Tag Archives: 20 Minutes

Lemon Tree Love

His eyes focused, for a moment, on the contrast of her otherwise pale skin with the flush of her cheeks as she walked towards the spot where he was leaning on a fire hydrant.

“Hello, handsome,” she said.

“Hello, gorgeous,” he said as he extended his hand, palm up, and revealed a bright yellow lemon. “I snuck this from the corner tree for you.” She looked over her shoulder, checking to see if the lonesome housewife that planted the tree last spring had seen, or was seeing, their exchange, and then she took the lemon from him and clutched it in her small hand. It was firm and cooler than the muggy Foggy Bottom air that choked the city this time of year.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she kissed him, and kept kissing him until it felt, again, like the lonely housewife was watching. There was more love in her lips than he could hold in his heart. He broke away and smiled at her – at the old row houses – at the poorly parked cars and the cracked cement sidewalks.

Written from 1:10 pm to 1:32 pm on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 in my office in Traverse City, Michigan.

The Fine Horizon Underfoot

“Look,” he said as he pointed at the distant lake shore where the early-morning mist lingered, depressing the plump tangerine lines of sunlight on the placid surface water. She turned and looked as they walked through the dew-covered bluegrass. “Indistinguishable,” she said. “Which would you choose?” He stopped them from going further and placed his arm on her shoulder so that his finger tips could caress her collarbone. And he pulled her slight frame closer to his, and leaned his head against hers. “I will always choose you, and then, while both will remain indistinguishable, it will not be from one another, but from life without you.” His eyes welled with tears because his eyes often welled with tears when he let his mind wander to the future – to what he would or would not receive from her – to dreams of dreams coming true – to the moments he’d never choose to miss, but sometimes would because that’s what happens when life is folded in two or multiplied by half. “We are, and forever will be, standing on a fine horizon underfoot.”

Written from 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm on Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 in my office in Traverse City, Michigan.

Applebottom, Alberta

The average annual snowfall for a small village just north of a long forgotten two-track in western Canada is just over 346 inches. This past summer, the road crew for the village went to the trouble of installing fans 20 feet in diameter along its three-block long main street. The intended effect of the fans was to blow the snow up and away from the village’s main city blocks and onto the rooftops and back alleys. That way, for the six-month-long winter, the residents of the village could walk or snowmobile their way to and from the local market, pharmacy or saloon. However, the fans quickly became overwhelmed by the snow, created two heaping mounds of snow – one covering each of the two rows of buildings – and froze in place. The result, as was discovered by the local stunt helicopter pilot on his bi-weekly trip south for emergency medical provisions for the village’s residents, was the transformation of its main street into a gluteal-like cleft between two enormous pale cheek-like heaps of snow. The pilot snapped a blurry photograph with his iPhone and sent it to his ex-girlfriend Lola, the head anchor for the not-so-local TV 17 & 4 studio. The village main street was featured on that evening’s news and shared throughout Canada for the rest of the week. What many Canadians had long believed to be a fleck of pepper from the national cartographer’s pastrami sandwich was now dubbed “Applebottom, Alberta.”

Written from 11:23 pm to 11:43 pm on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at home in Traverse City, Michigan.

The Mighty Shake

When he stands, it is as a mighty lion stands – a deliberate struggle of a beast battered by carnivorous dreams. Restless and cold, he shifts through the monochrome darkness of night. With each step his paw lands with the thrust of an uncalibrated pile driver trying to beat down the house in which he lives. His good master does not wake; not so for the neighbor girl tumbling beyond the pale green drywall.

He reaches his mirage and begins his inarticulate laps from the cool stainless steel bowl. Water splashes on the wall and the floor and his crusty black nose. When the struggle is over, strands of sinewy slobber drape his mug. The “mighty shake” is coming. The walls recoil in terror. The picture frames fall flat. The clean – the spotless – the untouched – they all post their guard – ready and waiting. His great brute box head turns violently and sets in motion a furious chain reaction of jowl to drool to mid-air acrobats of gelatin-like mouth droppings seeking out the clean – the spotless – the untouched.

Written from 11:05 pm to 11:25 pm on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at home in Traverse City, Michigan.

