pressing, but he read and responded to them anyway. That done, there was nothing left to do except listen to his messages. Except by then the coffee had run through him, which made a bathroom break a higher priority, at least momentarily, and it was on his way into the bathroom that he almost walked headfirst into the DM, who was coming out.
"I've been looking for you," growled the DM. He smelled of Old Spice and clutched a thick blue folder – a personnel file - in one paw. "Stop by my office as soon as you're done."
John nodded, too shocked to say anything, but by then the DM was gone. It was both the shortest and the longest bathroom break of his life.
The DM's office was empty when he got there, so he stood outside, trying not to look doomed, trying not to look anything. People grimaced at him as they passed, the smile that wonders what smells so bad. When the DM appeared, it was almost a relief. At least, until they were inside his office, with the door closed.
"Sit down," ordered the DM, scanning the blue file. There was no mistaking it for anything but a command. John sat.
Silence. The DM read. John pretended polite interest. As the silence stretched out, he allowed his eyes to wander around the office. No family pictures, no trophies, not even a potted plant. If the DM had a life outside work, there was certainly no evidence of it here.
"Missed your last three quarters," said the DM suddenly. He glanced up. "What have you got to say about that?"
"It's been a tough year."
The DM seemed to be waiting for something more.
"Um, I have some good leads in the pipeline," John faltered. "This quarter's looking pretty decent." It might even be true.
"Enough to make up for the last three?"
"Um. No. Probably not."
The look on the DM's face became even more inscrutable, if that was possible. He went back to reading. Finally, John could take no more.
"What are you thinking?" he asked.
"It's not good," the DM spat, tossing the folder on his desk. "You don't have the numbers. You don't know where you're going to get them, either. Do you?"
John sat perfectly still. Everything suddenly seemed very far away, as if he was falling down a well.
"We're letting you go," he heard. "Stop by HR. They've got some papers for you to sign."
John didn't move.
"We need to turn things around. We can't do it by looking back. You've got until the end of the day to clean out your desk. We haven’t told anyone. We'll let you leave with a little dignity.”
John nodded. There didn't seem to be anything else, so he stood up.
"Do you want your door open or closed?" he asked.
"Leave it open - I'm late for a meeting."
John nodded again, then turned and left. Twenty minutes later, heavier by one cardboard box, he was on his way home.
"It's not fair," Mary frowned. She didn't seem overly concerned. Didn't she understand that he had been fired?
"They kept Hodgkins," John mumbled, still in a daze. "He plays golf with him."
"With the District Manager?"
"Of course." She picked up her purse, ready to head back to her own office again. "They always look out for their friends. That's what networking is all about."
I suck at networking, thought John. I don't even know where to plug in.
Mary stopped at the door and looked deep into his eyes. Something she saw there, or didn't see, must have alarmed her, because she came up to him and hugged him, hard.
"You do know that this isn't you, don't you?" she asked, her eyes traveling over his face. He shrugged.
"Earth to John," she announced. "It's not about you. It's about his bonus. He's got to prove he's not soft, that it's not his fault that the company's doing so bad. Even though it is. Okay?"
"What are you going to do this afternoon?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe catch a movie. Get some lunch." He shrugged. He hadn't thought that far ahead yet.
"Call the headhunters first. Are they going to give you unemployment?"
"Then you should go down and apply for that, too. Don't let yourself get into a rut. Keep moving. Pretend that finding a job is your new job. 'Cuz it is. Kiss me."
He kissed her. Then she was gone, back to her job, because she still had one. The living room clock ticked in the sudden quiet. It seemed disproportionately loud. John stared at nothing, disconnected, adrift. It was several moments before he realized that the ticking was loud, and it wasn't the clock.
It was coming from the sliding door.
What the hell? he thought. The sliding door led out onto the upper part of their deck. There were no branches near enough to be tapping the glass. Was someone in the back yard?
John walked slowly up to the sliding door and pulled back the blinds.
His first impression was of looking out into some huge aquarium, because they floated in the air, as if they had no more weight than dreams. They blew in slow motion across the yard, over the fence, circling behind the garden shed, raining down gently from the sky.
My yard is full of jellyfish, he thought, stupefied.
It was true - they did look something like oversized jellyfish, the kind that live so deep that they provide their own light. Once they touched the ground, though, the illusion disappeared. Whatever they were, they moved with purpose when no longer airborne, shimmering tendrils holding their bodies up and propelling them like drunken sailors. Even as he watched, several climbed the deck stairs, swaying like lampshades in a heavy wind, and pressed themselves against the sliding door. Others clambered over the fence into his neighbors' back yard.
John looked down at the ones pressed against the glass, flailing their fiberoptic tendrils. They were hard to see, this close; proximity increased their transparency. He could see chambers, veins, and organs pumping away inside, but no mouth or eyes.
This must be a dream, he thought.
"Let me tell you what I'm thinking," said the District Manager.
John blinked. Jesus Christ! Did I just nod off in front of the D-fucking-M?
