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Three Blind Mice

By Jay Duret

Three Blind Mice

“Charles, you’re late,” Krug said. “We were supposed to get going 20 minutes ago.” Krug was standing impatiently in the driveway in front of his large home. He was wearing a dark blue fleece vest with a Goldman Sachs logo on his breast.

Charles got out of the driver’s seat of the new Audi wagon and came forward with his hand outstretched in front of him like he was carrying a rolled up map. His smile was big and lop-sided, very close to goofy. He grabbed Krug’s hand and gave him a bro hug, whispering even before he left the clinch, “it was Joyce. Couldn’t get her moving. Ha Ha. You been there man, you know.” Charles smiled again as he separated, this time conspiratorially.

Joyce was now out of the Audi too. She was smiling and kissing, her blond ponytail hanging down the back of her puffy Patagonia jacket. She had a Starbucks in one hand and a dog leash with no dog attached curled in her other.

While she finished kissing Krug hello, Charles popped the hatch on the Audi and two Spingers bounded out and began rocketing around the driveway and yard.

“Damn,” Joyce said. She turned from Krug to Charles but he was deep in the back of the Audio, rummaging, rummaging, only his butt visible.

Joyce sighed and headed after the Springers, slightly twirling the leash she was carrying.

Charles backed out of the rear of the Audi and turned back to Krug, keeping his voice low. “Kruger. I need a little cover here. Make sure Joyce isn’t looking. Am I good?”

Krug said, “she’s trying to get your dogs on the leash. Probably take her a week.”

“Great.” Charles reached in the back of the Audi again and held up a gray steel box the size of a shoebox. “Gotta dispose of the evidence.” Another, even more lopsided, grin.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a trap. Have-A-Heart. For the mice.”

“What mice? Are there mice in there?”

“Uh-Huh.” “What are you doing with mice?”

“Shhhh. Don’t let Joyce hear you. She is scared of mice.”

“You’re kidding. Joyce is scared?”

“Don’t let her fool you. She can kick your ass but she is the original stand-on-a-chair type when it comes to mice.”

“So why are you driving them around?”

“That’s the point, Krug. That’s the exact point I am making…” Charles stopped the sentence there and completed it without using another word, just with his sheepish lopsided smile.

Krug didn’t seem to understand the point. “Charles.” Krug said. “Let’s start again. Why are there mice in a trap in my driveway?” Krug said.

“It’s Lorie’s fault.”

“Your nanny?”

“Yeah, we have been having a little mouse problem at the house. They are running around the kitchen in the morning when she is making tea and it freaks her out.”

“She doesn’t like to have breakfast with rodents? She must be a real downer.”

“Oh she is nice as shit but she is a Brit. She doesn’t like mice.”

“Neither does Joyce and she is no Brit.”

“Yeah the thing is Lorie sees them more than Joyce cause she gets up so early. They are everywhere in the morning – its like one of those Wild Kingdom videos down there when the sun first comes up. Anyway one morning she gets fed up and tells Joyce that she going back to Sheffield if we don’t get rid of the mice.”

“That sounds serious.” Krug nodded his head slowly.

“So Joyce calls the exterminator. Fortunately I get wind of it, and I cut that off at the nub.”

“Cause you like mice running around your kitchen?”

“Oh the mice don’t matter, I just don’t like exterminators, have you ever seen what they charge for walking around and shooting that shit into your baseboards? Its crazy. And a complete waste. I mean its just mice, Krug. They aren’t very hard to outwit. They are not exactly brain surgeons, you know what I mean?” Charles beamed a broad and happy smile, obviously delighted at the thought of the pitiful size of mice brains.

“So you bought a trap.”

“Hoollian’s Hardware. Fourteen dollars; two for $25. They are indestructible. I bait them with peanut butter.”

Joyce was across the yard and had managed to get one Springer on the leash, but the smaller one was continuing to elude her and his cavorting had encouraged the one she had captured to run in circles so the leash wrapped around her legs like a bolo.

“And so you caught them.” Krug said.

“I have been catching them no problem for weeks. I been getting one or two every night. I used up half a jar of peanut butter so far, Ha Ha.”

“What’d you do with them?”

“Got ‘em out of the house and let them loose down the street. You know over near the Hanford’s where they could run into the arboretum, but after a while I started to suspect that I was catching the same ones over and over again.”

“How did you figure that?”

“They still had peanut butter on their fur.”

“Not the only ones that aren’t brain surgeons. They were probably back in your kitchen before you were.”

“Yeah yeah, you sound like Joyce…”

“I doubt it.”

“…so I decided I should take them further from home.” Charles looked up at Krug’s quizzical expression, coughed slightly, and said, “you know, that way they won’t come back.”

“So you brought them here? What are you smoking?”

“You got the park behind your house.”

“You actually think you are going to let them loose in my backyard? You are frickin’ crazy. I don’t want mice any more than you do.”

“No no, Kruger. It’s not like that. They just know the way to my house. They won’t get in yours.”

“Forget it. Take them down to Valley Green if you want. Or better, just put them in your toilet and flush. Put them out of their misery.”

“You sound like Joyce. There is no reason to be vicious. They are just mice.” Charles lifted the trap to show off the mice and then his expression changed. “Shit!”

“What?”

“They aren’t in there. Shit!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They must have gotten loose.”

“In the Audi?”

“Oh Shit!”

Across the yard, Joyce had extracted herself from the leash and tied up the other dog.  Now she was coming across the yard toward the car, the two Springers surging ahead of her, pulling the leash taut.

Charles opened the passenger door of the Audi and, as he did, a small gray mouse literally leapt off of the front seat and landed on the driveway directly in front of the two men. There was a short but timeless pause as they took each other’s measure but then the dogs saw the mouse and they began baying and charging forward, nearly yanking Joyce off her feet. The mouse scampered directly into Krug’s open garage.

“Jesus!” Krug screamed. “Charles, get that thing out of there.”

The dogs raced after the mouse, pulling Joyce into the garage. Even from in there, she could be heard yelling, “CHARLES WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”

“Oh shit,” Charles said,  “Kruger you gotta help me out here.”

“What do you mean, help you out? I have got your goddamn mouse in my house now.”

“No it’s just in your garage. That isn’t the problem.”

“That isn’t a problem? To me,” Krug said, “that is a problem. It’s a big stinking problem. Why isn’t that a problem?”

“Okay, Okay. It might be a problem. But it isn’t the big problem.” Charles stopped and looked at Krug. He wasn’t smiling now. “There’s two more. They might still be in the car. Joyce is going to flip out. You gotta help me here. Just keep her away from the car until I can get rid of them.”

Krug shook his head. He grumbled. He muttered. He shook his head again and he kept shaking it all the way into the garage.

Charles opened the driver’s door and he went around from door to door throwing the contents of the Audi onto the driveway.

Inside the garage, scrambling sounds. Overturning flower pots, falling shovels. Dogs yapping. Krug cursing. Joyce cursing.

After a few minutes Krug came out alone.

“Where is Joyce?”

“She went out the back door. She saw Lyle in the back and she wanted to tell her what you did.”

“A diversion. Great work, Krug.”

“I don’t think she was very happy, Chaz-Boy. You are in deep shit.”

“Yeah, at least she didn’t realize there might still be two in the car.”

“Jesus, Charles.”

“I know. I have looked all over. They are probably gone but I can’t be sure. If you can keep her occupied I will make sure. She is just dropping me off on the way to the mall. Can’t have a mouse pop out while she is at the wheel. This Audi is practically new.”

