Friday, March 11, 2005

Emily and Ty's Fiction is Stranger than Truth Winners

SECOND PLACE WINNER!

THE CURBSIDE COUCH
By Emily Kornegay


Another summer, another curbside stint. I’m waiting for my next life to begin. Some dream of reinventing themselves, starting over with a new social scene, new setting, new environment. I do it all the time.

Right now is the lag time. Last year’s freshmen have moved out and moved on. They’ve grown weary of me and my grease stains. My coolness has faded to dingy. So, as they moved from their ramshackle rental house into a more sophisticated apartment for their sophomore year, they put me back where they found me – on the curb. Now, I wait.

They’ll be here in a week or two, my new owners. Fresh out of small-town Alabama, drunk on new pseudo-independence and cheap Natty Light beer (a can or two of which can be found under my center cushion), they’ll find me on the curb and be amazed that anyone would leave me for garbage. My new owners will drag me with glee to their new/old house, place me in their living room – right under the Jim Belushi “College” poster -- and crack open an ill-gotten cold one. They’ll congratulate themselves on their resourcefulness in finding a couch for their new college home. I can hardly wait.

Now, of course, I wasn’t always a backdrop for beer pong tournaments or midnight make out sessions. I started out with class. I came from a swanky furniture store in Birmingham. Some housewife bought me and had me shipped to her home in a gated North River neighborhood. I hated the truck ride – I tend to get a little car sick, so I much prefer to be dragged along the pavement to my destination. It’s more scenic that way.

I never really fit in my designer setting. Just not my personality. She sat me on top of a snooty Oriental rug – such a dull companion. The rug was jealous of my suede suavity. Fortunate for me, my stay in suburbia was brief – my owners’ rebellious daughter burned my arm with a cigarette. Hurt like hell, but it was my ticket to freedom. Mrs. Suburbia, unable to stomach my battle scars, took me to Goodwill, where my life really began.

I was purchased from Goodwill by a pair of thrifty and resourceful college freshman. That first year was heaven. I learned to love the sensation of beer seeping into my suede cushions. I wore my tattoos of cigarette burns with pride, and when one of my smooth owners brought home a hot coed with loose morals, I puffed my pillows in anticipation of some full-length action. It was a magical time.

Until they left me. They “grew up.” How cliché is that? Their mothers came to Tuscaloosa, cleaned out (destroyed) their sons’ grungy and magnificent house, and vetoed my passage to their next home. These mothers were very much like my first owner, with their posh SUVS, pearls and a cruel sense of cleanliness. This time, I didn’t even make it to Goodwill – I went to the curb, my cushions flattened in heartbreak.

I wasn’t disappointed for long. A week later, a new crop of freshmen arrived. Late one evening, they found me, and with many stumbles and much drunken laughter, dragged me to my next home – their front porch.

At first, I thought they would eventually bring me inside, after they exited their Natty Light-induced haze. Either the fog never lifted, or they just wanted a porch sofa, because that’s where I stayed. Life outside was a new pinnacle of perfection – I could commune with the friendly and fearless squirrels indigenous to Tuscaloosa, enjoy greater guest traffic, plus the grime I gathered outside really enhanced my weathered look.

These guys that rescued me were my best owners yet. They had a rare gift for mixing wild midnight and early morning revelry with stunning smoothness. They reminded me of myself – I’d like to think my shabby suede gives a rare aura of casual cool – something Mrs. Suburbia was too blind to appreciate. These freshmen had it all – their parties were legendary, and girls were helpless to their suave love charisma. And, lucky me, I got to be a cushy backdrop for all that glorious partying and skirt-chasing.

And my boys knew how to chase skirts. They’d cozy up with their latest conquest on my cushions, mournfully strum their guitar, and talk about their feelings. I’d strategically position my pillows for the action that inevitably followed – these guys were masters, and girls stood no chance against their well-sharpened love skills. My springs were crushed to a new state of creakiness in that happy era.

But, it ended all too soon. It seems the well-to-do of the world conspire against me. Tuscaloosa passed a dictator-like city ordinance that forbade the use of “inside furniture” on porches. People, what comes next? Mandatory crème walls? The banning of Jim Belushi posters? I was appalled – but I knew my guys would stay strong. They wouldn’t sell out and ship me off. I knew I was safe.

