Grinds My Gears

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Roger’s job was to fix things that broke. He was a repairman, and he had been for 40-some years. He’d seen a lot of things in his life, repaired a lot of broken machinery, but nothing was quite like his current project.

The prototype for iBot had come out a few months earlier, and it was just experiencing its first mechanical failures. Loose gears and a need for some oil. Seemed easy enough to Roger.

But iBot was programmed to be like a human, and humans can be quite sassy—Roger knows that better than most. He’s got four teenage daughters and they are constantly sassing him.

“You know,” Roger started as he began tightening the gears in iBot’s back panel, “Way back when I was a youngster, robots didn’t exist. I mean, they existed in movies and little toys for kids, but the real deal? No sir, that certainly never existed. The toys were pretty cool, though. I never had one myself, but I always thought they looked like fun.”

“Oh, you didn’t [beep] have one? How [boop] sad,” iBot replied. If it could’ve expressed any emotion in its voice there would’ve been an overwhelming tone of sarcasm.

“Yeah, you know, when I was a youngster we didn’t have a lot of money to spare,” Roger continued. “My parents both worked hard but I was the youngest of eight kids, so there wasn’t a lot to go around, if you know what I mean.”

“One of [boop] eight? Your [beep] parents must have spent a lot of [beep] time in the bedroom,” iBot said, trying to get under Roger’s skin.

“You mean hiding out from us? Yeah, they did. Back when I was young, we were pretty crazy. Man, those were the days. I wish you could’ve seen things the way they were back then. It was a simpler time—things were just… good,” Roger said. He continued yacking about the good old days while iBot patiently waited for him to finish tightening the gears.

“This whole world is so crazy now, there’s just so much going on all the time,” Roger lamented. “I can hardly stand it! I can’t believe this is the only world you know. That makes me so sad.”

Finally, iBot lost it.

“You know, [beep] Roger, you are really grinding [boop] my gears.”

“Well, don’t I know it! That’s my job, iBot,” Roger answered, oblivious to iBot’s annoyance.

“That is not [boop] what I mean. You are driving me [beep] crazy with your [boop] stories. Can you fix the [boop] gears in silence? Please?”

Roger never spoke another word to iBot, so offended were his sensibilities.

Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees

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Colin was homeless—a fact known by all the people living in his small town. He was a big guy, he was at least a head taller most of the townspeople so he really stood out in more ways than one.

One day he was wandering along an abandoned path looking for berries when he stumbled upon a beautiful, strange-looking tree. It was taller than Colin but its branches were low enough that he could climb them. The flowers looked interesting, so he climbed on up, praying that they were edible.

What he found growing on the tree was an amazing surprise—it was money! Not just dollar bills, either, but $50 bills and $20 bills. Colin couldn’t believe his luck. He pulled a couple of bills down and ran back to town, vowing never to tell another soul where the tree was located.

The first thing Colin tried to do was buy a meal, but the waiter turned him away the moment he walked inside.

“Shoo, shoo. Get out,” the restaurant owner yelled from his back office.

So Colin left. He went to the tailor to see if he could purchase a new suit, in the hopes that a new look would fix his appearance and he’d be allowed to buy some food.

But, once again, Colin was told to leave the store—and this time he was accused of stealing the money! The tailor threatened to call the cops if Colin ever set foot in the shop again.

So he left. He decided to go to the local grocery and buy a load of bread. Whenever Colin had money, he spent in on bread at the local grocery, so he had high hopes for his visit.

Yet again, Colin was turned away. He tried to tell the shop owner about the money tried while he begged for food, but it didn’t work.

The shop owner scoffed and said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, Colin. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. Get out of my store with that fake money.”

So Colin left, devastated, and headed back down the abandoned path to the money tree. He sat against the trunk of the tree, crying quietly about the state of his reputation.

How could they think I was lying? Or, worse yet, that I was a thief! he thought.

He slumped down further against the magical tree and ate the only thing he could find for food—the money flowers.

Not Playing With A Full Deck

Abigail was a dreamer. She was the kind of kid every parent hopes to have—smart, sweet, and creative enough to entertain herself for hours on end. She could play with anything, giving voices to whatever inanimate objects were strewn about the house. She never really complained, always ate her vegetables, and was polite to everyone she met.

Her parents were away on business a lot and they would frequently leave Abigail with her Auntie. Auntie was single, had no children, and absolutely loved Abigail. They had a special relationship that neither of them fully understood, but each was the other’s best friend and closest confidant. One time, Auntie had to take a long phone call, so she gave Abigail a deck of cards to play with. Being the creative little girl she was, Abigail entertained herself for the rest of the night making up different games. Auntie ended up giving her the deck of cards.

