Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Like Cheap Books and I Cannot Lie - You Other Brothers Can't Deny

(post copyright 2013, Dawn Weber)
This book stinks.
Yes, I've just read something that absolutely stinks, and sadly, it's by one of my favorite authors; an amazing humorist who could turn his crayon-written grocery list into a brilliantly funny bestseller.
I've borrowed the book from the library before, read it, and always swore I'd buy it for myself one day because it's great. But this one stinks.
When I say "stinks," I mean "odor," of course, I mean "reeks."
It smells like cigarettes and failure. To say that it smells like a homeless dude would be an insult to homeless dudes. No, this book smells like crackheads.  
Cigarettes, failure and crackheads.
Up until now, I've had great luck with a certain dubious bookstore in a certain dubious section of Columbus. My-husband-the-cop advises me not to enter this part of town.
But I make it a rule not to listen to him.
And I drive to this place, merrily, secretly and regularly, because of the fabulous, cheap books - both new and used - that I find there. I hide my car stereo faceplate, lock my doors, say a little prayer and walk in. Quickly.
Once inside, it's pretty nice and surprisingly thug-free. I can exhale, relax the grip on my purse a bit, and, giggling with glee, pick up titles by authors like Natalie Goldberg, Dave Barry and Nora Ephron for pocket change. About a year ago, on a whim and because it cost $1, I purchased what soon became my second all-time favorite book, "She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana," by Haven Kimmel. None of these - not a one - stunk.
I went there last week, bought several books, and - me being me - I brought them all home and wiped them down with Clorox wipes. This is just my standard, OCD, dubious bookstore procedure - I hadn't even noticed the stank yet.
Then, I picked up my prized purchase, the best of the bunch, and started reading. Suddenly, I smelled cigarettes and crackheads; I smelled trash and failure.
At first, I thought maybe it was me. There were times, in the early 90s, times of struggle and heartbreak; of draft beer and the Taco Bell Value Menu; when I could have certainly been classified as a failure.
Although I still enjoy the occasional draft beer and TB Value Menu item, I'm not a failure anymore. Neither am I a smoker, nor crackhead.
Still, it had been a long, humid, sweaty day, so I paused reading and pulled my blouse to my nose. Nothing. I raised my arms and surreptitiously sniffed the pits - a useful skill I learned as a teen. Nope. Wasn't me.
I lifted the paperback up to continue, and I smelled the stench again. My other purchases were fine - no stank - but this one - wow. I really wanted to read it, but every time I brought it near my face, I threw up a little bit. Something had to give.
So I had an idea. Three ideas, to be exact. I really should just lie down until these ideas go away, but I tried all three, in quick succession:
I sprayed it with "Kiwiberry" Febreze
(It smelled like "Kiwiberry Failure.")
I stuffed it with "Tropical Coconut" dryer sheets.
(It smelled like "Tropical Coconut Cigarettes.")
I spritzed it with "Early Morning" Lysol.
(It smelled like "Early Morning Crackheads.")
When those didn't help, I held it far away from my face - an arm's length - and I couldn't smell it, but neither could I see it. Nothing worked.
By now I'm sure you're wondering what book it is, and who wrote it, but in this age of Google Alerts, I don't want to name the author and have the poor guy pull up his morning email to find that some unknown blogger wrote a post saying his book stinks. I'm writing a book myself right now, and karma is a bitch.
A bitch who slaps.
A bitch who slaps HARD.
Even though I won't mention the author, you'll be relieved, no doubt, to know that I did it: I risked life, limb and hepatitis, and I finished the smelly crackhead book. With a "Tropical Coconut" dryer sheet held over my nose like a MacGyvered dust mask - I read all 323 pages of that whiffy thing.
This book was awesome.
This book stunk.
I closed it, flipped it over examined the price tag:
"$3.99 - Used."
Yeah. You got that right. It was "used."
Possibly as toilet paper.
In a crack-house.
Some crackhead somewhere has great taste.
And I'm glad I powered through. I need antibiotics now, but hey.
Such is the power of a really good read.
(If you're looking for a great book - or dying of curiosity - email me and I will tell you the title, on the down-low, to preserve the author's integrity. It's not his fault that some smelly derelict owned the book before me.)
Below is my latest book excerpt - 26 essays done now!
A bunch of my writer friends met another of my favorite authors, Dave Barry, (who is NOT the author of the crackhead book, btw) in Connecticut, and all I got was a lousy can of PBR. In Ohio. On a porch:

. . . Don't ask me what I'd say to Dave Barry, if I ever met him. The truth is, I have encountered a few celebrities, and I always manage to make a blithering idiot of myself by either:
A: Gaping at them in open-mouthed shock (The Aretha Franklin Elevator Incident), or;
B: Gaping at them in open-mouthed shock, and then shouting, "Holy shit!" (The Peter Gabriel Backstage Incident)
I shouldn't worry about it, because the truth is that Dave Barry and I will probably never meet. Still, I often fantasize that we'll bump into each other at some writerly event. He'll read my work, love it, set me up with his agent and we'll become best writerly buddies.
Reality: never an obstacle for me.
The more likely scenario, (the Pending Dave Berry Incident): I'd gape at him in open-mouthed shock, and then shout "Holy shit!"
I did have one chance to stalk, um, swear at, er, meet him, at the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) conference in Hartford, Connecticut. I write a surprisingly cuss-word free humor column for the local paper, and in 2011, I managed to win an NSNC award for it. No one is sure how this happened.
I attended the 2011 conference in Detroit to pick up my award, but because of finances, I haven't been able to go for the past two years.
These kids' iPhones don't buy themselves, you know.
People, I have a tip for you: When it's Saturday night, and you're feeling really blue because you can't afford to stalk your favorite author at a conference, by all means - go ahead; turn on the computer and pull up Facebook. There, you'll find dozens of pictures of writer friends, all having tons of fun at said conference and mingling with said author, who is obviously down-to-earth and cool enough to hang out and tolerate tons of gratuitous photos . . .
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If I'd Have Stayed Awake, I'd Be President by Now