But one of my heroes caved. One of the skirts he chased stayed and achieved girlfriend status – and she was another Mrs. Suburbia in the making. She demanded my immediate departure. It was her or me. Still, I felt secure. I mean, these guys needed me – I was their booty backdrop. I meant way more than any skirt, regardless of how long she stayed.

I was wrong. So, now here I sit, back on the curb. I’m not worried. Someone will find me – I always land with on my scratched mahogany feet with my cushions up. It’s a little sad – I thought these freshmen were with me for the long haul – if not for the whining, designer-driven girlfriend, I might have made it to their senior year. It’s early August, though, and more scavenging freshmen will stumble (literally) upon me soon.

Something’s not right here – these are girls looking me over. And they’re sober. And, they aren’t dragging me home. They’ve actually lifted and carried me to their house. I don’t like the looks of this place. It’s clean, the walls are freshly painted, and there isn’t a beer, Ping-pong table, or Animal House poster in sight.

Good, they’re not stopping in the living room. Maybe I’m going to be a gift for one of their grungy boyfriends. Wait, why am I being left on the back porch? These girls don’t look like rebels, or the kind that has a porch couch, for that matter. They’re probably into wicker and swings.

Scissors? What is that? A stapler? Measuring tape…what’s happening to me? Oh God, no, please no…no.

Damn. Here I sit on a fluffy and fresh Pottery Barn rug, in a whitewashed room, with walls plastered with sorority photos and Anne Geddes prints. My suede has been stripped from my frame. My beloved beer stains and cigarette burns have been scrubbed and repaired. I am now covered in pink and green chintz. What am I going to do now? I am doomed to a life with three mini-Mrs. Suburbias – barred from beer, cigarettes and late-night loving forever.

**************************************


The End of Snack Time
By Ty West

“I can’t believe it’s the end. My last day on the job,” the old, tattered vending machine said.

“How long have you been in this hall, V.M.?” the Coke machine, who had shared lobby space with V.M. since it was installed during the summer of 2002 asked.

“I’ve been here since 1993, back when this was an all-girls dorm. Man, it’s been nice, and I don’t want to leave, but…” V.M. said in a forced tone.

“You don’t have to talk about it; I know you would like to forget it. You don’t have to tell me about it,”

“Coke, you’re my best friend, and I know you’ve always wanted to know, and it might help if I talk about it, so I’ll tell you.”

“You sure, you don’t have to,” Coke said, even though he had made it clear many times that he wants to know.

“I’m sure, maybe it will help, be kind of therapeutic,” V.M. said.

“Maybe,” Coke said, in a doubting tone.

“I’ll just start from the beginning. It was May 6, the Thursday during finals week. Times were so good. The no-carbs craze hadn’t kicked in yet, people were loving their snack treats. I was one of the highest selling machines on campus. Life was good. It seems like that’s always how it happens. Any time you feel like you’re on top of the world, and life couldn’t be better, that’s when everything comes crashing down. That’s how it happened for me, anyways,” V.M. said, struggling with each word.

“You sure you want…” Coke asked before being interrupted.

“I’m sure, damn it! Now let me tell the story,” V.M. butted in.

“Sorry,” Coke said.

“Now, it was about 11:20 at night, there was lots of activity in the living room and the lobby, kids procrastinating and trying to avoid studying, I did a lot of business that night, as I recall. At least I did a lot, before it all happened,” V.M. was getting visibly upset, or as upset as a vending machine can be.

“The sad thing was that I saw it coming, they had been planning it for days, trying to think of a way they could steal all of the candy. So when they came up to me with the clothes hanger, I knew what they were up to.”

“Who was it,” Coke asked.

“I don’t know their names. I know them by what they eat. The main guy was Snickers. He was not your quintessential leader; not very sure of himself, but at the same time, he was the most devoted to pulling it off. He was ruthless. Then there was Smorgasbord, he ordered lots of different things, kind of portly. He definitely wasn’t the brains behind the operation, but he was motivated. He was the one who eventually pulled the trigger. Then there was A-4. I called him that because he always got whatever was in A-4, it didn’t matter what was there. You could have put rotten fruit in A-4, and that’s what he was eating that day. He was just kind of along for the ride. And that was the group, other than the dozen or so witnesses, who just kind of looked on in awe, they couldn’t believe it.”

“Enough with the dramatics. Just tell me what happened.”

