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    Wednesday
    Feb272013

    That Guy Needed a Bike

    This was a thing I wrote for a contest a few months back. I can see now why it didn't win anything, but I was proud of how honest I made it. I bought my bike one year ago today, and it made a big impact on my life, obviously.

    I didn’t like that guy.

    He certainly wasn’t anyone I wanted to be. Thirty-four years old, tired, bombed out, and cynical. I was in trapped in this harrowing descent into being that guy forever. I’d had bouts of depression and spent enough time fighting with my wife that it was worrying. My pants and shirts didn’t fit anymore, and I went on a three month coughing jag eventually discovered to be acid reflux from a combination of stress, a bad diet, and getting fat. Just look at that round face!

    My son was just about two years old, and it had not been an easy road. Some people have easy babies. Some people have lots of family and help around, and some people like us had neither. My wife and I were at home, where we both worked, with our son, day and night, every day just a scramble to get to the next, when it started again. I was worried that this kid was going to end up with the worst version of me, a defeated, bloated, cranky dude who was pissed off that the world hadn’t rewarded his talents, and that he’d missed his shot.

    It wasn’t that things were terrible. We’d just moved out of New York City, specifically Queens, which had stepped on and crumpled a significant portion of our belief in the inherent goodness of people. Research, chance, compromise, and some guessing lead us to move to southern New Hampshire. I grew up in Maine, but got away as quickly as possible spending 8 years in Los Angeles, followed by 6 years in New York. After all that, it turns out I’m not a city person. I instantly found solace in the beautiful stars at night, the sounds of crickets, and the distinct absence of car horns and strangers randomly cursing at each other. But we were still stuck in the same rut, doing the same things, just in a larger, more serene setting.

    That guy still needed a bike.

    I was never an athletic guy. I puttered around at the edges of sports as a kid, even doing a year on the JV basketball team in tenth grade, where, possessing limited skills and almost no natural talent, I sat the bench with a vengeance all year. In my twenties, I was fairly regular with gym visits where I would pedal in place, and lift random weights according to magazine articles. Way back when I was about 15, I found myself very attracted to one of those bikes with fat tires.

    The shape and idea of the mountain bike was always high in my esteem. I broke a Murray version of a mountain bike jumping off curbs, and when it came time to replace it, I went to L.L. Bean and cleared out my tiny savings account to buy my first real mountain bike. It was purple, rigid, and lasted over a decade. I rode it sporadically on trails around my home town, and even took it to an early bike park. I still remember the ache in my wrists the next day. I bought mountain bike magazines, and wondered if I’d ever bee able to afford the four figure machines advertised in them. It turns out that it would be a while. After going off to college, I never hit a trail again until my late twenties, when, living in Los Angeles, I traveled to Big Bear and rented a full suspension bike and rode down the mountain.

    “Oh right! I love doing this! I need to buy a bike.”

    Shortly after that, I moved to New York and there was nowhere to keep a bike, and nowhere to pay for it. That was my excuse anyway. Life’s disappointments are paved with excuses for why we didn’t do the thing we wanted to, or should have.

    It took almost a year after moving to New Hampshire, researching all the while that was able to buy something. It turns out that bikes had gotten really expensive. A well timed work reimbursement arrived, and I agonized over asking my wife about buying a bike with it, instead of fixing stuff in the house that needed fixing. Every time I had a spare moment, I was off to one of the local bike shops, trying out different things. I tried hard tails, 26ers, 29ers, full suspension bikes, and was a little overwhelmed by the new designations of trail or cross country or all mountain. When I was trying to decide between a full suspension bike and a better appointed hard tail, the guy at the shop stopped me dead, asking my age, and then following up with “Do you really want to be on a hard tail bike at 40 or 45 years old.” It was sobering, but it certainly helped me make up my mind.

