The Great Defeat

Excerpt from a Zoetrope: All-Story (Summer 2008) essay by John Hughes about the beginning of his satirical writing and Hollywood career:

For a vacation-themed issue, I proposed a piece set in the days when toddlers stood on the front seats of cars and parents' cigarettes blew into the faces of the children standing in the back (or hanging out the open rear windows of station wagons). I had no story but enough anecdotes to get the assignment.

In my bedroom office during the snowstorm, I wrote "Vacation '58." My outline was a Rand McNally Road Atlas I had dug out of the trunk of my car. I plotted the shortest route from Detroit to the most distant continental U.S. destination: Disneyland in Anaheim, California. I determined how many stops a family would have to make on such a trip, and where those stops might be.

I wrote the first sentence -- "If Dad hadn't shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever!" -- and the rest was automatic. I used the voice of a boy to cover my lack of skill, and to flatten the big moments. In Rusty's prosaic language, a ruined vacation and an assault with a deadly weapon upon an entertainment legend enjoyed comparable importance. I called to mind a clamor of relatives, situations, catchphrases, and behaviors. I was mindful of my feelings as a child witnessing phony pop inventions go to hell. I understood that the dark side of my middle-class, middle American, suburban life was not drugs, paganism, or perversion. It was disappointment. There were no gnawing insects beneath the grass. Only dirt. I also knew that trapped inside every defeat is a small victory, and inside that small victory is the Great Defeat. This knowledge -- along with a cranky old lady; strange, needy relatives; a vile dog; and everything that could possibly go wrong on a highway --was enough to make a story, plug a hole in the magazine, and get on to the next issue.

...Despite my finishing the story in time for the FedEx pick-up, it was ultimately bumped from the vacation issue to an annual edition comprised of pieces that didn't make their intended issues.