Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Photograph: Alternate Perspective Scene

This scene is an exercise based on a story I've bee working on about a kid who finds a polaroid of a naked woman in a library book. The kid in the alley is the main character of that story. This is a scene from a different person's perspective. 

Closing in the summer is the worst. In the winter you walk through the kitchen feeling the air temperature drop as you get closer to the cold  that seeps through the gaps around the door or comes crashing in like a wave when someone goes out to smoke. You don't even need your coat. The heat and sweat from working give you three refreshing minutes outside. The perspiration crystallizes into sludge on your back and it's relief. The air deadens the food smell in your nostrils and the gray alley feels cozy. You throw the trash in the dumpster and it barely stinks. The air is hard and resists the smell. There's only the far-off scent of smoke. It might be a chimney, but it might be that brittle winter nights always smell like smoke.

If it's the second or fourth Sunday of the month you have to drain the fryers into a bucket, then pour that into the grease trap next to the dumpster. Winter is no match for that smell. You have to hope there's not slush or ice, because if there isn't you can be quick and hold your breath. When that's over, you start to realize that you're sleeveless outside at 10:30 pm in January and it's time to go inside.

Summer is atrocious. The alley is hotter and thicker than the kitchen with the heat from the ovens and steam from the dishwashers. Inside, air is shuffled around by fans, the AC, doors opening and closing. You go outside and dark summer air sits on you like a wet towel you'll never find the edges of. There's nothing to savor, like there is in winter. As soon as you're out the door the dumpster smell walks up into your nostrils and down your throat. You can only jogwalk while holding your breath until you get back inside. The chemical steam of the dishwasher will seem like a Yankee candle. If it's grease trap week, you can't run because you'll spill. You just step quick. Alley dumpsters behind restaurants are like Satan's crockpots. Stewed rancid muck slow cooks on metal and wafts down the brick and asphalt corridor. Work enough shifts and you'll feel that scent dripping onto your tonsils every time you look down an alley.

One time, I was closing at some casual modern place--the kind with artisanal pizzas where they use every kind of olive except black, like traditional pizza is so gauche. Well, I was running some trash and had just gotten a couple of bags from the kitchen, not even a third full, but sagging with slop. I toss those normal, then go back to get the bathroom trash. When I go back outside, there's some skinny black kid standing next to his bike in the middle of the alley. He rode up in the two minutes it took me to go in and grab the bags. He's just standing there looking down the alley. He had a piece of paper--it looked like a polaroid-- in his hand that he kept looking at. I kind of stood there and watched him to see what he would do, but he never moved. When I let the dumpster lid close he noticed me. I asked if he was all right; he said yes and rode off. But he'd been standing there for a long time just staring at the alley. It was weird as shit.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dear Diary: Wanna Be Your Super Hero

Dear Diary,

I was thinking about the television program Entourage, as I frequently do, while pining for someone to hug it out with. Or someone with whom out I might hug it, if you're a stickler for grammar. One of the fun things that would happen on that show was celebrities would appear as themselves. During the end credits you would see: Guest starring Kanye West as Kanye West, Jessica Alba as Jessica Alba, Gary Busey as Gary Busey, Brooke Shields as Brook Shields. It was a fun treat for the viewers, to be sure, but it also added to the show's already impeccable realism of the Neo-Golden Age Hollywood we currently live in (or near). "Hey, there's Chuck Lidell," you'd think, "appearing as himself, the MMA fighter. Chuck Lidell is an MMA fighter in my universe AND in Vinny, E, Turtle, and Drama's universe. It's like they're gallivanting in the same world in which I'm a corporate cog." It allowed you to become even more absorbed in the gang's hijinks, knowing that they too had a Bob Saget fucking prostitutes with money earned from your Friday night family time.

But there was a twist to this. Entourage would also have well-known actors and actresses playing characters other than themselves. Val Kilmer appeared as The Sherpa, a weed growing hippie guru type. Leighton Meester portrayed Justine Chapin, a pop star who trades in virginal sexuality. In Entourage: The Movie, Billy Bob Thorton and Haley Joel Osment play a father and son duo named Larsen and Travis McCredle. This begs the very obvious question: Do all of the celebrities playing other roles still exist for Vince and the Boys?If Brooke Shields exists in Entourage Land, does Val Kilmer? Does Terrance McQueuwick's existence preclude that of Malcolm McDowell? If so, who was in Clockwork Orange and Caligula in the Entourageverse? When Turtle watches Bad Santa, who is the titular ill-mannered Kris Kringle? Jim Carrey? In Entourage: The Movie, does Vince leave his meeting with Larsen McCredle thinking "Man, he looks just like Billy Bob!"

Does Entourage exist in a universe where some of the celebrities we know don't exist but most of them do? Or in the Entrouageverse is every character played by a real celebrity the identical twin of that celebrity? That's going to be my headcannon. In Entourage Dan Castellaneta's twin brother is the principal at a Hollywood private school.

