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The Sunset Rises: A 1990s Romantic Comedy (sample chapter)

November 9, 2022

I wrote the first rough draft of this novel in 2013, a couple decades after everything happened.  I probably shouldn’t have waited so long.  Even though the details still seem fresh in my memory, I’m not sure what’s real and what my brain has made up.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I occasionally make up memories.  Every once in a while, I’ll ask a friend or family member who knew me in the early 1990s whether or not a certain event in my memory is true or not, and they usually confirm that my recollection of events is accurate.

Even so, sometimes I wonder.

I’ve spent almost 10 years writing and rewriting this story.  I’ve rewritten it once as a 60 episode blog serial.  I’ve tightened up some scenes by creating composite characters.  I’ve added details to clarify background information.  I’ve debated word choice in numerous scenes time and time again.  At some point, enough is enough.  No matter how much time and effort I put into making improvements, this will never be perfect.  It’s time for me to just quit writing and tell the story.

Prologue

When I was in college, the best kind of girlfriend was the literary girlfriend.  Literary girlfriends liked to read, so dates were cheap.  We could go to poetry readings or hang out in the university library.  The only problem with literary girlfriends was that they thought watching football was a waste of time and emotion.  Looking back, they were right, but it was tough for a college guy in the late 1980s to see that.

The literary girlfriend stereotype is that all of them are thin and pasty, with long straight hair and big glasses.  I’ll admit, my literary girlfriends in college fit that stereotype.  That was okay because I was pale and skinny too, but I had short hair and contact lenses, so it didn’t feel like I was dating myself.

After I graduated from college and became a middle school English teacher in a major city in Texas, literary girlfriends were difficult to find.  Female English teachers were either too old for me or wanted to talk about classroom war stories.  Most women in other professions seemed to think teachers were below them in status.  For whatever reason, single women seemed disinterested when I was around.  Maybe it was because I liked to talk about books and grammar.

So for two years I went without a girlfriend.  My friends and family thought I was a lonely guy.  It was kind of embarrassing being known as a lonely guy.  I wasn’t really a lonely guy, though.  I had my books.  I just didn’t have a girlfriend or any prospects.  But all of that changed in the most unlikely of places.

*****

Chapter One- The Ultimate Bust

The low point of any week was doing laundry.  My apartment complex’s laundry room was a few units away, so I had to stuff all my dirty clothes into one basket, carry them outside down a flight of stairs, walk past the outskirts of the parking lots past several other units, and then hope there were available washing machines.

There was no perfect laundry day.  Families could be hanging out at 2:00 in the morning.  Drunks could be lounging around at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Maybe I could have washed and dried all my clothes without interference around 7:00 on a weekday morning.  Maybe.  But I usually had to work then.

The laundry room had six washing machines and three dryers, so residents would try to stuff two loads of wet clothes into one dryer and hope the wet piles of clothes would dry in one cycle.  One day I walked into the laundry room when two mothers surrounded by little kids were cursing and threatening each other over who would get the dryer next.  I don’t like loud profane conflicts, so I turned around with my stack of clothes and left.

The most awkward situation was when a load in the dryer would be finished but the owner hadn’t picked up the clothes yet.  I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to be the victim of rudeness either.  I soon learned simple laundry room etiquette.  If the clothes belonged to a man, I took them out and placed them neatly on the laundry table.  Men didn’t care.  Once a shirtless tattooed guy with a bunch of scars caught me taking his clothes out of the dryer, and I thought for sure I was going to get stabbed, but instead he sheepishly apologized to me for being late.

From that point on, I was confident that men understood the importance of keeping the dryers running on time.  But if the clothes in the dryer belonged to a woman, I would rather wait than get cursed out by a loud, profane mother.

One Friday morning I called in sick to work because of a bad cold and decided to do my laundry.  I was 25.  I was single and living in a second floor apartment.  All I wanted to do was get my laundry done for the next week and go back to bed.  The laundry room was empty.  I was in torn shorts and a pitted white shirt, but I didn’t care how I looked.

