Bad Short Story 1

I probably shouldn’t be proud of taking care of this without any problems. Last time I forgot my pants and that obviously made for some frustration. This time, though, everything is taken care of. I’m slowly coming up the stairs, certain of the response I’ll get from my wife.

The door opens without me even reaching for my keys and there she is. My wife. Standing there with those beautiful, loving, patient eyes. Another Friday night and I’ve done it again. From the time she knows exactly where I’ve been. She asks me the same questions, already knowing how I’ll answer.

“Again?”

“I just had to do it.”

“Why can’t I go with you?”

“We each just have to do our own thing.”

“I can help.”

“No.”

Friday is actually the perfect time for me to get this issue out of the way. But it is something I need to do alone. It gives us a chance to spend the rest of the weekend together, uninterrupted from the thoughts that inevitably start creeping from the back of my head. It’s become habitual at this point and I think she is starting to just accept that.

I dump out the laundry on the bed and go about with the folding. Another two weeks and I’ll be at it again.

A Gentlemen’s Debate on the Train

This is how two gentlemen, packed tightly into a train, argue over the most peculiar of smells. Inspired by a real smell.
 —

I pray thee, good sir
What is that odd smell?
It’s of dinner leftovers, but now?
It’s just short of nine, and cereal’s just fine
So why’s this smell coming out of your pits?

Oh you, little man
What do you do there
With your nose plugged under my arm?
Get your nose out from there, for then you won’t care
What it is that I ate just this morn.

Eat, did you say?
For it seems that you’re bathed
In the smell of reheated Chinese
Your coat sends it out, ever-expanding the clout
Of this smell on my morning commute.

All yours is this ride?
We’re all off to work
On this crowded wheeled box called a train!
Whether morning or night, the time’s always right
For dinner as breakfast instead.

Wine, Followed by Bagel

Because sometimes bad decisions lead to good outcomes

So maybe a bottle of wine and Netflix wasn’t the best idea. It wasn’t terrible out. I could have gotten together with some friends, but sometimes the comfort of pajamas, merlot, and nearly infinite movie or TV options in your apartment is all you need. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that I probably should have gone out for groceries last night. But again, with a full bottle of wine available, it didn’t seem like I needed anything from the store.

Until the hangover, of course.

In hindsight, I could have grabbed some pancake mix or frozen waffles from the bodega on the way home. Something easy but filling. Something to make the pounding of my skull go away. I certainly can’t drink like I used to.

And that’s another thing. Why does it seem like this week is the week where I’m consistently reminded of how old I’m getting? I understand that I’m not some 21-year old anymore, but turning 30 really shouldn’t be this kind of slow march to the grave.

Compliments to my mom for starting off this lovely chain of events. Our talk over the phone about my being single and “the right time to have kids” wasn’t awkward at all, by the way. I know you were married and expecting by my age. I know you had it all figured out. As that kid you were expecting, I really appreciate it. But the next time I go out on a date thanks to OkCupid or eHarmony or whatever other bullshit is out there, my opening line is not going to be “I’m looking to settle with someone so my mom stops comparing me to herself” (though it would definitely be an amusing date after that, to say the least).

Just thinking about this is making my head hurt even more. I can deal with mom and my possible flirtation with becoming a nun later. For right now I need something to eat, and a bagel would be just the thing to turn me around.

Because the weather never reflects my state of mind, its “bright, clear, and sunny skies” across the city. As we all know, sunlight is the bane of three things: vampires, boogiemen, and people who just woke up with a massive hangover. In emergency situations like this, where a bagel is the difference between satisfaction and continued irritation, I turn to my most protective and charming sunglasses. While I don’t make enough to afford one of those fancy Michael Kors sunglasses that look like something out of the 70s, my knock-off shades do the trick, even if I do look more like a two legged bug instead of a stylish fashionista.

It’s springtime in the city and practically noon, so I’d expect the usual crowd of people walking along in the streets between my place and the bagel shop. With my ear buds in (not playing any music of course) and my huge sunglasses on, I’m ready to block out everything that comes between me and my beloved bagel.

