Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Four




OLIVER EXAMINED THE RING by the light of the dashboard as he sped back to the Pizza Dude.

Crazy old man, he thought, his eyes bouncing back and forth between the ring and the road.

Mr. Pembleton had claimed that it was a magic ring and that with it Oliver could make all of his dreams come true. Oliver had just nodded and smiled, took the ring, and got the heck out of there as fast as his legs could carry him.

“Magic ring,” Oliver said aloud. “Bat freaking crazy,” he laughed and dropped the ring next to his cell phone on the console between the front seats. Three seconds later, the phone vibrated.

Oliver picked the phone up and looked at the screen. It was his wife, Elyse. He pushed the Talk button.

“Hello?” he said into the phone.

“Hi, sweetie,” Elyse said. “You about done for the night?”

“Yeah, I just finished my last delivery, I’ll be home soon.”

“How’s Mr. Pembleton?”

“Crazy as ever,” Oliver said.

“Hurry home,” she said. “The girls are asleep and I feel like I haven’t seen you all day.”

“I know that, Hon,” annoyance crept into Oliver’s voice. Of course she hadn’t seen him all day. He’d been working. “But I have to work. If I don’t work, we don’t eat.”

“Oliver, that’s not how I meant it. I know you work hard, and I appreciate it. The girls do to. It’s just that I miss you.”

Now he felt like a complete jerk. His temper often got the better of him.

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said. “I know you do. I miss you too, I’m just tired. I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said into his ear.

Five minutes later Oliver Jordan pulled into the lot of the Pizza Dude. He snatched up the ring and phone, sliding them both into his front pants pocket, and headed into the building. As he entered, he nodded to Mr. Crackenmeyer who stood at the counter flipping through a stack of receipts. He could see the rest of the crew sitting at tables in the dining room. They looked annoyed—as if they had somewhere better to be. Of course, they were teenagers, and teenagers always looked like that.

He ignored the looks they threw his way, hoping that their moody sit-in meant that the dishes were done and that they would soon be leaving.

“You still have a lot of dishes left back there,” Crackenmeyer said, not looking up from his receipts as Oliver approached the counter. “We’d like to get out of here before midnight.”

“Why didn’t you have someone else wash them while I was out on delivery?” Oliver asked. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“Last time I checked, Oliver,” Crackenmeyer said, finally looking up from his receipts. “Washing those dishes was your job. Now get to it.”

Oliver sighed and made his way to the back and the sink of pizza pans. Oliver found about fifteen pans waiting to wash. It was so unfair. There was no good reason one of those kids couldn’t have finished up for him instead of sitting around a table texting each other. As nice and understanding as Albert Crackenmeyer could be on occasion, he could also be a real jerk.

Oliver toyed with the idea of quitting, just throwing down his apron and walking away. For a moment his heart soared at the thought of such a bold move. He could almost taste the freedom.

But then reality slapped him in the face like a wet fish.

Quitting wasn’t an option. His family situation was such that you just didn’t walk away from a paying job without having another one lined up and ready to go. Not with the job market the way it was. But that didn’t stop Oliver from fantasizing. He imagined stripping his apron off, walking calmly to the counter—to Albert J. Crackenmeyer—and telling the man he could finish his own stupid dishes, thank you very much. Then he’d just walk out the door, head held high. And hey, because it was a fantasy, Oliver imagined Crackenmeyer chasing him out of the store, begging Oliver not to leave, pleading with Oliver that Crackenmeyer needed him—that Oliver was worth ten of those stupid teenagers. Oliver smiled as the fantasy played out in his head.

It was only after washing the tenth pan that Oliver had come upon a devious plan to strike back at Crackenmeyer and the rest of the crew the only way he knew how. He dried his hands on his apron, hung it on a rack next to the sink, and walked out of the back room and into the dining room.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Crackenmeyer, now sitting with the teenagers, asked.

“Bathroom break, boss?” Oliver asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. He continued on through the dining room to the public restrooms at the back near the jukebox.

Once in the bathroom, he locked the door behind him and smiled at himself in the mirror in smug satisfaction. Maybe now they’ll think twice before messing with Oliver Q. Jordan.

Before taking a seat, Oliver dug the phone out of his pocket. He’d once had his phone fall out of his pocket, and into the toilet, while he had pulled his pants back on . . . he’d since learned from that mistake. As he pulled the phone free from his pocket, something else came out with it and fell to the tiled floor with a dull thunk. He glanced down and saw it was the ring that Mr. Pembleton had given him. The Ring of Might, the old man had called it.

Oliver retrieved the ring, surprised once again by the weight of the thing, like it was five rings in one. Suddenly, he felt a pulse of energy course through his hand and up his arm, flowing throughout his entire body. It had come from the ring. The pulse had gone as quickly as it had begun, but it had left Oliver dizzy and shaken.