At that moment Joyce and the dogs came out from behind the garage. She was yelling even before she reached them. “I have seen some stupid things before but I have never seen anything so stupid as this. What are you thinking, Charlie?” She had wrapped the dog leash around her fist multiple times so the dogs were right at her feet and as she walked to Charles they barked and scratched as if they were part of an entourage. “You brought a mouse to the Krug’s? I mean seriously? Are you a moron? WHO DOES THAT?”

“Honey, honey…”

“Don’t you Honey, Honey me. What were you thinking of?”

“I was just going to get rid…”

“In the Krug’s garage?” Joyce focused for the first time on Krug. He was by the Audi, as frozen as the mouse when it jumped off the front seat. “Krug,” She said, “I am so sorry. This is all inexcusable. The moron here will get that mouse out of your garage if it takes him all night, won’t you Charles?”

Krug mumbled that it was all right. He would just leave the doors open and the mouse would let himself out. No big deal.

But Joyce had now noticed that the contents of the Audi were spread out on the driveway. She didn’t say anything. She looked at Charles and gestured to the items with her chin. She raised her eyebrows. She waited.

Charles filled the pause, “Honey, I was just making sure that the mice were all gone.”

“MICE? Are you kidding? There was more than one?”

“Three, but no worries. They are gone. Long gone.”

“You had three mice in the car? While we were driving here?”

“Long gone, Honey, long gone…”

“Did it occur to…” Joyce bit off her response. She gave Charles a murderous stare. She took a deep breath. “Krug would you give us a minute?”

Krug didn’t need any further prompting. He walked swiftly into the garage and then into the house. He slipped into the kitchen and then surreptitiously positioned himself by the side of the kitchen window so he could see into the driveway. From that angle he couldn’t hear but he could see Charles shuffling sheepishly from foot to foot as Joyce bellowed.

There was a Kleenex box on the driveway. Joyce kicked it like it was a football and it sailed up on the hood of the Audi and lingered for an instant in equipoise before sliding off onto the driveway again. Then she pulled out her cell phone and yelled into it for a few seconds and then she turned back and yelled at Charles again. After a few minutes of yelling Charles started to put the stuff on the driveway back into the car.

Krug watched the scene from the window for a few more minutes then another car drove up and Joyce got in and drove away. Charles continued to restore the contents of the Audi.

After a few minutes, Krug went back out to the driveway. Charles was closing the dogs in the hatchback. He gave Krug a sheepish, lopsided, smile. “Don’t even know why she was so pissed. She really went off the deep end.”

Krug was conciliatory. “Yeah.”

“It’ll blow over. I am not worried about it. She’ll get over it by the time she gets back to the house.”

“She was pretty steamed.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll say. Just hope the other mice aren’t still in the car.”

“I thought you said they all ran off.”

“Here is hoping. I can’t really tell. I tried to check everywhere but it’s hard to see under the seats. I guess they did. I mean why wouldn’t they? What a pain.” Charles looked up. “It’s all Lorie’s fault. Those mice weren’t harming anything. And it isn’t like I didn’t step up to the plate and deal with them.” Charles shook his head at the injustice of it all. “Well, Krug, sorry about it. Guess I better go home and make sure that the mice are gone.

“Yeah. No worries. We’ll catch up next week.”

*          *          *

Krug was in his driveway when Charles pulled up. Charles was driving a Toyota with a Budget Rent a Car license plate in the front. The door swung open and Charles started to get out.

“Not so fast.” Krug shouted, “you got any mice in there?”

“Ha Ha. Very funny.”

Krug hummed, “three blind mice, see how they run…”

“Give a rest, Kruger. I am a little sick of hearing about that whole mice business.”

“What, are you still in the doghouse?”

“Yeah ‘fraid so.”

“You are kidding. That had to be three weeks ago.”

“I know.”

“You can’t be in the doghouse that long over a stupid mouse. I mean it was my garage.”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, three weeks is a long time.”

Charles gave his sheepish smile. “There were some aggravating circumstances.”

“Like?”

“All the mice didn’t actually escape from the car.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I mean I was sure they did. I even got a flashlight and looked everywhere.”

“So how did you find out? Did a little bugger jump out while you were driving?”

“Naw. Worse.”

“How could it be worse than that?”

“Trust me.”

“Oh man, you gotta tell me.”

“You know what’s weird, at first I didn’t even think of the mouse. I thought it was my gym bag. I kept meaning to take it out of the car but I was really busy and I kept forgetting.  I could tell it was a little ripe, you know what I mean?”

Ripe?”

“Yeah at first. It was just that sort of smell. But then after 3 or 4 days it got a lot worse. Driving downtown in the morning, I started wondering if maybe I had hit a squirrel or something, but I couldn’t see anything. Then I was coming home one afternoon and it was really hot so I turned on the air conditioning and it was horrible. I mean I had to stop the car and get out…

“What the hell?”

“Yeah, I guess one of those mice crawled into a little duct or hose or something…”

“And died in there?”

“That’s what I am thinking…”

“Oh my god. You have a dead rotting mouse carcass in your air-conditioning?”

“Yeah. I mean, it was wretched. Like make-you-gag kind of wretched.”

Krug looked over at the Toyota. “Let me guess, you had to take the Audi in for a mouse-exhumation?”

“Yeah. It was really bad. Wouldn’t air out. I mean nasty.”

“Can they get it out?”

“They are saying yes, but it’s going to cost a shitload and I don’t know that I believe them. I sure hope so. That car is almost new.”

“Charles, Charles, Charles.” Krug shook his head at the wonder of it all.

“Yeah.” Charles agreed.

“But there is one thing I don’t get.” Krug said. “How come you are still in the doghouse?  Joyce must have felt that you got just what you deserved, having to drive around in your Audi full of dead mouse stink. Perfect punishment. She’s probably laughing her ass off.”

“One problem.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s her Audi.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. He blogs at www.jayduret.com. His comic novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press.

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Should Never

By Jay DuretWoolly Mammoth copy

“A new research report suggests that scientists may be able to recreate an extinct woolly mammoth from its long-frozen DNA.” – New York Times

 

I.

Should never
I see that now.
Twisted by logic
Played by logicians, swept
By the force of cunning argument.
Should never.

Debate will do that.
The river of words
Slow, languorous even, at the edges
Where you first step in.
Gently seductive, gently urging,
Gently gently gently down the stream.
But further, towards the sluicing middle, the current
Irresistible. The logic, the argument, the hard claw of debate.
Irresistible.
I was carried down the stream.
I am sorry.
Should never.

I blame Google.
It is one thing, after all, to search for words.
We do that.
We are human; we have no choice.
But pictures? Images?
This should be taboo.

Once I saw you I could not straighten my thinking.
I knew the arguments, heard the debates,
I have a mind that can hold opposing ideas in balance.
In equipoise.
But the swoop of your ivory. Its magnificent curl.
The rich dignity of your coverings.
As a people, we dream of a coat like your colossal swinging fur coat.
We hear in dreams the deep poundings of your stride
Turning tundra to grassland, step by booming step.

To see your image was to fail you.
Should never.
Should never have brought you,
Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Mammoth,
I should never have brought you back.

II.

I was born in a glass tube in a clinic in LA
Cloned from a morsel of DNA, that DNA exhumed
From a nugget of amber,
Or a bubbling tar pit, or a fossil in the Dakotas.
My papa, not mammoth, not woolly,
A balding man in a white lab coat
With bad breath, like he stunk inside,
Like all humans.
Stunk inside.

I won’t speak human.
Human sounds won’t pass my mouth.
We took a vow, my brothers and sisters,
Even as we dwindled,
Even as the light that burned within us
Flickered
We would never utter words that had been spoken
By humans or their kind.
Poisoned meat. Poisoned grasses.
The rapaciousness of hunters.
The voraciousness of human hunger.
You hunted us down. You ate us up.
All of us.
Extinction.

