fiction

"Fringe Benefits" by Jamé McCraw

One Saturday this past spring, four Channing University students went to a garage sale across town in search of odds and ends for their shared, four-bedroom home, and above all, a new couch. What the roommates discovered on this outing was more than they could have dreamed of.

"We usually just pick something up from the curb and swap it out for new pieces when we find something better," Jen Crawford said. "But this last time, the loveseat my boyfriend, David, brought home was infested with fleas. We had to convince the landlord to fumigate the place.” 

David Mankin tells a different story.

“Whether it was the couch or not that brought in the fleas is up for debate," Mankin said. "Our roommate, Jefferson, is always finding kittens. It’s like, dude, stop bringing home strays!”

Jefferson Pendleton had this to say. 

“What can I say? I love little furballs and they love me. I have only actually found two kittens since I moved into this house. Neither of them had fleas," Pendleton said. "I do not want to get in the middle of a lover’s dispute, but I absolutely think the loveseat brought the fleas in. He found it on Avenue G. I lived in an apartment on Avenue G when I was a freshman. The rent was like $300 a month. You pay for what you get. I got bedbugs. I’m surprised the loveseat didn't have roaches as well.”

The fourth roommate, Sara Conor, was in the kitchen rolling out dough on a floured surface.

“I’m making a 'peace' pie," Conor said. "There has been so much tension in the house.”

The petite, ethnomusicology major took a moment to show off her garden where Pendleton’s two cats, Piccolo and Diamante, were chasing butterflies. She was wearing a suede leather jacket with fringes along the sleeves and two tiers of fringes across the back.

“So, you’ve seen the jacket, now,” Mankin said as he entered the garden.

He is about a foot taller than Conor and has broad shoulders and thick arms. Conor removed the jacket.

“Check this crap out,” Mankin said.

He puts the jacket on and it somehow fits over his proportions and is just as flattering as it is on the waifish gardener.

I had heard of magical shared garments before from the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but I always took it to be fiction. When these four friends walked up the driveway on Sycamore Street they found what Pendleton referred to as “a halfway decent macaroni pot” and a lumpy beige and emerald floral print couch large enough for the four of them to sit on during “epic evenings of Mario Kart.”

Conor and Crawford dug around through piles of clothing lain across a large crinkled blue tarp on the lawn. As they ladies tell it, the homeowners had no memory of ever owning the jacket and only charged three dollars for it. It was found beneath a stack of neatly folded vacation t-shirts in child and adult sizes.

“I like garage sales for this reason,” Crawford said. “You can tell so much about a family. They must have gone to St. Pete beach in Florida at least three different times. You can tell by the different fads featured in the designs. A few of the shirts feature little smiley faces and reference the Macarena.”

“Jen is a totally excellent detective of humanity," Conor said. "She is the most intuitive person I know.”

It is at this point, Conor is serving up the “peace pie” to her roommates. Pendleton is now wearing the jacket. He is lanky and well over six feet tall. The jacket is still flattering, and I am absolutely baffled. I ask them if any other items they scored that spring Saturday have had any mystical properties.

“I’ll tell you what, that pot cooks the best damn macaroni. But it could also be the switch from store-brand to Kraft,” Pendleton said. “Terminator over here had a successful cuddle session on a date recently. They fell asleep watching Kundun on the new couch. She had the jacket on that night.”

“He calls me Terminator. Like Sarah Connor,” Conor said. “ I keep telling him ‘One n. No h.’ He never listens.”

She goes on to explain that the 1997 film Kundun about the young Dalai Lama is her litmus test for a potential life partner.

“Everyone falls asleep during this movie for some reason, which is OK," Conor said. "I’m game for a platonic snuggle now and again. But I truly believe my soul mate will stay awake until the end.”

Mankin is washing the dishes while Crawford dries. Pendleton has his Diamante on his lap, batting at the fringes of the suede jacket. The mood in the room after Conor’s “peace pie” is calm and contemplative. It seems the magic is not so much in article of clothing with a complementary fit for the diverse friend group, but in the bonds of the companions themselves sharing a home cooked treat and being thankful for each other. 

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

Book Review: "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" by B.J. Novak

B.J. Novak This past August, I set out on a quest: to watch every single episode of The Office, in order, from Season One through Season Nine. It’s been a great journey, and today is a bittersweet day. I have just one episode left—the finale—and I do not want this hilariously witty show to end. It’s rather ironic then, or perhaps it’s kismet, that today happens to also be the day that I’m reviewing One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak—an actor, writer, director, and executive producer of The Office.

