Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Dinner Saboteur

One responsible, dutiful spouse takes great pains in preparing a meal for the small one in the house. This spouse prepares the child as well as the meal, gets everything all arranged just so, and finally, the child in the seat, the meal on the table, a bite proceeding to the mouth, and then, at that moment, the other spouse, the one that shall remain nameless throughout this little piece, suddenly decides to open the freezer and extract an ice cream sandwich. This spouse, the other one, waves that ice cream around and utters exquisite little moans of delight and enjoyment. Does the child notice these enticing sights and sounds? Does the child continue to eat its spaghetti? Would the child actually presume to ask for an ice cream sandwich as well?

The Dinner Saboteur has struck again!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The BlameFinder

Never let a fact go blameless. Anything that is, has a causer who did it. It's always someone's fault for the BlameFinder. Is the water too cold? Who turned off the heater? Is the water too warm? Who turned it on? Who opened the door? Who closed it? Who turned on the light? Who turned it off?

As soon as there's a hint of anything occurring, the BlameFinder wants to know who might be the one who would do it. The BlameFinder is hunched over and ready to pounce. He is always double-checking. There is no pause button on the BlameFinder. The struggle to nail it down is constant and always in motion.

The BlameFinder does not want to solve any problems. He only wants to report them. Once the source of the trouble has been located and assigned, the Blamer rests easy in the knowledge. Until then, everyone's suspicious.

The BlameFinder sizes you up on contact, deciding the possible events of which you might become the source. You may be the kind who drops a glass and shatters it, or the kind who rearranges napkins. You could be just the one to sample the hors d'ouvre before returning it to the plate. Are you the kind who folds things the wrong way, or the kind who places the toilet paper roll facing the wrong direction? The BlameFinder can tell. He can sense the kind of trouble you'll cause.

Cold eyes are the hallmark of the BlameFinder . Cold eyes and a slight squint on impact. You can almost hear the gavel coming down, followed by the icy stare, the mental note, the black book opening and closing. You! You're the one! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

It's enough for the BlameFinder to know. He then moves on. Something else is bound to happen any moment, and when it does, someone needs to disover the culprit and file the claim. You can count on the BlameFinder. It will never be his fault.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Greeter

(also on video)

Sitting on the steps of the factory outlet store, this old man smokes a cigarette and studies the parking lot in front of him. It just goes on and on. He wonders how in the hell he got here. He knows he is old because his knees hurt a lot. The sun is out, the day is cold and the glare in his eyes makes him feel like going back in, but it's only the job in there. The work. He's a greeter. He stands by the door and says hello to anyone who comes in, "welcome to our store". His name tag would introduce him, but no one notices it. Even if they did, they'd have a hard time pronouncing it. Looks like there's way too many letters in that name. Where he comes from, they don't know. He says hello as they walk by ignoring him. He wonders how in the hell he got there. Of course he remembers the airplane, and the airports, and the trains and the bus from the hills past the desert and back to the lake a billion and seventy one miles from here. It was cold and sunny that day too. His grandson brought him over, and just plopped him here, right in the middle of could-be-anywhere. From there to here, the differences are too great to even talk about. The language is the least of it. The cars don't even smell the same. He won't say that he is homesick. He won't say that he is lonely. He just might as well be anywhere. Anywhere at all.

One of these days, he's going to make a friend. Someone will notice him and he will smile and say an even nicer hello than usual. That person, who will remind him of his cousin, perhaps, that person will return his smile, extend their hand, shake his hand, and offer him a greeting in a language he will understand, and on that day, and at that time, he will be happy for awhile.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Babbler

He comes at you at the speed of light, when you're already trapped in a corner or otherwise stuck. He starts in right off, jabbering at you like a blue jay at dawn. You cannot believe how fast this guy talks. Do you know the origin of the Baby Ruth candy bar? It's got nothing to do with the Babe. Did you know? It was named for a president's baby. Her name was Ruth. Did you know it came without wrappers at first? Thta's how they did it, I know, this guy told me, it's true.

And so it begins. a deluge of inane insipid chatter. He covers a lot of ground in a very short time. He tells you about the outrage of street-cleaning no-parking zones and the tickets they give, do you know how much it adds up to? Fifty dollars every other week that would be like a lot over time. He discusses the horror of the mess created by the fall of autumn leaves. If that was my tree, I'd cut it down so fast it would make your head swim. If I only had a chainsaw. You want me to cut that down? I could do it. You know how they sell those things? By weight. What do I want with a heavy one. Give me the lightest model I say. I hate those leaves. What a mess. And why Lincoln's on the left of the penny. And the ink never dries on the dollar. And nostalgia, you can never forget about Elvis.

And movies in general, you remember that guy? The one who was in that movie one time, you know the one. The guy with the face and the hair. He had that thing that he did, remember? 1941 I think, or maybe it was '52.

This bent over little old man with the eyes bugging out of his head and the stream of pure crap pouring out of his mouth, do you know what he said? Do you want to know what he told me? It's true.

Everything he knows he learned from standing in lines and pestering the other people there.

You feel you can't breathe. Is this how you wanted to spend your day off? You're not even waiting in line. It was supposed to be some kind of party. Then you think, wait a minute, I could just walk away, and this guy would not even notice. You do, and he doesn't. You look back and you see he just turned and attacked the next body around. It goes on.

For seventy years it goes on.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Parking Lot Cowboy Bouncer

He sits there on the tailgate of his pickup truck, daring you to park. Got official bank business? You'd better. This here parkin' lot's just fer bankin', he growls. Just fer Western bankin', that is.

He's got his cowboy hat tilted just so. Is that tobacco he's chewing? Holy shit, somebody still does that! Day in, day out, this here parkin's just fer bankin'.

There's other parkin' roun' the corner. Yeah, so why can't the friggin' bank customers park over there?

This here parkin' lot's re-served.

If you ain't bankin', they gonna tow yo' ass.

Damn straight.

Okay, so I went into the bank and snuck out the side door where the bouncer couldn't see me. Came back twenty minutes later.

Fine day for bankin', I told him.

Reckon so, he replied.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mailbox Cleaner

He sneaks around the neighborhood, looking for junk. Any kind of junk, but nothing that would pay. He's not interested in recycling. He's not about waste management. He's just into the redistribution of junk. There's an aesthetic sense about him. He sees the world as a random collection of items, each insignificant, but each with a place. The place it belongs always changes. His work is never complete.

He's logged into the world. Here I am. And being logged in, the world is his canvas, and its objects all his to arrange. Big items don't move. He will not hurt his back. An experiment once with a pinball machine was enough to establish that rule. Cars are all junk but he pays them no mind. There, a shoebox, a red one, why is that in the doorway? It doesn't belong in that spot. No one sees so he grabs it and stuffs it inside the big yellow bag he is carrying around just for that.

