Archive for September, 2013

First Draft Theater: The Shopping Trip

Posted in Fiction with tags , , , , on September 30, 2013 by cueball

“You still wearing your ring…Well keep doing that and everything will be fine.”  All he had done was call and ask Julie if she needed anything from Wal-Mart and she tells him some guy at work has been sending her flowers.  She probably thought he was going to yell, but Phil didn’t yell.  He was driving.

He hung up the phone and put it in the cup holder.  He pulled into the parking lot dodging the other drivers most of whom thought their car made them indestructible.  Phil usually parked close to the same spot.  He liked to park on the second line going out of the parking lot.  It made it easier to get out on busy days.

He got out of his truck and as he walked towards the store a giant thumb and her two little thumblets came walking out of the doors.  They all had fluid blocks of flesh for bodies.  Their legs were like large corn cubs stuck to the bottom of a brick with tiny feet shoved on to the ends that barely moved and their arms were like thin sticks hanging of the side of a snowman.  Their heads were these short thin pyramids pushed down on top of the brick with sprouts of hair sticking out in all directions.

Looking at them, it made sense that some guy wanted to fuck Julie.  Pickings could be slim around here and she still had a tight little ass.  Two kids later and she still managed to turn heads.  He picked a good one.

Phil walked through the sliding door and was greeted with the cool dry canned air that smelled of floor cleaner, disinfectant, and bod odor.  Some top 40 music hit from sometime in the last 10 years kept playing loud enough to be heard over the din of people shuffling around being ignored by the barely above minimum wage part timers stocking shelves and aimlessly walking to any other part of the store where there weren’t customers.

Phil grabbed a buggy and a bunch of the cleaning wipes they kept near them.  He’s seen too many of these people and their kids picking their noses and poking their fingers and hands in other places on their bodies to not use whatever weak sanitizer he could.

His mind drifted back to Julie as he made his way to the razors, soap, and toothpaste.  He needed razors and shaving cream and Julie asked him to get soap and toothpaste.  He couldn’t remember which toothpaste the boys used.  He knew the brand he just couldn’t remember which of the fifteen types they made his two preferred.  It was enough of a pain to get them to brush in the first place.  If he shows up with the wrong one, he’ll just have to go back out and get some more or have his kids teeth fall out of their heads and have Julie snipe at him for a night.

As he stood looking at the wall of toothpaste he thought that might be why this dipshit thought he could fuck Julie.  Maybe she talked to him on some day that Phil did something stupid and talked about how much she hated him and wished he was different.  Maybe dude didn’t just dream this up on his own.  Maybe he thought she was signaling him to try.  Maybe she was.

Phil grabbed a couple of tubes of toothpaste and moved on to get the soap and razors before wandering to the other side of the store for the dishwasher detergent they needed.  He stewed over the fact that his wife might have egged on some poor dude at work by accident by telling him how shitty a husband he was.

He walked past the baby clothes and realized too much had happened that they didn’t talk about anymore for either one to leave the other.  He detoured back around to another part of the store.  Julie liked the scented candles they sold here.  She said they made her think of the beach trips they took before the boys were born.  He was going buy her a couple.  They would be a peace offering.  Show her there were no hard feelings.

Phil began to maneuver his way back towards the cleaning stuff.  So what if she told dude about any fights her and Phil had, it wasn’t an invitation to stick his pecker in her.  Where did he get off thinking that?  He thought about he would get her to tell him who it was so he could go to the store and they would settle this like men.  Phil would kick his ass to make sure he and any other guy at the store knew his wife was off limits.  That would settle the whole thing.

His phone rang again.  It was Julie.  “Yeah…I got the detergent…OK…Hey, what toothpaste do the boys use…Good.  That’s what I got…Yeah, I’ll get some.  Do we need any peanut butter…OK…Love you.”  Phil angled past the bread section to get a loaf on his way to the registers to pay and get out of this place.  He always did better in the fresh air and sunlight.

He went out through the same doors he came in through putting on his sunglasses to stave off the afternoon glare.  He moved past another family of thumbs and a little old man and little old woman who gave off the whiff of oncoming death.

