Chapter 8 – The Pierogi Principle

As it turned out, the Amtrak time machine turned out to be a literal time machine, returning as it did, Randy to July 4th, 1976—the 200th anniversary of this nation's birth. Besides not being able to instantly post selfies in front of Markley's doughnut machine, Randy found little inconvenience in the erasure of 40 years of runaway technology (though didn't cherish the thought of becoming, all over again, proficient with the Liquid Paper). After he briefly considered buying some Google stock or something, Randy decided he wouldn't push his luck, and he'd just go downtown early to Markley's and watch the automatic doughnut machine drop the rings of batter into the hot oil, and after they cooked on one side, flip them over, until they'd finally slide down a chute, piping hot and ready to eat. He did eat a few, too—since he wasn't yet gluten-intolerant—as he sat at the counter and drank coffee.

Some older men were sitting at the counter discussing the Presidential race now going on, and how there were no suitable candidates. “Maybe Gerald Ford if he had Chevy Chase play him,” laughed one man. “Ronald Reagan,” another guy shook his head. “He's not even a good actor.” “I'd put my money on Jimmy Carter,” Randy piped up, and the men looked at him and laughed. “That redneck peanut farmer? That'll be the day.” “No really,” Randy insisted. The men looked at him curiously, then, possibly perceiving that there was something to his confidence. Also, he was checking his phone to see if he got service, but of course he didn't.

“Seem pretty sure of yourself,” one of the old guys finally squinted over at him. “That's because I just came in on a time machine—from 2017,” Randy said, matter-of-factly, and they all laughed. “I'll give you guys a hot tip. Once Jimmy Carter is President, his brother Billy is going to have his own brand of beer, called Billy Beer.” The guys all roared with laugher, thoroughly enjoying Randy's yarn. “Yeah. It won't be too popular, though, so they'll discontinue it pretty fast. So what you've got to do then is save a few full six-packs, because in few years, people will pay $1000 for one.” “Yeah?” said one of the guys, now figuring it wouldn't hurt to make a two dollar investment, should this ever come to light. “$1000, huh? So what's a six-pack of this Billy Beer get you in the time... when's you say?” “2017.” “Right. So what's a six-pack of Billy Beer go for in 2017?” “About two dollars, on eBay,” sighed Randy. “So make sure you sell while it's hot.” They all laughed.

“So, Mr. 2017,” said another of the guys, now figuring Randy was probably crazy, but at least harmless and entertaining. “Who's President in 2017. Musta been a woman got in there by now.” “Well, no, actually,” said Randy. He thought about how Trump might seem all too plausible, but how any mention of Barack Obama would just confuse the guys. “Not Reagan, I hope,” said one of the guys. “Them nut-jobs in California will elect anyone, but not the rest of the country.” “I know,” continued Randy. “In California they might even elect an Austrian bodybuilder.” The men gave him sideways looks, and then the one guy finally demanded, “So. Who's it gonna be? President in 2017?”

Randy thought for moment, then smiled. “Well, I am, actually.” The men all laughed and shook his hand, saying glad to meet you Mr. President, before getting on with their respective days. Randy got another cup of coffee and another doughnut and thought about it. Knowing what he did now, would he have a chance? He didn't think he'd have a prayer of chance. He didn't think he'd be able to get elected class president, in his high school, even with 40 years of life experience among those 16 year olds.

“What I might do,” thought Randy, then, “is get back on the train but go east, head over to New York City—maybe have a very spooky lunch at Windows on the World. Maybe buy a closet somewhere for a thousand dollars, that'll be worth a million when I return.” But maybe I should do something that would be good for the World, and not just me, he thought. Like maybe I should hunt down that Mark David Chapman. But that's what people always think about doing, with time machines—they figure they'll go kill a very young Hitler—but in doing that, they change the course of time so much that they themselves never even got born, and so then, poof—back to square one.

Randy thought about all this as he sat at the counter of the Veselka, before it had been remodeled, and ate pierogis, since he was not yet gluten-intolerant. This was always the dead-end with time travel, he thought, as he stared down at a glistening pierogi, speared on the end of his fork. It's what is called “The Pierogi Principle.” He just made that up, but it sounded good. Maybe he'd try to get that into a textbook, with the proper footnote, before he headed back to Milwaukee. Which is what he must do, he knew then. Reverse the time travel. Because otherwise, he was at the end of this movie, a man sitting in a diner, having just turned back the hands of time, done his good deed for humanity, and now sitting there staring down at his half-eaten pierogi, and poof. End credits.

Chapter 7 – The Time Machine

The swift and unceremonious exit from ThribbleSpec (which Randy referred to, in his mind, as “Thriexit”) was so undramatic as to be almost not worth mentioning. He'd wished he could have cleared off a table with an angry forearm gesture, like Jack Nicholson in that diner scene in Five Easy Pieces, but he could never do stuff like that and instead left with a whimpering, “Anyway, thanks for the opportunity...” “Like one of those sea creatures who when you remove it from its briny home doesn't even have a shape except for the shot glass you're drinking it out of,” Randy thought with disgust, as drank down the thing, at the bar of St. Paul Seafood after his last hour of work, in that window of time (which might only last until tomorrow morning) when you feel limitless of possibility, not simply unemployed. And hey, it wasn't bad; with enough vinegar, horseradish, and Sriracha, it almost tasted like food.

