Thursday, December 24, 2009

"I still have Santa's phone number. Capisce?"

And that, friends, is the best threat to a screaming toddler I have heard not just this holiday season, but for all time. Those of you with young children, feel free to steal it. I'm sure the frazzled mom who uttered it won't mind. ;-)

Random Tales from the Bullseye, Part 2:

-- Once, my freshman year of college, I wrote a check (remember those?) for 48 cents. The 21st-century version? Somebody ran through a debit card for 52 cents.

-- Dozens of inches of snow on the ground. Freezing rain. Miserably cold temps. And yet? There are bikinis on sale. In December. In the Upper Midwest, which means, inevitably, that you can buy one in a camouflage pattern. I *LOVE* this place! ;-)

-- Why people insist on asking me for fashion advice (stop laughing), I do not know. I have had a multitude of people ask me if I thought this top goes with those pants or whatever. I offer an opinion, but this is my disclaimer: If you (or your kid) ends up looking stupid, I'm not to blame, as I am strictly a Tshirts and jeans kind of girl.

-- Yesterday, as I was bagging somebody's stuff, I felt this insistent little tap in the general vicinity of my posterior. Annoyed, I turned around to find Miss Cindy Lou Who -- who was no more than 2 -- and wanted to know if she could have an empty crate (which formerly contained clementines). She was just tickled pink when I handed it to her and announced proudly to one and all, "I got a box!"

You gotta wonder where the creativity and sense of wonder goes as you age.

-- Then there was the "hey buddy! Nice to meet you!" I overheard while doing something else. I glanced over to find a 6-year-old (at best) boy greeting a newborn. THAT caused an outright guffaw.

-- Dept. of "I'd Rather Not Know": -- the chick who bought 25 boxes of candy canes ... and a pair of socks.

And then there have been the people who get that it's not all about buying stuff. Like the disabled gentleman who was out shopping not only for himself, but his neighbor (and paying for her, too). I said it was nice of him to go shopping for two (especially because a wheelchair's gotta be tough to navigate in this weather), and he said, "well, she can't get out. She's 97."

Then there was the woman who said she was buying bakery items because she'd been so busy working she hadn't had time to do it herself, and she didn't know if her kids were going to come anyway. Her husband dumped her after 30 years, remarried as fast as he could, and convinced their adult kids that she was the problem. So none of them came for Thanksgiving, either.

"How sad!" I said.

"It will be what it will be," she said. "God didn't promise me that my kids would love me, but he did tell me I have to love them."

Amen, peace out, and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

influences and advice and stuff

Or, "I miss you, Joe McGuff."

I have an ancient, yellowed Guindon cartoon that says "Nostalgia is only bad if it causes you to go back through life." But remembering the little things that ended up being turning points isn't so bad.

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. In first grade, I wrote a story centered around some blob figure my sister cut out of green construction paper. I'm sure it has been lost to the sands of time now, though I did know where it was for many years. It centered on a family named the Burstein-Applebees (Kansas Citians of a certain vintage, and particularly those familiar with Metcalf South Mall in that same vintage, should be grinning right about now. B-A was a record store on the mall's lower level). Other than that, basically all I remember is that Mr. and Mrs. Burstein-Applebee were getting a divorce. I think that was probably a wish I didn't know how to articulate otherwise, even at that age, but we won't go there.

In second grade, for some reason, there were a few days I was well enough to go to school, but not to go outside for recess. So I stayed in and wrote "books." Illustrated 'em myself, too, stapled them together and scrawled "BESTSELLER!" across the top in big red letters.

But fourth grade ... Fourth grade is when my dad took me to my first Royals game. He had gotten tickets through work, and my brother had something else going on, and my mom wasn't interested. I remember not caring much that I was last choice.

The Royals beat the A's, who in the mid-'70s were a helluva team -- Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers -- wow. They won a pile of World Series and were the Royals' biggest rivals, next to the Yankees. But that night, John Mayberry hit one into the fountains, the Royals won 5-3, and when my dad said "so what'd you think?," I said, "when can we come back?"

Next morning, he handed me the sports page. I looked at it and had one of my first Eureka! moments: I could go to baseball games and GET PAID TO WRITE ABOUT THEM. That pretty much solidified my career choice.

In 9th grade social studies, we had to do a unit on careers. Part of it involved interviewing someone in your chosen field and then giving a report to the class. I chose Joe McGuff, who was sports editor of the Kansas City Star.

At the time, he must have been in his 50s, and he was remarkably patient with dumb-kid questions. And he also gave me some of the best advice I've ever gotten: Read everything you can. It'll all come in handy at some point.

A couple of years later, I read an interview with Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. He said the trick to his success was to know just enough about a topic to make it look like he knew a lot, and that this trick not only got him through college and cocktail parties, but writing a daily strip.

I bring all this up because I've been doing a lot of auto-related writing lately. Do I know diddly about cars? Well, I know how to stick the key in the ignition and turn it. That's pretty much the sum total of my knowledge. And yet, the people I talk to for these stories, and then the people who read them, are all utterly convinced I am a car fanatic. It's kind of amusing. :-) All I can say is, god bless the Internet, and thank you, Joe McGuff. You taught me a lot, not only by reading and absorbing your stuff, but by suggesting learning both happens outside of school and should be continuous.