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Fiction

Fiction that only appears on the website, not the journal

Interoffice Memorandum 6/25

Juicy FruitDate: June 25th, 2018

To: All Quest Industries Employees
From: President Bryan Stokerly, Esq.
Subj: Staying the Course

Please ignore any and all rumors you might be hearing in these hallways about the financial health of Quest Industries. Everything is fine, ladies and gentlemen. It really is.

Take my word for it.

One other matter before I conclude:

Whoever has been sticking wads of chewing gum on the underside of my office
doorknob, here is a warning, just for you: Stop this evil, puerile business immediately or I will be forced to hire an unscrupulous acquaintance of mine who will beat you until your face resembles a cube steak the next time you attempt to put your disgusting wad of Juicy Fruit on my fucking knob.

After you are beaten to within an inch of your sorry life, you will be fired and blackballed throughout these 48 contiguous states, and the other 2 states, along with the rest of the Western world, parts of the Orient and various third-world countries too.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

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Interoffice Memorandum 4/20

SquirrelDate: April 20th

To: All Quest Industries Employees
From: President Bryan Stokerly, Esq.
Subj: Important Discoveries

I am very pleased to share with you a few recent discoveries I’ve made that I think you
too will benefit from:

1. Some of us think we are allergic to nuts, but we are not.
2. Parking in a tow zone for 1-3 minutes is usually okay.
3. It is very difficult to know, objectively speaking, if you are good-looking.
4. Late-night eating is never a good idea, unless you have had nothing to eat in at least
12+ hours.
5. It’s okay to swim on a full stomach, as long as it’s not too full.
6. Women named Stephanie are, as a rule, extremely unfriendly, in my experience.
7. Public restrooms, if at all possible, should be avoided.
8. I am fairly certain that in a past life I was a squirrel and resided in Norway.
9. Dogs are excellent judges of character. In fact, they’re never wrong.
10. It’s true that you can get sunburn when it’s cloudy outside.
11. Dill pickles have no calories! I know this seems unbelievable, but I’m not lying.
12. Cat brains are more like human brains than dog brains are, which explains why cats
are often such assholes.

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Interoffice Memorandum 3/27

Little Green MenDate: March 27th

To: All Quest Industries Employees
From: Ken Crickshaw Jr., Office Manager
Subj: Dispelling Rumor re: UFO Sighting

With my generalist title of “Office Manager,” I am aware that many here at Quest
Industries can’t help but consider me a jack of all trades, even if the current description
for this position does not include dispelling rumors related to supernatural phenomena
such as ghost or UFO sightings. Be that as it may, I am happy to provide this service
despite its absence from my detailed list of job duties.

Fred Sagen, CFO, who is near retirement and admits to failing eyesight, nevertheless
swears on his life that he saw a UFO hovering outside his office window six evenings ago
when he was here working late on the quarterly earnings statement. As an armchair UFO expert, I was intensely interested when Fred, quite shaken, approached me the next
morning with his story and asked if I might be willing to investigate. In short order, with
the help of Julie Jagger in R & D, I was able to attach a motion-detecting camera to the window through which Fred spotted the glowing pale orange sphere that caused him such alarm and concern.

Nothing of note was recorded by the camera for the first four nights after its installation,
but last night, I am happy to report, it captured several geese flying past the window at an oddly late hour as well as what appeared to be a weather balloon plummeting to its
demise on the cement sidewalk many feet below Fred’s and our offices.

There was no UFO, however, and this leads me to believe that Fred’s myopia and probable glaucoma caused him to see something that wasn’t there.

Please rest assured that the motion-detecting camera will remain in place for another
week, possibly two, in case a bona fide UFO does reappear outside Fred’s office window,
but this seems unlikely, and Fred also admitted earlier today that he might have been
hallucinating, as he has had chronic insomnia for years. At times his hallucinations have been so onerous that last spring his physician barred him from operating motor vehicles, but Fred informed me the ban was lifted three weeks ago and so far, so good.

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Interoffice Memorandum 2/15

Office MemoDate: 15 February

To: All Quest Industries Employees

From: Judy Kemper, Vice President of Marketing

Subj: Lost cardigan—please help!

I seem to have misplaced a very important sweater and I’m almost certain I left it here in the office this past Friday. If you have seen my lime green Laura Ashley cardigan, size M, with pearl buttons, a small-to-medium gravy stain on one sleeve (left), and one frayed cuff (right), please tell me where you spotted it, and if this information leads to its recovery, I promise to give you a reward of your choosing, up to $10 in value. I do wish it could be more, but unfortunately, my husband and I are on a tight budget this month, due to expenses incurred when a tree fell on our car last Wednesday evening during a thunderstorm and another tree, unbelievably, fell on our roof less than an hour later!

