mikidemillion

Archive for the ‘Don't Read This – It's Personal’ Category

Ride the Storyline Express – with Bad Boy and Backpack

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, fiction, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Story, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on May 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

What’s the Storyline Express?  Here’s the link to where it started:

https://mikidemillion.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/writers-block-ride-the-storyline-express/

*

Another ride along the mikidemillion route

Here’s another happenin’ on the mikidemillion route:

Years ago my alarm went off at 4:00am sharp every weekday so I could be at the bus corner to catch the 5:00am bus.  Let me tell you, no one is up and moving at that hour unless they get paid for it.  I had to be in the office before the stock market opened so I waited on the quiet corner by 4:50am just in case the bus came early.  Not fun, but necessary.  An older woman showed up most mornings to catch the same bus.

She was feisty and mouthy.  I liked to see her while at the same groaned inside when I did.  She was much older than me and, as I’ve noticed in most close-to-retirement agers, seemed to ‘take no crap from no one’.

Me, not so much, a bit meek around people I don’t know and not fond of chatting to everyone I meet.

I don’t think this woman was chatty, it was more like she carried on the conversation in her head out loud.  I just happened to be there to hear it.  But she did talk directly to me at times.

“Oh, you have herpes!” she’d said once, before her usual morning hello.

She’d stunned me into silence.  The confusion on my face must have been obvious.

“On your lip,” she pointed to a newly forming cold sore.

“That’s not herpes!” I told her.  I most surely did not have herpes and was not going to let this old lady publicly claim I did.

“Oh, yes it is,” she said, almost sounded happy about it.

“I really don’t think I’ve had herpes since I was a kid.  Been getting cold sores on and off my entire life.”   It was the first time I was really mad at her, and resolved to stop participating in conversations with her.  She didn’t seem to notice.  Kept on talking.

Later, I found out that she was partly right, that the herpes simplex virus has been identified as causing cold sores. Most of us carry this type 1 or type 2 virus.  Normally, it’s dormant but when it becomes active, it begins on the lip or nose and causes a cold sore.

Cold sore or no cold sore, I listened to this woman’s work problems every morning, how she always spoke her mind and told the boss exactly what she thought.  It was something she did everyday.  Part of the normal routine when working with people she considered idiotic.

One thing I knew, this was a tough old bird, as they say.  I was secretly relieved that she was not in my workplace.  But I respected her commitment to stand up for herself.  I began to enjoy her little discussions with herself in the mornings.

Don’t misunderstand me, she did not talk like a lunatic.  She was intelligent and independent.  I think that maybe she didn’t have too many people to talk to in her life anymore.  She’d mentioned a few times that her daughter visited once in awhile but I had the sense she felt neglected by her.  I was someone who was a perfect vehicle for a sounding board.  Captive audience, didn’t say much back, and, as the weeks wore on, was actually interested in some of what she had to say.

When she didn’t show up one week it surprised me that I really did miss her.  When it extended into the next week I worried.

Finally, there she was, walking along the darkened sidewalk to the dimly lit corner where we waited for the bus.  I smiled when I saw her.  But her walk wasn’t brisk and purposeful as before.  She said hello and seemed sullen.  She didn’t speak.

“How are you?”  I said, the first time I’d ever initiated the conversation.

“Not good,” she said after a pause.

My heart dropped. “What’s wrong?”

And she told me the story.

The bus had been crowded when it’d stopped at the corner.  As usual, everyone congregated at the front of the bus so there was no room for new passengers to get on but the aisle-way in the back of the bus was clear.  She’d forced her way onto the bus, knowing there was room in the back, and asked people to move back.

Some complied but a young man with a large backpack blocked her way.  She couldn’t get past him.  She asked several times for him to move his backpack out of the way.  He didn’t.  She increased the volume of her voice, letting him know she’d like to get by.  Still no response.  Then she tapped him on the shoulder.  Several times.  He finally turned to look at her.  She asked again that he move.  He leaned left and she had just enough space to get by him.  No sooner had she stepped past he pushed her.  Hard, on the back.  She lost her footing and tumbled to the floor of the bus.  Hard, on her back.

And there she lay.  She knew she was hurt, but no one offered assistance.  The people on the bus let her lay there for minutes until a lone young man knelt and put out his hand to help her.  The only one to ask if she was okay.

