I once worked with a producer who told me he loved hiring writers with day jobs because they wrote with mad determination in an effort to lose those jobs. Basically, they worked their asses off. And, by “hiring” writers, I mean of course that he wrote up contracts that said something to the effect of: “We’re working on this screenplay together and we intend to sell it to a studio when it’s done, at which point, you’ll see piles of money.” I think I only wrote a couple screenplays in this fashion, before I learned what the word “exploited” means.
Now I find more creative ways to ditch the day job. And by that I mean I’d never be so irresponsible as to leave my job before the big money arrives. And so the “ditching” becomes wish-fulfillment in the form of fiction.
While I was on my ten-minute walk around the building where I work, a city bus pulled up beside me and opened its doors and the driver sat there, waiting, and my mind took the following journey…
By Stephen Jay Schwartz
He stepped out of the office for a quick walk around the building. He didn’t know why he had taken his sports coat and briefcase. Just a force of habit, he guessed. He’d gone about twenty yards when the city bus pulled up beside him and opened its doors. He looked at the driver who stared back at him. He could hear the footsteps of two men, a half-block away, running to catch up. They darted in front of him and up the steps to take their seats.
The door remained open, the driver giving him a look.
Terrance stepped onto the bus, fishing two dollars from his pocket. He didn’t wait for the change. He took a seat near the front as the doors came together with a hiss.
He placed his briefcase on the empty seat beside him, loosened his tie. He stared blankly at the city rolling past his window.
His phone rang.
She said, “Honey, I’m going to need you to pick Stewart up from the Brosnans at six-thirty, I’ll be with Wendy at her sister’s shower. You got that? Six-thirty.”
“And you can stop off at Sprouts on the way home, I need Echinacea with Goldenseal, and some rice milk, you know the brand.”
“Okay. I don’t think I’m going to be home.” He pulled the tie completely off his neck and rolled it into a ball. He stuffed the ball into his briefcase.
“Why don’t you gas up the Beamer, too. I’ll take it tomorrow. You can have the Lexus. What did you say about tonight?”
“I don’t think I’ll be home tonight.”
There was a pause on her end. He almost forgot he had the phone to his ear. He stared for a moment at a bag of groceries held in the hands of a very dark woman, a small woman, Terrance thought she might have been Guatemalan. She stared at him, but through him as well. Her body seemed to fit the hard plastic seat. He wondered if she had been sitting there all day.
“Honey, why don’t you think you’ll be home tonight?”
“I’ve stepped onto a bus.”
“What do you mean, aren’t you at the office?”
“I left the office.”
“What’s wrong with the car? Why are you on a bus?”
“I was taking a walk around the building and it came. I haven’t been on a bus for as long as I can remember.”
“Of course, Terry. This is L.A. And you have a car. Listen, I gotta get going, enjoy your bus ride. Get off at the next stop, I’m sure there’ll be a bus going back the other direction.”
He looked around and didn’t recognize the neighborhood. The bus stopped and people got on, and they weren’t the kind of people Terrance knew. They looked him hard in the face as they passed.
“I don’t think I can get off here. I’ll have to take the bus to the end of the line.”
“What? Where are you?”
“Watts? Jesus, Terry. Well, wait until you get to a safe place and take a taxi back to the office.”
Terrance leaned forward in his seat and addressed the bus driver.
“Excuse me. Where does this bus go? Where’s the end of the line?”
“Norwalk,” the bus driver said.
“It’s Norwalk, honey. I have to go to Norwalk.”
“Terry, Norwalk is like two hours away. Just get out of Watts and find the next safe place to get a cab.”
“I think I’ll be going to Norwalk, Rachel.”
“It’s three o’clock, by the time you get to Norwalk it’ll be five. You’ll never make it back to the office in time, they’ll lock your car in the parking lot.”
“I don’t think I’m going back to the office, no, I know I’m not going back to the office.”
“Not tonight you won’t. Jesus, I’ll have to use the Lexus tomorrow and you’ll have to borrow Tom’s Jetta for the day, if he’ll let you. You’re not going to be home until after seven, Terry. This really screws up my evening.”
“I don’t think I’ll be home tonight.”
Terrance leaned forward in his seat again, addressed the driver. “Where do the buses go from Norwalk?”
“Ain’t no buses from Norwalk. Done for the night.”
“Terry?” she said, her voice sounding small on the I-Phone.
“How do you go east from Norwalk?” he asked.
“I don’t know, brother. There’s a train station a mile from the bus depot.”
Terrance considered it. “Is it walk-able?”
The driver shook his head in disbelief. “Yeah, if you can walk a mile.”
He didn’t know the call had disconnected. He forgot all about his wife until his phone rang again. “Hello?”
“Terrance, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“You walked away from the office and stepped on a fucking city bus and you think you’re spending the night in Norwalk?”
“No. I’m not sure where I’m spending the night.”
“I don’t have time for this. Don’t call me again until you’ve got your head straight.”
“I didn’t call you,” he said, but she had already hung up.
He walked the mile in Norwalk and it felt refreshing to actually walk instead of pretending to walk on the treadmill at the gym. The concrete sidewalks were broken in places, making his dress shoes dirty and scratched. There wasn’t much to see except asphalt and old warehouse buildings, but the Jacaranda trees were in bloom and the world around him was covered in delicate lavender flowers that fell like snowflakes as he passed.
His phone rang when he sat down at the train station. “Hello?”
“I hope you’re back at the office.”
“I’m at the train station in Norwalk.”
“Good. You can take a train back to downtown L.A. I’ll check the Internet and get you the next one going out.”
“I bought a ticket to Jackson, Mississippi. It leaves in ten minutes.”
Terrance rode the train for five days. When he grew hungry he bought food from a snack cart. He slept in his seat and in the clothes he wore. He’d never been shaken so much in his life and for the first two days he had to resist the urge to throw up in his lap.
When he stepped off the train he was aware immediately of the way the light filtered through the sycamore trees, the way the little oval leaves made shadows dance across his face and the ground and every surface he saw. He was aware that the air passed easily through his lungs and it had a scent he’d never known. He left the train, forgetting his briefcase, and tie, and phone.
This, of course, is fiction. I do not fantasize about leaving my wife and children. But I can imagine someone else who might. How do the other authors here deal with everyday frustrations? How do these issues show up in your writing?