Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hookers and Johnny

My New Year's Resolution is to update the blog more. I'm going to try and build up as many short stories as I can so that there can be new material every two weeks or so. With that, I'd like to introduce Johnny.

I have a coworker with some amazing stories ranging from Indiana to Southeast Asia, and he's been kind enough to share them with me. Hopefully there will be handfuls of Johnny stories over the next couple of weeks. To start with, we have prostitutes in Vietnam. Enjoy.

Hookers and Johnny
By Joe Sudar
Everyone in Vietnam was nice, even the hookers.
            I’d been spending time in Thailand with my girlfriend, Amy, as we toured villages to try the local cuisine. We were set for recipes if we wanted to open a restaurant in the States, and if we could find snake.
She joined an anthropology program at Bangkok University and I had a month to screw around. I called my buddy Ed and found out he was killing time in India and we started throwing ideas back and forth of getting together. He himmed and hawed and went nowhere until Pakistan and India started lobbing missiles at each other. After that it seemed like a good idea to hang out. So we wound up together in Vietnam.
            Between us we had enough cash to live like kings. We got a room in a guesthouse off the main drag of Ho Chi Minh City. Ed wasn’t too bad to room with as long as you didn’t mind the noise or the smells or the manners. Every morning I’d channel Martin Sheen and throw open the blinds before taking a deep breath and announcing, “Saigon… Shit.” We laughed about that the way most twenty-seven year old jackasses would. Our relationship was built on mutual laughter.
            Six feet of freckled, insulated muscle topped with a red beard, Ed was the kind of guy who had no one to blame but himself. For everything. A confirmed Orientophile, he came to Asia pretty quickly after graduation and started teaching English in Japan. It was good enough money to keep him in food and drugs, and it let him hop all over the continent. By the time I’d met him, he’d been to Nepal, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Thailand before settling in India.
            Half of his life was good-natured adventurism. The other half was the reality that Ed didn’t do well well in his own culture. Not that he did poorly, but that he was a bit of an outsider like everyone is at some point. What he realized, subconsciously at least, was that in a new culture, outsiderness is a defining asset. In a land where you could fit four locals off the street comfortably into a dresser, a two hundred twenty pound guy with flowing red curls taking up two seats on the bus and singing Steely Dan drew attention. That fact kept him in friends and dates whenever he went to a new place.
            He genuinely loved the culture too. Ed was meant for Buddhism. The idea of achieving the highest state by achieving nothing resonated. Touring different countries gave him plenty of time to refine his personal prayer rituals and gave him another in into the culture. Once, in Mongolia, he hit it off with a monk. The holy man offered to house him as he worked his way towards enlightenment. That panned out until Ed went to the Mongolian equivalent of a bar, which I assume was a yurt filled with smoke, vodka, and shouting, and came home with a young girl. The monk broke some vows that night.
            When we lived in Hi Chi Minh City, Ed’s vice of choice was the rave scene. He spent his days teaching English then jigged around on ecstasy, underground in a dark room filled with strobes. Every time he came home from one of those adventures he’d have a new story about how he almost died or got his ass kicked by some gangsters. Apparently there are two kinds of people who go to raves: those who want to cuddle, and those who don’t.
            On nights when we went out in together, the bar of choice was called Lost in Saigon. It was a time capsule for the Vietnam era, a little two-story tiki hut filled with smoke and laughter. Everything was sticky. The jukebox featured hits like Credence Clearwater Revival and Crosby Stills and Nash. The beer was cheap and stale, the cocktails were heavy and the house liquor could strip paint. All in all, it wasn’t the best bar but it was the closest, and nothing makes a cocktail taste better than knowing you can have another.
            There was something to be said for the history too. Half the patrons were ex-soldiers who’d been there since the war ended. They’d traded in their fatigues for Tommy Bahama’s shirts but the regimental tattoos hadn’t faded. Most of them had Vietnamese brides attached at the hip, either the same ones they’d had since they were soldiers or new ones with familiar flavor. Buying a former GI a drink was a quarter in the slot that got you a story. Take a drink for yourself, listen to the story mixing in with the crooning rock song and you’re back in time thirty years. There aren’t many places left in the world where the history still has a heartbeat. It was worth the crappy drinks.
