Friday, December 30, 2011

The 2011-2012 Reading Project to Date (August - December)

     I thought I would give a visual recap of titles covered to date as part of the 2011-2012 Reading Project.  Sure, it is much less loaded with serious titles than the 2010-2011 Reading Project, but it already has more non-fiction titles in the first five months so I have not abandoned hope.  There are quite a few types of fiction covered, too, so I don't feel as though I have locked into just reading types of books.  Sure, there are five Dover Thrift Edition titles in the mix (one quarter of the books read), but they are just so damned affordable.
     Anyway, feel free to comment on any of the titles you may have read and enjoyed (or hated). I feel rather confident that most people will have read at least three of these books.  Or just take note that this would only be six rows of books if I yanked the comic books and graphic novels out.  I would like to say that fourteen of the titles pictured were courtesy of the Forest Park Public Library and another four were borrowed from family members, so the 2011-2012 Reading Project has been quite economical to date.

The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley, Walking the Tightrope of Reason by Robert Foegelin, Great Short Short Stories edited by Paul Negri, and What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills

Conan the Barbarian Michael A. Stackpole, Seinfeld and Philosophy edited by William Irwin, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Kremin issues 1-4 by Charles Moissant

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton, and I.J.N. Culbard, The Beast of Chicago by Rick Geary, and School issues 1-4 by Brian Defferding

Wrath issues 1-7, written by Mike W. Barr, mostly drawn by David Ammerman (Malibu Comics)

The Night Man issues 1-15 (Malibu Comics)

Rousseau's Dog by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, "Cat Calls" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, "Rogue Hunter #1 – Gaia: Into the Abyss" by Kevis Hendrickson, and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, Richard Castle's Deadly Storm by Brian Bendis, Kelly Sue Deconnick, and Lan Medina, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece by Robert Morkot

The Hellenistic Age by Peter Green, "The New World" by Patrick Ness, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

The Dead that Walk edited by Stephen Jones, "They" by Vincent Hobbes, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks, and Blockade Billy by Steven King

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dreamers (Original Text - Part Nine) (1997)

     I am pretty sure my intention was always to go back an develop the mini-scenes at the beginning of this section into full blown chapters.  I never did.  As a matter of fact, this is the last section where I tried to force to original concept of the story into what was developing.  It doesn't mesh well.  There is some decent dialogue, though.  Not great descriptive text, but I think I was trying to be very minimalistic with that.
If you are at all curious as to what page Nancy opens the Social Psychology book to, it would look very much like this.


     It was a rule of life that could be depended upon.  Dave Burke didn't remember his dreams.  Technically, that was still true.  When he woke up, at five fifteen Saturday morning, he had known it was because of something in a dream.  It didn't feel scary, just something sudden.  Like a quick muscle movement in response to some imagined stimuli.  But he knew it was something in a dream.
     The day would be like this.  Burke didn't regret agreeing to work today.  First of all, overtime at eight and a quarter an hour was a healthy wage, and money was money.  More importantly, the shift he was taking belonged to Anika Lang, a young blonde who Burke desperately wanted to be better acquainted with.  A relationship can only go so far at the workplace, and Anika had always been friendly there.  She was going to a cousin's wedding or some such.
     Work.  Work on a Saturday.  No time for the band.  But people work on Saturday, one way or the other.

     Not more than an hour and half later, Larry Pudenski and Mike Carver were back at the warehouse setting up for the whole fleet of company vehicles.  An electrical explosion at one of the job sites set up for an emergency work day.  All other jobs, both company and side, would wait.  Mr. Pudenski and Don were already at the site.  It was just a matter, now, of getting the appropriate supplies and manpower there to fix what went wrong.  Or, more likely, to get the damage repaired and restore power; sometimes the source of the problems couldn't be addressed right away.
     For Mike Carver, it would be another day of lecturing.  He could tune it out easily enough.  The job was demanding; it would be the priority.  Neither Mr. Pudenski or Larry would have time, early on, to go off on a tangent.  For better or worse, the day would end at a bar or pizzeria with pitchers of beer.  Things could get worse than that.
     "I can't believe I agreed to do this."
     "You don't have anything else to do, and I could use the help.  Besides, you wanted some answers, right?"
     "The anger?"
     "Exactly.  Tit for tat."
     Nancy let a small laugh escape and turned back to the pile of books Jason had put in front of her.  "And you want to know what got me over J.B.?"
     "It wasn't sex.  He would have said something.  My guess is that you met somebody."
     "No.  I think its more that I've finally not needed someone."
     "Page two fifty eight, Social Psych."  This was met by only a blank look on Nancy's face.  "They gray book with the ferris wheel on the cover."
      Nancy opend the book.  Beneath a bar graph and a paragraph or two filled with green highlighted text was the sub-chapter heading in boldface: The Market Value of Physical Attractiveness.
     "That's not what I had in mind."
     "I need you to retype that entire sub-chapter so it can be photocopied."
     "Again, not what I had in mind."
     "I am paying you for this.  And you'll get your answers."
     She began to type the text into the computer, but not so carefully that spellchecker wouldn't be necessary.  Jason would be reading over other subjects in other books and typing them into another of his computers.
     "How does a poor boy like you afford three computers?"
     "I never throw anything away."  Jason gestured to an older model that sat in the corner of his bedroom collecting dust.  "That's from the late eighties.  It will serve to do this, but not much else.  No good for games."  He thumped the one he was working on.  "This is about three years old.  Its almost as bad as the first.  The beauty you are working with is the best prize I've ever won.  A three and a half thousand dollar computer, over five thousand dollars worth of programs and accessories."
     "That's a lot of luck.  Like with the stereo."
     "You're taking your luck from somebody."
     "That would imply you deserve it.  You cruise through school.  Don't give me that look, Jason.  You might bust your ass but you got all the breaks.  You have the school supporting you best it can.  You got Melissa the second you lost Stacy.  Somebody is on the downside of all that."
     "Good things happen to good people."
     "Attractive people are better liars than ugly ones."
     "That's not what it says, Nancy.  People are more likely to believe the lies of attractive people than they are the lies of those they find unattractive.  The funny thing is knowing that doesn't help much.  It doesn't say that they lie more, and it doesn't help to be suspicious of those to whom you are attracted."
     Nancy began typing again.  She would have just assumed to have asked how one could tell when wariness became suspicion.  When did it go beyond concern?  When did it stop being self-protecting and turn self-destructive?  That was what Jason was studying.  Sort of.
     Instead, she asked, "Why wouldn't you want to be with Melissa?"
     "I want to marry Melissa."
     That was more than Nancy expected.  She sat silent.
     "You're asking about last Sunday?"  She responded to Jason's question with a nod.  "It's a bit of a story.  You may know some of it already.  Okay, let's get a few beers and move to someplace more comfortable."
     "Your bed?"
     "The living room."
     Nancy found herself sprawled out across Jason's couch.  She had half a bottle of Rolling Rock in her left hand.  An empty bottle was on the floor next to the couch.  She had finished it before Jason had sat down in the chair opposite her.  He held a can of Schlitz  in his right hand and wore an odd grin on his face.
     "You are aware that I don't get to see Melissa much.  Not given how close we live to one another at any rate.  There is the assumption that I love her, that I am in love with her.  I won't dismiss those notions.  There are few times that I can find reason to not want to be with her.  Then there are my friends.
     "I need to spend time with my friends.  I know a lot of them from high school, or college.  They aren't like my colleagues.  God, I have colleagues.  But it isn't the same thing.  These friends of mine are slipping away.  Maybe that's natural, but it doesn't sit well with me.  If you didn't have the luxury of being able to take the time, you wouldn't be here today.  If you were Larry or J.B., or even Vicki, you wouldn't have that luxury.  And I wouldn't have the luxury to accommodate your free time if it weren't for your willingness to help me get some work done.
     "I spent a night with my friends.  Melissa would have spent it with hers up at Northwestern if you hadn't dragged her down to your parents' house."
     "I still qualify as one of Melissa's friends."
     "Yes, you do.  And she has a batch of friends from school.  Just like you and I did in Ann Arbor."
     "But you were a frat-boy."
     "I got better.  And I even found a better school without having to leave the Midwest.  Where was I?"
     "Friends.  Hers and yours."
     "I'll skip that.  Nancy, it was like you wanted me gone, wanted me trapped with Melissa.  Not a bad place to be trapped, but I don't want to have to give up the people who have meant so much to me for so long.  I don't want to be told that I have to be with 'the woman'.  Didn't it used to be okay for me to drop by unannounced and pick up some people to do something?  It was as though you wanted to expedite my exodus."
     "The anger?"
     "Sometimes its fun to be angry."
     "No.  Probably a little harmful in the long run.  But it can be fun."
     Nancy finished off her second beer.  Jason wasn't done with his can of Schlitz.
     "Ready to go back to work, Miss Klein?"
     She smiled, although it was a bit forced.  Jason hadn't really said much.  There had to be more to it than Jason's lack of faith in the durability of his friendships.
     "You have another thing to answer."
     "It's about you and Melissa and a woman's needs."
     Jason blushed, but more than that, he dropped his beer.
     "Off limits."
     "No, Jason.  You gave me bullshit about the anger.  I want an answer to this one."
     "It's about sex.  I can't imagine that there is anything I can say about the topic that would be unknown to you."
     "I don't know much about the sex between you and Melissa."
     "Thankfully."  He couldn't look her in the eye.  "What has Melissa told you?"
     She only smiled coyly.  It was most definitely not forced.
     "The woman's needs phrase refers to the fact that Melissa wants more physical contact."
     "You mean sex."
     "Not necessarily one in the same."
     This time it was Nancy who turned red.  She couldn't help but give a nervous laugh.  "Phone sex?  You talked Melissa into having phone sex with you?  And I'm guessing this is one a regular basis."
     "Well, I'm glad I told you.  Now."
     "Isn't that some sort of perversion?  Or sexual deviance?  Do you prefer it to real sex?"
     "Because this isn't where I wanted this conversation to go."
     "I'm serious."
     "No, I prefer real sex.  Very much so.  But there are time constraints, and it's still with her..."
     "It's twisted."
     "That's why we don't talk about, Nancy."
     "Does it mean a lot that it is with her?"  He nodded.  "Then it's sweet." 
     "I've gone from perverted and deviant to twisted in sweet in less than a minute."
     "Quick recovery, Dr. MacLeod."
     She was laughing and Jason was about to continue the banter, but he noticed something about her eyes.  It was actually in her eyes.  There was a flash of light, and he had no idea what it meant.  There was no reason for him to have known as not many people had experienced it themselves.  Nancy had.  It was something spectacular.
     Then she was on the floor, almost unconscious.  He was over like a shot.
     "Bad acid flashback?"
     "Something just happened – to someone."
     "Are you okay?  You look dazed."
     "I don't know who..."
     He helped her onto the couch.  She was going on about some sort of psychic event.  He didn't bother to try to explain that psychologists used psychic in a different context than laypersons.  She calmed down a bit, more to ease Jason's mind than because of any direct influence he may have had.
     "So, you're psychic?  Why aren't I analyzing your dreams, then?"
     Nancy gave him the bird.
     "Then what was it."
     "Someone we know, and something bad."
     "Do you like deluding yourself like this?"
     She propped herself up on an elbow.  "Would you rather talk about your twisted virtual sex life?"
     "Just the sweet part."
     "I know what I'm talking about."
     "You sound like J.B.  Did he ever tell you about when the werewolf stole him out of his bed?  I think he was five.  It just snatched him up in his blanket and ran off with him.  But something was chasing the werewolf.  Like a white knight.  The creature threw him under the stairs and escaped out the front door."
     "That's just a story."
     "A dream.  But he woke up under the stairs wrapped in the same blanket.  He thought he had a demon after him.  He might still; it isn't something we talk about, he and I.  There is too much there for me to read into."
     She almost forget that Jason was mocking her sixth sense.  She didn't believe in it, not very often at least.  Then there were times it couldn't be defined.  It was more than coincidence.  Maybe J.B.'s dream was like that.  It was a definite insight into his make-up as a person.
     "Should we call it quits for the night?  You're still shaken.  I'm going to call Melissa—"
     "From a different room, please.  I don't want to watch that."
     He had no immediate response.  It was too well timed.  Like the time his Chemistry T.A. had added "-less" to a girl's statement about how much she was worth.  He should have laughed.  He wanted to.  Unfortunately, he was beginning to feel some sickness in his stomach.  Like he had just lost his best friend.  Or someone had walked on his grave.  He sat down on the couch and quietly told Nancy as much.  He didn't like to think that perception could exist beyond the perceivable.  Her state had now affected him.
     "I am going to get Melissa here."
     "I should go, then."
     "She and I are friends, but not even for you, Jason."
     "I'm touched, but I would rather stay working.  If you're right about this, maybe I could do a research paper on this para-psychological event into something publishable.  I could be the next Peter Venkman."  He didn't wait for her to ask who that was.  "Bill Murray in Ghostbusters."
     "No thanks."
     "Then I'm a concerned friend who want to take care of you, and wants his girlfriend to help out."
     "On one condition."
     He said he was open to suggestions.  He said he wanted a list of options to choose from.  He used a lot of words to say so.
     "Tell Melissa you want to marry her."
     "Because that's all that makes it sweet."  She could tell Jason wasn't listening.  "The only thing that makes any of this perversion at all acceptable is that it is very important that it is Melissa, and not someone else."
     "I don't want a lecture."
     "But I know sex.  You have to let her know how much you care.  Let her know that its about love, not your getting your rocks off."
     "When she gets here."
     "Because I'm scared to be here with you until then."  She drew him in with her eyes.  "Were you angry because you thought I was going to wreck your perfect little system?  You call her when you need her, and then you are done.  She's a fun little tool, and real sex is great, but since time matters a phone call will do it?"
     "She and I worked this out, Nancy.  It doesn't sound romantic, and it probably isn't.  It is part of the system.  You want me to throw that away for love."
     "You love her!"
     "I've never told any woman that I love her."
     Nancy wanted to say something meaningful.  "Not even your mother?  Or your sisters?  No one?"
     "Not since I turned twenty one.  Not even my Gramma.  Nancy, I consider you a good friend, but I'm not real comfortable talking about all of this.  I've told Pudenski I love him, because he's like the brother I never had.  I told Lew Pittman, too.  I haven't gotten beyond that."
     It gave Nancy a huge insight into Jason MacLeod.  He and Larry had been friends since they were five.  Llewellyn Pittman was a friend to both of them, but he died when they were all in high school.  Nancy guessed that it was just as likely that Jason told Lew how much he cared for him at the funeral as it was that he said it when he was alive.  Then in college he decided he wasn't going to tell anyone he loved them?  That would have coincided with Stacy Andrews.
     "Is this all about St. Andrews?"
     "I always hated that you called her that."
     "Your Catholic princess.  The light of your life.  Wasn't she still a virgin when you two started dating?"
     "At least we are beyond the idea that you're a psychic."
     "I still want to talk about that."
     "You're just better at talking about sex."
     "I believe I can paraphrase it by saying 'you preach what you know.'"  She was starting to feel better.  "I want another beer.  And I want to talk about St. Andrews.  And it would be nice it you would believe me about this feeling.  Iwas right about Lynn leaving Larry."
     "Nice alliteration.  And all you said was that Lynn was going to go back to New York."
     "She did!"
     "Four weeks later.  Then they didn't break up for another month."  He sighed.  "You know if I don't call Melissa now, I won;t be able to get her here."  Jason walked over toward the kitchen, looking for the phone.  "And no more beer for you."



