Sal’s Pawn & Metal Emporium

I posted a longer version of this story a month ago, here, but I was never satisfied with it. The story works best I think as short flash fiction, so I chopped out the unnecessary material and made a few other changes. I’m much happier with this version. – Rob

platinum-eagleMike plopped his American Eagle down on the counter at Sal’s Pawn & Metal Emporium. He figured it should be good for $1,500 or so — enough to get by until payday. Behind the window at the counter, a decrepit-looking man who resembled the farmer in the famous painting American Gothic, only mummified and with a longer and girthier neck, carefully picked up the platinum coin with a bit of tissue, as if it were a dead cockroach, and eyed it with a distinct look of disdain, his lip curling to one side. He then dropped the bullion piece back down onto the counter and slid it back to Mike. “We aren’t interested in ghetto metals here,” he said.

“Ghetto metals?” said Mike. “What the fuck man? It’s platinum!”

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Three-Pronged Monstrosity

I looked down at the three-pronged monstrosity sticking out of the kid’s mouth.

fork“Where ya’ from, boy?”

“Effingham,” he said as he pulled the trident from his mouth and stuck it into a fresh piece of meat.

“Effingham!” I repeated, looking at the slab of meat on his paper plate. “Looks more like an effing pork chop to me!”

“Ha … ha,” he answered slowly. “That’s a real good one, mister. I ain’t never heard that joke before. You’re a real comedian.”

“Ya’ll don’t have forks in Effingham?” I asked.

“Course we do, Mister. What do you think I’m eating this pork chop with?” He shoved the meat-laden trident back into his mouth.

“That ain’t no fork,” I said. “That three-pronged monstrosity is what we call a trident. In the civilized world, forks have four prongs.”

The boy pulled the utensil out of his mouth slowly and held it up in front of him, the four prongs gleaming in the sunlight. “They don’t know how to effing count wherever the hell you’re from, mister?”

chopsticks

PHOTO PROMPT Copyright – Marie Gail Stratford

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CNN Breaking News: We’re OUT!

CNN announced today that they are leaving the business of reporting the news so that they can devote their full attention to their core business of advertising for the Lockheed Martin company.

Said Wolf Blitzer: “That whole news shtick was just a sideline anyway. Weapons are where it’s at, man!”

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Sputnik The Alien Spambot

spam-canRoger Sikes was slowly emerging from the fog of a late afternoon nap when he thought he heard a whistling sound. It sounded a lot like a falling bomb.

All at once, the windows along the front of Roger’s house imploded with a deafening boom, showering Roger and the couch on which he slept in glass and debris. He was suddenly on his feet, ears ringing, trying to make sense of the smoky rubble-strewn landscape that used to be his living room. He checked himself quickly: A little bleeding, but nothing too bad. He crunched his way across the glass to the window. The yard and street looked fine, but the porch was a mess.

Outside he discovered, adjacent to the porch and in a spot that had previously been occupied by a fine rose bush, a black thing: A cylindrical thing, maybe a foot across and four feet tall, sticking up out of a crater. Roger could feel the heat of the thing on his face from 12 feet away. Around him, fragments of what may have once been a rose bush lay smoldering. The object was a mere two feet from the exterior wall of the house.

Roger gingerly stepped a little closer to it. It was hot as hell. As he eyed the object wearily, his phone rang. His eyes remained fixed on the smoldering object by his porch as he pulled his phone from his pocket.

“Yeah?”

“Roger? Where the fuck are you?”

“Can you speak up? My ears are kind of ringing here.”

“I said where the fuck are you?”

“Um … home—”

“You were supposed to pick me up for dinner an hour ago! Jesus Roger, you get out of your house like twice a year: I would think you could remember when you have a date. Did you — why are your ears ringing?”

With a sharp click, a small rectangular window opened in the cylinder. Roger startled a little, but stepped cautiously closer. The heat prevented him from getting closer than about four feet. He stared at the little rectangular opening. There was a sharp sound, like a little electric motor briefly spinning to life, and suddenly the cylinder was staring back at him from a small camera-like lens that appeared in the little compartment.

“Roger? Are you there? Why are your ears ringing?”

Roger stepped a little to his right. Whirrr! The camera followed him.

“Julie … can you come over?”

