Not Non-Fiction


Round And Round.

The writing group I’m part of decided it would be fun to try a round-robin writing exercise with everyone who wanted to join adding part of a story. And that got me wondering why it’s called a “round-robin” so I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and found that a round robin is, among other things, a small pancake, a sunfish, a hedge plant, a protective plate for a carriage axle, and, most interestingly, a letter signed by several people with all the signatures arranged in a circle so the recipient wouldn’t know who signed first. This was mainly used by sailors when presenting grievances to their captain, specifically something like, “If you don’t give us shore leave we’re all going to jump ship.” I’m not sure why who signed first mattered but maybe it was their way of showing there was no peer pressure.

Anyway it eventually got around to meaning “A group activity consisting of successive participation from each member of the group” which is what the writing group is doing. The group doesn’t really have a leader but it does have two co-organizers, and they’re generally okay with giving us shore leave whenever we want.

The guy who was supposed to be in charge of the round-robin exercise had to drop out, though, because he’s really busy and he asked if I’d take over. I said sure. I was already planning to join in, although I’d missed the initial discussion meeting, and I didn’t think there’d be that much difference between taking part and starting it off. Except starting it was a bit of a challenge. I had to come up with an interesting opening, a perfect setup that would draw everyone else in while also giving them plenty to work with. I’ve never been part of something like this and the only example I could think of was Naked Came The Stranger which, for obvious reasons, didn’t sound like the best model, although Naked Came The Manatee is a little better. And as a collective project I wanted it to be fun for everyone.

It also got me thinking about how all stories are, in some sense, collective. We all draw inspiration from what we’ve read, what we’ve experienced, and we build stories around a shared language. That led to an epiphany: the closed circle of suspects subgenre of mystery. Think Clue, the movie, not the game, or Knives Out or, for more literary examples, Murder On The Orient Express.

It seemed like the perfect setup. It wouldn’t have to involve murder but I thought trapped people having to work together or turn on each other would, metaphorically and practically, be a great way to keep it interesting and keep it from getting too far out of hand. I wrote about five hundred words about a woman driving to a large, isolated house in a rainstorm. Just after her car passes over the bridge she sees it washed away in her rearview mirror. When she reaches the house and goes in she finds her brother and several strangers all gathered for the reading of her eccentric mother’s will. She tells everyone that the bridge has washed away and a voice from the darkness says, “Oh, we’ve got bigger problems than that!”

I sent it off to the group organizers and got a reply back that, since I’d missed the initial meeting, I missed that they already had a plan drawn up and I’d just be stepping in to lead what they’d started.

Fine. Okay then. Hey, this is a collective project and I’m willing to go with the group.

But they’d better not ask for shore leave.  

The Crown.

March 18, 978-Well, this is really exciting. Lots of people are gathered here for the coronation of the new king. He’s only twelve years old so this might be a little scary for him but everyone’s really in a happy mood and ready for the coronation of Aethelred The Unready. We’ve been waiting for, uh, about three hours, but I’m sure he’ll be out any minute now.

December 25, 1066-Wow, is this a big day for all of us, but I guess you could say it’s an especially big day for William, who’s about to be crowned king. I know he’s chuffed, as they say around here. Lucky for him he won that battle at Hastings, am I right? It would be terrible to lose when your last name is “The Conqueror”. And, even more exciting, it’s all happening on Christmas day. Doesn’t get any better than that. Hey, they’ve brought in some of those unicorns! Tapestry makers, are you getting this?

April 9, 1413-That was quite a coronation, wasn’t it? Pretty short, too. I guess our new king Henry V isn’t one for making speeches.

July 6, 1483-It’s a somber occasion, but, sad as that business with the princes is, I think we can all look forward to our new king serving the nation well and all of us moving forward together. I’m sure he’ll have a good reign, a proper burial, and no one in the future will ever have a bad word to say about Richard III.

October 30, 1485-Now that’s what I call a coronation! That was some serious pomp and circumstance there, wasn’t it? Such a huge celebration with feasting, dancing, speeches, music. I tell you, just from that alone there’s no chance we’ll ever have another Henry as well-known or widely talked about as our new King Henry VII.

February 20, 1547-He comes to the throne in sad and difficult circumstances but I think we can all look forward to a long and happy reign under Edward VI. There’s his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, and his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. I’m sure we won’t be hearing much from them with Edward taking charge. Wait, who’s that? Does the king have a twin brother? Never mind, it’s just some pauper.

November 17, 1558-Well, this is really something. Never mind that little nine-day kerfuffle we had back in July. Here’s wishing our new Queen Elizabeth the best of luck. Something tells me she won’t last long.

