The Rules for Men Doing Laundry - By Brian Law 

He knew he should have been writing them down when she was telling him ‘The Rules’. She made a point that This Is Important! Because You’re home All Day And I’m Not! He should have written them down because now he couldn’t remember all of them . . . not exactly , and she was going to expect him to do it right the first time. Maybe he thought Just maybe I’ll get it right if I do the same load two or three times. It’s bound to get clean that way, no matter what I do wrong. He looked at the pile on the laundry room floor and thought, God, it seemed so easy whenever she did it. I should have paid attention! 

But he was really worried about the little load of clothes he brought home from his last business trip, the last time he’d actually left the house. The ones he'd hidden in the garage. She was going to go through the folded and stacked laundry when she got home to look for stains he didn’t get out. And she was going to ask Where’s Your Good Shirts? You Know, The Ones From Your Last Business Trip? And that was going to be a problem because she didn’t include in ‘The Rules’ stuff like how to get wine stains out of cotton . . . or lipstick . . . or blood. Maybe Google and YouTube had something. 

When he married a cop, he knew she probably had a suspicious personality, and boy, was he ever right! She watched him like a hawk for the first few months . . . he couldn’t get away with anything! But then she started to loosen-up and didn’t give him the ‘third degree’ every time he returned from a business trip. Her mistake. 

He looked at his watch. She’d be home in about ten hours, give or take. He went through the Washer and Dryer manuals and determined the length of each cycle and then went to Google and searched for YouTube videos that would explain how to do what he needed to do. The one he found ran for 18 minutes and 15 seconds, and he watched it twice, taking careful notes each time. 

Separating the clothes into the suggested groupings, he stood back and did a mental calculation about how much time it would take to wash each group Twice! and get them all dried and folded before she got back. He was pretty proud of his plan. All the tricky stuff was in one pile, the stuff that needed special treatment. And some of it was even Hers! Which was a bit of a problem because he couldn’t identify a particularly odd stain on one of her uniform shirts. It was sticky and smelled funny and left a stain on his fingers he couldn’t get off right away. Whatever! he figured She didn’t leave specific instructions for that one, so he’d just do his best and keep his fingers crossed. 

He was pleasantly surprised when the wine and lipstick stains on his good shirts came out the first time. The blood, well, that took a bit more work, but he finally got it all out. He even tried his own concoction of bleach plus baking soda plus Dawn put directly on the blood stain. Who knew it would work so well? He was feeling pretty good about things until he got to the funny stain in her uniform shirt. 

He scratched it, sniffed it, even tasted it, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. When he asked Google, it gave him some cleaning suggestions based upon its taste and smell. But it didn’t want to come out no matter what he used on it or what cycle he used. She was gonna be mad. He glanced at his watch. He had two hours to figure it out! Finally, he got a break on YouTube. He tried their suggestions and Bingo! out came her uniform shirt, clean and sweet smelling as the day it was issued to her. 

When she walked in the front door, he was casually sitting in front of the television. “Hi, Honey, how was your day?” he asked, pretending to be interested. 

“God, these idiots I have to deal with nowadays. I can’t wait for a frickin’ vaccine, you know!” she said as she whisked right by him into the kitchen for her first glass of wine. 

A few minutes later, she strolled back into where he was still sitting and wondered, “How did the laundry go? Get everything clean? Hmmmm?” 

He nonchalantly replied, “Oh, sure, no problem. I just followed your rules and everything came out fine.” 

She took a quick sip of her wine and said, “Well, let’s just check, okay?” 

As she turned towards the laundry room, he got up knowing that she was going to do a thorough review of his work, but he knew he had nailed it. And when she entered the laundry room, she stopped and remarked, “Well done! All sorted and folded. Mind if I just give it a quick look through, just to be sure?” 

“No, go ahead, look away, Honey,” he proudly answered. He stood with his arms crossed as she went through each pile, underwear, socks, towels, etc. She stopped when she got to the shirts. She picked up one of his good shirts, opened it up and gave it a good once over. “Nice job on your shirts. Spotless!” she commented. And she knew what she was talking about because she had found his dirty business laundry stash in the garage last week and knew just what kind of stains he would have to get out. “Well done.” 

