(This is an old story I’d written maybe five or six years ago. I figured I’d post it and maybe that’d get me motivated to actually write some new stuff?)
“Well.” I took a sip of my beer. It was a Stella; this place always has Stella on special. It was a special so frequently I assumed it was because they couldn’t sell any. To me it seemed more like a permanent clearance sale than a proper ‘special’. Either way, Stella is classier than Bud Light (or is it Bud Lite?), so let it be a perpetual special – I didn’t mind saving a few dollars. I took another sip.
“It’s something new and something I don’t understand yet.” My friend Jeff looked around while he thought. We were at our typical hangout where once a month, more or less, we go out for food and drinks. It was a typical restaurant with the typical fare of burgers, steak, and chicken dishes, usually visited by families, couples, or friends/groups celebrating events that aren’t worth celebrating. Jeff and I were a couple of guys sorting things out, not like a couple on a date with their trivial matters or people “celebrating” some mundane event. Nevermind that our “sorting things out” never actually sorted anything out.
“You’re good at all sorts of things.” Jeff said. “Why would you decide to write?”
“It’s new and artistic.”
“You’re a good artist already. You used to draw, and you can write decent music. You could do those instead of trying to write can’t you? Build on your current skills rather than learn new ones.” Jeff is endlessly curious. Not so much curious about new, unknown things, but curious about the task at hand, the current pressing matter. He won’t go out of his way to learn about some topic on the news that he doesn’t understand, but if someone close to him brings up a topic, he analyzes it like a detective would analyze a case.
“I don’t know man. Writing seems…more mysterious – less dictated by formula, more creative in a way. I mean art, such as painting has tons of mystery to it, but telling stories, or fiction, with just words, seems crazy. That it’s so mysterious makes it even more interesting to me. But you know what Jeff? I have no fucking clue what I should write about. Like how do you just sit down and write a fucking story?”
Jeff thought about this but didn’t have to think long. Music was his life, it was his art, and putting writing and music together was a natural marriage; songs tell stories too. I knew where his line of thought would take him.
“Well, don’t you just write about what you know? That is what I usually read in all the musical biographies. They write about what they know. You know Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” right?”
He knew that I was aware of the song. I gave a quick affirmative nod. It is one of the best songs ever written.
“That is a classic song, and it’s more or less a narrative about his bar playing days. He wrote about what he knew and it was a hit.”
“Well ok, but what the fuck do I know?” I laughed. “I lead a boring life, I have a girlfriend, I work, I smoke weed, hell even sometimes I lift weights at the gym. I’m not complaining about anything, ya know I’m happy, but my life isn’t exactly story material. Maybe I should write about waking up, doing the same thing everyday and then…going to work? Fucking that would be a wonderful book, huh? I could write about being stoned and confused by music lyrics but that’s been done millions of times.” I took an aggressive drink of my beer and shook my head. “It’d be the most boring damn book ever. If anything I’d write a book about nothing, because life is pretty much nothing to write about.”
Jeff laughed and said, “A book about nothing? That’s what Seinfeld was. Well, not a book but a TV show about nothing.”
Dammit, Jeff, such a sharp person. In trying to go on about life not having anything to really write about, being about nothing, he brings up one of the best (if not THE best) show ever created. I dropped the point before he had to prove me wrong.
“Yeah, Seinfeld was a show about nothing. And somehow they made it good.”
Taking a drink of his margarita (yes, margarita), Jeff jumped right into his analysis. “Seinfeld was good because it was about nothing. I mean most people, including myself, feel life is nothing. At least partly. But Seinfeld took these nothing moments that we all know and understand and made it relatable and funny.”
“And without a strict plot too, right?” I added, trying to play an active role in the conversation. I always assumed a story would need some form of structure and a story without a plot seemed like a terrible idea.
“Well,” he paused and plotted out what he was about to say, “the show did have a plot in each episode but no real plot tying the shows together. They had their separate jobs that we constant in a season, but outside of that, you’re correct, there was no plot.”
I sighed. “But it was good. Now I can’t do the same damn thing, even with a story. It’d be a blatant ripoff.”
“Thats where you need to put your own flavor in.” Jeff instructed me.
I drank some more beer, finishing my glass and setting it on the edge of the table so the waitress knew I wanted another. She quickly and silently brought me another drink without me even being aware of it. My last beer was number two, a 20 ounce glass, so really three and a third cans of beer. Cans are the definitive measurement of beer consumption and 40 ounces equaling 3.33333 beers had been established a long time previous. I was feeling good.
We both sat there thinking of our conversation and where it should lead next. I thought of writing what I know (being typical everyday stuff) and Seinfeld’s masterpiece in turning the trivial into something special. Every artform I could think of built itself on its creator’s personal knowledge. Chekhov was a doctor; anyone could tell this by his stories. C.S. Lewis was a passionate Christian and is why Aslan was basically Jesus, Orwell had some career in analyzing politics or something and it was obvious that he hated communism, Twain knew of the river and slavery, Vonnegut was in Dresden and most likely abducted by aliens…all of these are evident upon reading their works. I found one exception, one of many it seemed.
“Ok. You say they write about what they know, right?” I set up the statement for Jeff to agree too, so I could present a counterexample. A quick flash of Socrates standing in a robe flashed in my mind.
