INT. OFFICE – DAY
A swell office, if you like IKEA furniture and clear glass awards. Oh, and posters of old, classic slow cooker recipes that the person sitting behind the desk wishes he was involved in developing.
Speaking of, a slim and nerdy type sits behind the desk, chewing on an arm of his glasses while he flips through recipe cards: this is BLAINE, our Recipe Development Executive.
Sitting in front of him is ERNEST, the Recipe Writer, a pathetic wastrel of a chef, chewing his nails and tapping his feet.
Meh…I don’t know. Is this based on a previously existing recipe?
Nope. One hundred percent original!
Too bad. It would really help us if there was already an established audience for this.
The last time we spoke, you said the world needed a new beef stew recipe. It was time, you said.
But, really—beef stew? Doesn’t Campbell’s already have a beef stew?
Surely there’s room for more than just one—
Have you thought about cumin?
OK, maybe ginger. Or how about ras el hanout? People like spicy.
I guess I could consider—
You know what, if you take out the beef and put in a root vegetable, we might be able to sell to a younger demo of chefs. Vegan is so hot right now.
I don’t know if roots are really part of my vision.
How about lamb? Lamb is skewing younger these days.
Blaine drops the recipe cards on his desk top and puts his glasses backs on. Leans forward on his elbow, serious now.
I’d like to think that my MBA leaves me uniquely qualified to tell you how to best cook food. Even though I’ve never been in a kitchen in my life.
Maybe something kind of Moroccan?
Sounds kind of spicy. People don’t like spicy. Also: do we have to tell people you’re from Toronto? That plays like shit across the country.
When I was growing up, I had a cousin who lived in Fenlon Falls.
Small town. Plays to the hicks. I like it. But, I’m going to have to pass. I just feel as if your recipe lacks focus. It’s all over the place.
Oh. I felt pretty confident about it before I came in here.
Sure you did. You’re an artist! By the way, we have a few chicken noodle recipes we’re having trouble cracking. Do you want to take a run at those? For no money, of course.
Come on. I have some self-respect.
Blaine gives Ernest a knowing glare.
OK. It’s just nice to get email from a recipe company. Makes me feel important.
That’s the spirit!
Ernest rises and exits. Blaine leans back and puts his feet up on the desk.
I’m an awful human being.
FADE TO BLACK
I love recycling. For me, this is generally restricted to cans of pasta sauce and Dick Cavett jokes, but I came upon another opportunity while editing my novel.
I have spent five years working on the book (on and off, not straight through) and, worried that my periods away might have undercut the integrity of the overall work, I weeded through the manuscript looking for oft-repeated words and phrases. Discovering an add-in for Microsoft Word that scanned a document and produced a report, I found myself looking at the entirety of my novel reduced to an alphabetical list of words accompanied by a number indicating how often it was used; with each new number, the alphabetising started anew. It was a fascinating way of viewing those words I had worked on for so long, re-ordered and shaken free of context. It made my work sharper and forced me to confront why I overuse the word “braying”.
Employing what is, in essence, a cut-up technique, I now provide the following poem culled from the words that didn’t appear all that often. Enjoy! Or don’t. Or, cut it up and make a new one.
From the Department of Irregular Words
The Grotesque spy
Unleashes culminating verse;
Caucasian counterparts and
in the blithe discourtesy of
Mid-argument cross-current rays
on a high-speed wood-panelled tilt-a-whirl
anchored by a sponge
Flinty fraternizing opposing thrill-kill alibis
the fleshy homeowner’s lament.
Writing wasn’t thought
when the late high heart
waited to trip your childhood
And break your goddamn neck.
Yellow cracked sounds
when Father returns for a four ear response
and terrible breath
Rounded plastic hips,
Mother has written beyond suffering men.
Appeared, sit-kneed to explain,
“Get drunk on the pale palm.
Ever surrounded, seven shoes in the right rubber aisle.
Conversations don’t prove fellowship
The flat twisted phrase
a wild trick of the reflected evening
shuffle-board squeals our struggled solace
when handsome amorous groups
framed romantic menace.
On days like today, when I can’t get my shit together and string together a reasonable sentence on single thing that I’m working on, I realize how much computer screens these days are engulfed in white. After staring at that ocean of a blank slate for a short while (one hour? six?), my eyes hurt. I blink and walk away and the ghost of the white screen follows me into the living room where I cuddle with the dog or the kitchen where I cuddle with a bag of cookies.
The first computer I had was a generic PC clone. My parents bought it for me so I could transcribe my first novel onto a floppy disc for easier transport and use in any Frisbee-related emergencies.
I say “novel” but it was too short for that. A 26, 000 word coming-of-age piece that fairly burst with all the accrued wisdom you could expect from a fifteen year-old virgin with braces and headgear that slung around his face like a broken spoke from a grocery cart and the delightful grace-note of a sweat-stained neck strap.
I wrote that first draft on a manual typewriter I still own and on the only paper in the house that was even remotely appropriate–blank but with three-holes punched out. Thinking back on it, I must have had a mortal fear of margins because I crowded letters on the entire page, from the top left corner to the bottom right, even deftly squeezing an adjective or two on the left-hand side of the holes.
The summer of 1986, I spent my vacation transferring those pages onto disc and scanning the radio dial for the Michael MacDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from my favourite movie of the year Running Scared (the older I get, the more I look to my historically shitty taste in music and wince). Kids, you won’t understand the fun of hunting the airwaves for a song in your instant-gratification YouTube era, but back then you could spend days without hearing your wanted song but when you did, Jesus, it was like winning the lottery. But with an unavoidably catchy melody.
Other than the comforting, dulcet tones of a certain ex-Doobie Brother, I remember the screen on that computer’s monitor. The amber text hovered on a black screen, somehow keeping straight lines in what should have looked like (in my mind at least) the alphabet in zero gravity.
Even though I was transcribing existing text, there were enough times that I spent staring at a blank screen (likely pondering what the next John Hughes movie was going to be like and if I had enough money to see Running Scared again).
I experienced enjoyment at those moments, a strange warmth that the white screens of today do not provide. At least in those days, even after I had finished tapping out my novel and started an ill-advised tango with poetry, I could sit in front of the screen and not know what was going to happen, like falling at night and not being able to see the ground flying up to flatten me.
And if you’re going to say “Go thee and find a monochrome monitor emulator”, I’m going to say that not only are you stiff-necked jerk, you’ve missed the point.