Stories, writing technique

Almost True As Can Be.

Here is my entry into the next short-story competition, and I see already that I’m full-on explaining. GD is right. My tendency is to create an immersive story, and characters with considerable baggage, needfully explored is my view, to set up a shady situation in all its screwball glory.

My MC here is another complex critter, an updated Sly (can’t get away from that guy) looking to conquer the world. At one point I knew this new nut as well as anyone alive; she had neither the need nor the impulse to conceal quirks from me. She knew my secrets, I knew hers.

This is not quite a story. It’s more an attempt to develop my thinking about how to present my curious past, and to envision a genuine plot. If I can get this going, I have quite a show for you.

I stumbled into that life and lived it for ten years, until I settled into a steady job with benefits. It’s time to see what I can make of it.

______________________________________

Me and Cee. Cee and Me. Almost True As It Can Be.

Hold Your Hats And Hallelujah:

A start on something that doesn’t involve talking animals.

______________________________________

Now, the thing with CeeCee . . . I’ll call her CeeCee . . . the thing with CeeCee was, like most all of us, she longed to be something she was not. But she took it to new heights.

C.C., those were her initials, originally. She shed last names like a snake sheds skins. She’s probably been through bunches of husbands by now. I google maiden, first husband’s and (so she projected) future husband’s names, nothing pops up.

What she was, kids, was a girl from a large Italian family in coastal Rhode Island. Six brothers and sisters, innumerable nieces and nephews and cousins, a home-heating-oil-supply father, the homemade-pasta-cooking (stay at home? You better believe it) mama, her brothers also small businessmen, several beautician – the height of their ambition – sisters. Traditional, goes without saying, right? She broke with the conservative family ethos early on.

I had a three-bedroom apartment in Boston. I needed two roommates. I put an ad in the paper. CeeCee showed up, with a girlfriend. Great! I was in business. But that’s neither here nor there. I can double back and fill in the gory details of that situation later.

That house-share didn’t last long, but Cee and I had become fast friends. We split up, moved around, like you do in your early twenties. She landed a boyfriend in Marblehead who owned a large house on the water’s edge, inherited from his mother. It was worth good money fifty years ago. Today, forget it.

The mother had acquired it, and also a house on Martha’s Vineyard, from a wealthy first marriage. The Vineyard house had to be sold to pay off a second husband’s gambling debts, but she held onto the property in Marblehead and lived in it until she died of breast cancer, shortly before Cee arrived on the scene.

Cee admired that lady, the way she had feathered a very cozy nest. Like the Eagles say, ‘A rich old man and you don’t have to worry’. She married Mitch, a nice enough guy, not rich, but he did own a really wonderful house. That marriage didn’t last. But an idea had been planted.

Meanwhile, tragically unemployable, having studied Costume Design in art school (bad move there) I had managed to find a job working for a costumer meeting the needs of go-go girls and strippers in Boston’s Combat Zone. It was fun for a while, a novelty. I sure met some interesting people.

The strippers (then, don’t know about now) made really good money. Cee, who had started on a professional career, a cosmetologist, she called herself, selling cosmetics in a drug store in Marblehead, took note. She was a beautiful girl, a dose of cellulite, but very sexy, and she determined to give it a try. She’d met some showgirls (as they liked to call themselves) through me, they seemed like okay people (they were okay people), the idea wasn’t as scary as it might have been otherwise. Cee, never a timid one, took to it like a fish to water.

We’ll fast-forward here. This is supposed to be a short story.

She got a way-too-large boob job and became a headliner at the Two o’Clock Lounge. Boston was her home base, but she made forays to, among other places, Las Vegas, toting trunks of elaborate costumes and a huge red velvet pillow that she did ‘floor work’ on. (That’s what they called it, floor work, the precursor, I suppose, of pole dancing.) Those airline baggage handlers must have flipped when they saw the thing. Too large to wrap up, she checked the naked heart-shaped, fringed and sequined blood-red pouf, about four feet round, a-foot-plus high, along with a mountain of gear. In those days, the costumes were outrageous, as if the customers ever wanted to see anything but a quick peel down to a G-string and pasties.

