Tag Archives: Stories & Scenes


John Grisham flings his sequined cape over one shoulder to reveal the bulging muscles of his right arm. He has been working out. His spandex bodysuit hides nothing from the crowd gathered tonight at the Blue Moon Diner. Readers have come in droves to witness the first match of CLAW – the Charlottesville Literati Arm Wrestlers. As Grisham leaps to the platform and begins showboating for his lady fans, the crowd frantically places its bets.

“In it to win it,” yells poet Charles Wright. He slips a $10 bill into the plastic bucket that Grisham’s wife Renee dangles on a stick above the audience.

“The hell he is,” mutters John Casey as he palms a $50 bill to George Garrett, the CLAW referee. “I think Grisham’s been juicing again,” Casey whispers in the ref’s ear. Garrett nods his understanding and then confers with Rita Dove, the celebrity judge of tonight’s tournament.

“And in the opposite corner,” hollers MC Jan Karon, who stands on a chair over her amplifier, “Taking on heavily favored contender John Grisham, aka the Legal Eagle, in a fight for the first bracket trophy, is poet Lisa Russ Spaar, aka the Blonde Bomber!”

“Booo, hisss,” says Charles Wright.

“98-pounds,” says Renee to her husband. “Poetry. Tears. Spaghetti arm.”

Spaar emerges from the bar wearing a khaki flight suit and aviator goggles. Before taking the platform, she works the crowd with Top Gun dance moves. Her own bet bucket passes through the audience like a rambunctious church collection. Spaar’s MFA students stuff her pockets with dollar bills. From the back row, Deborah Eisenberg offers the poet a shot of Jagermeister. Spaar takes it.

The ref blows his whistle. “Competitors, take your seats,” he says. Last minute bets are handed forward through the rows. Grisham stops flexing and puts the top half of his jumpsuit back on. Garrett gives Spaar a hand up to the platform. She lets John Casteen hold her flight goggles and he squeals like a little girl. Spaar assumes the arm wrestling position at the table.

Grisham links his thumb with Spaar’s and squeezes. George Garrett holds their two hands in his own like a holy man giving a blessing. “Wrestlers, are you satisfied with your grip?” The adversaries nod their heads and clench their teeth.

“You’ve met your Waterloo,” says Grisham.

“You’re going down like a clown,” says Spaar.

“The jury says you’re guilty, mama,” says Grisham.

“Saddle up, buttercup,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” says the ref. But before he can finish saying “wrassle,” the Blonde Bomber has sacked the Legal Eagle’s hand.

“Foul!” cries Grisham, leaping from his seat. Referee George Garrett declares Spaar the winner. MC Jan Karon blasts “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins on her CLAW stereo system. Charles Wright and Renee Grisham scream at Rita Dove, who guards the winner’s trophy in the corner, but Dove says the match was fought “fair and square.”

“This courtroom is corrupt!” shouts Grisham. “I demand a retrial!”

“Shut your jaw and stuff your law,” says the Blonde Bomber, “You are not the king of CLAW.” Spaar’s fans applaud the impromptu poem. Spaar curtsies in her flight suit.

“Round two,” says the ref. “Find your grip.” After a brief shoulder massage from his wife, Grisham reluctantly sits down again. This time he offers Spaar his left hand. Spaar shrugs and switches from her dominant arm. The writers grip up.

“Ready, Freddy?” asks Spaar.

“Don’t try to beat the system,” says Grisham. “Punks always get it in the end.”

“Okey-dokey, smokey,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” cries the ref.

But before the ref can say “set,” Spaar has pinned Grisham’s left hand to the mat. The diner erupts in cheers for the triumphant underdog. “Order, order!” shouts the ref. “We have a winner!”

“Foul! Foul!” rages Grisham. Rita Dove hands the Blonde Bomber her trophy, a first edition of Leaves of Grass. As Charles Wright subdues Grisham and leads him to the bar, Spaar begins to read.

The Room’s Husband

We toasted the room’s husband with plastic cups of champagne. The room’s wife had cake on her fingers. Someone wandered outside in the apple orchard. The camera over his shoulder was full of the sermon and the mountains. The lake had dried up that afternoon and the toilets stopped flushing. The children picked the apples off the ground and the grownups plucked them from the trees. The Belgian could not stop smoking in the moonlight. The husband always stood behind the wife, his hands on her bare shoulders, his thumbs smoothing the nerves on her naked back. Until fingers find wrinkles. Until death do us part. The children ran between the tables, tickling each other. The cameraman was still in the orchard, film filled up, saturated. He would take a picture of himself and see a man at a wedding, wifeless.