PLain old trash isn't good. It should just be picked up. It's not junk it's just garbage, it's crap. He will only seek out the real lost and real missing, the real out of sorts sort of a thing. Like a key that's on top of a mailbox. That's something you don't see every day. That key must go somewhere. Else.

He's not shabby, you know, he doesn't look bad, doesn't smell. He's eccentric, okay, rides a unicycle at times. He shaves every tuesday and thursday. His clothes have been washed. His shoes have been shined. He looks very much sixty years old. He has lived in the city forever. He knows every door, every alley. Down that way he thinks he just might find a place for this out of place shoebox, yes, there. Right next to the mattress tucked into the dumpster, and the green carpet sticking right up. Green and red, red and green, small and big, big and small. He steps back, takes a look, like you would in museums. Does it fit? Does it go in this light?

The kids call him names and he likes it. 'Mailbox Cleaner' one said and it stuck. One thing's as good as another when it comes to what you call things. He likes his potatoes deep fried. And salty. And buttered. No chives.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Terrible Gardener

Nothing she plants ever grows, but you will always find her out there, in the garden. She dug up the old stuff that used to bloom, ridiculous roses with colors and smells, tulips of every shade, azaleas, impatiens and sage. They had the habit of having been planted by someone else, and so they had to go.

She has made a path through her weeds, a path made of rocks with sharp edges that wobble. No one ever uses this path. Instead, they tiptoe and crush the surrounding ivy.

There are trees in the yard, all sickly and small. They don't really belong in this climate.

She has pots full of plants that had started out nicely - but that was before she bought them. In the nursery they thrived and looked forward to futures of sunlight and water and growth. Once home they began to shrivel and droop. She talks to them lovingly each night.

Here and there are projects abandoned, a vineyard, a shrubbery, a greenhouse. All lie fallow from behind the grey walls and are mercifully hidden from traffic.

The children pass by and peer through the hedges. Doesn't anything ever thrive in that place? Oh yes, things with thorns and with poisonous berries, things the deer hate and gophers don't dig. Dandelions especially call the yard home, and ivy, and tree-choking vines.

She has specialty gloves and specialty tools. She especially loves the wet weather. She can dig and get muddy, and wallow in roots, and generally wreak devastation.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Fawner

The Fawner hides in a corner at meetings, where she can be heard but not seen. She makes the smallest noises but they grow on you. She murmers approval at every breath. Mmmm. Ooooh. Wow. She cannot help herself, if the speaker is powerful and important. Everything he says is deserving of assent. Oh. Okay. He may not hear her, consciously, but deep down somewhere something hears, and knows, she approves, she thinks he's wonderful. He likes that.

I see, she barely whispers. My goodness, oh wow, oh gosh. She's a babbling brook of consent. She especially loves presentations, with charts that go up amidst bullet points. Interesting. Oh. Oh yes.

She can also jump in without notice, if she needs to prove herself competent. She had failed to answer the previous question, but oh my never again. Now, when someone else answers, she leaps up on board, repeating their words just slightly after they're said, and then she'll tail off, and let the other go on. Did you see how she defers? She is gracious, and now everyone knows she is smart.

She has "emotional" intelligence.

The Fawner is easily impressed. Anyone in a position of authority can be nodded at. The boss is to be complemented on every occasion. She plays no favorites, has no bias. You can be young or old, man or woman, black or white, if you're in charge, she's right behind you, all the way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Micro Man

Pay close attention. Details are the essence of the matter. This philosophy can be applied to anything and everything. Micro Man is the master of minutia. Give him an inch, he'll take it, one millimeter at a time. Give him an hour, he's got you all day long.

If you ask him a question, be prepared for a voluminous response. If you ask for advice, you'll never hear the end of it. Micro Man not only knows the details, he knows the details of the details. He always gets to the bottom of the problem, and then to the bottom of the bottom. Don't be in any hurry. Micro Man is not.

Did I mention that whatever it is it must be perfect in every way? Otherwise, Micro Man will throw it out. He'll keep going and going until he gets it right. There's no other way to stop him. Words have no effect.

At work the Micro Man drives everybody crazy. His projects are always late. His meetings are always eternal. His emails are measured in pages. He considers every angle. He discuses every consideration. He plans every plan and plans the planning of those plans. Infinite regression is no stranger to the Micro Man.

Sometimes he can be stumped. Getting dressed in the morning can be hard. There are advantages and disadvantages to every possible combination of wearable items. Likewise, meals are problematic. Where another might just grab something and go, the Micro Man can not. It is fortunate that he has but one possible route to drive to work. When two approaches yield identical results, he can by stymied completely. He must find the optimal solution or die.

When dealing with the Micro Man, you must become a Micro Manager yourself. Don't say anything that may give him an opening. Don't ask him for anything, especially if there are time constraints. Don't start a conversation he will not be able to complete. Think before you speak to him, and then think twice. Will it be worth it? How will I be able to get away?

Micro Man is a time-eating trap. You might see him glancing over, hoping to ensnare. Look away! Look away fast. You have better things to do.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Born Loser

The Born Loser has no fear of failure. He embraces it. He lives for it. Behold the Magic of Failure. Were it not for mistakes, he advises, how would you ever get anything right? He has a point, we all agree, but why try to fail, why aim to lose? It's the way, he replies.

The way is gained by daily loss, loss upon loss until at last comes rest. Lao Tzu said this, very long ago. The Born Loser takes it to heart. Every day, to fail at something, he decides. This is my goal. But what can I lose today?

It's all right, he says, you can make the same mistakes over and over and they still count. It's all good, he declares.

You can forget everything your lovers tell you. That way it's always fresh when they repeat the same old stories.

When you've never been somewhere before, how do you expect to get there? It seems impossible! The Born Loser is convinced he will never arrive.

He prefers the questions that cannot have answers. What was there before The Beginning? Where is Everywhere? If God created everything, what created God? Or, tell me again why everything needs creating. He doesn't see the point.

A watched pot never boils, he's told. Never? He's alarmed.

He has plans for a business venture. There are certain to be no customers. He will not be able to afford the rent. The storefront will remain empty. Not a sign outside. Not an item within. "It's the new economy", he explains.

He is always in love. She never knows who he is. Literally. Safer that way, and guaranteed to fail. You gotta like those odds.

It's like riding a bicycle. Down a hill. Without any brakes. Right into a stone wall.

The Born Loser will tell you all his hopes and dreams, if you let him, but don't be discouraged. He hasn't got a chance. He can never win. It would spoil all the fun.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Spouse Complainer

The catalog is extensive. He puts it on display like a coffee-table book. Guests will be subjected to it, and you can't beat the price. Included in the index, alphabetically of course, is every flaw, every mistake, every single thing that's wrong with her. With DSM diagnostic references attached.

