Whoops, sorry for the long blog pause there. Grad school is keeping me very busy -- and the rest of my life has been fairly demanding too. Plus, I've been writing! In fact, that's what I wanted to share with you today, the (draft) opening pages to the comedic spy novel I've been working: Code Becky. Enjoy! (I hope!)
Code Becky, Chapter 1, (Draft)
If I hadn’t answered my cell phone that snowy day in Brooklyn, none of this would have happened.
I wouldn’t have become a spy.
I wouldn’t have met Ian.
And Ian and I wouldn’t be tied to seats in a 747 that’s about five minutes away from crashing into a mountain.
This is not the first “pinch” that we’ve been in together, as Ian calls them. As a matter of fact, problems of this sort are a monthly occurrence for us. This gives Ian plenty of opportunities to say, “If only you hadn’t answered your bloody phone!” I used to try to argue with him, pointing out that if I hadn’t answered my bloody phone, the entire operation would have ground to a halt and the Prickler, a internationally-reviled-and-sought-after assassin-for-hire, would most likely have killed the President of the United States. Besides that, I would mention, hadn’t we now completed a dozen missions together, missions that had assured that world went on much as it always has, without a nuclear bomb going off or people finding out the truth about Oprah? Not that Ian would respond to this. He always walks about a foot ahead of me, so he never hears what I say in response.
This time, though, Ian isn’t complaining about me. He’s out cold. Which is quite unfortunate, since he’s the one who’s good at things like untying the knots of the ropes that are pinning us to our seats, and/or flying the plane to safety.
“Ian!” I yell. “IAN! IIIIIIIIIIANNNNNN!!!!” as I kick my foot in the general direction of his slumped form. My stumpy legs don’t come close to reaching him.
Even unconscious and bloody, he looks great. If you were casting a spy for a movie, you’d pick Ian the minute he walked through the door. He’s posh, as the Brits (which he is) say, and tall, and has kind of swoopy hair. He’s got a great accent, sounds exactly like the guy who tells the Queen that her car is ready for her. (I know, because I’ve heard that guy tell the Queen that her car is ready for her). And he can wear clothes. I don’t know how else to explain this, but he can really, really wear clothes.
The only faults I can find with Ian are that he is an incurable snob, doesn’t really like me, and isn’t waking up to the sound of my desperate howls, which is surprising because he often critiques the way I breathe. I can get a little mouth-breathy when I’m nervous. And I’m nervous a lot, because I’m a spy.
I don’t look like a spy. I cannot wear clothes. I’m a little pudgy, actually, and my hair does what it likes, when it likes. I’m not short, but I’m not dramatically tall, either, and I have the bland, pleasant face of a woman who might like to give you directions. I’m also – and this is the worst part in Ian’s mind – American. Let’s put it this way: in all the time that we’ve been paired up, Ian and I have done a million disguises – doctor and nurse, CEO and secretary, film director and assistant – but despite being the same general age and of opposite genders, we’ve never once been a married couple. No one would believe it.
Ian is still unresponsive, so I wriggle around a lot in hopes of loosening my ropes. I kinda can’t believe I’m even tied up in rope, to be honest with you. I mean, rope. ROPE. Where does one even by rope of this thickness and size these days? The guys who tied us up, they did not look like cowboys or fishermen, which are the only professions I can see needing this kind of rope. I can’t even remember being tied up with rope, like, ever before. It’s usually bungee cords. Sometimes duct tape (which is great, because it stretches, so as long as one of you can get a hold of the other, you’re golden). One time we got tied up in phone cords, which was nuts, because those things stretch like crazy, and by the way, who even has phone cords anymore, in the early 21st century? But rope. Well, it’s old-school. And it works, I’m not making any effect on it at all.
I can’t see how close we are to the mountain at this point, but it can’t be far now. I really, really need Ian. I kick my feet up into the air like a deranged Rockette and send one of my heels flying into his face. The heel bounces off of his impossibly high cheekbone, leaving a mark.
“Ow!” Ian is awake! Success!
He’s drawing a breath in to yell at me when he remembers where we are. Seconds later, he’s used the sharp edge of his tray table to get the rope off his hands and is pulling the rest of it off of his torso and feet as he hops to the cockpit. Yes, I remain tied up, and all I can think is, “I didn’t even know there was a sharp edge to a tray table.” This is what spying is like for me all the time. I know so very little.
Seconds later, Ian runs down the aisleway at full speed. He’s strapping on a parachute and yelling, “Come on!”
I wait for him to notice that I’m still tied up. He’s got the plane door open before he does.
“Damn!” He says. That’s my guy. No, “Dammit!” not even in the moment of utmost crisis.
He unties my legs and torso and hooks my still-tied hands over his back so I am now the world’s heaviest backpack.
“The parachute’s not gonna—“ I begin
He’s already swinging me around to the front.
“Cripes, Mitchell, you’ve gained a stone. The plane’s going to bounce up once you’re off.”
We are not one of those romantic spy couples, by the way.
We leap. I don’t suppose it’s possible that I actually crawl up onto his head, but I certainly cling to him passionately, and scream, the entire way down, even after he pulls the parachute and our plummet to the earth becomes a much more gentle, if brisk, descent. When we land, entangled, I am still screaming, and when Ian peels me off of him and leaves me on the ground, I add clinging to the good soil of our blessed Mother Earth to my repertoire.
“If you don’t stop, I won’t untie your hands,” Ian says.
