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My probable sister’s dog, I’m just sort of posting this…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Sometimes you get news that puts you on the floor. I even had to ask people if they were sitting down when I told them. Realizing how much fear attaches to that opener, I quickly added “in a good way.” A woman contacted me, she might be my biological sister curious to see how I turned out. WHAM! Kiss the floor, Ducky!

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t write about this big moment saving it for my memoirs. There are writing takeaways here so it counts. I’ve written semi-consciously about my adoption and the emotional needs it can create for years at this point, so landing on the floor forces me to acknowledge the pattern in my writing. I am slightly irked that I just validated every stereotypical psychoanalyst going “ah-ha!”

First, a hopefully short version of the narrative of the recent days. I get a Facebook friend request. It’s a woman. I give female accounts a few minutes going over mostly to filter out come ons for what I term “Russian Hooker Bride” sites. She passes this scrutiny, really just checking to see if she has other friends and something that looks like the verisimilitude of life. I accept the request.

Then we move over to Messenger. The lady in question sends a message leading with her email address and cell phone number. She explains that she believes she’s my biological sister. She gives enough detail in the close enough to allow for memory to go bad over time or maybe the record keeping at the hospital was slightly inaccurate category. Curious, I keep her texting.

Over the span of this discovery, pretty much she says enough things that largely jibe with the things my parents always told me. Young kids in school fighting their way through a serious PhD program unable to care for me. My parents thought UCLA, but USC and CalTech are close enough (memory can go slightly bad).

My presumed sister mentions Childrens Home Society, the adoption agency. She confirms Hollywood Community Hospital when I led with that tidbit (a more suspicious person might not want to do this). The date the parents remember versus the date on my birth certificate comes out as close enough. More importantly, we start trading photos.

I see enough resemblance to the father around the eyes. I fit the general pattern of my presumed younger brother that others assert more lookalike than I wanted to admit. I see more resemblance to my new friend and presumed sister once I get to see her real in the wild photos compared to her gussied up and totally adorable profile photo. It would take a cruel twist of the one in a thousand “worthy of the movie Laura” variety for the DNA to come back negative. But, we’re still doing the test; we both understand the Russian proverb hijacked by Reagan – “trust but verify.”

The reveal sparked a little need for hand holding on both ends of this family. My mom had a delayed freak out about me leaving her. My presumed sister’s parents gave her a little side eye over the fact that she started this rollercoaster. I got through my moment with Mom telling her, “You’d have to shoot my dog or something for me to even think like that.” My Maybe Sister (our current pet name appellation for each other until the test comes back) will comment on her blogs and pages how she handled her parents.

At this point, you, the average Dear Readers are twirling fingers, checking watches and maybe shouting, “get on with it!” The writer takeaway stems from me previously saying to my parents, “nah, I don’t really want to find my birth parents, it might be emotionally confusing.” A bald-faced lie of the self-deception variety.

How much did I lie to myself here? My recent writing wallows in repeated variations of the Separated Twins/Reunited Siblings tropes. I do mean repeated as in, “get on with it!”

Do you want to hear about the, now destroyed first version of Crimes Against Elves? The protagonist is whisked away to a fantasy realm where she defends the evil wizard in a war crimes trial. She has an older sister left behind betrothed to the king prosecuting the case. Love triangle results until the older sister reveals she much prefers to jump on the good wizard in the story.

The in progress newer version with gender switched characters to buy more goodwill from the reason why the first version had to go bye-bye deepens the sibling conflict. The fantasy queen whisked away to Earth while pregnant takes over from the now dead woman who is her local doppelgänger attempting to take over as step-mother to another boy. This older brother exists as a plot foil and tool of various antagonists to obstruct the war crimes trial until the truth reveals. Duh-duh-dun.

Or perhaps for your reading pleasure you like The Magellan Saga? A space emperor in the human areas of the Greater Magellanic Cloud fights for his people while often trading places with his long lost identical twin, really a body part clone allowed to escape into the wild. Much mayhem of a style that Shakespeare and Rafael Sabatini might approve ensues (FYI Shakespeare traded on sibling and twin switching several times in his plays, but he was trying to be funny and I’m not that overtly funny). Fitting since I pitch it as Julius Caesar meets The Corsican Brothers filtered through the lens of Star Wars.

And in the sort of similar diagonal bank shot types of stories let’s count on our fingers how many times I’ve busted out the diagonally related elements of clones finding a place among the world. Sex bots grown from unused fertility embryos grow into their womanhood and force actual ethics of how said sex bots are employed, almost a pro-union story in some respects. Other sex bots cloned from a woman captured by aliens that rise up to free their clone mother and themselves in the background behind a lethal cross country race. And a kill bot of unknown origin that falls in love with a widower and helps Earth fight off enemies it didn’t know existed.

