Mannequin Monday – A Girl, My Lord, in a Flatbed Ford

My Lord, our mannequin drives a flatbed Ford this week. Ride along as words dress her story.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder… live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.” Words from Ray Bradbury. Today’s Mannequin Monday is a mashup of song lyrics, a real-life memory, and Ray Bradbury quotes.

And then I present “Hollywood and Highland,” a short story I wrote using all these pieces.

This Week’s Story/Author

Twitter reminded me that August 22nd Ray Bradbury would have celebrated his hundredth birthday. In his sci-fi, fantasy world, maybe he actually did have a party.

The tweet sparked a memory, then a search for quotes. And that, in turn, inspired a story for my current writing course.

Ray Bradbury. Credit: Ultra Swank

About ten years ago I attended a Bradbury book signing at a local bookstore. He actually replied to a question by saying we need to go back to the moon, use it as a base, go on to Mars and Alpha Centauri.

Thanks to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, I found some inspiring Bradbury quotes regarding fiction writing. In an interview Bradbury did in the mid 1970s with journalist James Day, he talks about the spontaneity required to write. The editing, the correcting, comes later.

Bradbury: “But thinking is to be a corrective in our life — it’s not supposed to be a center of our life. Living is supposed to be the center of our life, being is supposed to be the center — with correctives around, which hold us like the skin holds our blood and our flesh in. But our skin is not a way of life — the way of living is the blood pumping through our veins, the ability to sense and to feel and to know. And the intellect doesn’t help you very much there — you should get on with the business of living.”

Living is supposed to be the center of our life.

On the creative process of writing: “I use a library the same way I’ve been describing the creative process as a writer — I don’t go in with lists of things to read, I go in blindly and reach up on shelves and take down books and open them and fall in love immediately. And if I don’t fall in love that quickly, shut the book, back on the shelf, find another book, and fall in love with it. You can only go with loves in this life.”

Here’s great advice for writers and non-writers: “[I love my work] intensely — I wouldn’t be in it if I ever stopped loving it, I would shift it and go over into something else. … I don’t think life is worth living unless you’re doing something you love completely, so that you get out of bed in the morning and want to rush to do it. If you’re doing something mediocre, if you’re doing something to fill in time, life really isn’t worth living. … I can’t understand people not living at the top of their emotions constantly, living with their enthusiasms, living with some sense of joy, some sense of creativity — I don’t care how small a level it is. … I don’t care what field it is though, and there’s gotta be a field for everyone, doesn’t there?”

In quickness is truth.

To sum it up, a last quote, this one number five among his top thirteen writing tips: “In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.”

My Current Writing

I wrote this story for my UIOWA IWP fiction course. The assignment: take some real event and set it somewhere new, change the outcomes. I heard the Eagles song Take It Easy on the car radio. “A girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to have a look at me.” What if she picked up a hitchhiker, then attended a Ray Bradbury book signing together.

And then I read that it was Ray Bradbury’s 100th birthday. I put on a Spotify playlist while I made notes, and more inspiration came from a mashup of song lyrics. Enjoy the story.

Hollywood and Highland

 I sat on a bench facing a mall parking lot, a bookstore at my back. I held a cardboard LA sign damp with my sweat, backpack and guitar case at my feet.  

A dark green flatbed Ford drove past. The girl driving slowed as she turned her head to have a look at me. She parked farther out where there was room for her truck. 

Image fo a flatbed Ford truck

She walked towards me. Jeans, a faded red tee, worn cowboy boots. Her sun-bleached ponytail flashed in the sunlight. She pointed to my sign. “Headed to LA?”

I nodded.

“Too hot to be out now. I’m here for a book signing. Ray Bradbury. Join me?”

“Bradbury. The sci-fi guy.”

“That’s the one.”

“I want to make Hollywood and Highland before dark.”

“Not a place you want to be after dark.”

“I know a guy at the Stella Adler theater there. I can get work.”

“Stage hand?”

“Actor.”

She shook her head. Walked into the store. 

I followed.

We found two seats near the back, where I could stash my gear. She said, “I’m Suzanne.”

“Bobby.”

“Last name McGee?”

“Nah. But I get that all the time.”

“You have that look. Faded, like your jeans.”

“You got that right.”

Bradbury arrived in a wheelchair, pushed by a middle-aged woman. His daughter, we learned later.

He spoke about one of his books. Enthusiastic, a bit subdued. During the Q&A, a mother wrapped her arm around her son, asked: What’s your advice for today’s young people?

Bradbury sat up straight in his wheelchair, raised his head high. I heard him boom, “Go back to the moon. Use the moon as a base. Go on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri!”

Go on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri.

As Suzanne and I stepped out of the store, she said, “Walk me to my truck. I can drop you near the freeway.”

Pollen dust covered the truck. The driver’s door had a worn ranch logo. On the bed stood a large steel box and a few bales of hay.

“Jump in.”

I climbed in, tossed my gear on the floor, tucked my sign next to me.

She turned to me. “Where’s your Mars, Bobby McGee?”

“You mean, like, where do I want to go? I don’t know. The stage, I guess.”

She laughed. Without another word she got us on the 101 heading north. 

“Wait. I need to go south to LA.”

“Life ain’t linear…Let’s find your Mars.”

I leaned back, too weary to argue. Fell asleep for a time. When I woke, we were exiting the freeway somewhere south of Santa Barbara, where the freeway hugs the beach. She drove her truck down and backed it so the bed faced the water.

image of Gaviota State Park south of Santa Barbara
Gaviota State Park. Credit: Hikespeak.com

Darkness came on fast as the sun dropped.

Suzanne climbed up on the truck bed, opened the steel box, lifted out a cooler. We sat on the bed with our backs against the hay bales. She pulled oranges and iced tea from the cooler.

I sang softly. “Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river…”

“Shut up. Get your guitar. Let’s see what you got.”

“You play?”

“I write. When I’m not working.”

I played a few songs I knew well. To impress her.

As the darkness thickened, a full moon rose behind us. Suzanne set candles in glass jars on the truck bed. The flames flickered gently.

I started singing, “Remember me when the candlelights are gleaming…”

Suzanne joined in, soft, harmonizing above me.

When the moon rose high enough to throw a shimmer across the water, I sang, “It’s only a paper moon…”

Only a paper moon.

“This is just a Barnum and Bailey world to you?”

I shrugged. “A full moon always triggers that song.”

“This moon, this beach, is my base. My heart goes on to Mars from here.”

“I only see a paper moon.”

“Do you always travel alone?”

I nodded. “Easier that way.”

She didn’t answer.

I asked, “Do you know the lyrics from “Cecilia” – I got up to wash my face. When I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.

She turned to look at me. Flickering candlelight threw mottled shadows over her face. “It shows.”

“What does that mean?”

“You keep giving away your Mars, huh?”

“Someone always takes my place.”

“Who’s taking it from you right now?”

Lyrics flashed through my mind. You know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there.

Suzanne fell asleep as the candles guttered out.

I stared up at the stars. Blinked. Did I see the edge of my paper moon peeling back?  

***