Back in his car Phil took a deep breath and cranked his truck and backed out of the spot and headed towards the highway.  Sitting at the light he noticed Julie’s watch sitting in the arm rest.  Last night she said she lost it and he scolded her for being so absent minded.  She must have taken it off after church yesterday and forgot.  He decided to put it somewhere and let her find it.  Let her think she just left in the bathroom under something.  He didn’t want to argue or snipe at each other tonight.

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Their Shared Weight

Posted in Fiction with tags , , , , on September 26, 2013 by cueball

Patricia woke up at 4 am like she normally did when Craig was alive. She rolled over and reached for her alarm, but it hadn’t gone off today.  It hadn’t gone off today or the day before or the day before that.  It hadn’t gone off at 4 in the morning for almost a week now.

She turned off the alarm the day after Craig died, but she has still woken up at 4 out of habit.  She rolled back over and tried to go back to sleep for at least a couple of more hours.  She couldn’t.  She got up and went to the kitchen to start the coffee.

She moved between her bed and the one Craig was confined to the last two years in the dark.  Her brothers were coming by this weekend with a rented truck to take the extra bed, the ventilator, the motorized wheelchair, and all the other things that were necessary to keep Craig alive.

Patricia did not go back to work until next week, but she still had things to do around the house.  Mostly start packing up all of Craig’s equipment and clothes.

She sat drinking her coffee watching the sun slowly emerge from behind the trees to the East of her house.  She thought about the first time she and Craig came to the house with the realtor and many of those trees were barely 4 feet tall.  Now some of them were as high tall as the gutters on the side of the house.

She thought about the day after that first fall he had.  They were out in the car port getting ready to go grocery shopping.  His left leg just gave out and he crumpled to the concrete.  That was four years ago.

“In sickness and in health, till death do us part.”  She thought about saying those words when she was 22.  It was abstract.  They were almost just words, but she learned they weren’t just words. First, he was with her through the miscarriage and then the benign lump they found on her breast 10 years ago.  It was the right and only thing either could do, stay and fight together.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t still exhausted from the last four years.

She drank from his coffee cup.  He didn’t use it the last two years.  He couldn’t control his hands or his mouth enough.  She and the day nurse who helped four days a week had to do that for him.  They had to bathe him.  They had to change his catheter and his bed pan.

Near the end there had been a significantly hard day.  She was helping him out of the tub for one of the last times and he looked at her.  Somehow he gathered to strength to control his arms and rested his hand on hers to get her to stop tucking him into the chair and looked at her.  He tried to say something, but the words couldn’t form and he started crying.  She kissed his forehead and helped him back into his bed.  After he went to sleep, she came in to the kitchen and cried.  From sadness, from exhaustion, from the weight of this thing that had happened to both of them.

Patricia had lost track of the time, but the sun was now peaking over the horizon and her coffee had gotten cold.  She hadn’t cried since the day Craig died.  She didn’t even cry at the funeral.  The weight had lifted.  It was a weight she willingly took, but it was gone now.  The leaves dappled the light from the first morning rays of the sun across her face as she looked out the window.  She closed her eyes and felt Craig standing beside her, his hand on the small of her back.  He was tall and strong.  They were both free of the weight now.

Digging the Ditch Deeper – First Draft Theater

Posted in Fiction with tags , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by cueball

“I have been pissed upon from a very great height.”  Wayne wondered why Russell always talked like this. 

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Wayne, you assume I am just a local businessman with a repair shop and a community bank operation.  You assume somewhat incorrectly.  I do own a local repair shop, but my loan business is not local.  I am merely a branch of a much larger bank.  Do you understand what that means?”

“It means you work for somebody just like everybody else in this shitty town.”

