Todd and Chad, two high-powered corporate bros with enough hair grease between them to kill a gaggle of Canada geese, lounged in Chad’s corner office atop a glistening skyscraper.
Todd, somewhat jealous of Chad’s magnificent digs, gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Nonetheless, he bore a facial expression that was more smug than usual.
“A penny for your thoughts,” Chad said knowing full well why Todd was glowing.
“I just think this is the best idea we’ve ever had.”
“Oh please, tell me again.”
“No,” said Todd in the manner of a 5-year-old girl who knows she’s being cute.
“Fine,” Chad shot back in mock frustration.
“OK, fine. So research and development had this great idea after the latest mass shooting.”
“Arming the teachers.”
“Right, so there’s about 3 million teachers in the United States. Even if we supply, let’s say 750,000 of them with semiautomatic rifles, that’s an easy $700 million right out of the gate. And that’s wholesale.”
“And it will keep the kids safe!”
“Like we give a shit about that. The beauty of the entire deal, aside from the better part of a billion in revenue, is the money we will make looking out five, 10 years.”
“Tell me about the money, Todd,” said Chad, who at this point had left his desk, laid down on a large Oriental rug in the center of his office and rested his chin atop his interlaced fingers. His crossed ankles swung lazily front to back, front to back.
“So the long game on arming the teachers is it will make a significant portion of the students too afraid to come to school. A lot of the teachers, too, I imagine.”
“Pray tell, what happens then?”
“Well, an uneducated population is beautiful. Easier to control. Our media partners have already convinced half the population that reality is completely subjective and college is going to turn their kids gay.”
“So, looking out five years, if we can get even 20 percent of high school-age kids to drop out, that translates to a 5 percent uptick in tobacco sales. Looking out 10 years, we can expect a good bump in the private prison sector, too.”
“What about the kids who stay in school?”
“Glad you asked. Since we can make school-aged children terrified of their own mortality, we stand to increase market shares on anti-depressants and, again looking out five and 10 years, drug rehab centers.”
“I’m telling you, man. These school shootings are a gold mine.”
“So what are you up to this weekend?”
“Linda and I are doing a half triathlon that raises money for breast cancer awareness. At least I think it’s cancer. It might be rescue dogs. Anyway, what trouble are you getting yourself into?”
“Kid has a soccer game on Saturday. Brunch on Sunday.”
Chad and Todd lept into the air and high fived. For some reason, they remained suspended in freeze frame. ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” emanated from nowhere.
It was Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. I hadn’t been in a church for quite some time, roughly 30 years, but my girlfriend’s sister wanted to go listen to church music on Christmas Eve.
For the record, I’d never been to Los Angeles either. There was trash everywhere, the air was unbreathable and it seemed highly dangerous. I loved it.
Anyway, I haven’t believed in a benevolent god since I was a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons, and those commercials would come on asking for money for the starving kids in Africa. Why, I would ask myself, would a loving god let me be 10 to 15 pounds overweight and the sad-eyed kid on the TV screen can no longer blink to keep the flies off his eyes.
So I’m not a believer.
But I love music so we were off to the St. Augustine Catholic Church in Culver City, Calif. a pretty church right across the street from what was once Columbia Pictures Studio. A 100 foot high rainbow on the studio lot competed with the steeple on the church for skyline space. Los Angeles is weird.
My companions crossed themselves with the holy water as we walked in. I took my hat off. Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you can’t be polite.
Attendance was light, and someone’s coughing reverberated throughout the nave.
“See, you didn’t burst into flames,” my girlfriend’s sister whispered as we sat down in the pews.
“I don’t believe in any of this shit, so I wasn’t worried,” I replied. I immediately hoped she didn’t hear that.
The smallish choir was situated in a loft at the back of the church, less than 10 people. At 11:30 p.m., they broke into “Come all ye faithful.” Or was it “Oh Holy Night?” I think it was “Oh Holy Night.”
In any case, it was beautiful. I closed my eyes and took it in and —
A group of people came rumbling through a side door and took a seat in in the pew directly in front of mine. They were loud. They took selfies. Who the hell takes a selfie in church? Do you have to prove to your probation officer you showed up for the Midnight Mass?