CNN International

Watching the international CNN station anchored by a woman with a vague British accent at 1am when I should be sleeping, but can’t because the temperature in the room I’m subletting is swealtering and the Chicago humidity hasn’t been rained out yet by the thunderstorms rolling through daily, is comforting. Comforting like being in your bed at home. Comforting like walking into an air conditioned room on a hot day. Comforting like kissing someone you’ve kissed ten thousand times.

The woman’s accent, the cricket highlights and the semi-canned clips that remind me of a windowless hotel room in Shanghai combine to remind me that some intangible force that is exponentially larger than anything I could ever dream of comprehending comes and goes with each passing day.

Yet, here I am, sitting at my desk above the shadows of street lights lining up the minutiae of my daily life like dominoes.

Written from 6:25pm to 6:45pm on Monday, June 29th, 2009 at the new Starbucks on Halsted Street north of Greektown, Chicago, IL.

In Her Eyes

He stood, half seated on the antique writing table in the hallway. His stomach lurched. She turned off the hallway light. He surrendered to the darkness and slipped further down the front of the table until he was seated on the floor with his head on his knees. The weight of his error pinned him to this moment. He looked up again in her direction like knowing prey anticipating the first strike of its attacker. But there was nothing coming. Through the darkness there was only the blackness of her eye sockets, highlighted below by her cheekbones.

He looked through his tears and said, “I know what you’re thinking.”

Anger overtook him and he thrust his elbows into the weak old wood of the table until it began to crack. The lamp that sat atop the table fell and shattered on the floor. Glass scattered around him. He pumped forward and back again with so much force that his body was kicked away. Laying in glass, elbows bleeding, he screamed and pounded his fists until the pain absolved his lack of control.

There was a sincerity to her existence in his life that he desperately wanted to understand. But could not. She loved him and did not lie when she told him so. He could not stretch far enough through the darkness to reach her. Even if he was seated beside her, their arms entangled, looking into her cold blue eyes his empathy for her love would be insufficient. The fact that he could not try hard enough to make successful something that was not meant to succeed infuriated him.

Written from 2:15 am to 2:35 am in my bedroom in Traverse City, MI.

Two Of Everything Good, Please

“I’ll take two,” I told the young waitress behind the counter wearing a pale blue dress and filthy grease-stained apron. Her blond hair was pulled back tightly into a bun that looked like a small abandoned barrel of hay. In a hurried motion she swept her untrimmed bangs behind her right ear. As her fingernails, painted black, came back to her side I noticed she wore no earrings. There were two sets of holes but no earrings to dangle from or loop through them.

“Anything else,” she asked.

I stared at her and imagined that she was wearing strands of diamonds from each of the holes in her ears — that the diamonds radiated a bright white light that washed over the painful blue fluorescence. When I looked through my imagination, though, I saw that her eyes smoldered — perhaps with impatience — in the pits of her face and her ears were still unadorned.

“No. Thank you.”

Written from 12:05 am to 12:26 am on Monday, December 15, 2008 in my apartment in Concord, NH.

Idle Tuesday

Earlier today I was walking in the cold from my car to school. White Park, which surrounds an unfrozen pond that will be later used for ice skating or merely slipping around in shoes, was to my left. I was on my way to school to study more law. Something I do a lot of these days, and am honestly anxious to stop doing. (Of course I’ll be a life-long learner. Of course I’ll always be learning about the law. But not by sitting in class listening to professors drone on. And on. No sir. By doing.)

So, the park was on my left. A road was on my right. A major road by Concord, New Hampshire standards. Ahead of me was the school, which, as I strode awkwardly past an idling car waiting for me to pass, seemed incredibly foreign. I didn’t want to be at school that moment. Not at all today. It just seemed confining. I kept walking along, making a point to step on each broad white line of the cross-walk, counting in step. Fourteen strides total. That was my pace across the side street, where the car was still idling. I felt so mechanical knowing someone was watching me walk. I felt the forced thrust from my hip that was translated through my knees and into my ankles. I wanted nothing more than to own a Segway. Or be wearing roller blades. A skateboard even, although I am a novice rider, would have felt less awkward. But, no. I was stuck with my shoes. Shuffling. Tripping. Thrusting at odd angles, inch by inch.

Then there was this beautiful pattern on the sidewalk. Leaves like stars on the gray pavement. I stepped cautiously forward, forgetting about my mechanics. Then I stopped. The sidewalk felt soft. Unstable. Like walking on rain soaked grass. A car drove by. The school was still ahead to my left. White Park, with its “No Ice Skating” sign displayed in front of the unfrozen pond, was behind me. The idling car had long gone. I tried to move my feet. Then suddenly the stars gave way and I fell down into the sky.

