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Exercise #29: How Did We Ever Manage?

“How did we ever manage to find each other?” The question wasn’t always rhetorical. In the early years, you’d invite me to reminisce for hours about how we met for the first time at a mutual friend’s party. How you hesitated before giving me your number. How I heard that you were finding your way out of a relationship, so I never summoned the nerve to call. Then we didn’t see one another again for two years. How we used to enjoy retelling each other the story of our chance meeting at the museum …more

Exercise #28: Movie Star

Hollywood, CA—Entertainment industry sources are buzzing today with the gossip that the world’s last remaining noncelebrity, Phil Stackfield, a tax accountant from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is engaged to become the fifth husband of model, country singer, and celebrity cage-fighting phenom Darla Chartreuse. Chartreuse, 27, who began life as Darlene Carter, is the platinum-blonde star attraction of Fox Ultra Reality Channel’s Celebrity Death Match and the singer-songwriter who scored Grammy gold last year with …more

Exercise #25: The Halfway Mark

In Half

Andrea told people later that she was driven by rage, but the truth was that too little sleep and too much late-night TV put the idea in her head.

James had called as she was washing the dinner dishes to say that he wanted to come by in the morning to get his half of the stuff they’d bought together. When he had said he was ready to move on with his life, she had known that was code for “ready to start the parade of women” through his crappy apartment. Three years earlier, Andrea had brought up the rear of his last such parade.

The commercial was one she’d seen dozens of times without paying much attention. An idiot in a lime-green …more

Exercise #20: Paper That Changed Your Life

Mental Note #7639471

Larry M. was my roommate for the semester we spent at the University of Dallas Rome Campus. He was one of the gang that traveled to London together before the start of the semester for a week and then took the train to Rome by way of Paris. He was my companion on several weekend trips out of Rome, too, including Florence, Munich, Salzberg, and the ill-fated attempt to get to Malta for Easter, which was aborted in Siracusa, Siciliy, when we found that the boats were all booked up, and then turned semi-tragic when we were robbed at gunpoint in a pizzeria in Messina on the night before Easter.

Larry used to carry a tiny notebook everywhere he went, into which he would write notes about photos he’d taken, places to visit and sights to see, addresses, hours of operation, Italian phrases, and so on. …more

Exercise #13: Waiting for Morning

It was nothing. I told you it was nothing, and I wish that you had believed me, but you suspected it was something. And so, even though it was nothing, when it turned into what looked like something, there you were to catch me in the act, so there was no denying that it did, indeed, look like something. But even then, it was still nothing. Well, nothing to me. Obviously, something to you. And you were ready to confront me, and then you looked at me and you thought it was something, but it was still nothing, but there was nothing I could have said to persuade you of that, and so with a blank stare, you stormed off into the darkness. And then I heard you drive away, and I thought, “There will be hell to pay in the morning.”

Note: The assignment was to write about “waiting for morning to arrive.”

© 2009 Edward F. Gumnick

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #4: Time, stopped

Breakfast at Sunrise

“I can’t set foot in the place,” Milla said. “I don’t think I ever will again.”

I was only trying to make small talk when I had asked her about the Sunrise Cafe, the tawdry-looking diner across the street from where we sat sipping lattes at the Golden Spoon. I was waiting for the waitress to bring me a cheese danish. Milla was avoiding carbs today, so she hadn’t ordered anything but the coffee.

“Everything in my entire life since that moment has been colored by what happened there,” she told me. She shifted in her seat and stared into …more

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #3: Like a Brother

The Fisherman’s Brother

One Christmas season I drew my
big brother’s name out of the pot.
He was a fisherman; he decorated
his half of the room we shared
in eclectic Field & Stream motif.
Naturally, I shopped a sporting goods
store in search of the perfect gift.

My knowledge of fish and my interest
in fishing began and ended with threading
half of a squirming earthworm onto
a rusty hook and dangling it in the water
weighed down by a soft clump of lead
under a red and white plastic bobber.
(I thought of myself as a purist.)

I knew in the abstract that one could
angle for largemouth bass or smallmouth
bass or brook trout or rainbow trout or
any desired species in creek or lake
or stream, but I had no patience for the art
and science of attracting and catching
anything without a taste for worms.

So I selected a jar of fluorescent
orange roe. I imagined the plump,
squishy balls looked delicious to fish.
I also picked a gorgeous lure, an oval
of convex stainless steel painted in faux
fishy stripes and spots of red enamel,
a beauty to win a fish’s heart.

Note: The prompt for today was to describe someone who was “as close as a blood relative,” though not related. I decided to go in another direction.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick


The others think I come here for the cake. They’re partly right. I have a mighty sweet tooth, and that’s what brought me in here once.

But I come back for the sparkle in the baker’s shy, dark eyes and the streak like powdered sugar in his glossy black hair.

On that first visit, he gave me a glance and then looked down at his apron. He reached under the glass counter and served me the first slice of cake from the end of the pan. That day, it was white cake with whipped-cream frosting and strawberries.

On my next trip, I wanted to impress him with my Spanish accent, so I asked for the tres leches. He flashed a smile and picked out a thick, sticky slab from the middle of the pan. I mumbled a gracias and took home my treat.

I wondered if something was wrong when I came in two days later and he chose that moment to disappear into the back of the bakery. But in a few seconds, he came back carrying a small white cardboard box tied up with string. Back in the car, I cut the twine and found a perfect slice of golden cake with chocolate buttercream icing, decorated with a single yellow frosting rose.

Some day, we will make beautiful dessert together.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

50/50 Exercise #29: Foolproof

The plan was to focus on his own dreams.
The plan was to learn to be happy alone.
The plan was to keep things light.
The plan was to have some fun with his friends.

The plan was not to let down his guard.
The plan was not to get sidetracked by a smile.
The plan was not to be the first to say “I love you.”
The plan was not to replace all his answers with fresh questions.

The plan was not foolproof.

50/50 Exercise #26: Freedom Object

Wednesday, January 30: J. spent his bonus on a 67-inch flat-panel TV. He’s very excited about the Super Bowl.

Thursday, January 31: J. left work early to come meet the satellite-TV guy. If they stuck the dish up on the roof, why is my kitchen such a mess?

Friday, February 1: We stayed in tonight and watched DVDs on the new TV. What an amazing picture! After the first movie, I had a headache. We moved the bookcase over next to the patio door and pushed the leather loveseat back against the wall to get more distance from the TV. The front left leg is loose.

Saturday, February 2: We usually go for coffee at Mister Beans on Saturday morning, …more