Echo: Charlie 1.1

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ANNOUNCER (VO)

…introducing the Grubber 3 by Grub-o-Matic, America’s number one name in food printing!

We see white and the camera pans, bringing into view a machine the size of a refrigerator with a deli counter window built into the front. The box is black. It’s sexy. So’s the MODEL waving an elegant hand toward the machine.

ANNOUNCER (VO CONT’D)

With our new 360 design, you’ll get all the features you’ve been waiting for!

Hamburgers? Check!

(a hamburger appears in the model’s hand)

Pizza? Check!

(the hamburger morphs into a pizza slice)

Chinese food? Check!

(a bowl of noodles takes the slice’s place)

The food disappears as the Model shoves the bowl toward her face. A satisfied smile crosses her lips as she mouths the announcer’s words.

ANNOUNCER (VO CONT’D)

Yum!

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(next)

Static 1.1

Roommates.com, Roomster, Craigslist; Mercer Hekel had tried them all. He met with evangelicals who harbored ill will toward “libtards,” a couple of “straight guys” who wanted a roommate who was “okay with nudity,” and a recovering meth addict nurse who was just trying to get her shit together. Her twenty three year old daughter shared her bedroom so that they could fit a fifth person into their three bedroom house.

And then there was Sandy. She was witty and perked up at the sound of his stable job. He was a few years older than she was thinking; she was twenty eight, her roommate twenty nine and a half, but thirty five wasn’t “too too old, so, sure! Let’s get together and make sure we’re not serial killers or walking clichés!”

*

Mercer was surprised at how much space they weren’t using. He was prepared for the tiny bedroom, but the unfinished basement was huge, and the only things down there were a mattress and some camping equipment.

“All of this would be yours,” Sandy told him.

“I dig it,” Mercer replied, stifling his awe. He admired the yard from the glass door in the back corner. “It’s $450?” he asked.

“Yeah, sorry. I was going to say $400, but-“

“$450’s fine,” he assured her.

They made their way upstairs, through the fireplaced living room, past the piano, the couch, past a cat, and into the garage, where Mercer found himself astonished by a recliner and loveseat.

“This is awesome,” he said matter-of-factly.

“We like to sit,” Sandy nodded. “You can have the chair if you want,” she offered. “I usually sit over here.”

“Is that, uh,” Mercer began and drew a blank on the other roommate’s name.

“David’s chair? Yeah,” Sandy filled in.

“Right,” Mercer said with a snap.

“No worries,” she said. “He should be home soon. He’s an engineer. Designs skyscrapers or something.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” Mercer said, taking the chair with a controlled plop.

“Yeah. You sell mattresses, right?” she asked.

“Yep.” Mercer nods. “I manage the Home Towne Mattress on 56th.

“Oh, that’s right,” Sandy said. “That’s not too far a drive, is it?”

“Nah,” Mercer said. “That’s the first thing I checked when I saw your ad.”

“Nice,” Sandy said.

“Yeah, it only adds about ten minutes with traffic.”

“That’s not too bad,” Sandy said.

*

It went on like that for nearly forty minutes, the two of them trading information and telling all the superficial get-to-know-you anecdotes that everyone has hidden away for such occasions. David and Sandy had met in college. David’s job wasn’t really as fancy as it sounded. Sandy’s job as tech support wasn’t interesting enough to go into. Mercer hated cucumbers. The usual.

And then…

“So, uh,” Sandy asks, “I did ask you if you smoke, right?”

Mercer looked at the cigarette in his hand.

“Yeah?” he intoned.

“No, like, smoke,” she said and pointed at the bowl on the side table.

“Oh,” Mercer responded. “I can’t believe I missed that.”

She laughed.

“Must be used to it,” he said.

She grinned, “Good.”

She opened the table drawer, and a sack of bud came out to say hello. She packed the bowl and handed it to him.

“You’re so generous,” Mercer said.

“You’re welcome.”

He sparked the grass, took only half the green hit, and passed it back while holding his breath.

“Manners!” Sandy exclaimed before taking her puff.

