When it Comes to Women, I Never Learn
by Pseudo Nimh
Charlie sits at the little cast-iron table outside the Blend Inn coffee shop and lets his Colombian coffee cool. He could have gotten something fancy, like a latte or an espresso, but he thinks it would be pretentious of him to drink an expensive beverage he hates when he can have something that he knows will hit the spot. He is waiting for a woman he met on social media. Her name is Leslie Glory or at least that is what he knows her as. She sent him a friend request and they had about 18 mutual friends, so he figured “What the hell?” She is half-an-hour late. His friend Don walks up.
“Oh, hey, Charlie!”
Charlie shoots Don a look that says “Get lost.” Don doesn’t get it and sits down.
“Don, I am waiting for someone.”
“A woman?” Don interrogates.
“Yes, if you must know.” Charlie hates himself for not telling Don that it is none of Don’s business.
“I’ll leave you alone!” Don surprises Charlie with his politeness.
“Thank you very much!” Charlie means what he says. He is thankful that Don does not wish to throw a monkey wrench into the one aspect of his life that seems to have a target painted on it with a sign below saying “Throw a monkey wrench at every attempt to get my love life off the ground!”
Don disappears inside. Charlie heaves a sigh of relief. He will give Leslie Glory or whatever her real name is precisely one more half-hour and then he will make new plans for the day. His phone goes off. It is a message from Leslie.
“We’re still on for tonight, right?”
TONIGHT!? Charlie’s plans with Leslie were for this afternoon! It is 4:30 pm! Charlie wants to think long and hard before texting back. He is trying not to turn into Mr. Mt. Vesuvius.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” Charlie is forced to look up from his phone. He would be crazy not to. The voice belongs to a woman. It is not Leslie. It is a blue-eyed redhead who looks to be in her mid to late thirties. Cute enough. Forget about Leslie. For now.
Charlie makes a show of getting up and walking around behind his new acquaintance and pulling the chair out. The chair had already been pulled out by Don and never really put back. She takes a seat.
Charlie inspects her left hand for a ring and finds none. He doesn’t expect to. Reality check time. Maybe there isn’t any other place to sit. He looks around and sees that indeed there is not. Let’s be cautious. Let’s be a Gentleman.
“My name is Andrea.”
“Charles. Charlie. Whatever floats your boat.” RELAX, WILL YOU! His knee is about to shake apart. Maybe he has had too much coffee. Wait, he hasn’t had ANY of the coffee. I think it’s cool, Charlie. I think you can drink it.
“I’m supposed to meet my girlfriend here. It’s really crowded though. When she gets here, I guess we will need to go someplace else.”
Charlie has an inappropriate thought. He knows it is an inappropriate thought and he knows he has no business having it. Down, boy. Don’t think about two women and one man. Get that out of your head. Behave. Go with the flow.
“What is her name?” he inquires.
“Sarah. But she doesn’t like men.”
Time to take a cold shower, Charlie.
“She is my lover. We’re lesbians.”
That’s the thing about cold showers. You never run out of cold water.
“Right on! I am supposed to meet someone here too. Well, sort of. I think she got confused.” I got confused too. I got REALLY confused.
“There she is! Later!” Andrea gets up and scampers off, leaving Charlie sixpence none the richer. What to text Leslie?
“Sorry about the delay in getting back to you. When were we going to meet? We were going to meet at Blend Inn, weren’t we?” Send. Charlie places the phone on the table, not expecting a timely response. What do you know? A timely response!
“Can we cancel until some other time?” Don’t throw the phone. Definitely do not throw the phone on the ground and stomp on it. Definitely do not call her any names. At least not out loud.
I hate you.
Not you, Leslie. Well, not just you.
I hate myself.
“Sure! No worries!” Send. Nothing to reel in. Can’t even set the hook. They just eat the bait. I hate my life.
Charles sips his coffee which is now rather cool. That does not bother him. Food? Not hungry. Time to check out what is going on with Faceplace? Isn’t that how all this shit got started?
Yes. Yes, it is. You know what sucks? Yes, Charles, I know what sucks. Do you want to know what sucks? I will tell you what sucks. Never mind about three people hooking up or getting laid at all. Never mind about getting lucky. I can’t even snag a stable female friend, and that, THAT, my friend SUCKS. That sucks like there is no tomorrow. I can’t even make friends with a woman I have no chance with romantically. That sucks. I can’t call Leslie a friend. I have never met the woman and I don’t know that I will. Charles, you never learn.
