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On May 4, 2006, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency published a list essay by Dan Wiencek called “Thirteen Writing Prompts.” Prompt #1: “Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.”
[We are off, off, off, off, off Broadway. We are actually in New Jersey.]
Overture: “Frankie and Johnnie,” by Sam Cooke (YouTube video version.) [Audience hopefully sees Program Note* on the flier provided by Trenton’s Tremendous Pork Roll.]
Act 1, Scene 1, Curtain opens as audience glimpses—through kitchen window—a view of shadowy shapes darting, dishes crashing, unintelligible shouts.
Off Stage Narrator Voice 1 speaks one of the six optional opening line(s), selected nightly per Director’s whim and written In the style of [and with profuse apologies to]:
1. [Ernest Hemingway, “Fifty Grand”] “Brutal, just brutal, like sittin’ ringside watchin’ yer last fifty bucks take a dive with a busted-up loser.”
2. [Carl Sandburg, “Fog”] “Anger comes on feral feet … never moving on.”
3. [Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man] “The problem with putting one and one together is that sometimes you get two and sometimes you get three … and sometimes you get one.”
4. [Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Number 43”] “Who hasn’t loved thee? Let us count the broads.”
5. [Anne Rice, Interview with The Vampire] “Lust is one of those emotions that can stir your blood or suck it. The same can be said of a vampire.”
6. [Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat] “‘It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.’ Anger looms in the shape of the I’ve-Caught-You-Now.”
Off Stage Narrator Voice 2 bellows, menacingly, following above-selected option: “Shut the fuck up!”
Shadowy shapes mute immediately, simultaneous with Scurrying Exit, Stage Left, as lights go down.
*Backstage Tech. usually clicks Skip Ad before You Tube sound comes up. Note to audience: If our Tech is a little slow, and a commercial plays, we thank you for suspending your disbelief. Some nights she’s working on homework right up to curtain time.
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One night while I was in middle school, I came to the family dinner table and boldly announced out of the blue that Bert (of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie) was holding Ernie back. The record player scratched, dinner paused, and my entire family looked up at me completely confused. Their baffled looks didn’t discourage me. I continued with my prepared rant about how Ernie was the real show-stopper of the duo, and could do so much more if Bert wasn’t around with his negativity and unibrow. I have no idea where these thoughts were stemming from, or why I felt it so important to relay them at that moment, but I just had to get it off my chest. For the record, I still stand by my arguments. Ernie, I know you love Bert, but you could do better. Do you really enjoy finding pigeon poop all around your house? I’m just saying.
Allow me to interject here briefly with some advice for all you parents (and aspiring parents):
Wait, which thing?
I don’t know, all of it.
Yeah, no, sorry. I truly have no idea. I will say that it feels strange to actually ask myself, in public, that question, which of course I ask myself silently more than any other. Why did you just say that thing? What were you thinking? Why did you hit send? Are you an idiot? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you know that you can never take that back? You’ll always be the guy who did that. Your past is like a big wheeled cart, towering with reeking garbage, that you’ll have to haul behind you for the rest of your life, and it only ever gets heavier.
I’ve never calculated the amount of money I spend on marijuana before because I’m afraid of what I’ll discover, but here are the facts: I go through roughly an eighth-an-ounce of marijuana per week. Good weed is typically around $50 per eighth, which works out to $200 per month, $2,400 per year, and $12,000 over the past five years, or the price of a slightly used Hyundai.
These [vegetables] practically [steam] themselves.
You’ll never [shop at the American Eagle] in this town again.
We’ll always have [toddlers around].
When you [can safely drive home at 11 p.m. on a Friday], the terrorists have already won.
There’s no good way to tell you [about minivans].
It was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple and I was obligated to force upon my husband an enchanted evening of romantic extortion.
I know, I know. Valentine’s Day belongs to pagans and 3rd graders who use grammatically incorrect phrases like “crazy 4 u” or “ur 2 cute” as a means of seduction. But I’m not a pagan and as a former English instructor and sugar connoisseur, I frown upon poor syntax etched into chalky candy.