    I literally thought about the bike every night before going to bed for weeks. My wife gave the OK, and on my thirty-fifth birthday, she suggested we go to the bike shop and finally pick it up. I panicked for a moment, because it turned out that the model I’d finally settled on was a little more expensive than we’d discussed. Again, she was accommodating and understanding. That bike was red, white, shiny, and so beautiful.

    It snowed for the only time all winter the next day, my dreams of a cold, but dry winter ride delayed. But the freakish weather melted that snow quickly, and one morning, a week later, I hopped on the bike, riding off in a random direction, just to give it a try. I noticed a trail entrance in some woods a near my house, and I was off.

    Now it was time for that guy to pay the price for being such a slob.

    It was not a hard trail. It wasn’t that hilly or technical, or anything. I think I lasted 40 minutes at mostly very low speed, breathlessly returning to the house. It wasn’t that cathartic of an experience to be honest. Clouds didn’t part with divine inspiration. I was tired, and even though I knew I was out of shape, I was surprised at how much of a struggle it was to wrestle that aluminum thing up even small hills. I wanted to go back out again. As soon as possible.

    Over the next few weeks, I found that I was blessed with a surplus of trails in the area. Within an hour in any direction, there was something other riders loved. My closest real trail system was a punishing rocky singletrack, far more technical than I was equipped for. I was instantly glad I went with the big wheels and front and rear suspension, except when I realized I didn’t have the skills to make some of the quick corners required of me, resulting in my flying off into the trees fairly regularly.


    With a little more confidence, I started sucking slightly less wind. I also started falling more. My technical skills needed lots of work. There’s some accounting for instinct, but watching some videos and talking to people who knew what they were doing made a huge difference. My legs started to gain some serious scarring. I went over the bars once or twice and really shook myself up. I remember being more upset that it had happened so early in my ride, when I had precious free time, than I was about the blood running down my arms and legs, or the scratches on my new bike. Those wounds still haven’t gone away completely. I’m cool with that. A friend of mine informed me that I was giving off a Fight Club vibe, just short of proudly spitting broken teeth out to show how tough I was. He wasn’t wrong.

    Because of the magic of the internet and a local Facebook group, I was able to meet up with other riders in the area. These were guys I had nothing in common with, and would never have met in the other parts of my life. But they were all, to a man, friendly and gracious. That was important because I was much, much slower than all of them. I got smoked by people much older, much younger, much fatter, and much thinner. I saw guys ride at a pace I literally didn’t think possible. I never heard so much as a sigh or an eyeroll. At least not until I got to know them a bit better. But mostly they were just happy to be riding. I went from only riding by myself to almost always riding with others, often new people I’d never met before, testing the limits of my introversion, and yet almost always with positive results. Today I'm actually real friends with some of them, which was another unexpected benefit in a small town where I don't really know anyone.


    So what happened to that guy?

    I’m not going to go so far as to say he’s dead, but his power is greatly diminished. He’s about ten pounds down from where he started, and a hell of a lot less stressed out. I try to find time whenever I can to ride, often having to get up early in the morning to fit it in at least two or three times a week. I am generally h

    appier. So much of that stress and crabbiness disappeared behind me on the trails. I have more energy. I don’t want to eat junk food for therapy. Spousal bickering is way down, and I haven’t had a bout of depression in recent memory. It took me almost twenty years to get me back to this thing, this mountain biking that I have an unexplained affinity for, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. No matter how punishing a ride, and how much I want that awful hill to be behind me, or how many mosquitoes and ticks feast on me, within moments of the ride being over, I want to go back and give it another shot, even if my body is screaming at me to stop. I’m sleeping better. My clothes are fitting again. My wife is proud that I’m sticking to it. My son really wants a bike too. Getting my mountain bike, and hitting the trails is literally the best thing I have done for myself in years. It isn’t a cure all. It doesn’t fix the problems I had before, but the clarity of mind and fitness it provides, the outlet it is, has made everything better and easier. My bike has pounded that guy far off stage, and made everyone around me happier as a result.

