Stories

Jeffrey, by John Mueter

#comedy #funny #Humor

My roommate Amanda is a really gifted psychic. When she last read my tarot cards she predicted that I would be famous and that I would make my mark in the world as a musician. That was music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Amanda and I share an apartment, along with my other friend Tanner, not far from campus. It’s a convenient arrangement and we get a good deal on the rent. My parents were a bit freaked out when I told them that I was moving in with a girl, but I think they have gotten used to the idea. It would have been hard to conceal the fact that I had a female roommate if Amanda answered the phone when they called, or if they showed up at the apartment unannounced and found lacy underwear and a bra drying over the bathtub. Our relationship is strictly platonic; Amanda and I are just friends.

I didn’t tell them about Tanner, about how he likes to dress up. They would think that I were living in a real den of iniquity if they knew. As it is, my mother never fails to remind me that the whole family is praying for me. If my mother were to peek into Tanner’s clothes closet (which I know she would do if she were here), she would faint dead away, even if she only saw the shoes. Tanner, who is quite a hefty guy, is always complaining about how hard it is to find stylish heels in his size.

I am majoring in music education, just biding my time until I can do what I really want to do, which is composing music for films. I have already completed one film score. A guy I know at school was making a short documentary about his grandma Edith, who is ninety-two and in a nursing home. He asked me to write the music for it. It was a challenge, but I think it turned out pretty well. I wrote a lively samba for the scene where grandma Edith is ambling down the hallway with her walker, and a wailing elegy in c minor where she is taking her daily dose of pills.

I applied to a school in California where you can get a degree in film scoring, but I was rejected. They told me my portfolio was ‘insufficient’–whatever that means. What were they expecting, a score by John Williams? I am only starting out and need some encouragement! That was a big disappointment, but I got over it. Amanda’s tarot reading only served to bolster my aspirations. Even the second rejection from that school in California (and I won’t give it any free publicity here by mentioning its name) couldn’t squelch my determination. I am destined to be famous, and that is that.

Not everybody achieves success by way of the obvious path; Swami has often said so. I haven’t told you about Swami yet. He is the reason Amanda and I met and why we are living together. We are very fortunate that Swami, a genuine Indian guru, is residing in our college town. He could be living anywhere else and be even more famous and revered than he is here. He could be driving an even better car than the Lexus IS 250 he cruises around in now.

I have been a devotee for over a year, even longer than Amanda. Of course, I haven’t told my parents about any of this. If they got wind of the fact that I was involved in anything that had to do with ‘Eastern’ religion they would jump in the car, drive the fourteen hours here, physically drag me from my apartment, tie me up, throw me into the back seat, whisk me back to Arkansas, then force me to live at home with them and go to church every day. They don’t understand that I have big plans for my life.

Amanda, who is really talented at this sort of thing, told me something else really exciting: I am the reincarnation of a famous musician, a flutist, someone who lived in France in the previous century. I have no idea how she knows stuff like this. And she couldn’t have known that I actually played the flute in high school band. Even if I was one of the worst players, it is still an eerie coincidence and it is amazing that she picked up on it.

I took four years of French in high school. Some mysterious inner power must have prompted me to make that choice. It proves to me that the threads are all there, one life flowing into the next one. French was really hard for me, I must confess. (I would prefer not to reveal what my course grades were like back then–mon dieu!) I suppose one loses something hanging around wherever one hangs around for fifty years before being reborn.

I was so charged on hearing the bit of news about my reincarnation that I just had to ask Swami about it. He happened to be away for a few days, rejuvenating himself at a spa in California, but when he returned I headed straight for the ashram. When I arrived last Saturday morning, a bit late, Swami was already sitting in his special chair. The room was crowded, with the other aspirants sitting cross-legged on the floor. As he hadn’t begun his spiritual discourse yet, I managed to squeeze my way through to Swami, taking care not to step on anyone. Kneeling by his side, I told him about Amanda’s recent revelation. At first he just smiled at me, saying nothing. Then he began to fastidiously pick some crumbs out of his beard, the remains of a bag of barbecue potato chips (his favorite snack). “Please,” I said, “I know I have a soul connection with the French flute player, I’m sure I do. Please tell me about my past life.”

Swamiji burped lightly and then said something to his Indian devotees in Hindi which I didn’t understand. They all laughed, looking over in my direction. Swami regarded me ever so sweetly, as he always does. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he said, “Oh Jeffrey, such a difficult boy you are. Vat do you vant I should be telling you? You are already knowing it.”

