Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Dave Alton Dodd

Something to Spit at
by David Alton Dodd (refriedgringo)

She would spit much like a boy would do, and it reminded me of when I played baseball, of how we would all spit sometimes. I couldn’t remember her name for anything, even then and certainly not now. Our only encounters were either in class or after class with a bunch of other students. She was quiet and not very remarkable in any particular way; there was the short curly hair and the deep brown eyes and nothing attractive or unattractive about her. But outside she spit, often and unembarrassed by it, and after a while I thought it to be quite an awesome display of rude behavior.

"How do you do it?" I asked her one time.


"You know, come up with stories like that. Where do you get them from?"

She shrugged. "I don’t know." And she then became interested in something else.

It is the only conversation I remember having with her. She studied people, and seemed to notice everything. I am quite certain that she has never thought of me in all of these years, but I have thought of her, especially in the last ten years or so. She was a natural. She was an amazing young lady and I have often wondered why I never saw her face on the inside jacket-cover of a book at some point.

* * *

It never occurred to me that I should be a writer someday, I was too busy investing my time in studies and activities and work that would never wind up leading me toward anything I even remotely enjoyed. When I was a teenager, my mother gave me her old black Underwood manual typewriter with the round keys, and since I had spare time in those days I would pound out very bad chapters for what would have been a very bad novel. It was fun. Halfway through high school I lost interest in the story and in the typewriter. And then came college.

My original major was music. I was a good musician and performed in a rock band and wrote maybe one hundred songs before I was old enough to legally drink alcohol. I had a knack for picking off easy college course electives, and since the college permitted it, I took creative writing poetry for the maximum three semesters. I remember some people smoking in class near an open window and the professor didn’t seem to mind. We would read our poetry aloud and others would comment on it. One guy actually showed up with bongo drums one day to accompany his poetry. I can’t remember the professor’s name, but she was a very sweet lady letting us do just about anything in the name of poetry.

In that fourth semester, for some easy credits I enrolled in creative writing fiction. The professor of that course was the department head in English, a kind gentleman who smoked a pipe. He wrote book reviews for the Los Angeles Times, and often shared them with us. I had no designs on writing, but I was easily able to turn in enough short stories to satisfy the requirements. The professor was kind to me with his grading of my work, and my work was horrible. Even at the time I couldn’t imagine how or why he liked it.

* * *

Not long after that semester was complete, I had managed to knock up my girlfriend – chronic endometriosis be damned. I quit school and married her and pursued steady employment in the engineering field. It was a miserable marriage and quick divorce came with no surprise. But by then, whatever career I wanted in music was an afterthought. I began to drink, a lot, every evening after work I would narrowly avoid trouble and somehow manage to get home. I needed something to occupy my free time.

I noticed the advertisement for a sports writer, part time in the evenings, and thought it to be a perfect diversion. I set up an interview, which did not go so swell at first. The sports editor asked me about my journalistic experience, of which there was none and he frowned. I told him that I could write and offered to prove it. He pulled out from his desk drawer an old clipping, a box score of a football game. I sat at a console and hammered out a story in about fifteen minutes, based on the statistics and my imagination.

He hired me on the spot.

That job kept me out of trouble in the evenings, and I was grateful for it. It didn’t pay much, but my day job was okay, and there were times it was a lot of fun. I would attend a sporting event in the press box and possibly interview coaches and players and then zoom back to the office and write a story to beat the deadline. It wasn’t writing, I never considered it as such. It was a game, much like the games I covered.

It didn’t take even a year until I wanted to write an article that they refused to print. The article was honest, and I had my facts straight, but they didn’t feel it would be in the best interest of the community readership. I quit a week later. I remember thinking about that young lady with the curly hair and wondering if maybe that was the same reason I had never seen her work after I left college. Maybe someone did that to her, too.

* * *

A couple of years later would find me married once again, this time living in Mexico. I worked in the United States of America, and was often used for my writing skills along side my ability to generally figure out mechanical problems. But it still never occurred to me that I should write until I began a journal on the internet, until people started to tell me that I was any good at all. What did I want to tell them? That they should have met this girl I went to college with, how wonderful her stories were.

The teacher, the head of the English department, would read her work to us back in that class. We all knew it was hers. We all knew she was a natural-born writer, if there is such a thing. And we were all so lucky to have been in that audience. I think about her now, and she is why I write. I figure that if I haven’t seen her face for all of these years, then perhaps she’s a musician and I should be the writer. I’ll never be as good as she is, but at least I have something to shoot for, or perhaps, something to spit at.

I actually sold some writing along the way, which is encouraging. But I know if I sell novels, then one of those novels will have a character, a female, with curly hair and dark eyes, spitting whenever she is outdoors. It’s appropriate. And should she somehow discover that novel and read it and contact me about it, then I will invite her to trade places with me, because she is the storyteller. To have written a story about her would have been enough.

- David Alton Dodd 12/11/09 (aka refriedgringo)


s.w. vaughn said...

This is just beautiful. I am teary-eyed and sniffling right now.

Thank you for sharing this story... and who knows, maybe your curly-haired girl will see this blog entry and contact you.

At that point I'd bawl my eyes out. :-)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

The winner,Moonie, please.

Merry Monteleone said...

Nice job, David.

I wonder if she is writing somewhere... too bad you don't remember her name, it would be fun to see if her storytelling's served her (or she's served her storytelling).

Rebecca Knight said...

This is lovely :). I absolutely loved this one.

Way to make it hard on Judge Moonrat!

_*Rachel*_ said...

This is really, really nice. Here's a prayer for you, that she's surfing writing sites now, and finds this.

Matilda McCloud said...

Love it--I think your muse is still writing....

Gemma Noon said...

David that's so lovely, I hope she's writing, too.

Maree Anderson said...

This is awesome! Can't think of a better way to start my day than reading a truly evocative piece of writing like this. Way to go, Dave.

David Alton Dodd said...

Oh, my! I'm truly honored, not only by moonrat but by all of you wonderful people. Thank you very, very much. It's funny - we write for cash (and because we love to write), but I'm more giddy about this, getting a pat on the back from all of you wonderful writers feels awesome.

I can't wait to read the other finalists and the winner!

Chris Eldin said...

I cannot take incomplete circles!!! Please find her for us! You can't leave us with such want. Simply can't...

This was beautiful. I enjoyed it all the way through. Lots of hope infused in your words. Very nice.

David Alton Dodd said...

Chris, (and everyone else who might be wondering), I do not believe in incomplete circles. I don't remember her name, but I see her face as clearly now as I did almost thirty years ago. I hear her stories the same way, although not so much in detail but in images, as though my mind sees her characters.

If she is a writer, then she will see this. And if she is a reader, and she reads novels, then she will read it one day soon :)

And Chris, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bernita said...

David, a sweetness. Your tale tuggs at my heart.

L. said...

This is absolutely amazing. It strikes all the right chords. The desire to be as good at something as someone you admire, the hurdles in life that try your faith in your ability to do it and finally your success in achieving the improbable. It's a story of hope and destiny. It's a story that doesn't simply end, it gives you a peek at the character's next juncture in life.

stephanie said...

I wish she could read this, Dave, right here.