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?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Water Prompt

As found on the internet: Describe a lake as seen by a young man who has just murdered someone. Do not mention the murder. 750 words.

The water was flat. Completely flat. He had no idea water could look like that. He always assumed that wind, or nature, or currents, or magic kept it flowing, moving, waving. In some way. Not this. Not flat.

It looked like a dead lake. Perfectly reflecting the bare trees and leaf strewn ground and deep blue early morning sky with its one or two nonchalant clouds moving through. The air snapped with his breath as he stared at the mirror before him. His own breath, visceral, visible, present, alive, a white declaration of himself, proof, to himself, the ground, the forest, the lake, that he existed. At least at this moment in time. By this lake. At least now.

He crept down to the edge of the bank, to the ledge where the forest abruptly stopped and dropped off into the water. Dead leaves lay encrusted on the surface like a mummy’s bandage, like an old band aid covering up the water’s cuts. So natural there, in the lake, such a natural sight to see.

But what a glorious morning it was turning out to be. The sun was just starting to peak through the bare trunks on the other side of the lake, the bright rays hitting the water and bouncing perfectly back, pristinely duplicated. The birds gave a few tentative chirips, though it was still early in the year and the morning unseasonably cold. Everything in its place. Everything perfectly in its place.

Everything perfect.

Accept for the lake, the dead lake in the middle of so much life, in the middle of the sunrise and the birds and his own breath hanging before him punctuating his thoughts like so many carbon dioxide commas.

He scanned his immediate surroundings until he found a stick, more like a small branch, about a foot long, hooking around at one end. He grabbed it with his blood spattered glove and tested out its weight, its balance in his hand. Then he backed up a few steps so as to get a good running start, and hurled it towards the water. It attained a perfectly natural (after all, what in nature isn’t perfect?) arc and sliced into the lake, cutting the surface and splashing, giving the water a voice.

Finally, movement, as the ripples spread out across the surface like so many heartbeats. The perfect reflection undulated and changed, no longer a pristine mirror. He felt his blood pressure rise at the sight of it. He bent down, didn’t even look, just grabbed whatever he could, and hurled it into the water. He screamed as he threw. The debris scattered, ricocheting against itself in the air, marring the perfect arcs, and spattering against the water.

He grabbed more, he threw, he screamed. The more he threw and grabbed, the more the water boiled, the better he felt. The water was boiling now, not him, the water was distracted and confused and alive, not him. He was throwing it all into the lake, into the sharp morning. He took off his gloves, threw them in as well. His jacket, he unzipped it and balled it up and in it went. His belt, his boot, his other boot, his socks, all if it, all of it off and into the lake. Into the lake. His shirt, his pants, his boxers.

He stood on the bank, his sweat freezing against his skin, his face wet with salt, his feet against the bare dirt and rocks and sticks, cutting into the tough skin of his heels. His clothes floated on the surface, confused as to how they got there, moving around in the current he created, his god like current.

Quiet again, now that his lungs had their say, screaming into the perfect morning that was not perfect, not perfect, wasn’t allowed to be perfect. He took a step forward, and another, and another, until he discovered that he was walking into the lake, his body, violently shivering, at first informed him of, then protested against, his forward movement into the water.

He started to blindly stumble, run, into the lake. He was only a rudimentary at best swimmer, able to dog paddle and tread water, but nothing that could be considered a true “stroke”. Couldn’t crawl or butterfly. He flailed against the ice water, knifing into his skin, his senses. But oh, the fantastic ripples he was creating! The amazing mess! More so than sticks or dirt or all his clothes combined. He was the storm the morning refused to provide, making the water bend to his will, making the water alive with his own life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#145: CBGB

145: CBGB What is it about places liked CBGB, the bar in the East Village in New York that showcased early punk rock scene in the 1970s? Think of your own significant place, like this grungy bar. Or just write about CBGB. Do some research into whichever place you choose to write about. The place doesn’t have to be famous, it can be important only to you and the friends of your youth. Imagine your way into one of these sites of happening. 750 words.

The Ho had stood there longer than anyone could remember. As far as anyone could tell, it was a theater theater at first, with one huge stage, that had little operettas and productions that rolled through town. Opera? Who knew. In the 1950s, it split into the two separate movie theaters so it could show two movies instead of one. That was pretty much the last time anyone could remember any sort of internal improvement, though there must have been something in the 1970s to bring wiring and ancient fire systems up to code. The place was still a deathtrap. All of that chintz, dust, and fabric would have been up in flames blink fast. But even being in a deathtrap was better than being socially dead alone at home.

It was dirty and fantastic. The two theaters: The Blue Room and The Red Room. One was blue, and one was red. But not just blue and red. I mean, Blue and Red. Huge dusty blue curtains that hung from ceiling to floor along the walls, huge blue sconces along the top of the movie screen, blue light fixtures and blue seats and blue carpet. Or red of everything just listed. Epic red and blue.

What made it even better was upon closer inspection, there were so many layers of grime that things were more off blue, off red. Blue-ish, Red-ish. It didn’t matter. Gum under the seats, stickiness everywhere, popcorn from decades past still glued to the floor, initials carved into the armrests. Didn’t matter.

