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Summer of Funny

The best of the not unfunny

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For your consideration...

Nothing is more subjective than humour. Some people like their humour obvious and over the top, somehow laughing harder at the scenes they already 40 times in the commercial/trailer than for the other bits that were just as brilliant. That group seems to be the majority, the reason why Everyone Loves Raymond was on television for nine seasons and Arrested Development was cancelled after three.

For others it's all about subtlety, the humour in the person or situation rather than the punchline. It's not about zingers, which some sitcoms feel the need to deliver with a laugh track every second line or so.

In my case, I like to be surprised. I like it when a joke takes a long time to develop, like some of the more elaborate plotlines on Seinfeld (or Arrested Development ). I like it when characters are perfect even if they're unlikable, like Ignatius Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces , or Ted Knight as Judge Smails in Caddyshack . I enjoy it when things get taken to a level of absurdity that you can't believe what you're seeing, like any scene from Feddie Got Fingered or the final battle from Pineapple Express .

I don't like stereotype humour, or any of those shows where the husband is a fat, sarcastic asshole with a hot wife. I don't like comedy that's rooted in sustained embarrassment, like any of those Meet the Parents movies. I don't like Jar-Jar Binks stumbling around in Episode I: The Phantom Menace .

Maybe you liked all those things, and that's okay. Not everybody is going to like the same things.

But I like these stories, which you're about to read.

This year's Summer of Funny seemed to be all about the long-form short story, although they could have submitted anything from jokes to scripts to top-10 lists. Fair enough - when most of the submitters were members of our local writer's group, (a.k.a. The Vicious Circle) and are all working on longer pieces, that's not such a bad thing.

Last year the range of formats allowed us to declare pretty much everyone a winner and divvy up the prize purse accordingly, but with over 15,000 words of entries this year the Pique editorial staff knuckled down and voted. Usually our staffers had no problems making their first two votes, but when it came to giving out their third there was much hemming and hawing. The result was a clear winner, some strong runners-up and a bunch of stories that came up just short. In other words, no clear losers...

After some consideration, there was a clear winner, a second place, a third place and four stories tied for fourth. It was decided that first place equals $150, second place $100, and four third place prizes of $40. All of the stories will be posted online. We'd print them all if we had the space.

 

The Winner:

Whistler Land

By Jessica Jones

"Fairies only exist if you believe in them." - Peter Pan

Has anyone else ever noticed that Whistler is a real-life Never Land: a world of escapism and immortality where people go to never grow up? Just like Never Land, Whistler has its share of Peter Pan's - boys who come to town with the intention of never growing up and never do; Lost Boys and Girls - boys and girls who come to live in a fantasy land, but will eventually grow up and return to the real world; Wendy's - girls who follow boys they like to Never Land and spend their time cleaning the house and playing mother, until they decide they want to go home and drag their Lost Boys with them; and Whistler even has its very own Captain Hook and his band of pirates - Ken Melamed and the RMOW.

Most importantly, Whistler has its own fairy. Forget Tinker Bell with her tarty green dress, stroppy attitude and magic flying dust. Whistler's fairy is far more whimsical and helpful. I introduce to you the Dog Sh*t Fairy.

What? You've never heard of the Dog Sh*t Fairy? You've heard of the Tooth Fairy right? Well just as you would leave a tooth under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy to steal away in the dead of the night, so dog owners in Whistler collect their dogs excrement and then place the little white municipality-provided bags of sh*t on the ground for the Dog Sh*t Fairy to whisk away.

Perhaps you've never seen her as she is just as elusive as the Tooth Fairy, but if you close your eyes and listen ever so closely you might just hear the flutter of wings. But she doesn't actually have wings so that's probably just a Blue Jay, so close your eyes again and listen ever so more closely and there, can you hear it? The sound of a longboard and the unmistakeable buzz of an iPod turned up just a little too loud. And behold, there she is! Longboarding through the valley in a plaid shirt, skinny jeans and a pair of Ray Bans, whimsically picking up little white bags of sh*t.

Lately you may have noticed that the Dog Sh*t Fairy hasn't had the same dedication to her job that she has had in the past. Give her a break! Just like everyone in Whistler she is holding down two jobs and when she's not busy collecting bags of dog sh*t she works her second job mediating an issue between Captain Hook and the Lost Boys over something very un-whimsical sounding called an Asphalt Plant. She called around to get someone to cover her Dog Sh*t Fairy shifts, but Santa Claus said he's only trained in dropping off little packages. And likewise the Easter Bunny said that he only knows how to hide little brown things for people to find.

So the Dog Sh*t Fairy is imploring the dog owners of Whistler to help her out. She knows it's an imposition, but would be ever so grateful if you can dispose of your little white bags of dog sh*t in the nearest garbage receptacle, rather than leaving them in the bushes by trails or tied to tree branches. She promises that she'll be back to work and collecting your little white bags as soon as this whole asphalt plant situation is sorted, so don't worry! A decision is not far away...

