Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#137 Straight Man

#137 Straight Man Write a fragment of story from the POV of a straight man (or woman). This straight man may adore this funny companion or he may be dead tired of the jokes. Imagine what it would be like to have to tolerate, and possibly be joined at the hip to, a comedian who can't ever be serious. 750 words.

It’s not that I hated Frank. On the contrary. I loved him, dearly. He had extremely delicate skin, so soft, almost like a child’s. Perfect, no blemishes on it. Even when he was in his later years, even after all that laughing and smiling and goofing around, stretching his features this way and that way and ways you didn’t know were possible, he never developed any wrinkles. It astounded me. It still does, to this day, astound me. He also tipped like a millionaire, sometimes 100% of the bill, to all those waitresses who looked dog tired and ready to collapse on their feet, no energy to smile or really be all that good of a waitress, but he would pay twice the cost of our little roadside meals just so they might be able to treat themselves to something nice the next day they had off. Little things like that made me love him, dearly.

So no. People who think that I hated him were wrong as wrong can be. I wasn’t even tired of his antics. The constant mugging, the practical jokes. The goof ups and the things that went wrong. Lord, the stains that I had to get out of some of his shirts, if not throw the whole shirt out altogether and start from scratch down at the department store. The joy buzzers and the whoopie cushions and every cliche prop you can imagine, strewn over the small apartment we shared in the good bad part of the city. Those things kept life interesting. I never did want to be a normal housewife, keeping doilies straight on hideously upholstered chairs, or worse, plastic on all the sofas. I didn’t want to vacuum or wear aprons or take prozac to make it through the day. I would take a good whoopie cushion over a pink pill any day.

What was difficult, what became increasingly difficult and remained difficult right through the end, was never having his undivided attention beyond when he courted. At first, I was his main audience, the one he wanted to hook. But once he had me? He knew it. And it wasn’t that he thought he no longer had to try, it’s that he no longer had to try. The only thing he knew how to do was search for another audience. Eventually, once he discovered that my dry timing could be a boon for the act, he incorporated me into it. I learned the tricks and nuances of comedy, found out that as a straight man (or woman in this case), I was actually pretty good. Talented even. I felt important, part of a team, and we were a team, make no mistake of that, a team until the end.

But never just me and him. Never just the two of us. Always he me and the imaginary people he was performing for, constantly, in the middle of every conversation. Even the one about his father dying and what we were going to do with all of his things, the constant search for approval from an imaginary audience. Part of him was with me. Part of him cracked jokes, looked around the kitchen almost confused at the lack of reaction from the countertops and the refrigerator.

I felt like I constantly had to perform in order to hold him, the small part of him that I could hold. Do you know how difficult it is to perform, all day, every day? To always put on your stage face? It takes enormous amounts of concentration. Teachers, they get it to a certain extent. Teaching for 6 to 7 hours a day, that’s a constant performance. You aren’t you, relaxed, in your own skin. You are You the Teacher. A persona.

So how could there ever be any “us”? When neither of us could be ourselves, when neither of us could be real? I don’t even think he knew what the word meant, to be honest. Real? Why real when you could be funny? Why be natural when you could be anything and everything the audience wanted with a wink and a smile and a funny song or well timed pun?

Never just Sandra and Frank. Always Frank n’ Sandy! Our stage version, what was plastered on marquee after marquee. I felt like if it was possible, he would have installed a marquee over the front door of our apartment building. It was just another theater to him.

So my one regret? That I left him without ever really getting to be with him.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#43 250 Different Words

#43 250 Different Words

Write a 250 word story in which you never use the same word twice. You may not use a variation of a word, for example "you'll" after you've already used "you". For this exercise, you should all come up with a hidden title. You may want to make the title first, or do it after you've already done a draft of the story. The difficulty of these instructions is the defining characteristic of this task. It will be nearly impossible to make a coherent story out of this, but it will also challenge you to use a method different from anything you've used before. Don't expect fluency. Assume words will come out two or three at a time. Try not to search for synonyms. Rearrange a whole sentence if necessary. When you make expression symbolically difficult this way, you are in effect teaching yourself your own language again.