Then she picked up her uniform shirt and did a similar review. Holding it up to the light, she wondered, “Did you get out that stubborn little stain on the front? I guess I forgot to tell you about that one.” 

Nodding confidently, he explained that it took some doing, some sniffing, wiping and even tasting, but he got it out. 

She smiled and put the uniform shirt back down. She had counted on him being thorough. She knew he’d do anything to impress her and get that stain out. Even tasting it! But you cheating son-of-bitch! she thought You’ll be dead in a day or two from the poison in that stain. And the evidence, well, you got rid that yourself, Dear Husband! 

End

Super Spreader - By Brian Law 

Sitting in the quiet of his study, he thought for a moment, and then continued writing, “The force of the blow would have stunned anyone else, but WonderMan just shook his head, smiled strangely and asked, ‘Is that all you got, evil one? ' The second and third blows had no effect either and the frustration was starting to show on the face of the crook as WonderMan reached down, picked-up a broken piece of pipe, and held it in his strong hands, that same strange smile still on his face.” 

From the other room, he could hear his son call out, “Dad, are you still writing? It’s almost time to go!” 

Typing faster now, he continued writing, “The pipe was no longer just a pipe! In the hands of WonderMan it magically changed into a glowing golden scepter and the evil doer knew immediately what that meant! He instinctively backed up, his eyes darting from side to side seeking an escape route, but there was none! WonderMan had taken care of that.” 

“C’mon, Dad, Mom’s in the car and she’s honking the horn. Let’s go! We’ll miss the start of the drive-in movie if we don’t leave right now, Dad!” his son implored. 

The words came faster now, his fingers flying across the keyboard as he finished the story, “Backed-up against the dark stone wall of the cellar, the sinister adversary growled, ‘You think you can stop us, WonderMan? You can kill me, but there are thousands more where I come from. You’ll lose in the end, do gooder!’ The smile disappeared from WonderMan’s face as he moved very close to his prey, the golden weapon of good cradled in his powerful hands. ‘I’m not going to kill you, evil creature. In fact, I’m letting you go. You are free to return to your evil friends and your evil ways. But I know something that you don’t know.’ With that, WonderMan wrapped himself in his cape and amazingly disappeared, leaving the low-life evil one alone with nothing but wonder and the virus. End” 

The boy appeared in the doorway of the study. He was looking at his watch and pleading, “Dad, please! You can finish that story when we get back! Let’s go!” 

He closed his computer, moved his wheelchair slowly away from his desk, and wheeled himself towards his son in the doorway. The boy let his father move through the doorway before shutting off the light in the study. Then, stepping behind the wheelchair, he started to push it up the ramp towards the front door, and as he did, the boy leaned down a bit and asked, “Is it another WonderMan story, Dad? I love those.” 

His father smiled and over his shoulder replied, “Yeah, and I think it’s a good one, too. WonderMan lets the bad guy go this time but infects him with a deadly virus which will kill the evil doer and all his evil friends. And the crook doesn’t know it!” As his son opened the front door, his father asked, “Whadda you think? Do you think I can sell this story?” 

His Dad had never sold one of his cheesy stories, not one. But it was hope that kept him upbeat and cheerful. He didn’t want to think about what his Dad’s life would be like without schlocky old WonderMan as he answered, “Yeah, Dad, I think this just might be the one.” 

End

Rawhide - By Brian Law 

The lanky trail hand slid off his horse, draped the reins over the hitching post and ambled up the steps of the front porch to the big white house at the end of Main Street in Abilene. He looked back out on the street, saw that it was empty, and then with a smile on his face, opened the front door. Once inside, he brushed off the trail dust from his vest, took off his hat, and looked around as an older woman approached. 

“You the head whore in this here establishment?” he asked in his West Texas accent. 

“I prefer the title ‘Madame’, sonny. But, yes, I own and operate this House,” she shot back. 

“Sorry, ma’am, no offense,” the cowboy answered. 

“None taken. And just who might you be and what is your business, cowhand?” she asked, moving closer to him, her hands on her hips. 

“Ma’am, I’m Dell Forrest, and for the last seven weeks I’ve seen nothin’ but the hind end of some of the ugliest cows ever driven to market. And I’d like a bath, a bottle of good whisky and a woman, if that can be arranged. I got cash,” the cowboy responded, pulling a wad of money from his vest. 

