Friday, June 7, 2013

Slash and Burn

  So I’ve been banging around, trying to convert the Paris Chronicles blog series from 2009 into something that could have the pacing and flow of an actual book. As many writers will attest, it can be a very painful process, trying to edit something you’ve worked on years before, something you thought had been put to rest, for better or worse. And now here you are, dragging the poor thing out of the ground, editorial meat cleaver held high.

  It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. It’s very nice reviewing a particular blog post and thinking, okay, that holds up pretty well, I just need an intro and an outro and the post is now a chapter. Yay! I must have been really focused that day. (Writers need that boost, that reassurance that you are actually capable of cleanly hitting the target from time to time.  Otherwise, we get a little crazy.)

  On the flip side, some of the posts are a disaster, especially from the viewpoint of turning them into book chapters. There might be several lovely paragraphs in a row, full of wit and charm, and then BAM, I run into two paragraphs that basically suck, with the suckage factor loud enough that the cats race from the room and they are not seen for two days. Why did I think this section was funny, or even publishable, at the time? The mind, it can be a terrible thing to cut and paste.

  So the literary renovation has been rather time-consuming. (As it should, if you want to get it right.) Entire original posts have been excised and banished, never to be spoken of again. Paragraphs of pointless meandering have vanished, and subplots that slammed into a brick wall and then limped back to the  main story are now in the trashcan. (But I promise I will never actually empty that trashcan. It will simply be placed in the attic along with all the other “well, that didn’t really work out” ideas that might gain some useable worth in the future. Until then, they shall gather the dust of time.)

  However, the remodeling hasn’t been just a slash and burn. In fact, I have worked in far more new material than I have deleted of the old. Expanded dialogue and scenes, additional adventures that didn’t make the cut the first time around, transitional passages that smooth over the sometimes abrupt sting of original posts that ended simply because I was tired and I had to get another post out the next day. The resulting book will be a different read from the blog run, with much more of, hopefully, the things that worked the first time.

  Which actually gets us to the point of this post. I’m down to just a handful of posts that need to be converted. And one of them is a blog entry concerning a sidebar, completely fictional story I wrote as a response to a picture that I took at the Chateau de Chambord. This bit has nothing to do with the real-world adventures on our trip, removing it will not affect the flow at all. But I still kind of like this one, and I’m on the include/don’t include fence, wondering if the effort to “make it fit” is justified by the value of the content.

  And this is where you come in, dear reader.

  I am pasting the mostly-original post below. (There have been some minor modifications, because I can’t help but tinker with things.) But you don’t need to know where it fits in the overall story, because it’s outside that story, it’s a stand-alone, and you should read it as such.  (For those who followed the original run of the blog series, you will notice that my family members’ real-life names have been converted to whimsical French names, something that I have done throughout the new book, for a number of reasons.)

  So, if you accept the challenge and have the time, please read the story and then add a comment (either here or on Facebook) with one of three ratings:

  A  -  Very funny, fit this in somehow.

  B  -  Amusing, but Argentina will not cry for you if you cut it.

  C  -  Make your peace and let it go.

  Easy enough, right? And no, you don’t have to comment, if that’s not your thing. But I would certainly appreciate it if you do. Since I’m truly undecided about keeping this bit or not, I will not be offended in the slightest with your ratings.

The Picture:

The Story:

This is the clan standing just outside the Salle du Grande Fromage at the Chateau de Chambord, waiting for some servant to make the formal announcement that we have arrived for tonight’s masked ball. This is procedural protocol for such royal events. You do not do anything until you have been announced.

This, of course, is unlike the American concept of arriving at a party. Back home, if we were headed to someone’s shindig, one would typically bang through the front door, usually without knocking, slam down a casserole on the kitchen table (a dish that you usually didn’t even prepare yourself and instead relied on one of your bored, socially-awkward relatives to prepare for you), high-five whoever is standing near you, and then reach for a beer. There are no announcements, formal or otherwise.

Anyway, the guy on the far right is with the castle staff. Since we only heard about the festivities at the last minute and arrived without an actual invitation, he is checking with the head chef in the kitchen to ensure there is enough food to pacify the over-sized American appetite, as opposed to the French appetite, where an entire ballroom of slender Parisians can be satisfied with one jar of olives and maybe some leftover brie.

Right next to the staffer, you can see that Maman is the official representative for our clan. She felt it was only right that she be the first one announced to the exclusive gathering, since it was her idea to come to this castle in the first place, she was the one who coordinated the whole van thing, and she’s been to France more than any of us and therefore is the most sophisticated about the French culture and she can show us how it’s done.

(We simply chose to ignore the weaknesses of these qualifications, especially the last bit about French culture. Seriously, if Maman ever tried to actually order something in French at a restaurant, she would be arrested immediately, deported, told to never come back, and a discreet phone call would be made to the White House.)

