Friday, April 28, 2017

#8 Soft Pipes, Play on

“One jalapeno pesto ranch burger and one jelly-slathered banana nut cookie please”

Howard was taking orders as fast as he could write them down. His food truck was by far the most popular attraction at the festival. He’d never even dreamed people would like his crazy creations this much.

He was churning out so much food that he knew he would run out soon. But even so he couldn’t stifle a smile. People liked his food! Maybe he could actually make a living out of this. When he finally closed up, he had sold every last item of food. It had been a huge success.

The next day he heard about the tragic death of Rory Langley. She'd been hit by a car while walking her dog. The sudden random nature of her demise made him contemplate the great fragility and brevity of life. Life’s too short to do something that doesn't make you happy, he thought to himself.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

#7 Moonlight Sonata

When Howard finished his food he left the restaurant and found that he was in the same alley he had originally turned down. In a few steps he was back on Simone Boulevard. But when he turned to look back at the restaurant, it was gone. Only blank brick wall remained.
The storm had finally abated but everywhere he looked he could see its effects. Downed trees blocked the sidewalks and random debris was strewn around the streets. People slowly emerged from their houses and, doing the natural thing, began to clean the mess up. Howard joined in as best he could.

Eventually word was circulated that there was to be a festival that night with live music, food, and rides. It hit Howard that this would be the perfect opportunity to test his chef skills. If he could make money selling his food at the festival and if people liked it maybe he could actually become the chef he always wanted to be.

But first he had to prepare. He thought about the best way to sell food at a festival and realized a food truck would be perfect. He took a cab to the used car dealership and used a huge chunk of his savings to buy a blank white van. There was no turning back now. He drove the van to the grocery store and picked up the supplies he’d need. Finally he bought some paint and headed back to his apartment. In huge letters he painted “Howard’s Burgers (and other things)” on the side of the truck.

He spend the rest of the day in his small kitchen devising the menu for the night. He experimented with the ingredients he bought coming up with new, exciting creations. As he cooked he realized he was having the most fun he’d had in ages. Before he knew it the sun was starting to set. But he was ready. He loaded up his van. It was time.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#6 Thunder and Lighting

The next morning Howard called in sick. There was no way he could face work today. He made some coffee and contemplated what to do. He felt unmoored, like a ship lost at sea.

Looking at the clock on his wall, he decided an early lunch wouldn't be a bad idea. He left his apartment and wandered down Simone Boulevard. He was in no rush and when he came upon on alley leading off the main street he decided to see where it went. Maybe he'd find a new place to eat.

But as he got farther and farther from what was familiar he began to have second thoughts. Each turn he made brought him deeper into a part of the city he didn't even know existed. There were no stores or restaurants only endless uniform brick walls. He tried to retrace his steps but with no landmarks, Howard was hopelessly lost.

A absurd fear began to rise in his throat. What if he never found his way out of this eerie place? Howard began to run, the looming brick walls blurring in his vision. Suddenly a massive crack of thunder shook the ground and swollen drops of rain began to pour from the sky. In no time Howard was soaked to the bone.

The rain brought him to his senses and he slowed down to catch his breath. He needed to calm down. If he kept walking he'd come across someone he could ask for directions. Eventually Howard caught sight of a flash of color in the distance. As he got closer he realized it was a small restaurant. Finally, he thought to himself, surely someone inside would be able to direct him back to civilization.

He opened the door and was greeted with a classic American diner that looked like it had been taken straight out of the fifties. A checkered white counter with circular stools dominated the center of the restaurant and brightly colored booths lined the windows. A jukebox sat in the corner. Dripping wet, Howard approached the only person in the place, a man in a white apron polishing glasses behind the counter.

"Hey excuse me sir. Can you tell me where I am? How do I get back to Simone Boulevard?"

The man looked up and took Howard in.

"Whoa slow down there bud. What's the hurry? Stay a while."

He passed Howard a menu. Reluctantly, Howard took it and realized he was in in fact ravenously hungry. He figured it wouldn't hurt to eat a meal before finding out how to get home.

Ordering a burger and a chocolate milkshake, he took a seat at one of the stools at the counter. The man went back to the kitchen and in what seemed like an unnaturally short amount of time he brought out the food.

When Howard bit into his burger, succulent juices spurted out and dripped down his chin. His taste buds exploded as they met the perfectly seasoned meat. It was by far the best burger he had ever tasted. He washed the bite down with an ice cold swallow of the deliciously sweet milkshake and marveled at what he had stumbled across.

The tastes brought back memories of a time before he'd gotten his consulting job when he had experimented with cooking. He had always dreamed of being a restaurant chef but when it came to time to get a job he'd settled for the safe option. Suddenly it struck him. What if he never went back to his consulting job? What if he started his own restaurant? 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

#5 It was a Thursday

"Hey Howard, can I speak with you in my office for a second?"

Dave, Howard's boss, was standing outside his cubicle. 

"Of course," Howard replied, getting up from his desk. 