As I start making my way down the main street, it sounds like someone is literally screaming through my headphones.

“So I tell him, No Way! You don’t know the guy who owns this place! And he just smiles and calls for a round of shots!”

Who the hell is this? The ear buds aren’t even plugged in to anything. And why do they insist on banging their noise against my hungover brain?

“I look at him and I start thinking, Oh my god, he might actually be able to get us on to the roof!”

This is ridiculous. I stop to look around me and see a gaggle of girls walking down the other side of the street, being lead by a human megaphone. She’s young, bubbly, and so unbelievably loud. She is exactly what I’d like to avoid this morning, if not for the foreseeable future. I keep walking down my side of the street, hoping I can just get to my bagel shop before the noise gets any more obnoxious. After power-walking a few blocks, I notice the herd has slowed its pace and fallen behind. If they do window-shopping, all the better.

It’s the typical situation for a Saturday at noon. The line weaves around the counter as everyone is looking to get their weekend started off right. While I don’t look around to the see all the faces on line, I know most of these people are probably here for the same reason I am: to shake off a hangover with the best bagels in town. It’s clear that a number of us are nursing hangovers because a lot of us are being unusually respectful. No exceptionally loud noises, a lot of people seem to have their heads bowed low, covered by either a hoodie, sunglasses, or both, and a general patience for their turn at the counter. For a second you’d think we were in line for communion, if it weren’t for the guys behind the counter calling out orders to the hungry masses. Of course, on occasion, there are mumbles of “Thank God” when people received their order.

While I have plenty of time to consider what I wanted, I knew from the moment I woke up what would make the day better. An everything bagel, toasted, with plenty of veggie cream cheese. While there are plenty of suggested sandwiches written on the chalkboard (including one called the “Hangover Helper”), I’m not one to put my stock behind mountains of meat, grease, and bacon. Being a vegetarian and all, I’ve never really understood the whole fascination with clogging your arteries after a night of killing your brain cells.

As the procession to the altar of breakfast goodness continues, a shrill voice breaks the peace of the bagel shop.

“Oh My God! I think this is the bagel place everyone was talking about! We have to try it!”

You’ve got to be kidding me. While I’m lucky to not have the street herd of 20-somethings directly behind me, their leader’s nonstop yapping is heard loud and clear all through the line. Even the guys behind the counter had to shout a bit louder to make sure they are being heard. After a good 3 minutes of listening to them debate over what bagel to try, I was pretty sure this would be where I’d die. Hungry, irritated, and hungover.

“Can you do us all a favor and please shut up?”

It’s like music to my ears. I look around to see who shut down the noisy girls. Apparently, others on the line are just as curious, since they’re looking up and turning their heads to see who they should thank. I had never loved before in my life, but I was damn close after hearing what the lady at the front of the line had to say next.

“Seriously, you’re just way too loud for everyone right now and it’d be great if you could just quiet down.”

I’m sure everyone on line had been thinking this in their hungover heads. The problem, of course, is that once you flip out at someone in a crowded place, you’re still stuck with that person in the crowded place. It’s the same reason why people who argue on a crowded subway car look so awkward after they’re done yelling. But here’s this lady, crowded place and all, who lays down the law with no regard for the discomfort. It was so immediate, and so perfect, that the leader of their group could only get out a “Yeah well…” before my new hero just turns her back and goes to order her bagel.

With that out of the way, the line seems to pick up. The few whimpers that come from the once boisterous crew are only resigned suggestions of which bagel to try. Finally at the counter, I order my toasted everything bagel with veggie cream cheese. Today, with my hangover and all, I get a double treat. Not only do I get to enjoy the warmth of a perfectly toasted everything bagel with veggie cream cheese, but I get to look back and see how the now-defeated group of girls reacts to the news of there being no more everything bagels left.

Even with a hangover and all the associated crap from the week, a bagel always knows how to make everything better.

