Sunday, July 20, 2014

What Am I Doing Here?

Now that I’ve been haphazardly posting for a few months, I should take the time to mention why I’m doing what I’m doing. I realized in the last few years that I really enjoyed writing, but writing for class was not the most engaging way to expand your thoughts. In course papers, you are always more pigeonholed than you think. So, for awhile I had been wanting to write more about things that interested me, and I figured maybe some of these things would interest other people. I got to thinking about subjects and thought that they might be fun to put into words.

Growing up, I developed some specific reading tastes. I was obsessed with Hunter S. Thompson, and read through nearly all of his works. Chuck Klosterman was hugely popular in my area, and he became an interest. Like many people, I turned first to the last page in Sports Illustrated to read Rick Reilly before I read the rest of the magazine. Elements of all of these writers are blatantly obvious in my writing. And I hope for that to be somewhat of an homage.

I spend a lot of time on the Internet. As I jump around from Grantland to Stereogum to IGN to ESPN’s Page Two, I realized that with all of the creative work I was reading and viewing, I would love to give some back. Trust me, this is far less noble than I just made it sound. I only felt that I could do something similar just to add it to the mix. The more I read, the more creative thoughts I came up, and the Internet is an easy place to display creativity. I realize this sounds conceited, but listen: I definitely did not say any of my writing was good. Hopefully the writing will get better over time. For now, I am only writing for fun and sharing what I come up with in case anyone else finds it interesting.

When casting around for a title for this blog, I realized that I really did not have a core theme to these writings. After explaining this to a friend, she said it made some sense. These writings are merely passions of mine that I wanted to share with anyone who was interested. That’s how I came up with the title: a general collection of diverse interests. And that is what I will continue to do. I am no expert in any one thing. In fact, you might know more about these subjects than me. But there are a few subjects I care about: music, literature, games, sports. When something interests me, I’ll try to put it into words. It’s just more fun that way.

So what to expect from me if you follow my writings? My goal is to put something new out every month or so. Reviews are easy; hypotheticals are fun. I’ll probably do a bit of both. If my current subject does not interest you, I’m sorry. The next one will probably be different. If you enjoyed one piece of writing, then I could not be more thrilled! I’m just looking to share some ideas. I can only hope they are as much fun to read as they are to write. Thanks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Truck No. 722626

OCTOBER 1980… The clock struck 9:30, and the alarm began to buzz. Mann leaned over to grab a cigarette, pausing to shut off the alarm on the way back. Exhausted, he rubbed his eyes before sitting up. Another night, he thought grimly.

Patrick Mann stepped across his meager, but comfortable apartment to the bay window and raised the blinds. Not much seemed to be happening. The sun had just set over the monstrous skyscrapers of Midweigh, leaving the sky in a dark blue haze. The lights of the buildings made the city seem even more expansive. It always looked less intimidating from this level, forty stories above, looking down into the dark streets below. It still looked like a maze, to be sure, but it was much more terrifying turning each corner and not knowing what to expect. He thought of the thousands of other people looking down on the city, at the same time. They just do not know how hard it is, he told himself. But Mann knew what to expect when he left for work every night. He had a job to do, and he did it well. He’d lived in the city his entire life, after all.

He stepped out onto the street and headed towards the garbage plant, opening and subsequently consuming a greasy breakfast burrito along the way. Four months on the job had adjusted his daily habits, and he had gotten used to taking his meals at different times. But still he missed his other routines that were interrupted by taking this job of driving the night garbage truck. It’s only temporary--as he lit a second cigarette, his mind flashed back to the conversation with his younger sister the previous week. 

“But what if it’s not, Pat? You’re twenty-five years old. What kind of life is driving a garbage truck at night?” his sister, Pam, begged. It seemed every time the two of them shared a meal lately, the subject inevitably turned to his working life. Tonight they were sitting in Pam’s kitchen. Pam was showing off some of her prints from her sophomore art school class when the topic turned to work.

“I’ll make it work. This is only temporary until I can find something better,” Patrick replied. “Besides, it’s not actually that bad. If you make a game out of it, it can be fun.”