She actually got to go first because she’s the shortest, therefore less intimidating, and she likes to chatter a lot. These qualities are appealing to the French. They like short, chirpy things. After all, we were basically crashing the party, and we needed to ease into the setting. Sending Mom in first would be a more agreeable sight as the royal guests got their first sight of an “Oklahoman”. If we had sent Darrin in first, towering over everyone and stomping in his biker boots like Godzilla attacking the city, there would have been screams of terror, broken china, and spilt wine.

Proceeding left in the line up, we then have Reina. She is not the least bit happy at this moment. Maman is forcing her to wear a poofy dress that she hates. On top of that, since we were running late, Maman had decided to just slam the dress over her head, wheelchair and all.

This, of course, led to some immediate complications. The voluminous material of the dress kept getting caught in the gears of the wheelchair, locking the wheels and abruptly stopping all forward movement of the vehicle. Normally, this would send Reina tumbling to the ground. Instead, because she was wearing the material locked in the wheels, she was trapped in place but quickly losing the available material to actually wear, making the dress tighter and tighter as the wheels gobbled more of the fabric.

Reina was being eaten alive by her own couture.

By the end of the night she would be wearing nothing but a sash as a tube top and a hastily-snatched drapery tassel as a creatively-arranged thong.

Continuing left, we have Trace, who is also not in that great of a mood. He’s a little miffed that his outfit looks astonishingly similar to the one worn by Maman, even though they worked with two completely different designers on opposite sides of the city. He will not be able to stand out in the crowd as much as he had hoped. At least the foo-foo thing on his head is more flamboyant than Mom’s foo-foo, so he does have a height advantage. There is still hope for a stunning entrance.

(Then again, looks like he may have made an unfortunate choice in going with the asymmetrical cut of his evening wear, with the one completely exposed leg and the other sheathed in taffeta. Perhaps J-Lo could have pulled off this look. T-Lo, not so much.)

Care to venture a guess as to who is next in line? With the queenly bearing and the only one in the clan to be directly facing the paparazzi?

Tatum. Naturally.

She, as expected, was the most perturbed at not being designated as “First to Be Announced”. After all, she is still convinced that her family ruled this country at one time, so it was a total shock that she was not going to be the first float in the parade. But she understood, as all ladies of the court understand, that any revenge you seek should not be brash and hasty. You must plot wisely and carefully. And plot she did.

Her left hand that is chastely hidden behind her back? It’s holding a knife. She is just waiting for the right opportunity to whip it out and hack at those who have wrongly not recognized her noble breeding. It’s simply a matter of time until there is bloodshed.

Speaking of plotting, if we jump left to the other side of the stone column, we have another example of a scorned female seeking to show displeasure at having something she wanted rudely snatched from her grasp. This is Nynette.

Her issue?

Well, Nynette also had dreams of being the Belle of this particular Balle. Let’s face it, she’s traveled all the way from Odessa, Texas to be here. Might as well go all out. She had worked tirelessly the whole day on her attire and presentation, racing from shop to shop to get everything she needed, consulting with Tatum to ensure that she purchased the highest-quality makeup and top-of-the-line hair products so that she would be a goddess of beauty and light.

Then, just five minutes before this shot was taken, as we rolled up to the Chateau de Chambord in our horse-drawn carriage that we stole from a stupid man in a nearby quaint village, a devastating conversation took place between Nynette and one of the many servants who rushed out to greet us and attend to our immediate needs. The dialogue went something like this:

Male servant, assisting Nynette down from the carriage: “Ahhh, madame, your costume is magnifique.”

Nynette, slightly blushing but thrilled: “Well, thank you! I appreciate that. I worked really hard to-”

Servant: “You are being the… the name is not in my mind at this moment… the American woman who sewed the American flag… a grand idea to come as such, very much clever.”

Nynette, momentarily confused, then realizing: “Sewed the flag? Wait. You think I look like Betsy Ross?”

Servant: “Oui, madame. Very much a good image. Very… convincing.”

Nynette, now outraged: “But she was UGLY! I don’t want to look like Betsy Ross. Do you think I spent all this money just to look like some simple seamstress from Philadelphia?” She snatched her hand away from the servant and helped herself out of the carriage.

Servant: “Madame… my English is not of perfection… but I am not saying of the ugly and simple-”

Nynette: “Just go help somebody else. I’m fine. Leave me alone, you wretched man.”

Then Nynette stomped away on the finely-maintained alabaster gravel of the entrance courtyard, crunching off to one side, then turned to watch as the rest of our party descended from the carriage.

Next out of the carriage door was Tatum, bursting through the opening in a glowing and radiant way, instantly charming most of the servants who then rushed to assist her, one of them rudely pushing Nynette to the side in his haste to offer comfort to the latest vision of loveliness.

Nynette, scowling, barely paid attention, at first, to this rush of devotion for her friend. And then it clicked.