    Monday
    Apr302012

    TEASER: Upcoming Story with a MONKEY!

    It seems like I've been quiet on the making comics front lately but that's just because things are in progress, wheels are in motion. Here's a tiny teaser from a short story I've got coming up very soon. I will not hesitate to give full and deserving credit to the brilliant artist when the story is available, but for now, you'll have to guess.

    I'll tell you one thing, a prison camp in the Philippines was not a place you wanted to be in 1945.

    Thursday
    Jun302011

    Dixon's Notch, available now on Graphicly

    The first issue can be yours for $1. The short version is, it's the story of the Russian mob vs. Pirates from Maine, in a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere. I think it's a hell of a lot of fun.

     

     

    Thanks for checking it out. This is only the first issue, and there are more on the way.

    Tuesday
    Jun282011

    Coming Soon: Dixon's Notch

    Here's a wee teaser of a comic I'm working on with Doug Hills, which will be available on Graphicly very very soon. Here's the blurb:

    Dixon's Notch is a small town in Maine, where things are about to get a lot more interesting. Pirates are terrorizing local fisherman, and because of a mixup with a mail order bride, the Russian mob will be coming to town as well. This tiny fishing village might not survive the oncoming clash. Then again, folks from Dixon's Notch are plucky, and they might surprise you.

    And here's a quick look at what's coming up:

    Sunday
    Oct172010

    Astro Van - Chapter One

    Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, where you write 3000 words a day throughout November, and in doing so, you create a novel. And I did it!  I made it, and had a 50,000 word story at the end.  Sort of. 

    I never went back and edited.  I wasn't sure if I had anything good, even though I felt like the experiement acheived something.  I'm not sure what.  But lately, I've been thinking about throwing the work up here, because, what the hell?  I really don't think there's anything I'm going to do with this, so why not share it.  Otherwise, what was the point?  As I said though, it's raw as hell, chock full of typos that I might, someday, get around to fixing. Maybe.

    So here's the first chunk of Astro Van.  I'll continue posting the whole thing every few days.  Thanks!

    --

    Ted moved to Los Angeles about five months ago, hoping for something.  He wasn’t sure what, but he was looking for a fresh start, and figured he’d always quite liked movies, so it made sense to move to the place where they were made.  It hadn’t gone well from the start, but Ted was sort of used to that, because if it had been going well previously, he wouldn’t have packed up and moved in the first place.  It had been going so poorly, his life nearly a non-entity, that he really thought his only option was to pack up his life in the 1992 Chevy Astro Van, and drive across the country to Los Angeles, to do something of which he wasn’t exactly sure.  The fact that the Astro Van wasn’t close to full, even after filling it with all his belongings was a symbol of the insignificance on his place in the world.  Ted didn’t even own enough stuff to fill a minivan.  He hadn’t left much of a footprint on the world, and the empty Astro Van was a physical manifestation of that.  Consequently, when the van was later blown up, Ted never even considered that fact that a vehicle he’d owned and driven for most of his adult life was no more.  A man rarely forms a bond with a 1992 Chevy Astro Van.

    Crossing west towards the coast, in the final phase of his pilgrimage, Ted drove west on I-10, and felt hope, for the first time.  However, about 10 minutes later, he found himself mired in dead-stopped traffic, at 9:14 PM on a Sunday.  While pondering what in the world would cause traffic to do that at such an odd time (he’d never figure out an answer to that riddle), he realized that his plan was flawed.  Provided there was no traffic jam, he was due in Los Angeles within the hour, and he had nowhere to go once he got there.  It occurred to Ted that he was literally homeless.  He was also entirely alone, and fairly well broke.  Why had it never occurred to Ted to think this through at all, and make some sort of plan?  He didn’t even have a distant relative or old acquaintance to contact upon arrival.  Sitting in traffic so dire that the people in front of him began eating sandwiches, sitting on the median next to their stopped car, Ted began to come to the terrible realization that was well and truly fucked.  Keeping with the belief that luck was a myth, he couldn’t see what he could possibly do.  Would he have to stay in a homeless shelter?  How would he even find one of those?  Would they take his stuff?  Would they rape him?  Was a shelter like prison?  Ted then got angry with himself for not knowing if a Los Angeles homeless shelter was anything like prison, and started to plan how he would defend himself from being raped by these supposed homeless perverts, and completely lost himself until he heard the car behind him beeping.  Then he turned the engine on, drove 8 feet forward, stopped, and shut off the engine again.  

