Plot & Structure Exercise 8.8: Steal, Burp, Grow

Remember. These 8s are exercises in generating ideas for plot. Also a great way to keep the mind limber. It absolutely sucks to drag your heels through hell, when it comes to writing. I speak for all writers when I say, preferable is it to write without thought, empty of worry, though full of inspiration falling through us onto the page.


You know who wrote like that? Bukowski. You know what he said? To write you need talent, guts, and conditioning. In his book, Hollywood, which I just finished, he compares writing to boxing. Saying, in his day boxers started getting much fitter and stronger than before his time. Imagine now, with how much gym time boxers put it. It isn’t enough to have talent (coordination, intelligence) and guts (relaxed guard, chin out). Boxers need conditioning.


Thus, says Bukowski, it isn’t enough for the writer to have talent (ingenuity, precision) or guts (gambling addition to words, drunk on ideas). But a writer must write every day, keeping the physical muscles of hand and heart tight and sharp. So here we are, my friends! Conditioning, hard. It’s been who knows how long since I’ve started this semester of plot. But I am so glad I did.


For now, let’s get to the exercise, shall we?


Mr Bell recommends we “Steal from the best” when we are feeling stuck. So, without further achoo, here is a story.


. . .


Once I found a bar that opened before noon, I was pretty much there every day. Like this one named TOOTY’S out by Marina Bay, on the way to my 9-5. Sometimes I wouldn’t even go to work until everyone’s lunch time. Instead I would step into TOOTY’S with my shirt and tie, and order two tall beers. One to brush my teeth with. The other to sip on for a while. They were simpler times. Maybe I had a third, sometimes not.


After about a month the bar tender, a strange class of human, would start ye ole judgement routine on me. I didn’t like that at all. If I wanted to be judged I would have gone to work. Who do these chumps think they are? He must have been thinking the same thing every morning at our 9:30.


“Hey,” he told me one morning at 9:31.


I just looked at him, started at his beady eyes. You can always tell a man by his eyes. His said two different things at the same time. Or maybe I was drunk.


“We’re going to install a gas pipe through this bar,” he said, “with a cap.” I almost congratulated him.


“Yeah,” he continued. “So if you ever need to go, we can uncap the gas and you take a couple good pulls from that. Quick and painless.”


I wasn’t too sure about what he said, but didn’t care enough to figure it out. “Another beer, Jerry,” I told him. He obliged.


You know how sometimes the best comebacks come back just a little too late? That night as I lay in my crummy bed, pressing down with my back on the springs that shot through the mattress, it finally hit me. These bar tenders think they’re so tough. They rarely drink, they rarely smile. And it occurred to me that those things were related. I would hate to be the one sober idiot taking care of a bunch of drunk idiots. This is what I would imagine though, since I would never get there myself. No matter. I had thought of something to say. And I was going to say it the next time I saw him.


Which was three days later, because on weekends I had no reason to get out of my house. But on Monday I showed up.


He had his hands on the bar, leaning forward, as if expecting someone. He didn’t even turn to me when I walked in, made the dangling chimes overhead do their thing. Good, I thought, as I took my favorite seat.


Eventually he activated, poured two tall ones into glasses, and brought them over. A real man of service, anticipating my desires. But not my wit.


“Hey Jerry,” I said. I could almost feel the pain mixed with disgust in his eyes, as he turned to face me.




“What’s the difference between a cow’s ass and your mom’s ass?”


He didn’t it mean it as a question, but he said, “What?!”


“A cow’s ass makes less noise when you stick it in.”




I held up the two beers, one in each hand, next to my ears. “Come again?”




I said, “Rodger that, Jerry,” and smashed both glasses on the ground. It felt good, immediately good. Too good. I think Jerry saw how much I was smiling, so didn’t try anything. He didn’t even reach for the 12 under the bar, which I had seen him flash to a patron once, all cocky.


Satisfied with my discovery, that he was all talk, but now had no talk, I twirled on out of there, and began whistling my way north.


The thought, “Hey, I will show up to work on time today,” made me happy. For a while.


. . .


The only problem with proving your point is that later on there is no one to celebrate with. This was particularly painful when you proved your point at a bar. You might have won the argument, the fight, the battle of wits, but you almost always lost what was most important. The bar.