Written from 7:05 pm to 7:25 pm on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at school.

City Sidewalk

I have this image in my head of walking along a city sidewalk with you late at night. The street lights are glowing orange. There is a bench on the left. Everything in sight is covered in an inch of undisturbed snow. The path ahead seems to be converging on a single focal point with an infinite approach. We are not cold. We are not in a rush. We are just walking side by side. Holding hands on occasion. Talking. Looking back at our footsteps as they fade into the orange glow we leave behind.

Maybe most remarkable is the silence we have found. It contents me. I can relax my shoulders. Take a deep breath of cold air and open my eyes wide to all of my wonders. Most wonderful of all being that I am on this path with you.

It is moments like these when I most want time to stop. To let me have a moment longer. Because soon it will be five or ten years later. I will be a different person. Still wanting what I have tonight.

Written from 8:32 am to 8:52 am on Sunday, November 9th, 2008 in my apartment in Concord, NH.

One of My Favorites

I used to write a lot more than I do now. I wrote mostly about my perception of my memories. The words that described the experiences I was trying to capture seemed more literal than the memory itself. If something didn’t happen exactly as I described it, what I’m trying to provide is the feeling of being there. Isn’t that better?

With that said, here is something I wrote on February 16, 2006 in Rosslyn, VA after a coffee run early in the morning. I had just left my job and felt very free.

I walk the street each morning to get coffee. Rush hour. People look busy – frantic and frozen. Most travel efficiently, cutting corners and jumping signals when they can. Heads down. Hands tucked. Earphones firmly sunk.

They are shutoff to the world around them as if today was nothing more than the indistinguishable middle of an infinite staccato experience. The probability of something extra-ordinary happening is no greater than their chance of winning the lottery, which is clearly stated in the window of the deli down the street as 1 in 172 million.

Bad odds to bet your smile on.

A bell tolls from the horizon. It’s a sound you would pay to hear played in a grand hall by famous musicians. Deep and pure, it resonates as if it were coming from within – but feels more like I am along the inside edge of its hallow drum. The vibrations grab me. Touch the small of my back and run their fingers along my spine until I shudder.

I look around, wondering if anyone else hears it. Nothing. Not a soul so much as flinches.

The hammer strikes the wall again – rings a deep smooth percussion. I shake more. Still, heads down. Eyes glazed. The passing time so meaningless it might as well stop ticking. The bell shakes again.

I’m still this time. I step back a moment. Cautious. Wanting to locate the drum. Others walk through it. No notice. No care. It’s more efficient that way.

20 Minute Stories by McSweeney’s

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency ran a Twenty-Minute Story Contest. The grand-prize winner was, “Untitled.” Every time I read it I’m left slightly short of breath. And I love the format. Here’s the story:

He had always tried to be a gentleman, courteous, respectful in the most thorough way, and believed he was doing his utmost to continue this philosophy when he realized he was having a heart attack, there was no way he could land the plane anywhere else, and he saw the beautifully ordered expanse of backyards open up before him like a shining path, the center line composed of fences and lit by the glint of the sun. His descent was gradual, the curve asymptotic, and after a few moments it seemed even leisurely, since the backyard-runway went on so far and so consistently, these subdivisions following the line of the Saluda River, which he could see off to the left, close enough to tempt him to change course but just far enough away to heighten the risk of falling short and landing in traffic. It was the middle of the day. Most people would be at work, most kids at school, and those that were at home would be inside because it was cold and everyone was following the war on television. He was doing the best thing he could do, given the circumstances. Tragic circumstances. Laundry. Toys. Carports. He was flying extremely low, and his progress was, or seemed to be, slow and quiet. The simplicity of the subdivision’s design was obvious to him, and the similarity of the houses, but the slight variations that made each passing yard and house unique were being stamped in his memory as the most surprising, significant details he had ever had the ability to contemplate. His point of view, he realized, was entirely, essentially new, and no one had achieved anything like this in all of history. He had flown low over towns in Europe during the war that were architecturally spectacular compared to this, and had buzzed his brother’s farm, but never had he, or anyone else, placed a moving airplane in the space between two rows of houses, and even if they had, it would probably have been over the street, facing the fronts of houses. He faced their backs, the more honest, messy, historically accurate parts, and he felt the taps and clicks of outbuildings and clotheslines as the wings touched them. He felt the fence posts pass through him, and the corners of old cement walls, and recognized the furrowed pattern just under the ground. It had all been farmland at one time, of course, and before that, the bed of a river. The clay was red down here. He felt himself curl like a wave over the houses on either side, some of him entering kitchens and bathrooms. These gardens would yield big, bright tomatoes. Dogs would become obsessed with it back here. The cable company would have quite a time restoring the coverage of the war.

