Hope Springs Eternal – Even for Us Black Sheep

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by Jon Kaufman

Every family, despite of station, seems to have an underachiever in their midst, that one person who fails to rise to the level of the rest of the brood. Next Thanksgiving take a look around the table, if you are unable to identify the bottom feeder in the group, one of two things are certain; 1. You are part of an amazingly successful family or 2. The factory reject spilling gravy on their pants is you, or, in this case, me.

Born into a family of brilliant people, I often wondered if I had been left on their doorstep by a simple minded parent who mistook me for a newspaper.  My mom, an avid reader of The New York Times must have stumbled upon me one Sunday morning while looking for the book review section.  Noticing that I bore a resemblance to her, I guess Mom decided to keep me, removing the rubber band attached to my head, placed there to make me easier to toss from a moving vehicle.

Mom was a librarian by trade and loved books.  She would often read the most incredibly dense historical biographies or novels for fun.  These were volumes that, if assigned in any level of schooling, would cause honor students to whimper and search Netflix for a movie version of the text. A typical title on Mom’s night stand would be “The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – light reading by her standards.

For a dyslexic ten year old who judged books by the amount of pictures found among the pages, such heady material was alien. Could I have actually spawned from this academic? I had my doubts.

Despite my reservations, Mom always insisted that I was smart.  I thought she was crazy. Perhaps she bumped her head on me while I was hurtling towards her front stoop?

While my sisters excelled in school, I struggled.  I would remind Mom that even if I was a dud, her percentage of success was still way above average, and would have provided mathematical documentation of my theory if I had any understanding of how to arrive at the necessary calculations. Still, I couldn’t convince Mom that, among the stars in the firmament, I was a five watt bulb. Mom lost her battle with cancer several years ago.  True to form she hung in there long enough for me to race up from Virginia to say goodbye. She never gave up on me.

A few years ago my sister Emily told me to write a book for children about a little league team.  I would have said that Em “convinced” me to write the book, but she is a year and a half older than me and I am still compelled to obey.  Much of the book was taken from my experiences both playing and coaching baseball over the years and Em (a published author) was a great mentor.  After many re-writes, Em lined me up with a book agent.  Months turned into years and the book languished.  Maybe one has to have a wizard, a vampire or a talking lion to claim victory in today’s literary climate, or, perhaps my book isn’t all that good, either way, I enjoyed the journey.

A few weeks ago, my friend Steve alerted me to an article regarding eBooks which appeared in USA Today.  It seems that Barnes & Noble allows people to download books to there website, making these homemade creations available to the public.  Shooing the dust off of my ill fated manuscript, I launched my little novel entitled “Bench Jockey” on the unsuspecting public, at no cost to me! “Bench Jockey” can be found in the Nookbooks aisle at barnesandnoble.com for the bargain price of $2.99.  So far I have cleared $6.28 in profits, $3.14 of which will go to Steve for his timely inspiration.

Earning just above the cost of the Whopper Combo at Burger King wasn’t the goal of my little publishing project.  More importantly, someone out there actually took a moment to download my book and hopefully read it. The result was a smile I haven’t seen since Stuart Revercomb gave me the opportunity to write for this wonderful newspaper.

Somewhere above the clouds, my Mom has put down her copy of Anthony Trollope’s “Barchester Towers.” Peering over her bifocals, trying to mute her delight, she leans forward and wags her finger as if to say, “See, you should have listened to your mother.”

Maybe I do belong after all.