Volume 29, Number 4

August 32nd

Adam Matson

In early August, the World Timekeeping Organization, the WTO, realized that the world’s various calendars and time-keeping mechanisms had produced a small surplus of time. Despite, or because of, imprecise reconciliation methods, such as Leap Years, minute chunks of extra time had been accumulating for centuries, so the WTO decided to give everybody in the world an extra day, before time really got out of hand.

Different countries handled the WTO’s decision in different ways, but most ultimately agreed to quietly slip an extra day in between Sunday, August 31st and Monday, September 1st. The extra day was announced, suddenly, on 8/31, the news distributed across television, the internet and social media. Many governments decided not to give people too much lead time, lest they concoct slippery and nefarious ways to exploit the extra day for undue personal or financial gain.

Social media went to work instantly, coming up with a name for the extra day. Early suggestions such as Smunday were dismissed, as was Funday, which didn’t sound very official. Consensus soon settled on Freeday, since a free day was being given to everyone, sandwiched between normal, predictably costly days, kind of like the Free Parking space on the Monopoly board.

In the United States, it was decreed that people could treat Freeday as either a weekday or a weekend day. They could go to work, or not, and there would be no penalties for not working. The stock market did not open. Major League Baseball scheduled no games (other than a few spontaneous make-up games). Everyone was left to decide what to do with the extra day.

Hank Clark, who owned and managed a coffee shop along the Venice Beach boardwalk, decided he would go to work as usual. He was not sure if any other employees would show up or what exactly he would do when he got there, but he did know that he did not want to spend the day with his wife after last night’s argument.

Hank’s wife, Cheryl, worked as a dental hygienist. The argument had begun, seemingly out of nowhere, when Cheryl commented on Hank’s receding gumline and implored him to go to the dentist.

“My teeth are fine,” Hank insisted. “I’ve cut out most of the sweets and quit smoking.”

“But you drink coffee all day,” Cheryl said. “There is no cure for receding gums. They just get worse and worse until eventually you need skin grafts.”

Hank was self-conscious about his receding gums and had started studying his smile and other expressions in the mirror to determine how evident his seemingly lengthening teeth might appear to others.

Also, he did not want to undertake any dental procedure that included the words “skin grafts.”

“I don’t want to go in for expensive dental work,” he told Cheryl.

“You never do anything I say.”

“You’re just obsessed with teeth because you work in a dentist’s office. You probably stare at everybody’s mouth, looking for imperfections.”

This last comment led to a loud, prolonged airing of grievances, culminating with Cheryl slamming and locking the bedroom door. Hank slept on the couch, trying not to think about his goddamn teeth, worrying that this pithy argument would ruin Freeday.

So he went to the coffee shop, and as he unlocked the chains that secured the patio chairs, he wondered if he was the kind of pathetic person who could think of nothing more imaginative to do with twenty-four free hours than go to work.

It was a sunny morning along the boardwalk, with a gentle sea breeze. Hank made himself a latte and sat outside watching the human traffic. Freeday seemed not to have curbed the usual onslaught of cyclists, runners and rollerbladers whizzing along the bike path. Skateboarders arrived to ride the half-pipe, and surfers plunged into the ocean to catch waves.

Along the boardwalk homeless indigents arose from their camp-like piles of possessions. For them, Hank supposed, Freeday was not so much a gift as perhaps a cruel reminder that time had abandoned them eons ago. Every day for them was a Freeday, free of responsibilities, obligations, resources and hope. As the morning sun rose over Venice Beach, tourists started wandering the boardwalk, prompting the usual cadre of artists, minstrels, peddlers, hawkers, grifters and assorted entrepreneurial vagabonds to begin their daily hustles. Hank knew many of these characters. On a typical day Venice Beach was ground zero for L.A. weird, which was part of what Hank liked about it. The view from his patio, both of the ocean and the human theater, never failed to inspire.

One-Eyed Tony arrived early, as usual, and asked Hank if he could use his bathroom. Like every other day, Hank reminded Tony that there were three public restroom facilities along the beach, in sight, in fact, of the coffee shop. One-Eyed Tony winked his bleary crimson eye and wandered off.

The Skateboard Musician flew by, playing a saxophone. Hank waved to him. Here was a person for whom life was one endless Freeday.