He stared at the ring in his hands and was filled with a deep urgency to place the ring on his finger. His mouth had gone bone dry and a low ringing had filled his ears. He licked his lips.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, but soon his eyes began to water. He hadn’t blinked. Not once. He just couldn’t take his eyes off of the ring.

He slid the ring onto a finger.

Nothing happened.

He wasn’t sure what he had expected—an earthquake, a chorus of angels, or even gold raining from the ceiling—but all he got was a great big bunch of nothing. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Not nothing exactly. His mouth was no longer dry and the ringing in his ears had stopped, but he just figured that there would be more to a magic ring.

He shook his head, dismissing it all as the crazy nonsense of a senile old man, dropped his pants, and sat down on the cold toilet seat, the ring all but forgotten.





A FEW MILLION MILES away, in the darkness of space, a ship floated—silent and waiting. To say that the ship was ugly was to say that the sea was a bit salty. It was blocky and contained no sense of symmetry. Its color was a dull grey, the hue of dead fish, and the lights that sat randomly about the thing’s hull blinked out of sequence and were in no way appealing to the eye. It wasn’t a large ship, not by most intergalactic standards, and it sat among the stars in such a way would make an observer feel as if the stars wanted nothing at all to do with the thing.

The interior, if anything, was far worse. The main control room appeared to have been designed by the custodian of an insane asylum, but only if said custodian had spent years sleeping in the most expensive architectural schools. Chairs were strewn around the room in rather odd places, facing nothing in particular. View screens were set at strange angles, causing one to bend or crane their neck just to see what was on screen. But mostly it was the crème yellow coloring that covered every exterior surface.

On the ship’s home world, crème yellow—which was known as ‘barf’—was said to be the most calming of colors. In reality it made any carbon-based life form that did not originate from the ship’s home world feel the need to extricate their lunch from themselves by any means necessary.

Sitting at a command console in the front of the control room, a robot, designated ComBot 1 (which was, incidentally, the same crème yellow as the room), fiddled with a knob as it read through a series of ones and zeros that flashed across a small monitor in the floor.

Based on the reaction of ComBot 1, the message that scrawled across the screen must have been an important one. Robots aren’t normally known for high levels of excitement, but in this case, ComBot 1 couldn’t hold back its giddiness.

It began by cocking its head slightly to the left. Next it rotated its head .098432 millimeters to the right. The robot was practically bursting its seams.

ComBot 4 had noticed ComBot 1’s odd behavior.

“Sir?” ComBot 4 asked. “Is everything okay?”

“The ring has been activated,” ComBot 1 said.

The other robots (ComBots 2 and 3), who were also fiddling with knobs and gazing into monitors, sat bolt upright at the announcement.

“Wake the General.” ComBot 1 said.

“At once, sir,” ComBot 4 said, standing and saluting before leaving through a large door in the back.

ComBot 4 walked along a dark corridor for a minute or two before coming to a stop at the only door in the entire ship that was not crème yellow in color. This particular door was red—a dark, blood red that would have made ComBot 4 sweat were it designed to excrete liquids. The robot pushed a small crème yellow button next to a small crème yellow speaker and a short buzzing sound was heard from the other side of the door.

“I was not to be disturbed!” said a deep voice from within the room.

“I hear and obey, oh Terribly Powerful and Frightening One, but—”

“But nothing!” This time the voice came from the crème yellow speaker next to the door. “You have defied a direct order. Take yourself down to the maintenance bay and have yourself melted down at once!”

“Yes sir, oh Benevolent and Merciful, but—”

“You dare to argue?! WITH ME?!”

“Of course not, my divine and illustrious General, but—”

“BE GONE FROM MY DOOR BEFORE I MELT YOU DOWN MYSELF! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?”

ComBot 4 found itself in a quandary. It was perfectly happy to obey the General’s orders, as it was programed, and to walk itself to the maintenance bay for a good melting down. This new order, however, conflicted with an older order which was to inform the General the moment the ring was ever activated. As both orders came from the General, ComBot 4 floundered on what to do.

After much internal debate, which took a mere .2324 seconds due to the super computer that was the robot’s brain, the ComBot went for broke and shouted out the words: “The ring has been activated my, Lord!”

The ComBot pushed these words out so quickly, however, that the message sounded more like this:

“THERINGHASBEENACTIVATEDMYLORD!”

This had been met with silence from the other side of the door.

ComBot 4 waited for a moment, turned away from the door, took a step down the corridor, paused, waited for another moment, turned back, took a step toward the door, waited for an even further moment, then repeated it all again until finally the door slid silently upwards.

“Come in,” said the voice from within.

ComBot 4 stepped into the expansive room. Unlike the rest of the ship, the General’s room was red like the door—red walls, red carpeting, red everything—all except for the ivory-white throne in the center upon which the General sat. The General was thin and may have looked frail had it not been for the dark granite-like nature of his skin. The General was tall and hairless. His only raiment was a dark blue body suit with blood red boots and gloves. A symbol ordained the chest of the General’s body suit, its color the same red of his boots. The symbol, though in no language known to the people of Earth, looked much like the letter R.

