Saturday, June 10, 2017

Be Our Guest
By DJ Hazard
(It might have been happening in 1998. It might be happening now.)

“Will everybody please  Quiet Down!”
I had to lose my cool, but it worked. Each year there were more people in the Operations Room. The new ones were always the noisiest, chattering away like nervous chickens. The momentary pause was my cue to jump in before their attention broke down again.
“For those new people coming on board, let me introduce myself. I’m Travis, Head of Operations here at Intermediate Imagineering, and I’d like to welcome you all to the Big Room.”
Some mumbles greeted me in return. They were more interested in what else I had to say and I couldn’t blame them. Within the next hour, their lives will change forever and they will be carrying around a secret that would drive most John Q. Publics to hysteria. A secret that they’ll have to keep to themselves when they return to their families and the rest of the Greater Orlando Suburban homes.
“You know you’ve been selected for a very special project, a project that stems from this room and has been in operation for,” I paused for effect, “just about thirty years, now.”
I checked the clock on the board behind me. Five minutes left. The wall-sized video screen beyond the podium console was still snowy with static, the volume turned down to avoid the hiss.
As I started telling the story for the umpteenth annual time, the senior techs began busying themselves with their clipboards and workstations.
The ‘Big Room’ was a rounded off square with each of the four sides bulging outward in a slight concave surface.  The big screen behind me was duplicated on each of the other walls. My console was replaced on the three other sides with slightly larger units, all with dense arrays of touchpads and readouts. I kept an eye on the other men and women working on them as I continued, looking for signs of any unexpected glitches.
As instructed when they first entered, no new team members stood on the ten foot wide circular dais in the center of the room. A reverse image structure hung from the ceiling above it.
“Since you new folks don’t all work in the same departments, you might be unaware of a few things you all have in common. First of all, you’ve all been members of our family for at least ten years. During that time, you’ve been scrutinized and tested in ways above and beyond your periodic evaluations.”
As always, THAT prompted an intense but motionless and nonverbal response, as if total silence could possibly increase several increments. Eyes never strayed from my direction, but every new recruit tried to give their colleagues the once-over with their peripheral vision.
I didn’t let them stew for long.
“That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, over the last decade each one of you fed was at least five false industrial secrets, tailored to your specific areas of expertise. In addition, you may or may not know that you’ve been approached several times and, to different degrees, tempted by others secretly in our employ to ‘let the mouse out of the bag’.
A few chuckles. The catch phrase was shop talk for divulging  sensitive information. Design and Development, the Motion Picture and Video Divisions, even General Theme Park Operations were all fodder for what could be lucrative espionage.
“Of course,” I continued, “We’ve all been drilled by genuine JQPs. They always want to know what it’s like behind the scenes here. But, in controlled incidents, you’ve each made the grade in the preservation of classified material. Your psych profiles are above average. Your personal activities and your overall conduct ratings are exemplary.”
I glanced over my shoulder again. Ninety seconds to go. The door at the far end, the only entrance, opened and the smiling faces of leadership entered.
“Folks, I turn you over to Michael.”
Michael. We were all on a first name basis in the Big Room.
He crossed the room, shaking hands with those closest to his path, until he reached the control station that I had vacated for him. He turned and nodded cordially to all seventy five of us, flanked by the other top officers that always attended.
“Folks, it’s great to see you,” another pause for effect, “and a great big welcome to you Big Room virgins!”
More chuckles. Michael can play a room with the best of them.
“I’m sure Travis has brought you up to speed,” he shot me a quick wink.
“The rest of the story, the reason why you’re here, the big picture, so to speak, will be made clear,” he glanced at the console, “in just a matter of seconds.”
A low pitched beeping followed. Ten seconds to go. "Please situate yourselves in one of the four blue areas marked on the floor. You will be briefed in detail immediately after the transmission.”
The floor of the Big Room was divided into four blue pie slices, quartered by four slim gray pathways that connected each wall screen to the central dais.
Michael stepped from the control station to the point of the pie slice on his immediate left, facing the dais. The ambient lighting lowered to near darkness and the low beeping was replaced with an upwardly modulating cricket sound. Tell-tales on the controls panels danced furiously and the four large screens began to glow a startling shade of cobalt.
As the cricket chirps crescendoed to an almost unbearable peak, the cobalt blue light burst from the screens, converging at the center of the room. A ghost like cylinder of blue light formed, reaching from the dais to its corresponding overhead structure.
The cricket sounds subsided, the low beeping returned and a figure formed in the cylinder of light. As the figure completely congealed, the expected gasps of the newcomers could be heard.
The grandfatherly face, then swept back salt and pepper hair, the twinkling eyes behind the heavy lids and crow’s feet… the Old Man still looked pretty good.
