Monday, July 28, 2014

Potty Mouths

Resounding moment # 7  "Potty Mouths"

Memories from childhood are hard to evoke without adding some embellishments. First, you recall it from a child's perspective which is not always credible; second, time and situations are hard to measure as a child; third, when you have a creative mind it is really difficult not to fabricate details without knowing you're doing it (I call it filling in the blanks). This being said, whenever I write about childhood memories, they take on a creative nonfiction lens. Creative nonfiction is just fancy literary way of making a narrative, memoir, or any other work that is based on fact. Critics dispute though how much creative invention is acceptable in this genre. I merely invent where the details or pieces are missing. This means that the following passage is based as closely to reality as I can remember...

It was around third grade when I learned that life wasn't fair. I had gotten in trouble for the first time, serious trouble for elementary school. Yes, my bestie at the time Quinn and I deserved the week of no recess, with the creepy secretary who wouldn't let me use the bathroom and stored used tissues up her sleeve to reuse the next time her nose would run. We had been bullies; I usually was the victim but we used inappropriate language to make fun of a girl a year younger than us, Vicki. The words used were very adult for our age group. 

Vicki had been wearing a training bra and was only in the second grade, what made her a target was that she didn't need it yet. It started off with questions pertaining to her bra. It irked me as she proudly boasted she needed them for her "big boobies." I already needed to wear a training bra but vehemently refused to because people could see it through your clothes and then you'd become a target. The boys loved picking on girls about their boobs and bras not realizing yet that the rest if their adult lives most likely would center around removing that contraption to get to the goods. Boobs would become a focal point in their lives but for now they were a mysterious garments that symbolized womanhood--a scary mystical future world.
Flat chested Vicki saw us laugh and whisper. I shared with Quinn that she didn't need a bra and wanted attention. Quinn, the bolder one of us, who had no qualms about telling someone the truth, told Vicki, "You don't need a bra."
"I do too. My mom says I do."
"Well, your mom's wrong," Quinn asserted without any malice. She was simply stating a fact.
"Oh because your boobs are soooooo big," I said with sarcasm. 
"They are," she puffed her chest out as if that would help us see better.
Brooke, a girl a year older than us laughed. "Oh so big," she mocked. 
Now Brooke had boobs, big ones in our eyes at least, so this slight hurt Vicki even more. I could see the pain in her eyes but Brooke, "cool" Brooke, was being nice to me for once and she was older, the proud holder of the coveted backseat of the bus. So I went further. "Your boobs are so big they won't fit in the seat!"
A couple kids laughed.
"No the entire bus!" Quinn added.
I made sounds as if her boobs busted the windows and crashed the bus.
Brooke and her friend whispered to each other. Brooke said to Vicki, "Do you have a dick Vicki?"
"You dunno what it is do you?"
Now Quinn and I were at a loss, so we didn't laugh. I was anxious she'd ask us next. Even though we had some foul mouthed brothers in the seventh grade, we still hadn't been subjected to hearing that word yet.
"It's a penis," the two older girls explained laughing. Quinn and I knew this word. It's what boys peed out of of course! 
"Do you have one?"
"I dunno," Vicki said biting her lip sadly. She was out of her depth.
We couldn't help but laugh. She had a little brother after all.
"Yeah," she guessed. We were in stitches now, howling with laughter.
"I mean no!" She tried to correct, but it was too late.
"She has boobs to the front of the bus and a big penis!" I cackled.
"Her Penis is as big as Texas," Quinn joked. 
"No, it's so long that it goes to California" I added. 
Brooke leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Tell her she's a boy with an ugly penis."
"You're an ugly penis boy." I giggled.
