Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Country Fairy Tale

"I guess you'd like to know who I am, but where I come from, we don't use names the way you do.  It's complicated.  Our names are more than just sounds.  We can see inside each other, and that means it's easier to identify someone than if you knew their face for 100 years, or had their fingerprints.  What's inside you is more individual than a fingerprint.  It's hard to fake, and it's harder to remove.  But I don't expect you to understand all that, and I certainly don't expect you to be able to do it.  It's a skill your kind may acquire, some day.  But you don't have it yet."

The fairy then turned and picked up an apple from my lunch pail.  "But even though we have such wonderful powers, we don't have this.  We don't have fruit, or vegetables, or the good things that grow all around you.  It may seem sad, but it's not.  It just is.  But I do enjoy coming here and partaking.  You folks don't know how good you have it, in some ways."

Two minutes ago I was by myself, mending the fence that separated Daddy's east field from the Johnsons' west field.  I was humming some made-up song, sweating, thinking about when I could sit down and eat my lunch when I heard a pop behind me.  I turned and the most beautiful woman I never could have imagined was standing behind me, her face upturned to the sun, smiling.  "Well, did it again," she said.  Then she noticed me.  "I'm a fairy.  What's your name?"  And now here we are.

She looked like a woman, but something was off.  Her skin was a little too smooth, and something in the shape of her ears didn't seem natural.  Her eyes were a purple I'd never seen in a person's eyes.  Her clothes were simple, like the sort of thing I imagined peasants wore back in medieval times, but there was a care and a skill in her clothing that I don't think any of those peasants could have afforded.  She took a bite of my apple and it made a sharp snapping sound.  The juice ran down her chin.  She closed her eyes and didn't begin chewing immediately.  She stood there for two seconds and for an eternity.  Then she chewed, once, twice.  She opened her eyes and the purple I'd seen there before seemed even deeper, an indigo that vibrated with energy.  I immediately fell in love.

"Oh, boy, you shouldn't have done that."

I tried not to balk, but I was quickly learning it was impossible to hide myself from this beautiful creature.

"It's OK.  It's happened to me before, and I'm sure it will happen again.  You'll get over it eventually.  It is so sweet how transparent you people are.  So simple.  I wish I could stay here longer."

I asked why she couldn't stay, what was calling her back, without knowing where "back" was, without knowing her name, or her insides, or her age.  I just wanted her to stay, that was all.  That was everything.  With everything I had I pulled against her, willing her to stay right where she was.

"There are rules set out by beings and creatures and forces older than everything, older than time, and those are the rules I follow.  Those rules keep people like you safe from creatures like me."

I told her I didn't know what safe was until we looked into each other's eyes.  She laughed and it sounded like a thousand crystal bells waking up inside my head.

"So sweet.  It was an accident that brought me here in the first place.  But I don't have to leave right now.  I just have to wait until another accident takes me back.  It always does.  Now.  Find me something fried to eat."

We walked through the field to the road.  The weeds slapped against my legs, leaving burrs and marks on my jeans.  My companion with no name didn't make a sound as she walked.  I could hear her voice and see her face and smell her smell, but I couldn't hear her walking through the grass.  When we got to the road a truck had just passed, whirling up a cloud of dust that hung in its wake.  I told her the closest store was about a mile to the east.

"Then let's walk a mile to the east."

We turned and walked along the side of the road.  The sun was at our backs, pounding down on my shoulders and making me sweat.  I didn't see any sweat on her at all, nor did she complain about the heat.  I knew she was here.  I knew it deep down.  But it was hard to prove it.  I asked her if she was hot.

"I suppose I am, but I like it.  I like the sun here.  It's different, I can feel it talking to me.  My sun just hangs and shines."

I asked her what color it was where she came from, the sun.

"White.  Very white.  No yellows or oranges like you get here.  And it's so regular, up at the same time, down at the same time, all year long.  You'd like the temperature there, it's very comfortable, but it's just always the same.  It's so messy here.  So unpredictable."

I told her we could use a little more predictability.  I told her how my daddy could count on making a living if he always knew what the weather was going to be, and didn't lose crops or have to worry about locusts or weevils or whatnot.

"I guess that would be nice.  But take it from someone who's known people for a very, very long time.  If things were always the same for you folks, you'd hate it.  You'd take it out on each other eventually, and it wouldn't make any difference."

I shrugged.  It was hard to argue against her, and anyway it was the last thing I felt like doing.  I felt like just looking at her.  So I did.  Then I tripped over a rock.  She laughed again, bells tinkling in my head.  It made me sad when she stopped.

"You should watch out.  I'd hate to be the reason you got hurt."

Another truck came up the road ahead of us.  I felt a deep jealousy churning inside me, down in my belly.  I was ready to jump in front of that truck and make him drive off the road before I even knew what was coming over me.  They slowed a bit as they passed, no doubt interested in this beauty next to me, but they kept going.  It looked like old Johnson's son but I couldn't be sure.  The jealousy was sinking away, but I could still feel pieces of it hanging around.

