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Second Week of Writing Class with Craig Clevenger

November 8, 2012

Well, poor Mr. Clevenger has some serious back pain  issues so the class has been moving a bit slowly. Although I feel bad for him, I’m glad the class is lagging because it gives me much more time to soak in the information and apply it well. Recently, we learned about how dialogue tags such as “I said” shouldn’t get into fluff such as “I cried” or “I chortled.” Instead, the actions that make those tags apparent should be described. In other words, I need to show, not tell. Brilliant! We also learned that status between characters can be displayed not only though dialogue but through their physical movements. For example, slow and smooth is confident. Hurried and shaky is nervous or scared. Again, instead of saying things like, “He worriedly stated” it would be better to show this worry through actions. Status can also be shown through interactions within one’s environment and should be shown, not told.

The following short story is an exercise in status play through actions and environmental interaction as well as the negation of dialogue tags for dialogue descriptors. It’s basically the homework assignment I turned in for Week 2

A Bottle and a Nudie Mag

The blare of rush hour traffic greets me as I peel my eyes open and the rancid, unwashed taste in my mouth has me spitting tiny cotton balls of saliva all around me.

“Jesus! I thought you were never gonna wake up.” Jimmy combs his hair over and over, like someone will notice or actually give a shit.

Why? How long have you been up?” I stretch out my arms and legs along my cardboard mattress.

“I never really slept all that much.” Jimmy puts his comb in his pocket and pulls out some nail clippers. He doesn’t have anything left to trim but he picks at his nails anyway. “Well, come on, Gerald, I don’t want to be late for my appointment.” Jimmy stands up, walks in a circle, sits down, and stands up again.

“Well, I don’t know about you,” I smack my boots together and watch the clods of dried mud fall of their soles, “but I could use a bottle and a nudie mag.”

“A bottle and a nudie mag? How old are you? Fourteen?” Jimmy clasps his suitcase straps together. “You said you’d come with me to my appointment.”

My shoulders and head drop. “Ugh. OK, I’ll go with you but I’m not going in. There’s nothing there for me.”

“OK, then, fine. I’m ready to go.” Jimmy’s suitcase is right side up with the extended handle out, and its wheels ready to roll behind him.

“Can I put my boots on first?” I roll my eyes and slip my foot into one of my boots.

“Don’t do that.” Jimmy’s arms are folded and his hips stick out to the left.

“Do what?” I put on my other boot but it doesn’t slide on as easily as the first one.

“Roll your eyes at me.” Jimmy keeps his stance intact as a statue.

“Yes, your highness.” I stand up and bow.

Jimmy starts to walk with his suitcase in tow but he stops when he realizes I’m far behind him. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Jimmy points to his nonexistent wristwatch.

At the next crosswalk, Jimmy’s waiting for me, tapping his foot like an old maid. “OK, two more blocks, right?”

“Two more blocks.” I draw my face close to Jimmy’s so nobody else can hear me. “Don’t get too far ahead of me. It’s not a good idea to be alone with a shiny new suitcase.”

Jimmy pulls away and raises one eyebrow. “I’m not a baby. It’s broad daylight for Christ sakes.” The crosswalk light turns green.

“Suit yourself but I’m not running a marathon.” My words fall on deaf ears. Jimmy’s more than ten paces ahead of me. By the time I cross the street, Jimmy’s at the end of the block. A Chevy Nova pulls up alongside Jimmy and stops. Seconds later, Jimmy approaches the passenger side door. Jimmy looks up from their conversation and points to me as I get closer. They have a few more words and the car pulls away. When I catch up to Jimmy, he’s ghost-white.

“OK.” I point my eyeballs up to the sky. “What happened?” I ask.

“He asked if I wanted a job and I said we both did.” Jimmy grips his suitcase handle tightly, wraps one arm around himself, and becomes silent.

I roll my hands, waiting for the story to continue. “And then…”

“And then he said the job was only for me and that I needed to be willing to sleep on my belly.” Jimmy backs away from the curb and stands on the edge of the sidewalk furthest from the street.

I throw my hands up. “Psychos are everywhere. What can you do?” I’m in the lead now and walk onwards. “Come on, we’re almost there.” The suitcase wheels are clicking and clacking a few feet behind me. When we round the corner, the suitcase wheels speed up and Jimmy is by my side, huddling into my shadow.

