An Excerpt

Actual dialogue from meeting my downstairs neighbor for the first time:

HER: … because I grew up in the Southwest.

ME: Where in the Southwest did you grow up?

HER: Well, New Mexico.

ME: Where in New Mexico?

HER: I tell people Albuquerque because that’s a place they’ve heard of, but it’s actually not very close to Albuquerque.

ME: Oh, where’s that? I might have heard of it.

HER: I was born in Gallup.

ME: Oh.

HER: It’s actually—

ME: I was raised in Gallup.

HER: What?!

Looking back, I didn’t ask her enough questions about it, and seeing as I’ve lived here for almost nine months and had only seen her once through the window, I probably won’t get the chance. But hey, pretty wild, right?

A Very Bad Joke

One fine morning, Patricia Black set out for work. By the time she arrived at The People’s National Bank, she was ready for anything.  

Well, almost everything.  

At about ten o’clock, she was surprised by the appearance of a frog, who hopped right up to her desk and said, “Ribbit!” 

Not one to turn away a customer, she asked, “What can I help you with today?” 

The frog said, “Ribbit.” 

She didn’t know what ribbit meant, so she would have to make some guesses. “Would you like a loan?” 

“Ribbit!”  

There was something affirmative in that ribbit, so she replied, “You’ve come to the right place! The first thing I need to know is if you have some collateral.” 

The frog spit up something on the desktop.  

Delicately she picked it up and studied it. It was some sort of clay statue of a unicorn, about the size of a cell phone. But what was it? Knowing she wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of the frog, she turned to the man at the desk next to her, Joel Bey. “Joel, can you tell me what this is?” 

Joel frowned thoughtfully, but he shrugged. “No idea.” 

If there was anyone who would know, it was her boss, the bank manager, Walter O’Connor. She excused herself to the frog and headed to his office immediately.  

He waved her in as if he were glad to see her. He was always glad to see everybody. He was just that kind of boss. “What can I help you with, Patricia?” he asked. 

She explained her new client and held up the unicorn. “And this is what he would like to use as collateral, but I have no idea what it is.” 

Walter studied it, muttering, “I haven’t seen one of these in a long time.” 

“What is it?” 

“Why it’s a knick-knack, Patty Black, give the frog a loan!” 

I … I’ll see myself out. 

The Aristotle Code

I’ve decided that, when I finish the novel I’m working on, I want the next one to be a conspiracy thriller. I’ve done some thinking on it, and this is the plot: 

The hero is a middle-aged, square-jawed professor in the philosophical anthropology department of Yale named John Hawke. He has eight PhDs and speaks twelve languages, none of which will ever come up in this book. All of his straight male students want to be him, and his straight female students want him, but not in a creepy way. One day, during office hours, when he’s teaching a student a fresh, exciting way to see philosophical anthropology, a beautiful, alluring, stunning, mysterious woman appears.  

The woman, Vanessa Riviera, came to John because he’s the World’s foremost expert on Aristotle, and with his dying words, Aristotle revealed the location of The Holy Grail, but in code. Together, with a mysterious organization that doesn’t want The Holy Grail found dogging their trail, they travel the globe and find the location of The Holy Grail, only to discover that it had been moved. They do more globetrotting, and they are pursued again, until it is finally revealed to them: 

The Holy Grail is actually a wine goblet a suburban mom in Wisconsin named Karen picked up at a garage sale because she thought it would look so cute next to her Hummel figurines on her mantel, but the cat kept knocking it down so now it’s in a box in the storage shed that her husband, Harold, has been promising that he’ll clean, but he never does, instead he watches football and History Channel documentaries about World War 2. 

The climax of the book is fifty pages of Dr. Hawke, Vanessa, and representatives of the mysterious organization standing around Karen’s backyard as she goes through her boxes and talks about everything she pulls out. (“This is the bowling trophy Harold won in ’08 for bowling his first 200. He never got a 300, but he was always proud of this little thing. Here’s an ash tray little Mackenzie made me in school. We don’t smoke, but it was a sweet thought, and we had it on our coffee table for years. Here’s the monogrammed coasters we picked up in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Hunter was conceived there. Well, there’s no Holy Grail in this box. Maybe it got put in with the Halloween decorations.”) 

Eventually the mysterious organization gets bored and leaves, and Dr. Hawke gets The Grail. This turns out not to matter to the world in any way whatsoever.  

The Hell with It

Today, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. is our work Holiday Party. Those of you who have read Jeremiah’s Inferno will know that this is the Seventh Circle of Hell, below Standing in Line and one above Stuck in Traffic. 

For those not in the know, the Circles of Hell are as follows:  

1. Four-Year-Old Explaining the Plot of their Favorite Anime;  

2. First Dates;  

3. Holding in a Fart for a Long Elevator Ride;  

4. Pickles and Mushrooms;  

5. Exercising;  

6. Standing in Line;  

7. Work Holiday Parties;  

8. Stuck in Traffic;  

9. Discussing Politics with my Former Best Friend from High School. 

Hack the Planet

The reason they won’t let me write suspenseful thrillers in Hollywood or TV Land is because all of my stories would end like this: 

*Our scene opens in the VILLAINS lair. The VILLAIN has been defeated, but he has left one dastardly trap for the heroes—a biological weapon that is primed to subject all of Los Angeles to an agonizing death. In a desperate attempt to stop it, the HERO and HEROINE confront the VILLAINS laptop.* 

HERO: The only way to stop it is to enter the password! 

