Friday, September 30, 2011

Short Story: Technical Difficulties

The following epistolary short story was inspired first by this speculative fiction writing prompt from Eric J. Krause, and then by the stories of Philip K. Dick, and then maybe just a little bit by The Matrix.

Technical Difficulties

[Pinned to office chair]
Dear Mr. Mannfred Anders,

As you have likely noticed, we are suffering some technical difficulties due to a software update. We are working diligently to repair the problem and will have things up and running as soon as possible.

We ask that you remain calm and stay at your desk until the problem is resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The Management

[Taped to steering wheel]
Dear Mannfred Anders,

Although we applaud your persistence and the ingenuity it took for you to make your way from the fourth floor down into your car in spite of the current technical difficulties, we ask that you please remain here in your vehicle until our technical issues have been worked out. Services will be repaired soon and the Program will be restarted from a previously saved configuration.

Your vehicle will, of course, not start.

Thank you for your cooperation.

The Management

[Nailed to a public bench]
Dear Mannfred Anders,

I am unfortunately required to report your disregard of our two previous warnings to the Karma Department. Furthermore, your continued interactions with the various elements of the Program are causing runtime errors and creating further difficulties for our technicians.

Also please note that your continued actions may also put your own welfare in danger. Although the Program may seem to be frozen, it is apt to run at normal speed for short periods as buffered data is executed.

Please, for the integrity of the Program and for your own safety, remain at this bench until our technical issues are resolved.

The Management

[Taped to a cash register]
hey IDIOT! cut it out, dude! do you have any idea how much extra work you made for me when you broke through that window?!

of course you don't. you're "the seed" -- the only entity in there has free will AND the only who has no idea what's going on. FML

i suppose i should be thanking you since you're the only reason i have a job. but seriously, dude, you aren't making that job any easier! just please SIT THE HELL DOWN AND WAIT!

[Laying on the floor of the Taco Bell manager's office]
Dear Mr. Anders,

Please disregard the previous message. It was transmitted without the knowledge or consent of upper management. After our current situation is resolved, Homer will face disciplinary action for his unprofessional behavior.

That said, Homer's comments are not entirely without merit. Our species programmers are perplexed by your choice to forcibly break into a Taco Bell (in fact, analyzing and accounting for this choice may push back our release date by a full week). We caution you that continued interaction — and especially such violent interaction — with the elements of the Program will only prolong and complicate the already difficult technical issues we are working through.

Once again, we ask that you please remain where you are. Our technical difficulties will soon be resolved, and we can continue with beta-testing.

To help you pass the time, we have replicated a copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" for your enjoyment. (We know how much you think you love poetry.) You will find it in the dining area in the first unoccupied both on your left.

The Management

[Caught in a bush]
Mr. Anders,
We apologize for the error. Our current difficulties have apparently affected our font files in unexpected ways, causing that copy of "Leaves of Grass" to be rendered entirely in Wingdings.

Please return to the Taco Bell immediately. Laying on the checkout counter, you will find the twelve previous issues and six forthcoming issues of Penthouse Magazine, the full script for a seventh Star Wars movie, a ninth Harry Potter novel, and our original conceptual sketches for Lady Gaga. Although all text is unfortunately rendered in Comic Sans, we trust that you will find at least some of these items sufficiently entertaining to occupy your time while we fix the Program.

Please return to the Taco Bell now and enjoy these wonderful gifts.

The Mgmt

[Taped to the back of an ER nurse]

Though we wish you had returned to the Taco Bell as asked, your running to the hospital at least makes more sense to our species programmers.

You should be hearing the nearby courtesy phone ringing now. Please answer it to speak to Gautama at our help desk.

Thank you,
The Management

[Glued to a bicycle rack]
Dear Mr. Mannfred Anders,

We regret the physical pain that your recent accident has caused you. We warned you earlier that various elements within the Program might behave erratically as we work through our technical difficulties. Had you answered the telephone, Gautama could have explained in more detail the danger of walking through traffic that seemed to be frozen.

Your mishap, however, has proven useful for our current situation. While you were unconscious, one of our programmers relocated a nearby bicycle rack around you, thus entangling you, securing your position, and allowing repairs to continue more smoothly and without interruption.

Although our ability to repair your body is of necessity quite limited, we were able to repair both your fractured left femur and broken septum. Your body's own biological repair mechanisms will complete the healing process, meaning that you will be rather sore for the next few days.

I have been told that the source of the systems error has been located and will soon be repaired — perhaps before you even finish reading this note. When repairs are complete, we will reboot the Program and reload the most recent backup — which occurred at approximately 2:00 a.m. Monday morning your time — and beta testing of your species will continue.

The good news is that you will have the opportunity to relive the past two days and perhaps make wiser choices. (On a personal note, I do hope you find the courage to ask out Miss Danoff this time around; she's programmed to be demure, but she will eventually say yes.)

