Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paper Rose

Another gem from English 160. Now I'm experimenting with the idea of the first-person observer, that is, the person who watches the action, sees all but experiences none of it.


The girl sat alone in a corner of the coffee shop. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I collected my low-fat Americano from the barista, saw her bury her face in her hands as I slipped a dollar in the change jar, then straighten up and tuck her hair behind her ears as I walked back to my table. She had long brown hair, almost black, that fell in front of her eyes when she shook her head. A full cup of coffee, an old-fashioned white china mug, rested on the table in front of her, spent sugar packets surrounding it like a battered halo.


The girl rummaged through her purse and took out her cell phone, stabbing fingers into the buttons before holding the device to her ear. She waited, drumming on the table with her other hand, before swearing softly and hanging up. The phone skittered across the table and fell on the empty bench beside her as she flung it on the table, and swearing more volubly now, leaned over to retrieve it. As she straightened up, fixing her hair again, I caught a glimpse of her face in the light of the afternoon sun piercing through the window of the shop. She had deep blue eyes, the color of some tropical ocean. You could look into those eyes and imagine lying on some beach together with a drink at your elbow, listening to birds chittering from the bushes as you watched the sun set.

She was watching the door. I blew on my Americano and turned towards the door as well, sipping my coffee as I did so. The box full of used cups and dishes jingled softly behind me as someone dropped a saucer in.

You should go over and talk to her.

The thought entered my head without so much as a ‘hello’ or a ‘how’s the weather’, blazing into my thoughts as only an inspiration can. I took a deep breath.

Don’t be ridiculous. She’s probably waiting for someone.

So what? They’re not here, are they?

They could be. Any minute now.

Look at her, man. She’s cute, she’s here by herself and so are you. You should go over and talk to her! She’s probably thinking right now “Why doesn’t that cute guy come over here and have a seat?”

Or she isn’t. And then-

And then what? What’s the worst that could happen?

She could say no. She could think I’m a freak for just asking, tell me to get out, tell me-
Spare me. Look, if you don’t take a chance, you’ll never win a penny.

Over in her corner, the girl shrugged her arms into her coat and picked up her china mug and saucer.

See? Now or never, man! Go talk to her! Just go do it! Come on!

I-- Oh, hell.

The inner debate ended as I pushed myself up from the wooden bench. I knocked my knee against the table, cursing as my drink twirled at the edge of the table and then, almost gracefully, dumped its contents all over my pants.

Had the girl seen me, my fears of looking like an idiot would have come entirely true; she, however, was busy hurling insults at the man with the black leather jacket who had just come through the glass door. “Bastard! Jerk! Where were you?” she fumed. “I’ve been sitting here all by myself for half an hour, looking like a complete idiot, and you’ve been—where? Where have you been?”

“Baby, I got caught up in traffic, simmer down! Simmer down!” His hands were drawn up in front of him as if to remove a steaming teakettle from a stove, but the teakettle would have none of it. “Simmer down? Simmer down! You were with her again, weren’t you! You were late for our date because you were with Jessica! I knew it!” She advanced, jabbing a finger into his chest and hissing like a viper.

While treating my soaked pants with napkins snatched from the rack behind me, I couldn’t help but watch the budding apocalypse in the middle of the shop. Conversations died like flowers in autumn as other patrons turned to stare, and even the barista put down the tip jar to see what was happening.

“I was caught up in traffic! There was some guy on the road, some guy in a Volvo that cut me off, every damn time he cut me off, I was on the highway for an hour and a half because of this sonuvabitch!” He didn’t back away from the charge, meeting her stare for angry stare. His hands tightened around a piece of white paper from his jacket pocket.

“You were with her again! God, can’t you at least tell the truth to my face?” Water began to fill the corners of her eyes. “I know you’re still in love with her, damn you! Just say it! Just say it and get it over with!”

“That is not true. That is not true!”

“I know it is, I know it, I know it…” Her anger was slowly dissolving. The man stepped hesitantly toward her and made as if to enfold her in his arms, but she planted a hand on his chest and backed away. “I love you. I love you, Marie”, came from him, but she turned away on high heels with a hand over her eyes. “Go. Just, go.”

“Marie-“

“Just go! GO!”

