Category Archives: Prompts

500 words or less on a given topic.

Tough Skating

Line art drawing of a roller skate.

(Wikipedia image)

I was very much a dweeb and a mama’s boy while growing up and consequently lacked many of the social skills necessary for early teen survival. Other boys learned to swim, ride bikes and play a decent game of baseball long before I did. So it should come as no surprise when I say that I didn’t know how to roller skate or talk to girls when I first started to catch the Everett Roller Rink bus that ventured into Snohomish on Saturday nights.

The bus came by my house around 6:30 and stopped at the mom and pop grocery store two blocks up the street on its last stop before heading to Everett. The round-trip fare was free if you bought a three-hour skate pass at the rink, which cost a dollar or so and included skate rental.

As I said, I couldn’t even skate. But I got talked into giving it try by buddies who claimed it was a great way to meet girls outside school. What they neglected to tell me was that you also had to contend with bigger boys who were on the bus for the same reason, as well as to punch, tease and generally ridicule mama’s boys like myself. I was never a small kid, but these were older, tougher boys who smoked cigarettes at 15, swore like mule skinners and put their arms around girls in the back of the bus.

Shyness broke my back in most every attempt at conversing with girls, and my inability to skate left me wearing a neon “loser” sign inside the rink and hugging the rail whenever I did venture onto the floor. Finding a partner for the couples-only skates was about as likely as finding money.

Only once did I manage a scratch single in hitting on girls at the rink, and that happened more by luck than pluck as I fell and accidentally tripped a cute Everett girl named Trish, who was apparently blinded by my sign while skating past too close to the losers on the rail.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. Are you alright,” Trish gushed after picking herself off the floor.

I told her it was all my fault, as I couldn’t skate a lick and had no business on the floor anyway. But she took pity and made it her business for the rest of the session to teach me how to skate, or die trying. She held my hand and voiced encouragement as I stumbled around the rink beside her. And she never let go when the lights dimmed and the couples-only skate began.

By 10 o’clock, I was ready to propose, but the session ended and I had to catch my ride home. Trish walked me to the bus, and said she’d look for me the next time I came to the rink. But I never saw her again after she blew me a kiss as the bus pulled away.

(This was  written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less  on The Bus Pulled Away.)

Copyright, Keith L. Olson, 2013

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The Polar Bear Dip

It’s my first trip to the Polar Bear Dip. New Year’s Day 2012.

Hundreds have turned out, many in costumes, to eat, drink and party hearty on the Pilchuck River behind Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern in Machias, Wash. I’m with my wife Toni and our friend, Karen, and we’re meeting my old high school chum, Gordy, and his wife, Tina, who talked us into joining the insanity.

Polar 002Gordy is the event’s Grand Poobah, making his 36th annual river plunge, and he’s wearing a drum major’s hat with “Grand Pupa” across the front. I’m wearing swim trunks and a tank top under my sweat clothes. My wife’s wearing workout gear under her coat, plus a jingly dance belt from her zumba class, which will earn her spot in the photo gallery published by the local newspaper.

Fortunately, it’s a balmy 48 degrees for this New Year’s Day, under sunny skies with only a hint of hangover. The river, though, is just above freezing and about four feet deep.

Inside the tavern, it’s a mosh pit. The two pool tables are covered with plywood and tablecloths to hold Polar Dip t-shirts and a smorgasbord of potluck items. The Gator Bowl is on TV, but no one is watching. To get to the bar you have to Polar 019rub through a mass of humanity, and the only lines are those to the two tiny restrooms that double as changing closets.

Outside the back door, there’s a patio overlooking the river and burn barrels every 20 feet or so with warming fires. There’s also a beer station selling $3 cans of Budweiser, and a kiosk selling $2 oysters raw or barbecued on the half-shell. A big man in a woman’s swimsuit with oversized breasts and an overabundance of pubic hair holds court while posing for pictures.

Polar 011It’s only slightly less crowded outside, with a line forming on the bank below the patio and extending a good 60 yards downstream. At noon, a blow horn signals the start of dipping, and Gordy is the first to plunge into the frigid stream, leaving his “Pupa” hat on shore. For more than two hours, revelers file past to enter the river at the designated spot. Wedding and prom dresses are popular attire, as are diapers, loin cloths and flannel underwear. Everyone wears shoes to handle the rocky river bottom as well as the shore.

I’m in and out in less than a minute, emerging with clenched teeth while streaking for dry pants. Inside, the restroom lines remain long, so I opt for one of the porta-potties in the parking lot. But there’s a backup in those lines, too, so I duck between two parked trucks to drop my trunks.