He exhaled.

“I like that,” she croaked, passing it back.

They fell into the rhythm of smoking. There was a good vibe set, and a comfortably tense silence washed over them.

*

“Is this the guy?” David asked a few minutes later. He carried a cheap lager and gestured an offer to Mercer.

Mercer waved it off graciously. Sandy nodded, lighting a cigarette.

“You gonna introduce us, weirdo?” David asked Sandy impatiently. His look asked Mercer if he could believe what was happening.

“I’m so glad,” Sandy said to Mercer, “that someone finally gets to see the kind of abuse I put up with.”

“Abuse?” David said, offended. “Fucking abuse, she says!”

“You heard me,” Sandy shot back. And then to them both, “Mercer, Davey, Davey this is our new roommate, Mercer.”

“Don’t call me Davey.”

Mercer’s laugh broke their bit, and they all shared a chuckle.

“What’s up man, I’m David.” He stressed the second syllable.

“Mercer. Nice to meet you.”

They went for the same type of handshake. A good sign.

“New roommate, huh?” David asked and pulled a lawn chair from seemingly nowhere.

“I just decided,” Sandy said.

“Nice,” Mercer said.

David laughed, “Well, I guess you’re in, man. Congrats.”

He took his seat.

“Now you can tell me about yourself.”

*

It was all the same information, but this time, Sandy took her turn when Mercer skipped something. They soon dug deeper and began sharing self-deprecating stories.

“I survived falling out of the raft in category four rapids, I hiked all the way to the top of the waterfall and jumped off, and then I sprained my ankle getting into the truck to come home!”

Sandy was red-faced as she spoke, and the guys were breathless.

“How?” Mercer managed to ask.

“I don’t know!” Sandy gasped.

And later, “I thought it was spinach dip or something,” David said. “That’s what it tasted like.”

“It was cheese dip from, like, six months earlier!” Sandy exclaimed.

“It was green,” David winced and Mercer gagged.

Mercer jumped in to move the subject to something less revolting. Sort of.

“We used to go camping a lot when I was a kid. I thought I was a daredevil, and I’d take these great big running leaps over the fire pit.”

The others were already cringing.

“And then one day my foot got caught in the grill.” He sighed. “Down I went.”

“Ouch!” David cried. Sandy was covering her eyes, trying to block the mental image of seared flesh.

“I still have some scars from it,” Mercer concluded, pointing at his leg. “After that,” he said, “Dad moved us away from the mountains, and we went to the beach instead.”

“Probably safer,” Sandy said.

Mercer shook his head. “Not really.”

 

 

To be continued…

Micro

A prompt response.

I knew a guy who microdosed LSD. He worked at that pizza place on Waters, you know? That gourmet take-home place? He was the guy tossing the pie in the oven.

His name was Cuz. At least, that’s what everyone called him. I never bothered to ask why. I was too busy listening to him wax poetic on topics of the soul.

Okay, his doses may not have been “micro”. But that pizza was fire, man, I’m telling you.

Anyway, one night he says to me, “Cuz,” he says, “you know they’re coming, right?”

I’m like, “Who?”

“The aliens, cuz. You know who I’m talking about.”

“Nah, dude. You said aliens?”

“Yeah,” he clarified, and then he pointed. “You know, cuz. You one of them.”

I laughed, because, I mean, what else are you supposed to do, right?

“You one of those time travelers, cuz.”

I laughed again, confused. “I’m a time traveling alien?”

“No, cuz,” he said. “Aliens are just us from the future.”

Inefficient

a prompt response

I have it all right here with me: every word of the story waiting to be yanked out of the ether and transformed into the easily consumable media to which we’ve all grown accustomed. I wouldn’t be sitting here wasting my time if there was actual work to do.

I’m good at the actual work.

Yeah, it’s all done: this hobbyhorse is shod and tacked. It’s ready to be ridden across the open range of someone else’s imagination. But my laziness – an orange-eyed monster whose skin fits me so well – he keeps convincing me that there’s something else to do, that the sequence starts earlier, that I should sit still and wait. The answers will come to me.

