Hello Danny, come and have some fruit cocktail with us

I’m not a huge horror movie fan or expert on the genre by any means, but I will confess that one of my favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King. I remember reading the book when I lived in the clotted realm of Los Angeles way back. The book freaked me out so much that for a while I had to leave a light on when I went to sleep. True story.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched the film, but it’s been a lot. Sometimes I just get a craving for something classic and freakish and weird and with downright good cinematography. From the eerie music that descends upon viewers during the opening credits to the finale where poor Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) succumbs to extremely severe frostbite in the maze, the film is a visual and auditory treat. For me, at least.

I watched it again a few days ago and there was a scene that struck me as odd and that I hadn’t particularly paid much attention to in the past. It’s the part in the film where Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) is in the big creepy kitchen and she’s preparing a meal for her family while sucking on a cigarette and watching the news on a portable television. In this scene, she’s using a countertop crank opener on a huge can of fruit cocktail. I mean huge. It takes her two hands to cradle the thing, like a ten-pound baby, and once she has it open, she proceeds to pour the contents into a large serving bowl.

This is the part that got me scratching my head. I suddenly thought to myself: “How the hell are three people going to eat that much fruit cocktail?” (That being Jack, Wendy, and their little boy, Danny). I know there are a lot more menacing things going on at the Overlook Hotel at this point, but I was just kind of obsessed about all that fruit cocktail.

Then I started to wonder if Wendy was subconsciously considering the other occupants of the hotel that may or may not really be there. I mean, surely the creepy twin girls probably like fruit cocktail. Then there’s the girls’ father, the previous caretaker known as Delbert Grady. He surely seems like the fruit cocktail type. Then there’s also Lloyd the bartender. I bet he could put back some fruit cocktail while pouring a few drinks. And what about the decaying, cackling woman in room 237, Delbert Grady’s wife. By the looks of her as she came up out of that bathtub, she could probably use some fruit cocktail purely for the nutrients.

Interesting side note on the actor who plays Delbert Grady, Philip Stone. He played the part of Alex DeLarge’s father in another one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange from 1971.

I told my wife about these concerns of mine and she just kind of looked at me and explained it all away by reminding me they were in a big hotel that was accustomed to feeding large amounts of people — so of course they are going to have mass quantities of things like fruit cocktail. Duh. She’s always right.

But in a film like The Shining, or in any Kubrick film for that matter, I am always looking for and trying to decipher the subtle details. Things like that intrigue me and keep my attention. I like films that do that rather than trying to show and explain everything to me like I’m dumb. I need a film to challenge my brain at the same time I want it to entertain and engage me, to keep the world at bay for a couple of hours.

I think if I was directing a remake of the film, which I guess has been done (with one of the guys from the old TV show Wings playing Jack Torrance. Really?) I think I watched it but it left no measurable or lasting impression on me, even though it was supposedly truer to the book. I’ll tell you what, though. I’d like to see a remake with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. Hell, yeah. Oh well.

Like I was saying, if I was directing the remake, I’d throw in a scene where young Danny comes to the table, sees the fruit cocktail, and then raises his one finger and in that creepy Tony voice says: “Danny doesn’t like fruit cocktail, Mrs. Torrance.”

Then maybe Wendy looks down at him and says in her meek, soothing, motherly voice, “Well, you’re going to have to learn to like it Doc, because this hotel sure does have a whole lot of cans of fruit cocktail. I’ve never seen so much fruit cocktail in my whole life.”

And then maybe Jack comes grumbling in, knocking metal things off counters and they scatter and make a whole lot of annoying racket. Then he sits down, wipes his crazy hair back and smiles really sinister like as he looks at the monstrous bowl. “Fruit cocktail again, Wendy!?”

“I thought you liked fruit cocktail, honey?” she whimpers.

He grits his teeth and shakes his head at her. “When have I ever liked fruit cocktail, Wendy!?”

“I, I, I just thought you did.”

He mocks her with a whiny voice, “I just thought you did… Well, I don’t and if you ever serve me fruit cocktail again, there’s going to be hell to pay!”

I kind of like that idea.


Have you heard of not labeling something Easy Open when it’s clearly not?

My latest gripe involves Equate nutritional shakes from Walmart.

