It's Just Dessert

Consumer of Cake: Wow! Mmmmm. This is really great. What’s in it?

Maker of Cake: Well, naturally, I use nothing but the finest of ingredients.

Consumer of Cake: Oh, of course. (Shoves forkful of cake into gaping maw, now struggling to talk). Buh wha arr tha spifics?

Maker of Cake: Are you familiar with the grape?

Consumer of Cake: (Nods).

Maker of Cake: Excellent. First, you take a great many grapes and leave them out in the sun for a good long while. You know, until they are all dried and wrinkled?

Consumer of Cake: Right, right. I follow.

Maker of Cake: You then take all of those, and place them in a bowl.

Consumer of Cake: Is that all?

Maker of Cake: Oh, good heavens, no. Next, you have to take a full season to grow wheat, sugar cane, cinnamon, and canola… for the oil, you see?

Consumer of Cake: I think so…

Maker of Cake: After harvest time, you process all of those so you get flour, sugar, cinnamon and canola oil. It’s a simple procedure, so long as you’ve got a mill operation and a good river close at hand.

Consumer of Cake: Seems like a lot of effort. I mean, it’s good and all. (Shovels another forkful into mouth).

Maker of Cake: Ah, but the pleasure of the process, all of that work for the finished product, that’s the real joy of the thing.

Consumer of Cake: (Shrugs and continues to chew).

Maker of Cake: The next bit involves your cow and chicken stock. That’s stock as in livestock, mind you, not like the liquid versions of those animal’s essences.

Consumer of Cake: Like in soup?

Maker of Cake: Yes, like in soup. Very good! You take your cow, milk it, then pasteurize that milk.

Consumer of Cake: How do you do that?

Maker of Cake: In a machine.

Consumer of Cake: How much does it cost?

Maker of Cake: Does it matter? Taste that cake!

Consumer of Cake: Point taken.

Maker of Cake: After the milk is ready, you cool it, add the necessary chemicals…

Consumer of Cake: Chemicals?

Maker of Cake: Of course!

Consumer of Cake: Where do you get those?

Maker of Cake: Chemist.

Consumer of Cake: Makes sense.

Maker of Cake: Where was I?

Consumer of Cake: You add the chemicals?

Maker of Cake: Right! You add the chemicals, and you store it in a cool place. Like an ice box.

Consumer of Cake: Or a disco!

Maker of Cake: Different kind of cool, my friend.

Consumer of Cake: Worth a shot.

Maker of Cake: And the chickens, well, you harvest their eggs, candle them to ensure they aren’t filled with younglings, and then store them with the milk.

Consumer of Cake: And you’ve still done nothing with the grapes?

Maker of Cake: We’re getting there.

Consumer of Cake: Fair enough. Go on.

Maker of Cake: Now, of course you’ll want to procure some sodium bicarb…

Consumer of Cake: From the same chemist?

Maker of Cake: If they have it in stock, yes.

Consumer of Cake: Right-o.

Maker of Cake: Oh, you know what, I forgot the milk fat. You’ve got to save up the milk fat and then churn it until you get both butter and cheese. The process for each is quite a challenge, but it’s so worth it.

Consumer of Cake: All that from a cow?

Maker of Cake: Magical animals, aren’t they? Well, after you’ve got the cheese, you whip it using a special process along with the sugar and, again, chemicals, until you’ve got a nice sweet cheese.

Consumer of Cake: Sweet cheese? Sounds terrible.

Maker of Cake: That’s the icing you’re enjoying so much. Pretty great, isn’t it?

Consumer of Cake: Touché.

Maker of Cake: Now, you take all of your dry ingredients and you mix them in a bowl. Then you add the wet ones. Finally, you grate a carrot and stick that in there too.

Consumer of Cake: Then what?

Maker of Cake: Bake it for a while, ‘til it’s a lovely shade of brown and just a little crisp on top.

Consumer of Cake: Then the icing?

Maker of Cake: Only after it cools.

Consumer of Cake: That seems like a ton of work. What do you call it?

Maker of Cake: Carrot cake.

Consumer of Cake: All that effort, all of those ingredients, and you call it carrot cake? Isn’t there only a bit of carrot in there? Why not ‘wrinkle grape cake’, or ‘milk cake’?

Maker of Cake: Do either of those sound appealing?

Consumer of Cake: I suppose not. I guess all that really matters is that so long as you have a field, and some animals, and a greenhouse, and a chemist, and an oven, and whatever else, it’s pretty straightforward to make it from scratch. (Fork clinks against plate as the last crumbs are picked by hand and inhaled with little grace).

