Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretty Funny, Being an Artist, Especially if you have Children

These new convenience stores are terrific, everything under one roof. Gas, groceries, pizza, a drug store. Open twenty four hours a day, they're a regular one-stop robbery center.

The connection between all-night convenience stores and robberies is clear to any writer. Most of us have worked graveyard in one of these places. In the middle of the night, half the people who come in are dangerous. A friend of mine, talented, not a writer, an opera singer, told me about a big dude who came in one night at 7-11 while he was working. The guy had no taste, interrupted Steve in the middle of Forza del Destino on cassette. "Just give me the money," says the big dude. "I've got a gun... ."

"That's all right, you don't have to show it to me," Steve blurted as he opened the cash drawer. "I want this to go as smoothly as you do."

So, that's what it's like out there at night. Your average computer programmer with a wife and kids doesn't think about it. He can see the connection, once you point it out to him, and often it's another revelation. He laughs, probably at the thought of what it takes to find this stuff out. Thank God, he doesn't have to work the night shift in one of those florescent fishbowls.

Another singer I know was living in a fly-trap apartment in San Francisco with her year-old son. She said the hookers and thieves who circulated in and out of the building were very protective. She even let some of the gang babysit for her sometimes. If anybody dangerous was around the building, she was the first to hear about it, from people who knew very well what to watch out for. Here you have the material for some strange incongruities. What happens when Mrs. Magnum Opus from the opera guild calls to schedule Susan in an opera preview at the Shorewood Library or someplace like that, and gets Huey the pimp sitting around Susan's pad with a couple of his girls minding the baby.

"Huh? Uh... Nawh, she ain't here right now. ...Oprah?...We watch the Oprah Show sometimes." Then to the girls, "Got any paper around here." The dish watery sleaze in the tank-top shoves a coffee-stained napkin across the table toward Huey. He doesn't have a pencil, so he gets up with the phone and scrounges around Susan's bookshelf to find one.

Ready with the napkin. "OK. Lay it on me, Babe. ...You beg you pardon, fugging right. ...Hey, bitch, I ain't got all day. ...Send him over, my girls can handle him."

Susan calls back when she gets a load of the previous conversation, to see how many bridges have been burned. "I've been out all morning." Maybe she thought it was a wrong number. ...Nope. "...Uh, no, the baby sitter. ...Down to the market. ...Market Street!? No, the grocery! ...Shorewood Library on the twenty seventh? Who's the accompanist? ...Beth? Fine, I know Beth. ...I'm just fine, really. I could use about ten more AGMA engagements per year."

Huey hollers from the other side of the table, "I'll give you all the engagements you can handle, Susie.  I'll call 'em, you maul 'em."

This is the way movie scripts get written. With very little effort, and no talent, you can make a script about an opera singer who becomes a high class hooker, but is discovered before her son is old enough to know why everybody laughs when Huey says, "Sing him to sleep, Susie, and get gone." You might call it a new-fashioned heart warmer. Use a pseudonym. Take the money and run. Then do a story about a writer who becomes a high-class hacker.

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