Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Martin's Curious Camera - Part 2

     Martin had told me three months earlier, over lunch at a corner sports bar, that his bank account was a little stretched. It was Friday, and I dared to order a pint of cool and delicious amber ale – assuming Martin would take my lead and indulge as well.
     “Eh, going out to lunch is already pushing it,” he sighed, dipping the third and final section of his crispy fry into a depleting pool of BBQ sauce, “I can’t throw a 5 dollar beer on top of it.”
     “It will just have to be on me,” I said as I flagged down our server and ordered Martin an amber as well. “It’s Friday!”
     He talked about how his grad school loans were painful to pay each month, and how his landlord has recently raised his rent. I listened, but only half-way, feeling bored by the conversation I had shared with each and every 25-35 year old I knew. We enjoyed our cold one and went back to our favorite conversation topic – how much work sucks, how we don’t make enough money, how boring it is to sit in a cube from day to day.
     “We should have gone to art school,” I suggested, “Computer Science seemed like the right idea at the time, but that’s just because I was unpopular in high school. It’s really not worth the boredom.”
     “I know. When I was 17 I thought that being able to calculate angles and distances in my head meant I was like some kind of super computer. I thought that I was going to be writing video game code or working for the Pentagon. Not writing code for some software company. Man, I’d do anything to get a cooler job.”
     We cheersed the final swallow of our beers to the sad and distant idea of having a super cool job, grabbed our colorless suitcoats from the backs of our chairs and exited the restaurant. It wasn’t until about a week later when he started acting funny.

     “Remember when we were at Hemmingway’s? And we were bitching about work, and you said that we should have gone to art school?” he asked me one afternoon in front of the tiny kitchen fridge as he cracked open a Diet Coke.
     “Yeah, that would have been awesome.”
     “Are you good at art? I mean, have you studied art?”
     “I took a couple of electives in undergrad – just an Art history and an Intro to the Nakeds or the Classics, or something. But I don’t remember shit about it; accept that Leonardo Da Vinci was gay.”
     “Gay? Really? Huh. I guess that explains the Vitruvian Man.” Martin deadpanned.
     “The what?”
     “Never mind,” he laughed, “you don’t remember shit, do you?”
     “No Hablar espanol either.” I said, “If it wasn’t in my major I just tried not to sink, you know? The art stuff was cool, though. I maybe should have paid more attention. What’s your interest?”
     “Oh, about the art? No big interest, I was just reading some stuff about an international art auction in New York. Wondering how much that stuff goes for.”
     "I don't really know anything about it,"I said,"but I feel like everytime there's an auction like that the numbers are just crazy - millions of dollars for some painting of flowers or of some ballet dancer or something. Money that I can't imagine spending on a home, let alone a 10X10 canvas to hang on a wall!"
     "Yeah. Millions. That much money only exists in suitcases handcuffed to the arms of bad guys in the movies, right?" Martin's eyes drifted off to the floor. "That's why people steal art. Millions of dollars for some little picture. Millions."

              ---To Be Continued---

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Night At The Movies - Part 1

      “I could have avoided all that trouble if I had only remembered to roll those car windows up.” Sarah’s dad started, with a wide-eyed look on his face that made it hard to know if he was telling the truth.
It was pretty common for Mr. Olson to tell us old stories as he sipped on what he said was a soda, but, even at 14, I suspected was a booze drink. I slept over at their house all the time, and even when Sarah rolled her eyes and asked him to leave us alone, I nodded attentively, eager to hear him tell stories about his childhood in a way I had always wished my dad would.
      “I was exactly your age,” he said through the heavy sighs of his daughter, “12.”
      “Dad! I’m 14!”
      “Oh right,” he said, “that’s right. I was 14.”

