Improv Thoughts: Clever.

1 03 2011

As you loyal readers may know, I’m part of an improv group called the Richmond Comedy Coalition. For those who aren’t loyal, and those new to the blog, hello, I’m part of an improv group called the Richmond Comedy Coalition.

On Wednesday, the RCC will be conducting auditions to bring new people into the group. This will be the first round of auditions for the group since its inception, and I am quite excited at the prospect of bringing in some awesome new people to play and make funny with.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a guy email me. He had been part of a theater class at a local high school that I had the pleasure of teaching for a day. In the email, he told me that he was auditioning for the RCC, and if I had any advice for him. I was flattered; somebody asking me for advice on improv auditioning? I had arrived!

Only one issue: I honestly didn’t know what to tell him.

One reason for my inability to convey wisdom in a timely manner: I didn’t know what the format of the auditions would be like. Another reason? Out of all the years I’ve been performing, I’ve never given much thought to what it is I look for in a person who’ll be so fresh and so clean (clean)* to the world of improvisation.

However, after reading the RCC’s site, which has a conversation about auditions between Matt Newman, one of the RCC performers, and his friend Steve (Find it here), I figured to throw my two cents in about what it is I want from somebody coming into the improv world.

And of course there’s an ulterior motive: After reading over the past couple of posts on here, I came to the realization this was becoming more a confessional than a blog. My bad.

Onward!

-There can be all sorts of debate on what is the primary element to look for in a new improviser. Some focus on support for the fellow performer. Others focus on how a person initiates a scene. Myself, I’m looking to see how you perceive yourself. Do you see yourself as clever, or do you see yourself as funny?

What’s the difference, you ask? Good question. For a literal answer, I’ll use the power of the dictionary:

Clever: Mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able.

Funny: Providing fun; causing amusement or laughter; amusing; comical.

Both of these elements are essential to improv. However, if a deity were to come down from the sky, and tell me that I could only have one of these two things, I’d choose the funny.

Why?

Because I’m of the opinion that cleverness does not necessarily equate to being funny. To me, cleverness is an one-liner, a quick turn of a phrase, some sly spoonerism. And while the majority of these quick-witted lines have some value of humor, there’s just one issue:

It’s quick.

Quick works for line games, such as 185, B-Movie, Last Action Joke. Quick does not work for a four minute scene. That’s 240 seconds, man! You spout one-liners at an audience for just a third of that time within a scene, and those beautiful people will get burned out.

Another downside to using those one-liners in a scene? You bulldoze your scene partner/s. Bulldozing, or in the more legitimate theater world, Upstaging, is an event in which a performer completely overwhelms a scene, forgoing any semblance of story or emotional development for the sake of being the one in the spotlight.

One example that pops out at me: I was leading a workshop, and had two guys onstage. We’ll call them Joe and Roger. They were about two minutes into a scene, and the idea came up that they were to run away together to Tennessee. Both of them embrace the idea (awesome) and then this dialogue happened:

Joe: Yeah, man, let’s f*cking go to Tennessee!

Roger: Yeah! (pause) Wait, did you say “f*cking go to Tennessee, or f*ck AND go to Tennessee?”

(awkward pause)

(another awkward pause)

Me: And that’s time!

BAM! Wordplay and bulldozing completely throwing a solid scene off the rails.

Why not just come back with another witty retort? Because it’ll drag the scene down, man. When you’re onstage, you need to be working with your partner/s, not attempting to top one another. Improv is a collaboration of great minds and talents, creating an amalgamation of wonder that leaves audiences’ jaws on the floor and their money in your bank account.

So, yeah, focus on the funny when you’re onstage with somebody. Just have some fun together and magic will happen.

Now, everything I’ve said is my opinion and philosophy. There are plenty of improvisers out there who share different opinions, different philosophies. So if you’ve read through this and not agree, that’s cool. One of the fantastic things about improv is the freedom of choice.

Unless you choose to channel the spirit of Andrew Dice Clay. Then, well, we’d have to exile you.

-ZA





Getting Seduced for Car Repair.

7 01 2011

It started out innocently enough.

I was making my way through the grocery, finding the items that would coalesce together into a wondrous symphony for lunch.  Already holding a bag of baby carrots, I walked through the juice aisle.  This whole “eating healthy” thing was new to me.  I had no idea what juice would go well with a bag of baby carrots.  Apple?  Orange?  Carrot, so my full serving of beta-carotene for the day would be accomplished in one fell swoop?

A voice from behind me spoke up.  “Water’s really the only good thing when you’re eating carrots.”

