I create context. I also write blog posts:

Finding Use In A Broken Stick.

Posted: December 31st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »


While I was home on break, I went to a hockey game with my family. Being in the rink reminded me of a pivotal hockey memory, one that I’m going to remember for a long, long time.


I was fortunate as a kid that Amerk games were a pretty regular occurrence, thanks to an aunt and uncle who used to allow my brother and me to tag along and holler nonsensical taunts until our throats went dry (’cause when you’re four, shouting “your mother was a toaster and your father was a snowplow!” makes total sense…). They picked us up on Friday nights and, as habit dictated, we got to the rink early, dropped off our coats at our seats, and walked down to ice level to watch the warmups.

Because our seats were on the horseshoe at the end of the arena the visitors defended twice, and because the Amerks end was always crowded, we usually stood watching the visitors take shots. It was good, ’cause we already knew all the Amerks but this gave us a chance to scout the other teams and figure out who we — and the hometown team — should be on the lookout for. And I particularly enjoyed the closeup view of the goalies.

On a particular night that I can recall, we went down to watch the warmups the way we always did, as the Hershey Bears took the ice. I was probably only six or seven then and I don’t remember much of the night, but there are some things that still come to mind: the old green leather seats and the buzz from the high bay lights hanging from the rafters that were turned off during the periods, and the slick steps that became slicker when beer was spilled and slush melted from boots. And there was the billboard at the other end of the ice that reiterated what we were all thinking: “Boy could I go for a Genny now?” (well, I’m not sure I was thinking it then, but I bet everyone else was…).

The pre-game warmup is generally a pretty casual affair. Players get the blood flowing and their hearts beating, goalies get a feel for the puck, and coaches rarely involve themselves. So the show lacks any real excitement; you don’t see many big saves, you don’t see puck battles or defense being played, and I’d bet there’s never been a check thrown amongst teammates before the game starts. But you get to see players loosened up, horsing around a little and enjoying themselves. They’re focused, but not in the way they are during the game.

And so, sometimes they interact with the fans.

At some point during the shootaround, Hershey’s goalie broke his stick. Leaving players to shoot on an empty net, he skated towards us to the bench to get a new one. I watched as the equipment manager chose a replacement from a stack behind the bench. I couldn’t wait to play pro hockey so I’d have an unlimited supply of sticks to choose from (though, being only six or seven years old, I’d never actually broken one myself, so I didn’t really need a backup, let alone a closetful of them). And as the goalie was handing the broken stick over, he tapped it on the glass in front of me and said something to the equipment manager. I couldn’t hear what he said, but as soon as he skated away, the equipment manager motioned for my uncle to come to the glass then pointed at me. As soon as we understood what he meant, he lofted the stick over and gave me a thumbs up.

I don’t remember much about the game, except that it went into overtime and that I was probably the only Amerks fan rooting for the Bears to win it. I also remember the goalie’s name: Scott LaGrand.

It’s rare that the warmup is better than the game — and rightly so — but I was the envy of every kid in our section and every kid we passed on the way to the car that night. On subsequent nights in my bedroom, I pretended to defend an imaginary goal from imaginary opponents with that stick. When I began playing goal a few years later, I made sure the tape job on my sticks followed the exact pattern. I even used the same brand for a long time.

I’m still not sure who won the game that night, but who cares? I remember enough.


You Are Hereby Cordially Invited…

Posted: December 13th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Here’s another two pager that didn’t make the cut, but it’s one I really like. In fact, I think it’s going to make it into something bigger later on, when I find it. But I think it stands on its own well enough, too. So here goes:

INT. KITCHEN

A GUY and a GIRL stand at the counter. There’s a stack of envelopes and a stack of cards in front of them. GIRL picks one up.

GIRL

(reading)

You are hereby cordially invited-- No. We’re not doing this.

BOY

What?

GIRL

You can’t “cordially invite” people to a funeral.

BOY

Why not?

GIRL

Well, for starters, I don’t think people send invitations to funerals.

BOY

We’re about to.

GIRL

We’re really not. And if we did, we wouldn’t “cordially invite” people. It’s a funeral, there’s grieving and peace to be made. We’re not inviting people over for cocktails.

BOY

There won’t be cocktails, either? You’re taking the fun out of this.

GIRL

Fun? Dad died.

BOY

Right. And while he was dying, he went out of his way -- which is hard for someone who’s dying to do -- to make sure it was still fun and not at all gloomy, the way most dying people are.

