Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ergonomically Speaking

If your furniture could speak, what story would it tell?

By Steve Mast

I sat, with my fingers caressing my ergonomic keyboard, staring at the computer screen. “If my furniture could speak, what would it say?” What the hell? I bounced up and down on my ergonomic chair, hoping to hear some grinding or grunting that could be mistaken for some sort of language. Nothing – that sucker was lubed up better than Paris Hilton.

I know what you’re thinking: what the hell is up with me and my fixation on ergonomics. Once I was at a store and they were selling ergonomic silverware. I bought every piece they had in stock. I figure it will supply my family for three generations. Why? I don’t plan on getting cancer. Ergonomics is the future.

My stomach rumbled disagreeably. That broccoli and cabbage pesto sauce was not sitting well for some reason. I had to get this assignment written and written fast. When I was boiling my pesto I could have sworn the bubbling sounded a bit like it was laughing at me.

I picked up my scotch glass (currently empty) and flung it at the wall to hear it scream as it died, broken into dangerous pieces. The crash of glass broke the heavy silence and shards rained down on me, as if it were out to get some petty revenge for its destruction. Maybe I should have thrown it at the far wall. But even with the noise I heard no voice. No speaking. Perhaps I threw it too hard and it died on impact.

Godzilla was staring at me, angrily, looking ready to spew a fire that never came. Maybe he was mad cause he was made of plastic and only two inches tall. But I had given him dominion over my computer, to keep it safe and in line while I was out. He should be happy. He was like my second in command. But he never looked happy and he never said thank you. Hell, I couldn’t even consider him furniture anyway, so what good was he for my story?

Nobody has ever created an ergonomic monitor. It’s an idea that’s worth millions. If you make it and get rich you owe me royalties.

The story was going nowhere so I walked over to the couch, careful to avoid the glass. It was time to sit on my couch and relax. It was time to digest. Now I know what you’re thinking: is it an ergonomic couch? It’s fluffy – you can’t get more ergonomic than that.

As I sat down my pesto finally decided to catch up to me and some…well…gaseous formation decided to expel from my lower half. That’s right, people: I farted. It was a boomer. Jim Carrey would have been proud. And while it did make me feel better I wasn’t about to stick around, so I stood up to leave. As I did my old fluffy, rickety couch creaked. And as it did I could have sworn I heard “God Damnit! What an asshole.”

The artist

You are watching a home makeover show on television, and the homeowners are going in to horrid detail describing the loathsome appearance of one of the rooms of their house. You realize that this house used to be yours, and the design they are tearing apart was your crowning achievement in home improvement! How do you react?

