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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


The room was quiet but for the ticking of the clock on the bookcase, the humming of the furnace, and the rustling of Paul's newspaper. Outside the picture window, snow fell in lazy drifts, piling up around the bushes that lined the porch. Paul made a mental note to call the Jensen boy down the street -- the front walk would need shoveling again, and little Charlie was always eager to make an easy five dollars after a snowfall.

Paul chuckled to himself as he turned the page. Not so little anymore, that boy. Charlie had to be... what, thirteen, fourteen by now? Before him, it had been his brother Matt who had kept Paul's walk shoveled in the winters, but now Matt was away at college. Studying something with computers. He was a bright boy; hard worker, too. Paul figured Charlie would follow in his footsteps soon enough, going off to college to get some fancy degree. There were no more boys in the Jensen family, but Paul supposed he would worry about that when the time came.

The clock chimed softly, rousing him from his thoughts. Ten o'clock. Time for bed, that was. Paul folded up his newspaper, set it on the table by his chair, and stood up slowly. He walked over to the window, twitching aside the curtain to look out at the snow for a moment; then he turned around and left the room, switching off the lamp as he went.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Zack sighed as the last of his guests went hastily out the door. He walked into the dining room, and stared thoughtfully at the still-laden table before moving to extinguish the candles at its center. For all that he had had a reputation of throwing a classy dinner party, those candles probably weren't going to see use again any time soon.

Generally Zack prided himself on his social aplomb. He had only been working at his current place of employment six months, but already he had made a number of good friends there; and he still kept close with any number of companions from previous jobs, previous residences, even a few buddies from college. Just about every weekend he would put on a dinner party, and these affairs were always well-attended. People generally seemed to like Zack, or at least the face he presented in public. He liked being liked. He had always been an extrovert.

He picked up two of the plates from the table, carried them into the kitchen, and set them down on the floor. Then he went to the door of the laundry room. "You know, Rex," he called through it with a wry grin, "you could've waited until the party was over and everyone had gone home to start your dishwasher duties." He opened the door, and a good-sized mutt came bounding out, glad to be free again after its sudden imprisonment. Zack scratched its shaggy head, then laughed. "All right, boy, have at it," he said. The dog ran to the plates of food and enthusiastically began to root through them. Zack smiled, shrugged, and got to work cleaning up from the failed party.

Seriously, eww. Does anyone really let their dogs lick their dishes? That's both unsanitary and unhealthy for the dog.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Marissa sat behind the wheel of her car, idling in a parking space outside the post office. She nodded to old Mrs. Foster as the latter was walking towards the building's front door; then she bolted up in her seat as the front door flew open and a small form barrelled down the sidewalk, nearly plowing into the woman. Pete stopped just long enough to apologize before speeding up again. He was breathless and giggling by the time he had gotten into the passenger seat of Marissa's car.

"Peter," she said sternly, "What have I told you about being more careful? You could have hurt Mrs. Foster badly!"

Pete squirmed a bit, looking down at his dirty sneakers. "Sorry mom," he mumbled.

"Now, did you get the stamps? Let me have them." She held out her hand, then raised an eyebrow as her son giggled again. "...Pete..."

"Um," Pete said, and grinned. His right hand had been in his jacket pocket the whole time; now he removed it, revealing a fistful of something, which he gave her. "Here you go!" he added brightly, and then continued laughing.

Marissa stared bemusedly at the mass of stamps in her hand. She had given him three dollar bills, and asked him to buy as many stamps as he could out of the machine; apparently it would have been helpful to specify what kind she actually wanted.

Then she would not have wound up with three hundred one-cent stamps, all crumpled together in a vague coil by a giggling eight-year-old.

"That was fun," Pete exclaimed. "I wanna buy stamps again sometime!"

Um, hey, Brookins and/or Boggess. They still sell those. I've got a small pile of lickable one-centers on the shelf by my desk right now, purchased maybe a month ago from a vending machine at the post office. They have lampshades on them.

Just because a way of doing something is old does not mean that it is not still in use, even in today's crazy modern world.

Monday, November 27, 2006

15 Minutes

"I'm going to be late," Jerry moaned, plopping down on the curb and burying his head in his hands.

"Once every five years or so won't get you fired," his brother Bill replied philosophically, leaning against the side of Jerry's pickup. "Specially since you're only barely going to be late anyway."

Jerry looked up. "My pay'll be docked, though," he said morosely. "Fifty bucks, plus the repair bill, and me with Loretta at home wantin' to put in a new kitchen." He assumed his earlier position. "Knew I should've gotten the truck serviced."

"Look," reasoned Bill, "Ernie said he'd have the tow truck out in fifteen minutes, right? Now you're damned lucky to have broken down close enough to the shop that he can grab you so quick, so at least look at the bright side, huh? And fifty bucks isn't so much anyway."

With a heavy sigh, Jerry rose and kicked idly at one of the tires. "He said fifteen minutes when you called?"


"And how long's it been now?"

Bill looked down at his watch. "Six minutes."