The man hesitated, half-stepped towards the door, then flung the piece of paper aside and practically bolted. The girl stood like that in the middle of the shop for a second, tears now streaming past her hand and dropping off her chin. The cup fell from her other hand, rebounding from the floor and spilling coffee everywhere. A sliver of white china fell away from the mug. She swore again, mopping at her eyes with a napkin, then walked towards my table and the box of china behind me. She thrust the mug into the box. I couldn’t help looking up into her eyes, her deep blue eyes, as she paused for a moment over me. She glanced down at me sitting there, me with my soaking wet pants and grande Americano, and paused for just a moment. Tears fell from her eyes onto my table. I opened my mouth to say something, I don’t know what, but she was already striding out through the open door.

As I looked around, trying to make sense of the suddenly empty scene, my eyes fastened on the paper the man had thrown aside. It lay on the floor near my table, drowning in a puddle of coffee. I picked it up and unwrapped the outer coating. Inside was a single paper rose.

Breaking Twenty

This is one of a few pieces I've been writing for my English 160 class. This particular item was composed shortly before class, like ten minutes shortly, but I think it still turned out pretty well. Enjoy.


A stream of apple juice pours from the soft drink dispenser, pattering gently into the Styrofoam cup that its owner holds wearily beneath it. Ryan turns away with the full cup, squinting in the early morning light that gazes in through the windows, and grabs a frosted roll from the rack beside him. A plastic fork and a Styrofoam plate complete the sorry ensemble as Ryan walks back to one of the many square tables dotting the hotel cafeteria.

“Gonna make you fat, man. Slow you down.”

The owner of the voice, a wiry young boy named Terrence, looks up from a newspaper to deliver these words of wisdom. “Get some Cheerios or something”, he advises once more before diving back into the sports pages. “ATLANTA FALLS TO GIANTS” reads the headline, with a picture of a heavily muscled man caught mid-celebration beneath it.

A baleful glare is his only answer from across the table as Ryan crunches into the cinnamon roll, scattering flakes of sugar over the table like a brief snowfall. The fluorescent lights above them flicker and die momentarily, as if even they are disgusted by the early hour, before once more reviving to cast their clumsy light over the table.

The scene around them shifts as more boys descend the stairs, most trying unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns behind gloved hands. All are garbed for the outdoors, clothed in layer upon layer of sweats and UnderArmor. A few head for the small buffet, but most opt to snack on energy bars or graham crackers. Ironically, they will be outside today in the scantiest of clothing, despite all their preparations to the contrary.

“See, man? What’s all this about?” Terrence prods the roll for emphasis. The brief snowfall is over, with a dusting of sugar scattered all across the table. “You’ll never break 20 eating shit like that. Go get some real food or something. At least get a bar for later.”

“Shut up. I’m going to break twenty.”

“No, dude. What’s your best time? Twenty-fifty? You barely came in under 21 minutes, you need all the help you can get.”

For the first time, some life shows in Ryan’s eyes. “Fuck off, man. My mile time was six and a half minutes last race. That’s under 20 for a five-kilometer race.”

“Yeah, and your last mile was eight minutes. Get serious, dude! You have to pick that shit up!”

“Shut up.”

“You know I’m right, man. Stop being a pussy and just run!”

The sun finally rises fully over the horizon, washing the pale room in gold and bronze. The leaves outside the hotel kitchen are suddenly outlined in fire.

“Didn’t I just tell you to fuck off!” Ryan is on his feet now with no memory of standing. All around the room, runners huddled over their meager breakfasts look up in surprise. The newspaper lies forgotten on the table, its headline drowning in spilt apple juice. “I’m going to break 20 no matter what I eat! You watch me! You watch me go over that line at the end of the tunnel, because I will fucking well fly over it if I so choose!” Ryan stops, aware for the first time of the eyes around him, ranging from startled interest to newly awakened vigor. “And I hope you’re right beside me so you can personally watch! Let it be known, I will break 20 minutes on the damn 5K! Now, today, end of discussion! And we will win this race because I know every one of you will run with the same heart, the same balls and determination and fire, as I will! Now how about it?”

There is no dramatic pause. As soon as Ryan’s last sentence hurtles out of his mouth, the whole team is up on their feet and crowding around the two of them in a sudden, spontaneous dogpile. A breathless outpouring of chants, encouragement, curses and random noise washes over the hotel buffet. At its center, Terrence catches Ryan’s still-furious eyes. He grins, even winks, then stands up and adds his stenotorian yell to the crowded room. “LET’S DO THIS, GREYHOUNDS!!” rebounds off the walls and smashes through the automatic doors.

