I am back from Cape Cod, where I stayed with friends Jay and John -- the world's most generous and gracious hosts (and, while I'm on the subject, awesome cooks) -- while attending a writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center. The workshop was led by bestselling novelist and short story writer Pam Houston.
And it was fabulous. We brought stories to workshop, wrote great stuff while we were there, attended readings by the faculty, and generally got inspired.
Alison and Oscar came down for the weekend, and that was an additional bonus -- to be on vacation with a gorgeous redhead and a very well-behaved yellow dog. All in all, a great week.
On the last night of the week, there is a reading by attendees of the workshop. We got to share one page of work that was produced during the week. Given the length constraint, I was forced to take drastic measures in the crafting of my piece, which you can read below:
The Telltale Shoes
I dismounted my Schwinn Silver Shadow and locked it to the rack. I was dripping wet – my bike shoes squishing like sponges. It has rained biblically this week, but my plan was to ride. Don’t get me wrong; three or four people have offered me rides in cars. Kind, generous people. But I stuck to the plan, changing my clothes upon arrival, wrapping the wet stuff in a plastic bag, and attending my workshop.
Hours later, Pam Houston stands at the podium, reading from her next novel. I’m sitting front row center – I’m not sure why. Ordinarily, I never go for the front row unless it’s a Phish concert. Pam is reading about a unibrowed masseur performing some sort of exorcism to expel her father’s spirit from her lower extremity when I catch the first whiff. I’m not sure what it is. It’s not good.
Pam moves on to a beach in California somewhere, where she is petitioned by a sign-carrying dachsund who wants to play. I catch another whiff of the same something – I’m not sure what. I wonder if anyone else smells it.
I assess the situation. I have Pam on the podium reading to a full room, a person on my left, a person on my right, and my two bags under my seat. The doors are shut and the rain still falls. None of the other doors in the Work Center shut the way the ones in this common room do. And the body heat of the 40 or so people is as good as any heater. I’m warm for the first time all week. In the backpack is my notebook, assigned books, and computer. And in the plastic bag my bike pants, windbreaker, tech shirt, and shoes.
Another waft of putrid haze drifts past. It smells like a men’s locker room. Wait a minute. Those shoes were full of sweat and water this morning. In the cool damp of the classroom where I stashed them all day, all was well. Now, in this warm and stagnant air, I’m suddenly in a code red situation.
I smell it again. It’s the shoes; it’s the shoes; it’s the shoes.
There’s no escape. I look left and then right. All eyes are on Pam reading – something about love, the meaning of life, and the soup of the day. She reads, “Rick looks me in the eyes. He says…” She stops. She inhales, furrows her brow, and cocks her head slightly to the left. “…He says…” She stops again. The pollution from the bag has reached the front of the room. She grabs the podium with both hands, but it’s too late. Pam Houston’s body crumples to the floor in a lifeless heap.
I stand. I pick up the bag with my shoes and tuck it under my arm. I make for the door. I disappear into the night.
This piece is dedicated to the participants of my workshop and Pam Houston.