Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: A 10 Minute Story of Art, Soda and Revenge

{Originally written very fast, this story has now been subjected to a round 2 revision. Cleared up a few typos, made a few more connections, and hopefully added some value. Thanks as always for your consideration. Yours truly in bananas, TGM.}

Art class was always a challenge for me.

Drawing, I had decided, was like shooting pool.

Sometimes, I was really good at it. On those days, the angles and positions and shapes of objects would leap out at me and present themselves for quick translation to the page. The artistic equivalent of running the table and sinking the eight ball.

On other days, I was all thumbs, unable to manage even the simplest angles and crudest representations of shapes and objects. The artistic equivalent of scratching on the break.

That’s why I was particularly pleased with how today’s still life was going.

Sure, the subject matter wasn’t particularly interesting– a vase, some wilted flowers and an orange, but I felt like I was in an artistic groove.

Looking down at my sketch, I noted with pride that I seemed to have captured the subtle convex curve of the vase, and that my orange was decidedly circular without looking too perfect.

“You know,” I said to Bob, who was scribbling furiously at the easel next to me. “This could be my first ‘A’ picture.”

Bob stopped scribbling and glanced over at my easel. I saw one eyebrow involuntarily raise in silent appreciation, but his face soon clouded over with anger.

“That ain’t so hot,” he muttered, and turned back to his work.

But as he resumed, I could hear his pencil digging a little harder into his paper.

I looked over at Bob’s drawing and could see why he was upset. The angle on his vase was all wrong. The curve started too soon and ended to early, and the orange was looking more like a lumpy pear than my sublimely dimpled sphere.

Bob had always been the standout art student in the class, always the one to get his work displayed in the glass cases in the front of the school. But on this simple project, this inconsequential still life, I might have finally beat him.

Returning my attention to my own easel, I made a couple of quick touch up strokes and then decided to call it quits. Sometimes you can ruin a good drawing by working on it for too long. Like Kenny Rogers said in that song about folding or riding trains or something,  “You’ve got to know when to fold them.”

I wiped my hands on my pants, took a big step back and drank in the majesty of my still life.

It really was my best work to date.

A drawing like this deserved a Coke. “I’m hitting the Coke machine,” I told Bob. “Want anything?”

Bob shook his head. He was trying to round his orange into shape, but it just wasn’t happening for him. And it looked like the pencil outline on the edge of his vase had started to smudge.

I whistled as I headed into the hall in search of the nearest vending machine. Found it around the corner, pulled out a crisp dollar bill, and listened to the pleasant “thunk ca-chunk” sound that the Coke can made as it tumbled down the machine and into my gifted artistic hands.

I cracked the can open, took a long sip of that sweet brown nectar, and headed back into class.

What I saw when I walked in the door made me spit Coke all over the floor.

There were two huge slashes right through the center of my drawing, turning my pristine sketch into fringe.

“What the fuck?” I started. Then it hit me — Bob.

“You fucker,” I dropped the Coke can on the ground, snarled like a wolf and sprinted like a jackrabit across the room towards his easel.

Bob was pretending to study his painting, but I knew by the way he reacted with lightning quick reflexes that he had been waiting for me.

He ducked around a desk, through a juke move to get past me and headed out the door of the art room, sprinting down the corridor at full speed.

I was hot on his heels. My shoes made slapping sounds as I pounded the linoleum in pursuit. I could think of only one thing — murder. Sweet, glorious redemptive murder.

But Bob was on the track team and he was faster than me. He made it to the end of the hall and ducked into a stairwell. By the time I got there I didn’t know if he had gone up or down.

My breath was short and my anger was cooling.

It had been a pretty damn good picture. But maybe not worth a manslaughter charge.

I trudged back to the art room in defeat.

Back inside, I was surprised to see a sea of sympathetic faces smiling at me.

There was a new unopened Coke can on my desk. My drawing had been taped back together. And someone had even penciled in a charcoal “A” in the top corner.

I couldn’t help but smile. “So everybody here hates Bob, too?”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

The Existential Angst of the Monkey Copywriter

You wake up in the morning and you are already behind schedule. Hitting the snooze button has become far too easy these days, especially when the morning temperatures are usually in the single digits.

