Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Year, Same Me

Happy New Year 2023 Stock Vector | Adobe Stock 

 It's a New Year. At least, it is where I am (in Vietnam).

For my family, it is still 2022 for the next few hours. I don't have the heart to tell them that I have seen 2023 and it is, at most, meh.

Yesterday, I popped my blog open (that's this blog for those of you reading along at home) and discovered that I only posted ONE TIME last year. It was on January 3rd. It has almost been an entire year since my last post. That doesn't really mean anything and this is not a post to claim I will do better this year. It just made me realize that a lot has happened this year.

First, my wife I have started a new business. We opened an English center here in Hi An. We are partnered with a wonderful local woman and we opened the school in June.

Grand opening

Some of our first students

Classroom for the small kids

Little bit older

Field trip to a folk museum

We partnered with a local school for a day

Me giving a student her admissions test

Having Fun

Learning the basics

We opened with a little over a hundred students on the first day. Over the course of the next month, the novelty of the new school in town wore off and we lost a few, but the number has been steadily growing ever since. The students we have now are here because they like us and our methods. It's a lot of work, but it is scary fun 🤡 also. 



NOT SO FUN: We've had COVID twice. TWICE! It sucked. The second time wasn't too bad. It was just a bad cold, but the first one was terrible. However, being sick at home is still safer than braving the Vietnam traffic. We take our lives in our hands every time we leave the house.

Driving here is like playing Russian Roulette, but with highly-caffeinated squirrels.

Monday, January 3, 2022

I Am Drained

We have lived in Vietnam for three years now. We spent two years in China before that. You would think that in that amount of time, we would have things figured out. However, we still get surprised now and then.

One of the things I love "am amused by" about living on this side of the world is the lack of concern for rules or safety. If something needs to be done--just do it. My neighbor once drilled a hole in the curb in front of his house to access the drainage system under the sidewalk. His street was flooding, so he fixed it. He didn't call the city planning commission, notify a zoning board or get any kind of permit. He just drilled a hole. In the States, my dad once got hit with a fine for tearing down an old shed on his own property.

Driving down the road, you might see a hole big enough to swallow a bus. Someone will put tape around it until the city gets around to fixing it. No signage is placed to warn of the upcoming hazard. The tape is sufficient.

In the States, we need a heads-up two miles ahead of time for a lane merge in the highway. Here, they just have the crazy expectation that drivers should be paying attention. It's the same reason there are virtually no traffic lights anywhere despite the amount of traffic.

Power lines sag low enough you could grab them, but people don't. And there is a reason for that. You know what they are, stay clear. If you happen to die, well…you must not have been very smart. 

These lack of regulations apply to household products as well. A product I have used here many times is a drain cleaner. This is some serious stuff. If your shower stops draining, you buy a bottle of this stuff to pour in the drain. It is instantaneous. The moment you break the seal on the bottle, you can feel your lungs beginning to collapse and burn. I have a method for using this stuff.

I have learned to be standing directly over the drain, hold my breath and break the seal. Empty the contents quickly and exit the bathroom before you run out of breath. Go back in a few days to dispose of the empty bottle.

The water starts to drain almost before you even pour anything in. The fumes are that strong. The moment that stuff hits the drain, the excess water is sucked out of the house. That bottle essentially contains concentrated molten acid. I'm not even sure the water exists anymore.

So, when my kitchen sink failed to drain one day, I grabbed my lucky bottle of liquid hell and dumped it in. It took less than a second for the sink to drain and flooded my kitchen with very "bitey" dirty water. Apparently, the pipes in the kitchen are not lava-proof like the bathroom pipes are.

The inside of the pipes are now spotless

The pipe was obliterated as well as everything that was stored under the sink. All of our cleaning products leaked everywhere when the bottles they were stored in disintegrated. The brushes and scrubbing implements no longer exist and the various mops we used very carefully to clean up our acid eco-disaster had to be blessed and ritually destroyed by a priest.

Luckily, we have marble floors. It did not eat through the marble, but it did go right through the grouting between the tiles and stained every marble surface into a unrecognizable color.

 I managed to get it all cleaned up and only lost two and a half toes in the process. I now wonder if the pipes under the bathroom are more sturdy or just underground so I don't know what damage I have done. I do know there can't possibly be any ants or rats under our house.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Men Waiting for a Shave Is a Barber Queue

I hate shaving.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

And I don't know why. It's not like it is that difficult, but I put off doing it as long as I can.

I've done this for many years. Once I shaved, I would not shave again until the itching on my face was driving me crazy and I just couldn't stand it anymore. Then, I would shave. But only because I had to for my sanity.

Because I would often go two weeks (or sometimes even longer) between shaves, the crappy little disposable razors just didn't do the trick.


I didn't break them like Bill Duke did in Predator, but I did destroy them very quickly. When you are harboring two weeks worth of uncontrolled undergrowth on your face, that tiny little cheap blade can't handle it. After pulling it barely a quarter-inch down your face shag, the underside is already clogged and it just slides across the top of your cheek growth.

To make any progress, I had to take tiny little swipes and thoroughly rinse after every two or three attempts. The difference on my face would be barely noticeable and it could take 20 minutes to do just one cheek. Plus, by then, the blade was shot and it was time to change razors. I would go through two to four razors every time.

