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Greg Bardsley

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obsessions

Short-story fever

I got it. I got it bad. I got short-story fever.

I’m not the only one. At work, two other cats — Riske and Richardson — also have short-story fever. Real bad. In recent weeks, both of them have seen their short fiction accepted by online literary journals. Meanwhile, I just shipped off a tale about degenerate activities to a journal that, well, loves that kind of thing. And so the three of us can be found at different points in the day (during lunch, between meetings, after work, etc.) talking about short stories — about our own, about others.

You ask me, and I’d say one of the great things about short stories is the far more immediate emotional payoff for the writer, compared with novels. A short story can be written in an evening, and the chance of soon-after sharing it with the reading public is, of course, far greater than it is with a novel. And of course, as a writer, there’s so much freedom with short stories — one can write a compelling piece without getting into geographic locations, last names, character backstory, family members, or any number of other things that usually warrant the writer’s attention in a novel. And because readers are more likely to give an unusual protagonist or storyline a few minutes of their lives (compared to hours and hours of their lives with a novel), I think you can take so many more risks with a short story.

I still love writing novels. In fact, I heard back from my literary agent last week that my next novel is promising and that I should definitely keep working on it. I’m thrilled, so I’m making a point to focus on the novel. But I have to admit that these short-story ideas keep popping up in the back of my head, begging to be written. I just tell them, “I’ll write you; it’ll just be a while.”

Anybody out there with similar problems? How do you handle it, strike that balance?

Some things never get old

Some things in life never get old. For males, it’s bathroom humor.

I will admit it. I’m not immune to the stuff. It can still make me laugh. It can make me laugh hard. And if all the bathroom-humor-oriented movies, books, stories and web sites out there are any indication, I am not the only adult with this weakness.

But now I have two sons. And there are times when, as their father, I really shouldn’t be laughing and pointing and nodding and even tearing up at their potty humor (namely, when at the dinner table or in public). But sometimes it’s damn tough, and I find myself forcing a straight face as I tell them to cut that out, you don’t talk about poo-poo sandwiches at the dinner table. And there are times when even my wife fails to keep from laughing at what our 3-year-old son Dylan has come up with.

Which, of course, causes Dylan to beam with pride — fortified by the laughter of his audience — as he resolves to dive deeper into his potty-humor repertoire.

For Dylan these days, songs, monologues, jokes and games centered around “poo and privates,” as he calls his subject matter, never lose their luster. He just can’t get enough. Case in point: This weekend, the boys were wondering how many days have passed since they’ve been born. I worked out the math, and they were fascinated. Then Jack wondered how many days have passed since “prehistoric bugs” roamed the earth and even offered his best guess: “Three million, two hundred, fourteen-thousand, twenty-five trillion and seventy-two katrillion days.”

I turned to Dylan. “And what’s your guess?”

Dylan takes a deep breath. “I think its been two-four-ten pee-pee-pillion, one diarrhea-rillion and one poo-poo-pillion days.”

I stared at him and bit my lip, fighting the urge to grin, thinking, Ah, to be three again.

I like to look

Hey, what can I say? I like to look.

I like to look at people. They interest me. What they do interests me. What they look like can be fascinating. I guess the way I see it, looking at people is one way to really “get” a person. And hell, it’s just fun to look.

The family next door put a hot tub right outside our bedroom window. My wife Nancy says to me, “Stop looking over there. What if they see you?” I turn the lights off and keep looking, gazing out the window, whispering, “I wanna see what Jim looks like with his shirt off.”

You can’t blame me. Jim and his family have lived next door for eight years. We adore them. They’re quality people. But come on, let’s be honest here — I wanna take a look at Jim in his trunks, and I bet you would, too. And why can’t I look out my own bedroom window? Should I bow my head and gaze at the floor whenever I pass that window?

When we’re out and about, I really like to look. We’ll be walking, and I’ll be looking, and then I’ll say something like, “Hey, there’s that guy from that salsa-dancing class in ’95.” I’ll wave to him while Nancy pulls at my arms. “Please don’t,” she’ll whisper. “Not here. Please don’t. It’s not him.” … I will admit that on several occasions (or maybe it’s more accurate to say, on many occasions) these people aren’t who I think they are — rather, they’re complete strangers, and it makes for some awkward moments. Really awkward moments. Nancy doesn’t like those.

Now, to be fair, I do have a freaky way of remembering faces. As a teen at a water slide park, a friend and I spent about 40 minutes standing in line behind a very amusing fellow in a blue Speedo. He was about 50. The two ladies with him were in their 30s. My friend and I had a wonderful time standing behind them, taking note of this guy’s “scene.” A year later, this guy walks into the Dublin Uhaul, where I’m working behind the counter, and I say, “Hey, you were at the Manteca Water Slides last summer, the last Sunday of July, and you had this blue Speedo on, and there were two women with you, and you had this puka-shell necklace and … and … and.” When this stunned man confirmed this was all true (and confirmed that he’d never met me in his life) one of the Uhaul lifers walked up to me and mumbled, “Dude, you’re psyschic.”

Nah, I just like to look.

Damn, I want it bad

I can’t get it out of my mind.

The thought of it hits me at all hours — in the dark of the night, at high noon, at dusk and even at the break of dawn. It burrows to the center of my brain, where it releases wave after wave of want and desire. I stare into space, my right eyebrow arched just so, and lick my lips. And I think about it over and over and over. My brain, my body, my mouth, my soul — they all want it bad. Real bad. And I’ve got to have it.

I’ve got to have one of those cinnamon rolls at Pilgrim Kitchen.

It all started when my youngest son Dylan and I enjoyed a special father-and-son weekend during the holiday break. Dylan’s No. 1 request for the weekend had been quite simple — “donuts.” Suffice it to say we had some donuts.

One of the joints we hit up was Pilgrim Kitchen in Belmont. Talk about a wonderful little slice of authenticity. This is a place where you can sit down with a ceramic cup of coffee and eat a donut off a real plate. What’s more, the donuts and other baked treats there are sublime — we’re talking hardcore, serious quality you rarely find in donuts these days.

As luck would have it, I got addicted to their cinnamon rolls. The first time I had one, my eyelids fluttered. I hummed happily. My mind floated. I think I may have even swayed back and forth. Dylan held his giant powdered donut as if it were a glowing chalice offered to the gods, his fingers under the treat, not around it, his cheeks caked in powered sugar. I smiled, he hunched his shoulders and giggled.

Suffice it to say, we returned a few times during my break.

Now, I’m back to work, the boys are back in school, and I can’t stop thinking of Pilgrim Kitchen — specifically, getting my hands on their cinnamon rolls.

It got me to thinking, Hell, I just love my baked goods. Case in point: I also happen to be lusting for cornbread muffins with just a bit of butter and honey on top. We had some with dinner the other night, and I’m telling you, it was unbelievable.

But at some point, I must resist. I’m 40, not 25. My metabolism doesn’t crank at the frenzied pace it once did. My gut is at a critical point — either I pull back now, or I risk seeing it expand for years to come. What’s more, my arteries don’t need this.

So send me white light. Send me the white light of resistance and self-control. Send me balance and moderation. I need it. Because right now, I want it. I want that cinnamon roll, and I want it bad.

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