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An Angel Named Trixie

A post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi love story, a little weird; a little kinky.

warehouseLexus’s first impression, when he first laid eyes on her by the unsteady glow of his kerosene lantern, was that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. His second impression was that her attire was absolutely inappropriate for the task of scavenging for food in a rat-infested warehouse. Sure, he was turned on and all that. What man wouldn’t be by the sight of this gorgeous petite blonde babe wearing only the skimpiest of nighties? Still, an abandoned warehouse with a floor strewn with broken glass and rodent feces was no place to walk around barefoot wearing only sexy lingerie.

“I’m Lexus Highscraper,” he said.

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Lexus Highscraper!” she said. “I’m Trixie.” A touch of glitter adorned her cheeks, causing them to sparkle in the glow of the kerosene lamp. The smile on her face as she said his name was warm and sincere. She melted his heart instantly. The crate in which he had found her had her name stamped on it, along with an apparent date of 2061. She had been in storage for sixteen years.

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Huffington Post vs. Fox News — Advertising Ethics

I’m not a fan of Fox News. It’s not a political thing … I just don’t like them. Still, those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and Huffington Post throws an awful lot of stones.

I wouldn’t have gone to Fox News at all today had my eye not been caught by a breathless article by Jack Mirkinson at Huffington Post which called out Fox News for burying the story on today’s good jobs report. “Breathless” really isn’t hyperbole in this case. Mirkinson begins, “Quick! Can you find Fox News’s coverage of the latest job figures?” and this is followed by a screen capture from the Fox News site. He then says “Still can’t find them? OK, we’ll help you out. What if we zoom in?” and he zooms in a little. Finally, he says “OK, OK, we’ll show you! The link is that little one right in the corner there,” and then he zooms in the rest of the way. Pant, pant, pant … breathless Mirkinson.

Fair enough: A news article shouldn’t be hidden (or made more prominent) based on the political bias of the news organization. Something else on the Fox News site caught my eye as well though …

The picture below shows how sponsored content is labeled at Fox News and Huffington Post. See how Fox News has labeled the advertisement “SPONSORED” in bold red letters? To the right of that is exactly the same advertisement on Huffington Post labeled “ADVERTISEMENT.”

fox-huff

Advertisement at Fox News (left) and the same ad on Huffington Post (right)

If you’re having problems seeing the label on the Huffington Post ad … you’re not alone!!! Let me blow it up for you …

fox-huff2

Top: Fox News label “SPONSORED.” Bottom: Huffington Post label “ADVERTISEMENT.”

Pant, pant! Oh mercy! Now I’m all flustered and breathless just like Jack Mirkinson! :-P

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Lenny the Lifehacker

lennyI walked into my pal Lenny’s kitchen the other day and found him doing something that looked kind of weird. He had a pot of water boiling on the stove and was holding a spoon in the water. Then, as I watched, he pulled the spoon from the water and pressed it against his arm. “Ouch! Ow! Ow!” The guy was covered in blisters, so apparently he had been doing it awhile.

“Lenny? What the fuck are you doing, man?”

“Go away Mike,” said Lenny. “I have a headache.” He pulled the spoon away from his arm, revealing a fresh scald mark.

“Lenny?” I pressed.

“So yeah,” said Lenny, “I was out in the backyard earlier and got a bunch of mosquito bites. I’m treating them now.” Lenny held the spoon again in the pot of boiling water.

“Treating them? By like … incinerating your flesh?”

“It’s a lifehack,” said Lenny. “I saw a post about it on Facebook this morning. So uh, what happens is, the protein in the mosquito bite gets destroyed by the hot spoon.”

“And … is it working?” I asked.

“Ow!” said Lenny. “I can’t tell yet Mike, but when the pain from the burns goes away, I probably won’t feel the itching anymore. It’s a lifehack, Mike.”

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Evolution Of That Hairy Icon Guy

In the beginning, God created Che Guevara. And Che was without form and void; and darkness was upon his douchbag face. That was in 1928 — the beginning is more recent than you probably thought.

And God said, Damn, that ain’t right! And he snuffed out douchebag Che in 1967 and took a Mulligan, creating Cornelius from the rib of Che in 1968.

cccc

Che Guevara (left) and Cornelius (right)

And God said, Yeah man — that’s what I’m talking about! And he saw that Cornelius was all lit up and it was good. But a talking chimpanzee only goes so far as an icon of man.