ComBot 4 walked to the throne and knelt.

“Report,” the General said.

“The ring has been activated, My Lord. Just five minutes ago. On Earth.”

The General stood.

“Take me there,” the General said. “Now.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Three



OLIVER MASHED THE BRAKE to the floor and the car slid to a screeching halt. Just inches beyond the bumper lay the cell phone tower, rocking for a moment before coming to rest, the steel bars melted and burnt at one end where it had separated from its base. Before Oliver could so much as breathe; a woman in a purple body suit leaped atop the fallen tower and hurled lightning bolts at a man in red and yellow.

Great, Oliver thought. Just what I need, a pair of Mighties in my way.

The woman, Lady Lightning, had the power to create bolts of lightning out of thin air, and then throw them at whatever she felt needed to be hit by a bolt of lightning: Bank vaults, armored cars, and–of course–her arch nemesis, Spitfire.

Spitfire was the man in red with yellow boots, gloves, and cape. He had the ability to breathe fire. Great searing gouts of it. It was fairly obvious that it was Spitfire and his lava breath that had toppled the tower.

Oliver rolled down his window, leaned his head out, and gave the horn a couple of really good honks.

“Come on!” he yelled to the two combatants. “Take this somewhere else! Some of us are going to be late for work!”

The two Mighties, as was typical from those of their ilk, ignored Oliver and continued fighting. This never would have happened when Captain Might was still around.

Oliver had no choice, he put the car in reverse and backed away, forced to find another route around the battle zone and try his best to arrive at work on time.

The Pizza Dude was, at one time, a local favorite. Called simply the Dude by Garrison residents, it was a favorite no longer. The Dude made its home in an area of Garrison called Waynestown, a once-modern shopping district catering to the upper middle class living in the nearby posh suburb of Flatsburg. Unfortunately, the area in which the Dude resides had been devastated during the epic battle between Captain Might and Ruin in 1994.

The Pizza Dude sat alone among the graves of former burger joints, clothing stores, and other various retail outlets. For some of the Dude’s former neighbors, all that remained were burned out shells–husks with gaping holes where the walls used to be. Others were just piles of rubble or empty lots. The Dude remained standing.

No one dined at the Dude anymore. They didn’t like to be reminded how quickly a thriving district like Waynestown could just disappear off the map. If it wasn’t for its free delivery service, the Dude would have died that day as well.

Oliver pulled into the lot–empty but for the cars of the other employees–as the clock on his dash hit 6:03 PM. He was out of the car, through the lot, and into the restaurant before 6:04.

“You’re late, Jordan!”

Albert Crackenmeyer—owner of the Pizza Dude and Oliver’s boss—was a short man with thinning hair. Most people meeting Albert for the first time took him for a man in his sixties, but truth be told, he was ten years Oliver’s junior.

The Dude had been in the Crackenmeyer family for three generations, starting with Greg Crackenmeyer, Albert’s grandfather, who first opened doors in 1967. The honor then passed to Philip Crackenmeyer when Greg and his wife Janine died in the Praxian invasion of ’82.

Albert took over ownership at the age of eighteen when the lives of his parents, Phillip and May, ended in a freak meteor shower. This state of affairs—which fell on the day he graduated high school—put an end to what had promised to be an epic four years of partying and debauchery at State college.

“Sorry, Albert,” Oliver said, bustling past Crackenmeyer and rushing into the back room to change into his Pizza Dude hat and apron. “I got hung up by Lady Lightning and Spitfire.”

Crackenmeyer sighed loudly. “Hey, it’s okay, it happens.”

Most people expected Albert Crackenmeyer to be a cantankerous boss, and on some days he really could be, what with missing college and the drinking and the debauchery. The truth of the matter was that Albert Crackenmeyer was really right where he wanted to be.

“Thanks, boss,” Oliver said, facing a sink full of black, crusty pizza pans. Now it was Oliver’s turn to sigh.

“You know,” Oliver said. “This is the part about pizza delivery no one ever talks about.”

“What do you want me to say, Ollie,” Crackenmeyer said. “You get paid by the hour. I can’t be having you standing around doing nothing in between deliveries. So you gotta be doing something and someone has to wash the pizza pans. So that honor falls to you.”

“Great. Thanks,” Oliver said.

“Hey, think of it this way. You get all them pans washed, you can fold boxes.”

Oliver laughed.

“Who would have thought that someone had to assemble pizza boxes,” Oliver said. “I always thought those things came ready-made.”

“Nothing’s ready-made anymore, Ollie. Someone has to make them.”

Crackenmeyer left him to his dishes and his thoughts. There were a lot of things about the Pizza Dude that Oliver didn’t like: Being away from home for so long, interacting with customers face to face and—of course—washing pans.

