Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Something I wrote for my creative writing class. It's nothing special, just a first attempt at writing anything of decent length. I'm halfway through my next piece, so I'll post that as well once I'm done, yep yep.

When I was around 10 years old, a group of men in funny clothing kidnapped me and bluntly informed me that I had invented the pop up toaster. Or, more specifically, that I hadn’t invented the toaster yet, but due to anomalies in the space-time continuum, they had deemed it necessary to place me in a more desirable temporal plane. If this is confusing at all to anyone, then please sympathize with my feelings at the time, a poor boy without a clue as to what a toaster was. Being kidnapped, yeah, whatever, that too.

            Despite my protests, and amid my confusion, I spent the next four years in the far, far future, receiving both an education and excuses in regards to my abduction. It was about this time that I learned never to expect the truth when asking a question. A few responses stick out in my mind as particularly dumb.
            I had been sitting in a small room filled with the only books I was allowed to read, which were mostly restricted to Victorian romance novels and Edgar Allan Poe. Bored of Jane Eyre one day, I asked a naïve question to the chaperone. “Why go through the trouble of moving me through time? Why mess with time travel in such pointless ways?”
            “Oh, it was no trouble at all,” he replied, wiping his sweaty face haphazardly. “Try and imagine time as a complicated web. To the spider, the silk is just one continuous line, beautifully woven. However, to the flies, the web is a tangled mess. Our job is to make sense of the tangled mess, and guide the flies along their proper path of life. In fact, you are a high priority fly! Be proud!”
            I was skeptical. “How could the inventor of the toaster be high priority?”
 “You know, I’m not so sure about that myself.” He rubbed the back of his dandruff filled scalp for a moment, then smiled at me in a very frustrating manner. “The toaster has been obsolete for a while now.”
None of these events are particularly relevant to my current life. I’ll deal with these memories in the same way I’ll deal with the memories of my best friend throwing up on my birthday cake. With years of therapy if necessary. I only wish for you to know why, on the morning of my first day of high school, I was unmotivated to get out of bed.
            Half of my brain told me to at least be on time for such an important occasion. The other half, unfortunately, controlled my muscles, so I remained in comfortable inner conflict. What’s a few minutes out of the infinity, you know?
            Bang! Three sharp knocks…Bang! …on the door…Bang! …brought me back to semi consciousness. It was Judy, the young woman assigned to taking care of me in this timeframe. I had been unceremoniously dumped in the early 2000s into a quaint suburb of Memphis known as Germantown. It had taken me a few months to get used to the quiet, upper middle class atmosphere. Wide roads, picturesque houses, and the spoiled children who inhabited them, as far as the eye could see. My captors told me that the relaxing environs and the easy availability of toasters would be beneficial to my historical destiny. They also mentioned that this was mostly bullshit.  At least in this, I believed them.
            “Hurry and get up! Do you want to be late? This is why your friends say you have no friends,” she yelled in slightly muffled discontent. I could feel the love oozing from beneath the doorframe, its subtle fumes embracing me and causing me to choke.
            “But if I had friends, then…oh,” I mumbled, getting up with the only ounce of self motivation I kept handy. When I opened the door, Judy gave me her best look of shock, then nodded her head with her eyes closed, as if deeply impressed. I’ll have to remind her about the difficulty of being patronizing so early in the morning.
            “See? That wasn’t so hard. Now go make some toast. Don’t worry, I’ll get your things.”
            “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Her deliberate mentioning of anything toast related had gotten irksome with time. If she expected an “aha!” moment out of a frozen waffle, then she was sorely mistaken. The way she fidgeted and looked at my progress while I buttered an English muffin disconcerted me. I couldn’t decide if she hated me for taking away her freedom, or held me in high regard for inventing such a useful device. Only, I hadn’t even given this fate of mine much thought yet, so in both cases I ended up feeling guilty in her presence.
            I had to admit, though, that I shared her fascination with the pop up toaster.            
