A Pleasant Surprise – A Writer’s Tale

I tell people that I write. Because I do. But I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone I was an author, either, even though I’m working on my third novel right now.

However, I just had one of the coolest writing experiences I’ve ever had, and one which I’m eager to remember in years to come. Which is why I’m writing a second blog post today, something I rarely, if ever, do. Ready? My tale might not be exciting to anyone who isn’t me, but here goes.

My current work in progress includes some six main characters. I wrote the first ten pages of it about a year ago, in this blog in fact [if you’re interested, search for “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” “Amanda,” and “Heather.”] During my semester at Sarah Lawrence this year, I took a writing class, and began to write this novel in earnest.

About five months ago, I wrote a scene in which Amanda, one of my characters, is drunk and having a breakdown of sorts. She has never been drunk before, is introverted, is scared of her own passions and hides behind her instincts as a caregiver much of the time. As the listener, she can remain safe and closed off while still maintaining meaningful relationships with people she cares about.

Now, this scene I wrote so many months ago was, I knew, going to fit in only towards the very end of the novel. I haven’t looked at the scene in months, waiting for the right time to go back to it and insert it where I wanted it to go. The day before yesterday, I was writing the scene that I knew would directly precede it, in which Amanda’s friend makes her a drink, and Amanda, for the first time ever, decides to be reckless and takes it.

In the scene I wrote the other day, I had her friend making her a White Russian. The next scene I wrote was about other characters. Today, I wanted to put in the scene I’d written all those months ago, and so I scrolled to the very bottom of my file to reread it and see what I was going to have to change. And here’s the kicker. I’d written there that Amanda was drunk on “milky White Russians.”

!!!

I had NO IDEA that I’d specified in that scene what she’d been drinking! I didn’t remember AT ALL that I’d already had the idea of what I wanted her to be drunk on! When I’d written the scene a couple days ago, I’d decided to go for White Russians because I thought it was the kind of yummy alcoholic drink that her friend would mix in order to lure Amanda into drinking!

But it seems that Amanda told me ages ago that she wanted her first experience with alcohol to be with this particular drink. It seems that even her friend, a relatively minor side-character, knew in February already that she was going to make Amanda a White Russian for her first alcoholic beverage. It seems that I know my characters even better than I thought, or else that they’ve been driving me to write what they feel is the truth for them.

So. Maybe not the most exciting tale for anyone who hasn’t had the experience of their writing taking on a life of its own. But let me tell you, I’m going to be grinning about this revelation all day long.

EDIT: Another thing – in this same scene, written months ago, I’d mentioned homesickness for her mother. In a scene I wrote about a week ago, Amanda was missing her father and feeling homesick. So yeah, I think Amanda is really quite alive in my mind. Which is exciting.

Chance [Flash Fiction]

There was no reason in the world for them to meet that night. If anyone wants to prove the existence of Fate or God, they might use this example in their studies.

She was supposed to be on her way to London from Wiltshire, but the taxi she was taking (her father had given her the cash for it, she could never have afforded such an extravagant means of travel on her salary) broke down unexpectedly.

He was supposed to be halfway to America, but his sister called, hysterical, just as he was checking in at the Delta desk at Heathrow Airport. She was having her baby early, and her husband was abroad on business. When he told his sister that he was about to fly away as well, she screamed at him in no uncertain terms, and scared him so much that he decided it would be a good idea to get his butt to the hospital, pronto.

They met in a pub around the corner from the private hospital where his sister was having her baby, and where her taxi had broken down. They both sat alone at the bar, and it was only when she ordered her drink (“White Russian, and put in as much ice as you’ve got, I’m parched.”) that he realized she was there. He had the same drink in front of him, looking just as full as it had when he’d gotten it, because of the profusion of ice-cubes which had begun to melt as he drank it down.

“You’re having what I’m having.”

“Oh? Right.”

“No, no, you don’t get it. Nobody likes extra ice in their White Russian. I had a friend swear to disown me if I let him see me order it like this again.”

“Hm. Interesting.”

“No, listen, I’m not drunk, my sister is having a baby, I’m just tired – okay, right, sorry, I’m babbling, enjoy your drink.”

“Your sister is having a baby? Over at the hospital?”

“Yeah.”

“My dad owns that place.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“So I should complain to you if something goes wrong?”

“He hasn’t seen the place in ten years. He just owns it. Sorry.”

“Interesting. Owning something and not knowing anything about it.”

“Pretty much like all our internal organs, you mean?”

“Never thought about it that way.”

“That’s okay. Most people don’t.”

“I’m Greg.”

