April 22, 2020

monkey shine and a SHORT book excerpt

Let's pretend that life is normal here in my feeling-like-a-prisoner state and chat about my writing, shall we . . . I'm just about done with my writing class.  

While I feel I've picked up some tips, I'd really hoped to get more direction or clarity in my need to organize my many anecdotes for what I hope will be my book.  Maybe that isn't really something that is taught, but just figured out.  

The final project is to write a 10 page paper.  Guess who emailed the teacher to ask:  10 pages before or after the double spacing?  Guess who was bummed that it was to be double spaced because she was really hoping to submit 10 pages single spaced?  Shock, right?  What can I say - I got lots to say.

I guess I am lucky because I have hundreds of pages written and I just had to choose which part to submit for this assignment.  Well, I want to send in the beginning of the story because that is what I want feedback on - if only I could decide where to start.  The actual beginning?  I know that won't work because the book would be too long.  (hey, I heard that sarcastic:  Oh, ya think?)  I have some hilarious childhood memory stories written out.  

Then I had an epiphany.  I decided to start at high school.  We were moving into a new house 45 minutes north of our suburban home.  Shit, we would practically be in Wisconsin (shout out to my reader in that neck of the woods currently!)  Many of my favorite stories start in high school and if I sent in 10 pages from there, I could be sure to get at least one of my favorite high school stories in:  Sea Monkeys.  I wrote a bit about it on this blog and you can read it with that link (it is surprisingly short for me).  I elaborate a lot more in the draft of my book.  

Below is the excerpt of a favorite part of the beginning (not the sea monkeys that comes at the end of the 10 pages).  We are getting ready to move and we are all bummed.  I am finishing up 8th grade and we move in the day before high school starts.  Leading up to this bit I mention how my folks collect antiques and how they ousted me from my bedroom when I was 9 in order to give Ann her own room because they had just purchased an antique set for that room and they didn't want me to mess it up.  That antique set will fit in the first floor guest room at the new, smaller house . . . 

Weeks before the moving van arrived, Mom and Dad contemplated how to arrange the remaining upstairs bedrooms   Because our folks found old, wooden beds highly fashionable, my brothers’ room also featured heirloom furniture.  Mom dished out dinner and nervously tightened the skin on her neck announcing,
Me on my first day of school.  I was not joking
 - we literally moved in the day before the 1st day
 and I am wearing Marie's dress because they
 misplaced my wardrobe box.  Her clothes
were cuter than mine anyway.

"So, Dad and I are thinking that the bedrooms might work best if you boys split up.  I don’t think all your furniture will fit in the large kids’ bedroom.”    

By default Mom’s divide-to-conquer-the-boys’-furniture dilemma designated the slightly larger room to Marie and I along with our matching canopy beds, frilly pink canopies, and coordinating bedspreads.  

While Marie and I cared little about sharing a room, my brothers vehemently insisted on continuing to bunk together.  Pat, who often held our folks’ attention with his unparalleled, junior-high, pompous poise and unending knowledge, cleared his throat after dinner the next  night.  His narrow face took on a serious expression; his eyebrows knit into a tight line across his high forehead and he twitched his nose to scoot his glasses up a bit higher.  Mom referred to this repetitive motion as his monkey shine and often encouraged him with a corrective, 

“Pat, stop the monkey shines.”  

Pat did little to irritate Mom and I secretly took great joy each time he absent mindedly fouled with this freaky, face flutter. 

“Mike and I decided last night that if we aren't sharing a room at the new house, then neither of us will move with the family,” Pat proclaimed this with all the bravado of a first-born son in an Irish-American family.  Mike, with his wiry, brillo-pad hair, nodded solemnly in agreement.  

Mom, who devoured this kind of drivel, hailed my brothers for their devotion to one another and gave Dad a knowing look.  With enough concentration, I translated her unspoken words as they drifted across the table from Mom’s subconscious towards Dad, Pat’s other biggest fan:

“Well, Pat, the demigod has spoken.  We can’t argue with that.”  

I closed my eyes, released a deep breath, and listened to her sing the praises of her boys.  My stomach lurched a little as my recently consumed dinner considered making an unexpected appearance.  While Pat’s sentiments sickened me, Mom lapped them up and repeated his blessed declaration for weeks on end to anyone who feigned interest in our upcoming relocation.

I cannot tell you how hard I laughed when I added the monkey shine bit to the previously written story last night (my kids love hearing about Pat's monkey shine I think because we don't ever hear anyone use that term nowadays) as I tinkered with my 10 page submission.   So, I thought maybe you all would enjoy it too.  I hope I was right.  I was cutting small side stories out left and right (like my folks measuring my room for the antique set late one night while I was trying to sleep), so the 10 pages could end with the Sea Monkey part, but I couldn't resist - I would cut something else in order to incorporate the monkey shine part.   

FYI - I did a lot of shit wrong growing up as far as my family is concerned, but I never monkey shined.  **Patting self on back. **  

Get excited:  I got a photo of Driving Ms. Daisy in her woman-about-town twisty turban and I will include that in my next post.  


Beth Cotell said...

So I had to google monkey shines. Should I be embarrassed to admit that?

So whatever happened with the sea monkey girl??? Did she make friends? I assume you weren't one of them? :)

Ernie said...

Beth - OMG I thought my kids were the only ones that had never heard of monkey shine. Now when I google it I realize that my mom tweaked the term, and used it differently than the actual definition which is: mischievous or playful activity. I think she grew up hearing her mom use the term so I guess it was their own interpretation. My mom referred to a monkey shine as a facial twitch that someone repeated without realizing it. For awhile my brother did this facial thing where he blinked his eyes tight and then wiggled his nose or something and it looked like it was a way to move his glasses up his face. It drove my mom nuts.

Another fun saying that my mom's mom used: "Just look at that girl - she looks like she's got two eggs in a hanky back there." My grandma referring to a girl with loose fitting pants or a rear end that was bouncing around in her clothes too much. I don't think grandma would have handled today's fashions very well. Ha!

I did not become one of the Sea Monkey girl's close companions. I am not really sure who she hung out with. She was an odd duck.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I've never heard the phrase Monkey shine before. But I do know about Sea Monkeys. :)

Your writing is amazing; great details. I love it.

Good lord. I don't know how you went your whole life without saying a word about the obvious favortisim. IT hurts ME and I wasn't a part of it.

Ernie said...

Suz - I am glad I tossed this excerpt in this post because I am thinking I might need to creatively define what Mom considered a monkey shine before I submit it as part of my final paper, since her definition was not exactly accurate and also the term is just not widely known. I liked this class, but I am ready to embrace pandemic life as a non-student. Thanks for the compliments on my writing. I credit my freakishly clear memory for the details. I remember things really clearly. I honestly fear that I will end up with Alzheimer's and that if I do at least my memories will be preserved. Well, shit this reply just got all dark and gloomy.

Oh, you must know that I whined about the favoritism as a kid - I wasn't smart enough to pretend I didn't notice it. That only made things worse, because any time I was about to object I would be made fun of for my middle child syndrome issue. It was rough, but I babysat a TON and I feel like I found myself in other people's houses. They adored me, praised me, were interested in me, built my self-confidence, AND I got paid.

Nicole MacPherson said...

Wow, you moved the day before school starts! Stressful!

Ernie said...

Nicole - Yes, literally the DAY before school started. It was for sure stressful, but meeting the Sea Monkey loving classmate invoked some humor into the day. Of course.