Thursday, June 29, 2006

46: Interlude 23

At my high school, there was never any violence or verbal abuse. Instead, the students settled grievances with cookies.

Instead of making wisecracks at students who were overweight, pimple-laden, or etc., you'd hand the victim a cookie. Instead of pushing or punching, packages of Chips Ahoy or Oreos were exchanged.

Cookie recipients were socially obligated to eat the cookies they received. That's just how it worked. Nobody that I can remember actually refused to eat their cookies. It may have happened, but I never heard about it.

Pretty much everybody carried around a package or two of cookies just in case. Those who didn't were often targeted by a wide array of students, as it was plain there would be no retaliation.

The general rule was that the higher the quality of cookie, the graver the import. As such, the rich kids were generally feared and loathed by the less fortunate students for their superior cookies.

Personally, I always tried to keep my head down and stay out of the cookie wars. For the most part, I was successful. Oh, sure, I got the occasional cookie. Who didn't? I gave out my share of cookies, too. But up through junior year, I managed to keep a pretty low profile.

It couldn't last, though. At the start of the year, I had a study hall in which I was seated next to Tiffany Harris, the most popular girl in the school. Of course, she was on the cheerleading squad. Of course, she was a totally shallow spoiled little brat.

One day she was sitting there, whispering to a neighbor. Right next to her as I was, I couldn't help but overhear. She was talking all kinds of shit. I was having a bad day, and I lost my cool. I set a single-serving package of Nutter Butters on top of her books.

Boy, did that do it. I walked out of that study hall with no less than three packages of Oreos, a package of E.L. Fudge, and a box of some weird, expensive cookies I'd never heard of. They were from Italy. Needless to say, I was pretty sick by the time I'd gotten through them.

The next day was worse. Word had spread, of course, and the football team got involved. That night, I ate so many cookies that I threw up.

Fortunately, things died down pretty quickly after that second day. Except for one guy. Of course, it was the captain of the football team. Of course, he was Tiffany's boyfriend. His name was Mike Michaels (I swear to god), and he took to giving me a box of Nilla Wafers every day. Which I'm sure you'll understand is the equivalent of getting ball-tagged and wedgied. It sucked.

Three weeks it went on, and Mike showed no signs of letting it go. Three weeks with a box of Nilla Wafers a day. I knew I had to do something. I had to make a statement.

I got an advance (a big advance) on my allowance, and got the finest cookies I could get my hands on. I can't remember what they were called. All I remember is that they came from France, hand-made at a famous bakery and shipped air freight, and they cost a hundred and fifty bucks for a dozen.

The day after they arrived, I took my morning box of Nilla Wafers from Mike without a flinch. At lunch time, I arranged my retaliatory French cookies nicely on a pewter plate I'd bought for the purpose, carried them to Mike's table, and set them down in front of him.

Mike looked at the cookies, then looked at me. Then he looked back at the cookies. I'll never forget the look on his face. It showed hatred and anger mixed with a grudging respect, with just a tinge of fear and awe. He didn't look back at me again. His face reddened slightly as he picked up a cookie and carried it to his lips. I turned and walked out of the cafeteria.

It was awesome.

Needless to say, I didn't get any more boxes of Nilla Wafers. In fact, I don't think I had to eat another cookie for the rest of my high school career. In one fell swoop, I had become the school bad-ass. The exploit became legendary. I'm sure they still talk about it in the halls to this day. I admit that gives me a certain satisfaction.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

45: Storyline 1.12

I looked at the dog. The dog looked at me. A moment passed. I broke the silence.

"Please tell me we're not going to do this," I said.

"Do what?" asked the dog innocently.

"You know what. The cute animal sidekick? The comic relief? I want no part of any such bullshit."

The dog drew herself up indignantly. "Sir," she said, "I am many things, but 'sidekick' is not one of them, nor is 'comic relief.' You've got your nerve to make such a suggestion."

"So you're not--"

"No."

I heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry," I said. "I was just so afraid my life was going to turn into an animated children's movie."

Mollified, the dog relaxed. "An understandable fear, I suppose," she said. Then she stood up and advanced across the desk towards me. She sat down at the edge, appearing almost perched like a bird. "However, you haven't addressed my observation," she said.

"What?"

"Carver. You needlessly antagonize him. If you don't stop doing so, you may regret it."

"Okay, if you say so," I said, less than convinced.

"Scorn my advice at your peril," said the dog sternly.

There isn't much you can say to something like that, so I remained silent. After a few moments, the dog spoke again.

"My name is Barbara," she said. "You may address me as 'Barbara.' Under no circumstances will I permit my name to be shortened to 'Barb.' If you do this, I will bite you."

I nodded. "Fair enough."

"I will be accompanying you for the time being. You need not concern yourself with my transportation, so I won't be needing, for example, to ride in your briefcase again."

