Frank’s Social Experiment

It had been 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days since Frank had had a meaningful interaction with another human being. It wasn’t a Robinson Crusoe situation – isolation enforced by violent shipwreck. No, this was a 21st century isolation, one brought about and enabled by self-checkouts at stores, online bill payments, and (whew!) no medical emergencies to speak of. Frank had been stung by a wasp in his 11 months of isolation – and right on the knuckle of his thumb – but fortunately, despite his thumb swelling up to the size of a marshmallow, a Benedril lozenge had helped alleviate the reaction, and precluded a trip to a doctor.

Frank had received permission to work from home over a year ago, and so had begun his life of seclusion. From then on, his work life consisted of Slack channels and group chats and text messages. But no phone calls – his manager had attempted to call him once, but Frank simply let it ring, waited for a voicemail, and then sent a text in response. Sorry Ms. BlahBlahBlah for missing your call. I can take care of that paperwork this evening. Thanks, Frank.

And for the most part, it was working – work for 8 hours (sometimes 8 hours and 15 minutes if he had a deadline to meet), sign out of his work computer, head to the kitchen for a snack, then to the living room, switch on the TV, lean back on the couch, sink his unclipped toenails down into the fuzzy brown carpet, and begin a new TV show marathon. TV shows were his social life now. When he watched How I Met Your Mother, Frank’s friends for a few short weeks became Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Barney. He started thinking about what the different characters would like, as if they were real people. Barney would approve of the way I wrote this email, Frank would think to himself after authoring a particularly snarky email.

Occasionally, Frank would get unaccountable feelings of…mental hungriness. It was not loneliness, he told himself. When he felt this way, he would go and turn on Parks & Recreation and watch his favorite episodes. It took the edge off, and the feeling would quickly pass. At other times, he thought about how nice it would be to have a girlfriend. Someone like Lily, crossed with Pam from The Office, crossed with some of April Ludgate’s mischievousness.

One day, in a fit of mental hungriness (NOT loneliness), Frank signed up for an online dating profile. Within a couple days, he received a message from a lady named Jill Epwerd. Scrolling through her profile, he discovered she had similar interests to his own. She liked cats, she liked TV shows, she was a software developer and was even a Doctor Who fan! But then Frank reached the bottom of her profile: “…love working out and finding new meals that fit my vegan lifestyle.”

Frank recoiled noticeably from his computer screen. This Jill was no good. She was not the one. Why had he even decided to open the account in the first place? Wasn’t it obvious only extroverts who liked people and exercise would use dating sites? 10 minutes later, Frank had deleted his dating profile and was once again ensconced between cushions on his couch, petting his purring cat Olaf and watching Parks & Recreation (While not pertinent to the story, you will be happy to know that Jill recovered quite admirably from Frank ignoring her message and went on to become quite happily married to a wedding photographer).

But then, one evening, something terrible happened. As Frank was settling down on his couch for a typical evening binge (this time of Persons of Interest), a white streak caught the corner of his eye. Thinking for a moment that his cat Olaf was under him on the couch but unable to keep himself from sitting down at this point, Frank kicked one knee out awkwardly, missed the couch entirely, and landed in a gangly heap on the floor with a CRACK.

“Ow,” said Frank, calmly. A stabbing pain was now shooting through his left leg. “Ow,” he said again. Beginning to move now, leaning on the couch to stand up once again. “OW,” Frank said now, louder and more certainly. He knew that something was badly, badly wrong.


Following the Ruby Red Carpet

Once a year, when I was a young lass, I used to routinely ensconce myself in front of the TV to watch the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars. While the occasional moments of spectacular pageantry would divert me, mostly, I am beginning to suspect, I was only interested because everyone told me I should be. As an adult, my thrift-induced lack of cable means I don’t really have a way to watch the ceremony live, and, if I’m being honest, I’ve enjoyed saving myself five hours and simply reading up on the highlights the next day. Internet has killed the video star.

