AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 3/18/2004 12:30:00 AM ----- BODY:

Stolen Stories

I like to say: "When a regular person gets sick, they take aspirin. When a writer gets sick, they take notes."--Chuck Palahniuk
Ryan and I are swaying back and forth at each other in K's kitchen. The free-flowing booze of Fitchburg has worked its usual magic, and now, in the dead hours just before the sun rises, all I've had to drink is distending my skull as I glare up at him through watery eyes. "No," I'm saying, pointing in his general direction for emphasis. Then I swing my gigantic, cumbersome head in the general direction of Steve, or, at least, the funhouse-mirror caricature that has replaced Steve. "This guy," I say, pointing to Ryan, "is a pathalogical liar." Now Ryan's angry. After such an accusation, it's not surprising--at least, not surprising to anyone whose IQ isn't bordering on sixty thanks to alcohol. "Swear. Swear it's all true!" he shouts. "It all happened! Listen to this one! Really!" And then he launches into another story. Earlier in the night he had us laughing till the corners of our mouths were gouging into our cheeks with a story about an incident on the road years ago. As he got out of his shitbox car to talk to a police officer that had pulled him over, the car, which he'd accidentally left in neutral, began to roll backwards toward the police cruiser. In his panic to get the car into park, he'd dived through the door and slammed his head on the steering wheel hard enough to break the skin. Bleeding profusely all over his crisp white shirt and tie, he'd left the hysterically laughing cop head to a job interview. Now, swaying in the kitchen as the night makes its final descent from crowded hilarity to quiet turpitude, he lets loose with a tale that involves George Wendt (who played "Norm" on Cheers), U2 songs at a bar, and the cast of Whose Line is it Anyway? that I won't even try to re-tell, because anyone else but Ryan telling it is a crime. He finally finishes, and, gasping out laughter, I find myself squeezing my palms into the sides of my head, the better to keep it from exploding. "No," I moan, shaking my greasy, tangled hair back and forth in lazy circles over the linoleum. "No." I refuse to process any more of these stories. My disbelief has overcome its suspension systems, and come crashing down to the floor of my brain case. I simply can't take it any more. "All of these things..." I finally declare, "cannot happen to one person. It's just not...possible." "Look, they really happened! No joke!" he protests. I shake my head again. "No. I have maybe half a dozen stories like that from my entire"--sweeping arm gesture--"twenty three years on this planet. You"--sweeping arm gesture--"probably have half a dozen stories like that about yesterday". And...downbeat with the arm. There are people. People who seem to attract intrigue and catastrophe. People who move through life like a Mardi Gras parade, and other people follow them around just to bask in their atmosphere. Ryan Decarolis is one such person. And he depresses me to no end. Don't get me wrong. He's a great guy. And I love his stories. But I'm about to spontaneously combust with envy. Look at the gold mine he carries around between his ears! Look at the talent he has for finding, framing, and telling, complete with voices, stories that make your sinuses threaten to cave in! It makes me feel like Salieri, looking at Mozart. "My very existence," I pronounced somberly to Steve as we got into the car shortly after the George Wendt story, "Is negated by the fact that people like him exist." Now that I'm sober, maybe I wouldn't put it quite so dramatically. But people like Ryan do make me question my role in life. Frankly, my life is boring. I go to work. I come home. I sleep. I gab and smoke with friends. In between I scribble things onto paper, not always because there's a reason, but because I can't help it. People like Ryan to me are like birds of paradise. I marvel at them. I want to sit them down and siphon off whatever that potion is they carry around into a bottle, and then I want to drink it down. I read stories about the suicides of troubled New York actor-playwrights, about the travails of crime-scene cleaners, about the emerging myth of "NASCAR Dads", about all the savagely, pointlessly gorgeous things in the world. I attend parties and hear Ryan talk about filling out a job applications while blood and melting ice drip down his neck. And I want to drink it down. But then I try to write my own fiction, try to create a character like Ryan, and my mind goes blank. Actually, that's not entirely true. When I sit down to write, a great chatter of these stories "ripped from the headlines", so to speak, winds itself around the wrinkles and folds of my prefrontal cortex, but I try to block it out, because they're not my stories. Telling them, reworking them, folding them like chunks of chocolate into the bland batter of my own thoughts feels wrong. And yet I can't stop. I can't stop observing. Much of my writing is scribbled notes on napkins, receipts, pieces of cardboard, wrappers, scrap paper--the hurried notes I take as things just...hit me. I don't know what to do with it. I suppose eventually I'll submit to my destiny and be an essayist, which sounds highly academic and distinguished, but which hardly receives the kind of acclaim or achieves the kind of meaning that "novelist" or "short-story author" do. Or maybe I'll learn to live with my stolen stories. But right now I'm at a crossroads. Right now, I don't know how to write--I don't even really know what it is to write. Does anyone?