Minutia – Chapter 2: Beans

Chapter 2: Beans

I do not get many e-mails at work. The ones I get are either related to a phone system failure that doesn’t affect me, the aisle copier being broken, new orders, or loaner requests. If I get a personal e-mail it is usually a link to read a story about or watch a video containing somebody doing something pretty darn stupid. Then there are the occasional e-mails that are of an actual correspondence nature. I wonder if I end up being a person of consequence someday, whether or not future historians or psychiatrists will have access to my pile of correspondence e-mails and what they will decide they say about me. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my decisions. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my motivations. I wonder what theories they will postulate about my mental health. I then stop myself from wondering. It is a futile enterprise to wonder what future generations might make of the sum of your life. For when they are, you will not be.

My wonderings aside, if it turns out that I go on to a smashing career in the field of commercial photography, there is one correspondence and one date that will be considered the genesis of that career. Historians will remember that it was a Wednesday. The time was 11:45 in the morning. The following e-mail blazed across the server at the computer mine and landed squarely in my inbox.

My boss just walked into my office and asked me to call a photographer that we’ve been working with. She didn’t do what we needed to have done. I asked why we work with her if she’s been difficult to deal with in the past.

He said something about just being convenient. So, I mentioned that I know a guy…and I had him look through your calendar. He’s interested in talking to you about doing a shoot for us.

Right now we’re looking at needing some close-up photos of roasted corn and soy beans. Would you have time (or want) to swing by {COMPANY NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT} today or tomorrow to speak with him?

You can say a lot of bad things about the Photography 139 calendar and its extensive use of free labor, but for the first time ever, it actually worked as a bit of advertising. 5 months ago when Shannon “purchased” her copy of the Photography 139 calendar and hung it up in her office at work, it began what would be the process that would on this day lead her to sending me an e-mail asking me whether or not I would be interested in an audition for a gig as a commercial photographer.

I read the e-mail and thought a second. Then I replied thus:

I could stop by and discuss it at least. I’m not what you would call a gifted commercial photographer, but I could give it a try.

What time were you thinking?

After a couple of more e-mail exchanges it was established that I would come in on Thursday and discuss the possibility of taking close-up pictures of soy beans and roasted corn.

I wasn’t sure really what they wanted. I wondered if they wanted to send me off to some farm to take pictures of somebody’s operation. I wondered if they would want me to do this photo “shoot” in their offices. I wondered if I was just to be a trained monkey for their amusement. You know, like at my old job, before I worked the mines.

I did know that one thing was likely. I would probably officially have to cancel the tenderloin road trip for Saturday. That was fine, because the tenderloin road trip that was planned was not tenderloin based, but was dance recital based. Frankly I wasn’t comfortable with the lack of purity.

So it was then that I sent an e-mail to Baier explaining the situation. He sent me a one word reply:


I know it hardly qualifies as a rebuttal, however his response is what passes for discourse for people from Audubon.

I arrived at Shannon’s place of work at 1 pm. I had been there in the past, so when I walked in and saw nobody around, I began to walk toward her office. I only made it about as far as their massive television set, when Shannon showed up from the back room and indicated her boss would be with me shortly and invited me to sit down on the couch next to the massive television. I did what I was invited to do and wished that we had a couch like this back at the mine.

After a couple of minutes, her boss ran by and said something about, “being busy fighting fires.” I had a flashback to that previous job where the owner used to stay he didn’t want his managers to be “fire fighters”. He wanted us to be “boat captains”. This would lead into rhetoric about how the “Pre-shift Checklist” was the elixir that prevented fires from cropping up on your ship. That man loves his boat captain analogies almost as much as he love shoveling Grade A cow dung straight down his employees throats.

I wasn’t here for a walk down bad memory lane though. I was here to learn about the possibility of earning a little extra scratch through one of my passions. As I sat on the couch I did start to have a desire to turn on the massive television. It was unlikely that this television was hooked up to cable or satellite. It was even more unlikely that even if it had been I would have been able to find anything on daytime television that was more interesting than snow or the most recent development, the “unusable signal” channel. A favorite channel in the Baier household I would learn soon enough.

