Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist Dave Barry wrote a 1972 local newspaper article about John Wayne

Dave Barry

Photo credit: Daniel Portnoy

When Dave Barry won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, he became one of the only humor writers to ever win the award. (For context, this year’s prize went to Kansas City Star columnist Melinda Henneberger for a series of columns about a police detective accused of sexual violence.)

Through the years, I’ve read at least a hundred of Barry’s humor columns and at least half a dozen of his books. I quote two one-liners of his in particular on a regular basis.

As a professional journalist, at least once a month in a conversation with a colleague or an editor, I find reason to quote Barry’s written line: “The standard practice in the writing industry is to pay authors by the word. Let me repeat that statement again for emphasis: The standard practice in the industry is to pay authors by the word.”

And in conversations about music, particularly if the discussion ventures into modern music, I also find occasion at least once or twice a year to quote his line: “Taste in music is subjective. It’s possible that you like Electronic Dance Music, in which case you are wrong.”

Yet he got his start in 1971 not as a humor columnist but as an actual serious journalist, for West Chester, Pennsylvania’s Daily Local News. His 1972 article featured below wasn’t a “humor” piece exactly — it’s a legitimate news article, albeit about the relatively lighthearted subject of the entertainment industry. There are several “almost jokes,” though. Like when he quotes somebody and then adds the aside, “Honest, that’s what he said.”

Or when he quotes another person saying “Don’t stop” in all caps to reflect their tone of voice: “DON’T STOP.” Using all-caps for an entire phrase, or even for an entire sentence, became a Dave Barry trademark over the subsequent decades. Example: “And what is the Scientific Community doing about these problems? THEY’RE CLONING SHEEP. Great! Just what we need! Sheep that look MORE ALIKE than they already do!”

Barry tells me about his 1972 article:

I remember that assignment well: It was the first time a newspaper sent me somewhere to cover a story, so it was a big deal to me. The editor of the Daily Local News, Bill Dean, encouraged me to have fun with it, which made sense, as it was really more of a publicity stunt than actual news. I remember going around New York with this comical collection of movie-premiere people and thinking, “I’m getting paid for this!” Which is still how I feel about my career.

Below are two images showing the original print edition version of the article, followed by a transcribed version.

Check out his official website DaveBarry.com, his Miami Herald humor columns here, and his Twitter account @RayAdverb. (That’s an anagram of “Dave Barry.”)

Most of all, I’d also particularly recommend the final chapter of his otherwise-comedic book Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog. An unexpected turn in his life prompted a surprisingly emotional and poignant closing chapter. (No, don’t worry, his dog doesn’t die.)



[West Chester, Pa., Daily Local News, Monday, January 17, 1972]

John Wayne lives for the kids


(Of the Local News staff)

John Wayne is for real.

I got to see him over the weekend, along with Archie Kohr of Exton. Archie won a chance to go to New York and see the premiere of Wayne’s latest movie, The Cowboys, in a contest run by the Local News and other newspapers and radio and TV stations all around the country.

Warner Brothers, who sponsored the contest, also offered to send Archie’s mother, Mrs. Ronald C. Kohr, and a reporter along.

So Friday evening I arrived at the Drake Hotel — a posh place on Park Avenue — and found out what big-time movie promotion is like.

It is insane.

It Will Identify You

As they checked in, contest winners and members of the press were issued itineraries and big yellow buttons that said “The Cowboys.”

“Wear your button at all times,” the Warner Brothers man said. “It will identify you.”

I wondered what it would identify me as. It’s hard to feel sophisticated in New York when you’re wearing a big yellow button that says “The Cowboys.”

11-Minute Dinner

The first item on the agenda was a dinner in the hotel dining room. It took about 11 minutes. As we sat down and started to get acquainted (“So I told him we got 43 percent of the teen market in North Carolina”) a Warner Brothers man took the microphone and said:

“Kids, we don’t want to disturb your meal but we’re going to give you all special cowboy jackets. Wear them. They will identify you.”

Mayhem ensued.

Kids were running around trying to trade a size 12 for a size 16 and vice versa. The Warner Brothers man was clinging to the box of jackets saying, “It’s not nice to grab. Exchange among yourselves. DON’T GRAB.”

Nothing was scheduled for after dinner Friday night, so everybody started making plans to see New York City.

Saturday morning breakfast was at 7:30. More mayhem. This time it was hats.

“Kids,” the Warner Brothers man said. “I don’t want to disturb your breakfast but you’re all gonna get a cowboy hat. Wear it. It will identify you.”

A little after nine, the buses took us over to Radio City Music Hall for the premiere of The Cowboys.

I was actually looking forward to seeing the music hall again, because the last time I’d been there I was 8 and my father had taken me to see my Uncle Jay, who played the tuba in the orchestra that comes out of the floor.

Standing In Line

Standing in line to get into the hall, people talked about what they’d done the night before in the Big City.

I stood next to a guy who told me he was a disc jockey in Nashville, Tenn. I asked him what kind of show he did.

“Seven to 10,” he said. “Swingers and flingers, pussycats and tomcats.”

Honest, that’s what he said.

Finally, they let us into the hall. There was a delay while they took movies of several hundred newspaper boys (who had also won a chance to see the emovie) waving at a Warner Brothers camera.

And then the premiere of The Cowboys began.

Good and Bad

If you like John Wayne, you’ll love The Cowboys.

Basically, it’s about John Wayne and a bunch of little kids he has to hire to herd his cattle because all the men are off looking for gold. John Wayne and the kids are the Good Guys.

The Bad Guys are a bunch of unshaven rustlers led by a particularly nasty (and long-haired) fellow who likes to beat up on little boys and shoot people in the back.

The movie is full of classic John Wayne lines like, “Next one of you pulls a knife in this outfit, you’re gonna learn better at the buckle end of my belt.”

There is a lot of killing in the movie, but it has a happy ending because all of the Bad Guys get shot and there are a few Good Guys left at the end. The leader of the Bad Guys dies a satisfyingly horrible death.

Wayne Gets Killed

One surprising thing, though — John Wayne gets killed about two-thirds of the way through the picture. That sort of stunned the audience. As he took his last heroic breaths, the lady behind me whispered:

“I never seen him get killed before.”

After the movie ended (to wild applause and cheers from the packed house) John Wayne himself came out on the stage. His presence was a bit hard to believe, since (1) we had just seen him get killed and (2) he was wearing business clothes instead of his cowboy suit.

Wayne gave a 10-minute speech, which began with what one of his writers probably thought was humor. John Wayne is a great cowboy, but a lousy stand-up comedian.

The speech became more serious. In fact, it began to sound like a sermon, with numerous references to “the man upstairs.” Wayne talked about God, Mother, and the Flag, and said he was in favor of all three.

After the John Wayne speech came the famous Radio City stage show. The theme was “Cowboys and Indians.”