Jerry slumped down on the curb again. "Loretta'll have my hide," he mumbled to himself.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


"Mooooooom!" screeched Nathan from the backyard. "Stevie's not playing right!"

"How do you know anyway, huh?" Stevie yelled back. "You don't even know how to play this game!" He took a swing at his younger brother with the mallet, then looked up as a sudden shadow fell over him.

Kat held out her hand. "Give it here, Steven," she commanded, anger snapping from her eyes. Meekly her son handed over the polo mallet, then glared at Nathan. "And Nathan," she added, turning to the other boy, "if you want to play a game, you have to agree on the rules before you start. Otherwise I'll just have to take it away from you."

Nathan dropped his own mallet and swiped sullenly at his nose. "Stevie just said we should play with the polo sticks an' then he started saying I couldn't do things with 'em," he grumbled.

"Well, that's why you have to have all the rules before you start," Kat answered more calmly, kneeling down between her sons. "I don't know the rules to polo either; I just found the set in the garage and thought we might want to play sometime. Your dad might know, so maybe we should wait until he gets home and then we can ask him, okay?"

"But we wanna play now!" Stevie interrupted, and then lowered his head as his mother cast a stern look in his direction.

Kat gently took Nathan's mallet from him. "I think we'll wait to play this until later, okay? I shouldn't have put it out here yet, I think." She set the mallets down and wrapped both boys in a hug. "Find something else to play for now, okay? Then maybe we'll all four play together when dad gets home. If not, we'll do something else fun. Deal?"

Nathan nodded. She turned to Stevie and smiled encouragingly. Finally he shrugged. "We can play tag for now, I guess," he said grudgingly.

"You're it!" Nathan yelled, and scampered away. Stevie was immediately off after him, and Kat gathered up the mallets and balls as the sound of their laughter filled the backyard around her.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quarter Horse

Leigh tugged at her mother's hand. "Look, mama, they put in a horsey ride," she exclaimed, pointing. "Can I ride it? Can I, mama?"

Judy sighed. The horse had been added to the row of coin-operated rideable sculptures next to the grocery store entrance, on the end by the battered old Dino the Dinosaur. Leigh had never expressed any interest in the old ones, which had been fine by her mother. The fewer frivolous expenses, the more of their meager funds were left for necessities. Still, maybe this one would be only a penny a ride, like the plastic tiger on the other side of Dino. Something like that would be easy enough to let Leigh have a turn on every time they went shopping.

She looked down at her daughter and smiled. "Let's see, then, shall we, love?"

Together they walked over to the horse, a garish pink-and-tan monstrosity that Judy was honestly surprised the girl didn't find terrifying. There, printed on the coinbox, was the legend "1 RIDE -- 50 CENTS". Judy sighed again, and squeezed her daughter's hand. "I suppose you can have a ride, dear, if you want. But only one, okay? We've still got groceries to buy, yet."

For a moment Leigh gazed longingly at the horse, then looked back up at Judy. "I promise, mama, just once. And then I'll never ask again!"

Judy closed her eyes. "Oh, love, I'm sure that won't be necessary. There will be other times you can ride it, okay? We can spare the money now and then." She smiled at the girl then, but the smile was brief, and trembled slightly.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- unfortunately I no longer have the slightest idea what the original comic was about. Judging from the tags I put on the post, grandparenting was involved... blah blah blah grandparents know how to count their blessings, given that those blessings are grandchildren? Bah. No clue.

Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

Brian waved energetically from the porch as the car eased down the driveway and headed off. "Bye, Grandma, bye, Grandpa!," he hollered. "See you next year! Love you! Byebye!"

"Okay, champ, I think that's enough," Tony chuckled, ruffling his son's hair. "They can't hear you anymore, but I sure bet all the neighbors can. Come on back inside, huh?"

"K," the boy replied cheerfully. He ran back inside, and Tony followed, carefully closing the door behind him. He could hear Brian chattering happily to Sue in the kitchen.

" -- and then Grandpa pulled a quarter out of my ear -- this one, right here, see -- " Brian held up the coin excitedly, though Sue gave it only a brief glance before going back to scrubbing a pan in the kitchen sink. "And he said it was magic, and that maybe he'd teach me how to do it sometime -- " He broke off as Tony came into the room, then headed off on another train of five-year-old thought with just as much gusto. "Daddy, how come we only see Grandma and Grandpa once a year? They're so nice, we should see them all the time!"

Sue paused briefly in her scrubbing, then set to it again. "Yes, dear, that's a good question," she said in a voice starting to fray around the edges. "Why is it, again, that we're only graced with your mother's presence once a year?"

Tony addressed his reply to Brian. "Maybe it's just to give you something to look forward to, kiddo," he said, then nudged the boy gently towards Sue. "How 'bout we help your mom with those dishes, huh? I'll wash, you dry, sound good?"

"Okay!" Brian chirped, pocketing his quarter again.

Tony tossed the boy a dish towel, then winked at his gratefully smiling wife. "And if you really want to be talking mother-in-law woes, then maybe I have a few stories to tell you, eh?" he joked, before taking up the dishcloth and going to work.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- it was something about how neighbors bake extra bread to give to each other or whatever. I don't remember anymore. Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

"Well, she is a bit off, isn't she?" Tammy said casually, leaning against the fence.

