Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
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Paris, France
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December 31
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Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out www.alysasalzberg.com.

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MARCH 11, 2011 7:59AM

Stray: Fiction Friday II Open Call

Rate: 20 Flag

Two weeks ago, OSer Rita Bourland resurrected Fiction Friday.  This week Rita gave a second writing prompt to all of us interested in doing some creative writing.  Either you could write whatever you want, or you could write a story that included these three things: a tent, a rainstorm, and a stray dog.  I opted for this prompt.  Here's what I did with it.  I hope you enjoy it - and I hope that you, too, will be inspired to write some Friday Fiction! 

 NOTE: If you respond to the Friday Fiction II OC, please use that as one of your tags, and also please contact Rita Bourland to let her know you've done the Friday Fiction II OC, so she can put you on a list of links.

 

Stray 

It was too bad about Roger’s tattoo: spreading the length and breadth of his back was a sort of cougar/bobcat/housecat hybrid, front paws brandishing broken shackles over its furry head.  If you looked closely, you could see that the black freckles of Roger’s skin had been used to create the illusion of the feline’s speckled belly fur. 

It’s not too bad about the tattoo choice, but the hold it had over Roger: “Let’s call ourselves the Stray Cats!” he’d exclaimed as he’d rushed into my garage, where he’d summoned us for our first band practice. 

“Uh..Rog?”  I’d ventured. 

“Yeah?”  He was hopping up and down in his artfully scuffed red All Stars. 

“Uh, there’s already a band called the Stray Cats…”

“What?!”  He stopped jumping.  “What the hell?!”

“Yeah,” Dan put in, “rockabilly.”

“Oh shit, not even rock?” 

I shook my head.  “…a billy.”

Roger took a breath, closed his eyes, and re-opened them, revealing their pea-green to the world again.  “All right.  So we’ll be…the Stray Dogs! Arf arf arf!” -- barking like a maniac, aggressive animal sounds covering disappointment and desperation.

I would have argued, but couldn’t think of a good point. I hadn’t wanted to be in the band anyway.  But I guess no one else wanted to work with Roger, not after American Idol.

It was too bad that Roger had thought it’d be a good idea to try out for American Idol.  I’d seen the show’s first season, and a couple of clips over the years, and who could escape the yearly announcement of the winner, no matter what nightly news you watched?  So I knew that a scrawny, scraggly, unwashed wannabe rockstar hick with spacers dragging his earlobes halfway to his shoulders and a small broom bristle mo-hawk dyed bright red probably wasn’t going to be the next pop hero for the kids.  It might have been different if the guy could really sing, but that wasn’t part of the Roger package.

So there he’d gone all decked out, gets in front of the judges and inexplicably belts out a Sinatra number that sounds like Sinatra being murdered by a feral cat in an alley somewhere in Atlantic City.  Not only were his dreams of stardom quickly shot down, he became one of the classic failed auditions of the season.  Even if you don’t watch the show, you probably saw Roger on YouTube.

It was too bad that Roger had wanted to be a rock star all his life – or at least, that’s what you’d imagine when you looked at the guy, always dressed the part, playing air guitar at lunch back when we were in high school together.  He hadn’t been in a band then, and now, after the American Idol debacle, no potential bandmate would take him seriously.  So he’d found us.

It’s too bad I have a compulsive habit of stealing street signs. I’ve always been a klepto, but I keep myself in check by stealing something harmless: in our little podunk burg, no one needs street signs.  We all know this place like the backs of our too-idle hands. I keep the signs buried under the shed in the backyard of the sagging whitewashed house where I live by the grace of God and my gramma, who needs me to take care of her.  Meaning, being around so no robbers come to take whatever she thinks is worth taking, and doing the foodshopping and chores.

So one day there I am, out in the backyard thinking about mowing the grass but wondering if I should wait and see if it’ll be cooler tomorrow.  And up pulls Roger in an old Cadillac the color of tan M&M’s, a disagreeably familiar shade since every time she asks me to buy a Pounder bag, my gramma makes me go through and weed out every last of the tan colored ones. So anyways, Roger pulls in and steps out of the car.

“Hey,” he greets me too breezily, barely looking at me.  “Wanna be in a band?”  He lights a cigarette, maybe for show.

“Sorry,” I tell him, “but I got a lot to do.”

Roger abruptly changed gear: “I know about the signs.”

“What?”

“Since 12th grade.  Saw you takin’ one down one night and figured it out.  You’re a legend, man!” At this he looked at me and grinned.  “But that won’t stop me from telling the po-lice.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”  I spat on the grass.