      Mr. Olson told us a story that began with basketball. He said that he and his best friend, Skinny Mitch, were shooting hoops outside the community center with a kid called Joey Arnold. Mr. Olson said the boy’s called him Timmy back then, sometimes Tiny Tim. Mr. Olson told us how Joey Arnold wouldn’t stop bragging about how he was going to see The Faceless Man, the newest horror flick to reach their local cinema, that Saturday night. The little Mr. Olson, Timmy, and Skinny Mitch knew that Joey couldn’t get into a horror movie, and they called his bluff.
      “Yeah, right, big man,” Mitch taunted, “you don’t look 12, let alone 17!”
Joey paused mid-three pointer, arms posed in the air dramatically to make his point.
      “Oh yeah, losers, my brother Scott works the ticket booth. All I have to do is buy a ticket to Fantastical Mr. Turtle, and my brother will let me sneak into The Faceless Man. Take that!” On the exclamation, Joey went for the shot – forcing all his coolness into the hope for a swish. He hit it. Mitch and Timmy were beyond impressed.
      “No shit, Joey! Are you for real?! That’s awesome. Come Monday, you’ll be the only kid in the whole 9th grade who’s seen it. Man, that’s SO awesome.” Mr. Olson touched the palm of his hand to the Nike Swish on his t-shirt. He said he could feel the jealousy swell up in his chest as he passed the ball to Mitch, but he had an idea.
      "You don’t think Scott would sneak us in to the movie, too, do you?"

      The deal involved Mitch and Timmy doing Joey’s math homework for a week. But it was a deal.
      Back at Timmy’s house later that afternoon, he knew he had some work to do. His parents had plans to go out that Saturday night, so that was a plus. Since they were close friends of the Stewarts, Mitch’s parents, he planted some seeds to get them to go on a double date.
      The double date plan went better than expected. A new restaurant had opened in town that only served family style meals – servings of 4, 6 or 8 – and Timmy’s parents really wanted to go. On that Saturday afternoon, he sat down at the kitchen table where his dad was prepping the dinner their son would eat after they left for the evening. Timmy brought got his plan in motion.
      "You guys should totally go to that new place, Mario’s, or Luigi’s, or whatever."
      "Gregorino’s Trattoria.” His dad corrected. “And it’s only for groups, unfortunately. Your mom and I have been interested in going there for weeks.”
He knew he had his in.
      "Oh really? Just yesterday I heard Mr. Stewart saying how much him and Mrs. Stewart wanted to go there, too. You guys should ask ‘em.”
The older Mr. Olson hesitated in peeling his carrot for a minute, and pushed his eyeglasses up his nose with his finger. He called out to the Timmy’s mom.
      “Sandy…Have you talked to Tom or Marcia today?”
      She had.
      Were they busy tonight?
      They weren’t.
      His Dad suggested that he give their friends a call and invite them for a nice evening out at the Trattoria. His Mom thought this idea was lovely and thanked him for being so thoughtful. Mr. Olson laughed when he told us that his Dad peered over his mom’s shoulder and winked at him.
      “Later,” he said “my dad told me that the trick to keeping your wife happy was the element of surprise.” Before they left that night, Mr. Olson said, his dad slipped him a five for a pizza in case he wasn’t interested in the casserole they had left for him.

      “Wait a minute,” Sarah stopped her dad. She was incredulous. “5 Dollars? For a whole, pizza? See, Jamie, I told you he was lying.”
      “Lying? No way,” Mr. O. quickly rebutted, “you have to remember this was 1972. Thing were a little different back then. You know I had a job stocking shelves at the market when I was 11…”
      “I know, I know,” my best friend laughed, “up hill both ways, right?”
      “Oh, have I told you that story before?” Mr. Olson winked at Sarah, I guessed just like his dad winked at him that Saturday night in 1972.

--To Be Continued--

Prompt: Begin a story with the following sentence: “I could have avoided all that trouble if I had only remembered..."

Questions: I'm having trouble keeping the frame in tact. I like the story as "Mr. Olson telling a story to Sarah and Jamie" but I think its really awkward to keep referring back or calling the narrator Mr. Olson. Any advice for how to rearrange so I can keep the frame without all the awkward? Check back for more of the story...

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Voice of Reason

Eliot's slanted eyes glinted like 24 carot gold in the thin band of morning sun which peeked in through the blinds of my bedroom window.

"They won't notice you are gone, anyway." he says.

I was more offended by his wry comment than I was surprised by his eloquent speech. I always knew Eliot had it in him.

"No, not those jeans," Eliot purred as I grabbed the first pair I saw from my laundry pile, "the dark ones. From the Gap."

He had always had a sense of style.

"Now, in your backpack load the following items:
Two apples
Two zip lock bags of Purina cat chow
A bottle of water
That soft blue sweater
Your iPod
And your CTA card."

