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Inspirational Reads

I Bet You Didn't Know...

August 23, 2007

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I'm not sure if most of my close friends know this or not. I think my wife, the Comely and Buxom Boudica, might know...or not. I dunno. I might have told her about it once. I might have even mentioned this in college, probably during a long night of imbibing and Irish Drinking Tunes. It wasn't exactly seminal in the formation of the fat smartass you see read before you now, but it was a little something that happened to a younger, kinder me. As I've been reflecting on my high school days thanks in large part to the colossal upset of Homestead High School, I thought this might be apropos. Maybe it's not, but it's what you're getting, so deal with it.

Back when the losing streak to Homestead was not quite yet a decade old (i.e. 1997), I had a professional writing gig. Yep, I used to actually get paid to put words on a piece of paper and have people read it in a weekly column featured in the local newspaper, the Huntington Herald-Press (owned up until very recently by the Quayle family...yes that Quayle family). Yes, that's right, my friends, I used to be a part of the liberal media.

I got paid something outrageous like $0.50 a news item or something like that. I dunno. It was enough to keep me in comic books every two weeks (I know many of you are stunned to hear that this fat geek is into comics) and enough quarters to sneak up to Fort Wayne with my best friends Jason and Tyler to play the X-Men video game in the foyer at Wal-Mart. Anyway, it was a gig, and it got my feet wet, and it showed me, in the long run, that I really don't want to write for a newspaper. But back when I was doing it, damn, it was kind of fun. I think most of the fun came in the mail every two weeks, but it was fun nonetheless.

My job description was pretty simple: report on the news going on around your hometown. Each of the little burgs in Huntington County had a weekly appearance in the newspaper on a set day. I think my day was Friday and I reported on the news around Markle, IN. And let me tell you...there wasn't much to report.

Due to this lack of news, I would often find myself coming up with new and inventive ways of making an ass of myself in the paper. I would hold contests where people could call in and basically all they'd do is get their name in the paper. Which is really kind of sad, when you think about it. For some people, they looked forward to reading their name in my column. Life in small town America, I guess.

Some of these contests were tricky, though. I had a whole series of them that were related to signs of spring, like who saw the first robin, who had the first crocus blooming, who saw the first snake...blah blah blah. One of them was "who found the first mushrooms". Wow. Was that a fucking can of worms.

The mushrooms in question were morels, which are apparently quite tasty if fried up. I'm not a big fungus fan; mushrooms grow in dead stuff and are basically scavengers. It'd be like shooting a vulture and frying it up. I realize that pigs eat garbage, too, but the difference between pigs and mushrooms is that pigs are quite tasty. Mushrooms...not so much.

(Incidentally, my friend Jason, mentioned above, would argue this fact with me into the wee hours of the night, if needed, until I came around to his way of thinking...but it hasn't happened yet, sucker).

Those people who would tromp through the woods looking for a stand of morels--commonly known as "mushroom hunters"--would defend their territory to the end. It'd be like the fucking Battle of Azincourt where one group (usually a pair) would actually try to lead all other mushroom hunters astray if they were in the woods and they thought there were mushroom poachers around. If the poachers were persistant, then there'd be fights in the woods. There might even be shots fired. It'd usually just be a warning shot up in the air, but still. I think you get the picture.

This all seems like a lot of extra work to me. Especially for something that looks pretty much like a dick growing out of the ground. But, people loved themselves some mushroom hunting. I bring this up because it's the only time in my long career (approximately a year) that I would hold one of these contests that the "winner" (which was the first person to call in with the info I wanted) didn't want to be recognized. I remember the phone conversation well. You don't forget something of this nature. It went something like this:

Me: "Hello"
Mysterious Caller: "Mr. Jenks?"
Me: "Oh, I'll go get my dad."
MC: "Oh, no, Mr. Matthew Jenks?"
Me: "Speaking."
MC: "I'm calling about the contest. The mushroom hunting contest."
Me: "Ah, excellent. No one's called in yet. You're the first, sir."
MC: "Yes, well, I found a whole stand in my usual spot. Brought in about fifty or sixty."
Me: "That's quite a haul. Can I get a general idea where this is?"
MC: "No!"
Me: "Oh, well, then...can I get your name?"
MC: "NO!"
Me: "Well, um, I guess you're still a winner. I can't really give you any recognition if you don't give me your name, though."
MC: "That's just too damned bad, isn't it? I don't want anyone following me to my spot! Those are my mushrooms, and I'm not going to let some punk kid ruin my spot for me!"
Me: "I'm not really trying to ruin your spot..."
MC: "Well, that's fine. There, I called in. So there. And if you try to find out who this is or where my spot is, you'll find a very nasty surprise outside your door!"

I always regret not knowing who this was, because I wanted to follow him and "fertilize" his mushrooms, if you know what I'm saying.

It wasn't quite a death threat, but it was as close as I've ever gotten (aside from Aaron Brooks threatening to kill me in the seventh grade because I said his girlfriend had really nice legs (which she did), not knowing that she was going with Aaron at the time). I still to this day don't know who the caller was. I ended up writing something like this:

"We have a winner in the mushroom-hunting contest, but the caller wished to remain anonymous. And, please, people, for the love of God, don't follow him or figure out where his mushrooms are or else he's going to leave me a very ugly surprise on my doorstep." Surprisingly, the paper ran it like that, even with the reported threat in there. Most people thought I was trying to be funny, but my mom gave me this long lecture on how the pen is mightier than the sword and now how we're going to have to be on the lookout for this guy, blah blah blah.

I quit the job about six months later because, well, it kind of bored me, and I was getting ready to head off to college, and writing the column and submitting was going to be a pain. You might well imagine that Markle, Indiana (official town website) was not on the cutting edge of technology back in the late 90s, so I had no idea that people could email me news information from town and I could complete my column on the computer and email it in. Plus, that sounded too much like work and, really, I was in college, I didn't want to have to put much effort into anything.

I did kick around the idea of having a contest in the fall where people would call in with results on hunting puffballs, and I could make it a two-part contest...first to find one and the biggest. But, I really didn't need anyone threatening to leave anything on my doorstep again. Even though, come to find out, that would have been something to help prepare me for college.