"See, that's why it's dangerous for you to be around me.  You can't control yourself.  You were ready to kill that man, and it would have been the same if it had been your daddy or your brother.  Anyone."

I apologized.

"It's not your fault.  It's not my fault either.  It just is.  Part of those old rules, I guess, and a good reason for the ones telling me that I have to go back eventually.  Eventually.  In the meantime I smell food."

I told her the store was still a half-mile down the road.

"I know.  Here, let me show you a trick."

She took my hand and I thought I would die.  I felt something pouring into me from the contact of our palms and fingers.  I could see clear as day the outline of where we touched each other, and I thought if this was it, if this was going to be what did me in, I couldn't ask for anything better.  But I didn't die.

"Sorry.  I should have warned you.  You OK?"

I either nodded or shouted or sang out in a choir of a hundred voices that I was fine.  I don't know.  She laughed.

"Come on!"

We started running, fast.  And faster.  Faster than I ever felt like I could run.  When I was a little boy I used to take off into the fields, just flying along the tobacco rows like a bird skimming his wings on the water.  I loved running like that and when I did, I knew there was nothing faster on the planet than this little boy in this field.

Until now.  The trees blurred past in a wall of green.  The road unspooled beneath us, and I thought surely I'd snag a rock or a rut and break an ankle but then I realized my feet weren't exactly touching the ground.  But we weren't exactly flying.  And I wasn't tired or breathing hard or anything.  I realized this was probably why I couldn't hear my companion walking through the field.  And I realized how hard it must have been for her to walk alongside me when she knew she could do this all along.

"I try not to get around like this too much when I slip over here.  It's handy, and it's wonderful, but it draws too much attention and raises too many questions.  But the road's empty from here to the store.  And I need my treat."

We slowed down to normal just before the bend that would take us to Litton's General Store.

Litton's had been around since before Daddy.  So had Mr. Litton, of course, and he was still working the register behind the old wood counter.  Mr. Litton was a mean old rail of a man and even though I'd never crossed him and always paid him the respect Daddy taught me to give my elders, I knew he didn't like me.  I thought for sure he wouldn't like my new friend either, but I have to say I was interested to see what effect she might have on him.  I couldn't imagine him keeping his face twisted up the way it always was if he heard her laugh.

I clomped up onto the porch in my boots, the fairy next to me slicing along like she wasn't even here.  I opened the screen door for her, dinging the little bell bolted up above it.  The inside of the store was dark and almost cool compared to the afternoon sun.  There weren't any customers in the store, but Mr. Litton was behind the register as always.  One of his granddaughters, I think this one was Ella Mae, was working the stove they had set up down the counter from him.  Mr. Litton was mean, and slow to restock the store, but his family made fried chicken that had me wondering why I thought my Memaw's was so good (and trust me, it was).  If my friend wanted something fried, she wasn't going to find anything better in this county.

As soon as the fairy saw the stuff lining the two aisles in the store her eyes lit up and she started touching everything she could reach.  Bags of beans, rice, flour, sugar.  Little combs, nails, soap flakes.  She loved all of it, had to touch it all and take it in.  I knew Litton wasn't going to like this.

"Now girl, if you're going to go touching everything in my store you better be looking to buy something at least.  Boy, where'd you find this one?  Has she looked at you yet?  Don't know why a girl like that would be walking around with a boy like you."

I thought the jealousy I felt on the road might rise up here too, but it didn't.  Maybe Litton was too old for that.

"Ooh, these are fun!"  The fairy had found the little nail puzzles in a bucket at the end of the aisle.  She had one of the puzzles in her hand, two nails that had been corkscrewed together.  There was some trick about twisting them apart that I'd never figured out, but she was just unbending the nails as easy as butter.  Litton piped up again.

"Good gracious woman!  How am I supposed to sell a couple of old bent nails?  You're buying that!"

I told her I didn't have enough money on me to buy the puzzle and something for her to eat.  "Oh, that's not a problem," she said.  She twisted the nails back up just like they'd been and set them down in the bucket.  Litton looked like he didn't know quite what he'd just seen, but he knew he didn't like it.

I walked over to the counter and said hi to the girl.  I didn't say her name.  I still wasn't sure this was Ella Mae.  She said hi back and she was looking at me like she'd never seen me before and she liked what she was seeing.  I felt my face get hot and I turned to the fairy and asked her what part of the bird she liked the best.

"Oh, the breast, definitely."  She came over and stared at the setup behind the counter.  I told maybe-Ella Mae that we'd take two breasts and a drumstick and she got to work battering and frying.  Mr. Litton came over behind the counter and was staring at the fairy.  I wanted to get out of there quick, not because I was jealous but I knew if he started asking a bunch of questions, I wasn't going to be able to answer them and that would only be trouble.  I told the girl we'd just take the food to go and she finished up and wrapped up the chicken and gave them to me with a little smile.  My face got hot again and I went over to the register.  Litton followed along, eyeing the fairy while she went back to handling everything on the shelves.

