We’ve now, finally, at long last, arrived at Story #16, entitled Not Randy’s Day. This is the final vignette from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Hooray! Fuck, I bet you thought this would never end. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 2.
I signed up for a creative writing class during my sophomore year of college. But I don’t think it helped me be creative. After all, how do you teach creativity? And how do you judge creativity? Seems impossible to me. Therefore, how can someone truly teach “creative” writing?
Creative writing classes subject students to the biases of their teachers. And sometimes even the teachers don’t know what they like. Or in the case of my teacher, they won’t admit it. I don’t remember my professor’s name, but I do remember she had a fungiform shape. So I’ll call her Mrs. Mushroom.
One day, Mrs. Mushroom assigned us to write a story on the theme of a very intense, personal, and emotional, experience. I had a lot of fun with that assignment. I liked to make a lark out of Mushroom’s assignments. I’d turn and twist them around into utter nonsense.
Because to me, that’s what creativity was all about. It was about jumping out of the box and taking matters into forbidden areas. It was about kibbling convention, stomping stereotype, and discomfiting the reader with uncomfortable dalliances into roguish rulebreaking.
She graded my paper and superscribed some comments at the top. But before she handed it back to me, she decided to read it aloud to my fellow students. I don’t know why, unless it was to instruct the class on what not to do, with her assignments.
As she got into the thick of my story, she started to giggle. She suppressed it. But a few paragraphs later her giggling returned, and with greater intensity. She tried to suppress it again. But it kept coming back like percolating coffee.
Suddenly that coffee pot boiled over and she melted down into hysterical laughter. She lost complete control of herself for about a full minute, howling so long and hard she became almost cataplectic. And that must have caused her to suck some saliva down her windpipe.
A fit of coughing and choking ensued. She struggled for her breath, while gasping and hacking. Her face turned red as the marks she made on our papers. She struggled to her feet, staggered between our desks, then rushed out the door, coughing and choking the entire way.
She returned about 20 minutes later, looking haggard but breathing normally. She composed herself at her desk and resumed reading my story, slowly, with a strained, straight face. And somehow she was able to finish while maintaining her normally somber demeanor.
Then she handed the paper back to me, with the comment she had superscribed at the top, before her near-fatal decision to read the story to the class. The comment read, “Not sure if you were trying to be funny, but if you were, the humor didn’t come across. B-.”
Yep, that’s what it said.
And this illustrates why it is impossible to judge creativity. Sometimes we think we don’t like something, when we actually do. And sometimes we very much want something to not be funny, because it blasphemes every fiber of the principles we hold dear. And yet for some damned reason, we can’t stop ourselves from laughing.
Creativity follows no rules, knows no bounds, and cannot be captured in a jar, bucket, or classroom. It just is what it is, and it’s constantly changing all the time. To appreciate creativity, you must recognize the value in change, unknowns, and surprises. And if Mrs. Mushroom had been that way, she would have never written that comment on my paper.
I can be intense. I can be personal. And I can be emotional. But when I am these things, I like to have fun with them. I hope you’ll have some fun too, as you read the story that nearly killed my creative writing teacher. This is a tale about a young man named Randy, and an intense, personal, emotional day that was not at all tailored to his liking.
Not Randy’s Day (Beginning)
Plip. Plip. Plip. He woke up. Ice water battered his forehead as it dripped from the top freezer section of the refrigerator. He propped himself up on his hands where he lay on the floor, and two sticks of dynamite suddenly exploded behind his nose. He groped around for something to wipe his nose with, but had to finally settle for a shirt sleeve. He was shivering, and he was sick. He had a bad cold. And there was the sound of falling water outside. It was raining.
Randy’s right hand bumped against a beer bottle. He looked around and saw bottles scattered all over the kitchen floor. That’s when he remembered. Last night was an awful night. Oh, such an awful night. He blinked back tears as it replayed in his mind.
His girlfriend—the lady he meant to marry—he could see her so vividly. He saw that frightened look on her face when he barged through the door. No one had answered the door when he knocked, but he’d heard some busy activity and hushed, anxious voices. He thought she might be in trouble, so he flung the door open and rushed in like a combat soldier expecting a firefight. And that’s when he saw those two scared, wide-open eyes. And that’s when he saw the man she was with.
A big man, half-naked, hairy chest, with a taunting sneer on his face.
His guts melted with the impact of the fist. It was like swallowing a hot gulp of water, and it took all his breath away. He fell and blacked out, lying there on his back. It took him a few minutes to gain enough strength to barely open his eyes. And then his fiancee dropped her engagement ring onto his chest. “It’s over,” she said tersely, as she quickly turned her back and walked away.
When he got back home he found the beer in his fridge. And he didn’t care. He drank one bottle, then found another. And then another. And he drank and he drank. And when he ran out, he changed from beer to a cocktail. And for the second time that night, he passed out.
Now Randy wished for another drink, but only found empty beer bottles on the floor, scattered around like little bowling pins. And the vodka was finished. And besides, all the ice in the freezer had melted.
The refrigerator was warm and empty, both doors open—its compressor humming persistently away.
He picked himself up and staggered into a chair at the kitchen table. His nose exploded again. Damned cold! He wiped his face with the tablecloth. There was a balloon floating around inside his head, slowly inflating. It pushed out against the inside of his skull, and pressed harder and harder.
He held his head in his fingers and rubbed his temples. A hangover with a cold, he thought. What a great combination to go with a broken heart. And a tear erupted from his eye and tumbled down his face at the thought.
It was pouring outside. There was a low rumble of thunder, like God was muttering angrily over the stupidity of humans. A distant flash, then another low rumble. Rain tap-danced on the roof above, and tickled at the windows. Water gurgled off rain gutters and splattered into puddles on the ground below. And a hard cold wind shook his house with hammerblow gusts.