 

Bio: Jessica Jones did not send a bio, but judging from the fact she submitted her entry with 20 minutes to spare we'll assume she's a long-term Whistler resident.

 

Second Place

Swimming to Johnny Depp

By Katherine Fawcett

The nattering voices of children looking for snacks and dry towels, the incessant wheeze of a de-barked wiener dog tied to the picnic table, the shrieks of bikinied teens on an inner tube splashing each other.

It all fades to a dull hum when I see Him.

Far across the rippling water, standing god-like on a raft in the middle of the lake, untouchable, sparkling in the sunlight. I shake my head and rub my eyes. Could it be a mirage? A miracle? Heatstroke?  He runs his fingers through his hair. Wipes the back of his hand across his forehead. Shifts his weight from hip to hip. Licks his lips.

I hear birds singing. Exotic birds. Extinct exotic birds. And some harp music. Or maybe a cello.

The distance between us is an eternity yet it is nothing. His body glistens - tanned and dripping wet. He has the sleek muscles and tight skin of a race horse. I don't need my glasses to know that it's Johnny Depp. Without that French girl. There's a Tibetan Mastiff by his side. A glass of chardonnay in one hand. His hair curls to his shoulders, oh, the shoulders of a man who could hold me tenderly one moment and build a set of shelves the next, shelves for his collection of literary classics and tastefully framed photos of his mother.

Did I mention that he's naked as a peach? Oh, yes my friend. I squint to see his nipples, pink as eraser heads, at 11:00 and 1:00.

And at 6:00...

What's that?

Who, me?

He's motioning something. I look behind me, then back over the water to him. He's pointing. At me. His gaze pierces my soul. I completely forget that I'm holding a half-peeled hard-boiled egg. Understanding washes over me like syrup over a pancake. He wants me to join him on the raft.

"Come alone," he says. The wind carries his words to me. I'm sure of it.

Mom! Mom! Where's my boogie board! Mom! Petey's hogging the boogie board! Mom! Mom! Lexi ate all the chips! Don't push! Mom! He's pushing me! Hey! Hey! That was my egg!

It's staggering how much one can block out when the love of one's life is beckoning, naked, from across a mountain lake. Staggering.

I step out of my Birkenstocks, point my arms over my head and dive in, forgetting that I don't know how to dive. My belly, triceps and thighs all hit the water simultaneously with a loud thwack. I am unphased. In fact, the burning sensation makes me feel alive. The sting, the slap of lust vibrates through me. I grab the ladder quickly and catch my breath.

Mom? I hear faintly. Mom? Are you okay? You've got all your clothes on.

My senses are keen, my lungs fully oxygenated. I feel like I'm 40 again. I take my hair-band out and tilt my head back, throat to the sky. I can swim! I can swim to my love!  "Yes!" I sing out, exhilarated, shaking my hair in the waves. The teens hang silently on their tube, watching me with envy. The wiener dog looks up from chewing someone's flip flop. An egg bobs in the water beside me.

"Here I come, my love!" Oh, this mermaid is a long way from Saskatchewan.

I bend my knees and get ready to push away from the dock and bullet through the water like a trout. No, a dolphin. Or an electric eel.

But wait.

From here in this medium of life, this liquid of love, I see him even more clearly. Waving at me. Oh, he is an impatient man. He's signalling for me to undress. "Down to your skivvies," he says to the wind. I am a woman hypnotized. Entranced. One elbow wrapped around the ladder like it's a pole on a burlesque stage, I take my cargo shorts off underwater, swirl them around impulsively and toss them onto the dock. They land with a thump and I am briefly aware that my keys, my phone, my prescription refill, my bank-card and a pack of Clorets are in the pocket. I pull my tank top off slowly. And my socks. The cool water against my Jockeys For Her is invigorating. I look down and notice that I'm wearing an old maternity bra. It means nothing to me. I know that Johnny Depp won't care. We have a deeper connection. I must swim to him quickly. I must become one with the water. Elemental. Pure.

I thrust myself forward into the deep lake. Front crawl, or breast stroke? I smile knowingly, part my arms in front of my body like the petals of a flower blossoming to the sun, and feel complete immersion.

 

They told me later it was a good thing I had such a sturdy bra on. Gave the Newfie something to clamp his teeth on when he pulled me out onto the shore.

"Swear to God, Lady, you were, like, blue."

"It was freaky."

"Yeah and the weeds that came out of your mouth? Holy crap."

"I've never seen anything sink so fast!"

Someone found my glasses under the dock that afternoon, one arm broken off but otherwise fine. The swimmers' itch only lasted a few days. The kids refused to go back to the lake with me for the rest of the summer. Johnny Depp must have returned to the south of France, and I know Tibetan Mastiffs get mistaken for Newfies all the time. In the meantime, I'm taking swimming lessons at the pool and my instructor is this tall, blond, blue-eyed Poseidon who seems to have a thing for older women...