That’s when my morning companion started to cry.  Tears came to my eyes as well.  She wiped her eyes and said, “You know, I’m not crying because of what that guy with the backpack did to me, but what makes me cry is that one act of human kindness I felt from the man who helped me up.”  She stopped, deep in thought.  “Someone I didn’t even know.  Isn’t that strange?” she said, “how we accept all of the horrible things in life as that’s the way it is but when someone shows they care it touches the deepest emotion.”

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Ride the Storyline Express – What a Catch!

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on April 3, 2010 at 4:51 am

For those new to the concept, when I tag-surf WordPress I notice posts about Writer’s Block.  I suggested a way to get around the block – ride public transportation.  The stories, people, the stories!

If we share what we see out there and post it, then other writers might read it and get ideas from it.  SHARE THE RIDE.  If you want to join, either comment here, leave a link to your own story, or post your story and tag it with Ride the Storyline Express.  We’ll find you.

Here a link to the other stories I’ve posted to date:

https://mikidemillion.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/ride-the-storyline-express-with-booger-boy/

and

https://mikidemillion.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/writers-block-ride-the-storyline-express/

With that said, let’s get to the next story on the mikidemillion route:

For months I’d noticed the man with the fishing pole.  He’s hard to miss,  a big man who takes up a full seat and then some of the next.  He sits in the front of the bus on the sideways seats.  Two halves of a fishing pole stick out of a big white bucket held steady on the floor between ankles of yellow rubber boots.  He’s an older man but even with hair whitened by gray he doesn’t look retirement age.  Bib overalls latch across his chest, an unusual sight on a bus packed with students and 9-to-5ers.

There is a reality show on television about the life of crab fishermen.  I’m mesmerized by it.  Rough and tumble men, king crab fishermen, ride the icy Bering Sea in search of a big catch for an even bigger payoff.  It’s not the kind of job a soft office-worker-bee would consider.  These are stubbled men with scars.  A Saturday night drunken trip to the tattoo parlor would be laughable to them.  Think you’re tough?   The scratch of a tattoo piercing is nothing compared to the real pain of a shoulder wrenched out of a socket or a chunk of flesh gouged out of the arm.  All while chilled to the bone.  Tattoo?  hah!  For the weak ones.

So I looked at this fish-out-of-water bus rider with a preconceived notion he was someone with strength to tough it out, a natural provider.  Romanticizing the rugged life.  Was he a loner?  Did he give his heart to the sea?  Maybe a deep thinker, spending hours on a sun-filled dock, listening to water lapping onto shore, and analyzing why we are here on this earth.

I sat near him one morning.  After a few blocks he pushed his disassembled pole aside to reach into the pocket of his overalls.  A cell phone appeared in his hand.  What a disappointment.  Captain Ahab would never pull out a cell phone, no matter what century he was in.  Was my legendary seaman just a guy who fished?

“What are you doing?” he said to the phone.  His voice loud and graveled, at least that was as it should be.  He listened for a second, leaned forward, then exploded.

“I told you I want the clothes washed this morning.  Did you do the dishes?  I don’t want to see dishes in the sink when I get home.  And make lunch early.  What?  Do what I tell you, you hear me?  No, I want you to do it now.  Shut up and do what I say, you hear me?”

He was loud, loud enough to bring everyone on the bus to a stunned silence.  He clipped his phone closed, dropped it in his pocket and settled back in his seat.

There was a confused moment when my mind re-categorized the guy in my brain.  From fisherman to jerk.

“Oh, aren’t you a big man?” a woman sitting across from him said.

“What’s your problem?” the man stared at her.

“My problem is how you talk to women.”

“It’s not your problem so stay out of it.”

“Maybe you can talk to your woman like that, but not to me.”

“Yeah?  What are you going to do about it?”  He actually sneered at her.

“I’m not afraid of you.  Jerk.  I’m telling you, you can’t speak to women like that.  And some of us will stand up to you and let you know it.”

“You want to take this out to the sidewalk?  Come on, get off the bus and meet me outside.”

“You think I can’t beat you up?  Oh, what a small man you are, picking on women.  Jerk.”

“Want to get off the bus right now?”