I enjoy a good nutritional shake now and then, but what I don’t enjoy is the battle that commences when I try to open the little plastic bottle. They have a strip of plastic around the cap and the neck of the bottle, and according to the “instructions” you are supposed to pull down at the point where it says EASY OPEN.

But alas, I repeatedly fail in my attempt to scrape, scratch, gnaw, tug, pull, yank, peel, pluck, tear, dislodge, or unencumber this immortal ring of plastic, that is until I finally secure the aid of a very sharp object to do my bidding. Ah, slice… That’s the word I needed.

Now, this is a product that is essentially geared toward older individuals, and I can only imagine the difficulty someone with weakness in their hands or arthritis in their fingers must have trying to open such a package. I imagine a lot of these things get thrown against a wall in a fit of anger and a cloudburst of expletives. Trust me, I understand. There are plenty of times I wanted to chuck one of these babies right out a window.

And while I’m at it, let me shed a little light on other packaging gripes I have… Hopefully, some of you will agree with me.

Let’s begin:

Disinfectant wipes!

Okay. How is it we have robotic surgery, but no one has yet been able to come up with a packaging design solution that allows for the easy dispensing of a cleaning wipe. Blammo Batman! I don’t get it. It’s 2022!

I don’t know about anyone else, but the simple act of purchasing a container of disinfectant wipes gives me anxiety because I foresee the painful battle that is surely to come. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly undone the entire contents of the plastic cylinder just in order to get ONE damn wipe. It’s like one of those magic tricks where the demented clown with blue teeth keeps pulling handkerchief after handkerchief out of his clenched fist — you know, how they just keep coming and coming and coming out and no one has the slightest idea where the hell they are actually coming from… That’s the visual I portray, including the demented part, when all I want to do is get rid of some kitchen bacteria!! Picture a pissed off Happy Gilmore saying that, and you’ll get the idea of my state of mind at that point.

I popped open a new container just a while ago and it even has a label right on it that says: First wipe ready to go!  Bullshit Arm & Hammer! It was literally one long knotted string of Rain Fresh scented wipes that looked like bed sheets after a torrential spin cycle in the wash machine. Arghhhh!

Moving on.

Sliced cheese packaging or anything that has one of those zipper seals you have to activate with a firm pull before getting to the goodies.

You know what I’m talking about. The packaging where you first have to Tear Here (and you never clearly ascertain where the here is) to get to the zipper seal part that you open by pulling apart like some holy guy did with the Red Sea. I am tearing here! It doesn’t work! I still can’t open the bloody thing! And that’s when I reach for a pair of good scissors and have at it. There! Zip that provolone cheese! Don’t even get me started on trying to press the seal back together. Ugh. And I believe that holy guy was Moses.

And you’ll all appreciate this one because it really hits home for this website, Cereal After Sex… Cereal bags!

Okay, I’m trying to get to my Raisin Bran, not a tomb of gold at Fort Knox. Now I know why cereal is so packed with vitamins and minerals… Because it’s such a strenuous workout just to open the damn bag. We need the nutrients! I pull and pull and pull on that superglued bag until eventually it either rips open in a very bad way and the cereal goes everywhere, or, you guessed it, I go to my old reliable — scissors — and just slice that sucker open. They should save us all the trouble and just include a pair of scissors with every box.

Whew. Now, I’m sure there are tons of other products out there that have horrible packaging. Isn’t life hard enough as it is? Why pile all this on top of us, too? Is this just another sinister plot to control and demean us? I don’t know, but if you have a few horror stories of your own related to packaging frustrations, please share. Until then, I’m going to try and open my bottle of prescription nervous pills.


The Rascals of House Hunters

My wife and I love watching House Hunters, especially the international version of the show. It’s been a thing for us for a long, long time. We love to yell at the people for making stupid choices.

Now, we know a lot of the show is fake and from what I read the people have already made the choice of what house they want even before they are filmed “house hunting.” I also read that sometimes the show utilizes younger actors to play the buyers who in reality may be old, ugly, and boring. Something like that. But even with all that in mind, it really grinds my gears when I see people who make a living as “social media trendsetters” or “lifestyle enthusiasts” or “product ambassadors for an international marketing start up” or “nomadic online fashion consultants” and they have a budget of like 2 million dollars and I’m just like “WTF!”