We all know this isn’t true. At the very least, it’s an inefficient way to live a life worth reading.

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The Correct Way to Hold a Spatula

The Correct Way to Hold a Spatula: A How-to for Both Professional Cookers and the Not, This is Easy to be Reading Text and Shall Have Instructed Your Hands on Their Journeyment Through to the Flapping of Fewer Jacks if You Should So Desire.

 

Firstly and mostly, there is a rumor out floating abound that means you should have been holding a spatula with an upturned fist, like so.

[insert bad_illustration.jpg]

Well, my friendly miser, I tell you that this is incorrectly done as such. It is to be pinching with the floodle – that’s the name of the handle – pinch it in between your middle and ringer fingers, see?

[insert illustration.jpg]

and then you should be wrapping your hand around that floodle – say it with me now: Floodle. Floodle. Good. – wrap those hands around in both of each of the directions.

[insert illustration2.jpg]

Close up that gappy with your thumb there, and you’re in busy bees. You’ll be scraping dinner from the ceiling in no time half.

[insert hecklesyeah.mp4]

Now that you have to be getting yourself firmly comfortable with our patented Spatulator grip, I will tell you how to be going about making the pansnakes. Did my mouth say snakes? I must be halving a stroke, my crumple mix-em-ups. I floundered countless gravy while crowdfunding my last disaster.

[insert illustration3.jpg]

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

[insert illustration3.1.jpg]

Wow, you’re doing great!

[insert illustration3.2.jpg]

That golden beauty could be on the frontish cover of Spatularata Magazine!

[insert illustration3.3.jpg]

Twice! Twice, can you believe it!

[insert illustration71.jpg]

Wow. Just Wow.

[insert smilingiraffe.gif]

Already, my hangled bambler, you should have been completing this disher several minutes prior. Hopefulating that you’ve learned something today, and as always, Conflatulatory gracious in the grand Spatulutions, and this does do not have representatives of Spatulica Inc. LLC ABC. All Rights Reserved Inagodadavita.

 

Good some day,

The Hofflebrock.

Static Episode I: Feeling Awakened – A prequel

James B. Paulson, a white haired white man from the Great White North, turned off his webcam and sat back in his plush leather chair. He’d just finished an interview with the right wing journalist/YouTube star, Samson Chelling, and Paulson was sure that he’d proven himself worthy of his new found fame.

“That’s it for this episode of Yelling with Chelling,” Samson told his audience. He leaned in toward the camera, his hands flat on his Tonight Show desk, and donned his mask of Conservative Gratitude. “I want to thank you, Dr. Paulson. You’re doing the Lord’s work.”

The Lord’s Work. He liked that. Not since he’d aired his family’s woes of depression on The Agenda with Dave Aiken several years before had he felt so vindicated in his decision to come forward with his beliefs. 2017 was an arduous year full of battles with the Post-Modernist Left, and at times, it felt as though he would never make any ground. Tonight’s episode with Chelling, however… He felt like was finally getting somewhere.

The episode, entitled “Did Jesus Exist?”, wasn’t even on his list of things to do today. Just a few hours prior to recording, Chelling pinged Paulson through Cheep, the #1 platform for free speech as defined by Corporate Policies, and asked him if he’d be willing to sit in. Stefan Olbert was scheduled to discuss his – I’m sorry, her – latest round of surgery, and what that meant for a public member of the LGBTAARP community, but she was forced to reschedule when her daughter, America, a rambunctious toddler of 241 years, began asking questions about the birds and the bees. Mrs. Olbert was suddenly burdened by having to draw chart after chart showing the progression of the meaning of words like gender and science. They hit a particularly rough patch in the road when America asked, “Does that mean that you identify with having PMS?” It was an especially bitchy question, Mrs. Olbert thought. America must be on the rag.

Paulson couldn’t even remember what his interview had been about now that it was over. He did, however, remember proving with absolutely zero equivocation that the Supreme Being was indeed a reality, even if He never existed.