The Madame told him to put his money away. “Won’t do you any good here, kid. Town’s all closed down. There’s a pandemic going on. I guess you’ve been out of touch a while,” she explained. 

“A pan-what? I don’t care if there’s a tornado on the next block, I just got off a four hundred mile cattle drive all the way from Clifford, Texas, and I ain’t leavin’ until I get a bath, a bottle, and a lady, you hear!” he yelled. 

The Madame went to the desk and picked-up a printed flyer and handed it to the cowboy. “Can you read, kid?” 

“Sure, some.” 

“Well, this will explain it all. It’ll explain why the streets are empty, why all the girls are gone, and why the saloons are closed. You best read it over ‘cause no amount of money is going to get you anything around Abilene, cowboy!” she shot back. 

He read the flyer, asked her what a few words meant, and then sat down, a forlorn look on his face. “It’s eighteen hundred and ninety-four, and a man can’t get his needs met after driving nine hundred miserable critters over some of the most godawful desert you ever seen. Is that what this is telling me?” 

“Yep. That’s about it, Dell Forrest,” she responded. Then, she paused for a moment, moved closer to him, put her hand on his broad shoulder and asked, “You like ‘porn’?” 

He looked up at her heavily made-up face and with a wrinkled brow asked, “What the hell is ‘porn’?” 

“Just a little something I’ve cooked up to deal with the current situation. Here, I’ll show you,” she said as she pulled some photos from her bustle and handed them to him. 

He said nothing as he inspected the nude pictures carefully, one at a time. “You got any more of these?” he asked, a serious look on his face. 

“Yes, I do, but it will cost you some, Dell Forrest,” she countered. 

“No, what I mean is do you have a lot more of these ‘cause when I was in El Paso last year, I heard about a Frenchman who can make pictures move. You know, make ‘em appear like they're alive! And with your pictures and my money, well . . . I’ll never have to cowboy again and you, you’ll never have to do whatever it is that you do again.” 

“Not a bad idea, Dell. I know some girls down Clifford way who might be interested,” she chirped in. 

“And I know a photographer down there, too. And I guess you could talk me into volunteering my services for the first few projects . . . moving pictures I think they call 'em,” he said with a glint in his eye. 

“Your services?” she asked. 

“Sure, they don’t call us cowpokes for nothin’, partner!” 

End

Apologies, Inc. - By Brian Law 

“Apologies, Inc. How may I help you?” she asked, adjusting her phone headset slightly. 

“Uh, I’d like to send out an apology tomorrow. Can you do that? I know it’s late,” the man answered. 

“That depends, sir. How many people are you trying to reach?” she asked, filing her nails. 

He breathed deeply and quietly answered, “Is three hundred and thirty million too many?” 

She put down her nail file and replied, “Not a problem. Do you have an account with us, sir?” 

“No.” 

“Do you want to open one today? It might speed things up a lot, sir?” 

“Let’s just do this as a one-off, okay?” 

“Sure, no problem, as a guest. Now, how would you like to pay for this today,” she wondered. 

There was a pause and some murmuring on the other end of the line. Then the man came back on the line and replied, “Cash.” 

“Okay,” she answered. “Let’s get going on the language. About how many words are we talking about, sir?” 

There was another pause and then, “Let’s say four.” 

“Right,” she replied, “Four words to three hundred and thirty million people. Let’s see, that comes to twenty-five dollars and twelve cents. Can you handle that, sir?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Now, sir, the four words. I am ready anytime you are,” she explained. 

There was a third long pause and then the man dictated, “I . . Am . . So . . Sorry!” 

“Right. Got that. Now just who is this apology going to, sir?” 

“Everyone in the country.” 

“Okay, sir. Will that include the undocumented, too?” she asked tentatively. 

The man replied testily, “Yeah, them, too!” 

“And can I have your billing address please? I’ll send a courier over to pick up the cash.” 

“1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.” 

“Thanks, got it, sir! You have a good day.” 

End

Ad Out - By Brian Law 

As he patted his neck with his towel, she bent down and dried off her legs with her towel. As he watched her, he remarked, “Your backhand today was the best I’ve ever seen it.” As he waited for her reply, he reminded himself that he was the luckiest man alive to have a woman like this in his life. 