I’d been successfully ignoring my mood disorder-powered irritability for a couple of days in the interest of enjoying my first LA trip. Count to 10, John. Count to —
You know what? These people, the choir, practiced all year for this, and these jerks can’t put their phones away for 30 minutes and listen to the music? They are here on Christmas Eve, so they must be Catholics. I’m only Catholic adjacent. I left my phone in the car and took my hat off. Why then, god, why am I the one going to hell?
“I’m moving down a couple of pews, because these people are starting to piss me off,” I told my girlfriend as I stood up and skulked away.
They followed me, and I sat down, closed my eyes and once again took in the music. It was beautiful.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Disgust followed by strident calls for an immediate and far-reaching assault weapons ban rang out from the halls of power on Tuesday following passage of legislation officially renaming the well-known semi-automatic rifle AR-15 the VaginAR-15.
“That is just disgusting,” said a senator who asked not to be identified. “As a proud champion of the pro-life movement, I simply can’t sit by and allow something so associated with death and destruction to be allowed on the streets of our great country.”
The senator added that a panel of elected officials and members of the private sector, oddly enough all named Rod and Lance, would be convening in the coming days to discuss how to proceed with the ban.
He said that possible next steps could include a seizure of all VaginAR-15s currently in circulation and free therapy sessions for anyone whose life has been ruined because of the new name bestowed upon the venerated firearm long associated with manliness and virility.
“This is, or was, the greatest country on earth,” the senator said while choking back tears. “I just don’t know if we will survive something so terrible, to be honest with you. I mean VaginAR-15? That’s just gross.”
Statistics are still being collected, but preliminary data indicates gun violence has dropped substantially and men feeling grossed out has increased 400 percent. Security blankets and hugs are being handed out nationally wherever guns are sold.
Muffled but clearly discernible sobbing was heard emanating from National Rifle Association headquarters, and an NRA spokeswoman could not stop crying long enough to comment.
In the hours following the announcement, Cable News Program contributor Screaming Person said that it was “unconscionable for any God-fearing, flag-waiving American to keep such a disgusting piece of machinery in his home.”
“For God’s sake, think of the children,” he yelled so loudly that broken windows were reported at several buildings in the greater Baltimore area.
“I mean really,” the pundit continued. “This is just very disheartening, and honestly, this is what you get when you take prayer out of schools. We’ve moved away from God in this country, and this is what we get — the VaginAR-15. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Several national business chains immediately banned the VaginAR-15 from their properties citing religious liberty, and Chad Toddson, president of the traditional family advocacy organization Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve spontaneously combusted upon hearing of the new name.
A spokesman for the organization, Todd Chadwick, released a statement shortly after the flames were extinguished decrying the “absolute lack of decency that permeates our culture. There’s just no room for such an evil piece of machinery in polite society.”
Reached for comment via phone on Tuesday, Shannon Jones, executive director of the Women’s Rights Group, said, “Are you people fucking serious?”
“No really,” she continued. “This is what it took to get assault rifles banned? Renaming a gun after a part of a woman’s anatomy? I just can’t anymore with you people.”
The temperature hovered around 50 degrees on Friday evening and the skies above Boulder had finally taken on that autumnal greyish hue — perfect weather for football.
By 5:30 p.m., the campus was packed with Buffaloes fans in their gold and black regalia along with a sizeable contingent of Bruins fans in blue and gold.
Parking lots on campus were stuffed to the gills with fans mixing bloody Marys and throwing back cold beers. Buffalo hat-sporting tailgaters played corn hole and any plot of grass worth noting played host to games of tag football.
The unmistakable aroma of grilled meats meshed well with the monosyllabic grunting of liquored-up and soon-to-be liquored up co-eds who filed on and off the shuttle buses that lurched up and down campus streets.
Chip the Buffalo handed out free hugs to some children and elicited gasps of horror from others.
The game brought out graduates of all ages, among them, Pueblo resident Paul Alfonso, a 1965 graduate of the School of Pharmacy.
“I try to make it out here once or twice a season,” Alfonso said.
He said he was hopeful that the Buffaloes — who came into Friday night’s game undefeated — would take down the University of California Los Angeles Bruins in the Pac-12 Conference opener.
“It seems like things are going pretty well for them,” Alfonso said, adding that he likes to come to the CU campus because its where he met his wife.
