What’s shakin’, bacon? We’ve recovered from our spate of electronics-related difficulty and are back in fighting trim. Metaphorically, of course. I mean, we’re in no condition to fight anyone or anything because we maintain a horrifying inverted food pyramid diet would cause a doctor to blanch and our preferred activity over a long weekend is “sitting still for long periods of time.” (Related: that’s why there was a new Signal mix posted on Saturday if you want 45 minutes of downloadable music, and why wouldn’t you?)
Today’s daylight hours were spent either typing away at the fiction you’ll see below, or watching strangers stream video games, while my wife and two cats dozed on the living room couch.
What else is going on.
I think the answer is “literally nothing else” so I should probably get this show on the road!
Here we go!
bee bee queue
Behind the Scenes: Originally, “Shy” was going to be “Meek” but I needed every character allotment I could get from Twitter’s 140 character limit. That’s also why I had to compromise and leave the ellipses to abut the colon in the BOSS dialogue… and so of course that’s where my eye goes, resentfully, every time I revisit the tweet.
The presence of the phrase “flavor profile,” though, makes it all worth it. I love its jargon-y mouthfeel.
Two police officers looked into an interrogation room, hidden behind the reflective glass. Inside the room was a man, his left arm handcuffed to the table, his right arm centrally placed on the table, not connected to his torso. Its leather straps dangled over the table’s edge, a prosthetic limb, as still as the man in handcuffs.
“They say this guy Medhardt is the killer,” said Singh, his thumbs in his belt. Lopez frowned. “But so far, he’s sticking to his story that he was compelled to do it. By his prosthetic arm.”
“That doesn’t make any kind of sense,” said Lopez.
“Probably just laying the groundwork for an insanity plea, I imagine,” said Singh.
“I mean,” continued Lopez, “an arm can’t talk. So how does it convince you to do anything?”
“My understanding is that it’s more of a compulsion. He claims that he’s just found himself at the crime scenes, but that the prosthetic limb committed the murders he’s been accused of.”
“Weird,” said Lopez.
“YES IT IS,” boomed a voice from behind them. Singh and Lopez glanced back to see their colleague, Detective Yeti, standing behind them. Yeti was six and half feet tall of white furred justice, a friendly smile revealing yellowed, sharp teeth.
“Oh, hey Detective Yeti,” said Lopez. “How’s the day going? Pretty good, I hope, considering the lifestyle adjustment required to have moved from the Himalayas where you mostly ate goats to our town, where you’ve decided to dedicate your life to fighting crime, even though everyone has told you to please not do that because you’re not qualified.”
“I’m fine,” said Detective Yeti. “I am here to solve this crime.”
“Great,” said Singh, but it was evident he did not think this was great.
The mountain creature pushed his way into the interrogation room.
“What the heck ARE you?” asked Medhardt, the suspect.
“I… am a VERY GOOD DETECTIVE,” bellowed Yeti, causing the mirrored window to rattle in its frame. “On the mountain where I was born, the winds blow cold. Cold as the heart of killers. And I would know, because these very claws have traced cursive notes of hatred on the sinews of goats and sherpas, on the tendons of yaks and explorers who sought me out.”
Medhardt tugged at his handcuff, glancing over at the reflective glass. “Are those— are there any other guys who might want to ask me questions?”
“Finally, they caught me. Humans. I was slowed by drugs, entangled in nets. They brought me to a court of law. In my cell, I watched American television. I absorbed the lessons taught by crime shows. Law. Order. Mysteries. The fire in the blood that leads to murder. I knew it well.”
Detective Yeti leaned over the table and sniffed at the prosthetic arm.
“I was thought a myth. I am not. Likewise, my colleagues do not believe a prosthetic arm can kill. But I am open… to the POSSIBILITY!” Detective Yeti roared the final word at the arm itself, then leaned in closely, as if to be sure it was not moving in reaction.
