Work In Progress

by anna on March 13, 2009

People, I’m not happy with the writing I’ve been producing this week. So instead of a new piece, I’m going to share a bit of something I’ve been working on for a while. I’m not sure if this is part of a chapter of a novel or just a short story, but I know I love this character and wanted to see where he could take me. You will recognize Frank from my previous introduction, this is where I try to turn him into an actual character with a past, present, and future.

J. Francis Christakis was nearly vertical. As his midnight blue Mercedes G500 idled the slippery steep corner of La Cienega and Sunset, his eyes pointed directly through the rain at Pink Dot, but his stare was absent and blurry. His head needed a good shake. It was early in the winter, late in the decade, and Frank was figuring out the order of things. Apparently, the equities market was in the toilet. Frank knew this because he heard somebody say it on the radio. They were telling him that now was the time to buy up cheap real estate, but cheap was a relative term in this instance. Shortly after that, they were telling him that he might be able to cure chronic pain in just a few easy treatments. He was skeptical of both of these concepts.

The country was either headed into a recession or in the middle of one. Still, tourists clogged the city’s streets like a cheaply dressed, poorly-coiffed mass of bad cholesterol. Smugly, they eyed the coming rainstorm, relishing both the opportunity to comment upon the inability of Southern Californians to deal with real weather conditions, as well as the opportunity to report back that the weather out here—much like the famed beauty of the city’s inhabitants—was not so perfect after all. They were collecting their stories. He was much smaller in real life. She actually has very bad skin.

Briefly rejoining us, Frank watched a group of them gather at the crosswalk, surreptitiously glancing at one another. This place is overrated, he imagined them saying to each other, though later they would pack oversized Hollywood t-shirts into their Costco bags, decrying the cultural tyranny of New York and LA, shaking their fist at the Liberal Media, and its desire to make them feel bad about themselves! Frank was neither an economist nor a tourist, but he understood this need to find reassurance in the face of this great uncertain. Not yet midway through his life, he already found himself in the middle of a dark woods, but then Frank had always been an overachiever.

The light turned green. Frank pressed down on the accelerator and felt the his tires skid on the wet pavement, and not unlike Wile E. Coyote, realized he was moving very fast at the same time as clearly getting nowhere. He was confident his automobile was solid, and even if this commodification of personal safety came at the price of driving something out of the Third Reich, it was for moments like these that he made the hefty car payment each month. The tires would eventually get a grip. To entertain any other belief would mean to contemplate a roll backwards down the hill that cut the city in half, past the mini-malls with headshot studios, tanning parlors, and vitamin stores, smack dab into the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard, where an embarrassing and possibly painful maiming and/or death awaited him. Or worse, skyrocketing insurance premiums.

But there was little time to reflect on the possible complications involved in this kind of vehicular faux-pas, for at that moment the treads caught, and Frank’s car, the gas pedal pressed perhaps a little too aggressively in overcompensation for his inability, just moments before, to get the car to go anywhere at all, lurched forward and slammed into one of a pair of pedestrians. As he watched his beloved wife of two and a quarter years fly through the air and land, ass first, on the hood of Frank’s car, John Smelt of Harrisburg, PA, thought that perhaps this was really what the Law of Attraction was all about. They were no fools, they had seen Crash, and though they were cautious of the storied racial tension that engulfed the city, they were hip DINKs, in the prime of their lives, and not ones to let white guilt interfere with the enjoyment of important landmarks like the Saddleranch on the Sunset Strip. Besides, John had been able to negotiate a fantastic rate at the Culver City Days Inn, as long as they stayed over two Friday nights and did not partake of the continental breakfast.

“YOU FUCKING FAGGOT!” yelled John, surprising himself, while helping his wife, Sandy, to her feet.

It was highly unlikely that Frank Christakis was in fact homosexual, his admittedly faggy approach to life notwithstanding. Despite the loss of the certainty that had blessed his youth, Frank did know this one thing for sure this he knew in spite of the wildly contradictory life choices he had made that often confused his friends and acquaintances. We can be equally certain, with him, of his heterosexuality by noting a few subtle indices: For one thing, to say that he was not traditionally handsome is a momentous understatement, and his personal grooming habits lacked the kind of meticulousness that one might expect from a single gay professional in the middle of the third decade of his life.