 

Katherine Fawcett lives in Pemberton, writes the occasional feature for Pique and has been following Johnny Depp's career avidly since 21 Jump Street.

 

Third Place #1

Extrapolator

By Babar Javed

In my 60 years at the General Store I've never seen anything like this. Our green and golden valley's become orange and pink. Hundreds of workers in safety vests. Don't know why they call them that - in my day if a guy dressed like that, he'd get beaten up. Red and white tape across the forest, like a festival barber shop, except not a very good one, the cutting is patchy. Young women smiling, giving you the come on, then calming you down, flashing "Slow" boy, and then "Stop". Ignoring their warnings is a serious crime, called sexual harassment. You gotta behave respectably, the sign says their family works here. Who'd wanna kill someone's mom or pop just to get to the pub first. Still, good to see so many people working. Wonder who's paying?

There's lockdown tonight. Gotta stay off the streets. I push aside some Viagra boxes to peer out. Choppers dangle shipping containers, and a Jumbo-copter swings something the size of a house. A convoy of flatbeds hauls concrete blocks, there's pairs of trucks balancing bridge sections. Next morning there's this God-Awful noise. If a constipated bear was roaring in the steambox of a Victorian engine in an endless conduit, you'd be close.

Next morning the lockdown is over. I go ask Pink Sweety a few questions and offer her some thermal underwear. Say she can try it on in the shop. She says I am an old creep and I should know better at my age. "My grandmother used to shop here," she says. "And she's warned me about you." Damn, she knew about my spy hole in the saddle box. I used to fit right into it. So I go to Tangerine Boy, and call him "son". I think he likes that, probably doesn't know who his father is.

"That's the Extrapolator, Pops," he says. I want to pop him on the head, but my fist would bounce off his hard hat. "Haven't you been reading about the big project in your papers? Lucky for you I'm a Public Rural Interface Committee Kommisar, I can tell you all about it. BC Bylaw 2012, Volume 17, Edition 6, Set 24, Evolution 14 says that 'All features must conform to best practice'."

"What 'features'?" I ask.

"As it says, Pops, 'All features'. They are to be regulated holistically within the existing non-local paradigm." I feel a bubbling deep within.

"What's 'best practice'?"

"The consensus view on constructive activity that is sustainably authorized."

Why has everybody started speaking mumbo-jumbo? Official words that mean nothing at all? What's wrong with saying things plainly? What you really mean or think about stuff? But that could be offensive to somebody, somewhere, sometime, and we can't have that. Political Correctness. Paranoid Cuckoo. I pop a smelly one out behind and move away.

A billboard says that our valley indeed does not conform to best practice. They say the balance of low UV-sunshine, windchill, water sediment, snowy crystallography, drainage nodality, wildlife passage, agricultural offsets, tourist magnetism and heritage values is not optimized. They say that this can all be resolved by amending the physical proportions of the valley. The Extrapolator - invented by the UBC Dept of Vibrational Tectonics - will stress the earth's crust to make the valley 100 meters less wide. This will improve the "Absolute Societal Stratography" leading to a "Geotechnical Utopia of Normal Kinds". Screw that, why don't they fix the power lines over the center of town, or throw some trees around the railway tracks. The main distinction these days is not between truth and lies, but between truth and bullshit. Even lies have a purpose, a certain integrity, a sort of honest hope. But the aim of bullshit is to confuse you. To dim your wits causing a fearful paralysis. Like on Tinker's 60th birthday, but that wasn't my fault.

Over the next month, forests are cut down, farms are flattened, houses commandeered. Those affected are told not to worry; generous rebuilding loans are available from the government on easy terms, at 150% of existing values. Everyone's cashing in. I get a check after they bulldozer the store, but not before I sell out of leathers and Viagra. Double bonus. I chat to Pinky Sweety whenever I can, but the guys from the pub keep shouting out "Hey Napoleon, have you found Josephine?" and "She said yes, you can get off your knees now." I'll show them yet. I don't even like the pub. Same old bores. But where else can I go?

I hate the shops. Kids of sixteen always asking "Anything else?" It used to just be at clip joints, but now it's at the hardware, the grocery, the gas station - everywhere. If I wanted something else I would have put it on the counter, or asked for it, or said "hold on a minute" and run to get it. But I've got a way of dealing with them. When they give my change, I look them in the eye and say "Anything else?" They look at me for mercy - but there's none on its way. Reap what you sow, kiddo. Don't listen to your manager, listen to your mom.