As I thought about touching the massive television, the Boss returned in the same rapid gait and uttered something to the effect that he was busy and I could just talk to Shannon. This was fine with me. It was what I preferred. Even though this was hardly what I would classify as a job interview, I still didn’t really want to go through the process of answer questions about my alleged photography skills with a stranger. I am not a person good at being interviewed. Maybe it is because I don’t like being judged. Whatever the reason, my interview skills are probably the reason that the only two jobs I’ve had for an extended period of time have involved Lowell.

I got up and started walking towards what I perceived to be Shannon’s office. To which she indicated that I was heading in the wrong direction. Her office had moved. So I turned and walked in the opposite direction back towards the door. Towards her new office.

I sat down in her office next to a file cabinet with a clear flaw. I noticed this immediately, but because this was to be a pseudo-professional meeting, I let it slide. “It” being an Iowa Hawkeye football schedule magnet.

Shannon is a Panther by education. This is fair enough. I do not hold this against her. Not everybody can go to Iowa State. Yet, when she is asked to pick a side between Iowa or Iowa State she reveals a terrible character flaw by choosing the Hawkeyes.

There was some polite conversation to begin this meeting, but then the conversation moved towards what they needed from me.

“We need close-up pictures of soy bean nuts and roasted corn on a white background. They will be used for a website and brouchures.”

Then she produced two clear bags. One was about ¼ full of soybean nuts. The other was about 1/3 full of roasted corn.

“Sorry, but this is all we have left. We gave the rest to the other photographer. I guess this is where you get to be creative.”

It was a fair enough observation. It does sound like an incredibly boring job. Taking pictures of beans. Where do I sign up? I would learn in the near future that most people seem to think that this involves taking one picture, and then you are done. It is quite a bit harder than you would think. And I allegedly know what I’m doing.

I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as my predecessor. That lady was in the unemployment line. So I asked, “So what was wrong with the other images.”

“Too low of a resolution. Plus you can’t tell whether or not you’re looking at beans or whether you are looking at roasted corn.”

I looked closer at the bags that were in my hands. If you did look closely, they were slightly different. This really only left me with two questions:

“When do you need these by?”

“Pretty soon.”

I knew I couldn’t work on this project tonight. It was Rebecca’s birthday dinner at Shorty and Doris’. I wouldn’t be able to work on it Friday night because that was Friday Night Supper Club and besides being sacred, we were also breaking in Willy’s new pad. I had cleared up Saturday. It would have to be Saturday because Sunday was Mother’s Day.

“Would Monday be soon enough?” I offered, but actually thinking that it wouldn’t be soon enough.

“That would be perfect.” Shannon said.

“What resolution are you looking to get?” I asked my final question.

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask the Boss.”

That concluded the business end of this meeting, I thought. Yet there was one question still to be decided. I had never thought about this question. That question was money.

“How much do you want to be paid?”

I hadn’t really considered that I might have to enter into a negotiation. Another reason I was glad to be dealing with Shannon rather than some stranger.

“I don’t know.”

Shannon quickly answered with, “That is what I told him you would say.”

It hurt to be so predictable, but it has never been my goal to be unpredictable. My goal has always been to be me. Who ever that might be?

So I answered the best way that I could: “Just pay me whatever you were paying the other photographer.”

That seemed to settle it. The business had been settled. Shannon gave me a run down of what they did at her company. They mostly produce football highlight videos for a third party. I scored 2 Cyclone highlight video DVDs. Then she showed me shelves and shelves filled with boxes and boxes that were filled with DVDs for high schools. Apparently the high school videos don’t sell very well. She showed me a list of schools in Iowa for which they produced these videos.

