10/14/10: Way to shame me into updating again by commenting, people who comment! (Seriously, though, hi, welcome, and pull up one of the splintery old orange crates that we use for seating 'round these parts seein' as we can't afford no fancy chairs.)

The rules from
here still apply.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Senior Discount

Louis enjoyed the movie -- one of those lighthearted comedies, the type that his wife deplored as being without substance -- somewhat less than he would have usually. On the drive home he was thoughtful almost to the point of missing a stop sign on one of the back roads behind the theater. He was still moody when he came in the front door.

"Welcome home, sweetie," Angela called from the kitchen. "How was your movie?"

He followed the sound of her washing dishes, grabbing a towel from the shelf to help dry them as he answered. "It was all right. Funny. You wouldn't have liked it."

She wrinkled her nose. "Well, no, I suppose I just don't see physical comedy as being all that funny." Pausing to hand a soapy plate to him, she added, "I mean, if people think that being slapped around is so hilarious, maybe someone should do it to them."

Louis laughed briefly. They both proceeded to work in silence for perhaps a minute, her washing, him drying, until abruptly he said "I'm old, aren't I, Angie."

Angela dropped her hands into the dishwater and sighed. "Of course you're old. You're sixty-seven. I'm old too." She took the towel from him and dried her hands off, giving him a sympathetic look. "Did some college kid treat you like an old granddad again, dear?"

"Ticket seller at the theater gave me my senior citizen discount without my having to ask."

She chuckled. "You know, as consequences of aging go, that's really not that bad."

Smiling a little, Louis replied, "No, when you put it that way, I suppose it isn't."

Monday, October 30, 2006

One Hour

His internal clock woke him, as usual, after eight and a half hours; it was never off more than ten minutes, one way or the other. Decades of work at the same nine-to-five had trained him that way. On top of his eleven PM bedtime, it didn't tend to leave him that much time to get ready before starting his commute. Once a year it was even insufficient to get him to work on time, and he had to either schedule a rare day off to save himself the trouble, or set his alarm.

Of course, by the same token, once a year it left him with an extra hour to savor, all his own.

He stepped out onto the porch with his coffee. It was cold, of course, late October was always a cold time of year, but he was bundled up in a warm sweater, even if his feet were still clad only in slippers. He also, of course, had his coffee. A miniature heater in an old chipped mug.

Leaning on the porch rail, he sipped slowly at the coffee, his eyes moving slowly around the neighborhood. Most of the fall colors were starting to fade from the city's trees by now, but for some reason his block always seemed to stay bright just a little longer. The Hendersons' oaks flamed crimson red; the birches and maples and ash trees next door blazed a dozen colors from achingly vibrant gold to nearly purple. His own lawn was smooth grass, treeless. He found that most of the year, a tree was too much work to maintain, to clean up after and kept trimmed away from eaves and powerlines. And when fall came, the neighbors provided more than enough foliage to dazzle his eyes. The commute all the way into the city was worth it, just to be able to have this all around him for a few weeks out of the year. Glorious.

Eventually his coffee was finished, and his precious free hour nearly up. He stretched and yawned momentarily, then took one last look around the neighborhood. Soon enough the trees would be skeletal and bare, of course, all their leaves shed, all semblance of life gone. Then would come another spring, and summer, and not nearly soon enough, another fall. The same old cycle that had gone on since long before he had ever been born, and would continue to go on long after he died, but -- for now -- belonged, just the tiniest bit, to him.

"See you next year," he murmured, smiling a little.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Empty Nest

They ate in silence for a while, the only real sound the clinking of their forks on their plates. Finally Myra looked up. "It was so nice to have Billy visit us today," she began tentatively.

"Nice," Fred echoed. "It's always nice when any of the kids visit."

"Yes," Myra answered, nodding vigorously. They were both silent again, until she added, "A pity he couldn't stay for dinner, though."

Fred shrugged. "He's a busy man, Myra. I mean, between his work and his wife and children..."

"Oh, I know, I know," Myra replied quickly. "I wouldn't want to impose on him, after all."



