Sunday, March 30, 2008
I hope people don’t think I’m trying to brag by posting these good reviews when I get them, but I just can’t help but share. First of all because each one puts me over the moon and I feel so humbled and just so glad that I did my job well. It seems like so far that I’ve really managed to capture what I wanted to capture in IWBYJR, that those who have read it are picking up on exactly what I wanted to convey, so that’s great. I was one of those kids who, even at her most rebellious, strove for straight A’s because when I do something I want to do it right and getting this book right was the most important thing in the world to me, so hearing that I’ve struck the right chord (no pun intended) is so satisfying. But the other reason I like to post these is because the reviews are so well-written and thought out and people should pay attention to the hard work that these reviewers are doing to get the word out about great books. I check their blogs to look for new book recommendations and you should, too (and not just cuz they are recommending my book).
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Obviously I miss my regulars. I still see them every couple weeks or so when I go to the bar just to hang, but it's not the same as seeing them a few times a week and really talking to them.
I don’t miss the random total wackjobs. Like the chick that came in one afternoon in the first couple weeks I was working there. She ordered a drink, went to the bathroom for an extremely long time, came back out, swallowed her drink quickly, didn’t leave a tip and fled. Weird, I thought. Then I had to pee a little while later.... It smelled horrible in the bathroom. I opened up the first stall and found it covered in shit. Literally covered. Shit on the toilet seat, the tank, in the toilet. I almost puked. I was not cleaning that up. No way in hell. I did not earn enough for that.
I do miss the way my regulars would help me out. Like on my literally shitty day, Molly came in and I warned how about the bathroom. After a few vodka and cranberries, she was like, “I’m gonna do it. There are flies in there. It's gross. I’m gonna clean it up.” And she got some gloves and she did. And I always knew any of the guys would have my back if someone tried to fuck with me. I knew Pat would help me bartend if I got swamped and help me change a keg or troubleshoot any other problems. And when the water poured down between the fishnetted lady legs for the umpteenth time and I was about to cry, Carl happily found the mop and cleaned up the mess for me.
I don’t miss the random stuck up types who’d obviously taken a wrong turn on their way to a fancy restaurant in Oak Park. “Do you have Grey Goose?” No. Our top of the line is Stoli. “Do you have any wine?” Uh no. “Oh my god, you seriously don’t have wine?” I look over at the fishnetted lady legs and hope that the people upstairs pick now to fill their bathtub so a flood of dirty water rushes down or that maybe one of the little mice that hang out in the bar during the winter will scurry over their feet. “No, we don’t have wine.”
I do miss the regulars that would laugh at these types with me after they left and who would make mouse watching a winter activity. Especially Sue's husband Jim. He was like a little kid whenever one of the little guys would come out and try to grab a piece of popcorn from the floor. We all accepted the mice. They'd been using the pub as their winter home for years, apparently back in the 30s or 40s the place across the street was a meat-packing plant so they'd come in droves.
I don’t miss having to spending my Sundays watching football. Superbowl Sunday when the heat was out and I had a bladder infection and I had to work for nine hours, that may have been my worst personal hell.
I do miss baseball season at the Beacon. Everyone's a buzz about the home run derby pool. I still partake in that, but I’m convinced that I lost last year because I wasn’t at the Beacon getting shit everyday about how I was taking their money. And I miss watching Sox games with the regulars. The year they won the World Series I was in LA, living with a friend who was a Cubs fan. When the Sox won, no one around me cared (especially since they had totally kicked the Angels asses), so I celebrated by calling the Beacon and Jme passed the phone around to all the unintelligible drunk people and told me how there was champagne being spilled everywhere and now she understood why Scott waited until after the World Series to get new stools. And I miss going to ball games with Pat and Dave or Pat and Sean and the pathetic opening day that like 20 of us went to where we froze our asses off and watched the Sox get killed.
I don’t miss it when the regulars would get whiny about things that were not my fault like the fact that Scott was cheap and often ordered too little beer and we’d run out of their beverage of choice. I begged him for months to order a particular liquor for me and he never did. Get over it. Ditto the crappy stools. Oh and the winter that the heat kept going out and I was working in my winter coat because it was 40 degrees in the bar and they were whining??? Um, you don’t have to be here. There are other bars or your toasty warm house. And if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have to be here!
I do miss the popcorn machine. Fresh popcorn twice a day as a snack. How good is that. Healthy and delicious.
I don’t miss kegs going out and getting sprayed with draft beer and stinking of booze and grease from the fryer and worst of all cigarette smoke. (Though now with the smoking ban, I can breathe in there.)
I do miss coming home everyday with sore feet but a pocket full of cash. Instant gratification for your hard work. I liked that.
I don’t miss the amateurs on weekend nights. You obnoxious newly twenty-one year olds who act like everyone I hated in high school and treat me like those people treated me. And you want fancy girly shots or bombs. We don't have Red Bull, sorry. And we're probably out of half the ingredients I would use to make Pineapple Upside Down Cake or an Oatmeal Cookie or even a Redheaded Slut. We drink straight Jager or Rumpleminze or whiskey or tequila here. Yeah, I know, you aren't that hardcore yet. I could make you a Lemon Drop? Not good enough? Madison Street is three blocks that way, you'll find plenty of people like you down there and we won't miss you. You're loud, obnoxious, and don't know how to tip because you're spoiled and never had to have a service job.
I do miss my coworkers even though we didn’t really work together. I miss Dan, who would always come to the bar and help me close on the nights that I worked even though he was in no way obligated to stay up til 2 or 3 and do so. And I miss Jme, who became a true friend. Who would come in on afternoons sometimes to keep me company before she had to go to class. She was there when Scott my boyfriend came into the bar for the very first time to meet me (he just had a coke because he had to go to work, but he wanted to meet me in person, it was adorable) and gave me her seal of approval, “He’s cute and totally your type. You should definitely go for it.” And within days we were dating and within months, Jme was teasing Scott about where’s ring. I’m sure he doesn’t miss Jme for that. I even miss Scott the owner. I always had a great relationship with the guy and sometimes during the day when he came in to get the money straightened out or set the schedule or place orders, he'd bring his little boys and I loved seeing those kids.
Ultimately I miss the Beacon more than I don't miss it. Though I was certainly ready to quit at the time, now I would jump at the opportunity to go back. I liked the people, I liked the stories they told me and the stories they inspired. I would definitely tell a young writer who was looking to expand their writing horizons that working at a neighborhood dive bar is a great way to stir the muse. Perhaps some people would look down on me for recommending that, but I honestly don't really care. There were more ups than downs and its one of the jobs I liked best. I found a real group of friends at the Beacon, a group of friends made up of people I'd never expect to bond with. That's why I'm doing my book release party there. I'd promised them all, especially Jme, that if I got published that's what we would do. It's scheduled for Thursday July 10th at 7 pm if you happen to be in the Chicago area and I've peaked your interest enough about this bar that you have to see it in the flesh.
Hope you enjoyed my whole topic of the week thing. I'll do it again soon, though maybe not this coming week. I gotta focus on my fiction this week...
PS. Everyone should celebrate Earth Hour tonight! I am!
Friday, March 28, 2008
The first Beacon regular I met was James. He probably wouldn’t remember this. My friend Lindsay was in town and I took her to the Beacon on a Saturday night so we could have a few and play some darts. I don’t remember how James approached us. I think he might have been at the jukebox and wandered over to us by the darts. I just remember that we debated about Pulp Fiction (he played that “son of a preacher” song off the soundtrack), he loved the movie, Lindsay and I both hate it. Then he insinuated himself into our dart game. He was totally blasted, throwing darts at the board at an angle from his stool and he still beat Lindsay and me. We thought it was hilarious. James amused me a lot through my days at the Beacon, especially when he made me breakfast. But sometimes he would get so drunk that he couldn’t even talk and he was one of the regulars that Scott banned from running a tab.
Yeah, a select few people did run tabs. They’d come in and write bar a check monthly to pay it down, like you’d pay rent or a car loan.
