July 30: “The Bolero of Andi Rowe” by Toni Margarita Plummer

It’s Saturday, Story366, and Karen is on a writing retreat. That means it’s me and the boys going solo for four days, and so far, so good. Before Karen left, I managed to trim the hedges in the back yard, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s been two years since I’ve done that. This is big because A) they were longer and harder to sculpt than usual (I went with the traditional stick-of-butter pattern), and B) the last time I completed this task, I almost cut off two of my fingers. I’d literally been finished, was just walking around, clipping here and there, trying to perfect, and I bent over to get to a part underneath the bushes, reaching below with the trimmer in one hand. I got the part I was aiming for, straightened up, and grabbed for the handle part with my left hand, but instead grabbed the blades—these were electric trimmers. Karen rushed me to the hospital, I got thirteen stitches in my middle finger and seven in my ring finger and two years later, I still have the scars. The wound on my middle finger is deeper and hurts sometimes—when it’s overcast especially—though it’s cool because now my fingerprints are altered and I’m trying to figure out how I can use that to my advantage. I’d take suggestions in the Comments section.

Today, I made it through the task, this time wearing gloves, long sleeves, and a suit of armor I found at the flea market, and the Infinity Gauntlet, just in case. Karen left right after—I thought it best to do this while she was home—and now me and the boys are chilling. I went on a retreat a few weeks ago and did an enormous amount of writing, and hopefully, Karen has a good experience as well.

My fingers intact, I read some stories from Toni Margarita Plummer’s collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe, out from Curbstone Books, and enjoyed them all. I rushed right into the title story, which is in the middle of the book, and noticed that the mention of Andi Rowe was in backstory and sort of out of nowhere. I read the next story, “All the Sex Is West,” and again, Andi Rowe showed up, this time as the best friend of the protagonist. It was time to do some investigating, so being the master detective that I am, I read the description on the back cover. In the first sentence, it’s revealed that this is a collection of interrelated stories about Andi Rowe, about people she knows who live in and around LA. That mystery solved, I read the opening piece, “Yard Work,” which features Andi Rowe as its protagonist, just to meet the lady herself. Still, I’ve decided to write on “The Bolero of Andi Rowe,” as I like title stories and I might like it best of the three, too.

“The Bolero of Andi Rowe” is about Pete, a guy who is driving along in Whittier (the part of LA where Whittier College is, where Nixon went to school, where I read once back in 2009) and spots his ex-girlfriend, Beth, stumbling around drunk. Beth looks to be in awful shape, so Pete stops to help her, much to Beth’s dismay. Beth begins to beat on him something fierce.

This actually comes to us in backstory, though, on the second page, as Plummer starts a bit ahead of that, with the line “The mariachis arrived just in time.” A couple of guys from a band have pulled up to play in a nearby club and stop to help Pete out. Pete, who played in a mariachi band in college and wrote songs and stuff, develops an immediate affinity with these guys, who not only help him coral Beth, but help him take her home safely and into bed, too. Pete and the guys talk more, it’s revealed just how much they have in common, and then they part ways.

More or less, this is the entire plot of “The Bolero of Andi Rowe,” though there’s a lot of story left. Some of the remaining text is backstory, mainly the aforementioned backstory with Andi Rowe, Pete remembering a steamy evening at a drive-in with her years earlier, an encounter enabled by a Pete-penned bolero playing on his car radio. There’s a lot of character-building, though, too, as we find out who Pete is, meet the guy who went out of his way to help someone who hates him. We find out that Pete lives with his uncle because his uncle is divorced and had lived alone and Pete needed a quiet place to study. For what? Pete is done with college and is supposed to be studying for his MCATs. He’d been failing at this, and when his mom got on him, he blamed the noisy household. Enter the end of Tío’s private bachelor pad.

The move to Tío’s is important because Tío is a kindred spirit with Pete, an artist, a misanthrope, and a free thinker. Everyone wants Pete to become a doctor, and in a way, so does Pete. But his uncle and his Bohemian lifestyle inspire Pete, as did the run-in with Beth, which got him thinking about his music, his songwriting, and his encounter with Andi Rowe. That’s enough to inspire a change in Pete, to get him following his heart.

“The Bolero of Andi Rowe” isn’t really about Andi Rowe, but in the end, is about inspiration, how art comes about. The three stories I’ve read in Toni Maragarita Plummer’s collection are all character-driven, with interesting plots on the periphery, but definitely about people making choices, learning about life, coming into their own. This was my introduction to Plummer’s work and it was a great introduction. I enjoyed all of the stories, meeting all of these characters, reading the prose that chronicles their lives. I highly recommend.



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