Tatum was the one who convinced her to buy this particular makeup. Tatum was the one who insisted that she wear this specific outfit because it would “look fab”. Tatum was the one who said “no, shoving your hair up into this wig does NOT make you look like a serial-killer posing as a high-school cafeteria worker.”

Tatum was not a bestie. She was the evil opposite. She was a bitchie.

And with that thought, Nynette began to plan her own revenge. She wasn’t sure how, but justice was going to be served. By the time the photo above was taken ten minutes later, she had a rudimentary plan. Details still needed fine-tuning, but the basic gist was that Nynette was going to shove Tatum’s treacherous head into a silver punch bowl, washing away Tatum’s own carefully-applied makeup, thus revealing all of the traitor’s skin flaws to the entire court. Nynette hoped that somewhere along the line the royals had installed florescent lighting, thus making the Big Reveal even more shocking and traumatic.

Back to the group photo.

Moving to the left of Nynette/Betsy, we have Daisi, looking naturally stunning and thin as a blade of grass. Daisi is also a woman scorned (we seem to have a lot of them in our family), and Daisi is a woman who is about to take the life of the man she is glaring at with murder in her eyes.

That man is Dash, her up-to-this-point-at-least husband. You see, Dash has an interesting concept of how to behave in public. For the most part, he’s harmless. He just goes with the flow. But he’s a firm believer in taking care of bodily needs as they arise. He feels that anything which naturally occurs should not be offensive. It’s just part of being a human.

In this case, the natural occurrence is that he has just let rip with one of the loudest examples of flatulence that has ever taken place in the history of our planet. The sheer energy that has been released could power a small village for several days. As this photo is being taken, the reverberations of his release are still echoing throughout the five stories of hand-carved stonework in this palace.

Daisi is mortified. Dash is mystified at her mortification. What? You expected me to keep that IN? A gas bubble the size of Jupiter that could work its way to my heart and kill me? Do you want that?

As the thunderous rumble slowly dissipates, let’s move to the final person on the far left. This is me. As you’ll notice, I’m facing away from these obnoxious people, hiding my face in shame. We get all gussied up for a fancy ball, but the hick still oozes out like somebody’s got a major problem with their septic tank.

I’m wanting to leave. I’m wanting to just quietly slip out the door and walk away. I don’t care about the carriage. I’ll find my own way. I will walk until my feet are bloody nubs, hoping to find a secluded spot in the country where I can have a simple life, raising goats and reading poetry to the tomato plants that I lovingly nourish.

If only Tatum hadn’t talked us into coming to this party. If only-

Wait a minute. There’s the key.


Oh my God. It’s like the end of that movie, “The Usual Suspects,” where the detective stares at his bulletin board and suddenly everything is clear. Clues that he should have picked up on, but he didn’t until that final moment when the pieces clicked. Scenes from the our whole day flash before my eyes:

Tatum telling Maman: “Oh, go ahead and get the poofy dress for Reina. It won’t get caught in the wheelchair at all. It’s silk. Silk doesn’t catch. But on the teeny tiny chance that it does, I can take your place at the front of the line. It’s the least I can do.”

Tatum telling Trace, over brunch: “You have GOT to use this design for your costume. It’s totally unique. No one else in the world will be wearing anything like it. And that asymmetrical part? To DIE for.” A bit later, I should have known something was up when I spotted Tatum racing away from the hotel fax machine with a furtive look in her eye. I just thought she was helping Trace out by sending the pattern to his designer. But she must have been sending the pattern to Maman’s designer as well, thus ensuring that there would be an awkward twinkie situation.

Tatum to Nynette, as they were sharing a beer and makeup tips in the bathroom: “No, sweetie, pancake makeup is NOT a bad thing. It’s very hip these days. And wear this dowdy wig, which is also very current. Trust me. You will NOT look like that woman who happened to share a pew with George Washington at his church, managing to score a gig to make a flag in an early form of social networking.”

Tatum to Dash, as they are perusing the fresh vegetables at an open market while the rest of the women are back at the hotel, squeezing themselves into their outfits for the evening: “Do you like broccoli? I LOVE broccoli. Here, try some. Try some more. Isn’t it good? More.”

These whizzing scenes in my mind come to a halt. Tatum has done all of this to make sure that she would be the standout at the ball.

I pull back from the stone pillar at Chateau de Chambord where I have been banging my head. I turn and glare directly at Tatum.

She knows instantly that the game is up.

“You!” My voice echoes upwards, joining the lingering gases of Dash’s ass.

She yelps. Then I hear a clatter as she releases the knife she had been holding behind her back. “But I didn’t really mean to-”

“YOU!” I repeat, marching in her direction. “What is WRONG with you? Do you have to be the center of attention SO bad that you would-”

Just then, we hear the odd two-note siren of an approaching French police car. Great.

Tatum’s eyes are wide with fear. She instinctively reaches for her lip gloss with a trembling hand…