“Noun!” Instructor Jennifer Crystal pointed at one of my classmates. “Lion!” my fellow student immediately responded. Jennifer wrote it on the board. “Okay, adjective,” she gestured to the next person. “Beautiful!” Some of us were quicker at this game than others. I think for “verb,” I finally came up with “punch.”
After several go-rounds, we had constructed a twenty-entry list comprised of nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, proper names, exclamations, and a color, place name, and number. But this was no grammar class. We were working on personal essays. Today, instead of answering a traditional prompt, like “write about a scar,” Jennifer assigned us each to take the next half hour to create a story that used all the words on our list–sort of a reverse Mad Libs.
Lion, Beautiful, Rapidly, Fly, Hallway, Swollen, Holy crap!, 2, Roger, Lake Michigan, Tyra Banks, Pogo stick, Prissy, Quickly, Punch , Wow!, Magenta, Ziplock bag, Tent, Cozy
“All twenty?” one of my Grub Street classmates asked. “Yes,” said Jennifer. “That’s why I’m giving you a half hour. It’ll be hard to get all twenty in. Just do as many as you can.” “But I have no idea who Tyra Banks is,” I remarked, almost, but not quite, grumbling. “Seriously?” someone asked, incredulously. “She’s a model. She’s been on TV shows. America’s Top Model?” “Nope,” I answered. “She hosted America’s Got Talent.” “Nope,” I answered, mumbling something about being too old to know an idol so young. “She’s not that young,” the class retorted. The first person to find the answer on her iPhone said, “she was born in 1973.”
“Okay, a famous, not-young person who’s been a model. Got it.” I flipped open my laptop and started to write.
I was in the hallway looking at a picture of Tyra Banks, wondering why she was posed in a cozy tent in front of Lake Michigan. I imagined how that photo shoot went, how she had to keep a ziplock bag over her head to keep her beautiful hair well coifed, how prissy she was about the whole situation and how rapidly she ran back to her limo, customized with magenta flames on the rear flanks, so she could catch a plane and fly back out to LA as soon as possible.
Roger interrupted my reverie. He was on his new pogo stick, jumping as high as he could every 2 hops to punch the ceiling. “Wow! Look at me!” he cried, jubilantly. “Holy crap!” I yelled. “You almost knocked over that lion statue! I hope you get a swollen hand! Now get out of here. Quickly.”
“How much longer?” I asked Jennifer. “Until 12:15. You still have ten minutes,” she reassured me. “How many have you got?” “All twenty. I’m done. Maybe I should do another one.” “Sure,” she told me. “Go ahead.”
I turned my attention back to my laptop.
Roger continued boinging down the hallway.
Once he was out the door, I realized this was just the kind of nonsensical Mad Libs story my partner Susan, who died of ovarian cancer some years ago, would enjoy. We might be in our cozy tent, probably nowhere near Lake Michigan, but somewhere just as beautiful. She and our young son Gus would create the Mad Lib list, while I complained about how much I didn’t want to play. “Stop being the cowardly lion,” Susan might say. “Yeah, you’re acting like Tyra Banks after she punched Roger Vanderhimmel,” Gus might add.
“Wow! What are you talking about, Gus?” I would definitely ask. “See, there was a fly on the wall, she went to kill it and punched Roger instead, and then she was lying around moaning because her hand got swollen. She’s so prissy. There’s a really funny Vine about it, I’ll show you!” Gus might quickly pull out his iPhone with the magenta case and open Vine. “Hey, look at this one with the lion!”
Susan would certainly prod, “come on Gus, put the phone away, we’re doing Mad Libs, remember? Just two more words to go.”
“Pogo stick and hallway!” I might yell out.
“Holy crap, those are ridiculous words!” Gus might respond. If he did, in unison, so rapidly that he wouldn’t know what hit him, we’d say language! Then, I might be curious: “where did you even learn that phrase?” Gus might answer “grandma.” Almost at the same time, Susan might also say “grandma,” and, just after, I might too. “Yeh, that’s my mom,” I might have to admit.
“So, Gus, who is this Tyra Banks,” I might ask, asking a question to which I wouldn’t have cared to hear the answer. Anything to avoid playing the game. But by then, Susan would have gotten out more paper and pencils from a ziplock bag, and, being stuck in a tent with them, I’d have to join in.
After reading my piece aloud to the class, I added, forlornly, “Susan was the fun one. I never wanted to play any games. But in that tent with them, I would have.”
Some truth hidden in a lot of nonsense by Kim Brookes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Permission to Use.