Monday, December 29, 2008

Application for Head Coach position with the Detroit Lions

Dear Mr. Ford,

I am writing to apply for the position of Head Coach with the Detroit Lions.

My qualifications are as follows:
  • I dislike professional sports
  • The last Lions game I attended was in 1984
  • I'm not an American citizen
  • I believe football should be played with a dodecahedronal object constructed of paper mache and sheathed in hypo-allergenic carbonate
  • My only athletic experience is three years of water polo
To say that my coaching style is "outside of the box" would be a ridiculous understatement. I believe that applying my water polo experience to the conundrum of the Detroit Lions is the key to their success. I would never take the low road and criticize the person whose position I seek to occupy, but up to now the problem with Lions coaching is that they've had the Lions playing "football." Fifty years of losing proves the Lions are not suited for football. Football is a mystery wrapped in a casing of unknowingness inside an invisible bag hidden in the Grand Canyon. Football and the Detroit Lions cannot occupy the same physical space. It's a law of nature like Occam's Razor.

My approach to coaching could be described as Da Da-esque. Applying the tenets of Jungian water polo, I will turn the Lions' 2008 season into greatest negatunity since the Mesopathians in 63 A.D..

Finally, I am willing to work for the sum of $1, provided that the Detroit Lions buy all of my groceries, pay my mortgage, pay my car, telephone, Cable and other miscellaneous bills, and agree to pay my wife a stipend of $5 million per year.

Let's make the 2009 season like the month of March -- going in like a lion and coming out like a . . . lynx.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eat, Drink and Be Merry - A Christmas Story

The scene at the buffet table could not have been more shocking or awful had it played-out before the assembled guests in multi-angled slow-motion. When Walter Q. Lemitz bit the head of the bald man, the moment of stunned horror elongated, and then came the wordless, repulsed cries that drowned out the party's Christmas music. As blood burst from the man's defenseless, baby's-bum pate, security pounced upon Lemitz.

"You were 'only doing your job?'" said Detective Charen -- bad cop -- standing hands-on-hips, chewing gum; his light brown mustache a caterpillar doing the polka above his thin upper lip. "What are you, a hitman-cannibal?"

Myopic, ectomorphic Detective Sneed -- good cop -- snickered.

"No," Lemitz grunted, head pounding with the first gong-blast of hangover.

With his disheveled hair -- coarse as Brillo, gray as a cemetery slab -- his shirt torn open revealing the frog-belly flesh of his chest and distended, herniated belly hanging over his belt, sweat-stains under his arms the size of dinner plates, a blood reddened oval around his mouth and chin, he looked like a defeated, surly clown.

Detective Charen put a foot on the empty chair, and leaned forward on his beige polyester knee. "So, what's your job?"

Lemitz's eyes were like two flies squashed against glass. He looked at Charen. Then, filling the air with mustard gas halitosis, he said, "I want my phone call."


Months before, a flyer appeared in his mailbox, which read: EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY FOR UP TO $300/NIGHT. Lemitz tossed it in the trash. Days later came a telephone call from a man introducing himself as Dale Randy. Lemitz hung up. Then came a knock on the door at the end of the week. Standing in the dim hallway was a bespectacled man no taller than a pre-adolescent boy. He had kinky red hair, and a leather folder under his arm. Lemitz slammed the door in his face.
"Five words," said Mr. Randy through the door. "'Eat, drink, and be merry.'"

Lemitz returned to watching Sandford and Son.

"I've come to offer you a job," Mr. Randy said.

"Fuck off!"

"I represent ZemhepCo Group."

"And I'm CEO of Who Gives a Shit."

"Mr. Lemitz, I'm asking for only two minutes of your time."

"Eat shit."

"I'll give you two hundred dollars to hear me out."

A moment later, Lemitz had four fifties in hand, and Dale Randy sat on the edge of the stained, lopsided sofa. The odor in the apartment was a complex interlacing of BO and garbage, an undercurrent of burnt hair, a tinge of urine, and a spark of mould -- a sensualist's equivalent to hell.

"Where'd you get my name and address?"

"Each month the Unemployment Office sends a list of unemployables," said Mr. Randy.


"People incapable of sustaining employment."

"What the hell -- ?"

"Have you ever wondered if those elements of your personality that get you fired from jobs -- "

"Fuck you, asshole! There's nothing wrong with my fucking personality?!"

" -- could actually be of value?" Mr. Randy opened his leather folder and consulted his notes. "Nine months ago, you lasted three hours as a meeter/greeter at Wal-Mart -- "

"Bunch of gimps -- I had to all but wipe customers' asses. "

"The year before you lasted a week as security guard -- "

"They had a rule against reading while on duty."

" -- after your supervisor found you drunk, asleep, and in possession of fetishistic pornography."

"Fucking nitpickers." He glared at Mr. Randy. "You came here to tell me I'm a lousy worker?"

"No, I've come to offer you a job."

Lemitz narrowed his fly-squashed gaze. "Doing what?"

"Have you ever thought about being Party Enhancer."


"How about some coffee?" said Detective Sneed, as Charen left for a smoke.

Lemitz rubbed his eyes. "Black, three sugars."

When Sneed returned with the coffee, he said, "Your story doesn't add up. Why don't you just admit you have a grudge against Bob Lelo?"

"Bob -- ?"

"The man you attacked."

Lemitz sipped his coffee; grimaced.

"Thing we can't figure is how you know him. You're not employed by Rechtham Associates, you don't reside near Mr. Lelo. We can't figure the connection." Sneed leaned forward. "If you were paid to attack him, the person who paid you is in more trouble than you are." He paused. "Help to help you."

Lemitz remained silent.

"You're only making it harder on yourself," Sneed said, irritated.

