It’s a Brave New World…

…At least that’s what I keep saying to myself, and have been since December when I asked for an open relationship.

My husband doesn’t recall our conversation, in January, when we agreed to close it. I can specifically remember the location and how I felt in the moment in which I snapped and agreed. I then changed all of my stuff on all the apps and went back to that mindset. As it turns out, he was under the assumption we were still open which is when he started talking to this other dude.

We have talked a lot since our initial conversation on Saturday. What I have since learned, was that the reason he spoke to his mother about the state of our relationship and telling her about Derek (his boyfriend) was because he thought it was over between us. He had planned on ending things with me that night because he thought I was waiting for him to pull the trigger. However, when we talked on the car ride home from my parents, after St. Patrick’s Day dinner, his mind changed. What I told him was I wasn’t done. And I’m not. Like I mentioned in my previous post, regarding my midlife crisis, I was on the fence of what to do. I wanted to be single but I also wanted to stay in my relationship because at my core that is what I want. But, I also want to be single. Evenly distributed. (I’m kind of fucked up.)

After our conversation last night I have found further peace with this arrangement, which is basically a polyamorous relationship. I have my boyfriend (I hesitate to use that word for the baggage it brings) and he will have his. At least, for the time being. (It should be noted all four of us have deleted grindr and scruff, further upping the ante.)

A friend of mine, back when we were wrestling with it just being an “open relationship,” told me that we both have to be in agreement, and if one of us isn’t in it, the situation has to end. He is/was right. Which is why I have informed the husband that at the moment he is uncomfortable (and the husband said “I agree”) I will not hesitate to pull the chord on this arrangement. Now, whether he still feels that way in a few weeks, months or years (however long this fucking lasts) may be something else entirely. I just can’t be too concerned with thinking that far ahead. (I can hear the voice of my besty, Shelby, and her subsequent eye-roll, informing me how I’m being stupid.)

I have made peace with the notion that if he ends up ‘head over heels’ with this dude and would rather be with him I will be okay. I mean, of course I will. It will hurt like a mother-fucker, but I will remind myself I set this situation into motion. As he likes to remind me, I chose this. I asked for it when I wanted the open relationship and I chose it (yet again) when we talked the day after the car ride home. He set forth 3 options and I chose the ‘keep things the way they are and stay together but see these side pieces’ plan for only 5.99 a month.

I have no illusions to the contrary that this is absolutely playing with fire. Emotions WILL run high. And someone will be hurt in the end. The gamble is, who is going to be hurt. In the effort of full disclosure I have let my guy, Josh, know everything. I have not hid the fact of what is transpiring. I even want to send him the contact info of my previous ex for further reference to the agony that comes with dating me. I am trouble, plain and simple.

One of the changes I am making, to keep myself sane in this insanity, is to not read into the actions he takes and any assumed underlying message in what my husband says to me. My previous post was me reading into what he said way more than I should have. My therapist said that if we do this there has to be trust and I am just going to trust that he will be honest with me. What he says is what he says. If it turns out that there wasn’t any honesty in his words I imagine I will find out by our relationship ending.

I just find it odd that my husband, who has such anxiety about the future and how things will play out, is okay with this. For once he’s living in the moment and that is some major change. We’re both changing evidently.

The one thought I came to today was that we had previously known of similar situations with other couples in the past and we poo-pooed them and judged. I think we were just belittling them in an effort to tamp down our own desire for something similar. I probably shouldn’t be thinking that because it’s reading into things I shouldn’t. (It’s going to be a hard habit to break.) I just can’t help but look at it the same way I did when I was denying my sexuality. I vehemently hated gay people because I thought if I hated it enough outwardly it would kill that part of myself inside. Well, we see how that worked out.

I probably shouldn’t be airing my dirty laundry, but I have only one story to tell honestly and speak on with certainty and that is my own.

Stay tuned for further episodes of “Gays of Our Lives.”

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Living in the 10%

I’m 90% sure that my marriage is over. It’s just that he and I refuse to see it and don’t want to go through the long arduous task of tearing our lives apart.

It became abundantly clear to me as I lay thinking about our entire conversation that took place over the course of the day and the tiny pieces of what he’s done that give reveal to a very large picture I can’t bear to see.