Ask Questions

After the show we got to go to a luncheon and press conference with John Wayne in the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the RCA building. Wayne sat with the director and some of the other actors at the head table, and they answered questions from the audience.

Most of the questions were fairly innocuous (“How do you make that blood come out of your arm when you get shot?”). There were, however, a few tense moments.

An older, long-haired boy got up and, jabbing a forefinger towards Wayne, accused him of preaching good in his speech and doing something evil (i.e. killing people) in the movie.

The audience, embarrassed, looked angrily at the young man. Wayne said he thought everybody who did wrong should get punished. The audience clapped and whistled, relieved that their hero had won out.

A little while later, the long-haired youth’s companion made an unintelligible statement to the effect that John Wayne was destroying the morals of America’s youth.

“You run your ranch and I’ll run mine,” said John Wayne.

The crowd went wild.

Archie Kohr of Exton asked Wayne what his favorite breed of cattle was. Wayne said he raised Herefords. Archie Kohr is no fool; his father raises Herefords, too.

After the press conference, Wayne left for Chicago, where he’ll be doing the whole thing all over again with another group of kids.

We all got up to go back to our hotel rooms.

It’s not every day you see a Living Legend.

‘Neighbors’ Screenwriter Andrew Jay Cohen analyzed ‘Pulp Fiction’ for high school newspaper in 1994

Odds are you’ve seen an R-rated comedy written by Andrew Jay Cohen. His most famous movies include 2014’s Neighbors starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron (which earned $150 million domestically), 2016’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates starring Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, 2016’s sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and 2017’s The House starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.

Cohen’s love of film was evident even as a teenager, when in 1994 he wrote a column for his high school’s arts-themed publication analyzing the then-new Pulp Fiction. Some passages analyzing the characters’ motivations and psychologies still hold up as penetrating and insightful. “He goes to the bathroom three times in the film, so he is literally in touch with his bodily needs” — not so much.

Cohen even included a Pulp Fiction reference in this scene from Neighbors, when a character begins quoting Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic Biblical soliloquy, mistakenly claiming it was from the movie Jackie Brown before Seth Rogen’s character quickly corrects him. Fair warning that there are probably at least a dozen Not Safe For Work moments in this 2.5-minute clip alone. (And in the trailers linked to in the opening paragraph. And in the rest of this post.)

Below is Cohen’s intro explaining what he remembers about writing that 1994 article back in high school, followed by an image of Cohen’s original piece (which can be viewed full screen by right-clicking the image and selecting ‘open image in new tab’), followed by a transcribed version.

Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJayCohen and on Instagram also @AndrewJayCohen.

Ooof. Going down memory lane like this is like skipping through a garden of rose-bushes: yeah, it’s a gosh darn hoot and who doesn’t love prancing and dancing but gat dang do those thorns hurt and do you have antiseptic and maybe a few Band-Aids? Anyway, point is, the ol’ ego took a couple hits on this journey. But let me try to put into words what I’m thinking as I re-read this early piece of writing and film criticism or whatever:

First off, this thing is a CENTERFOLD? The article is from the high-school movies and music paper The Cutting Edge, which I was an editor of (humblebrag / conflict of interest), and my article was too long and instead of cutting the piece down, I just reformatted it and made a freaking centerfold spread like OHHH YEAH LOOK AT THIS FILM ANALYSIS, spread out over two pages, HOT AND SEXY ESSAY-WRITING.

I can’t tell if this article was an act of pride, laziness, or a mixture of both, but man, reading this again is kind of embarrassing. There are some classic other pieces in this Cutting Edge issue — Mike Lamb’s sick 4.5 star review of Blowout Comb or Todd Katzberg’s classic takedown of Bon Jovi’s Cross Road, which somehow ended up being a 3-star celebration of “when you could listen to these tapes in public.”

Anyway this Pulp Fiction thing. Here’s my thoughts. The movie changed my life. I saw it four times in the theater. I think I got more out of it each time I saw it. I was (and still am) in complete awe and admiration of Quentin Tarantino as a writer and director, who remade the idea of what a movie could be for me, before I went to college and took courses on film history and theory and international cinema — but it felt like these were coded inside this movie too somehow?

I just couldn’t believe how many connections there were inside Pulp Fiction, how even as disjointed it appeared, how much care and logic and effort — and not just Tarantino-esque but written and directed by fucking Quentin Tarantino himself — with inspired dialogue and action and redemption and revenge and all those classic Tarantino tropes laid out like a masterpiece but under the guise of a cheap tawdry paperback. I really wanted to celebrate the movie publicly and share my joy with my fellow classmates.

I guess? Some people in high school used to say “You think too much.” Maybe. But in high school I at least tried to make thinking too much… sexy? Centerfold! Haaa. What a dick. “Check out my brain, Ladies. Wanna take this thing for a spin? Behold the vooooocaaaaaaaab in this esssssaaaaaayyyyyy…”

I guess here’s my high school love affair with one of the best movies of all time, up there with my other favorites, Rashomon and Trading Places. Love you Tarantino!

Slightly ashamed (but only slightly),

Andrew Jay Cohen

And here’s the actual article. To refresh your memory before reading, Jules Winnfield is the hitman character played by Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent Vega is the partner in crime portrayed by John Travolta, and Mia Wallace is the gang leader’s wife played by Uma Thurman. Spoilers follow, if you haven’t seen the film before.

Pulp Fiction: Analysis – Speech and Symbolism

Andrew Cohen

December 1994

A common gripe about Pulp Fiction concerns its extensive dialogues and pop culture references. Some find them boring and unnecessary; some find them meaningless but still funny. But, as much as it hurts to acknowledge, they prove important in understanding the film, particularly the philosophical differences between Jules and Vincent, two hit men working for Marsellus Wallace, their crime boss. The two men face different challenges: Jules wants to quit being a hit man, and Vincent has to take out Marsellus’ wife without touching her. Their seemingly trivial conversations aid in Jules’s and Vincent’s characterization and the random references work as symbols, lending reason for their differing fates.

Conversations and symbolism add insight into their respective dilemmas. One of the most important dialogues in the film, surprisingly, is Jules and Vincent’s conversation in the Hawthorne Diner about pork, which shows Jules’s principled nature. Jules says he does not eat pork: “A pig is a filthy animal. I don’t eat filthy animals.” He does not care how good pig may taste. He says, “Sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know cause I’d never eat the filthy motherfuckers.” To Jules, the principle overrides the desire; if something is filthy, it is filthy, no matter how good it tastes. He might as well be talking about his job as a hit man. He realizes it is a filthy job, even if it has its rewards.