I know why it is you brought me back.
I know what it is you want.
The debate, the logic, the business with Google; all lies
I know why you brought me back:
You want me to balm you with forgiveness.
You want the gift of words.
But I won’t speak them.

To be extinct is to be beyond words.
Beyond any words, beyond all words,
Human words, mammoth words, it doesn’t matter.
I am beyond words.
I am dead to words.
I won’t speak human.
I took a vow.

 

Should Never originally appeared in the New Verse News

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, was published by Indigo Sea Press.  Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. 

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The Last Taxpayer

By Jay Duret

The Last Taxpayer

The two men were in the locker room. The tall one was stripping down after a sweaty workout. The short bearded one sat on a stool, slowly and tiredly pulling off his work socks, getting ready for his session in the gym.

The tall one said, “Rodge, I never see you. How long you in for?”

“Came in yesterday, leaving tomorrow.”

“Three days. In and out. That’s a quick trip.”

“And that’s all I am gonna be doing. Gotta be careful.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s quick but I get a lot done. Tues to Thursday, that’s most of the week. And it only counts as three days.”

“How many can you have?”

“There is no bright line. That’s why I have to be careful.”

“I thought 183 was the bright line.”

“Yeah 183 and you are definitely screwed. But you can be screwed with a lot less. The only thing you can actually count on is that less than 45 days is okay.”

“Really?”

“But anything beyond 45 and, well, you just don’t know.”

“Seems harsh.”

“You really have to be careful.”

“I guess.”

Rodge said, “Trust me. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the line, wherever it gets drawn. We are talking beaucoup dollars.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

Beaucoup. If it weren’t so much, I wouldn’t worry. I love San Francisco.  Mostly. I’d be here all the time, but it is just impossible. Can’t take that kind of a risk.”

“Well at least you can get to the gym. You keep your membership?”

“Yeah, they let me. But I have been working so hard with the travel and everything I don’t feel that much like working out.”

“Dude, don’t say that. You used to be fanatic #1.”

“Gotta be realistic. I fly in and I’m going to a meeting straight from the airport and then they are all stacked up for 3 straight days. I hardly get any downtime, even at night. Dinner meetings every night and then back to the airport. It’s wearing me down, frankly.”

“Dude you gotta manage your life better. Gotta take care of yourself.”

“I know. I know. But when?”

“What about when you are home?”

“That’s just as bad cause I have all the follow-up when I get back and as soon as that’s done I have to start preparing for the next trip – I am coming at least twice a month.”

“That’s gonna get you way over 45 days, Dude. Three days a week, twice a month? That’s more than seventy days.”

“I know. I know. It’s stressing me out. Some days I get palpitations when I think about it. I have to figure out how to cut back.”

“You ever think about coming in disguise?”

Disguise?”

“Yeah I was seeing this program about Robert Durst and he was worried people were following him so he rented an apartment dressed up as a woman. You should do that.”

“You are saying I should come to San Francisco in drag?”

“It is San Francisco. Nobody’d give a damn.”

“Claudia might.”

“What does she think about you being away so much?”

“She misses the city. She wants to come. She keeps saying that I have got her in a Bedouin prison.”

“Bedouin prison?”

“Cause we live in the desert I guess. I mean I wonder what she wants. We have sun 365 and she has golf with her friends whenever she feels like it.”

“You guys are crazy. You are city people. You should just throw in the towel and buy a house here and pay taxes out the wazoo like everyone else.”

You are crazy. You know how much that will cost me?”

“Beaucoup?”

“Ha Ha. I am not frickkin’ kidding.”

“But it’s for a good purpose. It goes to the schools. You used to be all over the schools. Didn’t you donate big bucks to the children’s scholarship deal?”

“Still do.”

“So pay some more taxes and do the same thing.”

“You are turning into a socialist. I am not giving to the bureaucracy so it can waste 90% of the money before it gets to the kids. I don’t want to give my money to the Teacher’s Union so they can continue to educate kids who can’t read at their grade level. I’ll give my money where it can make a difference.”

“Apparently you feel strongly.”

“You know in Korea on the day they have the big exams for college placement the government stops all the planes in the country from flying while the test is going on. They stop all the planes! For hours! Can you imagine us doing that?”

“Actually no. It’s over the top don’t you think?

“But Bo, that’s the competition! If we don’t keep up we are going to be run under. And it’s happening.”

“The sky is falling is it?”

“This is no Chicken Little business. I am telling you I see it every day. People are living in the past. You should see what is happening in Singapore and Shanghai and Mumbai. They are hungry there. Their workers work hard. They are eating our lunch.”

“I forgot they invented the Mac in Mumbai.”

‘You laugh but you won’t be when your job is being is being done in Malaysia.”

“Malaysia’s getting big in brand management?”

“You’ll see.”

“But how are you fixing that by hiding like outlaws in the Nevada desert and skipping out on your California taxes?” Bo launched into a snatch of Friend of the Devil: “’I lit out from Reno I was trailed by twenty hounds..’ God, I love that song.”

“Very funny. I am doing what we all should be doing. Doesn’t help anyone to feed the Beast. We should starve it. If government was half the size it’d do twice as much.”

“You actually believe that?”

“I do. And you should.”

“Jesus. You’ve become a Republican.”

“I am a Libertarian.”

“You sound like a Republican. What does Claudia think about that? She used to be a flamer.”

“Oh she still is.”

“But she is going along with you on this?”

“She’s not crazy about it but yeah. It’s her money too.”

“How long has she been locked up in the desert with the money?”

“Not funny.”

“Lighten up, Rodge. How long?”

“Four months maybe.”

“That’s all? And she is already climbing the walls?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Reading between the lines, bro.”

“She’ll get used to it. And once the ski season gets here she’ll be in heaven.”

“If we ever have any snow again.”

“Oh come on Bo, don’t start with the climate business. We had more snow in Reno last year than in a decade.”

“Rodge, Rodge, Rodge. Don’t tell me you’ve become a Denier too?”

“Trust me, as soon as the politicians get us to believe that there is climate change they will tell us they have to raise our taxes to pay for it. And it won’t be China and Singapore and Korea who are paying; it’ll be you and me.”

“Actually just me cause you’ll be hiding out in the desert.”

“You’ll be hiding with me when you see what the tax bill looks like. People like you just don’t want to face up what’s going on all around us. You just wait.”

“When did you get this dour? You used to be fun. Well not a lot of fun. But at least mildly entertaining. Now you are all doom and gloom. No wonder Claudia is losing her mind.”

“Women and children can be careless. A man has got to be serious.”

‘Jesus, that’s right out of The Godfather. That’s what Brando says to Michael when he says he doesn’t want to be a puppet for someone else pulling the strings.” Bo stooped, cocked his face to the left and launched a poor imitation of Brando’s scratchy voice, “’Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that.’ God I love that movie.”

“I am serious.”

“You said that. I just don’t see that running out on your taxes is the sign of a serious man.”

“You’ll see. Remember when we used to do that deal in the restaurant in college? We’d get everybody except one poor guy in on it and then when the check came we’d all bolt at the same time and the one guy who didn’t know would be sitting there with a WTF on his face and he’d have to pay for everybody. Remember?”

“God, that was bad. I can’t believe we ever did that. What little shits we were. Jesus.”

“Hate to tell you this, Bo, but we are still doing it. We never stopped. It’s just not a check at a restaurant anymore. And now you are the last guy. You are that guy.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Rodge got up and stuffed his socks into his gym satchel. He smiled. “And by the way, when you pay the tax bill, leave a little tip. Don’t want them thinking we are cheap at our table.”

“Ha Ha.”

