We are proud to present our winners of the 7th Annual David Sedaris Humor Writing Contest! Congratulations and thank you to all that submitted. We loved reading your creative, hilarious stories.
“Johnson v Johnson” by Vera Burrows
In the Los Angeles Superior Court, Western Division
Case No. 10:14-Hum-222B-ENG-137.1
Judge Sean M. Mosman, Presiding
Plaintiffs John and Meryl Johnson make the following allegations against defendant John Johnson Jr. upon their personal knowledge, the investigation of their counsel, and information and belief as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson welcomed into their home John Johnson Jr. upon his birth on 28 November—Thanksgiving Day—of 1974. As a young child, Mr. Johnson Jr (hereinafter “Defendant”) proved to be a reliable individual who showed polite consideration toward his parents. This led Mr. and Mrs. Johnson to believe that the Defendant understood the contract between parent and child that implies that parents share their resources while the child uses them to improve himself and appreciate whatever sacrifice his parents go through, and thus Mr. and Mrs. Johnson proceeded to extend every opportunity and fulfill every need the Defendant required to thrive as a loving and productive individual.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson state that nourishment and full medical coverage was provided for the Defendant since knowledge of his existence in-utero was confirmed by a qualified medical care specialist. Since his birth, the Defendant was provided for on a daily basis and at consistent intervals with nutritious meals, which included but were not limited to breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as intermittent snacks. He was also provided with full clean under and outer wear, as well as shoes, a clean bathroom and a fully furnished bedroom until the age of thirty. These items and services were provided for without any expense to the Defendant’s person and the various receipts of all these expenses add to the amount of $950,000 and are marked under Exhibit A.
Throughout the span of over eighteen years, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson invested in Mr. Johnson Jr.’s athletic training in soccer, baseball, football, basketball, and lacrosse with the understanding that the Defendant was interested in becoming a professional athlete in one or more of the afore mentioned athletic disciplines. Furthermore, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson invested in a trombone, a saxophone, a complete drum set, and a piano, plus lessons in each of these instruments, (for which receipts are marked under Exhibit B and add to $850,335.21), with the understanding that the Defendant was actively and personally invested in pursuing a career in music, inducing Mrs. Johnson to seek employment outside the home in order to cover these costs. Let it be stated that, after years of training, the Defendant is neither a professional athlete nor a professional musician, and all of the Defendant’s instruments and athletic equipment continues to take up space in Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s garage without compensation for storage.
While in high school, the Defendant consistently squandered his time and efforts and invested very little or no time in doing his chores, cleaning his room, doing his homework or studying for tests or the SAT’s. As a result of at least of one these, Mrs. Johnson temporarily lost her voice and necesitated weekly therapy in order to cope with the Defendant’s lethargy that led to a lack of cooperation around the home. Mr. Johnson sought and requested overtime in his employment as a plumber in order to cover the ever growing expenses of raising the Defendant and Mrs. Johnson’s medical expenses. Despite the growing costs of living, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson provided the Defendant with driving lessons and a vehicle, plus fuel, auto insurance, and regular maintenance on the afore mentioned vehicle, as well as a weekly allowance for his personal expenses.
Due to the Defendant’s apathetic academic performance, the University of California Los Angeles denied him admission. After receiving rejections from other far less prestigious universities, the Defendant finally gained admission into the University of Southern California, but, because of the his dismal academic record, the Defendant failed to qualify for any scholarships or grants to help cover the cost of tuition and housing. Therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were forced to invest an exhorbitant amount of money in a university degree of lesser value. Ultimately, however, it did not matter, as the Defendant decided university life did not suit him and he dropped out one semester short of graduation despite the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had taken out a second mortgage on their home to cover the Defendant’s non-refundable tuition.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson state that due to influences from the University of Southern California, the Defendant was involved in several DUI cases. In two separate cases the Superior Court of Santa Monica required him to enter a rehabilitation and treatment center—one for driving backwards on the southbound 405 freeway at two in the morning and the other for crashing into an innocent and unsuspecting tree. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were forced to cash-out their 401k plans and take out a third mortgage on their home in order to cover the expenses of the Defendant’s rehabilitation, pay damages on the tree, and ensued further costs when Mrs. Johnson suffered a mental breakdown when the Defendant called her from the LA County Jail after being arrested for streaking during a UCLA/USC football game’s halftime. (Documentation including pictures and video footage from the game are presented under Exhibit C.)
