We are so pleased to have as our guest today Kathy Patrick, founder of the Pulpwood Queen’s Book Clubs and author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. Kathy has managed to tie together her passion for books and good hair in a most inventive way: a combination hair salon/book store named Beauty and the Book that is the happenin’ spot in East Texas.
DB: What do you love about big hair and books?
KP: They are the perfect marriage as they both compliment each other so much. The big hair came about when my book club, the Pulpwood Queens, was asked to be on Good Morning America to kick off their Read This! Book Club with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson. We were asked since we were from Texas if we would have big hair. I don’t know, if you were asked to have big hair to be on Good Morning America, why not? the Pulpwood Queens don’t take ourselves very seriously but we are very serious about the books that we read. We’re big on hair and big on books and what do most people do when they are waiting in the beauty shop? They read. I have always talked about books after I figured out how a client wanted their hair done. Don’t you share stories with others when you go to the salon? Hmmm…Just makes good sense to me.
DB: Why do you think book clubs are becoming popular again?
KP: Because we no longer have the time that our mothers had for bridge club or having coffee with the neighbor over the fence. We are women who work. Book clubs are a legitimate way to have license to play. After all we are promoting reading and literacy, right? We get a night out with our girlfriends to talk about a good book, share our lives and maybe have a glass of wine, too. Women need conversation. With our lives busier than ever, having a career, raising families, and all of our community activities, it is no wonder that book clubs are springing up faster than dandelions! Besides, reading and sharing a good book is fun!
DB: You’ve been a reader for a long time—how does it feel to be on the other side of the book fence as an author?
KP: Strange, I’m not sure if the shoe fits but I’m walking the walk and talking the talk. I have a new respect for authors, too. I never really thought that I could ever attain the status of published author, but I have. I also will tell those reading this that writing and publishing a book is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It took me six long years to write my story but it has been well worth it. The rewards have been great—from readers, complete strangers send me these amazing emails. I have always considered myself a reader. Writing is something I did, too, but for myself. I was too scared to even admit I wrote anything, but now that that door has opened, look out, world, here I come!
DB: One thing that came through for me while reading your book is how passionate you are about books and how much fun reading can be. With so many books on the shelves how do you decide what to add to your-to-be-read pile?
KP: I have no problem choosing books to be read as I am sent so many. I look at them all but I usually can tell within the first page or two, sometimes the first sentence, if it is a book I will love reading. I get a special thrill from discovering undiscovered authors, their books, and helping them get discovered in big ways. I cannot take claim for the success of Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood or The Glass Castle or Eat, Pray, Love, but I can tell you I selected them when we read them before Oprah or the Today Show or Good Morning America or the New York Times.
Now let me tell you about The Chicken Dance by Jacques Couvillon. Because even though this is a YA book, the Pulpwood Queens and I were given this book while on book tour and we read the entire book aloud in between bookstore shops. We laughed our heads off and I kept telling everybody they should read this book. In fact, everybody should read all of our Pulpwood Queen Book Club selections, as each and every one of them is a treasure. That is exactly why I insisted all my books I have selected since inception be included in my book. The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life is a one-stop shop for readers and for those who are searching for their purpose in life. I have found that reading is the road you need to take to get you there.
DB: What’s your favorite recipe in the book?
KP: The Pulpwood Queen’s Married with Children Driving a Damn Mini-Van because I made that drink up after a day where I could not make anybody happy. This drink ended up making my whole family happy, including me. (Special note: I was the only one that had the alcohol in the drink, though; the kiddos just had the ice cream!)
DB: If there was one thing you would like to say to our readers what would it be?
KP: I would say that writing my book brought me full circle. I told my story of my life in books as best as I could remember it. In doing so, I found myself and what I truly believed in, so I will ask all of you reading this to do two things.
First, write down the books that spoke to you in such a way that your life was changed. There need be no specific number. Then look at your list. You will find out more about yourself than you ever dreamed.
