“Louis,” or The Scorpion and the Frog: What Scares Timothy Braun

What scares you? That’s the question I asked for this blog series. Stay tuned for interviews and guest posts as authors visit and reveal their frightening—even surprising—fears.

Today’s guest is writer and editor Timothy BraunWhat scares Tim? He’s written us a Halloween fable to tell us…


Guest post by Timothy Braun

Nova has been kind to me over the years. She allows me to write what I want for her blog (inside a theme), and I respect her and her audience. Recently, my past blogs on Distraction No. 99 have been republished on another site, but I’ve decided to write something only for Nova and her fans this time around. For the theme “What Scares Me,” I’ve written a short story with a monster, wild animals, poison, a bookstore, Thai food (I know Nova likes Thai), and a great deal of fear. This will not be reposted on any other websites. This one is just for you…

“I don’t like the way you are talking to me.”

It was Halloween and Louis didn’t appreciate much. He spoke down to his boss at the bookstore, because his boss wouldn’t let him read on the job and made him shelve the children’s stories. “Bitch” is what he called his boss. Louis was getting older, grumpier, and all he had in the world was a dog and a Thai takeout menu. He had worked at the bookstore for fifteen long years and saw it as a prison. He saw his life as a prison, the world as a prison, and he had days when he just wanted it all to go away. Louis could be mean to people, and thought he had every right to speak the way he did to them.

When Louis got home he had not eaten all day. He had no food in the fridge or the cupboard, just a bottle of clear alcohol in the freezer. He yelled at his dog, Monster, who wanted him to scratch his tail when Louis got home, but Louis drank from the bottle in the freezer instead to drown his sadness. He turned on the television and watched romantic comedies. Louis always watched romantic comedies on Halloween. Louis needed food, and he didn’t want to order pad thai for the third night in a row. The grocery store is only two blocks away, he thought. And I’m not drunk yet… But he was. Monster needed dinner too, but Louis would feed him when he got back.

Louis got into his car and swerved down the hill. He missed his turn and pulled over when he saw flashing lights in his rearview mirror. “Son, have you been drinking?” asked the police officer. “Dick” is what Louis said to the police officer—as if he was better. He took three sobriety tests and was placed in handcuffs and taken away.

Louis didn’t think he belonged in jail and thought it was a dream, but it all became real when he took off his clothes and put on the black and gray stripes the police gave him. Louis was put in a cell at the end of the hall, with a rubber bed and a metal toilet. “We’ll get you when your bond clears.” He was there for twelve hours. For the first three he slept, then he did push-ups, sit-ups, and sang to himself. He pretended his cell was the information desk at the bookstore, something he was familiar with, and then a great fear kicked in. Was he always so mean? Would he ever get out of jail? The room felt small, like it was shrinking. Louis had never been so scared.

Louis was called to a plastic box. On the other side was a lawyer. “Am I going to lose my job?” he asked. “No,” the lawyer said. “Will they take my dog?” Louis asked, scared. “No, this is a misdemeanor. Think of it as a warning. Stay calm. I’m doing my best to get you out.” And Louis was taken back to his cell.

Attempting to stay calm, and not knowing what else to do, Louis recited children’s stories to himself. He recited “The Scorpion and the Frog.” A scorpion said, “Hey, froggy, can you take me across the water?” The frog refused. He was afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argued that if he stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agreed and began carrying the scorpion, for what reason Louis could not recall. Midway across the river, the scorpion did indeed sting the frog, dooming them both to a death of drowning. The frog asked why the scorpion would do such a thing and he said, “It’s in my nature, baby.” Some creatures are just irrepressible, no matter how they are treated and no matter what the consequences.

Louis thought about this while he was in jail, and wondered if animals could change. That is what jail is for. An hour later Louis was released on bond. The city moved fast and needed the cell for more souls. Louis took a cab home and found Monster waiting for him at the door, as is a dog’s nature. Where have you been? I’m hungry! Monster said without speaking, jumping on Louis and licking his face. Louis had never been so happy and never felt so loved. He fed Monster and took what was left of the bottle of clear alcohol and poured it down the kitchen drain. Louis kissed Monster on the nose, scratched his tail, and thought about the frog and the scorpion once again.

Louis wondered if the frog forgave the scorpion, and decided he did. He hugged Monster and turned on the TV so they could watch romantic comedies together. When Harry Met Sally was on. Louis liked this movie. He told Monster how inspiring Harry could be when he took responsibility for his actions. Louis called his boss at the bookstore. “I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you yesterday. I had no right. It will never happen again.”

