The boy is standing halfway up my front hall stairs. He is a little boy and his speech is still imperfect. The “s’s” at the beginning of his words come out sounding like “t’s” but I can understand him – most of the time. Right now he has paused on the way up my hall stairs to ask me something.
“What are you going to get me for Christmas, TT?” (He calls me TT.)
“Oh! Well I’ve already gotten it!”
“What is it?’ he asks, twisting his hands together in front of him.
“Ah now I can’t tell you that, can I?”
“You CAN tell me!” he cries with a sudden anguish. “TT, you can!”
Stalling for time, I then do what grownups so often do: I fib.
“Um, let’s see if I can remember. Oh I know! I got you every single thing on Santa’s sleigh!”
“No, you didn’t!” he nearly sobs, even as I am asking myself what on earth I think I’m doing, teasing a four-year-old.
“I’m only fooling,” I quickly say. “What kind of thing would THAT be, putting Santa out of a job?”
“So, what DID you get me?”
“A jar of pickles.” (Gad, I’ve done it again!)
“Not really!” he cries, his expression turning desperate.
“No, not really. I’m sorry honey. Do you really want to know what I got you?”
He sits down on the fourth step like a man exhausted by life.
“Shall I tell you in your ear so it’s a secret?”
“It’s a bank that counts your money as you put it in,” I whisper.
At this he turns from me, closes his eyes and leans his little forehead against the wall, a bit of body language that comes through loud and clear.
“You don’t want a bank that counts your money as you put it in?”
He shakes his head no as the tears begin to brim.
“Then I’ll give it to your brother, why don’t I? He loves banks, come to think of it! And you love stuffed animals, isn’t that right? Should I be thinking about a stuffed animal for you?”
He nods his head. Of course! How many times have I seen him arranging the occupants of that toy doll carriage!
“And what would be the best stuffed animal, do you think?”
He tries for a brave smile but he can’t seem to speak.
“Do you have a favorite animal?”
“What kind then?”
“A raccoon,” he says in a very small voice.
“A raccoon is it?” I repeat after him.
“Yes!” he now full-out sobs.
He falls into my outstretched arms and there we stand, two people balancing on sharp point between laughter and tears, two people caught on that sharp point (a) because these long weeks of ad-fed hankering stand in opposition to every stated spiritual impulse of the season, and (b) because, thank God, they are
So I guess what I was saying is that first book o’ mine was basically about those awkward moments like like the parish priest shows up at your door and your dog comes downstairs with half a box of tampons in his mouth.
Or when your children’s poor daddy, as sleep-deprived as you are with your two little girls under four, opens his briefcase at the big presentation to find the frilly underpants of Baby Crawl Away tucked carefully into one corner.
That’s I Thought He Was a Speed Bump, the book I was waxing nostalgic about yesterday. I wrote it when I was young and almost everything in life struck me funny, aside from the sudden death of my only parent, which threw me for a loop that looped for four long years.
With the passage of time however, I began to see how death fits into the larger scheme. That’s when I wrote this book whose cover you see here.
I had two themes in mind for it: that everything returns if you wait long enough – like spring for example – and that you can find a wonderful kind of calm in this crazy modern life if you can just manage sit there for a minute when you pull up outside your house – just sit there and let the inner waters clear for a bit instead of rushing inside and bossing everyone around, including yourself (‘Start the dinner!’ ‘Fold those clothes!’ Why do we shout these things to ourselves all the time?)
I love a double theme, in this case the theme of the seasons AND the theme of learning to chill out more, and come to think of it so does my littlest grandson who can’t resist being two things on Halloween. (This year he was a Power Ranger AND a Vampire.) But they say what you need to sell a book or movie is “high concept,” the ability to sum it up in a sentence and that’s where I might have gone a little wrong with my two themes. It did OK though; I got it into all these Barnes & Noble stores and then drove all over the map giving funny talks about it.
Then of course it all slowed down and the books gradually came back to me.
This happened right after I had gone to a second printing so I still have almost 3,000 mint copies which is why I’m offering them here.
As I say, this book is funny like Speed Bump AND has some death in it but what doesn’t, right?
YOU can have a copy for just $10 bucks too if you like.
One of my favorite chapters is this one about letters to Santa, taken right from the pages of an actual newspaper. (You’ll have to click on this first image to see it in a readable size..)
and the last page of the chapter:
This story makes me laugh even today . Kids huh?