Saturday, May 27, 2006

Weaning Derek

"Weaning Derek" began around 1992 as a sort of pre-chic-lit urban tale of a pack of friends under the grasp of the needy manipulative friend they can’t seem to outgrow. Studies from those drafts have appeared here before.
A couple of things killed the project before Chapter One. The main thing was the phenomenon of
Friends, which killed what (I thought) was the novelty of this idea. The 2nd was that I hadn’t yet realized that I was rewriting Sondheim’s Company (memo to creators of
What About Brian: look into it)
I did enjoy the characters, who were unapologetically based on my real circle. Here’s an edited blog-digestible section from the opening, where we meet the characters over dinner.

“Party of four?” Even though the hostess knows where to find them, she still hollers at them, the only group waiting outside. The group and their bags work their way to the back of the restaurant, where the lighting is too dim, the ceiling fans too strong, and the music too loud, where the smoke makes it difficult to breath, and a sales rep from Sugarloaf Ski Resort is running some kind of contest promotion from table to table. With four of them, there is no chair for their belongings. Things are tucked under the table, wrapped around chair legs and human legs until they are, it would seem, settled.

“Ok, big agenda tonight,” Karen begins. She stares David in the eye. “You’re on. What’s the scoop?”

He shrinks at the force of them leaning toward him across the table. Keeping up with the girls in this little clutch has never been easy. He is tokenized most of the time, and the rest of the time disregarded as an alternative point of view. And neither approach comes at the times he wishes they would. He is glad they include him, and always has a great time with each of them, but more and more he has longed for another male voice at the table. “I shouldn’t have said it was a scoop,” he says. “I may have mislead you. I just heard from Gary that Derek is moving back from New York.”

Emma calls for Point of Clarification: “Coming back or moving back?”

“Moving back,” he repeats.

Karen sighs and looks smug. “Well, that certainly didn’t take, did it?”

“He just moved down there,” says Maureen. The waiter has appeared at the table with eager posture, pad and pencil in hand. He is the tall boy with the blond braid who enjoys flirting with Emma while she pretends not to know what kind of wine she likes. But he is not even noticed, and just as quickly fade away. “I’d call that scoop.”

Emma says, “He took the train down New Year’s Eve, and that was the whole thing, because he was going to ring in the new year in Connecticut or something, wasn’t it?” She looks to Karen, clarifier of all facts, who gives a silent nod that yes, it was indeed Connecticut.

Karen waves for the waiter back to them, but never looks for him, just beckons an arm in the air. “So what’s his problem? It didn’t work out in six months? I need six months to get over a bad haircut.”

When the women get catty like this, David prefers to back down. Karen’s acid tongue in particular is only for her own amusement – misdirected anger from having to be sensitive to everyone’s feelings all day.

To the waiter, Karen says, “Club soda. No fruit,” and immediately releases her eye contact. Maureen asks to be skipped while she thinks a little longer, then later requests an iced tea. The waiter predicts David’s Sprite before he can order it, and David does not find this efficient or charming. He knows that the waiter is rushing them so he can use more time reading the wine list with Emma. When he has gone, they sit quietly for a moment, having lost track of where they were in their discussion.

Finally, Maureen says, “Well, that’s too bad. When’s he due back?”

David starts to say, “I don’t know,” but before he can, Karen has snorted a laugh under her breath. He says it anyway, adding that Gary had spoken to Derek on Saturday, but the details were missing. Gary doesn’t tell a story well, so David hasn’t learned much.

Karen bites on her thumbnail and stares at the front door. She is thinking about the night Derek left and how glad she was to see him go. She says, without hearing herself, “What a nightmare.”

“What?” Emma asks loudly, over a guitar solo screaming from the speakers.

“One of the best things about this city is that when people leave, they stay gone. At least you could always count on that.”

Mo helps the waiter hand around the drinks, “Remind me not to take a vacation.”

“I just didn’t expect to see him again.”

“You probably won’t,” David says.

“Sure we will. You know we will.” She picks up the lime wedge floating in her soda and places it directly on the table for the waiter to collect later. “It’s the one thing you can be sure Derek will do.”

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