“It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.”
Those lyrics – and that song, Green Day’s (Good Riddance) Time of Your Life, was on heavy rotation in my head the entire year it took me to gather my thoughts before cobbling together ‘The Monkeybar Mafia’. While I wrote the play in one week – stealing a few hours each night after work after the house had been turned down for the day – I truly “wrote” it throughout the entire year before.
I “wrote” it while mowing the lawn – stopping every few minutes to dash in the house and scribble down the next plot point.
I “wrote” it on my early morning 50-minute trek along the Mass Pike to work – whipping into the parking lot and flying to my desk as fast as possible to jot down the next piece of dialogue that popped into place. I used to run through the door so furiously and so often, it’s still a wonder to me that I wasn’t fast-tracked on the executive track. I easily beat the personal best of any young go-getters.
And I “wrote” it when my head hit the pillow each night, and the concerns of the day silenced, and all I could imagine was Ryan and his stable of Moms – and that one Mom in particular, the great Kate, who just through her mere existence coaxed Ryan to look a little closer at his life (the good and the bad).
And through it all – I had that Green Day tune spinning round and round again.
When I sat down to actually write the play – to get it all down as quickly as possible – with all my notes in front of me and the story beats crudely mapped out on a piece of yellow legal paper – I began with the end. I always knew Ryan would make his way to that playground – in that suit – with the great unknown stretched before him. For an instant, the briefest of moments, he would hear that song – sung finally with all the aching feeling in the world and in a girl’s breaking heart. And he would take pause.
It’s a truly haunting, melancholy tune – as surprising as it is to have come from the then alt-punk rockers Green Day as it was to later be featured as every Prom and Graduation Theme from 1998 – 2001. That preface at the beginning, (Good Riddance) sort of says it all. The song tells of heart-piercing breakup. An end dripping with melancholia. A relationship beyond repair – one with scars “like tattoos of dead skin and memories on trial”.
And the second I heard that song – really heard it – as it was played as soundtrack to that clip show that aired before the final episode of Seinfeld, it just melded to my marrow. It stuck to the ribs.
Those of you who know me, know the type of guy I am. I love to be social. I live to laugh. I’m a goofball. I’m a fool. I’m an average American Idiot.
But that’s not all there is to me. I am so fascinated by the concept of unrequited love. It just slays me. There is nothing that pierces my heart more than two people who should be together being denied that. That whole motif just grabs me. That’s why I hate most rom-coms. Between the elaborate ‘meet cute’ and then all the ensuing misunderstandings – they all end up just fine in the end. Where’s the true struggle that makes the love all worth it in the end? Where’s the real connection that makes it all make sense?
Romance done right should suck the air out of the room. Romance should be the height of drama. You should be on the edge of your seat – so wholly invested not in the fate of the world – but in two people simply clicking and connecting and coming together just right. It’s what gives us all hope. It’s what makes us all yearn for good tidings.
I think I hold getting the happy ending and being denied it on equal ground. If you can nail that true Hollywood Happy Ending – and prime me to jump out of my seat and cheer it on – bring it. I’ll applaud every single time it’s done right. Look at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. It’s not a true romance in any way, but that friendship between Andy and Red is as close as any real love so that when we find Red making that long trek Southwest to the big blue Pacific to see for his very eyes that Andy Dufresne “crawled through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness” and escaped – that’s gonna’ coax real tears from me every time.
The same goes for unrequited love. When two people are destined to be together and forces conspire to keep them apart, something chemical clicks and I am all in. I think therein lies the appeal. That type of doomed romance just hits me at a core emotional level. If I care, I want for them to get together so badly yet at the same time, I am pleasantly haunted when things don’t go according to plan.
It probably harkens back to my early dating days. I fell hard for one girl in particular. It was a High School romance and it lasted all of a few months. It ended in that usual teenage wishy-washy way. One day she was into me. The next – not. One of those moments where you spend the next few months re-evaluating every move you made trying to pinpoint exactly where you went astray, hoping you can pull a Quantum Leap and pop back in time to set right what once went wrong.
Where I stand now, over 20 years removed from those silly, sloppy days of early dating – I look at how young and naive I was. How fully vested I got so quick. How unsure I was in just being me. How much of myself I kept under wraps for fear of chasing the girl to the exit.