I turned around and came face to face with a woman who could accurately be described as pretty.  Brunette hair, slight curls that ended just above the shoulders.  A body that was in perfect proportion to her height.  And oh, her height!  In one of the rare instances, here was a woman who was shorter than me!

I nodded and laughed.  “Sure, yeah, makes sense,” I said, trying desperately to tread that thin line between mysterious sex appeal and buffoonery.

She smiled at me.  And what a glorious smile it was!  I could barely take my eyes off of it long enough to grab that 20 ounce bottle of refreshing water.  This was unusual behavior for me.  Typically, I responded to a woman attempting to begin a conversation with me by ending the conversation as soon as possible.  I knew I was not a Casanova by any means, the only time feeling comfortable in my own skin being when I was onstage.  And even then, that was debatable.

“Are you grabbing lunch?” The woman asked, snapping me out of my inner monologue.  She was still talking to me?  Yes!  I nodded again, then remembering that I wasn’t mute, told her that yes, in fact, I was grabbing lunch.

“Cool!” She replied, the smile which looked to have been created by a thousand tiny tooth-brushing angels beaming at me.  “Why don’t we eat together?”

I was at a loss for words.  This woman…scratch that, this stunning woman was asking me for a lunch date!  And right then and there!  What other choice did I have but to accept?

We sat together in the grocery’s cafe, and immediately began the small talk.  Where we were from, what we did for a living, all that.  It was, to put it succinctly, nice.

And then the neuroses began to show.  I am rarely approached by women, let alone asked out on a lunch date.  The last time that happened was 2003.  It had been a while.

“Look, Linda (name changed), I’m really glad that we’re doing this,” I began.  “But, I mean, I’m usually not asked out on dates.”

She smiled warmly. Leaning toward me, her hands flat against the surface of the table.  “Zach, I’ve made it a point in my life to not judge people based by on their looks.  It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

HOO-RAY!  My heart did a double back-handspring.  Never mind that this bit of dialogue had been inserted into every after-school special based on looking into someone’s inner beauty.  It had never been spoken directly to me and blast it, I was going to revel!

We finished lunch and agreed to meet again that Saturday for another lunch, at someplace a little nicer than a cafe area in a grocery store.  Maybe someplace with servers.  And napkins on the table.  After exchanging numbers, we bid adieu and went our separate ways.

Then Thursday happened.

I was in the midst of writing out yet another piece of brilliant text when my phone rang.  Seeing her name on the screen resulted in an uplifting of my mood as I hit the Accept Call button.

“Linda, hey, how are you?” I began.  There was a pause on her end of the line.  Uh oh.  “Linda, you okay?” I said, moving my full attention over to the call.

She responded with a loud sigh.  “Zach, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be able to make it Saturday.”

My heart, which had previously been doing flips 48 hours before, was now sinking back into that familiar pit of solitude.  “Oh.  Everything all right?”

“No.  It’s my car.  I just got back from the mechanic, and they told me that I need a new transmission.”

“Oh man,” I said.  My instinct told me that she wasn’t lying.  Never before had a lady broken off a date with me due to false car trouble.  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

And just like my neuroses came to bear that afternoon at the grocery, so did LInda’s come to bear on this Thursday afternoon.  “Yeah!  You should be sorry!  I don’t know what I’m going to do, that’s like three grand, and I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Not a lot of people do.  If you want, though, I can give you the names of a couple of places I go to for work on my car.” I replied.

Linda scoffed at the idea.  “Yeah, because that’s what I need, is names.  How about you help me out?”

“…Well, I don’t know much about cars…”

“No, I mean in paying for it.”

“…What?”

“I pay half, you pay half.”

“…Ah, Linda, as much as I’d love to, I’m not exactly rich.  And I just met you Tuesday.”

“So what you’re saying is you won’t help me in my time of need?”

“I’m saying I’ll give you a couple of places that could fix your car up right.”

“That’s not what I need, Zach!”

“Well I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

There was a long pause at the end of her line.  Finally, she said, “I thought you would be different from the rest of the guys.  But I guess not!  So good luck to you!”  And she hung up.

I looked at my phone, and slowly shook my head as I quickly deleted her number from my contact list.  I’d like to think that her whole deal about looking beyond someone’s appearance was genuine.  But no, she was shaking me down for cash.  Some people.

On the positive side, however, that was the first time I’ve ever been seduced in an attempt to get cash.  So hey, get to cross that off my bucket list.

-ZA

 

 





Saying Goodbye to Mindy.