In transitional moments like these, Randy found that it wasn't a bad idea to shake up one's perspective, and there was no better way to do that than to utilize the Time Machine. Amtrak would not last in its present form, if at all (but he didn't want to think about that beyond making “save Amtrak” calls to his congresspersons). It was based on some earlier model, he supposed, which was why it was equal parts charming and maddening. Regardless, they had yet to figure out that supply and demand thing, and while airline and car rental prices on the holidays were through the roof, the train was, as usual, only slightly more expensive than the dreaded Greyhound. It was the perfect mode of transportation to take him into his past.

He would visit his brother, Jeff, in their hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, over the 4th of July weekend. They would get out the family slides, and look at them in the dark on a white wall, using a slide projector that jammed up, annoyingly, just like the one they remembered from their childhood. In spite of the clunky technology, the richness and depth of the images were lightyears ahead of the later “advances” in technology—the Instamatic flash photos, the disposable cameras with plastic lenses, and finally the tiny, limitless cellphone pics whose ridiculous hi-definition only served to expose us as the soulless avatars we are, in this ever-thinning, crumbling simulation.

Randy and his brother Jeff found themselves in a real-life mystery, not unlike the Hardy Boys, whose mystery books they occasionally still read (at least the early, 1930s versions). A new diner had opened not far from where Jeff lived. He'd read an article about it, and how they were selling doughnuts that were made from the same recipe as the legendary Markley's—a diner long-gone, now—a Subway in its place. They drove out to this new diner, Anne's Cafe, and found that it was closed. As they peered in the windows Randy felt a nauseous chill. The place looked frozen in time, like one day, in the middle of breakfast even, they had locked the doors and moved on, leaving everything intact. It had been open less than a month.

Some internet research took the brothers to the nearby town of Catawba Island where they found a little diner where the doughnuts (then sold to Anne's Cafe) were actually made, using the recipe and a similar doughnut machine as used at Markley's. No one there could tell them anything about why Anne's had closed. As with most mysteries, when you weren't the Hardy Boys, you got only so far and then realized that further pursuit would yield no dividends, and in fact make you come across as a crazy person.

It was fun while it lasted, though, but what it did for Randy was remind him that his epic novel, The Doughnuts, was one rewrite (albeit no small task) from completion, and he had put it off, why? Fear of failure/fear of success—they were two sides of the same coin. Realizing that, knowing that, however, was not really helpful. Randy didn't know what would be helpful, but if he could figure that out, he supposed, he could change his name to Tony Fucking Robbins.

Chapter 6 – My Name Is Randy

Friday morning came like bad news from home. Randy had been up all night with cold chills and nausea, and at one point he thought he must actually have the flu, and once he threw up he'd be justified in calling in sick. He spent at least an hour trying to decide on a phone app to take his temperature, but decided to just lie about it anyway, since he didn't have a fever but just felt like he did. The lack of sleep actually made him feel better than usual, and after a bowl of Cheerios he actually experienced a wave of euphoria and decided he'd just write the damn thing and not waste any more days suffering over it. No one read these things, anyway, he was sure—not even Jason.

After an hour of frantic typing, there was still enough time for a shower, and spellcheck, and he'd be able to get to work on time. It shouldn't have been that hard, as all the team member profile blogs basically followed the same format of standard questions and answers, and you could skip questions or add new ones to suit yourself. The problem was, in order to get an idea of appropriate questions (and answers) Randy had looked over the existing blog entries and had found them so horrifying that he was paralyzed with revulsion. Finally, he just jotted down some of the questions by themselves, then did his best to forget all about the life-sucking, team-member answers he'd witnessed by binge-watching a complete season of a recent cable TV show called Captain Slime. Then, in a fury of coffee-fueled desperation, he quickly typed replies to the questions. The key was, now, to not—under any circumstances, for the love of God—reread this thing before submitting it. The text was as follows:

As a ThribbleSpec Team Member, introduce yourself to our Family of Clients, Vendors, and Investors:

Hi! I'm Randy _______, a Midwesterner at heart, and even though I grew up in the Buckeye State, I'm a fully adopted Badger. (Badgers being a lot cuter, while Buckeyes are essentially nuts!) My education has been nomadic, to say the least, but I think that has served me well in my adaptability to new situations, thinking on my feet, and meeting the unique needs of most challenging clients in innovative ways by utilizing a unique bouillabaisse of empathetic listening, emphatic visualization, and enterprising zen.

What does ThribbleSpec mean to you?

More than just a company with a goofy name, ThribbleSpec is a family of like-minded visionaries in the field of Boomerang-driven Instagramatic app based marketing, as well as a state of mind, a reason for being, a diabolically conceived secret revolution, and a constant challenge for the spellcheck.

Describe your ThribbleSpec workday:

Most days I come to the office early, since it's an open concept and I like to find a seat at a table where I can best optimize my natural testosterone fueled energy by sitting with an often distracting view of the sometimes curiously short skirts of certain of my team-members. Then I check the Keurig coffee pod supply in case a client might be visiting. Then it's mostly about the making of spreadsheets into something slightly less soul-crushing than they are.

Why do you love ThribbleSpec?

First of all, “love” is not a strong or descriptive enough word for my feelings about ThribbleSpec. To be honest, I don't think there is a word in the English language that describes my glowing, growing, throbbing feelings for this company, so I'm going to have to consult the French. I'll get back to you.

Proudest career moment:

Probably this one.

Favorite place in Milwaukee:

Besides my open concept office at ThribbleSpec, you mean, and my bed? I'd have to say it's one of Milwaukee's lovely parks, my favorite being Pompeii Square, under the highway; fond memories of hurling there once on my way home from Irish Fest.

Comfort food:

Lemon Cheesecake French Toast and a Blue's Bloody Mary at Blue's Egg.

