Freewrite: Mystery Men

Another Freewrite. The prompt for this one was “Solitude”.

Today I am alone but not alone. I sit in a semi-crowded restaurant and write and no one talks to me. Well, earlier some of my friends were here and they talked to me then, but now I am alone, friendless but not alone. Am I invisible? On the opposite corner is a gentleman, sans computer, who is writing or studying something on his table. He has a half-full beverage in front of him, it looks like an iced tea or lemonade, if only because of the lemons suspended in it. He looks in my direction now and again. I can tell that he sees me. I am not invisible to him. I do not know what he thinks about me, but I can tell that I interest him somehow. Is it because of my set up? My laptop has a sticker that says “meh.” on it. The table is strewn with a coffee mug, and large soda glass, and a powerstrip which provides power for my computer, phone and Kindle. My shirt has a ginormous peace symbol on it. He can’t see my shirt though, it is hidden by the screen of my laptop. He’s thinking again. Is he a writer, too? Or is he just a reader. He seems to be reading now. It’s a very active reading, with a furrowed brow and his hands on his bald, white forehead. He’s wearing a navy blue golf shirt. And thinking, there is a lot of thinking going on. Oh, there he goes with some writing. He could be writing a story, correcting papers, balancing his checkbook, editing a book, planning world domination. I don’t need to know what he is doing, I like a mystery. Sometimes the truth just isn’t as interesting as my fantasy.

For instance, I have a mystery man in my life. I work in Kennebunk, and whenever I am running early or late (but never when I am running right on time) I see him. He hangs out in front of the Kennebunk High School and directs traffic, to help the school busses make a left on Route 35 – otherwise they might have to wait forever. He wears a bright yellow vest, and is one of those force-of-nature-looking people. He is tall enough, with chocolate brown skin, and an easy smile. He has a bit of an attitude, in a good way. Once I saw him leave the intersection, but instead of walking toward the school, he started walking toward one of the houses on the opposite side of the street. Which set me to wondering, who is this guy? Why is he directing traffic in front of the school? Is he doing it as a favor? Was he hired by the town? Did he start doing it because he saw the traffic backing up, and as a concerned citizen he took it on himself to direct traffic? Is this his only job? If that’s the case, is he retired? He looks too young to be retired, is he a writer? This kind of job seems well-fit for a writer, 1-2 hours a day for directing traffic, enough to make some pin money. Is he a concerned parent who works a second or third shift and just directs traffic because it needs to be done? I just don’t know. And the thing is, I have the means to find out who he is. I could just ask Michelle at work and she’d probably know. But the thing is, then my Mystery Man would lose that mystery. And it’s always good to have a little mystery in one’s life.

My Panera mystery man has left the building. He packed up his phone and papers, he walked by me, either to refill his drink or go to the bathroom before he leaves. Or both. Leaving me alone but not alone again. In a room full of people who do not see me. A room of people to whom I’m invisible. People who, when they do notice me, let their eyes move to the left or the right, pretending they can’t or don’t notice me.

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What does “Solitude” say to you? 

Observation: Same Tree Four Days in a Row

Observation: Same Tree Four Days in a Row

An Observation exercise from my Summer 2010 creative writing class. The assignment: Same Tree 4 Days in a row.

Same Tree Four Days in a Row

Day 1 – Saturday, June 19

I am standing in the kitchen because I am too lazy to go outside. Also because I am still wearing my jammies. It is 8:30 pm and I haven’t left the house today. It is close to dusk, but still light enough to see the tree. It sits in a copse of trees lining the parking lot next to our house. We share this parking lot with the elderly residents of the Old High School and some municipal vehicles. Our landlord has three reserved spots of which we were assigned one. Our landlord has one car, but yet requires the second spot in case they have guests. (He is blind, his wife is the only one who drives, and as it follows they have only one car.)

The tree is dead. A dead oddball, nearly as tall as most of the other trees around it. The branches are bare and silvery compared to the dark green of the adjacent pines. Its branches look like silver fingertips. The bark is worn near the bottom of the tree. From the ground to at least 4 feet up.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 20

It’s father’s day. I am waiting in the car, with the AC blasting, waiting for my husband. I can see the tree in my rearview mirror. A woman with a halo of white hair is laying under it, looking in my direction. She is in the shade. My mirror constricts my view of the tree; I can only see the first 10 feet of it. From this angle I can see that the bark has fallen away from up further up on the tree. A little girl in pink, with white-blonde hair, just came to get the woman and they walked away, toward the buildings on the right side of foster street.