Rodge smiled wide, clearly energized by the exchange. He slapped his locker closed, extracted the key and headed down to the gym for his workout. As he left he sang a bar of the old Janis Joplin song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” He looked back over his shoulder, “God I love that song. Love it.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, is published by Indigo Sea Press

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On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

By: Jay Duret

All writers know it is hard to make any money from a book. You have to get it noticed among thousands of other offerings. In that respect, a new book is something like a start-up company. But start up companies are getting funded all the time. It occurs to me that maybe writers could learn something important from the community of investors who bankroll start-ups. I ask my friend Zuni to take me to an angel investment club in Palo Alto.

Zuni is a cheerful soul. She made some money years ago rolling up floral distribution companies and has no need to go to the office. In the last several months she has fallen in love two times, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, sat for the California bar, become the Chief Operating Officer for one start-up and bankrolled another. She agrees to take me to an angel investing conference, more or less in the same vein.

We drive down from San Francisco on Route 280, fend off the Wednesday morning traffic and exit onto Sand Hill Road. As we approach Palo Alto, I feel as if we are locked into a tractor beam and being pulled into Battlestar Silicon Valley, the epicenter of venture capitalism. If there is any place to be an angel investor in 2015, it is right here.

We are late. The angels have been at it for an hour before we arrive and every seat in the 300-seat auditorium is filled. The stage is now occupied by a broad-faced character named Tony Stevens who sports a tan as rich as an Allen Edmonds shoe. We get ourselves settled and flip open our program brochures to the salient points of the 13 companies that are presenting today. Stevens has endeared himself to me already because he looks startlingly like Fred Willard, the actor who played the color commentator at the dog show in the movie Best in Show. At first, I think they are the same person for Stevens is subject to the same wild fits of digression that Willard displayed in that mockumentary.

Stevens is wearing a white shirt and a gray cardigan sweater vest. He is in ruddy health and clearly loves to be in the center of the stage. He carries a microphone and struts like he owns the space. He yells out to one of his team – his team must have 20 people on it – to tee him up some music, and instantly Rod Stewart is playing Maggie May and Stevens is dancing, poorly and enthusiastically, across the stage.

I look around the auditorium to see how the angels are taking it. I’ve never been in a room filled with angels before, and the expressions are not nearly as beatific as you would think. The angels are a varied crew. There are plenty of 30 year old Asian men in baseball hats, an assortment of characters in suits like they just got off the plane from Baltimore, a variety of women, each of whom looks as if she could easily run a Fortune 500 company, but no one in the audience seems to be in the mood for dancing. Stevens realizes this, ruefully – what’s with you people anyway? – but signals for the music to fade.

He is not embarrassed. In a nanosecond he has regrouped, bounded across the stage, and called up the CEO of an emerging enterprise with a dyspeptic name that sounds something like ZipLock. ZipLock exists to accelerate Internet speeds in the Last Mile. Everyone here knows that the Last Mile is not the route that Christ traversed to Golgotha, but the distance from a telecommunications network into the homes of individual consumers. I am all for accelerating those speeds so I pay close attention to learn what this start-up’s secret sauce might be, but I am quickly lost in the jargon of the presenter. She speaks Siliconese, a kind of Spanglish – though not a mixture of English and Spanish – but of tech talk and finance talk all jumbled together. First mover advantage with an IP fortress in close juxtaposition to convertible notes and managed liquidity events. She explains that ZipLock’s solution will be delivered through the cloud via a USB dongle. Not only is it a global game changer, but, really good news, it won’t be threatened by the next big thing.

I lean over to Zuni. “Are you interested in funding this enterprise?” Zuni rolls her eyes and makes a cutting motion across her neck.

Each pitch is limited to 10 minutes except for a few companies that are seeking seed-level investments: they are given only three. After the pitch, the audience is given 10 minutes of questions and at the end encouraged to indicate their interest on a gold sheet, which Stevens tells us is the most important piece of paper that we will see today. The gold sheet tells the organizers what our level of interest is and will kick off the due diligence process that will lead to investment in those lucky companies that attract the most favorable attention.

I had anticipated that all the potential investments at this Expo would be in tech companies but I am completely wrong. Next up is a gentlemen with mutton chops – really, who wears mutton chops? Is that a thing? – who pitches an investment fund making short term real estate loans to developers in the Portland area. He has closed out an initial fund and says those investors have enjoyed a 20% return on equity. Mutton Chops has presented before at this club in the past and he enjoys a reservoir of goodwill but he doesn’t draw a smile from the angels – this is a sour group of angels or maybe all angels look sour when listening to pitches. MC is not fazed at all, actually he is slightly sour-faced too; he moves through his presentation easily, without hyperbole, letting his numbers do his talking. He exits to polite applause.

The stage is briefly taken over by a kid – I’m not kidding, he’s really a kid, he can’t be 20 years old – who startles us with the news that our pillowcases are as dirty as our toilets seats. From there it is a short step to convincing us that acne is pandemic among people who sleep on pillowcases. He and his merry band are poised to disrupt the pillowcase industry with a new material that can be infused – maybe he said suffused – with oils that repel the crap that ordinarily covers our pillowcases.

The kid is a big hit with the audience, but there is a question. He’s only looking for $1.2 million and it’s just to buy inventory. One investor points out that equity money – that’s the sort of money the angels are supplying: high risk, high return, money – is expensive money to use just to buy product; why doesn’t the kid get a bank loan? The kid says that the product is so hot they need to buy right away; they can’t wait for a bank to go through the painful tire-kicking it will require before doing a line of credit. That answer clearly resonates. These angels don’t have any love for bank lenders, with their methodical low risk, low return investments. Equity money may be expensive money, but it is smart money.

Stevens is back and he quickly shoos the kid off stage. He looks around the room – it is uncanny how much he looks like Willard – and makes another attempt to pump up the crowd. He fires up some rock and roll and he struts a bit – clearly he is convinced that he has moves – I wonder what he does in front of the mirror in his bedroom before he leaves for work. The latest pump up session proves no more successful than his last attempt but the lukewarm reception bothers him not a bit. If possible, I like him even more than I did before.

The holder of multiple patents for a bedwetting product anticipates $109 million in revenue in 2018. I pause over the projections – really? That seems a lot of bedwetters. But the materials explain that 2.2 billion folks suffer from nocturia, “the frequent need to urinate at night.” Nocturia is described as a deadly condition that is linked to “higher rates of heart disease, stroke, deadly hip fractures, brain damage and significantly higher death rates in all categories…” I confess that I have trouble with deadly hip fractures until I realize that nocturia afflicts the elderly among us in disproportionate amounts and these entrepreneurs are expecting plenty of midnight stumbles en route to the loo.

Zuni and I soak up the buoyant optimism of a few more presenters. I am amazed that there are so many ways to generate $50 or $100 million in annual revenue, but who am I to argue with the careful analysis that has been performed on the spending habits of unattended retail environments or the whizzing of those 2.2 billion nightstalkers with nocturia.

I am getting ready to leave when I sit bolt upright – there is an investment offered in the work of a writer! Amazing! This could be the keys to the kingdom. I have to stay and hear this. This could be a way to bypass the whole logjam in the publishing industry. Take it to the Angels!

The investment involves a “young writer/director” with a “buzzworthy, unique personal background” who owns a “powerful, original copyright protected screenplay”. His group seeks a million dollars from the assembled angels to produce and distribute a film from that copyright protected screenplay. Two Oscar-winning actors “have expressed interest from reading the script and have requested offers for the lead roles.” Based on “recent sales of films similar” to the anticipated film “in genre, theme, subject, budget, audience and target distributor,” the company anticipates investors will make a 64% return on their invested capital. I like that it is 64%, not 60% or 65%; precision in these matters is very important to me.