(post copyright, 2013, Dawn Weber)
If the teachers were in a good mood, they just let me sleep.
If they were in a bad mood? Not so much.
Work: my only extracurricular activity. And Lord, I was tired - three closing shifts in a row at McDonald's will do that to a 16-year-old. I sat with my fist propping my head during English, drooling and dreaming and hoping Mrs. Putarek wouldn't notice that I had nodded off during class.
"Dawn. Can you come up here, please?"
Ah, crap. Busted, exhausted, jean-jacketed, I slouched up to her desk.
She held a sheet of notebook paper towards me. "Did you really write this?"
I squinted. Well, it certainly appeared to be my chicken-scratch. I had written the essay in a fit of McDonald's exhaustion, after a shift. I didn't remember the topic or what-all I put down on paper - but I recalled working in the abominable snowman ("Bumbles bounce!") from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." A reference to a 1964 claymation character had seemed like a great idea.
At 1 a.m.
On a Tuesday.
"Yeah, it's mine . . ."
She beamed at me. "This was good - it made me laugh!"
"Really? Huh."  
Maybe I should do all my homework at 1 a.m. - and add Bumbles.
They bounce, you know.
She handed the paper back to me. "Did you sign up for the newspaper staff?"
No way - I hadn't signed up. Extracurriculars were for my classmates; the ones who played sports, yelled cheers and twirled batons. I was not blessed with the, how-you-say, "athleticism of any sort." As far as I knew, I had only three talents in high school:
1. Spelling/reading;
2. Working at McDonald's;
3. Attending parties.

Of these skills, number three, I felt, was the most important, and number two the runner-up, as number two provided me with the gas money to get to number three.

Anyway, my mom didn't have money for lessons to learn these skills, or time to haul me to a bunch of sport practices. And that was fine - she worked full-time.
Work. It's what I did, too. You didn't need lessons or practice or money for that.
"Well, Mrs. Putarek, I work over at the turnpike McDonald's, so I probably couldn't . . ."
She lowered her chin and stared at me.
"You could do this - I know you could."
"But I . . ."
She shook her head and shut me up.
"You should write."
I slouched back to my desk, because there was, apparently, no arguing with her. Although the grading period had begun and newspaper sign ups had ended, in the next few weeks she bent the rules and forced, er, coerced, um . . . allowed me on staff.
I did as I was told: I began to write. I covered music reviews, school happenings and "Bomb of the Month," wherein I described, in 300 words or less, a fellow Springfield Local student's piece-of-crap car.
Battered Chevette? Pathetic Pacer? Your grandpa's Gremlin? None were safe from my in-depth, hard-hitting journalistic coverage.
A funny thing happened in the hallways:
"Are you really working for the paper?"
"Did you really write that review on the new Boston album?"
"Did you really do that article about Amber's Chevette?"
"That was good - it made me laugh!"
Maybe I couldn't twirl a baton. Or spike a volleyball. Or lead a cheer. Or sink a basketball or hit a softball or dance at halftime or . . .
Bah - you get my point.
But judging from the reactions of my classmates - I seemed to be pretty decent at pushing a pencil, which, I might add, beats the hell out of pushing a McDonald's mop.
Especially at 1 a.m.
On a Tuesday.
The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. I kept at it, through the rest of high school, and all through college - where I majored in photojournalism. Writing became my positive addiction - my pleasant obsession. I just couldn't seem to stop myself, and for the past 26 years now, I've composed everything from school board news to press releases to scripts for state officials.
But I've always preferred covering the truly important things in life - your boxed wines, your Bumbles, your grandpa's Gremlin and whatnot.
When I write - especially when it’s humor - I'm completely absorbed in the moment. When I write, I'm totally at ease. When I write, there's nothing else I'd rather do.
Except maybe lay around by a pool. With a margarita. And possibly Channing Tatum.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The bottom line: When I'm not writing, I feel like I ought to be writing. Your psychologists and New Age muckety-mucks call this presence, this focus, this total immersion in an activity - 'flow.'
I just call it happy.
Writing sure hasn't made me rich - it hasn't even kept me consistently employed. Doesn't matter. I would - and have - written for free.
It's given me the chance to express myself, make people laugh and (usually) earn a living wage for doing what comes naturally to me. I've worked for newspapers, magazines, corporations and state government - all kinds of places.
I've worked hard.
But I damn-sure do not work for McDonald's.
That's because she told me I could write.
She told me I should write.
And so - I did.

No book excerpt today - I wanted this piece to stand alone, for Mrs. Putarek.
The book is going great, though - halfway done! 25 essays down, 25 to go.