Michael stepped closer to the perimeter of the light cylinder, “Hi, Walt. How’s it going?”
“Well, just fine, Michael!”
The figure, hands tucked in the pockets of his stretched-out cardigan, turned to include his audience.
“Good evening, everybody, Christmas shopping done yet?”
Those with a couple of visitations under their belts answered back with polite one word attempts at small talk.
Walt listened listened to these attempts with what appeared to be genuine appreciation of his staff and suddenly interjected, “Lots of new faces this year! Don’t worry, gang, I’m not a ghost! I’m alive and well and, thanks to my gracious hosts, living and speaking to you from another part of the galaxy.”
A dozen faces in the soft blue wash searched my eyes for confirmation that this wasn’t some sort of surprise party prank.
Walt went on.
“Yep, I’m the first fella since Mark Twain to be able to brag about the exaggerations of my demise, thanks to the timely intervention by ‘The Friends” back in ‘66. ‘The Friends’, that’s what they call themselves. Just like the Lakota. Well, they had their reasons, sure, and that’s why we get to meet like this.”
It all started in mid-December, 1966, when Walt inexplicably vanished from Intensive Care. We didn’t have spin doctors back then. We just did the best we could, and the rumors went rampant.
Several months later, the Lincoln Audioanimatron (which had been in mothballs since the ‘64-’65 World’s Fair) started talking on its own, with or without a power source.
The Hall of Presidents storage facility became a high security area and our  best people were called in to observe. In a non-stop sixty three hour monologue, the simulacrum of the sixteenth president provided very detailed instructions for the construction and circuitry of what is now the Big Room.
In the last weeks of 1967, exactly one year to the day of Walt’s disappearance, the Big Room suddenly activated itself and our number one missing person appeared to us for the first time.
Walt turned back to Michael.
“Well, let’s get down to business! We got the upload of the latest piece, The Hunchback. Loved it! The Friends said it was right up there with Beauty and the Beast as far as desensitizing the JQPs to outwardly harsh appearances. The same with the genie in Aladdin. It’s going to be very important that seemingly omnipotent beings are looked at as adorable. After all, the kind of stuff you folks pull off now would have scared the willies out of the cowboys, heh? Don’t let that Williams kid slip through your fingers again.”
He started slowly directing his attention in another three sixty degree sweep.
“Now, listen up everybody! We’ve got new business to attend to. You all did a fine job on Pocahontas. It was exactly what we were looking for, a way to smooth over all that ugliness that was popping up about the Pilgrims and Columbus and such. Sure, all those protestors have a very valid point, but we have very little time left. There’s no room right now for any reminders of badly handled culture clashes in the past. Paranoia and Xenophobia are the last things we want. That’s why The Friends put an end to the Cold War. So, here’s your next assignment. This has got to be off the drawing boards and in the theaters by the year 2000.”
He took his hands out of his pockets and spread them across an imaginary easel.
“A full blown, cuddly, lovable song and dance version of War of the Worlds!”
He turned back to Michael.
“I’ll be back, same time next year, for a progress report. Gotta go! Keep up the great work, everybody!”
He flickered out of sight, like a white dot on a television. The blue cylinder, along with the beams from the screens, faded as the room lights returned. The newest members were asked to stay behind for an orientation session.
The rest of us broke for a quick lunch before we returned to our departments.
And then off to work we went.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

One of my favorite writing teachers, Julie Thacker, would use various methods to stir up the creative potential in her class.  There were long term, short term and extremely short term assignments. She would sometimes pass out prints of classic paintings and give us fifteen minutes to absorb our impression and translate it into a very short story. I was lucky to get this work by Magritte. 
Thanks, Julie. Thanks, Rene.

Tabula Rasa
by  DJ Hazard
She was exhausted to numbness, an empty slate with the few remaining smudges of her determination. 
Her children huddled close. She looked down periodically, slowing their progress long enough only to see them respond to her nudges. She had heard songs of other mothers arriving, only then to see that their children had not survived. This would not happen.
Her children were too tired and hungry now to voice their discomfort. For they, too, were blank slates, splashed only by the colors of their mother's voice.
"Keep moving, children, we must keep moving." 
The darkness seemed endless. Phantom sensations tried to discourage her single-mindedness.
Each thrust produced the cruel laughter of the distance yet to be traveled and the darkness tasted like the bitter tears of defeat.
She had heard other songs of yet other mothers who had left their young where they slept in exchange for a faster journey. She pulled her children closer, lest they be chilled by such a bad thought. She would not be one of those.
She looked upon them once more, to be sure of their breath. 
On an empty slate, far from the light, the need to be home and the need to take them there were the last remaining brushstrokes.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Skin Deep
people deserve closure, even if it's 2005 on Yahoo Singles
by DJ Hazard

I've been on this thing for two weeks and nobody I've contacted has responded.