There is one thing that has always annoyed me. It is when people who aren’t involved in a business want to tell you what is wrong with your business. Even though this is a major pet peeve of mine, I couldn’t help but start running my mouth about what I perceived to be their problem.

“These are all large schools. That is why they aren’t selling. What they need to do is focus on small towns that having nothing going on but their high school football programs. Places like Madrid, Harlan, or Aplington-Parkersburg. There might not be as large of a customer base, but these people are going to buy them.”

It harkened me back to a particular customer from my past. I can’t remember his name, but he was an Engineering Professor at Iowa State, allergic to onions, potentially stalking me, and a super sized jerk.

The night that Campus closed one of the first things I did was take down the drive-thru menu board. While I was out there, Professor Know-it-all pulled up to the drive-thru speaker.

“Am I too late!” he bellowed out a half question and a half snarl.

“Yep we closed at 7.” I said, trying not to engage him in conversation but answering his question.

“This is too bad. I think you guys really could have made this work.” He said and then looked off at the distance like people do who are having deep thoughts and are about to say something compelling. What he did say was this, “What you guys needed was a hook. Something to get people in the door.” Then he made eye contact with me and continued, “You should have given people a free drink when they ordered something else.”

He continued the eye contact as if to tell me two things. He didn’t need my approval of his idea and secondly I should acknowledge his wisdom by pointing out the greatness of his idea.

I said, “Yeah that might have worked.” Then I grabbed up my tools and walked back into the story, leaving the genius alone in the night to think his genius thoughts. I’m pretty certain his thought was that he had saved the store. I was going to go in and tell the owner this brilliant idea. The owner would then say something about boat captains and change his mind about closing the store.

In reality I went inside and told some of my fellow Campusites about what I had just endured and we all had a good chuckle at the knave.

Truth be told, there was nothing that was going to save Campus. The owner had wanted to close the store down for years and years. He was emotionally invested in closing the store down. He had done everything possible to make sure it closed and certainly wasn’t interested in any ideas that might actually help the bottom line. On the contrary he was interested in ideas that would hurt the bottom line so that he would have more ammunition to take with him to the corporation as he pleaded with them to let him close it down.

Even if Campus would have been blessed with an owner that was interested in making Campus into a profitable venture, giving away free drinks was possibly the worst idea imaginable. Food cost on a soda is around 3.5%. Food cost on a sandwich is sometimes as high as 60%. You don’t make a profit by giving away the thing that makes you most of your money. Add in the labor involved in making a sandwich and you probably lost money on it. But a person would have to get over 30 free refills to put a dent in your profit margin.

Laughable! The ideas of that knave!

Perhaps that is the exact thought that was going through Shannon’s mind when she said, “Actually the problem is that they try to sell them for fifty-five bucks.”

I conceded her point that these DVDs were in fact priced out of the marketplace. She then offered me any high school DVD that I wanted. There weren’t any areal teams, but I thought that Jay was a graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy and they were on the list. Shannon snagged me a copy of their 2006 DVD. I was disappointed to see that the Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars had flat out stolen their logo from the Kansas State Wildcats. Whatever happened to originality?

After I had collected up my DVDs the Boss streaked by again and blurted out “RAW!” I now had all the answers I needed to tackle my project. I had a format. Which isn’t the same thing as a resolution, but it worked for me.

I left her office loaded up on DVDs, soy beans, and roasted corn. As I drove back to work I called Jay’s answering machine and left the following message:

“Jay Janson! Jay Janson! Were you a cougar?” I might have growled a smidge as well.

I decided to do this shoot outside. Saturday was a tad bit windy, but I would take the wind for the better light and the joy of working outside. I was also concerned that bright light was also going to make shadows somewhat troublesome. So my plan was to rely a little bit on fill flash and a little bit on the gentle shadow of the garage.

It turned out that the joy of working outside was slightly diminished by the neighbors across the alley. They had chosen this weekend to rent a power sprayer to clean their deck furniture and the toys of their children. This steady noise was not the blissful peace that I had imagined.