Fred sighed. "Our children are grown up now, dear," he said quietly, not for the first time. "They just don't have time for us anymore."

"Mmm." She sighed as well, then set down her fork. "I suppose it will be leftovers again for dinner tomorrow night."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Number Please

"Gah!" Susannah slammed the phone back into its cradle. "This phone menu was designed by Satan himself!"

Eddie glanced up from his book at her. "You really think that's all he's got to do with himself these days? I mean, on the grand scale of evil, 'confusing phone menus' probably doesn't rate all that high..."

"No, you don't understand," she answered. She sat down next to him on the couch and covered her eyes. "The sheer byzantine nature of this particular menu boggles the mind. In fact, I think to properly nagivate it one would have to go completely mad. The sacrifice of one's sanity to open the gates of understanding, if you will."

Eddie burst into laughter, and then quieted in response to her mock-glare. "It can't be as bad as all that," he said, setting his book down. "Just hit whatever option it is to talk to a live person, and then ask them for what you want."

Susannah pointed to the phone. "You think it's that easy? Try it."

"Okay, okay," he laughed, walking over to the phone and picking it up. "What's the number?"

Susannah recited it to him, and he punched it in and began listening to the menu. She then watched with some measure of amusement as he began entering the occasional menu option, his expression going from attentive to confused to shocked. Finally he hung up and joined her back on the couch.

"You're right," he said to her. "It was designed by Satan himself."

"Told you so," Susannah answered.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Richard pulled aside the living room curtain slightly. Yep, there she was, a half-hour late, as usual. For all that she claimed to love visiting with him, she certainly did take her time showing up.

She pulled her car up into the driveway, barely missing his petunias on the way up, and parked by the garage. Then the car doors opened, revealing both of the car's occupants. Perfect. His irresponsible daughter and his bigshot lawyer son, both in one visit. Definitely not a good sign. He let the curtain drop and walked slowly to the front door to let them in anyway.

"Hey, dad," Ellie said brightly, swooping in like a miniature hurricane as usual. She hugged him briefly before going to hang up her coat. Brad was more reserved, merely smiling and offering a polite handshake and a "You look well, dad" on his way in. Richard shut the door behind them, offered them a drink (which they both declined), and lowered himself down in his armchair to wait out whatever bad news they'd come to drop.

Brad began first, after a meaningful look from his sister. "You're probably wondering why we're both here today, dad," he started. "It's just that we're -- "

"You're both getting tired of having to drive all the way up here to check on dear old dad, and figure it'll be easier if you can drop me in a nursing home and be done with it, right?" They looked surprised and guilty, and Richard chuckled humorlessly. "Don't think I haven't noticed the signs. You've been thinking of this for at least a year." He pointed an arthritic finger at Ellie's purse. "I'm sure you've got a stack of brochures in there to show me, don't you?" She blushed, which was all the answer he needed. He chuckled again.

"Well, yes, sir, we have been worried about you lately," Brad answered. Calm and collected again, Mr. Bigshot Lawyer ready to argue his case. "I mean, three times in the last month alone, you've called one of us to say that you can't find your keys or your glasses..."

Richard snorted. "Everyone loses things. Doesn't take being old and senile to do that."

"Still." Brad looked levelly at him. "We care about you, dad, but we can't keep caring for you this way. I've got my practice, and Ellie's got her own family to look after. It's an hour's drive here for either of us, and as you get older you're going to start needing more and more help... help we just can't give you if you're living in this house all by yourself."

Ellie reached out and put her hand on Richard's. "We're just worried about you, dad."

Richard pulled back sharply. "I don't need your worry. Or your pity -- just because I'm old doesn't mean I'm helpless, dammit -- or even some goddamn geezer hotel. I'm perfectly fine on my own, always have been, always will be." He folded his arms and glared at them both in turn. "So you can just save your meddling and your planning my life for me. I may be nearly seventy now but I'm still your father, just as much as I was when you were both growing up, and if I say that I'm perfectly self-sufficient, then that means that I'm -- "

"You're not any such thing," Ellie snapped back. "You're just proud. And pride will do you a fat lot of good if you fall on that damn sidewalk some December and break your leg. Again."

