Looney Lunes #146 – Threefer

“Whattaya mean? We need to score more points than the other guys?”

I worked for this company where the sales force showed for the semi-annual mandatory time waste of a meeting in a remote part of a southern state. After three days of product managers and marketing managers and ownership asking us what we thought about things that were foregone conclusions and pretending to listen to the couple of guys who loved the sound of their own voices, the last presentation was, you guessed it, nepotism in full bloom. Yes, the owner’s third wife’s son, fresh from a short career as a (young) lifelong mediocre student of tennis and a two week crash course in business management at a major college satellite in West Bajesus, Texas, parks his butt on the stool, center stage in the auditorium, his Retinol pink cheeks flushed with enthusiasm. And, to a room full of guys at the top end of the field in niche sales, he proceeds to read Vince Lombardi inspirational quotes from a coffee table book devoted to them. In honor of that moment and the playoff season in football, I offer these timeless and inspirational quotes.

“The Giants are going to have to outscore Miami if they want to win.”
sportscaster (between jobs) and current Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders Jon Gruden. A deep understanding of the game is a key component of coaching if you want your own coffee table book.

“They’ve won fifteen of their last eight games.”
sportscaster Chris Meyers on the Arizona Cardinals. (see Freebie below)

“The leadership definitely has to come from the leaders.”
sportscaster Emmett Smith (No wonder he’s in the NFL Hall of Fame, a successful entrepreneur and humanitarian. He knows who the boss is)

FREEBIE

“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are pointless.”
tweet sent by Ohio State backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Probably a broadcast communications major…

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Looney Lunes #145

North Carolina DUH Two-fer

ROOMS WITH BROKEN AIR CONDITIONERS ARE HOT

headline Burlington (North Carolina) Times News

“Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and, you know, how the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that . . . We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life—that’s the way to go.”

Representative Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina) 

Somebody had to vote for her, people. No wonder they had to legislate who could pee where.

Looney Lunes #142

First, find a bunch of storks…

“What is needed to make more babies in Portugal?”
-President of Portugal Anibal Antonio Cavaco Silva

Well, not having to come up with four names would be another good place to start. And then there’s the birds and bees stuff if the storks are a fail.

This guy was elected, by the way.

Looney Lunes #141 Twofer

Your Freudian Slip Is Showing

A story that appeared in Sunday’s Argus Observer contained an incorrect spelling of a name. Pastor Dick Bigelow was incorrectly identified as Dick Bigblow. The Argus Observer regrets the error.

correction notice, Argus Observer (Ontario, Canada)

Our HR director talks about the gender split & tits importance at O2. Read more at: O2 Twitter

tweet by telecommunications service provider O2

As if “gender split” wasn’t bad enough…

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #12

Precision

I like the sound of that word. What it represents. Not all words are like that. How does precision, a very direct and precise word apply to something like writing that can appear from the outside to be playing Legos with words? Choices. We have thousands of word choices. Every character, every scene, every dialogue. Nuance words. BAM words. Words that economize, words that billow out and take up space. Words that define, words that obfuscate, words that lead. Making the choices, that’s the hardest part. Because I can throw down draft as it runs through my head and get close. But then? The work starts.

First, I’ll abuse myself. In THG 3.7 a good deal of word time was spent on describing the flat. I had a reason, a couple of choices, made one that will still work once pared down. The reasoning was “see it through the character.” She lives there, not me. I got busted for that by an editor once. Here it is –

Deanna issued a sleepy snuffle sob, rolled out of a fetal position on her bed, hit the floor on all fours. She dropped her forehead into the shades-of-pink shag carpet in her bedroom, felt a small, cool, bony hand between her shoulder blades.

“Gramma Cora? How long have you –”

The editorial comment was “Why do we have to feel this through Deanna? Why not direct action?”

Consider this. A big shot editor bought into my characters early on, not far from here, and instead of reading the first 20 pages and sending me a quote she read it all. This is a touchy-feely scene. I intentionally put the experience through the character. Now, a professional someone, who bought into it for the very reason of investment in the character wants to hit the equation button and suggest destroying intimacy with the character. Huh? Based on what? A Rule? Something more precise? Precision is how we sculpt our characters and our work, not a formula.

The Hard-Boiled school cuts to the chase. That is not an imperative, even inside the genre, because they can hit the detail switch when needed. Even then, the good ones do it so well you are sold on a character, a situation, a scene – with great economy and precision language. In THG 3.10 I tried that, just for grins, by describing a musical instrument without using any musical vernacular. And three characters with indirect descriptions or third-party information/observation.