She stopped what she was doing and looked up at him but didn’t smile. Instead, she asked in a steely tone, “What in the hell do we do now, Jerry? I mean, he told you today was your last day as my tennis instructor.” She put down her towel and moved closer to him. “Will we ever see each other again? Who knows how long this stupid ‘shelter in place’ is going to last, anyway?” 

He suggested that they sit down for a moment. He had something he wanted to run by her. Away from the sun, under the umbrella, Jerry leaned close to her and asked, “Do you love me as much as I love you?” 

“You know I do,” she said, kissing him gently. “I’ll do anything to be with you. Anything. But my husband is rich, powerful and has almost complete control over me. My God, he’s eighty-three and I’m forty-two. What was I thinking?” 

He took her hands in his and told her he had a plan. “This pandemic might go on for months. Who knows how long you’ll be pent up in that mansion of yours with that old goat? But I think I can solve our two problems at the same time. You interested?” 

She nodded vigorously as Jerry continued, “Okay, that can of tennis balls over there looks pretty normal, right? But the three balls inside are infected with the virus. Don’t ask me how. But they are. Are you following me?” 

“You want me to infect my husband? Is that it?” she asked tentatively. 

Jerry looked around before continuing. “Yes, but now here’s the hard part. I want you to infect yourself and then make sure you pass it on to him. That way it won’t draw any suspicion on me.” 

She sat still, not saying anything at first. Slowly, a smile crept across her face as she responded, “I like it. The young wife survives the virus but the old decrepit husband dies. And the murder weapon is a tennis ball. Jerry, you’re a genius. And a soon-to-be-rich one, at that!” 

He hugged her and told her he was thrilled she liked the plan. “And I will give you some of that medicine combination that Trump was touting, but just enough for you. Once you start feeling yourself getting sick, take it and it will minimize your symptoms. By the time you’re up and better, the old man will be dead or dying. And I will just be the simple tennis instructor who was let go several weeks before. Who’s going to suspect me, you, or both of us?” 

They ordered drinks and discussed additional details. By four o’clock, Jerry was gone and she was headed back home in her Jaguar, the can of tennis balls in her workout bag on the passenger seat. About a mile from home, she popped open the can, took out a ball, rubbed it on her lips and threw it out the car window. She did the same with the other two balls and as she drove up the long entryway of her palatial home in Brentwood, she could see her husband standing out in front, supported by his walker. She waved, parked the Jag and walked towards him, a broad smile on her face. “Hi, honey, ready to start our lonely vigil together?” she joked, as she hugged him and gave him a kiss. “I know I am.” 

That night at dinner, the two of them sat at opposite ends of a large dining table. Dinner had been brought in and was left on the front porch. Walter, her husband, had been to the wine cellar and had retrieved a special wine for their first ‘shelter in place’ dinner. He told her he wanted to make their seclusion as painless as possible. “By the way, how was your tennis class today, dear?” the old man asked, taking a sip of wine. 

She sighed and told him that she was going to miss her daily tennis workout, but that she knew it was absolutely necessary for them to remain separate from the world for a while. “How long do you think it will be like this, dear?” she asked innocently. 

The old man got slowly up from his chair and replied, “I’ve asked the best minds in my company for that answer. They say to be prepared for at least four months, minimum.” He watched her wince a bit as he walked towards her. “But to relieve your burden, I had this made for you,” he said as he laid a jewelry box down on the side of her dinner plate. 

She eagerly opened the box and inhaled sharply, saying, “Oh my God, Walter! This is magnificent! Here, help me put it on, will you?” 

As the old man moved behind her to secure the necklace, he bent down closer and added, “And I have another surprise for you, my dear. It won’t be just the two of us here for the next four months.” 

She turned her head as he fumbled with the latch on the necklace. “What do you mean, Walter? Who else is going to be here?” 

Walter stood straight and proudly announced, “Your children Ben and Mary, from your first marriage! Their colleges have shut down suddenly and what with Mary’s Lupus and Ben’s diabetes, I thought this was the perfect solution. And I’ve always wanted to get to know your kids better.” 

She stammered something but Walter was insistent, “You know me. Once I’ve made up my mind, there’s no going back.” 

As she pushed her chair away from the table and quickly got up ready to tell Walter ‘No!’, she saw the door to her right open and her two children limp to her side, their arms open and their faces beaming. 