“We love to come back every so often and visit the old haunts,” he said.
Cars and trucks continued to stream onto CU campus up to and past kickoff, and the legion of fans gravitated toward Folsom Field like flakes of fish food settling to the bottom of a giant aquarium. Police from across Boulder County lined the streets and patrolled the sidewalks. Scalpers announced that they had tickets.
Fort Collins resident Richard Reynolds stood outside Folsom Field waiting for a friend who had tickets to the game. He said that he is a research scientist for the U.S. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, so he has come to campus to lecture and has taught in the past.
“I love this campus,” he said.
He added that his friend, who lives in Buena Vista, used to play for the Bruins, but Reynolds said he isn’t really a football fan.
Then he paused for a moment.
“If I’m a fan of anything, I’m a Broncos fan,” he said.
I wrote this about two years ago the last time the student loan people jacked up my monthly payments. Today I noticed that my monthly payment went from $138 to $473.
Student loan people are like the mafia. They don’t care where you get the money. Just get the money.
I have educated myself into poverty. I have hanged myself with my bootstraps. I would kill myself but the student loan people would wait for me at the gates of hell.
Anyway, here’s an old column:
After a rather lovely weekend, I finally got around to checking my mail and was somewhat taken aback to see that my student loan payment had jumped from a reasonable $47 a month to a ruinous $450.
I’ve never been prone to wild overreaction (cue insane laughter from everyone who knows me), so I called the student loan people. I was pretty sure what they would say — the six words that have plagued me ever since I reached adulthood — “We go off your gross income.”
Now I make enough money for a reasonable person to live somewhat comfortably on if they live in, say, a real hole in the ground — like, oh, I don’t know, let’s just say, totally hypothetically, Oklahoma.
But I don’t live in Oklahoma.
“Ma’am, I hate to tell you this, but I live in Boulder, Colo.” I pleaded with the nice but somewhat detached lady on the phone. “There’s a sign at the edge of town that says, ‘Yeah, we know it’s expensive, but look at the pretty mountains and shut up.'”
“We’re sorry, sir,” she said, a bored tone in her voice, like she was used to 37-year-old men on the verge of tears begging for mercy.
“Well, I just don’t have it,” I continued. “My rent is enough to make you jump in front of a milk truck if you had to pay it. Couple that with food, gas, car insurance, internet (because I’m not an animal) and medical bills and I’m pretty broke at the end of the month.”
“Well, you have to pay it or we’ll garnish your wages,” she said. “Trust me, you don’t want this to go to legal. Those people are animals. They will eat you. Literally. I’ve seen them do it.”
“I’m wearing used shoes for God’s sake. Give me a break.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
So I’m feeling on the verge of homeless at the moment. I’ve somehow managed to educate myself into complete and total destitution.
I’ve come up with four possible solutions, none of them any good:
1. Do nothing and hope it goes away. This has worked never.
2. Flee the country. Current financial situation makes this prohibitive at best.
3. Blame poor people and immigrants. That seems to be a popular one. But no.
3. Resort to a life of crime. I cry easily, and it wouldn’t look manly on a mugshot.
The lady on the phone did mention something about federal consolidation of my loans, but I couldn’t really hear her over the hyperventilation and teeth grinding. I should probably call back.
Anyway, this is the last time I try to better myself. Or check my mail. If you need me, I’ll be down on Colfax and Broadway selling haikus at a nickel a syllable.
“We really need this deep dive into the life of Mara Sparkle to sparkle a little bit more, John,” The Editor said, his dark, cruel eyes magnified through the lenses of his coke bottle glasses. They looked off brand and 10 years out of style. I didn’t like him before and the glasses made me hate him.
“We’ve told you before,” he continued. “This isn’t a place for your voice. You need to sound like Ms. Sparkle. She’s 23 and fabulous. You are 40 and fat. Remember, you can write celebrity biographies, or you can be composted like the others.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, briefly making eye contact but not too much. That was the trick. If you looked at an Editor too long, he or she would interpret it as defiance. If you didn’t look up at all, they would take that as you ignoring their commands. Either way was a sure trip to the compost bin.
