Writing Greatness (short story, humor)

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Donovan Stone wanted to be a writer more than anyone had since the first hieroglyphs were scratched onto the wall of the first pyramid. He had read just about every book written on the craft, attended every fiction writing class he could, and had even changed his name to something he thought sounded more writer-ish. His actual name was Sidney Weatherwax, which he considered singularly inglorious and not in keeping with the illustrious future he had planned for himself.

In one of his writing books, the author outlined his formula for greatness. “There are three kinds of writers,” he wrote –

1. Those who stink and don’t know they stink. This type of writer’s efforts will only be a big waste of everyone’s time, primarily his own. One lifetime is never enough to overcome pure, unadulterated stinkiness.

2. Those who stink and are determined to become less stinky. This type of writer faces an uphill climb but may someday create something passable, albeit inconsistently, and then only by dumb luck.”

3. Those who are great by divine intervention or some accident of nature and who couldn’t write poorly if they were being suspended over a pool of sharks. Only this kind of writer will ever be truly great, and even he doesn’t know how he does it. If you’re wondering if you’re this kind of writer, you’re not. You wouldn’t have to ask. Quit now.

Donovan wept uncontrollably after reading this, fearing he was a category two writer. When his wrenching sobs subsided, he steeled his resolve to achieve greatness. Still, every effort was met with severe frustration. There was just nothing in there. He loved poetry but every word he wrote, nay, every letter, was a struggle he likened to childbirth.

One of his first poems read:

Her love reminds me of flowers.
I don’t need her tomorrow, but nowers.

He saw nothing wrong with the use of the non-word “nowers” because he once read that Shakespeare created many words when ordinary language failed him.

Donovan’s poem continued:

She’s hot, like a jalapeno squirt.
I would cut off my ear, but it would hurt.

He thought the Van Gogh reference was pure genius, others not so much. In fact, when he shared it with the crowd at The Daily Grind Coffeehouse, a normally gracious group, they laughed unguardedly, assuming his poem was meant to be funny.

With sweat beading on his upper lip, he continued,
“My love is a sponge,
On our love raft, we will plunge.”

The laughter grew louder. Trembling with a mixture of embarrassment and rage, he pressed on,
“Her love is a towel
cooling my weary browel.”

That was it. The room erupted. He could have saved himself some humiliation if he had pretended he meant it to be funny, but he was cut to the quick. He threw his Gauloise cigarette on the floor, spit in a very French manner, and said, “You people wouldn’t know talent if it bit you on your fat, pimply asses!” He then kicked over a table and stormed out the back door into the alley. He kicked over trash cans all the way home, cursing about how most great artists were misunderstood and how that audience of barn animals was just too ignorant to grasp someone as brilliant and tortured as he.

The next week was spent in a bottomless purple funk. He drank excessively, didn’t bathe, and barely ate. If his phone ever rang, he wouldn’t have even answered it.

He felt comforted by the tragic lives many great artists had. Hemingway shot himself. Plath had electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure suicidal tendencies. Dostoyevsky was exiled in Siberia for his political opinions. He felt he was suffering along with them, equally unappreciated. The more he suffered, the more romantic it felt. Unfortunately, he was the only one who felt it.

His father was no help. The last time he had spoken to him, he said, “Son, it’s time to grow up. How much of your life are you planning to waste on this pipe dream? Even the best writers struggle to eke out a living, and frankly, you ain’t one of ‘em. I found a poem in a notebook you left in the back yard and it stunk. Wait here, I’ll get it.”
He walked away and returned with a tattered, coffee-stained notebook, flipped through it and found the page.
“Oh, here it is,” he said. “Explain this one to me, if you even can. He began to read, “Flaming doorknobs tumble down my blasphemous eyebrows. The tragic sand screams oblong operettas to my parched bicycle seat. I am.”

He set the notebook down and asked, “What in hell’s blue blazes is that supposed to mean, Sidney? Why can’t you write a nice, rhyming poem that tells a story like Robert Frost or that Longfellow guy used to do?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he replied, “and my name is Donovan.”

“That’s another thing. That name might work if, A, it was 1957, and, B, you were a teen idol.”

“Look, daddio,” Donovan replied, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. You know who said that? Einstein! That’s who!”

“Daddio? What is this? 1968? It’s 2014! Wake up and smell the failure, hepcat!”

After a pause, his father softened and said, “Look, son. I just want you to be happy. I hate seeing you running down a dead end like this, because there’s a big, brick wall at the end of it and you’re not gonna see it coming until it’s too late. I mean, of all things to choose to be, you had to pick a writer? Nothing has ever happened to you! I did two tours in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war, and survived cancer that damn Agent Orange gave me! If anyone should be a writer, it’s me!”

“Oh, so that’s it!” Donovan snapped. “You’re jealous because I’m a writer and you’re not!”