“Surprise, Mother!” they yelled, hugging and kissing her. 

Walter stood still, watching, his fists clenched. 

End

Here Goes Nothin' - By Brian Law 

Most just called it “The Ranch”. It was a five thousand acre spread in the mountains of northern New Mexico and since the Sixties it had been the playground of the rich and famous. But the Pandemic had closed it down since early February as dozens of their best customers quickly cancelled their reservations. 

The stately Main House lay empty and quiet guarded only by ‘Old Jim’ who had been with “The Ranch” since before it was just for rich dudes. Nobody knew how old he really was but there was speculation that he was possibly over a hundred. It didn’t matter much to the management since ‘Old Jim’ was more reliable than any of their other employees and twice as savvy with the horses. 

The old man had just finished feeding the horses when he heard the phone in the barn ring. He wiped his hands on his jacket, walked to the phone and picked it up. It was a call from the owner of “The Ranch”. 

“Jim, it’s Walt. I’m in Santa Fe and will be up later this week. We’re opening up again, my friend!” As he held the receiver, ‘Old Jim’ spit some chewing tobacco onto the barn floor as his boss continued, “They’ve lifted the restrictions. Our first guests will be arriving next Monday morning.” Wiping his nose with the sleeve of his jacket, ‘Old Jim’ managed to mutter, “Uh-huh” into the phone. 

“Right. Just make sure you have seven horses saddled and ready to go. No children this time. All adults. One guy you’ll remember. The drunk that fell off his horse two years ago. You’ll have to watch him very carefully this time, Jim.” There was a pause and then the owner finished with, “Okay. That’s all for now. See you in a couple of days, Jim.” 

Hanging up the phone, the old man thought back to when he was a young boy on “The Ranch”. His father was the foreman then, and he was a mean drunk. ‘Old Jim’ took many beatings over the years from his father until he learned how to handle hard drinkers. And he’d handle this drunk coming up on Monday the same way he’d handled his father. 

He didn’t remember exactly how he learned how to do it. It just happened one day when his father had a heat on and had reached for the belt. Jim was about seven then, but he was a big seven-year-old. As his father moved towards him, Jim just stood sideways, his hands by his side with a cold look in his eyes. His father never got closer than three feet away from him. He took one look at Jim standing there with that look and never laid a hand on him again. Jim’s father died in 1918 along with his mother, and it wasn’t from hard drinking. Almost everyone in Jim’s family died that year. He was seven and all alone. And he had handled drunks the same way since then. And it was the same year he began working with the horses in the barn. And there was something he knew about the horses in the barn that nobody else alive knew. 

By Monday morning, the Main House was open for business. Delivery trucks had been arriving all weekend and the staff had been called back for the reopening. ‘Old Jim’ had started saddling the horses in the barn as soon as he saw the limo arrive with the new guests and he was just finishing up when his boss and his new guests arrived just outside the barn door. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is ‘Old Jim’. He’ll be your trail guide on today’s ride. He knows these mountains like the back of his hand,” the owner related to the group. 

The drunk was weaving a bit in the rear of the group as he blurted out, “Jush how old is the old coot, Walt?” 

Jim said nothing. Instead, he just spit some tobacco on the ground between him and the group. 

Walt didn’t respond to the drunk but turned to Jim and told him to bring the horses out. Jim looked at him and matter-of-factly said, “They ain’t comin’ out, Boss. They won’t budge.” 

The drunk pushed his way through the small group of guests and stumbled towards Jim, yelling “Get those goddamn steeds out here right now, old man!” 

Jim said nothing. He turned slightly, his hands down by his side, a cold look on his face. 

The drunk stopped dead in his tracks. Something told him to not take one step further, something that cut through the haze of his mind like a knife. He looked around, embarrassed, and said at the top of his voice, “Let’s get out of this dump!” The rest of the small group agreed and turned and walked back towards the Main House and their limo. 

The owner roughly pulled ‘Old Jim’ aside and under his breath growled, “There goes fifty thousand, Jim. Just because you can’t get those damn horses out of the barn. What is wrong with you?” 

Jim removed the boss’s hand from his arm, turned his head towards the barn and said, “The horses inside, their bloodline goes back to before I was born on this ranch, boss. I seen this happen once before, horses refusing to move from the barn.” 