This is Love

              The two of them met at an all-hand puppet revival of the musical Stomp. It was pure chance that they had been seated next to one another, and they instantly bonded over the fact that, of the small number of those in attendance, they were the only two laughing openly at the slipshod performance.

              After the show, they exchanged numbers and entered into a romance that moved effortlessly from the getting-to-know-you phase, through the first few dates, and of course, that first kiss, during which they were both illuminated from the neon lights of a nearby haberdashery. They each bought a hat to celebrate, what, with the convenience and all.

              “This is love,” he thought. “Love is elegance, and ease. Love is when you just know you’ve found the right person.”

              On their third date, after their first kiss, he’d planned a romantic picnic. He’d purchased a hand-woven basket from an All-Hemp-Feelgoodery, and filled it with bread and cheese and wine, pâté and tapenade. The whole glorious mess was covered off with a red-checked blanket, because, after all, that’s what makes it a picnic.

              He arrived at her doorstep with a small bouquet of her favourite flowers, even though he was allergic and the closeness to the colourful little bastards was making his nose run.

              “This is love,” he thought. “Love is making sacrifices, no matter how large, or how small.”

              She greeted him in a lovely summer dress that flowed like water as they sashayed to the park in the middle of the city. Her smile was a gift; the way she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and dipped her head down as though she were embarrassed and shy made him swoon.

              They arrived at the edge of a large grassy hill that led down to a lazy river, bordered on both sides of the bank by blossoming lilacs and soft moss. The spot they chose to sit was under a willow of the weeping variety.

              “Maybe we can cheer it up?” she suggested with a smile.

              He imagined what a cheerful weeping willow would look like, all of the hanging tangles of branch and twig suddenly taking flight and reversing their direction, lifting like Marilyn’s skirt.

              “This is love,” he thought. “Love is imagining a world in which anything is possible, and feeling so strongly that you can make it so.”

              They gorged themselves on all of the delights that the basket held within, slathering bread with spread, leaning in to feed one another and giggling incessantly. Too incessantly, really. It was the wine, getting to their head, fueling the romance, enhancing the feelings that both of them were so lost in.

              When they had finished the meal, they each sat leaning back on their arms, staring out at the river below them as the sun’s slow glide toward the horizon gave the whole world a halo.

              During a moment of quiet reflection, she gave him a mischievous smile, gesturing with her head toward the slope of the hill.

              “We should roll down,” she said.

              And of course they should. They stood, staring down at their goal with grinning faces. She took the plunge first, rolling gently like a log, tucking in her arms as she went. He followed suit, leaving enough room so he wouldn’t crash into her, tumbling and whirling as he went.

              “This is love,” he thought. “Love is spiralling out of control, the blurring of the world, the comfort of knowing that you’re falling with someone else.”

              When they arrived at the bottom, she slowed to a stop by the river’s edge and he landed so close to her side that it felt like it had been rehearsed. He looked over at her, the world still spinning. She was staring straight up at the sky, still reeling from the experience.

              Reaching across him, she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward her. He heaved himself up, until he was atop her, looking down into her eyes.

              She smiled up at him.

              He smiled down on her.

              She looked at him with a worried expression.

              He looked down at her with concern.

              She looked up at him with surprise.

              And then he threw up all over her face, all over her hair.

              The journey down the hill after so much rich food and wine had turned out to be a bad idea. He froze, not sure how to react. Her eyes opened slowly and she stared up and through him, her beautiful brown eyes the only clean spot on her face.

              “I’m so sorry,” he said. “It was the wine… and the fall...”

              She said nothing, still in shock and wondering how to play out the hand she’d been unexpectedly dealt.

              “This is love,” he thought. “Love is messy and horrifying. Love is praying for forgiveness and hoping that time will play the comedian and make all of the mistakes into something you can both laugh at. Love is confusing and scary.”

              And so, he said it.

              “I love you,” he said.

              And she laughed; softly at first, then louder as she pushed him away and ran to the river to clean away the lovely meal they had shared.

              

 

Religious Experiences

Here's a short piece of fiction for your perusal.

 – 1 –

              It was the first time I’d ever visited a church. I was four years old, and my mother decided to walk us to a service while my father was at work.

              Being so long ago, the memory is hazy. There were many people, all indistinct and strange, crowding along the pews on either side of the two of us. The wooden seats hurt, but I was happy to discover that there were books hidden in compartments built into the back of the seat in front of us. That is, I was happy until I snatched at one and found that it was not at all like the books I had at home. No pictures to be found (though very graphic, as I’d learn in time), and two columns of tiny print per page, numbers littering the works. How did this book operate?

              Nothing at all remains of my memory of this event aside from the incident that prompted us to leave the service early.