What are the odds? And what on heaven and earth is going on with our karma? Not that I believe specifically in karma or anything related to the Hindu faith, but it does seem as if something strange is going on here.

By the way, if you choose to forfeit your reward for locating my treasured cardigan in light of Glenn’s and my current financial situation, I will be happy to repay the favor by searching high and low (for up to 15 minutes) if you ever lose anything of sentimental or monetary value in this office and are desperate for help finding it.

If anyone here at Quest Industries actually does know how to calculate the odds of a tree falling on your car and another tree falling on your roof less than an hour later, I’d be very interested in hearing what they are.

Here is some more information for the math nerd(s) among us: We have six trees on our property (well, four now, technically) and they are all about 50-75 years old: two birch, one maple, two evergreens, one gingko. There was a squirrel’s nest in the maple, and an unidentified bird’s nest in the gingko. The maple was the first tree to fall (on the roof) and the blasted gingko fell on the car approximately 48 minutes later. The car was parked in the driveway, about 8 yards from where the tree fell on the roof. The gingko and the maple were on opposite sides of the front yard and did not have overlapping root systems, as far as I know. Also, according to my mother-in-law, the gingko tree was haunted.

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Interoffice Memorandum 1/15

Office PlantDate: ​January ​15​
To: All Quest Industries Employees
From: Mid-Level Management
Subj: Live Plant Policies in the Office

A short note on office policy regarding potted plants and floral bouquets:

a) If you enjoy the company of a potted plant on your desk, please water it as needed in order to keep it from becoming an unsightly and dispiriting brown heap of tendrils, leaves, stalks, stems, pistils, stamens, husks, pods, and/or roots.

b) If you have received a bouquet and are keeping it at your desk, please do not, under any circumstances, balance it on the edge of your cubicle wall where it will inevitably be bumped and dislodged by a passing coworker and crash down upon his/her person, thus potentially resulting in grievous injury, permanent disability, and in some cases, death or dismemberment.

c) Cacti are not permitted inside or within 500 feet of our offices; we regret this exclusion, but due to an incident that occurred last spring on these premises with a visiting Nepalese diplomat, we must outlaw all cacti at Quest Industries; in fairness to the cactus involved in the incident, it is possibly true that the Nepalese diplomat is an extremely clumsy individual—nonetheless, in order to avoid future cacti-diplomat-related incidents, no members of this plant species are permitted anywhere on our property.

d) Some plants are known to attract various airborne insects; for example, gnats and an unidentified species with flea-like characteristics have been sighted in recent weeks swarming the three potted plants on Bill Dubonski’s desk; Bill has kindly and ungrudgingly addressed this situation with great success by spraying his miniature ficus, potted ivy, and a mongrel species of flowering plant with water containing a mild detergent.  No gnats or flea-like creatures have been spotted for the past 4 days swarming his cubicle or any neighboring cubicles.  Thank you, Bill.  With 72 hours’ advance notice, Bill has informed us that he is willing to offer his special spray bottle to anyone in the office who might require it.

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‘Secret Santa Protocols’ by Christine Sneed

Secret Santa

Interoffice Memorandum

 Date:   December 1

To:      All Quest Industries Employees

From: Upper Level Management

Subj:   Secret Santa Protocols

It’s once again the time for one of our most beloved Quest Industries traditions: Secret Santa week, and this year’s exchanges will take place from Monday, December 11 through Friday, December 15.

A couple of minor adjustments have been made to the Secret Santa guidelines, as noted below.  We have also answered several questions that came to us from some of last year’s participants.

The longstanding $5 maximum per day/gift has been raised to $5.32, which we believe is a fair adjustment for inflation, although please note that none of us are trained economists and it is probable this isn’t a truly accurate inflationary adjustment.

One question that came up in the past year pertains to sale prices: If an item ordinarily costs $7.99 but is on sale for a limited time for $4.99, is it permissible to purchase said item at the sale price or is the Secret Santa breaking one of the game’s foundational rules?

Our answer: $5.32 is the maximum, and if your $5.32 is spent on a sale item in lieu of a regularly priced item, that is perfectly acceptable.  Needless to say, your Secret Santa pick will be the beneficiary of both your largesse and your sharp eye on the weekly sales flier(s) from the retail outlet(s) of your choice.