    Yet this fear wasn’t as bad as it sounded.  Ted’s fear was actually incredibly energizing.  Back in Double Falls, he didn’t have cause to be afraid, because nothing even changed, and life offered no surprises.  His pride at having conquered that boredom had resulted in exceptional self-delusion and euphoria, ultimately resulting in Ted’s complete lack of planning right up until he was 60 miles outside of Los Angeles, wondering how in the hell he’d gotten to where he was, and what kind of traffic conditions could cause a traffic jam this unholy on a Sunday evening.  Had the traffic jam not occurred, he would have had this exact same epiphany of panic, but just a bit later, when he rolled into Los Angeles, when he realized he had nowhere to park, as he hadn’t sorted out a destination.  Of course, the idea that there wouldn’t be a traffic jam outside of Los Angeles is almost as absurd a notion to people familiar with the greater Los Angeles traffic patterns.  

    Eventually, the traffic began to move just as Ted started seriously wondering how he could turn around, and drive back to Double Falls, and he had no choice but to drive himself inexorably forward, toward whatever fate awaited him.

    --

    After arriving in Los Angeles, and living out of his car for a while, parking in distant corners of supermarket lots, and washing up at the branches of the public library.  There, he could also use their computers to look for a job.  One of the first things that he learned was that, despite being a town where everyone is always driving all the time, Los Angeles hadn’t really planned out where to put all those cars when people weren’t in them.  Hearing that the main Library branch downtown was the biggest and best of them, he drove south, got off at the appropriate exit, and then circled for about 90 minutes before deciding that downtown Los Angeles only had parking for people who didn’t mind paying $20 just to get out of their cars.  It was quite change from Double Falls, where paying for parking wasn’t even something anyone had ever considered.  It would be like going to a new place and being told that you owed $10 for oxygen use.  Similarly, it took some time to find just the right supermarket parking lots to sleep in, since there were plenty with zealous security.  But Ted figured that if he was going to sleep in his car, it was better to get woken up occasionally than be on some random street where anything could happen to him.

    It had become quickly evident to Ted that Los Angeles was almost nothing like the city is usually portrayed in TV and movies.  For one thing, it’s gigantic, and most of the people living there are neither rich, nor are they exceptionally beautiful.  Neither are they all gang members for that matter.  There are basically a lot of people doing all sorts of things in order to get by, as people do anywhere, except there were a hell of a lot of them.  There were an astounding number of people, everywhere all the time.  Ted found himself stuck in traffic jams at 2 AM on a wednesday morning.  Where the hell were all these people going all the time?  It certainly contributed to the feeling Ted felt of being lost, and becoming more so by the day.  It was so easy to just disappear, no one to check on you, no one to account to, no one to care about what happens to you at all.  Double Falls was an entirely different story, when it seemed like everyone you met on the street had known you and your mother since she was born.  It made it fairly hard to feel like you weren’t being watched at all times.  But now, for the first time in his life, surrounded by more people than he’d ever, in the Burbank library alone, Ted felt like he was floating in an ocean, a little light blinking on his inflatable raft, just in case anyone should pass overhead looking for him.

