Friday, February 18, 2011

Inauguration of the Freeday Friday Dome!

As threatened, here is the first installment of the horribly named Freeday Friday. The title itself is a homage to my former gym teacher, a colorful character who once summered on an air mattress in the middle of a lake. I hope to take up some future FreeFri space on that particular story. For now, this weekly feature will highlight old attempts at creative writing, fragments from my 15+ years of journals, doodles, etc.

Here are two pieces, both written while I was living in Los Angeles. I present these without editing and with only one comment: I was into "scare quotes" -- and hyphenated asides -- back then, wasn't I?

I. DREAM FRAGMENT (June 7th, 2002)

I left the party and stepped outside. I was suddenly in a place resembling my grandmother's front porch. Outside the house was a gnarled old oak, heavy-laden with particularly ghoulish vultures. A voice inside my head - not me, not my conscience, but someone totally outside of me - told me that I should pay attention. If I forgot everything else about the evening's dreams, the voice said, I was to remember this moment.

I was then privy to a "motion picture," a brief parable told almost like a silent film:

The man who lived in the house I was standing outside had taken a liking to the vultures in the tree. He wanted to care for them as pets. He expressed this by slaughtering animals daily and bringing them out for the carrion foul to feast upon. Day in and out, he could be seen walking out of his front door, covered in blood and holding the grizzled remains of an antelope (or whatever was on the menu).

One day, however, he forgot. Somehow, his "pets" slipped his mind. When he left his house, sans dead animal, the vultures descended upon him, pecking and clawing his flesh until he became the carcass du jour.

With that, the "parable" ended. The voice told me one more thing -- about "morality" -- which he said was not as important. I forgot it before I even woke up. So there you are.

II. FICTION FRAGMENT: "ENVY" (February 18th, 2003 - eight years ago)

Simon Nance took his usual seat at the usual table. He'd been coming here since sophomore year in high school. That was more than a few years of disappointments ago. Somehow Simon was 32, an unripe age. Youth slammed the door around the time he'd spurned college in favor of "independent life study." His classes included Working At Every Restaurant In Town (including this one), Chasing Every Eligible Slut In Town, Drinking By The River, and Listening To Gossip About Everybody Else. Years of aimlessness had been masked by certain routines. Visiting Ellen's Diner was one of them.

Every Friday, Simon sat down at this table, opened the newspaper, read the classifieds, and made notes in the margins. All the while, he sucked down briny coffee and nibbled furtively on a club sandwich and French fries.

He was looking for work. Always. There had to be something better. Had to be a few more dollars -- or even just cents -- floating around out there. More money meant more things, so he scanned the "Merchandise For Sale" column, too. Or lusted after the "USED VEHICLES - 4X4" section.

Today's classifieds were lousy. Same telemarketing and Amway schemes. Simon closed the paper early. Couldn't even muster the frivolity to look for something to buy.

At the counter sat a man Simon knew. Now, he knew everyone in these parts, but this fellow was different. This fellow had gone to high school with Simon. This fellow was somebody Simon hated. Charlie Coolidge.

"Coolie" had been an easy target. The halls of Nathan Bedford Forrest High sung with the clatter of Coolie's books hitting the floor, Coolie tripping over his conjoined shoelaces, Coolie yelping when he found his locker handle covered in glue, Coolie crying in the nurse's office, his face bloodied from another "stray" basketball.

Simon didn't naturally hate his targets. Most of the time, they were merely object lessons. Who they were didn't matter.

But Coolie never fought back. That was the fun and the misery. He took a beating, cried, and then was all smiles. Every time Simon saw that "aw shucks you guys" grin on Coolie's face, he wanted to rip Coolie's lips right off.

And now here he was, all grown up. Crouching at the counter, ordering a hamburger, flashing the leathery waitress that same dumb grin. Simon slid in the booth so that only his eyes - shielded by the brim of his baseball cap - were above the table.

He looked almost the same. Somewhat fuller, but still young. Simon had heard that Coolie moved to California. Where all the queers lived. Simon had knew it all along.

Coolie looked over and saw Simon. Simon sat up a little and narrowed his eyes. The flash of recognition. Not just any recognition. Coolie looked elated. He said Simon's name and asked if he could bring his cheeseburger to Simon's booth.

Simon nodded, but tried to keep his lack of enthusiasm apparent.

"How are you?"

"The same."

"What are you up to?"

"Just trying to get by."

"Man, I can't believe how much this place has changed."

"It's the same."

"I don't mean just the diner. The whole town is... I don't know... bigger, busier."

"Heard you're in California."

"Yeah. Never thought I'd move there. But it's nice. I miss the East, though."

"Well I'll never move there. All the killings. All the fires."

"That stuff... you just see the worst of it on the news."

"I am happy right here. Nothing wrong with this place."

"Definitely not. Heck, I miss it."

Coolie munched the rest of his fries. Simon motioned for the check.

"Boy! Remember how you guys used to get me in school? Pretty crazy."

"It was all just fun. No harm."

"Oh I know. Part of growing up. Everybody learns how to get over it."

REMINDER! - The Muriels continue in earnest. Today's award: BEST FILMS OF THE 1950s, which includes a thoughtful piece on Hitchcock's VERTIGO written by the estimable Kenji Fujishima. I'll have more to say about these, hopefully over the weekend. Furthermore, I may kick off Music Mondays on the 21st. Just typing that makes me dread the idea!

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