"I understand that we need food and water, and I'm guessing we are taking the train somewhere, but whats with the sweater and iPod?" I asked.

"I'll need somewhere soft to take a nap in about an hour and I like to fall asleep to Justin Timberlake." Me too, I thought. Me too. "And Jean - please be quiet when you go into the front room - I've kept this plan a secret from Baby Shakespeare. He can't get involved in all of this."

I followed Eliot's orders and packed my red backpack with the necessary supplies. I thought about how Eliot's English sounded vaguely British. I wondered if he was just in a James Bond kinda of mood. Eliot followed me back and forth across the apartment on his dainty soundless paws. I asked if I should bring my beret and headlamp, just in case. I think he rolled his eyes at me. He hopped up in the cat tree and nodded toward my bag, I held it up and he slinked his 11 cat pounds inside. I slipped the bag on my shoulders.

"Give Shake a kiss goodbye. He really likes it when you do that." Eliot whispered from the bag. I felt like the chef from Rattatouie and felt happy that all my lame cat kissing was not for naught. I said goodbye to sleeping Shake and kissed his little face. He rolled half way, tucked his face into his paws and fell back to sleep. As I left my apartment with Eliot in my backpack, I quickly questioned my sanity. He HAD actually woken me up this morning telling me to turn off my alarm, right? He had told me to call into work and pack him in my backback…right? I paused briefly at the top of the steps, looked down the flight out and out the window the street below, double blinking my eyes to ensure clarity.

The anxious little voice from over my shoulder reminded me that this wasn't the work of my imagination.

"What are you waiting for? We're going to be late!"

Prompt: One day you wake up to find your dog/cat waiting for you at the side of your bed, sitting on your briefcase. Cocking its head, it tells you, in perfect English, that you won’t be going to work today. Why won’t your pet let you go to work, and what happens?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When You Visit New York City

When you visit New York City, you try your hardest to not look like a tourist. In the morning of your first day in this new(york)city, you pick your clothing piece by piece from your knock off Louis Vuitton suitcase, and whisper inside your head that no one can tell that it isn’t real. You search for an outfit that says “I live in Chelsea.” You return some items to the brown and brown bag, deciding that the sweater or shoes are too Midwestern. Too comfortable for a Manhattanite.

Once you are on the street, starting your big day, you aren’t sure that you are walking toward Times Square. You can’t remember if it was left or right. You refuse to pull out your map. You hope that the direction you are walking, even if it is wrong, is not dangerous. You have seen your fare share of CSI episodes. As your heart begins to beat faster, you wish that you had looked up which neighborhoods in New York aren’t safe to walk alone. Scolding yourself, you think how typical this behavior is for you. To be so concerned about an outfit that you didn’t care to find out where you are most likely to be killed.

You begin to make a plan to turn around, to walk back the 6 or 8 or 10 blocks to the shineless doors of your budget hotel. You want to return to your room and double check your directions, to maybe ask someone at the hotel to help. You want to call your best friend and admit your stupidity. To admit you’ve been walking at least 15 minutes in what you think is the wrong direction. To be wrist slapped through the phone for almost getting yourself killed by wondering into a gang-infested neighborhood. For being too proud, or cool, or stubborn to pull out your map. You recognize that even being told that ignoring your helpful, colorful, fold-out map is stupid, you would rather be lost than look like a tourist. You might rather be mugged, too.

As you cross the street, the first step in your perfectly calculated plan to check your watch, check your phone, dig through your bag, look frustrated, and turn around in a huff (hopefully signifying the fault of someone else in your need to backtrack), you look up and into the visual cacophony of the Times Square billboards. You smile to yourself, silently congratulate yourself, and continue walking on in the direction that you knew was right all along.

Question to writers: How does the "you" form (2nd person?) benefit a story? What do we gain from using it? What do we lose?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Martin's Curious Camera - Part 1

Martin didn’t look tan enough to have vacationed in Cancun. Nor did he look sufficiently relaxed to have spent 7 days and 6 nights strolling white sand beaches or sipping Coronas in a palm tree lined outdoor bar. Martin didn’t seem relaxed at all. In fact, when he came into the office about 15 minutes late Monday morning looking pasty and twitchy, he barely said a word to me or to Matthew, although we had worked in the same department for almost 4 years and enjoyed a routine of morning banter.

