Archive | March, 2012

Work Release: Chapter One

31 Mar

The following is the first chapter of my Novel, Work Release, that I wrote for my Children’s Literature Class in 2011.  Work Release is a 140=page story about a young man who joins a team of mercenaries, and carries out the inscrutable orders of his bank.

You can by the book here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-jones/work-release/paperback/product-18757697.html

Chapter One

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” a young man said to himself, walking down a busy sidewalk. It was about four in the afternoon, and the man knew that meant business hours would be over soon. It was vital for him to get his business done today.
The young man ran his hand through his spiky brown hair, and let out a deep sigh. The young man was about twenty-five, and was rather short for his age. In fact, all of his life he had always been shorter than his peers. By college, he barely noticed the distinct difference anymore, but after getting fired from his job, he felt especially short. This feeling was only augmented by the tall buildings around him.
The young man lived out of his mom’s house. But after he was let go, there was no longer any income. They were in danger of losing their house. That’s why he was walking down this busy street in the afternoon.
In one hand, he held a manila folder, filled with tax information, legal documents, and other material he was told to bring. It weighed on his conscience like a brick, and he resented carrying it. On the other hand, this was his only ticket out of poverty, and probably homelessness. He resented his lack of choice, and felt trapped With only one course of action to take, he was determined to make this work.
The young man finally got to the building’s entrance. Above him was an electronic marquee, and stock related news was flying by. Above the marquee was the bright gold insignia of the corporation, United Bank and Trust. The man didn’t really care much. He opened the gilded doors and walked inside the building.
In front of him was a receptionist, wearing a suit with gold lapels. She sat behind a black desk, and typed away on a computer. A fountain in the middle of the lobby ran water into a koi pond. The young man walked up to the receptionist.
“Welcome to United Bank and Trust,” she said, not looking up from her work.
The man approached. “Hi,” he said to her. She didn’t look up. “I’m looking for the…bankruptcy office…” he finished, unsure of what to say.
“Down the hall, to the left, take a number,” she said, almost rehearsed. The young man guessed that this woman had had this talk many times before.
The young man nodded his head nervously, and followed her directions. He made his way down the hall, his grip tightening on his folder. The hallway was extravagant, but not overbearing, and shared the gold theme of the building. The young man was not sure whether this was an office building or a palace.
Eventually, he made it to the office. He opened the door and was surprised at what he saw. Instead of a single office, as he expected, he was met with an office floor, with what looked like hundreds of cubicles set up in neat rows. In front of him was a ticket dispenser. He took one, and read the number off. Oddly, it wasn’t a ticket to wait in line, but a ticket that described what cubicle he was to go to. After looking over a map display on the wall, the young man started down the bankruptcy floor.
Along his walk, he peered into some of the other cubicles. This young man was always an eavesdropper, a bad habit, but his natural curiosity often got the better of him. Some cubicles were empty; the employees were probably out for lunch. Others contained people like him. People that were out of money and out of options. In one cubicle was an old couple, who the young man guessed had used up their retirement fund. Another cubicle contained a fifty-something year old woman. The young man guessed that she got the raw end of a messy divorce.
The young man shook his head, and refocused on his goal. “Okay, I can do this,” he reassured himself, though he was not very reassured. “I need to do this.”
He found the office, and stood in front of it for a moment. A moment of hesitation. For a moment, he considered just turning around and going home. But the thought of he and his mother losing the house finally convinced him to move forward.
Inside the office, behind a mahogany desk sat a slim, balding man. He twiddled a pen with the golden letters UBT branded on it.
“Hello,” he said, in a sleazy voice, though the young man couldn’t decide of it was actually sleazy or if it was just the situation. “Please take a seat,” he continued.
The young man sat down on the only available seat, which was about a foot lower than the seat the other man was sitting on. Combined with his short height, the young man suddenly felt very vulnerable.
“My name is Greg Everett. You can call me Greg, though,” the employee said through a smile.
“Good Afternoon,” the young man replied as cordially as he could. “My name is Shawn.”
