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calvin writing
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Idol 2018 Mini-Season, Week 6
Topic: Not My First Rodeo

I am taking my first bye.

Kayfabe: "The Mars Expedition"
calvin writing
 Idol 2018 Mini-Season, Week 5
Topic: Kayfabe
Stan was alone on Mars.  He sat in his shelter eating macaroni and cheese for lunch.  Again.  Through the only window, he could see the bleak Martian landscape.  Still, this was his mission.  This was what he had trained for – the first person on Mars!
“Think of the glory,” the astronaut thought.  “I’ll be famous when I get back – I bet there’ll be a parade!”
But before the fame there was survival.  The air was too thin to breathe, so outside his shelter the astronaut had to wear his space suit.  And right now, there was a ferocious storm with winds so strong it made his little building shake.  He could barely see ten feet out the window.
“Too bad I’m stuck here,” he thought.  “I want to go outside.”
The astronaut hated being trapped inside.  Outside meant freedom – there was a whole world to explore that no one had ever seen.
“I have important experiments and new places to see,” he thought.  “I want to go bouncing!”
The gravity on Mars wasn’t as strong as on Earth, so he could hop like a kangaroo, only better.  He couldn’t jump in his shelter, though.  He had tried it a few times and Mission Control always made him stop.
“Quit jumping on your bed!” Mission Control had said.  “Keep it up, and you’ll never get out of your room!”
Somehow, Mission Control always knew what he was doing, even though Mars was so far away.  “You just don’t listen,” she would say, “it’s like you’re on another planet.”
Sometimes he just ignored Mission Control, especially when the Rules were involved.  Once, the astronaut had asked her how she always knew when he was breaking a Rule, but she had just smiled.  Mission Control was like that; still, he missed her, especially her brownies.
Right now, the astronaut had to wait for the storm to pass, but the winds weren’t going to die down until he cleaned his shelter. 
“There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place,” Mission Control had told him.
“But what if its place is on the floor?” the astronaut had said. 
“Try it and find out,” she had said.  She wasn’t smiling.
Mission Control almost always smiled when she saw the astronaut, but not when she saw the mess in his shelter.  “Pick it up.  Now.” she’d said.
“It’s not my job” wasn’t the answer she’d been looking for.
“Then you’ll just have to stay in your room until it is your job,” Mission Control had said.  Then the storm had started.
Well, the astronaut was stuck in his shelter until it went away and that wouldn’t happen until everything was neat and clean.  The astronaut liked a messy room, but this was a pretty angry storm.
“I have to think of something,” thought the astronaut, as he sat on the edge of his bed, swinging his legs and staring out the window.  There was no way out until the storm calmed down, which wasn’t going to happen unless he cleaned his room.  He looked around at the jumble of books, the chemistry set, squirt guns, inventions, spare parts, balls, and clothes.  The astronaut had all his best ideas here.
“I need someone to do it for me,” he hoped.  But he was alone.  If he didn’t do it, he would never get out.  “If I had a robot . . .” he thought.  Normally, the Chief Engineer built his robots, but he wasn’t here and the astronaut missed him.  He knew how to calm storms.
“I’ll have to build it myself,” thought the astronaut, “but first I need some parts.”
The only equipment was outside in the spaceship.  But what about the storm?
“I need the vacuum cleaner,” the astronaut radioed Mission Control. 
The storm immediately died down.  “It’s in the hall closet,” Mission Control answered.  “You can leave your room to get it.”
The astronaut put on his space helmet and strapped on his gravitron shoes, which would help him walk on Mars despite the low gravity.  He knew the storm could start again without warning and he didn’t want to get blown away.
The astronaut wheeled the mobile vacuum device back to his shelter.  “The MVD’s motor is just the right size for my robot,” he thought, as he found his tool kit and set to work removing the casing. 
It took a while, but the astronaut finally managed to free the motor.  Suddenly, a hideous Martian opened his door -- she was twice as big as the astronaut, with curly blond hair.  The storm also burst into full fury.
“What have you done to the vacuum cleaner?” shouted the Martian, who was clearly very angry.  “You’re in so much trouble . . .” she started to say.
Before the Martian could finish, the astronaut grabbed his blaster and proceeded to shower her with a hail of deadly foam darts.
The Martian had made a big mistake.  “She left the door open!” thought the astronaut, as he ran past her, firing his gun as he went.  “I’m out!”
As he sped down the hall, he heard her yell, “Stan!  Get back here!  Now!”
If she said anything more, the astronaut didn’t hear it.  He ran out the back door and saw the Emergency Escape Pod in the tree.  Luckily, the ladder was down.  He climbed up and pulled it after him.
He didn’t hear anything.  He peeped out the window and didn’t see anything.  “I’m free!” he thought.  “Now what do I do?”
He knew he was in trouble and he felt bad.  If he’d cleaned his shelter, he could let it get messy again and that was always fun.  But he was stuck in the Emergency Escape Pod and he didn’t know what to do.  He didn’t know how to put the MVD back together -- it was always easier to take stuff apart.  Worse than anything, he was bored.
“Well,” he thought, “I can say I’m sorry.”  He was sorry, and then he could clean his room.  Maybe the Chief Engineer could fix the MVD – he was good at that.
The astronaut climbed down and started to walk back – and then he smelled it.  “Brownies!” he thought, as he started to run.
He didn’t see the plate of brownies until he got to his shelter.  They were on his bed, along with a broom, some rags, and spray cleaner.  There was a note on the brownies: “We need to talk,” was all it said.
The astronaut got to work and mostly got the shelter ready for his next adventure.  Then he ate the brownies.  He didn’t want to talk to Mission Control, but he knew he had to.
The astronaut took the plate downstairs to Mission Control.  “Are you ready to talk, Stan?” said his mother.  “This can’t happen again.”
“I know,” said Stan, looking down at the floor.  “I’ll be better.”
“I wonder what life is like in the Fifth Dimension,” he thought.  “Do they have brownies?”
“You have to clean your room when I ask,” said his mother.  “You’re getting too old for this.”
Suddenly, an interdimensional rift opened at Stan’s feet.  He could see the Fifth Dimension!
“You are a part of this family,” said his mother, “and you’ve got to contribute your share.”
Stan felt the rift dragging him in.  His mother’s voice began to fade when she started talking about the vacuum cleaner.  When she stopped, he told her “I’ll do my best,” and ran to his bedroom to get his blaster.  Suitably armed, he returned to the kitchen.  The rift was still there and closing his eyes, he jumped in.
“Bzlgrsh,” said Zorn, Overlord of Dimension 5, as he ordered the destruction of Earth.  “Nrlsh ag tolrrd,” he added, and the blaster began to power up, ready to turn the planet into rubble.
His mother saw her son come back to the kitchen with a dart gun, jump up and down, then run back to his bedroom.  She sighed, poured herself a cup of coffee, and smiled.
Stan was off on another adventure.
* * * * *
There are two earlier stories about Stan.
“The Teddy Bear Detective”
“Home on the Range”

Ghosting: "The Library"
calvin writing
Idol 2018 Mini-Season, Week 4
Topic: Ghosting


It was another cold, gray, rainy day and Steve was taking it personally.  “Just like my life,” he thought.  He hated his job, his cat had abandoned him, and his girlfriend had finally answered one of his many texts with the magic words – restraining order.  At 39, he knew he had to make some changes or his life would be over and he would slide downhill to nights in an old recliner surrounded by empty beer bottles, with bitter regret for breakfast.  Hell, he was halfway there now.  He finally understood why his father liked Sinatra.

