Very Short Stories
(Remastered with Bonus Features)

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The Disappointment

When he made it home, he kicked off his shoes and went straight to the kitchen. There was a familiar shape under the oven light.

“Mmmm,” he said. “Someone’s baking banana bread.”

He walked over, opened the oven door, inhaled deeply, and leaned in for a closer look.

“Oh,” he said. “Someone’s baking a meatloaf.”

Sunrise at the Campground

Light breaks through the insect screen overhead. Dew runs down the sides of the tent. Birds begin singing and roosters begin crowing. Cigarette smokers begin hacking and spitting.

Kate’s Positive Attitude

Kate: Let’s play hockey.
Paul: We don’t have any equipment.
Kate: I have a hockey stick!
Paul: That’s broken.
Kate: Then we have TWO hockey sticks!

Depth-perception Etiquette

When walking past a stranger, it is considered normal and polite to say hello. From a distance greater than fifty feet, it is not.

Format Change

Jeff had been working with computers all day. It was nearly midnight when he got home. He was so tired, he headed straight to the bedroom, where his wife, Hannah, was already asleep. When he turned on the light, she opened her eyes.

Unfortunately, Jeff forgot he had changed the type style, or font, on his face to Times New Roman. Normally, he kept his face in Helvetica. Not recognizing him, Hannah assumed he was an intruder and screamed.

Jeff was trying to decide whether to explain the situation or change his facial font back to normal when Hannah threw her clock radio at him and his system crashed.

The Unfinished Sentence

The amount of pubic hair in the sink seemed to indicate

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, “The Spowl Ribbon,” is available online at paullundgren.com.


Attack on America

It’s Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, 10:30 a.m. I’m standing in my kitchen munching on an apple. Suddenly, a huge man who looks like the pro wrestler Razer Ramon comes thundering through the front door announcing that he is an employee of the Water and Gas Dept. and needs to read the meter.

Without asking for identification or taking any security precautions whatsoever, I show him to the basement stairway and resume chomping on my apple. Soon, my basement housemates greet Razer Ramon and he starts talking to them about how the country is at war.

“We’re at war, dude,” I hear him say. “Haven’t you turned on the TV or the radio yet?”

I turn on the television and see a huge cloud of smoke and debris where the World Trade Center once stood. The news anchor explains that two hijacked passenger jets smashed into the towers, causing them to collapse.

Razor Ramon seems to be less shocked about what happened in New York than he is that no one in my house has turned on a television or radio yet. He repeats at least three times, “I can’t believe you haven’t had the TV on yet.”

After a few seconds Razor Ramon and my housemates join me in the living room to watch the news coverage. Ten minutes later, Razor Ramon decides he better get back to work. Shortly after that my housemates break off to go grocery shopping.

I’m transfixed, and stay on the couch watching the live broadcast and repeated crash and collapse videos. I’ve seen enough death on the news to be somewhat desensitized to it, but this is different. It’s death on a grand scale, through bizarre tactics, with remarkable and chilling results.

As much as I want to take what’s happening seriously, though, the various TV stations keep attempting to over-dramatize what’s happening (as if it isn’t dramatic enough on its own) by coming up with awesome titles. “Attack on America” is the first one I notice. Then I turn the station to see “Day of Terror” — which takes the word tacky to a new extreme.

As the clock creeps past noon, I decide to report to work at the local weekly newspaper, where I’m being phased out of employment. As I walk down Superior Street, everything looks normal in Duluth, but it feels really weird. Everyone is watching each other for clues about how we are supposed to behave. The assumption at this point is that everyone knows what has happened, and the world is supposed to have changed, even though nothing has really changed in Duluth. It’s a normal day, except for the news.

At the Ripsaw office, the television is on for the first time I can remember. I go into the lounge area every 10 minutes, watch a few replays, sigh, shake my head and go back to work. Everyone else does the same thing.

