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Thread: Toast

  1. #1
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    Toast

    Toast

    A time bomb -- that was the noise, an omen of disaster, ticking away. Although Alice had never been involved in direct combat, never a victim of a crime, she'd seen enough movies and TV episodes to know that’s exactly how it sounded whenever a device warned of its imminent explosion. And here it was, a dreadful click-click-clicking emanating from her toaster.

    The appliance was relatively new. Even though Alice remembered where she had stashed the store receipt, she wasn't sure if the refund policy would still be in effect. One thing she did know was that Burt would balk at having to exchange the thing, let alone shelling out for a new one. The Meachams had a history of bad luck with kitchen appliances: coffee makers whose toggle switches would loosen into a permanent Limbo between “off” and “on”; microwave ovens whose pristine white interior would flake off with each zapping, gradually revealing a most unappealing layer of rust; hot pots whose job description was simply to boil water could not do so without first uncontrollably weeping through the bottom and flooding the entire counter.

    Their last toaster was a tease. Deliberately lacking an old-fashioned lever, it had been vaunted as having a “one touch” feature. All the hungry consumer had to do was place two slices of bread vertically into the slots and the toaster would do the rest, “automatically.” That was the theory. In practice, the toaster would allow the twin slices to enter the appropriate slots, but it would not deign to let them drop into its depths of glowing coils. Eventually, the bread would slowly fall, but only when the toaster was damned good and ready, and only then with coaxing. “Tap it, Burt,” Alice advised. “Just use the knife handle and knock the side.” Reluctantly the bread would descend, but over the course of successive breakfasts it became necessary to increase the force, beginning with tapping and climaxing with out-and-out assault.

    Then came the apocalyptic morning when Alice awoke to the clamor of wailing and the gnashing of teeth. “I'll ‘tap’ it!” It was Burt’s voice, screaming expletives. “I'll tap it, all right, you no-good son of a —“ From the bedroom window she could see him swinging the cord while banging the toaster itself against the sturdy bark of their prized white oak in the backyard.

    And now its replacement could be added to their list of defective merchandise. Not only did this toaster make Alice nervous with its noise, it had a stubborn streak, refusing to accept the thickness of bagels and melting toaster pastries to a crumbly, sticky mess, but worst of all adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward its raison d'etre. The quality of its work was erratic: no matter the setting or the amount of time the allotted for its operation, the two slices of bread would come out either pale as a cloistered nun or burnt like a soul in hell. “Jeez,” Alice muttered to herself, “America can put a man on the moon, but we can't get a decent piece of toast.”

    The clicking slowed down to a couple of half-hearted clicks as two toast impersonators slowly ascended to the top of the appliance. On the first slice, one side was burnt to a proverbial crisp, while the other was as white as it had been in the package, although its original sponginess had been replaced by a hard texture, like a stale piece of bread. Alice pitched that one straight into the garbage can, despite her life-long conviction that it was a sin to waste food. The second slice fared a little better – it could be loosely defined as being “toasted,” but unevenly; both sides blotched with black, brown, and white – like hybrid dairy cows.

    Alice threw it on a plate, but as she picked up her butter knife and the jar of marmalade, something caught her eye. She flicked her eyeglasses to the top of her head and squinted at the bread as a jeweler would appraise a gem. “Holy–! Burt! Get in here, Burt!”

    Characteristically Burt took his sweet time getting to the kitchen. I thought you were having a heart attack or sumpthin!” Since it wasn't an apparent emergency, he wiped his hands on Alice’s good dishtowel and poured himself a coffee before asking “Whatsamatter now?” Alice thrust the plate into his hands. “No thanks,” he said. “I've already had breakfast.”

    “I don't want you to eat it, I want you to look at it.”

    “It’s a piece of toast. So?”

    “Look at this.” She did a circular motion with her index finger outlining the section she wanted him to see. “See the brown spots and the black and the wavy lines? What does it look like to you?”

    “What are you, going all senile on me? I told you – it’s a lousy piece o’ toast.”

    Through gritted teeth she said, “Just take a second and look. Look real hard, Burt.”

    Burt grabbed his reading glasses out of the pocket of his old shirt and wiped the lenses on another one of Alice’s good dishtowels. He held the toast up in the air and turned it around.

    “Not that side. The other one!” she yelled. She grabbed the toast and did the circular pointing again. “Doesn't this part look like a face? And this is the long hair. Now tell me who that looks like.”

    “Hmm, “ he said, deep in scrutiny. Then he snapped his fingers. “Oh yeah! That dame we saw on TV in that movie the other night. What’s her name, Susan Hayward.”

    “That was Rita Hayworth. But she’s not who’s on the bread. It’s a man. See the beard?”

    “Let me see, now. Oh! I know! It’s that Beatle, the one that died a couple years back.”