              At one point, during the sermon, the phrase “The Hand of God” was used to illustrate a point I couldn’t possibly have retained at that time. For some reason, this phrase stuck in my head. It sounded very important, and perhaps a little ominous.

              Shortly thereafter, it was time to sing. In order to make it easier for the congregation to follow along, an overhead projector was wheeled out and set in the middle of the centre aisle. A screen was lowered at the front of the room and was filled with a square light when the projector was turned on. As a volunteer placed the music sheet on the screen, their hand became a massive silhouette at the head of the building. With no understanding of how an overhead projector worked, it was obvious to me that this giant hand at the front of the room must surely be The Hand of God.

              I began to cry uncontrollably and was led out of the building by my mother.

 

– 2 –

              My mother had decided to have another go at taking me to church, not long after the incident with the projector. I was scared, but had been assured that if I was good and made it through the whole service, we would be able to go to the convenience store for candy. She handed me a five dollar bill that I could bundle up into my pocket for later, with the understanding that if I hadn’t been good, it would be taken away.

              We arrived at the church and I was determined to behave and receive my reward, which for all I knew, was exactly what the service was imparting to those assembled.

              Things were going so well until the collection plate was passed around, another concept that I had no awareness of. When it arrived at my mother and I, she realized that the only money she’d brought along was in my pocket. She asked for the money back and I gave it to her, watching with wide and welling eyes as she placed it into a basket that was already quite full of money, and then passed it along down the pew, off and away from me.

              I began to cry uncontrollably and was led out of the building by my mother.

 

– 3 –

              There was an epidemic of warts that broke out amongst my siblings. We were all stricken by the terrible things, which had taken up residence on our hands and feet. I was just beginning high school at this time, and it was an affliction that no one at school noticed, but made me feel like a leper.

              It lasted for months, with all of the doctor visits and ointments and bandages occupying my mind as I felt worse and worse about myself.

              During this localized epidemic, my brother and sister went to go visit my father while I stayed behind. While they were away, they told my father about the warts and he said he had a solution. He would buy them from them.

              In a simple transaction, my father paid each of them ten dollars for their warts. They accepted the money, and when they came back from their trip, they were no longer afflicted.

              Eventually, I ridded myself of the things through medicine and time. If I'd gone along on the trip, and weren't so skeptical, would it have worked on me as well?  

 

– 4 –

              While working one day, at a job I’ve not held for a very long time, I struck up a conversation with one of my superiors.

              We spent about twenty minutes prior to a staff meeting talking about random philosophical topics, and before long, it was time to go.

              Apparently curious about how we agreed on so many issues, he asked me, “Which church do you go to?”

              Though I know better than to talk about religion at work, I had to be honest. “I’m actually an atheist,” I replied.

              “Oh,” he said, put off by my response, adding with the cadence of a question, “but you seem so smart?”

              

Website Relaunch

Ahoy all!

With a new book finished and in the hands of my publisher for Ultimate Judgement, I’ve decided it is high time I get the old site back up and running.

I’ve selected a handful of my favourite posts from the old site and have added them below while I work on some new stuff.

As things progress with the new book, I’ll post regular updates and let folks know A) whether or not it will in fact be coming out and B) all of the particulars, like the title and whatnot.

Glad to be back, and happy you stopped by.

Chris 

Clothing for Dummies

Customer: Excuse me?

Proprietor: Yes, how can I help you?

Customer: I was hoping you could help me understand something about your store.

Proprietor: And that is…?

Customer: Well, the name of the place…

Proprietor: Clothing for Dummies.

Customer: Yes, see that’s the thing that’s really confusing me.

Proprietor: What is?

Customer: Just the whole thing, really.

Proprietor: I’m not sure I see the problem.

Customer: Well, I kind of expected it to be like a personal shopper experience, you know? Like, where you might help someone choose a style of clothing that fits their personal taste, or…

Proprietor: No, that’s not it at all.

Customer: Well, yes, I am seeing that. The name kind of implies that you might offer that kind of service though.

Proprietor: I don’t see how. It’s pretty literal, all right there in the title.

Customer: Ah, so…

Proprietor: So…?

Customer: So you just sell clothes, no personal shoppers?

Proprietor: Yes, that’s right.

Customer: Well the reason I came in is because I saw this dress in the window that would be perfect for a function I’m attending this week.

Proprietor: In that case, it’s not for sale.

Customer: I’m sorry, what?

Proprietor: It’s not for sale. Clothing for dummies only.

Customer: There’s no need to be insulting…

Proprietor: Not insulting, it’s just that the clothing is for display purposes only.

Customer: Well, do you have another one in the back I might be able to try on?

Proprietor: No, you can’t. We don’t have dressing rooms.