"I guess." Diane looked vaguely uncomfortable. "I mean, you're her neighbor, not me, so maybe you'd know better; only she seems an all right sort to me. A little quiet, maybe."

Tammy held up one finger. "And it's always the quiet ones," she said meaningfully.

"Er. That do what?"

"Don't know." Tammy shrugged. "That's the problem, you don't know until it's too late. If you even notice the warning signs at all."

"Oh." Diane nodded, hoping she would appear to know more about their conversation than she actually did.

"You know, she brought over bread yesterday?"


Tammy's eyes narrowed, and she nodded, more firmly than Diane had. "Said she'd baked three loaves of it fresh, and wanted to share with the neighbors. She probably took a loaf over to Jim and Mary too, over on the other side of her property."

"Erm. Who would have thought, eh?"

"Exactly!" Tammy smiled widely. "I knew you'd understand."

"I mean, bread and all," Diane added helpfully.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Bah, way to wreck one of the semi-autobiographical fics by skipping a week of archives, gocomics.com...

I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one. It was something about, like, there are a lot of commercials for denture cream and life insurance and stuff during the daytime soaps and gameshows and what have you. Thus, marketing. Plugger marketing, I suppose, since I tagged the post with comic.plugger tech.

Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

"Oh, dear, don't you remember?", Mother replied. "Today they're airing Marie's episode of The Price Is Right! You weren't going to the store just now, were you?"

Emma shifted the phone to her other hand. "No, I didn't remember that." She walked into the living room, grabbed the television remote and sat down on the couch. "I can wait until it's over to go."

"Well I should hope so!" Mother sounded so matter-of-fact that Emma had to smile. "Marie's only been wanting to meet Bob Barker for ages, and then when she finally got her ticket she was so excited -- "

"Did she actually meet him?" Emma answered distractedly as she flipped through the channels. "I mean, I don't think they do unless they actually get to go up and all."

"Well, no. But she said it was a thrill all the same. Are you watching it yet?"

"Mmm. Yes. I always know I've got the right channel when the commercials for scooters and Centrum Silver come up."

On the other end of the phone, her mother chuckled. "It's all about knowing your audience, dear. The only people who watch this show are children home sick and old women like Marie and me."

"Hey! Where does that leave me, then?" Emma replied, and they both laughed at that. Then a commercial for denture cream ended, to be replaced by one touting life insurance. Emma's laughter cut off quickly, and there was a pause for a few moments.

Finally Mother spoke up. "I know you still miss him, dear. Death is never easy to deal with, and when it's so unexpected it's even worse. But eventually the memories will stop hurting so much. You believe that, don't you?"

Emma closed her eyes. "I've certainly been told it by enough people," she answered quietly. "But I don't know what I believe anymore."

Silence then but for the rattle of cheerful game-show music; loudly, from Emma's own television set; and, more quietly, floating down the line, echoing as though from a very great distance.

Meh. Fairly obvious bit of fictionalized self-insertion here. Well, "write what you know" and such, I guess.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- it was something about how plugger health care premiums don't go up because for "plugger health care" you should actually read "band-aids and a kiss from mommy on your scraped knee", or something like that. Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

Helen looked over the paperwork and sighed. "The co-pays have gone up again, too."

"Cripes." Dan pulled out another of the kitchen chairs and sat down heavily. "How much?" Wordlessly she handed him the page, pointing at the relevant section. He winced. "Bloodsuckers. They just keep wanting more, don't they?" Then he set down the paper and sighed. "How's Joey doing?"

"Not too bad today," Helen answered quietly, eyes cast downward. "But you know, his prescription is coming up for refill again soon."

He nodded. "I know."

She looked up at him. "He's doing so much better with this medicine, Dan. Most days he says he hardly feels any pain at all."

"I know," Dan said again. Then he sighed. "I'll talk to my boss. Maybe he'll let me pick up some more hours. I mean, he said he couldn't before, but..."

"Explain it to him," Helen pleaded. "He'll understand, won't he?"

All Dan could do was shrug. "I hope so," he replied, and then was silent.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Price of Gas

"Gas is at two-thirteen at the Speedway," she commented as they drove past.

"Huh. Not bad. We'll have to fill up on the way back." He grinned a bit. "I remember when two bucks was a bad price for gas."

"I remember when one dollar a gallon was too much. At least for my mom. There was this one place in town where it was like 89 cents, and she'd only fill up there." She nodded mock-gravely. "It was an Arco."

"Good to know."

"Yep, very important fact there." Idly she rolled her window down a bit. "Of course, then at some point the price started going up -- I don't remember when, sometime in the middleish 90s -- and I think the one cheap Arco went out of business or something, and then mom just basically gassed up wherever looked cheap at the moment. Dad freaked out about the raised prices, though."

He glanced at her. "Your dad was kind of prone to freakouts, wasn't he."