GIRL

You don’t think he’ll mind that we’re making a mockery out of this?

BOY

Who says we’re making a mockery? And no, I don’t think he’d mind.

GIRL

Wouldn’t you mind?

BOY

No. I’d be dead.

GIRL

When I die, I hope you’ll--

BOY

He’s dead! And he spent the last thirty years in jail because he murdered someone. If we can actually care about things after we die, he’s got a lot more on his plate than some fucking funeral invitations!

He takes a breath. She tries not to cry.

BOY (CONT’D)

So I say we throw a party and we all tell stories about the fun times we had and we’ll leave the gloomy shit to the newspapers.

Now she does start crying.

GIRL

I guess you’re right.

BOY

There’s no reason this can’t be fun. He might not have showed it very well, but he cared about us and this is the way he wanted it.

GIRL

All right. I’ll call mom and tell her the invitations are ready to go out then.

BOY

Good. I’m going to buy stamps. You can cry for now, but this weekend’s about having fun.

CURTAIN.


The Christmas Movie

Posted: December 9th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | 3 Comments »


I’ve been writing a lot of short scripts the past few days in preparation for Writers and Books’ Two Pages/Two Voices contest this year, so I’ve been away from the blog and away from the script I’m currently wrestling with. It’s been a process to get myself in the “two page” zone, but I’ve got a few under my belt and I’m zeroing in on one or two that really work for me.

Here’s one that I like, but that I don’t think I’m going to submit.

INT. OFFICE

On the window-side of a desk piled high with unread movie scripts sits an AGENT, a cocky old bastard in his sixties. Across the desk is his timid, soft-spoken writer, with a look about him that you see in a kid visiting the principle’s office for the first time; it ain’t defiant.

AGENT

Oh, for Christ sakes, Billy. You’re not gonna give me another one of these fucking sad Christmas stories this year, are you?

WRITER

It’s not --

AGENT

Cause I’m telling you right now, I can’t keep shopping this. Nobody wants to feel bad when they’re watching a Christmas movie. They want a cute little kid with no front teeth, they want a poor family that gets rich, and they want a happy fuckin’ ending!

He picks up the script.

AGENT

Let me guess -- you’re giving this to me right now, I haven’t read it yet. I’m just guessing here: it starts in a hospital. Someone’s grandmother just had a heart attack, right? Cause last year it was a tumor and the year before that the dog died.

He opens the script.

AGENT

(reading)

Interior. Intensive Care Unit. University hospital. Three children stand around a hospital bed where their grandmother is recuperating from a heart attack. Snow flakes fall outside the window.

He puts the script down.

AGENT

Jesus Christ. The “snow flakes outside the window” is a nice touch though.

WRITER

Are you going to keep reading?

AGENT

No! It’s awful. It’s shit. It’s a hundred and twenty pages of garbage that nobody wants to see. But at least there’s no cussing on the first page. Last thing you want is to start with the cussing early on. Your audience’ll think you’re some sorta cretin.

WRITER

What would you like to see instead?

AGENT

Right now I just want to know what in your childhood was so fucking bad that you come to me every year with this “babies are crying, everbody has cancer” bullshit? I can’t sell it. You gonna tell me you had a wife or something die on Christmas so you wanta bring everyone else down too? Cause I gotta say -- and I don’t mean to sound crass here -- but I gotta say, nobody fuckin’ cares about your wife who fuckin’ died on Christmas. So what is it about you?

WRITER

I’ve never even had a wife.

AGENT

Tough break.

WRITER

I don’t know. I just think Christmas carols make for sad soundtracks.

And quietly Sinatra’s version “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” rolls in as snow flakes begin to fall outside the window and the writer hangs his head and we

FADE TO BLACK.


The Board.

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Tags: | 1 Comment »

For the last couple of days, I’ve been working out a brief but wicked important outline of the entire script, and painstakingly writing the bullet points down on index cards. It’s the first time I’ve done this, but it’s a pretty helpful visual organization of what needs to happen and in what order. If I hit a bump in the road, I’m just gonna look up and there it is, all laid out for me like a road map. “Here’s where you were going next…

Now, obviously, it’s not set in stone. There are some cards that’ll come down and some cards that’ll be changed, and probably some cards that’ll be added, but that’s about it. That’s my script: twenty-four notecards.

