BY JOHN GAGE
- - - Part 1
My name is John Gage. I am a firefighter-paramedic with the Loss A Angeles County Fire Department.I am on sick leave with a broken leg. I was hit by a car last month and it is still npt not healed yet, but it is getting much better. I should be able to take my qualifying exam to get back to work after this class. I do not have a date yet. That depends on what Doctor Early the doctor says.
I am taking this class because I think it would be a tremendous opportunity to learn to write and write stories. I know how to write, of course. My friedfriend, Chuck Morley, told me what a tremendous teacher you were so I signed up with him for this class. Chuck works in the film business, but he is between jobs right now . . .
Maddie Worten continued reading down the essay; after the third 'tremendous' she started marking them. It was bad enough to earn a lot more from her red pencil, but experience had taught her not to be too harsh on the introductory assignment. It was really for her anyway, an evaluation of the writing level of her students so she knew how to organize the class.
She had seen a lot worse. Francine's essay about herself had been loaded with sentence fragments, Nina needed to get better acquainted with her dictionary and Sandra wrote paragraph-length run-on sentences that required a couple readings to determine their most likely meaning. John did understand the basics of simple English grammar. He wrote within his range, with short, declarative and dull sentences with no misspellings at all, though there were plenty of strike-outs.
At least Gage typed his essay - - properly double-spaced; he knew how to follow directions, unlike Helen - - so Maddie didn't have to decipher his longhand. . . .
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Tap, tap, tap. Tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap, tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap. Tap. Zzzhhing! Tap-tap - - -
John Gage looked up from the typewriter and turned around to see his partner, Roy DeSoto in blue paramedic shirt badge and name-tag, peering at him from the doorway.
"What're you doing here?" He came into the captain's office to stand over Gage, a few notebook pages of scribbled handwriting on the desk next to the typewriter.
"I'm writing." He turned back to the machine to peck out the rest of the word, 'something'.
"Writing? Writing what? What for?" Roy walked over to look at the work emerging from the Station Fifty-One's office typewriter. The wastebasket was half-full of crumpled wads.
"For a class, Roy, for a class. It's at this community college." He grinned. "Creative writing."
Tap-tap-tap tap-tap. 'like a box of chocolates. It has all different kinds - -'
"Creative writing?" He looked down at his partner in plaid shirt and old jeans, one leg cut off to expose the cast on his right leg. John earnestly pecked out the sentence; his crutches leaned against the side of the desk.
'- - like chocolate creams and vanilla creams and coconuts and cherries and caramels and nuts.'
"Are you writing a story?"
"No, man. It's too early for that. This is just my essay. I'm supposed to write 500 words about my word. Hey, what other kinds of chocolates are there? I need this to be 500 words long." He sat back as if in temporary exhaustion from gathering his requisite word count. "Man, that's a lot."
"Your word? What word?"
"My word, Roy, my word." He dug around in the layers of pages on the desk and held up a notebook page. Roy took it.
"Yeah. Everybody got a different word. That one's mine. I'm supposed to write about what it is. How I feel about it." He gestured with his hands.
"Well, how do you feel about it?"
He threw his hands down. "I don't know Roy. I never heard of it before. But I need 500 words about it for tonight."
"Well, what does it mean?"
"It's like a bunch of different stuff. Or it's a bus with a bunch of different people on it. Or it's something that has a bunch of different stuff in it. I don't know. I thought maybe if I wrote about a bunch of different chocolates that might look good to some of the girls."
"Girls." Roy's response took on a less baffled tone.
"Yeah. Girls. You see Chuck Morely told me about it. This teacher writes these romance novels under another name. You know the kind that chicks really like. So, a lot of them sign up to take this class from her."
"You're going to learn how to write romance novels, just so you can meet girls?"
"No, Roy, it's not about writing novels. It's just like a general creative writing thing. Chuck and I signed up for it."
"That guy in the first aid class? The one we gave to those movie people? The one who introduced you to that waitress? Diane? The one who dumped you?"
His smile vanished. "It was Deena. And she didn't dump me."
"Okay." Roy just shrugged. Johnny hated getting dumped though he never stopped liking girls no matter how many times they dumped him. And since the hit-and-run accident his one short infatuation with his physical therapist never resulted in even one date.