“Fine. Snickers, A-4 and Smorgasbord came up to me about 11:20. They planned to use the clothes hanger to lift my glass out, and take everything from me. Eventually, they decided it wouldn’t work, so they decided to try and break the glass. At this point, I was worried, because I’m very fragile and old. Then, it all got dark.

“Snickers threw a blanket over me, and said, ‘hit it, right in the middle.’ I assume he was talking to Smorgasbord, since he probably packed the biggest punch. He was kind of reluctant, but eventually, ‘BAM!’ Punched me right in the gut, only my glass didn’t break and fall through, it just kind of shattered all the way down and you couldn’t see through the glass.
“I knew they weren’t finished, they had gone too far. Luckily, another guy, Cheese Curl, walked in. He was very resourceful and had a good idea. He told them to put duct tape over the glass, over every inch, then to carefully pull it off. It worked, for the most part. Only a few inches of glass fell to the floor, and they quickly swept it up, not like it was part of me, but just like it was glass, normal and lifeless. That’s what hurt the most.” V.M. said, quivering.

“What gets me about it was how violated I felt. It wasn’t like a quick incident, I had to sit there and watch the whole thing. After they just swept me up like dirt, they took everything from me. Every bag of chip, every pack of gum, every candy bar. I had nothing. I sell snacks, that’s what I do. They took my life away, damn it!”

“That’s terrible, I don’t know what I would have done, I’m so sorry. What did they do with everything?” Coke asked.

“That’s the sad part, they didn’t even eat it. They just sat it on the table, and stared at it. It was A-4, Snickers and Smorgasbord. After helping them clean, Cheese Curl just bolted, he didn’t have anything to do with it, and he wasn’t about to take the fall. But the other three, they just sat there on the couch, looking at what they had done. They were sad.

“For someone who enjoys watching a child light up when they bite into a candy bar, this was hell. These weren’t kids, they were monsters. The snacks were piled high on the table, and some passers-by took some of it. The thieves didn’t even have the honor to defend what they had stolen.

“What kind of thieves were they? After just sitting there, thinking about what they had done, they went upstairs. They were victorious, but they felt like losers. They had everything and nothing at the same time. They just left the candy on the table, and most of it just got taken during the night. The police came the next morning.”

“Did they ever find out who did it?” the naïve Coke asked.

“They don’t care about finding out who did this to me. From what I can tell, they did a routine investigation, but never found them. But I know who it was, and they know what they did. I just wish they knew how much they hurt me. How much it hurt to be out of service for four months.”

“Couldn’t they use fingerprints or something, find out who touched the machine?”

“Think about that, Coke, I’m a vending machine in a college dorm. Hundreds of people touch me, fingerprints aren’t going to help, and besides, like I said, they don’t care.” V.M. groaned.

In many ways, the old machine was like a grumpy old man-grouchy and bitter-and his old way of working just didn’t gel with the new way of business. He didn’t have an ACT card option, and didn’t want one. He was bitter about the way the world viewed him and that’s one reason he took the incident so hard.

“I just don’t understand why, you were a good machine,” Coke said supportively.

“They wanted to get me back for taking their money. Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes I accidentally took their money. That’s what good vending machines do. I was just doing my job. Now that I think about it, there was this one guy I ripped off about four times one night when he was studying, he always vowed revenge. It was Snickers.”

“I guess he got it, huh?” Coke interjected.

“Yeah, but that’s all he can do to me” V.M. sighed. It was about 4:30-almost the end of the working day, he knew the end was near.

About that time, the residence hall’s backdoor opened, the sun was shining directly through the door, showing only the silhouette of a slender man.

“Oh God no! No! It’s Snickers,” V.M. screamed as the door closed, revealing the machine’s nemesis..

Snickers walked in, donning the vending services garb that V.M. was all-too familiar with.

“Well, well, well. You thought I would graduate without getting my final revenge, huh?” Snickers said confidently to the inanimate machine.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to break you this time, I’m just going to break your spirits,” Snickers said, loading the aging machine onto the dolly like it was scrap metal-which was a partial truth. “You’ve been demoted to the bottom of the totem poll, you’re going where no one will enjoy your salty, fatty junk food ever again.”

“No!” V.M. shouted.

“Where’s he talking about? Where?” Coke panicked as Snickers began to wheel V.M. away.

“You’re heading to the nutrition department, ha ha ha!” Snickers cackled. “Ha, ha, ha!”

“NOOO!” V.M. pleaded, but it was too late. Time had passed him by.

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