"I want my phone call."

Sneed eyed Lemitz for a moment, and then nodded. "Have it your way." He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Here, use mine."

Lemitz shook his head. "I don't feel like having you trace or record the call."

Sneed's face flushed; he narrowed his gaze. "We're going to take you down, Lemitz."


In the post-Lehman Brothers/AIG/$700 billion bail-out corporate world, wages and benefits were being run off a cliff like Walt Disney's lemmings, layoffs were on the rise, morale plummeted and productivity flagged everywhere. Workplace violence increased. And so, human resource managers were faced with the insurmountable challenge of retaining the few employees that companies actually needed to continue operating.

Into this noxious void stepped ZemhepCo Group with its Party Enhancers business.

The standard issue strippers, musicians, magicians and comedians were available, of course, but extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. Hence the "industrial strength" sub-arm of Party Enhancers L.L.C., known as the Beraters, which operated like a secret society: whose employees were paid in cash, received instructions on cards with no letterhead, mailed with no return address; and who called into the Home Office via old-school pay phones. Lemitz was a rising star on this roster of most requested of hires.

His job? He attended corporate functions as just another faceless, unidentified minion. He ate free meals, drank free booze, and as managers or directors got up to "say a few words," Lemitz got to work. Preliminary heckling took many forms: ostentatious yawning, elaborate coughing fits, thunderous multi-noted flatulence, clattering silverware. When VPs, presidents or CEOs took the stage, the verbal onslaught began. Behind hands that looked to be covering a sneeze or a yawn, Lemitz sniper-bellowed, "Douche-bag!" or "Cocksnot!" or "Fuck you!" Heads turned; muttered disapproval rippled through audiences, but there was also muffled laughter and whispered encouragement.

Lemitz's true gifts flourished as a Guerrilla Berater, one of the the PE shock troops who confronted hated supervisors, managers, executives in front of crowds of attendees. Depending on the night's design, the GB positioned himself behind the target at the bar or buffet table. Lemitz often began his tirade in a manner that never disappointed, saying to an executive, "So, I was fucking your wife the other day…" From there he would accuse the target of being a closeted homosexual, pederast, or that he was the genetic result of a Nazi experiment. Few diatribes lasted more than thirty seconds, but they all ended the same way: with the red-faced, breathless, stunned supervisor-manager-executive shouting, "You're fired!" and security ushering Lemitz brusquely to the exit.

And for weeks -- even months -- afterward, the office Plebes whispered and laughed and relived the moment some guy nobody recognized told-off the boss as they could only dream of doing. Morale would be successfully jerry-rigged into a workable state in which the company could continue to function.


Within the hour of Lemitz making his one phone call, a ZemhepCo lawyer was at the police station threatening to immolate anyone who stood in the way of him taking his client home. No one was willing to risk immolation. Once home, Lemitz parked himself in front of his television and Alka Seltzed his way back to normality. This hadn't been his first arrest, but the experience was more tiresome each time it occurred.


This Christmas season was very busy for Party Enhancers L.L.C., and there was no lag in Lemitz's assignments. The day after his arrest, he worked a post office brunch, where he was loudly asked to leave during his verbal assault as they executives spoke. That evening, it was a tool and die shop party where drinks and drunken punches were thrown at him after berating a hated manager. Which left Lemitz, hungover, bruised, cantankerous and flush with cash.

The assignment for December 20th, however, appeared to be a non-starter. The Personnel admin of the police department in charge of the Christmas party made a last-minute call to the Party Enhancers with an emergency request. Morale around the department had crumbled in the wake of the forced-retirement of a beloved sergeant and the pending promotion of a hated staff sergeant.

"I'm very sorry, but we are booked solid through to Valentine's Day," the Party Enhancer phone rep said. "There's nothing I can do."

"We'll pay anything!" the secretary pleaded. "There's always some undocumented cash in the Evidence Room--" she cut herself off. "Maybe I shouldn't have said that." She began to cry. "We're all so stressed! We can't even do our jobs! We need your help!"

The Party Enhance phone rep sighed. "OK, I'll see what I can do."


Dale Randy was shaking his head even before his Beraters liaison finished speaking. "Absolutely not," Randy said. "I realize the company that hired Lemitz that evening has gone under, but he was just arrested. How could he infiltrate the police department Christmas party?"

"Leave that to me," said the liaison.

"He's the most valuable Berater we've got!" Randy said, voice rising, as he pointed at the liaison. "If anything happens to him--" his voice broke "I will hold you personally responsible!"


The fit of the Santa costume was abysmal, but the PE wardrobist assured Lemitz that he looked perfect. Lemitz shrugged, and continued eating his Angry Whopper.


There was a larger-than-expected turn-out for the police department Christmas party. A large banquet hall was lavishly appointed for the officers and their spouses' meal, and a smaller, adjacent room set up for their children. Admins and interns dressed as elves looked after the children, with the promise of Santa making a visit near the end of the night.

Lemitz looked at the gathering through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door. Of all his faculties that had atrophied, malfunctioned or simply given out on him over the years, his vision had somehow remained intact. He scanned the room and saw Detectives Charen and Sneed taking drink orders at the head table filled with the white-shirt administrators. The night's dossier said that Charen and Sneed had been suspended without pay after the ZemhepCo Group attorneys woke the mayor out of bed with complaints about Lemitz's treatment upon his most recent arrest.

Scanning the room further, Lemitz locked on soon-to-be Inspector Mullen, a hatchet faced woman in her forties who was hated by all, but on track for promotion into the inspector position. The unidentified HR admin who'd booked Lemitz for this evening had explained to the PE phone rep that the balance and uniformity of hate felt toward Mullen by the entire department made her the perfect candidate for the inspector position. The white shirts loved playing the Plebes off of one another.

