Monday, September 22, 2008

New Beginning 553

You never want to win a contest on a Friday night in the emergency room. The prize rarely comes with a good prognosis. Most stitches required to repair a wound. Oldest nursing home refugee. Number of security guards called to subdue a psychotic outburst. The main event, however, is always the competition for highest blood alcohol content. And on weekends the field grows crowded with serious contenders.

The highest number recorded that night was 483. At levels above four hundred, the brainstem usually throws its hands in the air and gives up, leading to a loss of respiratory function, coma, and rapidly approaching death. This threshold applies to most people who land in the ER with alcohol poisoning, like keg-standing frat boys or bored housewives who go a bit overboard with their mid-afternoon martinis and Vicodin. But for guys who make serious drinking a lifelong occupation, the ones whose hearts don't so much pump blood as sluggishly marinate in it, such stratospheric quantities of liquor in the blood can be compatible with life.

These men are the ER doctors, pickled and stewed but still on their feet, diagnosing and treating those who try to reach their heights but fail every time. In the world of competitive drinking, they are unmatched, reaching blood alcohol levels that would drop a horse. How do they achieve such numbers?

Find out tonight, as 20/20 investigates.

Opening: Benwah.....Continuation: Mignon


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

And then there's the zombies. Rumor has it that sometimes the long-time drinkers turn when the pickling effect hits a certain magic saturation level.

Some consider the zombiism effect a myth, that the rare condition is a clever ruse of charlatans and schemers trying yet again to bilk the public and fool the medical community.

But that weekend, in the ER, it all came about that zombiism was real--when the kegger turned sour and the frat brothers started eating the coeds.

The woman looked up from her paper. "So, Johnnie, now that you see what your cousin Ted has turned into, will you sign the pledge to abstain from the demon rum? Or will you sell your soul to the Devil for a drink?"

"Mo-om, I'm only twelve!" cried Johnnie, rolling his eyes.


Don Mirello coughed and spit in the dust. "So, with all that in mind," he said, "let's try this for a start." He opened a case of cheap liquor. "Who's first?"

"Uh, sir?" Susie Correl raised her hand. "Sir, what about the..." She pointed at the car behind them.

"Huh?" Don checked his notes. "Oh my stars! My bad -- Driver's Ed. I thought it said Drinker's Ed. Sorry kids. Ah, well." He fished a set of keys out of his pocket then cracked open a bottle. "Waste not, want not, eh? So -- who's first?"


Evil Editor said...

If you're going to begin with two paragraphs of documentary-style information, this sentence:

The highest number recorded that night was 483.

should be moved to the beginning of the next paragraph, where (I assume) you finally get around to telling us what night you're talking about and who's involved.

Another option, which might be better as it isn't a documentary, would be to put the characters and the night in question in paragraph 2, and work in your paragraph 2 info later.

Anonymous said...

I assmume someone about whom we should care comes to the ER with the highest level. Get to him/her quickly!

Also, your reference to housewives comes across as a stale cliche--a little pre-Betty Friedan-ish. "Bored housewives" who would drink martinis and take prescription meds implies a certain socioeconomic class of women. That class of women today (as opposed to those women in the pre-1970s period) typicaly is comprised of women who *choose* to stay home, often after devoting some time to their careers (and often hyper parent their kids as sport) but if bored could certainly return to their high power careers. Your reference evokes the image of Blythe Danner's character in the film "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" (set in the 1930s and 40s). You know, when women didn't have many choices.

E.D. Walker said...

I liked the voice. The set-up was interesting.

I agree with EE, tho. Give me the characters and quick or I will lose interest.

Chris Eldin said...

LOL at the continuation. I kept wanting to come back and give it a whirl, but yours worked very well!

Benwah, I liked this. I'd keep reading.

Anonymous said...

I liked the first paragraph but I think the second sentence drags it down - it doesn't add anything, and it's kind of distracting, as there's neither a prize nor a prognosis anywhere in sight. Why not go straight into the three examples?