    After a great deal of false starts, terrible phone calls and interviews, Ted landed a very entry level position at a company concerned mostly with puppets, the manufacture, and performances with.  Founded by a man named Jack Herschfeld, Puppet Tree, LLC, gained its footing in the entertainment industry with a mostly saccharine children’s show which was mildly successful in the late 1970’s.  The Cute and Galoot Show earned some notoriety with its adventures of a burly cowboy and his beautiful companion, ostensibly set in the Old West.  Galoot would try to impress Cute with his feats of strength and manliness, and lovably fail every week.  The show somehow avoided any of the things about the Old West that make it interesting, like guns and Indian Wars, going so far as to feature a Navajo puppet unfortunately named Chief Red, as Galoot’s buddy.  The show did almost three years on the air, and since that time, eeked by with a bit of merchandizing, and some puppet work in the advertising sector.  

    Ted had decided that a place concerned primarily with puppets couldn’t be all that bad.  They weren’t offering much in terms of money, but they weren’t requiring much in terms of experience, so Ted counted himself fairly fortunate to land the gig.  At least at first.

    Ted was almost immediately disabused of the notion that the business of puppets would be a light and amiable place to work.  It turned out that the puppet racket is a tough one.  Perhaps he should have taken a hint during the interview, where the stale scent of decades of cigarette smoke coated everything, and became more evident when he went outside after, and he was hit with actual oxygen.  But he was just happy they were talking to him.  Ted was hired as an office manager, which sounded respectable enough, but it mostly meant he was in charge of lifting heavy things.  After a couple of weeks, Ted started to suspect that he was mostly hired because of the Astro Van, and had he mentioned that he drove a Corolla, he’d still be pounding the pavement.  When not picking up and hauling supplies, Ted spent a lot of time keeping supplies restocked without the use of any real budget to replenish the deficits.  It went like this:

    “Ted, fill this printer with paper!”

    Ted would check the supply closet, reorganized at great length, and after hours by Ted soon after his start date.  As he suspected, the closet contained no more printer paper.  He’d then go to the accounting department, consisting entirely of a single 23 year old woman with a 60 year old chip on her shoulder, request permission to go shopping for more paper, and be denied.

    “Shopping is done on Tuesdays.”
    “But it’s Thursday, and there’s no paper now.”
    “Tuesdays.”

    Indeed, Ted had done a resupply two days previous, but Puppet Tree’s erstwhile founder, Mr. Herschfeld had recently decided he didn’t trust computer data storage, and had spent most of the week printing out every email he’d ever received, which also explained the stacks of paper surrounding Ted’s desk, as tall as third graders, with a post-it simply instructing “to file.”  The effect of the email printing project also wreaked havok on the ink and toner supplies, but that was another battle.

    Such was the minefield of difficulties at Puppet Tree, with Ted fielding contradictory directives from people, all superior to him, who refused to speak with one another.  Each day became an amplified version of the day before, blending into a haze of circular logic, and meaningless processes and chores.  In fact, other than the glass case at reception, containing replicas of the original versions of Cute and Galoot, he wasn’t sure he’d even actually seen a real puppet on the premises.  There was a workshop, but it was locked on the initial tour, and he hadn’t ever had time or a reason to go back there.  

    Further, he’d only ever seen Mr. Herschfeld in the briefest of passings.  He wasn’t a tall man, nor did he smile or even form full words when he passed.  Instead he uttered near approximations of what would pass for “Good morning,” or “good night,” which when examined were really more like guttural sounds containing no vowels or actual syllables.   A curly mass of greying hair in a old brown bomber jacket would whoosh by twice a day, murmur something along the lines of “gmrng,” and people at Puppet Tree would react with a bit too much deference would greet him.  That was all Ted knew of Jack Herschfeld.