I have to admit, One More Thing started out a bit differently than I expected. This 276-page book of short stories, which range in length from as little as two lines to as long as 20 pages, opens on a rather dark note—something I wasn’t quite expecting from this Office writer. Themes of gloomy failure, death, and disappointment color the beginning tales—it’s a little off-putting. The stories are funny, yes, but there is something about them that just seems…off; that seems unsettling, frustrating, and uncomfortable. They’re uncanny.

One More ThingAs I tried to pinpoint what exactly made me feel this way, I looked to the vignettes’ subject matter. Each story contains wildly imaginative and weird parameters. For instance, the book’s title is derived from the story “Sophia,” which features a scorned sex robot. Some are a bit abrasive, too, such as the one entitled, “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” and “The Ghost of Mark Twain,” which features an English teacher addressing the use of a certain word in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (said word is sprinkled throughout the story.) Others were just so odd that I had the feeling there was a bigger meaning to the text that I simply wasn’t getting; as an English major and a lover of symbolism, being unable to decipher Novak’s message was infuriating. At one point, I almost put down the book for good without finishing. It was simply too weird, too uncanny, for me to go on.

However, when I reached the story “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster,” my feelings changed. This story takes the cliché, “Life is a roller coaster,” and turns it on its head by imagining that a man creates a roller coaster that takes its riders literally through life—through loops of love, break-up, and divorce, through the college years and marriage and death. It’s a beautifully written story with a really cool concept. That’s when it clicked for me—throughout the book, Novak’s overarching theme is life itself. Realizing this, I flipped through the past stories with new eyes, taking them in now with a fresh understanding. Novak’s humor is dark and absurdist, but isn’t that life?

Finishing out the book was a real treat. I loved seeing Novak poke fun at other clichés. For instance, “If I Had A Nickel” works out the business theory and economics involved in receiving a five-cent payment for each time a cup of coffee is spilled, and “Great Writers Steal” features two aspiring writers turned burglars. Other stories creatively reimagine the invention of the calendar or the origin of “Confucius Say.” Novak takes clichés and accepted folklore and popular objects or emotions and re-imagines them—flips them on their heads until they’re almost unrecognizable. While yes, this leaves readers with an uncanny feeling, it also gives readers a fulfilling sense of taking in life in a new way—with a new perspective and a mind opened to infinite possibilities.

Novak’s writing is clear and refreshing, dark and imaginative, and wonderfully funny. I’d recommend this book to lovers of short fiction who don’t mind boundaries being pushed. And, even if it seems slightly uncomfortable at first, I urge you to read it through to the end—it will be well worth your while.

Chelsea is a graduate of the DCH Training Center. She is obsessed with music of the 60s & 70s and her vices include vanilla lattes and Swedish Fish. You can check out more of Chelsea’s thoughts and ponderings HERE!

Sports Fan Fiction: Tony Romo in the Bushes

Welcome to Sports Fan Fiction, a weekly showcase of fake stories involving the real athletes and decision makers of the Dallas sports scene. Last week: The Dallas Cowboys enjoyed a much needed bye week after the return of quarterback Tony Romo propelled them past the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-17. At 7-3, the team has far exceeded expectations and would even qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. Riding high on the success of this season, here is a fake account of how Tony Romo spent his bye week.

Whataburger

Tuesday 11.11.14 [10:58 pm] The dinner rush at Frisco’s fourth oldest Whataburger had long since subsided as the evening shift continued their long night’s journey into day. Expecting a rush before the dining room closes, the restaurant manager decided to deploy both cashiers. Suddenly, a shadowy figure worked his way through the cluster of glass doors approached the register.

“Sir, welcome to WhataBurger. I can take your order over here.”

“No thank you,” replied a grim Tony Romo. “I need to talk to the other guy. I’ve been waiting for this.”

“Sir, I…” pleaded the secondary cashier.

“No, thank you.”

The patron in front of Romo completed her order and the Eastern Illinois product was finally face to face to with his target.

“Hello sir, welcome to-YOU’RE TONY ROMO. WHAT?!?” Befuddled, the young cashier stared up at the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. There was no doubt it was Romo, a matter confirmed by the fact that he was still dressed in his grass-stained uniform from the previous game. “Mr. Romo, I’m a huge fan…”

“Can it Jake, or should I say, can it TroyAikybreakyheartman1997?”

“What?” replied a confused Jake.