The only thing Oliver liked about the Pizza Dude was the time he spent in the car while out on deliveries. It was one of the few times in his life that he felt like his own man. He didn’t have a customer chattering in his ear, he was free to make his own decisions, and he could be his own boss.

In the car he could be alone with his thoughts and for a time, forget the stresses in his life. First and foremost among those stresses that weighed heavily upon his soul were the bills that piled higher and higher each day. He’d first put unpaid bills in a folder he kept on his desk in the spare room. He’d soon replaced the folder with a shoe box. Even then the shoe box couldn’t keep up and now a single drawer in the desk holds all of their debts.

It’s why he worked the two jobs. He had a wife and two little girls at home who depended on him, so the money had to come from somewhere.

This was his life . . . and he saw nothing changing in the foreseeable future.

Oliver sighed and turned the tap on the faucet. He dreamed of better things, happier days, as the sink filled with hot, soapy water.

Four hours, fifteen deliveries, and a few dozen pizza pans later, Oliver was back in the trusty Pizza Dude delivery car. The rusted out white 2001 Toyota Corolla boasted power steering, an AM/FM stereo, an inoperable air conditioner, and over three hundred thousand miles on the odometer. Oliver felt at peace as he cruised down Route 20 toward his last delivery of the night: Mr. Pembleton.

Soon this day would be done.

Now that was something to smile about.

It had started to become a regular thing–ending his night with a delivery to Mr. Pembleton. At least it had been for the last few months. Oliver had never met Mr. Pembleton before that night seven months ago when he had stopped a teenager from mugging the old man at an ATM machine outside the First National Bank of Garrison. The old man had been so grateful that he’d wanted to give Oliver a reward there on the spot. Oliver had politely refused, telling the old man that he was running late for work. Besides, he’d really done nothing more than give a shout which had scared the young thief away. But Mr. Pembleton would hear nothing of it.

“Late for work, eh?” Mr. Pembleton had said. “And where might that be, maybe I can make a call, speak to your boss for you?”

“I deliver pizzas for the Pizza Dude,” Oliver said. “And really, you don’t need to do that. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Oliver saw Mr. Pembleton safely into a taxi and went off to work–late again. Later that night he found himself delivering the old man a medium supreme with no olives, and Pembleton had tipped him fifty dollars for ‘exceptional delivery services’.

That’s when it had begun–his final delivery of the night. Oliver worked every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday; and he could always count on the fact that he’d see Mr. Pembleton at the end of each night. He didn’t mind, he rather liked the old man, and he did tip well. Not the fifty bucks he got that first night, but he did okay.

Mr. Pembleton lived at the end of a long and winding gravel driveway–which was at the end of a long and winding gravel county road–out in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t an easy place to find. Oliver had gone past the drive four times that first night before he’d even realized it was there. Then there was the house itself. It was a two story ranch-style with a small enclosed porch that hadn’t known the touch of a paintbrush in at least two decades. Oliver had never been out to the house in the daytime, but at night the place practically lurked out there at the end of the drive. Oliver often felt more than a little trepidation each time he pulled in.

And tonight was no exception.

Soon Oliver stood on the old man’s porch holding the medium supreme (no olives) in an insulated pizza bag. He rang the doorbell. It took a few minutes but after listening to the old man shuffle about inside the big house the sound of Mr. Pembleton’s voice greeted him from the other side of the door.

“Who is it?” the old man said.

“Pizza Dude, Mr. Pembleton,” Oliver said in a loud voice so that he could be heard through the thick oak door.

The door swung open and there stood Mr. Pembleton. He was bent with gray hair, liver spots, and walked with a cane. But Oliver could see an unyielding strength sparkle somewhere deep in the old man’s eyes.

“Ah, yes. Oliver Jordan. How nice to see you again,” Mr. Pembleton said, then, gesturing with his cane, invited Oliver in. “Come in, come in.”

“Thank you sir,” Oliver said, crossing the threshold.

The front room was tidy, but lived in. At the far end of the room sat a large television. Before it was a well-worn recliner with a TV tray on a stand sitting at its side. On the tray were always five things: A glass of water, the remote control for the television, the most recent copy of TV Guide, a book of crossword puzzles, and a pen. Oliver had once asked Mr. Pembleton if he used the pen to fill in the crossword puzzles, wondering what he would do if he got a word wrong.

“I don’t get the word wrong, my boy,” the old man had replied. “That’s the key to crossword puzzles.”

Oliver looked now at the book of crossword puzzles, remembering the conversation, and smiled.

“Sit, Oliver, sit,” Mr. Pembleton was saying. “I’ll just find my wallet and then you can be on your way.”

Along the wall to the left of the television sat an old couch covered in plastic. Oliver took a seat, perched on the edge of the cushion and waited, the bag with the pizza resting on his lap.

“How are the kids?” Mr. Pembleton called from the bedroom.

“Oh, you know,” Oliver said. “As well as could be expected, I suppose.”