Johnny's enthusiasm returned. "Anyway, Chuck heard that a lot of chicks really like this class, so we signed up."
"So are there're a lot of girls in this class?"
He grinned back. "Yeah. There's more than twenty of 'em. Well, except for Mrs. Teasdale; she's like sixty. And a couple others are married. And Amy's got an engagement ring. And Tina's like over thirty. But there's over a dozen left. There were a couple of guys, but they didn't show up for the second class. So, it's just me and Chuck in the middle of a bunch of beautiful women." He paused as if he expected envy from Roy, who showed only polite interest. "We think we can like help'em with their homework and stuff."
Roy looked at his partner and the desk cluttered with omnibus notes.
"So, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, well." He squirmed a bit. "When class is over everyone just wants to get out. And . . . well those girls move pretty fast." He sadly glanced down to his cast. "The Cap said I could use the typewriter as long as he wasn't in the office and if I bring my own paper. It looks better if it's typed. But what are you doing here? It's not our shift."
Roy waved back toward the fire engine and squad parked outside the office. "Oh, Frank was sick, so I'm doing a double shift."
"Oh." He glanced down at his cast again, signed by everyone at Station Fifty-One and several people at Rampart General Hospital. Double shifts could be tough but at the moment it sounded pretty good to him. Then his attention returned to the typewriter. "But, I gotta finish this essay. What other kinds of chocolates are there besides these?"
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Going between the rows of school desks, Maddie handed back the essays to her class with varying reactions. Paul and Mitch had dropped out and gotten refunds, no doubt because of her stern warning on the first day that she would not be teaching any type of script-writing whatsoever. That always weeded out the aspiring screen-writers. A couple others had left for unknown reasons, but there was an even two dozen left and if they stayed for the second week they were more likely to stay for the whole eight weeks.
Debbie shyly accepted her handwritten paper with a soft, 'Thank-you Miss Worten.' Maddie had a strong feeling that the young girl was a fan of Tara Swain, Maddie's alter-ego with a half-a-dozen romance novels to her name. It was the worst kept secret on campus that she was Tara Swain. So, more than a few of her students were aspiring authors.
Regrettably, none of this batch had much of a chance of that, which was a shame. Good writers handed in more interesting homework. But if they were already good, then they were less likely to need her help. And Maddie knew quite well how abysmal her prose had been at their age (at least her younger students). As long as they worked for it, she would give them whatever help she could.
Chuck scowled at her red notes on his handwritten pages and did not look up. John at least made eye contact and smiled as he took his essay. His omnibus box of chocolates had made her laugh, it was so bad, crammed with the most ridiculous confections just to pad out his essay to exactly 500 words (he had missed erasing some pencil marks that he had been using for his word count). If he had intentionally written it to be funny, she would have been impressed, but she knew he hadn't.
"Now, you'll all notice that I'm just correcting your grammar and spelling." She handed an essay to Judy who stared wide-eyed up at her. "You should have all had a chance to get a copy of Strunk and White from the bookstore. That should be all you need if you have questions about grammar and style and you should all have access to a dictionary." She refrained for looking at the worst spelling offenders.
She handed the last essays to Liz, Mary Beecher, Sally and Mary Meyer.
"These first two essays have just been to get you started writing. This isn't an English class but you all need to use proper grammar and spelling so your readers can understand you. I've made a lot of corrections on some of your papers, but remember this class is pass/fail. There are no good or bad writers here; you will only fail if you don't do the work."
She headed back to the desk at the front of the classroom, a smudged and well-used blackboard on the wall behind it. "Now up until now we've only been talking about beginnings . . . "
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Tap, tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap, tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap. Tap.
"So, how's it going, Mr. Hemingway?"
John Gage grit his teeth and hunched further over the typewriter. "It's going fine, Chet."
Chet Kelly lifted his head, trying to peer over Gage's shoulders. "Doesn't really look it. What's supposed to happen after the sun comes up?"
Gage sat up and pushed away from the desk, forcing his critic to back up. "Chet don't you have some latrines to clean or something?"
"Oh, it's not my turn. Stoker's doing it."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure there's something else around here that needs to be cleaned."
