Monday, June 1, 2009
Well, it took about 3 months longer than I thought, but I finished the story of Schwedded Wheat. It was an interesting writing experience. What is next for the Joke Blog? We shall see. Here is the original intro, and the story in order, in it's entirety...
Today I start on writing my "cell phone novel," SCHWEDDED WHEAT. It is inspired by, but not the same as, the cell phone novels or keitai shousetsu of Japan. These novels are written (usually by young Japanese women going by one name monikers) mostly on subway commutes on the way to work. People subscribe to the books and receive short chapters on their cell phone. The cell phone books have mostly been romance and drama although the field has become diverse rapidly. The first keitai shousetsu was written by a Japanese writer calling himself Yoshi in 2003, titled Deep Love. It's a story of a teenage prostitute in Tokyo. It became so popular that it was published as an actual book, with 2.6 million copies sold in Japan. Now about 5 out of 10 bestselling novels in Japan are print versions of the keitai shousetsu.
I am not inspiring to such fame, but today I was thinking about the keitai shousetsu on the bus to work and I thought, you know, I have some down time on the bus everyday or sitting around on break, I should write one. So today I wrote the first chapter. I am trying to write a chapter everyday(NOTE-HA!), although I may skip a day here and there. I am projecting about 50 chapters(NOTE-HA! Try 21!), give or take. This story is technically FICTION, although many of the events and characters are based on real people, including myself(Note-And the place I used to work, RIP. Just think, this place is gone forever.) I am hoping to include it as a chapter or section in my Hotel Pharmacy book.
I was at the register ringing up the customers. She appeared like a vision, her arms filled with candy and magazines.
Her hair was like cherries, her red lips smiled, her eyes said 'lets get to know each other' then we heard the screeching sound.
"Young man! I need your assistance immediately! I am very old and fragile! Help!" Shrieked a voice, hidden amongst the aisles.
"Uhh" I told my redhead vision. Her juicy lips pouted in concern. "Uhh.... I better check this out." The moment was broken.
I went to investigate the shrieking, irritated.
I peered down the aisles trying to locate the source of the sorrow.
I found a tiny, shriveled old lady, her body gnarled. A twisted frown of pain with partially showing under the veil of her pillbox hat. 'I need your help' she said, staring up at my towering frame.
''I'm very old and fragile and I need you to carry these up to the front counter.'' She said, thrusting boxes of crackers into my arms.
I looked towards the door. The redhead was opening a candy bar. Our eyes met and she lifted her hand and wiggled it goodbye.
I then felt a tugging at my sleeve. ''Young man! I need your help!'' The hideous voice shrieked. I took one last glance at the redhead exiting through the door.
''Goodbye, Big Red.'' I thought and turned to my tormentor.
"Yesss?" I said, hissing politely and turning to the old woman.
"Follow me. I have something to show you." She said.
She grabbed my hand and yanked. I drew back.
"I'm sorry, I have some customers here." I said, gesturing toward the counter.
"Oh they can wait." She said. "I'm very old, you know."
"And fragile." I added.
"Nothing." I said. I glanced back at the counter.
A line of people was hemming and hawing, looking around with disgusted looks on their faces. They were in a hurry. The old lady wasn't.
She lead me slowly, slowly over to an aisle and pointed to a shelf.
There were some boxes of Cheerios, an empty space, and then boxes of Corn Flakes. She pointed more closely at the empty space.
She stared at me deeply. "They're gone." She said in a tone, as if she was speaking about the victims of the Titanic. "Why are they gone?"
"What? What's gone?" I asked. Her mood changed for the worse, and she gave me a piercing stare for insulting her with my stupid behavior.
"The SCHWEDDED WHEAT!" She snapped. "WHERE IS IT?!"
"Hmm." I said, looking around for my boss. I could see he was busy yakking away to someone. "Well, the schw- uh, the Shredded Wheat...is."
I looked to the long line of customers at the counter.
"The Shredded Wheat is out of stock." I said and headed to the counter.
"No it isn't." She said in disgust. "You have more in your stockroom."
"Do we?" I asked in mock surprise. "Let me check on that, one sec."
I ran to the counter and began checking people out. "1.50, and here's your change, 3.50..."
Like a leprechaun, the old lady realized she had been tricked, and began to howl. "YOUNG MAN!"
"So that's 1.99, here's a penny back."
