The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

Dinner with Dad April 29, 2016

The prompt this time is called 5 X 5. It’s a list exercise that asks you to create five short lists with five items on each list. The topics for each list are as follows:

  1. Five cities you are familiar with (they do not have to be cities you love)
  2. Five colors
  3. Five people you have loved
  4. Five favorite foods
  5. Five regrets

After you’ve generated the lists, take one from each list and generate a new list of five. Do this several times (five times would be a good number to aim for!)

Here’s the list I ended up with:       red wine

  1. Pop
  2. NYC
  3. Filet Mignon
  4. Silver
  5. Not marrying him

What I wrote is below.

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We meet at the Monkey Bar, at a table in the back. It’s not the same Monkey Bar that he and Mom sat in on their honeymoon; it’s moved. It has a corporate owner now, and it’s trendy and loud. The bar is packed with the after-five crowd: overpaid Millennials and Generation Xers who are still dressed all in black, still trying to be relevant. The walls are a deep red; thin lights hang by long silver chords over a black bar top, and the hostess stands at the black stick of a podium with an unhappy blonde queen next to her.

“I’m here to meet Dan DeLorenzo,” I say, and he picks up a bronze, leather-bound menu and walks me back to a small, cool dining room, where the noise from the bar becomes muffled.

Pop doesn’t look up when I arrive. He’s halfway through a filet mignon and a half-bottle of Cab; the pink center of the steak is glowing under the soft light of the sconce on the red wall behind him. “You’re thirty minutes late,” he says, taking a bite, chewing slowly. He looks up at the blonde, using his fork to motion toward his wine glass, then toward me. “I’ll bring another glass right away,” he says, and disappears.

“I was pretty hungry,” Pop says, “so I ordered.”

“Okay,” I say, opening the menu. “Sorry I’m late. I decided to walk. It’s such a beautiful, warm evening.”

“Yeah, well.” He looks up; his eyes look brown in the dim light, though I know they are blue, like mine. “You could have taken a cab. I don’t have a lot of time.”

I’m thrown off by his demeanor. I’ve never known this man: he’s typical, gruff, unaffectionate. An imposter of sorts. The host returns with my wine glass. “May I have the salmon, please?” I ask. He nods, and takes my menu.

“Still polite as ever,” Pop says, giving me a half smile. “Just like your mother.” It’s a compliment, but he still sounds mad.

“You seem angry,” I say. “Are you?”

“Maybe a little bit. I don’t know.” Now this sounds familiar. The man who didn’t quite know what he was feeling.

“I mean, I haven’t heard from you in months,” I say. “Not even last night, on the Day of the Dead.” He puts down his knife and fork, pours me some wine.

“We’ve been busy,” he says.

“Really? Doing what? Answering prayers?” He laughs.

“Something like that.” It’s the first warm moment between us; there’s my Dad. A crack appears and some light shines through. “I’m disappointed, if you want to know the truth.”

“Now you sound like Mom,” I say. We both laugh.

“I mean, why didn’t you marry that nice guy? All those years he’s loved you—”

“Dad—”

“And the other day at the gym—”

“You were there?”

“Couldn’t you see that he still felt the same way as always?”

“Dad—”

“The guy’s got some money, Tiger. He could take good care of you.”

“He wants a mommy,” I say, taking a sip of the wine. It’s full of tannin. It will be terrible with the fish.

“You want to live alone, is that it? You don’t want to give up your independence?”

“No,” I say, “that’s not it.” I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t want to marry someone just like him. I love the guy, but I don’t want to marry my father. It took eight years to figure that out, but I finally did. I can’t say that out loud, but he looks up, and in that moment I know that he knows. He already knows.

My fish arrives and we eat in silence.

 

You Beautiful Doll April 22, 2016

The prompts this time were:                               307.8L

A beautiful doll

There’s nothing to be afraid of, really

Roses, Roses, Roses

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The Spunky Shirley doll was flying off the shelves that year. She was the first of her kind: a lifelike toddler that walked, talked, drank from a bottle, peed and even pooped (plastic panties and diapers included). Personally, she creeped me out, but as a Toys R Ya’ll employee in charge of the doll section, I had to deal with her.

Dealing with her meant stacking the pale green and pink boxes of her five high, scanning the new boxes that came in weekly on huge pallets, and separating the variations of the spunky one: Asian, African-American, Native American, and Caucasian. You think those guys at Mattel would have at least given them different names, but no: four faces, all named Shirley.

“How do you look at those faces all day?” my co-worker, Rose, asked me. Rose was a pretty Millennial who looked like Snow White with a pierced nose. Management made her take the steel hoop out before every shift, so she had a big red hole in her nostril.

“You get used to it,” I said, tidying up the Cabbage Patch dolls; they were always slumping over in their boxes.

“They remind me of that episode on The Twilight Zone,” she said, looking up at the Malibu Ken and Barbie 2-for-1. “You know, the one where the doll talks?”

“How do you even know about that show?” I asked. “Way before your time.”

“My parents own the boxed set. Anyway,” she went on, waving her hand in the air as if to push my last question away—her nails were short and painted black—”this doll starts threatening the family, saying shit like, ‘You better be nice to me, or else.'”

“Uh-huh.”

“Then she trips the dad and he falls down the stairs and breaks his neck.”

“Nice story, Rose. Well, Spunky Shirley would never do that to me,” I said. “And the Cabbage Patch kids over there? Spineless. Literally.” Rose didn’t laugh.

“She fucking creeps me out,” Rose said, staring at Native American Shirley with a muted rage. Then she gave the box a little kick.

“Hey!” I said. “Knock it off. That’s a $100 doll. Get back to work.”

“Ooooh,” she said, mocking me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your little baby doll. You probably liked Chucky, the murdering red-headed doll, too, didn’t you?”

“Get the fuck outta here,” I said, laughing.

“Whatever, doll lover.”

“Get back to work, Rose.”

“When no one’s around you probably fondle them and—”

“God damn it!” We both cracked up. “Go, you asshole!”

After Rose left, I sort of felt bad for Shirley. Just like Madonna, people either loved or hated her. No one was indifferent. I picked up African-American Shirley—really just an Anglo face with brown skin—and looked deep into her glassy eyes. She walked and talked and peed and pooped; next year she would probably spit up a little, but it wasn’t her fault if she was creepy and annoying. She was designed that way. Still, if you want to know the truth, I never liked being alone with those dolls on slow nights. Her battery was built in, so she would blink occasionally. I know it just meant that her battery was working, but it never ceased to startle me.