In my younger days, while working through kitchens in the Deep South to become a chef, I shucked a lot of oysters. Probably thousands. Honestly, it was a crazy shucking time in my life. But while I used plenty of oysters for cooking, I also flung my share onto people during fake sneezes, or while pretending to cough up something.
Often they would ask, “What are you, a shucking comedian?”
Looking back now, I guess it’s no surprise I eventually traded my chef’s knives for a humor columnist’s keyboard.
So the irony wasn’t lost on me when, nearly 20 years after becoming a columnist, I found myself standing in front of a camera posing with a freshly shucked oyster. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that stranger things have happened to me. In this case, however, it wasn’t on a security tape or just a really bad attempt at a sexy selfie for my wife. It was for the cover of my new book coming out in September:
Pearls of Writing Wisdom: (From 16 years as a shucking columnist).
Obviously, the title demanded an oyster be on the cover. Mostly because of the Oysters Union. In fact, the only reason I’m on the cover at all is because someone had to hold the demanding little crustacean in the proper light. I had no idea the photographer, Joshua Greene, was shooting us both. In fact, the only input I had was on deciding whether to have it open or closed. After debating the merits of both, I finally just said, “shuck it” and popped it open. Continue reading This photo shoot has left me feeling a little shellfish
When you find yourself force-feeding Pepto Bismol into your child’s constipated hamster, you figure you’ve faced one of your greatest challenges as a parent. In fact, over the years, it has become the measuring stick by which all family crisis is measured:
“He backed the car into a tree? Well, I suppose it’s still better than dealing with a constipated hamster…”
In fact, the only crisis that has come close — appropriately enough — involved the same hamster. It was a moment that began with a simple statement from my daughter.
“Dad, I can’t find Squiggles.”
Those words, uttered just three nights after the constipation incident, transformed a quiet Wednesday evening into a full-scale hamster hunt. Within minutes, our team was assembled around the kitchen table for a briefing.
But when it happens in a newspaper, it’s like taking that same mistake and repeating it, say… 15,000 times… then handing it out to people to make sure they saw it. Such was the case in our latest newspaper issue, which included a full-paged ad promoting the biggest event our small town hosts each year — and has been for the last 109 years: The Florence Rhododendron Festival. Our small town swells (it’s a swell town) from 8,500 to 18,000 for four days each May, culminating with the West Coast’s second-largest floral parade next to the Rose Parade. It also brings about 300 bikers to town.
Somewhere, lost between the risen Lord of Easter Sunday and the more laid-back Dos Equis guy of Cinco de Mayo, is the Roman flower goddess Flora, who used to reign supreme as THE party icon this time of year.
Nowadays, any May Pole dancing is purely coincidental, at strip clubs, with the only reference to Flora the flower goddess being dancers named “Daisy.” How did a celebration dating back before Jesus somehow get lost in the shuffle between Easter eggs and Mexican beer bottles?
Even when I was a kid, which I’d like to point out was well after the resurrection and as recent as the 1970s A.D., I remember dancing around the sixth-grade May Pole and savoring the opportunity to hold hands with Sara Getlost as she cried out in springtime rapture, “Ewww! Ewww! Your hands are SWEATY! Ewww!”
After taking a good look at this photo, I know what most of you are probably thinking:
His real name is Edward? Hahahaha!
But don’t forget, there is an entire generation of Twilight babies out there named Edward.
Or Jacob. And man, do those Jacob babies have some freakishly developed abs.
However, the real point of this post is to share with you that, this morning, I officially signed a contract with Port Hole Publishing for my second book, Pearls of Writing Wisdom from 16 Shucking Years as a Columnist. This is an important step beyond what had previously been me unofficially talking about my soon-to-be-published book with strangers, sipping directly from a vodka bottle while hunched over an empty bowl of peanuts at the bar. It also means that in order to meet my September publication date, I need to get the finished manuscript to my publisher by mid June.
They are the Superbowl commercials of our daily lives, offering a moment of laughter or introspection without the obligation of remembering who made them. The word “meme” became part of my vocabulary about six months ago, thanks to my teenagers, who are constantly enhancing my life with important terminology. Without them, I would be the Fred Flintstone of social media living in a world of The Jetsons, texting “Yabba Dabba Doo!” with my thick thumbs only to have it auto-corrected to “Abba Dances Too!”
I would be alone in the cyberworld. A man on a deserted social media island. Out of touch. Except for the Abba spam.
