Thursday, January 15, 2015

Writing groups, what others read, what you intended.

I hear all the time how writing groups can help and hurt you, if you take everything to heart. Last night while at group, I was accused of possibly being a sexist. I will admit to many things that I am and am not, a sexist. nah.. but it's interesting other peoples takes on what you write. This was the passage I took last night. If anyone else spots a sexist theme, let me know. Though I will admit, I will likely shake you off too, I do admit to being stubborn. In context, the year is 1994, they are freshman in high school and just after history class. Alex had helped Suzy with her homework in homeroom earlier, which is why he received two sodas for the effort. Below is a passage from the sequel to Presidential Shadows.

Suzy Baker made good on her side of the deal. She bought a soda for Bruce and me at lunch. She was sitting with Jimmy Morris and had them waiting at the table where I usually sat when I arrived with Bruce and Wendy. I hadn’t seen Bruce all morning. He didn’t know he was getting a free soda until we sat down.

“What am I supposed to do with my milk now?” Bruce asked.

“I don’t know, Bruce,” I said. “Give it to one of the girls and try to score a few points.”

“Good idea,” he said before heading over to the where the cheerleaders sat.

“Where’s mine?” Wendy asked.

“Your what?” I asked.

“My pop. You arranged for Bruce to get one. You didn’t think I would like one too?”

I pulled a bologna sandwich from my brown paper bag. I took a huge bite hoping she would see my mouth was full and couldn’t answer. I should have known better.

“I guess you only appreciate your male friends,” she said. She lowered her bottom lip. I hated when girls made that move.

“What was I supposed to do? Asking for two was stretching it. Asking for three seemed greedy,” I said.

“It’s fine,” Wendy said. She lowered her chin before taking a nibble of her tuna sandwich.

I dug two quarters from my blue jeans pocket and put them on the table next to Wendy’s plastic sandwich container.

“Thank-you, Alex, you’re the best,” Wendy said before dashing over to the drink machines.

Jimmy Morris laughed. “You really are a sucker, Alex.”

Bruce returned to the table with his chocolate milk and dashed off with his can of soda. I watched him hand it to Melisa Taylor. I think Bruce had a thing for her after he gave up thinking Stephanie would ever be his girlfriend.

“That’s a bigger sucker,” I said.

Bruce came back to the table along with Stephanie, who was carrying her lunch. He sat across from me. Stephanie sat next to me after Suzy invited her to sit with us. We all greeted each other.

Wendy came back with a can of tomato juice. She sat down and popped it open.

“What’s with the tomato juice?” I asked. “I thought you were dying for a can of soda.”

“Nah, I learned in health class that I should cut down on my sugar intake,” Wendy said. “Guys really are dumb sometimes. I only wanted to see if I could make you feel guilty for leaving me out. Oh, hey, Steph.”

“Sucker,” Suzy said staring at me.

“Hey, Alex,” Jimmy Morris said. “I know in history class today Mr. Carson taught us that Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, but it was really my grandfather. His name was Robert Morris.”

“Your grandfather isn’t old enough. Hamilton was appointed that position over two hundred years ago,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. He was like my great-great-great grandfather or something like that. I don’t remember how many greats but my grandpop told me all about him.”

“So how come he’s not in our book then?” Bruce asked.

“He’s on one page one hundred and twenty-two,” Jimmy said. “He signed the Declaration of Independence. He also gave lots of his own money financing the Revolutionary War. You know. The one where the colonist won their independence from England. The same war Suzy didn’t know about earlier in class.”

“Oh hush, I woulda read the chapter, but I had to wash my hair last night,” Suzy said as she ran her fingers through her long shiny brown hair.

Wendy kicked the corner of my chair as I gazed at Suzy playing with her hair.

“He not only paid for a lot of the war himself, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention representing Pennsylvania. And he was also one of the first two senators from Pennsy,” Jimmy said. “My grandpop told me all about him last night when I asked if Robert Morris was a relative of mine.”