            And there were a lot of prostitutes. That could be said about the city in general, though. There were a lot of hookers trying to hook. They weren’t as bold as Vegas hookers. Very few platform pumps and hot pink dresses and shouts of “Hey sailor, wanna date?!” They dressed like they belonged on a modern college campus: tight jeans, leather shoes, busty shirt. It drew the eye without causing a lick of the lips. Yet somehow they were obvious as anything. There was no question whether or not they were hooking. They had a way of draping themselves over whoever they’d marked. There’s something to be said for sincerity.
            I managed to stay away from the she-devils of delicious temptation, much to Amy’s delight whether she suspected it or not. But they were drawn to a good time like flies to light, so I got plenty of propositions. Ed and I would finish a joke, throw our heads back and laugh, then a strange arm would thread through the crook of mine. Something warm would press up against me, and there’d be a head bent against my shoulder. Usually a quick, “Hi,” followed, or if they were really sultry, a “Hello you.” No need to belabor what else was on the table.
            Most times when I said, “Sorry, taken,” Ed had already sidled up for the rebound. He was always in the mood, but he wasn’t always in the money.
            One afternoon, Lost in Saigon had three empty booths for every occupied one. We were nursing drinks and breathing smoke. Lunch had been greasy. Every now and then I’d let out a hacking cough, the insidious beginning of the pneumonia that would chase me away from the city. Saigon gets into your lungs. One of the regulars, an Alan Alda lookalike that we had appropriately nicknamed Hawkeye, was cleaning his fingernails with a bowie knife in the corner. The running question for him was whether or not he knew the war was over. No one had asked him yet.
            “Uh oh,” Ed spouted with a look over my shoulder, “here comes The Master.”
            The Master was a westerner employed by the bar to walk around with a pitcher of vodka and Red Bull in an attempt to keep the constant party going. He wore a button up shirt with the Chinese script for “Master” on the front, which Ed had glommed onto on our first night.
            “Oh, thank you, Master,” I chimed in as he topped off our tumblers with their third treatment of the day’s potion.
            Ed downed half of his drink right away. I was looking at my watch, having trouble telling which was the long hand and which the short. Drinking in early afternoon usually didn’t matter until the late afternoon though. Besides, it was Saturday. On the seventh day, God rested, and so would I.
“I’ve gotta go take a piss,” Ed shared, lumbering away.
            Without Ed around, the sane part of my head reminded me that I was not making a productive use of my time. At least drink some water, it nagged. I was about to ignore it until another coughing fit sprayed The Master’s swill all over my hand.
            I knocked on the bar. It was one of those big ovals with the drinks at the center, so that the bartenders can run laps around the place serving drink after drink, getting their cardio workout in alongside their tip hounding. A bag of sticks with a black bowl cut popped around the corner. His eyes were too big and too blue to be from his mom’s side. He was another of the Vietnam War remnants that lived in Ho Chi Minh, for better or worse.
            “What can I get you?” Good English, bad accent.
            “Just some water please,” I rasped.
            He was filling my order when a hand tugged at my shirt. It was a girl, smiling wide and sitting next to me. “Hi,” she said.
            “Hello,” I was ready to give her my usual “thanks but…” when she went on
            “My friend like you.”
            “I’m sorry?”
            “My friend,” she pointed down the bar. I caught a glimpse of swishing black hair and a bright smile before they spun around the racetrack. She was very pretty. Long smooth hair, clear skin, even if the makeup had been troweled on more than I preferred, and a slim figure.
            I was a little sorry when I said, “I’m flattered, but I actually have a girlfriend.”
            My matchmaker nodded and drifted down the bar. She headed off the pretty bartender as she passed me in her race. I pretended to concentrate on my frankly fascinating beer as they whispered and looked my way. I knew the smile I was getting.
            Matchmaker appeared at my side again. “She say that okay. She like you and want spend time with you.”
            “Okay. I’d like to spend time with her too, I guess. That sounds okay, as long as she understands this isn’t a date date.” I paused as the pretty girl made another lap, her head cocked to catch what we were saying. “I’m fine taking her out, but just as friends. Is that cool?”
            Cool. The most colloquial and confusing word in the English language. Whether or not she actually understood what I said, she reported that that was fine. The lovely Anh and I were set to go bowling after she got off work at five. I glanced at the Timex strapped to my wrist by a sweat-soaked band. Half an hour. Not quite long enough to sober up, but I was willing to try.
            About the time I finished my second pint of lukewarm water, Ed showed back up. I grunted a hello to him and heard a squeaky “Heya!” back.
            Ed hadn’t been the squeaker. The squeaker was sitting to his right, mostly obscured by his flaming red beard. She wore tight, hip cut jeans, leather boots with heels that must sound like a claves when she walked, and a shirt that did her chest plenty of favors. She had a soft, rounded face and a mouth that seemed naked without braces. She looked about ten years old, which meant she may have barely been eighteen. Maybe.