By Steve Mast

I guess the first thing you have to understand about me is that I’m an artist. It’s my sole identifier. It’s what defines me. It’s how other people see me and quantify me. Respect me. It is, in the end, the sole of who I am and what I am and what I do. What I mean how I live and what I live for. Without art I am nothing.
And I am very good. Some of the others, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Dali, Manet and all the rest, I mean they were pretty good, I guess. If somebody asked I would have to say, however minimally, that I was inspired by them. But that would be a half-truth, if I were to be really honest. No student of art would admit otherwise if they wanted to be taken seriously. The real truth is that my own shining brilliance comes to light when I inspire myself. If I wanted to be really truthful with you I would tell you that I would bet those other artists were actually inspired by me, as implausible as that may sound, them being mostly dead and all.
I don’t let anybody else affect who I am and what I am and what I do. How I do it. I don’t like to use the word “Genius” or “Greatest Ever” or any other term that would be used as a pigeon-hole identifier, but the truth is that I would have to admit that this is true. I wouldn’t say it out loud. I wouldn’t confess it even in a memoir to be published at the time of my death. But in my heart of hearts I know that this is true.
The fact is that every other artist in the history of mankind has limited themselves in the mediums that they choose to express themselves in. Paint on this canvas. Carve on that rock. Solder that hunk of metal. How boring. It has its uses, to be sure, and was a necessary evolution in mankind seeing art for its true purpose. I simply refuse to live in a world where everything touched by my hands isn’t, in some powerful form, art.
The walls, the sofa, my car, my home have become the very definition of art. A fulfillment of a promise. My dining room table used to have four legs. But now it only has three and a half. I removed half a leg to symbolize society cutting down people’s ambitions and goals and purpose. How we are crippled. We are hobbled by society’s permutations of expectations. So my dining room table has also been hobbled. And splashed with greens and reds and purples and shades of yellows. And each color meant something different, something important when I splashed it on. Something moving and powerful. I cried. Unfortunately I didn’t write them down and quickly forgot the meaning, but it remains a sweeping epic of our social consciousness non-the-less.
Of course now I am unable to eat on my table, but these are the sacrifices we make to our art. That in itself is symbolic of how a man, removed from his true purpose, becomes a useless shell. So I eat on my sofa.
And this is a sofa I constructed myself out of boards of discarded wood found on people’s lawns. To symbolize how the trash of society and their discarded leavings will support me while I watch my television.
It is not comfortable. There are no cushions. But I shall sit and I shall watch. And I shall eat, too. And my TV has been splashed with reds and a light pink dotted and lined to remind me how society has been consumed and absorbed by violence. And sex. This is fed to us nightly in half-hour and one hour servings. The paint does make it hard to watch, and I don’t really turn it on much anymore, because the wet paint blew out the speakers, but it is art.
There are, of course, no paintings hung in my home. No canvas. My walls are my only canvas. And when the walls dry of the current streams of paint that have been splashed on I paint more: covered thick layers of paint constantly dripping and wet. That didn’t work so well when I tried it on the ceiling. But I have managed to create some stalactites, running down five and six inches, to remind me that I live in a cave. I am sheltered by my home, like a bat, although I find it impossible to get to sleep hanging upside down. Although if I had – if I had! It would have been art.
It is my haven. The one place I can be truly alone, truly myself, and truly an artist. Able to express myself as I need to be expressed, without police interference, like that time at the mall.
Did I mention that I live alone?
I’ve been collecting city warnings. Apparently they have some issue with the van that I have parked on my lawn, spread out in pieces instead of a lawn. Apparently they have a problem with the dripped greens and pinks and reds streaming across the walls and windows of my house. On my roof. Apparently they have a problem with the banana tree in my front yard that I painted black. Apparently I am not allowed to paint the curb purple. Apparently I am not allowed to carve faces into the telephone poles. Apparently the Halloween limbs I have sticking out of the broken bits of van have caused some people concern. Apparently I am supposed to have a lawn, and not just have the empty bits of land painted green. And they don’t like the family of yard gnomes now hanging by hemp string dangling from the power lines.
But all of that means nothing to me. I take their rebuke as a source of pride. I collect their warnings in a scrapbook. It is as close as I will come to a canvas and they are a reminder to me that I am making an impact.
I’m guessing now that I should have paid closer attention to those notices, as one of them may have hinted that I could possibly end up in jail. There was, after all, a knock at the door (and nobody ever knocks on the door, it being wet with fresh coat of dripping black) and I see the police officer outside, looking at his freshly painted hands (a fresh new work of art by yours truly), and holding a pair of handcuffs.
Suddenly he’s yelling at me to open up in the name of the law. And apparently my rights extend to an ability to remain silent, as those handcuffs are getting clicked onto my wrists. And he’s just yammering on about this right and that right, blah blah blah, and how I’m going to jail and blah blah blah. This guy is a serious drag.
But he does start talking briefly about my beautiful home and he mentions that the film crew will be arriving in a couple of hours. I guess they need me out of there so they can get the place ready for them. And I just smile and nod.
Finally a film crew is coming to respect my work. To show the world who and what I am. So he hauls me into his car and I can just smile, a mile wide. But I can’t stick to that silence right. I give that up.
“What’s the TV share?” I ask the cop. “What kind of audience we got playing for this?” He just gives me a long look and drags me off to jail.
Two hours later I’m pacing in front of the jail house TV set watching, wondering when my house will be on display. Suddenly, after a commercial break, there it is, for all the world to see. And the title comes up: “Cops: Home Makeover Edition.”
I wish I was there to explain, to show them what the house meant, what every piece of furniture symbolized and how it defined our society. A microcosm of our world. But they’ll just have to figure that out themselves cause I’m stuck behind these bars. The thrill of excitement comes over me as I watch them pull out sledgehammers and drills, setting out to destroy this home piece by piece and wall by wall. It’s beautiful.
As they drill they take the pieces and set them on these careful piles. Art on art on art on art. How appropriate it is for them to take my dining room table and saw it in half, then in quarters, then shredded to bits, added to the pile. Shards of blue and grey and red. And they take one of the Halloween arms from the lawn, the one holding a Coca-Cola bottle, a symbol of our society’s dependence on marketing and sponsorship and name branding. They throw it into a trash can and I am in awe. It’s exactly right, it’s perfect. I wished like mad I could be there to watch and help and direct the mad destruction.
Then, when it is done, and my house has been destroyed into bits and pieces of colored parcels I turn off the TV and wonder for a long time: why didn’t I think of that?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