Of course, one of those next-day highlights I have consistently, genuinely eaten up is the fashion. Some portion of the day after the Oscars is always devoted to scrolling through a photo gallery of famous and not-so-famous actors and actresses, dressed in (what is purportedly) their finest. And then going and looking at another photo gallery, because some of the angles on that last one were a little awkward. And then looking at those sites that have the dresses arranged by color, because I’m always curious if there’s a majority hue. And then looking at a couple of “Best/Worst Dressed” lists, to see if their choices agreed with mine. And then, of course, discussing said lists with similarly interested friends.

I don’t really have a rational reason for this binge. I’ve no occasion for wearing such finery myself; I wore a Star Wars t-shirt I bought from Target to work today. I’m no fashionista; it means nothing to me when I read a person’s shoe is by Louis Vulture or the bag by Christian Door. Really, what can I say? I like beautiful dresses, and I like critiquing beautiful dresses. Thus, without further ado, I present my 2018 Oscars Awards for Fashion, or the 2018 OAFs.

The Oooh, Shiny! Award

Presented to the individual(s) that most call to mind a quote from How I Met Your Mother: “One of the 24 similarities between girls and fish is that they’re both attracted to shiny objects.”

Gal Gadot, for Sparkly Dress with a Fluttery Skirt & Fantastic Necklace; Jennifer Lawrence, for Rockin’ the Retro Look; Gina Rodriguez, for Sparkling Both Inside & Out; Lupita Nyong’o, for Gold Dress, Albeit with a Slit I Wouldn’t Wear

The Color Envy Award

Presented to the individual(s) who best pull off colors that I cannot myself wear without looking like a corpse

Greta Gerwig, for Bright Yellow SPARKLES; Zendaya, for Successfully Pulling Off Ruffles in Brown; Laurie Metcalf, for Beige Shimmery Classic Number.

The Emperor Palpatine Award

Presented to the individual(s) who most resemble Emperor Palpatine’s guards

Maya Rudolph, for Just Add the Helmet & Honestly I Couldn’t Tell the Difference

The “I’d Wear That if I Were an Evil Queen” Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are wearing something I would totally wear as a Dark Empress

Allison Janney, for Rockin’ Those Red Sleeves, Have You SEEN the Way They Drape?

The Actually Made Me Briefly Care About Men’s Fashion Award

Presented to the rare male individual(s) whose red carpet photo actually causes me to pause and look closer, instead of just scrolling past another man in a black tuxedo

Chadwick Boseman, for Hello There. Don’t You Look Fiiiiiiine. Why, Yes, It Is Rather Chilly, I Would Like to Borrow Your Coat. Thank You. Your Coat is Mine Now. Goodbye.

The “That’s Not How I Would Have Rolled, But Props to You” Award

Presented to the individual(s) wearing something rather outlandish, but still pulling it off

Tiffany Haddish, for The Dress is Quite Something, But I Do Actually Really Like Her Headpiece; Emma Stone, for Rocking a Suit and Somehow Not Being Frumpy

The Living Your Best Life Now Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are rocking a dress they clearly love, whatever the merits of the dress itself

Whoopi Goldberg, for That Large Floral Dress, You Go Girl

The Disney Princess Award

Presented to the individual(s) whose outfits most resemble that of a Disney princess

Salma Hayek, for Shimmery Purple Tiers with Diamonds, I Understand Some People Didn’t Like It, but She Just Got Through Saving the Kingdom from Mother Gothel, So Back Off; Emily Blunt, for Wearing a Gown that Somehow Looks More Like the Original Animated Cinderella’s Dress than the 2015 Remake’s Version

The Bed Sheet Award

Presented to the individual whose outfit most resembles a fitted bed sheet

Andra Day, for I’m Pretty Sure I Made that Outfit While Playing Dress Up When I Was 12

Viceroy’s House: A Divided India

Did you know Pakistan has only existed for 70 years, and Bangladesh is only 46 years old?  Why and how these countries came into existence forms a fascinating and often-forgotten part of 20th century history which began with events that the 2017 movie Viceroy’s House brings to light.

