Story Thief


Every storyteller is a complete, unabashed thief. They nab a character description here, a quip there, a lunatic aunt over there.

I steal all the time. I’ve nabbed lines, pets, locations. I don’t care. If they are better than something I’ve got, I grab it and implant the hell out of it. Why not? It’s all in the pursuit of a better story.

It’s been happening since I was a kid. I come from a family of storytellers and I have always considered myself lucky. In my family, we spent hours around the table telling stories and interrupting each other harshly. It was an education.

My mother has spent a lifetime putting herself into stories. She talks to random people in the mall or while finding the right sized shirt for an old man in a JC Penny. On one of our mall jaunts I found her in front of a dressing room.

“Hey, what—”

And that’s when a woman came out of the dressing room. “So, what do you think?”

“I like the pink one more,” said my mother.  

“Knew it, Mrs. G,” she said. “Thank you.” The girl twirled.  

“Good luck and have fun at the prom.”

“Thanks, Mrs. G.”

“Who is that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Let’s go to TJ Maxx. I hate those shoes.”

It’s a minor point to say that her stories are usually devoid of plot. They will always be descriptions of either completely enhancing or ruining a total stranger’s day.

My sister Amanda has a peculiar talent in the storytelling realm in which she openly admits that she is the villain. The bitch. The bad guy.

“Hey, so I’m on the way home today,” she said to me last December 22nd. I was visiting for Christmas. She hoisted a quadruple espresso in a tall coffee. Her belly is round. “And I give this lady the finger,” she laughed.  

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“Yeah, so I get a message a few minutes later from Charlie.” She drank a sip and kicks a little. She took her time; I was on the edge of my seat, proving her natural storytelling talents are vaster than she credits. “And it turns out I know her.”

“The lady?”

“Yeah.” She let out a long string of laughs. “I don’t give a shit. I’m a bitch.”

My sister’s skill in telling a story so unabashedly honest is something I have always envied. She is the grand antihero juiced up by multiple thousands of milligrams of caffeine. What’s more, her stories are short and sweet. She knows where each of her stories are going and so why fuck around.  

In a former life, on the other hand, my brother sang epic sagas to a king’s court in a former life until they beat him to death for not getting to the point on Beowulf.

“Did I tell you that my boss got fired?”

“No,” I said, rearranged my boxers, stretched my legs, ordered another beer, and got comfortable.

“Well my old boss Bob McCandry…he was a marine, you know, a big dude. He was a badass. He wasn’t the kind of guy to, well, this one time…you know how I used to work at night in the Trevose plant, right? Oh that changed. I have a different job, now…I mean, the problem wasn’t that it was at night. Did I tell you we’re learning to drive doon buggies? Oh man….”

Each story begets a new story that begets a new story that begets a new story. It’s like Shogun, but instead of taking place in the year 1600, it details every experience from 1600 until the moment I put the period on this sentence. Still, while an epic saga about a guy who got his finger ripped off in a makeup factory conveyer belt might sound awful, it’s not. And that’s because my brother happens to be the funniest human being on Earth.

My sister Julia has the market cornered on conflict. Each time she begins a story, there’s going to be a throwdown that makes me wince and cringe. She has reserved almost all of her stories for such interactions. I wish I could be more comfortable with this, but I’m not ad it’s almost certainly why I had to go into fiction where I could simply create conflict by having one guy fuck another guy’s jar of peanut butter. In real life, I have no stomach for it.

What drives me insane is her mindboggling ability to drop universal truths like it’s nothing.

“Well, so anyway, I think we all hate qualities in people that we see in ourselves. Hey, I gotta run.”

“OK, cool! Chat later.”

“Bye!”

“Bye.”

90 seconds later: “What the fuck!”    

I grew up listening to my dad tells stories; mixture of funny, witty, and completely fictional. It took me a few years to realize that he appropriated stories from elsewhere mostly because he knew he was better at telling them than the original character in the story. I have often felt that the less story-oriented should give over their stories to the more story-oriented. I would gladly trade over something I’m not good at for the pleasure of telling your stories for you. I’d gladly trade my ability to keep plants alive.

At dinnertime, stories were told. If you faltered, your story time was understood to be over and someone else took up the reins. In any event it was a learning experience. And in my house it was a well-rounded learning experience. Segue, plot, villainy, humor, background, foreshadowing, conflict, the art of being a dick, and the universal truth.

What did you learn at dinner time?           

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