Friday, February 24, 2012

Dual Shower Heads and a Rotten Tomato.

As I said in the last post, for the writing prompt I'm going to share an old story of mine that is an example of a bad Tomato Surprise. But first...

For those who don't follow me on Twitter--for some reason--I just spent a few days in Dallas for work. The hotel was pretty nice, but the most amazing part about it, and the whole trip really, was this:

Yup, dual shower heads. The hotel called it their "Heavenly Showers" and they are right. The ability to have the top nozzle blasting you with the tight massage spray while the bottom nozzle sprays wide to cover the rest of you is indescribable. Now, perhaps I'm just unrefined, or unsophisticated, and the rest of the world has partaken and moved on to bigger and better things, but to this simple suburbian, this is indeed, "heavenly".

About the only thing that could be better would be this full wall shower from the movie, Imposter.

And now, on with the story...

I want to preface this story by saying that I am only using this as an example of what NOT to do. I wrote this story almost seven years ago, in college, and haven't made any changes since. So don't take this as an example of my writing style, I'd like to believe I've improved since then. The story is called, "Angel". It was written for a college project where we were supposed to take three unrelated items we had on us at that moment and combine them into a story. Two of my three items were a deck of cards and a ticket stub from a Metallica concert. I can't for the life of me recall the third item. Maybe you can find it in the story. Anyway, enjoy...