“Martha.”

A-Trane

A-Trane, the famous and successful jazz club, has free jam sessions every Saturday night. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Sunday morning, though. The jam session starts officially at midnight-thirty, but the show before it doesn’t usually end until one o’clock or later.

The night in question was just another Saturday night or Sunday morning, and the bar was jam-packed. Every kind of human creature above the age of eighteen was there. There were university students dressed sensibly, and those that dressed more provocatively. There were couples in their late twenties, yuppies who drank red wine and tilted their heads toward each other intimately. There were groups of middle aged men and women, friends out for a night of good music, good beer, and good company. And then, of course, there were musicians, who closed their eyes to listen properly or tapped their feet as well as they could to the fast paced or gentle jazz beats.

If smoking were still allowed, the place would be full of the blue tendrils of softly curling cigarette smoke, the smell of illegal substances, and the pungent scent of cigars. In lieu of all that, there was chatter, a strong smell of wine, spirits and beer, and an atmosphere that was as thick as the smoke would have been.

The main shows were over for the night. Many left, but just as many piled in, until the blonde lady at the front told them that the room was full and they’d have to wait. The ones who stayed after the main shows were the real enthusiasts – either for the music or for the alcohol – and they kept their seats jealously as the others crowded behind and between the small wooden tables. When a chair was vacated, someone inevitably pounced to take it, even if it meant that they’d be looking at the saxophonists extremely large feet from quite up close.

So this night at the A-Trane was the same as any other, perhaps. But it felt unique, incredibly cultural and grown-up for the two shy teenagers sitting close together. An older couple had offered them the seats right in front of them as well as the table. The teenagers thanked them profusely, and sat down eagerly. They sipped their beer when the nice waitress brought it over, and waited with anticipation for the jam-session to begin. Both were under the age of twenty and had never gone to a proper, indoor jazz club, although they’d both been to the jazz-bar in their hometown that featured live music once in while. Neither of them were experts on the genre, but both enjoyed it very much.

The seats they’d been given were a table’s length away from each other, so their knees touched lightly, but they couldn’t hold hands or cuddle. They sent happy looks at each other and smiled, thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t too close to the stage, and could actually see the drummer’s face when he got up to introduce himself.

“We’re Naked Jazz,” he said, his voice low and sexy as he leaned into the microphone. He was short, bald and rail-thin, but his voice was charismatic, and his hands were energetic and powerful, clutching the drumsticks that he was going to use in mere moments. “We’re going to start off the jam-session with four or five original tunes, and then we’ll open up the stage to the many talented musicians here tonight.”

And so they started. Their music was fast and furious at the start, messy in the way that jazz can sound before you pick out the melody and the fluidity of the tune. The bassist was dancing with his big instrument, moving back and forth as if it were a woman he was caressing. He smiled widely every time they all hit a particularly fun part, and looked like he was having the time of his life. He was bald as well, but muscly and stocky, giving an aura of danger about him when he wasn’t grinning.

The pianist looked like a real grown-up despite his dreadlocks. They were tied neatly behind his head, which had a nice gray beret on it. His glasses looked very much like a science geek’s specs, and he head a wedding ring on one of his dark hands. He played like the devil, jumping a bit off his seat sometimes and nodding his head to the music.

The trumpet player looked like he was right out of college, uncomfortable in his skin and onstage until he played. He did this extremely well, his precision perfect, his technical skills flawless, but amazingly every note still had soul.

The drummer who introduced his band-members with respect before was playing just as hard and well as the rest. His lips puckered and receded as he made the beat sounds softly to himself. His right hand held the drumstick in that way that looks so awkward but is the staple of a jazz drummer. He moved fast, bouncing on his stool and closing his eyes often. He never missed a beat, and drummed without stop, loudly when needed and so quietly sometimes that the cymbals sounded far off and haunting.

Finally, the saxophonist joined them for a couple of tunes. He was extremely tall, big footed, and his saxophone looked too small in his big hands. He played like a madman, eyes shut tight when he soloed, but meeting the trumpet player’s gaze when they started to play together, one giving a question while the other gave the answer.

Over an hour after Naked Jazz started, the teenagers, starry-eyed and happy, left the bar before the real jam session began and other musicians came onstage as they chose and joined in. It was two-thirty in the morning, and they were nearing exhaustion as they walked home together.

For the A-Trane, it was just another successful Saturday night. For the teenagers, it had been magical.