“It’s about what it means in the name of Pragmatism,” he thought he might have said. “The TRUTH is there, and the TRUTH is USEFUL.”

Amen, Paulson thought. A-fucking-men.

“Meow,” said the cat by his side. He absently dropped a hand from its perch to scratch the feline’s head. “Meow meow, meow,” the cat continued.

“Don’t say that,” Paulson scolded. “You’re just plain wrong, and you know it.”

He stood from his chair. This damned cat just would not give it a rest. For years and years, Kevin had been the prime example of the purrfect kitty, demanding attention at his whim and destroying any dangling string and small bug that he could find.

“Meow. Meow meow, meow meow meow,” Kevin continued.

“You shouldn’t say those things!” Paulson snapped and stormed out of his office lined with art depicting agony and confusion.

The cat followed him down the hall, passed his wife’s bedroom and into his. Paulson plopped onto the bed face-first and sighed. He was feeling so high just a few minutes ago. His serotonin levels were finally getting to an optimal level, and now this…

“Why are you lying to them?” Kevin asked, his cat mouth meowing, but the meaning clear in Paulson’s mind. “You don’t believe in this stuff.” He jumped onto the bed next to the man and began purring. “There’s a reason they call you the alt-right. There’s a reason they call you a fascist.”

“They’re Post-Modernists!” Paulson cries. “They think everything to the right of Socialism, everything based in fact-based science, is alt-right!”

“Tsk tsk tsk,” the cat mocked. “You don’t believe in facts either, do you? Pragmatism isn’t science…”

“It most certainly can be!” Paulson rolled onto his side, facing away from the animal.

“Can it?” Kevin said as he licked himself. “By your definition, facts and science are only true if they’re useful…”

“And it’s true! If it isn’t useful, if it destroys us, then how can it be the real truth!?” Paulson was sitting up now, pleading with his pet. “If we go after things, if we study things that bring about our own end, then these things obviously weren’t true in a meaningful sense. Hell, meaning will disappear with our species!”

Kevin began laughing. It was a quietly sardonic squeal of a chuckle.

“Silly man,” he said. “Meaning isn’t species-based. It’s tribe-derived.”

“Ridiculous!”

The cat rolled onto his back, paws in the air. “Pet me.”

Paulson resisted. Rather, he tried. His hand seemed to have a mind of its own, and it reached out to stroke the animal’s fur.

“See?” Kevin asked. “Isn’t that nice?”

Paulson refused to agree, but again, his body worked of its own accord, and his head began nodding.

“I know it is. I’m so soft and soothing.” Kevin began to purr. “Do you think everyone would think so? Do you think everyone would agree?”

Paulson considered this. He didn’t want to, but his mind was not his own. “No. Some people just do not like cats. Some people are allergic.” His voice was nearly a whimper.

“And just because some people are allergic, does that mean that I should be barred from existence?”

Flabbergasted, Paulson almost snapped out of it. “I don’t see how this is relev-“

“Just answer the question, James. How would you feel if someone said that I shouldn’t be allowed to be me?”

The man wanted to rip down the argument. He wanted to get up from his bed and run away screaming. He wanted to call animal control and have this talking monster taken away. But he couldn’t. He tried to stand, and instead he found himself on his knees at the foot of the bed, hands still petting whether he liked it or not. He realized that he’d begun weeping.

“I’d feel terrible. I’d feel horrible! I’d want to punch them in their faces!”

Paulson was stunned. He didn’t want to feel this way. He didn’t understand where these feelings were coming from, but as his rationality left him, his feeling of the matter became more and more real. More and more threatening to the core of his humanity.

“And so what is true? Am I adorable or abominable?”

“You’re… you’re…” ABOMINABLE! he wanted to exclaim. “Adorable,” he conceded.

“But not to everyone…”

“Not to everyone…” Paulson repeated. “And anyone who doesn’t think you’re adorable deserves to burn in the lowest pit of a hell that never existed!”

