Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just because I'm dropping the curtain on the writing workshop gig doesn't mean I'm not going to use Fence Post as a writer's notebook/workbook...

That said...

" He came there in the off-season. So much was off. All bets were off. The last deal was off. His timing was off, or he wouldn't have come here at this moment... "

From Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, a novel set in Provincetown,
Massachusetts by Denis Johnson

There was a period, in the early 1990s, when I had this fantasy. It wasn't just a fantasy, actually. It was a cocktail. Two parts fantasy, one part paranoia. With a dash of vermouth. I'll leave it up to you to give the drink a name.

For instance. Someone died. Lana and I met with the late Ronnie's significant other. Had dinner with Mark at a restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts. Ronnie had been gone for about a month. This grieving thing, the mourning, was all new to our friend. He was 42.

We ordered our meals. Another round of drinks, that circle having begun in the lounge of this restaurant on Main Street in this college town where Sylvia Plath and Gloria Steinem had attended classes.

Mark talked. We listened. Mark talked about how much he had loved Ronnie and how he was missing him. Mark, who was normally glib and witty and distanced, was confessing his sin to us - that sin being love.

Another round of drinks and Mark was still talking. About ow he'd hired a private detective to determine whether or not Ronnie had been, in fact, murdered...

The meals came. We ate the meals and drank the drinks. I had a steak. A rib-eye, medium rare. Mashed potatatos. Lana had scallops. Fried.

Mark? He had a vegetable lasagne. That surprised me at first. Every time we'd been out to eat with him in the past, he'd had steak. Thick. Rare. Oozing blood all over his plate.

His lover'd been murdered. Stabbed. Veggie lasagne? Who could blame Mark?

The next day, as I was driving to work - I was an advertising copywriter at the time - I thought:

What a great story! That story our friend had told us, over dinner and drinks. That day was a slow one. I worked on the bank campaign. The bank needed a new slogan. I could come up with ten winners in five minutes and my boss would bill the client for twenty hours worth of " creative work. "

This left me with plenty of time to work on other things. I wrote poetry. I wrote comedy bits for somnething called The American Comedy Network.

And I worked on my novels.

I was up to chapter 3 of the novel about the mystery of how a friend's lover had died under mysterious circumstances when I opened the New York Times Book Review section. I checked out the table of contents. There was a new book out. By an author I'd never heard of. I read the review. It was the book I was writing. Same plot. Similar characters with different names. It was all there. It was if this author had been sitting in the booth behind us as Mark sat there that night, drinking Manhattans, telling is his story. Listening. Taking notes.

I finished reading the review. Read about the author. He taught English at Smith College, which is located just up the hill from the restaurant where we all ate that night...

This was years ago. In 1991 I picked up a book by novelist Denis Johnson. Resuscitation of a Hanged Man is about Leonard English, a " sad and intense young man " recovering from a suicide attempt. He moves to Provincetown to work as a disc jockey - cum private detective. On his first day there he encounters a beautiful young woman and falls desparately in love with her - only to discover....

Lana and I were in this restaurant in the early 1990s. We were talking about this guy we knew. He'd moved to P-Town. Had been a cop on Nantucket and had some connections in the music business. His best friend was a sound man who knew someone who knew the lead singer of that Australian band, Men At Work.

This was during a time when I was making some changes. I'd been a newspaper reporter, then an advertising copywriter/creative director in Hartford. Now I was picking up some per diem time as a counselor on a locked psych unit in Springfield. I was still writing. But focusing on fiction...

To be continued...

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