The banter went further with Brooke supplying us with insults and Quinn and I delivering them, until Vicki rushed off the bus at her stop. I saw her out the window; she went running to her mother crying. The older girls laughed, Quinn fiddled with her book bag, but I watched the scene outside with overwhelming guilt. I felt bad for joining in, for saying things that upset Vicki. I misread the silent treatment she gave us in the end as stoicism when in reality she was merely holding herself together. 
I felt awful; I mentally punished myself all evening and the next morning on the bus I apologized to Vicki. She ignored me though. At least I apologized I thought and my guilt abated--only momentarily. My teacher took Quinn aside that day to talk to her. Then she took me. When I heard my name, I knew what it was about and that I was in trouble. What had Quinn told them? We were besties, surely she'd tell the truth and hopefully minimize our guilt. I went with the truth, being taught that the truth would set you free. I thought I'd get a punishment and I knew I deserved it. The truth would give us leniency, or I had hoped. 
After our teacher, there was an inquiry with Mrs. McGwiggin. I was shaking. She was the fourth grade teacher that gave my brother a bad grade and got him in trouble for a short story he wrote in his journal that reenacted a scene from Rambo. On top of that, she spread the gossip to our grandparents since she frequented their bar/restaurant.
Mrs. McGwiggin questioned Quinn and I together. Being Brooke's teacher, she was biased from the start. We were told that the older girls had corroborated their story about what happened on the bus since they had been accused by Vicki's mother as well.
"We will know then if you are lying to us."
This seemed a bit one sided from my innocent perspective. I felt as if I was being accused of lying before I even got to speak.
"We already had to tell Miss Henry." Quinn said a bit pertinently.
"I want you to say it and look me in the eye when you do so," Mrs. McGwiggin attempted to intimidate us by giving us a glare and crossing her arms.
My 8 year old instincts knew that Brooke had lied, was believed, and we would feel the full brunt of the punishment. Yes, what we had done was wrong, but the older girls were in the wrong as well. They taught us words we didn't know. I was suddenly furious. I felt like I was being attacked because of her dislike for my brother who she taught years before. She was the only teacher that I ever heard who spoke badly of my brother's academic performance who had been a model student his entire career. This painted a picture to me as being one of those teachers who didn't believe in equality, who had her favorites (ass kissers) and those she pretty much hated (hyper children with large imaginations). To a child, the impact teachers have is astounding and she has until this day left a foul taste in my mouth.
"Quinn just meant we can't lie because we already told Miss Henry the truth," I managed to say to her. My anger fueled my audacity. Normally I was a meek, timid, and silent child, easily intimidated by adults. I didn't mean anything by the comment only the logical explanation of why we wouldn't or, more correctly, couldn't lie to her on a whim.
"You're a smart alack just like your brother aren't you?" She glared at me. I was stunned at this accusation. My brother and I weren't smart asses in any sense and never would talk back to a teacher. If she liked my grandparents, why would she hate us? I was so confused and angry.
"All four of us said bad things. They gave us the ideas, the bad words," Quinn blurted out getting the heat off of me for a minutes.
Again we were asked a dozen questions. This time they were very leading questions; she was trying to corner us and get us to eradicate her beloved Brooke's blame. We were two clever little girls though and she couldn't snare us.
She was rattled and angry. "If you don't tell me right now the truth, you'll be in more trouble than ever. And you know what Lisa, I'll tell your grandparents all about your foul language and what you did to that poor girl."
Then the tears came, not because I was scared of the threat, or my grandparents finding out, but because I knew how much I put that poor girl through. The guilt had been festering even after the apology I gave her. I wanted the punishment, but I wanted all of us involved punished. The curse word was what was getting Quinn in I in so deep and we were taught that by Brooke.
"Who else would tell us that word?" Quinn interjected because I was a blubbering mess.
"Your brothers," Mrs. McGwiggin hissed at us.