Okay, the repetition gets a little thin in the later examples but a tiny element of needing to know about where I come from plays out though all these pitches likely to be novels…eventually. From this we…I, it’s my freakin’ story, have to understand that while I just landed on the floor, I did just acknowledge that sometimes we write from the place of our great need or core wound. Yes, I just validated a lot of psycho-babble “ah-ha,” but the ink landed on the page that way. Own it.

Of course, I’ve only touched on one element of my work. Other essays, if I decide to care, might highlight some of the conflicts that have nothing to do with adoptions or siblings. Another one would definitely analyze the use of cars in my work. Which brings us in a weird circle back to the subject of this post, the inevitable Luke and Leia jokes…

I made such jokes where Maybe Sister can see, but like many people I also found far more fun in Han Solo: cool, shot first and has the awesome car. But, never mind, this post is going on too long. I was adopted. I needed to write about it and now we go get lunch. That means you, Dear Reader. Go home!

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Inevitability and predictability rules the day on Facebook writers’ groups, especially when someone chooses to post a variation of – “help, I have a job/school/life, how do I find time to write?” Yet, another bucket of chum leading to a set of fairly predictable responses from the others in the group.

The choices: A) a recitation of past completed projects with the schedule adopted to make them happen, including getting up early, staying up late etc., B) modestly helpful advice like “write in short bursts stealing time from the slow moments between tasks that service the job/school/life,” C) a pious “if writing is important you make the time,” or from the Advanced Class, D) all of the above. I went with B.

We say these things because nothing pisses off a writer more than someone who’s all up in our writer grills wanting to write, but finds excuses not to. We know having been there spewing the same excuses that we’re lying with a side of hyperbole when we say “the thing wrote itself.” Only in the sense of employing a story structure and characters that makes the process of tapping keys actually fun. The writer still has to put words on the page no matter what and the Universe just won’t care if you don’t.

My version of B went like this – “steal your writing time from the hidden downtime at work because you’re just not productive every moment of a work day.” I asserted that most jobs have a rhythm and that the motivated writer finds those patterns to sneak in a few minutes at a time. I said this in addition to other similar advice from others about using up coffee and lunch breaks. You can, but if you don’t go out with work friends to a nice lunch on regular basis, you might miss out on the other eternal challenge writers face…having things to write about. A balancing act to be sure.

How does this work in practice? First off, let me say nothing here applies if your current job is at a McDonald’s or something. Fast food managers have a marked tendency to seek out malingering employees handing out mop buckets and instructions to change the liners in the trash cans at the slightest whim. An excellent reason when added to the wage scale to treat this kind of employment as either your first or last job. Use your breaks here and don’t screw around with Hell Boss.

But, for most of the rest of us that want to write it does make sense to ask “how much otherwise wasted time at work can be employed by me to get in writing time?” If a lawyer still gets paid by the billable hour waiting by the phone for clients to respond and isn’t expected to help the first years and paralegals do research, how much of that downtime should that lawyer steal putting down words for Alita Anderson, Monster Rights Litigator? Hopefully, that lawyer answers with “as much as I thought prudent at the time.” Certainly said writer will avoid snark from other writers.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I know very much about law offices other than what the TV presents by way of L.A. Law, The Guardian, The Good Wife and the spin-off The Good Fight. Just because I assert that there is quite a bit of downtime between tasks that serve the firm and the billable hours doesn’t mean you don’t have to discover these things for yourself. So let’s talk about the one job I do know something about that has tons of downtime: delivery/Uber/driving.

Speaking with only some hyperbole, I have to the eternal regret of my insurance carriers ended three delivery jobs with the accident that wiped out my car. The latest one about 16 years ago ended with an airbag detonation. The job lasted three years.

During that time, I waited at centrally located gas stations and later on at home as I got slightly arrogant at my job only to be slapped around by the dispatcher on the subject at least once. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Eating a donut. Waiting. And then the company cell phone with a built-in push to talk feature squawked and off I went to deliver stuff, sometimes to people whose names you’d recognize.

You’ll notice I put in about four repetitions of waiting. The writer I am today would absolutely not only bring the notebook that I have carried with me since college, but actually write in it too. As I remember that time, I wrote at least one horrible screenplay and started four others. But, I know I could’ve done more, so I really do get to lean in on some other writer with the “it must not be important to you if you don’t write” head trip.

That time also passed with journalism classes at night that required words on the page, so it wasn’t a total drought. But, I didn’t write as often in the car during downtime preferring to write at home after work as the older me wishes. But, I could have, that’s my point for this article. You’re not always on the clock and when you are you have dead moments where you can steal a paragraph or two. And you always have breaks, if used judiciously to balance the social elements of the day job with getting things done.

