Tales from the Cubicle

*thunder and organ music*

Gather round, boys and GHOULS, for I bring you DOUBLE the frights in tonight’s chilling tale: “Terror in Team Room 5.”


It seemed like such a normal day. The sky was overcast, and the air was warm, but not too warm. It was more of a cuddle than a scalding. I had done a great deal of work that day, I made a drawing I can’t wait to share, and I gathered in Team Room 5 with the managers and the giant TV to talk to the editors and those who couldn’t make it that day.

Then there’s Brandy (not her real name). Brandy’s desk is fifty yards from Team Room 5, but she Zooms into the weekly meeting. I’m sure there’s a good reason. She’s our staff influencer, and there might be some reason she can’t leave her desk. Whatever.

The meeting was pretty typical, until three-quarters through, when a figure stepped into Brandy’s blurred background. I was watching the editor-in-chief at that moment, so it took Clara (not her real name) whispering at me around the Vice President of Publishing for me to notice. When I looked over Brandy’s shoulder, I saw me.

My height, my build, my bad posture, my complexion, my burgundy T-shirt, my jeans, and platinum blond or white hair were all there. There was no way to communicate to Brandy while he just stood there, shuffling around, giving me the heebie-jeebies.

The Vice President of Publishing, visibly bored, got the editors to stop talking and set us free. After confirming on Brandy’s screen that I was still there, Clara and I raced to her desk. We were between my doppelganger and the elevator, so there was no way he was getting out. And yet, he was nowhere to be seen.

We asked Brandy who he was, and she told us she never got a look at his face. Who was he? Where did he go? We will never know. Watch the background. Always watch the background.

Well, that tale was TWICE the scares! Hahahahaha! It was TWO frightening! Hahahahaha! That’s a tale you enjoy with a hot cup of COPY! Hahahahaha! It gives a whole new meaning to “talking to yourself”! Hahahahaha! I hope you enjoyed this DOS of horror and tune in next time to Tales from the Cubicle. Hahahahaha!

*thunder and organ music*


Create Expectations

When I started writing again after a long hiatus, I was working at The Container Store, which is the most on-the-nose name for a place of commerce since I hung out at The Coffee House in Lincoln the summer of 1996. My shifts were typically six hours, and they could be at any time the store was open or closed, which meant overnights or every Thursday at 5:00 a.m. I was itching to write, but I could only pull it off if my shifts were in the afternoon and evening, as after work, I had no energy or focus.

I didn’t want to be one of those writers who talks about writing but never writes. Writing isn’t work to me or a duty or something I have to do; it’s a process that brings me joy. Every day I couldn’t do it left me frustrated and depressed, leading me into deep planning mode. I noted that, because I’m crashing from my day, the only thing I do in the evening is watch TV or scroll slack-jawed through the internet. My solution was this: hack off that part of the day and gift it to myself on the other end when I have the energy.

Now, at four in the morning, I wake up and get ready, and by 4:30 (I’m a boy), I sit down at my desk or on my stoop, weather permitting, and this was my time to write, every day. I could write a lot or a little, as long as I was writing. I could scribble, “I got nothing” in a notebook for two hours, and it would count as writing. Several months ago, I started drawing, which crowded the writing from my schedule. Now, at 6:30, when I usually need a break, I hop the train to work and draw at my desk until I clock in at eight. The hour at my desk is important because I use my time in the ungodly early hours of the morning to illustrate my comic, which I can’t and shouldn’t bring with me to work. That leaves me with an hour plus lunch with my sketchbook and no restraints. As much fun as the comic is, it’s nice to branch out and play around a little.

I put a lot of time into being creative, so you’ll understand why a man with a lot to worry about is still pretty content.

Unfortunately, I’m entering a bit of a depressive period. I don’t mean depressed like sad, or even the kind of depression that turns my world into black and white and freezes my joints. Aside from concern over Newcastle, I’m actually doing quite well. The problem is, food doesn’t taste good to me anymore. Music doesn’t sound good to me anymore. The new Guardians of the Galaxy is out, and is apparently pretty good, and I couldn’t give less of a fuck. And yet, even this numb is better than the alternative.

Another sign that I’m on a downswing is that my artistic output goes down. I still work during the aforementioned mornings, but I’m more likely to wrap up early or get pulled into the movie I have on in the background. I’m still cranking out pages—I just filed page 6—but I’m less satisfied with the work I’m producing than I’d be if I were level. I’m still drawing in the morning, but I’ve been setting up my drawing gear for lunch when I’ve changed my mind and skipped it altogether to eat while I work.

It’ll come back, it always does. It’s hardly worth mentioning. Except that Newcastle has been extraordinarily clingy lately, and I don’t want to miss any time with him, so I’m probably not finishing page 7 by Sunday evening. Up until just now, I was cranking out two, maybe three pages a week, but between my inspiration drying up and my muse being such a narcissistic asshole, I’m not finding a lot of time to work on my project.

But my reason for creating art is so I can take pleasure in the craftsmanship, from watching a plot unfold before me to scribbling a circle to stand in for a head while the body takes shape. I got to letter in the word “diarrhea” today, with an accompanying facial expression and pose that really sold the dialogue. If I’m not having fun, there’s no point in doing it, so I’m going to have to take it slow for a while.

And if it means I have to be even slower for the sake of my cat, then I will gladly take my sweet time. Doing it amateur means no deadlines.

Past is Profit

The nineties are an important decade to me. I went to high school and college and New York in the nineties. Most of my favorite music is from the nineties. I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s going through a revival. And, frankly, I’m sick of it.

My streaming services are showing all the same playlists labeled “90s nostalgia.” All the movies I remember from that decade are being converted into TV series or further sequels (True Lies the series? Come on! Does anyone my age or older remember the plot of that movie? No, they remember Jamie Lee Curtis stripping and Arnold Schwarzenegger making quips as he murdered people, not the generic hotties in the TV show being chaste like all TV shows and movies these days—but that’s another rant.)

The nineties are fucking everywhere, with major brands getting in on it and middle-aged celebrities coming out of their coffins and getting botox. I imagine this must be how LGBTQ people feel about Pride Month, when all the corporations put rainbows on their packaging and continue to give money to hateful, bigoted politicians.

I feel like this is my time, and I can be the old-man expert on the decade, but young people don’t want to listen to me.

On the other hand, my soon-to-be-published novel, Hanííbááz Rising, is set in 1995. I love that teenagers are seeking out and trading CDs like my generation did with vinyl records. (Millennials didn’t really get to do this because nostalgia for the eighties meant tapes, which were the single worst way to store music.)

But I know I’m being pandered to, and that never fails to piss me off.