The D-fucking-M grinned at him. It was terrifying. "I'm thinking that Jason isn't the best manager for your team. I'm thinking he's got you doing twenty things that have nothing to do with hitting your numbers. Am I right?"
"Well, there's a lot on everyone's plate," said John. The conversation wasn't going at all the way he had expected. He was at sea, treading water, or whatever the opposite, the true opposite, of déjà vu might be.
"Jason's supposed to do all of that. That's his job. I mean, what's he do all day?"
"I don't know." In fact, it had never occurred to John to wonder. What did Jason do? Met with a lot of people, but who? Why?
The DM nodded and looked John dead in the eye. "I fired Jason this morning. If I give you his job, will it be a problem for you?"
"I... you’re giving me Jason’s job?"
"You're already doing it. The only difference is that you'll get paid for it. Why? Do you think anyone else on the team will have a problem with it?"
"Uh...no, I don't think so."
"Do you have a problem with it?"
John laughed. This had to be a joke. "No! No, I don't have a problem with it."
"Good. I'll have an offer letter ready by morning. If everything is agreeable, you can start interviewing for your replacement as soon as you sign it. In the meantime, go home. There are enough rumors flying around as it is, and I'd rather we start fresh tomorrow, after all the dead wood is cleared away."
John nodded and stood. "Yeah, okay. I… I need to call my wife."
They shook hands. The DM smiled his grim smile.
"Do it on your way."
John woke to the sound of the telephone ringing, the gin still a bitter tang in his mouth. His shoulder was sore from falling asleep in the recliner again, and he realized that he still had his PJ's on. What time was it?
He stood, dizzy, and hurried to the phone. It was Mary.
"So, how goes the great job hunt?"
"Okay," he lied. "What time is it?"
"It's two-thirty. Why? Where are you?"
"Downstairs. I'm taking a break."
"Did you call the headhunters yet?"
"You should do that. I've got to run to the grocery store on my way home. Anything special you want me to get?"
"Some pop? I'm really thirsty, and I think we're out."
"Okay. When are you going to the unemployment office?"
"I'll go tomorrow. I… I need a little time to regroup."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"No.” He rubbed his forehead, thinking make my dream come true. “I'm okay, sweetie."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired. I'll be glad when Danny starts sleeping through the night again."
A beat. "Who's Danny?"
Something hit him in the belly. Hard. "Danny. Our Danny."
"You know: two feet tall, ginger hair, good right arm... Our son?"
"You're kidding, right?"
We don't have a son, he thought.
"We don't have a son," she said.
"I'm sorry, honey," he stammered. "I just woke up. I had a… a weird dream. Guess I'm still asleep."
"I'm going to go get some coffee," he joked. Mary knew how bad her coffee was. She laughed nervously, an electric whine in his ear.
"You really had me scared, for a minute, there," she said.
"Sorry. I'm awake now. Honest."
"What's your name? Where do you live?"
"John Campau. 5885 Westbury Drive. Savage, Minnesota. My sexy wife's name is Mary. She likes to wear cheerleader socks."
She laughed. Thank God. "No, dear - you like me to wear cheerleader socks."
"Speaking of which..."
"We'll see," she giggled. "I'll see you later. I love you, silly man."
"I love you, too."
John hung up, rubbed the back of his hand against the bristles on his chin.
Two-thirty. That's enough gin for you, mister.
He picked up the bottle and took it back up to the kitchen, along with the glass, which he rinsed and put in the dishwasher so Mary wouldn't know he'd spent his first afternoon of unemployment on the nod. He turned the bedroom TV on for company and went to find something to wear.
On his way to the shower, a nature show was on. A jellyfish had snared a fish in its poison tentacles. The fish stared blankly, alive but paralyzed, soon to be eaten. The announcer informed John that, rather than being a single creature, a jellyfish was actually a colony of animals, with each performing a specialized function that benefited the whole.
That’s my problem, thought John. I don’t have a specialized function.
He woke with a start, a sound that he couldn't immediately place ringing in his ears. He blinked. He looked. Then he remembered.
All of it. The announcement on the radio during his drive home. The things falling from the sky like millions of luminescent parachutes, attacking cars and bringing down those who tried to run, paralyzing them. Driving over the median to get away. The fight to keep them out of the house. The losing fight.
Mary lolled across from him on the couch, her eyes blank and sunken, her mouth slack. Her robe hung open. The thing at her breast was busy, its huge, translucent head bobbing obscenely as it fed. How many days had they been sitting there? John reached up and touched the beard on his face. A week? And sometime during that week, it must have dozed off, stopped pumping Mary full of whatever it was they used to keep you happy and out, and she woke up.
Woke up and screamed.
Even as he watched, Mary shrank, while the thing that sucked her insides out expanded like a blood-swollen tick.
John’s eyes slid to what rested on his shoulder. It looked up at him with its many, milky eyes. Before he could move, he saw the snot-colored liquid race through the tube that connected it to him, a one-way ticket to La-La Land.
“Bedtime, buddy”, he crooned. “Please, Danny…”Daddy Magic.