A Copywriter’s Blog
Universal Appeal Ben Levy 25, July

You heard about these Zhu Zhu pets? They’re robotic hamsters that make all sorts of sounds when you touch them and roll around on motorized wheels. A few years ago they were the “it” toy on black friday, although I don’t recall them sparking the same murderous zeal that Tickle Me Elmo inspired. You’ve probably seen them around:

The guys responsible for these toys are brilliant. To start with, they chose a creature whose mental faculties are about the same as a half-eaten box of cheez-its. Which means that since Zhu Zhu’s can move under their own power and communicate through a variety of noises, they’re actually slightly smarter than their biological counterparts. Then the creators were savvy enough to sell cages and tunnels for the little bastards. By the time a kid is done wringing money out of their parents, they’ve managed to construct a hamster dream home for a pet that isn’t even alive.

You’d think the parents would be pissed, but I bet they love the autonomous bastards. They’ll never shit anywhere, and you never have to bury them in the backyard after a long and tear-filled conversation about life, death, and hamster heaven with your five year old.

Seriously, the people behind these things were mad geniuses. The only hole in their plan is that no guy will ever buy one. Because a full-blooded male raised on a steady diet of G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is never gonna be seen playing with the same hamster toy that Susie from down the street owns.

Oh you brilliant, diabolical, BASTARDS.

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Fair readers, I have had an epiphany: I hate summer in New York.

I don’t merely loathe or despise or wish ill upon it. I actively hate it. It’s the sort of emotion that causes people to wear explosive overcoats and ride public transportation. Except explosions are hot, and it’s quite fucking hot enough dammit thank you, and also I think at this point the metaphor has sort of broken down.

Point is, the heat and humidity I’ve been experiencing makes me stabby. I don’t know why I’ve suddenly decided I can’t handle the thermal offerings of our planet’s celestial glowing orb, but I can’t. Every morning when I leave my apartment, it’s like a kick in the nuts that makes my armpits water.

That made perfect sense, just think about it for a second.

Rather than merely make me uncomfortable, the weather has been making me uncomfortable and homicidal. I’ve begun to talk to The Wife about having a baby, just so I can shake it. The fact that I make it from the train station to my apartment without killing anyone is an act that should qualify me for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Which is why I have decided that from here on out, the four seasons are Fall, Winter, Spring, and Hulk. And that I shall be working from home until the start Fall.

Don’t make me go outside. You wouldn’t like me if I went outside.

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Friday Feature: Right Foot Ben Levy 16, July

In what is quickly becoming a recurring theme, I did not have time to write the Friday Feature I wanted for this week (its one of those rare ones that is accompanied by significant pontification from yours truly). So instead, I offer you this. There are only two things you need to know:

The first thing is that the “thief” on the left is part of a hidden camera TV show.

The second thing is that the man in the striped shirt is not.

A little over a month ago, I had two things happen in quick succession that energized me to try writing some super short fiction. The first was that I read the introduction to Neil Gaiman’s Stories. The second was a bizarre event involving a woman shot-gunning a glass of red wine in a bar before rushing out. I mentioned both in (possibly excruciating) detail here.

So I decided to write four short stories where I imagined what happened after that woman left the bar.

The first was the longest. It was also the messiest, with an embarrassingly confused tense issue. I also couldn’t shake the desire to explain why the woman hit the bar in the first place, and spent more time on that then on what happened afterward. On the bright side, I think I made great progress in avoiding that pitfall in subsequent stories.

The second was in many ways my favorite. It had a bit of a twist, and I feel I managed to give the protagonist personality in a far subtler way than I had in the first story. Best of all, I think I managed to explain her motivation for entering the bar and what happened afterward in a harmonious fashion.

The third story was difficult for me. Mostly because I’d come up with this silly idea where she was going to a job interview and had downed the wine to give herself the courage to argue that she was a better choice than all the younger, prettier girls. I discarded that because it had no twist, and felt like it would become a long-winded rant. Then the idea presented itself again, where the entire thing was a thinly-veiled double entendre and she was actually auditioning for a secretary porn scene. It had a twist, but come on. That sort of sex humor is completely played out. Worse, I can write it in my sleep, meaning I was unlikely to learn anything from it. I struggled a bit, wrote the first few lines of story three, and then sort of watched as it unfolded in front of me. I think it might not have enough detail for readers to really get anything out of it beyond the surface events transcribed. Still, it’s way better than that secretary crap I nearly wrote.