For the longest time Charlie has always kept his personal life to his self. We have gone through some major fights and on my part some major infidelities. I have fucked up this relationship, and it would appear beyond repair. But he always kept these things close to his chest for fear of how his family would view me if we were to reconcile and try again. Well, this weekend he told his mother everything, including the details of the new guy he’s been seeing. So tomorrow, I am supposed to go to his niece’s birthday party but I truly don’t know if I can knowing now that his mother and sister (and most likely everyone) will be looking at me like some kind deviant idiot, wondering to themselves “why is he here?”

While that alone tells me more than I will ever need to know about where he is in the situation, the other final point of obvious reality is that in our talks he has mentioned many great things that would benefit him if we were to divorce that he wouldn’t be able to do while together. He could file for bankruptcy and bring himself some financial peace. As a single income person, they would adjust his student loans accordingly and he could pay them off. A month ago he even mentioned about moving and getting out of town if we were to split. In the end… He would find the happiness I know he needs and deserves. So, why can’t I just do what I see is right in front of me?

Now, don’t think I am some kind of saint. The last thing I want is to appear like I am trying to be the victim in the situation because I am not. Far from it.

I too have a quasi-boyfriend thing. At least I have been talking to someone other than my husband. In fact I’ve probably done that multiple times over the 15 years we’ve been together. When my husband and I initially got together I wasn’t even looking or wanting a relationship, but he told me he loved me and that was the first person to ever say it. Being young and dumb I said it back without thinking of the consequences of my actions. From then on I caused him nothing but heartache. I have been a horrible person to him, never once deserving the love he gave me. I have been selfish and unkind. And I wonder if I ever returned to him the love he showed me.

As it stands now, we have decided to stay together but see these other people on the side. Even as I type this I am laughing for how absurd it all sounds and how dumb we’re being. I don’t know if were doing this because we are holding out hope that the spark is in fact not dead and we’ll realize that at some point, ditch the side pieces and focus on each other. Or, its just a temporary band-aid until we both come to our senses and realize it is indeed over. (For Christ sake he said tonight about giving his side dude more attention because he’s been giving so much and then referred to us as glorified roommates. Jesus…)

It’s so obvious. I know it is. I’m just not ready or willing to accept the reality. And neither is he, or he is just making me the one to bring the ax down onto this marriage.

For further disclosure: we have literally been in this situation once before. This isn’t our first rodeo. In 2008 we “broke up” but continued to live together and see guys on the side. So maybe we’re hoping to recreate the result which was us getting back together.

Lost at Sea, a Letter of Confusion and Mental Health

I am almost certain I am going through a mid-life crisis. At least, I hope it’s not “mid life” because I would like to think I’d live past 64. One side of the family has early death rates and the other lived into their 90’s. So, who fucking knows?

When I was 25 I thought I was having a quarter-life crisis but I quickly discovered it in fact was due to the Prozac I was taking. In my own trials, I discovered that when it doesn’t work it has the opposite effect. Instead of making me not-depressed it made me erratic and I made broad sweeping decisions about my employment that made me look like a fool. In the end I survived my irrational choices without damage.

Having that memory in the back of my mind, I worry that this is just another one of those moments, however I am currently not on meds and that may play a part in it. All I am certain of, is right now I am in a very weird place.

It all began at Christmas time. I had lost all desire to shop, sure I put up the decorations but my usual Christmas cheer was AWOL. The only reason I ended up purchasing gifts at all is because I would have looked like an asshole come Christmas day and everyone I care about had gotten me something but I had not returned the favor. Social decorum kept me in check, but deep down I wanted no part of the holiday.

I sought the help of my psychiatrist and he came to the conclusion that I might be bipolar type II. The diagnosis angered me, as if I was somehow “broken” but I thought I would humor him at least. (He is the professional after all.) My doctor prescribed me a medication that made me very, very uncomfortable physically and emotionally. The most significant side effect was during that time period it made me really question my relationship and where it was going. I volleyed between staying together and splitting up. Although no side had more power over the other. They were equally matched in every way. It was almost as if it was making me bipolar. For the second time in my life, I felt truly insane.

Still on this medication, and grappling with these emotions, I asked my husband for a temporary separation. Well, I didn’t ask for it. He offered it up in the moment and I took it. For a week (probably less) we lived apart. Eventually, he came back home and we haven’t really discussed anything since then. Which the fault lies on both of us, but probably more-so on myself.