You could dream it, a costumer would furnish it. Southern Belle, Barbarella, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. (This was before Elvira, but you get the picture.) A Fairy Queen, if that’s what you yearned to be. The name of the game was layers, many pieces to shed in the course of a fifteen minute routine. G-string, thong-panty, full panty, a bra, usually a corset of some kind, all kinds of strap-things, straps were real popular, dress, gloves, boot-like leggings, often a gossamer negligee at the end of the act, to whip around artfully. Hats. Big hats. Lots and lots of big hats. Feathers and beads, and breakaway zippers, everywhere.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Vegas. In Las Vegas, Cee met a businessman from, of all places, Boston. He was married, par for the course, right? He took a shine to her, and the liaison continued back home. I always figured she provided the excitement he had missed out on, having spent his young years at Harvard Business School studying his heart out. It was also respite from a dull marriage to a wife who was obsessed with tennis. But excitement has its costs. Cee was labor-intensive, and then some. I wondered then, and I wonder now, why he put up with her and her ever-growing demands. It had to be the excitement.

It wasn’t her thing, as far as I know, but she would have made a good dominatrix. He pushed people around at work, maybe he wanted to be abused in his private life. (That’s the theory, isn’t it?) He was a big shot in a big firm and he had money like you wouldn’t believe. They were always off to somewhere. (He had left his wife by then.) Vienna for Christmas, London, Paris. He bought her a lovely big house on Marblehead Neck. But she wanted more. Like in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, she wanted to be the preppy trust-fund wife that her husband’s Ivy League partners tended to have. She wanted to live in Palm Beach during the season, and run in high society. She spent a winter there, hanging out with God-knows-who, maybe Roxanne Pulitzer, if she was lucky. (You don’t join high society, you’re born into it.) He rented her a house in Key West. That lasted longer, about two years.

There are two ways to insert yourself into that kind of crowd. One, you can be yourself, and be so amusing at it that you are embraced as an oddity and adopted. And, she was capable of that. She was lots of fun, when she wasn’t being a pain in the ass. That’s not the path she chose. She went the dicier route.

She worked to present herself as a true insider, of suitable pedigree. She worked damn hard at that. The boyfriend knew the truth, of course. What he thought of her often disturbing interpretation of class is anybody’s guess.

I spent a weekend with her in a suite at the storied Hotel Carlyle in Manhattan. Fifty years ago it was old-money-shabby-chic, downright dowdy. Exactly like the rooms of the Ritz Carleton in Boston. Glam on a par with Howard Johnson, maybe even a little less. It’s the climbers who fixate on shiny-new. Gleaming up-to-date matters (or used to matter) little to those raised with deep wealth and status.

We were shown to one suite, looked fine to me, like I said, nothing fancy. Cee threw a fit: Won’t do, won’t do at all. Quite unacceptable. I want the suite I had last time. We got relocated. The last-visit suite looked absolutely the same to me, I didn’t see a damn bit of difference. But she was mollified: A great improvement, thank you so much. She liked to make clear that she was someone, of nice taste, used to being catered to.

She’d come up in the world since the time we (actually, I) broke into a summer cottage in Swampscott, climbing through a window bare-breasted so as not to get my blouse dirty. (Relax. Friends of ours, not home.) If neighbors had called the cops on us, that would have been cute, no? Our friends were two wanna-be artists. Their neighbors may have come to the conclusion, you see something odd going on over there, you pay it no mind.

The boys must have had no phone, or we would have called ahead. We had hitchhiked up from Cambridge, busted (!!!) our way in, sat around two or three hours, gave up, and left a note painstakingly incised into an untouched jar of peanut butter: We were here, Mimi, Cee.

Her tastes had sure changed since her days of T-shirts stretched tight over braless boobs, with the slogan BITCH proudly displayed, often paired with hot pants (as they were known in the seventies, in an earlier era, short-shorts) and leopard-look platform-sole knee-high boots. A housemate of my brother told me, Your friend was in Harvard Square the other day (a hike, she was living in Marblehead) stopping traffic. I’d seen it many times, her little game, feigning scorn of the stares, loving every minute of it.

