Did you ever have one of those moments?
Writers are advised to avoid clichés like the plague. (See? It’s even difficult to describe cliché’s WITHOUT using clichés)! So what do you do when something in real life happens that is a cliché? How do you draw on that experience, and highlight the irony, without making readers cringe?
I have had more than a few of those “cliché moments” in my life, and you probably have, too. One such moment happened one afternoon in a drug store, during the summer I was single (I am married now). In the small town where I lived there weren’t many places to shop, so the local chain drugstore was the place to browse when bored. After forty minutes of leisurely aisle-wandering, I had nearly filled the small basket on my arm. I approached the cashier, and noticed a good-looking guy in line behind me. Being single, my ‘hot guy-dar’ was always on, and I snuck a few peeks behind me, nonchalantly checking him out. I happened to look down at my basket, and suddenly wished I was somewhere else. The contents of the basket lay there, mocking me, daring me to lay them all on the counter- and announce to the world “Lonely Single Female”! I could not have put together a more clichéd assortment had I done it on purpose. A bag of dark chocolate. Two paper- back novels. A vibrator, KY Jelly, a box of condoms and some sort of hair removal gel. (At least the condoms provided evidence of hope that the Single Female wouldn’t be lonely for very long). Crap! Now all I would need is to run into someone I know! Despite my intense embarrassment, I carried on. The teenage clerk at the counter didn’t flinch, and the hot guy moved to another line; so no one cared about my incriminating purchases but me. Relieved, I headed to my car, but with an echo in my mind of another drug store scenario that had happened years earlier. One that didn’t go so smoothly.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, the teen-aged me had finally decided to do the deed- to ‘go all the way’ with my boyfriend. A full year of make-out sessions had led to our mutual decision, but somehow I ended up with the task of procuring the prophylactics. I am sure I looked like a potential shoplifter casing the joint as I wandered around the drug store, scanning the shelves, hoping to find condoms other than the ones displayed in a locked case behind the cashier. Defeated, I picked up a box of cough drops so I wasn’t empty-handed, and walked to the check- out counter. I had waited until the other patrons had gone, so no one would witness my purchase. I cleared my throat and asked the cashier for a box of Trojans. The plump middle-aged woman peered at me over her half-glasses. As she turned to unlock the case (which was locked up tight presumably to prevent hormone- stricken teenagers from shoplifting them), she asked loudly, “Regular or Ribbed?” The store air conditioning must not have been working, because I felt a heat on my cheeks that threatened to bring on a sweat. “Um, r-regular,” I managed, and pulled out my wallet so I could pay quickly and get the hell out of there.
But the clerk had more questions. “Small box of six, or Jumbo box of twenty?” “Small! “ The cashier smirked slightly, and looked me over again. It seemed she was moving in slow motion. She began to punch numbers into the cash register, and I felt I was nearing the finish line. Then someone nudged my elbow. “Hey, Renee. How’s your husband?” I looked up to see the familiar face of one of my classmates. I didn’t know her very well, but she apparently had decided to ‘help’ me out, so the cashier wouldn’t guess my tender age and prevent me from my ‘naughty’ purchase. “Uh, he’s great thanks. See ya.” By this time I had completed the transaction, and I waved goodbye to my unrequested assistant, clutching the plain brown bag that held the necessary items for losing my virginity. “Next time, he’s buying,” I swore as I walked the three blocks home.
And there I was, in my car so many years later, with a plain brown bag full of goodies. A cliché –something embarrassing happening while purchasing very personal items- had almost happened again, but the irony and the humor of both moments were what made them worth noticing in the first place. Clichés happen. I guess it’s all in how you use them!
What clichés have happened to you? Do you think they have a place in fiction? Or should they be forever banned?