Customer: Then how will your customers know the clothes fit?

Proprietor: All of my customers are the same size.

Customer: Well, I doubt that very much!

Proprietor: I don’t. Quite certain of it.

Customer: So that dress is for display purposes only?

Proprietor: Yes that’s right. Everything in the store is for display purposes only.

Customer: Everything in the store?

Proprietor: Yes. All of it.

Customer: So there’s nothing in here that’s for sale?

Proprietor: No, all of it is for sale, and is for display purposes only.

Customer: You lost me.

Proprietor: For dummies.

Customer: Again with the insults!

Proprietor: No, look… we sell clothes.

Customer: Yes.

Proprietor: For dummies. Mannequins. For displays?

Customer: Oh, I see. Wait, actually, no… no I don’t. You don’t sell any clothes for people to wear?

Proprietor: That’s right.

Customer: Only dummies.

Proprietor: Correct.

Customer: But, don’t you think someone might want to wear the display clothes… like if they saw them on a dummy in another store?

Proprietor: Not my problem. Take it up with the other store.

Customer: So, do you know where I could buy that dress in the window?

Proprietor: Here, but for display.

Customer: If I told you I had a mannequin at home that I wanted to buy a dress for, would you allow me to buy that dress?

Proprietor: No. At this point, I’d think you were having a laugh.

Customer: It sounds like you’re telling me to go away.

Proprietor: If that’s what you’re hearing…

Customer: Unbelievable. There’s no way you’re going to let me buy that dress?

Proprietor: Unless you can prove to me that you were made in a factory and spend all day standing in the same position in a department store, dressed to the nines, then no.

Customer: Well then you’ve just earned yourself one star on Yelp. (Storms off)

Proprietor: (Turns and addresses the nearest mannequin) See Annabeth? Maniacs.

Strawberry Drink – Our deadliest weapon

         Driving brings out the worst in me. I’m normally a very polite and pleasant individual, if not the most social. I’m also a chronic rule follower. If there are no cars, but the walk light’s not on yet, I don’t cross. I always drive the speed limit. Cell phones are off in movie theatres and public performances. These are all small things, but things that make up the larger me that tries not to step on any toes unless I am 100% sure I am in the right. Unless someone breaks the rules in my vicinity and does so when I have a false feeling of invulnerability; the kind of false invulnerability that one feels whilst tucked inside the four metal walls of one’s car. Which is how I ended up covered in strawberry drink.

            A car is a deceptive space. It is your own private environment, adorned with things to personalize the ride from place to place. It’s your music club, where what you want to hear is the only thing on. Even if public radio is your jam, to paraphrase Slug of Atmosphere, you turn that shit up ‘til it bumps. Maybe you’re the type who enjoys the reassuring company of St. Christopher, dangling like a hypnotic pendulum with every corner taken. Perhaps a Super Mario bobble-head? Beaded seat covers? Forty goddamn stickers that create an inventory of your family tree across the back windshield? Whatever you want, you do it, because it is your personal space, a tiny, moving apartment that you can feel comfortable in.

            Except that it’s not private, not really. Anything you do, others see. If you want to belt out some sweet Katy Perry anthem at the top of your lungs while you grip the wheel with melodic passion, someone is watching. If you munch on an egg-bagel whilst propping up a cigarette in your other hand, someone is judging you. Someone hates your bumper stickers. Someone thinks your bar-beads are tacky. And everyone, and I mean everyone, hates the way you drive.

            When you drive the speed limit and obey the rules of the road, you will rarely encounter anyone of a like mind. The other people doing the speed limit? They are back there, somewhere behind you, keeping pace and not blasting up on your ass until they can squeeze into the adjoining lane and speed past you, only to end up directly in front of you at the traffic light. This is especially true of highway driving. Everyone obeying the rules never comes into contact with one another; you only see the people faster, or slower than you are.

            It’s this fact that makes me far too angry when I’m driving. Why are you passing me if you are going to the same place, facing the same lights? You know we are both going to be stopped together in like, another thirty seconds, right? The high-and-mighty attitude takes over and I stop being rational. Everyone but me is driving like a bastard and I am obviously correct to hate them. This is dumb, of course, but it’s the foundation of road rage.

            And so, this is why today, when I’m coming home from work and a guy cuts me off, steering out of a turning lane to slip in front of me in the middle of an intersection that I feel oh, so justified in freaking out in my car and laying on to the horn whilst visibly yelling from behind the wheel of my tiny Honda Civic. I am livid. What he did was dangerous and stupid and I would never do something like that, so why should I let him get away without letting him know about the bag of douche that he is.