I guess I must be the ugliest and stinkiest guy in the world. I am perplexed with the stinky part, since I shower daily. But stink I must, so bad that it comes right through the internet.
That leaves ugly. I guess Cyrano de Bergerac and Quasimodo had a baby. Then that baby grew up and married the baby of the Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein and they had me.
Maybe all women really want is Danger Guy. Some ripped shirted Stanley Kowalski land pirate right off the cover of a Harlequin novel, lighting matches off his three day stubble and swinging through your bedroom window with a horse under one arm and a motorcycle under the other arm. How he holds the rope with his arms full of horses and motorcycles doesn't matter right now.
Danger Guy gets all the girls.
What do I get?
Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Nil. Zero. Naught. Absence of substance plus Negative Space with a Black Hole chaser.
I should rent out my inbox for parking space. Parking for 747s and ocean liners... at the same time. The airlines and cruise ship companies probably don't want me stinking up their planes and boats with my super stinky ugliosity.
If a tree fell in the forest and nobody heard it that probably means the tree fell on me and nobody was around because they all heard King Stinko McUgly was in the forest today. The tree probably fell because it died from my Mega Ugly Super Stink that blots out the sun.
I'd like to stay and chat but I have to go stink up something. I'm sure I'm needed at the Limburger, Skunk and Gym Locker Festival.
Then I have to get to my other job at the Mirror Cracking Factory.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Far From The Tree
by DJ Hazard
Cops. I play cops. I get cast to play cops all the time. I’ve been a hardboiled cop, a crooked cop, a vigilante ex-cop…
I’m slowly filling out the Whitman’s Sampler of possible cops.
Maybe I get this from my biological father. I don’t know much about the guy, he left when I was two. But, from what I’ve heard , he pretty much had a cop/military/government fetish. He had a penchant for any kind of job that had a badge and a uniform. Dog catcher. Restaurant inspector. Postal worker.
Then he would go out on a limb and try to be something he wasn’t. He would prowl the city with his dog catcher badge and try to shake down petty hoods. He’s go into bars and push his weight around, saying he was some kind of G-Man. As a result, he was the one that got into trouble with the law and his employees. He lost his job as a toll booth attendant for bringing a gun to work.
I guess I have this genetic legacy, this instinctual drive to see how good I can be at something that I’m not. Unlike him, I’ve been fortunate to find a legal release valve for this secret agent impersonator disorder.
This is even weirder because, unlike him, I’ve always been uncomfortable around cops. I always think they’re checking me out, thinking I’m up to something. I keep ATM receipts in my pocket for alibis. I try to go out of my way to be friendly.
‘Hey, hi cops. How’s it going? Have a nice day. Take care. Be careful out there.’
Then I think I must really be on their radar.
‘Why’s this guy trying so hard to be at ease around us? What’s he up to?’
Now, many years ago, I don’t know what I was thinking but I almost became a cop. My logic was that if you’re afraid of cops you should be a cop. They’ll never find you.
Somehow, I got accepted onto a list of eligible candidates for the academy. Every Saturday morning, for about six months, was spent taking exams. I found some of these tests fascinating but I also found some of them hysterical. One Saturday, we seemed to be taking a series of tests that were blatantly designed to weed out the gun crazy people.
Domestic Disturbance:
A husband and wife have been quarreling. You
  1. Shoot the husband
  2. Shoot the wife
  3. Shoot them both
  4. Wave your gun around and tell them to keep it down or else you’ll come back and shoot them
A van full of hippies drive past and shout ‘PIG’ at you. You
  1. Follow them around until they do something wrong
  2. Pull them over and wave your gun around to scare them
  3. Shoot them
There were a lot of movies to watch. I remember being told that one was a short term memory quiz and we weren’t allowed to take notes. Two officers respond to a lady who reported a burglary. They kept asking her tons her questions such as her phone number, her work number, her work address, what hours she worked, the distance from her front door to the curb.
We were all going frantic trying to remember all those figures. Then the lights came back on and the instructor asked us what color shoes she was wearing. Looking back, I should have been more interested in finding out how to play a cop in all these training films.
Saturdays came and went and I thought I was well on my way to becoming a Super Cop. Then they asked me to come in on a weekday afternoon. They had some questions.
When you are accepted for further testing they do a lot of research behind your back. They asked my neighbors what I was like when I was at work. When I was home, They asked my employees what I was like. It seemed that somewhere during my original application process my half Castilian heritage and my mother’s maiden name deemed me a minority but they didn’t believe it because of my appearance. I didn’t know which way to be pissed off about this but I was. However, I offered to take a Spanish test. They said no. They wanted birth certificates, entry port papers and a paper trail that lead to me.