The other kids at school weren’t quite as accepting of Abigail’s individuality and, as kids often do, they teased her. They seemed more fascinated than hateful, usually testing the limits of her creative mind. On this particular day, Abigail brought her new deck of cards to school. It was time for recess and Abigail was all about the card games, playing by herself and daydreaming all the while.

The other kids decided to play a game of their own in which they would sneakily take a card from the deck every few minutes. They wanted to know how long it would take before Abigail would notice that she wasn’t playing with a full deck.

But Abigail was so absorbed in her own thoughts that she didn’t have a clue. Or if she did, she certainly didn’t let it affect her.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

I looked up from the papers I was about to sign and saw Jim standing there, delicately reading over his own set of documents. I looked at him. He was young and surprisingly attractive. He was an over-achiever, just like me, and he was a very hard worker. He was only 27 and he already owned and managed his factory, but that was less a testament to his hard work than to the tragedy that left him as the sole heir to his grandfather’s business.

It was weird to think that our grandfathers had been sworn enemies. It all started way back when they were the owners of the only two brass factories in Minnesota. At first they’d been friends—which isn’t a surprise considering how much they had in common. The need for brass was still high, so they weren’t yet feeling the heat of competition burning in their hearts.

But as the demand for brass slowly began to dwindle, the two old men became distant and started to harbor bitter feelings towards one another—especially because of the tack business, which was where they saw the biggest profit. I don’t know much about his grandfather, but mine became borderline obsessed with beating out his competition. It was all he really talked about as he aged, and he spoke of Jim’s grandfather with a fiery hatred I’d never understood.

Neither of my parents were interested in taking over the family business, so grandfather taught me the ins and outs of the brass business. Jim’s parents were all set to take over, but they died in a fire and Jim, their only son, was left with all the responsibilities and none of the training he needed to run a factory. To my surprise, he reached out to me and asked for advice.

His brass factory wasn’t doing well, but it meant the world to him. Though I am very business minded, I have a heart and I felt for him when he told me this was all he had left of his family. I decided to help him out by merging our factories and splitting ownership. It seemed like the least I could do to help a grieving man do right by his family.

“Before we sign these documents, let’s get down to brass tacks,” he said, looking up at me with a broad smile and a small chuckle. He had straight teeth and a twinkle in his eye.

I smiled back, letting him know that I was in on the joke. I could already tell this was going to be a successful partnership. I reached for my pen to sign our agreement.

*Thanks to my friend David Sanchez for suggesting this idioms. Everyone should check out his blog

The Bigger You Are, The Harder You Fall

the bigger you are the harder you fall

King Jeffery had been in power for almost 12 years when it all came to an end. The views in his country had changed and the people revolted against the monarchy. They stormed the castle and raced to find King Jeffery, who had known this time would come and was sitting calmly on his throne, waiting.

King Jeffery was 6’5”, and his throne was raised off the ground by a three-foot stage. The people grabbed King Jeffery and threw him from his elevated throne, causing a loud and painful crash. King Jeffery hadn’t been the worst King, but he wasn’t a very effective ruler. He was, however, very kind to all his staff and servants, especially his Best Friend, the Court Jester.

As he came crashing to the ground, he noticed the people rushing towards his Best Friend and closest confidant. The Court Jester was a tiny man, only about 4’11” and very slight in build. King Jeffery and the Court Jester could sit and talk for hours on end about anything at all. The people grabbed the Court Jester and threw him to the ground, where he landed with a quiet thud.

The two were shoved out onto the street together, where they shared a solemn look before heading their separate ways.

A few months later, the two ran into each other in a neighboring town. They were both beggars, trying to make a living on street corners, sleeping in alleyways. Ex-King Jeffery had lost a lot of weight and now closely resembled a skeleton, his skin sagging over his boney body and face. He’d allowed his facial hair to grow out with the hope that his new look would make him unrecognizable to the public.

But the Former Court Jester would’ve recognized his best friend anywhere, in any state. The Former Court Jester, who had the skills to entertain, was making a fairly decent living for himself and almost never went hungry.

The two made eye contact and the Former Court Jester thought to himself, I guess it’s true what they say—the bigger you are, the harder you fall.

He then approached Ex-King Jeffery and offered him a piece of day-old bread.

Ex-King Jeffery looked up at his Former Best Friend with distant, teary eyes and said, “Thank you, kind sir. You’ve no idea what troubles I’ve seen.”

