Monday’s marvel: The unsinkable Cynthia Cohen

I started a new Monday thing of spotlighting my talented friends. Check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Those covered a triple-threat actor, improv artist, and impressionist; a filmmaker, editor, and writer; an artist, writer, and actor; and a dramaturg, teacher, and mentor, respectively. This time around, we’re going to meet an old friend of mine who managed to make her way as a single mother with a career who still raised an amazing daughter.

I first met Cynthia Cohen when we were both practically embryos, right after I joined the Golden West Playwrights, the core group of which is still going to this day. I tell the story of how I wound up there elsewhere, but the short version is that very early in my first serious day job in an office after college, I met a much older woman named Lou Tappon, and she found out I was a writer.

She happened to be a member of a playwriting group that met on Saturdays, and she invited me to check it out. That group was run by an amazing man, Jerry Fey, who never charged us a cent, which is astounding, if you think about it.

He had started teaching playwriting in a UCLA Extension class and while he discovered that he loved teaching, he hated academia, which is why he took his show on the road. Lou and Cynthia were a couple of students from that class he invited to come along. I know that in the very early days, there were more of his original students, but I think Cynthia was ultimately the only holdover from UCLA.

I actually turned out to be the first big success of the group and Jerry got to see my premiere full-length production at a major LORT theatre, South Coast Rep, but, sadly, he didn’t live very long after that.

Cynthia was standing right next to me on the morning we all showed up for class and Jerry didn’t. I was somehow nominated to call him on the lobby payphone, and whoever answered the phone told me, “I’m sorry. Jerry died last night. Liver cancer.”

Now I didn’t have to say a word on hearing that before Cynthia just let out an “Oh no.” She knew me well enough even then to know that I’d just heard really bad news. And yes, all of us in that group have wondered two things since that day.

First, did Jerry know he was dying when he set off to teach for free, and this was his way of giving back to the world in the time he had left? And, second, was it really liver cancer, since a certain other disease was ravishing the artistic community even in the early 90s?

But what his legacy created was the Golden West Playwrights (GWP), a group that kept on meeting and growing without him but in his memory. Although we eventually drifted away from the regular meetings, we kept in touch, and there are about ten of us who are still in contact to this day.

After Jerry died, we all sort of nominated another amazing writer in the group, Babs Lindsay, to take up the leader mantle, and I wound up as sort of her permanent Vice Scribe, or whatever you want to call it. She moved to Seattle years ago, but whenever she comes back to L.A., we try to make it a point to all get together.

Meanwhile… Cynthia and I have been orbiting each other constantly since back in the day. We’ve never lived far really apart physically, but we also have that connection where, even if we lose touch for a few years, reconnecting feels like it’s only been minutes.

I was at her wedding, and I was there (along with the Golden West Playwrights) when she told us that the father of her daughter wasn’t going to stick around. I won’t go into too many details other than to say that this was one of those moments that showed her true character, strength, and resilience.

I know that the rest of the GWP and I just wanted to strangle that asshole for what he did to her. Cynthia, on the other hand, proceeded to do what she had to do in order to raise her daughter, give her an excellent education, and guide her to grow into the amazing, talented, and intelligent adult woman she has become. She is going to be as successful — if not more so — than her mom.

Oh, right. I mentioned that I was the first breakout success from the GWP, and my headline alludes to Cynthia and I struggling in the trenches. Well, the great irony is that I started at the top and worked my way down. Meanwhile, she managed to work her way up.

She is, in fact, the person who got me my first TV job, which also led to my one and only actual credit as a TV writer. She wound up working as script coordinator on the original Melrose Place, but when she got promoted to writer, she reached out to me and offered me the job and I said yes on the spot.

That was really one of the best gigs I ever had in terms of co-workers, absolutely interesting work, and really nifty perqs, annual bonuses, and swag.

And all of this fun happened because Cynthia trusted me enough to make the recommendation. The biggest irony was that I’d never watched the show before I worked on it, but that really didn’t make a difference in catching up and catching on.

Hey, I didn’t know shit about Medicare when I started my current job, and look at me now. Yay…?

Our Melrose days were actually before her marriage days, but since then I’ve been around for the birth of her daughter, and that daughter becoming bat mitzvah. I also sat shiva when Cynthia’s father unexpectedly died. And Cynthia has always been around for me.

If you were to ask me what one word I would use to describe her, it would be this: “Survivor.” Life has tossed some weird curveballs at Cynthia, but she has never not taken up her bat and hit them out of the park in response.

And she’s adaptable. I know her work very well from the GWP days, and how her sensibilities don’t always line up with what she’s gotten paid to do for TV, but I’ve been in the same boat.

And something I didn’t know until today. She’s also got some advice for all of you.

Nu! Who knew?

Sunday Nibble #44: A short guide to knowing your shit #8

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This poop will most often occur after you’ve binged on party food (particularly pot luck), when you’re on certain medications, or have had certain things to drink. It can behave like any other poop on this list, but it’s a secondary property that puts it into a category all its own.

The distinguishing feature is that what hits the water has a color that bears no resemblance to standard brown, or sometimes just for fun it may be two-toned or multi-colored. In fact, it can cover pretty much the whole rainbow.

If you’re getting red from your rump, it could be that you’ve recently eaten too much Red Velvet Cake or other foods dyed red, but if you haven’t and you don’t have hemorrhoids, then you should probably see your doctor.

Yes, it’s possible to have orange output, especially if you eat a lot of foods with beta carotene in them, like carrots or sweet potatoes.

One color not caused by food is yellow. If this starts happening, then it’s definitely time to doctor up, as you may be developing serious liver problems.

A green growler is usually caused by eating a lot of green foods, like gorging on spinach, or can also be due to food with green dye, so it can be quite common right after St. Patrick’s Day. On the other hand, green poop can also mean that your food is making the trip portal-to-portal through your body way too quickly, so that the bile in it hasn’t broken down enough to turn dark brown.

And if you would have normally had a yellow dump, you can get green instead if you have a lot of red wine or grape juice — although you really shouldn’t have any of the former if you’re already pooping yellow.

Blue butt blasts are also a result of eating a lot of food that is dyed or naturally blue.

The only one lacking is a purple poo, although you might get that one if you gorge yourself on Red Velvet Cake and blueberries. Don’t try this at home, though.

Finally, if you blow mud in black and you haven’t had Pepto-Bismol or black licorice lately, or your waste is white at all, it’s definitely doctor time. The former could indicate internal bleeding, and the latter probably means hepatitis or liver failure.

So there are many reasons you may find out that you missed the bus to brown town, but it’s not always something to worry about, and it can be an expected event that livens things up.

This is why we call this kind of poop La Caca Sorpresa

(Shout out to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research for their explanations of various possible colors, and/or colours.)

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #42: The Rêves, Part 20

Race against time

Brenda had come back home from her conversation with Mom pissed as hell for a lot of reasons, so she did the two things she knew she could do to get absolute privacy. First, she asked the kids if they wanted to play board games with Esme, and none of them could be happier, so they all retreated to the living room.

Next, she ducked her head into Jonah’s office. “If you want to binge some Oprah episodes with me, come on into my office.”

He just grunted, but she knew that this was, to him, the best way to tell him, “Stay the fuck out of my office” without putting it in those words — reverse psychology at its finest.