“What are you talking about, Jim. Make some sense, will you?” his boss demanded. 

“It was 1918, boss. Before any of us knew anything was happening. But the horses did. They sensed it and wanted nothing to do with it. Just like today, boss. They sensed it in those people. The horses know them folks got it and them folks either don’t know it or won’t tell. Either way, best you get rid of them, and fast.” 

His boss just stood there dumbfounded and stuttered, “You mean . . .?” 

“Yeah, boss. Wash yer hands.” 

End

Righty Tighty - By Brian Law 

The young man and his Supervisor sat patiently in the waiting room of the Director of the Wuhan Laboratory. It had been a long day for both of them and they were anxious to return to their homes for the long weekend ahead. Bingwen had only worked at the Lab for a month since his graduation from the local technical college and he had never met the Director. So, he was slightly anxious, especially when he was told to report to the Director’s office that afternoon and all of his fellow employees looked at him with some concern. What had he done? they whispered among themselves. Nobody is ever called to the Director’s office, ever! 

The Director’s door opened and his assistant waved them both into the office. The Supervisor allowed Bingwen to go in first, and he followed close behind. The Director looked up from his desk, smiled, and rose slowly. “Welcome, please, sit down, both of you,” he said in a pleasant tone. Bingwen immediately began to feel better and when he glanced over at his Supervisor, he saw a sly smile on his face. 

“Now,” the Director began, “You are probably wondering why I have asked you here so late in the afternoon, hmmm?” Bingwen nodded obediently as he continued, “Well, it’s because I have been hearing good things about you, young man, very good things.” He looked over at the Supervisor and added, “Mr. Zhang, your Supervisor, has forwarded glowing reports on your progress. Let me see here, ah yes, here’s just one section from his most recent report . . . ‘Bingwen is undoubtedly the most proficient technician in the Level 4 Laboratory, even though he has only just completed his training and has only been on the job for a month! His competency exceeds even those of our most senior technicians!’” He put down the report and looked at him and merely said, “Congratulations, Bingwen. We could use a dozen more like you! By the way, what is your background? Where did you acquire your technical skills? Were you an engineering graduate in college?” 

The young worker looked down a bit sheepishly and replied, “I studied Art History before I entered the technical school, Director. I never handled a tool until then, sir.” 

“All the more impressive, Bingwen, all the more impressive. Your Supervisor tells me that he has so much confidence in your abilities that he allowed you to secure the lab alone in preparation for the long weekend ahead. He tells me that he has never allowed anyone with less than ten years of experience to do that. You should be congratulated to have achieved such a depth and breadth of skill in such a short time.” 

As he prepared to answer, his Supervisor proudly jumped in, “And Director, he did it without reference to the Manual. He has memorized the Manual completely. I made sure of that before he proceeded. Here, let me show you how extraordinary his memory is!” With that, his Supervisor started to ask Bingwen questions about specific shut-down procedures for the Lab Manual and had him repeat the Manual from memory, word for word. 

As he spoke, the Director followed along with his copy of the Manual. Bingwen recited sections of the Manual for several minutes with no errors until the Director held up his hand and announced, “I’m convinced, thank you!” 

Thoroughly excited now and wanting to further impress the Director, his Supervisor asked just one last question, “And Bingwen, your final act in securing the Lab. What was it?” 

He turned to look at him and answered, “Why, I closed the condensate drain from the Autoclave, the last and final possible connection to the outside world.” 

His Supervisor couldn’t contain himself as he asked, “And that condensate drain valve, you closed it all the way, until it stopped, correct?” 

“Of course, all the way to the left until it stopped,” he answered confidently. 

The look on the Director’s face was one of horror as he immediately reached across his desk and slammed the red button on his desk. The red light on the wall started to glow and rotate and the alarms began to sound. 

Bingwen was stunned as he turned to his Supervisor for guidance. The Supervisor's face had lost all color and tears were rolling down his cheeks and it was clear from the smell that something else had happened, too. 

End

The Frustration Bureau - By Brian Law 

“Good Morning, this is The Frustration Bureau. I’m Betsy, your assistant today. How may I help you?” 

A tentative male voice came on the line, “I’m, uh, a first-time caller. Are these calls recorded or anything?” 

