There was no entry fee, just a waiver with a cool skull.

Photo by Brian Chan on Unsplash

The car dealership owner took one look at me and said I was perfect. I was a little offended at how fast he made that decision, but I thought it better than to look a gift horse in his smarmy, gold-toothed mouth. There was no entry fee, just a waiver with a cool skull. “It’s all boiler-plate: gross-negligence this, waive all right to that,” he said, the toothpick dancing on the edge of his mouth as he assured me that it was all standard eating contest liability.

I had struck out at kickball, had an allergic reaction at singles’ wine…

Photo by omarabascal on Unsplash

Who can say for certain what the burly, wedding-ring-toting, there-with-his-teenage-son guy was thinking or fantasizing. Maybe I’m naïve, but — like I’ve since repeated, Dad — I think he was just feeling good, cruising the Meat Department, saw the package of steaks in our cart, and felt like sending along a jolly, “Nice beef you got there, partner.”

I’ll agree it’s odd to comment on other shoppers’ carts, even if the contents are particularly handsome, but it’s far more deviant to seek romance within the chilly, visceral Costco meat-scape. …

For any impressive painting, the first thing that’s always asked is: “How many nudes?”

This art is pretty good, but mine will be better and will have more nudes. Photo by Ágatha Depiné on Unsplash

This will be the greatest painting of all time. After its debut, when people ask each other what their favorite painting is, they will always qualify their question with: “Besides Justin’s, of course.”

For any impressive painting, the first thing that’s always asked is: “How many nudes?” I assure you, there will be enough nudes. Not a gratuitous amount of nudes, but — to be clear — no viewer would look upon my painting and say: “Yo, duder, where are the nudes?”

They will be both tasteful and provocative, the nudes, and while gazing into my painting’s silken face it…

Boy, it’s crazy how you’re no longer welcome on the surface.

Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

One of the first things you’ll think upon starting your new life underground is: “Boy, it’s crazy how I’m no longer welcome on the surface.” Though you had pleaded to be left for dead, the judge said the haunted wastelands would be too good for you and your public-safety-jeopardizing perversion. “Fiddlesticks,” you’ll say aloud now as the sun dips below the edge of your tunnel, giving you one final goodbye.

Your shovel will be your only friend. Together, you and Scooper will plan to carve out an empire built on brotherhood, integrity, and decriminalizing all forms of sexually motivated arson…

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

I was done with being the firm’s worst performing junior associate, done with the belittlement, and done with the Dunce Cap Shuffle: a jazzy number Mr. Finebaum had conceived at the crossroads of public shaming and showtunes.

“Mr. Finebaum,” I stopped him on his way out of the office. “I know I’m going to be your best associate — maybe even someday make partner!” He stopped and gave a full-body sigh: the thought of me, his resident oaf, ascending to partner was so beyond amusing it was outright pathetic. I figured I’d invoked another sermon about how, no matter what…

Blades, buzzcuts, and brotherhood.

Photo by Parker Gibbons on Unsplash

“Wow,” I said to myself, gazing out my dorm window with a contented sigh. “Snip State.”

“Quit daydreaming, Freshman,” Kenny, my roommate, said, slapping me on the back. He hadn’t unpacked any of his mirrors or blow dryers yet. “It’s Welcome Week — we should be drunk by now.” I couldn’t argue: TV, movies, and my high-school friends with better grades had all concluded that college was for boozing, co-ed fraternizing, and standing up to snooty deans for the right to party.

Kenny said his cousin’s frat was throwing a rager tonight. “Yeah,” he said, grinning at a question I…

I ordered and I watched as the sheen of panic filled my date’s eyes.

Photo by mahdi chaghari on Unsplash

“Spaghetti,” I told the waiter, without eye contact, just a wily noodle veteran looking for one more big score. I was starring at my date as the sheen of panic filled her eyes — a premonition of her being inextricably linked to the tomato-stained man with the pasta-packed mouth, the bread plate positioned to catch his half-bitten fallout, and an amount of mess you’d only expect to see on a baby. Layered, however, underneath her strata of fear, I noted this awakened, sadistic glint: a bit of aroused curiosity, the undeniable part of her wanting to run towards the carnage.

Following that paper trail.

Image Copyright: HBO, NBCUniversal. (Fair Use.)

“Holly has to go back to Colorado. I’m going with her. I’m leaving,” Michael said, the office sprinklers of Dunder Mifflin raining down on him, his employees, and his new fiancée.

The excitement was immediately stifled. The candles were extinguished. A stunned silence fell over the employees as they shuffled back from the annex.

Pam phoned the fire department to cancel any trucks they may have sent. The rest of the office took notice, astonished to finally witness her actually doing something useful as Office Manager.

A stranger with dark, tired eyes and messy hair charged through the door.


He kept smiling, but I could see the abject panic in those big white eyes.

Image Copyright: Newsday. (Fair Use.)

His usual hangouts are at baseball stadiums, car dealership openings, and other headroom-heavy haunts, so I was surprised when I saw Mr. Met out on Long Island, sauntering up to my hotel lobby, a pep in his step, seemingly unaware that on this particular September Saturday the Mets were twenty-four games out of relevancy. Bold, I thought, that he opted for the revolving door, his handler brazenly leading the charge, but — oh no — the compartment was too small for one adult and one anthropomorphic baseball. The motorized door kept chugged along, wedging the top of Mr. Met’s bobbling…

Image Copyright: NPR. (Fair Use.)

One minute we were in sweatpants, flopped together on the couch, musing about how we both viscerally abhor every single judge on Chopped, and the next minute an exploratory hand and probing toe primed the pot of passion and our sprawled selves constricted into a hot, spitty knot.

Clothes were ripped off without regard for elastic longevity and the TV was turned off right before the contestants started dripping sweat into their sauces. “Wait,” she said, collapsing onto me, “can you put on some music or something?” She didn’t elaborate — she didn’t have to — we both knew my…

Justin Gawel

An adult baby living in Northern Michigan — @justingawel /

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