Shawn nervously smiled back, and gave him his folder. Greg flipped through it, taking out a few documents, but otherwise skipping most of the material. The silence as he went through his file almost drove the Shawn insane.
Finally, Greg spoke up. “So, Shawn…” he began. “I’m guessing you’re here because you want to declare bankruptcy?”
“Yes,” Shawn said, his face growing pale in embarrassment.
“Well, we here at United Bank and Trust strive to ensure the well being of all our clients,” Greg said. It was obvious that the line was customary for someone like Shawn.
“Thank you,” Shawn said quietly.
“Don’t worry,” Greg replied. “We’ll have you back on the road of financial independence soon.” The words sat like rocks in Shawn’s stomach. Even in his elementary school days, Shawn hated being singled out or treated differently. All he wanted was to be ignored, to disappear. He continually wished in his mind that he wasn’t here right now.
“Can…can you somehow help me keep my house,” Shawn asked Greg.
Greg gave him a funny look, and preceded to flip through the folder again. After a minute, he found the necessary documents. After looking it over, he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Shawn,” Greg said. “But with no income and no collateral, I’m afraid UBT will have to take it back.”
“But, you can’t,” Shawn argued. “My mom can’t work anymore, and we’ll be out on the street if you take it.”
“Sorry, Shawn,” Greg said coolly. Greg probably had done this before, many times, Shawn thought. “It’s just not good business. How are you going to keep up the lease?”
“I’m looking for work,” Shawn said. “I already have some leads, and callbacks.” Of course, Shawn was exaggerating. He was looking for a new job, but he only had one call returned, and even if he had gotten that job, he would not have made enough to pay the rent.
“I’m sure you are,” Greg said. “And feel free to come back and reapply for a loan should you do so. But as the situation is now, if you declare bankruptcy, the bank will take the house back.”
Shawn was desperate now. He couldn’t let his mother down. He wouldn’t. “Please,” he begged. “I swear I can pay the bank back, every month. I just need a bit of time to get some things settled.”
Greg seemed unmoved. “Shawn, I’m sorry. Truth is, the banks come across people who are broke everyday. And though United Bank and Trust deeply feels for you, and will help you in any way possible, we just cannot consider allowing you to stay free of charge in one of our homes.”
Shawn was out of ideas. He wasn’t a very well spoken individual, and even if he was, there was obviously no convincing this man.
Greg went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out several forms. “Please fill these out and bring it back tomorrow. You have two weeks to move out.”
Shawn thanked Greg, and stood up, ready to leave. How would he break this to his mom, he thought. As he left, he realized he had forgotten his folder in Greg’s cubicle.
He turned around to get it, but found himself staring at Greg. Greg had followed him out, and he was holding the folder in his hand. “Is this yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” Shawn said, trying to take the folder, but Greg held onto it. Greg opened it up, and flipped though the folder until he came across a sheet of paper.
“So this is your resumé?” Greg asked.
Shawn looked at the paper. It was. “Yes,” he said again, curious as to why Greg would care.
Greg stared at it for a moment. “Follow me,” he said. Shawn was surprised, but followed Greg nonetheless. He had no idea what to make of this strange turn of events.
Greg walked out of the office, out of his wing of the building, and led Shawn through a door labeled “employees only beyond this point”.
They both came to a glass elevator, that required a card key to open. Greg removed one from his pocket and slid it across the scanner. There was a small beeping noise, followed by the arrival of an elevator. The doors opened up, and Greg motioned Shawn in.
Shawn stepped inside, followed by Greg. The doors closed behind the two. Greg pushed a button on a keypad, and the elevator began to move. From the motion, Shawn guessed that the elevator was moving down, but he wasn’t quite sure. After what felt like ages to Shawn, the two made it to the bottom.
They got out into another hallway, but unlike upstairs, this hallway seemed run down and decrepit. There were UNB insignias along the wall, but no gold trimming. At the far end of the hall was a door, unlabeled. It was this door the two made their way to.
Greg knocked on the door, and there was a small clicking noise from the handle. Greg turned the doorknob, and it opened up. Inside the door was a small room. It was mostly white, but there was a golden UNB symbol on the far side of the room. There was a desk in the center of the room. Two chairs were on either side of the room. He was instructed to sit in one of the chairs (the lower on, Shawn noted) and wait until someone arrived. Greg left him sitting in the room.
