When Doug Calls – CH 2 – Both Sides

This is chapter two of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

CH 2 – Both Sides

Once, Doug and I were in his garage apartment, and I put the bong down to ask him how he could tell the future.

“Dude, you know what’s going to happen before it happens.  How?  And do you have any Doritos?”

“I ate all the Nacho Cheese Doritos.  I think I might have Funyuns.”

“I hate Funyuns!”

Then we watched Cartoon Network.

Another time when I was a little less high, I asked him again.  Here is what he said:

“There once was this guy with a mental disorder that only allowed him to remember things he saw on the right side, but anything he might have seen on the left side, he was oblivious and couldn’t recall. 

He went to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist said, ‘Close your eyes.  Imagine you are standing at the South end of Main Street, a street you know well.  Tell me all the shops on the right side and then tell me all the shops on the left side.’

The guy listed off the names of each shop on the right side, one after the other, but when it came to the left side, he couldn’t remember any of them.

Then the psychologist said, ‘Imagine you are standing at the other end of Main Street, the North end, facing back at the same rows of shops.  Now, tell me the shops on your right and then the shops on your left.’

The guy banged out the shops on the right side, what was the left side the first time, and couldn’t recall any of the shops on the left side, which was the side he previously remembered.”

“Well, that’s messed up.  Obviously, the guy has a memory of both sides of the street.  He just can’t access both sides of the memories at the same time.” I felt brilliant.

Doug leaned back, reached for the bong and lighter, and said, “I don’t know what happened to that guy, but the point is that, well, it’s like everyone has a mental disorder when it comes to seeing the whole picture, everything that’s around them.  Everyone except me.  I can see both sides of the street.”

“Yeah, man, but, like, how?” I eloquently asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably the whole thing when I became unalive.”
Unalive is the word Doug uses for his state of not actually having a heartbeat but still being like alive.  He doesn’t like the word “undead.” That’s for zombies and vampires, and he’s not either of those. I don’t think he is, anyway.

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

When Doug Calls – CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

This is an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

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CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

It’s 3:14 in the morning when my phone rings.  I wake, curse, fumble for my mobile, and raise it to my head.

 “Hello, Doug,” I mutter.

See, when my phone rings in the early morning hours, at a time all the normal people are asleep, I know it’s Doug. It’s always Doug, and getting these calls is just one of the many benefits I endure as Doug’s best friend.

“Do not get into a dumpster behind the Toledo Taco Bell on Miramar Street!” Doug paused and then added, “I mean it, Ed. Don’t do it, no matter what.”

“OK, Doug. I won’t.”

Being that I lived in Dallas, had never been to Toledo, didn’t even know anyone in Toledo, and while I love Taco Bell, I could not fathom dumpster-diving for stale nachos, I was pretty sure I could keep this promise.

It’s is not as unusual a phone call as it might seem.  Calls from Doug are always… peculiar.  One time, he called me and told me not to eat a live, poisonous snake, but if I do, be sure to swallow it tail first.  Another time he told me not to read any Russian books aloud.  I don’t read or understand Russian, but Doug wasn’t interested in that. 

You might ask why I put up with Doug’s insomniac-induced rants, and the answer is complicated. I suppose I should tell you a little bit about Doug Newborn to ease you into it.

 First and I think, foremost, you should know that Doug died.  He choked on a McRib Sandwich at McDonald’s and died.  Paramedics cleared the blockage from his throat and revived him, but he never had a heartbeat after that. No pulse.  No respiration. Because Doug’s blood pressure was 0/0, the Coroner declared him deceased, but Doug argued with him about it until he finally recanted, with the understanding that while Doug Newborn was not dead, he also was not alive in the sense that was recognized by medical science.  Doug chose to view that as a fault of medical science.  It certainly wasn’t his.

The second thing you should know about Doug Newborn is that, not long after The McRib Incident (TMRI) of 2013, Doug disappeared for 22 days.  He was last seen playing a Joust arcade game at 7-eleven, a block from his garage apartment, and then, on level nineteen with eight lives to spare, *poof*. He disappeared. Missing person flyers were posted, and the local news covered his disappearance.  Police had no leads.  Twenty-two days later, Doug’s back in the 7-eleven, wondering why his high score wasn’t on the Joust machine.  When the clerk told Doug he unplugged the machines every week to sweep behind them, thus wiping the high scores, Doug nearly went ape shit.  He insisted his score was easily 700,000, and he had been there the whole time.  Since no apparent kidnapping or wrongdoing was involved, the police dropped it.

