June 2, 2020

“Are you really a writer, John?”

“Did you write to earn your bread and butter, Mr. LaPlante?”I’ve fielded these questions more than once. My answer to both is “Yes”.

And I have proof for you right now. All thanks to my loving daughter, Monique.

Take a look at the photo. It shows a 3-ring binder. I’ll explain in just a minute.

I had a big birthday recently. My 91st!

I got Happy Birthday! emails, cards, a bouquet of flowers, gifts. Monique’s was a humdinger. She gave it to me at a birthday dinner at their home. Her hubby David handed a big box to me. It weighed a ton. Beautifully gift-wrapped.

“What is thís?” I asked. “An encyclopedia or something?”

No answer. Just a smile.

I ripped off the fancy paper. Well, what I was looking at were two huge identical binders. They both had the same picture of me on it. Taken in Guangzhou, China six years ago. It’s the same photo that appears on my website.

The words on both were the same: “To blog or not too blog? You bet I’m going to blog!”

One book said “Volume 1” and the other “Volume 2.”

And inside were print-outs of every blog I’ve posted since I started my website back then. All in perfect chronological sequence. The first was on April 8, 2013 and the latest on April 26.

She was watching me carefully. “Like it, Dad?”

“Like it? I LOVE it, Monique! It’s fantastic! But gosh, when did you start assembling all these articles? What a huge job!”

“No, no, Dad. I began not long after you started blogging. I could see blogging was important to you.”

She smiled. “One thing I was sure of! You wouldn’t up and quit! “Well, you would publish one or two and I’d print them out. So I’ve been at it practically since you started. And of course I realized it would be a nice family thing to have all your articles together like this.”

The minute she said that I thought of something else.

Years ago back in Connecticut where I was then living I wrote stories for a weekly newspaper, “The Main Street News.”  It was a good weekly. A lot of people read it. I began writing for it. I wrote a lot for it. News stories. Feature stories. Many. And during that time I took two long trips driving through our 48 states. Alone. I covered 60,000 miles on highways and backroads. In a small, compact RV — a wonderful VW Microbus.

I was a vagabond. A happy vagabond.

I’d write about interesting things that I got to see and interesting folks I encountered.

They would get published as lead articles in the Travel section of the Worcester Sunday Telegram in Massachusetts, where I had been an editor. And some in The Main Street News.

Back home finally, I boiled all that down for an article that got published In the Travel section of the Boston Sunday Globe. The Globe is the largest paper in New England.

That Sunday edition was a full inch thick. Huge.

On Monday a friend called me. “John, I read your article yesterday. The whole thing. And I checked something. It was the biggest story in the whole paper!”

I was tickled.

Oh, during those years I also took a big trip to a dozen countries in Asia. My sister Lucie was with me through several of them. She had told me in advance she’d have to come home early.

On the road over there I’d write reports and email them back to Connecticut for publication.

They became the guts for my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!”

Lucie was one of those I dedicated it to.

Well, back then one day Monique had given me a boxful of those reports. Again, each one printed out and arranged in its right order. A precious gift.

Now and then I open the box and leaf through it. It’s a fantastic walk down Memory Lane for me.

And now her two 3-ring binders will be my second fantastic walk down Memory Lane.

As I told you, the first of the two binders is full.

The second one has lots of room still. It will be easy for her to slip in additional blog printouts. For instance, this one I’m writing right now.

I’ll bet Monique has already thought of that.

Right now they total 200 blog posts. That’s my estimate.

On average they run 2,000 words, I’d say. So, 400,000 words! My oh my!!! I do think that’s worth three exclamation marks.

But that’s over just the last few years, mind you.

But I’ve been writing professionally since I graduated from Boston University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1954.

And the next week went to work on The Thomaston (Conn.) Express, a fine weekly. As its editor, mind you. I was 25 years old. Less than two years later I was hired by the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, which published morning, evening, and Sunday papers. After Boston, Worcester is the second largest city in New England. I went from correspondent and reporter to bureau chief to feature writer to editor of its big Sunday magazine. Even wrote a weekly column for it for 10 years without missing a single week. Even wrote it from my hospital bed one week.

And I’ve been writing and writing ever since.

These scribblings have included new feature stories, travel and adventure write-ups, essays, reminiscences, three nonfiction books published, three not. Hey, even a few poems.

Think of the millions of words all this must add up to.

Of course, some of you may be quite new to my work. Well, to give you a decent idea, I’ve gathered a few of these blog posts for you. Not the whole, long pieces. No, no. Just the title of each that I gave them plus a few paragraphs to clue you in. Hope you enjoy them.

And here they are.

“I learned to play chess 77 years ago.” Yes, I did. Sorry, that’s not true. I began playing chess back then. I’m still learning.”