“How was the old South of the Border!?” Matthew inquired, spinning his rolling office chair away from his desk to face Martin’s meagerly decorated cubicle.

“It was nice. Hot.”

“Long flight? I bet your arms are tired,” Matthew laughed, like it was the first time the English – speaking world had ever heard that joke. He was so proud I was afraid he was about to request a high five.

“That’s all you got?” I tried, “Any girls? Any crazy stories? Or is this like a ‘What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico” sort of thing.”

Martin didn’t turn around. He didn’t make eye contact. He watched his computer boot up and shuffled around the week-old papers on his desk.

“No, no…none of that. It was just uneventful, that’s all. Quiet. Relaxing.”

Matthew and I took his brevity as our cue to go back to the spreadsheeting and analysis that occupied the majority of our average workdays, but minutes later my thoughts returned to the weird interacting with Martin. He usually wasn’t so distant. And now, as I quieted my hands on my keyboard, I couldn’t even hear him at his desk. No phone call, no typing. I leaned back in my chair with the sort of fake stretch that usually signifies a low budget attempt to romance a girl at a movie theatre. From my backbend, I could just see Martin’s back as he hunched over something – his “Trees of the Northwest” computer screen saver replacing a Word or Excel file.

I couldn’t tell what he was doing, but he had been doing it for long enough for his computer to lock up. Because it was a departure from his normal office behavior, this clear distraction from work intrigued me even more. I rocked back up to an upright position in my chair, contemplating my next investigative move. Then my ears focused in. Beyond the typing, beyond the hushed phone calls, I heard a beeping. A patternless, high pitched sound that didn’t take my 21st Century ears long to diagnose – the clicking through of pictures on a digital camera. That was Martin’s engrossing activity – clicking through pictures from his “uneventful” trip to Cancun? Something about this Monday morning seemed off, and I was going to find out what.

-To Be Continued-

Prompt: Write about a roll of film that has been obtained surreptitiously.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Exercise in Idea Response

Jot down (quickly) the scenes you would expect to find in a film with this premise:

Two childhood friends unexpectedly fall in love during a trip to New York.

  • Laughing and accidental touching in Central Park surrounded in fall leaves and autumn colors
  • He has a dizzying moment (he can't take his eyes off her) when she spills mustard down the front of her shirt near a hotdog stand, and then cracks up laughing. He wipes mustard off his hot dog and rubs in on his face to keep up the laughter.
  • She pulls strings to get tickets to a Broadway show he thought was sold out – the hug and he accidentally says “I love you” and she laughs and says I love you, too (but its clear she’s wondering in what way he means it…)
  • Her shower explodes and floods her whole room, but the hotel is sold out so they have to stay together in his room. (Or, they are staying together already but at check-in the hotel doesn’t have their two double beds available! They have to share a King?!?)
  • The two get really drunk at some fancy Manhattan restaurant and confess that they always wish their significant others could be more like the other one.
  • She almost walks in front of a cab, and he pulls her back and into his arms.

These were just some of my first, semi-obvious ideas. What other scenes come to mind when you think of this typical Rom-Com premise?

Prompt from Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome

A P.I. and His Ride (A shot at fiction)

Mac Davies, PI. Full name Joseph MacDonald Davies Jr., son of Joseph MacDonald Davies and Bella-Joy (McAllister) Davies.

Mac Davies plants himself at coffee counters. Flannel shirted and John Deere cap wearin', he looks like a truck driver or construction worker sipping coffee at a neighborhood diner (pretending to read the Post, but possibly just looking at the headlines). His unkempt, hard workin’ appearance says he likes his coffee steaming, and that he usually opts for pie. Today, he’s removed from his diner counter hangout. Today, he leans contemplatively against the wall of 100 Financial place, pulling deep drags of a cigarette, thumbing his belt loop and squinting into the hot sun. When he stomps his cigarette out with a surprisingly clean Timberland boot, swivels left and steadily follows Jason Wrightwood on his way out of the building, Jason becomes uneasy. Jason does not become uneasy because the flannel shirted follower looks particularly menacing, but because he knows he's in trouble. He's received two calls today; anonymous enemies notifying him that his secret could no longer be considered so. Jason Wrightwood is paranoid. As he flips back his long spring Armani coat, he pulls the blackberry from his belt and tosses it into a waste-can. Without breaking stride, he reaches into the pocket of his well-pressed slacks, extracting the keys to his M500, and hits the double beep that opens the doors. To his relief, the follower does not follow. He crosses the street, lighting a new cigarette, and climbs into the unlocked red Cherokee parked a quarter block down the street. "Not a cop." Wrightwood breathes aloud. For the first time today he feels the pressure in his chest release. "Cops don't drive 15 year old hick-wagons. I bet he parks that thing in front of a trailer in Indiana" he laughs to himself.