I gave Litton the money and he said "Boy, you done bit off a whole lot, and I doubt your ability to chew.  You watch it now."

I couldn't tell if what he said was trying to be mean or helpful, and I didn't know what to do with either one, so I thanked him and told the fairy to put down the pomade and come on.  She turned to Litton and said "Stop pretending to be so mean, Jimmy."  I did my best to put the look on Litton's face into my head forever, and we walked out.

We made our way back down the road, towards the border of Johnson & Daddy's fields.  I asked the fairy if she had any idea how long she'd be here.

"I don't know.  It's always different.  The longest was a couple of your months.  The shortest was just a few minutes.  Last time was for a couple of days."

I asked how many times she'd been over here.

"I lost count a long time ago.  Probably a few hundred."

I didn't understand how she could have come over so many times but look so young.

"Time's pretty different where I come from.  I'm not exactly immortal, but based on how your kind view time, I may as well be.  I've met people who are probably in your history books."

We started to cut across Daddy's field.  We were walking towards the sunset, and it was a doozy.

"Wait.  Let's stop here.  This is one of my favorite things."

We sat right down where we stopped, in the middle of the field, with the dry earth underneath us and the big wide orange sky stretching out in front.  I could hear the katydids out in the tree line and the frogs down by the pond all singing their songs.

"You can't hear that, can you?"

I told her I could, but I'd heard katydids all my life and it was easy to forget they were there.

"No, not that.  The sun is making the sky sing."

I told her I couldn't hear it, and she took my hand in hers.  I got the same rush as before.  It wasn't diminished one bit by familiarity.  I wondered if it would still feel like this if we held hands every day for 50 years.  I thought it probably would.  Then, the feeling shifted a little bit, and I started to hear it.  It was this warm, swelling sound, like a bunch of fiddle strings all going but soft, easy.  It almost sounded sad, like the feeling when your mother tells you to come inside at dusk, when you've been out playing, and you don't want to but you're real tired and you've had a great day.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek.  The fairy wiped it away and my skin tingled where her finger had been.

We sat there for a long time.  We sat there and watched the sun drop, and the moon rise over our shoulders.  We sat there and we talked, and listened, and I got to know that fairy better than I've ever known anyone else.  I knew her so well I learned her name, without her trying to tell me.  I couldn't tell it here even if I wanted to.  Like she said, it's more than some sounds you make.  It's everything about her, inside and out.

As much as I loved her, and as beautiful as she was, I couldn't bring up the courage to kiss her.  It didn't seem right, somehow, for me to be the one to do it, and I felt like I didn't really deserve it anyway.  After a lull in our conversation, when we were sitting there listening to the bugs and the frogs, she finally reached over and put both her hands on my cheeks.  She turned my head to her and I looked into those purple eyes I could see so well, even in the moonlight, and she leaned in and put her lips on mine and I heard the katydids and the frogs stop for a minute and suddenly the moonlight was singing like the sunset had, but quieter, like the glassy surface of a lake, and I could feel time around me, feel it counting off, and then there was a pop.  I opened my eyes.  The katydids and the frogs started talking again.  I couldn't hear the moonlight.  All I could feel was the night air.  And she was gone.

That was 60 years ago.  I've never told anyone about it, til now.  Didn't think they'd believe me, and didn't care if they did or didn't anyway.  I never did marry.  I met some nice girls, and they always seemed to like me, but I got ruined that night on anyone else.  I got ruined by a girl whose name I can't even say, who wasn't a girl at all.  I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I went back to that field a couple years ago.  I was just curious.  I didn't think much could come of it, but I wanted to see.  It's all different, of course.  We'd sold off the farm decades ago and I'd moved into town.  The road was still there, pavement instead of dirt.  The treelines were all gone, and the fences were gone, but I knew exactly where to go.  I pulled my truck off to the shoulder and got out, made my way across the ditch and up into the field.  There were signs up, For Sale signs telling how many acres and who to call.  I knew it would probably end up being some shopping center or something eventually, so I didn't want to wait much longer before I made this trip.  I wasn't young either, by any means.  I walked across the field, right to the spot where I'd stood so long ago working on Daddy's fence.  I stood and felt the sun and the breeze and remembered.  I remembered the music she'd made me hear, and the way my skin felt where she touched me.  Then I heard a pop.  I didn't turn around at first.  I was scared.  What if she didn't recognize me?  What if she was the same, and here I am, this wrinkled old man?  What if she did recognize me and didn't like what she saw?  Finally, I mustered up the will to turn.  I didn't see anything at first.  Then I looked down, and there it was.  In the grass was a beautiful red apple with one perfect little bite taken out.  I smiled.  I picked up the apple, wiped it off on my jacket and started walking across the field, back to my truck.  I took my own bite.  It was enough.

