"The Tandem Story"
September 24, 1999
THE TANDEM STORY
This assignment was actually turned in by two of my English students:
Rebecca and Gary
English 44A SMU
Creative Writing Professor Miller
In-class Assignment for Wednesday
Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story.
The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting
to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first
paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph
and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will
then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to
reread what has been written each time in order to keep the story
coherent. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The
chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home,
now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times,
that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs,
keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if
she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again.
So chamomile was out of the question.
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron
now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about
than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with
whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris
to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator.
"Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..."
But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of
nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt
from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the
He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he
felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman
who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped
its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4.
"Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel."
Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously
excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of
her youth -- when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with
no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense
of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why
must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she pondered
Little did she know, but she has less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands
of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first
of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who
pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through Congress
had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires
who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after
the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for
Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With
no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan.
The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President,
in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor
off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion which
vaporized Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed
his fist on the conference table. "We can't allow this! I'm going
to veto that treaty! Let's blow'em out of the sky!"
This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My
writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic, semi-literate adolescent.
Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts
at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN & WOMEN
Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine.
He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time.
A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy
themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a
while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs
to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: "Do
you realise that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for
exactly six months?"
And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very
She thinks to herself: gee, I wonder if it bothers him that I said
that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe
he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that
he doesn't want, or isn't sure of.
And Roger is thinking: gosh. Six months?
And Elaine is thinking: but, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind
of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space,
so I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going
the way we are, moving steadily toward... I mean, where are we going?
Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy?
Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime
together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even
know this person?
And Roger is thinking... so that means it was... let's see... February
when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at
the dealer's, which means... lemme check the odometer... Whoa! I am
way over due for an oil change here!
And Elaine is thinking: he's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe
I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship,
more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed -- even before
I sensed it -- that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that's
it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings.
He's afraid of being rejected.
And Roger is thinking: and I'm gonna have them look at the transmission
again. I don't care what those morons say, it's still not shifting
right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this
time. What cold weather? It's 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting
like a darn garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.
And Elaine is thinking: he's angry. And I don't blame him. I'd be
angry, too. God, I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I
can't help the way I feel. I'm just not sure.
And Roger is thinking: they'll probably say it's only a 90-day warranty.
That's exactly what they're gonna say, the scumbags.
And Elaine is thinking: maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for
a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right
next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person
I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me.
A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, school girl romantic
And Roger is thinking: warranty? They want a warranty? I'll give them
a warranty. I'll take their warranty and stick it right up...
"Roger," Elaine says aloud.
"What?" says Roger, startled.
"Please don't torture yourself like this," she says, her
eyes beginning to brim with tears. "Maybe I should never have...
Oh God, I feel so..." (She breaks down, sobbing.)
"What?" says Roger.
"I'm such a fool," Elaine sobs...
"I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly.
There's no knight, and there's no horse."
"There's no horse?" says Roger.
"You think I'm a fool, don't you?" Elaine says.
"No!" says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.
"It's just that... It's that I... I need some time," Elaine
There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can,
tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one
that he thinks might work.
"Yes," he says.
Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.
"Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?" she says.
"What way?" says Roger.
"That way about time," says Elaine.
"Oh," says Roger. "Yes."
Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him
to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if
it involves a horse. At last she speaks.
"Thank you, Roger," she says.
"Thank you," says Roger.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured
soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place,
he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes
deeply involved in a re-run of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians
he never heard of.
A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something
major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there
is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it's better
if he doesn't think about it. (This is also Roger's policy regarding
The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of
them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours.
In painstaking detail, they will analyse everything she said and everything
he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word,
expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every
They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks,
maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting
bored with it, either.
Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual
friend of his and Elaine's, will pause just before serving, frown,
"Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?"