The Former Court Jester gestured towards the ground, wordlessly asking permission to sit.

“Care to talk about it?” the Former Court Jester inquired.

The Whole Nine Yards

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The deal was almost set—we’d move our fence six yards to the east and help fix up a barn in exchange for the tractor, giving the Perkins’ a little more land and securing the success of our harvest. The Perkins’ have been trying to slowly get our land for as long as anyone can remember, and we’ve needed a new tractor ever since Jake, our son, broke ours trying to drag a plastic pool filled with his friends across a shallow ravine. Don’t get me started on that boy—he’s full of bad ideas.

That’s beside the point, though. We needed a tractor, the Perkins’ had an extra one that they barely used, and all they wanted in exchange for it was a nine-yard increase along their property’s east side. We’d managed to negotiate it down to six-yards and a few hours of manual labor working to fix up their barn, which had a leaky roof and peeling paint. Six yards? Fine, let them have it.

Just as we were about to sign the deal, Grammy, the oldest member of the Perkins clan and, by extension, basically my own grandmother, pulled out her shotgun, holding it across her body like a guitar, and proudly displayed it for all to see.

“You wait just a minute, now,” she said, voicing her demands as if we were the hostage negotiators in the bank robbery of her dreams. Cocking the gun, she announced, “I said nine yard, not six. Plus help with the barn. I want all of it—the whole nine yards!”

As she showed the gun off and waved it around to further her point, I knew she’d never use it—not on me, at least—but it got my attention nonetheless. I thought to myself, who am I to say no to Grammy, the woman who practically raised me after my own mother passed away?

I stood there, speechless, feeling a strange mixture of fear and pride for Grammy’s newfound gusto. “Fine, you can have it. You can have the whole nine yards,” I said.

Down In The Dumps

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Sophie lost the locket her grandmother gave her a few months ago, before she died. They were really close. In fact, Sophie was closer to her grandmother than anyone else in the world. They always joked that they were soul mates, not in the romantic sense of the phrase, but more like soul sisters—in the way that their souls were as close as sisters, and as good of a fit together as mates. So this was no ordinary piece of jewelry in Sophie’s eyes. It meant the world to her. Now it was gone and she couldn’t find it and she was scared she never would. And that killed her.

She usually put it beside her bed on her nightstand, which is right next to the small garbage bin she kept in her room for the wrappers of her late-night snacks. It wasn’t impossible to think that the locket might’ve fallen into the garbage bin without Sophie noticing. And since she’d checked everywhere else in the entire house, there was only one place left to look—the garbage dump.

Sophie threw together what she referred to as her Sanitation Kit, which mainly consisted of hand sanitizer and rubber gloves, plus a bandana she had doused with perfume to use as a facemask. Kit in hand, she snuck out of the house without telling anyone where she was going. She knew that seeing her mother would cause her to burst into tears, and having to search through blurred vision was the last thing she needed.

After an unsuccessful day in the dumps, Sophie returned home feeling defeated and depressed. It was hard enough to wake up every day knowing that her grandmother was no longer alive, but now she couldn’t even comfort herself with the special locket she loved so much. Life just didn’t seem fair to her anymore. She didn’t even bother trying to hide her disappointment as she collapsed into a seat at the kitchen table.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Sophie’s mother asked upon both seeing and smelling her daughter.

Sophie gave no reply. She just continued to sit and stare off into space, her big brown eyes glazed over so that she appeared to be looking at something intently but at the same time seeming to actually see nothing at all. She kind of looked like a very life-like robot that had run out of batteries in the middle of sighing.

“Now, Sophie, I know something is wrong—I’m a mom, that’s our job. Why don’t you just tell me?” her mother asked, urging her daughter to give some sort of response.

Again, nothing from Sophie.

“You’ve been down in the dumps all week, sweetheart. Don’t try to deny that. Is this about your grandmother’s locket? Did you forget that we were getting the hinge repaired this week?” her mother asked.

Sophie immediately perked up at the news, her eyes filling with hot, happy tears. She couldn’t find any words to say, and even if she had, she couldn’t have spoken. Her throat was shut off, trying to prevent a long-stifled sob.

“Oh, that’s it, isn’t it? Oh, sweetie, it’s okay. I’m going to pick it up tomorrow—you have nothing to be sad about. Grandma wouldn’t want that. And I don’t, either. No more being down in the dumps, okay? Not emotionally, and certainly not physically. Can you promise me that, Soph?” her mother replied, gently rubbing Sophie’s back and lifting her spirits.down in the dumps