Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dream Catcher: Lurch

There’s a Ride waiting for me outside Tech. My dream girl told me it would be there after she disconnected me from my Assistant. After the quick procedure, she let me know it wouldn’t be long before Control discovered the broken link, likely as soon as the technician returned and realized I’m gone. I tried to ask questions, but she wouldn’t allow me to speak. “There’s no time now. Go. Hurry! Find your Ride before you get caught. I don’t have to tell you what happens if you get caught with a disconnected link.”

I hop in the back, close the door. The Ride speaks. Good Afternoon, Mr. Somnian. Your destination has been pre-programmed. Are you ready to depart?

I look back at the entrance to Tech. I can see a squad of guards headed to the doors, most likely looking for me. I can’t go back. “Go!” I shout. “Go, now.” The car pulls off. I look back to see my technician and his goons pour out onto the street.

Getting caught with a severed link is not as simple as having it reconnected. It’s illegal to tamper with the wireless connection between your wetware and your hardware. First of all, it’s proprietary, meaning that any required work has to be done by an authorized technician. There are a few out there that take the risk of jailbreaking their units, but if they ever get caught, we're talking about arrest and interrogation. Many have their units removed and taken away, then promptly dropped into a Red Zone to fend for themselves. It’s not a good life. Without an assistant, it’s nearly impossible to find work. Most major employers look at being able to get in touch with you at all times as imperative.

A few actually get accused of espionage or treason, accused of working on behalf of a foreign government or some shadow organization looking to overthrow the government. Those violators get the most press, their names and faces disseminated throughout traditional and social media, before they disappear, never again to be seen or heard from. The rumor is that these most dangerous of offenders are quietly shipped to Gitmo.

You have arrived at your destination.

Lost in my thoughts and anxiety, I didn’t pay attention to where I was being taken. I unbuckle my seatbelt and look around. I’m on a narrow street lined with tiny rowhouses. I think I’m still in the city, but where? I grasp the door handle when someone opens the driver’s side door and hops in the front. “Don’t move!” says the voice.


“Don’t speak,” she says as she begins to fiddle with the display on the dash. She’s in a hoodie, with the hood pulled up. Only her voice gives her away. I watch as she connects something to the display and gets busy tapping on the screen. “Okay, I’ve disabled all monitoring. We’re in the shadows for the next five minutes. I just have to remove any memory of your trip. It won’t take me long, so get ready to move.”

“Can you explain to me what’s going on?” I ask, solemnly.

“Not right now,” she says, “I’m a little busy.”

I don’t know what else to say. I wait.

“Okay, go now. Hurry.”

We open our doors, almost simultaneously, and hop out.

“This way,” she says. I follow her to an intersecting alley of nothing but connected garages. She turns down that alley and walks to one of the garages, reaches down, turns the oblong knob. The garage door flies up with a pop. Inside is a older car, a pre 21st century Impala. “Hop in,” she says as she opens the driver’s side door and gets in behind the wheel. I open the passenger side door and slide in next to her. By the time I close my door, the engine is running. By the time my seatbelt is on, we’re out of the garage, turning back toward the street we just left. The Ride is gone.

I lurch forward as the Impala stops abruptly. My driver pops the car into park and hops out. I watch her hustle back to the garage, fling its door back down, and hustle back into the car. We’re moving again. My heart feels too big, like it’s about to break through my ribcage. Only once we turn onto a larger street do I realize where we are, somewhere in lower Fells Point, not far from Patterson Park.

We get to Broadway, and neither of us have said a word. At this point, I have so many questions, I don’t know where to begin. Once we cross Broadway, she glances at me. “So, you’re the dreamer?”

“Dreamer? Not that I know of. I mean sure, but we all dream, don’t we?”

“Not quite like you, Solomon.”

She also knows my name. I’m getting tired of meeting people who seem to know me while I know nothing. Her hood is down. I finally get a decent look at her. She’s got a round face, cocoa brown, childlike, save for the scowl. Her hair is just an organic puff of tight curls, like a homemade crown. “Everyone seems to know me today, but I don’t know them. Who are you? What’s going on?”

“Sorry for all the cloak and dagger, Solomon. We have to be careful. We can’t afford for them to find you, now. I’m Asia. As for what’s going on, it’s not up to me to tell you. All I can say is I have to get you into the Red Zone before they track you down." Nothing she said makes my heart any smaller. On the contrary, once she mentioned our destination, my chest only got tighter.

As we approach the entrance to the Red Zone, we stop behind a line of other vehicles waiting to get in, about a block long. “Okay, I need you to hop in the back. Pull that center console down and squeeze through into the trunk.”