“You are not worth my time.  And you’d better not put a hand on that poor woman you were talking to.  Bullies like you belong in jail.”

“Oh yeah,” the guy stands and speaks louder, “let’s go lady.”

The woman sits up higher in her seat.

The driver stops the bus at the corner and stands between them in the middle of the aisle.  They glare around the driver at one another, in lunging positions.  The driver puts out her hands to motion both back in their seats.  “Enough is enough,” the driver says.  “or one of you will have to get off here.”

They continue to stare at each other but neither says a word.

“Good,” the bus driver says and returns to her seat.

“Jerk,” the woman says again, not really under her breath.  Loud enough for those of us sitting nearby to hear.

Jerk, I think, not  aloud.  I’m all for protecting women and everything but my commitment isn’t strong enough to risk showing up at work with a bloody nose and black eye.  Especially when the woman to be protected is an unheard voice on the other end of a dead cell phone line.

And I think of  the guy I once romanticized.  What a catch.  That poor woman should have tossed him back into the water the moment he climbed into her boat.  There is no payoff for that cargo.

What’s interesting is the guy got off the bus after two more blocks.  Not his usual stop.  I’m usually off the bus before him and I had a long way to go.  And I haven’t seen him since.

It makes me wonder, when is the best time to defend an injustice?  Am I part of the problem?  Sitting and watching as the drama unfolds.  Or, is it better to pick battles that ensure results with minimal danger.  I’d like to think that woman on the bus made Mr. Yellow Boots think twice before barking at his wife.  I doubt it.  Probably made him angrier.  But it did make him change his route so that’s something.

And I’ll never assume a man with a pole is anything more than a man with a pole.

So, what about you?  Have a story to share?  Take us for a Ride on the Storyline Express!

Ride the Storyline Express – with Booger Boy

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on March 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

I wrote a piece about beating Writer’s Block by riding public transportation.  So many stories, so many lives passing by in front of your eyes.

If you missed the first story, here’s a link:

https://mikidemillion.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/writers-block-ride-the-storyline-express/

As mentioned in my first piece, help out fellow writers and post what you see along the way of your day.  Things at work, people on the train, or overheard conversations of someone on a cell phone.  All ideas for writers traveling that lonely stretch of writer’s block.  SHARE THE RIDE.  Add a link to your story under comments or simply tag your own story with Ride the Storyline Express.  We’ll find you.

Here’s another happening along the mikidemillion route:

I laugh when I see ads from city hall urging the masses to use public transportation.  Save energy.  Save the environment.  Save money.

Here’s a tip to city governments everywhere – the best advertisement to keep people off public transportation is to have them try public transportation.  No amount of advertising dollars can reverse that trend.  Am I the only one who understands this?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love riding the bus.  There are things that occur on the bus a writer couldn’t imagine possible without seeing it first.  Humanity.  That’s what I see.  humanity.

Sometimes I’ll get off a standing-room-only bus before my regular stop and catch one of the crosstown buses with seats available.  It’s inconvenient, but more than makes up for elbows in the face and backpacks gouging into the side for a miserable thirty minutes or more.  Most of the time I can expect the crosstown bus to provide a leisurely ride.  But this time was not to be a most-of-the-time ride.

It was a half-empty bus.  The sideways seat benches at the front, long enough for five people each, were occupied by a single person on the right-hand side.  I sat two seats back in the regular, front-facing seats.  The moment the man walked up the bus steps I knew something was wrong.

He jerked and stumbled to the empty sideways bench.  He practically slid across the plastic seating, partially lying on it with his legs kicking at the other end.

oh great.  a drunk.

All this and the bus hadn’t moved yet.

He managed somehow to sit upright as the bus pulled away.  Then I saw it.  How could I have missed that?  I was too busy willing him not to fall to the floor.   He had the longest, slimiest green booger I’ve ever seen.  Hanging from his nose.  I mean, this thing had a life of its own.  It swayed with the rhythm of the bus.  Must have been three inches long.  And the guy sat, head hanging, oblivious of this thing coming out of his nose.

Would he sniff it back in?  You know that sound.  ugh.  I almost threw up thinking about it.

There’s a joke about it, even.  You ask, “What’s green and goes backward?”  then answer with a swift sniff backwards.  It doesn’t have the same impact if you don’t have a cold.