Tarantino uses the stolen briefcase that Jules and Vincent have to deliver to Marsellus on two levels: on one level as a device to keep the viewer interested, on another as a symbol for Jules’s dilemma. The briefcase contains “the tyranny of evil men.” The combination of the case is “666,” and everyone looks inside the case with a sense of awe. Vincent opens it, and Jules asks him, “We happy?” Vincent replies, “Yeah, we happy” and shakes his head in amazement. Pumpkin, who attempts to rob a restaurant with his girlfriend, Honey Bunny, says, “It’s beautiful.” They see the power of evil, the rewards of a life of crime (money, drugs, etc.), and they smile. For them, the tyranny of evil men is the secret of happiness. Furthermore, when opened, the case emits a gold glow and a low humming sound, suggesting a seductive power. The glow resembles the one Tarantino uses when he shows Jules and Vincent killing Brett, an amateur crook who steals the briefcase: the shot dissolves quickly from Jules into the glow, then into Vincent and into the glow again, and finally back into Jules. After all, before he shoots Brett, Jules says, “You will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee,” showing the power he feels when executing someone.

At the diner, however, Jules does not identify with the briefcase. He tells Vincent that he is going to deliver the case and tell Marsellus that he is done being a hit man. Pumpkin asks him what is in the briefcase, and he responds, “My boss’ dirty laundry.” Pumpkin tells him that doing his boss’ laundry “sounds like a shitty job,” and Jules responds, “I was just thinking the same thing.” Despite its benefits, a job as a gangster conflicts with his morality. Pumpkin then asks him for it, and he says he cannot give it to him because “it’s not mine to give.” Then he recites Ezekiel 25:17, the passage he always recites before he kills someone: “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children” and so on. He finally understands the passage, he tells Pumpkin. It means, “You’re the weak, and I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying… real hard to be the shepherd.” It’s his boss’ dirty laundry, not his. He must give it to Marsellus to cleanse himself.

Indeed, Tarantino believes that Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are the weak, too. After Jules stops them from robbing the diner, Honey Bunny cries, “I have to go pee. I want to go home.” With a gun to his face, Pumpkin says in a monotone, “Still cool, Honey Bunny” and “I love you, too, Honey Bunny,” without the enthusiasm with which he said the lines before. Tarantino no longer uses their pet names to suggest their love-on-the-run evil. Instead, he ridicules Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, the weak who try to be evil, in the same way he ridicules Brett and his friends, who cannot stop stuttering or shaking when they have a gun pointed at them. By comparison, when Pumpkin points a gun at Jules, he says coolly, “I hate to shatter your ego, but this isn’t the first time I’ve had a gun pointed at my face.” The case is a symbol of his evil, as is his wallet, which says “Bad Mother Fucker.” Jules does not allow Pumpkin or Honey Bunny to have either. Instead, he gives Pumpkin all his money “so I don’t have to kill you” and says, “I just bought your life.” The last image of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny is pathetic: arm in arm, they walk out of the restaurant with their precious bag of wallets. Tarantino makes a point in the failure of Brett, Brett’s friends, Pumpkin, and Honey Bunny: fake crooks cannot pull off real crimes.

Conversation and symbolism also reveal that Vincent usually follows his id over his ego. In the conversation about pork, he reveals he does not care whether a dog is filthy. He says to Jules, “bacon tastes good; pork chops taste good.” Indeed, Vincent is an indulgent character. His face is bloated, and he is overweight, as we see when he takes his shirt off. Travolta gained weight for the part, so we know that Tarantino thought his plumpness necessary. He goes to the bathroom three times in the film, so he is literally in touch with his bodily needs. And he does heroin. He even asks his dealer if he can “shoot up right now,” at the dealer’s house, as if he cannot wait. His actions when he is driving high — his eyes are squinting, his head is grooving to the music, and he smirks softly to himself — show his feeling of satisfaction.

So when Marsellus asks him to take his wife, Mia, on a date, he gives Vincent an enormous challenge: he cannot give in to his desires. Vincent himself calls his task a “moral test of one’s self.” Jules and Vincent’s apparently idle discussion of foot massages reveals Vincent’s understanding and appreciation of sensuality, which may help or hinder his ability to restrain himself, by either scaring him or turning him on. Whereas Jules does not see why Marsellus would try to kill Tony Rocky Horror for giving his wife a foot massage, Vincent does. Vincent says, “There’s a sensuous thing going on” in a massage, and of all the foot massages he has given, “every one of them meant something.” Tony Rocky Horror should have “known better.” Unlike Jules, Vincent understands the unstated sexual connections people feel with each other.

Later we see how Vincent must avoid a similar sexual connection with Mia Wallace. Thanks to Tarantino, we see Mia instantly as an object of desire. Her house, for instance, is a phallic paradise. The first shot we see of her face is an extreme close up of her lips almost touching a microphone. Then we see her hand moving a joystick that controls a camera. And scattered around the house are long, thick candles. Indeed, when she does come downstairs, the camera does not follow her body or her face; it follows her feet. Later, when she walks into the bathroom at Jack Rabbit Slim’s diner, she walks by a drawing of a speedy red race car. And after she overdoses on Vincent’s heroin and Vincent must give her a shot of adrenaline, we see another phallic symbol: the syringe. Liquid drops from the end, then Vincent shoots its contents straight into her heart. Talk about unstated sexual connections! — no wonder, after the night is over, Vincent blows her a kiss before he walks away.

However, his avoidance of contact with Mia Wallace, which may or may not have happened had she not overdosed, is one of the only times we see him restrain himself without aid from others. He is absorbed in his life, and his inability to see wrong in it leads to his death. When one of Brett’s friends shoots at him and Jules but misses, Jules sees the episode as “diving intervention”; Vincent sees it as something that “happens all the time.” While he is on the toilet twice in the film, he reads a book called Modesty Blaise. On the cover is a picture of a woman and a gun, so one can assume that he is reading a pulp fiction novel. Tarantino’s point is that Vincent is sitting on his ass, immersed in his pulp fiction world. He meets his fate when he goes to kill Butch, a boxer who wins a fight he is supposed to lose for Marsellus. He goes to the bathroom at Butch’s house, and when he walks out of the bathroom with his book in hand, Butch shoots him. His indulgences — the book, the bathroom, the life — kill him.

Evidently trivial dialogue and pop culture references are essential to understanding Jules’s and Vincent’s character as well as Tarantino’s message. Jules’s principles save him, and Vincent’s desires kill him. Tarantino asserts that popular culture is not wasted culture. Other artists, like Nathanael West, used pop culture to make some strong symbols in their works. Surprisingly enough, there is profundity in that which everyone knows. After all, no one trivializes Biblical references, and what could be more pop culture than the most popular book of all time?