There are daily discussions, weekly workshops, monthly marketing plans, quarterly quantas, annualized analyses. Any protestors are paid off, scared off or carted off. At the end of the month, our valley conforms. "Exactly 100 meters more narrow". They stress the word "more", as if they have given us something extra. Now it will have the right balance of "occupational logistics, psycho-climatography and social shunt".

A bill of $40 million is presented to the village. A million a day plus service plus bonus plus tax. There is a press launch. The Premier cuts a blue ribbon across the new more narrow valley. I stay at the store that day. Still got the marks from the handcuffs the last time.

Ten environmental monitors will remain for a year. That's extra. The rest of the workers pack up, ready to move onto their next project: it seems that the next valley is now 100 meters too wide. I'll head up there in my new Mustang, wave at Tangerine Boy, see if Pinky Sweety wants a ride. I've got a lot of cash now and only a few years to spend it. And I saved a few of them magic blue pills. In this crazy modern world at least there's one thing you can count on to point you in the right direction. Maybe she'll flash me a "Fast" sign.

 

Babar Javed is a British-Pakistani immersed in the joys of British Columbia. He is named after a medieval Indian emperor, rather than an elephant, blacksheep, hairdresser or dessert. Babar has had articles published on archaeology, spirituality, language and female fantasies. Baa-baa's current projects are mystical short stories set locally, and a recounting of his pilgrimage to the world's holy sites. Barber likes sacred geometry, classic sci-fi and Canadian Tire. Rum Baba's favorite quote is by Persian mystic Rumi: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you." He is usually up by midday.

 

Third Place #2

Bad Kitty

By Rebecca Wood Barrett

In the spring of the year I turned thirty-one, my maternal clock started ticking-I ignored it. The next thing you know every time I switch on the radio Metallica's For Whom the Bell Tolls was playing so I casually brought up the subject with my husband James.

"What do you think about us having kids?"

"We should get a cat," he said.

I couldn't disagree. We both loved cats.

"A cat? Or a kitten?"

"Kitten. But it has to be completely black."

"Really? All black? Not even a mustache? Little white mittens?"

"Bob was all black."

Bob Cat was James's beloved pet of 14 years. A couple of years previous the elderly, cancer-ridden feline had gently passed in his arms. I watched a grown man weep inconsolably over a cat. He got through the denial and anger stages, and when he moved on to bargaining I asked him to marry me.

They say you're either a cat person, or a dog person-though I'll admit I do have a couple of friends who swing both ways. In university I had a boyfriend who hated cats, and they hated him. He used to hiss and flick water at my roommate's cat. One day the cat relieved both her bladder and bowel in the dead centre of my bed. I scrubbed the heck out of that quilt but every time I washed it there was the oval stain, sending me a clear message. I broke up with my boyfriend. I never told him it was the cat. He'd have to sort out his messed-up life by himself, do his own soul-searching. It wasn't my job to tell him he should be dating a dog-person.

 

Adopting a kitten seemed like a pretty sensible, cost-effective alternative to having a kid, so James and I set off to WAG, the Whistler Animals Galore shelter. Although the cattery was separated from the kennel, the incessant barking was enough to drive a cat-person up a tree. I tried to bolt. James blocked the door. "Let's just take a look."

There were no pure black kittens or cats. The next closest thing was a black mama cat with a white stripe and socks called Scream. She had a litter of three kittens. The dilemma was how to choose between them? This was the critical part. We had to be careful not to choose a bad kitty. Ideally, one that had an abundance of personality, but wouldn't shred the condo carpet, or our ankles. From the back of the cage bounced a black kitten with white socks. He had an uneven white stripe and a black spot on his cheek, a beauty mark. He was two hundred pounds of cute compacted into a fist-size ball of fluff. The black hole of cute. For us, there would be no escaping his event horizon. But before we could adopt him we had to answer several questions: Do you have children? (No, we're sublimating. That's why we're getting a cat.) How much do you think it will cost to feed your pet for one year? (Um, a thousand dollars? No cat of ours would go to bed hungry.)

The WAG employee smiled. "Couples with no children make the best homes for the pets. They treat their animals like they're their kids." She had us nailed.

I wrote a cheque to WAG while James signed the adoption papers. In our naivete we hadn't thought to bring a cat cage, so I clutched our new babycat on my lap while James drove home. Since he had to go back to work, I took over the parenting of Jax, or Jackson as we re-named him. Within five minutes I lost him in the couch. He crawled underneath, tore a hole in the fabric and climbed up inside. I spent hours trying to entice him out. What kind of cat parent was I? I imagined the WAG staffer making her follow-up phone call, sensing something was awry. She'd come by for a visit, demanding to see the kitten. I'd have to relate my sordid story and she'd rip apart the couch in a forensic frenzy to discover evidence of my shoddy parenting-a mummified kitten.

Around 7 p.m. James returned home and tipped over the couch and Jackson crawled out. He yawned, stretched and sniffed the air. Apparently he'd had a pleasant nap. And could someone please direct him toward his dinner?