Eventually, I decided to upgrade and purchased my first big boy razor.

Woohoo! Four blades.

I saw an immediate improvement. I could shave a little faster, but I still had to be careful to not shave too much before cleaning out the blades. Once the spaces between the blades get packed with stubble, they were useless. IF I took care to protect the blades, I was sometimes able to shave three separate days before I had to put a new blade cartridge in. This was a much better experience, but those cartridges were four to six dollars apiece. So, quite often, (as much as I hated it) I tried to shave more often. Twice a week seemed to greatly extend the life of my blades. But I complained loudly every time I had to do it.

Puberty still sucks even years later. I've seriously considered getting electrolysis on my face. Have I said I hate shaving?

One day six years ago, I saw an ad for a barbershop that does shaves. I don't know why this had never occurred to me before. Let someone else do it! It was for Red's Classic Barbershop in Indianapolis (where I lived at the time). Which, coincidentally, was probably why I saw the ad.

Someone else shaving me?
Yes, please.

I jumped at this opportunity. I raced over and got a professional shave for the first time in my life. It was awesome, but it was not cheap. I was not going to pay for this service every couple of weeks. However, I was sold on the concept of a straight razor after this and went a little crazy. I bought a razor, shaving brush, special shaving lather gel and a few other accessories. My trip downtown to get a shave turned into a $300 expense. 

The best part was the quality and function of the blade. An unencumbered straight razor is typically pretty laid-back about how long it has been since your last shave. And with no crevices around the blade for little hairs to clog up, it shaves much faster. One long swipe down the cheek removes hair from the entire area. No more little pecks with an inferior blade for me. I was set for life.

Until I went to use it for the first time a week later.

As it turns out, the totally exposed, uber-honed blade with the sharpened end tapered down to barely the width of a single atom must be used quite delicately. And with a very steady hand.

With time, I got better. However, after several near-fatal mishaps I learned to always inform my wife I was shaving so she wouldn't suddenly yell out "THE PIZZA'S HERE!" 

Sudden and unexpected outbursts tend to make people jump. And when I am already understandably nervous about having the miniature, home-version of a samurai sword at my jugular, these outbursts would cause significantly more than a flinch from me.

So, shaving time became household quiet time. We silenced the phones, muted the TV and she would sit in a comfortable chair until I give the all-clear. The routine worked for us for several years.

Since then, we have moved to Vietnam. The land of the discount everything

The high prices in Indianapolis that kept me from letting someone else shave me don't exist here. Now, I head out to a barbershop every Wednesday morning to get a shave. I will happily let someone else do it when it only costs 20,000 đồng ($0.90). But it is a bit of a different experience. Correction. A radically different experience.

Here, there is no hot towel and face cream treatment like at the fancy shop I visited in the States. It's also not a nice retro place downtown with drinks and a waiting area. It's a dry shave in a dimly-lit building similar to what Americans might call a 'backyard murder-shack'.

Of the four places I frequent for my weekly treatment, two of them have dirt floors. One has no electricity. Three of them have no running water on site and none of them have a professionally-trained, certified barber. Here, if you want to open a business, you just do it. To be a barber, you need a pair of scissors and something for your customer to sit on. That's it.

For the last few weeks, my favorite barber has had a teenage kid (he looks about 14) hanging around in his little murder-shack barber shed. Often when I am in there, the kid (the barber's son, I assume) is sitting in the corner taking apart a set of clippers and putting it back together. He pulls out plastic chairs for waiting customers to sit in despite there being room for no more than three people in the tiny shack. He also makes sure the front door stays shut to prevent wandering water buffalo from trying to push their way in.

Last week, I figured out that the boy is apparently in training to do what his father does. Learn the trade and start cutting hair. (I have to assume everything since we speak different languages. I can't ask any questions, so I just have to observe and guess. I'm wrong a lot.) I sat in the chair as the barber stepped outside with his previous customer to collect money and have a cigarette. Once I was seated, the boy rested my seat back and started putting the foam on my face.

My mind started racing. Did I want this child shaving me? Those straight razors are deadly. I barely trust myself with those death blades at my throat and I love me more than anyone. But the father(?) soon came back in and took over.

This week, the same thing happened. I was much more relaxed, but dad(?) did not come back in this time. The boy whipped out the blade and started to work in front of my right ear.

I understand that an apprentice has to start doing the real thing eventually. That's how he's going to learn. And from a business and local-credibility standpoint, it probably makes sense to have him practice on the foreigner in case of a mishap. I just wish it wasn't me.

The boy moved very slowly. He didn't take any long swipes and he did the same area a few times. I assume to be sure to get all the hair. After he finished one cheek, he moved to the other. By now, dad(?) was standing over me and watching. He gave a few words now and then. After he finished my left cheek, he handed the razor over to his father (I am still not sure of their relationship). Dad ran his fingers over my cheeks and gave a nod of approval to the boy. Then, Dad went to work on the more complicated contours of my face. Under the nose. Around the lips. The curves of the jawline and chin.

It all worked out. I didn't get a single nick.

When it was finished, the boy jumped back in with a towel to clean me up. I got up and paid the barber his 20,000 đồng and then turned back to the kid and held out another 20,000. He looked confused and shook his head while pointing to his father. I assume he was saying, "No, no. Pay him."

