Saturday, September 28, 2013

“Unsubmitted Manuscript”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

In the Icehouse home office, old-school, printed files are still everywhere.
Recently, I began to search through this analog mess for a particular story written over thirty years ago. Memory told me that the name of this fictional piece, written while I lived in central New York, was “Nightlife.” I remembered it being a light, sci-fi adventure where a “future self” reached backward through time to connect with the “Rod” of 1979.
It took only a couple of folders filled with material to prove that my recollection was wrong. The story with that minimalistic, one-word title was instead a breezy bit of prose based on a walk home from the State Theater Midnight Movie in Ithaca, NY.
My inclination at that time was to type out motorcycle stories on my vintage Royal KMM. So the flavor of a “biker” adventure was evident.
I had shared the manuscript with a friend from one of our local newspapers, expecting praise for my free-flowing verbiage. Instead, her reaction was polite and professorial. She reckoned I needed much more polish as a writer.
Her advice made me singularly determined to find my groove as a professional wordsmith.
Reading the story in a modern context made me bow my head with humility:

NIGHTLIFE – October, 1982 (Edit)

Cider shook his head, confused and disoriented as he stumbled into the tiny, downtown park. It seemed to jump out at him from the fogbound emptiness of the night, but it looked comfortable and he was having more trouble keeping balanced with every step. Giving in to its suggestion, he sat down in the cold, wet grass and swallowed from his brown-bagged whiskey bottle.
The night was sensuous relief. It was easy and undemanding. Uncertain, but unpretentious and he breathed it in like a medicinal vapor. No stampede of executives here, no clamor of numb flesh-machines cowed by orders handed down from anonymous social pundits. The night was pure and unspoiled. Not even the few who shared its cover disturbed the gentle flow. Down the street, a carelessly-dressed businessman slid quietly back into his Lincoln after a personal episode that made him grin in reflection. Meanwhile, a tired, slow-stepping cop looked over his shoulder for any sign of life in the drifting, unfocused waves of charcoal haze. But the night kept its tongue, leaving them wrapped in its warm silence.
Cider yawned and drank more from his bottle. Knowing he probably couldn’t even get up now, he decided to sleep off the night’s end where he sat. Faces danced from the dimness as he leaned back on a rough, stone wall and closed his eyes. His mind weaved through unconnected images on its way toward passing out...
He was almost asleep when the explosion came. The sky seemed to drop a bearded, black-jacketed man onto the grass beside him and the unknown player landed with a dull smack and the sound of air whooshing out of his flattened lungs.
“I was in the back of a station wagon just a minute ago,” said the man with confusion. “My friend Steve was saying something about rust as a factory option for cars in the future... and then I uhh...”
“Never mind,” Cider chuckled. “Welcome to the night.”
“What are you doing out here, anyway?” the man blurted out, after a short pause.
“Just enjoying myself,” Cider lied. “Wasting time. Trying to get an idea for a new book...”
“Nowhere to go?” the stranger said, sounding more perceptive than he looked.
“Right,” Cider admitted. “But, what about you?”
“I’m into modern Rock music,” the bearded man answered. “I’ve played a couple of spots around town with a group called Bold Cabbage.”
“Weren’t they booed off the stage at the Norton Theater?” Cider asked.
“The opening act really bummed everybody out!” his visitor replied. Stumbling and irritated, he got up and left the park abruptly, mumbling obscene lyrics.
The night would take care of its own he reckoned, whoever they were.
Too soon, the sky was turning lighter gray and Cider guessed that it was near five o’clock in the morning. The night was dying.
He finished the bottle of whiskey to steel himself for this happening. It had never been pleasant to watch the battle between peaceful night and rude, glaring day. But like it or not, daylight always won out and he was left to run for shelter against the brilliance, until night arrived once more.
The mad rush seemed to start again. Traffic was waking. He didn’t belong anymore. In the harsh 9 to 5 stampede, he was an outsider. Suddenly, the polyester cows were crowding his sidewalk like before. Their comic noises of frustration and angst echoed from building to building, down the street. Society had the upper hand again and he waved sadly to the passing of darkness.
But he promised the memory of oblivion that he would be back.

My long-ago script adventure had been crude and underdeveloped. But it demonstrated a genuine passion for writing. With help from my New York newspaper friend, I managed to get published nationally, only one year later.
I could not have known that eventually, my creative journey would lead back home to Ohio, and a place called Thoughts At Large.

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