I look at her. “Is that really necessary?”

“Well, considering you need to show ID to get in, that you’re not authorized to enter the zone, and that by now, there’s an APB out for you, and you’ll be taken into custody at the gates, you tell me.”

Reluctantly, I undo my seatbelt, slither over the back of my seat onto the back seat, and pull the console down. I lurch as the car moves up the line. “Don’t dawdle,” says Asia. I squeeze my way through and into the dark. I reach an arm back through, grab the strap on the console, and pull it closed as the car lurches forward again.

I’m in pitch blackness for only a few minutes, the car moving along in short lunges, before I can hear muffled voices. I can barely make it out, a male voice asking for identification, Asia complying. The rest of the conversation is inaudible, until the male voice says, “I need to look in your trunk. Pop it!” I immediately start to shake uncontrollably, and am instantly coated in a layer of sweat.

“I can’t just pop it, man. I have to get out to open it.”

“Well then, you better fucking hurry. You’re holding up the line.”

I hear the engine stop, Asia’s door open and shut. I hold my breath, as if that was enough to make me invisible. I hear the key click into the lock, the lock pops, the trunk door squeaks as it opens. Light! None. I’m still in the dark. “We good?” I hear Asia ask.

“Move on.” the male voice replies. I want to breathe, but I can’t. So I try to remember how as I shiver in my now cold sweat. The car starts and we move forward with one last lurch.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama:

Eight years ago, I was in a bar not far from the National Mall watching you take your oath as I drank margaritas with my new, at that time, girlfriend. Although we'd left Baltimore early, the crowds were so thick, getting past the checkpoints and into the mall seemed impossible. Everything about that time seemed impossible.

I had lost my job that previous summer. I managed a watch boutique in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and I could tell that the country was in a bad place. I'd been working in that area for years, and I'd never seen it so slow. The usual bustle of locals and tourists had dwindled to a trickle. I wasn't the least bit surprised that my management, not the crashing economy, was blamed for my store's poor numbers. 

In a sense, I felt relieved. I predicted (accurately, it turned out) that the store itself would close down after not too long. Also, it gave me the opportunity to do something I had always imagined, but never actually tried before, working on a political campaign. By that time, I'd had the honor of hearing you speak when you stopped in Baltimore during the primaries. Now, unburdened of the stresses of running a retail operation and eligible to collect unemployment benefits, I finally had the time I needed.

In early September I applied to volunteer as a Deputy Field Organizer, and on October 1, 2008, I stepped off a train in Manassas, Virginia, where it had been decided I could do the most good. I cannot tell you, Mr. President, how proud I was to be there. Even for a Word Pimp, the words can be hard to muster.

It wasn't easy. I was immediately thrown into the fire, asked to debate a local GOP official at a local nursing home. Without talking points! I'm happy to say that I crushed him. Your ideas were so vivid, so eloquent, your arguments so cogent, that they rolled off my tongue as easily as if it were your lips moving.

I walked miles, made hundreds of calls, had issues with lodging, and I came home to a $1000 plus phone bill; but I knew in my heart that it was all worth it. Whatever small role I could play in winning Virginia for Democrats, for the first time in forty years, was worth the price. Besides, the rewards were priceless, like my unexpected debate, and the day I got to cater to Susan Rice before a speech she gave in Manassas.

Election night, when it was announced that we'd won Virginia, was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for making those experiences possible for me. Thank you for stepping right in and stopping the carnage the tanked economy had caused our nation. In an impossible job market, you helped me personally by making sure unemployment benefits were extended. When my girlfriend lost her business, it was your initiatives that helped her find a job.

As I write this, it's my understanding that a new president is being sworn in. I can't be sure as I refuse to watch it. For me, it would be condoning your successor's abhorrent behavior and vile ideas. How am I supposed to transition from the grace and wisdom that you showed over the past eight years to...

Apologies. This missive is not about what may happen, this is about you and how grateful I am for all of your efforts and accomplishments, despite the fact that many were intent on diminishing, even demonizing them and you. I am grateful for the way you carried and conducted yourself. I am grateful for how you represented our country around the world. 

You were a beacon during darker days, and I find it sad that we seem to now be drawn back towards darkness. Forgive me if I find myself dwelling on another inauguration, one that despite its bitter cold was full of cheer and warmth, even in a crowded bar off the National Mall.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goodbye Sunshine Treatment

Treatment for a script Valerie & I have completed a first draft of...

