Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On the Street Where You Live

The rear door to your studio opens on a narrow alleyway defined by a tall row of Eugenia hedges and the building, itself. To your left is a small platform where you often sit to finish a cooling cup of coffee, reflect on the neighboring garden and, perhaps, the scenery within your own imagination. To the right, after thirty or forty steps, the door to the laundry room gapes an invitation for your soiled linens and clothing. 

Alongside the building, your esteemed cleaning lady, Lupe, has coopted a shelf on which she keeps in neat order such implements and products necessary to keep your studio in a cleanliness only she can concoct. On the top shelf, a black, rip-stop nylon container, readily understandable as a cat carrier, in fact the very one from which you brought a previous cat home. This cat container has not been used since; your then cat, Goldfarb, resisted every attempt to put him in it for visits to the vet.

Whether you are indeed drinking coffee and thinking things over or taking a load of laundry to be washed and dried, there is every likelihood you will see the cat container, recall its intended use and its ultimate destiny, then conclude it to be some great monument to futility.

The front door of your studio opens on a generous sweep of brick-lined patio, commodious enough for a glass-topped lawn table and folding chairs, should you chose to dine al fresco or entertain at some fete champetre. Along the far wall bounding the patio are a few scattered boxes, atop which rests yet another cat carrier, this one used by you only the one time to bring your present cat, Bill, home from the Santa Barbara Cat Rescue whence you acquired him.

The foregoing is set up for the thematic log line: Your sources of entry and exit from your studio are sooner or later bound to make you aware of cat carriers. Such awareness often provokes a sense of anomaly. You have never attempted to put Bill, your new cat, into the cat carrier whence he came to 409 E. Sola Street. 

But you did, on two occasions, out of some morbid sense of curiosity, set the latest addition to your cat carrier collection close to your front door, leave the carrier door open, then place treats known to appeal to Bill far enough inside the carrier to induce him to enter.

With that device in motion, you sat in the patio rather than the back alleyway, coffee in hand, waiting to observe the results. In both cases, Bill was quickly aware of the treats, which he genuinely likes under most circumstances. But in each of these cases, Bill was not motivated to enter the cat carrier. Your first reaction to this observation was to wonder why the fuck you bother to keep not one but two cat carriers adjacent a living area where storage space is premium. Your second reaction was to put in motion the sort of concept you've been dealing with in one way or another for over fifty years.

You recognized the concept for what it was, the beginning of a story, which you would then have to draft out, line by line, dramatic beat by dramatic beat. You laughed aloud at the resulting metaphor. You would have to make a story out of the concept. You would have to put the metaphorical cat into the metaphorical cat carrier.

You began with a cup of coffee which, while it was working its way from the bottom to the top of your Bialetti stove-top espresso maker, caused you to begin with three individuals and a cat. There was no mischief yet in this equation until you recalled the near impossibility--for you--of getting either of two cats into cat carriers. 

You even recalled seeing a YouTube demonstration of a no nonsense man, putting a cat into a cat carrier. This triggered the memory of your longtime friend, Brian Fagan, a dedicated cat owner, telling you it was simply a matter of timing and you, expressing your need to have the cat in the carrier as superior to the cat's need for independence.

Coffee now in hand, you made to your dining table, where notebook and pen awaited. The cat made its presence known. She was a striped marmalade named Phyllis. She belonged to a man named Mitch, about whom you knew (and still know)relatively little, except for two matters: things seem to come Mitch's way with little or no apparent effort, and with greater specificity, the very night the narrative begins, Mitch was having a book signing at Chaucer's Books (which means the story is set in Santa Barbara, and why not?).

The narrator/principal of the story made herself known to you; she is Margo, who works as a career coach. This awareness pleased you because of its offered subtext that she helps others focus on personal and career-based goals, with the implication that she may well be remiss in marshalling her own. This awareness led you directly to her reason for being in the narrative that wishes to become a story; Margo's intent is to steal Phyllis, thus, when we first see her, she is carrying the clone of the black cat carrier in your alleyway.

And of course when we first see Margo, she is in the immediate vicinity of Mitch's home, fully aware Mitch will be some distance away, at Chaucer's, signing copies of his book, at a signing for which Margo has an invitation, folded into her jacket pocket.

All you need now is the third person. After several sips of coffee and a bit of pacing in the kitchen--yes, to peer out the door and regard the black cat carrier--you settle on a character named Matthew Bender, an actor. Bender has appeared as lead in a number of your short stories. The moment you cast him as the third person, you realize he was at one point in his life given a cat as a love token by a former lover. At this moment, Matt Bender has a tenuous reason for appearing in Mitch's neighborhood.

This is by no means a story yet, but nevertheless, you even have in mind a candidate for the closing line, the equivalent to Nora Helmer's slam of the door in Ibsen's A Doll House, or Blanche Dubois' plangent last line in A Streetcar Named Desire.

You begin to write. Details and motives are no longer linear. With a surge of pleasure, you understand you must not for the slightest moment allow this narrative to slip back into the linear; it must be rounded and fluffed with the forces of inner and outer conflicts and frustrations. At the very least, someone will have difficulty with the matter of placing Phyllis, the cat, into that black nylon cat carrier.

This is real and alive now, dramatic forces colliding within your imagination, supercharged by that necessary quality of your enthusiasm.

Margo chose parking above the elbow bend where Milpas Street becomes Anapamu Street to give the appearance she might be attending the concert at Santa Barbara Bowl, you write. The dark nylon cat carrier could easily be mistaken for a picnic container.

She even had a plan in case she was recognized by some neighbor after she turned onto Mitch's Street. Phyllis had gone missing and she was helping to comb the neighborhood.

Who else but Mitch would name a cat Phyllis?

Time now to encounter Matt Bender, right? And what's that Bender's carrying?

"You mean this?" Bender said.

"Looks like a cat carrier to me."

"I-unh-hear Phyllis has gone missing."

"Phyllis never goes missing," Margo said. "Her routines are as regular as Mitch's. And I never once saw her run from you."

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