Shawn finally had a few moments to himself. Before, he was considering what he was going to tell his mother, but now, that thought gave way to utter confusion. He had heard that the bureaucracy was full of red tape, but United Bank and Trust had advertised a new, streamlined business experience. Was this it? And what did his resumé have to do with this? Everyone knew that United Bank and Trust, in fact, all of the banks, usually hand picked prospective employees from their colleges. And those were just for low level positions. True, Shawn did attend college at United Bank and Trust Northeast, but he didn’t know anything about business.
In college, Shawn studied computer science, yet another thing that made him feel left out and different. Most, if not all his classmates had studied some sort of business. Back then, Shawn felt that the world had a few too many accountants and marketing experts, and wanted to do something different. But now, Shawn wished he had just studied business.
Shawn hated his college years. He was often mocked and ridiculed for not pursuing a business degree, and his advisors constantly reminded him that his career prospects were grim, at best. Most of the time he stayed in his dorm, studying. He had very few friends, and most of them had dropped out by the time he was a senior. Romance wasn’t even an option.
Shawn rested his head on his hands. He knew that whatever was happening to him, it was bad. Why didn’t I just give in and become an accountant, he thought to himself. His skill with a computer was one of the things that right up until this moment, he had been proud of. But now, he resented his degree, his life, and the world.
Shawn didn’t have time to dwell on this, though, for at that moment, the door swung open. In walked a tall, slender man. He had jet black hair that was tied into a ponytail. He wore a very dark suit, with a tie that bared the letters UBT. He sat in the chair opposite Shawn.
Shawn sat upright, taken aback by the new arrival. In the man’s hand was a copy of Shawn’s resumé.
The man spoke first, clearly and concisely. “It says here that you attended United Bank and Trust Northeastern University. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Shawn stammered. This other man was an enigma. Shawn couldn’t tell what he was thinking at all.
“And you’ve studied computer science there, correct?” Shawn confirmed.
The man continued asking questions regarding Shawn’s computer skills, his degree, and the job he had lost.
“I was working at a small business firm,” Shawn said. “But it was bought out by Federal Trade and Loan,” Shawn said. “When they acquired the firm, I was let go.” Shawn remembered his last day. A coworker just cam up to him, and told him that he was finished. Shawn packed up his things, and left. Nobody seemed to notice or care.
“Did you have any contact with the enemy?” the mysterious man asked.
“What?” Shawn said. Had he just heard the word “enemy”? What was that about? The United States hadn’t been to war in well over two decades. Was the other bank an enemy? “What enemy?” Shawn asked.
“Enemy?” the man asked. “What are you talking about?”
“You just asked me if I had contact with the enemy,” Shawn said.
“I did not,” The man said. “I asked if you had any contact with FTL.” Shawn wasn’t sure if the man was trying to backtrack his mistake, or if he had legitimately asked about FTL.
“No,” Shawn said, deciding to drop the subject. He was getting frustrated as the day wore on, and was not in the mood for arguing.
“What about any other banks?” the man asked. “Have you or have you ever conducted business with any other banks?”
“No,” Shawn said. “I’ve been with United Bank and Trust all my life.” This was true. Shawn had always used United Bank and Trust for all of his needs. There were seven or eight big banks in the world, and United Bank and Trust was one of the biggest.
The man suddenly changed topics. “Do you live with anyone? Friends or relatives?”
“Only my mom,” Shawn said. “I don’t have many friends,” he forced out a chuckle.
The man was silent for a while, then spoke up. “How would you like to apply for our work release program?” the man asked.
“Work release?” Shawn asked.
“The United Bank and Trust Work Release Program enables those with very little business experience to use their unique abilities for the bank. A two year contract will dissolve all debts due to United Bank and Trust, as well as provide full time employment,” the man said, hands clasped together on the table.
Shawn didn’t know what to say. He was still confused, but the words “dissolve all debts” lingered in his ears. In the first time since he left his house this morning, he felt a twinge of hope.
“We here at United Bank and Trust are well aware of your situation, and we would like to do everything we can to help,” the man said. The words still sounded stale and stilted, but right now Shawn didn’t care.
“Does that mean…” he asked. “We can keep our house?”
The man produced a simple sheet of paper. “If you just sign here, UBT will love to have you as an employee. We could certainly use a man with your skills.”
Shawn couldn’t believe it. Was the answer to his problems really so simple? This morning, he felt that he had lost it all, but right now, it felt like the world was opening itself up to limitless possibilities.
Shawn took the contract in his hands. Everything would be alright, he thought to himself. Taking apen offered to him by the man, he signed the contract.

