One thing I wanted to do on this blog (at least for the month of January) was to share some of the creative writing prompts I participated in last semester’s creative writing course.
That said, the following prompt was inspired by a scholarship essay contest. I had to write about scanners (of all things), and I thought, as I wrote, one could take any object and write a story about that object. I could write about the remote control (and how my husband always manages to be in charge of it; I finally had to say something about him skipping over all the contestant interviews on “Wheel of Fortune”). I could write about my car, and all the freedom it affords me . I could write about my Michelle, the red-headed Cabbage Patch of my childhood, who I would drag around by the hair (my parents said I liked to “cuff around” all my dolls and stuffed animals, lining them up and yelling at them). The possibilities are endless, for an object has little meaning, except for the meanings we attach to it.
So, when I had to write about scanners, I got creative, and ended up telling a true story about a childhood memory.
I would also like to hear from you–what objects (maybe in 140 characters or less) you would write a story about, and why. (Looking at old photos can help with this.)
Scanners: Reality in Real Time
The sometimes staticky crackle of police scanners brings back memories. When I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my Grandpa and Grandma Booker in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Every night, my grandfather, who slept downstairs in the basement, would have the police scanner on—
what I like to call “blue noise”.
Poplar Bluff was a relatively small town back then (it still has only one high school). I would sometimes open the door at the top of the stairs and listen to the sounds that made me think of walkie-talkies. Sometimes, his snoring that was loud enough to wake undead would drown out the dialogue, or the cuckoo clock would pop out like an angry bird, scrambling my ability to decipher what was going on in the wee hours in P.B. Listening to the scanner was like trying to see past the snow that clouded the premium channels. It was a small source of fascination for me.
Turning the scanner on before bedtime was Grandpa’s nighttime ritual, like boxing and St. Louis Cardinal games were his entertainment during the waking hours; like watching the lightning bugs with their greenish-yellow glow in the evening, and noting the goings-on at the Slinkard house across the street in the afternoons.
Scanners are like an inconspicuous way of snooping one one’s neighbors—a gift for the lazy Gladys Kravitzes of the world; for ambulance chasers, and for those who like true reality, rather than the manufactured fluff, the alternate realities, made up for television. What we hear on scanners is gritty, raw—like listening to a 911 tape.
My dad still remembers some of the stuff he heard. There was a woman in Poplar Bluff who always spoke in a monotone and said, “Won’t start”, whenever a car had to be towed. She would recite the address and that would be the end of it. Sometimes there would be a weather alert. There was also woman named Miss Wiley who was known at the time for always contacting the police about a prowler, the cops saying sarcastically, “Someone’s out there.”
Dad and Grandpa would listen to the Missouri Highway Patrol give license tags, always saying “B-as-in-boy” (I guess B-as-in-badass wasn’t acceptable), and, once in awhile, they’d hear the paramedics in ambulances give blood pressure readings (which seems like an invasion of privacy now). Most of the time, scanners were a comforting background noise that didn’t distract like a television, flickering red and green instead of black and white.
Sometimes Dad would be lying in bed and the scanner would be completely silent, and then suddenly a BOLO alert would jolt them, startling them out of sleep or hurtling them out of semi-consciousness.
I remember when I came upon my grandpa’s old scanner with the silver antennae, and how I could make it go quiet when I pinched it between my fingers—that eerie sound of silence, like a blackout. Scanners were as much a part of my childhood as Nick-at-Nite block party summers and the Hits Countdown with Casey Kasem. Maybe someday, in my advanced age, they will become my white noise, lulling me to sleep.