nonfiction about things that didn't happen

Sunday, December 06, 2009

American Life


It was a harsh, sunny day in Greenvale, Arkansas. Susie stood
with a tunafish panini on the corner of 5th and Madison.

“Yo Jerry!” she exclaims as her young cousin Jerry appears from the
sliding doors of the seven-eleven. “What's a guy like you doing with
so many bagels?” He gives her a questioning sideways glance.

“What can I say? I'm a hungry guy. I heard that bagels are like eating
five slices of regular bread.”
“Yeah, I think I heard that too.”
“Mm. Well, I got some cream cheese and watercress too, you wanna come
to the park and eat?”
“Nah, can't, got too much thinking to do. You know how it is with the
folks at the moment. This tunafish panini here's the best thing I got
in my life.”
“And it's almost gone.”
“Tell me about it,” she said mournfully.

Four finches flew aimlessly up, careening, dizzily.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I had this idea for a story, it starts with a series of columns in the Guardian by a man, a cross between Charlie Brooker and George Monbiot. He makes a snide suggestion that the least intelligent 20% of the country should be denied the right to vote. Between him and the online commenters it begins to be less of a joke and they end up establishing a party with this aim.

The next thing that happens is that The Sun or someone starts a counter-movement, creating a party with the aim of denying the vote to the 20% of the population with the highest intelligence (I don't know how intelligence would be measured). And it would go on from there.

The reason I thought this story would be interesting is because I think a lot of people think they know best, and that the world would be better if stupid people couldn't vote, and I thought it would be interesting to see who would vote for what party, like whether they would each get an equal share of the votes, and whether the percentage that voted for the intelligent party would be the most intelligent people, or just the cockiest.

Anyway I thought it would all be a bit naff and heavy-handed.

Monday, August 10, 2009



Oh Graham, you're hopeless! What on earth made you think these were a good idea, she pointed across the room at the foyer paintings, and went at them purposefully, where on earth did you dig these up from? A police auction, the first visit I couldn't think about anything but the cameras. Just act as if they aren't here, Matthew had said, she grabbed at the picture nearest her, the signal this is sending to your customers is look, we don't care about style, we don't care about looking up-to-date, and with that they are going to think well if they don't care about their interior design, they won't care about me, what do you think Deborah, I've always hated them, right since the day he bought them. Graham, you know that. She dropped the picture into a waiting bin, that was great, Rebecca, that'll be great stuff, well done Graham, now if we can do some in the back room, the office, a make-up girl was flustering over her but didn't actually seem to be doing anything but touching the air around her

Graham, your cavalier spending, really, it has to stop, and I looked at her and knew that it was coming from Rebecca, I know, and I didn't mind, and in the meantime we need to, to generate some income, some additional income from somewhere else, Rebecca breezed in, she couldn't have been younger than thirty-five, I'd seen older men with younger women, uglier men too, than me, and less funny, oh, are you two discussing your finances, that's good, Deborah and I have looked over the books and there's no way, Graham, that you can continue to spend at your current level and keep this business open, we reached an agreement that I should sell off some of the statues, really I would have sold anything.

Rebecca, I took a breath and tucked my hands deep in my pockets, I am so, I'm really so grateful at what you've done for us, and honestly, really I don't know what we'd have done. If you hadn't come I think me, that Deborah and I would have been, it would have been over, the business would have been over, she strode towards me and wrapped her arms round my middle, you buffoon, it's you you should be thanking, you've put in so much hard work yourself, you've really turned this place around, you and Deborah, I clutched her tight, she felt surprised, I think I love you, she pulled her arms back from me and shoved them into my chest and I fell backwards onto the coffee table, Matthew was staring at us both, okay what's going on, Rebecca, Graham, what's going on, Rebecca, do we need, are you okay? I think we, okay, right, I think we should, just all sit down now, and talk, I don't think I can carry on here, Matthew? could we please travel straight to, straight up to Hartlepool and get all that shot and finished, and you or someone can talk to Graham and Deborah about it, about carrying on, she seemed determined not to look at me, why don't we sit down, Joe we don't need to be filming this darling, she was already making for the car park, hang on let's get things clear here before we go anywhere

I saw her struggle up the attic ladder with a box of our old rubbish and I went up after her, by the time I'd got up she'd put the box down and was standing at the top of the ladder. Can I talk to you, I was standing on the top rung of the ladder, my face was the height of her breasts, she was wearing a quite long black dress with a greeny-grey petticoat, she took a step back to allow me to get off the ladder into the attic, I don't there's anything to talk about, well I'm, I just wanted at the very least, just to apologise for, not for saying what I said but for the timing when I said it, you know I'm sorry for that, but I still, I'm not sorry for that I said it, really, I don't want to talk about this, I'm here to finish this and after that, just ignore me until tomorrow and if you need to talk to anyone I suggest your wife, she started to go down the ladder, please let me, look I, I want to talk, I think I could make you happy, I was thinking and this business, it's looking good, now, all thanks to you, and it's, I own it, it's in my name, it's just in my name, and we could, oh I don't know, she was gone

There was a spread on for the crew, now Rebecca = egg and cress = Rebecca, Deborah, what makes you, why do you have to believe everyone but me