There was something morbid about the way it ejected its products, irreversibly changed. The poor piece of bread knew it was toast, yet the toaster gave no indication of when it would toss it into the cold, cold air. The lack of a visible timer made no sense to me. It was almost as if the creator had intentionally rebelled against a predestined fate. Nah, I was overthinking things. I scarfed down the toast and left the house.
After walking a few blocks on a slightly unsatisfied stomach, I reached the high school in no time at all. The building was impressively plain, with a brick façade and devoid of any curves or architectural flourish. Even the faded gold letters displaying “Germantown High School” seemed bored in their proclamation. I had no time to reflect on this in the midst of a flurry of students and teachers. The first day was known as Orientation Day, and could be easily identified by the large number of disoriented students, clutching at paperwork and each other. I made my way to the gym, clutching my own batch of forms and envelopes, and waited in line to take a picture.
            One uncomfortable pose and blinding flash later, I was handed an ID card. I looked down, prepared for mild disappointment. Surprisingly, the smiling student staring back at me was quite attractive, but…also a girl. Her beaming grin gave off the distinct impression of “not me.”
“Example Student B,” I read off the card.  Judy would get a kick out of this, I thought, and immediately approached the lady who had handed me my mistaken identity.
            “Excuse me…”
            “I’m sorry, no retakes this year. Next!” Without bothering to look up, she continued to organize the remaining IDs. Unable to spot mine, and with the line temporarily empty, I continued.
            “But, this card isn’t me.” I said, meekly.
            “Yeah, well, tough luck, kid. If we had the money to spend on every kid who sneezes during a photo, there would be someone else doing this crappy job. The only valid excuse is absence, and even then I have no sympathy. Next!” She remained unaware of both my frustration and the empty line.
            “No, I don’t think you understand.” I said, perhaps not in the most polite tone. This finally made her rear her ugly head, but it was too late to run away.
            “No? I don’t think you understand,” she spat, emphasizing the “you” in the meanest way possible. I shifted uncomfortably under her menacing glare. Even the mole on her cheek seemed livid. She snatched away my ID card, and read the name.
            “Example, huh?” She frowned. “Well, Example, I don’t think you’ve made the best of impressions on your first day of school. I think you should reflect on how you want people to see you. Next!” She handed back my ID, and I scurried away from the empty table. I resigned myself to a year of being identified as “Example Student B.”
            In my rush to escape the gym, I dropped the mechanical pencil I had used to sign various release forms. I hesitated for a moment, stopping suddenly with the odd instinctual reflex that comes with dropping an object on the floor, but…
            “’It’s only a pencil,’ is what you were thinking.” Another boy had approached the pencil, picked it up, and with an unnecessary flourish, pointed it in my direction. Unimpressed, but mindful of Judy’s reminders of my social downfalls, I humored him.
            “Close, sort of. You were right that I was going to leave it behind.” He looked suddenly dejected, his exaggerated pose wilting.
            “Hey man, you have to remember ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ So, like, a pencil is totally a strong staff or something.”
            “Uh, yeah, I guess so.” I felt stupid for agreeing with him, even if it was only to be nice.
            “Right? Anyway, my name’s Zack. Nice to meet you.” I was entirely caught up in his fast pace. He swiped my ID card, a distressing trend, and looked at the photo with a widening smile.
“Hoho!” he laughed, while turning it sideways and scrunching his eyebrows. Suddenly a serious expression appeared on his face, and he handed back the card and the pencil.
“Well, everyone has a hobby. I won’t judge.” And he walked away, hands in his pockets. I was momentarily stunned, and it took a while for the background noise to reemerge. Classes wouldn’t begin until the next day, so I headed home. My enthusiasm for school had diminished more than it should have after an hour of mindless paperwork. I endured Judy’s uncontrollable laughter throughout dinner that night (pea soup, with toast for dipping purposes) and went to bed thinking that maybe people would finally take me seriously if I told them I was from the future.
Waking up at a normal time for a change, I was seen off by a very chipper Judy.