The patio glistened with morning dew. Slim fingers of sunlight reached through the pine shaded back yard and splayed across the weather sealant like spider webs on an abandoned exer-cycle. A coral-breasted nuthatch twittered its morning soliloquy before dropping a graceful string of pearly white excrement across the sky blue Jacuzzi cover.

“Ah, morning.” said the patio table (who liked to think of her self as PT), reveling in her roundness skewered with an adorning umbrella which sheltered its well worn surface from sun and bird-poo alike. “I am queen of the pay-she-oh” she breathed. She pronounced patio as if it rhymed with ratio, which in her wooden mind it should.

The sliding door opened to expel a slipper footed User. It was one of the older ones who held a canister of steaming liquid. PT noted the coaster with approval. Just because she was an outdoor-seater was no reason to risk her finish. With the pay-she-oh door open and the French door to the kitchenette spread apart she could see into the living room. Pt felt her bolts tighten with anger.

There it was. That stuck up, elitist, plastic covered hussy; Couch. PT resented Couch with every splinter of her being; with its prissy woven materials and its plastic cover. What were the Users protecting her from? Rump dent?

PT knew that indoor furniture or softies as they liked to call them were weak and vulnerable, but this was an outrage. They never even Used her!

Deck chair once suggested that Couch might feel a prisoner, locked up in the tower, unUsed and unloved, but PT knew better. Couch was smug and she deserved body fluid stains and termites. Maybe a sleeping smoker - yeah, that would be what she deserved. Smug, bitch.

Then she nearly lost her umbrella. They had finally done it! The Users had removed her plastic. Oh, glorious day! That snob was garage food inside a year. PT settled her wood and turned her attention back to the glorious morning sun. Ahh…


Monday, April 14, 2008

Island Paradise

Here's another assignment by Laura harkening back to the "Write a story set during your most recent vacation" assignment. Enjoy!