The fourth story was my attempt at a somewhat lighter tale. The woman in the bar was, to me, an obviously tragic figure. She was desperately uncomfortable and out of place, and I had so far written her that way. This last short fiction was my attempt to bring more to the character than that. It actually occurred to me an hour after I posted it that the best way to write this story would have been from the man’s point of view. I may go back and rewrite it that way, because there were several elements about this one that I enjoyed. It certainly changed who the woman was in my mind.

I think the best thing about this project is that it forced me to write in a different way for a bit. I’ve had this blog for over two years- blogging is no longer a “different” form of writing for me. So I think doing short fiction bits like this is a good way to stretch the literary and story-telling muscles a bit. Also, I tend to write humor stuff. This is the first time I’ve written a serious or tragic story in…shit. Years, probably.

I haven’t gotten a ton of feedback on these, but I’m curious to know peoples’ feelings. Did you like the same ones I did? Were any utterly confusing and nonsensical? Do you think my self-critique is on point, or am I (like usual) spouting hot air? Are you flat-out horrified by the fact that I posted something unfunny on the blog? Am I contractually obligated to make fart jokes and filthy movie rants for the next month? Let me know in the comments.

It’s done. Four stories answering the question “and then what happened?”. I’m going to write some final thoughts about them, but I am so exhausted right now that I just can’t. See the final one below, and I’ll write this post and properly link all the stories later.

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She left the bar clutching her purse as though it meant the difference between life and death. She wasn’t far wrong.

She walked down the street, her eyes darting left and right, seeking an alley, an abandoned construction site, or even a secluded parking lot. Nothing immediately presented itself.

She should never have gone in that bar. She should have just kept going. Walked into a Starbucks or something. Gone shopping. But no. Instead she stupidly went into a bar. Something completely out of character for her cover. She’d realized her mistake immediately, ordered one drink on the off-chance it looked less suspicious, and then left almost immediately. Now he would know she was rattled. He would realize he’d been spotted.

The question was, what would he do with that knowledge? Did she dare look behind her? He had to know he’d been spotted. She had nothing to lose. Lifting her phone as though searching for signal, she was able to twist it so that it reflected a glimpse of the street behind her. He was half a block behind, walking in her direction.

She swallowed hard, and gripped the purse with white knuckles. This was it. Well, if her back was going to be up against a wall, she might as well pick one she liked.

She saw an empty playground up ahead, and turned toward it. She knew it was impossible over the dull roar of the city at midday, but she could swear she heard his footsteps following.

Ducking around a jungle gym, she spied a toddler-sized climbing wall. It was only five feet high, but it would be enough. She thought she heard the steps’ tempo increase, but she was probably just imagining it. There was no time to look.

She spun behind the wall, slamming her back into it and dropping to one knee in the same motion.

Pounding feet approached. He rounded the wall at a dead run.

Her fear was gone. Her purse was gone. But her Walther PPK was pointed right at him.

Inanely, his last thought was to wonder what she had ordered at the bar.

She fired.

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Friday Feature: Bwuh? Ben Levy 9, July

I see it, and I still don’t believe it.

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The surprise that isn’t Ben Levy 6, July

The fourth and final What Happened Wednesday (which only once actually happened on Wednesday) will be up next Monday. Life has once again intervened. However, all this Life should make for some great blog fodder whenever I next find the time to post.

Y’know, like Monday.

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“Please come this way, Ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

“Forgive me, but have you been drinking?”

“Just a glass. I…just a glass of wine. That’s all.”

“I see. In here.”

The door opened, and she walked into the room. It was dim. The glass, she felt, was too clear. It should be darker. How did she know he wouldn’t be able to see her? They should leave it darker, just to make witnesses feel safer. The officer indicated a folding chair.

“They’ll be brought in in a minute. Can I get you anything? Water?”

“No, thank you.”

This was a police station, she should feel safe here. There were police. There was two-way glass. He wouldn’t even know she was here. Except why else would he have been brought out as a witness, unless she was here? Her heart jumped into her throat. He would know.

The officer looked like he was going to leave the room. She clutched her purse convulsively, suddenly gripped by a fear of being alone.

“Uh-excuse me!”

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“I- uh-”

She could feel the wine in her stomach, and fought down the urge to retch. The room tilted, her fingers caught the chair in a death grip, and it took all her strength to keep from falling over. And then they came in.

The glass should be darker, she thought again. And then she saw him.

“The one in the middle.”

“I need you to say the number, ma’am.”

“The middle! Number- number three.”

“Number Three, step forward….are you sure that’s the one? Do you want to take more time?”

She stared at the floor, refusing to look at him. Terrified to think that this might somehow be the wrong room, that the glass wasn’t mirrored at all.

“Ma’am? Do you need more time? If you’re unsure-”

“No, I-” she swallowed, hard. “That’s him. That’s my son.”