"You could say that. I remember about when it was at $2.75ish -- the first time, if you will, since it isn't like that's such an extraordinary price anymore -- he started going around saying that it would hit five bucks a gallon soon." Her mood dimmed slightly. "He got really angry at mom when she disagreed. They wound up having another one of their fights." Then she shook her head. "I don't even know why I still remember that. It isn't like it matters anymore."

"Well, yeah. You won't have to worry about dealing with him anymore; you're halfway across the country from him now."

"True." She grinned crookedly. "And it wasn't even a bad fight, really. He didn't throw his gun through the window that time, or anything!"

Friday, November 17, 2006


The foreman coughed politely. "Need some help there, Murray?"

Murray felt his face go red, but he remained as he was, facing the door, head down so he could get a better look at his keys. "Nosir, Mr. Talbot. I know I've got the right key here; I'll find it any second now -- aha!" From the massive keyring he triumphantly held one key aloft, a huge silver-colored affair, worn and greasy with the use of years. "Sorry about that, sir, there's just so many keys to sort through that it... hrm."

Talbot frowned. "Problem?"

"Wrong key." Shamefacedly, he held the keyring even closer to his face, nervously aware of the seconds ticking by even as the key he sought continued to elude him. "There's just so many of them I need to have on me, you see, and so many of them look alike, and -- "

"Murray, your boss and I have been somewhat... concerned, lately," Talbot interrupted smoothly. "You've worked here for, what, fifteen, twenty years?"

Murray felt his throat tighten, but he answered as calmly as he could. "Twenty-three."

"Twenty-three. That's a long time to have kept up your janitorial duties, and you've generally performed admirably." Talbot paused slightly, then continued. "However, we have noticed lately that you appear to be having... difficulties."

Murray turned to the foreman in alarm. "Sir, if this is about that door I left unlocked last week -- "

Talbot shook his head. "No, no, it isn't just one thing; it's more a series of incidents, minor ones, certainly, but... they do add up." He coughed, then pointed to Murray's belt. "Is the key you need on your other keyring, perhaps?"

"Oh." Murray went red again. "I think it is, actually."

Talbot's hand came down on his shoulder, heavy, insistent. "As I said, your boss and I have been talking about your performance lately, and... I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."

"Oh," Murray said again.

"Perhaps there's something else on your mind lately, and that's what's got you distracted," Talbot went on, not letting go of Murray's shoulder. "We would certainly be willing to consider rehiring you in a year or so, if that is the case. And we've no hard feelings, you understand."

"Yes," Murray agreed.

"We just have to look out for the success of the company, you see?" Talbot gave him a brief, meaningless smile. "That's all."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Math Homework

Gerald smiled at Toby. "Got it now, kiddo? You borrow from the tens column, then subtract from the ones."

"Thanks, grandpa!" Toby took back his paper and pencil, then ran back to the kitchen. Gerald watched, still smiling, as the boy clambered carefully back up onto the tall chair, bending once more to the book spread open on the table. Smart lad. Not the smartest, certainly, but he took instruction well, if you exercised a little patience with him.

He had been sitting in one of the armchairs in the living room, reading the newspaper, when Toby had asked for help with his homework. Mina was sitting in the other chair with a small pile of mending; she was quiet, but they had been married long enough for Gerald to know that something was on her mind. "Nickel for your thoughts, dear?"

Mina glanced up at him, smiling slightly. "A whole nickel?"


"Mmm." She looked back down at the shirt she was mending. "Just thinking about Toby. He's almost eight, did you realize that?"

Gerald looked through the kitchen doorway at their grandson again. "Time does fly. I still remember when he was learning to walk." He grinned. "Remember the bowl of fruit he pulled down almost on his head, with the grapes -- "

Mina groaned, then laughed. "Yes, and I also remember finding grapes beneath the furniture for weeks afterwards!" Then she grew serious again. "He's growing up, Ger. But at the same time, we're growing old." She looked down at the shirt again. It was one of Toby's, bright red with a dinosaur emblazoned on the front. "He needs his father. Not us."

"Marcus has made it quite clear that he doesn't want to be a father," Gerald replied quietly, glancing towards Toby, who was still absorbed by his homework. "I talked to him again not too long ago. He says he still isn't ready." A pause. "That he still can't look at Toby without seeing Toby's mother."

They were both silent for a moment, and then Mina sighed. "I don't want to be rid of him; I love having him here. I love him, just as much as I loved Marcus when he was a boy."

"I know."

She folded Toby's shirt, gently smoothing the red cloth. "But all the love in the world won't give him what he needs. No matter how much we wish it could."

"I know," Gerald said again, morosely; and then, a third time, as if to himself. "I know."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


She was silent on the drive home, not even saying anything when he let go with an earth-shattering belch at the stoplight. "Damn good steak there," he added as commentary, but still she said nothing.

They pulled up in the driveway and got out of the car, and walked into the house, and he plopped down on the couch while still she said nothing; she only hung up their coats in the front closet.

Finally he seemed to notice her silence, and as she sat down primly on the other end of the couch, he gave a loud harrumph. "Somethin' wrong, dear?"

She did not look at him, but merely stared straight ahead. "Nothing much," she replied in a voice that was carefully measured, but still obviously strained. "Only that you positively mortified me in front of everyone in the restaurant tonight."