A Mad Woman in Berlin

She leaned over the back to back metal benches and asked the pair of English tourists if they smoked tobacco. Her accent was thick, sometimes sounding German, and at others Russian, although her English was good. The man, glancing uneasily at his partner, answered that he did. When the woman asked if she could have some, he looked confused for a moment. His partner told the woman that they only had cigarettes. The woman nodded eagerly, and asked if she could have one. The man smiled politely and produced a pack of Camels. The woman asked for a light, and the man leaned over toward her and lit her cigarette, which she sucked on greedily. He then turned to his partner, and they both spoke for a while in another language.

The mad woman didn’t quite fit the stereotype of a homeless person, living on the streets. Her hair was a shock of grayish-brown and her skin looked almost healthy. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, but wore the age well on her face, which was elegantly lined, although her cheeks were still full and youthful. Her clothing was oddly fancy, or at least the top half was. She wore what looked like a light brown leather jacket and her handbag was of similar material and color. The mere fact that she had a handbag was strange. Her skinny legs were wrapped in tight pants in shades of brown, olive and black, like a military uniform made into fashionable jeans. The mix between the pants and the well-kept leather jacket were perhaps an indication of her madness. Still, she could have been an eccentric fashionista and nothing more.

Except, that is, for the fact that she was talking to herself loudly and was holding a pink carton of cheap wine.

“It is security, you see. I don’t trust a man, and security is inside me. You have to stay inside the clothes, inside the pants. The pants are protection, they protect me. But I am an attractive woman. If another man come near I go away. But if another woman approach me,” and here she sounded a little defensive, “then that is okay, I mean I am an attractive woman. A woman can look at a woman and appreciate her and I don’t mind if a woman looks at me.” She took a drink from her pink bottle, and the smell of wine washed over the English tourists as well as the others on the platform. Just then, the train arrive, and everyone boarded, including the mad woman.

She sat across from the English couple and fell silent for a time. When a fat man with a tiny dog boarded at the next station and sat next to her, she got up at once and moved into the narrow space between the Englishwoman and a bearded businessman. She started talking again. “It is like the jackets, do you know the jackets in London?” she turned to the businessman. It wasn’t clear whether he ignored her or nodded for she kept speaking almost at once. “There are nice jackets in London, long coats. Every person should have them, they are made of good fabric, of, what is it called… Not wool, it’s not wool. It’s not like the jeans. There are jeans that are made of denim, and they are the color of – the color of indigo. How do you say indigo in German?” she turned to the Englishwoman.

“I don’t speak German, I’m sorry,” the tourist said, shrugging and smiling, but drawing closer to her companion so as not to brush the woman’s jacket.

“That’s right, you’re not from here,” the mad woman dismissed her at once and continued speaking of fabrics and jackets in America as opposed to those in London. She got off at the next stop, still speaking to herself in a loud, coherent voice, as if she were having a conversation with someone else. The English tourists probably never saw her again, but there was no way they would forget this strange and lonely woman who chose them as smoking- and seat-companions on a short journey on the U-Bahn in Berlin.

The Concert of My Dreams

A lot of it was a blur. Hours seemed to pass between the time spent in a strange mall, all closed up except for one store blasting out strong music, and the actual event. It was strange, the way everything lost proportion. Time either crawled or hurried past. Scenes and people and views changed in a flash. Only some moments stand out clearly in my memory… That’s how it always is in dreams, isn’t it?

But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. We got to the mall at 15:00, found the neighboring stadium and the cluster of people. It felt like coming home. They were happy, energetic, giddy with excitement. There were nerds, and girls and Goths and metal-heads. There were young boys, barely into puberty and women in their thirties, clearly original fans.  Bottles of beer, vodka and even white wine littered the ground along with what seemed to be a thousand cigarette butts. But it was the one place, the only place, in which I felt perfectly comfortable with it.

We were there for a concert, a show. The rules are different when music pumps in people’s veins and the sun burns their backs to a crisp as they wait at a gate guarded by a couple heavy-set men. The rules have to change in an environment like that – it’s inevitable. Better to throw bottles on the ground where the organizers know it’s going to happen than throwing bottles into a crowd later and injuring someone.

It seemed as if we were in and out of the mall for food and bathroom breaks a hundred times, but finally, at 16:45, we were in the crowd waiting at the entrances. It was hot, sticky, and the sun was piercing and bright. People kept whooping for no reason, getting everyone just a bit more pumped up. Sir B. F. and I played games, guessing at what this or that person was like outside of Concert-Time.

