Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #80: The Other Pandemic

After years of playing coffeehouses and regattas, the female alt-rock band Bitchfork scored its biggest hit ever, when the band’s 1998 song “Here Chicky Chicky” appeared on the soundtrack of that direct-to-streaming, Nineties nostalgia movie Lamestain. The residuals that Bitchfork’s lead singer and sole original member Tessa McQuade earned from writing that song helped pay for her eighty-one-year-old grandfather’s funeral. She’d never liked him, but she thought he deserved something for dying a particularly nasty death from COVID; she’d seen him wheeze like a porous accordion via Zoom as he lay in his hospital bed. Survivors’ guilt: the other pandemic.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #79: Convertible

A truck sideswiped a convertible one warm, rainless night, killing the convertible’s driver instantly. (The nonunionized trucker had fallen asleep behind the wheel after eighteen straight hours driving to meet a strict deadline for delivering overpriced consumer goods to various high-end department stores, such a literal deadline indicative of the destruction of organized labor and of the corporate world’s valuing profits over employees, including the employees who had manufactured those consumer items overseas for subsistence wages under dangerous conditions.) I suppose we need a human-interest angle here. The convertible’s driver, Jonathan Perrin, thirty-nine, liked watching superhero movies on his computer.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #78: That Messed-up Tattoo

One night five years ago, after getting drunk at some bar, the bros and I walked up the street to a tattoo parlor, where we had our left biceps inked with the logo of Skorchin, that lame Eighties band we’d listened to in high school during the 2010s. Only, on me, that jagged, fiery, metallic-lettered logo ended up looking like a smudgy SKOBCHEN. Today, the tattoo serves as an entertaining story, turning me into a character, someone with no aspirations beyond partying. But I did have aspirations once—investment-company aspirations. That messed-up tattoo must have engulfed them, sci-fi style. Eerie.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #77: Bloody, Chubby Larvae

She refused to admit she’d received botched collagen implants.  “They look fine to me,” she contended, even though her lips now looked like squashed candy apples.  No, her lips now looked like elderly beanbag chairs.  Her lips looked like bloody, chubby larvae. God, I hate writing sometimes, though I still love her, despite her saying “Well, your face sucks.  You have skin tags so large, they sway back and forth on windy days.”  When I said “Yes, my face does suck, but not ’cause I paid to have it disfigured,” she emitted a loud wail that sounded like—sounded like—

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Dickety-Dee

A genuine video that the genuine fast-food chain Rax made to promote their genuine spokesperson.

During a break from work today, I read another great article on my favorite pop-cultural website, Detritus Valley—an article titled “Dickety-Dee-Pressing” and written by Jordan Bicks, the woman who runs the site all by herself, and on whom I have a slight crush, despite (or maybe because of) having never met her or seen her photo. She dee-scribes about how in 1992, the restaurant chain Rax (FAST FOOD WITH STYLE, its signs said), wanting to appeal to adults, introduced a cartoon spokesperson named Mr. Delicious: a balding, bespectacled, bow-tied, black-and-white white guy—a real schlub, in other words. I’d never heard of him until reading this article, though I’d eaten dinner there once during that time, when I was ten, with my parents and siblings, on vacation one July in Aurora, Ohio, after our family had spent the day at the now-dee-funct and super-cheesy amusement park, Geauga Lake; from what I can remember, Rax, or at least that particular one, didn’t display much style but did feature a salad bar so large, it had its own zip code, though I think I ate just a roast beef sandwich instead, having adopted my family’s meat-centric diet, though I would somewhat insufferably embrace vegetarianism not long after, more out of rebelliousness than out of any genuine concern for non-human creatures; that dietary choice would last maybe two months. (Actually, it didn’t really last at all, since from the first day I kept sneaking chicken nuggets and fish sticks.)

So anyway, the article links to actual TV and radio commercials featuring Mr. Delicious, and I agree with Jordan when she contends that “these links (and Candy Crush) more than justify the existence of digital computer technology.” Referring to himself in the third person, calling himself Mr. D (also printed on the briefcase he carried everywhere), he would praise Rax’s “adult-sized delectables for only ninety-nine cents” while morosely talking about adult topics such as “being a little overextended” because “perhaps the Rax executives aren’t paying him enough to compromise his integrity”; suffering from a hangover due to “two for one night at the Rusty Anchor”, thus forcing him to “avoid the wrath of Mrs. Delicious”; getting expensive therapy that kept his “hostility all locked up” but just barely, I would say; undergoing “rather delicate surgery” of an unspecified nature; and “still trying to recover from that bout with midlife crisis in ’89” that had involved “custom-designed hair weaves” and “that vacation he took to Bora Bora with those two young”—pause—“friends that left Mr. Delicious feeling empty and unfulfilled”. I wonder if Mrs. Delicious had accompanied him.