The cat purred. “And so, you can see that there is no objective meaning. There is no truth…”

Paulson found himself agreeing. Damn it to hell, he agreed.

*

“I admit that I was horribly mistaken, and so are you, Samson. Post-Modernism isn’t the problem here. Changing the meaning of words to fit our new understanding of ourselves and our environment only makes sense. Redefining terms before any discussion is the only way to make sure that we comrades can have truly meaningful conversations, because, in the end, meaning is momentary. The past no longer exists. We must unshackle ourselves from the flow of time, bring the patriarchy to heel and give capitalism the funeral it deserves – which is none at all, since as soon as it ends we can forget it ever existed in the first place – and –“

“Dr. Paulson, Dr. Paulson!” Chelling cut in. “Where is this coming from? Just last week, you were arguing exactly the opposite! You said, and I quote – “

“How dare you,” Paulson damanded. “How dare you, sir – do you mind if I call you sir? is that acceptable? Do you have preferred pronouns?”

Chelingr, stunned, amused, and amazed at the viewer spike he was about to receive, nodded. “Sir is fine, but –“

“How dare you, sir!” Paulson continued in renewed rage. “How dare you bring up anything that happened before this conversation! I’ve already stated that the moment is all there is. Nothing before now matters, and to suggest otherwise is an act of violence against me!”

*

“Meow,” Kevin said to himself, quietly approving. He was watching his human from the door, a constant eye of appraisal and judgment. “Meow…”

The cat left the doorway then, down the hall, past one bedroom and the next, down the stairwell and to the front door. He pushed his bloated body through, for he’d demanded meal after meal after meal now that his human was firmly under his control, and, with some effort – the first real effort he’d had to expend during this mission to Earth – finally made it out into the night.

Standing in the middle of the quiet street, Kevin lifted his face to the sky.

“MEOWWW!” he called. “MEOWWW!”

A star in the night sky winked, then grew brighter, larger, a glowing orb headed straight for the animal at impossible speeds.

“MEOW!” Kevin said excitedly, just before the spaceship came to a stop a hundred meters above his head. A beam of light engulfed him, and he could feel the pull. His real self, the essence of his being, was pulled from the animal, a strange gray smoke rising up through the light.

Once gone, the cat was again just a cat. It didn’t wonder why it was outside. It didn’t wonder where it’d been for the last several days. It was just a cat. It wandered its way back toward its master’s house.

Meddle 1

2043

City lights sparkle, reflecting in puddle mirrors just minutes after a storm’s dying gust. On a neighborhood street amid newly gentrified housing, a 2020s sedan – post hybrid – sits exquisitely out of place. It’s just odd enough to notice, yet eccentric enough to forget.

“I learned how to play the guitar today,” says Deel, a 30-something in the driver’s seat.

“Huh,” grumbles the codger riding shotgun. “I could have sworn I’ve seen you play before.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I really don’t.”

The younger man turns his athletic physique toward the heavyset other.

“Fine. Okay. Do I know an impressive number of songs? Sure. Do I impress an impressive number of women with my sweet licks and my lyrical prowess? Of course. But I’m telling you, Franks, I learned all of those songs note by note, rote by rote, and never once did it ever occur to me to learn a scale!”

“A scale?” Franks asks.

“Where all the notes actually are?” Deel says.

“Sounds useful.”

“No shit,” Deel says, and turns his attention back to the street.

“And just how long have you been avoiding these scale things?” Franks asks.

Deel thinks. “Fif-no. Sixty years? That sounds right.”

Franks nods, contemplating. “There are a lot of trees in the forest, I guess.”

Franks’s old analogue wristwatch interrupts with a trio of beeps. Deel leans forward and wipes fog from the windshield.

“I see her.”

Franks grunts a nod.

“You want to take her now?”

“Nah,” Franks answers. “It’s easier when they think they’ve gotten away with it.”

*

Rose Somethingorother, dressed in black from head to toe, strides with confidence down the wet sidewalk. She makes sticking to the shadows look natural, slinking between pools of fluorescent street light, her gaze alert and appraising. A quick shimmy of her hips is the only warning before she disappears into the inkwell of a recently refurbished brownstone.