I had another regular, Jeff, who would come in every day after work, sit in front of the Megatouch machine and drink the beer that was on special that day by the pitcher. He would literally blow through a couple pitchers by himself. He’d get red-faced and sometimes he would get plastered, but mostly he seemed fine and I just assumed that since it was watery domestic beer and he was a big guy… Eventually Dan saw me serving him a pitcher and told me that it was against the law to serve a pitcher to one person. “Oh, whoops. Scott didn’t tell me that.” There were a lot of legalities that I learned from Dan instead of Scott. Like if someone falls asleep at the bar or puts their head down, you’ve gotta kick them out.
A lot of my regulars came in and drank every day or almost every day. Some of them just had a couple beers. Some of them had several beers and shots over several hours. Some of them had a few stiff drinks in quick succession. Like Guillermo. He was a doctor from
Sometimes people would disappear for a while and then come back, telling me, “I had to dry out. Don’t let me have more than a couple.” Or people would have health problems and switch to another beer. There was one very large guy with a lot of health problems that everyone called Moon. He’d come in and drink O’Douls. He was very self conscious about it and would bring a Cubs bottle cozy to put the beer in. Sue told me, “He used to be a huge drinker. Had to stop for his health, but he couldn’t leave the bar, that’s where all his friends are.”
So yeah, some of my regulars are alcoholics. There’s no doubt. But I’ve never judged them. It’s never really been a big deal as long as they behave when I cut them off. Pat had to help me get this guy Gary in a cab once. He was totally belligerent and I’m not sure what I would have done if Pat weren’t there. But
“No.” I told him and he grumbled and swore, but continued to stand there. He’d obviously been drinking since the night before and hadn’t slept yet.
When Maria let me in, she told me, “He’s been standing there since 11.”
I said, “Well he’s in for a disappointment then because I’m not serving him.”
I opened to door and told him this. He called me some names, said it was bullshit and that he wasn’t coming back ever again. “Good,” I told him and returned inside telling Maria that I hoped he went to Circle Inn, the sleazier bar down the block that likely would still serve him and stayed there. I was sick of him ruining my Saturdays.
She offered to stay until we were sure he didn’t come back and for once I was grateful for her company.
Yeah that guy was a drunk. My regulars? Their habits paled in comparison. I worried from time to time and maybe if I were closer to them, it would bother me more. I’ve dealt with my fair share of alcoholism. While I was working at the Beacon, I broke up with my boyfriend of eight years because of his problem with alcohol. Just last year I stopped talking to one of my best friends because I could no longer deal with all of her drama, most of which stemmed from her getting drunk instead of, oh, I don’t know, going to therapy. When I was a younger I had two boyfriends who were drug addicts. I seem to attract that type. Maybe it’s because I sympathize and I try to help and I stand by people until they completely 100% burn me out. Maybe it’s because they sense that it is in my nature, too.
There is no doubt I have an addictive personality. When Lindsay and I were in college together we were drunk basically every day. My two years in
However after he was out of my life and I was single, that’s when I started moving directly to the other side of the bar after shifts. And Sundays during football season, I was pretty tipsy when I worked. Some bars you can’t drink while you’re on the job, but having one or two at the Beacon was ok. When the Bears were playing, the guys that came in did a lot of shots and they wanted me to do them, too. I usually did because man, I hate football. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to. They tried to explain it to me on many occasions that winter and seriously, I guess deep down I am a total girly girl because they would be explain the downs and I started thinking about shoe shopping. So shots and the various forms of gambling that they did that didn’t involve knowing about football, just if the last digits of the score add up to your number, you win, that’s what got me through football season.
And I knew I was on a slippery slope. I knew I was about to cross the line between just having fun and having a problem. And I know a lot of bartenders who cross that line and bartenders and servers who also end up with coke problems because of the hours (fortunately I stayed away completely from that stuff, it wasn’t around in my bar). However I was drinking for the same reasons I did in high school and college: because I was bored. Once I met my current boyfriend, I wasn’t bored anymore and I went back to drinking in moderation.
But yeah, I can’t completely glamorize working in a bar and say that it’s all great people and fun times. There are serious issues lurking underneath. There’s a big elephant sitting in that bar with you and his name is addiction. But, for better or for worse, I channeled all of that into my writing too, after all those are my favorite kinds of characters, the ones that are running from their troubles.
Well, that’s it for today, and tomorrow I will end Beacon week with the things I miss and the things I don’t.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
As I mentioned in my recent MTV Books blog about friendship, I have always loved TV shows that center around a group of friends (hmm, most TV shows do that, don't they?) and I always longed to belong like the characters did. Cheers was one those shows that I watched and I always wondered if bars really were like that. I am pleased to say that the Beacon is. People do indeed shout out your name when you enter and everyone is friends even though they might seem like an unlikely match outside of the bar setting. We even had a token postal employee, P.O. Pat, we called him because there were a lot of Pat's (yeah, it's an Irish area) and Scott's, so you either had a nickname or your full name was used (which obviously I won't do here).
Mostly before 4 pm, you'd see an older crowd, but interspersed with them were a few guys in their thirties and forties. P.O. Pat was one of these. He'd take his lunch break at the bar. Sometimes he'd bring in food, sometimes he'd enjoy my popcorn with his MGD. (Have you noticed that I still remember what everyone drinks? It's hard to forget.) P.O. Pat was one of the guys that would flirt with me. I put up with it, but it annoyed me to a degree. Not so much the harmless "so, have you broken up with your boyfriend yet?" thing (though I was glad that he wasn't around so much when I really did break up with my boyfriend and by the time he asked me again, I had a new boyfriend so I didn't have to lie), but I didn't really appreciate it when he would tell new people, "You know she's a writer? All those steamy sex scenes in her books, those are about me." What I would have called sexual harassment in an office setting, I dealt with as part of the job at the bar and as a feminist I questioned this from time to time, especially those particular remarks, but I think I took them so personally because they had to do with my writing.
Everyone at the bar did know I was a writer. It came up naturally as a part of the conversation. They'd tell me what they did and ask me what I did aside from bartending. I'd tell them I was going to Columbia downtown to get my master's degree in fiction writing. They'd ask what I wrote about and I'd tell them about my book. It was definitely good practice for the elevator pitch, but I still suck at that anyway. Now I cheat and hand people one of my bookmarks with the cover copy on it. But anyway, I found that this was a great conversation starter. It got a lot of people talking about reading. I know they say people don't read anymore in America, but most of my regulars did and I took quite a few book recommendations from them, especially Sue, the older woman I mentioned in an earlier blog.
Some people would be like, "Oh, are you going to put me in your book? I have a great story for you!" And I'd listen to their story which was generally a good story to tell in a bar, but no, would not make for a great novel premise. I'd patiently explain again and again that I didn't draw directly from my own life story nor was I interested in drawing directly from someone else's life story, but that I was certain my experience bartending would influence my writing someday. And now it is in this blog, but I also do have a bartender character, I'm just not ready to write her yet, although this blog has made me a bit more antsy.
But anyway, back to my regulars. (My tangents are what make my blogs so damn long. But you'll just have to deal. I'm forced to edit them out of my fiction, but this is my place to enjoy them!) I'll try to just list off the most memorable ones now to stay on track.
Carl popped up occasionally around Jeopardy time. He worked at O'Hare, dealing with the baggage I think. He would always come in still wearing his reflective vest so I imagined him directing planes to land from the runway even though I knew that wasn't what he did.He drank Bud draft for the most part though he liked to confuse me and switch it up. Carl was a little bit of an enigma in general. I remember a wintry day near Christmas when he came in really early, might have been right around 2. He asked for the remote and found an old black and white Christmas movie and asked me if I would be willing to make a pot of coffee so he could have some Irish coffee. Since there weren't any other customers around I was game to try to figure out our coffee pot. I remember Carl tearing up during a sappy part, or faking tearing up, I couldn't really tell, but it was definitely an interesting moment.
