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April 2012

I Write a Story a Day

I write a story a day based entirely on a different image served up every day by a website (with Sundays off). Every day, no matter what, no matter the image.

I delight in the sheer terribleness of some of this writing. 

The point is it's writing. Consistently. Six days a week. No matter what. And most of that writing is god-awful. But almost every day there is a gem of a sentence or a glimmer of a better story, one buried far beneath. And at the end of a month I'll have 26 stories. Poorly written or not, that's an accomplishment, one from which great things can grow.

You can't edit a blank page, so a story a day it is.


This Happened

"I want the large tri-color salad, but with no salt. I already asked the girl up front and requested no salt."

"Okay. If the dressing has salt, you'd like no dressing."

"No, I want the dressing, just no salt."

"Okay."

"And what can I put on it? I don't want prawns. Give me chicken. Grilled chicken."

"We don't have grilled chicken, but we have organic roasted chicken. It is served cold, and it is thinly sliced. It's said to be very good."

"I don't want that. I don't want that, and I don't want prawns. What else?"

"You can add the roasted chicken or the prawns. That's really it."

"I get that! But I want a protein! What else do you have?"

"It's chicken or the prawns."

"Fine. Give me a sample of the chicken."

     *           *         *

"I'll have the calamari salad. What is it like?"

"It's fried calamari on an arugula salad. It's lots of lettuce with some preserved lemon and red onion."

"I can't eat dark green vegetables. I can't eat salad."

"Okay. Maybe I can help you select something else."

"No. I want the calamari salad. Can I just substitute asparagus for the salad?"

"Not really. The dish *is* a salad."

"Okay. Fine. I'll pick around the lettuce."

"Are you sure you wouldn't like a different dish?"

"Just give me the salad."


Off-Color (A Story)

I remembered her because of her hair. It was almost purple, a deep wine color, the result of years of boxed dye that promised auburn red.

That day she wore a sharp, black suit neatly tailored for her trim figure, which stood out amongst the hooded sweatshirts and stiff, white Reeboks. She moved like syrup and barely ate. 

When she was seated in my section again, not more than two weeks later, her suit was a deep navy, her hair still a shock of ruby strands, frayed at their ends. When I approached I immediately recognized her. She dripped over the booth, the tabletop, the menu. Her eyes were locked on her companion.

top up?

"Nice seeing you again." I said it without thinking. 

Her body, every inch of it, become rigid. Her breathing halted for an obvious second. Her gaze fell from his face to the fork near her hand. 

Then she caught herself and looked up at me. Her glare seared, but she worked laquered lips into a smile that contradicted angry eyes. She barely, almost imperecptibly, shook her head no.

"What wines do you have by the glass?," she asked. Her voice was a honey-coated thorn. "I'm looking for red."

[photo byjenny downing]


Rather than Through One's Actions (A Story)

She found the cat in the clover. It was on its side, its mouth agape, its tiny flanks rising and falling, but only faintly. The cat was barely alive. It's eyes were caked and completely sealed with crust.

She couldn't leave it there to gradually waste in a slow death. But she was terrified to pick up the cat; it looked so broken. 

The cat was completely black from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. Its hair was sleek under the blaring of the August sun. Its back leg twitched and it sent her into hysterics right there in the field behind her grandfather's barn.

She'd spent hours that afternoon searching in the clover for those with four leaves. She thought if she found a four-leaf clover that it would be a good thing to give to a boy. That way they could have something to talk about. He could get to know her beyond her fire red hair.

Instead she found a dying cat in the clover. She would not give the dying cat to a boy. She also would not pick it up and carry it. She just couldn't bring her arms down to scoop it up, afraid that if she did the black cat would die against her chest. She was supposed to go to church choir practice later that day, and her shirt would smell like slow death. She'd be covered in black fuzz.         

Its breathing grew more shallow and more labored. She contemplated crushing its skull in an act of brave mercy, but she was wearing jelly shoes, the kind you can feel rocks through. 

She left the cat there that afternoon. She went to choir practice. She did not talk to any boys there. She went to ice cream with the youth pastor and turned in early. She counted the triangles in her bedroom created from intersections of door frames and ceiling seams and tried not to think about the black cat.

She slept so soundly that she woke even before her mother came to shake her awake. She slipped out in her nightgown and walked the half mile to her grandfather's barn and out into the field where there could always be a few four-leaf clovers.

There was no cat there, dead, dying or otherwise. She thought at first it was that she couldn't remember where she left the cat, but her grandfather's farm is not so big, and this field in particular was just a small patch. She combed the clover wet with dew with her slippered feet. 

It was nowhere. She knew it because she looked and looked. Nausea swept over her. She bent at the waist, put her hands on her knees and stared at green swimming beneath her. She began to vomit in vibrants sheets of pink. As she heaved, her breath ragged and desperate, she saw one clover with four leaves, drenched.


My Friend, Mat

Me: I should get some writing done. I've been slacking like a total asshole.

Mat: werd

Mat: i'm trying to get motivated to walk to the store for beer

me: wow, we are a sad bunch

Mat: haha, i know. it's bad when drinking seems hard

Mat is a friend I met at NBC Bay Area. He's pretty awesome, the kind of guy who drives to the Far East Bay to buy a life-sized Spiderman to keep in his apartment.