“I need something new,” he thought, “but how?”  His life wasn’t supposed to be like this.  “Maybe I can find some help at the library.”

He didn’t know where the libraries were in New York, but it didn’t take him long to find out.

Money for libraries had been short, but he wasn’t expecting this.  The outside was dirty and old, and it had needed new paint twenty years ago.  But there was a big banner above the doors: “Under New Management!”  A sign in the lobby said, “A New Library for New Times!”

Steve’s heart hurt.  The sign said the library had been privatized and now was just another subsidiary of SatanCo.

He could understand buying all the politicians, investment bankers, and lawyers.  They were already corrupt and soulless, but libraries?

“Can I help you?” asked the greeter, who was wearing a black, high-collared cape lined in red, with rubber horns strapped to her head.  She was holding a plastic pitchfork.

“Since when did librarians wear devil costumes?” asked Steve.

“We’re not librarians anymore – we’re minions,” said the greeter, pointing to her name tag.

“But you don’t look like a denizen of Hell,” said Steve.

“Not yet,” she said, “that’s the retirement plan.  We may have sold our souls, but at least we kept our jobs.  Plus, we get health and dental.  These fangs don’t look like much now, but they’re hard to maintain.”

“You’re here for the self-help section,” added the greeter.

“How did you know?” said Steve.

“We always know a soul’s weakness,” the greeter said.  “The library’s not just books anymore.  Self-help is one of our most popular products.  It takes up the whole basement now.  Check in when you get there.”

The basement was clean and inviting, if a tad warm.  There were rows upon rows of books, with comfortable chairs and tables, most of them occupied.  The lamps gave out a red glow.

“We’ve been expecting you,” said the minion at the registration desk.  He was wearing a plastic ghoul’s mask and holding a whip of black ribbons.  The mask muffled his voice and made his face sweat.  “My name is . . . Abaddon,” he added, looking down at his name tag for assurance.

Steve looked lost.

“You hate your life, you want to make some changes, and you don’t know where to start,” said Abaddon.

“That about sums it up,” said Steve.  “Do you have any books that’ll help?”

“Not just books” said Abaddon.  “Lives.”

Steve looked around.  All he could see were books.

“You look confused,” said Abaddon.  “Those aren’t regular books – they represent lives.  You can check out a life, use it for three weeks, and then return it.  If you like it, you can renew it until someone places a hold on it.”

“I don’t know about that . . .” said Steve.  “I just want some improvements, not a complete overhaul.  You know, I want a girlfriend, a great job, and a cat who stays put.”

“The library can’t help you with your cat,” said Abaddon, “but you can get the help you need.  A new girlfriend?  Go to the Romance section.  Work?  Business is to the left.  Whatever you want, we’ve got.  You stay you, but with some oomph.”

“But where do those lives come from?” asked Steve.

“Hell, of course,” said Abaddon.  “Each book is a soul in Hell.  If you check one out, that soul is released while you keep it.  They get a break from torment, and you get the benefit of their lives.”

“But aren’t they evil?” asked Steve.  “They must have done something to get condemned to Hell.”

“Nobody’s perfect,” said Abaddon.  “Sure, they’ve got some flaws, but who doesn’t?  Taken the Lord’s name in vain recently?  And who doesn’t have some impure thoughts?  Ooooh, watch out!  You could wind up in Hell!”

“But . . .” sputtered Steve.

“Look, Satan’s all about full disclosure.  Each book has a biography.  You’ll know what they’re in Hell for.  And we screen out the really bad ones – you won’t find any violent criminals here.”

“I guess I can just browse,” said Steve.

That’s the spirit,” said Abaddon.  “But first you’ll need a library card -- Satan doesn’t want just anyone nosing around.  Only those who agree to the Terms.”

“Terms?” said Steve, his voice tightening.

“It’s blah blah this and blah blah that,” said Abaddon, “the only thing you need to know is that when you die, you become a part of this library.”

“But doesn’t that mean Hell?” said Steve.

“Don’t think about that,” replied Abaddon.  “I’m sure you’ll qualify for the library’s release program.”

“It can’t be much worse than my life,” sighed Steve, signing the agreement.

He spent hours rummaging through the books; most of them were about unknown people who had lived lives of quiet evil, died, and had gone to Hell.

Steve wanted desperately to win back his girlfriend Anna, so he spent most of his time in the Romance section.  He finally settled on William McAlister, a regular guy like himself, who had had many girlfriends.  His sin, as far as Steve could tell, was that he didn’t honor his father and mother.  “I can live with that,” he thought.  “I don’t much like my parents anyway.”

He checked out McAlister, who was grateful to be released from his endless torment.  Immediately, Steve had new confidence and his mind overflowed with ways to romance Anna.  He had an overwhelming desire to trade in his understated sports car for an oversized red pickup truck with a pair of chrome-plated plastic testicles hanging off the trailer hitch.

“Anna’ll like that,” thought Steve.  “But first, I need to send her another text, something that’ll showcase my wit and caring, but not come on too strong.”

He immediately fired off a can’t-lose message: “Hey babe, you’re hot, I’m hot, let’s burn up the night.”  Then he headed for the truck dealer.

It was a busy afternoon for Steve.  After driving off in his new truck, he stopped for a beer at a bar he spotted on the way home.  A couple of hours later and still no reply from Anna, he sent her a new message every half hour.  Later, he headed out to get some rope and gasoline to kill his parents and burn down their house.

Fortunately for Steve’s parents, he never made it out of the bar’s parking lot before passing out.

Steve had a rough night.  His dreams were filled with images of the eternal torment of the Pit mixed with visions of a burning house and an elderly couple helplessly bound together, while William McAlister stood outside, laughing.

When Steve woke up, he knew that McAlister had failed to honor his parents by murdering them and then selling his soul to the Devil to get away with his crime.  His success with women had been financed with the insurance money.

Feelings of rage and betrayal fought with a massive hangover as he drove his new truck back to the library to confront Abaddon.

Abaddon was not at his usual post.  Instead, a man bound in paper chains with the hilt of a plastic knife duct-taped to his head was at the desk.

“Where’s Abaddon?” said Steve, controlling his anger.  “He lied to me.  I checked out a murderer!”

“Of course he lied,” said Haborym.  “We work for Satan.  It’s what we do.  He met his goal for new souls and was promoted downstairs.”

“I’m returning this life and I’m cancelling my library card,” said Steve.

“I’ll take McAlister back,” said Haborym, “but you can’t cancel your card.  It says so right in the Terms.  You can check out another life, but Satan still owns your soul.  There’s no way out.”

In his heart, he knew Haborym was right.  He was headed for unbearable pain for all eternity, he’d lost Anna, and his cat would never come back.

“You can always join SatanCo.,” said Haborym.

Steve had no choice.  The next morning, he showed up at the library wearing an evil clown mask with ketchup stains on his clothes to start his first day as Official Greeter at the New York Public Library.  If he enticed enough people down to the basement, he might some day earn a turn at the desk and eventually become a full-fledged demon.

Anna was spared any more attention from Steve and his cat eventually found his way to her apartment.  They both had long and happy lives.  Steve proved inept as a greeter and was last seen headed for the Pit.  His book was duly placed on the library’s shelf, where it continues to gather dust.