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blockade Billy (2010)

     Impressed with Steven King's ability to inject an interesting character study into his zombie story "Home Delivery", I decided to give him another chance.  However, Blockade Billy (2010) was probably the wrong choice if I wanted to be impressed.  It is unbelievably short – a short story claiming novella status by virtue of font size and spacing – and the version I checked out from the library did not have the bonus story "Morality". 
     King relates the improbable story of a baseball player removed from the game and record books after one month in the 1957 season.  The player, the titular Blockade Billy Blakely, is called up to play for the fictional Newark Titans (there are Newark Titans at the Ohio State University and the New Jersey Titans are a Women's Spring Football team).  He is an odd duck but one hell of a baseball player.  The entirety of the tale is told as though it is being related to King by the retired Third Base Coach from that team.
     There isn't much in the story.  It is breezy, maybe a little too much so.  King doesn't quite know what kind of story he wants to tell and is quick to go back to peppering in plenty of curse words to fill out the dialogue (something I first noticed when reading his short stories over 20 years ago).  It appears as though King had an idea for a story – and didn't want it to be any kind of horror – but couldn't quite find the human angle.  The reflective observations about what may have been the motivation for Blockade Billy to do what he did felt forced, as though King wanted to have a moral to the story.  I don't think it needed one, not if he had committed to developing it in a manner that would have engaged the reader in the strange month long odyssey of the team.
     I am glad I didn't invest 1,000 pages in a King book to get something like this, but as it was an insanely quick read I am not complaining.  I do think that this story could have been left to sit and be revisited when King had a better idea of what he wanted to do with it; he certainly doesn't need to put out books to put food on the table these days.  There are a couple of King stories I do want to read, and I hope they are betting than Blockade Billy, but I have read worse from established authors.  And much worse from people like myself who can only aspire to be authors.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (2009)

     Sure, I gave The Zombie Survival Guide (2003) as a Christmas present to a coworker many years ago – I want to say it was 2004 – but I never read it.  I glanced through it, but it didn't seem to hold much appeal for me.  For a book that was filed under humor, it seemed leaden.  Moreover, it felt lazy.  Now, I will own the fact that it irresponsible for me to come to those conclusions without actually reading at least one entire section of the book.  The person to whom I gave the book was happy with it, and author Max Brooks has gone on to have much success churning out more titles relating to the zombie apocalypse.  As I had an entire day free, I decided to give Brooks another shot – though this time in graphic novel form, as I was sure it would not take much time to get through it.
     That was an understatement.  The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (2009) features some compelling black and white artwork by Ibraim Roberson.  It is not expressive of action, but is detailed and moody.  Still, it cannot make up for the lack of anything resembling story in any of the vignettes Brooks half informs.  There isn't much in the way of connective material to link the stories, nor does Brooks do anything to make one believe he should be praised for his research in squaring his fantasies of sporadic outbreaks of the undead and actual history.
     The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks feels more like an attempt to storyboard a mishmash of a film, where zombies could be incorporated into multiple eras.  Nothing in it is compelling on its own, and when taken together it just comes off as an attempt for Brooks to wring more money out of a genre that he doesn't seem to have added anything to.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe in the full text of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z (2006), Brooks does make many and varied contributions to the genre beyond giving a name to the virus that creates his zombies.  But in my limited experience, Brooks offers nothing new and does so in an unimaginative manner.
     I cannot imagine that anyone would be satisfied with this product at its list price of $17.00 (though I doubt few buy their books at list price these days).  It is too short, too disjointed, and not distinctive enough to merit being necessary in any collection.  As a tie-in, it may satisfy a need for some fans to see Brooks' imagining of a world perpetually at risk of a zombie uprising play out over a 62,000 year span.  By itself, it only serves as a reminder of how many attempts to tell a zombie story with nothing behind it have plagued the foreign and direct-to-video film markets over the past decade.  I also think that Brooks did Roberson a disfavor by not listing the artist's name on the cover.
     Whether or not this completely turns me off to ever giving World War Z a chance – I think that most authors who are not graphic artists do not translate well into this medium – I know that I will continue to be leery of Brooks.  Having seen him on Deadliest Warrior (2009-present) and the Starz produced Zombie Mania (2008), I am filled with a sense that he is a man who is enamored with the idea of zombies but cannot find any voice to make the concept his own or structure the zombie apocalypse as to give it any kind of allegorical meaning.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Time Machine (1895)

     The cynic could argue that the reason I have two of 1895's most celebrated works of fiction included in this year's reading project is because both are relatively short.  I am not going to be so disingenuous as to protest that length was not a factor.  While The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is a classic work of American fiction that is routinely assigned for school children to read, analyze, and expound upon, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) is generally considered more a piece celebrated amongst science fiction devotees and fans of late Victorian era authors.
     Somewhat surprisingly, Wells' story is rife with philosophical opining on the nature of man and the interactions of a capitalistic, classed society.  Sure, this is something that any fan of 20th Century science fiction would expect – the dressing up of modern day social ills and concerns in the safety of a removed society or land – but it feels much more forceful as Wells' Time Traveler is relating his opinions directly to his contemporaries.  He need not have had his adventures through time to view some of humanity's conceits as harmful and reductive, leading us against any kind of idealized society, but the far distant future allows Wells to make the distinctions so stark that there can be no argument of the dangers of the underlying conditions.
     I should note that Wells writes The Time Machine in the style of a man recounting a tale.  Nearly everything is a man being quoted, and he quoting those who appear in his story.  This is not a style of which I am a fan.  It feels – from the perspective of one who came to be a reader in the last fifth of the 20th Century – as dated and artificial.  However, Wells is more adept at working this way than Conan Doyle was with the Sherlock Holmes short stories; the former never crafts a line as telling as "I suppose a suicide who holds a pistol to his skull feels much the same wonder at what will come next as I felt then." (Chapter 3)
     The story is relatively simple.  The Time Traveler tells some assembled guests that he has figured out that time is a dimension and therefore one must be able to move through it as easily as through 'length, breadth, and thickness' in a manner other than the unalterable, observable march of time.  To accomplish this, he has constructed a time machine.  Soon after, he takes the machine for a spin through time (going much further into the future than one would expect to be safe).  He promptly spends about a week in this first future, meeting creatures, eating fruit, tromping about on foot, battling cannibals, and setting the forest on fire before rescuing his machine.  He then travels to even more distant futures that reveal nothing about the nature of humanity.  At some point he manages his wits, returns to his own age, and eats a good meal before recounting his tale.  He subsequently takes the machine on another trip, but he never returns from that one.
     There are quite a few lines and passages that address the deeper issues (or are just very cleverly written).  My apologies for not noting specifically what each is addressing within the story.  I may revisit this in the near future and make those corrections, but I simply ran out of time when putting this post together.
  • " Seeing the ease and security in which these people were living, I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was after all what one would expect ; for the strength of a man and the softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the differentiation of occupations are mere militant necessities of an age of physical force.  Where population is balanced and abundant, much child-bearing becomes an evil rather than a blessing to the State : where violence comes but rarely and offspring are secure, there is less necessity—indeed there is no necessity—for an efficient family, and the specialisation of the sexes with reference to their children's needs disappears." (Chapter 4)
  • "Strength is the outcome of need ; security sets a premium on feebleness.  The work of ameliorating the conditions of life—the true civilising process that makes life more and more secure—had gone steadily on to a climax.  One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another." (Chapter 4)
  • "I saw mankind housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had found them engaged in no toil.  There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical struggle.  The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone." (Chapter 4)
  • "What, unless biological science is a mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigor?  Hardship and freedom : conditions under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall ; conditions that put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon self-restraint, patience, and decision.  And the institution of the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion, all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers of the young." (Chapter 4)
  •  "I don't know how to convey their expression to you.  Suppose you were to use a grossly improper gesture to a delicate-minded woman.  It is how she would look." (Chapter 5)
  • "But I was too restless to watch long; I am too Occidental for a long vigil." (Chapter 5)
  • "I think I have said how much hotter than our own world was the weather of this Golden Age." (Chapter 5) [I mostly like this because it works with the introduction of greenhouse gases brought on by the Industrial Age, carrying it on to what we now know to be the conclusion.]
  • "At first, proceeding from the problems of our own age, it seemed clear as daylight to me that the gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social differences between the Capitalist and the Labourer, was the key to the whole position." (Chapter 5)
  • "Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth?" (Chapter 5)
  • "The great triumph of Humanity I had dreamed of took a different shape in my mind.  It had been no such triumph of moral education and general co-operation as I had imagined." (Chapter 5)
  • "Before I had felt as a man might feel who had fallen into a pit ; my concern was with the pit and how to get out of it.  Now I felt like a beast in a trap, whose enemy would come upon him soon." (Chapter 7)
  • "Upper-world people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants ;  but that had long since passed away.  The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship." (Chapter 7)
  • "Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother out of the ease and the sunshine.  And now that brother was coming back—changed!" (Chapter 7)
  • "Possibly they had lived on rats and suchlike vermin,  Even now man is far less discriminating and exclusive in his food than he was—far less than any monkey.  His prejudice against human flesh is no deep-seated instinct.  And so these inhuman sons of men—!" (Chapter 7)
  • "These Eloi were mere fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and preyed upon—probably saw to the breeding of." (Chapter 7)
  • "She always seemed to me, I fancy, more human than she was, perhaps because her affection was so human." (Chapter 8)
  • "Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of ambition.  But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified.  At the time I will confess that I thought chiefly of the Philosophical Transactions and my own seventeen papers upon physical optics." (Chapter 8)
  • "I understood now what all the beauty of the over-world people covered.  Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field.  Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies, and provided against no needs.  And their end was the same." (Chapter 10)
  • "I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been.  It had committed suicide.  It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last.  Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety.  The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work.  No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployment problem, no social question left unsolved.  And a great quiet had followed." (Chapter 10)
  • "An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism.  Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless.  There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.  Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety if needs and dangers." (Chapter 10)
  • "Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction." (Chapter 12) [I like this clever appropriation of Puck's sentiment from A Midsummer Night's Dream.]