Scott and Pat (not the owner and his brother, a different Scott and Pat whose last names I would usually use, but not in this public forum) usually came in around 4. Scott was a businessman, an architecture firm or something, I believe. He was a great guy though and he and I won the 2005 Beacon Christmas Party darts tournament together. How it happened I'm not entirely sure because we were both totally blasted, but I guess being drunk made me good and Scott was pretty good in general.
Pat's a union carpenter. It's hard to pick a favorite regular, it would be like picking a favorite child, but he might well be it, which is odd because really, what did I 24 year old art school student have in common with him, divorced, laborer in his fifties. Lots. We talked home repair, we talked gardening, we talked books, we talked White Sox baseball and probably the thing that drew us closest was talking about his kids. Pat spoke with so much pride about his two daughters, who he planned to take to Costa Rica, and about his son who was in the Army and happened to be in Iraq at the same time a friend of mine was. We worried about them together. And actually Pat became somewhat of a father figure to me. Yeah, I know it's weird to kinda wish a drunk from a bar was your dad, but my dad and I had a strained relationship (which we are working on slowly but surely). And Pat and I went to Sox games together and he gave me the kind of home improvement advice that my dad couldn't. In fact he even sketched out how I could put in a patio and I had these great plans to do it, but my own dad backed out. And I wished that my dad would talk with about me with such pride like Pat did about his girls and his son. I wished he would have literally saved his change to take me on vacation when I was a teenager (though I don't know that Pat ever followed through with that and deep down I know that he probably frequented the bar a little bit too often to be as ideal of a father as I thought of him). The weekend I got my advanced copies of my book and was carrying one around with me everywhere, I ran into Pat at the grocery store and showed him. He was so proud. Everyone at the bar is, which is why I'm planning my release party there.
Then I went in a couple weeks later to show the book to some other people and Pat wasn't there. Unusual for a Saturday night. Beth Ellen told me that his son, who was stationed in Afghanistan now, had been in a building that a suicide bomber hit. The left side of his head had been hit badly, his brain was swollen, he was unconscious and paralyzed on the right side of his body. Beth Ellen had found this out because she was driving past the bar and saw Pat's truck there unusually early. that was the day he'd gotten the news. The Beacon was the family he turned to until his son was in the States and he could go see him. I cried when I found out about this. I knew Pat's son, had bartended at the party they threw for him when he came back from his first tour. He was a few months shy of 21 at the time but I served him anyway because I thought if he was old enough to face the hell he'd been through, he was old enough to drink.
I saw Pat when I bartended last weekend, hugged him for about five minutes straight. Fortunately he had good news. His son had regained both consciousness and use of his right side and he'd be transferred to a hospital in the Midwest soon. Pat still wasn't his old self though and I was glad when Dan told me they were starting up a fund for him because he's missed so much work going to see his boy.
Well, the blog is getting long again, but I don't want to end on a sad note, so I'll tell ya about the regulars that would come in towards the end of my shift, the folks closer to my age who I would usually join for a drink or two when I got off work, especially if it was a Saturday. Molly and Tim, the couple I mentioned before, and Dave, Sean, and James. They were a fun crew. When it was boring on a Saturday I could count on them to liven things up. We'd put out all the empties and play beer bottle bowling. When I came in last Saturday, Molly, Tim, Dave, and Liz were playing trashcan ball, some elaborate game that involved bouncing a ball into a trashcan that I couldn't figure out maybe because I wasn't drunk. Sean, who I bonded with over the punk band Propagandhi, and James used to come in Saturday morning still drunk from Friday night and cook me breakfast on the grill, the best roast potatoes ever. Of course they'd make sausages and stuff for themselves and insist that I make this weird gin and juice drink for them, which was James' hair of the dog concoction and when they were still there and in quite a state when Dan came on at 7:30, he wasn't always very pleased with me, but we had fun.
This brings me to the topic that I will discuss tomorrow, an inevitable one given my place of employment: alcoholism. Yeah, I know, heavy. But I promise it will still be amusing,.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I’m glad so many people enjoyed my interview with E. Lockhart and are looking forward to her new book like I am. (I think I need like a year vacation to catch up on reading all the books I want to read!) Now I will return to our topic of the week: my job at the Beacon Pub.
So part of the reason I took the job at the Beacon was to hone my writing skills. Yes, you did read that correctly. I took a job at a bar to learn how to write and I did learn more about writing there than I have at my current job where I actually write letters and proposal drafts and stuff. Why? Because there is this old adage about writing that says, “Write what you know.” (Though my friend Annika said she would amend it to “write what you love” and I must say I like that better.) As a twenty-four year old, I didn’t know all that much. I liked to think I did, but really… So what better place to find characters and learn about people who led their lives in a different way than I did than a bar? We all know how much oral storytelling goes on over drinks. And being a good bartender is not about how many fancy drinks you know how to make (though I’m sure that helps in some places, but the Beacon is a shot-and-a-beer joint), it’s about what a good listener you are. Fortunately, as much as I love to talk and tell stories, I also love to listen.
If you prove to be a genuine listener, you are rewarded with bigger tips and returning customers. When you work the afternoon/early evening shift at the bar, you especially depend on your returning customers or regulars. They are your bread and butter. Without them you’d be broke and bored as shit.
At other bars, more than one bartender works at the same time. At the Beacon there was not enough business to justify this. Scott and his brother Pat both worked a couple shifts a week and the other mainstays were me, Jme, and Dan. A few others came and went, but for the most part the five of us covered the two shifts a day Monday through Saturday and the one shift on Sunday night (except during football season, when a Sunday afternoon shift was added. And guess who got it? The person who hates football more than anything of course, yours truly! But we’ll talk about that later.). A lot of people asked me if it freaked me out to work alone. Didn’t I worry about bar brawls or getting robbed? I guess, it did cross my mind at first, but I quickly learned my regulars had my back.
I started work at on weekday afternoons. Luis would open the place up at . Luis was the guy who did repairs at the bar and his wife Maria cleaned. Maria was there when I opened at on Saturdays. Scott liked and trusted Luis, but not Maria. He was convinced that she stole from the bar and I was told that under no circumstances was I to let her see where the money was kept. And she was pretty sketchy, probably not even forty and she was missing all of her teeth. The only reason I could think of for that was drug abuse and she basically confirmed it when she told me about her past coke problem. Opening on Saturdays was pretty torturous because I knew Maria would stand around flapping her toothless gums (she had dentures but never wore them) while I stocked and set up the bar (Jme said Maria did this in hopes that I would help her take out the trash because the girl before me had always helped her) and I liked to start my days at the bar peacefully since I knew once the customers came in, I would have to be “on” all the time.
On weekdays it was rare that anyone would be in the bar when I opened. If so, they’d be a random stopping by for a couple beers on their lunch break. I actually was irritated when this happened because One Life to Live was on from 1 to 2 and I liked to watch it while I restocked and got organized. I had to have the money all a certain way—upside down and facing the same direction—and as I mentioned the bar was in a state of disrepair so strategically placed towels near the drains below the tappers were necessary to sop up leaks. I also made sure I had an equal number of glasses on each side of the bar and set up my dishwashing stations.
By two my show was over and I was set up and ready for business. Sometimes business was not ready for me, so I read and I actually even wrote and worked on revisions in the bar, especially on Saturdays when, unless it was baseball season, there was nothing on TV. My love for baseball was reborn while I worked at the Beacon because I spent so many afternoons alone or with a couple regulars watching Sox games.
My first customer of the day on weekdays was usually Will, a businessman in his late twenties/early thirties who worked at home and took his lunch break at the bar. Will wasn’t that much older than me and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we loved the same music. Customers with similar music tastes identified me because of my car, which was plastered in band stickers. They’d come in and ask immediately, “Do you drive the Civic with the (Fill in the blank band) sticker?” I liked those people. With Will, I think it was the Pixies sticker and we bonded over Dinosaur Jr. Will and I discussed music and politics with typical Gen X fervor while he drank four or five Buds and he always tipped 10$. Yeah, he was a good guy, Will.