Her childhood led up to this. Her parents were involved. It was years in the making, way over budget, and intended, all along, to ruin his life. Until the day he met her, everything was roses, and things were still okay, for awhile. And then the real her.

She's the kind of person, he will tell you, when she leaves the room, who thinks it's all about her. She doesn't know anything about boundaries. Saying things to other people that are really none of their business. Telling them his secrets. Saying bad things about him behind his back.

Not only that, she can't even cook a decent pot of rice.

She has no empathy.

She's lacking something essentially human.

You wonder how she did on the Voight-Kampff test, but you don't say anything. You wonder if it's rude to squirm.

She's not fit to be a mother, or a wife, or a friend, or a teacher, or an employee, or a cowherd, well, maybe a cowherd.

Have you heard her try to sing?

Yes dear, he says, as she asks for help in the kitchen. She's useless in there, he informs you as he departs. He is the one who has to do everything. You look at your own spouse and mouth the words, can we leave now?

You wonder if it's rude to scream.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beast Master

Beast Master barks out commands like it's nobody's business - the ring of authority fills the neighboring streets. At his word, windows come crashing down, doors slam, the population disappears. The empty streets are testimony to the loudness of his voice.

Animals cringe at the sound, and mere children cower. His footsteps approach. Even the skunks are hiding in the drains. All listen to him roar.



The dogs pay no attention. They roam around the yard as if no one was there. Beast Master is beside himself with rage. The toddler will pay for this, not to mention the newborn. All must quake before his voice. Not for nothing did he graduate with honors from loud talking school.

Mrs Beast is a meek one. The girls still have some spirit. But for how long is anybody's guess.




And my favorite


Oh yes. We heard. Everybody heard. Everybody knows. Beast Master is a rager. Beast Master is a bully. Beast Master is highly ineffective.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Responsible Man

If it wasn't for Responsible Man, nothing would ever get done. Who is there to do it? If it weren't for him, the kids would never sleep, and the wife would never wake up. If he didn't prevent it, the kids would eat all the pastrami. That stuff's expensive! If he didn't put his foot down, the wife might pick up the kids after school, and they had never agreed to that. He will pick up the kids. She might forget or somehow do it badly.

Around the office, Responsible Man makes all the coffee. Others just make a mess, or some thin brown goop that tastes like sand. He also sorts the recycling. What would happen if a bottle remained in the can bin? Not to worry. It's been seen to.

He signals before he turns. He looks both ways before crossing. He brushes his teeth in every conceivable direction. There has never been a flaw in his various performances. He never gets tired of instructing. This is the way to do this. That is the way to do that. You there, in the corner, listen up! He would like to give gold stars to good listeners.

He is generous with his time. If the guy in Austria can't get the printer working, he'll be glad to harangue him about running the script. Did you run the script? I sent it to you. Did you get it? Did you run it? Why didn't you run it? Did it work? Why didn't you run the script?

He's taking care of business. Every day and every night. Responsible Man gets home in time to do everything for everyone there, before he gets back online to do everything for everyone there. He checks his emails often. He checks his voicemails often. He wishes there was something else he could check as well. He wishes he could read people's minds because then he could help them sooner. He could help them before they even know they need his help. But they will. Oh yes. They will.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

People Who Are Always Against Something

You see them at every peace march. They have far too many bumper stickers on their cars. If they can't think of a new cause, they'll recycle an old one. Recycling is good for the environment, after all, and since there is nothing new under the sun, never mind.

How come they never report the good news from the war zones? Like, how many people did not get blown up that day.

Those people are always against something. It's either something big and important (Stop killing people, for Christ's sake!) or something small and trivial (how come P & H go together even though everybody knows that those two put together always makes the F sound, so what the heck?). And what is up with those H's anyway - they're often silent, and when they're not, they make no sense. Ha! How come we never protest this duplicity of the H?

Those people. They're even opposed to folks naming their babies whatever they want to! What is up with that? If someone wants to name their boy Pioneer, why not leave them alone? (even if those parents cannot even bring themselves to call him Pioneer, but always refer to him as Kiddo). And Pioneer is such a cute little baby! Who cares what his name is? It could be worse. It could be Ralph.

Those people who are always against something are now even taking a stand against people who are always against something!! Stop the Madness. Bring the troops home now. And while we're at it, no more of this P & H Togetherness. It's an abomination.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Hobbits

They liked to be crammed together in the very smallest room. The more of them there are, and the tinier the room is, the happier they are. Even better if there are no windows. They are talking all the time, and try to never leave the room. When one goes out, the others talk even louder to make up for him. They know each and every detail about each other. Nothing can be hidden. Since they also control every little thing about the company, they know everything about everybody else as well.

You don't even know they exist, down there on the ground floor, behind the receptionist. You thought that was the shipping room. Cleverly disguised. The heart of operations beats concealed from prying eyes. Peel back the door, and there they are, like termites in a stump. They look up with beady glistening eyes. Fresh meat! A new guy. They tell you all about your password (it's not secure enough), your cubicle (don't get too cozy, we'll be moving you again soon), your bicycle in the basement (did you find that thing in a dumpster or what?).

Standing there and nodding, you get a glimpse behind the scenes. A moving map along the wall shows all activity, everybody everywhere and everything they do. It shifts and moves, a tapestry of life, in this case, GPS devices. They know exactly where you are.

It's superficial data, but they can mine and sort. They see tendencies, exceptions, unusual patterns in the night. A red spot twinkles on the wall. One notices, jots it down. Another winks and tells you they're on top of it, no worries. The noise is deafening, a clatter of keys and songs and voices, always voices., chattering.

Close the lid and walk away. Better not to think too much. Tomorrow they will still be there, and even when they tear the building down someday, they'll be the last ones out, clinging to the wreckage, scampering like roaches among the ruins and the bricks.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The ShapeShifter

You never know about this one. On any given day she could be anywhere from nowhere to all over the place. In the morning she slips through the cracks in the deck. By evening she's stuck in the chair. If the scale is dusty, she might not make it through the door, but if the scale is clean, you might not see her sneak out.

Take her to dinner, and it might be croutons and water or maybe it's pasta and beer. The ShapeShifter is never the same weight twice. You never can tell about her.

Better not question too closely. She could be touchy or not. She's either obsessed or couldn't care less. She veers from size to size without so much as a warning. At least she could give us a sign! Her friends would like to know what's up.

The ShapeShifter glides from program to program, from What Would Jenny Do, to Watch What You're Doing, to I Can Do This By Myself I Know I Can. It's vegetable medleys for dinner and lunch, and a crust of bread for breakfast.