“Are you a real cop?” asked Medhardt.
“We use fingerprints to identify individuals,” said Detective Yeti, ignoring the question. “This arm has no fingerprints. Suspicious. As if trying to hide its identity. Didn’t work. Now you’re in here with me. AND NO CRIME ESCAPES ME!”
“I CAN ONLY— oh, you’re done,” said Medhardt. “I can only cover half my ears when you yell, so could you not?”
“You can go,” said Detective Yeti.
“I will remain here and speak with this arm. You will leave.” Yeti uncuffed the suspect and lead him out the door. “You are an alligator and I will see you later.”
“That’s not the saying,” said Lopez, standing outside the interrogation room.
Singh, standing next to Lopez, pointed after Medhardt. “Where’s he going?”
“It’s quite simple, my colleagues,” said Yeti. “So long as we don’t have any further murders where there are no fingerprints, then we know that our imprisoned arm, possessed by evil, has been prevented from continuing its dark work.”
Lopez looked puzzled. “But if that guy, who you just let leave, kills someone else, he’ll just be using his left arm and will HAVE to leave fingerprints, so… Wait. We already found his fingerprints at the scene of the crime, actually. Several of them.”
Singh ran down the hallway after Medhardt. “Not so fast, buddy! Get back here!”
Detective Yeti quietly slipped back into the interrogation room and pushed a chair under the door handle, ensuring that no one from outside could open the door.
“And now, fake arm… we begin the questions in earnest.”
From outside the room, the sounds of breaking furniture could be heard, but to be honest, no one was listening or watching.
ending theme song
We made it! When we set out, we weren’t sure what shape the road would take, but it took the shape of words in a single column. Finally, we found ourselves here, writing the outro because our stomach is growling and we have plans to go out to dinner. Peruvian. Hearty food for mountain living.
Why don’t the Andes have a version of the Sasquatch myth, I wonder?
[Quick Google search]
Oh, they do. The Patagon. Okay, that’s settled.
You’ll have to come back in later weeks to see if this is the seed that finally sprouts into a pastry shop AU with Pastry Chef Patagon, who is VERY GOOD AT CAKES.
See you in a week for the big TWO ZERO.
Thanks to my wife Amanda for the illustration of the diabolical prosthetic limb!
–Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 18
Hey, folks. We’ve got a short one this week because the real world has intruded on our writing time. Entropy is visiting from out of town and things are breaking or malfunctioning all over. My Xbox has always had power problems, but in the last few weeks, it talked my receiver into turning itself off at random intervals. They’re not-working buddies. Then on Friday, my laptop’s power cord stopped working so my laptop only has so much battery left and can’t get any more. Today my headphones went on the fritz. Something in the plug has frayed so I just get bits of songs, half of conversations, in both ears.
I’ve been forced to actually go outside and run errands to fix all this nonsense during what should have been my leisure time. Time usually spent wool-gathering to fuel this creative effort. I’ve just been plugging and unplugging things. Untangling cables. Talking to customer service reps. Ordering things online. Trying to figure out if there’s any way to avoid having to pay an electrician to show up and stick gizmos in the wall sockets and confirm we’re not cursed.
Anyway. Time to get typing on one of the machines that still works.
It’s kinda weird, isn’t it, that of the first three facts that come to mind when I think of George Washington, two of them are fiction? (#1 is that he was the first President. That one is true.)
Wooden teeth. Cherry tree parable. Untrue.
I don’t feel like this is common for most famous figures, right?
Abraham Lincoln: Sixteenth President, had two left hands, won a knife fight with the King of Bees
Pope John Paul II: From Poland, could turn invisible at will, invented the Polish sausage
George Clooney: Stole fire from the gods by carrying a hot coal in his mouth, was punished by same gods by being chained to a rock and having an eagle feast on his eternally regenerating liver, always chooses “Rock” when playing “Rock Paper Scissors”
(I don’t actually know a single fact about George Clooney.)