These are the thoughts that plague me late at night as the minutes slip from my future and my past piles up behind me.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Let's Do A Writing Prompt: Road Side

In modern storytelling, a deus ex machina is a plot device in which a dramatic and oftentimes contrived occurrence suddenly saves the day or solves a seemingly impossible problem.​ This week, write a short story using this device in the form of a character, object, or new found ability. How will you manipulate the pacing to create the most effective sense of surprise? Consider the tone of the story, perhaps incorporating tragedy and comedy, as you lead up to the unexpected turn of events.


"What the fuck is that supposed to mean!" 

The man did a little hop when the question exploded from his mouth, wisps of long white hair bobbed gently on the side of his otherwise bald head. Simon already felt stressed enough with his life crumbling in chunks like an abandoned house. He'd forgotten to call Leslie after their screaming match, which he was pretty sure had been his fault or he'd made it worse by saying meaner things than she had. He'd started ordering double Captain and Cokes halfway through the night and couldn't remember anymore, and now it'd been almost a week. He wanted to give her space, but now her friends had started calling to say he still had a chance to win her back. Plus, his hours at the coffee shop had been cut and he hadn't started applying for other part-time work. Which had caused his roommates to act weird when he asked them to cover his part of the bills temporarily. So many things were contributing to Simon's general sense of tension, and now this man was yelling pointless questions at him. The aggression, Simon felt, wasn't helping an already inconvenient situation.

"Like I said, I don't have any insurance right now," it was another thing that fallen onto the back burner. "It's a pretty straightforward statement. I don't know what you mean by what do I mean." 

"I'm having trouble understanding why you would be driving a car when you don't have insurance." 

The man stomped his foot and looked, to Simon, a little childish throwing such a fit on the side of the highway. He would have been embarrassed for the man if there had been any other cars in sight. 

"Why the fuck would you be driving while uninsured? You'd better have some fucking money to pay for this." 

Simon looked at the cosmetic damage to the man's driver's side doors that had occurred when he had attempted to change lanes before he noticed the man in his blind spot. It was a gray breezy day on the long straight stretch of highway and Simon lingered in the right lane. It was his favorite kind of weather, and he found it held his attention more than two mid-level sedans on the shoulder of a road.

"I'll be honest with you, I've been meaning to get insurance for a while but other things came up and it kept getting bumped down my to-do list. But I don't not have insurance because I'm basking in financial security, so paying out of pocket won't be an option. Unless you'd be willing to work out some sort of payment plan, which I would be open to." Simon spoke without facing the man, but could see his gesticulations in his peripheral vision.

"What the hell are you talking about? Of course the idiot who hits me on a deserted highway is a broke slacker." The man turned to face the paint scraped cars, "It's responsible people like me who keep things on track and you can't be bothered to do your share. Look at this. This is totaled. You're going to have to buy me a new car. I can't drive this."

"It might be totaled, but that isn't necessarily an indication of costly damage."

"Don't you talk back to me. You're only getting yourself in more trouble."

"I just don't think a scratched paint job will make a Dodge Sabre undriveable."

"It's not a scratch"

The man's voice echoed off a nearby overpass. 

"I'm sorry I made contact with your vehicle, but shouting isn't going to undo what happened."

The man yelled again. Simon didn't like owing so many people money, though, he remained optimistic that a paint job could be paid off in a few months. He asked again if the man wouldn't rather just chalk this event up to the cost of living in the world where sometimes people bump into each other and face unexpected happenstances. The man did not and made another little hop that reminded Simon of Rumpelstiltskin. The man demanded Simon call the police so that a proper report could be filed, and he guaranteed that  Simon would be going to jail for driving with no insurance. Simon had no cellphone and confessed this to the man, who felt that Simon's lack of a cellphone was somehow evidence that the man's own life was cursed. Simon wondered if this could be cultivated into a seed of empathy for the hardships of others. The man didn't even seem to be taking into account the repercussions the accident might have on Simon's life.  

"Fine. I'll call the damn police, but you're going to be paying me back for the minutes I use on the call." The man's hand shook as he dialed. 

Simon listened to the wind and thought about unlimited cell plans, but didn't want to interrupt the man's phone call to the authorities. He hoped that the police, or more likely the sheriff as they were on a highway not within the limits of a city, would see this for what it was: an unfortunate happenstance. He was sure that the officer would be reasonable and send everyone on their way. The air was cool and everything felt muffled. No birds or animals made noise. Occasionally a breeze swept by Simon's ears, but other than that it sounded like the man was arguing with a 911 dispatcher in a room of cotton. The land between Simon and the long curving horizon was wide and flat and covered with wild looking grass. Even though he was surrounded by air and the sky he felt the rest of his life lurking behind him, all the relationships to renovate and responsibilities to tend like a garden he resented. He never seemed to be able to explain to his roommates the pressure and responsibility he imposed on himself when they suggested he take on extra housekeeping duties to compensate for a momentary financial shortfall. 

"Un-goddang-believable. That idiot dispatcher transferred me to another line. Said my call didn't qualify as an emergency. What is wrong with people? I was in a car wreck"

"Are they sending someone?"

"Of course. Once they took me off hold I told them to hurry." 

"I really think that's not the best use of everyone's time. We really could just exchange numbers and you could call me when you have an estimate on the repairs."

