McDonaldland – The Gritty Reboot

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McDONALDLAND (the gritty noirish reboot for 2017)

A clever handyman from a poor neighborhood fights a corrupt mayor and organized crime to save an orphanage – and an orphan.

RONALD is a popular guy in McNugget Heights, a low-class neighborhood in the hard city of McDonaldland. He’s a clever and creative handyman who only works alone, and never works for free. One day, a young ORPHAN GIRL watches him improvise a solution for an old lady neighbor, who rewards him not with money but with a shiny golden key, assuring him it’s extremely valuable. She urges him to keep it secret. That night, the orphan shows up at Ronald’s doorstep. Ronald reluctantly allows her to sleep on his couch, promising to get rid of her somewhere tomorrow. That night, the HAMBURGLAR attempts to rob Ronald’s place; Ronald fights him off, with help from the orphan and a good frying pan.

The next morning, Ronald takes the kid for pancakes before taking her downtown to see BIRDIE, a childhood friend who is now a selfless city attorney. Birdie recommends a city-funded orphanage, but the orphan tells her no — the mayor has closed it down, that’s why she went to Ronald to begin with. Ronald and Birdie both despise bullies, and the mayor is a bully, and Birdie is impressed that Ronald would care so much for the kid…so Ronald agrees to her plan: they will bully the mayor right back and get that orphanage re-opened.

The Hamburglar meets with CAPTAIN CROOK, the pirate leader who runs this town’s organized pirate crime. Crook threatens to kill the Hamburglar if he doesn’t bring him what he wants: that golden key. He gives the Hamburglar another chance to get it, and insists that the Hamburglar take his goons, the FRY GUYS and GRIMACE. Meanwhile, Birdie crashes a press conference for MAYOR McCHEESE, humiliating him on his record of defunding important city services like police, schools, parking meters and (now) the orphanage. The Hamburglar and the Fry Guys tear Ronald’s apartment apart; they don’t find the key, but they do take all of Ronald’s hamburgers. Grimace meets Ronald and the kid outside his apartment as they return; Ronald offers the kid to the criminals if they’ll just leave him alone. No dice, says Grimace, and they have a fight. Ronald is no match for the brute, but he comes up with a clever ruse in an improvised disguise, fooling the giant. With additional help from the kid, he manages to escape. The kid, it seems, is quick on her feet, good in a fight. But his apartment is destroyed and they are not safe.

The Mayor meets with Captain Crook to try & get him to take down Birdie; the pirate laughs at him, saying the Mayor owes him his mayorship. That was their deal – McCheese is mayor, Captain Crook no longer has to worry about pesky cops. He says no to killing Birdie, but has a plan: since she’s pals with the guy who has the key he’s after, he will have the Hamburglar kidnap her. Meanwhile, Ronald and the kid temporarily move in with Birdie & regroup. Birdie tells him of her work outside of work, and Ronald chastises her for working for free. She tells him she doesn’t work for free, but rewards aren’t always money. She produces a weekly video blog because she believes in the goodness of McDonaldland, and wants to make it a good place to live again. Drinks get drunk. Romance brews…until Ronald tries to convince Birdie to look after the kid so he can go his own way. She sees through his selfish charade and tells him NO to watching the kid for him — and NO to romance.

The Hamburglar enters Birdie’s house late at night. He sees the key around Ronald’s neck and uses Birdie as bait to get him to give it up. He does, but the Fry Guys kidnap Birdie anyway. Grimace stays behind to finish what he started. A nasty fight takes them outside, where, once again, Ronald fashions a disguise, and by outwitting a witless giant, appears to gain the upper hand. Before he kills Grimace, however, the orphan asks him not to — she sees that he’s sympathetic; he’s been bullied his whole life. At the kid’s insistence, he offers to help Grimace break free of the pirates if he helps them take down Captain Crook (and the Mayor) and get Birdie back. Ronald now sees what Birdie meant about rewards not always being money.

The Hamburglar delivers the key he stole from Ronald to Captain Crook, who then reveals its true power: it is the Key to the City, and it can open any building door in town. Captain Crook makes copies and gives them to pirate ruffians; he sends them on their first errand: raiding the homes of the remaining police force. The Hamburglar realizes to his horror that he just gave complete power to the pirates.

Meanwhile, Ronald, the kid and Grimace use Birdie’s video equipment to upload videos describing secrets of the pirates, how they have been bullying the populace, and how the Mayor is working for Captain Crook. Ronald delivers a quick speech about rising up together as a community, with power in numbers, as the perfect way to help Birdie. The video goes viral. People are furious, and protests break out; they clash with pirates, quickly turning into riots. The city is in flames.

