Young Adult Fiction: Medium Rare

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This is a short story that I wrote and self-published in 2013 or so called Medium Rare, about two college students living in the mid-1990s and trying to make sense of modern life. It started its life as a screenplay, but it’s too short and frankly, too weird for that medium and so, I reproduce it here, knowing that its merits might be found more in its message and style than in its plot.

It is a work of fiction.

Act One

Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to a wide lawn between two 1970s-era classroom buildings on a community college campus. Outmoded lamposts line a nearby path. It is September of 1996.

Cut to a girl dressed in flannel sitting on the steps of a classroom building, vigorously chewing her fingernails.

Cut to a central outdoor square where many unconventionally dressed students stand in small groups discussing their clothing. Then cut to a shy-looking boy wearing a plain T-shirt, sneakers and jeans, standing alone and looking awkward.

Cut to an outdoor bench upon which three female students sit with their back facing the camera. The first woman is reading a book. She is very small. The middle woman is scribbling something on a piece of paper. She is of average size. The third girl is biting her fingernails. She is fat. 

Fade to black. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence.

Cut to a green space between two buildings, where MELVIN walks casually, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him. 

Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.

Cut to a field where a large group of students paint on canvases during an art class is taking place. A PROFESSOR looks on as NELL splashes her canvas messily.

Professor: “The more you fuck it up, the better it is.”

Cut to a restaurant. SOPHIE sips her coffee matter-of-factly. Across from her, JOHN stares silently.

John: “Sophie, I have something to tell you. I’m in love with you.”

Sophie: “Lying fuck.”

John looks downcast. He takes a sip of coffee, then sets down his cup.

Cut to a dorm room. UJI, GEORGE and DARRIN sit on a couch in a tidy-looking living room watching a football game. No beer or food is present. The guys are dressed well. Suddenly, Darrin stands up and faces the other two.

Darrin: “Do you think we’re … pretty?”

George: “Naw.” 

Darrin sits down again. The three men resume their attention to the game.

Cut to the campus lawn. NELL and RYAN lay side by side, reading. Both are in their mid-twenties, average-looking and slightly nerdy. Nell wears a brown sweater and glasses. Ryan wears a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. 

Nell: “So. Here we are.”

Ryan: “Yup. Again.”

Nell: “Do you like being here?”

Ryan: “In college?”

Nell: “Yeah.”

Ryan: “Sure. It’s good. People are weird, though.”

Nell: “Yeah. People are weird. Everything is weird.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Nell: “Do you think … Are we weird?”

Ryan: “Probably. I don’t know. Are you?”

Nell: “I don’t feel weird. I think I might be … normal.”

Ryan: “I won’t tell anyone.”

Nell: “Thanks.”

Ryan: “I might be though.”

Nell: “Well, you probably are.”

Ryan: “I am?”

Nell: “Yeah, you are.”

Ryan: “How so?”

Nell: “You always want to figure everything out.”

Ryan: “Don’t you?”

Nell: “You know I do. But I don’t try so hard.”

Ryan: “Yeah. I suppose that’s true. Why don’t you? Try so hard?”

Nell: “I don’t know. Why do you?”

Ryan: “I don’t know. I guess because I think it’s possible.”

Nell: “You do?”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Nell: “Okay.”

Ryan: “Okay, what?”

Nell: “Okay. You’ve convinced me. Good argument.”

Ryan: “I’ve convinced you?”

Nell: “Yes. You’ve convinced me. Let’s figure it out.”

Ryan laughs. “Okay.”

Cut to a clothing store in a shopping mall. UJI, an Asian man of college age, tries on a jacket, then, solemnly, purchases the jacket. 

Cut to Uji’s apartment. Wearing the new jacket, he enters the apartment, switches on the light, and walks into his bedroom. He opens his bedroom closet, where there is a long line of black leather jackets hanging side by side. He takes off his shoes, places them in the closet, and shuts the door. Then he throws his new jacket over a chair, goes into his living room, and sits on his couch, a blank look on his face.

Cut to a meeting room. From the opposite side of a long table, an exceedingly cold, proper-looking woman interviews NATALIE RINDSTONE, a young female student, also very proper.