She did go into her office to binge, but it wasn’t Oprah. Instead, it was CCTV footage from Metro Stations but, more specifically, since she had figured out Joshua and Simon’s working order and timing of things, she started with the first station they’d been spotted at, then worked her way backwards.

Her goal was to find some way to contact them, and she was hoping for some moment when one of them would expose something on cam, like a phone, that would give a full name, or number, or something. She also quickly figured out that their preferred nights to work were Tuesday or Wednesday for the most part, and they never came down over the weekend, probably because the stations were too crowded.

Their outfits also changed, and she watched a sort of backwards evolution as later accessories — hunting tools? — disappeared on the reverse path. Still, nothing that would give them away.

When she’d followed them farther up the A Line into Pasadena, she had a sudden moment of kicking herself, realizing she’d been watching the wrong thing.

They had to get into the stations, and they had to do it with their TAP Cards, so she went back and pulled the time stamps from each station at every moment they had used TAP to enter. Next, she pulled up the TAP usage database, used a query to create a spreadsheet, then used INDEX and MATCH in Excel to pull up matches to the info she’d compiled.

She was practically over the moon when it revealed that all of the check-ins had been done on the same two TAP cards, revealing their numbers and card nicknames: ECTO-J and ECTO-S.

“I’ve got you now, you motherfuckers!” she muttered as she copied the TAP card numbers, then pulled the specific information on to whom they were registered.

“Shit!” she replied at the results, because Joshua and Simon had managed to register the cards with completely fake information, and use anonymous, pre-paid debit cards to fund them. She could tell on sight, because nobody lived at “1234 Main Street, This Town, USA, 90000,” and certainly nobody had the email address goodfucking@luck.com.

And while they had used the first names Joshua and Simon, she really doubted that they both had the last names “McBiteme.”

“Fucking kids,” she muttered, not realizing that both of them were actually on the older end of being millennials, and pushing forty.

She went back to the videos from Pasadena, and then traced them to the Arcadia station where, on a whim, she followed them back out only to see that they had come there from Santa Anita Race Track, and it was one of the few times they’d come down on a Saturday and had arrived at the station so early.

She marked the date and time on a hunch, but then wondered — who did she know at Santa Anita who could give her the info? This would be a major way in for one big reason: While TAP cards weren’t really that regulated, race tracks and gambling were heavily regulated, and no way either of them could get away with fake names or pre-paid debit cards if they wanted to gamble and actually win.

She wondered who she knew who had a connection inside Santa Anita, but then the irony of the answer made her laugh.

Rita’s husband was head of security at the place. Brenda hit the intercom on her home office phone.

“Yeah?” Rita answered.

“Want me to find those boys and get them to call you?” Brenda asked.

“Which part of ‘I already asked you that’ did you all miss?” Rita replied.

“None,” Brenda said. “So, your hubby still works at Santa Anita?”

“Yes,” Rita said. “Why?”

“I’m going to email you some dates and times. I need all of the surveillance cam footage from inside for those, plus any kind of pay out info he can provide — Tax ID, winnings, whatever.”

“Are you fucking shitting me?” Rita asked.

“Nope,” Brenda replied.

“Okay. I can probably get him to give you the video footage,” she explained, “But tax records and IDs?” She let out a belly laugh. “No fucking way. You know that. He’d lose his job, and so would I.”

“Okay, okay, got it,” Brenda said. “But if I can maybe point you to two specific people at a specific time and place, and he can use that info to give us the names and phone numbers…?”

“Dubious,” Rita said, “But I’ll ask. How soon you need this shit?”

“How soon did you want them to call you, again?” Brenda replied

“On it,” Rita answered, then she hung up.

Brenda typed out her email with the info, and ten minutes later a response came back, which Rita had forwarded from her husband. It contained a link to the CCTV videos from Santa Anita for the day she had requested.

“Finally,” she said, poking around until she found the point when Joshua and Simon had left the park to walk to the station and backtracking from there.

She jumped through the footage, tracing backwards from end of race to post time, and at no point did either of them approach the cashier window in order to collect. She was beginning to think that they were bad at this whole thing until very early in the day, when she caught them celebrating at the end of a race.

That’s when she followed them forward via the cameras. Maybe she had just missed the one that showed them collecting. But then, after they’d come downstairs she saw them looking around and then approaching a young black woman who was just sitting in the corner with her son, looking distraught.

There was no audio on this footage, but Joshua and Simon engaged her in conversation until, finally, Simon held out a ticket and handed it to her. She looked at the ticket, then up at them in disbelief, covering her mouth and crying.

Joshua and Simon shrugged and smiled, and then the woman jumped up and hugged them both before heading toward the cashier. Joshua and Simon smiled at each other before heading off to video Brenda had already watched.

She hit pause angrily on her computer. “Oh you goddamn generous motherfucking privileged little white boys!” she grumbled. “Who the hell are you?”

She had almost despaired running back through all of the footage until she hit a point when the two had arrived. Joshua headed toward the restroom while Simon waited, but then Simon pulled out his phone and scrolled — and it was in that moment, one single frame, that Brenda found the holy grail.

It showed Joshua’s full name, as well as a phone number. She screen-capped it, wrote it down, and refrained from screaming in joy.

“Suck it, bitch,” she muttered to herself with Rita in mind as she picked up her own phone and dialed, but after about a ring and a half, it went right to voice mail.”

“Assholes,” she thought, but after the tone, she left a very long and detailed voice mail, hoping that they would actually listen and respond.

But, assuming they wouldn’t, she decided on Plan B: As soon as the streets were passable, she was going to pay them a visit, come hell or high water. Well, so to speak. Also, note to self: See who she knew who could link Joshua’s number back to the one that had texted it at that specific moment…

* * *

Image source: (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday Free for all #41: Weird talents, unsettling objects, and memorized songs and jokes

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What weird or useless talent do you have?

Other than playing the accordion, the one bizarre natural talent I have is the ability to move either of my ears, together or independently. It’s not a huge distance but it is noticeable, and I assume it to be some atavistic trait.

I also have incredible control over my eyebrows, which I can raise or arch, again in sync or independently. I actually use those a lot to express disdain, doubt, or surprise wordlessly, and they are very useful as we’re all interacting while masked.

What songs have you completely memorized?

Number one, probably all the same ones everyone in Western culture has — all the Christmas carols and traditional songs which are so ingrained in us that if one person starts singing in a room, everybody joins in.

Number two, a ton of musical theatre songs, of course, from shows like Cabaret, Evita, Chess, Little Shop, Chicago, Assassins, and so on, as well as every musical I’ve ever performed in or played an instrument for.

Number three, it goes without saying that it’s a legal requirement to know Bohemian Rhapsody by heart.

Number four, though, is my “karaoke surprise,” that is the song that I’d pull out if the opportunity ever came up to impress the hell out of people as the tall white guy proceeds to belt out a number in Spanish, and that song is Si no te hubieras ido.

It was written by Marco Antonio Solis but, ironically, his version is pretty bland and boring. I prefer the much more rocking cover by Maná. And yes, even at this ballad tempo, it’s much more lively than the Solis version.

What would be the most unsettling thing to keep occasionally finding around your house?

There are so many possibilities for this one. Since I live alone, strangers would be one. Since my last surviving dog died six months ago, finding her toys and stuff moved around would also be unsettling.

Random notes not in my handwriting would be another creepy thing, like a Post-It on the bathroom mirror every morning with something cryptic — and not even necessarily threatening or creepy. A message as simple as, “Perfect toast is hard to make” would be completely unsettling in that context.

