Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Popcorn whom was frisky"

My wife and I are closing on a house tomorrow. It's exciting stuff. I spent the better half of the day going through old boxes of college notebooks, deciding what to throw out and what to move with us. One thing I was keenly seeking is a two-page, double-side printed story about a dog named "Popcorn."

To make a long story short(ish), in the mid-nineties I was an English major at a Midwestern university (coincidentally, a school well known for it's prestigious writing program). My junior year, a few friends and I took a class called "Reading Short Stories." We read stories by Faulkner, Wright, Ellison, and others I can't recall. It's not the lit that really stands out from that course, it's the Girl in the Ronnie Milsap Jean Jacket (henceforth "GitRMJJ"), who claimed during Week 1 that she "wanted to be a writer." Cool. I'm cool with that.

The last few weeks of class we were encouraged to submit our own short stories for group critique. GitRMJJ submitted a 500-word gem called Popcorn that has lived in infamy in my inner circle ever since. Popcorn was a terribly written, somehow captivating, douche-chill inducing, childish, absurd-yet-fascinating read. First, it was absolutely riddled with typos. For an "aspiring writer," most editors would have simply shaken their heads and held open the door for GitRMJJ.

The story of Popcorn was relatively straightforward: girl is playing with dog ("Popcorn"), dog runs away, girl waits anxiously for dog to come home, stranger arrives at front door and announces that dog has been hit by car and is dead, girl is sad.

That's it. That's Popcorn. But it wasn't exactly simple to decipher this plot line from the words on the page. In fact, one sentence stood out with such glaring problems, I took the time to commit it to memory some years ago. I can still recite it word for word. It went (completely 100% sic):
Popcorn whom was frisky and wanted to play tug at the end of my coat for the winter winds did not bother my fury friend.
I did not make that sentence up. I did not leave out a comma or purposely misspell "furry." That's exactly how the sentence appeared on the written page. It was too good not to memorize. There were other similar moments of brilliance, but my pea brain only had enough room for one.

Now, you might be saying, "Boy, you sure are an asshole for making fun of this girl's story." Fair enough. But keep a few things in mind:

1) Submitting a story for critique in this class was optional. She made a conscious decision to put this piece of writing in front of us.

2) Typos are typos. Aspiring writers should know better. I know my writing is riddled with typos, but something submitted to a class for review should have zero typos; one or two at most. The passage above has about six in one sentence.

Finally, 3) in some twisted way, my friends from the class and I celebrated this story. We read it dozens of times. We read it at parties, we read it when we were bored, we shared it with new friends who entered our circle. Look--I'm still talking about it! In my mind, GitRMJJ succeeded--her work lives on and is still being celebrated today.

So back off with the guilt trip.

Anyway, I'd hoped that today I'd find the original copy of Popcorn. I know it's around here somewhere. I will find it. And I will once again enjoy it, in all its fucked-up-edness.

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