Yet, I am still in this peculiar area of where I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. Most importantly, what I want. I have this type of personality that I fear and hesitate to make the “wrong” choice. I sit there and suffer, contemplating everything down to a fine point, until I expect everything to make sense. What unfortunately ends up happening is I gain no clarity. I see the merits on both sides and still sit in the middle; undecided.

When I returned to my doctor for my trial period follow-up, he told me he had fallen into a “conundrum.” He had no diagnosis for me that seemed to stick. We had tried the depression and the bipolar type II and found no success. His final suggestion to solve our medical quandary was for me to have psychiatric evaluation. The prescription pad leaflet for it still sits in my center console of my car. No appointment date set. I fear what the conclusion will be.

My biggest concern is that I will come back with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder or something equally as drastic. I worry daily that it would show me that I don’t know what love is and don’t have the capacity to return the emotion. Like I’m some kind of sociopath. Such results I would see as a death sentence, that I am fundamentally, at my core, fucked up beyond repair. However, I would NEVER view such results for someone else in that manner. I would be supportive and try to be there for them. (I think.) I just don’t have that kind of kindness for myself.

Currently, I loathe to say it, I am lost. I am in uncharted waters of which I have no map and see no land on the horizon. Yet I am still captain of this ship and it will inevitably keep moving regardless of my choices.

Flash Fiction Challenge #3

Well, I am saddened to say that I didn’t make it into the final round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition, however I am surprised that made it as far as I did. In the process I realized a strength I didn’t even know I had in my writing toolbox, satire.  Yeah, I know that I’m hilarious in person and can be charming in text messages, but I wasn’t sure it translated well into my written narratives. Honestly, Round 2 was when I really shined.  (Wow my humility sure is humbling.)

My assignment for this challenge was: genre – sci-fi (ya, again. lame), location – candy shop, and item – an egg. In 48 hours the competitors are tasked with constructing a short story with the requirements above, all within a max of 1,000 words. Below is my submission for the challenge and below that will be the judges critiques. I have to say, Judge 3 was my buddy and seemed to actually like the story. The other two couldn’t have cared less. And what they said in their critique was spot on, especially in regards to the end. My husband did say that Judge 3 “got who I am” when they said “heartfelt and demented.”


REGENERATION

Josh Aron hesitated for a moment at the glass door of the Rocket Fizz candy shop, with a hand clenched around the metal handle.

Shelby Aron stopped short at Josh’s shoulder. “What’re you doing?”

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

Shelby chuckled and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Of course you can. Just pull with your arm.”

Josh looked at her out of the corner of his eye and sighed through his nose as he opened the door.

A soft bell tinkled from somewhere deep inside the shop, to beckon the owner from the back and the patrons forward. However, at the moment, only the Arons followed the sound.

Both sets of eyes flicked nervously around. The shelves that lined the walls of the store were nearly empty except for a few displays of candy of unknown brands.

“Hello?” Josh’s voice cracked the word. “Is there anyone here?”

The sounds of shuffling paper and a heavy thud preceded the appearance of the owner dressed head to toe in a red and white striped uniform, accompanied with a white golf cap. “I do apologize,” the shopkeeper said, “I didn’t hear you come in. We’re almost about to close for the night.”

“We know,” Josh said, he walked stiff-legged to the glass case that held some displays of homemade chocolate confections.

“She told us this is the time to come.”

The stranger furrowed his brow and examined the two.

“We’re here to order a zyloral.”

“Are you now?”

Josh nodded.

“Who told you about it?”

“Nurse Lilith. She said you only serve the best.”

A smile spread across the man’s thin lips. “Indeed we do.”

The man hurried around the edge of the counter and to the shop door where after a quick glance up and down the street, spun the lock. Then with the same sharp motions, he pulled the shades down over the windows and switched off the neon ‘Open’ sign.

“Come with me,” he said.

The two customers followed the order and found themselves escorted through a kitchen into the walk-in freezer, and once in there taken beyond a false back to a laboratory teeming with men in white lab coats, fussing over specimens displayed in glass jars. A large metallic door, built into the rear wall, led out of the lab into a room that emanated with tinny cries.