Memories come flooding back. Crazy nonsense from times gone by. ONE stable romantic relationship which lasted for a long time. Then another man came between the two of us and it destabilized. Two years of trying like crazy to save our marriage and to no avail. Don’t blame yourself Charles. She was out of control. They all are, aren’t they?
There was that one girl. I don’t like to say their names. I was going through a divorce. She was going through a divorce. I said we shouldn’t force solutions and she didn’t listen. Charles, what are you saying? You didn’t listen either. I know. She called me over and over. Could. Not. Stop. We talked for five hours one Friday. She told me I had all those qualities a woman would want in a man and the only one she could think of was that I was such a good listener. Ya think? It’s not the money!
There was that girl I knew I wasn’t supposed to get mixed up with who dyed her hair my favorite color just to impress me. She got back together with the man she was going through a divorce with. These women have gotten on with their lives, Charles. Why can’t you?
I just keep telling myself I don’t need a woman to get on with my life. There was the 18-year-old girl I saw in that fast-food joint who wanted to know if I could help her get downers or pot. I offered her a ride to detox and rehab. Charles, you did all you could do. At least you didn’t take advantage of her.
There was the girl who had a boyfriend who enjoyed singing filthy songs to me at the karaoke bar when he wasn’t around. I told her friend I was going to hook up with her and she put a stop to it. Charles, you did the right thing. Her friend respects you. Got to get them off of my mind.
Charles tries to relax. He isn’t ready to face Don. Don will try to comfort him. Don is really bad at that. Don is not a woman. But, honestly, Charles. When was the last time you were comforted by a woman? Should I leave? No. Don’t isolate. Really? Honestly? Can I help it? Can I avoid isolating? Charles, listen to reason. Wait for Don.
Charles needs to think. He knows that it is thinking that gets him into bad days like these when he could be having fun doing something he has learned to enjoy doing as a single man who is not looking for a relationship. But he thinks anyway. You’re right. I do.
Let’s take a break from women. Forget about women. That is hard to do when you do what you do for a living. I write poetry for greeting cards. Charles, you write poetry for greeting cards and you don’t know how to relate to women. You suck. Tell me something I don’t know. Maybe I could go into standup comedy and write really mean poetry to the women who hurt me. Nah. That would get back to corporate and it would open up a can of worms. I’m screwed.
Charles, maybe you should do something else for a living. Attract a woman with a really cool job. Do you realize that in trying to get my mind off of women, all I do is just keep coming back to women? Charles, you don’t follow through. Think of another job for the sake of thinking of another job. Okay. Massage therapist. Oh, so you can meet women and get all touchy feely with them, right?
I am talking to myself and I feel like I am dealing with a woman. That is messed up. You’re right, it IS messed up.
Maybe I could go to school for psychology and learn to deal with my problems better and learn to help other people deal with their problems better. Maybe. I have a lot of anger. Toward women? OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Why can’t I get my mind off of them!?
Okay. Okay. Do you remember what we read in that book about optimism? Yeah. Bad things are temporary. Being alone and lonely is temporary. Right. And it’s not your fault. And it’s not going to mess up every aspect of your life. Right.
Know what? I could go to work in a pharmacy. They don’t worry about relationships at all during the day. They just fill prescriptions. I think what I really need is a break from women and thinking about women. I am not going to get it writing friggin’ poetry for greeting cards!
Don comes walking out with a woman on his arm. OH, FOR PETE’S SAKE! They walk right past you, don’t they, Charles?
A young man who looks to be in his mid-twenties comes walking up with a Dalmatian. They walk right up to you, don’t they, Charles?
“Do you have a girlfriend?” It’s a rather strange question coming from the young man, but Charles fields it.
“No. As a matter of fact, I do not. Not that it is any of your business.”
“Well, Trixie is a girl, and she wants to be your friend!” Trixie obviously does. She jumps up and licks Charles as though he is a meal.
“Whoa! Down, girl!” Charles can’t help but cheer up. He has been starved for affection.
“My name is Brad. Trixie is looking for a home.” Charles gets in touch with himself. He can’t do to this poor dog what has been done to him by so many people. Today can be his lucky day after all.