Goodbye Sunshine


Gabriel — named after Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gabe is a writer who has failed repeatedly to publish his novel, Goodbye Sunshine. He recently turned down an offer of $50,000 to publish his novel, on the condition that he lets his main character, Sunshine, live.

Molly — is Gabe’s childhood friend. They were the couple everyone thought would hook up but never did. They had one miserable date. They remained close friends, however, even going to art school together. When Gabriel pulls one of his notorious pranks, Molly always come to the rescue.

Lucia — is Gabriel’s wife. They met in art school, where she immediately began pushing Molly out. She went as far as convincing Gabe to transfer to a writing program to finish his novel, but mostly to get him away from Molly. Lucia’s comes from money, although her family is suffering from financial problems. She recognizes his talent, and sees Gabe as a way back to the Big Time.

Josh — also met the rest of the gang in art school. He knew Lucia from high school, but is more of a fanboy, like Molly & Gabe. He’s known as a jokester with an insatiable libido.

The movie opens with a close up of a rope around someone’s neck. As the camera draws back, we see that it’s Gabe. He’s taking pictures of himself, pretending to be dead, like Sunshine, for a blog entry about his most recent failure to publish. While trying to get himself out of the noose, he slips, nearly choking himself, knocking his laptop over, and accidentally posting a picture where he appears to be dead with the title, “Goodbye.” The rope snaps, Gabe hits his head on the floor, and the laptop falls on his head. He is knocked unconscious.

Immediately, his post is broadcast all over the internet. We see Josh receive the news first. he’s at the airport, about to catch a flight to Hedonism. He’s shocked. He tries to call Gabe, but gets no answer. He calls Lucia. Lucia reluctantly checks the post and assumes the worst. She asks Josh to find out if its true, but he doesn’t want to cancel his flight. Josh tells her to call the police. Lucia doesn’t want police involved until they absolutely have to be. Josh tells Lucia to call Molly. She’s not far from the studio. Lucia refuses. Josh calls Molly.

During all this time, we see various people, Gabe’s readers, friends, media and the editor who was going to publish GS receive the post. At this point, people begin sending condolences to Lucia. Lucia, swept up in the overflow of sympathy becomes convinced Gabe is dead and begins planning a memorial service.

Molly doesn’t have a smartphone. Josh calls her, asking if she’s heard from Gabe. She tells him she hasn’t, but isn’t expecting to see him until the next day to shoot her “monster” movie. Josh tells her about the post. She thinks it must be a hoax. She agrees to check the studio.

Molly arrives at the studio and comes across Gabe’s body. She screams. He screams. She screams louder. Etc.

Molly begins throwing things at Gabe. They argue. Molly’s phone rings. Josh received an invite to Gabe’s memorial service and is calling Molly to find out what the fuck is going on. Molly, busy fighting with Gabe doesn’t hear the phone. Molly tells Gabe to call Lucia. Gabe picks up the phone and sees the invite to his own memorial service. Gabe decides not to tell anyone he’s still alive so he can attend the service, especially when he realizes that his would-be publisher is attending.

Gabriel convinces Molly not to call Lucia or Josh. He sits down to write a retraction and pretends to post it. Of course, because Molly’s phone sucks, she doesn’t realize he’s lying.

Act 2 begins with Lucia talking to Matt Frisby, the editor of Tanner House Books. He was the editor who offered to publish Gabe’s book if he agreed to change the ending. He calls to offer his condolences and to offer Lucia the advance for publishing GS with the new ending. She agrees, only if he will change the dedication. Frisby will meet Lucia at the memorial service with a check, a contract and a galley of the book, new dedication and ending included.

Meanwhile, Josh decides to miss his flight. He can’t get an answer from Molly, and Lucia is incomprehensible. He assumes Gabe must be dead. Josh tells all his monster cohorts to come in their costumes to honor Gabe. He heads home.

Gabe sees the alert about the costumes. He realizes he can get into the service unnoticed in costume, but decides that wearing Godzilla would be too risky. He decides to break into Josh’s place to steal his Gamera suit.

Molly gets home, checks her computer and realizes Gabe faked the retraction. She calls him. Angry words are exchanged. Gabe finally convinces her to let him talk to Frisby. He even gets her to agree to break into Josh’s place.

In Act 3, hilarity ensues as Gabe and Molly break into Josh’s. Lucia is calling a caterer. Josh gets home to realize his suit is gone.

Lucia is already at the service. Gabe arrives as Gamera. He runs into Lucia who thinks he’s Josh. Gabe runs off when he sees the real Josh come in. Lucia doesn’t even realize that Josh is out of costume one moment and in the next. Molly makes an entrance dressed as Mothra. Everybody’s entranced, even Gabe. Josh sees Gamera and gives chase.

