Chosen poverty.

June 30, 2012 § 8 Comments

My first view of poverty was given to me in the shape of stories told by parents and grandparents about the Great Depression.

Those stories had an unexpected luster, as if  they had been polished on a sleeve before being handed to me.

There was the one about my maternal grandfather risking death for two dollars to repair a broken elevator.

The one about my paternal grandfather and his brothers feeding their extended families out of a sprawling Victory Garden

The one about my painfully shy uncle telling a desperate lie to ensure that he would come home with the five cent loaf of bread when he only had four pennies—he claimed he’d lost the fifth through a hole in his pocket, and could he pay that last penny later?

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It’s Truck Night!

June 22, 2011 § 8 Comments

Ever notice the park on Tharpe?

It’s easy to miss the flat, buildingless lot next to Burger King.

A loop of asphalt driveway; a sparse, scruffy lawn; a few shade trees and those heavy concrete picnic tables and benches that say, seriously people, this is a park.

That’s pretty much it.

I can’t think of a single reason to go there, especially when the mercury sets its lazy butt down on the hundred degree mark and gets comfortable.

Unless it’s Truck Night.

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Bread and ambition.

March 16, 2011 § 9 Comments

Fleischmanns Yeast ad circa 1920

The summer after my freshman year at art school I began making bread—both kinds, and in both cases, the hard way.

Through a neighbor who worked in personnel at McGraw Hill, my dad had lined up a summer job for me in the accounting unit of their textbook division.

I ran into trouble immediately.

Day one, I reported to work dressed like an art student (purple tights, black old lady shoes).  I never found out which of the older women who made up my unit turned me in, but none of them saw an aspiring artist in their new summer intern.  They saw a hippie, and for them the words “dirty” and “hippie” were inextricably linked).

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The middleman, George.

January 13, 2011 § 9 Comments

When I was nine I yearned for, and saved for, a transistor radio.  It promised to be my passport to the late night airwaves, to rock and roll, my backdoor sneak into being a teenager.  It did all that, and more.

I carried that radio with its heady smell of new plastic everywhere, and at night hid it under my pillow, hoping my sister, Claudia, who slept in the upper bunk wouldn’t hear me listening to WABC and WMCA.  Speaking right into my ear, Cousin Brucie and Scot Muni welcomed me out of childhood.

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The last of the Vaudevillians.

September 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

Bill Harley, a fellow children’s book author, sat across a Formica table from me in a restaurant in Kern County, California.  “We are the last of the vaudevillians,” he said.

Like those old time entertainers we take our show to our audience (the audience that wants to hear how we write our books doesn’t drive).  So we drive to them, or fly.  I’ve even taken the Greyhound.

Although it’s the world’s best job, being a traveling author is not as glamorous as you might think.

I’ve gotten lost in an all-cabbage landscape in Georgia, broken three teeth on a school lunch, been upstaged by a dog wandering through my presentation, and had my fee paid out of the proceeds from an eighth grade beauty pageant (eighth grade beauties want world peace too).

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