An elderly gent in a tuxedo and neatly trimmed white beard stands at center stage. A raven sits upon his right shoulder.
The man speaks quietly but seriously:
“Earlier, after the previous unpleasantries were forgotten, I’d remembered the time long ago when you and I dreamed we’d someday plan a taxi ride to the old cathedral near the beach where we’d hold hands, weep softly and whisper goodbye on a sidewalk in the shade of the 22-story Embassy Hotel that would not be built until 1963.”
A bold experiment…
At which point the curtain closed but reopened instantly, and a stout lad watched the back feet of a small rodent disappear down the throat of a man dressed like a circus clown. As the house lights did dim there was only Jim and him.
“I can’t decide if this is the end of Act I or a YouTube video. What do you think?”
“Both,” he said. “Neither.”
‘What did you say?”
“What did you hear?”
“What did I hear?!?”
“That’s what I said.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Well answer this: What’s a pencil sharpener go for on eBay?”
Which was all it took to launch her from the Hemi-powered spring-loaded director’s chair and knock the theater manager down while shooting looks that had actors running from the stage.
“So what’s that supposed to be?” she growled. “Free-form dialogue? Word association you picked up in some method acting class? An analogy thing? In my play, with your rotten script?!?”
Fake smile: “It’s college seminar French cinematic noir crap leaking outta your laptop and into my production, isn’t it? Our poor audience, not one of whom will sit through two minutes of this crap, will block it all out because the last person to care about pencils died 50 years ago, got cremated and the ashes went in the same dumpster your lousy script is going.”
The camera pulls back. The family barn is engulfed in flames.
Peering through branches held apart by scratched, bloody hands, he gazes at the old abandoned house on a craggy hill. A stream of bats squirts from an upstairs window and the moon shines bleak and thin.
High upon a shelf in an empty room filled with cobwebs and memories, the first edition of his only book cracks itself open. Fictional characters step off pages and onto the shelf.
They begin sweeping layers of dust from rich paragraphs and brilliant sentences off their trousers and sleeves. They cough and blink and exchange nervous glances before slipping silently away, into the heavy folds of musty curtains and the cushion cracks of a broken sofa.
Organ music swells; credits roll.
Meanwhile, in Iowa…
A no-longer young man runs a hand through thinning hair, trying to capture the spark, the thing, the oh you know. The inspiration. The spark thing. The muse, the story idea he had when he was driving home. Shoulda pulled over, shoulda took notes.
And the Writer’s Workshop project outline, due tomorrow. Submission 4 p.m., and right now that’s less than 20 hours and all he’s got are crumpled-up pages near the wastebasket, except for the crumpled-up pages inside it.
But maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s all about the Goddess of Success, the dream, but when you finally wake up you’re in a wastebasket. A metaphor, or analogy. Like Updike or Ezra Pound or somebody.
The wastebasket could be symbolic for a big building in a big city, and it’s really about one man’s desperate struggle to get inside, his burning drive to someday make it to the 12th floor, to have his own corner office on the 12th floor, yeah that was it.
A career built on dreams, yet all was hollow. Straw, everything straw!
All he’d need to show tomorrow was a solid outline, a framework on which to hang his literary canvas. Gonna need some coffee, weave it together.
Oh yeah, there was a lot riding on this. It was either pull it off, make a smashing, blinding, dazzling bestselling debut of it, or go back to working on that lousy newspaper with the maniac editor who yelled and smoked cigars.
Or teach English at Ukiah High.
(Tom Hine realizes some columns are better, some are worse, and this is one of them. TWK still doesn’t know what a metaphor isn’t.)