Second, I would like to say that we are all born with a talent and a gift. It may not be hairdressing, it may be something as simple and beautiful as taking care of children, a home, or giving yourself to others by serving them. Never let anyone tell you that the thing you love to do does not have importance. To serve others is the highest honor. Do what you love and love what you do. We are all born with a purpose and a story. You may have many stories so you need to write them down because if you do not tell your story there will be a library lost to your family and friends. Pay it forward and help others who have fallen behind you. Lift them up.
Last, never let others take away your dreams. You only live life once so make it a wonderful life!
Tiara Wearing, Beauty and Book Sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club and author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life (Grand Central Publishing, now available)
I was interviewing Meg Tilly the week we talked about pets and missed blogging about my four-year-old cockapoo, Fin. Since Fin is a fairly good sport, I figure I’ll make that faint link to our topic this week and tell you about him. Also, he has had a trying few days and deserves some attention, even if it is cyber-attention.
Two weeks ago we took Fin to the groomers and, not thinking clearly, asked them to cut his hair short. Actually, I was thinking clearly. I was thinking of the balls of ice and snow that get stuck to his shaggy mane every time he goes to the park and the unhappy hour or more it takes for him to thaw and drip off, all the while confined to the kitchen.
Well, they cut him very short, the shortest he’s ever been, and he has been displeased, disgruntled and shivering ever since. Fin likes to be outside and will chase snowballs for hours but is cold without all that hair. And yet he disdains his (quite dashing) faux-shearling jacket and, worse, his (very cute) preppy red sweater. Indoors and outdoors, Fin is a chilly pooch and there seems no way to make him happy.
I feel terrible. I wrap blankets around him and let him sit on my lap while I’m writing. I give him extra treats and today I even took him with me to the hairdresser (where he was still unhappy, even though he’s usually game for any outing). When I put the sweater on him he seems to go into a depression–curls up on the couch with a woeful, reproachful stare and many huffy sighs. If I even think about putting the coat on him, the tail goes down and, again, the woeful countenance cuts me to the core.
It appears that even during this very long, very cold winter, Fin is a nudist. And we must choose between him being cold-but-happy or warm-but-melancholy until his hair grows back or spring comes.
Here are some photos of the poor pup, the first during happier times (summer) and the second from last week. Both photos were taken by our very talented photographer friend, Jing (check her stuff out at www.imajing.com) who also could not stop him from shivering.
Thanks for reading!
And please send warm vibes in the direction of Toronto. Or just in the direction of one cold, grumpy little dog…the rest of us can wait.
This week, the fabulous Kristin Harmel is joining us. Her funny and utterly charming new book, The Art of French Kissing is out this week. Kristin is a novelist whose books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. Cosmopolitan magazine has called her writing “hilarious,” and People magazine has referred to her books as “Bridget Jones-esque.” A longtime reporter for People magazine, Kristin’s other magazine credits include Glamour, Woman’s Day, American Baby, Teen People, Men’s Health, YM and Runner’s World magazines. She is often recognized as “The Lit Chick,” the official book reviewer for the nationally syndicated morning TV show The Daily Buzz, for whom she has interviewed many celebrities too!
Kristin’s novels include: HOW TO SLEEP WITH A MOVIE STAR, THE BLONDE THEORY, THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING (Hachette Book Group, Feb. 2008), and WHEN YOU WISH (Random House/Delacorte Books For Young Readers, Feb. 2008). Look for two more novels from Kristin coming in 2009!
What was the inspiration for THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING?
I lived in Paris myself and went through a transformation that was very similar to the one my main character, Emma, undergoes. In The Art of French Kissing, Emma has the rug basically yanked out from under her in her life. In the space of just a couple of weeks, her fiancé dumps her, she loses her job, and she finds out she has been betrayed by a good friend. Thankfully, those things haven’t happened to me (well, not all at once, anyhow!), but my life was in a somewhat similar state of general disarray when the opportunity arose for me to pick up and move to Paris for the summer five years ago. I’d only been to the City of Light once, on a family vacation, and I didn’t speak a word of French, so when I said yes, it was the most impulsive thing I had ever done in my life. It’s also the summer during which I became who I am today.