Just once, I’d like to see a guy who vacuums for a living and makes 13 bucks an hour trying to buy a house. Now that’s putting reality in Reality TV.

My wife understandably gets frustrated with my House Hunters frustration. I just can’t help it, though. I’m an edgy individual. Take last night for example. The buyers were two guys — 23 and 24 years old, respectively, who were friends and business partners — who earn a living by making YouTube videos about video games or something like that. It was never made totally clear. But nonetheless, they supposedly have 2 million subscribers to whatever they do and in turn must make a shitload of money because they were looking at houses priced around $1.3 million. I just sit there and shake my head and I truly don’t understand it. How!?

Am I envious? Yes! Am I bitter? Yes! Why? Because (with the exception of the last two years of my semi-retirement and “working” as a struggling writer) I have worked my ass off my entire life at jobs that were killing me emotionally… And for what? I never got ahead. I never got noticed. I barely squeaked by. And in the end, I got kicked to the curb like a bag of trash because of some corporate algorithm. I bang my head against the wall and holler to the heavens, “What am I doing wrong! I just want to live, not suffer to live!”

It seems so damn easy for so many others and some days I struggle just to get up, make coffee, and do the laundry. Sigh.

But then I look over at the corner of my desk and I see a pile of notes from my wife. She leaves me a love note on my desk every morning before she leaves for work. Even if I have been an ass. I’m usually still sleeping. But reading her note is pretty much the first thing I do in the morning. They are a daily reminder of all that we have, together, in this life. She’s my Reality TV.

I know I bitch and moan about life plenty, but she is always reminding me of what truly matters. And when I stop and really think about it, instead of getting caught up in the charade of societal guidelines, it doesn’t matter I don’t have 2 million followers or a million-dollar house. I have our simple sweet life together, and though it’s not always easy and often fraught with worry, fear, problems, and so on. The love we have is the richest in the world.

Well, that ended completely different than I thought it would. But she’s good at getting me to turn things around when I need it most.


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Hello, today I would like to talk to you about my favorite new television show

Adult Swim photo

Hello, like the title indicates, today I would like to talk to you about my favorite new television show. But before I tell you what it is, I just read that after three seasons, it’s been canceled. I am pissed!! Why oh why do they always cancel the good stuff and keep the crap going for like 17 seasons. It’s just like that show on Amazon Prime called Night Sky. You know, the one with Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons and they discovered the portal to another planet in their backyard. It was great. The story was great. The characters were great, and the finale of the first season was totally primed and pumped for a second season… oh, but no. They fucking cancel it – probably to make way for a show about a bunch of annoying surgically altered social media trendsetters who have drunken orgies on a tropical island followed by over dramatic talk sessions concerning their all-important feelings about shallow relationships. I commence puking.

The name of my favorite new television show that is now being canceled is Joe Pera Talks With You. It’s an Adult Swim product but I watch it on HBO Max because for some reason they have more of the episodes. Go figure. The more I watch the show the better it gets. It evolves perfectly and the addition of familiar, quirky characters throughout makes it fun to watch.

Joe Pera is essentially a nerdy, socially awkward, slow and soft-spoken middle school choir teacher (who can’t really sing for some weird reason) who talks about mundane, everyday topics but somehow makes them interesting in a strangely captivating way. In the first episode I watched, he talked about the importance of iron and other minerals found in the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan. And that’s another reason I love the show – it takes place in Marquette.

“So,” you may say. Well, I say that Marquette is a pretty special place for me because my wife and I spent part of our honeymoon in the UP and we loved it. If you don’t know anything about Marquette, Michigan, it’s way, way up there, situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior. It’s a great little town (Marquette is actually the largest city in the UP, population of about 20,000) and I get really excited when they show places I recognize and have been to.

Let’s enjoy this gallery of photos from our trip:

Ahhh shit! The pictures are on my Mac so I will have to come back to that. Sorry.