A few days later I came upon another bar that opened before noon. This one actually past my job on my way to work, as opposed to before it. It was a bad neighborhood. A bad job. And a bad life. But the bar, that wasn’t so bad.


The worst part about this new bar was that it didn’t seem to have a name. So I ended up calling it TOOTY’S TWO in my head. The second worst part was that to get to the restroom you had to walk through an alleyway to get to the restroom in the back. I always saw drunks worse off than me, cast over the trash bins, like they had been society’s garbage the night before. These men usually had black eyes, buttons missing from their shirts, a cut lip, and a little vomit on their pants, or was it piss? Why didn’t anyone pick them up to take them to a hospital? I knew why I didn’t. I only ever saw them when I seriously had to unload three tall beers. Otherwise I wouldn’t have walked by.


I stopped going to the restroom at TOOTY’S TWO after a certain incident with a knife and a short little man. He must have seen my shirt and tie that morning and figured I was good for it.


“Give me your wallet!” he hollered. Rabid, foaming at the mouth.


I knew the type. Better to do as he says. So I fumbled about my front pocket for my thinly folded piece of leather, which had been the last gift from my ex-wife. Once I had a nice hold on it, I drew it out slowly, very slowly, observing the mugger for any sign of weakness. Remember, it’s all in the eyes. As soon as I saw he was paying more attention to the thing than to the person holding the thing, I knew I had a chance. That’s when I tossed the leather somewhere on the ground between his feet. He almost let out a pig’s squeal. He was overjoyed.


But as he bent over, I turned my hip and raised my foot so high up his face that I must have torn the blackheads off his nose forever. With a crack and a bang, the dummie fell on his ass. And started to cry. He was more drunk than I was.


“What’s the difference between a cow’s ass and your mom’s ass?” I calmly asked. But the gentleman was too busy crying. So I never had a chance to tell him.


After that, I stopped using the restroom there.


. . .


I know it’s crazy to think this way, but maybe we’re all a little crazy. A few weeks later, when I arrived to the front door of my bar, only wood planks nailed pretty good welcomed me. I thought, “When a drunk outlives the bar . . .” and the thought gave me a lot of strength. Like maybe there was a chance for me after all.


Unfortunately, as the gods would have it, I couldn’t find another bar open before noon in the neighborhood. So, naturally, I stopped going to work all together. No one missed me, I’m sure of that. While I’m also sure they found someone else to push paper for them fairly soon. They would have been looking for someone anyway.


It’s strange, you know. That time of my life. Since I couldn’t find a bar, I stopped going to work. It was as if drink was the motivation for overcoming the misery of being at work. Whenever I followed this logic, I could almost convinced myself drink was a good thing. It was the start, the beginning, the impulse of the universe. But no. Every drunk knows alcohol isn’t the drive for daily routines. It’s just another one. Actually, we know drink itself is motivated by other elements, other stories. Yet, if it weren’t the two tall glasses of beer keeping me going, at least to work, then what was?


I didn’t need a roof over my head. My two months at the park taught me that. I didn’t even need food, seeing as how I was getting my nutrients elsewhere. Terribly skinny, under the light of a full moon, I coughed myself to sleep that summer. The best education I ever received. If you think catholic nuns are tough cookies, try a semester with Mother Nature. She has bigger rulers than you can possibly imagine. And she doesn’t use her tools on your knuckles. But on your immune system, your face, your will to live. I came within a razor’s edge of ending myself in those days. Not sure what kept me from falling over.


But having kept my social distance from people long enough, having sobered up a little, I think a lot clearer now. Maybe what kept me alive was this, doing this right here, putting one word after the other. There was a magic to it. A certain fuck-you to life. Everyone and everything, mind you, is out to suck a little bit of your life force. Nickles and dimes, sometimes dollars or even wholesale parts of your soul. The weeds of the earth, as much as the elms in the sky, both know this fact. Throw shade to your enemies, or find a way to grow in the shade, sucking just enough to get by. Writing for me was enough to get by, maybe even more.


By now, I’ve done a little of everything. I’ve outlived all the elms and oaks around. In fact, I was always one of them, only unable to see the sun, fighting for territory against weeds and shrubs for decades. But, after everyone’s withered away, and when the critics are dead, the judges buried, and the 100 Netflix movies a year are long forgotten, I will be here. Tall. Strong. Alive. Remembered.


My words will have fulfilled their destiny. They will have become immortal.

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