A question that wasn’t asked in recent months, but we can imagine it silently being asked right now: How will you know if we spend more than $5.32 on a Secret Santa gift?  Are you planning to police every Secret Santa exchange and scan the bar codes of our gifts the moment they are unwrapped?

No, of course not.  We are using the honor system, and we trust you will faithfully observe all of the Secret Santa guidelines.

Other questions we’ve received in the last year:

If our Secret Santa has very poor taste and we despise every gift we receive, would it be possible to request a different Secret Santa, mid-week? As in most, if not all, other areas in life, fortune smiles upon us on some days; on other days, alas, it frowns. We can’t permit changes to the Secret Santa pairings once all names are drawn on Wednesday, December 6 (and we have determined that no one has drawn one’s own name). You are free, however, to politely barter with a colleague if she, for example, looks with more favor than you do upon the 3-ring binder and bag of gas station peanuts you’ve received. But please keep in mind that your Secret Santa has feelings too, and he/she might overhear or eavesdrop on your trade negotiations. Thus, please be discreet when attempting to unload your substandard gifts on a less finicky colleague.

What if we contract the flu, for instance, or salmonella, and can’t deliver our Secret Santa gifts on schedule? We have decided to make it a requirement for every participant to designate a Secret Santa proxy at the outset of our upcoming clandestine gift-giving spree. One stipulation is that you cannot ask your own Secret Santa pick to act as a proxy gift-giver for him- or herself. Additionally, in order to make it easier for your proxy to carry out his/her duties if in fact you are stricken with a case of swine flu or salmonella during the week of December 11, please buy and wrap all gifts the weekend before the exchange begins and keep them in your desk, starting with the morning of the 11th. Your proxy will then easily be able to dispatch with his/her emergency duties if called upon to do so.

What if our Secret Santa gives us a gift we believe to have been stolen or purchased from a disreputable source? We debated even including this question in this memo, as it is likely to be a moot point. But just in case, here goes: we very much doubt anyone among us would be able to accurately identify illegal or contraband goods, barring exposure to a bag of fragrant, black-market cannabis, or a stolen, factory sealed bottle of Oxycontin, for example. If, however, in the unlikely event you are gifted with a dime bag or a bottle of purloined pharmaceuticals, please notify Ken Crickshaw, Jr., our new office manager, immediately. Similarly, in the unlikely event your Secret Santa gives you a wallet, one filled with money (and far exceeding the $5.32 per day maximum, needless to say) and/or credit cards with a stranger’s name on them, it is quite possible your Secret Santa has robbed this individual, and you should also notify Ken Crickshaw, Jr. immediately.

Are home-baked gifts allowed? No, alas, they are not. A few among us here at Quest Industries are gifted bakers and adventurous amateur pastry chefs, but in view of the potential for food poisoning and food allergies—those known and as-yet unknown to us—we can only allow for consumables that come prepackaged, with factory-provided ingredients lists. If you would like to make butter caramels, however, those we will make an exception for, especially if you draw the name of Miriam Quinlan or Harry Sanchez for your Secret Santa pick. (Neither Miriam nor Harry has any food allergies and they would be happy to receive your homemade butter caramels, the rectangular variety wrapped in waxed paper, in case there is any confusion about the kind under discussion).

What about non-edible homemade gifts? It is very exciting indeed that along with amateur pastry chefs and bakers, we number among us several high-level woodworkers and knit-crafters, and at least one of our colleagues has extensive experience with semi-precious rock tumbling. Naturally, some of us would very much welcome the opportunity to put our skilled hands to various raw materials in service of the Secret Santa festivities.

Therefore, non-edible homemade gifts will be allowed, though again, please keep in mind that the components used to create the gift should not total more than $5.32. We also think it would be a good idea for a potential homemade gift-giver to check with one of us first if you do decide to give homemade handicrafts to your Secret Santa pick. A desktop ant farm, for example, might be appropriate for a colleague who studied biology in college, or for someone who has confided in you a desire to acquire some of his daily protein from insects, but for most of us at Quest Industries, a handcrafted desktop ant farm, although no mean feat to produce, would probably not be a welcome gift. There is also the potential for infestation if any ants were to escape a farm built by less than expert hands. We must insist on no ant farms for anyone, though other ideas, especially those not involving live insects, you should feel free to approach us with.