The most coveted seats, ironically, were the few in the balcony, the ones you had to have the inside scoop to access from a small staircase behind the concession stand. From this perch, you could make out, drink, smoke (pot), and if the movie was particularly boring, laser point at the actors on screen until someone complained to the manager (which didn’t matter, because the manager was invariably your friend’s older sister or brother, and knew the score).

Aforementioned concession stand had all the staples: Ju Ju Bees, Jr. Mints, Sugar Babies, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, back when the boxes were normal sizes and not gargantuan. The popcorn (oh, the popcorn) was usually soggy with butter and heat. But oh, so so amazing to eat. Even more amazing to chuck at your friends when you were done eating, since minimal contact produced maximum stains on clothes. The soda was flat and had more ice than beverage. Perfect.

We stayed there well past when the movies were over, crowded into the lobby or playing the few arcade games along the wall. Endlessly turning over the day’s gossip, stirring it and chewing it, like sustenance. In the Ho, popular kids had an air of glamour, hierarchies arranged themselves according to distance from the door (progressively better as one travelled further into the theater).

There was also a hint of the desperation that comes with all small town haunts. The desire, the urge, to run screaming away, as far away as we could, before it sucked us into it and we became the manager. The desire to be at The Ho needed to solidly center around the premise that really, we couldn’t stand to be at The Ho, would rather have been anywhere else, if only there was somewhere else to possibly go in that dumb place. Leesburg. Lameburg.

The kids who knew they were already out never went to The Ho. It was a place for those still on the fence, those still uncertain, those who still needed to have the security of place just in case it was a place they wound up living their lives. The dirty, dusty, grungy, sticky, red and blue and fantastic Ho. Where hearts were broken and virginity lost and friendships cemented and hungovers began. Where else in a small town could life have happened? Where else in that town could kids have lived? Besides the bonfires and the house parties? The IHOP and the China King? The Roy Rogers? The Rink?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Short Story from #96

I liked the direction so much that I went ahead and wrote a little short story out of that last exercise. Please give feedback!

This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. At all. Not at all. There should have been trumpets, sirens, howling wolves and wailing women. Not a lawnmower. Not a dog yapping (my god, couldn’t it have even been barking?) yapping in the background. The soft breeze. The warm blue sky. Puffy clouds. All wrong.

She didn’t have the chance to send out the email, the email she had just written to the guy she had been dating for a few weeks (what the hell was his name?), the one asking him if he wanted (“I had the time off, thought you might be interested..”) in a weekend getaway to a film festival. Maybe they could stay over? They had sex, sure, but it was never romantic. Never candles and soft music, or music at all. He had a tendency to strip off her clothes like a 4 year old on his birthday, ripping. She wanted to be carefully untaped, so the wrapping could be used again. Carefully untaped and then folded up. A film festival and a bed and breakfast seemed like the perfect opportunity to gift herself.

Now? Too late. Dead. Tripped (over what? A sandal? Goggles? A floatie?), head hit on the cement around the pool, too woozy to stand, and the sun beaming down at her.

She could feel the blood pool around her, sticky, salty, lots and lots of it. Just like she imagined it would be like in the movies, the movie blood that she saw when she watched the gory camp with Richard, her ex, this is how she imagined it would taste like. She wished she could tell him, call him and tell him, “Richard! I was right! You were wrong, it’s not sweet, it’s salty and thick! HA!” Tell him that much, at least, how right she was. The other things she was right about? Yeah, why the hell not, tell him about those too, how she was right that it could have worked, he could have learned to love her, he could have learned to love the city, the life they had made for themselves. He was wrong. She was right.

But now she was dead. It was too late.

Shit, why hadn’t she sent that email? Now it was going to look like she ignored him, that she hadn’t liked him enough (Jesus Christ, what was his name??) to get back in touch. It had been a few days, she had been busy. Work. Work was overwhelming her. The project needed three people, at least, and it was only her working on it. Times were tough, sure, cuts and layoffs, she was lucky to even have a job. But still. She needed to set boundaries, otherwise they would expect her to keep doing the work of three people solo forever, never rehire the help she needed. She had finally finished it last night, clocked overtime (what, 65 hours that week?) and stayed up until 2am, but thumb drived it and stuck it in her boss’s mail slot before leaving the office and driving home.

It was the wine. She never should have had that wine when she got home. It made her way too hungover this morning, she was dehydrated already when she had it, and now look what happened? Came out into the morning, the glorious morning, calling in sick because she deserved it damnit and wrote the email and then looked out at the pool calling her name and decided to go out, naked, in the buff, to her pool at her house, the house that she worked hard to buy, the one Richard always felt out of place in (intimidated by her, that’s what her mom said, he couldn’t stand that she was the breadwinner). So she slipped off her bathrobe and left it in the chair by the computer and never hit “Send” and got a glass of water and her sunglasses and then she tripped.

And was naked. Shit, she was naked. shit shit shit. This was all wrong. Completely wrong. And her shades were still there, on top of her head, all she was wearing was a pair of Ray Bans. She would be found naked, God knows how many days later, by her pool, baked in the sun and the lovely breeze and the puffy clouds.