Another one of my favorites, Mr. Howe usually came in shortly after Will. He was always there in time for Jeopardy. Jeopardy was often the highlight of my afternoon. I loved playing along with whoever was in the bar and after that my television viewing got pretty depressing. The Beacon was the kind of bar where unless it was baseball season (and thank god, it’s a long season), you watched Jeopardy and then you watched two hours of news. Even though it’s the same news that they play over and over again with little updates every half an hour, if you try to change the channel, you can bet someone’s gonna yell at you.
Anyway, when Mr. Howe came in, I would fire up the popcorn machine. (Actually I always fired up the popcorn machine around 3. It was my mid-afternoon snack. Can’t tell you how much I miss it at my office job…) Mr. Howe’s a retired labor negotiator and he would come in, eagerly watch Jeopardy, smoke a cigar, chat with the other regulars and me, drink a few Bud Lights, buy whoever else was in there a beer, and he’d always tip 5$. Mr. Howe was the friendliest and the best tipper of the older guys that came in around Jeopardy time. I think that is why Dan, Jme, and I generally referred to him so respectfully as Mr. Howe instead of simply using his first name.
The other older guys that came in were pretty curmudgeonly in comparison. One was a typical grumpy old man. If anyone turned the jukebox one, he’d huff about it until he finished his beer and then he’d promptly leave. I think the other bartenders and some of the other customers were more irritated by him than I was. I found his whole stereotypical “kids these days” type reaction to loud music amusing. Also, he’d lived in
Observing them, I knew how to realistically write a conversation between folks in their sixties. I was a naturally nostalgic person, I could relate. And actually listening to them inspired me to set my second book in my hometown at my old haunts so I’d always be able to remember them vividly because somehow I don’t think my memory will be as good as that of my regulars.
Anyway, my other regular curmudgeon got on my nerves more. He had a gruff sense of humor that mostly left me feeling insulted and we disagreed about anything to do with world affairs. I remember during Hurricane Katrina when I had CNN on non-stop, he came in and scoffed, “Why are you watching this? No one from your generation cares about this.” And I totally went off on him about how I’d given more money than I could afford to the Red Cross in the wake of this and so had many of my friends and I knew a lot of kids who were planning to volunteer to help out in someway and what the hell was he doing? Yep, didn’t like him much. The only redeeming quality about him besides his girlfriend—who I liked very much, we chatted about gardening and her attempts to learn Polish and I quietly wondered how she could stand him, especially when I watched them bicker daily—was that he did get rid of “Floyd.” He claimed that was what that guy’s name was anyway.
“Floyd” was a smarmy sort who came in carrying a leather duffel bag, ordered PBR draft, refused any of my attempts at conversation, and never ever EVER tipped. I particularly resented this because he drank draft beer and draft beer is more difficult to serve than bottled, especially when you are pouring the first beer of the day. With decent beers after you pour one glass of foam, the rest is fine, but with swill like PBR (no offense to my PBR drinking friends *cough* hipsters, oh just kidding!), you’ve got at least four glasses of foam to struggle with and with my leaky drain. Grrr. So “Floyd” irritated me. My curmudgeon apparently knew “Floyd” from another bar and apparently he’d never tipped there and also borrowed 20$ from someone there and never repaid it. Curmudgeon was ticked about this and one day decided to write “Floyd” a note and asked me to give it to him the next time he came in. Since Curmudgeon tipped and “Floyd” didn’t—even though sometimes Curmudgeon didn’t tip well enough to compensate for my annoyance—my choice was clear. Whatever he said in that note, “Floyd” never returned after he read it.
Like, I said, your regulars, even the sort of obnoxious ones, always have your back. And I still have a bunch more of them to tell you about, which I will resume with tomorrow…
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Here’s the lowdown on the book straight from the jacket copy:
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew's lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.
This is the story of how she got that way.
You can read an excerpt of the book here
E. Lockhart is the author of The Boyfriend List and its sequel, The Boy Book; Fly on the Wall; Dramarama; and the upcoming How to Be Bad, co-written with Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski. In stores March 25th is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Visit her on the web at www.theboyfriendlist.com -- and soon (once the new web design is finished) at www.e-lockhart.com. You can also check out her blog at http://www.theboyfriendlist
But today she was kind enough to answer some questions, right here on my blog. Here they are:
Please list some songs that would be on the soundtrack to your book and explain how they relate to your story or characters.
E.: For How To Be Bad, which comes out May 6 (co-written with Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski), we made a whole playlist, including songs by Feist, Fergie, KT Tunstall, even Nancy Sinatra. I did the same for my book, Dramarama -- playlist for that including songs from Rent, Wicked, Guys & Dolls, Little Shop of Horrors and Cabaret.
But The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks -- much of it takes place in the middle of the night, deep in the steam tunnels of a sleeping boarding school. I think of many scenes in it as taking place in eerie silence.
Name some of your main character's favorite musicians or bands.
E.: Frankie probably likes Janis Joplin and The Who. Partly because she's an angry young person, and partly because in my experience elite prep school kids are often into classic rock rather than whatever's new.
Who are some of your favorite musicians or bands?
E.: I am an old person with old person tastes! Well, at least compared to the audience for my books.
I like musical theater. I like Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. I like folk music and gospel. I like dance music that was popular when I was in high school and college. My iTunes "most often played list" includes "Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners, "All About Ruprecht" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and "Don't Tell Mama" sung by Ute Lemper.
Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?
E.: I prefer total silence. But for Dramarama, which is all set in musical theater camp, I did make myself an iTunes folder full of show tunes, and I'd play them before sitting down to work to get myself in the right mindset. (Dramarama is in stores now and comes out this May in paperback).
While music is my muse, I know other writers find their muse in theater, sports, art, the great outdoors, etc. What is your main muse?
E.: Books. I find reading replenishes my imagination, keys me into alternative modes of storytelling, gives me ideas.
Last but not least, E. says, “In May, I'll be touring actual cities, including places in Georgia, Florida, Illinois, southern and Northern California, and Connecticut, for my book How to Be Bad, which comes out May 6 and which I co-wrote with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. I'll be signing Disreputable History and my backlist books as well. Here are the tour dates and locations!”
Ok, her answer about the book taking place in eerie silence because it takes place deep in the steam tunnels of a sleeping boarding school, totally sold me on the book. I don’t know about you. And that was my first author interview so I hope you enjoyed it :)
Monday, March 24, 2008
I guess I should start the beginning, which is how I came upon the Beacon. Actually my best friend Katie’s ex boyfriend first discovered it. Apparently he used to drink there underage (something that they are not lax about anymore, I can assure you). When Katie moved to
We hung out in the back alcove of the bar by the dart machines. I actually got pretty good at darts for a while there and Katie and I totally dominated the jukebox. The bar was never too busy, which we liked just fine. Thursday nights was when Scott, the owner, worked, so we got to know him pretty well. We came in on the occasional Wednesday and Friday as well, so we also got to know Jme, a female bartender, who would eventually become one of my good friends.
After a few months, I considered the Beacon to be ‘my bar.’ I’d never had a bar before and never thought I’d be a bar person. I’d had a club in
I was still pretty gothy looking when I started hanging out at the Beacon. I had black hair with varying multi-colored streaks. I dressed like the art school student I was, sorta punk, sorta goth, sorta arty, but overall just different. The younger crowd that comes into the Beacon is generally just local Forest Parkers or the kids that go to Concordia or Dominican, which are both religious schools, so I definitely stood out. I think my unique look plus my friendly nature and the fact that I was female (it may be sexist, but apparently boobs bring in more customers) led Scott to start asking me if I wanted a job.
“But my only experience with making drinks are the ones I make for myself,” I told him. “Don’t I need to go to bartending school or something.”
He waved off my concern with “No, I’d teach you what you needed to know. You wouldn’t be making anything fancy.”
He also told me that he generally found bartenders by approaching regulars. I privately pondered if this was the best method seeing as, um, if we were regulars, we might be drunks without the best work ethics. I guess the method worked for him more often than not, though.