I'm drinking:

Current cocktail of choice is a Srirazerac (variation of Sazerac) made with Amerique 1912 Absinthe, The Yamazake Bourbon Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Monin Pure Cane simple syrup, Peychaud's Bitters, and Brooklyn Hemispherical Sriracha Bitters—chased with a tumbler of chilled Damn Spicy Brooklyn Brine Co. pickle juice. Failing that, I always fall back on a good ole' hometown ice cold MGD from the can.

Best career advice:

Don't be afraid to take on challenges far exceeding your level of comfort, expertise, and ability by always insisting that you're right—and make use of bullying, intimidation, and gaslighting when necessary.

When I'm not ThribbleSpec-ing, I'm:

Volunteering with my current philanthropic endeavor of choice, supporting my local seasonal athletics, or lying around watching anime porn and wishing I was dead.

Randy arrived at the office ten minutes late and opened his laptop at a table where he'd have the best view (it was monthly “#supercasualfriday” which meant, in some instances, NSFW skirt and underwear combinations). Jason was busy at his laptop about 20 feet away and tried to act like he didn't notice Randy come in late. After a moment the two made eye contact and Jason made a hand gesture that meant, “Shoot that blog entry over to me ASAP.” Randy shot it over and watched as Jason opened and perused it, frowning the whole time—for a about 30 seconds—certainly not enough time to read the whole thing. He shot a message back that said, “Looks good. Please remove the part about anime porn and wishing you were dead, and we're good to go.” Randy made the requested edit and then posted it.

It's funny how an enormous molehill like that one, once it had been belittled to merely another river to cross, could then be seen as just another tree in the forest, one that no one even heard get cut down. He needed coffee. For the rest of that day, anyway, now that that was over, Randy felt not bad at all.

Chapter 5 – One Percent Inspiration

After the usual Monday in which no one went out for lunch but everyone smelled up the office by microwaving weekend leftovers, and then the seemingly endless, interminable afternoon meeting (referred to as #meetingmonday, for some reason), Randy looked around the office and had one of those crises that he felt compelled to—if it had been a movie from the 1970s starring Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino, anyway—melt down, freak out, and chew up the scenery on his mercifully expedient way out the door for the last time. Then, suddenly, like a flash, Randy had a flash of inspiration. Or rather, like a lightning-bolt, he had a flash of inspiration; a lightbulb went off over his head (had this been a cartoon). He would write a novel! A new one! He had written several in the past, but they all languished, here and there, in file folders and hard drives. Was languish the right word? It's not a word he used often, so he should look it up.

Languish was probably the right word, but this new novel would maintain its vitality because it would be a living, breathing thing. His idea was that he would write, in minute detail, about a single work-day at ThribbleSpec, in such minute detail that it would reveal, what?—that which needed to be revealed. It would be like Ulysses, by James Joyce—wasn't that a single day? He had never read it. Or maybe more like that novel... The Mezzanine, it was called—who wrote that? Nicholson Baker—he looked it up—it was an entire novel about the thoughts going through this guy's head while he's on his way up an escalator. At least that's what Randy thought it was about, he hadn't read it, but he loved that idea. Though what usually went through his head while on an escalator was: why was the person in front of him not walking, but just standing there? It was like people went brain-dead as soon as they got on an escalator. You were walking along, then suddenly you're just standing there? What was with that?

Anyway, he would write about a single day at ThribbleSpec, changing all the names, of course, and minutely document every thought that went through his head while working, as well as what he thought was going through other people's consciousnesses. He could take notes on his laptop while working—it wouldn't look too suspicious—and then he would write a chapter a day as soon as he got home from work, before he got too tired. Or maybe there would be no chapters, just a continuous stream. He needed a title; he found that he always needed a title before starting anything, even if it was just a working title. Maybe Golden something. For some reason he really liked the word “golden”—ever since he realized there used to be restaurants with the word golden in their name, but for some reason there were none anymore, except fast food chains like Golden Chicken and Golden Corral.

It could be, let's see: Golden Dome, but wasn't that already a novel? He'd look it up. Or Golden Years, like the David Bowie song—but if he was going to use a Bowie song he'd rather go with Diamond Dogs, or... Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family. He laughed when he thought of that and realized that his boss, who wasn't really called his boss, but senior team-member, Jason, was looking over at him. How long had he been sitting there with his eyes clouded by the dim stars of future ambition? Now Jason walked over to him and was getting his attention in order to say something. For fuck's sake, it was almost quitting time. What now?

“Our company blog entries, on our website. Everyone has to do one eventually; no one really likes it, but I don't see why we can't all have a little fun with it. Anyway, your number came up next, in my, you know, mental bingo number generator.” Jason had a way of starting a conversation right in the middle of what would be a normal conversation, so you were put off balance as you tried to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Randy figured it out pretty quickly. Everyone on the ThribbleSpec team had to do certain things, eventually, he guessed, like organize a party or outing, and present a blog entry on the company website that was essentially a profile or portrait of themselves that would reflect positively on the company. “By the end of the week. Thanks Randy.”

“No problem.” Jason was gone—now conspicuously checking on the coffee station Keurig pod supply, to show that he was willing to do things that most team leaders would consider “under” them. Of course, there was always a Keurig pod supply because no one ever used the Keurig coffee maker, unless a client was in the office and requested coffee, which Randy had never seen happen. Clients never drank anything but Diet Coke. Randy forgot all about his new novel as his mind was filled with the dread of having to write up a profile of himself for the blog. He had briefly glanced at other entries upon first being hired, and he could barely hold back his vomit at the phony expressions of contentment, unity, and regular-Joe-ness. Okay. He'd do it tonight and get it over with and not ruin his whole week and sweat over it sleeplessly on Thursday night, in abject misery.