He beamed at me, waggling his head from side to side, chuckling into his beard. I drank in these words of wisdom. Tears welled up in my eyes. Swami resumed the purging of crumbs from his person, flicking them off his Kashmiri shawl one by one. I couldn’t help noticing that it was not the shawl I had given him, the one I had chosen with such care at the India Emporium downtown. A brief pang of disappointment arose, but it wasn’t enough to dampen my happiness at having the acknowledgement from Swami’s own lips that I, Jeffrey McCarter, am the reincarnation of a famous French flutist. It really made my day.

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Butter, by Misha Kalhin

#avante garde #black humor #comedy #dark #literary #shanghai

    Rainy season is a great excuse for a bender.
     I told my boss my apartment complex was flooded. It wasn’t a lie, but I exaggerated how much I was inconvenienced by it. I made it sound tragic and time-consuming, hoping I’d evoke pity and reinforce his view of China as being crazy, chaotic and unpredictable. I asked him to cut me some slack on these impenetrable rainy days, and let me work from home. Impenetrable, impossible, suffocating, exaggerated like that I pleaded, in a desperate way, in a hazy, exhausted way. Something you say when your mind is corroded by the heavy use of hash butter and jingjiu. I wasn’t even noticing the water anymore, in reality, I stopped caring about the water a long time ago.
     Hash butter, jingjiu and coffee, of course, I am, after all, working.
     No particular reason why hash butter and jingjiu, I suppose, it’s just a phase I reached in my drug-use, nothing dramatic to say here. One day I came across some cheap hash, 20 kuai a gram, no kidding, but we had to buy it in bulk with a couple of friends, a co-op we called it. So we ended up with a shoebox full of hash, and I didn’t know what to do with my share, so I made a batch of butter with it, boiled it in water and all. It turned out really potent, so I decided to take a break from inhaling combustibles for a while, and try edibles.
     One thing is true, no one is going through the typhoon days sober.
     Most people will subject themselves to cheap tobacco-hash joints and Qingdao, maybe even the more exotic green and an occasional speedy coke pick me up, or mdma. The sourness of a piny hash-joint is a thing of the past for me, unless I’m with friends, so is the formaldehyde infused Qingdao, never by choice. I try not to touch synthetic drugs, but then again, I am never consistent about what I do and don’t do. There’s something about this place that keeps you from doing what know you should do, and yet it is OK, because you feel you are in the right place at the right time. You feel you are a part of history, you are setting the precedent, you are the baseline for the new generation of people in this city.
     You are a role model.
     You lost your home but you gained a place that is better than home. You gained a place, where the inhabitants are those of the curious kind, those unafraid to take a chance, think about it, very few of them ended up here out of necessity or desperation, think about it, that is a rare case. They all know the price of a square meter and the price of a second and the price of an opportunity. They all know the doors are open, they all want to do something, accomplish something, and hope it will go farther than this city, farther than this country. We are all on a quest to find something real. Not the banal comfort of home, something else, some sort of enlightenment. I always knew you need to go on a bender before you can really find yourself. You have to lie passed out under a tree for few days, much like Buddha or Jesus, before you really know something in this world.
     So my search for enlightenment led me to butter.
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Ritual and Romance, by Michael Moran

#comedy #dating #religion #romance #shortstory

Billy Pruitt had lived all of his twenty-eight years in the same coal mining town in southern West Virginia. He married his high school sweetheart and made a good living as a mechanic working on heavy-duty mining equipment. But one day the world changed for him when his wife began speaking in tongues and eventually left him to marry a snake handling preacher in the next county. Heartbroken and lost, Billy sought new surroundings and landed a job with a large coal company in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The transition from the soft coal of West Virginia to the hard coal of Northeastern Pennsylvania was relatively easy. Adjusting to differences on the surface proved to be more challenging.

The people of Wilkes-Barre were a mix of Irish, Italian, Polish, and other Eastern European nationalities all holding strongly to their heritage and customs and all very unfamiliar to Billy. His friend and co-worker at the coal company, Marty O’Malley, tried to help orient Billy to his new surroundings. Marty, a ruddy-faced Irishman whose waist measured almost twice his in-seem, thought the best way to acculturate the recently transplanted young man was to introduce him to the local cuisine. Marty taught Billy the difference between cannoli and cannelloni, told him that in that part of Pennsylvania “pigs in a blanket” referred to stuffed cabbage, and that green peppers were called mangos. On Wednesday nights, Marty took him to Fumanti’s tavern for tripe, which Billy enjoyed until he discovered that it was cow’s stomach.  Although Billy appreciated Marty’s efforts, most of the culture lesson ended up giving him indigestion and, more importantly, it wasn’t food that was troubling Billy. As with so much of the world, religion was at the center of Billy’s angst. Knowing Marty to be a Catholic, Billy raised the issue with his friend one Wednesday night over beers at Fumanti’s.