On occasion a short string of precise language evokes exactly what you need. Watch a master do that very thing –

They came down to the marina dock in John Tuckerman’s big blue Chrysler Imperial. John Tuckerman was a sort of unofficial assistant to Hub Lawless. He didn’t seem to hold any particular office in any of Hub’s many corporations and partnerships. But he always seemed to be around, laughing, making jokes, making sure of air reservations, hotel reservations, dockage space, hanger space, and so on. They brought two young women aboard. Half the ages of Hub and Tuckerman. Tight pants and airline carry-ons. Perfume and giggles. *

We know what’s going on. We know about both men and their guests and a setup for some future action. From some very precise language. Lawless from Tuckerman’s job description (indirect). Not Jill and Jane and who they are. Perfume and giggles (direct). Later you could split them up that way, if you needed to talk to them. ‘Lieutenant Rogers took the tall, walking perfume counter and I sat down with her partner, a short redheaded professional giggler.’ Regardless. All you need is all you need when you need it.

Song lyrics can do that. Everybody’s heard this one – “A singer in a smoky room. The smell of wine and cheap perfume.”** BAM. There. Whether you’ve been there or seen it a thousand times on TV, you’re there. Precise and economical. Dylan got a Nobel Prize. Often picturesque, not always economical or precise, always a storyteller. “Tangled Up in Blue” is as easily a condition as it is a song title.

Precision language makes short work of what might be considered mundane or difficult tasks. Elmore Leonard (and Steinbeck) suggest not spending too much time describing characters. Particularly main characters. They should belong to the reader. But precision language for bit players, the nemesis, the sideshow, makes loading them into the work much easier because you don’t have to spend time getting to know them and making them work. Or even, as I have witnessed in a number of works, not bothering to give them names. Because, in a group scene, names will kill you. And overload your dialogue tags quota. If, in a scene with four or six or more people, you impose on the reader to remember six or seven names you dug up on a random name generator or researched the meaning of, it’s all gone. The reader walks, all your hard work naming someone who will get shot or eaten or carried off by a Phoenix anyway is wasted. If there are characters the reader has spent time with, use those names, and the interlopers get descriptions. Precision. It’s easier to visualize for the author AND the reader without remembering a name. I did that here, just to see. The scene is action that gets a main character off the mud and back in the game without “all hell broke loose and Mick got away.” Because what the hell kind of cop-out is that, and why read something that doesn’t take you for a ride? Boots and Boxers, Plaid Pants and Red Converses don’t need names at the point of BAM. Bottom line – Authors and readers don’t need a meet and greet on everybody involved.

I suggested in a comment elsewhere that a quick introduction scene was the perfect place to drop character nuggets without overkill. Short, tall, hairy, mercenary. Think harder, direct descriptive words as well. Mousey, fraudulent, a new favorite “shit speck,” deliberate, pensive, fawning, a rednosed walking Kleenex ad, a lip balm addict with an effected limp… uh-oh, muse attack – a contrived, prissy, arrogant and morally bankrupt man full of nothing but a theatrical impression of himself and the faintest whisper of soul. BAM. I liked that one.

Homework. Go find a character you spent too much time, or not enough time on, and give them no more than three, short and precise language lines. No adverb-ly fluff. Direct and precise. Nail them down and move on. While I go fix Deanna meets her flat.

 

*  Excerpted from The Empty Copper Sea © 1978 by John D. MacDonald Publishing Inc.

**  “Don’t Stop Believin’” Perry-Cain-Schon © 1981 Weed High Nightmare Music

THG 3 – Ch 3 – Alone

Amanda Morisé’s office / Late Monday morning January 8th, 1979

“Cambridge?” The skepticism in Amanda’s voice was almost theatrical.

“Yes, like you.”

“I was being groomed for Cambridge when I was twelve, Deanna.”

“I want to be a smart girl, a smarter girl. It will only make me better.”

“Another member of the Smart Girl club?” Amanda picked up a piece of marble the size of a business card a quarter of an inch thick. The engraved brass plaque read “Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit.”

“Wow.” Deanna felt the weight of the stone before handing it back. “Jackson told me that. This morning, before he, uh…Did he get that from you?”

“No, I got it from him. He told me this the day before your seventeenth birthday when he put you on this road. His point, I believe, was that constantly having to be the smartest person in the room sometimes got in the way of what was important.”

