Category Archives: Story

Two Farmers

I started listening to Intelligence Squared debates recently and have enjoyed as much as I hate them. The level of civility (usually) and cogency of argument are refreshing compared to shows like Cross Fire or Politically Incorrect, but I dislike the way the motions are phrased, because they usually presuppose and give bias to one side or the other. For instance, I just listened to he Big Government Is Destroying the American Dream episode, the title of which assumes that we have a Big Government and that big government is Bad. Predictably, the side arguing for the motion won, but the part that really bothered me was Art Laffer’s comment:

“… [I]f something doesn’t work in a two person economy, it’s not good economics. Take two farmers, that’s the whole world. If one of those farmers gets unemployment benefits, guess who pays for it? The other farmer.”
What a ludicrous and brutal claim. How can the economics between two people have anything to do with financial policy? If that were true, we wouldn’t have two separate fields, micro and macro economics, that operate according to completely different rules and in completely different environments.

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, I’ll roll with it.

So, let’s say our two farmers are named Mary Room and Cato Schroedinger. They’re the only two farmers after some horrific apocalypse.  According to Wikipedia, citing the Future of Humanity Institute, the most probable apocalyptic scenarios are (ignoring global warming) molecular nanotechnology weapons and artificial intelligence. We’re all familiar with the latter thanks to Terminator, so we’ll go with that route.

Mary and Cato are the last two farmers on earth, probably as a pet project of our new AI overlords. They are both master organic farmer-survivalists the likes of which are only seen in the Swiss Family Robinson. Everyone dies during the winter, which leaves them both ample time to assess and come to terms with their current situation:

MR: Everyone’s dead.

CS: I guess so.

MR: You checked online, right?

CS: Of course.

Having prepared for this moment their entire adult lives, they’re set. They’ve got one-acre farmhouses with cows, chickens, seeds, woods, and all the things one needs to run and independent farm. Because they are both of the same opinion about how the world’s going to end, their farms are adjacent.

Things are going well. Everyone’s dead, but they have a crop coming up, sufficient canned food, and the high morale that only comes with vindication. Being both pragmatists, they decide to re-start the human race and fuck as often as possible, which isn’t often because running a farm independently is really hard work.

But then, Cato’s cows and pigs die. His field is hit by a drought, which inexplicably affects him without hitting Mary (AI overlords). His well dries up, his farmstead burns down, and his chickens are eaten by wild boars.

So, Cato goes to Mary’s homestead and explains the situation:

CS: I’m going to die. Please help.

But, little did Cato realize that Mary was a student of the Chicago school of economics. She replies:

MR: How is that my problem?

After a protracted debate about the free market and entitlement programs, Cato goes back to his homestead and never returns. Mary assumes he died, but isn’t sure. She is sure, however, that if she had shared her food she would have just given a free lunch (breakfast and dinner) to a slacker who didn’t have the determination to survive in the post-apocalyptic reality of the world. The AI overlords reward her with a piece of cake, but in private comment:

A1: They really thought that was a good idea?

A2: Well, they are made of meat.

Meanwhile, the two writers left alive and thrown together in a cramped apartment somewhere else on the depopulated earth spend a few days grumbling about how they don’t have the writing tools they prefer, drink, scribble, make awkward sexual advances, and then die of dehydration.

We won’t discuss the two remaining CEOs. It’s too gruesome.



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(Id)entity – Nonprofiteers #2

The night before last, around midnight, I walked into the kitchen and found Mason cooking a pound of bacon on a cast iron skillet. “Oh, hey,” he said, waving a spatula. There were rings under his eyes and his stubble had somehow become an impressive beard over the course of 48 hours.

He looked at me for a moment, then down at the stove, then back at me. “Is the sizzling keeping you up?”

“No,” I said and sat down at our dirty, kitchen table. It was actually a card table that I think I found in my parents’ basement once upon a time. Maybe a garage sale. Either way, someone was glad to give it to me.

“How’s the job search going?” he asked, dishing out the bacon onto a plate and using a paper towel to soak up excess grease.

I looked at the clock again and decided sleep was a lost cause. All week I’ve been having the same dream. It starts with the world splitting in half and then everyone realizes that they can’t talk anymore, going mute. Paper shortages follow. Eventually, no one can read anymore. I usually wake up in a cold sweat realizing that the one skill I’d cultivated over my lifetime has been rendered useless.

Mason sat down across from me. “Bacon?” he asked, gesturing at the pile.

“No,” I said, “I don’t eat pork.”

“Are you Jewish?”

“No, just morally opposed. Pigs are too smart.

“Oh,” he said, looking down at his food guiltily.

