Searching for the Elusive Beanie Baby

(This was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on 4/18/97. See also my 11/19/16 essay about trying to find Wembley Fraggle for my son for Christmas one year.)

I hate to admit this, but I will risk the exposure and ridicule. I recently stood in line for twenty minutes at a McDonald’s just so I could get a Teenie Beanie Baby (I got Patti, the purple platypus).

It was dinnertime and my kids did need to eat, so theoretically I had an excuse to be there.
I ignored the drive-through window because there were at least ten cars backed out into the street. And for some reason the parking lot was really full too.

When I got inside I realized why. There were scores of us – moms and dads of all races, ages, and walks of life – there on a mission. One thing united us, you could call it a kinship of sorts. People talked to each other in line, people joked from one line to the next about why they were there, all the while glancing nervously toward the counter. What if they run out? Continue reading

Pass That Tuna Casserole, Please

(Unearthed from my archives – this essay was published in the Chicago Tribune on 11/29/94.)

Every now and then a journalist comes up with an idea for a newspaper column that makes other journalists straighten up, push back their rusty, squeaky chairs from their blank computers and say, “Now why didn’t I come up with that?”

That’s not the way I felt when I read about a new syndicated column to be penned by news personality Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve, a senior staff writer for U. S. News and World Report.

Their idea is to write a column together that will give readers an idea what it would be like to eavesdrop on a typical conversation at the Roberts’ dinner table. Topics might include the balanced budget amendment, health care, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealings of Congress and presumably other timely national and world events. You know, stuff you talk about at dinner all the time.

I had the idea for a similar column years ago, but after recording several conversations at our dinner table, I decided the world would be a better place if those conversations remained private. Continue reading

Garage Sale Treasures

(This was originally one of my weekly columns in The Beach Reporter newspaper in Manhattan Beach, CA.)

Having a garage sale every five years or so should be a requirement for every family. Not only do you get rid of things hanging precariously in the rafters of your garage and threatening lives, but you also get to know the true feelings of other family members. It’s better than therapy.

Take the following conversation (which may or may not have happened, I’ll never tell).

Wife: “I really think we should sell your surfboard. The last time you surfed the Beach Boys still had hair, and you didn’t get winded carrying the ice chest down to the beach.”

Husband: “I’m not selling my surfboard! Why, just the other day I was sitting in my office thinking maybe I’d take it up again.”

Wife: “That’s called fantasizing. What do you think we could get for it?” Continue reading

Thrift Shops

(Originally appeared in my essay collection Lake Forest Moments.)

One of the best places not to be seen is the Lake Forest Thrift Shop. Maybe it’s a leftover feeling I have from the days my mother dragged me around to garage sales, but I can’t walk into a thrift shop without a sense of furtiveness. Like if someone sees me in there, they’ll think I’m looking for cheap, used items, which means I must not be able to afford the new item, which means I must be down on my luck, which means I’m a failure, which means… you get the idea.

Perhaps you have to be brought up poor to get this nervous, sweaty-palm feeling whenever you are confronted with other people’s discarded things. (Think Scarlett O’Hara’s impassioned cry, I’ll never go hungry again…) I react the same way when I see used clothing, I’ll never wear my sister’s shoes again

Continue reading