I am getting pretty excited. I have a unique personal background. I could be buzzworthy. I wonder what the script is about. Fortunately there is a synopsis available:

Nicolette is an ambitious journalist who does not love easily. Engaged to Eithan, a charming entrepreneur who struggles to launch his Silicon Valley start up, Nicolette is consumed with an investigative reporting she is conducting on a sex-trafficking ring.… But one night, she learns that Eithan made a bizarre commitment to Alexis McKenzie, a wealthy venture capitalist, in order to obtain seed funding for his tech startup. While Eithan admits his mistake and explains that his indiscretion was purely for business, Nicolette must make an urgent choice. Does she love him enough to forgive him? Or is she willing to sacrifice love in a dangerous revenge that benefits her investigation…

This is a powerful story all right. But could it really raise a million?   I decide to do some real due diligence. I  go look at Kickstarter and see what sort of film projects that they have up for crowd funding. Maybe I can find some guidance as to what the crowd wants to fund.

I go to the Kickstarter website and pick the Film and Video category. Wow, there are 35,151 projects looking for funding. I scroll through, looking for something that I can compare to Eithan’s epic. Almost immediately I come upon To The Flames, a film by Alex Webb. Alex is looking for $25,000 in funding of which he has only raised $650. That isn’t a great start but he has 27 days to go. His film is synopsized as follows:

Kyle, an aimless film student, becomes fascinated with a dark, disturbed couple while interviewing neighbors for class. Big mistake.

I watch the 5-minute trailer for the film – its a long 5 minutes but punctuated by frequent bursts of hilarity – and if I had to choose between this one and Eithan’s story, To The Flames would get the nod, for sure. Not only is the amount of funding so reasonable, but for a pledge as modest as $10,000 I can get myself credited as “Executive Producer” in the opening titles. I will also get a copy of the DVD, visit the set for a day and attend the premiere in New York as well as the wrap party.

As I look through the Kickstarter archives, the film I can most closely equate to Eithan’s venture is:

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, A Film

by Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle

Ecosexuals Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens fight mountain top removal coal mining and make environmental activism sexy, fun, & diverse.

GCM was fully funded; indeed it raised 134% of what was sought. But I am not sure that it is a good predictor of success for Eithan’s tale. First of Goodby Gauley Mountain only sought to raise $10,000. More importantly, ecosexualism is clearly hipper and more cutting edge than the run-of-the-mill sex-trafficking that Nicolette is investigating. And, by the way, Annie Sprinkle is a much better name than Eithan, in my humble opinion, and it has the additional benefit of being spelled correctly.

I can’t wait to see how Zuni will react to Eithan’s epic. If she is willing to fund this, maybe I can sell her the rights to my book – forget agents, forget the publishing industry; I’ll have Angels on my side! I watch Zuni fill out her Gold Sheet and when it comes time to describe her level of investment interest in Eithan’s movie, sadly she checks the box marked “low”. She whispers to me that the key to angel investing is that you have to be willing to say no.

– Jay Duret

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, was published by Second Wind Publishing.  Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. 

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Snowballs

2014_10_08_11_29_54

       Snowballs

By Jay Duret
When my brother and I were boys we used to stand up on the hill by Mark Riley’s house and wait for cars to come by so we could bombard them with snowballs. The spot we stood was perfect because we could see the cars from a long way off. We were much higher than the road and the drivers wouldn’t notice us until a beautifully arched snowball would loft down with a satisfying thump on the hood or better on the windshield or best, though rarely, through the open driver’s window. We lined up our snowballs in front of us so that we could get off several rounds per car like those Zen archers you read about that can launch a dozen arrows before the first one reaches ground. In our minds we were Zen archers, our snowballs following one after another as if the first drew the others in its slipstream.

Our spot was perfect in another way too. You could run from there into the deep and complicated woods behind the Riley’s house and then dart off onto half a dozen paths that were made for small boys to dart off onto. We knew where to meet up at and where to circle around to come out of the woods, sauntering as if we were out for a stroll and not involved in any snowball throwing that might be going on the neighborhood.

Cars would often stop when we whacked them and we would peal off for the woods shouting and sometimes an irate old fart would get out and try to run up the slick hill in leather shoes and fall on a knee in the snow before giving up and cursing all the way back to his Ford. Sometimes when that happened we would slip back out from the woods where we had been watching and launch another volley at the retreating figure and the sitting duck car throbbing at curbside.

There was really only one problem with our set up. While we could see the cars coming from a distance, we were too high off the road to see who was in the car and so with every volley launched there was the delicious risk that it wouldn’t be some forty year old fart, but a carload of jocks from the high school who would slither to a stop and then four doors would fly open in unison and a car-full of whooping high school guys would tear up the hill after us and we’d run for woods shouting, “Oh Shit! Oh Shit!” as we stumbled over each other on the suddenly treacherous ground. And then the pack would be right behind us and those stomping swearing whooping sounds seemed as close as if we were wearing them on our backs.

Sometimes we would get away and then the sheer joy of life would surge through us as we reunited in the little clearing in the woods and talked about how close the escape had been and how we had bewildered them once we reached the woods and slipped down trails made for crafty boys and not for meaty high school guys with their big shoulders and black high top sneakers.

Other times they would get us and that would usually turn out the same: you’d feel their bellowing breathing on your neck just before an iron hand would grab the hood of your winter jacket and your feet would fly out from under you and then a massive presence would be all over you. They would fling you into the snow and a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt would be on the back of your head, no way you could prevent it, and that hand would push your face down into the snow and twist it so that your face would be rubbed over the ground.

They would go at for a while and it was even hard to shout for mercy or to get any beneficial effect from crying cause the snow would be in your snotty nose and mouth and slipping in that surprising way down your front collar onto your bare boy’s chest below. Sometimes they would kick you or give you a few random punches, but that was usually it. The point of it was that pitiful sight we made as we sat up and turned to see who had done it to us: our faces red and packed with pockets of snow, our knit hats knocked cock-eyed on our heads so that tufts of winter hair shot up in all the wrong directions, those stupid long scarves we wore trailing off in the snow like the tails of broken kites.

Years later, when my brother and I were in our twenties and done with college, we would go out to my folks and drive past that hill where we used to throw our snowballs. The hill didn’t look so big as it used to look and the Riley’s woods were nothing more than a threadbare clump of apple trees. But we’d grown up and had our minds on the complicated lives were starting to live and we didn’t even notice.

Except one day. It was a freezing Christmas afternoon and we were dressed for dinner with the folks. It had snowed the day before. The roads had been cleared but the lawns throughout my parents’ neighborhood were covered with white. We were late for dinner. We knew that mother would be unhappy cause she had been up early cooking and we had proved that we weren’t any more considerate now than we had been when we were boys. We were anxious to get there.

We were coming down Hunter’s Lane. My brother was driving. And all at once there were two thwaps on the front windshield. A snowball attack, no possible doubt. Direct hits. On us! On us!

My brother skidded to a stop. Up on the hill we could see the boys scattering in the frozen afternoon light. I looked at my brother. It was freezing outside. We had to get to our folks’ house. I had on a pair of black loafers and a tie and sport coat. He looked at me. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t want to get out of that car. We looked at each other for a long time. And then he sighed.

“We’ve got to do it,” he said.

I said, “we’ve got no choice.”

And we flung open the doors of the car in unison and tore ass up the hill whooping in the direction that the snowballs came from.

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His novel, Nine Digits, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be available later this year. See http://www.ninedigits.com. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com.

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Arc of Truth

Jay DuretBy Jay Duret

 

I am a liar.

I write fiction, that’s the job description.