Similarly, Emma makes a snap decision to go to Paris and start her life over, with the help of a friend who lives there. And like me, Emma goes to Paris expecting a slight change of pace and instead has her eyes opened up to a whole new world of possibilities. It took me a few years to put into words – and into a novel – the feelings and changes that Paris evoked in me, but telling Emma’s story was a little like delving into my not-so-distant past and telling my own tale of inadvertent self-discovery. (Although I should note that Emma has to deal with a handsome – but quite possibly insane – rock star, and I never had to do that, so rest assured, most of this story is fictional!)
Basically, I’ve always wanted to write a novel set in Paris, which is, to me, the most inspiring city in the world. And it was a true joy to place a main character there, in a place that is as unfamiliar to her as it once was to me, and watch her spread her wings. I think it’s a story of reinvention and self-discovery that could take place anywhere in the world, but it just so happens that the catalyst for Emma’s change – and mine – was Paris.
Your main character goes to Paris to nurse a broken heart and do some serious soul-searching — is she running away from her problems or just getting a different perspective?
At the beginning, I think she believes she’s running away, but in the end, it turns out that she’s running toward a more authentic version of herself. She goes to Paris to escape a life that feels like it’s caving in around her, but she never suspects that this unfamiliar city will feel more like home than the place in which she has spent her whole life.
I think that oftentimes in life, we wind up stumbling upon a different perspective or something that opens our eyes when we least expect it. That has been the case for me in the past, and it was the case for Emma in my novel. It’s funny how life throws up roadblocks sometimes but then opens entirely unexpected doors just when we need them most. As Emma learns, even when it feels like everything is going wrong, life tends to have a way of working out the way it’s supposed to.
What are the major differences in American and French cultures?
There are a lot of differences, and I think that one of the big ones is in the way they approach life. I’m sure I’m being overly broad here, but I think that in general, the French do a much better job of appreciating all the little things in life. As Americans, I think we sometimes have the tendency to rush from one thing to the next, whereas the French literally stop and smell the roses. They live life through all five senses, delighting in the way a perfect glass of champagne tickles one’s tongue, for example, or enjoying the sights and sounds we too often take for granted. It’s customary in France to spend a couple of hours at dinner, for example, slowly savoring the tastes of the food and wine, and enjoying the conversation. I think that when life slows down a bit, it’s much easier to discover little pleasures in every moment. So it’s just a slightly different point of view than we have here, but it makes an enormous difference in the way that daily life is conducted.
Are French men really better kissers? Do you think they’re more romantic than American men?
Haha – Are you trying to get me in trouble with American men I might want to date?
To be honest, yes, I do feel that in general, it’s much more common for men in France to be romantic. They tend to be more expressive and more open with their feelings. A French guy in a Parisian bar even wrote me a poem once! But I think that once you get past all the initial pleasantries and the “courting” phase, it all comes down to what the men are like on the inside. Love is love, whether or not it’s dressed up in poetry, music and wine. You have to have that deeper, core compatibility to make things last, and it’s just as likely (or unlikely) to find that with a French man as it is with an American.
As for kissing… let’s just say that there’s a reason the French have a kiss named after them! But I’ve met some amazing American kissers too! Let’s just leave it at that while I blush and plead the fifth!
Your first book was the hilarious and charming HOW TO SLEEP WITH A MOVIE STAR – so, uh, have you? (And please, oh please, tell us it was Patrick Dempsey)
Thanks for the kind words (about the book – not about me sleeping with movie stars!)! That book was so much fun to write! I’d love to say that I went out and did the field research, but no, I have never slept with a movie star! (Although, Lisa and the other Debs, if P.S. I Love You’s Gerard Butler calls you and asks for my number, please let him know that I’d be happy to use him for, er, research purposes for a sequel.)
Actually, as much as I’d love to fill you in on some sort of salacious scandal, the book is actually about a woman, not unlike myself (okay, exactly like myself – twentysomething, blonde, five feet tall, magazine writer) who gets involved in a situation where the whole world thinks she is sleeping with a movie star, whereas in reality, her romantic life is actually a complete disaster. I loved writing it!