I have been on all sides of the chummed water created by this type of post. The been there done that old-timer. And the scared neophyte that didn’t mention a true case of Writers Block knowing the response would be “boo boo, it happens to everyone and maybe if you forced yourself to write even if it’s crap you might find the block ends when you aren’t looking.” And thanks to other things going good with my finances I get to be the “Ducky, I’m just a full time(ish) writer now.” Which means I have even fewer excuses now. We all have more time than we think.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Writers aren’t doing their jobs correctly if they don’t collect huge sock drawers worth of stuff: pens, pencils, stencils and…fill in the blank. Sometimes we buy the swag. Sometimes relatives doing the best they can give us all kinds of interesting stuff for Christmas. Duh-duh-duh, *Law & Order voice* – “these are some of my choices.”

A good way to evaluate what to buy is probably why to buy. I pretty much need three writing tools, not counting my previous bloviating about the tool named Apple Pen (see post). I need a black (or blue if I have to) pen. I need a Red Pen of Editorial Doom (lurking in the swirling fog, I swear). I need a pencil.

Pencils first. One part of my collection is driven by things I think I want to do and haven’t fully expressed because the next 1,000 words grabbed me by the short and curlies. So thinking I’ll draw stuff (you can stop laughing now), I buy things like stencils and How to Draw books…and pencils. Color, check. Green and yellow Dixon-Ticonderogas, check. And quite a few .5mm and .7mm nib mechanicals, eventually settling on the cheap disposables…until recently, also check.

The Dixon-Ticos, I don’t use much largely because we all have those test taking nightmares decades after leaving school. I suppose if you don’t mind grinding off the wood to sharpen the graphite, go for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The color pencils also sit in my desk. If you don’t draw like you thought you would you, don’t need to color either. At least, I don’t have to replace them or add to the collection.

Mechanical pencils have pretty much pissed me off in almost every case. The non-disposable ones sometimes get nasty when you try to replace the graphite in the barrel. Are you supposed to shake the thing loading from the opened back? Or do you do the catheter type insertion (Ow!) from the front?

But, the most annoying thing about many mechanical pencils has been the ease with which the writer cracks the lead bearing down on the page. Scratch some words of great import and – SNAP! Plunge more lead out; write three more words and – SNAP! The disposables bought so you can cease to care about both the loading issue and cracking the lead are actually worse enough that you still throw the pencil across the room.

A word about usage. I might not draw like I thought, but I do have slightly more believable pretensions towards composing music. An art form where erasing that stubborn quarter note off the page lends itself to the eraser that comes with the pencil. But, years and years of just putting a line through wrong words written in my notebooks have trained me to just write with a pen saying, “cross-outs are part of the process.”

My artist friends went on and on about their pencils, specifically mechanicals made by RoTring. Knowing that my stalled music will need at least one limited duty tool, I take what I hope is my last venture into Pencil-Land. It’s an expensive object ($20 give or take on Amazon), but maybe that’s the point, that you get what you pay for.

I’ve had mine in .5mm (you’ll see a personal preference for fine nibs across the board) for a few weeks now. I have yet to attempt a reloading, but using the pencil to deliver notes on screenplays for no other reason than Just Because, I’ve gotten a generally smooth flow of words where nothing catches on the page.

Part of that smoothness must come from the fact that driven by wanting to save my elbow as long as possible, I put grips on everything or buy wide barreled tools (see picture). The makers hit on a hexagonal barrel to keep the pencil from rolling on a drawing board, but it’s still a thin object.

I wanted to say that I’ve found the lead unbreakable. In my hands, I haven’t cracked the lead, yet. But, I lent the pencil to a friend and he cracked the lead. Did I magically learn the technique that prevents this? Don’t know. A good to great tool in a field of poor to mediocre competitors.

Pens. The variety here is endless. Among writers you’ll get all kinds of tribalism as to the – Best. Pen. Ever. Worse than Star Trek v. Star Wars nerd wars. Fountain pens. No information. Don’t use them. Don’t do calligraphy and my signature comes out the way it comes out using a ballpoint or gel pen.

Ballpoint pens. I’ve long since abandoned most of the disposables in the ballpoint field. Usually, it’s the thin barrel on those ubiquitous Bics and Papermates that we used in school once we finished those dreaded pencil-driven Scantron tests. And few of these pens come in the .5mm nib that I like.

For a long while, I would compulsively buy packs and packs of Pilot G2 (see picture) pens that kind of count as sort of disposable even though you can unscrew the tops and put in new cartridges. The grip is a good idea, but now contemplating them after many months not using them even these stalwarts might be too thin for someone totally paranoid about his elbow.