It’s Election Day, so when I leave work I have two hours to vote in the City Council races before I’m due at a dinner party. Because I have recently moved to a new precinct, I have to find a registered voter in my neighborhood to vouch for me at the polling place. None of my housemates are home, so I end up going door to door, wondering if people will be suspicious of me under the circumstances. Eventually I find a guy who is willing to go vote with me if I’ll wait until he finishes dinner.

I end up arriving late to my scheduled dinner party, where a guest is informing everyone that her brother works in the World Trade Center. She woke up this morning to her sister screaming at her through the telephone about what might have happened. Later in the day they were told their brother was not at work and is alive and well.

Despite the good news, this dinner guest is obviously still shaken by the day’s turn of events. She expresses relief about her brother’s safety, but she is noticeably hurt that many of her brother’s coworkers — one of which is his best friend — are probably dead. Within two minutes, the dinner conversation changes to a new subject and the whole table is loudly laughing and joking as if no one died today.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, “The Spowl Ribbon,” is available online at paullundgren.com.


Speech to the Denfeld Class of 1991

Here we are at Mr. D’s Bar & Grill for our 20-year high-school reunion. I’d like to say right off the bat that this place has never stopped playing music from our generation, but go ahead and lose your mind when Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” comes on the sound system, as if it’s a really special moment that’s taking you back to the old days for the first time since our 10-year reunion.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could possibly escape the music from our high school days at some point, maybe just for a month or so, to allow us the opportunity to legitimately get nostalgic about it at our reunions?

It seems that making fun of our era has actually become its own cliché. Protruding bangs and curly mullets! M.C. Hammer! White Lion! Zubaz! Winger! Pinning pants at the ankles! Church Lady! Vanilla-freaking-Ice! Our high-school years are indisputably cheesy when we focus on popular culture, because popular culture is always cheesy, whether it’s sock hops and poodle skirts, disco and bell bottoms, or sexting and Justin Bieber. Those are not the things that bind a class together.

Having been sequestered in the same building for a handful of formative years is what makes us brothers and sisters. We certainly didn’t all get along and love each other unconditionally — that’s for sure — but a great number of friendships were forged around that clock tower, and that’s what we celebrate tonight. Professing Denfeld exceptionalism and calling upon our “Hunter Pride” are not really necessary.

On a side note concerning the bonds of our shared experience, it’s interesting to consider that some of our classmates actually managed to marry each other. Though most of us had to move on to find long-term requited love — or are perhaps still searching — it’s nice to know some of our Denfeld family’s incestuous romances continue to this day, producing inbred children who will soon have their own chances at finding high school sweethearts. Hopefully they’ll be sparking on each other to a better song than Motley Crüe’s “Without You.”

High school is but a microcosm of our lives, of course, and I have little doubt that all of us have at some point been on both ends of the bullying that occurs as we joust for status throughout our existence. When reunions roll around it can bring up yearnings for atonement. Let us forgive our 20-year-old trespasses. You shouldn’t have called me a dork, and I shouldn’t have dropped a spitball down the back of your pants. I’m glad we can move on now.

Five of our classmates are deceased, and as the old joke goes, some of you aren’t feeling so hot yourselves. I’m relieved to say I feel fantastic at age 38, and if any of you are taking what you have for granted, I have a pair of slippers for you. They’re Doug Bragg’s slippers.

Doug died from leukemia 17 years ago, and his slippers have been making the rounds ever since. I’ve had them for about two years now. When something silly starts to upset me, I put them on. About three seconds of that straightens me out.

Though I am sentimentally attached to Doug’s slippers, I’ll pass them on to you in a minute if you’d like them. You are part of the family, after all.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, "The Spowl Ribbon," is available online at paullundgren.com.



One summer night in 1992, when I was 19 years old, I came home from doing something forgettable and found three of my friends waiting for me in the parking lot. They said I should grab a flashlight and come with them on an adventure.

We drove across town to a building on East Fifth Street, tucked in a residential area. It was called Old Main, centerpiece of the old Duluth Normal School campus, which later expanded to become the University of Minnesota Duluth.