When I am working in a creative way, I strongly prefer to listen to jazz or classical, but mostly jazz. In particular I find I respond best to the albums that Miles Davis recorded in the mid 1960s right before he got hardcore into fusion. Although the sound of water hitting plastic at breakneck speed might have fit in decently with “Bitches Brew” or “Dark Magus” it wasn’t doing anything for me on this day. It was not mixing well with “Miles in the Sky”.

So I switched my background music to a little harder stuff. I found that Led Zeppelin nicely covered up the sound of noisy neighbors. Although I’m not sure what the other people in the neighborhood used to cover up the sound of this noisy neighbor.

I shouldn’t go into great detail about what happened when I finally started taking pictures of my subjects. I could. I’m sure that there are many interesting things I could discuss about exposure compensation, depth of field, aperture setting, saturation, sharpness, and leveling tripods. I will leave all that out because I don’t really like to discuss how I do what I do. I like it be sufficient for people to know that I do do what I do.

I will just state that it is a lot harder to tell whether beans are in focus or not. Way harder than it sounds. Let us just say that I eventually got enough of something on the memory card. I had enough to at least present something to Shannon. Whether that something was going to be good enough, I didn’t know. I did know that I was not a gifted commercial photographer and spending an afternoon photographing beans is more interesting than it sounds. I called it a day.

I burned the best of what I had onto a disc and went to visit Shannon again. She was in a rush to go somewhere, so the interaction was brief. I dropped off the disc. She looked them over and said she thought they looked good, but she was not the final word.

I acknowledged her compliment and indicated that it is a lot harder than a person thinks to tell if a bean is in focus.

I then left her to do what she had to do. She said that she would show the bean photos to her boss and they would get back to me today.

I returned to work and felt a little bad. I was worried that the Boss would look at the pictures and tell Shannon that this was the lousiest set of bean pictures he had ever laid eyes on. Then I would get the following e-mail:

The Boss says that your bean photos are no good. Get out of here kid! You got no future!

Unlike Marty McFly though, I can handle that type of rejection. It might be the only type of rejection I can handle, but I handle that type of rejection.

However it wasn’t the rejection that worried me. I would have felt bad for Shannon if she would have had to tell me that I suck. That is a hard thing for one friend to have to tell another friend. Even when it has to be done, like when you have a friend walking around insisting that “Shrek 2” was way better than “Shrek” and you have to tell him to stop doing that because he is embarrassing himself.

As I contemplated this potential dilemma, an e-mail popped into my inbox. It read:

I finally just got your CD to the Boss. When I asked him what he thought, he said something to the effect of, “I think we just found our new close-up photographer.” So my opinion was valid. They are great photos!

I was relieved and excited, but yet I wished that they would use the term “Macro Photographer”. Is that too anal?

One thought on “Minutia – Chapter 2: Beans”

  1. Then she produced two clear bags. One was about ¼ full of soybean nuts. The other was about 1/3 full of roasted corn.

    “Sorry, but this is all we have left. We gave the rest to the other photographer…”

    This is splendid comedy. It’s so good that I was inspired to write a piece of biographical fiction/short story that takes this situation to the extreme. Hope ye enjoy:

    I examined my photos and picked out what I judged to be the best three roasted corn and best two soybean. It’s not that I didn’t have three acceptable soybean pictures, only that three of my roasted corn were so similar looking I couldn’t narrow them down.

    None of my friends are experts on anything even remotely farm related, but I still wanted an impartial opinion on the quality of my work. Just someone to answer the question, “If you saw these pictures in a brochure would you be convinced?” The only person I could think of that would be enthused about answering such a question, given the subject matter, was my friend Eric. I called him and he was happy to oblige as long he didn’t have to “taste or eat anything”. I’m not sure why he worried about this possibility. All I can say is that Eric has a history of obsessing with tangents more than the shapes that inspire them. He came over later that evening.

