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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let's Not Talk About That

"Pedestrian!" "Pedestrian!" "Pe-DES-trian!" She literally screamed it as loud as she could, her feet scrabbling on the floorboards at the imaginary, and hoped-for, brake pedal, arms akimbo. No, her voice could not have been any louder. The braking noise was incredible, smoldering rubber from the tires, the car spinning nearly 360-degrees. She saw the pedestrian not 2 feet off the front bumper as she whirled, her body being tossed from side to side within her seat. She felt perspiration leap from her armpits and forehead, run in rivulets between her breasts. "I didn't see him." "No shit, you didn't see him! What the hell is the matter with you? You've nearly just killed a man."

She saw his hands shaking on the wheel as he tried to move them and the car off of the median. Though terribly distressed, she determined to take it a little easier on him. The pedestrian continued to mosey on down the road, apparently unconcerned. Ah, the oblivion of an alcoholic wet brain. "I didn't see him. I was looking off that other way for awhile. He needs to watch where he's going."

[Quietly.] "When you're driving the car, you need to look at the road. Yes, he was jaywalking, but it's a 4-lane highway here on Rummy Row. I'd watched him quite awhile before I realized you were not on the planet with us."

She watched his lower jaw slide forward. She'd noted before that he was not anxious to accept responsibility for much. He chose to pick a little beef with her. She was ready this time. "It's not my fault he was wandering across the highway and his clothes blended right in with everything. You don't need to be such a bitch about it." Uh-oh. She didn't care for the word. She didn't care for the implication that there was something wrong with her, with the pedestrian, and nothing whatsoever wrong with him. "Look, you. You can't see, you can't hear, you pay attention to nothing. You scream around the streets in this red muscle machine, gunning the engine like an adolescent with a perpetual erection and your reaction time is frighteningly slow. Twice you've driven me the wrong way and nearly got us into a head-on collision. I don't want to be killed and I don't want to watch you kill someone else. Freaking pay attention and act your age!" He gave his usual reply: silence, no facial movement. Was his silence a damning reply?

[Zooming along the highway again] "Would you like to go to the casino buffet and get something to eat?" The waves of nausea from the near-miss had not stopped washing over her. "Um, no." "You're awfully thin. You need to eat." "NO! Thank you!" When he dropped her off at her door, she told him: "I'm serious. You act like a wild teen and I'm unwilling to be hurt, maimed or killed."

"I already know I'm not the kind of man you want." She reminded him of something: "I told you on Day 1 that I was not looking for a man, thanks. Not in the way you mean. I told you if you wanted to have a human friend, I may be available for that." He gave his usual reply: silence, no facial movement. Had he heard a word? "Could you make me a sandwich before I leave?"

She had a well-honed skill for dreaming when she did not wish to observe reality. He stabbed at his Sugar-Free Jello, fist-gripping his spoon the way her son had done before he developed fine motor skills (certainly by kindergarten). The noise was incredible, so she tried to breathe deeply, filling her ears with the sounds of good air coming in and going out of her body. She noticed again that he wore well-made clothing, good brands. His sweaters had some heft to them and he bought his things in a size that fit him properly. She remembered an anecdote from family lore, dating back to WWII. It was said that her mother could shop at Saks and come out looking like Minnie Pearl, whereas her sisters could go to Woolworths and step out looking like Lana Turner. This man was clearly of the Saks/Minnie Pearl sect, Polo and Izod and Hilfiger tags flapping from the back of each and every piece of clothing. Salt of the earth. A hell of a guy. "Could I have another Jello?" "Sure."

She felt terribly scattered and wondered, "What the hell am I doing?" She had rejected more than one online lothario in favor of this man, clearly the most ill-suited of the herd of bulls. He was objectionable to her in every way and going downhill from there. Her BFF referred to the man as "time filler" or "time waster", and she couldn't come up with any compelling arguments against that. There wasn't even any sex in it for light relief, as his disability had given him an inability, about which he was very straightforward upon their first meeting. Uh-oh. Was that it? Sex? It was! It's not the hokey-pokey. Sex is what it's all about. She didn't want to deal with that subject. He was the perfect man with whom to align herself. He couldn't engage in that topic. The red muscle car allowed him to remember the days of the perpetual erection. She wanted to get him out of her kitchen. She had learned a great truth about herself. She was a bit of a bitch.


  1. Not keen on accepting responsibility for much this Lothario. A great piece of writing Leslie. Powerful and in the thick of it. Thanks.