"What'd I do now?" he growled irritably; she flinched a bit, but went on:

"That shameful display of loosening your belt... in front of Reverend Shoney, even! You know his wife will be telling everyone about our family's 'poor manners' now!"

He nodded slowly. "Well, ayup, I reckon my belt couldn't hold out too well against that steak." Then his voice dropped. "But there is something else a belt is good for. You understand?"

She lowered her eyes quickly to the floor, and said nothing else. After a moment he nodded again. "You let me worry about my behavior, dear," he told her. "You just keep an eye on yours."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Sometimes I like to watch the TV without my glasses on. I know I shouldn't do it; certainly all the nurses say so, and Doctor Paul when he comes by. They say it's bad for my eyes, and maybe it is.

Only I've discovered the real reason they don't want me watching the TV that way. And it isn't my eyes at all, not really.

It's what I see.

Everyone here at the Home watching like normal, they see whatever the TV people want them to see -- the soaps, or some movie, or the commercial where the little talking lizard tells people to buy car insurance.

They see what's on the surface.

But I, I know to take off my glasses -- I'm very nearsighted, you see, so everything becomes all blurry -- and I know to take them off, and then to watch the TV. And I see such things. Such amazing things.

The first time I tried it, it was because I had managed to bend one side of my glasses, and they didn't sit on my face right. It was giving me a headache, so I tried watching with them off. And at first it was just like normal, "Mary Poppins" playing on the screen just like before, only all blurry since I couldn't see.

Only then I realized that it wasn't just blurs, that I was looking at a face, that there was a face on the screen, and the face was speaking, only I couldn't hear because the sound was still "Mary Poppins" plus Geraldine has these fits sometimes and she was having one then. But I could still tell that the face on the TV wanted to tell me something.

Something important.

Something just for me.

The more I watch the face -- when the nurses aren't around to tell me to put my glasses back on, because they don't want me to know about this -- but the more I watch it, the more I think I can almost understand what it's telling me. What it's telling me to do.

I think if I can just get everything else quiet, I'll be able to hear what the face is saying. I just have to get to the TV when no one else in the Home is watching it, and turn it down down down almost all the way, and listen carefully when everything else is silent.

It's hard to get everyone to be silent, because there's so many of us in here and some of us yell a lot and some of us don't really know what's going on anymore anyway, but I think I can make them be quiet. If I just make them, they'll be quiet. As quiet as I want them be, for a very long time.

I think that's what the face wants, for me to listen. For me to hear it.

For me to hear what it has to tell me.

The nurses still try to stop me, and Doctor Paul; "put your glasses back on, Emma," they say, "you'll ruin your eyes."

But I know what they're really up to. They want to keep me from seeing. And listening. Not that they can stop me.

Soon enough I'll finally hear what the face in the screen has to tell me. And no one will stop me.

No one at all.

Meta: I guess it was only a matter of time until I gave in and wrote something that aspires to be from the diary of a lunatic. It's either that, or read about poverty and desperation day after day, then saunter off to slit my wrists and draw animal-men on the bathroom walls in my own blood -- and I never was too good at drawing animal-men.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Marcus knew that it was ridiculous to get so flustered over his mother's coming to visit. It wasn't like he was still a teenager, living in her house and subject to utter embarrassment every time she came into his room while he had friends over. He was a perfectly respectable 32-year-old middle-manager, with his own apartment and a dependable late-model sedan. Still, the thought of having mom over for dinner brought him back to his childhood all too well. Didn't help that he wasn't used to it; usually, he came to visit her.

He did one last check of the bedroom, picking up a stray dirty sock that had managed to miss the laundry hamper. As he turned his attention to the living room, he decided that it would have helped if his apartment wasn't so sparse. He didn't have much, really: a bed, a desk, and a bookcase in the bedroom; a small couch and a single upright lamp in the living room; a smattering of dishes in the kitchen cabinets. A few random other items. Not a lot; certainly not enough to really make the place feel lived-in. He'd had mom over once not long after he moved in, and she had hinted strongly that the place could use the much-vaunted "woman's touch". Well, all that would have been nice, presumably, but in the interim he'd had to deal with what was rather than what he would have liked to be.

In the kitchen Marcus noticed the remains of his lunch by the sink. He threw away the empty box of "Mac'n Cheez" quickly, almost guiltily, and dumped the saucepan into the dishwasher without dealing with its congealed contents. Thing was heavy-duty; might as well put it through its paces. He surveyed the kitchen again, then nodded to himself. He might be unused to entertaining, but he could still put on a respectable enough showing. Maybe he'd even avoid being asked again when he was going to meet "some nice girl". Certainly he had already spent more than enough time asking it of himself.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


"Charlie, look!" Meg exclaimed. "The neighbor is moving our sprinkler to his side of the property line, again!"

Charlie grunted a noncommittal answer, not looking up from the television. After a moment the screen went dark, and he turned around in time to see his wife put the remote back on the end table.

"Didn't you talk to him about this?" she asked impatiently. "He can pay for his own water if he wants. We shouldn't have to put up with him stealing ours."

