Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Night At Pineapple Jacks--Me and Eight Girls

You know, in my first blog, I "changed the names to protect the innocent." But you know what? If you made your way into one of my blogs, chances are there's nothing innocent about you. Chances. But regardless. (Or as some people I know mights say, irregardless ..."

As a novelist, I am often asked the question: "Where do you get ideas for your stories?" (Now you can google me. But you won't find me. My name is not Chase N. Nichols. So writing these blogs is going to do nothing to help me sell books. But I am not writing the blog to sell books. Like I say in my bio -- it's therapeutic. It's all about the therapy).

Anyway, the short answer is, (and the question was ... "Where do you get ideas for your stories"?) the ideas just come to me. And that is the truth. I don't dream them. I don't struggle to come up with plots. I just, all of a sudden, have an idea and then grab a pen and pad (or napkin), and scribble out the basics of the idea.

However, that new story idea, is just that, an idea. The work I put in comes from fleshing out the idea to make it three-dimensional. Plausible. Believable.

A key to good storytelling, is realistic characters. Crisp dialogue. And plenty of action, regardless of genre. Action is what keeps readers turning pages.

One night, I was overwhelmed with inspiration.

See, I posted on Facebook that I was headed down to a local watering hole to watch the Yankees/Orioles game. A good friend said she'd see me there. It was "Girls' Night Out" and I was invited to intrude on the get-together.

Most of the women going, I knew. Most I had not seen in 20 years. Not since high school. Yeah, I'm that old.

I arrived at Pineapple Jacks a bit before seven. Found a place at the bar and ordered a drink. I paid with a twenty. The barmaid, always chatting up patrons, forgot to give me change back. I tried not to get anxious. But twenty bucks for one drink ... it was hard to not fidget on the stool.

When she came back around, the guy next to me held out money. She took it as he said, "This wasn't my change."

She made a stupid, Oops-face, and goshed, gollied, and gave me back my change. What did I do? I bought the guy next to me a bubble (next-drink-on-me-kind-of-thing), as a kind of a reward for returning-a-lost-wallet idea. We shook hands, he thanked me, I thanked him. In return, the barmaid gave me a bubble. Karma?

I'm going to admit something here. Two years prior, I had no idea what a "bubble" was. Me and this girl Franca met out for drinks. She bought me a bubble. The barmaid slid a shot glass in front of me. Mouth down. So I said, "What's this?"

"A bubble," the barmaid said.

"Oh, no," I said, and pushed the shot glass toward her. "I only drink beer."

Franca and the barmaid laughed at me pretty good. I got married at twenty-one. Had my first son by twenty-two. I didn't know much about bars, and bar-slang.

A bubble--good for a next drink free. Just in case any of you reading this were like me, and had no idea what I was writing about.

So my friend Mindy showed up. Said she and her friends had a table out front. In back was smoking. I smoked. I guess some of the other ladies did not. I followed Mindy. Turned out I was the only guy among eight women. Not a bad night, eh? No. Not at all. Not at first, anyway.

We spent an hour catching up. Turns out most of the women hadn't seen each other since school, either. Cell phones with pics of kids and husbands were passed around. Memories shared. An abundance of laughter ensued. Blah, blah, blah, right? But it was all good. All fun. I was having a good time. Hadn't even watched an inning of the ballgame.

Unfortunately, like I said, I smoke. Bad habit. Filthy. But I do. So did a few of the women. Four of us entered the smoking section of the bar. (One of the only bars I know of in Monroe County that has a smoking section, part of why I love going there so much).

While Mindy went to the bar, Abby, Kim and I found a table. Turns out, Mindy was harassed by a large man while waiting for a glass of water. The guy, apparently, was rude and obnoxious. His comments too vile to post on a public blog.

When she came back to the table, so did he. Mindy, tough like she is, told the guy off, in equally obnoxious language.

See. I'm the guy at the table with four girls. There's an obligation to stand up to the man and put an end to the situation.

