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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-16 10:10 am
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Pregnant And Effective Forms

One should write down anecdotes every day until one has learnt how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one's eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer. One should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop will be fit to go out into the world.
-- Nietzsche

Warnings: None.

I. Aaron, Seduced
Rating: G

Aaron stood in the door to the office, backlit by the blue glare coming in through the glass behind him. He didn't quite come in; the office was not technically his turf and lately there had been some territorialism over who went where. It all traced back to a debate over who had dropped the muffin crumbs that lured in the ants and made everyone on the floor's life hell, but it came down to Aaron hesitating to enter.

Whether or not he felt comfortable in the office, it was hard to imagine he would be unwelcome. He wasn't the sort of pretty man that fills the Halsted bars on the weekend, but he was tidy, bespectacled, and had a certain air of heterosexual about him which could appeal to a man looking for a challenge. Just straight enough to be interesting, just vulnerable enough to wonder. Possibly, just curious enough about life in general to treat the whole thing as an intellectual exercise.

On the other hand, there wasn't much intellectual to be found in the man he was talking to, a pale, pudgy being leaning back in his much-abused office chair. Even if Aaron was to be seduced, it wouldn't be by Nicholas, the massive, gimlet-eyed manager. Though possibly his assistant, half his girth but just as interested -- if more willing to toss him aside once he'd found out.

They talked about baseball, as you do in the summertime, even if the fog is rolling in through the city outside: Aaron in the doorway, his clipboard held against his body, Nicholas leaning back in his chair, James his assistant just beyond and me on the end of the line, answering the telephones, listening with half an ear to the Cubs and Sox, the other half to the routine discussion on my telephone. The words came as naturally to them as to me, well-rehearsed, nothing new or different; scores and averages, ticket prices, seating, until the radio on Aaron's hip called him up to the balcony where there was a new leak in the ceiling requiring his attention.

The chair creaked as Nicholas turned back to his computer, James to his newspaper; the blue light grew longer, creeping in through the empty door.

II. Have A Good Afternoon
Rating: G

The air is cold here, but still and fragile as water's surface; a slight gust could make it bite straight through that light jacket. Even still as it is, the body braces for the gust, fingers tight in the pockets, eyes flinch-blinking, ready for a freeze that may not come. Apparently spring was scheduled for a Tuesday this year, and has come and gone, leaving winter to backfill the gaps between snow and sunshine.

Next to the grey lunchroom window, Briana eats -- microwaved pizza still in its foil, smelling faintly of chewy bread and cheap sugary tomato sauce. She is engaged in her newspaper, or at any rate pretending to be. It's so hard to know, with Briana. She has a friendly smile, straight teeth and startling pale-blue eyes in a swarthy face, but at the same time her smile recieves greeting -- accepts it -- it never seems to transmit anything in return. Briana is closed and solitary, like the windless cold.

I do not know why she occasionally shifts her eyes up from the newspaper to look at me, eating my own lunch at another table; I don't even know if it's fear or attraction (or both). Her profile at the window is more striking than pretty, slouched slightly over the paper, but her hair is long and straight, shimmering down one shoulder.

She starts when she is cheerfully told "have a good afternoon!" and her thick eyebrows arch upwards. Just on the edge of conventional beauty, she is afraid to believe in her looks and hesitant to believe she possesses anything else -- so she is still and calm as the surface of the water, and she waits to receive what she is afraid to return. She is a locked box, waiting for a key.

IV. Beating Time

Eight-fifteen gone from the flat, feet on warm pavement (nice day) the three blocks to the train station seven minutes, trains never run on time but mostly they run every ten minutes so it hardly matters and if you need to get somewhere so fast that ten minutes will kill you, well then don't take the train.

Forty minutes to downtown and a bus every twenty minutes and ten minutes walk from the bus to work, that forty minutes sometimes the only peace you get until ten at night EXCEPT.

Attention passengers, the downtown portion of the train will be closed for construction today and tomorrow. We will be rerouting another line that incidentally goes nowhere near where you need to go so your only hope is to get off now aw fuck.

Off the train and down the stairs and out with the map; three blocks west, southbound bus stopping Jesus Christ every two goddamn blocks, fifteen minutes to go the length of one train stop and forty minutes left on the clock before you're late, docked pay and shame.

Fifteen minutes left after the bus and two miles never seemed so far, but there's going to be a bus EXCEPT.

The stop is blocked by trucks doing construction, no way for the bus to stop even if the bus was there, so ten minutes left after walking to the next bus stop and this bus comes every twenty minutes so step out into the street, hello yellow taxi, is promptness worth five dollars?


Breathe in the smell of the leather seats, watch the world go by, feel the thrum of acceleration, listen to the cars honk as the cab whips past, nipping through the yellow lights, finally enough speed.

At the front door of the building with six minutes to go and six dollars down, keys clack in the lock and the door swings open and with four minutes to spare clock in and with two minutes to spare through the door of the office and in your seat.

"Hey," says the boss in a lazy, comfortable drawl, "did you know the trains weren't running right?"