Each ad would end with his catchphrase, “Dickety-Dee.” Why the hell not?

As Jordan put it in her article, “Hey, Madison Avenue: if you want an ad campaign to succeed, maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t make viewers want to slit their wrists.” Needless to say, Mr. Delicious flopped bigtime, and Rax soon declared bankruptcy. Ha ha, just more media crap to provide ironic amusement for sophisticates.

But really pay attention to the ads, and you’ll soon learn that, unlike actual schlubs, advertising executives can have their midlife crises in public, so to speak, and presumably get paid a fortune for it. And you can bet aging, bitter white guys wrote those ads. Either that, or young, clueless white guys, maybe super-ironic Gen-Xers, wrote them. Or both types of white guys did. Whoever did, they maybe inadvertently reminded us that immaturity rules, until it abdicates its throne, and you realize that whatever your race or gender or sexual orientation or need for corrective lenses, time will eventually Dickety-Dee you—a banal thought, everyone grows old, though first-hand experience makes that thought seem far more intellectually substantial, not that you necessarily need decades of experience, as I’ve had, to understand anything; I like to imagine Jordan’s in her late twenties or early thirties but has the maturity, insight, and knowledge of an ancient sage.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #76: Liberty, Liberty, Lib-er-ty, Lib-er-ty

It’s coincidental that Flasher 76 deals with liberty. Get it?

You wanna know what excuse Benwick gave, during the Zoom meeting, for submitting those estimates an hour late? You really wanna know?

He said he’d gotten the Liberty Mutual jingle stuck in his head and needed to walk outside a while to, as he put it, “reset.” Snickering as he told us. Not even apologizing for the inconvenience he’d caused.

He should have gotten fired long ago, but being both the owner’s son-in-law and a wannabe comedian has certain privileges, such as getting away with doing stand-up routines on the job. Freaking COVID didn’t close every comedy club after all.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #75: Watch Me Trick Fred out of His Fruity Pebbles

Better than the first Trump-Biden debate, or the movie version of Cats, or your first sweetheart.

Everything you liked as a kid sucked. Everything. Don’t tell me you liked, say, the Alice in Wonderland books, or classic Hollywood movies, or old-school hip-hop. As a suburban kid in Nowhere USA, you liked the same lame cultural products that your peers did; you’d even quote TV-commercial catchphrases to flaunt your sophistication.

You should revel in your past averageness, a badge of honor for you and other self-proclaimed sophisticates. “Heh heh, you wouldn’t believe the crap I used to watch!” Or read to listen to or create. A past membership in normal society at least gives you a past.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

The Gourmet Feast

His COVID unemployment having run out, no jobs available anywhere, desperate to continue paying his exorbitant expenses (perhaps he shouldn’t’ve moved to such an expensive place as Brooklyn, but he couldn’t resist the siren call of coolness), he installed a live streaming webcam in his bathroom and charged viewers a hundred bucks an hour to watch him sit naked in his bathtub, a bathtub filled with cooked oats (“Gluten-free,” he proudly told everyone watching), and read War and Peace aloud in its entirety. He got to page forty-seven before calling it a day. As it turned out, not enough people love idiotic Internet stunts, at least not enough to earn him the money he needed. So the next day, he urinated and defecated into the oatmeal, then sat in it naked, clamped his nose shut with a clothespin, and continued reading that novel aloud, reaching page ninety-seven, attracting more views but still not enough. The day after that, once again naked and nose-clothespinned, his copy of War and Peace nowhere in sight, he urinated and defecated into the oatmeal, sat in it, scooped up a heaping spoonful of the resulting mixture, lifted the spoon an inch from his mouth, faced the camera, said “Down the hatch!”, shoved the spooned into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, vomited copiously into the tub, scooped up a heaping spoonful of the new mixture, lifted—

For years afterward, footage of what the snarksters would call The Gourmet Feast would remain an Internet staple, the vomiting scene getting memed to refer to something the current president has said or done; or to the most recent best-picture Oscar winner; or to some particularly outspoken feminist; or to the idea of considering a particular race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation deserving of civil rights. In a sense, the Gourmet, as he would slightly-buzzedly put it to hot young guys at the bar, had lived through his own Vietnam, 9/11, and pandemic combined and now knew he could survive any calamity, either one he has caused himself or one brought about by “those darn haters.”