     I came to own this book because I purchased the Dover Thrift Editions H.G. Wells box set.  Part of this was because five books for $8 (which was my cost through Amazon at the time) seemed like a great deal.  As a fan of science fiction (but hardly a devotee or expert), I felt that I needed to get around to reading Wells and Verne if I were going to pretend to treat the genre seriously.  I had picked up The Works of Jules Verne (a Borders published collection of five novels and three short stories in one hard cover book) many years prior, but I am loathe to write in it to make notes or highlight text.  The DTE books, by nature of their low cost, do not instill any sense that marking them up is disrespectful.  To me, the DTE books exist to be read rather than preserved.  They don't exist to look pretty on the shelf like the gilded edged Borders book of Verne stories.
Say what you will about Simon Wells' The Time Machine (2002) – I'll say that I found it to be frustrating and under formed – but it takes all kinds of liberties with the story and content of the original.  While it may come off as less paternalistic in its condemnation and evaluation of humanity, the added elements make for a less compelling tale.  Seeing as how can likely read the book in close to the same time it takes to watch the movie, I would strongly suggest investing the time in reading.
     I would imagine that serious science fiction fans have read The Time Machine by the time they reach high school.  This is probably unfortunate, as much of what Wells is assessing would be unknown to readers of that age.  Likewise, there may be many who are only familiar with the story through the film depictions of it.  I remember seeing the 2002 movie with a friend from high school who assured me that it was fairly faithful to the original tale.  Clearly, that is not the case and I am left to conclude that my friend had never read the story in the first place.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Dead That Walk (2009)

     The Dead that Walk (2009) is – in theory – a collection of zombie stories.  Not being any kind of authority on horror fiction, I can't say that I really went in with the right expectations.  Some of the writers aren't bound to the Romero template for the walking dead, and one (Joe Hill, Stephen King's son) goes so far as to have his zombies as the extras in Dawn of the Dead (1978).  However, it seems that many of the authors decided that a familiarity with the zombie outbreak meant not having to address it themselves.  That proved to be much more problematic that I would have expected.
     Somewhat surprisingly, this was the first time I read several of the better known authors.  I had never read anything by Richard Matheson, Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, and Harlan Ellison®, but had seen material from each developed into feature films.  I hadn't read any Stephen King since Night Shift (1978) and Skeleton Crew (1985) were passed around at Boy Scouts camping trips; I do think I read over half of each as a means of killing time.  Similarly, I had not read any Robert E. Howard since 1990, and that was just the first two Conan stories.  I ended up reading this book because I was curious how Stephen Woodworth would handle something outside his Violets series (discussed here).  Unfortunately, Woodworth's ambitious tale of Nixon coming back from the dead feels both rushed and without a proper set-up.  While not the worst piece in the collection, it certainly will never be considered a "classic" example of genre writing.

There is often a comical element to the walking dead.  Sometimes this can be used to break the tension.  It can also be used to highlight the absurdity of real world conceits.  In short fiction, it often falls flat unless the author commits to it.  This painting is actually for a different book (one whose title spoofs Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon), but it can fit just about any standard zombie tale set outside of the city.
     Some of the stories are so derivative that it is a wonder why there are written.  Is there really such a hunger for zombie fiction that just about any old story will do?  Maybe.  It certainly seems that there are more than a few zombie films that are made with the same thought.  Still, some authors make an attempt to bring something new to the genre.  Ellison® writes what is essentially a short bit suitable for The Twilight Zone (1959-64; 1985-89; 2002-03) or The Outer Limits (1963-65; 1995-2002) with "Sensible City", but it is all set-up and clever twist with no meat in the middle to make it worthwhile.  But there is no explanation as to why there are flesh-hungry monsters in that story, which doesn't work in so brief a format; there shouldn't be more questions from the reveal than the set-up.  Ellison® takes a rather light tone, and his comedy works better than Nancy Holder's in "Zombonia".  The latter feels like a very brief waste of time.
     Most of the stories take place well away from the lights and safety of civilization, bringing the classic feel of horror in the remoteness and lack of ability to appeal for help of any kind.  While I am sure that part of what led Romero to place Night of the Living Dead (1968) in a farmhouse was budgetary concerns, there has not been much in the way – that I have seen or read – depicting the zombie uprising in the heart of the city.  The urban tales in The Dead that Walk take place during the shooting of a zombie movie (Joe Hill's "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead") or in the strange, alien atmosphere of late Cold War Moscow under siege by the walking dead (Kim Newman's "Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue"). 
Harlan Ellison® makes mention of Max Ernst's The Nymph Echo (above) in his short story "Sensible City".  Definitely an attempt at something more meaningful than just picturing the ravenous, flesh-hungry zombies.  Unfortunately, Ellison's tale is all set-up and simple, expected twist.  Worse, the set-up doesn't seem to fit the ending.  And – maybe because I just don't get it – there doesn't seem to be a reason for the character who thinks of the painting to have a background in art appreciation.  That seemed to be more about Ellison noting that he was familiar with one of the less disturbing paintings Ernst produced.
     The best stories come from the mos celebrated authors, Stephen King and Robert E. Howard.  Neither feels confined by trappings of the zombie genre – King because he finds it too limiting and with little extra to convey, and Howard because he was dead well before the tropes were established.  King's "Home Delivery" fits in with his little New England universe, and it is so grounded in the human foibles of the central character – characteristics that have nothing to do with a zombie apocalypse – that it could be compelling enough to read as a story devoid of any zombies, aliens, or gratuitous gun play.  Howard, on the other hand, turns the dark swamps of Arkansas into a wild and magical place as anything he penned set in the Hyborian Age.  Editor Stephen Jones gives a warning about the language used (I guess it should be offensive to the modern reader, but it is set in a post Civil War South where people still remember 1845...the language should fit the setting), but for the most part Howard is interested in the compulsions – internal and external – that move the protagonist forward.
     Given how much literature and (arguably) quality non-fiction I have stacked up waiting to be read, it may have been a little irresponsible of me to take a week to read the 24 short stories in The Dead that Walk.  Sure there were some I could have done without.  H.P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air" feels so antiquated that I found it chore to work my way through it (it also does feel like it is a copy of a much more famous story, regardless of where Lovecraft claims to have gained his inspiration).  Brian Keene's "Midnight at the Body Farm" seems to be missing connective sentences, making the extraordinarily short story disjointed in its flow.  Gary McMahon's "Dead to the World" lacks the sense of desperation and loss that would give it the tone the author is clearly trying to set, and it ends up feeling like a zombified take on Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006) without any of the prose, pacing, or examination of humanity.  The worst in the book is Scott Edelman's "Tell Me Like You Done Before", it being an unfortunate appropriation of characters created by a much better author (in a story that is somewhat beloved).
     If I were really into zombies, I would probably consider picking up this book.  I'm sure dedicated fans wouldn't mind putting out $14.95 (or much less now).  For me, it allowed me to sample several different authors.  Though probably not the best material from any of them, it does explore the genre and the form of the short story.  I'd say it was worth reading, but I doubt I would actively encourage people to seek it out.

Complete List of Stories: (Recommended reading is highlighted)

▸    “Where There’s a Will” by Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson (1980)
▸    “For the Good of All” by Yvonne Navarro (2009)
▸    “The Things He Said” by Michael Marshall Smith (2007)
▸     “The Last Resort” by Mark Samuels (2009)
▸    “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead” by Joe Hill (2005)
▸    “The Crossing of Aldo Ray” by Weston Ochse (2009)
▸    “Obsequy” by David J. Schow ((2006)
▸    “Zombonia” by Nancy Holder (2009)
▸    “Cool Air” by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
▸    “Call First” by Ramsey Campbell (1975)
▸    “Joe and Abel in the Field of Rest” by Lisa Morton (2009)
▸    “Midnight at the Body Farm” by Brian Keene (2007)
▸    “Dead to the World” by Gary McMahon (2009)
▸    “The Long Dead Day” by Joe R. Lansdale (2007)
▸    “A Call to Temple” by Kelly Dunn (2009)
▸    “Haeckel’s Tale” by Clive Barker (2005)
▸    “The Rulebook” by Christopher Fowler (2009)
▸    “Black Canaan” by Robert E. Howard (1936)
▸    “The Silent Majority” by Stephen Woodworth (2009)
▸    “Sensible City” by Harlan Ellison® (1994)
▸    “Granny’s Grinning” by Robert Shearman (2009)
▸    “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue or: Children of Marx and Coca Cola” by Kim Newman (1999)
▸    “Tell Me Like You Done Before” by Scott Edelman (2009)
▸    “Home Delivery” by Stephen King (1989)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dreamers (Original Text - Part Eight) (1997)

     Yes, if there was a section (even short as it is) that upset the people who thought that characters were based on them, this would be it.
     On the upside, there are only 12 handwritten pages of "Dreamers" left, so it is almost over.
I don't have anything positive to say about Ayn Rand – as an author, pseudo-philosopher, or human being – but I had a friend who got very into her.  For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce that element into "Dreamers".  While I would keep part of it for a serious revision, I definitely would not have let this scene play out this simplistically.