So, two nights after Doug’s warning about the dumpster, I find myself running through the dark parking lot of Taco Bell on Miramar Street in Toledo, chased by a shadowy, bat-winged, dildo-shaped monstrosity with claws that hang down at the back of the nut sack and a shark-toothed dickhead, and I DO NOT jump into the dumpster behind the Taco Bell for cover. The thing caws at me from a black sky, a shrill version of the sound Pac-Man makes when caught by a ghost if he were screaming from hell.  Doug tells me about the dumpster, but he couldn’t tell me about shark-toothed, flying dildos? 

I leaped over the hood of a rusty Camaro like Bo Duke and bolted to the dumpster in the adjacent Wendy’s parking lot. The cawing Pac-Man-screaming-in-hell keeps my adrenalin up, and I leap into the Wendy’s dumpster and bury myself under the cardboard and… other stuff. 

I lay still, trying not to breathe hard, mostly because it smelled terrible but also because I was trying to hide.  Of course, Bat-Winged Dildo Thing saw me jump in the Wendy’s dumpster, so it was no surprise that my ninja-like moves had not thrown it off.  The lid on top of the dumpster swung open with violent squeal and clang. Six-inch talon claws closed around my leg and lifted me jerkily out of the dumpster, up and up with each massive wing flap.  I looked down and saw the black asphalt of the unlit parking lot reeling past me, and I saw Doug standing there, holding something small out in front of him, maybe a flashlight.

A bluish flash shot from the object Doug was holding, hitting Bat-Winged Dildo Thing, and its grasp on my leg released. I was falling, and I was going to die.  All that, “My life flashed before my eyes,” crap didn’t happen, but I didn’t die, either.  Anyway, I fell into the dumpster.  The dumpster behind the Taco Bell on Miramar Street.  In Toledo.  Remember the dumpster Doug said not to get into, no matter what?  That one.

Another thing about Doug is that he has premonitions that have never been wrong.  Some haven’t come true yet, but none that I know of have ever been proven to be false.  Many are queerly accurate. That’s also a thing to know about Doug.  Maybe I should have led with that?

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

Entertainment and Angst in 2020

I don’t know about you but rage and angst fill up my social media feeds lately. People are so at odds over the pandemic is a hoax, or face masks will kill you,  or defunding the police, or Trump – the vitriol on Facebook is palpable. People post the most absurd things masquerading as truth, throwing another tire on the dumpster fire that is the year 2020.

In my opinion, protesting on social media is the laziest, most impotent form of protesting. It is precisely a tiny little bit more than doing absolutely nothing at all. People who think the same as you will agree. People who don’t will either scroll on by or argue with you with complete disregard for tact because, you know, acting like a crude little tough guy is easy on social media. Some people get so mean when there is no risk of them getting punched out.

If you find yourself typing out “FUCK YOU” in a post, step back. Is that how you represent yourself? My friends, please, stop being THAT person. And putting in asterisk for some letters doesn’t make it okay, it only makes you look uncommitted. You might as well cuss in symbols – $#!+@$$.

Anyway, nobody is having a good year. We are all just trying to get to the other side of this thing. I think our way of life will never again be the same as before Covid-19, even when we have a vaccine, but let me stop myself before I start going down the rabbit hole of doom, gloom, and despair, and get to the point of what I wanted to share with you, and it’s this:

My choices of entertainment have changed. Right now, with so much death and unhappiness in the news, I need something vacuous and goofy. It needs to be brilliantly stupid. It needs to be… YouTube and, to a much less extent, TikTok.

I have found Rhett and Link, and the Holderness Family, and the How Ridiculous guys. These internet entertainers have become the core of my entertainment since the quarantine began.

Rhett and Link have been friends since childhood, and they produce three main shows on their YouTube channels: Good Mythical Morning, Good Mythical More, and Ear Biscuits, with 16.5 million subscribers. The chemistry they share is what makes the show for me, these guys play the most bizarre games and eat some truly disgusting things. They also have some original songs that are pretty funny. I love it.

Penn and Kim Holderness have a video production company and churn out several videos a week. The Holderness Family creates original music, parodies, and Vlogs to poke fun of themselves and celebrate the absurdity in circumstances most families face. Some of the parody songs are enlightened and always make me laugh. They also come across as extremely likable people.

How Rediculous is a show with infectiously over-enthusiastic Australian guys who drop stuff off of things onto other things. Do you want to see what happens if you drop a bowling ball off a 45-meter tower onto a trampoline? You do. You know you do.

TikTok videos are so short, they often finish before I can scroll past them. I watch lots of cute animal videos here, and of course, Sarah Cooper. Her “How to” series is funny as hell.

Sure, there is intellectual content out there, too, but I need stuff that’s inoffensive and lighter than air. I need to not think about how bad 2020 sucks for a little while. I think we could all lighten up a bit. Take a step back, and watch two guys eat French toast made from things that should not be in French toast. Watch a song parody of Antibacterial Girl to the music for Madonna’s Material Girl. Watch really excited guys throw paper airplanes off the top of a dam.  Look at puppy videos. Everyone loves puppies. And let’s try to lighten up. Please?