Sunday part 2

I am now sitting 10 feet from the tree in my ancient folding Shakespeare chair, the best chair of its kind that I’ve ever bought. It’s hard to get comfortable typing though. My arms don’t reach. The tree is even more apparently dead now. Looking up through the branches I can see that most of the bark has peeled off, leaving the yellow-white wood exposed. There is a bit of bark stretching about 4 feet from the bottom to the bottom of a fork in the tree. There is also some bark at the bottom. I wish I knew what kind of tree it was, my dad would know. I never learned how to type trees. Was never interested in learning how. I suspect it is an evergreen tree, most of the other trees around it are, at least the bigger ones. The tree next to it is ailing too, but it still has some tree needles fanning out on its branches. A little bird is chirping and hanging out on the neighbor tree, looking for food. He is so close, I can’t believe the clicking of my AlphaSmart 3000 didn’t scare him. He is white and blue and very small. I never learned to type birds either. The trees that line the drive and parking lot on Foster Street border a small baseball diamond. A few times a week kids play various levels of baseball on it. When they come, they all park in our parking lot. Where are the bleachers? There used to be a set of bleachers for the spectators to use. They’re gone now. Now that I look at the area, it looks like new fences were added in front of the player’s bleachers. I wonder if the bleachers will be replaced with a better model. To the right of the tree are two port-a-potties, green and blue. I assume they are there for the players. The air is full of sounds of birds chirping, I can see a small one flitting in the trees. Is it my friend from before? A woman, someone who lives in the Old High School, is sitting in her car and talking to someone else. On the phone? Or is someone else in the car. It would be rude to look, wouldn’t it? People walk by on the pathway that connects the Riverbank Park to downtown Westbrook. This small field my tree is perched on is called Foster Field. We should really hang out on it more often. Most people don’t have a field as a lawn.

I would say the tree is dead. It looks like a Y, with two small branches poking out from where the y-shape begins, like arms seeking supplication. Wow. A bird is perched high right above my head and making the most beautiful sounds. He moved, now he’s behind me. Which is good, because I was concerned for a minute that he’d be pooping on my head.

If I were a bird watcher, this’d be a great place to sit. My neighbors must think I’m nuts, typing on my AlphaSmart 3000 on my chest.

Day 3 – Monday June 21

I am precariously balanced on the top of the stairs. I am afraid I’ll fall, but I think this will be an interesting way to see the tree. A car drives across the parking lot. A jeep. It came from over by the Post Office, people often use our parking lot as a way to eventually turn left, the Post office parking lot only allows a right-hand turn on exiting. I can only make out the outline of the tree if I put my forehead right up to the screen in our stairs window. We leave this window open all the time in the summer so our kitty will have a place to perch when we’re gone for the day.

Edmund is listening to Johnny Cash in his office, in the distance I can hear cars driving on Main Street and the falls near the center of town. The street light near the trees leaves them in shadow. The light in the parking lot highlights Edmund’s car, but it is partly in shadows from the copse of trees. Dark is the great equalizer. I can’t tell if the tree is alive or dead. It is only with great effort I can tell it’s even there.

Day 4 – Tuesday June 22

This morning I took several pictures of the tree so I could “observe” it from work. I’d planned on maybe observing it this morning before work, but as I feared, I woke up too late, and resorted to plan B. I took pictures of both sides of the tree, facing and facing away from my house. I tried not go get too close so that I would not smell or step into the dog crap that I saw under the tree as I packed up from Sunday’s observation. But keeping with the spirit of the assignment, I took the pictures this morning, right before I got into my car and went to work.

Looking toward my house, the barkless state of most of tree is even more apparent. I think that is because instead of a lush green field, the tree faces a parking lot and mint green building, which cause the white and tan bare portions of the tree to stick out. This could also be due to the photograph. Beyond the tree is, of course, the parking lot. My car is to the right, obscured by a tree to the left of the dead tree. To the right of our tree (the dead tree) is the stop sign at the edge of the parking lot and Foster Street is beyond. The mint green house that borders the opposite side of the parking lot is my house. We live on the second floor. The front porch is on the left, we use that to get into the house. Our trash barrel, thoughtfully provided by the City of Westbrook, is in front of our door–we have no room for it otherwise. Our recycling bin is out of sight, just inside the door. There are 5 windows visible from this vantage point. Two of these windows are shaded, they belong to our landlords. The other three are open. From this distance they all look black. The dead tree’s lowest, stubby branch looks like it is pointing to the window at the bottom of the stairs.

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An abrupt ending, I know. If you were to observe a tree, where would you go? 