I pushed the money closer to him and he looked around me to his father. Dad gave a quick nod which allowed the boy to take the money. I ran my fingers over the sides of my face and gave him a thumbs up. He now understood. I was actually paying him for his service. A huge smile broke out on his face. He jumped up and gave the polite bow that is common in this part of the world. I turned around to leave and his father was beaming. He gave me a subtle wink as I left.

I think I made that kid's day.

When I go back next time, I think I'll try to swallow my fear and convince Dad to let the kid do it all.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

You Have the Right to Remain Offended (But That Doesn't Mean I Have to Care)

In today's world, you just never know when someone is going to get butt-hurt about something. And it could be anything. The smallest things set people off onto their personal righteous crusade.

A few years ago, I had a Facebook friend attack me when I made an ADHD joke.


"I think I have ADHD, doc"
"I keep forgetting where I parked my Ford"
That's not-
"Yeah, I keep losing my Focus"
Get out of my office.


This joke does not make fun of people with ADHD in any way. It is really just a play on words.

However, she tore into me because her son has ADHD and I should be more sensitive to families dealing with serious issues. I totally understand why that topic is a trigger for her, but I do not excuse her response. And I let her know this by going back through all the comments and likes on my Facebook posts when I had made various other jokes about other things and she laughed. I took screen shots of her responses to those jokes and sent them to her.

Luckily, she actually is a decent person and she responded appropriately. She apologized (not what I was fishing for) and admitted that she was overly sensitive about this topic (what I was fishing for). Basically, I do not think it is fair to laugh at one joke aimed a group, but take offense when it is aimed at a different group.

I do understand that you cannot always control what offends you. But you can and should control your reaction to it. Here are some tirades I have witnessed personally:

  • A girl refused to attended her high school class reunion because it was broken into two events. The typical dinner and dance was the main part, but it was preceded by an afternoon excursion for entire families. Bring your families. Since she had never had children, she felt personally insulted that this event was included and she voiced her anger loudly. Basically, since she had never had children, no one else should be allowed to be proud of theirs.
  • A man whose father had died in a car accident stormed out of a movie theater months later when a car accident happened in the movie. I completely understand why this was a painful thing for him to see, but I do not understand why he berated the cinema staff and almost punched the theater manager for not personally warning him about this scene. He would not have thrown the same tantrum if the death was from a gunshot or a drug overdose. He was only upset because it was sensitive to him.

There is a real difference between something being offensive and someone being offended.

People get all up in arms over all sorts of things. Christmas is always under fire simply because not all people celebrate Christmas. People are attacked over hairstyles and clothing choices they like because it might be cultural-appropriation. Some schools have been attacked for the food in their cafeteria because some of the students are of a religion or philosophy that prohibits them from eating certain foods, so they want the food banned for everyone. It's ridiculous. All of this came to mind today when I saw this on my brother-in-law's Facebook page today.


This is one of those ridiculous arguments I was talking about. She doesn't point out anything bad about Father's Day other than some people are not in the same situation. That's it. That is her entire argument.

If she honestly feels this, to be consistent with her argument, I am suggesting to her some other holidays to eliminate so as not to upset people.

Let's start with Secretary's Day. People who don't have a secretary should not be disrespected on this day. The shame they will feel every year from not having a job worthy of needing a secretary is unnecessary and cruel.

Veteran's Day - There are people who do not come from military families. I personally come from a Navy family, but was rejected for health reasons when I tried to sign up. Myself and hundreds of thousands of others are shamed every year when this holiday shows its ugly head. Non-military families or people who object to the military are forced to have an awful day with all the patriotic idiots running around.

Memorial Day - There are people who have not experienced a loss by death. I've met them. I know a couple of adults who have never been to a funeral in their entire lives. They shouldn't have their day ruined by all the talk of such a depressing nature. 

Valentine's Day - A slap in the face to every single person.

National Pancake Day (Feb 16) - Some of us prefer waffles. Why honor this lesser breakfast?

Inauguration Day - A sad reminder to a large LARGE LARGE number of people that their candidate did not win. 

Black History Month (Feb) - Some people aren't black 

Women's History Month (Mar) - Some people aren't women 

Asian Pacific American Month (May) - Some people aren't Asian Pacific American. Or even just Asian. Or from the Pacific. Or even American.

Doctor's Day (Mar 30) - With the state of the US health care system, many people can't afford a doctor. This entire day is spent in hiding knowing the more affluent in the country are laughing at their poverty (and undetected cancerous tumors).

Take Your Daughter to Work Day - A major indignity to the parents of all boys. It is incredibly painful for the people who are wanting to have children. Excruciating to someone who has lost a child or suffered a miscarriage.

Arbor Day - If a tree fell on and killed your father, you should not be unfairly subjected to this day. Families of lumberjacks often boycott this day.

St Patrick's Day (Mar 17) - Everyone is allowed to pretend they are Irish, but some people don't drink. What are they supposed to do? 

Cinco de Mayo (May 5) - Those people still don't drink, but now it's May. 

Tax Day - Poor people 

National Missing Children Day (May 25) - This day is a blasphemy to those of us who actually kept track of our kids.