Margaret me in! You’re my only hope! They’re behind me and I have to hide!
“I can’t risk it. If they catch you here, it’s the last straw. I’ll be vanished.”
Leaving me on your doorstep doesn’t make you any safer.
“Get in, get in. Get that lampshade on your head and stand still.”
Popular culture wants you to think that people who get drunk and are the life of the party put lampshades on their head, but 9 times out of 10, it’s someone hiding from the secret police.
Now you know. Never make eye contact with someone wearing a lampshade. Never accept a briefcase from someone wearing a lampshade. Never make a living as a vendor of lamps when your government is a totalitarian regime.
Orange you glad I didn’t say “Police, open up”?
looking & listening
watching: First episode of Outcast, an exorcism-centric series based on comics from Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead).
listening: Spontaneanation – Hosted by one of the comedy world’s quickest minds (Paul F. Tompkins), every episode is improvised from an initial guest monologue
reading: Manifest Destiny – Lewis and Clark explore the North American continent but it’s full of supernatural dangers. Let me know if you wanna read the first issue. I’ll buy you a copy.
ending theme song
I drank a few cups of coffee post-dinner just to make sure I’d have enough energy to manage even this tiny newsletter, but I already want to take a nap. I know it’s early on, but so far, I don’t care for my 40s. This is some bullshit.
Sleeping is just practice for being dead and I want no part of it.
No more sleep.
I might have to sleep.
Don’t do anything exciting while I’m not here.
[Thanks to my wife Amanda for providing the fallout shelter advertising poster!]
–Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 17
The evenings this week were dedicated to board games, for the most part. Monday and Tuesday, the wife and I split duties, each taking responsibility for half of a four-man ghost-busting squad in a game— you guessed it— based on the Ghostbusters franchise. Wednesday I introduced work colleagues to Pandemic, and we almost saved the world, but nope, diseases for everyone, sorry. Thursday a friend dropped by to help us bust even MORE ghosts, which feels as good as they say it does. Then we ended the week struggling with some electronic woes as several of our plug-and-wire gizmos started having problems with staying powered on.
Say what you will about board games, but they power up every time.
In other news, crows and cats in the neighborhood aren’t getting along.
In the recent past, I spent a few months trying to get the attention of neighborhood crows. I’d whistle, then throw peanuts their way, hoping to make fast friends across species lines. (For the record, this is more concerted effort than I ever made to get to know my human neighbors.**) While I got crows to swoop down and take peanuts a number of times, I think they just thought I was a chump who didn’t know how to maintain proper nut control. They still don’t seem particularly happy to see me out and about, nor have any of them shown any interest in riding on my shoulder and whispering secrets into my ear as a dark familiar.
Earlier today, one of the neighborhood crows started making a non-stop racket right outside our living room window. Was this a concerted and loud peanut lobbying attempt? It was not. We looked outside and the ruckus was due to the presence of a black cat, poking around in the tree, pushing its luck.
I tossed some peanuts at the cat to convince it to find a different tree. Didn’t work. Bounced the peanuts off the tree. The cat wasn’t much interested in these bouncing peanuts. So now they’ll probably be found by the nocturnal raccoons who like to scream when fighting over who gets right of way, walking along the tops of fences.
No matter what, animals are going to make noise and everyone’s getting peanuts to eat around here.
**We have a next-door neighbor named Lisa who, upon moving in, assumed we’d be fascinated by her life’s story, eager to do favors for her, and has never in conversation tried to get to know a thing about us. She does ask after our cats, though. We have a downstairs neighbor named … I can never remember. Shares a name with a dish I don’t care for. Pasta-based. What is it. Linguinardo. No. Steve-ghetti. No. ALFREDO. Nice guy. Has a family. Don’t know their names at all. There’s another unit that could be full of aliens or serial killers. Don’t even know how many people are in there. And beyond this building, the neighborhood might as well be shrouded in mist and full of shivering creatures like in Silent Hill, for all the familiarity I have with the people who live around here.
