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I sat back in the Lazyboy, Raydog shotgunned the couch, Scott rummaged the refrigerator, and Mike laid in bed. He'd been out cold since 2 AM, Super Bowl Eve. We were slothing our way through the seven hour pregame: Super Bowl XXXII, the Houston Oilers vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the results of free-agency and team salary caps.
"Seeger, you know anyone with a white mini van that has a picture of a house on the side?" Scott was leaning over the sink trying get a glimpse of the vehicle pulling into our yard.
I figured it out right away. The van that he was referring to just happened to be the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes vehicle. "Oh my god! Ed McMahon is at my house," were the only words I could utter. And I uttered them repeatedly as I broke out of the gates and down the track towards the door.
Scott beat me there. He had the door open before the men in the black suits could give the infamous suprize knock. "Wha'd I win! Wha'd I win!" Scott was jumping around like a little kid before Christmas.
"Is there a Mr. Beau Jay Seeger here?"
"That's me!" I was sliding across the linoleum on my wool socks, my eyes ready to fall out of there sockets.
"You've just won TEN MILLION DOLLARS..." is all I heard. My brain was thumping the rhythm of my heart, my toes were tingling in my eyes, my muscles were frigid under my skin, and I could not remember who or where I was.
When I came around to reality I could hear Scott say, "If what?" I must have not been away from reality for more than a few seconds.
The man in the black suit, who wasn't Ed McMahon, replied, "If you can show us that you are worthy of receiving this award."
I was confused. I thought that they just gave you the balloons, flowers, and the million dollars. He saw the pitiful look on my face. It was as if he'd just pulled a sucker out of a baby's mouth.
"Mr. Seeger, as the members of the Publisher's Clearing House, we are obligated to find someone who can communicate on a basis of individuality. We are distributors of a wide variety of various print manuscripts that circulate around our United States of America on a daily basis.
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"I'm Not an Original." 123HelpMe.com. 25 Jan 2020
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"Get to the point," I said about a minute later. "We need two original essays from you to put into our PCH Winner's magazine. They have to be of your own style. If they do resemble in any way, shape, or form the style of anyone else, you will be disqualified from the sweepstakes. We will give you two topics and two hours to complete the required procedure. If you fail to follow by the two simple rules, originality and the time frame to do the procedure, you will not win the ten million dollars or the balloons and flowers." This was turning into a nightmare.
"What do you mean by originality?" I looked at Scott to confirm my question. He was shaking his head like had taken an upper-cut from Mike Tyson.
The black suited man cued his partner the other black suited man by handing him a three page leaflet. He paged through it quick and returned to my question. "O.K. Let's say for instance that we gave you the category of baseball home run hitters for one of your essays." At least this guy spoke human and on my level. "You'd of course have to write on that subject from your view and in your style. You would not want to describe Frank Thomas hitting a home run with sentences like this: 'And in the bottom of the second with no one aboard Big Frank sends this ball backBackBACK...Gone! Into the cheap seats where even this depressed fan can't reach it.'" He rose his hands violently when he screamed "Gone!". I could see that this was a real person.
"Sounds too much like the Sport's Center guys, huh?" "Exactly, but you'd also hate to have to face the tough question 'Describe the decay of Western culture and modern despair'. We've only had one guy answer that with an original answer."
"Who was that?" I asked.
"I can't quite remember. It was before my time, but I've heard the story passed down through the Clearing House generations. He was a pretty famous guy I think. Went by his initials and his last name. He answered the question in the form of a poem and since none of us Clearinghouse guys are into those artsy things, they couldn't make hide nor hair of it. It looked like a bunch of random ideas. He published it and won some awards so they gave him the money. That was back when they gave the contestants five or six years to write the essay." I knew who he was talking about, but held off on the corrections because he blurted out, "It was called 'The Junkyard' or 'Waste Yard' or somethin' like that and I think the guy was St. Ellot." I didn't want to hurt my chances at winning the money by telling this guy that everyone in our culture should know what that poem is. The irony may have sank in to his skull and pissed him off.
He got onto the topic of news events next and told me not to sound like a reporter for the news or newspapers. I understood, "Let's get to it."
The first man in the black suit walked over to the van and grabbed a black bag and a black case. He brought it over to me and handed me the case. I opened it to find, not money, but a notebook and four sharpened pencils. "Here," he said, "grab two slips of paper out of the bag and get to work."
I set the stuff on the kitchen table and opened the first topic: Describe a country you've never been to. "Alright, no problem," I thought to myself, "as long as they stay simple."
I opened the second topic and sank my head down on the table. Both of the "suits" saw this and began laughing under their breath.
"Looks like you got one of the toughies." One of them said. "Which one is it?" The other asked choking back his giggle. I told them. It was the question only "St. Ellot" could answer. When they heard this the two bastards broke out into a fit. The human like "suit" was lying on his back in my lawn kicking his feet and holding his gut in. The other was leaning up against the door with his head down. He was nearly in tears. So was I.