Brad looked positively mortified, but Ellie just pulled the rest home brochures out of her purse and slapped them down on the coffee table. "Your choice, dad. Pride or common sense." Then she rose to her feet. "Let's go. He doesn't need our help making any decisions, apparently."

They let themselves out, leaving Richard alone to stare moodily at the pile of brochures.


"Daddy? Did you like to go camping when you were little?"

Mike chuckled. "Well, I wouldn't really call this camping," he answered, glancing back maybe twenty feet at the house. "But yeah, I loved camping. I wanted to be in the Scouts, but I never did get to join, so most of the time it was just me and your uncle Steve."

Angie was sitting on a rock by the fire he had built for them, swinging her legs back and forth. The marshmallow on the end of her stick was looking pretty blackened by this point, but she looked more interested in his stories than in marshmallows. "Did you get to go far away from your house, daddy?"

"Oh yeah." He sat down next to her on the rock and stirred the fire with a branch. "Steve's house was right by some woods that his parents owned, and we would go out there and set up our tent and tell each other ghost stories. The woods weren't too big, but once or twice we probably went nearly a half-mile before finding a good spot." He gazed into the fire for a few seconds. "It made us feel grown-up, being out there all alone like that."

"Weren't your mommies worried you'd get hurt?" Angie asked. "Mommy won't let me go where she can't watch me, ever!"

Mike smiled. "They were worried some, I guess. But I think it's different with little boys. They're meant to go play rough and get scratched up a little bit sometimes."

Angie put down her stick (the marshmallow at the end now reduced to a lump of carbon) and looked at him with wide eyes. "But I like going out in the backyard and playing and camping, too! I don't want to stop just because I'm not a boy!"

"Well, sweetie, I don't know," he answered slowly. "I guess when you get older you'll just... kind of stop wanting to play in the woods."

She pouted. "But you never did. You still like playing in the woods with me, even if you do tell mommy that you're just here to make sure I'm okay." Mike laughed at that, and she frowned. "It's true!"

"It is true, and that's why it's funny. And," he added in a lower voice, "you probably shouldn't tell your mom about it, okay, Angie?" She looked confused for a second, then understanding flashed across her face and she giggled. "Most little girls just stop wanting to sit around campfires with their dads when they get older. That's just how it is, I think."

"Well, I'm never going to stop. I'm going to play camping with you in the backyard forever, daddy. Right?"

He smiled again, but much more briefly this time. "Sure, honey. Forever."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Garage (Or The Lack Thereof)

Charlie had taken the day off to do some work around the house, and was now on hour two of trying to get the door between the living room and the guest bathroom to hang straight. When his wife came home he was thankful for the interruption. "Hey, welcome back, sweetie," he called, dusting off his hands. "Did you get the tarp over the car okay?"

"Yeah, it's on there," Deborah answered, setting her keys and purse down on the couch. "If it gets much windier we might have to weigh it down with something, but the weatherman didn't say there would be too much wind tonight. Just lots of rain."

He nodded, still eyeing the door. "I'll fix that hole in the carport tomorrow after work, if I get a chance."

"Mmm. Don't worry about it too much; you can't fix it while it's raining anyway." She kicked off her shoes, then walked over to join him. "Door's still giving you trouble?"

"It's this damned crooked doorway," he answered. "It looks straight, but there isn't actually one right angle in the whole thing. I think whoever added the bathroom onto the house must have been stoned stupid."

Deborah chuckled. "We could always hang a bead curtain up instead of a door. Could even light the bathroom with a lava lamp."

"Classy." Charlie sighed. "I'm thinking of leaving this until I've fixed everything else first. The leaky faucet in the kitchen, and the wasps' nests by the porch, and the broken railing on the stairs, and the agitator in the washing machine..."

"And the hole in the carport."

"And the hole in the carport, yeah."