“They’re in the damn shed there, man.”

Shit. “Roger, I can’t even play an instrument.”

“You played violin.”

“That was ten years ago!  And you want a violin in your band?”

“Nope. Guitar.”

“I can’t play guitar!”

“It’s got strings.”  He looked and saw my expression hadn’t changed.  “Like a violin.”

It’s too bad Dan got roped in.  He used to play drums in the high school marching band. I don’t know what dirt Roger had on him; he seems pretty above-board, even has a job cashiering at the grocery store in town. Which is better than you can say for Roger, who leaches off his rich parents -- or me, for that matter.

Roger said my garage was the biggest, so we’d practice there.  I told him like hell – my gramma needs to sleep or watch her shows in peace.  But Roger came back with “That’s okay, whyn’t we go practice out there in that shed of yours?”

It’s too bad our high school hadn’t offered guitar lessons.  It’d been ten years since I’d touched my old violin, and anyways, what I remembered didn’t help much as I plucked at the second-hand guitar Roger’d procured.  So over the next few weeks, I taught myself with internet and library books and whatnot.

“Look, man,” Roger had told me, “we’re not looking to do guitar solos.  We just need some power chords!” And he’d air guitared his point home.

“Why don’t you play the guitar, Roger? Seems like you’d be good at it.” I’d asked one day.

“I’m the voice, man,” was his only response.  I glanced behind me and saw Dan staring quietly out the window.  It’s too bad we didn’t make eye contact in that moment, because maybe the unavoidable laughter would have made Roger stop this band stuff right then and there.

It’s too bad I’m not musical.  Band practice didn’t bring me any joy, only some sweat on my brow and broken eardrums from Roger’s yowling cat voice and Dan’s too-close drumming.  I guess Dan wasn’t so against the idea and so he’d dusted off his old drum set and come pretty gamely along.  Still, sometimes when I got the chords right enough to sort of go on autopilot for a while, I’d look over and see him flinching between beats, when Roger’s voice came to him more shrilly.  It’s too bad Dan had actual musical sensibilities.

A few weeks after we’d started, Roger’s Cadillac pulled into my driveway and someone else got out with him.  Not a groupie, like some part of me had almost hoped. The opposite, in fact: a short, squat man in an outdated-looking yellow-brown suit and unpleasantly red tie, a small nose like a mushroom and a sort of dusty sheen over his pale, five-o’-clock-shadowed skin like he’d slept on a pile of plaster, or at least never had to get outside and mow his gramma’s lawn in the sun.  Roger told us this was Mr. Snaye, who ran a local booking and entertainment agency.  What he had to book around here, I wasn’t so sure, but Roger didn’t ask us to contribute to his fees, so I kept quiet and let Mr. Snaye’s presence do whatever it did for Roger. 

Though he’d sought him out and all, Roger didn’t seem to respect Mr. Snaye too much.  Behind his back, he started calling him “Ash-traye”, since he looked like he was covered in spent butts.  

Well, one day Ash-traye came through and told us we had our first gig:

“A summer show,” he announced in his steady, gravelly voice.  “In the park.  Two nights from tonight.”

Roger’s face was glowing brighter than car headlights.  Dan had a little sparkle in his eyes, too.  Too bad I wasn’t glowing. For me this concert was just one more thing I had to do.  I practiced my chords at night in my room, desperate not to screw anything up and go to jail.  Gramma didn’t sleep so well, but she said nothing.  Wise old woman, I know she knew something was going on that wasn’t quite right, and that I just had to get through it.  The good thing was, I’d been so busy with all this that I hadn’t had the itch to steal anything else since it’d all started. 

The big day came, and we each got to the park our own way. I hitched and must’ve looked like some old folk musician, someone serious, even, with my guitar in its worn black case.  The park was shady under trees whose leaves weren’t yet heat-dried.  We saw the central gazebo where we’d be playing.  “It’s not rock,” Roger muttered, tossing an unsmoked cigarette to the ground, “but we’ll make it rock!”

Dan arrived a few minutes later, lugging drum stuff and asking us for help with the rest of it, which was still in his car.  “What’s that?” he asked, pointing his thumb towards a long, low white tent at the park’s other end.

“Cat show.” Mr. Snaye had come up behind us, clapping a hand companionably on my and Roger’s shoulders. “Why’s it the same day?” Roger groaned.  I had to wordlessly agree: Nothing is less “rock” than a cat show.

“I booked it,” Snaye smiled, as if he hadn’t heard Roger at all.