You would think that explicitly telling someone he will be killed if he doesn’t produce enough would not be very effective, but it works with writers. I once knew a technical writer who kept a noose slung above his desk for motivation. It worked quite well. He penned 30 volumes of vivid, compelling stereo instructions then promptly hanged himself. He won a lifetime achievement award that year, too. Posthumously.
Not me though. I’ve not written anything, including stereo instructions, that would justify killing myself. It sure isn’t going to happen in the Ghost Writers’ Dungeon. It’s all bullshit versions of the truth. The politician who loves America and didn’t deserve that securities fraud conviction. The athlete who triumphed at the Olympics in spite of being dyslexic. The celebrity chef who turned out to be a white supremacist but now feels really sorry about it and opened a Thai restaurant.
Did you ever wonder how these, we’ll call them ‘not writers even in the loosest definition of the term,” managed to put down 300 pages of double-spaced type?
Neither did I before I wound up here, a windowless subterranean office with ever-flickering florescent lights that cast a sickly green hue on everything.
I sometimes wondered where I’d be if I hadn’t chosen journalism as a profession. Being sent to the Ghost Writers’ Dungeon seemed a tad unfair. They were cleansing the ranks, for sure, but this seems harsh. In a country where facts no longer mattered, telling the truth sometimes had it’s price. That would be a perfect heavy handed, self-satisfied quote for an investigative journalist to pronounce as he or she was taken to the compost bin or the dungeon after uncovering the widespread corruption of wherever.
But not me. I became a journalist because it was a lazy way to make a buck and get to be a writer. When I was 10 I penned a short story about my dog growing to gigantic proportions after a chemical exposure outside of a pharmacy.
I was the guy they sent to zoning commission meetings because the city council reporter didn’t feel like it that night. I covered night cops in a town with no crime. I went to peach festivals and oatmeal eating competitions. Face it — I was a hack. I’ve never made any secret of it, even if I was always insecure about —
“Hey,” came a gruff voice from somewhere down endless rows of cubicles. “No reminiscing.”
OK, John, get to work. Ms. Mara Sparkle. Born Pearl Bayonet in Texarkana, Arkanas in 1995. Daughter of a long-haul truck driver and a former Miss Miller County, 1994. How would Ms. Sparkle open with the story of her life?
Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a pop star …
No, John. That’s the opening line of “Goodfellas.” Think, damn you. What would Ms. Sparkle say about it. …
When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believed, that’s the kind of love I had. …
Jesus Christ, man. That’s the opening to “Casino.” Have you watched anything beside Martin Scorcese movies in the past 39 years? And don’t say Tarantino. I could use the opener from “The Departed.”
I don’t want to be a product of my environment … Hehe. That would be sweet. I wonder if they would notice. The Editor doesn’t look like he’s seen anything that didn’t have Harry Potter in it. What an asshole. I bet he likes “The Big Bang Theory,” too.
I don’t want to get composted. Just write something, man. You always sit around and pretend you are some sort of latter-day Hemingway. Put your money where your mouth is.
Christ, I don’t know, man. I’ve never even heard her sing. I can’t imagine it being any good. But what’s there to lose.
I remembered, they put one of her songs on the laptop, this crusty piece of shit lapto—
Settle down. You can gripe about the laptop later. Get something down before they turn
you into worm food. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a way out of here. Like an airduct or something. Note to self: Without being too obvious, look around for surveillance cameras and any kind of air duct that can accommodate a person of size such as yourself. Ooh, I like that. Person of size. That goes down better than fat.
I looked around the desktop and found the .mp3 file. “U do U, I’ll do me.” Ugh, text messaging really did a number on English. How is anyone going to believe this girl wrote an entire book. She can’t spell “you.”
I clicked on the .mp3 and, after taking three minutes to load during which I took stock of my life, it came on.
Thumping techno bass crackled through the cheap headphones and a clapping noise hurt my ears each time it popped. A frenzied, twisting symphony of synthesizer violins tangled violently with a tinny piano.
You do you … I’ll do me … I’ll do you, too … And you do me …
I pulled the headphones off. I raised my hand and wagged it back and forth.
“Hey Editor!,” I yelled loudly enough that the 300 or so people in the Ghost Writers Dungeon all stopped typing and turned toward me. “I’ll just take the fucking compost heap, please.”