Interview: “As a quality control specialist for our company, you would assist in the process of ensuring end-user value so that future brand loyalists retain their positive impressions throughout the sales life cycle. How would you, Miss Rindstone, help enhance the value of our company?”

Natalie: “I would apply the maximum effort to all responsibilities entrusted to me. I believe I carry all necessary competence-related requirements to work well within your system of operations.”

Interviewer: “Our company prides itself in its reputation as the finest producer of its kind in the region. What unique, value-adding perspective will you bring to our organization?”

Natalie: “The work I do, whatever it may be, is a consistent expression of myself—and, therefore, it is art—the art of self.”

Interviewer: “What aspects of this company will best fit your personal goals for the future?”

Natalie: “Touché.”

Interviewer: “That will conclude our interview, Miss Rindstone. Thank you for your interest. We will be calling our choices later in the week.”

Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL reading. Suddenly, Nell rolls over, puts her book down and turns to Ryan.

Nell: “So. What’s our plan?”

Ryan: “You and your plans.”

Nell: “No, seriously. We need a plan.”

Ryan: “Gees, Nell. Now you’re getting excited.”

Nell: “I know. I hate that about myself. But what can you do.”

Ryan: “No. I’m kidding. It’s a good quality.”

Nell: “Really?”

Ryan: “Really.”

Nell: “Okay then. What should we do? I’m going to write this down.”

Ryan puts down his book. “Okay. Well, we’re already in college. That’s a start.”

Nell writes something down. “Do you really think that’s going to help?”

Ryan: “No.”

Nell: “All right. That’s not part of it, then.” She crosses something off her list. “Any other ideas?”

Ryan: “Watch movies? People learn a lot from movies. And books, of course.”

Nell writes something down. “What kinds of books?”

Ryan: “About the meaning of life?”

Nell: “Sounds good. What else?”

Ryan: “How about talking to people?”

Nell: “Hmmm … That could be awkward.”

Ryan: “That’s okay.”

Nell writes down something else. “Books, movies and talking.”

Ryan: “Not very specific.”

Nell: “No problem. We have time.”

Ryan: “When should we start?”

Nell: “Well, we’re reading right now, anyway.”

Ryan: “Yeah. Let’s go back to that.”

They return to their books.

Cut to a clothing store in a shopping mall. DARRIN is quickly, efficiently pawing through clothing racks. OLIVIA, his girlfriend, follows behind him, looking bored. He takes a shirt and examines it. 

Darrin offers Olivia the shirt. “Will you hold this?”

He hands it to her. She looks at it, then looks at him, annoyed, then takes the shirt.

Cut to a cafe. JOHN and SOPHIE sit quietly. Suddenly, John reaches over and takes Sophie’s hand.

John: “Will you be my girlfriend?”

Sophie: “(looking up) “I have one question for you: will you get jealous if I hang out with other guys?”

John: “No.”

Sophie: “Then no.”

Cut to a dorm room. JESSICA, a very pretty girl, applies makeup.

Cut to a busy street. Jessica is walking alone when a passing car full of college students suddenly slows alongside of her. After staring a moment, the students begin to cheer and clap in genuine approval of her appearance.

Jessica looks up, smiles graciously, and curtsys. 

Cut to the campus lawn. NELL and RYAN lie side by side.

Nell: “Some people say love is the meaning of life.”

Ryan: “I have heard that, yes. What do you think?”

Nell: “I don’t know. I guess there’s nothing better, anyway.”

Ryan: “No. I guess there isn’t.”

Nell: “Have you ever been in love?”

Ryan: “No. I guess not. And you?”

Nell: “No.”

Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.

Natalie Rindstone: “Love? Romantic love? I doubt it.”

Olivia: “Definitely.”

Uji: “Sex is how we propagate our species. So, yes.”

Darrin: “Metaphysical love? Or physical love? Physical love, no. Metaphysical love, yes. Probably.”

Jessica: “God is love. And he is what gives us meaning. So, yes. Love is the meaning of life.”

Sophie just laughs.

John: “(sadly) “I don’t know.”


Act Two

Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now December, and the trees are bare.

Cut to a classroom building. In the lobby sits a statue that resembles “The Thinker” by Rodin, with two differences: both of his hands are on his chin, and his shoulders are slumped.