“You can eat. It’s cool. My morals aren’t yours.”

He shook his head, “Moral relativism is a slippery path, my friend.” But he started eating anyway, saying between bites, “So, you didn’t answer my question.”

“I’m up to seventy applications. Statistically speaking,  I should get an offer any day now.”

“I see. Are they all in the nonprofit sector?”


“Have you considered applying in the for-profit arena? Target and United Health are big employers here.”

“Nah. I’ve heard both of those chew tweens into hamburger. And I’m only interested in working for a nonprofit.”


“The nonprofit sector is growing and needs young talent to take over service delivery as the baby boomers retire. I want my work and efforts to go toward a cause that improves people’s lives. Most of my friends are involved with nonprofts. And so on.”

“Do you have a specific area of interest? Like criminal justice or voluntarism?”

Since it was midnight and he brought it up, I considered just flat out asking him if his nightly excursions and obsession with justice were meaningful. But he asked a good question.

“Well, no, I’m applying across the board.”

“So, you could just as easily work for a free clinic as a animal shelter?”

“I guess so, yes. As long as I was doing communications.”

“So, why not work for Target? They do a lot of volunteerism and the Daytons make huge contributions to the arts and civic projects.”

“Good point,” I said. And it was. The machinery of my brain was working a little slow and eventually I slouched over the table, feeling it nearly give beneath the insubstantial weight of my exhaustion. “I guess I just need a mission.”

“I knew we’d get along.” Mason smiled. He cleaned his plate and leaned back in his chair. “Pigs are really smart?”

“Oh yeah. My aunt and cousins have a farm. They calls them ‘devious,’ actually. That’s good enough for me.”

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My roommate thinks I don’t know he’s a superhero. It’s endearing, in a way.

The first hint was his collection of books on jurisprudence and moral philosophy. Then there’s the disappearing every time we hear a siren or a scream down the street. He tries to act casual, like he doesn’t care about anything – just another well educated bro. But he knows where all the exits in every room are and he can sense danger, deceit, and malevolence. He also was peculiarly interested in my nonprofit career aspirations, making comments about how he appreciates a commitment to civil society, duty, and altruism.

It’s taking longer to figure out which hero he is. The Twin Cities has the largest concentration of vigilantes per capita outside of Seattle, so it isn’t like this is an easy process of deduction.

I have been carefully observing his behavior. He eats a lot of red meat, is outstandingly hairy, and has an aversion to silver. It’s been about a week since I moved in, and if my hunch is correct he should disappear for about a day around the full moon.

To be honest, I had my suspicions even before I moved in, but I was desperate for an apartment and he had a room free. It was a corner lot, one story house in Hamline. I’d been living with my cousin, Casper, an entreprenureal, OCD insomniac and after two sleepless weeks of perpetual cleaning and bathing, my roommate’s house, overgrown with ivy and a Craigslist ad that read, “Roommate needed. $350 per month, not including electricity, gas, and water. Cats welcome. Blase attitude preferred” sounded attractive.

A giant that looked like a younger Hugh Jackman with more hair greeted me at the door. “Mason Wakes,” he said, and we shook hands.

“Elliot Peter,” I said, “Do you sleep eight hours out of every twenty four? And do you clean less than once a week?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Have you had anyone put an offer on the place?”

“Not yet. The deposit’s one month’s rent and-” he started to turn around and lead me into the house.

“I’ll take it,” I said.

He looked back at me with an arched eyebrow. “Have you ever plotted to kill, main, ruin someones life, or stolen anything other than hotel bath towels?”

“Categorical no.”

“Do you like House of Cards or existential nihilism?”

I briefly considered lying or rescinding the offer, but instead said, “No.”


Casper helped me move in that afternoon. Mason asked if I wanted to get food at a Somali restaurant around the corner, but I said I had a networking event to attend.

The only way you get a job, is through networking. It’s a mantra I hear by every Millennial desperate to find work, especially in the nonprofit and arts sectors. Casper dragged me to three before I moved out and a fourth on my last night.

“What’s the point in all this? I thought sending in job applications was the thing to do?” I asked.

“It’s not what you know. It’s who you know,” my cousin said, counting his business cards.

“What does that even mean?”

“You claim to be a writer and you don’t understand a common idiom?”

“No, seriously. What am I supposed to do? Go in there and start handing out business cards?”

“More or less, yes.”

My cousin believes in business. If he had the same fervor for Catholicism, he would be a monk. Going to every downtown Minneapolis event like Church, reading his bibles of small business blogs and magazines. His calling was sales and I watched in awe and horror as he adopted mannerisms and buzzwords like gloves and tossed them on the floor as soon as he turned around to talk to someone else. Every time he shook  a hand, he surreptitiously doused his in rubbing alcohol.