* * * * *

calvin writing
2018 Mini-Season, Week 3
Topic: Tsundoku


“Where am I this time?” Dr. Griffin wondered as he started to wake up.  The surroundings weren’t familiar, but they never were.  Another cheap motel in another city with another name.  The better question was, where was he?  He couldn’t see his arm as he waved it in front of his face.   He lifted the sheet to look under it.  “I can’t see me!” he thought as his pulse started to race and he felt sweat break out on his face, as confusion collided with panic.

What was it he ate last night?  “Oh yeah,” he thought, “it was The Invisible Man.  I was afraid of this.”  Dr. Griffin – it was Griffin, wasn’t it? – had been desperate, and H. G. Wells was all he could find.  He’d hit town too late for his usual sources.  The library was closed and there weren’t any bookstores.  He’d checked into this dump to wait out the agony until the morning when he could get something, but he’d been in luck.  Someone had left behind a copy of The Invisible Man and he’d devoured it, not even stopping to savor the pages.

So now he was Dr. Griffin, the main character, and he was invisible, at least until the next book, which would have to be soon.  The Invisible Man wasn’t very long.  He was a print junkie and he would need another fix soon.

Dr. Griffin wasn’t like other print junkies.  He didn’t just need a constant supply of reading material.  He had to eat the books.  His system craved them and depended on them; without books, he would die, but not after going through the horrible agony of what he called the Hunger.  But there was also the Change.  Unfortunately, he became a character from the book.  His life was an endless progression of identities.

Finding books as the Invisible Man was going to be a challenge.  Did he go out wearing his clothes?  If he did, people were going to see an empty suit bobbing along the sidewalk, which might concern them.  If he went out nude, no one would see him, but if the invisibility wore off, they would see something else bobbing down the street.

In the movie, Claude Raines had swathed himself in white cloth.  All Dr. Griffin had was toilet paper, which would have to work.  “I’ll look like a cheap mummy,” he thought, “but I’ve been worse.”

One time he’d had to forage as H. P. Lovecraft’s monster Cthulu, complete with tiny wings.  Fortunately, he was in New York and no one cared.  Then there was Bethlehem Township in New Jersey.  He’d eaten Yeats’ The Second Coming and gone slouching around as a rough beast with the body of a lion and the head of a man.  Not easy to find books looking like that, but he’d still survived, and he would survive this.

This had been much easier at first.  He’d had a house and he’d kept the rooms full of books.  He had never read them, only eaten them.  Captain Ahab or Juliet or Frankenstein would just stay indoors.  But then the money and the books had finally run out and he’d taken to free range grazing in libraries and bookstores.  The police had called it theft, so he’d had to move from city to city to avoid further complications.

There was no name for his condition and no medical explanation.  It had started in college when he’d eaten ten pages of The Catcher in the Rye on a drunken dare.  That night, he had turned into Holden Caulfield.  Part of his consciousness remained, but over the years it mattered less and less, and now he couldn’t remember his own name.  He only knew that he wasn’t really Sherlock Holmes or Alice in Wonderland and that he needed to eat books to live.

“If only it were Halloween,” Dr. Griffin thought, as he finished winding toilet paper around his head and hands.  “The library should be open, so I’d better get moving.”

The local library didn’t have much to offer.  It had been converted to a community center with public computers.  Members could also check out Kindles and download books from the library’s e-collection.  “I hate those gadgets,” thought Dr. Griffin.  “They’re killing books and making it harder for me to find food.”

The remaining books had been relegated to the back of the library.  “Not much of a crop,” thought Dr. Griffin, “but I only need one right now.”  The best bet was usually adult fiction.  He’d learned the hard way to avoid children’s books.  Giant rabbits and unicorns just didn’t blend in.

The Kindles sparked Dr. Griffin’s imagination.  “I’m a brilliant scientist.  I created the invisibility potion.  Why can’t I cure me?”  But a mad scientist from the 19th century was ill-equipped to handle such a complex problem.  He needed current scientists, preferably sane, and probably more than one.

“I’ll need to eat some biographies,” he thought.  He had never consumed more than one book at a time for fear of what would happen if he became several people at once.  One was hard enough.  But if it resulted in a cure?

The library had only one relevant book: The Best: 10 Doctors and Their Miracles.  “If one is good, ten doctors have to be better,” thought Dr. Griffin.  But for his idea, he needed more than medicine.  A biography of Steve Jobs was perfect.  He gathered up the books and walked out the door.  People were too busy staring at the toilet paper on his head to notice the books stuffed under his shirt.

Back at the motel room, Dr. Griffin wrote out his idea and left it on the nightstand.  He then began to eat the books carefully, one page at a time, to absorb all the contents.  As he ate, he could feel his consciousness drifting and he could see his body gradually re-appear.  When he was finished, Dr. Griffin fell asleep.

When he woke up, he was no longer Dr. Griffin.  He was a collection of people, each trying to assert control.  He had a massive headache, but he still saw the paper left by Dr. Griffin.  The first item on the list was “Form a committee.  Cooperate or die!”

Five hours later, the committee was ready to proceed with the second item: “What happens if I eat a Kindle?  Can e-books substitute for the real thing?”

“Why not an iPad?” asked Steve Jobs.  “Too big,” agreed the doctors, “but it doesn’t matter.  Humans can’t digest all that plastic and metal.  It would kill us.”  This sent them into a collective depression and they started quarrelling with each other.

Finally, Jobs made himself heard above the cacophony of voices.  “If high tech won’t work, what about low tech?  What if we did this . . . ?”

After buying a notebook, the committee set to work.  Led by Jobs, they wrote a story about a character named Jim, who had to eat books to live.  It was an odd story, filled with diagrams, instructions, and warnings, but it was hopeful, even though there was no cure.  In it, Jim invented a device which allowed him to live on electronic media, not just books, downloaded from a computer using a special interface.  He still became a character, but he no longer had to drift from town to town stealing books to avoid the Hunger.

After the committee finished writing, they ate the story and went to bed.  When Jim woke up, he knew how to build the interface and download his meals from a computer.

It took several days to find the parts and build the interface, but the library was open, and it had public computers.  Jim hooked one end of the interface into the computer, placed the other end in his mouth, and went straight to Amazon for a download.  He felt sleepy, so he put his head down for a nap.

When she got up from the table, Marian the Librarian burst into song from The Music Man.

Singing and dancing her way out of the library and down the street, Marian was happy.  Free of the need to be constantly grubbing for books, she could go anywhere and be any character.  And there was always the possibility that if she downloaded the right people, there could be a cure.  For now, though, she had a song to sing and endless meals ahead of her, and that was enough.

My Mount Rushmore: "Writing Lessons"
calvin writing
2018 Mini-Season, Week 2
Topic: My Mount Rushmore


“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away . . . .”

“Dear god,” thought Craig Moore, “has it really come to this?”  Slamming his laptop screen down, he ordered another drink and turned his attention to the bar’s TV, where the seventh race at Aqueduct was about to start.  “Where did all the words go?”

Moore had published seven novels, but now, if his name was mentioned at all, it was usually preceded by “whatever happened to.”  His publisher was slow returning his calls and he was thinking of teaching creative writing at the community college, an end his ex-mother-in-law had predicted for him long ago.  “A writer’s got to eat,” he sighed, ordering another scotch.  “There’s also the bar tab and Carl.”

Carl was his bookie and the most pressing problem.  Carl had already sent his goon around twice.  “Third time’s bone-breaking,” the goon had said.  “I usually start with the fingers, but seeing how you’re a writer and all, I’ll start with your legs.”