4 01 2011

It was a sunny afternoon in March, 2008.  I was in the second month of a theater tour.  Sitting in the business center of the hotel we were staying in, I went through the routine of checking my email and attempting my third attempt at keeping a decent blog going.  With nothing on my mind to write about, I gave up and logged off the computer.  The shows were done for the day, and with this hotel being located within the middle of nowhere, I decided my best route was to head back to my room and turn on the TV.

As I ascended the stairs, my mind wandered over to the health of my dog.

Her name was Mindy.  She was a black Lab, and she was enjoying the twilight of her years.  At 15, she had been living a healthy, pretty much awesome life.  Big backyard, lots of places to lay around and chill.

She was exactly the kind of dog I loved.  Laid back, content to sit around and get petted for an hour.  Didn’t feel the need to bark or be crazy.  She had done all that.  Nothing more to prove.

Recently, though, she had been going through health problems, as most animals do when they get to an advanced age.  Numerous cysts and tumors made their way onto her backs and legs.  It got to the point where she had to be carried up and down the steps of the patio.  I considered it a privilege, though.  She had been great dog to me for as long as I’d known her, and wanted to do as much as I could to keep her healthy and happy.

It was with sadness, then, that I checked my voicemail and found a message from my stepmother.  She said that Mindy hadn’t been eating, and that the vet’s diagnosis was damning: Mindy had contracted something in her stomach, I can’t remember what, but it basically prohibited her from eating.

My stepmother, the vet said, had two options: Either take Mindy back home and make her final days comfortable, or put her to sleep.  She chose the latter.

Now, this is not a blog post on the debate of whether animal euthanasia is ethical or not.  The fact was, I knew that Mindy’s time was winding down, and all I can do is hope that she dug me as much as I dug her.

I returned home that weekend.  We were planning to do a small memorial service for Mindy.  My stepmother had her cremated, and was carrying the ashes in a small bag.  We all stood outside on the front yard, taking turns in scooping handfuls of the ashes, sprinkling them around the bushes and wherever else Mindy liked to lay out.

It was all supposed to be very somber, introspective.

My sister, however, had another idea.

My sister, who was 6 at the time, was taking handfuls of Mindy’s ashes and throwing them into the air.  Throwing, like you would rice at a wedding.  Not only that, but she was laughing.  Laughing at the sight of the ashes being flung into the air, watching it fall onto the ground and onto her clothing.

I was mortified.  How dare this young moppet disgrace my Mindy!  It was a complete blaspheming of this emotional time!  What kind of twisted kid did I have for a sister?!

That flood of emotions lasted for about two minutes.  Then I got to thinking.

Would Mindy appreciate this whole ceremony?  I could just imagine her looking down at us, all standing on that lawn, looking morose.  I could hear her doing one of her muffled woofs, telling me “Whoa, Zach, chill out, guy.  I mean, yeah, it sucks that I died, but you being sad isn’t going to help anything!  Do some celebrating of my life, rather than dwelling on my death!”

After imagining these words of inspiration, I got ready to do just that celebrating, complete with ash-tossing.

I turned to grab another handful of ashes, but alas, the bag was emptied.  My family had moved to talking amongst each other, as well as a couple of neighbors who dropped by to give their sympathies.  I looked over to my sister, who had joined the other kids of the cul de sac in playing a game of kickball.  The ceremony was done.  It was just me, standing amongst the scattered remains of Mindy.

I teared up a little, then shrugged it off.  I was determined to celebrate Mindy’s life, just like my imaginary vision of her demanded I do.

So I took my sister aside, and spent the next hour going through old photos of Mindy, telling her about the exploits and shenanigans she found herself in.  The multiple fence-jumpings.  The time she shattered one of the windows facing the backyard because she thought her bone was sitting on her side of the window.  And my god, so much licking.

Afterward, I had a sense of closure.  True, Mindy was gone.  But she was a large part of my life and for that, I’ll always consider myself lucky.





Aw, Spit.

3 01 2011

It’s been a while since I have done anything that could be regarded as “legitimate” theater.  Matter of fact, when August of this year rolls around, it will be three years since I stepped onto a stage to perform previously scripted lines with inflection and objective and everything else that was imprinted onto my brain during my two-year duration in college.

I’ve kept myself busy, of course. Performing with one comedy group while leading another comedy group while working while finding time to get back to college since I’m apparently unqualified to even sell mattresses without holding a degree in anthropology. And guitar playing. Can’t forget that.

There have been times when I’ve felt the call of the “legitimate” stage. It’s a siren song, attempting to lure me back into the sweet embrace of notables like Chekhov, Shakespeare, Miller. And like the best sirens, these notables can’t wait to tear me to shreds.

What is it that has caused me to forgo the temptation, and keep on the path of improvisational comedy?