I told him that I would think about it. At the time I was working at
My training lasted a little over an hour. Scott showed me how to operate the cash register, how to pour a beer, how to change a keg, and a few other random things like how to make popcorn. I got sprayed with beer at one point, but I’d prepared for that by wearing an old t-shirt. What I was not prepared for was the fact that I was expected to prepare the food that was on the Beacon’s limited menu. I hadn’t realized that menu included anything other than pizza and fries, both of which I was comfortable making. I was disgusted to find out that it also included burgers and once a week was a pork chop day.
“Um, I did tell you I’m vegan, right?” I asked Scott as he demonstrated how to fire up the grill.
“Yeah.” He shrugged, seeming confused as to why I was bringing this up.
“Yeah, well I’ve never prepared meat in my life. I have no idea how long it is supposed to cook or whatever.”
“Oh.” Scott gave me a look like maybe I was a little weirder than he thought. Then he threw out a random number of minutes per side that I should cook the meat. I wrote it down with the rest of my notes like “Keg gas in 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock position when changing keg” and “Enter price, then code, then total.” I don’t remember what the random number of minutes was because it turned out to be wrong.
I was extremely anxious about the meat cooking. My personal ethics were in an uproar, but I needed the job. I consulted Katie, who was in cooking school and she told me how the meat was supposed to look, but I still doubted my abilities to judge if it was done. I told her, “Part of me doesn’t care if I food poison them, part of me feels like they deserve it for eating flesh.”
“Uhhh, I’m not so sure about that attitude,” Katie said. My mom had the same response and she agreed to be my guinea pig. She’d come in on my first day of work and help me cook a burger and then eat it to make sure it was ok. She’s a good mom.
She came, she ate lunch, she stuck around until my first customer came in. I’m not sure who that person was though I’d venture it was Marty or Mr. Howe. I didn’t kill anyone with my cooking though the first time I made a pork chop, I poured ketchup all over it instead of the chop sauce. I didn’t know. Scott’s vague instructions were that the chop sauce would be red stuff in a pitcher in the fridge. Why the hell was there ketchup in a pitcher in a fridge? And yeah, maybe I should have noticed the consistency, but it always stressed me out whenever I had to cook meat. After about a year, I avoided being scheduled on pork chop day and I pulled rank like Jme did and refused to make burgers for anyone but my favorite regulars.
I didn’t live down the pork chop/ketchup thing for months, though, especially if Tim was around. He’s the kind of guy that if he thinks something is hilarious, he’s gonna keep telling it over and over and over. It kinda made me want to throttle him, but Tim’s a good guy. All my regulars are. And I’ll tell you about them in the next installment…
I hope this installment thing is working for you. I’m trying to keep my blogs from getting too long, which they still seem to be in comparison to the others I read. It just goes to show why I’m a novelist and not a short story writer, I guess. I hope you are liking the tales from the Beacon. It’s kind of an experiment to take a topic or period of my life that I am thinking about or personally find semi-interesting and riff on it for a week or two. I guess it’s the “life” part of my life, words, & rock ‘n’ roll theme for my blog ‘cause I can’t just talk writing all the time, it would probably get pretty boring. I don’t know, lemme know what you think…
Sunday, March 23, 2008
What's so freakin' great about the Beacon? Well, it has ambiance like no other place. It's a bar that has been around since before or maybe just after prohibition, so it has the old tin ceilings, a traditional Chicago-style bar, and whenever it changes hands, no one takes their decorations with them. Above the bar is a gorgeous painting of the Chicago skyline in the early sixties, pre-Sears Tower and all the skyscrapers. The wall is filled with random photos from a nude Marilyn Monroe to a portrait of Marilyn Monroe to a document that outlines the eleven stages of drunkenness (it includes "witty and charming" phase one and two, ends with "bulletproof" and my favorite is number five "fuck dinner"). Model airplanes hang from the ceiling at one end of the bar and a pair of legs in fishnet stockings hang from a hole in the ceiling near the men's bathroom. The owner has not put a lot into repairing or updating the place, so sometimes when the people in the apartment above empty their bathtub, the water leaks down, which sort of sucks, but is sort of hilarious because it happens right from between the fishnetted lady legs. The jukebox hasn't really been updated since he bought the place in '97, so there is still a Ricky Martin cd in there along with all the bands I loved in high school from Nirvana, the Replacements and Jane's Addiction to guilty pleasure the Gin Blossoms. I've suggested some modernization for the jukebox, but was largely ignored although a White Stripes cd was recently added. And we'll never get one of those new-fangled download from the internet jukeboxes...
But more important than the fabulous decor, it is truly neighborhood dive bar. Not a hipster dive bar where the surroundings are scuzzy, but the clientèle are cooler than thou twenty-somethings. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've probably noticed that I have no tolerance for pretentiousness. It bugs the shit out of me when the punk rock or "freak" kids are just as snobby as the kids they hated in high school. I didn't hang out with the Tau Gamma girls in high school (yes, we had a sorority at our high school and I am not trying to stereotype, but every girl that I met who was a part of it was bitchy to me) and I'm not gonna hang out with people who have the same exact attitude but happen to have cool tattoos.
Okay, rant aside, the Beacon is full of real people. It's a very motley crew-- from Molly and Tim, the couple who is my age and are types I'd usually hang with, to Dave, who is a bit older and is some sort of businessman (I don't know what he does, but he owns a Mercedes and season White Sox tickets which he gives freely to his friends when he is traveling, he's a very cool dude), to Pat, the carpenter who is in his fifties, to Mr. Howe, the retired labor negotiator, to Jim and Sue, the couple in their sixties who live down the block--but somehow they all come together as friends because they frequent the same bar. They're genuinely nice folks who don't give a rat's ass how many differences you may have, they'll focus on your commonalities. Case in point, Sue.
Sue's a retired woman from the South, on the surface level what does she have in common with me, who, when we met, was a twenty-four year-old art school student? Our love for cats and books. Sue loves to read. That's what she does all day. That's what she's done all her life. She'd write too and tells me she writes amazing letters, but claims she only writes well when she's drunk. Last night when I saw her, I showed her the advance copy of my book and she asked if she could just read the first page. Of course, I told her she could and when she finished reading it she had tears in her eyes and told me that my character, a teenager who grew up in the early nineties on punk rock, had a rebellious streak that reminded her of her own teenage years in the fifties when rock 'n' roll was born. Needless to say, that was one of the highest compliments I've received on my writing and I can't wait to see what Sue has to say about the rest of the book.
Jesus, this blog is getting long and I have so much more to say... I think I will make it blog about the Beacon week, so I can tell you more of my insights from my drink-slinging days. Because let me tell you, they were a real study in character and in humanity. So yeah, stay tuned in!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Just wanted to let you all know that I did indeed have a blissful day yesterday and am looking forward to tonight’s Literary Rock ‘n’ Roll Story Week Event at Metro (the best concert venue in Chicago, maybe in the country!), which I’m sure will be awesome and a bit tipsy. I’ll be sure to tell ya all about that stuff soon, but for now, go read my latest entry on the MTV Books blog. It was definitely inspired by yesterday’s visit to the
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Tomorrow will be total bliss. It will be like spending the day at the beach in
It will be that good even though it’s going to be 44 and cloudy and I’ll have to get up earlier than usual because of a longer commute that involves changing trains downtown. And why will it be that good because I’m going to Story Week!
Story Week is a week-long literary festival run my alma mater the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. It’s basically the Lollapalooza of the book world. Tomorrow there is a publishing bootcamp breakfast and a panel on Guerilla Marketing for Authors. Then I get to meet up with my friend Hillary Carlip who is a featured author this year (that’ll be me next year, yay!) and hang out and catch up and she’ll probably give me boatloads of advice ‘cause she’s awesome like that. Then, I’ll hide away somewhere and spill all the inspiration I’ve gathered onto the page until it is time for Hillary’s reading at 7:30 at Women and Children First (you should go if you can, she is amazing!)
Yep, people, that right there is my dream day.
