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Turned Into Flattered

by TheGodfather 

Posted: 17 July 2004
Word Count: 4984
Summary: I am really working on developing my writing style and skill, so I apologize that this is a tad bit longer. Thanks in advance for reading it. All comments are welcome.

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I T was just after eleven o’clock in the morning, and I had interrupted my drive home from school with the answer to the question of where I was going to spend my time reading today.

I have always been an avid reader since I was young. I think my father got me all hyped up on reading by paying me a penny a page to read books. I know what you are thinking – that is not very much at all, a penny, why that is almost nothing. I pass over those on the sidewalk. It is worth more in savings from my chiropractor bill to not bend over and pick up a penny.

Not to me though. If you read enough, you end up with quite a collection of money, more than a kid knows what to do with sometimes. When I had finished an entire series of children’s books, advanced, entertaining literature to me at the time, enough to completely enrapture my young pliable mind, I must have earned over two hundred dollars, two or three dollars a book.

I decided to do my reading today down in Seal Beach. I had the novel idea to combine it with my exercising and tanning my white body and just traipse down the beach with my book in hand. After parking the car, I walked in between two beachfront houses on a strip of sand that formed a path out to the beach.

I stopped to remove my sandals and shirt, tucking both sandals into the right pocket of my shorts and my shirt around a section of my belt. I placed my wedding ring in the change compartment of my wallet so as not to lose it anywhere in the sand or water. This is not a habit of mine, taking off my wedding ring, I mean. I know some men do it to appear single, but I would never do that. I am happily married, regardless of popular opinion.

I noticed a young woman who was just sitting down to sunbathe on her back patio in a hammock she had strung up between two weather-beaten wood posts, the kind you might see a yacht tied up to in a small harbor. I assumed she had strung it up herself, when in all actuality it could have been anybody who strung it up. I guess that is how I am – I like to assume that people are incredible human beings of upstanding character and that there are very few actual miscreants living around me.

I was out in the sun the other day with a shirt on, so I figured I could even out the tan line I had received across the back of my neck and arms. I had not had any tan lines for a while and had bantered pleasantries to my close friends about my method of achieving an even tan, simply avoiding the sun. I can be somewhat of a recluse at times, especially when I am taking any classes, a lifestyle which leaves me in the have-nots of the tanning world.

At that time I was just taking only one course, so my schedule was freed up most days for reading, spending time with friends, or gallivanting about wherever I liked. I finished a book just about an hour before while eating breakfast on the way back from my summer class.

I was walking down the beach, or up it – I was not sure. How can you tell which way north is when there are not any trees to look to see on which side the moss is growing? I was right down by where the small waves lapped up against the sand. The waves at Seal Beach are much smaller than the ones down at Huntington. I wonder if people can even surf these ones, not that they would want to, but if they could.

You can see all kinds of things washed up on the shore if you walk for long enough. Small mollusk shells ranging in color across the spectrum, colors you would not think to see on shells except maybe when the sun glances off their wet surface. Flies that – I have good eyes, and I could hardly see them – were hovering in swarms around small holes in the sand. Eyes like a hawk people tell me. I can almost read the green-lighted street signs a block away at certain times of the day when the glare is down.

My cell phone rang, so I unbuttoned my cargo shorts pocket to answer it without dropping my phone in the water while trying to tuck my bookmark into my book. I could tell it was my brother by the caller id.

“Hello, Nate,” I spoke into the receiver.

“Hey, brother,” he answered back. “What are you up to?” He does not like to call me Nate ever and has almost as much trouble calling me Nathan, like my birth certificate says. My parents were lacking some creativity that day my brother was born. Is that all they could come up with – Nathan and Nate? We have managed to work through it though and do not let it hinder our relationship much, aside from the occasional jest.

“Just walking down here on the beach. You’re at work right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Rub it in why don’t you. Every time I call you, you make sure to let me know that I’m at work and that you are off someplace relaxing. It always makes me think about teaching for a while, but I talk myself out of it equally as quick.”