V. His Eye On The Sparrow
Prompt: Exactly 300 words including title on the theme "world's end." Including these 10 words: chant, bone, hunger, chill, orbit, sparrow, palimpsest, tyrant, river, indigo.

"Palimpsest," Nicholas said. "What does that even mean?"

The moored barge Tyrant rocked gently, even when the Thames was peaceful; it defied the name, since the water seemed to be getting the best of the tiny barge. Emily tightened her jacket against the morning chill.

"It's a manuscript," she said. "The original words were scraped off and the paper reused. Come ashore."

"Why would anyone do that to a book?"

"Not everyone has your hunger for preserving ancient things. Paper used to be scarce."

So this was how they were going to talk, in orbit around the real subject. Nicholas leaned on the creaking rail. On the banks, the indigo plants had yet to bloom, hardly even green after winter.

"What's written on it now?"

"Some medieval chant or other."

"What's underneath?"

"Something else. That's why I'm here. All that knowledge in your head and you waste your time out on this barge, doing what?"

"Escaping you and what's-his-name."

"We've already uncovered the original text."

"You and -- "

"Alex. His name is Alex. But we can't read the handwriting or the language. You can do both."

"And the chant is less valuable than what's underneath?"

"We can read the surface. We can't read what's under it."

"No, and I never could either. Find someone else," he said. Emily, injured, stepped ashore. Nicholas cast off the moorings, letting the boat drift out into the river.

"But you always saw everything," Emily said, from the shore.

"Except when it mattered," Nicholas answered. "Send me a copy when you publish your findings."

The river chilled him to the bone, but that was all right; as much as he wanted to know, too (and that was why Emily had thought she might convince him) he had learned that there are some things only God sees, and perhaps rightly so. Some things were better left unknown.

VI. The Welfare Office
written early 2007, posted 5.8.07

The welfare office, or whatever they call state aid now, is directly across a parking lot from a miniature golf course, which seems nicely symbolic, at least from what I've heard of the obstacle course that is the state aid system. It's a single big room, much like the DMV, with row on row of plastic chairs which are startlingly comfortable. At least, mine was.

Some people at the office, obviously, are a little less on top of life than others. There are the "working poor", whom Terry Pratchett sketched best as "too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash". There are young folk like me, pensioners, pretty much every age inbetween. Pregnant mothers, single folk, couples. And there are the people who don't have even the basics, people with unwashed clothes and knapsacks too full. There are people with canes -- and then people with, well, brand new MP3 players like me.

A man came in and sat down in the seat across the aisle from me, one row back, pretty well unnoticed by the general crowd. In the row behind him, however, was one of the breed of people who make me absolutely crazy -- the kind of person who can't refrain from commenting on everything that happens in the world around them. The kind of person who sits near you on the bus and wants to make friends.

"Hey," he said to the unobtrusive man in the seat across the aisle. "Hey man, that's a prison jacket. Prison jacket!"

Stony silence.

"Hey, man, prison jacket -- you been in the joint? You been in the joint!"

I saw just enough out of the corner of my eye to catch him nodding curtly at his new best friend.

"Hey man, me too! When you get out, Prison Jacket? When'd you get out of the joint?"

The man, at this point, picked up and moved across the room and left everyone's best friend to talk to himself for a while. He looked like a nice guy. Wasn't a bad-looking coat, either.

Up ahead, a kid had started to cry, god knows why -- why do they ever? -- and clutch at the sleeve of his father's coat. His mother, standing nearby, leaned over angrily and said, "Shut up. Shut. Up. SHUT UP!"

He reached out to be picked up and she shoved his hand away -- and we wonder why so many of our children are careless, angry, ill-mannered, when they're subjected to continuous, low-level brutality from birth onward.

There's a sign on the front door reminding us to please turn off all cellphones. This makes me feel much better about owning one and being here.

Some of the intake agents look pretty awesome -- young dudes in suits qand ponytails, cheerful women, one guy who has an enormous head of curly hair and what looks like chasidic sidelocks -- the overall impression is of a brown, fluffy judge's wig.

Others don't look quite so kind.

The process so far has been simple -- stand in line in front of the sign for the service you need (medical care, records updates, active cases, intake), check in, eventually, and then take a seat in the chairs. There isn't much to do, aside from reading the posters, but there's a play area for kids and a snacks cart outside. There's a board detailing the offerings of the University of Illinois, and a large sign proclaiming, though only in English, that there are translation services available. There's a poster about the new food pyramid, too, which I don't think anyone comprehends at all.

After my name was called, forty minutes late, I was led down a remarkably long row of cubicles behind a door to my -- agent's? caseworker's? -- office. It was pretty spacious and decorated, I swear to god, in a combination of religious paraphenalia and Tweety Bird. My caseworker's love for God is rivalled only by her love for Tweety.

Her computer was plastered with taped-on printouts of inspirational e-mail forwards, including one that announced boldly, "when your back is against the wall, bow down to get back up". No less than three times, I saw the slogan "The measure of your faith is in the amount of your forgiveness."