The yellow sheet in the middle is the centerpiece of writing, it’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten. It comes from John August, and it reads: “What can burn, and why haven’t I lit it on fire yet?”

(There are three postings on the bottom that aren’t notecards: the paper on the left is a one sentence summary of each of the main characters’ stories, the middle is Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story, and the yellow legal paper is a scene that I wrote that will someday make it into something I write; just, not this one. The blurred stuff in the bottom right corner are checks that I need to deposit — the board doesn’t just help me write! Above that are some other notes, including my reminder of Dubin’s Fuck First Rule — which, you’ll remember, says: “Start it with a fuck scene!” — and another piece of advice from John August, “the protagonist is the character that suffers the most,” and finally, a Far Side comic.)

Onward.

[This post also showed up on Paper Dailies, my almost-daily screenwriting log.]

[BTW, does bolding help at all? Or is it just annoying on the eyes?]


Maybe The Pen Isn't Mightier?

Posted: October 12th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | No Comments »

CHARACTER A

I broke a pen tonight.

CHARACTER B

So?

CHARACTER A

So I don’t normally break pens.

CHARACTER B

Do you use some sort of unbreakable pen?

CHARACTER A

No.

CHARACTER B

Because maybe they have those... ya know, for people who break pens.

CHARACTER A

I don’t think they have those.

CHARACTER B

That would be a cool thing to invent.

CHARACTER A

No it wouldn’t. It’d be really stupid.

CHARACTER B

No, I’m saying, invent a pen that’s really tough where you hold it. It wouldn’t break.

CHARACTER A

Who would buy that?

CHARACTER B

Considering that you started the conversation about unbreakable pens, you’re being rude.

CHARACTER A

Well I didn’t mean to start a conversation about breaking pens.

CHARACTER B

Really rude.

CHARACTER A

I started a conversation about me breaking a pen.

CHARACTER B

I don’t understand how those are different.

CHARACTER A

One is very general: the act of a pen breaking. The other is very specific: the act of me breaking a pen. It’s the latter that I would like this conversation to be about.

CHARACTER B

Well, you should have said something... What would you like to talk about.

CHARACTER A

I broke a pen tonight!

CHARACTER B

You shouldn’t squeeze it so hard.

CHARACTER A

I wasn’t squeezing it.

CHARACTER B

Oh. You know, next time you want to tell me a story, perhaps you’ll try to provide a little more detail. I feel like I have to pull everything out of you.

CHARACTER A

Sorry, I broke a pen tonight. I threw it against the wall and the top cracked.

CHARACTER B

That’s it, the top cracked. Thats how the pen broke?

CHARACTER A

Yes. I had to find a dead pen with the same top to replace it.

CHARACTER B

Hmph.

CHARACTER A

What?

CHARACTER B

I was just wondering: are we done with this conversation yet? ‘Cause it’s uh... boring.

CHARACTER A

No. Don’t you want to know why I broke the cap?

CHARACTER B

Again, I figured that was a detail the storyteller would include if it were important. But since you asked, I’ll ask: why did you break the pen cap?

CHARACTER A

Because I was angry. I threw it against the wall.

CHARACTER B

Sometimes the wall deserves it. The pen cap too.

CHARACTER A

It didn’t. I was angry.

CHARACTER B

So you said. Have you gotten everything off your chest, or would you like to share more.

CHARACTER A

No, I think that’s it. Just wanted to say I broke a pen tonight. I’m not to be messed with.


Boulders

Posted: October 10th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

 leep doesn’t come easily these days. Regrets, like wispy ghosts, float through the room as soon as the lights are turned out, and they pin me down in bed, as though I’ve been shackled to the low, iron frame. And as if they have their own agenda, they come at me, the earliest mistakes of my life first, followed by later ones and finally thoughts of my most recent sins when I have the least energy to fight them off.

Blurry around the edges like an old slide show, one of my earliest memories from grammar school involved a spelling test and a classmate wetting himself. Though I can’t remember anything else from that classroom, any pictures on the wall, whether there was a globe on the teacher’s desk or not, or even the number of rows of pupils, I remember Miss Shelton was reading us our spelling words when I noticed Ralph Shepard holding himself under his desk. With his other hand, he was trying, like me, to spell the word “harbor.” He didn’t look like he could bear it to ask to be excused. I raised my hand. “Miss Shelton?” “Not in the middle of a quiz, Arthur!” she scolded. “But Miss Shelton, Ralph is going to piddle himse—” As all eyes in the room turned toward him, it was over. Or, for Ralph, just beginning. As he was mocked at recess—wearing an old pair of gym shorts that they apparently kept at school just for boys who couldn’t control themselves—I decided that I would never, ever get myself into anyone’s personal business again. Truth be told, if Ralph still hasn’t forgiven me for that, I wouldn’t blame him.

