The Plot Story: Chapter 3

Joe Stretch Taught Me

Five of the six former colonies mentioned in chapter 1 and chapter 2 belonged to Britain (Mali being the only one with a French connection). Since I was born in one former British colony and am a citizen of another, it’s time to bring in the Mother Country.

Among the flood of emails I’ve received from England, one is from a novelist/creative writing tutor from Manchester. It’s a bittersweet-sour email, and he begins with the bittersweet bit. It’s rather unfortunate that I was treated in such a rubbish manner, he says. Winkie sounds like a rather horrid bloke and should jolly well be sent to Coventry.

In the sour bit, the novelist/tutor criticizes my definition of plot. Plot, he says, is not defined as one thing leading to another. Rather, according to a writer whose name escapes him in a book whose title escapes him, plot is “a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.” Surely Keele could have taught me that?

I can read between the lines. The novelist/tutor may be trying to display professional courtesy by not naming names, but I know that by “Keele” he means Joe Stretch. I don’t mind if anyone disses Keele (I do it all the time myself), but I mind very much if someone disses Joe Stretch. Joe Stretch may not have taught me that plot is “a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality,” but I already knew that before joining Keele (having read Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster years before). Joe Stretch taught me a whole lot that I didn’t know before joining Keele – and what Joe Stretch taught me has taken me a lot farther than the definition of plot ever could.

I realize I am using “what Joe Stretch taught me” as a shortcut, like the writer in Guntur was using “one thing led to another” before he read “The Definition of Plot.” I do it not because I want to keep what Joe Stretch taught me to myself, but because I lack the time and space to spell it all out. If the world wants to know what Joe Stretch taught me, the world can read Pioneer Boulevard.

I plan to write this novelist/tutor in Manchester a stinker. Among other things, I’ll tell him that if he had wanted to correct me, he should have done so without dragging Joe Stretch into it. Because Joe Stretch is only responsible for what Joe Stretch taught me, not what he could have taught me.


Only two other emails from the Mother Country stand out. Given how many Everly Brothers numbers were mentioned in “The Definition of Plot,” it’s not surprising that both these emails are about songs.

The first is from a singer/songwriter in Liverpool who says that reading about my breakup inspired him to compose a song, the lyrics of which were included in his email. The second stanza begins: “Last Bank Holiday, love was such an easy game to play.”

I appreciate the Liverpudlian’s talents as a songwriter almost as much as I appreciate his kindness, but his reading skills leave a lot to be desired. He clearly hasn’t read “The Definition of Plot.” I never said love was an easy game to play. No one who subscribes to this definition of love would ever call love a game, let alone an easy one.

Another thing I didn’t say is that Winkie and I broke up “last Bank Holiday.” We don’t have anything of the sort in America. Every national holiday in this country has a specially designated name, from Martin Luther King Jr. Day to The Day After Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t always this way, but they had to do it because people were staying home on Martin Luther King Sr.’s birthday and the day before Thanksgiving. And there were those who had carried this holiday-making spirit a little too far by instituting Vice Presidents’ Day, Memo Day, Dependence Day, and The Day After Labor Day. And until something was done about it, the most patriotic ones even wore red, white, and blue, sang the national anthem, and lit fireworks on the Twenty-Fourth of July.

Incidentally, it wasn’t the federal government (aka the Feral Gent) that quenched the holiday-making spirit. At least, not of its own volition. The Feral Gent pays its employees with taxpayer dollars, and as long as there are taxpayers with taxpayer dollars, the Feral Gent could care less if its employees took five days off a week. In fact, the Feral Gent was in the process of instituting Holiday-Making Day when corporate America (aka Co Ca) threw a monkey wrench.

Co Ca knew its employees waste enough company time watching one Cute Child video after another at their desk, and Co Ca wasn’t going to pay for them to do this at home as well. So Co Ca lobbied to quench the holiday-making spirit, and because Co Ca funds zillions of taxpayer dollars, the Feral Gent quenched the spirit pronto.


But let’s return to the Mother Country, which has neither taxpayer dollars nor monkey wrenches to boast of. The other noteworthy email from the land of Shakespeare is from a poet/playwright in Stratford, who is “heartily sorry” for what Winkie put me through. He says it’s a wonder I didn’t go mad and start singing about flowers and distributing them to royal bystanders before being drowned in a brook. (This brook-drowning affair sounds familiar. I have a feeling he’s lifted it from somewhere. Maybe Holinshed?)

After reading about the breakup, this poet/playwright was also inspired to compose me a song. It’s called “Hey Ebony, Ebony.”

Cry no more, lady, cry no more
That man was a deceiver ever;
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one [girl]* constant never.
Then cry no more,
But let him go
And be you lithe and bony**
Converting all your songs of woe
Into Hey ebony, ebony.

* I’ve changed his “thing” to “girl.” I don’t know which century he’s living in, but in the twenty-first it’s politically incorrect to call a girl a thing.

** I considered changing his “lithe and bony” to “blithe and bonny,” which is not discriminatory to girls who are not lithe and bony, but I realized it would be violating his rights. He has a right to like girls who are lithe and bony, for who would fardels bear?