She's beautiful big and beautiful small, she's beautiful in between. She never thinks so, though. She has pants for every occasion. She even has names for them. If it's summer it's time to get in shape. If it's winter, it's also the time. In the spring she has much to look forward to. In the fall she never looks back.

The ShapeShifter changes from morning to night, she fluctuates day after day. You smile and you nod and you say "why yes, dear", whenever she alludes to "the fact".

The Old New Guy

The Old New Guy is cautious. He's been The New Guy too many times before. Always getting stuck doing the dirty jobs. Always volunteering because he wants to make friends, fit in, get along. Not anymore. Let them do their own dirty jobs, he tells himself. He defeats the New Guy expectations. They want me to smile, but I won't. They think I'll be nice but I'm not.

The Old New Guy settles into his desk and surveys his surroundings. Which one of these people is going to be trouble, he asks himself. Usually the first friend you make is the one person no one else likes. That's why that person's so friendly to the new guy. The new guy doesn't know the history, he doesn't know better. If you don't watch out, that first one will be coming around every day and wasting your time.

They expect you to make the coffee, he reminds himself, so he announces that he's kicked that little habit. There, that'll do. They expect you to bring in some doughnuts, so he lets it slip out that he's been on a diet these days. No obligations. No welcoming lunches. The Old New Guy's sorry but has other plans that day and the next.

It's not like the end of the world if you don't get along right away. Give it time. Let it sort itself out. The Old New Guy sits back and watches, he finds out who's who and what's what. He overhears snippets of gossip. He monitors the [social] group emails. He hears who's the loudest, who's most annoying. He prefers the people who don't always smile, who don't need to know who he is right away. In meetings he volunteers nothing.

He'll ask a few questions, especially the boss and the one guy who seems the most threatened. Put fears to rest. Seem interested. Involved. Keep the head down, do the work, do it well. And then, when the situation is ripe - he'll give it a week, maybe two - and when no one expects it at all, he decides how he wants to fit in; and he does, like a lion among deer, on the prowl.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Best Friend

He looks at you with sad eyes when he sees you talking with someone else. He is the one you love. He is the only one who loves you truly for who you are. No one else even knows the real you, so why are you talking to them? What do they have that he doesn't have?

Do you remember the time when he was there and only he? Don't you remember what he said and what he did? You laughed, and it was just the two of you. Those were the days.

There were no girls back then, remember? Girls wouldn't even look at us. They laughed at our names, our shirts, our shoes. Girls were bad and even now, that woman you married, do you really trust her? She doesn't know what you've been through, or who you've been, and what it took. She's only seen your wallet and your car.

That look he gets it drives you nuts. Leave me alone, you shout, for just one minute, will you? please? For heaven's sake. You remember all the times he tagged along, you couldn't get rid of him, always in the way, underfoot. You felt sorry for him. No parents at home who cared. No other friends. He helped you with your homework, helped you get a job one time.

That was long ago. This guy's gone nowhere. Look at you, you're on your way, you've got some irons in the fire. Things are going to change and soon, but this guy's got to go. Look at him sulk because you had the nerve to answer your bloody phone when it rang!

He steps aside, hangs back. The Best Friend knows but can't accept. You don't like him anymore. Those days are gone for good. Do you have to fucking move to another state? Christ! He shows up like an idiot dog, with his stupid grin, his dumb ideas, his worn out welcome - "yo yo Yo".

Yo fucking yo.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Adrenaline Girl

Breathless, of course, but never in a hurry. Adrenaline Girl doesn't need to breathe. Her heartbeat generates enough oxygen on its own to power a small village. She wills her beamer over the mountains, and you'd better hang tight. Don't be squeamish or she'll drop you off the edge. No time for small talk. The Girl is on the move.

Give her a minute, she'll do a hundred things. Give her an hour and the sky's the limit. She never looks back. Adrenaline Girl powers past obstructions, obfuscations, concrete barriers, anything at all between where she is now and where she is now. And now. She's already there.

The Girl could hold a job but the job could not hold her. She's done so many different things, why bother with a resume? If you need to know, just ask. Have a need? Consider it done. She has already solved your problem before.

There is no detail too insignificant to be overlooked rapidly and forgotten. Adrenaline Girl does not require memory. She can process on the fly. She whips around the corner, and everything is new. She holds no grudges, burns no bridges, she doesn't even remember your name.

You can catch her in your rear-view mirror, but only for a moment. Then she's gone and you don't know which way she went. Time moves ahead. People come and go. Quickly. Always quickly. Don't stop now. Just go.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Pre-Bereaver

The Pre-Bereaver is sad before it happens. He knows it will all end badly. He's seen this kind of thing before. He understands. One cannot be too careful.

No ounce of prevention can avert it. No pound of cure will relieve. These things happen. They are bound to.

The Pre-Bereaver has a special day each week he sets aside for mourning. It takes time to savor each loss, every failure, the end.

Do not ask what is the matter. It's nothing, really, he will say. He is never completely out of pain.

Large attempts are doomed. Small affairs are best put off. The time is not propitious.

He consults his little gray notebook. Every awful event is duly noted. He sighs. It was meant to be.

At the airport, his flight is delayed, then cancelled. He misses his train. The busses hardly ever run at this time of night. The car is in the shop. No wonder, then, he never arrives.

At the store, they just ran out. The special on the menu is nothing that he likes. He prefers crab. They only have salmon.

The clothes won't fit, and then they'll shrink, but it's just as well, because he would've looked terrible in them. He's never been photogenic.

You will know him when you see him. At the office party, he's the one in the corner, consulting his watch.

His wife will never leave him. He needs her too badly.

His sons never call. Their girlfriends don't know they have a father.

The greatest tragedy - he fell in love when he was very young, and since then, nothing else has ever come close. He adores his wife, and she is the only recipient of his smiles.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Roundabout

The Roundabout sweats a lot, in every situation. He is unusually salty and moist. On winter days he wears both scarf and hat. In summer he wears suits. He is always the last to squeeze into the subway car, with much commotion and apology. Everyone makes way for The Roundabout and hopes he moves along so they're not stuck standing next to him.

You can tell by the look in his eye when he's about to launch. The Roundabout begins every conversation with exasperation. Several blinks of a countdown, and then the request. He wants to ask you a question, only one, and he promises it won't take more than a moment. He bursts into the office and is always in a hurry. You'll be glad when it's over, but it won't be unless you're lucky and something else comes up, because once he starts the Roundabout cannot be stopped.

He only wants to ask one question, but he will never ask that question. Too many other questions intervene. He has to back up and preface it and tell you why he needs to ask that question. This entails a story, which is long and involved and makes no sense whatsoever. At first you might have guessed what the question was going to be, but soon you give up trying. You have no idea.