What I don’t remember using these many pens lurking in the bottom of the drawer is how long the cartridges last. I kept switching out pens for one exactly like it and never really paid attention to when the reservoir dried up. I do remember that I liked the feel. The nib didn’t catch and I didn’t have cause to complain.

I have so many pens in my desk drawer in part because I learned the get what you pay for lesson in ballpoints, a while ago. My sister gave me a Cross ballpoint pen (see pictures) maybe ten, twelve years ago for my birthday. I lost it. Promptly bought another one that looked exactly like it, so I didn’t have to face explaining the loss to her. And then found the first pen.

This started an obsession with Cross ballpoint pens. I have about eight, I think. They all look different, but are mechanically the same inside…twist left to reveal the nib. I buy the thick barreled ones for the same reasons I humorously put grips on everything else…my elbow. I did try a few of the thin barreled examples (Ow!) and left them in my desk, except the one that has a touchscreen stylus. I keep that one as the ink cartridge I cannibalize into other pens first when I run dry.

I would give these pens medium to good marks writing across the page in terms of smoothness and not catching. But, the real draw to these expensive (a range of $12-$35) tools seems to be the ink cartridge, especially in black. The ink paste can dry out requiring a test swipe outside the writing area to prime the ball. Once you do, the pen seems to go forever, until it doesn’t and I change it out for the one in the stylus pen.

I’ve written at least two and a half years or more of journals with these tools. I stopped counting how many half and three quarter filled spiral notebooks I’ve chewed up with these Cross ballpoint pens. I use them a lot…Nuff said. And what happened to those first two pens? Ironically, each pen developed quirks where one part would slip free despite supposed to grip tight, so I cannibalized both pens to make one pen that gripped the parts correctly. Another pen used to be blue, but the lacquer wore off and now is brass. I’ve also blocked out one pen to handle my rare Red Pen of Editorial Doom needs, though I’m less sold on Cross’ red cartridges.

You’d think I’d quit; I have my pen. But, helpful relatives will still give you stuff and you still have to look like you appreciate the gift. The most recent one, my brother gives me a pack of Tul gel pens (see picture). He swears that all of his friends and associates tend to sticky finger these into pockets and he can’t keep enough of them on his desk. Okay, give me a couple weeks, I’ll let you know.

I hadn’t really ever done gel pens in my writing past. The closest I’ve come are an equally expensive flirtation with various disposable rollerball pens that use the same general type of ink, but run it through a ballpoint nib. Gel and rollerball ink comes out wet so you can sometimes smudge the words. I get started adding grips to the barrel and…

I see why my brother and his friends like these Tul pens so much. Smooth writing made smoother with my grips. A smudge or two when my fingers get too close before the words dry. I grind out a lot of pages using nothing else. I discover exactly how long it takes for one pen, designed like a marker, to run dry…six weeks give or take.

I have to take a couple points away from this worthy pen because to look good in the hand they made the plastic barrel opaque. You have to look closely at the strip in the middle to see how much ink you have. Of course the words I wrote gave me fair warning becoming progressively thin, but I’m hyper-focused on a word spree. I didn’t notice until the ink went bone dry and I switched out for the second one.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the pens available to you, just what I use the most. Writers who get paid will free fall into the Consumer Reports article, about every 18 months or so. So with that the post is over. Go home!

A vampire? You decide kids…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Concerning Facebook, I seem to have quite a few Pacino moments – “every time I get out, they pull me back in!” The latest came in the form of a writer posting about wanting to write a vampire story and being stuck because of how large Twilight looms in our recent consciousness. My advice, I gave two variations of the same suggestion; develop a story independently of the vampire and then add it back in later.

My assertion backing up this advice: a vampire story is first and foremost a story that can be read and understood even without the bloodsucking. Yes, changes will occur the minute Elisabeth Bathory bathes in young virgin blood, but they will be minor compared to the core story. And, yes, I just validated all the writing manuals rooted in the Hero’s Journey, even the ones I barely tolerate. Part of the reason you can do things this way, a vampire used to be human, speaks dramatic dialogue and wants something he/she isn’t getting…a character, the same rules apply.

Let’s leave aside that the poster rolled over and splattered chum for a certain type of commenter waiting to pounce with variations of “read other vampire stories like Dracula,” or “simply do the opposite of Twilight.” Okay, read or at least see the movie is sort of helpful in the case of the Bram Stoker. Do the opposite of Twilight is less so, but I digress.

Okay, so the dark and lush tale of Vlad the Impaler all vamped out in his spooky castle high in the Wallachian mountains gets to be my first example. What is the story told without a single fang, bloody neck or bat framed by the full moon? It’s a creepy, obsessive love triangle turned ugly and stalker-iffic.