  2. @ Elisabeth ~ Thank you so much! When we try something new, I think we all suffer the same sense of "Oh, am I sturdy enough to throw this out there?" I appreciate your comments.

    You don't want me to play international matchmaker and set up a date with this man and yourself, eh? If he missed his plane, he'd blame the pilot for being prepunctual.

  3. Oh geez...this is too close for comfortable reading.

  4. @ Tag ~ Ah, but remember, my friend. This isn't about anyone you know, or even anyone real. It's fiction. I'm trying to write about things I know really happen within a framework of make-believe people. Just an exercise in trying to do something new.

  5. Even platonic relationships aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

    Good story!

  6. @ Kirk ~ NO relationships are all they're cracked up to be, Kirk. At least IMHO. Thank you for ringing in. We're supposed to write about what we know, and I know about people. I'm a keen observer. I can usually figure out the "whys" of things. So . . I'll keep trying to write.

  7. About 20 years ago I read a piece of advice in a writer's magazine that has stuck with me ever since. It went something like this:

    People are always instructing writers to "write what you know about", but what you really should do is write what you CARE about.

    What follows are my own thoughts, since I didn't memorize the entire article.

    Obviously, what you care about may be closely related to what you know about, but not always. Most of us know what it's like to wear socks, yet we don't care enough to write a novel or even a short story on the subject. Yet we may care deeply about the future, even though it is something we can NEVER know about. At least not until we call it the past, at which point we have a whole new future to care about. Yet that never stopped Issaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, etc from writing about it.

    The point is your readers won't care if you don't care, but I doubt if you'll ever have that problem, Leslie.

  8. @ Kirk ~ Oh, thank you! I'm glad you added that comment. I think you're right. I could write about all kinds of schmaltz that is unimportant to me, and that's how it would read - unimportant, uninteresting, uncared for. So, of course, if we write, then we need to write about what lights our fires. I'm lucky. I care about a whole raft of things!

  9. Bloody hill - I read this earlier today and was too befuddled (insomnia) to work out what the hick was going on and now (9.15pm) I'm still in a state of bloody hillidness!

    I applaud your candid (and actually excellently written) third personage approach. Still quite shell shocked.

    Dunno about platonic; I'd have said catatonic!

    I'm not sure I agree about the sock argument - I know what it is like to eat sausage and wrote a whole novel about sausage - I don't particularly like, leat alone love, sausage...don't know why my thoughts have turned to sausage....socks and sausage, whatever next...

    so, I had the line thrust at me that I have been the cause of impotence on numerous occasions - such is my power - alas, I am "too sexy"! Never a more backhanded compliment have I had - oh, aside from the one that went - you look like Claudia Schiffer from the back - clearly a funny guy...I suppose what I'm wondering - asking myself here, too - why a person stays in the vehicle in these situations...

  10. Oh, so what I meant to say but forgot to add, but have now remembered - is at least "she" wasn't the cause of that...

  11. @ Rachel ~ Rae, I'm sitting here with morning coffee and kind of grinning, kind of cringing on your behalf. I think I can easily clear up the mystery of what this post was all about. There was a first installment that I'm not sure you saw. If you saw, you didn't comment on it. The comments on it offer as much as the essay itself.

    So, we know this much, thus far: it's fiction, not autobiographical in any way. It's new for me. I am placing imaginary characters in situations I have observed or believe to exist in reality. And I thank you for saying it is well written!

    Platonic/catatonic - I have some ideas about why (at least) some people stay in the vehicle and will be addressing that as I can. Something I've observed long and at close range.

    You ARE some powerful number,"Claudia"! Turning men cold with a glance, eh? But our charming hero suffers from a disability due to his service in Viet Nam. The bitch didn't render him impotent. In fact, he'd like to be able to impress her in that very way.

    BTW, true story, non-fiction: I met a man for coffee. He was nice, I was nice, there were no sparks. But we hung for a second cup. At the end he made a mistake. He asked if I'd like a critique of why I hadn't scored highly with him. I didn't want that critique. It didn't matter enough to me and I don't need any extra stuff in life. But he blurted before I could say "No, thanks." It was because I came across as too educated, too well-traveled, and happily attached to a job I loved. WTF?? I thought those were the things we were SUPPOSED to project. Or even if not "supposed" to, I was just projecting my real, unattractive, undesirable self ~ being real. :~{

    OK, I'm considering your socks and sausages argument. I wonder if some of the success depends upon the talent of the writer and the writer's ability to stick to (even a colorless) task.

