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[whitespace] Future Shock

The five winners of the Jive 5 writing contest

The future has arrived. Our chrome-plated, double-barreled Brave New World is upon us, parked at the curb with its 12-cylinder engine rumbling like a rocket, so put down your pens and hold on to your double mochas, folks, 'cause it's going to be a bumpy ride.

But wait: we're getting ahead of ourselves. Two months ago, the Sonoma County Independent kicked off Jive Five--the latest installment of our annual coffeehouse writing contest--by asking local writers to give us a sneak peek at the 21st century. As we teeter on the brink of the new millennium, we wanted an idea of what to expect from our Brave New World. Give us the raw truth or the most half-baked lies, we urged, as long as you do it in 500 words or less.

And so they did, in all shades and hues, from rosy predictions of world peace to pitch-black tales of totalitarian horror to all the wonderful gradations of gray in between. Funny, shocking, sad, or profoundly hopeful--we got it all. Our sincere appreciation to everyone who entered; please accept our thanks for your imaginative efforts. Contest judges were editor Greg Cahill; arts editor Patrick Sullivan; Susan Bono, editor of the Tiny Lights journal of personal essays; SRJC writing instructor Guy Biederman; and J. J. Wilson, SSU English professor and co-founder of the Sitting Room in Cotati.

Below, you'll find the five winning entries. But that's not the end of the jive. On Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 6:30 p.m., you'll get a chance to see the winning writers (and the judges) in person as they read their stories and receive their prizes. Free food and coffee round out the futuristic fun at A'Roma Roasters and Coffeehouse, 95 Fifth St., Railroad Square, Santa Rosa. All are invited. Admission is free. (For details, call 527-1200.)
--Patrick Sullivan

First Place

Erotic Act
By Leslie Cole

IN THE NEW millennium the writing of a complete sentence will be an erotic act. The sound of a pen scratching out a thought on rough paper will be a major turn-on. Photographs of hands holding writing instruments will be considered not just beautiful but the ultimate seduction, and the advertising industry will use such images to cause longing. A billboard showing a rough boxy hand with callused fingertips gripping a stubby-end pencil will rivet and arouse consumers. The motion of a pen as it moves across paper will be the new tango, and the curve and fall of a graceful script will be compared to water falling over stones, to the heat between her thighs, to a bright leaf slowly falling. It will be a map, a choreography of what is wished for.

Gifts of soy ink, liquid chocolate, a box of Bics, coal, yellow pollen carefully gathered, Crayolas coupled with rice paper, the peeled bark of a shivering aspen, a smooth box of fine white sand, brown paper sacks, the backs of menus, a spiral notebook will be a major proposal, an offering.

People will have their bare skin ruled and lined like a legal tablet. Hallmark stores and Office Depot will start stocking condoms, red wine, vibrators, silk gloves. Stone tablets and chisels will again be in vogue. The brave will turn to pissing out messages in white snow, to smearing out endearments on the backs of dusty cars.

But the complete sentence, a complete thought will be what matters. Fragments and run-ons will be reason for scorn and a cause for male and female impotency. Strunk and White's Elements of Style will be a bestseller. Lovers will receive copies of it as gifts, will leave them lying around casually on coffee tables. English teachers will be revered as gods and goddesses. They will ride in sedan chairs lined with silk pillows. Their students will fall to their knees in reverence, and basic-skills classes will become jammed with ardent learners. The Eros of some instructors will be so overwhelming that they will need to lecture from behind a satin screen. Would-be writers will frame comments from their mentors in gilt-edged frames. Teachers' wastebaskets will become sacred, and the sound of tearing paper will be painful. A note crumpled in the face of a lover, devastation.

In the new millennium a complete sentence seduces. A complete thought. A subject and a verb naked. I want you. You take me. We take us. We are taken. We have been taken. Take me now. Take me.

Second Place

The Dream of Undoing
By Jennie Orvino

ON A WHITE balcony with louvered doors, overlooking
town square in Novi Sad, 11:59 p.m. on the eve of the year 2000.
A midnight sun outlines hills pitted black with steaming craters,
pooled oil, and unexploded yellow bomblets with white fins, like toys.

