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A Walk Down Memory Lane: Cloning Eudora Welty

Posted by Rick · October 25th, 2003 · No Comments

Fluff entry.

Years ago, a girlfriend was taking a writing class. I always wanted to write myself, but wasted away my time on philosophy courses instead. Apparently, one thing writers are sometimes encouraged to do when first getting started is to imitate an already-famous writer. I think the idea is that it’s sort of like working out at the gym, only without all the spandex.

One night, she had an assignment to write something in imitation of Eudora Welty. I was a fan of Eudora Welty when I was younger. My girlfriend was having trouble with the assignment and I said, “Look Eudora Welty’s writing is pretty formulaic in some ways. It shouldn’t be that difficult.” Wrong thing to say.

She wasn’t very pleased with me and in the ensuing argument challenged me, saying if I was so sure of this, maybe I should try it.

I recently dug up the result and now I get to torture you by leaving it for you to read.


A couple of points to note before starting. Welty was big on brand names. Only I didn’t always know if any of the brands were real. They sounded made-up for her stories, but just real enough. And, occasionally, she would throw in what I knew was a real brand. So I figured possibly they’re all real, but since I wasn’t from the deep south, I just hadn’t heard of them. In this story, I used some real names and some off-the-wall names that I think I’ve heard before. The idea was to re-create that aspect of Welty. Another thing I noted was that the names always seemed to have been carefully chosen. Same here. “Janis” is a play on “Janus,” the two-faced Roman god. In the story, you’ll see that Janis appears to try to be “in” with her friends, but also “in” with the supervisor — at least “Char” thinks so. In a sense, she represents a new beginning for the girl’s interrelationships at work. “Char” got her name because she “chars” Janis. That is, she is a little “burned up” with her and then insults her at the end of the story. “Cassy” was picked for a few reasons. One was that that was a name my sister liked to use. Another was that it sounded southern and “Eudora-Weltyish.” The story has no point; it’s just a mundane couple of days in the life of a few medical transcription clerks. (I was a medical transcriptionist at the time I wrote it.) Perhaps in this sense, it’s not a good imitation of Welty; but it does try to imitate her style. Oh, yeah, the National Enquirer thing seemed to me to give it a Weltyish touch, as well. Anyway, enjoy the story.

“Let’s sit over by the window,” Janis said to the other two clerks. “The sun’s out and, besides, it’s ‘no smoking.'”

They readily agreed and waded through the crowd of bargain-basement-style chairs to the table, bare except for a few crumbs and two crumpled napkins, which Char placed out of sight on an unused chair at the next table.

“Dontcha wish it was that easy to get rid of all your problems?,” snickered Cassy, and the three girls burst out laughing.

“Like Helen, for instance?” said Janis not-so-innocently.

“Fer sure!” the other two cried in chorus.

None of them worried about being overheard. Like the others at their respective orange formica fortresses, they felt as though an invisible sound-proof barrier separated them from all the rest. This is where they came to eat.

“I heard she’s a friend of some big-shot in Administration, and that’s why they hired her,” said Char.

“Oh, gag me!” Janis said with a groan. “Just what we don’t need, another supervisor-type. Want some of my Snickers bar?”

“Not me,” answered Cassy, “I’m trying to cut down.”

Char drew back as a look of mock-horror spread across her face. “Are you on a diet, or what?”

“I just want to drop a couple of notches on the scale,” said Cassy, prying the lid off her Diet De-Lite fruit cup. “I have to watch my appearance, you know.”

“Ugh! Spare me!” said Janis.

The other tables were starting to fill up now as nurses in crisp white uniforms, which didn’t seem quite as crisp as they had at six that morning, clustered in their own little groups. One particularly beady-eyed woman produced the latest issue of the National Enquirer, and sunk hungrily behind it, the front page blazing: “DEAD WOMAN GIVES BIRTH IN COFFIN — PREACHER FAINTS!”