“It might as well be the fingers for all the good they’re doing,” thought Craig.  The twelfth race was coming up later and he’d bet on Rushmore, the longest of shots.  It wasn’t much, not enough to get right with Carl, but if he won it would go a long way toward keeping him out of the hospital.

Moore had abandoned his usual system and had placed this bet purely on sentiment.  A college girlfriend had nicknamed him Rush after their first night together and it had stuck, even though he’d hated it.  Rushmore had seemed like the best horse to waste money on.

The bar door opened, and Moore’s attention was diverted, along with every other man’s in the place.  She had long blond hair, curves that didn’t stop, and legs that went aalll the way up.  “That’s a stupid expression,” he thought, “legs always go all the way up.”  Her red dress put an end to further coherent thought as she walked his way and sat down beside him.

“Buy a girl a drink?” she purred.  “Weren’t you that writer?”

“A fan.  Just what I need,” thought Moore, gesturing to the bartender.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Crystal,” she replied, “if it matters.”

It didn’t, but Moore was still too much of a gentleman to say so.

His attention entirely on his new companion, Moore didn’t notice as Rushmore’s jockey rode his mount to victory, postponing his date with the emergency room.

Moore also got lucky with Crystal.

When Moore woke up the next morning, all he found in his bed was a note: “I had a wonderful time.  Name a character after me.”

Moore went to his bathroom and started to take a long, hot shower.  In the middle of it, he had an idea for a book.  He’d had ideas in the shower before, of course.  Lots of them.  But they never made it past his morning shave.  This one was different.  He became so engrossed in it that he couldn’t remember if he’d washed his hair.  He didn’t notice the shampoo on his head when he toweled himself off and he wouldn’t have cared anyway.  Moore needed to get to his computer now.  There was no shave this morning and wouldn’t be for several days.

His idea was for a cop thriller about a serial killer who patterned his murders after famous literary slayings, starting with “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“This is beyond gold,” he thought, “this is a franchise!”

Moore turned on his computer and looked at the cursor in anticipation rather than frustration.

“Hello, cursor,” he said to the screen.

“Hello,” said the computer.  “I’ve been expecting you.  Let’s get to work.”

Moore was too excited and absorbed in his writing to notice that his computer had just talked to him.

He started typing rough notes.  “The main character will be Detective Steve Larson, a renegade.  I’ll give him a sexy sidekick named Officer Crystal Jones, and I’ll call the villain the Copycat Killer.”  He paused for a minute to let thoughts of movie rights and sequels float through his head.  “Maybe I can throw in some evil nuns and call it “Sisters from Hell.”  He settled on “Working Title” for now, then stopped for a break.

“Get back to work,” said the computer.

Moore had heard his computer talk before, but it had always been some weird Windows feature.  This was different -- it had never sounded gruff.

“It’s been five years since you’ve written anything,” said the computer.  “Get to work or start sawing wood.”

“What do you mean, ‘sawing wood’?” asked Moore.

“Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

“That’s Mark Twain.”

“At your service,” said the computer.  “You have a cigar in your desk drawer.  It’s cheap, but I want you to smoke it for me.  I haven’t had a good smoke in almost 120 years.”

Moore decided to play along.  The computer sounded an awful lot like Hal Holbrook doing his famous imitation of Mark Twain.  Someone was pranking him – probably his publisher.

“I’m writing a thriller,” said Moore.  “You wrote ‘Tom Sawyer.’  What do you know about mysteries?”

“Elmore Leonard’s busy and George Orwell doesn’t like your politics, so you’re stuck with me,” said Twain.  “Besides, I wrote ‘Tom Sawyer, Detective’.”

“Not one of your better works.  But why are you in my computer?”

“Death is overrated and it’s boring,” replied Twain.  “As to your computer, how should I know?  I was born in 1835 and wrote with a fountain pen.  Enough dawdling.  Get the cigar and get to work. And bring a whiskey while you’re at it. ‘I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.’”

“Are you going to keep quoting yourself?” asked Moore.

“As much as possible,” said Twain.  “I was famous for my wit.”

Moore couldn’t escape Twain.  Whenever he wrote anything, Twain would comment.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  You’re writing lightning bugs.  Your readers want the lightning!  And buy some better cigars.”

“This is ridiculous,” said Moore.  “I’m a very successful writer and I know how to write.”

“You’ve been successful,” corrected Twain, “and I wrote books that people love more than a hundred years later.  People forget about yours after a day.  Also, get some more whiskey.”

“I know, I know,” said Moore, “’too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.’”

Moore worked hard on his book, harder than he’d ever worked before.  Twain wasn’t with him the whole time, but the cigar smoke and empty whiskey bottles were.  At the end of six months, he had a serviceable first draft of “The Adventure of the Copycat Killer.”

“My time with you is up,” said Twain one morning.

“What do you mean?  I’m not done,” replied Moore.

“Do you think you’re the only writer who needs help?” responded Twain.  “James Patterson’s stuck again and there’s always Stephen King.  Write another draft, take out the parts readers tend to skip, and if it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

“That’s Elmore Leonard,” said Moore.

“I know, but he’s a friend,” said Twain.  And with that, the computer went blank.

After several more rewrites, Moore was ready to send the manuscript to his publisher.  He waited anxiously for a response.  And waited.  And waited some more.

At last it came.

“Dear Craig,
I’m glad to see you’re writing again.  You have a good idea, but it reads like something from the 19th century.  Have you been following someone’s “rules of writing”?  Loosen it up, bring it up to date, and send me another draft.
Very truly yours,
Albert MacIntyre”

After he threw out all his Mark Twain books, the cigars, and the whiskey, Moore knew what he had to do.  He turned on his computer, opened “Copycat Killer,” and deleted it.  Then he started a new draft: “Sisters from Hell.”

“Evil nuns will sell,” Moore thought.  “It almost writes itself – without Mark Twain!”

When his publisher eventually got the manuscript, he recommended that Moore teach creative writing at the community college.

Since it was either teaching or sawing wood, Moore reluctantly accepted a position, which delighted his ex-mother-in-law.  She would be less thrilled with his success.  Three of his students would win Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, all of whom would credit one common factor in their successes: they ignored Moore’s class on Ten Rules for Successful Writing.

"It's hard to beat a person who never gives up"
calvin writing
2018 Mini-Season, Week 1
"It's hard to beat a person who never gives up"

This story is based on two songs about coal miners: “Big Bad John” and “16 Tons.” The lyrics are at the end, with links to performances. You do not need to know the songs/lyrics to read the story.

* * * * *

Somebody said he came from New Orleans
Where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen
And a crashing blow from a huge right hand
Sent a Louisiana fellow to the promised land.
“Big Bad John”


“He’s back,” thought Édouard the bartender. “Better warn Désirée.” He reached under the bar to make sure the shotgun was handy. “Never had to shoot anyone,” he thought. “But you never know with John.” The Rusty Anchor was a tough bar in one of New Orleans’ toughest neighborhoods, down by the docks. Rough men came to the Anchor for cheap drinks, cheaper women, and free fights.

The fights weren’t on the bill of fare, but hardly a night passed without at least one breaking out, especially when John showed up. And John would always show up when Désirée was working. John was a mean drunk and he got in a lot of fights, but at least the fights were over quick. He stood six-foot-six and weighed two-forty-five, broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hips. Men called him Big John, even though he didn’t like it. John didn’t like much, except Désirée.