Lightening. Thunder. Sudden temperature drop, making clothes inappropriate; T-shirts ridiculous, sweaters crucial, raincoats mandatory. Faces, hands, legs, mouths, eyes. Everything wet, nothing dry. Feelings: everywhere. High, low, left, right. Tangled, straightened, put through paces, run amok. His, hers, theirs, yours, nobody’s, everybody’s. Why? When? How? Doesn’t matter. None care, not now, then, here, there. Grass; slender, sharp, green, pungent. Ozone; present, inescapable, intoxicating. Shouting, yelling, laughing, singing, screaming. Goosebumps, sweat, seeing one’s breath, swirling into fresh icy air, creating clouds, saying we are present. Old memories, damp bunk beds at camp, quickly ended bonfires, hot summer afternoons, that time in Milwaukee, before the wedding ceremony, after our first night of honeymoon. All mixing, taking up space, demanding attention. Me. I. It happened. No forgetting. Remember. Fixate. Cement. Pin down. This, too. Future regrets loom, being practiced, rehearsed, everyday. What makes past events, once thought perfect, shine differently? Brighter? Dimmer? Sharper? Duller? Bitter? Sweet? An August storm contains one million meanings to those caught inside its deluge. Months long gone carry hurricane stories, tales, lies, truths, narratives, novels, fictions. Humans swimming laps through recollection tempests. Songs, phrases, conversations, words meant saying never spoken, forgivenesses, accusations, loving touches, disappearing without notice, arriving loudly, reading letters, composing reasons, eating cheesecake, dusting book spines, riding horses, picking fingernails, sipping tea, scratching behind Spot’s ear, seeing contentment, breaking bones, putting rings on fingers, signing papers, getting tattoos, piercings, having babies, killing, murdering, saving, hoarding. Living life becomes easier with each passing day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#160 Unbelieving

#160 Unbelieving - Two characters are talking. One keeps saying, "I don't believe a word you're saying," or something similar. This one character does not indeed believe anything the second character is saying, but the two nevertheless carry on a conversation as if a series of truth is building up behind them in the past. And if the first character doesn't believe a word the second character is saying, what we have then is another layer of fiction below the fiction you're trying to propose. The first character is either lying, or the second character is incapable of believing the truths the first character is speaking. 500 words.

I don’t believe a word you’re saying.

I’m going to say it anyways. And keep saying it. There were no other alternatives, and we had to make a choice, right then and there. We decided that she would have wanted it that way.

What was the other way? A choice means two possibilities. You took one, what was the other?

Leave it there and do nothing.

Then you should have left it there and done nothing.

Really? You would be perfectly fine standing there right now, hearing me tell you that we took absolutely no action, that we just left?

It doesn’t matter. You weren’t there anyways. Nothing you’re saying is true.

All of it is true. We took it with us, we took it with us and brought it over to his house. And he was thankful that we did it. We made the right choice.

So what now? What happens to it now?

What do you want to happen to it?

If it’s really there, which I don’t believe it is, then we have to take it back right now.

He would never let us.

He’s old, we would make him let us take it back. Or, or we could wait until the morning and then sneak it out, say it was all a dream, or that he imagined it. He’s been making so many mistakes lately. Yesterday he called me Sandra. Can you believe that?

You do look an awful lot like her.

I don’t look anything like her.

You do. You have her eyes, the same color hair. You have her stubbornness and willingness to attempt flight for people if that’s what the situation calls for.

Stop it.

You do.

Stop. I’m out. It doesn’t matter anyways, you can’t tell the truth. It’s never true.

It’s always true and it’s always been true. You look like Sandra and we all miss her and we all miss you and that’s why we took it with us and that’s why we gave it to him.

How much do you miss her?

How can anyone answer a question like that?

Do you miss her more than you miss me?

The two aren’t the same. At all. She’s gone because she’s gone. You’re gone because you drove away one day and never looked back and never called or told anyone what happened to you.

You miss her more than me.

I don’t.

You’re lying.

I’m not going to go into this with you now. Go over. See him. See it. Maybe you can even play him something.

It’s not there.

It is there.

It’s not.

Does it even matter? Go see him. Who cares if it’s there or isn’t there. That’s not even the point, that’s not what you’re angry about, and we both know it. There may not be another chance to do this. You may be gone again tomorrow-

-I will be gone again tomorrow.