            “Johnny, meet Orchid,” he said.
            I don’t know if it was rude to laugh as much as I did, but Orchid took it well. “Very classy, dude,” I said.
            “Psh, whatever.” Orchid wrapped around his arm like a boa constrictor, oblivious to our conversation. “It’s legal.”
            “If that’s your best justification maybe that’s a sign.”
            “Not hearing that. Anyway she doesn’t want to stick around at the bar much longer. Anything you feel like doing?”
            “I got asked out by Anh, the bartender.” On cue she appeared, pulling ahead in her race. For the third time her eyes turned in my direction. But it was our direction now, and they latched onto the pretty young thing doing a lamprey impression on my friend. “We were gonna go bowling at five.”
            “Sweet. Mind if we come?”
            I probably should have. “No, that seems cool. Make sure your little Lolita brings her ID though.”
            “Ooo, Lolita,” he freed his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. “I like that name. Lolita.”
            “Lorita!” Orchid announced with a big smile. I wished I could take it back, but Pandora probably did too.
            Anh had taken a pit stop at the far end of the bar, filling a pint. I looked her way and saw that she was looking back. The smile wasn’t there this time, though. She was looking at Orchid, who smiled and kicked her leg into the air and generally drenched herself all over Ed. I recognized the look on her face from my memory of every girlfriend I’d had before Amy. It usually happened right before ‘we had to talk.’
            Five o’clock came around quicker than sobriety did. By now there were a couple empty glasses in front of Orchid as she shouted “Lorita! Lorita!” and climbed Mt. Edward. Anh kept glancing as she did her victory laps. Her replacement came in, identical looking but taller. They threw some sentences in hushed whispers back and forth at each other and then Anh stomped her way over to us.
            “Heeeeeey,” I opened with, “So Anh, this is Ed. And this is Orchid.” I waited for the laugh track.
            “Hiya!” Orchid opened, jabbing a hand towards my date. It shook with the air.
            “Hey, sweetie,” Ed said, “so what’s it like working for The Master?”
            “De… de master?” Anh mouthed as though the words had a spiky foreign feel to them. It hit me then why Anh’s friend had made all the introductions: she probably didn’t speak a word of English beyond “Hello” and “Thank you.” Luckily she wouldn’t know what Lolita meant.
            “Why don’t we just get going? The pins aren’t going to knock themselves down.” I found Anh’s hand, a tumble of limp fingers, and pulled us towards the exit.
            The bowling alley was down a crowded street, a few blocks away. Most of the city blocks in Ho Chi Minh are packed like a freeway. People wander in every direction, cutting off your path even as it opens. Walking was stop and go traffic.
            Anh’s hand turned into a vice around mine as soon as we got into the street. I was relieved until she pressed up against me from behind. Too datey, too close. I was about to remind her that it was a platonic date when I realized she was hiding in my shoulder. A squeal two octaves above middle C sounded behind us. Ed galloped through the crowd, Lolita on his back. I gave him a courtesy laugh but even I felt the eyes that turned out way as my buddy sang the tune to Bonanza.
            “Giddyup!” Ed whooped.
            The eyes were uncomfortable for me, but I’d be gone in a month or so. For Anh, they were the community.
            The arcade was a long open air building like a giant speaker producing the sound of bells, electronic buzzers, clattering bowling pins and laughter. The Lone Ranger charged in with his rider on his back, giggling away. We shuffled after them. The crowd opened and closed before the red oddity, every head sparing quick glances.
            “What’ll it be, princess?” Ed asked over his shoulder.
            “Ovah there!” Lolita pointed, her elbow inverting just a little, the way only girls’ arms seem able to. There was an ice cream machine. I snorted a laugh, wondering what jailbait card she’d pull out of the deck next.
            “Hey Anh,” I asked behind me, “you want an ice cream?”
            “Whu?” She looked up, eyes puffier than I’d like them to be.
            “Ice cream,” I mimed a cone in my hand, licking away. Then I realized the gesture I was making. “No, no, no! Over there.” I pointed at the machine where Orchid waited, almost two heads shorter than her beau as the soft serve coiled onto a sugar cone.
            “Hokay,” she nodded.
            Four cones were embarrassingly cheap. “Well, this is nice,” I pulled the comment out of my ‘talking with in-laws’ library. Lolita gobbled her cone down, smiling and mmmming as the cream dribbled down the side of her mouth. I expected her to pull out a badge any moment.
            Anh let her ice cream melt. Little vanilla specks splattered on the floor. When I looked over she’d take a lick but then rub her stomach and shake her head, the hunter-gatherer way of saying ‘I’m not really hungry.’