I’ll save that early stuff for another time. I’ve miles to go before I put this thing to sleep. I’ve barely gotten started.

I guess I have to come up with an honest-to-God plot, and feather it in somehow or other. Plots are not my forte, as some of you know.

I hung out with many odd characters in the wee-hours spaces after the clubs shuttered at two a.m. My plot would certainly have to include the black-belt owner of an escort service who longed to be an action star like Bruce Lee, who had to constantly be assured that he was good-looking enough to make it in Tinseltown. One girl went on to be a Penthouse Pet, and to model legitimately, internationally. And I cannot neglect to depict my costumer-employer. The first-done-on-American-soil-sex-change is how she billed herself on posters for her combo strip/hypnotism act. I saw what may have been the last performance she ever gave, and it was painful to watch.

She performed in cabaret-style settings. Her fan club, a gaggle of middle-aged women who followed her from date to date, didn’t recoil at her fiftyish spread, not unlike their own sad disintegration. They probably cheered her bravery. I think it was willful blindness to reality.

Disrobed down to droopy tugs and a G-string half hidden by an overflow of abdomen (OK, I’m exaggerating, but it was gross), she would set tassels, dangling (lots of dangling going on there) from pasties (sequined disks cloaking the nipples), set tassels aflame and get them twirling, in opposite directions. Did I see that or is it one of those false memories we read about? The flame part, I mean. Where does that image come from? I honestly don’t know. Fired up tassels or not, anyone who walked into the venue unaware of what was in store saw a show they would not forget.*

Sounds like I led an interesting life, huh? I did, but it was a life filled with crises. It’s more fun to write about than it was to experience it.

______________________________________

* Shock value was surely the bedrock principle of her showmanship, embraced at an early age as a means of survival. She had begun her career in the sideshows of Mid-West carnivals, performing in drag.Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 1.51.28 AM.png

She was a big, muscular person, she’d been well able to defend herself. If she was bullied – I’m sure she was, she grew up in Kansas, not a stronghold of toleration then or now – it would have been largely confined to verbal abuse. But she had come to terms with her lot in life, and had made a good living off it.

I just looked her up. Man! There’s a ton of stuff on her due to the prominence of the transgender issue these days. When I searched ten years ago I only found three or four items. That’s her, above. Look at that face. Would you pick a fight with her?

She was a throw-back in many nasty ways, anti all kinds of folks and astonishingly open about it. That may have been the result of being born at a certain time into a certain place, but many find a way to move beyond prejudices learned at Mama’s knee. She did not. She may be a role model for some, but she was not admirable as a human being. If she were still alive, she would be the staunchest of Trump supporters, and for the very worst reasons.

______________________________________

My Lemony Snicket boxed set has arrived. I’ll proceed with the piece I’ve planned to write: Lemony/the books vs. Lemony/the Netflix series. I hope to learn something regarding the integration of show and tell. If anyone’s been successful at it, it’s Lemony.

______________________________________

Her name was Hedy Jo Star.

 

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23 thoughts on “Almost True As Can Be.

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Never say you have nothing to write about 🙂
    1001 stories could come out of this material.

    Writing intensely personal stories has the advantage of “you were there” and the disadvantage of “you were too close.”
    “I experienced it” doesn’t mean “I can tell you what happened.” The more intense the experience, the more focused I am on me. Good stories requires some perspective, some inclusion of others.

    But you have the ability to write honestly, Mimi. Maybe you could bring some of these people to life again. I think I would enjoy reading your stories about them.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. GD Deckard says:

    Maybe, vignettes? Something happens and how it affects the character, how they handle it, that is the story of that person. Think Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, impressionist painting, portraits of the characters you knew. Leave the reader understanding the character.

    Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do this 🙂 But those are strong, high definition characters – their vignettes could add up to an impression of life in the Combat Zone.

    Sorry, breaking my rule again about Never telling a writer what to write. But this is rich material.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Thank you, a good suggestion. Actually, I’m going to reread Thomas Pyncheon’s Against The Day. I believe vignettes was the way he handled it. I seem to recall, anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mimi! Fascinating stuff.