  12. Colourless must be my speciality!

    Now I understand - 5.15 am and still no sleep - my understanding may not improve!

    Why are some men like that? (the lunch guy)

  13. @ Rachel ~ You're FAR from colorless, Rae! I can't even figure out why nice, well evolved, regular people are the way they are, so it's impossible for me to figure out why the odder ones roam.

  14. I'm one of the odder ones that roam, as I'm about to prove right now, so let me respond to Rachel's response to my comment.

    "Write what you know about" is a standard piece of advice given to prospective writers. The idea, I think, is that if you write what you know about, you can bring a unique perspective to the subject, and thus avoid cliches and stereotypes that might occur if you wander too far outside your range of experience. I don't disagree with that at all. I just think that unique perspective comes more easily if the particular experience is something that causes you to think, causes you to care. Not everything we experience does that. I chose socks as an example because it was the most banal thing I could think of, "banal" being entirely subjective. Of course, it's possible to "care" about banality, either as something to avoid, or as something to actually embrace if you equate excitement with something bad, e.g. if you've been a victim of violence.

    I can't really comment on your sausage novel without having read it. You say you don't know why you wrote it. Could it be the novel's not REALLY about sausage. If you wrote, say, about the sausage industry, than maybe it's really about capitalism or about food as a commodity. If your novel is about a butcher who specializes in sausage, if may be about the need to make a livng, and about finding a niche in one's chosen profession. Sausage could be a metaphor for, oh, let's say, modernity's grinding effect on the human condtion. I don't know, but I find it difficult to believe that you could write an entire novel (you didn't say how long it was) and without caring about SOMETHING. Incidentally, you don't have to like a topic to care about it. By "care" I just meant that you're feeling something other than ambivelence about whatever it is that your writing about.

  15. @ Kirk ~ Oh, man, you are on a roll, but - of course - you're a WRITER, and that's what the discussion is about here. I get it 100% that your comment is in reply to Rachel (with whom I think you would be GRAND blogger buddies), but I'm going to comment to your response.

    I clicked with you, Kirk, 100% when you commented to the effect of "write about what you care about". That works for me, because I am such a damned "feeler" and "care-er". But I'm also with you that that doesn't mean I could only write about that which I love. It could also be about that which I DON'T love. I have written more contract proposals and post-arbitration briefs and CBA anecdotal records than can be imagined. Dry. Dry as toast. But they mattered so much to me! I'd go out and measure how many miles or length of skid marks or whatever weirdness, because it just mattered so much. And then I'd write it, and then I'd present/"act" it in the hearing. Nothing important to very many others. Sometimes saving a job for just one person who needed help.

    BTW, you remind me SO frequently of why I appreciate you, but never more than when you take on the aspects of a dog with a bone. Go!

  16. Wow, you started quite the conversation there. This one hits a little close to home base for me too, but you know me (in terms of dealing with red muscles that have atrophied), I can be intrigued (and turned on) by the mere challenge of an impossible situation.

    I hope you ultimately came away feeling good after coffee date's comment. I had the same response from a date after he saw how I had renovated my home. "No man is ever going to want to date you. You don't need anybody!"

  17. @ Kass ~ You know that's what I LOVE, to get talk flowing. Musing on what you've said here, I believe I've stopped taking on the impossible. I'm old and I'm tired. I do continue to take on the very difficult, however. I still have strength for that. And -IMPORTANT - I am not speaking of relationships with human beings. I am speaking of situations or challenges one takes on, but not the interpersonal.

    I was fine after that coffee meet. Like by the time I got to the parking lot. It is easy to break me, but only for someone who matters to me. This man just didn't matter enough. BTW, he had divulged to me in this first meeting [just in case it went somewhere, but before we both realized it wasn't going to] that he has herpes that affects a sizable span of his body. I felt it was good and fair for him to state that right up front. And I didn't run from the table screaming or criticizing.

    Since the 1960s, I have dated less than any single person on the planet. Truly not very much. But I have had some of the damnedest experiences, ranging from hilarious to injurious. No wonder I am not eager to go back and do it again. Now, I'm bright enough to know that my poor experiences are partly my own responsibility, but I also know I am the magnet for weird.

    I've also heard the "You don't need anybody" comment.

  18. I love the way you write. This is my favorite style. Really good dialogue here.

  19. @ Jenny ~ Thank you, and thank you for taking time to say so. Writing fiction is really new for me. This is only the second installment of this ongoing thing between the imaginary he and she. I was really nervous about putting it up, but the commentary has been very encouraging.