Thursday, September 16, 2010

Are You Experienced...And Other Terrible Pick-Up Lines

Claire is a month away from her 29th birthday and she's home in Boston, visiting her parents for a few days while she waits for her things to arrive from Detroit. She's found a place to live in the tiny lakeside town of Tuttle, Maine but she can't do much without furniture and the last time she checked the truck carrying most of her material life was slowly crossing the great (not really) state of New York, with an estimated arrival time of three days from now. She's not exactly sure when the distance from New York to Maine became a three day drive, but she thinks the truck might actually be a horse-drawn carriage instead.

"I'm bored," Claire says while sitting on the couch next to her father. When Harry chooses to ignore his eldest child and instead buries his head even deeper into his newspaper, Claire throws something at him. And edge of the newspaper curls down of its own volition.

"Ah, Claire," Harry says, glaring at her over the top rims of his glasses, "I didn't see you there. You were being so quiet, so well behaved."

"I'm bored," she repeats with a small smile at her father's sarcasm.

"We live in one of the most interesting cities in the world and you're bored." He straightens the newspaper and continues reading. "I know for a fact you haven't explored this entire city. Take my Metro card and go adventuring."

"I've never been to the South End," Claire says, actually considering it. The newspaper edge curls down once more, only this time Harry's hand has helped it.

"Planning on joining the Irish mob, are you?" he asks.

Claire shrugs. "I've done stranger things," she says. Her father's smile is somewhat cryptic and not for the first time Claire thinks he knows and understands more than he's letting on.

Harry closes the newspaper and folds it up, sets it aside, and stands.

"Dad?" Claire asks, confused.

"I'm not letting you wander around the South End by yourself, Claire," he says. "You're a gorgeous red head and the freckles on your face might as well be a map of Ireland. They'll kidnap you for sure."

She laughs and gets up from the couch. They step into the mudroom, just off the front hallway to the house, and begin pulling on winter gear. It's early February and the city's just dug itself out from under a Nor'easter that left an Arctic gale in its wake. Any exposed skin is likely to either freeze and fall off or stick to something.

"There's a record shop down there I've been meaning check out," Harry says, pulling on his parka. "Can't remember where I heard about it*, but supposedly it's the premiere seller of punk and rock vinyl in the city."

"I'm not giving you grandpa's RCA," Claire says with a smile.

Harry opens the door and they cringe at the blast of cold air. "Well, then," he says as they step outside. "I'll just have to survive the apocalypse and steal it when you're not looking."

* * *

It's late when they finally make it down Massachusetts Avenue. Harry insisted on driving, even though he knew there would be rush hour traffic, and so instead of taking fifteen minutes by T, it's taken them an hour by car. The record store doesn't look like much from the outside - in fact, it looks like an old garage from the outside, complete with two large bay doors and a faded sign painted onto the brick above them proclaiming the space to be Paddy's Auto Repair.

A bell above the door rings as they walk inside and the two men at the center register of the store look up at them, one with a vacant expression and the other with something in between disgust and hopefulness. Harry and Claire are the only people in the shop.

"Are you getting ready to close up?" Claire asks, taking her hat off. She can practically feel her hair getting bigger in the warm store.

The younger man, wearing a Rogue Brewery t-shirt and dark jeans, steps down from the register and makes his way across the store to where they're standing. His expression no longer resembles a sour lemon; in fact, he appears to be smiling.

"It's just a slow night." He holds out his hand. "I'm Jack Hardcourt, the owner."

Claire pulls her mitten off and takes his hand. It's warm and slightly calloused. "Claire Rogers." She points over her shoulder to where Harry is already flipping through albums. "That's my dad, Harry. He's a Pink Floyd fan," she says.

"45s only, though," Harry says, looking up from the records to smile at Claire. He looks at Jack, takes stock of the unshaven jaw, dark jeans and obnoxious t-shirt. As a father, he's unimpressed; as a beer drinker, he's appreciative. "Nice to meet you, Jack," he says and immediately goes back to sorting through the records.

"So, Claire, anything I can help you find?" He smiles fully at her and she takes a minute to notice the difference in his face. The smile makes him look younger, smarter somehow, and definitely more attractive.