But fortunately my kids keep me plugged in and — when it comes to what’s trending — on the cutting edge. Sure, if we’re being honest it’s an edge that needs sharpening. That’s what I have my teenagers for! And yes, they sometimes (i.e., more often than not) regret keeping Dad in the loop with what’s trending. For example, when the “Damn, Daniel!” vines and memes went viral, my kids shared them with me — which got me thinking:
The truth is, I haven’t given it much thought because I don’t feel 50. Sure, there are some days I roll out of bed, walk to the bathroom and realize the creaking and popping sounds I hear aren’t coming from the floorboards. And yes, I’ve noticed when I’m cleaning out my razor it looks like someone used it to shave our neighbor’s grey Schnauzer. But most days I throw on a rocker T-shirt or slim-fit dress shirt, leave it untucked over my jeans, lace up my superhero Vans or hiking boots and am on my way.
Then I rush back in for a second trip to the rest room.
But still… I’m technically on my way.
However, over the last several months I’ve started getting reminders from society’s collective data bank that I am getting older. The first came in my email back in January, when I got one of those Singles Looking for Love In Your Area! messages. I’ve received many of these over the years, and they always include the image of an attractive 30-something woman in a sun dress laughing with an equally attractive 30-something man as they sip wine on a beach at sunset.
After years of creating ad campaigns for high-profile companies like Coca-Cola, a good friend of mine in Atlanta has decided to do what many successful advertising people do when they reach that point in their careers where they can simply LOOK at a new product and, without any hesitation whatsoever, begin to vomit:
They leave advertising behind to launch their own lawn care business.
Like some of history’s most successful entrepreneurs, Fred spent time studying his new market, its trends and the competition before assembling a detailed business plan, which he described as follows: “I bought a lawnmower.”
On the surface, this may not sound like much of a business plan. But as Fred pointed out, what sets him apart from other lawn care enterprises around Atlanta — aside from his limited grasp of Spanish — is the TYPE of mower and equipment he’s using. While other lawn care enterprises utilize gas-powered equipment that emit enough exhaust smoke to divert air traffic as far west as Alabama, “I use manual-reel mowers, electric gear and hand tools in order to reduce emissions and promote more responsible, planet-friendly yard work,” Fred explained.
I considered this for a moment — this idea of promoting more responsible, environmentally-conscious yard work — before responding with, “Hahahahahahahahahahaha!”
“No, really,” said Fred, who cited an EPA study that stated that a piece of gas-powered lawn gear actually creates more pollution than a car.
I saw my first naked woman when I was 9, thanks to a kid named Jimmy, whose father had a collection of Playboy magazines under the bed. While his parents were at the grocery store, Jimmy yanked out a copy and with practiced ease flipped to the centerfold.
“Your mom has one of these,” he said, pointing between the legs of Miss August.
“No WAY!” I said, unwilling to accept that my mother could possibly have anything on her body that, in my mind anyway, looked like a piece of our cafeteria meatloaf. I left soon after, convinced that Jimmy had shown me a magazine of female freaks. When our class began studying the human reproductive system later that spring, Jimmy turned to me and winked when Mrs. Flunkem used her ruler to point out the vagina being projected onto the chalk board.
“Your momma,” he mouthed.
Years later, that feeling of embarrassment was something I was determined to spare my own sons. The truth is, women are much more aware of their bodies and sexuality, and at a much younger age, then men. The male culture communicates about sexuality in much the same way it does about sports: through stats and stories. Anything deeper than that, and the shoulder punching begins. However, it was important to me that my sons not only understand the physicality of reproduction and, unlike me, never find themselves shocked by a vagina, it was just as important that they understand sexuality is not a statistic or story to be told — it’s how we communicate love beyond our words.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to work with some young writers, one of whom asked me the proverbial question, “Did you always want to be a writer?”
I smiled, nodded my head and replied, “Oh, hell no.”
After an awkward silence, I went on to explain that I had been writing stories since I could chew a pencil eraser. And while it has always been a part of me, it wasn’t until making the conscious decision to give it up for a while that I truly understood the importance of writing in my life — and how, without it, I wasn’t completely me. However, without that experience, I would still be thinking of writing as a pursuit rather than what it really is:
Something that finds you.
I quit writing back in 2006. For almost a year. It had nothing to do with the typical kind of frustrations every writer faces, such as not having a readership or being told it’s time to “get serious” with your life by family, friends or every publisher on the West coast. It wasn’t the result of drug addiction or alcohol abuse, although I did find myself addicted to watching Grey’s Anatomy, which made me WANT to drink. Continue reading That time I decided to quit writing