Poem written in bathroom in the middle of the night

My feet churned the dust like a tornado.

I approached Edinburgh

and then the continent went dark.

The wedding photographer was drunk.

He took pictures of ruins, of history.

An esplanade of smoking sphinxes

and grey coliseums

where we had lived once.

My body was all that was left,

whisking the ashes,

a relic of weather and population.

I can’t make this shit up

A senile platoon of old ladies in wheelchairs sat next to the parking lot of the nursing home, looking for fresh air before their 5 o’clock dinner. Each octogenarian was accompanied by a nursing aide wearing scrubs and smelling like cigarettes. The old woman who looked the worst off was sulking at the group’s periphery, near the dusty hanging plants. She looked toward the parked cars and slouched lower in her wheelchair. “I’m ready for Jesus to take me,” she said.

“Don’t say that,” said her aide. “Let’s talk about something nice.”

“I’m ready for Jesus to take me,” the woman said again, like Jesus was the Grim Reaper who crept into the home at night to pick and choose his aged victims.

“Just eat your cookie,” said the aide.

The Deaf Poet

Her fingers flexed the stanzas. The blind man in the audience thought he was shit out of luck. But then an announcer in the wings began translating her dance into our language. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak in signs. Padma Vowell was the most famous poet in the world, and we were in the front row of the auditorium. She was a seamstress of signs, turning birds into hearts and making hearts fly in her fingers. Her hands never stopped moving, yet the words seemed perfectly still, like they were on a page. She wore a black gown and white gloves to her elbows. Her face revealed nothing but a steady scowl. She didn’t acknowledge our applause when she moved us in particular. My favorite was the sonnet about her mother and father. I think her hands rhymed in iambic pentameter.

Moms on Acid (Did anyone else read The Babysitters Club books when she was little?)

“I think the moms are dropping acid,” said Mary as we sat around her bed, waiting for the phone to ring.

“I think so too,” said Debbie. “And last night, after the Danbury kids went to bed and I was digging around the freezer for ice cream, I found a sandwich bag of mushrooms. It must have been at least ten ounces.”

“Mrs. Danbury never has good ice cream,” I said. “I hate babysitting there.”

The phone rang and Mary picked it up, day planner and pencil at the ready on the purple bedspread. “Oh hi, Mrs. Chin. Thursday night? Let me see if Kate’s available.” Mary looked at Kate, who was shaking her head furiously. “Mrs. Chin? I’m sorry but Kate is already engaged. How about Debbie? Okay, six o’clock. Thanks for calling the Babysitters Club.”

“Sorry, Mary,” said Kate, looking relieved. “Last time I babysat there, Mrs. Chin came home at like 3 a.m. tripping balls and she tried to make out with me.”

“Great,” said Debbie. “Thanks a lot.”

Divorce had taken its toll on our small town. We were only in middle school, but we still heard about the past year’s rash of extramarital affairs. Middle-aged English teachers would come to class wearing sweat pants, and then let us watch movies while they text-messaged and graded papers through their tears. It all started with one cheating spouse, and then his wife cheated with a married man to get back at her husband, and then that wife cheated for revenge, etc. The whole thing snowballed until most of the formerly married men in town were living in hotels and the wives needed lots of babysitters to facilitate their new single lives. Soccer moms were dating again, driving to Baltimore, the nearest city, to meet men they had been talking to on the internet. They also hung out a lot with each other, at least those women who hadn’t shared men recently, and met for chardonnay and gossip and sobfests that went late into the evening. But we were pretty sure they were getting into harder stuff.

“Are you sure she was tripping?” I said. “I thought Mrs. Chin was more of a pothead.”

“Who knows anymore,” said Kate. “I think they’re all still looking for their drug of choice. They don’t want to get stuck in a routine again. That’s what fucked them up in the first place.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s acid,” said Susan, speaking up from the pile of stuffed animals in the corner of the room. “I was at the movies with Ryan last Saturday night and Mrs. Chin and Mrs. Vandross were sitting in the back row, totally tweaking. It was that movie with the aliens and the mind control – I forget the name – but the moms had to leave like a quarter of the way through. They kept screaming and stuff at parts that weren’t even scary, and giggling at the scary parts. When the movie was over I saw them lying down in the parking lot in front of CVS, trying to grab the sky.”