She put a hand on his arm. "Hey, don't get so down. This kind of thing just comes with home ownership, you know?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Just seems so impossible to keep up with sometimes, is all." He smiled at her. "So, you can see how my day's been. How was yours?"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dear Diary

It was an old, old habit of hers; so old, in fact, that it had long since passed into tradition, and then into ritual. She would brush her teeth and wash her face, dress for bed, and then open up her diary to record the events of her day. Ever since her tenth birthday, she had been doing it. There was a box up in the attic full of old diaries, a new one started on every birthday since then. If she filled up one before the year was out, she added entries on notebook paper until the next birthday, and the next fresh volume. Tradition. Ritual.

Tonight she began as she always did, taking a deep breath and clearing her mind as she opened the book. "Dear Diary," she wrote, and then paused. There was always the question of what to include, and what to leave out. Some days it was fairly obvious what needed noting, but not always; the most mundane, uneventful things were, after all, what made up the flavor of a life. Whatever random details she chose to write today would be her only record of what it had been like to live this day. Years later she might look back on tonight's entry, and wonder at who she had once been. She already did so with the old volumes, dozens of them, stretching back to distant childhood. The words would be as immutable as if written in stone when that time came.

These thoughts were not new to her, of course, and as always they helped to provide focus for her memories of the day. A brief smile moved across her face as the entry took shape in her mind. She gripped the pen tighter, took another deep breath, and then, once more, began to write.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Meta: Sundays.

I read Pluggers off the Houston Chronicle comics page, because it is awesome. They have Pluggers on there running back to at least early 1999. After reading back so many years in one sitting, though, I had to stop and go do something else, lest the malaise overtake me entirely. My point is: the Chronicle's online comics page is awesome, and the links at the top of each plugfic post won't expire a month after they're posted.

The drawback in this case is that the Chronicle doesn't have Sunday Pluggers. The official site does, but not the Chron. On reflection, I have decided to take this day of the week off as well, which means no plugfics on Sundays. Perhaps I will use the day to talk about other Plugger-related matters! Or perhaps not. It truly is a mystery.

See you Monday, my as-yet-theoretical readership!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


When Dale came home that night, he could immediately tell that something was wrong. It wasn't any one thing that told him; more a combination of the odd quietness of the kids, the strained quality of his wife's words. It took him a few minutes, though, to realize that he was to blame.

He came into the kitchen, lugging along his cooler. "Look, honey, I know I said I'd mow the lawn today..."

"Yes, you did," Joyce replied tersely, not looking up from the vegetables she was chopping.

"And I realize it could really use a mowing..."

She glanced at him briefly. "Rained four days in the last week. I'd sure say it could use a mowing, before it gets high enough to lose children in."

"But," Dale went on, "today was the only day this month that Larry could get free to go fishing. He's my only brother, Joyce, and I don't get to see him all that much, and..."

Joyce looked up at him again, one eyebrow raised. "And?"

"And... to be honest, all the rain lately meant that the fish were biting like crazy," he finished sheepishly.

She glared at him, then went back to chopping, not saying anything. Finally he sighed, picked up the cooler full of fish, and quietly exited the scene.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Tuna Breath

Edna lowered herself into the armchair, uttering a little sigh as she did so. It was raining outside, with cold winds gusting occasionally and playing about the eaves; a good enough night to sit in a warm room after a long day. She closed her eyes and sat calmly for a few moments, smiling a little. Then her eyes flew open as something furry landed on her feet with an ungraceful THUMP.

"Well, hello to you too, Mittens," she said to the cat, who merely gazed back at her through slitted eyes, purring. "I guess you've had a long, busy day too, hmm?" Edna settled back into the chair again. "So many mice to catch; so many naps to take. Oh, and baths. Those are especially important, aren't they?"

Mittens stretched, then curled up on Edna's feet and continued purring. They both sat like that for a few minutes, and Edna turned her attention back to the sound of the rain outside. She was glad she'd finally gotten the garage cleaned out enough to fit the car inside; its roof leaked, and if it were in the driveway in this mess, its seats would be positively swampy by tomorrow morning. Another thing to feel accomplished about. Today had been a productive day.