Sesame Street writer Annie Evans won a poetry contest in sixth grade with a dark poem about a hunted wolf

Annie EvansAnnie Evans has perhaps the coolest job description in the world: writer for the television show that raised everybody, Sesame Street. Since 1993, she has written for the U.S. show and “Sesame Street Live!” as well as for international versions of the show in countries ranging from Mexico to South Africa to China to Bangladesh. She’s also an accomplished playwright and author, with several books and plays to her name. Here’s a clip she wrote for Sesame Street as a parody of Mad Men, which is funny whether you’ve seen the original or not, but does contains a few references for fans of the show:

You’ll also absolutely fall in love with this clip of Annie and her husband, fellow Sesame Street writer Marty Robinson, getting engaged on the show’s set in front of all the staff and crew — a ceremony officiated in part by Oscar the Grouch:

But Annie didn’t always write with such a happy tone. In sixth grade, she won a poetry contest with much more sinister and morbid language. First here’s her explanation of the context and backstory, followed by the text of the poem pasted at bottom.

Won the Suffolk County poetry contest in 1974. Typed it from memory since I had to memorize it way back when at the awards ceremony! I was so scared it stuck!

Wolves is the title. The contest wasn’t just for kids, it was for all Suffolk County, NY (on eastern Long Island.) I remember the second place winner was a teacher. The tone of the poem is definitely dark. I was very serious back then about animal welfare (wanted to be a vet.) I didn’t really discover my funny side until I started to write plays and perform in musical comedy. I have a dark side still (don’t we all?) but I feel comedy is more effective a tool for teaching kids on TV. I just finished a play — a comedy about infertility. So it has a dark edge to it, but my point is to make it funny, since life is. If you aren’t laughing right now at the state of things, you’re weeping.

You can find Annie on her website AnnieEvans.com and on Facebook here.  (I also appreciate Annie being the first woman to contribute on this website after launching with nine consecutive men!) And now, here’s her poem from 1974:

Slipping through a moonless night.
Stalking up to a silent prey.
Squatting down to make that deadly bite.
A wolf makes its last and final kill.
A fluttering noise shatters the silence.
Fright is passed through the woods.
Bullets shoot through the air with great violence.
And in the end a wolf lay dead in the snow.
Why did this have to happen?
Man just taking a life like this?
So another legend is confirmed.
All enemies must die
Is man’s horrible wish.
Annie Evans
Sixth grade


Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein’s first college piece was so weak “they made me submit a second sample”

Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein, present day and with his mullet in 1990. (Photo on left:

Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein, present day and with his mullet in 1990.
(Photo on left: Ron Bennington Interviews.)

Not sure which one is Joel Stein.

Not sure which one is Joel Stein.

Every year Joel Stein parodiesTime Magazine’s annual “100 Most Influential People” issue. This year he had the 100 most influential animals. Previous years included:

That’s what you’ll read in the back pages of Time Magazine which feature the weekly irreverent humor column “The Awesome Column,” written since 1998 by comedy writer Joel Stein.

Asked for an early example of his writing, Stein submitted the first humor column he ever wrote for his college newspaper, the Stanford Daily. Wanting to join the newspaper’s opinion staff at the beginning of his sophomore year in 1990,  he submitted a column titled “Fruit flies and memories,” which may be more relevant than ever during the year of the mosquito-borne Zika Virus. The column is copied below in text form, along with a photo showing how it appeared in the print edition. (His author bio also contained a very dated reference to the at-the-time-recent unification of East and West Germany.) Remembering his first piece, Stein writes:

It sucked. I was copying Dave Barry. I was the only person where they made me submit a second sample because that one was so weak, but someone thought there was something there.

Follow him on Twitter @TheJoelStein where he has just shy of one million followers as of this posting. Stein can be found at his official website TheJoelStein.com, his Time Magazine column archive is here, and and like him on Facebook here. One particularly funny and accurate tweet of his: “The only way to assure an email gets read is to send a second one titled ‘Ignore last email.'”

 Here’s his original October 5, 1990 humor column “Fruit flies and memories.” Hopefully you can get past the late-’80s style mullet haircut in his author photo.
Click on the image or open it in a new tab to enlarge.

Click on the image or open it in a new tab to enlarge.

Fruit flies and memories

The fruit fly quarantine was over. The signs which had previously warned the public (and successfully convinced small pesky mosquitoes not to fly within restricted areas) were now covered with “Eradicated — We Thank You” notices. Sometime over the summer, the Stanford community had scoped the area and destroyed the entire fruit fly population, boldly proclaiming their accomplishment with notices declaring that no fly would dare return.

As I drove up toward the Stanford campus this fall, eagerly searching for a familiar face, I was instead immediately confronted with this startling information. My first reaction was a gut one: “By God,” I thought, “what a wonderful, powerful institution this Stanford University is.” But as I drove on toward my new sophomore home in Sterling Quadrangle, I had plenty of time to consider the deeper implications of the complete extermination of the local fruit fly community. The question that was raised appeared to me in this form:

  1. In recent months, the Stanford community has worked together to accomplish the eradication of certain agricultural problems. In a short, two-page paper, describe several similar personal accomplishments of your summer and/or Stanford career.

I quickly began to form an outline of my summer experiences on the front cover of the great big blue book in my mind.

  1. bought a few CDs
  2. rented a bunch of movies
  3. read a couple of books
  4. met a girl named Bubbles

But, as I tried to flesh out my outline, I was forced to own up to the fact that none of my summer experiences could even compare to the fruit fly thing. What I needed was a contribution to the community at large, an accomplishment of some kind, some sort of a Raid can I could place on that bathroom shelf we affectionately call Life.

“Forget the summer,” I blurted (mentally) as the car rounded past the Stanford Hospital, “I’m sure I did something last year.” But alas, my search was to no avail. I hadn’t done any of the things I promised I would accomplish during my frosh year. I hadn’t done any volunteering for the local community. I hadn’t gotten straight A’s. I hadn’t even gotten A’s tickets. I hadn’t made a habit of flossing everyday. And worst of all, no one had yet told me I had become a more multicultural person.

By the time I turned onto Santa Theresa Street, I had come to two conclusions. First of all, Sterling Quad is really far. Second, I decided that this year was going to be different. I was going to do all those things I promised to do. I pulled the floss out of the glove compartment and concentrated hard on all the things that lay ahead of me. I was a sophomore, dammit; I should be kissing up to professors, applying for internships and running various (or is it sundry?) student organizations. I was a sophomore and, if nothing else, I was going to use more parentheses this year (they’re so collegiate).

It’s been a week since I first drove up to the Governor’s Corner parking lot, and I’m now forced to ask myself what I have accomplished. Let’s see…. I joined the Price Club and bought a gallon of Clinically Proven Anti-Plaque Pre-Brushing Dental Rinse (seven dollars — what a bargain!). I got my oil changed. I finally found out where the GreatWorks lectures had been held. And I even helped someone build a loft.

Well, I guess I haven’t exactly lived up to the Stanford student I feel that I was supposed to be — nor the one that was described in Approaching Stanford. But I did meet some nice people and take some interesting classes. And most of all, I had a good time.