It is already too late to walk your dog over at the park, so you will have to make do by taking her along the crowded, filthy city sidewalks that are still covered in reams of salt from the last snowstorm. Apparently the city’s plan of action for the last snowstorm was to salt every last flake into submission, making it damn near impossible to walk a dog anywhere because dog paws sting when it is salty outside.

By the time you get back from walking the dog, you have to hustle to feed her and get dressed and get out the door in time to run up the street at full speed and get on the crowded, salt-covered bus where the heat is blasting. Your skin cells are screaming bloody murder because of the relentless onslaught of hot, dry air but there is nothing you can do but hold the pole as the bus lurches down the street toward the subway station.

You arrive at work on time (just barely) and take the elevator to the tenth floor. You open to your office with the optimism of an early morning caffeine buzz and then…reality hits.  It will be another long day in a semi-darkened room doing work that no one really needs or cares about.

At least you have few emails to respond to from over the weekend, but none of them ask you to do much more than play peacemaker to high-powered people.

Does anyone want you to write something? No.

Does anyone want your advice on a creative problem? No.

Does anyone have any actual concrete work for you to do? Surprisingly, yes.

For once, there is some tedious proofing work that must get done.

This doesn’t exactly fire your creative soul, but it is better than casting about aimlessly, trying to convince people to give you some work.

So while you while away your day in proofing purgatory, you listen to as many podcasts as possible.

Podcasts about books and movies and television writing. Anything that seems creative.

You promise yourself that the moment you get home you will dive into creative pursuits. You will write an X-Files spec script. You will finally learn all the beats of the three-act sitcom screenplay. You will load up your Kindle with PDFs of scripts of television shows that you will then dissect in order to learn the rules of telling a story.

You will take some steps towards becoming a WRITER.

But by the end of the day, your enthusiasm has flagged. All this proofing has been tiring. You still have a cold that you are getting over. You still have to walk the dog when you get home. You have to think about dinner and maybe taking a shower and maybe practicing the guitar that is gathering dust in the other room. Even your smartphone app that helpfully provides three-word creative prompts seems to be running out of fresh ideas.

But you will soldier on and create something because YOU ARE A WRITER.

So you get home. Walk the dog. Take your shower. Make plans for dinner. Sit down at your computer. Loosen your typing fingers. Take a deep breath.

Then you make the crucial mistake of looking at the dashboard of your blog before you start to type.

And you see the tiny traffic numbers for your posts.

And a little part of you—the part that could have looked the other way and just blindly typed for 10 minutes on something that felt like fiction–feels like crawling into a ball and waiting for another day.

So you don’t type.

And you don’t create a spec X-Files script.

And you don’t learn the three-act sitcom structure.

And you don’t feel very much like a WRITER.

But you know that tomorrow –once you have woken up too late to walk the dog at the park, sprinted up the street to catch the bus, suffered under the unremitting blast of the bus heater, and arrived at work balancing on that the same thin line between optimism and despair—the whole cycle will start anew.

Sigh.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Zulu, Peasants, Revolt

{Another in a continuing series of short fiction pieces written in a short time frame using a creative writing prompt. Your Monkey has been sitting on this prompt for a little over a week, and trying to work out some sort of story in his head. But actual writing time about 1/2 hour}

It wasn’t every day that the son of a wealthy industrialist from 21th century America and a Zulu chief from 18th century South Africa tried to start a peasant revolution in medieval England.

But then again, Aristotle C. Pennington had not built a time machine to have everyday adventures.

He and the Zulu chief, whom Aristotle had casually nicknamed “Shaka” without bothering to learn his real name, were busy marching up and down the makeshift battle lines of their peasant platoon.

The troops did not look promising. They were tired, mud splattered, missing teeth and smelled something terrible.

They would be no match for the well-armored and well-fed knights on the other side of the dale, but that hardly mattered to Aristotle.

The fight would provided a momentary diversion into what had been a surprisingly dull jaunt through the Middle Ages.

Wowing the peasants with his superior prep school intellect and 21st century technology had proven to be all too easy.