At that moment, four women happen past and get an eyeful of the naked man.

“Water must REALLY be cold,” one of them hoots.

“You have no idea,” I answer.

“Oh, I think we do,” another voice shoots back amidst group laughter as they move on.

(This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less on the topic “Standing There Naked.”)

Copyright, Keith L. Olson, 2013

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The Plunge

Yes, Disneyland and Universal Studios have some wonderful rides. But for homegrown exhilaration, it was tough to beat the laundry chute at the Hollister house.

Nine-year-old Gary Hollister discovered the marvel within weeks of the family’s move into the old three-story Victorian house on the edge of town, and he kept it to himself for almost a day and half before letting his 8-year-old brother Billy in on the secret.

After that, it was easy to make new friends. Easy to make a little money, too, at 25 cents per slide.

Laundry chute photo from enonhall.com, dedicated to a family restoration project of an 18th century  home in Lancaster County, Va.

Laundry chute photo from enonhall.com, dedicated to a family restoration project of an 18th century home in Lancaster County, Va.

Unlike most laundry chutes with a simple vertical drop, the Hollisters’ chute was unique from interconnection to drop spots on all three floors. It featured a lengthy slope of about 70 degrees between the third and second floors, then a 5-foot vertical drop to a similar slope cutting back the other way to an eight-foot drop from the basement ceiling into a pile of pillows, couch cushions and dirty laundry.

Feet-first was the recommended method, although Gary and his new pal Ron pulled off memorable head-first efforts that earned them neighborhood acclaim.

There was a “no girls” policy early on. But that ended the day Ginger and Wendy heard of the fun and sweet-talked an invitation from Gary at school. And Billy caught wind of the intrusion when he came home and heard giggles coming from the third floor.

“Now, girls, once you start down, keep your body straight and your hands at your side, and you’ll go through like water in a hose,” Gary said. “Don’t lift your knees or ball up in any way, or you could get stuck. Got it?”

“I’ll show ‘em,” said Billy, who assumed a seated position on the sink counter, put his legs inside the laundry chute’s pull-down door, leaned forward and disappeared like a mole down a hole, as the word “Geronimo” echoed back.

“OK, Ginger,” Gary said. “You’re next. Feet-first, if you please!”

“Forget that!” Ginger said as she eschewed a helpful lift onto the counter and dove head-first into the chute, with Wendy on her heels in like manner.

It was the first tandem head plunge in Hollister laundry chute history, but the point was quickly forgotten when neither girl emerged into the basement pile.

Fearing they were stuck, Gary called out from every drop station in the house and received no answer. He then dropped a basketball down the chute from the third floor and it came through with no trouble.

“Holy cow,” Billy hollered up while climbing the stairs. “The girls got swallowed.”

“Only one thing to do,” Gary responded.  “Got to go in and find ‘em.”

He dove headlong into the chute but found no obstruction – just a long, dark slide of twists and turns before landing on a haystack near Ginger and Wendy in a strange new world of anime Amazons and flesh-eating monsters. No link to home except for Billy, and he soon followed, feet-first, with “Geronimo” still on his lips.

(This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less on the four-part topic Laundry, Children, Dirty and Secrets.)

Copyright, Keith L. Olson, 2013

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Women of Letters

Ruby and Judy sat facing each other at a table for four in the Oxnard Tavern, draining Coronas and talking smack.

“So, you’re really gonna hang it up and get married?” Ruby teased. “Sweetie, I’m surprised at you. What are you gonna do for sex?”

“Jeez, girl, I’ll have a husband,” Judy answered. “Won’t have to go looking for it any more. It’ll always be there. Whenever I want it.”

“Yeah, ‘IT’ will be there for you. And that’s what you’ll think of ‘IT’ before for too long. Same man. Same stuff. Bet you’re howlin’ like a dog within a month!”

The old juke box in the corner played a 45 record of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as the two women continued.

alphabet letters“Hey, I love Quinn,” Judy said. “He’s tall, dark and handsome. Makes lots of money. Hasn’t been married before, so there’s no exes or step kids to worry about.”

“I know all that,” Ruby replied. “He’s a fine hunk of man, and you’re lucky to have him. But what about our oath when we turned 21. Neither of us was gonna settle down till we had our fill of men, or turned 30, and that meant sampling the whole menu before declaring a favorite. We promised we’d both go through the whole alphabet of men before we picked one.”

“I know we promised,” Judy said. “And I’m right at the edge of my alphabet. Quinn was my Q, and I only have an X left.”