    We exchanged pleasantries and Eric said, “I’m not a wizard or anything with this type of stuff. For all we know I might like really crappy roasted corn pictures, but I’m sure yours are good.”

    I told him not to worry about it.

    “It’s not pictures of corn nuts is it though? I hate those.”

    I told him again that it was roasted corn and soybeans.

    “Okay, I just thought corn nuts were roasted too so they might have been the same thing.”

    Nope, different.

    We went to my computer and I jiggled the mouse to get the monitor’s attention. One of the pictures was already open.

    “Wow, that’s nice,” said Eric. “That’s a type of picture you see a dozen times a day but never think about or consciously notice. I think that’s how it is with advertising. You’d only notice something if it was done poorly, but in this context you can see the thought and artistry that’s gone into it.”

    “So if you saw this picture in a brochure you’d be convinced?” I said.

    “Convinced of what?”

    “I don’t know, convinced that the photographer knew what he was doing.”

    “Well,” said Eric, “if I saw this photo in a brochure I wouldn’t notice it.”

    That seemed as rational a compliment as any so I brought up the next picture.
    “Wait, go back,” said Eric.

    I put the first picture back up.

    “Yeah, that’s weird,” he said. “Why did they want you take a picture of corn nuts and soybeans mixed together?”

    “It’s not corn nuts. It’s roasted corn,” I said.

    “Yeah, that’s what I meant. Anyway, is this like a trail mix or something?”

    It wasn’t supposed to be as far as I was told. I looked at the picture more closely, but couldn’t see the differences. “Are you sure?”

    “Yeah, it’s obvious. It’s like fifty percent corn nuts and fifty percent soybeans. Or maybe sixty-forty.” Eric pointed at the monitor, careful not to touch it. “See, here’s a corn nut and here’s a soybean.”

    . . .

    “I mean roasted corn,” he said.

    I showed Eric the other two roasted corn pictures and he confirmed that they were all as impure as the first. I was given hope that the soybean pictures were okay when, after I pulled one up, Eric said, “Yeah, that’s definitely a soybean picture.” But then he added, “There’s clearly about sixty percent soybeans in that one, which explains why the other picture had only forty percent.”

    I then had a realization that he might be right. I couldn’t tell the soybean pictures apart from the roasted corn ones.

    “But it’s obvious which photos are which. The distinction is based on the ratio of corn nuts to soybeans,” said Eric.

    I’d taken ten pictures of corn followed by ten of soybeans, and it’d been easy to keep them organized based on that. Now that the pictures were getting mixed up on the computer, I was losing track.

    “Well this was a colossal waste of time,” I said, turning off the monitor in disgust.

    “Ah, so they’re not supposed to be mixed? That sucks. It’d probably be too hard to photoshop the pictures.” Eric sat down on the floor. “You think that other photographer mixed them together to screw with people?”

    Nope, these were leftovers. The other photographer never had his dirty lens on them.

    “Did you turn your back or leave them unattended in the garage during the shoot? Maybe a squirrel mixed them up.”

    A squirrel probably would have stolen them and not just rearranged. The squirrel would also have had to navigate zip-lock bags and leave them intact.

    “Huh, I’m out of ideas. Maybe I can sort them. Do you still have the bags?”

    I opened a desk drawer and weakly tossed the bags on the floor in front of Eric. He held them up to the light and shook them.

    “I don’t know.” Eric took off his glasses and squinted, “I don’t think I could do it in here. It’s kind of dark. Maybe I could smell them apart. Can I open a bag and smell them?”

    Sure, whatever.

    Eric had trouble with the zip-lock and tore the bag a little. “Sorry about that. Um, yeah, they definitely smell different I think. Yep, this is definitely a corn nut, smells just like it. Wait, looks like a soybean. Yeah, it’s a soybean. I meant to say that it smells like a soybean before. Hmm, this one smells like a soybean too, and it’s a – wait – yeah, it’s a soybean. Doh! Never mind. It is a corn nut.”