Bastille Day (July 14) - Incredibly degrading for those of us who do not know what a bastille is 

Labor Day - Depressing for the unemployed 

Leif Erikson Day (Oct 9) - Rage-inducing for those people who were taught in school that Columbus discovered America 

Columbus Day (Oct 11) - Nearly impossible to enjoy for the Columbus supporters still reeling from the fake holiday two days previous 

Sweetest Day (Oct 16) - My brother is diabetic. How is he supposed to feel on this day? 

Halloween - Downright slanderous for those who have relatives who are actual ghosts now. Incredibly insensitive and thrown right in people's faces. Children actually come knock on your door to make sure you know this hurtful celebration is happening.

Thanksgiving - What are people without families supposed to do? Or people with families but are vegetarians?

Cyber Monday - Discourtesy to Luddites 

Military Spouse Appreciation Day (May 7) - I don't understand. Is every person in the military married? In addition, I suppose all the wonderful spouses out there who don't happen to be married to a person in the military should just be shunned. It is shameful.

New Year's Day - What about people who celebrate the Lunar New Year? 

Groundhog Day - This entire day is a mockery of the many people who have rodent-related phobias.

President's Day - A not-so-subtle slight against the "NOT MY PRESIDENT"-type people 

Read Across America Day (Mar 2) - A day of scorn for the illiterate. An outright affront to authors whose manuscripts have been rejected by publishers.

Let's get rid of them all so no one will be offended. And if anyone can actually come up with a holiday that legitimately is not offensive in any way we still need to ban it because some family out there will have to face it for the first time this year since a loved one died. The rest of the world going on with their lives is the definition of cruelty.

And anyone who might be offended by the removal of one of their beloved holidays is selfish and does not care about the feelings of others.

Maybe, just maybe, if we do all this Daniella Herzog will be happy.  But I doubt it.


Sunday, May 2, 2021

The #AtoZChallenge is Over

Reflections 2021 #atozchallenge

The A to Z Challenge is over. This was my sixth year participating and this year I really challenged myself. I did Flash Fiction all month, but I had to do a different literary genre every day. Some days it was quite difficult.

I was really not looking forward to Romance. I did it, but it was not great. For E, people kept recommending Erotica. I refused from the beginning. Wasn't even going to attempt it. That would have been a disaster. But I did have some posts I was very proud of.

One of the rules I kept for myself all month was to not pre-plan any posts. Every post was written that day. I very rarely had any idea what I was going to write when I sat down, so it just had to flow. The hardest part was capturing the mood of the genre for the day. On some, I think I nailed it. On many more, not so much.

Following is a list of every post I did for the month. There is one for each letter. There is a brief description of each one. The ones that I am particularly proud of have an X in the box. ()

☐  A - Adventure - A brother and sister outing does not go as planned.

⛝  B - Bizarro - I am not a sports guy, but I had fun with this one. And as a genre, this is probably Bizarro Light. There is some crazy bizarro fiction out there.

⛝  C - Children's - I LOVE THIS STORY! It was fun and came out really cute.

☐  D - Dystopian - After I finished, I am not sure I would call this one dystopian.

☐  E - Era-Driven - This one takes place about 100 years ago. It is based upon a short story I wrote a few years ago about my grandmother as a child.

⛝  F - Fairy Tale  - When I knew I was writing a fairy tale, I had the ending immediately. I just needed a story to get me there. This is what I came up with. I'm proud of this one.

⛝  G - Ghost Story - My very first ghost story. And I think it came out quite well. I like this one.

☐  H - Horror  - I am a huge horror fan, but don't really think I pulled it off well. I got the idea from a Shirley Jackson short story, but mine went in a radically different direction.

⛝  I - Imaginary Voyage -

☐  J - Juxtaposition - I did not know of any genres that began with J. So, I retold the A is for Adventure story, but from the other's character's perspective.

⛝  K - Karen - I did not know of any genres that began with K. There was a crazy Karen story in the news that morning, so I used that as my topic. I liked it.

⛝    L - Legend - This was a short story idea I had a couple of years ago. The idea was jotted down in my notebook and forgotten about until I thumbed through it for story ideas. I love this story, but I am not sure I did it justice.

☐  M - Mystery - A dysfunctional family's reading of the will.

⛝   N - Noir - One of my favorites for the month. I tried to capture the feeling of detective noir mystery thrillers. I think it came out well. And it was so much fun to write.

☐   O - Oral History - More of an explanation of oral history than anything, but told as a story.

☐   P - Paranormal - this was based upon something that actually happened in our home.

☐   Q - Quest - Some quests are more epic than others.

☐   R - Romance - I am NOT a romance writer, but I gave it a shot.

☐   S - Science Fiction - I think I could do science fiction, but was struggling for a story idea this day.

⛝   T - Time Travel - THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE!!! I loved this story. I may need to expand it further. It was the most fun to write.

☐   U - Urban Legend - I took some of the "supposedly true" stories from my childhood and decided to run with it.

☐   V - Vampire - Not typical vampire fair, but there is a vampire in it.

☐   W - Western - I did too much research on this for as short as it is. There may be a story there if I wanted to spend more time on it.

☐   X - Crossover - Not a genre, but it was fun to write. Not great stuff, but I enjoyed it.