“Marty, you know I’ve been dating Sharon Grady for a couple months now.”

“Yeah.” said Marty, “She’s real cute. You guys gettin’ serious?”

“We might be, but there’s a problem. She’s Catholic and I’m not. I was raised Baptist but I ain’t much o’ anything anymore.  ‘Course that don’t matter ‘cause you people got a problem with your women marrying anybody who’s not Catholic, especially if they’ve been divorced.”

“Oh yeah!” said a sympathetic Marty. “A Catholic girl marryin’ a divorced Protestant, that makes the Pope shit in his hat. She’d be excommunicated and her family would probably disown her. …You know you could convert and try to get your first marriage annulled.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if I wanna do all that. For now Sharon thinks I oughta at least learn somethin’ about her religion, so she wants me to go to Mass with her on Sunday. I’ve never even been inside a Catholic church and I’m a little nervous about it. I heard y’all do a lot of standin’ and kneelin’ and talkin’ in Latin. I don’t wannna do somethin’ dumb and embarrass her.”

“Oh, hell,” Marty snorted. “Half the men who go to church wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t watch everyone else. Just stand when everyone stands, kneel when they kneel’ like that. And we say mass in English now, so when the congregation talks, just move your lips and mumble a little. We ain’t like you holy rollers always yellin’ and screamin’ and praisin’ Jesus at the top o’ your lungs, we’re pretty low key.  Let’s see… what else should ya know? … Oh yeah, when everyone goes up to take communion just stay in your seat, only Catholics are allowed to take communion.”

“Won’t that let everybody know I’m not Catholic?”

“Naw, they’ll just think that you committed some mortal sin and didn’t get to confession.”

“So it’s better they think I’m a sinner than a Baptist?”

“Sure, sins can be forgiven, but being a protestant… that kind of sticks with ya.  Oh, one more thing, before you get into your seat, you need to genuflect”

“What’s that mean?”

“You go down on one knee, always your right knee like this.” Marty clambered down from his bar stool to demonstrate, startling the bartender who thought that his rotund customer was having a stroke.  “Sharon’ll be real impressed if you know enough to genuflect.”

“OK, Marty. I’ll give it a shot.”

The following Monday during coffee break, Marty found Billy and asked, “Well, how’d it go Sunday?”

“Not so good”, replied a glum Billy. “Sharon was pretty nervous about showing up at church with a strange man, so she was lookin’ around to see if people were starin’ at us. I saw a couple of open seats and did that one-knee thing you told me about. Well she didn’t see me go down and she went flying ass-over-tin cups right over my back, looked like one o’ those Chinese acrobats on Ed Sullivan.”

“Ow! Did she get hurt?”

“Nah, just her dignity. But that’s not the worst of it. I really embarrassed her when I took off my top coat.”

“Oh no, I forgot to tell you that Catholics around here never take off their overcoats in church. That’s a Protestant thing.”

“Thanks for telling me that now. I couldn’t o’ felt more outa place if I was wearin’ a Masonic Lodge bowling shirt.  You Catholics have some odd ways about ya.”

“Well like my mother used to say, if you don’t like Catholics you can go to hell because there aren’t any there.”

“Funny, that’s where my mother always said you people were headed.”

As the weeks went by, meatless Fridays, sexual abstinence, and having to wear his overcoat in church wore Billy down. His relationship with Sharon ended and he began to look toward other women.  After a few weeks he once again turned to Marty for advice.

“I’ve been talking to Shelly in the front office. She seems like a nice woman. I think she’s Amish because she has a picture of her family on her desk and one old man has a big black hat a long beard like the guy on the “Dutch Country” pretzel box.”

“Her name is Shelly Goldberg,” said Marty, “So I think she’s Jewish.”

“Geez, I didn’t know there were Amish Jews.”

“They’re not Amish Billy…Oh never mind.”

