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the hammer is mightier than the word by jmforceton

28 Mar

Harvey Martinez O’Rourke swings the twenty-ounce hammer, missing for the fifth time. Each time his reading glasses slide down his sweating nose. He and Bubba, his best friend since grade school, are in his workshop where, at 6’ 10”, Harvey is kneeling in order to refasten a top to a nightstand he’s rebuilding. Bubba puts down his can of Bud Light while Harvey, the wood around the nail cratered, finally hits the finish nail. “Bubba I’m out of finish nails. Give me one of those sixteen penny nails.” He takes the large nail from Bubba and drives it in with one stroke. Bubba winces as the oak top splits across its entire length.


“Harvey you’re a writer. Why would you give it up to be a carpenter? You want to trade, show don’t tell, for, square and level?”


“I’ve wanted to be a carpenter for forty years. You know that.” He starts another nail and misses his thumb by a hair. ”Remember thirty years ago I started building my summer lake cottage in Vermont. I want to finish it and sell it before I die. I knocked together a birdhouse for cub scouts when I was six and since then I’ve never stopped building things in my spare time. Writing just pays the bills but I could stop tomorrow and never think twice about it. If I have to resolve the conflicts in a boy meets misunderstood girl trope one more time I could go insane. You ever try to complete the story arc involving a post modernistic pastiche of characters? I never thought I’d be doing it for my whole life. You know what I mean?”


“I do. It’s the way I feel about sanitation engineering, believe me, but I thought you told me in the past that you hate to rebuild furniture.” He takes another swig of beer. “You don’t even like to use sandpaper.”


“Yeah, that’s true about the sanding. Once it’s build it’s built, sanding just makes me sneeze, but the rebuilding, that’s not my fault. It’s impossible to satisfy the public working part-time. I have no cred; the stain’s never the right color exactly, the seams are never perfect, and chairs are bad even if they wobble just a minute amount. No one wants to rock anymore. These people would criticize their mother on her deathbed, and what do they know, they’ve never built a piece of furniture they could sell. So, regardless, I keep reworking the piece until it’s right for them. If I was an established master carpenter I could build a reproduction 19th century French antique Louis XVI fake walnut armoire out of driftwood and barn board and they’d think it was a masterpiece. There are so many things I want to build. I want to build things that I would want to use.”


“I hear you.” Pausing to take another sip, “I’ve got to tell you something as a friend. Remember the kitchen cabinets you put in for my wife last year?”


Harvey glues the last of the nightstand legs in place. It’s a quarter inch short and glue is dripping on his wingtips. “Yeah, those were beautiful. That idea came to me one morning as I was taking a shower. Bamboo shoot shelves and matching split cane door handles. Nobody’s ever done that before.”


“You’re right about that, Harv.”


“You told me your wife was delighted, your words in my blog. Later she told me they were beyond anything she could have imagined.”


Harvey cuts the other three legs to match the length of the fourth. One is short by an eighth inch. “True, but I never had the heart to tell you two of the cabinet doors were nailed shut and one of the drawers opened up through the counter top. Man, it took me a month to square that away. My wife was pissed.”


“Sorry about that, you should have said something. I would have fixed it no charge.”


“I know you would have. It’s just that there were some ‘square and level’ issues and a couple of other things she didn’t like. Didn’t want to embarrass you, you know.”


“Yeah, I understand, and thanks. Y’know, fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since then. Just finished another little hutch for that family in the Quonset hut across town. It’s a perfect match to this nightstand. They loved it and have friends that want one like it. ‘Course those jobs are for free. Gives me a chance to practice my tradecraft until I can nail down a big paying job.”


“What about an internship at a cabinet shop?”


“Thought about that but I think what I might do is build on spec and sell through consignment shops. I see online every now and then a carpenter makes it big that way. At least I have things to give to folks at Christmas and on birthdays. My wife tell you she loves the armoire I built for her for our twenty-fifth anniversary?


“Yeah we did talk about that. That’s the one at the back of your walk-in closet, right?”


“Yeah, I love that piece. Spent a lot of time on that one. Regardless, just a matter of time, then I can quit writing for good.” Looks at the clock on the wall, “Wow, 8:00 already. Got to go upstairs. We always watch Idol. They’re doing the auditions. I love to watch those tone-deaf clowns who think they can sing. Grab another Bud.”