Mina Harker nee Murray travels with her husband Johnathan Harker in the Romanian backcountry that used to be called Wallachia. The dark roads and local superstitions serve to portend a dark but ultimately transformative narrative. Mister Harker intends to help a mysterious and reclusive count with estate matters. Despite the misgivings of the neighbors in the village at the bottom of the hill the couple contrives to spend the night at Castle Dracula.

The count becomes enamored of the young Mina recognizing qualities of his long dead wife. The initial stay becomes a highly charged knife dance for Mina’s hand. The count’s female hangers on or ex-wives move in on Mr. Harker as distraction. The count has limited success that goes as forward progress. The visit ends.

The count packs up his roadshow with his faithful servant and follows Mina to London to continue the pursuit. Mina’s best friend, Lucy dies at the hand of the count. Mina and Jonathan with the help of a knowledgeable expert turn the tables and track her stalker back to his home in Romania for a fateful conclusion where Mina chooses the man she wants.

Could you tell this story without anything vampiric? Yes. Abraham van Helsing becomes more of an alienist advising Mina on the ins and outs of obsession and the dark sexual urges popularized in the recent work of Sigmund Freud. Maybe you drop the character altogether. But, people actually using their library cards and streaming accounts would immediately go – “this sort seems like that Dracula movie.”

Are there other stories possible in the vampire genre that don’t get underfoot with Twilight? Yes. One of my personal favorites that I 80-percent guarantee you haven’t seen Razor Blade Smile has another take. The story of a female vampire assassin on a multi-decade mission to hunt down the members of a small offshoot of the Illuminati bent on word domination.

Okay, the actress is pretty, gets naked and spews all the pseudo-Cockney attitude of a character likely to show up in a Guy Ritchie film, but pay attention to the twist. The leader of the Illuminati group turns out to be the vampiress’ equally vampiric lover. All the humans killed in the middle were just callous sacrifices to the fact that living for centuries has a way of ruining the fun of sex. Violent role playing prior to renewing vows with monster sex.

If you aren’t thinking – “wow, are there ways to tell that story about a human billionaire and his bored wife setting in motion a violent set of events designed to renew their spark?” – you aren’t paying attention. Maybe the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey Part Five: Fifteen Years Later? Please, anyone? I can dream.

What was my actual advice? I used up a lot of paragraphs saying this writer should put aside the vampire for the moment and come up with a character that wants things from other characters likely to be resisted by the other characters…drama. The writer stays away from the vampire just long enough to figure out the story between all these characters writing either a non-bloodsucker trash draft or a serious outline. And then adds the vampire back in later.

Like the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich thought experiment to teach people to give precise directions, I said something that wasn’t fully explained in the previous sentence. I said they should read the trash draft or outline and decide who in that proto-story acted most like the vampires they wanted to present; that character is the vampire and everyone else are the humans.

What I didn’t say is that I felt sure that this writer waking up one day saying, “I’m going to write a vampire novel” would have their subconscious mind do the heavy lifting guiding one or more characters towards behaviors easily switched out for a vampire later in the process. My bad, even when we give incomplete directions the world still lands on edible PBJ sandwiches…most of the time.

Even reading this suggestion back I’m a little bored so let’s go nuts with my second suggestion to do the same thing, develop a story that can then be adjusted to vampires later. My second simpler suggestion, pick a story that doesn’t have vampires and rewrite it so that it does. Pay attention, this is where writers of posts like me expose our favorite books; I used Three Musketeers as one example.

Which of the many rich characters in Alexandre Dumas’ classic would most likely be revealed as a bloodsucker? And depending on the choices how does it change the story? Do we go with Milady De Winter, famously played by Faye Dunaway the only time I could stand watching the movie? Do we go with Cardinal Richelieu? Athos? Porthos? Aramis? Le Comte de Rochefort? Or even D’Artagnan?

Considering that Dumas sneaked two books into one serialized narrative we have choices. The first part, The Queen’s Diamonds, shows young D’Artagnan arriving in Paris with his father’s sword to make his way as a musketeer. The Gascon quickly makes friends with the three friends, falls in love with the Queen’s trusted handmaiden, Constance, and saves the Queen from the political and personal consequences of a rashly thought out affair.

The second section, Milady’s Revenge, starts two or three days later and Milady De Winter simply wants to wipe out D’Artagnan by all means expedient. Cardinal Richelieu lets out a big sigh and writes her a warrant making the impending violence legal, largely because the lady is good for all kinds of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. People die.

The cardinal revealed as the vampire in the new version turns the story into a metaphor about great players divorced from the rest of humanity by their position and perspective, or more than is already on the page. As always, I have few opinions about pitches until I see something on the page, but the great Christopher Lee (Rochefort in the Salkind production) did once quit playing Dracula in the Hammer movies when he saw a script where the vampire pretty much had become Dr. No. But, hey, good writing saves many silly pitches, we’ll see.