The Spirit World is a Crock of Shit

Dude, I don't claim to dispute werewolves, zombies, vampires, trolls, ogres, pixies, fairies, brownies, leprechauns, kappas, sea monsters, sea serpents, Megalodon, Cthulhu, goblins, dwarves, elves or anything of the sort. Hell, I hope to make a living off of them at some point in the future. But I most heartily debunk the idea of coming back after death as some sort of spirit, or further, the idea that there is life after death that you can come back from, at all, ever (in the form of a haunting or whatever). Maybe there's a heaven or a hell, but it's strictly a one-way ticket into either. Here's why.

How many people have died since we could recognizably be called humans? I'm going to go with a nice, round, hundred billion people. That's a hundred billion men, women, children, soldiers, kings, emperors, scientists, peasants, human sacrifices, people of every conceivable size, shape and stripe. So there's some diversity there (just a little, mind you) to pick and choose from.

And if you believe in ghosts, then some of those people (not all, or we'd be up to our collective balls in dead jugglers), more or less arbitrarily, get a second shot at life. Not really life, but the chance to remain on Earth and wander around and be spooky at people.

Now, keeping in mind that every conceivable personality type is also there to choose from, the first thing every ghost ever reported or suspected does upon returning to the land of the living... is skulk around and haunt some random location. Or slink into a corner and make ambiguously creepy noises. I mean, NO ghost gets back to this plane and goes "Hey! I just returned from unspeakable torment in the beyond! I think I'm gonna live a little, go out to some clubs, party down!" No. They go to their randomly chosen location and they STAY there. Forever. That seem a little odd? Doesn't it seem like at least some ghosts would opt to go live the good life?

Also, they tend to be 'seen' in about the least desirable pieces of real estate possible. Shores where ships were wrecked, creaky old houses, caves, graveyards, that whole bit. Wouldn't some ghosts take one look at a dark, dank ossuary and go "Whoa, fuck that. I'm heading for Vegas"?

We're also assuming that all ghosts instantly become morons when they arrive in the real world again. Even assuming there's some ghosts (as is commonly assumed to be the case) that are there to avenge something, or their own deaths, or to find some way to rest in peace, these ghosts apparently feel that the best way to get their point across is... making random noises. Or toppling over a bureau or something to get attention. Hey, if they can make noises, they can talk, and if they can talk they can say "Hey! Current owner of this house! Yes, you, fuckwad! I'm a ghost, my body is in the backyard, go and bury me properly! Thank you, g'bye!" No fuss, no muss, no creepy legends. And even if they can't talk, they can arrange toothpicks or something to say "I AM A GHOST. HEAR ME ROAR." on the table, right?

But the real problem here is awareness of the spirit world. Every single ghost has to have this temptation when they come back to the real world to blow the spirit world wide open, to do shit in a public place that leaves no doubt whatsoever that ghosts are in the house. And you could totally do that. Ghosts with even one of the wide repertoire of skills that are commonly ascribed to them-talking, moving shit around poltergeist-style, possessing people-could do so much shit. They could, say, head over to the White House, yank all the paintings outside and make them dance around on the front lawn. Or possess Barack Obama when he's giving a nationally televised speech and make him do handstands and backflips. Or interrupt an open-air event, steal a microphone and have at the yelling (or float it over the heads of the crowd). The possibilities are literally endless.

And don't mistake how important this would be. If you're a politician, a scientist, a tyrant, a pioneer in your field, people will remember you. But for how long? Who ran against Andrew Jackson for President? My point exactly. What's the name of the guy who discovered continental drift? Yeah, we could look it up, but whoever he is, he ain't a household name. And if you aren't lucky or skilled enough to get yourself into one of those fields, you're kinda screwed as far as remembrance goes beyond your circle of friends, family and coworkers.

The name of the guy that reveals the spirit world to actually exist, the name of the guy or gal who answers one of the most-asked questions in all of history, that name will be remembered forever. Like, for fucking ever. I'm talking Jesus, Moses, Buddha-level ever. Every person on the planet with access to the media will know your name. There'll be religions created about you, there'll be songs, epic poems, books about your life. People will call you a prophet, a saint, a devil, a god. Your name will be in science, in literature, in art, in music, present in every aspect of human life for thousands of damn years. You will have carved your name into history and achieved fame such as few men have dreamed of. You will be the ultimate Internet meme. (Albeit after you're dead.)