What you will likely view as "the bad news," however, is that — apart from some soreness and a vague sense of déjà vu — you will not remember any of what has happened today.

The Management

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three Word Wednesday: Movie Remakes

Today's words are cherish, guarantee, and nausea. Here, I come at the limerick form from an odd angle:

Those cherished and campy B movies
(The reason we love to see movies)
When remade — GUARANTEE! —
Will cause nausea — you'll see! —
As high-budget, low-grade D movies.

Grammar Obsessive Disorder from

This video is too great not to share. In it, Rob Reinalda, Executive Editor at, talks about dealing with the worst form of Grammar Obsessive Disorder: G.O.D. Complex.

The More You Know!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Grammar Nazis of the 21st Century: A Proposal

A Grammar Nazi, in case you didn't know, is someone who constantly corrects (sometimes erroneously) other people's grammar and usage. In the blogosphere, the Grammar Nazi is a special breed of troll who pounces on the merest errors, typos, oversights, and brain farts and calls them out, often in the harshest way, in the comments.

And rather often, the "errors" that these Grammar Nazis point out aren't even mistakes, like in this post, when someone objected to my use of "none sound right" instead of "none sounds right." (In this case, I actually knew the guy who posted it, so I didn't skewer him publicly. He'll make a better friend than an enemy.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Loose Lips, Pink Ships

One of my coworkers (we'll call her M) occasionally wears a green hoodie with the words LOVE PINK emblazoned in large black letters on the back. It always strikes me as an ironic sweater — it says LOVE PINK, but it's green and black, no pink at all.

The first time I saw it, I was perplexed. I wasn't familiar with the LOVE PINK motto, so I asked about it. It turns out that M used to work at Victoria's Secret, a company that has apparently successfully commandeered an entire color for financial gain, and that LOVE PINK was one of its marketing campaigns.

Being the unfashionable bachelor that I am, though, Victoria's Secret wasn't the first pink connection that crossed my mind.

Monday, September 19, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: Zee Index

Oh, dear. It seems I've gotten to the final letter of the alphabet without any proper peeves to list. I guess that means I'm done.

I hope you found something in this series enjoyable, and more importantly, I hope you either learned something new or found something to think about.
I certainly learned something. For instance, I learned that if I'm going to do a multi-part series, I ought to establish some basic conventions before I start. I recognize that I sometimes used an H2 heading and sometimes an H3 heading for the items in my list, and the capitalization is all over the place. (Full disclosure: I fixed some of the inconsistencies while I was preparing the index.) I also learned that it's a good idea to work a few posts ahead — and try to stay ahead — instead of waiting until Sunday or even Monday night to write something you want to post on Monday.

Feel free to learn from my mistakes.

Zee Index

Monday, September 12, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: Y

Yes, the penultimate* entry in my alphabetical list of editorial peeves is here!

Years of age

"Years of age" is unnecessarily lengthy. What's wrong with saying "he is twenty-five years old"? Or, if you're writing in a less formal style, "he's twenty-five"?

Police spokesmen are the worst. How often have you heard a policeman on TV who is looking for "a Caucasian male who is twenty-five years of age" instead of "a twenty-five-year-old white man"?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Helpless, a Short Story

As I was locking my apartment door in the morning, Janine came out of her apartment.

"Morning," I said.

"Hi, Andy," she squeaked.

A walked past her down the short hallway we shared and held the door open for her. As she passed, I reflexively blurted out, "What happened?!"

She told me she had tripped in the kitchen, accidentally, and hit her face against the countertop.

But I knew that wasn't the truth. I knew it was Glenn, her live-in boyfriend. I had heard the truth last night, through the wall — the yelling, the breaking glass, the yelp of pain that gave way to muted sobbing. It had happened so quickly that I hadn't even had time to put on my headphones and try to ignore it, like I did on so many other nights, telling myself that it wasn't my problem, and that there was nothing I could do about it.

I clung to those excuses as I held the door, accepting Janine's explanation and telling her that she should try to be more careful. It was too easy.

At least I thought it would be easy, but Janine invaded my thoughts throughout the day. At odd times, I would find myself staring blankly at the computer screen, the image of Janine's swollen, tender face at the front of my mind, her red-purple cheekbone, fading to brown at the edges, swollen enough that her left eye didn't open as widely as the right . . . and I would try to suppress the image and get back to work.

By the afternoon, incessant thoughts of Janine turned into fantasies about Glenn, fantasies in which I attacked him with masterful precision, breaking kneecaps, severing fingers, gouging eyes, fantasies that ended with Glenn running off forever, or lapsing into a coma, or dying, and Janine being forever grateful for my manly intervention.

But these were just fantasies, I knew. Even while I daydreamed of being the hero, I knew that I didn't have the skill, the strength, or the gumption to stand up to Glenn.

