Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Androids, Ninjas, & Floss: A Memoir

I'm very excited to bring you another change-of-pace story today! Presented to me as "the literary equivalent of movies like Hot Shots! and Airplane!," I knew I couldn't resist. The author, Gregg Podolski expressed his shock over my decision to publish him, to which I asked "why?" Absurdists are people too! Plus, how could I not be intrigued by a title like Androids, Ninjas, and Floss that that claims to be a memoir? (Note: this is a fictional memoir!)

Gregg is a writer from New Jersey who was first published in Highlights magazine when he was nine years old. It was called "Buck, The Horse Raised By Wolves," which he says is "a cautionary tale about capitalism's growing influence on the global socio-economic landscape. With horseys." I suspect he's kidding there, but I believe him when he says his humor pieces have been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Androids is his first novel. In this excerpt, the fictitious twelve-year-old Gregg Podolski has been recruited by Brigadier General Brick Mason to infiltrate a Communist terrorist cell operating out of a Catholic junior high school in Boston, called Our Lady of Brain Dead Uniformity. Enjoy! I look forward to the comments that follow, and I hope no one's head spins too much.

Androids, Ninjas, and Floss: A Memoir
By Gregg Podolski 

I dressed for my first day at Our Lady Of Brain Dead Uniformity in the official school uniform that Mason had provided: blue polo shirt, khaki pants, and a glazed-over facial expression that didn’t even hint at the capability of independent thought. Earl dropped me off and wished me good luck. I took a deep breath and joined the clump of kids squeezing their way through the front doors.

Inside, the halls were packed as students made their way to homeroom, talked with friends, and haggled over the going market price for pure, uncut cocaine. Ah, the innocence of youth. Little did I know just how much I’d miss it later in life. Especially when I died. I’d really miss it then. But more on that chapter of my life in another chapter. Chapter 47, to be exact, if you’re one of those lazy people who likes to skip ahead to the end of the book without reading any of the stuff leading up to it. You think I wouldn’t like to do that, too?

You think I wouldn’t rather just write the last chapter, turn in a five-page manuscript, and be done with it? Of course I would! Writing a book is a real pain in the ass. What author wouldn’t prefer to just write a killer ending and then sit back and collect his royalties? The ending’s the only part any of us really know in advance anyway. The rest of this bullshit we make up as we go along, killing time page by page until we finally get to write that kick-ass coda. Wanna know what mine is? Try this on for size:

I’ve been dead the whole time.

Creepy, right?

I’m just playin’, though. I know M. Night already did that one. The real twist ending is that, all this time, I was actually Keyser Soze.

Okay, okay, for real: Even though my name’s Gregg Podolski, I’m actually a girl.

Everybody sing!

I know all there is to know
About the Crying Game
I’ve had my share
Of the crying game

Seriously, though, if you skip ahead to the end right now, you’re a dick. Put in the work like the rest of us, asshole.

Back to 1985. According to the intelligence reports Mason had me study prior to leaving for Boston, the Marx Brothers cell in this school numbered anywhere from 15-175 children, mostly Caucasian, mostly male. Either that, or it was a bunch of goats armed with flame-throwers. Details on the actual make-up of the group were sketchy, due in large part to the fact that the individuals who had written the reports were members of the CIA, which as an organization does many things well, but spying isn’t one of them. In fact, every file on the Marx Brothers that I read was nothing more than a series of Eastern European and Arabic ethnic groups arranged around a cardboard wheel. In the center was an arrow that you spun with the words “These Are The Bad Guys” printed on it.

So it was with limited resources that I attempted to infiltrate the group’s inner sanctum. That meant I had to be cautious in my approach, careful not to tip my hand with the wrong turn of phrase or inappropriate gesture to one of the group’s senior members. No, if I was going to maneuver my way into this underground legion of snakes, I had to do it with the right combination of subtlety and stealth.

“You!” I shouted as I grabbed the shoulders of the first student who passed by, shoving her against the wall so hard the right tire on her wheelchair popped. “Where are the Marx Brothers! Tell me, before I rip off both your thumbs!”

In my head I’d worked out several possible reactions the cute, curly-haired brunette I just accosted might have to my simple request:

1. She would tell me who the Marx Brothers were, where to find them, and what type of special move was required to defeat their main boss.

2. She would scream, but not real loud, so I could just pretend she had seen a spider and walk away unnoticed.

3. She would scream, loudly, so I could just pretend she had seen a spider and walk away unnoticed. After snapping her neck to stop the loud screaming, of course. (If questioned, I planned on blaming the spider).

4. She would become so terrified by my physical prowess that she would pee her pants, after which I would point at her and laugh. And then I would snap her neck. (Still blaming the spider).

