Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Beginning 917

Brian Armitage stepped out into the cold and muffled a cough with his fist. He told himself nothing was wrong, as he picked his way down the narrow concrete path, determined not to let the ice take his legs from under him in the darkness. When the door clicked shut behind him, he knew he should have turned and waved, but foremost in Brian’s mind was the need to urinate.

“Never use the bathroom,” was what Shrewsbury had told them, paraphrasing the manual. “That puts you at a disadvantage. It gives ‘em time to talk. Also, you’ll feel indebted: especially if you splash the carpet. You don’t want to feel indebted: it’s not conducive to business. You don’t want to give ‘em an edge.

"You can take a cup of tea, of course, that’s just being polite; and a biscuit’s OK, but never take the last one. Many a deal’s been lost over the last custard cream -- folks are funny like that.”

Shrewsbury wasn’t funny -- Shrewsbury was a prick. And Brian’s bathroom avoidance was less to do with sales tactics than it was a shy bladder: the thought that they might be out there listening to him pee would wrap itself constrictor-like around his urethra and make relief impossible.

Circling around his car, Armitage unzipped, and began urinating on the conveniently located rose bushes lining the driveway. His stream hissed as it vaporized in contact with the ice. He sighed with satisfaction, having emptied his bladder without soiling his clothing.

then returned to the front door, knocked twice -- Shrewsbury's recommended number for an immediate and expected return to a client's home (one knock possibly being interpreted as a clanging pipe and three as aggressive overkill) -- and said, upon being greeted, "Much better. Now...where were we?"

Opening: ril.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Evil Editor said...

I think the last three paragraphs would be even funnier if Brian were in the client's home, trying to focus on his sales pitch, rather than having already left.

Dave Fragments said...

To me, the first paragraph sounded like the beginning of a great and serious adventure. Then I hit the very humorous 2nd,3rd,4th paragraphs about wimpy weak bladder and had to seriously adjust my attitude. That reminds me of Peter Schickele's "Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments" i.e. discordant and undeservedly rowdy paragraphs taking up arms against the whole and kicking both butt and balls...

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think the world is immutably divided into those who find urine 'very humorous' and those who do not.

Either way, the urine is a distraction.

I was kind of interested in the story to begin with-- liked the idea that the protag was involved in some mysterious mission, maybe sussing out a spy network? But then the word "sales" dashed my hopes.

No offense to salesmen, but if the character is 1. a salesman and 2. mainly concerned with urine, it doesn't bode well for an interesting story. There may still be one, but the opening doesn't promise it.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I'd switch line two and three in the first paragraph and leave off "the carpet" in the second.

I'd move "He told himself nothing was wrong," out of the first paragraph. Unless there's something going on other than bladder relief to be revealed in the next few sentences.

Paragraph four, "had" in place of "was"?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Btw, I'm assuming this is historical fiction. The last time I saw a door-to-door salesman, I was in kindergarten, cars had round tail lights, and Nixon was in the White House.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Oh AlaskaRC,
I wish I could say that. Before leaving N. America I was inundated with insurance sales folk, grave yard sales folk, meat folk, fish folk, green food folk and chicken folk. That was 8 years ago. I went back last year and now it is grocery folk, maid service folk, and window cleaning, apartment and car cleaning folk. Low overhead and in Walmart I got accosted by parking lot folk selling who nows what and wanting to clean a windshield for a car I didn't own.
I was standing beside a car and the guys who cleaned the windshield got angry because it wasn't my car.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

People who will go to Walmart will get what they deserve. But I don't think hustlers in a parking lot count as door-to-door salesmen. The door-to-door salesmen I remember, complete with suits and, I assume, territories, relied on the assurance that someone would be home during the day, and that that someone would be unlikely to open fire.

The only people I ever see knocking on random doors nowadays are high school kids on fundraising projects, who admittedly are selling stuff; and Jehovah's Witnesses, who start out, brightly, anachronistically, and entirely dishonestly, "Now I'm not here to sell you anything..."

Dave Fragments said...

I think the internet ate a post I sent earlier. That's OK, the internet is doing things to itself today.

I don't see anything wrong with starting a story where the protagonist is a salesman and has the "I gotta pee squirms". IT's not the most exciting thing but it is funny and if this is a lighter novel and not a serious drama, then it can start this way. If the character is hapless and a little inept, he's not going to be mister perfect, he's going to drink that huge soda (or pop if you're a yunzer) and suffer as his eyeballs float and turn into Esther Williams.

I just don't can't justify the antipathy I've seen toward this opening.

Mister Furkles said...

The prose is very easy to read. If I’d picked this up in the library or a bookstore, I’d read a few more pages before deciding whether to read the book. I think an agent or editor who liked the query enough to read the first page would also read the next few pages.

My guess is that it is literary fiction. Certainly it isn’t MG or YA and not likely to be romance either.

The tension between Brian and Shewsbury is clear and it is also clear that Shewsbury holds some kind of authority over Brian. For me, the concern about needing to urinate helps to put the reader into Brian’s POV.

Given just over 200 words we must make some initial guesses. One guess is that Brian is concerned about his cough. If that is the case you can’t simply move sentence three before sentence two. But his concern about not waving might go before worrying about slipping on the ice. So you may want to rework the first paragraph depending on why Brian is telling himself that nothing is wrong.

I don’t understand why a reader would assume that Brian is a door-to-door salesman. I thought he was either making a requested call or it is a following up visit to estimating a price. Of course, other readers might react similarly to ARC and WM on that. Maybe you want to add a little clarification on where Brian made the visit (business or home) and whether the visit was requested or a cold call. And maybe that much detail doesn’t matter for this story.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

My point was direct sales are direct sales. By appointment or random.

Back to the query, I enjoyed a light hearted look at what can happen in sales - direct or not.

The Walmart thing, I used to take a group of MS patients to Walmart so they could walk around, lean on a shopping cart for mobility assistance, get some exercise and enjoy a nice outing. It was easier than the Y programs and free.

I didn't mean to step on any toes.

ril said...

Thanks! Always good to get feedback...

Nice continuation as always, EE.

Mister Furkles -- you pretty much nailed it!