Monday, July 27, 2009



What was familiar about him was the way he created clutter. He did it exactly the same way I did. He would leave sticky plates on the floor, cups teetering on the arm of the sofa, clothes pretty much wherever he took them off. It was funny that I had travelled to Mexico and seen a lot of new things but this boy was definitely from the same mould as me. His mum Greta would come home from her work and chastise him. Her finger didn't wag but rotated like a royal wave, which seems hilarious now when I think of her, fat in a way more spherical than I'd ever seen before, speaking Spanish and making me feel like the wrong demographic, like when I tried to get my Dad into Monkey Dust and he sat perfectly still not laughing for the whole thing and I felt completely guilty on behalf of the programme makers for not amusing him and wondered whether it was just a bad episode compared to the other ones because i hadnt found it funny either or whether it was just as funny as the others but i just couldnt enjoy it because i was watching it through his eyes and seeing these jokes about rape and peadophiles as not jokes but just things happening that had no relevance to anything in my life or his and when i saw life through my dads eyes there was nothing in the world that could make me laugh

The main way I made clutter was to leave words on the internet and then forget that I put them there, so someone else would have to clear them up. And he did that too, and he played football once a week and wasn't very good. I thought I was better than him because I thought he didn't have a football brain, but I realised halfway through Jane Eyre that anyone watching me play would think I didn't have a football brain either.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009



Once there was a man who applied to be on a quiz show and got on it. So he spent the time between his audition and his appearance trying to remember as many things as he could.

Because the thing was that he didn't really have any money and had no choice, he thought, but to win the quiz show. So he tried to remember as many things as he could. Cheddar.

On the day of his appearance he drove to the studios. The other contestants were waiting in a room that was cream and burgundy. He spoke to them but he didn't listen because want to lose all the things he had remembered. Europe. Czech. Prague. Praline. Chocolate. Stomach. Pancreas. Body. HMS Endeavour.

When they were filming the show he was doing well, then in a break the floor manager said "you look a bit hot". The next thing that happened was that the man's brain became so hot that it reached boiling point. The way this became known to the floor manager was through the ears, as a hot sticky liquid. "I thought it was wax, or something" is what he later said to his boyfriend.

Once the police said it was okay, one of the runners mopped up the man's brain and squeezed it out into a bucket. Another one of the runners poured the brain, which was now diluted with water, down the sink in the bathroom.

The man's brain became more dilute every second as it rushed down the drain, and then another bigger drain, and then flew out into the sea. Over time the brain became entirely separate, and completely ceased to exist, as the trillions of atoms made homes in different parts of the ocean. They became part of the water cycle. They whooshed up, hovered, fell down. They were washed ashore. They went to the city. They had side projects. Some were given jobs. Some helped make animals. Some helped dismantle them. Two were were forced to fight each other, and both died. And, Once in about every million years, four or five atoms that had once been the brain of the man came so close as to almost touch. Jungle. Jakarta. Miso. Mall. Aerodynamic. Bluebird.




His job was to visit the houses of the owners of the pets, at a pre-arranged time, and to look for any signs that the animals illness or injury could have been caused by any factor other than the one given - usually natural causes. Mainly this meant signs of mistreatment; not feeding it enough, or allowing it to become obese. Sometimes it meant whether they had been kicking or punching it - which was usually clear. It was in his companys and therefore his own interest to be very thorough in examining possible causes for the pets condition, as if the condition could be linked to any negligence on the part of the owner(s) then the policy would not cover it. So for this reason he would often link cause and effect together very tenously:

Smoking in the house could account for any lung or respiratory problem, cancer, heart disease, tooth decay.
Excessive exercise could account for heart attacks, limb problems, tooth decay.
Lack of exercise could account for heart attacks, limb problems, tooth decay.
Sharing the house with a mentally disturbed person(s) could account for abnormal behaviour, self-injury, tooth decay.

He had gotten into this line of work after completing a degree in Business Management, and after his friend Ricardo had gotten him to apply for a job working at the company eighteen months after his graduation. He was still living in Birmingham at that time, but after working in another department initially he was moved over to Pets and that department was in Sheffield. But then when he became a Loss Adjuster and had to travel around he was given first the North Yorkshire route and then the Humberside route and now he was doing West Midlands, so pretty much back he started, although travelling from Sheffield by car.

The training to become a Loss Adjuster was two days in London at Head Office, and was a series of briefings and role-playing scenarios.
He was told that it didnt matter a great deal that he had no real knowledge of animals, because what he was really going to be evaulating was the people. Use your instincts, she told him - the training leader - and if something seems up, it most likely is. These people are out to make an easy buck off our backs, she said. She was from Scotland, about as far North as you can get without falling into the ocean, she said.

He found it easy to get along with Jean, and they had two children. Upon his retirement there was not a party as such, because working in a car, travelling, all those years there wasnt the opportunities to build up real friendships. The owners of the pets that he visited were never pleased to see him. For about six months, one time, he did have an apprentice but he was gay and they had nothing in common to talk about. Their lunch breaks were sometimes entirely silent, usually in the seated area of the service station. On one occasion the apprentice noticed through the large windows one man being pushed into a car by another against his will - over there, he said, freeing one finger from his sandwich to point. On the news three days later they saw that the man who had been pushed into the car had been found dead - had been taken to a copse of trees near Hatfield and killed. He and the apprentice were granted three days paid leave, to get their heads together. Jean said over dinner on the second of those days that it made you think, didnt it, how many people must you have seen just before they died.

Being a Loss Adjuster was not an especially well-paid job, but he was entitled to benefits, the most notable of which was the company car which was upgraded every three years. One night after sex he confided to Jean that he would love, if he could afford it, to buy the car outright after its lease term was up, and Jean said it would be nice wouldn't it but that there was so much needs doing with the house, for now.