It was enough for me.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I Remember: video games at age 12

I remember playing video games in my room after school when I was 12 years old.  My room was just starting to become a personal space in which I found refuge, rather than the place I went to sleep.  I had posters on the wall, mostly from Nintendo Power, of video games.  I had posters of games I'd never played and never really intended to play, like StarTropics, just because they were in Nintendo Power and I was in love.  There was brown carpet and an old brown office chair my dad had brought home from the hospital.  It was heavy and noisy.  It would squeak in seven different places when you sat down or shifted your weight.  The fabric was almost like burlap, heavy and a little scratchy.  My Nintendo and TV were on a big particle board entertainment center, where everything had its own compartment.  The TV was a 13-inch tube with dials.  I could watch broadcast television if I wanted, but I didn't.  We had cable on the big TV in the living room and my parents almost always let me watch what I wanted, so TV happened in there.  Video games happened in my room.

I would come inside after mom brought me home from school, and take the snack she made me back into my room.  The afternoon sun would come through the window on the front of the house.  In my memories it never rains.  I only had one or two games I would be working on, and I could play obsessively.  I would hammer at the same levels, the same bosses, for hours.  Games then were different.  There may have been a story but it was hard to decipher, and anyway the stories were always secondary to the playing, the simple act of progressing through the game, beating the enemies, perfecting the jumps, learning the timing of traps or the patterns of bosses.  There were no online FAQs or walkthroughs, no hands to hold through these strange worlds concocted by grown men across the Pacific Ocean.  Secrets, codes and hints were passed around at school like passwords for the French Resistance.  Occasionally a game might be big enough for Nintendo to release a player's guide, and those were also passed around, never to be seen again by the original owner.

I suffered victories and defeats, sometimes witnessed by friends but often just to an audience of one.  I raged at my enemies, at the "cheapness" of unfortunate respawn points or almost impossible jump/enemy combinations.  I thrilled at the first time I would perfectly anticipate Bowser's moves, flowing like water around him to watch him defeat himself.  I loved starting new levels, facing new enemies I'd only heard about from my friends.  Seeing new backdrops, strange mountain plateaus on an alien world, or deep in the jungle here on Earth.  Some games felt like they were mine and mine alone, games I'd picked out on a whim during a trip to the mall or Toys R Us.  Did anyone else on this planet play Godzilla for the NES?  Was that game created by Toho for me and me alone?  Was Dynowarz sold anywhere in the country except my local Toys R Us?  Did I buy the only copy in existence?  I had no way to share this experience, no AOL or Reddit to find others like me.  I was a young boy in a small city but I was also a lone explorer cutting my way deep into the outback of other countries, other worlds.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

RetCog: A Short Story

Sari had to duck low to pass into the tunnel.  As she did so the dreamy light of the gas giant stretching across most of the sky gave way to the stark worklights set up by the archaeological team on the other end of the tunnel.  A voice crackled in her helmet, that of Rik, her contact from the university.  "Watch your head.  About 15 feet down this opens up into the cave."  He passed in front of her.  Sari tried to look as effortless as Rik as she waddled through the tunnel, but the generic environmental suit they had provided her made that difficult since it was tailored to accommodate almost any body type.

Once through the tunnel, Sari stood up and took in the site.  She was in a rock dome about 40 feet across and 15 feet tall at its apex.  The only light came from those the team had set up around the perimeter, casting harsh shadows.  A dozen or so people were working, some carefully examining a few crates against one wall, but most were clustered around something at the far end of the dome.  One person sat at a field table with a computer, entering data.  Sari couldn't see any of their faces in their environmental suits, which she couldn't help but notice fit them much better than hers did.  Rik tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to him.  He pointed to his helmet.  "We're all on channel two in here."  She made the adjustment and suddenly heard several murmuring voices going back and forth with each other.  All men.  Sari wondered if that was something they had noticed.  She doubted it.

"I'll introduce you to Dr. Neill.  He'll fill you in and you can get started.  Unless...you already have?"

"No," said Sari.  "I have to touch something for it to work."

"Oh, sorry," Rik stammered.  "I didn't know exactly how it happened."

"That's OK.  Retcogs are all a little different."

"Well.  Um.  Here's Dr. Neill."  

They walked over to the man at the field table, who was standing to greet them.  Sari noticed that everyone had quit what they were doing to look at her, and remembered that they would all have been able to hear her exchange with Rik.  She felt her face flushing, and was thankful for the suit for once.

"Miss Weaver, it's a pleasure."  Dr. Neill extended a gloved hand and Sari grasped it.  He was tall, in his late 40s, salt and pepper hair.  He reminded Sari a little of her father.  "I hope your trip down was uneventful."

"It was, thanks.  I've never been this close to Xerxes.  It's beautiful."

"I guess it is.  But its gravity well is a bitch.  And its radiation belts play hell with our comms."