“Oh yes, I know about your message board posts,” continued Romo, as he confidently paced back and forth in front of the register. “Don’t you remember all the times you tried to talk trash about my team this summer? Questioning my play in the fourth quarter, talking about how I’d never make it to the playoffs again”

“Tony—”

“Do not interrupt me!” Romo gathered himself before delivering the final accusation. “You even told your friends...that Jerry Jones...should’ve drafted...Johnny Manziel.” The quarterback was fighting back tears at this point.

Jake’s mind was scattered. He searched himself for the next thing to say to get out of the situation. “So would you like to try your Monterrey Melt burger?”

“No!” Romo slammed his fist on the laminate counter to drive his words home. “What I want is for you to apologize to me. After everything that you’ve said about me, it’s the least you can do.”

“I’m sorry,” the cashier nonchalantly said.

“Now tell me I’m a good quarterback,” Romo growled.

“Look Mr. Romo, there’s a huge line building up behind you—”

“Tell me I’m a good quarterback.” The demand was met with silence, so Romo leaned onto the counter before repeating himself. “I said, tell me I’m a good quarterback.”

“You’re a good quarterback,” the cashier mumbled. The rest of the Whataburger staff gathered around and chuckled at their embarrassed co-worker.

“What was that?” Tony Romo asked with a sheepish grin.

The cashier looked up at the quarterback, eyes full of pain. “You’re a good quarterback.”

“Louder!”

“You’re a good quarterback!”

“LOUDER!”

“YOU’RE A GOOD QUARTERBACK. YOU’RE A GOOD QUARTERBACK. YOU’RE A GOOD QUARTERBACK.” The cashier collapsed onto the counter as the situation had exhausted him to his core.

Tony Romo turned away from the cash register and pulled out a small, leather-bound book from his No. 9 jersey. He opened it up and crossed out the name Jake Witherspoon. Romo looked up as he exited the building, his face weathered by the long journey thus far. There had been many fans that doubted him over the year,s and he wasn't going to rest until each and every one of them paid their respects.

So this bye week, if you hear a rustling in the bushes, it might be nothing. But it also might be Tony Romo, hunting you down to collect his apology.

Tony Romo

 

David Allison is a 2011 graduate of the Dallas Comedy House conservatory, has been improvising and teaching in the DFW area since 2003.

(photo credit: Kaoru-h via photopin cc)

(photo credit: arellis49 via photopin cc)

What We're Loving: Factoid Scavenging, Angels With Dirty Mouths, Vague Wedding Memories, Old Books Made New

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison learns, Jonda Robinson professes, Amanda Hahn sways, and Ryan Callahan loves.  imgresThis week, I'm loving another Podcast.  I know that I probably recommend more of these than anyone, but that's because I really feel like the medium has grown so much over the last few years and is genuinely a legitimate source of entertainment now.  No longer are Podcasts just something that your friend does and no one listens to (Though that still happens sometimes).  Today,there are many examples of smaller podcasts that are really creating some amazing things.

My favorite of the week is called No Such Thing as a Fish and it's created by the QI Elves.  I've long been a fan of the BBC program QI (Which stands for Quite Interesting), a hilarious show that has been providing fascinating factoids for eleven seasons now.  And while No Such Thing as a Fish isn't hosted by the incomparable Stephen Fry, it's still a great listen.  Each episode tackles a different genre of knowledge and you learn a ton of random things, like Ghanaian coffins or how the Battle of Hastings was in Battle, not Hastings.  If you enjoy the tv program QI or you just enjoy broadening your horizons, I'd definitely give the Podcast a shot.  Bonus!  They just completed a run of episodes centered around the World Cup.  Each installment would pit two countries against each other, the hosts would scavenge for the most fascinating tidbits they could find, and at the end, a winning country was chosen. Double bonus, none of the facts were about soccer.  Or futbol.  - David Allison

imagesThis week, I’m professing my love for Amy Schumer. My mom refers to her as “that girl with the angelic face who says really dirty things,” and if you’re familiar with her stand-up or Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, then you know that description is pretty accurate. I first stumbled upon her in 2007 when she was a contestant on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and I felt a connection with her girl-next-door looks. While on the surface her humor can sometimes appear to be crass, at its core it’s always smart, and it demonstrates that Schumer has a good grasp on the big picture of what it’s like to navigate the world, especially as a woman.