“Wait, I know about that guy,” I said. “He was the person who nominated George Washington to be president at the convention.”

“That’s right,” Jimmy Morris said. “My great grandfather was good friends with President Washington. After Washington became president, he asked my great grandfather to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. He was already the Superintendent of Finance. Some people thought he was the second most powerful man in the United States behind Washington before the Constitution passed, but he refused President Washington’s offer. Hamilton took the job. Wait. How did you know he nominated Washington?”

“George Washington told me,” I said.

“Please stop, Alex,” Wendy said. “You can’t be my boyfriend if you insist on telling everyone you talk with dead people.”

“Why does Wendy keep telling everyone she’s your girlfriend if she’s not?” Stephanie asked.

“She’s deranged,” I said.

Wendy kicked my chair again. “I am not. You just won’t accept reality.”

Suzy leaned on Jimmy’s shoulder. “So if your great grandpops had all that money, your family must be super rich.”

Jimmy pulled his shoulder away from Suzy. “No,” he said. “My grandpop told me that my great grandfather borrowed too much money to buy land. Even though he had lots of land, his other businesses sucked eggs and were losing money. He didn’t have enough money to make his land payments. My grandpop said that my grandfather was land rich and cash poor, whatever that meant.”

“President Jefferson told me back then you really didn’t want to owe people money,” I said.”

“Yeah, they put my great grandfather in debtor’s prison cause he couldn’t pay his bills. He wasn’t a big shot anymore. My grandpop told me that Congress passed the first bankruptcy laws in the United States, just so they could get my great grandfather out of jail. I think they wanted to help him out for all the money he gave to them to pay for the war.”

“Wait,” Suzy said. “So your family has lots of land and no money? Is your family rich or not?”

“Why do you even care?” Jimmy asked. “Besides, how do I know? I guess we’re rich. My dad drives a nice car. We live in a pretty-nice house. How do you even know if your parents are rich? It’s not like I ask them.”

“Does your mom or dad own a baseball team or a company?” Bruce asked.

“You mean like the Phillies or Sears? Nah, my pops owns a dry cleaner business. But we went to a Mets game last summer and he bought me a program and a hot dog.”

“Ah, he aint that rich then,” Bruce said. “Till you can own the Yanks, now that’s rich.”

“Mah daddy says owning stuff won’t make you rich,” Stephanie said. “He says that we live in the richest country in the world, because you can be, or do anything you want in this country. He says if you work hard, the only person who can stop you from achieving your goals, is you. I know I can be anything I want to be, because mah daddy says it’s true.”

“I don’t know. I still think owning the Yankees would be pretty cool,” Bruce said.

“You can own the Yankees one day, Bruce.” Stephanie said. “Me too. I think that’s what mah daddy means. His daddy couldn’t read or write until he was already married with kids. Mah daddy told me when he was growing up in South Carolina, mah grandaddy made sure mah daddy never missed a day of schooling. Now he’s a college professor. He says he could have done anything he wanted, but mah daddy wants to make sure everyone can read and write.”

“I’m going to be a real estate person and buy all the land my great grandfather once owned,” Jimmy said. “My grandpop always tells me that owning land is important. He says, “God ain’t making any more land.’ So that’s what I’m going to do after I graduate college.”

“I’m going to design clothes. All the big stars will wear my gowns and suits at the Oscars,” Wendy said.

“What? You told me last week you were going to be a heart surgeon, and before that the first woman president,” I said.

“Weren’t you listening to anything Steph told you? Besides, I was reading that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind,” Wendy said. “If you intend to remain my boyfriend you really need to know my choices in life.”

I looked at Stephanie. She rolled her eyes. I looked at Bruce. He shrugged. I looked at Jimmy. He was staring at Stephanie. I looked at Suzy. She was gawking at one of the senior boys who walked past our table.

“I don’t even know what prerogative means,” I said.

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