It had taken only a few moments for him to convince the dullards that the voice coming from his iPhone was a direct message from God commanding them to overthrow the knights in the village castle.

And the tall, dark, simmering presence of Shaka had the impoverished dimwits believing that one of God’s “avenging angels” would be fighting along with them.

Aristotle had thought of that particular twist to the plot during a speech at the local tavern, and since the peasants had never see a black man before, they were happy to believe what he told them.

Continuing to peruse the pitiful ranks before him. Aristotle patted the Colt 9mm pistol he kept at his side at all times.

The gun would keep him safe during the first few skirmishes between the peasants and the knights, and if things got too hairy (or even worse–too boring) he and Shaka would simply duck back into the time machine and find a new time and place to play their game.

It was a low risk situation for him, but it was better than sitting around back in the present waiting for something unusual to happen.

“Bored indifference,” is what Aristotle’s therapist had said when Aristotle had steadfastly refused to work for the family business in order to pursue the development of his time machine.

“Borderline psychosis,” the therapist had later wrote when Aristotle described his plan to master time travel.

But the time machine had worked, thanks in large part to Aristotle’s endless financial resources and willingness to bribe, borrow and steal from anyone and everyone.

And his therapist–though impressed with Aristotle’s success–had met a rather grisly end at the guillotine during a trip to revolutionary France. But that was a story for another day.

It was time to start today’s skirmish.

“Shaka,” Aristotle said, glancing up at the menacing Zulu warrior. “Are you ready?”

Shaka nodded. The tribesman never seemed to mind that Aristotle hadn’t learned his name. That was good–Aristotle hated it when others tried to make him do anything.

“Men,” Aristotle began, putting on his most winning smile and trying his best to swallow his contempt for the ragged farmers arranged before him. “Today is the day you strike back in the name of God.”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpiest Monkey Fiction: Prey to Misfortune, Utopian, Supermarket

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Jed thought as he shielded his face from the blows of yet another enraged UtopiaMart shopper.

In fact, Jed’s idea for the world’s first utopian supermarket wasn’t turning out at all like he thought it would.

Sure, he had started the store with the highest of ideals. Farm-fresh, locally-grown ingredients.

Animal products from livestock that were well cared for and fed a balanced, well-rounded diet.

A staff of committed culinary enthusiasts who wanted to encourage people to eat better foods.

And, most important of all, a pricing structure that was unique for any supermarket– pay what you think the food is worth.

It was this last part of the business plan that made UtopiaMart such a big hit with the news media when Jed had first announced plans for the store.

He had made the rounds of all the local and national talk shows, talking about “a new era of price responsibility,” the “dignity of price choice” and his “undying faith in the American consumer.”

These buzzwords had made for good copy, but the “pay as you go” concept was proving disastrous to his business.

From the first day that people filed through the aisles at UtopiaMart, Jed had began hemorrhaging money like crazy.

Lobsters were being bought for $5 a pound. Prime rib for a $1.50. One man even took an entire turkey home for three dirty dimes and a Canadian nickel.

When day two of the UtopiaMart experiment began, Jed had calmly suggested to the store’s staff that they engage the customers in a “healthy, respectful debate about the value of food and personal awareness.”

That was when the arguments and the cursing began.

“How dare you!” one man snarled as he grabbed three bottles of extra virgin olive oil and slammed a quarter down next to the register.

“Fuck off,” another woman said as she shoveled shrimp into her mouth at the seafood bar, and then washed it down with a bottle of a fine Argentinian Malbec that she had apparently opened in the middle of aisle four.

“Suck my balls” said a third man as he wheeled 10 cases of bottled Perrier out to his car. This man had paid with a garbage bag filled with socks.

On day three of the UtopiaMart disaster, Jed stood outside the store with a stack of yellow fliers that had suggested pricing for all items.

Customers did everything they good to avoid taking a flier as they rushed into the store, ducking and dodging as if Jed was trying to serve them with a subpoena. Those who did take a flier usually crumpled it into a ball and threw it back at him.

No one paid attention to suggested pricing.

