THE YOUNG HUSBAND – Character Source

(Preparing to teach a course on finding characters for fiction, I am currently thinking about the origins of people in my writing.)

I was on the bus, commuting home to New Jersey from my job in Manhattan and ready to drop off to sleep, when I heard the two people in front of me starting a conversation.

A young man greeted a middle-aged man as he sat beside him. The older man was a friend of the young man’s family, but they hadn’t been in touch. So the young man filled the other in about family matters, including his recent marriage.

When I got home, I wrote down what the young man had said, as clearly as I could remember. Luckily for me, he didn’t have much of a filter in expressing his thoughts. He was also clueless about the subtext to his own remarks, but I was happy to supply it as I developed a poem based on what I’d heard. I decided a monolog would be the right format to relate his story.

I think every word of this is something he actually said, with some editing and re-arranging:

The Young Husband

We’ve been married four months now and I never imagined anything
could be so good. We spend all our time together. If she gets home first,
she starts dinner. If I’m home first, I cook something and then
we spend the evening together. I can’t believe how lucky I am.

She can’t stand if I leave for an hour – she’ll come with me to buy
some beers or the paper. She hates if I stay on the phone with one of my buddies,
and I don’t make plans to see anyone for bowling or fishing
or watching a game. I find ways to do those things with her.

It’s flattering as hell, the way she can’t stand if I’m away for my job or my folks,
or we see an old girlfriend of mine at the mall, or even a friend of hers,
she’ll get jealous and angry, saying the woman was coming on to me –
and that’s so cute, I can die. Do you think it’ll stay this way forever?

Years later I used this as the basis of a scene in a one-act play, “Pete & Joe at the Dew Drop Inn” (Best American Short Plays 2008-2009):

SCENE TWO

PETE
I have to tell you, Joe: we’ve been married four months now, and I never imagined anything could be so good. We spend all our time together. If she gets home first, she starts supper. If I’m home first, I cook something; then we spend the evening together. I can’t believe how lucky I am.

She can’t stand if I leave for an hour—she’ll come with me to buy some beers or the paper. She hates if I stay on the phone with my buddies, and I don’t make plans to see anyone for bowling or fishing or watchin’ a game. I find ways to do those things with her.

JOE
You’re off the leash tonight . . . ?

PETE
She went with her friends to a male stripper show.

JOE
Yeah?

PETE
It’s a rare occurrence though. It’s flattering as hell, how she can’t stand if I’m away for my job or my folks, or we see an old girlfriend of mine at the mall or even a friend of hers, she’ll get all jealous—and angry—sayin’ the woman was comin’ on to me—and that’s so cute, I can die.—Do you think it’ll stay this way forever?

JOE
(under his breath)

Sure it will . . .

(Aloud)

Tell me about it in a couple of months. I can’t wait.

(Lights fade to half, then rise.)

I added Scene Four to “Pete & Joe” to show further developments. Pete and Joe are otherwise fictional characters:

SCENE FOUR

PETE
You know . . . I’ve been havin’ trouble with my wife.

JOE
(not surprised)

You’re kiddin’ . . .

PETE
No, really. We have arguments.

JOE
That happens . . .

PETE
It’s bad.

JOE
Okay, tell me.

PETE
Well, pretend you’re her. Okay?

JOE
What?

PETE
That way I can show you.

JOE
(shrugging)

Okay.

PETE
You’ve been havin’ trouble with your boss. He’s too critical.—Go ahead. Pretend.

(Joe is tentative at first. Then he gets into it, although he does not use a “feminine” voice.)

JOE
You know, I’ve been havin’ trouble with my boss. He’s too critical.—How was that?

PETE
Good.—Well, why don’t you tell him you’ll be a better member of the team if he isn’t so critical?

JOE
Okay, I’ll do that. Thanks for your help.—Hey, that was pretty easy. Cool.

PETE
It doesn’t work that way.

JOE
Why not?

PETE
I’ll show you: ask me why I look miserable tonight.

JOE
Why do you look miserable tonight? Want me to massage your feet?

PETE
Nice ad-lib.

JOE
Thanks.

PETE
I’ve been having trouble with my boss. He’s too critical.

JOE
Well, why don’t you tell him you’ll be a better member of the team if he isn’t so critical?

PETE
Look, I’m not asking you to solve my problem. I just need you to be supportive.

JOE
How the hell can I be supportive if I’m not givin’ you a solution?!!

PETE
That isn’t what I need! When you try to solve my problems, you’re not showing you’re on my side or that you acknowledge my feelings. You’re trying to be Mr. Strong Fix-It Man. I resent that. It’s demeaning, and it really turns me off.

JOE
(after thinking about it)

That’s fuckin’ crazy.

PETE
No, it’s what she says.

JOE
How long you been married?

PETE
Six months.

JOE
That’s too soon to get a divorce . . .

PETE
I don’t want a divorce. I want it to work out.

JOE
I hear you, pal. You must feel really frustrated. Hey, it’s tough, isn’t it? I wish I could help you . . . But hey . . .

PETE
No, it’s okay. Thanks for understanding.

(Hugs him. Lights dim, then rise.)

(For more on Pete and Joe, see “Remembering Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” in this blog.

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One comment

  1. bigbearsean · · Reply

    Thanks for the intro to your workshop tomorrow, Lew.
    Sean

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