Plus I get to be downtown in the
See, that’s the thing, my walk to work is depressing. I know I saw some depressing shit in the South Loop too, but mostly I was just happy being surround by the big buildings, catching the breeze (or gust, more appropriately) off the lake and being a part of the heart of Chicago.
When I first moved back home to attend
We went to the kick-off Story Week event on Wednesday and man, it just made me so happy I almost cried (well, I had had a couple glasses of wine), seeing old friends, hugging them, and most of all just listening to damn good stories. I need that. I thrive on it.
And the world I found at
God, I just feel like I’m going home again. I miss being surrounded by the writing vibe so constantly. My office job pays the bills but it’s draining and uninspiring. Please please please let me sell enough books that I can go back to doing stuff at
Anyway, tell me about the place that feels like your real home and/or the things you like to do so much that devoting some serious time to them feels like vacation.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
So I've been showing off the advanced copies of IWBYJR and inevitably everyone flips it over and reads my bio which says "Stephanie Kuehnert got her start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade..." And they all pause and look up at me, laugh awkwardly and go, "Really?"
Um, yeah. I thought it was pretty common, actually. (Informal survey in the comments section, please. How many of you, whether you consider yourself a writer or not, wrote angst-filled poetry in middle school or high school? I bet many girls did. Guys, maybe not so much.)
But in case anybody really thought that I am somehow too cool to have ever written bad, angsty poetry, the proof has arrived! I used to enter these contests for this poetry organization that has now become poetry.com. These contests were really a rip off because no matter how much your poem sucked, they'd put it in an anthology and then try to sell you the anthology. My mom has a few of these bulky volumes that we bought before realizing we were being scammed. (Well, maybe we knew all along, but seeing your work in print as a teenager is just too cool and I guess for my mom it was an expensive version of hanging my art on the fridge.)
Anyway since this organization is not poetry.com, my old crappy poems are online! I just discovered them today and am mortified, but since I'm also a bit of a masochist, I'll share my mortification. My poetry notebooks are packed away somewhere so I can give you only approximate dates and vague remembrances of what they are about. Honestly my poems from mid-high school all sound pretty much the same: like a bad version of a Hole or Babes in Toyland song, all tattered dresses, blood, and betrayal. So *serious blushing* here they are.
Black Veiled Faces- This one would be from the end of sophomore year right after the end of my worst relationship ever. I was so in love with the guy and he totally played mind games with me and did other Very Bad Things. I had a hard time admitting how awful he was at first and I can tell this is from that period. Full of self-loathing and suicide references. About as angsty as you can get.
Breaking the Dishes- This is probably from early junior year. Still dealing with aforementioned relationship, but have now realized that I was not responsible for Very Bad Things and am trying to deal with my anger.
Polly's Poem- Ah, finally a happy one. This is late junior year, I suspect. About my friend/older sister figure Polly. I think it's about her falling in love with someone, but I'm not entirely sure.
Glass and Holographic Tinmen- This is from the end of the poetry writing phase. I was probably 18 or 19. It's either about a drug-addicted high school boyfriend or the boyfriend I had at the time who also had a problem with excess... Or it might be about both of them. I did that a lot.
*Hangs head in shame* Well, there is my sordid writing past. I guess it was better that I outed myself than risk others stumbling upon them. It shows how I've evolved though. My initial short stories were that bad, too. Feel free to share an embarrassing teenage moment to make me feel better!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Not me. As much as I am ready for July (release of IWBYJR plus my birthday), I really like spring. It's my second favorite season to fall. Keri Mikulski wrote a really great blog at YA Enchanting Reviews on the coming of spring today. I commented there as to why I love spring. In fact it is beginning to give fall a run for it's money. I love the smells of fall, the color of the leaves, and Halloween. But since I bought my townhouse a few years ago and started honing my gardening skills, spring is all the more meaningful to me.
I have the front unit of my building, so I have potential for garden in the front and on the side. My mom is the one with the green thumb and she helped me rip out bricks on this ugly patio so we could put in a garden the first spring I moved in. We planted mostly herbs in that garden We also battled with the rocky soil out front (someone had put a bunch of rocks around the bushes at one point instead of using the spot for lovely flowers). We've got a ton of lilies out there along with the usual marigolds and other plants my mom finds. Last year we dug out some grass along the side for a third bed. Part of it has my tomatoes and peppers, but mostly it's my prairie bed. Illinois is naturally prairie land after all and I have my whole Laura Ingalls Wilder fetish. So we planted a lot of black-eyed susans and coneflowers and best of all: Sunflowers! That's what you are seeing in the picture above. My pride and joy of last spring/summer.
I'm not quite the green thumb my mom is yet, but I can't tell you how much I've come to love gardening. The main reason I want a real house someday (I love my townhouse) is because I would have a real backyard with way more room. Maybe I could even grown all my vegetables fresh! That's what's so satisfying about gardening. You play in the dirt and then you see results. Planting and maintaining a garden is a real stress reliever for me. It's my quiet time on spring and summer evenings, outside watering the plants. And it's a real bonding experience for me and my mom, who moved into a condo the summer before last, so now this is her only garden, too.
After seeing the ice cream line outside the hospital (weird, I know, but I work in the medical district), I rushed home to see if I could see any of my tulips or irises peaking out yet. No sign unfortunately. I hope they made it through winter. Then again, winter is not really over yet. It's supposed to be 39 again tomorrow. Sigh.
But share your thoughts of spring with me to keep me warm!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
And now, as promised, here is my other WIP. The first chapter is a bit longer than the Revenge/Persephone novel. And it's not really a first chapter, it's a prologue. The story actually picks up two years after this. And it will be told in third person by three different narrators. Tamra, who narrates this section, Trevor, who you meet here, and Jenny, who you meet in the next chapter (or the real first chapter?). So I'm not sure this one chapter quite gives the sense of the story as the first chap of the other WIP does. But maybe I'm saying that because right now I feel more pulled into the other story. I had another really productive writer’s group last night working on that one. But I still want to do the first three chaps of both and let agent (and hopefully editor!) help decide. And first impressions are always good because I will be writing both books eventually, I just have to figure out which one is immediate and which I save for later.
So comment away on this and the Revenge/Persephone excerpt, which you can find here.
“Is that it?” Hope giggled.
“I don’t know.” Kat squinted uselessly through the darkness in the direction Hope gestured. “I can’t even tell if there’s a house over there.”
They might as well have been wearing blindfolds. Going for a walk in the middle of nowhere
Hope inhaled sharply from her cigarette. The cherry cast a glow that momentarily lit up her smirking face. “Screw it. If we walk past it, we’ll just keep right on walking.”
“What?” Kat’s lighter flared, the brief spark showcasing a pierced eyebrow arched in intrigue. She exhaled a thick cloud of smoke.
“We’ll just keep walking,” Hope insisted. “You know, instead of running away, we’ll walk! We’ll keep going until we eventually hit a highway and then we’ll hitchhike. We could go anywhere! There’s three of us, so nothing creepy or bad will happen ‘cause we’ll have each other’s backs.” She bounced up and down in her Converse sneakers, getting excited. “We’ll be gone without a trace. No bus tickets. No plane tickets. We’ll just start over somewhere. Where should we go?
Kat laughed, but her dreds swayed side to side as she shook her head no. “
“Too hot,” Kat objected.
“Too plastic,” added Hope.
“Fine,” Tamra shrugged, trying not to be irked by the way they always teamed up to shoot her down. “The first person who stops to pick us up, we’ll just go in whatever direction they’re headed for as far as they’re willing to take us.”
“I like it!” Hope declared, flicking her cigarette at the gravel road and bounding over in between Kat and Tamra.
She put her arms around both of their shoulders, forcing them to walk in sync with her in long, straight-legged strides. The Monkees walk. Hope loved cheesy stuff like that. Reruns from twenty years before she was born.
She belted out, “Hey, hey we’re the Monkees!” loud and pitch-perfect. Those pipes were the reason she used to get the lead in all the school musicals. Then she growled, “People say we monkey around!” with that whiskey-and-cigarettes Janis Joplin voice. When she’d been caught drinking like Janis, she’d gotten banned from school activities.