☐   Y - Young Adult - Meh. I used the story to explain my thoughts on this.

⛝   Z - Zombies - I did not write this one for A to Z. I wrote this a couple of years ago. It is an excerpt from a book I am writing. I need to pick it up again and get the book finished.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Z - Zombies - #AtoZChallenge

My last post for this month is Z, obviously. Z is for Zombies. 

And I was feeling lazy today. So, I didn't write anything, but I did write what is here. This is a chapter from my book (still unfinished). There are a couple of running gags in the story that I am not going to explain here, but shouldn't not distract from this short section. It is about 3,100 words, so it is significantly longer than my usual posts.

All you need to know is that in this world, due to reasons it would take too long to explain, when some people die, they don't completely die. They become zombies. But not violent, brain-eating zombies. They are basically a public nuisance. The two main characters work for the city dispatch crew. They respond when a zombie needs to be taken care of. It is John's (JB's) first day on the job. I hope you enjoy it.


There were hundreds of kids in the parking lot as parents and buses were dropping students off to start the school day. Due to the traffic, Pops had to park the truck by the street in front of the school sign. 


“Damn it, Pops. Tell me why we’re here.” Pops had refused to tell John about the call. He wanted it to be a surprise. “You’ll see” was all he would say as he wiggled his eyebrows and clenched the cigarette in his teeth.

Pops jumped out of the truck and waved at the students and teachers who had stopped to look at them. The arrival of the FRT truck was rarely good news. Undeterred, Pops dropped the tailgate. “JB, gimme a hand, will ya?”

Pops pulled out a four-foot pole that had a cable noose at one end and tossed it to John. “Is this one of those dogcatcher poles?” Pops smile widened as he said “Yep. And you’re on pole duty for this one, so check it out. Hit the release knob on the end there to make it snap tight and be damn sure you have a good hold on those rubber grips so it doesn’t slip away from you. This is gonna to be a big one. Let’s go.” Pops spun on his heel and headed toward the entrance.

John followed in resignation. He had several more questions, but knew Pops well enough that he understood no more information was coming. Pops loved his surprises and badgering him for more details would only make him more excited that he knew something John didn’t.

As they stepped through the crowd to get inside Pops whistled, “Wow, JB. This place hasn’t changed at all since we ravaged these halls.”

“We only graduated three years ago. Did you expect trees to be growing in here now?”

Pops scoffed, “No, but I wonder if Mr. Hausen is still watering that pot plant I stuck in with his other herbs.”

The crowd of staring students parted for them as they made their way down the hall. “Where we headed?” John still had no idea where they were going.

“To the cafeteria,” said Pops and lowered his voice, “but keep it quiet. Ralph said the principal wants us to keep a low profile.”

“Low profile as we park in the middle of a crowd and walk through the hallways with a dog catching pole. Maybe we should have just sat low in the seats and driven the truck through here so no one could see us.”

“Hey,” Pops snapped. “I hear your sarcasm and raise you a sense of adventure. Isn’t this fun?”

“I believe we have very different ideas of what makes something fun. I didn’t care for this place for the four years I had to be here.”

Pops retorted, “I think you and I can both agree you had fun with Sara Lange in that janitors’ closet right there and you appreciated being here that day.”

“Let’s just do what we’re here to do. Okay?”

The bell signaling the first class rang just as they approached the cafeteria and the crowd reluctantly dispersed. John and Pops stepped into the kitchen and witnessed a disheveled woman mopping a large pool of thick red liquid up off the floor. The crimson stains were splattered all over the room. The bottom of her pants was soaked with it and it looked like she may have rolled in it before cleaning. It even appeared to be dripping from her scraggly hair. One of the metal countertops was turned over. Pots and pans were scattered everywhere. Another woman was in a corner scrubbing a table with a sponge. John immediately gagged.

“I think I’m going to be sick. That’s a lot of blood.”

Pops signature grin never faltered. “I don’t smell any blood. Smells just like it always smelled in high school. Bleach and janitor puke dust.”

The cook with the sponge looked up. “It’s tomato soup. Birget was cooking it when she had her heart attack. Think it was a heart attack. She’s always popping those heart pills. When she fell, she pulled it down on top of her. Spilled it everywhere.”

John, still a little green from his first impression, asked “Who’s Birget?”

Pops eyes lit up, “It’s Ms. Braun. Surprise!”

“What? Ms. Braun, the horrible lunch lady with the sideburns and the hairy mole that stuck out the top of her shirt? She’s still here?”

“For the next ten minutes or so. We’re here to pick her up.” Turning to the cook mopping the floor, Pops asked, “So, where is she?”

The cook leaned against her mop and explained, “None of us saw Birget go down ‘cuz we was bringin’ in a delivery in the back. When she woke up, she got to spreadin’ the mess she made all over the kitchen. Slippin’ and slidin’ everywhere. Makin’ all kinds of racket. She contaminated this whole room and was gearin’ for the pantry. We tried to corral her outside, but they’re not much for followin’ directions, you know. She’s a big girl. We couldn’t keep her down. In all the commotion, she fell into the walk-in, so we just closed her in. Bitch is in there now messin’ up all yesterday’s prep work.”