Finally, on day four, after the store had been open for only 20 minutes or so and Jed already watched his entire stock of ground beef disappear for a paltry $2.25, he decided to cut his losses.

“Attention ladies and gentlemen,” he said over the store’s intercom. “UtopiaMart is now closed.”

And that’s when the beatings began.

Fists pummeled him from all sides. An old woman kicked at his shins. “You stay open,” she hissed. “I have a coupon for 5 soups for a dollar.”

Jed looked up at her pleadingly. “But we don’t even have coupons.”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Supplication, Natural and Elemental

[Another in a series of short fiction pieces written using creative writing prompts. OK, this was a pretty difficult prompt to work with (natural, elemental and supplication) and I am still not sure that I hit supplication as much as I would have liked. Also not crazy about the dialogue. But, the point of using prompts is that you don’t get to pick and choose what the topic is, right?]

I knew that Debbie’s arm was broken from the moment she hit the ground.

Maybe it was the sickening snap that echoed across the yard as her body came thudding down from the tree outside our house.

Maybe it was the odd angle that her hand was dangling at when she brought it back up—a sight so unnatural that it made your insides quiver.

Or maybe it was the way she was screaming something awful.  “OW! OW! OW! GAAAAAH”

“Hold on Deb,” I said as I sprinted across the yard. “Mom and Dad are coming.”

“ARRRRRRGH” was all she howled in reply.

“MOM!” I yelled. “DAD!”

Mom and Dad appeared at the front door, and as I glanced in their direction, I immediately knew how foolish it was to count on them.

Mom and Dad were not people of action. Or even parents of any consequence.

They were all long hair, peasant shirts, and open-toed sandals. Long, stringy hair and chakras and chi.

They seemed to be vaguely aware that their daughter was crying, and yet neither of them showed any hustle as they strolled across the yard.

“Look Mom,” I started, pointing to the dangling disaster that now passed for my sister’s left arm. “Her arm’s broken.”

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” Debbie wailed, tears streaking down her face.

“Nonsense,” Mom replied, tucking a strand of graying blond hair behind her ear as she squatted down for a closer look. “A nice poultice made from eucalyptus should ease the swelling, and I’ll give her a spoonful of nutmeg for the pain.”

Mom, as you may have gathered, had been spending a little too much time at the New Age bookstore downtown, and had started to think of herself as something of a natural healer.

When I had the flu last year, she made me a cinnamon tea with peppermint leaves, assuring me that the combination would “beat back the fever and drive out the sniffles.”

It was only after my temperature hit 102 degrees and I made a croaking phone call to Grandma that I started to come around.

“HELP ME!” Deb pleaded through hot tears, and my mind snapped back to the situation at hand.

“It’s not swollen, Mom! It’s a broken arm!” I pleaded.

Instinctively I looked up at parent #2, hoping against hope that Dad might somehow see the light.

Another dumb move.

Dad was fishing crystals out of his pocket and waving them around Debbie’s head.

“Hold still,” he grunted down at her, clearly annoyed with her writhing and crying. “I’m trying to draw the pain out into this amethyst. I can’t get a good connection to the earth if you keep flopping around like a fish.”

Dad, as you may have gathered, spent a little too much time at the bookstore, too.

The difference between him and Mom was that he thought his healing powers came from the elements, whereas Mom was convinced nature was her ally.

I, being the sole voice of sanity in the house at 12 years old, had decided that science and medicine were a pretty good way to go.

“Hang in there Deb,” I pleaded. “I’m going to call Grandma.”

I looked back at Mom as I sprang to my feet. She was ripping blades of grass out of the lawn and sprinkling them over Debbie’s arm. “The earth will soothe what the earth has harmed,” she cooed.

Dad, meanwhile, had gathered tinder and was starting a small fire. He waved the first few wisps of smoke Debbie’s direction.

As I raced him he looked at me and beamed. “We’ll use the smoke to prevent the pain impulses from reaching her brain.”

“For crying out loud,” I wheezed, and continued my headlong rush into the house.