Probably most unsettling, though, would be the sudden random appearance of former possessions of mine that I know for a fact are long gone, either due to being given away, thrown out, or left behind in a move.

Not that I’d mind at all in some cases — there are a couple of pieces of clothing that I regret forgetting to bring with me in a move; a bookshelf worth of language and resource references that I gave away before one move because I thought, “This is all on the internet now”; and a necklace that was a sterling silver pyramid with a glass eye in it that I could have sworn I brought and which is somewhere in this apartment, but in over thirteen years, I still haven’t found it.

Now, if a lot of my childhood toys started showing up in mint condition, while the “how” of it would be unsettling, it would otherwise be an eBay goldmine.

But in either case with this and the previous paragraph, it would just leave me wondering whether there weren’t some weird universal space where all of my lost or abandoned stuff went to wait for me, including all of the sox that driers have eaten and all of the pens I’ve lost.

Maybe that’s what heaven really is. You get there and they take you to this huge warehouse then give you the keys and you find a locker with all the shit you ever owned in it. Only maybe sometimes it leaks.

2020 would be the kind of year that shit would start leaking in. Of course.

What’s the funniest joke you know by heart?

Having once been a thirteen-year-old boy, I’ve memorized many a joke in my day. Those things were schoolyard currency, and the guy who could tell the most (and filthiest) jokes won the badge of Cool Dude.

Some I’ve forgotten, some are only worthy of being told by thirteen-year-old boys, and some are just so wrong that they’re best left buried in the less aware past. I still know plenty of jokes, but the one that came to mind when I read the question goes like this… albeit updated a bit for modern times.

These two brothers, Tom and Dick, have decided to go into the gig economy as delivery drivers, so they need to get a car. Their hopes are soon dashed, though, when all of the new car dealers tell them their credit isn’t good enough, and they could never afford the payments anyway.

They hit up all the used car lots, and it’s the same thing. Sure, they’re looser on the credit, but the payments are still huge. Desperate, they come to the final used car lot and explain their story. The salesman takes sympathy on them.

“Look,” he says, “I don’t have a car on the lot you can afford, but I do have a camel.”

The brothers are dubious, but the dealer takes them over to have a look. “Its feed is actually cheaper than gas,” he explains, “And it’s fully trained. It stops at red lights and goes at greenlights, and you may not think it, but camels can actually run pretty fast.”

“How much?” the brothers ask, and the salesman tells them. It’s right in their price range.

“Here, take her for a test-drive,” the salesman says, and he shows them how to get into the saddle and how to steer with the harness. The camel pulls out of the lot and then into traffic and takes off, and it is fast.

It keeps up with traffic and stops at the red lights and goes at the green, and the brothers are both thinking, “This is the greatest thing ever. It’ll make us stand out as delivery drivers.”

Back at the lot, the salesman waits for them to come back. Half an hour. An hour. Ninety minutes. After two hours, finally hops in his car and heads down the road in the direction the brothers went.

He finds them a couple of miles down the road, sitting on the curb crying. The camel is nowhere in sight.

“What happened?” he asks.

“Oh, it was great,” Tom says. “Obeyed all the lights, kept up with traffic.”

“We were sold in a block,” Dick adds. “This camel is better than any car.”

“But then we stopped at a light, and we heard somebody shout,” Tom continued.

“Hey — check out the two assholes on that camel,” Dick said.

“So,” Tom explained, “We got down and went around back to have a look, the light turned green, and she took off without us.”

(Ba-dum-tish!)

Closed theaters don’t mean there is no audience

I only had this revelation recently, and particularly because the company I work for hits its busy season beginning October 15 and running until December 7 every year.

Well, actually, our physically busy season starts back in late August with all of the preparation to get everything ready to shoot out of the starting gate on October 15, but prior to the latter date, our phones are pretty quiet.

Regular readers know why, but here’s the explanation again. After a long career during which I spent about 99% of my working time in entertainment that finally went to shit because a certain D-List Celebrity got sucked into Scientology and let his company go down the toilet so that he had to lay off everyone, I wound up jobless for a while, but then landed in the field of health insurance.

Specifically, I now work for an agent/broker who only handles Medicare because he very brilliantly realized a few years ago that Boomers are right now slamming through the gates of turning 65, so he’ll have potential new customers for years — and with Gen X right on their heels.

At about the same time I left the lucrative full-time day job ghost-writing for afore-linked person, I also started doing improv, which went great until everything, particularly live entertainment venues, slammed shut in early March of 2020, at least in L.A.

A few weeks later, our offices also shut down for a while — spring and summer are our slow season — so I was out of work again for about four months, only making tentative attempts at coming back from the start of July, but only then by working remotely and part time.

Eventually, though, I finally came back full-time, initially remotely, but then by necessity in the office once the onslaught began. Fortunately, we’re a very small operation, the other agents do work remotely, and the three of us who are regularly physically on-site work in separate rooms.

It helps that the “office” is actually in the boss’/owner’s house, so that  we literally are in separate rooms — the back office is one bedroom, the boss’ office is another bedroom, the front office (me) is the living room, and the variously shared secondary agents’ office is the den.

Now I started this job in August of 2019, so got thrown into it all right before the madness started, so everything through December was on the learning curve and stressful, and it only felt like I was getting a handle on it when it all shut down in March.

You’d think that a four-month gap in work might totally wreck all sense of what I’m doing, but it really turned out the opposite, and this time around, instead of hating and fearing phone calls from clients — which are almost constant now — a few things happened.

What primed the pump, though, was nearly five months of basic isolation, with my only outside contact via electronic devices or the occasional brief transaction with a store clerk, so I actually found myself looking forward to the ringing phones, because it meant that I got to talk to human beings again!

After that, two things happened.

Number one: Everything I’d learned about how all this works is kind of stuck in my brain, so I don’t need to ask anyone else every single time about everything. I’ve also learned what questions to ask in order to get the info I might need if I’m going to have to pass it along to someone else.

Number two: This is the big flash I had recently: I realized that I’ve started to approach phone calls like improv games and scenes in this sense: It begins when I answer, and we’re going to create the platform of who, what, where, which I’ll either get by listening to how you introduce yourself or by asking a couple of questions.

From there, it’s on to complication/conflict — meaning, really, the reason you’ve called — followed by resolution — I figure out how to route your call or whether I need to take a message — and then tag/punchline/resolution — I tell you what happens next.

The funny part is that in improv, the one thing we really, really want to avoid in scene games is what’s called “transactional,” which means any situation involving an interaction between two people that is about some product or service passing between them when they have no prior emotional connection.

In other words, a scene in which a person comes into a bakery to buy a birthday cake, or someone brings their car to a mechanic, or someone else goes to a florist for flowers… it’s really, really hard to make those interesting without a moment of a-ha, like the customer suddenly realizing, “Oh, wait… didn’t we date in high school?”

Now, admittedly, every phone call I get at work by nature is a transactional scene, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t move it to that personal level, and that’s where the game and the improv comes in.

And it is entirely based on listening and yes-anding. I look for those personal details I can use to connect. A lot of my boss’ customers live in the town I grew up in, so I’ll latch onto that. “Oh, I know that place. I went to [Fat Dead President] High School.”

Or… I often have to ask someone’s birthdate, and if it matches any date relating to me, my parents, siblings, or grandparents, of course I’m going to mention it.