“Remember, you can’t introduce me to imaginary friends!” she waved. I waved back with a “haha, very funny” smile, and trudged out into the wilds of suburbia. Avoiding eye contact with fellow students who seemed desperate for it, I increased my pace towards homeroom. Making a quick scan of the surroundings while inside the classroom doorway, I found my target. Zack, just my luck. He was chatting amicably with two other boys, so I swiftly sat down in a seat sufficiently far away. My plan was to avoid him until the moment I could get him back for yesterday’s humiliation. I was old enough to be petty, right?
I passed though homeroom in relative obscurity. The homeroom teacher, who happened to be our gym teacher as well, spent the majority of the 20 minutes lecturing on the benefits of running laps. The desks did not face him, instead pointing towards a blank wall. Our only options were either boredom and a sore neck, or just boredom, and by the end of the class, we had universally chosen the latter. I kept my eyes on Zack, trying to scope out a weakness. Maybe he had a hobby I could judge.
I followed him throughout the following week, only to completely admit defeat. Zack was perfect, in every way. Every teacher commended both his depth and breadth of knowledge in every subject imaginable, from calculus to cryptozoology. The English teacher had even recommended his “What I did over summer break” essay to a well known publisher. The entire school had become fast friends with him, won over by his approachable atmosphere and natural wit. I gathered up my courage during lunch and asked a senior about him, to which he replied, “Yeah, Zack, what a nice guy,” in a dreamy voice, and sighed disgustingly.  I ran away. The next break, having been asked to bring miscellaneous trash to the dumpster outside, I noticed Zack helping an old woman cross an empty street. It was too much for me. I imagined their conversation in my mind.
“Oh, Zack, you’re a wonderful young man and a credit to youth today.”
“Don’t thank me, Mrs. Smith, ma’am, thank science! Say hello to everyone at the old folks home for me. I’ll visit later today.”
Their laughs, still echoing in my head, backed me into a corner.  I decided to surrender during gym class.
“If it were up to me, I would have you run laps for the full hour.” Our gym teacher seemed almost cheerful at this dreadful proposition.
“However, due to the, er, litigious nature of certain parents…” At this he glared at us accusingly, correctly assuming that at least one of us would complain about running in circles for an hour.
“I’ve decided that we’ll keep it down to just 10 minutes. Now get!” While everyone groaned, I gained a sudden awareness of the school’s monetary issues. Deciding not to dwell on it, I ran towards Zack to concede. His pace was remarkably quick for simple laps, so I chose my words carefully.
“Um, well, you know, I think you’re extraordinary!” I gasped. It sounded even worse out loud. But that’s when Zack did something truly extraordinary. He sped up. Unable to keep up, and feeling too stupid to think about trying, I gave up on ever redeeming myself in his eyes. Yet just when I had drowned out my dejection in the rhythmic monotony of echoing footsteps, he lapped me.
He tapped me on the shoulder.
“Dude! I think so too!” Caught off guard, I was stunned for a second and nearly tripped. However, he matched my pace.
“You think I’m extraordinary as well?”
            “What? No! I think I’m extraordinary as well. You’re just, sort of, ordinary.” At this blunt assessment, I could think of nothing in response, and he sped away. This time I paid more attention to him. To my surprise, and at this point I had little excuse to be surprised, he had been holding conversation with nearly all of the other students. Truly extraordinary, and more than slightly insane. We continued our conversation, talking about this and that, with the gym teacher conveniently dropping his timer to reset it.
I had a sudden desire to run away, to escape the perfectly square hell. And despite all common sense, I would totally do it. After all, I had no attachment to the school, to my classmates, to this life. I was being dragged along, forced to do laps, but I knew how it ended. A small detour or two couldn’t hurt.
Something about Zack made the opposite true. He could escape too, in a more spectacular fashion than I could ever dream of, but it was impossible for him. He would keep running his laps, with panache, with finesse, sure, but always the same laps.