    It wasn’t all bad.  One of the benefits of being gainfully, although only in the most literal sense, employed was that Ted was able to secure an actual apartment for himself.  It wasn’t big, impressive, or pretty, but it beat sleeping in the Astro Van in a Ralph’s parking lot almost every time.  Ted’s apartment was a single room plus a tiny bathroom containing almost nothing.  The landlord had seen fit to include a futon to serve as a bed and sofa.  The futon was covered in ancient markings and stains which, like tea leaves or crop circles, you could spend a lifetime decoding.  A newly purchased cover hid the visual evidence and cut down on the various scents it had acquired.  Ted was able to sleep just fine almost every night, provided the neighbors were out, and not testing the architectural structure for its weakness against heavy levels of bass.  The rudiments of a life having been assembled, it wasn’t long before Ted got himself into a routine.  

    It wasn’t long before he started to realize that this new life, as it was, was certainly lacking something.  The closest relationship Ted had formed was with the man who worked the third shift at the mini-mart down the block, and he been unable to pronounce the name stitched on his shirt, and couldn’t begin to guess from which part of the world he had come.  To say the least, it was not emotionally fulfilling as a relationship.  There were people at work who seemed about the same age as Ted, but they seemed mostly uninterested in getting to know him, and the only question they ever asked him were if he’d be willing to crawl under the desk and reconnect a cable.  Indeed, the most friendly and warm treatment he’d ever received from anyone at Puppet Tree was from the 7 year old son of the company’s business manager, whom Ted was tasked with  driving to and from a dental appointment.  Even so, the conversation was lacking and mostly awkward.

    If Ted was to make a go of it, he was going to have to acquire some actual friends.  He’d need to find people with similar interests, and to that end, he’d have to hone in on some interests.  Being primarily concerned with getting out of Double Falls, and then with not sleeping in the Astro Van, Ted hadn’t been keeping up with almost anything.  He suspected that it was having a negative effect on his conversational skills.  At the same time, Ted was, in no way, extroverted.  Meeting new people was excruciating, and while he was very friendly, he did reek of uneasiness, which tends to be a turnoff to prospective friends.  All of this was to say nothing of actually acquiring a girlfriend.  At the moment, Ted put that up there with climbing Everest and Olympic achievements; dreams left to delay and fantasy.

    Regardless, Ted didn’t have a lot of extra time.  He worked 12 to 14 hours a day, his sisyphean efforts, mostly unregarded.  The day would generally leave him beaten and tired, ending with a marathon like drop off in rush hour traffic that would add another hour or two to his work day.  He’d come home, eat something instant, and zone out watching his tiny television.  There was no room or energy for getting out there and meeting new people.  Plus, he had no idea how to do that.

    --

    Several months into Ted’s employment at Puppet Tree, he was ordered to take an envelope to Jack Herschfeld’s house.  It was about 7:15 PM at this point, and the address, deep in the valley would take almost an hour to get to at this time of night.  Then it would be another 45 minutes to get back home, and back at work at 8 the next morning.  The envelope was a normal #10 business envelope and had no bearing of anything especially significant.  But when it was handed to Ted, it was with a touch more solemnity than most envelopes usually require, as if the contents were launch codes, or photographic evidence of a royal sex scandal.  It wasn’t Ted’s place to inquire about the contents, and he had a hunch that he didn’t want to know anyway.  The instructions were to take the envelope to Herschfeld as quickly as possible, do not stop, and only hand it directly to the main puppet man himself.  While his day wasn’t over, it was an order to leave the office, and Ted did so with relish.

    Driving up the 101, at roughly the pace of a group of new mothers wheeling their newborns through a Filene’s Basement, Ted’s mind couldn’t help but wonder what sort of impact the envelope might contain.  Or maybe they just treat everything done for Herschfeld like it’s the most important thing in the world.  For a company that didn’t seem to be doing a lot of work, and nothing on the scale of its former fame, the man was treated with exceptional reverence.  Everything had to be perfect for him.  People hushed when he entered a room, and he commanded a remarkable amount of deference, and it all seemed rather supercilious to Ted.

