Saturday, April 21, 2018
Opinion

A columnist’s lament: How little a kids book author writes for how much he makes

One more day to go as we celebrate Yuletide car sales, Santa hyping holiday carpet sales, and of course, in the spirit of humanity and love for all, that always warm feeling of anticipating the arrival of next month’s bills.

Joy to the world.

"Are you Christmas shopping?" the young lady asked as she attempted to shove some miracle goop into my hand.

I was tempted to reply that no, I was not Christmas shopping at all. I just like to stroll about crowded malls this time of year carrying around shopping bags. Christmas shopping? Whatever would have given her such a crazy idea?

This was, I suppose, a feeble attempt by her at starting a conversation. I wonder what might have happened if I had stopped and proceeded to tell her in mind-numbing detail my entire life history? She seemed so interested.

But she wasn’t really keen on talking all that much. Her mission was to attempt to smear an ointment all over my face, which in an instant would transform a creaky 68-year-old man into Ryan Gosling. La La Land, indeed.

The trick in these mall muggings is to keep moving. You stop and engage and you are dead meat, and eventually vastly poorer, too. She thrust the fountain of youth in a packet into my clutches, hoping I would be eternally grateful to remove the crow’s feet from my eyes, and I thrust the new lease on life into the nearest trash bin.

I didn’t have time to turn back the clock. I had Christmas shopping to do.

With a new grandson on the scene, one of my first stops was Barnes & Noble. It had been many, many years since I last bought a children’s book. I was a little rusty. I figured buying a copy of Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson’s life and career for a one-month-old boy might be a bit of a stretch.

Eventually I came up with Peter Rabbit, and a picture book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

A confession. I am not a jealous person, nor have I ever second-gueesed the ink-stained wretch scribbling career racket I chose to pursue 45 years ago. Except recently.

I have no idea why I selected Brown Bear off the shelf. I suppose it looked cute. Cute is nice. I can do cute.

The Bombshell of the Balkans endorsed the Brown Bear selection, informing me it is a very popular children’s book. Who knew? I was rather proud of myself. And then I went into a funk.

The text of Brown Bear is a fraction of the length of this column — and yet it is co-authored by two guys, Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. Wait a minute. It took two guys to pen, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a red bird looking at me"? And that’s pretty much the entire plot.

I’ve spent nearly five decades cranking out 700-word-plus reviews, columns, editorials, breaking news stories, travel pieces and other assorted commentaries and I still worry about balancing the checkbook every month.

Martin, who died in 2004, and Carle created an exercise in brevity that has sold over 7 million copies and is often listed as one of the top 100 children’s picture books of all time and they amassed a fortune.

Is is any wonder that I drink?

Perhaps it is not too late. Maybe I could crank out an adorable children’s book, too. I could create Tommy the Tallahassee bagman, who sustains the spirit of Christmas spreading good cheer and little envelopes filled with gifts to the Florida Legislature 365 days a year.

I could illustrate the book with drawings of fat, bloated, jolly public servants, their pockets brimming with little pieces of green paper.

"Flushed pols, flushed pols what do you see? I see a U.S. attorney looking at me!"

It’s just an idea.

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