“What could ever be more important? To Jax or anyone?”

“Heart. We had this discussion Saturday. I keep this on my desk and pass it around the office to those who have momentarily lost sight of theirs, as you have. However you have never known the difference between your head and your heart, Miss Collings. In fact I often wonder if you possess the latter. It’s all facts and figures and Jackson’s conducting.”

“Then you don’t understand, either?”

“No. I don’t understand you at all, Miss Collings.”

“Why are you all being so, so fucking weird? What’s to understand? I just need to do this alone. By myself. I need —”

“That’s what this last year has been about? Paving the way for you to make you, by yourself?” Amanda made a tent with her fingertips, gave Deanna the briefest of appraisals. “Very well, Miss Collings. Alone it is.” She pencil punched her phone. “Amber, got a sec? Bring me the Deanna C. Collings open contract file.”

Miss Collings. Not Ms. Collings. Not Deanna, not Deanna Dear, not God fucking dammit what-the-hell Deanna Dear which is what she expected. Simply ‘Miss Collings.’ It took Amber two of the longest minutes of Deanna’s life to enter Amanda’s office through the side door.

“Amber, thank you. I need you stay, please.”

“I don’t like the way this room feels, Amanda. Are you –”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Amanda took the folder from Amber, opened it on the desk in front of her. “Miss Collings, we need to discuss some legal documents with you. If you feel that you would like personal counsel, we can call someone from elsewhere in the building. Would you like your own counsel for this?”

“No. I trust you.”

“‘Love all, trust a few, do harm to none,’ Miss Collings. Are you certain?”
Deanna nodded.

“I need to hear it, please.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” Amanda stood the papers in the folder, popped them on her desk, laid them back down. “You are, or rather were, involved in several operations at C.A. Morisé. A number of people here have an investment in you, and we need to sever those relationships and investments. Do you understand?”
“Yes. No. Amanda, what is this?”

“You, on the way to alone.” She spun one of the papers Deanna’s direction. “Your publishing contract. I was a softy when I drafted it. This waiver is a mutual severance of rights. The D.C. Collings materials were developed at the expense of C.A. Morisé. However, this severance gives both you and C.A. Morisé equal right to the material without punitive consequence for use. We can use it. You can use it. We can’t sue each other over who the materials belong to. If you agree, check the box, and sign the bottom. If you disagree, sign the top.” Deanna picked a pen from the row on Amanda’s desk, checked and signed. “Thank you. Wise choice. No more lawyers.”

Amanda removed several more pages paper-clipped together, uncapped her fountain pen, wrote the date and signed the top page. “This is a personal release starting with today’s date. Simply stated, anything you may do or create after this moment in time will be treated as having nothing to do with C.A. Morisé, and releases us from any liability incurred by any action or actions you might take. You are no longer an agent of C.A. Morisé in any personal or professional endeavor. Sign there. Thank you.”

The last document from the file was one page. Amanda turned it towards Deanna like all the rest. “This is your open ended offer of contract for internship employment, available to you upon graduation. You may destroy it, we can keep it on file as it is, or you may waive it now or at any time in the future. We will keep it on file for seven years from the last date of communication with you regarding this offer. After that time your offer is legally voided.”

“I’m coming back, Amanda. I don’t understand all of this.”

“If you fall in love with Alix’s ‘real boy,’ the boy you can share your life with instead of the one you exchanged for this enterprise, send us something in writing to release us from our obligation, because this company is full of lawyers. The only binding obligation is ours to accept you for a year upon your graduation from college unless you waive this. Waive it by signing here.”

No. I’m coming back.”
“‘No’ to waiving your internship?”
“Yes. No, I mean. No, I won’t waive it. I’m coming back.”

Amanda dated the internship form, had Amber and Deanna initial it. From a second folder came two more documents, each with a check voucher attached. “There are a few other contracts we can no show, Miss Collings. They’re simple entry forms. However I need you to waive these two. They are, or would have been, professional D.C. Collings guest speaker appearances where you would have had a chance to tell the world what you think needs to happen and been paid for your opinion.” She turned the papers to Deanna. “Sign here and here. Thank you. There were appearance retainers involved, and we’ll need to refund them. You haven’t been paid yet, so there will be no tax documents for you to be concerned about. Amber, give these two to Bev when you leave, please.”

“Can I take them now?”