The other cook shouted, “Have some respect for the dead!”

She shot back, “Neither one of us respected her when she was alive. You especially. Why start now? Plus, all that banana pudding you made for today is in that cooler. What do you plan to do for dessert now?”

Pops eyes opened wide, “You were going to serve banana pudding with tomato soup. And you guys always questioned why I never ate in the cafeteria.”

The cook with the sponge scoffed, “Oh, please. You never ate here because you always spent your lunch smoking pot in the locker room.”

John immediately jumped to Pops’ defense. “That is not true. It was usually in the parking lot.”

The first cook paused as she looked at John, “Ain’t you Hank’s boy?”

John’s eyes dropped to the floor. Being recognized as the son of the late great Hank Millner always made him feel like a failure in comparison, especially since returning home from college in defeat. 

“Yeah. Hank was my dad.”

“Really? Me and him went to school together. He went out with my sister a few times. Always liked him. He was a good man. Even back in high school.” She shook her thumb toward the walk-in, “Anyway, all the ruckus in the cooler died down about half an hour ago.”

Pops turned to John with his eyes wide with excitement. “Grab your pole. This is why we’re here. Pretty awesome for your first clean up, huh? 

Pops grabbed the handle to the walk-in cooler and winked at John. “You ready, JB. Let’s do this.”

“Wait a second. What’s the plan? What exactly do you want me to do?”

Pops released the handle and cocked his head in confusion, but it only seemed to make his smile bigger. “Dude, that’s what the dog pole is for. Just get a hold of her and I’ll do the rest. You’ll get the hang of this pretty quick.”

“Put the loop over her head?”

“No, dipshit. Use it to grab her boob…YEAH, put it over her head. Just get a hold of her and hold her still so I can get in there. Got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Pops grabbed the handle again and flung the door open. “Go get her.”

John took a breath and stepped toward the cooler. The place was a mess. A five-gallon bucket of sliced pickles had been toppled. The pickles had spilled all over the floor and mixed with the contents from the containers of mayonnaise and mustard that had burst when they dropped. One of the shelves was knocked over splattering all the prep work from the previous day onto the wall and floor.

“I don’t see her,” John quietly said to Pops.

Pops whispered back, “Why are we whispering?”

The cook with the mop spoke up, “The cooler doesn’t have a back door. She’s in there and we need her out. We have less than three hours before we have to start feeding 400 kids. Let’s go.”

Pops banged on the cooler door with a spatula and explained, “Let’s get her attention. Sometimes they slow down a bit if they’ve had plenty to eat and I’ll bet you a carton of smokes she stuffed herself in there. They’re like babies. They put anything in their mouths and all that’s in there is food. Well, what the school calls food anyway. I could never eat it.” He banged louder, “Let’s go, Braun. JB wants to show you something.”

John heard a groan from inside the cooler and willed himself to step inside. To his right, behind one of the metal shelves, he could see the end of Birget’s foot. He moved a few items for a better look and saw her lying on her back on the floor. Her clothes were covered in the tomato soup from the kitchen and various other sauces and gravies. Both her and the cooler were such a mess, she was almost camouflaged into her surroundings.

John stepped around the shelf trying to keep his footing on the slippery floor while checking to see that he had the loop at the end of the pole fully loosened to easily get it over her head. There wasn’t much room between the shelves and Birget’s head was facing away from him. She didn’t appear to care that he was there. She just stared up at the ceiling and occasionally at John as he positioned himself at her feet.

John draped the cord over the back of her head and tried to pull it back toward him. With her head resting on the floor, the cord didn’t slip over her head to her neck. He adjusted the cord length once again and made a second attempt. As he was positioning the pole, Pops banged on the door again. “Come on, JB. What’s taking so long?”

The sudden noise startled John and made Birget jump. She raised her head to look toward Pops voice and John jerked the cord onto her neck like he was hooking a fish. He snapped the release and the cord immediately tightened. Triumphant, John yelled, “I got her.”

His loud voice in that small cooler seemed to agitate Birget and she flipped over to get to her feet. The sudden unexpected motion pulled the pole from John’s grip. Frozen, he just stood there watching Birget thrashing around and slipping as she tried to stand on the slick metal surface of the cooler floor. Pops appeared in the door and laughed, “You gonna grab her or what?”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

John struggled to grab the pole as she continued slipping around, but even the rubber grips had gotten slick from the condiments and sauces they had accumulated from the floor of the cooler. Eventually, Birget was standing and suddenly slowed as she spied a large square pan of banana pudding. John seized this opportunity to grab the pole and get a steady grip as she plunged her meaty paw into the yellow goo to put into her mouth.

Pops shouted out his brand of encouragement, “You picked her up. Now, close the deal. Get her over here out of that corner.” John tightened his grip and gave a little tug on the pole. She didn’t budge from the pudding. He pulled again with the same non-result.

Pops took a step closer and with his rarely serious expression explained, “Look, she’s already dead. She can’t be hurt any more than being dead. Now stop being so polite and get her out here. You got this, JB.”

John nodded in agreement. He wiped his hands on his pants to remove some of the mess and got a good grip on the pole. He leaned forward and jerked back with a strong pull to get her moving. The sudden motion combined with the slick floor pulled his feet out from under him and he crashed to the floor pulling her down on top of him.