January 1, 1651-I don’t know about anybody else but I certainly feel restored! Charlie, Charlie, he’s our…anyway, pour me another quart of ale. I’m about to head out for the theater.

September 22, 1761-Whoo hoo, we’ve got colonies all over the place and the sun will never set on this empire, am I right, folks? Things are looking especially great on the other side of the pond—I’m sure it’s smooth sailing for all of us all under our wise and benevolent King George III. Let’s get crazy, everybody!

June 28, 1838-Now this is really something. It’s been a couple of centuries since we had a queen and now, here she is, Queen Victoria. She’s, you know, a little different. I hope she has a good reign but, you know, a lot of things are changing, with trains and other modern innovations. Who knows? I’d bet we see the end of the monarchy soon.

January 20, 1936-It’s not, strictly speaking, official yet, but I’m sure we can look forward to a long, uneventful reign under our new King Edward VIII.

June 2, 1953-I don’t know about anyone else but I’m pretty chuffed, as they say around here, to have another Queen Elizabeth on the throne. Her reign should be pretty quiet. I mean, who pays much attention to the monarchy these days?

Source: The Mighty Nerd

Nothing To Sneeze At.

In the past allergy season didn’t bother me. I feel guilty for saying that and perhaps I should clarify that I felt bad for my friends who coughed and had runny eyes and noses, even though it gave me the opportunity to call them up sometimes and ask if their nose was running so I could say “Well, you better go catch it!” and then I’d hang up as if they didn’t know it was me. And now I’m paying for that, although if there’s allergy karma it’s doing the equivalent of giving me the finger as it drives by. I wake up with a stuffed up nose and I have a few bouts of coughing through the day, all of which I’m pretty sure is because I’m allergic to something in the air right now.

Allergies are a weird thing anyway. I’m not treating them lightly because when I look at labels on various foods and see warnings about nuts, peanuts, or eggs it’s a somber reminder that for me they’re innocuous ingredients but for some people they can literally be deadly. One of my wife’s friends has trouble with food that’s been cooked near shrimp. A shot of epinephrine can prevent anaphylactic shock but imagine having to keep one handy all the time in case of accidental exposure to something most people take for granted. And all because some people have immune systems that overreact to something in the environment that should be harmless.

I’m not putting down the immune system. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that sometimes I think we should be able to communicate with our body, tell it to calm down when it’s fired up about something it should just let go. I have regular checkups with my doctor. Why can’t my major bodily systems arrange to have regular checkups with me?

“All right, digestive system, take a seat. First of all I want to thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. I also want to apologize. I know I should have been sending you a lot more fiber. I’m going to work on sending you a lot more bananas and cabbage, though not at the same time, and a lot less pizza and coffee. Thanks, and keep up the good work. Take some of that pink stuff on your way out, and could you send in the circulatory system next?”

It would be so easy, and I bet some of the underappreciated organs, like the pancreas, would appreciate the individual note of congratulations. Around allergy season, though, might not be the best time to meet with the immune system.

“Immy, you know you’re very special to me. You’ve always been close to my heart. And everything else, really, which is what makes you so vital. I appreciate everything you do, really. That stomach flu that moved in downstairs? I’m so glad you stepped up to take care of it. But we need to talk.”

At this point I would bring up pictures of pollen, pet dander, and, I don’t know, dust mites, maybe, and say, “These are not your enemies. Look, they’re just passing through. The respiratory system has them covered. Literally. With mucus. You don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Capisce? Have some chicken soup on the way out.”

I know it can never be that easy. If it were a whole spectrum of immune system conditions, not to mention other systemic issues, could be wiped out, or at least dealt with a lot more easily. And I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to catch my nose.

Please Tip Your Waiter.

The Month of March As A Restaurant Menu


Shrimp cocktail

Simple, classic elegance, half a dozen chilled shrimp served with cocktail sauce and lemon.

Fried green tomatoes

A historic Southern classic since 1991, cornbread fried and served with our house remoulade.

A kick in the nuts

Customers have expressed confusion about this so we want to be clear there are no nuts—no pecans, no walnuts, no hazelnuts–or nut-adjacent items like peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, or anything else you find in fancy nut mix. This is an actual kick in the family jewels delivered by one of our chefs who, if you’re lucky, will be wearing Crocs.

Spring rolls

Rice-paper wrapped spring rolls, your choice of shrimp of vegetarian, with cucumber, bean sprouts, and cilantro. With plum sauce for dipping.

Roast chicken

An entire chicken stuffed with mushrooms, croutons, capers, and gorgonzola with a wine-reduction sauce. For some people this is an appetizer. Don’t judge.