“Oh, how can you say that?” Pam cried. “Do you know how you sound? You sound like you’re stuck in a rut, and now you’re making excuses for it.”

Patrick thought for a moment. “Don’t worry about me, Miss. I’ll be okay.”

As these words faded from his mind, Mann looked up to realize he was at the plant.
* * *

“722626, again?” muttered the foreman at the plant, as Mann stepped up in line. Mann nodded. He did not know why, but he had grown attached to the garbage truck. Others complained that it did not handle well, that it was slow to turn, but he found it a comfort. “Problem with the user,” he would always say to those who questioned his choice.

His job was actually incredibly simple. As much as he did not want to admit it to Pam, he had actually begun to enjoy it. Not that he could see himself doing it for a long time, but now it seemed like a bit of a pastime. Every employee took responsibility for one area of blocks. Shifts rotated in three eight-hour cycles. There was no time built in for a meal, but he was allowed to bring snacks in the truck for a boost of energy. In an effort to offset his quick and unhealthy meals, he typically brought fruit such as cherries, oranges, or apples. Starting from the plant, he wound the streets of his district picking up trash as he went along.

The amount of trash in the city was truly remarkable. It always stunned him that with all the technological advancements of the day, they could not find a better way to dispose of garbage. Nearly every corner he turned, every few steps, there was another pile of junk. The most baffling part was that he never actually seemed to finish his district. Just when he thought he had gotten every bit of it, he would find more. If he drove long enough, he even found trash in places he knew he had already picked up. Mann did not have a personal route that he took every time; instead, he took inefficient paths down side streets. It did not matter as long as he stayed in his district. And, as long as he was picking up trash. That was the important thing.

Throughout his life, he had truly begun to appreciate the intricacies of the Midweigh streets. They were always winding, with few entrances or exits. But Mann had learned some shortcuts, sometimes even by accident. One night, he took a left turn that he had not taken before. It led to a tunnel that was nearly invisible. As he later found out, it was even difficult to spot from the vantage point of his apartment. Following the tunnel, he emerged in an area completely different from where he started. Or so he thought. He had never really bothered to find out exactly where it went.

The only true danger to his job were the bandits. An eerie, roving troupe, they seemed to glow a faint, pale blue in the dim street lights. “Ghosts,” he and the other drivers called them. He knew there could never actually be more than a half dozen at a time, but they appeared around any corner without the slightest forewarning. Different gangs of them patrolled the different blocks like turfs. They moved somewhat unpredictably:  sometimes he would encounter an individual rogue, other times they would stack up in a group. Worse yet, there was really no defense against them. If one approached, drivers were forced to turn their truck around immediately and continue on a different route.

Drivers were not caught often, but still there were horrific accidents. If a driver got too careless in his work, he could easily find himself trapped by three or four of the bandits in a dark corner. When this happened, hope was lost. Supposedly, the bandits suppress a stranded driver, raid the truck for everything of worth, and finally inject the driver with a unknown venom. Even if a cure was discovered, the alleyways in which the bandits attack are so desperately bare that no one could be saved in time. Postmortem analysis indicates that death occurs in a matter of minutes. When a driver failed to report back at the end of his shift, it was the duty of the next shift to locate the body and notify management. They were a vicious, godless group.
* * *
Mann sipped softly on his second cup of black coffee and smoked another cigarette. He was almost six hours through his shift and taking a small, but well-deserved break. He had had a good night, making several tours of his block. He had picked up a lot of garbage, on pace to have his best night yet. As an added incentive to keep them working, his pay was based in part on his results. He found that turning it into a game, competing against himself, made the night hours pass easier.

He finished his cup of coffee, throwing it into the back of his truck. As he did so, a rat leaped out of the nearest dumpster and hit the ground. He drew in his breath sharply. In this neighborhood, the slightest sound was enough to cause a spark of fear. Seeing it was only a rat, he laughed softly and got into his truck.

Starting up, he continued down the street, ready for his seventh pass through the streets. As he expected, trash was left in neat little piles equidistant apart on the side of the street. How can these people go through this much garbage? he thought. It truly was disgusting. 