Black Coffee Jack showed up next, with his dog, a gimpy golden retriever named Clyde. B.C. Jack’s hand jingled with a fistful of grubby coins. Hank generally took pity on Jack, probably because of the dog, and allowed him to sit at one of the patio tables with his daily cup of unadulterated joe. He was, after all, a paying customer, albeit an olfactorily offensive one. Today, however, Hank waved away Jack’s money and poured him a cup of coffee on the house.

“Happy Freeday,” Hank said, inviting Jack to join him at his table.

“Freeday?” Jack murmured. “What’s free? Free coffee?”

“Free coffee today.”

Jack accepted the coffee and sat down. Clyde stretched out beneath the table. Together they watched the skateboarders doing tricks on the half-pipe. A kid who looked about eight years old leapt out of the pipe and landed cleanly on the concrete spectator platform, gliding away to line up another jump.

“Mysterious,” Jack muttered.

“What’s mysterious?”

“How they don’t kill themselves.”

Hank reached down to pet Clyde, wondering what Cheryl was doing on Freeday without him.

* * *

Across town, seventeen-year-old Darnell Thomas stood on his usual street corner in Inglewood, wondering if he was the only one in the gang who would show up to work. Of course, he knew about Freeday, but he didn’t think Reggie would give a damn. Fiends didn’t take a day off from addiction, so Darnell figured his crew wouldn’t take a day off from sales. But so far he was the only one manning the corner, his pockets bulging with the previous night’s last batch of vials, which would be gone soon. Typically, Reggie would have already shown up with the day’s first package.

At that moment Reggie, who was sort of a lieutenant in the drug crew where Darnell was a foot soldier, was at home asleep. His Freeday resolution was to do absolutely nothing. He would spend the day drinking beer and smoking weed and playing PlayStation. Freeday was one day where he wouldn’t have to risk his ass dodging rival gang-bangers or running from police.

On Darnell’s corner, the fiends started to line up for their morning fix. They lingered in doorways or leaned against palm trees, twitching and scratching, eyeballing Darnell for some signal as to what the plan was. Was the store open for business, or what?

Darnell pulled out his cell phone and called his girlfriend, Charisse.

“You workin’ baby?” Charisse asked when she picked up.

“Yeah, but ain’t nobody around.”

A police cruiser crawled by, and Darnell gave the cop his best stink-eye. The cop looked at him and shrugged, as if to inquire what the deal was. Darnell shrugged back, and the cop drove away.

“Fuck this,” Darnell said to Charisse. “I’m out. Let’s go to the beach.”

Charisse laughed at him. “Beach, what beach? We ain’t ever go to the beach.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Darnell said. “Let’s go.”

Darnell had lived in Inglewood his entire life and had never once seen the ocean. Freeday seemed like it might be his only chance.

“Fuck it, we goin’,” he told Charisse. “Get your shit ready.”

He hung up and put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Like dogs to the bone the fiends hustled toward him.

“Freeday today,” he said. “No pay.”

He handed out the vials in his pockets. The fiends snatched them and scurried away. Darnell held up his hands when the vials were gone.

“That’s all I got,” he said.

“Are them boys selling up on Florence?” asked one shaky addict, drawing his long fingernails over the scorched skin of his arms.

“How the fuck should I know?” Darnell said. He walked off down the street toward Charisse’s house.

* * *

At around 11 AM Hank was cleaning the espresso maker, when Carolyn, one of his baristas, stuck her head in the door.

“Just wanted to see if we’re open,” she said.

“You can either work or not. Up to you,” Hank said.

“Actually, I wanted to go to the Santa Monica pier. I’ve never ridden the roller coaster.”

Hank nodded and waved her off, but she lingered in the doorway.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Can I make myself a cappuccino, to go?”

“Sure. Wipe down the machine when you’re done. I just cleaned it.”

That was all Hank saw of any of his employees. He thought about closing up shop. He was bored anyway.

Then Cheryl called.

“What are you doing down there?” she asked.

“Taking care of business.”

“You know today is the day you should go to the dentist. I know Dr. Spiegelman is there.”

Dr. Spiegelman was, in fact, at his dental practice, where Cheryl worked, because he had built the business from the ground up and was proud of it. No reason to take a silly day off. But there were no appointments and none of his technicians had showed up. So Dr. Spiegelman did something he had always wanted to do ever since opening the practice: he inhaled a bunch of nitrous oxide and spent the morning listening to Pink Floyd.

“I’m not going to the dentist on Freeday,” Hank said.

Cheryl hung up.

A few minutes later the door opened, and in walked Wally Burrows, one of Hank’s regulars.

