When I first heard of Nanowrite ( which I think was last year ), I was like uhuh, not for me, who could write 50,000 coherent words in 30 days? I’m lucky if I can manage 10,000 coherent words in three weeks. But this year I thought - what the hell, what have I got to lose.
I signed up maybe five days before it started and hadn’t even settled on a project. I was currently tinkering with my Doll’s novels and thought about trying that out and even entered that as my project until I read the rules - ( Yes, first things first, Peach. Dive in then read the rules. ) - You must start from scratch. Not wanting to ditch an entire chapter, I dusted off a screenplay, ditched most of the characters, scenes, outcome - lol. Not much left but the idea and main character - perfect. With a couple days to go, I cranked out a 17 page outline.
Nanowrite is kinda like setting out on a cruise there’s a lot of fanfare before hand, ticker-tape curls thrown and bon voyagies. Imagine Elvis Costello crooning his approp ‘Everyday I write the Book’ and when the shiphorn blew at midnight - cast off time - ah, the excitement, the adrenalin! My fingers flew across the keyboard. The next day I couldn’t wait to get started again and update my word count.
For the first week I seemed to operate on a pure high. It was part the novelty of belonging to this cruise-like, clubby atmosphere - I’m with nanowrite! Part the sharing of a similar experience - look at all these people who want to write a book - how cool is this! Mainly, though it was being immersed in a fresh project.
Second week the novelty begins to wear off. Not necessarily a bad thing. Can anyone write a book on a high of sheer novelty? Whoever you are out there, let me know. I hit some rough patches. Some might scoff how can you call them rough patches if you consistently made your goal each night and more than your goal. Because some of that writing was done down to the wire. Seconds to the clock an hour left to midnight and I’m taping away, my the little-turtle-that-could pace - a hour and a half = 1 page ( if I’m lucky. )
I practically pulled my hair wondering what comes next. Outline aside, I still had to come up with fresh dialogue and little things on the fly. And there were moments of complete chicken-little panic noticing glaring inconsistences. I forgot my mc smoked and given his position in quarantine he should be going up the wall. Some characters are supposed to go to the bathroom ( don’t ask but it’s essential to the plot ) and they’ve been holding it for over a week - lol. And then I’d write some winning sentence that made me wonder if I really knew what I was doing. A real hum-dinger like -‘ the creatures’ appetite was so fierce they were resorting to cannonbalism.’ Mmm -Yes, I suppose that’s where they shoot themselves out of their paddock with a cannon. Well, at the very least it’s good for a laugh.
But what have I learned? Firstly, a routine. Which is definitely not to be under rated, Before, I merely wrote whenever I felt like it letting precious days slip by. Weeks even, dare I admit months? But I had the time just nobody to push me.
Secondly, I discovered when my best writing times are - afternoons ( when I can spare them ), and late evenings.
Thirdly...Oh, to Hell with the numbers. Here’s the list.
* Daft Punk can add a David Lynch-like twist to your writing.
* Love your first draft - it’s the diamond before it gets cut so don’t be so hard on it!
* Keep your forum chat to a minimum. My best writing days were the ones I didn’t go on the internet.
* Attempting the lambada, in the middle of writing a scene, just because the song came on,
is mere procrastination.
* End your writing day in the middle of a scene and even in the middle of a sentence. It’s so much easier to start the next day filling in a scene. By the time you’re ready to begin a fresh one you’re already in a groove.
* I’m off track, my creatures have planted a vegetable garden and for the last five pages I’ve forgotten their big mysterious project. Panic time? No. I keep going. I decided if the problem doesn’t work itself out to cut and paste for the second draft.
* Open a document a day. For Nano, I named each one Nov 1, Nov 2 and so on. It made keeping track of everything easier, plus, I wasn’t as tempted to reread what I wrote the day before. Oh, also, at the end of the day copy and paste the last few sentences so you’ll know where to start in the morning.
* Don’t tell a lot of people you’ll be busy writing. As soon as they think you’ll be unavailable for a while they’ll panic and become extra pesty.
* Laugh don’t cry at your flaws - Cannonbalism - lol.
* Argue with yourself later. Normally, I could spend fifteen precious minutes tinkering with a simple line like - “Write that symbol.” Arguing, shouldn’t it be, draw that symbol? Put the second option in brackets and power on.
* Set a writing goal. Nothing absurd like I will write a 600 page historical novel about African bush tribes in two weeks. Be practical. How much time can you spend a day writing and what would be your average output for that time be - three pages a day? Five hundred words? Pick it and stick with it. Always undercut - that way you’ll be jazzed when you surpass it.
Overall, I discovered I’m still that kid who loves a gold star. Maybe everyone in Nanowrite is that kid beaming over a badge for a job well done. I think that’s what’s been missing. I’m so busy trying to write a novel, tell my story and have it be perfect that I haven’t even allowed myself to feel pleased about the actual act of writing of conquering small goals. The more I give myself kudos for getting stuff down on paper, the more I put on paper. Whether or not it's garbage is worry for another day -
Decided to try out Nanowrimo this year and I'm feeling jittery and nervous. That same feeling I got in track and field just before a sprint. You'll never make it! Well, I never did get a ribbon in running. Standing long jump was my specialty. God, I hope there's no writing metaphor in that?!
I have no idea if I can keep up my writing goal especially since I'm going in on this with my usual mode-of-operandi - fly by the seat of my pants. I'm not sure that's the smartest position but I do have a loose - read extremely flimsy - outline. Technically how I roll is to sit down jot some ideas about the scene before actually writing it. I haven't got a pov yet. I'm torn between using the I pov because I think perhaps it might be easier but I don't especially like I pov so I'll probably fall back on deep third.
I can feel those filter words creeping up on me already - Phineas felt this Phineas felt that.
I don't even have a location nailed down. I initially picked a farm in Minnesota but I know doodlysquat about Minnesota so I'm considering some unnamed town in Canada and fake my way through - only trouble is I need a government contamination squad to swoop down. Me thinks Canada wouldn't be as fast on the ball as the U.S.
Two days to go - Arghhhh!
sulphur laden clouds
black limbs filtering
burned bulb of sun
floating apocalyptic babies
who grin, stare-stuck into forever
amputated from yester-era
A foreign body is lovely you think
finger-climbing up twin hills
plunder valley cleft
tangle in thicket
entwine and orbit
cosmic fall in reflecting -self -reflecting
mark your claim
watch it shift from under your grasp
for your trumpeting footprint
tender abuse this tongue of flame
saying, speaking, ordering
do something about yourself
after the words brand a seal
enclosing a scored heart
he becomes chill as wax
has frozen him grotesque
as a half melted saint
Am I nailing it when I fullfill what I want to say?
This thought came to me while contemplating a critique on someone’s story ( not here ) and then working on my own. I found myself doing what I was shaking my head at. Guilty! During the dialogue exchange, the physical reactions had been reduced to stock motions; he laughed, he grinned, he raised an eyebrow, he looked. Simple phrases that in the end dragged the story down an ordinary path. The occasional interesting event or phrase would catch my eye, but for the most part the author coasted on ‘what I want to say.’
Using ‘What I want to say’ is not necessarily a bad thing.
In the paragraph above I used vague phrases like ‘occasional interesting event’, ‘catch my eye’ and ‘coasted.’ I grabbed for them like a cook grabbing for familiar ingredients.
In fact a good many writers feel relieved - I know I do - just by discovering what they want to say and getting it down or paper ( or word doc. ) But ‘what I want to say’ can often lead to cliches. In one self published story that I read recently, I found a cliche and a tired phrase in nearly every sentence; greatest idea since sliced bread, without a hitch, out this jam, truly wished a loved one was there ( during a moment of crisis ). And on and on. The writer was saying what he/she wanted to say without going deeper. By the end of the story, I felt as though someone had written it with a Mad Libs, fill-in-the-blanks form.
Can a writer write a novel and publish it by saying ‘what I want to say’? Definitely. But should he? Are you finishing it or did you you nail it ( get it right. ) Why not go deeper and discover what you really want to say.
I’m going to pull apart opening sentences to two well-written books, Lolita and Z is for Zachariah, to show you what I mean.
Let’s start with Nabokov, now, imagine he’s a newbie whose first drafts could be posted for critique. Here’s the end result, what he’s striving for -
Lolita. Light of my life. Fire of my loins. - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
But, lets say he starts by putting down a sentence that gives his opening chapter the general idea he needs -
Lolita was the most important person in my life.
No snickers. Whose to know genius doesn't start this way. And this could be his ‘what I want to say’ moment. After all it does what it’s supposed to. But then he thinks about it and admits, okay, it’s to the point but rather drab, and it feels familiar. Everyone has someone important in their life so why should the readers think the mc feels something special? And by its vagueness Lolita could be a mother, a sister, an aunt or a friend. I need to clarify the relationship. See, by continuing to ask questions - Why is this revelation special? How does Lolita affect the mc? The writer is really asking - is this what I really want to say? He’s going deeper and deeper until finally, he tweaks the sentence -
Lolita had me, body and soul.
Maybe this is the author’s ‘what I want to say’ moment, or as it’s clearer than the previous sentence, maybe it could be the author’s ‘what I really want to say moment.’ Then again he could think meh, body and soul is an ordinary phrase I want something special. He goes deeper, asking more questions. What am I trying to convey? The mc’s obsession/ focus for Lolita and his lust. What is a symbolic focus? Light is an element, a focus point. It’s also a spiritual symbol. Aha. And lust begins in the loins. Fire is also an element. Lust is a heat. Light and fire create an echo by their similarities. Now, echo the sentences to highlight that connection.
Lolita. Light of my life. Fire of my loins. - Vladimir Nabokov.
I’m not saying this is how he did it, heck these lines could’ve been the first thing he wrote down, but it makes for an interesting experiment.
Going deeper is not just about swapping vagueness for clarity. It’s about finding what you really want to say by how you want to say it. It’s the very conception of your writer’s voice.
If Lolita’s not your thing lets try the same go-deeper experiment with an amazing Ya book. Here’s the end result -
I am afraid.
Someone is coming. That is, I think someone is coming, though I am not sure, and I pray that I am wrong. - Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien.
A great opening. But let’s say Robert in his first instinct types out his general idea -
I’m trembling like a leaf because I saw someone up on the ridge.
Perhaps he looks it over and tweaks it -
I’m trembling like a leaf because I thought I saw someone up on the ridge.
Maybe he’s having a ‘what I want to say’ moment. After all it’s showing fear and the cause of it. But he’s not satisfied. It’s not really what he wants to say. Often what you really want to say has to challenge convention to truly nail it. He cuts trembling like a leaf, it’s cliche, plus, he wants to use the telling word 'afraid' so there will be no doubt in the reader’s mind.
He reworks it.
I’m afraid because I thought I saw someone up on the ridge.
Still unsatisfied, he asks himself what is wrong with the sentence. He reads it out loud. What do I want to convey? Fear. But also confusion in the reader. I want to draw it out. How can I do that? I have to chop up the sentence.
Still not right but what’s wrong with it? She’s afraid, that’s serious business. Aha. He’ll remove the contraction -
I am afraid.
I am afraid. I thought I saw someone on the ridge.
Now the following sentence doesn’t mesh well. It must be reworked. He asks himself questions about fear, and why she’s afraid. Because she saw someone/ thought she saw someone. Keep it simple. Let’s focus on the person and remove the ridge as unimportant. Now she’s just spooked. There in is the truth. Fear comes by movement, being certain you saw something first before the doubt. The next sentence has to be as assuring as the first.
I am afraid.
Someone is coming.
I won’t go deeper on the rest as you can see where it’s going.
These exercises are mainly for fun but they do allow writers to see, by breaking it down, just how the author came to craft these amazing sentences. Going deeper, asking questions, is something to keep in mind even when writing the first draft as it will keep it clearer, cleaner.
In a recent forum discussion on setting ( not here elsewhere ), I noticed a lot of writers seem to think setting is not all that important to the story.
I was flabbergasted. Others argued it was necessary but not the end all/be all of a story.
As I was trying to argue my belief that Setting is not only important but extremely essential, I realized I couldn’t articulate on the fly, I had to think about it.
Interestingly enough I had just finished a book by Debbie Macomber called Mail-Order Bride, a Harlequin romance ( don’t groan ), which can be used to make my point.
Now for arguments sake if setting is merely a location as generic as say a home, or even as generic/specific ( if that’s possible - a location but not quite exact ) as Alaska than a writer who is working on a romance could build her characters - fiesty woman, stubborn hunk and plot - mail order bride and decide after where she wants to place them. She could even go as far as to tweak them to fit the location. For instance if she’s toying with location she must keep in mind that the cowboy would be wearing less than the Alaskan man. That Utah scenes might take place more outdoors than Alaska. And while the cowboy is clean shaven the Alaskan man might have a beard to protect him from the weather. The writer could even split the difference admitting the rustic cabins in either location are pretty much similar, each with the proverbial roaring fires. But what has the writer really done? She’s allowed herself to fall ( comfortably ) into the slot of genre and pretty awful genre as that.
Why is this?
Let’s take Mail Order Bride as an example. Here’s the story - Two Great Aunts, resembling the Baldwin sisters’ on the Waltons, brew up liquored tea, and an idea to get their great-niece’s mind off of being dumped at the alter. The idea is to send her off to Alaska under the guise of a paid vacation while waiting for her is a man whose mail-order bride ad they’ve answered. She is so drunk on her aunts ‘special’ tea that she goes through with the ceremony. In the morning however she’s horrified by her whirlwind marriage and tries to escape. He likes what he sees and plots to keep her.
Now for the most part it’s a pretty generic idea that knows no bounds, it can happen in the 1800's or for this book, the year 2000. It can take place in the west or Alaska.
Instinct, lead her to choose Alaska, and it’s a good choice. You can isolate the characters, the weather can stop the woman from fleeing, there are rough crews out there making her idea to travel alone dangerous. And here’s the big one; the cold can be used as a metaphor for her behavior.
Oddly enough out of that list the obvious are used, the metaphor ignored. That is how setting can become cardboard backdrops. She’s picked the obvious things about Alaska: a beard, the cold, the isolation, and lack of travel. She’s even tossed in Indian friends, knitting for tourists, a mysterious fever epidemic. In the cabin there are quilts on beds, dinners are rich stews, and nights are composed of Scrabble games. But nothing is wrung from setting it has stayed completely on the surface of Alaska. Everything you expect has been covered. In fact without the cold any isolated place on the planet would suffice.
Now what if to fix the book we added more detail. We could add descriptions of glacial waters, the aurora borealis, history of the town and people, detailed description of culture and fish recipes but would the story become better? Relatively speaking - yes. However, if nothing links back to the character, plot and theme, if the writer misses the opportunity to expose this place as an echo of deeper value, than the story remains in mediocrity.
Here’s the kicker - all the detail in the world is not going to matter until you realize the setting must interweave character, plot and theme.
First of all, the writer had good instincts to place this story in Alaska had she dug deeper, a better story might’ve emerged.
Had she linked Alaska to the barren feeling of the heroine, the isolation of the hero, worked in the freeze out on her emotions, the beard not just as protective shield against frostbite but a shield against love than symbolically cutting it would’ve been to let down his guard.
But every opportunity the writer had to go deeper she flubbed it by turning the beard cutting into a cute compromise with a look-he’s-a-hunk moment. The isolation was also a plot ploy and nothing emotional was culled from it.
This is why certain genre can be destructive, the writers play it safe. In fact you could easily say Mail-Order-Bride has no theme, no character and no plot. What it has is an idea, stereotypes, and a formula.
I’m being hard on her, I know but she can’t complain, she’s a bestseller.
Now, here’s an example of how Setting links to character, plot and theme and delivers the payoff.
Take We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. ( I haven’t read it but I’ve seen the movie - there are several differences but it’s pretty close * spoilers upcoming if you haven’t seen or read it. ) There is an important setting scene in the movie in which Eva decides to redecorate her office. She glues maps, postcards old travel memorably up on the walls. The travel items are not just part of her past but future. She loves to travel. In the time it takes her to retrieve her husband to show him her handiwork little Kevin as destroyed the room by squirt gunning paint all over the walls. His act of ‘violence’ with a ‘weapon’ has not only destroyed memories but a future. At the end of the book she is stuck in her hometown facing the repercussions of Kevin’s actions and ironically working at a travel agency to make ends meet rather than traveling.
Details are not as important as links. The travel theme is a link, the gun and the sight of sprayed walls are a link ( later the exterior of her own house will be doused with red paint - the anty is upped from the isolated and enclosed behavior of her son to everybody in town is now aware forcing her not to live with it - as she accepts the ruined room - but deal with it by scraping the paint off her house. )
Now, what if the writer had focused merely on details, not links. Well, then Eva could’ve decorated her office with paisley wallpaper. Kevin could have scribbled on the walls with Magic Marker - see, the difference? Details are an issue, yes, but the right details- the links are more important. When you break the links, the impact of the story fails.
Anyone know of any good poetry magazines? I'm in Canada and found the Malahat review which
is really good. I also ran across one on the internet Mudfish but I'd have to order it. Jill Hoffman is the
editor and I really loved her book of poems Mink Coat that I got last week at a used book store.
Usually I check out the contest theme. Sometimes it sparks a good idea, sometimes not. But if I go with it and start a story I - A. - never finish it in time or B. It's always too long and I can't enter. Today C. happened - I finished it! and ( wonders never cease! ) it was short.
I've finally made a deadline and kept a word limit!
Definitely a cheesy smile moment -
I was collecting new critiques on my old story Thunderbolt - and the consensus was - who is the narrator? I decided to clean up the story and give it a proper narrator. Here's the old version if you want to see the difference - http://www.writingforums.org/entry.php?b=63325
I think this version turned out pretty good. Not sure if I wandered out of the pov though. I struggle with that.
Collie got himself a roomie last week. Some white boy. Short, thin, he got pretty blonde hair but a big ugly-ass scar runs jagged cross his face like a thunderbolt. Nearly spoilt his good looks. Only nearly, cause Rudy-T and his gang a’ hussies, well, they jus don’t care bout stuff like scars or tats, or nothing. All they see is that nest of blonde curls topping that pretty little head, and soon some brick-red hand is gonna swoop down into that nest and make its home there.
I bets two packs a’ smokes that hand will belong ta Rudy-T, Collie, who think maybe he’d like to keep that fine piece o’ sugar - ha, I see that eye-twinkle, bet first on himself with a great whoop, showing his gold front tooth, then he switches, maybe - Grotto, yeah, he stick with Grotto. Grotto, he somehow get all the pretty ones. He got technique. Be nice a moment like a snake charmer, next he got that snake round the neck, trapped in Grotto’s basket. Ha! Ha!
Collie dubs him Thunderbolt, heard his real name once, think maybe it wer some watery, no-good name like Alan. But when those eyes hurl through you like a sickle, he need some biblical hammer of a name like Ezekiel - so Thunderbolt will do. Some just call him Goldilocks, or Goldfish or Scar until that reeper look hit ‘im, and a name like Goldilocks fades like dey memory of a woman’s kiss. He be a Thunderbolt, never mind that he slim, and pretty.
We’s sitting at the caf table, Collie’s got one arm wrapped round his tray, though nobody
stupid enough to steal even a wandering glance from Collie, let alone a fast scoop. He eat kinda dainty. Little spoonfuls, chewing with his huge eyes like elephant egg marbles rolled up. Today he be thoughtful.
“I seen me Thunderbolt before, can’t place where. But ooh it buggin’ me. It stuck in
there like a froze movie with some star grinning his teeth. And his name floatin’ away on a bubble - eh? You know?” Collie say this with his mouth full of mashed potatoes some slid off his gold tooth and it look like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.
“Saw him take out an ‘natomy book from the library yesterday. Think that fish like to look a’ naked folk without their skins on?”
Collie had been there, he like to follow that Whitebread. He point to the page with the hang dog pecker on it then he say to Thunderbolt - “looky here, I see what interest you, now. Ha!” But Thunder-B doesn’t rile so easy, Collie will have to try harder.
“Here, he comes now. You tell him Collie , no-white ass punk sits at this table. Tell him.” Josiah points his spork at Collie, real serious.
Thunderbolt got his head down, not meek, but watchful like wary dog, he in lead with other cons winding through the maze of tables, but they fall away, filling empty spaces on benches till there’s only Thunder-B left. Collie waves to Thunderbolt.
“What you want to be so mean for, gotta be friendly. He, my roomie, might come in handy.” Collie grin an’ give a hearty chuckle. Yeah, I’s gets his drift, handy - like he could be trading Bolt for a carton o’ smokes or home brew.
Thunderbolt drops his tray on the table, drops himself down on bench, don’t look at us cons round him with our skin, dark an shiny as shoe-polish. He hook a finger in his mashed -taters and put it in his mouth.
“Hol’s Pen?” Collie starts.
“No.” Thunderbolt turns his slice of bread like record to see label, picks it up then takes
big bite. Butter smears on his lips like gloss. Rudy-T takes notice from a table yonder and blows him a lil’ kiss.
“Musta been State. State pen?”
“Never been to jail. I told you that before.”
“How’d you get that nasty scar than whitebread? Hmm?”
“They got knife fights in suburbia now?” Meegar say and we all be laughing over dat one. “Lemme guess some Corvette-driving, manicure-flashing, big shit catches a little shit like you, humping his gold-card- carrying wife, and cuts you up.”
“No.” Thunderbolt is one cool cuke.
“C’mon aren’t we roomies. You can tell ole’ Collie. We sharin. ‘Bout all we got. Eh?
Swapping da shit. Ha!Ha!” Collie got a wheezy laugh. Usually, everyone laugh when Collie laugh, not Thunder-B.
“It’s shoot the shit.” Thunderbolt corrects.
“Be friendly, Thunder-B. I’s friendly who tells ya not to walk down past Hurky and his boys on way to the store or he’ll jack yer shit. Who tell ya not to take shower near Rudy-T huh? Who tell ya how he got here, an show ya snaps of my most, beautiful ma - huh? You best be friendly Bolt or I gon sell you to Rudy-T for a carton. Eh? Mighty temptin. Now, you gon tell us, how you got that scar?”
Thunderbolt’s still chewing his veggie-supreme, still sipping his Kool-Aid. Threats roll off him, like beads o’ water in the shower, like the whistles following those beads o’ water in the shower room.
“I did it myself.”
“Yo-self!” This hit Collie hard, he reeling, not that it take much to blow Collie’s mind. “Why you wanna cut yerself? Mess up that pretty face. You outta yer head, Thunder-B?”
“Some crazy-ass woman.” Meegar mutters. “It’s always a woman. Wouldn’t be in here if it weren’t for that - that lousy, stinkin whore- ” Gobs fall from Meegar’s mouth. He a mess. Collie stop lookin’ a him. Look back at prettyboy.
“How come?” Now, Josiah’s looking at Thunderbolt different like. He got maybe respect, for this white-boy that cut up his own face, an nearly spoilt his looks. Something psycho about that. Josiah got to admire that, they kindred motherfucks, now, cause psycho be stamped all over his shrink-form. Or so he says. Nobody really see Josiah as psycho, least he no crazier than anyone else you don mess with.
“I was angry.”
“Hhhrmph. Never cut my own face jus cause I’s angry.”Collie stirs the last little bit of mashed potatoes before scooping it up and putting it in his mouth.“Cut up a fella who made me angry, not me-self. Hhhrmph.” He have last say cause he get no arguments, most everyone agree with Collie, don’t nobody understand Thunderbolt, not at all.
* * *
Later that night, after lights out, when them guards shoo us back into our cages, us birds with clipped wings, I gets out my mirror so I can see if Collie gonna try anything tonight on Thunder-B. I gots a bet with Meeger. I say Thunder-B gonna put up a fight. Meegar bet that fish will float - he’ll roll on his back for Collie an takes it like the last roomie. Wailing.
Collie swing his mammoth leg up and thump the top bunk where Thunderbolt is trying to sleep. Not as hard as he could though, I seen him launch his last roomie into orbit.
Din quite catch Thunder-B’s reply he got his damn head under the pillow agin.
“You don’t sound very friendly Thunder-B. You don know roomie protocol. You s’poused ta say, evening Collie, what’s up.”
“What the Hell do you want.”
Now if Collie be a good roomie, he’d pull Thunder-B down off his top bunk and shake him till all those smart-ass comments fly out o’ his head an never come back. That’d learn him. But I’m guessing Collie be thinking of Grotto, gotta be a snake charmer to get his hand around this one cause he say - “Now, now that ain’t friendly like. Someone gonna think you real sourpuss, Thunder-B an give you ‘nother scar to add to your collection. You got ta learn to be sweet n’ sociable. Lets start with how come yer here. I told yous alls ‘bout my armed robbery. Now it’s your turn.”
“You didn’t tell me alls about it.” Thunder-B was really begging for a smack.
“What?! You callin me a liar. You sayin I didn’t buy no ski mask at K-mart, you saying I didn’t go into the Royal Bank on Eastchester avenue with Harlan and Mack and stick a saw-offed shot gun in that ole lady’s teller’s face and watch the sweat jump out of her pores like I be waving a blow-torch, huh? You saying I didn’ hop in a green Trino driven by cousin Ernie, that shit-head, who crash us up on William street, and we spill out o’ there like rats from a garbage heap while them pigs be raining gunfire on our ass.”
Collie shape his fingers into guns, he’s shooting at the top bunk. He need to catch his breath cuz he’s all outta ammo. His lungs heave like bellows.
“You’re pissin’ me off, roomie.” He grumbles.
“You ever shoot rats in a garbage heap?”
“Betcha you never kill nothing in yer whole life.”
“I’m in for manslaughter.”
“Eh? You! Ha!”
“It’s true. I killed a man. A lawyer.”
“Well, ha! Ha! A lawyer, eh? In your wet dream, Thunder-B. In your wet dream!” Collie rolls chuckling lookin’ all cozy. Nearly made me laugh - His roomie - a murderer? Ha. Collie was the murderer, not Thunder-B.
“Did I eva tell you Roomie ‘bout my mama. How she believe God’ll throw thunderbolts,
javelin style at anyone who gets away with murder. Law don getcha, God will.” Collie got a smirk in his voice. He laughs, and it comes up from deep down like a roll o’ thunder. Considering Collie been in jail four times and one for manslaughter already, he probably think this big pile o’ hooey, and don’t care what Thunderbolt think.
But Thunder-B, he offer anyhow, “Maybe he will, Maybe he won’t.”
“You got a pretty voice Bolt. Betcha you were one of them - whatchacallim? Them boys in church carrying candles and wearing nightgowns.”
Thunderbolt likes music, plays the guitar, dabbles with this n’ that- can play anything, Collie believe this like gospel, and spread the word at lunch - Glory be didcha know - Thunder-B worked in a music store before he got his stretch, Lordy no, tell us more. He even made himself a ukelele from a Kleenex box and a bunch of rubber bands. Kid stuff, but he can pluck a tune and nine times out of ten, if Collie knows the song, and he better, he guess right away, what is it. You don’t say. Call Thunderbolt his canary bird. Then, Collie say once all dreamy-n-shit on homebrew. “I plays a picture-show in me head of music-store Thunder-B wearing a three-button shirt that hug his long, fine torso showing off that sea-foam of chest hair. Oh, and a belt, I be generous, looped through jeans, no slacks, cause Thunder-B got legs like a swimmer and an ass like a bongo drum, that somehow shows up in me picture. Don laugh none, or I’s caves your head in. Then, Thunder-B is cradling a gleaming guitar, got them long fingers wrapped around the neck, pressing cords like they veins. Like a pulse waiting to throb. An he plucks, and give it life! Hear it throb? He look up, like he knows he star of ole Collie’s behind-eye movie. And he smiles that only-spotted-once-before smile when Vito got stabbed in the yard. He plucks another cord. I felt the hum. And there between Thunder-B’s lips, I sees a plastic pick, protruding like a wee valentine heart.” Ole Collie gots a hard on for Thunder-B. Makes me bet a lot harder. I gots no time for snake-charmers.
“Sing me sumtin.”
“What am I, hit parade?”
“I could tell you to do sumtin else, Thunder-B.” Collie’s words crackle with coy menace. He no joking now.
So, Thunderbolt sings, what else can he do.
Under him, that fat vulture, be grinning.
* * *
Morning rings, jarring loud. Con’s grumble.
Thunder-B already up I hears him pissing in the toilet. Collie grinning because he can stop the flow like a foot on a sprinkler hose, just by looking over Thunder-B’s shoulder.
“Quit it.” Why Thunder-B never think anything funny?
When I hears that whitebread snap Leave it alone. I think this be it and grabs me mirror. Last morning I catch Collie giving Thunder-B a wack on his bare rump as he trying to pull on clean shorts “That’ll learn ya not to bend over show off that sexy target.” I think today, today I win. Only Thunder-B not talking about Collie diddling around with his person. He talking about a moth, a damn moth that somehow fly and now it doing laps around their caged bulb. Thunder-B go on to mutter - “Only innocent thing in this hole.” While Collie track the moth with his eye. Maybe if Thunder-B had asked him pretty, maybe, but he orders Collie. Collie don’t take no orders from no white boy. His huge hands come together like a thunderclap.
“Got im.” He opens them to show Thunder-B, a veiny wing like a dab of tissue paper and a bit of gray ash. Collie rubs his hands together in all-finish manner. Smug. Dares, Thunder-B to say anything. Thunder-B say nothing.
* * *
Weeks go by. Meegar tell me ta give up. Only I say ain’t no limit on our bet. I hold out. Not much happen accept Collie like to sneak in an ass grab whenever that whitebread climb to his top bunk. Collie chuckle like it big joke, but one day he asks - Don’t you ever be lonely Thunder-B? and he answer, I was born lonely. Today Thunderbolt gets a letter and this cause enough to get out the mirror. Collie yanks it out of his hand. Thunderbolt is still holding the envelope, and watches as Collie lifts the letter up to his face like he willing their secret to rise up in him, like an erection. Like something your body should just know and give ya, when it’s needed. Now Thunder-B know for sure what everyone else does - Collie can’t read. Oh, he had suspicions. Collie made that whitebread read all his ma’s letters aloud to him. But he say it’s cause he likes to hear Thunder-B’s smooth voice. Collie fakes disinterest in the letter and tosses it. Whitebread don care and he not bending to pick it up. In the bottom of the envelope is something that Thunderbolt shakes out, a picture of a young girl with curly blonde hair just like Thunderbolt. Got skin like cream, just like Thunderbolt - no scar though. Her eyes are blue, only they not cut like sickle, they warm as summer sky.
“Who’s that little girl?”
“Youse got a kid? Get da fuck out!” Collie’s amazed. So is I. We never quite believe Thunder-B all that old. Tried running a bet to find out, only that damn fish wouldn’t cough up and tell us. We settle on twenty-five like we rename him Thunderbolt. Now I’s thinking we all be off and this fish be closer to thirty. Why Rudy-T wanna pant after a thirty year old for? That hag usually got his tongue hanging out after all them boys that squeak in here, cuz they a fart too old for juvi. Maybe, he’d cool his slacks once he learn Thunder-B’s a papa.
Thunderbolt gets da gum to stick up his picture.
“What’s ‘er name? Betcha she’s an Amy - Youse white bread got no imagination. Eh, not like my most beautiful ma ...Collingsworth.” Collie chuckling over that.
“Laurel.” Whitebread brings his lips to his daughters smiling face. Gives it a smooch.
“Laurel...Laurel.” Collie say snapping his fingers, and pacing like a tiger in its cage. Act like he got that feeling again that movie-star-name-won’t-form feeling.
* * *
Later that night Collie wakes us all up with his groaning. He swear and sweat and accuse.
“What’s up Collie?” I say trying to be nice. Not like Becker on the other side who be swearing for him to shut the fuck up.
“They tryin ta kill me.” I gets me mirror. This could be good. Meegar lean over our bunk.
“That whitebread strangling him? If so you owe me- that’s a bet breaker you know it.”
“Soap chips... they’re trying to poison me.” Collie don’t reach the toilet, he spew on the floor. I angle the mirror away from that mess. Thunder-B just a silver outline and he blows out the scent from his nostrils but it come back in next breath. I knows it. I taste it too. We all kennel dogs only we worse we gotta share our cages.
* * *
Days later Collie make a midnight plan -We get ‘em. He voice glowers. Whoever they be.
Thunder-B say he want a weapon.
I get out da mirror. What dat whitebread up to up?
Collie puff up like Santa, and show Thunder-B how he makes his magic sack o’ toys.
Thunder-B is smoothing plastic, wrapped round his toothbrush bristles. He borrows Collie’s lighter to melt it.
Collie sniffs like he enjoys the smell.
He’s hovered over Thunder-B’s work. Fat vulture.
“Not too much.” Now, he mother-hen.
Thunder-B’s thumb is near burnt. I can smell it.
“I’ll kiss it an make it better. Ha! Ha!.”
Thunderbolt yanks his thumb out of Collie’s huge paw never knowing if it’s a true joke.
Thunder-B and Collie both wait until Thunderb can file the lump of plastic against the concrete floor. Thunder-B start sharpening. That rasping sound coming out o’ the dark is a real shiver-maker.Cause them smart cons be knowing that sound and be wondering whose sharping a shiv? Smarter one be wondering whose gonna taste the edge o’ that shiv.
* * *
I lose my bet with Meegar, he call time at three weeks. Coulda argued I’s suppose. Collie getting more frisky with Thunder-B but maybe it’s best this way cuz we both woulda lost our bet eventually.
Than one year pass since that whitebread show up and I gots me a new roomie on account a Meegar got paroled. This new fish we calls him Greener. On account a he’s got to be the greenest dumb shit we eva see. Ain’t never been ta jail before. Still says sorry when he bumps us cons.
“How come Collie never talks?” He asks one day in the caf at lunch. An’ that just prove how stupid he is.
“Don you see that scar?” I asks pointing to Collie at table yonder, an give the kid a wallop upside the head making sure no guards looking our way. Dis kid gotta learn. Collie and Thunder-B don’t sit with us much anymore. Not since the incident. We calls it da incident. Thunder-B calls it the attack. Nobody believe him but nobody say that to his face. Even Josiah say he crazier than we eva thought and should be thrown in the psych ward. Trouble is that whitebread more smart than crazy. Even Rudy-T not dumb enough to blow ‘im kisses anymore.
We all gots our ideas about what happen that day. I play mine like Collie with his behind eye movie and I tell Greener about it.
“Collie he like to beach himself like a whale in the supply closet instead of doing laundry likes he supposed to. I’s figure he sleeping, ha! Snoring that day when Thunder-B comes in. And that Thunder-B he smart, he be the smartest con in this whole damn place.”
“If he is so smart why is he here?”
“Ha! Dat that mystery ain’t it. How you catch a hunter?”
“You step in his trap, fool! You make like the prey.” I chew my food. Let that nugget sink into Greener's windy skull a'fore continue.
“So Thunder-B I guessing maybe he straddle Collie’s lap. So when Collie wakes he feel all flooded with sunlight- declare it be Christmas today! Whitebread know Collie like him so he play it like da music man he is - he play Collie like a fucking fiddle. He ask think I’m pretty and he got that rare-smile on. And Collie says Shoor. He real cool, don’t wanna come across totally interested. Then Thunder-B push - he ask Want me? And Collie shiver thinking this were too good, just the idea that he wer wanted. Look up in case his angel dissolve into air, but naw he still there the fluorescent lights hitting the edge of that whitebreads hair making it glow.”
“Jeez, you guys all talk like homos. I got me a girl, Lashonda and she’s waiting for me.”
“I give her four visits, what you bet Josiah.”
“Two.” Josiah gots on a nasty smile, takes some of the spark out of Greener’s fire.
“Hey.” Greener give weak protest.
“Hey, what. So you see your Lashonda between glass until she figures unlike you, she don’t have to jail herself up. She got men all around her. And us, when the women stop visiting and they will, we gots to find our own beauties, something that don glass us out. That’s all Collie was doing. He in for twenty-five years no parole. Done five before that whitebread show up. Hard not to look at that face and wish. Yeah wish, that he could be his Lashonda. Maybe even Thunder-B play with that, he cruel. Maybe he say - I been wanting you Collie. Maybe, he lean down and pour his words right into Collie’s ear. And make Collie quiver. Make his eyes close in rapture of hope -thinkin’ could this be real? Ain’t had no roomie like dis before. Yeah, that’s what he do. So Collie won’t see the toothbrush come up. Ah not the toothbrush no more - it the shiv now, the shiv he helped Thunder-B make. But he’d feel the slash and his eyes they’d pop open and his hand would come trembling, feeling his own blood on his neck. Maybe this is where Thunder-B say why he done it. Real calm - alls the while slashing up his own arms so that every guard think they got jumped. Nobody knows why he done it. Pauly he say Thunder-B got a woman visitor while back maybe it be his wife. She cryin’ but Thunder-B hard like a stone. Tell her never to come back. She never does. He tears up every letter he gets after dat. I’s thinks maybe it’s got ta do with his little girl. Maybe one of Collie’s crimes all deem bullets shot for money or stereos, or jewelry maybe one of dem bullets hit a little girl and nobody take notice but the girls papa. If it belong to a pig gun, why they won’t take the blame and his defense attorney not allow Collie to take da blame and Thunder-B could cry in court and say listen to me and nobody would. All maybes, all guesses. Dis make him crazier ta think he’d want to step into this trap all cuz he want to cut Collie’s vocal cords. To be heard. Pauly he say - Thunderbolt just did it to show Collie he won’t take his shit no more. I’s don know, only Collie know. I believe his eyes blurred wit puddles and the froze-movie unstuck and he remembered a papa in the courtroom holding up his daughter’s picture saying her name Laurel so no one would forget. And they all did. So Thunderbolt got to come make ‘em remember. And Collie feel like the snake charmer who jus got bit. Or like his mama said - thunderbolts do come and take care of the wicked.”
“He don’t act like he hate Thunderbolt. If that story was true.” Greener is suspicious, not so green as to believe it all, and watches them for the truth. Thunderbolt doing all the talking. Collie listening. Collie break his corn bread into two pieces. Give half ta Thunderbolt cause he knows Thunderbolt likes the corn bread. Thunderbolt in return give Collie da last scoop of his applecrumble.
“Some men liked to be burned, it prove someone out there took notice of ‘im. Maybe that’s how they like it.” I say.
Greener shoves in his cornbread. “Lot of maybes.” He mumbles around the wad.
“Well, like Collie used ta say bout all we got, is swapping da shit.”
* Short poem I'm working on after being caught at my grungiest during an introduction. Ha.
Sum of me today;
Chipped lilac nail polish,
Feeling like a squirrel has taken fussy
residence in my chest.
Over there is a woman with
satin nails and satin hair
no squirrel, but a smile that suggests a song bird
flutters in her heart -
Sum of her.
What can I do?
kick out the squirrel, coax in canary birds?
Why must I always feel like
the chipped polish? -
Something must be done about it.
Yesterday, I noticed the new theme for this weeks short story contest - Plan B. Last weeks Downtown through me for a loop. The city were I live has a pretty interesting albiet rather scummy downtown. Nothing spectaculuarly
interesting but I do recall one drunk sitting in his apartment window threatening to drop empty beer bottles on
the pedestrains below. Of course that was on a lively day. This week, however - Plan B revived an idea I had
jotted down but forgot about because I couldn't pull it together. I was up till two in the morning writing the
** Some language ** The second short story I wrote- a humorous post apocalyptic vision. It’s long, but I’m hoping for some critique or comments
Tom sat on the barren museum steps scratching Lotto tickets. There was a dwindling pile of cast offs at his feet, whirling down Fifth avenue in pairs. The winners were pinned, growing wrinkly under a sweaty beer bottle. This could be it, he told himself, this could be the big one. Excitement fizzed within him, as the third 50,000 dollar symbol appeared.
“I won!” He shouted, jumping up. “I won! Hot diggity-damn I won!”
Hot diggity damn - where did that come from?
Nobody congratulated him.
He danced up and down the steps in celebration losing a flip flop and nearly his pajama bottoms. Making a quick grab for the droopy waist, glimmers of sparkly Square Pants Sponge Bob winked between his knuckles.
Come on candy muncher where are you at?
Get a grip. There’s nobody there.
He hurled his beer bottle into the street and let the breeze carry off his winning ticket. Okay, take it easy, he told himself squeezing his head, it’s just a relapse. You’re fine now, not like before. Not like last year, when he shot hockey pucks of empty tuna cans down Wall Street, complete with running commentary, wore a diamond tiara and matching earrings, found a stick of dynamite and launched a Cadillac into orbit over 82nd street, smeared stale peanut butter over himself and ran naked through a shopping center, and finally hot wired an ice cream truck and roamed the empty streets of New York, hoping the monotonous, tinkling music would coax someone to come running. Anyone.
Face it chump, there’s nobody left in the world but you.
How depressing. He didn’t even like himself much, but with others around there was a buffer, he could preen, at least I’m not a total whack-job like so-and-so. Plus, there was always hope that each following girlfriend, taking him on as her own personal project would someday wave her magic wand and eureka - he’d become suave and cool. The ex-Mrs. Harding had given up after two years of wand waving. Her diagnosis - hopeless.
Recently, he pulled himself together, as much as anyone can when they realize - okay, they’re the last person on the planet. Everyone else was vaporized by some mysterious oxidant, virus, who-the-hell knows, they all crumbled to dust like freaking cigarette ash. While he, Tom Harding had been spelunking. Ha Ha, spelunking sounds so rigorous and sporty, what he did was flail around in a cave, stumbling after a couple of pros, who unfortunately wound up buried in the rumble that had reduced a cave tunnel to cascading chunks. Tom had crawled out the only survivor, not just of the cave in - but whatever triggered the rumble.
He wasn’t as cool as Charleton Heston in the Omega Man about it, he cried, okay - bawled. But shit it wasn’t even exciting. Bring on some taunting zombies, he was all ready for them. Found himself an AK-47 and tried it out. Nearly deafened him, but what the hell.
He left the museum steps, and pushed a shopping cart heaped with junk er - treasures, bemoaning his transient state. A bum, that’s what I’ve evolved into. Before ground zero, he’d been relatively, successful a manager at the Brew Ha-Ha café, and by night he designed cd covers, though Vivian thought he’d lacked ambition. What the hell was wrong with being a manager?
Anything more might’ve brought trouble, of which he was a lightning rod for: When he took up jogging, first day, he wiped out on some monster turd and broke his ankle, when he took a glass of Coke instead of wine at a party he started rumors that he was a recovering alcoholic and got talked into joining AA, when he bought a shirt he thought was cool ( how was he to know he didn’t have any taste, he was between girlfriends at the time ) he bumped into his ex-wife wearing the same top at a party. Not good. Of course there was an upside to the end of the world, when he fell into an open manhole, there was no one around to laugh their ass off over it, but then again there was no one to help him out, either.
He was convinced that there was or could be someone out there as lately a phantom with a sweet tooth had begun swiping candy from the bottom racks in the convenient stores, hardly waiting to tear them open, just mindless gobbling. He was torn between hope - woman! - and despair - some stupid animal.
He pushed his cart, with it’s one crazy wheel, back home towards the Plaza hotel. Muttering to himself, he bent, picked up a flipped baseball cap to add to his cache and rummaged in his junk til he found just the right spot to put it. As he rolled his cart off the curb, a stuffed gorilla fell out, diving head first into a puddle. Shouting incoherently, he picked up the gorilla , sobbed a minute, set him back in his perch up front, then hung onto the pushbar. Be cool man. Whistle. He whistled. His calm didn’t last and turning foul, he shook a fist at the Heavens, snarled at the sex shops. A nagging feeling pushed him on ...
“I’m going, see! See! Sheesh, get off my back!”
He passed the remains of Hot Tamale - an ironic name considering the fate of the boutique...
On New Years eve Tom was feeling ambitious and decided to set off a batch of fireworks, unfortunately, he was half tanked when he decided this and misjudged the angle of several earsplitters which sputtered off into a boutique and set it ablaze. He staggered off to the fire station, hijacked a fire truck and came back sirens blaring, bashing through a couple of garbage cans that had been awaiting pick-up for over a year. Then, he spent two hours figuring out how to hook up the hose. Turning it on full blast, he was caught up off his feet and waved about, like he was bronco riding an anaconda. He was knocked out cold and woke up with water still spurting from the hose and the boutique reduced to one blackened I-beam surrounded by smoking ash. Just another day on Planet Tom....
Instead of going home, Tom settled on another stoop, with another bottle of beer. He opened an old Archie comic book, found the other day in a second hand shop, and started to read. Restless and needing noise , he dug out the See and Say from the corner of his shopping cart, and brought it back to where he was sitting. Pulling the string, he waited.
Ahhh much better.
He pulled the string, it snapped.
“Shit!” He sent it skittering down the steps.
He took another pull off his beer and turned his attention back to Archie. The sky was turning red gold as the sun began to slip toward the horizon, blocked by the jagged edge of the city. A clatter rang out nearby, a can clinking over pavement? A while ago, Tom would’ve chased down the sound to discover it’s source yelling, hello!hello!hello!
Now, he merely shifted, rising up on an elbow glancing in the direction of the sound and dismissed it. Probably something he’d knocked askew and now it had fallen. A shadow seeped out from behind a mound of squishy garbage bags, it rose, swelling forth, a creature crawling from the rubble. An ugly snub nosed creature with a sphinx face. Tom froze, the bottle hesitated before his lips. Springing to life, he clamored for the gun in his cart, spilling beer over the gorilla and whooping - “Zombiepocalypse has begun!” He fired. The bullets sprayed wildly spitting up flakes of cement, nailing the shadow, then he lost control and the bullets arched up taking out the street lamp. Chunks fell, one slab conked him, and he dropped into the gutter like a sack of meat.
A zombie was tasting him. Shhiiiit. Tasting him! Licking him like a popsicle as if it couldn’t decide wether to eat him or not.
He opened one eye cautiously. A dog with a gargoyles face loomed over him. A pug? He propped himself on one elbow. The pug continued to lick Tom’s chin wagging his curly tail.
“How did you survive? Wait, don’t tell me you were spelunking too,” He rubbed his dusty forehead and continued guessing. “ ....secret bunker maybe?”He reached forward and fondled one of the pug’s silky ears, before moving over the fat neck rolls till he found a bone shaped dog tag attached to a collar - Mr. Wong. “You’re a package of mystery aren’t you? I don’t know how you survived.... you’re first name is a secret. This is no way to begin a friendship. I’m on to you though ....you’re the one whose been polishing off all the candy.”
Tom was standing on a ladder hanging pumpkin lights from a marquee in an attempt to decorate the city for Halloween or rather, this block, he wasn’t too ambitious. Mr. Wong slouched nearby in the red wagon Tom fixed up for him. This way, whether he was sleeping or awake, Tom could pull him everywhere he went. He was a tolerant pug who, listened to everyone of Tom’s boring rants, allowed himself to be squeezed into various outfits and hats when Tom got bored and why not, Tom could work a can opener. Suddenly, Mr. Wong was alert and barking. Normally Tom ignored him. But this time he removed his earphones and reproached -
“You know there’s nothing there. It’s a psychological effect due to the loss of society and you can’t deal with -“
“Get that ladder out of my way.”
Tom wobbled clutching the rungs. Did he just hear...
His head darted round, searching til he spotted a raggedy, old man trying to push his over packed shopping cart in front of the ladder , skimming one wheel off the curb into the air. His cart pitched. “Sonofabitch. You damn construction morons, always buggering things up with your digging and orange cones, and ra-ta-ta-ta.”
“My God , a person! A person. Mr. Wong do you see him? A survivor. I can’t believe. Do you know how glad I am to see you.”
Tom leapt off the ladder, slapped the man on the back releasing an enormous dust cloud and a whirling moth from under a crumpled collar. Choking, Tom recoiled a bit - “Somebody likes their Muskatel.” The old man ignored him and continued his effort to jerk the shopping cart around the ladder.
Undiscouraged, Tom went on, “This is amazing.” Hands on hips, he just beamed at this beautiful, beautiful! Craggy faced, red nosed, puffy old man. “Where the hell have you been? I scoured this city from top to bottom. I even drove down to Washington last year. How did you survive? I was in a cave when it happened. I still don’t know what it was but I’ve gathered some information from the cell phones around here. Sounded like some sort of atmospheric chemical explosion or something. Shit, I could never decipher any of that damn text messaging lingo. Ha! This is incredible.”
“Grab the end there.” The old guy pointed to the edge of his cart still trying to maneuver it by rocking it back n’ forth, a carton of recycling toppled into the gutter.
Tom grabbed the end of the cart and tugged and yanked. What the hell did he have in this sucker - a load of concrete?
“Why didn’t you just walk under the ladder?” Tom grunted.
“Bad luck to walk under a ladder, ya fool” The cart righted itself and wheeled over Tom’s foot, propelled by the old guy who steamed on past.
“Finally, Wong did you hear that?” He turned to the pug. “Now we know how the end came about - some dern fool probably walked under a ladder.” The old guy was totally uninterested in Tom or his teasing and continued to motor on down the sidewalk. “Whaddya think Mr. Wong, think he was spelunking? ”
Tom jogged over to the old man, trotting along side him as he asked, “Fancy a game of ping pong? I found a table down at a youth center.”
“I’ve got a bus to catch.”
Tom did a double take. “Really, well good luck with that.”
The delight of finding another human alive, began to wan.
He stormed back to Mr. Wong, waving his hands- “First human I’ve seen in nearly two years and he’s crazy, daft. Probably doesn’t even know the end has come. Can you beat the luck I’ve got.” He slid down the wall to squat beside the wagon. “Ladders, mirrors could not top my bad luck. You know, I only survived the end of the world only because I’m so shitty at spelunking that everyone made me go last. And what do I accumulate in my domain? Well, if I was Charleton Heston, some righteously hot babe. No, not me I get a pug. And no offense, but you are the doggone laziest creature in the entire earth. Whaddya you sleep like fifty hours a day? And then - then - try and stay awake for this whopper - the only human I meet is a man. Procreation and recreation arguments aside. He’s a bum! A stinking wino, who probably only survived because no decent germ in it’s right mind would go within fifty feet of him - they’d keel over from the stench.... Waiting for the bus. Ha!....” he snuffled, wiping his nose on his shirt sleeve , and raked his hand through his hair, shaking off his gloom.“Okay, well, whaddya think Wong, shall we give him another chance?” Tom suddenly smiled. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Probably not, but Wong wiggled forward to lick his chin, humoring him.
* * *
The filthy city bus bumped it’s way down 86th street before coming to a screeching halt along side the bus stop. The homeless guy or H.G. as Tom dubbed him , woke with a snort grumbling - “‘bout time, I’ve been waiting forever.”
As the doors hissed open, Tom watched him swing his legs off the bench and smiled. “My apologies sir, we’re running a tad behind schedule, coming on twenty months now.”
H.G. rummaged a bag loose from the junk in his cart and heaved himself up the bus steps.
“You’re lucky I don’t report your tardiness, young whippersnapper.”
“Whippersnapper?” Tom hooted. “Dig what Father Time called me, Wong. Whippersnapper.”
Mr. Wong sitting on a seat two rows down, wearing a wee sailors hat and uniform, perked up at the mention of his name.
H. G. headed for a seat but Tom stopped him.
“Hold on there , slick. Where’s your bus pass?”
Tom was shocked when he managed to produce one though doubted his name was Sylvia Makowski.
“Alright Sylvia , grab a seat.”
* * *
Two weeks later, H.G. and Tom were standing near central park eating stale granola bars when H.G. finally noticed that the little fella ( Mr. Wong ) was not the Asian secret agent Tom lead him to believe, but merely an animal.
Looking at his granola bar and than at Mr. Wong, as if he’d never seen him before, he asked Tom, “Is he with you or,” he lowered his voice to a whisper. “Can we eat him?”
“Wong, watch your back.”
Things livened up with the arrival of H.G , though he wasn’t the most congenial friend. Most of the time he was wasted and convinced that Tom was one of a set of twins and Mr. Wong was anything from an elf to a leprechaun. Although Tom questioned his double vision, when he managed to nail him in the head with a snowball, but who knows maybe he was aiming for the phantom twin. His age was indeterminable because he behaved like he was a hundred and six, eliminating anything physical from their activities. Though Tom tried manipulating him on a basketball court, tennis court, even propping him up as hockey goalie, it was the act of a child manipulating a teddy bear that at any moment would keel over. Eventually he gave up and then remembered, given the zero requirements needed, bowling. And though H.G. was terrible at was still game and highly competitive.
“A hush falls over the crowd as H.G., always an entertaining bowler, steps up to the lane. Can he avoid his artful nemesis, the gutter? Will H.G. manage to break his losing streak?”
Fueled on a half gallon of wine, H.G.’s wind up spin was one whirl too many. Dizzy, he released the ball too early still opposite the alley. Tom turned to watch it rumble down the lobby and crash through the doors. H.G, gave a sublime grin and declared. “Strike!”
Spring brought the two men back outside, into much needed fresh air. Tom was looping lanyards, dangling car deodorizers, over H.G.’s head.
“Look, if your not going to take a bath -”
“Is this some kind of sainted medal?”
“Yes the patron saint of pinecone to help you stink less.”
Because planting was still a month away, Tom embarked on a project that took two weeks to complete but after it was done, he and H.G. stood on Broadway savoring his efforts. Two ice cream cones - scooped up out of a cart that Tom had refurbished to hold the first batch.
A roar of motors went, nearly unnoticed. Two buildings had collapsed recently and sounds had become unreliable, tricky. Tom didn’t want to make a fool of himself, running down the street after a harmless sound. He waited, the roar grew, and in the distance he saw a motorcycle gang approaching. His smile at the revelation of other people, dimmed. These jokers could be trouble. He licked his ice cream deciding to play it cool.
The bikers spotted ‘em and began whooping, shouting, vrooming around like something out of a fifties rebel movie. Gun fire sparked off and one beared joker shot a hole clear through H.G.’s ice cream. Tilting his cone, H.G. peered through the smoking hole before licking the mound down flat.
The lead biker skidded to a stop in front of Tom who took in the man’s gut spilling over a hand grenade belt buckle, the stained beard, the goggles. The other bikers rolled up behind him, seven in all, and not a woman in the bunch. Unless you could count the skinny kid, sporting a blonde wig and smeary lipstick, riding double with the ZZ Top freak which Tom did not.
“Didn’t I tell ya, ice cream would bring ‘em,” Tom lowered his voice and spoke only to H.G. “If you make it, they will come.” He doubted H.G. would recognize his stellar moment to spoof Field of Dreams. He was right, not even a snicker.
“Where did you get that ice cream?” Who would’ve thought that question could sound
“I made it,” Tom couldn’t help but brag. “After I rigged up a generator, fixed the freezer, found the machine at Target - 36. 50 on sale mind you, and found the recipe. Need I say, it was hard work.”
“Mine tastes like bullets,” H.G. admitted.
“Vanilla.” Tom said ignoring H.G. and fighting back sarcasm. Sheesh, it was white. What did he think this was Baskin Robins offering up everything from white chocolate to coconut almond?
“We’ll take seven.”
“Got anything to trade?”
Biker Bob ( as Tom dubbed him ) flashed a pistol with gunslinger precision. He’d probably been practicing this move 24-7 hoping to try it out on someone. “How ‘bout a bullet a cone.”
“This is your lucky day,” said Tom nervously, rocking on his heels. “It’s on the house.”
“Way to stick to your guns.” H.G. muttered.
“It would be easier to do, if I actually had mine.” Tom glared as he scooped up the first cone. “But no, you said, bring the umbrellas.”
“Well, it was overcast and chilly this morning.” This odd defense from the ZZ Top lookalike.
The bikers licked their cones murmuring delight before asking the question that needed to be asked, and Tom gave the dire answer - no, no woman.
“We make do.”
“Any of you fellas a dentist?” One of the bikers called out. The only one who wasn’t savoring his ice cream.
Biker Bob explained , “Big Pete’s feeling kinda poorly. He might need to have a tooth pulled.”
Tom shook his head pulling what he hoped was a sympathetic face, “I used to design c.d.’s and ran a coffee shop.”
“You make good coffee?” ZZ top perked up. “Vern’s is terrible, we could use a good chef.”
“Well fellas,” Tom laughed. “I’m not really looking for a job ...I uh ... I got shit to do around here.”
Biker Bob stopped licking his ice cream, “Is there something unappealing about our little organization.”
“It’s just a tad , you know, just a smidge, dated,” said Tom gesturing. “I mean, you come blazing into town like your still against the man, down with the government. Only there ain’t none. Talk about rebel without a cause.”
“And you were making a shit-load of noise. You could’ve interrupted our siesta.” H.G. added.
“Many apologizes.” Zz Topp tipped his leather cap.
“What was his line of work?” Biker Bob gestured with his head to H.G.
“Accountant.” It just flew out of Tom’s mouth.
“Yeah?” Of course they were skeptics in the bunch. “He really let himself go.”
“Yut, Yut. ” Tom was on a roll. “He’s a lesson to learn from, in this kinda situation you have to keep you mind and body in shape. While he’s been taking his siesta’s, I have been roller blading down Wall Street, practicing my backhand, swimming at the Y. I’ve kept myself in top physical form.” Tom crooked his arm up showing off an impressive muscle-bulge.
“I noticed. How would you like to be my new bitch?”
Tom coughed over a mouthful of ice cream. Oh boy.
“Thank you, no.” Tom said, scuffing his foot and avoiding eye contact. “I’m holding out for the dream fellas- a woman.”
“What if it’s not an option?” Biker Bob fixed him with a steely look.
“I’ll take death.”
“I’ll take another scoop.” H.G. held out his nibbled cone.
The bikers left for Florida, taking Tom at his word that he didn’t have a woman stashed somewhere, and when he asked why they believed him, Biker Bob laughed. “Go on, no woman would let you dress like that, mate!”
Why they didn’t take Tom with them remained a mystery.
It was just H.G. and Tom again, and Mr. Wong.
After the planting of the legumes, Tom found himself in church, on his knees begging for a woman.
“Lord, I’m getting desperate. The mannequins on Lexington are beginning to turn me on. It isn’t as though I don’t appreciate your sending me, Mr. Wong and H.G., although in all fairness a pug and homeless man wouldn’t have been my first choices. Not that I’m complaining. But I could use a woman. Like right now, Lord. It isn’t quite fair that Adam got one even before he asked. But, I’m putting in my order. Nothing fancy, anything, anything at this moment will do. I ain’t picky, just send me a woman.”
“Women are -hic- trouble you’re better off without ‘em.”
Tom’s head jerked up startled. H.G. was sitting two pews behind him.
“Will you butt out of my prayer.”
“Ask Him for something sensible-hic -like a hamburger.”
“Ask Him yourself.”
“Hic-We’re not speaking.”
“H.G. is literally putting in his order - a burger.”
H.G. wrapped it up. “Amen.”
Four days later Tom was over on Broadway, which had been turned into his own personal garbage dump, unloading three days worth of trash from a bin on wheels. A flash of movement caught his eyes, and across the heaps, was a figure, standing there, watching him.
The figure, etched by the sun, was deliciously curved.
His saliva glands kicked into gear before his feet caught up. He started off over the mounds shouting, waving. “Hello , hello!”
The woman ran towards him tottering and slipping in sling back heels.
Oh! His heart pounded out a beat to match the sudden aching harp strings that resounded in his ears with gooey romanticism. He was the star of his own cinemascope scene of lovers running into each other arms. To collide in a cymbal crash of sheer love n’ lust. His loins were already on premature fire. His arms outstretched, the Sound of Music was reaching its crescendo. He skidded to a stop a few feet in front of her. The woman babbling in relief, mirrored his move.
He couldn’t believe it.
“Hell-o!” it came out sarcastic, really meaning I should’ve known, or will you look at this. His arms shot up in surrender and he half turned on his heel.
The woman snarled - “I hate that expression. I’ve always hated that expression.”She gave him a cool once over. “27 billion stores to loot and you still couldn’t come up with matching socks.”
He fought glancing down at them. “They’re a conversation starter. I knew it would bring some loony out of rubble just to point them out. 27 billion women on the planet and you’re the one who survives. I should’ve known a mere deadly, all-consuming virus couldn’t kill a harpy like you. What did you do, nag it to death?”
His ex-wife fumed.
“I have nothing more to say to you except - stay off of Broadway and out of my way.”
“Broadway, are you daft? This is my dump!”
But she was already making her way down the street. He could tell from her zippy, twitchy walk, and the way she kept jabbing downward with her fist, that she was furious.
He shook his own fist at Heaven, “Thanks a heap!”
Slipping down the mounds of junk, he headed off to tell H.G.
* * *
Despite this new twist, Tom couldn’t help scouting out glimpses of his ex-wife and took to following her. H.G. trailed along pointing out needlessly, “She’s gonna be trouble, that one.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Vivian spent most of her time window shopping or picking up items, just like Tom. His mind was in a frenzy, hot flashes came to him not just of their fantastic love making which made him wince, and wobble. No, he was thinking - My God, she can play tennis, and remember those days when she was game for, a little one on one, basketball.
Vivian came out of a store wearing a huge picture hat and turned to admire herself in the reflective windows. Suddenly she turned and shouted, “Quit following me around!”
“Is that all you do all day, shop?!”
“God, we’re not going to repeat that old argument.” Off she went with that twitchy, motoring walk. His loins were on fire demanding make peace, dummy.
“Hey , how about dinner tonight?”
“I’ve got other plans.”
He must be crazy trying to hook up with her, it was only his groin talking. And his groin was a complete idiot, it didn’t know what Vivian was like, the real Vivian. All his groin knew was Vivian’s groin and, oh, what great moments they had together! Tom groaned. Shape up pal, He told himself, or she’ll have you roaming all over the city with a wrecking ball and crane wanting everything just so. He remembered what she was like with their first couch.
A week or two later he tried getting up the nerve to approach her again, but couldn’t think of an opening, then Vivian spotted H.G. and he didn’t need one. She was already primping at the prospect of another male.
“Well, you’ve been holding out, who’s your friend?”
Tom snorted around the bottle of beer in his mouth before unplugging it, “This is H.G. - ”
“Any relation to Wells?”
“Could be one of his characters - The Sleeper Wakes.” H.G. opened one squinty eye at Vivian and knowing that Tom now had H.G.’s attention, somewhat, he continued with the introduction. “This is my ex-wife Vivian.”
Vivian shot a frown at Tom before pointing a brilliant smile at H.G. , “It’s Vivian Drinkmore , actually.”
“Drinkmore.” H.G. roused. “I like the sound of that.”
“Gentlemen, I think it’s time to discuss the situation we’re in, like the reasonable adults we are, and come to some sort of arrangement.”
“Arrangement?” Someone should tell Vivian her career as an organizer is kaput, but Tom decided, wisely, to try and keep his mouth shut.
“Well, here we are the last three people on earth. But I don’t want any fighting, any blood shed over me.”
Tom couldn’t stop his eye roll, and took a quick slug of beer.
H.G.’s nodding was on autopilot and Tom knew he was going to pass out any minute and that Vivian would loose half her audience.
“I think perhaps a bit of spirited competition is in order, I know,” Her brightness was as false as her spontaneous idea, she probably been hatching this beauty for a week - “Whoever can fill a bath tub with hot water for me, can take me out for dinner. ”
H.G. roused at the mention of work. “She’s all yours, bub. I ain’t toting no, damn buckets of water.”
“Wow, ” Tom couldn’t help himself. “I escaped myself a bit of fierce competition there, didn’t I?”
But some hours later having made 22 trips up eight flights of stairs in a Brownstone - did she have to stay in the Penthouse? Wheezing, puffing, dying, he wondered who was smarter. H.G. woke up and watched the last three trips while gumming through a package of fruit chews before commenting, “I would’ve rigged up a pulley. Lucky, if you’ve got any energy left at all, though that was probably ‘er plan all ‘long.”
Tom could’ve killed him.
Despite the fact that Vivian had set up a competition for her benefit, Tom found himself with the dilemma of still dazzling Vivian with dinner while she, luxuriated in a hot bubble bath. He set out sardines and pickles at the Four Seasons. He also hunted up a tux, and she arrived filling out a red dress with curves he didn’t know she could ever produce.
“Are you quite done raping me with your eyeballs?”
“Not quite.” He held out her chair for her.
H.G. shuffled in and sat down at a nearby table calling, “Waiter, Waiter!”
“It’s kind of serve yourself , H.G.”
Tom groaned but rose and fell into character. “Good evening sir, may I help you.”
“I will have a hamburger, well done. Don’t be stingy with the pickles and a glass of chilled Zinfendel.”
Tom whirled, snatching a bottle of wine from the nearby buffet, along with a package of sardines and slammed them both down in front of H.G.
“There you go, slick, knock yourself out.”
“You’ll get no tip from me.”
“So, what are we having for our main course?”Vivian asked when he returned.
“Main course?” Tom shoved the package of sardines towards Vivian who wrinkled her nose.
“Fettuccini? Rice pilaf? You’re telling me sardines, pickles and pretzels is the whole shebang?”
“Viv , I toted enough water up eights flights of steps to float an ocean liner today, there was no way in Hell I was gonna to whip up linguini. I searched eight blocks for a tux that fit and lit over six hundred candles.”
“Lets not quibble over small details.” Vivian raised her hands flashing freshly manicured nails. “Pretzels will do for tonight.” She opened the bag and removed one, taking a dainty nibble. Feeling encouraged, Tom scooted his chair closer.
“Doesn’t this situation, horribleness aside, remind you of that old movie - The World , the Flesh and the Devil?”She asked.
“Hmmm.” That cleavage was hypnotic.
“It was this old black and white movie with - oh, I forget her name. Anyhow, she’s the last woman in the world and she gets to choose between Harry Belafonte and Mel Torme, no wait that doesn’t sound right, Mel Ferrer, yes, that’s it.”
“You’re choices are Buddy Hackett over there and -”
“This should be good.”
He decided to skip any further reference to movies stars and went with, “The president of the world.”
“Well, Mr. President, should we come to some agreement over the most pressing angle of our situation, n’est-ce pas?”
“Now you’re talking.” Tom scooted his chair even closer. He couldn’t take his eyes off that cleavage.
“I’ve made some charts which will help us to fully realize our goals so that we’ll both be satisfied with the results.” Vivian unzipped her purse and began taking out items, laying them on the table.
“Charts?” Tom felt his eyebrows jump. Okay, this was a new one, especially for Vivian. “You’re going to chart our ....action?”
“Action?” Vivian stretched out her collapsible pointer and propped up several color coded charts.
“Our sexual hook ups.”
She gave him the look. A look he was familiar with, the look that said, shut up and let me do the talking.
“Tom, when, or if I decide to start dating, I will consider all options. You’re not high on my list right now, and I will, definitely, not run into anything.”
“All options.” Irritated, he jabbed a thumb in H.G.’s direction. “Like Buddy Hackett? Is that supposed to make me jealous or laugh.”
“I’ll have you know ,” H.G. slurred. “I was considered a real looker in my era.”
“Which era was that the troglodytes?” Tom did not even look over his shoulder but gestured impatiently to the charts, “So what are these damn charts for anyway.”
“I have noticed you have turned Broadway into your own personal dump. As inheritors of the earth, I feel it is our duty to preserve some of our heritage for the generations to come.”
“If we don’t hook up Vivian there won’t be any future generations, and will you speak English, I’m not one of your clients.”
“Get your shit off Broadway!”
Tom ears were ringing. He held up his hands in protest.
“What difference does it make Vivian , Mama Mia is never going to make a come back.”
She ignored him and tapped the chart with her pointer. “I suggest we keep the old dump which is here, in Jersey. We could fill a garbage truck and drive it out once a month. That means no more tossing dishes off the balcony or leaving little trails of trash where ever you lunch. Your behavior has been most unsanitary. I’m surprised we’re not swamped with rats.”
“That’s cause their all dead, Vivian. Our zoo is down to some pigeons, a pug, and last year Mr. Magoo thought he spotted a squirrel.”
“Sure, let civilization go the route of the dinosaur, what do you care. Well I intend to do something about it. I also think we should start preserving some of our national treasures.” Tom noticed how as usual, Vivian’s I’s quickly turned to we’s but what she really meant was, you. Err. Tom. “We could select some books from the main library and some items from the nearby museums. My God , the artwork, the Mona Lisa - ”
“That sounds like a shitload of work, Vivian. We’ve got legumes to harvest in Central park - we can’t live off this canned crap forever. The weevils got my tomatoes last year. Can you believe the weevils survived? Spelunking, I suppose.”
“We cannot let our history just erode with the elements.”
“Maybe it’d be for the best, what are we going to do, be like those old people. I remember when,” Tom put on his best, shaky, old fogey accent. “There was telli-phones you could talk to people from miles away - that’s when there was lotsa people, and this thingy called the inter-net and the fashion police.”
“Hilarious. Can you be serious for one moment? Our first plan of action should be to clean up the city - moving the trash is -”
“I haven’t agreed to that.” You’re blowing it man, just look at that cleavage and agree to anything.
“So, you refuse to move your dump?”
“Where ever I want to put my dump, I’ll put it.” That didn’t come out right. “Broadway is, as far as I’m concerned, the city dump! You don’t like it, tough.” Way to go meatball, you just talked yourself out of intercourse, not that it was looking all that promising anyhow.
“Very well.” Vivian cooly began packing up her charts and squishing down her pointer. “Just to let you know, I plan on relocating the trash by myself and if anyone so much as litters on Broadway , they will suffer the consequences.”
“Going to write me a ticket.” He took a gulp of wine.
“Try it and find out.”
Wild with curiosity, Tom having no real garbage, filled up a bin with junk anyway and first thing the next morning, headed down to Broadway. H.G. followed, pulling Mr. Wong’s chariot - the battered red wagon behind him. What did that kook have up her designer sleeves? Tom was dying to find out.
The garbage mounds were still there, and there was no sign that Vivian had any intention of moving it. No construction equipment, no new cars. Dejected, he tipped the bin letting the garbage cascade out when, suddenly, gun fire rang , spitting up bits of trash near Tom’s foot. Shooting! Why the daft bitch is shooting at me! He dove for cover.
H.G. ducked behind a silver Acura and beckoned, urging Tom to make a run for it.
Gun fire chased him the entire way.
“She’s crazy, she’s loco! She’s finally lost it!”
“Solider, we’ve left behind a comrade.” Tom looked around as H.G. flattened against the car and saw Mr. Wong still snoozing in the wagon- out in clear range.
“Wong. Pssst! Mr. Wong! Get your fuzzy ass over here.”He changed tactic. “Num num.”
The pug opened an eye but he wasn’t buying it not till his heard the psft, of a can opener piercing a can.
Tom took off H.G’s scarf, tied one end to his gold cuff bracelet ( 985. 65 on sale at Bloomingdales), and threw it lasso style to hook the wagon handle. When it caught, he began tugging, “I got it!” He told H.G. and slowly began reeling Wong in.
Well she hadn’t totally lost it, she wasn’t going to risk shooting a dog. Her ex-husband yes, the world’s last pug, no.
“You take that garbage you brought in and get out of here.” Vivian shouted from a rooftop.
“Nothing doing, crazy lady!”
“Is this a declaration of war, comrade?”
“No!” Tom scoffed. “You can’t have a war with three people. Besides, we’ve got her outnumbered.”
“But she’s a helluva good shot...I think I’ll switch sides.” H.G. tried to slink away.
“You yellow bastard.” Tom grabbed his legs.
“I’ll give you one last chance - are you going to take your garbage and get?”
“Never!” A hot coil unraveled in Tom. Fueled with fury, he stood and dashed over to a mailbox and dove headlong into the opening. “In fact, I’ve got more trash to take out.” His shout was muffled. Both feet left the ground kicking out for more leeway. When he finally had enough mail clutched to his chest, he backed out.
“See! See!” He shouted, frantically waving the mail. Gun shots rang , shredding some of the letters to confetti. He ran. “More garbage for the Broadway city dump.”
A final gun shot.
Tom keeled over into the pile of trash, taking the letters with him.
Vivian let out a hysterical scream.
“That fella John, he was a brave one.” H.G. said to Mr. Wong and nodding, he withdrew a bottle of wine from under his coat, tipped it in solemn salute before taking a long, long swallow.
Vivian came running slipping in her heels over the garbage mounds and with a sob flung herself on Tom. “I didn’t mean it. Oh, please God, don’t be dead.”
Tom opened his eyes. “Your wish is granted, crazy lady.”
“Oh, you rotten bastard!”
She got in one good slap, but the fight was over before it began. Tom just didn’t fight fair. She moaned and surrendered melding into his arms as his lips found hers.
“And to think there was a time when you said, not if you were the last man on earth.”
“And to think it’s actually come to that.” Vivian replied grinning.
“Vivian, you do have a sense of humor.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
IS - WAS - A SENTENCE KILLER?
I'm starting to think so.
Yesterday, in Chapters I flipped through Douglas Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders - it looks interesting as writing manuals go. Not that any of them ever really help you creatively, per say, but some help you avoid writing down a dead end. This looks like one of those.
The book rallies against the use of dead verbs - to be, was, am, is etc. which the author found an abundance of in his students writing and by circling each dead verb, he could link them into a visual spider hence the title. It’s not that was, am, to be, is etc. can’t be used, it’s that they’re over used.
If you look up was in the dictionary - Was means
- to exist or live
- to take place, happen or occur
- to occupy a place or position
- to continue to remain as before
- to belong, attend, befall
...All of which can provoke a static sentence. I.e. - The bottle is on the bar. I am chief of police. I was at the dance. It can even pull the reins on an active verb .i.e. I was dancing. I was sledding. Retuning my creative mode I began to rethink openings should I enter a scene on a flat statement, creating a stagnant image or a moving one - and wondering how many was's are plaguing my work?
I dug up some books to see how the great ones handled verbs and made this list.
Here are some amazing verbs all of which could’ve been killed by the virus - was.
In Gravity’s Rainbow
a man threads himself into a robe
Another gobbles down croissants and coffee
He sprints towards laughter
People gargle wine
Pinball machines writhe under their handlers
In John Updike’s short story collection -
a jet engine is haloed by a rainbow
Lake water swallows two bather’s flesh up to their knees
A bed is sluing like a boat on a wave
Young girls throng a man’s vision
A card shark sandbags with three kings
A beer to soothe my mouth
A woman’s agitation consumes a chrysanthemum ( by her Plucking and rolling the petals )
Hickory trees are clangorous
The protoplasm of a house ebbs in stages
Margaret Atwood -
A mind shambles
A car crunches to a halt
fingers of snow creep over a road
float ( in a hammock )
Couples slither through slush
a voice prods
a thought is censored
a woman clamps her skirt between her knees
dancers whizz and careen
pistons thrust a train forward
A woman beggared herself for love
sausages hiss in a pan
a woman is unwrapped (undressed )
An opal spurts green flame ( a color in the firelight )
Over generalization is a voice killer.
It can dilute your scenes, obscure your meaning, and worse yet, it can bore your reader.
Generalizations are unclear words that settle for an idea rather than a concrete item or place.
Think of it this way - do you ask a family member ( see there’s a generalization - family member ) to go grab you some fruit from the kitchen or do you say - Bring me back a banana. The notion of fruit rattles off so many possibilities that the reader has to wait for you, the author, to clarify it - and then if you decide to peel the now clarified fruit as a banana, the reader may be a little miffed that it wasn’t made clear in the first place.
That’s another problem with using generalizations. By the time you clarify - you’ve added several extra sentences. That may not seem like much, but if you continue to use this technique they’ll add up, and explaining obvious things will take precedence over description or action, bogging things down.
Why waste precious words?
Here are some generalizations - fruit, man, woman, female, male, car, clothes, flowers, accessories, jewelry, hat, purse, animal, dog, drink, dishes, elegant, fantastic, excellent, wonderful, lunch, luggage, make-up, material, nick name, musical instrument, ornament, parent, spouse, perfume, pet, bedding, toy, snack, religion, restaurant, wealthy, rumor, art, toiletries, sibling, soap, stationary, talent, charm, candy, transportation, coat, vandalism, sports, meat, vegetables, young, old, kitchen, bedroom, nationality, etc.
* It’s not that you can’t use these words. In fact some of them are downright necessary. It’s to know when and how to use them.
Take the word fantastic - what’s wrong with it you say.
First off it’s a great word for conversation, because it’s an expression that gives vague praise. That meal was fantastic. And it’s real meaning - as - yummy, delicious, exotic, tasty etc. is easily grasped by the reader.
But to lean on it to describe something - like he had fantastic eyes - if your protagonist isn’t a 14 year old school girl, than Fantastic eyes is rather vague and lame - so is fantastic car, fantastic wife, and fantastic boy friend. None of these things are quite clear and unless it’s used in conversation where the real meaning can be quickly discerned, why bother?
Better to say - His eyes made emeralds look like slag heaps. ( corny but memorable. ) He’s driving the new BMW, the lucky bastard. Or, Jim’s wife not only makes homemade lasagna, she also rubs his feet after his hard day at the office. These are concrete ideas that make clear pictures in a reader’s mind. This is every writer's goal - absolute clarity. Even if you don’t keep the sentence of a wife who makes lasagna from scratch or eyes that make emeralds look like slag heaps, the idea is to reach beyond cliches and generalizations. Paint a picture don’t give the reader a dot-to-dot and expect him to fill it in.
Colors can become generalized if you let them - does a red t shirt fulfill a descriptive need? Or is it a cop-out. It can be either or depending on your style. It's the different between pink shoes and pink Converse sneakers.
Remember every time you eliminate a generalization it helps you foremost before a reader even sees your work. When you snatch for something easy like flowers you box yourself in.
Think of a scene - your protagonist Larry is wandering through a field of flowers and stops to pick some. -
Larry wandered through a field of flowers on his way to Debra’s house. He picked some that caught his eye, some that he thought Debra would like.
It’s okay, if a bit dull. What if I just change a few words.
Larry wandered through a meadow on his way to Debra’s and lured by their scent, he picked some lily-of-the-valley. Perfect for Debra.
I’ve managed to bring in some vibrancy with a few subtle changes. Anyone can use flowers, anyone can pick something by sight, anyone can dress up a field by adding the word flowers. But by eliminating generalizations you give your piece flavor, you give it voice.
Lily-of-the-valley, meadow, scent.
Notice how the new words even sparked a fresh verb - lured and punched up the final sentence. And the interesting thing is people assume being specific means more words when that can’t be further from the truth - even by counting every word in lily-of-the-valley I’ve still managed to eliminate four words. Whether or not those few sentences can stand on their own or need elaboration doesn’t matter - what matters is to get rid of generalized thought.
Generalizations can dance around ideas - Harvey’s wife sent him to the store to pick up some toiletries.
rather vague -
Or - Harvey couldn’t believe he got talked into making a Tampax run.
Brand names can also help define things -
The sheriff sat on the sagging porch drinking a bottle of cola.
The sheriff sat on the sagging porch sucking on a bottle of Coca-cola.
There is a warning with brand names though, remember when and where to use them. When you’re writing an action-packed scene or emotion fueled melodrama, the hero can hardly start rhapsodizing about the make and model of his car.
To avoid generalizations start getting familiar with types of things - different flowers, different animals,
fabrics, foods. This will stop the generalizations in their tracks - lunch will become anything from a greasy
Big Mac at McDonalds to Jambalaya with a slice of lemon ice box pie. Anything but just lunch.
And that is the biggest advantage of eliminating generalizations - it can stop you from telling your
readers who your character is - the showing becomes so much easier.
Instead of telling your readers that Elaine is fastidious - put her in a high class restuarant
and have her send back the angel hair pasta for being gummy.
Put two school boys David and Eric in McDonalds, Have Dave, a rather husky boy,
continuously point out the pretty girls coming in knowing Eric will turn to look so
Dave can steal Eric's french fries. The scene could easily show Dave is more
interested in food and Eric is more interested in girls and it's all based
on eliminating the generalization of a mere lunch - By giving it an
exact place McDonalds and an exact food - French fries -
it gives the reader a concrete visual.
* Snippet from a story I'm working on - mature subject, and some swearing. * Was going to post this in the workshop can't seem to do it - so for now I'll post it here. Comments - Critiques welcome!
September 18, 1986
Now, he wasn’t into this cloak and dagger shit, but Haider Loomis found himself at The Night Owl diner, waiting as ordered. It was past midnight. He took a smoke out of the pack he was instructed to buy, the one deviation from Salazars usual meetings and he lit it, puffing and pondering it’s reason as he watched silvery rain stream down the diner windows. He wedged open the red blinds wider, when he thought he saw headlights swing into the parking lot but it was just the neon sign reflecting off the puddles, a constant winking. A truck roared past illuminating an otherwise deserted highway. The vinyl booth seat crinkled as he shifted to take another swallow of his icy beer avoiding a second look at the yawning waitress. The scent of grilling hamburgers alerted Haider that the two truckers who arrived moments earlier, were staying.
Witnesses. He didn’t like that. His leg began jiggling, vibrating the table. Enough of a noise to gain his attention so he stopped. Then he dropped his head onto his clenched fist. Breathing hotly, into the cove of his curled fingers he begged c’mon. C’mon. The tattoo on the curve of flesh between thumb and forefinger mocked him. It wasn’t so much the dark ring it was the letters within it. Or rather what they meant.
The door opened jangling bells overhead. Haider cautiously lifted his gaze. If there was one thing he had learned in the last seven years it was keep cool, cracker. A trucker came in beating the rain off his adjustable cap by wacking it against his blue-jeaned thigh. “Wee ooooh.” He exclaimed. “I didn’t drive down that mountain fellas, I floated down.” There was a cackle of laughter from the two truckers and the cook. “Say where’s that little girl I came with? She in the john? ...Little girl. Couldn’t miss ‘er.”
Haider couldn’t hear their answers but saw a lot of head shaking.
The trucker plopped onto a stool, snatching a tattered menu.
He was in the middle of ordering when the door opened again. More bells. A little girl strode in.
“There you are! Where’d you disappear to? You just sit down here - ” The trucker slapped the stool next to him. “- and I’ll order you a ... hey!”
The little girl breezed past him heading down the short aisle towards Haider. He glanced at her briefly before looking out the window. How had he missed the trucker’s arrival? Maybe, he parked by the adjoining motel and walked over.
“Got a light?”
Haider’s head jerked sharply. The little girl stood beside his booth, holding a cigarette snatched from his pack. The signal. Which he denied, flaring mad. A kid? F*ck you, Mr. Salazar.
“Beat it.” He told her.
“Beat it?” She echoed, her lips thinning.
Water dripped from the edges of her short platinum hair falling onto the transparent raincoat. It wrapped her body like cellophane wrapping a sweet. The analogy was easy, triggered by her battered tote shaped and printed to match a roll of lifesavers.
Haider saw the trucker glancing their way, debating before he got up to try again. The trucker called to the girl. “Hey there, sweetie. Let me buy you a burger. C’mon, now.”
This was all Haider needed.
“F*ck off.” Haider insisted under his breath.
The girl raised a silvery eyebrow and turned to give the approaching trucker a scathing look which was ignored.
“Pickles, relish, tomatoes, Baby, whatever you want.”
“Look, shove your burger. Or maybe I should tell my dad, you played patty-cake with my knee all the way down here.” She gestured
at Haider at the mention of dad. Lingering on the word. He was quivering with fury, bound not to create a scene, to pretend none of this had anything to do with him. He glared out the window. C’mon! C’mon. Where the Hell, are you? The trucker turned white and slunk back to his stool, muttering protests that Haider only caught snatches of. “I never! Kids nowadays. Think they’re so doggone funny.”
“That was real cute.” Haider muttered, taking another look at the child as she pocketed the cigarette. She was eleven years old
maybe twelve but her deep set, silver eyes were old, primordial in their cunning. There was a bump near her hairline that was purple and about the size of a small plum. A new mar for this strange beauty. Everything about her was sharp, nothing subtle. High cheekbones, hallow cheeks, square stubborn jaw. All of which seemed to have been scarred. There were small white flecks across a cheek bone. A ghastly line across her chin. A faint pinkish ridge below her left eye that jutted into an upside down flag, a cut that hadn’t healed right. Haider was familiar with scars.
The girl hung her tote up on the coat hook post at the edge of the booth opposite from Haider. Then, leaning one knee onto the vinyl seat, closed the blinds.
“Switch sides.” She ordered.
“You heard me. Move to this side of the booth.”
Haider gave her a level look, “And why would I do that?” he asked.
“Because that gun you have in your lap would be better suited in our contact’s side, clean shot.”
He said nothing for a moment knowing she was right, before getting up and sliding into the booth with his back to the door.
The little girl reclaimed his spot, easing a second bag, a drooping purse, off her shoulder. Opening it, she yanked out a soggy pile of pastel tissues and swiped at her face.
“Do you want something?” He asked feeling obliged.
“Coffee, I guess. If it’s hot, real hot.” She didn’t look at him but tossed the tissues back into her purse. She didn’t zip it shut. For a bizarre moment he wondered if she was packing too. He called over to the waitress ordering the coffee.
“How do you know Salazar?”
“He’s my Brownie leader.”
“Think I won’t hit a little girl? Now answer the question.”
“You probably would -”
“Salazar, alright! Sh*t. Don’t push me kid.”
The waitress appeared setting down the cup of coffee. Haider instinctively reached into his pocket but the girl already had change out which was scooped up by the waitress.
“Anything more for you, honey?” She purposely addressed Haider.
He didn’t look up but drew his beer bottle across the table and answered. “I’m fine, thank you.”
She lingered, before heading back to her counter.
“Great. She’s got a thing for you.” The girl muttered wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “I can feel her hawk eyes on us.”
“She reapplied her lipstick before coming over here. Frosted, it’s all over her teeth. Wasn’t for me or for the ass-crack convention over there. It was for you Hon-ey.”
Haider looked around, her damn tote was in the way. But he caught the waitress watching him above her paperback romance. The little witch was right-on just like she pegged the truckers. Ass-crack convention, he would’ve laughed if he remembered how.
Haider reached for the pack of cigarettes and lit the fresh one with the tail end of his previous smoke.
The girl turned her attention to the jute-box selection at their table, turning the knob at the top to flip through the charts.
“What’s your poison? The Outfield? Joan Jett?”
“I don’t want to hear any music.” Irritable.
“Need it hon-ey.-”
“Quit callin’ me honey.”
“Something’s not right, a little background noise would be to our benefit.” She took a dime from her purse. The beer bottle hesitated at Haider’s lips. “What do you mean?” He set down the bottle and went to force open the blinds. Her hand shot out and halted him.
“Don’t do that.”
“Why are you here? What’s going on?” His voice rose not in fear, that well had dried up years ago. Filled up, though with anger. And right now he was brimming with it.
The girl dropped the coin in and pressed the button. “Siouxsie Souix and the Banchees, enjoy.” Music throbbed over the speakers.
He grabbed her elbow before she could sit back down. “Answer me.” Her eyes flashed a dark warning, “Okay, but let go.”
“They’re having a rather intense jaw-session out there in a black Buick.”
“So, they’ve been waiting for us to arrive.” He tapped ash off his cigarette, casting a look at the closed blinds. Dying for a peek.
“And now. We’re here what’s the hold up?” Her hand flipped up in the air in a you-tell-me gesture.
She had a point.
The door opened, Haider heard the bells. He resisted the urge to turn but shot a fierce look at the girl whose eyes glinted intensely. “It’s him.”
Haider felt his Adrenalin surge as footsteps neared the booth.
“Young, old?”He demanded to know.
“Young.” She sounded disgusted.
“Get you anything, mister?”The waitress called.
“Nothing for now, thank you.”
His voice was young but as he appeared before the pair in the booth, Haider realized he wasn’t as young as he thought. Early thirties. Haider wasn’t much older than him. There was something off putting about his smile, though. Maybe because it didn’t go with his attempt at playing the part of average. Oh, he had the executive suit, the carefully trimmed hair and nails. The hat was a bit much.
“I’m wondering if you could help me find my way? I got turned around somewhere.” The man said. “My name’s Ed.”
“Have a seat Ed.”
Ed moved to sit beside the girl but she slid to the edge cutting off access.
“Over there.” She ordered.
He obeyed chuckling as if she amused him. And that’s when Haider realized why the smile was off putting. It was a bemused smile. What the Hell was he so bemused about? A sick feeling swept over him and as Ed's thigh bumped his own, Haider jabbed the gun into Ed’s side. It wiped the smile off his face.
“Take it easy.”
“Don’t think I won’t shoot here and now. Witnesses don’t mean a thing to me.”
“I’m well aware of your track record Mr. Loomis.”Ed said swallowing. Both the girl and Haider watched the ball of his Adam’s Apple roll.
“No names. What’s with the shared accomodations this isn’t what I arranged with Salazar. He didn’t say anything about a kid.”
“You knew someone else was coming. Don’t tell me you really smoke menthols.”
“This doesn’t feel right.” Haider said looking across to see how the girl would react.
She gave a sad smile, “Sharp Loomis, you’re catching on.” Not sarcastic, the tone was pleased.
“I want to talk to Salazar.” Haider said.
“Things have gotten, how shall we say, a wee bit f*cked up since we last talked, pardon my language honey.” He said winking at the girl.
“I paid your organization forty grand, money, that you have no idea what I had to do to get. I paid for a name now if you think you can give me the runaround, you better think again. My philosophy is - shoot the messenger. Shoot ‘em all until they run out of messengers and have to talk to me face to face. You mean nothing to me. Now, do I call Salazar.”
“Salazar is dead.”
Haider covered his mouth feeling it slacken as the shock of that statement set in. What now? He dug his fingers in cutting into his lip. He’d been counting on this, waiting all this time. Ed reached into his coat pocket. Haider sprang out his dark cloud, jabbing the gun in Ed’s side, halting him.
“Easy, trigger. It’s an envelope.”The young girl noticed sweat beading on the messenger’s face and frowned.
“Who killed him?” She asked.
“We’re working on it. Hence the company is pulling rank - everything comes to a halt, strictly protocol. Salazar was an organizer. He had everything, information, contacts. We don’t know what’s been compromised. And we can’t help you, not now anyway.”
He threw down a thick envelope. It was addressed to Alice Waters and Haider Loomis.
“It’s from Salazar. He knew something was going down. So he took some precautions. Whatever information he had at the time was to be delivered after his death.”
“Who’s Alice Waters?” Haider asked, frowning at the envelope.
Ed smirked. “She’s sitting right across from you.”
“You’re telling me that for my forty grand I get this kiss off?”
Alice grabbed the envelope and slid her thumb under the flap, tearing it open.
“Look, I’ve got to go,” Ed said shifting uneasily but Haider refused to let him leave. “What do you want from me Loomis a f*cking refund? I’m not authorized. I’m risking my neck to deliver these envelopes - one of the case’s Salazar was working pissed off the wrong bad guy and
now one of you has been compromised. Your information could be sh*t , you could be walking into a trap. Let it lie. Now, let me go.”
Haider ignored him - “How many cases?”
“Six! Alright. Six. Now, can I go?” His tension increased as Alice pulled papers from the envelope.
“You can’t leave us like this I paid for backup I know who -”
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with and you don’t get the back up. Two weeks alright, I’ll send someone out there in two weeks. But I can’t guarantee anything. Just a scout.”
“Your company can’t guarantee a name but it can take my money - ”
“Where’s the rest of it?” Alice interrupted, frowning. A letter bowed forward in her hand.
“Rest of what?”
“The rest that goes with this.” Alice tossed the letter ignoring the other items that had spilled from the envelope. Her hand dipped under the table.
Ed smiled , “I don’t know what - ”
A white flash whizzed up in an streaming arch and slammed Ed across the face causing his head to snap round with whiplash speed. Blood sprayed from his nose. He clenched his teeth and let out a keening gust of anger as running blood, bubbled on lips. Stunned, Haider looked over at Crimson who let the sock full of pennies flop off the table, streaking it with blood.
“I heard about you.”Ed muttered allowing a malicious smile to curl his lips as blood dripped off his chin. His hand came up and felt around to assess the damage.
“I’m full of tricks. Now if you don’t give us our money, your nosebleed is going to pale in comparison of a nasty burn.” Alice’s stubby fingers, flecked with polish, curled with around the handle on the steaming mug of coffee with ruthless promise.
“Alright!” Ed seethed reaching into his breast pocket. Haider keeping the gun trained on him , made him pull it out slow. Another envelope appeared, this one fat with bills.
Poem I'm working on - after watching a midnight rain.
Song of Rain
Sing down on me!
Quivering bells along a limb
plunge into puddle rings,
offsetting the dim.
Each shape a cliff
for trumpeting waterfall,
every gutter a purling
Clothed only in rain
my skin is a drum
for its endless mystic tune.
Separate names with a comma.