The project was completed, she deserved to celebrate. She decided to drink the red, even though she preferred white, even though she hated red, because it was the bottle Richard had been saving, and had forgotten to bring with him when he left. She never called to tell him he left it. The lovely red, the cabernet, the one he was saving for a special occasion. He never said what the occasion may be. The special one. The one so special that it required saving for. Obviously not a proposal. Obviously not that.


Why was she even obsessing over this? Wasn’t this over? Shouldn’t she be reliving the good times, having things flash by? Her first steps, her first word, her first orgasm (oh, wait, Richard gave her that, no good), her first kiss? Devon. Devon McGuire in the sixth grade.

He had tasted like a ham sandwich, only natural since they had just shared one, his, so she guessed she probably tasted like a ham sandwich too. It had been a lovely kiss. All of her friends recounted horror stories, sloppy tongues and slobber and even some teeth and even some blood (blood? Really? What sort of pornos had those boys been watching?), but not Devon. It was soft and sweet and so so charming.

Actually, one of the best kisses she ever had.

She wished she could tell him. Right then and there. Devon, you probably don’t remember me, we didn’t even date, just kissed, but remember? In the sixth grade, I guess towards the end of the year, we shared a ham sandwich underneath the tree outside the school, the big one right in the front that so many kids tried to carve their initials into (RB + FT 4ever, etc), and it was one of the best kisses of my entire life. And I so so wished we had stayed in touch, had remained friends, even best friends, the kind in the movie, maybe even wound up like When Harry Met Sally.

Devon was probably married by now. Why wouldn’t he be? 35? Married with a kid, or two. Not lying naked beside a pool.

Shit, this was taking a long time, She shouldn’t have the time to think so many thoughts. After all, how much blood had she lost by now? Enough that she could see it start to drip into the pool itself, start to turn the water around the edge a little pink.

How romantic.

Richard, he was a good kisser too. A little rougher, a little more take charge. Of course he would be, he wasn’t a shy sixth grade boy, but still very adept. Never out of control or over the top. Just enough passion held back by just enough reserve so that things stayed interesting. What would he do this time? Tongue? Hold back? A little teeth? A little sigh? What what what?

She loved anticipating it.

She should never have bought the house. That’s what did it. That stupid house, that stupid fucking house with the stupid fucking wrap around porch and the stupid stupid fucking fucking pool. Why did she need a pool? She didn’t even like to swim. She didn’t even own a lot of bathing suits. But she could afford the pool and the porch and shit, she could afford to buy some bathing suits, so why not?

The more she tried the more he danced away, side stepped and back pedaled and eventually left with nothing more than a letter (he was a writer after all, a struggling writer, an undiscovered writer, a failed writer, why not a lovely letter, a masterpiece, something to remember him by?) on the mantel.

He didn’t have much. It wasn’t hard. Only clothes and toiletries and his laptop and his rubber duck collection (she still found it endearing, charming, never tired of the ducks on the shelf in the bathroom) and his few bottles of wine.

She couldn’t believe that he had left the Cabernet. The one they picked up in Napa Valley, right after Sideways came out and she thought he would enjoy the trip, he had been a little down lately (this was after the first promotion, but way way before the house), so why not treat them both to a weekend away in glorious Napa Valley?

It was perfect. He and she and them together. Just like she finally (finally) always wanted. No worries, no cares, just like when they first met, just conversations and kisses (my God he was a good kisser) and making love and lots and lots of wine. She white and sweet, he red and sour.

When he tasted the Cabernet, he said it was the best wine he ever tasted, ever, his eyes went wide and he looked at her and he didn’t have words, he just held it out for her to drink. And though she didn’t get it, didn’t even really like it (she hated reds), it made him so happy that he wanted to buy a bottle of it right there on the spot.

But then he passed at the register. Said something to the girl (she must have been a college student, there for summer work) that he changed his mind, what he really wanted was the _______ instead.

She went back after lunch, said she was going to the restroom, she would be a minute, and rushed back in and bought it and hid it in her humongous bag (“Cheryl, that Mary Poppins bag is one of your most fantastic qualities”) and brought it out that night when they ordered room service in their little fantastic room.

He seemed nervous. It turned out to be one of their very best, and it was a well respected vineyard, and to be honest she had no earthly idea how much a bottle of wine could cost.

Why did she have to be naked? Couldn’t she have at least had on her robe, her lovely 100% silk italian robe, one of the many many things she bought to fill up her closet, her bedroom, her bathroom, her three other bedrooms, her chef’s kitchen, her other bathroom, her other other bathroom, her study, her office, her full basement, her den, her foyer (yes, she had a foyer, she loved to say it to herself as she passed through it, “This is my foyer”), her sunroom, her pool. Her 100% silk robe, now discarded and sitting in the computer room.

Next to a computer with an unsent email to whats-his-name. Maybe someone would tell him that she had that email up, that she meant to hit send. Maybe whoever discovered her would see it, track him down, tell him. Maybe whoever wrote her obituary (would she have an obituary?) that she meant to hit send, a tragic love story, love caught short in death.

She always meant to hit send.