The Urban Ranger

31 Mar

When most New Yorkers go to work, they usually hop onto the bus or the train, and head to an office or a place among the bustle of the big city.  But on the Greenbelt, Staten Island’s forest area, one man leads a very difference existence.  Being a forest ranger is an atypical job, especially in a bustling metropolis like New York.  But it is the calling of one man.

Gilbert Schweiger, or “Gil” as he is commonly known as, works as the Senior Ranger at William H. Pouch Scout Camp.  For the past nine years, Schweiger has watched over the camp and the forest.  With not one, but four trusty German Shepherds by his side, it’s Schweiger’s mission to make the camping experience as enjoyable and as enriching as he can.  At 49 years old, Gil Schweiger is in charge of maintaining the grounds at Camp Pouch, whether that means planting more tress, picking up trash, or renovating camp sites.

Schweiger’s job is one that demands his full effort.  He is on call 24 hours a day.  If anything happens in the 143 acres of prime Greenbelt forest, Schweiger is called to fix it.  During the scorching heat of a summer day or the cold frost of a winter night, he must maintain the camp grounds and keep the facilities in working order.

Schweiger is one of the top rangers in the camp, and it is a job that requires a lot.  “You have to be trained…the trainings include fire fighting, maintenance, of course, you have to have scouting experience,” Schweiger said.  “If you have self dedication, you will have success.”

Prior to becoming a ranger, Schweiger took on odd jobs.  After graduating from New Dorp High School, he was hired by Coors to deliver and distribute their product across the island.  But the company took the routes back soon after, and Schweiger was left without a job.

It was then that he decided to get back to his scouting roots.  A bad windstorm had knocked down many trees at Camp Pouch.  This provided a golden opportunity for Schweiger.  Utilizing his skills with a chainsaw, he helped clear the camp of debris.  He was offered a position as the ranger soon after.

That was 12 years ago.

Nowadays, Schweiger is a senior ranger, but is still tending to the camp every day.  A typical New Yorker commute can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour, but Schweiger’s trip from his home to work is rather unique.

“I have seven footsteps from the backdoor of my house to the backdoor of my office,” Schweiger joked.  “Sometimes the flies get in the way and slow me down half a step.”

Schweiger and the few other rangers at the camp have improved the camp and made significant changes to the park.  Camp Pouch has always been a large area of congregation for the Boy Scouts, and the campgrounds reflect Schweiger’s support of the organization.

“I remember what scouting was to me and how I enjoyed it,” Schweiger said.  “I like watching when people get excited, especially the young guys.”  Schweiger put in what he calls “program areas” to enrich the scouting experience.  There are areas for archery, swimming and fishing, a climbing wall, and a handicraft area, to name a few.

Schweiger’s office is placed right in front of the campgrounds, and serves as the central hub for all of the rangers of the camp.  Inside reflects the open nature of Schweiger.  The door to the outside forest is usually open, allowing the natural world to edge in.  There are three cats that hang around the camp, and usually one is always asleep in or around the office.  A cockatoo squawks in the back room.  Pictures of the forest, Camp Pouch community projects and old camp badges line the walls.

GilOffice

On any given day, Schweiger goes out into the forest to perform some reconnisance.  Almost always sporting his ranger uniform and cap, Schweiger stands at average height and weight, though the work requires that he stay healthy and fit.  Sometimes in his old truck, and sometimes on foot with a dog by his side, Schweiger makes his way along the forest path looking for anything inconsistent or out of order.  If he finds something, it’s his responsibility to get it fixed.  One one outing in his truck, Schweiger found a broken water pump that was running.  Unable to fix it at the time, he made a note of it and said he would come back to fix it as soon as possible.

Most of the repairs and work are done by he and the other rangers, so the rangers have to be handy.  Maintenance has to be done as quickly as possible, so Schweiger also travels through the forest at night.

He will always stop to pick up trash, garbage, and bits of debris and dispose of them appropriately.  And he greets every visitor to the forest with a warm smile, an open palm, and a story to tell.  Schweiger, despite holding a job that tends to keep him isolated from society, keeps many connections to the community.  In his green ranger uniform goatee, and stern face, Schweiger is very discerning and open in his care for the camp and the forest.

Sometimes the job brings an unexpected challenge.  On one occasion, a fisherman informed Schweiger that his wife had gone missing somewhere in the forest.  Schweiger immediately reacted by organizing a search and rescue mission for the woman.  But the incident took an unexpected turn.

“It turns out the fisherman lied to us,” Schweiger said, describing the episode.  After finding out about the deception, they went to his home to confront him.  “We found out the fisherman that came to us actually beat his wife and he used it as an excuse.  It was very disturbing to see things happen that way.”

In another more recent incident, Schweiger had to stop a thief from stealing scrap metal from the camp.  At first only words were exchanged, but the standoff soon came to blows.  In the struggle, the thief bit Schweiger’s finger.  While Schweiger did keep the would-be thief from stealing anything, the bite got infected, and Schweiger was in the hospital for a week.

Nevertheless, Schweiger finds work as a ranger rewarding.  “My mission is that whenever a kid gets dropped off on a Friday, he goes home on a Sunday the way he’s supposed to go home.  Maybe a little dirtier.  Maybe a couple of scrapes and bruises, but with a smile on his face that goes from ear to ear.  Unreplacable.”


The Room: A Mediocre Movie, A Midnight Event

31 Mar

by Simon Jones

Published: May 16, 2011 

On the last Friday of every month, the Village East Cinema shows a very unique midnight movie.  People line up outside the theater as early as 10:30.  Once inside, the smell of alcohol flies through the air along with footballs tossed by the audience.  As the theater darkens, the entire audience erupts into applause.