Early dawn—or it should be. His clock showed 6:13, but the storm clouds made it dark as the heart of jealousy outside. Randy massaged his skull some more and pondered over how life would be now, without his fiancee. He could only think of black loneliness.
An unfair loneliness too—for after all, he had been such a good friend to her and had not done anything to deserve this desertion. Why did she treat him so ungratefully? How could one person do this to another? And what had made him fall in love with such an unfaithful girl anyway?
He pondered over love, hard-won and lost, as so many have pondered before. And in the midst of his thoughts there came a vigorous rap on the front door. Could it be? Could she have returned, with sorrow for her betrayal? Two palms on the kitchen table, Randy pushed himself out of the chair. He sneezed and staggered sideways. Then he found the door and opened it.
“Telegram for a Randall Dreenk,” the man spoke with a shiver in his voice. Rainwater dripped over the brow of the courier’s plastic yellow hat. Randy signed for the telegram then fought back a gust of chilly wind as he closed the door.
Telegram. He had never received a telegram before in his entire life. He opened it and read the contents. It said, “We regret to inform you that your parents, Egan and Elsa Dreenk, died in an airplane accident here last night.” It had been sent by some sheriff from a place called Mountain County.
Randy held the paper in his hands for a full minute, staring at the words with disbelief. No no, this must be a joke, he thought desperately. You get a phone call—a police chaplain comes to your door—something like that. You don’t ever get this kind of news this way. Do you? Oh no, oh God! he thought. Then he backed into a wall—slid to the floor, slumping forward with hands in his face.
He thought of his parents and the last time he’d seen them. They were waving goodbye inside the cockpit of their Cessna. He had always felt unsure about that plane. He’d always had a premonition that one day they might not complete a flight with it. And now . . . and now it seemed that his premonition had come true.
Lightning flickered close, and thunder immediately followed the flash. It crackled. It roared. And Randy Dreenk’s parents were dead.
Randy remained on the floor, unable to gather strength against the force of the blows that had most recently struck him. He remained on the floor and thought of his parents and cried and cried and cried. And there he stayed in a pool of misery for several hours, until the phone rang.
It rang again, and Randy decided that this could be a good sign. Perhaps some sort of mistake had been made and someone was calling him now to correct the problem. Perhaps his parents weren’t dead after all. That person on the phone was trying to reach him to let him know. Randy stood up, squelching a sneeze, and found the phone.
“Randy, what the hell are you doing?!!” his boss’s screaming voice invaded his ear. “I told you not to be late anymore. Well, you’re damn near an hour late now and you’re still sittin’ on your ass at home! No more excuses Randy! You’re fired!!!”
The phone hung up before Randy had a chance to speak.
“You’re fired!!!” the words echoed in his ears over and over.
The bastard! Randy thought. Here he was, at the lowest point in his life, and his boss wouldn’t even give him a chance to talk! To tell him what had happened. To speak of his troubles. To allow him to let his emotional misery out and reach out for some consolation. Instead he was fired!
Fired. Just like that. With such quick and efficient dispatch. This job meant so much to him. It meant his career. It meant his life. He had worked and studied so hard just to get where he was at now. And now he had just been fired. His career was all over with the click of a phone.
Randy was shot with rage. He wanted to shout. To scream at someone. But there was no one in the house but him. He began to shake. His lips trembled. His hands opened and closed. His legs loosened, and he fell weakly to his knees.
Nervous breakdowns happen to the friendless. They happen to those who have no one to turn to for reassurance. And at this moment Randy was truly without a friend. His girlfriend had deserted him. His parents were dead. And he had been cut off from his fellow workers at his job place. There was no one in the world left to listen to Randy and reassure him that one day all would be well—that things would surely get better.
But then he remembered his church. Yes, yes, he could go to church. This was a Wednesday, but there was always a priest at church, every day of the week. He could go to church and find a priest to tell his woes to. He could hug a pew and feel the warm heart of God healing his spirit. He could find hope and deliverance from this personal tribulation, within the strengthening walls of church.
Randy felt in his pocket for the keys to his green Porsche. They rattled like metal bones between his fingers. He found the Porsche parked helter-skelter partway up his driveway where he had left it the night before. The driver’s side window was halfway down and rain was pouring inside. But Randy didn’t care. This was nothing compared to everything else that was happening to him.
He settled into the squishy seat and rolled up a barrier to the driving rain.
Randy wandered through the flooded streets of the city, in search of his church. The windshield was fogging against the rain, matching his current state of mind.
He parked his green Porsche beneath a gray-black foaming sky. Through the thick rain he ran, up to the large wooden doors that gated his sanctuary. He was home. Home at God’s place. Now he could find a friend. Now he could share his troubles with a priest. Now he could receive some consolation and sympathy and healing for all the wounds that had been inflicted upon him.
He grabbed a large, gnarled wood and brass doorknob and twisted. But it didn’t twist. Something was wrong. He twisted harder, but still no give. He tried the knob on the other door next to it. It too held fast. That’s when it sank in. The doors were locked. Randy had been locked out of his own church. He pulled on the knobs, but the doors didn’t budge. He pushed—still no luck.
He pounded on the doors in hopes that a priest would open up from the inside. But no one came to allow entrance. He stayed in the rain, pounding and crying. He slumped against the door, and tears on his face joined the rainwater on the wood. He was hysterical. He could not believe that God would forsake him like this. He felt so alone, and so helpless, and so abandoned.
It was at this point that my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Mushroom, lost all control and melted down into a laughing, coughing, helpless mess. She rushed out of the room, giving us about a 20-minute break. So I’m going to give you a break, too. We’ll read the conclusion to this tale, tomorrow.