            Her gaze kept drifting to one spot to our left. I followed it and saw a neon sign and a man mixing drinks. “Want one?” She was up and over there before I’d finished the gesture. She had no problem guzzling all three of them before the ice melted.
            The bowling began. Ed got up on his toes and did a Fred Flintstone style long toss, sending it spiraling down the lane to get strike after strike. He finished each pitch with a “Yaba daba doo!”
            For Orchid, it got funnier every time. She clapped and laughed and gave Anh a little push and said “he so big and strong!” Anh smiled back and nodded, then look at me. It wasn’t the same look she’d flashed on her way around the bar, or even an angry look. It just made me want to quickly empty three drinks in myself.
I was Lost in Saigon the next night, but on the first floor. The centerpiece was a polished teak dance floor, filled with bodies doing their lava lamp impressions. The Master was serving me his potion but I wasn’t about to go upstairs and ask for something I actually wanted. Anh would have given it to me and my guilt would have tripled.
            Ed was off with Lolita. It was turning into a lonely night. I wondered what Amy was doing and if her anthro course covered attitudes towards prostitution. Maybe she’d met a nice guy up north and he’d brought a call girl and they’d played lawn darts. We’d have something to talk about.
            The once daily ritual of feeling an arm thread into mine pulled me out of my rumination. I turned around to see a girl. No, a woman. Maybe ten years older than me, not that she was bad looking. Actually she looked great, and had put a lot of effort into doing so.
            “Hi you,” she lilted, “you want company?”
            “Yes I do.” It was an honest answer, but the subtext didn’t land until after she’d sat down. “So,” I was committed to a conversation at least, “what’s your name?”
            “Orchid,” she said.
            “Oh god dammit.”
            “I change.”
            “No, no it’s fine. Pleased to meet you, Orchid. My name is John.”
            “Good America name. You America?”
            “Yeah, I America.”
            “So, America John, what you want do?”
            I was too crabby for wit. “I want to get the hell out of this bar and go see the side of Ho Chi Minh City that no one else sees. I want to go past all the tourist bullshit and see how people actually live. Once I do that, I want something to eat that I would never be able to get in America, then I want to sleep like a log for eight or more hours.”
            “Tour guide very easy, I show you all of Ho Chi Minh.” The way she said the city’s name was drop dead gorgeous. It spoke to exactly how much she could show me. “You pay stay over cost.”
            “How much is that?” When she told me I was glad I had The Master’s drink to hide my smile. Fifty bucks, roughly. Worth it for a tour guide that knew the streets. “Alright, let’s go.”
            First she flagged down The Master, poured a pint glass of his sugar and spice and downed it in a gulp. Good start.
            From the moment we stepped onto the streets it had a different feel. It was nice to be the one being led for a change. The crowd was still there, but the mystery behind it was gone. No more rushing headlong with two steps forward one step back. We became part of the crowd, part of a stream that bubbled away from the bright streetlights and into the low paper lamps of the residential city.
            Fleets of motor scooters burbled along the streets. Some carried a single passenger, some carried three or more, some almost toppled with boxes stacked one on top of another. The farther away we went from the main thoroughfare where my guesthouse was the louder things became. The lights faded but the people grew. So much shouting, some of it angry, some of it happy, all of it with more energy than I got from three cups of coffee.
            There was no grid to the streets. They were diagonals and corners and roundabouts and huge squares. People moved through everything like blood through veins. The buildings were beige and teal and red and green and strung up with clotheslines and there were open windows that sitar music or old school rock leaked out of. I was led like a kid visiting a new city for the first time, taking in a slice of the life that had existed for my whole life without my knowing.
            “Okay,” Orchid the Elder said, “we eat.”
            “What are we having?”
            She was already talking to a vendor. He was whipping a wok up and down over a portable gas plate covered in grease-spattered tin foil. It looked like there were little brussel sprouts in his pan, but they were somewhere between tan and yellow.
            “He want you pay him” she said when the man smiled with a mouth half full of teeth and an open hand. My second date to pay for in two days and neither one was getting me laid.
            “So what is this?” I held the little lump in my hand. It had a firm feel, and seemed like I could unwrap it, or uncurl it in some way.
            “It Hot Vit Lon,” she said, popping one in her mouth, “cooked with curry and chili and green onion. You like.”
            I popped one in whole. I did like. It had strong eastern flavor and the meat tasted like chicken. Then it crunched. Then I hit something that I couldn’t crunch, it just sort of flexed in my mouth. I pulled it out and saw what looked like little nostrils. It looked like a duck beak.
