Dollar Store Assassins and Pawn Shop Heroes

I mentioned in my last post that the major flaw in my secret project was that it’s style and substance were not at all interesting to me and I was writing it for some very stupid reasons. Reading through the table of contents for my short story collection BREAKFAST ANYTIME smacked that point even further into my thick skull I hope. Seeing the sorts of characters and situations I’ve had success with and had pleasure writing hopefully will deter me from pursuing stupid projects like this last one again in the future. It also seemed like a good to to remind myself of the Neo-Pulp Writers Manifesto I wrote for myself last year when I was going through something similar. One thing that the manifesto doesn’t really address directly is the sorts of crimes I want to write about. I have no interest in high-stakes stories, well traditional high stakes stories. The city, country, world, or humanity will never be at stake in my work and I’m fine with that. Anyone familiar with a blue collar life knows that sometimes small stakes are more interesting and can be just as dramatic for the individual.

I’ve been a fan or Pawn Stars since it started, but I think that show represents a shiny high stakes plot. The items are usually high concept, high cost items with thrilling back stories and lots of dickering over thousands of dollars. More recently though I’ve become hooked on Hardcore Pawn. This is a show also set in a pawn shop, but not a shiny museum quality showroom in Las Vegas like on Pawn Stars, rather it’s a dingy cold showroom in the heart of Detroit where the stakes are small and the drama is HUGE. The items being sold or pawned are almost always clothes, jewelry, or electronics and the amounts never get much above a few hundred dollars but the emotions are intense. One woman was upset because she missed the deadline to pay on her $300 laptop and it was going to affect her ability to go to school. Another woman sold her leather coat for $30 so she could make part of bill payment. Those kinds of stakes are just as insurmountable to a poor family as a high reaching conspiracy is to a super spy or lone cop hero. And these are the kinds of stakes I want to write about. I also want to write about the amount of vitriol that can be spewed over a watch and the amazing satisfaction that can come by getting $50 for a video game system left behind by a cheating lover.

And if you think these stories aren’t playing outside of the urban pawn environs, just look at the case of Bob Bashara, the moronic thug from Grosse Pointe who (allegedly) hired a mentally unstable handy man to kill his wife and dump her body over the border in Detroit. This same guy then made plans to find another low rent hitter to kill the previous hitter in jail for $2000. These aren’t suave gentlemen assassins with high tech equipment and unlimited expense accounts and I love it so much more. I’ve talked before about how I feel uncomfortable sometimes writing about race in Detroit as an outsider both locally and racially (which was another fatal flaw with the secret project) but stupidity among criminals is racially blind. Detroit may be falling into a pit of corruption and irrelevance and it pisses me off as a tax payer and human being, but as a writer I couldn’t be happier.