“Full house, suckers!” Johnny slammed the playing cards face up on the blue milk crate they were using as an ersatz table. The other three guys sitting around the crate groaned and threw in their hands. Johnny laughed wickedly and scooped up the pile of dirty and crinkled bills and coins underneath the cards. “Don’t mess…with the king,” he said adding his winnings to his already impressive pile.
            The sun was shining through a cloudless sky in mid July in Denver and the boys were all gathered outside Mile High Stadium waiting for the start of a Metallica concert. The parking lot was crammed full of cars and trucks of various sizes, stereos pounding and hibachi grills smoking away. Already outside the gates entering the stadium the line was starting to build up, even though the concert was still over five hours away.
            Johnny, a short kid of seventeen with dusty blonde hair and the scruffy hint of a mustache, didn’t have a ticket for the show, yet, but he was hoping to acquire one shortly. He was dressed in old jeans and a sleeveless Metallica T-shirt. The three guys around the table were other concert-goers who Johnny had coerced into joining him in a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘em. Now, forty-five minutes later, he had already taken almost everything these guys had. Everything, except a ticket, that is.
            “One more round guys?” he asked, looking around at each of them.
            “I don’t know man,” Tilley, the guy in the red flannel shirt said, “You’ve already taken all my money, and my watch. I don’t have anything left.”
            “Sure you do,” Johnny countered eyeing the ticket stub poking out of Tilley’s shirt pocket.
            “You want us to bet out tickets?” Tilley’s brother Squirt, asked, surprised. “No way, dude. Not worth it.”
            Johnny turned to the last guy, Buck, a rough looking kid of maybe twenty. He wore a black hoodie and ripped jeans along with a spiked bracelet and several rings of various skull shapes and sizes on both hands. His wallet was attached to his pant loop by a thick silver chain. “What do you think, Buck,” Johnny asked, “Double or nothin’?” Buck still didn’t seem convinced.
            “Tell you what,” Johnny said, itching to go to the concert, “I’ll put up everything I’ve won here, against your one ticket, all or nothing.”
            Buck looked from Johnny’s eyes to the pile of cash in front of him and back again. “All right, if you’re that desperate to lose everything you’ve worked for, you’ve got yourself one last game. Squirt, deal ‘em out.”
            Squirt shuffled the deck of cards a few times and had Johnny cut it. He then dealt two cards to Buck and Johnny each. Both boys glanced quickly and secretively at their cards and then waited for Squirt to deal the first of three cards, or the Flop. The first card was the ace of diamonds; the second, the eight of clubs; and the third was the king of hearts. Neither boy gave any indications of folding; this was all or nothing.
            “How about it, Johnny,” Buck asked with a grin on his face. “You wanna back out?”
            Johnny grunted and scratched his lower thigh. “Just deal the Turn, Squirt.”
            Squirt flipped the fourth card over, and the fifth; the eight of diamonds and the ace of spades.
            Johnny held gaze with Buck for several moments, not even looking at his cards.
            “Let’s see what you’ve got,” Buck said.
            “You first.”
            “All right…full house, eights and kings.” Buck dropped his cards on the table; the eight of spades and the king of clubs. “Looks like you’re going home just like you came: empty handed.”
            “I wouldn’t count on it,” Johnny replied softly. He set his cards down in front of Buck; the ace of hearts and the ace of clubs. “Four aces. You lose.”
            Buck’s jaw dropped open and stayed that way for several moments. “How…what…?”
            “I’ll tell James Hetfield hello for you,” Johnny taunted, and he reached across the table to retrieve his winnings, Buck’s concert ticket. As he leaned forward, something slipped from under his right thigh and fell to the asphalt below. Two cards: the two of spades and the five of hearts. All four boys looked at the cards. Johnny, knowing what they were, quickly looked up to see if the others realized it also. They did. Johnny had cheated.
            He’d learned how to cheat from his old man; one of the very few things the man had taught him in his life. That was before the he’d been hauled away to prison. Johnny had used the trick before to win lunch money at school, but it had never back fired like this.
            Time stood still as the other three boys looked up at Johnny. Ever-so-slowly their expressions turned from confusion to outrage. Knowing his time was up, Johnny grabbed the ticket from the table in front of Buck with his right hand; with his left he grabbed as much cash from his winnings pile as his first would hold.
            Then he ran.
            He ran as fast as his short legs would carry him, weaving in and out of various crowds of people ducking behind cars and jumping over hibachis. The three boys stayed right on his tail. He wanted to get to the front gate and use the ticket so that Buck couldn’t follow him in. Once inside he could lose the other boys or pay them off. But the line was huge and moving about as fast as an old woman racing a puddle of molasses. Seeing that that was no good, Johnny headed out of the parking lot, leading his pursuers into the alleyways of downtown Denver.
            Street after street, alley after alley he ran, dumping trash cans in his wake, hopping fences in vain. The boys stayed right with him. Finally, after fifteen minutes of running, his adrenaline gave out. He slowed just enough so that Squirt managed to grab him by the shoulder and pull him to the ground in an alley behind an Italian restaurant. They both landed with a grunt and skidded several feet. By the time Johnny got up, the other two were on him and took him down again.
            This is how I met Johnny. I was sitting farther back in that alley, minding my own business—and I would have remained minding my own business—but when I saw those three boys begin to beat the life out of poor Johnny I just couldn’t sit back and watch. I waited until all three boys were distracted by the pounding of their fists into Johnny’s crumpled form; then I jumped them.
            I’m not much of a fighter, never have been, so I fought the only way I knew how: I scratched and bit and screamed and howled like any good girl would. I must have really startled them because they all turned tail and ran. I howled at them again, but let them go.
            Walking back over to Johnny, I found him still crumpled up in the fetal position. He had a gash on his forehead that was bleeding pretty badly and I cleaned him up as best I could. After a minute he uncurled, sat up, and looked at me.
            “Thank you,” he said softly. “I don’t know why you would help me; you don’t even know me. But thank you.”
            I didn’t reply; no words were necessary. I looked at him caringly, wondering if he needed anything else. He seemed to read my mind because he said, “I could sure use something to eat.”
            I didn’t have any money, and the boys had taken all of Johnny’s, including Buck’s ticket. I didn’t even have a home at the time, hadn’t for several months. I had been living on the street. But, knowing that Johnny needed something to eat, I went over to the trash can by the back door of the restaurant and tipped it on its side. It’s kind of gross, but when you live on the street, you take whatever you can get.
            I sifted through the garbage hoping to find something still in a carryout box. Suddenly, the back door of the restaurant was flung open and out stepped a massive man with dark skin, a black mustache and a gut the size of a wrecking ball. He wore a stained white apron and one of those silly floppy chef’s hats. He took one look at me and started yelling.
            “You again!? I told you to stay away from here, you tramp!” Before I could react, he had come forward and grabbed me by the neck. His fingers dug into my skin and I whimpered in pain. “Now I’m gonna have to teach you a lesson,” the chef said pulling my face close to his. Then he hit me; hard. He lifted me almost into the air and hit me again. Weak from lack of food, I landed on all fours and tried to scramble away, but the chef wasted no time in kicking me in the ribcage. I yelped out in pain and landed on my side. He was about to kick me again, but Johnny was up from his place on the ground in a flash. I had saved his life, now he was returning the favor.
            “You leave her alone!” he screamed charging the chef. Before the chef knew what was happening, Johnny cold-clocked him right across the chin. The chef spun around backwards and collapsed like a sack of potatoes into the pile of spilt trash.
            Then Johnny and I ran.
            We ran as far away as we could, not stopping for anything. After a good solid fifteen minutes, we finally collapsed in a park. It was dusk by then and the park was mostly empty. For a long time neither of us said anything, we just lay there gasping for breath.
Then, between breaths, Johnny said, “We make…a pretty good…team…you and me. We…should be…friends.” Then he seemed to notice me for the first time. Thin, scrawny, my ribs were poking out and my hair hadn’t been combed in months. I was a sad sight.
            “Ain’t you got any home?” he asked sitting up. I didn’t respond, I was still panting for breath. I just glared at him. I would think the answer to that was obvious.
            “Well, maybe you could come stay with me? Mom would be cool with it, I’m sure.” Then he stopped as if something had just occurred to him. He laughed softly and said, “Listen to me, I don’t even know your name…And yet, you’re like…you’re like my guardian angel. Angel, yeah, that’s a good name. I’ll call you Angel.”
            I gazed at him lovingly. We had saved each other that night, two wretches from the inner city, and a bond had formed. I don’t know, maybe it was fate. Maybe I am his guardian angel. I just stared at him.
            “I love you, Angel,” he said. Then he reached out and scratched me behind the ear. “You’re a good dog.”

Ok, ignoring the fact that, because of the narrator, the story suddenly switches from third person to first person narrative, and that there is no real way the narrator could have known so much about the poker game if she'd been in the alley whole time--the Tomato Surprise comes in the very last line of dialogue, when the big reveal is that our narrator, Angel, is actually a dog.

When I wrote this, I thought I was quite clever. If you reread the second half of the story, once we get that Angel is telling the story, you'll see that I purposely included many hints that Angel was a dog. The way she scratched, bit, and howled like "any good girl would". I wanted the reader to reach the reveal and go, "Whoa", and then look back at the story and see that it was obvious from the start.

Sadly, but understandably, my instructor hated it. In her review she basically stated that she'd been very intrigued by the little street urchin who would fight to help this stranger, and felt cheated when the last line of the story turned it from a touching tale to a "one line joke".

When I read the review, I was confused because I hadn't intended the story as a joke, only as a play on reader expectation. But, looking back at it now, I can easily see how jarring it is to become enamored with the characters in this story, only to have the rug pulled out from you at the very end.

The bottom line is, if you're going to have a twist, or unexpected reveal at the end of your story, be certain it is something that will enhance the story not cheapen it, and is something your reader will appreciate rather than disdain.

Your comments are welcome. About the story, not the writing, ;P

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