I was well aware of UMD, but I didn’t know about Old Main, which was built in 1901 and closed in 1985. It consisted of classrooms, administrative offices, a library and an auditorium. Two neighboring buildings were still in use by the university as office and research space, but Old Main was dark and boarded up.

Jeff, the leader of our expedition, brought us to the west side of Old Main and pointed at an open window on the second floor.

“That’s where we get in,” he said. “All we have to do is climb up this fire escape and shinny along that ledge.”

The windows on the upper floors weren’t boarded, so some of the rooms were dimly lit by the streetlights outside. We mostly kept our flashlights off to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, but when we came to darker rooms we used them.

It’s a little nerve-wracking to wander into an unfamiliar building at night, but we weren’t overly frightened. When we entered one room and flushed some pigeons, however, there was a split second we all thought death was upon us.

Eventually, we found the way to the attic. Although we weren’t afraid of most of the building, we couldn’t bring ourselves to go up there. It might have been the amount of pigeon dung, it might have been that gaining access was tricky, or it might have been the notion that attics are extra spooky. It was probably all three.

We left the building with no injuries and no police attention. A few days later, we decided to return in broad daylight and go up into the attic. It was a large space and proved to be the highlight of the Old Main experience. We found a box of enrollment cards up there from the early 1900s. Had we found it at night, ghosts would have stolen our souls for sure.

Jeff discovered the building’s telephone system was still wired up, so we came back again with a boombox and connected it. Then we made a mix tape of creepy sound effects and invited some girls to come into the building with us at midnight on Halloween.

Our plan worked at first. We managed to get the girls into the building, and Jeff was able to sneak away from the group to activate the sound system, but the music ended up making it obvious that we were trying to scare the girls, which made the whole experience entirely not scary for anyone.

Halloween 1992 was the last time we were inside Old Main. A developer announced plans to convert the building into apartments shortly after, but on February 23, 1993, a fire gutted it. A different group of young people had gained entry, and one set fire to a seat in the auditorium.

The remains of Old Main were mostly demolished and removed, with some of the bricks sold as a fundraiser, but the red sandstone arches are still there … memories of sweet, glorious trespassing.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. This story is excerpted from a longer version on Perfect Duluth Day, which contains photos, more info about the building, and comments from other hooligans who entered the building.


Things She Said, Part Two

Cammie said she has mice in her basement. She told me she catches them in sticky traps and takes them to more upscale neighborhoods to set them free.

"I want them to have better lives," she said.

* * *

Christine said she has mixed feelings about guys who drive pickup trucks.

"On icy winter days, when they race past my car at dangerous speeds, it pisses me off," she said. "They think they're so high and mighty up there, with their four-wheel drive, extended cab, gas-guzzling beast splashing slush up onto my windshield.

"But when I get stuck in a ditch and a guy with a pickup shows up with a tow chain and voluntarily crawls around in the dirt to hook up my car and pull me out for free, he gives all the pickup truck guys a good name."

* * *

Stephanie said a lot of bizarre things in her sleep. Suddenly she'd sit up and look at me with disgust, then blurt out something confusing.

"Why are you green?" she asked one night. "Are you full of crayons?"

* * *

Billie Jo said her dog took off after a rabbit one morning and chased it around the yard. In a state of panic, the rabbit tried to smash through one of the two-inch-square holes in the chain-link fence to escape.

"Being thicker than two inches, the rabbit got stuck in the fence," she said. "Its little head and front legs made it through, but its hind legs and ass were trapped inside the yard. Morgan was so stunned by this she didn’t even bite the rabbit and rip it apart like usual. She just stood there and sniffed its butt. The poor rabbit kept trying to run, but it was like it was on a treadmill -- those little legs kept chugging along, but that rabbit wasn’t going anywhere."

Billie Jo spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to free the rabbit from the fence.

"I didn't know whether I should just squeeze his little hind legs and shove him through or what. Eventually I grabbed some wire snips and cut the fence. The poor thing hobbled away and probably got mauled by something else before noon."

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, "The Spowl Ribbon," is available at the Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.