    Back in Double Falls, familiarity rules most social and professional interactions, and the idea of fawning over someone, be they the mayor, or the school janitor, most were treated with the same level of general friendliness.  This sort of treatment was new to Ted, and it all felt a little put-on and false.  But this seemed to be the culture in the entertainment industry, even deep in the dregs of companies.  He couldn’t imagine what sort of military obeisance existed at larger, more successful companies.  Did they transport Steven Speilberg around the halls of Dreamworks in a sedan chair, and avert their eyes, lest they meet his gaze, and be tossed into a volcano for offending the man-god?  Either way, it seemed like a lot of trouble to go through in order to placate a man who seemed, for all intents and purposes, fairly normal and nondescript.  That Cute and Galoot prestige certainly carries you a long way.

    Up the winding hilly roads, on the side of a canyon, Ted eventually found his way to the estate of Jack Herschfeld.  He wasn’t sure what he was expecting.  But it was a fairly normal house.  It was a nice house, to be sure, but it looked like was from the early 80’s, when it would have been a very contemporary and lovely home, but not much has been done since then.  Herschfeld drove an unassuming Volvo wagon, parked in the driveway, next to a late model BMW 3 series, impeccably shiny.  In the open garage, Ted could see another car under cover, likely a small convertible coupe.  Even though it probably should have, the Astro Van didn’t look all that out of place in the driveway, and that didn’t seem quite right.

    Ted rang the bell.  A minute went by, and he was struck with a problem.  How long should he wait before ringing the bell again?  He couldn’t keep jamming on the button like some impatient pizza delivery man.  Ted was an employee of this man.  Another two minutes went by, Ted feeling incredibly conspicuous, standing at the front door.  He decided he’d have to ring the bell again, terrified at what he’d say if no one did answer, and wondering what he’d have to do if that was the case.  He couldn’t leave, claiming that he did his best.  He couldn’t just stick the envelope in the mail slot, because he’d been instructed to hand the envelope specifically to Herschfeld.  He began to wonder if he’d be stuck there all night, ringing the bell every hour until someone either showed up, or opened the door.  When would it be too late to ring the bell?  Why didn’t someone give him a phone number to check with in case something like this happened.  Staving off what might be a premature panic attack, Ted reached his finger for the buzzer.

    At the exact moment his finger made contact with the button, the door burst open, and Ted was knocked aside by someone rushing out the door.  He turned to see a woman furiously charging towards the BMW, fumbling with the keys for a moment before hopping in.  She looked to be in her 40’s, and was very attractive, probably very much more so about two decades ago, and dressed very well.  She was also fuming mad, and shouting as she made her way to the car.

    “It’s just fucking crazy Jack!  I can’t take this any longer.  You’re on your own, and I hope you fucking lose everything!” she shouted to an unseen Jack.

    Shutting the door with the satisfying clunk of a really fine automobile sealing itself up, she tore off down the driveway with a vengeance, and was gone.

    Ted looked up at the door again, now left wide open, and back at the doorbell.  It didn’t seem like these sorts of situations should be that hard to deal with, but the vagaries of what was acceptable and what wasn’t were completely lost on Ted, and he froze for a moment.  

    He snapped out of when he realized he wasn’t holding the envelope any longer.  When he was brushed aside by the perturbed woman, he’d dropped in the garden to the side of the front door, and it occurred to Ted that he’d have to step through the delicately tended soil and flowers to retrieve it.  Having no other choice, he stepped carefully through the flowers, reaching out and snatching the envelope, and thanking the heavens that it wasn’t ruined, and that he didn’t fall and crush the begonias.

    Standing up, Ted was startled by a figure standing in the doorway.
    “You must be Ted.  I’m Jack.  Come on in.”

    --

    “Have a seat, Ted.  Can I get you something to drink?”
    “Uh, n-no thank you.”
    “Are you sure?  It’s still pretty hot out there, and it’s no trouble.”
    “I’ve got this for you, sir.”
    “Jack, please.  Call me Jack.”