But back to the show. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but you can kind of get a feel for what the show is about just by some of the titles of the episodes. Here’s a few I found in my research:

Joe Pera talks with you about beans

Joe Pera takes you to the grocery store

Joe Pera shows you his second fridge

Joe Pera takes you to breakfast

Joe Pera shows you how to pack a lunch

I’m still only in the first season, but my favorite episode so far is Joe Pera reads you the church announcements. It basically starts off with Joe at church (Catholic church) and he is tasked with going up to the front and reading the announcements. Well, a short while into it he goes off on this little rant about The Who and his favorite “new” song – Baba O’Riley (You know, the teenage wasteland song). It then flashes back to Joe doing dishes and the first time he hears the song on the radio. How has he not ever heard that song!? That’s funny. After that, he keeps requesting the song because he loves it so much and essentially doesn’t sleep for three days because all he’s doing is jamming out to Baba O’Riley, even with the pizza delivery guy and his sorta girlfriend who’s the school band director. It’s great stuff and prompted me to order (on CD, like Joe, so he can play it in his 2001 Buick, but I don’t have a Buick I have a Mazda 3) The Who’s 1971 classic Who’s Next. I actually had my wife order it because she has Amazon Prime and so I basically utilized the love of my life for free and fast shipping. I have a Who CD, but it’s wrapped up in the basement somewhere like a mummy and I don’t want to be bothered looking for it.

The timing of me watching that particular episode couldn’t be more perfect since I had just finished up my serial fiction piece Child of the Cabbage and made mention of Baba O’Riley in the final episode which you can read HERE if you want. (Shameless plug, I know).

So, yeah, even though I haven’t watched all the episodes, I’m pretty bummed the show has been canceled. But isn’t that life, though. The idiots make all the important decisions. It’s frustrating and heart breaking to say the least. Anyways, give yourself a little treat and check out Joe Pera Talks With You. It’s a nice break from the oftentimes shitty world we live in… And in the meantime, let me see if I can find those vacation photos from our honeymoon in Marquette. I know you’re excited about that.


Bowie’s Buddha Waffle

I was lying in my bed looking at the white ceiling and listening to the sounds coming from the box fans we have in our room. Neither myself nor my wife can sleep without the sound of the fans. It’s been like that for a very, very long time. Dead silence is the devil. I looked over at her asleep on her side. Her hair falling so perfectly across her back. I couldn’t believe she was my wife, in my life, but there she was. Still there beside me becoming more precious to my existence every single day…

Anyways, I had just come out of a crazy dream, and like I said, I was staring at the ceiling and thinking about a documentary I watched the night before on the television. It was a documentary about the last five years of David Bowie’s life, released in 2017. The name of it being David Bowie: The Last Five Years. Well, there you go.

Now, I’ve never been an overly huge David Bowie fan or even cared for some of his music so I’m not even sure why I queued the show up in my line of saves on HBO Max. I guess I was intrigued because it was about the last years of his life which may not be something everyone always considers when an artist such as himself has such a long and storied career. People tend to look back at the energetic youthful years, the bubbling to the top years — not the settling down into yourself years. Maybe I wanted to get a glimpse of what aging had been like for him and his artistic process. Maybe I wanted to watch it in an attempt to prepare me and teach me how to still be cool when you’re in your mid-60s. (Not there yet, by the way). And despite a cancer battle, Bowie was still actively creative to the end. I hope I can be actively creative to the end. I don’t want to wastefully linger.

One of the things that kind of stood out for me in the documentary was a song from 2013 called Valentine’s Day — a dark message about mass murder and the need for gun control. I found it to be emotional and moving and sadly appropriate nearly ten years later… Considering what happened at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas in May, and continues to happen in a country that values its guns more than its children, its very own future. It can be a harsh world and Bowie knew it, felt it, and often conveyed it through his music. You can watch the video HERE.

I have a Bowie greatest hits CD (a round, shiny disc about the size of a sandwich that contains digital pieces of music that you slide into a slot or plop onto a tray to initiate playback) somewhere, but after watching the documentary last night, I am really wanting to buy one of his later in life releases — The Next Day from 2013 or Blackstar, released three years later on his birthday, two days before he died on January 10th, 2016. Both albums were heavily featured in the documentary, and for me, contained some intriguing music that I’d like to delve deeper into.

Like I said, I was never a huge Bowie fan or an expert on his career, but the documentary reminded me that I had included something about him in a yet unreleased short story I had written a few years ago. I may need to dig it out, blow off the dust, and add some polish.

This is what I wrote in a story titled The Chinese Guy and the Angels of Uranus. I know, I write weird stuff, but Bowie liked weird.