Cut to the pathway by the campus lawn. A man and a woman, both extremely fat, walk side by side. We only see them from behind. Though they are using exuberant hand motions, their voices are not heard. After a few long moments, they turn out of sight. 

Cut to a green space between two buildings, where MELVIN walks casually, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him. 

Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.

Cut to the school cafeteria. While eating with a female friend, PENELOPE notices some spots on her skin.

Penelope: “I think I’m allergic to cauliflower. I’ve never been allergic to anything before.”

Cut to a lecture hall stage. GEORGE stands at the podium as the audience applauds. When they stop, George clears his throat then begins his speech. 

George: “Wow. Well. I never thought I’d be here. This is amazing. This award is so meaningful to me personally. It is a crucial award. It is a critical award given by the critics who make crucial decisions on who will indeed, in the future, be truly successful … It shows that, although my novel hasn’t actually been written yet, you, the Pen Futurist Foundation, believe in me. You’ve seen something. Something … unique. Original. Interesting. For that, I thank you. I dedicate this award to my future wife, my future children, and the future of the writing profession, as well as the future of the Pen Futurists. Thank you. Thank you.”

The audience applauds enthusiastically. 

Cut to a music room. HARRY, an overweight student, stands, clears his voice importantly, then begins to sing.

Harry: “Me me me me me!”

Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.

Ryan: “What about … religion?”

Nell: “I know a guy who says that he’d do anything for his religion.”

Ryan: “Yeah. I wonder if he really would.”

Nell: “That’s definitely the meaning of his life. And it makes sense, actually. What’s more important than what happens after you die?”

Ryan: “Nothing. Unless nothing happens. Then everything.”

Nell: “Yeah. Confusing, isn’t it?”

Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.

Jessica: “I am a very spiritual person. But I never really have time to pray.”

Harry: “I don’t think about dying. I’m still young.”

Penelope: “Jesus.”

Cut back to Ryan and Nell on the lawn.

Nell: “That didn’t help.”

Cut to a bus stop near campus. RYAN and NELL approach, joining the short line of people waiting there. Since the only bench available is wet (apparently from a recent rainfall), everyone is standing in front of the bench, facing the street— except one VERY OLD MAN who is facing the bench instead, staring at the advertisement that is painted on it. His face shows confusion mixed with contempt.

Ryan and Nell, last in the line, don’t notice the man. The bus comes, blocking the view of the people, then drives away, revealing the bench. 

A sign on the bench reads: “Get Your Icks Out of Life: Use Dust-Away. Now in Spearmint.”

Cut to a city bus. NELL pulls the cord next to the window to signal a stop. She and RYAN disembark and starts to walk down the street. They enter a café and nod hello to JOHN and SOPHIE, who are sitting at a booth. They order coffee, sit down, and pull out some books and start reading. 

Cut to the cafe. RYAN and NELL eating their meal quietly, reading. The waitress comes with the bill and clears their plates in silence. On top of the bill are two fortune cookies. Nell opens her fortune cookie and starts to read. 

Nell: “Wow. This is small print.” She brings it closer to her face. “You are a dreamer. You think in colors, not in words. In the end, your ideas, not your actions, will help you. You have a quiet way about you that perplexes others. This is okay; let them be perplexed. It is good for their souls.” She turns the paper over. “Last night, when you were awake yet still sleeping, you rolled over and said to no one in particular, ‘I hope my future is as great as I think it could be. Then I would be truly fulfilled.’ Your eyes are blue, and your face is full of shadows. Your hair is brown, removing some of that mystery. You received an A on your English term paper last year, but only got a B in the class because you didn’t participate enough. Because you prefer not to participate. This is okay; some live, while others think. You think. Keep thinking.”

Ryan: “I’m going to read mine.”

Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.

Nell: “I figured it out.”

Ryan: “You did?”

Nell: “Yes. I figured it out.”

Ryan: “Well?”

Nell: “Happiness.”

Ryan: “Of course. Happiness. Let’s try it.”

Nell nods eagerly.

Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.

Very old man: “Happiness? You’ll never find that as long as you’re looking for it. Don’t even bother.”

Uji: “Evolutionarily speaking, we’re designed to always want, and never to be satisfied. That’s what keeps us motivated to keep this thing going.”

Jessica: “Isn’t that kind of shallow?”


Act Three

Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now March.