It was pea green in color, the color of soup.  I’ve never seen snot that looked like that.  It hung on for the next three blocks.  I couldn’t look in his direction without wanting to gag.  I had to watch out the window.  But I knew it was there, swinging back and forth, keeping time with the hand straps above the seats.  I had to close my eyes, afraid I might catch a glimpse of that solid, slippery green thing from the corner of my eye.  It made me sick.

I heard the bump and opened my eyes.  Booger boy was on the floor of the bus.  Just laying there, like it was the most natural thing to do.  I did not have the stomach to look at his face.  Two people got on the bus and, very politely, stepped past him.  The bus driver continued down the street.

Are you kidding me?  I leaned forward in my seat to say something.  The lady from the opposite bench had already stepped over him to speak to the driver.  People stared, the lady pointed at him, and the bus driver kept driving but turned around every so often to look at the guy on the ground.

Then the guy began flailing like a fish in the bottom of a boat.   His arms and legs flopped in all directions.

“Sir!” the bus driver said.  She looked back at him as she drove.

“Sir!” she said again.

Booger boy rolled over and back again.  He began grunting and slapped the floor with his hands.

The bus driver stopped the bus.  She stood near her driver’s seat and looked at him for a long while, then reached into a compartment and, very slowly, pulled on some ivory colored rubber gloves.  Maybe that booger was still there, hanging on.  I wasn’t about to look.

A man with two small children came to her rescue.  He held the man’s arms and the bus driver held his legs.   In a calm voice the man instructed the guy and the driver what to do.  Soon the guy lay still and the driver called an ambulance.

Behind us another bus pulled up at the same time the ambulance arrived.   I really wanted to stay and find out what the medical experts thought was wrong with him.  Maybe he wasn’t drunk after all.  But what could it be except that?

Can a person have a seizure after drinking too much alcohol?  And, how can a booger defy the laws of gravity for so long?  Things I would have never thought about if I hadn’t taken the bus.

Have a story to share?  I know this stuff doesn’t only happen to me.  Come on, get out that keyboard and tell us your travel stories!  Maybe it will steer someone away from that hard road known as writer’s block.

Activating the Tenses (or, how to be more active when you tense)

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 28, 2010 at 7:56 am

Several years back I worked at a small office located on street level.  I did many things during the day, including accepting any deliveries from FedEx or UPS.  Delivery people rang the bell and I’d use the intercom to ask who was there then buzz the door for entry.

The bell rang one afternoon just after three o’clock.

“Yes?” I said pressing the Talk button on the intercom.

“Yes?” I said again, listening for a response.  It was unusual for a delivery person to wait that long to answer.  “Hello,” I tried once more but heard nothing.  Hmmm, strange.  It was enough to wrinkle my brow for a moment.

Any office has a certain rhythm.  Phone calls come in, printers creak out paper sheets, and keyboards tap in between sounds of an office chair wheeling back and forth over the plastic floor mat when one sits and stands over the course of the day.

I like the little sounds of the job.  When working I do several things at once that help create the rhythm of the day.  The doorbell rings, I type as many words as I can before the unknown caller thinks of leaving, I hit Print, grab another client folder, whirl my chair around and push the Talk button on the intercom while picking up my coffee cup.  I sip and say, “Yes?”

That’s when I hear “Delivery,” and I activate the door.

Remember my last post when I talked about minimizing the use of the verb To Be in various forms when writing?  And, yes, I know, I did go on a little about Bode Miller but it had to be said.  The reason I bring up that darn verb again is to emphasize the importance of delivery in a written piece.

Readers want to experience the rhythm of the office.  They pick up that post-it note in your story when it falls to the floor and they smell the strong coffee in a cup warm to the touch.  Then the bell rings.  They jump up to press Talk – and nothing.  Dead air.  The story stops.  They wait, wondering, impatient, until the story moves past the inactivity and resumes its rhythm.

The next time your readers hear that bell ring they want it followed up with the sound of “Delivery.”  Does it make you tense?  It should.  Using tense effectively opens the story to readers.  I listed some verb tenses in my last post.  You can go back and look if you don’t believe me.  One way to bring readers into the story is to choose the correct tense to form Active Voice.