"Winter weather's just about set in," Charlie replied mildly; "in another week or two, there won't be any point in watering the lawn anymore, and then you won't have to worry."

Meg grimaced. "That's not the point, and you know it. Next spring he'll just be back to the same old trick, won't he -- not that you even care, apparently -- "

"Meg." Charlie's voice was still gentle, but firmer now. "The man's had a rough life, and it's ten bucks worth of water. We can afford it even if he can't." He moved to the other end of the couch, grabbed the remote, and turned the TV back on, more or less ending the conversation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blowin' In The Wind

Before Stu opened the door, he took a moment to smooth down his hair a little. Everyone knew perfectly well he was balding, of course; he had never been foolish enough to try to hide it, or God forbid, sport a comb-over. Still, what hair he had left was a bit on the long side right now, and with today as windy as it was, he had to be careful or else he'd wind up looking simply ridiculous.

He entered the building quietly, smiled and nodded at the receptionist behind her massive desk as he made his way to the elevators. Marshall was there already, and his square face cracked into a grin as Stu approached. "Heyyy, Stuart! I know that look... that's convertible hair! Finally gave in and had yourself a midlife crisis, huh?"

"If I did have a midlife crisis, I'd skip the convertible for a speedboat," Stu replied dryly. "I just took a walk around the building before work, is all, and it's windy."

Marshall chuckled. "Honestly, I don't know how you do it." The elevator doors opened, and he continued as they both stepped inside and Stu pressed 4. "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't partake in other substances -- not that anyone knows, at least," he added with a sly grin, "and you're still more well-balanced than anyone else I know."

"Maybe all that clean living is good for you after all, eh?"

"But boring," Marshall replied, shaking his head, "so very, very boring."

The doors opened on 4, and they both stepped out, just as Clyde from Accounts Payable was approaching. "Good morning, Marsh," he said amiably, "and Stuart, hey -- decided to commute with the top down today?" Marshall burst out into laughter, and Clyde blinked. "What'd I say?"

"Nothing," Stu grumbled in response, stalking off toward his desk. "Which is a damned good idea, so keep it up."

Meta: here is an approximate transcription of my thought processes regarding this post's title.

"I will
not make the obvious reference, I will not make the obvious reference, I will not make the OH DAMMIT FINE I GIVE IN"

And now you know.

Also, since the Houston Chron is a big mean jerk and doesn't have this day's comic up for some reason, I have had to fall back on the official Pluggers site. Ahh, grayscale lineart images presented as jpgs... where would the World Wide Tubes be without you?

Meta, as an update on 04/14/2010: the Houston Chron is a super-big mean jerk and doesn't have old Pluggers anymore, so the above is obsolete! I just figured I'd mention that as I slowly trawled through putting in images culled from gocomics.com.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"Hey, dad, what's with this penny?" Mark held up one of the coins from Anthony's wallet. "It's got these weird things on it. None of the other ones look like that."

Anthony took the penny from his son and looked at it. "Oh, it's one of these," he exclaimed. "They made pennies that looked like this, for a while. It's called a wheat penny; see, those things are stalks of wheat."

"Huh. Why'd they change it?"

Anthony exhaled sharply, shrugging. "Now, that I don't know, sport. I was never into collecting coins. My guess is that people just got tired of the old one."

Mark tilted his head. "Did they make them when you were a kid?"

"Well, no, I'm not quite that old," Anthony laughed. "Wheat pennies are from... I don't know, the 1940s, somewhere around there -- "

"This one says nineteen forty-seven," Mark interrupted.

"Well, there you go; that's long before I was even born. There were probably still a lot of them floating around in people's wallets, but really, when I was your age, money was for buying things with, not looking at."

"Joey at school showed me this penny once," Mark said with widened eyes, "and there was this Indian on it, with the, you know, the feathers in his hair and everything, even though Missus Frank the afternoon teacher says that they're not 'Indians', they're 'Native Mericans', and that they don't go around with feathers and teepees and all that stuff." He crossed his arms. "Joey says his penny's not a fake, but I think it is."

Anthony ruffled his son's hair playfully. "Actually, Joey's probably right, kiddo. Your great-grandpa had a couple of those in a box, and he showed me them once. With the feathers and everything." He smiled a little. "Granddad -- your great-grandpa -- he did like collecting coins. I think he wanted me to feel the same way, but I never did, any more than my dad did."

"They're kind of neat," Mark ventured.

"Yeah, they kind of are," Anthony agreed. He began putting the coins back in his wallet, then, though he made sure to hand the wheat penny back to Mark first.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Goes Around

Ben smiled briefly at the counter girl as she handed the coffee to him, but her attention had already turned to the next customer. Well, that's all right, he thought to himself, they are awfully busy this morning. It seemed like she had plenty of time to smile at the next guy as he ordered his fancy frappu-cappu-whatever, but what of it?