I have met Patrick Dempsey several times (but of course he’s married to a woman he absolutely adores, and they have three beautiful children together), and I’ve also had the pleasure to meet many other celebs, including people like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Willis, Paul Walker, etc. (Sorry, I am pausing here to wipe the drool from chin. Okay, resuming typing…) I’ve been writing for PEOPLE magazine for eight years now, and over the years, that has brought me into contact with many interesting movie stars (none of whom I have slept with, I promise!).
Interestingly, I came back to celebrities with The Art of French Kissing (where Emma deals with a nutty rock star) and my first novel for teens, When You Wish (where the main character is a troubled teen pop star running away from her life of fame). The complications of fame and celebrity fascinate me, and I love writing about issues that arise in connection to lives that look so perfect from the outside. I hope you enjoy reading what I’ve written!
Thanks so much for joining us Kristin! Your new book is fantastic!
Thanks so very much for your time! I’d love to hear your feedback!
Visit me at www.KristinHarmel.com, or write me at Kristin@kristinharmel.com! Thanks!
Thanks for joining us! Be sure to pick up THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING and WHEN YOU WISH, out this week!
The perfect sport is the theme this week, but whenever sports come to mind for me, I can’t help but feel a sense of resentment. You see, as a parent, I have spent the past decade and a half trying to protect my family from the egregious encroachment of sports into our lives, an inevitability as sports have become more and more of a monstrous entity in today’s world.
I think my feelings about sports became crystalized a couple of years ago as I was listening to National Public Radio as esteemed sportswriter Frank DeFord praised the state of sports for young athletes today, impressed that these kids are now fast-tracked and forced to specialize early and play year-round.
Sports leagues are now targeted for those few who excel, rather than the many who merely do well. This saddens me. For those of us who have watched our children be forced to choose or lose in a sport by the ripe old age of eight or nine, the reality of sports for children is ugly. Organized sports has become the unwanted mistress in the lives of most families in America today. And there’s very little we can do about it, short of pulling our kids out of these programs altogether.
Mr. DeFord’s beliefs reflect the warped attitude of a core group of sports-obsessed people who have created an environment for young athletes that is both hostile to their families and detrimental to the children. In this era of sports-at-all-costs, all sense of balance has been lost in order to enhance the skills for the oh-so-few athletes who have a chance at a scholarship or pro career.
What fast-tracking means is that kids must chose by second or third grade to essentially eat, drink, breath, sleep and dream baseball, gymnastics, swimming, whatever. It means no more music lessons, it means no more playing at home after school. It means the end of family dinners together, and often weekends as well. Nowadays, you’re hard-pressed to find kids just playing at home with their friends. Because most are forced to devote all of their free time to this all-important Sport of Choice.
My family’s dilemma is shared by many these days. Our kids, decent athletes, love sports. They prefer a challenging level of play. But in order to achieve this, they are forced to give up their lives to the game.
When my youngest was nine, she started playing on a travel soccer team. This meant three practices weekly, sometimes two or more games a weekend, often hours away from our home.
After driving three hours each way for a game, she confessed to me, “I’d rather lose a game at home than have to sit in the car for six hours, even if we win.”
This from a child who adored her team, her coach, the game.
Why must a child sacrifice her childhood for someone else’s elusive goal of scholarship and glory? So that a select few will be able to earn obscene amounts of money before they’re old enough to know how to handle it?
Frank DeFord was right: the premier young athletes of our time have reaped the benefits of the exceedingly rigorous schedules that have become mandatory for all. But he’s wrong to think this is a good thing. Take it from me: it’s not. More is not usually better. Most of the time it’s just too much.
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((¸¸. ·´ .. ·´Jenny G. -:¦:-
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I read Vicki Glembocki’s THE SECOND NINE MONTHS in proposal form and LOVED its edge and honesty and attitude and humor and I wished there’d been a book like that when I had my first baby. And now I plan to buy it for all the new mothers I know, including my new neighbor who recently gave birth to twins and hasn’t left the house all winter and I hear is losing her mind. So I urge all of you to read Vicki’s post and then I dare you not to immediately run out and buy THE SECOND NINE MONTHS.