Finishing the block he made a sharp right, taking a route that he knew had no exits. One could only go straight through--or turn around. It was better to get these areas clear when the night was quiet. If anything caught him back here, he could get into trouble in a hurry. He was proficient enough to turn around on a dime, assuming the robbers had not followed from behind. He made the full turn around the corner. Nothing there; he’d made it. He made a left onto the longest straightaway in his department.

Mann peered through his dirty windshield down the long, orange-lit street, half-expecting some action. It was not uncommon for him to see the thieves a few times a night, but tonight, they seemed less active. He had seen one near the beginning of his shift and what looked like a pair moving towards him later, flickering through the dim streets. A simple turn and they were not seen again. Still, it had been a fairly dull night.

As he looked, sure enough, he could distinguish a bluish shape scuttling towards him. Feeling the familiar flutter of anxiety, he eased into the next alley. Instantly, he spotted another bandit, distinctly orange, much closer. Mann swore loudly. Just like that, his heretofore quiet night had become a trial. 

Performing a finely-executed reversal, he returned to the straightaway, sneaking a quick glance at the oncoming thief. It was closer, much closer than he had expected. Further down the street, he saw in his rearview mirror, the two of them joining together in their approach. Not a problem, he thought, in an attempt to calm his racing heart. Just stay ahead of them. Don’t let them get me into a one-way street. Looking at his gas gauge, he evaluated that he had enough to get back to the plant for the night. He had never experienced two of the creatures this determined to get to him. Better to just head back to the plant, take his losses, and go home early. His supervisors would understand completely.

That’s when he heard the hiss and felt his truck grind to a halt.

What the hell?! he thought frantically. He took a mental calculation of his truck, his trusty truck, knowing that nothing should be out of date. Depressing the pedal, the engine revved, but the axle made a horrible wrenching sound. He had no choice but to exit the vehicle.

He took a quick inventory of what he saw. The bastards had put a hole in the rear left tire, rendering it unusable. Unbelievable! They had been known to carry guns for some time now, but he had never heard of them actually using them. No drivers had ever been found with gunshot wounds; the only known video recording of a mugging showed them using guns to threaten. Any time a gunshot was even heard, news reports had never linked the bandits to the event. At any rate, he had to move now. 

Choosing to stay inside the truck would be suicidal. Any truck that had been attacked in the past probably lasted all of twenty minutes, from the looks of their wrecked returns. No, he had only one choice: flee. He dashed away from his truck, previously his only protection against these things. Now he really had to use his wits to make it back to the plant. He crouched behind a pile of trash twenty meters away to take in his surroundings. Fortunately, he was not completely lost and could find his way back, although his preferred route home was currently blocked by two menaces.

He looked back, saving one last hope that they would stop at his truck only and disperse when they were through. It was a longshot, but a possibility. He had no idea how these things reacted when a driver was not in the truck. For all he knew, it had never happened before. He was in totally new territory.

They slowed as they approached the truck. Flitting about, one ransacked the back of the truck while the other checked the cab. At once, they both stopped. So it was true, they were not going to stop at the truck if he was not in it. Turning towards his direction, the one that he had taken for blue made a horrendous shriek, the likes of which he had never heard. Probably, no one had ever heard. No one still living, at least. Mann’s blood chilled.

He sprinted away from the pile as fast as he possibly could. He knew now that he could not stop running. Surely the two were following him. Risking one more look, he could see they were even closer. Whether it was his sleep-dulled perception or agitated imagination, Mann swore they were moving quicker. He’d heard rumors that they moved quicker later in the night. Hadn’t he? No, he could not afford to spook himself now. Not at a time like this.

He turned the corner and saw another bandit, this one with a reddish hue, coming at him down the straightaway. Darting into a side street, he took a quick evaluation of his surroundings. There were two following from one direction with a third joining pursuit. It took a second glance at the nearest sign to realize where he was: the mysterious tunnel he had discovered a few months back. Although, he had taken it before, he could not explain it. He had no idea where the other end came out, only that it felt like another district. Nor could he tell who was on the other side waiting for him. So far he had seen three bandits; how many did that leave? Would they know about the tunnel and anticipate his movements? He had no choice. They really were moving more rapidly now, he was sure of it.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the tunnel.