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Review of “A Life So Far” (a writing exercise)

Location: The set of a local access TV show 

Welcome to ”Back in the Stacks “the show that reviews books that are long forgotten or still in development. Yes I know we don’t get many books that meet that latter criteria but we’re on local access for a reason.

I’m William Parchemine the former book reviewer for  “Slush Pile”  the Semi-Periodic about lost books.  Joining me is Frederic Scribner the author of  “Dusty Stacks – The Reader’s Guide to Books you didn’t know you owned”. Today we are actually reviewing a  book still in development entitled “Tommy Szybinski – A Life So Far”.

“So Fred what is your take on “A Life So Far” so far?”

“Well William, as I have mentioned since the beginning of this show four years ago I prefer Frederick. As for the book, I think the beginning was predictable with the birth of Tommy Szybinski but it drew me in as it moved along.”

The early years showed lots of promise in priming him for the life of a Renaissance Man. It emphasizes Tommie’s Catholic upbringing on the Polish streets of Chicago. Now here is my first problem with the early chapters Bill.  It does not explain the difference between a Polish street or any other one in Chicago. Does that mean there is a Kielbasa vender on every street corner?”

“Fred , I think it  means the street he lived on was in a Polish neighborhood.”

“Could be Bill but I wish he would have explained that.”

“You say Its only been four years Fred? Sorry, please continue.”

“Well Bill, as I said the early years laid the groundwork for the pursuit of several interests in Tommie’s  life thus the term Renaissance Man.”

“Yes I think the audience got that Fred. Please go on.”

“Well after a period of Catholic schooling long enough to mess up any kid, his father is transferred to Topeka Kansas, talk about a culture shift Bill. The next few chapters deal with the effect of the move on Tommie’s later years. This is where I had another problem with the book Bill. There was no mention as to how Tommie’s life had been affected by the lack of Kielbasa in Topeka. I mean, I don’t know anything about Topeka but It doesn’t strike me as a place you can get good Kielbasa.”

“ I don’t know about that Fred but my take on your Kielbasa controversy is that it is not germane to the story.”

“Oh there you go with your fancy words Bill. I take it you mean it’s not important to the story but I disagree.  I kept wondering how Tommy was going to feed his polish sausage habit but that was never addressed.”

“Fred, there was no indication that Tommie had a Kielbasa habit and I would like to drop this line of discussion.”

“To each his own Bill. The book did address how Tommy dealt with being the only Polish kid in a Smith and Jones world. You liked how I put that?”

“I liked how you took that from the book.  This is the part of the show where I cut in to make a dramatic point.  Do you mind if I take over here Fred?”

“If you stop calling me Fred I wouldn’t mind if you dated my wife Bill”.

“Ha ha, Good to hear that Frederick,  really , I am.  We have come to my favorite part of the story, the moment when Tommy’s fifth grade teacher explains to him that projectile textbooks are not part of the approved methods of the Topeka school districts.”

“Projectile Textbooks Bill?”

“Yes, the technique of throwing books at the student to correct chalkboard math mistakes. This was a favorite technique of one of the Chicago nuns.”

“Oh yes, now I recall.”

“Yes Fred you should, that was also from the book. This comes as a relief to Tommy and he soon gets rid of the case of chalkboard shoulder he had developed in Chicago. “

“Yes Bill, I like that term he coined to describe the pain he developed from holding up his non writing arm to block incoming books”.

“I’m glad you liked it Fred. Where was I? Oh yes, now that Tommy has no reason to fear school, learning becomes enjoyable. It was at this point that his parents buy a set of encyclopedias. You remember those Fred?”

“Oh yes I do Bill.  Misty water-color memories.”

“That’s special Fred. Anyway this is convenient timing because Tommy is slow to make friends in Kansas. Instead of friends he turns to the encyclopedia set, all 26 volumes.”

“ I believe that was 28 including the yearbooks Bill.”

“Sharp as a tack Fred, sharp as a tack.  In lieu of friendships, Tommy reads all 28 volumes, including the yearbooks, to fill his time. This fuels a thirst for knowledge that drives him the rest of his life. It also makes him great at trivia games.”

“ I’ll take it from here if you don’t mind Bill. Well there are events that fuel Tommie’s interest in science but I will leave those for the reader. Lets skip to the college years where Tommy has no particular major in mind.  I like the foreshadowing that occurred when a writing instructor suggests that he has the talent to become a writer. We get a nice view into his mindset at this point when he says “not until I have lived enough”.  Tommy, influenced by his dads work in data processing, decides to major in computer science. This is a perfect outlet for Tommie’s scientific propensities.”

“Oh now who’s talking fancy Fred”.

“I’m just try to keep up Bill. Upon graduation Tommy gets a dream job writing real-time operating systems. The problem I had here Bill is that I have no idea what that means.”

“No surprise there Fred.”

“Anyway, at this point in Tommie’s life his career is going along nicely.”