“Very true.”  He stopped and took a drink from his McDonald’s smoothie.  “It also means I am not the one you need to fear ultimately if you don’t pay back your money.”  Russell stopped again and took another sip from his cup.  “Yeah, there’s the look.  The look of, ‘Oh, shit.’  That moment you realize your problems are much bigger then you thought.”  Russell turned up the cup and finished his smoothie wiping his lips clean with his thumb.  “As I said before, I will not harm your daughter.  The gentlemen I work for however have no such reservations.  You can run from me.  Me and my guys have a limited reach.  Get farther past Gastonia, Gaffney, Forest City, or Lincolnton and you’re pretty much out of my territory.  The problem is this, Wayne.  My employers have a much longer reach and fewer emotional ties to any one community.  So, I again ask you to get me my fucking money.  Otherwise things leave my control.”

“I’m trying to get the money.”

“Work faster, try harder.  There is your pep talk.  Figure it out.”

Tommy and Nathan escorted Wayne out the door by arms barely letting his feet hit the ground leaving him in the dusty parking lot.  He squinted at the noon sun and walked over to his car.  He opened the door and a burst of hot air rushed into him.  He rolled down the window and started the air conditioner.  He pulled onto the road and drove towards Ashley’s school.  He now had two problems.  One, he still owed $50,000 to Russell and now he had to protect Ashley from someone scarier than Russell. 

School doesn’t let out for another 3 hours, but he felt better sitting in a parking lot across from the school watching anyone who passed by.  Cars passed and his mind started turning the situation over and over in his head.  Russell wasn’t the ultimate problem.  The guys who control Russell are the ultimate problem.  He had to deal with them.  First, he had to find them.  Sam’s police contacts could help find them.  He pulled out his phone and dialed Sam.

“Hey, it Wayne…Wait, don’t.  I need your help…I know. I…Look, just meet me at the place…It…It’s about Ashley.  Just meet me there in a 20 minutes.”  He threw the phone down on the passenger seat and looked down the road both ways.  He hadn’t seen Sam in 3 months at least.  Not since Ashley’s surgery.  There is a little coffee shop a couple of blocks from the hospital they used to go to get some air after being inside for hours waiting on doctors and keeping Ashley entertained. 

 

He walked into the coffee shop and Sam was already sitting at their table in the back drinking what Wayne knew to be black coffee.  She dressed as simply as she drank:  jeans, blue dress shirt, sports jacket to hide the Walther PPK she carried.  Her hair was longer almost past her shoulders now and she was wearing lipstick. 

“What kind of shit are you into now?”  Wayne hadn’t even pulled his chair out to sit down before his sister started in on him. 

“Good to see you too, Sam.” 

“Goddammit, Wayne.  I don’t have time for this.  I actually have a job.”

“I’m sorry.  I owe money.”

“Is there something new we are going to discuss here.”

“I owe fifty thousand.”

“That’s what Ashley’s medical bills were.”  Wayne looked down at his coffee and didn’t answer.  “Dammit.  I told you I would help.  Who did you borrow the money from?”

“Russell Allen.”

“You borrowed from Russell.  I outta shoot you myself.”

“I was hoping you could help me find out who he works for and maybe I could talk to them.”

“Mama used to get drunk as hell, but she was never drunk enough to drop you on your head when you were a baby.  What the hell is wrong with you?  These are not the kind of people you just go talk to.”

“So you know who they are?”

“Oh, God.”  Sam sat back in her chair and crossed her legs.  She stared up at the ceiling and then closed her eyes.

“Are you dating someone?”

“What?”

“You let your hair grow out and you’re wearing lipstick.”

“I met him at some classes I had to take in Charlotte.”

“He a cop?”

“No he is a teacher and quit changing the subject.”  She leaned forward.  “These guys moved into this part of the South a few years ago, up from Miami.  They’re some kind of conglomerate.  They are more like McDonald’s then criminals putting franchises everywhere.”

“Do you got a name or something?”

“A name?  No, I don’t have a name.  I don’t even know where they work out of around here.”

“Just get me one name.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Yeah, you’ll take care of the rest.”  Sam stood up and finished her coffee.  “I’ll call you in an hour.”

“Thanks, Sam.”  Wayne sat finishing his coffee.  He tried to think of what he would say to the guy Sam found for him.  