I am fine with the undeniable fact that I will go to my grave as a liar, but I have noticed that some of my colleagues squirm under the label. They don’t want to lie for a living; they get queasy when describing what they write as “fiction”, the very word a declaration of mendaciousness. They believe, as I do, that lying can be a way to truth, sometimes the only way. But they want that idea to be more than just a line in a graduate student’s paper or an aphorism attributed to Hemingway. (“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” “You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true.”)

Because we live in an age where each of us can create our own narrative, some writers have cast off from the fiction pier and are floating into waters closer to the shore that has been called, forever, by the bad name “non-fiction”. The problem is, despite its bad label, non-fiction is a real thing. There is an underlying school of craft – we call it journalism – that has rules and boundaries. A fiction writer can’t simply declare that he or she has landed on the shores of non-fiction and proceed to take up shop there; doing that would subject the writer to the rules and regulations governing the craft of non-fiction, a weighty commitment, particularly for those who love fiction precisely for the freedom it offers from overbearing regulation.

But that doesn’t end the matter. For those floating in the waters between fiction and non-fiction, new possibilities are arising, and I do not mean Creative Non Fiction. CNF, according to Lee Gutkind editor of the magazine Creative Non-Fiction, is subject to the same rules of reporting that govern journalism. The “creative” in CNF does not mean creating facts; it means telling the story with some of the tools of fiction – pacing, suspense, flashbacks, etc. A good piece of CNF is no less required to be grounded in actuality than a piece of straight up reporting. As Gutkind puts it:

“Creative” doesn’t mean … that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

When writers ignore Gutkind’s maxim, disaster can follow. Truth in labeling is the way of American commerce, why should it be different in writing than in, say, soup packaging? I like this quote about the writer of A Million Little Pieces, an Oprah Book Club Selection that became a best seller before The Smoking Gun outed the book’s many fabrications:

James Frey wants us to believe that he is a tough but sensitive bad-boy writer with a drug problem. The truth is, he’s a sensitive but boyish bad writer with a truth problem[1].

No, calling fiction CNF will not solve the writer’s dilemma. Fortunately in this, as in so many things, writers can borrow from another art form: movies. With the bigger budgets and the legions of people involved in making a movie – they have producers, best boys, gaffers! They have lawyers on the creative team! – no wonder motion pictures have fished these waters better than solitary writers tapping their keyboards in lonely scows and leaky rowboats. The movie industry has created a finely gauged explanation of the territory between fiction and non-fiction and that can serve as an excellent guide for writers.

The foundation of movies – perhaps other than documentaries – is to have  extremely good looking actors and actresses pleasingly stand in for the sad sacks whose stories are being related (All the President’s Men – I mean, really, Robert Redford is a beat reporter?). Given that foundation, it is hard to say that any movie is actually “true” – but a movie will frequently self identify as A True Story. That’s a wonderful phrase and frankly might be just the perfect oxymoron to serve any writer in need of a forgiving description of their work. Yet if the body of CNF proves anything, it is that non-fiction can be told as a story and therefore A True Story may not be quite as oxymoronic as one might have supposed. No, further nuance is needed.

Based on a True Story – here is a category that gives a writer some freedom! Nothing in it says that lying is involved – the writer is telling truth! – it is just that the truth the writer is telling is devolved from an underlying truth;  it is an expression of that truth, just not exactly the literal truth that might be found in the Palace of Truth and Justice. True, but not true in the pedestrian sense a member of the public might have otherwise expected. Understood properly, BTS is a branch of metaphysics.

So much of fiction is BTS that the category – by itself – solves the problem for most writers. But for writers that paddle even further from the banks of non-fiction, the movie industry offers an even more flexible concept: Inspired by a True Story. This one is a winner. Short of flat out fantasy, what fiction doesn’t fall under the category of ITS? And how could any reader complain if that little bit of disclosure were to be appended to the description of a book marketed as fiction? How could the writer be called out? As far as I can see, the best approach for one bent on attacking the description would be to say that a dreary work was not inspired. That would seem easier to prove in a court of law or public opinion than the proposition that somewhere – anywhere – there wasn’t some true story that the writer’s tale sprang from. Yes, Inspired By A True Story does the job: it will lend almost any piece of fiction a fine patina of truthfulness.

As good as ITS is, it doesn’t quite work for me. I write many stories that are all or mostly dialogue. I have come to believe – for better or worse – that you can tell the reader all they need to know about the characters by what they say and they way they say it. Many of my stories have come to me by eavesdropping – one of those things, like lying, that are essential parts of a fiction writer’s trade. Often I will hear a conversation and later on, after I have played it through in my head a dozen times, I will put it down on paper and find that I have a story that – at least to my own taste – is of interest.

Yet this is where I run into trouble. An editor will read my piece and ask if I am submitting the story as Fiction or Non Fiction or CNF. (Indeed, Submittable usually requires a commitment to one of those categories right from the start.) I could cover myself with a judicious use of the key phrase Inspired By A True Story but that disclosure – broad as it may be – needs some adaptation to apply to my type of writing. For when you start with an eavesdropped conversation, you never know whether the event that is being discussed is actually true or not. You may have happened upon two bullshitters – whose conversation you may be reporting truthfully – but there is no true story beneath it. I needed a way to capture that nuance.

At first I tried to explain it – but many of my editors did not possess the forgiving span of attention that the nuance inherent in this thing requires. And then I had an inspiration. Why not handle it with a picture, a diagram, an illustration? That would save me explaining the details to editors too busy  to focus. And that is how I came to memorialize the Arc of Truth.

I am not much of an illustrator but I like the way the arrow on the dial moves between black and white with shades of grey in between. Not fifty of them, alas, but enough for these purposes:

Arc of Truth3

 

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, will be published by Second Wind Publishing this year. Visit the website: www.ninedigits.com. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. Read his prior posts on the Second Wind blog:

Nom De Plume

Nom De Plume

Bridalplasty

Bridalplasty

Queen For A Day

Queen For A Day

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://listverse.com/2010/03/06/top-10-infamous-fake-memoirs (retrieved July 23, 2014).

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Filed under books, fiction, Humor, Mike Simpson, writing

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

By Jay Duret

They were in the seat in front of me on the BART. I could only see the back of their heads but their voices were distinct.

The woman said, “Oh my God it was bad. Really bad. The. Worst. Ever.”

The guy said, “Worst what?”

“Fundraiser. It was for that new school in the Mission. I went with Tommy and he said it would be really fun.”

“What was wrong with it?”

“Oh you name it, the bar was slow, the food sucked, and the speeches lasted forever. I was looking for some drinks and a nice dinner, you know, hear about the school and get home by nine. Fat chance.”

“Did they go on and on? They always do.”

“Oh my God it was endless.”

“Doesn’t sound that bad. I went to one that was much worse.”

“Couldn’t be.”

“No seriously, it was a hospital thing. You know that place where Jen used to work. A really big deal. Must have been 1000 people there. My boss couldn’t go at the last minute and so I had his tickets – they were like $2500 apiece or something insane.”

“Sounds like a big deal.”

“No kidding. There was a big tent and a million servers in tuxes. There were speeches and the tribute videos and the celebrity appearances and they had this big time sleazoid emcee guy and everything.”

“I hate those guys.”

“The last speech was a girl that had had surgery at the hospital and she had a cleft palate. They had before and after photos and she had looked really bad before and now she was great. I mean it was a great story and she told it beautifully – all the women were crying – and when she was done we all stood up to applaud for her.”

“Very nice. So what was so bad?”

“They wouldn’t let us sit down.”

“What do you mean?”

“The guy that was running the thing just said we should remain standing. He said they had come up with a fun way to finish off the evening.”

“I don’t get it. What were they going to have you do, dance the hokey-pokey?”

