Everyone’s a writer. Tell anyone that you are and see the reactions.
The short story they puked onto the page in sixth grade about their
braces being too tight. The great idea for the cliché Southern
Romance novel desperately screaming out how they are unsatisfied
with their lover. Writing is so romantic until you sit down in front of
the keyboard and try to bang something out. If I could slit my wrists
and let it pour onto the page, I would. I’d make the sacrifice.
You write a great one, and people want more. The pressure
pounded my head like a bad hippie drum circle. The ones where
they’re so stoned they don’t know their rhythm stinks worse than
their patchouli. I didn’t feel like a beatnik hippie artist after letting
one manuscript pour through me like an endless fountain tapped
into the collective unconscious. The stories and feelings of all those
ancestors of my lineage that came before me driving the creative
forces. The great deeds they did that lived on within me.
I felt like a putz that needed a miracle. Maybe I was the one that
made the drum circle sound like garbage.
As I looked out the window of my condo at Crooked Creek in
Greenville, South Carolina, my wobbly writer’s table danced back
and forth. I popped two aspirin.
The wretched view from my desk out the window was some
horrific yellow police tape. It ran all over the common area. The
bright yellow tape circled around trees and over railings. It zigged
and zagged everywhere. It looked like there had been a triple
homicide or a mass shooting.
The police were not involved. It was worse. The HOA hung it with
pleasure about a month ago to highlight the major infraction, the
cardinal sin I made when I moved into this place. I planted English
boxwoods and impatiens without the HOA approval. It was their
Today the Condo manager and some other concerned citizens were
on the scene. They had the maintenance man digging up the plants
and throwing them onto the cracked concrete. One of the old fogies
thought he was the lead detective of the crime unit as he pointed at
my Condo and lowered his cheap sunglasses. He knew it was me
that planted those English boxwoods disrupting the peace. It was me
that killed those plants when I foolishly went against the
The bodies of the impatiens and boxwoods splattered
on the hard concrete as they were heaved from the ground. The
maintenance man seemed to be enjoying it. A lile too much. He
jabbed the shovel into the ground after the death of another
boxwood. His wiry body leaned against the shovel in the hot, humid
sun, savoring the moment. He pulled a pack of Kool menthols from
his hip pocket and lit one with matches. His afterglow shined for all
to witness as he mumbled about the tenets thinking they owned the
I popped the cork off of some inexpensive table wine. It made me
feel better that it was imported from Tuscany. I found that the cheap
stuff from the Chianti region tasted good if it was aged in concrete
vats. I don’t drink on the job, but I knew those bozos outside were
eventually going to make it over here once they finished flexing the
robust muscles of the Crooked Creek HOA. They couldn’t let it go.
I chugged the wine and decided to hit the problem with a good
confrontation. I slipped out the screen door on the side of my condo.
I went around the building and came up behind them to add some
drama. Maybe throw them off guard.
“What time is the lynching?” I asked, winking at the maintenance
man so as not to offend him. It didn’t work. He gave me the I’ll-kill-you
“Billy, you can’t just move in here and plant what you want.” Mrs.
Smith said. I fought with her before moving my furniture in on a
Sunday. I lost. I ended up sleeping in the back of the U-Haul truck as
I didn't have a padlock, and all the stores were closed. I am sure
some old codger rated me out that day. Probably the same one that
rated me out on the plants. It was impossible to pick out the narc as
they all ran around, giving each other cookies and muffins.
“Can I have Jewish guests visit me? My agent is from New York
City. Does this Nazi regime allow it?” I asked.
“You have an agent?” Mrs. Smith asked.
“He ain't no supermodel. I don't know why he would need an
agent.” The maintenance man said and then flashed his gold teeth.
“I was hoping we might get this police tape cleaned up. It’s a
terrible view from my writing desk,” I said. “I don’t write crime
“I had the best detective idea for a novel when I lived in New York
City,” Mrs. Smith started. “I always wanted to write it down.”
Mention you are a writer to anyone. You’ll see. It’s never what you
have written. They never ask about the process or the characters.
Nope, it just goes into some egotistical rant about how they are
secretly a writer on the edge of greatness if they just sat down and
“My agent is hounding me for another book. Can you write it and
let me put my name on it? I’m not beyond a ghostwriter at this
point.” I said.
“Will you look at my writing if I start putting something down?”