A short, square man stomped in between Dr. Neill and Sari, putting his back to her.  "The fuck is a retcog doing on a scientific expedition, Doc?"

Dr. Neill looked down at the man with seemingly infinite patience.  "The same thing we are, Holtz.  Looking for answers.  So why don't you get back to it?"

Holtz turned and glared at Sari, then went back to the crates.

"I'm sorry," said Dr. Neill.  "Everything's been moving so quickly, and I didn't have an opportunity to tell the team you were coming until this morning.  Some of them are still absorbing it."

"It's OK.  I'm actually sort of used to it now."

"Well then I'm sorry it's something you've had to get used to."  He shot a look over at Holtz, who seemed to stiffen inside his suit.

Sari was surprised to find herself touched.  She didn't know what to say.  Dr. Neill broke the silence.  "Why don't I fill you in on what we've got so far, so you can get started.  The best we can tell, the subjects came here about 3,000 years ago.  It's hard to nail that down because of the preservation of the vacuum here.  We have no evidence of any sort of craft.  All we have in here are the two subjects themselves, and their supplies over here.  We can read the labels, and read what's on their suits, but we don't know what it means.  We don't know where they came from.  We just don't know much right now."

"Why don't I start with the supplies then."  They walked over to the crates.  Sari could feel everyone on site watching her.  When she had first been contacted yesterday and told the conditions of the site, she expressed her concerns regarding her particular strain of retrocognition.  She had been assured her fingers could be exposed here for at least one minute without permanent damage.  Regardless, she was nervous.

Sari peeled back two fingers on her right glove.  The wrist lock kept the rest of her suit's atmosphere from venting into the cave.  She realized she was bracing for a sensation that never came.  Her hand wasn't cold.  It was beyond cold in the cave.  It was nothing.  She picked up one object in the crate.  It was a hard, clear square.  Inside was a thin silvery disc with a hole in the middle, reflecting the cave along with several colors.  It was beautiful.  Sari felt no particular resonance with the casing, but saw hinges and fumbled it open.  She touched the disc and closed her eyes.  Faint images swam through her mind.

"This disc...it has data.  It needs a machine.  It has...maps...pictures...films.  Things from their home world."

"Can you get a name, where they came from?" asked Dr. Neill.

"No.  Not from this."  Sari closed her glove back over her fingers, flexing them to warm them back up.  She looked at what else was in the crate.  More discs.  She picked up a crumpled foil container.  She did recognize the lettering as her own language, and though the words seemed familiar she couldn't gather a meaning from them.  The picture told her it was probably food of some sort.  She opened her glove and touched the foil.  She felt hunger, deep hunger.  Fear.  Desperation.  Sadness.  And something...more.  "They weren't supposed to be here.  This wasn't their plan, to come to this cave.  This moon.  They were going somewhere else.  They were scared.  They—" Overwhelmed, she threw the foil down and closed her glove again.  For a few moments she just breathed.

"Miss Weaver?"

Sari turned to Dr. Neill.  Everyone was watching her, rapt.  Even Holtz, she noticed with some satisfaction.  "I'm fine.  I think I should see the bodies now."

They walked over, and Sari was finally able to see the two ancient travelers.  Or what was left of them.  They were on the ground, slumped against the wall.  They had environmental suits of their own, even bulkier than Sari's, with symbols sewn onto the shoulders and chest.  Between them was a large silver plate, of a heavier and less reflective material than the small discs in the crate.  Each traveler had an arm on the plate, as if preparing to present it to whomever may come by.  Their other hands were close to each other but not touching.  The plate was engraved with images, but no letters.  There were several circles in a row, with a line coming from one of them out to what appeared to be some sort of primitive spacecraft.  There were a few other diagrams Sari didn't understand, and a drawing of two people, naked.

Dr. Neill said "We can tell they wanted to be found.  They wanted to make contact with someone.  But I doubt they thought it would be us."

Sari knelt down.  The travelers were more preserved than she had expected, but still hard to look at.  At some point after death their suits had vented, so there was little decomposition.  They were mummified, a man and a woman.  She shuddered to think of what she had to do, but knew there was no alternative.  She found latches on each side of the man's helmet, then stopped herself and looked at Dr. Neill.  "Whatever you need to do," he said.  "Just be careful."

Sari flipped the latches and gently lifted the helmet.  It seemed comically large.  She set it down next to the man and leaned over to do the same for the woman.  "It'll work better if I do both of them together.  Assuming they were connected in life, of course."  With both helmets off, she shook her hands to warm them up and pulled back two fingers on both gloves.  She touched each traveler's face.  Their leathery skin gave a bit but did not break.  She closed her eyes.  Images came to her again, faster this time, stronger.  A launch.  All crude power, thrusting against gravity through blue skies.  Fear, adrenaline, excitement.  Then the darkness of space and long months of boredom. "They're old.  They're at least 10,000 years old.  They traveled for a long time, so slowly.  And...they fell in love.  They weren't alone.  There was a small crew.  They were going...to a planet.  Then..."  Xerxes appeared in her mind, casting the same dreamy light that fell onto the moon's surface outside the cave.  Fear.  Confusion.  "They were off-course.  Xerxes pulled them in, they didn't know it was there.  Their craft was breaking apart.  The crew...they all...these two escaped in a capsule.  The rest..."  Sari's voice broke.  Her hands were numb.  "They came here.  They knew...they were happy.  In the end."