Betsy cheerily replied, “We do record all conversations for quality control purposes. But I assure you anything you say will be kept in strict confidentiality, sir.” 

“Okay. And if I tell you my major frustration, what do you do with that information, Betsy?” he asked, a bit more confident. 

“First, you and I work together to develop a precise description of your frustration. Then I give you some suggestions and tips. But if that isn’t enough for you, I can enter your frustration into our database, give it a distinctive identifier, and our experts will then review it and get back to you via email about how they think you could best address your frustration,” Betsy proudly replied. 

“Look, uh, Betsy, is it? Let’s skip that second part, okay? I don’t want my email in your database. So, let me just describe my problem and maybe you can help me. God, I’ve never been so frustrated!” the voice answered in desperation. 

“That’s fine with me. I’m just a level-headed gal from the Midwest. Grew up on a farm in a large family so I have a lot of experience solving interpersonal problems. So, what is the gist of your frustration today?” Betsy asked. 

“Well, for most of my professional life, I’ve been my own boss or the boss of others. But in my new position, I have to take orders from a guy who’s a real jackass. He’s put me in charge of a big important project recently and I’ve staffed it up with the best people I could find. And we’ve developed some really terrific ideas and have presented these ideas to our customers.” 

“So, what seems to be the problem?” Betsy inquired. 

“Well, during our presentations, my boss just jumps in willy-nilly and makes outrageous statements without any basis in fact. It makes me look like a fool, undermines our ideas, and makes our customers nervous. And believe me, quitting is not an option nor is complaining to my boss. I’m at my wit’s end, Betsy.” 

“Is it possible to go over his head? You know, to his boss?” she suggested. 

“No.” 

“Okay, is it possible that customer dissatisfaction could become so great that your boss might lose his job in the near future?” she pondered. 

“Yeah, in a way. Yeah, that could happen. But I’d be out of a job, too. It’s not like I’d take over as boss,” he answered, a bit forlornly. 

“Well, all I can say is what a Kansas farm boy once said and I think it bears repeating here, sir. He said, 'Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field',” she added. 

She heard the man on the other end of the phone repeat that saying slowly, several times. After a moment he came back on the line and said, “You know, Betsy, I needed that. I’ve been away from my Midwest roots too long. I’m going to get my perspective back and dive back into my new project, crappy boss be darned!” 

The phone line went dead, and Betsy took a moment to make some notes in her call log. Her friend, a new employee, leaned over and remarked, “Uh, Betsy, you’ve never been on a farm in your life. You were born in Brooklyn, kiddo. Who are you trying to kid with that farm lingo, anyway?” 

“It was Mike Pence, again. He calls in about once a week, always trying to disguise his voice. We all just make up some shit to make him feel better. It seems to work for a while, anyway,” she replied. 

End

White Mask - By Brian Law 

“Ronny, can I call you Ronny?” the man wearing the white face mask asked. 

“Yeah, that’s my name. Can you talk slower? It’s hard to understand you through the mask and all.” 

“No problem, Ronny,” the man answered. Speaking slowly and carefully, he continued, “Let’s go back one day, okay? You live over your brother-in-law’s detached garage, right? And you’ve lived there for, what, about three years?” 

Ronny fidgeted, tapped a smoke from his pack and lit it as he answered, “Yeah. I leave the rent in cash in a box on the back porch every month. We don’t talk.” 

“So yesterday, you woke-up early about 3 a.m. and walked to the local Seven Eleven. Is that about right, Ronny? And you told the others that you didn’t see anyone on the way to or from the store.” 

“Yup. I bought breakfast, you know, a Slurpee and a pop tart. Left the money on the counter like always. Fawad lets me do that so he can sleep in the back. I was back home in twenty minutes, tops. I got home in time to start watching the morning shows on ESPN.” 

The man wrote something down, adjusted his face mask, and continued, “So you spent most of the morning over the garage watching ESPN. When did you go out again?” 

“Lunch. I walked to the Seven Eleven and bought some stuff, uh, let’s see, a burrito and a coke, I think. Paid the same way. Took a nap and then watched ESPN some more till dinner time. Went back to the store, got some chow and came home, ate, caught one last show on ESPN and went to bed.” Ronny stopped, took a drag on his cigarette and then added, “And then you guys woke me up around 2 o’clock this morning and started asking me all these questions.” Pausing, he proudly announced, “You guys are the first people I’ve seen for, like, a long time!” 