Of course, with Hope singing at the top of her lungs like that, they weren’t lost in the woods surrounding Hope’s family’s cabin for all that long. Eventually, Ethan shouted from somewhere off to their right, “Hey, keep it down! You’ll wake the neighbors!” Then he and Trevor stumbled out onto the road, stoned off their asses, Trevor planting a kiss on Tamra’s lips. But in those few minutes that they were lost and plotting to run away and start a new life together, Tamra felt closer to Kat than she had since junior high and closer to Hope than… well, ever.
It was one of those movie moments when life seems so perfect that someone must have scripted it. Tamra’s relationship with Trevor finally felt solid after more than two years of hooking up and then breaking up over something stupid—usually something to do with Hope, who’d been his best friend since before kindergarten. Tamra was also beginning to shake the third wheel feeling she’d had around Kat and Hope for the past three years even though Kat had been Tamra’s best friend practically since birth and Hope had only glommed onto Kat in art class freshman year. No, not glommed on, Tamra corrected herself. She planned to stop thinking of Hope as the interloper who consistently hijacked Kat and Trevor’s attention and start thinking of her as a real friend.
Senior year would be starting in two weeks and after the trip to Hope’s family’s cabin, Tamra was convinced it was going to be the best year of her life like all the magazines and books and movies seemed to promise. She could picture that scene of her doing the Monkees walk with Hope and Kat in the credits of some TV show about being seventeen… But she should have realized that no one ever stays happy in those TV shows for long.
One month later: Chocolate. Headlights. A loud belch from Ethan. Sizzling bacon from someone’s late night order of Moons Over My Hammy. Sticky vinyl booth against her thigh. Taste. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Tamra remembered exactly what each of her five senses was attuned to the instant her life changed.
She was sitting at Denny’s with Trevor beside her and Ethan across the table. They were waiting on Hope and Kat. Ethan passed the time by being a jackass as usual, belching out the alphabet or something like that. Trevor laughed and Tamra did, too. Then, she paused, wrapped her lips around the straw of her milkshake and sucked. Chocolate flooded her taste buds. Flooded, then stopped. Because of the headlights, Hope’s headlights.
The car seemed to be headed straight for the restaurant, aimed directly at the big, glass window that Trevor sat beside. It swerved at the last minute. Did a 180 almost. Funny, Tamra didn’t remember tires squealing. They must have squealed, but something covered the sound. Probably a very loud belch of Ethan’s. One she should have laughed at, but instead she watched Hope spill out of the driver’s side door: hysterical, tripping over her own feet, hands plastered to her cheeks like that painting, “The Scream.”
Tamra should have nudged Trevor and declared, “Oh my god, Hope!” But she didn’t. She just watched Hope stumble toward the restaurant. Tamra let the chocolate shake flow back into the straw. Her lips parted. A split second passed before Trevor saw what she saw. Maybe he noticed Tamra wasn’t laughing at Ethan when she should have been. Maybe he heard the tiny pop as she detached sticky lip-glossed lips from the straw. Or, most likely, he was just psychically attuned to Hope.
After all, as soon as he caught a glimpse of Hope through the window, he shoved Tamra out of the booth to get to her. Shoved Tamra so hard, so abruptly that the chocolate milkshake toppled. Thick, brown liquid cascaded across the table causing Ethan to jump up, declaring, “Shit!” Then, he finally glanced out the window and repeated more urgently, “Shhhh-it!”
They met Hope just outside the entrance to Denny’s. And, of course, Hope launched herself into Trevor’s arms. Black and purple makeup smeared in raccoon rings around her blue eyes. Before Trevor could even say anything, Hope wrenched herself away and pounded her fists against his chest. Spit frothed from her red lips like a rabid dog. Then, finally, the wail, “Robbie!”
The scream into the night. “Robbie!”
And Tamra tried to place which of Hope’s boyfriends Robbie was. Current? Ex? And what had he done to upset her this bad? This was melodramatic even for drama queen Hope. Hope generally drove Snow White, her aging white, convertible Cavalier with care because it had been her brother Robert’s….
Damn. Tamra felt guilty for every bad thought she’d ever had about Hope the moment she realized that Hope wasn’t talking about one of her fresh-out-of-or-soon-destined-for-Joliet-State-Correctional-Facilities boyfriends. She meant her brother. The soft-spoken, mild-mannered, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly, older brother who’d moved into the city a year ago to go to cooking school.
Everyone but Hope called him Robert, not Robbie, but Tamra should have known. It shouldn’t have taken looking at the car to connect. And when she realized, she just stared at the car. At the rust around the wheel-well on the driver’s side. The dents in the hood from the hail storm last spring. And finally at Kat in the passenger’s seat, her rainbow-colored dreds tumbling loose from her messy ponytail like usual, but she sat staring straight ahead in pure shock. Normally Kat would have trailed Hope, trying desperately to resolve her crisis even though Trevor was always the only one who could.
While Tamra stared at Kat and Kat stared at Denny’s and Ethan stared at his feet uncomfortably, Trevor forced Hope’s wild eyes to focus on his and invoked that connection they shared just by softly speaking her name. “Hope?”
“They called me,” she stammered. “The police. The hospital. I don’t know!”
As her voice arced toward hysteria again, there was Trevor’s like a steady drumbeat, soothing, “Hope.”
“It happened on the train,” she gulped as Trevor enveloped her shaking hands in his. “In
Hope broke from Trevor’s grip again. Her fists flew helplessly at the air, at invisible versions of her brother’s attacker. Trevor caught her hands again, clapped them together between his. Her palms flattened together, pointed up. Praying hands.
“No one can reach my parents. They’re in
Hope was shaking and Trevor was comforting her and Kat was frozen and Ethan was stoned like always, so Tamra drove. It was her first time on the highway even though she’d had her license a year because Hope always drove and when Hope wasn’t around, Tamra walked. She liked walking. She and Trevor walked a lot. It was their thing. Driving was not Tamra’s thing. But she did it. Forty miles on the highway in the dark.
Tamra drove fast because she felt guilty. Especially when she glanced in the rearview mirror and found herself resenting Hope because both Trevor and Ethan had their arms wrapped around her. Their messy brown hair pressed against her wilted blond spikes.
Tamra drove even faster because she was scared. Especially when Kat still wouldn’t move, but managed to whisper, “Drive as fast as you can.” The words creaked from her blood-drained lips and she sounded so sick, like they should have been rushing her to the hospital.
But the main reason that Tamra held down the accelerator like her shoes were coated in cement was because she knew would blame herself forever if they didn’t make it in time. Which they didn’t. Robert died twenty minutes before they arrived at the hospital in
Two weeks after Robert’s funeral when Tamra showed up at Denny’s to meet her friends, who were all grief-stricken, but still trying to maintain some level of normalcy, she found Trevor lying stretched out across the maroon vinyl seat of their usual booth.
His head faced the wall, feet dangling in the aisle. He stared blankly at the neon green lights that spelled out “Ice Cream” above the cash register. Strangest of all: the thin wisp of smoke coming from the cigarette in his mouth. Trevor never smoked. Hadn’t even tried it once.
“Trevor! What’s wrong? Why are you smoking?” Tamra exclaimed, hovering over him, prepared to pull the cigarette from his lips.
“Hope and Kat left,” he said flatly, still fixated on that neon green glow.
Tamra’s gaze shifted to the table, to two empty coffee cups across from Trevor. They were lipstick-ringed.
Trevor still lay on the seat across from her, still spoke in a monotone. “I gave them sixty bucks. I told them to leave me a cigarette.”
“Where were they going?”
“Dunno. Said they were just going to walk down the highway.”
Tamra thought about the night at the cabin. The three of them. The silly plan. The Monkees walk. She also thought about how she didn’t have bleached, dyed, funky hair. Just the mousy brown stuff she’d been born with, parted straight down the middle, cut to her chin with bangs to her eyebrows. And she wore clear lipgloss. And she didn’t smoke. And the words she said were selfish, but she didn’t think, just spoke them. “I know I’ve never been as cool as Hope, but Kat was my best friend first. Why didn’t they take me?”
