originally published November 15, 2012
As a writer who specializes in essays about insubstantial trivia, I’m thinking it’s time I delve into the world of fiction. As such, I have decided to craft the perfect protagonist. Once that step is done, I expect the actual story will fall into place easily, hopefully while I’m asleep.
Like any good writer, I am turning to Wikipedia in hopes of developing my character’s personality and substantial uniqueness. I’m kind of new at this, but I’m pretty sure stock characters are a bad idea, at least for the hero of the story. Still, every single stock character combined into one has to be a good thing, right? Naturally. And with Wikipedia providing me with a list of 124 stock characters, I should have no problem melding each of them into the perfect leading man.
With that in mind, I present: Tony Pezsnecker, protagonist of my upcoming novel, The Shadowy Stranger Of Shadow (working title).
Tony’s father was a mountain man – a yokel by Tony’s metropolitan standards, though Tony always saw him as a wise old man, dishing out advice in easily-digestible nuggets. Roy Pezsnecker was the straight man, setting up his mother’s gags with aplomb and perfect timing.
Tony’s mother was a little tougher to figure out. Dori was a blonde stereotype: a bimbo hooker with a heart of gold. A southern California native, she was a typical valley girl (though the boys who went to high school referred to her as an Essex girl because she knew how to handle herself in a parked car, and because these boys were particularly adept at using British colloquialisms). She may have been Tony’s dad’s Princesse lointaine, his manic Pixie dream girl, his girl next door, farmer’s daughter, Mary Sue type, but she had a dark side, and Tony knew it well as a child.
Tony’s mother acted out the Jewish mother stereotype, doting and cultivating his sense of guilt, but she had a dark past. She was no Jewish American Princess – in fact, though she grew up as the school diva, some called her a wannabe handmaiden, a pantomime dame soubrette who passes herself off as lipstick lesbian, only to be called a fag hag when her back is turned. She’d play the damsel in distress card, but she was a loathly lady, a tortured dark lady. Ultimately, with her machinations and manipulations, she would come to be Roy Pezsnecker’s femme fatale, luring him into a life of crime which would lead ultimately to his demise.
As for Tony himself, well he grew up as a spoiled child, a boy next door who devolved quickly into a bad boy. He fancied himself a swashbuckler when he was but a town bully, the proverbial evil clown amidst a sea of nice Jewish boys. And while those boys would grow to become Jewish lawyer stereotypes, Tony knew he was more the white hunter type, the male equivalent to a cat lady, a tragic artist and tortured mulatto. Except for the skin color thing. Actually, I don’t think we’re supposed to use that word.
Tony feared movies about killer toys, bug-eyed monsters and swamp monsters. He liked superheroes, loved the supervillains, but related best to the supersoldiers he saw in the movies. Most of all, he wanted to distance himself from the spear carriers at school and become a space pirate. Not a space Nazi, mind you – he was more a wise fool than a miticá. Tony knew how to act like a Gilles, entertaining his teachers and relatives with bungling hijinks. But he also respected The Man, and was careful not to end up some fall guy for a fop, or worse – the victim of a slobbering whisky priest.
Was Tony a mother’s boy? Maybe. In high school he was a nerd, a know-it-all Petrushka, pulled by the strings of his mother’s manipulations. She continued to pass herself off as Marianismo of the neighborhood, the ‘final girl’ in the horror of her past experiences, but she was truly Tony’s Sinnekins, his evil influence. Tony turned to sports, becoming a jock, seeing himself as a hotshot contender who could be more than a caveman, a scaramouche entertainer under the thumb of Dori Pezsnecker, that incorrigible shrew.
Fortunately, Tony had a shoulder angel. He realized he could be both gentleman detective and gentleman thief. He could be a paladin for justice amid a rogue’s gallery of cannon fodder. He could impersonate a leprechaun, acting as archimime to amuse his friends while remaining the everyman.
Tony was an Essex man – a working-class knight-errant who would vote as a conservative. For a while he dated Lorraine, a Hawksian woman, a tough-talking sciantosa who was more Columbina than ingénue. This was, unfortunately, Tony’s type: a vice. He felt like a soulless straw man when Lorraine dumped him like a sacrificial lamb, running away with some dark-lord boffin type, whom she held up as a noble savage. Tony was shattered. He was a youxia without a quest, a legacy hero without a paternal role model.
For a while he considered becoming his town’s Herr Pastor, but he knew it would never stick. He didn’t want to end up as one of life’s anonymous redshirts, but he also worried he’d end up a despicable rake, a miser with a reputation as the town drunk. Tony hoped for more than that. On the inside, he was a child. Sure, that makes him sound like a stereotype, but aren’t we all to some extent? Eventually, Tony found his calling. He became a professor – at first the artist-scientist type, but eventually he grew to become an absent-minded professor. It wasn’t his fault; he was a harlequin, a clown, and he could never take his work too seriously. He often joked that he’d like to move out of the classroom and back into the lab, fulfilling his life-long dream of becoming a mad scientist.
Once, Tony’s workplace rival called him a magical Negro. This was odd, given Tony’s pale complexion. He was also called a Mammy archetype, which made even less sense, given Tony’s gender. Once the insults escalated to include calling him a black brute and even a killbot – and since Tony saw Robocop he always had an innate fear of killbots – Tony had to report the guy and get him fired.
Tony hit the dating scene once more. He crafted an image as a Fumetti neri, a malandragem. He wanted women to believe he was a genuine outlaw anti-hero. He got along well as a playboy for months before meeting Sara, the girl of his dreams. She was a versatile professional actress and acting teacher, able to pull off travesti parts and breeches roles when needed, or subbing as a Dan in a Chinese opera. She was nothing like the battle-axe mother who had raised Tony, nor was she like Lorraine, the termagant he had dated before. Sara was a tomboy with a penchant for Victorian burlesque. She joked that Tony was the token Jew at the college where they worked, and he’d laugh and say she’d respect him more if she knew of his gunfighter past. With Sara, he no longer felt like the grotesque, like the Black Knight who killed every relationship he entered into. He was a lover, not a fighter. And though this meant his secret dream of becoming an elderly martial arts master was likely never to be realized, he was simply happy not to be a schnorrer, leeching off the world around him.
Tony was, for the time being, happy.
You know, in retrospect, this might not be the best way to flesh out a character. Perhaps I’ll just populate The Shadowy Stranger of Shadow with robots instead.