Suburban Lanes is a set of connected scenes I wrote in 1992 or 1993 that I thought would be my first novel but wasn't that long. Instead of chapter titles, I listed lane numbers that correspond with each set of characters, and frame numbers to indicate how they were connected in time. If you read all the scenes for "Lane One," you'd follow the same characters through their part of the story. All of the scenes in the "First Frame" would show events of different characters happening at roughly the same time. If you like what you see below, you can read the rest in my short story collection Dungeons and Dayjobs in paperback or hardcover, Kindle edition and other ebook formats.
First Frame. Lane One. Tim listened to the conversation being held on the opposite end of the table from him. The magazine in front of his face had been open to the same page for the last ten minutes. "The way I know about it," the woman with black hair continued, "is a friend of mine, Jenny Crenshaw, she had a problem like that." The woman facing her across the table, a red-head, nodded. This was the one who commanded most of Tim's attention. The air rumbled for a moment, then clattered and returned to normal. "This was when she was a carpenter. Anyway, she was using a nail-gun, halfway up this ladder. She was holding the one board-" here the talker pantomimed what she was describing, "-and stuck the nail-gun up against it between her fingers. But the nail hit a knot in the wood, so it came up and around through the board, and back through her thumb. Her thumb was actually nailed to the board." The red-head cringed. She leaned towards the table, listening intently. Her movement did wonderful things to her shoulders and light reddish-blonde curls. In fact, Tim thought, the movement did wonderful things to her whole torso. Her face, bright and expressive, set off happy gears inside Tim's head. He could see the profiles of both girls from where he sat at the end of the table. He nudged his glasses back up his nose and peered over his magazine. A softer rumbling spread for a long moment, followed by a quiet knock, the sound Larry and Curly's heads make when Moe cracks them together. "And the nails they use have barbs so they won't pull out easy. So she couldn't pull the nail out and slide her thumb off. She had to cut the head off the nail and jerk her thumb back the rest of the way." "Eeeuw," the red-head said. "Only her cutters were on the ground next to the ladder. So this guy that's been watchin it all comes up and picks up the cutters and starts laughin at her. Well, she grabs the claw hammer from her tool belt with her free hand, hooks the claw under this bastard's collar, and lifts him off the ground. (She was the Southeastern California Women's Weightlifting Champion.) So the asshole stops laughin and she drops him and snatches the cutters out of the air. Then she cuts off the nail-head and yanks her thumb off it." "Jeez," the red-head added. Another loud burst of rumbling sounded before an explosion of clattering. Content with finishing her story, the talker grabbed some M&M's off the table and popped them in her mouth. The tattered ends of her black hair fell onto her faded denim jacket. A black patch on the shoulder of her coat read, "MEGADETH." "Tim!" The girls both turned to face him. Tim looked back at them in shock. Then a hand clapped on his shoulder and the girls turned back toward each other. "How the Hell have you bee?" a familiar voice asked. Tim couldn't place the face right away. The crew cut was different, but the round, boyish face and beady brown eyes reminded him. "Perry?" A few images played through Tim's mind before he could remember whether to be glad to see Perry. A fist- fight in third grade. Lazy games of baseball in high school gym class. Laughing through English. "Uh, what's up?" The smiling hooligan flipped a chair around backwards beside Tim and leaned his chest over the back of it. "Not much, man, not too damn much." The hard plastic chair was an old contoured style, with a wide, curving seat that dug into Perry's thighs. But comfort wasn't his concern. "How 'bout yourself?" "Oh, uh, not a whole lot, just hanging out after work." Tim set the magazine on the table. "You workin here? I didn't know you were big into bowling." As he spoke, Perry drew a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his flannel shirt. He poked the pack toward his face and caught a stubby, brown cigarette between his lips. "No, no, I'm an assistant librarian downtown. I don't bowl much." Tim crossed his arms and added, "No thanks," when Perry held out the pack. A ball thumped and rumbled down a lane, then slid into a gutter. Someone grumbled, "God-" and trailed off muttering. Perry fumbled a book of matches from his pocket, nodding. "That's cool. You got a consistent gig there?" After lighting his cigarette (or is that big enough to be a cigar?, Tim wondered. Do cigars come in packs like that?), Perry rose from his chair and appropriated an ashtray from half- way down the long table. "You're not using this, are ya?" he asked the girls. They shook their heads and Perry returned to his backwards chair. "Yeah, it's a real job. Maybe a half step up from flipping burgers, but I like it." Tim closed the magazine on the table. It was the library's latest copy of Newsweek, with an article about the next Star Trek movie. He hadn't read more than two paragraphs of it in the last fifteen minutes. "Yeah, I come by here after work sometimes before heading home. The coffee from their vending machine here is better than the scum they try to serve at the diner." Perry leaned his forearms on the table, leaving the stogie in a corner of his mouth. "I thought you lived the other side of town, out past the mill?" The stick of brown pulp in his mouth slurred his words a little, so it sounded more like "-out paft the miw?" "Oh yea, I use to, but I'm renting a room from my uncle now. His place is another couple blocks this way from downtown." Tim took a sip from the paper coffee cup and set it back on the table empty. "I had to get away from my parents. I guess living with one relative is as bad as another, but my uncle's okay." "Hey, if you're making enough to get out