And it never did.

__

Humans are social animals, and Halloween is a social night. This year appreciate what you have, kiss the thing you love most on the nose, and when no one is looking forgive that scorpion you come across, especially if that scorpion is looking at you in the mirror. And think when you drink—otherwise you might end up in a bookstore.

Thank you for writing us this Halloween story, Tim! (And for slipping in some Thai food, my favorite.)


Timothy Braun is a writer living in Austin, TX, with his dog, Dusty-Danger. He teaches at St. Edward’s University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and is the Editor-In-Chief of New and Social Media for Fusebox. He is a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, and George is his favorite Beatle.

Visit him online at timothybraun.com.

Follow @timothybraun42 on Twitter.


Here’s what you missed so far in the What Scares You? series:

And come back tomorrow for more… The next writer to share fears with us is: Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares!

Series art by Robert Roxby. Email to contact the artist directly.

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“The Turning Point, or I Never Saw a Playwright Make Out with a Girl in a Parking Lot” by Timothy Braun

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Timothy Braun reveals how he found a “good enough” reason to write…

A turning point in my writing came before I started taking my writing seriously. I was a freshman at Ball State University, the only school that would take me, and for my first semester I only wanted to take deathly cool classes, because I assumed I would never make it to the end of college, or if I did it would take a decade, so I decided to have a cool time. The classes I took that semester were Mythology, 20th Century American History (was always a history buff), Acting, Biology (I got to chop things up and see how they work), and Fencing. No, not “stealing,” sword fighting. At the age of eighteen, appearance was important to me and I wanted to make certain people see me as a smart and cool rapscallion, even if I was a loser.

In high school I had “acted” in a few plays, and when I say “acted” I’m talking about yelling across a music pit at overprotective parents. This was fun, something I could do with my friends. We smoked a lot, drank a little, and made out with girls in a high school parking lot behind the auditorium. I thought that was a good enough reason to be an artist and I figured college “acting” would be similar. I was wrong. My acting teacher was an old, gay man from Detroit, who lost his teeth from drinking too much sugar. He gave me a book during my second week of classes called An Actor Prepares. It had a pink cover, the most uncool cover there could be, and was written by a Russian guy. My teacher told me not to read the whole book, knowing that I wouldn’t. He directed me to a few chapters where the author was playing a black man on stage. The author smeared his face with chocolate cake to become something he wasn’t, at least on the surface, and could never grasp the character. That is until he tripped on stage and stopped trying to be something else and started saying his lines and playing his character in a moment of panic from his guts, his heart, from himself. My teacher thought I would like the story. He said I was a bad actor, but I was good at telling stories and I should consider writing plays. At that time I could never think of a good enough reason to be a writer. I never saw a playwright make out with a girl in a parking lot.

Years later I was dating a girl and I did start writing plays, really bad ones, plays where I tried my damndest to be someone I wasn’t, plays about cool and dangerous characters. I wrote plays about boxers (I can’t take a punch), and ghosts (I’m not dead, yet), and all my titles I stole from albums by The Pixies, but nothing I wrote was sincere. It was all hollow and cosmetic and skin-deep. I used to wear a black motorcycle jacket when I wrote that was a size too big and I looked like a fraud. Then, my girl of two years broke up with me. It hurt. It hurt for three days. The kind of hurt where you sit in bed and shake. On the third night I wrote a play about our relationship and when I wrote I didn’t wear the leather jacket. The dialogue wasn’t hip, and it wasn’t cool. The play was simple and how I saw things in that moment. In it a young man boarded a train for nowhere, leaving a girl behind who never loved him. With no sleep I printed the script and I showed it to my old toothless theatre teacher. I sat in his office as he read, and he told me this was my best play yet, and asked me if I thought about being a playwright.

“For a living?” I asked.

“No. You don’t write plays for a living. Just ‘being’ a playwright.”

“Weird,” I thought. “But I’ll think about it.”

I got up, went home, lay down without shaking, and went to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up I started contacting graduate schools. I wasn’t certain how to write, I had no technique, and knew I had to talk with more people, more professors, about all this writing business. I think back to that time when my teacher gave me Stanislavski to read and understand that acting, art, writing, is about being truthful with yourself and being vulnerable to your audience. I wear a gray cotton-blend jacket now. I got it at The Gap. On sale. And it fits nicely. I often tell my students that writing comes from between the lungs, not the ears.

