Sunday, August 26, 2007

New Beginning 348

Lawrence Norton was a bad, bad boy, is what Lawrence said to himself while he waited there, patiently, at the foot of the bridge. Day after day he waited there, saying his singsong words about himself to himself, repeating in a rhythm, with nobody else knowing about them, about those words floating through him all the time, and him just standing there, having to take his own punishment.

The words ran through his other thoughts like a weaving, even when a window came down and a hand came out and in the hand was money he could have.

He’d been standing by this 14th Street bridge most days for the past seventeen years, is what he’d told the lady. Most people passing by in their cars didn’t stop to talk, and even when they had to stop because the light turned red, there where the road off the bridge became the street, they kept their heads staring straight ahead of them. Maybe they had their own words they were having to listen to. Lawrence didn’t know.

Stay green, stay green, stay green! Marcia thought as she approached the foot of the bridge, but the light changed, as it always did. She'd been coming this way every workday for seventeen years, and couldn't remember ever hitting it green. Shit, here he comes, she thought. Oh God, he's looking at me. Don't make eye contact! She willed him to try the cars behind her.

Maybe I should give him a buck. A buck every 17 years, wonder what that works out to per hour. No, then he'll expect it every day. Probably blow it on cigarettes or beer. Seventeen years I've been missing this light, and has this guy ever not been here? Who puts a traffic light at the foot of a bridge, anyway?

She thought she might bring him some food tomorrow. A nice salad. With croutons. He probably makes more than I do. I should start taking the 12th Street bridge; it's worth an extra fifteen minutes to avoid this. Is this fucking light ever gonna change?!! She wondered what he thought about all day. Maybe he was one of those savants doing calculus in his head. Or calculating pi. Maybe he'd had a truly fascinating life. Marcia didn't care.

Opening: Robin S......Continuation: Evil Editor


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Apparently the people of New York had their own problems, problems so bad that even a half-naked man spanking himself near the bridge didn't faze them. Or maybe they thought he was too crazy to come near.


They were probably listening to those damn IPods and didn't even notice him, he thought sadly as he nodded at the woman and pocketed her money.

And he thought of his days over the last seventeen years, the scrimping, the saving, the standing out here in rain, sleet, and snow. First there were the 8-tracks, then the walkmans, then the portable CD players. Whenever he got close, a new, better player would come along. But he was . . . how much closer? He took the money out of his pocket and counted. Thirty-eight cents closer. He smiled.

He was going to get an IPod if it was the last thing he ever did.


"Wunnerful, wunnerful," said Lawrence as the lady drove away. He counted the money. "A one an a two dollars."

"I'm a bad boy," he repeated. "Shouldn'a let those flop-haired Beatles on my a-show." Lawrence blinked away the tears as he repented the damage he had done to girlhood in America. He did not resent his seventeen years of purgatory, here where the idea of inviting the Beatles to the Lawrence Welk show had formed in his momentarily bedeviled mind. Soon, he would ascend to meet his Maker.

"Wunnerful, wunnerful," he said.

--Bill Highsmith

The lady handed him the money, then put her hands on her hips. "Seventeen years my ass," she said. "Although you've been out here long enough to have me worried. What is it? You blocked?"

Lawrence shrugged.

"Well, you'd better get started on your next novel," the woman said, putting her expensive sunglasses back on. "That's the last of the advance from the publisher, and they're screaming for your next book. Gotta run, sweetie." She blew him a kiss, then got into her car and sped off.

Lawrence could just make out her license plate: IMMSSNRK.

He shrugged again and went back to listening to the words in his head.


One day, as Lawrence's words flowed through his head and out his mouth, a man walking by stopped and listened. Six months later, Lawrence's words had rocketed to the number one spot on Billboard's Top 100, and launched the new "urban nutcase" music genre.

Lawrence, however knew about none of this, content with muttering to the Snickers bar the man had thrown at him from the back of a limo.


All he knew was that the woman's car had brought him to a low building full of harried people, people who tried to smile at him.

"At the bridge," said the woman. The young man in the green shirt nodded, his words soft.