“Me and Lance went shopping for Mother’s Day last Saturday,” said Cassy. “Of course, I insisted on Macy’s.”

“Natch,” said Char respectfully.

“Yeah. Anyway, we were cruising Fashion Fair, and you should have seen some of those punk rocker people, the way they dress and all. If you ask me, they should charge admission to that place!”

Janis screwed up her face as though she’d just heard something she didn’t enjoy, which wasn’t the case, and said, “G-d! I know! It’s like totally gross! Whenever I see those creeps with those Mohawk haircuts and whatever, I just want to say, ‘Gag me with a spoon’ already!”

“You say that all the time anyway, Janis,” Char said laughingly. “But some of those creeps are definitely gnarly, that’s fer sure.”

“Well, I don’t care,” said Janis. “I could never wear MY hair like any of THEM. And some of those clothes!”

“I only wear Calvin Klein and Christy Brinkley, if I can help it,” said Char somewhat defensively.

“I usually just wear my 501’s,” said Cassy.

“And those colors!” Janis cried dramatically, tossing her half-eaten bologna sandwich back into the sack. “They’re so bright, and they don’t even match.”

“Fer sure,” said Char. “I took a special class at Fabric King called, ‘Color: The Essence of You,’ just to learn all about color coordination.”

“Well, I never had a class or anything, but I always buy my clothes to match,” said Janis. “And I wouldn’t be caught dead in flourescent orange and hot pink!”

“You know,” said Char, “that new girl, Helen, dresses real flashy-like. She acts real goody-goody, too. So ‘Ms. Professional.’ Like the rest of us aren’t or something.”

“Yeah, Maybe she’s one of those Yuppie types, G-d help us,” said Cassy bitingly.

“Oh, gag me!” said Janis. And as if to make her point all the more graphic, Janis shoved a whole Twinkie in her mouth. The three burst out laughing, Janis spraying lumps of Twinkie into the palm of her hand. Char and Cassy began collecting their garbage while Janis wiped her hand, crumpling the sticky napkin and tossing it onto the table as they left.

The next week Janis and Char sat at a corner table out of the sunlight. “Too bad Cassy couldn’t come down today,” said Janis.

“Yeah. Can you believe that Helen changing Cassy’s break time?,” said Char whiningly. “Not even here a month and she becomes supervisor, then goes around changing everything like somebody died and made her G-d or something! Doesn’t even ask!”

“Well,” said Janis, “I guess when you’re supervisor it’s hard. She’s been working long hours and trying to ‘streamline’ the department, you know. I can see where she’d have trouble keeping everybody happy.”

“Are you defending her?!” asked Char accusingly.

“Not really. I don’t like her, either. I was just saying it’s not an easy job. I wouldn’t want it,” said Janis carefully. Her sandwich hung in her hand as though it might drag her to the table.

“Well, you’ve sure been getting along with her good, for—”

“You mean ‘well,'” said Janis frostily.

“Huh?”

“I’m getting along ‘well’ with her,” corrected Janis. Then, as though bored with the conversation, Janis started pulling her sandwich apart, rearranging the brown-edged lettuce on its mayonnaise bed.

“See what I mean! You’re even talking different!” cried Char, almost screeching. A few of the women at surrounding tables turned to look. “You don’t even say, ‘Gag me!’ any more. You act like you’re trying to be just like Ms. Goody-Goody.”

“I am not,” said Janis quickly, as she began viciously peeling the skin off her bologna slice.

“Yeah? Well, I just wonder what she’d think if she heard about how you’ve rented Debbie Does Dallas so many times that the guys down at Hollywood Video Biz bought you a cowboy hat!” said Char triumphantly. “Bet you two wouldn’t be so chummy then, Miss Hot-Shot!”

Janis slammed her molested sandwich down on the table, the mutilated bologna sliding for a way on its mayonnaise sled, leaving a slimy beige track in its wake. Jumping to her feet, she stomped off, but flung back the words, “If you’re so smart, how come you’re not the supervisor?”

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