“Talk to me about the details. What do I need to do?” He really wants to do this. Brad fills him in on the details and everything comes together.
The next day, Charles is at home making plans to quit his job. He doesn’t know what he is going to do. He has some money saved. Perhaps he will write something else. Perhaps he will go to work in a pet store. He doesn’t have to feel alone. There are things he misses in life, but life is not over. Life is too short to live in the past. Our pain does not define us. You see, Trixie has three legs and Charles has a soft heart.
Charles, keep making friends.
Don’t give up.
Okay, I won’t.
Support Group for My Comic Strip Characters
by Nate Hyatt
Hello, there. This is Nathan Hyatt. Creator of a little comic strip called Conscience And Nonsense. All about a young man named Steve, his roommate Billy Bob and Conscience and Nonsense, the voices in his head. Tonight, we find our four intrepid heroes in a small room in a church portable on a typical Wednesday night.
Conscience: Good evening, everyone. I suppose we may as well get started. I am Professor Conscience and I will be leading this meeting of Comic Strip Characters in Existential Crisis Anonymous or CSCECA. Stephen, would you care to introduce yourself?
Steve: Hi, name is Stephen, and I am a cartoon character. I appear in a comic called Conscience and Nonsense. I had a challenging week.
Billy Bob: Hi, Steve.
Conscience: Hello, Stephen. Nonsense, please make Stephen feel welcome.
Nonsense: Hey, Steve. I didn’t want to be here witch yous.
Conscience: William, would you care to introduce yourself? What brings you here?
Billy Bob: Hi. My name is Billy Bob Hawkins and I am a cartoon character. I am here to support Steve Cumberdale.
Conscience: William, please, no last names. This is an anonymous support group meeting.
Nonsense: Oh, we’re anonymous alright. Nobody knows about our silly little comic strip or your stupid little meeting.
Steve: Hi, Billy Bob.
Conscience: Hello, William. Nonsense, would you like to introduce yourself?
Nonsense: Not really. I don’t belong in some silly freakin’ mental health support group for comic strip characters who don’t know what’s what. Why are we here? Were we all court ordered here or something? Does somebody think we need sensitivity trainin’?
Conscience: Our creator, Nathan Hyatt, thought it would be a good idea for us to attend.
Nonsense: Oh, yeah. Well I don’t believe in no creator.
Billy Bob: How can you not believe in a creator? I mean, who draws us all the time and comes up with the funny situations we wind up in?
Nonsense: I come up with all the funny jokes. When it comes to humor, I am a sly little devil!
Conscience: Nonsense, please do not talk out of turn. We are here to listen and lend a kind and caring environment for each other’s emotional needs.
Nonsense: Oh, brother. I think I’m gonna be sick.
Conscience: Stephen, do you have anything weighing heavily on your mind that you would like to talk about?
Steve: I have a lot of anxiety about the direction the comic strip is going.
Conscience: Please explain.
Steve: I used to like it when the comic strip was all about me sitting around and playing video games and watching TV and being a slacker. But now, Nathan is taking it all in a new direction and I feel like I am expected to be this big social justice warrior comic strip super hero guy.
Nonsense: You really are delusional.
Conscience: Nonsense, please be quiet and wait your turn.
Nonsense: Why? This meeting isn’t even gonna last more than 5 minutes.
Conscience: Stephen, please continue.
Steve: I don’t know if I can be the next Lisa Simpson or the next Greta Thunberg. I don’t want to wind up on all kinds of tee-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers and memes and signs trying to solve the world’s problems.
Nonsense: Chillax, Steve. It’s just a comic strip.
Conscience: Actually, I agree with Nonsense. Stephen, keep in mind that you are nothing more than black ink on white paper.
Billy Bob: He’s electrons and pixels when people see him on their smart phone or computer screen.
Steve: Thank you, Billy Bob.
Conscience: Stephen, why are you worried about what the future holds? You have made some people reasonably happy. You have given them a chuckle here and there. You have made them think about their political ideas and the choices they make and the attitudes they possess.
Nonsense: Yeah. Steve has made dozens of people laugh once or twice. The funny jokes were mine, okay? I am the star of the show. It ought to be called Nonsense and Conscience. I come up with all the funny jokes. It should just be called Nonsense! Steve’s name isn’t even in the title! There were lots of comics where he wasn’t even there!
