It was a year ago when I got the call up to the “Bigs”… a chance to write a regular column for this newspaper. It might not have seemed like a big deal to you, especially after you may have read some of my columns, but to me, I was as happy as an elephant with a peanut machine.
That’s not to say it’s easy to write this stuff. Ask any columnist, and they’ll tell you that the hardest part of writing is finding a topic. Sometimes I just sit in my upstairs office of the house, staring out the window, searching for something to write about.
I remember during one afternoon of window-watching, I saw some squirrels chasing each other in our backyard. Their cheerfully unconcerned cavorting reminded me of their unpredictable scurryings as they try to cross our streets. Thus was born the idea to write a column about how we might educate our furry nutkins in proper street safety tactics.
Another time I was grocery shopping and had a near-violent shopping cart altercation with an elderly lady. Hence, I discovered more fodder for a column as a shopping cart became a “Cartis Violentis” and a trip to Jewel evolved into a scene from a “Mad Max” movie.
I have been spurred on by class reunions, all-you-can-eat buffets, khaki clothing, GPS devices and illogical brown bears. I have been motivated by left-handers, garage sailors, Mayan calendar makers, Kevin Bacon and the Queen of England. I have been inspired by coffee, Twinkies, the Death Star, TV remotes and the hapless Chicago Cubs.
I have discovered the natural laws of the kitchen universe, the joy of living in pure McHenry County, a quick explanation of slow traffic and the truth about Columbus. I have written frontwards, backwards, in French, Spanish, Jamaican, and in microwaved English.
I have investigated Facebookies, made an attempt at being a movie critic, reminisced with Beaver Cleaver and moved through life at the speed of love. I questioned hooky-playing hockey players and complained about over-rejoicing footballers. I said goodbye to my favorite Chinese restaurant and thanks to the teachers of Connecticut. I even entertained the commonalities between me and my old boxer, Buddy.
I got grilled about barbequing and failed as a Junior Assistant Apprentice Gardener. I conceived a new neon-colored fabric that makes you walk faster (I called it “Remsped,” an anagram for “Mr. Speed”), and discovered that there’s an arrow between the “E” and the “x” in FedEx. I introduced you to a problem-solver named William of Ockham, contemplated the edge of the universe and warned you not to eat my columns.
I expressed my frustration with catchphrases and blizzard names, and calculated the rising costs of bottled water and cable TV. I welcomed the Centers of the Universe into the world, alerted you to the dangers of Baconators and dancing near picture windows, took a trip back to the early days of MCC, and linked Brussels sprouts with the Rules of the Road.
Yep, that pretty much covers my first year of writing for you. In trying to find a pattern to my columns, I have encapsulated my topic content in a frequent observation I hear from my wife: “Honey, I love you, but sometimes you don’t appear to know what you are doing.”
And so, in harmony with that theme, I will continue to present my columns to you. Ideas for new columns? Oh, I got ideas like Jewel has Cartis Violenti. Look for such topics as how banjo playing can improve your marriage, what causes trouser combustion, and more “Dear Lefty” advice. I also want to talk about a condition I call “Restless Furniture Syndrome” and will share with you my theory about “The Black Hole of Prada.”
So off I go into my sophomore season of columns. Thanks for a great rookie year. And if you get a bit confused about what I am writing, follow this simple rule and you’ll eventually understand: Just humor me.
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently looking out his window. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.