Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Reverse Fresh Air Fund (January Theme: Firsts) Bob Krech

In 1989 I returned to the United States from six years teaching overseas. My first teaching job back in New Jersey required that I attend a series of trainings on teaching reading and writing. In the writing workshop I was part of, the teacher asked that we write a piece about something in our childhood and use the five senses to describe the time and place. I began writing about an unusual arrangement my parents put together for me when I was about nine years old. They were both from Jersey City, a very urban environment. When my father, a state trooper, was stationed farther south, he and my mother moved to the suburbs. I grew up in Lawrenceville, a far cry from Jersey City. My parents felt it was important that I get to know what life in the city was like and so every summer I would go to live in Jersey City with my grandparents for two weeks, sometimes a month. And so the Reverse-Fresh-Air-Fund was born. Take the suburban kid and move him into the city for a few weeks during the summer. A novel idea and one I enjoyed immensely.
Jersey City, NJ

Lawrenceville, NJ
As I wrote about the sweet soapy smells that come with living in an apartment on the same block as The Colgate Palmolive Company, the sounds of tugboats on the Hudson River and sirens on the boulevard, the feel of a broomstick in your hand playing stickball, the view from the fire escape out the back window of the kitchen where improbably there was a cherry tree in the little yard, the sweet, sour, tangy taste of lemon ice from the food carts that supplied the kids and Colgate factory workers, I gradually finished up a piece I titled, "The Reverse-Fresh-Air-Fund." My instructor read it and suggested that I submit it for publication. The only magazine I knew that might have an interest something like this would be New Jersey Monthly. So I sent it off with very little hope of seeing it published, but pretty pleased that the teacher thought it good enough to submit.

Three weeks later I was in the kitchen helping get dinner together when the phone rang. It was an editor from New Jersey Monthly saying they'd like to publish my story. I was excited! My first call from a real editor. And then she offered me money!! Hundreds of dollars!!! (Okay, three of them.)

I'd never been paid for my writing before. I was happy enough just to see something of mine in print. Months later the piece appeared in the magazine on the last page. They had re-titled it, the more politically correct, "Summer in the City." And then soon after, I got it. My first check for writing! My initial crazy impulse was to frame it, which was totally out of the realm of the possible, so instead I think I photocopied it while the real thing went toward something pretty practical. Probably baby furniture. Or maybe the electric bill. The money is long gone, but the memory of that first feeling of an editor thinking that something I wrote was good enough to pay for-- that still makes me smile a little.

4 comments:

  1. Even though it's not about the money, there's still something about getting payment for your work, isn't there? Really makes you feel as though you've done something of value.

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    1. You're right. It is definitely not about the money. Especially on an hourly basis!

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  2. I LOVE your description of the city life! Wonderfully romantic. Wish they'd gone with your original title though!

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    1. I liked the original title about 200% more than the new one. Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed.

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