    My first question for you is: Will this be memoir, bio, or fiction? Because I can see this working as any one of those three categories of writing.

    Other questions: To fully develop this you’ll need far more than a 1000 words to do the topic/plot justice. Is this going to be the March 1st entry under WIPs, then? As is? Should I wait till then to repost these comments? (What you’ve presented here isn’t a story but more of a list, as you stated at the beginning of your post: incident/background notes and dramatis personae.)

    If you’re going to do this as a novel I could see a series of vignettes strung together as chapters that–come story’s end–cohere into a unified thematic whole. But to do that, of course, you’ll need to nail down your themes before you begin. (Else discover them in the work of writing the book.)

    Lotta great throw-away details in here: the bits about your friend stopping traffic with her provocative (un)dress, climbing through a broken window bare-breasted in order to avoid damaging a blouse, the karate-trained pimp, other odd and curious characters/scenes/incidents.

    You’ve no end of outsize characters, snarky wit, arresting incidents and vividly realized details in that febrile and ferocious imagination of yours. I am, I freely confess it: somewhat in awe. You also seem to have an unerring instinct for the calamitous oddness and iconoclastic clash of divers historical forces and personalities whether the timeframe be faux-medieval or 70s-ish; the people kings, merchants or peasants. What you must do, however, is the work! (Finish Sly! Write this book. Then–onward.) Or as one of Bill Bryson’s teachers told him (when he was slacking in his school work): “It’s no use being a mere genius, Bill. One must be a genius about something.”

    Go for it, Mimi! As we used to say back in the 70s: Dial it in, crank it up and rip the knobs off!

    Hey: It’s only rock & roll. But I like it!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    Carl, I don’t know what form it will take. I had a thriller plotted out thirty years ago, those notes have been lost. The reasons I’ve never tried to get this going are: Sly took hold of me and has never let go and, I just don’t know how to shape this.

    I have a lot more material to plow into it, the connecting thread is me. I have been ducking it for years. I still have a month to the short story deadline, how about I try to write a first chapter? It may be a straight thriller. It may be a screwball thriller.

    It may be . . . who the hell knows? I’m gonna try to find my footing.

    Damn, Carl. I believe you’re twenty years younger than me. In the Seventies I was early-mid-late twenties. What’s this: “As we used to say back in the 70s: Dial it in, crank it up and rip the knobs off!” You were five years old! Ten, tops. C’mon! That was your older brother talking, right?

    Writing a first chapter, or two-three versions, will help me see a path forward that will work for the avalanche of material that I would like to touch upon. Or else it will force me to admit that this has to be separate projects. I’ll have a better feel for it after a first chapter and notes on a storyline.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, Mimi! I came of age in the 70s; I was born in ’63. And if I began to recount the hijinks we hard-rocking working-class elementary school marauders got up to back then, well . . . you probably wouldn’t believe my life circa 1974-79. It was A Clockwork Orange crossed with The Breakfast Club, shaken-not-stirred with bits of The Outsiders and Stand By Me. ‘Nuff said. (Remember, I enlisted in the Marine Corps on my 17th birthday. Before that, ages 15-16, I was living on my own as an emancipated minor in Chicago. I know from hard knocks and crazed, desperate situations; what we used to refer to back then as “a bad scene, man.” Heh!)

      Liked by 3 people

      • Damn it! I didn’t mean to “like” my own comment. (Even I’m not THAT egotistical/needy, eeesh!) Over-share: I should be in bed. Heading there now before I start spilling anecdotes I’m going to regret . . .

        Liked by 1 person

          • I know! Except, for some weird reason, the toggle isn’t working for me on that post.

            LATER: Ah! Didn’t give it enough time to update. See what happens when you post, bleary-eyed, at two in the morning . . .

            LATER STILL: Nope; still “liked”. Don’t care; moving on. Heh!

            Liked by 1 person

            • GD Deckard says:

              Yeh, if anyone mapped the Internet, many of the places I go would be circled & marked, “The Doldrums.”