House salad

Iceberg lettuce with cucumber, radishes, chopped tomato, and our house vinaigrette.

Big bowl of broken glass

Served with our house dressing which in this case is literally pieces of the building we knocked off with a hammer and threw in there.


Prime rib

Either eight or twelve ounces, grilled to your specifications, served with two sides and you may or may not be stabbed in the hand by your waiter.

Linguini with clams in either red or white—oh, wait, we just became one of those sushi places where the sushi goes by on a little conveyor belt. We hope you enjoy our new direction.

Burgers and Sandwiches because we’ve turned back into the place we were when you came in.

House burger

Your choice of ground beef, turkey, or black bean. Served with fries and your server will scream non-stop for five minutes.

Box of crayons between two slices of bread

The crayons are all orange so if you want the chef will melt them and you can pretend it’s the world’s worst grilled cheese.



We stole a bunch of these from a construction site. Served on an elegant dish.

Chocolate cake

Our own special recipe made with swirled dark and white chocolate, available with or without macadamia nuts, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream.

Raw oysters

The chef may stick a few of these in the chocolate cake if you’re wondering why it’s in the desserts.


We have a wide variety of craft beers on tap, bottled, and in cans, as well as a range of specialty cocktails.

Iced tea is available sweet or unsweet.

Still and sparkling water is available, as are soft drinks.

Someone dressed as the Kool-Aid Man may pour a pitcher of Mountain Dew Code Red over you as he runs through the restaurant singing Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”.

Thank you for visiting the month of March—where anything can happen!

Twenty-One Attempts To Get The Windshield Replaced.

The van’s windshield had a crack in it. We called HourGlass Repair & Replace. This is the chronicle of what followed.

Appointment 1-The technician texted to say that according to his GPS he’d be arriving between 8:30AM and 9:30AM. At 9:43AM he pulled into our driveway and started getting ready. A light rain started. Because we don’t have a garage or covered driveway he said he’d have to come back when it was dry and would reschedule us for the next day.

Appointment 2-Three days later we had to call and make another appointment. Two technicians showed up unannounced at 10:10AM. After complaining for fifteen minutes about the cold they started preparing the windshield for replacement, removing side pieces. Then they decided it was too wet and cold to continue and left. They made a note to reschedule out appointment.

Appointment 3-Cancelled because of heavy rain. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 4-The technician arrived a day early when we weren’t home. No apparent repair work was done but he left a Vespa parked in the driveway next to the van.

Appointment 5-The technician, scheduled to arrive between noon and 3:00PM, arrived some time between midnight and 3:00AM. We awoke to find that he had removed the cracked windshield then reinstalled it backwards and left a note that said, “They don’t make Edsels like they used to.”

Appointment 6-Cancelled because of heavy rain. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 7-Cancelled due to unforeseen delays with other jobs. While taking the Vespa out for a spin I was pursued by a van belonging to a rival auto-glass company. I was unable to see the driver but could hear him demanding that I stop and give him kidney beans.

Appointment 8-The technician arrived at 10:05AM in an HourGlass Repair & Replace truck blaring “Bad Moon Rising”. After preliminary prep on the van windshield he discovered the replacement windshield was for a 1991 Yugo and wouldn’t fit any existing vehicle, including a 1991 Yugo. The appointment was rescheduled.

Appointment 9-The technician arrived at 1:05PM and took the Vespa.

Appointment 10-The technician texted us that he had to cancel our appointment because a manure spreader jack-knifed on the Santa Ana. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 11-The technician texted to say “time is a fluid and very relative concept”. At 2:35PM a rainbow-colored van turned into our driveway. The technician, with a bushy white beard and a t-shirt that said, “If You Remember The 60’s You Weren’t There” sat in front of the van contemplating the crack for several hours. After leaving he texted us to say he was unable to finish because “the banana peels were kicking in”.

Appointment 12-Cancelled for unknown reasons. Automatically rescheduled.

Appointment 13-The technician arrived around 8:00AM and was done by 8:30AM. Everything seemed to be fine until we discovered he’d removed the engine and replaced it with a cake decorated with “Happy Retirement, Carl!”

Appointment 14-Twelve technicians arrived at 2:30PM. Carl’s retirement party was a great success.

Appointment 15-Cancelled because of leftover cake.

Appointment 16-Some time during the night the Vespa was returned.

Appointment 17-The technician arrived at 10:15AM, removed the cracked windshield, and installed a new one backwards. He left without notifying us. We scheduled a new appointment.

