Sunday, September 29, 2013

Born a Crinkling Man

One evening Fernando is engrossed in a deep conversation online with Teodor and Iacobo when the chimes on the door jingle. The Keeper swivels his chair about and booms, “Hello,” but there is no response.
Nor did, Fernando came to grasp in short order, he any longer desire one, for his guest was none other than VHS Guy, returned to within the Dominion's boundaries after months in absentia. He cradled a paper bag under one arm and wispy tendrils of booze flowed from his person to lace the store's atmosphere in a stale, malty net.
VHS Guy moved into Fernando's store and pretended to browse the new release rack by picking up and then immediately setting down the case for The Great Gatsby. Then he returned to the foyer and set his bag upon the glass of the counter. “What's the deal with these ones here?” he asked, slurring his words.
That's my Adopt-a-Movie Box. Those are for sale for four dollars each.”
Adopt-a-Movie, eh? To keep?”
Fernando presses his lips together. “Yes.”
Huh.” VHS Guy walks his fingers over the spines of the cases crammed within the cardboard box. “Then how come it says two bucks up here.”
They become two dollars if you have eight dollars in purchases already made,” Fernando says.
Why can't I just get them for two dollars right away?”
Be...cause...that's what they're priced.”
Oh.” VHS Guy reaches into the plastic hut which houses the blank scraps of paper for Fernando's weekly certificate drawing, but something resembling cognizant memories flicker through his neural web and he, for the first time in all the times he'd visited, does not fill out a slip and place into Fernando's magical red bucket. Instead, he gathers his illicit bagged goods and shambles out, leaving Fernando to his secrets.

This is well. This is how things ought to have been.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Ordinary

Fernando sits at his desk one afternoon enjoying a rousing play at Dungeons of Dredmor when a truck pulls in. It does not appreciably slow. Normally this is nothing of particular note, as the road which passes in front of the Dominion leads to the nearby gas station and eatery, and many people opt to turn in from the highway in front of the Dominion when headed to these locations because the road-orifice is wider.
This truck, though, had a set of deer antlers mounted on the cab's roof, in a desperate plea for attention and uncouth display of masculine prowess. The prongs of this fine rack jutted skywards like defiant fingers aimed directly at God...such as there were, since it was not a truly epic set of antlers, the sort of which men sing songs for all the ages. No, it was a six- or seven-pointer, eight-pointer at absolute best. The truck itself was clad in the colors of House Camo and the cab's rear window proudly bore two crests: the head of a deer centered in a gun's crosshairs, and a Peeing Calvin who loosed his urinary load, FATAL-style, upon the disembodied head of Osama bin Laden.
Though the driver of this vehicle did not stop into the Dominion, Fernando found himself imagining, as his masochistic self is wont to do, what could have transpired if this alpha male of mythic proportions were to drop by for a visit and ask something inane of Fernando.

Maybe, some day, we will know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Love Bites

A middle-aged woman comes into the store one afternoon. “Hey, boss, you got When a Man Loves a Woman here?”
Sorry, I'm afraid I do not. It was here on VHS long ago, but I cleared those out a while back.”
And you didn't get it new?”
No. I didn't really see the point.”
It's such a good movie though.”
This is what I've heard, I guess.”
You guess?”
Well, I'm not particularly the target demographic so my opinion doesn't really figure into things, plus I'm the guy who owns the store so even if it did it wouldn't practically matter.”
Will you get it?”
For you? I could certainly look into ordering you in a copy to buy.”
No, to rent.”
I'm afraid not then.”
You just said you'd order a copy.”
Yeah, for you to own and to treasure for always. I'm not going to order in a movie that's twenty-five years old and have it take up premium inventory space for the foreseeable future.”
I would rent it.”
I'm afraid that doesn't change my conclusion. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

There is not, and the woman leaves.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Haggle Hag

Fernando, upon doing some basic economic diligence one August afternoon, concluded that he needed to raise his prices to keep pulling in an amount of money which would allow him to exist more-or-less comfortably. His distributor had been slowly hiking up prices on the supply end of things, and the cost of living had, of course, been creeping its slow way upwards over all of history as inflation worked its magic.
He increased the price on his new releases by fifty cents, effective September 1st. Everything else in the store remained the same price. He did not in the slightest look forward to explaining this change to his customer base, but for the most part people were cool with it.
Then one lady came in to rent Star Trek: Into Darkness.
It's four dollars now, actually,” Fernando tells her after filling out the slip upon noticing she has dug out three-fifty in bills and change.
What's that?”
New releases are now four dollars.”
They're supposed to be three-fifty.”
Well, they used to be three-fifty. Now they are four dollars.”
What if I don't want to pay that much? What if I decide not to come here anymore?”
Fernando shrugs. “Then I suppose you won't be renting or coming here anymore. Though let me pose this question: Do you also threaten the managers of gas stations or grocery stores when they change their prices?”
The lady's mouth snaps shut. She does not answer Fernando's question, but she does withdraw another dollar bill, and that is good enough for him.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fernando's Final Quest