Trevor slammed his hands down on the seat with a loud thwack and pushed himself up to glare at Tamra. He spoke well above the din of the restaurant. “Hope’s brother was murdered. Murdered. My best friend’s brother was brutally stabbed and now she’s run off to god knows where and I couldn’t do anything to stop any of it! But to you, it’s a popularity contest?” He shoved his coffee cup off the table, shattering it. “Tamra, you are so shallow.” Then, he got up and left the restaurant.
Senior year was nothing like Tamra imagined it. Trevor didn’t speak to her for half of it until Ethan finally managed to bridge the gap between them. The three of them had to be friends after all. They only had each other. Because, Hope and Kat? They never came back.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
PS. Like my new layout? Thank you Genius Webmistress, Jenny Hassler! I was told you couldn't customize blogspot backgrounds, but apparently there is nothing Jenny can't do.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
And I'm still happy to take more feedback on the revenge/Persephone story in the last blog. I'll be posting the runaway novel excerpt later this week.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Oh and this is also the first time I've ever written in present tense...
Seph Morley is playing with fire. She’s sitting on the hood of her shiny red Mercedes SLK in the parking lot of the Paradise Diner lighting match after match and flicking them through the air while she yaks on her cell phone. It’s not a very smart thing to do with the Santa Anas blowing. If one of those matches flew just a little bit further and landed the dry scrub grass at the edge of the lot… whoosh! All of Malibu is burning.
I picture it for a second: the Paradise surrounded by a ring of fire, everyone running out but me. I’ll stay, let the smoke suffocate me. But then I see Angie’s face in the imagined flames, remembering the way her cheeks would flush whenever our father praised her. She was definitely daddy’s little girl.
Yeah, it’s one of those nights when I see Angie everywhere. I stare into the cup of coffee in front of me that’s quickly growing cold, someone shakes the table slightly, and the way the liquid sloshes reminds me of how I’d jump into the pool while Ange stretched out on a float, reading a book and trying to tan that pale skin that usually burned. She’d nearly topple in the water and Dostoevsky or whatever huge tome she was in engrossed in would get soaked. I could see the way her mouth curved into a half-frown half-smirk as she chastised, “Stevie!” when I came to the surface of the water. I miss annoying her.
Even the flashes of light from Seph’s matches bring back memories, reminding me of fireflies, camping trips in the mountains when Angie and I were kids. Her eyes always lit up every time she caught a firefly. She’d gently cup it in her hands and then release. She didn’t want to hurt the little bug because its life was too sacred. Why wasn’t her own life fucking sacred?
I wrench my eyes away from the window and the firefly-like flickers outside when the waitress approaches to take our orders. I don’t know what I want to eat. All I can think about is how much Angie liked Paradise’s fries and the blueberry pie.
A woman in a blue silk dress walks past, squeezing past the waitress to fit down the narrow aisle. I hear the silk rustle against the back of the waitress’s polyester uniform. I watch the sleeves of the dress flutter and that brings me back to the worst memory of all.
Three weeks ago, searching for Angie in her big walk-in closet. She sat in there sometimes to think, so I’m pushing through shirts and dresses looking at the floor expecting to see bare feet sticking out, but instead my hand grazes another hand. A clammy hand. And I look up startled and find my sister hanging in between her dresses.
Hanging from a noose. Her chin drooping down against her chest. Her soft, blond hair veiling her face. Her feet, toes painted with grape-colored nail polish, just inches from the floor, from solid ground that would have stopped her from strangling herself. But Angie wanted to die. There were so many things she could have grabbed onto if she’d reconsidered her decision, but she hadn’t. Her limbs hung loosely against her sides.
Bile burned up my throat when I saw her like that and it does it again as I remember. Yeah, the memories of Angie alive are rough, but the ones of the night I found her…
I nudge Trey in the shoulder indicating I want out of the booth. He gets up and no one even questions me as I walk away, out the front door of the diner. I’ve been doing it for weeks, ever since Angie’s death. Maybe I’ll be back. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll drive home. Maybe I’ll start walking somewhere, anywhere, hopefully into that place where you can forget all about your dead sister.
As I exit, I’m not paying attention to Seph. I’ve completely forgotten about her until I hear her voice. “Wraith… Wraith… No, shut up a second!”
A match lights, a match extinguishes. It moves in an arc, but not down toward the cement like before. Seph strikes the match against the box to light it and then she brings it down, swiping it against the bare stretch of leg above her combat boot, putting it out against her own skin before dropping it to the ground. I watch her do this three times in quick succession as she grows more agitated with Wraith, her sleazy rock star boyfriend.
I hear Angie’s objection in my head. “He’s not sleazy. He’s actually really nice.”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “He’s got a dumb nickname—”
“Stage name,” Angie corrected.
“And he’s twenty-three. What does he want with a high school chick?”
“Girls mature faster than guys. That’s why even though you may be five minutes older, I’m, like, five years wiser.”
I blink back tears thinking of the way Angie’s blue eyes always danced when she made one of those cheesy twin jokes. I glance up as I’m passing Seph. I don’t really want to look at her though, so instead I watch her light and extinguish a match. Red welts streak her calves. I really didn’t want to see that.
Angie’s arms were covered in red welts when I found her, too. She’d scratched H’s into her arms and legs. I had no idea why. Just a tiny part of the bigger mystery of why did my seemingly happy-go-lucky, Stanford-bound sister hang herself.
I can’t hold back the tears at all now, so I hurry past Seph without a word or a nod of hello. I’m about to break into a sprint when she clicks her phone shut and shouts after me, “Hey Angie’s twin, wait a sec!”
She’s always called me Angie’s twin. It’s been her nickname for me as long as I can remember, but it’s the last thing I want to be called anymore. I whirl around and scream at Seph, unleashing all the anger on her that I wish I could direct at Angie. “I’m not Angie’s twin anymore. Angie’s dead! My name is fucking Stevie. You’ve known me since I was three years old, so call me by my goddamn name!”
Seph blinks her wide eyes slowly and says, “Sucks being known for a dead person, doesn’t it?” Her voice is stripped of the teasing tone she’d used when she called out to me, stripped of the anger from her argument with Wraith. It’s so cold and hollow that even she shivers. Or maybe she’s shivering at the memory of finding her dad dead. She was ten. He was the most famous rock ‘n’ roll casualty since Kurt Cobain.
I start to say, “I’m sorry,” but before I can get the words out, she’s waving them away. She tosses the empty matchbox to the ground and hops in the driver’s seat of her convertible.
She tells me, “Get in.” And I do exactly as she says.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Ah, the onslaught of emotion. Tears came to my eyes. I did a happy dance. I just can't tell you how good it feels to find out that something I worked so hard on emotionally resonated for someone the way it did with Jocelyn. I really hope this book strikes a chord (no pun intended) like that for other people, too. Yay! And I'm just so glad that the first review was good, too. I mean, that is seriously a relief. I'm sure there will be bad reviews, but when I get them, I will be able to revisit this one.
So, this is definitely tied for best thing that happened this week with the Story Week thing. Though I have to say the Gutter Twins.... fucking amazing. Seriously. They played for an hour and a half. I didn't crawl into bed until 4 am because it was a late concert. I'm tired today (in fact, apparently I took a little cat nap during my acupuncture session. Amazing that one can fall asleep with needles in them, huh?), but it was all worth it. God, it was so good. Greg Dulli is so much fun. And Mark Lanegan is just a presence. A hulking presence, clinging to the microphone like a security blanket, like he's giving you so much of himself it's scaring him and he wishes he could disappear. And Greg Dulli plays all these instruments, but Mark, he just sings. Like he knows that with that voice, it's enough. I've been listening to his solo albums all day.
Sigh, but now it is time to figure out if I am reading something at open mic and get ready to eat tamales. Yay tamales! This is the best Saturday in forever!