“Such beautiful children you have, my boy, such a beautiful pair of little girls. Be proud, my boy,” the old man called again from the bedroom.

“Thank you, sir,” Oliver called back. “I am.” Oliver smiled and shook his head. Like he’s ever met them.

And yet, now that Oliver thought about it, how did Mr. Pembleton know he had two girls?

Well, he thought, I must have talked about them. I may have even shown the old man pictures from my phone.

Still, he figured, it was rather odd. He didn’t get to think on it too long however, as Mr. Pembleton returned with wallet in hand.

“And your wife?” Mr. Pembleton asked. “How’s Elyse these days?”

“She’s good, Mr. Pembleton. She’s good.”

“That is certainly good to hear, my boy, certainly good to hear. Now, down to business. How much do I owe you?”

“It’s ten dollars even, sir,” Oliver said, rising. It was always ten dollars even.

“Dagnabit,” Mr. Pembleton said, rifling around in his wallet. “I’ve only got but a ten dollar bill.” He held the bill out to Oliver. “That leaves you without a tip, my boy.”

“That’s okay, Mr. Pembleton,” Oliver said, taking the ten and holding out the pizza.

“No, no it isn’t,” Mr. Pembleton ignored the pizza, scratched at his head, and looked angry. “I don’t like the idea of you leaving empty handed.”

“It’s really okay, Mr. Pembleton.”

“Nope, I have just the thing,” Mr. Pembleton was obviously having none of it. “You just wait right here,” and he was off again to the bedroom.

Oliver stood in the tidy living room and waited. He glanced at his watch, it was a little past ten, the Pizza Dude would be closed by now and he could imagine the rest of the crew finishing up for the night and waiting for his return so they could all leave.

“Here you go, son,” Mr. Pembleton shuffled into the room holding a thick golden ring before him. He handed the ring to Oliver.

“A ring,” Oliver said, holding it in the palm of his hand.

The weight of the ring almost caused him to drop it. It was just a plain band of gold, thicker than most, certainly thicker than his wedding band, and wider, but much heavier than the size would garner. “I don’t understand.”

“Well now,” Mr. Pembleton said, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh in his voice. “That isn’t just any ring, my boy. That there is the Ring of Might.”

“The Ring of Might?”

“Tell me, Oliver Jordan,” Mr. Pembleton’s voice dropped a decibel or two and all trace of laughter fled, replaced by the solemnity of a heart surgeon delivering important news to a family member.

“Have you ever wanted to fly?”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Animated Fun

Harold Jennett, my friend the artist who did the Our Adventures Continues webcomic with me and who did the cover for Holliday's Gold, has been toying around with animation.

He's working through a trial period on a piece of software and trying to determine if it's something he wants to buy and then move forward with animation.

He's created a couple of really short bits of animation, and I wanted to share them with everyone since the first one features me, and the second one features Oliver Jordan from My Super Midlife Crisis.

This first one is just three seconds long. This was Harold's first forray into animation. The audio he used comes from something I said when were were guests on Episode 96 of Shawn Pryor's Blackbox Podcast back in April of 2013:


Here's a link to the episode if you're interested:

http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/www.hhwlod.com/media/com_podcastmanager/bb/BlackBox-Episode96.mp3

This second clip is seven seconds long. Harold has chosen one of our Our Adventure Continues strips and is in the processes of animating it. The strip in question is #41 - Adventures in Customer Service, and features Oliver Jordan from My Super Midlife Crisis taking a call at Solutions Incorporated.

This is still a work in progress:


Isn't that cool!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Two



THE BREAK ROOM WAS, thank the merciful gods above, devoid of people.

Oliver had requested that he be allowed to take his lunch as late in the day as possible for that very reason. He preferred to eat alone. It’s not that he didn’t like people; he just yearned for a bit of solitude to break up a day of talking to those in need. He had tried eating in his car at first, but found it difficult to juggle everything in such a cramped space, especially when he brought chili or soup. So, as he couldn’t afford to eat out every day, he’d had to make the break room work.

He made a beeline for his table of choice—all the way in the back corner—took a seat and unpacked his lunch: Bologna and cheese slathered in mayonnaise and nestled between two slices of store brand white bread served up with a small bag of generic potato chips. Looking at the two items on the table, he realized that he’d forgotten to grab a soda from the machine, which was on the other side of the room. He sighed and pulled himself to his feet.

Back at the table, soda bottle in hand, Oliver sat down once more and placed the bottle next to the sandwich.

“Dude!”

The word rang out across the all but empty room and Oliver’s stomach nearly dropped out from under him. There, striding across the break room floor, paper fast food bag clutched in one fist, was Luther Brodwell. He approached the table at a quick clip, a smile on his face and a bounce in his step.

Oliver wanted to cry.

He had just begun to hope that he’d be able to avoid lunch with Luther today. He had nothing against Luther, other than the man’s insistence at spending all of their free time together talking about work.