Sunday Sermon

Note: This story was written before I had realized that this Sunday is, in fact, Scout Sunday (the day that commemorates the founding of the Boy Scout movement in the United States, February 8, 1910). Regardless, I’m curious how many preachers would approach their Sunday sermons like our protagonist below.

It should be a simple sermon to write. The Boy Scouts are coming so everyone is expecting the usual Scout Sunday sermon. It’s not the first time I’ve given this kind of sermon. The usual pronouncement of “reverence to God” has become an annual tradition. Plus, it’s a great way to encourage the scouts’ parents to stop into the church more than once a year. Still, with so much going on in the world these days, it’d be nice to talk about something a little more timely.

Now, I’m certainly the last person you would expect who would want to stay up on the times. After all, I’m a preacher. My life’s work is in the interpretation and dissemination of the word of God. While times can be changing, God alone is the constant; the unwavering foundation of everything in the world. It’s because of this consistency that we can place our faith in God as we traverse the trials of our lives.

There I go again. Reverence in God. It’s not so much a bad message, as much as it is an obvious one. There’s a reason the expression is “preaching to the choir.” I don’t want to just double down on the things people already accept. If they didn’t believe in God or have faith they probably wouldn’t be here in the first place. While we have wars and famine and disease and inequality and nature itself in uproar, it would seem unsatisfying, to me at least, to be told to just continue to have faith. It’s akin to telling someone to keep breathing when they’re asking how to live. It’s not incorrect, but it’s certainly far from what they expected. And for all the offerings and time people spend with me in the house of God, I think I should be able to give them something better than that.

The world’s going to hell and we’re just along for the ride. That reminds me of a story.

A devout believer goes to church every Sunday. He prays, volunteers, and is an active member of his congregation. His church, nestled in a valley, enjoyed great affection from the community. One day, a great rainstorm began to cause floods throughout the valley.

The believer, ever confident in his Lord and Savior, went to church and prayed at the altar for hours. As the streets began to flood, a truck of emergency responders checked the church, found the man, and urged him to evacuate. He simply replied, “God will save me”. Without much choice as the road began to flood, the emergency responders left. As the rain continued to pummel the valley, the waters rose up to the church, flooding into the sanctuary. A boat of emergency responders came through and urged the man to hop in. The man, now praying from the elevated pulpit, again replied “God will save me” until the waters became too choppy for the boat and the responders had to leave. The water, continuing the rise, led the man to climb onto the roof of the church, where he continued to pray devoutly to the Lord. A helicopter hovered carefully over the church where emergency responders threw down ropes and demanded the man climb up. As he looked up at the helicopter he once again said “God will save me” before the roof collapsed around him and he sank down into the depths of the water and rubble.

Upon realizing he died, the believer was very angry with God. He marched over to the Pearly Gates and demanded that he be granted audience with the Lord. St. Peter obliged him and presented him to God. The believer angrily shouted “I had always believed in you! I went to church! I made offering! I prayed to the moment of my death! Why didn’t you save me?”. To all of this, the voice of God boomed: “I sent you a truck, a boat, and helicopter.”

I always enjoyed that story. While there are plenty of lessons to draw from it, I think the best one is that one should not allow their faith to obscure what is immediately in front of them. Even when the world goes to hell, you are still able to do something about it.

That’s it.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have stayed up so many nights this week reading Genesis, but the story of the Great Flood (and floods in general) is sticking out particularly. Scouting, as well as the tale of Noah’s Ark, are both about responsibility. With Scouting, it’s about holding oneself to a higher standard. All those oaths and laws that are taught are about conduct and responsibility. One of them, particularly, is about the world we live in. The Outdoor Code, I believe its called:

“As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate of the outdoors, and be conservation minded.”

A good paraphrase: “Leave things as good, if not better than, you find them.”

As much as I know Scouts enjoy fire and elaborate wooden constructions held together by advanced knots and lashings, there’s a certain value to preserving the inherent beauty of things in nature.