Who cares if I didn’t end a pestilence? I’ll leave that for the big organizations. For now, I’m content to just enjoy myself, make some new friends, learn a few things, and strengthen my tooth enamel. Screw the fruit.

Joel Stein would like to know which flag Germany is using, and if he can have the other one. His column will appear every Friday.

10 million+ selling children’s author Dan Gutman wrote a 1976 quiz on whether you were cool


Dan Gutman juggling

Dan Gutman, shown here presumably doing research for his baseball book “Shoeless Joe and Me.”

When I asked Dan Gutman for some biographical information, his answer started with this: “Dan Gutman was born in a log cabin in Illinois and used to write by candlelight with a piece of chalk on a shovel. Oh, wait a minute. That was Abraham Lincoln. Actually, Dan Gutman grew up in New Jersey.”

How popular is Dan Gutman? Let’s put it this way: just this week his children’s book series “My Weird School” sold its 10 millionth copy! How can you not want to buy the collection of 50 books with titles like “Miss Daisy is Crazy!” “Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous!” and “Mr. Harrison is Embarrisin’!” Millions of others have devoured his other children’s book modern classics like “Johnny Hangtime” about a kid Hollywood stuntman and “The Million Dollar Shot” about a kid who gets the opportunity to win seven figures by scoring a half-court shot at the NBA Finals.

My personal favorite is “The Kid Who Ran For President” which is about exactly what you would think. One line that I frequently quote to this day: title character Judson Moon is asked during a presidential debate where he stands on endangered species. He replies, “If they were endangered, I wouldn’t stand on them.”

Gutman was destined for greatness ever since his first book, a now-discredited-for-decades 1986 manual “I Didn’t Know You Could Do THAT With A Computer,” which is currently selling for 48 cents on Amazon. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

He can be found at his website DanGutman.com, on Facebook here, on Twitter @DanGutmanBooks, on Instagram also @DanGutmanBooks, and his Amazon author page here.


Then again, back in 1976, “cool” people looked like this.

The excerpt he submitted is of the first thing he ever published: a quiz for his college newspaper about whether or not you were cool. I’ll let Dan tell the rest with his explanation, followed by the piece, which you can read by clicking on the photo below (showing how it originally looked in the school newspaper) or reading the copied text. If you’re wondering, I scored a +13, or “semi-cool.”

The first thing I ever published was this silly quiz about how to tell whether or not you were cool.  It appeared in the Rutgers University newspaper, The Targum.

I didn’t work on the paper, and I was not studying writing.  In fact, I was a psychology major and never took a writing class in my life.  But this idea came to me and writing always came naturally to me, so I decided to write it down and submit it to the paper.  I was amazed that they printed it.  Even more amazing was what happened the next day.  I walked around campus and just about everybody was reading and talking about this article.  What a rush!

I think that was the beginning of my career as a writer.  I gave graduate school a try, but soon I decided to quit psychology, move to New York City (where all the starving writers go) and become a starving writer.  I struggled for a long time until I found my strength–writing fiction for kids.  I can already see my style of writing in this piece–simple, conversational, concise, and borderline stupid.  To this day, I still get off on seeing people reading the silly words I wrote.

I would have come out on the UNcool end of the spectrum.

Dan Gutman - How cool are you - Rutgers Targum, 1976

Page 4, The Rutgers Daily Targum, Thursday, September 23, 1976

How cool are you?


Now that we are all settled in and the new school year is well under way, it is important that we brush up on the basic skills that take up the majority of our valuable time. Mainly, being cool.

Face it, on the college campus being cool is just as important as the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. Now how cool are you? A massive study is taking place in California (where all massive studies take place) to answer this very question. It is reproduced here. To determine just how cool you really are, simply check the items below that are applicable, add up your “cool” points, and subtract your “uncool” points. Be honest.

“Cool” Points

+1 My major is Art, Music, or Philosophy

+3 I am a vegetarian or ecology freak

+1 I have mononucleosis

+2 I went to Colorado over intersession

+1 I own a Picasso or a Magritte print

+2 I am unconcerned with material things

+2 I meditate

+2 I watch Star Trek, Monty Python, or All My Children

+3 I read Tolkien, Vonnegut, Rolling Stone, and The Voice

+5 I don’t believe in a god anymore

+3 I have at least one homosexual friend

+1 I play guitar

+2 I play guitar well

+3 I play barre chords

+4 I took off a semester to – “get my head together”

+1 I am usually depressed

+3 I write poetry when I’m depressed

+2 I ride a bike to class

+1 I took the legs off my dressers

+4 I put my head in a copy machine to Xerox my face

+3 I go to class high

+2 I talk to plants

+1 I can catch a frisbee between my legs

+4 I am a Mary Hartman freak

+2 I am into classical music

+3 I am into jazz music

+3 I often say “into”

+2 I often have dilated pupils

+2 I am left handed

+4 I am ambidextrous

+3 I see a psychiatrist

+1 I know how many presidents were assassinated in Chile last year

+4 I am a grad student with a beard, attache case, wire rims, and a styrofoam cup of coffee

+2 I steal things from the Commons

+3 I belong to any minority group

+6 I take no notes, buy no books, attend no classes, and I aced out last semester

“Uncool” Points

-4 I am a throat

-3 I saw the Carpenters in concert

-1 I eat pizza with a knife and fork

-2 I bring a tape recorder to lectures

-3 I wear sandals and socks

-4 I wear shoes and shorts

-5 I wear sneakers, black socks, and shorts

-6 I wear shoes, white socks, and shorts

-4 I carry a calculator on my belt loop

-6 I am a Young Republican

-5 I am a white person who tries to act black

-5 I am a black person who tries to act white

-6 I am a J.A.P.

-5 I am in R.O.T.C.

-6 I own a John Denver album

-2 My pants are way too short on me

-2 I admire Ronny Howard

-3 I attend Livingston College (Living Stoned)

-2 I attend Douglass College

Well, how did you do? A score of -5 equal nurd, 0 equal derf, +5 equal blah, +10 equal semi-cool, +15 equal cool, and if you scored +20 or better, you are super-cool.

Dan Gutman is a Senior Psychology Major at Rutgers College.

Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a haiku about life in eighth grade English class

In honor of Gene Weingarten's haiku in today's post, here's a haiku for this photo caption: Gene Weingarten sits Staring contemplatively At the camera

In honor of Gene Weingarten’s haiku in today’s post, here’s a haiku for this photo caption:
Gene Weingarten sits
Doing his best impression
Of Rollie Fingers

If you’ve only won one Pulitzer Prize in your life, you might want to skip this post because it may hurt your ego.