“I thought my circus days were over.” Not so. I was interested but I said “No!” to Monique and David when I found out there were no animal acts. How could you have a circus without elephants and lions and prancing ponies? I was wrong. I loved it!

One day in one post I found out I had erred. So I wrote the following.

“Did I confuse you? Could be.” In my last post I wrote, “Do your duty. Vote!” But maybe better, “Don’t vote!”

But I should have written, “It’s your duty and my duty to not vote when not clear about an issue or a candidate.”

Here are more.

“I just finished my toughest test yet.” And I’ve taken hundreds of tests. The toughest was the California written driving test. I flunked it the first time. So humiliating!

“Why don’t they just ask me my name?”

I was at the drugstore for my prescriptions. I started to say “I’m John …”

“No, no. What’s your address?”

Another day I was at a big-box store. “I’m John …”

“Sorry. What’s your phone number?”

At a government office, “I’m John … “

“No need. Your Social please.”

Hey, why did my Pa and Ma ever bother?!

“Seven years ago I was still living six months a year in Connecticut and six here in California.” I’d drive 6,000 miles across and meander to see this and that. It was great!

Well, I just met Bill Fairbanks, a retired Ph.D. professor. In his 70’s. He walked across the U.S.A. It took him six years. He did it in stages. His wife tagged along in their car.

“Do out him it’s okay to ban books?” Our public library just had an exhibit on banned books. A long list. Some famous, some less so. There were 20 possible reasons. Too much sex. Or too Communist. Or too this or that. And sure, they all got banned. But all can still be bought here or there. But anyway! Here in our free USA who has the right to ban books from me or you? In my opinion, nobody.

“My friend Bill Alpert, impassioned fiddler.” There are two kinds of passions, as we know. Good ones and evil ones.

His is a good one. Making music. As a concert violinist and now a sidewalk fiddler.

Bill fell in love with the violin when he was 11 in sixth grade. He’s collecting Social Security now and still playing. The same violin for 31 years, by the way–a Caressa made in France in 1901.

He practices every day. One day he got a great idea. Why not practice before a live audience?

So on nice days now and then he practices in front of Albertsons Supermarket. His practice sessions are better because some customers stop and really listen. And some like his music so much they even toss money into his violin case. Pretty good, methinks.

“Have you had narrow escapes? Close calls?” I’ve had a few. The most terrifying was when I was traveling alone through India on a long, jam-full train and

I got caught in a riot. And a couple of thugs came looking for me, and all because I was a lone American.

“I go to our county jail to visit Prisoner 846975.” Jack is an old man now. I’ve changed his name and number. He’s a friend, sort of. I like him.

He was picked up by the cops for failing to report in monthly to his probation officer as he is supposed to 12 months a year. He is a convicted sexual abuser. He is awaiting trial. Couldn’t make bail.

He’s told me the story. He was 19. She was a bit under age. He felt she wanted it and he gave it to her.

He admits to other law problems but small stuff. That initial crime has ruined his life. People know and he knows they know.

He has to check in every month, or else. Getting decent work hasn’t been easy. He’s been a house painter mostly. He can’t even be within so many feet of a school. On and on. AndI repeat, he’s awaiting trial.

The big question is, does that conviction of his really fit his crime? She was a bit under age and he felt she wanted it and he was just a dumb kid of 19 ….

And now he’s a convicted sex offender for life?! Can’t there be a smarter, more sensible way? For people like him and society?

“A dream Airstream in Albertsons Supermarket parking lot.” Yes, I spotted a gorgeous, gleaming silver Airstream trailer. It’s famous. The first really fine travel trailer. Luxurious. Pricy. Still an unusual sight. Designed, built, and popularized by the great Wally Byam.

He would lead price-is-no-problem Airstream owners on scenic caravans across the USA and even across Africa.

But for a young family man like me there was no way I could ever hope to own a top-of-the-line Airstream.

Yet the day came when with my wife Pauline and our two little kids in a home-made tent trailer I could take six weeks off. Drive across the USA from Massachusetts to California and back. And mind you, in days long before Interstate highways. And see great cities and famous national parks. And humble burgs and splendid museums. And talk with a fabulous mix of Americans. And write about all that and get it published. Wow!

Now you have seen a small sampling of my works. Well, to get back to the big, original question I get asked, am I a writer? Do I qualify? What do you think?

Truth is, writing is a must for me. I believe I was born to write, among other things. It’s the only way I can explain it. Hope I can keep it up….

Now I must repeat one essential thing.

As you know now, this huge project of printing out and assembling these blog posts was totally my daughter Monique’s doing.

I had no clue. Bless her!

She has a husband. A big and demanding job. Lots of responsibilities.

This was not just a project for a week or two. She got started shortly after I began blogging.

It was one more way for her to say, “I love you, Dad.” Notice, I said one more way.

How fortunate I am.

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