     "He told me to have better dreams."
     Larry Pudenski was, thankfully, through working for the week.  Fridays couldn't come often enough, but it was the sense of accomplishment as much as it was a chance to unwind.  Pudenski came from a working family, and to him there were few things that could carry the value of a job well done.
     "Do you know what ruined America?"
     "I'm sure you'll tell me, Pudenski."
     "People our age.  Think about it.  You see J.B. working a job, but he doesn't want to work.  He wants to be a doctor.  Jason wants to be a doctor, but what is he going to do?  There is no real value for psychology."
     "You asked him about your dream?"
     "But societies and cultures have existed forever without it.  You look at people our age and they don't produce.  It isn't like there is some mystical force that makes you a better worker when you hit thirty.  The idea of eight years of college is a joke."
     Carver blinked.
     "And Jason doesn't even have a philosophy.  He is totally deluding himself.  He needs to step into reality."
     "Reality is he is going to a great school and a  beautiful woman wants to sleep with him.  He is going to make as much money as you, and no one is handing him the family business.  Seems to me, his reality is better."
     "He wouldn't make a good soldier."
     "No one asked him to be one.  He wants to be a psychologist."
     "He wants to talk for a living.  He wants to screw around with with people's thoughts and emotions.  How do you think he ended up with Melissa?  You know that had to be the story."
     Carver was used to Larry's dad going on like this and it seemed natural for Larry to pick it up.
     "If I remember correctly, Pudenski," Carver spoke slowly, "she went after him."
     "I don't believe."
     "I think she'd be fun to sleep with, too, but wake up and realize that women can want things all on their own.  Jason wants to understand people and you want to wire electricity to buildings.  Who do you think is going to end up with the better philosophy?"
     "I read!"
     "You read?  Well, good for you.  You read and agree.  Remember when you thought that Hunter S. Thompson had the best view on life?  Then you replace him with Ayn Rand.  Then Nietzsche.  I don't know what you're on now, but I'll bet it came out of a book."
     "Well, what's your philosophy?"
     "Easy, Pudenski.  I live my life.  I work hard and I try to forget what makes me angry or frustrated.  I drink too much, but that doesn't mean I believe I should drink to forget.  It works, but it doesn't really factor into my belief system."
     "You don't get it.  You are just lying to yourself."
     "So are you, Larry.  You're twenty five and you think you have life figured out.  You have all the answers.  All from what you've read.  And it all fits on one shelf in your room.  Six books and nine years as an employee for you dad's company does not an education make."
     "It's been more than nine years."
     "Larry, you argue over the stupidest things.  I know my statement was that you don't have the background to be all that you think you are.  You choose to hear, instead, that I'm wrong about how long you've been working."
     "You were wrong."
     "Fine.  I was wrong.  You have life all figured out."
     "You wouldn't even have a job if it weren't for me."
     Carver stood up.  The two of them were still in the warehouse.  Thankfully there was no alcohol in the place; it was too serious a habit to allow temptation to intrude at any moment.  It wouldn't stop Carver's impulse to stand up and get a beer.  Now he was up and there wasn't a whole lot else he could do from there.
     "What would you be doing?"
     He just wanted something to drink.  Maybe a soda would be enough.  Pudenski was in a mood.  A drink would loosen both of them up a bit.  Maybe not, though.  Carver would just assume to leave.  Try to get laid and let Pudenski go on with his ranting all by himself.  Sometimes Pudenski didn't channel his frustration in the best manner.
     "Yeah, you probably would have gone Army like your brother."
     "Not a real future there."
     That was true.  Then again, being a lackey for the Pudenskis wasn't a future either.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Orphan (2009)

     What if Dale Midkiff had been placed on Valium of barbiturates on the set of Pet Semetary (1989)?  Would he have given the same performance that Peter Sarsgaard did in Orphan (2009)?  I don't think this needs to be mentioned, but it is the question I kept asking myself during the overlong film.  Sure, I also could have been asking how Vera Farmiga went from a virtual unknown (read: I didn't watch the various television shows on which she was a regular) to seemingly being a top choice for a female lead from 2006-2009.  I guess the story didn't involve me enough to distract me from wondering about the actors themselves.
     As for the story, I had more questions than those related to the plot (largely because I already knew how it would play out).  Why, I wondered, make the natural daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) deaf?  It added no worthwhile element to the story – in fact, it was another complication in the seemingly impossible lives of the Colemans – other than to let the actors fumble through some ASL.  It turns out that Engineer is hearing impaired, so the question becomes, was Max effectively deaf because of the actor portraying the role?  Why did nobody throw around the accusation that Kate's (Farmiga) habitual drinking may have led to the condition?
     Why so many problems in the Coleman family?  There is the alcoholism of Kate.  John (Sarsgaard) had an affair.  Max nearly died in the back yard.  Kate birthed a dead baby.  Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is working his way towards a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  John's mother hates and belittles Kate with what few opportunities she is given to do so.  We get almost all of this before the problematic titular orphan enters the story.
Sure, side by side, they look pretty different.  But Sarsgaard sure seemed to be channeling his inner Midkiff for most of Orphan.  John Coleman certainly has a much nicer house in Connecticut than Louis Creed did in Maine.
     There are some other obvious problems.  A couple that is adjusting to the stillbirth of a child are apparently fast tracked for adoption; it pays to be upper middle-class, white, and be willing to take on an older child.  But not only does there seem to be no evaluation as to the fitness of the Colemans as parents (drinking problem, child neglect, oldest working towards a Conduct Disorder diagnosis), there is no interaction between the child to be adopted and the children with whom she will be living.  The child is handed over without any type of medical examination (sure hope your Eastern European adoptee doesn't have any diseases or viruses that could put the other children at risk).  Oh, and everyone except for Max and Ester (Isabelle Fuhrman) – the orphan – is an idiot.
     I picked this up because I felt it had been too long since I opined about any kind of genre film.  Orphan isn't horror; it is more like a poor successor to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992).  Speaking of that film, does anyone remember when Julianne Moore was thought of as a candidate for minor roles?  It is like seeing Annette Bening in The Great Outdoors (1988).  But back to some kind of point.  My hope was that Orphan would offer some kind of meaningful story structure to explain how Esther would go from nice, if strange, new arrival in the house to terror bent on destroying everyone.  That is not what I got.  Orphan plods along, doesn't worry about keeping characters consistent, or worrying if there is any kind of back-story overload that will kill any investment in the characters.
     If the movie had been shortened by 25-30 minutes and some effort was made to explain the obvious problems with how the child wasn't vetted at all, maybe Orphan would have worked as a fun little thriller.  It wasn't, though.  And I have to add it to Source Code (2011) as examples of how Farmiga should not be asked to carry a scene or emote on cue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cop Out (2010)

     Tracy Morgan is poison.  Lethal poison.  Tracy Morgan kills funny.  He is what causes tremors, convulsions, and eventual death to almost all of the scenes he is in, and he is in over 80% of them.  Sure, there is a bit part – a pistol-packing momma who is both unsubtle and unfunny in her odd materialism – that rivals the lack of timing and tone that is necessary in comedy.  Actually, that character would have been out of place in any kind of professional project.  But watching Cop Out (2010), director-for-hire Kevin Smith's wan take on the buddy cop action-comedy, all I could think was that almost any other actor of note would have done a much better job.  Perhaps that is because they would have acted and not just relied on the same lazy persona manufactured for appearances on Saturday Night Live (1975-present).
     The problem isn't so much with the direction – Smith still has some obvious limitations, many related to his ambition in shooting a scene – but with the characters.  Bruce Willis is essentially playing a role one would expect Bruce Willis to play, but other than he apparently has a vindictive ex-wife and a daughter who doesn't understand the value of a dollar (please, ask your middle middle-class father to pay for a $48,000 wedding, 90% of which must have been spent on the reception if we are to judge by what the ceremony looks like).  The other characters don't fair any better when it comes to development, and this is a problem as they shuffle along in this overlong project.  Then again, Smith apparently decided to do most of this project while high on marijuana – because he was inspired by Seth Rogen to do so.  I will mark this in my book as another reason to not like Rogen.  If the accusations that Smith interacted minimally with the cast – a la Stephen King with  Maximum Overdrive (1986) – then this explains how Morgan was allowed to kill every scene and a lack of consistent tone.
     Seann William Scott (looking a little chubby in the sweatshirt) is a parkour master and occasional thief who has the best energy and lines in the film.  Unfortunately, it seems he largely borrowed the shtick used by one-time co-star James Roday uses on Psych (2006-present), albeit with a little more R-rated nastiness.  This is counterbalanced by the scene with the enormously unfunny 11 year old car thief (played by Marcus Morton).  There has been a trend to introduce the foul-mouthed, criminal (or nearly criminal), violent pre-teen black boy [see Seann William Scott's film Role Models (2008) for the most obvious example] as a comical figure.  I want to go on the record as saying that it does nothing positive for me when I see that.. Scott isn't in much of the movie, but neither are Kevin Pollack (giving an awesome but too brief Robert DeNiro impression) and Adam Brody as the other detectives in the story.
     What Cop Out does get right, to some extent, is the music.  Borrowing from 1980s films such as Fletch (1985) for Stephanie Mills' "Bit by Bit" and now ubiquitous Ram Jam cover of "Black Betty", Cop Out sounds like it wants to be an homage to the action comedies of Smith's childhood/adolescence.  Unfortunately, Smith, or more likely writers Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen, did not feel the need to form a complete story into which comedic elements could be sprinkled.  Instead, there are often crass set-ups for unfunny bits (mostly because Morgan is poison) that strain to have anything to do with the three separate plots at play.
     Cop Out isn't a bad looking movie; clearly it had a budget.  It doesn't feel like a Smith project – at least it isn't as angry or upsetting as Rogen's The Green Hornet (2011) – in that it isn't concerned with witty dialogue or the dynamics of friendship.  I don't know if Smith has earned the right to keep working as a director-for-hire.  If this is the effort he thinks is acceptable, maybe he would be better off hosting a talk show.  I know that I have not been enthusiastic about any of his projects since Clerks II (2006), and did not find that movie to be very rewarding.
     But Cop Out isn't really about Smith's deficiencies.  It is about Tracy Morgan.  How he isn't funny and  probably never has been outside of brief appearances on SNL close to a decade ago (and SNL should have a much stronger history of finding talented African American actors than it does).  It is about how a seemingly by-the-numbers script needs the actors to do something with it other than just show up.  But if you had to watch your performance get killed by Morgan every day, 10-15 takes at a time, I'm betting that just showing up would start to look like a victory.

Monday, December 19, 2011

They (2010)

     "They" (2010) is a short story by Vincent Hobbes, one of the free ones I have picked up for the Kindle – which may someday be meaningful if I ever get a Kindle – and read on the computer.  There is not much too it, but that is not to say that it is bad.  It is lacking any sense of overall purpose; horror should mean something, I think, and "They" just sort of is.
     Taking up approximately thirteen pages, "They" is long enough to have been more fully developed than it is.  Hobbes fills it instead with suggestions of conversations and the structures of personal relationships (in this regard, I do like his brand of short hand).  The monsters of "They" – it is that kind of horror – go unnamed, but it is relatively clear as to what they are.  What is not clear is any broader context for them to exist or have motivations beyond being rapacious monsters.
     Hobbes clearly has a better sense of character and tone that I have shown as a writer (note to self – become a much better writer).  He comes close to making his undefined characters into people, but for some reason stops short.  Likewise, he doesn't give the kind of attention to the gore and violence that one would expect, given that these should be the ultimate payoffs to the story.  That is why "They" ends up feeling a little incomplete or somehow rushed.
     Were I capable of writing "They", I would like to think I would have worked longer establishing the characters.  I have found that it is the audience's (in the case of short stories and novels, the reader) investment in the story is largely related to whether they care – good or ill – about the characters.  After that, I would like to think I would have had the presence of mind to build up the natural elements presenting the characters with a daunting challenge (Hobbes does this to some extent, but I found it both rushed and lacking in detail).  It would only be after finding a way to mitigate the natural element that they should be introduced and let 'the real horror begin'.
     I don't know that I would make much of a recommendation of "They" to the general reader.  It is free, so there is no real risk involved.  It takes a very short time to read, so there isn't a lengthy investment if one finds they do not like it.  And it is readable.  But I think the real benefits of "They" are to look upon it as a writing exercise.  Could one read it, dissect it, and figure out how to make the general framework into a better story?  I think I can do all three, but I certainly don't want to rework the fiction of someone who isn't a writing partner.
     I would say that "They" is reminiscent of the kind of teenage horror my friends and I tried to implement into our roleplaying games back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  There is some value in the nostalgia.  As someone who is not accustomed to reading much in the way of horror fiction – it took me a decade to realize that I like horror films – I cannot offer ultimate judgment to it.  It is not the first thing I would recommend to a friend, but it may satisfy those who are much more familiar with the genre.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Without Distinction — Revised (2011)

     Not much in the way of changes.  I did check to make sure that the obvious spelling and formatting errors didn't reappear.  Also, I am nearly positive that the height and weights of most the characters shouldn't match the real world inspirations for them.  In that regard I am going to continue with my assertion that all of this is fiction.
     If you haven't read the 2001/2004 version, well you don't need to go back and read it.  There is nothing extra there.  To be fair, there is no real reason for me to make so minor a revision to this script.  An honest look at it would let me rip it to pieces, keeping only a few of the lines I like. 

