It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter I (Part I)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writers' Month Contest. He will be publishing the novel in serial format as it is written, rather than writing goofy posts, which is his actual job here.)

Chapter 1
The Gathering Storm

The knock at the door was the UPS man. He stood there a moment, in his regulation brown trousers, regulation brown long sleeves, regulation brown shoes, and regulation brown hat, his face shadowed by the roof of the house. I’ve always assumed they were required to wear brown underwear, too, just in case they were in an accident. In typical fashion, he waited a moment, package in hand, just in case some human presence should appear at the door suddenly. Then, at approximately five seconds before a normal human might get up off the couch and amble over to the door, he quickly set the package down and dashed off to his van. Very rarely have I actually met a UPS man at the door. Usually, I just get a glimpse of them, waving amiably as they drive off down the street, a wave that says both, “Thank you for your business,” and also, “I’m so glad I didn’t have to speak to you in person.”

I got up and walked to the door. As I passed the living room, my wife looked up at me and commented, “That’s strange, someone knocking at the door.”

“It was just the UPS man,” I mumbled as I passed.

“Earl, dear… It’s 9:30 p.m.” came back her voice, calm, but evidencing concern.

What was the bloody UPS man doing here at 9:30 p.m., anyway, and more to the point, why hadn’t I realised it was so late in the midst of my novel reverie? It could be that he was running behind. Perhaps he’d stopped off at a local pub, got to talking to the barman, lost count of how many Michelobs he’d sipped on, and quietly passed out on the stool. Then, waking after a few hours, realized he’d better make some late runs or he was certain for the sack.

I mulled this over for a bit but it was quite unconvincing. UPS blokes are known for their astounding promptness. Like their spiffier-dressed brethren, the Fed-Ex blokes, they would pass by regularly at set times. Hobos in the street corners could set their broken, fake Rolexes by them, then, the very next day, as the UPS man passes, look down at the smudged and cracked glass and smartly remark, “It’s 2:30 p.m.,” from where the watch had not moved the entire 24 hours, and they’d be absolutely right.

I also have always wondered why UPS chose brown. It’s not a bad colour at all, being the colour of chocolate, coffee, tea, and well prepared smoky chops and steak. Fed Ex always used white and blue, with a bit of red trimming. It seemed more business-like and also rather patriotic, which fitted with the “Federal” part of the name, I suppose. I’m sure that children though would look at it and immediately think of poop. However, children tend to look at most things and think of poop, poop being the height of hilarity for a small child, second only to “toots.” This reminded me of a story Gary Sinise told on the Letterman show, not two nights before about how, whilst doing a Broadway performance of “Of Mice and Men” or perhaps it was “The Grapes of Wrath,” word had come that the great actress Katherine Hepburn was to be in the audience that evening. At one of the most dramatic points in the performance, when the character of a minister is killed, the actor playing the minister falls forward onto the stage, and as he falls, a fairly large amount of gas passes from his body, and loudly so, according to Sinise. He went on to say that at the moment precisely afterwards, an aged, strong but tremulous female voice, the great lady herself, could be heard throughout the theatre exclaiming, “Oh…My…God!” Sinise went on to say that the corpse lying onstage quietly trembled in mirth the rest of the performance.

So, clearly many people find amusement in toots, and I suppose poop as well, with the notable exception of Kate Hepburn. However, were I in charge of UPS, I would rapidly seek out an endorsement from the Hershey’s company and slap the Hershey’s label on the back of every UPS uniform in existence. Yes, this might alienate the good people at Cadbury (my favourite chocolatiers) and Mars, but it was worth the risk to avoid the sense that this unnatural shade of brown that UPS drivers resplendently wore was something sweet and favoured, instead of something wretched and regularly expelled from the human digestive system.

I realised that the package was still sitting out there and it was still ruddy strange that a UPS man would suddenly appear this late in the evening in a residential area. Now, a healthy sense of paranoia began to take hold of me. I began to wonder if Osama Bin Laden hadn’t disguised himself as a UPS man and cleverly planted an explosive on my front stoop. I had after all made a tremendous point of ridiculing the vicious murdering bastard on the blog a number of times. Even though our readership was well below what I thought it should be, there was the very strong chance that Osama had “next blogged” our site, saw the verbal ripostes aimed directly at his sneering face, and declared personal, eternal jihad against my person.

I shook off this idea as nonsense, realising that Osama had bigger fish to fry, including working out how to step out of his cave on the Pakistan/Afghani border without the U.S. Marines blowing his head clean off. So, was this an actual UPS package, delivered at an odd hour of the evening by peculiar chance, or some other strange and foreboding event. I wondered if one of my compatriots at the blog could have set this up as some sort of practical joke. It would have to be someone who lived nearby, as the others would have used regular, daytime-delivering UPS service.

That narrowed it down to Stew and Nuffy. Stew Miller is my co-editor on the site. Stew however was far to busy with family, having two young kids. The idea that he would suddenly hatch a plan to deliver suspicious packages in the middle of the evening for the purposes of a modest practical joke was like suggesting that President Bush would suddenly direct the FBI to harass and investigate the crackpot at the local farmer’s market who kept insisting that the President and every president before him were delivering secret cocaine shipments to a local aero field. Just because the bloke at the market thought that was the case, didn’t make it so. It did however make it quite enjoyable to wear dark jackets and sunglasses to the square the market was held on, just to watch his eyes slowly bulge out of his head and to hear him quietly mutter, “I know what you’re up to, you lousy government fascists.”

Nuffy was out of the question as well. Nuffy Noe, was a writer for the blog who specialized in a system of self-betterment called “Five Times Better” and obsessive investigations into the life of the late Mark Northover, a bit player in the Ron Howard film Willow. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t find such a gag amusing or that he didn’t have the energy or time to pull it off; rather, it was that Nuffy was one of those blokes who tended to wander in and out of the blog for long periods of time, and having set up such a prank, would quickly become fascinated with some other activity and would miss the payoff. Such a gag would simply take too long for Nuffy to get any real enjoyment out of it.

There was only one thing for it. I walked to the front door and opened it gingerly, peeking around the edge of the door to get a glimpse of this mysterious package. It wasn’t particularly large at all. In fact, it was in one of those ordinary, standard UPS packaging boxes, the kind that pretty much anything smaller than a board game could come in.

I listened closely for ticking. There was none to be heard. I briefly contemplated that, were it an explosive device of some kind, it might be radio controlled. Our door was solid metal, which offered some protection, so I opened it up and then quickly closed it again. I did this two more times, just to be sure. Nothing happened. Surely, were someone sitting up the street with a pair of binoculars and a radio switch, they would have thrown it by now…Unless they were waiting for me to take it inside

“Earl, close the door! You’re letting the cold air inside,” shouted my lovely wife.

I gingerly picked up the package and brought it inside the door, closed the door and then sprinted into the living room. My wife looked at me as though I were a loon.

“Where’s the package?” she asked.

“In the foyer,” I replied.

“Why?” she smartly reasoned.

“Bomb…maybe?” I dimly replied.

She lowered her eyebrows ever so slightly, but just enough to pierce the fog of paranoia and half a beer that was presently clouding my brain.

“Oh, right,” I replied, sanity once again taking hold of my brain, much like tasting an ice cube in an otherwise warm spoonful of chicken soup.

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