    Jack took the envelope with very little interest, as he handed Ted a very cold bottle of beer.  Ted didn’t see where it came from and hadn’t expected it.  The envelope was tossed in a pile of mail, apparently not nearly as urgent as important as the people back at the office had lead him to believe.  Then Jack sat down across from Ted, on a plush cream colored leather chair, situated in the large living room where they sat.  Jack regarded Ted with a a friendly smile.

    Jack looked younger than Ted had previously thought.  While there were certainly some lines in his face, it was a very much warm and youthful.  He wasn’t especially good looking, but for the first time, Ted saw him as a person who looked like he could make a life in puppets.

    “You want to ask me about what all that was, don’t you?”
    “It’s not really my place to ask.”
    “But you want to, right? I mean, I would.”

    This felt like a trap.  There was a landmine here, and like a cat who wanted to escape from the waiting room at the vet, Ted yearned to be back in the Astro Van.  But maybe Mr. Herschfeld, Jack, was just friendly and trying to get to know his newest employee.

    “You don’t talk much, do you, Ted?”
    “No, I guess I don’t.”
    “You’re not going to get very far out here if you can’t do that.”
    “No, probably not.”

    The condensation on the bottle started running down Ted’s hand, and made him remember it was there.  He’d never been a beer guy, but if he was going to be, this seemed like a good place for it, sitting on his rich boss’ expensive sofas, getting time with the king.  Even if he was king of a very tiny and uninfluential nation.  He took a swig.  He wasn’t really ready, and winced a little at the bitter aftertaste.  

    “So go ahead ask me.”
    “Sir, I--”
“Jack.”
    “Jack... what was that all about?”
    “Ah!  You did want to know.  That? What you just saw? That was the truth coming out.  People will tell you they understand you, and that they support you, but very rarely are they tested.  And when they’re tested, the truth will come out, which is just what you saw.”

    Ted noticed that he’d now finished about half of the bottle, and made the call that he was going to finish it, and accept another if offered.

    “I’m not sure I understand.”
    “Mindy, and I have been together for a long time, and when push came to shove, she  couldn’t handle it.”

    A big swig finished off the bottle, followed by uncharacteristic bravery.

    “You’re being pretty vague.”
    “Ha!  In Vino Veritas, Ted!  Well done.  I am indeed being vague.  After all, I hardly know you.  Hey, look at that.  Man down!”

    Again, without asking, Ted ended up with another beer in his hand, although much less reluctantly this time.  

    “Ted, what was it you’re doing here again?”
    “I delivered that envelope from Puppet Tree.”
    “Oh right, right.”
    “Can I ask you another question?”
    “You might have a chance in this town yet.”
    “What’s in the envelope?  They acted like it was extremely important when they sent me out here.”
    “Why Ted, my boy, whatever it is you do for Puppet Tree is important.  You should know that.”

    Ted sat up a little straighter, thinking the hammer he’d been waiting for was about to come down.

    “Yes, of course.”
    “Relax Ted, I’m just fucking with you.  You make that very easy, you know.”
    “Sorry. I guess I--”
    “Don’t apologize, it’s a good trait.  Means you’re honest, and trust with your heart.”

    Jack picked up the envelope, opened it, and handed it to Ted.

    “Open it.”
    “Are you sure?”
    “Open it. What is it?”
    “It’s a check for seven thousand four hundred sixty three dollars and ninety seven cents.”
    “Seems like a lot doesn’t it?”
    “It does.”
    “That check is squat, Ted.  That check is Jack Fucking Squat.”
    “Oh.”
    “I know it seems like a lot.  But that represents the sum total of my personal income for the last six months at Puppet Tree, after expenses and paying the staff.”

    Ted did the figures in his head, and realized that this would mean that he was actually earning more than Jack Herschfeld at the moment.

    “And that’s why she--”
    “That is exactly why.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “You and me both, Ted.  And that is just why I’m going to blow every cent.”