Steve: I was taking naps and having dreams about you guys.
Nonsense: Whoa, Stevie. I don’t need to know stuff like that, okay. That’s a little weird, if I do say so.
Conscience: Well, it looks like we are just about out of time for this month’s meeting.
Nonsense: Please don’t tell me we have to do this again.
Conscience: Will everyone hold hands with me while I recite the Mission Statement? Conscience and Nonsense: to tell useful stories in order to better the situation of the Mentally Different and to better the Mental Health of Society as a Whole.
Nonsense: Hey, folks. Seriously. If ya wanna check out a happenin’ comic strip that tries to do some good in the world, just get on instagram and go to @ConAndNon. That’s @C-O-N-A-N-D-N-O-N. That’s a wrap!
Another Comedy Sketch:
The Latest from a Ghost-Writer!
This Sketch Sucks!
An attempt at Sketch Comedy
Sylvester H. Arthur
and Jasper W. Kent
(The action takes place around a desk with a laptop on it. Gary is seated at the laptop and is frowning at it and leaning back in his chair. Larry is behind him a little bit stage-right looking at the laptop and frowning as well.)
Larry: Gary, this sketch sucks!
Gary: I KNOW!
Larry: I mean, it really sucks!
Gary: Larry, I KNOW! What went wrong?
Larry: We were drunk! THAT’s what went wrong!
Gary: Can we make it funnier?
Larry: No! There’s nothing we can do! The whole thing is doomed!
Gary: You don’t think we can fix it?
Larry: It’s incoherent! There’s nothing to work with!
Gary: We have a deadline!
Larry: I KNOW!
Gary: What do we do!?
Larry: WE WARN PEOPLE!
Gary: We warn people.
Larry: Is there an echo in here?
Gary: Sorry! So what else do we do?
Larry: We warn people that the sketch they are about to watch sucks! And then we don’t show the sketch. And then we tell them that we couldn’t because it was just too awful!
Gary: They’re better off!
Larry: That’s right! Okay. Open a new blank document.
Gary: Way ahead of you.
Larry: Take this down. Help me out if I get stuck.
Gary: Right on!
Larry: (Gary types furiously as Larry talks.) Ladies and Gentlemen, we have to warn you about the sketch you are about to watch. The whole thing sucks. From beginning to end, it just plain sucks! Ok, help me.
Gary: The title of the sketch is a set of ellipses surrounded by quotation marks. This was done in an apparent attempt to make the title unpronounceable.
Larry: That’s good! Okay. The setting of the sketch is everywhere, every day, which makes absolutely no sense. Or for those of you who prefer, never and nowhere. Which also makes absolutely no sense.
Gary: It does not matter your politics. This sketch will offend you!
Larry: It does not matter your religious persuasion. This sketch will upset you!
Gary: Ladies and Gentlemen the sketch is paint, drying on a wall.
Larry: The sketch runs twenty minutes.
Gary: Twenty minutes of paint drying on a wall.
Larry: The writers could have brought you jokes from any number of situations involving characters of all kinds. But instead you will watch paint dry for twenty minutes.
Gary: There is actually a narration that goes along with the paint drying on a wall.
Larry: That’s right. You get to hear all about the rates at which the different colors of paint dry depending on the angle of the sun and the humidity and other factors.
Gary: As if that weren’t enough, the narration has been translated into ten different languages.
Larry: You get to hear about paint drying in Spanish, French, Italian, German…I can’t even go on.
Gary: It at least would have been nice if the writers could have brought you various colors drying on various kinds of wood and brick and other substances. Everything from painted park benches to classic cars which had just been painted.
Larry: But NO! You get eggshell white paint drying on stucco for TWENTY MINUTES.
Gary: Ladies and Gentlemen, this sketch is absolutely devoid of comedy.
Larry: There are no detectable jokes of any kind.
Gary: No riddles. No knock-knock jokes. Not even an amusing limerick!
Larry: There once was some paint that was drying…
Gary: That would be the start of something!
Larry: But it’s NOT!
Gary: And the most infuriating, despicable, disgusting, frustrating aspect of this horrible sketch…
Larry: …is the fact that the paint NEVER DRIES!