“And this is where I have a problem with the book Fred.”

“How so Bill.”

“Well his love life at this point has not set the world on fire let alone causing smoke anywhere.”

“I disagree with that Bill. There were mentions of a few girlfriends along the way. There was also the reference to the girl who Tommy let get away in college and the occasional allusion to regret.”

“That’s true but I would have loved to have seen things end differently with that one.”

“Yes but Tommy let that go Bill. Why can’t you?”

“Well put.  So what do you think of how the books third act is shaping up Fred?”

“Well Bill , I had hoped the growth that Tommy had shown in the previous chapters would  set him up for a rousing third act. Being honest though , I just don’t see it. He relocates from the east coast to Colorado and while this change has made him much happier his love life is still an empty wasteland”.

“Ok Fred I hate to cut you off here but I am not really sure you really payed attention to the last part of the book.”

“You caught me Bill. I admit it . It just looked like an intellectual type book that would impress the ladies at the pool.”

“I thought so Fred,  let’s get back to Tommy who has rediscovered writing. Finding it quite fulfilling he takes classes and eventually begins writing a book of fiction”.

“How does it turn out Bill?”

“Well Fred this is where the book leaves off”

“Leaves off?”

“Yes Fred. That’s why we called it an unfinished story”

“Oh, that makes sense. If you were to ask me, I would say I don’t think it’s going to end well.”

“Good thing I didn’t ask you Fred. Unlike you, Tommy is a glass half full kind of guy. I think his positive outlook will carry him through life. If he continues his dedication to becoming a good writer I have to believe his story is only going to get better.”

“I hope you’re right Bill, In the meantime this is Frederick Scribner”

“And this is William Parchemine hoping you find a few treasures in your book stacks”

“Book Stacks?”

“Its a figure of speech. Say good night Fred”.

“Good night Fred.”

Uncle Bingo’s Travelling Road Show

It is strange how sometimes life’s paths seem to take us away from our initial goals, but if we just give them a chance and play out the hand,  we may get what we wanted in the first place.

It was the year 2000 and the world had just survived the current disaster de jour, the millennium had come and gone and the various tools of its destruction had failed to cause a nasty smell let alone bring on the four horses of the apocalypse.  The biggest hammer, the millennium bug, the software version of the plague  had come and gone with very few casualties save for the Japanese man who had feared nuclear destruction and fled to Australia with a blow gun, a flak jacket and a chemical warfare suit.  It’s true folks . I couldn’t make that up.  I am not sure that qualifies as a casualty but I am sure his friends missed him.  It was also the year that I finally got off my butt and did what I had been talking and thinking about for some time, Uproot myself from Northern Virginia where I had landed after graduating from college. I had been there for fifteen years and I had made some really great friends but I wanted to be a little closer to my family. I had two nephews who I saw once a year and I had a niece on the way. I wanted to make sure that she did not know me as ” the uncle that showed up at Christmas, brought me a present and whose name I had to be reminded of”. Of course when they’re young they probably would take two out of three as long as one of the two are “present”.   Ok , not to fully take the air out of the “ he is such a family guy” sails but I also wanted to be in a place where I could enjoy the outdoors and ski more. I had taken up skiing several years before and I needed to make sure my jones could always be met.  Hey, when the knees are gone I am going to have to lean on my family.

I found a job in Boulder Colorado and in June of 2000 I jumped in my Mustang and took the long way to Colorado via Michigan to visit my brother. While I was there my niece had entered the world. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that I was leaving for Kansas the next day and would see her soon. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was her way of insuring that I would never forget her birthday.  Six hundred and some odd miles later I was visiting with my newborn niece.  While I was experiencing some trepidation at starting my new life, I completely forgot it while contemplating her new life. Funny thing about birth , it tends to put things in perspective.

Its strange, now that I live in Colorado I do more traveling then I ever have in the past but I see my family more often.  Usually I can arrange my travels so that they take me through Kansas for a visit. If I am not traveling I have been known to jump in my Mustang (yep the same one) for a short cruise , they are only 7.5 hours away when there is no construction on I-70 and the highway patrol cooperates.   It was during one of those “short cruise” visits during the fourth of July where my niece gave me the nickname that I love and will go with me to my grave*. Out of the blue one day she said to me “Your not Uncle Dan, You’re Uncle Bingo”. Of course her logic was solid when I asked why, “I dunno just cause you are”.  Works for me.  It also seems to work for the rest of my family who affectionately call me  , I am sure its with affection, Uncle Bingo or just Bingo.

So if you hear the sound of fun coming your way it may be the circus or you may just be getting a visit from Uncle Bingo’s Traveling Road Show. Don’ t worry, it will be entertaining and I hardly ever leave a mess. Well nothing that can’ t be cleaned up or forgiven by the next visit.

*Oh sure ,when I am an 80 year old man “Uncle Bingo” will sound kind of weird but when that time comes it will just be “endearing” or creepy. I’m betting on the former.

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