The inspiration for the Mike character, not so coincidentally named Mike.  I do have a better picture I could have stolen for this, but I didn't want to dig out the photo album and scan it.  I can live with the bad transfer from a yearbook.
“Without Distinction”
2011 Revision

Written by
Timothy Allen McNeil



It is mid-March of 1994. The dormroom is painted a yellowing shade of white. There is a metal window grate over the windows painted in the same shade of paint, but has several chips exposing the black metal. There are two beds in the room, both against the back wall with the windows between the beds. Directly under the windows is a single desk cluttered with papers and notebooks. There are no books on the desk, but there is a telephone with a portable handset. There is a single desk chair at the desk.

There are dressers at the feet of each bed, with the one closer to the door being pulled further away and has a television set and small stereo system on it. The other dresser has a small dorm issued microwave on it. There is a small refrigerator next to this dresser. Just beyond the refrigerator is a sink with two cups on its small back lip, each holding a single toothbrush. There is one tube of toothpaste and a small box of dental floss on the same lip. There is a mirror above the sink. There are small, cheap rugs under each dresser and a large, faux Persian rug in the center of the room.

The walls of the room are largely bare. Above the bed closest to the door is a 2' x 4' piece of corkboard. It is covered with pictures, papers, and artwork. Most out of place on it is a crayon drawn dinosaur signed by Jeffrey in the lower left hand corner. There are several wallet size photos along the right hand edge. There are a couple of small posters (8.5" x 11") are various locations on the wall, including a promotional one for Soul Asylums’s GRAVE DANCERS UNION located in the corner by the far bed.

Opposite the wall with the windows is a large closet (approximately 3' deep and 6' across). The closet doors are painted a shade of pale yellow and have no decorations or adornments. Past the closet is the entrance, with the door recessed back to the depth of the closet.

TWO WOMEN are in the room. AMY, an attractive college freshman (5'4", 105 lbs.; shoulder length brown hair that has a slight curl at the end; green eyes), is standing next to her bed, sorting clothes to be laundered. She is less than enthusiastic about this task. She is dressed in wrinkled t-shirt and sweat pants.

STEPHANIE (5'7", 145 lbs.; curly dirty blonde hair; brown eyes), Amy’s roommate, is seated in a plastic desk chair in the middle of the room watching television. She is dressed to stay in (a none-too-fresh University of Iowa sweatshirt, loose jeans, and slippers).


Amy looks over at Stephanie.

(Amy’s) POV shot of Stephanie watching the television.

Amy drops the clothing in her hand steps towards the desk to answer the telephone. She answers it on the third ring.

              (Immediately pacing about the
     Hello? ...Okay. So, are you coming over
     now? ...Well, no, probably not for a
     while, but that doesn’t mean........No,
     then.....Can I speak now? Okay?...
     Listen, do whatever you want. I’ll be
     here, though, so if Mike and his frat
     brother still want to do something...
     Fine, put him on.

Amy looks pleadingly over to Stephanie.

(Amy’s) POV shot of Stephanie still watching the television. Stephanie looks up for a second and slightly shakes her head.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     Hey. ...No, I’m good, I’m fine actually.
     ....Yeah, hey, is he being an asshole to
     you, too? ...Lucky you. Are we still on
     for tonight?

Amy picks up a CD case next to the stereo with her spare hand and pretends to be interested in it.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     No, she’s going out tonight. ...I doubt
     it. Because Polly’s coming in to visit.
     ....Yeah, it’s spring break for them,
     too. ...Probably some sorority thing.
     You can understand that, Mr. Beta-Sigma-
     Psi. Why don’t you just come over now?

Amy sets the CD case back near the stereo and walks over toward the closet.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     No. No, don’t ask him...

Amy covers her face with her left hand and drops to her knees in exasperation. She runs her left hand through her hair as she slowly rises to her feet.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     Of course he doesn’t. ....You ask him if
     you’re that concerned about it. It isn’t
     as though.....exactly. ...I don’t know,
     then. Come over in about an hour. ....
     Because I have some things I can be
     doing and you haven’t seen him in a
     while. ...Fine. Goodbye.

Amy turns off the phone and places it back in its cradle. She turns back to her bed.

(Amy’s) POV shot of laundry covering bed.

                   STEPHANIE (O.S.)

              (picking at clothes)

     That was Tim?

     Yeah. And Mike.

     I thought Tim didn’t call you. I know he
     has a standing appointment to stop by
     once a week, sometimes more than that.
     But I don’t think he’s ever called here

     Yeah, well I got wrangled into showing
     Mike and his friend a good time. Tim
     just wanted to know what time they
     should be here.

     That is the most inaccurate use of the
     word “just” I have ever heard.

              (raising voice slightly)
     Shut up, Steph. Things aren’t all that
     great between Tim and me right now.

     Right now? Okay. I imagine that whole
     stalker – stalkee relationship is a hard
     one to manage.

              (softer tone)
     He’s not like that anymore. It’s just

     What? Is Greg giving you a hard time
     about him? I though he and Tim settled
     their problems months ago. Unless Greg
     still doesn’t trust him.

     I can’t imagine that he and Greg have
     had any discussion on the matter. If
     they had, I’m sure I would have been
     given some grief – extra grief – by one
     of them. I can’t say I don’t understand
     Greg’s concern. I guess he thinks I
     shouldn’t be sleeping with other guys
     while and we’re going out...even if we
     are three hours apart.

Stephanie turns from TV and looks at Amy, wide-eyed.

     Did I miss something?

Amy drops clothes and turns to face Stephanie.

     What? No! God, Stephanie, you think I’m–

     Don’t even try that with me, Amy. You
     want to protest that issue, you better
     do it with someone who knows a whole
     hell of a lot less than I do. Speaking
     of which, Tim’s seemed fine around me.
     So what’s the problem between the two of
     you now?

Amy looks away and refuse to make eye contact with Stephanie.

     I don’t know. I don’t think either of us
     know how to be friends, what with how
     much there is between us. Whatever it is
     that is between us. We haven’t defined
     it. It’s like we are...we are...I don’t
     know. And he should either...

     Shit or get off the pot?

Amy turns back to face Stephanie. She is smiling.

     Oh, that’s tasteful.

     Okay. Fuck or walk.

Amy stifles a laugh. She turns back toward her bed.

     I’m suddenly very happy you are going to
     be out tonight. I don’t want somebody
     around who is going to put the choice
     to him in such a stark manner.

     I’ll bet. So, we’ll be out and you can
     have the room to yourselves. But what
     will you do with Mike?

Amy spins around a glares at Stephanie.

(CU) Amy’s eyes.

Stephanie offers up a “no offense” gesture as she rises out of her chair. She walks over to her bed and sits, facing Amy.

     I’m kidding, Amy. Listen, I’m not
     against you and Greg. And it isn’t like
     Tim is anyone’s idea of the perfect guy.
     But he’s here and obviously interested.
     Maybe you should make the call on
     whether anything is going to happen or
     not. ...I mean, if the best way he can
     show you how he feels is by bringing a
     porno over for you to watch—

Amy points an accusatory finger at Stephanie.

     Hey, that was for you.

     I’m so sure it wasn’t.

Amy relaxes and sits on her bed facing Stephanie.

     Don’t give me that. You told him that
     you had never seen one before. That’s
     why he brought it over. Granted, it
     didn’t help matters that we played it
     right away.

     You’re the one who was eager to put it
     in the VCR as soon as you saw it. And it
     probably didn’t help that we let
     everyone on the floor wander in and
     watch some. Or that we kept repeating
     that line.

              (slightly laughing)
     Yeah. “Play with my la-bi-a.”

Stephanie laughs. She reaches out and squeezes Amy’s hand.

     It might be time to stop dealing with
     him with kid gloves. He’s a big boy. He
     can take it. Probably. Maybe.

     Tim is not like everyone else, Steph.
     I mean, he thinks he’s being respectful
     when he refers to people as mister or
     miss and their last names.

     That is a little weird, but it is kind
     of a guy thing. Calling people by their
     last names, anyway.

     But it isn’t just that. He’s perfectly
     fine just sitting here quietly, out of
     the way, and listening to us babble on
     about meaningless shit.

     That could be from being a stalker.

     That’s not funny, Steph. It’s just that
     he’s gone so far to get my attention,
     and now that he has it, he won’t come
     out and just say what it is he wants. Or
     if I knew he was just fucking nuts.

     Would it matter?

Amy looks quizzically at Stephanie.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     If he told you what he wanted, not if
     he’s crazy.

     It would let me know just what he wants.
     It would help us sort through all of
     this shit.

     That’s not what I meant. Would it get
     him any closer to what he wants.

Amy fall back on her bed and throws her hands in the air in exasperation.

     I don’t know what he wants!

Stephanie reaches up and grabs a pillow. She throws it at Amy.

Amy bats it away and sit back up.

     Yeah, you do. I think you just have to
     decide if you’re willing to tell him
     that you know and that it’s okay.

Amy reaches for pillow and throws it back at Stephanie.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     Or not.

     Yeah. You try doing that and get back to
     me on how well it went.

KNOCKING at door.

Amy slowly gets up from her bed.

Stephanie smiles at Amy and gets up from her bed. She walks over to the door and opens it.

(Stephanie’s) POV shot of door opening, revealing POLLY, a short but happy freshman from the University of Illinois (5', 115 lbs.; loosely curled black hair extends just past her shoulder; brown eyes). She is wearing a light winter coat and carrying a travel bag.

Polly steps into the room. She and Stephanie hug.

                   POLLY and STEPHANIE

Polly steps back and sets down he bag. She shifts on her feet while speaking.

     Hey, guess what? You know that guy I
     told you about...Matt? He’s here. Isn’t
     that great?

Stephanie smiles but shrugs at the same time.

Amy walks towards Polly but is shaking her head.

     Hey, Amy.

Polly looks back at the door way before Amy can respond.


MATT, a boyish University of Illinois freshman (5'9", 150 lbs.; short brown hair) enters. He is carrying more bags and wearing a bulky winter coat and scarf. His gelled hair is mussed from wearing a knit hat, which is sticking out of one of his jacket pockets.

     Honey, these are my friends. This is

Polly indicates Stephanie.

Matt attempts to extend his right hand to shake but cannot do so because it is restricted by a bag strap.
Stephanie steps forward to shake, but helps Matt remove the bag from his right arm first. The two tentatively shake.

Polly takes another bag from Matt and cheerfully shakes him by the shoulders.

              (almost mumbling)
     Hey. Stephanie. I’m Matt.

     Hey, Matt. Wow...Polly has told me a lot
     about you. I’m really glad you could
     make it out.

Matt blushes and looks at his feet.

Polly grabs the bags and moves them out of the way.


Polly settles next to Matt and hugs him close. She directs Matt’s attention to Amy.

     And this is Amy.

Matt looks at Amy and then quickly looks away.

Amy gives Matt a vague wave and turns back to face her bed. She begins to pick through her clothes again.

              (to Polly, in low tones)
     Away for the weekend together, huh?
     What would your parents say?

Polly and Matt both blush. Matt suddenly becomes uncomfortable being so close to Polly and tries to pull away.

Polly playfully pushed Stephanie.

Stephanie laughs.

Matt relaxes.

     No, I think it’s great, Polly. It’s not
     like we’re under the watchful eye of
     parental authority. We can do whatever
     the hell we want. ...At least you’ve
     found someone.

Polly looks over Stephanie’s shoulder at Amy.

(Polly’s) POV shot of Amy sorting clothes on bed.

                   POLLY (O.S.)
     What, some crazy guy hasn’t latched onto
     you yet?

                   STEPHANIE (O.S.)
     Jesus, Polly. I have to live with her.

Amy looks up at the three and listens.

(Amy’s) POV shot of Polly, Stephanie, and Matt.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     Besides, there are a multitude of guys
     worse than him out there. There is this
     one guy she says...

Polly looks at Amy and then back to Stephanie. Stephanie quickly changes the subject.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
I just don’t know if I’ll find someone
     as good for me as Matt, here.

Stephanie reaches out and gives Matt a playful shake.

Matt flinches and tenses up again.