A month later I brought in a pile of documents gleaned from Halls of Records and microfilms during several trips back to NYC.
They looked at the pile and said they changed their mind and they wanted me to take a Spanish test.
Something snapped inside me. I really don’t remember everything that I said, but I remember it was in my grandfather’s low, measured and indignant tone. I closed with something like, “and despite my respect for law and order, I do not beg, I do not roll over and I do not sit up and speak.”
I don’t think I topped it off with a ‘good day gentlemen, I say good day’ but it was implied when turned on my heel and walked out.
Many years later, I Googled my father. I just wanted to see whatever happened to the man who, instead of naming me Sue, left me with this bizarre cop drama chromosome. All I knew was that he moved to Florida when he left us. I got three hits.
One said that, for a short time, he worked as a security guard at Cape Canaveral.
Another was from that Cuban refugee fiasco, the one that inspired the Tony Montana/Scarface movie. My father was arrested for impersonating a CIA agent.
The final hit was a cemetery. I guess he died somewhere in the late 80’s. But that wasn’t all that caught my eye.
It was a Naval Cemetery. He was buried with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
Son of a bitch.
He pulled it off one more time and, this time, for all eternity.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Park Your Grok in Fraggle Rock
By DJ Hazard

Are we alone? No one followed you, right? Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m not from around here. I was born in New York City.
My family moved here a year after I got out of high school. I had no idea what Boston looked like. I knew Boston existed. I knew the Red Sox came from somewhere to play Yankee Stadium. I figured there were some buildings on a dock where Carl Yastrzemski, Julia Child and the Kennedy Family all lived together.
I was leaving a playground of sixty story buildings and all night subways. At least I was also getting my very first plane ride, which turned out to be the next best thing to losing my virginity. Some thirty minutes later, the pilot announced that we were approaching Logan Airport and that, if we looked out the window, we could see the Boston skyline. He forgot to mention that I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane. All I could see were miles and miles of little wooden buildings, empty lots and the vast Atlantic. I thought I was being taken to live with the Pilgrims.
On top of that, my folks had rented an apartment in Winthrop and our cab ride went right from the airport to the middle of what I had seen from the air. I hid in my room for three days. Some kindly neighbor lady, bless her soul, asked my Mom if I wanted to see ’the city’. She explained that all I had to do was go down to the corner and catch some bus to some place called Orient Heights and get on the subway. I found the subway and tried not to panic as each of the following stations heralded a further plunge into my Green Acres nightmare.
Wood Island: From the frying pan into the fire. This must be where they get lumber for their cabins.
Airport: Hmmm, perhaps I could stow away on an airliner and get back to civilization.
Maverick: What the hell was this? Time Travel? Now I have to deal with cowboys?
Aquarium: Some guy and a fish tank. Great.
State: State of what? Solid, liquid, gas and plasma? Was I now dealing with oblivion on a sub-atomic level?
Government Center: I figured if it ain’t here, it ain’t nowhere. I got off the train and trepidly walked upstairs.
The rest is history. As you all know, the scary-looking but kindly Lava People surrounded me as soon as I emerged from the T kiosk. They made me their King and began construction of the Hancock Building as a token of their loyalty. I told them that if they really loved me they’d renovate Quincy Market into a tourist Mecca, transform the Commonwealth Pier into the World Trade Center and put the Orange Line underground. They complied.
Life was good as the omnipotent ruler of Boston’s Subterranean Mutant Population. At least until a couple of years ago, when they took it upon themselves to dig a huge tunnel under the waterfront as a surprise birthday present for me. I knew they meant well, but I guess they figured out that they screwed up. Good Lord, the poor little fellows were so depressed. I told them that it was okay, but they kept trying to make it up to me. They replaced Boston Garden with the Fleet Center. They chucked IMAX Theatres everywhere.
The one thing they couldn’t accomplish was rebuilding Fenway Park. It seemed like their every attempt was met with a force far more mysterious and powerful than their own Lava Mutant power. That force was called Red Sox Nation.
Lava People… Red Sox Nation… Lava… Sox…
The push and pull threatened to rip apart the very fabric of Boston. A truce had to be declared for the sake of my adopted city, its inexorable fan base and my Empire of Underground Minions. I asked the Lava People if there was something they could do that could make Red Sox Nation happy, leave Fenway untouched and serve as an apology for their mega-flop burrow beneath a perfectly good Southeast Expressway.
A few days later they returned and said that through ways I wouldn’t understand, not being a real Lava Person and such, they could make the Red Sox win the World Series. I said go for it and, in one fell swoop, never had so many had so much to revel about.
Personally, it was right up there with when I found that loose brick behind the Union Oyster House that spits out gold coins. But that, my friends, is another story.