              When correcting your “still-Liked-icon” you might have clicked it an even number of times.
              Try a single click then leave it alone. Things happen slowly in the doldrums.

              Like

  6. mimispeike says:

    I’m half inclined to do a first person ‘I Remember Mama‘ goof. (I remember the big house on Larkin Street Hill . . . I remember . . I remember . . .”

    Me, I remember how Jim the black-belt pimp would constantly call agents in Hollywood, to argue his qualifications for an action hero role, and how no one ever took his calls, and how he’d go ballistic. Oh, how I wish I had gotten some of that insane dialogue down. I’m hoping I can recreate it.

    And: I remember the night a group of us went out for a three a.m. breakfast, and how Melanie proudly passed around the new issue of Penthouse, in which she was Pet of the Month, and how we admired her legs-spread-wide incidentals as we ate our pancakes and scrambled eggs, and how the doorman from the club joked about how she looked like a trussed-up chicken.

    And so on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • All great stuff, Mimi! I dunno, memoir is hotter than fiction these days. You might use the writing prompt “I remember” to launch into a series of vignettes that could be collated into a book with a title like “Shards of the 70s: Mimi Speike Speaks: Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll” or some-such. (Just keep that f@#king cat out of it. Put the gun down–I kid; I kid!) I’ll leave it up to you; the author knows what she wants to write.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    GD, I begin to think it has to be the story, in an erratic (not difficult for me at all) Holden Caulfield voice, of a screw-up hippie-chick trying to make her life work in seventies Boston:

    I’d blown it again. How could I have been so dumb? Me and Cee ended up in the Women’s House of Correction in the West Village for three days, until relatives bailed us out. My cellmate was a sweet little old lady who had killed her years-long abusive husband. She had no one to bail her out. I think about that to this day.

    Trying to make my life work was the key to everything, including that other stuff I told you about. Sheer, desperate trying to make my life work. Written in a style to make it look like a work of fiction. Some made up stuff so I could plausibly claim it was fiction.

    My brother told me one time, You live your life by reacting. Why can’t you plan? And make well-considered decisions?

    Well, Ern, if I’d led a reasonable life, then I wouldn’t have all this neat stuff to write about. See? That was my long-range plan. To end up writing a best-selling book and get rich off it.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. atthysgage says:

    I must add my voice here, Mimi. This is really fun stuff and you should write more, more, more. Memoir? Fiction? Maybe blur the lines a little? After all, who’s going to know? What matters is your compelling characters and rich writing. I see nothing but upside here.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. mimispeike says:

    Thanks, Atthys. I will (attempt) to style/sell it as fiction, to spare my long-suffering family more embarrassment than they’ve felt already. And to fuzzy some stuff up so I don’t get sued by whosoever of these characters is still in the land of the living. Although maybe being sued would be good for marketing. I’ll think about that.

    I’ve got an opening remark. I will go from here:

    ________________________________________

    Let me tell you flat out, for the record, I never was a hippie chick. What is a hippie chick anyway? What is a hippie? I never did drugs, but for once or twice, to try them. I never smoked weed, it made me cough. I wasn’t political, I didn’t go to protests. I wasn’t back-to-the-earth, save the earth, Earth Day, none of that. I hated brown rice. I never shouted Right on!, fist spearing the air. I never flashed the peace sign, not once that I can remember. Being a hippie implies, to me, that you have a philosophy of life. I had none. Do what you need to do to survive, that was my philosophy.

    Hold it. Google defines that tribe this way: a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of middle-class values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs. Long hair, sure. Rejecting conventional ways, most assuredly. Ragged jeans,* artfully destroyed, and tie-dye, and/or batik. (Batik was big for a while.) Some areas of the country would have called it unusual. In large parts of Boston that was the uniform, the norm.

    I like to use the term, it’s colorful, but I was no hippie. I’m no ex-hippie. If anything, I’m a poseur.

    What was I then? Stick around and find out.