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

(revised on September 7, 2020)

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #74: Drama

Kacy’s left-wing radical sister Kerrie told her three months ago “Trump doesn’t give a shit if you die from coronavirus.”  Things went south from there.  The sisters haven’t spoken to each other since, not that Kacy minds.  She has enough drama in her life, starting with her eight-year-old son Austin’s pathetic performance in school.  The teachers think he has a learning disability, though he’s certainly learned how to avoid work, and how to hit people up (including even his father, her asshole ex-husband number two) for money.  Perhaps Austin has a bright future with the Democrat Party.  Suck it, Kerrie.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Zooping

During the height of the COVID-19 quarantine, when the economy had shut down, causing my directing gigs to evaporate, I spent hours sitting at my laptop, watching something called Zooping, or Zoom pooping.  One of my Facebook friends, Tod Perrin, a professional listicle writer living in Brooklyn, had created Zooping, basing it (according to his Vice interview) upon “The Suffering Channel,” a novella from a writer I’ve never read, bandana boy himself, the hipster god (except among the hashtag MeToo crowd—more power to them), David Foster Wallace.  (I haven’t even pretended to read any fiction since that Foundations of American Literature class my sophomore year of college, the less said about that pretentious, brain-numbing class, the better.)

Anyway, Zooping involved people worldwide, sheltering in place in their houses or apartments or trailer homes, competing against each other on that video-conferencing app Zoom, trying within a five-minute time limit to create the largest and most artistic bowel movements on the porch, in the cat’s litter box, in a breadcrumb-style trail around the house—anywhere except in the toilet, even a transparent one.  We viewers had to see the finished product emerge unobstructed (as in Wallace’s novella, apparently); then we would vote on-line for our favorite dumps (firmness counted—no diarrhea, please), the winners moving on to the next round.  No prizes of any sort—just fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds of Internet fame.  The wimps running this competition (wimps relatively speaking, considering the biological function shown) forbade political content, meaning, as their Facebook page put it, you couldn’t “let loose” onto, say, the American flag or the Confederate flag, the latter flag specifically banned anyway under the “no hate speech or hate symbols” stipulation, which must have disappointed certain of the trailer-home residents.  You couldn’t indulge in sacrilege, either, goddammit.  Nor could you give yourself, or let someone else give you, an enema on- or off-screen.  You could use laxatives, though many viewers (including me) considered those the equivalent of performance-enhancing drugs and thus a form of cheating.  Even stuffed full of Ex-Lax (or not), some Zoopers would choke during those five minutes, resulting in, at best, a few rabbit droppings.  But the very best Zoopers—oh, the wondrous sculptures they would bring forth unto the world, modern-art delights more accessible than the (metaphorical) crap you see in museums.

The championship game, Zooper Bowl I, pitted Russ Fenley, thirty-two, a self-described “metalhead for life, yeeeahhh” from Newark, versus Samantha Bates, twenty-nine, a Kansas City native who called herself “the girl next door—to the nuthouse, hee hee hee.”  Russ, after his trademark grunts and groans, accompanied by his trademark contorted facial expressions that I thought made him look more intelligent or at least slightly less vacant, produced something he titled Soft Serve Mountain, right onto the floor, in the middle of his somewhat barren living room.  (You could see tumbleweed-sized dustballs in one corner, not that my domicile, an apartment on the outskirts of the outskirts, would win any interior-design awards.)  By contrast, crouching above the pink-to-the-nth-degree rug in her bathroom, Samantha looked almost peaceful as she silently crafted an untitled piece, beige and thin, about a foot-and-a-half long, resembling a spiral, speckled with corn (as befitted her Midwestern status).

She won in a close vote, 14,697-14,612.  Russ could have demanded a recount but didn’t; even he must have recognized the aesthetic brilliance of her creation.  “I’d like to thank my butthole, without which I wouldn’t have come this far,” she remarked on Zoom afterwards.  “You can say ‘butthole,’ right?  Well, I just did.”

Weeks later, most Net-heads have no doubt long forgotten her, and Russ, and Zooping in general.  But not I.  Now that I’ve started directing again, I’ve vowed to keep the irreverence of the Zoopers in mind, having fun, appealing to the non-snobbish, not that all this will eradicate racism or sexism or economic injustice, of course.  Nothing can eradicate anything, I guess, though I would think that, considering my snobbish and reasonably comfortable background.  Hashtag FauxPoor.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Mattthews

June 25, 2020 (revised July 11-12, 2020)