Lighten up: ‘She told me I SHOULD write’
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. 1985: 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!”
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:
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 or time to haul me to a bunch of sporting events. 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 signups 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 pieceof 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.
However, it’s given me the chance to express myself, make people smile and 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 darn-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.
Dawn Weber is a national award winning columnist, and a Brownsville wife and working mother of a teen and pre-teen.