After two hours they left with my two papers and said they would be back in a week with my evaluation and prize - if I were to get one. I slept a maximum three hours per night until the next Sunday. I didn't eat more than a meal or two until Wednesday and I think I smoked three cartons of smokes by Thursday. Friday my roomies started planning what I would be able to buy with ten million dollars. Saturday I had a nervous breakdown around one o'clock. It was caused by the stress of money and hearing "But Tony said John Black killed him..." over and over on Days of Our Lives. Finally they showed up and gave me the evaluation. It looked like this:
Essay #1 - Describe a place you've never been.
Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes
We walked along the hard dirt trail. Old dried up women with baskets hunching their necks passed us all day. Sometimes children followed them; bundles of sticks for firewood were strapped on their backs. Someone told me that the baskets were half full of cornmeal. I think they were mostly half empty.
India is a strange place; all these people and no food or money. How do they survive?
We kept walking. Men, women, daughters, and sons all burnt from the harsh rays bent over withering plants selecting a few to give water. Weeds and insects were minimal. Another told me that when there is a good season adequate for a bumper crop (minimal yield to no yield in the U. S.) the insects infest the area.
"A plague?" I asked.
We walked on. Several houses didn't have roofs. I suppose the lack of rain contributed. Young children with no clothing sat outside the dusty dwellings grinding what looked to be small baseball bats in pottery bowels. Insect Man explained the process of grinding the little crop they had for meal. I didn't quite understand what he meant. "They make it into patties and bake it for dinner." I wondered what else they ate.
Nothing. This was the meal of the day.
And we continued. There were cattle roaming over the next horizon. Skinny and frail, but they would make a meal...wouldn't they? The Basket Explainer jumped in on this question. "These idiots here believe that cows hold a supernatural power. They won't even eat them when the cattle drop dead." I didn't believe that people starving would not eat beef. Insect Man backed his buddy on this, though.
I guess that was the way it was. It's not my fault they won't eat steak.
We walked for six more hours. A flat area laid out like the rest: Bent over burnt farmers, muddy grass shacks, unfed children, ribbed cattle, and broken old women. It was the same except for a minor detail. We were going to buy it dirt cheap. Soon large steel pumps would throb out the workday as they sucked dry the black belly beneath the soil.
Comments: You get to slide on this one. It sounds a bit like "Journey to Marrakesh" and is trying to say more than the essay required. But, because we don't know what you are trying to say between the lines we will accept this. Well done.
My heart began thumping. I was one essay away from being rich! I knew I'd do it. My second essay was longer than the first. I had this in the bag, so I quickly looked at the next sheet:
Essay #2- Describe the decay of Western culture and modern despair.
Seeger, Beau Jay
Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes
There once was a boy who we will call The Contemporary American Poet. He had a nice family who wanted only the best for him. The Contemporary American Poet also wanted to please his family, so likewise he wanted the best for himself. He worked hard in school and did fairly well. He played baseball and would be playing football in just a few years.
The father of the The Contemporary American Poet wanted more than ever for his son to grow up and be an all-conference athlete and honor roll student. He wanted his son to attend college and be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, businessman. He was like many fathers. He bought The Contemporary American Poet footballs for Christmas, bikes for "A" report cards. He took The Contemporary American Poet to baseball games and watched Monday Night Football with him. He brought his boy to his plant and talked highly about his lawyer and business friends.
The Contemporary American Poet loved and respected his father with all his heart.
One day The Contemporary American Poet came home with a report card that had two B's on it. His father was not alarmed until he found out they were in Biology and Algebra. The Contemporary American Poet tried to justify it with the fact that he had A's in Art, English, Band, and Communications. His father told that it wouldn't get him anywhere in life except for maybe Communications. The Contemporary American Poet told his dad that he had received the highest point total in the Art class and was going to be published in the school newspaper for a poem he'd written. His father said that this was all nice but only queers write poems or people who want a nervous breakdown and want to be on drugs or in a mental institution. He also told The Contemporary American Poet that he could never make money in this field and would never be happy; he'd always be struggling to eat.
The Contemporary American Poet was confused because he liked art and liked to write - especially poetry. He went on doing the art and English to please himself, but he also had to improve his science and math grades. This left less time to do his art and soon he began to loose interest. The Contemporary American Poet began to play on the varsity football and baseball teams (he still loved his arts) but he liked sports also.
The Contemporary American Poet went on to graduate from H.S. and College and become a successful car salesman. The Contemporary American Poet never wrote a poem after the 10th grade. The Contemporary American Poet never got published. The Contemporary American Poet never won any literature awards. The Contemporary American Poet never changed anyone's perceptions, but he thought he was happy.
Comments: Cry me a river. This looks like a fairy tale. It is too far off the subject and is an imitation of that story "Run Rabbit" by Josh Updike. The style is a cross of Ernest Hemingway trying to do Updike for a story to tell to children. Sorry, we can't accept this. All of the styles have been used before. Our sincerest apologies.
I'd never read John Updike. I guess I'm not an original.