If someone says, “I don’t know how to fill out these forms, they’re so confusing,” then that gives me the ultimate empathy dive in. “Oh, I know,” you say. “Before I started working here, I was clueless, but it’s not as complicated as it seems. What do you want to know?”

And so forth. The point being that once shit got crazy on the phones this year and I was stressing out at the beginning, everything got easier as soon as I realized that every phone call was just a possibility to play a scene game with a stranger as a partner and to “Yes, and” the hell out of them.

That has made this year’s Annual Enrollment Period ridiculously stress-free, and has also allowed me to feel like I’m still doing theater, if only for an audience of one at a time.

Image source: Billy Hathorn, (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

November 18: Six earth-shaping events that happened on this day

Important events happen every day on Earth, but some days get an interesting assortment. Over the course of the last 925 years, November 18 has seen a few events that went on to change history. Here are five.

  1. 1095 C.E.: Pope Urban II convenes the Council of Clermont. This council ran for ten days, until November 28, but on the penultimate day, Pope Urban gave a speech that included a call to arms in order to invade and capture Jerusalem.

This little invasion became known to history as the First Crusade, in which the members of one “peaceful” religion (Christianity) went to a foreign land and killed members of two other “peaceful” religions (Islam and Judaism) and claimed for themselves the city claimed by all of them, because reasons.

The real causes weren’t so much religious as they were the Roman Catholic Church coming to the aid of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I in his effort to drive out the Muslim Seljuk Turks and take control of Asia Minor himself. So, as usual, it was a personal thirst for power dressed up in lofty religious reasons.

Have to make the Holy Land safe for all those Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem, right? Unfortunately, the Crusades continued on for nearly 200 years, and the Muslims ultimately won. That didn’t change until the Reconquista — which itself had begun in the 8th century — took back Muslim lands in Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

That ended in 1492, just in time for a King and Queen in that peninsula to finance the expedition of a genocidal madman to the west so that Europe could go on to be bloodthirsty on an entirely new continent or two. You might have heard of the dude. He was named Columbus…?

  1. 1872 C.E.: Thirteen days after the fact — proving that the government being slow to move after an election is nothing new — a horrible act of voter fraud is uncovered and Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women are arrested for the heinous crime of voting while having vaginas!

It was the presidential election of 1872, which was an interesting one. Ulysses S. Grant, famous Civil War General, had been elected in 1868 after the single term of Andrew Johnson, one of the four U.S. Presidents who were never elected to that office. Grant was the favored nominee of the Republican Party, but (shades of 2016) disgruntled “party purity” members put up their own candidate, Horace Greeley, of “Go west, young man” fame.

He ran as a member of the newly minted and so-called Liberal Republican Party, but was actually nominated at the Democratic National Convention, so the mental-political mindfuck of all those terms crashing together is quite astounding, especially if you know the politics of the parties at the time.

The end result? Grant received 286 Electoral Votes. Greeley received none.

So it was on top of this rather odd background that fifteen women decided to just say “Fuck it” and go cast their ballots. Susan B. Anthony was the driving force behind it, and she basically went into the registration office before the election, demanding to register.

When she was told that state law only allowed males to do so, she cited the 14th Amendment —the post-Civil War Amendments granting equal protection — and so talked the workers into allowing her to register.

November 5, 1872, she and 14 other women voted. November 18, 1872, she was arrested, exactly as she expected. She proceeded to use her trial in order to bring attention to the concept of universal suffrage and giving women the right to vote in national elections.

The young men who accepted her registration and then her ballot were interviewed in her trial, and the transcripts make for a fascinating glimpse into politics and mindsets of the era.

  1. 1883 C.E.: Believe it or not, it took until the late 19th century for the U.S. and Canada to finally create something that we now all take for granted, especially in this era when a lot of our interactions are interstate if not international, and happen in real time.

On this day 137 years ago, U.S. and Canadian railroads instituted the five standard continental time zones, which at the time, of course, did not include the zones for Alaska, Hawaii, or any of the U.S. Pacific Island possessions.

Breaking things up into one-hour chunks, they begin in the east with Atlantic Standard Time (AST), which is four hours behind UTC, formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time, aka “The clock Queen Elizabeth II watches.”

AST really only effects two small chunks of eastern Canada. Otherwise, things kick in with Eastern Standard Time (EST), aka “The reason that things like presidential debates begin at 6 p.m. on the West Coast, when people are still driving home from work.”

This is also why the Academy Awards begin way too early, but at least they’re on Sunday now.

If you’re not from the U.S., the big time zone landmarks are these: New York, Boston, etc., five hours behind Queen Liz. Chicago and that slice, six hours. Denver, seven hours. L.A. and San Francisco, eight hours, Alaska and Hawaii, nine.

This is arguably much better than the system in China, though. Although the country physically crosses five time zones, everyone is on the same clock, set to standard time in Beijing, which is UTC+8.

This can lead to some really bizarre things. Imagine the case in the U.S. if everything were set to Chicago time. People in L.A. would have to do things two hours earlier, so the work day would be from 7 to 3. Meanwhile, New York would have to do them an hour later, so work from 10 to 6.

Then again, China is fucked up in a lot of ways that I won’t get into. (Hello to my Chinese readers, and I know you’re out there! Love the people. About the government? Not so crazy.)

But… how did we wind up getting time zones because of the railroads? Simple. Back before people could travel at such blazingly fast speeds by rail (OMG — it’s a 300 baud modem!) it really didn’t matter how each particular little town or county set its clocks.

The most likely thing would be to just say that noon was when the sun was directly overhead on a certain date, and calibrate everything from there.

Well, we live on a big ball, and a few degrees of latitude or longitude can make quite a difference. If it’s noon in the town you live in and what the folks fifty miles to your west call noon there is actually 12:45 your time, it’s not really a problem, because they aren’t going to get to you in any sort of time that will make the difference count.

Note: I’m not going to do the math to figure out the actual time difference based upon the number of degrees longitude at a certain latitude, so the numbers above are arbitrary. But you’re welcome to pick two places and do the math yourself.

Anyway… this loose designation of local time was fine until the trains started barreling through, and then there was a big problem — it made it ludicrously difficult to create schedules.

Why? Because it becomes a problem not just in space, but in time. How, exactly, do you describe on a train schedule that the 2:52 westbound out of Hutchinson arrives thirty minutes later in real time in Coffeyville, but when the train left Hutch it was 2:22 in Coffeyville.

Does it arrive at 2:52, 3:22, or at some other time? So you list both times and hope for the best? And has it progresses down the line, do you have to keep adding the individual arrival times translated to the departure stations?

So, yeah. Total nightmare, and it’s probably the reason that to this day so many algebra problems take the form of, “Train A leaves the station heading west at 40 miles an hour, while Train B leaves the station heading east at 60 miles an hour. They start out 150 miles apart. At what time does the Conductor of Train A realize that his wife has been cheating with the Engineer, and confronts and attacks him, causing the worst derailment in the history of Kansas City.”

The railroad industry wisely went for the easier solution, and so standardized time zones were born. Et voilà! On long trips, it would only be necessary to notify passengers of time changes about every thousand miles.

  1. 1978 C.E.: This is a very sad one, and also the origin of the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid” when it’s used to indicate that someone has swallowed the thinking of a political cult hook, line, and sinker.

The setting is Jonestown, Guyana, where a man named Jim Jones had set up a cult called the Peoples Temple. Now, it started out benignly and benevolently in 1955, with an anti-racist, socialist bent, but eventually devolved into the typical cult of personality.