And you're telling me that no one, not one single solitary ghost, thinks of this idea and has the ghostly balls and cleverness to pull it off (because if they had, we would know it already). Not one. Ghosts just completely shed human nature once they arrive in the afterlife (which we're assuming they don't because they still have goals that they come back to haunt for, right?). Not one of those kings and emperors, not the greatest minds that ever lived, can figure out what to do and how to do it and get the word to the living that the spirit world exists.

And that is just a crock of shit idea.

So we're left with just two options: Either the spirit world does not exist as something people can come back from, OR Zeus is watching with his thunderbolts and is ready to vaporize every ghost who tries, for whatever reason (maybe he's just bored since Battlestar Galactica went off the air).

So for future reference: if you're in a public place and the lights start to dim, or a chair starts to wobble without anything touching it, or your teacher starts speaking Latin backwards ("Hee mo lay haa") and suddenly everything's back to normal, and then the air smells like ozone... let me know RIGHT THE FUCK AWAY and I will proceed to blow your mind.

I'm done here. Peace out, y'all (and ghosts).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Packers vs. Vikings Post-Game Wrapup

Post-game Packers vs. Vikings thoughts:

-Through four games, the Packers have five sacks. They were held without one tonight. They have two from Cullen Jenkins (defensive end) and one each from linebackers Aaron Kampman, Clay Matthews and Brandon Chillar. What happened to the pressure? Favre was allowed to sit there for four, five and even a ridiculous 7.34 seconds and throw the ball untouched. Any QB in the league can complete passes with that kind of time, not that he needed it to beat the gaping holes in our zone coverage. Maybe it’s time to start having Al Harris press more, because he was getting beaten all day by Bernard Berrian. Derrick Martin appeared to be at fault on the touchdown to Berrian.

-Eight sacks is a travesty in so many ways. All I can say is that Rodgers held the ball too long. Against another defense or with better linemen, ‘too long’ might be 4-5 seconds. Against this defense and with these tackles, it was three seconds. He has to realize that and go to whatever open man he sees first. I remember at least two sacks where he pumped once and got hit as he was reloading. There’s no time for that shit. Rodgers was running headlong into linebackers instead of scrambling. Even on his one scramble for 12 yards, he waited near the line of scrimmage for someone to get open before finally tucking and running. That speaks of him feeling the pressure and needing to throw.

-Welcome to the NFL, Jermichael Finley. Finley’s 62-yard catch and run for a score and his later 37-yard completion were masterful. Finley took a step closer to taking the No. 1 tight end position. He made a good catch on the ball at the goal line but was wrapped up by a LB before he could get to the end zone. There was a point where Finley was beating whatever safety he was matched up on. It’s nice to see that one of the pieces from the preseason has fallen into place.

-What has happened to Greg Jennings? In the past three games, he has a total of just six catches. Yes, the two against the Rams combined for 103 yards, but you have to wonder why Rodgers isn’t getting the ball to his No. 1 wideout more. Is he not open enough, or what’s going on? Last year Jennings dominated teams through the first six weeks of the season. He has done nothing of the kind this year.

-Another week, another good game from Ryan Grant. Grant has flown somewhat under the radar this season and has yet to reach 100 yards in a game, limited as he is by McCarthy’s playcalls that heavily favor the pass (only five runs in the first half this time around). Still, Grant ran hard for 51 yards on 11 carries and, for the first time in a long time, showed some pop as a receiver. He caught three screens that went for first downs, and on one of the final desperation drives made a great catch over the middle and picked up 15 yards, the first down and got out of bounds to stop the clock. That was as good of a play as I’ve seen him make this year.

-The officials certainly didn’t help the Packers this time around, flagging them for 7 penalties for 57 yards. While that’s a marked improvement (sadly), that still cannot be tolerated. Six of them came in the first half and all were costly. Woodson’s phantom PI call in the end zone that nullified his interception was pure horseshit, but it would have been wiped out anyway by an offsides call on the same play. There were a lot of blatant holds by the Vikings that went completely uncalled.

-Our secondary was just not there. Everyone was getting beat, but to be fair, the best of the best pros at CB and S will break down in coverage with zero pass rush. And when I say zero, I mean zero. Favre was hit once by Kampman. That was it. Literally, that was the only knockdown. It’s not as if Favre was stepping out of the way of pressure either, it’s that the pressure simply was not there. How hard can it be to sack a department store mannequin in the pocket?