Because Mr. and Mrs. Johnson no longer have any equity, 401K plans, or savings, they have not heard from the Defendant for the past five years and now respectfully request that the Court take into consideration the financial and emotional hardships the Defendant has put them through for the past thirty-five years and assess punitive damages through a quarterly phone call from the time of this Court’s award until the eventual demise of Mr. or Mrs. Johnson, whichever comes last. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson seek damages for medical expenses and missed sleep, rest, and vacation time in the form of the Defendant spending an entire day in their home during the Thanksgiving holiday of every year until the eventual demise of Mr. or Mrs. Johnson, whichever comes last. Furthermore, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson request a hand-written thank you letter from the Defendant addressed to both of them acknowledging their lifelong efforts and loss of investments in raising the Defendant and expressing his sincere gratitude, as well as a Mother’s Day card addressed to Mrs. Johnson every year hence until her demise, and a Father’s Day card addressed to Mr. Johnson every year until his demise. By awarding all of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s requests, this Court will set a much needed precedent toward ungrateful offspring who breach their natural parent-child contract by depleting parental resources and then failing to demonstrate gratitude and love.
“Closer” by Nick Lane
When Dennis McCleary began choking on a mini-hotdog at Tom’s birthday party, he was about to interrupt our conversation with some great wisecrack. His body language carried all the hallmarks of what would have been a classic Dennisism: his index finger rising to indicate he had something good, the half-smile that overtook his mouth as if even his facial muscles—with their advance knowledge of the joke—couldn’t keep it together. But at the very moment Dennis was to deliver the killer line, a joke that would have been repeated for weeks at the Y and Jack’s Bar with one of us starting, “Did you hear the latest from McCleary?” or even trying to pawn the joke off as our own, Dennis McCleary inhaled sharply, pointed to his mouth, ran around the party exhibiting wild, compelling colors—rosewood, eggplant—and fell down dead.
None of us admitted it, but despite his autumnal colors and the convincing thud with which he hit the ground, we considered the possibility of a ruse and didn’t want to be the first one duped. Thankfully, Dr. Slota attended the party and wasn’t as incredulous—which in the past always made him an easy target. The doctor tried all the common methods for revival as we called the paramedics or watched on, comforting one another. In the end, Dr. Slota said the mini-hotdog was lodged too tightly, and shouldn’t even be regarded as mini, given its diameter. After our initial shock, we praised his efforts, feeling secret shame about our own hesitance.
The coming days held a degree of personal guilt. Tom felt responsible since the party had been in his honor, going as far as to say that had he never been born, Dennis would still be alive today. Jo-Ann Price held that, as host of the party, the blame should reside with her. When Dr. Slota requested a defibrillator, she found her home unequipped. She couldn’t be comforted by the fact that few of us knew what a defibrillator was, most thinking it sounded like a kind of lie detector.
The greatest degree of guilt naturally fell on Pam, who had brought the mini-wieners to the party. Her shame reached a pinnacle at 14th Street Café, where, overhearing Dennis’s name, she announced to the establishment that she would supply only tapioca pudding to potlucks from now on because her tapioca pudding never killed anybody.
For a moment, the café hushed in reverence, such that even the cooks through the ticket window stopped clanking their pans. We then heard something that sounded like either sobbing or suppressed laughter—they can sound so similar. There it was again, and it was laughter, though unclear from where it came. We looked around, affecting disapproval. Yet each of us, conjuring the notion of a murderous pudding, found ourselves with an involuntary smirk. Smirks gave way to breathy chuckles, and soon the whole restaurant roiled with laughter so that even Pam had to cover her face and give in.
Dennis McCleary choking on that mini-hotdog had fostered something he shunned in his waking life: seriousness. We’d shun it too.
The impudence spread from the café to the dog park where Sofia Hubbard remarked, “Well, Dennis did always like to ham it up!” At the Shell station, Ronnie Job exclaimed to the attendant that Dennis’s death was the “wurst” way to go, then literally spelled it out. There were half-baked jokes about Dennis being killed by the Hamburgler or being driven away in a hambulance, all of which Dennis himself could have punched up and delivered twice as well.
However clunky or mis-told, the puns liberated us from graveness. Some of us even wondered if McCleary intentionally choked on that dog, as his final setup, to live on forever in our punch lines. Still others of us wondered if death was ever funny, or when it stopped being funny. Was it dependent on number of dead, or cause of death? Did it differ based on person? For example, was the death of this jolly, privileged, white male nearing old age funnier than, say…but then we decided not to say. Probably not all deaths lend themselves so enthusiastically to humor.
Regardless of the decency, our jokes on the matter began to take on uniformity, a formula. We centered around Dennis’s last words—that is, what they might have been had he succeeded in getting them out. From what we could remember, the conversation in which Dennis seemed eager to interject had been about compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs). What one-liner could have roused Dennis’s comedic senses so strongly that it caused him to inhale a mini-wiener?