"You don't understand, do you? I'm filing a police report. People get arrested for driving without insurance. You're car's going to be impounded. And then I'll be suing you." The man paused before continuing, "For the repairs to my car and the psychological damage. All this stress. I probably have some sort of back injury. Those show up a few days after a bad accident like this. You and I will be in court unless you come up with a settlement."

Simon felt bad for the man, who didn't seem to be appreciating the stillness of the weather. 

"I'm going to sit in my car while we wait."

"Oh no you don't. You're aren't getting in your car, are you crazy? You're going to drive off."

Simon moved towards his car, but had to change course when the man stepped into his path.

"I'm just going to sit with the windows open. I'll be able to hear you if you need to talk to me."

"You're going to drive off."

Simon agreed to sit on a grassy slope next to the cars. It was better, Simon realized, because he could feel the breeze tracing its fingers on his arms and back instead of just the side of his face nearest the open window. There was a cool dampness in the air that he found invigorating. It was almost strange to feel so pleasant on a gloomy seeming day. Even the man, pacing and grumbling like a misunderstood teenage, added a vibrancy to the setting. The grayness of the road melted into the sky and it was a blank slate for Simon to begin painting the next chapter of his life and the man scolding the emptiness was the brush he would use. Simon wasn't sure how to articulate his thoughts to himself, but he knew that this is where he would slowly begin to reorganize his life and clear out some of the clutter. 

The longer he sat, the more the man's assurances that the accident would be taken seriously by the police began to poke into Simon's thoughts. If he was forced to get insurance right away it would delay him being able to pay his roommates back and certainly affect the first payment on the man's car repairs. If he lost his car, finding a new job wouldn't be easy. He'd have to coordinate rides to work from friends since there weren't many opportunities within walking distance. Fear began to spill into him and he felt as though the answer to the man's phone call was rushing towards him like a fist. Simon couldn't match the stillness of the day and wait for this random event to pass over him like water. 

The sound of distant sirens bubbled up into the quiet of the highway. 

"I can hear them. It's about time." The man spun to face the direction from which he and Simon had been driving. Cars and lights appeared in miniature on the horizon. Simon stayed sitting in his spot where his view was blocked. "It looks like someone took me seriously," the man continued as he waved to the still distant police cars. "They were right to send the whole squad. 

The man's words made Simon realize that, instead of one, he heard a chorus of police sirens. He stood and saw a line of  white squares glittering red and blue on top sweeping towards him. If he were to be arrested, he'd have to bail money onto the tab of what he already owed his roommates.

"It's too late to come up with any excuses now. Don't even try." The man stood in the right lane beside his car. 

Simon felt the red and blue wailing fill the muffled afternoon around him. He watched the line of cars enter more detail as they cut along the road. As they did, he noticed a boxy brown car in front of the police. So did the man. 

"Why won't this guy pull over so they can pass? Another maniac on the road." He looked at Simon with angry disappointment. 

The man walked towards the cars and began to flag them down. The brown car schoomed past them without slowing. The man turned to yell and was hit from behind by a police cruiser which was unable to change lanes in time. He was thrown into the back of his own car and fell to the ground folded sideways against the wheel. Simon's only reaction had been to throw himself prone onto the slope, but the cruiser had only hit the man. The cruiser that hit the man and one other stopped while the several others sped towards the brown car. Three officers rushed out and saw that nothing could be done for the man. Simon stood quietly as the sirens were soon gone. 

"What the heck are you guys doing just sitting here?" said an officer with a tight ponytail, while her partner spoke with the officer who had hit the man. 

"We were in an accident and were waiting for you."

"Waiting for us?" 

"Yeah. He had called the police. You were responding to our call."

"Didn't we were engaged in pursuit with a suspect driving the brown car." She looked to the other officers, "Geoff, can you radio this in. Tell them we had to abandon pursuit. Get a body snatcher."

"He thought you were coming for us."

"Is that why he was in the middle of the road?"

"Yeah. He was flagging you down."

"He didn't need to be out in the road to do that. So, what was you're accident?"

Simon gazed at the gray-topped horizon. The world was muted in it's down comforter again with only the crinkled sound of the police radio floating in the air.

"He'd hit the side of my car. Changed lanes without looking."

"Were either of you hurt from the accident."

"No. He insisted on calling it in. I told him it wasn't worth it."

"That's a tragedy."

The officer went to speak with Geoff, then the two came over to Simon and he explained it again. They all agreed that it was an unfortunate freak accident. The officer who hit the man couldn't be faulted. Simon told them that he didn't see a point to filling out a report for his accident with the man.

"I have your statement," said the officer. "If it's alright with you, I'll use that to fill one out on your behalf. It will just help to explain why you two were stopped at the side of the road when we came by, which lead to the man being hit by Officer Gabe's vehicle."

Simon stood on the edge of the commotion, which wasn't really a commotion but compared to everything else along the road it was. He watched officers and paramedics move back and forth until he felt like getting in his car and driving away. He thought about his roommates and Leslie. He was glad that his to-do list wasn't longer.