In an effort to right a wrong that would haunt him, the Hamburglar finds Ronald and tells him where the pirates are holding Birdie. Ronald, the kid, Grimace and the Hamburglar steer a local riot towards the pirates’ ship at the docks. Ronald goes after Birdie while the Hamburglar duels in a suave swordfight with Captain Crook; after some clever wordplay, the Hamburglar wins. Ronald takes care of the Fry Guys and some other pirates, and emerges from the ship with Birdie…

…to find the Mayor waiting for them with some pirates. He tells them to kill them, but Grimace and the kid burst onto the scene – in disguise! – and Grimace gets the pirates to chase after him instead, leaving Ronald and Birdie alone with the mayor. The kid notes that the Mayor has been caught on camera describing his crimes. He’s going down. Day is saved. Happy family time. Milkshakes. And in the ashes of a burned-down McDonaldland, a new mayor, free of corruption and greed, takes the place of the old mayor. A new orphanage is opened to provide a place for homeless children, and a new family — Ronald, Birdie and the kid — settle into a new home in the charming neighborhood of McNugget Heights.

McDonaldland - The Gritty Reboot - Characters Infographic

Time To Get That “Official Announcement” Out Of The Way

Big News!Timing is always tricky, but one thing I’ve learned is that blog posts aren’t as prone to timing hits and misses as social media channels, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and officially announce that I have a book for sale.

This is terribly bland, and I apologize for the lack of fanfare. But, really, it’s a self-published ebook of poetry, so fanfare is probably inappropriate. I guess I should maybe start going to poetry open mics or something. I’ll check the search engines for local happenings maybe. My experience in Chicago was that those who were best at being interesting were notoriously bad at showing up in search engines, so probably I’ll have to just throw a dart at a map and start talking to people in real life. This could get very dangerous or very boring very quickly.

Maybe something is happening in Ojai. Stuff happens in Ojai.

Anyway, yes, I am now technically officially shilling my own book for NOOK or Kindle:

The Moving Sidewalk To Mars

It’s poetry. It’s drawings. Dig it.

FICTION: The Haunting of Randall Colburn

In the dank and dingy attic of an old house in the middle of a forest in the middle of Michigan in the middle of the night, Randall Colburn stood staring out the window.   The only light inside came from a slow-crackling fire in the fireplace.  The walls were darkened by some sort of patterned wallpaper, as ancient as the forest outside, and if it weren’t for the shadows around the corners, you’d never know there were any walls at all.

Outside were some stars and the leafy, droopy silhouettes of the trees.  In between them and Randall was a single pane of century-old glass, weakly reflecting Randall’s leafy, droopy face and the desk behind him with a pen and several pads of yellow sticky notes.

It was midnight.  No.  It was two in the morning.  It was midnight a moment ago.  Didn’t matter.

Outside, beyond the trees, were stars and satellites traveling over the sky, like the eyes of the weary writers of the world.  Randall stood still.  He watched it all slide past.

At last, he took one good breath, and turned around to go back to work at the desk, back to writing the story of how he came to be in this attic.

But the desk wasn’t there.  It was there at midnight, and that was only a moment ago.  The clock on the wall hadn’t moved; it was still two in the morning.

Randall hadn’t written anything for a while.  He’d been standing, looking out the window, with his back to his desk and his pen and his sticky notes.  He was a midnight writer with a problem.  Two problems, actually.  The first was a shredded case of writer’s block tearing down his will to live.  The second was that he couldn’t remember a damn thing.  His mind was wrong.

But there was a desk there a moment ago.

He looked left, and all he saw was the dark wall with the shadow in the corner.

He looked right and saw even less than that.

Opposite him was the fireplace, illuminating jack shit, and the desk that used to be there was just gone.  Just gone.

He didn’t even know how it could have left, because as he looked harder at each of the walls, he realized this attic didn’t have any doors.  Not a single door.  How did they get the desk in here in the first place?

He also didn’t know how he himself got in there.  He didn’t know where he was.  He knew it was Michigan – it looked like Michigan, a dying forest in the sad light of the half moon – and he knew he’d been there before, but that was about it.  Nothing else.  No memories of this attic, this house, this forest, that starry sky – any detail he sought dangled in front of him for a split second and then disappeared.  It was as though the energy it took to try and remember was exactly what made him forget.

And where was the desk?  It was there a moment ago.  It was there at midnight.

Randall creaked across the floor, back to the window, to look in the reflection again.  The desk was there in the window, but not with him there in the attic.

Randall blinked, and the clock read 2:45.

Randall rubbed his eyes, and suddenly he heard a voice.

“Forget the desk, Randall.”

He spun around to see a curly blonde ghost floating dimly where the desk once was.  Her figure was transparent, but he could see everything about her.  Everything.

The specter wore a corset, and all the other lovely things they wore about a hundred and thirty years ago.  She wore long, monochromatic gloves that reached up past her elbows, slightly frayed at the ends.  She had glass bunny slippers on her dangling feet.