For those of us that paid attention reading the book, Milady De Winter is so obvious a choice to be nominated the vampire. Especially in the later revenge chapters she tries everything, poison, seduction, threats to Constance and hired assassins just to wipe out the uppity Gascon and his annoying musketeer friends. She will not lose.

The later chapters are already an awesome cat fight between women tied up too tight in whalebone corsets with D’Artagnan caught in the middle. Milady also needing to drink Constance’s blood? Wow! I’ll skip the other possibilities for space and repetitiveness and trust the reader will spark their own story engines.

Cool! I busted out 1,500 words suggesting a good way to get past this scene where a writer grips their head, “Twilight is such a huge thing that I don’t know what to do!” Develop a story that works without vampires and see where that takes you. It may help and sure is more constructive than the many repetitions of, “do the exact opposite of Twilight,” or “vampires don’t sparkle ever” in the feed. Though the people saying to read a wider set of vampire stories for ideas, I think are trying to get to the same place as me in fewer sentences.

With that this post is over, go home! Carry garlic with you…

By G.N. Jacobs

The boat horns of Lake Michigan gave way to the similar horns just offshore of Brighton Beach mixed with the last gasp of Coney Island trolling the tourists before going into half schedule for the winter. The clackity-clack of the Cyclone had always created a Pavlovian response for Peter even before he’d cornered MJ in the line for the kiss and clarity that defined their current relationship five years later. It was inevitable that their pooled wrestling and modeling money would go towards moving southward into the good neighborhoods near Long Island Sound.

Peter and MJ flopped on the green couch cuddled up in last year’s Ugly Christmas Sweaters that had almost the contest. Too many seconds had passed for the lovers to get immediately frisky as sometimes happened upon arriving home. Instead she slipped off her pumps that never went well with flying, but the traces of her ego forbade she should switch out for flats. Her feet landed in Peter’s lap.

He rubbed them down with the care and attention of a lecherous podiatrist listening to the noises coming from his de facto wife. She squeaked approvingly and then moaned but not in a way that would combat the exhaustion of the trip to Chicago. No sex tonight.

Peter didn’t care, using his silence while rubbing to review the memories of the Chicago trip. The pay-per-view, the third since joining up with Global Wrestling Entertainment, had gone well. The fans divided online between many camps – “Wow! I didn’t think GWE would have the Green Spider do the job like that!” – with sub-threads for – “Peter Parker certainly played up getting his ass kicked by Tarantula Hawk, why isn’t Hollywood offering action parts?” – but with a small few people commenting – “Really? The girl gets her arms yanked like a sexist wishbone and we’re supposed to give a crap?”

Peter closed the computer before having to read the replies to the feminist thread likely to include accusations that the feminists weren’t fans. And counter accusations of “misogynist trolls who wouldn’t know a real woman if we sat on your face.” MJ saw the weirdness in Peter’s face and waved for her to see the computer.

“Tiger, we chose to be this public,” MJ said. “We need to see what our fans are saying.”

“I’d rather just rub your feet and listen to the ambient noise over the water, Tootsie Pop,” Peter admitted. “I have to remind myself to mentally suggest to these fu…folks to frak themselves and the self-righteous horse they rode in on. It’s easier that way.”

MJ took the computer and read the threads. “Do both, Tiger.”

Peter resumed the foot rub. MJ giggled at both her boyfriend’s perfect touch and some of the goofiness transpiring online. Peter listened to the noises coming from her mouth. She was mostly amused.

“Well?” Peter asked when the foot rub naturally ended.

“I think I need chocolate, Tiger,” MJ declared. “It’s that kind of night for why we’re not…”

“I hear and obey, Tootsie Pop,” Peter said.

He found a box of assorted holiday gift chocolate, the kind where memorizing which pieces go in which traditional slot in the box determines whether nougat versus the dread cherry coconut. She nibbled and felt better immediately.

“I did sort of mean a little more by my ‘well’ than offering to get you chocolate on demand, MJ,” Peter said.

“I know,” MJ said. “It’s a normal day on social media. No one is creepier than they need to be. Nothing to report to Bruno and I’ve got real money on the whole feminist thread being a troll operation. The OP said ‘girl’ when a woke sister would always say ‘woman.’ Little things like that.”


“In the real world, Tiger, even the woke have slips of the tongue,” MJ said giving a laugh that tilted her head in such a way that a photograph just escaped her lover. “I see why you get so annoyed by all this, but it is the job to let them have their fantasies…until they get too dark.”