“Well, it’s not for everybody,” I reminded him. “I talked to another girl for you today. I didn’t get her number though, just set the stage for you.”

“What? Are you kidding? I thought we talked about this already.”

“I know, but I had too. She was a gorgeous one.”

“Gorgeous or repulsive, it doesn’t matter. Let me do my own dirty work. Sometimes I don’t know about you.”

“I was just thinking though…what if you’re not there when I meet the girl you’re supposed to be with. I can’t just not say anything to her and leave it to the gods of fate for you two to meet.”

“Yes, you can, Nathan. You must.”

“What’d you call for anyway?” I asked.

“You know…I’m not in the mood to do this right now. I was calling to tell you about my date last night, but I think I’ll do that later.”

“Suit yourself. Listen, it’s not that big of a deal. It really isn’t. Just think of me like your field ops specialist or whatever you’d like.”

“I’ll think of you as a laid off controversial nuisance.”

“As you wish.” I hung up on him at that point.
Most people are generally good people I think, even my brother, but he was not understanding my here. It was sound logic too.

T H A T morning I had decided to eat at a quaint restaurant my wife and I had often seen while driving to and from school. One of her friends from teaching had recommended it to her. It was their favorite restaurant or something like that. It had an intriguing sign anyway, a chalkboard design with various primary-colored letters spelling Blackboard Bistro.

I walked up to the gate adjacent to the outdoor patio but noticed a sign they had purposely placed there to direct customers around to the front door. Apparently, they did not enjoy customers seating themselves. Indeed, they probably had waiters (or waitresses for that matter, I want to avoid coming across as in any way sexist, or genderist) who would become genuinely confused to come back out to the patio after retrieving a pitcher to refill someone’s drink and find an extra table filled with people, or person in my case.

So I went around to the front. I like to submit to the general laws whenever possible, pulling up my end of the ideal that all people are sincerely good people. They are, aren’t they? Don’t tell me now. I think it might disturb me to some degree. Tell me some other time.

The owner, a vivacious woman in her early forties it seemed, directed me to my table after I had prepped myself at the counter with a menu to see if I actually wanted to eat there and if the prices were satisfactory, not that I would actually tell anyone about my frugality.

I had completed a card from the front counter that entered me in a contest to win a free forty dollar bottle of wine. I always figure, why not? Sometimes I win. My wife and I won a two night trip to Las Vegas by being one of the first one hundred callers to reach the number they gave us on the radio station. They just gave us the trip. Can you believe that? At first I wondered what exactly they might be getting out of it, but I never came to any conclusion on the matter. I merely accepted it as a pleasant turn of fate and an ultimately kind gesture from some company I had never bought anything from and probably would never buy anything from in the future.

My waitress was a young woman of about twenty-two, maybe twenty-three, but who knows. She could not have been older than twenty-five though. Once a woman gets to be that age, she begins developing a certain older woman demeanor that quite distinguishes the older from the younger. Yes, she was definitely still the younger, but a subtle and attractive and still noticeable younger. She carried herself confident and calm, like serving people was what she did and did well.

Her short blond hair stopped before her shoulders, feathered in the back to the point where she probably could not put it in a ponytail if she wanted to. She would have to let it grow a couple weeks. She had spacious blue eyes and a slender face. She reminded me ever so slightly of the girl my brother had danced with a few weeks ago at a swing club called Memories down in Los Angeles.

You see, my brother is looking for a girl. He is seriously looking for a girl, not a girl like young men of today who are always looking for a girl to spend some money on and hope for the lucky. He is looking for a depth that girls who would date a guy for the lucky do not have or ever contemplate. So he has been dating every young woman he can. I know it sounds similar to other guys, but it is not even close to the same. Trust me. He is really looking.

At my table, I quickly ordered the bacon and avocado omelet, the one I had settled on while up on the counter. I only brought the menu with me to my table in case I forgot what it was called and had to look back at the menu. I was lucky I brought it too.