He grabbed a couple napkins and a coffee stirrer, then paused in the act of reaching for the sugar tray. He usually took his joe black with plenty of sugar... quite the sweet tooth had old Ben, as he would freely admit... but maybe he ought to give the sugar a miss this time. Or at least cut down on it a little. After a moment, though, he went ahead and dumped in his usual four packets, stirring thoroughly before putting the lid back on his coffee. He'd start cutting down tomorrow, maybe.

His usual morning routine was to buy a paper at the newsstand next door, grab his coffee here, and then sit at a table by the coffeehouse window, drinking and reading, before heading on to work. He had his paper and his coffee, but abruptly he turned and headed outside anyway. He knew everyone in the room couldn't really be giving him funny looks, and certainly nobody but him knew that he'd had to put a new hole in his damn belt just to be able to wear it today. Still. The pretty people could have his usual seat by the window this morning. Hell, maybe they deserved it more anyway.

Ben sipped at his coffee as he walked slowly back to his car. Maybe he'd quit the coffeehouse runs entirely, put that forty-five minutes every morning to better use. Start taking walks around the neighborhood. Take up gardening. Something like that. Anything to combat this nagging feeling that he was, in some way, not good enough; that he would have to atone in some obscure way in order to be worthy of a position in society. The feeling that he refused to admit, and that he pushed away even now, taking a long pull at his coffee and forcing his mind to more pleasant matters.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Laura placed the last pill on her tongue, lifted her water glass again, and then paused. "I' 'oday 'Eu'day?"

"Wednesday," Theo replied, turning the page of his paper. "Why?"

She sipped her water and swallowed. "Oh. I guess I'll have to take today's pills too, then."

Theo sighed, then folded up his paper again and set it back on the table. "Laura, you know what the doctor said about doubling up a day."

"Yes, yes. Doubling the blue ones might give me trouble sleeping; doubling the big yellow ones might give me a stomach ache; doubling the little yellow ones or the red ones will mess up some fancy chemical balance." She fumbled at the pill holder a few moments before getting the compartment labelled W to open. "But if I didn't take them every time I missed a day, I'd hardly be taking them at all."

"You're going to land yourself in the hospital again," Theo groused, but he picked up the newspaper again all the same. They had had arguments like this one before, and always he had eventually given up and let her have her way. She had always been stubborn, although her memory was less so.

"Getting old is awful," Laura commented, closing up the pill holder again.

Theo raised an eyebrow at her over his paper. "You're only thirty-six."

"So?" she replied, putting her hands to the small of her back and stretching. "Tell that to my battery of medications."

"She's only thirty-six," Theo solemnly informed the pill holder, before going back to his paper.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Baby On Board

Samantha made a tsk noise. "You're spoiling him, you know," she told her mother as the two of them continued to fold laundry. "Every time we come to visit, he gets a new toy or some more of those trading cards. That can't be good for him in the long run."

"Oh, maybe not," Ellen replied, grinning slyly. "But as I recall, you didn't complain when Pappa Joe took you riding on his dirt bike every time we visited him." She pulled another towel from the basket, then merely held it. "Grandparents always spoil their grandchildren. That's our job."

"Seems like I get the harder job, then," Sam grumbled. "This is punishment for all those times I disobeyed you, right? I bet Billy gets a drum for Christmas one of these years. To get me back for all those times I filched from Dad's liquor cabinet when I was in high school."

Ellen whooped with laughter. "You what? Oh, I never heard about that!" She patted her scowling daughter on the arm. "Oh, dear, your father and I had to be the bad guys for all the time you were growing up. We told you where you couldn't go, and what you couldn't do, and who you couldn't do it with. Now that you've taken over that job, we get to kick back and have a little bit of fun." She finally folded up the towel she had been holding, and set to work on another one. "You and Brian will feel the same way when Billy's grown up and has children of his own."

Sam's mouth twitched. "You're awfully cheery about it being such a vicious cycle."

"Of course, dear," Ellen replied demurely. "I get to deal with the nice part of the cycle now."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

In Motion

Tense silence reigned for a few minutes, and then she blinked. "You know, I think you're right," she said thoughtfully. "I remember that tree from the last time we were here... up on the right in a bit there should be..."

"That old barn that burned down," he agreed. "And they never tore out what was left, so it wound up all overgrown with honeysuckle."

"Oh!" She pointed through the windshield. "Yes, there it is!"

He chuckled. "I told you I remembered it was down this road. I've got my bearings, now; it's about ten miles more this way, not long before you cross the creek." A rueful smile crossed his face. "You would not believe how many hours I spent by that creek when I was a kid... every time we came this way to visit my grandparents, I'd be out there swimming or catching frogs or just watching clouds..."

"Sounds like it wasn't your grandparents you were visiting," she said with a grin, and he laughed and nodded his agreement. As he drove on, she continued, "So it was a nice place, the creek?"

"Nicest little garden spot I've ever seen in my life. Shaded by these massive trees; cool even in August, and the water as clear as air, so you could see the fish plain as day, even if I never did catch any when I tried. Hey," he exclaimed, turning to her briefly, "why don't we go there and you can see for yourself? We've got time. It's the most beautiful place you'll ever see, and it's -- " He stopped. "What?"