Our friend in the storm watched the world fall apart and expected God to directly intervene, even though we as human beings have developed many ways to protect ourselves. In many ways, you could draw a parallel between our friend and the world’s view today on climate change. There is a great deal of debate on whether or not humans are the driving force behind a changing climate. The debate itself is great not because of the validity of the arguments but because of how long it has gone on when the conclusion seems quite clear. In the same way that we have developed ways to save ourselves from great dangers, we have simultaneously created incredibly dangerous weapons that can ensure our destruction.

The Great Flood is a story enough people should remember. Noah is told by God to build an ark and to take two of every creature onto it. He does, the world floods, and the survivors of the boat repopulate the world. It’s a simple enough story but it glosses over something Christians might take for granted. God spoke to humanity to ensure the survival of life. He didn’t do this because he just felt like it. Since the beginning of creation, God placed humanity higher than all other life. That’s why we are “made in his image.” But while people nowadays often use the supremacy of the human race as justification to do whatever we want with the planet, whether it’s pollute, deforest, and generally trash our planet, we were given this position with a great deal of responsibility. God told Noah to get two of every animal on the boat because Noah would be responsible for the continued existence of life on Earth.

Today, we face extinction of living things we haven’t even fully understood or discovered. Rain forests are getting chopped down to make way for new “developments”. Ocean life suffers because of a giant floating island of garbage in the Pacific. On top of all that, global temperatures are rising, ice caps are melting, and we’re looking at the makings of a new Great Flood in our times.

God didn’t put us on Earth to do whatever we wanted. God made us from the Earth so that we could be its steward. We could take care of all life on the planet. By ignoring this responsibility, we ignore the duty to God that is our birthright (and is rightfully placed as the first duty in the Scout oath). As humans, we face a world that is challenged on a multitude of fronts. As believers, we have the responsibility of making the world better for all life. By doing that, we can hold ourselves to a higher standard and subsequently, be better Scouts.

Perhaps this is a little too provocative for a Scout Sunday Sermon. But I think its better to get people up and out of their seats to do something rather than just sitting in sanctuary to pray.

The Long Trip Home

The glances on the subway platform confirm it; I look great tonight. There’s definitely something empowering about feeling the world stop around you when you walk into a room. Previous talking lowers or stops entirely; any movement seems to come to a complete stand-still. And then of course, there are the turning heads. Even just those brief moments where the eyes look over briefly to acknowledge that someone significant has entered the room. Yes, I look incredible and you all wish you could talk to me right now. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be noticed?

I think men seem to confuse this sentiment with a desire to being objectified. Just because I look good does not mean you need to come over and tell me that directly. The expression goes “actions speak louder than words.” Whether you’re stopping what you’re doing when I walk in the room or turning your head to see me go by, that says to me a lot more than a stupid come on like “Hey baby you’re lookin’ fine tonight.” Well, no shit genius. I didn’t just roll out of bed doing my make up, fixing my hair, and picking an outfit because I thought it was good for my health. In the same way men pick clothes, dress themselves, and bathe (though not everyone seems to follow this maxim), women want to look good. Not because we are looking to get affirmation from every loser on the street, but because we want to feel good about ourselves. And in a world where everybody’s obsessed with appearances, yeah, I do want to look good. Not for you, but for me.

While it’s nice to get noticed when you walk into a room, the same can’t be said for the subway. I hate being noticed in the subway. You can walk in and out of a room. Once those doors close on the subway, you’re essentially stuck in a metal crate with whatever whackjobs share the space with you. Sure, you could walk between the cars, but have you tried walking between moving subway cars in high heels? I haven’t and the thought terrifies me. You put a lot of faith in the powers that be that your trip from point A to point B doesn’t involve the kind of creeps we all know are out there. Otherwise, you’re stuck in a metal box that’s traveling underground where your only hope to escape is the next train station. And of course, you know there are going to be train delays and stops in between where you can only hope the thin veneer of humanity holds long enough before guys start harassing you and asking for your number.