    Don’t worry about it.

    “Sorry, they all smell the same now. I think I could do it in better light. Ah, I bet their odors have contaminated each other. Maybe if you dumped them out and exposed to them to the air. Do you have a fan? Can’t be set on high though or they might blow all over the house.”

    “Nah, it’s fine. I’ll just call Shannon and see if she can get me some more. It’s no big deal.”

    “Oh well. At least the pictures are still cool. If you look closely you can see faces in them.”

    “What?” I said.

    “Yeah, turn the monitor back on. There’s faces in the patterns, especially in the photos with the larger percentage of corn nuts. I can show you.”

    “No, that’s okay. I think you’ve sniffed too much.”

    “Maybe … ” said Eric, thinking for a moment, “ … but I sniffed after viewing the pictures, and I saw the faces clear as night before the sniffing. I’d watch my back if I were you.”

    What the hell did that mean?

    “Nothing,” said Eric, stretching his legs out on the floor. “It was just a weird joke.”
    Neither of us had anything to say for a bit.

    “You think they’ll let you keep these?” Eric shook the bags again, one in each hand.

    I didn’t know. Why?

    “Revenge of course.”

    It took me a while to convince Eric that I shouldn’t let him destroy the bags of roasted corn and soybeans. The trick was coming up with a rational justification. “There’s just no reason to” never works with Eric; his belief in vicarious catharsis is always a reason. He finally listened to, “I might still need these if Shannon can’t find any more,” but he still argued that, since they were mixed up, he should at least get to destroy one bag. I told him that once they were sorted I might not have enough of each. The motivating truth was that I didn’t feel like driving to the train tracks at that moment. I agreed to let him take one corn nut and he could run it over with his car.

    Eric left around eleven and I called Shannon immediately. I was on an even tighter schedule than before and was less than pleased that I was going to burn a whole weekend on this project. She answered the phone tiredly. I’d possibly woken her.

    “Hi, Shannon, this is Chris.” I stared back into my bedroom and got an inexplicable feeling – as if the jumbled zip-locks were going to crawl out and kill me on the phone.

    “Oh, hi Chris, what’s up?”

    “Well, those bags you gave me were mixed up.”

    What did I mean “mixed up”?

    “Some of the corn nuts were in the soybean bag and vice versa.”

    “Corn nuts? That’s not right.” Shannon sounded more alert now.

    “I’m sorry. I meant roasted corn. Anyway, the bags are mixed up and I can’t tell them apart well enough to separate them.”

    There was a few seconds silence. “Gee, I don’t know, Chris. We gave you all we had. I’m not sure where to get more.”

    “Who gave us the ones we had?” Given my luck so far, I was sure this simple idea had a flaw.

    “The guy we got them from is the one who wants the brochure made. He dropped ‘em off at my office when I was out. We called him to get more after our first photographer didn’t work out, but his secretary said he’s out of town for several weeks. She had no idea where to get more – it’s not like he keeps soybeans and corn nuts in his office – but she’d contact him and get back to us if she came up with anything. We never heard back.”

    An obvious idea hit me. “Why not see if the previous photographer still has some left?”

    “You know, I didn’t think of that. It’s worth a shot, but my guess is he threw it all away. Here, let me see if I can find his number. I might need a few minutes for my computer to start. Be right back.”

    My house turned too quiet. I didn’t remember turning off the bedroom light, but it looked pitch black in there, and the door seemed more closed than before. Staring into that void I became aware of the fish tank bubbling behind me, a sootheness coming over me. Five minutes later Shannon pick up the phone.

    “Sorry, Internet Explorer crashed twice. I found the guy’s number. Here it is – ”

    “Just a second,” I interrupted, “I wouldn’t be comfortable calling this guy. He doesn’t know me and it’d be awkward to tell him I was the new photographer. I’d have to lie and I have no idea what could justify trying to get a hold those props.”