“Ah-huh, and what are you gonna do after you’re married and Mr. X comes around?” Ruby chided. “Just say, ‘No thanks, I’m married?’ ”

“Well, yes, I guess that’s about the size of it,” Judy said. “The whole alphabet thing was fun while it lasted. But honest to god, how many X-men do you even meet in your life, let alone couple up with. And we’re both gonna be 30 before you know it. We’re runnin’ out of time.

“How you doin’ on your list anyway,” Judy asked. “Had an X yet”

“No,” Ruby said. “I haven’t had a Q or a U, either. And Keith Urban hasn’t answered any of my texts.  Could I borrow your Q stick sometime before the wedding?”

“It’s all pretty silly,” Judy replied. “Let’s forget it, and we can both just focus on Mr. Right instead of Mr. X.”

“Maybe so,” Ruby said, as the handsome new bartender approached their table, picking up empty glasses and taking orders.”

“Two more for you ladies?”

“Yes, definitely,” Ruby said, “and two shots of  Cuervo, too!”

The bartender returned with their drinks, then stepped outside for a quick cigarette.

“Did ya get a good look at that guy. Nice face, and cute butt, too. And did ya see his name tag?” Ruby asked. “Xavier!”

“I did notice that,” Judy said, throwing back her shot.  “Join me for a Camel?”

“One hump or two?” Ruby chirped

“Let’s make that his call,” Judy said.

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less, on the topics Two Camels and a 45, plus Walk Me to the Edge of the Alphabet.)

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Who’ll Save the Princess?

Signature Princess telephone

Signature Princess telephone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 1994 and a half-dozen AT&T executives are meeting in New York.

“Alright, people, let’s get started. You all know why we’re here,” the Chief stated. “We’ve been selling Princess phones for 35 years, and now the big boys want to discontinue production.

“So before we pull the plug, I want to ask each one of you for salvage ideas: Who’ll save the Princess?”

“Carlson, your thoughts!”

“Only one, Chief! How ‘bout we make a new base, shaped like shoe, and add a toe to the handset, so when the two are joined the toe sticks out like a misfit shoe, and everyone gets a big kick out of it, thinking Cinderella?”

“Too corny, Carlson, but nice try,” the Chief said.

“Hoglund! What’s your idea?”

“Clear plastic, Chief, so that all internal components are visible to the consumer. Sort of a glass slipper takeoff on Carlson’s idea! With even greater appeal to mechanical nerds! And women do like shoes!”

“I like the mechanical angle, Hoglund. But Jesus, everyone, enough with the Cinderella crap!

“Who’s next? Schwartzmiller?”

“Jewels, Sir. Precious stones imbedded in both the base and handset. We might not sell as many phones, but if we charge enough and target the elitist crowd, we could still make a bundle!”

“Not bad, Schwartzmiller. I like where that line of thinking is headed. But I don’t think it’s wise to price anyone out.

“Peterson, you’re a woman. What would the ladies want in a new Princess phone?”

“It vacuums, cooks and scrubs toilets!” Peterson quipped. “Just kidding, Sir,  but grab yourself and consider what I think is a bold new concept.

“The Princess is already small, streamline and marketed for bedroom use. Let’s put all our cards on the table and make the entire handset a massager/vibrator as well as a phone. In fact, scrap the ringer feature altogether and add a vibration adjuster for appropriate stimulation. And maybe,” she added with a raised eyebrow and knowing smile, “rethink the shape of the whole phone, making it longer and thicker.”

Nine seconds of deafening silence followed Peterson’s delivery before the Chief, sitting slack-jawed and owl-eyed, cleared his throat, blinked four times and said, “Jesus, Peterson, a fucking vibrator? My wife would never go for that. And I don’t think Carlson, Hoglund or Schwartzmiller’s wives would either. Would they?”

“Excuse me, Sir,” said Mr. Wu, the last of the seated executives waiting to be heard. “I think we might want to look at the new cordless technology and messaging feature we’re hearing about. And a smaller, hinged product along the lines of the communicator device on Star Trek. Maybe even think about some kind of viewing screen down the road for message reading and photo imaging or conferencing potential.”

“Crissakes, Wu,” the Chief said. “We’re looking for tangible concepts here, not Star Fleet mumbo jumbo. Let’s think plausible, shall we?

“Peterson, back to you. How long? How thick? And colors? Do we stick with pink? Talk to me, people!”

(This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less on the topic Who’ll Save the Princess.)

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A Short Life Line

One of the first names to capture my imagination in genealogy research was my uncle, Justin Anker Olson, who was no more than 2 years old when he died more than 100 years ago on the family homestead in Harding County, South Dakota.

