Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A circle of paper, labeled

by Josh

The best non-writing advice I ever received still came in the form of a piece of paper.

I was 10. Or 11. Maybe 12. Definitely not 13 or 14 or 9 or 8. 10, 11, or 12.

I know this because I was.

Like most children of that age, those ages, etc., I had to do chores. Namely, I was responsible for mowing the lawn. We had a gasoline-powered mower and to get it revving, you had to thumb the primer button a few times. For the life of me, I had no idea how the primer button exactly woke the old beast up, but I followed instructions and primed the mower and tugged on the power cord and ggggggggGGGGGRRRRR went the mower, purring loud enough to wake the future.

I can hear it now.

I had other chores, such as cleaning my room and emptying the dishwasher and wiping down the toilet in the bathroom, but mowing the lawn was the one chore exclusively mine. My younger sister never had to mow the lawn because...um...because my father believed, I suppose, that girls don't mow lawns. And my two younger brothers were too far small to mow the lawn. And so the care of our front yard, backyard, and side yards fell to me.

And God how I hated it.

I didn't hate it because it was hard work. It wasn't really hard work. The lawnmower did most of the work. All I had to do was push it, and I didn't even have to push it very hard, Newton's Law of Motion being what it is. Sometimes I even listened to my Walkman cassette player when I mowed the lawn, although I could barely hear any of the music (be it INXS or Billy Joel) above the purring of the mower's engine. But I could at least hear the silence between songs, and that served as a sort of clock tick to indicate my progress. Mowing the lawn usually took both sides of an album. But, truth be told, it wasn't the length of the activity that bothered me either.

No, what rankled me was this: whether I wanted to or not, mowing the lawn was a requirement. Even if I had nothing better to do - and I usually didn't - at least that would be better than doing something out of obligation. I felt like an indentured servant and my all-too-common form of protest was to put off my chores as long as humanly possible.

"Josh, when are you going to mow the lawn?" "I'll get around to it."

It was the same dialogue every week of every spring, summer, and fall. We might as well have been performing a play. We certainly knew all the lines.

"Josh, when are you going to mow the lawn?" "I'll get around to it."

Well, one evening, when I was 10, 11, or 12, and I had successfully shirked my lawn-mowing responsibilities for another day, my father called me into his bedroom. His bedroom was large, with shiny brown-and-tan wallpaper and stringy white carpeting. All the furniture in the room was brown, too, with black flakes running all along their wooden surfaces like birthmarks. He was sitting up in bed, as he often liked to do when watching TV, and Mom wasn't there beside him because she was on the sofa in the living room, undoubtedly knitting a colorful sweater.

"Josh," my dad said, "I have something for you."

Was I in trouble? He didn't seem upset, but then again, both he and I were well aware that the lawn had yet to be mowed. So I did my best to remain calm and waited for him to continue.

"Josh, you know how I asked you to mow the lawn?"

Oh crap.

"Do you remember what you said?"

I nodded. Of course I remembered. I knew my lines as well as he knew his. "I said I'd get around to it..."

Then he handed me a slip of white paper, no larger than the size of my child-sized palm. He had cut the paper into a circle and written something on it in blue ink. Since my father's handwriting can best be described as an echocardiogram with punctuation, it took me a moment to decipher the word:


To-it? What the heck was that supposed to...?


Paper cut into a circle. "To-It" written on one of its sides, almost like a label.

"Now that you have a round to-it," he said, "you don't have to get one anymore."

The following morning, I mowed the lawn.

Now do I even need to explain how this applies to writing? For one, I learned the value of clever wordplay, always an important lesson for a budding author to have. More significantly, though, what my father had taught me was the art of misdirection. I couldn't have seen his ruse coming, not in a million years, but in retrospect, it seems so very obvious. Doesn't this pretty much define one of our main duties as mystery writers? We have to give our audience a twist that they are in no way expecting - but which at the same time rings absolutely true. Now I've yet to top my dad in this regard, but I keep trying...


AllMyPosts said...

Dear HOSH,

I didn't understand. TO-IT .. what does TO-IT mean??? Anything special with it??

with warm regards
CatchyTips for Writers

Meredith Cole said...

Your dad is hilarious! I'm definitely going to have to steal this parenting trick someday (when my kid is 10 or 11).

Gabi said...

Parents can be evil with that whole lesson thing.

We had gender equality at my house and I had to mow the lawn. We even had a riding mower but I loathed it. I promised myself I'd never have to do it again. Or shovel. Or eat Okra. Or work when I can be reading your post.

Graham Brown said...

Josh that's hillarious. Clearly we have now found out where some of the Corin wit comes from. Great Post.

Joshua Corin said...

Yeah, Meredith, my dad has a great sense of humor.

Unfortunately, he also sometimes has an awful sense of humor.

Even more unfortunately - I've inherited both.

Joshua Corin said...

Gabi, I would never ever make anyone eat Okra. Okra is something that should be hoisted upon inmates at supermax prisons.

Joshua Corin said...

Thanks so much, Graham! I look forward to your post tomorrow.

Joshua Corin said...


"To-It" was written on a round piece of paper. Essentially, my father gave me a round "to-it." =)

Kelli Stanley said...

Beautifully written as always, Josh! And remind me to pick you up a little redwood "To-It" ... they sell them in giftshops in Humboldt, pre-cut.

I'm thinking your dad should get royalties ... :)

P.S. Gabi, what about okra cooked New Orleans-style? :)

Joshua Corin said...

Kelly, I would *love* to give my dad one of those redwood to-its!