    _______________________________________

    * You younger folks are saying to yourselves, ragged jeans? Big fucking deal. No! I mean, Yes! It was like when Elsie de Wolfe, the so-called first interior decorator, designed her modern rooms in the early twentieth century. To our eyes, nothing special. To those who’d known nothing but the heavy Victorian style, it was revolutionary. I look at photos of from that time and as much as I try to, I can’t feel the shock. Same with the mid-century sleek, reconfigurable sectionals. We’ve lived with that look for too long. The originality is lost to us.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. mimispeike says:

    One more entry and I’ll shut up, until the contest:
    _______________________________________

    Let me tell you flat out, I never was a hippie chick.

    What is a hippie chick anyway? The term is dripping with condescension. It’s arch. Or, it’s used jokingly. Who says hippie chick, except as a goof?

    Was I a hippie, then? Do I accept that label?

    Google defines the phrase this way: a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of middle-class values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.

    I had the hair. Rejection of conventional ways, most assuredly. An eclectic look: ragged jeans, artfully destroyed, or let to degrade on their own. Tie-dye and/or batik. (Batik was big also.) Army surplus. Salvation Army finds. I certainly looked the part.

    You kids are saying to yourselves, ragged jeans, big fucking deal. No! Uh, I mean, Yes! When I was in school, girls were forbidden to wear pants. Not just bluejeans. Any kind of perfectly ordinary pants. Enough of that, we said to ourselves, pouring out of the schools and into the world.

    The earliest of the baby boomers, we were the apples of our parents’ eye. My HS class of 1964 got featured on the cover of Time magazine as the ‘People of the Year’. Smug as hell, we insisted on having things our way. No more rules. Do your own thing was the mantra. And, we did. In the course of three or four years we remade the culture, at least on the coasts.

    The ubiquitous bell-bottoms sold in the Army-Navy stores for very little money. They were the first street chic, practical, easy, sturdy, and a marvelous canvas for self-expression. They were a political statement, a rejection of the regimentation of our childhoods.

    As for the rest of the hippie lifestyle, I was a bust. I never did drugs, except to try them. I never smoked weed, it made me cough. I didn’t organize, I didn’t protest. I wasn’t back-to-the-earth, save the earth, Earth Day, none of that. I despised brown rice. I didn’t spout the jargon. I never flashed the peace sign, not that I recall.

    Being a hippie implies, to me, a gentle, communal way of being, a philosophy of life, live and let live, essentially. I lived in a group situation, but it was an alliance of convenience and, of course, friendship. We did not have a common cause, like the ‘Lewd Commune’ in Cambridge, asserting their right to sunbathe nude in their back yard, and, I believe, to screw back there, though the houses were cheek by jowl.

    I use the term hippie chick. At my age, it’s fun. It’s colorful, it’s romantic, it makes my husband smile. (He’s German. He was in the Luftwaffe during that period, as far from hippiedom as he could be.) But I was no such critter. Do what you need to do to survive, that was my philosophy of life. No, I was no hippie. I’m no ex-hippie. If anything, I’m a poseur. When it suits me.

    Crap! This doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a work of fiction, does it? Fiction is what I intended, for to distance myself from certain extraordinary behaviors. Hey, I can still make that work, I think. This will be a gonzo memoir, making no claims as to truthfulness, but having the advantage of drawing on my experiences and observations, tweaked or not, you make up your own mind on that. I’m giving you no guidance there.

    Let’s get you up to speed. Gonzo: An energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist (well, duh), that draws its power from a combination of social critique and self-satire (my usual approach, see Sly*), the personality of a piece as important as the events depicted. Use of sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity is common.

    Gonzo! That’s me. Fuck, yes!

    Gonzo-bullshit-memoirist, and a thoroughly unreliable narrator. I like it!
    _______________________________________

    * Sly, A Rogue, Reconsidered … Plug here.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. mimispeike says:

    I’m going to write and post a chapter of Ding Dong (working title), then a final-vetted chapter of Sly, in our WIP section. And so on, hopefully once a week. I’ve got to get hold of some discipline, which I’ve never had an abundance of.

    Coming this weekend: Chapter one of Sly. It’s ready to go, I only want to rewrite the first paragraph.

    Like

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