Polly smiles briefly then becomes serious.

     That’s the other thing, Steph. We didn’t
     ...we didn’t come here alone.

     What? Who else did you bring?

Polly shifts her feet and leans into Matt for support.

     See, she said the that roads might be
     bad because of the weather. And that
     Matt and I might want some time for just
     the two of us. And...

Polly looks to Matt.

Matt looks into Polly’s eyes. He slowly turns his head to face Stephanie.

     She said you were all close. You, and
     Polly, and Amy. ...She said that you
     would be happy to see her.

Matt turns his head back toward the still open doorway.

(Matt’s) POV shot of INGRID (5'5", 100 lbs.; short blonde hair; blue eyes), a self-assured, if cold & vindictive University of Illinois freshman, entering the room. She is wearing a light winter coat and a small overnight bag.

She hands the bag to Matt and begins to take of her coat.

              (to herself)
     Don’t overwhelm me with the warmth of
     your greeting.

Matt puts her bag with the others and takes Ingrid’s coat. He helps Polly take off her coat. He then looks for somewhere to put them.

Stephanie points out the closet and Matt goes over and hangs up the coats. He takes his own off but folds it over his arm.

     Hey, Steph! Surprised to see me?

Amy’s head snaps up. She spins around to see


and drops whatever clothes she was holding.

Yeah. More than a little surprised. I
thought you had to go home for a family

     Nope. That’s not until summer.

Stephanie laughs nervously. She looks back at Amy.

Amy gives up on her laundry and moves over toward Matt. She takes his coat and hangs it up. Amy remains next to the closet.

Matt quickly moves back over to Polly.

Ingrid briefly looks over at Amy then turns her attention back to Stephanie.

     So you decided to pay us a visit? Okay.
     We can make room for you.

     Oh, come on, Steph. We can’t be so
     insensitive to Matt.

Ingrid looks over to Amy.

                   INGRID (CONT’D)
     Amy, you know what I’m talking about.
     What is he supposed to do if you and
     Stephanie monopolize Polly’s time the
     whole weekend?

     Yeah. You’re all kinds of conscientious,
     aren’t you, Ingrid?

Ingrid smiles wickedly and makes a cat claw swiping motion.

     Really, Amy. I know for a fact that you
     let people of far lower character than
     me into this room with great frequency.
     What? Am I ruing your plans for the

Amy leans against the wall and lolls her head back.

     God, I hope not. I’d like to think that
     you’d have better things to do than to
     drive five hours with the meager hope of
     the chance to ruin somebody else’s good

     Yeah, tell me about it. Though I would
     like to think that when it comes to
     driving for hours and having a good time
     you would be thinking about someone
     else. Someone whose school is a couple
     of hours closer. Especially if it’s a
     really good time. ...I’m just here to
     enjoy some Iowa ambience and spend some
     time with my friends. Is that so bad,
     Amy? You remember that you and I are
     friends, right?

Stephanie sighs and steps between Ingrid and Amy. She is noticeably uneasy.

     Come on, you two. Lighten up. Ingrid’s
     probably just worn out from the drive.
     And Ingrid, Amy doesn’t need to be
     reminded that Greg isn’t here this

Ingrid looks askance at Stephanie.

Amy huffs and looks away.

Ingrid looks at Amy.

     Works out, though. Doesn’t it? I mean,
     it would be really crowded with all of
     us and Greg. And then none of us would
     get to spend any time with you, Amy.
     ....So, what are we doing tonight?

Amy pushes off the wall and stalks back toward her bed.

     I’m sure I have no idea. Stephanie made
     the plans for what she and Polly were
     going to be doing tonight.

     You aren’t going out with us, Amy? Why

     Something better planned?

Matt (POV) looks from Amy to Ingrid to Polly. He then looks back at his shoes.

     Maybe she has some schoolwork to do.
     It’s okay. We can still do...whatever.

     Yeah. Come on, Ingrid. We can still have
     a good time. The ZTA house is having a
     low-key thing tonight. Just members and
     a few guests.

Ingrid shakes her head and grins.

     I don’t know. Maybe you were right
     before, Steph. Maybe I’m worn out from
     the drive. It might be nice to just
     spend the night relaxing and catching

     Amy isn’t going to be in tonight.

Amy glares at Stephanie.

Stephanie weakly smiles.

Ingrid glances back and forth at the roommates, still grinning.

     So what are you doing then, Amy?

Amy starts to speak but stops. She sighs, looks away and then back at Ingrid.

     Actually, if you really need to know,
     I’m supposed to be playing babysitter
     for some guys in from Iowa State.
     ...They don’t know where anything is in
     town and I’m supposed to take them to a
     few parties.

     Just some guys from ISU?

Amy shakes her head.

                   POLLY (CONT’D)
     Who, then?

Amy and Stephanie share a knowing glance.

              (looking at Ingrid)
     Is it someone you know? Yeah. One of
     them, anyway. Mike. And one of his
     fraternity brothers.

     Mike? Mike who?

Ingrid’s eyes go wide and her jaw slack as she realizes which Mike.

     Really? Just when I though things
     couldn’t get anymore interesting.

Amy spins around in a huff.

Stephanie half steps towards Amy and shoots an angry look at Ingrid.

Polly tires to step between Amy and Ingrid but is restrained by Matt.

     Ingrid, come on. Back off a little.

              (looking at Amy)
     Is this something you want to endorse,
     Polly? I mean, now that you have

Amy turns back to face Ingrid and interrupts her.

     How’s that going for you, Ingrid?

Ingrid grimaces, nods her head, and takes a step back.

     This isn’t about me and you know it. I
     thought we has this conversation before.
     You know how I feel about Tim. And now
     you’ve gone and gotten yourself involved
     with Mike?

     Mike’s just a friend.

(Over the next few lines, Amy interrupts Ingrid multiple times. Ingrid does not pause.)

     Yeah. He’s somebody’s friend. He’s Tim’s
     friend. He knew—

     —I know, Ingrid—

     —about the letters. He and Tim—

     —I know, Ingrid—

     —have been friends since forever. And no
     matter why you’ve gotten yourself

     —I fucking get it, Ingrid!—

     —with Mike, it’s going to come back to
     being about Tim. And it’s going to fuck
     up your relationship with Greg.

     I have never done anything to threaten
     my relationship with Greg.

Matt leans forward.

     I think...maybe we should just wait
     outside. This doesn’t really concern us.

Ingrid cocks her head toward Matt.

     No, Matt. It doesn’t concern you. Your
     interest here goes about as far as Polly
     will let you get into her pants.


Polly looks shocked and blushes.

Matt is half-angry, half-confused. He looks about for cues as to whether he should speak up in defense of his honor.

     Fine. Sorry. But I’m not the bad guy

     You’re not the altruistic friend,
     either, Ingrid. You really do derive
     some kind of perverse pleasure from all
     of this, don’t you?

Ingrid softens a little.

     No, Amy. I don’t. I’m sorry if it seems
     that I do, but this all has an air of
     absurdity to it now. This is a nightmare
     that has gone on too damn long. Being
     trapped and having to deal with him in
     high school is one thing, but to keep
     it up now is some sort of endorsement of
     the situation. 

     It is none of your goddamn business,
     Ingrid. What the fuck do you care who I
     spend my time with? I don’t think he
     wants to hang around with you, either. I
     don’t even know if he knows who you are.

Polly laughs briefly. She looks apologetically at Amy.

     Oh, I think he knows who Ingrid is. I
     mean, how many people go around
     indiscriminately attacking his character
     and impugning his honor? He does have
     friends. It must have gotten back to

     Why is that my fault? All I did was not
     keep silent on a subject where everyone
     knows what is going on. Maybe if any of
     you had the courage to confront him, all
     this bullshit would be over by now.

              (to no one in particular)
     Well, I know now. ...I can think of
     better topics of conversation. But if
     what she says is true...he sounds kind
     of scary.

     Tim is most definitely not scary. A
     little odd, sure, but he’s been like
     that since grade school.

     I just know what I heard.

     You only heard what Ingrid had to say.
     If I believed everything I heard, I
     would be convinced that you’re a virgin
     who’s as desperate to get laid as is
     humanly possible. But having met you, I
     can see that isn’t the case. You’re just
     a little afraid of girls. And there’s a
     bit of a difference between the two,
     isn’t there?

All shift awkwardly as silence builds.

Stephanie claps her hands and forces a smile.

     Well, this is shaping up to be a
     delightful evening. Can we stop with the
     personal attacks?

     Yeah. And it probably isn’t a good idea
     for all of us to stay in. Not if it’s
     going to be like this.

     Dammit, Polly. I don’t want to be
     responsible for ruining anyone’s
     You sure you don’t want to blame me for

Matt chuckles but hides his head in his chest.

Amy huffs.

Stephanie steps forward in between Amy and Ingrid.

     We’re done with that, Ingrid. ...We
     need to decide what we’re going to do
     about tonight.
              (to Ingrid and Polly)
     We can still go out...or we can stay in
     and just swap stories right here.
              (to Amy)
     Okay? ...Why don’t you get ready for the
     guys? You still have some time.

Amy (POV) looks back at her bed, then Ingrid, and then at Stephanie.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     I don’t think anyone is that concerned
     with your laundry. ...We can stay if you

     Do whatever you want, Steph. I’ll deal
     with them when they get here.

                                                CUT TO


TIM, a short, heavy freshman (5'6", 160 lbs.; raggedy brown hair with an underdeveloped beard; hazel eyes) wearing a worn U.S. Army jacket, a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, dark blue jeans, and hiking boots (with worn and damaged laces on the left boot) is walking with two other FIGURES down the streets of Iowa City. They are: MIKE, a tall, athletically built freshman (6'3", 165 lbs.; short light brown hair; blue eyes) who is wearing old, out of date clothes and a work coat, and CRAIG (6', 210 lbs.; dirty blonde hair; light brown eyes), a somewhat dazed sophomore who is wearing a long sleeve t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals. Mike is behind Tim’s left shoulder. Craig is further back, behind Tim’s right shoulder.

They are having a conversation as they approach Burge Hall, a dormitory.

                   MIKE, she totally believed me.

     That’s because the Cyclones suck at
     football. You could probably convince
     half of the people here that you played
     in the Iowa - Iowa State game.

     That’s not the funniest one, though.
     Dude, tell him about the girl from the

     No. She was just dumb.

     Oh, come on. Tell him.

     This isn’t going to live up to the
     billing, is it?

     All that happened was I told a girl at
     Subway that I bruised my ovary and she
     said, “guys have those?”

     That’s hilarious. That has to be the
     funniest thing I have ever born witness

     That is kind of sad, then, Craig.

     What are you trying to say.

The three walk into Burge Hall.

                                                CUT TO


     I can’t believe that neither of you are
     smart enough to follow written

Tim stops.
Mike and Craig catch up to Tim and then stop.

Tim looks over his shoulder to Mike.

                   TIM (CONT’D)
     Okay. I can’t believe you can’t follow

Craig feigns being hurt. He clutches his light jacket to his body.

              (to Tim)
     Don’t even give me that. You don’t know
     the names of any of the streets. You
     would have me wander around a strange
     college town looking for a particular
     dormitory? From what you told me, you
     couldn’t even find your classes the
     first day.

Craig chuckles.

     You couldn’t even find the school? What
     are you, some kind of stupid?

Tim starts walking again.

              (looking forward)
     At least I can read, Craig. But, for the
     record, I had trouble finding where one
     of my classes was supposed to be when I
     went looking for it the Sunday before
     classes started.  Yeah, it made me feel
     kind of stupid, but seeing as how I had
     no orientation and couldn’t just follow
     the herd of other students out of a
     dorm, I think it isn’t as bad as it
     sounds at first.

Mike and Craig follow Tim.

     Well, at first it makes you sound like
     an idiot who can’t find where he’s
     supposed to go.

     And I’d like to think, given all the
     facts, it doesn’t sound that bad. Just
     like how, at initial examination, your
     inability to follow slightly incomplete
     directions makes me think you don’t have
     the mental faculties to get through

     I know enough to be able to recognize
     the kind of beer and porn I like. What
     more do I need in life?