Viceroy's House group
Lord Mountbatten and his wife and daughter with Gandhi

British historical drama Viceroy’s House depicts the rule of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who is appointed to oversee British withdrawal from India and the establishment of an independent Indian nation.  Granting independence is not an easy task, however, for India is divided by race and religion, and its Muslim minority fears oppression under a Hindu majority rule.  Mountbatten attempts to negotiate a satisfactory compromise between three political giants: Jinnah, Gandhi, and Nehru.  Muslim leader Jinnah seeks a separate nation for Muslim Indians.  Gandhi desires a united India, even at the cost of offering Jinnah and the Muslim minority full power in the new Indian government.  Nehru disagrees with both propositions.  As Mountbatten and his family adjust to life in India and struggle to achieve a peaceful conclusion to the crisis which confronts them, conflict breaks out across India, and tensions rise.  In addition to focusing on the main storyline of India’s political problems, the movie highlights the struggles that the people of India face during this time by depicting the lives and relationships of the Indian staff which serves in the viceroy’s house.  At first, some of these side characters seem like filler to introduce extra conflict and romance.  Nevertheless, these characters serve an important purpose, for they reveal how India’s political problems affected individuals and everyday life.

Viceroy's House staff
Lord Mountbatten and his family (in the center) with their staff at the viceroy’s house

While a quick perusal of a history book or encyclopedia page will quickly tell the end of the story, Viceroy’s House does more than just narrate events, for it also provides insightful perspectives into what life may have been like for the viceroy, his family, and all the people of India who were affected by the events leading up to and succeeding India’s Independence Day.  The movie thoughtfully touches on the divisions that religion and race wrought in India as Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs saw each other not as united Indians, but as divided races.

Although the film undoubtedly takes liberties with the true story, the fact that the filmmakers consulted Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Pamela and that the director’s grandmother lived through the tragedies following India’s independence lends the film credibility and a sense of personal connection which sets it apart from many historical dramas.  Viceroy’s House vividly brings to life an incredible story with gorgeous details in costumes, sets, music, and cinematography.  More importantly, though, the movie treats its subject seriously and sensitively, as this chapter of history deserves.


George & The Werewolf, Pt. 2

Previously on George & The Werewolf

Cold perspiration beaded on George’s brow as he squinted out into the inky night. The moon appeared briefly from behind a smoky cloud, casting a cold sterile light on the rock formations all around him, and then blinked out like a snuffed candle. He listened intently, but the cool whistle of wind between the rocks and his own racing heartbeat were the only sounds that greeted his straining ears. After squatting in silence for what seemed like an eternity at the edge of the crevice, he quietly crept back to the embers of his fire. Pulling a warm blanket around his shoulders, and wiping the sweat from his clammy hands, he set his back against the darkest wall, and resolved to keep watch until morning when it would be safe to move again. As he sat in the gloom, hour after hour creeping by, his mind turned to the horrible sound that had awakened him earlier—and it filled him with a cold dread.

George was not actually his given name. Being a stray from rural Germany, nobody actually knew what his parents had called him, or where they were. He had some memories of life before Mr. Acton, a wealthy merchant from Hessle, had taken him under his wing: brief glimpses of playful romps in the great green forests around his parent’s home, and times spent with nameless childhood friends. He also remembered the day that father had come home worried, and his parents hurried discussion was quickly followed by the family retreating from their secluded home to the town church some many miles away. Most of the small town had gathered that night, and he remembered not so much the faces—but the sounds: children whimpering, women pleading, and men both angry and fearful. But then there was THE sound, that terrible howl not quite human or animal, so unnatural it would make the blood of the stoutest human turn to ice. They had called it a ‘werwolf.’ Not many people believed in werewolves, George had found out. Mr. Acton had scoffed at George’s accounts of his childhood terror, and his classmates in school had written it off as attention seeking. Still, even as an adult, he could not escape the memories, and they haunted his steps—especially at night.

