Monthly Archives: March 2012

MapWriter 3.5 Error Log, Case One

Casey Fullman Jr. tucked in his shirt, zipped his slacks, and knotted his tie. If he wanted success, he had to act the part, and forget that he still lived with Grandma. He had money in the bank, and he was no gambler. After scraping a pimple off his nose, he looked himself squarely in the eyes.

“You are one handsome mofo,” he said. “Go down to that map store and tell ’em who’s boss.”

Casey had long wanted to buy himself a Life Map. But the cost for the latest model was so high that he’d made do with Life Map apps for his non-contract phone. Yeah, those kinda sucked. They gave him useless tidbits of advice meant for losers, rather than success-oriented types like himself: Don’t jump into offers that look too good to be true. Apply for warehouse position at Thing 4 Everything. Never mind that he’d just lost his job at Thing 4 Everything.

Nope, he was done with all that. He was going to buy his Life Map. With his bankcard and a few bucks for lunch and bus fare tucked into his money clip, he kissed Grandma and stepped onto her broken front stoop, nearly tripping over the weeds growing through the cracks.

His Life Map would direct him out of this trash heap. He took the bus to the midtown Carto store. He never could pronounce the whole word–I mean, really, a five-syllable word for a store name? Who thought of that? He swaggered in and looked at the ads pasted all over the place. He had $501.99 left from his last paycheck, and all the really good map models cost about $1000. There were a few subsidized maps, though, that sold for $350. Corporations who supported Life Maps for Education bought ad space on them.

He took the plunge and bought the $350 model. He wasn’t a gambler and didn’t believe in debt. Proud of his wise decision, he carried his newly-programmed map to an empty map booth and unfolded it. This basic model didn’t have multiple life path choices, so he pushed the button on his singular path, and his first step lit up: Pizza Palace is waiting for you.

A surge of excitement swept through him. He bundled up the map in its cheap cardboard case. What could be better than lunch and a possible career at the same time? In his wildest dreams, he imagined himself as CEO of the lucrative pizza franchise. After all, he was oriented for success and dressed for it, too.

He marched inside the nearest Pizza Palace as though he owned the place. “Are you hiring?” he asked the girl at the counter. That was a real flub. He didn’t want to work for minimum wage. He needed to talk to the current manager mofo.

“We’re always hiring drivers,” she said.

That wasn’t a bad idea. While he trained for management, he could use some spare cash. “Do I have to have a car?”

“Um, yes. That’s why they’re called drivers.”

“Can I speak to the manager?”

“He’s not in, and he’d tell you the same thing. Do you want to order something? If not, could you not block the line?”

“I’ll have a small pepperoni pizza and large Coke.”

The next morning, he ate his leftover pizza with the last Toaster Taco™ he found in the freezer.

“Grandma, I’m eating the last Toaster Taco&#x2122!” he shouted because Grandma was nearly deaf.

“Buy more!” she shouted back.

Didn’t he have better things to do? He pressed the next step on his map to find out. Pizza Palace is waiting for you. Excitement trilled in his veins again. He was destined to be management–he knew it.

But when he entered Pizza Palace, the same girl stood behind the counter, and he could find no notices, no signs or slogans suggesting they were training for management positions. Frustrated, he ordered another small pepperoni pizza because the trip there had increased his appetite. He would have to watch his spending, though. Grandma expected Toaster Tacos™, and he owed her for utilities.

The following day, the same pattern occurred. Pizza Palace is waiting for you. Who did they think he was, some stupid mofo? Somebody was holding out on his destiny. The girl at the counter must have known this. She must have seen his managerial qualities when he walked in the door.

He went back. And the next day, he went again. After two weeks, he was fed up–literally. He had gained ten pounds, and he was scraping at new pimples every morning. Finally, he had to confront the girl. He was not cut out to be a pizza-eating fool.

He burst through the door. “I’m here about the management position,” he told her, looking squarely in her dupe-dupicitious eyes.

“We’re not hiring management positions. Would you like another small pepperoni?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” he said. “I’ve gained ten pounds. I want what’s coming to me. My Life Map told me to come here, which means you’re holding out.”

She batted her eyelashes at him. “Have you looked at the backs of your receipts recently?”