I agree with the 'give me characters!' On a related note, that brainstem line seemed a bit cutesy to me, but it could work very well in the mouth of a smart-ass ER doctor, and indeed most of the info in that paragraph might be easily worked into dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Overall, reads nicely.

You might consider linking the first two sentences with a semicolon since the list beginning in the 3rd sentence seems to refer back to the contests (subject of the first sentence), and not the prognoses (subject of the second sentence).

Since you need to get a character in here quickly why not the end of the first para? Your first sentence talks about how you don't want to win one of these contests--why not end this with the winner of the b.a.c. contest.

Hands in the air doesn't work for me because you are giving one body part another body part. The imagery is a little jarring, takes the reader out of the scene and reminds him that there is an author here playing with words.

But I loved the use of "sluggishly marinating"--nice, vivid image. You have a nice voice.

none said...

It's not bad, but it would benefit from tightening. A faster read at this point will keep the reader engaged while they wait for something to happen.


You never want to win a Friday-night contest in the ER. Most stitches. Oldest granny dump. Number of security guards required to pacify.

and so on.

Anonymous said...

This has caught my interest and I would keep reading for a bit.

In my opinion (and it is only that!) you seem to be hovering somewhere between "school essay" (with a topic sentence beginning each paragraph followed by supporting data) and a living/breathing tale of the absurd nature of human kind.

Again, that's just what I'm seeing. You may be headed in a totally different direction, but the story hasn't had time to develop yet.??

Good luck with it!

P.S. Loved the continuation!

Wes said...

Great beginning and great continuation. Sure the opening could benefit by some tightening and a character, but I'm not concerned about that. We must remember EE's format limits us to 300 words or so, and that's not much to set the stage before the action begins.

pacatrue said...

What others said. This was good and I would keep reading to the end of the page at least. But I do want that character soon; in fact, I'd rather some of the second paragraph go and a person show up around there. Still, I'd keep reading to the third.

writtenwyrdd said...

I liked this enough to want to read further, but it's rough, as others have noted.

The tone is a bit documentarian, but I figure it's sort of a scenic opening that establishes the setting then shifts to the pov character. Don't take too long with that and you'll be fine.

batgirl said...

What the others said. It got me interested, but went on too long. The bored housewife - who can afford to be one of those nowadays, with all the two-job families? Or if that's indicating that it's set in the 50s-60s, then keep it, but maybe another clue as to the setting in the next paragraph or so?

Dave Fragments said...

I have other questions bouncing around my head:

Isn't a wound implied in the two words Most stitches. than the seven in Most stitches required to repair a wound.

And isn't "The main event" and "is always" the same thing? It's a stylistic point. The main event is just that and saying it "always" occurs is an emphasis. The same with "the competition for" which can be removed and not alter the meaning one bit. It's not wrong, just wordy. And it might not be bad for your style.

I have a "time and date" pick, too. The first sentence says in the second person - YOU never ... on FRIDAY. Then in the last sentence, you sink into "weekends"
The first two sentences are cautionary and exciting. Then the last sentence seems to wander to spread Friday into Saturday into weekend.

There is your money line or what should be your money line.
the cautionary statement, the list of bad numbers, and finally, the person who sins the main event.

Maybe this way:
You never want to win an emergency room contest on Friday night. The prize rarely comes with a good prognosis. Typically, there's most stitches, oldest nursing home refugee, number of security guards to subdue a psychotic outburst. The main event, however, is highest blood alcohol content. And on this Friday, Oscar Weinermobile won with a 483.

Now 483 in a normal man would mean death but Oscar, dear alcoholic Oscar, his heart didn't so much pump blood as sluggishly marinate in it. Some say his surviving brain cells learned how to extract oxygen from OH groups rather than hemoglobin. Only an autopsy can say for sure but that night, Oscar rose from the alcoholic dead to drink another day.

Scott from Oregon said...

I LOVED the first line and then fell out of love with the second line.

"with a good prognosis" threw me because I had to do the mental dance. Diagnosis. Prognosis. Facial nosis...

And then when I knew I knew I got hit with "Most stitches required to repair a wound." and then a few other calamitous events in a sequence.