Like all good stories, this one involves a wad of saliva.

It was the end of what had been a 3-month tour.  I was in a production with three other people.  For the safety of the innocents, and the safety of myself, I’ll refrain from giving the names of the people and of the production. Aside from me, there were two males and a female.  Jake, the road manager, was on his second tour with the theater company.  Since he was the veteran out of the four of us, he had become the de facto leader.  Crystal, the female, was our ringer.  She was gorgeous, a great actress, and a terrific singing voice.  There was me, the plucky comic relief.

And then there was Matt.

Matt was the youngest of us all.  He was 19, but he had already lived a life of wonder and amazement.  He had, at different times in his life: Freestyled with some rapper that I can’t remember; Been pursued by law enforcement for 12 hours, leading up to a thrilling chase scene that culminated with a stand-off at the outlet of a sewer tunnel; Enlisted in the military and became a decorated paratrooper; And, the apex of all his accomplishments, modeled.

None of us took Matt that seriously.

Perhaps we should have.  If we did, then he may not have felt the need to lash out at inopportune times.  If only we had believed that he had descended gracefully into Iraq, he would not have felt the need to open the side door of the van while going 70 miles an hour on the interstate.  If only we had agreed that he was framed, he would not have felt the need to beat some kid up during one of our off-days, breaking his hand in the process (This was covered up by claiming he had caught his hand in a stair railing).  If only we had agreed that yes, he was the male incarnation of Heidi Klum, he would not have felt the need to make our lives much more difficult than they had to be.

Oh yes, I was looking forward to the end of this tour.

Morale was on the up-and-up.  It was the wrong kind of morale, though.  The kind of morale that manifests itself toward the end of any enterprise where people can’t wait to get out of it.  It was a sensation similar to that last month of senior year in high school, or the remaining five minutes of a sales meeting.  Our internal engines were revving, and all of us were eager to release the brake, pop the clutch, and zoom out into freedom.

I was tired.  Tired of the show, tired of the traveling, and tired of seeing these people every day.  Individually, they were lovely people.  However, put everyone into a passenger van for 9 hours, with set pieces banging into the head of anyone who was unfortunate to sit in the back, and emotions can get a little on edge.

It was with this mix of tiredness and morale that we made our way to what was our fourth-to-last show, an elementary school.  As it had been for the past three months, the show was booked toward the end of the day, a little treat for the kids and teachers.  I was on the stage, getting dressed behind the constructed set (Another fun aspect of this tour: getting dressed behind the set while loud children filed into the auditorium), when I heard Jake and Matt arguing.  Well, not arguing, per se, but vehemently debating.  What they were vehemently debating, I didn’t know.  It could’ve been anything: The show, the tour, behavior issues, whether Family Matters or Full House was the better family sitcom of the 1990s.  It really didn’t matter to me.  What mattered was after this show, there would be four more shows left, and then I would be home-free.  I was looking forward to unemployment.

Matt appeared behind the set as I was getting on the final pieces of my costume.  Matt was still dressed in his street clothes, his desire to prove himself superior to Jake taking precedent over getting ready to entertain people.  In the beginning, I attempted to be empathetic.  After all, I too noticed that Jake had taken a fascist-like approach to his position as road manager.  As the weeks wore on, however, my empathy morphed into indifference as I came to realize that there really was no way things were going to change.  Now, in this final week, I was in survival mode.  I stayed mostly silent, getting the job done and making sure the audience was going away with the faux-knowledge that gee golly, things were swell amongst the cast.

Now, this being a public forum, I’m going to replace a few choice words within the following dialogue.  The word that is replaced will be marked with an asterisk, so feel free to insert your favorite epithet.

Matt was grabbing his costume, hastily dressing while simultaneously talking to me.  “Can you believe that clown*?”

I shrugged.  With ten minutes to showtime, I was in no place to be a sense of reason.  “Dude, just let it go.  We got four days left, and then we’re done.”

Matt shook his head, pulling on his shirt. “Man, I can’t freakin’* believe you’re taking that clown’s* side.  You’re all freaking* against me.”

I spoke up a little.  Although Jake was the road manager, I was the oldest of the four of us.  “Look, I know you and him have some kind of beef, but show some professionalism, man.  I mean, there are kids coming in right now, and you keep talking like that, we’re all going to be in trouble with the theater.”

Matt looked over at me.  It was clear he now thought I was a traitor to his cause.  “Shoot* you’re all freaking* against me.”

I shook my head.  By this time, Crystal had joined us.  “Look, man, nobody’s against you.  We got a job to do, and we’re going to do it.  Then we’re going home.  Just let it go.”