She was shaking her head. "I'm sure it was a wonderful place, dear, but..." She hesitated. "My friend Mabel, her son works as a highway patrolman, usually right along this very road. He told her that the paper mill had an accident a few years ago. Flooded the rivers with all kinds of chemicals." She rested a hand briefly on his arm. "Apparently not much of anything'd be growing by that creek anymore."

"Oh." Silence again for a few moments. "Well, that's... that's a shame. A real damn shame."

"I'm sorry, dear... I'd thought you would have already known."

He sighed. "I guess it's just been so long since I was down here except for quick visits... I just never thought about how long it'd been." Then he shrugged. "I guess it's to be expected, though. That's how life is. Nothing ever stays the same for very long."

Friday, November 03, 2006


"You're insane!" Anne shouted. "You just got home from that mudhole, and now you want to go back?"

"I don't want to go back," Gary replied, jaw set obstinately. "And it's hardly a mudhole."

She threw her hands up angrily. "Fine. I guess you're right; calling it a mudhole would be assuming there was any damn water, when it's actually nothing but desert." She turned away, arms crossed. "That's not the point, anyway."

Gary sighed. "See, this is why I waited to tell you until after I told everyone else. Even my wife didn't put up this much of a stink about it. You're my sister and I love you, but I have made up my mind about this."

He thought that when Anne turned around again, it would be with tears in her eyes, her anger giving way to sadness. But no, they were still dry. Hard. He supposed he should have known better; she had never been given to sentimentality.

"You want to be the big hero, and I get that," she told him. "But you've been to Iraq already. You've done it. Why go back now, if they're not asking you to?"

"Because if I go, that's one less other guy that needs to. And what if he's got his own family? Kids that depend on him to feed and clothe them? Mary's got her own career, and we never had children." Gary shrugged. "I can't risk dooming some stranger to death and knowing that I put his kids one step closer to being orphans."

"And if that means dooming yourself to death?"

He shrugged again. "It's my choice, isn't it?" Anne made no reply, but still he nodded, as if agreeing with himself.

* With all the stoploss measures currently in place in Iraq, I don't know that they're actually letting anyone go home for good anymore. A few years ago, though, I knew someone whose close friend served a term in Afghanistan, then turned around and enlisted to help relieve forces in Iraq not long after. His friends and family were not entirely pleased with his decision, but he figured he was just a single guy livin' the military life, so he might as well help take the pressure off the poor saps who actually had wives and kids to spend Christmas with. That's what this particular vignette is inspired by, along with the usual Plugtasticness.

Edit 12/22/2007: I'm going through tagging old posts, and I just noticed that I named a guy Gary and his wife Mary. Whoops.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


"Well, it isn't like I have any war stories to tell," Harry cautioned his grandson. "I was only a boy then -- World War II ended just three days before my twelfth birthday, in fact." He smiled at the memory. "When I was your age, though, it was still going on, and oh, how I wished I was old enough to be a part of it. The excitement, the glamor, the chance to see foreign countries and commit brave and daring acts of courage... we all thought that was what war would be like, me and my friends. Sure, Tommy's older brother had been drafted, and from the letters he sent home, it wasn't nearly as wonderful as all that. But we still dreamed."

Matt's eyes were wide. "Did his brother die?"

"Well, yes," Harry replied with a laugh, "but not just then. He served a tour of duty in England, came safely home again, and died in bed at the age of seventy-four. No, the families in our neighborhood were mostly lucky. Only old Mrs. Haversham's son didn't make it home, and that only because of an accident. He never actually saw combat at all."

"So what was it like growing up during the war?" Matt asked.

"It was," Harry said, and stopped. He thought for a moment. Finally, "Different," he began again, and smiled as the boy settled in to listen to his story. "It was different."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Chelsea looked again at the bill in her hands, but the number at the bottom remained distressingly large. "That much, huh?" she said unhappily, setting it down again on the counter.

"Fraid so," the mechanic replied. He was a huge, burly man, the type that usually made her want to clutch her purse tighter and walk a little faster, but the almost tiny set of wireframe glasses on his face somehow robbed him of menace. His eyes had also not once dipped below her collar when they spoke, which put him light-years ahead of her usual mechanic.

"Is there anything on here that's... I don't know, non-vital?" Chelsea glanced at the itemized estimate again. "With my husband still overseas, and the kids to take care of, and the house needing work..." She forced herself to stop. No sense forcing a complete stranger to listen to all her troubles; he probably had enough of his own, and though he looked sympathetic, he was still shaking his head.

"Your transmission is more or less completely shot, and it looks like the radiator is about to go too. Which is not to mention a half-dozen other, smaller problems, that are gonna turn into big problems if you don't nip 'em in the bud now." He wiped his hands on a rag and shrugged. "I can ignore those things if you really want, but somewhere down the line it's going to cost you even more."

"Wait, wait." Chelsea pointed out a line to him. "'Body work'? Can't we leave that off?"

The mechanic chuckled a little. "You could, I suppose, but all that line actually means is that I'll plug up the holes in the floor of your car."

She handed the bill back to him and nodded firmly. "Forget the holes. I'll just buy thicker floormats."