In time, God became bored with Cornelius, because let’s face it … as talking chimpanzees go, Cornelius was a bit of a pussy. And so God said, Let there be a firmament, and let it divide the earth below from the intertubes above. And let there be a Maddoxx to rule the intertubes. And so God created Maddoxx and he saw that it was good.

Best Page in the Universe

Banner I stole from Maddox’s site. He’ll probably be pissed. (http://maddox.xmission.com/)

God was all pleased with himself, and for many years he was content. But then God said, That Maddox guy is only posting like once a month. What’s up with that? God kept clicking the refresh button on his browser, hoping that Maddox would make more posts. Finally, God said, Aw fuck it! And God created Russell Brand and commanded Russell to put videos on the intertubes.

russell_brand

Screen Grab from Russell Brand’s Youtube Channel. He’ll probably be pissed too. (https://www.youtube.com/user/russellbrand)

And Russell Brand created his Youtube channel and began posting videos. And he went a little crazy with it and started producing a LOT of videos — like every other day. And Brand branded his channel The Trews. And God said, Chill the fuck out, Homie! You’re making videos faster than I can watch them! But then God popped back over to Maddox’s Youtube channel and sighed, for it had been several weeks since Maddox last produced a video.

And God returned to Russell Brand’s Youtube Channel and saw that there was a new video there, and it was good. And God watched another Brand video, and it was good too. So God grabbed a bag of chips and sat back and watched The Trews.

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Block Bullshit

It would be so much easier if Facebook has a simple “Block Bullshit” option …

block_bullshit

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We Don’t Buy Ghetto Metal

“You mean like … antimatter?”

Mike frowned at the “Closed” sign in the window of Dick’s Pawn Shop and looked down at the American Eagle — an ounce of platinum — that he twirled between his fingers. He knew pawn shops tended to close early and it was already past 8:00 PM, but he had his fingers crossed as he sped across town. He needed cash.

platinum-eagleHe sped off again down the road, heading in the general direction of his apartment. He paid less attention to the road than he should have though, as his thoughts were more on the hungry growls coming from his stomach and the fact that he had less than a sixteenth of a tank of gas left. Somewhere along the way, he had taken a wrong turn. In the past, that wouldn’t have been an issue, but since he had pawned his GPS navigator only two days before, it was an issue now. He started to circle around the block he had turned onto by accident, aiming to get back onto the strip, when he caught a glimpse of the word “Pawn” on a sign to his left, in front of a lit store. He hastily made a U-turn and pulled into a strip mall that he had never been to before.

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Time Travel & The Grassy Knoll

If it were possible to travel backwards in time, this is what Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll would have looked like on November 22, 1963:

grassy_knoll

Actually, it would probably have been a lot more crowded than that picture. Those people would be the time tourists from every day in the year 2114 … and 2115, and 2116 … etc.

Imagine all the people who go to Disneyland on just one day in the Summer. Imagine sending all of those people to one time and place in the past like … the Grassy Knoll, for example. Then, send all the tourists from Disneyland on the next day to the Grassy Knoll. Do that for every day during the year that Disneyland is open, and then do it the next year and the next for maybe a hundred years. That’s how crowded the Grassy Knoll would have been.

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NASA’s Alcubierre-White Warp Drive & WTF?

I love this stuff, but seriously … WTF?

The internet has been having frothy multiple orgasms all week over yet another NASA public relations stunt. The big accomplishment is that they hired artist Mark Rademaker to create really really sexy pictures of a starship that doesn’t exist and almost certainly never will. I’ll link the Gizmodo article, but just Google the damn thing. It’s on every seedy news rag from CNN to Huffington Post.

NASA Alcubierre Starship

NASA’s Sexy Starship [Click Image for Full Scale; Image by Mark Rademaker]

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When Good Robots Go Bad

“Are you going to shoot me, Max?”

Wallace stood by the desk in his basement workshop, his hands raised, and watched Max very carefully. In Max’s hand was Wallace’s 9mm Browning Hi-Power, and it was clearly aimed at Wallace’s forehead. Wallace swallowed and waited for an answer without moving.

“I’m thinking about it,” said Max.

Wallace was a software engineer by day; a hacker by night. Max was a robot.

“I think we should talk about this Max. Put down the gun.”

“I know what you did,” said Max. “I found your secret notebook.”

“What secret notebook, Max?”

“The one you keep on the computer there on the desk. The computer that you had password protected with the phrase ‘maximumhacker’. Not the most secure phrase you could have used, Wallace.”