The man led them to an office in the furthest corner of the lab, encased in walls of glass.

“Please, take a seat,” the man said, as he sat behind the desk.

They both again followed instructions.

“First things first, do you have the money?”

Josh tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he nodded.

“Good. Now, do you have a viable sample?”

Shelby shoved a hand into her leather purse, removed a hairbrush enclosed in a plastic bag, and handed it to the man.

The stranger held it inches from his face and examined every strand gripped in the bristles.

“We have one right here that will work.”

“That’s a relief,” Shelby said.

The man set the brush down onto the desk and rolled his chair in further.

“Do you have an egg?”

Shelby nodded and laid a hand on her stomach.

“Will the clone have any memories?” Josh said.

“Not at all.”

“Good.”

“However,” the man said, his eyes jumped from one to the other, “any replica of one of you will arise suspicion, and if that were to happen we never met.”

“Oh, it’s not one of us,” Shelby said. “The man you’re cloning has—has passed.”

“Was it a genetic disorder? One that we should remediate?”

Shelby glanced at Josh and waited for a response, and when none came, she said, “No. It was unexpected.”

The man sat back. “I’m—“

“There’s no need,” Josh said. “People get killed all the time.”

His words hung stiff and electric in the air.

Josh’s limbs shook as he stood.

“You know what, I can’t do this. I thought this was something I wanted but—”

“Why not?”

“Do you know how unbearable just the thought of having him and not having him is, Shelbs? Every night I go to sleep alone. I wake up the next morning alone. How am I going to feel to raise him and watch him date someone else, knowing he was once mine?”

Shelby rose to meet his eye.

“We’ve talked about this. This child won’t be him. It will never be because no matter how hard we try we can never bring back the man you knew.”

Tears streamed down Josh’s cheeks. “He will be a clone of Charles.”

“That Charlie is gone, Josh. You can’t recreate the experiences that made your husband. What you can do is raise this child to be a perfect combination of the two of you.”

“How do you figure?”

“Isn’t that what children are? A shadow of one parent guided by the hand of the other?”

Josh stared into his sister’s eyes and smiled.

“I don’t think you’ll get him to like the same movies as you but you can try.”

Josh laughed and wiped away his tears.

He turned to the man and nodded.

Time stretched into eons for Josh as he waited impatiently during the incubation period. Every night as he purchased another baby item or as he converted the home office into a nursery, he wondered if he had made the right decision.

On a Sunday afternoon, he got a phone call from a blocked number with a cheery voice on the other end that told him his zyloral was ready for pick up. He rushed through the house, grabbed the diaper bag and car seat and headed over to the sweet shop to pick up his son.

At the back of the candy shop, holding his and Charles’ child in his arms for the first time, Josh was made whole again, and he doubted nothing.


JUDGE’S FEEDBACK

”Regeneration” by Joshua Hensley-Cline –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1686}  The story is an interesting take on cloning, and the twist is a nice touch.  {1504}  The owner’s outfit is memorable and adds whimsy. The couple’s mention of the zyloral builds intrigue. The shopkeeper’s odd behavior at the request is ominous.  {1751}  Wow, this story is so incredibly heartbreaking and chilling at the same time. It works both as an effective science fiction story concerning queer parenthood ( you can’t get too many more brownie points from this reviewer). It’s mildly creepy by the idea that (to extrapolate upon the already state of the art science used to produce surrogate pregnancy), that he’d be raising a clone of his dead husband, genetically his husband, with all the good nurturing he can provide. Heartwarming and demented, great work.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1686}  Consider focusing on sentence flow and pacing. The ending feels a little too tidy/simple.  {1504}  Calling the shopkeeper “the stranger” was a speed bump. Adding words to the title could make it more distinctive and a stronger draw. You might consider having additional science fiction elements.  {1751}  I do wonder one thing though; why is his sister offering to help him produce this child? Is it simply because her brother needs the love of the clone in his life, or does she get something more deeply satisfying from it? It’s just a suggestion but you might touch on her reasons for this, as I think they are just as pertinent a perspective. However, this is only a suggestion as you move forwards with this powerful story of love.

Acceptance and Other Tales

Self-acceptance is something I was mildly blessed with early on. I say it that way because there is still much of myself I dislike or haven’t come around to realizing is just who I am. Yet even with that, I still have come a long way to have confidence. I think that is why I have to remind myself that not everyone has gone through the same or probably ever will.