The last night in the hotel was spent discussing tomorrow's schedule. Only one panel was of any real interest to anyone, and this panel was slated to start in the early afternoon. Normally this would not be a problem, but the hotel check-out was by 10 in the morning and the party would not only have to navigate the dreaded whorls of Chicago traffic on their own both coming and going, but also to find a place to sequester the Millennium Falcon while they attended the convention, then deal with near-rush hour traffic during the escape sequence.
Ain't nobody feel the need to deal with that shit. We all have Wisdom scores. We would depart on the morrow.
The crew skipped the final, doubtless underwhelming, breakfast. They planned to instead stop for delicious foods on the way back north. They could be leisurely in their travels without fretting over the nightfall's looming threat and its horrible, attached curse of kamikaze ungulates.
The departure was swift and sure. Gertrude was allowed out of her box and used to map out the twisting dungeon of tollways and on-ramps, but only in the grandest sense. Her cries of “bear left” were patently ignored, and so she did not succeed in hanging another traffic infraction about the posse's neck.
The return trip north was less invigorating than the trip south had been, overall. Everyone was exhausted from experiencing the busy, populated weekend and most of the journey passed in relative silence. A few small conversations, mainly pertaining to Dungeons and Dragons, occurred, but nothing of cosmic importance.
The group stopped at a Golden Corral to gorge upon unhealthy buffet foods, and it was Fernando's first time being in such an establishment. He tried all the varieties of so-called “hot” wings, but found them lacking, even the one that had a large starburst of “EXTRA SPICY” appended to its buffet sign. The fried jalapeños, on the other hand, left Ronaldo devastated, and so this led Fernando to challenge their prowess as well.
He was not disappointed. These beasts, having forged some fell pact with the capsaicin gods, had been instilled by powers other mere peppers could only hope to attain. The first bite made Fernando guffaw and chortle, but then the witchery worked its sinister magic and yea Fernando did suffer, though he did also spite these hot peppers by consuming them and annexing their disdain for the living, so he might better achieve his own dark goals.
Little more remains to be sad. Bellies full, the journey resumed. Gertrude, it turned out, had been moonlighting as a comedienne, for she spent more time “recalculating” routes after the glorious meal than actually informing Ronaldo what the route ought to be, and this proved incredibly funny. For bringing such joy into the group's lives, she was permitted to remain outside of her box for the remainder of the trip.
Macombo and Natasia were dropped off at their residence, and Fernando reiterated the invitation extended to them for Ronaldo's going-away party. Such things worked out, and now Macombo and Natasia may be considered full members of Fernando's runnin' crew, thereby granted unfettered access to the back room of his Dominion.
Fernando was then deposited. He retrieved his satchel of goodies from the Tahoe's trunk and looked Ronaldo and Teodor in the eyes. “Well, that could have been worse.”
We should do it again sometime,” Ronaldo said.
Maybe so. We'll see how things develop. Until later, gentlemen.”

The vehicle pulled away, and when Fernando marched through the door he felt the Dominion drape the etheric mantle of Keeper about his shoulders once more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fail Gully

Hey, what's this movie Epic like?” asks a sixteenish-year-old one afternoon.
Epic? It's like Fern Gully for the new generation.”
What's Fern Gully?”
Fernando is at a loss for words, and the customer instead decides to rent Olympus Has Fallen.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Correct Address

A guy comes into the store with a girl one Monday evening. Fernando has seen the girl before, but not in the company of this man. Presumably they are swapping lovejuices on a routine basis.
The guy, you see, owes Fernando forty-eight dollars in late fees, dating to about three years prior. The Keeper suspects that maybe, just maybe, the young lady had been brought along to rent for him by proxy, so that the delinquent could avoid putting any amount of money onto his debt. It's not the first time people who owed Fernando money have tried to skirt the Keeper's wishes.
The two browse the store for around ten minutes, and the guy is the one to select all the movies for the evening, a sizable pile of four titles. This lends further credence to Fernando's hypothesis that she is here as his representative-minion. At last they approach the counter, and already Fernando stands at attention on his side of the barrier. After placing the tags upon the counter, the young man hands the lady a five dollar bill.
Did you want to throw something onto your late fees?” he asks the young man.
Uh, I'm not renting these. She is.”
Fernando's eyes flick to the girl, then back to the guy. “I had surmised as much. But I'm not asking her, I'm asking you.”
I, uh, I didn't bring any cash with me.”
Fernando presses his lips together and squints at the five. “Hrrm.”
That's, uh, that's hers.”
Oh, no, absolutely. My friends tell me to hold their money for them all the time, too.”
The two lovebirds exchange an awkward look. Finally the guy says, “Can I put a dollar on it?”
Miraculously, the movies are returned the following day. Perhaps this mini-saga will indeed prove itself to be a story of redemption and—pssshhhhahahahahaha I crack myself up.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fernando's Fifth Quest