“That’s the night I was babysitting,” said Kate.

“Yeah,” said Mary. “And I was with the Vandross children that night. But Mrs. Vandross got home earlier, at midnight or something. She only said like two words to me. It seemed like I was freaking her out. And she didn’t even react when I told her Colin had busted his lip on the side of the bathtub. I told her how much she owed me, and she just handed me her whole wallet. All that was in there was a slice of processed cheese and a GI Joe. I was so pissed.”

“If Mrs. Vandross got home at midnight, I wonder where Mrs. Chin went for three hours,” said Susan.

“She was probably with Mrs. Haywood,” I said.

“The social studies teacher Mrs. Haywood?” said Debbie.

“Yeah,” I said. “Last Saturday I was watching cable at her house and fell asleep. Then I heard a car door slam at like 2:30 but no one came in. I looked out the window and she was on the front lawn, dancing in the sprinkler in her bra and underpants. She was making a lot of noise and I worried that someone was going to call the police, so I lured her into the house with Cassie’s colored flashlight.”

“I am so glad my mom’s just an alcoholic,” said Debbie.

“Yeah, no shit. Me too,” said Mary.

“Where are they even getting the stuff?” said Kate. “I can’t even find a dime bag anymore. I thought the town was dry.”

“I guess you have better connections when you’re grown up,” I said.

The phone rang and Susan lunged for it, kicking teddy bears out of the way. “Babysitter’s Club,” she said, and was silent. “I’m sorry Mrs. Murray, but I can’t help you. I think you’re trying to call the plumber. That number is on your fridge too…I don’t know how to get the circus out of the dryer. Call the plumber.”

“Ugh, I want to move,” I said.

“We are totally raking it in though,” said Mary. “We’ll be able to go on vacation together when school is out next month. My older brother said he’d take us to the Warped Tour.”

“No way. I think Mrs. Danbury’s going to that,” I said.

“What? She’s like 40!” said Mary.

“I know. It’s because she was way too young for Woodstock.”

“They all were,” said Mary. “Don’t you think that might be the problem?”

Ice Cream Gone Missing: A Telephone Conversation

Hey baby!

Hey… Listen, I had a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream in the freezer, and now it’s gone. Have you seen it?

No. What kind of ice cream did you say?

Chunky Monkey. By Ben & Jerry’s. It’s got bananas in it. That’s really weird that you don’t know where it is, because I purchased it, and put it in the freezer, and I haven’t seen it since.

Yeah, I don’t know anything about that.

I was looking forward to eating some after a long, frustrating day.

Yeah, I can see that.

I just wanted one or two bites.


You’re sure you don’t know where it is?

No way. Bananas in ice cream? Gross.

The next day a pepperoni sausage pizza and two pints of banana-flavored ice cream mysteriously appear in the freezer. One is flavored Banana Split and it already has a big dent in it. Some little kid must have gotten into it at the grocery store.

PS Diana, you were my roommate once. Who is the little elf that follows me around and eats all the ice cream?

I have a little notebook for my writerly notes

Like a lot of pretentious writers, I keep a notebook in my purse for jotting down story ideas and snippets of dialogue and untraceable garbage like this: “Stuck behind the Frito Lay truck/Christmas stocking.” I’m not exactly proud of this notebook, and I’m careful not to write anything down where people can freely wonder what I’m writing. However, a couple weeks ago I went to a family reunion in Vermont and I made the mistake of pulling out my notebook and quoting from it. It was late at night and I was many beers into it and I was with my cousins, who you would expect would comprise a warm crowd. But no. The second I started flipping through the pages, saying “Wait guys – I have something in here that relates to that extemporaneous joke you were just telling,” I did not hear the end of it. When people are riffing and hanging out, do not pull out your notebook, looking for material. It is like getting caught cheating on a test, but at an institution where your peers actually care and will shame you for that sort of thing. But wouldn’t it have been worse if I had memorized the quoted line before I went out that night? If I had thought, “Better learn this line by heart because I might be able to use it at the bar tonight.” Isn’t that so much worse?