“You won’t believe the call I took today,” Luther said, sitting across from Oliver at the table.

Luther was tall and thin with a long mane of red hair that he let hang down to the small of his back. His entire wardrobe seemed to consist of Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes, jeans, and Shadow Fox tee shirts, because Oliver had never known him to wear anything else.

Twenty minutes, one sandwich, bag of chips, and whatever had been inside the fast food bag later, and Luther had himself worked into a narrative lather.

“So this guy is trying to get me to look up his student aid application, right?” Luther said as Oliver tried to focus in on a spot on the wall on the other end of the room. “And so I ask the guy for his Social Security number. He refuses. I mean, he absolutely refuses. Can you believe that?”

“Crazy,” Oliver said.

“I know, right? So I tell him, I say to him, ‘Look man, I just don’t have the capability to look up your application unless you give me that Social Security number.’ So you know what he says?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“He tells me that he had his Social Security number deleted from the Social Security Administration’s records. Can you believe that?”

“Actually, no I can’t,” Oliver said, surprised to find one of Luther’s stories interesting.

“Yeah, he tells me that he’s sick to death of the Federal Government being all Big Brother and stuff and that he wants to distance himself from them and all that, right?”

“Can you do that?” Oliver asked.

“I don’t know, dude,” Luther said with a laugh. “But this guy wanted nothing to do with the Federal Government, yet he still expected them to pony up for his tuition. I mean, come one, dude. Wake up and get with life and stuff, right?”

Oliver chuckled and shook his head.

“It’s crazy here, dude. I’m telling you. I should write a book or something,” Luther said, cackling away like a madman as he got up from the table. “Oh well, you know. Thank God it’s Friday, am I right?”

“You are one hundred percent correct, sir.”

“You know I am,” and with that, Luther broke into the mad cackling again as he left Oliver alone with his soda. Oliver could hear the man braying all the way back to his cubicle down the hall.

Oliver sighed and finished his soda in peace.

With his lunch drawing to a close, Oliver shuffled his way back to his cubicle, fell back into his chair, and pulled the headset onto his head. He let out another sigh and looked at a photograph hanging on the cubicle wall, just to the right of his monitor.

In the photo were two girls, ages six and eight, and a woman. All three had long, dark hair and were smiling. Oliver’s heart lifted. They were why he put up with guys who eat ham patties after their expiration date. They were why he could sit and listen to Luther Brodwell tell story after story about the same types of call he took himself each day.

The woman was Elyse, his wife. They’d been married now for fifteen years, but started late on making a family. The two girls were his daughters. Ruthie was the youngest. She wore her heart right out there on her sleeve for everyone to see. Susie was the elder of the two. She was known—from time to time—to take things a little too seriously, yet could also be one of the silliest people he knew, and silliness was an attribute Oliver took pride in.

Then, taking one last calming look, Oliver took a deep breath and pressed a button on his phone marked ‘AVAILABLE’. The calls came in almost immediately.

First was a gentleman who needed to purchase dryer sheets and wanted to know how they might work on leather. Oliver assured the man that it might not be the best idea to put leather through the wash.

Next in the queue was a woman who couldn’t decide if she should purchase a garage door from the Huge Mart online store. The website stated that there were no refunds which made her nervous about making such a decision considering she wasn’t sure what size door she needed. She was afraid she’d purchase the wrong door and be stuck with it. Her contractor had the size requirements, but he wasn’t available today, so she hoped that Oliver could tell her which one to buy. Oliver—rather proud at himself for the infinite about of patience he possessed—suggested that she put off her purchase until tomorrow after she had the chance to speak with her contractor.

The woman, however, was not at all satisfied with his suggestion and refused to believe that he could not tell her which door size to purchase without coming out and measuring the opening in her garage. She’d demanded to speak to his supervisor. Oliver had been more than happy to make the transfer.

Following the garage door lady, he had a guy who needed to fill out an application for Federal student aid. His daughter was attending school in the fall and they needed help with tuition. He wasn’t sure what to put on the line for ‘STUDENT’. Oliver assured him that as his daughter would be the one attending school, she would be the student, and therefore her name would need to go on that line.

After that was a guy who had somehow ingested an entire tube of foot powder, making it the second caller today that Oliver had had to refer to a local hospital. His record for a single day was six.

Soon the clock reached five, and it was time to go. Oliver collected his things and threw them into his backpack. He was zipping it up when someone called out his name.

“Hey, Oliver,” it was Luther again. “You going to the bar tonight?”

The bar in question was the Shady Banana. Oliver had never been inside–he felt the name to be a tad untrustworthy–but it was the regular Friday night hangout for most of the Customer Service Representatives at Solutions Incorporated.

“Oh, not tonight,” Oliver said as he slung the backpack onto one shoulder.

“Come on, dude! You never go out with us.”

“That’s because I have to work.”

“Aw, man. You still working that second job delivering sandwiches?”

“It’s pizza actually, but yes.”

