It’s been my writing home away from home for several years now. I’ve seen it all there—and I mean all. In fact, I have two or three “Tales from Booth 14” videos up on YouTube and half a dozen more to share. From flying plates and police with shields (those poor guys looked like they felt ridiculous, but protocol is protocol), to the gal who ate Angela-the-wonder-server’s burger patty and the guys from England educating me about “Monkey hangers,” I’ve pretty much seen everything.
Falling down on the floor drunk? Check.
The most ridiculous pick-up line ever? Check. (Actually heard the Tennessee one and the falling from heaven one used. No joke.)
Adorable couples? Check.
Heartbreaking couples that made me want to beg one or the other to get out before it was too late? Check.
And that’s just the beginning.
I’m not the only regular there. You have a trio of older folks who come in—a man, his wife, and their friend. The wife is a doll. The husband is interesting. And I can’t figure out how that friend managed to land such great friends. I wince every time she opens her mouth, and it’s not the language.
There’s a family… an older mom and dad and a deaf son about my age. Then there’s the other “Booth 14” lover. He usually takes over about the time I leave if I’m there later than usual. You can almost see the frustration when he walks in and sees my cord plugged into the only outlet in the place. He knows I’m there.
College students, theater folks, a guy who likes to read books, a Vietnam vet who talks to a wife and daughter who aren’t even there, the homeless…
And then there was Peter.
My husband used to work with Peter, and he warned me. “That guy can talk.”
Look, I’ve got a Ph.D. in talking. I know for conversation, man. Or so I thought. Mules… they’re not safe when Peter’s around. I’m just sayin’.
Peter was also brilliant. He talked about everything from quantum physics to space exploration and Esperanto. The guy was obsessed with Esperanto (so much that he spent a week in North Carolina last summer learning it at the university there).
Anyone who has read Fine Print now knows where I got that idea! He’s also where I got the idea for the Masonic element in that book.
Alas, Peter inspired an entire character once. So when I say that some of the best inspiration comes from a diner, I mean both restaurant and patron. Trust me.
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Some of the Best Inspiration Comes from a Diner
It was a dark and windy Wednesday night.
Actually, it was stifling hot and only dark because it was close to midnight. April had just left for home when Peter, arrived. Usually, he sits in booth 35 across from me.
This time, however, the guy just plopped down in my booth and started in on the night’s Masonic meeting. He’s an atheist who is big into Masonry, and I’d come over for dinner after Bible study. A study in contrasts. Trust me.
I’m not sure how long it took him to go from telling me who showed up at the night’s meeting—people I’ve never met and probably never will meet, but I listened, smiled, nodded, and smiled some more. It’s what I do. We had an odd acquaintanceship that way.
Out of the blue, he began telling me about mammals. No, seriously. He did. He informed me that all mammals of over 1 kg. take approximately twenty seconds to empty a full bladder. Full-voice volume, rather sonorous, if that matters. In a restaurant filled with people who had come in after some event or another.
So, while the people around me ate their bourbon chicken skillets and their nachos, he talked about bladders. Explained how it’s because of predators. If animals take longer than twenty to forty seconds, they become prey for other animals, so the body is designed to empty quickly. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat or an elephant. Twenty seconds. (All this from an evolutionist who mocks the idea of Intelligent design. I did not laugh at the irony. I should get bonus points for that).
For the curious, it’s all about the size of the urethra. That’s how it works. Elephants have a huge one. Cats not so big. I know this because he explained it to me for a full forty-five minutes. Then, after that, he opened the scientific journal from which he’d read about it and read it to me. The whole research paper. For another forty-five minutes.
Get this. The guy wasn’t autistic. That’s what blows me away.
I was so frustrated by the time I left Denny’s that I went home and told Kevin. “Peter is going to be single for the REST OF HIS LIFE.”
Kevin just looked at me and said, “It took you this long to figure that out?”
Gotta say something before I continue.
I’m not proud of my attitude. Although I was kind in my behavior, I was not kind in thought.
Back to the story.
The whole thing bugged me for days. That bugging turned into an idea. I pictured a scene. If you’ve ever seen the movie The Bachelor with Chris O’Donnell and Renee Zellweger, you’ll recognize the inspiration for it.
A guy comes home. His sister bounces up to him and says, “So… how’d it go?”
He refuses to answer.
She knows… she just knows. Asks, “Life cycle of a dung beetle?”
He shakes his head.
“Not the mating habits of chimps…”
Relief. “Well, that’s something. No, it wasn’t that one.”
A sigh follows when she figures it out. “Ugh. Bladders.”
At some point in the conversation that ensues, he says one thing that tugs at my heartstrings every time I think of it. He says (with a total wistfulness), “She had freckles…”
And all because a Denny’s Diner diner couldn’t stop talking about bladders.
For the record, just like someone in the book that ensued, I started calling restroom breaks, “20-second breaks.” It’s a lot more fun and a bit more private, you know? Totally less crass than poor Chessie from 31 Kisses and her “I gotta pee!” (Psst… that’s totally a thing from Chessie’s inspiration. I’ve read a review that says no one that age would do it? Yeah. Totally would. Just sayin’.)
Then it happened. In mid-September, I got a message from Amanda Tru—my partner in over-commitment crime. She said, “I want to do a Valentine’s Day book, and um… I think it might be perfect for your bladder guy.”
So, with just two months (and two other books due during that time), I agreed to another CrossRoads collection. Due date—December 3rd. I didn’t think I could do it. Then she mentioned the tenth. That I could do. And I almost made it.
From that, Random Acts of Shyness was born.
You know, I assumed I’d never get to tell this story. You see, I didn’t want there ever to be a chance that Peter would go looking up something I’d said and run across a blog post or article about it. As much as he annoyed me that night, his feelings are more important than a funny story about how I got a funny story.
But while I was at my conference this November, Peter died. Unexpectedly and suddenly. He won’t ever come into Denny’s and interrupt my writing again. And you know, that makes me sad. I pray that in the week before his death, he came to know the Lord—really know the God of the universe he adored so much.
So, I dedicated this book to that memory of him, because it really did give me one of my favorite stories and characters.
And because I’m really sorry that I won’t get to talk books, movies, and Esperanto with him again.
Random Acts of Shyness is available now in both print and on Kindle
“That man is going to be single for the rest of his life!”
What began as a coping mechanism as a little boy became highly-effective date repellent as a man. He knows girls don’t care about the life cycle of a dung beetle, but Heath can’t help but spew facts like a docent at the zoo anytime he’s on one of his many first and only dates.
His sister is determined to fix that. So, she signs him up for the new betwixt2hearts.com matchmaking service. Her plan: simple. Just let him practice on a bunch of girls until it becomes second nature. Simple, right?