"OK, big boy," he said, putting one hand on Lawrence's back. "We'll put you in here and call your family. OK?"

Wagging his tail, Lawrence followed the man to the cage.


The lady came every morning. She would coax Lawrence into conversation with a donut and a coffee.

"How's the bridge today, Lawrence?" she'd always say.

Lawrence would smile, then launch into a cacophony of transportation noises. Horns, brakes, radios, police cars-these were the sounds that kept the voices in his head at bay.

Today was the lady's birthday. She decided to stay longer.

"Lawrence, I've been coming here almost a year."

Lawrence twirled with the buttons on his jacket.

"I know you think you've been a bad boy.

Lawrence fixated on the third button. On it dangled a long piece of thread.

"You haven't been bad, Lawrence. Do you understand me? It's this world. All the people in it. They wear you down. When I came here that first day, I wanted to jump off the bridge."

Lawrence took off his jacket and worked the thread with his teeth.

"You saved my life. Do you know that?"

A passerby stopped and unrolled his window. He handed the lady some coins. She squeezed her fingers around them, then walked over to Lawrence.

"Here you go Lawrence, put these in your pocket." The lady jangled the coins next to Lawrence's ear. Lawrence stood up, smiled, and made jangling noises that would fool a banker.

"See you tomorrow, Lawrence."

--Church Lady

Not until the lady touched his wrist as she dropped the coins into his palm. Then they flooded in, the thoughts, the words, the feelings:

Crap! Why’d they have to make the coffee so goddamn hot...

No, don’t stop, it’s only just turned orange. Jeeesus...

There he is again, the freakozoid, what is he wearing...?

No, pumpkin, I told you, Daddy works in the city. Take the money, Larry, just take the goddamned money...

Shit, this is 14th Street? Where the hell am I...?

“No, sir,” he said to the guy in the red Camaro, “I can’t take that. I’m not allowed to change anything bigger than a five. You could try the East River bridge, five miles that way.” Lawrence smiled as, without a word, the guy snatched his bill back and fished for loose change.

“Yeah?” Lawrence continued. “Well your mother did it with a donkey.”

That must be him over there...

Eyeing the approaching policemen, he gathered up his money and disappeared into the shadows with the familiar singsong weaving through his head. He left his homemade [toll booth] sign at the side of the road.


"Seventeen years, huh?" said the lady, handing him a five-dollar bill. "That's a long time to stay in one job."

"Lawrence is a bad, bad boy," said Lawrence.

"Um, could I have a receipt?"

Lawrence dutifully put the money in the register and printed out a receipt. The hand came out and the window went up and so did the barrier and the lady sped across the toll bridge. The barrier sank down again.

Lawrence sat back on his stool and gazed through glazed eyes at the street before him. Lawrence is a bad, bad boy. And collecting tolls is a bad, bad, bad job.


Kelly smiled politely, a tight little smile that she hoped wouldn't set him off. Of all the times to run out of gas, I have to do it around an escapee from the Enchanted Kingdom.

And when--if--she ever got home, Nick was going to pay for driving all over hell looking for cheaper golf clubs.


"I just wanted to listen to Rock FM," he said, turning back to the lady. She nodded, as though she understood; as though it made sense.

The traffic started to move again. An old, rusty Nova pulled over to the side. The driver leaned over and wound down the window; she looked across at Lawrence and said, "Well?"

Lawrence scuffed his shoe on the pavement, sniffed and looked at the ground. "I'm sorry," he said, "I won't press it again."

The woman in the Nova cracked open the door and Lawrence climbed in.

"Wait!" The lady he'd been talking to said. "Just a few more--"


The reporter let her mike hand drop to her side as she watched the Nova disappear into the traffic. She signalled the cameraman to stop filming. No big story for her today. Just five minutes more and Lawrence would have gone into the record books for the longest time out in history.