The quoted line, spoken by a Mountain-Dew-consuming friend I used to work with who had just come back from her lunch break to Arby’s, delighted that she hadn’t hit much traffic:

“Everybody must didn’t decide to go thatta way.”

And believe me, I humiliated myself further by saying, “But isn’t the syntax incredible? Didn’t you guys notice the syntax?” Shortly thereafter the Murrays called it a night.

The ideas I don’t write down when I’m falling asleep

Sometimes I feel guilty and stupid when I wake up, because I did not write down some incredible idea I was having when I was falling asleep. I lie there, passing out, and convince myself that I will remember the story idea or the eloquent sentence in the morning. Because I am too lazy to turn the light back on and write it down. Then I don’t remember the next day and I feel like I have missed out on something special. Today I actually did remember what my great nocturnal idea was. A character name: Cinder Von Deity. I now feel better about all the things I have forgotten. That is a really dumb name.

Another Scene about Race

When my sister came over, she wore little blue boots with metal straps around the ankles that resembled silver belts. Her boots were accessorized with belts. Why stop there? Why not wear pants that had their own chandelier earrings hanging from the pockets, or a jean jacket with a Burberry scarf tied around the button? Her outfits were so annoying. I thought about all the time she put into shopping and dressing and how many circles she had spun in front of her mirror that morning. I wanted to convert that time into cash money and give it to charity, to orphans maybe. What a trifling bitch she was, with her little blue boots leaving their wedged stamp across my wall-to-wall carpeting.

“Whoa,” she said, picking up a brown wicker Jesus that was resting on my coffee table. “Who might this be?”

“He’s from Mozambique. I would have brought you one as a souvenir but I knew you’d prefer the coral necklaces. He’s fragile. A hunter gatherer made him. He only wanted a couple bucks for it but I gave him ten.”

“Well worth it,” she said, dangling the Jesus by his little wicker toe until his head hit tabletop.

            “Was it weird being the only white girl? Did all the Africans stare at you?” As she sat, my sister tossed her blonde hair over the back of the armchair so it wouldn’t get flat.

            “No, Cass, all the Africans didn’t stare at me. Because I wasn’t prancing around like some girls. I didn’t wear tube tops or mini skirts. Plus I wasn’t the only Westerner in the country. And later I was traveling with Raoul. Guys don’t bother you when you’re with a man.”

            “Oh yeah, Raoul, your Mexicali boyfriend.”

            “He wasn’t my boyfriend.”

            “Mm-hmm. I read the postcards, senorita. I know what’s up.”

            I missed Raoul. In Mozambique he took me to the best local bars and told me what to order. If I was very drunk, he kept me from giving all the change in my purse to panhandling kids. And he always tried to kiss me at the end of a night out. I always rejected him, but I liked that he tried. One night I showed him pictures of my family. “This is my older sister Cass,” I said. “She’s shallow. She would never come to Africa on a mission, or even join the Peace Corps. She’s such a little sorority girl.”

            “What’s a sorority girl?”

            “You know. She’s really into fashion.”

            “I see.” He stared more closely at her picture, taken under an umbrella at the beach. “You look nothing like her. Does she live in New York too?” He stopped trying to kiss me after that, and began asking about visiting me when I got back to the States. One night he didn’t stop me when I got wasted and gave whole dollar bills to hungry orphans. I made him buy my café au lait the next morning to make it up to me

My sister began tapping the wicker Jesus on the head with her blue boot.

“Tell me something,” she said, “When you were in Africa, did you feel, I dunno, did you feel weird? Was it weird to be there?”

“That’s a retarded question.”

“No, come on, you know what I mean. Like, the other day, I was in Neiman Marcus, and this African-looking lady – you know, she was wearing one of those colorful sari type things and had the blanket wrapped around her head – she came into the store with her three little kids, like, to buy them polo shirts or something, because they looked American, and she seemed so out of place. And I wondered if when you were in Africa, if that’s what you felt like. Like if Africa was Neiman Marcus and you walked in wearing culottes and jellies or something and the salespeople gave you dirty looks.”

I felt so sorry for my sister, who could only compare whole continents to department stores. How could we have come from the same womb, when I was born wanting to help people and she just wanted to commodify things?

“I think that’s a really ignorant comparison to make.”

“Why?” she said, “You bought all that stuff.”