Tim looks over his shoulder at Mike.

     He’s a winner.

     You act like this is some kind of huge
     imposition on you. What did you have
     planned for tonight? Sit at home and
     watch TV?

     They don’t call it “must see” for

Craig rolls his eyes. He thumps his chest and stresses the word “us.”

     Who are you to complain about it?
     There’s no party without us.

     That would be a shame. You would have to
     sit in my apartment, drink my roommates’
     Beer and drool over their Playboys.

     Yeah. That isn’t that bad, either. I’m
     not ruling that out as a back-up plan.

Mike reaches out and grabs Tim by the arm. Both stop. Tim turns to face Mike.

Craig stops shortly thereafter.

     Seriously, why is this a problem for
     you? It’s not like you’re not over here
     every week.

     Not the last couple of weeks. Not to see
     her, anyway. I got out of there before
     she came back. And that was only to get
     my copy of “The Princess Bride” back
     from Stephanie.

Tim turns and starts walking again. Mike and Craig follow.

                   MIKE’re avoiding her? That would be

     Something happened.

     Really? Something actually happened?
     Well, praise be and ring the bells. You
     actually did something.

     No, I didn’t.

     Why the hell not?

     Because I’m not like you. I’m not going
     to throw back a few beers and forget
     about how my actions affect other
     people. You may think that cheating on
     your girlfriend isn’t a big deal, but
     I’m not going to put somebody else in
     that position. I’m not going to be that

     What a fuckin’ boy scout.

Tim stops. Mike and Craig stop immediately after. Tim turns to face them both.

     Mike and I were both in the Boy Scouts,
     Craig. I took some of that oath to
     heart. There is something to being
     respectful of others, in not being out
     for yourself above all else.

              (to Tim)
     That doesn’t mean you have to be
     joyless. You don’t have to be such a wet
     fucking blanket. Having a beer isn’t
     going to kill you.

Tim grimaces.

                   MIKE (CONT’D)
     You wouldn’t even call her.

     I wouldn’t call to make plans for you.
     And I’m not really sure why I had to
     call to verify those plans. You’re under
     the delusion that you and Amy are
     friends. You fancy yourself a lady’s
     man. I would think that you would have
     little need for me in this scenario.


     They aren’t my plans. It isn’t me and

     —She and I.

     Fuck you, too.
     It isn’t excluding you. It isn’t about
     taking her away from you. It’s about
     having a good time with friends. And
     it’s “she and me” anyway.

              (to Tim, in an annoying tone)
     Don’t you want to be my friend?

              (to Mike)
     My mind is made up, okay? And it’s
     either “she and I” or “her and me,”
     depending on whether it’s the subject or
     the object of the sentence.

     Jesus Christ, you anal retentive
     bastard! I just want to go to a few
     parties or something. I don’t think
     that’s too much to ask.

     Nothing wrong with fun.

              (to Mike)
     You made these plans with her. She knows
     you’re coming. My job is just to deliver
     you and leave.

Tim starts walking again. Mike and Craig immediately follow.

     What the fuck, Tim? I thought all that
     petty shit was behind the two of you. So
     unless you actually have something
     better planned you should come out with
     us. ...Have some fun, for Christ’s sake.
     Besides, won’t it just piss her off if
     you’re not there with us?

Tim offers up a weak smile and shakes his head.

     I don’t think so. I can honestly say
     that she and I have never gone out or
     even made plans to go out to do
     something. The limits of my privileges
     in her life has been to be allowed the
     occasional visit. Things aren’t even
     accommodating that right now.

Tim stops in front of a door. The number on it reads


Craig shifts back and forth uneasily waiting for Tim to knock.

     So? Change them. That is why you came
     here. Yeah, you’re an English major and
     this is Iowa. But you’re here because of
     her. So spend tonight with her and have
     a good time.

Tim takes off his hat and brushes back his hair. He sighs and looks Mike in the eye.

     I’m also here because no other school
     would take me. Besides, “fun” means
     different things to you and me.

Tim reaches out his left hand to the door. There is a


“99%” written beneath his thumb.

(CU) He stretches out his fingers and touches the door. He slowly curls his fingers into a fist and pounds the door three times.

              (under his breath)
     I don’t think you have any idea what fun
     is. Or happiness.

Door opens. Tim is face to face with


Tim straightens up.

     Tim? ...Come on in.

(Craig’s) POV of Tim and Mike walking into room. Stephanie backs away to where Polly, Ingrid, and Matt are. Craig follows.

                                           SCENE BECOMES


Polly, Matt, and Ingrid are sitting on sleeping bags laid upon the floor. They are watching television.

Stephanie shrugs as she looks from Mike to Tim. She motions them toward the two chairs in the room. One of the chairs is occupied with various school related object.

Stephanie forces a smile.

     Have a seat.

(Camera pans) Craig looks to Mike, Mike looks to Tim. Tim closes his eyes and shakes his head.

Mike pats Craig on the shoulder.

     All yours.

Craig cautiously moves toward the open chair.

Stephanie happily turns and walks to her bed. She plops down upon it and half turns toward the television.

Matt acts as though he is oblivious to the new arrivals. Polly is comfortable in Matt’s arms, but becomes distracted by Ingrid’s reaction to Tim’s arrival.

Ingrid tenses up.

              (quietly, to Polly)
     I told you. I fucking told you.

Mike looks back to Tim and smiles.

Tim hangs his head and steps closer to Mike.

     Just sit down, okay?

Mike jumps a little. He creeps over to Amy’s bed which is still covered with clothes. He sits at the mid point of the bed and spins so that he is lying down with his head on the pillow.

Mike puts his hands behind his head and smiles broadly.

Tim retreats to be near the door.

              (quietly, to Ingrid)
     Didn’t see that coming, did you?

              (quietly, to Polly)
     Oh, this was worth the drive.
                                                CUT TO


Amy is in a shower stall. The water is on. Amy is facing the shower head. Shot is from the small of her back up.

Shot slowly tightens as it raises to her head and shoulders.

Amy turns to face camera. She is crying. She pushes hair away from her face. She slumps against back wall and slides down into a crouch; arms conveniently cover her breasts. She sniffs meaningfully.

(CU) Amy’s face. She wipes her eyes.

     No. Not over this. I’m not going to cry
     over this.

Amy sighs. She looks up and has to close her eyes because of the spray. She offers a light laugh.

                                           BACK TO SCENE
Tim exhales and checks his watch. He gets Stephanie’s attention.

     You can take it from here.

Stephanie looks shocked and rises from her bed. She meets Tim by the door.


     Where do you think you’re going?

     What do you want from me?

     You can’t leave before she gets back.

Camera pans over to Polly, Ingrid, and Matt.

Ingrid leans over to Polly.

              (quietly, to Polly)
     What is she doing?

              (quietly, to Ingrid)
     I think she is asking him to wait for

Camera pans back to Tim and Stephanie.

Tim smirks but doesn’t look Stephanie in the eye.

     I don’t need to be here.

     Mike’s your friend.

     Yeah, he is. But Amy invited him here. I
     was supposed to drop him off.

(Tim’s) POV – Mike is reading a shirt on Amy’s bed.

                   TIM (CONT’D) 
     There he is...dropped off.

Stephanie looks confused.

     What about his friend? I don’t know him.

              (raises his voice)
     I don’t know him, either.

Tim composes himself.

                   TIM (CONT’D)
     And I don’t know what I’m supposed    to be
     doing here. I was supposed to bring Mike
     over. He was invited tonight, not me. He
     and Craig.

     She said that? Or do you believe it
     because she told Mike you were acting
     like an ass?

     She isn’t going to want me here, okay.
     That’s a good enough reason for me to

Camera pans back to Ingrid & Polly.

              (quietly, to Ingrid)
     I wonder why she doesn’t just let him go
     if he wants to go.

              (quietly, to Polly)
     I think there is something that we
     missed. She’s hiding and he’s running.
     What does that say to you?

Polly shrugs.

Matt pulls Polly close and shushes the two young women.

Camera pans over to Craig. He is picking at something caught in the tread of his sandal. He looks very bored.

              (to Mike)
     What’s going on?

Mike shrugs.

                   CRAIG (CONT’D)
     I don’t know anybody here.

Mike sits up and gets Stephanie’s attention.

     I’m sorry. This is my fraternity
     brother, Craig.

(Mike’s) POV – pan of the room. Everyone looks confused as to what Mike is doing.

                   MIKE (CONT’D)
     We’re just in town for the night. We
     wanted to go out...go to some parties or
     something...Amy was supposed to meet us

              (to Craig)
     Nice to meet you, Craig. I’m Stephanie.

Stephanie slowly makes her way across the room and back to her bed. She introduces Polly, Matt, and Ingrid on the way.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     This is Polly. And this is Matt, her
     boyfriend. And this is Ingrid.

Tim’s head snaps up. He glares angrily at Stephanie, who is not facing him.

Tim looks to Mike. Mike barely shrugs.

Stephanie reaches her bed and sits back down.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     Matt, this is Craig, Mike, and Tim. I’ve
     known Mike and Tim since grade school.

Matt looks to Ingrid and then to the three guys.

     Hey. Mike? Craig?

Matt cautiously looks over to Tim.

                   MATT (CONT’D)
     Tim? ...You’re Tim, huh?

          (Sensing that he has already been

           (very quietly, anticipating Matt’s answer)
     Oh. I’ve heard so much about you.

Matt flinches a little at Ingrid’s remark.

     Well...hey. I guess the rest of you
     already know one another, then.

Ingrid smiles evilly.

     Yes, except for...

Craig nods but still looks disinterested.


     Yes, the rest of us do know one another.
     We went to the same high school.

Tim huffs and walks over to be between the two beds. Ingrid tenses up as Tim walks past her.

Polly leans over to say something to Ingrid, but Matt pulls her close and whispers in her ear. The two of them resume watching the TV.

              (to Stephanie, quiet but angry)

     Yeah. So what?

     You don’t know?

Stephanie shakes her head.

                   TIM (CONT’D)
     She’s the one who told Jaime I was a
     “total fucking psycho.”

     Jaime? Why?

     Because of the letters.

Mike starts picking through clothes on the bed.

              (to Tim)
     Your own fault, you know. And why did
     you ever write more than just the one?

Tim glares at Ingrid.

              (to Stephanie)
     If I had known it was her.....I can’t

     If you knew it was her.
     Just relax. You’re stuck here. You might
     as well come out with us, then.

     Yeah, Tim, it’s going to be okay. Ingrid
     can’t do anything about tonight. She’s
     just sitting over there watching TV.

     She probably didn’t expect me to be

     No. As a matter of fact, that was one of
     the first things she asked Amy about.

     Take it as a compliment and move on.

     She’s maligned me enough in the past for
     me to dwell on this a bit.

     I don’t know if I agree with that. But
     if you really want to know what she
     thinks of you, all you need to do is
     take a long car ride with her. ...Of
     course, if you just want to settle the
     score, she’s sitting right over there.

(Tim’s) POV – Ingrid watching TV. She briefly looks up and meets his glare with one of her own.

                   MIKE (O.S.)
     Or you could just grow up.

Mike shifts uncomfortably on the bed and digs an object out of the pile and tosses it to the floor.

                   MIKE (CONT’D)
     Come out with us. Part of this whole
     college experience, of being young, is
     getting beyond the notion that enjoying
     yourself is somehow wrong. There isn’t
     much Ingrid can do to ruin your evening
     if she’s stuck here.

     I’m not going out with you and Amy. I
     don’t want to go and she wouldn’t want
     me there.

              (to Tim)
     I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.

Tim hits his head against the wall behind him.

              (to Stephanie)
     You just don’t like Greg.

     That’s not what I—

     I never heard that story.

     It’s not a story. I just said that, when
     I was drunk, that I really like Greg and
     that Amy should marry him.

     And that means you don’t like Greg?