I started wondering why a lot of stitches would cause a bad prognosis? I had 24 on my forehead when I was six. I was the most the night I went to the ER-- at least that is what the Doc told me. I think I am ok...?

I think you could do better with a less technical term here, is what I am saying.

"The prize is never one you would ask for from your uncle for Christmas..." or... something like that. You get friendly with a brain stem throwing up its hands and all, which seems to be the style you want.

And finally, the word "content" is technical, as well. What about "level"? It is less "jargonny" and fits the voice better IMhumbleO...

I think I'd cut out the frat boys and bored house wives. everyone, I bet, knows a drunk or two. I'd just go into the serious drinkers bit.

Having just been through an ER ordeal, I am hooked. What's next?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Dave's shortening and his analysis of the repetitive words, but the tone of his is totally different to me. His is comical, light. The original didn't read that way. It was a bit quirky, but serious quirky. And the voice is good--shorten, yes. Get a person in there to care about, check. But don't lose the great voice in the process.

Dave Fragments said...

Oscar's liver is also as hard as a stone from cirrhosis and thus when he finally meets his maker and the ME or coroner is asked for the reason, he says "Even I, can't get blood from a stone."

Oscar inspires me for some strange reason.

Anonymous said...

One has to wonder if Dave is in contention for the "main event" tonight...

Dave Fragments said...

Style and tone are trade-offs with brevity and all sorts of things in writing. My rewrite ended up with a humorous tone simply because it is was easier to make the point.

If the speaker had been the drunk with a BAC over 400 and barely survived, he might be relating the story at an AA meeting or to a teenager and my comic tone would be inappropriate. But the advice would be the same. Within the bounds of your style, shorten it, use not only fewer words, but more concise words and then, emphasize the points that are most important to the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

Part of the style is the wordiness. I liked that, but you can't always get away with it. So I'm half of Dave's opinion on the "too many words" riff. It's not being too wordy, in my opinion; it's being wordy in a manner that doesn't intrude. Takes crafting skill just like any other style.

McKoala said...

The writing is fine, but the continuation does nail an issue. It sounds more like the start of a documentary than a novel. It's rather uninvolving, because there is no character to care about yet. If this were presented from somebody's point of view it might have more impact.

Robin B. said...

Hey Benwah,

I really like your opening two sentences, and the last sentences in the first paragraph..The main event, however, is always the competition for highest blood alcohol content. And on weekends the field grows crowded with serious contenders. Something about the middle falls flat to my ear- maybe it's the clipped phrases. Maybe one good sentence replacing them would be better?

And I really, really like your last sentence in this opening section...But for guys who make serious drinking a lifelong occupation, the ones whose hearts don't so much pump blood as sluggishly marinate in it, such stratospheric quantities of liquor in the blood can be compatible with life.

These sentences are very strong, and maybe that's why the rest seems more like a fill-in between them (I'm not saying they ARE filler, I just mean they are the parts that carry that 'documentary' feeling).

I'd be interested to know if this is the tone you're going for, and if so, how it progresses.

I like most of this quite a bit.

PS- the bored wives thing - is this from a different era? Just wondering.

EB said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I was just sort of noodling around with this, mostly because the first line had popped into my head. I rather liked playing with the words, but agree, it would benefit from some tightening while at the same time maintaining voice.

The main character appears in the beginning of the 4th paragraph, obliquely, since he's lying unconcious on a stretcher. He's introduced by an incredulous state trooper and a jaded nurse.

Many commented that the 2nd sentence (prognosis/prize) was confusing or cumbersome, and I debated skipping that and rolling right into the examples as Buffy suggests.

Anon 10.31: Your pre-Betty Friedan comment made me laugh. Spot on criticism. Likewise Robin's.

Scott: 24 is a respectable number of stitches. But think 300. Nobody wants to be _that guy_. The first is a story about a bar fight. The second is a trip to the hand surgeon and lingering numbness 9 months later.

And Dave F: I don't know who Oscar is, but let me know how your night at the bar goes. I'll post bail money.

Thanks again for your insights, minions.

Anonymous said...

Oscar Weinermobile