This was it, he thought. Dave was going to fire him. All the sloppy reports, missed deadlines, and involuntary naps on the job had finally caught up with him. Strangely though he felt a sense of elation at the thought of his imminent unemployment. It felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

"Take a seat," Dave said gesturing at a chair before sitting down at his desk.

Howard sat. In his head he was preparing his response to what he knew Dave was about to say but what actually came out of Dave's mouth was something entirely unexpected.

"I've been very impressed by you work recently, Howard. I know I give you more assignments than anyone else in the office but that's because I know you can be trusted to get them done. I'd like to offer you a promotion to the position of senior consultant. You'd take on more managing responsibilities as well as a thirty percent pay raise. What do you think?"

Howard was stunned.

"Uhm thank you that's great," was all he could muster out.

"Of course I'll give you a day to think it over but I really think you're the perfect guy for the job. When you're ready we'll go over some paperwork and then the job's yours. Now if you'll excuse me I've got some calls to make."

Howard stumbled out of the office, his mind in turmoil. Passing his cubicle he got in the elevator and hit the ground floor button. He needed to get out.

He left Empire Offices, no idea where he was going, just knowing that he needed to walk. Soon he found himself at the Rainbow River. As he walked along the waxy shore, he watched children buy Rainbow trout at the fish shack. He took a seat on a rock on the bank and stared into the water. He knew he should be happy about the promotion. A thirty percent pay raise would mean he could move out of his cramped apartment. Maybe even get a car. But he couldn't shake an odd feeling of emptiness.

The fluorescent artificial pigments on the surface of the river seemed to mimic his life. He felt like the promotion was one of those fake colors, hiding the gray lifelessness underneath. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#4 Sight and Blindness

Again. It had happened again. Howard shook himself awake and blinked his eyes quickly, trying to dispel a wave of exhaustion. He was sitting in his office going over some tax returns but no matter how hard he tried he just couldn't focus. Howard looked at his watch. 4:28 PM. He still had over and hour and a half until he could leave. Knowing he had to do something to stay alert, Howard got up and put on his coat. Maybe some cold air and coffee would help.

Outside the city was immersed in fog. The sky was gray, the buildings were gray, the cars were gray, everything was absorbed by the mist. Howard pulled his coat tighter and contemplated how the weather seemed to reflect his life: uniform, dull, and uninteresting.

Howard decided to take the path through the park on the way to Connie's Coffee. He was in no hurry to get back. As he was navigating through the dense fog he made out two shadowy figures sitting under a tree. They slowly emerged out of the fog and he was greeted with an odd sight. An old man was sitting on a blanket spread out in front of a blue camping tent. Beside him was a young boy with duct tape covering his mouth. It struck Howard how similar the scene was to the oracles of ancient Greece. Howard lengthened his stride, eager to escape the unsettling situation. But as he passed the old man shouted "Your great good fortune, true, it was your ruin!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

#3 Thirst

Howard was trudging down Simone Boulevard after another long, tedious, and truly pointless day at work when he saw an odd sight.

A young girl was struggling to carry four gallon jugs of water, two in each hand, and appeared to be heading for the entrance to The Victorian. As he watched a jug slipped out of her hand and fell on the ground, almost breaking open.

Howard quickly strode over and picked it up.

"Hey, can I help you?" he said.

"No I'm fine," she replied hastily, gesturing for him to hand her the jug.

"No really. What apartment do you live in? I can help you get these there."

The girl started to protest but then looked at the heavy jugs again and seemed to change her mind.

"Fine. I'm in 76" she grudgingly answered and handed him another jug.

Together they entered The Victorian and walked over to the apartment. The girl opened the door and looked at Howard expectantly, clearly wanting him to give her the water.

Howard had hoped to meet an adult. He wanted to know what kind of parent would send their young child out to get water by herself. Reluctantly, he handed her the water and simply asked, "Are your parents home?"

"I don't have parents," she said and slammed the door, leaving Howard standing outside wondering what had just happened.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

#2 This is Living?

"Excuse me sir, do you live here?"

Howard glanced up, surprised. No one talked in elevators. The question had come from a sharply dressed young man carrying a notebook and a camera.

"Yeah," he muttered and looked back down at his shoes.

Howard was in no mood to talk. He was operating on only a few hours of sleep, having barely finished the reports last night. Not to mention he'd be late to work if he didn't move quickly. He hoped his monosyllabic response would send the right message.

"Would you mind answering a few questions?" The reporter didn't wait for a response. "What do you do for a living?"

With no path of escape, Howard decided to play along.

"I'm a business consultant" he replied

"Oh?" The man looked disappointed but scribbled Howard's response in his notebook anyway. "What does that entail?"

Howard began to explain but as he described managing investment portfolios and auditing tax returns he could see the man's eyes glaze over.

"Okay that's good," the reporter quickly cut him off. "But what do you do for fun in this town?"

Howard paused. He thought about it.

"I don't really do anything fun," he said truthfully.

The man sighed. "What about family?"

"I'm single. I live alone" Howard replied.

But thankfully before the man could say anything else the elevator dinged and the doors opened. The man closed his notebook, picked up his camera and snapped a picture of Howard. He glanced at the viewfinder grimaced and walked away.