Chapter 4 – Nine to Five

On Monday it was back to work, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., which were the exact hours that his dad had worked from the time he was first aware that his dad was going to work until the time he retired. Until he started working, himself, Randy thought that all jobs, at least the ones in offices, were 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Eventually, his one goal was to work any hours but 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. But when he was offered the job at ThribbleSpec, the previous year, and was told that the hours were 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., he decided that it would be silly to make that—the hours of 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.—a deal-breaker, since it seemed to be, at the time, an ideal job in every other way. He really hated that phrase, “deal-breaker,” actually, and was sorry he had used it, even in his thoughts.

Something was horribly off on this Monday morning. Maybe it was the awkward and disturbing meeting with his co-worker, Harmony, on the previous Friday that had left a bad taste in his mouth. When he and Harmony crossed paths that morning, at like 8:01 a.m., and were likely to continue to do countless times that day, since the office was an open concept and he and Harmony literally rubbed elbows. Well, not literally, not quite, though Randy had worked in offices, in the past, where that was nearly literally true, on trading floors where the team-members were seated as close as possible, only restricted by the space required by each of their dual, oversized computer screens—a place where it was impossible to tell whether the smell of the meatball sub was coming from the guy on your left, right, in front, or behind you, and the utmost care had to be taken not to squirt the juice from a big bite of a meatball sub onto a team-member's keyboard, or shoe.

Anyway, Randy and Harmony greeted each other and got on with the day and acted no different than usual, with no acknowledgment whatsoever that they had slept together. Which they hadn't, of course, but Randy couldn't help but think that as weird as he felt about the previous Friday's meeting, he would have felt no less weird had they slept together. Though, of course, that wasn't true—he would have felt too weird to even come to work had that been the case. Yet people did that all the time, didn't they? He was pretty sure that several of his co-workers were sleeping with each other, outside of the workplace, of course, secretly. He wasn't totally sure, but he was pretty sure, at least about a couple of the perceived affairs, as you didn't spend half a century observing people in social situations without being able to read body language and psychic waves, even if he had no idea what the hell a lot of them were talking about much of the time.

He picked an open spot at a table as far away from the break-area as possible and opened his laptop and got started with the morning's work. First he checked Slack, even though there was no reason to check it because he would have gotten notifications. He was hoping there'd be no memo to address because he wanted to get a good jump on his usual work, which mostly consisted of creating spreadsheets with the latest data on the accounts he was assigned, and then likely it would be necessary, since it was Monday, to create a PowToon presentation that was a compendium of previous PowToon presentations, which generally no one ever looked at, but were necessary to have accessible at a moment's notice if there happened to be a request from a Senior Team-member at a regional hub.

The entirety of what went on at ThribbleSpec was a vast mystery to Randy and, he suspected, a good number of his coworkers. Every once in a while he would gain an insight, just through reading a memo or overhearing a conversation, but he realized that the more he knew, the more nauseating he found it, so he decided that, while ignorance wasn't exactly bliss, it was preferable. Much of it was highly technical and the exclusive realm of software engineers, or whatever they were called, and an even larger legion was the sales department. The reason he was able to land the job in the first place was that he had steeled himself sufficiently to answer an employment add that had unashamedly requested a “rockstar” spreadsheet “wizard.” He knew it was a ruse; a preliminary test to see who could hold back the vomit long enough to shoot off a resume and generic cover letter. The reason he was hired, he found out later, was that it was a ThribbleSpec company policy to hire a certain percentage of people over the age of 50 and with disabilities. Not necessary both, but either and/or both. Randy, not long after being hired, joked that it had fallen in his favor that ThribbleSpec apparently considered baldness a disability. His co-workers pretended not to hear him.

The morning dragged on, then, the way Monday mornings do in jobs in which the hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Monday morning was the grim 10% of the work week in which one couldn't imagine any life at all but the work week. In past jobs with similar hours in which Randy had worked, someone would usually bring in a box of doughnuts on Monday, which may as well have been knots of dough twisted into an infinity symbol before being deep-fried and then sprinkled with powdered sugar and named death snacks of the infinite Monday morning blues, or something. Of course, at ThribbleSpec there were no doughnuts, perhaps because the office was an open concept and there would have been nowhere suitable to put the box of doughnuts, except maybe on the pingpong table, since no one ever played pingpong. But there was always that potential, so it wouldn't have done to put the doughnuts there. The morning dragged on.

Chapter 3 – The Garlic Apocalypse

On Sunday morning the bird noises were louder than he had ever heard them. The birds sounded like they were panicking, all communicating something with each other, maybe something about moving on somewhere, migrating somewhere in order to survive. Did they know something? Were they aware of some coming apocalypse, horrific storm—or maybe they were just having a big party? Randy wished he knew more about bird habits. He could post something on Facebook asking if anyone knew what was going on with the birds. He liked when people asked questions—it seemed like that was what Facebook was most useful for. Exactly four people would “like” his question, and maybe someone would post a film clip from Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds (1963). Randy looked out the window and noticed that the noise was being made by seagulls, a tremendous amount of them, who were swooping here and there, landing and taking off rooftops—all of them squawking like mad.

That started him thinking about The Birds, and how it was maybe the most frightening movie ever. Giant dinosaurs crushing cities and even the slimy monsters that moved really fast weren't scary, but birds—he loved birds. How could they even be scary? And what was that movie even about? Maybe he should look some stuff up online and read about it. At some point he had realized that all those TV shows he watched as a kid, from Lost in Space and Star Trek to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea to 8th Man—were all infused with disturbing episodes that were based on the experience the writers had been through with soldiers returning from war as changed people. An entire generation of entertainment was PTSD based—but then, maybe all fiction of all time was pretty much that, right, because hasn't there always been wars? This was the kind of trajectory of thinking that Randy got on and lost entire weekend days when he was supposed to be grilling corn on the cob. He decided to forget about the birds.