We Should Remember To Enjoy Stuff

Posted in life, society, television with tags , , , on September 24, 2013 by cueball

It seems I start any piece I write about the effects of the internet and technology with the caveat that I love the internet and technology and I love all the advancements that have accompanied them for the most part.

However, as much as  I love Twitter, it and its other social media cohorts have fundamentally altered the way we consume entertainment, and not always in a good way.  These new modes of communication have made the enjoyment of, the reaction to that enjoyment, and the announcement of that enjoyment to the world instantaneous.  This makes us judge television shows, movies, music, and books solely by how it makes us feel at the exact moment we first experience it.

We are seemingly losing the ability to judge a work in its totality and to let things percolate.  In addition, and maybe more importantly, we are forgetting how to simply enjoy a thing simply as the thing in the moment.  Deciding something’s cultural importance can be done later (and should be done much later).

I have really noticed this phenomenon with the ending of Breaking Bad.  People seem hell bent on first trying to figure out what is going to happen next, second trying to be the first to say it wasn’t that great, and third trying to be the first to correctly nail its cultural significance.

The part that confuses me the most is trying to figure out what is going to happen next.  Why does it matter what your theories are about how it is going to end?  If today, I posted a blog post or a Tweet that correctly guesses at everything that will happen in the final episode, what would I win?  Also, how does guessing correctly make my enjoyment of the episode better?

The end of Breaking Bad is just the latest incarnation of this.  Every other week another movie, book, or album comes out and the next week is filled with an orgy of people tweeting and blogging about how this is the greatest thing ever in the history of history.  They seem to forget about the thing they said the used the same words on that came out 6 months ago or that there was a movie, book, or album that came out 20 years ago that this new one has cribbed a lot of its DNA from and after the initial orgy of bloviating praise has dissipated will still be seen as better than its newest doppelganger.

That was over 400 words to get to this, people please just enjoy the end of Breaking Bad.  We have been witness to what will probably go down a one of the great runs in the history of the television medium.  Don’t try to outthink Vince Gilligan and guess how he is going to end it.  Don’t get your The Wire fandom panties in a bunch because people are saying this is better than that.  Just sit back and enjoy a great television show that is working at its highest level.

First, you’re not smarter than Vince Gilligan so stop it.  Second, at a certain level of greatness distinctions don’t matter.  Distinctions of quality matter when comparing something like The Sopranos to Work It.  They even matter when comparing two quality shows like The Good Wife and Mad Men.  However, once you hit the rarified air of The Wire, Mad Men, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad you have differences with little distinction.  The dividing line in most of those shows is personal preference of style and content.

We as consumers and Internet denizens are so often geared to trying to be the first, the quippiest, and most though provoking, we sometimes forget to sit back enjoy and let the beauty of our entertainment wash over us.

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe

Posted in Fiction with tags , , on September 21, 2013 by cueball

Robbie woke up staring at the side of his sofa.  Bottles were scattered across the floor.  Bourbon, vodka, orange juice, ginger ale.  He could remember most of it.  It wasn’t some single binge.  He was drunk for 3 days straight.  Now he needed water.

He hadn’t changed his clothes since he started.  These were the same jeans he wore when Nicki came and got Ashley.  He was still pissed she brought her father with her.  There was no need for that.  He would have let her have Ashley.  She was the one thing he would never hurt.

He stood up and stretched the stiffness out of his bones.  For the first time he noticed the lights and his stereo were all on from whenever.  He opened up the CD player to see what he had listened to the days and nights before.  The player was empty.  He closed and walked to the kitchen to get the water.

Robbie’s foot stepped on something sharp and he hopped back over to his couch and pulled a sliver of a CD out of his foot.  It didn’t cut too deep.  He stood and walked on his heel back over to the broken CD.  It was one of his old Dwight Yoakam CDs.  He remembered finding it in the stack of stuff Nicki brought with her when she came for their daughter.

He couldn’t find a clean glass.  They were all in the sink and they stunk of liquor, orange juice, and ginger ale.  He dug out the cleanest one he could find and rinsed out a few times before going to pour the water from the pitcher in the refrigerator.  As the first glass and then the second glass started to flow throw his system he started to remember what really happened.