2:02 – 2:22 pm
Monday, 12.15.03
Savannah, Georgia

Looking Outside

On the curbless corner of Lilac and Jupiter streets was a maple tree with ruby red leaves. Leslie looked at the tree through a bleeding-glass second-floor window of an old white farm house. Her bedroom smelled of chap-stick and printer ink. The radiators quacked while her feet searched for her slippers that lay somewhere underneath a desk of solid oak. Her elbows ached and her head felt like a bowling ball.

For a few seconds there was a man wearing a yellow parka walking a black labrador retriever in Leslie’s view. She mused whether all things in life would feel so fleeting.

Leslie sat up straight, clasped her hands together and took a deep breath. She wanted to write, but nothing was coming. The TV was calling. Her phone had unanswered voicemails. The kitchen needed to be cleaned. There were indefinite distractions queued and waiting for her attention. But, she couldn’t bring herself to focus on any one thing except the vision of that yellow man with the black dog walking by the red tree. The colors of fall. If the temperature was colder maybe the image would have frozen in the pane of glass she looked through.

There was a knock at the door. Leslie jumped. Her back shuddered and she blinked hard.

Racquet Club

Andy walked along the sidewalk downtown. The streetlamps shined a muted yellow light on his path. The overflow of smoke, music and people from the Racquet Pub ahead was an obstacle in his mind. He was out in the darkness for the silence. For the solitude. As Andy approached the Pub the smell of being social filled his lungs. He breathed shallow and looked down and away. A big truck drove by. It sounded like a Harley motorcycle. The music from the Pub was louder now. His steps lengthened, two to a section of sidewalk.

(11:12p – 11:22p)

Driving Alone

Gone broke in my car and got nothin’ to listen to. I’m bored with two hours down and twenty to go on a plain old worn down road with a bump in the middle and no yellow line. The dust blows if I roll down the window, and my back sweats a sweaty hole in my seat if I roll it up. Doesn’t even seem like AC’s been invented yet with this old beater I’m rollin’ around in. It’s breathin’ too damn hard to worry about something so sophisticated as conditioning of the air.

I squint ahead to see what I can see, and what I see is mostly a light grey line splitting two green fields and a stray black and white dairy cow mooing on the left. No big red barn ’cause that’d be asking too much of this dust bowl landscape I, for some reason, chose to cross in the July heat. That’s a July heat with an emphasis on the July, like you hear people say in movies about southerners. I’ve never met a true southerner with a true accent, so I guess I’m just speculating my memory on a motion picture. But that’s the best I got, and if you were here you’d get that I gotta speculate on anything I can to keep on the pencil line-road.

Back Porch

The back deck was fun. We were sitting under the pines standing tall above the roof of the house. I liked to look up and try to see the sky. The table was gooey in places and I had to watch what I touched. Sticky fingers – like someone rubbed marshmallows all over.”Chris, say grace so we can get started,” mom said.

For a little bit I looked around to make sure that everyone had their hands together and heads down. “God is good, God is great. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we must be fed. Thank you, dear Lord for our daily bread.”

And when I finished, we all said, “Amen.”

I looked up fast – before everyone else, as if to check that we were all still there. Mom and dad were by the grill. My little sister sat still, dwarfed by the ugly yellow deck chair.

“Grandpa, how’s the baseball on TV?” I asked. He was sitting at the end of the table with his wooden cane hooked on his chair. I looked his way and my dark head of hair followed.

He muttered for a moment then said, “Who’s so tall they couldn’t see?”

“No. How’s the baseball on TV?” “Oh,” he said, still not answering. He was playing. But I guess he didn’t watch the baseball either. It was static in the background during his nap. My mind moved on. The grill smelled good, but I really just wanted to make s’mores.