Peter nodded and brought her closer to him on the couch putting her head in its comfortable spot over his sternum. They pantomimed a few what next scenarios, including him teasing her with the TV remote as if phase two of getting her past not feeling exactly right included letting her pick the Rom-Com. She waved him off preferring to listen to his 80bpm resting heart rate through the ugly sweater.

“The social media stuff and foot rub interrupted what you’re really thinking,” MJ said. “What was your trip to Chicago like?”

“You were there for most of it,” Peter said rolling his eyes where she couldn’t see.

“You watched me dance with some guy that wasn’t acting his attraction to me,” MJ said.

Peter remembered…

Take Forty. The ballplayer character had his forbidden love in a tango while the cameras rolled. Peter tried to busy himself with emails and texts concerning the simmering labor dispute between management and writers at Global Wrestling Entertainment. Silencing every button click on the phone and sitting at least twenty feet away at the craft service table had been the minimum acceptable solution vis a vie the determined young lady with the radio, a Second Assistant Director her orange vest said.

By Take Fifty, Peter took in MJ’s hip sway while held firmly at the waist during the dance that didn’t end. He wondered about how the tango sequence, a planned forty seconds out of six minutes of music video had seemingly expanded. Or at least exposed the possibly fake perfectionism of Calvin.

“Let’s go again,” Calvin said.

Take Sixty. MJ found her own ways to subtly tweak the dance to her own ends, like finding a camera setup where blowing a kiss to her onscreen forbidden love really meant blowing a kiss to Peter exiled to the table with the donuts, chips and carrot sticks drowned in hummus. She noted that her Tiger used the phone to display far more willpower sitting next to the snacks than most people would.

“Let’s go again,” MJ said.

Take Seventy. The underlying contest of will between an actress that already had her domestic brass ring and a smooth operator fishing new waters came to head. Calvin’s leg muscles broke before hers and…

“Cut! Print! That’s our martini and a wrap!”

“You were jealous, weren’t you, Tigger?” MJ asked.

“No, why?” Peter asked not covering the lie. “Isn’t he, like, gay or something?”

MJ playfully swatted Peter’s chest. “I spoke with the girl from his previous video. She thinks he’s Bi. And I think you guessed that.”

Peter stroked her arm and back. “Maybe. I don’t know. I did spend more time trying to imagine me holding you like that.”

“You already do, Tigger,” MJ said. “But, it’s a nice thing to say.”

“He also hit me up for inside tidbits about wrestling,” Peter said. “Probably wants to do wrestling themed video sometime down the road. Have me back as consultant and you as the love interest again, see if we’ve blown up our thing…”

“I knew you noticed!” MJ said amused. “Thank you for telling me a little bit about how you saw our trip to Chicago. Though you’ve adroitly dodged the other part of the question…”

Peter sighed reaching for his cell phone to tap a button on the smart home management app.

Across the street towards the City, two steel beetles alighted on fenceposts at opposite ends of the neighbor’s property. Mechanical irises opened adjusting to the light balance of the street lit by orange streetlights. Lasers aimed at the front windows of the Parker-Watson house caught every gooey, mushy word of a couple debriefing after a trip to the Windy City. Until the white noise generator kicked in creating static in place of the mildly entertaining soap opera.

By G.N. Jacobs

With the tenth cell phone flash blasting in her eyes, Selina learned why certain Hollywood celebrities had become famous for wearing sunglasses indoors. Alfred noticed her discomfort and found a nice set with indoor/outdoor polarization that mostly matched the dress and borrowed handbag. She kissed the fatherly man on the cheek for being the sort of man to think ten chess moves ahead. She would ask if someone had built inter-dimensional pockets into the gray three-piece suit.

FLASH! BWEE! Things got even more blindingly serious now that the photographers that could afford digital SLRs and high power light bars shouldered their way to the edge of the red carpet. Angling the flash to prevent red eye only slightly helped Selina’s flash blindness. And the recharging tone…FLASH! BWEEE!

“Ms. Kyle!”

Selina blew past this reporter expressing a grim set to her jaw. FLASH! BWEE! FLASH! FLASH!

“Mrs. Wayne!”

This one got a turned head.

“What did you wear to your…”

“White,” Selina said with a smile that covered the curtness.

“Where is…”

“Home with a busted leg from the ski trip,” Selina answered. “Playing first person shooters, like every other teenager home sick.”

The next reporter, a young stringer wearing a HALO 4 T-shirt under her big girl black coat, pinched somebody’s arm to ask – “which ones?” Selina chuckled a bit and pointed respectfully to the young lady and launched into five minutes on the many varieties of first person shooter. The reporter seemed about to ask if Selina played herself as her spiel suggested, but the needs to know more about her purple dress pushed the reporter aside.