Cut to the inside of a classroom building. In a large foyer, a replica of the Mona Lisa is shown up-close. The one difference: she’s wearing makeup.

Cut to the front of a different building on campus, where there is a sculpture resembling the David, with one difference: he is covering his genitals with one of his hands.

Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.

Cut to the path near the campus lawn. MELVIN roller skates down the path, with monkey, also on skates, following behind. Nearby, RYAN sits alone on the lawn, staring at Melvin.

Ryan: “That was awesome.”

Cut to a living room. A DRAB WOMAN watches TV near a large window. She looks out, seeing a family ride by on their bicycles, all wearing helmets, all smiling.

Suddenly interested, she looks across the street at a playground. All of the kids on it are wearing helmets, smiling. She stands up, then goes to another window in her house. 

She looks into her neighbor’s backyard. In a sandbox a little boy is playing, wearing a helmet—and smiling. The woman raises her eyebrows in surprise, then resumes watching TV.  

Cut to a different living room. GEORGE is sitting on a couch by himself, doing homework. In the next room, a bedroom, VERY OLD MAN is sitting on the bed, watching TV at a low volume. A dog is barking intermittently in the background.

George: “Are you going to the traffic violations class?”

Very old man: “What?”

George: “Are you going to the traffic violations class?”

Very old man: “What?”

George: “The traffic violations class!”

Very old man: “I can’t hear you.”

George: “This is just like a Sartre play!”

Very old man: “What?”

George: “Sartre!”

Very old man: “Oh!”

George: “Where they are trying to talk to each other across the room but can’t hear over the dog. Or Samuel Beckett.”

Very old man: “Samuel Beckett’s plays are meant to be read not seen.”

George: “Yeah. “

Cut to a grocery store. PENELOPE pays for her groceries and leaves, then returns to the cashier, saying she was given too much change. The cashier corrects the mistake. Penelope smiles up at her proudly.

Cashier: “Thanks for doing that. My register would’ve been off.”

Penelope: “It’s okay. I know how it is. I’ve worked in retail before. I hated it when my register was off. Even a few cents. We always kept some extra pennies next to it for when that happened …”

She continues chattering. There is a time lapse, and when we rejoin the two, she is still talking as the cashier is helping other customers.

Penelope: “… I’m allergic to cauliflower. I break out in hives. I wish I knew what to do about it. Do you know what to do about it? It’s driving me absolutely crazy.”

Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL are lying side by side on their backs, starting at the sky and look dejected. There is a pause, then Nell begins to write something. She writes for about a minute, then stops.

Nell: “I wrote a poem.”

Ryan sits up. “You want to read it to me?”

Nell: “Sure. It’s called ‘I wish there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was.’ Here it is: There is only one thing I want in life, and that is everything./Well, not everything, exactly. Just an understanding of everything, so that when I die I will know what to do./But if it isn’t possible to understand everything (which, let’s face it, seems to be the case), I would like to find a wall in the middle of the world/where everything was, so that even though I didn’t understand it I could at least observe it, and see what I could gather from the display.”

Ryan: “I like it, Nell.”

Nell: “Thank you.”

Ryan: “Do you really wish that?”

Nell: “Of course.”

Ryan: “So do I.”

Nell: “I know.”

Ryan: “How did you know?”

Nell: “I could just tell.”

Ryan: “I love you, Nell. You understand me.”

Nell: “I love you, too. You understand me, too.”

Ryan: “Do you think we’ll always be best friends?”

Nell: “I think that as long as we don’t have any other friends, we’ll have to be best friends.”

Ryan: “That’s true, I guess. But are we going to stop liking each other after a while like some other best friends do?”

Nell: “I don’t think so. But I don’t know.”

Ryan: “I don’t understand anything about life, Nell.”

Nell: “I know. That’s what makes you so sweet.”

Ryan: “Are you patronizing me?”

Nell: “No. That’s a good quality, being sweet. Don’t you think so?”

Ryan: “No, I don’t. I have never thought so.”

Nell: “That’s because you’re a guy. You don’t know that women actually like that. Good women, anyway.”

Ryan: “No, I guess I don’t know that.”

Nell: “I like that anyway.”

Ryan: “Well, I guess you’re a good woman, then.”

Nell: “You know it doesn’t work the other way around.”

Ryan: “If there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was, where do you think it would be?”