Of course, was and is are two very different things and even if he had been a bad boy, a bad, bad boy, even, he much preferred to think on, and reprimand himself for, the bitter realities of his distant past than reconcile himself with the confusing tapestries of his present. Because what Lawrence did know was that, unlike all those people staring straight ahead and listening in their own rhythms, maybe, and not looking, never looking at him, the lady seemed to have no words at all. She ignored the green light and pulled up alongside him in a little red corvette and had no words of her own. She only wanted his.

"I can see them in there," she told him, "twisting and turning like so many threads on an intricate loom. Your words. But if you were once a bad, bad boy, what are you now?"

And he told her he'd been standing there waiting for someone like her and he reached through her passenger window and into her glove box and pulled out her gun.

"Now," he said, "Lawrence is a merciless killer."


"Ever since my mom jumped into the river," he continued, his gaze locked onto the lady's piercing blue eyes. "I keep vigil here every day. I buy lunch with the money they give me."

"You poor thing," she said, and touched his arm. "What a life. You didn't finish school? You've no friends? You've never, ah, had a girlfriend?"

"When she jumped, she took Flossie, our labrador, with her." Tears welled in her eyes.

"You poor, poor thing," she said, and took his hand. He looked down at the ground as she led him into the shadows under the bridge.

* * *

Lawrence Norton was a bad, bad boy, he said to himself, grinning, as he scratched another notch into the bridge support and watched the lady walk away adjusting her skirt as she went.


Evil Editor said...

The second sentence slows things down with the repetition of "waited there" and "to himself." Removing them leaves:

Lawrence Norton was a bad, bad boy.

Day after day Lawrence Norton waited there, saying his singsong words about himself to himself, repeating in a rhythm, with nobody else knowing about them, about those words floating through him all the time, and him just standing at the foot of the bridge, having to take his own punishment.

Can you make it more clear who "the lady" is. "The lady yesterday," or "the lady in the green car." That'll help us get through to where you fill us in on her, which is, no doubt, very soon.

Then there's the possible problem that people who won't make eye contact with such a character won't want to read about him either, so best to get to what happens or happened to this guy quickly.

Chris Eldin said...

Robin, I loved your opening. I couldn't think of a funny twist for a continuation.
Is this DC? I think I know this bridge and that guy. Is he STILL there?
Would you email me offline? I'd love to read your story...

Bernita said...

Think "Lawrence Norton is a bad, bad boy" is a very good hook.

Robin S. said...

Wow. Great continuations. I loved reading them.

Well, EE, when I saw my opening popped up this morning, I couldn't read it for a little while, as I thought about what your comments might be. Then I decided I was a fool ever to request you comment at all. Then I actually got all interested in checking how the plants on the side deck did last night in the thunderstorm. (They're just fine, by the way, except the impatiens look a little hung over. I know that's a big relief.)

Anyway...I see what you mean about cutting. I reread it aloud just now, my way and your way. My concern would have been that cutting would've reduced the rhythm of the words, which is supposed to mimic the singsong effect going on in Lawrence's head. But it didn't - and thanks for that.

The next paragraph explains who the lady is - is that soon enough?
There's a space/break after this opening, and then the story switches to 'the lady's' point of view for a little while.

Hi Church Lady, Yep. I'll send you a note.

Thanks, Bernita - I appreciate it.

Evil Editor said...

The next paragraph explains who the lady is - is that soon enough?

There is a lot of information after he mentions the lady; we're left wondering if she'd already been mentioned and we missed it. I'm not sure we can trust that he's talking about the same lady next paragraph, so it might be best if he always refers to her as the lady in the green car, or the lady with the little dog. It's not like she's the only lady he ever sees.

If we're no longer in his point of view the next time she's mentioned, however, it's likely you have made it clear it's the same lady. (Though having unique names for his "customers" would not seem to be out of character for Lawrence.)

Dave Fragments said...

The way you wrote it originally, paragraph two and paragraph three seem like seperate people are giving him money. If it is the same person reaching a hand out the window as the lady he told 17 years, they have to be in one paragraph or linked some other way.

A beggar, homeless, window washer guy is a main character in your novel? (that's a question).
That's a challenging place to start. We already know he's stood at this bridge panhandling for 17 years. Involving him in a plot requires a certain inventiveness to make it work. Most people live lives of "desparate boredom, tediously doing the same thing day after day" to emphasize the obvious. Good luck.