While listening to some local radio shows, then, he became aware of a “Garlic Festival” that was going to be held that very afternoon in Walker's Point, so after reading a few asinine promotions of it written by people who seemed to have a profound fear of garlic, Randy decided he should attend as a representative of those who listed garlic as among their top ten favorite foods. He sent out text messages, then, to 20 or 30 people he thought might want to join him there (excluding, of course, those who he knew were doing other things, or would be joining him for lunch in a few days). On a lark, he even included a couple of his more intriguing co-workers. By then it was time to walk down there, and upon leaving the house he realized that the wind was blowing at an extreme velocity once again. What was with all the wind lately, he wondered? Was it just him, or was there just way more wind than usual? He thought he might post that question on Facebook, later on. Four people would like it, and one person would spend way too much time looking for the wind emoji.

Randy was happy to see that the Garlic Festival had blocked off several streets and was populated by a good crowd, even though there weren't that many vendors. He started to look around for food that seemed like it might be somewhat experimental in nature, i.e., not just something that always used garlic in its recipe anyway, and also was gluten-free, and also that didn't cost an arm and a leg. There was a band playing all the way down to one end of the festival area, and they sounded good, but they were amplified so loud no one wanted to get within 50 yards of them, except of course for that one guy who always stood three feet from the band. Randy looked around for friends, acquaintances, even co-workers, but there was no one he knew. What did people do on Sundays?—he often found himself wondering on Sundays—did people stay in bed all day? That's what he finally decided the answer was, and maybe that's what he should do on Sundays. And he would, maybe, once he had a bed, but for now, since he slept on the floor, that wouldn't do, because, think about it. Question: “What did you do all day?” Answer: “I laid on the floor.” No.

It seemed like everyone at the Garlic Festival were in groups of two or more, and many of them were young people, men and women in their 20s, and all of the men had beards. All of them. He was glad to see so many young people there, though, actually, at what some people might consider kind of a “square” event. He talked to a woman at a booth selling soap, from a soap-maker based in Whitewater, Wisconsin. He asked her about making soap, since he'd recently become interested in the soap making process, since starting his new Instagram account dedicated to soap. She was selling a lot odd flavors he hadn't seen before. Do you say “flavor” with soap? What do you call the different varieties? He bought some star anise soap that was very fragrant. He wondered if bathing with it would make him feel like he was drinking Ouzo.

Most of the Garlic Festival food wasn't gluten-free, and some was just boring, but then there was the little Purple Door Ice Cream stand that was dishing out one flavor: you guessed it, garlic. Randy had read or heard some discussion of garlic ice cream online that was kind of asinine, where the person seemed to fear the garlic ice cream to the extent that you knew they were just exaggerating their expression of fear in order to try to make interesting journalism. It wasn't interesting, but he hoped the ice cream would be. He had recently looked at the Purple Door Ice Cream website and noticed that they listed some pretty inspired flavors which he was looking forward to trying. He bought a scoop for $3 and tasted it. His head exploded.

Just kidding. That's what he wanted to happen; in actuality, the ice cream tasted like cheap vanilla ice cream with very little flavor at all, and certainly no garlic flavor. It didn't even taste as garlicky as an apple cut by a knife that had previously been cutting garlic. And on top of that, it was the smallest scoop of ice cream he had ever seen. If it had been any smaller, the wind would have taken it away. He walked away feeling a profound sense of disappointment and sadness—that feeling you have when one of your friends does something so inappropriately heinous that you realize, at that point, you are simply no longer friends, and things will never be reconciled. Actually, he had never had that experience with friends, that he could recall, but it must have happened at some point, right?

And to be fair, he realized that, as an avid garlic eater, he was somewhat desensitized to the extremes of the garlic odor and flavor. It was just something that went with the territory—the way that cigarette smokers didn't notice the heinous stench to the extent that non-smokers did. But wasn't the Garlic Festival for garlic lovers? Maybe not. Maybe, in fact, the garlic festival catered to people who didn't really like garlic, or had no experience with garlic and were maybe trying it out in a safe and sane setting, among friends and guides and professionals who could gently usher them into the world of garlic and talk them off the ledge of panic, if need be. Okay, so that's what it was. It was like music festivals, which Randy had been thinking about lately, after looking at the schedule for Summerfest, the annual music festival that bragged to be the world's largest.

He always felt that music festivals were not the best place for enjoying music, in that you had to deal with crowds, hot and humid weather, and port-a-potties. Weren't they for people who didn't really like music but rather just wanted to be in huge crowds of people? (Randy assumed that some people must actually like to be in huge crowds of people, or why else were there always big crowds of people forming?) But maybe he was wrong. Maybe music festivals were for people who loved music so much they were willing to endure huge crowds of people, and peeing into a hole with the very recent excrement of hundreds of people displayed down there like an art installation. After all, since he had quit drinking, due to alcoholism, Randy found that he could not tolerate spending time in bars, taverns, or roadhouses—which were the primary venues of live music—in the evening. But he loved live music, so shouldn't he be embracing music festivals as the place where he could most comfortably experience live music, given his revulsion of drinking establishments? But there lie the problem, he thought, after thinking about it for awhile. Festivals were just one giant excuse for daytime drinking; they were the place where drinkers were able to successfully bring the bar and tavern experience out of doors, and in the daytime.