Jackson turned out to be a good kitty. Not very bright, mind you. He was more like a dog that way. He'd fetch earplugs we tossed for hours while we watched TV in the evenings. If he spied a bird or a squirrel across the lawn he'd bound merrily over like a puppy, his ears practically flapping in the breeze. I was sure that somewhere deep inside his small brain he did have an inkling of the instincts he was supposed to display, because he once caught a pine cone, and delivered it to my lap with pride. We praised him highly. After a time James and I reconciled ourselves to the fact he wasn't going to be a genius, but he was ours, and easy to love.

Six months later I was watching WAG TV on the local cable station and a familiar-looking cat squirmed in the WAG worker's arms. "...this is one very special cat, and up for adoption."

I immediately called James at work. "Oh my God, Jackson's mother is still in jail!"

"What?" It sounded like a bike tool hit the concrete floor.

"Jackson's mom, she's still living in a cage at WAG. We have to adopt her."

"Okay."

"Right now. I'm going over there to get her."

I suppose James must have feared my maternal hormones were now orbiting the stratosphere, because he didn't question my uncharacteristic flash of impulsivity.

By this time we'd made several visits to the vet with Jackson for vaccinations and neutering, and had purchased a cat cage. There's nothing like a furball under the brake pedal to put an end to free-styling in the station wagon.

When I arrived at WAG the worker seemed dubious about the adoption.

"You want to adopt Cream?"

"Cream? I thought her name was Scream."

"That's what her original owner called her. We thought Cream was more respectful."

Then it occurred to me that it wasn't the sort of name that would make a cat highly adoptable. Sort of like naming a new model of car Lemon. It's a sick world we live in, when even cats can't escape the need for good branding.

I want to take her."

"Really?" Her face brightened. But then she leaned towards me, lowered her voice. "It's just that we think she has a screw loose."

"Oh." I glanced at the door of Scream's cage. It had a small sign at the top corner: "Please, ONLY gentle pats to head." Or else what? She was just a cat for god's sakes.

"Hi Scream," I said to the shadow at the back of the cage. I turned to the WAG worker and gave her a serious nod. "We can give her a loving home."

This time around no one asked me any questions. The WAG worker grabbed Scream and crammed her into my cat cage. This was no easy task, as the cat had incredibly gained ten pounds since I'd seen her last. Once svelte, she now resembled a bowling ball on legs.

On the drive home Scream demonstrated how she got her name. She yowled like someone was feeding her tail through a meat grinder.

As soon as we got inside the house I opened the door of the cat cage. She squeezed out, strolled into the living room and rolled comfortably onto her side in front of the TV. She glanced back at me and raised an eyebrow. "So, where's the remote?" It was like she'd instantly transformed into a different cat. But then who wouldn't have gone a little nuts after six months in the Big House? The barking had nearly given me a breakdown after ten minutes.

The next test was Jackson, her long-lost son. Would she recognize him? When he walked unsuspectingly into the living room (we hadn't had time to let him know we were adopting his mother) Scream jumped on his back, licked him aggressively on the head and then baffed him between the ears with her paw. You could hear clicking noises as her claws threaded his skin and pulled away. It was obvious she knew who he was. If he had been any other cat than her son, I think she would have eaten him.

On that first day, Jackson wasn't the only one who had immediate reservations about her. When I went to pat her she whipped around with a hiss and sliced the back of my hand. In bed that night James confessed she had done the same thing to him. We lay there in silence, stewing over our mistake. My mistake. Scream padded into the bedroom. She made a strange sound, the sort you'd make if you tried to meow with your mouth closed.

"What's up with that weird little noise?" I said.

"Meem?"

"Yeah."

"I think it's nice. It's like she's saying, 'Oh, here you are.'"

James was right. Most cats will sneak into a room and then jump on your bed or armrest and scare the bejeezus out of you.

"Maybe that's what we should call her," I suggested.

"Meems?"

"Yeah. I don't like Cream. Too sweet."

"The name Scream's not sweet."

"No, it's evil. Yet strangely apt."

"Hmmm. Meems."

At that moment Scream-now-Meems jumped up on the bed with a thud, and walked up the length of James's body. She stopped and stood on his chest. We held our breath. She stared into his eyes, growling fiercely. He was too afraid to budge, terrified she'd pull out her knife-claws. I wondered who he'd look like if he had to get a full face transplant.

"Get her off!"

"I can't. She might kill me."

Meems's growling grew more insistent.

"Do something. I can't breathe!"

"Oh my god."

"What?"

I lifted the quilt in front of my face, in case she rushed me. "She's a bad kitty."

"What are you crazy? Don't call her that, she can hear you."

"I'm just saying."

"She hears you call her that, she'll have to live up to it."

"Well what do you want me to do?"

"Tell her she's a good kitty."