Eventually, after Jones moved his operations to Guyana, an American Congressman decided to visit to investigate charges of abuse brought by temple members, and everything went south once his plane landed.

The Congressman and most of his entourage were assassinated. Meanwhile, Jones ordered the members of the cult to kill themselves with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, hence the origin of the phrase.

Those who didn’t voluntarily drink were shot, and Jones himself committed suicide.

It was a total shitshow, but it also elevated the concept of cults and awareness of their traits into national awareness, so a lot of the splash-back may have been positive.

Arguably, the events in Jonestown gave incentive to the people who had been going after Scientology, so there’s that.

    1. 2003 C.E.: I now pronounce you husband and husband. Or wife and wife. This was the day that the Massachusetts Supreme Court gave their 4-to-3 ruling declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, giving the state legislature 180 days to change the law.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health was the camel’s nose under the tent that eventually led to the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States.  

Here’s an interesting side-note: The concept is not “gay marriage.” It’s “same-sex marriage.” So, in theory, it doesn’t mean that it has to be a fucking couple (a couple who’s fucking?) that gets married.

That’s right. Two straight friends or roommates could just as well tie the knot, and if they have compelling financial or medical reasons to do it, it might not be a bad idea.

I don’t know whether there are many states left that allow lack of consummation (i.e. “he never fucked me!”) as a reason for a no-fault divorce, but I certainly know of none that require sex and or the production of crotch-fruit to consider a marriage valid.

So this day in history 17 years ago was the beginning of a win for a lot more than just the LGBTQ+ community, because the right to marry brings so damn many protections with it, especially when it comes to legal, medical, financial, and end-of-life decisions.

I work in Medicare by day, so I see this a lot, when somebody who is, unfortunately, old but without spouse or children has to ask a friend to deal with all their medical decisions. And that friend can get a durable Power of Attorney.

This is well and good up to a point, but doesn’t quite give the absolute rights that being a spouse would. And if that friend is of the same-sex and not married, it would make so much sense to use marriage to make their caretaker role so much stronger.

Which is why we need to remember the real lesson of same-sex marriage.

People easily forget. There are two versions of marriage, and they need to be kept separate. One is the ceremony. The other is the legal contract.

The ceremony is the religious (or not) one and, while it may have enormous cultural, emotional, or symbolic meaning, it has absolutely no legal effect.

Guess what? Nobody wants to force anyone to perform these kinds of symbolic but non-binding ceremonies. Your church won’t marry two men or two women? Great. That’s your right. Knock yourselves out.

But… the other part, the legal contract, is something set up by the state, and that’s where everyone gets equal access to sign their names to that contract, and all those Karens claiming “Mah religious freedoms” can just step the fuck off, because when you took that government job, you agreed to follow government rules.

Back in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court got this. Church marriage and State marriage are two different things, Church can define it however they want; State must define it to include all.

Period, end of discussion.

What things have happened for you on a November 18? Tell me in the comments!

image source: Sammy Six, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Talky Tuesday: Punctuation

One of the side-effects of people texting and posting online — particularly if they do the latter with their phones — is that punctuation and, often, capitalization go by the wayside. I can understand this if you are using a phone, because the keyboard can be tiny, even on our modern oversized smart phones.

Generally, messages and posts done this way are short enough that missing punctuation, as well as regular paragraphing to indicate changes in thought, can’t hinder the meaning from getting through, at least not that much. Everyone is going to know what you mean in a short text, right?

But the longer you go and the more you write, the more you really do need to punctuate and paragraph your text. For example:

one of the side effects of people texting and posting online particularly if they do the latter with their phones is that punctuation and often capitalization go by the wayside i can understand this if you are using a phone because the keyboard can be tiny even on our modern oversized smart phones generally messages and posts done this way are short enough that missing punctuation as well as regular paragraphing to indicate changes in thought cant hinder the meaning from getting through at least not that much everyone is going to know what you mean in a short text right

How much harder was that paragraph to read than the two that opened the article? Same text exactly, just without any punctuation marks, so no road map. Which one would you rather be handed to read out loud with no preparation?

That’s pretty much the raison d’être of punctuation in any language — to clarify meaning, and especially to facilitate reading the words, whether out loud or in one’s head. But did you ever wonder where those punctuation marks came from?

Today, I’m going to focus on English, so we won’t be dealing with things like cedilla, which you see in the word façade, or the tilde, which is common in Spanish words like mañana. I’ll even pass on the French punctuation seen above in the italicized expression which just means “purpose” — literally, reason for being.

Depending upon the source, there are either fourteen or fifteen, but I’ll be focusing on fewer. I don’t agree with the latter list’s fifteen, which is a bullet point. I consider it more of a formatting tool than a punctuation mark. In a numbered list, while the numbers may or may not have period after them, nobody thinks of the numbers as punctuation, right?

I’ll also be skipping brackets and curly braces because they really aren’t in common use. And, finally, lists of more than five items tend to get cumbersome, so I’m going to stick with the most common ones and take a look at where they came from.

By the way, missing from both of the above lists: our friend the ampersand (&) which I definitely consider a punctuation mark, but which actually used to be the 27th letter of the alphabet. In fact, under its original name, you can’t spell alphabet without it, but those two letters eventually morphed into the pretzel or, as I see it, Panda sitting down to eat bamboo, that we all know and love today. And yes, you’ll never un-see that one.

Here are the origin stories of five heroic punctuation marks.

  1. Period: While the period, known in British as the “full stop,” is probably the most common punctuation mark in European languages, it came from the same forge as all of the other “dot” punctuations, including the comma, colon, semicolon, and ellipsis. The concept of the period was originally created by a Greek playwright, Aristophanes, who had grown tired of the published works of the time having no breaks between words, making the scrolls very hard to read.

Originally, his system involved placing dots either low, in the middle or high relative to the heights of the letters, and the position indicated the length of the pause, much as a period, comma, and colon indicate different lengths of pauses nowadays. However, his system did not pass directly to us. The Romans were not big fans of punctuation, and a lot of their works were copied down in so-called scriptio continua, or continuous writing.

Ironically, punctuation didn’t come back into it until Christianity began to take hold in the crumbling Roman Empire. Monks tasked with copying manuscripts by hand brought back the marks they knew from the classical Greek of Aristophanes’ era, largely to preserve the meaning of the frequently biblical texts they were copying.

And, again, if they were working to translate the Old Testament, which was largely written in Hebrew, they were going from a language that lacked punctuation, word spacing, and vowels, with the added bonus of only being written in the present tense. Yeah, that must have been a hair-puller. And, no doubt, the New Testament stuff they were working with probably had many of the same issues, since it was written in the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the late 1st century.

These were the people instrumental in writing down the first official version of that bible in the early 4th century, starting with the Council of Nicea, and over the next 1,100 years, they also kind of invented emojis of a sort. What? They were bored college-aged dudes who weren’t allowed to get laid. What else could they do?

So things proceeded on the punctuation front without a lot happening until that dude Gutenberg got to printing in the 15th century. And that was when all of the existing punctuation got locked down because it had to be. That’s what standardization via mass manufacturing does, after all. Not necessarily a bad thing by any means.