Here’s the bit:


Janice Ho worked at a big commercial real estate office in the central district. I looked up at the tall building of blue glass. It seemed to go on forever. It was a giant with cold clouds for hands. I went in through the heavy doors and found the elevators. I went up — floor number 22 it was. It seemed like a long ride. There was a lady in there with me. She was all dressed up and she smelled good — like one of those uptight stores in the mall. I could tell I made her nervous. She wouldn’t look at me. She wouldn’t talk to me. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Did you hear that David Bowie died?” I finally said.

She turned to look at me. “Who died?”

“David Bowie.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know him.”

Her stupid cell phone rang, and she turned away to talk on it. Blah, blah, blah. The doors slid open at 22 and I stepped out.


Yeah, I know. Not a grand cameo, but still, he got a mention, and I’m glad I remembered it and was able to include it. I think he’d appreciate it, with a laugh, welcome it even, maybe. He had a disdain for fame. And here’s something that I just learned — so, it appears Bowie’s eyes are two different colors, but in fact, his pupils are two different sizes — a unique trait for a unique person. He was a complex, eccentric, and intriguing guy with a head full of all kinds of peculiar, strange, and brilliant thoughts and ideas. The world is a better place because of him and his mind and art.

And even though his influence will reverberate forever, that was then, and this is now, and I’m at my desk drinking coffee and madly typing, and Bowie’s in the afterlife, floating and dreaming on a Buddha waffle somewhere near the moon, and he’s looking down, and admiring all the good, weird things that he left behind.


FOLLOW CEREAL AFTER SEX VIA EMAIL

Have you heard of not peddling religious texts in a public library?

So, yes, yet again, I was at the damn public library trying to get some writing done. If you are familiar with my other library rants — found under the, Have You Heard Of? menu tab at cerealaftersex.com — you’ll know I always seem to run into some kind of trouble or annoying distraction at my local library.

Well today was no different as some miniature Ralph Malph mofo from the Happy Days universe in Milwaukee appears out of nowhere and starts talking to me. I’m sitting there all alone at a private booth with ear buds on, minding my own business, listening to music of high vibration and positive energy, and typing away at my laptop. I give him a perturbed look, remove my ear buds and say “What?”

He starts in on how’s he’s selling books to raise money for something or whatever, I really didn’t catch that part because he was talking so damn fast, and he starts showing them to me and they’re all books about God and living a godly life and going to church and having abundant joy and so on and so on… And then he had a book about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., too, and I was like “You know he was all about civil rights and equality for all people and an admirer of Gandhi.” And the kid was like, “Yeah, of course I know that… He was also a Baptist minister and had a strong Christian faith so that kind of cancels out the other things.”

As soon as he went on talking, I put up a hand and said, “I’m really not interested.” He gave me a butt hurt look and immediately walked away mumbling something about me being a “Jerk who lacks true faith.”

I had initially heard the boy, who sounded like a girl, talking to someone else in the booth behind me and I seriously thought he was giving an oral book report to a teacher or something but then he just kept dropping the word God and so I thought maybe he was a student at a religious school. Nope. He was trying to sell religious books to people in the public library. Has the whole separation of church and state thing just gone completely out the window?

How the fuck is this allowed? I guarantee if some kid was running around the public library trying to sell Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim texts, people would lose their minds — kind of like how Al Pacino does when he sees a cantaloupe.

Now, the kid can sell religious books out his ass if he wants, I have no problem with that, but at least do it in the proper forum. And I guess I can’t completely blame the kid because there is probably some oblivious nut-job adult behind the whole scheme. Yeah! Sure! It’s a library. The library has books. What a perfect place to try and sell books! I don’t know. Maybe during a book sale? Outside? I surely don’t appreciate someone coming up to me while I am trying to get some work done for my heartfelt, yet edgy and subversive literary website, and push religious books on me. I don’t go to his church on Sundays and try to drum up followers for cerealaftersex.com. Are you kidding? They’d have me sent directly to hell without passing GO. And all without reading one word of my work. Kind of like passing judgment without reading the Bible. That’s called a zinger.