Justin was the fifth of nine children born to John and Annie Olson, and the other eight all reached adulthood, a blessing of its own considering mortality rates in the early 20th century.

According to church records, Justin was born on May 29, 1907 in Fort Ransom, North Dakota, and was baptized at Standing Rock Lutheran Church. The following spring, Grandpa John loaded his wife and five kids and their worldly possessions into a horse-drawn wagon and joined another dozen Fort Ransom families heading southwest to seek homesteads in South Dakota cattle country.

After traveling about 350 miles over America’s northern prairie, the Olsons settled at place called Clark’s Fork in Harding County outside Buffalo. During the bumpy ride, one can only imagine baby Justin being held by his mother or passed between two older sisters, ages 8 and 6 at that time, giving them a live doll with which to play.

The Olson homestead near Clark’s Fork in Harding County, S.D. around 1916.

That first fall in Harding County, Grandpa broke just two acres of ground before filing papers for his 160-acre homestead in February of 1909 and planting corn and trees on those two acres while also breaking ground on 21 more acres and building a 1½-story frame house, 16 by 30 feet with a cellar underneath, according to BLM records. That strongly suggests that the family camped in their wagon for that first winter in South Dakota, and the exposure may simply have been too much for the little guy. Pop said Justin just got sick and died.

Whatever the nature of his illness, sometime in 1909 baby Justin died and was buried on the homestead, where four more Olson kids were born, starting with my dad in May of 1910. I can only imagine that Pop represented a healing addition to a family that had just lost an infant son in the preceding few months.

The last I know of Justin is that nine years after his death the Olsons moved back to Fort Ransom, and Grandpa John faced the grim task of disinterring his baby son and carrying the remains back to North Dakota, where Justin was reburied in Standing Rock Cemetery. The return trip also took place in a horse-drawn wagon, with Grandma Annie holding another newborn, my uncle Reuben, in her arms. Reuben was the last of John and Annie’s nine kids, which included six boys and three girls.

Pop said Grandpa found only a few bones when he opened Justin’s grave, but he saved what he could, including the headstone that he’d fashioned from a cast iron stove lid in his  blacksmith shop and upon which was inscribed the baby’s  name, birth date and death date.

I’m told that stove lid remains in family hands, but no one knows where.

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt,  500 words or less, on the topic Short Life Line.)

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Paradise Blown

Turns out there’s more to the story of Mankind’s fall than what’s found in the Bible or what Milton described in “Paradise Lost.”

The revelation came to light with the recent discovery of a stained scroll containing graphic sexual images with Aramaic commentary that relatives of a 17th Century London cleaning woman claim was found under Milton’s mattress.

According to the scroll, after God created Adam and Eve, he gave the couple dominion over all the Earth and free rein to procreate. But like a lot of parents,  the Father was a bit vague in His birds-and-bees speech, leaving vital bits of knowledge to experimentation.

One day Satan appeared in the form of a penis-like Serpent, and Adam and Eve’s unbridled passion soon spread to oral and anal sex as well as masturbation, which went well beyond procreation. But God refrained from punishing his prized creations, realizing that he had not set any sexual boundaries nor left clear enough instructions.

He then explained the forbidden fruit, where Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know how that went, and the couple wound up booted from the Garden of Eden. But before the actual booting, God decided to give Adam and Even one last chance because, with the apple thing, neither understood the concept of sin before succumbing to temptation.

The scroll says God opened up a rainbow and showered the Garden with bits of candy in many colors, telling Adam and Eve that this was another gift because He loved them so much, and that they could eat all they wanted except for one stipulation: “Don’t eat the purple ones.”

Well, life in the Garden was a bowl of Skittles until one day, while Eve was smoking Adam’s sausage, the Serpent again appeared in penis form and said to Eve, “Hey, weren’t you forgiven for all this great sex that God never told you about?”

And Eve thought to herself, “That’s right.”

“And weren’t you given another chance after the misunderstanding about the apple?”

“Yes.”

Then the Serpent added, “When you get right down to it, are you certain that all these purple candies lying about are really purple? Wouldn’t you say that some might actually be more violet or mauve than true purple?”

“Well, yes,” Eve thought, “now that you mention it.”

“You can’t really tell the purple ones just by looking at them,” the Serpent said. “There’s only one way to tell the difference, and that’s by taste. The purple ones taste like grapes and turn to wine in your mouth, which will free your mind even more. Might even open up new avenues to sexual gratification.”

“Geez, I don’t know,” Eve hesitated.

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” an ecstatic Adam cried out.

“OK,” Eve decided. “I’ll try one!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words on less, on the topic: Don’t Eat the Purple Ones.)

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