A clock chimes and the landscape of rubble begins to rise;
like time-lapse photography in reverse, crushed beams and blocks of stone
form hospitals and churches once again, blasted buses
get their wheels back, puffy as cartoons, rolling over roads empty of

armored personnel carriers. An undulating wave, from gray to Technicolor, moves
across the line of sight, charred meadows turn verdant, fouled waters run clear,
legs and arms blown off by shrapnel gather themselves to be once more
Sanja Milenlovic, who carries her basket of turnips home from market.

Third Place

Twentyfirst-Something
By Mrs. Klein

AS THE WORLD, bulging under its equatorial belt from the fried fat of the land, turns into the new Middle Ages, earthlings will be going bald at an exponential rate, their reflective pates creating a planetary aura glow that will deflect global warming into outer space where it will melt the Milky Way into a chocolate mess, but not on our hands!

The population bomb will be defused as scientists discover that wearing black causes sterility. Geneticists will clone the Dalai Lama with Saddam Hussein, birthing a yin/yang international leader who gives with one hand and takes away with the other, allowing a wholly/unholy alliance between the Mother of All Joy & the Father of All Pain.

The media will grow more snakes on itheir Medusa mainframe, slithering deeper into the orifices of all mankind and Roto-Rooting out the last stinking socialist tendencies, thereby saving humanity from itself.

Praise Allah Channels! Praise the Invisible Ones! Praise the Half-Time Baltimore Oracles! Praise Aldous Huxley Jr. III, CEO of BNW Inc., largest global temp personnel agency and singles matchmaking network, bringing together Need & Desire and satisfying millions of fantasies.

The high level of toxins in our fingertips will activate the holograms in U.S. paper money, and the money molecules will come alive and establish themselves as a separate and superior nation. "The Bills," as they will call their sovereignty, will sequester themselves in gated palaces, ordering in pizza, pot stickers, exotic yen, snowmobiles, stiletto-heeled shoes, disposable diapers, SUVs, smart bombs, Neil Diamond collections, and angel pins, thereby creating a greater demand for these products, helping to fuel the economy and filling up the purse in the Pursuit of Happiness, as consumers establish consumption quota clubs, with an annual competition for the King and Queen of Consumption.

Peace on earth will prevail, as Gen Xers rally around the non sequiturs, while Gen Motors and Gen Foods merge to manufacture edible autos that move and feed the masses.

All non-human creatures will form a Union to raise their standards of living, and after a long and difficult strike that interrupts nature's usual weather patterns, the air, land, and sea critters will have access to better housing, cleaner air, land, and seas, and the right to interspecies marriage, with benefits.

Thanks to the use of EMFs as Energy Cleansers, all co-dependents and their therapists will attain high degrees of awareness, spontaneously combusting into erotic particles of light, showering a widespread feeling of contentment and satisfaction over most of the Eastern Hemisphere, and ushering in an era of decline for whiners and control freaks.

The 13-moon calendar will replace the 12-month calendar and workers will enjoy the extra paycheck.

A Native American woman will be elected president of the United States, and all lands will be returned to their original owners. Real estate salespeople will live in their Mercedes and enjoy the experience of a simple lifestyle.

In short, the 21st century will come to be known as the Great Equalizer.

Honorable Mention

Beneath a Tree, Close to the Shore
By Matthew Kramer

THE SLEEPING BAGS that have been your traveling companions for thousands of miles have just woken up crying. They dozed during the drive, were fine for the flight, tranquil on the train, and seemed happy to get in some hiking. Now the pair of them are voicing their differences--they will not zip together.

You'd never considered checking for that. Passports: months in advance. Hostel memberships: ditto. You exchanged currency at the bank, memorized a few foreign phrases, flipped through travel books, Let's Go, Happy Planet. Hell, you even suffered through a Rick Steves video borrowed from the library. You were well prepared. There's even a de-cored, squashed roll of toilet paper in a Ziploc in your backpack.

