n my desk, nestled among the chess pieces I use for paperweights, is a To Do list with a single entry.
This should mean that sometime today I’ll be doing whatever such a note is meant to imply. It should mean that, but, well, I’ve been putting this To Do item off for quite a while now. I wrote the note weeks ago, before the funeral. Before the blimp crashed down the street. Before the nutty neighbor with the rubber-band Gatling gun.
I’m not making this up.
If I were making it up, it wouldn’t reflect so badly on me. I’d be the hero rather than the guy who seems to be afraid of a piece of paper. Afraid of a note I was able to write to myself.
My sister would laugh at that paragraph. She’d say, “So, you can dish it out; but you can’t take it, huh?”
Okay, part of the problem is that the note keeps changing. Not the note itself, but what it means. Written instructions are like that. I bet the Ten Commandments were supposed to apply to a limited group of people for, what, a month at the outside?
Anyway, I originally wrote the note in that little coffee shop down below the castle, or what we call the castle in this part of town. I’m looking at their list of organic coffees, was looking, I mean, the day I wrote the note, and wondering what they make inorganic coffee out of. Coal tar? No, even that was organic originally. Sandstone? And the dark roast from obsidian, I assume.
So the note meant, when I wrote it, that I should make a big breakthrough in my job, which is pretty much figuring out the future. That’s what I do for a living. Using way too much personal information sucked out of the Internet, I evaluate, assess and predict what’s likely to happen to people, how their lives are likely to turn out. I’m like an actuary but for individuals, not groups.
There are lots of folks who are willing to pay good money to know how long you, personally, are gonna last, or when you’ll quit your job. Mostly these folks are not your friends. But they are my clients.
While there are several people who do what I do, there isn’t a single formula for how to figure this out. So it occurred to me that I could be the Einstein of my field if I’d boil down the stuff I know into a single basic plan for the human life, to which adjustments would be made for particular cases. Plan the standard human life was what the note meant.
But, well, then Charlie, who was a mule, died, and I had to dodge the funeral. He was a mule like as in drug smuggling, not as in being half jackass. Technically speaking, he was a horse.
Here’s the deal: I made a joke about this in the wrong company. Why not have animals swallow all those little bags of drugs and bring them across the border? I’m joking, it was late, I had no idea what I was saying. Or who I was saying it to, but pretty soon Iggy, who’s in that trade, has bought himself a mustang and trained it to find its way home.
So he’s got this deal. He takes the horse over the border in a carrier to a farm down there. It goes through whatever quarantine is required in Mexico, and then the folks on the farm pack him, Charlie, with drugs and turn him loose in the countryside. Next day, Charlie is back in his stable on this side of the border and practically shitting money.
Let’s not think about that.
You’d have thought the Customs guys would notice that this same horse kept going south, but the trailer was always empty coming north. Apparently not.
Anyway, Charlie maybe has one of those bags open up inside, or takes his time with a filly on the way home, or something, but he gets sick, he dies. And Iggy expects me to go to the funeral, but I’m thinking maybe the Feds are gonna bust the funeral, maybe they got wise. And I know that there are people who don’t realize that I was just making a joke, that I’m not in the drug trade, but they resent that I gave Iggy this idea. I figure maybe not showing up at this funeral might put my own funeral off a tad.
So in the meantime, since I haven’t acted on the note–the Plan Life note–I’m thinking I should also remember to interpret the note as suggesting that I need to rethink my friends, my circumstances, and the coffee shops an assassin can find me in at all hours. Like maybe it’s time to get my stuff together where I can find it later; and not have to be surprised all the time.
And, though, again, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually do that, or the other version of what the note meant, either, it got me to thinking, and I not only ducked the funeral, but I drove up north into Colorado to look at a house that I’d once thought of living in.
If it was for sale.
Which it wasn’t, so I can that idea, and the next morning I’m almost back home, turning the corner three blocks down the street, and just about tasting the breakfast I plan to cook, when this great big shadow passes over the car, and a blimp, which is what made the shadow, crashes into the house right ahead, which, by the way, is for sale, if I wanted to stay in the neighborhood after all.
The explosion is huge, melts the plastic on my SUV, and bubbles the paint. Cops figure somebody put hydrogen in the thing along with the helium.
And the blimp is owned, I’m not making this up, by one of Iggy’s competitors. Ferdinand, he calls himself. Something about how he keeps hocking his wife’s jewels. I don’t know. Anyway, this Ferdinand is in the hospital, on chemo, but he grips his grudges like a mother-in-law. So I’m taking this whole blimp explosion kinda personal.
Now while they’re craning my half-melted SUV onto the tow truck, I’m thinking I should remember that the Plan Life note means I shouldn’t just get my life together, I should dump it for a brand new one with a different name. I’m thinking I could work from Maine.