It took YEARS before I finally figured out you can only truly be happy – and find happiness – in being yourself. A lesson learned too late? Never! The only lesson learned too late is the one you don’t pay any attention to. Thankfully, my almost complete photographic memory for the pivotal encounters in my life has steered me along the later I’ve gone. Of course, I am newly divorced so feel free to kick that sentence to the curb. What the Hell does this guy know?
So, you get the point. I am obsessed with unrequited love because in my heart I want to hope harder than I ever have for everything to work out all right in the end. Like Quantum Leap or its spiritual successor, the underrated Source Code, I want to explore the predicament and change its fate. I want that love to take on all challengers and win the day. This has nothing to do with my real world situation. I’m purely talking about fictional works. I’m not looking to change any of that. I’m where I want to be right now, or somewhat. I want to find someone I truly connect with so no regrets – AT ALL. Onward and upward. Think positive, and all that. But the next time out? Yeah, I want to find THE girl. My girl! And I think that yearning colors some of what I write.
I closed out Monkeybar with that song because I wanted the audience to leave wondering just what happened to Ryan. Not so much along the job front but what happened when he came back? Did he go to Paige, having learned his life’s lesson? Did he hunt down Kate at the playground and sweep her off her feet, so high she never saw her worries come crashing down?
I know exactly where I wanted him to go but I love the fact that you might have sent him elsewhere. But I couldn’t get either of us there – nor would their story have come to life – if it weren’t for Green Day saying Good Riddance to all that.
It was a song that fertilized the seeds for my second play - The Lost World. I completed that one last year and as I write this now, I’m looking to get it set up somewhere for production.
The Lost World was born from my experiences with High School reunions. For my 10 Year, we had something like 50 people attend. For the 20, close to 120. The increase can be attributed fairly easily. At the 10 Year, those who hated High School still HATED High School. By the 20 Year, those flames have dampened, our lives have grown increasingly stressed and for one night – for a few measly hours – we can return to a time when everything seemed so innocent.
The other reason for the increase in attendance? The rise of social networking. It’s so much easier to reach out and touch someone. So, if you need to track down every member of the Cross Country team, let Facebook guide you.
I had an amazing time at my reunion but fairly soon after I was struck with a thought. What if you threw a 20-Year High School Reunion – in this day and age where everyone is connected to everything – and only 6 people showed up? And not just any 6 people. 6 people who HATED High School the most. 6 people still baring the scars of those days; haunted two decades later. And what would happen if you got them all in one room?
Being a child of the Eighties – and knowing I only really know how to write what I know – I fixed on that decade and my generation. That time is truly ‘The Lost World‘ – a generation born without the technological advances we have today (none of us had cable until our teens) yet just on the cusp of the computer revolution meaning we could pick it up fairly quickly. We grew up in an age where if you wanted to see someone, you called them or drove to their house. You got some Vitamin-D and made that effort to socialize.
I wanted these six to pine for those days. Me – I love the time we live in. I’d be lost without my iPhone. But I see the poetry in yearning for a simpler era. I don’t want to go back to that but I am interested in the personalities that might look back fondly at a time that may not have been too nice to them. It’s a weird dichotomy – to reject the current age while looking back, a little wistful and a smidgen fearful, at an age when maybe you didn’t feel like you quite fit in.
So, I melded the whole thing into a Breakfast Club 2.0.
While the characters and plot points were beginning to coalesce in my brain, I found myself drifting to two songs in particular – relics of that age – and again, the whole time I was mowing the lawn or driving to work (thinking through the plot pieces) these songs played as soundtrack.
Guns & Roses ‘Paradise City’ is what I open the play with. The rock anthem plays under a wordless sequence that takes us back in time to the Fall of 1989 – to one fateful afternoon that touched each of the 6 principal characters. Most importantly, Axl wailing “Oh won’t you please. Oh won’t you please. Oh won’t you please take me home.” sort of reverberated in my head. This is their song.
Just as I KNEW I needed Kate to serenade Ryan on that playground, in The Lost World I had a vision of two characters, who shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers should I ever get this thing up in running, sharing a tender few fragile minutes slow-dancing to U2’s ‘All I Want is You‘. There is the unrequited love story and again, something in me – something in my subconscious – seemed hell-bent on making it as hard as possible on them.
And I think it’s because with every ounce of my being, I desperately want them together – no matter the odds.