“Not yet. Not all lawyering is pleasant, Amber. Miss Collings, do you have any questions?”

“What does the mutual use thing mean, really?”

“That any images, writings, or other materials developed by you or C.A. Morisé during the course of the D.C. Collings project can be used by you or C.A. Morisé or any entity to whom either of us assign agency, in any way either of us sees fit.”

“You could use my stuff to make me look bad?”

“No, that would be unethical, to no one’s benefit and legally actionable.”

“Even Jackson? I saw his signature behind mine. On the last page.”

“He signed mutuality as well. He participated materially on our behalf, and his handwriting is all over your archive documents. If he hadn’t signed, he could sue us both. Are you worried about him using any of our material negatively?”

“No, I guess not. When did he sign it? Today? Has he already been here?”

“Yes, he was here, but not today.” She flipped through the forms in the folder. “November first. He came in and asked me about the waiver I’d explained to him when you signed your contracts several years ago.”

“Is that all he said? Just ‘Where’s the waiver,’ like Jax suddenly got interested in forms?”

“No, he said, in words to this effect, ‘Where’s the hot girl flunky release you told me about. Something’s going on, so I’ll sign it now. Between you and I, D.C. Collings is history, and so am I. I can feel it.’”

“He didn’t say that, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t say that to anyone, ever, about being a flunky and being history.”

“Amber was in attendance then as she is today, Miss. Collings. Amber, please?”

“Those were close to his exact words, Miss Collings.”
Miss Collings? Even Amber? They’d worked together one summer with Jackson and that football player architect. Architectural reclamation Amanda had called it. Amber had covered for them when she and Jackson, that day…When she rented the cold hotel room and made him promise. She’d watched Amber the hippie with a masters become Amber the corporate attorney. Now she was Miss Collings?

Amanda sat back in her chair with a look Deanna had never seen, at least not directed at her. People who did business with C.A. Morisé called it the invisible man stare because it was as if she were looking through whoever her target was. If you had a secret it wasn’t a secret anymore, it was on the desk in front of her.
“Did you tell him, and he was doing his Jackson man thing, keeping your secret for two months? Did you lie to me recently in Boston?”

“No. I didn’t lie, really. Not about that. What I don’t know is how he ‘felt’ anything.”

“Jackson runs on how he feels, Miss Collings. Much like Amber and Alix. Feeling things and being disconnected from reality are not the same. We all obtain our information in different ways. Jackson understands considerably more than you give him credit for.”

“I don’t need another lecture on Jackson, not from you or anyone. I know he’s not stupid. He’s just Jax, that’s all. None of you know him like I do. He must have ‘felt’ a few things from reality. Did you know his SAT scores were higher than mine? He studied with me, prompted me. He says I’m supposed to be the smart one for both of us, and there he is again, out in front of me with his ‘far fetched analogies,’ and his ‘feelings.’ I know who he is, alright? I’m coming back. We…We love each other.”

“Interesting. You know who he is by a test score? And you’love’ for each other is leftover from a once-upon-a-time fairy tale turned sex driven little romance of convenience you have finally destroyed? I believe you know far less about him than you think. Was he a jerk when he told you about his scores?”

“He never told me, really. I looked at his transcripts. They… They were on his kitchen table a couple of weeks ago.”

“If you didn’t tell him you were leaving when you found out, when did you tell him?”

“This morning. Before I drove up here.”
Amanda closed Deanna’s folder and handed it to Amber. “Miss Collings, do you have any other concerns?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Yes or no please.”

“No.”
“You are officially alone. Miss Collings. Good day.”

Deanna picked up two of Amanda’s cards from the small silver tray by the door on her way out. She hadn’t expected alone to feel so…alone.

THG 3 -CH 1b –

Jackson’s apartment / Thursday night January 4th, 1979

Deanna sat on Jackson’s lumpy, furnished apartment couch in typical evening wear and study position. Winter weather knee socks, her flannel boxers and one of his t-shirts, her feet on his thigh. For once she didn’t have a book in her hand, and for once she’d escaped her parents’ winter vacation. And she regretted both. Since high school all she’d ever wanted was Christmas break with him. Hot chocolate and leftover pumpkin pie and deep in the quilts giggly sex. The Niners hadn’t made the playoffs, two teams that made Jackson throw tennis shoes at the TV were in the Super Bowl and she was trapped with nothing to say until Monday and the only way out was a trip to Boston with Amanda.

“Jax? I’m not sure I want to go this time.”