As the sky began to change from shades of navy blue to aqua, George stirred slightly beneath his blanket. He hurt all over, back and legs stiffly cramped from a long night without sleep. When he tried to set down his revolver, he realized that his hand had fixed itself around the grip, and only with slow painful motions could he gingerly pry each finger open. He stirred up the fire and put a small can of water on to boil. As he slowly cooked his meal, his mind turned back to the howl he had heard the previous night—it seemed so long ago, like a dream. “Maybe it was just a timber wolf? You let your childhood traumas color everything,” his exhausted mind thought. Staggering to his feet, he was resolved to finish out his contract this day for Mr. Acton, for according to the map he had received before crossing the Atlantic, his destination was very close.

The sun had risen slightly over the peaks of the mountains by the time George finished his breakfast and reloaded all of his gear in his backpack. Stepping out from the crevice, he felt the warmth of yellow light spill over him, and his spirits immediately lifted. Walking briskly, he continued up a narrow rock-fall that cascaded over the side of the cliff-face. Nearing the top, he found a small pool of clear water fed by a spring, and bending down he began to refill his canteen. As he rose and prepared to go—some tracks in the mud caught his eye: they were the tracks of a man, and next to them the tracks of what appeared to be a large wolf.


To be continued by Arrietty…

Car Films in Review

There is something appealing about car movies – the thrill of a chase, the growl of an engine, or the elegance of a turn. In that spirit, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of car movies I have enjoyed.



The film that helped to enshrine the 1968 Ford Mustang as an iconic car in cinema history, I was surprised at how good this film was on its own merits, apart from its famed car chase (starring Steve McQueen!). A slow, brooding sort of film that elects to show more than tell, Bullitt follows detective Frank Bullitt, a police lieutenant tasked to protect a witness for a weekend. Everything unravels from there in what feels like a lighter-than-most noire piece. 4.5/5

Gone in 60 Seconds


Something about Nicholas Cage movies tends to bring a grin to my face – there’s a goofy, charming undercurrent to many of his movies that I’ve yet to get burnt out on. In this heist film, Nicholas Cage plays Randall Raines, a top-notch car thief who is pulled back into the world of car heists to help a family member. 4/5

Speed Racer


A glitzy, glamorous film based on the anime series of the same name, this movie has a apropos cartoonish-ness to it. Weaving backstory into inventive and seamless montages, Speed Racer tells the story of Speed, a talented driver who dreams of following in the footsteps of his older brother and becoming a legendary racer. Though not a film heavy on plot or character–and occasionally getting bogged down with exposition–Speed Racer manages to wring a lot of fun out of the movie’s many races. 3.5/5

Baby Driver


The most recent of the films presented here, this was one of my favorite films of 2017. Combining great car chases with good characterization and a stylish soundtrack, Baby Driver checks all the right boxes for my movie tastes. Baby is a semi-reluctant getaway car driver, and Debra is a waitress at a restaurant. Nothing can keep these two souls apart, except maybe Baby’s career path as a getaway driver. The film centers around the question: can Baby get away from his life as a criminal to live a normal life? With car chases aplenty, this film never drags. 5/5

While there are a bunch of other great car movies I’ve yet to watch, this list gets you up to speed on my latest favorites. From Bullitt to Baby Driver, these films span a variety of genres (though mostly crime-related I suppose?) but have one thing in common: adrenaline-pumping car chases!

Flu Season, or How I Learned to Empathize with Medieval Peasants

It’s a classic trope, arguably immortalized in Monty Python & the Holy Grail: the mob of medieval villagers, blaming all their ills on a supposed witch or some other thing-that-isn’t-germs-because-people-didn’t-know-about-those-then, culminating in a good old-fashioned burning or some other savage, weird act of violence. In these modern, reasonable times, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the mindset of those poor, ignorant peasants, desperately attempting to find a comprehensible, easily eliminated scapegoat for their ills.

That is until, at work, the department next to mine started dropping like flies.

It started quietly enough. First, Workplace Proximity Associate C mysteriously disappeared. Later that day, a strange, foreign “ssshshhhhhkkkkk” sound managed to infiltrate my earbuds, even through the blaring bagpipes of my Celtic punk rock. Removing my earbuds and peeking over the cubicles revealed C’s team members, standing at a distance, spraying Lysol on her desk.