The next salvo fired across my hippocampus—and by this point it’s not unusual to feel the cool air coming off the cement floor a foot and a half below me despite my sheets and wool blanket and a comforter I had made out of flannel scraps from old pajamas—is the fake call of a baseball announcer made up by me to narrate the final play of my short-lived career.

“It’s a one-and-one count in the bottom of the seventh”—it was little league, we didn’t play the full nine then—some cigar smoking, fedora wearing, potbellied announcer would proclaim. “Tying run on first, a feared batter at the plate. Two outs, down by one…”—of course it was! Why else would the gods have managed to get me on base?—“…the pitch! It’s in the dirt for ball two.” After that pitch, the first base coach told me to go the next time the ball got past the catcher. I was crossing my fingers for a walk, as I always did. “Two and one, the outfield creeps in, the runner takes his lead…”—which is where the announcer in my head fucks me, because at that age we couldn’t lead-off yet, and it makes you seem even slower if you have a lead and you get… well, I won’t ruin the good announcer’s story—“…the pitch. It’s in the dirt, past the catcher! The runner goes… the throw!” The short stop had the ball before I even started my slide. The pitch had hit the backstop and bounced right back to the catcher, who threw me out at second. “He’s out! He’s out! The game is over, the season is over!” My baseball career was over.

The regrets get bigger from there, like the guilt I still felt from breaking up with Ruby Franks in the eleventh grade because I didn’t like the way her father’s car smelled when we took it to the drive-in. I felt guilty because she let me slip my hand inside her bra in that car. She was a terrifically cute girl with a little gap in her two front teeth, and sweeter than warm, fresh milk straight from the cow’s teat. She read books, she sang in church, and we talked about opening a diner together. But I couldn’t get past the smell of chewing tobacco and shoe polish that the car reeked of, and I stopped talking to her. And I think she thought it was her fault.

When the darkest hours of the night eclipse the remaining memories, I move on to new haunts. I used to worry about losing my job, but I don’t need to worry about my financial wellbeing anymore. I’m well taken care of these days. All that’s left up to me is my health.

I now brush my teeth six, eight times a day: after meals, after snacks, after drinking from the fountain down the hall which probably has nasty old pipes and god-knows-what kind of contaminants in it. So everytime I chew something—pen tops, cigarettes (I don’t even smoke them anymore), toothpicks (which are s’posed to keep your teeth clean)—I find myself in front of the mirror and washbasin. Twenty strokes along the molars on the bottom right, twenty strokes across the top of my bottom front teeth, twenty strokes along the bottom left molars, repeat for the top. Then the sides of each of the teeth: twenty brushes on the molars, twenty along the front of the bottom front teeth, and twenty along the top.

I’ve got it down to a simple process. My head goes on counting, but I don’t need to watch anymore. Instead, I stare at the figure in the mirror: was my hair this curly yesterday? Have my eyes always been brown? My beard is coming in whiter and whiter every day. At what point did I become old? And then, as I count the last brush strokes, I spit into the tinny sink (it makes a familiar “tinny” noise), rinse twice, wipe my mouth on the towel, and return to the bed.

I used to sit and reflect on the image in the mirror, the way it’s changed over time, and the way I’ve changed to keep up with it. Because when you don’t feel like the person in the mirror, you need to change the way you look or the way you act. I’ve never been able to control the way I look. Haircuts grow back, and my nose still points slightly to the left, no matter what I try.

If it’s past, it’s past, and, much like a crooked nose, you can’t change it. Which means my regrets are probably a waste of time, a buildup of needless anxiety, a one-way path headed straight for a coronary. Which is maybe what I need. Maybe that’s the consequence that I’ve been waiting for. We feel guilty when we’ve come out ahead, when we know that the pendulum that keeps the world in balance needs to swing back against us in order to right itself.