     No. Tim knows what I’m talking about. I
     told him about how when I was super
     drunk, I told Amy about how great I
     thought Greg was and how they should get
     married.  And that I felt like a total
     ass for telling her that once I sobered
     up because I think that Greg is pretty
     bad for her.  And that she may have some
     better options out there.

     Yeah, you don’t like Greg. And that
     doesn’t make this right.

     Well, he’s not here, is he?

     I looked. He isn’t.

Mike picks out a pair of purple lace panties. He holds them up and shows them to Craig, Tim, and Stephanie.

                    MIKE (CONT’D)

Craig chuckles dumbly.

Tim slaps Mike’s hand. Mike drops the panties.

     Behave yourself.

     I’m bored.

     I don’t care. You don’t go digging
     through somebody else’s dirty clothes.

Mike picks the panties back up and smiles.

              (imitating Homer Simpson)
     Worn panties. Sexy.

Mike sniffs panties.

Tim slaps the panties out of Mike’s hands again, much harder this time.

                   INGRID (O.S.)
     A little presumptive, isn’t he?

                   POLLY (O.S.)
     Mike? Or Tim? I think you’ve read this

(CU) — Door opens. Amy enters room. She is dressed in a beige bathrobe. She closes the door behind her.

Tim walks across the room and corners Amy near the door.



     I thought you said Stephanie and Polly
     were going to be out.

     That’s what I was told, too. So what?

     And Ingrid?

     I didn’t know she was coming.

Tim gives Amy a look of disbelief.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     I didn’t. I would have told you if I had
     known. Listen, I know how you feel about
     Ingrid. I wouldn’t have you two come
     together without some kind of a warning.
     Fuck, were it up to me, the two of you
     would go the rest of your natural lives
     without any interest or involvement with
     one another. I know she isn’t a big fan
     of yours, either. This could be
     something really unseemly, and I don’t
     want to have to deal with the aftermath
     of that.

(Tim’s) POV – Mike and Craig.

                   TIM (O.S.)
     Well, they’re here. You can do with them
     what you will.

Tim turns to leave.
Amy reaches out and grabs Tim by the arm. She pulls him back so that the two of them are face-to-face.

     You can’t just drop them off.

     People keep telling me that. But you and
     I agreed that I would just drop them
     off, didn’t we?

Amy huffs.

     Let me get dressed.

Tim stands, staring.

                   AMY (CONT’D)

Tim nods and looks away.

Amy enters the closet to change clothes.

Tim walks back over between Mike and Stephanie on the beds.

Mike is going through prescription medicine bottles on the table next to Amy’s bed.

              (to Tim)
     So...what do you think of Matt?

     Not much.

              (not noticing Tim’s disinterest)
     Polly called me about two months ago to
     tell me about him.

Tim offers up a sarcastic “good for you” expression.

                   STEPHANIE (CONT’D)
     She was so excited. She had never been
     kissed before. Not for real. She didn’t
     even think he could be interested in
     her, but I guess he’s kind of shy and it
     took a while for things to develop.

     Hey, great. Doesn’t really help me,
     though, does it?

     Hey, it offers hope to the least of us.

Tim notices Mike fiddling with a bottle of medicine.

     Put the fucking medicine down! Now.

              (to Tim, giggling)
     Chill, dude. He isn’t hurting anything.
     If it were something embarrassing, I’m
     sure she wouldn’t just leave it out.

Tim glares at Craig. Craig looks away. Tim sighs.

(Tim’s) POV – Polly and Matt watching television.

                   TIM (O.S.)
     Hey, Polly. I heard you guys were going
     to be out tonight.

Polly smiles. Matt hugs her close.

     Yeah, but Ingrid was tired. And we
     didn’t want to risk the bars. You know,
     trying out the I.D.s at a different
     campus and all. So we decided we could
     have just as good a time if we stayed in.

                   TIM (O.S.)
     Really? Well, if you’re not going
     drinking, you probably are better off
     staying in. I know I had planned to

Ingrid leans over and whispers to Polly.

              (very quietly)
     I’ll just bet he did.

Polly flinches.

Amy emerges from the closet. She is wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and white socks.

Camera pans room from trio on floor to Stephanie, then Tim, and finally Mike. Mike is again going through her medicine bottles.

                   AMY (O.S.)
     Looking for something, Michael?

     My throat is sore. I was hoping I could
     take something.

                   AMY (O.S.)

Mike nods innocently and quickly sets the medicine back on the table.

Amy shoots and angry look at Tim and then to Mike.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     Well, if you’re not feeling well,
     perhaps we shouldn’t go out tonight.

Amy walks over to her bed.

               (to Amy, quiet but forcefully)
     No. You do not have me drag them here
     from Ames and then decide you don’t want
     to do anything. That’s not fair to them
     or to me.

Amy cocks her head to indicate Ingrid.

     Things have changed, Tim. I would think
     that you could find some way to
     appreciate that. ...Maybe we could just
     hang out here.

     The eight of us? No thank you.

Amy stares at Tim.

     Look, if you want us to go, all you have
     to do is ask.

     Please leave.

Tim reaches down and helps Mike out of Amy’s bed. They gather Craig out of the chair and start him toward the door.

Mike pauses to speak.

              (to Matt)
     Nice to meet you.
              (to the ladies)
     Stephanie, Polly, Ingrid...goodnight.
     Amy, ...I’ll call you later.


Craig reaches door and opens it. He stands waiting in doorway as Mike and Tim reach him.

                   AMY (CONT’D)
     Yeah, I think we’re just going to go to

Tim’s face brightens as he turns back to face the girls.

              (with comic flourish)
     Well, why didn’t you say so? And we were
     just about to leave.

Ingrid looks surprised.

     I knew it.

Polly smiles. Matt looks confused.

Stephanie stifles a laugh.

Amy glares at Tim with Hell’s Own Fury.

     No? That’s a shame, because the numbers

              (mock outrage)

Craig and Mike exit. Tim bows for effect.

     Okay, then. Goodnight, all.

Tim exits and closes the door behind him.

                                                CUT TO


Tim, Mike, and Craig stand outside the door. They begin their egress from the building.

     You know, you’re going to pay for that.

     She’ll forget about it.
              (Normal tone)
     It isn’t like I’m the center of her
     world. Besides, I’ve already been
     forgiven for worse. I doubt this is
     going to be the final straw.

     At some point, all these transgressions
     are going to be enough. You would be
     better off not acting like that.

              (to Tim)
     You and that girl have something going
     on, don’t you? That’s why you were all
     pissed off that Mike had his hands in
     her panties.

Tim starts to answer but Mike cuts him off.

              (to Craig)
     No, they don’t. Not anything like you’re
              (to Tim)
     But tell me, Tim, do you think that’s
     what Ingrid saw?

     Hey, fuck her! If I knew it was her when
     we went in there—

     If you knew it was her? What the fuck,
     Tim? How could you not know it was her?
     You went to high school with her. She
     was in our chemistry class. ...And what
     would you have done anyway, huh? I’ll
     tell you what. You would have sat and
     stewed and not done a goddamn thing,
     which is eerily similar to what just
     happened! If you knew it was her. Maybe
     it’s time you empower yourself in some
     other way than in the hypotheticals in
     your head.

All stop. Craig retreats a step. Tim and Mike face one another.

     You have something to say? I sure could
     use some advice from the guy who cheated
     on his girlfriend the first weekend of
     college, the guy who doesn’t know well
     enough not to dig through other people’s
     personal property.

     I wasn’t the problem in there!

     The hell you weren’t! I wasn’t the one
     causing a scene. I’m not the one with no
     fucking sense of proper boundaries or
     showing the minimal amount of respect to
     somebody by not digging through their
     personal belongings. I could have been
     at home.

     Dude, your home’s back in Illinois.

Tim turns angrily toward Craig.

     Hey, fuck you, too, booze hound! You’re
     about as useful as tits on a bull. You
     make people uncomfortable.

Craig steps up to confront Tim.

     I was just chillin’ in there, dude. I
     didn’t piss your girl off. She didn’t
     ask me to leave. That was on you. Maybe
     I should just—

Mike steps between Craig and Tim. Mike shoves Craig back.

              (to Craig)
     Back off, Craig. You don’t appreciate
     the situation.
              (to Tim)
     And neither do you. You don’t want to
     hear it? Too fucking bad! I wasn’t the
     problem in there. You could have stayed
     home? That would have been helpful. You   
     didn’t come to Iowa to hide from her.
     For Christ’s sake, everybody knows why
     you’re here. Ingrid fucking knows. You
     think not being there tonight is going
     to quash suspicion in her mind? You
     think that brooding and being unpleasant
     says “she and I are just friends?”
     You’re fucking kidding yourself.

     I don’t need you telling me what to do.

But do you know why? ...Because you
     never fucking do anything! The only
     advice you would take is to be an
     obstacle to your own success and
     happiness. Everything else gets written
     off with some twisted belief that not
     owning up to what you are feeling is the
     same thing as being a good person.
     What did it matter that Ingrid was
     there? You could have just swallowed
     your goddamn pride and been polite. Or
     gone off on her. What the fuck do I
     care? You could have said, “Amy, it
     would mean a lot to me if you would
     still take Mike and Craig out.” And she
     would have done it because you asked.
     Instead you bark fucking orders. You
     wouldn’t ask her and you never will. You
     fucking pine for this girl and she’s
     right there! You want to know something?
     Not dating her, or fucking her, or
     whatever you have in mind isn’t some
     high and mighty moral act so long as you
     really want to. And why don’t you? What,
     are you afraid of Greg? I can’t believe
     that. I’ve seen you beat the hell out of
     guys twice your size. And over what? And
     how long were you upset about that?
     ...What then? You think you and Amy
     wouldn’t last? You wouldn’t! You’ve
never had anything approaching a healthy
relationship. But that doesn’t mean you
     shouldn’t try. Or start trying, if
     you’re serious about ever being with
     anyone. You can’t live with yourself if
     you lose her? Then try being an actual
     friend and put some energy into finding
     a girl of your own. But it’s fucking
time you grow up and stop this pointless
obsession! I don’t want to hear about
     this for the next decade, okay? I don’t
     want to raise a glass with you to
     celebrate the anniversary of her
     throwing you out of her life. I don’t.
     I want you to be happy, Tim, but it
     isn’t my job to do it for you. I’m not
     here to tell you what to do. You have to
     figure that out for yourself. I didn’t
     ruin anything for you here. She doesn’t
     look at me and see you.

     But you were the one who got to fondle
     her privies.
              (to Tim)
     Looks like you’ll never get to do the

Tim takes a step toward Craig. Craig takes a half-step back and stumbles and falls to the ground.

Mike laughs.

Tim turns back to face Mike.

     You want to go back? Then do it. God
     helps those who help themselves, you

     I thought some of the actual moral code
     would have stuck with you.  We are
     supposed to do what is right because it
     is the right fucking thing to do. We
     aren’t supposed to be worried about what
     we get out of it.

     No wonder you’re so miserable.

     But you don’t do anything, Tim! Here is   
     your chance to make a difference in your
     life. You can go back to her room and
     say what you need to. You tell her what
     you want and what she means to you. Or
     we can all be in the same boat: outside
     on a cold night with nothing to do.

Tim indicates Craig.

     Wearing shorts like stupid, here.

     What’s it going to be, Tim?

Tim scratches his chin and sighs.

     I’m hungry. Come on, I’ll take you to
     the place where they have those two
     pound burritos.

     You’d rather get a burrito than go back
     there and fuck that girl? You’re nuts,

     It doesn’t much matter what I’d rather,
     Craig. The situation is one that I don’t
     think I can step back into right now...
     with or without the audience we’d have.

     I wasn’t kidding about my throat. I
     wasn’t looking through those bottle to
     be an asshole.

All three resume walking.

     Well, then, I can add the University
     hospital to the grand tour. You may as
     well see the largest employer in the

     Yeah, that’s a lot better than parties
     and drinking and loose sorority girls.
     You’ve got a great friend, here, Mike.

     Sometimes. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

     You don’t think this is memorable?

     Oh, no, it is. I was just looking for a
     night I could forget.

All three walk out of frame.

                                                FADE OUT