"YOUNG MAN!!" "
Did you want cash back for a tip on your card?" "YOUNG MAN!!!" "Did you want a bag for this?"
The howling was getting closer. As I hurried the last customer, the woman stood next to the counter, yelling "YOUNG MAN!"
I turned to her.
"Can I help you?" I said, smiling. She made a ticking sound in disgust.
"YES! You can go get more Schwedded Wheat from the stockroom."
I quickly ran up the flight of stairs to the stockroom. I walked among the aisles of soda and canned goods and paper products.
I made my way to the cereal. There was Cheerios, Wheaties, Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, Count Chocula, and me Lucky Charms, but no Shredded Wheat.
I walked down the stairs. The old lady was standing there staring at me, and her eyes were on fire. I held out my hands helplessly.
"Whatcha gonna do? No Shredded Wheat." I said it as if this was one of the everyday risks you take living on planet earth. She didn't agree.
''No shredded wheat.'' I said. ''May God strike me down if I'm lying.''
The old woman frowned. ''When will you get more in?'' She asked skeptically.
''Probably Tuesday. That's when our order comes in.''
''I say TUESDAY...''
''Well what day is it today?''
''Well here, take these to the counter.'' The old lady said, shoving boxes of mac n cheez into my arms.
I took the mac n cheez and added it to the old woman's horde of goods. Boxes, cans, bottles of aspirin, and bags of catfood.
I turned to the front counter, and the old woman was standing there. "Bring all those things up here she said." She said haughtily.
"I'm ready to check out." She said it like she was the Queen of England. I eyed her cautiously and hauled the goods to the front counter.
It was going to be the longest transaction of my life.
When I try to think back on it now, it seems unreal, like a scene from an italian horror film.
I remember she had fashioned a coin purse out of a paper napkin which she slowly unfolded.
The line of people behind her grew.
She shakily spread out an array of change and began counting it with a bony finger.
The line of customers grew.
She began asking the prices of the items over and over. I tried to mask my irritation.
The line of customers grew.
When I had finished ringing her up at last, she said ''That can't be right.''
The line of customers grew some more.
I ripped the receipt off and began going through the items with her. She adjusted the glasses on her nose and stared carefully.
''That can't be right.'' She said, shaking her head in disbelief.
''Believe it.'' I said. The line grew longer.
I went through the items on the receipt with her again. She shook her head.
The line grew longer.
It took a lot of reviewing, change counting, double and triple bagging, but somehow made it through.
I cruised through the long long line of pissed off customers, many of them whining like the baby men and women they are.
''So sue me.'' I mumbled to them. ''You think I control the universe fer chrissakes?''
Things settled after a bit and I took some deep breaths and tried to enter a zen like state.
My shift ended and I went home and had a few drinks, whiskey on the rocks. Then I fell asleep.
It was cold in the dream. There were water drops falling from the ceiling, everywhere. The redhead was there, smiling.
''I need your help.'' She said in a sultry voice, her lips pouting. ''I'm very old and fragile.''
She said this and laughed like a demon.
'' You think you're funny but you're not.'' I said, trying to pretend I wasn't bothered.
The redhead began to cry and I somehow began to feel guilty. I reached my hand out to her.
''Get away from me!'' She cried. ''You're always like this!''
Then I woke up.
The dream stuck with me briefly but soon it was back to buisness as usual. Soon I completely forgot the old lady.
I even forgot the redhead, more or less.
The days were fair and went by with ease, but then Tuesday rolled around.
My co-cashier approached me.
''You really pissed someone off.'' She told me.
She pointed down the aisle, and there was the old lady, fuming.
"Shit." I thought. "Shit happens."
"Young man." She said, pointing a shaky finger at me, "You are a liar!"
"What?!" I said, confused and offended.
"I said you are a liar.Today is Tuesday, is it not?"
"Yeaaaaaaah..." I said warily.
"You said there would be more Schwedded Wheat in today. The shelf is empty."
I stared at the empty space. The space where the schwed- excuse me, the Shredded wheat was suposed to be. I stared at it.
I stared at it. Then I stared at the old lady. The old lady stared at me. I stared back. I looked over to the other cashier.
The other cashier stared back at me. I stared at the space again. "Hang on." I told the old lady. "Young man..." The old lady began, madly.