“If there is one thing we got less of in West Virginia than Catholics it’s Jews. But she seems to be interested in at least being friends. Her sister just had a baby and she invited me to a family shindig on Sunday. I guess it’s like a Jewish baptism or somethin’, she called it a bris. If nothing else it’ll be a new experience for me.”

“Oh, I think that’s exactly what it’ll be,” chuckled Marty.

The following Monday, Billy didn’t even wait for the coffee break. He burst into Marty’s office looking like he had just returned from a space alien abduction.

“Do you know what those people do at a bris? cried Billy. “They trim up a baby’s pecker right there in the living room. Then they eat bagels with some kind of fish on them.”‘

“Yeah, bagels and lox, they’re pretty tasty, huh?”

“Are you kiddin’? After the pecker trimin’ I couldn’t eat anything. Y’all are crazy up here. I don’t know if I can live in this place anymore.”

Billy’s decision to relocate was helped along by economic factors.  As the coal industry in Pennsylvania declined, the company was forced to cut back on staff and Billy was laid off. Seeing this as an opportunity for adventure, he took a job with a copper mining company in Montana. He sent a letter to Marty telling him that the food in Montana wasn’t as good as in Pennsylvania but the people seemed more normal. He also told Marty this:

“I’m dating a nice woman. She told me that she is LDS. I think that means she’s got a learning disability, but she seems plenty smart to me. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Best regards, Billy”

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B.G.G. by Hugh Centerville

#comedy #funny #Humor #shortstories #stories

“Terrific! Super! Beautiful!”

The chief of detectives was euphoric, talking into the phone, and hanging up, he pulled a box of expensive cigars out of a drawer and presented the box to the seventy-something ex-detective across the desk from him.

“For me?” the detective, McGillicuddy said, taking the box.

“The reign of terror is over,” the chief said. “Think that’s not worth a box of cigars?”

Mac nodded, smiled.

“The big one confessed, said it was all on him,” the chief said. “He asked could we take it easy on the other two, since he bullied them into going along.”

“They’re as guilty as he is,” Mac said.

“You think so?”

“They maybe didn’t commit murder but they set the victims up for the big guy.”

“Well, I’d be a fool to argue with you, Mac, with what you’ve done for us, and I’m sorry for doubting you.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” Mac said. He removed the cellophane wrapper from the box, opened the lid, took out two cigars and passed one to the chief.

“To be honest, Mac,” the chief said, after they’d lit their cigars and were puffing contentedly, filling the office with blue smoke, “I didn’t bring you back expecting you’d solve the darn thing. I did it because I didn’t know what the hell else to do. With all the pressure I was getting from the tabloids and the city council and the mayor, I put everything I had into this one and with no resolution, until I recalled what Chief Brown said, when he retired and I stepped into his shoes, fifteen years ago.

“ ‘Whenever you’re stumped,’ Brown said, ‘when you don’t know where to turn, turn to McGillicuddy.”

The chief laughed. “The mayor was apoplectic when I brought you back. He asked how a fellow who couldn’t even use a cellphone was going to solve the worst crime spree this city has seen in years.” He laughed some more, enjoying himself immensely, and sucking on his cigar: “Maybe you can’t work a cellphone, Mac, but you damn sure know what to do with a tin can and a ball of string, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose I do,” Mac said.

“When the mayor saw you unravelling your string and tying a tin can to the end, he got all snarky. He asked me was tin cans and string how my detectives communicated and maybe it was time for him to scrutinize my budget, since I obviously wasn’t using it to equip the department. You showed him, didn’t you, Mac?”

“Yes, sir, I guess I did.”

“You’re a genius, Mac.”

“A genius?” Mac said, and smiling: “Sometimes we just get lucky.”

“What the hell gave you the idea?”

“Oh, something I read a long time ago,” Mac said.

“How’d you know they’d be hiding in the park?”

“I just looked for the greenest grass.”

“But a tin can dragged at the end of a string, Mac?”

“They know better than to go after it,” Mac said. “They know it’s a trap but it’s something they can never resist.”

The phone rang, the chief picked up.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor. He’s right here with me. Yes, sir, I’ll tell him, and thank you sir.”

The chief hung up.

“Can you picture yourself, Mac,” he said, grinning broadly, “wearing a sash and a derby and riding in the back seat of a convertible, awash in the accolades of a grateful city?”

“Sir?” Mac said.

“The mayor has nominated you for Troll of the Year.”

Humbled, Mac reached up and rubbed his horns vigorously, something all trolls did, when the elation got to be too much.

 

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