    Alice grabbed the piece of toast in such a rough and angry way that she almost crumbled the evidence. “It’s not George Harrison, you moron! This piece of toast – right here in my hand – contains the image of Our Lord!”

    “Wha–?” Burt looked down. He shrugged and said, “Okey-dokey, Alice. If you say so."

    “I don't just say so. I know so!” Still miffed, she grabbed various boxes of food wrap from the cabinet. First she ripped a square of plastic film and carefully wrapped up the piece of toast. She wrapped that in a slightly-larger piece of Cut-Rite waxed paper, then some aluminum foil. Finally she put the square inside a quart-sized freezer bag, which she zipped tight with a vengeance. “I'm going to take this around and show it to the neighbors. Let him who has eyes to see, o ye of little faith,” she said.

    A moment after she'd slammed the screen door, Burt re-opened it and yelled after her: “Hey, Alice! Don't forget – it’s just a piece O’ toast.”

    A few hours later, when Burt was returning home from the True Value down on 9J, he was taken aback by the unfamiliar vehicles parked in front of his house, in his driveway, and right smack on the same lawn he'd spent the majority of a scorching afternoon mowing. He hoped the grass would survive the weight of that heavy white van, equipped with numerous antennae and what looked like a satellite dish on its roof. It was hard for him to find a place to park his own pickup in his very own neighborhood. “Doesn't this beat all!” he muttered, and the sight of these strangers congregating at his home filled him with such irritated confusion that he left the paper bag containing his purchases – a crescent wrench and a roll of three-quarter inch duct tape – on the front seat.

    Burt had taken scarcely a step up the stoop when out of nowhere a microphone materialized a millimeter under his nose. He tried to side-step his way around to the front door, but somebody was blocking his way – the same person who was holding the microphone: a dressed-to-the-nines blonde with her face all painted like a beauty pageant contestant. “Mr. Meacham?” she chirped. “Katie Sawyer, Channel 43 News. Here we are at 734 Old Purgatory Road where a woman claims to have found a miraculous discovery right at her breakfast table. A kitchen miracle, as it were. Tell me, Sir, how did your wife discover the piece of toast?”

    Burt’s expression changed to the same one he had the other day when he went down to the basement and found a squirrel sitting atop the furnace. “Same place everybody finds toast -- from a toaster.”

    “And did you see right away how special this piece of toast was? How much religious signifi–sig-importance do you attach to this revelation? This miracle?”

    “It’s not a relic – it’s just a piece o’ toast. Now if you'll pardon me –“

    “Mr. Meacham, do you take this as a heavenly sign that we should change our ways, is this God’s way of trying to tell us something? What’s your opinion of gay marriage?”

    “Gay marriage? What has that got to do with –“

    “Do you think that same sex people can get married or only opposites?”

    Finally, the front door: salvation! “What do those folks want to get married for?” he muttered. “Haven't they suffered enough?”

    In the Meachams’ living room, a full-scale press conference was already in progress. The center of attention was Alice, in her best dress , with her mug glowing more brightly than the huge hot lights above her. One by one she fielded the reporters’ theological queries, some of which would've stumped the most astute Jesuit scholar.

    “All right, that’s enough. Everybody out!” Burt tried to shout, but someone shouted louder: “Quiet! We're taping here!”

    Somebody tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. Meacham, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Ronald Freen, pastor of the Second Reformed United Church up on Route 4?” Uh-oh, a minister. Burt hoped Alice had remembered to hide the empty beer cans. “I was speaking to your lovely wife, and she and I both agreed that I should take the holy object –“

    “The holy toast?”

    “– back to the rectory with me, for safekeeping. Would that be all right
    with you?”

    “Sure, fine, anything to get these people outa here.” Burt said.

    Reverend Freen lifted his eyes heavenward in a brief prayer of thanksgiving, along with one of petition that whatever bounty might come from the miraculous discovery, his church would get a cut. He was thinking of his son over at the University who might have to repeat another costly semester. Also, he made a mental note that upon
    returning to his office, to make sure to “save” the sermon he was writing before logging on to eBay.

    It was a bit longer than fifteen minutes but only a couple of days for Alice’s sudden fame to fade, and for the toaster to be dispatched to the landfill, despite any additional signs and wonders the appliance may have yet to reveal. A few evenings later the Meachams were watching an old movie on TV when Alice shrieked, “Burt!” just as he was about to doze off in his recliner.

    “What? What is it?”

    “Burt! Look over on that wall. Look at the shape that’s forming there! It looks like a picture of something. A face.”

    Without a word, Burt headed for the front door. “Where are you going? You've got to investigate this!” Alice demanded.

    “I already have, and I know what it is. I'm going down to the store to get a caulking gun. The upstairs toilet is leaking again.”