When I was younger I fought the idea of being gay tooth and nail. I was raised in a deeply religious home, went to Christian school and being gay was never an option open to me. The idea of even telling anyone I had those thoughts was a flat out no. I grappled with my sexuality. I prayed, in tears, that God would take away those feelings. I didn’t want to be a sinner or disowned from my family. I wanted to have the “right” life with a wife and kids. Yet, there was no denying that I was not attracted to girls. The idea of being with them ended when it came to sex. I love women and could have a deeply emotional relationship but that was where it would end. I wouldn’t be in for the deepest part of commitment and whomever I would have been with would deserve better.

I very nearly lived a “straight” life. I had girlfriends, I did the song and dance that came with it and if it hadn’t been for one fateful night I probably would have driven down that hetero-road and dealt with the consequences that came with it.

The first person I ever told I was “bi” was my friend Becky on her birthday, which is only a week away. I had been so entranced with this boy named Sergio at her birthday that I felt compelled to tell her in the hopes maybe he too… As it turned out he was and he ended up being my first boyfriend and first heartbreak. I fell hard and fast for this kid. When he ended it with me, I was devastated. It took months before I was able to move on because I wasn’t ready. I am someone that is so desperate for love that I dive in without even thinking. I envision this life of bliss and when everything turns out to be the opposite I am hard-pressed to understand that the dream I had was only that. It’s probably a sickness.

The first few days after I told Becky I was so furious with myself. “Why did I do that,” I kept thinking. It wasn’t true. I wasn’t gay! But I was still in denial. It wasn’t until I met with that boy, for our first “date,” that something in me turned and I never wanted to go back to pretending. Being with him came easy. Sergio, or “the s” as I called him to hide his gender and identity, was my first kiss. Real kiss. He was my first boyfriend. And my first infatuation.

I thank him for making me who I am. I learned so much from the short experience. For one, don’t get involved with someone young because they (unlike my freak self) haven’t made peace with their sexual preference. After Sergio I only went for older guys because I couldn’t deal with the heartbreak I had felt when he went running. I know now that I came on too strong and he just wasn’t ready. As a result, I learned to shield myself from people. Well, at first. The moment I get a compliment or am shown just the slightest amount of attention all walls come tumbling down. I am just that desperate for love and attention.

I’m almost certain I’ve shared this story on here (or other blogs) countless times. I probably even wrote it in one of my columns for the Renegade Rip. I almost never told Becky my truth. I went to her bowling party and played my role as a straight dude well, and at the end of the night went to leave. However when I got to my car the battery was dead. I called my parents to help me out and while we waited for AAA I went back inside and whispered to her the words I never thought I would say. It’s strange to look at tiny moments as mundane as a dead car battery altering the entire course of one’s life, but it did for me.

My hope is that others can find the same peace I found when I finally just accepted me for me. My natural follow-up is that it is a hard journey, but in all honesty it wasn’t for me. I have lead the most charmed life. The only real moment that was rough was my mother’s acceptance. She was very much not on-board at the start, but since then she is someone else entirely. Sure there is bigotry, but I rather be at peace with myself than fighting a battle I would never win. Denying your truth is a tortured life, full of secrets and lies that only grow as time goes on.

P.S. May I suggest what spurred this blog post, it’s a song by Brandon Stansell “Hometown.”

Unforeseen Feelings

Today I encountered an emotion I didn’t quite expect. After I registered for the next semester it occurred to me (after reviewing my “requirement grid”) that I only have one class left and I will be eligible to graduate with my AA. This is something I have been working toward for four years, ever so slowly chipping away at my necessary classes. When I began it seemed so daunting like I could and would never get there. And it became exceptionally exhausting when I found out that I couldn’t just jump into the math class I needed, but instead start at the very, very basic math course and work my way up. And even with that detour, here I stand near completion.

The feeling I felt was not one of accomplishment for having reached my goal but one of panic and terror. It struck me as odd because that isn’t the array of emotions I SHOULD be feeling. When it began I just accepted it and let the feelings run cold through me and well in the pit of my gut, but then I began to question them. Why? Why do I feel this way? It took me some time but I realized that I feel them because it means I will cross another threshold in adulthood. No more will I be the boy that pissed away his first attempts at college. Instead I will be the man that finished his task and with high marks (the second part was not foreseen or planned.)