“No, why should I? Do you have a prize-winning game going? Is that why my map told me to come here, so I could win?” Maybe he was a gambling man, despite appearances. Maybe he would win and take Grandma for a vacation somewhere tropical, or buy her a house in the burbs.

The girl punched her fingers on the cash register, a little too violently, Casey thought. She knocked open the register drawer, then tore off the receipt that shot out the top of the machine.

“Here,” she said.

He took the receipt and searched it for answers. There it was: Pizza Palace is a proud sponsor of Life Maps for Education.

“Would you like a pepperoni pizza?” she asked, not unkindly. “We have a free one from a cancelled order.”

“Um, I guess?” he said, his voice steady. He’d never noticed how pretty the girl was, not until this moment, when her large dark eyes lit into his soul. “Do you wanna share it with me?”

“Whatever,” she said, and she filled two large cups with ice and Coke.

If his slacks didn’t smell too strongly of pizza, he would head over to Thing 4 Everything tomorrow and apply for the warehouse position.

MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case One

MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case Two

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Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Lipstick

Most people have a sense of what kind of jobs they’re cut out for, and from my first full-time job at age eighteen, I understood that customer service wasn’t my specialty. Still, in and around cleaning and yard work, I worked customer service positions in espresso shops because they were apropos to an uneducated nineties girl. But let me clarify: I much preferred hiding in the kitchen, scrubbing the lipstick stains off the mugs before stacking them in the industrial dishwasher.

Lipstick colors define the temporal culture of women. In those days, they were earthy reds, often tinged with sunset orange or leafy browns. And they were meant to withstand hot and wet situations, as the mugs with lipstick rings emerged from the dishwasher with their kisses intact on the rims. The women who created them, if they knew, could add this to their roster of success–I’ve kissed the coffee, and my kiss has permeated this world, if no other.

But I’ve always been one to wipe away the absurdities of others. I cleaned the lipstick free from the mugs when hiding in the kitchen, as though I were a fiendish scientist foiling the plots of upstart female dictators who were ready to control the lives of the men they loved, if not the lowly coffeehouse workers they didn’t. Fiendish scientists may not wear capes, but they play integral roles in the world of vice and venom [read women].

I worked together with a pure, nineties coffee girl, whom I’ll call Sallie. And yes, that’s her real name. Sallie was the real deal–still is. She wore a beautiful shade of red lipstick that gave me the swoons. How did she do it? Nineties slacker that she was, she would wake five minutes before opening, throw her gorgeous blonde hair into a funky up-do, slap on the lipstick, tie on the apron, and be ready only seven minutes late to serve espressos topped with perfect carnations of cream [she would add, in her defense, that management tended to write employee schedules so that the midnight shift backed the crack-of-dawn shift. The non-slacker, pretend coffee girls such as myself suffered insomnia and never slept anyway, so the erratic schedule didn’t make one iota of difference.]

I wanted to be Sallie. I wanted to fling my hair up, slap on the lipstick, tie on the apron, and transform myself from backroom fiend to dictatress of grunge boys who rode motor bikes. I wanted to rule the world, any world, the one of coffee, vice, and venom [read women], which included those who talked on cells, drove shiny SUVs, and ordered skinny lattes.

Instead, I was at their mercy. One slow afternoon, a lady wearing brilliant lipstick whipped out her catalog and passed it to Sallie with a perfect sales pitch: you look like a girl who’s searching for a new shade of lipstick. I raised my hand slightly, as though I knew the correct, albeit philosophical answer. I’m looking for a new shade of lipstick, I said. The woman turned sideways to push me out of the conversation.

But I’d like to order. . . I began again. The woman raised her voice, then the back of her hand, and she laughed to make certain I caught her meaning: You aren’t the type of girl who’s searching for a new shade. You’re a plot foiler, and I can see right through you.

. . .a handgun, a few hand grenades, and a combat rifle, which means I’d actually like to order books on the history of weaponry. Do you have any of those in your catalog? Because I’d never order a stupid $15 tube of lipstick, I muttered in my pithy way. Yes, I understood perfectly.

