Who Owns The Giant Wrench?
A Discussion on Intellectual Property
My mother is funny sometimes, God love ‘er. When we lived all together, she’d constantly instruct us to put the clothes in the dishwasher and the dishes in the hamper. Throughout my first two semesters at college, she mistakenly addressed my mail to Pittsburgh, New York. (I do this kind of thing now all the time, of course.)
After I moved out and found myself in college, I developed a theory. I said, Mom, someday a lightbulb is going to go off in God’s head and he will realize he forgot something. On that day, a GIANT WRENCH is going to descend out of the sky and tighten around our heads, and God is going to give that one little half twist that has been missing.
For years, when Mom said something non-sensical or couldn’t think of the right word, she’d look at me and say, “The wrench. The wrench is coming.”
I told my roommates in college. The Giant Wrench became famous, facetiously chasing each of us any time our brains took one of those momentary vacations, as we systematically destroyed gray matter come the weekends.
Decades later, my ex-roommate Susan from college, whom I adore, is polishing a work-in-progress. She says to me, “I wrote about the Giant Wrench!”
I think, wait… no fair.
The Giant Wrench is mine!
But is it? I think of all the moments I have written about, and am in the process of re-writing, and have yet to write, that involve her. Adventures we had together and things she said to me that have stuck in my mind and thoroughly cracked me up. We had our own language, derivative of only us roommates.
Yet in being my funny and insightful and wickedly witty comrade, spouting intelligent dialog at the drop of a dime … hasn’t she been writing that stuff the whole time? If I borrow her as a character, am I stealing her material? I recently reopened a copy of On The Road: Did Jack Kerouac plagiarize Neal Cassady’s life in creating Dean Moriarty? What did Neal Cassady have left to write about, then?
What if all the Dean Moriarties and Tad Allagashes and Tyler Durdens of the literati-verse stood up and demanded their own sovereignty?
(Okay, so Tyler Durden sort of did. But still within the construct of the narrative.)
There’s a woman who jogs in a neighborhood near my home. We see her every year when the weather warms up. She is suited in tight black spandex from head to toe—including a hood that wraps across her face, even in 90 degree weather. A long, black pony tail swishes back and forth behind her head.
My family calls her the Ninja Jogger.
For years, I thought the Ninja Jogger must make an appearance in a story somewhere, this curiously anonymous, skinny woman who could be Catherine Zeta Jones in “Entrapment.” Who knows what identity she might employ in her regular life, among toddlers and willow trees and lawn-mowing men in cargo shorts?
A few months ago my daughter, studying creative writing at a university outside Philadelphia, remarks: “I’m writing about the Ninja Jogger.”
I think, Oh shit.
So who owns our mutual experiences? Does the copyright go to whoever writes them down first? In that case, I’m quite behind the game here. Is it whoever coined the phrases in question? In that case, my husband came up with the name “Ninja Jogger,” comic book junkie that he is. And have I blown the cherry on the concept solely by mentioning her here?
For me and Susan, we’re trying to proactively divvy up our experiences so as not to duplicate each other’s efforts in our works. I can only hope for the best possible outcome: Maybe we will become known as popular novelists who struggled together through a long and reflective kinship. Dare I even mention, like that gaggle of expatriate writers of the Jazz Age, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cummings, Stein, sitting at cafés together in Paris and expounding on their own writerliness.
That would be something worth sharing the Giant Wrench for, even.
We’ll work on that.
Meanwhile, I hope the Ninja Jogger was not an English major, too.
“…God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t, and we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (Tyler Durden)
“Taste … is a matter of taste.”
― Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City (Tad Allagash)