    “Heck, you could just tell him it was for your cousin’s science experiment. Anything would work,” said Shannon.

    Crafting excuses on the fly isn’t hard when they contain some truth. “Another thing is – I’m absolutely terrible at lying. He already knows you – ”

    “Okay okay. I see what you’re saying. I’ll call him and get back to you. Is there anything else?”

    Nothing except maybe getting the due date pushed back a day or so, like to Tuesday or Wednesday.

    “Tuesday is fine. Oh, how about one of your friends? Would any of them know how to sort the corn nuts from the soybeans?”

    Um … no.

    I couldn’t remember if I’d put the bags back in the desk or left them on the floor, but I wasn’t sure about going into the bedroom to check. I felt the need for some non-liquid courage, and chose a Miracle Whip sandwich made with three pieces of bread including a heel. The plan was to close the bedroom door, eat on the couch, and fall asleep whilst an uplifting movie starring a large cast droned in the background, which conveniently ruled out The Shining.

    I had the Miracle Whip in hand when I noticed an open pack of BBQ-Jalapeno Corn Nuts on the kitchen counter.

    I didn’t remember buying those …

    The phone rang again and I dropped the Miracle Whip container, which hit the ground with a dull, plastic thud. Only a little splattered out thank goodness. Who would be calling at this crazy hour? The caller I.D. said “Shannon”.

    I cleared my throat. “Hello?”

    “Hi, Chris. I called the photographer and he said he’d leave the goods for you his mailbox so you can pick them up anytime. He’s not going to be home tomorrow.”

    “Wow, you called him this late?”

    “Yeah, he sounded tired. It’s Saturday though so I figure people don’t mind so much. He put them in the mailbox while I was on the phone with him so you could even get them tonight if you wanted.”

    “Cool, thanks. That was nice of him.”

    “I don’t know …” Shannon’s voice trailed off, “ … he almost sounded desperate to get them out of his house if that makes any sense.”

    I think it did make sense. I got the address and bid her goodnight.

    I was anxious to get them that night, yet disappointed in how easy it was to find his house. The streets had alternating-days parking, and it took me a several minutes to calculate which side I could legally park on at that hour. Not a nice idea to pull up to folks’ homes so late. The guy’s house seemed pretty spiffy. I wondered how much he pulled in as a commercial photographer. Even his driveway was nice. Sucks for the mail carrier though having to walk up the whole thing six out of seven.

    Which, of course, the mail carrier didn’t because the mailbox was on the street. Damn it.

    Turning around I became startled by an odd noise. I couldn’t tell what direction it came from. I took a few steps and heard it again in front of me. I held my breath trying to hear more. The streetlight was out and I froze still as my night-vision crept forward, the silhouette of a mailbox slowly materializing out of nothing, black-on-black. Then that noise again, clearer, a scuffle – the mailbox moved!

    I considered circling wide around the mailbox and speeding home, but explaining to a cop why I’d been speeding would be worse than trying to explain why I had a plastic skull in my backseat, which I don’t, but I mention it just for comparison’s sake. What to do?

    I imagined what Eric would say if he were here, “There’s almost no chance whatsoever that corn nuts from a mailbox could hurt you.”

    And he was right except for the “corn nuts” part. I was being absolutely ridiculous. I marched up to the mailbox and threw it open –

    I screamed as a dark creature flung itself against my chest and buried its numerous claws. Before I could defend myself, it fell to the ground and bounded away into the blackness, but before it faded completely, my racing mind registered the bopping furry form of a squirrel.

    With my heart still aflutter, I felt inside the gaping mailbox and discovered the grizzly remains of scattered soybeans, roasted corn, shredded zip-locks, and what I guessed to be a half-chewed note.

    I read the note in the faint dome-light of my car. It said:

    Good luck with your science experiment, Chris! I never knew you could use corn nuts for that sort of thing.

    Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion …

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