Archive for November 2, 2020

The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE! I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

“You broke my heart, Fredo!”

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Pay attention, this bit of memoir acts as the literary equivalent of a perfectly turned 6-4-3 double play. Insight into possible techniques, yes. And maybe some discreet opining about…

I’ll leave it to you to see if the waxing craptological part comes through without the subtitles.

Forty-one years ago, I moved with my family from one house in the sacred confines of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica to another house also in Santa Monica. This move related to a remarriage among the adults in my family where the most memorable reason given made no sense to my nine-year-old self – “we need more wall space for XXXX’s art.”

Still makes no sense. Note to my now deceased mother, assuming reincarnation is a thing, when selling such a move to the soul inhabiting your next son try – “so you’ll have a bigger room.” Always play to enlightened self interest. 

Considering that we’d already built add-on rooms to the house we had my thinking about we should just add a few extra square feet so Evil Stepfather 1.0 could hang his focaccia art comes into focus. No nine-year-old with a built-up status (such as it was) at the one school wants to start over at the new school. 

Full disclosure, I could’ve and later did use my dad’s address to finish out at the first school. Sometimes, we don’t fully know what we’re in for and blow our own toes off. And like many nine and ten-year-olds, I didn’t know how to say these things and families teach democracy as a goal to obtain as an adult without actually practicing it.

Anyway, new school with new but surprisingly similar schoolyard politics to navigate. I’ll skip over the Football Contract story that cost me a quarter, a freak out and a trip to the principal’s office where we were told that such things were for adults. And I’ll also skip over the Kicking Miss Completely Unobtainable in the Shins story.

Oh right, there was the, later in the year, Big Fistfight story, which has no further relevance because I’d changed classrooms. And it ended the way big fistfight stories should end…we met honorably on the vacant lot across the street. We threw a couple exchanges and then like this from Braveheart – “What, you didn’t even put the army into the field to at least get a better deal?” – we reached across and made an honorable accommodation of gentlemen. Besides no one from this story figured into the story that really matters for this writing lesson, so my bad on the tangent. 

Leading us directly to the He’s a Fuckin’ Squirming Narc (aka Rat) story.

On the playground, four kids started talking big about scoring pot. Looking back, let’s please understand the full context: late 1970s, sheltered and affluent white kids on the playground at the school for the sheltered and affluent. Read this to mean, “Dude, it’s equally likely that the substance involved was oregano.” I thank Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men) for the knowledge that Mary Jane and oregano can, to the inexperienced, stupid or both, be visually similar.

However, smoking oregano on school premises is still against school rules.

The other kids all wanted to try breaking the rules in this way retreating behind the far handball court at the southeast corner of the playground. I wasn’t too into it, don’t remember why (get me drunk and ask me my later Starman story). Part of my wanting to fit into the new social milieu means that I’m the guy acting as lead blocker for the Great Pot Smoke Operation.

The guys smoke up. Two younger girls had brought a handball and wanted to play on the court. No, I don’t mean Adult Handball Played on Repurposed Racquetball Courts at Speeds a Jai Alai Player Might Grudgingly Appreciate. Think green walls with painted on lines roughly the height of a tennis net along with two pitching boxes and the big red rubber ball. Playground Handball. I dutifully tell the girls to go play anywhere else, “they don’t want any part of this.”

That night I told Mom. She cringed and commented on the kids being too young. A couple days later the kids involved in this operation start going at me. “Greg, you’re a fucking narc! We got called into the principal’s office over the pot!” The reply – “I didn’t narc you guys out!”

This went on for a couple months until I changed classrooms. No real threats of violence transpired (again, the sheltered and affluent who might really have been smoking oregano), but they certainly didn’t want to talk to me. I made sure to ask Mom early on in this minor ostracism – “Mom, when I told you about the pot did you tell the school about it? I’m getting some heat on the playground.” She promised me she hadn’t.

How did they get caught? The two girls come to mind. I mean some bigger kid blocking them from playing so they wouldn’t see is noticeable. And as unindicted co-conspirators go, I’m not violent nor intimidating enough to make it stick like Clemenza bringing a baseball bat to the party. So, the girls didn’t owe me no favors.

And looking back in my memory, we must also consider that everyone in the story was too young and stupid to even think about controlling all circumstances. The big green wall behind which they lit up only blocked certain sightlines. Now, even I don’t remember if there were people to the right of said handball court that could’ve seen.

Anyway, they got caught. They gave me a few months of stink-eyes and calling me a narc. I was never called into the principal’s office as a potential witness. Until you are called in, you don’t know if you’re going down on the ship named MV I’m No Fuckin’ Rat or whether you choose to sing the whole story, in my ugly baritone best left in the shower. Self-image says I’m going out like Cagney…unless I decide I hate you.

One of these confrontations, I even threw the girls under the bus. I told the guy that there were the two girls nearby. That I’d told them to go somewhere else and that maybe they told. In more violent versions of this story, this is a problem to reflect on for the rest of my life. He seemed to believe me and, maybe, this is when the ostracism abated slightly. Fuzzy memory.

What is the writing lesson at the heart of telling this story forty-one years later?

People have sets of experiences from which they draw for the story. Is it perhaps possible that if I had a good Mob story in mind that turned on a scene like – “Fredo, you broke my heart!” – that I have the childish version of mostly unfairly being labeled the rat as a starting point? Do I have enough to imagine the scene from the other side as the betrayed party? I like to think so, besides I’ve already told the major screw job story of my life long ago in a film magazine. A story for another day.

There is some technique at play here. Learned in a dimly remembered acting class, the one specifically billed as Anti-Method – “Read the words. Choose an overall goal for the scene. Divide the scene into sections. For each section choose an emotional state that in most cases creates the most conflict for the successful attainment of those goals. Feel the emotional state on your body. Breathe up that emotional state until it plays big. Wipe the goofy looking exterior artifice of breathing up off your face and ACTION!” I love it when classes turn on one simple piece of instruction and the rest of the class time is supposed to be about the repetition needed to get good.

I italicized the relevant part about breathing up. This is how I would suggest taking a minor playground trauma of not terribly violent kids blaming the other kid for turning rat into a deeply emotional thread that ends in the second movie with a brother shot in the back of the head while fishing on Lake Tahoe. This is one use of the imagination where deep down we do still have to make it up as we go along, while also building on our own story that is usually far more prosaic.

To truly use this moment in a mob story, as someone whose section of the gene pool doesn’t include anyone verifiably Italian or more to the point connected, I would (we hope) still have to read a few books about the Mafia. Ask some Feds and other Organized Crime cops their opinions and perhaps read their books as well. But there was that time when I really needed friends, even shitheads probably smoking oregano on the far handball court and life temporarily made other plans. I do understand the emotions underneath.

To conclude, a writer pulls from wherever they need to make the story work. And assuming enough of you actually read this post, I will leave it intentionally vague if I’m also saying something else about how some people feel about the practice of storytelling. We shall see…