Saturday started with a bang: Macombo and Natasia informed Fernando and Ronaldo straightaway at breakfast that a crazy French lady had spent most of her breakfast time berating the waitstaff over the paucity of choice provided at the meal and the overall low quality of the food and drink which had been provided. Alas, not every breakfast can be the delicious continental European spread. If it were, Fernando would eat far more breakfasts.
As decided the previous evening, in no way would the party endeavor to be timely at the convention. They would late, fashionably so, and hopefully avoid the glut and torrent of people. They watched some of the other convention-goers who shared the hotel clamber into the shuttle from a position of safety and semi-comfort in the lobby. The chairs were Victorian, high-backed and rather narrow, and the gathered crew exchanged ribald tales of past adventures at the Dungeons and Dragons table, for both Macombo and Natasia expressed interest in attending. Furthermore, Fernando would host a going-away jamboree for Ronaldo the following week, as that man would functionally exit from Fernando life for always and ever in short order—this journey was, after all, one last adventurous huzzah before the Fellowship's breaking, and the pair received formal invitations to this gathering. Fernando plied them with promises of ginger ale and of delectable, hand-crafted vittles, and they did swiftly agree to attend.
The gang's ride carried them to their location without trouble and the busiest day of all the days began. Fernando first panel of the day featured a comic book writer who had been in the business for thirty years sharing kernels of wisdom he had gained over his tenure in “the biz” with regards to plotting and storytelling. Mostly, of course, as it applied to the medium of comics and graphic novels, but Fernando took away the notion of fractal plot pacing: that every subsection of a given story arc, novel, D&D campaign, whatever, ought to have a miniaturized dramatic arc to call its own. This is something that Fernando had grasped on a subconscious level but had, to this point, never had overtly explained to him, and it is the single most edifying thing he encountered at the convention, something he shall endeavor to insert into his own literature in order to become a better storyteller.
A long, long stream of guest panels ensued. Fernando sat in the same room as Stan Lee and a loud, annoying guy who served as a combination of interpreter and question-gatekeeper. This gentleman was also the one who'd attempted to rile up the crowds by being a dumbass over the intercom the previous day. What more can be said? It was a Q&A with Stan “The Man” (seriously though why was this little appellation appended to every single instance Fernando encountered the dude's name at the convention?) Lee.
Fernando sat in the same room as Manu Bennett, who is actually a surprisingly small man only of about Fernando's height. His roles in Spartacus and The Hobbit skewed Fernando's understanding of the man's size, but Mr. Bennett explained that onlookers fill in size narratives on their own, so long as you carry yourself like someone who is large and in charge.
Truly, the human mind is an easily manipulated thing.
Fernando and Ronaldo then met up and sat in the back of an overcrowded room of five thousand-ish people who waited for Mr. Norman Reedus. Natasia and Macombo mingled with the pair for a while, but they had VIP tickets and so were granted access to actually decent seats once the panel was to begin. To help pass the time until the Guest of Honor made his grand debut, Jon Berethal entertained the crowd, and it was glorious. In stark contrast to Michael Shannon's halfhearted dipfuckery, Mr. Berethal was a genuine (albeit not classy...he swore like a sailor), genial guy. He wanted to be there and wanted to engage the horde of Walking Dead-ites. He pimped his new show and convinced both Fernando and Ronaldo to give the premiere a look-over.
Norman Reedus then apparated and sprayed silly string all over the table, which of course caused everyone in the crowd go apeshit and all of the ovaries to explode in miniature big bangs. He was forbidden to discuss the show by his contract with AMC, which deflates a significant portion of why many audience members wanted to be there, but he did hold forth at length about Boondock Saints and how they are making a third movie in the series.
Hollywood. Stop.
Once Norman Reedus stepped out of the building, Fernando decided that he would go on a solitary adventure, splitting the party and forcing the Great DM Above to cater to the Keeper's selfish player character whims. He would visit the city of Chicago proper, using public transportation, transforming into a regular city mouse like he had been in the days when he'd resided in Vienna! What would he do? Mysteries, left to the DM's graces! But just that he did, and he did randomly encounter many unique characters in his travels. More amusing characters and situations, daresay, than he did over the full weekend at Comic Con.