Mat lives in the Mission, but we don't see each other any more. You go from seeing someone 40 hours a week to never seeing them at all, it happens just like that.

I'm going to stay at his place in a week or so when he's out of town and watch his puppy Dexter. The place with the life-sized Spiderman, a statue I bet is pretty goddamn creepy in the dark. Like I said, he won't be there.

It is something that the people that life shoves at us, those are the people we get. For better or for worse.

Mat is for better.


My Favorite Guests So Far

Waiting tables makes you hate people. I used to think that. This time around--and maybe it's because it's still new--waiting tables is making me adore people.

Last week I was seated with a party of eight women around 70 years old. I'll be honest, this is not a table most servers are thrilled to get, for several reasons. The likelihood of lots of food and wine ordering is low, while the likelihood you'll be making time-consuming hot tea for eight is high. And separate checks. They will definitely be wanting separate checks.

And they did! But, by God, they couldn't have been more gracious about it. I explained that it might take a few extra minutes at the end of their meal, but that I'd be happy to process the eight separate checks for them. They must have thanked me for this about two dozen times. Effusively. 

I fully expected waters and English breakfast all around, but they got fun with their drink orders and got fresh, blended lemonade, flavored Italian sodas and other zero-proof cocktails. One lady even got kicky and ordered a glass of vermentino. It was obvious this was a lunchtime party.

They are all college classmates who still get together for lunch every so often. I gleaned this from bits of conversation as they sat oohing and ahhing over the bright salads and fresh pastas.

"I'm so glad we did this. I don't know what I'd be doing otherwise today. This is such a treat."

These women were a total delight. They had nothing but compliments for the food, and they treated me like a queen. Every request was couched in the kindest of terms, and they always followed it up with, "and take your time."

Desserts were ordered. Fun was had. When I brought the separate checks those who somehow missed the prior conversations were sure to tell me how much of a pain they know separate checks are and that what I was doing was truly appreciated.

I was being thanked as though I was brokering world peace.

I actually felt bad about adding the automatic gratuity for large parties, because these women, frankly, graced me with their presences. They had such an appreciation for their outing, for the food, for the service, for their day together that it completely changed my mood for the better.

And, of course, as if they were some kind of too-good-to-be-true alien race of overly kind restaurant guests from outer space, they tipped me extra on top of the large party gratuity added in.

They could have left nothing, and this group of eight would still be my favorite guests so far since returning to serving. Hands down, slam dunk.


I Have a Lot of Nerve Eating My Own Fuck-ups

"I have a lot of nerve eating my own fuck-ups."

I said this as I snuck a forkful of homemade, hand-torn pasta into my mouth.

The fresh plate of hot pasta was available to eat, along with a mushroom pizza with leeks and fontina cheese, because I fucked up an order. My table of two ordered salads at my urging, as well as the aforementioned pasta and pizza from which I was sampling. When ringing in the items I failed, somehow, to press hold on the second course. 

One of my colleagues cornered me while I was filling glasses with ice water. 

"Did you want 42's food to all come out at once?

"No, I held the entrees," but as the words were leaving my mouth I could see him shaking his head no.

"Their food is up now." And then he said the words no server who knows she's in error ever wants to hear. "You'll have to talk to the chef."

There is a sickening feeling that overwhelms me when I realize I've made a major mistake. People work hard. It's hot. No one wants to do something twice because someone else didn't do something right.

I hesitated telling the chef his hard-working staff would have to remake the two dishes in just short ten minutes because I couldn't be counted on to push buttons correctly. I carried the two perfectly-cooked but entirely-too-early dishes around for about 90 seconds, delaying the inevitable.

"I don't want to talk to the chef." I was talking again to my fellow waiter.

"I know." He looked empathetic.

"I don't want this to be happening."

"I know." But now he was laughing.

The reaction wasn't as bad as it could have been, in fact it was damned near kid-gloved. The sous chef joked that if I was hungry I could just ask them for something next time. In moments all was forgiven. This could be because there were all of three tables in play in the entire place.

Then I had to tell my boss, the person who would delete the first order of entrees that wound up in the back on the giant cutting board as "waiter bait." I explained what happened. I mentioned I'd already talked the chef and that I'd already gotten the evil eye. She shot me the evil eye and said, "That doesn't mean I can't go it again."

So, it was pretty nervy of me to eat some of the pasta, most of which was polished off by the gentlemen I had the pleasure of waiting tables with tonight. But that particular dish has great garlicky breadcrumbs and san marzano tomatoes, and so it could not be helped.

Sowouldyou


A Conversation, Just Now, Typical

Corner store clerk: How old are you?

Me: 34.

Corner store clerk: You? 34?

Me: Wanna see my I.D.? (hand I.D. over)

Corner store clerk: New York State? I do not trust New York State.

Me: Ha.

Corner store clerk: You hear about what happen? The big planes fly into the big buildings.

Me: Yeah. I did hear about that.

Corner store clerk: It's too bad. (pause) How long you been here?

Me: Well, I was here for a while, then I went to New York, and now I'm back.

Corner store clerk: I have been to New York, but only its airports. Never for a visit.

Me: Well, it is definitely worth a visit.

Corner store clerk: They say, "New York is great to visit, not great to live." I don't know why. But you have a good night.