That’s romance to me.
Oh, I hope I get this thing staged. My buddy Joe, upon reading the whole play, greeted me with a punch in the arm. “That’s for making me cry”. I’ll gladly take a full beating if I can ever do the same to the rest of you. Hell, it makes me cry thinking of that sequence – set to that great song – every single time.
And as with Monkeybar, a little of this is born from real life. I retain the same disclaimer. These stories ARE not my stories. But they are colored with little details and there is one true tale from my past that would bubble to the surface from time to time – scattershot and so unpredictable – as the years melted. One of those memories that at the time was so vital and important – and then faded – but never truly died. These things are tiles in your life’s mosaic. Treasure all the memories – good and bad, happy and sad. It’s a cliché but they are what we are.
Anyway, during my Senior Year in High School, I was crushing on another girl something fierce. This wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I probably had 3 crushes in all of High School and only 2 knew and only 1 lead anywhere. This memory was clearly from the unrequited camp. I’m pretty sure she never knew. Or merely had a hint. But it was just never meant to be. Another time. Another world. That sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t treasure it any less.
This great girl (who shall remain nameless) and I grew close as friends during my Senior Year. And for me – my heart and thoughts grew even closer. Wishing on a star and all that. We were inseparable for a time BUT it cannot be said enough – always JUST FRIENDS no matter how hard that was to know. That’s how it was and always would be. But at that time – when a fella’ finds himself drunk in love – it’s hard to connect with reality. You wish and you hope and you pine. But if you are like me way back when, you never really work up the courage to say what you feel. Not when the time is right. Not until it’s a little too late.
We all have those missed opportunities in our rear-view.
So, I have this memory in my head – so vital – of a Christmas party amongst High School friends. The place was decked out with holiday gear and we were all swept up in good cheer. It was a day, maybe two, before Christmas. A Saturday night. The stereo was pumping but instead of the usual pop tarts – we got our groove on to assorted Christmas songs. I have no idea what song was playing when, only that it was slow, and that at some point the living room – where my buddy’s tree was parked – had cleared and she and I found ourselves completely alone. Just Me and Her. Dancing. Together. Forever. (Or so I hoped).
Slow dancing on a Saturday night bathed in Christmas light.
It was just one dance but it was one of those dances where the world quiets to a whisper. Where every single note drops from the soundtrack. Where for a few fleeting moments, that impossible dream seems like reality.
Or maybe she was just being nice to me.
Anyway – that experience sort of informed that ending sequence in The Lost World. It’s not my story being told in that play but I think I wanted to grant the characters in it a moment like what I had. My dance was a gift – my life forever colored for having experienced it. Like some gifts, it can be nice to share.
So now I sit before the blank page again. I have a story idea in my head but it’s still coming together. The familiar process has begun anew. I’ve got story elements starting to take shape. Characters are stepping from the fog. I don’t think this next thing will be a play. I think I may finally have a book in me.
And I think it’s going to take a little while to work it all out – meaning I probably have a year ahead of me of distracted driving and protracted house work as I stop every few moments to jot down another line.
And I have a title.
It’s Latin. Most of you have probably seen the symbol – that snake eating its own tail. Sure, it’s a pretty creepy image that runs counter to the story I think I’m going to tell. Again, I’ve got a romance at the heart. I’ve got a newly divorced guy as the lead. (Write what you know!!!) And I think he’s been unlucky in love, making all the same mistakes time and time again – the snake eating its tale going round and round and round. And now – a little older and wiser – he’s determined to break his routine.
As with the last two times, I have a soundtrack aiding the process. Mumford & Sons’ ‘I Will Wait’ and Phillip Phillips ‘Home‘ have been on heavy repeat. I know the latter is heard everywhere but it speaks to me. Each one of these pieces, from The Monkeybar Mafia to The Lost World to whatever Ouroboros becomes, was born from a personal place. They are works of fiction but a window unto my soul as well. As I enter my second chapter, this new piece of writing mirrors my personal mission. And this song is emblematic of it all.
“Settle down. It’ll all be clear.
Don’t pay no mind to the demons.
They fill you with fear.
The trouble it might drag you down.
If you get lost, you can always be found.
Just know you’re not alone.
Cause I’m going to make this place your home.”
Can’t wait to see what comes around this time.