Sunday, July 28, 2013

Imaginary Karma

One Friday afternoon the skies have opened in a cacophony of static bliss and rainfall. Fernando sits in his office at around quarter after one, nursing a cup of coffee. He needs to buy more creamer, as he just used the last of it in the current cup.
As he sips, someone knocks at the door. It is not a polite, regular knock, but instead one which is staccato and brutally insistent, of a like quality as if someone with the exact opposite talents of Dave Grohl had taken up drumming and chose plate glass as the percussive medium. Fernando ignores it, hoping that it will go away.
Alas, the knocking migrates from the front door to the office windows. Fernando's body is doubtless visible to anyone peeking in under the drawn blinds and he would rather face his problems head-on over hiding from them, so he swings his chair around with a resigned sigh and heads to the door to investigate. It could perhaps be one of the cultists who pass through the area around this time of year, though Fernando doubts they have the spiritual dedication necessary to peddle their theological wares in a thunderstorm.
But, no, a tanned, middle-aged man waits there, one who has never visited the store. Fernando pops open the door and leans against the metal frame. “Can I help you?”
Yeah, I want to rent movies,” the man says. His eyes are intent and locked on the store's interior beyond Fernando, and he takes a step towards the Dominion.
Under other circumstances, Fernando might have welcomed the wanderer inside the store's walls, as Fernando does much enjoy earning income off the leasing of his properties, but today he does not budge. Spite and ire have taken root and Fernando is having none of it. “I'm sorry, I'm not open yet.”
The hell, you're here.”
Yes, but the store is not yet open. It opens at two.”
What time is it now?”
About quarter, twenty after one.”
So if I come back in about half an hour, you'll be open.”
If you come back at two, I'll be open.”
The man either does not hear or chooses to disregard Fernando's clarification, but the important thing is that he backs away and Fernando is able to retreat into the dark, comforting embrace of an empty store for a while longer. He does not depart, no, but instead chooses to wait inside his vehicle, which sits out in the parking lot.
Approximately half an hour later, at 1:48, Fernando relates the earlier portions of this very tale to one of his companions via the marvels of the internet. Suddenly, someone pulls at the door. Not a gentle tug, no, but a righteous heave the likes of which have not rattled the office's movie shelves in nearly five years. But the Dominion's hymen holds fast, and the invader is denied.
This flusters the mystery guest, who says to himself (loudly enough that Fernando can make out the words through the wall), “This asshole, tells me to come back in half an hour....” Then Fernando hears a car door slam. An engine starts up and revs a few times, and the vehicle pulls out with a defiant and monstrous roar.
Moments later, Fernando hears the piercing shriek of a cop dude's siren from somewhere off to the Dominion's right, perhaps from the lands claimed by Sweaty Bill or Lint's Gas. Its scream lowers in pitch and recedes into the distance. Fernando heads to the front door to check out what is happening, but Cop Dude has vanished around the bend in the highway by the time he reaches his destination.

Fernando chooses to believe Cop Dude was upset at Fernando's untimely visitor for throwing a tantrum and making a loud nuisance of himself when he did not get his way. It is a rewarding untruth, one that leaves Fernando clinging to the hope that justice does exist in some fashion in the world.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Ponies are pretty nifty little creatures. They're pint-sized horses, lovable and scruffy all at once, achondroplastic dwarf equines which have been enslaved and bred over generations for humanity's labor and amusement. The internet has a queer fixation in using pony-like creatures in various image-based memes, brought about by a bizarre subculture of adults who adore the new iteration of one particular show which originated in the glorious 1980s, when men were men and cartoons were full of more corn than the lowest-grade dry cat food.
These ancestral ponies were chubby and stocky creatures, as I recall. I never really watched the show, of course; I'd been more the type to sit down in front of He-Man or Dungeons & Dragons because what are expected gender norms, especially to a five year old, but I recall the original show rather vividly despite this, all thanks to the product tie-ins, those girly toys with brushes and stickers which bedecked the shelves of the toy aisle opposite awesome action figures (so dolls, except for boys. What are expected gender norms?). They resembled actual ponies, come to think of it. Not that I have anything against the art direction in the new cartoon, mind; Lauren Faust does simply marvelous work in her own style. But her creations are hip and lithe creatures, more like horses than fat bumbling ponies. Horses are cool too, but this is about ponies.
Bill the Pony from The Fellowship of the Ring, could you imagine if he'd been streamlined and sleek and athletic and charming, the cool alpha male of the equine pack (er...herd)? It just wouldn't work. Ponies are meant to be the ungulate world's jesters, much like pigs are the misunderstood and somewhat creepy ice cream truck drivers and alpacas are the curvy bikini models everyone wants, nay needs, to hug.
While we're on the subject of ungulates, tapirs are woefully underrepresented as anthropomorphized creatures. Llamas, giraffes, rhinos, deer...those all exist in the worlds of animation and video games, but tapirs are limited to, what, the Pokรจmon Drowzee (which isn't even meant to be a tapir, but rather a baku!)? I hereby propose this as the new cutting edge in animated entertainment:
Imagine a world, grim and dark and dystopian, ruled by a ruthless and authoritarian syndicate, a committee made up of representatives from the major mammalian orders. Fighting against this machine of oppression, a band of guerrilla warriors (not gorilla warriors; no, the token gorilla would be like a pole dancer or something) who have had enough with their shitty lot in life. A tapir, a fossa, a hyrax, a nutria, and a slow loris, with a binturong injected for comic relief. They blow up things and piss off the Powers That Be until shit gets serious enough that the Council of Hate puts itself at great risk and by retaining the mercenary services of the most perfect and amoral killing machine imaginable: Man.
Anyway, by the series finale every one of the main characters has died, except for the human, who just lights up a cigarette, enjoys it, and stubs it out on a skull trophy collected from his first victim, that brave tapir.