"And now," she said to the cat, "I'm afraid it's time for me to get off to bed. That does mean you'll have to move, I'm afraid." Edna wiggled one foot in emphasis, and Mittens responded by rising up and jumping into her lap. "No, no," Edna laughed, pushing the still-purring animal away. "Get away from me, you silly creature, you've got tuna breath."

Mittens plopped to the floor, looking vaguely offended, and then stalked off to the kitchen. Edna chuckled again, but quietly. Then she went to bed, and fell asleep to the sound of the wind outside.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Boxer

Teeth brushed, hair combed, and clothes donned, Henry took the quick drive over to Millie's Diner. He would stop in for a cup of coffee and maybe a danish, then head off to work at the plant, same as every morning. It was a quiet life, but at least a predictable one.

"Henry!" the waitress exclaimed as he entered the diner. "I was starting to think you weren't coming by today!"

"Well heck, Brenda," he answered, "Where else am I gonna get coffee half this good?" He took his usual seat at the counter, settling himself down carefully on the slightly-wobbly stool. "Speakin' of which, a cup of your finest, if you don't mind?"

Grinning, Brenda shook a finger at him. "I keep telling you to stop with that flattery, mister. I may be on to your tricks, but the other girls may not be so lucky." She set the coffee down in front of him. "Just don't know what we're going to do with you."

"Just keep serving up the coffee and I don't think you'll have to worry about anything else," he replied, chuckling. She smiled back, then set to work cleaning up the remains of someone else's breakfast at the other end of the counter.

Henry drank his coffee slowly, savoring it -- it wasn't really that good, as coffee went, but he still came here for it five days a week. Mainly he just liked the chance to talk to someone who wasn't another guy down at the plant, or old Mr. Winters at the grocery store. All his old high school friends had gotten married eventually, becoming wrapped up in their family lives. Henry, though, had never been much with women, and so as the old gang settled down, he still continued on more or less alone. Now here he was pushing fifty, and his only friends were the waitresses at Millie's.

He drained the last of his coffee. Brenda was busy with another customer, so on his way out he left his payment on the counter, along with his usual generous tip. Brenda was his favorite waitress here; not pretty, but young and sweet and generous to a fault. He hoped her father was proud of her. Henry certainly would have been proud to have raised such a fine girl.

The truck started on the second try, and Henry continued on to the plant to put in another day's work. Then it would be home to the empty house, and a quick dinner, and a night of sleep before he got up to do it all over again. It wasn't in his nature to be unhappy, but he still heaved a sigh as he was pulling into the plant parking lot.

"I hope Brenda does better than I did," he thought to himself, not for the first time. "She shouldn't have to get old and then find herself all alone. She shouldn't have to be lonely."

He eased the truck into an open space and cut the ignition. For a moment he only sat there, gathering his thoughts. Then he squared his shoulders, stepped out of the truck, and prepared to face another day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Successful Marriage

Sarah laid the recipe cards back on the counter. "What do you mean, 'I cook both of them great'? Don't you care what I make tonight? At all?"

"Nope, don't care at all," Al replied, before recognizing her deceptively calm demeanor. "I mean -- aw, honey, you know I don't mean it that way -- "

"What way?" Sarah began furiously stuffing the cards back into her recipe file, then slammed the lid shut. "What way did you mean it, then, huh? That you just don't care? That no matter what I cook, that no matter what I do, it'll never be as good as your mother?" She glared at him. "Is that it?"

Al covered his eyes with one hand. "Now come on, sweetie, you know that isn't what I meant to say... I just meant that you can... you can make whatever you want for dinner. Really." He offered her a smile. "Whatever you want."

Sarah nodded curtly. "Fine. What I want," she said, stalking into the living room, "is to go out." She came back into view through the kitchen door, purse on her shoulder and keys in one hand. "I'll be back later tonight. Or maybe not. If you want dinner, you can go ask your mother to cook for you." And with that she was gone, not even bothering to slam the front door behind her.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Road Less Paved

"Hey, there's Earl!" Dave's trademark grin was plainly in evidence as he waved wildly at his brother's approaching car. "What did I tell you, Jim? He's even almost on time this year! It's a Fourth of July miracle!"

