bookmark_borderWriting assingment: Differing opinions at a wake

George  took the smallest broccoli from his plate, covered it’s head with dip, and popped it into his mouth. Once he had something for his mouth to do he turned to view the room. It was full; all wall spots were taken and the more active  people were chatting in small groups in the center of the room. Not all the lights were on, out of respect for the situation, and combined with the dark clothes, the hushed voices, and the low lighting it could have been an opportunity for intimate, even romantic conversations.

George noticed a woman near his age leaving the food table and looking for a spot. She noticed him, the area beside him, and smiled though tight lips. He returned her smile out of habit and then looked away but it was too late. She moved toward him.

“Hi,” she said, “I’m Jean.”

“Nice to meet you Jean. I’m George,” he replied. He started to move some knickknacks. “Would you like some room for your plate?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” she replied.

“I don’t know why Mom keeps this stuff,” he said after clearing a spot for her anyway.

“Oh, you’re her brother?”

“Step-brother,” he said, picking up a shrimp. “Dad married Mom, Rachel’s mom, when I was fifteen, Rachel was a year younger.”

“I’m sorry. It must be difficult.”

“Thank you.” It was all he could say. He put the shrimp into his mouth.

After a moment she said “Such a tragedy.” He just pursed his lips and nodded. “In the prime of her life, with so much promise, trying to build her life out of so much despair.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond. “Um, how did you know her?”

“I met her during the trial. Our abuse support group was there for her.”

Again George wasn’t sure how to answer. “You know,  the trial was never about abuse, it was about her lying on loan applications, making fake documents, not paying employees.”

“Yes, but I can just imagine how difficult her life was after the abuse she endured from her father, her real father, I mean” she added quickly.

George wiggled his head back and forth as if trying to find his way through difficult terrain. “I don’t know much about her and her father. I just know her from when I met her.”

“And was she as wonderful a person as she seemed?”

“Mmm, well, she was brilliant.”

“Um hum.”


Jean waited for more, and when none was forthcoming she offered, “She seemed so sweet and oppressed.”

George shook his head. He had to respond. “That was her act,” he said. Jean was stunned. “You can chalk it up to sibling rivalry if you like, but she never told the truth. Everything was twisted to make her look innocent, to make someone, anyone, look guilty. Me, Dad, teachers, the system, …”

“George, help me, please.”

“Coming Mom.” He turned to Jean. “Sorry, excuse me,” he said and left.

bookmark_borderCharacterization exercise: Mother of a murderer

Carol sits at her dining room table, her right forearm resting on the table, hand wrapped around a tumbler half full of merlot. She’s leaning forward, elbows supporting her, almost oblivious to the cigarette in her left hand. Her expression is fixed, and she moves only to take another sip of wine, or a breath of her cigarette, or to tap ashes into the crystal bowl that other people might use for candy. Her ex-mother-in-law probably intended it for candy, but Carol gets more use from it as a pretty ashtray.

The other times were Joshua’s fault. Stupid things; B&E, selling drugs, things he might eventually outgrow, but this time, this time it was just bad luck, and bad judgment. He should have just come clean right away when the cops arrived. She sighs. Just like me. Thinking that the less information you give them, the less trouble you can get in. He should have just told them. After all, the guy was known for his temper problems. He beat his girlfriend. He carried a knife. It’s obvious that it wasn’t Joshua’s fault; the guy was a walking menace. It’s just Joshua’s bad luck to run into him.

“God, I wish I could be there,” she says aloud to the empty room and sinks back in her chair. “At least I wouldn’t be sitting and waiting.” But there’s no way I could, she thinks. Not with all the media there, not when my own sentencing is less than two months away. There’s no way I could hide if I were there. She takes off her glasses and places them on the table so she can rub her eyes, one by one. No, this is my own punishment for being a mother; I have to sit here and wait.

She glances at her cell phone lying on the table, and it shocks her by ringing. She sits up, grabs the phone, checks the number; it’s David, Joshua’s lawyer.

She puts the phone to her ear. “Hello, David?”, and then she listens, and listens. There is a pause and then the voice asks “Carol? Are you there? Did you get that?” That’s the cue for her veneer to break, for her emotions to erupt, and for her world to shatter.

“No! No, not again. That’s bullshit. Why is the world out to get us, David, why?”, she wails. David’s voice says some more things but Carol doesn’t hear. The phone is still talking on the table beside her elbow but her eyes are buried in her forearm as she sobs. “How can they do this?” She pounds the table with her the fist of her other hand, tipping over the tumbler and sending a splatter of red across the table. “Why are they all out to get us? Why can’t they all just,” she raises her head and shouts, “LEAVE US ALONE!” She puts her face back into her arm and continues to cry.

bookmark_borderBob (characterization excercise)

Bob had worked in sales for years. He and his three co-workers had kept the organization going, kept it moving. They were the ones who enabled the company to reach its goals, each and every time. The city was divided into four sections and together the four of them covered it all, out on the road, always working together. Sometimes they might rotate, to keep things fresh, but like pallbearers they relied on the others to each shoulder their share of the load.

They were all well rounded people, and Bob shared many interests and activities with his partners. Golf, bowling, bridge. One was rarely seen without the company of the other three, and sometimes people suggested that the four of them were interchangeable. Little did these outsiders know that once or twice a year the four of them and their wives would get together on a Saturday afternoon and swap partners.