Getting up and adjusting his camo hat, “Nah, I better head out. I got a test tomorrow in my hydraulics class at the college.”


the random walk by jmforceton

13 Mar

Once a month at about one o’clock in the afternoon, Tim Jenkins puts on his Boston Red Socks baseball cap to cover his balding head and takes a random walk the mile and a half to his principal’s meeting at the Board of Education building. He thinks of it as wandering, a momentary escape. As principal of a city high school, his life is otherwise, in everyway, a very structured path. For his special half hour he prides himself on never taking the same journey through these low-income neighborhoods. Over the years he’s met some very interesting people on his walks.

Today he takes a left off School Street onto Oak Street. There is a foot-wide strip of wet dirt and gravel between the sidewalk and the curb where a mix of modest cars and luxury sedans are parked along the potholed road. A dozen purple and yellow crocuses have sprouted alongside an old black Mercedes. He stops for just a few seconds to admire them. Snow lingers in black and brown speckled heaps scattered along the street, and water from the melting snow pools in places across the sidewalk. Up ahead is the barn board façade of the Whiteboard Café, a biker bar of doubtful distinction.

Walking briskly now, approaching the door of the bar he hears the growing shriek of sirens, passing cars splashing through puddles, and birds chirping on wires overhead.

Inside the bar, the massive 6’5” owner, his enormous white rippled gut hanging over his belt and out from under a stained tee shirt, ambles around the end of the bar shouting, “Hey Buddy, I’m not going to tell you again. Take it easy on her”. With the distraction, Melinda breaks free of her ex-husband Freddy, runs between tables, knocks over chairs, pushes the front door open, catches her foot on the rotted two-inch lip of the doorframe, and begins to fall.

Fifteen minutes earlier, at about the same time Tim started his walk, Freddy had been waiting for her in the parking lot when she left her luncheon meeting at the elementary school across town. No one saw him grab her as he pulled her into the van driven by a heavily tattooed figure. All he said was, “You’re coming with me. We’re going to talk.” When the van stopped behind the bar and he pulled her through the back door, she was terrified. This was the once happy but socially awkward actuary she had married. With two beautiful children and nearly $400,000 in income, for a time, their marriage had been predictable. Then the divorce papers were served, he bought the low rider Harley, and she found the crack hidden in his basement workshop. Two years later she ran into him on Broadway in New York City with the fifty-something blond. They were both wearing his gang’s scull covered black leather jackets.

Melinda falls out the door, trying to hold onto the door’s push bar and feels hands grope her as someone grabs her from behind. She screams, “Get your hands off me”.

Tim is shaken by the scream but awkwardly manages to catch her under her arms to break her fall. It takes him only a second to realize it’s Melinda Throckmorton, the Superintendent of Schools for the district. Patrol cars from both directions come to abrupt stops behind him, as officers run towards him, guns drawn, leaving their lights flashing and doors open. “Get your hands up and move away from her. Now.” A mobile unit from local Channel 3 News is just turning off School Street onto Oak as several more patrol cars scream past them.

“That must be the woman that was being assaulted. Joey, start shooting now. I don’t care if we’re three blocks away. Get whatever you can. We haven’t posted a story in four days. Ok, here I go.  “This is Gloria Solaris reporting live from Oak Street, downtown at the scene of…”

Behind the bar, on the street running parallel to Oak, a white van slowly drives away, turns left on Fremont, and gets on the ramp for the interstate.

Hands up against the barn board wall, Tim is looking over his shoulder at Melinda, confused by the officers’ rapid questions and conversation, his eyes jerk quickly from place to place, and then as neighbors and small children come out of doorways and watch from the street, he drops his head. The spotlights from the news truck turn on and he looks up to see a young redheaded woman he recognizes step out, talking into a hand microphone, and pointing at him. Within all the noise, the bar owner stops shouting, “That’s not the fuckin’ guy, a’holes”, and is leaning against the door of the bar shaking his head. Tim, head down again, keeps saying to no one in particular, “I was just walking by.”