I looked at Meems. Her yellow eyes turned on me.

Oh crap.

"Meems, did anyone ever tell you you're a good kitty?"

Droplets of catspit fell from the corners of her mouth onto the quilt. Was it the froth of rabies? She leapt from James's chest to mine with a thump and knocked the wind out of me. I gasped for breath. Her weight bored into me, her paws pounding me in an alternating rhythm. She inched closer to my face. Another drop of catspit. This time sliding down my neck, leaving a tuna-stink trail on my skin.

That's when I realized she wasn't trying to kill me. Her paws were kneading me. She was purring, not growling. This was a cat in the throes of ecstasy.

Not rage.

She stepped off my chest. I could breathe again. She stepped onto my pillow, lay down and curled her body around the top of my head.

"Nice cat hat."

I winced as her claws sunk into my temple. "She's a good kitty."

 

Rebecca Wood Barrett lives in Whistler, and is obviously a cat person.

 

Third Place #3

Checking Out the Spa

By Karen McLeod

I arrived at the spa bursting with optimism. This would be the place to find a man of quality, a man with a plan, a man who owned a car, a man who didn't think alcohol was one of the four food groups, a man who didn't share a house with 14 people, a man who had a house.

Elegance surrounded me: wide plank wood floors, a fireplace encased in glass, the aroma of citrus ginger. Benches with cushions of red and shades of grey bordered the walls of windows, and polished pebbles adorned the sills. Cello played softly over the sound system, and other than the occasional shrill bird-call piped in, it was a paragon of tranquility. And then I saw the sign.

"Silence?" I read aloud.

"Yes. Don't be embarrassed if a staff member gently reminds you of our silence policy," the receptionist said.

"Someone should remind the birds. Are they in distress?" I asked. She didn't respond. She was nice and all, just seriously calm, as if she'd just come from a yoga class.

"Low talking is permitted in the café," she said.

"Great, because my sign language is a little rusty and I'm looking forward to the soup," I said. Lotus Lady closed her eyes. I realized I had forgotten my robe. She said I could rent one, so I calculated that with a bowl of soup, the cost of my spa day was now over seventy-five bucks.

"The robe isn't mandatory, ma'am," she said.

She hadn't seen my thighs.

"Miss, actually," I said loud enough for any elegible men to hear, except there was no one else at the spa. I'd been standing there when the doors opened at 10am, determined to make the most of my day. "Yes, a robe, please." After all, it was an investment.  I thanked Lotus Lady and, armed with the spa robe, two towels and a locker key, I marched to the change room.

 

I opened the heavy cedar door to the steam tower and felt my way along the round tiled benches. I patted something soft and a throaty "AUGH!" came from a woman.

"Oh, sorry," I said. "It's just that it's so foggy in here."

"Plees, ter is no shpeaking allowed."

"Okay, right. It's my first time at this club."

"Tis is a spha, not a club."

I put my finger to my lips and gave a little shrug to remind Viking Holga of the silence rule. As the steam cleared, I could make out two Asian men, one in his early forties, I guessed, and the other, probably his dad. Since there would be no chit chat with Holga around, I scanned the steam room as if admiring the tile work until I made eye contact with Junior. I smiled. He smiled back. I felt that was a validated "moment," so I counted to ten and headed to the cold pool.

"Yayayaya!" I hollered as I bolted out of the glacier water. I almost bowled over a staff member at the top of the steps. She pointed to a graphic of a diver with a red line through it.

"Oh, sorry. That would explain this," I said, holding my fingers all gimpy in front of me. Then she pointed to another graphic of a person shushing.

Junior hadn't followed me, so went to the hot pool. And wouldn't you know it, there soaked the obvious partners of Junior and his dad.

"Nice dive," a male voice said. I hadn't noticed him.  Weak chin, but good head of hair and nice teeth. I quickly went into position - shoulders facing front, hips facing to the right - and side-stepped down the stairs. It felt awkward, but it was a flattering pose I learned from Glamour  magazine's  "DO's and DONT's."

"Valencia McMillan," I said as I reached out my hand.

"Henrik Berg," he replied, right on cue.

"Berg, Berg, I think I've met Mrs. Berg. She volunteers at WAG, doesn't she?"

"Nej, ve're on holiday vrom-

"Vrom Denmark."

Damn. Holga. She had appeared from nowhere and was looming over me from the side of the pool. A definite "DON'T."

 

I entered the solarium happy to see that business was picking up. I cracked open the novel for today's mission, "The Book of Negroes." The author was coming to read at the library that weekend, so it could be a good conversation starter. I read the first page. A conversation that could possibly end with, "Maybe I'll see you there." I reread the first page. Or better yet, "Maybe we could go together." Or, I would go there, see him across a crowded room...wait, are book readings crowded?  Afterwards we could go for a glass of wine at the Fairmo...