Every few days, so that everyone gets his proper exercise, we’re given yard duty. We dig holes and we load the boulders we find into dump trucks to be hauled away. To me, it seems like punishment from the gods that you would read about in Dante, but they tell us that it’s productive work, and ain’t none of us John the Baptist. I’m one of the boulder-lifters, because my biggest mistake was when I worked fixing the roads.

My crew was patching potholes on one of those ungodly hot days in the middle of summer, the days when the humidity literally strangles you, actually keeps air from reaching your lungs. We had finished one site and I was gathering the men to head to the next one when one of them happily announced “Looky what I’ve got!” On the ground, a field mouse struggled to loosen its tail from under his boot. “LUNCH!” Without opening his mouth, he slid a cigarette into one of the gaps of missing teeth.

“Quit kidding around, Bill, work day’s almost over and I want to get home on time tonight.”

“Watch this,” one of the other workers said. And as he did, Bill stomped with his other foot, breaking the mouse completely, just fucking smashing it. Bill smiled and looked up at the rest of us. To this day, I can’t decide whether I wish I had already been in the truck at this point or not, because we would have just driven away without him. But I wasn’t in the truck. As it was, I was just a few paces away from him, and as I raised my shovel to my shoulder, I didn’t know what I was doing. Except that I swung that shovel harder than I ever swung a baseball bat, or anything since. He didn’t even look shocked. He just kept on smiling as he crumpled to the ground. They told me his brain stopped before his heart, and he spent most of the ride to the hospital not knowing he was in trouble. Then he just died with that stupid, shit-eating grin on his face. And because of that, the warden says I’m not allowed to use a shovel when we dig for boulders.


Every Once In A While You Meet One Of The Good Guys

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

The emails kept coming. “I’m really sorry to do this to you, but I have to push our phone call back again. Check with me in about an hour.” Two, three, four of them showed up. Each time, my day was put on hold that much longer.

It couldn’t last all day, though. I had to go to work later in the afternoon. And like a kid waiting for Christmas to come, I didn’t want to put this off another day.

In May 2008, I finished grad school, packed everything I owned into my Chevy Cobalt and drove almost 5,000 miles to the other coast with my girlfriend, Kelsey. (Why 5,000 miles, you ask? Because we took our time and drove all over the place.) And though I had walked across a stage and worn a cap and gown and drank champagne, I hadn’t actually finished school; we all had to complete a 3 credit internship during the summer, and mine was going to be a writing “mentorship” with a Syracuse alumnus whose name I’m not going to mention… because he blew me off for a month and a half and then, upon finally meeting me for lunch at a vegan hole-in-the-wall (the first sign of the meeting going badly was when I asked for ranch dressing), promptly told me that he was too good to be working with me (or that I wasn’t good enough to work with him, I don’t remember…). But fortunately, I had a backup plan, and it worked out faaaaaaar better than it could have with the other guy. (At this point, at the risk of this becoming way longwinded, I should point out that I don’t really hold a grudge against the first guy; in fact, I totally see his point and don’t disagree with what he did. I just wish I hadn’t moved to California before it happened. But as I’m about to tell you, it all worked out anyways, so I’m ok with the fact that I moved out to California. All right, back to the story…)
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Going To The Hockey Game

Posted: August 26th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , , | No Comments »


This is my submission to the Rochester Story Walk.

We had a plan, and it was a good one.

We rehearsed it on the drive in. Everybody knew their roles, and we ran through our lines flawlessly. Our scheme was simple, our preparation thorough; it was foolproof, it had to work.

Heading downtown following a blurry parade of brake lights and hustling pedestrians, we parked in the Midtown Garage and walked the tunnel under Exchange Boulevard, nothing amiss about our foursome among the crush of other hockey fans. Red, white, and blue jerseys and hats and signs painted the scene; there was a buzz, an excitement in the air.

But there was one problem: I was six years old.

“When the usher asks you how old you are, what are you going to say?” my aunt asked me.
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To Live For

Posted: August 8th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | No Comments »


What if your life goal was something absolutely outrageous, something so ludicrous it literally could never be done?

But you’d stick to your guns and just not die until you accomplished it?

 

“I’m going to live to be 137 years old,” he said.

“That’s sad,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because I won’t be around to celebrate it with you.”

 


Moving On

Posted: August 6th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

I had a day off today, so I took the time to rework an old short that I wrote in January.

Moving On
a play
by Peter C. Shelly

Characters
GUY, somewhere in his 20s
FRIEND, also in his 20s

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