The Short Story Experiment

Author’s note:  I wanted to test out a few version-control ideas using cloud drives and different hardware platforms, so I started writing this story and saved it in different places as I went. That’s why it has the title it has. I could probably come up with a better one– or even rewrite it into something more legitimitely a story, but quality control’s really not my style, is it. Enjoy.

Fiction by Jason Edwards

A man dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt, a really tasteful pattern actually, cargo shorts, but well pressed, nice socks, appropriate sandals. Deputy’s badge on his chest, mirrored shades, and of course, a gun belt. Not a joke. Not Hawaii 5-0. But not an actual policeman, Just a deranged motherfucker, trying to look different. And if it weren’t for the gun, nobody in Starbuck’s would have given a damn. A bunch of hipsters, unimpressed. But despite their best efforts they had medullas, and those medullas saw the gun, and got nervous on their behalf. And when a person gets scared against their will, that leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side. Yoda said that, the little green bitch.

Man orders a latte. Some of the hipsters get it. That he’s trying to be different, that he’s trying to look cool and laid-back at the same time, with the shirt and the shorts and the November outside. The badge and the gun. The socks and the goddamned sandals. And the ones who get it, they’re all like, why order a latte? If you want to be different, drood, order a complicated drink, and halfway through the order, say something that shows you know what you’re doing and the you’re refined and you’re not just saying it for the benefit of the other wool-cap and scarf wearing assholes in there.

Something like “Hi, yeah, um, I’m going to need a grande half-calf mocha, um, is your milk sourced locally or does it come from anywhere in Idaho? The recent Republican deregulation of phato-phosphates in grain for dairy cows in Idaho means their milk has more macrotannin granules and I have an allergy. No? Okay, good. Two percent. No lid. I want to add a little cinnamon, which they used for currency in ancient Mayan cultures, you know. Kind of a coincidence, right? Since it’s a mocha?”

But a latte, that’s so weird. What the fuck. Does this guy actually like lattes?

And the ones who don’t get it, who are sort of taking this guy seriously, the latte, well, it just confirms their suspicions. That he’s a civilian, and he’s odd, and they are in real actual honest not-to-be-flippantly-disregarded-via-a-social-post-on-Tumblr danger. Some of them are blogging madly about it, in horribly put-upon ethnic accents. “Muh-fu just rolled into my ‘Bucks sportin; sox n sand anna ninner on his twerk-fulcrum? Ah nah he di’in!”

Oh, yes. He did.

Some of them are tweeting, the ones who get regular phone calls from 2010 asking for their technology back, and they tweet: “A man dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt, a really tasteful pattern actually, cargo shorts, but well pressed, nice socks, appropriate sandals.” 140 character exactly, so no mention of the gun. But a feeling of pride, maxing out at 140.

The gun! Is it real? Yes it’s real. Even though most of them have never seen a gun, except on The Wire, it is for sure real. Even though it can’t be real. There’s no way a sane person would walk around with a gun. So it’s not real. Please. As if. You totally thought it was real? Noob. Even though this guy’s definitely not sane. So it is real. See how he cleverly got around the concealed weapon laws by not concealing it? Like when that one hipster wore green lantern underwear for, like, a month? And never told anyone? And never told anyone he never told anyone? Jesus.

The man gets his coffee (latte!) and sits down at a table and sort of sits back from the table so he can sort of spread his legs wide and he’s got a huge grin on his face. Is there a difference between a grin and a smile? Do grins have teeth? This smile has teeth. Big ass smile. The buzz in the Starbucks is muted but not absent. Fella whispering into his iPhone, another listening to Gotan Project on his iPhone and the sound bleeding out of his Beats, another tapping madly away at his keyboard, the overhead muzak, the sound of coffee machines steaming and spurting and gurgling, the drive-through window, people slurping.

And then the man says, in a clear voice “If wasabi and horseradish had a fight, doesn’t matter who wins ‘cause I’d eat both!”

You can taste the exclamation point at the end of his sentence. Silence falls on the Starbuck’s as everyone freezes instantly. Even the coffee machines evolve pan-dimension sentience, shut up, and stare.

In the back, by the restrooms, a girl’s voice almost whispers “Oh my god.” Probably a Pinterest user.

The other hipsters are aghast. They’re thinking, oh my god, is this guy Asian? He sort of looks Asian. His hair is jet black and the way he’s smiling, his eyes are almost slits. Oh my god, are we racist for thinking He’s Asian? We love wasabi! We almost literally cried when they stopped serving wasabi mashed potatoes at Blue C Sushi! Does he even know how to use that gun?

The clever ones know that a man who doesn’t know how to use a gun is probably more dangerous than one who does. Which would make a great title for this story, except it’s too long. Accept it’s too long!