Soon he switches tracks, then switches tracks again. He sweats some more as he realizes he's forgotten why he's pestering you. The story he's recounting is too complex. He gets lost and cannot find the way. He sits there in your office, sputtering, blustering, pretending that he's getting there. You of course have other work to do but you can't get around this obstacle, this blockage, this living exclamation point.

There will come a time when you deliberately don't invite him to some function, and he'll be sad. You'll wish you'd thought of it sooner, because after this he no longer appears at your door. He knows that you don't like him, and all those questions were merely pretexts for a visit. He had wanted to be your friend. He's sorry to have been such a bore. He has big sad eyes. You wish he'd look away.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Sultan

I met him at a downtown business luncheon, featuring as guest speaker a famous United States Senator. We sat around a big table and moments after introducing himself (as Duncan McSomethingOrOther), he informed me that he had both a wife and a mistress and they all slept together in one big bed.

He was the manager of a discount bookstore, he said, and both his wife and his mistress were also on the payroll. Neither of them did any work whatsoever, he declared, and the owner of the store had no idea. None whatsoever. The owner of the store was actually sitting at the same table and still had no idea. He was rather out of touch, a shabby and disgraceful old man.

Duncan (his real name was Angus McSomethingOrOther, but he preferred Duncan - it seemed to have more status in his Scottish-fetish view of things) was a large fellow, blonde and bearded, jolly and verbose. In his early thirties, he had as yet made nothing of himself, nor did he care to, not as long as he had both a wife and a mistress, and they all slept together in the same big bed. Did I mention, he asked, that the wife is a blonde and the mistress is Chinese? He was extremely happy with himself.

I saw them all once, in the office, reading the sunday papers, playing footsie, doing absolutely no work, not that there was ever much work to be done in that place. The boring, useless sale books arrived only once a week on a truck, and only needed unpacking and piling on the tables. He, and they, all lived in a studio apartment which was just around the corner, very tidy and convenient.

Some weeks later I saw the wife again. This time she was loading up a van with suitcases and boxes. I asked if she needed any help. She just glared at me. I was someone who knew, someone who had seen. She was on her way back to Southern California. The mistress left the very next day, home to Seattle, I think it was. I never actually knew what had happened. I think I could guess.

Duncan was never the same after that. He even changed his name, back to plain old Angus McSomethingOrOther again. We never saw another female on his arm, let alone a pair. He was not so friendly anymore, not so jolly or verbose. He had had his time in the sun, and was fading away, rapidly. But to us, he was always the Sultan, and would always be, the infamous Sultan of Twat.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Name Disapproval Update

The Name Disapprover was left speechless on meeting a little boy named 'Pioneer'. What can you say? Perhaps it's not so bad, the Name Disapprover thinks. Maybe the boy's last name is even worse, something like Fairybottom, in which case 'Pioneer' seems mild. In any case, he shrugs, when he grows up he can always change it to Peter or Paul.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Colonel

Never let a day go by without killing something.

The Colonel picks up his gun, and aims his sights at the dove perched up on the telephone wire, and yet, he does not shoot. He's merely adjusting the scope. Nearby, his big black dog roams around the deck, drooling. There''ll be ducks to fetch this weekend.

Someone is always messing with the Colonel. It might be the local government, which wants him to use those blue and green recycle bins. It might be the county, which forces him to fence his dog. It might be the feds, who demand all sorts of taxes and in return fund everything he hates - like health care for needy children,or worker safety, or public roads - those meddling bureaucrats. On his gate there's a sign that warns you - 'dangerous animal'.

He's got no use for roads. That's why he's got a truck, and children are always getting sick, and workers had better look out for themselves. He's got no use for anyone or anything. He's got guns.

One of these days those bumbling fools will realize he was right all along. In the meantime, it's every man for himself. His wife is even meaner than the dog. She's been known to run the neighbors off the road, just because they dare to walk there. A real man wouldn't jump out of the way.

Day after day, the two of them go off to work, and night after night, they come home. No one has ever yet seen them outside of their yard. Inside the house, the curtains stay closed. Nobody knows what goes on in there. No smoke comes out of the chimney in winter - don't they ever get cold? No windows are ever open in summer - don't they ever get hot? Next door there's a deserted old house. Whatever happened to those folks?

Inside the bunker it's quiet. Nobody ever visits. They've got no family or friends. The organization prefers that they remain available, and unattached. You never know when the need will arise, and when it does, they must be prepared. At a moment's notice, the Colonel will jump into action, and save the world. Or at least, he'll get to kill something.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The One Eyed Jack

If you are standing, or sitting, very still, preferably in a place where you are trapped and cannot leave, waiting in line perhaps, or waiting for a plane, or just waiting for something somewhere you wouldn't usually be, and you are not looking around, and you are not suspecting that anything will happen, and you only want to go away from wherever it is you are, and do anything other than whatever it is you are doing, and you sigh, very deeply, and feel sorry for yourself, he will come.

At first it will seem a welcome diversion. He is not too creepy at first. He is probably blonde, and everyone knows that blondes are less likely to be creepy. Somehow people sense these things. He may even have a mustache, but it's so faint you don't even notice it. Later you wonder if it was really there. His voice is soft, and he has a tricky smile. You think it's a smile. Later you wonder if it really was.

The topic of conversation is familiar. All about the waiting. He, too, was waiting for something somewhere he wouldn't usually be, and sighing and feeling sorry for himself, but misery loves company. He might even say that out loud. Before you know it, you have moved along to topics more of interest to him, such as himself, his life, his likes, dislikes, pet peeves and secret pleasures. Already you know too much about him. Already you wish you had done something other than whatever it was you did that made him think he could sidle up next to you and monopolize your attention and get in your face and start yammering away about all sorts of idiotic notions you had no idea real people actually had.

Such as. He has seen unidentified flying objects. He was in the Air Force stationed in Greece and therefore he knows some things he's not at liberty to divulge, and yet divulge he does. Unceasingly. There are secret weapons systems designed to suck the intestines out of cattle. He has seen too much. Republicans cause cancer, but you knew that, didn't you? Custodians of secret wisdom have passed down for generations the fact that Pope Urbane the Eleventh was yes indeed a woman. Ancient Babylonians invented jell-o. He is letting you in on things. He sizes you up to see if you can be trusted. You understand you are now not at liberty to divulge. Dire consequences. That sort of thing. He has seen even more than too much.

Time will lose its meaning. Eternity is something of which you now have first-hand knowledge. The weather may change and day turn into night, but nothing will ever erase the memory of the one eyed Jack, and the lifetime you spent being near him.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Twin Hater

The Twin Hater has any number of phobias and allergies, all of which combine to make every day an adventure. She cannot walk down certain streets. She cannot ride on certain busses. She had better not cross the street from north to south until she has already crossed from west to east. If a man in a crowd has a brown hat, she had better go back the other way. If a woman is holding a child by the hand, she had better not look at the child. Anyone who has been in a coffee shop that day cannot be reasoned with. Anyone with tan boots on is just asking for an appointment with trouble.