The area looks as I remember. Hoards of mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts, war veterans, and recently released felons loiter around the dead end street. Some mind their own business. Others hustle pills, stolen goods, or their body. Some argue and scream at each other. Others argue and scream at someone who only exists in their head. Most everyone needs a shower.

“Is this it?” Jimmy is so close to me, he’d be in my pouch if we were marsupials.

“Yeah, this is it.” I pull away from Jimmy and point out the address. “You wanted to come here.” Just to rub it in, I push my face in close to his. “Didn’t you?”

“Well, I didn’t want to miss my appointment.” Jimmy moves in even closer so nobody hears him but me. “Walk me over there, will you?”

“Whatever floats your boat,” I say.

Chest out, chin up, and shoulders back, I make my way through the crowd. If someone’s in my way, I hardly make an effort to move for them unless they’re in a wheel chair. The thicker the crowd gets, the thicker the stench of body odor and piss gets. Jimmy stays close behind me; apologizing to everyone he has to pass. Nobody moves for him. People kick at his suitcase and call him a faggot.

“Will you wait for me out here?” Jimmy’s puppy dog eyes plead for compassion.

Although Jimmy hates it, my eyes automatically roll. “I guess. Just try to hurry.” When he comes out, his head hangs low and all the pep in his step is gone.

“So, what happened?” I already know what happened but I might as well ask to be sure.

“They said it’s hard for them to help a convicted felon. Let alone a sex offender. They can keep my application on file and I can always check the job boards.”

I raise my brow. “That’s what I thought.” I stand up and brush the sidewalk’s dirt off my ass and clap my hands together. “Welp, let’s go get us a bottle.”

“Yeah, OK, I’m gonna use the bathroom first.” Without looking up at me, Jimmy slumps around the corner. His suitcase slowly clicks and clacks behind him. I sit back down in my same spot, take in all the chaos around me, and thank myself for being resourceful enough to not end up at this dump. Then it hits me. Never go to the pisser alone at a place like this.

“Jimmy! Jimmy!” I don’t know which comes first; me yelling Jimmy’s name or me running as fast as I can to the restroom. Jimmy is sitting on his butt outside the restroom. He’s curled up in a ball and his head is between his knees. His suitcase isn’t with him.

I squat to get eye level with him. “Jimmy, man, what are you doing here?”

“I… I… they… they…” Tears and snot gurgle through his windpipe and mush of inaudible speech. He opens his arms for me to help him. His left eye bulges out on top of a puffy mound of black and purple flesh. The eyeball, what little of it is visible, is beet red, and hides behind the slit of his bloated eyelids. Blood is spattered on the rest of his face and a streaming line of red coagulates at his chin and drips onto his pants.

“Jimmy, I’m so sorry man. I should have gone with you.” Anger, guilt, and grief shake my words as they come out. I pull Jimmy to his feet and wipe his face with my shirt, carefully avoiding the injury. “We gotta get out of here. No more tears.” I bend down, grab Jimmy by his shoulders, pull them back, push on the center of his back to get his chest out in front of him, and lift his chin up. “Chest out, chin up, and shoulders back. You can’t cry until we get far away from this place. Can you do that?”

“You’ll be with me, right?” Jimmy’s question quivers out of his slender frame.

“Every step of the way.” I push out my chest, put my chin up, and bring my shoulders back, as I instruct him to follow along. “Chest out, chin up, and shoulders back. Got it?”

We walk through the crowd of the downtrodden. Side by side we push our way by those who won’t yield. Some of them make remarks about Jimmy’s face but nothing too bad. When we get to the end of the masses, I turn backwards to check on Jimmy. He’s smiling. I slow down my pace and make room for Jimmy at my side.

“You did it, man.” I slap Jimmy on the back. “You walked right through every piece of shit out there.” I rub his bony shoulder. We walk in silence for several blocks until Jimmy breaks the quiet.

Like a child who learned a harsh reality, Jimmy needs his assumptions confirmed. “Once you’re on the streets, you’ll always be on the streets, won’t you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Is that why you said there was nothing for you at the day center?”

“Pretty much.”

We walk quietly for another block until Jimmy breaks the silence again. “Can we get a bottle and a nudie mag now?”

I can’t resist being a smart-ass. “A bottle and a nudie mag? How old are you? Fourteen?”

“I wish.”

I grab Jimmy’s shoulder and give it a pat. “Me too, man. Me too.”

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