    After that night, there were no more signs and wonders in or around the Meacham household, and no miracles, except for the possibility that somewhere in the Divine Milieu an entity might have happened to turn around, look down, and laugh.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 06-06-2009 at 02:21 PM.

  2. #2
    Registered User miyako73's Avatar
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    Nice one, Aunt. I like how you wrote a story out of simple things and scenarios.

    I only have two suggestions, but you can ignore them.

    Phrases such as "and here it was", "as it were", and the likes give an impression that a writer is editorializing his/her own story.

    Another one is the almost cliche use of the binary opposites, theory and practice, in writing. I think I would leave their usage to opinion writers.

    I enjoyed reading your story.

  3. #3
    Registered User JacobF's Avatar
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    I thought the story was spectacular. Most of all l enjoyed its funny-but-true relevance it has on today's society: how we commercialize religion, and how we draw our spiritual experiences from consumerism. Humour was injected very well into this piece, and I laughed at the preacher logging onto eBay part. The ending, too, was subtle enough that, although it could have fallen flat, didn't.

    I really have no major complaints. However, the expression "We can put a man on the moon but..." even though it's in dialog is kind of tired. The same with “What do those folks want to get married for?' he muttered. 'Haven't they suffered enough?'" Personally I've heard this joke so many times by comedians and in real life that it has gotten old.

    And one last thing: Old Purgatory road. I understand the story revolves around a spiritual joke, but that name seemed a bit over-the-top considering the consistent realism of the rest of the story (well, realism in a sense).

    Again, despite my pathetic whines, it was a fabulous story and I'm never sure how you pull it off; which of course is a good thing.

  4. #4
    Something's gotta give PrinceMyshkin's Avatar
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    That ending just about knocked me out of my desk-chair - but I'm not at all sure how you intend us to read it? If that "entity" is indeed - or even conjecturally - looking down and laughing, at whom or what is it laughing?

    At Alice's "vision"? Burt's inability or refusal to see it? Or at the state of their marriage or of marriage in general?

    I wondered throughout if the trail of appliance disasters was meant to signal something faulty in the relationship of those who owned the appliances? The two references, in Alice's presumably irritated point of view, to Burt using her "good dishtowels" for inappropriate purposes was slender evidence of anything perhaps deeper.

    As in the other story of yours that I read, I was carried along, by your efficient, spare style of narration, but I do think this story requires readers to interpret it, but without providing us enough clues to do so.

  5. #5
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    Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and comment on this thing.

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    Nice read. It reminded me of the news story about the lady who found the letters "GOD" in her fried ham or some breakfast food a while back. Being an atheist aside, I remember how peeved it made me that this breakfast "miracle" was blown so out of proportion.

    I like how this story captures that exactly, and puts it in a humorous light rather than some deep and religious digestible godsend.
    Last edited by l0rd; 06-08-2009 at 12:09 AM.

  7. #7
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    Great job of turning a routine household event into a fascinating story, Auntie.

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    A piece of fiction should stand on its own, regardless of what the author may or may not have intended. Not to be so bold as to mention the name of Robert Browning while talking about something written by yours truly, he has a quotation that may apply in this case. When someone asked Browning about the meaning of a particular poem he had written, he said, "When I wrote the poem only God and I knew what it meant; now only God knows."

    It really goes against my principles, such as they are, to "defend" the choices made in a particular work. It makes a person look mealy-mouthed and defensive. With pieces that aspire toward humor, it's especially dangerous to do so, as any comedian will tell you that once you try to analyze a joke, it falls apart.

    Even so (or to use the trendy horrible phrase today, "Having said that"), I'm feeling pugnacious today and will answer some of the astute criticisms.

    First, I'm one who constantly advises to "keep oneself out" of a piece of fiction as well as railing against too much linear narration , but I'm sorry to say I can't see how transitional phrases such as "and here it was" constitutes "editorializing."

    The alleged "tired triteness" in the dialogue, it was just a shorthand for showing how many middle-aged, middle class couples express themselves. It's noting acutely symbolic, other than the fact that the wife and hubby have picked up most of their info via the boob tube, undoubtedly where Burt first heard the gay marriage joke.

    This tale isn't a statement about a particular marriage or the state of Matrimony in general, but it promote the idea that they've been together quite a long time, and thus are about to speak frankly to each other, without diminishing the state of their relationship in any way. When you think about it, our daily lives are crammed with dealing with triviality, such as slip-shod, second-rate products, which contaminates the less material side of our nature.

    Finally this is a satire whose only intention was to get some laughs. It's important not to read too much into the piece, or the allusion to Teilhard's "Divine Milieu."