“Yeah, I’m real jealous I don’t have flaming door knobs tumbling down my blasphemous eyebrows. Think about it, son. All the great writers lived through some heavy stuff. Tennessee Williams had diphtheria as kid, was tormented by a sadistic father, lived most of his life as a repressed homosexual, and died penniless after a nervous breakdown. But his sister one-upped him by getting a frontal lobotomy! So, again, what have you been through? What gives you the right to call yourself a writer? I would suggest you do some living first, then grace the world with your insights. You’re putting the cart before the horse, boy!”

Donovan couldn’t take anymore. He stormed out. He was good at storming. He hadn’t spoken to his father since, which was difficult because he still lived at home. Though he cursed him, he couldn’t get his words out of his mind. What did give him the right to call himself a writer? Maybe writing was so hard for him because nothing worth writing about had ever happened to him. He was forced to conclude that his father was right. He decided to change that. He would do things, dammit, and starting right now.
He showered, found clothes that smelled the least bad, and walked to a military recruiting office in his local mall. Many great writers had brushes with death, and killed many men in battle. He would, too. That would show his dad.

He tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because the minimum push-up requirement was forty-two and he was only able to do seven. The reviewer also mentioned a comment he had made in his application about hating America for runaway Capitalism and Imperialist foreign policies.

Dejected but still determined to have something bad happen to him, he put on a white suit and costume jewelry rings, stuffed his wallet with toilet paper until it bulged, and walked through the worst neighborhood he could find on Saturday at midnight. A group of gang-bangers pulled up in a car next to him and yelled very hurtful things. His mania was such that he had no fear for his safety, but instead thought, “This will make a great story!” One of the men got out of the car and started pushing him around, but an elderly woman ran out of a nearby house and yelled, “You get on home and leave that boy alone! He’s obviously not right in the head!”
She drove Donovan home that night, gave him a lecture he thought would never end, and handed him a Bible, saying, “You need a whole lot of Jesus, son.”

Actually, the old lady’s lecture was the worst ordeal he had ever endured, much worse than being beaten and robbed would have been, so he was off to a great start.

As he lay in bed that night, it dawned on him that he was going about things all wrong. Instead of trying to make bad things happen to him, he would do bad things himself! Be pro-active! His father always said he lacked initiative and was hiding in writing as a way to avoid taking real chances in life. This would show him once and for all!

The next morning, he bought a pellet gun at Big 5 and a pair of nylon stockings at 7/11, walked to his local credit union, pulled the stocking over his head, pulled out the gun, walked in and yelled, “This is a stick up!”
None of the customers paid much attention because his voice lacked the requisite amount of bass to properly scare anyone. A teller nearby recognized his voice because he chose to rob a bank he’d had an account at for several years.

“Sidney, what are you doing?” she asked.

“It’s not me,” he said. “Uh, I mean, who’s Sidney?”

“I know your voice, Sidney,” she replied.

He was then tackled by an elderly security guard who had been awakened by the conversation. However, due to his advanced age, he began to clutch his chest. He had a heart attack and was dead in under a minute.

The trial was only a formality. Due to a recent rash of bank robberies, and because he had induced the guard’s death, the judge made an example of him. He received the maximum sentence of thirty years for robbery and involuntary manslaughter.

During his first year in prison, he was subjected to every atrocity imaginable, but his mania to amass colorful experiences to someday write about still overrode even his own retched misery. Finally, he was experiencing something extreme and dramatic, fodder for great literature. Talking to his cellmate one day to pass the time, a psychotic, sexually ambiguous brute nicknamed Crusher, he said, “I’m here voluntarily, I’ll have you know. All this stuff that’s happening to me, including what you did last night, is going to be in a book someday. Remember my name because I’m going to be famous.”
“Cedric Weatherwax?” Crusher replied.

“No! Donovan Stone, man!”

Crusher laughed and said, “Don’t you know federal law prohibits you from profiting from your crime or anything that happens to you in here? You’ll never get that book through the bars!”

After a few months of severe depression, Donovan signed up to read a poem at the prison talent show. Surely, he thought, this menagerie of nincompoops would be impressed with his talent. He walked to the stage, cleared his throat, and said, “Her love reminds me of flowers. I don’t need her tomorrow but nowers.”

The prisoners laughed and laughed, and Donovan stormed back to his cell.

The Pretentious Coffeehouse Poet-Type Guy (poem)

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PART 1

There’s this guy named Hep Cat.
He wears a little cap.
He likes to sit in coffeehouses
writing lots of crap.

He sports a little goatee
and dresses all in black.
People say hello to him
but he never answers back.

He smokes nasty Galois cigarettes
and blows it all around.
He loves to bug the pink lung crowd
as they complain and cough and frown.

If someone dares confront him
about the awful stench,
He feigns to spit on their shoes
and shouts foul words in French.

I couldn’t stand his rudeness
but I’m not much for fighting
so I snuck behind him stealthily
to see what he was writing.

He looked so wise and worldly
from across the smoky den
but when I looked real close, I saw
he was writing “the” over and over again.

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PART 2

I was on my way in to the coffeehouse,
fixin’ to grab a quick bite
when I noticed a sign in the window
which read, “Poetry reading tonight.”