Gene Weingarten is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his work at the Washington Post, where he now writes the weekly humor column “Below the Beltway.” Recipient of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Weingarten is one of America’s most acclaimed columnists of the past few decades. His book “Fiddler in the Subway” compiles his best writings through the decades… and is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Five of his best include:

  • “The Great Zucchini,” a profile of DC’s most popular children’s magician who hides a dark and secret past.
  • “None of the Above,” a profile of Ted Pruz, a normal guy and swing-state undecided voter chosen at random in the weeks before the 2004 election, a piece which ends up revealing great insights into the voters who decide the leader of the free world.
  • “Fatal Distraction,” a sobering look at loving and well-meaning parents who accidentally leave their children in locked cars with the windows closed. One of the saddest articles ever, but should be required reading for all new parents.
  • “The Armpit of America,” where Weingarten spends a week or so living in Battle Mountain, Nevada, which had been named as “the worst town in America.”
  • “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a 2007 article in which Weingarten set up a social experiment. World-renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell played anonymously as a street performer in a Washington D.C. metro station to see whether people would pay attention when he was not in prestigious concert halls and everybody was hurriedly on their way to work. My favorite excerpt:
    • “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Weingarten is currently at work on his next book, all about the date December 28, 1986. What happened on that day, you ask? Nothing in particular — he selected the month, day, and year from random out of a hat. His author page can be found here and followed him on Twitter @GeneWeingarten.

Now here is his submission, featuring an early piece of his which is not only the shortest one the website has published so far, but also the shortest likely to be published even if this website continues for decades! Gene will take it from here:

When I was in eighth grade English class, the teacher introduced us to haiku.  I suspect that all eighth graders are introduced to haiku: It is easy to understand, and deceptively simple to do.  (It is hard to do with skill, but that is irrelevant, in eighth grade.)

We were assigned to write one overnight and bring it in the next day, to be graded.

I spent some time on this.  I was a morbid little guy.   What I came up with was:

As death draws nearer

Like an eagle hunting prey

Life becomes dearer.

I was pretty proud of this poem.   I guarantee you it kicked the crap out of all the other kids’ poems.   The teacher graded me harshly, and held it up as an example of what not to do.  Why?  Because I had rhymed it.   Haiku is not supposed to rhyme.

To this day, I hate haiku, and all un-rhymed poetry, and fucking rules.

Tonight Show writer Michael Jann’s first humor column: “Dear Uncle Bart”

Michael Jann with Jay Leno

Michael Jann was a 22-year comedy monologue writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Emmy-nominated writer for Jimmy Fallon. Writing from 1992 through the show’s finale in 2014, Jann wrote more than a hundred thousand jokes, of which Leno told more than ten thousand. (Seriously.) As part of Fallon’s monologue team, he was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series at last year’s Emmy Awards, though Jann and the show lost to The Colbert Report.

Recently he has also begun writing comedy film screenplays with his girlfriend and screenwriting partner Michele Jourdan. Two of his scripts — Laughing Stock, about a down-on-his-luck comedy writer who takes an exotic vacation, and Cathouse, about a software salesman who gets more than he bargained for when taking his virgin stepson to a legal Nevada brothel – are both currently being considered by major Hollywood studios.

Michael Jann at 22, about the same age he was when he wrote his first humor column.

Michael Jann at 22, about the same age he was when he wrote his first humor column.

But even the biggest names have to start somewhere. Jann’s first-ever entry into humor writing came in 1979 during his junior year at University of Connecticut, when he wrote a column for UConn’s humor newspaper The Forum of intentionally bad advice called Dear Uncle Bart. Jann writes of that early experience:

Long before I became a Tonight Show writer, I was a wildlife biology major at UConn during what felt like a golden era of comedy: Animal House was in the theaters, Woody Allen was in his prime, SNL had just launched — and I wanted in. I was too shy to be a performer (and probably not funny enough). But I loved to write, and I had a good idea: a fake advice column for the school paper in which I’d write fake heartfelt letters from students, and answer them myself with the worst advice imaginable. (It was also a way to flirt with girls — the name on the very first fake letter, “Donna”, was a girl in the next dorm I was in love with.) The column was an instant hit on campus; I was ecstatic. And I vividly recall my seminal moment: bounding up the steps of the Student Union one late fall afternoon, clutching my latest batch of “Uncle Bart.” I stopped at the top step, and realized: “I’m running here for no pay, and for no grade — and I’m SO happy! I want to do this for a living!” 100,000 Jay Leno / Jimmy Fallon monologue jokes later, I look back at this first effort, and I think it holds up pretty well! But what’s interesting to me is I can see clearly my career-long style of comedy writing: My method has always been to state something that’s not true, and pretend that it is, and keep a straight face. (“Childhood obesity is getting worse. I saw a kid in the park today crying that his hula-hoop was too tight.”) Today, my favorite comedy is “The Onion”, whose writers do exactly that…

Below is a PDF scanned copy of the column as it appeared in the print version, which you can read by clicking on the title below, or below that you can read the text itself:

Michael Jann 1979 humor column – Dear Uncle Bart

The Forum

April 2, 1979


Dear Uncle Bart

 Dear Uncle Bart:

I’m so upset! Somebody stole my typewriter from my room. I just don’t understand how anyone could do such a thing. It’s not very valuable, and it’s sort of broken. Whenever you push the “t” button you get a capital “T” instead. But it doesn’t bother me at all, because of sentimental reasons. My grandfather (God rest his soul) gave it to me, and my grandmother gets a big kick out of reading the letters that I send her, big “T”s and all. It’s such a shame that some creep had to steal it. Whoever you are out there, I hope you feel guilty right now, you stinking lousy piece of garbage! Thank you for printing this letter, Uncle Bart.

Donna Whitbeck

A.   Any time, kiddo. You’ve said iT all. IT’s a sad world we live in when privaTe properTy isn’T respecTed.

Dear Uncle Bart:

I heard something I can’t believe. Maybe you can clear this up. Last month, after the UConn basketball team beat Harvard, did Harvard protest the game? I heard that in the locker room after the game the Harvard team typed up an eight page protest in which they quoted Descarte! What gives, Uncle Bart?

Mark Cattalina

A.   It’s no joke, Mark. It’s Ivy League basketball at its best. I spoke with regional director of the referees, and learned that Harvard almost won the appeal. Their contention was that “we don’t exist, how can we be sure we lost the game?”

But several UConn players were quick to shoot down that argument by gesturing about their shorts, and insisting that the Harvard players “Descarte this!”


Dear Uncle Bart:

I’m a 6th semester student here at UConn, and I’ve had about all I can take. The whole education process here is warped! The emphasis should be on learning and practical application, but all these teachers seem to care about is picky little details. I think there must be a better way to gauge what we learn than by forcing us to answer those multiple-multiple choice questions on the pickiest little things. Before I go crazy, Uncle Bart, I have one question: Why are the teachers here so damn picky, and will things ever change?

