Monday, June 7, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Escape through the Drainage Ditches

Our friend J ate too much fatty food. One day when he'd crashed at our house overnight and I was cooking bacon for breakfast, I remarked on how odd it was that bacon should taste so good when it was really nothing but pure fat. He said: "Oh, puh-leeze. If it weren't for fat we'd all be vegetarians." And he's right - it was an attempt at a low-fat diet that demonstrated to me that I don't like meat, only meat fat, so I stopped eating both.

Another of his life-changing pearls of wisdom occurred when we were discussing backstories on role-playing characters, and I remarked that I thought communes intended to cut the members off from imperfect modern society (such as the all-women enclave my witch secret agent had once lived in) were cowardly, and he said: "So who says everybody has to be brave all the time? Sometimes you have to be cowardly for awhile."

He had a contagious laugh as big as the house, and once fell off the couch laughing at a Saturday Night Live sketch that conflated the starship Enterprise with the Love Boat. You didn't even have to know what he was laughing at to join in. He did character sketches of role-playing characters full of life and movement, but never would finish a drawing for fear of messing up what he had done right. I think he may have been a little in love with my husband but that didn't translate into resentment of me. He once saved my character in a Call of Cthulhu game by running forward to catch me as I fell from the second story onto marble steps below, tripping over his bunny slippers, and providing a soft landing.

When he was a kid in Houston he was beat up a lot. The bullies in his life were intent enough on hurting him that they would lie in wait for him after school, so he learned to use the system of drainage easements between his home and school to evade them. He knew every in and out, every back yard, every culvert, every concrete-lined ditch and seasonal creek. And he would pretend to be using this knowledge to lead children to safety, escaping the monsters or the Nazis or the zombies.

Being who I am, when he told me about this I started expanding it. I posited an alternate dimension corresponding to Houston at several points, negotiable by the drainage ditches; and the protagonist would be a boy who learned to travel between the worlds and used his knowledge to help the Good Guys in their resistance to the Bad Guys in Charge. J asked if there would be a prince to rescue and fall in love with and I said sure. We worked out a lot of the details, which grow hazy for me now, and J said: "I like this story. You should write this story."

While we were making characters for him to DM in an all-dwarf campaign, and planning for the three of us to go to a Melissa Etheridge concert at the Auditorium, he had three heart attacks in quick succession, had quadruple-bypass surgery, lingered in a half-conscious state with a tube in his neck in the ICU for a month, and died. He was 28.

That was in June, 1995. And I haven't been able to write his story or give him his prince and all that's left of him is some unfinished sketches in a couple of sketchbooks that we kept back when his family came. I can't even remember what we decided about how the story should go. How lame a friend am I to forget something like that?

I want him to come back and run the dwarf campaign, and learn not to be afraid to finish a drawing so we can do the story together as a graphic novel. That would cool.

Because sometimes I miss him bad.


  1. Oh Peni, this went right to my heart.

    And I am struggling, struggling so hard to make some of those changes in my own life and not doing a very good job of it.

    I hope you write his story.

  2. You don't have to do a good job of it. You just have to do it every day till its done.

    The way I figure it, a lot of days are just crappy first drafts and you need to do them to get to the good stuff.