Monday, February 11, 2008

Autopsies and homemade socks

Patty here…

I draw the line at jumping out of airplanes, but if you’re looking for a companion in adventure I’m your girl. After months sitting in front of a computer pounding out my fourth novel and a couple of short stories, I now have to go back into the world and refill my well of experiences.

Recently a friend asked if I’d ever seen an autopsy. I told her no.

“Would you like to? I can arrange it.”

I paused for a moment, imagining the high-pitched whine of a bone saw and the smell of formaldehyde.


If I was going to the morgue, I needed to steel my resolve with other tough challenges, so I decided to clean out a cupboard filled with my dirty little secrets, i.e., craft projects I started but never finished. The first thing I found was a knitted scarf I’d screwed up about five years ago. I had to work through the failure, so I drove to a yarn shop in my neighborhood that repaired knitting projects gone bad.

When I arrived, I found six women of various ages, racial backgrounds, and hair colors (from lavender to peacock blue) sitting around a table talking trash above the clickity-clack of knitting needles.

Woman #1

“I had a teacher named Sister Maureen. We called her Sister Moron. She spent the whole year on chapter one in our history book because she couldn’t move on. She was like Barney Fife. Crazy.

Woman #2

“Anybody who chooses to live without sex is crazy.”

The chatter reminded me of going with my dad to the barbershop and watching as his hair got buzzed off for a buck twenty-five while men dished about the price of alfalfa.

It took the yarn surgeon about an hour to fix my scarf. During that time, I listened, laughed, and wished I’d brought a notebook to write down every word of dialogue. Sometimes people ask us writers where we get our ideas. Wonder no more. All I could think about was Sister Maureen seeking revenge among the skeins of wool with a #19 knitting needle.

I'll be back at the yarn shop next Friday. I signed up for a class on how to knit socks.

I look forward to talking trash. I may even streak my hair purple. For sure I’m going to bring my notebook.

Autopsies and homemade socks. The water in my well is rising.

So how do you fill your well?

Happy Monday!


  1. Patty, your new experiences certainly do span a range! I love picking up dialogue on the street, as well. Yesterday, as I was getting ready to leave LA, I stopped at a local coffee shop and asked the homeless man outside if he'd like to come in for breakfast. He would and he did. And he knew just what he wanted.

    "A small house blend coffee, please. And a toasted bagel with four butters."

    As we left, he thanked me then stopped to ask, "Do you know what time the Grammy's start tonight?"

    Only in L.A.

  2. Wait, wait - don't leave us hanging! Tell us about the autopsy visit for heaven's sake!!!

    ps rock, thanks for setting the bar high today :)

  3. Patty,

    I pick p dialog everywhere.

    This last Saturday I was on an elliptical trainer next to a man I had never spoken to.

    We both obviously noticed a very attractive woman across the room. Then a gigantic, like 6'*'' monster walked over and kissed her. Obviously a boyfriend or husband.

    The man next to me says out loud, "Note to self. Never hit on that chick,"

    I laughed because I was thinking about the poor sap who hadn't seen her with her giant mate. Maybe it’s a guy thing but I thought it was funny.

    Most people say funny things either intentionally or, more often, unintentionally.


  4. Dialogue/Morgue combo.

    True story. Years ago, I was watching autopsies in the Miami/Dade County Morgue, cleverly located on Bob Hope Road.

    Two cops were hanging around a tray holding the corpse of a middle-aged man. His head seemed to have been cleaved in two like a coconut shell.

    "What happened?" I asked.

    "Killed his wife," one cop said. "Then did the right thing."

    "How's that?"

    "Turned the shotgun on himself."

    If anyone wants it, "The Right Thing" is not the worst title in the world.

  5. Very funny stories. Sophie, I haven't schedule the autopsy yet. You'll be the first to know if I go or if I chicken out.

  6. A visit to the morgue gave me quite a lot of ideas (and insight, essentially, on how full of shit the CSI shows are, but that's probably a different topic).

    Like Jim B, I get a lot of possible ideas at the gym.

    I was on the exercise bike listening in on a couple guys on the elliptical talking about men wanting to have affairs versus actually having affairs, when the woman on the next elliptical unplugged her iPod long enough to say, "I can ALWAYS tell when my friends are having an affair, and a lot of them are."

    I mean, doesn't that sort of thing just RAISE questions?

  7. Note to self: Don't talk while on the elliptical at the health club.

  8. I'm with you Gayle. Best to lay low at the gym. Mark, I bet you heard some interesting conversation at the autopsy. Do you get sick?

  9. Good one, Gayle.


  10. Patty, you should have called me - I am the queen of knitted scarves. You see, my husband is a movie addict, and I have trouble just sitting there watching a screen and doing nothing, so I knit at the same time, and because I don't want to really think about it, I knit scarves. I dole them out at Christmastime - all the Nakeds can look forward to a warm scarf come December 2008! You knit the socks, Patty. (I confess, when I tried to knit socks, I told my mother it was like knitting into a funnel - that's when she told me that you only have three needles with stitches forming the sock, and one to knit with - not four needles with stitches.

    And I am a real nosy parker when it comes to eavesdropping on conversations. One of my favorites was a woman who said, "I don't mind buying all that recycled stuff, and all the organic food, as long as it doesn't cost the earth!"

    Best of luck on that autopsy - you're a better woman than I am if you can stomach that!

  11. Our J!!!! You're a knitter? Bring your needles and yarn to Bcon. I see Naked socks in everybody's future.

  12. I tend to go to bars, restaurants, and even my hair stylist and listen to the conversations at the next stool/table/chair. My friends will be bemused when I suddenly chortle at a moment completely disconnected from our conversation, then they'll glance at one another and roll their eyes when they realize what I'm doing.

    Of course, it's easier now when people are dumb enough to carry on very personal conversations on their cell phones in public. Yet sometimes you just have to think Yes, people really do talk like that.

    Then there is my habit if simply looking at people. After long and intriguing lessons on women's makeup and wardrobe from a series of ex-girlfriends (yes, I like to shop), I'll look at someone with a subtley unique twist to her attire. I begin speculating as to her reasons for wearing that particulr blouse or skirt or ensemble, add in posture, hairstyle and other factors, and allow a fully fleshed character assesment to unfold in my mind. A good exercise for when I want a character to be entirely distinctive in subtle rather than drastic differences.

    Guys are much more boring. :-)

  13. Jeff, I agree. Those telling details give depth to a character. And don't get me started on cell phone conversaions. Don't those people know how LOUD they're talking? Sheesh!

  14. Patty,
    No, not sick at the morgue, although I suppose that weird tingling sensation in my head was an indication of something strange. I visited the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office twice in Michigan, once in their old facility, the second time in the new one.

    The first one they were autopsying a big fat guy who was smoking in bed. It's a bit of a hard call to decide which bothers you more, this big fat naked guy on a metal table (with singed skin) or the fact that the top of his head was missing and a pathologist was rooting around in his skull with what looked like barbeque tongs.

    The second time I went to see their new lab facilities.

    I admit that I've worked in some odd jobs at hospitals and research labs, so I'm not terribly squeamish.

    What got me tense prior to visiting the morgue was considering what might really bother me: dead children and babies, for instance, would be very high on that list; seriously burned victims--the one I saw died from smoke inhalation, so his burns themselves weren't all that bad, relatively speaking--and possibly drowning victims who'd been in the water too long. I'm guessing that I can deal with the rotting corpses and burned corpses, but the children and babies are a different story.

  15. Hadn't thought about the child aspect. That WOULD be hard to look at. Maybe I'll just keep watching Court TV instead. Having second thoughts...