But the cops suggested I shouldn’t leave town for a while, and that killed a coupla days. And then I put it off some more because I have trouble abandoning things without getting good and drunk first. And then, the morning I had finally decided I would do something about that note, well, about a million cop cars come storming into the neighborhood. I watched a SWAT team pop out of the tank they came in, shotguns at the ready.
Naturally, I came out the front door with my hands up.
Doesn’t do any good. Two of them tackle me into the bed of prickly pear by the walk–a move we all regret later–and I’m thinking about that damn note and how I should quit adding meanings to things and just do what’s on my To Do list. Period.
Now here’s the deal. I’m face down in prickly pear, with needles poking into locations I shall not name or enumerate; I’m regretting my tendency to procrastination, I’m still a little bit rattled about nearly being blown up just a few days back, and I’m waiting for them to put the cuffs on me. Not a great day, so far. And then it comes to me that, despite knowing some pretty shady characters, and providing legitimate information to even shadier characters–including insurance executives–the truth is that I’ve never committed more than a minor misdemeanor in my life. Can’t even recall what that might have been.
So what gives?
That’s when I notice that all the cops are looking in an entirely different direction. And quite suddenly they all hit the pavement, and I’m not surprised, because shots start hitting the side of my house. My rental. But they sound funny, sorta slap slap, so I pick my head up and turn it the other way–and see rubber bands falling to the ground just inches from my face.
I’m not making this up.
“Who’s shooting rubber bands at a time like this?” I say, and one of the cops on top of me casually rolls across my kidneys and tells me to put a cork in it.
Which I did.
Long story–which I’ve already told the cops and the press–short: guy across the street bought this little plastic Gatling gun for rubber bands. Must take forever to load the sucker, it fires 300 rounds. Or the kind you buy shoots 300 rounds. But Mr. Nut Case has spiffed his up for his date with destiny. He’d built his own reloads, they each hold 2,000 rounds, and he’s stocked up with a coupla dozen of them. Painted the whole shebang so it looked like a real weapon and scared somebody into calling 911.
And then it was just rat-at-at-tat. Well, more twang-twa-twa-twang.
You can imagine how the cops felt about being pinned down by a barrage of rubber bands. How would you like to wake up one day, go to work, and by evening you’re an international laughingstock?
Cop morale plummeted. They’ve had two suicides in the department so far. It’s grim. And worse for the real criminals in town, because The Man’s gotta take it out on somebody, right?
And again, I’m a witness, I need to keep close. And I’m a casualty, what with all the personal punctures from the prickly pear. I had to get antibiotics. They put my picture in the papers.
So then I think about the note and ask myself, How can you plan? I should, though. But right now, I’m putting it off.
An Interview with Timons Esaias
Intrepidus Ink: The opening salvo in “To Do” gives readers a taste of the story’s satire through irony. Discuss how satire ridicules conduct.
Timons Esaias: Holding things up to ridicule is the essence of satire (And yes, satire is essentially transgressive and cruel. Got a problem with that?), and the usual approach is to compare How things Really Are to a commonly accepted ideal. Often you don’t even have to state the Ideal, the reader just knows.
Pro tip: the best satire cuts both ways. Gores everybody’s ox.
II: The narrator’s life unravels in a series of humorous events, yet he overcomes his misfortunes. Discuss the story’s structure.
TE: A common frustration of our lives is when everything is feeling like “one bad thing after another,” and so the method of this piece is that things are thrown at the protagonist, and he tries to cope. In good Seven Point Story fashion, most of those attempts go astray.
I went for the more Literary “status quo” ending, as I felt it best fit the main character. He did manage to procrastinate himself to closure, though.
Links to other works:
An important Public Service Announcement: “What We Know and What You Can Do about the Troubling Rise of Werepandaism“
A more heroic story involving one-thing-after-another meeting an intrepid protagonist is “Mr. Gibson Goes to Work”
A satiric environmental apocalypse: “Excerpts From the Text of an Explanatory Stele Erected for Our Edification by the Scholars of the Outer Orion Tendril“
My award-winning story (audio) with a pillow as the protagonist: “Go. Now. Fix.“*
*Timons is too humble to share that this story won the 2021 Asimov’s Readers’ Awards for Best Short Story!
II: Please explain the advantages of living in a museum, and also share your next writing adventures.
TE: Chief advantage to museum living: no rent. In my case, 32 rooms (built in the 1840s), three libraries (one only of books produced before 1750), 2.5-acre park, bell tower, secret tunnels.
I am also working on a non-fiction Warfare for Writers project (should have finished the dang thing by now), as well as several short stories, including a police procedural about the Slaughter of the Suitors in the Odyssey.