I am writing to you to serve notice about an incident that took place in 1972 which I have never forgotten and which, as is perhaps obvious, I still regard with bitterness and regret -- an incident in which you took advantage of my distance, my shyness, my politeness and, most egregiously of all, my tender age.
The scenario is as follows.
I was in Grade Two. Early that year, I managed to scrape together my meagre allowance and fill out an order for a book featuring the inimitable Pippi Longstockings. I don’t remember which book it was, but it had presumably been featured in your 71-72 catalogue, so perhaps you could look it up for me.
I was already a fan of Pippi, her stockings, her freckles and the actress who played her in the dubbed Swedish film adaptations that had recently been unleashed onto North American TV. Pippi was probably the first crush I ever had, which might go some way towards explaining the world of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club
. Just saying.
Waiting for the Scholastic
shipment to come in was the first thing that taught me about patience. I had to allow for time to pass, and though it was true that some things took a long time, it was also true that when that time was past, it suddenly seemed to have been light and easily borne.
What’s more, when those boxes were carried into the classroom, the excitement was almost overwhelming. How was it possible that this nearly unimaginable block of time had actually gone by? How far I had traveled, and now I was mere steps away from my goal: holding a shiny, slim new BOOK in my seven-year old hands.
And then I’d have it forever, free to peruse it for the rest of my life. It was my own searchable thing.
When my shipment was handed to me, though, there turned out to be some mistake -- I thought (at first) easily remedied. My book turned out not to be Pippi at all. Much to my horror, I was handed a changeling called Ramona the Pest
-But Mrs McMahon, I didn't order this.
-Says here you did, dear.
I remember going to the front of the classroom to dig through the detritus of the box to see if there was some mistake, if my Pippi book was down among the paper shavings somewhere. But alas, no. Pippi was out of stock, I would not get my stockings, and SCHOLASTIC
had assumed I would be content with some other girl. Your company assumed that I, an innocent seven-year-old boy, would take one girl over another, just like that.
Though I don't remember which Pippi I was after, I do recall the exact edition of the book that was placed in my sorry little hands.
The last thing in the world I wanted that day, if I was not going to get a Pippi book, was this. There had been several other books in the catalogue that had fought for primacy with Pippi. Pippi was a fighter though, and had won the day. Ramona? I don't know if she was even in there.
I've listed some questions for you:
Why did you do that to me?
Why did you think I would want Ramona?
How could you do that to me?
What did you take me for?
That's what I thought at the time.
Still, that's no excuse either.
These days I can't help thinking you took me for some kind of slut.
Shame on you, anyway, whatever you thought.
I still think about it, after all these years. All my life since then I have often avoided popular things, in the event that I will be as disappointed as I was on that day -- a disappointment which, by the way, could have been avoided by the simple act of sending me my money back instead of Ramona the Pest
It has recently occurred to me, however, that I am now an author. A published author! published by a fellow venerable New York institution no less!
I am therefore in a good position to seek redress!
(I'm serious, you know. That was not an intentional rhyme.)
Furthermore, it occurs to me that the sin you committed against my mute and innocent age may have been repeated over the years against countless other scholarly but diffident children. I mean why not? If I didn’t protest at the time, then what was to stop you from taking advantage of other children, just like me? How many other kids have got the wrong book simply so you could clear off the order desk and go home?
See, if an adult had ordered a history of the American Revolution
, would any self respecting publishing house have sent them a book of essays on the influence of the French Revolution
(perhaps with a note explaining how the French Revolution is considered historically more important than the American one, despite the fact that it happened afterwards. Nothing special about a colony revolting against the motherland. But the people rising up and overthrowing their own government? That's huge! Take this book instead. It has a nice introduction written by Carla Bruni
and a free CD
and DVD! Take this book instead!)
Oh it feels good to finally get that off my chest.
Don’t get me wrong. I think you guys are great. In those days, you also published a book of poetry, Grab Me A Bus
, that had actually been written by children and for children. I loved that book.I was able to imagine, through the auspices of that book, what it would be like to write and be published. There were photos too.
(It occurs to me that perhaps it wasn’t as popular as Pippi Longstockings, and so it never went out of stock. Otherwise I might have gotten a copy of the collected poetry of Beverly Cleary
I held on to my copy of Grab Me A Bus for 20 years, until I finally gave it to the young son of a friend who was moving away from the small town where he lived to the big city. The kid was anxious about it. My friend asked me to write him a letter about my experience of that same kind of journey, undertaken at about the same age as he was.
So I gave the kid my copy along with the letter, and then later I found I missed my copy and tried to find another one on the Internet. But not everything is available on the Internet. I couldn't find one.
Though I did discover there that some kid somewhere (Australia, I think) had plagiarized the title poem from that collection (If You Grab Me A Bus) and used it to win an online poetry competition in, like, 1999. The poem was up on their site, proudly printed. I wrote and told them to take it down.
But not before reading it and being reminded how much I missed by copy of Grab Me A Bus.
In conclusion, I would like to say that you don't need to send me my copy of Pippi Longstockings.
And you don't need to send me my money back.
What I would like, though, is for someone to head down into the dusty basement of Scholastic
and dig out at old 1974 copy of Grab Me A Bus
and drop it into the mail to my good friends at the Other Press
. I can pick it up later.
That would certainly clear the air between us.
Yours Most Sincerely,
(Adult & Published Author)