Winter Writing Update – The Pop-top Beer Can and Jimmy’s Hat

I’m taking this blog in a slightly different direction and providing two writing samples for you to enjoy or pan.

The Pop-top Beer Can

The Pop-top Beer Can grew out of a short message to a friend. I’ve expanded it here to almost flash-fiction length. It hasn’t been edited and is still pretty rough. But it served its main purpose of being fun to write, and it’s the first short story I’ve posted to my blog in some time. Let me know what you think in the comments.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1985, I found a starter apartment above Ann Arbor’s Persian House of Imports. Don’t look for it. It was demolished years back to make room for some truly generic townhomes. An iron fire escape wrapped the old cinder block building like a snake and proceeded passed my door to the apartment above, where my neighbors John and Anne lived. John and Anne both played AD&D, along with a friend of theirs, Ken Bernard.

Ken and I stayed friends over the succeeding decades, staying in touch via the marvel of social media and the internet. So when he passed through recently, I put him up for a night. I showed him Erie’s Echo Brewing pub, and we relived our role-playing adventures over beer. As we departed, Ken purchased a gift for me, a 32-ounce growler of Farmhouse Ale in a pop-top can.

I’m sure you see the problem. You don’t open a pop-top unless you plan to drink the whole thing. Otherwise, every molecule of carbon dioxide gas escapes and combines with the atmosphere. Should this happen, the remaining liquid, devoid of both head and fizz, could hardly be called beer. Once I popped that top, I’d have to drink it all. But I’m only a man! A mortal man, for the love of God! How could I drink the entire 32-ounce beer myself? It was inconceivable!

For ten days, I fasted. I prayed. I sacrificed animals on snowy altars in the high mountains and implored the heavens for an answer.

At last, the clouds parted and a blazing light appeared. I heard the paeans of angels singing out. Yea, singing doo-wop in four-part harmony and echoing through the alpine meadow valleys carved by glaciers aeons ago. My brain was afire with revelation! Electrochemical reactions leapt from one neuron to the next, from axon to dendrite, every synapse awake and hot.

And at that moment, it was revealed to me that I must invite Mike to my back deck at precisely 3:06PM this past Saturday, for the sun would be out and it would be 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rather balmy for February. Yes, Mike, I say—mild-mannered Mike from three houses away. Mike was active in the neighborhood HOA, and as we became intoxicated with ale and our lips became loose, I would probe his cerebral cortex for clues about how the HOA managed to screw up snow removal this season. Surely, Mike was the answer! How could I have failed to see it all these past ten days while yonder beer sat forlorn on the back top shelf of my fridge?

Mike and I would consume the beer! We would!

At the predesignated time-space coordinate, with the sky above the neighborhood the color of television tuned to a dead channel, I heard the sound of footsteps upon snow. I lifted my eyes, and behold! Mike appeared. In celebration, I popped the top of that oversized beer can and poured the golden Farmhouse Ale into glasses machine-crafted from the finest transparent melamine resin.

We drank as if it were ambrosia while satyrs danced and piped a song on their fifes of wood. Dionysius himself provided bowls overflowing with bountiful peanuts and salted chips, a vast ocean of carbohydrates for our pleasure.

And so the 32-ounce pop-top can of beer  was consumed.

Once emptied, we crushed the can underfoot before relegating it to the recycle bin, from whence its atoms of aluminum may one day resurrect in a form not revealed to us. After we had celebrated our victory over the problem of the pop-top can, Mike departed. As he walked out across the gravel, I heard him call out to me, my mild-mannered neighbor, knowledgeable of all things-HOA. “If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill,” I heard him cry, “as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

Jimmy’s Hat

I wrote a short story during naNoWriMo, sort of a new twist on The Puppetmasters and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The idea was to treat stroke victims with lab-grown brain organoids that had been genetically modified with DNA from the Ophiocordyceps fungus. It was a half-baked premise. I wrote six different drafts with different plots trying to find something that worked. I wrote from the wife’s perspective. I wrote from the husband’s perspective. I wrote from the fungus’s perspective. It was going nowhere.

I finally threw out the whole plot and started from scratch. Jimmy Hoffa’s ghost makes a cameo appearance, thus the title. Here’s an excerpt only, as I hope the full story will appear in an upcoming anthology being put together by my critique group. Details on that as they become available.

In the meantime, let me tell you about Walt’s problem.

Walter Koegel wasn’t quite right lately. His body had been taken over by a fungus.

The fungus forced Walt to do everything he’d normally do. Walt didn’t want to get up this morning and face another day without Mary, but the fungus made him get up anyway. The fungus made him turn on AM 600 even though Walt didn’t care about Detroit’s news anymore. When Walt found he was out of bread, it made him walk to the Polish corner deli where he and Mary used to go for chleb rolls.

Walt hated the fungus. It left him with no control, no way to ask for help. As long as the fungus forced normalcy in every move and mannerism, no one would ever know anything was wrong. He wanted to be rid of the insidious thing.

Fortunately, Walt went for a drink at The Roadhouse every Thursday afternoon, and that gave Walt a chance. The fungus made him put on the Teamsters jacket they gave him when he retired. It made him go out the door and walk his usual route. He passed the corner pharmacy where he picked up his meds. And as he approached the bar’s entrance, he devised a plan.

My small handful of friends cried out in unison, “Wow. That’s really short.”

Sorry, folks. I’ll let you know when the full story is in print.

What I’m Reading

Yep, still reading my bi-monthly Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.

I recently completed these books.

  • The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, both by Ray Kurzweil. They are the second and third in Kurzweil’s series of non-fiction books concerning machine intelligence.
  • The Club By Leo Damrosch. A non-fiction account of 18th-century British luminaries that gathered at Turk’s Head Tavern in London.
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang. A wonderful collection of science fiction short stories that deal with time travel, parallel universes, and artificial intelligence in a profoundly compelling manner.
  • The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum. A collection of Greek myths including the Golden Fleece, the Twelve Labors of Haracles, Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, and others.
  • Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. A non-fiction account of the 1986 Ukrainian nuclear disaster.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A science fiction novel about human cloning that is really an excellent exploration of human relationships. By the author of The Remains of the Day.
  • The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem. Translated by Michael Kandel. Here, I’m re-reading an old favorite from my youth. This collection of short stories by the author of Solaris can be tedious at times, but overflows with mind-bending concepts and premises.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. The exciting and terrifying sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. This was a well-written YA novel with excellent characters. Green also wrote The Fault in Our Stars.
  • When Good People Write Bad Sentences by Robert Harris. I think I slept through this in grade school. I want to reread this and take notes.

I’m currently reading these books.

  • How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen
  • On Writing by Charles Bukowski

I hope to get to these books in the next few months.

  • Face It: A Memoir by Deborah Harry
  • How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Pulp by Charles Bukowski
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Sociolinguistics: A Very Short Introduction by Edward Johns
  • Ultralearning by Scott Young

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