Should we include receipts with the gifts we give to our Secret Santa picks in case they would like to exchange the items or return them for cash? Okay, you almost stumped us with that one. We spent more than an hour debating the pros and cons implicit in this question and finally had to resort to a blind vote on the matter. Our decision is no, no receipts should be included with your gifts. It is a privilege in and of itself to receive a Secret Santa cadeau. Let us all contemplate this notion for a moment and internalize the goodwill this team-building holiday tradition instills in everyone who participates each year. (Along with being a caramel aficionado, Miriam is a Francophile and lobbied for the inclusion of the French word for “gift” above. French-inspired gifts or cadeaux, if you will, from France, would be more than welcome if you happen to draw Miriam’s name as your Secret Santa pick—the “fleur de sel” caramel, for example).

What is the minimum one can spend on a Secret Santa gift? $4.05, which we are happy to inform everyone should cover the cost of a roll of wax paper and the ingredients for a batch of homemade butter caramels. Sample ingredients list: 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar; 6 tbsp (90 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut up into 6 pieces; 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream, pinch of salt).

Lastly, we have decided to donate $10 to charity for each person who takes part in this year’s Secret Santa exchange. The charity we have chosen is the Housing Fund for Francophone Vagrants, Chicago chapter. Next year’s charity is TBD. Please send us your suggestions and we will be happy to consider them.

(Christine Sneed is the author of four books, including the novels 
“Paris, He said,” and “Little Known Facts,” and the story collections “Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry” and, most recently, “The Virginity of Famous Men,” published by Bloomberg.)

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Donald Trump Reviews Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’

Death doesn't know what to do, he's like, "I've never seen anything like this before."

OK, Death, let’s play chess. You hop my queen and I hop yours. 

Stars: 10/10

Bergman. You know, people said he wasn’t as good as Dreyer. They said it. They said he couldn’t do it. He did it, though. He really went and did it. I mean, people are worried about death. Capital-D Death. They want answers, they’re dying, they’re not happy. So this guy, big handsome-looking Norwegian guy, European guy, you know, he plays chess with Death. Death doesn’t know what to do, he’s like, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” It’s true, folks. Never before—no one’s ever seen this before. They keep playing, they’re on a beach, it’s great. There’s the black plague, and a smith whose wife runs away with a jester, and everybody’s upset. Then this woman talks to the devil, and she gets everybody all upset. Lots of wailing and whining. They don’t have a clue, they don’t know how to win. OK. They get together and escape in a carriage, and, but, before this the guy with the blonde hair, the real Viking guy, gives away his strategy. He’s trying to cheat Death and Death’s trying to cheat him. There’s lots of philosophy, they eat some strawberries. Near the end some of them get away but this guy, he chokes. He chokes, what can I say? Tries to swipe the pieces off the chessboard, but it’s done, it’s over, kaput. And Death gets them in a castle, he gets them good. And they’re brave. They lost, but they’re brave, and they said some nice things. Anyway, it’s a great movie. They lose but it’s a great movie, just tremendous. I’ve always said it and I’ll say it again: don’t skip Bergman if you can help it. He’s at the top of the heap, better than Fellini, better than Godard, all of those stuffy ballerinas—they’re overrated and everybody knows it. This movie doesn’t have time for any of that. It says, OK, Death, let’s play chess. You hop my queen and I hop yours. No settling, no recounts. You know, you know you’ve made it when the Muppets are saying how good you are. Lovely people, the Muppets. The Swedes, too. You’ve made it.

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Frida & Diego, or Among Musicians Only

E, antes de ser uma história de espectros,
é uma história escrita por um deles.
Sergio Sant’ Anna, O Voo da Madrugada

I know we were notorious for our wicked cha-cha groove, but this is no funky cha-cha no more, I should warn everybody. Cha-chas, no matter how twisted, aren’t suited for this kind of darkness. This is a tango macabro. Carlos Gardel meets Poe in a dark and stinky alley. This is when the bolero gets drunk, the blues turn upside down, and the ballad collapses under the weight of its own pathos. This is a song too ghastly for words. That’s why I don’t have to worry about singing it (and secretly wish I didn’t have to write about it). This is a tune, at least in theory, ideally suited for Rosie in her Evita La Desaparecida mode, so she could blow her most noir trombone licks, although it would probably be Cuautemoc’s sax, as usual, leading, making sure “the lament is juicy, warm yet desolate, like Miles, man.”

Of all instruments, however, the bass with its grave, low voice is ideal to carry the burden of highlighting the crucial silences and breaks (let’s call them musical events) in this tango, which means that we are in Brendan’s hands. His chubby fingers have always moved fiercely up and down his contrabass with the overt intention to rule over the rest of us (his appetite for power only matched by his appetite for burritos). Fortunately for us, we had Ali, unafraid of dissonance or a power struggle, ever ready to harmonize anything that came his way with his light, sensible yet swingy piano style.