Observation: While he works

Another observation. This one was written for a creative writing class I took in the Summer of 2010 with the same professor I have now. This observation subject was “while he/she works.” I was not able to easily watch someone work, so I got Edmund to do something for me so I could observe him. He is such a good sport.

Edmund sits in one of our office chairs at the kitchen table. This particular chair was moved to the kitchen because if you tried to lean over too far in it, you’d tip right over. The small table is covered with detritus from us being away for a week, magazines, cereal boxes, papers, plates; he cleared out some space on the right side of the table. Edmund received some runes as a gift, and he is working to figure them out. He has photocopied instructions in front of him. He gathers the purple marbled shiny stones in his hands and shakes them. The stones make a tinkling cacophony in his cupped hands. He drops the runes directly on the table; they make a slapping sound as they hit the glass top.

Edmund reads aloud from the instructions. He wears one of his Phillies shirts, with some clean shorts; he changed his clothes since we got home, earlier he was wearing jeans that kept sliding down off, for want of a belt. He gets up from the table and walks into the other room, leaving the runes strewn over the table. He comes back with his brown notebook, which has notes from the Norse class he took over the weekend. The notebook is the size of a half sheet of paper, and is perfect bound, it has no spiral or wire binding it.

Edmund leans back in the rolling office chair, it creaks in protest. His arms on the handles, he thumbs through the notebook, mumbling to himself. His right leg is crossed over this left leg. He grabs his pen and holds it so his index finger is on the opposite side from the point and it is clasped at the point with his thumb and three other fingers. He scribbles. He is unshaven. He gets up again, and goes into the other room. This time his notebook is left open and face down on the table, lying on the photocopied instructions and stone runes. He calls out from the other room, asking me about batteries in the camping gear. I answer him, I don’t know if those batteries are good, and he comes back in the kitchen to “help the wife out.” Edmund sits down heavily in the chair, and compares his notebook with the photocopies, and bemoans his note taking.

He is scruffy from a week’s camping, his beard is filling in no shaving for the last week. He has a bug bite on his ankle; it’s a few days old, probably got it when we got there on Wednesday.  His arms are tan, and freckled. The papers make a crackling sound as he compares his notes to the photocopied instructions. He sighs, making a face, and says “Courage”. He scribbles notes, holding the pen between his thumb and pinky finger, onto the photocopies. He reads from his notes, so I will know what happened during his class. The cat comes in and meows for attention, the cat disappears behind my back. He closes the notebook and folds the photocopies back up. He picks up a rune and inspects it. He starts shaking the runes and throws them up in the air to fall on the table. They go further than he expected so he moves a plate so he can see the runes. He looks up the meaning of the runes that landed and slides them to one side of the table and gets up. It’s now time to put away the pizza.

The Blue House on the Hill

Another piece from my writing class. We were to pick a place and write about it. I chose to write about the house I lived in grade school, before we moved over the laundromat. We called it the blue house on the hill, or that is how I remembered it, anyway.
In front of house
The blue house on the hill before it was painted blue…

The house was painted a bright blue. The left side of our house on the hill had a bowl-like lawn, green and lush, bordered by Blanchard road on one side, and a forest on the other sides. The trees were close together and dark, and if I walked into the woods from the back of the house, I could walk all the way to the shore of Lake Hebron. But I never did, I was too young to do that when we lived on Tenney Hill.

I was old enough to walk into town. I’d walk or ride my bike; sometimes I’d stop at the butcher shop on my way back and buy a small package of cream cheese, just for me.

In the side lawn there was a car. I don’t remember how long or why it was there, but I do remember that we were told not to play near it.

One day Betty-Jean, who was my best cousin, and Brian, who lived across the street, and I played Barbie around the abandoned car. Our Barbie Dolls and Steve Austin dolls were the heroes; my brother’s G.I. Joe dolls were the bad guys. (The Steve Austin doll was the action figure for the Six-Million-Dollar Man, a popular television show, I had one, and so did Betty-Jean.) My mother yelled at us to get away from the car, and in the rush my Steve Austin doll, in spite of his bionic legs and arm, got caught in the door; his foot fell off. I smuggled him into the house and wrapped his leg with white medical tape. From then on, Steve limped along, always getting caught up in some adventure before he can get his bionic leg fixed by Oscar Goldman.