About 60% of all jobs are found through networking. If you’re a salesman, fundraiser, or freelancer, the numbers are significantly higher. The trick is the follow up. Contact people, ask them for coffee, ask a lot of questions, weave your own aspirations into theirs. And then write thank you notes. Then stalk them on LinkedIn and repeat the process every few months. Remember – it’s about them. Casper said so.

The event that first night after moving in went about as well as all the others. I walked away with a dozen business cards and feeling like I’d just come back from an out of body experience. Out there, I was Elliot Peter the Effervescent Hack. On the street, I desperately craved the solace of alcohol and Game of Thrones.

I got as far as Riverside and Franklin on my bike when a man in a business suit flagged me down. “Hey, thanks,” he said when I stopped, then slammed his palm into my nose.

“Please give me your wallet and the key to your bike lock,” he said politely, standing over me with his fist raised.

As I reached into my pockets obediently, bleeding over my shirt, a nine foot tall, bipedal wolf stepped out and lifted the man up by his jacket collar. The man turned white and went limp.

“Say your sorry,” the wolf said sounding vaguely like Christian Bale’s Batman voice except after having his vocal chords put through a meat grinder.

“… I’m sorry,” the man said.

“You be more careful,” said the wolf to me, and then started walking away, lecturing the man in his scary, scary voice. “That suit was a nice touch. Very disarming. You’re not going to make me hurt you, again, right? This is the second time, Gerald. Second! Get clean. What would your girlfriend think…?”

I biked the rest of the way home, face aching, and arrived to find Mason sitting on the front porch. “How’d the networking… Wow. What happened to you?”

“Attempted mugging. I was the victim. A Werewolf saved me,” I said, watching him carefully.

Mason nodded, and I decided I could read volumes into it. “I’ve heard he’s new in town. Preventing petty crime and all that.”

“I was really hoping not to get involved.”

“That’s the life here in the Twin Cities, my friend. Heroes and victims.”

I lit a cigarette and he gave me a look but said nothing. “It was only slightly less brutalizing than the networking.”

After a while, he said, “There’s a trick to meeting people, you know? Don’t think about it as networking. There are a lot of interesting people out there. If they bore you or you don’t like them, don’t give them the time. I think you’ll find there are far fewer people you dislike than you think. And be honest with yourself and other people. It doesn’t help if no one knows who you really are.”

“My cousin and you have philosophical differences.”

“I don’t have the patience for nuances. Something is or it isn’t.”

I nodded.  Finally, I said, “I like House of Cards.”

He nodded. “I usually don’t sleep eight hours a day.”

Down the street someone screamed. “Excuse me,” Mason said, stood up and walked back into the house. I didn’t see him again until the next morning.

See? Endearing. I made a good choice.

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Tribute: The Harbinger

Dylan didn’t know what about “doom,” “cursed,” and “death and dismemberment,” they didn’t seem to understand. Ever since he could remember, he had been living and working at his dead-end station at the edge of the woods, warning people not to go any farther, but they still did. Inevitably, the police and forensics team would follow.

“I told ‘em,” he would tell Kerrigan, the local sheriff.

“I know,” she would reply and order coffee, then say something witty, like, “Were you ever young?”

“No,” he would say. He liked mono-syllabic answers, especially if they were foreboding.

The first time they met, Kerrigan walked into the station, stamped snow off her boots, and before she even introduced herself said, “I swear, there’s no way four bodies could have that much blood. A whole goddamn acre of forest around the cabin painted red. And it’ll be there until thaw.”

“I warned them,” Dylan said.

“You did?” she said. She opened a bottle of Coke and leaned against the counter. She wasn’t sheriff, then, just a rookie cop with bright red hair and infinite indifference. “Why? Has something bad happened up there before?”

Dylan shrugged. “Don’t know. Just had a feeling.”

A month later, a film crew of five went into the forest after stopping at his station, buying beer, supplies, and paperback novels. Two days after that, Kerrigan was back with ten police cars and five ambulances that carried back the lesser portions of five bodies.

“You know,” she said, hands on her hips, staring out the windows at the evergreens laden with snow. “I don’t remember there being wolves in these woods.”

“It’s cursed,” Dylan explained, counting down the drawer. It was late and Kerrigan was straggling behind the others to get coffee.

“How do you know it’s cursed?” Kerrigan said, turning to him.

“What, besides the bodies?” Dylan asked. He looked up. “A feeling, I suppose. In my gut and bones. Every time I see people go by, I know it’s the last time I’ll ever see them.”