Appointment 18-The technician arrived at 9:25AM in a Citroen BX. He wore a trench coat, a plaid trilby, and dark glasses. After telling me several times, “The pearl is in the river,” we both concluded he was in fact a character from a 1982 made-for-TV spy thriller in which downtown Poughkeepsie is used as a stand-in for Bucharest.

Appointment 19-The technician arrived at 1:30PM and removed the backwards windshield but replaced it with the one with the crack in it.

Appointment 20-The technician arrived at 10:05AM in an HourGlass Repair & Replace truck, loaded the Vespa, and departed, blaring Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special”.

Appointment 21-The technician texted us to say that according to his GPS he’d arrive sometime between 8:30AM and 9:00AM. He arrived at 8:50AM. Replacement of the windshield took about an hour with a recommended wait time of four hours to allow the glue to dry. After he left we found a note taped to the inside that said, “Call any time you need us again.—Carl.”

Somehow It Didn’t Work Out This Way.

A typical day of my adult life, as imagined by me as a kid, watching television, circa 1979:

I stumble out of bed and wander aimlessly with my eyes closed. Because I’m not fully conscious I step out of the window and wander onto a construction site where a series of well-timed girders lifted by cranes carry me up at least a dozen floors of an unfinished skyscraper. I make my way along more girders, blissfully unaware that I’m over a hundred feet off the ground and step into a large steel pipe just as it passes by. The pipe is lowered to the ground just in time for me to step out of it. I walk back into my apartment into the bathroom where I manage to shower, shave, and get fully dressed, somehow without ever taking off my full-length pajamas.

My roommates and I who, in spite of all having full-time jobs, are always in the apartment together, discover we don’t have the month’s rent which is due today. Or we had it and misplaced it under the couch cushions, or accidentally handed it over to the neighbor with his morning newspaper and now he’s on a trip to Paris and we have no way to get into his apartment to get the envelope with the rent in it.

I set off to take a part-time job, in spite of having a full-time job, that’s guaranteed to pay me just enough money for the rent. Rent, in fact, is our only expense; food and a constantly shifting wardrobe just somehow take care of themselves.

Getting to the job involves a car chase. I’m not sure exactly why it involves a car chase but I’ll be driving a Cadillac Fleetwood nine-passenger sedan–green, of course–at high speed around corners and over hills, flying into the air, possibly while chased by police, or just by another person who will be conveniently stopped by a passing train.

Inevitably two guys will be carrying a large pane of glass across the street just in time for me to drive through and break it into a million pieces. I feel bad about this, but, making it even worse, they’ll be carrying a replacement pane of glass just in time for the other person or the cops to drive through.

The job will take me to the jungle which is not only in another country but another continent but it only takes me a few minutes to get there. While traveling through the jungle I will, of course, encounter quicksand which, in spite of looking like nothing more than extremely watery oatmeal, has the astounding power to pull me under. Slowly.

Using a convenient branch or rope I’ll pull myself free from the quicksand, and within a minute I’ll be completely clean and dry. This is fortunate because next I’ll have to worry about the erupting volcano. I’ll be able to outrun the lava and make an escape over a rickety rope and wood bridge.

Once safely over the bridge I’ll pause to watch the bridge collapse and everything on the other side be swallowed up by the destruction.

At some point in this process I will acquire the rent money and will get home just in time to hand it over to the landlord who will laugh and remind me that we gave him the rent money yesterday, and the whole thing was one big misunderstanding.

Miraculously all this will take place in less than thirty minutes.

Television Listings, Christmas 2022

TBS: 24 hours of A Christmas Story

USA Network: 24 hours of It’s A Wonderful Life

BBC: 24 hours of Love, Actually

TNT: 24 hours of Elf

Cartoon Network: 24 hours of Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Disney: 24 hours of some Mickey Mouse things, teen superhero sitcoms, and filler because everyone’s just using our streaming service to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol or YouTube to laugh at the Star Wars Christmas special

SyFy: 24 hours of low budget Krampus movies and maybe you should block us if you have small children because we’ll also run that Futurama episode with the murderous robot Santa Claus

TVLand: 24 hours of M*A*S*H Christmas episodes and that one Andy Griffith Christmas episode and, I don’t know, was there a Green Acres Christmas episode? Let’s find out.

Game Show Network: 24 hours of game show hosts in ugly sweaters

Hallmark: Twelve movies about a young woman who steps away from her high-powered job in [major American city] after a bad breakup to return to her home town for the first time in ten years to find the guy she had a crush on in high school is helping save the local [Christmas tree farm/candy cane factory/handmade ornament shop/egg nog distillery] from being closed.

Norwegian TV: 24 hours of a fire burning under the Aurora Borealis.

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