“Call her and bail, D. She’ll survive.”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You oughta go someplace, even with Amanda, ‘cause you’re not much good around here.” He stood up without bothering to move her feet.

“Thanks. A lot.” She rubbed her ankle where it had banged the coffee table. She wanted to stay home. She wanted, for the first time in over two months, to grab the front of his shirt, pull him over on the couch and say Love me, Jax, like you promised. Three more days is all I have with you for awhile. But she couldn’t. Because she’d already shut him off and the minute “Cambridge” was out of her mouth as why everyone had been out of her life for a year, and he knew he was going out of her life for three more she’d find herself freezing in the breezeway on the other side of his door.

***

There was no competition, nothing was “at stake” when Deanna flew in uncomfortable silence to Boston with Amanda to a clinic for presentation professionals being taught by successful men and women from broadcast, politics and the private sector. There were even some theatrical people from the Actor’s Studio, East and West. Before she’d been sure about Cambridge she would have loved it. All she could do was get through it.

Halfway through the first morning session, on the back row where Deanna had parked them, Amanda snapped the lid on her lukewarm rust-water hotel coffee and sailed it fifteen feet to a gray plastic trash bin. She turned to Deanna without waiting to see that she’d nailed it. No rim, no bin, nothing but air.

“Are you going to tell anyone what’s on your mind, Deanna, or have you already told Jackson and he’s keeping your secret?”

“I don’t have a secret,” Deanna lied. “I’m just tired.”

“You should have gone on winter vacation with your parents and gotten some rest.”

“No.”

“They do always seem to end in disaster.” Amanda changed the cross of her legs and the hand the session pamphlet was curled in and went one-eighty. “If you don’t really love Jackson, you should tell him. I believe that you should have told him a long time ago. If you want something else you shouldn’t use him for an emotional and sexual crutch. He deserves better than that.”

“I do love him. You don’t understand. He doesn’t understand. He never has. None of you do. You all see it your own way, and it’s not like that. At all.”

“You’ve never bothered to tell any of us what we should understand.”

“I tell him everything.”

“You tell him a lot of nothing, Deanna. You talk at him. You study, you write grocery lists, send him on errands. You talk about your day, maybe his day. You tell him you love him, you make love. You never tell him how you feel, what you’re dreaming, who you are, who you want to be. Who you want him to be or what he wants to be. How you could be together. The saddest is you both have this wonderful opportunity that most people will never even get a glimpse of, and it’s so superficial it makes me sick. You’re two cute, smart kids fucking, and it’s disgusting to watch you both wasting something that could be grand.”

Deanna, emotionally padlocked, tried to seethe, couldn’t find it and twisted her morning program in half. “How do you know what I tell him and what I don’t? How do you know how I feel about anything?”

“Because I was young once, and madly in love.” She rubbed her hands together, took her mind to a place far away and brought it back. “I gave him all of me. Everything. He was my world. I was so happy I thought I could fly. When it ended I didn’t believe I could ever pick up the pieces of myself and be whole again. I know how it feels to love with everything I have. And knowing how much of me there was is how I rebuilt myself. Love is what we are. Who we are.”

Deanna had heard a world of tirades come out of Amanda’s mouth, but never anything as unexpected as Amanda on Love with a capital L.

“Deanna, I know you can’t, or won’t, give all of yourself to anything or anyone. If that’s what you want understood, find the words. If you wish you could give all of yourself but can’t find a way, you need to find those words. Until you find the words to let everyone know what you need, you’re going to be a very lonely and unhappy young woman. Believe me, abstinence as a higher ground lifestyle or the alcohol and casual sex route at your age both get old, quick. If Jackson isn’t the one for you, surely there’s one out there with your name on him, just waiting.”

Deanna unconsciously bit her lower lip until she tasted blood, heard her pulse pounding in her ears. Shit. She was going to have to tell them both on Monday that she was leaving. Why all this deep love stuff, now? Love and Jackson were going in the same box with Amanda’s fucking D.C. Collings voice of feminism presentations. Amanda could just shut the hell up and leave her alone.

It had been easier to wall it all out when she believed Amanda didn’t understand, but it looked like she did. Deanna loved Jackson with her whole being, but she couldn’t let herself go. No matter what she said it wasn’t really Jax. It was her. She was the one who was always scared when anything or anyone started to climb her fences. She’d had her dreams stolen once, goddammit, and she was still scared. And mad. And nobody got it.