The gym teacher, finally remembering the sue-happy parents of old, dismissed us to play basketball. I was crushed. There was so much more I had to say to Zack, so many things, but the laps were done, over. I hung my head at this realization, dribbling my basketball, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
“Hey, we can still talk in the classroom, you know. Like, woah, what a concept.” I brightened up considerably after hearing that, and from then on, we were inseparable. Or just good acquaintances. I can’t be bothered to check.
“If you had a choice, would you pick free will or a predestined life?” I asked this during homeroom, a few weeks after the gym incident.
He leaned back in his chair, a phony frown plastered on his face in mock contemplation. “I could argue both sides.” And that was all. After a few minutes I gave him an exasperated stare. His smile was justifiably smug, and therefore justifiably maddening.
“Alright, alright. Okay, look at it this way. If we assume that free will exists, and that we exert control on every choice we make, where does that leave us? In the end, we can only make one choice, and all those infinite branches close off and we’re left with history books and history class. It’s not fun at all. On the other side, if life was predestined, if we lived with complete assurance that every action we take was decided on before we were born, who cares? I may always choose to join the tennis club, but before the decision, I’m in the dark. Essentially, this debate boils down to a reminder of our perfect knowledge of the past, and our imperfect knowledge of the future.” At this, he breathed loudly, and went back to staring blankly at the blank wall.
I could only laugh nervously. The conversation had gotten a little too personal.
“Yeah, you always have the perfect answers,” I sighed. He spun around at this, somehow angered.
“You think I’m perfect, too, huh?” He shrugged. “Fine. I guess I can tell you a little story about my imperfection.” I was hooked. I leaned in closer, as he did the same.
“During elementary school, a school wide spelling bee was held annually, with representatives from each grade, the older grades receiving priority, of course. I was chosen as the only representative of the third grade. It was pretty rare for someone so young to participate.
Anyway, before the actual event, they would enact a practice round, just to clarify the rules for the audience and the spellers.  They chose easy words, like play, and cat, and rhythm. That last one was a joke, by the way. There was no penalty for missing, so the atmosphere relaxed considerably.
Anywho, me being me, I decided to do a social commentary on the pressures of perfection in modern education, so when I received my word, I purposefully misspelled it. With extreme confidence, I shouted, ‘Girl. G-R-R-L. Girl.’ Pretty clever, huh?
Well, would you believe it, everyone began to laugh. At me! For misspelling a gosh darned word. I was disappointed, let me tell you. Whatever. To cut this short, I’ll just say that I won that spelling bee. I think the runner up started crying. Her pocket dictionary was totally the better prize, though.”
We sat in silence for a few moments as I tried desperately to ignore the stupidity of his story. So perfect, and yet so dense. But I remained curious. He was extremely capable, and yet he was sitting with me, half listening to diatribes on the essence of cardio.
“What, then, will you do in life, with your many talents?” I asked. His face froze up, which was unusual.
“Stop right there. I can see where this is going. You’re going to say that I’m wasting my life, that I could be so much more, that if I chose a path in life, I could be something special, that I need to get my head out the clouds and be serious for one time in my life, that daddy left because of you, so goddammit Zachary please just leave me alone!” The whole class stopped at this final outburst. I quickly tried to diffuse the situation with a nervous denial.
“Um, no, not really. I don’t care either way, I was just asking.”
            “Oh. Well that’s fine then. You might think that I’m perfect, but even I have things I can’t do.” He calmed down, flipping through his book of expressions until he found a smile.
“Like invent the toaster,” I joked.
“That’s the thing though. Even that’s relatively simple to do.  I’d just run down to the patent office and grab a copy of the original patent. But you’re right, the time machine would pose a problem.” He laughed, and I felt something pop inside of me.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing. It was like reading a dozen of your 100 word stories that joined forces and transformed into some super Power Rangers-type zoid doing battle with an over-sized pig that eats everything.

    Also, please point me to a high school that teaches cryptozoology.