Pure Writerly Moments - Part 2 - On the Literary Uses of Tank Tops

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I don't remember the teacher's name. But I do remember the assignment. Write a story. Perform the story in front of the class. My story was the "Treasure of New Mexico", an action-adventure starring a bunch of kids in a Goonies-like story where we discover treasure.


Remember, I was nine.


So, I stand up. I must be wearing one of those ill-fitting t-shirts I was apt to wear back then (because I was growing all the time). I remember myself as painfully shy, but somehow I wasn't then. Perhaps it's because several kids had gone before me and had barely even tried. It didn't matter whether anything was good or not. So that's why, when I could tell the students were loving every word, the experience became amazing.


As I took them from the scene where I gathered my allies (a rough-and-tumble group of friends with the names of kids in the class), to the scene where we board the plane, to the scene where we're on horseback riding to a little town in New Mexico, I could feel anticipation growing and growing. My storytelling at the age of 9 must have been very simple, but I understood one thing -- make something happen.


I gunfight here.


Another shootout there.


Hiding from adults.


Every page, one or two things would happen. And since my classmates were in the story, it had a natural hook.


Chester Norris is nearly asleep now. I try to wake him up. "Are you even listening?"


One eye opens. "Wake me up when you're not so boring kid?"


"Can I embellish?" I ask.


"Embellish away!"


"Let me rewrite that so it starts like this..."


I was a nine-year-old with a problem. I'd written twelve long pages, the best pages of my young life, but first I had to get over the distressingly long hair of Ms. Johnson. Usually, it was just perfect, but that day, its perfection blocked out every brain cell capable of concentration. Even for a nine-year-old the absolute perfect twirl of Ms. Johnson's hair was a cardiac arrest waiting to happen.


"Not bad," Chester suggests from his sick bed. "But have her wearing a tight-fitting tank top and breasts that curve nicely."


"Your crudeness knows no bounds, Mr. Norris. Whatever would I do without your sage writing advice?"


"Say what you will, kid, but tank tops are popular in Florida. That's an interesting and compelling detail."


"Here's another one," I say. "My first day in Gainesville, Florida, when I moved there from Miami, I went out to play some basketball at the neighborhood hoop. A kid rode by on his bicycle. My age, must have been 8 or 9. I asked him if he wanted to play with me. Know what he said?"


"He said, 'Make the women in your stories wear tight tank tops?'"


"No. He said, 'I can't. I'm into stocks and bonds.' I was nine. Had no idea what stocks and bonds were. There's gotta be a story in there, right?"


But the medicine must have been strong because Chester Norris was knocked out cold once again.

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