I was in my second year of teaching at The American School in Aberdeen, Scotland. It was a Saturday and it was sunny with temperatures in the seventies. If it is a sunny day in Scotland and that warm, you get yourself right outside no matter what you have going.
|Headmaster's Cottage - American School in Aberdeen|
I needed to do report cards for my first grade class, so I packed up all the papers and forms and a blanket and drove out to Hazlehead Park. I spread the blanket out and got to work in the beautiful sunshine. The park was full of pale, bare-chested Scots spread across the grass having picnics, kicking soccer balls around, or just catching some rays.
I was in the middle of trying to decide whether Scotty Fournier should get an A or a B+ in Social Studies, when I heard the whirring and clicking of bike wheels. I looked up to see two young kids on bikes heading directly for my blanket. They were about twelve years old. The first was wearing mirror sunglasses, a silky red basketball shirt, red shorts, and was riding a BMX bike with a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read “Mongoose” on it. The other fellow dressed in a white t-shirt and some brown cut-off shorts hung back a bit.
Sunglasses rode directly up and stopped at the edge of my blanket. Clearly he was the leader of the duo. He tilted his head toward me. “Whatcha doin’?” he asked in a broad Aberdonian accent.
“I’m doing report cards,” I offered. "I'm a teacher."
Sunglasses momentarily froze. Then he jumped off his bike and sat down. With obvious surprise in his voice he stammered, “Yer ‘merican aren’t ye?”
|The American School in Aberdeen - Lower School|
“Yes. I teach at the American school here.”
His partner plopped down beside him saying nothing. Sunglasses then asked the question that started a conversation I would not soon forget. “Wha’s it like in ‘Merica?”
For the next half hour I was peppered with statements that ended with question marks.
“Everybody in ‘Merica has a swimmin’ pool, yeh?”
“Yer all runnin’ around shootin’ at each other all the time, eh?”
“Ye drive yer cars all fast and crazy, right?”
“’Merican kids is all brainy, huh?”
“Surely ye live near Disneyworld?!”
I tried my best to give him a little more realistic picture without totally bursting his bubble about the wonders of 'Merica, but he had a pretty vivid ‘Merica already formed in his head from Starsky and Hutch and Dallas.
After about half an hour of this, Sunglasses announced that they had to be off and gettin’ their dinner. So they rode away leaving me with this incredibly fun conversation in my head. I felt compelled to share this. It was too funny. I jotted down as much as I could remember. Then I found myself structuring it, crossing out stuff, moving paragraphs around. While the report cards sat undone I worked on my little story. For what I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t written anything since college and those pieces were for classes. I’d always enjoyed writing, but most of that was back in grade school and high school when I could write whatever I wanted. Back then I thought about maybe someday being a writer, but I had gotten busy with some other things. Like making a living.
When I got home I retold the incident to my wife. She laughed. Encouraged I typed up my notes. Did another draft. Then another. Then another. Over the next few days I found myself going back to it each night after work, polishing it and trying to make it perfect. Finally I titled it, “Boys on Bikes.”
I liked it. It made me smile. But, I asked myself, what was this for? Then I remembered The International Schools Services Quarterly. A free newspaper for overseas teachers. I decided to send it to them. Maybe other overseas teachers would want to read it. They could probably relate to the little encounter between two cultures. I went to the library and read up on how you submit stories, typed up a nice copy and cover letter, put a SASE in the envelope, and off it went into the post.
|The author "back in the day"|
Then a weird little thought occurred to me. Why not send it to The New Yorker? I loved The New Yorker. I mean, people like Woody Allen, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Irving wrote for The New Yorker. But it was late at night, when I tend to have these inane ideas, no one would ever find out, and I had the stamps, so another freshly typed copy of "Boys on Bikes" went out. I was certain it would be totally ignored, but well, you never know...
A month later, having pretty much forgotten about the whole thing, I found one of my return envelopes waiting for me on the dining room table after work. Inside was a letter from The ISS Quarterly. A very kind editor wrote that they would be delighted to publish the piece in their next issue. I was about to be published! Okay it was a free paper with a readership of maybe 2,000 and I was being paid in copies, but I was being published! People who were not my relatives or classmates would read something I wrote. Hooray! I felt like a real writer!
A month later my other return envelope arrived on the dining room table. Inside was my manuscript, unmarked and folded neatly, with a little piece of official New Yorker notepaper clipped to it. Unsigned, but handwritten in blue ink were these words:
“Nice piece, but not quite right for us.”
I was definitely a writer.