It's Always the Quiet One

Rambling about life, culture, Project Runway, and the occasional fruity drink.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Was A Teenage Humorist

So I'm talking to my sister on the phone and somehow or another the conversation works its way around to this blog. I ask her if she'd read it lately (I think she's the only one in my family who even knows it exists) and her reply is, "Yeah, but when are you gonna write something that's not about Project Runway?" I hear the collective gasp out there, but have pity - she doesn't have cable. So without further adieu, here is something that's not about Project Runway.

I've always liked writing. When I was a little kid I used to write little books for my grandma, with cutesy titles like "The Poinsetta Who Got Picked at Easter". Years later when I was in college she sent them all back to me "for posterity." They're horrid, so I'm sure my kids will get a kick out of them some day.

Anyway, writing. I always got my highest grades in English and did best at the creative writing assignments. (I did pretty well at grammar and punctuation too, and constantly corrected notes my friends wrote me and sent them back. Surprisingly they still liked me.)

During my junior year in high school I wrote a 25-page murder mystery story for English class, starring my friends, which proved to be a big hit. One afternoon near the end of the year one of those friends came up to me in the hall and said "I'm going to try out for the school newspaper and you're a good writer so why didn't you try out too 'cause wouldn't it be fun if we were both on the paper together?" After chastising her for spewing a giant run-on sentence, I thought about what she'd said. Being on the paper hadn't ever crossed my mind before. I wasn't overly enthusiastic at first. The only thing I knew about it was which hallways to avoid on paper-selling day, 'cause those people were pushy! And I needed my quarters to buy Snickers bars from the vending machines at lunchtime.

But she eventually talked me into it. All I had to do was submit a writing sample, and write a second little paragraph on why I'd like to be on the paper. So I BS'd my way though that (I figured that writing "Because my friend thinks it'd be fun if we were on the paper together" would probably not be the most convincing reason to choose me) and turned in an essay I wrote for English 3 about my grandmother's house. Then I completely forgot about the entire thing.

Two weeks later, the same friend came up to me in the same hallway. Turns out I actually made it onto the newspaper staff and she didn't. She could have been bitter, but she wasn't - we were still friends through college. (Although in hindsight, maybe she was a BIT bitter - after all, she did end up secretly dating a boyfriend of mine in college while I was still dating him. I didn't make that connection until just now! Hmm...)

Senior year rolled around and with it came my first journalistic assignment: write an editorial on a recent failed school levy. Yawn. I remember how hard and extremely unfun it was trying to get phone interviews with people on the school board and then writing what was probably the most boring thing ever, although the newspaper advisor really liked it. I was beginning to think this had been a bad idea.

During discussions for the next week's issue, the advisor brought up the fact that we had no humor writers, and she would like intereseted staffers to submit a possible column, which could become a weekly gig if the copy was good enough. I jumped at that because, well, it seemed less boring than tax levies and I wouldn't have to interview anybody. Besides, I had a lot of funny people in my family, and my sister and I spent a good chunk of our childhood listening to my mother's records of the Smothers Brothers, Allan Sherman and Bill Cosby - it should be a piece of cake!

So I spent a week writing and re-writing and crumpling up an entire ream of paper (this was before recycling was fashionable) and feeling definately un-funny. My mom, sensing my pain, handed me a section from the Sunday paper and pointed to an article. "Here. This is funny. Read this." It was a column by Dave Barry (who is one of the funniest writers in America and if you don't know who he is then shame on you!) and it changed my high-school life. Here was someone funny! Here was someone who wrote the same way I thought about things! Here was a guy with bad hair who was not afraid to make fun of himself in national syndication! He was my new hero, my humor mentor. With a renewed sense of purpose, I grabbed a new ream of paper and started writing. Needless to say, I got the position (well, I had to share it with this other girl who was a junior and who, at the time, didn't strike me as all that funny. Looking back, I still think she wasn't all that funny, but she was pretty, so I guess we were even).

My first column was about the Homecoming Dance. It contained gems like "Taking your date to 7-11 for a hot dog and a slushy is not acceptable," and the whole thing was quite humorous considering that I never even WENT to a homecoming dance. But it was such a thrill seeing my name on the byline, and I was hooked. During the year I tackled such pressing topics as TV Christmas variety specials, daytime talk shows, how to write a good "I don't have my homework" excuse, and school elections. I even ended up writing half of the annual April Fool's edition (school basketweaving team, anyone? A snake who pole vaults for the track team?) and managed to get my friends' names in the paper by mining them for quotes in various "serious" stories I wrote on the side.

It ended up being a really fun class - it got me out of study hall every day and I got to be quite the expert on Macintosh computers (we had two - we called them Prometheus and Bacchus - and we thought they were the best things EVER. Keep in mind that this was back when most computers were amber- or green-screened IBMs and all you could do on them was type or play Oregon Trail). I really didn't care if anyone read the column or thought it was funny; I enjoyed doing it.

But I got a shock one day after a history class when I was stopped by the captain of the football team, a guy I'd never talked to in my life, and he told me how much he liked reading my column. (I didn't even know he knew who I was!) And I got an even bigger shock when I was voted "most humorous girl" for the class memory book. They did a photo shoot with me and the "most humorous guy", and we were supposed to act very serious in the picture (because acting serious when you're "most humorous" is really hilarious, see?). The funniest part about it is that the picture didn't turn out, and there's a big blank spot in the memory book where my picture should have been.


Anonymous Jen said...

Yes, PR watchers, don't think I was bad-mouthing the show; I've just never seen it, and mentioned that she should write about something else for a change. And sis, thanks for that link to Oregon Trail: it's 12:30am, and I just got finished playing a round, and only lost one child! Altho my hubby on the trip broke just about everything he could break! I'm going to bed now.

1:32 AM  

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