Jimmy shrugged. "If you want people to show up on time, you could try living on an actual road." He snaked a couple of beers out of the old cooler, and tossed one to Earl as the latter man exited his car and came up onto the porch. "With, you know, paving. Maybe even a streetlight if you're feeling dangerous."

"What was wrong with that last place you were livin', Davey? That split-level with the woods out back?" Earl cracked his beer and took a large swig. "That was a hell of a house."

The grin was completely gone from Dave's face now. "Yeah, it was a great house. Great little house. Plenty of room for the kids to grow up, and... But it was just time to move on, you know? This place isn't bad. It's smaller, but it's not so bad."

"Well, hell," Jimmy replied, quickly changing the subject. "Right now we've got a barbecue to get started, am I right, fellas?" He kicked at the box by his feet. "And I'll bet your kids are looking forward to setting off some of these fireworks tonight, eh Dave?" He clapped the other man on the shoulder. "This is a damn fine house you moved into, buddy. I'm sure your family's gonna be real happy here."

"Real happy," Earl echoed. "It ain't fancy things that make people happy anyway."

"Yeah." Dave smiled a little, without much humor. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."

"Though they probably help," Earl added blithely, and Jimmy cringed.

Early To Rise

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She sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, alarm clock in one hand, and tried putting aside her weariness long enough to think. Finally she sighed and began to wind the clock. "I think we can sleep in until 5:15," she said, mainly to herself. He was already solidly asleep, a snoring lump beneath the blankets. Probably had been for the better part of an hour.

The clock set, she returned it to the nightstand, sighing again. Here it was nearly 9:30 already, and her only just getting to bed, a long day of chores finally done and another ahead of her tomorrow. 9:30 and her still awake yet, and probably an hour or more before her aching back eased off enough to let her sleep. And all the while he slept peacefully, that man, that worthless man she had for some reason married --

No. No point thinking about any of that now.

No point at all.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Meta: About.

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There are many fine blogs that discuss newspaper comics, either in aggregate or one strip at a time. You have your Comics Curmudgeons and your Big Al'ses (Al's-es?) in the former category. You have your Blather 'Bout Burl and your Crap Every Time in the latter.

I don't know that anyone's yet doin' this with Pluggers, and so that's where I come in.

On first sight, this daily one-panel offering may seem simple and down-to-earth; you've got ordinary folks, represented as animals for some reason, going about their lives, with all the ups and downs that entails. The strips are "written" by the readers themselves, who send in comments and suggestions to be illustrated by one Mr. Gary Brookins. It's all about the simple, the down-to-earth, the ordinary, the mundane, held up to the light to glean a chuckle from the audience -- that "80 percent of humanity who unceremoniously keep plugging along, balancing work, play and family life."

But then you read a few of them in a row and come to realize that apparently a plugger's life is incredibly depressing.

I find myself fascinated by this comic, and by what it says about its subject matter. These are real folks, accept no substitutions. They're by turns cheerfully anti-intellectual, a touch conservative and nuclear-family-centric, "charmingly" rustic or gently confused. They're overworked, underpaid and always on the verge of going under. To quote from the unlikely source of a radio commercial in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, "This is real America -- drunk, proud, and unemployed." The only thing that's missing is the drinking, and what's to stop them from doing that off-panel? Surely in whatever crazy world they live in, even a bear can buy liquor if he's over 21.

That's basically where I'm going with this blog. Every day I plan to take a gander at the newest Pluggers, and every day I plan to write a short bit of commentary on it. I'm hoping to come through with a short piece of fiction inspired by each comic, because A) I don't know that anyone else is doing this, and B) I once considered myself something of a writer, but in later years I have gotten sorely out of the habit of actually writing. And so here we are.

I may go back and edit all up in this thing later with more information or an FAQ or something, but for now, I think the above is more than enough to get started with.