“This really makes my day, Hank,” said Wally. “I didn’t know if you’d be open.”

Hank made Wally a caramel latte, gratis.

“What have you got there, Wall?” Hank asked, indicating the book Wally had tucked under his arm.

“I’ve been trying to read Bleak House for about twenty years,” Wally said. “Today I’m going to crack it open. I’ve got my coffee, I’m going to go sit on the beach and read.”

Wally raised his cup in salute. Hank watched him meander across the park, past the indigents, down to the broad white ribbon of beach.

There you go, Hank thought. You made someone’s day.

Suddenly he was gripped by a fit of heroism. He had a kitchen full of food and a bar full of coffee. It seemed like a shame to let it all just sit there.

Outside he found Black Coffee Jack still nursing his coffee, with Clyde asleep at his feet.

“Jack, are you friendly with many of the locals?” Hank asked.

Jack squinted at him, uncertain what he meant, until Hank kind of swept his hand across the boardwalk to indicate the Weird.

“I know most of them,” Jack said.

“Why don’t you round up some friends and invite them in for breakfast,” Hank said. “On the house. I’ve got bacon, eggs, coffee. We can do just about anything.”

Jack stared at him for a long moment. “You aren’t going to jump off the pier today, are you, Hank?”

“No, Jack. It’s Freeday.”

Jack nodded and stood up. “I’ve had stranger flashbacks than this. Come on, Clyde-O.”

Hank went back inside and fired up the grill. Soon B.C. Jack returned with a cohort of grateful, half-starved, unmedicated schizophrenics, and Hank cooked them whatever they wanted for breakfast. He made omelets and pancakes, egg sandwiches and French toast, hash browns, bagels and hot coffee. The freaks applauded Hank and carried on like errant knights at a very strange round table. The only one among them who was left less than completely satisfied was old Jerry Muntz, who ordered “flying saucer candy,” which Hank was forced to tell him was out of stock.

* * *

Darnell found Charisse watching television at home, babysitting her younger brother and sister, ages thirteen and eleven, who were itching to escape the house and cause trouble.

“I told you to be ready,” Darnell said. “You just sitting there.”

“I’m watching Ty and Monique,” Charisse said. “We ain’t gon’ to no beach.”

“Where’s your mama?”

“She at work. She say ain’t no such thing as a Freeday.”

“Man, we can watch TV anytime,” Darnell said.

“I want to go to the beach,” said Monique, who was lying on the floor, playing with her corn rows.

“You don’t know nothing about no beach,” said Charisse.

“I don’t care.”

“There’s some fine ladies at the beach,” said Ty.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Darnell.

“How would you know?” Charisse asked, glaring at her brother.

“Come on, get your shit,” said Darnell. “I want to jump in the ocean.”

Charisse did not move from the couch. “We. Ain’t. Goin’. To no beach.”

Darnell sat down on the couch, scooched up close to Charisse. “Girl, I bet you look fine in a bathing suit.”

He started making clucking noises with his tongue, taking deep breaths and staring up and down Charisse’s body. Finally, she cracked a smile and pushed him away.

“Mama got the car,” she said quietly.

“We got bikes!” her brother announced, jumping up off the floor.

With a modest amount of prodding and cajoling, Darnell managed to get them all outside, where Ty produced two bicycles from the alley behind their house.

“Someone gon’ have to ride the handle bars,” Ty said.

* * *

Meanwhile, the President of the United States paced nervously in the Oval Office. For government, there was no Freeday. The world did not stop spinning. Foreign despots did not stop plotting the downfall of America.

The President stared out the window at the throng of protesters pulsing beyond the South Gate. There were so many signs being waved he could not begin to guess what the cause might be. He adjusted his red tie and sat down at his desk. He picked up the phone and called each of his children. Two of them were home with their families, but his youngest, Michael, was at work. The President told them each the same thing.

“The Secret Service will be coming by today,” he said. “So be ready.”

“Ready for what?” Michael asked.

“To move to a secure location,” said the President.

“Why do we have to move to a secure location?”

“Because the next few days might get a little sticky.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Michael said. “I’m at work.”

“They know where you are.”

“What are you plotting, Dad? Why the personal call?”

“Just be ready, Michael. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”

Like many of their conversations, Michael hung up in a huff. The President ran his hands through his hair and sighed. Michael had always been a trouble-maker. But the Secret Service could handle him.