            He sees me yelling, both him and his passenger taking turns yelling back and exchanging gestures. As we approach the next intersection, the guy slows down and moves off to the right, motioning for me to pull up beside him and roll down my window. Instead of complying, I move forward to my turning lane. He pulls up next to me, window wide and douses the side of my car in some kind of strawberry drink. I shake my head and flip him off while he motions for me to follow him and get out of my car and whatnot. I just kind of smiled, because I’d foiled his plan to throw strawberry drink inside of my car by refusing to roll down the window, and also, strawberry drink is the least manly thing I can think of to have thrown at a car in a fit of rage. “Take this, you asshat! Delicious strawberry drink, as thick as the pink-hot rage I am filled with! It’s low in calories, but filled oh, so full of hate.”

            We parted ways at this point, my car a little more colourful and his filled with douche. Of course, I was no better, becoming an active participant in a silly dance smothered in lukewarm testosterone and smug superiority, my own confidence bolstered by that deceptive feeling of private living that a car affords, the violated feeling of someone breaking the rules in a moving house that exists only in my mind.

            The universe wanted to tell me something today. It’s a toss up, but it’s either something to do with turning the other cheek and behaving in my car the way I would outside of it, or that I really needed a car wash. Both decent pieces of advice if you ask me. 

Tales From Grande Prairie – The Time I Found That Cocaine

So, before we get into this story, two things about me.

One – I’m a bit of a paranoid guy. And by a bit, I mean nearly entirely. I once walked to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack, which of course is ludicrous because it’s difficult to walk when your blood isn’t pumping properly and you are in immense pain and the walk was thirty minutes. That’s more than enough time to realize that I was not, in fact, having a heart attack but that I was being completely ridiculous. The hospital visit involved me sitting in a chair in one of the exam rooms while nurses played computer solitaire and gossiped about patients who were clearly out of their gourd… probably some other patients.

Two – I’m not fond of drugs. The feeling of being out of control isn’t one that I seek out, and when you combine that with the paranoia problem, you get something of a walking PSA. I’ve mellowed over the years, but I was the kind of person who would repeat stories like that one about the teenager getting wrecked on Angel Dust and leaping from the school roof or rotunda balcony or what-have-you.

These two pieces that make up the bundle of nerves that is me, came together in full force one night in my old hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Grande Prairie, it’s a small oil town in northern Alberta, home to about 70 000 people and chock-full of trucks, liquor stores and churches. It’s not a bad place to grow up, and it’s that perfect size in which everyone knows everyone else and the small town crazy is often out in full force.

One night, in 2001, I was finishing up my shift at the local pizza parlour and was too tired to make the walk to my apartment. GP is a town you can walk across in 45 minutes, end-to-end, but it wasn’t happening that night. I called up a cab and waited outside for it to arrive.

The cab shows up, I get in and we have a rather uneventful ride to my front door. Another thing about me is that I’m a failure when it comes to buying clothing that fits me. The dress pants I had on were too baggy and when I sat down, things would often drop from my pockets. It was because of this, that when I reached into the pocket to pay for the cab, a receipt dropped to the seat cushion. Getting out of the vehicle, I noticed the pile of detritus I’d left behind, scooped it up and made my way inside.

On the stairs leading up to the apartment I looked at what had fallen out of my pants, reminding myself that I should really get some new pants because this was becoming ridiculous, when I noticed something that most certainly was not mine. The pile I had picked up contained a receipt for cigars, which was likely mine, and a small, 2 inch by 2 inch plastic Zip-Loc bag.

The bag that wasn’t mine was pink and had Playboy Bunny logos arranged in diamonds across one side. My first thought was, “Huh. I didn’t know you could get Zip-Loc baggies this small.” My second thought was, “Goddamn it, it’s full of white powder.”

Now, I know enough about drugs from movies and whatnot to know that not all white powder means that this was cocaine, but it was definitely some form of drug, apportioned in an easily purchasable and concealable little package.

Immediately, I assumed that I was going to be in some sort of trouble for having the drugs on me. Somehow, I was going to run into a cop in the stairwell, where he would catch me holding a tiny baggie of cocaine with a dumbfounded and fearful expression on my face and I would be hauled off to prison. Why would this imaginary police officer ever believe that I just found the bag? Isn’t that the first thing that anyone caught carrying drugs would say?

Before any phantom officers of the law could swoop in on me, I raced up the three flights of stairs to my apartment and checked more times than reasonable that the door was locked. I put the baggie on the coffee table and made sure my roommate wasn’t home while I figured out the course of action to take.

“I’ll just throw it in the trash,” I thought, but of course it would be found in the dumpster and traced back to me, covered in incriminating fingerprints. That was the only thing I could think to do, so I made a cup of coffee, lit up a cigarillo and sat on the couch, staring at this little pink horror.

