“The cold, dreary weather serves to heighten the impending doom.” That sounds like the beginning of a terrible book, but it is the first thing I thought of to start this column. Maybe we are all trapped in a crummy story.
With the start of the holiday period less than a month away, there’s a palpable dread among the working locals. It serves to highlight the distinct differences between life in a resort community and life in the world outside of the bubble. I don’t hear from many locals looking forward to spending time with their families or getting some vacation time away from work. Instead, it is the opposite. Everyone seems to be armoring up for not seeing their friends and family for a two-week stretch, working 16-hour days for 14 days straight.
I could write about that, but since I started with such a lousy sentence, let me instead tell you about one of the English language’s best contests: the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
Giddy entrants, hoping to be recognized for awful starts to stories they don’t have to write, submit opening paragraphs to a panel of judges who sift and sort until the cream rises to the top. They then skim that off and let the remainder sit out some more and skim again until, eventually, the worst of the bad is left.
The premise is to make fun of Bulwer-Lytton’s opening paragraph of his novel “Paul Clifford.” The first sentence of which is, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” The entire opening paragraph is worth a look-up, but at 314 words is a bit gratuitous for filling column space.
Thousands of submissions from around the globe are judged, but it just so happens that this year’s winner is from Aurora, Colorado. The winning entry, penned by John Farmer, follows:
“I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn’t help — I was fresh out of salami.”
Someone from Aspen could win just by submitting a run-on sentence or two of real-life things that they witnessed. Lacking much time, I can only offer some rough ideas.
“The tall but wide gentleman, dressed in cashmere, except for his large custom cowboy hat, and boots that seemed to be made from the skin of an animal that had once shimmered as it slithered over rocks which must have been very hot, and very black, nodded once as he entered our excessively expensive accessory store, which had been here longer than most (having opened our doors over three months ago), and sauntered over to the section of money clips designed by an artist from Koudougou, in Burkina Faso, that local city councilman Skippy had stumbled upon during yet another soul-searching trip on motorcycle across the African interior, and were made exclusively from the left front claws of the indigenous slender-snouted crocodile. ‘My wife saw these on Instagram,’ he belted in a drawl that must have been cultivated from years of living in the Permian shale region of west Texas and then refined in a boardroom in Dallas. ‘I want to surprise her by whipping it out to pay for Cloud Nine tomorrow.’ ‘You’ll need five,’ I replied, ‘and a large Zip-loc bag,’ because even though the crocodiles lived in water, the money clips were held together by thread spun from the wild Eri silkworm and would dissolve immediately when subjected to Champagne, or in some instances, sparkling wine.”
“It was a very sunny day, but not hot, which is normal at this altitude in February, but I still felt warm because I was illicitly wearing underwear underneath my thermal layer, a habit I had had since even before I did my own laundry, and makes as much sense as wearing underwear underneath pants, which I often don’t, but that’s another story.”