From the beginning, I was in “like” with Amy. I appreciated her wit, admired her boldness, and wanted to be friends with her (I imagined us getting pedicures while sipping champagne and discussing the complexities of dating, with her saying something like “It’s 2014, you know! You’d think we’d have come up with a better system by now!”). Falling in love with her was something that happened for me during the second season of Inside Amy Schumer, as she, along with her brilliant writers, avoided the sophomore slump by taking things up a notch and leaving viewers asking “Whoa--did she really just go there?” One of my favorite examples of this is her sketch “A Very Realistic Military Game,” which does an excellent job of presenting a hot button issue in a lighthearted way, forcing you to think about the bigger idea.

I’m super excited that Amy is bringing her comedic stylings to Dallas this November, just in time for my birthday. Fingers crossed I can come up with a plan to make my champagne-and-pedicure dreams come true while she’s in town. - Jonda Robinson

Last weekend, I went to the Dominican Republic for my cousin’s wedding. Dominican weddings aren’t very different from Catholic, American ones. The wedding occurs in a church, then there’s a mass, followed by a reception. Typical. But receptions at Latin American weddings are not like the typical Catholic, American ones. Dancing starts immediately and continues all night. The bride and groom stick around for the whole reception. Colored lights are everywhere. Sometimes rappers show up. Sometimes the DJ hops onto the dance floor. Sometimes there’s a giant cake surrounded by spotlights. Sometimes Go Pros on helicopters fly past your head. And every single time, it’s a blast. The most energy filled part of the night is La Hora Loca, or The Crazy Hour. Music picks up, and people pass out hats, masks, glasses, disco ball necklaces, and shots. Lots of shots. I wish I could say more about La Hora Loca, but I can’t. Because I don’t remember much of that or the rest of the night. Because I made great use of the Brugal rum at the open bar and excellent use of the shots being passed out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n-O6qtt9c0&feature=youtu.be

I have a vague memory of dancing while someone rapped and suddenly realizing that I had never seen a live rapper at a wedding, and this was a something new I should be paying attention to. I found out later that the Dominican rapper, Mozart La Para was the performer. Just right there. Rapping away. I also found out later that we left the reception at around 4:30 or 5 am, and my 80-something year old grandma with a recently broken knee had partied all night along with everyone else. I’m so proud of her. I’m so proud to be Dominican. I’m not proud of this video of the wedding/me doing whatever the heck I’m doing, but feel free to watch and enter the wedding along with me. Bienvenidos a la Republica Dominicana. And farewell to my sound state of mind. - Amanda Hahn

NYRB CLASSICSBy now it should be no secret that I love books. Old books, new books, used books, fresh books - I love them all. I love the way they feel in my hands. I love the way they look on my shelves. I love they way they rest on my chest when I take a nap. But my favorite books of all come from the New York Review Books Classic series. NYRB Classics offers an eclectic selection of books from around the world, most of which have been long out of print. The books are re-released with new art, and some kind of cover stock  that seems to have been lowered from Asgard. I cannot describe the way the books feel in my hands other than to say perfectly.

I was first made aware of NYRB Classics in an essay by Roger Ebert. In praise of the works of Georges Simenon, the French master of the roman dur, Ebert mentioned reading a recent NYRB Classics reissue. Now that I was aware of Simenon's existence, I had to go out and buy his books. That is how my brain works. After reading Red Lights, a nasty little tale of a road trip gone wrong, I discovered, in the back of the book, a list of all the available NYRB Classics. Now I had to get all of them. At the time I lived in New York. My local used book store, Mast Books on Avenue A, carried an impressive selection of NYRB Classics. I picked up everyone I could.

This wonderful series has introduced me to so many new books that I never would have discovered ob my own: Max Beerbohm's Seven Men, a wistful and witty series of fictional biographies, Kingsley Amis' bitter and funny Lucky Jim, which became one of my favorites novels the moment I finished, Felix Feneon's Novels in Three Lines, true stories of crime and corruption told in three lines with prose carved out of stone, Dwight Macdonald's Masscult and Midcult, a collection of essays from the 50's and 60's so prescient and incisive they could have been written last week, Robert Sheckley's Store of the Worlds, sharp little science fiction tales so smart and weird and human.

These days, I have my NYRB Classics delivered. Each Christmas my aunt enrolls me in the NYRB Classics book club. Each month, a new book arrives in the mail. This week's selection is The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, another master of French crime. Last week it was a collection of Montaigne's essays. Next month the selection is a World War I memoir. If you are a book lover, or you know a book lover, I cannot recommend NYRB Classics enough. Your favorite book is out there waiting for you, and you don't even know it yet. - Ryan Callahan