A tap on my shoulder woke me. I closed my gaping mouth and wiped the drool from my cheek.

"Snoring?" I winced. The spa employee nodded. I looked around see if anyone had witnessed the horror. Any man, to be more specific, but it appeared everyone had broken for lunch. Either that or I had cleared the solarium with my handsaw recital.

 

I ordered the soup and found a table. I wouldn't normally choose to eat next to a man in a Speedo who shouldn't be wearing a Speedo, but, except for the fault line where the robe should meet, he was covered. Besides, I was no twig myself. I opened my novel and attempted the first page again until my soup was served. I took a delicate sip, and gagged.

"Excuse me," I said to the server with a smile and a little shrug, "but my soup is cold."

"It's supposed to be cold, ma'am-"

"It's Miss," I smiled and gave a little shrug.

"Miss. It's called Gazpacho. We've switched to our summer menu."

"Don't care for it myself," Speedo said.

"Valencia McMillan," I said extending my hand.

"Peter James," he returned.

"Where's John?" I said. Then I sang, "Peter, James and John in a sailboat," making a sailboat with my arms. "I guess you get that a lot."

"No."

"Oh." I fiddled with my soup spoon. "James, your wife, Mrs. James, volunteers at WAG, doesn't she?"

"No, but my partner, Roger, and I were at their last fundraiser at the Edgewater."

"Yes, that must be it. Those poor abandoned dogs. It's so sad." I knocked back my soup - easy to do when it's cold - and excused myself.

I did the hot-cold-relax thing some more and then decided to give the novel another try. I went to the change room, took off my wet swimsuit, wrapped my robe snugly around me and returned to the solarium.

 

I woke with even less dignity than the first time.  I didn't know farting in your sleep was possible, but that's what woke me up. I closed my book (at least I'd made it to page three) and slunk away to the change room. As I changed into my cold, wet swimsuit, I noticed a brown stain on my robe. I saw another rental robe hanging outside a shower stall and panicked.

 

I was hanging my towels over lounge chairs on a sun deck to dry when a woman wrapped in a towel approached me.

"Excuse me," she said, "But I think you have my robe."

"Don't think so," I sang. "Aren't you holding yours?"

"Mine wasn't this wet. I just got here," she said as she fanned it out. "Eew! And I certainly didn't have this brown spot on mine."

"That's disgusting. They probably didn't clean it properly. I'd complain at the desk if I were you."

"I'll do that. But I'll need my glasses."

"Hmmm?"

"They're in the pocket."

"Hmmm?" I repeated, though I realized I'd been busted. I smiled and gave a little shrug as I returned her robe.

"I'm trying to place you," she said.

"I'm Valencia. Valencia McMillan?"

"Hmm. McMillan, McMillan, Doreen McMillan! PGSS! I'm Melissa Johnson. Well, was Johnson. It's Stellingworth now."

"I vaguely remember," I lied. Of course I remembered petite, perky Melissa Johnson. Mr. Johnson was a doctor and Mrs. Johnson made dried flower arrangements, painted flowers on wood and met "the girls" for lunch. I remembered thinking that was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

"So, Valencia? What's up with that?"

"It's my middle name. I go by that now."

"Is that Spanish or something?"

"I don't know. Great Aunt. Or something."

"And the accent?  British?"

"No. Money."  I said, "Anyway, gotta run, I'm meeting the girls for lunch."

"But, it's almost five o'clock." Melissa said.

"Late lunch. More of a lupper, really," I said, quickly gathering my dripping towels and filthy robe. My load of laundry kept me from seeing the step off the deck. Smack!

 

"How was your day at the spa?" the doctor asked. Male doctor. Magnificent green eyes doctor.

"Well, if it'd been an island, I think I'd have been voted off."

He laughed as he gently examined my ankle. "There's a story there."

"Not for the lily livered," I said. He laughed again. I could see myself in the reflection of the nurses' station.  One of my cheeks was scraped and the swelling half closed my eye. With my ankle throbbing, I had left the spa without straightening my hair or putting on makeup. And after a day in and out of pools and too much sun, I resembled a dried cranberry. "So," I asked, "How rich does someone have to be to like cold soup?"

"Cold soup?"

"Gestapo or something."

"Gazpacho," he nodded and laughed. "If I'm going to sip cold tomato anything, make it a Caesar."

"Here, here."

"So, Mrs. McMillan," he said looking at my chart, "I think I've met Mr. McMillan. He works at the video store, doesn't he?" I gave a start.

"Yes, that's right. Well, he used to, but then he kept telling customers how movies ended and got transferred up north."

"Oh, that's too bad."

"Yes, very bad." I squinted to make out the name on his tag. "So, Dr. Morgan, I think I've met your wife. She volunteers with WAG, I believe?"

"Yes, that's right. But she left me for a golden retriever."

