Writing in the Short Form – Some Examples

Friday, July 26, 2013

Portrait of Rhonda: post2 for "Artists"

We sit at Corcoran over burgers and swap stories about the men we had.  I liked exotic looking men in my day, preferably long-legged, guys who didn’t look like my brothers.  Rhonda was an airline stewardess and could trump my stories every time.  “I once had an Iranian prince at a hotel in Scotland. I didn’t learn until the next day that he was a prince.  His family formerly served the shah.” She blew my story about the gypsy juggler out of the water.
Long legs, trim figure with fine endowments, Rhonda has a sunny face and endearing smile.  An excellent mimic, she once pantomimed a performance artist piece she saw at Oxcart and had Paul and me in stitches for twenty minutes.

And she facilitates--that’s what they call teaching these days.  “You should meet Eileen,” Rhonda says. “You’ll love her and she’ll love you and it’ll be great.” Later she asks me to meet a writer friend named Laura. “You went to SAIC with her, same classes. She’s changed, though, married and fighting MS. You’ll like her now. And she’ll like you and it’ll be great.”

Rhonda lived in the smallest artist’s studio last year. She was on unemployment and writing an article for The Reader that they later rejected as not personal enough. The studio has a dormer and two lofts, one above the kitchenette. Her winter clothes were maintained in off-site storage so she had room in the studio for shelves of books. With 18-foot ceiling leading to a pointed dormer, her living area feels like a cylinder.  Rhonda excels at minimalism, so her solutions worked, but the space is too cramped to provide the mental space to write.  Sorry, too constricted.  And her storage option is just off-site rent with no windows.

At lunch Rhonda offers to pay for the burgers and I feel small. “One day I’ll be on unemployment and you can pay,” she grins. “I hate moochers,” I say. “So two-faced. When I bought the beer, Joe wanted something in green bottles. When Joe had to pay, it was PBR in cans. 

"It’s like that Irish joke, or is it Scottish? A guy can no longer enjoy his pipe. When he uses his own tobacco, he thinks how much of his real income it represents. When he uses a friend’s tobacco, the bowl’s so full and packed so hard, he can barely draw air.”

I got to know Rhonda last year while I was sunbathing on the deck. She stopped by to chat and we quickly found the ideal of discussing craftsmanship for writers. But we never got around to those discussions. She was enamored with Fred who had just returned from China, and they made plans to move there together. I met Fred, handsome and bony and disinterested.  He was a tenured professor in philosophy on sabbatical so he can travel and teach abroad.

So Rhonda took a sublet from a friend in Lake View where Fred napped and pretended to write while she worked two jobs and did all the cooking and cleaning. Rhonda reappeared in the Spring sans Fred saying, “A type-b personality. Too passive for me.”

We hook-up again when she takes a coach-house apartment on Cleveland by St. Michael’s. Her place is one of those hidden gems that bohemians and adjunct instructors love. The second floor walk-up had four cozy rooms and a bath, and forced air heat.  In this new place, her winter clothes fill an anwar, but her books are in storage. That’s wrong, just plain wrong.

We leave the restaurant with her doggie-bag, and the men at the bar crane their necks in sync to watch us pass. I like hanging out with Rhonda; the men respond. We stop by Walgreens. “I need to pick-up Vanity Fair for a coworker,” Rhonda says. “She’s had it delivered for years, but issues with good pictures on the cover get stolen from her mailbox sometimes. The Jennifer Annison issue, where she slams Angelina Jolie, is sold-out everywhere, so I said I’d look around.”

Rhonda’s car is more than ten years old, given to her by an ex-lover who was moving-up. One night she collects me for a quick ride and we take in a Russell Crowe movie. My gestures are house-to-car, car-to-house, so I’m feeling decadent. Another day I visit the coach house to advise on arranging furniture. We go shopping seeking major pieces to fill the cozy rooms.

“Spending other peoples’ money is fun,” Paul sniffs since he’s excluded from girl stuff. Paul claims Rhonda is not really one of us at the artists’ studios because she has a day job as a paralegal and owns a car and television. He suspects she has a savings account even. “I own a TV,” I say. “Yeah, but you’re published. Rhonda has no real artist credits.” I tell him he’s a snob.

Rhonda and I stop at the Hide-Out, a performance bar tucked near the Streets and Sanitation barn on Clybourn. Dark, grungy, smelly, unfriendly. Overweight men in sports jerseys with tattoos and missing teeth. It’s perfect. We haven’t eaten but grabbed sour-cream-and-onion Pringles at Target where we just bought a pink bedspread and yellow toilet seat cover. We imbibe in two pints each of Goose Island beer, and we’re giggling and telling stories on our stingy families who don’t get the appeal of the bohemian lifestyle. 

Rhonda’s new love interest is a lawyer who just left a lucrative practice to join the Chicago Attorney General’s office.  The hired-truck city scandal swept deadwood from many city offices, so new blood is needed all around. And today’s WGN news broadcast shows a beleaguered Mayor Daley after he gave a deposition to the federal prosecutor.  The fired official who did city hiring during the hired-truck debacle was his crony.  Sorry, but the buck stops here. 

Anyhow, the lover/lawyer’s daily rhythm seems different than Rhonda’s habits. She complains that he calls Friday afternoon for a Friday night date. “It’s so insulting, like I’m waiting by the phone with no other invitations to consider. And he’s visiting his mother’s place in Martha’s Vineyard this week. He assured me he would send a postcard.” The lawyer arrived Friday night more than tardy, I later hear. He brought two-dozen white roses, though, and got what he came for.

During Sunday breakfast at Nookies, Rhonda and I waltz around talks about craftsmanship.  “Make friends with solitude,” I pontificate. “I should teach on this subject.”

“Why don’t you? Teach, I mean.” She’s serious, asking a serious question. “I could introduce you to the department administrator and with a resume you could teach freshmen in the Writing Program. Eileen’s great; you’ll really like her and she’ll love you. You have more credits than me, so why not?”

And that’s how I changed professions. The good-ol’-girl network.

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