Flying Home from Chicago
One night, two hours after sunset, I flew from Chicago to Pittsburgh. For about 10 minutes, before we reached Lake Michigan and left the city behind, I saw a sea of twinkling lights outside my window. I saw cars and trucks moving slowly down big city blocks. Then we reached downtown, which was even brighter. The skyscrapers sparkled, and looked like they were made of diamonds. Looking down, everything looked entirely within my control, like I could reach out and rearrange the whole city with my fingers. And then we reached the big dark lake, and I could see nothing but black.
An Idea I Had for an Epic Novel about Four Different Civilizations
Probably inspired by reading "The Hobbit", I've started brain-storming about a book that tells the story of a few different civilizations that are spread out across the same planet (maybe it's Earth in the future, or maybe it's some far-off planet).
There would four different civilizations, which mostly live separate from one another and are entirely unique, each with their own specific characteristics and qualities. Below is my description of just one of the civilizations: a people that I'm calling The Flurries. Maybe one day I'll develop the others.
Flurry is an island of 120,000 square miles of land. In the winter months, it drops to -180 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer months, it averages around -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The terrain is almost all ice jungle. Trees grow, but with with no leaves. It looks like thousands of miles covered in ice-covered spikes. Other than the trees, nothing can survive on the surface.
Around a mile beneath the ice is an entire civilization of people know as Flurries. Flurries are descendants of humans, but years and years underground has resulted in some odd genetic changes. Flurries are shorter than average humans, with females spanning 3.5 to 4 feet, and males spanning 4.5 to 5 feet. They are also ghostly white, almost transparent -- in the right light you see their veins through their skin.
Flurries have no source of natural light, so they have invented a special paint that they coat everything with (walls, streets, clothes) that illuminates their world. It's called Must, after it's inventor Myra Must. Must loses its glow after a year of being applied, which, due to their adopted cycles, is usually around May, so the Flurries refer to this month as Must May, during which time almost the entire civilization shuts down to repaint everything. If you or I were to visit a Flurry city, you would not be able to tell a difference between a room or park illuminated with must and one illuminated with fluorescent or even natural sunlight.
The Flurry history is a tragic one. Of the first group of people that tried to inhabit the island, by living above the surface, most of them died. In the summer months, they had built three massive weather-proofed arcologies that they thought could withstand the cold. When the winter came, all but about 10,000 had died, as the temperature had wreaked havoc on the structures, causing the walls to crumble, the power generators to stop working, and, ultimately, the inhabitants to perish. This proved that you could not survive the island living on the surface.
Of the survivors, many migrated to another island and joined the other cultures. Those that stayed (around 3,000) used the summer months to establish a city beneath the surface. They drilled down five miles, and used explosives to clear out massive chunks of the island's mantle, which is mostly made up of hard rock at that depth. The idea was to blow up so much of the rock that there would be massive pockets of open space to build in. At first, the plan seemed to work. The explosives created the open spaces and people began to build a small city and inhabit it. One day, however, everything collapsed. The explosions had left the roof of the open space very unstable, and it crumbled, killing all but about 1,000 of the inhabitants.
From this tragic event, known as The Second Winter Tragedy, the people learned two important lessons. First, the deeper you drill, the riskier it is. As a result, Flurries now live only 1,000 miles from the surface. Second, do not use explosions to create wide-open spaces in the rock. Instead, live amongst the rocks, and carve out small expanses as you need them. As a result, Flurries now live a lot like badgers do.
Flurries cities are a network of tunnels. For the most part, they do not build houses or buildings, instead just carving into the rock. Despite this, Flurries are as technically advanced as any other civilization on the planet. Their cities contain advanced computer and communication networks and high-speed freeways. They get water from irrigation systems that tap into springs underneath the ground. Flurry water is said to be purest and best tasting on the planet. They get power from wind turbines placed above the surface. Due to the cold, the turbines often break and fall apart. Next to Must, one of the biggest expenses for the Flurries involve building and maintaining their wind turbines.
Since they are master drillers, there are rumors that the Flurries have unauthorized tunnels that lead to all of the other civilizations on the planet, allowing them to gain access anytime they want. This has never been proven, however, and the Flurries adamantly deny it.
Amongst each other, Flurries are very family and tradition oriented. They look-out for each other and are generally very peaceful.
They do not, however, enjoy being around non-Flurries. Having spent hundreds of years underground, away from everyone else, they don't know or trust others. The Flurries take great pride in their self-sufficiency and autonomy.
Unfinished Short Story: "The Mars Family"
I've started to play around with an idea for a series of short stories. They would center around an uber-wealthy family that are very roughly based on the actual Mars Family. Below is my first attempt at the series, where I focus on the daughter. I'm sure I'll never actually finish this, but it was fun to work on what I have so far.