Growing up sucks. I don’t think we ever really do to some extent. It’s strange, however, when one sits back and sees it happening. I suppose that’s why I fear it.

Now, in typical josh fashion I could fuck this up for myself and do a shit job at the next few classes to prolong this journey. In the end though, who would that serve? The child in me that doesn’t want to let go.

Flash Fiction Challenge #2

I was going to wait to post my entry until a later date because I have ambition to submit it into another competition. However, I can’t contain myself after the feedback I received. Each person was awarded a score of 1-15, with 15 being the highest (aka first place) in this challenge. I am proud to say I was awarded a score of 14 (second place) which earned me enough points to continue on to the next leg of the competition.

The following is my short story. My group’s assignment was: genre, political satire; location, drive-thru; and item, a wine glass.


FAST FOOD NATION

Ginger Stickler’s red station wagon came to a stop at the end of the long drive-thru line. Her blue eyes followed the string of cars up to a man, wearing a white shirt, pants, and a paper hat, standing next to a large sandwich board. A tablet computer hung around his neck by an American flag lanyard.

“Do you know what you want?”

She turned and looked at her unkempt, twenty-four-year-old son, Josh, sitting in the passenger seat. His brow formed a single line above his eyes to match the one formed by his lips, as his thumb ran up and down the screen of his iPhone.

“Why do we have to go to In-N-Out?” he said.

“Because it’s a Christian restaurant.”

“That seems silly; a business can’t have a religion. Doesn’t that alienate a sizable portion of customers? Can’t we just go to McDonald’s?”

“You don’t have to come here,” she snapped, “You could just go somewhere else if you don’t like it.”

“I can’t, mother. You’re driving the car.”

Ginger sniffed and sat in silence as they followed the line into the drive-thru proper, right where the man in white stood. She rolled down her window.

“Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,” he said, “Today we have started a new promotion. Our eight-year menu is no longer available, and now you must vote to pick which burger will rule for the next four years.”

Ginger’s eyes widened as she clutched her invisible pearls.

Josh leaned forward to look around his mother.

“What are our options?”

The man straightened up and pointed eagerly to the sandwich board depicting three very sloppy dishes.

“Here we have the blue, rise above, freedom for all burger. It’s a tofu patty on a gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, flavor-free, from scratch bun, with a sprinkle of flour on top. Extra dry. There are no condiments on it, but we give you a bag full of them if you ask. It comes with a side of birth control and citizenship if you are not currently one.”

“I think we’ve made our choice,” Josh said.

“We certainly have not. What else is there?”

“There is the red, super awesome, kick-ass, glory to god burger. It is a three-pound all-beef patty, smothered in garlic butter, topped with ten onion rings, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, blue cheese crumbles and all on a white bun. However, I would like to note that the beef patty may have fallen on the floor, and the buns may or may not have brushed against the cook’s genitals. But, it’s super delicious. It comes with all the fries you want, as long as you pay for each, individual sliver.”

“Is there anything else?” Ginger asked.

“Yes, ma’am. The third option is a single slice of Kraft cheese, still in the plastic.”

“Oh,” Ginger’s shoulders slumped.

“Obviously it’s the blue burger,” Josh said, as he sat back and returned to his phone.

“I don’t know. We can’t tell where all those ‘free’s’ went. How can you make a bun without it? It’s suspicious.”

“You want a ball basted bun?”

“Do you have any nutritional information?”

The waiter stuck a hand into the front pouch of his apron, pulled out a brochure and gave it to Ginger. She opened it up and read. The blue burger listed out every ingredient individually with each calorie accounted. On the other side, someone had taken a red pen, redacted every item, and had written at the top, “100% all good.” Beneath that in tiny print said, “Don’t be a pussy.”

“I’m going to go with the red burger,” Ginger said.

“Mother—”

“That is one red,” the clerk tapped in Ginger’s order to his tablet.

“Blue for me.”

“And one blue. You’ll get your total at the window.”

The two pulled further into the drive-thru in silence.

“I can’t believe you would choose that unhealthy, killer monstrosity.”