            I looked back at the vendor and saw him cracking eggs and dropping more half-formed ducks into the pan. “Is, uh,” I said, “is this fetal duck?”
            “What fetal? It duck don’t hatch.”
            “Okay,” but I was pretty hungry, “well, now I know.” They weren’t that bad. Once the guesswork was taken out of them I didn’t have much trouble digging into the whole batch she’d bought.
            We kept walking afterwards. The city noises kept up, I tried not to imagine quacking coming from my stomach, and eventually we made our way to a small park. It was just as busy as the rest of the city, but there wasn’t as much noise. People walked in silence, mostly in pairs. Heads met at shoulders, and hands locked together like zippers. Orchid led me over to where a decommissioned tank sat on a concrete pedestal. Its barrel was plugged with cement, but she sat us right below the huge interlinking track.
            “What you think, Ho Chi Minh City?” She asked me.
            “It’s beautiful. It’s very alive. I wish I spoke the language.”
            “I teach you.”
            “Oh yeah?”
            “Yes. Vietnamese very easy.”
            “I heard it was kind of hard.”
            “It like swimming. Swimming hard too, but you have to keep paddle.”
            And with that she was off. I tried to swim along with her, but the best I could do was doggy paddle. The metaphor made sense though. It was a tonal language, you changed your voice and you changed your stroke and you changed your message. Crawl stroke for a daily conversation. Butterfly for all the things I’m sure Anh wanted to say to me. Diving down for sweet nothings.
            Then someone burst into our lesson with something like water skiing. She had a black page boy haircut, so shiny it picked up light like a disco ball. She rushed towards us, or rather, towards Orchid. She had the same type of clothes and more importantly the same high heel boots that gave a clear message about how they knew each other.
            “Hi honey,” she said, “this your man?”
            “This my Johnny. Johnny, this Rose.”
            “Nice to meet you, Rose.”
            “You treat my Orchid flower nice?”
            “Yeah, I think we’re doing okay. Dining on the finest duck and cheap drinks.”
            “You buy her a pair of shoes.”
            “You should buy her shoes.”
            “Uh, okay. How much are a pair of shoes?”
            This one wasn’t worth laughing at. It was less than I spent on my average bar run. I said yes and we were off to a tailor.
            There was no shortage of clothes makers in Vietnam. Every street had a little den you could step into for measurements. The most touristy featured hanging jackets and pants made of silk, destined to a life of being re-hemmed into larger and larger pajamas. The locals shopped at corner stands where a man shouted his prices over boxes of surplus tee shirts. We stopped off in a store with varnished lattice doors that leaked wispy trails of incense.
Our tailor had the requisite scoliosis and careful way with the measuring tape to show us that he’d been in the job for longer than he should have. He carefully looked at Orchid’s feet, belting commands to the younger workers who stood in rapt attention next to him. One by one they took off to fetch tools or supplies.
            Before I knew it, he’d turned on me. He measured my arms, chest, and had a silk jacket drafted before I could imagine how foolish I’d look. Thirty minutes later, Orchid’s new brown leather shoes clacked down the street next to me, clad in a jacket that made me look like a local, or maybe a yokel.
            Two AM rolled around and I was more worn out than I was ready to admit. She insisted on walking me back to the guesthouse. I put myself clearly between her and the door as I dug out my wallet.
            “Now this means you don’t work any more tonight, okay?” I demanded.
            “If you say so, Johnny.”
            “Alright. Thank you for a great time, Orchid.”
            “Thank you, America John.” She planted a kiss on my cheek and clacked her way back into the crowd. It hadn’t dissipated at all, the steam kept moving.
Within another week I was ready to leave Ho Chi Minh City. My pneumonia had become a hospital-level thing. I met with a doctor who was a dead ringer for my tailor and he said that I’d been running too hard in air too dirty.
            Ed continued to see Orchid the Younger. She continued to get drunker and drunker, draping herself around him a little more each time. Every time they appeared in public there was some new piece of jewelry or clothing or otherwise pretty thing on her person, courtesy of him.
            Anh either forgave me or remembered her professional courtesy. Either way, she served me my last drink at Lost in Saigon, and smiled politely as I doggy paddle thanked her in Vietnamese.
            I saw Orchid the Elder one more time. She was busy looking for her new mark, but she gave me a wink and a pat on the arm. Beyond that I have the taste of half-formed duck and a few Vietnamese words that leak out of my head every day to remember her by. And she has a damn pretty pair of shoes for me.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