“Oh my God, I am so sorry!” Frank climbed out of his SUV, insurance card in hand, blinkers still on. He looked at the woman he had just hit with his car, who was hobbling around as if she had just come back from a long day horseback riding. Sandy Smelt, for her own part, could thank the ample excess weight on her posterior (and her spotty attendance at Weight Watchers of late) for her ability to walk after her unfortunate run-in with the grill of Frank’s Mercedes.

“Are you OK?” Even as he spoke the words, meant as a gesture of kindness in the face of complete inability to help the situation, he knew he had made a mistake. The man approaching him was red-faced and clearly upset.

“OF COURSE SHE IS NOT OK! WHAT ARE YOU FUCKING THINKING FUCKITY FUCK McFUCKERSTEIN?!” Perhaps John Smelt belonged here after all, his temper had a certain something to it.

“My tires—they slipped on the pavement, I couldn’t stop in time, I’m so sorry, I hope you’re not hurt, do we need an ambulance?” The man’s face was red, alright, but as Frank got closer he discerned what appeared to be a handprint across the middle of it, a set of white stripes that cut through the otherwise red and painful sunburn that must have come from indoors, given the weather of late.

“What kind of a faggot hits a woman in a crosswalk?” John demanded again. His wife reddened slightly at the unwitting homophobia in her husband’s speech. He did not always realize what he was saying. Perhaps she should try to get him to calm down, she wasn’t hurt, after all, and people were beginning to gather around them. But she was surrendered now, and besides part of her was thrilled by the red-hot determination with which her husband was protecting her from the unknown dangers in this violent city. It was so good to be cherished, she thought. She had sure played this one right.

“Hey—easy, man, I didn’t mean to hit your wife.” Frank was quickly recovering from the residual guilt at having actually hit a human body with his car and the horror of the dent in his hood was starting to set in. Naturally, he was too smart to voice these concerns. This guy, though, was about one “faggot” away from getting an earful of Frank On Tourism. Like anyone ever walks in this city. Except from the valet station to the open car door, that is.

“Where are the police? Where are the police in this city? My wife ALMOST DIED.” John was starting to get hysterical, and Frank had about had it. This guy was clearly not familiar with the order of importance of things for the LAPD. Frank was not about to wait around for two hours for a cop to come and write up a report.

“Look man, the way we do it here—“

“Oh we know all about how you do things here,” Sandy said, quickly regretting it. She had to remember that she was the jewel and it was her husband’s job to provide the setting in which she could shine.

Frank thought about what she meant for a few seconds and then continued. “Where are you guys staying? I have a guy who gets deals for me at the Mondrian, have you been there yet?” Frank judged from John’s copy of Bargains in Los Angeles book that perhaps the way around this dilemma was in his wallet rather than in his intellect. Frank gauged things correctly, and their dispute was settled quietly and without further incident. John and Sandy Smelt enjoyed a free night at the Mondrian, and sipped drinks at Sky Bar, looking around for celebrities the stories of their sighting with which to pepper their stories of the great adventure in the big city.

For his own part, Frank was ready to call it a day. It is a truth universally acknowledged that on the day of the first rain in Los Angeles, you would be wise to stay off the roads altogether. Somebody once told me that more accidents happen on this one day each year than all of the other days put together. This seems unlikely, but suffice to say that I have witnessed the effect water has upon the driving minds of my fellow city dwellers, and it is borders on catastrophic. Theories abound as to why this happens, some say it is residual grease on all of the road surfaces that mixes with the water and creates an extra slippery road surface, and if you combine that with the fast speeds, slow brakes, and undersized space cushions of the motorists scattered around the eight different freeways that criss-cross Los Angeles proper, well you can see how this might end badly.