Aside from the drunks, the worst ones are the ones who don’t seem to understand English. I’m not talking about foreigners. I’m talking about men who don’t understand the meaning of “No”, “I’m not interested”, or “Please leave me alone”. I’m pretty sure that if I wore a sign saying “I’m married, have 2 kids, and do not appreciate being hit on” I would double the number of creeps that approach me on a daily basis. I can already imagine the encounters. “Are you being sarcastic?” No sweetheart, I’m just fucking tired of being hit on any day I decide I want to look good for me.

Perhaps I was wrong; the worst ones aren’t the ones who ignore your rebuffs. The worst ones are the ones who don’t say anything but insist on following you or staring at you, and it looks like I won the creeper lottery tonight. Look, I appreciate being recognized as a lovely person, but didn’t anyone ever teach you that staring is rude? On top of that, it’s terrifying. Why are you looking at me? Why aren’t you saying anything? I’ve switched cars twice already and each time you’ve followed behind, staying a few seats away but still fixating on every inch of my body like I was being scanned for imperfections. I’m not your damn property and I don’t think anyone would ever want to be followed like this. We hear enough about rape and sexual assault on a daily basis that it’s a surprise women aren’t walking around armed to the teeth to scare off stalkers like my follower tonight.

It’s times like this where I wish I brought my partner’s pepper spray with me tonight. Maybe if there were more people on this train this wouldn’t be happening, but I know that’s a lie. There have been too many times where things like this have happened where people have just looked down at their phones and ignored the need of women as if they were walking down the train car asking for donations.

I could pretend to reach for the pepper spray I know I don’t have, but that might just be a bluff that provokes this guy to get closer. My stop is coming up and the train car is empty except for my stalker and me. As we pull into my station I decide that I’ll just make a run for it in the second that the doors start to close. Walking between train cars in heels is beyond me, but running up and down stairs seems like one of the first things I learned, especially when I’m running late.

I didn’t look back after I sprang out of the train. I did hear the doors close on something that I can only imagine was my friend in the train car who didn’t quite make it out. He may have pushed them open and tried to follow me. It didn’t really matter. I kept running until I got back into my building. The elevator closed behind me and I felt a brief moment of relief. Once I closed the door behind me as I got back into my apartment, the sound of the bolt locking was like a rattle that brought me back to reality. I was safe.

After throwing my keys on the desk and heading over to the bathroom, I pulled off my wig and took off my shining ear rings. Even though I just shaved in the morning, I could notice very closely how facial hairs were starting to peek through my expertly applied make up. I looked myself in the mirror and noticed that I was shaking. It wasn’t the first time I came home in drag, but it was definitely one of the most terrifying. As the mascara started running from the mix of water and tears, I realized just how hard it was to be a woman.

The Sick Day

As a kid, I remember thinking that sick days were your way to beat the system. You could fake a cold, convince your parents you were “too sick to go to school” and you’d be set for 24-48 hours with the kind of agenda every kid dreams of: sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching cartoons and playing video games.

The problem with this utopian vision of cereal-and-milk filled euphoria was its premise of a lie. I don’t think I ever lied about being sick; I always actually was. So instead of laughing at my friends who were miserably sitting through school and chatting with each other in the lunchroom, I was coughing up a lung or chatting with myself or the TV with a bowl of soup. There’s nothing fun about a sick day when you’re actually sick. I suppose you’re not really beating the system at all.

Regardless, today’s sick day is not like the sick days of days past. I’m not just a kid who can tell mom he wants some soup; I’m a grown man who must drag himself over to his tiny little kitchen and make his own damn soup. Granted, it’s soup in a can, but I still have to get up. Being sick as a grown-up isn’t any more fun than being sick as a kid. Sure the independence is nice when you think back on times when your parents smothered you, but at least they were able to bring the soup.

I suppose what makes this cold even worse is the fact that I have to go to the doctor today. Why today and not tomorrow, when I most likely will be feeling better? Because my doctor won’t be in tomorrow and the only other doctor there is a pediatrician. While I appreciate a lolly pop as much as the next kid, the decorations of superheroes and ABC’s on the wall tend to make me feel more awkward than an adult watching kids at a playground.

