In December of 2009, when he had just turned 11, my son’s English teacher assigned his class to write a holiday essay in an O’Henry fashion. He sent this essay to my editor at the time, and bcc’d me. He said “I need some professional advice and critiquing. That means I crave yours. I know you’re busy and I totally understand if you don’t have time to do it, but if the opportunity presents itself, please read it. I would greatly appreciate it.”
Three days later my editor responded to him with some comments.
My son’s response was “Thank you for your generous suggestions for my essay. Enclosed is the hopefully penultimate version with most all revisions. If you do have more comments or changes, just reply with a word doc of ideas and I will get back to you on or before Wednesday, January 6th. Thank you for all your help.
He doesn’t write anymore. He has moved on to games and Skype and he can read a book a day. Last week he baked bread. He is 40 years younger than I am and he writes dialogue better than I ever will.
Following is a copy of his essay. Remember, he was 11. He got none of this from me:
HolidayEssay Pre-Finished 2
My life is over. I have a suck-ish job, no friends, and my boss has an utter loathing for me, Bart thinks as the older woman with the bad plastic surgery job said, “Paper, honey.”
“Yea, yea, yea, Mrs. Schakowsky,” Bart mumbles under his breath,” We have a special on liverwurst today, two pounds for the price of one.”
“No thank you, I have to get to my grandson’s bar-mitzvah.”
“Mrs. Schakowsky, you’re Jewish?”
“Yes, that and Muslim on good days. Shalom, Bart.”
Even though Bart was Jewish, he didn’t celebrate Chanukah. When he was six years old, he stopped believing in it because his older brother, Sam, said that, “Chanukah is a scam that parents made up so that the kids would be happy. All of the blessings and mitzvot and menorahs and junk are just for show.” After that, Bart just couldn’t believe in those holidays anymore. Everybody would try to make him happy and cheerful in that season, but it couldn’t be done.
The only person who ever came close to that was Michelle, the meat department guru (that, and pastrami sandwiches). Whenever he would try to talk to Michelle, he always had an ulterior motive; the sweet, juicy, succulent pastrami. But the stupid diabetic single mother of 6 who ALWAYS had her screaming, little, three year old girl with her would buy every, last ounce of his personal ambrosia. He had no idea why, because last he heard, she and her family were vegetarians. So after his heart was halfway done dying, he would talk to Michelle and she would only say,” Hello Bart, you need something from my department?”
He could only reply,” No, that’s alright Michelle.” He didn’t have the guts to say anything else, so he would walk away, and check inventory if Tuesday, or do some labels, if Saturday. At seven-thirty, Mountain Time, he would go home to his lonely-guy apartment, feed his cat, and watch his soap operas in various languages. Sometimes, he would get a Budweiser Lite from the fridge, and other times, he would look out the window onto Bookmann Road at his neighbors from across the street putting up inflatable Jesus’ and Santas, and chatting with each-other about boxing and football and golf. He turns around, disgusted, and takes a nap on the couch-bed. He wakes up at10:34 a.m., apathetically makes a Jimmy Dean taquito in the toaster, and gets ready for work. At11:00 o’clock, he takes his motor-scooter to work.
He takes thenoonshift for checkout, and asks Mrs. Schakowsky how the bar-mitzvah went. She says,” Eh, he died half way through. Stupid twenty-five year old heart.” Alarmed, Bart asks,” Twenty-five? Aren’t boys supposed to have bar-mitzvahs when they’re thirteen?” After his shift he goes to have his ramble with Michelle. ”Hi Michelle, well, I haven’t heard any screaming, where’s the pastrami lady?”
“Oh you didn’t hear? She went into a diabetic coma. Well, I can see you’re happy, would you like anything?”
Oh, happy day! No screaming, no lady, he can talk to Michelle without losing a kidney from the nervousness, and now, his delicious pastrami is within his grasp. ”Yes, I would like a one and a half ounce pastrami sandwich.”
“Oh I’m so sorry, Bart. The butchers went on strike. No pastrami for a week.” Feeling a mixture of anger, frustration, hate, hunger, and that feeling you get when you want to jump in front of a steamroller, he meekly says ”Oh… ok then.” He then, albeit with some difficulty, walks to the break room where a maddening scream erupts from his tortured soul.
Eventually, he takes the rest of the day off, and returns to his street where a trio of seven year olds confronts him.
“What’s wrong mister? Anything we can do to help?”
“Only if you can get me a pastrami sandwich with mustard and Michelle’s acknowledgment, otherwise, no.”
“Well, we can’t do that,” one child says sweetly,” but what we can do,” says another,” is invite you,” replies the next,” to our parent’s holiday party!” they all exclaim cheerily.
“Thank you for the invitation lads, but this just isn’t my season.” He turns toward the parking garage, parks his scooter, and goes upstairs. The alpha-male of the kids then says, “Boys, I’ve got an idea, but I need you guys to do it.” For the next fifteen minutes, they whisper quietly and quickly about the plan for the old man. After they are through negotiating, they giggle and run off toward the supermarket.
The next day at work, Bart nonchalantly walks into the supermarket, oddly darkened, and to his surprise, “Happy Holidays, Bart!” everybody yells. Stunned and confused, Bart merely says nothing, and walks out the sliding door. Also stunned, everybody just stands there until Michelle says, “Well somebody has to go after him!” After nobody steps forward, she finally says, “Well I’m going after him.” And with a grunt, she sped off.
His expression blank, Bart contemplates the past five minutes of his life. It was those kids! He angrily thought. They planned this to happen! But wait, they must have had a reason. It suddenly came to him; Michelle was one of the only people there who was cheering, that means…! He couldn’t finish his thought.
“Oh Bart, there you are! I’ve looked all over for you. What happened at the store, what’s your deal anyways?”
“Oh its nothing,” Bart lies, “I just don’t like the holiday season that much.”
“Well that’s too bad. Wait,” she says suddenly, “I might know what will pick up your spirits.” She runs down the road and around a corner. A few minutes later, Michelle comes down the road with a little wrapped package. “Open it,” she says. Confused, he accepts the parcel and to his surprise and shock, there sat a perfect little pastrami sandwich, which, after some detective work, contains mustard on both sides.
“But Michelle, I thought…”
“My Uncle Nigel works at a slaughterhouse.” She says proudly.
“Oh Michelle, this is the best Christmas and Chanukah gift anybody could have wanted.” Then with a new-found courage he hugs Michelle and asks her the long-awaited question. “Michelle, will you go out with me?
“Sure Bart, sure”
So what have we learned? For every dark cloud, there is always a silver lining whether resolve or pastrami on rye.