Concert-Time is a different dimension, holding a dream-like quality, and consisting of no more than twenty-four hours in which time itself seems to shrink and elongate. The sunlit hours are the longest, whereas the moment evening falls, the breezes hold sweet and short promises. Crushed in a crowd, time elongates again in the heat and airless place. But then, suddenly, time seems to jump forward – by fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour. The opening bands are on the stage forever, and then they’re not. The stage is empty forever, and then, suddenly, gloriously, it’s not.

They came on-stage, four men in the their mid-forties, and the crowd roared. We were part of a beast, a many-headed animal that thrashed and begged and demanded to be satisfied. The moment the first note started, we began to feed. Music, loud notes one after another, lyrics yelled at the top of our voices while the men on-stage sang loudly with us, for us. The speakers, huge and foreboding when the sun was up, were now a welcome friend, giving out the drug that we needed – the music.

**

Metallica haven’t been in Israel for eleven years. Finally, on Saturday, May 22nd, they performed at the Ramat-Gan Stadium to the ecstasy of long-time and new fans alike. There were sound issues, issues that the stadium staff blamed on Metallica’s equipment. But it didn’t matter whose fault it was – only that it was fixed, and that the crowd, and I inside it, roared approval at each return of the full blast of the speakers.

There are concerts you can’t ever go to again. Concerts that you know were likely once in a lifetime opportunities. This was one of them, and I cannot express how glad I was to be there. It was a night of enchantment – a night of dreams coming true.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Shana, Sorority Girl

Shana laughed, throwing back her head and opening her mouth wide. She had a laugh like no other, an uproarious, full-throated, loud laugh. At parties, people always looked behind them to see who had interrupted their shallow conversation so rudely, but then they saw Shana. After they watched her laugh, they couldn’t stay irritated.

“Are you, like, coming onto me?” Shana’s eyes were bright with mirth, her laughter having just subsided. She stared at the weedy, scrawny, pimpled freshman standing in front of her. He was resolutely holding up a bottle, ready to refill Shana’s shot-glass. It had taken mounds of courage for him to come up to her and ask, with what he thought was a sly, alluring smile, if she wanted a refill, babe.

“Well?” Shana’s eyes were already wandering, looking for someone else, someone cool and trendy and beautiful to talk to. There was quite a pick of young men – lots were in togas, this being their yearly let’s-crash-the-sorority-girls’-party-without-underpants-on event. Pimply freshman forgotten, she wandered over to where some tasty looking guys were gathered.

“Yo, hey, can you fine fellows pour a girl a drink or what?” She smiled coquettishly, her naturally blond hair flipping over one shoulder in an expert move to show off her bare shoulders. A black haired, toga-clad frat-boy turned to look at her. Shana’s smile disappeared. Her face fell, mouth hanging open stupidly, a look of shock stamped into her usually lovely features. The frat-boy looked her up and down, deliberately slowly, and grinned, revealing very pointed canines. When he spoke, Shana could feel the shiver creeping up her back like a line of ants.

“Hello, my heart. I told you we’d see each other again.”

The Jazz Bar

The jazz bar is situated off of the main pavilion where the common pubs are located. The pubs on the main drag are all basically the same – crowded, smoky, electronic music blasting too loudly from the speakers. The jazz bar, however, is different. It’s roomier, more spread out, with tables both inside and out. They’re all simple affairs, black plastic tops on stainless steel legs, the chairs matching them. The main difference, of course, is the music: live jazz. The musicians change, sometimes during the course of one evening, but they make up the same basic grouping: a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, sometimes a guitarist or a trumpeter, occasionally the odd harmonica-player. The atmosphere at the jazz bar is relaxed. Although the live music is loud, louder than you would expect, conversation is still an option.

Saturday night found the jazz bar full to bursting – yet still, the space outside didn’t feel cramped. Four young men and a young woman, none of them long out of adolescence, shared a table. Four of them sat and sipped their beers while the fifth slurped his strawberry-melon-smoothie moodily, wishing he hadn’t made himself the stupid promise of zero-alcohol-for-a-month. They sat and listened to the music, one of the youths, who was on his break from drumming, occasionally made snide comments about the trumpet player who was blasting his sounds into the air. The conversation went back and forth, encompassing everything from the latest party to the correct technique of asking a girl out to dietary tips to tattoos.

The group was clearly comfortable together. The solitary girl, who wasn’t a regular addition to the group as she was the girlfriend of the curly, black-haired young man, was welcomed among them and felt surprisingly at home with them. She talked easily and laughed readily, not fearing being ridiculed and not taking to heart the light teasing that is often a single girl’s lot among boys. It dawned on her that this, too, she would leave soon. Oh, she would be back, of course she would, but the experience was all the more precious because she knew it might not be repeated for a good long while.