Thank you all so much for having me Deb, especially since I’ve never Deb-ed anything in my life and would have had nothing appropriate to wear had I not been able to Deb while sitting in my basement office wearing my black sweatpants. I love these sweatpants. I wore them the entire time I wrote my Deb book, The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells The Real Truth About Becoming a Mom. Finally. (I was also pregnant when I wrote it. And I’m still wearing the sweatpants, which troubles me a little. In terms of sizing.) What I really love, though, is having the chance to share the experience of my first book coming out with other women who “get it.” Because, yes, it is so cool. But it is also SO crazy. Case in point:
I am on the phone doing a live radio interview on a morning show in Orlando. The hosts are Richard and Lori. We are talking about my book, which was released 5 days before, and about which I have spoken in the past two days to 13 different radio hosts, none of whom have read a single word of it. I’m not currently taking that personally, because Richard and Lori are very nice, and they are also laughing at many of the quippy lines I came up with during the week leading up to this “Satellite Radio Book Tour,” lines I workshopped while in the minivan, driving the kids to and from daycare, and to Target, and to buy organic skim milk for the 643rd time so far this month–lines that had completely bombed an hour ago on the talk show where no one called in.
My mother is here. I asked her to come and help out this week because of the odd hours of some of the interviews. And also so I could check my Amazon ranking every 27 seconds. And also so I could be available when Oprah called. (Oprah didn’t call.) Having my mother here has proven to be God-send since my three year old, Blair (who the book is about) seems to have come down with something along the lines of cholera this past weekend, and can’t go to school. As a result, my mother has one job and one job alone: Keep Blair occupied while I am doing radio interviews.
So I’m talking to Richard and Lori. And I’m telling them all about the book—how becoming a mom was so much harder than anyone said it would be and how I went through an identity crisis and how I wasn’t sure if I loved my baby and how I wanted to kill my husband. And Richard and Lori are laughing. I’m laughing. We’re all laughing. Then I hear a strange sound—the squeak of the doorknob on the door to the basement where I’m sitting at my desk. And then I hear the little voice–“Mommy?”—followed by her tiny red crocs thumping down the stairs.
“Mommy?” She says again, and I turn around. Blair is standing on the bottom step, staring at me, tears running down her cheeks, her mouth hanging open so far that I can practically see the enormously loud wail that is about to explode out of her throat. “Mommeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
“Is that a baby crying in the background?” Lori asks. On live radio. Because I am on live radio.
“Yes it is,” says the woman promoting her book on how she thought she was the worst mother on the planet for the first six months of her daughter’s life. “It never gets easier,” I say. Or, at least, that’s what I think I say, because I’m not sure if actual words are coming out of my mouth as I’m running to the other side of the basement, thinking, Where in the hell is my mother?
“Mommmmmmmeeeeeeeeee!!!” Blair follows me. She is louder now. And echoing. I’m trapped between her and the workshop. I am still talking, but I have no idea what I’m saying because the voice in my brain is screaming, I’m on live radio. I’m on live radio! Where is my mother? Where in the name of all things holy is my freaking mother? I dart around Blair, run back through the office and up the stairs, feeling on one hand that my mother is the worst mother on the planet and, on the other, that I am, in fact, the worst mother on the planet.
I see my mother walk in the front door. What was she doing outside? I think. And then I immediately reprimand myself: Vicki, you have to stop thinking these ridiculous things because you are on live radio. And then I remember I’m on live radio, and have been talking to Richard and Lori for the past minute, straight. My mother doesn’t see me. I can’t understand this because I’m flailing my arms. Still talking on live radio and flailing my arms. I stomp on the hardwood floor in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen. She looks up. I give her a look that says, “You only had ONE job woman! Just! One! Job!”