Spring was a bad season. They came to swim, camp, hike, fish, hunt, throw wild parties and orgies, meditate. Some came reclaim ancestral land. Others to get away from it all. Then there were the travelers “Just passing through.” There were ghost hunters, too. Families, friends, and strangers. No one ever went alone and no one ever came back. They were always younger than Dylan, and sometimes much younger.

During the hottest part of the summer, four college students went camping. A week later, Kerrigan led a team out and found them tied wrists to ankles in a circle, their entrails piled in the middle on top of which sat a few branches twisted into something meaningful.

“Another fucking witch,” Kerrigan said, once again the last to leave, leaning on the counter and idly working on a crossword. She was a Lieutenant and already had streaks of grey in her hair at the age of thirty-two. She looked up at him. “So, what do you usually tell them?”

Dylan thought about it for a moment. “I usually tell them doom and death. Things they don’t want to know or see. Their end. You know, that sort of stuff.”

“You’re being too vague,” Kerrigan said, sipping her coffee. “Give specifics. How do you get kids to stop making faces? You say it’ll stick that way. Then you say there was a little boy down the street whose face was stuck scrunched up like this and so he couldn’t see for the rest of his life and nobody wanted to talk to him because he was a freak.”

“I’ll try that next time.”

Soon, Dylan discovered he had a knack for specificity. In fact, he found that he could tell people so much about their lives and their eventual demise, that they would usually leave more afraid of him than whatever grisly end awaited them. It was a latent gift that grew and blossomed with every doomed unfortunate who walked through his door. Eventually, it was fun to guess and find himself correct about people’s birthdays, favorite colors, professions, habits, hopes, obsessions, sex lives, darkest secrets, allergies, life stories. And their deaths, of course.

No one ever listened. And whenever he called Kerrigan to tell her, it was always too late.

“I’m starting to get as many complaints about you as I am about the murders,” Kerrigan told him a year after he’d started trying his more direct tactics.

“There is something very wrong with you.”

Kerrigan was elected sheriff the next year. Law enforcement agencies around the country courted her and she attended forensics and investigation conferences around the country. Sometimes, she asked if Dylan wanted to come with her, to see the cities and share his valuable skills, but he always declined. He never felt comfortable leaving his station behind.

“I’m thinking of renovating the place,” he told Kerrigan one day, after the ambulances had left.

They were sitting outside on the untreated, grey warped wood of the porch, sipping coffee and smoking. Kerrigan looked up over her shoulder at the rundown, weird, creepy gas station that was always too hot or too cold. “I thought you liked it this way?”

“I do,” Dylan said, “but times are changing. I think it could use some linoleum. The bathroom, at least, really needs some work done.”

“My aunt’s an architect. I’ll have her come down and visit you.” Kerrigan stamped out her cigarette and sighed. She was completely grey now. Five years ago, she moved to an apartment in the middle of town and Dylan heard rumors that she never turned the lights off.

“You know, there hasn’t been a single murder or violent crime in town since I became sheriff?” Kerrigan said. “It’s all these kids. They come in from all over, but never here, and get themselves killed. I never even meet them, usually. I just clean up after them.”

Dylan didn’t say anything. He knew she’d keep talking if she wanted to.

“Have you ever been out there?” she asked, gesturing vaguely at the woods. “I mean, you seem to know all the horrible things out there, but have you ever been…?”

“No,” Dylan said. A breeze picked up and the trees shivered. “I’m not stupid enough to go there.”

“That’s what I thought.” Kerrigan stood up and stretched, then walked to her car. Over her shoulder, she said, “I think we should go camping some time.”

After she left, Dylan wrote his life story in one of the dollar, tiny Spiral notebooks from the shelves. It didn’t take long. He didn’t remember a time when he wasn’t at the station, telling people they shouldn’t die. He barely went in town, and the only people who visited him were Kerrigan and the doomed.

He ended with Kerrigan’s last comment, “We should go camping sometime.” It sounded like one of her jokes, her attempts to sound indifferent when she cared far too much, just like him. But she wasn’t afraid, and he was terrified.

A car went by in the night, tearing into the woods without even stopping at the station. The next day, one of Kerrigan’s deputies walked in and asked Dylan if he’d seen the sheriff. She hadn’t shown up at the office and she wasn’t at her apartment.

As he drove his beat-up Ford down the road, away from town, and into the shadow of the trees, Dylan wondered why he’d never bothered to guess at Kerrigan’s future. He decided that she just didn’t want to know.

No one ever went alone into the woods. Kerrigan had, but Dylan knew that he was now her second and he had no idea what was going to happen. He thought about the word “doom” and “cursed” and realized he had been saying them so long that he really didn’t know what they meant anymore.

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