    Quote Originally Posted by PrinceMyshkin View Post
    As in the other story of yours that I read, I was carried along, by your efficient, spare style of narration, but I do think this story requires readers to interpret it, but without providing us enough clues to do so.
    Providing "clues"? Who am I, Agatha Christie? But I kid, I kid.

    I do think, as far greater lights such as Richard Powers agrees with me, is that a creative work is a collaborative effort between writer and reader. I would prefer that the reader form his or her own opinion.

    A bit of ambiguity is a better artistic choice than manipulating to reader to think or feel a certain way, a common criticism of Steven Speilberg's directing style. Once again, showing is way better than "telling."


    Thanks again to all of you who read this little thing.

  9. #9
    Something's gotta give PrinceMyshkin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    It really goes against my principles, such as they are, to "defend" the choices made in a particular work. It makes a person look mealy-mouthed and defensive. With pieces that aspire toward humor, it's especially dangerous to do so, as any comedian will tell you that once you try to analyze a joke, it falls apart.

    This tale isn't a statement about a particular marriage or the state of Matrimony in general, but it promote the idea that they've been together quite a long time, and thus are about to speak frankly to each other, without diminishing the state of their relationship in any way. When you think about it, our daily lives are crammed with dealing with triviality, such as slip-shod, second-rate products, which contaminates the less material side of our nature.

    Finally this is a satire whose only intention was to get some laughs. It's important not to read too much into the piece, or the allusion to Teilhard's "Divine Milieu."

    Providing "clues"? Who am I, Agatha Christie? But I kid, I kid.

    I do think, as far greater lights such as Richard Powers agrees with me, is that a creative work is a collaborative effort between writer and reader. I would prefer that the reader form his or her own opinion.

    A bit of ambiguity is a better artistic choice than manipulating to reader to think or feel a certain way, a common criticism of Steven Speilberg's directing style. Once again, showing is way better than "telling."
    No way, Juanita, am I going to let you off the hook that easily! Since no one but me has mentioned the ending so far, it may be a flaw in me as a reader, that when the voice from on high laughs at the end, I feel the need to be in on the joke, and I did not at all feel that I was.

    There is an inequality in the piece, in that whereas you excercise authorial license to judge the priest (for his venality) you don't openly judge either the husband or the wife. Perhaps we're meant to assume that they. like the priest, have their human imperfections, and that that is the cause of the laughter? At her naive religiosity, and at his intolerant pig-headedness?

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    Quote Originally Posted by PrinceMyshkin View Post
    No way, Juanita, am I going to let you off the hook that easily! Since no one but me has mentioned the ending so far, it may be a flaw in me as a reader, that when the voice from on high laughs at the end, I feel the need to be in on the joke, and I did not at all feel that I was.

    There is an inequality in the piece, in that whereas you excercise authorial license to judge the priest (for his venality) you don't openly judge either the husband or the wife. Perhaps we're meant to assume that they. like the priest, have their human imperfections, and that that is the cause of the laughter? At her naive religiosity, and at his intolerant pig-headedness?
    ("Juanita"? A buen nombre name as good as any, I guess)

    There was a "possibility" that someone laughed. That's the risk every comedian faces -- dead silence, crickets, flop sweat. And, no way, Juan, am I implying that I'm too hip for the room.

    Uh-oh, another completely unintended consequence of merely "showing" what the minister was thinking. Does the narrator actually call Rev. Freen out on anything?

    I don't think the narrator did so. In fiction, I usually try to keep blatantly judgemental statements to meself, but can scarcely keep my mouth shut when criticizing somebody's work. (All too human.)

    Since you are generous with your time and thoughts in responding to my "stuff," you're way too good to me, Prince. I really, really appreciate it.

  11. #11
    Something's gotta give PrinceMyshkin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    ("Juanita"? A buen nombre name as good as any, I guess)

    There was a "possibility" that someone laughed. That's the risk every comedian faces -- dead silence, crickets, flop sweat. And, no way, Juan, am I implying that I'm too hip for the room.
    Mea culpa! I ignored completely or glossed over the "possibility," but I still wonder, to whom did this possibility occur? Neither to Burt nor Alice; then - to whom?

    Uh-oh, another completely unintended consequence of merely "showing" what the minister was thinking. Does the narrator actually call Rev. Freen out on anything?
    Oh, Juanita, Juanita, pobrecita! Nowhere else are we privy to any of the characters' thoughts, at least not in any way that contradicts their overt behaviour.

    I don't think the narrator did so. In fiction, I usually try to keep blatantly judgemental statements to meself, but can scarcely keep my mouth shut when criticizing somebody's work. (All too human.)

    Since you are generous with your time and thoughts in responding to my "stuff," you're way too good to me, Prince. I really, really appreciate it.
    The next to last sentence requires a PM, and may I warn you not to open it without oven mitts!

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