The lipstick seller was among a group of women who visited the coffee shop on weekday afternoons, when the dining area was otherwise empty, and I was the only victim in sight. Sallie and I rarely worked together, due to the scheduling conflicts of coffee girls, and I was left alone to cope with these women’s wiles. At around five o’clock, I could spy their large, white SUVs circling the parking lot to find their perches in the branches of our yellow parking stripes.

They descended on me in unison with their peculiar demands: skim, flat, shot and a half of regular with half shot of decaf and half a shot of vanilla sweetener with a dollop of almond. Oh, and may I have a glass of ice water, please? Water, no ice. Water, half ice, half water, with a touch of boiled tea water for essence. I nodded politely and fell to their bidding, carried their orders out on trays as though the cafe were a four-star restaurant. I nodded, and I didn’t ask about lipstick, about ordering from their special catalogs, or how they managed that shade of tan in an Oregon winter, or where they had their hair done. I gave them everything they wanted, and then I left them to their conversations.

I returned to whatever I had been doing–reading about the history of coffee or writing complex syllabics and metrics on napkins, verses that might have been construed as rude or insane or terror-producing if you were an idiot who mistrusted love songs [or actually believed I was a plot-foiling fiend].

And on a day when one woman entered without the others, and I asked her if she’d had a bad day because she looked so sad, she choked a little and her voice broke as she spilled her story. And I comforted her the best I could, with my own broken words.

Later, they all complained about me to Sallie, about my lack of enthusiasm, my lack of emotion. Or maybe they didn’t like my shade of lip-colored lipstick, sans wax. I don’t know. But I’ve spent my years since buying cheap lip gloss that melts from cup rims and disappears down the drain just as my image of being a coffee girl disappeared long ago.

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Are You Serious?

I’ve been accused of being too serious many times in my life, and multiple times in the last several weeks alone. This is disturbing to me because I find the world to be an absurd place. I’m always laughing at something. Sigh. Oops, I meant snigger. Why don’t people understand this?

In the tagged archive section on my old blog, humor rests at number three. With 37 posts, 18th C comes in first. Next is poetry, at 32. Third is humor, with 22 posts. Humor falls in line before accordions and even James Boswell (who, admittedly, probably landed in some of my humorous posts). I feel sort of like the autistic boy in the book I’m reading, who hands over his “Hi I have a disability” card when the world misunderstands him.

In keeping with my frantic tone right now, which inspires me to edit and write like a madwoman, I’ve decided to re-post at least one of my so-called jokes from my blog. You never know, it might come in handy to you. I know it’s worked for me. Begin Joke.**

The Rube Goldberg Method of Novel Writing:

The contraption starts with the harried author, who bangs her head against the wall, thereby knocking off the framed-inspirational-calligraphic scripture, which falls on a foot pedal, which kicks off a series of amplified notes that rattles weighted hanging objects, carefully placed to eventually fall onto the computer keyboard when the notes have hit their highest pitch. These weighted, swinging objects have been mathematically determined to fall at a certain rate and order, eventually spelling out this sentence: Justin is dead. However, because writers tend to be terrible at mathematical equations, the sentence is just as likely to come out this way: Ass did jute in.

Patent pending and all rights reserved. Now back to novel writing, unexpected endings, notwithstanding.

**End joke. I’m handing over my disability card now.

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The Peregrine Three

Several years ago, my dad, artist A. Leon Miler, asked me to write a poem based on his image of a peregrine:

Because I had lost all my confidence in my ability to write poetry (not that I’d ever had any), I wrote numerous small poems about peregrines and never gave him any of them to use with his bird. Since then, I’ve found three of those peregrine poems. They aren’t great pieces of poetry, but they’re interesting. Take a gander–they’re short enough to hold most people’s attention span.

1:

His perch rests on the highest throne,
a raven wounded by the dart,
whose beak tears at the serpent tail.
He turns from flight to death to hell,
but Peregrine, he tears the heart,
then rises to his tower stone.

A counterpoint to Peregrine,
whose height and gravity and flight
will rein the wind in vacant skies,
in deserts etched with falcon eyes,
he draws his story in the night:
the swan and eagle light his screen.

His lights are visible from earth,
where truth is history’s weight to bear.
His wings flash brilliantly, then dim
and fall below horizon’s rim.
Yet, Peregrine, he rules the air
by snatching those who sing his worth.