This is the only short story I’ve had published to date. As in, someone put it into a book. Someone else. It's on my shelf at home. Please, enjoy.

By Joe Sudar

            On good days her nickname was Rosie the Riveter or Mighty Mouse. On bad days it was Cunt, Bitch, or Dick.
            Tami was forty years young, eighteen years a mother, twenty-five years a temporary laborer, twenty-six years an orphan, four years a wife, one year an abused wife, seventeen years divorced, and twenty-seven years an alcoholic.
            Her body was a tablet that kept the record of her life, with tattoos stretching from the triumph of love to the resigned determination of acceptance, all mapped out over browned skin stretched taught over lingering maternity weight and broad shoulder muscles. When she lifted steel her cracked teeth ground together in exertion and lines of sinew pressed outward like Samson destroying the temple. Every tool stroke had more care than a shepherd tending his lambs. Clear eyes infallibly read and interpreted her measuring tape.
            Work was the morphine that dulled her days and kept them simple. When there was work she only needed to keep a single step ahead. Free time was the bondage that kept her in the grip of libations and gave her time to ponder her tablet and think about everything that was written there. There was a formula to free time for Tami: think about the bad fraction of her forty years, drink forty ounces of malt liquor, and cry more than forty days and night’s worth of rain.
            After she’d satisfied the formula, Tami would ponder the one hope that shined through all persecution: her daughter. Throughout her eighteen years as a mother Tami kept an oath that her blessing would never want for anything. She would have food, clothes, shelter, and most important of all, an exodus from her mother’s life of poverty. The muscles, scars, and sinew decorating her tablet were a testament to Tami’s efforts to keep this covenant.
            Work was never guaranteed for Tami. Temps in a rough economy were forced to work harder and complain less to earn their minimum wage pittance. When a permanent job was offered the clouds opened and God smiled on the chosen as they went on to forty a week at a living wage. Tami was never quite good enough to enter this Canaan, and the free-time formula followed every condemnation.
            The clouds broke over five temps one day, and Dick was one of them. The company needed someone to work the carpentry shop. Union rules required that it be a full-time employee. One of the old-timers had just retired, so there was an open spot in the budget for a temp to join the Canaanites. Dick became Mighty Mouse the second she heard.
            The shining star that led to her daughter’s future was college, and college was too expensive for a slave’s allowance. She needed to find her way to the Promised Land or the eighteen years of holding to her oath would be cast down into the abyss. No matter the cost, she would take her daughter across the desert and see her become an independent woman.
            The tablet began to wear smooth. Muscle knots grew thicker and harder to relieve. Joints ground together like a mill making flour. Samson raged a little softer every day. As the weight of the other four temps’ capabilities bore down upon her, Rosie became Bitch and stayed that way.
            One day her four competitors became three. A Goliath of a worker who flipped wood panels meant for forklifts and swung a crowbar lower and faster than anyone else crashed a car and cracked his tablet. A realization came to Tami like an epiphany: the easiest way to bear a burden is to remove it.
            A veteran, fifty years young with a tablet as detailed as Tami’s made up for his frailty with wisdom and technique. He took the best tools because he used them better than anyone else. That didn’t stop Tami from telling the foreman that he kept them from the other workers out of spite and gave false orders against the boss’s word. A check mark on a clipboard closed the sky over him.
            The second plague was a college student who used temp labor to pay for a future just like the one Tami’s daughter needed. His tablet was barely marked at all. He poured vitality into every task, lifting harder and faster than anyone else, confident that he would return to the bliss of college life at the summer’s end. To him, Canaan was another thousand dollars of spending money on top of his scholarships and support. Bitch felt no remorse as she pointed out the dangerous way he darted past forklifts and around saws with too heavy loads in his arms. He didn’t even notice when his sky darkened.
            The last one was a leper; a philistine who wasted time and money without caring that his twenty-five years would become as painful as Tami’s forty if he didn’t change. Cunt didn’t need to say a word against him, but that didn’t stop her from pointing out his long breaks and low quotas.
            The sky soon shimmered over Rosie the Riveter alone. Her path was lit by a strong northern star that led to a meaningful future for the daughter she loved. She stepped into Canaan in June, reveling in milk and honey with money to spare, save, and plan with. Tami smiled every day at the realization that she would keep her word and give her daughter a new life.
            Tami’s daughter waited until graduation to tell her about the baby.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