As I struggled past the row of dryers, I noticed that only one of them appeared to be working.  One dryer had an official “Out of Order” sign from management.  The other had a college-ruled sheet of paper taped to the top with a handwritten note that said: “THIS PEICE OF SHIT ATE MY QUARTERS!!!!!!” 

I had a red pen in one of my pockets, so I crossed out PEICE and above it wrote in PIECE.  It was a simple rule, “I before E, except after C, that I remembered from an old Peanuts Special where Charlie Brown had been a spelling bee contestant.  Yeah, the spelling rule had a few exceptions, I thought, but it was still a stupid mistake to make, even if the piece of shit dryer had stolen the guy’s quarters.  

I took my time.  I dropped my basket and began tossing the clothes into the washing machine. I reached into my pocket for quarters when I heard the door behind me open.   Whoever had just entered was potential competition. I got paranoid.  The best thing to do was to avoid eye contact.  Just concentrate on putting quarters into the machine and get out, I thought.  Don’t look at the competition.  Don’t look!

Of course, I looked.

From a sideways glance, it seemed like a hot chick had entered the facility, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  I saw long dark hair and tan legs, but I had learned from past experience that a corner glance hot chick could turn into a full-view scary dude, so I played it cool and pulled quarters out of my pocket until the newcomer walked up beside me.

The newcomer’s laundry basket slammed in place on top of a nearby machine, and I turned for the mandatory but uncomfortable greeting.  It got uncomfortable alright.  She was a hot chick with a tiny basket filled with… I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to look too closely.

It’s tough being casual when looking at hot chicks.  I had to acknowledge her, but I didn’t want to look at her too long, so all I saw was long dark hair, brown skin, and a light colored tight t-shirt, a really tight t-shirt. Seriously, that t-shirt was almost skintight. And her eyes, whatever color they were, were directed straight at me.

“Hi,” she said, with perfect posture and her hands on her hips, so I forced my eyes up, up, up until I saw only her forehead.

“Good morning,” I muttered.

My nose was runny, and I was unshaven, not with the cool five o’clock shadow that ladies swoon over, but the kind of scraggly face that made people think I’d ask them for spare change. I could clean up nice when I needed to, but this was not my morning.

The hot chick put quarters in the machine slot, picked up her basket, and dumped her clothes in.  Then she suddenly turned and faced me again.

“How do you think we’re going to do this year?” she asked.

“Excuse me?” I said, looking back up to her forehead again.

“You know,” she said.  And then I saw the logo for our local NFL team on her tight bootleg t-shirt with the slogan “Its Time to… Luv Ya Blue!”  I had noticed the tight bootleg t-shirt, but I hadn’t noticed the Houston Oilers logo on it, and she had just busted me checking her out.  This was the ultimate bust.

“How do you think we’re going to do this year?” she asked again.

“Your shirt’s missing an apostrophe,” I said.

Her eyes narrowed, so I continued.  “The slogan ‘Its time to… Luv Ya Blue’ means ‘It is time.’  When you combine the words ‘it’ and ‘is,’ you use an apostrophe.”

“That’s the first thing you noticed,” she said.

“It’s a glaring punctuation error.”

“I thought only English teachers cared about that crap,” she said.

“I’m an English teacher.”

She hesitated then asked, “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I stubbed my toe,” I said, and then I decided to clarify. “My students suck, and I don’t want to deal with them on a Friday.”

She laughed.  I liked her laugh.  It made me feel happy, so I decided to answer her original question.

“We’ll make the playoffs,” I said, “but we have to get past Buffalo to get to the Super Bowl.”  Buffalo had just been to the Super Bowl two years in a row.

“Buffalo sucks,” she said.

“They don’t suck,” I said.  “I don’t like them, but they don’t suck.”

“Buffalo sucks.”

