The Deepest Cuts are the Worst

I entered a contest run by the Barefoot Writer (a monthly publication for copywriters). The assignment was to respond to the following prompt: “If a holiday were to take place in your honor, what would it be called and why?”

I first answered with about 975 words in this essay:

The following was discovered in 16-year-old Zane’s journal, by his snooping sister and posted on Instagram:

January 2

“All right, everybody!” My dad shouted. It’s his holiday. “Get your asses into the kitchen! It’s time for nicknames!”

“That’s your one!” My mom shouted back. “No more swear words for you tonight!”

He muttered something under his breath. “What?” I asked.

“I said, ass isn’t a swear word.”

“Well, it is, you said so yourself last year,” Mom replied. “Now you have to take the Ceremonial First Drink!”

He shook his head. “Fine.” He held out a hand. By this time there were at least a dozen of us crowded around in the small kitchen. You never celebrate Nick Name Night with just a few people – always a big group.

My sister put a glass into his hand, and then everyone poured a little bit of their own drinks in – one had egg nog, my little brother dumped in orange juice. Dad called this a “tornado” when he did it at the soft drink machine. Nowadays it’s a penalty for anyone who swears twice in the night.

He sniffed it and shuddered. Everyone laughed. Finally he swallowed it all in one big gulp, wiped his mustache with the back of his hand, and slammed the glass on the table. We all applauded.

“Now,” he said, “Let’s get down to business. It’s Nick Name Night, and I, for one, am ready to hear what you all have in store for us.” He pointed at Katie. “Katie, youngest first. You’re up!” He lifted her up onto the counter and she giggled.

“No, daddy, I can’t go first. I went first last year. You said we have to do things different each time.”

“When will I ever learn not to take my rules from Calvinball?” He smiled. “Okay, then, how do you want to do it?”

She said, “Race around the house! Last one back here has to go first.” So we stomped outside in the 2 inches of snow for a quick run.

I lost. Sort of on purpose, but also so Katie would feel good. Making others happy is what this night is about. Back inside I hopped up on the counter for my “Naming Ceremony”.

Dad said he got this idea because he’d had so many nicknames in his life. Like, 10 before he got out of college. And he liked that. Because it reminded him he was always changing. Always getting better. I suggested “Baldy” last year, but he used his veto.

Anyway – everyone goes around and gives you a new trial nickname that might be yours for the year. Last year mine was “Specs”, because I got new glasses. That wasn’t so bad, but I was looking forward to a new one.

Dad started. “Slim,” he said. I’d grown about three inches but weighed the same as last year. Mom went next. “Hot stuff,” she said, and I blushed. Everyone laughed. “What?” She said. “I think he’s a very handsome boy.” I just shook my head and held my tongue.

They went around the group. “WC”, from Tyler, who knew I had gotten really into Warcraft. “Stupid”, from Katie, which was so obviously bad that I didn’t have to worry about it. A few others, and finally my aunt, who suggested “Z-man”. “Because you’re becoming a real man.” I liked that.

I used my veto on Hot Stuff. I just couldn’t take the chance of either of my sisters calling me that when a girl came over, or of hearing my mom say it at the dinner table. When the final vote was counted my family finally came through. Z-man it would be, and I would have a whole month to decide whether I liked it or not.

Then we went around the rest of the group, everyone giving each other potential new nicknames. Dad ended up actually getting “Baldy” this year, because he used his veto on “Fatty McGee”. Mom is going to be “Speedy”, after three tickets. Katie is “K-K”, Tyler is “Cupid”, and so on.

Anyway, we finished it off each round with a toast of our favorite beverages, and a lot of laughter. I can’t wait for next year. I plan to have a job and be saving up for my own car. I wonder if I can convince Katie to suggest “Moneybags” for me?

***

Unfortunately, that was waaaaaay over the contest’s 500-word limit. So I had to start cutting. I got down to 800 words, then 700. Finally, after taking out a bunch of stuff I really liked, I ended up at 498. See for yourself how it just loses the character it had before.

Zane’s snooping sister discovered the following in his journal:

January 2

“All right, everybody!” my dad shouted. “Get your asses into the kitchen! It’s time for nicknames!”

“That’s your one!” Mom said. “No more swear words for you tonight!”

“Ass isn’t a swear word.”

“Well, last year you said it is!” she replied. “Now you have to Suffer the Double Swear Penalty!”

“Fine.” By this time there were at least a dozen of us crammed in the small kitchen. You always celebrate Nick Name Night with a crowd.

My sister put a glass into his hand, and then everyone poured a little bit of their own drinks in – egg nog, orange juice, beer. Dad called this a “tornado” when he did it at the soft drink machine.

He sniffed it and shuddered. Finally he swallowed it all in one big gulp, wiped his mustache with the back of his hand, and slammed the glass on the table. We all applauded.

“Now,” he said, “Let’s get down to business. It’s Nick Name Night, and I, for one, am ready to hear what you all have in store for us.” He pointed at Katie. “Katie, youngest first. You’re up!” He lifted her up on the counter and she giggled.

“No, Daddy, I can’t go first. That was last year. You said we have to do things different, like Calvinball.”

“Okay, then, how do you want to do it?”

She said, “Race around the house! Last one back here has to go first.”

I lost. On purpose, so Katie would feel good.

Dad said he invented this holiday because he’d had 10 nicknames before he got out of college. And he liked that. It reminded him he was always changing. Always getting better.

Everyone goes around and gives you a new trial nickname, then we all vote.

Dad started. “Slim,” he said. I’d grown about three inches but weighed the same as last year. Mom went next. “Hot stuff,” she said, and I blushed. Everyone laughed. “What?” she said. “I think he’s a very handsome boy.” I bit my tongue.

They went around the group. “WC”, from Tyler, who knew I had gotten into Warcraft. “Stupid”, from Katie. A few others, and finally my aunt, who suggested “Z-man”. “Because a driver’s license makes you a real man.”

I used my veto on Hot Stuff. I just couldn’t take the chance of either of my sisters calling me that when a girl came over, or of hearing my mom say it at the dinner table. In the vote my family finally came through. Z-man it would be.

Then we went around the rest of the group, everyone giving each other new nicknames. Dad ended up getting “Baldy” this year, because he used his veto on “Fatty McGee”. Mom is going to be “Jeff Gordon”, after three tickets. Katie is “K-K”, Tyler is “Cupid”. See?

We finished off each round with a toast of our favorite beverages. I can’t wait for next year.

***

This version, while meeting the maximum word requirement, feels rather stilted and tense. It’s as if someone is just reading the story to us, rather than experiencing, which was the feel I got when writing it the first time.

I would really like to align these in 2 columns, to be able to have you visually see what I mean, but WordPress isn’t playing nice. If I could, you’d see just how much has to be cut in order to meet the limit.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is Write the story however long it needs to be. After this, I’ll probably not try the same thing again. If I have to meet a word guideline, I’ll try to pick something that has less in it to make sure I don’t have to cut so deep. This one ended up sacrificing too much.

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