As for Jesús, our “guitar matador,” this would be his chance to go deeply flamenco and play “dark and tough como los cojones de un burro,” while Alberto would most likely leave the congas aside and opt for the cajón, “cause el cajón, mi hermano, is the king del silencio.”

So, yes, it is in principle an impossible tune, a forbidden dance (if there is such a thing), a censored-in-the-Mission-District story based on a series of improbable events that we have sworn to keep as secretive as we can — although writers are always selling somebody out, I tell myself, quoting Joan Didion, as if to remind myself that I might be a traitor but can’t really be blamed for that, or for being a hack, dangerous and ridiculous as a virtuous man in an imperfect and corrupt world. This is my chance to play the villain, I suppose, so all of us could play the victims of our own ethos, the blind leading the blind and guided only, at least in the beginning, by the unremarkable yet unforgiving rattle of a rusted Safeway cart rolling down the empty streets of a sleeping city lost in the fog.

For it all started with that metallic and repetitive sound in the middle of the night. It all started, actually, with Jesús feeling not quite responsible for his actions. He had been hit hard by the Spanish Blues, a seasonal affliction that rendered him cantankerously at odds with his surroundings: “Coño, tell me if there is anything more depressing than San Francisco after midnight. At least with the fog I don’t have to see that I live in a fucking cemetery de la hostia.”

He knew what he was talking about, since almost every night (and never before two in the morning), he had to face the streets of San Francisco as he walked home after closing Café La Michon.

“I mean, where are the fucking hipsters, the beats, the ex-hippies, the diehard punks de los cojones, the weirdos, the artists de la hostia, the so-called bohemians del coño de su madre, the dotcomers with their baby faces and all their fucking money? Where are the pimps, the whores, those classical creatures of the night? Where is the music and all the fucking hip and multi-culti San Francisco youth? Why aren’t they flooding the streets of this supposedly world-class city, me cago en Dios? Why isn’t everybody enjoying the night como gente civilizada, hostias? Where is life, por los cojones de mi abuela?”

Needless to say, once Jesús felt this “deeply flamenco,” there was no turning back. He had to go to Manolo’s studio on Virgin Alley and share a joint with him as he listened to Manolo’s unpolluted Madrilenian accent despite almost a lifetime in San Francisco. And since I can never go to bed before sunrise anyway, and that night I certainly didn’t feel like going home to write, I decided to walk with him. On foggy nights like this one, in any case, it wasn’t that unusual for us to keep each other company on our way home from La Michon. We lived two blocks away. So there we were, walking down Valencia Street practically blind and Jesús, next to me, going on and on about what “an insipid city de los cojones San Francisco is,” when we first heard that monotonous rattle hammering against the night’s slippery frog-like skin.

Then, upon crossing “the border” and remembering how much Alberto liked to call Mission Street “Tijuana” and Valencia Street “San Diego,” and not before Jesus added that “the distance between the two can’t be measured in blocks, coño,” we noticed the rattle got awfully close to us, close enough, in fact, to give us a first glance of the floating wake of her white dress as she pushed the cart away with a desperate sense of purpose, like a homeless bride late for her midnight wedding.

 

That was it, really. Or maybe I should say that was all it should have been. But then came a wet, cold, sticky urge to follow her as one pursues a ghost, an urban legend, a myth that had already left its fragile yet immortal mark on the most inhospitable alleys and hours of the Mission. It was about time, we told each other, as we ran into La Llorona, The Boogie Man’s Bride, Frida La Loca (condemned to push her cart full of brushes and paint cans in penance for our sins).

It could be argued, of course, that maybe all we wanted was to watch her paint something on a wall or a garage door; all we cared about was to witness the almost miraculous fact that madness had somehow not been able to take everything away from her, especially what she loved most; all we needed was to have a chance to mourn and come to terms with the death of the Amanda we knew and our death inside her impermeable world. And considering that in a city big on murals, Amanda Vargas was (is) one of its biggest stars (“The Joan Baez of the Bay Area muralists,” the local press called her), it could never be overstated what a monumental tragedy her nervous breakdown had been (“An artist in a constant state of revolution,” as she preferred to call herself). So given the fact that it was (and it is) simply impossible to walk the streets of the Mission without running into her murals, I guess it was only to be expected that after that night, we would began to take late-night walks “chasing Frida.”

 

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