Betty Jean and Me
Betty Jean and Me on December 27, 1977

Recently I asked my mother about the car. She didn’t remember it, “that doesn’t sound like us,” she said with the unspoken implication that we were better people than that, that only trailer park trash would have a car in their yard. “But there was that well-drilling truck that was there a really long time, we had to call them to get them to take it back.” So long that when my parents painted the house bright blue (“I’ll never paint a house that color again. Too blue.”) they painted a large peace sign on its side. If this happened today, she’d paint an American flag, or something like that.

On the right side of the house was a culvert that, in the spring, had a continuous flowing water supply deep enough to host several ill-fated tadpoles. My brother Billy and I would catch the tadpoles and put them in a large white 5-gallon bucket so we could watch them turn into frogs. We’d forget them. It was like the worms I caught as a toddler. I’d put them in my sandbox and they’d dry up for lack of moisture.

The side entrance was a one-story addition that led to a den. My brother would climb out one of the second-story windows onto its roof and test the theory that cats always land on their feet. To the right of the den was the kitchen, which opened up to the dining room. The dining room had a door on the left to the only bathroom in the house, and two doorways on the right, one leading to the living room, the other leading to the cellar. We had a proper cellar. It was cool, dark and dank, and it smelled musty. Shelves filled with canned goods lined the sides of the cellar stairway.

When our parents went out, we got a babysitter. Usually it was Jane. She was of medium height thin, her hair was long, black and greasy, and she wore heavy makeup. One Saturday when I was in second grade, my parents went out, and sure enough, Jane was called to sit for us. Hungry, I got a can of peaches from the cellarway. I was wearing my nightie; my feet were bare. As I carried the can into the kitchen so I could open it, I dropped it on my toe. My toe split open. And Jane didn’t know what to do. She failed to reach my parents by phone (this was long before cell phones) so we soaked my foot in warm water and waited until they got home. I fell asleep in my chair and woke up to Dad helping me get dressed enough to go to the hospital, where I had 5 stitches. The hospital gave me awesome Styrofoam booties to wear home.

To the right of the house stood a smaller house; it was grey and boring and had a garage. A man owned it, but he didn’t live there, he only came during the summer and weekends. I’d pick dandelions on our shared front lawn, and capture daddy long-legs, tearing legs off to see what would happen.

One Christmas, when I was between 1 and 2 years old, my parents bought me a plastic piggy bank. My parents thought it was so adorable. I screamed at it; it terrified me. When I started to learn how to walk, my mother, at a loss as how to stop me from trying to climb the stairs without her knowledge, put the piggy bank on the first landing going up the stairs. I would not pass that pig.

We had a houseful of people over for Thanksgiving dinner. Once we all ate, my dad would bring out Gramp’s muzzle loader, a gun that didn’t use bullets, you had to add the buckshot and gunpowder yourself. He’d stuff the muzzle loader full of stuff, like bb’s or popcorn, and shoot it off just to see what happened. The men laughed hysterically when they saw that the popcorn actually popped on its way out.

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What place from your childhood do you remember? 

Freewrite: The Green Boat House

Another prompt from our writing class. This one is a Freewrite. It was supposed to be an observation, but I read the instructions wrong. 

In a freewrite, you write whatever the prompt led you to. This time the prompt was “Pathways”

The path to the Green Boat House is behind my house. I can see my schoolmates walk by with their towels rolled and tucked under their arms or draped over their backs as they trudge over. We live above the Laundromat, which is on the shore of Lake Hebron, in a little inlet. The downtown of Monson was built around this inlet. Also behind our house is the town dock, where people put their boats in the water during the summertime.

We didn’t swim in this inlet because the town sewer dumped right into it. In the canal next to the post office, we could see floating poop making its way into the lake. Instead we went to the town beach, which was located a couple of miles from the town center. Or we went to the boat house, which was just outside the inlet.

We weren’t really supposed to go to the Green Boat House. It’s on private property. If you walk past the town dock along the shore of the lake, there is a path through the trees that leads around the left side of the inlet, right to a not-so-secret beach. I don’t go too often myself, it doesn’t feel right. I never go by myself.

Tree roots reach across the worn path. Beer cans litter the small forest, some with the old-fashioned pull tabs, debris from another era. It’s cooler in the trees, a relief from the hot sun. If I didn’t know just how short this path really was, I could almost picture getting lost, or walking forever. But soon, as I follow the circular trail, I see more and more blue. The large part of the lake is opening up, and the crystal clear water beckons.

Suddenly, I’m there. To the left is a lush green lawn that reaches all the way to Route 15 (and freedom). To the right is a sandy beach leading to a private swimming oasis. Straight ahead, a dilapidated boat house.