Eventually, Gabe comes across a copy of the galley. At first, he’s excited, thinking Tanner House decided to publish his novel. Suddenly, he rifles to the end and realizes the ending has been changed. He tries to tear the book apart, rips off the front cover, drops the rest of the book. He bends down to pick it up and notices the dedication has been changed from his late mother to Lucia. He slumps down next to his Gamera head.

Molly enters, asks what’s wrong. Gabe tells her. Josh catches sight of Gamera. He sneaks up on it until he’s close enough and pounces. After a scuffle, Josh realizes Gabe is alive. He’s happy, until he finds out what Lucia did.

Josh goes back to the service to confront Lucia. Frisby is at the mic offering a remembrance and announcing the deal. Everyone applauds. When the rest of the applause stops, we see Gabe is still clapping. Gasp! He’s alive. Lucia runs to Gabriel. He rebuffs her. She tries to humiliate him before storming off.

Denouement: Cut to Monster Movie shoot. We find out that, based on the publicity his stunt garnered, a rival publisher agrees to publish GS. blah blah blah. Gabe & Molly hold hands. End

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bus Stop

..some micro-fiction I originally wrote in 1994 or so... semi-autobiographical... edited a few times ... appeared in "Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore" and heard on "The Signal"

So there I am, sitting near the back of the number 13, working out the national debt in my head on my way to Fells Point, when I notice this woman getting on with a little boy who I figure is her son.
   As soon as I see her, I know she’s junked. Her hands look painfully swollen and puffy. Her cheeks, gaunt and sunken in, like someone had dug them out with a soup spoon. Dried spit, caked white, crusts on each corner of her mouth. Her half-lidded eyes are glazed over and unfocused, as if she can only see things within a foot of her—not that she’s trying to see anything.
   She saunters towards the back, led by the boy, and sits almost directly across from me. The boy can’t be more than four years old, but is as alert as his mother is high. She spends her time nodding off, in & out of the heroin induced nirvana in her mind, while he maneuvers from seat to seat, alternating between looking out the window and catching his mother before she falls out of her seat and onto the floor of the bus.
  He begins to get more agitated as we round North Avenue and start heading south on Wolfe Street. Every few blocks he tries to wake his mother up, each time with a little more desperation. At best she offers him nothing more than a quarter-lidded nod with a bit of a snort for good measure. At worst, she doesn’t even acknowledge his existence.
   Finally, as we near Johns Hopkins Hospital, he stands up on his seat and rings the bell himself, his cute little fingers barely able to reach the yellow stripe. As the driver slows to their stop, he hops down and starts tugging at his mother’s arm. “Momma! Momma!!” he squeals, “We gotta get off he’e!” …just loud enough to snap her out of her state of euphoria and bring her back to the city of Baltimore—at least long enough to let him guide her off the bus.
   Listening to the little boy’s voice, ingraining itself into my brain, takes me back to when I was his age… guiding my mother through the maze that is the New York subway system… making sure we got on the right PATH lest we end up at the Port Authority rather than Hoboken.
I wonder if he sits like I used to, in front of the television watching reruns of Batman and Gilligan’s Island, chomping on a box of Lucky Charms, hoping that Batgirl would show up in her skintight jumper, or that the Professor would finally get them off that fucking island. All the while, my mom would be slouching in a chair in the next room with lines of drool making etch-a-sketch patterns on her chest while she mumbled about how much she missed her friend Janis…   Joplin, it turned out to be. I would just pray that she could work off her fix in time to cook something for dinner before I went to bed.
   I realize that the bus is almost empty. We’re almost at my stop—the last stop. I use my sleeve to wipe the tears off my face and the drippings from my nose, wondering how long I’ve been crying… was I wailing… who had noticed… who cared?
   I send my heart out to the little man one last time, wondering if he would have the same chances I’d had, the same luck. I wonder if he too would grow up too early because of the premature responsibilities, missing out on a childhood you only try to relive once it’s too late. I shake my head. More than likely, he’ll just be another casualty, found lying in the street, in his teens, with a few bullet holes—Baltimore Birthmarks—in his body. Which fate was better?
   I finish composing myself as I walk towards the front of the bus, wiping my sleeve on my jeans so the snot won’t stain, trying to shake that boys voice from my head. It’s times like these when think I can feel the pain of the whole world, but I’m powerless to ease it. I think about dinner as the bus doors slide shut behind me.