“We jumped out of a plane!” I scream in response.
“Well, you gave me a hug, and then I jumped out of a plane,” Ian points out.
“I hate being a spy!” I say. “I don’t want to be a spy!”
“Too late,” Ian says, as he always does.
“Once you untie me, I’m going back to Brooklyn and I’m going to be a schoolteacher and I’m not going to be a SPY AT ALL EVER AGAIN,” I yell at him.
“Sorry, duck,” Ian says. He unties my hands. At the same moment, we hear a crackle in the underbrush near where we’ve landed, and seconds later, we’re back to back, guns pointing out into the forest.
After 30 seconds, we relax, assuming it was a squirrel, and start the long slog back to the nearest road, where we can call for a pick-up from Central. The plane fireballed into the mountain, and we bet – correctly as it turns out – that the bad guys have assumed we died.
Ian’s right. It is too late to get out of being a spy. And has it been since the day I answered my phone.
It is not 100 million degrees out, anymore.
There's less than two months more of this election nonsense. Well, for this year.
This line, from this book: “…but then when you come to think about it, real life largely consists of things that never make the papers.”
Today is Friday, and it's followed by Saturday.
When I asked my dad what I might name my (hypothetical) cat, he suggested "Benedict Cumberbatch." Honestly, I might get a cat just to be able to do that.
The Food Network Magazine.
It's knitting season.
Thai take-out in my fridge (first time since I left New York).
People texting me to ask if I'd like to go for ice cream with them.
Emails that begin, "Dear Professor Reed:"
Free couch. From IKEA. No, they still have not realized this.
I mentioned that it's Friday, correct?
There are things that I like about living in Pittsburgh, and things I'm not so wild about, but what I am most ambivalent about is the driving. I miss the extensive, speedy bus system I enjoyed in Brooklyn. Pittsburgh has a good bus system, but by choosing to live in a suburb, I've narrowed my ability to take the bus considerably. For two days out of my week, I must be on campus until 9 PM. The last bus to my town goes at 9:30. I genuinely have no idea what I'd do if I missed that bus, and it's such a close call, I'm preferring to drive into campus right now. When I can, though, I take the bus.
And when I can't, I'm back on the road. I'm not a good driver. This is a truth I hold about myself, and I have plenty of evidence to back it up -- car accidents and dumb incidents (ask Roo to tell you about the time I drove my car onto a median strip on our college campus: His favorite part is when the AAA guy shows up to rescue me and has trouble not openly calling me a moron) and a few friends speculating on the decreasingly likehood that they'll ever get in the car with me again.
I've gotten better, but only because I am very, very cautious and remind me myself of the details frequently: check to make sure the lights are off; check over my shoulder before merging (AT LEAST TWICE); check to make sure that there's no one exiting the parking lot at the same time as me (AT LEAST TWICE). I still haven't had anyone in the car with me while driving here besides Roo. As I explained to a visiting friend, "I'll drive, or you can drive and we can talk about something other than just what my next turn will be."
But! At the same time, I'm learning to know Pittsburgh by driving. Leaving campus the other night, I was surprised when my iPhone's GPS sent me through Squirrell Hill towards home, instead of immediately back out onto 376, the highway that runs through and around the 'Burgh. It was fun to drive by the little shops and restaurants, and I want to go back. On Friday, I drove to a warehouse-turned-artists' studio space, and got a little lost finding where to park. But what a cool area to end up in: warehouse-y, and 1800'sish and such. On Saturday, I drove from the same warehouse to Schenley Park, where my department was having a picnic, and then, from there, on my way home, through the park. I drove on a street called "Overlook Drive" and was just wondering why it was called that -- true story -- when I saw the view that I snapped above, which made me gasp aloud. That's Downtown Pittsburgh.
For a few minutes, anyway, I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be, and when I was ready to go, I had the capacity to drive myself away.
What's on your mind, lately? What thoughts and ideas do you find running through your head?
I've got a lot of mental space opened up, all of the sudden, as my move comes to an end (e.g. only 6 more boxes to unpack!) and teaching/planning for teaching isn't taking up every waking minute. Here's what I'm thinking about lately:
* writing. I've begun what I hope will be an interconnected series of short stories set in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Also, I need to wrap up the first draft of my Jtown novel. Thinking a lot about both of these projects.
* mediation. One of my professors has encouraged/mandated that we meditate every day. It always gave me the heebie-jeebies in the past, but I'm trying to make time to do so for it now. It seems to be helping my concentration.
* BBC's Sherlock. I watched the first two episodes of the first season with mild enjoyment, especially of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the lead. (It must be said, the opportunity to say "Benedict Cumberbatch" in casual conversation is a nice inducement to keep watching.) The third episode, which introduces a truly chilling Moriarty, hooked me for keeps.
* Reading, always. I love reading fiction for my classes, and have some Chekov and Carver to get to before Monday. On the side, so to speak, I'm reading The Receptionist, an intriguing, if slight, book about the author's experience at the New Yorker. It turns out that I went to the same church, and I'm disappointed that our paths never crossed for more than a "Good morning!" there.
* Crocheting. I seem to feel crocheted hand towels are THE touch my apartment's bathrooms need for completion.
* Continuing my aghastedness (I may have made that word up) at how terrible IKEA's entire customer service experience is, and taking comfort that when I have time, complaints will be filed.
Yes, that's right, I fall asleep at night, dreaming of filing Attorney General's Office and Better Business Bureau complaints. How about you?