Dr. Neill asked "Can you see where they came from?  Anything?  A name or a picture?"

Sari focused.  Her hands had gone from numb to itching.  "I can see...blue...and...yellow sun...and...wait...yes.  Yes!  Earth!  They came from a place called Earth!"

THE END

Someone in my Twitter feed linked to this flash fiction challenge last week.  I followed his advice, rolled a d20, and came up with retrocognition.  I mulled it over for about six days and this was the result.  Thanks for reading!

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Job Journal: Office Assistant, private preschool in Manhattan

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Temporary Office Assistant, private preschool in Manhattan

Duration: 5 months

Year: 2008


I've talked about my time at the private preschool before, and teased you with a tale of Tiger, the English bulldog.  Well, dear reader, your day of fat slobbery dog-reckoning has arrived.

As mentioned in that previous post, I was given the duty of manning the front door of the building in which the school was housed during the changeover from morning to afternoon session.  You may not be aware of this, but every child is born with the instinct, when they see a door to the outside, to run through it and keep going until they're hit by a car.  Since these children were young and had yet to temper that instinct through teaching, I was the only thing that stood between their lemming-like habits and NoHo traffic.

The school was the second floor of this building, and as far as I know the rest of the building was occupied by tenants, some of whom seemed to be holdouts from a previous era when it wasn't necessary to sell an organ in order to stay in nice places in Manhattan.  Most old, upscale buildings on the island have people like this living in them.  They resisted the buyout when it came along, and like a tree absorbing a fencepost, the building just grows up around them.  For example, the entire second floor of the hotel at which I was a doorman was reserved for people who wouldn't leave the building when it was converted.  They were left to their own devices, like Morlocks.  My coworker said the second floor smelled like his iguana cage.  I've never owned iguanas, but that seemed about right.

I'm stereotyping, and there's certainly a degree of classism in effect here, but I believe Tiger's owner may have been one of these holdouts.  He was a lovely person, but he just didn't seem like the type to pay however many thousands of dollars to live in a loft in a historic Manhattan building.  I would see him when I came over to the school from the offices 10 or 15 minutes before the transition, when he brought Tiger down for their afternoon walk.  I would hear them first, as they lived on the third floor.  The first day I met them, I began to hear an epic procession of wheezing and uneven tramping down the stairs.  This went on for a while, slowly drawing nearer, until finally on the landing at the end of the hallway I saw one of the fattest English bulldogs I've ever seen.  He was, of course, adorable.  He was mostly brown, with darker brindle stripes and white highlights.  His owner was also very large, a late-middle-aged man, and I could not tell for whom the descent was more difficult.  They stepped off the last stair and just stood there for a minute, collecting themselves.  The man introduced his dog as Tiger, and they both limped out the front door, panting.  I don't recall ever seeing them make the climb back home, and I can't imagine how it occurred without some sort of pulley system or winches.  Tiger was a big boy.

I saw them several more times, and we got to "know" each other as you do people in this city whose paths somewhat regularly cross yours.  Always the racket of them wheezing down the steps into the empty hallway, the rest at the end, and the gentle regard from Tiger as they went out the door.  They always did this before the class change, except for the one day they didn't.

The morning class had come down with the teachers, meeting the waiting parents and nannies in the hallway.  Most of the afternoon children were there as well, and the hall was filled with the happy din of parents, teachers and four-year-olds catching up with each other.  Over this I heard the familiar wheezing and stomping, but no one else knew what they were hearing.  Then suddenly Tiger had joined us, tired and happy.  They did not know how to handle his presence.  This fat, sloppy dog had absolutely no place in the allergy-ridden Montessori upper-class worldview of these people, and I was just delighted.  So was Tiger.  It turns out that he loved kids.  He weighed more than any two of them combined, and all he wanted to do was jump on them and lick face.  His owner was responsible enough to keep this from happening, and Tiger was straining as hard as he could against his harness to get his huge tongue on these kids.  Parents, kids and teachers all shrank back so that there was a circle around Tiger wherever he went in the hallway.  Due to the exertion of the stairs and his excitement, he threw up in the middle of the floor.  Everyone but me, Tiger and his owner was horrified.  Finally one of the teachers had the presence of mind to get some paper towels, but not before Tiger tried re-eating his breakfast.  One of the children started weeping.  Tiger's owner apologized, and they waddled out the front door to see what the city had in store for them.  The children made their way upstairs, contemplating what they had just seen like Siddartha after he saw his first old man.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Guidelines for Reporting on Justin Bieber

Remember in the old Clash of the Titans, when Zeus is moving pieces around on a board, plotting out the lives of the mortals below?  Someone, somewhere, is doing the same thing for Justin Bieber, and they're following a beat sheet some hack wrote thirty years ago that lays out the behavior of an idiot child who's been handed everything his entire life.

