Everyday Tragedies


Josh is a 33 year-old mason with a fierce competitive streak. He once entered, and won, an eating contest in which he bested his opponent by eating three full bags of dayglo-orange Circus Peanuts, the marshmallow confection that triggers an immediate gag reflex in the mouths of most reasonable people. In an attempt to shame the rest of the field, Josh ate two full bags more than he needed to win – about 200 peanuts in five minutes – and then suggested that they head over to Jimmy Mak’s bar and grill for some of that fried calamari he loves. He’s eating more sensibly right now, a tuna sandwich with extra mayonnaise that he brought to the job site. He’s eating and talking with Patrick, a gregarious apprentice stoneworker with enough extra time to captain an amateur billiards team he’s named “Git R Done.” They have an opening on the team right now because a woman named Sharon just dropped out. The courts have apparently mandated a methamphetamine rehab program for her that prohibits her entering the bars and pubs where most matches are held. Patrick is trying to convince Josh to take her place, says that Josh would love the psychological aspects of competitive pool playing. Josh is intrigued, about to ask if there’s an entrance fee, when they are both jolted at the tremendous crashing sound made by a cement mixer backing into Josh’s reasonably well-maintained 1995 Ford Ranger.


Akiko is a 26 year-old art student who’s lived in America since she was five. Her parents left the small Japanese city of Hakodate in the mid-80’s to live with family in San Francisco. Although she is technically not the first generation to be born in America, she behaves as though she is. Akiko loves her parents dearly, but she rejects their residual customs as oppressive, confining, and in response, she has chosen the relatively unstructured life of a young American artist. Her gift with a charcoal pencil earned her an assistantship at a local art school, where she is responsible for nursing the delicate ego of a sculptor named Barbara Barney by tending to the most mundane of her daily errands. She’s walking through this city’s Chinatown now, towards the dingy, cluttered office of the sculptor’s attorney slash massage therapist, where she retrieves a discreet brown envelope in Barbara’s name. Leaving the office, she passes a small seafood shop and its translucent heap of fresh whole squid that reminds her of the first and last time she traveled with her parents to visit Hakodate. It was July, during the annual Hakodate Port Festival, and hordes of residents were gathered in the street to celebrate the squid with a wiggly, awkward dance called the Ika-odori. Akiko, 15 at the time, was at once repulsed and intrigued to discover the depth of her birth-city’s obsession with the fish. She is remembering it vividly, how the far off lights of the squid-catching boats danced like ghosts in the evening light, when she boards the bus that will soon become disabled, making her unacceptably late for this semester’s mandatory critique.


Dan is a 43 year-old house painter who rarely does work for friends. “It’s gone the wrong way too many times,” he always says. His wife Connie is trying to get a promotion at work though, and last month she told her boss that Dan would do his house for cheap. Dan reluctantly agreed because in the long run, they need the extra money, especially if they’re going to buy that place in Miami. He’s near the end of the last day of painting the boss’ house, just some final touches on the porch, when he decides to drive down to Burger King to get one of those Big Fish sandwiches. On the way there, a woman on the radio is talking about the bird flu and Dan remembers that he needs to call his younger sister later. She has tuberculosis. The doctors said she’s going to be ok, that she probably got the TB at the homeless shelter where she volunteers once a week. Dan always tells her to stay away from that place, that she’s going to get something really nasty, like hepatitis, but she doesn’t listen to him. Dan’s sister is sweet, a vegetarian with a good heart who never eats at Burger King, where Dan’s now waiting in the longest drive-through line in the city. It’s finally his turn to order – No tarter sauce, he can’t stand mayonnaise. Almost ten minutes later it’s 5:36 and he’s still only inching forward behind a series of mini-vans with silhouetted children swarming inside like jackals on carrion. A man on the radio is complaining about taxes and government waste when Dan reaches into his back pocket and for the first time misses the wallet that is tucked safely inside his duffel bag, somewhere on the front lawn of Connie’s boss.


Phyllis, a 64 year-old retired teacher, gets up every morning at about 6:30. She usually has a plain bagel, toasted, with fat free cream cheese and two small cups of coffee while she watches the Today Show. Today’s no different, except that her phone rings at 7:49, moments after Matt Lauer finishes his story, “Holiday Tipping: How Much Should You Give and When?” On the phone is her friend Jeanie. It seems that Jeanie has a dentist appointment at 10:30 and she’s been having some trouble with her car. She’s been thinking about it all morning and she just doesn’t trust it to get her all the way across town. Would Phyllis mind giving her a ride to the dentist’s office later? Of course not. Could she be there by 10:00? Certainly. That should give them plenty of time to make it. On the car ride to the dentist, Jeanie talks a lot about her son Dylan and how he’s about to marry a woman with three kids by two different men, one of whom is in jail. They just moved in together, into a small apartment in Scottsdale. Dylan’s a mason for a company there that mostly builds fancy walls for gated communities in Arizona’s booming housing market. Anyway, Jeanie doesn’t like this new woman, the fiancée, because she thinks Dylan is being taken advantage of, even though he swears he’s in love. Phyllis has heard all of this before, but the car ride still passes quickly. She’s sitting alone in the waiting room of Dr. Robert Perez DDS at 10:46 when she picks up a rumpled copy of today’s newspaper. She never reads the paper, thinks it has too much bad news, but she’s bored. She starts to flip through the weekly Walgreens circular and receives a painful paper cut on her index finger, just as she notices a sale on the same 10-pack of AA batteries she bought, and opened, just two days ago.

One Response to “Everyday Tragedies”

  1. Robert

    I was listening to the Internet Radio at Live365, and there was a commercial using the phrase “shoebox dioramas of great moments in history.” I heard the commercial several times before I actually Googled the phrase, and it led to a website that had a link to your site, and here I have been for the last few hours; reading and looking at the photos.

    Years ago, I worked with a furniture maker. I went to a few shows with him, and there was something the other woodworkers would say, “paying the ultimate compliment,” when someone was willing to put down hard cash for their work.

    Well, if there is a book collecting all these short pieces together, I would most certianly pay the “ultimate compliment” and buy a copy, because I’m truly enjoying the work you’ve posted.

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