The man in the white mask got up from his chair, walked around the room a bit and then turned to address Ronny, “So, not seeing anybody for weeks or months is not unusual for you, correct? And ESPN is your only contact with the outside world, so to speak? Have I got that right, Ronny?” 

Ronny nodded and crossed his arms. “What’s this all about, anyway? Am I in any trouble?” 

The man in the white face mask smiled for the first time as he replied, “Trouble? No, nothing like that, Ronny. We’re just trying to figure out how you managed to survive when almost nobody else around here did.” 

"Survived what?" Ronny asked, stubbing out his cigarette. 

End

Tell Me About It - By Brian Law 

“Welcome, everyone, to today’s radio broadcast of ‘My American Life’, the only radio show that celebrates the lives of everyday Americans. I’m Bob Olney and today we have as our guest June Wesley from Tripto, Michigan. June, welcome to the show!” the host began. 

“Thanks, Bob, it’s an honor to be with you, even if it’s only over the phone.” 

“So, June, you and your family like so many others are ‘sheltering in place’, and you’re having to make-do. Can you elaborate on how your family is coping?” Bob went on. 

“Sure. I have four kids, ages three through fifteen, and their hair doesn’t stop growing, Bob! So, I’ve had to learn how to cut hair for both the boys and the girls. It’s been quite a ‘learning curve’,” June joked. 

“I can imagine. What else have you had to learn that you would normally rely on others to do?” 

June excitedly answered, “Okay, well the refrigerator went out last Wednesday. And if there is anything that is critical for a family who can’t leave the house, it’s the refrigerator, Bob! So, I had to learn how to ask the right question of some internet experts on those DIY sites. Then I had to order the right parts online, and then I had to learn how to install the parts. It took me a while, but I got it working again.” 

“Well, good for you, June. I’m sure our listeners are getting some much-needed inspiration from your good old American gumption and resolve. Anything else you’ve done for your family that might interest our listeners today?” Bob asked. 

June paused, then added, “The gas fireplace stopped working. And out here in Michigan it gets really cold, so I had to fix it fast. But working with gas is tricky, so again I went to experts online. They walked me through the diagnostics step by step. Turned out it was a couple of electrodes that were a bit corroded. Cleaned them up and got it working before the sun went down, Bob.” 

“Marvelous, June. By the way, where’s your husband in all this? Sounds like you’re doing all of this by yourself. Is he helping or what?” the host asked. 

“Vern’s been laid up for a few weeks with a bad ticker, Bob,” June explained. “He’s been weak as a kitten, so that’s been a real problem. So, when the emergency generator started acting up, I knew I was going to need his help, and fast.” She paused, and then continued, “You see, Bob, Vern’s an electrician when he’s working.” 

“Okay, but what about his heart problem? That sounds serious, real serious, June. How did you work around that problem without a doctor?” 

“Well, Vern and I talked about it some. And you know, Bob, he’s a real gamer, that Vern. He’s always been one who’s been up for anything. And he’s a hunter, too, Bob. So, he knows a bit about animal anatomy ‘cause he’s gutted so many. So, he talked me through it!” 

Bob said nothing as he digested that last comment. His producer was in his earphone insisting that he quickly change the subject. DO NOT ASK HER WHAT HAPPENED! But Bob trusted his instincts and instead asked a question whose answer he didn’t know, “Ah, June, so you performed some sort of medical procedure on your husband that allowed him to fix the generator? Is that it, June? I’m sure my listeners are waiting to hear how it all worked out.” 

Bob and his listeners could hear June talking in muffled tones to someone else in the background. It sounded like she was telling her kids to ‘shut the hell up’ or something like that. Anyway, June quickly came back on the line and calmly continued, “Well, Bob, the generator is still acting up. And I’m now trying to teach myself how to run this darn backhoe Vern left in the backyard.” 

“Backhoe, June?” Bob asked cautiously. “I don’t understand. How does a backhoe figure into all of this?” 

June chuckled and then replied, “I can tell you’ve never tried to dig a six-foot hole in Northern Michigan in late March, Bob.” 

End

Heart