-Having said that, holding Adrian Peterson to something like 25 carries, 56 yards is a huge step for the run defense. For the most part, the Packers swarmed to the football, didn’t let Peterson run outside the tackles and stacked him up at the line of scrimmage. Clay Matthews made an amazing play to rob Peterson of the ball on his fumble return for a TD; that seemed to take the mojo right out of Peterson. I believe that was the last carry on which he just would not go down; after that, he went to the turf more quietly and didn’t finish his runs like he did in much of the first half. For a runner who had historically torn through the Packers’ various defenses like a human tornado-only being stopped in the second game of 2007 by a knee injury-this was a pleasure to watch.

-Where’s Nick Collins gone off to? His clavicle injury will surely benefit from the bye week, but the Packers haven’t called his name since the first game of the year. He doesn’t appear to be playing aggressively and isn’t around the ball as much (just one tackle tonight). Getting him back up to form will be a major plus for this defense.

-The 2009 Packers have to be the best fourth-quarter team I have ever seen. I’m sure the stats would bear me out, but the Internet is down as I write this so I’ll have to improvise: Against the Bears, they score a dramatic game-winning TD. Against the Bengals, they rediscover offensive life near the end and are poised to win the game but run out of time. Against the Rams, they shut them out and score two TDs in the fourth quarter. And tonight against the Vikings: The defense erases Adrian Peterson from the map, finds the testicles it had been missing all night and prevents Favre from doing anything whatsoever. The offense goes into superfuck mode, mounting two long scoring drives. If we could just channel that fourth quarter excellence and make it last entire games, we would be doing to teams what we did to the Arizona Cardinals in the first half this preseason. (Obviously the internet is back now but it's late and I'm lazy.)

-Speaking of which, it is officially time for us to start living in the now (as it were) and forget completely about the 2009 preseason. Those Packers were invincible along the O-line, completed whatever passes they chose to complete, stifled opposing quarterbacks and forced enough turnovers to open their own Applebees’. These Packers are and can do none of the above, with the exception of forcing turnovers. These Packers are on pace to allow 80 sacks this season, and I can say with certainty that if we continue like this, Aaron Rodgers will not make it all the way through the year. And then we will REALLY be fucked.

-That series on the goal line pretty much summed up the night on offense. The Packers were moving the ball with impunity until they got to the five yard line of the Vikings. On first down, Grant ran for 4. On second down, a handoff to John Kuhn went nowhere as Kuhn went flying through the air to land just shy of the goal line. On third down, Rodgers’ quick (forced) pass to Finley went nowhere as the LB covering him made an exquisite tackle. On fourth down, Donald Lee dropped the TD. I very much support McCarthy’s decision to go for it there, but goddamn, that TD could have helped us out immeasurably.

-Finally, while this sucks like hell, it is not the end of the world. The Packers have a bye week to get healthy (and pray that Colledge, Jenkins and Blackmon don’t have serious injuries) at the end of which they should get Chad Clifton and Atari Bigby back. After that, we can pick our asses up and maybe make some noise in the NFC.

WHAT WE HAVE, HAVE, HAVE TO DO OVER THE BYE WEEK:

-Settle Rodgers down. Make it clear beyond a doubt to him that in games like that, it’s OK-hell, it’s great-to throw to your first open man. You don’t have to make a huge play every time. There were far too many moments in tonight’s game where Rodgers looked, saw something and looked again for something bigger and wound up getting sacked. That can’t happen again like it did tonight.

-Dom Capers, reshuffle your blitzes. We didn’t blitz hardly at all tonight. The one time we did that was effective, I remember, Charles Woodson got in Favre’s face and deflected the pass (although Taylor still caught the thing). Otherwise there was no pressure. This defense has produced turnovers but not sacks; let’s get some sacks.

-Sign a left tackle. I don’t care how, I don’t care whom (I think the ex-Bengal Levi Jones is the best on the market right now) but sign a goddamn left tackle over the bye week and give him some time to get acclimated. Call it shutting the barn door after the horse has fucking flown away, call it whatever you like, but do it. If Clifton goes down again and all we have to throw out against the NFL’s elite right ends is Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang, we’re going to see the same thing over and over again as we saw with Antuan Odom and Jared Allen. God, ESPN showed every one of his sack dances, and every single one made me physically sick.