I was about to apologize for that when she interrupted. "There is no need for apologies," she said simply. "I chose to ride in your briefcase; had I not, you would not have placed me there. Now then. I will be assisting you as I see fit from time to time in the task that lies before you. But before that begins, do you have any questions for me?"

Of course I had questions. The first one I asked was, "Why are you here?"

"I am here because someone thought you might benefit from my company in the days ahead. You might call me an emissary."

"Emissary? Whose emissary?" But it suddenly struck me as I asked the question whose emissary Barbara was.

"Ah, I can see by your face that you've already surmised the answer," she said, a half smile playing across her lips.

"Not the G--"

"I suggest that you not utter that phrase at the moment," Barbara warned, glancing towards my cubical entrance. I followed her glance.

Just then, Harold appeared, walking by carrying an armload of file folders. "Hey, Andrew," he called when he caught my eye. Then he did a double take, stopping in his tracks to stare at my desk. "What's with the dog?" he asked, bemused.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Scheduling Change

This is not a When I Woke Up episode. Instead, this is an announcement.

I'm moving When I Woke Up back to a weekly publishing schedule. I realize that this may disappoint some people, but I think it's the right thing to do to ensure the health and viability of both the strip and its author. See, here's the thing: When I started WIWU, I promised myself that I wouldn't let it become a source of undue stress. And, well, over the past couple of months the strip has been building up to becoming exactly that. To the point that I haven't been able to produce any content for about four weeks now. Fortunately, I have ample material already written and waiting to be posted. However, at two episodes a week, the rate at which that buffer is being depleted makes me uncomfortable. Hence the stress.

Dropping to one episode a week will have two effects. First, it will make my buffer material last a whole lot longer and give me some breathing space to allow the writer's block to dissipate. Second, it will cut the rate at which I must create material to keep up with publication in half. That's a big deal. That reduction in pressure will reduce my stress level tremendously, and I believe it will help with the writer's block, too.

The twice-a-week schedule worked for a few months, and for a while I was happy with the pace and confident in my ability to sustain it. It was cool. But it didn't last, and that's cool too. I think publishing once a week will prove far more sustainable over the long haul. And I do indeed plan for there to be a long haul. I love writing WIWU and I look forward to providing entertainment to both of my readers for the foreseeable future.

Man, I can't believe I used the lame-ass "both my readers" joke. Oh well. Onward and forward. The next WIWU episode will be published on Thursday. The one after that will be published on the following Thursday, and so on.

In other news, WIWU is officially half a year old. Woot! Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

44: Interlude 22

The world becomes a quiche. The very ground upon which we walk is a splendid meal. Agriculture is all but extinct. There are festivals and parades held the world over celebrating the end of hunger. Then the business of eating is gotten down to. It becomes a routine. Wake up, get dressed, go outside and eat a piece of the lawn for breakfast.

People eat the foundations of buildings away. The cities collapse amid extreme satiation mingled with tragedy. New buildings can't be put up as replacements because you can't make a building out of quiche.

Historical landmarks become riddled with what become known as chow-holes as sightseers become peckish in mid-tour.

The fossil fuel reserves are quickly depleted, and quiche-based alternative fuels are proposed as the oil-based economy grinds to an ugly halt.

Environmentalists develop intricate methods of calculating when the world will be "eaten out" and hence when humanity will be doomed if we don't do something about it now. Why won't anyone listen?

Society as we know it comes to a bizarre end. Simultaneously, new societal norms become quickly integrated. It's all based on the idea that no-one ever has to be hungry ever again. Food is no longer the basis for culture. It's all exceedingly awkward and no-one is happy about it.

Out in the badlands of egg and cheese, tough, rangy riders and outlaws tour the wastes. Sometimes, by chance, two or more of these rough customers will come across one another. Always, they play Twister there on the unforgiving oven-blasted quiche-scape. In a way, they serve as an example to us all.

Monday, June 12, 2006

43: Storyline 1.11

Carver didn't acknowledge my greeting, but got straight to the point. That was Carver. "I assume you noticed the sky this morning," he said.

"What about it?"

"The fish."

"Oh, that." This was a sort of game that Carver and I played. He would come to me with some urgent problem or project that I already knew about, and I would play dumb. It was our little ritual.

"Yeah, that. I'm putting you on the assignment."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Fix it. I don't care how, but I want those fish out of there. I'm deprioritizing your current assignments. Management wants this to have your full-time attention."

I sighed. Never mind that my current assignments weren't particularly important or engaging; the point is, they were my assignments, and I'd become attached to them and invested in their eventual success. "Why me? Isn't it Harold's turn? Or what about Jensen or Wilkins?"

Carver shook his head indulgently. "This is too big for Wilkins or Jensen or even Harold. You're my senior consultant, and we need to take as few risks as possible on this one."

Nice though such praise might be, I was still far from pleased. However, I was resigned. "When am I supposed to start?" I asked, again playing dumb. I knew what the answer was already.