John may have been kind of quiet and shy, but the regulars had learned fast not to give him any lip. Unfortunately, his reputation had spread and too many misguided souls would come in just to fight the big man. Édouard would warn them. “He’s got one fist of iron, the other of steel. If the left don’t get you, the right one will.” They never listened. The lucky ones could still limp out, with maybe a black eye, a broken nose, and some loose teeth. The others, well, they would just crawl, broken bones and all, leaving a trail of blood. Édouard kept a bucket of sand close by to soak it up. At least John fought fair, even if the others didn’t.

Strong as a bull – no, two bulls – John was a roustabout who worked the docks. He gave more than a day’s work for a day’s pay, and if you were lucky enough to hire him, you almost didn’t need anyone else. Once, he unloaded cargo from a ship by himself in less time than a two-man crew. The cheap owner only gave John regular pay, so after he finished, he grabbed a sledgehammer off the dock and with one blow he stove in the hull just below the waterline. John always got top wages after that.

We all have our weaknesses. For some, it’s gambling; others drink too much or chase the wrong women. For John, it was only one woman: Désirée Boudreaux. A little past her prime, she was still beautiful, with long, wavy black hair, green eyes, and a face – well, when Désirée fell from Heaven, a lot of angels followed her. She came from a wealthy shipping family, but her father gambled it all away and fled to France with two mistresses. Her mother died of shame, and Désirée had to earn a living somehow.

Désirée was a hot-blooded Cajun with a quick temper. She and John would get into horrible fights, always over other men. Désirée was the tiger to John’s lion, and they fought like it, but John never laid a hand on her. John wanted her to himself, but Désirée was way past that.

Désirée had another suitor at the Anchor named Étienne. Étienne was a sailor, so he wasn’t in town much, but when he was in port, he would head straight to the Anchor and Désirée. Étienne was almost as big and mean as John.

They’d crossed paths a handful of times and had snorted and pawed like two big bulls, sizing each other up. So far, though, they hadn’t met at the Anchor and never caught the other with Désirée, but everyone knew it would happen and wanted to be there when it did.

One evening, John came in after finishing a job, all sweaty and thirsty. After a few quick beers, he wanted to know if Désirée was in. “Not until later,” Édouard told him, so he left, looking for some food. But Désirée was upstairs with Étienne. He’d been with her a good long while and Édouard hoped that by the time John returned, Étienne would be gone, since he had to ship out that night for Havana.

But John ate fast and Étienne lingered, even though Édouard had warned Désirée. The shotgun didn’t give Édouard much comfort, but at least it was something.

“Where is she?” asked John.

“Upstairs,” replied Édouard, “but she’s not alone.”

“Étienne?” John looked quiet and sad, but the way he said it nearly froze Édouard.

When Édouard didn’t answer, John turned around, and slowly walked up the stairs to the rooms. The crowd heard a door open, a crash, and then Étienne came flying through the balcony and landed on the poker table, scattering chips and players. The two bulls were finally going to settle things. Désirée screamed at them to stop, but nothing could stop those two that night, and she knew it.

Back and forth they went, breaking chairs over each other, using table legs for clubs, but neither one would give up. The real damage was done with their fists. Étienne landed one huge blow and John smashed two. Étienne hit John on the side of his head, spinning him around and dropping him on his knees. John just shook it off, got up, and on they went, one furious punch after the other. Finally, John hit Étienne so hard you could hear his jaw break, and Étienne collapsed on the floor, not moving. John didn’t stop, even after Édouard fired his shotgun in the air. Finally, John hit the defenseless Étienne so hard with his huge right hand that his skull caved in.

Covered in blood, gasping for breath, John at last seemed to realize what he’d done, and he just stood there, looking around at the crowd. “Where is she?” he finally asked. But Désirée had left in the middle of the fight. She knew how it would end, and it didn’t matter who won. She wanted no part of it.

No one at the Anchor ever saw her again. Some say she left New Orleans for good and finally landed in San Francisco, as far away as she could get.

John had to leave town too or swing from the gallows. Word eventually trickled back that he was working in a mine somewhere far off in coal country.

John gave up drinking and fighting – he’d had enough liquor and he’d killed a man with his bare hands. He’d just load his 16 tons of coal a day. He never said much to anyone and he liked it that way. No one bothered him, not even the straw boss, and John returned the favor.

At first, he wanted to save up some money and go looking for Désirée, but it seemed that all his wages went to the company store just for living and he always came up short. That dream finally died in the dirt and dark of the mine and all he wanted to do was finish his shifts.

Then one day while John was deep underground, the shoddy timber cracked and the mine started to collapse. Everyone made it out except for John. He’d seen to that, standing tall and bracing the timbers all by himself, but finally it was too much, even for John, and the mine caved in on top of him.

The other miners paid for a marble stone to mark the site when the company wouldn’t. It’s still there for anyone who’s looking to find it, all weathered and cracked. You can barely make out the words: “At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man. Big John.”

“Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean (1961)

“16 Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)

"Big Bad John"
(Big John Big John)
Every mornin' at the mine you could see him arrive
He stood six foot six and weighed two-forty-five
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip
And everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John

(Big John Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Nobody seemed to know where John called home
Just drifted into town and stayed all alone
He didn't say much, kinda quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all you just said hi to Big John

Somebody said he came from New Orleans
Where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen
And a crashin' blow from a huge right hand
Sent a Louisiana fellow to the Promised Land Big John

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine
When a timber cracked and men started cryin'
Miners were prayin' and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought that they'd breath their last cept John

Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed a saggin' timber and gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone Big John

And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove
Then a miner yelled out there's a light up above
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be-grave
Now there's only one left down there to save Big John

With jacks and timbers they started back down
Then came that rumble way down in the ground
And the smoke and gas belched out of the mine
Everybody knew it way the end of the line for Big John

Now they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words're written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a big big man Big John

"Sixteen Tons"
Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and Trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
Cain't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

Season 10, Week 26
calvin writing
Topic: The Goal Is Zero


“I’ve gotta keep an eye on that,” thought Dave as he drove down the highway.  His truck’s odometer was getting close to 400,000 miles, and he wanted to see it hit all those zeros.  He was proud of his Chevy, although it looked like hell.  “These old ones were built to last, kinda like me.”

He’d bought the pickup from a rancher up north when it had had about 250,000 miles on it.  The price was right, and the old guy selling it had even thrown in a few cans of oil because of a leak.

Now, it was time for a break.  “I need some breakfast,” thought Dave, as he pulled into a nearby diner.

Dave took a seat and looked up at the T.V. over the counter.  The news was covering that accident from a few days ago.  A freighter had run into a bridge in broad daylight.  The bridge had to be closed and they still couldn’t move the ship because of the hole in its bow, right next to a sign painted on its side: The Goal Is Zero.  “They were just asking for trouble, a sign like that,” said a waitress as she brought his coffee.  He couldn’t disagree.

He was a couple of hours from his destination near Sharps, a little farming town upstate.  “I hope it goes well,” he thought, drinking his coffee.  “They sounded pretty desperate.”

Dave the Destroyer was one of the area’s few zombie goat exterminators.  The menace was growing and he’d go anywhere, even Sharps.  “No job too small,” he sighed.

Zombie goat extermination was a growing field, but it wasn’t exactly licensed and some of his competitors were pretty shady.  “I’m the only one with a flame thrower,” he would tell people, “and I’ll let you fire it for free.”  That would usually seal the deal.

The zombie goats had started about two years ago.  It was still mostly in the Midwest, but a single infected animal could ruin a whole herd.  At first, people had laughed.  “Sounds like a bad movie,” they’d said.  But it was spreading and Dave was pretty busy these days.