But taking a test-run on zippers? You remember pulling them brand-new from their stuff-sacks, saying, "Hocus Pocus! Alakazam!" as the mummy bags kept magically unfolding from their cocoons. There's nothing to do but laugh.

It's funny. After all the delight, delays, and discomfort, it does seem pretty damn funny. It's as if you've covered a third of the world with your zippers down. Both of you. Yanks! Assuming everyone's going to speak your language, that all sets of teeth will mesh seamlessly for a smooth communion. Well, it ain't gonna happen.

The two-person tent is perfectly pitched--that, you practiced--beneath some sort of evergreen off the shore of a lake. Darkness is settling in, making itself at home, oblivious to your dilemma. The temperature is falling with each star that flickers on.

You're weary, on the border of crankiness, but next to you, on a separate sleeping bag, sits the most important person in your life. There's nothing between you but sweat-dampened clothing.

"Forget dinner."

"I could go for something sweet."

Your eyes have adjusted to the blue glow of the tent.

"Let's just put one on top and one on bottom."

"Yeah? Which one?"

Lips on your neck, softly. And fingertips. Buttons. Other zippers--these two functioning fine. Others have checked into hotels, packed into parties. What will they take home with them from this night? Here, within this glowing dome, it's personal, and sober. It's one-on-one. It's one.

When you awaken to early-morning raindrops, you feel a familiar hand on your shoulder, see a sleep-puffy face not far from yours. Pulling your hand from the warmth, you reach into the cold new century, some say the new millennium, and smooth a strayed stand of hair back behind that freckled ear. While your favorite human being cuddles closer in sleep, these thoughts blossom abruptly in your mind, springing up from the drizzle that's lulling you back to sleep: "This is it--we've arrived--the future."

Honorable Mention

Prophet Tear-ing
By Rick Escalante

IN THE FUTURE nobody will be famous. Andy Warhol is dead; besides, his art sucks. Campbell's soup will be around. It will look the same, it will taste the same, it will be the same. It will suck. But it comes in a can. A tin can. Tin cans will become the most sought-after artifacts because they once contained the essence of what can no longer be contained. Except for Campbell's soup cans. They will still suck. Sex as we know it will vanish; in fact, sex as I know it has vanished. Vanishing cream will vanish only to be replaced by varnish because it originally was varnish but then the "r" vanished and so the varnish was vanquished, but that's going too far. In the future "r"s will disappea making the futue look vey bleak. In fact, it will look so bleak everyone will need glasses. Everyone will be driven insane looking at rows and rows of rose-colored glasses. Everybody will look the same because everyone will wear rose-colored glasses. Insanity will become the leading cause of death. Dog attacks will become the second leading cause of death because the Seeing Eye dogs will be made to wear rose-colored glasses. Dog food that comes in cans will be under suspicion of manslaughter, and a successful class-action lawsuit against the dog-food manufacturers will cause mass famine and kidney failure among the world's population.

Fetching will replace girl watching as the world slowly goes to the dogs. A fetching woman will no longer be sought after. To call a woman a "dog" will no longer be politically incorrect. It will mean she will be fetching. Political correctness will no longer be political or correct. Neither will spelling bees.

Words will fragment, becoming "black holes" that under the weight of their own meaning will suck until they suck themselves into oblivion, leaving traces of their essence in tin cans. In the future, the past will be forgotten; history buffs will wander the streets, prompting confused cries of ". . . the Alamo . . . the Alamo."

Sex will become bilingual, making it possible for the layman to cry out "OH GOD" in languages foreign to most tongues, in which case he can use his mother tongue, but that's really disgusting. Pushing the envelope of bad taste will be replaced by a shocking, vile form of public expression--all those who witness INTEGRITY won't know what hit them--and that will be half the problem.

In the future, the ghost of Martin Luther King will invade the psyche of the masses, prompting nocturnal cries of "I have a (wet) dream." Bozo the Clown will run for president and win, but leaving office, his shoes will be hard to fill. And finally, life will be found on planet Earth, but not life as we know it. It will suck.

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From the October 21-27, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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