So here's the thing: as long as Bieber is following that predestined course, no one in the "news" has any business discussing it, because nothing about it is new.  This is just a dog biting a man, over and over.  This is like the Weather Channel announcing every hour that our atmosphere is still 78% nitrogen.  Great.  You should really only let us know when that changes.

What would be "new?"  What could Bieber do that may actually warrant a news report?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Writing an actual novel, all by himself, targeted at anyone over 25.
  • Quietly absorbing a lesson about humanity without tweeting it.
  • Realizing the immaterial nature of reality and giving up his worldly possessions to wander the earth as an enlightened beggar.
  • Keeping his shirt on for eight straight hours.
  • Settling down in Michigan with a plain-faced nurse and going into lumber sales.

Otherwise, news outlets may as well run two minutes of an anchor repeating the alphabet, because that information has as much value as anything else this kid is going to do in the near future.  This also applies to Taylor Swift and breakups, and Amanda Bynes and...whatever it is she's going through.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Struggle of Wills at Gristedes

My basket full, I stepped up to the back of the line at register two.  In front of me was a young man buying ramen and Gatorade; in front of him, an old woman who only spoke Spanish and who seemed to be paying with some form of obscure government documentation that required several witnesses.  I was fine with this delay, because I came here with a mission and I needed a little time to accomplish it.  I brought my own bag, and damned if this cashier was going to make me put my groceries in it yet again.

I have been a whole-hearted supporter of the bring-your-own-bag movement.  Being both practical and environmentally-minded, I never threw away plastic bags.  I never used them either, which meant that several cubic yards of any home I've had as an adult were dedicated to plastic bag storage.  Since it has become generally accepted to bring a bag from home, I haven't touched a plastic bag in years and I have oodles of storage space for other things I never use.

The only problem with bringing your own bag is that cashiers seem not to have gotten the memo that times are a-changin'.  They view bags from home as some alien intrusion into their workplace, some strange new math far above their pay grade and training that requires advanced philosophical understanding and strange Eastern mysticism to truly grasp and utilize.

In short, they won't touch them and generally stand there texting while you rush to put your groceries into this strange thing with which you've violated their place of business.  This was especially true for the cashier in whose line I now waited.

Really, it's just a bag, and that word has a loose definition.  They're lucky I don't bring a sheet with me, lay it at the end of the counter and ask them to tie it up like a hobo's bindle when they're done.  That, too, would more or less fall under the category of "bag," but semantically I'm sticking very close to the device they understand to be a bag.

Back to the line: I wanted a little extra time.  If there's no wait, as I'm unloading my basket they start scanning and attempting to put my food in plastic.  I have to tell them I brought my own bag, at this point still folded under my arm, which always translates to "please, don't do your job.  I'll take it from here."  No, I wanted to unload the basket while the cashier was dealing with the young man's sad, sodium-packed dinner, so that when it was my turn I could put my open bag on the counter and watch her do her thing.

The old woman was wrapping up her transaction.  Translators were indicating that the proper paperwork had been notarized, and witnesses and judges all agreed that this served as legal tender for her food.  I quickly unloaded my basket while the cashier swiped the young man's items, stowed the basket under the counter and snapped open my own shopping bag with a flourish.   Today would be the day.

Before the cashier's hand even touched my yogurt, I blurted "I have my own bag" as I raced to set it on the counter, holding it open with patient optimism.  I watched as she scanned each item, sliding them down next to the stack of New York Posts screaming the headline "BOFFO BLOOMBERG BLASTS BUS BUSKER BUSTERS," which means nothing in any language I know.  I twitched my bag a little, indicating that she was free to put my groceries in there rather than letting them pile up.  Piling up they were.  This was a full trip.  I'd depleted my cabinets with the intention of going for broke today.  Two, then three people formed a line behind me as the cashier kept scanning.  The master of efficiency inside me wanted to start bagging, to get out of the way as soon as possible, but no.  I wasn't here to be polite.  I was here to make a statement.  I was here to win.

Everything scanned, the cashier announced my total.  I gave my bag another feeble twitch before swiping, but she stood idly as I punched in my PIN.  The true test was beginning.  She handed me my receipt.  Our eyes locked.  She was on to me.  We each stood unmoving, daring the other to admit defeat.  We did not break our gaze.  Time stretched, slowed; the store became quiet.  The world at large had ceased to exist.  There was just me, the cashier, my bag, and a pile of food that wanted to go home.