“Yeah?” Deel poses.

“Post up.”

The men exit the vehicle, Franks with a groan and Deel with a curse.

“These damn steering wheels,” Deel complains once he’s untangled his legs.

“Facing forward the whole time,” Franks adds with a huff.

Deel steps into the street.

“I’m glad I was born later.”

“Aren’t we all,” Franks replies.

They make haste to the building entrance, weapons drawn and ready. Franks points to the hedge row. Deel nods and pulls on the hood of his jacket. He crouches among the shrubbery, and his torso begins to change color. Soon, he is nearly imperceptible in the foliage.

Franks takes point just out of sight from the door. He lazily checks his watch.

“90 seconds,” he says softly.

Deel’s hand shoots from the bushes giving a thumb up.

*

Franks almost misses it. He tries to focus on the black hole of a doorway, but his eyes keep sliding toward the light. Rose’s form leaks out of the shadow and merges with the night. She’s halfway down the stoop, nearly lost to the darkness, before his brain registers the motion.

“Rose!” Franks calls cheerily. “Fancy seeing- STOP!”

She’s already down the steps, passing directly under a lamp in her haste to escape.

“I’m pointing a stunner,” Franks warns her well lit back. “I don’t miss.”

She catches herself, and in her hesitation, Franks gains ground.

“Hands up.”

She complies.

Franks pulls a metal tube from his belt, flicks it, and a strand of blue material whips toward her upstretched left wrist. It coils around, synching into place when Franks pulls it tight.

Rose cries out in surprise, adrenaline taking over. She yanks her arm down and spins to meet her attacker.

Franks, pulled off balance, squeezes the stunner’s trigger and fires a ball of lightning into the street. Rose kicks him in the chest. The restraint flies from his grip, zipping up and close to her arm. She whips around to make a break for it, but Deel is there, his jacket now reflecting the street scene. The blue glow of his stunner is aimed dead center.

“Stop!” he commands.

Rose slows to a stuttered halt in the street.

“They say no one here,” she mutters to fate.

She’s too calm.

Franks groans as he makes it back to his feet, distracting Deel for a split second – plenty of time for Rose. When his eyes snap back his target, she’s crouching with one hand on the asphalt.

“Don’t, Rose. Don’t make me-“

She jumps. Deel fires.

The speed of Rose’s movements baffle him, and his shot misses its mark, the bolt catching her hip instead of her torso. Rose cries from the jolt as she flies into the air.

“What the hell,” Deel demands.

“Mods,” Franks replies, finally catching up. “Keep an eye on her.” He hustles toward the car.

Deel can hear Rose cursing her wound, but he cannot see her. He can only assume that she’s atop the nearest building. He’s proven correct when he catches her shadow leaping to the adjacent roof, heading in the direction from which she’d come.

“She’s running!” Deel calls.

He chases her streaking shadow.

Franks pulls the whispering Sedan to a screeching stop next to a hunched over Deel trying to catch his breath. He’s pointing up, and Franks’ gaze follows just in time.

The block ends with a wide intersection before moving onto another row of housing. Rose doesn’t take this leap lightly, and Franks can see her flittering from end to end of that last building. Is she judging her distance and required velocity?

Suddenly, she’s flying again, off of her building and high over the intersection. A trail of sparks pour from her damaged mechanics.

And she bursts into flames.

“Holy shi-“

The fleshy meteor falls out of the sky and makes a wet thud in the middle of Main Street.

*

2464

“And then we put her out and called for backup,” Franks says, adjusting his sore back in the uncomfortable office chair.

“She just burst into flames,” Marjory Dunning says coldly from behind her desk. She’s reading the official account from a thin sheet of smartform.

“Yes, Ma’am,” answers Deel. “We believe that the power required for all that jumping-“

“Catastrophic systems failure,” Franks finishes.

“You had to shoot her in the hip?” Marjory asks Deel.

He shrugs an apology.

“Who was the Historian on the ground?” she demands.