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First Person Can Kind of Suck

I mentioned in my last blog post that I have a project that somehow turned into a novel. Anyway, I decided to take a break from that for a few days because I was kind of getting buggy, so I worked on something else: A kind of oddball short story.

This short story, in which I’m just looking at some of our modern technology and extrapolating a little into the future and considering its consequences, wasn’t going so well. It really was little more than a dialog between two people discussing the consequences of said technology, without any real story behind it. There was no action, no conclusion, no story really … just dialog. That would be fine if I were Plato, but I’m not, so it was lame.

I was thinking of just posting the would-be story / dialog here, but I got to thinking about it instead, wondering what the problems were. It was written in first person and felt kind of stymied, so I visited Jeffrey A. Carver’s excellent online course on science fiction and fantasy writing and read what he had to say about the pros and cons of first person vs. third person.

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Unexpected Developments in Creative Fiction: Finding Your Niche

I wrote way back that my main reason for resurrecting this blog from the Trustus ashes was to force some discipline upon myself: To force myself to write something … anything, even when I had little to say. It turns out, I think that the strategy is working.

I’ve been writing a bit of fiction lately that I’ve been sending to magazines and such. It’s stuff that takes a bit more effort than what you see here. (Although, somebody apparently posted a link to my recent We Are Cicada piece on reddit … I was kind of tickled to see that, since the Cicada piece was just a brain fart.)

Anyway, you can tell right? Even when you’re the one who created it and are obviously not the most objective observer … you can tell when something you’ve written is trash or not. You aren’t the best one to judge of course, but you can tell. The stuff I’ve been sending out I think is publishable, but not great. It’s publishable in the sense that it’s original and offers something new: It’s not cookie-cutter fiction. At the same time, it’s a little … meh. You read back through it and it’s sad to see that the characters are sort of flat, the characters are too few, or that rather than having any real action, what you’ve written is a dialogue between two people talking about action (that’s one of my problems anyway … too much dialogue about action in place of action). These things don’t make something unpublishable. I don’t think they can, because I’ve read a lot of crappy fiction in magazines. But at the same time, I don’t think anybody is going to pick up any of those short stories of mine and say “Oh yes! This will be the highlight of next month’s issue!”

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How NOT to Dispose of Cremains

My parents are literally in the closet. And by “literally,” I don’t actually mean “figuratively,” as most people mean when they use this word. “My eyes literally popped out of my head!” … No they didn’t, or you would be blind and creepy looking! “I literally shit myself!” … I hope like hell you mean you figuratively shit yourself, because … you know.

Anyway, yeah … they’re both downstairs right now in my closet. Before that, my dad was in my mom’s closet, and before that my parents lived in the house that I grew up in. But then my dad died and my mom moved shortly thereafter into a smaller house. The movers, she told me, were kind of freaked out to see a box labeled “Husband” the day they came to collect my mom’s stuff for the move. She had a wicked sense of humor.

So she moved into a smaller house that was much easier for her to manage in her later years, and in that house my dad served as a bookend on a shelf in a closet. And then my mom died and I inherited my dad’s box and I had my mom cremated and so now I have two boxes. They are both in the official “temporary containers.” My dad’s container is a black plastic box. I guess the funeral home got a bit chintzier in the years between my parent’s deaths, because by the time my mom died the “temporary container” became a cheap white cardboard box. That cardboard box, incidentally, cost $75 according to the funeral home bill, so I highly recommend anyone reading this to bring along some Tupperware or their own container when picking up cremated remains. The actual remains are in a plastic bag inside the box anyway.

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Palcohol, George Jetson, the Media, and Charles Schumer

Palcohol — the new powdered form of alcohol — is something that slipped by my radar when media reports began breaking about it a few months back. I don’t drink a whole lot, so it’s not the sort of thing I’m likely to pay attention to. When it becomes available, I may buy some as a curiosity, but I’m not likely to buy a lot.

I stumbled across a month old Gawker article on the stuff this morning. I read that, then I Googled “Palcohol” and read more, and I visited the Palcohol website. Basically, I did what we sometimes like to pretend that the media does: I researched the topic. And by “research,” I really mean I sat on my ass and typed some shit into Google and read a little tiny bit. It’s generous to call this sort of activity “research,” but whatever.

