Stuff you’ve been saving up for years

On August 1, 1990, Detective Daniel Pelletier of the Derry, New Hampshire police, walked into the office of a recent widow. “The good news is that we’ve solved the murder of your husband,” he told her. “The bad news is, you’re under arrest.”

It’s possible that Pelletier was in the habit of saying something like that to every arrestee: “The good news is, we found the criminal, the bad news, it’s you.” It’s possible he thought it up on the spur of the moment. It’s even possible he invented the story afterwards and told it to reporters; distraught victims of Treppenwitz are sometimes driven to such lengths.

But I would bet good money the man had been saving that little gem since he entered the police academy, at least. Lennie Briscoe and Joe Friday before him had writers to make them sound trenchant and world-weary but most people aren’t writers, and once Pelletier thought of using that expression, he must have treasured it, carefully saving it for the day it could best be deployed.

Pelletier got lucky: a school-teacher named Pamela Smart had tired of her husband Gregory. She seduced a 15-year-old student, then inveigled the boy and his friends into murdering the husband. The media were in feeding-frenzy over the case when Pelletier was assigned to it. He managed to get Smart on audiotape alluding to her part in the crime. He confronted her in her office at Winnacunnet High School and finally unwrapped his precious witticism.

He chose wisely. He was unlikely to ever have such a chance again (and did not — he retired from the force in 2007 and now runs security for the local community college, without ever working on another case that even shows up on Google). Every time he did make an arrest after that, he must have wondered if he could again use his good news/bad news line, without its descending into schtick, and I bet it never happened.

That’s my one concern about this blog. I think of myself as a raconteur of at least some skill, and I cannot help feeling that once I have told a story, it’s used; I cannot tell it again at parties or job interviews or really, anywhere. It’s like a comedian telling a joke on Leno: everyone laughs that night, but from then on, everyone in the club will want something fresh.

Like the policeman and his one wisecrack and like, I imagine, most comedians, I only have a limited store of material. Might I someday, even someday soon, run out?

Good thing I’m becoming a novelist. In a novel (an ordinary fiction novel at least), I’m allowed to recycle any incidents from my life, and embellish them as much as I like. Let me give you an example: I once had to (or “got to”) throw a bachelor party for a friend. His best man was a Mormon, so that left me. I met a young woman in the ecdysis trade, and we met for drinks to discuss the details of the party.

At one point in the conversation, she mentioned that she had had her breasts artificially augmented. I praised their natural-seeming appearance, but joked that they probably didn’t feel real.

Her face got serious. “Oh, no, you can’t tell.” And she took my hand and pressed it against her right breast. “See? Feels real, don’t it?”

“Uh, yes, very nice,” I stammered. Trying to recover some of my suavity, I joked again, “Does the other feel as natural?”

Earnestly, she switched my hand to the other side. “See, they’re both good.”

To this day, I have no idea whether this was just part of her selling process or if she was flirting with me — or whether she was just so naïve that it seemed like the polite thing to do, if a man is curious about your body, let him explore it. The romantic in me hopes it was the last, but I’m practical enough to realize how vulnerable, what an easy target, such naïveté would make any woman, let alone a sex worker.

Something occurred to me. We were at a table, and my back was to the bar. “Are there a lot of guys sitting at the bar?”

She checked. “Yeah.”

“And are they all watching us?”

“Yeah!” She was surprised that men were watching a couple getting to second base in the middle of a crowded, well-lit room, or she was surprised that I had guessed they would be. Somewhat regretfully, I took my hand away.

That scene actually became the basis for a novel I am working on. Actually, I’ve been poking at the story on and off for years. It was a short story first, then a screenplay, now it’s in an early draft of a novel called Objects In The Mirror. Through the changes, the character has remained, a kind, charming, but not-too-bright stripper from the Central Valley, but that scene itself, her having a man fondle her breasts in a busy tavern, I dropped early on, even though it “caused” in some sense, the whole book.

Maybe that’s the purpose of these anecdotes, and the reason I’m writing them down here: to catalyze narrative imagination, maybe even catalyze art. Hell, maybe that’s the purpose of my whole life.

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