The sounds of indifference to insanity slowly leak back into their shared existences. A few screenplays are written, a few articles for Utne Reader. The rasp of Tibetan wool on shaved scalp, the perkly-burble-gurk of water through beans from somewhere in Africa. The muzak raising money for breast cancer. And the man just sits there, not a statue because he’s breathing, but otherwise still, doesn’t even touch his latte, the merlot of coffees.

But then the man does it again. “Andy Warhol? Andy Peace Hall, if you catch my meaning.”

Again, utter silence. A conspiracy of red lights for a few blocks around as even cars stop driving. Hipsters going out of their neckbeards. Is this guy for real? Is this what they’ve become, are they seeing the future, is this how they’re supposed to evolve, shed the skins of irony and shallow participation in disparate culture juxtaposition and slowly don the mantle of weird via random, random via weird?

One of them takes a chance. He’s brave because he secretly likes craft beers, jeans bought at Macy’s, and books by conventional prize winners. “You tell ‘em, cowboy.”

It’s meant to be funny. Instead, the man’s head swivels, smile never wavering, and makes eye contact. The one who made the remark instantly develops cancer of the soul, dies, withers, and looks down in shame at his Windows phone. A new game of Wordament starts, so he plays it, but without heart. The man’s head and smile swivel back.

And now it’s sounds of people gathering their things, quietly. Google docs saved, Chromebooks powered down and stuffed inside canvas bags. Brought-from-home packets of Stevia-In-The-Raw sealed inside Ziplocs and put back in hand-woven purses. iPads, thrift-store copies of Moby Dick, fingerless gloves, billfolds on chains. Even the baristas are stacking up cups the way they stack up cups so the morning shift will find them like that and like them for it.

One by one they leave. They space themselves out. They’re so not obvious about it they’re obvious about it. One of them gets his army jacket caught in the door for a second, and he’s thinking It’s not a real gun, It’s not a real gun, It’s not a real gun, and then he gets his jacket free and he’s walking quickly, thinking oh my god yes it is a real gun yes it is yes it is.

Eventually, the man is alone. His blue Hawaiian shirt, with the really tasteful pattern actually, well pressed cargo shorts, nice socks, appropriate sandals. Just him and his smile and his cold latte. And his badge and his gun. Speaking of, he whips it out, takes it apart, used the legos to make a bird. A raven or some shit like that.

He stands up, takes a deep breath, and heads for the door. There are 424 Starbuck’s in Seattle. Only 423 left to go.

Lost at Sea– review on Goodreads

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson MysteriesLost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jon Ronson writes for the Guardian UK, and this is a collection of articles from his works. It’s his third collection of such articles, and while the first two are more about himself, this one picks up the thread in his earlier work Them: Adventures with Extremists. He also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, and The Psychopath Test.

I read The Psychopath Test based solely on Ronson’s interview on The Daily Show, and picked up Lost at Sea for the same reason. I saw the film version of The Men Who Stared at Goats, though it was awful, but the writing in Lost at Sea is so good, I might change my mind about reading Goats. Ronson’s style is engaging, but light, easy to read and easy to get lost in.

Ronson paints himself as a cowardly, neurotic type, but his subject matter tells another story, and he’s got more guts than I do. The people he talks to in Lost at Sea are strange, and rather than indulge them, Ronson asks the tough questions and gets to the root of things.

At the same time, he editorializes without being judgmental, and is willing to accept that the obsessions these people have are complicated, and not merely to be dismissed for their weirdness.

View all my reviews

Syrup– review on Goodreads

SyrupSyrup by Max Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Syrup a few weeks ago, so this review might be a bit vague. Short version: I liked it. I read Jennifer Government years ago, Company before realizing it was also by Max Barry, and jumped on Machine Man as soon as I saw it on the shelves. I liked them all, for different reasons, and so when I came across Syrup in a used book store, buying it was a no brainer.

I read the book as a “break” from trying to plow through this year’s Booker Prize long list. So, right there, I’m calling out Syrup as “light” reading. My apologies, to readers and Mr. Barry alike. I do not mean to insult or denigrate. But this is certainly a younger Barry writing, a more eager, maybe even less serious Barry. Which is not to say later works are more “serious.” Just that the wit in his later books is a little more world-wise, while the events in Syrup are little more farcical.

However, rest assured this is still a work written by a gifted hand. Syrup reads easy, flows smoothly, and like a roller coaster either makes you scream or guts you with anticipation. It’s a fun story, silly in places, outright absurd in others.