He remembered seeing Ashley through the window of the squad car.  He remembered Roger taking pity on him and convincing the guy at the pawn shop Robbie wasn’t really trying to steal from him and escorting him back here to the trailer.  He remembered Roger telling he still had to call this in and that DSS or Nicki would be coming to get Ashley later that day.

He remembered Nicki and her father pulling in front of the trailer in the pick-up truck.  He remembered Nicki walking to the house with her father sitting in the cab of the truck and the hunting rifle hanging in the rack behind his head.

He remembered the box Nicki was carrying that had what was left of their time living together and how she dropped it down on the kitchen table with finality before she walked into Ashley’s room and gathered the little girl and her things up to leave.  He remembered how Nicki didn’t say a word the whole time she was inside the trailer.

He remembered watching his two girls drive away with old man at the wheel.  He remembers watching them turn off just ahead of him as he drove to the liquor store.  He remembered how it was on liquor he spent his last dime.

The rest was a haze of bourbon, vodka, and music.  He stared out his window.  All that was there was a patch of dirt where a yard was supposed to be and a dusty cheap black top road that leads to the highway that runs both ways out of town.

He looked around his trailer and thought.  He limped into his bedroom leaving a trail of blood on the floor and through a couple of pairs of jeans, clean t-shirts, and clean boxers into his duffle along with his stereo and a bunch of CDs.  He looked around one more time, put a band aid on his foot before putting on his shoes, and walked out the door without even locking it.

He got into his car and did “teeny money many moe” to pick his direction and pulled out onto the dusty road in his old Camry with the rusted spot on the rear passenger side panel.

Rambling on about the new television season

Posted in television with tags , , , , , on September 20, 2013 by cueball

I have written about writing about a new television show this year.  There are two reasons.  First, I actually love television.  I am a child of television.  A lot of my favorite entertainment and artistic memories are from the great 1 hour dramas television has shown us over the last 40 years.

The second reason is that, probably because of the first reason, I think of screenwriting as a literary venture and it interests me to study the way television tells stories.  Some of the best story telling lessons I’ve learned came from listening to the Battlestar Galactica podcasts showrunner Ron Moore did that accompanied each episode.  He explained the reasons behind almost all of his story decisions from how he structured the overall arch of the overall story and the decisions of when and where to place act breaks.

To my eyes, there are two ways to write a television show.  (I’m talking about the 1 hour dramas and not half hour sitcoms.)  The first is the more traditional stand-alone episode method and the second is the more serialized method.

The traditional stand-alone method is like a book of discreet yet interconnected short stories with the same main characters.  Each episode has its own arch that has a beginning, middle, and end.  The season as a whole may have some through-line that connects each episode, but you could essentially watch each episode on its own and all of the episodes in almost any order.  Traditionally each episode would end and the reset button would be hit and the next episode would start anew.

As television has matured as a story-telling medium even the traditional episodic shows have added more distinct and important through-lines that affect the character’s lives outside of the episodic storylines.

The more serialized method has gained in importance as the primarily cable dramas have used this method to do things differently than traditional networks.  This style is more of a novelistic approach with each episode standing as a chapter or part of chapter in a larger book.  The episodes do not necessarily have a distinct beginning, middle, and end because it is only a section of the story.  As I said above, the network dramas have started to use some of the ideas of that novelistic approach to add a larger arch to seasons that make the episodes more interconnected and try to tell a larger story.

The reason I want to study one show for a season is to study how the show runners tell a story.  What directions do you take?  Do you go for the easy feel good direction?  Do you take the darker direction?  Is the direction you decided to take a good one?  Are the decisions you’ve made over how to depict a character working or are they cheap and lazy?

The interesting thing is I don’t necessarily want to do a prestige show.  I could write about Mad Men or Homeland or any of the new premium cable shows coming out in the next few months.  I could also write about the second tier shows like Sons of Anarchy or The Bridge and still do the same thing.  The thing is I don’t want to write about any of those shows mostly because I still want to just sit back and enjoy television.  The show I pick will probably be one I would watch anyway, but not one that I would put on the level of those shows.