Hollywood, call me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Transfer of Ownership

A guy comes into the store one Saturday. The weather is, for a change, not a brutally hot and muggy oven, but instead a nice high-70s, low-80s breezy summer afternoon. Fernando does not recognize him, but the dude seems to know what he is doing, for he marches into the welcome foyer and immediately turns to face Fernando.
The strange man slumps down on the countertop. He's a stocky bloke with a Ron Jeremy-esque mustache decorating his top lip, and when he speaks he reveals to all the world that he falls squarely into the boisterous fat guy category. “Hey, old timer!” he booms at Fernando, who sits about ten feet away.
This even though the gentleman looked to be at least twenty years Fernando's senior.
Hello. What can I do for you?”
The man scratches at a jowl. “Yeah, I've got a free rental here.”
Interesting. Can I get your name?”
Yeah, it's under Kosovo Waterloo.”
Fernando recognizes that name, as it's one of his regular customers. “If it's under him, then why do you say that you have a free rental here?”
He told me that I could use it.”
Well, that's awfully genial of him. But I'm afraid I can't do that, not unless you have some proof besides.”
What, you don't believe me?”
It's not that I disbelieve you so much as that I am quite hesitant to let people use other peoples' duly earned rewards on nothing more than a say-so. If you had a free rental coming, would you like it if the man in charge of keeping track of it let someone else use it merely on his say-so?”
Yeah, if I told him that he could.”
But how would I know that you told him?”
He'd tell you.”
If I told you that someone you know said that you would hand over the keys and ownership papers to your house to me, would you do it?”
Nobody told you that.”
Here Fernando realizes he would be trapped in endless stalemate if he continued his argument, so he cuts short the conversation and puts his foot down. “I'm sorry. I can't do what you ask.”

The strange man heaves back up and walks out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turtlefoot V: A Dark Race Becomes Magnificant

Fifteen minutes after Fernando dealt with the lady who argued Fernando should pay her and advertise for them, the phone rings again. The caller ID on this one?
Fernando rises from his seat with a curious flourish, leaving the empty chair spinning for a few moments as he crosses the room. Who would converse with him today? Kevin, salesman supreme? Sultry-voiced Kuwait? Nepal, the happiest woman on earth?
Giddy with excitement, Fernando picks up the phone. “Hello, Dominion of Movies.”
Hi, is this Fernando?” The speaker is neither Kuwait nor Nepal, but a third woman. He picks up the barest hint of a Hispanic accent on the way she enunciates her vowels.
Indeed so.”
Fernando, my name is Madagascar, and I'm calling from Turtlefoot Enterprises. We have made some small changes here since the last time you spoke with a representative and I'd to go over a few of them with you right now. We have streamlined our systems to make it more appealing to smaller operations such as yours.”
I'm happy for you. Do you still maintain the requirement that I spend about three thousand dollars on PoS software kept hooked into your system, whereby you can track my cash flow and skim a fraction of every transaction?”
This questions flusters Madagascar. “Many of our customers are quite happy with the simplicity our system provides. There is no hassle on your end, and we can provide assistance in helping you get that set up.”
Is there still also an operations fee? Because it seems silly to pay you extra money so you can ensure you're taking my money.”
Turtlefoot Enterprises has no control over how the software provider--”
So yes. I'm sorry, an agreement between our respective businesses is not in the cards on this day. You're welcome to try again later. Things change.”
A pause. Then Madagascar says, “Oh, well, we'll be in touch. Have a good day.” She sounds relieved, perhaps because Fernando provided an invitation for another of Turtlefoot's sterling salesfolk to contact Fernando down the road.