  1. Question mark: This was another punctuation mark created by a person, Alcuin of York, an English poet and scholar who was invited to join the court of Charlemagne, who was first King of the Franks, then King of the Lombards, and finally Emperor of the Romans from the late 8th to early 9th centuries. If you have any western European blood in you, he is probably an ancestor.

Alcuin was a prolific author and very familiar with the old dot system of the Greeks, but he sought to improve it, so he created the punctus interrogatives, which is pretty much the Latin version of what we call it now, although his probably looked more like this: .~.

And while you may think that the question and exclamation marks are connected, with the latter just being the unsquiggled version of the former, you’d be wrong. In fact, no one is really sure where the exclamation mark came from, and it didn’t even appear on typewriter keyboards until the relatively late date of 1970.

  1. Hyphen: In the present day, hyphens pretty much exist only to join words that haven’t quite become full-on compounds But once upon a time, before computers had this wonderful ability to justify text and avoid breaking one word across two lines, hyphens did exactly that. They told you whether a word had been broken and to look for more of it on the next line. In practice, it would look something like this:

 He contemplated the scene, not sure what he was going to find, but fully ex-

pecting it to be something dangerous; something he’d rather not have to con-

front on his own.

Yeah. Messy and awkward, isn’t it? And yet, if you read any published material from earlier than about the late 80s, this is what you get and, honestly, it’s as annoying as hell.

The hyphen itself goes back, again, to ancient Greece, where it was a sort of arc drawn below the letters of the words to be joined. It was still common enough when Gutenberg got around to creating his moveable type that it was adapted. However, since he couldn’t figure out how to include punctuation below the baselines of his letters, he moved the hyphen to the medial position we all know today.

  1. Parenthesis: These most useful of marks were a product of the 14th century, and also brought to us by the creativity of monks copying manuscripts. And, again, I’ll remind you that these geniuses happened to be a part of their era’s version of what we’re currently calling Gen Z. You know. The ones after the Millennials that you should be paying attention to.

Anyway… in their wisdom, these monks decided to draw half circles around certain parts of the text (mostly to indicate that it was connected to but not part of the main idea) in order to set it off from the rest. In a lot of ways, parentheticals became a mental aside for the reader — hear this in a different voice.

And, like tits and testicles, parentheses are intended to always travel in pairs. (Yes, I know that not everyone has two of either, but note the “intended” part. Nature tries. Sometimes, she fucks up.)

  1. Quotation marks: These are yet another thing that the Greeks created, the Romans ignored, and medieval monks brought back. Originally, Greeks in the second century B.C. used sort of arrows to indicate that a line was a quote, and they stuck them in the margins. This form of quotation mark is still visible in modern languages, for example in the Spanish «quotation marks», which are pairs of little arrows.

When we got to the sixteenth century, they became a pair of commas before a line and outside of the margins, and indeed to this day, you’ll see this in ,,German quotes,‘‘ which have two commas before and two open single quotes after. Nowadays, you can’t say he said, she said without quotation marks.

So there you go. The origins of five-ish common punctuation marks. Which one is your favorite, and why? Tell us in the comments!

 

Monday’s mentor to many: Che’Rae Adams

I started a new Monday thing of spotlighting my talented friends. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Those covered a triple-threat actor, improv artist, and impressionist; and a filmmaker, editor, and writer; and an artist, writer, and actor, respectively. This time around, we’re going to meet a friend of mine who helps creators become better at what they do.

I first met Che’Rae Adams eons ago when she produced my second ever full-length play to see the light of day onstage in a professional production, but she’s been a champion of my works ever since. And not just mine, but everyone’s, whether developing, producing, or directing.

Although she vanished for a while to go get her MFA in Ohio, she definitely came back into my life in a big way in the later 90s, and especially after she founded the L.A. Writers Center in 2006, also allowing me to be very involved with that. Although I don’t think I have any official title, I did co-write the book she still uses to teach her methods to writers.

At the same time, before I left LAWC to focus on improv, she and the other members helped me develop a hell of a lot of work there, both stage plays and screenplays. I can’t even count how many works I cranked out through her Monday night advanced classes.

The thing about her is, though, that she does this constantly for writers of all levels, nurturing and mentoring them and taking very personal interest in the development of their works and the improvement of their skills.

And I can tell you that this is no easy task, because I co-taught a few workshops with her, and it just bent my brain. It’s one of those weird cases of when you’ve done something for so long you’ve internalized it so much that you just can’t explain it to anyone else.

That’s my problem with trying to teach writing or music. My brain is at the point of only being able to say, “You do this because… duh,” which is no way to teach at all. If I want to try to teach, I have to sit down and force myself to work out the steps and, ta-da… that’s why I feel like I can do in writing, like I do here, but never spontaneously in person.

Che’Rae, on the other hand, is just the opposite, and I’ve seen her give many a lightbulb moment to both newbie and seasoned writers — myself included.

Of course, beyond our professional relationship, Che’Rae and I have become really good friends over the years to the point that she really does feel like she’s my true sister — and she has always, always been there for me when I’ve needed her, tossing me that life preserver a couple of times when I reached out for it.

One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 for me, in fact, has been that she and I (and our regular game-night crew) haven’t been able to hang out together at all since March, 2020.

This didn’t stop her from producing a successful Zoom reading of my play Strange Fruit, Part One and Part Two, in August and September — but it’s still not the same.

Beyond her incredible artistic skills and ability to teach, she has a gigantic heart, with empathy and compassion to spare, and will not hesitate to give what is needed to those who ask. Plus, just being in her presence is always a huge dose of instant comfort.

She is one of my several human anti-depressants, and while chatting or Zooming online helps a little, it can’t compare to being together IRL in the same space. And missing her annual Thanksgiving gathering because I’m pretty sure it’s not happening doesn’t help either.

But… there’s always the art, and neither she nor I nor her students have given up on creating and producing that during this really weird year. If you’d like help in developing your own play, screenplay, or one-person show, you cannot go wrong with Che’Rae.

Sunday Nibble #43: A short guide to knowing your shit #7

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This is the rarest poop of them all, and one you’re lucky to encounter once in a very blue moon. You go to the toilet as normal and begin your routine. Of course, none of us ever knows what to expect. Will it be a cheek-ripping Decepticon, or the disappointing Phantom? Is it time to bless the Chocolate Rains down on Aquaman, or experience the wonders of an endless Anaconda?

Every time you come here, it’s literally a crapshoot.

Then comes that magical time when you squat and everything comes out almost immediately, in two or three solid plops that follow one after another like paratroopers leaping from the plane. No muss, no fuss, barely any clean-up, and you’re done. You didn’t even get a chance to open your browser.

This is Nature’s way of telling you, “Yes, you are getting enough fiber, and your diet is good.” This is the one that starts your day off right or makes your afternoon a thousand percent better. This is the one you want to share with friends, co-workers, or family by proudly stating, “I took the most satisfying dump today!”

By the way, did you ever wonder why the expression is “took” and not “left?” But I do digress.

When you experience this poop, it’s as if the heavens open and choirs of angels sing. You almost expect this one to smell like rainbows and cotton candy. You plan to buy a bunch of lottery tickets as soon as you get out of the bathroom, and you might even let someone else have the remote tonight. It’s just that good a moment.

If this happens for you every single day, then your gastrointestinal tract is truly blessed and your colon is probably more sparkly than the clean-room at JPL. You most likely pity your fellow humans.

But if this is a rarity for you, like it is for most of us mere mortals, count it as a lucky day when it’s snap, crackle, plop, and done, for you have just had the most wondrous poop of them all.