Right now television is maybe the most vital artistic endeavors in the United States right now.  We are at the end of what is termed the Golden Age of Television which brought us The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men.  Television networks are throwing money and opportunities to writers and directors at an astonishing rate particularly on cable networks.  That is also the death knell of this period.

As the people who run television try to figure out how to monetize these prestige shows is that they are beginning to neuter the ideas so that each idea is the same as the last idea.  Networks have started to just import successful ideas from other countries and Americanizing them to varying degrees of badness.  The Killing, Low Winter Sun, and The Bridge were all shows from Europe whose American versions go from horrible, self-serious, to pretty good.

Once art becomes commerce and is monetized the people who invest always try to make money by predicting what will be successful by what was successful.  That always ignores the fact that most works of art that were successful were surprises that no one saw coming.

So, I want to enjoy this time in television as much as I can, but more importantly to learn about telling stories as much from the successes and mistakes from the new shows that are entering our television lives.

Movement, Action, and Trying to Signify Something

Posted in television, writing with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2013 by cueball

In fiction as in life, movement does not equal action.  Having your characters flop around and do things does not make them grow necessarily.  That should be the point of action in a story, to make and show your characters growing emotionally over the course of the first word to the last word.

One of my favorite television shows is often a victim of movement as non-action.  Since season 1 and certainly the end of season 2, the characters seem to have become static entities.  A lot of things have happened over the course of those seasons.  People have gone to jail, people have died, and new characters have come on the scene.  However, it seems the main characters are all in the same head space they have occupied since the beginning of the show.

I will say in the second episode of this season one of the characters did something I didn’t expect.  That is the thing about this show that keeps me coming back.  Each individual episode is always well written and exciting.  It is just that as a whole each season has the same arch as the season before with most of the characters filling the same roles as they had before with everyone ending up where they started.

I think this is main characteristic of most pulp or genre fiction.  Things happen to the characters, but nothing changes them.  They are always exciting and action packed, but the action has no meaning and little consequence.  Now this isn’t to say that all genre fiction has this problem or that all literary fiction aspires to something greater.  The best genre fiction is also just good literature, and there are certainly any number of books and short stories that aspire to being literature that have flat characters moving about just to move about.

The problem, especially in the show I’m talking about, is that movement especially violent movement is used to give the work a since of grave importance.  These characters live in a violent world and that makes everything that happens and every decision they make important.  Almost every season, there is a violent act that takes place near the beginning of the season as the table-setter and the show tries to use it in an attempt to show how the accumulated violence of these characters lives has affected them emotionally and psychologically.

However, at the end of each season it is as if a reset button is hit and the weight of whatever violence has occurred is erased, especially for the main character.  He seems to brush off this violence and pain after each season and move on with his life.  Another question is how do you show the compromising effects of violence on characters that are already compromised?

Maybe, this cumulative violence on people who see too much violence on a regular basis will just break them all completely in end.  At least, that is what I hope.  Otherwise, I’ve just wasted 7 seasons.

Yeah, I’m trying to work out reasons to keep watching this show regularly.  Again, each episode is well done and most of the acting performances in them are wonderful to watch.  It is just that the show seems to go in circles for large swaths of time getting no one anywhere fooling us with excitement meant to make us think it is important.

It seems the show wants the violent acts to be the centerpiece.  So, the showrunner sometimes delays and then telegraphs what the violent act will be in order to build excitement for that single moment.  Instead, those violent acts should be simple sign posts that you drive past on the highway showing you where the characters are going emotionally.

The titillating act should not be the goal, but the trigger.  By making the violent act the focus, you take away the importance of the effects that act have on the characters emotionally.  That is how movement does not become elevated to action.  The point of the shockingly violent act is the shockingly violent act itself and that doesn’t leave room for the emotional and psychological effects to be explored.

I’m not going to stop watching this show.  I’m too deep.  Like a few of the characters.  I in so deep I can’t turn back now.  I just hope the characters actually do something other than simply strut and fret across my television screen.