Now, I consider myself quite a novice
cuz my poems often tend to rhyme.
The beatniks and the free verse crowd
would prefer it if I were a mime.

I guess I’m just old-fashioned.
Some folks think I’m a little dense
for thinking a poem should have meter
and make some kind of logical sense.

I really just don’t understand it
for if the critics’ charges are true,
Shakespeare, Longfellow and Dickinson
were a bunch of idiots, too.

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I gathered up all of my courage
and added my name to the list
but planned to go on real late
when everyone would be good and pissed.

That night, it was standing room only.
I held all my poems in my lap
waiting for my turn to read
as the MC delivered his rap.

The poets were diverse and interesting.
No two were alike at all.
An old man read a poem about kinky sex
and a biker read, “Ode To My Doll.”

A wild-eyed environmentalist
convinced me we all were doomed.
An ex-con described how he’d almost gone mad
until a rose in his cell had bloomed.

A lawyer read one that brought tears to my eyes,
recalling his Peace Corps days
and how his heart had grown steadily empty
building a beautiful, golden cage.

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The night was in full swing.
They’d all set an expansive tone
when a guy came in through the alley door
and stood in the shadows alone.

He looked around the room with rancor
as if he wished we all were dead
and a storm of contempt and hostility
seemed to swirl above his head.

Then the MC called my name
so I stepped into the light
and read a couple of rhymers.
They were the first ones of the night.

I noticed a nice, old couple
breathe a deep sigh of relief,
and I saw the hipsters roll their eyes,
hoping that I would be brief.

When I finished, I got a nice round of applause
and, spent, returned to my chair.
Then the MC said, “Thank you, Mark.
Now, is there a ‘Hep Cat’ anywhere?”

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He was wearing his usual uniform,
dressed in black from head to toe.
A turtleneck and a French beret
worn with a rakish slant, just so.

As I heard his name, I remembered.
I knew that I’d seen him before.
He was the guy that no one could stand.
A first-rate, Grade-A, crashing bore.

He always seemed to go out of his way
to be sullen, obnoxious and rude
and anytime he walked into the place,
he never failed to bring down the mood.

I shouldn’t have but I’d spied on him
a couple of months before.
He looked like he was writing a novel
but it was only “the”, nothing more.

I had kept the discovery secret
of the hideous pretense I had found.
He’d worked so hard building his image,
I couldn’t bear to tear it down.

“God love him,” I thought. “The poor guy.
He’s just too tightly wound.
Who am I to judge if he wants to hide
in some cheap disguise he found?”

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He skulked slowly up to the stage
with his usual smirking frown
but instead of beginning, he waited
for the murmuring to die down.

I thought, “This guy is so arrogant.
He’s really a sight to behold.
For someone who writes nothing but “the”,
he sure is incredibly bold.”

Then I thought that maybe the “the” incident
was something I misunderstood.
Maybe it was some abstract exercise
and I was condemning him more than I should.

So I opened my mind, sat very still,
and decided to give him a chance.
After all, many geniuses often seemed mad
to those who judged by a cursory glance.

I even managed somehow to ignore
the bitter, seething contempt
He obviously felt for his audience.
No one from his ire was exempt.

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Now I’m not exactly Sinatra
but this guy didn’t have a clue
about how to win the heart of a crowd.
He did everything but throw his own poo.

And though I struggled and strained to follow,
his poems just made no sense at all.
Disjointed fragments of insane dreams.
The King’s English mangled and mauled.

An old expression came to mind,
one that really seemed to fit.
“If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance,
then baffle ’em with bullshit.”

I finally had to give up in despair
but Hep Cat, he droned on and on.
Something about “flaming cantaloupes”
and a “door knob’s evil spawn”.

See what I mean? It made no sense at all!
I guess you just had to be there.
His words made me physically nauseous.
I felt like I needed some air.

But for etiquette’s sake, I toughed it out
till he finally looked up from the page.
The MC saw his chance, grabbed the mike
and said, “Okay! Next up on the stage . . .”

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But Hep-Cat grabbed it right back and said,
“I better hear some applause and fast!
You people wouldn’t know poetry
if it jumped up and chewed on your ass!”

The hipsters pretended they got it
and broke out in whoops and cheers.
Some people clapped out of courtesy,
others just clapped out of fear.

Though Hep Cat weighed only 130 or so
and wasn’t much of a threat to the men,
everyone knows that a lunatic
can have the strength of ten.

“To hell with you all! I don’t need you!”
He yelled as he stepped off the stage.
“You all can kiss my sweet, white ass!”
then he kicked over a chair in his rage.

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And away he stormed through the alley door
being a melodramatic pain-in-the-ass.
“Well, that was fun!” the MC said,
“I hope he’s off to anger management class!”

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I was finally forced to conclude,
though it pained me to discover
first impressions are sometimes dead-on
and one CAN judge a book by its cover.

~ Mark Rickerby

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Disclaimer: The pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy portrayed in this poem is fictitious. Any similarity to any actual pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy is purely coincidental.