Parker Mars pressed her hand up against the window's cold glass. Her hotel room was hot and a cool hand felt nice.
Outside the window was Paris, bright from moonglow and city lights, covered in snow, alive with the frenzy of New Year's Eve. Parker liked the thought that the city was so alive and that she was so still. The eye of the storm. She had always enjoyed standing back from the action and watching it unfold. She felt like Gatsby watching his parties from afar.
Parker pressed her now cool hand up against her forehead. She thought about turning down the temperature in her room, but decided it wouldn't be worth the effort. She'd just be hot.
Hot and bored and far too exhausted to sleep. She thought about how nice it would be to crawl under her 1000-thread count luxury hotel sheets, curl up into a ball, and drift off, knowing she lie surrounded by snow outside, separated from the city by 40 floors. She would be like an untouchable 22-year-old ice princess, lying in a luxurious castle up above her frozen city.
But Parker had tried sleeping. It was no use. Jet-lag. Parker was still on Manhattan time, as she'd arrived in Paris the day before with her father, John Mars, the candy tycoon, the billionaire.
Parker had been invited to join her father at a grand gala in Paris that night. "Will you be my date?" he'd asked. And she'd said yes, knowing she'd end up canceling, which she did, 37 minutes before it was time to leave. Her father wasn't surprised, or even fussy, just disappointed.
Parker hated parties. She didn't much care for people in fact, especially not when they were all gathered together and liquored up. She hated strangers, small-talk, and getting dressed up. She hated laughing at jokes that weren't funny and talking with people she didn't know or care to know.
But people loved Parker. Adored her. She was beautiful and rich and young, and she gave off the appearance of someone who was very kind and caring and interested in what you had to say. Most everyone who knew Parker would be shocked to know how little she enjoyed their company in return.
It was her smile. It spoke to you, and it said whatever you wanted to hear, even if that was nothing at all. It made you want to hear everything she had to say. It made people follow her around like puppy-dogs. Men and women.
But what few knew was that it took great effort for Parker, all of this smiling and socializing and being so adored. It wasn't natural. How broken the world would be to learn how forced it all was, how little Parker Mars really thought of everyone.
And now the night was her's. To waste. To sit, in a sober silence. To be alone.
Parker glanced at the night stand. On it were a pile of books -- old and new, known and unknown. Some she'd read before and many she knew she'd never read.
Parker loved finding books. She loved reading as well, but not as much as searching for books in a dusty used book store and finding one with an especially enticing cover or title. She hated books that were new. Or books that she'd heard of before. There was nothing to admire about reading Catcher in the Rye, she thought. Catcher in the Rye had all the love in the world. She'd much rather discover some abandoned flop of a novel and be the one person in the world who adored it. Her hotel nightstand was littered with dusty forgotten failures.
Parker thought about reading, but decided it too wasn't worth the effort. Instead she'd stay put, staring out the cold window, hoping for nothing special to happen, for the night to come and go and leave her alone. Tonight Parker wanted to do away with all the colors of the world and live in black and white, like a 1950's television commercial.
The phone in the room suddenly began to ring. Parker didn't flinch, not an inch, or even acknowledge its presence, as if she had expected the call and decided well in advance not to answer it. And so it rang, and rang, and rang. But the truth was she had no idea who it was. Nor did she care. There was no one worth talking to.
After minutes of ringing, Parker glided away from the window, past the phone, and towards the closest. She slid on her jacket and some silk gloves, and slipped out the door.
In the hotel's busy carport, she watched the older French doorman flag her down a cab. She slid in and told the driver to head towards the Louvre. "Closed. Is closed." he replied in broken English. "Bonne." she said.
The square outside the closed museum was mostly empty. A few homeless men and some couples necking in the shadows. Parker walked the open space, shaking from the wind. Despite the cold, she didn't think of leaving. She just couldn't get over how wonderfully passe? the whole thing was: walking around the Louvre on New Year's Eve, alone, with a melancholy face and frozen fingers.
But before long the cold got to be too much. Parker ducked into a packed bar and managed to find an open stool. The place was vibrating with the sounds of hundreds of conversations, each French voice louder than the next. Parker couldn't understand a single word. She was underwater, hearing conversations above the surface that she couldn't understand. The words all merged together to create an opera of noise pounding against her head.
"You really shouldn't smoke."
Parker turned to find a 20-something boy standing behind her, smiling. Her ears had been startled when they had suddenly caught American English.
Parker thought about what he'd said. "I'm not smoking." "I know," he replied, "Just some general advice: it'll kill you. How old are you?" he asked. Parker noticed the boy's eyes were each a different color: one green, the other blue. "Where are you from?" he answered for her. "New York, I'd bet. East coast for sure."