*   *   *   *

Tim arrives back at his school forty-five minutes later. The police, once they realized the Principal and Superintendent were involved, had ordered all city schools into lockdown. Tim has talked to his wife. She has already seen the live breaking news story on television after friends had called her at her office.

Since the incident, Tim Jenkins still puts his Red Socks hat on occasionally and high-fives kids in the hallways, but he doesn’t take another random walk for two years.

the eyes have it by jmforceton

20 Feb

“Billy is such an active little guy. The imagination he has. He can find more places to hide, I don’t know how you keep up with him.”

AV, Sharon’s friend since she was eight in Montana, twenty years ago, is sitting in the rolling recliner at the end of Sharon’s hospital bed. They are talking about Sharon’s two-year-old son Billy, who is living with AV and her husband while Sharon is being treated.

“Like I‘ve been telling you, I always keep one eye on him. No pun intended.”

“Sharon, that’s awful.” They both grin weakly.

After a pause AV says. “So what’s the verdict?”

The muscles in Sharon’s face tighten and she looks out the window, “If they don’t get all the shrapnel out this time, I’ll probably lose sight in my left eye, permanently… Then I’d be blind.”

“When are they going to do the operation?”

“Three days…” tears now, “I knew when I blacked out it was part of the same problem. Losing one eye terrified me, but both.”

AV stands up, steps to Sharon, and takes her hand in both of hers. “I have something to tell you. It could be very important. Should I tell you now or maybe tomorrow? You might be less tired.”

“I’m OK. If it’s important, tell me now.”

AV steps to the window, “Well a few years ago I was with Anton and we met someone. It was about the time Anton and I first met in Vegas. I think you might have heard of him, Tom Watson, the guy who runs the robotics company.”

Cocking her head, “Yeah, I have, and?”

“Well, he and Anton get together every now and then, and yesterday they had lunch in New York City; Anton mentioned your situation to him… He wants to send one of his people to talk to you. It’s about artificial eyes. They’ve been working with the military on this since 2059. He thinks, since you’re an ex-marine, you would qualify for the beta program… He said there’s some risk.”

“What does Anton think about it?”

“He’s excited about it. He thinks it could rock your world…” She softly bit her lower lip, “There’s more to it than just restoring normal 20/20 vision.”

“Huh, that’s the most interesting thing I’ve heard for a while.”

Click here for related stories:   Marketing 101: Robotic Eyes, Original Obsession

yes by jmforceton

13 Feb

Franky speaking.

Hi Franky, this is Fran. I’m calling from  Consumer Satistrope America. Is this Frank Derek?

Yes, it is. Score one for you, and by the way I like your telephone voice. This is very good timing for the call. I’ll bet that surprises you?

Well… actually…Yes, I’m very happy to hear that. Frank, I have your cell phone contract in front of me. You remember you recently upgraded with us.

Yes, I did. Score two for you Fran. You been doing this long?

Yes, I have. Well the reason I called is that the company is making some changes and I have a couple of ways to amend your contract to save you $40 to $60 per week. Would $60 interest you?

Well done, smooth presentation. Yes, of course. Now can I ask you a question?

Yes, what would you like to know?

Would it help you at all if I agreed to your offer, and beyond that, helped you double your weekly earnings?

Yes, that would be not only good but amazing.

Fran, here’s the deal. I’m familiar with your company. I’m a recruiter for Transglobal. Our company pays on average 50% higher total compensation than you are getting now, no evening or weekend calling parties, full tuition reimbursement after 60 days, private offices, twenty minute breaks every hour, and no need for relocation. Are you still there?

Yes, but..

Wait, listen a second. I’ve been doing this a long time. My recommendations are taken 99% of the time and you just passed the interview in style. I want you to call this number later today, and I know you can’t say anything much on this recorded line. Here’s the number, I’ll repeat it twice, 897-877-8777, that’s 897-877-8777. Did you understand all that?

Yes, but..

Ok, say nothing more. Send the cell contract to me and I’ll sign of on it as soon as I get it. Is that OK?

Yes, and…

Fran, I’ve got another call coming in. Call, I look forward to talking to you.

blue monkeys by jmforceton

6 Feb

Five-year-old Billy and his friends, Lobot and Chewbee, were crawling through a vast dark cave filled with spiders and hopping furry creatures with pointed teeth.

Billy was the brave one, the leader. Behind him was Lobot; he was purple, smart, and he knew about computers. Following him was Chewbee, furry and green, shy, big, and stronger than a German Sheppard. Billy knew all of this was true because his wizard had told him so one night before he went to sleep.

Billy wore the old headphones that he had found in the dungeon underneath his castle. His friend’s wore headphones too, but they were much smaller. The headphones let him talk with his team by whispering to them no matter where they were. The old fur hat with earflaps that he wore made him feel more like his furry friend, Chewbee.

Some sunlight was coming through long slits in the ceiling of the cave. That was good because all three were being very careful where they put their hands because of the wiggling poisonous worms and jumping hungry crickets. Every few feet Billy stopped long enough to brush friendly ants off of his pants.

He and his friends had to stay hidden from the eight-foot-tall blue monkeys who were always looking for them. Billy couldn’t see any now, but he could hear them outside the cave. They flew on dragons, so the cave was safer than being in the sunlight. Billy told his friends that he thought the birds talked to the monkeys while Tinkerbelle, butterflies, and the bees helped the little people like Billy whenever they could. He thought for a second then warned his friends not to make the bees angry, like he did last summer.

As Billy crept past the hole in the ground, in the middle of the cave floor, he thought about Alice and the Jabby thing. He got just close enough to look down the hole, like he always did.

He finally reached the far end of the cave where it opened to the enchanted emerald garden. On the other side of the garden was the no-no land of his friend the fairy princess. Peaking through the bush of stinging red flowers he waved for Lobot and Chewbee to come closer. They all watched as flames and smoke rose up from the caldron where the bare-chested, fat, hairy Grinch cooked raw meat; more smoke came from his nose and mouth.

The small festival was supposed to celebrate the imprisoned princess’ birthday. She was five now, like Billy. Billy had been invited, but he knew it was a trap. The princess and the other little people were in a cage filled with water, open to the sky. They were all screaming, splashing to keep away from the invisible sea snake in the water.

He remembered a time a few days ago, when he heard the princess cry. She never cried when he was there, and he told his friends that.

Just then the ceiling of the cave shook as Billy’s beautiful good-witch-mother walked to the edge of the cliff, and shouted, “Billy, if you don’t come out from under the deck and put your bathing suit on now, Jillian’s birthday cake will be gone before we get there”.

He was the brave one. He put his pointer finger to his mouth and told his friends to go back to their starship until he called them. He would have to go alone. He left the headphones and hat in the cave. He hoped the cake would make him powerful.

Billy quickly left the cave. One thing he was sure of was that he really liked chocolate cake. He was smiling as he ran into the house.

original obsession by jmforceton

30 Jan

Original Obsession

Las Vegas, Nevada – 2056

“Hi, I’m doing some research. Would you be able to help me?”

“Yes, what’s your topic and what materials did you have in mind?”

“I’m developing the concept of candy for bots.”

She squinted and then smiled at him, thinking, “Well that is the most unusual thing anyone’s said to me recently”. She had been watching him since he had first come through the door of the library. He was tall, wearing a white button down shirt with rolled up sleeves and jeans, and he looked rugged. He had walked with purpose in her direction. Beyond that, following him, was the most sophisticated looking, likely very expensive, translucent, personal assistant bot she had ever seen.  She lightly bit the inside of her lower lip.

“Can you tell me where I would find the achieves on Damascus confections? It’s for my doctoral thesis in consumer marketing and I understand there are manuscripts here that have never been scanned.”

AV had very quick eye contact with him as he spoke. Then he looked away and then back at her, and this time they both held eye contact. She felt momentarily paralyzed but recovered saying, “Yes, those stacks are on the fourth level in the basement, third rack on the wall to the left off the elevator. I think the left side of the third shelf. I’ll take you down.”

His head tilted slightly and he showed a quick tight smile, “Wow, impressive, how did you know that?”

“Well, I have a pretty good memory, library science and linguistics majors,” she shrugged. She knew that he had looked at the nametag on her sweatshirt, just a bit longer than necessary.

“I’ll say. AV, can I ask what that stands for?”

“Angelina Valeria. And you are?”