First, the fistfight! Fernando stood against one of the stripper poles which he has always favored on public transport, as he believes in keeping the seats open for those who must sit, and standing burns more calories besides. As the train pulled into one of the many stops, a pair of men, one white and one black, hopped off and started stripping down. The other passengers on the train seemed to take this as a bit of street theater, for they immediately readied their cell phones for a kingly performance. It seems the while man had said something offensive and sexually suggestive to a lady in the vicinity of the black man, and the black man had come to the woman's defense, and the white man had taken offense at the defense, and now two shirtless men were punching the everloving fuck out of one another on a subway platform while everyone recorded the fight.
The black guy won the first round of combat and, to his credit, turned and headed for the stairs rather than to continue whaling on his stunned and helpless victim. The white guy, upon stumbling to his feet, escalated the conflict by threatening to retrieve his “twenty-two” and “pay [him] a visit tonight.” The black guy stopped at the top of the stairs, turned, and said in one of those scarily calm voices that his “posse” (perhaps this is a Chicagoan term for adventuring party?) would “teach [him] a lesson if [he] tried that shit.” White Guy's brash response was that he would “fuck all y'all up.”
Quaint. The subway car had pulled out of the station before Cop Dudes could arrive on the scene, so Fernando did not know if, indeed, White Guy carried through on his infantile threat or if it had been all posturing and bluster, like what most assholes are capable of producing.
One of Fernando's fellow passengers, a teenaged African American lad, commented on the situation at Fernando. “Yo, you see that shit happen! Crazy!”
Well, yes, he had. Fernando had been standing right there. “Little bit, yeah.”
You taking this awful calm.”
Fernando shrugged. “I'm just trying to get from Point A to Point B here.”
TAAL quieted down.
A little bit later, a skeevy, scrawny man clambered onto the subway car scant moments before the doors shut. He addressed the gathered people in breathless, rote cadence, “I'm sorry, this will only take a minute of your time I have been really down on my luck lately and living on subway cars like a dog I'm trying to get some medication but please bear with me--” (Here he hiked up his pants leg and revealed to the world a pus-rimmed, swollen brown sore that blanketed the side of his calf) “--to fight this infection I got and sleeping on subway cars doesn't help at all so please if you could give me some money even the tiniest bit it could go a long way to helping me out please and thank you.”
Then he crouched on the floor in front of the subway car's doorway muttering “I'm sorry I'm so sorry” every fifteen-odd seconds. Most people had the good sense to ignore his solicitous ramblings. A few soft-hearted (soft-headed, more like) souls gave him some dollars. One man even gave him a five. Because encouraging a busker is the way to go through life, right city folk?
At the next stop, Skeevy Stevie slithered out the door, walked down the platform to the adjacent car, and climbed right back on to work another crowd.
Fernando also stumbled across a conservatory in his travels, and it was comforting being surrounded by living things that shared the Keeper's notions of solitude and introspection. None of them tried to consume him, and this is how Fernando knew the DM was fudging his dice rolls.
By the time Fernando returned to the convention center, it was dark. Ronaldo and the rest had gone home, but the dark is just the beginning, for the convention's “after-party” had just begun! Fernando dropped by and had a few, not too heinously expensive, drinks. He, by the grace of Lovecraft, actually received a ginger vodka when he asked the bartender for a ginger vodka.
It was a very loud afterparty. The music could be summed up as generic and forgettable nnn-tss-nnn-tss-nnn-tss electechnotronic. Fernando spent most of his time there nursing his drinks and watching people. He kind of made a friend, in that a young lady named Latisha or Latasha approached him and started telling Fernando about a Superman poster she'd bought from one of the myriad dealers earlier today.
Fernando got bored in short order and contacted Cool Driver Jim for pickup. He took a while to arrive, as he had drop-offs to make at the airport, but the night was warm and mosquitoes nonexistent, and the moths were kept away from Fernando by the abundance of streetlights, so he sat on a curb outside the convention center and waited for nearly an hour. When Cool Driver Jim pulled up, the shuttle was completely empty, so Fernando climbed in and rode shotgun. Cool Driver Jim started telling Fernando about his day, and it was like they shared a series of moments.
The series of moments ended when he swung by the airport and six other people joined the party. Upon reaching the hotel, Fernando exited the van, gave Cool Driver Jim a five dollar tip, shook his hand, and said to him, “You know, I never caught your name, and we've been calling you Jim all weekend.”
It's Josè.”
Thanks, Josè. You're a king among men.”
Josè laughed. “I'll see you tomorrow again?”
Maybe so. I definitely hope so. Have a good night, man.” Fernando entered the hotel and trudged up the stairs to the room he shared with Ronaldo and Teodor, and he did indeed hold to the hope that some year down the road he would share in Cool Driver, Josè's company once again.
But, alas, it would not be tomorrow. The adventure drew to its inevitable close.