Opening Lines

WW note – This is the first of what will be a series of posts where I share some creative writing.  This evening, armed with a writing prompt, I sat down and banged out the below.  I spent about 28 minutes writing, and about nine editing.  Feel free to call me a hack in the comments.  I’m already calling myself that in my head.  If the writing is not of interest to you, scroll down to a few whiskey-related notes to follow.

The prompt – Take the opening line of a favorite book, substitute new words for all of the key words in that line (in a sort of Mad Libs style), and use that for the first line of your story.

My opening line comes from my very favorite book: American Pastoral by Philip Roth.  It reads:

The Swede.  During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood…

The Turk.  During the Clinton years, when I was still a free man, this was a magical name in our South Jersey neighborhood.  He owned a “coffee shop” on Merchant Street.  Perhaps the world’s least successful coffee shop, at least in part due to the fact that it was one of the world’s least inviting coffee shops.  The place smelled more of cigarettes and other smokes than of coffees and muffins.  In fact, if a customer ordered a coffee, it would set into motion a production of theatrical proportions, resulting a mere ten minutes later in a steaming hot cup of Sanka and an exhausted Turk.  You better not ask for sugar.

My mother, of course, warned me.  He was “trouble.”  The place was “bad news.”  I should stay away because I had my “future to think about.”  Ah, yes.  My future.  Surely, I was going to play first for the Phillies.  Or perhaps be a Senator.  Both, maybe?  What else could be expected of a high school junior with a 2.2 GPA who could probably impress the nation’s preeminent food scientists with his knowledge and insights regarding the comparative merits of the orange dust from Cheetos versus the orange dust from Doritos.  I was going places.

Despite my certain glorious future, and the pleading protestations of my mother, I was thrilled by the Turk.  Certainly, I hadn’t dared set foot in the shop, though I had biked by often, trying to peer through the grime-stained windows.  But the Turk got around.  He was at the pool, talking to girls just a year or two older than me.  Tanned.  Pot-bellied.  Hair to his shoulders, apparently not washed in days.  Disgusting, right?  Not to me.  To me, he floated.  He entered and people watched.  He floated over to the pretty girls and people watched.  Stoners followed him as if he was leaving a trail of Twinkie breadcrumbs.  People watched.  He left the pool, and the prettiest girl left exactly five minutes later.  People watched.  And grinned.

My father, of course, was the reason I finally opened the door to the coffee shop.  “Help Joey with his hoagie sales,” he said.  “See if the owner of that coffee shop on Merchant wants to buy any.  I think they sell food there, and Joey really could use more sales.”  Forget the fact that, three years earlier, I hadn’t sold a single hoagie.  And that Dad could have asked himself.  He knew who the Turk was, and didn’t dare set foot in the shop.  While dad wasn’t looking, Joey gave me the finger.  I told him to fuck himself slowly.  Dad told me to watch my fucking mouth.

I asked Stu if he’d go with me.  He initially said he would, but slowed his bike a block down Merchant Street.  “Dude, I have to tell you …” he said.  I waited, eyebrow raised.  “Uh, I just  think that … well, my mom…” Stu’s voice just faded off.  He looked at me, silently asking me to understand.

I was going to call him a pussy, but I wasn’t really focused on him by that point.  My mission had started, and I couldn’t turn back.  Armed with the baseball team hoagie sale flier, along with the insane curiosity to find out what happened in the back of the coffee house, I wasn’t going to let Stu sidetrack me.  I looked at Stu, blank faced, until he felt uncomfortable.  He looked away.  I turned and pedaled on, slowing to a stop at the tree in front of the shop.  The day was bright.  Sunlight gleamed off the parked cars, even the dirtiest ones.  I locked my bike to the tree, slowly.  As I deliberately threaded the lock through my tire spokes, I caught a glimpse of the dim room inside.  The Turk was behind the counter, baseball cap on backwards and what looked like a dishrag over his shoulder.  His arms were crossed and he was holding court.

I took one stride toward the building, drew a deep breath, and pulled the swinging door wide.  Four pairs of eyes were immediately on me.  None were welcoming.  The last wisps of my breath wreaked of what I would soon learn was a mix of pot smoke and formaldehyde.

When the door slammed shut against the frame, Detective Lytham pulled his notebook from the passenger seat and began scribbling.  Mine was a new face to him, one that he would come to memorize in the following months.


A couple of quick whiskey notes:

  • My first review will be coming up next.  It is of a whisky that is generally regarded (by the Internets) as one of the best “introductory” whiskies.  The Balvenie Doublewood.
  • If you are in the Philly area, you may be interesting in an upcoming dinner.  An Amrut brand ambassador will be pouring tastings of his range at the Dandelion in Philadelphia.  Tuesday, March 20.  $70.  I will be there.  Click here for details.
  • Ridiculous, I know, but I had never had Johnnie Walker Black until this week.  And I must say that I loved it.  I could have a glass every night.  I liked it so much that I added a bottle to my already-saturated whiskey collection.  It is “cabinet” bottle, meaning that it will stay hidden in the cabinet until I finish one of my current Scotch bottles.  So I’ll have to wait a bit before I try it.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.  Cheers!