Clearly I was dealing with someone who had done a lot of forgiving in her time. Or was working on it, anyway.

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 03:36 am (UTC)(link)
o.o how do you manage to put so much into so few paragraphs? You must move into my brains for a week or two this summer and show me how :P I hope you're going to be posting more in this venue, because I am definitely interested.

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 12:33 pm (UTC)(link)
It's an easy secret to learn, but not very easy to execute: long practice. :D

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 08:31 pm (UTC)(link)
darn, you mean there's no magic potion or six week course?

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 03:57 am (UTC)(link)
wow. good job, sam. love it. more, please.

(oh, and by the way, it is so incredibly sexy that a straight guy can write about homoerotisim as well as you do)

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 04:07 am (UTC)(link)
Just straight enough to be interesting, just vulnerable enough to wonder.

Hell, it works for me! ;D

(Whoo, let's just cross that line!)

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 12:29 pm (UTC)(link)
*cracks up laughing*

perv, Simon!

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 04:53 am (UTC)(link)
And you say you can't write originals. Damn good stuff! This is actually the second time I've seen someone hone their writing skills by writing about the ordinary events of a day--and I must say, it seems to work. (Maybe I should be doing it.) Keep it up, Sam!

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 05:10 am (UTC)(link)
It was interesting. Good wording, and wonderful imagery. Made me think.
ext_29257: (BallyK: Assumpta)

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 10:10 am (UTC)(link)
*sigh* That was beautiful, and lovely. Some of my favourite things to read (and write) are little snippets like this. Stuff that's not explicit about what it's about, stuff that's really, really interesting. Thanks for sharing this :D

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 01:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay for original work! This is very good. Of course I want more, you know. I want so very much to know what happened.

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 06:46 pm (UTC)(link)
*giggle* Gimlet

Reads like a page in the middle of a book I'd like to read. Keep going!

[identity profile] 2007-04-27 07:49 pm (UTC)(link)
If only Watts wrote philosophy like you wrote this snippet.

Yes, I know his writing is very straight forward, but I can't seem to wrap into my brain.

I have a theory about reading, it goes, you read a lot for a period of time til you reach your quota then you don't read at all. So far, it explains how I am in the middle of three books; one that's a Robert Jordan which is really boring, one is The Nature of Men and Women by Alan Watts, and the other is HP and the HBP. None of which I am likely to finish, though I may get further in HBP...
ext_13504: Kara Thrace, Starbuck, BSG (Default)

[identity profile] 2007-04-28 02:08 am (UTC)(link)
hmm... makes me wonder... it would be interesting to see the characters more in depth. seems there is more to this than meets the eye!

[identity profile] 2007-04-28 10:30 pm (UTC)(link)
The first one is good, I like the second better, but the third is definitely my favorite. I don't know why, but for some reason I am drawn to the continuous stream of consciousness. Absolutely wonderful, Sam. Were I in your place, I'd call these "Snapshots" or something, but the name wouldn't change the greatness. Keep writing!

[identity profile] 2007-04-29 05:23 am (UTC)(link)
I enjoyed these. They seem to be all you, if that makes any sense.

[identity profile] 2007-04-29 12:44 pm (UTC)(link)
These are all brilliant. The first three all beautiful and meditative and sort of poetic, and the fourth is just fab :), love the staccato, breathless tone and the second-person and the final line is just perfect. Very funny from here (and obviously completely maddening at the time...!)

[identity profile] 2007-04-29 09:20 pm (UTC)(link)
These are lovely, Sam.

Although it is a credit to your writing, I find it worrisome that I recognize some of myself in Briana. I'll have to think some more on that.

I love the stream-of-consciousness in the fourth, and I think second-person was a great choice. I'm fond of this line in particular:

Attention passengers, the downtown portion of the train will be closed for construction today and tomorrow. We will be rerouting another line that incidentally goes nowhere near where you need to go so your only hope is to get off now aw fuck.

It just made my little New York subway-loving self give a wry smile and laugh. :)

[identity profile] 2007-05-01 12:44 am (UTC)(link)
Apparently spring was scheduled for a Tuesday this year, and has come and gone, leaving winter to backfill the gaps between snow and sunshine.

Very nice - I concur.

I also really liked Beating Time. I grew on an island where we lived by the boat schedule, so I know the feeling. :)

[identity profile] 2007-05-02 08:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Nice. I like this last one. Very cool. Only, what did he mean, "Except when it mattered"? Did/does he love Emily?
You're such a tease, Copper. They're like a good movie trailer, these drabbles -- don't tell you much, other than you know you want more.

[identity profile] 2007-05-09 08:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Nice (this newest one). Very nice. I like the way you describe everything. And the narrator's caseworker mnust be a total nut.

[identity profile] 2007-06-10 02:52 am (UTC)(link)
ext_37421: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-07-31 11:01 am (UTC)(link)
Love your original stories, every single one is different and lovely.

The welfare office, or whatever they call state aid now, is directly across a parking lot from a miniature golf course, which seems nicely symoblic, at least from what I've heard of the obstacle course that is the state aid system.