Lemitz drank deeply from his tumbler of Wild Turkey, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and entered the banquet hall.

The first white shirt had already gotten up to say a few words. Lemitz-dressed-as-Santa approached the head table, relishing the gasps and whispers that accompanied his appearance. There was no ignoring him, so the white shirt with the mic ad-libbed, chuckling hatefully, "Well, look who it is! Jolly ole Saint Nick!" There was a smattering of bewildered applause.

Lemitz held out his hand, and as though he wielded the power of a wizard, the befuddled white shirt handed him the microphone.

"Ho, ho, ho," Lemitz sneered too loud into the mic. "How about some white hoods to go with those white shirts?"

There came more gasps, agitated whispers and some laughs.

The white shirt who had relinquished the mic leaned forward to snatch it back. Lemitz waited a moment, and then stepped away causing the white shirt to lean forward more than he had intended to, and falling into the head table, knocking it, upsetting everyone's drinks and place settings.

"Inspector Mullen," Lemitz intoned. Her dossier mentioned she was deeply religious. "As St. Paul wrote to the Fallopians, 'Eat, drink and be merry you ass-tobacco-cunt-headed-cock-snotted-fetus-feasting-bathtub-snorkler --'" He was interrupted by a dinner plate sailing past his head.

A primal, tarzan shriek emitted from the crowd, followed by the screeching of a chair shooting out from a table. Lemitz grimaced in the spotlights focused on the head table, wondering from which angle the attack was coming.

Mullen met him head on, slapping him in the side of the head so hard he dropped the microphone. Clutching his drink, reeling from the blow, Lemitz attempted to continue his tirade, but another blow boxed his left ear. He continued reeling, head ringing, and found himself crashing through a set of double doors. He was met by the screams of children -- some startled, some excited, all shrill, piercing, disorienting, mind-destroying. It was much brighter in the kids' room than in the banquet hall. As Lemitz waited for his eyes to adjust, he received a brutal kick in the ass.

Gathering himself, Lemitz spun around, on the attack. The hatchet faced woman was in full feral sneer. He opened his mouth for another squall of profanity, but she cut him short with a punch to the throat. Of all the abuse Lemitz endured in his life, he'd never suffered a punch to the throat. The pain was exquisite, almost enlivening in how it lit every nerve-ending in his upper torso and super-novaed behind his eyes.

He dropped his drink.

A strange, inhuman gurgle issued from his crushed larynx.

There was an uproar of crying and gnashing of teeth among the children. The women dressed as elves brought their hands to their mouths, appalled, aghast. Mullen stood over Lemitz, glowering down on him.


Walter Q. Lemitz was fondly and reverently remembered as the first Berater to die in the line of duty. A video compilation of his PE career was cobbled together from cell phone cam footage, surveillance cam footage, as well as various event videographers' contributions. A plaque with Lemitz's name on it hung in the ZemhepCo Group boardroom.

Since he had no family or friends, ZemhepCo Group looked after Lemitz funeral arrangements. Following an administrative shake-up at the police department, where Staff Sergeant Mullen was put on indefinite unpaid leave, Detective Sneed appeared at Lemitz's funeral to say a few words.

To the few gathered at the mausoleum where Lemitz's ashes were interred, Detective spoke with great emotion. "Walter Q. Lemitz was filled with cocksnot. He was an artist."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part III

Part I | Part II

Disposable Cell Phone

Seven digits were dialed into a disposable cellular telephone. The line on the other end rang four times before someone answered.

"Hello," said Ms. Pac-Man, her voice low and filled with sleep. It was two o'clock in the morning. "Hello," she said again when there was no reply.

The sound of someone breathing was all she heard.

"If this is you, Pac-Man, you're a sad pathetic asshole!" she yelled, her voice breaking. "You had your chance and you blew it! Fuck off and leave me alone!" She slammed the phone down.

The caller clicked off the cell phone and dropped it into a nearby trash can. Then he walked off down the dark, rain dampened street.


The little shit hadn't changed in the seventeen years since he'd last seen him. Slac-Man sat on the edge of a fountain busking with his polished steel Dobro guitar, singing "Heartbreak Hotel." Pac-Man adjusted his sunglasses and approached his former best friend.

He wanted to kick the little shit's ass, but since reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he reminded himself, I am in pursuit of Quality. Ass-kicking is satisfying, but it does not bring me any closer to Quality. That could only be found when he informed his former best friend that he, Pac-Man, was taking back his life and that included his wife and child. If Slac-Man didn't like that, well, he was free to pursue Quality in whatever way his life directed. Better yet, he could go fuck himself—

—a sudden, small whoosh slashed the air by Pac-Man's left ear, tearing the sunglasses off his face. There was a metallic gong sound. He instinctively fell into a crouch and rolled to his right. When he looked at Pac-Man, Slac-Man sat there, motionless, gaping, and what looked like a bullet hole in the body of his guitar. His startled gaze slowly turned to Pac-Man. As recognition came into his face, he said, "Pac-Man?" Blood poured out of his mouth. He fell backward into the fountain.

Pac-Man dove into the fountain and brought Slac-Man behind the statue. He eyed the area for the shooter. Two more shots chewed up fragments of the fountain's ledge.

Running footsteps approached from behind. Pac-Man whirled around as a man jumped into the fountain. The man wore a driver's uniform, and a cap that read: DEUS EX MACHINA TAXI. "I'll help him," the man said. "You gotta get outta here! The shooter's after you. I'll make sure he gets help." Taking Slac-Man in his arms, the driver nodded in the direction from which he came. "My taxi cab is over there, running. Take it! Get outta here!" Pac-Man paused, but knew the man was right. The driver grabbed Pac-Man and shouted in his face, "The highest form of human endeavor is the pursuit of Quality! Now, go!" Pac-Man broke from his grip and sprinted for the taxi.