The English boxwoods and impatiens wilted on the ground. This
lady had some nerves. As she killed my carefully planned out
English garden, she asked for constructive criticism on her novel that
was only sentences away from the toast of New York City.
“Mrs. Smith, it would be my pleasure.” I always said yes as that
put it back onto the person to sit down and actually write it, which
they rarely ever did. That would require the person to break through
the romance into the art.
“I hate to interrupt this book club meeting,” The plant detective
“This is Tony Platenum,” Mrs. Smith said. “He is the head of the
“Hi Tony, I’m Billy. Top-notch job here. You know if you dig them
up on a cloudy, rainy day, the transplant might have a beer success
rate.” I said to the plant detective.
“These are going in the dumpster,” Tony said. “You can’t plant
without our permission. We’re going to have to add a covenant to
the rules to stop people from doing this type of thing.”
“The outrage,” I said. “Do people do this a lot? Beautify the
complex for free? Wait, I get it; what if they put out some tacky
plants. God forbid.”
“We take the rules very seriously,” Tony said.
“Tony is very involved in Crooked Creek.” Mrs. Smith said.
“You live here, Tony?” I asked.
“No, I live over in the Chanticleer Country Club,” Tony said.
“You are the head of the board, and you don’t live here?” I asked.
“No, he doesn’t live here,” Mrs. Smith said.
“What is your association with the Condos?” I asked.
“I work with the older widows here,” Tony said. “I purchase the
condos from them, and I clean them up and sell them. It gives them
peace of mind.”
“He is a great asset to the community,” Mrs. Smith said. The
maintenance man nodded his head in agreement.
“Wow, you're something else,” I said.
“Mr. Platenum has been head of the HOA here for fifteen years,”
Mrs. Smith bragged.
“Mrs. Smith, do you live here?” I asked.
“Lord, no, I live over by the Greenville Country Club,” Mrs. Smith
said. “I run things for the real estate company that manages the
complex. I run a cleaning service here on-site too. If you ever need a
“You two have quite the operation running here.” I couldn’t
believe these people.
To top it off, the maintenance man was over the formalities of using
a shovel. He looked like he was in the barnyard wringing chicken necks
as he pulled out the boxwoods and tossed them to their deaths. They
fried in the southern heat.
I find an ability within myself to sit with two opposing thoughts. In
this situation, the first thought was to punch Tony square in the
mouth and then bitch slap Mrs. Smith into another zip code. The
other was to run off back to my condo in defeat. Nowadays, I just
stood there and sat with any dribble coming out of someone. The
garbage just dumped out of their mouths. They were getting bored
with me as they were playing the Tyrant King and Queen, and I
refused to play the feeble subject.
“I’ll get those pages for you to review,” Mrs. Smith said.
“I can’t wait,” I said.
“We’re understood. No more plants,” Tony said.
“I will keep my philosophical enquires into the sublime and
beautiful to myself,” I said. They shook their heads and walked off. I
don’t think anyone had sat with their abuse and given it back in a
subtle way before.
“What did you write about in your book?” The maintenance man
asked. He was the only one there after the two tyrants left. It was
surprising to hear someone actually ask about writing.
“I wrote a coming of age story about the death of textiles and
industrialization in the South,” I said.
“Sounds deep.” He spat on the concrete.
“People liked it, but I blew it all away in New York City,” I said.
“The money and the traction to publish another quickly.”
“I can’t read words in books. Never could, but I can read people
real good. Mister, when you get that second book out of you,” he
said. “If you dumb enough to piss away all that money again. Call
me. I always wanted to bite the Big Apple.”
“I think those days are over. I’m going to save my money and keep
writing after this next book,” I said.
“Oh, Billy. Don’t sell yourself short,” he said. “I think you are a
complete dumb ass and could blow through your money again.” He
pulled out a boxwood with his hand and threw it at me.
“Jesus,” I said. What a psychopath.
“You and your damn sob story making my job harder,” he said,
“Don’t you dare do anything without your Momma or Daddy’s
I just stood there. He was deep on a really messed up frequency.
He could read people and then act out on it.
“Okay,” I said.
“Seriously, Billy run along,” he said, “You are starting to creep me
out watching me bend over to pull these boxwoods out the ground.
With them being so formal and sophisticated and all.”
“I'll just go and watch you from my window; that seems more
appropriate now,” I said.
“That ain’t creepy neither,” The maintenance man said. “Write
your damn book and get on down the road. Dumbass."