AmyB said...

When I first read this, my impression was that it was overwritten and wordy. Then I read Robin's comment about how it was supposed to be singsong-y like what's going on in Lawrence's head. With that knowledge, I read the opening again, and I liked it much better.

Under normal circumstances, a reader will not have access to this information, so beyond giving my reaction as a reader, I don't know what to say. It's possible I might adapt to the style and accept it if it continued. Or it might drive me nuts.

"like a weaving" didn't work for me. I get the idea, but somehow the word "weaving" gave me a "huh?" moment. Might be just me.

As for the content, I have been followed and harassed by enough scary, mentally ill people that I wouldn't want to read about one. This novel would have to have a really compelling hook in the jacket copy for me to want to read it.

Robin S. said...

Hi Dave,

The second paragraph isn't about the lady. It's about "the hand tha gives him noney, and it doesn't really matter whose hand it is, so that's why this paragraph and the one about the lady aren't linked.

This is a short story, not a novel. I agree with you and with amyb - it would be tough to carry this in a novel, although I'm sure it could be done by the right person. I mean, William Burroughs wasn't exactly writing about cuff-linked, effete Harvard grads, was he, and his prose is wonderful - pulsing and alive. But, as my name isn't William Burroughs, I'll stick with the short story on this one, and do what I can do.

EE, the next paragraph is from the woman's POV. Hope that's enough to make it work.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I liked this first paragraph alot. HAd a good first sentence and a nice ryhthm to the pacing. I caught on right away that it was how he was talking to himself. I didn't think it was confusing at all. Nice job. My only quibble was already mentioned by EE and the paragraph without the two extraneous phrases makes the overall effect stronger and tighter. I would want to keep reading as I found Lawrence an interesting character.

Anonymous said...

I liked this. The "bad boy" phrase intrigued me, reminding me of an old tyme comedian (???) who used to say that. I followed the rhythm of the first para, and wanted to read more about Lawrence, who was obviously a little nuts. I tried to write a cont. which usually means that I (think I) "get" the author and enjoyed the first lines. Would read more!! Hope to see it in its full (short-story) glory in a glossy mag soon.

Cicily Janus said...

I too was confused as to who the lady was that gave him the money at first, but then, having been privy to the information on the comments on the blog, it made a lot more sense.

And I have to say that the continuations were fabulous.

Might I add...

Lawrence looked her in the eye as she pulled up to the stop light. He was going to do it once and for all. This act of craziness was over and the woman had to pay.

She had thrown him out on the streets years ago, probably didn't even remember who he was. As a landlord in her days before joining the days of the regular 9-5'ers, she was as mean as a filthy whore walking on tenth st.

She ignored him even as he approached the window. The light was about to turn green. Green. Green light go. Go, he told himself, just go and tell her how you really feel.

He flicked open the knife in his pocket. He didn't care who saw him commit the crime he was about to commit, for a thousand years in prison were better than seventeen more on these lousy streets.

His stride widened, her eyes narrowed as if she was squinting for recognition. He smiled. His usual crazy-tilted smile and waved. It was at this moment she finally knew, or at least that was what she must have been thinking as she ran the last second of the red light before her car was crushed by mass transit.

Karma is a bitch, he thought as he walked away without blinking even a second thought through his mind.

He left the corner and moved over to the market on fifteenth street. His ex-wife would be arriving any minute now. Another conquest for another day.


Couldn't help myself.

Love the blog, BTW.

Yours in Words,


writtenwyrdd said...

I liked this opening and the opening sentence in particular. I got that it was his thoughts and his sing-songy voice, but the tweaking such as EE and others mention will tighten it up nicely.

Have you read Doris Lessing? Her short story "An Old Woman & Her Cat" (or something titled similarly) might resonate with you.

Robin S. said...

Thanks for the comments, you all.

Hi WW, I haven't read Doris Lessing in a while - but a while back I read and loved The Golden Notebook. I'll check into her short stories. Thanks!