by Matt Tucker

Ben's eyes were so pure.  He hated him.  And Greg didn't hate much, but deep down, he had hate for Ben Affleck's jaw, shinny quaff, and streamlined eyebrows.  He saw a neo-debutant.  He saw the suits and Ben's girls.  He wondered how he had attained such a lofty status in America's and the world's popular culture.  He hated him.  Or was it something else?

One night, after the moon had set, Greg and his girlfriend of two months played "Cranium" with two other couples.  It was a night of introductions and great effort on Greg's part to relax.  Kind of a contradiction.  But it was hard for him to relax, especially with his round jaw, bushy eyebrows, and dull, droopy, curly hair.  So he felt.

The board.

The "Cranium" board consists of a trail you must follow, comprised of 57 colored squares.  Greg had rolled a five, and found his game piece, a walrus, stopped on GREEN=performance - where Greg had to perform the word on the card without making a noise while his partner, in this case, Jacqueline (two months) had to guess what he was performing.

The word was 'injure', but before he could do something that would presumably look like he was injured or was in the process of receiving an injury, the players attention had turned to the TV. It was Ben.  An entertainment reporter had cornered him at a baseball game, and he was in a mood to talk.

Greg had just pretended to plunge a dagger in his heart when he noticed the others gazing into the idiot box.  On TV:

... essentially you've just got to be you.  I mean... it doesn't matter if you're happy just sitting under a pier all day staring into the ocean and digging for sand crabs or lobbying for stricter gun control on Capitol Hill even or... or... the... CEO of a multi-million dollar IT company and involved in the daily hands-on operation of the business, ya know?  If that's your bliss, do it.  Don't ever worry about what other people think of you.  Because if you do...

Greg had to take back control.  He shouted back at the disrespectful players and told them that Ben Affleck was full of it.  He told them to try and say the name Ben Affleck without laughing.  The girls gave Greg sourer looks as he drove the pretend dagger into his heart again.

Two days later.

Two days later Greg sat on the beach.  It was a beach in sunny southern California.  The waves broke right, woman moved like butterflies, and the smell of strawberry milkshakes from the shake shack floated through the salty air like a braided stream.  Greg followed a surfer, cruising on a righty, all the way down to the pier.  The surfer disappeared in-between the pillars, but Greg's eyes continued on to a man sitting under the pier.  The man had a great tan, stringy long grey hair, a ratty jacket, and appeared to be without shower.  The man looked out into the ocean.  Greg wished quietly to himself that he would never end up like the man.

The next day at work.

The next day at work, Greg figured he would finally pitch his ad idea to his boss, an angular headed German woman who wore skirts like pants and drove around L.A. in a hybrid car made in Norway.  Greg's advertising firm had recently won a contract for an upper echelon sparkling wine - there were even rumors of a couple cases laying around the office somewhere gratis.  But Greg wasn't concerned with the free booze, for he thought he had the golden jingle.

Greg saw her walking down the hall blurting out ad ideas as her legal padded assistant wrote them down like a butterfly catcher with her net.  Greg vaulted himself in front of her and his words sprang to life.  As he spoke, he noticed her assistant stopped writing.  After he was done he smiled and clapped his hands twice then spread them open-faced, palms up, like a blackjack dealer hinting for their tip.  He had no clue why he did this.  The pitch that is.  He knew why he clapped his hands.

In between one of Greg's heartbeats she said, "Aren't you on Frank's team?  You should be pitching to him."  And she left.  Greg figured she was a cantankerous unhappy workaholic who was in dire need of a vacation.

Friday night.

It was a hot Friday night on the alluvial plain of Los Angeles and the walrus and just parked itself on green.  This time the word was 'soul'.  Greg thought about the best way to illustrate the word.  In the theater of his mind a billion synapse fired, as his mind waged a little war on how best to illustrate the word.  But he finally thought of something.  He signaled 'go', and before Jacqueline could flip the tiny sand-filled hour-glass, Greg pointed at the bottom of his shoe.  He kept jabbing his index finger into the bottom of his shoe, harder and harder, until each tiny speck of sand plunged through the isthmus of glass and the sand ran out.  Nobody guessed it.

Two weeks later.

Two weeks later, Greg returned to the beach, and sat with his hands wrapped around his knees and his knees tucked into his chest.  It was foggy this time and the sweet smell of fruit and roller blading beauties and the vivid cut-back move of the surfer were gone.  But through the fog he could see something: three blurry figures under the pier.  But as the sun burned the fog away - the silhouettes of people sitting began to take shape.  Greg squinted curiously at the silhouettes as the eroding haze began to allow for the details Greg's mind so desperately sought to be seen.  He saw an angular head on one, and long silver dirty hair on the other.  As they came into focus, Greg noticed they rose glasses up to their mouths to drink at different times, and from the cups came tiny faint flashes, like little diamonds bending the available light.  They looked like champagne glasses.  Finally the sun burned the last of the morning fog layer away.  And with that, Greg could see the tan man from before, and his boss, sitting side-by-side in the sand under the pier.  Greg then turned his attention to the third person who was looking down and digging in the sand.  This last figure then looked up, and out into the ocean, with a fist full of sand crabs.  He raised the crabs into the air like a fistful of bullion as they escaped from between the creases of his easing figures, and trickled down his arm, and then back into the sand.  Even from Greg's distance, there was no mistaking the streamlined eyebrows, shinny hair, and jaw.  Ben sipped from his glass, the tiny bubbles now sparkling brightly in the mid-morning sun.  There they sat, the three of them under the pier looking out between the pillars, at the ocean's horizon.

And then a funny thing happened. Greg relaxed and the faint smell of strawberries returned.  He didn't know it then, but Greg would never play "Cranium" again.

Matt:  I'm a southern California native and have a film degree and geology degree from CSU, Fullerton.   Contact Matt.