“People do that all the time,” she said.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Look back into their menus after they’ve forgotten what they were going to order. It’s common. Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, I…”

“Let me take that from you,” she said, gesturing toward the menu I was now leaning my elbows on after I had confidently ordered my breakfast. “I’ll have your toast out to you in a second.”

She walked inside through the open patio doors. I noticed she was wearing a black skirt unlike all the other waiters and waitresses, or are they all called waiters now? It was not too tight on her but complimented her figure nicely, tucking close around her waist and extending smoothly down her legs. “Daggom, she’s attractive,” I thought to myself.

She brought me my toast and homemade raspberry jam and told me, “If you need anything at all, please let me know.”
She moved to the table to my left where two older ladies were standing to leave. They were not old, but older. There is a difference. Most ladies and even some men get offended if you refer to them as older. It isn’t meant to be derogatory though. “You’re both leaving on me are you?” She asked jokingly. “Thank you so much for the generous tip you left me.” She smiled honest and endearing. “I hope you enjoyed your meal.”

“We will. Thank you, and you deserve all the tips we ever give you. You’re a fine waitress,” said the taller lady in elastic blue jeans high up around her waist.

The waitress smiled as she pushed in the chairs around the table. I wondered if her skirt had anything to do with how people tipped her. That would be a fine strategy. Instead of the black pants of the latest trend with the grommetted black and silver belts, she presented herself noticeably classy for a morning waitress.

“Smart,” I thought.

They brought me my food in much less time than I imagined it was going to take. I was busy reading that book that I later finished and began eating my food with my fork in my right hand and holding my book in the crick of my left hand with my pinky and thumb spreading the pages apart.

The food was above par for breakfast joints. Toward the end of my meal but before I wanted to tell myself I was finished, I had set my fork down and was just reading my book, occasionally nibbling at the bacon and avocado that I had yet to finish. I had even taken a few forkfuls of sour cream just to see what it might taste like, all sour cream on a fork.

“Are you finished there?” The young waitress asked me, wanting to reach down to grab the plate but not wanting to appear that way for fear that I was not finished yet.

“Not yet. I’m just relaxing.” I smiled to her, hoping she would smile back.

She did. “Ok. Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll clear that for you.”

I resumed my reading. I was almost finished with my eighth book since June when school dismissed for summer. I keep track of the books I read. It is a small thing I do to entertain myself and give me some incentive to read now that my father does not pay me anymore. The list pays me now.

A mother with her son and two daughters came in through the back gate. “Can’t they read,” I thought. They made their way over to the other side of the patio to a table with a large green and white striped umbrella. The father came in shortly afterwards while they were busy joining another table to the umbrella one to make a larger table.

Just then the young waitress came back out onto the patio and noticed them. She pleasantly approached them and said, “Well now. You guys are breaking the rules you know.”

She paused a short moment to see if they would pick up on the joke and then laughed for them to cue them in on it and not sever any customer-waitress relationship. She helped them arrange the chairs around the tables and unexpectedly sat in one of them in the sitting space crack between the tables. She held her arms out to the sides, palms up in a questioning manner, obviously addressing the potential comfort problems with the seating arrangement.

A few minutes later, a different waitress came by to fill up my water and asked me if I was finished. I had accomplished a few more bites of my hash browns and bacon, so I relented. “Sure, I’m done.”

“All right. I’ll have your waitress bring out your check then.”

“Thanks,” I said. I began thinking about what I was going to say to my waitress. I had to say something. I wondered if it would be acceptable for me to say something for my brother. I would not get her phone number or anything. I would simply…I don’t know what I’d say.

I started role-playing different lines in my head. I think my writing helps with that. She approached my table before I was ready with the check.

I had cash but quickly decided that paying with my credit card would give me a few more moments to think it through while she went inside to slide it.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll be right back out with it for you.”