I’m not sure if I can be objective and judge the book on its own without considering Barry’s other works or the order in which he wrote them. (I did, after all, pick this up just cause I liked his other stuff). But I’ll tell you this: I just found out they’re shooting a film version of Syrup, and I can guarantee you it won’t do justice to Barry’s tone or style. The film could be quite good though, based on the story alone. There’s your review.

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The Custodians

fiction by Jason Edwards

There I was, sitting in the kitchen reading the December, 1958 edition of The Economist (yellowed pages, ads for blenders) when Lana called me from the other room. “Steve,” she said. So I got up, fetched my pipe, and walked into the den good naturedly.

“Steve,” she said. “I want to go buy a pair of boots.” Her gaze was pointed more or less towards the television, although not quite focused on it. One of the ESPNs, what looked like some kind monster truck thing. Didn’t matter, since who knows what Lana actually saw, inside her head.

“Macy’s?” I said, pretending to take a puff on the pipe.

“Woolworth’s, Steve,” she said. It used to sort of creep me out, how much she said my name. Well, not my name, really. My name is Douglas. I have no idea who Steve is.

“Okay,” I said, fighting back a sigh. They say yawns are contagious. I’ve never seen Lana yawn. But if you sigh in her presence, she’ll sigh back, and long, deep-chested sigh, the kind that can dim the lights in a room and put pictures in your mind of sloppy nooses, small caliber hands guns, discrete poisons.

I stood there for a second, looking at her, frozen, which I knew pleased her. She liked it when we looked like a photograph taken by an old Brownie 127, which is why she wore orange capris with a mustard and brown horizontal striped knit sweater. Her head seemed to gently bobble on her long, almost ungainly neck. Her cream-colored lipstick and bee-stung lips, her pointed noise, enormous thick black eyelashes, lazy eyelids, hair swept up high, big bangs sweeping back over her head and cascading down her back, in desperate need of Lustre Crème.

I usually came to the house dressed in blue jeans and a ratty old black concert t-shirt, but somehow, throughout the day, I found myself in slacks, a button up shirt, a sweater, my own hair brill-cremed. And I was always carrying this damn pipe. But, a job’s a job. And no time like the present, so I picked Lana up and slung her over my shoulder, carried her out of the den and into the garage.

Car port. When I came to the house every day I parked my 2008 Kia Spectra in the garage, but whenever Lana wanted me to take her someplace, it was a 1960 Ford Thunderbird, parked in a car port. You’d think this would be cool, a sweet ride. No. The car was filthy, not well maintained, ran poorly. I mean, it was no worse than my Kia, but certainly no better. But I had gotten used to it. I opened the door, set Lana in the back seat, adjusted her body so she didn’t seem to loll so much, then got behind the wheel, brushing aside fast food wrappers and empty coffee cups. I had no idea where they came from—we never ate in the car, I was the only one who ever drove it, and I cleaned the damn thing out two or three times a week.

Anyway. Whatever. I backed out and we drove to Macy’s. Of course, Woolworth’s went out of business in 1997. Didn’t matter. I could’ve taken Lana to Hot Topic—in fact, I had once, and that’s where she’d gotten the orange capris. Lately, though, whenever she wanted me to take somewhere, I chose Macy’s. I liked the mall because I could park far away in the huge lot. You see, sometimes when we came back to the car, it was a different car. Not often, but sometimes. And being able to park in a specific spot, away from everyone else, made it easier get past the cognitive dissonance.

And the mall was a short drive. The first time we went out, I actually thought I should try and take her to an actual Woolworth’s, so we went to the old one on Maple, which rotated between temporary usages—election campaign headquarters, raves, Halloween costume stores—but still had the old Woolworth’s sign. That day there wasn’t anything in the store itself, but I hadn’t known any better. Carried Lana to the front door, and just stood there like an idiot. Back then I was still carrying her in front of me instead of over my shoulder. Some hipster prat (wool stocking cap, horn-rims, pierced lips, ear lobe plugs, full beard, blue short sleeve chambray worksheet buttoned to the neck, both arms tattooed from biceps to knuckles, Levi 511s rolled up to reveal naked ankles above busted Vans) was taking pictures of us with his iPhone, and Lana started singing “Blue Velvet” in the deep voice which means she’s feeling uneasy, so we left.

So now I know better. Like I said, I’ve amused myself, now that I’m a little more comfortable around her, since it sort of doesn’t matter where we go. “Steve. Gelato, Steve,” and I’ll take her to Arby’s (she doesn’t eat anything—I’ve never seen her eat). Or “I want to buy you a beer, you big strapping man,” and we’ll go to Starbucks so I can get a mocha. But after a while, amusing myself sort of got boring, so now I just take her to the same few convenient locations.