Some of us mused over this premise when we got together at Jack’s Bar the after the funeral. We sat at a big table in the center of the bar with pints of beer and cracked open peanut shells. The gag usually started like this: “Did you hear about old Dennis McCleary’s last words?”
Jamie Rodriguez, the high school’s English teacher, threw one out, asking, “You hear about McCleary’s last words? He said, ‘Avenge me! Eat more Ham…let.” We pretended we got it and laughed along, mentally workshopping our own.
“No, no, no,” Kate Mizuski interjected. “Dennis’s last words were going to be, ‘I’ve relished my time with all of you.’” This one brought our table, most of whom had been over-served at the reception, to the edge of civility, cheering and applauding.
We caught the attention of the other few patrons, including a shawled Sharon McCleary, Dennis’s wife, now widow. No one had noticed her at the dark corner table, her back to us. Now she approached us with a worn, blotchy face—she had been crying. We went silent and looked down to our drinks in shame. She stood at the head of the table and said to us, “What he was going to say was, ‘When I come back, I want it to be a foot long.’”
“The Vile” by Alison Wolff
She sat on her couch with terrible posture. The more times she hit refresh, the less times her eyes blinked. Stagnant, only her fingers moved. She watched as another person liked her profile picture, and refreshed and refreshed until she had at least thirty. Her Mom called. “Busy,” she texted. “Will call later.” She’s now at thirty-five. She grabbed her phone and opened Tinder. Swipe left, left, left, left, left, eh maybe right. Back on facebook, she was at forty. She closed that tab and returned to her Spanish assignment. It asked, “Que es la actividad más popular de esta generación?” After completing what felt like hours of assignments (but was actually thirteen minutes), she signed back in. Fifty-seven likes. She cracked some sort of smile.
Her name was Monica James, and she was considered ordinary. An ordinary girl on an ordinary day doing ordinary things. She loved eating brownies, watching Netflix, petting puppies, and sleeping. Like any other girl, she showered once a day and brushed her teeth twice a day. She got mostly B’s in her classes, though she did get a C- in a Geology class two years ago. She believed in God, but never prayed or went to Church on a Sunday morning. Monica was 5’7’’ and slightly overweight, though she still got laid occasionally. With her roommate she watched the The Bachelor, and criticized every contestant. On the weekends, she got plastered at bars and sang kareoke. Her favorite song to sing was “Before he Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. Though she tried desperately to stand out, she was much better at fitting in. She believed herself to be special, and she thought she could have a substantial impact on the world. Sadly, to practically every other human on Earth, Monica was not special. Try as she might, Monica would always be ordinary, and everyone would always agree. Everyone, that is, except for the Achrysumpians. To them, Monica James was extraordinarily perfect.
You see, in the year 2600 BC, an intelligent species from a planet called Achrysumpia discovered Earth and humanity. At that time, in Achrysumpian culture, a popular God named Glorgus was worshipped by the entire population. Glorgus was believed to be inside everyone, encapsulated in the empathetic part of the soul. Somewhere, though, Glorgus existed in his own form, a compilation of all the tiny bits of souls. Thus, Glorgus and only Glorgus carried the wisdom of his kind, because he alone had the sole power to understand things from the perspective of all. When a very religious group of Achrysumpians left their planet to find the kingdom of Glorgus, they did not uncover this coveted shared wisdom. Instead, they discovered something almost in direct opposition to Glorgus’s preachings, and that was the planet Earth.
On Earth, the discoverers marveled at the blues and greens, for on Achrysumpia the only colors are shades of yellow. They found themselves incredibly strong on the planet Earth. Tired after journeying across barren lands to survey the planet, one young Achrsumpian picked up a few rocks and tossed them in a circle to create seats for the Achrysumpians to rest. The stones aligned in such a perfect manner, that Earthlings were perplexed for centuries over the formation’s existence. We now know this Achrysumpian formation as the Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.
When they did finally reach human society, though, the Achrysumpian interactions with the Earthlings failed miserably. This is when this initial group made their final discovery on the planet. To human beings on Earth, Achrysumpians are completely invisible.
Holy shit, you must be thinking! There are Achrysumpians following me everywhere, watching my every move, and I cannot see or hear them! How terrifying! But, you must be an Earthling for really thinking you are that interesting to a far more intelligent species. Do humans watch ants and follow their every move? Certainly not. To the majority of the population of Achrysumpia, you are merely a humanoid that exists outside of their lives on a faraway planet. But to the government of Achrysumpia, humans hold an entirely different purpose.