I rehearsed a few more thoughts, finally deciding on one that I believed would come across as not too forceful or awkward. When she returned and set the black tray with my card pinned under its lip with a receipt, I spoke up.

“This might sound a bit strange, but I was wondering if it would be alright if I recommended this place to my brother, so he could come check it out…so he could meet you.” Up until my pause she looked slightly confused, but her confusion turned into flattered as I finished talking.

“Wow. Ok.” The slightest flush appeared in her cheeks, adding a perfect accent to her face like a living room that didn’t look like it was missing anything before but seemed complete with the newfound supporting dash of color. “That’d be great.”

“What’s your name?” I asked, realizing I had not bothered to even think about her possible name.


“My name’s Nathan. Do you usually work in the mornings?”

“No, I actually only work the breakfast shift once a week or so. I work the evening round almost all week.”

“Good. Thanks. Have a good morning then,” I said over to her. She looked at me and nodded, acknowledging my departure as she smiled and went to clearing another one of her tables.

I signed the receipt and left a six dollar tip, rounding it to a flat fifteen. I am not usually a big tipper but wanted to leave something more for my brother’s sake, in case he ever came in here and mentioned me. Or, I don’t know, maybe it was the skirt.

I F O C U S E D on a mass of seaweed that had washed up on the sand. It was wrapped partially around a light bulb, an interesting item to find on a beach. I played with it with my feet for a while, grabbing it between my toes and turning it around a couple of times, wondering how long something like that has to float around in the ocean to end up on sand where it will be picked up by somebody or wash out to sea again.

How does something like that make its way out here? I wondered how it was not broken in its almost unspoiled condition. Somebody would have to have thrown something like that away for it to end up in the ocean. Something like that is a real shame – I mean it is nature for God’s sake.

How could any single good person discard any trash into nature? If all people are genuinely good, they must have a sound rational for it. Perhaps it is the jobs. Litter creates jobs. If we stopped littering, those upstanding citizens who attended work every day cleaning up our city streets would be out of work. That is one explanation anyway. There are sure to be several more. I guess it is acceptable if someone else picks it up, all part of the cycle or whatever. I never really paid attention in science class.

I noticed that one of my sandals had fallen out of my pocket while I was walking. I looked back down my path of half washed over footprints but did not notice it anywhere. I was not even to the jetty yet, the tentative goal I had set for myself. I wanted to see what make of naval vessel was parked in the harbor near the bridge, but goals change.

I turned back the direction I had come from, hoping to find my sandal washed up on the shore. Hopefully, someone would not take it from off the sand. I guess if someone found it out in the water, they would deem it fair game, but what about on the sand? I could only hope.

The sand on this stretch of the beach was beautiful, shining with flattened miniature sand dunes, maybe smaller, more like ripples, glittered with pyrite that settled itself down in the valleys as the waves pulled themselves out, leaving the slowly trickling clear layer of water to do its work with the glistening ore.

I saw my sandal up ahead, luckily still there. It must have worked its way out of my pocket as I slowly walked up the beach while reading my book. The waves had lapped some sand up onto it, no doubt attempting to drag it out to the watery trash heap that is our local stretch of ocean, but it held firm to its claim on that spot of sand like a good little sandal. I unbuckled my belt, taking it back through a loop and weaving it through the straps on my sandals to keep them from leaving me a second time.

I decided it was getting too late to walk down to the jetty since I had already been out in the sun probably far too long for my fair skin, so I continued to make my way back toward tower eighteen.

I thought back to the conversation with my brother. I could not believe how adamant he was about me talking to women for him. It was irrational. I sort of got a thrill out of it too. It was like dating again, but different. It was the same kick though, just free of rejection and the responsibility of the follow up. It might come in handy some day too – one never knows what can happen in life. I may someday look back with fondness and appreciation on my decision to help my brother out like this.

A woman kneeling on her knees near a long spread of small mollusk shells was talking with who appeared to be her granddaughter. They were both choosing particular shells from the sand and placing them in a Ziploc baggy for later use.