Some had blamed Allied Hazardous Waste Disposal, for improper storage of its materials.  Some had blamed a guy named Steve Johnston, but that didn’t seem right, because he was just the goatherd.  Allied had used his goats to eat the weeds on its property as part of a PR campaign.  Unfortunately, one goat had gotten into some old medical waste storage containers, and instead of killing him, it had turned him into a zombie, the infamous Goat Zero.

To be sure, the goatherd should have noticed the glowing red eyes, lurching walk, and mindless aggressive behavior, but when you have a whole herd to watch, one strange goat just doesn’t stand out.  Before anyone knew about it, that one goat was threatening a whole industry.

Right now, blame didn’t matter as much as solutions, and Dave had always been handy at solving problems.  One of his neighbors had had some zombie goats and didn’t know what to do.  “Nothing kills ‘em,” Rick had said, “and if it gets out some of my goats are infected, I’m ruined!”

That’s when Dave had remembered the flamethrower out in the shed.  He’d kept it from his days in the Army and used it mostly for blasting weeds on his property, but sometimes just for fun.  “Always been a bit of a pyro,” Dave would admit if asked.

“Let’s just turn ‘em into barbecue,” Dave had told Rick, and he had thrown the flamethrower onto the bed of his truck and followed Rick back to his place.  The zombie goats had been pretty easy to spot, slowly lurching around and trying to attack the goats too stupid or busy eating to run.  Once a zombie bit another goat, that goat would turn, and a rancher'd have real trouble. A few squirts of flame had taken care of Rick’s problem, and he’d been so grateful he’d tried to give Dave $100.

Goat ranching’s a pretty tight community, and word got around.  That’s when people had started calling him the Destroyer.  There had been a real demand for Dave and his flamethrower as the infection spread, and other ranchers had called him.  He charged a whole lot more than $100 these days.  “You’ve got to be pretty desperate to hire an old retired guy with a flamethrower,” he’d thought, and now he was on the road more often than he was home.

Sharps was a tiny town, but it was in decent goat ranching country.  No one ever got rich off goats, so the outbreak at the Double D Ranch was bad news for everybody.  Double D was the biggest outfit around, and if Dennis Demarco went under, well, people didn’t know what would happen, but it wouldn’t be good.

Dave drove down the main street on his way to the Double D.  It looked deserted, even for a Sunday, and he had the street to himself.  “Fear does that,” he thought.

The scientists had been unanimous.  Zombie goats could not infect people.  “Cross-species infection just won’t happen,” the Centers for Disease Control had said.  But nothing the medical experts could say would help.  Everyone thought it was only a matter of time, and they all knew what would happen after that.  “Remember the Ebola virus?” Doc Everton, the local vet, had said.  “It jumped from bats to people.”

“Better safe than sorry” was the rule in Sharps, so the town had pitched in to help Dennis hire Dave, except Petey Arbuckle, the local Lutheran, who had said that God would provide, but really, Petey was just cheap.  The rest had thought it would be prudent to help God along and get Dave down there fast.

Dennis Demarco was waiting for Dave out at the gate to his spread.  “Here’s your money,” he said, handing Dave an envelope.  “You better be good.”

“I’m the Destroyer,” said Dave.  “You can rest easy.  Where’s the problem?”

Dave could see Dennis eyeing the flame thrower in the truck bed.  “That it?” he asked.  Dave showed him how to use it, and Dennis happily burned down his mailbox.

The zombie goats were isolated in a pen by the barn.  Dennis didn’t believe in spending money when he didn’t have to, and it was clear he’d tried a little goat extermination himself, but nothing had worked.  Some of them were hobbling along on three legs or with broken necks and gunshot wounds.

“You’ve gotta cut off their heads,” said Dave.  “That’s what kills ‘em.  I use the flamethrower so I don’t have to get close and it makes the bodies safe for disposal.  Can’t be too careful.”

“Amen to that,” added Dennis.

There were about 10 goats, just wandering around with their red eyes, bumping into each other until they saw the two men.  The goats rushed to the fence, pushing and shoving, trying to get to them, but Dennis believed in strong fences, especially where zombies were concerned.

Dave had to get inside the pen to be close enough to flame them but not damage the fence.  This always made him a little nervous.  The zombie herd started moving his way, but the flamethrower did its job.

Except for one goat.  It was behind Dave and he didn’t see it.  When he turned off the flamethrower, the goat rushed up and butted him to the ground.  It was too close for the flamethrower, so Dave pulled out the machete he carried for backup.  Just before he cut off its head, the goat managed to bite Dave in the ankle.

It didn’t hurt much and only drew a little blood.  He had a first aid kit in the truck, so he put a bandage on it.

“You’ll need to bury the remains,” Dave told Dennis before leaving, “but wait a day or two just to make sure.”

And with that, Dave drove off to his next job.

Half an hour down the road, he pulled over at a rest stop.  He wasn’t feeling too well, and thought he’d take a quick nap.  Dave the Destroyer never woke up.  His ankle had become infected and the infection quickly spread, killing him in his sleep.

When his eyes opened, they were burning red.  He could only grunt and moan, and he was hungry, hungry like he’d never been before.  He fumbled getting out of the truck, and started to shuffle and stagger.  People screamed and ran for their cars, all except for a teenage couple stretched out on the grass, eyes closed with music in their ears.

Eat was all that registered with Zombie Dave.  Patient Zero had found Patients 1 and 2, but he wanted more -- he would always want more, and so would they.

The CDC could never explain how the zombie virus spread from goats to humans, and soon they were overwhelmed trying to develop a cure.

For now, a military quarantine around the Sharps area was holding, but panic was spreading.

Everyone knew how it would end – they’d all seen the T.V. show – and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

* * * * * * * * * *

Season 10, Week 25
calvin writing
Topic: The Waffle House Index


The Waffle King had it all – a job he loved, a good salary, a nice car, and a house with enough room for a family.  One thing he lacked was a better nickname.  Albert would have preferred something with a bit more dash; after all, he worked in the exciting Breakfast Unit at Paulson, Paulson & Love, the most successful small brokerage firm on Wall Street.

Ridiculed by jealous competitors as the Waffle House, Albert’s group bought and sold breakfast futures around the world.  There was the Toast Exchange in France, the Egg Market in London, the Bacon Auction in Iowa, and the granddaddy of them all, the Waffle Index in Belgium, his true love.

Albert was a natural, but he also worked hard, eating at diners whenever he could, talking with waitresses, seeing what people ate.  “I was the first to know that chocolate chip pancakes were passé,” he had proudly told a waitress at Bacon Heaven.  “I noticed a kid at a Breakfast Barn order pancakes topped with ice cream, berries and sprinkles instead.”  She had just smiled.  Waitresses liked Albert, and not only for the big tips.

Albert’s clients had sold their chocolate chip futures and bought sprinkles at the lowest price in years.  They had all made a killing.

But the markets had been quiet for weeks and he was getting bored.  When he caught himself building forts with his pencils, Albert knew he had to get out of the office.  “Time for a field trip,” he thought.  “Product research,” he called it.  “Playtime,” said his assistant, who booked him a quick trip to the Nebraska State Fair.

It was true, Albert loved the fairs, with their exciting rides, fascinating exhibits, cultural oddities, and interesting people.  He preferred them to going out with “the gang” for expensive drinks after work and playing credit card roulette.  Somehow, he always lost.  But what he truly loved was fair food, the innovative heart of American cooking.  Where else could you find deep fried butter, fried pigs’ ears, or fried beer?