Certain numbers cannot be seen or heard, or even written down. Eighty-eight is bad enough, but eighty-seven is just as bad, and only eighty-nine can bring relief. Most numbers involving an eight had better be avoided. A phone number containing an eight cannot be called. An address with same cannot be approached. She will wait at a bakery as long as it takes until a reasonable ticket number is available.

On the left hand side of the street, bad things are likely to happen. On the right hand side of the street, it's certainly sensible to take precautions. Last year several pedestrians were injured in the crosswalk. Fewer were injured when jaywalking. She knows which way is what.

The entire day must begin without events. The first half hour is crucial. The water is just so. The lather, again, just so. The hot tea not too hot. The weather not too cold. The stairway must be clear of any other people. She will wait her turn. The sidewalk can be damp, but there should be no puddles. She should not encounter more than two red lights in a row, but since she can control her pace to some extent, this usually doesn't happen. The tunnel should be noisy and polluted. A bus should roar through each direction. There can be no twins.

There can never be twins. Twins of any kind, but especially identical twins. Especially identical twins wearing the same outfit. Especially old lady identical twins wearing the same plaid outfits and newly coiffed hair. Any kind of twin is enough to ruin the day, but those twins, oh, those horrible twins. On seeing such twins, even if it's just a photo in a magazine ad, she must go home. She cannot work. She cannot shop. She must go home as quickly and directly as possible, and spend the rest of the day hiding under the sheets.

She can never go on vacation. There might be twins.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Fat Bearded Know-It-All

He may not be fat, and he may not have a beard, but he sure does know it all. There is at least one of these in every group in every division in every high tech company, and probably in all other industries as well. The fat bearded know-it-all may not be in charge; in fact, he usually isn't. He may not be the highest paid, and he may not be the most respected, but he is usually the most listened to.

The most listened to, that is, in terms of absolute time. The fat bearded know-it-all typically dominates every discussion. If he doesn't begin it, he ends it, because it's quote orthogonal. If he doesn't end it, he continues it, to make sure his contribution is at least above eighty percent. If that doesn't resolve anything, he takes it "offline", and if he doesn't take it offline, he follows up with a raft of emails. The meeting is never allowed to "rat-hole", unless he is the rat, and it is his hole.

He is the first to arrive at the meeting. He is early, so he can take the best seat in the room - the "man seat". He has a host of biting comments prepared and marshalled for every occasion.

The fat bearded know-it-all has solutions before there are problems. He answers every question before it is posed. He anticipates and forestalls all objections. Did you know, he is a chess master, a tour de force cyclist, a video game master who by the way knows the words to every song by Steely Dan. Nothing escapes his attention. He is the man who would want to be king if it were possible in this day and age.

Let no one else have a say in the matter, and let the matter be closed. If he has done it, it is done. Perceived flaws in his work are merely flaws in your perception. That bug in the software? Purely by design. That question you asked is just the kind of question he never wants to hear again, from anyone. He makes it clear, for the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but all of it belongs to the fat, to the bearded, to the one who knows it all.

The Closeness Resistor

You may approach, but not too close. The Closeness Resistor has a force field around him at all times. He will literally jump in the air if you attempt to cross it, and then his hair will fling about in a wild attempt to cover his face so you can't discern his shock. Someone has broken into the circle.

The Closeness Resistor has, on one or two occasions in the distant past, allowed another to get near him, and has even permitted a touch, albeit just a fingertip, on the shoulder, for a moment. The Resistor pulls away, even takes a step back, when any other contact is threatened.

He cannot wait in line at the drug store - the people are too consolidated there. The supermarket is often accessible, as long as he has a big shopping cart which he can wedge between himself and the next in line. Many other places are simply forbidden; a stadium, for example, or a disco. There are a great number of problems associated with being the Closeness Resistor, technical difficulties, matters of strategy.

Fortunately, he lives in the modern world, where most everyone drives alone in their personal car, where the suburbs provide ample parking, where the huge generic stores are laid out in wide open hallways. It helps when walls and floors are white; this increases the sense of space if not the actuality.

He can eat exclusively on drive-thru, if me must. He can lock his doors and never open them. He can work at home from the comfort of his lazy-boy chair. He has no troubles talking with anyone. The telephone is very handy for that. He does not mind meeting people either, as long as he does not have to shake their hand. He will keep his distance, and maintain it, permanently.

At night, when he lays down to sleep, he rests assured knowing that for now, there is no danger that anyone will approach and attempt to touch him.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Child Guider

The child-guider's child is very much like a tiny sailboat gliding on the shallow creek of life, requiring constant adjustments and corrections at every pebble, every twig, every bank and turn. "No", the child-guider says, "not this, but that." There is no obstacle that can be overcome by the child itself. There is no struggle that the child should experience for itself. There is no way but the child-guider way.

Should the child use his right-hand, it is better to develop the left. Should the child put one foot in front of the other, it had better be done in the proper sequence. The child should slide down the slide most correctly. Not this way, but that, the child-guider reminds.

The child is always wearing the wrong clothes, moving in the wrong direction, eating the wrong food, enjoying the wrong entertainment. Other parents are seemingly content to let their child make every mistake. This is not the child-guider way. Why make a mistake when the right way is so apparent?

The child-guider is not aware of the presence of others. His guidance is not for show. He does not need to prove his parent-worthiness. His concern is only for the child. This means there is no escape for the little one, no hope of even a momentary respite. The child is under continual supervision, and knows it.

The child-guider is always prepared with extra changes of clothes, bandaids, and bottles of water. He wears an emergency kit on his belt. The walkie-talkies he employs require only a range of several feet, for this is as far as the child is likely to get. The child-guider has modified the child's light-up shoes to light-up permanently on remote control. The child does not even need to jump up and down in the dark should the power go out. The child-guider has thought of everything.

The child-guider has found his magic, and regrets only that the child has to grow up so quickly. For this reason, the child-guider is often to be found residing in a large house with several children. Why not bestow his gift upon as many small ones as possible? The child-guider has contributed many an article on the subject to his local paper or bulletin board. The child-guider has also had much success in the art of training dogs.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Fact Corrector

The Fact Corrector is allergic to mis-statements of fact. Poor thing, she cannot help herself. An erroneous utterance of a fact causes her to itch severely behind the ear, and she will need to scratch unless she can correct it first. This causes a great deal of trouble for the Fact Corrector, who takes to wearing earplugs whenever she is in public; otherwise, the itching would drive her insane.