“What are you collecting shells for, ladies?” I asked, approaching them slowly, so I would not startle them at all.
The older woman, probably in her mid-to-late sixties answered, “For my class. I’m a kindergarten teacher.”

“She uses the shells for all types of projects with her kids,” the younger woman chimed in.

“I use them to teach the children all kinds of things. They can sort them by shape. They can sort them by color. They can sort them by size,” the older woman continued listing their potential uses.

“She was doing this yesterday morning for a while. She must have listed fifty uses or so. I don’t know, maybe not fifty, but it was a lot.”

“That’s great,” I said. “It’s sort of like Bubba from Forrest Gump,” I chuckled. “All his shrimp recipes.”

They both began laughing heartily. It seemed they understood the joke. That was good. It is always so awkwardly disappointing when someone does not recognize humor when it is presented. It was a darn shame really. So much of the time I feel like I am presenting humor to entertain myself. In fact, I would almost certainly continue telling jokes even if I was positive that no one around me would comprehend them. It is sort of an intellectual accomplishment, a quick database search and connection to my present situation. It truly is tough to do sometimes.

The younger woman was slightly overweight with curly brown hair and a smile, attractive, one I could tell was just waiting to burst with so much more conversation than I was ready to handle at the moment. I addressed her anyways.

“What’s your name, Miss?” I asked politely, knowing that I might be setting the stage for my brother to come along later on.

“Flora. Flora Jane Matthewson. I think it’s German, but I’m really not sure. My parents are both part German with some English and Irish. I don’t think it’s Irish though. What’s your name?” Her barrage of words seemed it could not have taken more than a single second, and yet each word was intelligible.

“Nathan, my name’s Nathan.” I was still stunned by the swiftness with which she spoke.

“Nathan is a good name. Grandma, didn’t I have an uncle named Nathan? Uncle Nathan? It sounds so familiar to me. That must be the case, Grandmother. It just must be.”

I was beginning to rethink my plan. Maybe Nate was in the right this time. I would certainly need to proceed warily if I was going to do the right thing with this woman.

After further talk, it was becoming ever so evident that I had made a critical error in judgment. This woman was a verbal geyser, a bursting dam of words and smiles. Whatever value of beauty Flora had shown on first sight had been long washed away her endless torrent of conversation. It was situation not becoming to any person.

I weaseled my way out of my position with some clever wordsmithing and continued down the beach. I made sure to offer a courtesy wave and a “Good day” to them as I resumed my walk back to the car.

When I had reached tower eighteen, I noticed that the young woman in the hammock was no longer out on her back patio. She had probably had enough sun for the day. Chances were pretty good that I was good and burnt all over my shoulders and chest. I realized I had forgotten to put sun screen on my feet. That promised to leave a mark.

I found a public restroom in the parking lot on the way to my car. My wife and I had recently purchased a new Camry, so I was glad to see that there were showers. I placed my sandals and book on a small grass hill close by and began to rinse the sand off my feet. The last thing I wanted was sand in the new car.

The shower was abysmal. I was forced to press the button over and over as the water would shoot out far as a spray and then trickle back in towards the nozzle becoming a steadier stream that I could actually use to clean off my ankles and feet while managing to remain dry.

A man and his young boy were standing nearby, and I could tell by their demeanor, the father’s at least, that they wanted to use the shower. “I’ll just be a minute longer here. Sorry,” I apologized.

“Oh, it’s no problem. Don’t worry about it. It makes you wonder why they only have one shower.”

His comment plagued my conscience with more guilt, not real soul guilt but that social guilt that seems to urge us to do more things that we do not really want to do. I quickly finished up even though I had not cleaned off the remainder of the sand. “I will wipe the rest of the sand off with the towel in my trunk,” I thought, gathering my belongings and walking on the balls of my feet to keep my feet as sand-free as possible until I could don my sandals.