“Forget* that.” Matt said.  That’s when he spotted Jake’s costume.  It was a costume for a king character, complete with crown.  Matt looked at us, then at the crown.  “He’s gonna see what happens when you mess* with me,” Matt said.  He picked up the crown, and spat a wad of saliva straight into the netting on the inside, right where Jake’s head would be.  He looked over at us, smirked, and moved over to the other side of the stage.

Crystal and I looked at each other.  It was a mix of emotions that could be found going between us.  We were stunned, certainly, but there was also the feeling that we had been here before.  It’s an odd feeling when a person who does something as base as spitting into another person’s clothing can be viewed as just a part of their natural state.  That’s not a person I like to know.

Jake came to get his costume.  He got dressed and was about to put on his crown when he looked inside and noticed the that there was something wet amongst the netting.  He turned to me.  “What happened to my crown?”

I was a defeated man.  I just shrugged.  “Matt spit in it.”

Jake’s eyes went wide.  I shrugged again.  “There’s a pair of scissors in the sewing bag.  Cut it out, and let’s get this over with.”

Jake cut the netting out.  We did the show, packed everything up, and returned home.

The next day, Matt had been fired from the tour.  Jake took the time to talk to Crystal and I, see if there were any other personal conflicts that needed to be sorted out.  There weren’t, fortunately.

We got a new person for the remaining four shows, and at the end of the week I celebrated my newly-found unemployment by going to an improv comedy show.

So why have I not done “legitimate” theater for a little over two years?

I don’t have to worry about someone spitting into my hat in improv.

 





Goodbye, 2010.

31 12 2010

In a little over 24 hours, and a little under 36 hours, 2010 will become just another year in the annals of history.

But oh, what a year it was!

We had tragedy, triumph, laughter, tears, cheers, jeers, and plenty of other strong nouns which describe…well, describe just about every year I’ve been a part of.

But wait! We had new people burst onto the celebrity scene, with star-making turns in music! And movies! And books!

…Hold on, that kind of stuff happens every year.

So, what exactly is going to differentiate 2010 from the other 365 (366, for leap years) day-cycles I’ve lived?

It’s a good question. One which I won’t spend much time thinking over, due to my predilection to delve into self-pity whenever I grow nostalgic for the past. However, since I’m writing right now, might as well.

On an aside, as I type this, there’s a group of teenagers sitting behind me in this bookstore coffee bar. It’s almost endearing, how they attempt at every moment to insert profanity into their dialogue. I just heard one of them mention how he loves the “new Magic: The F***ing Gathering card set.” Two things: 1) I had no idea they were still making Magic: The Gathering card packs. And 2) Inspired, I am going to begin inserting the F-word randomly into card games. Truly, it will be a day to remember when I tell Mom that I’m looking forward to the annual Crazy F***ing Eights game we play on Memorial Day weekend.

Alright, back to whatever it was I was typing about. Ah, yes! What will I remember 2010 for?

There are certainly a multitude of possibilities. My own personal triumphs, tragedies, cheers, jeers, tears, and so forth.

To be self-serving, however, I think I’ll remember 2010 as the Year of False Starts.

I began an exercise program, then abandoned it. I researched how to create a voice-over demo, then pushed that to the back of my mind. Hell, I even attempted to get a page going to earn a screen test for the third Batman film, when things that forcefully categorize themselves as IMPORTANT (All caps, naturally) took over.

Essentially, 2010 was my 2009, which in turn was my 2008.

Am I angry about it? A little, the anger directed toward myself for lacking the integrity and determination on these things that I knew would be absolutely necessary to pursuing a life that I want to lead.

So what do I do with this anger? Bottle it up, like I am wont to do? Let it rage, perhaps create a YouTube account where I can droll on and on about how my life is terrible, maybe play some Dashboard Confessional in the background?

Nah. I’ve done the former too many times. And the latter…I’m sure my friends would form a single-file line, all taking turns in smacking me, informing me to snap out of it (rightly so).

I’m pretty sure that leaves me with the only option of letting that anger go. Forgiving myself for the past misdeeds and false starts, and forging ahead in creating a better life for myself.

If I can do this, then at the end of this 365-day cycle, I’ll be able to look back and say, “Yeah, 2011…pretty badass.”

Much love, everybody. Be safe and have a great start to 2011. I know I will.

And now, to leave you with an indelible image, I bring you me looking wistfully into a sample of bourbon from the Four Roses distillery in Kentucky.

I am not a bourbon man.