Fans eagerly participate with the movie.  The shout out quotes ripped from the script, riff on the dialogue, and throw plastic spoons at the screen.  As the movie enters its sexual scenes, people wave their lighters and cell phones in the air.

The film being shown is The Room.  The Room is an independent film, directed by a previously unknown filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, which has the reputation of being one of the worst movies ever made.  Considered his magnum opus, the film is often called the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”.  A CNN article explains that The Room, originally released in 2003, bombed in the box office.

Despite all this, though, The Room has attracted a major cult following.  Movie theaters in major cities around the country, including the Village East Cinema, now do midnight screenings reminiscent of showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, except whereas The Rocky Horror Picture Show is often admired for its clever writing and music, The Room is usually celebrated for its mediocrity.

George Gross hosts the midnight screenings at the East Village Cinema.  ”It’s fun getting together with a bunch of strangers and enjoying an inside joke,” Gross said.

According to theroommovie.com, The Room is currently being shown in cities all over the world, including Portland, Chicago, Toronto, and even London.  And since the Village East Cinema has started screening the film, the showings have always sold out.

The Room screenings are unique because of the audience participation. During a screening of the film on March 28, 2011, the audience participates in almost every aspect of the film.  Fans flocked to the theater with bags full of plastic spoons to be thrown at the screen later on.  Footballs were thrown around the theater before show time, a homage to the football scenes of the film.  One fan even showed up to the theater dressed as the main character, complete with long black hair and accent.

Saul Zandi was the one of the first people online for the screening on March 28, 2011.  “The Room is kind of like a litmus test,” Zandi said.  “It’s something else to everybody.”  The showing along with seasoned veterans of the midnight screening, contained a lot of “room newbies” whose first time attending a screening.  Lauren O’Conner, new to the screening, giggled heartily as she announced ,“This is my first time seeing it.”

The back story to The Room is almost as strange as the film itself.  The director, Tommy Wiseau, has virtually no history.  In interviews, he refuses to answer questions about his origins or where he got the $7 million to make The Room.  With his heavy, yet indistinguishable, accent, and long black hair, at best, Tommy Wiseau is an enigma.

Tommy Wiseau wielded heavy control in making his film.  The first few minutes of The Room contain the opening credits, which points out that Wiseau was the director, producer, writer, and producer again of the movie.  Tommy Wiseau also plays the main character in the film.  Wiseau’s ineptitude in both directing and acting help create the popularity of the movie.

Douglas Walker is an Internet comedian who reviews movies every week under the guise of the Nostalgia Critic.  He reviewed The Room in July 2010.  “It’s really worth checking out,” Walker said, in his harsh review of the film.  “It’s one of those movies you have to see to believe.  No one could willingly make a movie this interestingly bad.”

Written as a drama, the story includes the main character, Johnny, and his fiancée, Lisa.  They are both excited about their upcoming marriage, but things get complicated when Johnny’s best friend, Mark, starts sleeping with Lisa.  While deceptively simply, several factors turn the film into a bizarre mess that makes it so popular among fans.

The Room is a film that is all over the place.  Denny is “like a son” to Johnny, and often pops in on him and Lisa.  At one point in the movie, he’s threatened by a drug dealer dubbed Chris R., and Johnny and Mark have to save him.  This incident is never alluded to again in the film.  Likewise, Lisa’s mother, Claudette, while sitting with her daughter, mentions out of nowhere that she “definitely [has] breast cancer”.   It is never addressed or mentioned afterwards. Lisa is seduces Mark three times in the film, but Mark is surprised each time it happens.  In one scene Johnny goes from being angry about rumors that he hit his fiancée to laughing at a story about a woman hospitalized from domestic abuse.  Characters are introduced with no exposition as to who they are, and one disappears halfway through the movie for no reason.  The main character, Johnny, has many lines that have become popular among fans.

A lot of the movie is taken up by scenes of characters playing football, once while in tuxedos, awkward sex, and pans across San Francisco.  A particular fan favorite is a scene at a flower shop that lasts no longer that 30 seconds.  Stock phrases such as “Oh Hi” and “Don’t worry about it” are used constantly throughout the film.

Tommy Wiseau himself may best explain the essence of the midnight screenings.  In his interview of the DVD of The Room, Wiseau gives a command to the midnight audiences.  “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other. Enjoy the movie!”

Hello world!

29 Mar

Hello everyone!  This blog will showcase some of my writing and drawing samples.  Feel free to browse and look around.