Three days later, Albert was back at his desk, feeling rejuvenated and confident about the state of waffles in America.  “Forget maple syrup,” he advised his clients, “buy the exotics!”  He had seen the future at the Midway.  People had been eating double-fried BBQ pulled pork waffle sandwiches and chocolate-dipped, deep-fried waffles on a stick, recipes which would have appalled the purists but were destined for the Waffle Hall of Fame.

As successful as the trip had been, Albert still felt something was missing from his life.  “It’s lonely at the top,” he thought.  He knew that certain sacrifices had to be made when you were the Waffle King, but a Waffle Queen would have been nice, and not the mail order kind, no matter what Devon said he should try.

Devon was the top broker in the whole firm, and he was always giving Albert friendly advice.  “Dress for success,” “buy a hotter car,” and “ditch those glasses for contacts” were some of his suggestions.  It was Devon who had first called him the Waffle King.

But his devotion to his job left Albert little time for romance, so he bought a cat and named her “Waffles.”  Devon shook his head when Albert told him, then promptly told the others.

The other brokers were always going out to new, expensive restaurants for lunch.  He preferred to work through lunch, or if he was hungry, he went to Cindy’s Luncheonette around the corner.  It was small with only a few customers, but the food was good.  He had discovered it on one of his research safaris, as he called them.

Cindy served breakfast all day.  Her French toast was decent, but her waffles had been a little soggy until he suggested that she turn up the heat on the waffle iron and add some corn meal for a little extra crunch and flavor.

“Where did you learn that?” she had asked him.

“From my mother,” he had said.  “She taught me a lot about cooking.”

None of the other brokers knew anything about cooking, but Albert thought it was important when selling breakfast commodities.  Besides, he liked working in the kitchen when he had the time and he was good at it.  He had recipes from as far back as his great-grandmother, and he had made most of them, although he had yet to try possum fritters.

After his improvements, Cindy started calling her waffles “the Albert Special,” and she would always come out of the kitchen when she saw him and talk for a few minutes.  Albert liked her smile.

One day, he took Devon to Cindy’s for lunch to try the Albert Special.  “Diners aren’t my thing,” he had said, “and who eats meat loaf in Manhattan?”  He had spent a lot of time joking with Cindy.  “The cook’s hot,” he had said, but Albert hadn’t liked his pun.

The next time he stopped by for lunch, Cindy had asked about “your friend with the sparkling eyes,” and Devon had asked Albert for the luncheonette’s phone number even though it was online.  Shortly afterward, while waiting for a cab after work, he had seen Cindy and Devon walking down the street together holding hands.  Devon had waved and smiled, but Albert had pretended not to notice.

Albert thought it was past time to go on a safari and find someplace different for lunch.  “Variety is the spice of life,” he had told himself, “and that applies to work as well.  I need a new friend.”

Albert had worked extra hard after that and he had received a nice bonus.  “Don’t burn out,” the partners had said.  “Take some time off.”  But where would he go and what would he do?  Besides, who would take care of Waffles the cat?

One day, Albert was in the file room when he heard Devon’s voice.  “I never stick with one babe very long,” he said.  “’Use ‘em then lose ‘em,’ that’s what I say.  Take that cook I’m seeing -- time to place a new order.”  His audience laughed loudly.

Albert got his file and left.

The breakfast markets were starting to settle down after the election.  With more time for lunch, he thought it was finally time to try the Albert Special again.  Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed with a big “For Rent” sign in the window.  “Too bad,” he thought.  “I miss her waffles.”

Albert also had more time in the evening.  Although Waffles was a great cat, her conversational skills were weak, so he decided to take a cooking class at the Culinary Academy: “Intermediate Breakfast.”  If nothing else, he could sharpen his kitchen skills.

There were about eight other people in the class, a nice mix of men and women of various ages.  Each week brought a new topic and a new chef.  Some things Albert knew, some things he learned for the first time.  “Try thick pieces of challah bread soaked in a heavy custard mix,” the French toast chef advised.  Albert wondered if he would learn anything in the waffle unit next week.

The surprise was in the chef.  “Tonight, I was going to show you how I make the Albert Special,” said Cindy.  “But since Albert is actually here, perhaps he could show you himself?”

Albert didn’t like getting up in front of people and he had never cooked with anyone watching before, but one thing he knew was waffles.  When Cindy smiled at him, he walked to the front and told them everything he knew, which was a lot.  Everyone’s waffles were perfect, and at the end the class applauded, even Cindy, who clapped the longest.

“Thank you,” Cindy said as Albert cleaned his work space.

“I was surprised to see you,” said Albert.  “What happened to your restaurant?”

“It never attracted many customers,” said Cindy.  “The ones I had were loyal, but it just wasn’t enough.  Now I do catering.  It’s going OK, but weddings are hell.”

“What about Devon?” asked Albert, still charged with the adrenaline from his demonstration.

“I dumped him after two weeks,” she said.  Albert could see her blush.  “He was all hands.”

They stood around awkwardly, neither one leaving and both unsure about staying.

“As long as we’re in a kitchen,” said Cindy, “why not have some coffee and just talk?”

Cindy made great coffee, so they sat and had a cup, and then another.  The conversation got easier, and they found they had a lot in common.  Both loved fair food and a good roller coaster.  Their laughter became more natural and frequent.

"I've missed seeing you," Albert said.  "And I don't want to let another Devon get in the way again."

“One Devon is more than enough,” Cindy replied with a smile.

Summoning the daring that had made him the Waffle King, Albert asked Cindy the second-most important question of his life.  “Would you like to go to Coney Island and ride the Cyclone?  We could eat fried pickle dogs and have funnel cake for dessert.”

Cindy gave him her second-most important answer.  “Only if we can see the Mermaid Parade!”

Back at work, Albert surprised the partners – he took Saturday off.  And then Sunday, too.  How long this new behavior would last, no one knew and no one cared.  The Waffle King was clearly at the top of his game.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you once again, halfshellvenus, for your perceptive comments, and otherwise beta reading this.

Season 10, Week 24
calvin writing
I am taking my first (I believe) bye this week.

Season 10, Week 23
calvin writing
Topics: Backing the wrong horse
            Bannister effect


Some inventers change the world, such as Thomas Edison and the commercial lightbulb.  Other inventors change nothing but are still remembered, like “Crazy Uncle Larry,” creator of the Flatulence Deodorizer Pad, whose experiments were not always confined to his garage workshop.  And then there was Leopold Abernathy, whose efforts resulted in the Promptimorph.

The Promptimorph was a 19th century device, useful to writers with assignments they didn’t like.  Bad case of writer’s block?  The Promptimorph was your savior.  Resembling a meat grinder, the unhappy author could simply put the offending request into the chute, crank the handle, and voila!  A new topic would appear out the front.

Some assembly was required, of course.  The desperate writer would need to paste together the resulting scraps of ground paper, but the effort was always worth it.  Stymied by “Lethargy”?  Try “halt grey” or “lager thy.”  Who wouldn’t be inspired by “gar el thy”?  “Bannister Effect” produced such gems as “crabs fifteen ten,” clearly the distress call of a foundering fishing boat assaulted by angry crustaceans.

Lewis Carroll was an early user, giving the Promptimorph his highest praise: “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”  T.S. Eliot denied using the Promptimorph for “The Waste Land” for years, until Hallmark Cards released a letter commissioning a jingle about “a delta swan” for a birthday card.  These were exciting times for the literary community.

