Friday, November 15, 2013

The Ambassador

Two significant forces drive the literary engine, but not always in the manner a writer would like.  The first of these forces is motive, or the reasons a writer writes and the subsequent reasons the writer passes along to the characters necessary to fulfill obligations of story.

The other major factor is desire, expressed by the writer's motives for wishing to become a writer instead of, say, a lawyer, doctor, or scholar.  How much is becoming a writer worth to an individual writer when that individual could have well become one of the other possibilities and, in fact, may have already done so.

When you think of motives as they relate to your own path, you are drawn back to a time in your youth where you read anything you could get your hands on, including mystery novels your mother took out from the rental library, and pulp westerns, mysteries, and horror stories appearing in those remarkable magazines printed on paper just a tad more substantial than the foolscap paper you were given to write on in grammar school.

You walk to school each day took you along a route now occupied by a large housing venture now called Park La Brea Towers, known then as The Metropolitan Housing Project or merely The Project.  Some of the approximately five thousand apartments were completed, tenanted.  As others awaited completion, World War II came into the picture, meaning the landscape was in places not even graded or prepared for building, while others still had the appearance of bombed-out cities form war movies.  There were acres of what, for better words, you thought of as an enormous jungle.

It was a rare day when as you walked, you did not invent some story, taking place in the areas of your focus.  Of course the tenants in some of the apartments were spies, including your Uncle Sam, your Aunt Flo, and your two cousins, Barbara and Morley.  From time to time, you dropped hints to your Uncle Sam, a mild, taciturn man whom you quite liked, letting him know you were in on his secret, how well you thought he was handling it, and how you bore him no ill.

At one point, one of your cousins, you believe Barbara, even made a snappish complaint that her parents were spying on her.  What more did you need,

You reach back this far because of your curiosity of how such a quirky and idiosyncratic life could have come to you unless it was by design.  Part of the reason you remained so long at UCLA was to investigate such more traditional approaches as psychology, medicine, anthropology, and teaching, all of which you rejected out of hand.

A number of your friends were in Theatre Arts.  The pressure to come on over was intense, but somehow you were able to resist, wanting, the more you read, saw, and experienced, to set stories down in narrative, looking for things to want, sometimes achieving the means to get those things but, at the last moment, opting out for something yet unknown, perhaps even unknowable.

There are some things you want now, but most of them are temporal, things you'd enjoy, perhaps forever, as the Ancora fountain pen you coveted, and still treasure.

There are some friendships and relationships you would be devastated to lose, but you have lost such friendships and relationships, yet you survive.

Some years back, you'd moved to Santa Barbara, where you'd allowed yourself to want, then seek the editor in chief position of a scholarly publisher.  Tuesdays had become your drive to LA to teach at USC days.  On the way home, there was some reason for stopping at your parents' home, for dinner, for extended family gathering, perhaps for nothing more than contact.  On one such day, a graduate student brought you a note phoned in by your mother.  Your father was working at your Uncle Sam's men's store.  Would you pick him up?

Of course, you would.

When you arrived, your uncle greeted you, drew you aside, said, "Your father," then turned his gaze to your father, interacting with a customer.  The customer towered over your father, who was six two.  The customer had the build and grace of a professional athlete.

Your father had already sold him a top-of-the-line gray flannel suit, and was now honing in on a coup d'grace.  "I'm wondering," your father said to the customer, "if you have the stature to bring off the Ambassador.  Just asking, mind you."

"What,"  the customer said, "is the Ambassador?"

"It is a suit," your father said, "of rare presence.  It can transform any man, even a man of your obvious stature.  Very few men can wear such a suit."

"Lemme see it,"  the customer said.

Your father appeared to be sizing him up, taking in his massive presence.  "No,"  he said, "Let's leave things with this gray flannel.  You'll make quite a figure."

"Bring me the Ambassador," the customer said.

Your father snapped his fingers at your uncle, who returned with a windowpane plaid suit of startling presence.  He held the suit out to the customer.  "Try this on.  You wear a suit like this, your friends won't even recognize you.  You'll be transformed into a new man."

While the customer was in the dressing room trying on the suit, your father said, "We'll see, won't we?"

After some time, the customer appeared, wearing the suit.  You had to admit, it did give the man stature, in some ways even more than his earlier stature.

"Step outside into the evening light," your father said. "Catch the nuances and see how it feels, out doors."

The customer obliged him.  We could see him through the windows, catching his image in the fading light, seeming to be transformed by the Ambassador suit.  After about ten minutes, the customer came back in, whereupon your father approached him.  "Sorry, sir, we're closed for the evening.  If you'd care to return tomorrow--"

"Wait a minute,"  the customer said, "It was you got me into this suit.  It was you told me to go outside,see it in the light."

"I'm so sorry,"  your father said.  "That suit is so remarkable, I didn't recognize it or you."

The customer of course took the suit, and your father never mentioned the incident again.  

You want that.

You want stories that will transform readers to the point where they will not recognize themselves.

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