Like this Macy’s. I slung her over my shoulder and marched towards the store front. No one gave us a second glance. When I felt weird carrying Lana around, people would stare. Then I stopped caring, and so did they. And it’s interesting to me—Lana doesn’t weigh very much, but it would be a lie to say she weighed less than, say, a sack of wet rice. She was definitely proportional to a slender twenty-six year old five foot seven inch bottle-red head. But you know how it is—the perception was that she was light. Toss me a 50 pound sack of potatoes, and I’ll marvel out how ungainly it is. But Lana was just Lana, and carrying her over my shoulder was really no big deal.

We got inside the Macy’s and I set her down in the evening gown section. She said she wanted boots, but I knew better—she wanted to drift around the dresses, humming to herself and letting her fingers caress the fabrics. It was the only time I ever saw her walk on her own. She wore pants—orange capris, like I said—and I could see her feet move. But on days when she wore dresses, I swear it looked like she was floating. Her head never bounced or bobbed.

I let her go to it and sought out the men’s room for a quick smoke. You can’t smoke in Macy’s. You’re not even allowed to in the restroom. But when I got there, I snapped a Chesterfield out of a pack and had a few quick drags. I don’t smoke, and I have to special order these damn things from a tobacconists in England, since they don’t sell them where I live and shipping cigarettes over state lines requires a special license that I don’t have.

And if you’re wondering, don’t, because there’s no use to it and you won’t get anywhere anyway. I mean I’ve tried. I was looking for work, answered an ad in the paper for a “personal custodian,” and just sort of started showing up at the house where Lana lives. Or, if not lives, is. Nothing is ever consistent, sometimes I recognize things from the late 50s, early 60s, those few months in the 80s when everyone thought they were doing 50s retro but were really doing 60s retro. For a few days it was 90s retro 70s, but Lana didn’t seem to like it much so I don’t know if she controls it or if someone else does or if, somehow, I do. I try not to think about it. I try not to look things up in the internet anymore. I mean, I’m pretty sure The Economist never ran ads for blenders—that was probably Life magazine. The point is… well, there is no point. I show up and do what Lana wants and everything seems to be fine and who am I to judge? I don’t know even know who I am, so who am I to judge?

I finished my cigarette, looked at myself in the mirror, decided I needed a shave. Or a martini. Instead I went back to the gowns to see how Lana was doing. When I got there, she was talking to someone… or at least the Lana version of talking, which was to stand close as if in conversation, but sort of gaze over their shoulder. I’d seen her do that with salespeople, mannequins, the homeless, old ladies at bus stops. Usually they just stood there too, as if content to have a conversation without words—again, as if captured in a photograph.

This time, oddly, Lana was actually saying things, and so was the other person—a thin girl in a purple satin dress, spaghetti straps, wavy brunette hair, maybe too much eye-makeup, cheek bones that didn’t say genetics as much as they said wealthy eating disorder. She seemed vaguely familiar.

I wanted to hear what they were saying, so I moved closer, but slowly, so as not to disturb them. As I did, a burly man dressed in a tight brown Hugo Boss suit entirely well-fitted but entirely wrong for his body stepped in front of me. “Can I help you?”

I knew he didn’t work there, but it clicked almost immediately. “I’m with the lady in the stripes there. Can I help you?”

He smiled. “Personal custodian?” he said.

I smiled back. “Yeah. Mine’s Lana.”

“Allegra,” he said, and took a step to the side so we could both watch them. “I’d always assumed I was the only one.”

“Me too.” I said. I tried not to think about it too much, but found I was somehow comforted.

“How does yours work? Does she take you on jets?”

I shook my head. “No, mostly we just go shopping.”

He nodded. “Yeah, we do that sometimes. Mostly I take her to the airport. We get on privates jets—they don’t go anywhere. I read GQ, she holds a cell phone up to her ear. Never says anything. This is the first time I’ve seen her talk to anyone else.”

“Me too.” We stand there for a while, watching, not quite making out what they’re saying. Eventually, Lana drifted away from the other girl, and the guy turned to me. “Antonio” he said, holding out his hand.

We shake. “Steve,” I said. “Actually, it’s Douglas.”

He smiled again, and then chuckled. “I used to be Dave.” He walked towards his girl.

I went over to Lana. “Ready to go home?”

She turned to me, a sort of smiled, looking over my shoulder. “Take me home, Steve.” So I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder. I turned, and Antonio (Dave) had his girl over his shoulder too, a big grin on his face, almost as big as mine. We left through different doors.

I walked us back to the car (still a 1960 Ford Thunderbird) and settled Lana into the back seat. Got behind the wheel, and glanced at her in the rearview. Somehow, she was holding a shoebox, what looked like a picture of cowboy boots on them. I sighed a sigh of contentment, and Lana picked it up, and sighed too. It wasn’t so bad.