Russ Stratton

A.   That’s two questions. You said one question. Work on it.

Dear Uncle Bart:

My husband and I need your help. We have two children, a boy 11, and a girl 9. They are impossible to control, they fight and scream all day long, and even when they’re getting along they drive us crazy. My husband doesn’t like to come home right after work anymore. I’ve been so irritable, I need 3 or 4 drinks before dinner. It’s affecting our marriage, Uncle Bart, do you have any solutions? Even a suggestion? Even when we go out there’s a problem – it’s almost impossible to find a sitter for such brats. How can I control them?


A.   Your troubles are over. Send now for “Uncle Bart’s Embalming at Home Kit.” It’s fast, it’s easy, and it works! Keep the little rascals still for as long as you want. Remember, embalming never killed anyone. Send $19.95 to C.D.C. c/o Uncle Bart, and if you order now, I will also send you, absolutely free, a “Sew Their Lips Kit.” Kids… who needs ‘em?

Dear Uncle Bart:

I need help. My roommate has a cat, and kittens (real cute!), but sometimes when I get really mad at my roommate I put the kittens in the freezer for hours. I know it’s wrong to take it out on the kittens, and I’m trying to stop. I’ve got to stop this because it’s wrong, and if I ever get caught I’ll be put away for… Oh no! Don’t print this letter or I’ll be found out! I’ll stop, I swear, just don’t print this letter! Please!

Begging You in Buckley

A.    I hope the proper authorities read this, and put you out of business for good.

Dear Uncle Bart:

We have a problem. My wife Jane invested $2,500 in a full-service commercial bank at 6% interest compounded daily, and she also invested $4,000 in mutual funds that are increasing in value at the same rate as inflation. She is worried because the in-laws (my folks) are coming to dinner tonight and my dad always tries to convince us to put all our money in a savings and loan association at 8% interest compounded monthly. Should she call him “Dad” or “Tom,” and should we take his advice?

just wondering

A.   You vermin! So now you’re trying to get me to do your Accounting 131 homework! You think you can fool me just by dressing it up with a few in-laws? Do it yourself you sponge, and while you’re at it, grow up!

Dear Uncle Bart:

I need your help. My new roommate has got to be the biggest loser on campus, and I’m stuck with him. He smells. And he sneezes all the time, and he vocalizes them like this: Aaachooweeee. He’s a slob too, and he has war pictures on the wall. War pictures! Whenever I have a girl in the room he won’t leave, he just sits there and tries to tell us about the Blitzkrieg. How can I get him out of here for good? Would Student Affairs be able to help?

Hateful in Hilltop

A.    O.K. Hateful, you’ve got a good case for Student Affairs, but first you’re going to do some digging. Get some dirt from this guy’s past. Was he ever a child molester or a math major? Call up his folks, they might want to help. They might want to put their little Lord Fauntleroy out of business for good. I know mine would.

Dear Uncle Bart:

I’m a 6th semester student, and the father of four. What are contraceptives?

Dante Gallucci

A.   Contraceptives are small devices that may insure your academic career. They aren’t hard to come by, but they can be expensive.

Bestselling author AJ Jacobs’s short story at age 10 “The Gerbil Caper”

 AJ Jacobs picture from LinkedIn

AJ Jacobs is a New York Times bestselling author and editor at large for Esquire Magazine, but perhaps a more accurate job description would be that he does whatever the heck he wants and writes about it for millions of readers. Most known for his “stunt journalism,” his most notable experiences have included:

His next book slated for 2016 publication is called It’s All Relative about his attempt to construct the world’s largest family tree. Using an online tool called WikiTree, over the last several years he’s proven familial connections to more than 7.1 million people. (Including me — AJ and I are 29 degrees of separation apart, through a common ancestor born 1605 in Norway named Anneke Jans. Seriously.)

AJ has graciously agreed to provide the first-ever contribution to A Step In The Write Direction, with a short story he wrote at age 10 titled The Gerbil Caper.  The tale centers on an engineer assigned to design a super fast engine for the world famous auto racer AJ Destroyer. Despite the project’s three billion dollar budget, the engineer Charles Goodham comes up with a better idea: using his daughter’s pet gerbils to run fast inside the car’s wheels. But will it work?

Here is what AJ wrote about his story from back then:

When I found this story in my mom’s attic a year ago, it was a surprise. I had no memory of writing it. I had no memory of the plot, in which race car driver puts super-strong gerbils inside his car tires, and the gerbils run so fast he wins the big race.

Reading it made me wish I could go back and give the 10-year-old A.J. some feedback. For instance: Your story sucks ass.

I’d probably be a little more nuanced with my younger self. Let’s start with the good news.

  • The penmanship is awesome. I wish I could write that neatly now.
  • The story has a lot of dialogue, which keeps it moving at a nice pace.
  • The bulleted list in the middle is a nice touch. Always good to break up the format, I think. (As you can see, I still enjoy the bulleted list.)
  • There’s some good dramatic tension as we wait to see if the gerbil car will be ready in time for the race.

The not-as-good news:

  • The first line is about the weather “It was a gloomy day,” which is never a good strategy, as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest shows us every year. You lost me right there.
  • The prose gets quite purple. “The alarm clock ticket in its usual menacing way.” (And even then, did alarm clocks still tick? I think I had a digital alarm clock.)
  • The main character Mr. Goodham is kind of a dick. He yells at his daughter, he repeatedly calls his partner “stupid.” He shows a stubborn lack of emotional growth. He learns no lessons. He’s a dick start to finish. The race car driver is also a jerk – he wins by intentionally causing his opponents to crash into each other.
  • The character names are a little on the nose. A.J. Destroyer. Dave Rubbish.
  • There is no discussion of the profound consequences of discovering super-strong gerbils. This is a massive breakthrough. Why doesn’t it occur to Goodham to bring it to the attention of scientists and the NIH? Maybe develop drugs to stop muscular deterioration and slow down aging. Instead, just wants to win his little car race.

But again, nice work with the handwriting. You should have kept that up.

Below is a PDF scanned version of AJ’s original handwritten story from 1978, which you can read by clicking on the title below, or below that you can read the text:


The Gerbil Caper

A.J. Jacobs

Oct. 30, 1978

            It was a gloomy day, Charles Goodham was walking home after failing to invent a superfast motor. The world-famous auto racer, A.J. Destroyer, has asked the Brile Motor company to make him a race car. In exchange he agreed to give the company 3 billion dollars. Charles Goodham has been assigned to design a motor within a week of the race; Tomorrow it would be 8 days till the race.

He reached his house and entered, he was soon in bed, tired. But he couldn’t get to sleep. The alarm clock ticked in its usual menacing way. Time went by quickly. Still Mr. Goodham couldn’t get to sleep. His thoughts were on the motor when a crash sounded in Jenny’s (his daughter’s) room. Mr. Goodham jerked up as Jenny half flew, half ran to her father.

“Th- th- the ger-ge- I- I- I-, th- they–”

“I can’t understand a word you are saying!” said Mr. Goodham impatiently, for it was 3:00 A.M.