ZA





A Bees’ Christmas Carol, Part Four

29 12 2010

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Zachariah stirred. His eyes slowly opened, greeted to a blue-hued television screen. “The movie’s over? Shame,” Scrooge yawned as he shifted into a sitting position, palms rubbing over his eyes, attempting to massage the blurriness away. As he rubbed, he felt a cold breeze move in front of him. His heart pounded steadily as he realized that this was it; the final Spirit. Slowly, slowly, he removed his hands from his eyes to confront his last visitor of the night.

The spirit that stood before him was unlike the other two who had made their presence known throughout the night. An aura of dread clung to this figure. His outfit was plain: a simple pair of black pants; a long-sleeve white shirt with red horizontal stripes going across the entire fabric; a pair of black suspenders; and finally a simple black beret that was held atop a head with a face painted all in white. This spirit greeted Scrooge not with kindness, but with a silent stare, as if he was seeing straight into Scrooge’s soul.

Zachariah sat in awe of this spirit. Cautiously, he moved to his feet, his hands pressing together, moving toward his chest, as if he was about to go into prayer. “I know you to be the last Spirit. The Spirit of Comedy Yet to Come.”

The silent spectre did not respond. He continued his dead-eye stare, body not moving. Scrooge threw his hands down in surrender. He opened his mouth to yell, but the eerie visage of the Spirit rendered him meek.

“Please, Spirit, if you be a kind one, show me what you must.”

The black-panted figure moved toward Scrooge. His limbs contorted as he walked, as if he was attempting to walk into an oncoming windstorm. Zachariah found this odd, until he began to feel a strong wind whipping against his back. He turned around, his eyes instantly becoming filled with tears as the icy gale dug into skin. Scrooge shut his eyes on instinct, in an act of preservation.

The wind ceased the second his eyes shut. Scrooge opened his left eye apprehensively, then his right. Like the previous spirits, this Spirit had whisked him to a familiar location. He found himself standing in the middle of the office he shared with Grant. He looked around, confused.

“Spirit?” Zachariah said, “Why have you brought me to the office?”

The beret-wearing Spirit raised his left hand, his fingers curling down until his bony index digit pointed behind the miser. Scrooge turned around, following the Spirit’s guidance. He came face to face with his work area. It was not the work area he had left a mere four hours before. No, this work area was cleared completely, the only item on the desk a fine covering of dust. Scrooge spun back around to face the Spirit. “What is this?” He demanded. “Are you informing me that if I don’t shape up, my office will be burgled? Is that what this entire night of eerie visitors and traveling through space and time has brought me to?”

The Spirit replied only by turning his hand toward the entrance. Once again Scrooge followed the direction, and saw Grant entering the office, with Stacey following shortly after, her arms filled with a bundle of blue blankets. Scrooge could hear the soft yawn of a newborn coming from the swaddle. His eyes widened in surprise.

“Spirit, they…they had a son?” He turned to face his guide. “Is it healthy? What is his name?” The Spirit gazed at Scrooge with a look lacking in judgment. Growing angry, Scrooge raised his voice. “Damn it, Spirit, answer me!”

“Ready to say goodbye?”

Stacey’s voice brought Zachariah attention away from his mute guide. She was standing next to Aaron, who had moved over to his work area. Aaron smiled at her, sliding an arm around her waist, pulling her close.

“I am. It wouldn’t feel right to stay here. Not after…” Aaron trailed off, his eyes moving to Scrooge. Zachariah stood in the spot, frozen. Could Grant see him? Was he somehow able to transcend the restrictions placed by the previous two spirits? Scrooge’s heart leapt as Aaron approached him. Never in his life had he been so happy to be seen!

This apex of joy was brought crashing to its nadir as Aaron moved past Scrooge himself, instead moving to Scrooge’s desk. He placed a hand gently against the surface, dispersing some of the dust. Stacey moved behind him, an empathetic gaze toward him.

“Yeah, I miss him too,” She said softly.

Scrooge turned to face his guide. “What does she mean, Spirit?”

Aaron laughed gently, shaking his head in a combination of sympathy and disappointment. “In attempting to bring comedy to people, he never allowed a joyful moment for himself.”

Zachariah’s body began to shake with emotion, things becoming clear. “No, Spirit, no…”

“I think he would’ve liked our kid, Stacey.”

“Oh, totally. How can you not like the little man?”

“Spirit, tell me this is not actuality!”

“All right, let’s get out of here.” Aaron removed his hand from Scrooge’s desk, walking toward the door with Stacey. Zachariah pursued them, even though he knew it was useless.

“Come back! Please, get back here, Grant! I promise I’ll change. I’ll find the joy in myself which will in turn bring joy to others! Grant!”