Ok. Fine. So you’ll be gone again tomorrow. Even more reason. This is it. You’ll never get this now back again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

# 130 - A Guy Walks Into a Bar

#130 - A Guy Walks Into A Bar: Invent half a dozen "A Guy Walks Into A Bar.." jokes, or type the line into a google search and collect them. Keep them short and to the point. Spread them throughout the story that has nothing to do with the jokes. Make the jokes completely unrelated to the story you're telling. Eventually, I suspect you will find connections with between these jokes and the non joking story. 750 words.

It’s not that she didn’t like the skirt, it’s just that she didn’t like wearing skirts in general. Never had. She always had the sensation that everyone could see her underwear, even though clearly they couldn’t. A guy with dyslexia walks into a bra. The feeling of nothing between her legs but her legs, no fabric, just her legs and the open air. It made her feel embarrassed, and since her skin was so pale anyways, she had a constant red blush all day, people kept asking her if she felt all right, which just drew more attention to herself, which turned into a vicious cycle, until she cursed the stupid skirt and wished her boyfriend had just bought her a hat or a scarf or some other unisex non threatening article of clothing. A screwdriver walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Hey, we have a drink named after you!”The Screwdriver responds, "You have a drink named Murray?" But returning it was a non option, especially now that she had worn it around all day and cut off the tag as well as the little piece that had the size written on it (it itched).

The lovely green and blue plaid design crisscrossed up and down its length, bold enough to catch the eye, but subtle enough to retain a level of taste expected of someone in her job. A diamond saleswoman. A guy walks into a bar. He asks the bartender, "Do you have any helicopter flavored potato chips?" The bartender shakes his head and says, "No, we only have plain." With a degree from the Gemological Institute of America, no less, paid for by her employer, she was a GIA certified gemologist. Which meant that when she said a diamond had E color and SI clarity, people listened and believed her.

When she walked into the office, of course everyone immediately noticed, because she never wore skirts. Heels, of course, but never a skirt. Blousey pants that cascaded down her legs in sheathes of fabric, pale and flawless. Two guys are sitting at a bar. One guy says to the other, "Do you know that lions have sex 10 or 15 times a night?". The other guy says, "Damn, I just joined the Rotary Club." Paired with tight shirts, she could have passed for a dancer with her sense of style, her physique, the way she carried herself, her flaming red hair against her Irish translucent skin. But this skirt? This blue and green skirt? It tripped her up, ruined her flow.

Everything about this man tripped up her flow. Jesus walks into a bar and says, "I'll just have a glass of water." How could she have let this happen? When did he get so far in? So far in that she not only didn’t immediately return the skirt, or simply lie and say she loved it before hiding it away in a drawer, but actually wore it? To work?

Enough. Completely enough. First thing? Give the skirt to Sandra, she would love it, had the body for it, wore skirts all the time. Second thing? A nonrenewable natural resource walks in to a bar and orders a tall glass of whiskey. The bar tender says "sorry friend, I cant serve YOU; you have been getting wasted all day long!" Tell Gary that she simply didn’t wear skirts, and furthermore, she didn’t feel that they were in the skirt buying stage of the relationship, if such a stage existed. They were still more in the hat and scarf buying stage. He would understand that, right? That was something that men understood, right? A drunk walks into a bar and says, “Ouch!”

How could she not know these things? 35 years old, and debating silently in her head about skirts and what men knew and didn’t know and how Gary would react or not react. There must have been some book, some secret book that Alisson Gurney and her bitchy friends read and on purpose didn’t give her to read back in the eleventh grade. A skeleton walks into a bar and says “Give me a beer and a mop.” This wasn’t the first time she had that feeling. She saw friend after friend hook up, meet the guy, the one, get married, pop out babies. And not bad relationships, not settling relationships where you feel sorry for one party or the other or both. Real loving relationships, with communication and doe eyes and silent stares during which you swore you were being left out of some subliminal conversation. Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, "I've lost my electron."

The other says, "Are you sure?"