"Well, you've got to admit, they are nice dogs."

"I'm over it."

"Glad to hear it."

"Well, it's nice to meet you Valencia."

"And it's nice to meet you. But, please, call me Doreen."

 

Karen McLeod started writing a year ago after taking a course with Rebecca Wood Barrett. She then joined the Vicious Circle. "I write not, as many say, because I have to but because of the Vicious Circle potlucks." She is attempting to write a chapter book series for children six to nine but is easily distracted by funny story contests.

 

Third Place #4

My Happiness Project

By Cathy Collis

I belong to an impossibly lucky group of people who find time to meet every Wednesday morning at 10 o'clock and play a casual game of soccer. Getting together with your friends and a ball on a perfect, sunny morning when the air is crisp and the sky is blue with tiny little puffy white clouds, and everyone who is responsible and important is working - and then scoring a kick-ass penalty shot against a good goalie - it really doesn't get any better than that.

But every once in a while, we get a brutal, rainy, sopping Wednesday morning, and no one shows up for soccer, then everything falls apart. My body is set up for me to exercise on Wednesday mornings, and so I find myself rambling around in my house, depressed, trying to get some endorphins in another way instead. It's like I'm a drug addict; I simply can't be happy without them. What am I to do? (I know what you are going to say, you yoga freaks, don't bother - I know it's supposed to be calming but some days it just won't cut it - yoga won't do the kind of calming you need when you had to drop the F-bomb before 7:30 in the morning to get your kid to choir on time.)

I read in a magazine about this woman who counsels people on how to be happy: Gretchen Rubin, who had a blog and a bestselling book called The Happiness Project. Could this be worth looking into? Rubin is admittedly pretty smart - she did go to Yale, after all - but after some research I have decided that this project in which she vows to be happier makes me want to barf.

I'll explain. I first encountered her in a magazine article where she talked about her year-long blog project, in which each day she did small things to make herself happier and wrote about them. She somehow developed quite a number of followers, despite the smarmy advice she was doling out. In the magazine she was being asked about the 'happy advice' she has given that people are responding to most. Guess what piece of advice Rubin gave that people seem to be blown away by? Make your bed.

That's it? Make your bed? I tried it one rainy morning. Happy? Nope.

I looked into her blog and found that amid the claptrap about 'being more mindful' and hugging one's kids, quite a bit of happiness appears to be related to cleaning and organizing. There's the bed-making, of course, but here's another suggestion I'll quote from her blog (bolding hers): "In the kitchen I treasure my 'special drawer' - that's where I keep my bills to be paid, stamps, envelopes......" argh, I can't even type the rest of it, it's so insipid. She treasures a 'special drawer' full of unpaid bills?  And how can this woman have her book on the New York Times bestseller list when she hasn't even figured out how to pay her bills online?

Rubin is perhaps unwittingly making the point that cleaning can make you happy, but subtly, it's there nonetheless. Is there anything to this? Possibly this is what some women do for exercise and endorphins on rainy days. Clean. Clearly I am not part of this particular species of women, which would explain some things, for example: why my white kitchen cupboards aren't ever as white as everyone else's. (Oh, I have to sponge those down?) Why every cupboard and closet at my house is stashed to the max, stuff crammed in and the door quickly shut to hold it all together. I suppose cleaning can accomplish two things at once, exercise and, well, cleaning. But where's the joy? The deliciousness of a beautiful shot on net? There is no deliciousness in cleaning.

You know what I do, on a rainy day? When left alone I will eat. Here is the deliciousness! On a recent rainy Wednesday morning, I found myself wondering, hmm, Is this my fourth or fifth trip to the kitchen to get a spoonful of chocolate mousse? I think fifth. It was 10:40am. If it wasn't raining, I would have been sweating, heart pounding, bent over leaning on my knees, laughing with friends on the soccer turf. Instead I am faced with tufts of black cat hair on my carpet and cobwebs in every corner. (Is this why people get crown molding? To cover up the cobwebs? Must check.) So this is perhaps what other moms do then. They dust. They vacuum. They wipe cupboards. It keeps them out of the chocolate mousse, and trim. I just can't imagine it making them happy.

But you know what? I ranted to my husband about this dreadful Gretchen Rubin and her bed-making manifesto, and then came home one day after work and our bed was made. (And I didn't make it.) At first I was a little suspicious. Has someone else been here? I didn't know Steve could manage such a complex household chore. But then he admitted that he had been feeling overwhelmed at work and a little depressed, so he tried making the bed to see if it would make him happier.

Did it? I asked.

No. He said.

But you know what? Him making the bed did make me happier. Maybe there's something to this after all....

 

Cathy Collis submitted two stories for the contest, both with a soccer theme. It's safe to assume that she enjoys playing soccer, but no word on whether she enjoyed the World Cup. The two things are mutually exclusive it seems.