“SOO much worse. This guy says, ‘and now anybody who wants to provide $50,000 to help fund a new pediatric surgery chair should sit down.’ Everybody looked around at each other and didn’t quite know what to make of it. But some guy at the front table sat down right where everybody could see him do it. And as soon as he did, all these people burst out of the back room and started cheering and screaming. They were wearing these orange tee-shirts on top of their tuxedos – they looked like Oompa-Loompas, I swear to God – and they mobbed the guy like he’d just hit a three pointer at the buzzer.”

“Wow I’ve never seen it done that way.”

“I didn’t really even get it at first, but it became pretty clear cause then the emcee asked who wanted to give $20,000 to provide training for an intern in pediatric oncology. Like, he said, anyone who wanted to give should just sit down.”

“Oh my God, that’s awful.”

“Yeah and so like four people sat down.”

“Wow, what were you doing?”

“Shit I was just standing there, what else could I do? Like $20,000 is ridiculous. And I am like in the second table in the front cause I had my boss’s seats.”

“So what did they do next?”

“Well then they did $10,000 and $5,000 and then $2,500 and honestly I couldn’t believe it. People were sitting down left and right.”

“So did you try to sit down yourself?”

“No you couldn’t do it. They had us trapped because they had all these orange guys who kept swarming around anytime somebody sat down. You didn’t want to sit down by mistake. If you sat down you would be out $2,500. The only way to avoid it was just to keep standing. And so then they went to $1,000 and $500 and then they got to $250 and shit, I gotta tell you that by that point there weren’t that many people still standing and I’m there and everybody at my table is looking up at me like I’m a total cheapskate.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, what could I do? I didn’t want to put up that kind of money so I just stood there and then they went down to $100 and then $75 and honestly I think at $75 I may have been the only person in the entire room left standing. They were all looking at me.”

“Oh my God. That’s horrible. How did you feel?”

“It had been going on for hours by this point, at least that what it felt like, and I had been feeling like a trapped rat, but when they got down to $75 I got really pissed. I am like screw this, I’m not sitting down. See what they do. So the guy went ahead and he called for $50 and I stood there and he looked at me and gave me a little friendly sort of sheepish smile like he was kind of sorry could I just help him out, but I am now in a total screw you mode and so I just looked at him like he was dirt.”

“Jeesus. What happened?”

“I think if I’d given him a signal that I could do you know 25 bucks he would have called that and we could have been done with it, but when I projected attitude, he started going down by $5 amounts.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, seriously, it went $50, $45, $40 and by this time everybody in the place was totally pissed at me.”

“Why! Why were they pissed at you?”

“Cause they were all ready to go home and their cars had been valeted and they wanted to beat the line but they were trapped.”

“Why were they trapped? Hadn’t they already given?”

“Yeah, but I think they were worried that if they stood up people would think they hadn’t given and they would seem like they were as big a jerk as me.”

“Oh my God. How much did you give in the end?”

“I stood my ground.”

“Wow. You are tough.”

“You have no idea. They got down to 10 bucks and the sleazoid is giving me the stink eye but I just gave it back to him so he starts to go down a dollar at a time.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, finally some guy at the front had enough and he yells out that he’ll give $5,000 bucks if they’ll just stop.”

“No!”

“And the emcee smiles and looks at the crowd and he says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have $5,000 do I hear $6,000?” And then people start bidding, just to stop the guy from trying to get me to put up a few bucks. It was wild, one guy bid $10,000.”

“And did he… Oh, shit… Goddamn it! You are bullshitting me, right?”

“Ha Ha.”

“God damn you. You are a jerk.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much”

“You are such a jerk.”

“Had you going.”

“Jerk.”

* * *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer. His novel Nine Digits will be published by Second Wind Publishing this year. View the book trailer at www.ninedigits.com. Click below to see Jay’s other posts on the Second Wind blog:

Bridalplasty

Bridalplasty

Queen For A Day

Queen For A Day

 

 

Nom De Plume

Nom De Plume

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Filed under Humor, life, writing

Queen For A Day

Jay Crowned 2

By: Jay Duret

I am fascinated by reality TV. I love the cheesy gimmicks and the faux competitions. What is better than seeing alliances made and betrayed, secrets kept by shouting them out? I can’t get enough of the building tension as one contestant after another is sent home, banished, excommunicated, forever branded a loser.

I have studied reality TV. I know reality TV.

There are the Bachelor shows: the eligible good-looking dude chooses his babe; the eligible good-looking babe chooses her hottie. Then there is the twist: the big fat dude who has a skiddillion dollars chooses his babe. And the twist on the twist: the big fat dude who is supposed to have a skiddillion dollars doesn’t actually have any, so the babes he has been romancing are mortified when they find out that he is poor as well as disgusting and they have drooled over him on national TV for nothing.

And there are the warrior shows. The tribes left in the arctic, in the forest, in the swamp, in the desert. Always eating the same sickening bugs that you find in the arctic, the forest, the swamp, the desert. And for a twist, a whole show where people have to confront their fear of bugs, by, well, eating them, as by if swallowing gooey white maggoty writhing slithery slimy pustule coated grubs they’ll be better men or better women, not just sick to their chiseled stomachs.

And the quiz shows. For quiz shows you get the best excitement if the money keeps increasing until the contestants have so much that it is hideous and sickening when the lose and all their winnings are forfeit. Who doesn’t love that moment when it all comes crashing down?

While many think that reality programing began with The Real World and Survivor, the first reality television program was a daytime show from the 50’s called Queen for a Day. In that show, three or four contestants – I believe they were always women, which makes sense given the name of the show – competed to present stories of hardship to a live studio audience. Each contestant would regale the audience with the difficulties that she and her family had suffered: children with incurable diseases, job loss, bankruptcy, disfigurement, injuries too numerous to recall, failed marriages, parents sick and dying, you name it, the whole panoply of human pain and hardship.

Each contestant was given a block of time to tell her story. There was a host – a smarmy fellow named Jack Bailey – who helped the contestant choke out her tale of woe. Bailey was a known for his solicitousness. He was quick with a white handkerchief when tears appeared. A fine Wikipedia article on the show describes his approach beautifully:

Bailey began each interview gently, asking the contestant first about her life and family, and maintaining a positive and upbeat response no matter what she told him. For instance, when a woman said she had a crippled child, he would ask if her second child was “Okay.” On learning that the second child was not crippled, he might say, “Well, that’s good, you have one healthy child.”

 After each contestant had said their piece, the audience actually voted which of them had told the most piteous tale. As I remember it, though it was a long time ago and my recollection could be faulty, the voting was conducted by applause. Here is the scene: at the end of each show, all the contestants joined Jack Bailey on stage. He lined them up so they faced the audience. Then he approached the first and held his hand, palm down, over her head as if he were measuring her height. Signaled by that gesture, the audience applauded, and the intensity of the applause signified the degree of hardship that contestant had endured. The more applause, the sadder the story. Bailey then moved to the next contestant and repeated the process. There was a device – I swear this is true – called an “Applause-O-Meter” that purported to calibrate the level of applause each contestant received. The contestant with the highest score on the Applause-O-Meter – in other words, the contestant judged to have the endured the greatest misery – became Queen For A Day!

The crowning moment in each show was the crowning of the Queen. After the Applause-O-Meter had done its magic, a queenly robe, the kind with velvet and tufts of furry trim on the edges, appeared and was draped lovingly on her shoulders. The robes were drenched in royal red. The Queen then gentled herself into the luxurious comfort of a much-pillowed throne. A tiara – actually a full-on crown – was placed on her head. Her arms were filled with four dozen “coronation roses”.

And then there were the prizes! The prizes were not usually things that would alleviate, at least very directly, the suffering that had lead to the coronation. They were better! The prizes were toasters, dishwashers, sometimes a jeweled watch, always a washing machine and a year’s or a lifetime’s supply of household cleaners. Items for the laundry and the kitchen! The sort of things that a Queen would be needing after the magical day had run its dizzying course.