The phone rang twice before Grandma picked up. “It’s me,” I said. “They’re at it again.”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Loss of a Loved One, Damned, Bowling Alley

[In which your humble Monkey narrator uses a creative writing prompt to write a short story in approximately 10 minutes of time, thereby saving him from the overwhelming mental stress of having to write for too long, and you of the yawning boredom of having to read a long piece. This one took about 14 minutes.]

Satan, as it turns out, is pretty much a prick to bowl against.

This was the third of three strings (each of us having won one so far), and he was pulling out every trick in the book to throw me off my game.

Hip checking me on the way up to the ball return.

Coughing during my follow through.

Giggling manically every time he hit a spare.

Theatrically polishing his horns with a towel  after every strike.

What a bastard.

But I was a damn good bowler, and I wasn’t going to let the Prince of Darkness get under my skin.

The balls were feeling smooth in my hand as I sent them careening down the waxed lane of the alley, and the points were racking up in my favor.

Plus, watching the Lord of the Underworld teeter around with his cloven hooves stuffed in bowling shoes was pretty funny, even if the stakes were deadly serious.

Swooosh. Another ball left my hand as if guided by radar and knocked down all ten pins with a boom.

Satan said nothing but clicked his tongue and flicked his tail.

“It’s not looking good for you,” I cracked, hoping to get a little payback for his dirty tricks. “I bet God would have picked up that last split.”

“Game’s not over yet,” he spit and hurled a bright red ball down his lane, a trail of fire erupting behind it as it incinerated the lead pin upon contact and sent the remaining nine scattering for cover.

Damn. I sighed. Only three strings left and he was only six points back. This was going to go down to the wire.

It had been three months since my girlfriend had been killed in a car crash, and I was doing everything possible to get her back.

Now you may be wondering how a sweet girl like Jenny could have ended up in hell after wrapping herself around a tree, and I might be inclined to tell you to mind your own business. Not everyone is perfect, OK?

But she was perfect to me. And to have her stuck behind the iron gates of Hell was more than I could stand.

Shameless self indulgence, Uncategorized, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Remorse, Amish, Ice Cream Shop

Ok, this one is not perfect by far, but I think we are getting closer to the 10 minute time commitment. This one took about 16 minutes (maybe 20 with last minute edits), and was based on the prompt “Remorse, Amish and Ice Cream Shop. Thanks and remember, it’s only fiction. :}

************************

What can I say? The Amish have always rubbed me the wrong way.

Maybe it’s the beards without the mustaches. Maybe it’s the straw hats. Maybe it’s the fact that they were slow to take to Harrison Ford’s character in “Witness.” Maybe it’s the outfit choices. Or the repressive religiosity.

Maybe it’s because they can so easily forego all the technology that I can’t live without, and that makes me feel bad about myself.

I mean, I can’t go more than 5 minutes without fidgeting at some app on my phone, and these guys are entertained for hours by the sight of wheat blowing in the wind.

I start climbing the walls when our internet service goes down during a storm, and Brother Jeddiah doesn’t even know how to Google the word “internet.”

But the most likely reason for my being less than a fan of the Amish would be that I am a very impatient driver, and it seems like every time I’m driving around town in my truck there is a buggy smack in the middle of the road.

I don’t know if this is an Amish custom or just my rotten luck, but it seems like I always get stuck behind some guy who just can’t quite find it in his old fashioned heart to ride the side of the road like a gentlemen.

Instead, he cheats out towards the center until he is about a third of the way into the lane, making it hard for me to pass him without getting over into the opposite lane. This makes me late. I don’t like to be late.

And I really hate to be late when my wife sends me out for ice cream, because my wife loves ice cream.  Crazy about it. No, seriously. Bat shit crazy about it.

If I don’t get to the Baskin Robbins and back to the house before her mint chocolate chip cone starts to melt, she’s going to give me hell.

And if there’s one thing I dislike more than a bunch of old timely revivalists living off the land and helping each other put up barns, it’s getting an earful from the wife about melted ice cream.

So when I’m in a hurry, and there’s a horse and buggy in front of me, I get stressed.

And when I get stressed. I start to panic.

And when I panic, I make bad decisions.

That’s is why I sincerely regret the actions I took on October 26, 2008, and ask the court’s forgiveness.