story, where things happen

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

Stories are cool, stories are fine. In my family, my son sits rivetted while my wife makes up stories on the spot. Stories about pencils, shoes, and planets. She is the “provider” of story. And then “this” happened and the boy laughs and laughs then asks for more. “Tell me a story about the couch,” he says. And she must perform.

To children the story is a basic way of organizing the world, and I’d submit that the need continues into adulthood. Why, because we encounter the world as a sequence, as if every next thing is waiting behind a blind corner, as Frog tells Toad. In Larry Fondation’s “Deportation at Breakfast” we get such a sequence of world building, of things waiting behind the corner. A man comes to a diner, finds that he must cook his own eggs, and ends up owning the joint for at least a day. Beyond that, there’s just conjecture.

The protagonist is “lured” into the diner with the promise of inexpensive food. The place appeals, “family-run and clean,” the signs “neat,” and the interior is “old-fashioned.” But the protagonist also has an appealing disposition. He sits at the counter, “leaving the empty tables for other customers that might come in.” He seems like a nice guy, just any guy looking for a clean place to eat. All fairly pleasant and normal. Stuff happens, though, after Javier takes his order. I love it that he orders the cheese omelette.

The eggs were spread out on the griddle, the bread plunged inside the toaster, when the authorities came in. They grabbed Javier quickly and without a word, forcing his hands behind his back. He, too, said nothing. He did not resist, and they shoved him out the door and into their waiting car.

On the grill, my eggs bubbles. I looked around for another employee–maybe one out back somewhere, or in the washroom. I leaned over the counter and called for someone. No one answered.

So, Javier gets taken. Next sentence, the eggs are bubbling. Perfect. So we have a normal scene interrupted by something extraordinary, an action that needs a response. Causality. Something has to happen here. Javier starts the eggs, gets taken, and thus leaves the eggs.

I could smell my eggs starting to burn. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. I thought about Javier and stared [no gazing here] at my eggs. After some hesitation, I got up from my red swivel stool and went behind the counter. I grabbed a spare apron, then picked up the spatula and turned my eggs.

Here the character jumps right into things and everything from here on falls into place. He returns to the counter to ring people up then goes back to finish preparing his own meal. This meal is interrupted by another party. Fondation writes

I thought of telling them I didn’t work there [curious the use of “there,” the story being told after the fact]. But perhaps they were hungry . . . I got busy at the grill.

The story ends with a sense of “taking over.” The main character will post an ad for help, and he reveals some hesitation about being in the restaurant business. But regardless of the total turnabout, the change that happens in the story, the eggs on the grill remain the causal agent. The guy’s got to do something and he ends up doing lots more. The story takes a common situation and turns it into something extraordinary, something that stays with the reader. It takes a regular guy and leaves him at a place he’s never been before.


One response to “story, where things happen”

  1. gibb says:

    Wow. I would love to hear a story about a couch. What did she spin?