Parker took a sip from the Diet Coke in her hand, staring up at the stranger. He looked genuinely something, but Parker wasn't sure what. Genuinely interesting, perhaps. She wasn't attracted to him, not in that kind of way. But nonetheless, for no good reason, Parker suddenly visualized shopping for Christmas trees with him, in Connecticut, with their black labrador. It seemed pleasant. Their future together seemed pleasant. Maybe that's what he was: genuinely pleasant. Or maybe just harmless.
Parker stood up and put down her glass. "You're going to entertain me tonight." she said, grabbing him by the arm. The two young Americans disappeared out the door.
They caught a taxi and drove the streets, heading nowhere in particular. Parker asked question after question, but refused to provide any information about herself. The boy's name was Eric. He was studying economics at Princeton. "You know, supply, demand, elastic, inelastic, all of that." He was in Paris for an internship, something having to do with the French government and the exporting of Parisian goods. She also gathered that he was 21, from Maine, had a younger sister named London, hated lobster, and was a republican "for the time-being."
"And now I refuse to answer another question until you at least give me your name." Eric said. Parker smiled. "Parker." Eric nodded, pleased. "So, what should we do, Parker?" She checked the time on her cell phone, it was almost two in the morning. "Let's take bath." she said.
Seven miles away and 22 minutes later the two strangers sat across from each other, inside Parker's hotel suite, in a large bubble bath. It was hot and awkward. Both had promised to keep their eyes shut while the other undressed and stepped into the water, beneath the bubbles. Neither had spoken a word since.
Finally, Parker asked, "Am I pretty?" Eric smiled. "I think I'm pretty." she said, "But I also think there's something wrong with my head." "Yeah?" he asked. "I'm numb. Are you numb?" "From the water?" he said. "No, I mean numb, or maybe anhedonic. I just don't really care about anything or anyone. I don't even really care that I don't care. Is that normal?" "No. I don't think so. What does anhedonic mean?" he said.
Parker blew the bubbles around her, evaporating them into nothing. "What kind of movies do you like?" she asked. "I don't really like movies." he said. "That's a mistake. Do you read?" she asked. "Non-fiction. But what's so great about movies?" he said. Parker sat up straight in the tub, holding her breasts so as not to expose them. "I've never had sex. Have you?" she asked. Eric nodded. "I don't see any reason to bother with it. I don't like to be touched." she said. "Why?" he asked. "I'm not sure, I just don't like to be touched, by anyone. I've always felt that way." she said.
Some hours later, Parker and Eric sat back-to-back on the bed, indian-style, facing away from each other. The sun was starting to come up outside the window. Both Eric and Parker were wearing thick cotton robes with the hotel's logo sewn into the left breast. "I'm meeting a friend for breakfast at 8. You should come." Eric said. Parker shook her head. "I plan to sleep until at least 3." Parker said. "Can I see you after that?" he asked.
At just after noon, Parker was still fast asleep, all alone. The room was ice cold, with the air conditioning set at 64 degrees, and Parker was deep into a dream.
In it, Parker was walking the halls of the hotel, naked and covered in bubbles, texting Eric on her phone. She reached elevator banks and pressed the down button, right as she got a text: "Do you ever get sad for no reason?" As she typed out her response, the elevator doors opened in front of her, but there was no elevator, just an empty shaft. Parker didn't notice, and stepped into the darkness.
The first class flight attendant was probably very pretty 20 years ago, but now she was fat and oddly colored from sun damage. Parker thought about how much objectively prettier she was than the woman. Objectively.
Parker took good care of her skin. She had a regimen. Every night she cleaned her face with a burning hot wash rag and no soap, and then covered it in all kinds of oils and lotions that cost far too much to be completely worthless. Parker's skin was young and pale, like fresh snow.
Parker looked out the plane's window and saw nothing but white. The flight to New York City from Paris always felt much longer than it actually was. She was certainly happy to be sitting next to someone who was already asleep: a tiny older Japanese man who Parker imagined was some creative executive at Nintendo. He'd been the one to invent Yoshi, the green anthropomorphic dinosaur. Parker decided that he'd based the character after a childhood story that his grandmother had told him, days before the bomb that had changed everything.
Parker scribbled across her Delta Airlines Diet Coke-stained napkin:
The person you adore today is the sad sack you're bored of tomorrow.
It gave Parker a sense of control to understand that she couldn't trust her feelings about anything, because they all disappear. Parker read the napkin over and over again, and then tucked it into her pocket.
Ideas for "The Office" Episodes
I think it might be fun to write a spec episode of The Office" (the US version). Below are 10 episode ideas that I jotted down (and will probably never get around to actually writing).
Last Five Movies I've Seen:
Other Cool-ish Stuf: