Remember Arn Anderson?

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“Remember Arn Anderson?”

I didn’t hear any response.  The guys are in a booth and I’m at the counter.  My head hurts and I pour Cholula on my omelet in order to give it flavor.

“He was a wrestler,” the same guy continues.  “Oh my god.  He had a brother, right?  Well, do you remember when we would watch TBS on like Sunday nights?  It was always the final match of the episode or whatever right when dinner was ready?  This was the days when Mom insisted the TV had to be off.”

He stops.  Perhaps to sip his coffee.  I get a crispy nugget of bacon stuck in my teeth.  The Western is shaping up.  My feet are cold.  It’s a steamy day inside and out.  The cook whose head pops up through the pass-through window from time to time must be sweltering back there.

“Dammit, man.  We must’ve watched that shit every week for what…a year?  More?”

He laughs.  I bite.  Chelsea, the lone counter girl, scrolls through her phone.

I can’t hear the friend’s responses because he’s facing away from me.  It’s weird to sit here and hear one side of a conversation.  I pretend to look at the classifieds that somebody who had been beside me left.  Did he give me a glance and assume I needed a job or is that something that people do at diners?  I’m not a regular or anything.  I just wanted to sit at a counter and have coffee and not think about work or home or my kids.  For an hour.

“Oh man.  Those were some crazy fun times, right?  Seems like a lifetime ago.”  He pauses again.  I want to order two buckets of coffee to shove my feet into.

The classifieds are shit.  And, though it takes me a moment to realize, they’re four days old.  I have no choice but to imagine how many uncleaned hands have scanned this creased paper and how washing my hands has to happen even though I’m using a fork.

“Guess it sorta was,” he says, I assume, in reference to the ‘lifetime ago’ comment.  I don’t know if he said anything in between.

“Order up!” the tiny man from behind the window calls.

Chelsea springs into action as quickly as anyone else her age with a phone such as hers.  That is, she sighs, scrolls a bit more, squeezes her phone into her apron’s pocket, and stretches in the same manner that people who actually work while they’re at work do.

“I’m so tired,” I hear her say to no one.  Somebody down the counter says she can use his hotel room while he’s at the office.  I think she says “Not that tired,” but someone around me clanged some dishes and I may have missed it.

Without staring, I casually watch her—eyes on newspaper, eyes on her, back and forth—whisk two plates toward the guy’s table behind me.  The wrestling guy whose booth-mate is inaudible.

“Your friend not coming?” I hear her say.

“As fate would have it…”

She puts down both plates, though I’m still pretending not to be engaged in this.

“Well, I’ll take it back–”

“Could you leave it?” he asks.

“Umm…” She probably bites her lip here.  I can tell this exchange will be a major part of her Snap story this afternoon.  “What’s that?”

“That’s…my friend Matt.”

“What’s his picture doin’ over there?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya…is it Chelsea?”

She agrees to his pronunciation.

“I’ll tell ya, Chelsea.  That there is my best friend Matt and he’s not here in body, but he’s here in spirit.  Do you believe in that?”

“What, the spirits?”

“Yes.”

It hits her.  “Oh my!  Did your friend…pass away?”

Her reaction to his apparent nod confirms her suspicions and deductions.

“Sir, I am so sorry,” she says, finally.  “I didn’t mean to–”

“It’s fine.”

“No, I mean…I was…not so nice earlier.”  I don’t know what she’s referencing, so I’m left to assume she was less than courteous when she first talked to him and offered coffee.

“It’s fine, dear.  You couldn’t have known.  He was my friend.  And my brother.  My actual brother—not like one of those guys who you call brother but–you get it.  Different dads though.”

“Oh,” was all she could muster.

“Thank you.  It’s fine.  We used to come in here a lot more often back in the day.  My therapist said if I talked to him more—god, I sounds crazy when I say it out loud like that.”

“I am so sorry, sir.  Here.  Look.”

I hear paper torn.  “My manager says he’ll allow me one screw-up per shift for the first month.  After that, I gotta pay for my mistakes.”

It seemed like a fair policy, and the wrestling guy agreed verbally.  My feet got icier somehow and my omelet was just as cold as my feet.

“Enjoy your pancakes, sir.  I’ll be back with some coffee later.”  He told her it wasn’t necessary.

I don’t need the classifieds.  That is, unless there’s an opportunity for me to go back a week and not tell Turner what I said that led to getting fired.  I’d love a job, but forty-one is not usually the desired audience of the listings that announce “Trainees Needed.”

I get up.  It’s time for me to go.  I have to change something in my life.  The wrestling fan is well into his bottom pancake.  I didn’t know some people ate them one at a time and worked their way down.  There is no one in the booth across from him.  There is, however, a wooden-framed picture across from him.  Kind of behind a syrup bottle.  The guy has on a John Belushi “College” sweatshirt and holds a football.  I see all this in the split second that I glance at the table.

I remember losing my brother a decade ago.  This guy and I could be friends in another life.  But who talks to strangers in a diner other than the waitresses?

I gotta piss.  This has been happening more and more lately.  It just hits me with little warning.  I’ve been pissing more and more in public these days.

The diner restroom is exactly as you’re picturing.  Its odor is the combination of cheap air freshener and truck driver stools.

The door swings open and I’m mid-flow.  It’s the wrestler guy.

“Yeah.  It was mostly improvised.”

“Huh?” I say.

“Told ’em you just died.  Brought that picture from school.”  He listened for a second more.  I zipped up.

“Aight, buddy.  I’ll be over soon,” he said.  He zipped and turned toward me and tapped a button on the bluetooth in his right ear.  “What’s good, man?” he asks me.

 

 

 

 

 

UWT #2 – “Buttering the Bread”

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Years ago, my creative writing instructor gave a short lecture during a workshop about this concept.  He may or may not have called it “Buttering the Bread” but that’s what I’ve called it for years.  Consider this type of storytelling and consider the point in it where you lose interest.

Tom got hungry, so he went downstairs for breakfast.  He normally ate toast, so he decided to open the breadbox, remove the Wonder bread, untwist the tie, and withdraw two flimsy slices.  Customarily, he re-tied the bread and returned it to its resting spot within the fly-free confines of the box.  Taking two steps east, he placed each slice in the toaster and pressed the lever with no more or no less authority than any other day.  He watched as the wired inside his dorm-room toaster heated to a bursting orange and sizzling red state.  Just when he could not wait any longer, the toast appeared innocently.  Tom took the butter from the refrigerator.  It was cold and hard to spread.  He’d learned from his grandmother that he could heat his knife quickly by holding it under hot running water.  It worked again, and he padded each slice with a unhealthy square of the stuff everyone calls butter but is actually margarine.  Tom had a big day ahead since it was his first interview, and he wanted to make sure he did not leave the house hungry.

—or—

Tom made some toast as he always does and thought about his interview.

Granted, the first one is considerably longer, but is it good writing?  Is it significant to the events of the story?  Is the author adding anything worthwhile?  Does it seem, perhaps, that he is just padding his word count total?

No.  No.  No.  Yes.

Don’t butter the bread.  Get to it and move forward.

UWT #1 – Opening with Description

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UWT stands for Unsolicited Writing Tips.  I’ll be providing my own advice for fiction (and some non-fiction, perhaps) writing that I also give to my college students  This could very well be another one of my projects that never gets off the ground, or it could become my real motivation for writing anything.  I’m currently reading a student’s work.  She’s committed a short-story writing sin in my book.  The entire first paragraph is an onslaught of descriptive words and images about the central character (age, height, hair color, hobby, etc.).  This seems rushed and unnecessary.  So, here’s what I’m going to do.  Since it’s uncouth to share any student’s actual writing without his/her permission, I’m only going to copy-paste my comment and suggestion.

In short, my first UWT is to flesh out your characters over time.  Let them have time to breathe.  Let your reader have time to learn and piece them in the same way you constructed them.

——

Comment after reading paragraph 1:

This type of opening covers some basics, but it’s still very bland. Being “about” an age or height is inexact. It prevents the reader from creating a crisp picture.

Compare your first paragraph to this one.

Ericka, a slender sixteen year old girl, preferred grazing alone through garage sales over oohing with ditzy classmates over brand-name purses.

Here, I’ve identified the age and touched on her preference to be alone, as well as her affinity for rummage sales. Let some of the other physical details out more slowly as well. You’re creating a movie in the head of your reader. Don’t let it become one page from a coloring book.

October Warm-Up (Day 1–“A First”)

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In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here was yesterday’s first warm-up writing.  This, and the 19 to follow, are obviously rough drafts that may or may not find their way down Revision Lane someday…

Day 1 – A first

This was a first that speaks to my nervousness around the opposite sex.  I had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 at most.  I know I was still in elementary school.  My mom took us to either King’s Island or Cedar Point for a day about once a year.  We have some family in Ohio, and we must have made a weekend out of it–not entirely sure.  Anyway, my older brother was either on his own or with a friend that summer day at the park, so I was left with my mom.  We were in line for a ride I called The Octopus.  That may very well have been its name, but I distinctly recall this multi-legged ride with spinning cars  at each end to be white with red stripes.  

I can remember thinking it would be fun to ride this ride with my brother and not with my mom.  I sensed that she was pretty much over riding rides at this point in the day and her life, so I probably said something like how I didn’t want to ride the stupid Octopus.  Whatever I said was typically ignored or not met with adult conflict.  No.  My mom looks around and sees a girl about my height who is standing alone a few inches behind us.  

“Young lady, would you like to take my place and ride with my son?”

She clearly had not been asked such a question in her life.  Her gaping mouth suggested that no one had even ever referred to her as a young lady.

By this time we were being rushed forward toward the entrance gate to the ride.  The guys operating that day couldn’t have known I’d just met this girl seconds earlier when my mom accosted her in line.  Later, I remember looking down from my vantagepoint and seeing my mom’s cryptic grin–something that, then, made me think she was pleased by seeing her baby grow up.  Nope.  It was definitely because she got me in the end for back-talking her.

The girl was as forgettable as this tiny memoir.  She had long skinny legs and our knees touched once or twice as the motion of the mid-air car swayed us around.  I’m sure I didn’t talk to her.  I told the story several times at school the following year and probably even wrote about it then.  

It’s well over twenty years later, and I can still see those bare skinny knees and my mom’s devilish grin a few dozen yards below me.  

NaNoWriMo Warm-Up 2015!

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Here is the list of prompts I’m giving to the high school creative writing club members.  (For those who only know me from WP, I teach HS English.)  It’s slightly modified from someone I do not know but whom I credit at the top.  Each weekday throughout October, the goal is to get a little writing exercise, or “Writercise!” (I just made that up) in preparation for National Novel Writing Month.  Please note:  I made up the ultra-cheesy “poems” after each week because I’m that guy.

Feel free to modify/borrow, etc., friends!

NaNoWriMo Warm-Ups – OCTOBER 2015

The following have been adapted from Catherine Reid (Warren Wilson College)

These short writing exercises/prompts are meant to loosen up your imagination and flex your writing muscles.  With each one, the goal is to produce a fresh, clear passage that uses specific language, precise nouns and verbs.  The writer should, as always, strive to avoid including cliches and vague terms.   

The prompts are your work.  You are encouraged to mix genres (fiction or non-fiction, poetry, essays, etc.) throughout the month.  Go with what inspires you!

Date Prompt I did it!
10/5 Any “first” – (locker, kiss, driving, lie, roller coaster, etc.)
10/6 Memorable moment and how it felt, but do not name the feeling; express how it felt in your body (damp hands, metallic taste, etc.)
10/7 whole story using only monosyllabic words
10/8 signficant place from two POVs; rooftop and turtle’s eyes
10/9 Explain how to get from your house to a secret/magical place only you know
WEEK ONE IS DONE!

IF YOU WROTE AT LEAST 3 OF THESE,  

YOU DESERVE A WARM GRILLED CHEESE!

10/12 significant person–include as many physical details as possible
10/13 Your name–why you were given it/stories attached to it/meaning; what would you re-name yourself?
10/14 describe a presence in your house (person, pet, furniture, illness, secret, etc.) use all five senses
10/15 recall a memorable photo; tell what happened before/after;
10/16 research Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs and create a story about one photograph
WEEK TWO IS THROUGH!  

IF YOU COMPLETED 4 OR MORE,

GET YOURSELF A DELICIOUS S’MORE!

10/19 tell a story (F/NF) from the POV of a close relative
10/20 describe a daily routine or holiday ritual using PRESENT TENSE only
10/21 witness a crime/moral dilemma (theft/hit-and-run, etc) and explain what you would do/why
10/22 another routine/holiday ritual written in SECOND PERSON POV
10/23 26-sentence short story; each new sentence begins with a different letter of the alphabet (in order/scrambled)
HOO-RAH, HOO-REE!  

WEEK THREE IS COMPLETE!

IT’S TIME, PERCHANCE, TO HAVE A HEALTHY TREAT!

10/26 a still-life that implies a dramatic moment (overturned chair, several balled up papers, torn envelope, single key, etc.)
10/27 make up a story based on a recent crime from a newspaper Police Beat or Classified Ad
10/28 describe the room of: a HS about to drop out/cashier who’s just won a lottery/aging movie star/a paranoid person
10/29 a how-to for something you know how to do well
10/30 monosyllabic list of nouns and verbs; make up a scene using at least ten of each
THE MONTH IS DONE; NOW IT’S TIME TO SPOOK!

TAKE TOMORROW OFF; PERHAPS START A NEW “BOO”K!

Finding Your Legal High

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A week ago, my nephew and I had a brief chat that has since redirected (and refocused) my goal.  I had my laptop open and was skimming through the novel I started writing last November during NaNoWriMo.  I mentioned the word count (something like 36K) and he wanted to know what it was about.  I gave him some of the major points I could recall, but then I began thinking as I was talking.

I’ve had numerous excuses to explain why it’s not done: teaching HS and evening classes, family obligations, computer malfunctions, buying a house, etc.)  Where do those get me?

I do most of my writing within the confines of the month of November, but I never push myself as much during the other eleven months.  When I write–when I REALLY write–I get a rush that is unequaled by anything else I know.  I don’t mean to suggest it’s even in the same ZIP code as playing with my children, seeing my wife’s face when I’ve been a part of her happiness, or even getting through to one of my students about anything whatsoever–those are different “highs”.

No.  Writing, though, gives me that positive surge that reminds me how life should feel all the time.  I’m completely grateful for everything I have achieved in this life so far.  I do not often realize how good I truly have it.

But I want to take this just a few steps further and write a book good enough for a publisher to want to try to sell.  That’s been a goal for something like 15 or 20 years, and I’ve not pushed myself hard enough for it to happen.

I talk to my students a lot about the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset.”  I commonly remind students that growth is always possible if you want it badly enough.  I’d be a hypocrite to say that I’m just not good enough to be published.

Imagine a world where everyone loved what they did for a living.  Imagine a time where people sought out their goals and didn’t always play it safe.

Final Creative Writing Class Portfolio – Two Poems

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Here are two poems I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks.  They have been revised three times, but I’m not ready to say they are in their final form.  As always, I welcome feedback from all of you!

“Dormant in the Corner”

Ironically,

I am constantly

Immobile, which

Defeats my man-

Ufactured purpose

To provide a place

For my owners to

Walk, jog, or run.  I

Don’t think they made

Me to serve as more

Closet space, even

Though I hold empty

Plastic clothes hangers

And am adorned with

Monday’s boxer shorts

All week long.  I should

Be running at 5.0 on a

Moderate incline and not

Gather dust and serve as

A hiding place for the small

Boy they only yell at when

He comes close to me.

I remember when these

Two opened my box and

Marveled at my features:

A book rack, two cup

Holders, and a digital

Readout that accurately

Measures their health.  I’m

Supposed to be helping

Them lose weight, gain

Strength, and lengthen

Their lives.  Due to

Inactivity on both

Of our parts,

Their bones

Deteriorate

And my
Resale

Value

Goes.

When they

Are both awake

In bed on the other

Side of this room, I

Hear them, once

In a while, discuss

Parting with me

and admitting

They don’t

Use me.

I have,

they

say,

be

co

me

an

ey

es

or

e.

He always says he’s starting Monday.

She laughs and knows he won’t.

At least she has the dignity

Not to lie as she balls

Up her candy wrap

pers and complains

again about her

lower back

hurting

in the

same

spot

as

l

a

s

t

t

i

m

e


“Patience”

It’s four minutes after two in the morning

And raining like crazy out there

Beyond the automatic doors

That swoosh when people enter or exit

Or sometimes for no discernable reason.

I’m sitting beside a woman who wears

A winter coat, but it’s April.  I sense

That she’s not nearly as cold as I am

And perhaps has been here before.

Her steady, plain face is remarkably relaxed

While the rest of us toe-tap our nerves

into flat grooves in the thin carpet.

I’ve never been a nail-biter, but

It’s tempting.  On the suspended television

In one corner, a popular syndicated emergency

Room show illuminates an otherwise dreary

Real E.R. and I wonder why no one wants to turn the channel.
It occurs to me that the show was always twenty percent

Medical expertise and eighty percent Hope.  Neither the woman

Beside me nor anyone else here is watching.  But we all

Probably could use hope.  Faith.  Something to keep us

Here and not just give up.

My wife has been back there

For nineteen minutes and I’ve thought dreadful things

About our future son who may not survive.  I clench my

Hands in frustration and prayer.  They can’t make

Me sit here like this much longer.

The episode ends

The credits roll

The woman in the faded burgundy coat

Is asleep and clutching a picture

Of a small smiling child.

I stare at it for far too long.

So long in fact that I didn’t

Hear them call my name

And wheel out my family.

Creative Writing Class – Week 9 (Revised Fiction)

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Note:  This is a recent piece that got a little polished this week.  I’m still not calling it a final draft, but it’s a tad better and (I hope) clearer.

I appreciate any and all critiques.  I want to do this well…I’m too old to get defensive about my amateur work 🙂

Cushion

The moment my marriage changed, my husband Marv was snoozing on the beige felt couch we picked out together over twenty years earlier.  I think it’s in fine condition, but our children are ready to buy us one if we don’t do it ourselves, or so they say.  Granted, he had woken up only a few hours earlier that morning because, as he always says, he can’t stop being an early riser.  Let me tell you, when we were younger, that expression had a completely different meaning!

I had just finished the previous night’s dishes.  I had made him pork chops, but I had also taken a late-night call from Debbie Wasnidge, who had no one else to talk to about what she and her therapist discussed.

The nature of this marital change was one that would make his father—God rest his soul—disown him and his children abhor him.  Okay, maybe that’s a little rough.  He’s my husband, so I should start a little differently and accurately.  Marv has had commitment issues, but then again, what man hasn’t?  Whether it be with me or his work; he has always seemed to lack follow-through.  When we first started dating–can it be thirty years ago, really?–he was young.  I was too, but he was adventurous.  He had ambition.  “Driven” was the first word I used to describe him to my father the week before Marv’s first Thanksgiving at my parents’ house back in 1977.

As a young father, Marv immersed himself in our children.  He didn’t quite live vicariously through them or anything, but he certainly put his own goals aside–for decades–and helped me raise them to be responsible adults.  We succeeded as parents, but not as a couple.

Before he actually retired, he began talking about it whenever our children were all home.  He didn’t do it in hopes of having some grand, celebratory send-off or anything; he probably just liked hearing himself say it more often.  You know, to make it more real.  Like when you teach someone else a skill–you tend to learn more about the skill the longer you explain it.  Perhaps surprisingly, the children—all three of them–were relatively indifferent toward his choice to let go.  They certainly didn’t care about the financial rationale, which evolved as the overwhelming theme of his narratives.

Also, before he stopped working for good last spring, I began to see that old spark.  Until then, our entire relationship had accumulated decades of normalcy.  The old spark to which I now speak contained messages of road trips, new hobbies, extravagant dinners–the things we did before having children and responsibilities.

However, over the last seven months, I have realized they were just words.  Then I began to reflect throughout our marriage how often he did that.  Simply put, he has always calmed me down with words, filling me with so many hopes that never took flight.  Do I feel manipulated?  A little.  However, did I adopt and use the same behavior and use it toward him–and our children?  I’d be lying if I said no.

Marv has had an affair.

I still struggle with putting those words in a sentence like that.  Part of me would have rather said “Marv has Stage IV testicular cancer.”

It began that morning with me answering the phone, even though those large white words “Unknown Number” appeared clear as day.  Debbie Wasnidge’s therapist might offer a solid analysis as to why someone my age would wish to suddenly answer the phone in situations such as these.

            Don’t you know about telemarketers, Susan?

            Are you aware that hackers exist, Susan?

            People will go to great lengths to hide their identity, Susan.  Just don’t answer it.

Marv had been up for his daily walk but had come back only to fall asleep again while watching one of those silly small claims court programs.  He had been sleeping more and more, and I had been having trouble doing as much as I would have liked to do around the house.  With the dishes finally finished and my feet encouraging me to rest,  I thought about reading.  I’d donated my Mary Higgins Clarks to the church rummage sale two weeks earlier and had not found anyone else worth reading yet.  When you age, you tend to worry about odd things connected with your mortality such as “What if I start a book series and never get a chance to finish it before I die?”  Debbie Wasnidge had tried to force one of her trashy naked cover books to me, but I had respectfully declined.

So after I answered the unknown number and had listened to that nervous young woman speak, I only remember staring into my cooled chamomile tea.

“Ma’am,” she said after a long pause.  She thought I’d hung up, I suppose.

“Yes, I’m here.”  I cleared my throat but didn’t plan to say anything else.

She breathed deeply.  “I can only imagine how upset this makes you.  Please know this was a call I’d hesitated making for some time.”

It didn’t help, but I was glad she said it.

“You have to know, ma’am, that whatever happened between your husband and my mother had to have been short term at best.  For years, I was told my father died in a fishing accident and never had any reason to doubt my mother.  Who does at that age, you know?”

I thought of our kids and the few white lies I had dispelled whenever I was forced to field life’s tougher inquisitions.  I had to agree with her.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, I’m here.  I’m sorry. I’m…”
“I understand,” she said.

She didn’t—no one who has not gone through this could—but I stayed mute and examined the arrangement of tea grains at the bottom of my #1 Mom mug.

“My mother and I have always been fairly honest with one another.  I’m an only child and she never re-married.”

Re-married?”

“Excuse me.  No.  Never married.  Forgive me, I’m so used to telling this story under my previous assumptions of what happened to my father.”

A long pause.  The mere idea that Marv had had a whole other marriage to attend to tackled my ticker, which Dr. Patel said needs “nourishment” and “rest.”

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, I’m here.”  I swallowed and rubbed my free hand along my thigh. “You were saying?”

She was crying.  I had no idea what she looked like, but for reasons I cannot still fathom, I pictured a thin woman beside a window–perhaps in a hotel–putting the phone to her chest to mute her uncontrollable bursts of emotion.

She sniffled.  “My fiancé,”

“Pardon me?”
For a few seconds more I listened to her attempt to overcome her obvious attachment to whatever she was about to say.  I took the phone away and listened closely for words, not sobs.

“A medical history…” she eventually said.  “I was sick a little while ago and eventually ended up talking to my GP about my history.”

Over the next few minutes, I learned that her mother had gone with her, offering the expected level of comfort in that situation.  The doctor sensed something from the mother once questions about the woman’s father–evidently my husband–came up.  He casually stepped out of the exam room with her mother.  She said she only heard muffled voices after that.  Then, however, her mother came back into the room alone and broke the news about her father not dying years ago as she had described.

“Ma’am?” she asked.

“I’m here.” Then I interrupted her before she could continue.  “Forgive me, though.  How did you happen to call me about this?”

She began to answer but I stopped her again.  Weirdly, it felt good.  I controlled the moment.

“How am I to know any of this is true?  What is it you want?  Why am I still talking to you?”

She must have sensed my urgent frustration because she pleaded with me not to hang up.  “I’m sorry, ma’am.  I know it’s…well, this whole thing for me has been…”

She eventually got around to explain her rather rudimentary detective skills.  Marv, unbeknownst to me, had succumbed to our children’s request for us to join Facebook.  The woman with whom I was now speaking had found him in a matter of moments.

I stood to take my mug to the sink when I heard Marv stretch.  Men his age are incapable of stretching soundlessly.   I stepped out to the sun room and glared at the empty grass where our children had played and yelped.

“You make coffee?” he asked.  I had assumed he was still on the couch but upright and probably doing that thing with his mouth that he knows I hate.

Then I listened to him ease to the kitchen.  I didn’t have to turn my head to know he was staring at the empty carafe.

“Miss?” I whispered.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Could you give me your mother’s name?  Perhaps where she was living when you were born?”

She provided both, the second as if she were reading from the notes she’d scribbled on the thin pad hotels provide.

“I want you to call back in a few minutes.  Rather, is your mother around?”

“No.”

“Well, then,” I thought.  “Call back anyway and identify yourself as your mother.  Say nothing more.  My husband will answer it, and I’ll watch his face while you explain to him what you’re telling me.”

“I’m…I mean…okay, but…”

“It’ll be fine dear.  I have to do a little acting here for him to pick up.”
Marv cleared his throat and hollered, “You want some?”  I heard him unlocking the clasped canister.

“Miss?”

“Yes.  I’m here.”

“Ten minutes, okay?”

“Okay.  But please know my doctor needs my family history this afternoon.”

“Just call.”

I clicked End without saying anything formal and walked into the kitchen. “No, hon.  None for me.  I had tea earlier.”  He was filling up the carafe at the sink.  I placed my phone on the counter at the room’s threshold into the dining room.

“Marv?”

“Yeah, hon?”

“When was the last time you took me out for brunch?”

He smiled but did not look up and stopped the water.  “This morning, looks like.”

“Maybe look at some new sofas?”

“Anything, dear.”

He kissed my cheek.  Leaving the carafe beside the sink, he tucked in his shirt and smoothed his white hair.

He joined me at the doorway.  “Need your phone?” he said as he took his keys from the wooden Home key rack by the door.

“Don’t think so,” I grinned.  “Nobody calls anyway.”

Creative Writing Class – Week 7 Journal

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I’ll just quickly share this one too.  We were assigned to choose one of five cliches and, using concrete details instead of the cliche, create a fictional setting in at least 3 paragraphs/300 words.

“Black Coffee”

Tommy says I shouldn’t, but I want to buy the man some black coffee.  “What if he doesn’t drink coffee?” Tommy asks, as we turn a corner and put our hands in our pockets at the same time.  A brittle gust of wind smacks our faces, as if it was pushing us away from the Bucks game we’ve been waiting to go to for seven weeks.  Our mom got us tickets for Christmas.  The man we had seen is always in front of the same building.  I think it’s one of those hostels I’ve heard about.  From fifty yards away, no one could discern that an actual man was sitting there beside the canopied stairway.

The light has just changed and we’re going to have to stand at the intersection for at least thirty seconds.  It never seems like much when it’s a TV commercial or in line at Starbuck’s.  Tommy’s always braved the cold, though tonight we’re both wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts.  I would bet anything he’s just waiting for me to rub my own arms before he does, as if it was some sort of masculinity contest.  A crowd gathers at the light, and the wind is stifled slightly.  Just as the tips of my fingers reach the top edge of my pocket, the light changes and we’re moving.  This blood flowing through my active body will keep me warm for the next several blocks.  It’s my first NBA game, too, so the thread of adreneline and excitement helps too.  I stare at my feet and the blackened concrete as we cross, but I’m only thinking about the poor man outside the hostel.

Inside, the arena is buzzing with excitements because the previous season’s champions are visiting our small market team.  The seats Mom bought us aren’t very close to the action at all, but we do have a great vantagepoint for the entire arena.  Only a sparce number of seats go unfilled by halftime.  The second half becomes a  little hazier because Tommy and I get drunk without really wanting to.  I don’t think about what my credit card bill will look like next month.  The visitors stomp our hometown boys, but it was a fun experience.  We’re too old to truly care of our team wins or loses.  Nowadays, it’s just about going out as two brothers, having some beers, and enjoying a carefree night.   We take a cab back to our cars several blocks away, and the driver says something about some poor soul by the hostel being loaded into the coroner’s van.  Tommy laughs because he always laughs when he drinks.

Creative Writing Class – Week 7 (Revision of a Piece)

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This week (okay, last night after the rest of my family was in bed), I revised a two-paragraph scene from earlier in the semester.  It still needs some work, but I’m fairly pleased with what emerged from my exhausted brain so late last night.  The first part is the original idea; the second is last night’s revision.

(Original)

“The Sign”

Jeremy’s mother, in a text message, asks if he’ll be sleeping there tonight.  Without responding, he sighs, unintentionally expelling a pushpin of saliva.   Twenty-nine years old and running a plastic packing tape dispenser along the final crinkled box, he remembers that Sara and Sara have been in Milwaukee for six-and-a-half days.   He kneels, then watches his hands as the tape dwindles to that eerie end where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard.  There’s not enough to finish sealing this box, which is partially filled with typical junk-drawer inventory: opened battery blister packs, flip phones, and creased concert tickets.  It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant.  He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that splashes on the empty hardwood floor they argued about.  Carpet, he’d told her years earlier, made more sense with a kid.  Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?

Leaving the dispenser perched atop its flimsy brown castle, Jeremy realizes his feet are numb from being hunched in this position so long.  Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he runs his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands.  This hollow domicile, eight years earlier, had been a blank canvas for a young and crazy married couple to make into a home.  Now, perhaps, another would try.  Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around.  Then he sees it.  Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows?  The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness?   His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.

(Revision)

“All That’s Left”

When some of these smartphones are on vibrate, they tend to do so without revealing an explanation or notification.  He hates those phones, but he was told it was time to update by the snarky college kid at the Verizon store whose appearance was obviously not as important to the employer as was his knowledge of the shit he was asked to sell.  Jeremy removes the sleek phone from his non-walleted back pocket to find nothing indicating a call or text from Sara or anyone else who might be privy to why his wife and child are now in a smoky suburb outside of Milwaukee.

Jeremy, after passing over a snow-dusted walkway in southern Illinois, slides his key into the door only for it not to unlock with a turn.  He’s forgotten about Sara’s sudden locksmith job five nights earlier and remembers the right key is in the front shirt pocket. It’s a yellow Arrow dress shirt he’s chosen to leave untucked.  Sara had picked it out for him last Easter but always hated it when he unflapped the bottoms from within his stretch-waisted dress pants.

He enters and the smell has remained.  What did she do, he asks himself.  Spray that intoxicating perfume here just before shutting the door on their dream house and their marriage?

He wants a drink but knows neither the kitchen- or garage fridge will have any of his beer left.  There is no doubt that she has left him with nearly empty two-liter bottles of the generic clear soda she loved though.

This morning had been the first time the house was to be shown, he was told in a rather brief conversation two hours earlier.  His realtor, a frantic, jittery woman whose voice matched that of an cartoon character Jeremy couldn’t quite pinpoint, had said, “I was there last night, and there are some cabinets not emptied and a box here and there.  Oh, and unless you want to leave any wall hangings, take those down too.  I can sell staged homes, and I can sell move-in readies.  But the in-betweens make it aesthetically unpleasing.”

Jeremy replayed those final two words over and over during the car ride from his mother’s house to his own this morning.  The words, he mused, were never meant to be so close to one another, but he loved the rhythm of them.  Seven syllables in all, he said to his steering wheel.  It may be too long, but it sounds like a great band name.

“Hello, Sioux City!!  We are Aesthetically Unpleasing!” followed by roars from wiry youth who all seemed to wear thick-framed eyeglasses.

Jeremy opens his eyes and sees not a single screaming teenager around.  Rather, he stands in his kitchen and tries to guess which cabinets still have contents instead of just opening them all.  It is like he’s on some type of distorted daytime game show and has the chance to win the contents of the cabinet as long as he never opens an empty one.  Meticulously, he opts for the one above where he used to rest his cooling coffee every morning for the previous eight-plus years.  It holds nothing but brittle dust flakes and a slight manufacturing flaw that might have provided his errant hand with a splinter if he had lived out his thirty-year mortgage.

Ultimately, he finds the single cabinet containing nothing but eight or ten giveaway mugs and foam aluminum can holders.  The only one not upright bears the exhausting advertising phrase of a start-up local restaurant that never saw its third year:  Carpay Dee-Yumm!!

There is no reason to look upstairs.  Two days earlier–the last time he’d been by–he stood at the top of the stairs amazed they had cleaned out so much so fast  Eight years was long enough to leave the slightest hint of fresh paint underneath the family photos they had hung, and he didn’t want to see those empty spots ever again.  If his closet still held some old shoes or ties, he didn’t care.  The realtor would do her job up there.

So, he goes to the living room to find a single unsealed cardboard box.  He had known this one would still be here.  The plastic blue movers tape dispenser balances wishfully atop its arched cover.  A mouse might have seen this plain brown container (which bore nothing but tattered and/or slightly gaping corners) as a church.  If he spoke of his awe at this corrugated cathedral, he would misrepresent his race as silent.  “Church Mice” was an even poorer attempt at a band name, and he hated himself for thinking it might be even mildly humorous.

He opens the church-box, again, knowing full well of the majority of its contents:  concert tickets, unpackaged batteries, and dried-up logo pens.  There are other items inside, but the point is she didn’t want any of it.  Jeremy presses down on the top flaps, holds them with a denim knee, and fumbles with the edge of tape in the dispenser to get it going again.  A full moment passes as life drifts from below the bent knee.  He’s got it.  It unrolls quite noisily in this empty twenty-six by fourteen living room.  Just past the halfway point from the opposite edge toward his shaking knee, the spindle is exhausted.  He cannot keep from hearing the squeaky halt where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard.

It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant.  He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that splashes on the empty hardwood floor they argued about.  Carpet, he’d told her years earlier, made more sense with a kid.  Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?

He stands.  The dispenser limps slowly and rests atop the box of memories and unusable freebies.  Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he runs his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands.  This hollow domicile, eight years earlier, had been a blank canvas for a young and crazy married couple to make into a home.  Now, perhaps, another couple would try.

Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around.  Then he sees it.  Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows?  The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness?   His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.  He thinks she’d said something this morning about making macaroons.