Road Warrior

The streets in this area were organized in a series of one-way thoroughfares that forced Pac-Mac to drive around the front of the park where the shots had come. He glanced up at the top of the storefronts in time to see a blue blur. A moment later, there was a thump on the roof of the taxi cab. A ghostly blue hand slap at the windshield before Pac-Man's eyes. He had not seen such a hand since—

"Inkey?" Pac-Man said.

"Turn left in point-four miles," said the GPS in a calm British voice. Pac-Man did so.

The butt of a sniper rifle cracked the windshield.

"Turn right in point-two miles," said the GPS.

As Pac-Man careened through traffic, the passenger side window suddenly imploded. Inkey bounced off the seat and threw himself at Pac-Man. Still following the GPS's directions, Pac-Man fought Inkey off until the ghost produced a K-bar knife and sunk its bladed into Pac-Man's thigh. Before Inkey could pull it out and continue stabbing, Pac-Man straight-armed him into the passenger foot well.

"Ease left in point-one miles," said the GPS.

The pain in Pac-Man's leg was seismic. When Pac-Man finally focused again on his driving, he saw that he was leaving the road and heading into the brick wall of a mansion's front gates. It was Graceland.

Inkey regrouped and made a lunge at Pac-Man just as the taxi jumped the curb and smashed through the gates of Graceland. The jolt launched Inkey through the already-damaged windshield. Pac-Man hit the accelerator pedal with his left foot, taking the taxi cab right over top of the ghost. The vehicle rocketed up the drive and collided with one of the stone lions guarding the front steps.


Stunned, his ears ringing, brain misfiring like microwave popcorn, Pac-Man stumbled out of the crashed taxi. A woman ran up the drive. Pac-Man couldn't focus on anything. The moment he put weight on his injured leg, it erupted with pain that dropped him to the ground. He blacked out.

Ms. Pac-Man stood over Pac-Man. She removed her trademark red ribbon from her hair and made a tourniquet around his injured leg. Moments later, Pac-Man opened his eyes. "What're you doing here?" he muttered. Ms. Pac-Man was about to explain that she arranged to meet Slac-Man here so she could break up with him; that the taxi cab Pac-Man had commandeered was from the same company she had called to take her to the airport—

—she felt cold steel pressed against her temple.


The taxi had not squashed Inkey, but merely rolled over him. He now stood behind Ms. Pac-Man—lamp of his life, torch of his loins; his sickness, his soul-mate—with the barrel of a Glock pistol held to her head. Pac-Man stirred on the ground. He saw the ghost was injured; one eye swollen shut, the hand holding the gun was bleeding.

"You never wanted her until you couldn't have her," Inkey said in high, wavering voice.

"Are you speaking to me?" Ms. Pac-Man said.

"To him!" Inked squeaked.

"Okay, 'cause it didn't make much sense—"

"Shuddup!" Inkey demanded.

"Who's talking?" Pac-Man said. "You're talking—"

"I said ‘Shuddup!'" piped Inkey, "and I mean shuddup, goddamn it!"

Ms. Pac-Man looked at Pac-Man. Pac-Man looked at Inkey. Inkey looked back and forth from Pac-Man to Ms. Pac-Man. No one spoke. Blood pooled on the ground beneath Inkey's shroud. If we could just keep him talking long enough, Pac-Man thought. Maybe he'll bleed-out or weaken enough so I can get that gun away from him. He caught Ms. Pac-Man's eye and tried to signal her—

"Was it you on the phone?" Ms. Pac-Man said.

"Are you speaking to me or him—?" Pac-Man says.

"Shuddup!" screeched Inkey.

Ms. Pac-Man turned her head toward the ghost, looking at him from the corner of her eye. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"I had to hear your voice!" Inkey squealed.

"And all this time I thought it was him," she said, nodding at Pac-Man.

"Shuddup! I don't wanna hear it! I don't wanna hear anything! You're gonna listen to me!"

A pause hung between them.

"Then say something, goddamn it!" Pac-Man said.

"Shuddup!" Inkey blurted, shrill. "I'm gonna take what's mine," he said. "And she's mine. You shoulda been smart, Pac-Man, and stayed in rehab. But instead, you had to be stupid, an' come down here!"

Inkey began backing away, his forearm around Ms. Pac-Man's neck, the gun still pointed at her head. "Don't try an' follow us, Pac-Man," Inkey said. "You squandered your chance. Now, it's my chance." He backed down the driveway with Ms. Pac-Man.

Watching them go, Pac-Man pulled the K-bar knife from his leg. Amid the almost-unbearable-pain came an even worse flash of agony that made his vision momentarily gray-out. He shook off the encroaching daze, and took aim on his adversary.

Just then a Carp-shaped automobile pulled to a stop outside the gates of Graceland. Two men with Charlie Chaplin mustachios, dressed in silver body suits, got out and approached Inkey. The ghost must have lost enough blood to leave him utterly disoriented, because the two men took hold of him and disarmed him with little trouble. The three of them disappeared into the Carp-car, which promptly drove away.

Post Climax Plateau

Slac-Man survived his gunshot wound to reinvent himself as an entrepreneur, marketing his own brand of steel guitar called the SlacStrum. A sound-hole was fired into each with a hunting rifle by various guest celebrities: Jimmy Page, Buddy Guy, Yngwie Malmasteen.

Following a regimen of cortisone shots, a hip replacement and hairplug implantation, Frogger retired from retirement and left the Institute. His frugal early life and shrewd investments enabled him to not only live comfortably, even lavishly, but provided him the means to finally fight for his lover's freedom.