For canned soup, this stuff doesn’t taste too bad. Granted, I can’t really taste anything with my taste-buds apparently on strike during this recent turn of my health. The soup’s warm and that’s all that really matters. If the apartment wasn’t so cold maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place. But shitty supers and broken heat is the story of just about everybody in the city come wintertime. For today, I’ll be lucky if I can even get to the doctor.

It probably would have been a good idea to check the weather before throwing on all these layers and dragging myself down the stairs of my third floor walk up. Snow has lost all the beauty and mystery it had back when I was a kid. It’s not the stuff from which snowmen and sledding are born; it’s the monster that engulfs people’s cars in giant frozen shells. And on days like today, it’s the crap that keeps flying in my eyes.

As if snow covering the sidewalks wasn’t enough, there’s a gust of wind making all these tiny snowflakes into a barrage of tiny dissolvable projectiles. You’d think I was walking through a full on blizzard. Of course, I might very well be. Another reason it would have helped to check the news this morning.

In the brief moments I decide to look up and squint through the wintry hellscape that has consumed my walk to the doctor, I notice I’m not the only schmuck attempting to get through this frozen nightmare. There’s a couple held closely together making their way up the block towards the train, huddled together behind an umbrella big enough for less than one of them. They’re holding it horizontally as if they were soldiers marching behind a shield blocking a barrage of arrows. Of course, it doesn’t really work that well and all this does is prevent them from seeing the people in front of them, which only makes them look more ridiculous as they bump into pedestrians and slip all over the un-shoveled sidewalk.

It was charming and they were certainly a cute couple, fumbling like a stray pinball up the sidewalk. Yet as this beautifully quaint moment captured the essence of the day, a determined and bold pair of snowflakes assaulted my eyes. Turning my head back down, I coughed up more phlegm as my nostrils oozed snot that decided now was the right time to let loose. It’s a hell of a day for a walk.

Though I’d hoped the weather would keep the crowd at the doctor to a minimum, I’m greeted to the sounds of kids screaming as they whiz past the receptionist and around the chairs that make up the waiting room. I briefly debate whether or not I prefer the blizzard to this new circle of hell, and figure that if I can get some meds out of the deal, the waiting area will be worth it. I give my name to the receptionist as I suavely wipe some fresh mucus from my leaky nose, and she tells me my doctor had to leave early. Rather than hear the reason why this arrangement wasn’t communicated, I just point to the screaming children who are now on their third lap around the waiting room.

“Both doctors were in today. You can still…”

I just nod my head in sad resignation. The pediatrician it is. As long as I can get some meds for this damn cold, it’ll all be worth it.

I throw myself back into a seat in the furthest corner of the room, hoping to minimize contact with the little germ bags. Perhaps sensing my irritation, they decide to take wider loops around the waiting room. As I reflect on whether its possible to throw a leg out and “accidentally” trip one of these screaming sacks of disease, one of them slows down and approaches my seat with a sort of open curiosity. I may have judged this kid wrongly. After all, he may very well have been me years ago, running around to try and live through some idealized notion of what sick days are supposed to be about: fun, joy, and beating the system. While fresh mucus begins to run down my nostril, I begin to think that maybe the universe has been trying to send me some deeper, fuller message.

And then the little shit sneezed on me and ran away.

As his triumphant war cry faded back into the cacophony of noise in the waiting room, a nurse calls my name. Wiping the recently airborne saliva from my pint-sized attacker, I saunter over to the receptionist with a mixed feeling of elation for getting out of my medical purgatory but knowing that I’m only headed deeper into the depths of hell. After being walked into my examination room, I see the adornments I wished so dearly to avoid: Captain America, Sesame Street, and the goddamn ABCs. As these decorations smiled stupidly back at my disgruntled face, I thought about the ordeal that it took to get here. The sickness, the busted heat in the apartment, the frozen nightmare I traversed to get here, my doctor not being in, and the waiting room under occupation by running, screaming, and sneezing, little monsters. Perhaps this level of introspection was unnecessary to answer the question that came, but it all came back to me regardless.

“So, what seems to be the problem today?”