Moritorium – In Memory of John Douglas Martin, August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

“Can you moratorium a cubicle?  You know, put it in a state where no one could occupy it?”

It was a stupid thought, and I was grateful that I didn’t say it out loud.  A moratorium on Doug’s cubicle wouldn’t bring him back.  Doug would still be dead, no matter what.  The cubicle was just the place he worked.  It was not him, nor was he the sort of person that he let his work define him.  Sure, personal items decorated the space, but it was still, just a cubicle.

As the admin dutifully boxed up Doug’s possessions to clear out the cube, sadness took me, and tears tried to rise.  I fought them down – not the time or the place or the situation.  These moments have been sneaking up on me ever since the funeral.  In these moments, I realize, really realize Doug is gone, and I will not see him again.  And that sucks.

Doug was the sort that would do almost anything for anyone. 

Doug, I need a ride to the other side of town at midnight. 

Doug, I need $300, and I don’t know when I can pay you back. 

Doug, I was stung by jellyfish, and I need you to piss on the wound to neutralize the poison

I never asked him any of those things, but I know if I had, he would have complied.  He also would have thought the pissing on me thing was hysterical, too. 

Doug was a guy I worked with, but he was a guy I worked with that really, truly touched my heart.  He wasn’t average, and that always seems to be the way these things go.  The jackass you work with that you sometimes wished would die, he doesn’t.  The good-natured, funny guy that everyone likes, he dies needlessly.  I look for balance in the universe, and I swear I cannot find it in this situation.  It isn’t fair.

 “Good Morning, JOHN.”  He would call me John because I let it slip once that I don’t like going by my first name, John.  This, of course, ensured that Doug would call me John at every possible opportunity.  It was always with a smirk and in fun, but only because he knew it got to me.  Though it was annoying, it was also funny.  An inside joke that everyone was in on.

More than once, Doug invited me to go with him to Mexia and shoot guns or just get smashed on the weekend.  I always declined.  Need to get home… things to do… going to wash my hair, etc.  And I did have other things to do, but I also thought there would be another time.  I ran the clock out, and the opportunity is no more.  Hindsight is 20/20, so they say.  Hindsight sucks.

And that is what I remember about Doug.  Most of it is what I know he would be like, not really what I know he was like.  And I think that is what I mourn most and why I suddenly am given over to tears at the oddest times – I had the opportunity to spend time with a very cool person, and I didn’t, and now that opportunity is gone.

Cool people are rare.  No, really, they are rare.  Honestly, think about how many truly cool people you know.  I bet it is just a few.  Don’t miss the opportunities to be around them while you can.

In memory of John Douglas Martin,  August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

© 2012, 2020, Mitch Lavender

Solo Board Gamer, Me?

One of the things that I like about analog gaming is that you get together and interact with real people, face to face. While the video game medium has come a long way in adding a social aspect to the gaming, it simply does not compare to the richness of a real-life experience with friends, sitting around the table and gaming together, albeit competitively.

Now, there are solo board games or, more commonly, multiplayer board games that have a solo play mode. Viticulture, Scythe, and Terraforming Mars are popular games in the hobby that can be played solo. In the past, I considered sitting at a table, playing a board game by oneself the equivalent of gaming masturbation. It just seemed sad to me and I didn’t see the point, particularly when many of my favorite games absolutely thrive on the interaction of the players.

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Thank You, Murphy

Murphy was a Rat Terrier we got as a puppy. He died in October of 2017 when he was 10 years old.

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Thank you, Murphy.  Thanks for protecting the backyard from squirrels, birds, and neighbors doing things on the other side of the fence.  You would bark and protect us all.  Never once did a squirrel, bird, neighbor or delivery person harm us.  Thank you.

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This is Your Mind as a Writer. Any Questions?

It seemed innocent enough.   A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time.  Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories.  It was only one a week, at first.  Then I was doing it more.  I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write.  They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine notebook.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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GEEK AM I

As a card-carrying GEEK, it is my right… nay, it is my RESPONSIBILITY to complain about the most insignificant and trivial of details when it comes to movies, books, comics, video games, and particularly in my case, board games.

Look at the most passionate geeks out there and that’s what they do – criticize and complain and nit-pick.  I can only surmise that any geek worth his salt would do the same, right?

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Not That I Care (Flash Fiction)

Have you ever been in an absolutely quiet, serene place, void of any distraction at all?  Didn’t it feel weird?

Consider this: If you abuse your body, it creates problems and organs stop doing what they are supposed to do.  So, if you drink too much, your kidneys and liver will fail to filter toxins properly, or if you smoke, you damage your lungs and have difficulty oxygenating blood.  What about your brain?