I wasn’t about to argue the meaning of the word ‘sucks’ with a hot chick in a skintight bootleg football t-shirt.  

“Okay, they suck,” I agreed.  “But we still have to get past them.”

The hot chick nodded and turned to leave.

“Hey!” I said.  It must have been with some authority because the hot chick stopped and turned.

I asked, “How do YOU think we’re gonna do this year?”

She grinned.  “We’re gonna kick Buffalo’s ass.”  Then she turned and left.

I strategized.  The hot chick was likable, but she was still my competition.  She’d been busy loading the washer while I’d been staring at the lack of punctuation on her tight bootleg football t-shirt.  Since she had a head start on me, I reset the washing machine settings to quick wash.  I had to get to that dryer before the hot chick, I thought.  And it couldn’t be a tie either, because a tie went to the woman, whether she was a hot chick or not.   My clothes had to be in the dryer before the hot chick even got back to the laundry room.

I thought I had timed it perfectly.  I returned to the laundry room 30 minutes later.  I stopped the washing machine in its final spin cycle, took out the damp clothes, and stuffed them into the lone working dryer. 

As I placed quarters into the slots, the hot chick came in, and as soon as she saw me, she shook her head and said, “I’m going to take this shirt back and get a refund.”

I’ve never believed in returning merchandise after I’ve used it, so I said, “I don’t think lack of punctuation is a refundable offense.”

“I thought you’d be on my side, English teacher,” the hot chick said, walking her clothes to the nearest dryer, seemingly unaware that it was broken.

I had a dilemma.  Should I tell her that there was only one dryer?  I felt like a jerk either way.  If I pointed out the warning notes, then she’d probably figure out that I’d rushed down here to claim the dryer before she could.  If I didn’t tell her, then she might lose her quarters in the broken machine.  Either way I’d be a jerk.  But if I didn’t tell her, then she wouldn’t know I was a jerk.

I started the dryer. And then the hot chick flipped out.

“Shit!” she said.  “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

“Did the machine eat your quarters?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes red and her face tight.  “Did you know this dryer was broken?” she asked, hands on her hips.

“You didn’t see the warning notices?” I said, pointing at the notes.

“I hate this fucking laundry room,” she said.  “I hate it!”

“As high as the rent is around here,” I said, “you’d think we’d get better machines.”

“You’ve got the only good dryer in here,” she said, eyeing me.  Then she took a deep breath and her voice sweetened.   “Do you mind sharing it?”

I hesitated. “I don’t think that’s legal in Texas.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes at the same time.  “I’m really in a hurry.”

“These dryers aren’t very good,” I said.  “If you put your clothes in with mine, we’ll probably need to use a second cycle, and then we’ll both be behind schedule.”

The hot chick didn’t blink the whole time I had been talking.  “Are you serious?” she asked.

“No, I’m not serious,” I said, even though I had been.  “I have a monotone voice, so people can’t tell when I’m joking and when I’m serious.”

“Are you serious right now?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, opening the dryer door.  “Go ahead and put your stuff in.”

“Your voice really is monotone,” she said as she dumped her clothes in with mine.

It was the first time I had ever done laundry with a woman without buying her dinner first.

6 Comments
  1. Well, the Oilers eventually did face the Bills in a playoff game infamously called “The Debacle” as the Oilers blew a commanding 35-3 lead. Ouch. Let’s hope the hot chick didn’t have a long rope that day.

  2. I commend your editor’s eye and the many times in life in which I imagine you have wanted to take a red pen to so many things. So glad apartment laundry days are over. Surely you feel me when I see all the “Congrats Seniors”signs and balloons and posts each year when seniors are graduating, as though an educational facility itself was completely oblivious to commas. Also, I can still hear the early 80s chant of, “Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, number one!”

    • I promise, I’ve never actually red marked a random paper outside of school. That’s the character who red marks, not me. I promise. I mean it! Plus, that Houston Oilers song was probably the worst ear worm of the 1990s.

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