Nell: “Probably somewhere in Wyoming.”

Ryan: “We should go there.”

Nell: “Maybe we will.”

Cut to another part of the campus lawn. JOHN and SOPHIE sit side by side. 

John: “Do ya wanna go get coffee or something?”

Sophie: “Like a date?”

John: “Sure.”

Sophie: “I only date poets. Are you a poet?”

John: “No.”

Sophie: “Then no. Sorry.”

She walks away. 

RYAN and NELL, books in hand, sit on the lawn nearby, watching this.

Nell: “And they say college doesn’t prepare you for the real world.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Nell: “I wish it didn’t.”

Ryan: “What a disappointment.”

Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL lie side by side reading, as before.

Ryan: “So Nell, I was wondering … Have we ever made out?”

Nell: “Why? You want to make out with me?”

Ryan: “Sure. Why not?”

Nell: “Okay. Why not?”

They kiss, looking a little uncomfortable. Then they stop and look away from each other.

Ryan: “That was nice.”

Nell: “Yeah. What were we saying?”

Ryan: “We weren’t saying anything. We were just reading.”

Nell: “Oh, yeah. I think I need to do more of that.”

They return to their books.


Act Four

Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now March.

Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL lie reading as before. This time, Nell is reading Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud while eating an apple.

Nell: “This apple tastes like apple juice.”

Cut to a green space between classroom buildings, where MELVIN walks between two buildings, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him, as before.

Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.

Cut to a casino. UJI is standing alone at a craps table. He rolls the dice. He loses. He rolls the dice again. He loses again. He shows no emotion. His chips are taken away quickly and he plays on, again and again.

Cut to a small drive-thru espresso stand. OLIVIA, lacking enthusiasm, serves a customer, who then drives away. Another CUSTOMER then drives up. A dog hangs its head out of one of the car windows, panting. 

Olivia: “Hello.”

Customer: “Hi. Uhhh … Anything on special?”

Olivia looks at the dog. “Mondays we have the medium Crème Angelica for $2.99.”

Customer: “Uhhh … “I’ll have a latte. Large, vanilla, iced, with whipped cream.”

Olivia: “$4.50, please.”

Olivia prepares the drink and hands it through the window. She takes the money and thanks the driver, who then drives away. The car winds out into traffic slowly. 

Back at the espresso stand, OLIVIA is sticking her head all the way out of the stand’s drive-thru window, the wind blowing her hair lightly. She is smiling. 

Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.

Ryan: “You okay?”

Nell: “Yeah. Okay.”

Ryan: “Book good?”

Nell: “Yeah. I’m bored.”

Ryan: “Me too.”

Nell: “Wanna go check out a chatroom?”

Ryan: “Sure.”

They look at each other. There is a long pause. Suddenly, both of them smile knowingly.

Nell. “The Internet.”

Cut to the library. Ryan and Nell stand next to a computer, staring at the screen. They click on the Netscape logo, and the AOL home page comes up. Ryan and Nell look at each other again.

Nell: “I wish there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was.”

Ryan: “Eureka.”

Nell: “Fucking eureka.”

Cut to a bedroom. Ryan and Nell are lying side by side on a bed.

Nell: “It was there all along.”

Ryan: “Your poem was inspired.”

Nell: “And it’s true. It’s everything.”

Ryan: “Is it the meaning of life, though?”

Nell: “It’s not the meaning of life. It’s just … life.”

Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL lie on the lawn, as before. MELVIN and his monkey pass by on their way to a classroom building. Noticing them, Ryan and Nell simultaneously prop themselves up on their arms.

Nell: “Excuse me, sir.”

Melvin: “Oui, mademoiselle?”

Nell: “Please tell me how it all makes sense.”

Melvin: “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Nell: “So what do we do?”

Melvin: “Make sense of it.”

He walks into the building. Soon, he is followed by the entire cast of characters. First, John and Sophie, holding hands, follow him in. Then, Darrin, Uji, and George, talking and walking together. After that, Natalie Rindstone and Jessica go inside, followed by Penelope and Harry. Lastly, Olivia goes inside. She is alone.

Ryan and Nell get up and follow the others, pausing just outside the building’s front door.

Ryan: “That’s it.”

Nell: “That’s it.”

They go inside.


Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.


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