Engrossed in my book again, I paid mild attention to the street signs on the way back to the car. Apparently, I had been giving less attention than I thought. I found myself at Fourteenth Street and had to retrace my steps back to Eighteenth.

As I approached my car, I noticed an array of unbecoming scratches in the black paint on the side panels of my car. “Somebody keyed my car,” I thought. “Why the hell would somebody do this to me?” Starting at the driver’s side door, it appears they scraped their way around across the back bumper, up the wheel well, and then up onto the roof.

As I had just begun to try to adjust to the shocking display of vandalism, I looked down and noticed the tires. Both of the passenger side tires had been slit in multiple places, allowing the tires to rest more of their weary souls on the hot pavement than they were accustomed to. I assumed the tires on the other side were likewise flattened.

I counted backwards from ten. When I realized that it had not worked as my psychiatrist had suggested it would in these situations, I upped the number to thirty. The totaled forty count did the trick, and I was able to gather myself enough to call for a tow truck.

As I sat on the curb out on the main traffic thoroughfare, I wondered if the tow truck driver would end up being a woman. I had never seen a female tow truck driver, not to say that there are not any out there, but I had just never seen one. Inside I hoped that it would be, giving me a chance to make up for my last failed attempt to fix my brother up. It was becoming a game for me, one I was not sure I wanted anyone to know about. My wife might not take too kindly to the idea of my helping my brother out all the time, especially with him in opposition like he was.

I speculated as to whether she might be willing to stop at a mini-mart on the way back to my apartment. I was thirsty.

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Comments by other Members

Beeman at 22:55 on 17 July 2004  Report this post
After reading your peice "Turned into Flattered" I am confused...it is under the "short story" section, but it seems to be part of a larger peice of writing. I really liked the backstory of the narrator, and the way his character was developed. Overall, the first-person voice worked for you in this peice. The interaction between the narrator and the waitress is interesting, it left me wondering what would happen if and when they meet, but it doesn't go anywhere or relate back to the afternoon on the beach, so I dont know how it added to the story. My advice is, if you want this to be a short story and not part of a larger work, to make "Turned into Flattered" more self-contained. What is the theme, what are you trying to say?

Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 10:02 on 19 July 2004  Report this post
Pleasant Prose Style

For me, this tale has a pleasant prose style, an easy going pace, the narrator comes over as personable, easy reader identification. Stylistically, there was nothing 'clunky' in it (something that often happens to me as a writer).

I agree with Beeman about backstory and character development. The how-to books often say 'start in the middle of your tale'. Was the preamble a bit long? The substance of 'Turned into Flatter' did not start until paragraph five.

Nuts and bolts:

I was not sure what 'incredible human beings of upstanding character' meant. Incredible? How?

'The owner, a vivacious woman in her early forties it seemed,' makes me think of what the how-to books say about 'saying and showing'.

'noticeable younger' - noticeably younger?

'How can you tell which way north is when there are not any trees to look to see on which side the moss is growing?' Convoluted sentence. Is there a simpler form?

The paragraph that begins 'I was out in the sun the other day' creates a dislocation in time. What day? A different tale now, or the same one? On several occasions I felt you were wandering to no purpose. Too many inconsequential asides.

Like Beeman, here, I wonder also about 'macro-organisation'. What is the 'big view' in this tale. What is being developed?

Apart from hiccups, the prose was good - a real 'natch'.

Hamburger Yogi

PS I had a school friend whose auntie gave him a Mars bar every time she came round. He ended up with enough to open a shop!

TheGodfather at 08:28 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
Ok everyone, I updated it. I added a couple of scenes and parts that I think will help illumine the theme. Let me know if it worked at all. If not, also please rip me a new one.


Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 08:08 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
One of the 'how to' books says something about 'always begin in the middle of something'. This is because, by disposition, we are inclined to do a little 'throat clearing' at the beginning of a tale.

Of course, I often ignore this injunction (!) but I think there is a point here because you take so many paragraphs to get it going in terms of development.

Keep up!

Hamburger Yogi

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