As for my husband, he vehemently renounces Valentine’s Day as a scam and the only candy heart conversations he’d even be interested in are, “Where’s my New Yorker?” and “I’m going to Home Depot.” Sentiments that hardly solicit romantic intrigue.
January 27, 2013
Querido person who stole my iPhone outside of a kebab restaurant in Barcelona at 4 a.m. and the prostitute who molested me immediately after:
I just wanted to get the Canadian girls’ email address and some fourth meal, not an unexpected $749 Verizon purchase upon return to the States and an aggravated right nut.
Shifty Thief, you’re a heartless motherfucker. Can’t you find a way to target individuals who actually listened when the Verizon associate told them getting the insurance is a good idea? But, Shifty Thief, I must be honest: Easy target aside, you are good at what you do. I don’t even know when you got me or what you look like, and I had even sobered up. I either placed it on the counter at the kebab restaurant and you swiped it, or I didn’t get it all the way back into my pocket and you picked it when I was molar-deep in some rolled-up European tastiness. I never thought I’d like any combination of food that included cabbage, but I was wrong, and no matter what you might have lifted from me, Shifty Thief, I’ll always have my cabbage epiphany.
January 09, 2013
Dear Mr. Sheik,
I’m writing for a couple of reasons. First of all, I recently bought this amazing tumbler with your likeness on it. I think you’ll agree that this is the best beer mug in all of existence. So in your honor, I’m having a giant beer.
I also have a few questions if that’s OK.
Have you ever considered competing on Iron Chef? It’s a cooking show where contestants try to make better food than the “iron chefs.” Whenever I hear someone refer to that show, I think of you on accident. (I’m a child of the ‘80s, so this makes sense.) And whenever I happen to catch an episode of Iron Chef, I’m inevitably disappointed because there are no suplexes or Boston Crabs; instead, it’s usually just a bunch of cooks hurriedly cutting up vegetables.
December 01, 2012
Dear Mr. Brown,
First of all, congratulations. Your discovery of Eris in 2005 led directly to the reclassification of Pluto, profoundly altering our conception of the solar system. More importantly, in the process, you simultaneously broke the hearts of sentimental saps and/or third graders everywhere.
I should know: I used to be one of those saps. I have to admit, when Pluto was demoted in 2006, I was pretty depressed. Let me explain: I’ve always felt a certain kinship with Pluto. Like Pluto, I live in a far-flung, cold area that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. It is called Minnesota. At 5’6” and one-hundred-and-something pounds, I am also pretty small. You could say that I was the Pluto of my high school football team. Everyone publicly admired me for my pluck, but in private, my teammates rolled their eyes at my feeble attempts to fit in where I so obviously did not belong.
November 25, 2012
The other day as I was driving my daughter to a doctor’s appointment, a woman pulled up alongside us, leaned over and held a book up to the passenger-side window. I gave her a friendly wave, because I’m always up for a good book recommendation. But she continued to hold it there, staring straight ahead, as we both edged forward in the traffic.
Gosh, I thought. She really likes this book. And seems to think that it’s just the book for me!
I took a closer look: the title was The Marketing of Evil, and on the cover was an apple being temptingly proffered. Later that day, I looked the book up online and read the description:
September 05, 2012
Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (ChiZine Publications) is a contemporary version of Animal Farm amped up on bitterness, future technology and sad realizations that things are not going to end well. Our unnamed narrator is forced into situations beyond his control, a reluctant hero in search of his mother, an angry youth who has little love left for his father, a boy not quite ready to be a man.
As a teen, he runs off to work at Farm, thinking he is helping his mother. Years later when his paychecks bounce back to him, her account closed, he fears the worst. An opportunity to escape presents itself, and he flees Farm, only to run into his father, who has set him up to be the next mayor of City—or perhaps just a patsy waiting for the fall.