Achrysumpians as a species are blessed with many traits that humans completely lack, and which you could not possibly fathom. They have an aptitude for perfection. That is, when they attempt something they often get it right on the first try. But in a world of perfection, there is little individuality. With no individuality, there is no drive to progress their society. Achrysumpian society is and has always been unified, and has always been superior to societies on Earth in almost every way. However, with no competition, the Achrysumpians have made little progress to their intellectual and technological advancement. In the years examining Earth since 2600 BC, the Achrysumpian government has grown envious of the trajectory of human progress.
For a brief period of time, the Achrysumpians thought it was their duty to bring morality to the people of Earth. They witnessed numerous humanoids who came close to Achrysumpian obsequiousness, but sadly, each time egoism prevailed. But what they first considered a failure of Earth, they soon realized might be in fact a strength. Since this epiphany, the Achrysumpian government began to strive for that quintessentially human quality: the ego. The government made many attempts to progress the ego of its people, but have time after time failed miserably. Yes, humility runs rampant on Achrysumpia, and leading government officials are confident that it WILL end their planet. Without the competitive nature of self-interest, there is little or no incentive to improve. There is no Achrysumpian word for “win” or “lose.” The leading cause of death on the planet is oversharing.
Now, this all may seem a little far-fetched to the naked human eye. Of course, a population of selfless noodle-bodied citizens with a socialist agenda MUST be out for galactic domination. Sadly, however, that is not the case. They are just too self-effacing!
Here is where our story returns to Monica James, the average college girl. You see, the Achrysumpians developed a formula for the perfect amount of ego, through careful examination of the human brain and behavior. A whole team was assigned to the job: testing humanoids, and finding the perfect specimen. Monica James fit the criteria perfectly. She was intelligent enough to be at the top of her Economics class, yet self-obsessed enough to post bathroom selfies to her instagram. Deep-rooted in some crevice of her brain was the insatiable desire for recognition and success, which was a part of the brain missing in Achrysumpian genetic derivation. To this species from another planet, Monica was the perfect embodiment of human ego.
One night, as Monica lay in bed, re-watching her own snapchat story from the day before, she felt the ground shake. With what felt like invisible hands carrying her out of bed, she floated across the room, out the door, and into a nearby spaceship, which she could not see. She was quickly mobilized to Achrysumpia, where her life and the life would change forever.
The next morning, Monica’s absence was undetected by her roommates, whose heads were buried in their phones. In fact, it wasn’t until three days after her abduction that her friends finally realized she was gone. A search party erupted for her, and her friends and classmates applied make-up so they could fake cry on the news, and pray to God for her return.
Over in Achrysumpia, numerous tests were done on Monica and her brain. Planned for hundreds of Earth years, the team of Achrysumpian scientists were able to conduct the experiments flawlessly, and extract the ego from her brain in a number of minutes. They secured it in a vile, and promptly returned her to Earth.
Monica’s ten-year absence from Earth was dismissed almost instantaneously from the scope of the world. However, her return was an incredulous moment in Earthling history. Looking not a day older than 22 and with the memory of her abduction erased, Monica returned to Earth in 2025, blundered by the new and exciting technology of the time. She could not even recognize a cell phone anymore. Her youthful naïveté felt small in this ever-quickening society. In Achrysumpia, many took bets on what would become of Monica back on Earth, and her life was well-broadcasted on the planet. Some thought her new brain would bring a fresh spirit to Earth, that she would win the nobel peace prize or start a moral revolution.
In reality, though, Monica withered. Her lack of drive made her useless in Earthling society, and her inability to self-fulfill perplexed everyone. Twenty years after her return, she checked herself into a mental hospital, unable to empathize with the egoism around her.
Back in Achrysumpia, the vile of ego was contested and debated. Should they use it? Is the ego worth the potentiality for violence, abuse, genocide, totalitarianism, conflict, and hatred, as experienced in mankind? Years of debates followed the extraction from Monica’s brain, and the legality of the ego was the most controversial governmental action in Achrysumpian history.
One Achrysumpian, a particularly thin, noodle-bodied yellow one with a large family and a niched knowledge of human history, stood up at the court debates one day. Its name was Jopple. Jopple cleared its throat, opened its triangular mouth, and readied itself to speak. I will preface his words by letting you know that all Achrysumpians speak in rhyme, though this English translation hardly does the poeticism justice.
It opened its triangular mouth, and said, “Our hearts cannot ache for the sole purpose of progress for progress’s sake”
The crowd paused. The crowd applauded. And the Achrysumpians all returned to their daily lives, and no one on that planet would speak of the vile of ego ever again.