Renowned psychic medium, Zyng Furmelstaff, was hired to channel the spirit of the late defense attorney, Johnny Cochran. From beyond the grave, Cochran worked through Furmelstaff to exonerate Q*Bert. After seven months of investigation, Q*Bert's petition for a new trial was granted. At the trial, ample evidence of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct were presented—during which, Cochran-through-Furmelstaff, famously exclaimed in closing arguments, "If he ain't done shit, you must acquit!" The jury deliberated for four days before freeing Q*Bert from The Pen. The prosecutor and judge from the original trial were subsequently disbarred with prejudice and sentenced to prison.

And so, with Slac-Man leading an all-star swing band, Frogger and Q*Bert standing up as best man and maid of honor, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man officially wedded on a Saturday in May on the grounds of Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland. The Reverend M.C. Hammer presided over the ceremony.

Post Script

Conrad Glibb was killed in a bizarre on-camera mishap while demonstrating the Day-us Ex-Machina hideaway bed. Footage of the accident found its way online and within hours of Glibb's demise, his death-on-video had gone viral throughout the entire World Wide Internets.

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part II

Part I

Ms. Pac-Man II

She rose from the bed and crossed the darkened room. Slac-Man lay slumped across the bed, making loud, slobbering sounds in his sleep. Ms. Pac-Man went to the crib in the corner and looked at Baby Pac-Man with a mixture of pride, love and pain. The entire nine months she carried her baby, she dreaded giving birth to a Gac-Man—half ghost, half pac-sapien, shunned by both communities.

Baby Pac-Man dreamed in the sleep of the innocent. If Ms. Pac-Man had her way—and no one was going to keep her from having her way—Baby Pac-Man would never set foot in a maze, and neither would a dot nor an energizer ever pass his lips.

The telephone rang, shattering the stillness. Ms. Pac-Man got it on the third ring.

"Hello?" she said. There was only breathing on the other end. "Hello?"

Click. Dial tone. The hang-up calls had been coming for months. She knew they were coming from Pac-Man.

Behind her, Slac-Man snored like a loose plunger working a narrow drain. Ms. Pac-Man bristled.

Rehab V

After years of self-abuse, Pac-Man was no longer the robust morning sun he'd once been. Running the maze had kept him thin, but the ravages of the dots and energizers had left him grizzled, lined and wheezing.

The worst of the day's withdrawal symptoms were behind him, so he rose from his bed and ventured into the corridor. He was unsure how long he'd slept, but he felt rested and somewhat refreshed. The ward was dark and quiet. Pac-Man couldn't count the years he'd spent in this institution since his involuntary committal, but he was certain of one thing: he had to get out.

He crept down to the common room where an orderly watched Sports Round-Up on TV. Pac-Man delivered a karate chop to the side of the man's neck, rendering him unconscious. He rifled the orderly's pockets and extracted a giant ring filled with keys—

"Hey!" a voice shouted. "What're you doing?" Two orderlies came running.

Instinct kicked in and Pac-Man was on the move. The orderlies rushed into the common room, trying to grab the little, yellow patient, but Pac-Man still had a few moves left in him. He feinted right and dodged left, threw head-fakes, doubled-back between the coffee table and television stand, and cut a hard right that sent the orderlies crashing into one another.

He scooted around the chair in which the unconscious orderly sat and was out the door and down hall. The key ring in his hand was the first prize he'd scooped in years.

Sweat streamed down his face, and his heart pounded heavily in his chest, but Pac-Man hadn't felt so alive since his first day in the maze.

On the Road

It was still there—Pac-Man couldn't believe it. Back in the bad old days, he'd left a duffel bag in a bus station locker containing a wad of money and a disguise. One of the last things he remembered was stiffing his connection. There was no guessing how much money Pac-Man owed him, but he was in deep enough trouble to have a getaway plan. Hence the locker.

Pac-Man ducked into a rest room and put on the Hawaiian shirt and straw hat he found in the duffel. He pocketed the money. When he approached a ticket window in the station, he realized he was about to make his first decision since seeking sobriety—escaping the institute had been an unplanned whim. It was now time to get his shit together.

Going by the name "Cortes," Pac-Man worked as a farm-hand in Montana. In California, he worked in a car wash. He dealt cards for three months in Reno. Worked in the oil fields of Texas. He dove for sponges and coral in Florida. He caddied semi-pro golf on Hilton Head, South Carolina. Every month or so he sent a postcard to Frogger. Nights when he fought against drinking himself to sleep, Pac-Man sorely regretted not saying a proper goodbye to his friend. Visions of Hu's mortified corpse haunted his dreams.

Wherever he went, Pac-Man kept a journal and a tattered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in his back pocket. In some of his tougher jobs, he was razzed for being a reader. Mostly, though, he kept to himself. Somewhere in this great country was the woman he had once loved—and who had loved him—a child who had never seen his face.

He intended to find them.


It was a muggy, overcast evening in Atlanta. Pac-Man stood at his post as doorman in front a five-star hotel when a modded-out car shaped like a giant carp pulled to the curb. Passersby stopped and pointed and laughed. Pac-Man was the only one not smiling. He knew this Carp-car. It was the last thing in the world he wanted to see.

A slender, pale man with a Charlie Chaplin mustachio—dressed in a silver bodysuit—stepped out of the car. "You knew we'd find you," he said to Pac-Man. "Run, and we'll find you again—and we may not approach you in such civil manner next time."

Pac-Man got into the car. If he lived, he knew that he was through with this hotel, and probably with Atlanta, altogether. The silver-suited man got into the passenger seat up front. The car pulled into traffic.