It had gone full circle. We both knew she had made her mind up before she even questioned us.
"We wanna see Mrs. Bobkowski," Quinn insisted.
Mrs. McGwiggin was shocked but said, "Fine." Then sent us to the office. I thought Quinn was crazy to ask for the principal, but she was right in the end. Mrs. Bobkowski heard our entire story without bias, showed no emotion, and then gave us our punishment. We had never been in trouble before, never had been mean to someone, so we weren't facing a suspension for the curse words. We would get our week of no recess, which we rightfully deserved. When we showed up though, Brooke and her buddy weren't there. Quinn and I were fuming but we weren't allowed to talk and the secretary said we'd be in more trouble if we passed notes. We wanted justice. We wanted their punishment as well, not because we didn't deserve it, but because it was what was right and fair. They egged us on, they made us take it further than we would have. We made fun of her nonexistent breasts; they influenced us to mock her as a transvestite. What we did was wrong, but what they did took it way too far. I didn't feel like justice was done. They would bully and bait others to bully for them in the future. They wouldn't learn from this mistake as we were.
I forget what happened to Brooke, except that she smoked in middle school at our bus stop and I never saw her in high school. Either I paid no attention to her or she moved. I think her parents divorced. What stuck with me about Brooke was that day on the bus where she was a bully along with us, jumping in and taking it to a worse level, then craftily eluding punishment despite Vicki pointing fingers at her as well. It stuck with me that others could do wrong and get away with it. Yet, in the end I learned a valuable lesson. That, yes, life is unfair, but that wasn't what the end. I learned not to bully others, that I was better than people like Brooke that jump in to help put down others. I learned that life wasn't fair. It still isn't. So many people manipulate, bully, or put down others as adults even. I made a decision not to pick on others after this incident and, yes, life is unfair. I spent most of middle school as the verbal punching bag for a plethora of Brooke type girls. But that decision--to become the victim rather than the perpetrator--has made all the difference and has made me who I am today. Life is not fair at times, but at least I can try to treat people fairly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Macho Man: Barfly #7

Macho Man                                                   Barfly # 7

4 oz of Wild Turkey in the manliest glass the bar has to offer
1 oz of arrogance
A sprig of homophobia

*each sip must be followed by a sharp inhalation and/or a caveman-like grunt so people notice your utter manhood. Also, just to be sure no one doubts your sexuality insulting others and/or objectifying women will show people just how amazingly tough you can be.

I'm sitting at the bar after a shift at my summer job trying to mind my own business when one of those loud voices rises above the rest and warrants all the patrons' attention. There's a man at the end of the bar, mid to late 20's, who seems your average Joe, but the voice is loud and confident. Too confident. I can tell he thinks highly of himself and his volume is robust only so everyone can hear him in hopes to gain everyone's attention. He has a scraggly unkempt goatee, and deep sunken eyes that make him appear tired. His hair and eyes are both light which gives him a less intimidating appearance and he is tall and thin, yet not to the point of being called lanky. He's clad in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sneakers. He seems your normal all American kind of guy, but I soon realize he's not the all American dude you want to befriend. He's one of those stereotypes I dislike in our country: the macho man.

According to Urban, macho refers to a "male who cannot 'lose face' in front of his mates or women. Most macho men have the emotional range of a teaspoon and have enough empathy to fill the ink tube in a pen. Macho men find any contact with other males to be of 'homosexual' nature, with the exception of the 'manly handshake'." You know this guy, you've seen him, maybe even hung out with (or dated) him before he showed his true colors. He's the type of guy that will treat others like crap in order to seem tough. 
Being far away, I shouldn't be able to hear him, especially with my friend talking to me, but I can hear snippets. Sorry friend for that--my attention was divided. The pieces of conversation I heard was him talking--no the proper word would be "bragging"--about all the terrible or mean stuff he has done to people. Then he'd laugh wholeheartedly like it was super-duper cool to be a complete jerk. I'm seriously feeling as if I were transported back to high school at this point. Then he moved onto the typical macho man move when a cute waitress came by to pick up drinks for her table at the service bar. He said, while looking at her the entire time but talking to the bartender, "I bartended once. I made $400 in two hours and brought $2000 to the bar. You know why? Because I'm f*#@ing awesome and I'm not a b*#@ unlike some people who don't know how to talk to people." The girl rolled her eyes and walked away but she did feel uncomfortable. She must've shot him down before I walked in. I felt a little bad for her that this man, feeling emasculated by her rebuff, felt the need to retaliate and call her names. Yes, we all have wounded pride but most of us lick our wounds and get up and try again, but not Macho Man. No Macho Man must recover his manhood and for some reason society claims that he must be condescending, rude, and show he is heartless in order to "be a man." I'm not solely blaming Macho Man here, society has driven him to feel and act this way as well.