of your parents' place, you're doing better than a lotta the people we graduated with." Perry tapped ash off his cigarette (or whatever it was he was smoking) and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. "That's what I figure." Tim folded his arms. Perry nodded. Tim glanced at the girls down the table. He returned his gaze to the magazine lying on the table. Perry blew smoke. Tim asked, "So what have you been doing the last few years?" "Fixing toilets in freight airplanes." Tim laughed, but Perry smiled and laughed. Not deadpan enough for it to really be a joke. "It's funny but not that funny," Perry said. "I swear to God, I'm a plumber for the federal government. Figured I'd be a big-time pilot in the Air Force, right? Nothing physically wrong with me, right?" Perry leaned back from the table and spread his arms out to show himself. Tim shrugged. "So what stopped you?" "I didn't even have to finish the whole physical. They let me leave right after the eye exam." "They can't be too bad if you don't wear glasses. Or do you wear contacts?" "No, they're 20/20. But I'm color-blind. Evidently there's something crucial about distinguishing colors for flying. The controls, or identifying enemy aircraft or whatever." Tim nodded. "Yep. That's how it goes. So I've been dumping Liquid Plumber down sinks in Air Force bases and pulling pens and combs out of clogged johns for two years." Perry tapped off more ash and switched the cigarette to the other corner of his mouth. "I was thinking about going all the way and bein' a Lifer, retire at 44, all that. It's not as physical or restrictive as I thought it'd be. But I don't want to be fixin' toilets for the next thirty years." Tim nodded, looking at the magazine. "I'm surprised you didn't go to college," Perry said. "Oh, well, I am, kind of. I'm taking a couple classes here and there at Kensington Community College." "Ahhh," Perry said, making the connection of what Tim meant when he had said, "kind of." "So what are you goin for? Business degree or something?" "No. For now, I'm just taking some music classes. Symphony and Music Composition and Poetry. Just screwin around, you know." Perry nodded as he inhaled. "That's right: you were in Band, weren't you?" "Yep." Tim wondered if Perry would mention the term he used back in school: "Band fags." A rumbling ball smacked into enough pins to make the bowler and his buddies cheer. Tim watched the red-head throw back her head laughing at something. Somehow even the bland fluorescent lights here made her hair flash. She had gray- brown eyes that complemented her light reddish hair, and vaguely reminded Tim of Hobbits. Not that she was particularly short, and he couldn't imagine tufts of fur on her feet. But the colors of her hair and skin and eyes made him think of Fall and trees and the Earth, the elemental images associated with ground-dwelling Hobbits. On the other hand, she was sort of stocky, with the kind of soft, pudgy-looking muscles that always hide surprising strength. She had the build of a volleyball or softball player. Perry took the stogie from his mouth and blew smoke audibly: "Whewww." He clapped his free hand on his knee and asked, "Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?" Tim shook his head and shrugged, looking down at his magazine for the umpteenth time. "You nerd!" he recalled Perry yelling at him in what must have been a sixth grade Science class. He remembered a time when he had hated Perry, but that feeling mellowed into nothing after a pile of years. They had become, if not friendly, at least tolerant of each other in the years since, eventually talking and joking in some high school classes where the only people they had known were each other. "Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?" Perry repeated. Tim started to say, "No," when he realized that Perry had asked the girls at the other end of the table. "Actually, yeah," the black-haired girl said. Then she just looked at him coldly. Perry looked back at her for a moment without saying anything, then said, "But will it be any good?" He frowned at her seriously, then raised one eyebrow like an inquisitive Vulcan. His magic worked on both girls, gradually infecting them with smiles, and triggered a boomerang effect that carried a smile back around to Tim. More pins clattered, more people cheered for the strike. The metallic voice of a robot announced, "Countdown intruder," from a video game. The thin woman with black hair leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. Her smile became a cynical grin. "Yeah, it should be pretty good." She resumed her purposeful silence. Perry slouched back in his chair and crossed his arms to mimic her. "Well, what do I have to do to coax it out of you?" "I don't know," she said. "How do I know you aren't going to be some trouble-maker that'll puke on the hostess and pass out?" "He can vouch for me," Perry replied, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at Tim. Tim grunted, "Ha! Until today I haven't seen him in two and a half or three years, but I can vouch for him: if you got a clogged john-" "What he means," Perry interrupted, "is that I have a reputation of honor and dignity, and a character that is untarnished. Right? So he vouches for me and there you go." Tim said, "I would have used the word 'character' differently." The red-head laughed and joined in, "And who's going to vouch for you?" Perry said, "I vouch for him! So, what time does it start and where's it at?" The black-haired cynic tapped her teeth with a red fingernail and said, "I don't know. . ." Perry cocked his head sideways like a puppy dog. Tim sighed with real sadness, feeling this chance slip by. "If nothing else," the red-head breathed, sitting up straight, "they'll keep us amused up until the time they puke and pass out." Tim was giddy, smiling hugely, not quite restraining giggles. Going to the same party as the red-head would be wonderful enough, but "keeping her amused" would require close association. Tim wanted to associate with her as closely as possible. Still tapping them with a fingernail, the cynic now sucked air through her teeth. She squinted in mock concentration, then raised her eyebrows. "Okay."