Gary: The sketch ends with the promise that it will be continued!
Larry: None of this is comedy! Not even in the most liberal translation of the word.
Gary: No one will find any aspect of this sketch the least bit amusing.
Larry: The writers have had the nerve, no, the AUDACITY to include a laugh track!
Gary: Ladies and Gentlemen, if you watch this sketch, you will actually hear applause!
Larry: At paint…drying on a wall. The very idea!
Gary: We just want to let you know, Ladies and Gentlemen that the writers of this foul sketch have been strung up upside down naked and painted themselves using permanent, fiber glass laced paint which never stops itching.
Larry: When they are done being tortured in that manner, the writers of this putrid, stink-bomb of a sketch will be forced to paint an entire building silver and then sit and watch it dry.
Gary: For those of you who are not aware, silver is the slowest drying paint.
Larry: It escapes us as to why the writers of this ridiculous sketch thought it necessary to have a narrator who sounds like a golf announcer explain the process of paint drying. What could possibly happen to the paint as it dries if the narrator sounds like a normal human being?
Gary: A golf announcer in eleven languages, no less! All of this should be academic. This sketch was entirely unnecessary!
Larry: Paint drying on a wall!
Gary: Ladies and Gentlemen, go to the bathroom! Take a newspaper! Do anything!
Larry: Except for watch paint dry on a wall!
Gary: Save yourselves!
Larry: Some will find it impossible to turn away!
Gary: We warn you! This is grotesque!
Larry: This is disturbing!
Gary: Watch this at your own peril!
Larry: It will bore you beyond the human limits of…of…
Larry: You may not wake up!
Gary: We warn you!
Larry: THIS SKETCH SUCKS!
Gary: This sketch sucks worse than any sketch you have ever seen!
Larry: You must take our word! Do not watch!
Gary: You have been warned!
Larry: Once you begin, you may not be able to turn away!
Gary: If you do watch, you may fool yourself into believing that you are actually seeing the paint get darker as it dries.
Larry: The voice-over artist who plays the narrator in this sketch is being tortured severely as well.
Gary: It is a regular Spanish Inquisition for these three. Believe me!
Larry: If you do watch this, you are likely to beat your head against a wall.
Gary: Or you are liable to start sniffing markers.
Larry: We cannot emphasize it enough. Do NOT watch this sketch!
Gary: Even talking about this worthless sketch is making us nauseous.
Larry: I would rather DRINK paint than watch it dry!
Gary: Lead based paint!
Larry: We do not recommend that either!
Gary: We can already see the nasty letters piling up in the mail room!
Larry: “I watched the sketch and my dog got cancer!”
Gary: “My CHILDREN watched the sketch and now they smoke!”
Larry: Ladies and Gentlemen, we do not wish to read such letters!
Gary: Please spare us!
Larry: And now, for your entertainment! Without further ado. PAINT DRYING ON A WALL!
Gary: Ladies and Gentlemen, we couldn’t. We just couldn’t do it! We couldn’t subject you to twenty minutes of paint drying on a wall, commercial free. To those of you who were looking forward to it, there is something wrong with you.
Larry: Good people, please understand, we have censorship for a reason!
Gary: Just trust us, you’re better off!
Larry: We do apologize because we have wasted a lot of time here today.
Gary: We could have brought you a sketch about George Washington in a bikini.
Larry: We could have combed through the mail bag for a decent idea for a sketch. (They look at each other for a moment.)
Gary and Larry: NAH!
Gary: Well, we could just keep throwing anachronisms at you all night…
Larry: No, we couldn’t! We’re up against a hard break!
Gary: That’ll do it! Thanks again for not watching!
“Fire in a Crowded Theater.”
by Nathan Hyatt
(the following piece of fiction may be upsetting to some readers. it is not a work of humor. discretion is advised.)
It is improv night in a crowded theater.
And everyone gets a turn to improvise.
And most people do not know what they are doing.
They do not know how to act and they do not know how to improvise.
It is not a movie.
It is reality.
The people on stage are real.
It is not television.
No one may turn off the tube and go to bed and wake up to a new day.
It is improvised. It is supposed to be entertaining because anything can happen.
And then it happens.
Someone says there is a fire.
And someone else says you can’t say “fire” in a crowded theater.
Someone jokes that this is not really that crowded.