Inane television shows, sound-bites, self-important celebrities, radio chatter, internet memes, Facebook status updates, tweets, and the general, incessant noise we surround ourselves with every day – subjecting a brain to such a relentless input of low-grade, sensational information, year after year, it’s not unreasonable to think that something had to give and it did.

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Changes

I wrote this in September of 2013 and I was 49 years old, leaving an 18-year career with Microsoft and preparing to start work as a manager at AT&T. It’s an indulgent and heavy-handed write but I’m sharing it here for those who might find themselves in a similar career change and need some reassurance and more to the point, might try to do it alone.


Changes
By Mitch Lavender

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I knew the way and the path was familiar even though this was a new pilgrimage.

Corporations are treacherous catacombs, filled with dead-ends and devastating fates for the unwary.  Eighteen years, I have navigated these passages but too late, I realized I took a wrong turn.  All around me, peers and superiors told me otherwise and that the path was true, but I knew otherwise.  I knew, but it was too late.

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Why Kemet is Awesome

Kemet by Matagot is my favorite area control board game and it’s one of my favorite games, ever.  Over multiple plays, I’ve come to really appreciate (yes, that’s the right word. APPRECIATE!) the game’s mechanics and design.

Is Kemet a game you, too, will APPRECIATE?  I don’t know, but let me run down the reasons why I like it and then you can decide if those things appeal to you or not.  First though, if you don’t know what Kemet is, we’ll start with the vendor’s description.

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Red-Blooded Redneck (short story)

This story originally appeared in, Best of Writing4All 2010.

Stereotypes are funny to me.  For example, I live in Texas and have all my life.  Immediately, stereotypes for Texan come to mind.  Programmed ideals of a cowboy hat-wearing, gun-toting, oil-well drillin’, spur-janglin’ fellow, riding the range, herding cattle and doing sing-alongs around the campfire like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or some other archetypical cowboy are envisioned.

I do not own a pair of cowboy boots or a cowboy hat.  Jeans, polo shirt and loafers are common attire for me.  I do not ride a horse on the range.  I drive a Nissan Altima in rush hour traffic every day.  I don’t own a gun or oil wells.  I live in a suburb.  I work in an office building.  I shop at regular stores like almost everyone else who lives in Texas, but there are some exceptions.  The few.  The proud.  The Redneck. Continue reading

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (flash fiction)

This story first appeared in It Didn’t Happen This way – Untrue Stories, Volume One in 2012.

Hello Jeff,

As you may have heard, I recently came into quite a fortune.  Someone has to win the lottery and despite the odds, it was me.  It wasn’t because I deserved it.  I certainly didn’t earn it. But I find myself now with 133 million dollars and must decide how to utilize it.  I certainly have dreams and aspirations; business opportunities to invest in abound.  Still, I must consider the life traveled that got me to this place and in so doing, remember those who gave me a chance.

There was a time in my career, several years ago, where I had burned a few bridges and was left remorseful for my mistakes but still accountable for them.  It was a crossroads where you, as my manager, could have terminated me and rightly so.  You didn’t.  You gave me an opportunity to turn things around and right the wrongs.  I heard you took some heat for it.  Simply, you saw something in me that was salvageable and believed in my abilities.  I don’t know if I ever expressed how much that meant to me but I have never forgotten it.

Simply, thank you.  I dare say that I might have started on a long, downward spiral had it not been for your giving spirit and faith in me.

Enclosed is a check for 1.23 million dollars.  This should leave you with one million dollars after gift taxes have been paid.  I know a million dollars is not a lot these days, but with your own savings, I hope this gives you enough to pursue your dream, whatever that may be.

I wish you and your family all the happiness and success in the world.  If there is anything I can do, anything at all, please do not hesitate to let my assistant know.  I will be in town next month and if we can work out schedules, I would love to have dinner with you.

Sincerely,

Steven Lasroth

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Don’t Kill the Dog (for authors)

There are places that authors fear to tread and rightly so.  Some things are taboo and off limits, even in the fictionalized place where we create our stories and taking a certain plot twist can completely lose a reader or worse, make them angry.

I have a tendency to write dark fiction and that is thin ice to tread.  It’s not hard to make a wrong move.  It takes scruples and sense of self to avoid it because when weaving a story (i.e., pantsing), it has a life of its own; taking a direction that almost seems to be beyond the author’s control.  The story is completely in the author’s control of course, but it can sometimes feel like it has its own personae and is making choices for itself, such as having your antihero become a predator on the weak, vulnerable or trusting.  Who would like Batman if he was a rapist or child molester?   Rapists and Child molesters, that’s who, and no one else.

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