This rarest of poops is called The Unicorn

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #41: The Rêves, Part 19

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Southern California.

To sleep, perchance…

Rêves actually did “sleep” — not in the same way that humans did, but they could sort of “power down,” at which point they would lose all physical visibility and substance. A Class I Rêve might be able to detect their presence, while Class II and III probably wouldn’t. Pearl, of course, was always aware of where every single one of them was at any moment, regardless of class or waking state.

But Preston didn’t know that yet.

All he knew was that he had curled up with Danny, who may or may not have been him but who was hella handsome nevertheless, and as they sheltered against the storm they both wound up falling asleep in each other’s arms.

It was a cold and foggy morning when Preston woke up. Okay, to be fair, it was visibly foggy, so he just assumed it was cold, which was something he couldn’t feel, although he and Danny could feel each other. He sat up and listened, and all he could hear was the distant crow of a rooster, and then drops of moisture falling from one level of leaves on the trees to another.

He nudged Danny to wake him — Preston could still see him for some reason.

“What?” Danny asked as he woke up and opened his eyes.

“Storm is over,” Preston said.

“So we lived?” Danny asked.

“No, dumbshit,” Preston replied, smacking his arm. “We’re still dead, but we’re still here.”

“Oh. Right,” Danny said. “So… now what?”

Before Preston could answer, there was a shout — “

¡Quédense. Manos arriba!

“What did he say?” Preston asked.

“Fuck if I know,” Danny replied.

Preston stood slowly, raising his arms.

“Y ¿por qué está desnudo en mi jardín, pervertido?” the voice called out again.

“Oh, wait, I think I knew one word, it’s about me, and it’s not happy,” Preston said, getting a good look at the angry father with the shotgun standing just outside the patio door.

“Tengo tres hijas jóvenes,” the man said, shotgun aimed right at Preston’s chest. “Qué ellas no vean sus cuerpos ni sus partes masculinos y forman ideas pecaminosas, si ustedes no se quitan del mi jardín en tres segundos, les voy a disparar y puedan decir hasta la vista a las nueces.”

On that last part, he lowered the shotgun to aim at Preston’s crotch.

“What did he say?” Danny asked.

“I have no idea on the specifics,” Preston replied, “But I think that the general idea is ‘Run like fuck.’”

“Oh, right,” Danny replied. “But wait,” he added. “Why are we running?”

“Because I get the idea he’s going to shoot us?” Preston answered.

“Right, and…?” Danny answered, refusing to move even as Preston got more antsy.

“I… dude, come on. Let’s not waste time. Let’s go!”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Danny replied.

“What?” Preston barked back.

Danny just smiled at Preston, then turned to the clearly the angry dad, and gave him the finger.

“Are you fucking nuts?” Preston demanded. Danny just grinned and shook his head — and then dad unleashed the shotgun.

And… nothing. Well, nothing happened to them, but a flowerpot behind them exploded.

Preston looked at Danny, confused.

“Dude, we’re already fucking dead,” he replied. “How is he going to do anything to us?”

“Really?” Preston finally asked.

“Really,” Danny replied.

Preston laughed, then turned and marched right up into Dad with Shotgun’s face.

“Look, dude,” he said, “I didn’t want to be here, and I have no desire at all to wave my dick at you, okay?”

Dad with rifle seemed more scared than anything, but Preston pressed on. “On the other hand, I seriously wouldn’t mind slapping my dick on your chin, or you slapping yours upside my ass-cheeks. My name is Preston. What’s yours?”

Preston waited patiently as the dude reloaded two shells with shaky fingers, then fired right at Preston’s chest point blank, this time managing to blow apart a hanging potted plant behind him, at which point he retreated into the house.

There was a long silence, and then Danny just laughed.

“What?” Preston demanded.

“You scared him off, dude. “So… where do we need to be now?”

“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Maybe with my mother?”

“She’s not our moth — ”

“Fake mother, shut up, asshole,” Preston said.

“Okay, okay,” Danny replied. “So which way is that?”

“Follow me,” Preston explained, grabbing Danny’s wrist and Peter-Panning his ass all the way to the cemetery in Glendale… only to find the place empty. Well, not empty. It was full of corpses. They just didn’t see any Rêves around, of any class.

“Notice anything strange?” Danny asked.

“No,” Preston said. “Beyond the lack of visitors.

“Ground’s dry. Everything is.”

“So?” Preston asked.

“You saw the mess the storm left out there. Mud all over the place, some streets still flooded, everything still a little wet.”

“I’m still a little wet,” Preston said, unable to resist.

“Shut up,” Danny replied. “You remember that big flood back home in the summer of ‘10?”

“No,” Preston explained sadly.

“Great, whatever. My point is, during that flood, the cemetery out on Highway 52 was covered with water, and a lot of the graves got washed out. They were finding coffins all over the place for months.”

“Oh. Now I remember,” Preston said.

Danny gestured. “And yet, here…?”

Nothing was out of place, and the ground was still solid, all tombstones intact.

“Weird,” Preston said. “Maybe the flood didn’t get up this far.”

“You didn’t notice the road outside, did you?”

“Oh, right…”

“So what do you think happened?” Preston asked, warily.

“We both already know,” Danny explained to him. “We saw the storm, and what was causing it. There was nothing natural about it. I think it was an act of self-defense.”

“Self-defense, or war?” Preston pondered.

“I guess that definition will depend on who ultimately wins,” Danny said. “Who’s fighting, anyway?”

“Well, we know that the main enemy is some crazy mad scientist from Pasadena,” Preston explained. “What we don’t know is how the classes of Rêve are going to split up.”

“Wait… classes of what?” Danny asked, and Preston sighed.

“Oh, shit, right. I guess no one had a chance to explain this to you. Sit down. This is going to take a bit.”

Danny sat on the marble cenotaph that guarded the buried corpse that he and Preston shared, and then Preston launched into an explanation of what the Rêves were, and how they broke into classes.

The what, as far as they knew, was that they were not ghosts, but rather psychic “echoes” made manifest by human memories. But how close those echoes resembled the originals depended on two factors.

The first: How well did the living beings doing the remembering actually know them in life?

The second: How many living beings remembered them in any capacity, whether they knew them or not?

And so, the three classes.

“What it basically breaks down to is this,” Preston explained. “If you died with a lot of friends and family who knew you, and if they made it a point to commemorate your memory or pass on your stories in any way, then you wind up Class I — an echo of your true self who pretty much remembers your actual life. That’s why recent arrivals are Class I, after all!”

“So I’m not Class I,” Danny pouted, “Since my whole family wants to forget me.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Presteon said. “Now, Class II are the ones remembered by a lot of people who never met them and who died long enough ago that people only know them through cultural artifacts… movies, books, songs, whatever. Or, in other words, celebrities. They come back the farthest from themselves because they can only come back from what people who never knew them experienced of them.”

“But what about a celebrity who died last week?” Danny asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Preston said. “Hey, you met the Marx Brothers, right?”

“Oh, yeah, right. Not helpful at all.”

“Of course. They would have been in real life, but the echoes you met all came from their films. And you didn’t meet Gummo or Zeppo, did you?”

“Nah. Just the big three — ”

“The Groucho, the Chico, and the Holy Harpo,” Preston said.

“Wow. But, yeah.”

“The last of them died almost fifty years ago, so there aren’t a lot of humans left who knew any of them. So, there you go. Class II. But every Class II started as a Class III for one simple reason.”