* * *

Most of the Venice Beach weirdos helped Hank clean up after the free lunch, before they headed back outside to smoke pot and sell henna tattoos. Black Coffee Jack bussed all the tables in the café while Clyde cleaned the dishes with his tongue.

When the clean-up was finished, Hank spent some time checking social media to see what Cheryl was up to and saw that somebody had posted on Facebook: “Anyone who works on Freeday is a weenie.” That settled it. He closed and locked the door and turned off the coffee maker. It was a sunny afternoon, and he decided to go to the beach.

Before leaving the café, Hank packed a plentiful bounty of food and beverages into a cooler, then called Cheryl.

“What?” she answered.

“I’m closing up,” he said. “Why don’t you come down to the beach and hang out with me and my receding gums.”

Cheryl did not say anything for a moment. “I can’t remember the last time we went to the beach,” she said.

“That’s the idea. What are you doing at home?”

“I was just carving up potatoes into funny little shapes and making homemade French fries.”

“Bring your strange fries down to the beach.”

“All right, buster,” she said. “I’ll be there in half an hour. On one condition.”


“By the time I get there you better have called Dr. Spiegelman’s office and made an appointment.”



Hank called Dr. Spiegelman’s office. After about twenty rings a groggy-sounding man answered the phone with the word “Ye-rr-ow-oh,” which was not a greeting Hank had ever heard before.

“It’s Hank Clark. I’d like to make an appointment.”

“Oh … Hank!” The voice eventually identified itself as Dr. Spiegelman. They made an appointment, which Dr. Spiegelman claimed to write down “on his official calendar.”

“Hey, Hank.”

“Yes, Dr. Spiegelman.”

“I have become … comfortably numb.”

There was a lot of giggling on the other end of the line before one or both of them hung up.

* * *

Darnell pedaled along the bike path at Venice Beach with Charisse riding the handlebars. Beside them, Ty and Monique rode the same way. All four of them stared bug-eyed at the freaks roaming the boardwalk. Ty saw a small shack with a bright green cross over the door and a marijuana leaf decal on the outside wall.

“Yo, what’s that?” he asked.

Outside the shop two employees, wearing green full-body jumpsuits, sat in lawn chairs smoking weed, surrounded by a large flock of pot-hungry homeless.

Darnell stared at the dispensary. “Shit, I guess here they sell weed in stores,” he said.

They turned off the bike path, and Darnell and Ty carried the bikes across the thick sand toward the ocean. They looked around to see what other people were doing. Could you just sit anywhere, or did you need to sit in a certain spot? Darnell wasn’t sure, so he just sort of set the bike down as far away from all the other beach-goers as he could.

“Here?” Charisse asked.

“This is us,” said Darnell.

They only had one towel, an old, child-sized Dora the Explorer towel from when Charisse was a little kid. They lay the towel down on the sand, and all four of them tried to sit on it. Charisse’s younger siblings did not have bathing suits, so they wore tee shirts and shorts. Charisse pulled off her clothes and sat on a corner of the towel in her bathing suit. Darnell whistled at her. She shoved him away, and he turned and stared at the ocean. Robust waves crashed against the beach.

“You really gonna jump in?” Charisse asked.

“I dunno,” Darnell said. He remembered that he couldn’t swim.

“I ain’t goin’ in,” said Ty. “That shit be drownin’ niggas.” He spotted a woman sunbathing nearby and turned to stare at her. “Yeeeaah.”

Monique started covering her bare feet with sand.

The ocean was bigger than anything Darnell had ever seen in his life. He stared north up the coast at the Santa Monica mountains, green giants sloping sharply down to the sea. It was the greatest expanse of Earth he had ever taken in in one view. It made him want to pitch a tent in the sand and spend the rest of his life next to the ocean.

It took about an hour before the group started to grow restless. The only food they had brought was a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and four sticks of beef jerky, and they had nothing to entertain themselves.

“Man, what do people do at the beach anyway?” Ty griped.

“They shut up, that’s what,” said Charisse.

Monique had buried her legs in sand up to her knees. “Look,” she said, pointing at her stump-legs. But nobody looked.

“I’m goin’ in,” Darnell said finally.

“Go ahead,” said Charisse.

The others watched as Darnell walked down to the water’s edge. The surf swept over his feet, and he jumped backwards, laughing. The water made a hissing sound as it retreated. Darnell stared at the waves and gauged them to be about as tall as he was. He glanced up and down the beach. A white couple was walking in his direction. A few other people were swimming, but not many. Offshore the surfers hovered on their boards, hopping up in flocks to catch the waves.