So I did. I turned to the guy. He sat next to me. I said, "Look, you're upsetting my friends. We're just here to hang out. I'd appreciate it if you'd leave the table."

Don't think he expected me to stand up to him. His buddies were at the table behind us. He looked at Mindy, who wasn't listening to him, and said to me, "She's got balls." Then he turned to me. "And you got bigger balls."

But he stood up. Was ready to leave. Mindy missed the exchange. The guy was up, and staring at me. She must have misread it. So what did she do? She started in on him. Insults flying from her mouth so fast and furious, all I could do was cringe. AT one point, perhaps her crowning moment, she called him a "fat-fucking-keg," and made like a basketball hoop with her arms outstretched to mimic the size of the guy's gut.

I said to Mindy, "Dear, I handled it."

She wasn't listening. Kim and Abby tried to tell Mindy, it was over. That I'd handled it. But Mindy, she was on a roll. I can't recall much of else of what she said, of what she called this man, but I do recall feeling my intestines coil, and my bowels liquefy some.

I expected a chair over the back of the head, or a sucker punch to my ear. Something. Anything. It had to be coming.

After all, this guy wasn't going to hit a girl. He was going to hit me. Right? Of course right. Mindy would piss him off and I'd get the shit kicked out of me by Keg and his buddies.

Kim, who'd just told me a story about a fight she'd been in at Roller City, had used one of her roller skates to pound an adversary and assured me--had a bru ha ha erupted--she had my back. Abby, who'd also shared some fight-stories from her youth, let me know she was ready to use her chair to smack the guy across the back of his head if necessary--despite just having undergone back surgery. And Mindy--no doubt--was ready to duke it out from the get-go.
What happened next caught us all off guard. Keg and his pals simply left. I'd love to say it was me that intimidated the group to swiftly exit. But it would be fairer to say, though harder to admit, that I think if anything, Mindy scared the shit out of them.

Eventually, we finished our cigarettes and made our way to the other half of the bar outside of the smoking section, where we rejoined our friends.Of course, we recapped what just happened. Everyone laughed. Apparently at my expense. At least it felt that way.

"If Kim had a roller skate with her, I'd have felt a lot more prepared," I'd said. This, for some reason, made everyone laugh ... more. My imminent doom seemingly caused much delight.

What I took out of the event?

Emotions. They'd surged.

Anger: that some guy would continually insult my friend.

Fear: not for me, mind you, but for the obnoxious guy. I don't think he knew the hornet's next he'd stirred was buzzing and ready to sting, relentlessly.

Courage: for not having backed down.

Inspiration: because I knew I'd get a blog out of the deal, and some character attributes to store away for use in future writings.

All in all. It had been a great night, with many, many inspirations tucked away.

Had I of stayed home, on the sofa, in jammers, and watched the Yankees game on TV, I'd have missed out on all the free inspiration oozing at Pineapple Jacks.

What I don't know, what I may never know is, did the Yankees even win? I missed the entire game!

Until next time ....

Chase N. Nichols
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quick & Crazy Straws

It's hard to say at what age I started drinking. Ten or eleven seems right. I could take full responsibility. After all, it was me that choose drinking. But I also blame Mark. Well, Mark's parents really. See, Mark's parents went out every weekend. All summer long. And all summer long my brother and I spent weekend's at Mark's.

His parents had a pretty well stocked cupboard. More whisky and bourbon and wine than any tween should have access to.

Being just ten or eleven, the three of us were both smart and stupid. We were smart enough not to take and drink from just one bottle. Even a blind man would notice two-thirds of a bottle missing. Instead, we used a Quick glass. Actually, it was plastic. Like a fountain drink cup. "V" shaped. Had the chocolate bunny from the commercials on it. His body bounding over the word Quick, and through the giant "Q", ears askew as if his leap over and through were captured by an action snapshot.

We'd pour in some vodka, Southern Comfort, red wine, a can of beer, and mix the conncoction with a spoon.

