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Paying Attention to the “Take Her Hand!” Moments

[Video: scene from David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway. Soundtrack: Lou Reed’s interpretation of “This Magic Moment”]

Almost every writer of stories, I bet, has had at least one “Take her hand!” moment. Here’s why I call them that:

Over twenty years ago, I was working on a longish short story called “Sing, Sing, Sing.” (I’ve written about this story numerous times here.) In general, the plot revolves around the efforts of a young boy named Matty to get into a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, in 1938… without a ticket. In writing the story, I had to deal with challenges like these:

  • Why would eleven-year-old Matty — any eleven-year-old — be so eager to do this?
  • Given that Matty lived a certain number of miles from New York, how would he have even gotten there in the first place? How long would it take him — and thus, by what time would he have to leave his house?
  • What was the weather like in New York on that evening in January, 1938? Would Matty have to be dressed for cold temperatures? for wet? or for unseasonable weather?

But I hadn’t foreseen one complication.

There came a critical moment in the story’s action, bracketed by (a) the events which brought Matty to Carnegie Hall in the first place and (b) Matty’s experience of the concert itself: the precise moment when he moved from the street into the hall. Oh, I considered all sorts of wacky scenarios — all of which fell apart under the harsh glare of plausibility and actual facts. Especially, in the latter case, I had to accept the fact that the ticket-takers weren’t mere uniformed employees of Carnegie Hall, who might or might not be 100% on the ball: they were police, and they were checking every ticket.

So I’m writing the scene, and I’ve got Matty navigating his way through the pushing-and-shoving crowd at the doors, and there’s all kinds of traffic noise and shouting, and Matty seems as confused by all the ruckus and foofaraw as the author himself.

And then something curious happened, something very curious:

Matty’s eye was caught by a little girl and her father, approaching an elderly policeman at one of the entrance doors. Suppose he could somehow insinuate himself into the father-daughter group… But how would he do that, convincingly, without getting caught by the policeman? Meanwhile the man and his little girl were getting closer and closer to the doorway…

…and I thought, as loudly as I could:

Take her hand, damn it! Take her hand!

And as I watched, Matty reached out and clasped the little girl’s trailing hand. The cop looked down benignly at the little motherless family, smiled, glanced at the tickets in the father’s hand, and waved them through. He even tousled Matty’s hair a bit as he passed. (The girl was a little freaked out, but it took her a few lucky moments to protest.)

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Very Dead Things, and a Small Box of Chocolate Bunnies

If you’ve read my most recent Friday post, you’ve probably figured out that the early-1990s TV series Twin Peaks looms large in The Missus’s and my collective imagination.

(Actually, we have a habit of latching onto odd, off-center network series which don’t have a chance in hell of surviving past the first season or two — simply because of the confusion and venality of network executives. Don’t even get us started on American Gothic.)

When we met, online, in 1991, the show was in its first season. Prior to the premier, I’d read a review by — of all people — Pauline Kael, in The New Yorker, and it made up my mind that I just had to watch that episode, even if none of the later ones. I can’t find this review online anywhere (even though, with my subscriber’s credentials, I’ve got access to the magazine’s entire archives; maybe I read it somewhere else?). But Kael was nuts about the premier episode; she wrote of the first glimpse of Laura Palmer as something like “quite possibly the deadest thing you will ever see on network television.”

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