"Hold on." I said. "I will investigate this problem in a thorough manner." I walked to the other cashier. "We have a problem." I told her.
"Where the hell is the shredded wheat?" "We didn't get any in this week." She said. "Hell." I said. "What the hell am I going to tell.."
"YOUNG MAN!" The old lady was yelling, staring at us. I walked back. "I'm sorry we don't..." I began. "Young man, you are a liar." She said.
It is a truly humbling moment when you have an overwhelming desire to punch an old woman in the face.
You learn something deep at that moment. You learn that evolution is a failure. They can shave an ape and put deodorant and clothes on it.
They can teach the ape to operate a cash register and ask "would you like a bag?" but in that moment nothing has changed.
The heart beats fast, the teeth and fists clench together, the eyeballs fill with red hot blood.
And it is then you realize you are still just an animal underneath it all, a wolf that might take off howling down the street any moment.
The feel is humbling and terrifying.
My mind worked like mad, trying to calm down.
It was like a madman with coffee shakes trying to solve a rubix cube.
My mind was trying every calming image it could: sand, beaches, limes, giant naked women.
Orange juice, ice, a farm, a piano, pillows, love letters, etc. It was alarmingly slow work, but I got my breath back.
Once I had calmed down, I explained to the old lady that gee, I was sorry, but sometimes these things just happen you know.
"Sometimes you're told Shredded Wheat will be stocked and sometimes it just doesn't happen because a series of random events.
Maybe it's a problem with the delivery guy or the distributor or manufacturer themselves. In fact," I told her, "maybe its even higher.
Maybe you should blame God," I said, smilingly largely. "I mean it all starts with him, don't it? I asked." The old women scowled at me coldly.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Now come over here and carry these bottles of ginger ale up to the counter for me."
"I'm very old and fragile, you know," she added.
"I know," I said.
So I began the process of checking her out, again. By now, you know this horrifying story. Each item is slowly evaluated.
The old lady reexamines each item she has selected, scrutinizing it as though they were items found in old King Tut's tomb.
Perhaps the riddle of Sphinx is buried in that cardboard can of oatmeal. Then there is the questioning of the prices.
As this is happening, I am sweating and flushing and the line of impatient customers is growing. Next, the coin purse made of a napkin is taken out and the monies slowly counted and recounted with a skeptical, wavering hand. Then there is the receipt review.
Next, I field a series of complaints about economics, the old days verses the modern age, and the down side of life in general.
This takes place during the double and even triple bagging. Last, the calling and giving of lengthy instructions to the taxi driver.
The call usually ending with the dispatcher sighing heavily, all too familiar with the hell he sending his men in the yellow cabs into.
Indeed, the visit is not over without her questioning the perceived lateness of the cab, squinting at me with a certainty.
Certain that me and the cabbie are in league together. Certain that there is a large, nameless conspiracy of service industry workers.
Cashiers, cabbies, baggers, butchers, waitresses, bellboys, clerks, bus drivers, garbage men, building managers, bakers, bank tellers,veterinary assistants, ushers, hair stylists, and many more, all conspiracy against her.
An alliance of evil, united to make life difficult for the old lady.
I couldn't hear them outside, but the old lady was pointing at the cabbie, speaking loudly, most likely telling him,
"I'm very old and fragile." She lifted her cane with great effort and pointed it at him. For a second I thought she would swing it at him.
The cabbie raised his hands defensively and began speaking rapidly in hindi, I'm guessing. His lips were moving too fast for English.
The cabbie got the lady and the bags of groceries into the cab and pulled away. I breathed a sigh of relief and cradled the back of my head.
I smiled like I had just finished a marathon or passed a drug test. The little things, like getting rid of the old lady in a taxi are sweet.
I smiled again and turned to look out the window, and my heart dropped. The taxi was back. The cabbie glowered into the window.
He held the door open for the old lady, saying a curse. Something was wrong here. The old lady stepped out of the cab.
She scowled and her and the cabbie shot daggers from their eyes in through the window. At me.
The old lady walked through the door with much determination, and the cabbie followed like a body guard.
His arms were crossed below his stern face. The old lady stared at me. "Hi." I said. She looked at me, frowning. "Where is my RECEIPT?"
Here are some general things I know about the old men who shopped there.
1. They know a lot about state quarters.
2. They know a lot about bus routes and how they are being rerouted.
3. They follow the weather reports like hawks.
4. It's never cheap enough.
Likewise, here are some things about the old ladies.