My most recent short story was abandoned because I wound up not liking the content. Instead I’ve switched to heavy pre-writing for my second novel-length piece of writing. Typically, I wouldn’t share pre-write content, but this is kind of fun.

Recently I had the chance to hear Ivan Doig speak. Doig is a National Book Award finalist, a cowboy, and is by his own admission in danger of becoming a prolific writer. A central element of writing he discussed were “crystalline details.” They’re the kind of description you read that tells you more than sensory details. They’re the calloused hands of a working man, overly-touchy greeting of a politician, and nervous nail-biting of an anxious shut-in. Okay, they don’t always have to be about hands.

At the beginning of my story in its current draft, the main character, Chess Connor, returns to the dying hometown he barely made it out of and runs into a bad memory: Seth, the best friend that nearly led him to a life on the wrong side of the law. Without spoiling Seth any more, here are some of his crystalline details. See if you can tell what kind of character he is. Enjoy.

Physical appearance
·      Tan, sharp eyes, expressive, thick beard.
·      CAT hat, working shirt, heavy jeans, workman’s Romeos, bowie knife on hip, suspenders.
·      Differences from when Chess knew him as a kid—lined face, still has a dirty complexion, same wolfish grin, burgeoning beer belly.
·      Sharp smell of heavy sweat around him, smell of a dirt road, beer on his breath
·      Chess wrote a story based on him when he was starting out as a writer. In the meeting he notices that he appears almost exactly as he pictured him. Seth mentions this on first meeting. It’s the only one of Chess’s stories he’s read.
·      Takes off his hat to soak it in water and splat it back on his head, hawks and spits frequently, kicks up dust when other people are talking, stands either square with hands on hips and feet apart or with arms crossed and head cocked.
·      Speaking style: uses imperative, very few complete sentences, hits final words like they’re an accusation, eyes constantly scan up and down other person’s body as he speaks.

Favorite foods
·      At home: primarily microwaved meals.
·      Gets burgers/fast food and leaves the containers around endlessly.
·      Drinks water when working manual labor, but nowhere else.
·      Owns a lot of plastic drinking cups.
·      Favorite place to eat out is a burger place in his town. It’s greasy and messy with a sharp, tangy flavor, but he can only afford it once per pay period.
·      Eats NO vegetables.
·      Drinks “nutrition” (protein) shakes.

Eating habits
·      Quick
·      Acts like there’s no one else at the table
·      Licks fingers
·      Burps
·      Sniffs and wipes nose.
·      Outsider would think he hadn’t eaten in days.

·      Books
o   None.
o   Guns ‘N Ammo mags.
o   Auto Trader.
o   Plenty of porn to be found lazily hidden in his home.
·      Music
o   Country western.
o   Likes to sing along in his truck.
o   Thinks every song is about him, even though he’s never had a family, steady job, or a dog.
o   Owns a guitar but never learned more than a couple chords.
·      Movies
o   Watches a lot of action movies. Every time he finishes one he waits for someone to challenge him to a fight.
·      Board games
o   Poker. Does it just to bet, and will look for ways to bet on things that aren’t poker. Very likely to offer you $5 if you can spit farther than him.

·      Things that make him feel “country:” donuts in dirt pits, shooting guns, going to fairs/rodeos
·      Gets old scrap and takes it apart sometimes. Thinks it’s making him a machine aficionado, but in reality it’s just copper to sell.
·      Watches enough TV to leave a distinct shape on his couch.

Crystalline details are a really cool thing to read for. If you look for them in some of your favorite characters you’ll find tons, especially in popular and fun works like Harry Potter and Star Wars. If you can think of any crystalline details or detail categories like I have above I’d love for you to leave a comment so I can steal your ideas.