The Stupid 365 Project, Day 84: “Christmas Drizzle,” Part Two

December 25th, 2010

One of the log buildings turned out to be a gift shop, and as I opened the door an honest-to-god bell jangled above my head. How quaint. The shop was small, and it was deserted except for an incredibly small and incredibly ancient white-haired leprechaun. Or elf, given the season, but I had Bonnie Tim on my mind. A badge on her sweater said, VOLUNTEER – Suzanna. I almost had to bend over to read it.

“Hi, there! Lovely day, don’t you think?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think.” Rain makes me grumpy. Driving a car in rain makes me very grumpy.

“Oh, you really should. You can get in a lot of trouble if you don’t think.”

I stopped surveying the store and turned back to her, one eyebrow raised in amusement. You know about trouble, do you?”

“Oh, I’ve had years of practice at it.”

“Getting into it?”

“Mostly getting out. Getting in is easy.”

I smiled. “Too true.” I looked around the shop again. “I’m in a spot of trouble myself. I find myself with too many women in my life and not enough presents.”

“Oh, I can certainly see that you’re in trouble, if you have too many women in your life. Most men don’t know how to deal with even one woman.”

“Actually, only one of them is any trouble, and that’s because she’s not in my life any more. At least, not in the way I wished. One of them is my daughter, one of them is my friend, and one of them is my ex-wife.”

“And which one is the trouble?”

“That would be my ex-wife.” I smiled at her and added, “But the real trouble is that tomorrow is Christmas and I’m without a gift for any of them.”

“Oh, well, you’ve come to the right person then. I specialize in getting people out of that particular trouble.” And she winked at me, the cutest little wink I’d seen in two or three decades. If only she were four or five decades younger and two or three feet taller. “How old is your daughter?” she asked.

“Thirteen. Going on thirty. And already wiser than I am on most days.”

“Growing up too fast for you?”

“She was just born last month.”

“Think how I feel… I just had my first child about six months ago, and I had chestnut-colored hair and a figure that didn’t look like a sandcastle being washed away by the tide. Come over here. Let’s see what we can find her.”

With sheer enthusiasm, Volunteer Suzanna towed me to a small display case. She asked, “Do you like jewelry?”

I waggled my head side-to-side. “Most days.”

She reached into the case and pulled out a small gold rose, sculpted in exquisite detail, including the thorns, with a small dark-red garnet in the center of the flower, and the pendant was strung on a fine gold chain. “It sounds like you have a difficult relationship with your ex-wife. Perhaps something beautiful but thorny?”

“She is that,” I said, fingering the necklace. “This is perfect.”

“Now,” she said, “your daughter. Since your wife is ex-, that implies an—unsettled—home life for your daughter. Perhaps something that indicates your commitment to your family and to her?” She reached into the case and pulled forth another necklace. This one was a tiny triquetra, three almond-shaped loops interwoven through each other, like a three-petaled flower shape, and with a circle weaving its way through all three, maybe an inch across. The ‘petals’ and the circle were flat loops with gemstone inlay in four different colors. “One petal each for you, your ex-wife and your daughter, and the circle represents how your family is still tied together and always will be.”

“You’re good,” I said. “Are you sure you’re just a volunteer?”

“Oh, pish. This is just common sense. Now, the tough one, your friend. Just how friendly are you?”

“Friendly enough for jewelry.” A smile crept onto my lips.

“Oh, good, that makes it easy then. She reached into the case once more and pulled out a third necklace. The pendant was round like a coin with the edge done in highly polished gold, ornately filigreed. The interior was silver, with the background oxidized to a flat black, and raised above that in polished silver was a tree with spreading, bare branches, like an oak in the winter. Nestled in the center of the branches was a small diamond, probably not more than four or five points, but its setting made it shine like a star in the darkness. “Any woman would love to receive this, and it can mean as much or as little as you like.”

“Are you single, Suzanna?”

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes, you have enough women in your life already. Besides—you’re much too old for me. I like them tender and pliable.” Again, that cute little wink.

I paid with some of the money that Bonnie Tim had given me.

“Suzanna, you are truly an oasis in the wilderness,” I said, as I took the bag with the wrapped gifts.

“Oh, go on. I don’t want you hanging around when a nice, young, good-looking stud comes in.”

Just then I heard a long honk from a car horn. “Sorry, that’s for me. I’ve got to run.” I winked at her as I left.

Bonnie Tim’s daughter and her boyfriend looked like drowned rats, and that somehow buoyed my spirits even further. After all, if I was suffering this miserable rain, so should they. We took their car keys, split them up, Hog and Gary in his car, and I took Beth in mine. They weren’t happy, but they had their cell phones and could send text messages to each other for the next eighteen hours for all I cared. Maybe they’d get carpal-tunnel syndrome. One can always hope. I didn’t know how I was going to keep Gary from being gelded by Bonnie Tim, but if I couldn’t figure that out by the time we reached L.A., maybe it was time to find a new line of work.