"Hendrix," she says. "'Are You Experienced?'"

"Depends on what we're talking about," Jack says and Claire feels the blush all the way down to her toes.

"The album, on a 45," she says and he smiles.

"Ah, well, that I can absolutely help you with." He leads her away from her oblivious father** and they weave their way through the sales racks of records to a black bookshelf near the back of the store. "If it came out before 1978 it's back here," he says.

Claire stares at the wall of music and feels overwhelmed. "It's incredible," she says. She turns and smiles at him. "You have an amazing job," she says.

He shrugs. "I'm sure yours is pretty amazing."

"I'm a librarian...sometimes a prophet."

He laughs at this. "A prophet librarian?" he asks. She grins, shrugs. "I've met stranger people in the universe." He points over his shoulder towards the older guy at the cash register. "Like him." The clerk is staring off into space and twirling the fringe on his suede vest. "He used to be a business man, until he was introduced to the late sixties and forgot all about his MBA."

Claire knows that Jack doesn't believe her - half the people she talks to don't believe her, including some of the ones who really should - and she's okay with that. She's there to buy a record, not convert an atheist - which Claire knows he is because he is so obviously an atheist it makes her want to laugh.***

He pulls a record down from the top shelf and hands it to her. It's Jimi Hendrix and he's definitely experienced. She smiles and hugs it to her chest.

"What else?" he asks.

"Van Morrison. And maybe some Cream. Or Jethro Tull."

Jack looks at her, arm outstretched and poised to grasp a battered looking Van Morrison album. He looks a little dumbfounded.

"What?" she asks, suddenly self-conscious.

"A librarian with a love of classic rock," he says and she nods. "Will you marry me?" he asks and he almost sounds serious.

She tilts her head to the side and considers him. He definitely looks serious. She files it away for further analysis later on when she's home.

"Maybe later," she says. "For now, though, let's just listen to some music that won't make my ears bleed."

* * *

She's in the car with her father headed back to the house in the Back Bay. There are six albums in total in a very large paper bag in the back seat of Harry's old Volvo, a paper bag that bears the Hardcourt Records label and a very large phone number, handwritten in permanent marker just underneath it. Claire smiles, first at the bag then at her father.

"You seem awfully pleased with yourself," Harry says.

"Most of those are one-of-a-kind, dad," she says, "and Jack practically gave them to us."

"Jack is it?" he asks, struggling with an impish grin.

Claire shrugs. "He seemed nice," she says.

"You should check back in a couple weeks when you come down for your birthday," Harry says, turning onto Arlington. "See if he's gotten in any new vintage collections."

She'd never tell him, because he's her father and his ego would swell far too much, but there are times when Claire thinks Harry Rogers is the most wonderful human being in the world.

"We'll see," she says. Almost as an afterthought, she kisses her mittened hand and pats his cheek with it. "Thanks, dad."

He winks at her as he pulls into their driveway. "Anytime, kiddo. Anytime."

* * *

"That chick was groovy, Jack man," George says as they close up shop.

Jack rolls his eyes. "Indeed she was, George." He takes a moment to pray that the old man leaves it alone, but he's never been that lucky...which is why he's an atheist.

"You should take her out," George says. "I think she'd dig the Clary House."

"The Clary House is a pit where good food goes to die. It's fit only for the likes of you and me, my friend," Jack says as he pulls on his coat. His apartment is just above the store, but he has to go outside and up a fire escape to get to it and it's just cold enough and he's just that much of a wuss that he needs a jacket. He opens the front door and George steps out into the dark Boston night. "Do you need a cab?" Jack asks. He drives him crazy, but Jack often worries about the old stoner. Good help is hard enough to find; mediocre help is impossible.

"Naw, man. I rode my bike in." He points over his shoulder and Jack looks, expecting a Harley or a scooter. Instead, he sees a Schwinn three-speed that's an obnoxious orange. "The streets are pretty clear. Just gotta watch out for those icy spots is all." Jack nods, forces himself not to ask why George is riding a bike in the middle of winter. "I've got good vibes about that girl, Jack," George says in a moment of sure clarity - even his eyes look clear. "If she calls you, go for it."