2:

He snatches song birds from the air,
the bloody peregrine;
he chants his song on top his throne,
the chiding peregrine;
he gathers movement with his eyes
and rides the air between
the sky and earth and stone, tall tower,
such cunning, peregrine.

3:

The fields are orange—the world’s on fire,
And songbirds flee the acres at break-neck.
They search the river in ribbons of sand—
in glimmers of light—they search for water.
With aching and sorrow in silent currents,
Peregrine snatches the songbirds in flight.

The fields are orange, the world’s on fire,
the chollas are blazing with yellow light,
and Peregrine rises to his tower,
chiding his song, his goodness—the liar,
night from day and spirit from song,
scorching the fields until darkness is fire.

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Loosed From the Ties that Bind

When I arrived home from Los Alamos late last week, I didn’t have the energy for blogging. However, I wanted to somehow improve my blog. In the days when I was using blogger, I ran my site through a grading system and was able to raise my grade from a 23% to a 90% in five days. I was unlikely to ever score higher because I hadn’t purchased my own domain name. Yet, still, my hits were regular, if not high, and I had some repeat visitors, as well as visitors who remained for longer than a minute. Comments and followers were another story–I didn’t ever have many of those. But I wasn’t a complete failure.

For the sake of trying, I ran this site through the same grading system and received a 56%. Sadly, my low score is mainly based on on my lack of engaging content. The analysis was based on titles–mine are neither unique nor compelling–and the fact that I have 1.5 repeat visitors a month, and those non-repeat visitors stick around for less than a minute.

This struck a blow to me, the type of blow that affirms my worst suspicions–that I’m an unengaging person who doesn’t connect well with others. If I’m very passionate and excited about something–a concept, a story, whatever–nobody else will care (just for the record, I’m not blaming this on anybody. Clearly, I’ve failed to make anybody care). And in the interest of a last ditch attempt to connect with the world, I’m going to let you in on who I am emotionally. I’m going to spill it all for you right now.

At about age three, according to my mother, I ceased to be the type of person who wanted to be touched and loved by others. I don’t know what happened, but I lost my human connection. To all outward appearances, I lost the ability to be human. However, even though I didn’t feel quite human, I remember studying people around me to find a group or a tribe I could connect to, the way others did. My eyes fell time and again on the special kids, the ones who were in wheelchairs drooling or didn’t quite have muscle control or spoke in slurred syllables because they were mentally slow.

That was my group, my tribe. I couldn’t succeed academically, socially, or in sports. I suddenly felt an overwhelming compassion for these people–my people–because the other children were cruel and abusive to them, yet I knew their lack of mental acuity didn’t change their emotional perceptions. They knew when others mocked them. They knew when they didn’t fit in. I knew this because I felt the same way. I felt just as deeply as anybody because, as it turns out, I was and am human.

But somehow, I’m a human for whom the regular rules don’t apply. You can’t begin to guess how I longed to be treated as others, how I longed for anything–a nickname, maybe. Other kids had nicknames, and they played the game of pretending to despise their nicknames, but I knew they couldn’t really despise terms of endearment. Who could despise being endearing to others?

Yes, I realize I’m beginning to sound pathetic, and I don’t want you to leave in disgust or, worse, pity the poor, wee non-human human-me. As a child, God gave me the gift of loving Christian parents, which saved me a lot of pain. So let’s fast forward to the present. God also blessed me with a loving husband. I’ve come to accept physical and emotional love, even though I’m not altogether comfortable with it. Birthing children is an overtly physical process, and I’ve felt a renewed connection to the world through all four of my pregnancies.

Throughout my adult life, though, I’ve gone through cycles of attachment and detachment. And, frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of feeling the need every other day to crawl into a cave where I can shut off all my overactive senses–my olfactory nerves that work a little too well, my taste buds that can pick up on trace amounts of undesirable spices in foods, my eardrums that vibrate at the slightest whisper, and my skin that crawls at caresses or touches.

Mostly, I no longer want to shut out love. I want to be human because humans forge connections with others, and that’s what I desire more than anything else. I don’t care about engaging others. I don’t care. My books, my writing may never be successful, or quite as compelling as authors who are naturals at being human. And I still don’t care. I want connection.

But how does that happen? I still don’t have a clue. Maybe you do.

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