And then, suddenly, I’m trapped again. Because Blair has appeared behind me, screaming now like she’s on fire, trying to get around me, as my mother runs toward me from the opposite direction to get to Blair. We become a human traffic jam in the kitchen doorway. My mother yelling, “Blair! Come here!” Blair yelling, “Mommy! Why do you keep leaving me?”
And me. In the middle. On radio. Live.
Vicki is an award-winning magazine writer, a columnist for Women’s Health, a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine, and a contributing editor for The Penn Stater magazine. Her articles have appeared in many publications including Playboy, More, Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Scuba Diver, and Philadelphia. She specializes in personal essay, profiles, and all things narrative.She worked at Pitt Magazine and at Dartmouth College and, in places in between, waitressed and sold roses from bar to bar dressed in a tuxedo jacket and cowboy boots). She has a BA in English and an MFA in nonfiction writing, both from Penn State, and has been a guest on TV and radio shows, led seminars at conferences, lectured in college classes, given public readings, sung karaoke, and performed in more than 100 plays and musicals (including two where she danced on stage naked). She lives just outside of Philadelphia–across the Delaware River in Westmont, New Jersey–with her very patient husband, Thad. She is obsessed with yard sales, showtunes, yoga, DIY home repair, her Honda minivan, fountain Diet Coke, and her daughters, Blair and Drew.
Unpredictable has now reached #10 on the Barnes and Noble Romance Trade Bestseller List! Eileen would like to thank everyone who continues to buy and promote her book. The tour continues this upcoming week: Borders in Chicago, IL on February 26th at 7:30pm, and Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, MI on February 28th at 7pm.
Look for photos and juicy details about Eileen’s Unpredictable Book Tour (which may also include photos of Deb Jess and other Deb Friends!) this Wednesday, Feb 27th at Manic Mommy. Thanks Manic Mommy! The rest of us are only a little bit jealous that you and Jess will be there…
Deb Danielle received a fabulous endorsement for Falling Under from the lovely and talented Deb Lisa: “Falling Under is brave, bold, and absolutely brilliant. I loved it.”–Lisa Daily, bestselling author of Stop Getting Dumped! and Fifteen Minutes of Shame
Deb Lisa’s upcoming dating advice book has a new title: How to Date Like A Grown-up.
Deb Jenny will be signing copies of Sleeping with Ward Cleaver at WaldenBooks in Charlottesville, VA, from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 1. She is signing at the Pohick Regional Library in Fairfax, VA, from 10-noon Saturday, March 8. She’ll be speaking on a panel about marriage in fiction at the Virginia Festival of the Book on Wednesday, March 26, along with James Collins and Joshua Henkin at the charming New Dominion Bookshop. She will be signing at Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville, VA 1-3 Sunday, April 13, and at the Barnes & Noble at the Waterfront in Pittsburgh, PA, from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, April 17.
Guest Author Series:
On Wednesday, February 27, the Debs are pleased to welcome Kristin Harmel, author of the funny and tres fabulous THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING — be sure to stop by!
On the Deb Bookshelf:
Deb Danielle is reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Deb Lisa just finished Deb Danielle’s wonderful book, Falling Under
Please join us in welcoming deb friend and fellow debut author, Therese Fowler as our guest blogger today. Therese’s debut novel Souvenir is a February Target Bookmarked Breakout title, a March Book Sense Notable, a Featured Alternate Selection for Doubleday and Literary Guild book clubs, a Romantic Times Book Reviews Mainstream Fiction Top Pick, the Barnes & Noble New Reads Book Club selection for May, and is now or will soon be available in ten languages and eighteen countries.
A Midwest native, Therese transplanted herself to Raleigh, NC, where she lives with her husband and, depending on the month, any or all of their four sons. You can learn more about Therese at her website and also through her fabulous blog.
I started my working life as a paperboy. And yes, I do mean “boy.” (Which isn’t to say I’m a surgically altered male who’s now a woman writing women’s fiction. If only—what a great publicity hook!).