John struggled to get free, but the confined space between the shelves and the weight of Birget’s massive frame had him trapped. Plus, her cleavage was pressed against his face and he could feel what he imagined was that half dollar-sized furry mole tickling his upper lip. He wanted to scream for Pops to help, but was terrified some of the pudding oozing out of her mouth might land in his.

Birget was gurgling through the pudding and pawing at John’s face when he felt Pops grab him around the shoulders. Pops put his foot against Birget’s shoulder and pulled John free. Before John could get up, Pops stepped over Birget and held her to the floor with the pole as she thrashed around still trying to stand.

“Okay, what have we learned?”

John, still winded and sputtering through the pudding dripping off his face answered, “I learned that you suck as a trainer.”

“Well, this is my first slip n’ slide situation, but we learn as we go, don’t we. Let’s get her outside and put her down.”

“Why not just do it right here? You already have her under control.”

“Think, JB. We’re in a food storage area. There’s usually a lot of blood. We gotta get her outside or the Board of Health’ll bitch at us.”

John stepped forward pulling a Salisbury steak from his underwear. “What do you suggest?”

“She’s a big girl. I don’t reckon we should let her back up. Keep her pinned down with the pole. I’ll try to coax her forward.”

Pops held what was left of the pan of pudding in front of Birget’s face. Once it got her attention, she lurched for it. John released the pressure enough to allow her to move, but not enough to let her get her legs under her. She moved slowly, but they were getting closer to the exit.

After a few minutes, they reached the door of the cooler. Pops fired up a cigarette and offered to switch places with John. “Just steer her toward that back door. We can finish her when we get to the grass.”

A loud voice bellowed, “You’ll do no such thing, Leslie. This is a school with kids running around everywhere. I will not risk one of them seeing you killing Ms. Braun.”

John and Pops recognized the voice of their old principal immediately. John had never liked the man, but he was much better at hiding it than Pops was. Of course, Pops wasn’t much for hiding his emotions anyway.

Pops answered with no attempt to conceal his loathing, “Hey, Billy.” Pops gave the ‘Billy’ extra emphasis. “Technically, she’s already dead. We can’t kill her.”

The man straightened his back and held his head higher as he scolded, “Leslie Poplawski! I am still the principal here. You will address me as Mr. Werner.”

Pops motioned for John to hold the pole again as he stepped up to meet the principal chest to chest. “Well, Billy. As I told you every week of my freshman year, ‘As long as you insist on calling me Leslie, I will call you Billy.’ Remember, Billy. And…I don’t go to school here anymore, Billy.” Pops paused at the end of each sentence before giving the “Billy” extra punch to drive it home.

“Just get her taken care of inside. You can’t do it outside.”

“Whatever you say.” Pops took a quick puff of his cigarette and added another “Billy.”

“And is that a cigarette? Put that out immediately!”

John saw the twinkle in Pops eyes as he answered, “Why? Will you give me a detention?” Pops was loving this exchange and John certainly enjoyed watching it.

“You can’t be in here if you’re smoking!”

Pops motioned toward the pole being used to hold Birget down. “Sure thing. Come hold this and we’ll be on our way, Billy.”

Exasperated, Mr. Werner stormed out of the kitchen. “Just get her out without anyone seeing you.”

Pops was grinning ear to ear when he turned back to John. “Damn, that was fun. I’ve missed that.” He clapped and rubbed his hands together as he glanced around the room. “Okay. Let’s lead her over to the drain under the sink. I guess we could do it there.” Turning back to the cooks, Pops asked, “Could one of you lovely ladies grab me a knife? I think I left my tools in the truck.”

All this month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. A new post will go up every day (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet as the starting off point. My theme for the month is literary genres. I am writing in a different genre of flash fiction each day. Today's letter is Z for Zombies.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Y - Young Adult - #AtoZChallenge

"I just can't get going on this assignment," complained Carl.

Carl's dad, always supportive, asked, "What's the trouble, champ?"

"In my Creative Writing class, we are often challenged to try to write in a particular genre. And I've had some fun writing horror stories, children's stories, fables and others. This one I just can't wrap my mind around."

His dad leaned in close. "What were you assigned this time?"

Carl threw his hands up in the air, "Young Adult."

"What's the problem? YA is one of the most popular genres out there right now. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Ready Player One, Maze Runner, Divergent, Ender's Game, A Fault in Our Stars, Percy Jackson. There is no end to Young Adult literature."

Carl shook his head. "I'm a fan of almost all of those, but this is a 'genre' challenge. Those stories you listed are of the genres fantasy, science fiction, mythology, dystopian, and romance. Those are genres. Young adult is simply the audience the stories are intended for. It is not a genre. So, when the teacher says she wants a Young Adult story, what does she want? YA thriller? YA romance? YA horror? YA dystopian? YA supernatural dystopian romance? I need more direction."

Carl's dad stood up to leave the room. "I understand. I bet you could just pick one and run with it. Your teacher gave you a lot of freedom here.

"I guess."

Carl's dad patted him on the back, "Either way, it's going to have to wait until we get back. We need more supplies and we need to clear the security gate for your mom. She's on her way home and I saw a couple of radiated hounds lurking around. You take the gunner and I'll handle the flamethrower. Gear up."