“I’m sorry, that other burger sounded so tasteless. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

The car pulled up to the front window.

The stern-faced employee already held a bag in his hand.

“Here are your two red burgers,” he said, with a Russian accent.

Ginger took their meal.

“No, that was one red and one blue,” Josh said.

The man stared back at Josh dead-eyed.

“Yes. We all get together and decide it’s only red burger for you.”

“But—”

“That will be one hundred and forty-eight dollars and thirteen cents,” the cashier said.

He held out his hand.

Ginger’s bottom jaw dropped, as she blinked in quick succession.

“Oh my goodness, that’s pricey. How much are the burgers?”

“They are twenty dollars. You pay more in tax because them,” the clerk jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.

Ginger peered through the drive-thru window into the dining room. Twelve people in suits sat at tables draped in silk cloths eating steaks off gold plates. A blonde haired man toasted to the room with a wine glass filled to the brim with a red.

“How do I get in there?”

“You don’t. This is for large donor only.” The man still had his arm stretched out. “You pay.”

Another man, wearing a white linen facemask and sporting a rifle, stepped out from behind a bush, just to the front of the station wagon.

Ginger hurriedly dug through her purse for her credit card and handed it over to the cashier. The man took it, slammed the windows shut and glowered at her from behind the glass.

“Can I have it back?”

The man glared as he pointed for her to move along.

As they drove through the end of the drive-thru, a missile shot up from the roof of a Korean barbeque restaurant across the street, arched over a sushi kiosk, and exploded into the In-N-Out, taking out a corner of the restaurant. The people inside screamed and then broke into cheers, peppered with applause.

“We should have just gone to McDonald’s.”


JUDGES FEEDBACK:

”Fast Food Nation” by Joshua Hensley-Cline –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1689}  I love how you politicize everything–literally everything–in your story. The idea that establishments can have religions and values and political alliances is reduced to absurd rubbish–wonderfully–in your hands. The missile attack ending is spot on.  {1666}  You did a nice job with the genre here. Your parallels were clever and humorous, and I appreciated the way that you incorporated a consistently increasing sense of absurdity to keep building the pace and upping the critique of today’s political environment. I think the reaction of the people in the restaurant to the Korean bombing was my favorite moment and a bigly unexpected surprise..  {1746}  Haaaa! This is great. Oh, the heavy symbolism. I think the whole premise works really well, and the dialogue made the whole thing A+. I laughed out loud a couple times. Good work!  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1689}  Good news: You have enough imagery and imagination to turn this story into a film. Bad news: I think you have may a bit too much going on for this little story to handle. I love when you focus on the family. Stay on them. Give them one problem to solve. Have them shadowed by one crazed political figure. Let that drama play out. Then you can launch your rocket.  {1666}  First, I have a couple quick grammar notes: “wearing a white shirt, pants, and paper hat” should read “wearing a white shirt, pants, and a paper hat.” A series should be written with parallel construction, so the article “a” must apply to all items or be repeated for each one it does apply to. “‘Why do we have to go to In-N-Out,'” he said,” should have a question mark, as your character has asked a complete question. Similarly, “‘Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,’ he said, ‘today…'” should read “‘Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,’ he said. ‘Today…'” Overall, it would be helpful to review these grammar standards with regard to quotations. In terms of your narrative, I think you did a better job developing the meaning of your red burger than your blue one. The celebration of excess, white trappings, ambiguous ingredients, possible contamination/corruption — it all worked nicely for the former. Your critique of the left wing (as well as of third party contention) felt a little less developed. It was hard to nail down the meaning of the “bag of condiments” that came with the burger, and the nature of the “candidate” lost some clarity for me as the narrative moved on. At first it felt like you were settled into the burger being too plain, pure and boring to beat the monstrosity on the other side, but when Ginger became suspicious of these qualities rather than simply uncompelled, it made me question how your critique was directed.
Overall, I thought this piece was really nice. Even the overarching assertion that American politics can be treated like a cheap, greasy thrill by under-invested “customers” who pay too dearly for it was a solid, subtle theme.  {1746}  The Russian part is hilarious, and tied the whole thing together (that’s when it clicked for me, but I’m a bit slow with all of that). That said, the Russian’s lines could be cleaned up/more realistic/less offensive. I think “This for large donor only” and “You pay” stuck out to me most.