It was winter 1979, a time when feminism had lost its radical edge and moved mainstream enough to enfold even my rural Illinois life. Though society as a whole was a long way from catching up, the concept of equal rights—of all kinds—was ingrained in me. I had already single-handedly taken on our area Little League and broken their gender barrier, so when I was looking for a way to supplement my babysitting income (to finance my Skate Ranch addiction, you understand) and a boy I knew quit his paper route in a nearby neighborhood, I snagged the job. I was twelve that winter; I didn’t think of myself as a feminist, I thought of myself as a tomboy—even had a nickname, “Terri,” to match. But if feminism allowed me to be me, bring it on!
When people heard I’d taken over a paper route, they’d say things like, “Hey, then that makes you a papergirl!” They seemed to like the sound of the new term, as though with my getting the job we had all become more mod, real leading-edge-of-society. But I wanted nothing to do with any “girl” label; if word got around to my customers that the new kid bundled up in the army-green parka and navy moon boots was female, I’d get treated like a girl. I didn’t want to be treated like a girl. “Are you sure you can handle those heavy papers?” “Should you be out after dark alone?” I stood firm: Like every kid who’d had the route before me, I was the paperboy.
Do paperboys—or papergirls—exist anywhere inside the US borders today? I can’t think of the last time I saw a kid with a grungy canvas bag slung around skinny shoulders, tossing specially folded newspapers onto doorsteps. What kid nowadays does what I did then: tromp a mile through cinder-blackened snow piles in winter’s early darkness to the corner where the newspaper distributor dropped a banded stack, or two, or several? What kid spends an hour crouched at that corner, fingers freezing (but feet cozy in those cushy space-age boots), folding papers into that time-honored tuck, then stuffing the bag full and spending another two hours going door to door to door to door?
There were always a few customers who had “special instructions” for where to put their paper. In the mailbox. Inside the storm door. On the back stoop on top of the third weed-filled flower pot to the left of the milk box. (Milk boxes: Another anachronism.) I hated those special instructions, which came from the office attached to my bundles, and seemed to always be changing. If the instruction was wrong or came too late, I’d hear it from the customer on dreaded Collection Day. I hated Collection Day even when all was going right; asking people for money—even money they owed—was the worst (but most necessary) part of my job.
Maybe you remember Collection Day—Thursdays, when I was doing it; maybe you answered the door to the mittened rap of someone who appeared to be a long-haired boy with chapped cheeks and an expression of apology mixed with dread.
“Collect?” I would say, holding up my two-ring binder filled with pale pre-printed payment stubs that I would trade for the two or three dollars that a week’s subscription cost.
My route was in an old, rundown area abutting a four-lane highway. Narrow, uneven streets featured ramshackle houses where people on fixed and/or minimal incomes lived simply. Hard as it is to imagine in our four-bucks-a-coffee world, these folks often didn’t have the subscription money at hand. On one particularly bitter mid-December evening, an old couple who had to put off paying until the next week invited me inside, to warm up before facing my mile walk home. I was an ice-block by that point and gratefully accepted. The minute I lowered my parka’s zipper a little, revealing the flowered long underwear I’d forgotten I was wearing, my paper-“boy” cover was blown.
I could tell the folks were surprised, but they didn’t mention it, talking instead about Christmas and grandkids—the reasons they were short of money that week. After a few minutes, I left, relieved not to have been peppered with questions or concern. It wasn’t until the next week that I knew word of my true identity had spread. As I did the route on Monday evening—Christmas Eve—I found small gifts awaiting me on some of the stoops. I suppose that the paperboy would also have gotten gifts, but probably not the “diamond” earrings, the Hello Kitty note pad, or, from the kind old couple, a plush, red-ribboned teddy bear. I tucked the presents in my emptying paper-bag as I went, and then smiled the whole way home.
Every job teaches us something—about other people, the world, ourselves. With that first one I started to see that I could be “me” and also be a girl; likely that epiphany saved me from long years of psychotherapy, and may in fact have inspired the movie “Yentl.” I have only one regret: that if someone ever makes “Therese,” Barbra Streisand will be too old to play the lead.