Here is everything that I wrote on this day in 1994:
Two young boys find a kite bearing a skull and crossbones hanging from a neighbor’s roof. What is it? Where did it come from? It is a mysterious intruder.
The neighbor comes out. He looks like this [doodle of a towering figure]. “You boys lose your kite?”
“Yes, no…I mean, we saw it first! Finders keepers!”
With one mighty hand, he pulls the kite from the gutter. “I can’t let you boys take her. She might belong to someone else.”
I never wrote that short story, thank god. Based on this evidence, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I believed so strongly that I was a writer, or for that matter why I still cling to that identity. “Mysterious intruder?” “One mighty hand?” Horrible.
I vaguely remember the anecdote that I spent all of 5 minutes trying to fictionalize 25 years ago. The day in question dates another 20 years prior to that. My best buddy, Mikey Peterson, and I were kindergarteners. If the sun was shining we were outside riding bikes, making garbage bag parachutes for my Mego Batman, launching my Evel Knievel stunt cycle off of makeshift ramps. We were outside if it was raining, too, looking for the fat nightcrawlers that surfaced when the storms came.
Outside was everything for Mikey and me no matter the weather. Seasons only mattered to the degree that they dictated activities. Winter meant snowball fights, summer meant sprinklers and Slip N Slides, and spring meant flying things, particularly kites and the aforementioned Batman action figure. Unfortunately, we lived in a neighborhood without a park so we had no room to fly a kite, and Batman’s garbage bag parachute got tangled in a power line. Even if we had the space to fly a kite, neither Mikey nor I had the money to buy one.
My father owned a box kite. We drove over to Garfield Park once and I watched him fly it, the controls just a little too advanced for me, according to my father. Parents had a way of sucking the fun out of any activity, but watching that yellow box kite hang in the sky was pretty cool.
My sisters and I sent a stack of cereal box tops away for a small collection of wood and tissue paper kites. One was brown and bore the image of an ice cream cone. I can’t remember what was printed on the others. They were unrolled once for us to look at them and then they were tucked back into their shipping box for safekeeping. We weren’t allowed to fly them in the yard, and a drive to the park was always deferred to some indeterminate future date, the dreaded “someday.”
And so the day that Mikey and I spotted a lost kite hanging from my neighbor’s rain gutter was a bit like a kindergarten jackpot. If we could get it down we’d have something to fly, and we wouldn’t even get in trouble. That kite was the definition of a loophole. We wouldn’t be flying one of the forbidden cereal kites or my dad’s too-advanced box kite; in fact, we wouldn’t be flying “our” kite at all. If Mikey and I got it up in the air and the string broke, so what? It would just stick in the gutter of a house a few blocks over–maybe even closer to its original owner. Frankly we were providing a very important neighborhood service by getting that sumbitch airborne again.
The kite really did sport a Jolly Roger on its black paper face.
Mikey and I poked at it with sticks for a few minutes, and then Dick, the homeowner, came outside to see what was going on. I can’t imagine that I called him Dick–my parents insisted that children call adults Mr. and Mrs. Whomever–but I can’t remember his last name. Dick and Hazel, the neighbors on the corner.
I think Dick was a salesman by trade. He had that loud, bullshitter personality that serves salespeople so well. I don’t remember what he said to Mikey and me but I remember that he was friendly about it, and I remember that he kept the kite. It felt like the biggest disappointment in the world, our free kite nabbed by another adult who knew what was best.
I wonder what kind of a short story I thought that I could fashion out of that anecdote 25 years ago today. There’s not a lot of meat on that bone, after all. That memory sparked something, though, and maybe I chose to believe that I was a writer because mundane anecdotes sparked story ideas. They still do, by the way, but I’m a little older now and I realize that’s true of everyone. Everybody has stories, and in the quiet of their own minds they hone and polish them. Some do so out of sentimentality, others in an effort to repair a broken past, but we all do it.
I guess all that makes me a writer is my need to put it on the page, and as the years pass and the stories pile up I grow more aware that none of it amounts to anything. It’s just a way to scratch some inner itch of mine, that’s all. Writing is no more than flying a kite, just a pleasant way to pass a little time. If I’m lucky now and then I catch a good one, and if there isn’t a grown-up around to take it away from me I get to fly for a little while. Maybe that’s enough.
I loved this, going from an attempt to write a story to seeing it 25 years later and wondering what you were thinking. But as always, you shortchange your own exceptional talent, and it is hard for me to think that you believe it, that that is how you feel. But you have always been emotionally honest in your writing, so I supposed you really do feel that your writing is just scratching an itch.
I spent years trying to get my jumbled thoughts onto the page, whether in fiction or autobiography, and somewhere in there I knew this was a pile of shit destined to go nowhere and not even satisfy an itch. Hell, I didn’t even have an itch, so what was I doing? Scratch a real itch long enough, and you produce good work. Scratch nothing but broken memories, and you’ve got broken stories, sadly reliant on over describing a household you wished you grew up in, or a job you wish you had.
Your itch is real, and what you produce is not just a pile of nothing – you have crafted some of the finest autobiographical short stories I have ever read, and I read a lot. I am not blowing smoke up your ass, I am disagreeing with your thoughts on what your writing “really is.”
You have a way of speaking from your broken self to the broken part of of your readers, maybe a lot of them don’t respond, hell, I often don’t respond because I feel clumsy and stupid trying to write a comment of quality that the story deserves. I can’t just keep saying that you knocked it out of the park, or you made me cry…..and if I cannot respond with a soupçon of eloquence, I don’t even try.
Honestly, the only reason I am writing a comment today is because I am sitting here drugged up with band-aids for an illness that is still a mystery, and those band-aid drugs push past my self consciousness and say, “Hey, let’s ramble a bit over on James’s story!” Lucky you.
So, here I am trying to tell you yet again how much your writing matters, without the normal filters that usually keep me sitting here mute, wanting to talk but afraid to touch the keys. Today I talk! And I tell you the same goddamned thing that you do not feel or believe, and we will be on this hamster wheel forever, I guess.
Thanks, Kel. I really appreciate this.
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