The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive..."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

#50 Fact and Fancy

(Ok, a side note, this one was really hard, and I don't think I did it quite right. But oh well, good or bad, that's what my resolution was, so here it is.)
#50 Fact and Fancy: Write a brief autobiographical fragment or story in which you use alternating objective and personal sentences. One sentence should set down relatively objective, factual details, without bias or interpretation. The next sentence should be personal opinion; it should reveal feeling - shallow or deep; it should respond to the factual sentence but need not respond directly. Alternate like this. Write a total of 30 sentences, 15 factual and 15 personal.

When Jack the horse was a baby, he flipped over backwards on the crossties, splitting open his head and probably damaging his brain in the process. He was also gorgeous, an amazing horse, accept for his eyes, the most telling feature on a horse. Jack had one eye that was lazy, which in a horse is something to see. That one lazy eye, I called it his crazy eye, I called him Crazy Eyed Jack, trying to laugh it off. Jack could be a perfect gentleman, but the problem was that when he flipped out, it came without warning or provocation. Because he was brain damaged, he wasn’t just a baby, he was actually fucking brain damaged, I was sure of it. When I returned from a long weekend visiting my sister in DC, Elizabeth told me to longe him before I got on, he hadn’t been ridden since I left. Of course he hadn’t, why would he, why would anyone bother to ride that horse other than me, because I had to, because it was my job? As soon as I let the longe line out and encouraged Jack to go, he galloped and ripped the longe line from my hand. Fucking crazy horse. I managed to hold on, but the line had already burned right through my glove and into my hand, as well as possibly breaking one of my fingers. I didn’t mind breaking things, it came with the territory, but the fact that Jack was the one doing it made me simultaneously pissed and terrified. Digging my heels into the ground to prevent being dragged any further, I sharply pulled back and leveraged the rest of the line with my left and unhurt hand. I could feel Elizabeth staring me down, judging me based on how I reacted, and I wondered if her inner monologue was as slurred as her speech was when she was drunk at night endlessly talking in circles. I managed to regain control, and Jack began to canter at a regular pace around me, throwing in a buck or a prop every once in a while, of course, completely out of no place. How had I gotten myself into this prison on the eastern shore of Maryland? After twenty or so minutes, Elizabeth said that was enough, I could probably get on him now, he would be easier once I was on him. Fuck. I reigned him in slowly and took of the longe line, dropping it on the ground by a standard and tightening up the girth before running down my stirrups and walking to the mounting block. I could feel my right hand, now a little swollen, pulsing with my heartbeat; it was crazy fast. I mounted up, found my other stirrup, and gently lowered myself into the saddle, asking Jack to walk forward while I gathered up the reigns. Fuck. Jack walked quietly away, trotted quietly when I asked, collected, bent to the inside, bent to the outside, circled, and did everything just as a talented young horse should. I was a horsewoman after all, I was what I always wanted to be. At the canter, to the left, Jack suddenly propped and spun, catching me off guard enough for me to lose my center, but not enough to unseat me, and I immediately sent him forward and straight, forward and straight being not only the safest course of action, but also the building block for all other work. Fuck, keep it together, you’re fine, he didn’t do anything babies don’t usually do. Elizabeth told me to canter for fifteen more minutes, she was heading back to the barn for Daisy. I seethed, not believing that I went from managing George Morris’s own operation to riding crazy eyed jack in the middle of noplace Maryland. Fifteen minutes later, though, Jack was still well behaved and now tired underneath the blazing August sun. Looking down at my right glove that was now soaked through with blood from the broken through burn, I decided then and there that I had nothing to prove to anyone, and that before the month was out, I would be gone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#94: Obituary

# 94 Obituary: Write a story in the form of an obituary, but try to make it a funny obituary . A short story that begins with an obituary might seem to need to be about that person. It doesn’t have to be about that person. 500 words:

Despite his being a devout Scientologist, Fredericko Davenport, upon passing away on September 25th, 2010, did not become a God of his own planet. Or perhaps he did and we simply have no way of knowing. In any event, his having or not having a planet does not alter the fact that he is, unfortunately, no longer on the planet we know as Earth. Fredericko was born in 1950 to one Octavia and one Gustav Davenport of the Newark Davenports, a very wealthy New Jersian couple. Fredericko, upon graduating from Penn State University with dual degrees in Print Making, Musical Theater, and Biology, decided to enter the completely unrelated field of teaching English. Fortunately, no real credentials are needed to succeed in this field, and Fredericko, who had a flair for expanding rhetoric to the bursting point and talking endlessly in circles, flourished as both a professor of profundity and a scholar of the highest order. After the completion of what many consider to be his masterpiece on the philosophical meanings of the comma (When A Pause Means ,,, More, Than A Period, available from St. Martin’s Press), Fredericko decided to go back to his original training, and moved to New York City to become a professional unemployed actor. In 1990, he was an overnight success, appearing in no productions either on, off, or off off broadway, but serving on the wait staff of no less than seven upscale to mid upscale New York restaurants. It was during this time in New York that he found Scientology, and decided that shit yeah, it would be awesome to die and not only become a God of your own planet, but you get to have, like seven wives or something. He immediately gave all of his royalties and tips to the Church, completely embracing their teachings and spending most of his free time on street corners asking pedestrians if they wanted to take free personality surveys. Now, before continuing the narrative, one must first be informed right here and now that in no way shape or form did Fredericko go back to New Jersey with the intent of living in his parent’s basement with Gregory, his beloved cat (he really is a cool cat, I know some cats aren’t, but Gregory is). It’s just that, well, you know, cost of living and all that, and there truly was some other purpose, some higher purpose, calling him back there. He felt like his parents needed saving, yes, that’s it, his parents needed saving and he was just the one do to it, and where else was better than the basement of his parent’s house? So with a heart full of compassion and a mind full of knowledge, he swept back into his parents lives in the winter of 2008, and set up shop on the pull out sofa. His last and coincidentally his first stage appearance since Penn State occurred in a production of Guys and Dolls (he was Nicely Nicely Johnson, he was awesome) with the Newark Second Stage Community Players.

Friday, March 18, 2011

#8 Rhetorical Question

#8 Rhetorical Questions: Write a fragment of story using mostly rhetorical questions. You can write a plain vanilla sentence that is not a rhetorical question every five or six sentences. 500 words:

Why does the summer taste so delicious? Why doesn’t it when it doesn’t? Who cares? He didn’t. Why care about summer tasting like anything? Why care in general? Isn’t caring for bears? He loved that cartoon growing up, owned about fifty of them. Why can’t the summer taste like care bears? What do care bears taste like? If a care bear falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does anyone care?

His line of thinking was taking a turn for the deranged, he knew, but what else could he do?

What is the essence of a question? What is the essence of their answers? Why does the world revolve constantly around questions and answers? Ultimately, do any of the answers matter? Do answers tell people where to go, what to do? If all it took were questions and answers, why were things so horrifically messy right now?

He thumbed through the pages of the novel, trying to concentrate on the typeface, trying to make the odd assortment of letters form into words and sentences and thoughts and maybe even some answers but probably just more questions.

What if there were no more questions asked ever? What if the answers simply appeared without being prompted or invoked? What if they grew on trees, were raised in farms, some of them organic and insanely overpriced? What if low income areas suffered from a lack of answers because the residents weren’t wealthy enough to afford them? Were answers the ultimate answer? Were questions obsolete?

The tea kettle on the stove started to announce its presence, screaming that his water was ready, ready ready ready READY READY READY.

If water boils in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it eventually give up? If a person keeps asking questions, and nobody is around to answer, do they eventually give up? Why give up? Why give up your time? Why give up your money? Why not go live in the forest? Would living in the forest give you the answers?

He poured the hot water over Earl Grey as the questions continued to surface and swirl, turning off the burner and slowly walking back to the sofa, sitting, once again picking up the book that was supposed to be so much better when read while drinking a cup of Earl Grey.

Which was it better to obey, the letter of the law or the meaning? Which was it better to follow, your head or your heart? Which was it better to have, love or wealth? Did everything have to be binary? Did life have to be split into question/answer, love/wealth, head/heart?

How did things get so serious? How did philosophy come from carebears? How did he get here, in this apartment, drinking this tea, thinking these thoughts? Why did summer have to be so inquisitorial? Nobody expects the summer inquisition.

Why did he have to be so weird? Why couldn’t he ask normal questions with normal answers? Why didn’t he have the normal answers? Why wasn’t he normal?