Getting out of the house

If you want a good story, do something...whether you want to or not...

I am currently writing on a laptop so old it is literally falling apart. Inserting the power cord is the only thing that keeps the top from separating from the bottom and the screen is being held to the keyboard by a single hinge because the other one is broken.

It’s also made of plastic so cheap the keyboard bounces when I type.

But all these problems are my own damn fault because when I bought it I told the guy at the computer store to give me the cheapest piece of crap he had because how often would I use it and this new “intra-net” thing was probably a passing fad.

Later, I’ll be giving out stock tips because clearly I could give Nostradamus a run for his money when it comes to predicting the future.

I’m typing on this antique because my regular laptop is in the shop having additional horsepower installed under the hood and I decided to have that work done this week because I got a summons for jury duty and figured I might not have a chance to write anyway.

Turns out I’m an unsuitable juror which I could have told them before I had to Uber to the downtown courthouse at the ass-crack of dawn and saved all of us a bunch of time and effort.

On the other hand; the experience gave me a pretty good story to tell.

Unfortunately, that story will have to wait because the judge (the kind that earned the title and wasn’t born into it) announced that she would frown upon any of us publicly commenting on the case in any way before the trial was over.

She didn’t mention pictures taken in the restroom so that’s me holding my number (I was lucky juror #13) up in front of the mirror of the luxurious downtown courthouse men’s room. I couldn’t flop the image because I don’t have access to the Photoshop program that’s on my other laptop.

But that’s not the point of this piece.

Boring people make boring art

When I was out in L.A. with my son Paul — the music producer — we were eating burritos on Hollywood Boulevard (and now that I write that I feel the need to say that’s not some weird euphemism for sex although it certainly sounds like one) when he said something smart:

Boring people make boring art.

I asked him to expand on that theme and his point was this: if you’ve never been in a fight and have to write a fight scene all you know is what you’ve seen in other fight scenes and will write a cliched version of those.

You have nothing of your own to add to the scene.

If you’ve been in a real fight you know it hurts to win one, much less lose one. Human heads are basically bowling balls covered with skin and landing a good solid punch on somebody’s head also hurts the person doing the punching. I got to wear a cast for six weeks on my right hand before I learned that lesson.

Also, after about three of those head shots featured in any Rocky movie you care to name somebody would be in a coma, not calling for Adrian. In real fights boxers might spend 12 rounds trying to land just one clean shot and after they do it’s pretty much fight over.

One of the reasons I loved the Rockford Files is James Garner would punch somebody and then shake his hand afterwards. That shit hurts everybody involved, but if you never actually had a fight, you don’t know that and will have your hero take out three thugs, then walk into a bar, straighten his tuxedo tie and order a martini shaken, not stirred.

As a pretty good writer once said: “You can always tell a sex scene written by a virgin.”

Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past which is six or seven volumes (depending on the translation) and over three thousand pages about a guy remembering things like falling asleep and eating cake.

I once tried to read the first volume and concluded Marcel really needed to get out of the house more often and if he could have worked in a car chase or a shootout once in a while I might have stuck with it.

So whenever something weird or inconvenient happens to you, think of it this way: you’re getting material for a pretty good story.

And if you can’t do it yourself, listen to those who have

I’m currently re-reading all Elmore Leonard’s stuff and one of the things he did to come up with plots and dialogue was visit prisoners to hear their stories. He also hung out with cops for the same reason.

If you pay attention people will say and do things in real life that never would have occurred to you to make up. You wouldn’t think of those things on your own because you’ve never been in those situations.

Yesterday at the courthouse a fellow juror come up and was nice enough to tell me how much he enjoyed my baseball writing and how much I’d taught him about the game.

I gave him my usual response: I hadn’t taught him anything – it was the players.

If they hadn’t been nice enough to talk to me and explain what they were doing, all I could have told him about baseball is what I experienced playing in a beer league.

Without the insight of guys like Jason Kendall, Chris Getz or Rusty Kuntz I couldn’t have explained the conversations that go on around home plate, why you come out in front of the bag to receive throws from some catchers and straddle the bag with someone different behind the plate or why a runner might consider taking an extra 90 feet after a rain delay.

The only credit I deserve is for getting up off my ass and showing up early to listen to ballplayers talk about the game they play.

So like I said, whenever something inconvenient happens to me I remind myself I’m gathering material for what might turn out to be a pretty good story and trust me, I gathered some material yesterday at the county courthouse.

And all it took was an official jury summons to make me get out of the house.

Now all I have to do is wait for the trial to end…and hope this laptop lasts ‘til the end of the week.