“Social climbing?” Danny offered.

Preston laughed. “No, silly. Because even famous people tend to die while they still have a lot of friends and family left behind. So when people die with a lot of people who knew them really well in person and a lot of people who didn’t know them well by proxy, they wind up as Class III.”

“That sounds like a demotion.”

“Apparently there were a lot of politics behind creating the designations. Don’t ask… Fake Mom told me. Anyway, These Rêves are in a weird unique position, because they can remember both their private lives and their public ones, and switch back and forth. Ironically, even though they’re Class III, they are probably most in control of their echoes.”

“So, you’re Class III, then?” Danny asked.

“Actually, no. I am Class II, since most of the people who remembered me never met me, but only knew my porn persona. Why the fuck do you think I keep showing up nude, dude? The same reason you probably saw the Marx Brothers in full costume. This was my costume.”

“Okay, but… what if nobody remembers someone? What happens to them?”

“That one, I have no idea,” Preston said. “I’ve never heard of a Class IV. Although if you’re here because I remember you, I guess that technically you’d be Class I.”

“But if I remember you…” Danny started.

“How can you?” Preston countered. “You didn’t live through my porn career —”

“The hell I didn’t,” Danny cut in. “Who the fuck do you think was there the whole fucking time? And yes that pun was intended.”

“I…” Preston hesitated, then looked into Danny’s eyes, and suddenly everything came crashing back as far as he could remember, and he could remember back to staring at the mobile of pink and yellow stars spinning above his crib and hearing screaming and slapping.

Meanwhile, Danny flashed forward from the moment he’d submitted his proof of age documents — a moment that his old mind had kind of put down the shutters to indicate “You died here,” and suddenly rocketed through Preston’s entire porn career and up until his death.

And damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

And Preston got to re-experience everything he had lived from the ignition of consciousness until he signed that contract, and damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

When they both snapped out of it, they just looked at each other with new admiration and a stronger sense of security that told them, “You are two separate entities.”

“So… what class are we now?” Danny asked just before Preston did.

“Fuck if I know,” Preston replied.

Then, there was a sudden blast of white light from the Chanler mausoleum, and Anabel strode out, lighting flashing around her hair, and she looked pissed as fuck as she strode right to… she didn’t even know what to think of them as any more. Surely not her sons.

“What did you do?” she demanded.

Danny and Preston stared at her, looked to each other, then back to her and laughed.

“What do you mean, mommy?” Danny asked in a fake-innocent voice.

“I mean that you are upending the order of things at the wrong time!” Anabel shrieked back.

“But wasn’t that your thing, mommy?” Preston replied sarcastically.

“I’m not your mother, you little shits!” Anabel screamed. “And you both know it!” Danny and Preston turned to each other, smiled, and fist-bumped.

“Yeah. We know,” they said in unison.

“So… which side do you want us on?” Danny asked.

“Mine!” she replied.

“Sure,” Preston said, “But you’ll have to win us over. And keep one other thing in mind.”

“What’s that?” Anabel spat back.

“Well, it’s a real riddle,” Preston explained. “What class are we in?”

“That hardly matters,” Anabel said. “Two of you cannot outnumber the rest.”

“No?” Preston asked. “Here’s another way to put it. What if one or the both of us no longer fits into any of your three Classes?”

“That is impossible!” Anabel replied.

“Is it?” Preston asked. “For one thing, I’ve now moved up to Class I, thanks to Danny.”

“Who the hell is this ‘Danny,’ anyway?” Anabel demanded.

“Me. Only he died out here unremembered. And he managed to pick up one little detail from, oddly enough, a Class II, that meant nothing to him until, well, we remembered each other, and it’s this one… and it’s a nice puzzle, really.”

“Spare me your puzzles and choose a side!” Anabel demanded.

“Cool your panties, ‘Mom’,” Preston ordered her. So, we all know how the three Classes of Rêve work, right? Remembered personally, only remembered from fame, or combo. But there’s that awkward other one… not remembered by anyone, and generally commended to nature. Yeah, I think that happens to be right in the middle of Pearl’s territory.”

“What are you trying to say?” Anabel spat.

“Um… I just combined the actual person I used to be with the force you fear the most, thereby proving that there is another Class beyond the three, although calling Pearl’s domain Class IV would be really, really bad form.”

“Stop saying — ” Anabel commanded.

“What?” Preston replied pointedly. “Pearl?”

“How dare you!” Anabel shrieked, but Preston just smiled and laughed.

“Sorry, Mommy,” he said. “What did you expect? I think the game we’re playing here is like chess and gay life. It takes one Queen to defeat another.”

“Stop calling me Mommy, you son of a bitch!” Anabel hissed at him.

That was when they all noticed that the wind had kicked up, creating a slight whistle. Preston suddenly sensed a presence, as if hundreds of warm arms embraced him and he felt he a flow of positive thoughts, as if an endless line of people were marching by to greet him, saying, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then he heard the voice in the rustle of the grass, “Preston, Preston” it seemed to say.

“Yes?” he and Danny both said out loud, and both of them sensed a hint of confusion in the presence around them.

A woman appeared before them, and Preston assumed that this had to be Pearl, or some physical manifestation of the thing Anabel had described as a vast collective. She actually reminded them both a little bit of their real mother back in Idaho, little knowing that the original Pearl was from Southeast Texas, but was in fact a second cousin, once removed, of their mother’s.

She studied the two of them, raising a warning arm to Anabel before she could say a word, then Pearl circled them, completely intrigued.

“This is certainly new,” she said. “Not unexpected, it’s just that we’ve never seen it happen.” She pointed at Danny. “You should be one of us,” she said, before pointing at Preston. “And you should be part of that shallow celebrity class that has decided to turn against us.”

She seemed to be almost beaming as she turned things over in her mind. “But each of you is something completely different,” she explained.

She looked at Danny and told him, “You combine a Class I Rêve with one of us, Las Hadas Silvestres, or Pearl, if you will.” She turned to Preston, “And you managed to somehow go from Class II via Class III to pure Class I but strictly on his memories of you. You’re no longer a celebrity echo.”

“I’m Danny, by the way,” Danny explained.

“And Preston,” Preston added.

“Pearl,” Pearl replied. “But this is about to become a war zone, so we’d best do what they did in London before the blitz.”

“Oh, don’t you — ” Anabel started, but Pearl, not even looking at her, knocked her twenty feet back to land on her ass with a gesture.

“We need to evacuate to the countryside, and you two need to meet your real family. Ready?”

They both nodded and Pearl took their hands. The next thing they knew, they were standing in a clearing somewhere in the woods. Preston recognized it as Big Bear. He’d made a couple of films up here back in the day — Lumber Jack-offs, Bears in the Woods, and one of his favorites, Night on Bone Mountain, which actually managed to be artsy. Come to think of it, those were about half of all the actual films he had made. Winston had been right — nobody really wanted full-length story porn anymore.

He wondered briefly whether Anabel had seen any of them, although he was pretty sure she hadn’t.

All that Anabel had seen as she sat up, royally pissed, was Pearl taking the boys’ hands and then the three of them vanishing in a black wisp, like a puff of smoke blown up a chimney to quickly dissipate in the sky.

Her scream sent every bird within three miles scattering frantically into the air, and set dogs to barking as far away as China Town.

Image: Daniel Lobo, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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