Now, you’ll have to forgive me if I am coming off as a bit harsh today, but it’s not been the best day. I have chemical imbalance issues that no one has really figured out the proper remedy for and so I have days where I lose my shit, get dark and withdrawn, and am generally not very pleasant to be around. I’m also upset about not being very successful. That’s really been buggin’ me lately. I may end up working in the sporting goods section at WalMart next week. No offense if you work in the sporting goods section at a WalMart. It was the first thing that came to me.

Anyways, I’m all about equal rights and religious liberty and all that jazz. If that’s what you believe and the way you want to live, fine, have at it, but don’t try to push it off on me, especially when I’m writing bitchy op-ed pieces at the public library. So, there you go mini Ralph Malph, go be giddy about God and sell your books until you’re heavenly blue in the face, just do it somewhere else.   

And even though I shot him down like an autumn mallard dancing in a blue sky, at least the kid probably has a bright future in missionary work… come to think of it, so do I.


Born on the Fourth of the Flies

In a pink and salty green desert town in one of the new states, adobe Spanish churches thrust their steeples heavenward, the tips vaporously scraping against the cold blue veil and its cotton-ball clouds glued there like a childhood art project about life.

Down one of the hot, dry, and murderous streets named Olive, a man sits in a flat white house with a carport watching a movie about the Vietnam War. The police are across the way in the gutter drawing a chalk outline around a bent and defeated body.

A woman suddenly steps out of the shadows and into the room where the man is watching the movie and rudely wants to know, “What are we going to have for supper then…? Since you’re being so moody and antisocial.”

He pauses the war movie, sighs, and says to her without looking at her, “It’s called dinner.”

“Not where I come from.”

“Then go back to where you came from,” he snaps, and starts the movie again.

“I think we should go to the family cookout. It’s the 4th of July. Don’t you want to celebrate our wonderful country?”

Annoyed, he thrusts a thumb into the pause button on the remote. “It’s called a fry out.”

“What?” she mockingly laughs. “A fry out? You’re not frying anything. That’s just stupid.” She waits for a reaction.

“What the hell are you going to celebrate?” he wants to know.

“Um, America… The greatest country on the planet – our freedom, our liberty, our justice for all, our way of life that God has blessed us with.”

He scoffs, laughs for a moment. “I don’t want to be around people,” he says. “Especially those people.”

“My family!?”

“Yes. They’re annoying and fake.” He restarts the movie, and a jungle is carpet bombed in a blaze of orange overflowing balls of burning fire and light.

“Could you at least turn that crap off while I’m trying to talk to you!” she yells, hands on hips. There’s gunfire spewing from a dark green helicopter. Then the screen suddenly goes dark. “Thank you,” she says. “And my family is wonderful. They’re wonderful people.”

“They hate me.”

“Of course, they do. You’re a loser, and they don’t like losers.”

The man gets up out of his chair, goes to the large picture window, and pulls the curtain aside. “Did you see that someone else has been killed?”

She goes to the dining room table and rummages through her overstuffed purse looking for her car keys. “It’s no wonder, considering the neighborhood you force us to live in because of your inability to succeed in this world. When are you going to get a real job so that we can live somewhere better? That house next to my parents is still for sale. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could buy it?”

“There’s a dead guy lying in the street,” the man reminds her.

She scoffs. “I don’t care. It’s probably just another one of those damn immigrants that come here to strain the system, commit crimes, and steal our jobs… A job you should have!” She makes her way to the door. “This is America, not Mexico.”

“You’re leaving?” he asks her.

“I’m going to my parents’ house. We’ll celebrate our freedom without you.”


When the movie is over, the man removes the videotape from the VCR and replaces it in its box. He walks out of the house and locks the door. Across the street, a black body bag is being loaded into a white van. A cop turns to look at him. The man turns away and starts to walk. It’s late afternoon.

As he makes his way through the neighborhood of sad houses and old trees, people are in the street cheerfully hopping around exploding firecrackers, waving sparklers in the air, and sending bottle rockets into the sky. Someone has a round grill set out in their driveway. A man wearing a tee-shirt with the words BBQ, Beer, and Freedom emblazoned on the front is flipping burgers in a cloud of smoke. “Hey mister, you want a burger?” he asks the man clutching the videotape box.

“No thank you. I have to get to the video store.”

“Well, surely you have time for some delicious Freedom fries?”

“No thanks. I must be on my way.”

The man flipping the burgers is immediately offended. “Seriously? Don’t you want to celebrate America?”