In the plush, purple expanse of the Carp-car's backseat sat infomercial guru Conrad Glibb who had pioneered the belt-buckle-cheese-grater, the beer-cooler-trampoline and the patented Glibb "Comedian's Companion" Rubber fish—hence the outlandish automobile. Glibb was also Pac-Man's Connection. He looked at his former client and smiled. "You've lost weight," he said. "And you've aged fifty years."

"Dots and vodka aren't known for sustaining one's youthful glow," Pac-Man said.

Glibb laughed. "But they haven't robbed you of witty ripostes! Bon mot!"

Pac-Man sighed. "Look, I fucked up. I left owing you, and I know it doesn't work that way."

"Didn't Oscar Wilde say once, ‘There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us'?" Glibb waved the comment away. "Since you've cut to the dénouement, how do you plan to settle your debt?"

Pac-Man said nothing. Glibb filled the silence: "Maybe I can help, then. I have clients who have certain tastes . . . appetites, let's say. They would pay almost anything to spend, say, some quality time with a ghost." He leered at Pac-Man. "Bring me a ghost and I'll call us even."

"But I—" Pac-Man began, but Glibb cut him off.

"I can't imagine you have fond feelings for someone like Inkey, to name one. If I remember correctly, he cuckolded you." Seeing Pac-Man's shocked, drained expression, Glibb laughed, surprised. "They always say the cuckold is the last to know! I guess not all clichés are . . . clichés." His smile disappeared. "Bring me a ghost. I don't care which one. It could be the ghost of Harry Houdini for all I care. Bring me a ghost or maybe I'll take up your debt with your long lost love."

Ms. Pac-Man & Love's Travel Stop

She had waitressed for eight years at Love's Travel Stop, just off of Highway 240. Slac-Man was still trying to get his music career together. "This is where Elvis lived and died," he said whenever Ms. Pac-Man asked if he was looking for work. "Memphis is where I've gotta make my break." His last paying gig was three months ago in a women's hair salon. Payment was two free stylings and a manicure. Ms. Pac-Man got in for one, but Slac-Man slipped in for the others, saying his pompadour was his signature and that his hands were his true instruments.

There was a lull after the breakfast rush. As Ms. Pac-Man wiped tables, Sid, the assistant manager, called to her. "Telephone call!" he said brusquely. "Make it quick, I'm not running a call center!"

Ms. Pac-Man went around the counter to the telephone that sat beside the old, nicotine-stained cash register. "Hello?" There was only breathing on the other end. "Hello?" she said again.

Click. Dial tone. She stood there, looking at the receiver.

"What's with you?" Sid sneered. "You look like you never seen a phone before." He paused, watching her. Then he clapped his hands. "Come on! The tables ain't gonna wipe 'emselves!"

Frogger III

Seated with his back to the muted television in the common room, Frogger spent the dinner hour smoking butts he found in the ashtray—his ration of cigarettes had been taken away for three days because he'd been caught whispering through the bars of The Pen one night. He read the latest postcard from Pac-Man, smiling, even though the thought of travel conjured memories of roads, and the last thing in this life Frogger wanted to think about was automobile traffic.

A telephone call came to the institute the other day from a producer for VH1's Where Are They Now? They were putting together a video game special and tracking down 80s icons. Among other things, the producer wanted to delve into Pac-Man's controversial 1999 statement that "Video games with guns aren't video games—they're paramilitary training." The producer said he'd let Frogger know if they found Pac-Man.

As the late afternoon sunshine streamed into the common room, Frogger couldn't remember a time when he'd felt more alone. Pac-Man was gone. Hu was dead (although he had never known the Berzerk humanoid personally, he still experienced a pang losing a brother-in-arms). And his tenuous link to Q*Bert had been severed. Frogger wondered if it wasn't time to begin saving up and hiding his meds, and making that final crossing to the place where there was no traffic.

Mix Tape

Pac-Man walked through a warm, suburban spring evening with his Sony Walkman listening to an old mixed tape he'd made for Ms. Pac-Man sometime in the late 1980s. She'd left it behind when she walked out of his life. The Pretenders played "Back On the Chain Gang." The song sketched in his mind the days he spent with Ms. Pac-Man, playing his guitar for her, seeing her after a night in the maze, going to dot raves and making love with her behind the stadium.

He looked at the homes in this neighborhood, which seemed to exist in another world, different and separate from the one Pac-Man knew, in which tyrants and madmen rode around in Carp-shaped cars demanding the hideously impossible from him.

He looked at the dusk-wounded sky and muttered, "The world is too much with us."

Read Part III

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part I

Rehab I

Pac-Man was in rehab to kick the dots. He lay on his cot, restless and writhing, sweat pouring from his round, jaundiced body. "I'd sell my soul for an energizer," he gasped. The bare walls of his tiny room were indifferent to his pain.

Had the dots been his only sin, Pac-Man might have been all right. But they were a gateway drug to Oxycontin, methamphetamine and then into the craziness of ultra-espresso, Red Bull and Viagra and witch hazel.

When the chills and pain subsided, he sat up and took his guitar on his knee—he'd been allowed the instrument since he came off of suicide watch a week ago. He strummed chords distractedly until he fell into a melody. Then he sang in a low, uncertain voice:
Life is a maze
Shrouded in a haze.
You haunt all my days
with your smile and grace.

The lines of dots,
The flophouse cots,
Squandering my only shot
With you . . .

I'll find you
I'll find you if I can
I'll bribe any judge
And fight any man
I'll find you —
He couldn't utter the next words: Ms. Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man: Memphis . . . Midnight

She missed him, sure, but she refused to live a country-song cliché. She followed him through more mazes than she could remember, the back of his yellow head like the sun perpetually setting, retreating, taking away its warmth. And for a time the dots were like stars to her, the energizers supernovas; rounding the endless maze corners―with the ghosts' cold embrace in close pursuit―filled her with a phantasmagorical head rush.