The Promptimorph
Courtesy of the Leopold Abernathy Museum

Unfortunately, the Promptimorph was a commercial failure despite its usefulness.  It was briefly revived in the 1930s as experimental “chance writing.”  Whole novels were ground up, spit out, and reassembled.  James Joyce used it for “Finnegan’s Wake,” but the Promptimorph was soon forgotten until LJ Idol burst onto the scene, with its inhuman demand for weekly topic-related entries.

Since the Promptimorph was not specifically banned, one writer was unscrupulous enough to turn to this long-forgotten invention for assistance.  Fortunately, a crack team of literary investigators was able to discover only one instance of Promptimorph-enhanced writing (“PEW”), resulting in the expulsion of the author.

The PEW team has announced that LJ Idol is again Promptimorph-free.  The following entry is included for historical purposes only.

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Week 23
   The cab king wren goth shore
   Cab fifteens rent
   Rag ethyl
The Inventor

Cab Fifteen’s rent was due, and its driver was desperate.  Sure, being a taxi driver was a glamorous and rewarding job, but Jake Bannister was feeling the effect of those damn fly-by-night Uber jockeys.  Even his ex-wife had gleefully admitted to taking Lyft to their divorce hearings.  “That’s our marriage in a nutshell,” Jake had thought at the time.  “No damn loyalty.”

Ragin’ “Rag” Ethyl, his supervisor, was not known for her patience, and her job was on the line as well.  She needed all the cabbies to clear their accounts.  The pressure was on – more fares, or lose Cab Fifteen.

Even the Cab King, Wren Gothshore, was calling it quits.  Maybe it was time for Jake to move on.  But what could he do?

Returning home later that evening, Jake saw the mess his life had become.  Dishes were everywhere, nothing was clean, and he hadn’t done his laundry in weeks, which the fares were beginning to notice.  Sitting on the couch, he drained his last beer and threw the crumpled can on the floor, narrowly missing the greasy box from his breakfast pizza.  “Don’t care,” he thought, “wife’s gonna get the house in a few months anyway.”

Only one place ever felt like home to Jake – his garage.  He loved his workbench, with each tool in its place.  Staggering out to the garage, Jake suddenly realized his future – he would become an inventor!  Of what, he didn’t know, but even in his beer haze, he knew he could do better than the farting Fanny Bank or the Fat Magnet, which removed fat from food with a wave of its electronic wand.

Next morning, Jake quit work and headed to the garage to tap his true genius.  He felt exuberant and knew that success was just an idea away. “This’ll be easy,” he thought.  “I’ve got the tools, and now I’ve got the time.”

Three days later, his confidence gave way to doubt when the mailman brought a pile of bills.  “I wish someone had given me a swift kick in the ass!” he thought.

This moment of despair finally unleashed his creativity.  “That’s it!” he thought, “a mechanical ass-kicker for dumb ideas!”  And so was born the Kick In The Butt.  The design took only a few minutes.  “It even exercises your arms!” thought Jake.  “Who wouldn’t want one?”

The Kick In The Butt

It took several days of hard work to build a prototype, but now he was ready for the next step.  He was a little fuzzy on how to sell the Kick In The Butt to the hordes of waiting customers, but he knew enough to make an appointment with Margaret Anderson, a patent attorney.

The meeting lasted five minutes.  A patent had already been issued to another mechanical wizard.

Down, but not yet out, Jake drove home to try again.  However, it was lunch time and he was hungry for a consolation meal.  Then it hit him – “what if I could cook while driving?”

Bob’s Burger Shack would go down in history as the place Jake sketched the Tailpipe Smoker on a napkin.  It would not only use the heat from a car’s tailpipe to cook, but the Smoker would give food that special exhaust-fumes flavor.

The Tailpipe Smoker

After seeing the prototype, Ms. Anderson had more bad news.  “Don’t ever come back!”

But Jake was not discouraged.  His fertile mind even found ideas just by looking around the kitchen.  There were Bread Gloves, which conveniently made his hands into a sandwich, followed shortly by the Anti-Eating Face Mask

                                                                  anti-eating face mask.jpg
                                                   Bread Gloves               Anti-Eating Face Mask

Unfortunately, with more inventions came more failures, until Ms. Anderson finally obtained a restraining order.  Luckily for her, after creating both sourdough and raisin bread gloves, Jake was finally out of ideas.  Not even a lukewarm beer cooled by his car’s A/C (a companion to the Tailpipe Smoker) helped.

“Maybe I should reconsider all this,” he thought.  “I hope Cab Fifteen’s still available.”  But his old supervisor wouldn’t take his calls.

Other than inventing, Jake’s only skill was driving.  He had just one choice: join the enemy.  He spruced up his old car and signed with Uber.  “This is low,” he thought, as he picked up his first customer.

Lisa Bacher was young, fresh-faced, and enthusiastic.  “Take me to 367 Main Street,” she said.  Jake recognized the address immediately.  “Isn’t that the office of Margaret Anderson, the patent attorney?” he asked.  “I can only take you within 500 feet.”

“How did you know?” said Lisa.  “I have a great idea that’ll make millions.”

“I’ve done some inventing myself,” said Jake.  “Tell me about it.”

“It’s a computer program to help overcome writer’s block,” replied Lisa.  “You just type in your topic and it reorganizes the letters to give you a new prompt.  I call it the Topicator.  It can’t miss!”

Jake couldn’t help himself.  “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, and I’ve invented a lot of ‘em!”

Through his rear-view mirror, Jake could see that Lisa was crestfallen.  “Look,” he said, “buy me a cup of coffee and we’ll talk about it.”

For over an hour at the Cuppa Joe Café, he told Lisa everything about his projects and his life as an inventor.

Lisa paid close attention.  Finally, she said “You’re a master of failure!  I bet lots of people would pay for your advice.”

Jake had one last idea, whether fueled by caffeine or Lisa’s smile, he didn’t care.  “Look,” he said.  “I know bad inventions and you know computers.  Let’s create some kind of advice service.”

“Failure.com!” Lisa said.  “An online site for inventors – we could offer evaluations and discouraging advice.  Who doesn’t need a kick in the rear to crush their dreams? My parents taught me well.”

Six months later, Failure.com was up and running.  Inventors could submit their ideas and receive honest evaluations from Jake.  No one went away encouraged.  The open comments section was a big hit with the reddit crowd [“what the #@$% is that piece of &%#?”].  Failure.com was not for the faint of heart.

In another nine months, the web site expanded into Life Coaching and Lisa’s parents were hired as experts for the “Listen to Your Parents!” premium package.  “What did we tell you?  We said you were just a screw up!” seemed to hit many nerves.

On its second anniversary, Failure.com went from niche internet start-up to a public corporation worth millions.

Fame followed fortune, and Failure.com was featured in Newsweek: “The Success of Failure.”  Not to be outdone, Time led with “Judge Me,” an article on how Failure.com managed to profit from internet criticism, which had been free and abundant.

Even their private lives were now scrutinized.  People ran an article on the budding romance between Jake and Anna.

Success did not change Jake or Anna.  He still liked to invent new products, including the baby mop, and from time to time, he would call his old cab company and drive Anna around town in Cab Fifteen.  One time, he parked right in front of Ms. Anderson’s office and offered Anna a smokey Tailpipe Burger with a ring on top.  It was his best idea ever.
dEhn Te

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The Flatulence Deodorizer Pad

The Fanny Bank

The Fat Magnet

The Baby Mop