Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mis-fun-derstanding

Misunderstandings are crucial to setting up good comedy. Mis-overhearing conversations, misinterpreting vague clues and only hearing half of a phone conversation are all crucial, humorous ways, to create uncomfortable situations for our protagonists. Some are fairly easy to make misunderstandings, and others are radically out there. All could be solved if someone just stopped and asked: Wait, what do you mean there with that ambiguous comment? That is, of course, if it isn't all for a school project. You will not believe how long it took me to draft this conversation, and how many times I had to go back and make sure that it was both vague and clear enough to work. I think I failed. It took a little bit of effort to make sure to weave in the right bits to put the reader's mind into the right part of the Overton Window, but if it does work, I'll feel like the three or four days I've spent tinkering with it are justified. And yes: I do sometimes like to drop big fancy ideas like the Overton Window and Détente so my readers can learn something. I'm a helper.

In this case, the set-up is just obvious enough that the reader should get the misunderstanding, but vague enough that someone not paying attention will miss the set-up, hit the reveal (that is coming later), and then double back and realize it is hilarious in hindsight. In this case, I laid it on pretty thick, so you shouldn't miss the mistake. If you don't get what the confusion is, ask. I'm sure someone will explain it. Fiction below the fold; check out what you've missed in the links before the jump.

1. Start of Lucy's first chapter
2. Conclusion of the first Lucy chapter
3. Start of Sam's chapter
4. Sam's story continues with an unfortunate evening
5. Our two main characters interact as Sam gets shot down.
6. We're back with Lucy as she reflects on her new boyfriend
7. Lucy has a little crush; isn't it adorable?
8. Lucy never gets any peace.
9. Sam gets a phone call.
10. Sam meets "Rusty."
11. Sam ponders important questions.
12. Lucy is a wreck.
13. He has a night job.
14. The title makes you think it'll be a different joke than it is.
15. Lucy's mind wanders.
16. I make up a new term.
17. Lucy calls Sam.

* * *

Heather sank. Judging by her comments, she’s just not a go-getter. She said she needed more direction and instruction. Listen lady, this is the O.G. We teach men to fish here; we don’t give them fish. Unless they order fish. Then, we do give them fish. I felt her training was adequate: How hard is it to write down what someone says they want to eat then, a little bit later, carry that out to them? I can do it, for God’s sakes. I didn’t bother signing off on her trainee card. I was in step with our manager: He’d understand that Heather just wasn’t a good fit for our organization.

Either way, I don’t usually disagree with people. Kenny and I only really argue about a couple of things. Mainly his theory of dateology (his term, not mine), and his recreational habits. Which he was indulging in when I came in to the bowling alley in the back office. The whole place had a subtle odor of marijuana, nachos and beer. I hit the fans on my way across the counter. There was a man waiting, wearing a suit and tie, holding a kid by the hand.

“Excuse me, I’m here for the lesson.”

“Aren’t you a little old, sir?” I said good naturedly handing him the sign-up sheet.

“Well, it is more for my son,” He said as he signed his name on the sign-in sheet. “Look, do I need to stay for the lesson? I kind of have somewhere to be, but I’ll be back in time to pick him up.”

“Yeah, just leave a contact number and take one of our cards in case you’re going to be late, you can call,” I said. He wrote down a number, and I saw that he was married. “Hey, could you wait just a minute? I need to check something in the office.”

As soon as I was in the back, it hit me like a sucker punch from a girl who I said was prettier than her sister, even if she was older, so she didn’t need to wear that much make-up. Which sounds like an oddly specific comparison, because I speak with the command of experience on that one. How was I supposed to know that was her younger brother?

“We can’t do that here,” I said.

“I just want a quickie before we go out,” Kenny said. “I haven’t had it in weeks, man.”

“That’s bull; we did it last night,” I said. Which was a lie. He did it, but whenever he got high, it was easier to just tell him that it was a group activity. It only got uncomfortable the one time he got high and suggested that Wednesdays be pants-less Wednesdays, and, wouldn’t you know it? Today was Wednesday.

“I just get nervous and need a little release,” He said as I took the joint from his hand. “Just one little—”

“No one is blowing anything until the kids are gone, you hear me?”

“My dad doesn’t mind; your parents would be cool about it too if you just told them,” Kenny said. He was convinced that our parents were a lot more tolerant of his slacking ways than they were.

“We’re not telling my parents anything,” I said.

“Fine, this can just be our dirty little secret,” Kenny said. “Let’s go check on the guy waiting outside.”

“You knew he was there,” I asked as we walked through the door. The man at the desk looked around nervously. Kenny came to the desk and grabbed the sign-in sheet. I made a quick apology to the man and hoped he wasn’t uptight about the whole pot thing.

“Yeah, everything looks good, any problems?” Kenny asked.

“No, I’m totally fine,” the guy said. He’d sent his kid off to the few arcade games we had set up, probably to keep him away from the pot. “You know, I voted to support you guys.”

Kenny smiled: “Yeah, who can make something natural illegal? It’s a whole lifestyle.”

“For the last time Kenny, it isn’t a lifestyle.”

“Don’t worry,” The guy said as he reached over and shook Kenny’s hand and then mine. “I know what it’s like to have to wait and hide things. Your old man’ll come around kid.”

I hated being called kid; the guy was maybe a few years older than me. I just shrugged. “No skin off my back.”

“Guess it’s hard with a kid and all,” Kenny said. “It must be stressful having to hide that part of your life from him.”

“Oh, it isn’t that,” He said as he twisted his wedding ring. “But yeah, Junior does complicate things. Hey, who knows? I got lucky last night, maybe tonight’ll be your night, if you play your cards right.”

He gave me a rakish wink, and picked his smartphone off the counter. He called out to his kid and gave him a hug. They were talking for a few minutes, then he stood up, gave the kid some money and said: “Remember, if mom asks, we spent the night playing board games. I’ll pick you up later.”

He stood up, mussed the kid’s hair and walked out. Kenny turned to me with a smile. “See man, even total squares in suits know you have to relax now and then.”

“He was just being nice,” I said. “And so far, your plan of attractive soccer moms has netted us zero attractive soccer moms.”

The kid came over to the counter. Kenny smiled and looked over. “Hey Junior, class starts in half an hour, need anything?”

“My dad says what you guys do is totally cool,” The kid said. “And that if I wanted to when I grow up, he’d be OK if I was like you.”

“Run on and play kid,” I said.

“My name’s Peter.”

“Run on and play, Peter,” Kenny said. Once the kid was out of ear shot he turned to me and said, matter-of-factly: “Even I don’t think it is cool to tell kids to smoke pot.”

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