But there actually is a fire.
And people are still trying to take turns improvising, because, after all, they came to be entertained and they want to get their money’s worth.
But the fire is getting bigger.
And the whole thing is taking days.
Firefighters (who happen to be in attendance) begin helping to fight the fire.
But people are still not taking it seriously.
After all… whoever heard of an actual fire in an actual theater?
People are lighting up cigarettes and cigars, which doesn’t seem to be helping.
People are drinking beers they brought with them or bought at the bar.
And the fire is getting bigger.
And the firefighters are trying to tell people that they need to try to find a way to start getting people out of the theater.
And they are saying that people are going to die.
There is a line for the restrooms.
Some people are still doing improv routines.
People are laughing and yelling suggestions about what scenes to improvise and act out.
But they are kicked off the stage when it becomes apparent that some people have died from inhaling smoke. Their bodies are placed on the stage, because it seems like that is the ideal place to put them.
People returning from trips to the bar and the restroom are surprised to see what is unfolding. They had not expected these developments.
Even the seasoned firefighters are beginning to panic. Some of them collapse from exhaustion after days in this surreal theater, fighting this fire that does not behave as the fires they are used to.
Some people are pulling out their laptops and trying to get some work done. After all, the show that they were supposed to see is over and they do not have time to watch the drama that has unfolded. They might as well try to accomplish something useful. They do not want to get in the way of the important actions being taken by the people who know how to handle what is turning into a bigger and bigger emergency.
People begin asking if someone has managed to a find a way to open the exits.
More of the people who had until this point seemed relaxed and unphased are starting to get concerned.
There are those who are convinced that this is all part of the show.
Children are asking the questions only children can come up with.
Someone is fighting to get an exit door open.
People are starting to freak out.
Someone wants to know why the sprinklers aren’t running. They ought to run, shouldn’t they?
A father is asking about a refund for his family’s tickets.
A wave of true panic is washing over the crowd.
Bodies are piling up on the stage.
And then it happens.
A still, small and aged voice begins praying in a strange language causing people to look at each other quizzically as they realize it is a language they do not understand. It is far from clear what is being said, but one thing is certain:
It is a prayer for those who are fighting the fire.
It is a prayer for wisdom about what to do.
It is a prayer for an answer as to how to get those who can escape safely out of the doomed theater.
It is a prayer to God Almighty.
Most close their eyes as the prayer continues. Many open one eye, not wanting to miss something important.
Even those who do not believe in any God remain silent out of respect.
The room is full of sounds. There is the prayer; the eerie breathing of the flames; the crackling of the fuel they burn; the loud pop of wood splitting; people shouting instructions to each other; the work of the firefighters; the sobbing of those breaking down emotionally.
And yet, there is also an eerie silence that seems to inhabit the entire scene.
All are in one accord in solidarity with the One Who Prays.
And then the prayer stops as suddenly as it started.
The One who uttered it looks up and around seemingly confused and bewildered.
The firefighters are still waging their battle.
Many have died during the prayer and their bodies litter the stage.
The flames are fanned by the air that enters the hall as someone forces a door open.
If all are careful and meticulous, most will be able to slowly exit single file through what seems like a tiny opening for so many.
People take turns offering to let each other go first, yet waste no time in deciding. Children seem miraculously to be in no danger. At any event, they are encouraged to head to the front of the line. No one questions this action.
The line emerges into a dark alley where a light rain falls.
It is impossible to go back and save those whose fate is sealed. Many of them heroes. Too many of them to truly count. Not all died in the fire itself. Not all were overcome by the smoke.
As it becomes clear that all who are able to exit have done so, someone begins to laugh. A cathartic release of gratitude to heaven.
People rush to ask each other if they are alright. The survivors make an effort to inquire concerning the whereabouts of the lost.
Many are reunited. Many cannot be.
People are relieved and overwhelmed and taken over with mixed emotions.
The One who spoke to God in everyone’s time of need closes her eyes once again and lifts her hands toward the heavens in a shouted prayer of thanks.
The crowd shows thanks in its own way.
Many hug and pray more prayers together holding hands.
Some even kiss.
All take turns looking up into the night rain, letting it wash over their faces and wonder at the irony that so many lives were saved…
…because someone had the courage to say “fire” in a crowded theater.