“Angelina, Angelina. Oh, sorry, Anton, Anton Throckmorton. Angelina Valeria, such a pleasure to meet you.”

*    *    *    *

Weeks later Angelina, not AV, and Anton were driving north on Paradise Road on their way from the UNLV campus to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Her head was on his shoulder and she no longer had plain long straight black hair tied in a ponytail, but instead, had flowing blond hair with amber highlights reminiscent of a young Cameron Diaz. As it happens, she had met Diaz at a party Anton had taken her to. At 84, Diaz was still an active and popular celebrity in Vegas.

She was accompanying Anton to a reception and presentation by Thomas Alva Watson, founder of the world’s largest robotics company.  He was intent on meeting Watson and had asked if she would spend the evening with him. Last week had been her birthday and Anton had bought her an eveningwear ensemble beyond anything she or her friends could afford, and that was what she wore.

It was a revelation to her how much more interesting her life had become since meeting Anton. They were inseparable. She had known from the beginning that Anton was obsessed with her; she had become the center of his life. She found that she liked that very much, though she often bit the inside of her lower lip as she thought about those first weeks.

Links to related stories:  Marketing 101: Robotic Eyes and Aftertaste

aftertaste by jmforceton

23 Jan

Anton P. Throckmorton had just had the most creative idea of his life, not unexpected given his intelligence. He knew it had to tantalize the mind and be daring. “Bet you can’t eat one.” The genius was in the aftertaste. It brought you back, forced you back. You could never forget it. Your taste buds were further satisfied and the brain would store the sense with the slogan forever. “Bet you can’t stop reading here”, he thought as he visualized the marketing proposal for next week’s global marketing review and awards presentation. “Good to the last drop.” Like his breakthrough confection, he had to take them all the way to the cliff without them being able to stop, the perfect cusp, once over, and never back. All that it would take is the first taste.

“Honey, honey,” her voice was a distant, yet approaching, presence rising in his consciousness. “HONEY, try your drink before the ice melts.” His lean, tanned wife, Angelina Valeria, once his obsession, was reclined in a low beach chair next to him caressing a piña colada. “Open your eyes, you’ll miss the sunset.” Her cold hand was on his gritty sea-salt frosted forearm. Surf sloshed on the black volcanic sand a few steps from his feet and his hair was blown against his forehead by the dying early evening sea breeze. He barely heard and he felt nothing. She had refused to allow him upload capability of any kind for this so called vacation week, but he could still think and he had been deep within his thoughts.

He opened his eyes saw the sensuous woman beside him and then saw the napkins next to the sweating glass and the pen next to the room tab. Shaking his head, frustrated because he had no personal cloud sync or even an iXPad, he grabbed the napkins and pen and began writing. There was no chance he would let these ideas fade. He finished writing just as the sensational green sunset flash blinked out on the the ocean’s horizon. There was muted applause and several toasts from a half dozen couples spread along the beach and too loud laughter from the hotel’s outdoor bar a hundred meters behind them. He wasn’t aware of any of it.

His eyes closed and he continued rehearsing the presentation in his mind.

Candy, dispensed by the cloud and instant income collected every cycle someone stayed synced. Soon medicine, booze, narcotics, “so easy a caveman could do it”. Digital delivery made possible by quantum mechanical magic, 5D lensing to create taste, impact mitochondrial function, and on and on. Instant flavor, virtual candy that was in fact real. The implications were only beginning to be understood. He just hoped the military apps didn’t preempt commercial market introductions. Hell, there couldn’t be any federal regulations or patent law complications. It would be like regulating gravity. All because some obscure theoretical physicist started tasting chocolate every time he split oscillating neutrinos. The taste delivery was seamless and the sensation was astounding. He had been sampling flavors personally every chance he could fabricate. “Double your pleasure, double your fun” Ha, this was, “infinite pleasure, infinite fun”.

He thought about his new slogan again and again, “In sync with flavor, forever.” Only years later would cynics add, “The candy you can’t live without.”

He opened his eyes and discovered he was sitting alone in the dark. He sipped his cool drink and tasted nothing. He was only mildly concerned that he hadn’t been able to taste anything during this trip. The important thing was the presentation. He closed his eyes just one more time. The aftertaste, pure satisfaction, so powerful, so necessary.

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