“Do you know who I am, Randall?” she asked.

“No,” he muttered hoarsely.

She floated gently toward him.  The floor creaked, although she never touched it.

“Let me help you remember,” she whispered.

She reached up with her ghostly blue hands and caressed his chin.  It was like wind through his beard, but somehow motionless.

The ghost leaned forward and kissed his lips.  He closed his eyes and knew she was there, but he heard nothing and felt nothing.  She was a blanket of pure energy.  He experienced something he had never thought possible – he felt her presence.

There was a blissful feeling of absolute freedom.   There was suddenly nothing keeping him anywhere, as though the very atoms holding his terrestrial body together had lost interest in the continuation of Randall Colburn.

He held onto the nothingness at his lips and slowly opened his eyes.

My God, he thought, I’m being kissed by a fucking ghost…Rad.

The pale blue blonde released the kiss first, and asked again, “Do you know who I am?”

Randall shook his head.  He glanced around at the walls.  They were gone.  No.  They were just – invisible?  No.  Something was wrong.

“Are we outside?” he asked.

“Outside is now inside,” she answered.

That was it.  The tiny, shiny stars, the lame half-moon, the wispy black sky, the silhouette forest, they were all inside the attic, close enough to reach out and touch.

It occurred to him that his hands were around her back.  There was nothing there to touch, but that was the only place for them to be.  It was perfect.

Randall studied her face; somewhat plain chin, average nose, normal green eyes, but her blonde hair was like pure golden wool.  It curled gently around her features, and the halo of ghostly blue hung just outside a halo of bright yellow surrounding her whole head.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

She smiled and looked down.  “Do you want something to drink?”

Randall blinked.   The time was still 2:45.

The ghost reached a thin arm out to a constellation in the stars and retrieved a tea pot.  She plucked a cup and saucer from another part of the sky.

And there it was, a cup of tea for Randall.

“Here you are,” she offered.

“No, thanks,” he said.  “Who are you?”

“I’m sure you remember.”

“I don’t remember anything.”

She frowned at him.  “Drink this.  I’ll explain.”

Randall took the teacup made of stars.  It was weightless, and yet Randall could sense the tea inside.

“I’m really more of a coffee guy.”

“Think back to junior high, Randall.”

“I don’t remember junior high.”

“Junior high and early high school, Randall.”

“I don’t remember anything.”

“Drink up.”

“It’s not personal, I just don’t remember anything or anyone.  I don’t even know how I got here.”

“Drink your tea.”

“What is this tea?” Randall demanded.  “What’s so special about it?”

“I want you to drink it.”

“Tell me why.”

She looked into his eyes, and he looked into hers.  They were stars.  She placed her ghostly hands around the teacup in his hands.

“I want you to want tea,” she said.  Her hands gently guided his hands up to his mouth, teacup in them, and Randall’s resistance dropped away.  He drank the tea in the cup from the constellation.

It was Earl Grey.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

“Look around you, Randall.”

He did, and what he saw confused him even further.  The whole outside world that was now inside the attic of the house in Michigan started to fade.  The stars dimmed, the half moon fell under some small eclipse, the trees blended together into a cardboard existence.  The nothing behind it all came forward, an endless stretch of the purest gray Randall had ever seen.

The floor beneath his feet disappeared, but he didn’t fall.  Falling wouldn’t have done anything.  Didn’t matter.

“Now look behind you,” said the ghost.

Randall turned, and there, suspended among the gray expanse, was his grandmother’s antique desk.

“What’s that doing here?” he demanded.

“Go to it,” said the phantom.

Randall didn’t move.

“Go,” she whispered again.

Randall stayed put.  “There’s the desk,” he said, “but where’s the attic?”

“Jesus Blueberry Christ, Randall, just go to the desk.  It’s there.  This is what you wanted.  This is what’s missing.”

Randall breathed in and acquiesced.  He moved toward the desk.  Rather, the desk moved toward him.  Technically.  Didn’t matter.

He saw the sticky notes on the desk.  The pad was nearly diminished, and several notes were stuck to the desk, each one below the last one, snaked all across the broad surface.  There was a pen, too.  And a cup and saucer.

Randall sat down at the desk and began to reread the old scribblings.

It’s not like she didn’t see it…

Randall knew what this was.  This was from long ago.  It was his writing, the very first monologue he’d ever written on sticky notes.  The first of many.  He’d sort of made a name for himself among the playwriting community with quirks like writing monologues on sticky notes.  It all started here.

This was a monologue straight from his young life.  It was about a girl that had kissed him at the eighth grade dance.  It was the end of the school year, the last summer before high school.

When Randall and his friends commenced from junior high school, it was like they all joined different branches of the military and split ways.  But up till that point, they were tight, they were a pack.  And at the eighth grade dance, three of the four of them got their first kiss.