Finally, I decided that I would make the first move. If it was inevitable that the police would catch me for having this bag of whatever, probably cocaine, if I called them first and explained my side of the story, it would look better in court.

Not wanting to call 911 for something that was only an emergency in my mind (at least I was lucid enough to know that), I looked up the phone number for the non-emergency police line and dialed them up.

A male officer answered the phone. I explain calmly, that before he gets the wrong idea, I am not a drug user, which, now that I read that, would probably indicate that I am in fact a drug user to any respectable police officer.

I tell him that I found this baggy of cocaine in the back of a cab and that I have no idea what to do with it. For some reason, the only solution I could come to was that an officer should come by and pick it up.

“Just flush it down the toilet sir,” said the officer.

“You don’t want to come and get it?” I asked. “Like, trace it back to the source or something?”

“No, just flush the baggie down the toilet and get rid of it.”

For some reason, he didn’t seem to want the help I was offering him. “Do you want the cab company name or something? Maybe you can get a passenger list and find out…”

“Just flush it down the toilet,” he insisted, trying to end the call.

“Ok, yeah, I can do that. But…”

“But?”

“But what if I touched it?”

“Did you touch it?” he asked.

“No… at least I don’t think so. I mean, the baggie is sealed and all, but what if there was powder on the outside of the thing and I accidentally got some on my hand or something? Can you absorb cocaine through your hand?”

The officer sighed loudly into the receiver. “Wash your hands.”

“You’re sure it won’t do anything? I won’t go on a rampage or anything?”

“Even if it got on your hands, it’s unlikely that anything would happen, ok?”

“Ok,” I said, panic subsiding a little and realizing that this cop really wanted the call to end. “Uh, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. And that was that.

I flushed the whole baggie down the toilet as instructed and then washed my hands for 45 minutes. Then, after taking a smoke break, I washed them again.

The moral of the story is this: buy pants that fit and you won’t constantly be assuming that everything you sit on fell out of your pocket. Or something. 

Wasp

Douglas was home from a particularly stressful day in the mines and was enjoying a late night tea on his porch. He was busy reading a history of trout farming, looking up now and again at the velvety glow of the setting sun when the extortion happened out of the blue.

                Just as the sun was falling behind the hills in the distance and Douglas was left in the porch light behind his home, a wasp flew up from somewhere off in the distance and landed straight on the book. Douglas was about to shut the book on the thing, crushing it dead, when it stood up on two legs and addressed him in a deep baritone.

                “Give me twenty bucks or I’ll sting you,” the wasp said, shaking one of its fist-less forelegs at Douglas.

                Curious, Douglas decided to give the thing a short reprieve before slamming the pages shut and ending it.

                “What does a wasp need with twenty bucks?” he asked it.

                “Look, I made some bad investments and if I don’t make good, they’re going to torch my nest. I got a buncha eggs in there man, I gotta pay ‘em!”

                Douglas leaned in to give the thing a better look. Sadly, it was just an ordinary wasp. He’d never encountered a talking insect before and a small part of him had hoped that it had pants on or something. He sighed. “So wasps use human currency, do they?”

                The wasp’s little head shook in an approximation of a nod. “Sure,” it said, “why not?”

                “What kind of bad investment?” Douglas asked.

                “Corn futures,” said the wasp. “You gonna give me the money, or do I have to sting ya?”

                Douglas decided he would just go ahead and ask about the pants. “Why aren’t you wearing pants?” he asked.

                “Don’t need ‘em. Why would I wear pants?”

                “Well, you talk, so I expected you’d be a bit more…”

                “Human?” asked the wasp. “Oh, I get it. Just ‘cause a guy talks and uses human money that means he should wear human clothes, is that it?”

                Douglas nodded.

                “You’ve got some nerve buddy!” yelled the wasp. “I have a right mind to just sting you anyway, money or no!” The little creature began pacing and muttering things. Douglas could hear the word “pants” every so often through what he imagined were insect curses interspersed with buzzing sounds.

                Douglas very much just wanted to finish his tea and a chapter in his trout book. “How do I know you even have kids?” he asked the wasp.

                The thing stopped pacing and looked up at him. “How do you…” it kind of trailed off. Douglas couldn’t tell if it was because he was still fuming or if he was searching for a lie. “I can show you, if you like,” the wasp finally said. “They’re, uh… they’re in your, uh… fence over there…” it trailed off and gestured towards the fence at the back of his yard.

                “So,” Douglas asked, “you’re the one that’s been gnawing at my fence?”

                The wasp looked down sheepishly.

                “And my bench?” he added, gesturing to the arm of the wooden seat, all torn up with tiny bite marks.

