#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 20: Splendiferous

Lester Ranovich hated working the custodial dayshift — not based on the work, which was easier than nightshift cleaning, but because of the way the fancy people at the fancy 111 East building would either be over-friendly or pretend he didn’t exist. The latter was what he preferred, honestly. He knew that none of these designer suit-clad desk jockeys were remotely interested in how his weekend was or how he was doing.  

Sometimes he liked to play a game to see if they were paying attention. “How are you?” he’d ask. “Fine, you?” they would always fire back. Always replying to a question with the same question and hoping they’d get the same answer back, “Fine,” and then move on. But this was when he’d get tricky. His granddaughter had just gotten a dictionary for her birthday, and every night after dinner they’d pore over it looking for a word for the next day that they would each have to use in conversation. She was 10. He was nearing 63. Both took immense joy from the challenge.

Today’s word: “Splendiferous: extraordinarily or showily impressive.” 

So whenever anyone asked how he was doing, he would answer with “Splendiferous.” Depending on the word, he either came off as the harbinger of morbidity or just a crazy old loon.  

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#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 14: You don’t deserve the queen

Lieutenant Swift turned the key, and the stereo along with the engine roared to life. The Beatles filled the car with words about a meter maid name dRita.

Lieutenant Baxter looked at his partner, who was nonchalantly putting the Mustang into gear. He chuckled.

“What?” she asked, whipping her head around so fast that one of her braids whipped him across the face.

“Nothing, just expected Beyonce, not Lennon and McCartney.”

“You don’t deserve the queen,” Swift said, peeling out of the parking lot.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 11: Scene of the Write at Rootstock

For my birthday this year, the Man with Time on His Arm gave me a chef’s notebook that lies flat and has waterproof stone pages that are perforated and half-lined, half-blank. I carry it everywhere with me — just like I have my past, far less high-line Moleskines — but I’m naturally more inclined to use it. 

When I’m waiting for someone at a restaurant, come up with something during work, or face the 15-minute Lyft ride between my apartment and the Man with Time on His Arm, I reflexively take it out of my bag. Sometimes there’s not even an idea in my head, but I know I want to get something on the page, which is why I describe my surroundings.

That’s why I’m introducing this new category, Scene of the Write, for whenever I find myself in a place that is more like a character than a setting. Here’s one from August:

The bar was like a time machine. No, a snow globe. No, a capsule — a perfect linoleum-floored diorama with John Lennon’s solo career on audio display, courtesy of the vinyl record player hidden somewhere. It had to be vinyl. Anything else would be like a crucifix hanging in an arcade: Totally out of place.

The arm chairs were no longer stuffed, just reupholstered over and over again until the chintz, velour, suede, corduroy, tweed and polyester layered themselves into padding. They surrounded a table that was too low for their regal height and rickety despite the folded menus acting as a shim beneath one of its feet.

I inhaled the smell of decades of sloshed wine and overfilled pint glasses that had soaked into the wood of the bar and ornate tables. And shoe polish! There was a hint of shoe polish under it all, though the source was unclear. Both the patrons and staff walked around in dull brown Birkenstocks and faded Puma sneakers that let them imagine they were still in high school, just old enough to drink and stay out on a weeknight. Maybe the shoe polish smell was my own imagination at play. I’m not even sure if I know what shoe polish smells like, come to think of it.

Vignette: City love

Her love for her city had always lied dormant and deep, buried in her core like the marrow in her bones. But then she found him in the city’s chaos, and that marrow had bloated and broken its bony shell to become a blush illuminating her cheeks like the rosy sunrise over the lake.

Chicago northside skyline at dusk

Vignette: “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”

They killed him because he defended his wife from their slander.

They beat his skull in and threw him in the snow because he spoke up when one of them said his wife, Shelley Duvall, worked for the local brothel run by Julie Christie and Warren Beatty. And that scene just got to her. The rest of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” was weak as far as Westerns, New Cinema era films, Warren Beatty projects and movies about prostitutes go, but that scene? What an indictment of modern man. Modern men.

Watching a man’s brain turned to pulp because he dared to speak out against liars wouldn’t have had as much an effect on her if she hadn’t spent the previous day watching a woman’s brain be probed, questioned and discounted because she dared to speak out against a liar. Meanwhile, the accused’s friends allowed him a platform where he could cry, yell, wrongfully define the law, and contend that the system is rigged against him, when all he’s ever done in his life is take advantage of a system built by men who look like him, for men who look like him.

No wonder the back of her neck tingled with rage as he brought up his daughters praying for “the woman” — not even “the Doctor,” yes, “Doctor Blasey Ford.” He couldn’t even grant her the humanity that a name and title afford, even though she was forced to speak his name again and again throughout her testimony.

Suddenly that movie from 1971 seemed to predict 1991, which reappeared in 2018 and would, inevitably, end the same way. Anyone who dares speak in defense of a woman against vicious lies gets left in the snow to die, and the animals that laid him to waste get to walk free.

Vignette: A literary name

“Margo Hendrix isn’t my real name,” she says, like it’s a big secret.

No, shit.

“It’s just that Anna Schamvich isn’t a very literary name.”

Now she’s got me — I have to do everything in my power not to snort into my coffee. Her name sounds like a mispronunciation of “ham sandwich,” which is absolutely hilarious.

Clearly Margo-nee-Anna doesn’t find it as terribly funny as I do, but when she actually orders a ham sandwich from the bored waiter who just materialized at our table, I can’t contain it anymore. Coffee burns its way through my nasal passages and out my nose

This clip was found in my writing notebook from 2011. A little throwback never killed anyone.

Vignette: “Let’s play a game”

“Let’s play a game,” she said. She had worn the right dress for this — the blue cotton one with buttons down the front, a tie around the middle, and a hem too high to be office-appropriate.

He smiled, leaning back on the bed and licking his lips at the thought of what might be coming. She was something in this light, in this heat. In heat, in general.

“I ask a question, and you answer it. If I think you’re being honest, I’ll undo a button.”

All he could think about was what might be under the dress. All she could think about was how much she wanted to pull the thong out from between her asscheeks and itch under the lace of the bustier she was wearing.

“Sure,” he said, not even asking what kind of questions they might be.

“Favorite place you’ve ever been?”

“Turkey,” he said. “You asked me that on our first date.”

“I asked you about your favorite place that you traveled to,” she said, hiding how impressed she was that he remembered one of her mundane ice-breaker questions. “Favorite place in general.”

“Is it pandering if I say ‘right here, right now, with you?'”

“It won’t earn you a button.”

“Then I’d probably say in the garage, working on my dad’s car with him when I was a kid. We’d spend weekends restoring this old T-Bird he bought for $500 from some guy in Fresno.”

She smiled at the thought of him smudged with grease and handing tools to his father, half submerged under an old Thunderbird. Then she cleared the thought of him as a child out of her head while she undid the second-to-top button of her dress.

“What, not going in order?” he asked, hoping the gap would give him a peak at her skin.

“My game, my rules. What are you scared of the most?”

“Snakes,” he said. “You know, wild ones. Pets are fine.”

“OK, Indiana Jones,” she said, undoing another button, this one at the bottom of the dress.

They continued like this for nine more questions until only one button — the one just below her breasts that kept it all together — was left.

Here it was, the point that she both feared and couldn’t wait to get to. The reason she suggested the game in the first place. She let his eyes scan up and down her torso, taking in what he could see of the black lace bustier and matching underwear. When they finally landed at the light pink bow now visible between the edges of her dress, she asked the final question.

“Do you love me?”

The way his twisting, falling stomach somehow echoed in his face told her that he had lied in his answer to the second question.