“You need to call in sick, man. Come drinking with us, dude. When Phil gets drunk he likes to act out the entire opening scene from the Holy Grail. It cracks me up every time!”

“Sorry, I wish I could,” he thought he might actually like to see Phil drunk. “But even if I could call in sick, I don’t think my wife would appreciate me ditching work to go out drinking.”

“Ah, yes. The old ball and chain. I understand, muchacho. I truly do. Well then, you have a good weekend, dude. Later days,” and with that, Luther was gone.

Soon Oliver was in his car and speeding across Garrison to the Pizza Dude near the river on the other side of town. He typically took the bypass to avoid the traffic, but today he had to drop off a prescription for Elyse. This meant he had to cut right through the heart of downtown Garrison so he could use the drive through drop off at the Drug Hut. Though traffic was heavy this time of day, he shouldn’t have any issue arriving at the Pizza Dude in time for his shift. He didn’t need to be there until six o’clock, and it took only twenty minutes to get across town with light traffic. He should be okay.

Ten minutes later a cell phone tower dropped out of the sky and fell in front of his car.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter One



GARRISON CITY - NOW

OLIVER JORDAN SIGHED AS an electronic tone sounded in his ears through the headset. He wasn’t a big fan of the headset. It was new. The old ones were more comfortable. The new one made his ears sweat. He wasn’t sure why the company had changed headset vendors, but Management tended not to solicit his opinion when they made the really big decisions.

It was a shame really; Oliver had only been working for the company for thirteen years after all. He liked to think his opinion mattered; he liked to think he mattered. He’d learned long ago however, that in corporate America, all that mattered were the numbers. Oliver was a number, and as long as he didn’t make any waves, he would remain a number.

The tone in his ear meant that a call had come in; that someone, somewhere in the country, had picked up their phone and dialed a 1-800 number found on the back of most products that sat on the shelves in your local department or grocery store. The tone also meant that Oliver had to answer the call, and so—as he has done over a hundred times a day—Oliver opened said call using the scripted greeting he’d received back on Day One of training all those many years ago.

“Solutions Incorporated, this is Oliver, how may I help you today?”

“Yeah,” came the response through the speakers at each ear, both of which were damp with sweat. “I uh, I bought a case of your canned ham patties seven years ago. I’m down to my last can, and it says here that it expired last week.”

Oliver–Ollie to the people that didn’t know him all that well–worked for a privately held company called Solutions Incorporated. They were a customer service firm who hired themselves out to handle most of the 1-800 help lines you see on products. In this case, ham patties meant a Yummy Tum product. Oliver worked the mouse like a pro and in less than two seconds had the Yummy Tum product file open and began to toggle through to the ham patty designation. As he pulled the information he attempted to engage the customer.

Engagement is one of the primary keys to good customer service. Of the many roles that the well qualified customer service representative is tasked to perform during the life of a call—Subject Matter Expert, Voice of Reason, Detective—The Engaging Listener role allows the representative to show his or her customer that they are involved. Within moments of the greeting, the customer should feel that the representative’s sole purpose in life is to help and that the only two people alive in the world during the length of that call are the customer and the customer service representative.

Oliver–being the professional that he was, and with over a decade of experience under his belt–had a wide variety of tricks he’d cultivated over the years; sure fire techniques he would often employ when acting in the role of Engaging Listener. So, with the speed of a billion dollar super computer, he pulled the perfect engagement technique from his bag of tricks and lobbed it softly over to the customer on the other end of the line.

“Uh-huh,” Oliver said.

His technique inspired only the best from his fellow coworkers.

“Yeah, so . . . uh, I wanted to have some ham patties tonight,” the caller continued. “I mean, I love ham patties, right.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah, you know. I mean, I bought this case at a Huge Mart because it was cheap and on sale and I love ham patties and so I thought I’d pick it up.”

“Right.” Oliver sat—well, lounged—in a cramped cubicle of four-foot high walls covered in pictures of his family and all of his favorite Mighties.

“So I pull the last can from the cabinet to cook me up some ham patties, right?” the customer continued. “And I look at the date on the back, which I never do, I just figured its ham patties, right? Ham patties don’t go bad.”

“Sure.”

“Well the date says—here let me grab the can and I’ll read you exactly what it says, just a sec.”

“Take your time,” Oliver stood, snatching the yo-yo from off the desk where he kept it next to the monitor, slipped the string over his right middle finger, and let loose, the yo-yo spinning to the end of the string and back with the quickness of a bullet train.

If there is one thing that Oliver has learned from sitting in the same cubicle for over thirteen years and taking the same kinds of calls day after day, it’s that if you don’t have something around you to take your mind off of the tedium, you could wind up buying a gun. When you buy a gun and you’ve worked thirteen years in a call center, you may find that one day you might want to bring that gun into work with you. When you bring that gun into work with you, you may decide that really, the next logical step would be to use it. That’s when you’d see Phil walk by and you’d remember how much Phil annoys you, and so you’d pull out that gun and squeeze the trigger.