Scrooge’s pleas were met by the shutting of the office door for the final time. He turned around, rushing toward the Spirit.

“Spirit, tell me this is not actuality! I realize that if I continue on my current path, this is the consequence I’ll deserve but I don’t WANT to deserve it, Spirit! Tell me that it’s not too late for me to change! Tell me!”

“…Tell me!”

“……..TELL ME!”

Scrooge shot up out of bed. His sheets drenched with sweat, his brow glistening. He ran out into the living room, throwing back his curtains. The morning sun was just creeping over the horizon.

“Morning! A brand new morning!” He shouted earnestly to no one in particular. His eyes went even wider as he turned away, seeing his cell phone sitting on the kitchen counter. With a bounce in his step that defied his size, he bounded across the room in two steps, hurriedly dialing Grant’s number.

“Hello?” Grant answered sleepily.

“Aaron! Zachariah! What day is it?”

“…What?”

“What day is it?!”

“December 29th.”

Scrooge moved the phone away from his ear in shock. “December 29th?” He yelled into the receiver.

“Dude, not so loud, Stacey’s sleeping. Yeah. I figured that you came to your senses, decided to take a vacation.”

Zachariah couldn’t help but laugh. “You are correct, my friend. I have come to my senses, but it wasn’t a vacation, so much as a journey.”

“Well hey man, that’s great!” Aaron said brightly.

“Indeed! Listen, what are you doing for breakfast?” Scrooge moved into his bedroom, hastily picking out clothes for the day.

“Breakfast? Don’t know, cereal I guess.”

“Nonsense!” Zachariah exclaimed. “I’m taking you and Stacey out to breakfast! How about Bob Evans? Or maybe Cracker Barrel? Any place you want!”

“…Okay, how about Bob Evans, around 8?”

“8 it is!”

“Okay, great!” Aaron shook his head in amazement.

“Fantastic!” Zachariah concurred excitedly. He reached into his closet to pull out a pair of jeans, sneezing when some dust from the shelf fell onto his face.

“Gesundheit, man.” Aaron said.

Zachariah laughed as he walked toward the shower.

“Gesundheit, everyone!”





A Bees’ Christmas Carol, Part Three

22 12 2010

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

 

Zachariah Scrooge’s eyes sprang open, immediately focusing on the clock on the mantle. The time read 1 a.m.. Not moving his body, his eyes darted around the room. No sign of the second Spirit. Scrooge settled back into his bed, turning his head to face the ceiling.  “Hello?” He called out with uncertainty.  No response came.  “Hello!” He called out again, louder.  Still no response.  Scrooge pressed the back of his head against the pillow, drawing the sheets under his chin.  “Just another horrible dream.” He muttered.

The TV in the living room sprang to life.  Loud music spilled from the speakers.  Scrooge sat up, wasting no time in springing out of bed.  He slowed down as he approached the living room.  Moving at a snail’s pace, Scrooge peeked into the room.

The movie “The Blues Brothers” was playing on the television.  Curious, Scrooge moved further into the room, eyes staying on the screen.  “Yes, I remember this movie.  It’s quite good, quite good!” His lips moved into a genuine smile as he watched Jon Belushi cartwheel down the aisle of the church presided over by none other than James Brown.

“Like that movie, eh?” A booming voice spoke from the couch.  “It’s a good one.  And just like Jake and Elwood, I’m on a mission from God, myself.”

Scrooge spun around and came face to face with a mountain of a man.  At a height of six-foot-two, broad-shouldered, with dark blond hair.  Scrooge stepped back slightly and shook his head in disbelief. “You…you’re John…”

The Spirit raised a large hand to stop Scrooge.  “I was, but not anymore.” The Spirit stood up, smoothing out his trench-coat as he moved into the kitchen.  “Now, who wants an orange whip?”

Scrooge couldn’t do anything but collapse back onto his couch. He leaned forward, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “All right, Spirit. I will take an orange whip.  And while we’re at it, perhaps you can verify for me that you are indeed the Spirit of Comedy Present.”

“Right-a-mundo, Scroogey.” The Spirit said, walking back into the living room and handing the citrus beverage to Scrooge. “You wanna drink that here, or take it for the ride?”

Scrooge sighed and stood up, holding the drink in his right hand.  ” I suppose take it with me.”

The Spirit clapped his hands together, grinning.  “Great!  Let’s go!”  Scrooge watched as the Spirit snapped his fingers.  Instantaneously, they were transported into a kitchen.  It became obvious that whoever was the owner of this kitchen was absolutely infatuated with Christmastime.  Numerous versions of Santa figurines lined the windowsill above the sink.  Gingerbread men sat cooling on a rack next to the oven.  The voice of Nat King Cole filled the air.  “Man,” The Spirit said, looking around, “These guys love Christmas, huh?”