At that moment, a man in a long duffel coat rides up on a battered road bike. He waves at George and George waves back. Jack can't be certain, because it's dark and the street lamps near the shop never throw off enough light, but the man's helmet looks almost like a halo above his golden head.

"What's up, my man?" George says.

"Gettin' my bike on, that's what," the man says with a lopsided grin. "You ready to roll?"

George pulls a helmet out of his backpack and straps it on, which alleviates some of Jack's worry. He grins at Jack. "That's my bike buddy," he says, unlocking the Schwinn. "Michael," he calls over his shoulder, "this is the Boss Man, Jack."

Michael stares at him for an odd second - during which Jack feels as though he's a book being opened and perused - before grinning and nodding. "I've heard good things, Boss Man Jack."****

Jack watches as the two men ride off down the street and he thinks that he must be more tired than he realized because for just a second, he thinks he sees wings hanging out the bottom of Michael's coat.

* Harry read about it on a $20 bill one day. Written next to Jefferson's bulbous head was the following: HARDCOURT RECORDS, FOR HARD ROCK PEOPLE. Little did Harry know that it was in Michael's handwriting. Archangels...they meddle.

** Fathers are never as oblivious as their daughters think they are. Case in point, Harry has already started a mental catalog of all the things wrong with Jack Hardcourt. He does, however, give the man a few credits because of his excellent taste in music and beer.

*** He's either an atheist or a domestic terrorist "against the establishment". She prefers to think he's far too handsome to be a terrorist, but she's been known to be wrong before. She
did date a minion for awhile in college, afterall...

**** He has heard good things from George, but also from Porrima, one of the Roman seers. She keeps telling him about a man named Jack who will help Claire at a trying and difficult time. She failed to mention that he was also a record store owner, which makes Michael a whole lot more willing to accept the fact the guy's an atheist because he's an atheist with good taste in music.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Big Bang Theory...For Beginners

God wakes slowly, the sunlight filtering through Her bedroom window warm on Her face. She shifts under the weight of the blankets and is immediately reminded of the evening before, the multiple shots of something called alcohol and the bright red tie Lucifer had decided to wear tied around Her head while She demonstrated the yet-to-be-named Running Man dance move.*

She feels like Her limbs are not necessarily attached to Her corporeal body. Deciding to test Her theory that Her arms got up and walked away in the middle of the night, She attempts to move Her left arm. It drags across Her chest like a weighted sand bag.

Her naked chest.

Her naked chest which appears to be just to the right of Her other naked chest.

Since when do I have two naked chests?

Her green eyes fly open and She bolts upright in Her bed, limbs suddenly awake and very much attached. Beside Her, a body stirs as She smacks it with a newly functioning hand and She turns Her head to look at Her bed mate.

"Oh holy Me," She says and immediately begins to push at the body next to Her.

Lucifer grumbles as God finally pushes him off the mattress. There's a loud smack and snort as he lands face first on the marble floor of Her bedroom.

"Ow," he says, pulling himself into a kneeling position at the edge of Her bed. He rubs his forehead, a purple mark appearing on his pale skin where it connected with the floor. "What happened?"

"Out!" God yells, pointing at the door to Her room. She's on the verge of hysterics and getting closer every second.

He starts as though slapped and quickly stands, wrapping the discarded comforter around his waist. "Why are You yelling at me?" he asks. "And did You just throw me out of bed?"

"No, I pushed you out of bed and I did so because it's My bed and because you aren't supposed to be in it!" She grips the sheet wrapped around Her tighter. "I'm your boss, Lucifer. You're not supposed to sleep with your boss."

"Says who?" he asks, awfully indignant for an angel who just did a naked face plant on a marble floor.

"You," She says. He looks at Her, confused. "It's in the Employee Manual you helped My Father write, or don't you remember that little side project you took on a few years ago?"

"Oh," he says. His eyes seem to catch sight of something in the window behind Her and they wander from Her face to a point just over Her left shoulder. "Oops..." he says quietly.

"That's all you can say? Oops?" She asks.