That's fine. It makes for good stories.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dollars and Sense

A customer comes in to rent one evening. She brings her tags up to the counter and Fernando fills out the slip. “It'll be three-fifty,” he says, before turning and searching the walls of his office for the cases which bear stickers matching the numbers on the tags.
Fernando retrieves the movies and returns to his place at the counter. The customer has pulled a small, folded clump of bills from one pocket and flips through them, withdrawing singles and depositing them in a messy pile on the countertop. “Oh...oh no.”
I don't have enough money.” Sure enough, the pile of money has capped at three ones.
Fernando scratches his cheek. “You have a ten in your hand here.”
Yeah, but I don't want to use that.”
You also have a five nested inside of that ten.”
I don't want to use that either.”
Um.” Fernando's throat tickles, and he coughs. “I don't think it's a matter of preference right now.”

The customer sighs and hands over the five dollar bill.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Spiraling Into Oblivion

A pair of new customers, male and female, set up an account. They come in on a near-daily basis over the next week and a half and Fernando has no problems at all with them.
They rent Premium Rush one afternoon. After Fernando picks it out of the drop box once he arrives at the store the next day and inspects it cursorily, its underside resembles the finished product of someone with minimal spatial or mathematical awareness trying to graph a Fibbonaci sequence. Concentric arcs of the disc's plastic have been channeled away in deep, smooth gouges. Fernando grimaces. Why can't people ever carve the summoning circles for their infernal patrons into their own property?
Fernando digs through his records for the duo's number and calls them up.
-Ring ring ring-
Hello?” It is the male half of the love equation.
Yeah, hi, this is Fernando from the Dominion of Movies. I'm calling about Premium Rush.”
Oh, uh, yeah, I was gonna talk to you about this next time we came in.”
Yeah, the disc is pretty bad off. I'm afraid I have to levy a replacement fee.”
That's fine. We shouldn't have let our buddy borrow it.”
What in Cocytus? “Alrighty, I just wanted to touch base with you. We can take care of that whenever you guys are in next.”
Cool. Thanks, man.”
Thank you,” says Fernando, and hangs up.
They come in two days later to pay off the debit on their account in full and to rent again.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

The July 4th weekend and its various exhibitions of jingoistic fervor have come underway, and this brings a surprising number of outsiders through the area. Some are sad and accursed souls who are forced to seek lodging in the area when the sun goes down and the kamikaze deer begin their migrations. Others are a peculiar stripe of masochist which seeks out the lands and celebrations around Saladolsa for amusement and camping.
A white truck pulls into the Dominion's parking lot one day. A man who looks to be in his fifties and a slightly younger woman, probably his wife, clamber out and cross the burning wasteland of asphalt to seek refuge inside the store's air conditioned walls.
Hey, if we're not from the area, will you rent to us?” asks the man in a raspy voice.
If you've got a local place at which you're staying and are willing to fill out a member application, absolutely.”
Well, all I got for my local credentials is this, if that's good enough for you.” The man pulls out a folded sheet of paper from his pants pocket and places it on the countertop. Feranando rises and takes a look at it.
A cursory inspection reveals that the paper is essentially a hall pass which has been given by the man's probation officer which has writ upon it an address for a campground in Norbert, which lies ten or so miles beyond Zail-Kanzin.
I'll just need to see your driver's license, but this is good enough for me,” Fernando tells him. The man produces the license, Fernando completes the appropriate paperwork and gives his memorized rundown of how the store operates, and the man and his wife select two movies to take home for the evening.
Why rent to the dude? Four reasons. The out-of-state jackasses who Fernando has encountered before do not have any bearing on the quality of character of any other out-of-state person, and why be a stereotypical close-minded small town jerk upon such shoddy reasoning? A guy who is umbilically linked to a probation officer will not do anything irrational like jeopardizing his status by running off with some rental movies, and Fernando would be guaranteed a positive resolution because the legal system already has its eyes on our hypothetical sneak-thief. The man was up-front and unapologetic about the probationary swamp miring him and willing to place responsibility for adjudging his character upon Fernando without simpering pretense or facile apology.

