I was easily amused as a child. I suppose I still am. Born in 1949, I grew up the middle child in a middle-class family in Northern California, living in a series of cookie-cutter suburban communities. As a side note, my parents lived in more than forty different houses or apartments during the first fifty years of their marriage. For the longest time I thought “Escrow” was the name of some curmudgeon who was hoarding my parents’ money and refusing to release the funds.
My sister, two years older, was always outgoing and exceedingly popular no matter where we landed. I went the other direction. Whenever adults described me they always inserted a modifier: they said I was terribly shy or horribly shy or, the most painful of all, painfully shy. If “Most Likely to be Marked Absent by Mistake” had been a school contest category, I would have won it hands down.
Being shy was okay because I surrounded myself with words and pictures. Compensating for a lack of nearby book stores, I visited the library often and earned an early reputation for racking up overdue fees. It’s a habit I couldn’t break even as an adult and a shame I shall carry to my grave.
At home, I owned several volumes of Hardy Boys books, while an aunt would let me borrow several volumes from her collection of Oz books. I was an early mash-up artist and, in my imagination, would think of unwritten books waiting to be published, such as The Hardy Boys in the Mystery of the Missing Tik-Tok in the Land of Oz or The Hardy Boys and the Sinister Captain Salt of Oz. Some books are better left unwritten.
Of course, I inhaled comic books and had amassed the kind of collection that if owned today could easily cover my 401k losses from 2007.
I also loved reading the newspaper comics page, especially the Sunday edition and its colorful, over-sized drawings. Thanks to an ingenious product known as Silly Putty, I could spend an entire afternoon with the Sunday comics (I told you I was easily amused). I would take the putty, slap it on a favorite comic strip, press hard, and pull away, capturing an image of the strip. And that’s when the fun really started, because by stretching the putty I could distort the image. By the time I was done with stout and bearded Bluto, he was as thin as an Abba-Zaba bar at a taffy-pulling contest.
My favorite indoor pastime, however, was a word game a friend and I played, long before “Words with Friends” became a popular smartphone app. We would comb through a dictionary for a long word, find one and write it at the top of a sheet of paper. Next, writing furiously and separately for thirty minutes or more, we would compose as many words as we could think of, using only the letters at the top of the page.
“Antidisestablishmentarianism,” clocking in at a long 28 letters, was our favorite starter word. We were told it was the longest word in the English language and had no reason to doubt it. As an asthmatic, I could barely pronounce the word without taking big gulps or wheezing after the fifth or sixth syllable.
One day my partner-in-words brought in a medical dictionary and that single change lifted our game to an entirely new level:
Those early years were influential. But I didn’t grow up to become a sales rep for Big Pharma. From working as a journalist in the United States Navy to teaching English composition at a small university, from magazine cartooning and screenwriting to crafting user manuals and marketing materials in high tech, I remained loyal to my roots. I was a “word and picture” kind of guy. Still am.
Self-portrait of Mark Saunders – By Mark Saunders – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Mark Saunders prefers to write short, humorous pieces befitting his height and attention span. His humorous memoir about dropping out and moving to Mexico, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, was voted the #2 book in San Miguel in 2012. An award-winning playwright, screenwriter and cartoonist, Mark is a former winner of the Walden Fellowship, awarded to three Oregon writers or artists each year. Back in his drawing days, more than 500 of his cartoons were published nationally, in publications as diverse as The San Jose Mercury News, Writer’s Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, and Twilight Zone Magazine. He once owned a Yugo (please don’t ask about the car). Mark is currently working on The Duke of San Miguel, a sequel to his humorous memoir about life south of the border.
Blog / Website: msaunderswriter.com