1. It is either too hot or too cold.
2. Yes, they would like a bag and probably a double one.
3. Always, always, ALWAYS GIVE THEM A RECEIPT. I slapped myself in the face, hard.
First, a moment of silence for the BSP. Much to write on that later. Now, back to the story of Schwedded Wheat.
So, yes, I had to dig through the trash, looking for the receipt in the pile of hundreds of identical receipts.
I was swearing under my breath, the old lady was making ticking and tsking sounds in disgust, and the cabbie just stood there, arms crossed.
There is nothing that will torture a cabbie more than wasted time slipping by. To them yellow means green, and the sidewalk is the street.
I couldn't find it, so I went through the items in the bag and rerung everything. "This is absurd." The old lady said. "I already paid you."
"I know." I said. "Here's your receipt." "Now young man," she said, clutching the receipt, "I want you to call your manager."
"Oh boy." I said. "Tell him to tell you the ACTUAL date you will receive a Schwedded Wheat shipment." The manager didn't know.
The manager didn't keep track of that sort of thing, the cashiers did. I thought I would humor her, though, hoping to get her in the taxi.
I picked up the phone and talked to the dial tone. "Hello, yes?" I said to the dial tone. "I need something checked here right away."
"Don't take that tone of voice with me. Look, when are we going to get some Shredded Wheat around this place? Uh huh. Mm hmm. Ok."
"He says next Tuesday." The old lady rolled her eyes and huffed out the door, and was escorted out by the cabbie.
"God have mercy on my soul next Tuesday." I thought as I watched the cabbie load the old lady in the taxi.
I thought about the old lady over the next week. I was mellow and frankly embarrassed. Had I lost control of myself?
I mean, after all, she was just a little old lady. I had a grandma, and she was probably a grandma. How had I let her get the upper hand?
I often thought of myself as a zen master and here an old lady had made me fall apart mentally, close to running down the street screaming.
I am imagined Tuesday rolling around and disaster striking. I visualized the old lady pointing her cane at me with a shaky hand, telling me,
"I'm very old and fragile." I saw the old lady squinting at the receipt telling me it didn't add up. I saw the glowering cabbie, his arms were crossed tightly. I saw all this and visualized myself transcending it all. The bad energy was flowing past me.
It was flowing past my protective aura shield. Then my co-worker approached. "Um, the men's room toilet is clogged, so you know." She said.
"Well it worked for a minute." I thought and headed to the supply closet for the plunger.
Tuesday rolled around, the day the shelves are stocked. I loved Tuesdays. Stocking meant a lot of tearing and crushing.
A lot of ripping apart packaging. It always made me feel relaxed. I had my own pricing gun with my name on it.
I would often pretend this was a real gun. I knelt down with my box cutter to open some boxes. I carefully cut open the first one.
And there was the treasure. A box filled with not one, not two, but twelve entire boxes of schw...shredded wheat. I smiled. "Lordy, lordy."
I said. "Lordy, lordy." Soon after that, I saw the old lady creeping stiffly out of a cab. She walked in, and I was leaning on the counter.
I was leaning like I didn't have a thing in the world to do. "Nice weather, isn't it?" I said to her, smirking. She looked suspicious.
"Never mind that, young man, now tell me do you or do you not have my Schwedded Wheat in stock?" She said, piercing me with her eyes.
"Yeah, of course we do." I said. "I mean it's in the cereal aisle. Right by the Cheerios. Can't miss it." The old lady began mumbling.
She headed to the cereal aisle, and I kept leaning.
When she approached the counter, there was a smile on her face. It was the first time I had seen her smile and it was weird.
It was probably the first time she had smiled in her life.
"Thank God for small favors." She said, as she set the box of cereal down.
"My Schwedded Wheat!" She said happily. We went through the routine of checking the receipt, the double bags, etc.
Except this time it wasn't as stressful. Then she surprised me. "Young man, hold out your hand." She said, wearily, but not unhappily.
I did as I was told, a little nervous. She carefully placed two dimes and two nickels in my hand. "That's for you." She said.
She walked slowly off toward the cab, and I looked at the loose change in my hand and smiled a bit. Thirty cents! And you know what?
Later that redhead walked by the window and smiled at me and did that little wave she does just wiggling her finger tips.