“C has the flu,” they said.

I locked eyes with one of my own department members. We saw the fear mirrored in each other’s gaze. At this point, I merely invested in some handsanitizer.  

Then, Workplace Proximity Associate K got the flu, then Workplace Proximity Associate D, then on down the entire row next to ours. That was when I stole a giant tub of Lysol wipes from the Operations department, and started smearing a protective line of solution around my cube several times a day.

Then, the news: Colleague G, a few rows down to the right, and Colleague N, a few rows to the left, both had strep. That was when I started making protective totems out of paperclips, wrapping them in Lysol wipes and clutching them to my chest whenever any associate of G or N walked by.  

Then, the news that Colleague C2, longtime frequenter of the break room, had had the flu all week, and insisted on remaining at his post. That was when I found myself wishing that leper colonies were still a thing. I also brought a head of garlic to work, which I split into cloves and hung at intervals around my cube. Slightly more reasonably, perhaps, I began using a bathroom and break room on a different floor.

And then, one sunny morning, I heard my closest Workplace Proximity Associate, both literally and metaphorically, cough.

“I can’t be sick,” she said. “I feel fine. Or even if I am, I don’t have that many sick days. I’ll still be at work.”

“I WILL DRIVE YOU OUT OF THIS BUILDING WITH A STICK!” I shrieked. I even drew her a nice little comic of me setting her cubicle on fire. She took it in its stride, as she’s learned to do with me, my increasing number of references to “cleansing flame” notwithstanding.

Then came the news, whispered in terror through the grapevine. “Mark has the stomach bug.”

And that was when I decided I needed to burn down the building.* And also invest in a duck, so I could determine just who was the wicked witch that was causing this particularly vicious cycle of office illness.

*Just kidding, HR!

College Caroler


The songster carols every morn

To welcome in the day newborn

As day’s first light and sunbright rays

Enter my room through branchy maze

And weave around my window shades

To stripe my floor in bright cascades.


And now as evening falls, again

I hear that happy song begin,

A lullaby to close the day

And bid the sun to go away

Until the moon has come and gone,

Then to return with break of dawn.

Note:  Listening to a little songbird singing outside my dorm room window one morning and evening this past week inspired me to write this short tribute.  After months of silence during my time at school, the birds have suddenly emerged and begun to carol everywhere on campus.  I would have expected them to be active in the late summer and fall, not in the middle of winter with snow and freezing temperatures, but who can know the mind of a bird?

George & The Werewolf

George climbed higher towards the apex of the mesa. Stopping at a bend in the rocky upwards path, he sat down stiffly on a nearby rock, and, shaded from the sun by a brambly tree, took a long gulp of water from his flask. Then, reaching down, he tightened the laces on his left shoe, hoping to reduce the chance of further blistering on his heel.

Sitting back again, George surveyed the landscape. From his perch halfway up the steep face of the mesa, he could see rocky mountains on all sides, towering to lazy peaks above his head—he was scaling the baby peak of the bunch, the child surrounded by its bigger siblings. But, George thought, It holds a secret its older brothers do not. Rising, George shouldered his pack once again, and resumed his slow climb. Keeping out of the sunlight was impossible on this climb, though he had a large hat, khaki pants, and a long-sleeved shirt on to protect his skin from roasting.

But it was hot. Sweat evaporated at the arid, high elevation, and a pin-pricking needle-like sensation was the only indication that he was expending sweat to cool himself. He needed to reach the top soon—it would be unbearable come nightfall, and also cold. In addition, George did not know what creatures might come out at night. He had seen deer tracks earlier on his climb, but no deer were foolish enough to venture this high. More recently, he had seen a set of bootprints appear—and only a day or two old. This baffled him, and he felt an anxiety at the uncertainty. Who might this other person be?