I was confused over this for a long time.  The tense of the verb is the time it expresses.  Past tense of a verb indicates an action or situation in a preceding time.  So how do you activate a tense?  Through voice.

I should mention, there is no way to discuss verbs fully in a few paragraphs of a blog.  The verb is the most complex part of speech.  Its many forms of communication cannot be understood through meaning alone, but also through its transitive, intransitive, or linking -sometimes known as helping – forms, in person, number and tense, or voice and mood.

So, what is voice?  It’s the structure of sentences with the use of verb forms.  Voice can be either active or passive.  Each choice has its own merits.  Most fiction writers achieve the best results using a higher percentage of active voice over passive.

What’s the difference?  Examine the relationship between the subject and main verb.  In Active Voice sentences are structured with the subject of the sentence performing the verb’s action.  Active verbs move the story action along.  In Passive Voice the subject of the verb is being acted upon.  Passive structure emphasizes the receiver of the action.  Passive voice obscures who is acting and weakens the sentence, making it harder for readers to understand the meaning.  It uses more words and changes the normal action order of subject doing the action of the verb.  It’s not an incorrect usage.  When used rarely or deliberately it can be an effective technique to downplay the action or the subject actor.

And I’ll mention it again, the verb To Be links words and ideas.  When the action is represented by a ‘being’ verb the subject does nothing and the verb functions as an equal sign.  It describes a state of being and is neither passive nor active.  Again, it’s best to minimize use of the verb form To Be in fiction writing.

Review your writing and check your sentences.  Does the subject perform the action of the main verb? Good, that’s Active Voice, what you want in writing.  Or, does the subject do nothing while something else performs an action on the subject?   Not good, unless Passive Voice is used for effect and sometimes for sentence variety.  If the main verb is a linking verb, usually a form of To Be, then it functions like an equal sign and describes a state of being with no action involved.  Not the best way to keep readers involved in the story.

Now can you tell the difference between active and passive?

The UPS delivery person rang the doorbell at the office.

The doorbell at the office was rung by the UPS delivery person.

The delivery person is here.

Well, it certainly wasn’t a delivery person at the door a few years back when I worked at that small office.  Two days after that first episode, again, around three in the afternoon, the doorbell rang.  I jumped out of my chair and said Yes? as I pressed Talk.  No answer.  I’d forgotten about the unusual silence days before but the second time in two days annoyed me.  What was going on?  I sat in my chair.  I wasn’t going to bother asking again who was there.  I turned to the computer and started typing up an email.  The doorbell rang again, this time four or five times in long buzzes.  I hit Talk.  Yes?  nothing.  Yes? I said again.  silence.  Not happy, I walked out of the office to the metal gate of the main entrance.  No one waited.  I went outside and looked up and down the sidewalk.  Pedestrians passed by going either direction.  I watched them, to the right then the left, for several minutes.  No one.  Only a lone school kid, couldn’t have been more than nine-years-old, already halfway up the block, turned to look.  I went back inside, no closer to knowing who it was.

Whoever it was came back.  Every day.  Always around three o’clock but never exactly at the same time.  I couldn’t catch the person in the act.  I tried, but soon gave up.  It was a waste of time and energy.  It went on for weeks.  Even my co-worker tried to find the culprit.  He’d rush outside the minute no one responded.  Always came back as puzzled as before.  We stopped chasing that bell ringer but I never stopped being annoyed.

Then, one day, when I said “Yes?” to the ring of the bell I waited with my hand on Talk.  A young voice, barely audible, said “I love you,” over the intercom.  Did I hear correctly?  I knew I had.  I didn’t move, surprised.  Touched.

“Who is it?” my co-worker said.

“I think it’s a kid,” I told him.

He ran out the door.

I knew then it was the little nine-year-old I’d seen that day, weeks away, on the sidewalk.  Dark blue hooded jacket, baby face peeking out as he’d looked back.  I hadn’t suspected him.  He’d walked at a regular pace, not fast like someone trying to get away.  I’d seen him several times before.  Always alone.  Now my co-worker was after him.  Like he was a criminal.  And he was only a little boy who rang the doorbell every day just to one day say “I love you.”

Who knows why?  But ever since, the sound of a doorbell always makes me smile.

NEXT TIME: No clue, but I’ll think of something.