Then, one evening, while moving through the tunnel from one side of the screen to the other, Inkey, the timid ghost, approached her. There was poetry in his eyes; the soft caress of his ghostly, gauzy shroud. Maybe she was dizzy from the energizers or from gulping too much bonus fruit―Ms. Pac-Man succumbed without protest to Inkey's sexual overtures.

She never divulged her dalliance to Pac-Man, but feared he knew on a subliminal level. Soon after, she learned she was pregnant, knowing in her heart it was Inkey's child. Pac-Man continued his endless pursuit of dots, spending less time at home. Carrying a child, Ms. Pac-Man went off the dots, suffering her withdrawals alone. During the throes of detox, she pondered Mario's love for Pauline in Donkey Kong: they were the Romeo and Juliet of the arcade: love-bound, yes; damned to an existence of unrequited passion, absolutely. She envied them nonetheless.

One night, when Pac-Man came home battered from another dust-up with the ghosts (Inkey pursued him with a rival's determination), out of his mind on dots―eyes glowing like energizers―Ms. Pac-Man packed a bag and left him.

Here she was now, in Memphis, shacked up with Pac-Man's best friend, Slac-Man, who never had the ambition to enter the maze. He held her as they spooned on their narrow bed. Ms. Pac-Man looked across the darkened room, beyond the baby's crib, and tried to imagine the stars in the sky beyond the window.

Rehab II

There was a tap at the door. Pac-Man halted his song. Frogger hobbled into the room on slow, arthritic legs. The hand holding his cigarette quivered like a tuning fork.

"Hey man," Frogger said. "I was on my walk and heard the guitar. Don't stop, keep playing." Frogger shuffled through the corridors from the convalescent wing each evening, moving like an old football player. He took the barest amount of medication to control the pain. He learned years ago that drugs brought back the dreams in terrible Technicolor: always the traffic; the unending procession of frogicidal drivers.

As Pac-Man played, the stillness of the ward was shattered by an anguished scream from a few doors down. Frogger froze, dropping his cigarette. "What the—?"

Pac-Man set his guitar aside. A wave of fatigue made him light-headed. "That sounds like Hu."


"The humanoid from Berzerk."

Frogger's eyes widened. "He's here? I heard he didn't make it out."

"He did," Pac-Man said, rising slowly. "Barely."

Berzerk was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player. In January 1981, 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack soon after posting a score of 16,660 on Berzerk. In October of the following year, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes, just a few seconds before also dying of a heart attack at the age of 18. — Wikipedia
The bouncing face of Evil Otto swept into each dream with the force of a sorcerer's spell; the robots droning "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!"

Hu was a gaunt, lanky man—bald, pale-eyed—with hunched shoulders. He walked the halls of the institute like a ghost, passing the orderlies clad in their white shirts and trousers with black bow ties and black belts. They eyed him suspiciously, contemptuously. This often brought a wan smirk to Hu's face because the orderlies looked like surly ice cream vendors who had never made it into the field.

Once in a while, however, Hu was sure he heard one of them mutter, "The humanoid must not escape."

They were trying to rattle him. So often, they succeeded.

Rehab III

Pac-Man was the first into Hu's room; ravaged as his body was from dot-abuse, Pac-Man retained some of his old moves. The long, emaciated form beneath the thin institutional sheet lay rigid upon the sagging cot. It was clear that Hu had breathed his last. The man's gaunt face—its pale flesh hideously translucent—was pulled back in a rictus of horror.

Pac-Man staggered back until he collided with the wall, his eyes wide, giant mouth gaping. Frogger extended a shaky hand. As two ice cream parlor orderlies rushed into the room, Pac-Man breathed, "What the hell am I doing here? This isn't a hospital, it's a morgue, a mortuary, a tomb, a mausoleum, a graveyard. This is hell!"

"Hey man, it's not that bad," Frogger said. "At least they feed us regular."


Ice cream vendor orderlies with hands like construction workers grabbed Pac-Man and Frogger and forced them out of Hu's room. Shaky as Frogger was, Pac-Man was in worse shape, descending into a stony, silent depression. Frogger put him to bed. Pac-Man rolled over and faced the wall.

As Frogger limped into the corridor, the shock of Hu's demise and Pac-Man's blanked-out lethargy flattened and filed themselves away: Frogger had his own problems. Like how to break his gay lover out of maximum security solitary confinement.

That's what brought him to Pac-Man's room—to see if he still had his old connection, who slipped fruit into the maze, nourishing Pac-Man every time he went on a dot binge. Whispered word had it that Pac-Man's connection could get anything to anyone—for a price. Frogger figured if this unseen go-to-guy could get produce into a video game, he surely could help spring Frogger's soul mate escape The Pen.

Frogger II

Hobbling out of the rehab ward, Frogger took a detour away from the convalescent wing. For all of the hard breaks and bad luck he and his lover had suffered through the years, one thing had fallen in their favor: both were housed in the same institution.

It was going on 11 p.m., the time when the guards' shift changed in The Pen—the basement-level fortress of prison cells housing some of the nation's most dangerous criminals. Frogger's bones and joints alternately creaked and screamed as he slowly descended an emergency stairwell—the elevator would have been easier, of course, but it opened directly across from the guarded reception window of The Pen, allowing no one to go down there unnoticed.

Frogger's lover had been framed with the murder of eleven people a decade ago, brought about because of his political writings. Frogger dreamed of going back in time and returning with Pac-Man in his prime, and setting that ravenous yellow mouth loose on this maze, to devour the guards and barred doors like so many dots. But time-travel did not exist in the real world.