Scrooge looked around, eyes dancing furtively across the linoleum floor.  “I feel like I know this place.”  As soon as he spoke, Scrooge’s suspicion became fact, as he and the Spirit watched Aaron Grant enter the kitchen.

“Be back in a second, babe.” He called out.  Scrooge watched as Aaron went to the cooling rack, expertly moving the gingerbread men down onto a plain white plate.

“Oh, hey, look at that! This is where Aaron lives,” the Spirit said, taking a drink of his own orange whip.  Scrooge looked back at the Spirit, a look of slight shock on his face.

“What do you mean, ‘look at that!’?  You’re the Spirit, you should know where we are going!”

The Spirit shrugged and smiled.  “I’m just doing a job.  Let’s follow him, shall we?” He nodded toward Aaron, who was leaving the kitchen, plate of cookies in hand.  Before Scrooge could offer an objection, he found himself being pushed forward by the Spirit, moving silently behind Aaron.  Scrooge and the Spirit watched as he placed the plate of cookies down on the coffee table and resumed his seat next to a red-haired young woman, colorful tattoos adorning her arms.

The Spirit let out a long, low whistle.  “Well now, who’s that fine piece of work?” Scrooge looked up at the Spirit and couldn’t help but laugh.

“That, Spirit, is Stacey, Aaron’s love.  So no, she’s not single.”

“Ah.” The Spirit shrugged again. “Bummer.  But I digress.  Let’s listen in on their conversation.”

Scrooge turned his attention back to Aaron and Stacey.  Aaron was already working on a gingerbread man, nibbling at the head, while Stacey knitted a blanket.  The pearls of the thread were determined, showing off the handiwork of someone adept at crafting goods just out of thread.

“What I don’t understand, Aaron,” Stacey started, keeping her eyes on the knitting. “Is what happened to Zachariah.  He used to have a joy about him.”

Aaron shrugged, a shrug born more out of disappointment than indifference.  “I wish I knew.  It’s never been this bad, really.  I mean, yeah, he’s had some rough spots, but we all have.  I just wish he would open up a little, you know, talk to me about it.”

Stacey laughed softly.  “You know he’s not going to do that, babe.  The man does not like to talk about himself.”

Aaron nodded and sighed.  “Yeah, I know.  You know I invited him out here tonight, and just flat-out refused.  And…” He crushed the remainder of his cookie into his palm, “He expects me to come into work tomorrow to work on some material.”

Stacey tossed down the knitting and glared at Aaron.  “You’re not going anywhere tomorrow, mister!” She smiled and gave him a quick, playful punch in the arm, laughing softly.

Aaron grinned.  “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere tomorrow.” He leaned forward, he and Stacey sharing a small embrace.  He leaned back, picking up the TV remote.  “And hey, if he decides that maybe it’s time to end the partnership because I refuse to show up for work on Christmas Day, then maybe it’ll be for the best.”  With a quick hit of the On button, Aaron and Stacey became awash in the glow of Netflix.

Zachariah stepped back in slight shock.  “End the partnership?  No, I never wanted anything like that.  I just need to work, to find that one thing that I’ve been missing for God knows how long!”

The Spirit laid a massive hand onto Scrooge’s shoulder, squeezing gently.  “But it seems that your drive has alienated those you once called friends.  In short, you’ve become a jerk.”

Scrooge moved the Spirit’s hand off his shoulder with a quick shake.  “I never meant to be like that.  I just…There’s no excuse, Spirit.  In my drive for comedic perfection, I’ve lost sight of the more important things in life.  Things like friends; like a favorite song playing on the radio; like an..orange whip.” He sniffed and laughed, holding up his now-empty cup.

The Spirit nodded, knowingly.  “Come on, Zachariah, time to get home.”

Immediately, Scrooge was back in his bedroom.  He looked around the barren room.  Save for his bed and a dresser, there was nothing that would make someone feel welcome.  No pictures.  No music.  Even the pillows weren’t decent.  “I can’t sleep in here,” Scrooge said aloud.  He grabbed a blanket and moved into the living room.  Turning on the TV, his eyes lit up when the image of Jake and Elwood filled the screen.  They were singing, dancing, entertaining five-thousand of their closest friends.  Zachariah’s eyes grew heavy as he heard this last bit of dialogue before falling asleep.

“Who wants an orange whip?  Orange whip?  Orange whip?  Three orange whips.”

To Be Concluded…








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