We stood there like two samurai, knowing the first to move would lose the struggle.  We exchanged whole paragraphs without speaking a word.  I could feel the tension, the energy between us shifting, first towards her, then towards me, then holding in the middle.  It was an even match.  A single bead of sweat ran down my temple.  She gave her eyebrow the subtlest of arches, as if to say "had enough?"  I narrowed my eyes—never.

The fool behind me spoke up.  "What the hell are you doing?  Get out of the way!"  We paid him no mind.  If he couldn't understand what was happening here, then no explanation we could provide would make sense.  The loudspeaker crackled.  "Register one is open with no waiting."  Grumbling, the line behind me shifted over.  "I just don't understand some people."  "Is this performance art?"  They were as ants to us.

Time passed.  I was exhausted.  The strain was mounting, but I could tell the same was true for the cashier.  My yogurt was now as sweaty as me.  My bananas called out.  I could practically hear them ripening, begging to be eaten.  My mind started to wander, and I imagined myself on my couch, ripping into these Cool Ranch Doritos as the title screen to Assassin's Creed flickered on my television.  I snapped back to the present, waiting.  A big bald man in a short-sleeved shirt and tie came over to the register.  "Lydia, what the hell is this?"  The cashier's eyes flicked over to him, then back to me.  I had the upper hand and she knew it.  Yet she didn't move.  "Lydia, bag those groceries."  She was a statue.  For the first time in what felt like hours, I smiled.  I saw the end, and I liked it.  "Lydia, I'm counting to three.  One."  She looked to the manager, then to my groceries.  "Two."  I nodded towards my bag.  She had no choice now.  "Alright.  Three.  Turn off your light and go home.  You're done here.  We don't have time for crap like this."  The cashier smiled at me, turned off her light, brushed by the manager and marched right out of the store without a single backward glance.

The manager started bagging my groceries for me.  "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over her.  She's never acted like that before.  I'll give you a five dollar coupon for your trouble, sir."  I just nodded faintly.  I was shocked.  Lydia had known exactly how this would play out.  She was ready for me, and she knew the only way to defeat me in a place where the customer is always right.  She let me take her land, but she salted the earth and slaughtered her animals before letting me in.  Technically I had won, since I didn't bag my own groceries in the end, but it was a hollow victory.  The manager pushed my bag towards me.  "There you go sir.  Are you OK?  You look pale."  I made a noncommittal sound and shambled towards the door, replaying the events of the day in my mind.  I looked for any way I could have truly succeeded, anything I could have done differently.  There was nothing.  Lydia had locked it all down before I even showed up.

I began the long walk home.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Job Journal: Outbound Customer Service, Call Center in Oak Ridge TN

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Outbound Customer Service, Call Center, Oak Ridge TN

Duration: Two months

Year: 2002

I first detailed the particular tortures of this job, and what led me to it, in this entry.  Take a moment to refamiliarize yourself.

Great.

I mentioned there was one good thing I took away from the job, amongst all the cold calls telling people they couldn't yet get the service they were paying for, watching the redneck next to me obsessively and clumsily hit on the girl next to him for months, and wondering just how much the Starfox poster in my furry boss' cubicle turned him on.  That one good thing was Pocket Tanks*.

My shift would occasionally overlap with Mark's shift.  You may recall him as my friend who was hired the same time as me, but in tech support.  That meant he was somewhere else on the floor, and we only got to hang out on our lunch breaks.  Lunch breaks here were sad, obligatory affairs.  The break room was small, situated between the main part of the floor and the entryway.  There was barely room to sit and have lunch, and if I remember correctly, no real meals were available for purchase.  I brown-bagged it.  However, there were a few computers in there, and when our breaks coincided Mark and I would play Pocket Tanks.

It's an incredibly simple game, variations of which have been around for as long as personal computing.  You set the angle and power of your shot, pick your weapon, and fire.  This continues, one shot per turn, til your enemy on the other side of the screen is exploded.  That's it.  No graphical innovation (nor was any needed), no fast-paced run-and-gun action, barely any sound.  Just a cool, subtle guitar track that can only be described as mid-90s video game music (see also: Spider-Man and X-Men in Arcade's Revenge, and Streets of Rage).

After four hours of obsessively clicking and calling strangers in an otherwise completely silent environment, this game was like Call of Duty.

Pocket Tanks and the drive home were the only bright spots in the dim majority of my day.  Once I got home, life was good.  I was freshly graduated from college and content to simply have a job and hang out with my friends.  We watched TV together, played Xbox (the first Halo) and Gamecube (Super Monkey Ball), and generally goofed around.  This wasn't just Saturday nights, mind you; we all lived close enough to see each other regularly.  We didn't have any other obligations or the strangely crowded lives of people in their 30s.  Most of us were in the same apartment complex.  As such, I actually have fond memories of this time period; memories scored by the sweet, almost-rockin' guitars of Pocket Tanks.

But good god that job was terrible.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

*You can download the game for free at this link.  I see Super DX Ball is also available.  If you'd like to murder the next four hours and fail to accomplish anything else today, go ahead and download them both.