Frogger limped through a door that gave onto a maintenance corridor. There was no access into the cell block, but this vantage point allowed him to see farther into The Pen than he could from the reception window. His lover was housed around the corner in a padded cell that was brightly lit every hour of the day. In the night-time hush of the shift change, Frogger approached the bars and stage-whispered the first part of his lover's name. If his lover was awake to hear him, he'd whisper the second half of his own name:

"Q," whispered Frogger.

Several seconds passed, and then faintly, almost inaudibly:


Rehab IV

He woke with a start, chilled and disoriented, cavernously hungry, a strange twitch working around his eyes. It was the middle of the night. In the pit of his being, there was a cold sad, depression knelling through him. It took only a moment to identify its source: Hu was gone. Although they'd never been close, there was a quiet, mutual respect between Pac-Man and Hu. Both had spent their professional lives pursued by homicidal entities, and both had survived to suffer the ravages of life outside of the maze.

Hu had no one.

To think Hu had once been an innocent heating and cooling technician sent to Robotronics Test Laboratories to fix its air conditioning unit. He had no idea the robots had gone berserk and purposely disabled the climate control so that a humanoid would be sent in. Hu soon found himself surrounded by murderous robots. He managed to arm himself and sought only to get the hell out of the facility. But the place was in total lockdown. The lead programmer, Otto, had gone utterly insane and had set the robots loose. When Otto saw the humanoid holding his own against the androids, he sent a holographic image of his own head bouncing through the corridors to terrify and unman Hu. Otto didn't succeed. Hu battled the robots to the very edge of his endurance, and beyond it, and finally freed himself.

"Only to die," Pac-Man moaned, rolling onto his side, gripping his head with his hands. "Only to die . . . in this pit."

Read Part II

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Passport Photo

"Please sit on the stool, look directly into the camera, do not smile— no, no don't tilt your head—"

"I'm not."

"No, definite tilt to the right."

"That's just how my head goes, I guess."

"Well, tilt a little to the right— your left. OK, that it's."


Photographer examines the photo on the screen in the back of his digital camera. "You've got a bit of a smirk on your face—"

"I didn't! I mean, I wasn't smiling."

"Mmm, definitely a hint of a smirk— and your right eye looks like it's open more than the left. I'm not kidding you, passport bureaucrats are sticklers. All right, one more time."


Photographer examines the photo. "Well, no smirk, but you look like you're suppressing a smirk and that's worse than smirking. And you're really going to have to do something about that right eye."

"But that's just how my face goes."

"I understand, I really do, but I've taken a thousand passport pictures and I'm telling you, they're looking for a reason to reject it. Buggy eyes—no offense—and smirks are right at the top of their list. Ready?"


"Ah, the head-tilting isn't working. You look like you're stretching your neck. Even if that got by the passport people—and it probably wouldn't—a Customs officer would give you grief, for sure. Long neck makes you look guilty."

"Guilty of what?"

"Of doing something wrong, I don't know. You wanna look guilty in your passport picture? I sure wouldn't!"


"Of course not. You look like a good, honest guy to me. It's the camera that needs convincing. So, compact your neck a bit . . . ah, ah, don't tilt to the right . . . even out the eyes . . . all right, all right— Dammit!"


"The smirk is back."

"I don't feel like I'm smirking. How can I be smirking and not feel it?"

"Sir, I'm just telling you what I see through the camera lens."

"OK . . . how's this?"

"Uh, not bad . . . I think we may have something . . ."


Photographer examines the photo. "I'd say this would just about do, you know, except . . ."

"Except what?"

"Well, I wouldn't want you to take this the wrong way—"

"The smirk? I wasn't smirking! I know I wasn't—"

"No, no, it's not the smirk."

"And my eyes were dead even—"

"No, the eyes are good . . . It's, I'm sorry, the shape of your head."

"What? That's ridiculous!"

"I understand, I don't say this lightly, but the passport people and border personnel will seize on any little abnormality—"

"You're saying my head is abnormally shaped?"

"No, I wouldn't say that."

"You just did! You said there's something odd about the shape of my head."

"Listen, I'm working for you and I don't wanna see you have problems using one of my pictures."

"If the only issue with that photo is the shape of my head, I'll take it and be on my way."

"Certainly, absolutely. I apologize if I hurt your feelings. It's just that the camera freezes a moment in time. Looking at you in person, there doesn't appear to be anything abnormal about the shape of your head. You look just like a regular guy—"

"Fine, fine, can I pay you and go?"

"Yes, right over here. Cash, charge or debit."


"Of course. Swipe with the strip facing me— no, no, the other way. Facing me. Facing— the stripe needs to be facing me, the numbers facing you— No problem, please allow me."

"Fine. Whatever."

"These things take forever dialing in. You'd think with the technology today—"

"Have you always been a professional photographer?"

"Well, it's interesting that you should ask. I've several interesting jobs over the years."

"Really? Like what? Insult comedian?"

"Ha ha, I can see why you'd say that, and again, I apologize for any offense taken. Actually, I used to be in the medical field."

"Really? Doing what?"

"I performed lethal injections at the prison farm in Angola, Louisiana, but my customers complained that I wasn't sensitive enough. Then I worked in the passport office—so believe me, I know of what I speak. But that didn't work out."

"Why not?"

"Ah, you know, some idiot supervisor thought I was rejecting too many applications because of flaws in the photos."

"Right. So, have you found your niche in photography?"

"Well, I've got plans—always planning, looking to the future, you know."

"So, what's next?"

"I'm thinking about security consulting. Big field, security. Endless possibilities. Hey, suspicion is the new electrical engineering."