Oliver didn’t care too much for this option, so he had bought a yo-yo instead.

He’d become pretty good with the thing over the years. He could walk the dog and go round the world and all that, which he figured in the end was better than spending the rest of his life in jail.

“Okay, found it,” the caller returned.

“Great.”

“Yeah, so the date, the date on the top of the can, it says ‘use before December 2, 2014, right?”

“Okay.”

“Yeah, well . . . that was last month, wasn’t it?”

Oliver checked his calendar before responding.

“It sure was,” he said.

He always took that extra step to ensure that everything he told a caller was factual and correct.

“Well, I guess what I’m asking here is in regards to that date that’s printed there on the top of the can. I mean, is there like a hard and fast rule on that date? I mean, does the date mean that the ham patties have gone bad starting the day after that date, or is there some wiggle room there.”

“That date is meant to inform the consumer that it’s best to prepare, serve, and consume those ham patties before the date.”

“Right, I understand that, but if I was to eat it, you know . . . like after the date. Would I become sick or anything?”

“Yes,” Oliver rolled his eyes, “depending on how long the timeframe is following the date, it is possible that you could become sick, which is why we would never recommend that you consume any of our products after the date that has been printed on the package.”

“Okay, okay cool. I, uh . . . yeah, I guess that makes sense. Thanks.”

“No, thank you,” Oliver said, a smile on his face. After all, a caller can hear your smile. “Is there anything else I can do for you today, sir?”

“Um . . . no, I don’t think so.”

“Okay, well thank you for your call and you have a good day.”

“Okay, you too . . . um . . .”

“Yes sir, is there something else I can help you with.”

There was a long pause from the other end of the phone and for a moment Oliver thought the caller had disconnected.

“Sir?”

“I ate the ham patties,” the caller said, his voice small and embarrassed.

“Well,” Oliver said, rolling his eyes again. “I’m sure you’ll be okay.”

“I’ve thrown up four times already.”

“Ah,” Oliver reached over to his phone and engaged the mute function, sighed loudly, and pushed the mute button again, disengaging it before continuing. “In that case, sir, I would suggest you seek medical help as soon as possible.”

“Really? You think that’s necessary?”

Once again, Oliver engaged the mute button for a good sigh, a sigh of such magnitude that small herds of gazelle could live upon its surface and graze among its open fields of waving grasslands.

“Yes sir, I believe under these circumstances that it would be in your best interest to hang up the phone and continue at once to the emergency room of your local hospital or possibly even a walk-in urgent care facility.” Oliver continued to smile.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. But . . . well, I’m new in town and I’m not really sure where the hospital is, or if we even have one.”

“No problem. In that case I would recommend you hang up and dial 9-1-1 with all due haste.”

“Oh, okay. Yeah, I could do that, I suppose. What was your name again?”

“My name is Oliver.”

“Okay, great. Thanks, Oliver.”

“Thank you.”

The call ended and Oliver let out another sigh of exasperation. This would not be his last sigh of the day. If things went as per usual Oliver could look forward to many more sighs before this day would end.

He took off his headset and placed it on a hook which hung from the wall of the cubicle. Then he pushed a button on his phone labeled ‘AUX’, which put the phone in a state that would not allow any incoming calls. He then grabbed up a small cooler from under the desk, and went off to eat his lunch, unaware that before this day would end, Oliver Jordan would become one of the most powerful men in the world.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My New Year Writing Resolutions


My writing resolutions in 2015 are pretty simple.

Top of the bill is that I want to publish no less than three novels in 2015. This shouldn't be too difficult as I'm nearly finished the the first draft to one, and 20,000 words into the first draft of another.

Novel one is The Girl Who Cried Vampire, my first Norman Oklahoma novel and the first in the Chronicles of Norman series (Book Two is in the planning stages).

But that's not all I have in store for Norman Oklahoma in 2015. I also have three short adventures planned (and nearly complete) which would be books two through four of the Adventures of Norman Oklahoma series (Book One being the already published Walrus of Death). Those three are Bigfoot Weekend, The Bullets That Saved Christmas, and Fanboys of Doom. The last two I'd published before, but I pulled them because they needed fixing. I plan to collect the three, along with Walrus of Death, into a paperback.

Beyond that, and the second novel I hope to publish in 2015, is My Super Midlife Crisis. Yes, I want to get that thing finished. I started posting the first draft in small chunks here on the blog but life got in the way and I walked away from it.

The third novel I want to publish is a Western with the working title: Redemption. I've always wanted to write a Western and I have the skeleton of a story so I'm going to give it a try for 2015.

I'm also going to continue to try and write the odd short story now and again when the mood strikes, and am actually using some free time to beef up and expand all of my Let Me Clear My Throat tales I wrote this year to collect in a paperback in 2015.

So that's my plan and I hope to stick to it.
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