Anyway. Who’s up for some fiction?
the atom age
We had to shut down the super collider. Up to that point, it had been a good week. We had bounced atoms off each other with spectacular success. Busted ’em up real good. We were internationally recognized for our work in atom collision. At the end of the shift, you could get bits of atoms off the floor, take ’em home for the kids. Supervisor didn’t care. You were saving the janitorial team on the night shift some trouble, actually, because otherwise they’re spending all their time sweeping up atoms.
But now the whole facility was at half power. People were leaning on machines that were usually too hot to touch, just killing time, checking their phones.
What’s the problem, I asked.
Computer’s got a virus, Wulf said. He pointed. Sure enough, there’s a virus sitting right on top of the computer they keep hooked up to the big red COLLIDE THE ATOMS button. Virus just looked over at us like: What. Daring us to do something. It would have lunged at us to make us jump if it could, so it could laugh if we flinched. You could see it in the eyes wobbling in its protein coat. Good thing it couldn’t lunge. Viruses don’t have the right kind of structure.
Gross, I said.
Hey, said some guy behind us. He had a clipboard. I got a whole truck load of atoms out back, someone going to sign for these? I gotta get ’em offloaded. Got to take a shipment of rain back to Colorado right after. And there’s trucks all backed up behind mine. Line’s going down the block. We gotta move. Who’s gonna sign for this?
Later, in the cafeteria, Wulf and I ate cold egg and bacon sandwiches. The virus sat at the next table sipping tea. The delivery guy ate at the table after that, but he wasn’t eating food. He was pointedly looking at print-outs of delivery schedules, then ripping them up and putting them in his mouth while trying to stare us down. Everything is our fault, sure buddy.
What are you going to do for the super collider talent show, I asked Wulf.
Magic show, he said.
You know magic?
You know hypnotism?
I made you forget that I know magic.
What, I exclaimed, and my top hat fell off, didn’t even know I was wearing one, bunnies spraying out of the hat in arcs as the hat bounced along the ground, a solid spray of rabbits, bouncing off the walls, colliding with each other, pellets shaking out of them like tiny atomic bits.
Oh yeah, now I remember, I told Wulf.
What are you going to do, Wulf asked me.
Probably some carpentry. Get my cousin’s tae kwon do class to come in, kick some boards in half, make a chair out of it.
Sounds like a great act, said Wulf.
Everybody likes chairs, I said.
The next morning, the super collider was up and running again. Noting the hints of aggression coming from the virus, someone on the night shift put up flyers around the compound advertising a ‘fight club’ in the basement, with tear-away coupon strips on the bottom for a free first punch, redeemable upon one’s first visit.
The virus was caught in a net trap as soon as it entered the basement rec room, torn off coupon still gripped in its tail fibers.
The night shift woke up the atom delivery guy, who had been sleeping in his truck, and all night long upright hand trucks were rolling their tiny wheels down the compound’s corridors, bundles of atoms offloaded and stacked in storage rooms or dropped down delivery chutes.
By the time we came in, everything was ready, so we strapped on our goggles and thought about how much better atoms are when they’re hurtling around. Looks like break time is over, Wulf, I said.
Atom-smashing time, he said.
And he hit the big red button.
golden age of tv
[SFX: rock music]
[stock footage: helicopter over a city landscape, a busy police office, a purse-snatcher running down the street, an empty church, a gravestone with handcuffs resting on top]
[TITLE: TBD ]
[footage: Following a beat cop as he walks a city street.]
NARRATOR: In the big city… crime doesn’t pay. The police force responds to hundreds of crime reports a day and if the criminal is found… they’re going down.
[footage: Beat cop goes up steps of burned out building.]
NARRATOR: And if the criminal has escaped, passing beyond the veil of this world, dying before they can be brought to justice–
[footage: A ghost cop falls into step with the beat cop, climbing stairs and going deeper into the building.]