What I didn’t expect was for her to lift her right leg violently up into my crotchal area, and then follow with a powerful kick to the chin with her left leg only seconds later. The combo sent me flying onto my back, clutching both my swollen nuts and bleeding mouth.

“What the hell?!” I sobbed. “Why are you even in a wheelchair?”

Curly Hair gave a little “harrumph,” turned up her nose, and wheeled away--the busted tired apparently causing her no trouble whatsoever.

After a few minutes, when the colors stopped swimming in front of my eyes and I no longer was able to see through time, I attempted to stand up. I got halfway before I decided lying down might just be the best thing mankind had ever invented and was on my way to doing a little more of it when a hand grabbed me by the arm and lifted me onto my feet. Fearful that it was Curly Hair--or another of the school’s sugary-sweet cripples trained in martial arts--I threw both my arms in front of my face and began to whimper defensively.

From behind the protective wall of my forearms, I heard a voice say, “Did I hear you say you were looking for the Marx Brothers?” The words were wrapped in a thick Russian accent, the kind found only in cheesy spy movies or poorly written books with paper-thin characters.

Slowly, I lowered my arms and stared into the face of a boy whose name I would later learn was Percy, although everybody called him Ivan for short. He was my height but taller. He wore an eyepatch, was completely bald, and had a mustache that had been deftly shaved to spell out “I heart Communism.” 

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something suspicious about this guy.

“Who wants to know?” I asked.

“Percy. But everybody calls me Ivan for short. What’s your name?”

“Gregg,” I said, instantly cursing my own stupidity at using my real name while undercover. Quickly, I came up with an alias. “But everybody calls me Not A Spy for short.” Well played, Gregg, well played.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Spy.”

Crap. “Uh, just call me Not A. No need to be formal.”

“Nice to meet you Not A.”


“You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Who me? Heck no. I’ve been here since pre-school.”

“They don’t have a pre-school here.”  

“Since kindergarten. Mrs. Smith’s class.” 

“There is no Mrs. Smith who teaches kindergarten.”

“Mrs. Thompson. I was in Mrs. Thompson’s class. I sat second row from the front.” 

“Mrs. Thompson arranges her students’ desks in a circle.”

“The desk closest to the window, that’s what I meant.”

“There are no windows in her class; she teaches in the school’s underground bomb shelter.”

“The chalkboard. I was the kid who sat right by the chalkboard every day.”

“They don’t use chalkboards here, every classroom has a dry erase--“

“Hi,” I said, sticking my hand out, “my name’s Gregg and I’m new here. Would you mind showing me around the place?”

Ivan smiled. “Sure, come with me.”


  1. This is very different, very funny and definitely not for Middle Grade, which was what I was thinking when I saw the age of the protagonist. lol. Oh, and I hope Gregg doesn't mind, but I skipped to the end of the post. ;-)

  2. In your case, Mary, I'll make an exception. Glad you liked it! (Oh, and it certainly COULD be for Middle Grade, provided of course you were the worst middle-school English teacher ever).

  3. Intense with belly laughs. Juxtapositions most welcomed. Thanks, Gregg. I hope this becomes a best seller.

  4. Thanks, Ben. Listen, if and when this thing gets published, could I count on you to buy a few thousand copies to help push it into best seller terriroty? That would be great.

  5. Not for middle grade? This would have been my favorite book when I was that age. I used to write stuff like this before I started taking myself too seriously in high school. (I couldn't write this well, or this much, and I never used cuss words--carnage was okay, but not swearing. Nooo.) It's PERFECT for middle grade.

    Of course, I'd never let MY kids read it. ;)

  6. Ben #2, I couldn't agree more. I would have devoured a book like this when I was 10 or 12. In fact, if you ask most of my friends and family, the reason I'm able to write like this now is that I never really matured much past that age.

    Oh, and my daughter will never read this either.

  7. Excellent!

    Especially, "Our Lady Of Brain Dead Uniformity" (I think I attended that school, as well!)


  8. That's high praise coming from you, Cynthia, considering your excerpt from "Wind" was one of the reasons I was shocked that Sarah agreed to publish me. I read that and was like, "Well, if THIS is the quality of writing I have to compete against, my silly little slapstick thing doesn't stand a chance." I was thrilled that Sarah felt differently and am equally thrilled that you enjoyed it as well.

  9. Thanks Gregg - right back at ya!

  10. 'Later I would learn he was called Percy.' And then that 'later' is less than a page down. Nice.

  11. Thanks, Ryan. As much as I love writing the broad gags--like the wheelchair girl kicking me or the tangent on people who skip to the end of books--the little bits are probably more fun, just trying to slip them in and see who notices. Good on ya for catching one of my favorites.