                “We… use the cedar for our nests,” the wasp admitted.

                “You realize that people don’t especially like wasps to begin with, right? You are aggressive, unpredictable and apparently, a bunch of blackmailers, who feel like they can chew up a guy’s stuff, then make a bee-line for him and extort him for money,” Douglas said.

                The wasp became enraged and took to yelling again. “Bee-line? Bee-line? I can’t believe you’d even consider using that term to a wasp. Have you ever seen a bee fly? There’s no line to it! They’re all over the damn place. Bee-line! That’s it. You’re giving me the money AND I’m stinging you! I hold all the cards! ME! And after I sting you, I will fly in a straight, elegant line, right back to my nest! And then I’ll raise my kids to hate you and sting you and…”

                Douglas interrupted. “Do you know what a book is?” he asked.

                “NO!” yelled the wasp.

                Douglas slammed the book shut, killing the wasp and gumming up the history of a particularly infamous trout in the process.

                As he set the book aside, Douglas heard a scream from the back of his yard. There was a small fire that had erupted on his fence. Apparently, the wasp hadn’t been lying – he’d really owed someone money and they were making good on their threat. He walked up to the smoldering fence with his cup of tea and emptied it out onto the wood, extinguishing the embers with a hiss.

                He then left the book on the bench and went to bed thinking that he didn’t really know anything about this world after all. 

Anything for a Pastry

Judith – Tucker! You’re going to miss the bus, hurry up buddy!

Brad – You going to eat that croissant?

Judith – Yes, can you just hold on for a second?

(Tucker stomps down the stairs. Judith hands him his lunch.)

Judith – What’s the password?

Tucker – (Sighs) Constantinople.

Judith – Good. Say goodbye to your Uncle Brad.

Brad – Bye little man.

Tucker – Bye Uncle Brad.

Judith – Have a good day at school.

(Tucker nods and heads out the door.)

Brad – What’s with the kid? Seems upset.

Judith – He’s got a bully. He’s learning to deal with things.

Brad – He’s… kid’s got a bully? Want me to take care of it?

Judith – (Laughs) I don’t need both of you moping around.

Brad – C’mon, I can take a kid. I’ve beat up guys I was twice the size of. I’m officially commandeering this.

Judith – Hey, that’s mine…

(Brad reaches for Judith’s croissant, but she slaps his hand away.)

Brad – You win this round. What’s the password thing about?

Judith – It’s a safety word.

Brad – Kid’s a little too young for that kind of thing, dontcha think?

Judith – Remind me why I let you stay here?

Brad – Seriously though…?

Judith – I’m supposed to pick him up after school today, but if there’s any chance I won’t make it and need to send someone he’s never met, he’s supposed to ask them what the password is.

Brad – And the password is Constantinople?

Judith – This week it is. It changes.

Brad – Why make it five syllables? You’re complicating things a bit aren’t you? Why not ‘bagel’ or ‘shorts’?

Judith – It’s harder to guess.

Brad – If someone came up to me and asked me what the password was, why on earth would I guess ‘shorts’?

Judith – It’s just the way I do things.

Brad – And because I’m not a parent, I wouldn’t understand, is that it?

Judith – Don’t start with that again.

Brad – Seriously though, this whole thing makes no sense to me.

Judith – Can we have this conversation later? I’m going to be late for work.

Brad – You’re cleaning the kitchen and you haven’t eaten the croissant yet, so I think I’m ok to just keep talking and if you happen to hear what I’m saying and respond indignantly now and then, I’m confident we can carry on a conversation for a few minutes.

Judith - …

Brad – So, when I think of a password exchange, I’m seeing like, a scrappy looking guy reading a newspaper on a park bench. Then this other guy, well dressed, like a suit or whatever, he sits down next to the first guy and quietly says something like, “Lovely weather we’re having.”

Judith – Uh-huh.

Brad – And then the scrappy guy responds, “Yes, and the sun’s supposed to last for a few days.” Then they both know they’ve made contact with the right guy and exchange the microfiche.

Judith – Nobody knows what microfiche is anymore.

Brad – I bet you anything the spies still use it all the time! Only one copy, no digital backups or whatever.

Judith – Whatever indeed. What’s your point?

Brad – It’s a quiet exchange. You have to get nice and close and then the participants speak quietly. You might even call it clandestine.

Judith – So what?

Brad – What I would do, is have the person picking up the kid yell something from their car. They make the first move. They could yell something like, “Splork!” or some nonsense that no one would think of. Maybe they could yell, “Croissant!”

(Brad once again reaches for the croissant.)

Judith – Don’t you touch that!

Brad – I see my error was to telegraph my move.