He waded in up to his knees. The cold water gripped his shorts. His legs tingled. He took a few steps deeper, up to his waist. His skin began to pimple. He turned and glanced back at Charisse, who was mouthing something like “crazy motherfucker.”

Darnell was just starting to get used to the cold when a wave swooped in and bowled him over. Suddenly his entire body was spinning in the surf. Sand and rocks scraped against his skin. He thrashed his arms and tried to stand but the ocean sucked him in like a strong breath. Salty water flooded his mouth and nose. He tried to dig his feet into the sand. Another wave washed over him. He heard voices shouting nearby. The undertow wrapped around him like a hand, pulling him outward. Panic seized his chest.

Two sets of hands grasped his arms, and he felt himself being pulled against the surf. A moment later he tasted cool air, and his lungs rejected the bitter water. A white man and woman carried him up onto the sand. His vision had gone blurry, but it returned to him now, and he saw that his rescuers were the couple he had seen walking the beach. His entire ordeal had lasted maybe ten seconds.

“You all right, man?” the white man asked.

Darnell could walk again, and the white couple led him back to his friends.

“Shit,” Darnell muttered. “It was so fast.”

When they reached the Dora towel Charisse and Ty and Monique stood gaping at Darnell. The white woman kept her hand on Darnell’s shoulder.

“Looks like he’ll live, Hank,” she said.

Darnell grinned, embarrassed.

“You have very nice teeth,” she told him.

* * *

Secret Service Agents hustled the President across the White House lawn to the waiting helicopter. The First Lady stumbled beside him, her high heels snagging in the grass.

The President’s hastily-executed Operation Freeday had backfired spectacularly. At around 11 AM the President had authorized deployment of the entire inventory of a missile silo in South Dakota. His plan had been to heroically inform the American public on Monday morning, September 1st that all of America’s enemies had been surreptitiously vanquished, and the world was now safe for democracy and freedom.

But it turned out many of those rogue nations, which had claimed to have functioning W.M.D.’s had not been bluffing, and now birds were flying through the air all across the globe.

The Secret Service roughly heaved the President and his wife into the helicopter, and in moments they were airborne. The White House and its many screaming refugees shrank from view. Once Washington D.C. was safely behind them, the President called in the order to have every major city evacuated.

His headset then buzzed with the voice of a Secret Service SAC in Chicago, who had been patched directly through to the Commander-in-Chief.

“What?” the President shouted.

“Your son, Michael,” the SAC growled over a scratchy connection. “Is refusing to leave.”

Michael had always been a nuisance. The President glanced at his wife, then turned away, covering the mouthpiece on his headset so she wouldn’t hear him.

“Use a chokehold,” he told the SAC.

* * *

The late afternoon sun turned bright orange as it crept toward the Pacific horizon. Hank and Cheryl sprawled out on a blanket, drinking from a bottle of pinot noir. Across the beach a drum circle had erupted—dozens of random musicians were banging out a frenetic jungle beat.

Since rescuing the young man from the ocean, Hank and Cheryl had gathered quite a little picnic party. The young man was now sitting beside his girlfriend, she resting her head on his shoulder, the two of them watching the sunset. Wally Burrows had found them and brought his beach chair over. Wally had taken about a hundred pages out of Bleak House and almost had some idea of what was going on. Black Coffee Jack, never tired of free food, sat beside the cooler eating Cheryl’s fried potato mutations. The younger boy, Ty, had found a stick on the beach and was throwing it for Clyde, the golden retriever. The boy’s sister sat huddled on a towel, wearing Cheryl’s sweatshirt, drawing pictures in the sand.

It was a collection of humans that might have seemed strange anywhere else but Venice Beach. Hank sipped his wine and decided he had made pretty good use of Freeday.

Darnell pointed to a pair of hazy blue bumps on the horizon, which he did not know was Catalina Island.

“What do you think that place is?” he asked Charisse.

Charisse shrugged. “Hawaii?”

They both laughed.

A long, low sound started to build out to sea. It began as a faint whistle, then swelled to a high-pitched screech. Everyone looked up and scanned the sky to determine what was screaming at them and ruining the mood of their sunset.

Hank shielded his eyes and saw the object hurtling through the air, trailing a thin wisp of white smoke. Somehow he knew it was not an airplane, and he felt a sinking feeling in his chest. The rocket roared toward downtown Los Angeles with the blunt determination of a boxer’s fist.

“Uh oh,” said Hank.