"Hey, Chet." Roy DeSoto came into the office with Burt Dwyer who was taking over Gage's shift on the squad. "Cap needs you by the hose tower."
"Better be careful with Gage here, guys. He's a little sensitive about his work." Kelly sauntered backward toward the door. Snarling, his target half-lifted himself up on the armrests of the wooden chair, but the cast on his leg proved that an empty threat. With an evil smirk on his lips, Kelly disappeared while Roy and Burt came in and leaned on the captain's tidy metal desk opposite Gage.
"So, how's it going?" Burt's friendly inquiry was without sarcasm, but John was still wary.
"Oh, kinda slow, I guess."
Roy folded his arms over his chest. "What's the assignment?"
"I'm supposed to write a beginning for a story."
"What story?" Roy tilted his head.
John shrugged. "The teacher says it doesn't matter. She just wants us to learn about how to start them. Techniques to draw them in. Get people interested." He gestured in the same way Miss Worten had a few nights ago.
"Still need 500 words?"
"Yeah." He threw his hand down. "But the problem is that it's tough getting a story started if I don't know where it's going. It's just really hard coming up with a . . . . a - - "
"Beginning?" Burt flashed a cheerful smile under his mustache.
"Ha-ha, very funny." He raised a semi-imploring hand to his partner - - -
Oooooooeeeeeeee-mmmmaaaaahhhh - BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Station Fifty-One – Fire alarm at the school – Five-Seven-Three-Two Alameda - Five-Seven-Three-Two Alameda - Cross Street, Finnerly - Time Out: Ten-Twelve.
"Gotta go." Roy and Burt were out the door before Gage could continue. A moment later the outer door of the station rattled up, the engines started and then the sirens. Then they were gone. He stared off in the direction he heard them go. He could picture the school; the station had done public relations visits for the schoolchildren there. He hoped it wasn't bad. But since the call said 'fire alarm', it was likely that a student had pulled the alarm and would be in big trouble for it.
Slumping down in his seat, he envied his station-mates. Days off were great, especially after long busy shifts and all-night fires, but his whole life was one long day off now and he was dying for some action. He glumly looked down at the mostly blank typewritten page and his scrawled notes scattered on the desk before gazing back in the direction of the fire alarm.
He looked down at the typewriter. Then up again.
Ripping the page out of the typewriter, he reached for a fresh sheet of paper. "I know a good beginning . . ."
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. . . had to quickly control bleeding from the scalp by compressing the scalp with the fingers against the skull. And when the engine crew brought the drug box, a pressure dressing was applied with a self-adhering roller bandage . . .
Maddie supposed that this essay was medically accurate. John had said he was a paramedic. She still wasn't exactly sure what that was, but it was obviously much more than a fireman giving first aid. It read like an instruction manual and she wrote a note in the margin saying so. She had told her students to 'write what they knew' at every opportunity and John had taken it to heart. He had begun with fire engines racing out of their station and now with his third 'events' essay for the class she had read about a car fire, smoke inhalation and a head injury caused by a fall down a flight of stairs.
Unfortunately, even with all that action, his storys still read like flat recitations of facts. She had banned the whole class from using the same adjectives more than once in a single homework after John handed in one with 'stupendous' five times; Ellen used 'beautiful' seven times and the prize went to Laura with 'interesting' nine times in one assignment.
The few times John reached for some feeling or a metaphor, he would wildly misplace them with a 'fire blazing and crackling like the sun at high noon' or a 'red lights flashing and loudly screaming with the urgency of the call'.
However, John's essays were better than the ones written by his friend, Chuck, who seemed to be hardly trying, or if he was, he had shockingly little imagination. After the first few classes, it became apparent that the only two men in the class were far more interested in the women in the seats next to them than creative writing. Maddie strongly suspected that Suzy's essay about a lousy double-date with two guys (one with a cast on his leg) who took their dates to a hot dog stand evidenced how successful they were.
'Write how the people in the story feel about what happens to them. Use all of the senses.'
John had been listening when she said that to the class, but in the burning house essay he had not once mentioned what the fire smelled like. But John wasn't the only one with this problem. Tina had done an entire essay about making a cherry cake without once writing about what it tasted like.
She was going to talk to them about characterization next . . .
- - - END Part 1