"I'll be right there, dad. And don't forget, on the way back I'll need to swing by the compound to rescue my girlfriend from that techno cult."

All this month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. A new post will go up every day (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet as the starting off point. My theme for the month is literary genres. I am writing in a different genre of flash fiction each day. Today's letter is Y for Young Adult.

I could not come up with any genres that started with Y. Every person I talked to said Young Adult. I just couldn't do it for the reason Carl complained about in the story. Young Adult changes the tone to match the intended audience, but I can't condone it being a genre all by itself. So, this is what we got.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

X - Crossover - #AtoZChallenge

Remember that movie where John Travolta plays a 1950's greaser and he has to sing in almost every scene. He wasn't much of a singer, but coming off of Saturday Night Fever, we knew he could dance. So, he gets the girl he's trying to woo to go to prom with him and things go well for a while until he starts dancing with Beatrix Kiddo at Jack Rabbit Slims. It was a good night, but he learns she is an addict, stabs her in the chest and puts her in the car. Then Susan Sarandon jumps in the car and they drive off into the desert for a lesbian fantasy life of no regrets until the car plummets into a ravine in the Grand Canyon. Maverick and Goose (flying inverted) see the car fly past their jet and mistake it for enemy aircraft. Maverick (played by Will Smith) spins the jet around accidentally ejecting and killing Goose in the process. In anguish from losing his best friend, he shoots the already falling car and then jumps out to attack it physically. When he gets to the wreckage, one of the women with a long ugly face (disfigured from the crash) comes out and he punches her in the face. Only to discover she was not disfigured, it was only Sarah Jessica Parker. He throws her in a sleeping bag and drags her across the desert until he runs into Uncle Eddie from Christmas Vacation who takes him to meet the creepy scientist from The Fly, Seth Brundle. Brundle takes her back to this crazy dinosaur park where Newman from Seinfeld works as a mailman and they nurse her back to health before Starlord uses her as bait to train velociraptors to steal the Infinity Stone.

I love that movie. The wrong movies get Oscars.

All this month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. A new post will go up every day (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet as the starting off point. My theme for the month is literary genres. I am writing in a different genre of flash fiction each day. Today's letter is X for Crossover.

I know that's not really a genre, but can you come up with one?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

W - Western - #AtoZChallenge

 The trip home was always Bully's favorite part of each year. After a nearly 700-mile, two-month long drive getting his cattle to market, he could now relax and enjoy the beauty of this land he crossed every spring.

Every year, he paid the men who helped him get the cattle from Texas to Kansas (where they were worth five to eight times the Texas price) and released them to go find work elsewhere. He would make the long trip back home alone. He could make it back in a couple of weeks when he didn't have over 2,000 head of cattle to worry about and men to keep in line.

The obstacles he encountered on the way north to Kansas were barely an inconvenience when tackled alone on the way back. The Native Americans didn't even charge him to cross their land when he wasn't coming through with a large crowd disrupting their planting seasons.

Bully spotted a tree with a wide spread of branches right next to a creek. He didn't usually like camping out so close to creeks. Nocturnal animals coming out to drink would sometimes get too close when he was sleeping. However, there was no shortage of wood for a fire here. Keeping a good flame going throughout the night generally kept them away.

He set up his simple camp and fried some skillet camp bread to go with his dried beef. He prepped his coffee for brewing in the morning and gathered some more wood to keep the fire going all night.

Once satisfied, he laid back on his pack against the tree and listened to the evening sounds of Oklahoma as he drifted off to sleep. He loved this time of year.

All this month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. A new post will go up every day (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet as the starting off point. My theme for the month is literary genres. I am writing in a different genre of flash fiction each day. Today's letter is W for Western.

V - Vampire - #AtoZChallenge

The doorbell rang and Brad dove under the weighted blanket on the couch.

"Okay," he yelled.

The front door opened and sunlight flooded the room as his wife bounced in. Carla closed the door behind her shrouding the room in darkness again.

Brad had been a vampire for just under six months, but they had their routine down. He basically kept the same sleeping schedule as his wife and, due to the pandemic, he already had an online job. They just kept all the curtains and blinds shut tight and Carla had to do all their daytime running.

Brad came out from under his blanket. She kissed him and smiled. 

Brad stepped into the kitchen and sat at the kitchen table, "What'd you bring me?"

"I got over a liter of beef blood from the butcher today…and I got you surprise."

Brad's eyes got big. "Really, let's see it."

Carla pulled out a small package wrapped in aluminum foil and set it in front of Brad.

Brad looked up at her, "Is this from Frankie's?"

Carla nodded with excitement.

He opened it quickly to find a chili cheese dog covered in onions. He leaned over the food and inhaled deeply. "You know, it's kind of mean when you do this to me. I love the smell, but I can't eat it."

Carla laughed, "It's not mean. I'm going to eat it and I brought it home so you could smell it first."

Brad pushed it to her side of the table, "That's almost worse."

"Hey, don't give me a hard time. I already gave up garlic for you. I've sacrificed enough."

All this month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. A new post will go up every day (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet as the starting off point. My theme for the month is literary genres. I am writing in a different genre of flash fiction each day. Today's letter is V for Vampire.