NARRATOR: That’s where the ghost cops come in.
BEAT COP: Okay, partner. The arsonist’s spirit is in this next room. You ready to bring him in?
[GHOST COP turns, mouth open in a rictus, unable to talk… its hands pass through the door knob. Its eyes roll back. Nearby glass shakes in telekinetic frustration.]
BEAT COP: This was a terrible idea.
[GHOST COP wavers, its face in agony, fingers curled… then disappears.]
BEAT COP: … Great.
listening to: Berlin Community Radio
reading: The True Believer: Thoughts on Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. An interesting look at the driving factors behind and the members of society most susceptible to the allure of joining a mass movement of any variety: political, religious, etc.
watching: Sicario. Whoah. Super intense. Probably gives fits to anyone working in Mexico’s tourism industry.
ending theme song
That’s going to do it for us for this week. It’s about that time of the weekend when final errands must be run, meaning it’s time to go pick up some fruits, veggies and barley tea from the local Asian market. Then maybe read some comics. Listen to more music streaming from Berlin.
Happy birthday wishes go out to Team Pan this weekend. Thanks again to my wife Amanda for the original illustration.
Also, a guy I went to high school put up a photo that a 15-year-old me appears in. Good looking kid, though I remember he didn’t think so. Too bad I can’t pass him a note. Too bad it’s creepy to tell young people “You’re probably never going to look better than you do now! Be more confident!”
No wonder nobody told us.
As ever, thanks for reading.
— Michael Van Vleet
The Signal: EP124 – If you were waiting for the 124th episode of The Signal mixes to join us, well, today’s your lucky day. We’ve finally made it. We’ve designed this mix specifically for individuals who like number sequences that increase by successive powers of 2.
It’s 45 minutes of music, available for download if you click the image or link above, or you can play it embedded on this page if you like. That’s new. We’re trying a new hosting solution this time out, so send along feedback if you like/hate it. I think the file will stay available for 30 days after the last time it’s downloaded, so if you try the link above and it’s not there… try being within a 30 day window of the last person who downloaded it next time. The tracklist is available in the id3 tags or to mailing list subscribers (on that, more below).
We’ve got English folk tunes and electronic beats, hip hop and soul, R&B and Latin-infused beats, garage rock, and bedroom pop. Enjoy!
As a reminder, if you want to be among the first people on the planet to know that there’s a new Signal mix, you can sign up for the mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/bS6BNH Benefits include early notification, a full track list, and access to a permanent archive URL for long after the file above has disappeared from its free webhost location.
lost time incident 16
Hey folks! It’s probably too early to be sure, but it sure seems like if you force yourself to practice a creative pursuit, it does actually get easier. Or maybe I just got lucky and had a hot streak this weekend. Put out a lot of Twitter activity, recorded some video game stuff with my better half, filmed a truly dumb instructional video (which you’ll see below) and then there’s this thing!
My intention, when I started the newsletter, was to get back in the habit of being creative, because too much time was slipping past me with with work/passively watch something/sleep cycle. It might be working.
Time is still slipping away, but that might now be more linked to my own advanced age.
The photo above is one I took last year in India, documenting the cows who liked to hang out in the vacant field next to the office I was working out of. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about that trip again recently, which reminded me of this anecdote:
Last year, I spent a few weeks in India for work. I got into town early so I’d have a weekend to recover before I had to turn up, be awake and act respectable in the office on Monday morning. My first morning out, I figured I’d just walk out the front gate of the hotel I was staying at, pick a direction, and see where I ended up.
However, parked just outside the gate was a good-natured fellow who jumped out of his tuk-tuk-style cab and volunteered to drive me wherever I wanted to go. When I asked him his rates, he insisted he didn’t charge. “Oh, are you affiliated with the hotel?” I asked. He dodged the question, but was fine if that was something I wanted to believe.