Over time Bob started to notice some wear and tear. Years of being out in the sun had caused his skin to lose it’s elasticity. His hair, once a source of pride, was now thin and he was close to being bald in some spots. Sometimes he found it difficult to get a grip when conditions got tough, and his body found it very hard to get moving on cold winter mornings.

For a long time Bob’s doctor had warned him about his blood pressure. As a result of the economic downturn, money was scarce and the owner of the company tried to get as much mileage as he could from everyone, including his aging sales department. Bob and his partners were driven hard, well beyond what is safe and recommended. The pressure was too much, and Bob suffered a stroke.

For a while Bob tried to keep up, but it was difficult. He could still communicate but often his favorite jokes fell flat.

It didn’t take long for the owner of the company to notice and to slow down in order to get things under control. The first thing he did was to let Bob go. Then he let Bob’s partners go too, and brought in a group of shiny, fresh, young salesmen to replace them. After all those years of faithful service, Bob and his partners were put out to pasture.

Bob’s condition continued to deteriorate and he was no longer able to keep up with the other three. The other three kept themselves busy by hanging around in playgrounds with children, by working around the garden, or by going to football games and track and field events to support the athletes, but Bob wasn’t able to do any of that. Instead Bob went off to an assisted living situation, and spent his last days watching seagulls search for food as other unwanted items piled up around him. The last any of his friends saw of Bob he was reading through a Michelin travel guide and dreaming of all the places that he had never had the chance to experience.

bookmark_borderWriting class assignment: Characterization

Honestly, the class is not very challenging. We’re covering basic-basics and had very limited “improvement” oriented feedback on our first assignment readings. I know it’s a first reading and we’re all beginners, but I dunno if anyone’s going to improve very fast until people start to suggest things to work on, things to consider changing. We’re a little too polite, too supportive.

Anyway, assignment two is characterization. My job; to write about a person who has the characteristics of … a tire. Nice challenge at least. My personal approach will probably be to be somewhat obtuse, maybe a little cute, and to give sufficient clues as to make it not too difficult to guess what my inanimate object is even though I’m not planning to mention it.

So, let’s look at some characteristics of tires.

  • round, from the side view
  • flat or rounded rectangular shaped from the front/bank perspective
  • symmetrical
  • rolls well (once moving, continues moving easily?)
  • support/carry the vehicle (like pallbearers)
  • soft rubber, with hard metal core
  • – circle filled with circles
  • rubber inflated with air
  • vulnerable to nails/screws
  • vulnerable to over or under inflation
  • can rotate/spin rapidly

And potential associations with things like:

  • cars, trucks
  • Michelin; either Bib or with the restaurant review that they are known for
  • Goodyear and their blimp

Play on words, like:

  • re-tired
  • Tired, as in exhausted, needing sleep
  • Tired, as in bored or had enough
  • Wheel, as in “wheeled around”
  • wheel, as in square dance? (I dunno why square dance groups are often called “wheels”. Or maybe the question should be why a square dance when they dance in circles?)

bookmark_borderSetting exercise

First writing class assignment.

My hands are wearing a thin layer of cold so I wrap my left around the cup as well, interlocking the fingers with the right hand and and laying my thumbs one atop the other. The cardboard sleeve protects me from getting burned but the warmth that still escapes is nice. Using both hands to lift the cup I take the first sip. A bit of chocolate flavored foam and then the heat of the coffee. Always a bit too much heat for me the first time. I swish the cup counterclockwise for a while, probably destroying more of the foam, and then make another attempt.

This time I notice the foam touch my lips and am able to accept the slightly cooler slightly milkier coffee that slides in underneath it. Another sip, and I pay attention to the back of the roof of my mouth, the part that I imagine is directly connected to my brain. I can feel it relaxing, soothed by the incoming caffeine. I sigh and lower my shoulders while thinking that it’s too bad that my wife can’t have caffeine.

I glance out the window. The street is wet, a little damp but there are no big puddles. It’s late enough that there isn’t much traffic and there are no pedestrians out. At that moment the Broadway bus passes by blocking my view. I don’t always take the bus but I do it often enough that the passing of a bus is an event that I note automatically.

Another sip, and then I put the cup down on the table beside me, press my back lower into the sofa chair and spread my feet wider apart. The warmth of the coffee and of the room are leaching the tension from my body and the scent of fresh coffee soothes me. To the left are the baristas. The girl with streaked blond hair tied in a bun works behind the register. She notices my glance and smiles and I smile back. She’s here often when I come here but the young guy cleaning behind her is new. He looks very young and I wonder whether he’s still in high school. The blast from his cleaning efforts stops and I can hear the music again; Billie Holiday singing something I don’t recognize. I listen closer, reach for the coffee and take another sip, licking the foam from my lips. Billie’s voice gives way to a tenor sax solo, probably Lester Young though I still don’t recognize the song.

A big moving object momentarily blocks the window; another Broadway bus. What’s the timing at this time of day? 15 minutes between buses? 15 minutes couldn’t have gone by yet.

Then a voice comes from far to the left. “Sorry I’m late. Hope you didn’t mind waiting.”

It’s Paul arriving, taking off his coat, draping it over the chair opposite me, clapping me on the back.

“No,” I say, sitting myself upright and smiling. “No, I didn’t mind at all.”