Jenny paused for a minute, “Y- you know th- the gerbils I got today at- at that tiny little shop owned by that crazy little man?”

“Yes, go on,” said Mr. Goodham in a dull tone.

“Well, they just broke through the wall of the cage, and then they picked up my bookshelf and threw it across the room. They are weird! My gerbils are superstrong!”

The next morning Mr. Goodham was arguing with his boss, “But I tell you boss, my daughter has superstrong gerbils!”

“So, what of it,” yelled his boss.

“Well, maybe we could think of something to use them for. They are kind of an important discovery,” said Mr. Goodham timidly.

“Do you want your million dollar raise,” asked his boss in a menacing tone.

“Yes,” was the small reply.

“Then get to work! And invent a superfast motor for Mr. Destroyer!!” he actually screamed. “You’re already late and after that you can fool around with hamsters.”

“No, gerbils,” said Mr. Goodham.

Shut up!!” Mr. Goodham’s boss was obviously very nervous about the race and about the fact that the motor wasn’t built yet.

The days went by quickly. Mr. Goodham had not made the motor yet and his boss was threatening to fire him.

“You’ve got yourself in big trouble, Goodham,” it was Mr. Goodham’s partner, Dave Rubbish. Mr. Goodham called him ‘Stupid.’

“Be quiet,” said Mr. Goodham. He glanced into the corner of the room. A mouse scurried into the hole. “Oh, God! I forgot all about the gerbils. Lucky that mouse reminded me… Now, what can I do with gerbils that are superstrong? Hmmmm.” Mr. Goodham was dissolved in thought.

Dave Rubbish broke in, “The only thing that gerbils do is eat, and run in a little exercise wheel and make it go around. Anyway, why are we talking about ger–”

“That’s it! That’s it! Run, wheel, make it go, wow! You’re a genius, Rubbish! Stupid Rubbish is a real genius!”

“Huh, wha–”

“Listen, Stupid. You said that gerbils run in wheels and make them go. So we put gerbils in the wheels of a car and make the car go!”

“But, Mr. Goodham, gerbils aren’t big enough to make a car go!” ‘Stupid’ seemed almost proud of his observation.

“Look, I’ve got that all figured out. My daughter’s got superstrong gerbils, so they can run in the wheel and make the race car move at 120 m.p.h.!”

“Wow, neato, cool!”

“Shut up, and go tell Steve the manufacturer to make a car like this.” Mr. Goodham made a list:


  1. Light frame
  2. Hollow wheels so my daughter’s superstrong gerbils can run inside
  3. Button which gives food to the gerbils so Mr. Destroyer doesn’t have to make pit stops to feed them.
  4. Steering wheel
  5. Brakes
  6. No engine. Not needed because the gerbils make the car go. ‘Stupid’ ran out forgetting the list.


He was back in 30 seconds. “Where’s the list! Where’s the list!” Mr. Goodham handed him the list and ‘Stupid’ was off again.

When he was back Mr. Goodham questioned him, “How long did Steve say it would take him to make the car?”

“Soon,” answered ‘Stupid.’

“How soon?”

“Very soon.”

“What day?!” Mr. Goodham yelled.

“I think he said something about Sunday, at noon,” answered ‘Stupid.’

“Oh, no! The race starts at 11:45!” cried Mr. Goodham as he dialed Steve’s phone number. “Hello, Steve. This is Mr. Goodham. I just wanted to make sure you couldn’t get the car in by 11:45 on Sunday.”

“I get it in as soon as I can,” replied Steve and hung up. Never was a talkative guy, thought Mr. Goodham.

It was soon Sunday morning. Everyone was excited. Banners were up everywhere.

Mr. Destoryer and a man in a suit were walking towards Mr. Goodham and his boss.

“Hello,” said Mr. Destoryer, “this is Mr. Willow, my lawyer.”

“Now, Mr. Destroyer,” explained Mr. Goodham. “The car is a real winner!”

“How does it run?” asked Destroyer.

“Superstrong gerbils run inside the wheel. No pit stops needed. Just press a button and that gives them food!” exclaimed Mr. Goodham.

“Mr. Willow,” asked Mr. Destroyer, “give them the details.”

The lawyer started up, “Well, first of all if Mr. Destroyer gets the car after the race has started and he has that your car company will be sued 10 million dollars. Also if–”

“Now, now,” interrupted Mr. Goodham’s boss. “I know that if Goodham says this car is good, it’s good. Right, Goodham,” he said allowing Mr. Goodham.

“And now,” the announcer started and everyone fell silent, “before the race begins, I’d like to introduce to you the contestants…. Al Munster who drives a red Porsche. Fred Schirk who drives the lavender Pontiac. Mortimer Lazi, who drives the…”

“Get me my car and I’ll be happy!” yelled A.J. Destroyer.

“It’s gonna come,” assured Mr. Goodham.

“And to begin the race we have Robert Pumpkin singing our national anthem.” Robert Pumpkin was on the fourth line when there was a flash and some smoke rose from one of the cars. “It seems we have had some difficulty with Mortimer Lazi’s motor and he will not be able to race,” said the announcer.

“Hey, I wasn’t finished!” yelled Robert Pumpkin and he continued.

“And 10 seconds till the race. 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and they’re off!” yelled the announcer. The cars zoomed by.

“Where’s my car!” yelled A.J. Destroyer.

“Where’s his car?” repeated his lawyer.

“It’s coming!” yelled Mr. Goodham’s boss. The cars zoomed around again. 5 minutes passed by when finally a short car pulled up alongside them.

“Is this it?” asked A.J. Destroyer.

“Yip,” answered Mr. Goodham. “Remember, no pit stops needed. Just press this button every 50 laps.”

A.J. started up. He was way behind every other car. The car in first place was trying to lap him. Luckily A.J. was a good driver. He wouldn’t let him by. This made the first place driver very tense. The first place driver put on a burst of speed and crashed against A.J.’s rear. This didn’t bother A.J. for he didn’t have a motor to blow up.

On about the 50th lap the first car still hadn’t lapped him. Then the second place driver started to gain on the first place driver who was still trying to lap A.J. A.J. made a short stop. The second place car skidded and crashed into the first place car. They both got out and shook their fists at A.J. A.J. pushed the button that fed the gerbils and took off. All of the cars were running low on gas and made a pit stop. This was when A.J. took the lead.

It was the final stretch. A.J. was in the lead. He had no worries because he had an easy win. A fan jumped out on the track. A.J. screeched out of the way and skidded over the finish line. The gerbils had won for A.J. and Mr. Goodham would get a million dollar raise!

AJ and his wife Julie have three sons, 11-year-old Jasper and twin 9-year-olds Lucas and Zane. You can find more AJ at his official website AJJacobs.com, on Facebook with over 165 thousand followers at AJJacobs, and on Twitter at @AJJacobs.