There was a lot of weeping on Queen for A Day. The contestants wept as they told of their difficult circumstances. The audience wept as they leaned in to hear of the contestants’ difficult circumstances. And, there were tears, for sure, when one lucky – well, unlucky – contestant was selected to receive the amazing gifts and prizes.

For all the weeping, Queen for the Day was a popular show. According to my research, the show was aired on radio and then television for 17 years – from 1947 through 1964. And thereafter, there were several, largely unsuccessful, attempts to revive the show. Indeed, those efforts continue to this day. As recently as 2011, a hustler with the difficult name of Michael Worstman, a former executive and producer with various entertainment enterprises, was trying to bring QFD to today’s audiences. He built a website devoted to promoting the concept. The site makes a strong case for the return of QFD. According to Mr. Worstman,

As a brand, Queen for a Day has worldwide recognition, stature and historical significance and is ideal for advertisers who desire to strongly connect with consumers. Queen For A Day is a relevant and seamless way to integrate appropriate lifestyle products into the show in support of ad campaigns and product launches. Consumers who see others becoming excited about a product or service can stimulate a desire to want it too. And in some cases, the gifts contestants receive can be life changing. And that’s powerful… 

I want to support the case for bringing back Queen for a Day. I love a good reality show – the cheesier the better as far as I am concerned – but I can’t do it. I can’t stomach the fact that some of the contestants lost. Sure they got consolation prizes, but how pathetic to have appeared in supplication before a national television audience parading your family’s pain and misery for all to wallow in, only to be judged by a jury of your peers not to have had it bad enough to merit the title of Queen For A Day. That was harsh.

I know, I know. This is real life; there is too much anguish out there. There just aren’t enough kitchen gadgets to assuage it all. That’s probably why the host ended each show with a bit of wistfulness: “This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day…” But I am sorry. That was the problem with Queen For A Day; they did not understand that reality TV shouldn’t be too real.

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Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His novel, Nine Digits, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be available in 2014. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com.

To experience the glory of QFD in its prime, click here and then click on the tab marked “voting”.

 

 

 

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Bridalplasty

Jay Duret My first book, Nine Digits, is a comic novel for young adults. Nine Digits tells the story of a dysfunctional family chosen to compete on a reality TV show in which the winner will receive a prize of $100 million. The show’s producers are hucksters, shamelessly manipulating the contestants in pursuit of higher ratings and the advertising dollars that those ratings bring. The book follows the family as they try to win a hopelessly rigged competition.

After creating the television contest in Nine Digits, a contest as outrageous as I could conceive, I was humbled when I stumbled upon a reality television program far more outrageous than mine. In this program young women competed to win a “celebrity-style, dream wedding”.  While I found it disappointing that some people see a celebrity-style, dream wedding as an ultimate prize in life, that wasn’t new news and I would not have paid the show any attention but for the show’s name: Bridalplasty. What kind of a name is that? Bridal, fine, but plasty? What is that? Were they going to sculpt their wedding cakes?

I decided to do a little research.  Turned out that Bridalplasty was an actual thing, a real reality TV contest that enjoyed a real life two-month run on E! Entertainment at the end of 2010. Twelve young women – all engaged or already married – competed, not just for a celebrity-style, dream wedding, but also to obtain their personal wishlist of surgical procedures. The winner would be entitled to all those cosmetic surgeries that make the difference between an ordinary life and, well, a celebrity-style, dream life.

Along the way to the dream wedding, there were 10 contests among the brides-to-be. To create additional tension each week, the winner of each stage was entitled to pick a surgical selection from their wishlist and have it performed by the show’s resident doctor, a plastic surgeon who was, in real life, a plastic surgeon to celebrities! Thus in the second week of the contest, Cheyenne received a rhinoplasty. The following week saw the Top Bride, Kristen, experience the full joy of breast implants. The surgical largess obtained by successful contestants en route to the finale included liposuction, tooth veneers, and a procedure to remove that flabby dangling fat that lives on the underside of the upper arm.  In fact, at the conclusion of one particularly joyous episode, all the brides who completed that day’s challenge received coveted Botox injections.

The weekly chance to win surgical procedures did not provide the only drama. Each week a bride – the Bottom Bride, as it were – was eliminated from the show amidst much weeping and remonstration. Thus as the field shrank and the surgeries multiplied – the brides competed with their noses criss-crossed by surgical tape, I swear to God – the stage was set for the final episode.

That episode pitted Allyson, a heavy set 32-year old blonde from Crestwood, Illinois, against Jenessa, a skinny, sharp-elbowed, hustler from Wayne, New Jersey who had earned a reputation for her feral scheming and maneuvering. (Jenessa might have been devious but she won my heart when she pointed out that Allyson might play the victim, but “after she got the lipo she went back in the kitchen and ate hot pockets every night.” That was a good line.)

Jenessa received a disappointing surprise when the judging panel for the final contest was revealed: it was the very brides who had been eliminated!! With those judges, Jenessa didn’t have a chance. They didn’t even finish polling the judges before it was clear that Jenessa was going home without all the surgical procedures that separated her from a celebrity-style life.  But if the drama of a close vote was denied to us, we were treated to one splendid moment when Alexandra White of Atlanta Georgia rendered the vote that put Allyson over the top. Alexandra had been given a chance to address the finalists – the Final Brides! – and personally deliver her RSVP. Alexandra used her time in the spotlight to give Jenessa a nugget of profanity-laced wisdom, the central theme of which was that Jenessa got precisely what she deserved.

I could not resist doing a little research on Alexandra.  I was quickly rewarded to learn that Alexandra had previously been a contestant on the Biggest Loser reality television program. She had not won Biggest Loser – and indeed her girth during Bridalplasty suggested that she liked hot pockets too – but she had scored a bigger prize: it had been on that program that she had met and become engaged to her fiancé. And so in that perfect karmic confluence that favors television shows devoted to the pursuit of deep meaning, Alexandra was competing on Bridalplasty to become the Perfect Bride for the very hubs with whom she shared the limelight on Biggest Loser. How big was that! What a moment! Made in heaven!

The dramatic piece de resistance of Bridalplasty was a brilliant and carefully wrought plot device: once the contest began, the fiancé did not actually see the winning bride until after her surgical wishlist had been completely fulfilled.  This paved the way for one of those magic television moments – a moment so profound that the full possibilities of the medium will never again be doubted – the moment when Allyson was revealed to her fiancé in her new and improved format. Allyson 2.0.

The big reveal, the magic moment, occurred during – yes, you guessed it – their very own celebrity style, dream wedding! At the alter! Picture this scene:  Allyson in front of the preacher, her soon-to-be husband facing her. She was swaddled in veils and lace, utterly hidden from the eyes of her wedding party and the dozens of guests in attendance. No one could tell who she had become until the final instant before the vows, when the veil was lifted and Allyson, radiant goddess, was revealed to the oohs and ohmygods and yougottabekiddings from the wedding crowd – a crowd that included the very brides whom she had bested along the way. Allyson! With the glam complexion and the golden hair. With a smile as white as the ceramic of a new toilet. Allyson with the cute nose and so many improvements that I cannot even list them here, all revealed to her lucky fiancé in that one unforgettable instant. Boom!

One might be sad that Bridalplasty lasted only that one incredible season, but fortunately for all of us who write, that magic final episode will live on forever on YouTube, an enduring reminder that no matter how outrageous a situation a writer may create in a novel, real life will go one step further…

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Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His novel, Nine Digits, will be published by Second Wind Publishing this Spring.  Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. And for those who want to see it first hand, that magnificent final episode of Bridalplasty can be seen here.

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