If one place is 1.2 miles from another, then one should say so. "Between one and two miles" is sufficient, but "a few miles"? Incorrect! Misleading. Intolerable. How can one say 'turquoise' when the color is clearly 'teal'? Opinions are one thing, anyone can have one, but a fact is a fact is a fact.

1892, not 1896! 'Twelve eleven', not 'a quarter past the hour'! 0.8 inches of rain, not 'a trace'. People have become quite lazy nowadays. Precision used to have some value.

The Fact Corrector keeps all the right answers in her brain, behind and slightly to the right of her left eyebrow - you can see it working to retrieve them on required occasions. A slight twitch as the fact comes tumbling forward. Then the mouth begins to open. The Fact Corrector wishes she could stop, but she cannot. It is as if the facts themselves compel her.

The recipients of her corrections are as grateful as one might expect, which is to say not very. They thought they had left behind such experiences when they were children back at school. Hostile glances are exchanged. Eyes are rolled. The Fact Collector understands but she is at the mercy of a greater power.

The Fact Corrector lies awake at night, worrying that during the day she had made some trivial error, and so contributed to the rampant ignorance which is driving the world to destruction.

The Topic Changer

The Topic Changer must alter the course of every conversation on which he embarks. He is the steer-master, the mis-leader, the bad driver on the road of interaction. At work, people stop inviting him to meetings; they know he will only "take them offline" while still "online". He is the one who aims squarely at the 'rat-hole'.

He cannot answer a question directly, but he is always glad to answer another question entirely. Is it raining outside? It may be, but it's interesting to note that cats do not like to get wet. Is the president an idiot? Possibly, and did you know that hunting licenses are not required in Wyoming? Someone starts talking about a hamburger and before they know it they find themselves listening about glaciers.

The Topic Changer can take any topic, any topic at all, and change it to literally any other topic. Usually he proceeds by links of association, but sometimes he'll just jump directly to the unrelated matter without making any connections at all. Associations are also loosely defined. Rain to wet to cats. That's two moves, and you can see how he gets there, but hamburgers to glaciers occurs with no moves whatsoever.

His partner in discourse is hopelessly lost, and trapped. They want to yell 'hey, dammit, we were talking about hamburgers, not glaciers!' but know from experience that this would only serve to move the conversation from glaciers to something else as completely irrelevant and uninteresting, so they might as well stay with glaciers. This global warming problem is really serious. The heater in my apartment is broken, and my landlord is such a dick. His wife makes the best cream pies. Have you ever gone for a bike ride down along the canal?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Name Disapprover

The Name Disapprover frowns at every new baby's name. There is something wrong with each and every one of them. Whenever he hears that someone is pregnant, he is immediately concerned that they will make a tragic mistake; the child's life will become pure hell due to the unthinkable name they bestow upon it.

There once was a girl named Misty Dawn. Is it any accident she became a stripper? What will become of Aska? How can you name a girl anything that begins with the sound "ass"? What were they thinking when they named the boy Trevor? Will he not suffer predictable traumas at the all boy's british prep school he is now destined to attend?

No, no, no, the Disapprover declares, you cannot invent a brand new name for the child! What will the other children think when they meet a boy named Linrod? Bisbee? And Montana is not a girl, it is a cold and desolate state! Oh, the shame of it all. The Name Disapprover is quite upset about the fates of these cruelly marked children. It does not occur to him that since all of their peers will also have stupid names, their own won't matter a bit.

The Disapprover lives in a Golden Era, when everyone was Bob or Bill or Jane or Sue. The Disapprover would be happiest if everyone was named after him.

The Rag Snob

The Rag Snob knows the exact value of every worthless object, and these are the only objects that she values. Her wardrobe consist of only castoffs, and not just any, but the best. These she finds at only the best old clothing stores, and the combinations she makes of them are the very elements of style.

She is not concerned with what other people wear; it's just too bad for them if they insist on wearing clothes that look like they were just made that morning. These have not been proven yet. It takes time to bestow the gift of taste. And as for people who wear things that are designed to go together, it's simply shows a lack of creativity. Clashing is important.

The Rag Snob has preferences that are indecipherable; there is no apparent basis for them, and this is precisely what makes them good. She is her own best work of art, and there is nothing more beautiful than a random collection of objects, insignificant in themselves. Heraclitus said this, and he may have been looking at the Rag Snob's bedroom.

She collects a curious combination of things; uniquely smelly incense sticks, small blue ceramic frogs, pink glass perfume bottles, tourist playing-cards, swatches of fabric that contain both green and purple, photographs of license plates, chess set pawns, amusing cat mugs. Every new thing she sees and likes becomes the beginning of a new collection.

All young men love the Rag Snob and want to buy things for her, but as soon as someone starts contributing to one of her groups, it ceases to attract her. Her room is also filled with tupperware containers of things she used to like, but now remind her only of one boy or another. She'd rather her collections remain purely her own. If you love a Rag Snob, please, don't give her anything you think she would like. Give her something you think she'd loathe instead.

The Nay Sayer

The Nay Sayer will never agree with you about anything. He always knows better. It does not matter what you have said, the answer is "no, not this one, that one".

You may have suggested a Vietnamese restaurant in town - you have proposed the wrong one. The Other Vietnamese restaurant is more authentic, the food is tastier, the decor more agreeable, and the prices more reasonable.

You may have mentioned that Mr. X seems to be doing a good job - the answer is no, Mr. X is lacking in such and such qualities and it is Mr. Y who is doing the better job.

You may have thought that A was a pretty good movie - there are at least seventeen major flaws in it which he can readily identify, and you should really see B, it was a much better film.

The weather may seem to be perfectly miserable, cold, windy and wet, but no, no, saith the Nay Sayer, this is exactly the kind of weather he prefers, which is why he moved to San Francisco in the first place. Any other kind of weather is for bad-tempered people who do not really deserve to live.

There is no subject the Nay Sayer is not familiar with. You may taunt him with suggestions that Polish Lap Dancing has it all over the Serbian variety, and he will regale you with quite graphic descriptions which should surely change your mind.

You cannot get the better of the Nay Sayer. Even if you tell him that you did see movie B, as he suggested, and it really was much better than movie A, you find he will have changed his mind, and now movie A is the genuine masterpiece, whereas B is purely trash.

At length you will surrender to the infinite wisdom of the Nay Sayer. He talks louder and longer than anyone else, with great effect. After several lunches with this man, you will find you have lost your appetite for commenting on anything ever again.

The Rule Ruler

The Rule Ruler abhors those who breaks the rules she considers valid, while brazenly breaking any she considers otherwise. She is the ultimate arbiter, and it should be obvious to anyone that she is always correct.

For example, dogs should always be on a leash. People who walk their dogs off-leash should be fined twelve thousand dollars and not be allowed to own a dog ever again. Cats, on the other hand, should be free to roam at will, since cats are by nature nomads. As a cat owner, the Rule Ruler sees the logic of these positions. Who could not? Anyone who keeps their cat indoors should be fined twelve thousand dollars and not be allowed to own a cat ever again.