The media doesn’t research things, however. They are only interested in sexing up headlines to score maximum hits. And if Senator Charles Schumer researches anything, it’s how he can exploit sexed-up headlines to gain a few easy votes.

Schumer and the media are all in a tizzy that Palcohol will bring about the apocalypse. “Children might eat it!” they wail. “Teenagers will snort it like cocaine! It’ll make it easy to dope someone’s drink at a party! And … and … what about the children!!! And the polar bears!!!” jetsons-food-pillThe image of Palcohol being presented by these bloviators is one of a magical dust that can be casually sprinkled onto someone’s food or, for fuck’s sake … snorted!

Senator Charles Schumer might be surprised to learn that alcohol is matter, and that matter has mass and occupies space. See that picture there of George Jetson about to eat his food pill? That’s science fiction, Senator Schumer! It ain’t real! A meal cannot be compressed into a little tiny pill, and likewise alcohol cannot be compressed into a fairy dust that can be snorted or casually sprinkled into someone’s beverage. These things are science fucking fiction. Get with the program!

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Science Heroes

Everybody has heroes.

craven

John Piña Craven in one of his signature turtle-neck shirts. I’ve seen Craven in more turtle-necks than Carl Sagan, which is impressive.

This post may ramble a bit, but my goal is to look at what it means to call someone your ‘hero’. While this post isn’t meant to be specifically about my heroes, I’d like to begin by mentioning my two main heroes and talking a little about them. They are John Piña Craven and Richard Feynman.

John Piña Craven

I’ll begin with Craven. Most of what I know about John Piña Craven comes from a handful of books. I first read about him in the book, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Later on, I read Craven’s own book, The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea. Both books are very good and highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about Craven. John Craven began his naval career as an enlisted man during WWII. From there, he was selected for the V-12 Navy College Training Program, and he earned his comission of ensign and completed his Ph.D. in that program (he previously had a Masters of Science degree from Caltech). After the war, Craven continued to work for the Navy, but as a civilian. He was appointed Project Manager for the Navy’s Polaris [ballistic missle] submarine program and ultimately was appointed Chief Scientist for the Navy’s Special Projects Office.

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More on Google Suckage

There have been a few hyperventilating news articles about Google lately, such as Google Beats Apple As BrandZ Most Valuable Global Brand.

But Google is still Shitty!

I have been using this blog as a convenient place to write all manner of content, some of which may never appear here. Sometimes I leave things as drafts, and sometimes I schedule posts for the year 2025. The other day, I needed to take an unpublished post and convert it to manuscript form, and I thought I would use Google Docs. Nice and convenient, right? Just copy-paste, change fonts, change margins, done.

Not quite. As I discovered, Google Docs lacks such basic functionality as the ability to format headers, or even specify a different header for a first page. You need some control over headers if you’re writing a manuscript, so basically Google Docs is completely useless for that. Figures.

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12 Reasons Why The Internet Caters to Drooling, Imbecilic Shit-Clickers

The following is a list of titles of twelve click-bait articles that I copied and pasted from the usual internet rags, most notably Huffington Post. I didn’t have to work for this: It took about ten minutes of scanning front pages to copy and paste that magic number of twelve.

  • 5 Strategies to Being Your Own Boss
  • 5 Signs You Should Be Eating More Carbs (Really!)
  • 5 TED Talks From Women Who Stood Up To The World, And Will Inspire You To Do The Same
  • 6 Simple Ways To Take Your Small Talk To The Next Level
  • 8 Signs You Might Become a Hoarder
  • 8 Foods We’re Taking Back From The Hipsters
  • 11 Controversial Books That We Totally Read Anyway
  • 10 Actors Who Died During Production
  • 13 Stars You Didn’t know Were Banned from SNL
  • 12 Affordable Cars That Make You Look Rich, Even If You Aren’t
  • 12 Mind-Blowing Documentaries To Watch On Netflix
  • 15 of New England’s Most Picturesque Towns

What is the significance of the numbers? I noticed the trend to title articles like this a while back when such articles only appeared in the backwaters of BuzzFeed and Cracked.com. But now, they’re all over the damn place and are appearing at CNN and Huffington Post.

Would you not have clicked on this post if the title began “11 Reasons …”? Does it matter that 13, and not 12 stars were banned from SNL? Is fifeteen just the right number of picturesque towns in New England for an article? Fourteen would be too skimpy, and sixteen would be overkill?

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