“What about…uh…the dude who wrote Lord of the Rings? What the fuck was his name? Tole-key-an? Tole-i-kan? Something like that. I mean did he know trolls, kings, dwarves, and elves? It looks like he just pulled Middle Earth right out of his ass.”
“I seen the movies when they came out and haven’t seen them since.” That had to have been quite some time ago, my drunken self concluded. It was too hard to anchor the movies and their releases to a year, especially since I’ve watched them many times since. “I’m guessing he just used his imagination and created something new. And I bet if you dug deep enough into his stuff you’d find something relatable to what his interests were, or points he was trying to get at,” Jeff finally concluded.
He had a point. I bet if I reread his stuff again I could find something that brought the story back to his own life in someway. I nodded. “Yeah…yeah, that is a good point.” Maybe I would do that sometime soon. Too bad the book takes forever to read.
I thought for a moment and took a drink. Jeff pretty much escaped the point I was trying to prove. My drunken mind moved on quickly as if not wanting to dwell in silence for very long.
“You know what else would get me? Ok, I just read The Hunger Games, you haven’t read them or seen the movies have you?”
“Well it’s a trilogy, and it covers, like, obviously three separate stories but they all tie together, like a story arc I guess. But if I wrote the books I wouldn’t know where to end the thing at. Life doesn’t really end. Katniss, she’s the hero person, she doesn’t just ‘live happily ever after’ after the end of the book. Shit in Panem – uhhh, the setting of the story – sorry Jeff, will just keep going. It’s not like shit happens to her and then she’s done. But the books are done. They finish, because they have to end. Where do you put a book’s ending when nothing really ends? I’d end up ending the ‘trilogy’ with about 20 books where the last five she just gets old, gets Alzheimer’s or some other incurable disease and dies not remembering a thing. And her grandkids hate her for being bad at technology or some other reason.”
Jeff laughed, obvious taken by surprise at my alcohol-fueled rant. He quickly recovered for his chuckle and regained his words. “I guess it’s the same as any other forms of art. You write a song and it has to end somewhere. Personally, I would end it after the main story is over. It’s obvious and exhausting when a story just keeps going on and on and just drags. I actually think it’s rather obvious when a story is supposed to end.” Jeff seemed to be losing interest in my writing curiosities while I found the topic even more fascinating the further we talked and with the more I drank.
One example jumped into my mind from high school. It was one of the two or three books I remember from way back then: the mandatory books we had to read. “Like Huckleberry Finn? Mark Twain didn’t know how to end it so it was just Huck and Tom and their slave buddy – Jim? – hanging out in a shack for months or something. Wasn’t that how it went? At least that’s what I remember. But like let’s say I write a story about us in this restaurant, where and how would it end?”
“That would be a boring story.” Jeff chuckled and took a drink of his girly drink. Damn right it would be a boring story, but what happened to the ‘write about what you know’ idea? I know us drinking and talking about random stuff; couldn’t that make a story?
“But really how would it end?” I laughed, joking around with him although being a bit more serious with my question. I knew it would take a long time to find a halfway decent ending and wanted to see what terrible ending he would throw out with some prompting.
“I have no idea, maybe you could make some people break in to rob this place…” Jeff suggested. I smiled, suppressing a laugh as my mouth was full of beer. Jeff was off to a hilarious start and my imagination quickly gave visuals to his words. I imagined the two of us with Tommy guns, wearing hats like the mobsters wore in the 30s, and pumping the walls of the restaurant with lead as we fended off the never ending army of robbers. Luckily I was able to swallow my beer halfway through my thought. “…and we save everyone. We become heroes and…”
“Is there anything else I can get for you guys today?” The waitress, as usual, did a wonderful job at sneaking up on us. Me and Jeff looked at each other, I tallied up my beers, and feeling satisfied gave a slight shake of my head. Jeff also felt the same; we were here quite a while and it was time to move on with our day.
“Umm, nope. We should be good.” Jeff said. I usually stayed quiet and let him do all of the official talking.
“Well here’s your check guys. There’s no rush and you let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Our waitress said as she left the check and walked off. It’s amusing and pathetic to see a waitress blatantly being kind, sweet, and even flirting simply to earn a tip. It’s about as subtle as a good analogy about being subtle. Luckily, this girl today seemed genuinely kind to us with no ulterior-tips motives. These are the people that get the best tips.
I sighed. Our tasty food, intoxicating drinks, and good conversation were obviously over. I had about half a beer left and drank it down in a few large gulps. “I’ll get the check.” I figured I’d be nice and treat him this time.
“Yeah, you can buy next time if you want.” I dropped a 50 dollar bill on the table giving our waitress around a 25% tip. I told myself, knowing it’s a false hope, that if I tipped like this I could change the world for the better.
“Alright. I’ll get you next time.” Me and Jeff put on our jackets. “Hey, about an ending to a restaurant story, we could just put on our jackets and leave.” He laughed, obviously joking with me. “Nah, I’m sure you’d come up with a better ending than that.”
“I sure hope so, that one would be awful. Sorry buddy. Well,” I sighed again, vaguely aware how stiff my legs were and how full my belly was. “Let’s go.”
We stood up and walked out of the restaurant.