Listening to: “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” – The Smiths

OMIGOD YOU GUYS. Listen. So last night, I’m cyberetically flipping through old files in the vastly distended “Writing” folder on my computer–and I found a partially written story I was working on feverishly when I was about 14 or 15. And it is RIDICULOUS. This was during full-on, starry-eyed romantic phase. Oh the times, how they do a-change.

The thing’s about 30 pages long (untitled). And the storyline? A romance set in France during World War II in which our British, piano-playing, fedora-wearing, swing-dancing, tousley-haired protagonist gets AMNESIA after joining the Resistance and getting beaten up by Nazis on a speeding train. Will he and his tragically separated lover (on the run from the Gestapo) ever find each other again? Will they beat the Nazis, get all lovey-dovey, and meld with the high, high stars in all his tragic dreaminess? Will all the descriptions and dialogue sound they’re cribbed straight from a particularly bad, very uninformed, romance novel? Will every verb have its own adverb? Is this ripped straight from the plot of Casablanca? Oh, you bet your ass.

Some choice excerpts, for your giggling pleasure:

She gazed out across the wide expanse of the night sky, wondering if her eyes, like the stars, could somehow pierce through the curtain of darkness. This night, so silent, so still, seemed to her the only true companion.

Presently, the sound of running water not too far off entreated her ears. Her eyes fell on the nearby brook. A lone figure stood on the bridge, silhouetted in the moonlight. It was him, of course. He was there almost every night at some late hour, pacing back and forth, his thoughts full of stardust and forgotten dreams. As she watched, the figure stopped, his hands reaching out to lean on the wooden rail. The head fell forward softly, the lush hair hanging over his forehead, that beautiful hair she longed so to caress. The troubled musings that swam through his mind could perchance cascade down into the water as it ran under the bridge, leaving him at peace. They were both dreamers, she thought as she rested her elbow on the sill, hopeless dreamers.


It’s funny, earlier today (while laid over at the Logan airport) I read in Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things: “We owe it to each other to tell stories.”

Tonight, my parents and I went to visit my grandpa in the nursing home where he’s recuperating from his latest foot infection. I hadn’t seen him since I was last home in July.

But this time when we visited him, on this miserably rainy November night, there was a wildness about him I’d never seen. Almost a joyous desperation. He looked more wasted away than I’d ever seen him, his hands skeletal and purple with blood clots. He almost immediately launched into a vicious bout of tale-telling–about his time as a lieutenant in World War II, about starting his own business after the war.

He seemed almost possessed by his memories. The narratives had little flow as he bounced from boast to unrelated fact to digression. He said he wants me to write a book about his life. I said that I don’t have the wherewithal to write a whole book. What I really meant is, I’m not patient enough to listen. And, that his stories aren’t the most interesting in the world (he spent most of the war in Long Island, after all).

But I (like my grandfather) digress. What I mean to say is, he had seemed to become suddenly and acutely aware of his own mortality. For him, it seems, he needs to tell stories to fling his legacy out into the future, to gather the jumbled threads of 87 years on Earth and weave them into a coherent, lasting something.

My grandfather knows that he is old, very old.

My mom suggested that he get a tape recorder to preserve all these stories–his hands are too arthritic to write–but I don’t think that’s what he wants. I think he wants someone to listen to him. A human thing, there at his knee, to hear what he has to say and to marvel in it as he marvels in himself.

Tonight, for the first time, I really saw grandpa as a person, flesh and blood and soul and not just diatribes and wrinkles. He’s old, and he’s frightened. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be.

And he wants to tell stories. His stories.