“Not really.”

“Huh? Are you some kind of socialist asshole?”

“I think you mean communist.”

“What? It’s the same damn thing.”

“Actually… Never mind. I need to get to the video store before they close.”

“Do whatever the hell you want, traitor. I’m going to have myself a delicious burger and enjoy my freedom! Whoooo yeah! America!”


The man stood in line at Silver Screen video. The place was annoyingly crowded. When it finally came to his turn at the counter, the man set the videotape down and looked at the clerk. “I would like to return this video, and… Would you have any movies about the French Revolution?”

The clerk looked at him, puzzled and smacking gum. “The French Revolution?”

“Yes.”

The clerk scratched at his head and looked around the busy store. “Uh. I don’t think so… But hey, what about Days of Thunder? We just got it in.”

“Days of Thunder?”

“Hell yeah,” the clerk said. “It’s got Tom Cruise in it and there’s race cars and hot chicks and all kinds of cool shit. It’s really good, and a true celebration of the American spirit.”

“I don’t think so,” the man said.

“Why not?” the clerk wanted to know, hurt and suspicious. “You don’t believe in the spirit of America?”

“Not really.”

“Then get the hell out of my store and don’t come back!” the clerk yelled, and he pointed his big finger toward the door.

“What? Why?”

“Because you don’t believe in the spirit of America and that’s bullshit, man! Only true Americans are allowed to rent videos here. Now get out!”


When the man got back home, he walked across the street and looked at the asphalt. The chalk outline of the body was still fresh. There were splotches of blood within the lines. The cops were all gone. Everyone was gone. The street was hot and empty. He glanced across the way at the crappy house he lived in.

He unlocked the front door and went inside. It smelled musty. An air conditioner achingly whirred. He walked around the dark house, went into all the rooms. The place was a mess. Unopened boxes and piles of clothes and paper littered nearly every horizontal space. He went to the kitchen and began to work on cleaning up the mound of stinky, dirty dishes in the sink. Halfway through he stopped. He suddenly became seriously depressed about the state of his life and the world he lived in. It came on like a bolt of lightning and froze his bones and mind.

He made his way to the living room chair he called home within his home. He sat down in the silence and pointed the remote at the boxy TV. The screen filled with a snowy static. He tried to change the channel but every single one, all 57 of them, were the same – snowy static, and that low fuzzy buzz that went with it.

The man just sat there for a long time, falling into a catatonic daze, broken only by a sudden and frantic knock. His heart was pounding when he jumped up and went to the door. He pulled it open and there was a tall man with white hair dressed in a suit and a top hat, all resembling the American flag.

“Yes. Can I help you?”

The tall man with the white hair and dressed like the American flag spread his arms out in front of him in an imitation of fanfare, a gesture of ta-da. “It’s me!” the patriotic man exclaimed. “I’m Sam. Uncle Sam!”

“I thought you were just a made-up creature,” the man straightforwardly said. “Like Christopher Columbus.”

“Well, that’s just foolish,” Uncle Sam said. “I’m real!”

“What do you want?”

“Well, a little birdy told me you were being pretty glum about the 4th of July. I’ve come to cheer you up and help you realize what a wonderful day it is.”

“Don’t waste your time. It’s my least favorite holiday.”

Uncle Sam sighed in quick defeat, and then stepped inside the house without an invite. He took off his hat and held it in a headlock as he slowly studied the messy home. “You need a housekeeper,” he said. He moved closer to the man, looked around to make sure they were definitely alone, and then spoke to him in a secret whisper. “I’ve got a gal I can recommend. Don’t say anything to anybody… She’s kind of under the radar if you get my drift. See, she’s from Guatemala, but does a hell of a job for me. A hell of a job. And she’s cheap. Do you mind if I sit down?”

“No. You can take my wife’s chair. She probably won’t be back… Ever.”

The two sat there, quiet, and just thinking about life, dust dancing in the toasted beams of end-of-day light now fingering its way in through a slit in the curtains. They could hear fireworks popping outside in the neighborhood. Dogs were barking. Children were screaming with joy. Police sirens wailed in the distance.

 The man glanced over at Uncle Sam. “I think your beard is scary,” he said.

Uncle Sam returned the glance and humbly smiled and nodded his head. “I know. I was made to be scary.”

END