George’s guide had not made it—after the first week, when the sun-browned native had become weakened and quickly sickened, George had stopped and set up camp and cared for the man—soaking a rag in cool water and laying it to the man’s forehead. But it was not enough—the man had died. And now George was alone. There was no point but to continue; so after improvising a burial for the loyal guide, George had continued on. But a dread had been slowly building in his heart—what had begun as a grand adventure, here at the end, had become almost dreamlike—and dark.

The sun was lowering, until it finally was only partly peeking over the mountaintops, catching its last glimpse of George, bidding him good night. For his part, George found a secluded crevice beneath an overhang of rock and set up a simple camp for the night—a wood fire assembled from a bone-dry tree he hacked to pieces with a hatchet.

As George arranged the logs for the fire, he thought of how hardy this tree must have been to withstand the harshness of the wild. He even felt a strange sympathy for the tree as it began to crackle and burn. The tree, clinging so fiercely to life, sending its roots deep, around and between and across the rock, finding a way to subsist on the scant light and water it received.

Being alone made George strangely introspective. It was worrisome, slightly, how much thought he was giving a simple tree. He reiterated the truth to himself, for the sake of his sanity: he needed a fire to cook his food, provide warmth, and potentially ward off the creatures of the night, and the tree was the closest available source of fuel; so he had to use it. That was all.

The meal was simple—a dry biscuit, heated slightly, as well as warm soup from a can. He was trying to conserve his supplies, in case his quest took longer than expected. Finishing his meal, he unrolled his sleeping bag and climbed inside. It was going to be a chilly night—not cold, but uncomfortably chilly. A strong breeze blew fitfully along the side of the mesa, threatening at times to snuff out George’s fire. However, George placed a few larger rocks around the windward side of his fire, and it flickered more brightly, then crawled back into his bag.

George’s sleep was wakeful and dark. About midnight, he was startled awake by a guttural howl. Rolling instinctively towards his bag, he pulled out his revolver and squinted out from his crevice in the rocks—he knew the sound well. It was a werewolf.

To be continued by Joseph…

This is part 1 in a 4-part series.

Back to School

Stepping out into the cold, Emilia shoved her gloved hands into her coat pockets and scrunched further into her scarf.  The silence surprised her.  No one was out on the university’s sidewalks in the early evening dark.  No cars, no doors, no shoes, no animals, no leaves sounded around her.  The world felt muffled in a thick layer of cold quiet.  Even when a car did roll by, it too seemed muted and distant.  The night was beautiful in its unusualness.  Emilia smiled and would have stayed outside a little longer to enjoy the wintry wonder of the silence, but she was shivering and already late for her normal suppertime.

As she entered the warm cafeteria, Emilia fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her ID.  She smiled and said hello to the worker at the front desk.  When she held out her ID for him to swipe, he waved it away.  “Go ahead.  The system’s down,” he explained.  In the cafeteria, the workers were already wiping down tables and stacking chairs as Emilia cut up her slice of ham.  Her meal seemed to take forever thanks to a whistle-like beep every thirty seconds.  Was a fire alarm battery going out?  Should she be concerned?  No one else reacted, so neither did she.  Did it really take her a minute and a half (three beeps) to cut up a slice of ham?  Probably so, she admitted a little reluctantly.

Finishing up her meal, she left the cafeteria and stopped by one of the many public restrooms on the way back to her dorm.  The beeping from the cafeteria was mimicked here by a softer, electric beeping that was less concerning but still annoying.  How can there be four soap dispensers and still no soap?

Back in her dorm room, whose deceitful thermostat read eighty degrees, Emilia kept her coat and scarf on, hoping that either she or the room would warm up.  She also hoped the showers would be hot.  After all, this was college life after the Christmas holidays, the day before classes resumed.  Even the little things are successes on days like this, and not to be taken for granted.  Everything would be back to normal in a day or two.  Or wait.  Emilia’s phone chimed, and she saw an alert from the campus police about an armed robbery.  Well, that wasn’t particularly normal or reassuring.  But at least she was inside for the night, and apparently the university warning system was functioning.  Good to know.