What Wrightwood doesn’t know is that the Cherokee is the car of a loyal and adventurous PI - a PI who would plow through trash cans, over curbs and through dog parks to reach an assailant. The Cherokee says this guy means business. This guy is knows what you’re up to. This guy likes mud.


Prompt: from Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome

1. Create a P.I.

2. Pick a car for said P.I.

3. Identify what the car says to the people in the fictional detective’s fictional world

4. Identify what the car secretly signals to the reader

Vroom, vroom.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Before I Ever Arrive at Work

Most mornings I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock at least 4 times. Its not even an alarm clock, it’s a cell phone, which I hold in my hand through the early hours of the morning just to be sure that I can hit the snooze as quickly as possible. Eventually, I wake the cats from their tiny cat slumber, and swing my legs over the side of the bed. Although it’s not even a bed, its futon I bought more than 5 years ago, which I resent but still refuse to replace with a real sleep center. I shuffle across the beat-up wooden floor of my apartment and open the lid of my aging Macbook. Clicking on some arbitrary music I scoot the 2 or 3 yards to my blue tiled bathroom and indulge in a quick and purposeful shower. Barely dry, glasses fogged, I select arbitrary clothing items from my closet and layer them on my body. Sometimes, I take a picture of my face and text it to my girlfriend so that she knows I’ve started my day. I sling my messenger bag over my shoulder, packed with reading and writing books (books that are more good faith efforts than they are functional), and lock the cats inside the heavy wooden door. I scoot down the single flight of stairs and cross Clark street at whatever light blinks “Walk”.

I usually miss the train. I then stand and wait; sometimes I read or write. When the Purple line train eventually arrives, I herd myself with the crowd to an available seat, and make the first important decision of the day: Do I cross my arms and try to sleep on the 25 minute journey, or do I challenge myself to write some words in my hard backed fake-leather notebook? Most days I try to write – slurring down mis-spelled words with a purple pen stolen from my office like I’m inebriated rather than just sleepy. Some mornings I surprise myself with the ease of my pen’s flow, with the appearance of words on paper that I didn’t know were inside my head, with the profundity my 8am brain can achieve. Other mornings I write the date in the corner and think a little about all the things I should write about. I then stick my purple pen between the pages of my hard backed fake-leather notebook, cross my arms over my chest, let my eyes close, and hope for 22 minutes of sleep.

Prompt: Write about a less than remarkable aspect of your life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shakespeare the Cat

When I key though my apartment door after a day at work, or a night out, or a weekend away, Shakespeare the Cat squawks. He persists, pushes and demands. His surprisingly rough and scratchy little cat voice both irritates and soothes me. As a two-pound kitten, when I first brought him home from the Humane society (along with his quiet and calm brother), he spent every night standing against my single studio alley-facing window crying. This devastated me. Panicked as any mother or creepy cat young adult would be, I laid awake night after night trying to soothe him. I guessed he had contracted a disease, suffered from a hidden injury or dealt with an overwhelming amount of anxiety. Now, 6 years after his birth, I've assessed that he is just needy and bossy, but this conclusion was not reached quickly. It was not reached without traveling first by taxi or borrowed Camry to the vet seeking diagnosis. Shakespeare the Cat, the polite vet explained gingerly, suffered not from a mysterious illness or injury, and was not anxious. Shakespeare the cat had most likely not digested a portion of the most likely not poisonous plant sample I clutched desperately in a blue and yellow makes green zip lock bag. Shakespeare the Cat suffered from nothing, besides, perhaps, a lack of attention. The cat-printed shirt which peaked out sabotagingly from under my v-necked sweater sadly punctuated the $200 vet trip for the squawky cat that just needed a hug.

Prompt: Write about a noise-or a silence-that wont go away