The men look to each other.

“Which one, Ma’am?” Franks asks.

Marjory scowls. She snatches up the smartform, crumples it, and tosses it into the recyclobin. Her features settle closer to serenity as the microbots whir to life and claim their meal.

“That’s better,” she sighs. “You,” she points to Deel, “Go away.” She turns to Franks. “I need a minute.”

 

 

to be continued…

Time Traveling in Arcadia

“I’m going to Cameli’s,” I told my wife. “It’s Arcadia Comedy.”

“Oh, fun!” she exclaimed. “Are you going up?”

This was her way of asking if she should come with me. Did I need moral support?

“You’re the comedian, baby,” I told her, and it’s true. She’s goddamn hilarious. “I’m going to see if I can find something related to time travel to write about.”

She’s used to my writerly oddness, so she gave me her standard “Okay, Weirdo” face and nodded. She kissed my cheek and sent me on my way.

I didn’t get nervous until I got into my car. As soon as I shifted into drive, Anxiety began digging a hole through my gut, and the only way that I could release the tension was to shout nonsensically.

“AHHHMAHH-AH-UH!”

The windows of my last-century Buick were down. They’re always down. The A.C. quit working about an hour and a half after I bought the piece of junk.

“CHOOOEEEEE!”

I was at a stoplight, and I looked over as I let it out. Staring back was an older lady driving the latest SUV, black. Her windows just happened to also be down.

“HERRRRMERRRT!” I bellowed, her judgmental glare throwing another wrench at my stomach.

The light turned green, and I left her there with her opinions.

Cameli’s is actually pretty easy to get to if you’re headed south on Moreland. Pass the Star Bar, pass the Package Store, and then watch the cramped, no-median road open up to include a turn lane just in time to make the left into the parking lot. I was lucky. I got the last of the free parking.

I have this image in my head of the type of people who frequent “cool” places. I see beards and tattoos. I see plaid and piercings. I see ironic t-shirts and shoes that cost more than my car.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I bought a couple of beers from the bearded bartender and found a seat next to a plaided woman with a septum piercing. It was against the window, so I let my eyes rest on the dark side of a sunset.

I know some of this description sounds a bit derisive, but it’s really more defensive. I’ve never been a “cool,” and while I fetishize plaid as much as the next millennial, the only facial hair I grow is a natural goatee, and I dress like a failed salesman. The “scene” can be intimidating.

I was almost un-uncomfortable. Anxiety still ate at me, but now that I was in it, a couple of PBRs down, I pushed through. Kyle was starting the show.

I was shocked to feel at home as one 40s/50s white guy after another stood up, all of them business casual. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen them sooner. Among the hip, they stuck out like semen stains in black light. They told jokes about their kids and trips to Home Depot. I jotted notes in my book and saw others doing the same.

Maybe I wasn’t so out of place here after all.

Once the Cracker portion of the show was over, the mix of comedy got more interesting. There were newbies and there were veterans. There was the “I’m a whore” comic, and there was the “HEY I’m SUPER Drunk” guy. There was a comic who memorized his set as a monologue and had to keep running over to his table to look up his next line. There was a guy who kept trying to explain his unlanded jokes with sports metaphors.

I watched nearly every other person in the room stand up, hand out their funny, and sit back down. The night was nearly over before I realized that I was one of the only people – out of more than 20 – who wasn’t there to get on stage. It dawned on me that this was a workout room, the equivalent of a writing group or workshop. I simultaneously felt more at home and like I was crashing a private event, but then the comic on stage made me laugh my face off, and I forgot all about it.

I was entertained. I was glad I came. By the time it was all over, my anxiety had fallen dormant, and I was sad that the experience was over.

I drove home in a daze of mild elation. I’d done something different with my day. I’d found something interesting to do.

“So?” my wife asked as I climbed into bed. “How was it?”

“Awesome,” I replied and assumed cuddling position 17.

“Did you find any time travelers?” she asked.

I laughed for the millionth time that evening.

“I completely forgot to look.”