There was a day, a few years ago, when I was walking Emily, the household dog, across the overpass that spans the highway near our house. We were on the far side, starting down the ramp to the sidewalk, when I observed a middle-aged woman on the street below us. She was walking her dogs, two affable looking German shepherds. When one of them stopped to do what a dog stops to do, the woman picked up the leavings in a plastic bag, as one does. And then she did something curious: she went over to a large SUV and tidily tucked the plastic bag under the windshield wiper. Then she walked away.
What on Earth was the story there? Maybe it was her SUV and she was just leaving the bag there until she could come back with, it is to be assumed, a bag from the second dog. Maybe the SUV belonged to a former lover she didn’t much care for. Maybe she was protesting gas guzzling SUVs. Maybe she… there’s a whole planet of maybes contained in that one observation. Or, as they used to say on TV in the early 1960s, “there are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”
There’s the Doberman Pinscher I observed at the dog park who worshipped a tennis ball. Seriously. If you gave him his ball he would roll onto his back with his legs extended above him, ball between his paws, and he would just lie there gazing adoringly at the ball. He’d do this for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. His owner would shrug and laugh a little uncomfortably, and admit that she had no idea why the dog did this.
Or that sign, above. I was walking past a storefront: plate glass windows, glass door with big metal doorpull. It certainly looked like a store. And yet, apparently not. I could write a story–maybe even a novel–about that store, about the people who worked there, or perhaps lived there. About the build-up of frustration implicit in the sign, and about the attempt to master that frustration that I read in the “Thanks again” at the end of it.
I have a story coming out next month in an anthology, Tales from the House Band. It’s called “The Boy Who Played Air Guitar,” and, well, it’s about a kid who plays air guitar. Because for years, whenever I see someone playing air guitar, whether it’s Wayne and Garth or one of my kids’ friends, I wonder where the music is. I can’t shake the notion that the music that person is playing is being heard somewhere else. Maybe two decades ago I had this idea for the first time; it had been sitting in the back of my head until I was asked to contribute to a music-themed anthology.
Life for a writer is kind of like sourdough starter: the ingredients just sort of bubble away, fermenting, until something happens.
I really do wonder about the people in that “not a store” store, though. What’s their story?