And that is a good enough reason to write.

—Timothy Braun


Timothy Braun is a writer from Austin, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @timothybraun42 or on Facebook.

To learn more visit timothybraun.com.


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The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

Something Inspiring for Nova Ren Suma, or The Art of Being Dumb: Guest Blog by Timothy Braun

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

You tend to meet the most inspiring people at artist colonies. Timothy Braun, a playwright I met in 2005, is one of those people. He’s also very talented, hilarious, and wise. Let’s see what he has to tell us about inspiration:


“I need your help…” said the email from the relatively famous writer that I have decided not to identify. “I’m having dinner with Kurt Vonnegut tomorrow night. What do I need to know?” I got this email at an artist’s residency on an island off the coast of Maine in the dead of winter. I was the playwright-in-residency. The woman who operated this place insisted on using only a dial-up Internet connection in fear the artist would do nothing but play on the Internet and look at porn and hockey scores all day long. I would like for it to be known I don’t look at hockey scores, and this web connection became problematic in communicating with the outside world. It would take four minutes and twenty seconds to send and receive a single email. Thus, brevity in communication became desired:

“Read the last chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, and his eight rules of writing from Bagombo Snuff Box. In return I want to know what you eat for dinner.”

Now, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Timothy Braun. I met Ms. Nova Ren Suma at the MacDowell Colony in Peterbourgh, New Hampshire (although we think we attended Columbia University at the same time as well). I’m mostly a playwright (mostly), and I now live in Austin, Texas, where I teach, have a lovely dog, a banjo, and many vegetable plants. Oddly enough I don’t “care” to read, and what I mean by this is that I’ve read something by just about every author you can name; from Judith Byron Schachner to old-dead-white people we all take too seriously. I just don’t “care” for most of what I read. I find most writers to be boring and uninspired and arrogant, but when I do find an author I like, when I do find a voice that speaks to me, when I do find a writer that can hold my attention and inspire me to keep reading, that, ladies and gentlemen, is gravy.

The writers I “care” about the most are my “dumb” students. I teach a class called “developmental writing.” This class features students admitted to college under academic probation. Most of them speak English as a second language, are the first of their family to attempt college, and many have never met their fathers. They write not to get a good grade but because they need to, or want to. They write stories just for me to read. And they write the most fantastic stories. I have a Chinese student who has written on how the mountain by her town “crumbled” and killed many children in an earthquake. I have a young man from Saudi Arabia who was struck by a car and lost the use of his legs. That was a hard story to read. And I have a student who has come to college by way of prison. He beat his cousin to a pulp after he found him in bed with his wife. He is in college to show his daughter that men can make changes in their lives. When these students write I can see anger and frustration. These students are the “losers” at the university, and they know it. Most people don’t like being called “dumb.”

I like my “dumb” students because I was a dumb student. When I was in the fourth grade I was sent to “special class” because I see certain letters backwards. That year my “special teacher” asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a writer. Although I had a hard time reading, I still enjoyed it. She told me I would make a good garbage man. This made me very angry and in response I refused to read anything for years. Then, in high school, my ex-girlfriend called me, randomly, and she had something for me. She had just read a book she wanted me to have, a collection of short stories called Welcome to the Monkey House. It was weird and wild and wicked. It was very inspiring. The author was something of a loser, like me. He had been to war, but never shot anybody. In fact he was quickly captured and put in the meat lockers of a slaughterhouse. This writing had anger in it. I learned this author had a teacher who thought he wasn’t that smart either. And this author grew up only one hour away from me. It was as if he wrote these stories just for me to read, and no one else. For the first time since the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer again.

When my students ask me why I became a writer I tell them it is the only job I’ve had where I get to be “dumb.” That, and I tell them I’m angry and I can’t play guitar. But I’m teaching myself how to play the banjo. I only know three notes or chords or whatever you call it, but I play to amuse my dog and my plants. I’m dumb when I play my banjo, and it is rather nice. There is nothing wrong with being dumb and angry. You just have to be patient and pick and choose your words carefully to communicate. “Veal, peas, and a bottle of scotch.”  That was the email I received back the next day from the relatively famous writer. It took four minutes and twenty seconds to receive that email. And on an island off the coast of Maine in the cold of winter, little else needed to be said.

—Timothy Braun


Timothy Braun is writer from Austin, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @timothybraun42.

To learn more visit timothybraun.com.


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