The conncoction is where we could be placed in line under the Stupid catagory.

We sat at the kitchen table. The Quick glass (plastic), filled to the rim, betwen us.

Also under stupid was the escaped thought that one of us could simply have had a few glasses of wine. The other some hefty shots of vodka and the third a beer with Southern Comfort chasers. That would have been a damned good idea. And I am slightly embarassed to admit I only just now thought of this. But see, that's the thing. The idea of pouring all of this into one twenty ounce plastic cup was what I'd done, so it always seemed like the only way to drink it, at that time.

We didn't even know enough to mix it up, doll it out, and chill. Put on TV and watch a ballgame, or cartoons. Nope.

Playing cards was an interest we shared. Aside from Old Maid and Go Fish (which when I was younger I used to call Gold Fish, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this story) we had recently learned a new game. Bloody Knuckles.

The rules of Blood Knuckles espcape me right now. Maybe it had something to do with getting the lowest scoring hand? I'm not sure. It really doesn't matter. There was this guy I worked with. He was the worst at telling stories. He would say something like, "I was taking pictures the other day. I had two-hundred speed film in my camera. No, no, wait--it might have been four-hundred speed. Because I know it wasn't a full roll of film. I had put four-hundred in the camrera about a week before. And I think the four-hundred was still in there. Unless I finished the roll of four-hundred, and put in that roll of two-hundred. I got the roll of two-hundred free at the store about a month ago. The pharmacy's photomat fucked up a roll, and to make it up to me gave me a couple rolls of two-hundred. It didn't make up for losing the pictures. But, you know, free is free..."

And then you say, "Ron! Ron! What the fuck are you talking about?"

And he would shake his head. "Aren't you listening, Chase? I was taking pictures at the Bill's preseason game the other day and got some great shots of them warming up."

"No, Ron. That's not what you said. You just went on talking about absolutely nothing for like ten years!" That's what I always wanted to say. He was like my boss. So I never said that. I just nodded. And waited. Eventually he got around to the point. And I didn't give two shits either way. If he was jawing away, we weren't working. Getting paid by the hour, the less I did in eight hours, the better.

...So we played Bloody Knuckles. At the time, we knew the rules. So for all's sake, the game was played. Rules followed. Then who ever lost--the others would fan out the cards, face down on the table. The loser picked a card. If it was a black--seven, say. The loser would have to drink while the oher slowly counted to seven. If it was red, the others counted fast.

The loser had to drink the concoction while the others counted.

But we didn't want to be slamming the drink all at once. So we looked for a straw. Only straw we had--Mark had--was a Crazy Straw. You know what a crazy straw is? It's one of those hard plastic straws that are washable. When used, they tease a thirsty person. While a regular straw goes from Drink to Mouth. Point A to Point B. A Crazy Straw insists on whipping around and in and out of loops like a liquid roller coaster before ever passing through now dry, cracked lips.

Imagine drinking a cold (plastic) Quick glass filled with--not mixed drinks, mixed like someone might order at a bar, and pay money for--an ulcer-possible, vomiting-certain ... well, concoction? I still can just stare an empty stare and drool from thinking about it, from remembering the smell. And I drooled. After every crazy draw on that wild and crazy straw, I drooled.

It was dentist office--Novocain drooling at its best.

We did this at least every Friday night. Sometimes Saturday, too.

By the time a full glass was gone (and sometimes a second filled and downed), we were pretty ripped. If between the three of us we weighed more than one-fifty, I'd be shocked.

At ten or eleven drinking is no different than if you are twenty-one, or forty. Bed spins, running to the bathroom to blow chunks, crawling up the stairs to get to bed, butt sliding back down to keep from toppling over and tumbling twelve steps. Slurred words, prank phone calls, and fighting. It was all in there. Along with promises we'd never do it again. And we promised that. A lot. And then by Tuesday, we counted the days, the hours, until Friday night.

Yep. Quick and Crazy Straws. Good times. Good. Times.

--Philiip Tomasso