When he reached home it was several hours later, and it was, as he watched Columbo, as he usually did on Sunday evenings, that Randy reflected on all this. It had not been a really great day, but it was a memorable one, in some respects. At least he had survived the apocalypse, he thought, and the birds had quieted down. It was only then that he noticed a large, white and grey, dried stain of bird shit on his pants.

Chapter 2 – Something You Can Depend On

“Livin' for the weekend,” thought Randy on Saturday morning as he nursed a hangover, sitting next to his window on the fourth floor corner room of the Taft Hotel, noticing someone's cigarette smoke, someone no doubt blowing smoke out the window (it was a non-smoking building), most likely someone in the band staying in room below. He had seen them moving in their guitars and other equipment and was pretty sure it was that band, Solid Oak, who played at all the music festivals. Was it them who do the “Livin' for the weekend” song—no, of course not, that was an old song, which he didn't particularly like, but hated that idea even more. Randy had quit drinking a quarter of a century ago, but still got hangovers, which he realized, after he quit drinking, were a kind of condition of the species rather than an individual problem; thus he still got hangovers. He really hated that expression, “nursing a hangover.”

The Taft Hotel was the last of the apartment-hotels; the upper rooms were apartments and the lower floors populated by hotel rooms. Randy loved the atmosphere of people coming and going, and was sometimes excited to see a famous actor or band who would stay at the Taft for the creative ambiance or because they liked older places but didn't want to pay $500 a night at the Algonquin, the Radisson, or the Pfister. Still, the Taft was $200 a night—when did hotels get so expensive? Oh, and the ghosts—it was famous for ghosts, and some people were into that—though Randy got tired of the slamming doors and other ghost nonsense—though not as tired of that as the car horns on the corner outside, which was apparently a “difficult” intersection to navigate (stop signs, and no stop signs, who could figure it out?) so there was a lot of honking, especially angry honking. Randy would often spend his morning yelling “fuck your horn” out the window, especially on mornings when cigarette smoke was nauseating him.

There were days when you, at some point, realize that maybe you should have just stayed in bed. But now that he was working a regular Monday through Friday job, Randy felt that pressure to make the most of weekend days. He figured what he would do was try out a new, gleaming, silver taco truck that had appeared out of nowhere (which was not that weird, seeing how it was a truck) and set up in a vacant lot that was certainly a welcome spot for tacos. He didn't even know the name of it yet, and rode his bike over, with a camera and notebook so he'd be able to do a write-up for an online Mexican restaurant and taco review blog he wrote for. “Well, I still don't know the name of it,” Randy thought, upon reaching the vacant lot, because the taco truck was gone (maybe not so surprising, since it was a truck).

Plan B, as it were, was a Chinese place called Ming's Garden's (sic) that he'd eaten at once before and really liked because they seemed to cater to a more Asian clientele and had some unusual dishes, at least compared to the usual Americanized Chinese fare. For some odd reason they were closed that day, for “re-stocking”—whatever that meant. Since he was on his bike, and halfway there by that time, Randy decided he may as well ride out to a nearby community called “Fox Point” where an odd, Indonesian restaurant had made the odd choice of a home, with the odd choice of a name, “Peking Chef.” Randy had been thinking about the delicious Laksa he'd eaten there on his first visit, and since he'd started a new Instagram account dedicated to gluten-free dining, he was excited to post a lunch from this place. They were closed, however, for the entire month of June (on vacation, apparently, which was okay—everyone needs a vacation).

From there, Randy figured he'd make the difficult bike ride to the nearby village called “Brown Deer” where a new Thai restaurant had opened that he was anxious to try. It wasn't a difficult bike ride because of the distance, but because he had to navigate roads and intersections made exclusively for car traffic; places that may have never seen a bicycle. Well, sure they had, it took all kinds, and a lot of cyclists were nuts. The place, called “Suit & Thai” surely would be open for lunch on a Saturday, right? Wrong. Not open until dinner-time, at this point still 4 hours away, which was 4 too many to spend at Ross Dress For Less and Bob's Discount Furniture, which shared the shopping plaza with S&T. At this point, Randy should have known better and just accepted the fact that lunch was not to be. But due to a stubborn determination and the luxury of a pocket GPS, he rode around through a few godforsaken industrial warehouse backroads and was soon able to reach a Mexican restaurant he liked called, “Dos Tacos.”

Randy didn't speak Spanish, but he was pretty sure that meant “two tacos”—and by now it was 2 o'clock p.m., which as it turned out was three hours before “Dos Tacos” opened—who may as well be called “No Tacos” if they weren't going to be open for lunch on a Saturday. Randy literally cursed (the “f-word” extended, the vowel sound drawn out for nearly five seconds). He was now hungry enough for four tacos, plus rice and bean. And flan! The long bike ride back home was fueled by negative thoughts, entitled and sub-headed with expressions like, “What a Fiasco,” and “My Life is a Roast.” Should he try one more place, perhaps Kopp's Frozen Custard, or Baker's Square, or Benji's—all of which were on the way? No. Randy finally decided that lunch was not to be, and upon reaching home, tore open a bag of Durian flavored Thai Coconut Roll snacks he had been saving for a special occasion, along with taking pictures to post on his new Instagram account which was dedicated to odd soap, food, and beverages. He ate too many at once and fell into a coma.