For confused and horny teenage boys, the first kiss essentially locked in the first girlfriend.  Three boys were now three men.  Men with girlfriends.

Only, Randall didn’t like his girlfriend.  Or at least, he thought he didn’t.  She wasn’t interested in bikes or making movies, so she and Randall didn’t hang out much with the others that summer.  The people they saw the most together were their respective families.  This was horrible, because her name was Sandra.

Randy and Sandy.

It was embarrassing, to hear their families talk about about them and how they’d get married and have a child named Andy.  So in the last week of July, Randall broke up with her.

She was devastated.  It wasn’t a mutual breakup.  She demanded an explanation, and nothing he had prepared satisfied her.  She didn’t care that they were going to separate high schools in the fall.  She didn’t care that he wanted time alone to ride his bike.  She knew there was some truth he was holding back, and she needed to know.

So he told her.  He couldn’t stand the fact that their names rhyme.

As he blurted this out, he expected denial.  He expected her to insist that they only rhyme when you say them as the childish nicknames.  He expected her to stand up and berate him for being so childish himself.  He expected to be yelled at for destroying their relationship over such a stupid thing as that.

She did none of these things.  She just sat there, stunned and silent.  Tears fell from her eyes, but she didn’t sob.

Moments went by where neither of them said anything.  The whole time, Randall sat there hoping she’d get angry.  He hoped she’d march out on him with righteous indignation.  He hoped she’d be able to write him off as an asshole and get on with her life.

She didn’t.

She just sat there, crying in silence, looking down into her lap.  Randall was the one who stood up and walked away.

And this ate him up inside for weeks.  He had done the worst thing he could have done.  He’d planned to do it, he knew the details of how he would do it, and then he did it.  It took several minutes, and he had every opportunity to change his decision, but he didn’t.  Because their names rhymed.

Randall never forgave himself for that.  He never told the other guys why they broke up, but that was fine, because the only guy from his gang he ever spoke to after junior high was the one guy who never got his kiss, and that guy didn’t care why they broke up.

And so, with summer gone, and all the Michigan leaves turning all the many colors that they turn each autumn, Randall and his buddy started high school.  They had different classes, made different friends, and generally grew apart.  He never stopped thinking about Sandra – specifically, the first kiss at the eighth grade dance, and later her utter destruction at his pointless words.  He forgot about the middle of their relationship; he just remembered the bookends.

At the end of his sophomore year he wrote this monologue at his grandmother’s house, in her attic, at this desk, with this pen and this pad of sticky notes.  Granny brought him a cup of Earl Grey, and as he drank it, the monologue poured out of him.

The monologue was spoken by a teenage protagonist, directed towards the supporting friend character, the friend who’d stayed with him through thick and thin.

It’s not like she didn’t see it.  Stan, Leann.  Stan, Leann.  I mean, how could she not?

Randall remembered writing this.  He also remembered that despite its length and the multitude of sticky notes he used, it was incomplete.  Something had stopped him.

Randall reread the old monologue and reached for the teacup.

It was empty.

That was why he stopped the first time – he had run out of tea.

Fine.  Whatever.  It was a childish monologue written to try and justify his foolish teenage assholishness.  The protagonist droned on about the girl’s silence, wishing she’d have said something, but instead, got nothing.  Nothing at all.

Randall turned around.

The ghost of Sandra was still there, her curly blonde hair the same as it was that summer after eighth grade.  The rest of her as old as he was.  She was prettier than he remembered her.

“I–uh­–“ stammered Randall, “I stopped writing this monologue because I ran out of tea.”

Sandra smiled.

“I think you stopped writing it,” she said, “because you ran out of lies to tell yourself.”

Randall nodded.  He looked up at her.  She wasn’t angry.

“I’m sorry,” he shrugged, “I really am.”

“I know,” she said.  “I know.  We were kids.  You didn’t know any better.”

Randall glanced back at the last sticky note.

come to an end, and we both knew it.  If anything, she’s holding on to a dream and she’s holding onto me.  We don’t even go to the same school.  We don’t

He looked back at her.

“I know how to finish the monologue,” he said.

Sandra nodded.  “Please,” she said.

Randall put down the empty teacup, stood up, and floated across the gray nothingness to the ghost of Sandra.

“It ends like this,” he said.  “The protagonist tells the supportive friend that he’s sorry for what he did, because he knows he was wrong.  When he says it out loud, it sinks in.  And at the end of the play, he makes it right somehow, but for now he’s got a long road before him.”

Sandra smiled.  “Go write it,” she said.

“I’d rather not,” he said, “I’d rather talk with you and hear about how your life turned out.  See if we can start over.”

Sandra shook her head.

“I forgive you,” she said, and started to disappear.  And as she faded away into the bleak absence, she whispered, “You look good with a beard, you know.”

Randall started to cry.