The sky was covering itself with clouds as we got to Dan’s car, a sensible Ford.  We all grabbed some part of the drum set, then headed back to the gazebo.

A few minutes later, I was surprised to see a small crowd had formed.  I wondered where they’d come from. 

“We put flyers all over town,” Roger muttered at my obviously surprised expression.  There were girls – some cute, some way too young.  There were guys our age, aimless, beers inevitably in hand.  “Okay,” Roger told us, “Ashtr-uh -  Snaye, get off the stage.  You guys, get to your places!”  So we did like he said, and everything was ready to go.

Too bad Roger had decided to start the gig the way he did: he picked up the mic, cupped it around his mouth, and said “Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t panic, there are some Stray Dogs loose in the park!”  The crowd looked around.  “I said!” Roger hollered, “there are some Stray. Dogs!” – gesturing at us – “loose in the park!” 

It wasn’t a completely terrible way to begin in itself, but then, Roger hadn’t really considered the other event taking place nearby.  Or maybe that was the real reason he’d complained about it to Snaye.  Suddenly, from across the field, I heard a low clamor.  The white tent began to shake.  A few seconds later, a lavender-suited woman emerged, carrying a cage in her arms. She looked around wildly, then ran for her life to the parking lot.  “It’s okay!” she screamed back, and another person ran in the same direction, this time with two cages.

The local newspaper later said that it was pandemonium at the cat show.  People screaming, scooping up their prize felines.  Grooming tools, ribbons, judges’ notes scattered everywhere.  Even a few kitties left to fend for themselves against the burgeoning chaos of the stray dogs.  And it was too bad for us, because just then the clouds broke and let loose a real rainstorm, right onto the already confused, hot, and belligerently drunk crowd.  Some ran after the cat show people, terrified without a cause.  Others stayed and heckled, and as Roger yowled out our first song, “Bringin’ Thunder”, beer bottles started flying.

 “See kids,” Snaye muttered to us later when we were huddled back in my gramma’s garage, dripping rain, “do I know how to get you in the papers, or what?”  It’s too bad I don’t have health insurance.  He put an adhesive bandage over the deep cut on my eyebrow, and we hoped for the best.

 

 

      

 

 

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Thanks Rita, this was so much fun!!! I can't wait to read everyone else's pieces!
"The white tent began to shake." You got it all in. What a story!!
Alysa, I LOVE the way you used the prompts - incredibly creative. Your characters are so rich with life. I think I've know a band like that. :-) Thanks for joining in the fun today. I will link your story right now. R
It was fun to read, too! I've never been able to write fiction. I admire those who can.
I am not much a fiction story writer but I loved this.
rated with hugs
This is GREAT ! You worked in all three in such a humorous, clever way that I wasn't even aware you were doing it. Fast paced, imaginative - I love some of the expression you used and characters you created. Are there reallytan M&Ms? Thank you, Alysa, this was a picth perfect story.
♥R
Thanks so much for reading, everyone!

zanelle - Thanks - I"m glad you thought so - I knew it was a little long, but that's how it came out and I couldn't cut it down..the narrator wouldn't have wanted me to.

Rita - Whew! I'm glad you aren't annoyed by what I did with the prompts. I thought a lot about actual stray dogs and felt really sad, so I decided to take in another direction and have fun. I think this week's batch of fiction has been so cool so far - your piece very much included. Thank you again and again for resurrecting Fiction Friday!

Eva - Thanks so much. I'm surprised you can't write fiction, but I guess it's not for everyone. You should give it a try one day - the results could be surprising.

Linda - Thanks, and you also should try a fiction piece!

Fusun - Thanks so much! I'm glad you thought it was funny - I wasn't sure how it would come across. As for your tan M&M's question...it made me remember that I think I read somewhere they've discontinued the tan ones. Just confirmed it: yep, they were discontinued in the mid-'90's. M&M's played a vital role in my dessert-consuming childhood, and the tan ones were always there...but I guess my own children will one day grow up without them...that's kind of sad. I guess you've also helped effectively date my story to no later than 1995...but the problem now is that "American Idol" wasn't around then....Hmmm.....

Naomi - Thank you so much! I'm flattered and thrilled that you laughed out loud; for me, this story was supposed to be funny more than anything else.
Very enjoyable! I love the "blackmail" detail. Having dated a musician in the past, I have to say some of the parts of this post are not too far off the mark in real life! Very funny!!!! ~R
Very enjoyable! I love the "blackmail" detail. Having dated a musician in the past, I have to say some of the parts of this post are not too far off the mark in real life! Very funny!!!! ~R
Dorieann - Thanks for reading, and I'm glad there was some unexpected realism here - the only musicians I know tend to be more staid.