Upon rising, then, the day now almost gone, Randy decided to take a bath, usually a fool-proof way to feel better. On this day, however, the fools were writing the script. He had just started to relax when there was frantic knocking at his door. There must be a fire!—was his first thought, and he quickly wrapped himself around a towel and opened the door a crack. It was the maintenance man, who told him that his bathtub was leaking badly down into the room below. The bath was over before it was barely started, and worse, he had to bail out the tub with a metal bowl usually used for making delicious food. Now he was hungry again, so he decided to make tacos. He had a couple of ripe avocados, which unfortunately had passed onto that sad phase where they are partly black and musty inside. When did avocados, he thought, as a food, devolve to have this like 15 minute window between: too hard to eat and rotten? From delicious to disgusting in the blink of an eye. Hey, that was a pretty good description, or phrase! “From delicious to disgusting in the blink of an eye.” That would make an excellent tagline for something. For what, he had no idea, but Randy made a mental note to file that in his tagline file.

If all that wasn't enough, Randy found out, the next morning, that the band, Solid Oak, who were staying in the room below him, had, upon arrival, stowed their equipment in the bathroom. He supposed it was because the maids always overly air-conditioned the rooms, which were then very dry, and a band like Solid Oak traveled with a lot of very fragile, vintage equipment which liked a bit of humidity, thus the bathroom. But not as much humidly as was produced with Randy's bathtub leaking on it all. He found all of this out at breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, which was called, “An Urban Cafe.” Since when did places use what would have formerly been a description of a place as the actual name for the place, thought Randy, with disgust. That was exactly the kind of stuff they were always trying to get the “creatives” to come up with—names like that—at ThribbleSpec. Though he was not a creative, thankfully. His days there, at that cliché-factory, were numbered.

Sitting at the lunch counter, at the cafe, he told the members of Solid Oak that he recognized them, but was unable to attend their show because he was working. They told him about how the some moron had let his bathtub overflow above their room and had ruined all of their beloved, vintage equipment. Randy didn't let on, of course, that it was his bathtub (even though it was the plumbing's fault and not his), and he commiserated with the band. “Well, you can't take it with you,” said Randy, which was not what the band wanted to hear. “We're like 25 years old,” they said. “We've got like our whole lives ahead of us, unlike you, old man. That gear was irreplaceable. We'll never be able to get our sound without it.” Randy wanted to tell them that he realized that at their age they thought everything was set in stone, but everything they felt they could count on was all a house of cards that would collapse a lot sooner than any of them could possibly imagine. And be rebuilt, too, and collapse again, and on and on. Loss was the one thing they could depend on. He didn't say any of that, of course, and just wished them luck. They didn't wish him luck in return. In their eyes, he supposed, he was a guy whose luck had run out long ago.

Chapter 1 - The Friday Meeting

It was much too late on Friday afternoon for a meeting, so Harmony suggested the Starbucks on the mezzanine of the food court at the hub of the tri-towers' skyway connecting ramp. Randy wasn't sure what the current name of the food court was, as it seemed to change three or four times a year and who could keep up? Everyone just referred to it as the “food court” regardless of the name, which he always thought was kind of funny—as if it was a court of law for food. He had mentioned that once—that he thought that was funny—to a co-worker—but the co-worker pretended not to hear him.

The meeting had been strongly suggested by Randy's team-member at ThribbleSpec, Harmony, a woman so young that she did not remember a time before there were Starbucks in the skyways and other urban public areas, and just assumed that's where people bought their coffee since the American Revolution. Of course, she knew better, and was educated with an advanced degree in law and management, but didn't bother herself with historical details that she didn't consider important. At least that's what Randy assumed; he wasn't really sure what went on in her thoughts, not at all. He occasionally referred to other team-members as “co-workers” and Harmony was quick to correct him, as if she was his superior, though part of the design of the unique corporate structure of ThribbleSpec made it clear that there was no hierarchy.

Randy was old, and he remembered a time before there were Starbucks anywhere, but he couldn't remember where they bought coffee in that earlier era. He was pretty sure no one bought coffee anywhere, since it was available for free in the break-room of every company he worked at before 2009. Meetings, of course, always took place in meeting rooms, of the companies he had worked at, but ThribbleSpec didn't have meeting rooms but rather very small, but variably sized, “pods,” where team-members could go for privacy. Randy didn't like the word “pod” and he didn't like the pods themselves, as they were always either too cold or warm, and smelled like either nothing, or some product that was sprayed in the pods to remove the smell. So he was happy when Harmony suggested Starbucks.

After they each bought a “small coffee” and found a table near the window, sitting at high chairs, they each related what their weekend plans were. Randy lied and said he was going to spend the day “up north.” Harmony said she had no plans whatsoever, and Randy had no reason to believe she wasn't telling the truth. He worried that her dress was too short to be comfortable sitting at the high chairs, but she didn't seem to mind. He was also worried that one of his legs would fall asleep, as often happened while sitting at the high chairs. It was “casual Friday” at ThribbleSpec—one of two days a month designated as Casual Friday (though they weren't always on Friday)—but he had not worn his blue jeans, as he found that wearing blue jeans to work depressed him. He wondered if Harmony's dress was so short because it was casual Friday. It was alarmingly short, and he was worrying about her being uncomfortable when they switched the topic of conversation from weekend plans to “work stuff.” Because of his concern, he missed the first part of what she wanted to address at the meeting.

“Hopefully, in the very near future, this entire re-imagining will be up for review,” Randy found himself saying, though he couldn't really connect the words to a concrete intention. At the point that he started talking, he had forgotten everything that Harmony had said a moment before. “And then if we find that it comes in over x-number of dollars, or x-number of days over the goal, we can make some quick adjustments and finalize it.”