He goes on to say much more and it's worse but I'm getting increasingly annoyed and even uncomfortable with his behavior and finally acquiesce to my friend's plea to head to another bar as she is ready to kill the guy (pretty drastic there, but then again I just admitted I want to put a glass into his face--if we were in a world that lacked consequences at least). When someone warns him to be careful about driving, he admits he rode his bike since he's lost his license for all the points and DUI's he's racked up almost as if it is a game you want to score high in. No buddy, it's more like golf but that sport isn't manly enough (contact sports only for this guy, usually UFC) so he wouldn't understand anyway. As we walk out the door, he says his slogan (and yes, he called it his slogan) for the umpteenth time: "I don't give a f*#@." What a beautiful specimen of humanity, I joke to my friend, but we don't really laugh. I lighten up the mood by likening him to Will Ferrell's Lumberjack bit in Stepbrothers, but the laugh we have is fleeting.

As I ponder on my barfly Macho Man, I have to feel sorry for him. I'm attempting judge people less and yet here I am doing it. And I'm sure he is judged for his behavior on a daily basis. He thinks he's showing off for all of us, but he's really making people dislike him. It's almost as if his Macho Man manners are the metaphorical walls he puts up to protect his vulnerability. He acts that way to protect himself and get people to like him, particularly girls, but it doesn't work and he doesn't realize it. It is my experience when we say we don't care about something (like his slogan to the world), we actually do care or we want someone to make us care. So Macho Man, take down the masculinity a notch and you'll find a girl, one who like the tough exterior with a teddy bear heart inside. At least I hope there's still a teddy bear in him trying to get out. Good luck Macho Man. I hope you find love. Love seems to conquer all the demons in us.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Brevity is the soul of wit"

Mission Impossible         "Brevity is the soul of wit." 

This saying by Shakespeare in Hamlet is ironic in that it is spoken by the long winded character Polonius. Yes, I am a Polonius (this guy) and proud of it. 
Anyone who knows me can vouch that brevity is not my forte. I like to build up details when regaling a tale, give the story meaning, clarity, and bring it to life. I sometimes get frustrated when others tell me a significant story in 10 seconds not giving it any justice. This carries over to writing. When I draft a business letter, I have to edit in a Hemingwayesque style: a lot hits the cutting room floor. When drafting a novel, the ideas and scenes envisioned expand and multiply like a cancer and a novel then becomes a series. Even after five books are plotted out, my series The Amores still seems like just the tip of the iceberg. It could keep going; the possibilities are endless.

Too many ideas doesn't seem like a problem for a writer but it often is. Call it the ADHD of writing, I often get sidetracked on to other projects. Recently, I've been trying to write short stories to beef up my publication resume. However, I have trouble limiting the scope and breadth of the piece once I begin. In fact, two attempts so far this year at short stories yielded some great ideas and starts to novels. One is a young adult love story that spans into the afterlife, the other a new adult love story that centers on defying a fate you can foresee. The latter may end up being a trilogy, of course. 

So I sat down one night last week to write a short story, determined to stay brief. I ended up writing 3 pages (double spaced). The second day, I wrote 5 more. Without totally spoiling it, it's like Stepford Wives and Mean Girls meet "The Lottery" with a dose of "The Walking Dead" theatrics. Yes, it borders horror in a cynical look at society and mocks those that behold themselves as perfect or strive for perfection at all costs. It still needs a lot of work, but I'm giving myself a 10 page maximum. How did I break out of my pattern of novel writing? I took from real life. Yes, as a writer you should do that in most of your writing but I tend to write about fantasy worlds and/or people. My characters do go through real life situations, but I haven't written seriously in a while and when I say serious I mean writing with all my heart, soul, and being. This particular story is rooted in the existence of dealing with those kinds of girls and women. I'm not as self conscious or sensitive as I used to be but people still get to me, and by exaggerating the way I'm treated sometimes and the root of why people bully one another was great material.

As Polonius says, mocking himself in the process, "since brevity is the soul of wit..." I will finally get to the point. I finally got a grip on short stories. Now to get them published is another story that I'm sure will not be brief.