What people don’t tell you is that the conditions on surface streets are just as bad or worse than the situation on the freeways. Los Angeles is just plain packed with people these days. And the city’s drivers, unused to the nuisance of weather, experience a form of group insanity on this one day where their usual driving habits—deliberately and skillfully reckless—turn into just plain old unintentional bad driving. For a group of people who pride themselves on knowing the roads well enough to do dangerous and jerky things to people on purpose, this lack of control is unfamiliar, confusing, and disturbing. So Frank considered himself lucky to get away from his run-in with the Smelts with five hundred dollars less cash and one less favor to the concierge at the Sky Bar. It had already been a long day. He was ready to call it quits, so he got back into his car (he would have to consider getting a new one now, negative equity be damned, he couldn’t drive around this town with a giant dent in the hood of his car) and made his way back home.

{ 8 comments }

bessie.viola March 13, 2009 at 6:23 am

You are a fantastic storyteller… I want to know more about Frank!

bessie.viola´s last blog post..ten years

TheOtherJennifer March 13, 2009 at 7:55 am

Frank has grabbed my attention….please keep going!

J. March 13, 2009 at 11:05 am

It’s a good read, and although Frank is an interesting character, I find myself more intrigued by your insights about L.A. This could be because I didn’t leave there that long ago, or it could be my love of stories where place/setting is a significant character too.

J.´s last blog post..IMHO

Perpetua March 13, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Hey, can we play Writers’ Workshop? I haven’t been in one of those in SO long!

So, if we were sitting in a circle, I would say: The “faggy” approach to life…I think more can be done with the Frank/Smelt dialogue to get that attitude across. There’s a way he interacts with Jane in the Date Zero stuff that would be interesting to see in this context (esp. with people like the Smelts, who are clearly his “lessers”).

Perpetua´s last blog post..0% Experienced

anna March 13, 2009 at 7:50 pm

@Perpetua, good point. If I merged the two, then I could make that point better I think.

Kayjayoh March 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

Nice piece. I liked it an would be interested to see where it goes.

One small nitpick: unless I am misreading things, wouldn’t it be either one less favor *from* the concierge or one *more* favor to him?

The Lawyer Mom March 15, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Well done. Keep going. You give James Frey a run for his money (meaning “Bright Shiny Morning” — NOT the gazillion ice cream sprinkles on someone’s hand book)

The Lawyer Mom´s last blog post..Bonfire of My Vanities

Samael March 23, 2010 at 7:51 am

Reading a new writer’s work is an invitation to a date zero, except that you bear all the responsibilities of entertaining, serving, and providing conversation while looking good. You’ll be expected to feel something, of course – if you don’t, you won’t even gain a second glance.

In turn, I listen, I go where you take me, and then I take the knife you hand me, and coldly dissect everything.

Hardly fair, is it?

I admire you for putting up your writing.

I’ll make it quick.

You tell instead of show, and you do so at length. Your every paragraph bleeds color and wit about the city around you and those just passing through. I have no doubt you’re an excellent conversation, but the overall effect is that of an excited 6 year old tugging at my arm and dragging me from one exciting place to another without any time to really see the story that brought us here.

Learn to pace yourself. Think of your observations as a spice, or as precious jewels – one can be completely taken in by what they offer, and enchanted by the break from the ordinary, but too much all at once is simply gaudy and artificial.

And here I pause in my cutting, and pray I’ve not left any lasting scars. I hand you the knife back…

This is where I tell you why, as a reader, I want a first date.

You nailed the voice and character of Sandy Smelt. Her relationship with her husband was painfully true. Flaws matter. So do ideals. It’s rare to see both in such a small space.

The time just flew.

The characters took on a life of their own. The situation suddenly mattered, because it actually mattered to someone.

To more than someone.

For more than one reason.

I regret we didn’t have more time to spend with them all. The goodbyes were too formal, too brief. Almost a dismissal.

Too soon I was again a tourist, listening to you tell me about the city…the story was long over before it was over.

But.

I don’t think it’s the only story you can tell.

And that is why I’m asking that we give this another chance.

I pray to see more of your writing soon…

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