Harmony nodded like she understood what he was saying, her brow furrowed, and then talked for a few minutes in a monotone so soothing that Randy found himself not really listening. He sipped his coffee, and then, at what he felt was an appropriate interlude, continued, but abruptly stopped, and glanced back at Harmony as he flipped through the file folder he had brought to the meeting. It contained various take-out menus, so he didn't let her see what was in it. She then went on for several more minutes, before pausing to sip her coffee.

“I didn't really have my hands around it at the last meeting,” Randy admitted, though he couldn't remember what was discussed at the last meeting. “We'll have to sit down and start laying out the next steps because I don't know exactly the time-line necessary for optimization of effort. If there is a big hot-button issue that needs to be fixed, we'll get it fixed so that we can get up and running. I just think a lot of it comes down to planning, organizing, and executing—and honestly one of the things I've been kicking around is this notion that you and I should have a mid-week, informal sit-down. I've been fire-fighting a lot of these issues, and it's absolutely crucial that we're on the same page so that we don't reach the finish line before we massage the metrics.”

At that point, Harmony looked up at Randy in alarm, her head jutting forward in a very disturbing way. Randy flushed with embarrassment, but at that moment her phone buzzed and she looked at it, then back to Randy, excusing herself. He thought that she was as relieved as he was for the interruption, so he then started looking at his phone and acted like he was frantically shooting off texts left and right to team members, clients, and vendors. Then her phone buzzed again, and they both kind of hand-signaled to each other that the meeting was over, and they both made their way separately to the trash can, then back to the elevator and up to the office. By then someone was playing music, almost imperceptibly, from their phone. That pretty much unofficially marked the beginning of the weekend, at least for those not in the art department.

Preface

I have already included an Introduction, which makes a preface not only redundant, but silly, though sometimes people seem to have a need for it. And then a Foreword, as well. I'm not really sure what's supposed to be in each one, so I looked them up and watched several YouTube videos with people patiently explaining the differences, talking from different settings: a woman in her garden, a man in what looks like a classroom he broke into, and a man in a bathtub! (That one will no doubt be taken down, soon, or do they allow nudity on YouTube now?) I also found out that I had spelled foreword wrong in my introduction—I spelled it “Forward” (which could be taken to be its own thing, I guess), but at least I didn't commit the grievous error of spelling it “Foreward”—which, according to this guy, should be punishable by death.

Anyway, there is nothing really to say in a Foreword, at this point (nor an introduction or preface, for that matter) but I'm just trying to stall before making the big step, the big commitment, to present The Golden Pineapple here among these pages. Okay, there is no real commitment, I'm just stalling while I wait to hear back from a little mom and dad publishing house (okay, it was Farrar, Straus and Giroux) for news of unqualified acceptance and a cash advance. Maybe I shouldn't have sent them all three paper boxes full of manuscript, but I thought it was a bold move at the time. Sometimes those things backfire, though. Oh, well, my backup plan, to publish it here in serial form, might be the better option anyway. No cash, no prestige, no book tour, but The GP will be out in the world finally, a living, breathing thing, and I can enjoy a back and forth dialogue with my readers (see email address in “contact” page) – which is also how you can arrange personal appearances and readings in your home town small bookstore (we can discuss terms, conditions, stipends, honorariums, dietary restrictions, M&M's, expectations, etc., individually, along with more intimate details). For now, as Bugs and Daffy sing, “On with the show—This Is It!”

—R. Speen, June 2017

Epigraph

“For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Introduction

A novel by R. Speen © 2017

(insert epigraph from Moby-Dick here, once I find it, and if I can't find it, insert something random, from Moby-Dick, or somewhere else, though I really do like the one from Moby-Dick, at least the way I'm remembering it, if I can find it)

This is the introduction to my new novel, The Golden Pineapple, though I'm sure no introduction is necessary, since you already know everything, at once, now that you're dead, in the future, and not only have you read this, you've lived it, because it's about you. But I'll just type away here, anyway, type away my fear and depression, just the worst possible excuse for anything. Well, it gets worse, because I'm typing on an Olivetti 65, the same typewriter that that one guy wrote all those screenplays on, I think; anyway, it makes a racket, and I'm sure that Lisa Denzler, acting like she's napping, or doing yoga, in the next room here at the Summer House, can hear me, and it's all about impressing her because she is the reason I'm doing this—writing, at all. I'd rather be playing cards.

Also, I know that no one reads “Introductions”—they go right to Chapter One (and well they should). How about that guy who started his book out with an Introduction, then a Preface, THEN a FOREWORD—that guy should have his head stomped. But knowing, as I do, that no one reads these things, I'm quite confident I can just say anything here. Hey, Corey Westgate? You suuuuuck! FourSquare and seven years ago our fathers who art in Heaven, hallowed halls of Montezuma's revenge... No spellcheck or word-count on a typewriter, unfortunately, but it sure makes a racket! I'll tell a joke, maybe, then get on with it. Dick Laurent is dead.

It was raining for seven days and seven nights and the roof was leaking all over the place and the farmer's wife had to use every pot and pan in the kitchen to catch the leaks. Why don't you get up there on the roof and fix those leaks, she asked the farmer, and he said, I can't, it's raining cats and dogs. Is this going to be another one of those projects (novels) that has an introduction, or maybe a Chapter One, and then nothing after that? Probably. The next day (would this now be the eighth day?) it finally stopped raining, so the farmer's wife said, hey, why don't you go up on the roof, now that it's not raining anymore, and fix those leaks. But the farmer just stood staring into the toilet, having completed his morning defecation, smiling as Picasso must have, once in awhile. As much as he wanted his wife to ask him what he was doing, she had had enough of his nonsense over the years, and knew better. “The Aristocrats!” he said, trying, but failing, to snap his fingers.

—R. Speen, June 20, 2017