The flashes receded as soon as the guest sat for the expensive but ultimately indifferently cooked Chicken Marsala. Selina sipped the disappointing chardonnay and tried to pretend the people at her table weren’t boring. And then she stood up to speak in place of Bruce retelling his jokes about music lessons adroitly sidestepping the social climbing elephant in the room.

Upon hearing that the professional auctioneer had wrapped his Uber around a telephone pole just a few blocks away, Selina kept the microphone and played up her inner auctioneer. Surprisingly, the swag offered by the rest of Gotham’s one-percenters and a few of the ten-percenters there as plus ones proved interesting. She watched faces and guessed that even among people who would never starve before the complete destruction of the American economy that covetousness ruled the day. Yes, they could buy another item like it, but they wanted the one on the block.

Through it all, Selina couldn’t hide the shivers at the podium. The reporters noticed and commented in their copy attributing it to her first time speaking and trying to save the dinner and auction. She wouldn’t tell anyone about her hidden past conflicting with the stormy present, where she typically attended such things in her alter ego as Catwoman…and usually robbed the place blind. Still, it made for jumpy nerves barely contained by the wine expecting someone else to visit.

The ride back to the manor made use of a sweet spot in the traffic out to the Gotham Heights exurbs where the one percent had built stately manors with impressive views of the city and sea…and soaked up all the winter sun possible in these climes. Alfred shifted the mirror to look at his de facto daughter in law still radiant in her purple. Selina smiled but still searched the sparse vehicle lights on the highway looking for some kind of meaning that wouldn’t translate into conversation.

“Holy Hell, Alfred!” Selina said breathing out explosively. “I thought I knew what…”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Alfred said.

“Ma’am? I’m too young.”

“But very married, Ma’am.”

“Funny,” Selina replied. “I thought I knew about all this watching Bruce work. And he delegated where he could, I see that now.”

“Proof that wearing the shoes is still different from standing next to the person that does, Ma’am,” Alfred said. “It will be a small part of your overall adjustment from Ms. Kyle to Mrs. Wayne or variation of the above.”

“I thought I knew that too, Alfred,” Selina said.

“Yes and no, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said evenly as he made a lane change. “Your marriage has been twenty years coming. You’ve kissed and flirted but you never got to do normal relationship things like go to prom or chat at the keg at university. The two of you know more about your costumed personas than you do the people inside. That too will take time.”

“I suppose,” Selina said.

“Which brings us diagonally to the nerves you displayed handling the auction,” Alfred probed. “It seemed more than doing something unplanned to save the evening.”

“I kept expecting certain people to show up,” Selina admitted. “Like the old days.”

Alfred whistled his appreciation. “Ms. Selina that is a rare problem. Though for most of your…old friends I think the preponderance of zircons and the handling of the proceeds by check, credit card and cell phone data kept most of them away.”

“It’s the guys that would show up for the chaos of it all while bringing card rippers sewn into wait staff coats that worry me,” Selina said curling up lips. “The jerkoffs that would always go too far and then I typically burned them.”

“I noticed that over the years, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said. “You’re a lady and my daughter for all intents and purposes so I won’t ask.”


“Yes, in all the ways that matter.”

“How sweet,” Selina said. “Please tell me there’s at least the glimmer of a middle-aged possible Mrs. Pennyworth. You’re wasted on just being Bruce’s batman.”

“Now, who’s being kind?”

“Anyway, you didn’t want to ask and I thank you,” Selina said. “The answer is that I teased my old friends with not being a lady on just enough occasions to get them to chill out. That and throwing certain other loot their way to say sorry goes a long way.”

“And now that you’ve overtly changed sides…ish to stand up for the downtrodden?”

“I think they’d show up to any event I’m in a nice dress playing society wife, just to see me cry,” Selina said shivering at the thought. “Bringing us full circle to the deal at the podium.”

“You have more resources now, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said. “It is good to be Queen of Gotham.”

“So it seems.”

“And as a personal aside, your work on the fourth rubber chicken event you helped liven up always struck me as your most artistic work,” Alfred added.

“Nice thing to say,” Selina said. “Now get us home, please. I have lots of zombies to slay with Bruce.”

The limo proved easy to follow on the nearly empty highway out to the Heights. The black stretch moved rapidly at the sweet spot between the speed to get home and the probable tolerance of the Gotham City Police Department. A small drone kept the car squarely in view, just in case.

Burt West tried to remember things as he drove. Was he really Burt West? Who was Edison? Both people seemed to like movies to the exclusion of everything else and following the fashionable lady with a husband home with a broken leg scratched an itch called Rear Window. The problem was that nothing about the Wayne Manor lent itself to voyeurism upon the neighbors. Tomorrow’s problem, he thought making a lane change to be less obvious about the tail.