Island Paradise
by Laura Mahoney

A New England September is like a hunk of week-old cheese: cold, clammy, and slightly off-putting. The last vestiges of summer filled with visits to the cape, eating corn on the cob and lobster rolls by the seashore, are but a golden memory, and you begin to brace yourself for the unavoidable onslaught of winter.
At that time of year, I would give anything to hold on to that pure ecstasy of summer for just another week or two. I long for the chance to transport myself to some sunny paradise where I would never be more than a stone’s throw from a beach. So when I learned of the opportunity at my office to win a trip to anywhere in the world, I jumped at the chance.
But which paradise would be my paradise? There were so many to choose from, and as a travel agent, I was all too familiar with their names and resorts: there was the Beachcomber Resort on its own private island off the coast of Fiji, reportedly the best place for snorkeling in the country due to its status as a protected marine wildlife sanctuary. Or perhaps the Secrets Resort in Playa del Carmen Mexico, where an all-inclusive lifestyle would surely give me that sense of luxury I desired.
When faced with so many decisions, it became a bit overwhelming. I finally sat down to write my application essay, and thought about what I loved about traveling in the first place. I began to realize that all of my favorite vacations had involved being on the water in some way. From crossing the Atlantic to Scandinavia aboard a training ship for 2 months on a summer break from college, to the boat I took to a deserted island off the coast of Jamaica. There was also my trip to Costa Rica, where my traveling companion and I made a point of being on the water in some capacity at least once every day.
I flipped through a couple of tour brochures, all glistening with photos of dozens of boat trips. There was a triple-decker wood-paneled passenger boat for drifting lazily down the Amazon in Peru, a majestic-looking tall-ship for a week’s journey from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro, and even a glamorous yacht for island-hopping in Greece.
But the one boat that caught my eye was neither glamorous nor majestic. It looked to me like it had seen one too many tourist seasons. The photos of the cabins looked as though they were peering into the dark cramped space of a closet, rather than a room where you were expected to stow yourself and a week’s worth of luggage.
But all that could be endured, I thought, because the destination this boat would give me the freedom to explore was Croatia.
Not the first place you think of when you think of “beach paradise.” The mere mention of the place most likely conjures of images of a politically unstable, war-ravaged landscape. For me, however, it was just the kind of remote, less traveled place I was looking for.
The trip I took was a 7-day island-hopping excursion. I pored over the tour dossier excitedly, and tried to wrap my mouth around exotic words like Makarska, “Brac” (pronounced Buh-rotch), Hvar (ha-var), and Mljet (still not sure about that one.) We ate, drank, slept, and drank some more while sunbathing on the well-worn decks of our “vintage sailing ship.” Though the sun was almost always shining, sunbathing was something you could only do in spans of about 45 minutes to an hour. Our tight schedule meant we were sailing from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day at a fairly high speed, so wind was constantly whipping over the decks, causing the Croatian flag hung proudly at our stern to be nearly ripped to shreds. For respite and to nurse wind-burned faces, it was necessary to gather your things and go indoors to the dining room for a game of cards or to read a book.
Our crewmembers were all Croatian and spoke no English, save the waiter. He was a forty-something guy named Tonchi with lots of lines in his face. There was the cook, a grisly old fellow who we affectionately named “Cook,” in part because his given name was also Tonchi. Moving up in the ranks, there was the first mate: a tall, lanky fellow of few words, who had an unsettling way of sneaking up on you, and who was the son of the Captain, or El Capitan to my raucous Australian boatmates.
The fact that English was a rare commodity among our fearless leaders was something of a challenge. Living on a boat in an unfamiliar country, and traveling from place to place each day, requires at least a rudimentary form of communication between passenger and crew. Take for example the scene that unfolds upon arrival at one of the afore-mentioned unpronounceable islands. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and thirty-two young adults, near exhaustion from overexposure to sun, wind, and warm Croatian beer, anxious for some solid ground and a change of scenery, are all clambering to run off the boat and see the sights while there is still a little daylight left. But what is this place? Where is here? And what time is it necessary to be back on the boat to ensure that we don’t get left behind while the rest of the group continues on down the jagged coast? The only information we received in return was Tonchi (the waiter)’s chicken scratch on a chalkboard above the gangway leading off the boat. All that appeared there was an indication of the time we would need to be back on the boat in the morning: 0700. Thank God for the universal language of the 24-hour clock.
All in all it was a fabulous trip, highlighted by the 2-hour walk around the two-story high medieval wall encompassing the UNESCO world-heritage site at Dubrovnik, which affords spectacular views of the ancient stone city and the island-dotted Adriatic sea that crashes up against the wall like an enemy invader. Despite my many adventures along the way, including a pirate theme party on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I don’t think Croatia is the beach paradise I was hoping for. While beaches do abound in a coastline with over 1,000 islands, they’re mostly covered in pebbles and are painful to walk on. Maybe next time I’ll stick to the old standbys, and leave the exploring to someone else.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Moment of Discovery

Deftly, his practiced fingers unhinged the lock on the large, wooden chest that held the secrets of his origin.

His skin buzzed from the elevated nanobot activity in his veins.

Almost automatically the adrenaline boost activated to increase his heart rate and ensure total focus. “Better than a triple espresso,” he would brag to the cell-based skinners at on Drakmar VI.

The lock wasn’t the real threat. The box contained nano viruses. The NVs would reprogram his ‘bots to kill him. Bad way to go.

Removing a long thin tube, he unraveled a sheet of material so thin it appeared to be two dimensional. Slowly he lowered to horizontal material across and through the chest.

The material singed an ugly dark mottle as he passed it through the box before it self-ignited with a hissing crackle.

Seventeen years he had been searching for this box. All his money, all his time, what was left of his humanity and now it was here in front of him.

Activating the cam inside his ocular implant for posterity he simultaneously reached into the past and into his future…