But most of the drive south, I spent thinking about seeing the women in my life, and trying to think of exactly what I’d say when I gave each their present on Christmas. I didn’t even notice when the sun finally broke through the last of the clouds and re-illuminated the landscape with shiny optimism.

***

Just want to say that I love this story and I thank Everett and wish him (and all of you) the merriest of Christmases and the happiest possible holiday season.

14 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 84: “Christmas Drizzle,” Part Two”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Everett

    This is great! Really enjoyed your work.

    Happy Holidays everybody!

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s a wonderful story, funny as hell, with a great cast of characters. It’s also very odd to hear Junior say things I didn’t write. On the other hand, I didn’t HAVE to write them, which is great and was deeply appreciated.

    Happy holidays to all.

  3. Beth Says:

    Everett, is Tim looking for someone to take over the blog? Is Tim thinking of doing a James Patterson thing where you do most of the writing and his name goes above the title?

    I enjoyed the story very much. If those pieces of jewelry aren’t real then I think you have another career option opening to you. They seem lovely.

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Everett, that was lovely and most enjoyable, and thoughtful and humorous at the same time. Is editing for Tim causing him to rub off on you? I liked the jewelry. I’m afraid the rain is going to follow you down the coast, if indeed, you are traveling. Nice for you to give Tim some time off. Meanwhile, I’m playing with my new toy. The trouble is I have to read the books I download-more TBR lists.

    Happy holidays to all the members of the cast.

  5. EverettK Says:

    Thanks, all, I’m glad you enjoyed the story! Although I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager, it’s never happened, and somehow morphed into writing computer programs instead of literature.

    When Bonnie Tim…er…uh…well, you know… announced that he wasn’t going to be doing a Christmas story, I thought, “Maybe I should try to write one for him and the follogers.” But, weeks went by, and there was always something else to do. Then, after the big discussion on ‘rain’, I woke up on Dec 22nd with this image of Junior sitting in his car in the Oregon rain, and I thought: This is the beginning of the story!

    I grew up about 17 miles from Silver Falls Park and always loved the place, so it was a natural setting. I wanted to use as many ‘mutated’ names from the blog as possible, just for everyone’s fun. At first, I thought the story was going to be the retrieval of these young love-birds. But then I got Junior into the gift-shop… and was exhausted, and took an extended break for lunch. When I came back late in the afternoon to finish the story, Volunteer Suzanna took over, and the story quickly became focused on Junior and his relationships with the women in his life. Of course, all of this was constrained by the need for it to be short and to-the-point. I was fairly happy with it, considering it was my first truly complete effort at fiction. I’ve done plenty of non-fiction writing, and while some of the rhythms are the same, it’s definitely a different beast.

    I was very nervous sending it to Tim, as I wasn’t sure how he would react to someone else playing in his sandbox, but fortunately he was a-okay with it, and I’m pleased to have been able to make a gift of it to him and all of you!

    BETH: When Tim wrote back that he’d enjoyed the story, he joked, “Want to write the next book?” And I had to laugh to myself, thinking of Patterson and some of the …comments… that folks have posted about him and his collaborators. So apparently you and I think along the same lines. 🙂

    re: the jewelry and another career. “Heh, heh.”

    You see, I started college in Electrical Engineering. After 5 terms (1 2/3 years), I decided that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, and switched my major to Art, with a major in Metalsmithing and Custom-Designed Jewelry. Because of all of the science, math and engineering classes I’d taken, I ended up with a Bachelor of SCIENCE degree in Art. My senior project was a matched pair of raised silver goblets with black walnut stems on raised silver bases. So, the jewelry angle came naturally. Of course, after college, I threw the Art degree in the toilet, and… well, it’s a VERY long story. Leave it at: I ended up becoming a computer programmer. 🙂

    LIL: Fortunately, no, we didn’t travel far, only about 45 miles to visit family, so we stayed in the gray, drizzly Willamette Valley. And to hell with the TBR list. Read CRASHED! Read CRASHED! Read CRASHED! (The Little Elvises are coming…)

    I hope that all of you are having a happy and safe holiday and new year!

  6. Debbi Says:

    Great story! And that photo from the first part is very familiar. I’ve seen it when I’ve taken trips to Portland, OR to visit family.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I apologize for initially putting Part Two up without an illustration. I was so happy to have a day off that I neglected to put the little graphic touch at the top of the story.

    Not that it needed it. I agree with Beth, Everett — the jewelry designs are inspired. And, Beth, it would be a major disappointment for anyone who allowed me to slap my name on his/her (hir?) book, since I barely sell enough copies to stay in business.

    Lil, you’re going to love the Kindle. I love mine. I’ve spent the last month (when I wasn’t writing) reading the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of WAR AND PEACE and just head over heels in love with the book, with Tolstoy, and with the Kindle. And I agree about Everett’s story. It was both funny and heartwarming and I was proud to take credit for it.