Her judgments apply to all rules - how much makeup a young girl should wear, what time zone the state of Nebraska ought to be in, how many terms a president should be allowed to have, what the speed limit should be on each and every street, which leg you should first put into your pants, where there should be a pedestrian overpass, how many blocks are appropriate between each Burger King, how many croutons should fit on a side salad, or how many miniature carrots should there be in a one pound bag.

The Rule Ruler never writes down her definite version of the rules, for she is free to change them when it suits her, but every rule is absolute at any given moment, and she will certainly let you know if you are transgressing. Letters to the editor will be written. Your mother will be informed. Public notices will be posted. Internet bulletin boards will be crammed with outlandish charges, for the breaking of a rule is the Rule Ruler's greatest horror.

It shall not stand. Lines in the sand are drawn. She may not have any authority, or be unable to mind her own business, but once she makes it her business, you will wish you had done whatever it was you did a little differently. And next time, you probably will.

The Super-Volunteer

One of the problems of living in a small remote town is the volunteer vortex. If there is a problem, volunteers have to fix it. If the problem concerns you, than you really ought to be one of the volunteers. If you become one of the volunteers, you get sucked in to spending more and more time on it. If you spend more and more time on it, you feel a sense of entitlement - that is, you are entitled to lord it over all the other townies who do not volunteer, or who do not volunteer enough. If you are the Super-Volunteer, you have reached the summit of small town heroism.

There is the problem of the school, which is that the school always has a lot of problems. They need to raise money. They need teacher's helpers. They need people to paint over the graffiti on the walls. They need coaches. They need people to mow the fields. They need people to pick up trash. They need donations of every kind. They need bakers for bake sales and sellers for bake sales. They need drivers. They need and need and need.

Then there is the problem of the public areas. Picking up trash, weeding the sandboxes, mending the fences, paving the walkways, trimming the trees, watering the plants, the public areas are always a mess.

Depending on the locale, there may be a water problem, an industry problem, a post office junk mail recycling problem, a volunteer fire department problem, a search and rescue problem, a water body pollution problem, an off-leash dog problem, not to mention the various annual community events - 4th of July parades, Easter Egg hunts - that all require volunteers, and usually the same Super-Volunteers year after year. Everything requires volunteers. It is truly astounding that anything ever gets done.

Without the Super-Volunteers, we would have nothing. The Super-Volunteer has lots of experience, she has done everything before. She has, in fact, been doing everything for years. Everyone knows that if they have a question, the Super-Volunteer will have the answer. She is allowed to call everyone by some endearment - honey, sugar, jack - in case she forgets their names, and why shouldn't she? Other volunteers will come and go; most burnout by the second time around. The Super-Volunteer sticks it out.

The Super-Volunteer keeps track of everything she has done, and makes sure that everybody else is made aware of it. The hours are logged. The knotches are cut. The certificates are posted. The blue or gold medals of distinction are bestowed. The Super-Volunteer walks down Main Street with a glowing aura all around her. All bow down before the Super-Volunteer. She has made her town the whatever kind of town it is today.

The Place-Holder

The Placeholder is the man - or woman, but let us say a man for gender simplicity's sake - who must establish and maintain his position in any and all situations, including the best chair in the conference room, the "man" seat at the restaurant - this is the seat with the best view - the preferred seat on the airplane, and so on; each and every 'place' he deals with must be staked out, judged, and acquired. Woah to the one who would usurp the Placeholder's spot. Such insolence cannot be tolerated.

The Placeholder has several special chairs in his home, which must never be occupied by spouse or child or guest. Possibly in every room he has a spot reserved. The Placeholder may even have a preference for a particular area inside an elevator, or a stall position in a public restroom, for which which he is prepared to wait for any length of time. The Placeholder arrives early, even days before a dinner reservation, in order to note the desired table, and around it the one true seat. The Maitre'D will be informed. I would prefer that one, the Placeholder declares, leaving no other option open for consideration.

Other people might be interested in the same locations, but they will have to wait their turn, which may indeed be never. The Placeholder has already established his primacy by the simple effort he takes to get there first. One cannot argue with that. If you had had the ambition, you too could have reserved the very same spot, merely by arriving even earlier. The Placeholder considers it the law of the jungle. If one wants the spot, one takes the spot. What could be more fair?

Above all else, the Placeholder has exquisite taste in the places he reserves. No one can argue that they are not the primo locales. If they were not, he would not have selected them. Everyone nods in respect to the awesome choices the Placeholder makes, and says to themselves, now if I had only thought of that. The Placeholder notes this recognition, and finds himself completely satisfied, not only with his spot, but with the prestige that comes with having found and taken it, and from having witnessed the acknowledgment of his wisdom and his craft.

The Futile Epikles

The Epikles lives for the chance to do good deeds. He prowls for the opportunity. He lies in wait for unsuspecting victims of his magnanimity. His favorite phrase is "can I help you?". People looking at a map in public are the most susceptible to his aid. Before they have a chance to get their bearings, he appears before them pronouncing his phrase, and he is never at a loss for the information they require. He seems to know where everything is located. He is always "glad to help".

The Epikles spends his free time wandering around doing any good deed he can muster. Any good deed, no matter how small, rewards him with infinite satifaction. In line at the supermarket, he will insist that someone with fewer items go ahead of him. Spotting someone at the bus stop without an umbrella, he will inform them of the likelihood of rain. If he is at a train station, he will look around for people who seem to need to know the time, and he will tell them precisely what it is.

His acts are inspired by genuine goodness; he has no doubts about his inner qualitities. Other people may find him a little odd, a little too forthcoming, a tad too friendly, perhaps. After all, they do not know this knight in shining armor who is popping up out of nowhere to rescue them from nothing. His good deeds do in fact go unpunished, for they are not quite good enough to merit that result. He is dismissed with a half-hearted 'thank you', and, convinced his helpee is now all right, he hustles off to find the next horizon.

Epikles from The Iliad

"Telemonian Aias made the first kill - Sarpedon's brave companion, Epikles - by heaving a jagged block, the topmost of a pile that lay inside one of the battlements. Not easily could any mortal alive hold it in both hands, even in his prime, but Aias raised it high and hurtled it down, shattering helmet, skull and brains at one blow. Down the Lykian dropped headlong from the wall's height like a diver, as warm life ebbed from his bones"


The Futile Epikles is a series of characters sketches, inspired by the book 'Earwitness' by Elias Canetti

astute observers will note that physical descriptions are generally not included - even the "fat bearded" know-it-all is not necessarily fat or bearded. all of these characters come in all shapes and sizes.