We inhabit our stories don't we? A lousy way to start a story, taking you round back and showing you the set so to speak. Here meet the characters and shake their hands, won't you? You don't really want to do that, at least not until the plot settles down into something vaguely interesting. Besides who are we? Taking liberties aren't you? So we should apologise, or rather I should, and start all over. The above you read has been torn out of the ten kroner exercise book that goes by the fancy name of Reporter's Notebook. Oh sure, who is going to take you for a reporter? But maybe you are. Maybe you are onto something? Perhaps we could give the first opening a reprieve, and pick it up off the plate - where it had been crumpled up. That Reporter's Notebook was bought from a discount store opposite the internet cafe, if you are vaguely interested. The last two words are deleted and replaced with remotely interested. All this crossing out and repetition is killing your interest. Really, get on with it. You wanted it to be set in 1960. Fifty years ago. You think it could be in one of those night cafes which Edward Hopper liked to paint so much. You know the ones that appear a lot on postcards. You could be a young writer. Not really conversant with the craft. A rookie. You have just knocked off from work and this more experienced writer says he'll give you the low down on how to do things correctly. You never found out why it had to be that particular cafe, nor why it should be so late. You did not ask questions. You just appeared at the allotted time. In he comes. You can smell the Bourbon miles away. You accept it - part of the craft. He has a seasoned face, whatever that is meant to mean. You know experienced. Pudgy and hard at the same time. One thin and tough lip, the other watery. His eyes are red around the edges. When he takes off his hat - well he looks like a character. Tough guy. Maybe you want him to be that. Anyways. He with almost contempt spins your notebook round and reads the first line. "It's no good." You look at him sheepishly. "No good?" "You deaf or something kid?" "No." "It's no good." "No good?" "What is it with you? Does it run in the family?" "What?" "This repeating stuff." "No Sir" "Look you can call me anything, but Sir." "Yes Sir." "Jeez you really want to go into this writing business." "Sure." "Well you gotta change." "Gotta change" Repeat once more and sure to God I'll brain you one." You clam up and wait for him to calm down. His face had reddened. You wanted to say around the gills, but you weren't quite sure if that was right. Fish had gills. "Your first line doesn't have the hook." "Imagine that there was a girl in front of you, yes a fancy one, the love of your life, and you wanted her to marry you - you like that - sure what man would turn down such a prospect - who in their right mind would turn down this peach - excited are we - sure you are - now she is all yours - she is that's true - all yours - all you have to do is use one opening line - not any old line - it has to be that one true one as North is North - now by just using one line. You can marry that gal" You start to snigger in that manner that irritates your family and friends. "Look buster I am being deadly earnest. There are writers out there who could write such lines. In the trade it's like the elixir of immortality. One line. You got that?" "Sure Mr. Z." "Call me Z" "Sure Z." This line you can't buy it. It has to come from experience." The waitress comes. She recognises us. "Same as usual." "Sure honey and make sure I get lots of honey - honey on the pancake." She laughs in the same flirtaceous way she has done previously. As if he had been the bard himself. "See that's what I am talking about. That's called punning." You come out and say that you understood it to be flirting. At which point Z grabs you by your cheap tie and says. "Punning is when you play with words. Word play." You acknowledge your ignorance by a dutiful nod of shame for being so unworldly. "Let's back to this line, now where was I?" You remind him that the first line is like the elixir of something. "Ah yes the Elixir of immortality. Just one line." "You do not have a second shot." You say that you read that somewhere in a creative writing manual. "Sonny do not go clever on me you punk, what Z tells you is top dollar." The mention of dollar is a reminder that you are paying him for his criticical services. The pancakes and coffee arrive. You pick up the bill. But the smiles are for him. "Now, this first line has to be strong." He pounds the table so hard that a drunk a few tables up woke up and shouted "I'll pay mister don't shoot." He pulls you toward him so that the full significance of the bourbon hits you, and in a conspiratorial whisper tells you, "Do not let another soul hear this." He breaths into your ear - it feels uncomfortably hot like a hand dryer in the cafe's washroom. "Now kiddo that's a line." You could not hear anything, it was all static. You want to tell him that you heard nothing but noise - however as he sits back and looks at you all smug, you think twice about it, merely telling him that it was brilliant. "See that's what you are paying me for. " "Yes Z" You mull over that for. Was it a dangling preposition they warned you of? He folds his arms and his flaccid tongue does a quick job of wiping some honey off his lower lip. It's 1960. 23rd December 1960. Anything in the world could happen, but that was the particular day when you started to be a writer thanks to Mr Z. 1960. He was smiling. "See Sonny look upon me as your coach." "Coach?" "Like a football coach, you play football?" "Actually..." "Well it is figuratively speaking - you figuratively play football - got it." "I figure I do." He bangs his hand on the table again. The drunk comes out of his stupor and shouts "I'll pay alimony - I'll pay it -- give me a week." You are worried because you thought you were getting on swell. "Don't look worried knuckle head - you punned." You were about to say something about the pancakes being rich and all that, when he rescued you with an explanation. "I said to you figuratively play - and you said I figure - see the play." You nod none the wiser - but then it dawns upon you. Yes. He smiles again. Could he do more than smile you ask yourself. He grins. Grinning is no good. Smiling. It has to be smile. But maybe something extra. A simile. He smiled like... "Back to the game sport." That sounded vaguely similar to you, but you hadn't the remotest idea where you heard that expression, unless, unless, it was in English when Mrs Webster was reading from a classic. "This first line. The hook. How long do you think it has to be? " You suggest 12 words. He looks at you as if you were what the cat had eaten and thrown up. "You dope. It depends. Depends on what you are writing. Your short stories have all different styles. Publishing houses have styles too. I will give you an analogy. That's an example. Imagine you are walking down the street and you see this big swanky mansion. The card you got tells you this is the place. You ring a door bell and a servant answers. At the very threshold you change your behaviour and become all polite , don't you?" "Yes Z." "Yes you certainly do. that's because of the style of the residence." "You see where I am taking you?" "FerrChrissake is that the time. I will have to be off to my baaa -- club...but remember what I said about the first line. Look you have to be cruel to be kind, and what I am doing here is the kindest thing anyone has done to you - this line will not do." He crumples up the paper and leaves it next to the burnt bit of pancake. You look at the paper and see him get up and leave. He has forgotten his hat. "Deliberate, deliberate - I want to encourage you [he pats you on the shoulder as if he were a priest] - try another first line - but not the gem I told you, that one is a secret one - you take it to your grave - well I will be bidding you a good night. Good night miss." He is off and your last line is glued thanks to the honey - to the pancake. The waitress when clearing the table asks if you'll be wanting the page. You say "No honey." She frowns, and you blush as you make a quick exit - muttering "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." The drunk wakes up and repeats Mr Z's first line verbatim.