As it turned out, he was just a charming guy with no working meter who found that if you can charm a foreigner into hopping into your cab, their guilt at not paying you will usually lead to them tipping you more than you would have collected… by a long shot.
If you’ve read any sort of travel advice, you’ll know there’s usually a section about how to avoid being taking advantage of as a foreigner-with-money. Sometimes it’s as simple as telling you that you can haggle. Sometimes it’s as terrifying as telling you that if your driver runs someone over or crashes the vehicle, you absolutely should not leave the vehicle until help arrives, due to the possibility that it’s all a trap to kidnap you.
(That last one is for Angola, by the way.)
But India’s not too bad.
One of the things you get warned about is that if your cab driver won’t start their meter, you shouldn’t go with them. You’ll also be told that some drivers have partnerships lined up with local vendors and they’ll offer to take you anywhere for free— so long as you don’t mind browsing at a shop first. And if you buy something there, so much the better, because they’re getting paid for dropping you and your wallet off, and the kickback’s sweeter if you actually buy something.
But I tell you, if you’re up too early in the morning on a Sunday and you genuinely have nothing else to do, going to a handicraft shop at the suggestion of a cab driver who says you don’t have to pay him at all isn’t a bad way to pass the time.
That’s how I ended up looking at carved wooden elephants while chatting with with an Indian-appearing fellow named Javaid who said he was actually born and raised in Russia. Though he now runs his family’s handicrafts store, convincing people like me that we need a heavy brass statue of Ganesha, he originally studied to be an engineer. After getting out of school, he found himself working at a coal mine up in Siberia. He bailed on the coal-flecked snows of Siberia when the Soviet Union’s economy collapsed. Claimed he doesn’t miss it, if you can believe that.
“Where are you from” he asked. When I said “The US,” he asked who I thought our next President might be.
“Well, the odds are favoring Hillary Clinton,” I said. This was mid-2015.
“She would be the first female President, correct?”
“Your country has been around for hundreds of years. Why do you think you haven’t had a female President yet?”
“Uh… because we’re a sexist country? Isn’t that obvious?”
Biggest laugh I got on the whole trip, my moment of honesty with Javaid.
- So You’re Haunting a Rich Person
- My Gun Talks With Bullets
- A Pet Owner’s Guide to Kettle Corn
- B-bye 4ever – Suicide Notes from Children
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Binge-Watching
- Public Domain Fiction Make-Out Sessions
meanwhile somewhere else
interview with some vampire
“What is that? Will it hurt me? Or do you… do you use it to prepare food?”
The vampire was pointing, concerned, at my smartphone, which I had just placed on the table between us to record our conversation.
“… It’s harmless. Don’t worry about it.”
“I have traveled over mountain ranges of time and while I was doing so… I was studying the art… of sexy.” He picked nervously at a ragged fingernail. His nail beds were pale and recessed. “I am one of those sexy vampires.”
He smiled, his fangs poking out past his lips, yellow like table butter that’s been left on a picnic table under the summer sun. “Like in your fimms. Your movings.”
“You mean ‘movies’?”
“Do I? Perhaps? When I go to see a fimm, I sneak in … as a bat. Bat ears don’t hear human words so good.” He frowned. “I have never seen a moving that wasn’t upside down. And very blurry. Bats don’t see so good. But it was enough to be sure that I am sexy.”
jazz appreciation EP001
For those new to appreciating jazz, I put together a one minute introduction that will set you on the right path. Just some basic moves for beginners. Nothing too taxing.
ending theme song
Okay! We made it! One more lost time incident full of nonsense, out the door. As ever, we’ve got some amazing original illustrations from my wife Amanda. How about that, huh? An entire comic, we got from her this time!
If you like it, tell your friends. If you don’t like your friends… just keep this newsletter to yourself.
Thanks for showing up! See you next week!
–Michael Van Vleet