Finally, Fernando likes to make money, and that doesn't happen by arbitrarily turning away customers. He rents to other lawbreakers all the time.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

Fernando walks into a bar.
He takes an open stool near a woman in her mid-50s and waits for the bartender to finish serving a group of young ladies seated across the bar. “You're Fonzie's brother, aren't you?” she asks.
Indeed so, last I checked.”
I'm sorry for your loss.”
Fernando tips the brim of an imaginary hat her way. “Thanks.” The bartender has yet to finish mixing these girls their drinks.
Let me buy you your first drink,” the woman says. She knows Fernando's brother, and seems to know him (though by rumor and reputation, or because they'd met at some point in the nebulous past, is something Fernando does not know), but Fernando has no idea what her name is, and he doesn't particularly want to look like a buffoon by asking her what it is, not if she treats him so familiarly. He can return that favor.
Besides, Fernando is not one to turn down free booze. “I'd appreciate that, thanks.”
What are you having?”
Ginger vodka with a splash of lemon juice.”
The older woman raises a finger skyward and shouts. “Hey, Canada! Once you finish over there, get me another and a ginger vodka for this young man!” The bartender ducks his head briefly and this seems to satisfy the woman. “He'll get that to us.”
The bartender takes another minute to wrap up his mixology with the other ladies. “We don't have ginger ale here,” he says to Fernando. On the one hand, this is surprising, since ginger ale seems like a thing every bar should keep in stock. On the other hand, this is a bar attached to a restaurant in Zail-Kanzin, so why would they have the makings for good drinks? “Can I get you something else?” he asks.
Southern Comfort Old Fashioned, then. Sour, please, orange slice but no cherries.”
The old lady looks at Fernando proudly. “You look like you know what you want.”
I always have a backup plan.”
What if you couldn't have gotten that here, then?”
Then probably I'd have gone with a vodka tonic, or maybe a beer, if there any beers worth half a shit here.” All of the taps proudly bear the mark of Miller Lite or Budweiser or similar rice-water ilk, and Fernando can see no minifridge in which cans or bottles of less-wretched brews might lurk.
They've got Corona.”
If I wanted to drink piss with a lime garnish, I'd ask for a slice of lime and make my way to the restroom to serve myself.”
The old lady squints at Fernando. “You are exactly like your grandmother. She was” The lady trails off speaking as she undertakes a quest to discover the vocabulary
Forthright? One does one's best.”
The bartender delivers the drinks. The old lady has something clear and fizzy in her tumbler, while Fernando's Old Fashioned is tinted ruby, likely with cranberry juice or grenadine. What either of them have business doing in an Old Fashioned is beyond Fernando's understanding of the bar arts, but it doesn't taste like a Bad Idea nor a Manhattan, so he is satisfied.
How long you staying?” the woman asks.
This drink, maybe another. I can't stay overlate. I have to work tomorrow.”
It's the Fourth.”
No rest for the wicked. I closed the store today so I probably should try to make up for it tomorrow. Hell, holidays are better for my business because people need something to park the kids while they grill and drink in the backyard.”
You have an explanation for everything, don't you?”
Everything has an explanation.”
See, I can't believe that. Some things just happen for no reason.”
Everything has a reason for happening.”
Not coincidences.”
Sure they do.”
The woman twists in her seat and faces Fernando head-on. Her posture is one of defiance. “Okay, explain that to me.”
There's a reason for you to have been at a place when the coincidence happened.”
Not always. Sometimes you're just there.”
Nobody is just anywhere for no reason.”
What if you didn't plan it?”
Doesn't matter. You decided on something else that put you there.”
So the coincidence isn't your fault!” she trumpets.
Fernando shakes his head. “Sure it is. If I decide to walk down Main Street in order to meet my best friend at the movie theater, then it's partially on me when the firetruck crashes through the brick wall and turns me into road lasagna and confetti in front of a crowd of innocent bystanders. If I'd not chosen to go down Main Street at that time, then I wouldn't have been there for the truck to pulverize.” Fernando takes another sip of his drink. It is quite good. “Good news is, this only counts for my choices, and not for others.”
I can't judge others' choices because I don't know what choices they'd made previously.”
You can't believe that.”
Sure I can. I do. That's tautological enough for most purposes.”
Doesn't it ever get to be too much?”
Nah, not really. I've gotten pretty good at handling existential crises over the years.”
But why even be like that?”
Why not?”
You say everything's because you made a choice.”
Then you chose to believe all the stuff you just said.”
Fernando mulls it over. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
Why stick with it, then?”
Fernando shrugs. “Because I choose to. Because most other people choose not to.” Fernando tilts back the remainder of his beverage. “Thank you again for the drink, and moreso for the conversation. I'd best return to the afterparty, such as it is.”
Take care, sweetie. Butt your head against me some other time soon, you hear?”
Fernando grins. “That's what she said. Have a good evening.”

It is easy to take another's “why” for living and apply it to oneself. It is not easy to create one's own “why.”