Flower Child - Thanks! And yes, I think that's wise advice indeed....
What a great quirky take on the whole theme!! Really fun!
What an ending, it really caught me off guard. Had a great laugh imagining the cat lovers scattering off in a panic. Look forward to next weeks post.
R
Alysa, I love your fiction! It is always delightful and so well crafted! xox
This made me feel like I was IN the band. I KNOW these people. I was laughing through the whole thing. And I don't laugh easy. (Cheap. . .but not easy) This is a really strong piece.
Satori – Thanks! I’m glad you liked what I did with the idea. I wasn’t sure how it would go over.

Out on a limb – I’m glad you liked it! And likewise to you about next week’s post!

Robin – You are too kind.

Travelight – Thanks for reading and for your kind words. These guys just came to me and I went with it – glad you enjoyed their company.
Details ---especially dialogue---
done so exquisitely that I swear Iwas there,
in some of the scenes of
this wonderful...farce, i guess you'd say...
or maybe:
bubbling delightful weirdness ...

sign-stealer cured by extortionist loser/ rocker wanna-be
with
a penchant for producing
pandemonium for fatithful feline-lovers...

ah, the best line is:

The good thing was, I’d been so busy with all this that I hadn’t had the itch to steal anything else since it’d all started.

(is this a glimpse into the artist's weird soul?)
That was so funny... I loved it!
James - I'm so glad you liked this! And to answer your question, I'm very drawn towards kleptomaniac characters. No idea why; beyond kid's stuff, I've never stolen anything in my life. I live by the honor system. ....Which is probably why I like to let myself live out being bad in fiction.....

Lunchlady - Thanks so much!
I just loved this. The Lavender Lady with the cat -- Roger -- Ash-traye. You've got garage bands down! Just great.
500 words - Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it and I love how all of our Fiction Friday stories were so different. This has been really fun!
"So I knew that a scrawny, scraggly, unwashed wannabe rockstar hick with spacers dragging his earlobes halfway to his shoulders and a small broom bristle mo-hawk dyed bright red probably wasn’t going to be the next pop hero for the kids. "

Alysa, I'm proud to say I've never watched American Idol (or Canadian Idol for that matter. Fun story and good use of the "prompts." Hmmm, "what not," ... now that's a serious approach to learning to play :)
I agree the assignment was a lot of fun! I love seeing all the different results. I think I saw that Roger character on Idol! Very fun read : D
rated~
i have a movie for you: hitchcock's "marnie".
ever seen it?\
Scarlett - I think not watching the "Idol" 's is probably a good thing....except when it comes to the audition shows at the very beginning of each season. That is some delightful television and I hope it doesn't kill too many brian cells....

Susie - I agree - this has really been fun and the variety of everyone's stories has been really impressive. As for Roger, he just came to me, but I agree - there have been some dead ringers on "Idol"! And I have to admit, the bad Sinatra performance was lifted from this year's try-outs (though it wasn't performed by a Roger doppelganger)!

James - I have not seen it. I haven't seen nearly enough Hitchcock in my life, I'm ashamed to admit. I just checked out the plot in Wikipedia and now it is one of my intense goals to see it, because it sounds right up my alley! Thank you for an awesome suggestion!
Boreville: Why the heck not?!
Holy crap- did I love this, Alysa. I kept copying lines to show you but there were too many too soon in. I love love love the street sign klepto and the american idol shame and broom bristle mohawk and the animal sounds just.... too many to name. This so so full of the funny and the muse and the... just... delicious. I just licked my lips, I swear it.
fernsy - I'm so glad you liked this! And I don't think my writing has ever made anyone lick their lips before! I feel cooler than KFC!
i am here to get you to 30 comments.
wish i could rate again to get it to a 20.

repressed kleptomania leads to excessive tidying,
by the way!

just sayin'
i am here to get you to 30 comments.
wish i could rate again to get it to a 20.

repressed kleptomania leads to excessive tidying,
by the way!

just sayin'
James - You spoil me! And may I suggest that perhaps my own need for symmetry and neatness has rubbed off on you and caused you to crave a round number? As for your correlation between the tidying and the not stealing (or rather, the other way around), I think you very much have something there....
This was a great read!

I laughed on the outside and cringed on the inside as I realized I am probably the "Roger" of Early Music around here.

Then the slapstick ending killed me. Pandemonium at a cat show is every bit as good as a pie fight at a voice recital.