Q: If you've ever written a story based on something another person told you would make a good story, what were the circumstances?
I don’t think I’ve ever written a story based on someone’s recommendation that it would be a good story, but a lot of times people tell me things just in passing conversation that I'm happy to snatch up and make use of.
A friend of mine told me that he went to pick his kid up at daycare one afternoon and found that the teachers had taken out the dress up box and all the kids were in old costumes. He noticed that there was a boy wearing a fake mustache, sitting slumped over and crying, saying he couldn't remember any more what it was like inside his mother’s stomach. My friend said the kid was trembling, like the realization had just struck him. Standing next to the boy was a girl in a gauzy pink princess outfit, holding a wand. She waved it slowly over the boy's head and said, “Forget, forget, forget....” All I can say is that the way he told it, it seemed to me that this had been an authentic experience. It didn't matter, though, as it was a little too neat to use as it was. Over a period of months this incident bubbled up in my thoughts quite often and I’d think about it. Eventually it formed itself into a story, “The Scribble Mind.”
When we lived in South Jersey, the guy who lived in the house behind mine, Jake, told me that his cousin, Bobby, was employed down by the Delaware river. His job was to dive to the bottom of the river, using only a snorkel from K-Mart and carrying an acetylene torch at the end of a few hundred feet of hose connected to canisters on shore. There was a wreck of an old yacht down there, and he was supposed to use the torch to remove the brass from it. At night, he stayed in a trailer next to the river, drinking 40s and snorting speedballs. “Bobby’s the Walking Prince of Death,” said Jake. I met Bobby eventually, and I could tell instinctively that he was a dangerous character, but he was also funny as hell. For the time that he was around, maybe a year before he wound up in jail in Camden for assaulting and robbing an old lady, the cousins would hold a poker game every Thursday night at Jake’s house. I heard a lot of stories at those games and, after all was said and done, I made a story out of them, “The Golden Dragon.”
Stories and even pieces of stories give birth to stories, like some virulent meme that uses human beings to manifest itself in the world. I keep all the interesting stuff—the colorful bits and pieces of stories people tell me stored away in my head for future use. Here are two I've been holding for a long time. Maybe there's a good reason why.
When I taught college I had a student once who missed a lot of classes. She could have done very well in the course if she’d shown up more. Near the end of the semester, she dropped out. I got a call from her. She explained that when she would get her period, she’d suffer bouts of amnesia for a few days. She hinted it had something to do with hormones but that it wasn’t absolutely clear. It seemed outlandish, but I figured it might be possible. I told my boss about it and he laughed and said, “That’s bullshit.” I’m not convinced he was right, but either way it seems like something that belongs in a story.
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