HEROINE: We’ve only got two minutes left! Start guessing! 

HERO: There’s a catch! If you enter the wrong password three times, it automatically triggers the device! I know an algorithm that can bypass the security node and access the device! *HERO types furiously, but the screen flashes red, and he pounds the table* Dammit! There’s a firewall eating my code! I can’t get through! 

HEROINE: Two guesses left! 

HERO: There was only one thing that he loved in this life! One thing that made him human! His daughter! *HERO types the VILLAINS daughters name, but gets another red flash* Dammit! 

HEROINE: One guess left! 

HERO: There’s only one thing we can do, and it’s a long shot! Before the Villain murdered him and his family, my brother entrusted me with a worm he coded! If it works, it’s like an electronic skeleton key that can— 

HEROINE: *Slides the laptop over to herself and types P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D. With a dull hum, the device powers down* 

HERO. Goddammit. 

Fecal Matters

I saw a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you have to POOP.” It has me asking questions.  

For example, if you honk, just what is that driver going to do with that information? Is it strictly a solidarity thing? Are they recording your license plate number and selling it to marketers? Also, if you don’t have to poop, but the poop driver is texting and the light turns green, do you refrain from honking so you don’t give them the wrong idea?  

Lots of important stuff to think about here. I’m glad I took the bus. 

The Best Policy

I just took a personality test for a potential job. There were sixty questions, and over 20 percent of them were about how much cocaine I used. Not “Do you use cocaine?”; but “How much cocaine do you use?” Which I believe says a lot about the company.‬ 

Lest I forget, the questions about my cocaine usage weren’t the only things from this test. They were concerned about my marijuana, heroin, and meth usage (though not as much as cocaine), and they wanted to know not if, but how many times I’d faked an injury/illness to get out of work, as well as how much money I’ve stolen. I’m feeling profiled. 

Something About a Bullfrog

One of the advantages of having such an unusual name is that, when I hear someone say “Jeremiah,” I’m 80 percent certain they’re talking to or about me. So I’m trained to react to it like a dog reacts to its own name.  

That’s why I was in a state of such high alert when the lacrosse bros were sitting behind me in the cafe, having a long, detailed conversation about their bro, Jeremiah. I was so tense and unfocused while they were there that I don’t think I wrote more than a paragraph. By the time they wrapped up, I was a wreck, relieved that they and their bro were gone. 

Taking their place were a middle-aged lady and a teenage boy who, based on their conversation, were a church youth leader and a church youth. They talked about, at length, a fellow youth named Jeremiah. Was this this same Jeremiah as bro Jeremiah? It doesn’t matter. I have a repetitive stress injury from my ears perking up every time they heard that name.  

I don’t think I can adequately express the amount of anxiety that hearing my name coming from strangers causes me. That’s why I avoid wearing my name tag at work. It’s been literally years since I’ve heard my name spoken about a person who wasn’t me, so the bombardment gave me a bit of a complex. That’s why I was so relieved to go to work that evening, where people don’t ever use my name, even when they are referring to me. 

The Hero That Mews by Night

By day, he is a mild-mannered kitten named Henry “Houdini” Schroeder. But whenever adventure beckons, he becomes the mighty of heroes … in your darkest hour, you call him by name: 

Dammitcat! 

MARVEL! as he pushes breakable objects off of high spaces! (Dammitcat!) 

BE AMAZED! as he clamps his tiny jaws on your lunch and dinner and drags them away when your back is turned! (Dammitcat!) 

GASP! as he weaves his way between your shins as you walk down steep stairs! (Dammitcat!) 

THRILL! as he bats your pens, fingernail clippers, phones, remote controls, and medications under furniture! (Dammitcat!) 

LKDKJHFG! as he leaps on your keyboard when you’re trying to type! (Dammitcat!) 

He’s DAMMITCAT! Coming soon! To your house! because I want him the hell out of mine! Like, immediately! 

Jersey Barrier

The New Jersey National Guard moved onto the military base over here, which was nice, because it meant I could use my native tongue whenever I rolled through the gate to get the Post Office. 

GUARD: (taps on my car window) Pardon me, sir; can I see some ID? 

ME: (rolls down the window) Yeah? What for? 

GUARD: Oh, so the smart guy here thinks he speaks Jersey, huh? 

ME: So what are ya gonna [Bad Word]ing do about it? 

GUARD: I’m gonna [Bad Word]ing ask you for your [Bad Word]ing ID, that’s what I’m gonna do. 

ME: (hands it over) I hope you choke on it, jerk-off. 

GUARD: (scans card) So, trying to bring weapons or contraband on the base like some stupid [Bad Word]? 

ME: What, are you [Bad Word]ing stupid or something? Do I look like the kind of [Bad Word] who would bring [Bad Word]ing weapons or contraband on base? 

GUARD: (hands the card back and signals his partner) You look like a [Bad Word]. Now get the [Bad Word] out of my face! 

ME: Up yours, [Bad Word]! 

(The gate opens, and I drive away) 

GUARD: (shouts after me) [Bad Word] you, buddy! 

ME: Same to you, pal!