He sighs, points at the window behind Her. She turns and, upon seeing the giant blue and green ball sitting outside Her bedroom window, squeaks in a very non-professional, non-Godly way.**

"Oops," he says again.

"What the frick is that?!" She screeches, no longer just on the verge but instead mid-way into a full on hysterical fit. Lucifer says nothing and She whirls on him, golden afro flying around Her head like angry springs. "Lucy, what the hell is that?!" She stabs the glass behind Her, wincing slightly when a crack sounds through the room.

He crosses his arms over his pale chest and glares at Her. "It's a planet and don't call me Lucy."

"A planet?" She asks, turning to look out the window again at the little green and blue orb. There are white clouds swirling around and it looks inviting, far nicer than the gaseous balls Her Father left behind. Something in Her chest (Her actual chest, not the chest She mistook for Her own) tugs and She puts Her hand up on the glass, smiles in spite of everything.

"Technically, our planet," Lucifer says.

The smile disappears and She bangs Her forehead against the window glass. "Shit."

* * *

Lucky for them both, the Archangel Michael came of age a few hours earlier. Yahweh had designed His archangels to be level-headed problem solvers. Raphael and Gabriel were still in training, but Michael had managed to con the seraphim teaching him into letting them out of class a little early. Hence, why it was lucky - otherwise, Lucifer and God would have spent another hundred years fighting over who had the right to the little blue and green planet God had immediately named Earth.

"The planet is Hers," Michael says around a mouthful of ambrosia. "This is fantastic," he says to God. "Like Heaven on a spoon." God smiles, flattered, and Lucifer (now dressed in a three piece suit, pink tie, and pointed loafers) almost immediately turns purple with rage.

"Bullshit! That planet is half mine! I helped create it!"

Michael shrugs, keeping an eye on the pointed purple guy. He doesn't trust anything that turns purple when it's angry.*** "That may be the case, Pointy, but She's not only the Earth's Mother, She's also the boss up here, which means that if She wants the planet, She gets the planet."

"I can't believe You're doing this," Lucifer says to God. "First You get the company and now You get the planet." He crosses his arms over his chest. "Is there anything You don't have control over?"

"You still have the ability to walk and speak, so yes, it looks like there are a few things I can't control." She frowns at him, mimics his stance. "It's not like I asked for the damn thing," She says. "How was I supposed to know that what happened between us was going to lead to this?"

"How did you think Mercury and Venus were created?!" Lucifer asks, incredulous. "Or did Your Father never tell You about the Planets and Planes?"****

"He was a little busy being a single father and running Heaven!" God hollers, Her patience running out. "Cut the poor guy some slack!"

Michael looks between Lucifer and God and props his chin in his hand on the table in front of him. "Are you two always this annoying?" he asks.

"Yes!" they shout in unison.

"Right, then." He stands, shakes our his newly matured wings, and rolls his neck. The bones crack audibly in the quiet of God's office. "I'll be back in a little bit."

"Where are you going?" Lucifer asks. He looks at God and She shruggs, just as confused as he is.

"To check it out," he says, pointing at the planet. "I want to see why this place is such a big deal." He opens the door to God's balcony, stretches his wings out as far as they'll go, and leaps off the edge. They hear him shouting in glee the entire way down.

"That's impressive," God says, Her green eyes following Michael's descent to the world below.

"Please," Lucifer says, "anyone can do that."

"Maybe you should go with him, then," She says, still watching the angel fly towards Earth.

Lucifer straightens his tie. "I just had my suit pressed." God smiles but says nothing. Lucifer frowns at Her. "Wrinkles are very hard to get out of wool."

"Of course they are," She says and hops over the edge of the balcony to follow Her new archangel down.

* * *

When God catches up to him, Michael is lounging under a shady tree, eating a red ball. He throws one to Her as She approaches.

"I'm calling them apples," he says. "Don't know why, but it seems to fit."

She takes a bite, smiles. "It's good."

He motions to the land around them. "There are millions of trees on this planet. Some big, some little, all green and wonderful." He grins widely at Her. "I'm kind of diggin' this place. There's room to stretch my wings down here."