Judith – So you’d have someone yell from their car in front of the school?

Brad – Yeah, and then I’d have the kid respond with something that draws even more attention. See, the point is that everyone’s looking now, so there are more eyes on the situation, just in case something is wrong. More witnesses, right?

Judith – Uh-huh.

Brad – So the kid would respond by yelling back something like, “Stanger Danger!” Then there are even more eyes, but the right response has been provided. The adult then gets out of the car, the kid and the adult perform the secret handshake and yell the same thing at the same time, like, “Clark Bar!” Then they both laugh, get in the car and drive off. Safe and sound.

Judith – That’s ridiculous. You can’t have a kid yell “Stranger Danger” as part of your password. That’s going to get the cops called.

Brad – It’s all about creating witnesses. Far safer. Plus, the laughter at the end shows that everything’s ok. Genius.

Judith – This is why…

Brad – No, go ahead, say it. This is why I don’t have kids right?

Judith – Pretty much.

Brad – And yet, you’re the one that named your kid Tucker. Look, I love my nephew, but Judy, kids learn how to rhyme, like right out of the gate.

Judith – You know what? Keep it up and you can go find somewhere else to bunk.

(Judith storms off upstairs to finish getting ready for work.)

Brad – Just saying! (And then, quietly to himself, reaching for the croissant) Too easy. 

Made To Order

Lionel: We could just call it a baked potato with the works, I guess.

Walter: Lionel, how did you get this job?

Lionel: I took it freelance. Heard about it through a friend. Why?

Walter: So, this is your first menu?

Lionel: Yep.

Walter: Lionel, Lionel, Lionel.

Lionel: What? What’s the matter?

Walter: You don’t understand the power you’ve been tasked with.

Lionel: The power?

Walter: Yes, the power Lionel. The raw power. It’s never just a baked potato, my friend. What comes with the potato?

Lionel: The works, like I said. It’s got bacon, sour cream, chives, a bit of cheese…

Walter: And you want to call it a potato? With the works? Are you mad?

Lionel: I know this is my first menu gig, but what’s the deal? It is just a potato.

Walter: Lionel, have you ever been to IHOP?

Lionel: Actually, no, I’ve never been. Don’t eat out much.

Walter: Do you know what they call their signature crepe dish? Comes with strawberries, eggs, just your standard mixed breakfast. You know what they call it?

Lionel: Nope. No idea.

Walter: The call it the International Crepe Passport.

Lionel: The Inter… why?

Walter: Exactly. There are many reasons why someone might name a plate of food something so ridiculous. Perhaps they want to trademark the name, keep people from copying them. Maybe it goes with their whole brand identity… whatever that means. But Lionel, do you know why I would name a dish the International Crepe Passport?

Lionel: I honestly have no idea.

Walter: Because I can make people say whatever I want them to. Any ridiculous notion that pops into my head – if I can give the people that hired me a convincing enough reason why a plate of spaghetti should be called the Meat and Squiggles Carb-O-Rama, I can make strangers say it.

Lionel: But why would you want to?

Walter: To leave a mark, Lionel. To leave a mark. You ever been to a Juicenasium?

Lionel: The smoothie place?

Walter: Yes, the smoothie place. Juicenasium hired me to name their drinks and oh, I named them well. The Banana Fantasia. Moo-cha Latte Muscle Milk. Pom-Berry Blaster. And of course, Matcha Matcha Bo Batcha… also comes with bananas. Every day, smoothie hungry customers come from their workouts and say those words to another human being who then makes them a delicious drink. It’s magical.

Lionel: What if they just point to the menu? Like, what if they don’t want to say the ridiculous thing and they just go, that one?

Walter: Then who has to say it?

Lionel: The order taker, I suppose?

Walter: Precisely. They would have to confirm the order. In every interaction, someone is saying the insanity I cooked up in my lab. This, Lionel, is immortality. Silly, inane immortality, but immortality nonetheless.

Lionel: Hmm. So writing a menu is a weird power-mad god-complex for you then?

Walter: And so it can be for you too.

Lionel: Well, then what will our potato be called?

Walter: Think Lionel – harness the power of the over-descriptive. We have bacon, let’s focus on that in the title. People love bacon, so we keep it up front. And the flavours! This thing is an explosion of taste. It’s not just a baked potato, it’s an experience. What can we force another human being to say?

Lionel: I am quite certain you are the only menu writer on the planet who thinks like this.

Walter: What can we call it? Focus!

Lionel: Sigh. Let’s call it… oh, I don’t know… Sir Francis Bacon’s Bouncing Betty Baked Bonanza?

Walter: Lionel, you’re a mad genius. We’ll need to workshop it, but you are really on to something kid. You are really on to something…