By Bob Kaster
The writers’ workshop instructor told his class, “As you know, we have devoted this month to writing humor, and have learned, I think, that comedy writing is more difficult than one might expect. It’s harder than writing drama, because it’s difficult to create a comic piece that doesn’t come across as being contrived. For today’s workshop, we’re going to focus on satirical writing. Now, who wants to tell the class the definition of satire? Put your phones down; no fair Googling it. Any takers?”
Bob, the class septuagenarian geezer, raised his hand. “I’ll give it a try,” he said. “I think a satire is a story about a current idea that is really dumb, but that everybody believes to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. You take that dumb idea, add unintended consequences, and create a new funny idea that shows how really dumb the original idea is.”
“That’s not too bad,” said the instructor. “Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: Satire is a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, or bad; humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, or society.
“Now,” continued the instructor, “As a class exercise, let’s see if we can find a topic to satirize. Let’s keep it non-political, please; I don’t want any fistfights breaking out in my class. So, political hot topics are out. No Texas voting rights laws or congressional Build Back Better bills.”
“That doesn’t leave much to work with,” said Penny, a thirty-something mother of two who aspires to be a published author. “I can’t think of anything non-controversial that’s dumb.”
“Ah, but that’s the wonder of being a writer. It gives you the opportunity to be creative. It’s a lot easier to write a satirical story about, say, tearing down statues of Thomas Jefferson or paying reparations to people illegally crossing the border, than it is to write a story about something really ordinary or mundane. So, any ideas for a topic? Put your thinking caps on.”
Dead silence. After about five minutes, Bob, the geezer, timidly suggested, “What about reading your morning mail?”
“That’s a start,” said the instructor. “But the definition of satire describes using humor to show that something is foolish, weak, or bad. Is there anything foolish, weak, or bad, about reading your mail?”
“But,” said Penny. “If everyone agrees that something isn’t dumb, then it probably isn’t. Why satirize it?”
Another dead silence.
Then, a different voice piped up. John, a fifty-year-old bookkeeper who wants to learn creative writing because he believes he’s a boring person and wants to change that, said, “What about the idea of waiting a half hour every morning in the drive-thru line at Starbucks to pay eight dollars for a cup of coffee. That’s really dumb, but everybody does it.”
That got everyone’s attention. Brilliant.
“Okay, we’re on to something,” said the instructor. “Now let’s write a story as a group. Maybe we can get it published in the Siskiyou Daily News.” After the laughter died down, he then taped a large sheet of butcher paper to the wall, took out a Sharpie, and said, “Okay, I want everyone to contribute ideas for the Starbuck’s story, and I’ll write them down.”
The class got into it, and within fifteen minutes, the instructor had written ten ideas on the paper. “Okay, anyone want to take this piece of paper home and put the ideas into a draft?”
Bob, the geezer, volunteered.
“It’s okay to keep it short,” said the instructor. “When you have completed a draft, email it to everyone in the group, and we can work it over at our next meeting.”
This is Bob, the geezer’s, draft:
Sally woke up late on a Tuesday morning. She had been out a little too late the night before with Norman, and maybe shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine. She needed to be at work at 8:00 AM, and usually left her apartment no later than 7:10. It wasn’t that far to her office, only a ten-minute drive, but Starbuck’s was on her route, and she had to make her morning stop. It was essential. She needed that Venti Quad Espresso Macchiato with Chestnut Praline Syrup, Chocolate Curls Topping, and a Splash of Oatmilk Sweetened with Stevia in the Raw to get her going in the mornings.
Sally had already been late two times that month, and it was only the middle of the month. Her boss, an inconsiderate jerk, had warned her, “Three strikes and you’re out.”
She left her apartment at 7:45. When she was passing Starbuck’s, it was 7:50. She would make it to work on time!
But then a higher power took control of her car and steered it, against her will, into the Starbuck’s drive-thru. The line was long, and the service was agonizingly slow. When she finally got up to the window and was paying for her Espresso Macchiato, she said, angrily, “You’re awfully slow this morning. You’re gonna make me late for work.”
The barista said, apologetically, “I’m so sorry. It’s just that we’re really short-handed. It’s been this way, you know, ever since COVID.”
Sally grabbed her Espresso Macchiato and peeled her tires getting out of the driveway. When she walked into her office it was 8:23. Her boss was sitting on her desk, glaring at her. Next to him, on the desktop, were her personal items from her desk drawers, all in a Raley’s paper grocery bag. He never said a word, just jerked his arm up with his thumb out, baseball-umpire style, and handed her final paycheck to her.
“What an asshole,” Sally thought as she was driving back home. When she was passing Starbuck’s, the same higher power grabbed her steering wheel again, but this time guided her car into the Starbuck’s parking lot, not the drive-thru. Then the higher power nudged her inside and up to the counter, where she asked the barista, “Do you have a job opening?”
“We might,” was the response. “Can you get to work on time?”
“N-no,” stammered Sally.
“No matter,” said the barista. “You’re hired.”