All day, I felt tortured by my inability to help Janine, a sentiment made orders of magnitude worse by the guilt of knowing that my emotional torture was nothing compared with the emotional and physical tortures that Janine underwent daily. Because of Glenn, Janine's best days hurt more than my worst.

The drive home left me irritated. Every light was red. Every stereo was too loud. Every other driver was a selfish nuisance who should just get out of my way.

And when I turned the last corner, and my apartment building came into view, the gray cloud that had hung over me all day darkened. In front of the building, Glenn's big black Escalade was parked sideways across three parking spots. The passenger side, closest to the building, sat at an odd upward angle.

I pulled into a nearby parking spot. A pair of legs stuck out from under the jacked-up vehicle. Muscular legs. The legs of a man who spends most of his day at the gym.

Glenn's legs.

The front passenger-side wheel had been removed, and crammed between the jack holding up the SUV and the front disc brakes, Glenn's lower half, from the waist down, lay face-up, his feet resting on the edge of the sidewalk.

I closed the car door and headed for the apartment.

"Hey, Andy, Is that you?"

I stopped, turned. He was helpless, I thought. The day's hero fantasies came rushing back. In three quick steps I could plant my heel in his crotch or jam my foot into his ribs. But I was out of shape, flabby, and graying. Glenn, by contrast, was a study in human musculature -- bulky, rippling, solid -- who hadn't yet hit thirty.

And if he could beat up a beautiful, delicate, helpless woman like Janine, what greater horrors would I be in store for?

"Yeah, it's me," I said flatly.

"How's it going?" he asked.

"Okay," I said.

"I'm just replacing a brake line here," he said, as if I gave a damn what he was doing under that behemoth. He grunted with the effort of using some tool that I probably couldn't identify. The SUV rocked back and forth.

"Do you ever do any of your own work on that little Honda of yours?" he asked, grunting and shaking the car again.

"I don't know crap about cars." It was the truth.

"Figures," he said. "I just can't seem to get this..." He grunted again, and the vehicle rocked again. "...coupling loose." Another grunt; the SUV shuddered.

"Well," I said. "I'll, uh, leave you to it, then."

Glenn grunted again. It was quickly followed by a clank and another grunt of a different sort, airier and more forced. On the asphalt next to the Escalade, the jack lay on its side. The weight of the front of the vehicle now rested on Glenn's broad chest. He kicked his legs into the air, but he didn't scream, the weight of the vehicle somehow keeping him from drawing a much-needed breath.

I rushed forward instinctively and reached for the jack. But I stopped.

I stood up straight and looked around. No one else was in sight. No one had seen the SUV drop. No one knew that Glenn was trapped under there except me and...

The gray-haired woman I knew only as Phyllis stood at the second-floor window in the apartment above Glenn and Janine's. Her mouth was a dark little O, her eyes wide watching Glenn's legs flail feebly, looking for purchase in the empty air.

Then she looked at me. Her eyes narrowed to slits; her mouth became a thin line. For a heartbeat, we just stood there, staring at one another.

Then, after giving an almost imperceptible nod, she let the window blinds fall between us.

I crotched down and looked under the SUV. Glenn stared back at me, bulging eyes in a red face, mouth moving in silent pleas. "Helpless," I whispered.

And then I went inside.

The ambulance arrived half an hour later, and the squad car soon after that. When the ambulance left, its lights were dark and its sirens silent.

The policeman who knocked on my door told me the horrible news and asked me a few questions. Yes, I had seen Glenn working under his car when I got home from work. No, I hadn't heard anything unusual. Yes, it was unfortunate that I hadn't heard the jack fall over, or this horrible accident might not have ended so badly.

I didn't see Janine the next morning, but when I came home from work, an odd new sound drifted through the wall from her apartment. I stood silent and still and listened. It took me a good four minutes to figure out what the noise was.

Janine was snoring.

Monday, September 5, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: X

Am I the only one who gets exasperated when an alphabetical list finally extends to the 24th letter, only to find that the examples listed there begin with ex- instead of x?

X Games logoImage via WikipediaSeriously, who are they kidding? We know that extensible markup language (XML), extra large (XL), and extreme backyard wrestling (XBW) all start with an e, not an x. Why make so inexact an exception in an otherwise excellent execution? Is it really so excruciating to admit that one's x-principal opportunities are exceedingly small? (In my Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, for example, the X listings don't exceed two pages before being exhausted, and that includes a picture of a xylophone and word history of X ray.)

Excluding X from an alphabetical list doesn't expose your inexperience or make you less of an expert. So you don't need to include extraneous ex- examples when none exist. Just expunge that letter from your list entirely.

If you'd like to make an excuse for the exclusion of the xes, feel free to explicitly explain that there are just no x examples to include.

But you really don't need to. Your readers will understand.
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