Betty-Jean is already there. So is Penny Erickson. They are shucking their shorts and shirts and jumping into the water. I’m a little slower. But soon we are all standing thigh-high in the water. Shivering. “Okay,” says Betty-Jean, “on three. One. Two. Three.” She and Penny jump in. Penny holds her nose.

I stand there. I wasn’t ready. I psyche myself up to jump in. Suddenly my brother Bill comes running around the corner. He throws off his shoes, and takes off his shirt, and starts plowing into the water. “Brat,” he says. His arms start moving across the water threateningly.

“Billy, don’t” I say.

Bill laughs.

I take a deep breath and plunge into the icy water, doing a couple of summersaults as I go. I arch my back, and float.

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What comes to mind when you think “Pathways”?

Observation: Lunch Time

Another observation from my memoir class.  This time the assignment we were to observe a child.

Her hair is very curly, and blondish. She is eating soup while precariously perched on a rectangular stool at the Café. She squirms, her pink sparkly shoes flashing. She lays down on the stool and stares at the floor. Her shirt has hearts inside hearts and is an explosion of reds, pinks, turquoise and pale yellow. Her turquoise shorts match. She kneels on the stool.

A woman is with her, she spoons some soup into the girl’s mouth. The girl makes a face and squirms some more. The woman is pregnant. I wonder if she is the mother, or a nanny.

The girl looks at me. I smile and make a face.

A man walks into the Café. He seems to know the girl. He notices the girl has a soup mustache. He mentions it to the girl and asks her, “you didn’t shave this morning?” She giggles.

She smiles at me. I smile back.

She sits sideways on the stool, her legs curled underneath, facing the front counter. Her hands are full of rippled potato chips. She shoves them into her mouth one-by-one. The lunch crowd has arrived. She looks at the people placing orders at the counter. She finishes the chips and lays down on the bench, starting at the floor.

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What is your favorite thing about kids? 

Observation: Powder Blue

Here’s another observation exercise. This time it our assignment was to observe the inside of someone else’s car. I chose my friend (and co-worker) Donna’s car. I didn’t tell her before I did it. But, in case I got caught looking into a strange car, I figured it would be easier to explain to a friend than a stranger.

Standing next to Donna’s car. At a picnic table by the door, some other co-workers are eating, don’t think they can see me. Typing one-handed on my AlphaSmart 3000, it’s hard to type capital letters. Can hear clunking and back-up beeping from the Route 1 bridge construction. The sun is warm on the back of my head. There is a slight breeze that makes my hair blow in my face.

Donna’s car is powder blue. A Chevy. SUV something or other. I don’t know about cars. The back windows are tinted, I can’t see anything but the outline of two seats. I am distracted by the sound of the waterfall and the chirping of one persistent bird who wants to be heard over the cacophony of construction noises.

Donna backs her car in. Oh she has a trailblazer. Sometimes I have to think about what kind of car I have (a Dodge Grand Caravan) when asked I’ve been known to tell people the name of my favorite car (Ford Crown Vic).

My hand hurts. I wonder if I’ve written enough already.

Her front seats are spotless. No dirt on the floor, I’d assume she just cleaned her car, but I’ve seen her cube. It’s immaculate. On her antenna is a Mickey mouse-eared bobble, on her last car, a mini-van, which was not a Grand Caravan but I can’t remember what it was, she had a Tigger. I miss Tigger.

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What is in your car? 

Observation: Shoes

I wrote this for my Memoir class. The assignment: Observation of a pair of shoes.

I’m wearing my green crocs. Well, they’re my green LL Bean knock off crocks. Hey, I’m sitting in the LL Bean building of the Maine Medical Center wearing my green LL Bean croc-type-equivalents.

My green croc-like LL Bean shoes are dirty. The left one was a black mark by the big toe. They are splotched with dirt and grime. I should probably wash them. That’s the thing about croc-like shoes, they are very washable. I wonder if my feet are swollen. My feet feel tight in my shoes. Clammy. If I flex my right foot, I can see a snaggly toenail from my great toe on that foot. I just slid my right foot out, it stuck a little as I did, making a sucking noise. My foot has little holes on it, where the air holes are on the not-crocs. Wow, these things are very dirty. I really should’ve washed them before I came to the hospital.

My Mom is napping in her room. My father is waiting with me in the solarium. While I do homework, he’s dozing in a chair. My Mom’s room is in the Richard’s building, the solarium is in the LL Bean building on the same floor. My brother stands in the doorway between the buildings and says “now I’m in LL Bean, now I’m in Richards. LL Bean. Richards. LL Bean.”

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What do your shoes look like?