She settles on the ground next to him, takes a bite of Her apple. "What am I going to do with it?" She asks.

"Fill it with animals and mortals and see what happens." She looks at him, surprised. "What?" he asks. "You can't just leave a place like this empty. It's far too fertile."

"Mercury and Venus are empty," She says.

"Because Your Father accidentally made them uninhabitable," he says.

"You weren't even alive when those things happened. How would you know?"

He smiles. "Archangels know everything, Boss." He bumps Her shoulder with his own. "We're born with the knowledge of the universe packed tightly into our thick skulls." He taps the side of his head. "Mind like a steel trap, whatever that is."

"Lucky Me," She says, laughing.

He points up. "That pointy guy is a pain in the ass," he says.

She sighs. "Lucifer has his moments." She frowns at the sky above them. "He used to work for My Father. I think he thought he was getting the keys to the kingdom when Yahweh retired." She shrugs. "Dear old Dad had other ideas."

"Probably a bad idea, then, for the two of you to get involved."

"We're not involved," She says a little too quickly. His left eyebrow arches up. "It was a one time thing. A one time, absolutely terrible thing." She looks at him, frowns. "Never get involved with co-workers, Mike."

"Duly noted, Boss."

She stands, holds Her hand out to him. "Call me Ellie," She says and he takes Her hand. She helps him to his feet. "My Father always did and I like it better than Boss or God."

"Sounds good, Ellie."

"I'm going to need help getting this place ready. Think you can help Me?"

He shakes his wings out. "Your wish is my command."

She's not completely certain, but She thinks Her archangel winks at Her as he takes off from the ground. She also thinks he's all kinds of trouble.

* * *

Lucifer is waiting for Her in Her office when She gets back upstairs. He looks even more disgruntled than he did earlier. In fact, She thinks there might be smoke coming out of his ears.

"Well?" he asks.

"I'm going to fill it up with animals and mortals," She says, pulling bits of cloud out of Her afro. There was a weather system moving as She headed up and She had to climb through a pack of cumulonimbus. "I'd like all the angels to help, at the direction of Michael."

"He just came of age a few hours ago!"

She sighs. "And he seems very responsible and capable of the task."

He plants his hands on Her desk and leans forward. "I've worked here since the beginning," he says quietly. "Your Father trusted me most of all."

She sits down and looks up at him, Her green eyes losing their earlier mirth. "My Father no longer runs this joint, Lucy, so I suggest you suck it up and move on."

He straightens. "You'll regret this, Ellie."

"Probably not, Lucy." She smiles sweetly and sits in Her chair at Her desk in Her office. "Now be a good boy and run along."

He turns on his heel and stalks out. She watches him leave and wonders if She will, someday down the line, regret it. Then She begins to think of all the different things She can do with Her new planet and Lucifer's warning is forgotten.*****

* * *

Lucifer, however, is just getting started. He's had a thought on his way back to his office, a thought that requires a detour to the Heavenly Library so he can consult the Heavenly Dictionary. He flips to the "E" section and scans the pages. When he finds what he's looking for, he taps his hand on the page.

"Evident," he says to the empty room. "That sounds badass." He scans a little further and happens upon the word "evil". When he reads the definition, he rolls his eyes. "Or evil. I could go with evil." He reads the definition again, comes to a conclusion. "In fact, I think I'll reinvent the definition of evil."

He nods to himself, pleased, and takes a couple steps away from the book. Yet another thought strikes him and he stops. He reaches back and steals the Dictionary to take with him. He flips to the "R" section as he walks out of the sparsley populated room.

"Reinvent means what, again?"

* You know you saw that one coming.

** Eeek! In the words of Yahweh: This shit just got crazy, yo.

*** Michael doesn't trust anything purple, period. He doesn't know why but he thinks it might have something to do with Gabriel. Most everything does.

**** Birds and bees, for all you mortals out there. Immortals have planets and planes, for existential and philosophical reasons only Socrates will eventually understand. And you all know what happens to him.

***** Thank goodness the Home & Garden channel hadn't yet been invented. The Garden of Eden might have turned out far differently if God had been given access to a Home Depot.