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.


  1. Love it. Teachers do not get the credit they deserve for helping their students find their passion, encourage their talents, & build their character. How wonderful that you have written....& that you used that skill to honor the teacher who helped you discover it within you.

  2. Dawn that was awesome!!!! You always had a way with words! Mrs Putarek was an extraordinary teacher and leader in our little small town high school. She always believed that every one of her students had big time potential outside of our little small hometown!! Good stuff!!!

  3. What a great post!! It's amazing how one teacher can turn someone's life around.

  4. We're all lucky Mrs. Putarek set you on this path and away from Mc Meal deals. Keep on, Dawn. You're a gifted humorist, and I can't wait to read your book.


  5. Please add a large order of fries and one of the fake apple pies.
    Hey you could of worked in McDonald's jingle/tagline department. The happy you write about is better than a happy meal and even some amount of money.
    Did you ever hear McDonald's Girl?

  6. Hi Dawn! I had a similar experience with a career guidance type, who asked why I wanted to do science at university. She scanned down my grades and said I was clearly best at essay-based subjects. She lost interest in me when I showed no interest in going to Oxford or Cambridge, and I ignored her anyway, of course. But I ended up writing anyway. Meh. She just got lucky. Indigo x

  7. If you can make a professional educator laugh (positively, derisively doesn't count) at prose that was written, as you say, at 1 am on a Tuesday, then you have officially GOT THE GIFT. Would love to see more posts that work the bouncing of Bumbles, or anything else Yukon Cornelius might've yodeled.

  8. I remember the very first story I wrote: "You're Never Too Old To Learn."
    Yeah. It was crap.
    Not like the stuff I write at Penwasser Place.
    Uh, oh.
    But, at least I get paid for what I write at Penwasser Place.
    Uh oh. And damn.
    And, yes, Bumbles do bounce.

  9. This is a beautiful tribute to your teacher. And to you. Keep 'em laughing, because there's no greater gift. :)

  10. I feel like I need to send Mrs. Putarek a personal thank you note for all the times you've made me laugh.

    Or demand an apology. For all the times my bladder just didn't quite live up to it's purpose of keeping things contained during said laughing.

  11. Nothing beats a good teacher or a wise cracking teenager who believes she can follow a dream.

    Would you settle for a Rum Runner with your number one fan?

  12. A little encouragement goes a long way. Glad for all our sakes that you're still writing and making people laugh.

  13. You make me happy! I wish I had a teacher who liked something I had done.

  14. Dawn, this is absolutely wonderful! Had I been so blessed to have a teacher like that, it might not have taken me till the age of 30 to discover what you discovered as a teen. I really loved reading this piece. And yes. You're damn funny!

  15. We have so much in common it makes me laugh -- well, that and your writing. That makes me laugh.

    Did you hear there's a party down at the sands tonight? :-)


  16. Kerbi - Thanks, and you're right - teachers don't get even one-tenth of the credit they deserve. So true!
    Trish - Here's to all the good times with Mrs. Putarek, down in the Journalism room. :)Thanks for getting me her address, old friend!
    Eva - I know, right? I've wanted to right about Mrs. Putarek for years.
    Robyn - Bah - you're too kind. I can't wait to read YOUR book!
    Bill - No - I haven't heard of the McDonald's girl, but I will definitely check her out! And you make a great point about McDonald's jingle dept. Hmmmm...
    Indigo - And I am so glad you did end up writing. :)
    Kana - You know, I'd give anything to have that Bumbles/Yukon Cornelius paper back. I don't know what the hell I was writing about, but I know it wasn't remotely related to Bumbles or Yukon, but somehow I worked it on. These things only make sense at 1 a.m. On a Tuesday. ;)
    Penwasser - I don't get paid here either. Ah, crap.
    Linda - Thank you, and congrats on your sequel getting published! So proud of you!
    Vixen - Am I sorry I made you pee your pants? Nope. Not one little bit. ;)
    Kelly - I'd settle for plain Kool Aid if I could have a drink with ya. Can't wait for your book!
    Lisa - After I posted this, I heard from tons of fellow SLHS students who said Mrs. Putarek encouraged them. Such a classy lady, she is. I never could figure out what she was doing at our little shoe-factory school.
    Ray - You make me happy too, my friend.
    Jayne - Thanks for your kind words! I wish everyone had a Mrs. Putarek, that's for sure.
    Pearl - We have an AMAZING amount of things in common. Almost scary. Party at the sands? Hang on - let me grab my jean jacket.

  17. Wonderful, Dawn. Mrs. Putarek saw your talent. I'm glad you listened to her. I'd hate to think you were still asking other people if they want French fries. It's like what Brother Tom Price said to a young Erma Bombeck: "You can write." Keep writing, Dawn. And keep making us laugh.