"Today," answered Carver. "You'll have an unlimited expense budget. I know I can trust you not to abuse that."

"And how about the time frame?"

"Management's not certain on that, so they simply issued the usual ASAP designation." Carver rolled his eyes at about the same time I did. "Why they can't conduct a little research of their own on these things is beyond me. Anyway, you know the drill. The first part of your assignment will be to ascertain a time frame and inform me of it, so I can clue in management."

"Spectacular."

"I know I can count on you. Keep in touch." Carver turned to leave.

"I'll be sure to do that," I said. Carver turned back to me, eyes narrowed. I stared back blankly. After a moment, Carver shook his head and strode briskly off.

"I don't see why you need to go antagonizing him like that," said the dog.

Friday, June 09, 2006

42: Interlude 21

I want to put my ideas on spikes and line my fences with the impaled children of my mind. I need a garden, a reflecting pool, a network of meticulously groomed pathways, all arrayed beneath a communist sky and lined by my skewered musings.

I would take long walks in the garden, straying every so often from the finely clipped walkways and drawing near one of my lanced notions.

"Hello," the idea would say.

"Hello," I would say back. "And what sort of idea are you?"

"I am the glorious and elegant solution to the problem of..." or some such nonsense would be the reply. Feisty, conceited lot, ideas. That's why I would put them on spikes; they really have it coming, I can tell you. My grounds are ringed by a thousand spikes, and on each I would place an idea who would know the meaning of the word, "comeuppance."

They might be grateful for my company when I deign to visit them. They might tell me that they are happy to see me again, and that they haven't forgotten the day of their birth.

"Shut up, you lousy piece-of-shit ideas," I would scream. The sky would hide its face from my wrath. "You are the husks of my growth, the rinds of my cheese, the singing perverted bluster of my undivided attention." And I would stalk back to the house and perhaps fix myself a plate of chocolates.

On Sundays, I would climb up to the highest room in my house and peer through the windows at the ideas arrayed in a wide circle below. I would see their twisted, tortured forms from above, with the spikes poking up through them from below. From this height they would almost look like hors d'oevres if they weren't so obviously spindled brain fruit.

From time to time, I would have another idea. I would explain to it that it wasn't the idea's fault, that it was my fault and mine alone. That would of course be a lie. I would tell it that this was going to hurt me more than it hurt the idea; I'd also be lying about that. The newborn idea would scream piteously as I plunged its helpless body over a spike. It would moan and whimper as I took it out to the fence line to stake it. Then I would go back to the house and wait for it to become something I am afraid of.

Monday, June 05, 2006

41: Storyline 1.10

On the way to my cubicle, I passed Harold, a work friend.

"Hey there, Andrew," he called cheerily when he spotted me. He quickly fell into step beside me. About to issue some benign pleasantry, he glanced downward and stopped short. After a moment, he said, "Uh, what's with the duck shoes?"

"Don't ask."

Shrugging, Harold moved on to the next item on his conversational itinerary. "So, how about that sky today? Really something, huh?"

"Yes, it is. I suspect Carver is going to have something for us on that front."

"Yeah, doesn't he always?" At that point, we reached Harold's cubicle. "Well, listen," he said, pausing in the doorway. "Maybe we could get together for lunch today."

"Sounds good," I said, and continued on, shivers running down my spine.

Soon, I reached my own cubicle, set down my briefcase, and plopped into my chair. The day had hardly started and I was already near worn out. What I needed was coffee. I went to acquire some.

When I got back from the break room, I was momentarily puzzled by the rustling sound coming from my briefcase. Then I remembered the dog. I set the briefcase right side up and popped the latches. When I opened it up, the dog stood up, stretched, yawned, said, "Worn," and stepped out onto my desk. She made a quick survey, sniffing here and there, and then sat down next to the phone.

I began to pluck at the contents of my inbox, getting to work at last. Before too long, however, there was a knock at my cubicle entrance. I turned to see Carver standing there.

"Hi there," I said, preparing for the worst.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

40: Interlude 20

I want it right there. The seat of your libido planted squarely over the anvil of my vocalizations. Folds, ridges, membranes, nodules, cavities. (Dentistry?) I want to drink solely by sips; I want to eat without swallowing while the feast of you looms near. My arms wrap around your thighs and travel up the sides of your body to your breasts, where, while my lips and tongue push you orgasmwards, I play your nipples until you bark out your pleasure like a sea lion.

I want it right there. The careful introduction, the emergence of punctuality, the egotistical permutation, the purposeful demolition. I said it out loud. I want you to ask me. I want to tell you.

Where does it go? I want to stop with you, be in a room with you, exist with you. After taking turns coming like crazy, we could breathe together and perhaps quietly converse over the coming days and weeks.

There is more than one. I can count them on the fingers of one hand, but whose hand? Hers? Mine? Yours?

I'm thinking about building a combination restaurant and car wash.