I’m often asked about the short stories in the Slice Of Life trilogy of stories, A Slice of Life, Another Slice of Life and The Rest of The Pie. Are they true stories? Do I know the people? Did I really make them up? Yes! Yes! And Yes!
“Yes” doesn’t mean I didn’t have help. Inspiration is everywhere if you just take a good look around. I take things I’ve heard and seen and lived and turn them into stories.
Much like an actor on an audition, I pull from my experience to come up with a new character. I’ve often gone into an audition and use an aspect of a person I know to pull off another character. It’s taken from somewhere or someone else, but it then becomes an original.
Actors and writers are observers. We watch people. We notice a tick in a character. We study mannerisms. And if you’ve lived an adventurous life, you have life to draw from.
One source of inspiration for me has been all of my past summer jobs. As a teen without connections and as a hungry young man, I worked all kinds of summer jobs with all kinds of people. My first job was at Shoney’s Big Boy at Eastwood Mall in Birmingham. It was a lesson in priorities. Once school started, I continued to work there on weekends. After a night of high school football, I was up at 6am and on my way to Shoney’s. I remember the night I scored my first touchdown. I was at work the next morning.
I spent two summers at US Steel. It was work for grown men, grueling, grinding, back breaking. I learned a lot from the men I worked with. They did what they had to do to support their families. It reminded me of my dad who did the same kind of work at another plant in town. Daddy always reinforced the idea in me that college would be my ticket out of the plant.
I sold shoes at a ladies shoe store in downtown Birmingham on 2nd Avenue North. Don’t remember how I got that job but it was fun, especially the stretching machine. Some ladies would insist they were a size or two smaller than they actually were. It was a comic battle trying to get an oversized fat foot into shoes a size too small. That’s where the stretching machine came in. If they were repeat customers they’d heard of our stretching machine. They would ask if we could stretch the shoe. Trying to beg off did no good. The broom handle in the back room closet came in handy.
I worked on a Garbage truck one summer while in high school. Worked for a janitorial service, and worked construction; but at the top of the list were the two summers I worked as an ice cream man; truck, ringing bell and all. I sold ice cream all over the north side of Birmingham. I had a ball. Picked up my truck about 10:30am. Brought it back to the lot about 7:30pm. Counted up the Ice Cream and Popsicles I had left and got paid in cash. Everyday! Most of the drivers were full time, grown men. Every week the manager would post the top ten sales lists. My goal was to get into the top ten. Halfway through the first summer, I made it as high as #8 and stayed there through the next summer. The store manager was proud of me. I was proud of myself!
I met some characters through the many stops, construction sites, playgrounds, customer regulars, and the children. Oh man, the children! As soon as they heard the bell, whatever they were doing, playing ball, hopscotch, jacks; whatever, it was over until after they got their ice cream.
There was a method to ringing that bell just long enough to where the parent would give in and break down with the words directed to their children I waited to hear, “Go in the house, and get my purse.” I was in business.
My favorite stop was with the hippies – boys and girls, with their glazed eyes, and the munchies. “Heeey man!” They would drawl. I’d park the truck. Feel the cool breeze from the freezer in the back of the truck. Open it to ice cream goodies and proclaim to my audience “The Ice Cream Man is here.”