    Debbi — really glad you liked it — and, Everett, Debbi Mack is a fine mystery/thriller writer in her own right — in fact, LEAST WANTED, her second (knockout) mystery featuring lawyer Sam McRae, just went up on Amazon. It’s a ridiculously inexpensive 99 cents. I’ve read it, and she knows what she’s talking about when she says she likes a story.

    Everett — will answer you tomorrow, but in the meantime, THANKS, and exceptionally well done.

  8. EverettK Says:

    Thanks, Debbi!

    Yes, I know, Tim. As a matter of fact, I already have her “Identity Crisis” in my TBR file. 🙂

    Thanks, again, to everyone, for ALL the kind words. Much appreciated!

  9. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    So I am bleary eyed from reading CRASHED-I’m somewhere in the middle of Camera, and I was exhausted from laughing. I needed the slow down. Tim, you just love words don’t you? It I am enjoying the Kindle too much. So far, I am downloading all your recommendations-it is way too easy. I’m pretty sure I won’t read War and Peace, though, I’m going to have a time reading what I’ve got. Besides, there still is my paper TBR. In addition to what I’ve got, I have two Simon Grists in paper. I’m going to need an intervention pretty soon-I love buying books, and reading them, and I do have things to do, and work, and family…never mind. Happy day after.

  10. Debbi Says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Tim! And I hope you enjoy the book, Everett. 🙂

  11. Gary Says:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely story. Thanks so much, Everett, for all the work that went into it.

    Did you go home with Bonnie Tim?

    (No one ever gets my stupid allusions, so I’ll have to start explaining them. Brigadoon, 1954, starring Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, one of the songs: I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean)

    Your story was much funnier.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everett — That’s exactly the way I feel when I write – some character shows up and takes over for a while. Do it often enough, and always keep the central character somewhere in your peripheral vision, and eventually you’ll have a book.

    Lil GREAT – so glad you’re enjoying it. PLEASE review it on Amazon. The numbers, which had been okay, are falling rapidly. Anything you (or anyone) can think of to call this to readers’ attention will be deeply appreciated.

    Debbi, my pleasure. I loved the book and will do a review when DorothyL reconvenes.

    Gary, your frame of reference is as wide as the galaxy and much more obscure. My first reaction was a double-take — was there a comma in between “Bonnie” and “Tim”? When I fount there wasn’t, I relaxed.

  13. Beth Says:

    Everett, have you thought of doing some jewelry in the future?

    I was seeing those pieces as I was reading the descriptions.

    Those of us, me, who have not a whit of talent of any kind, admire and envy those who have it.

  14. EverettK Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Beth!

    As I was completing college and for a few months afterward, I thought that’s what I was going to do. But I soon realized, thankfully before I put too much time, money and effort into it, that it really wasn’t where my passion was.

    Making jewelry, cups, sculptures was very cool. I still remember the first time I ‘raised’ a goblet from a flat sheet of copper. The steps, roughly are:

    1) Cut a circle out of a non-ferrous metal.
    2) With a compass, draw concentric circles about 1/4-inch apart.
    3) Anneal the metal (heat it red-hot, then drop it red-hot into an acid-bath to rapidly cool it, which softens it, and the acid helps keep the metal clean).
    4) With a “raising hammer” (the ‘head’ is like your little finger held sideways so you’re striking with the side of your finger), bang on the metal against an anvil, working in a circular fashion, creating circular ridges.
    5) Repeat steps (4) and (5) until the flat metal takes on a cup-like shape.
    6) Do all the other steps necessary to make a finished product, which I won’t bore you with.

    During the annealing process, you heat it, drop it in the acid bath, fetch it out of the acid bath (using long copper tongs), and rinse it off under running water to remove the remaining acid.

    The “I still remember” above refers to the moment when the flat sheet of metal had acquired a rough cup-shape, and as I was rinsing the acid off of it, after the 3rd or 4th cycle of hammering and annealing, I suddenly realized that it was holding water.

    A simple thing, a thing to be expected, a thing that happens millions of times a day…

    But I flushed like I’d just had an orgasm. It was the most wondrous thing, born out of the most mundane of actions: I’d taken a flat sheet of metal and, through the actions of my own hands, turned it into something that held water.

    One of those things that pales in the telling. But not unlike the feeling when you first rode a bicycle without training wheels, or your first kiss. Common as dirt, and yet your first time accomplishing something far beyond your previous bounds.

    Anyway, as much as I enjoyed making jewelry, I knew that turning it into a job or a business would turn it into drudgery for me, because I would always be designing and making things to others’ desires and limited by their specifications, not my own.

    Writing puzzle games allows me to write them for my pleasure first, and fortunately, enough other people find them enjoyable for me to be able to earn a living at it. Writing fiction would be much the same: I’d be writing it for myself first, to my own specs, in a way that I desired. Yes, in both cases, that nebulous “imaginary consumer” must be kept in mind, if you expect very many others to enjoy your work. But when you’re a “hack for hire” (whether it’s writing fiction, writing programs or making jewelry), you’re only a few steps above ditch-digging.

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