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I Don't Want to be a Pirate - Writer, Maybe by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview

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I Don’t Want to Be a Pirate – Writer, maybe

 

By Robert S. Swiatek Table of contents

1. Don’t you understand English?
2. Make some lemonade
3. Read my lips and other body parts
4. Everything causes cancer
5. Computers…you can’t live with them
6. How can I be overdrawn?
7. Sign before they read
8. Don’t get caught in the WEB
9. Mousse marketing madness
10. This little piggy went to market
11. Smoke peace pipe
12. Eye patches and peg legs
13. Help – I need a paddle
14. If at first you don’t succeed
15. Plant the potatoes now
16. When do you two get involved in this? 17. But that would leave you with one
18. Laughter is the best medicine
19. My English ain’t the best
20. Voodoo acupuncture
21. I wrote a song but . . .
22. She criticized my brownstone
23. “Are you experienced?”
24. Smile…people will wonder what you’re up to Dedication

This book is dedicated to Norie Freedman, Patty Lynch and Abbie Swierat, who left the earth way too soon and to my mom, since I’m sure her genes were responsible for this book. Also, I couldn’t have made it without her.
Introduction

Children are hereditary – if your parents didn’t have any, you won’t either.

Langston Hughes wrote a book called, I Wonder As I Wander, which I thought was excellent and had a great title. The more I read, the more amazed I am by the appropriateness of the titles given to so many books. It almost seems as though there is a title meister out there who reads books and then comes up with these gems. You’ll see some of the explanations for my book titles as you read on.

Once you finish reading the last chapter of I Don’t Want to be a Pirate you can’t just skip to it without reading the rest you should realize where I came up with my title. Being a Seinfeld fan, I couldn’t resist taking Jerry’s line from the puffy shirt episode. A friend of mine mentioned that he didn’t think that particular show was one of the top twenty shows and though it had some good laughs, I agreed with him. But since it was memorable, I thought I would use it.

The first consideration for any writer is to have a catchy title, one that people won’t forget. My title could have been The Journey of an Author, but that sounds boring and probably won’t sell books. It’s also easily forgotten. A title should hang around like a hemorrhoid; thus readers might spread the word to others – about the book, not the other thing, which I don’t wish on anyone.

As you read the book, you should be amused and even have a few laughs. I’ll be disappointed if you don’t at least smile. My previous five books are each known for their entertaining quality part of that is the specific connection to the title. You may not laugh as much as watching the episodes of Seinfeld dealing with the marble rye, mutton, the Junior Mint or The Cubans, but I sincerely hope that you feel that this book is almost as funny as my 2005 book, for seeing eye dogs only. People told me that they laughed body parts off while reading it. Next time I see them, I’ll have to check what’s missing and if it becomes them.

I have been writing for some time, as you will find out in this book. You will also discover where the idea for this book originated: a literary event in November 2005, in which I came very close to not participating. I will get into the details later. I feel that what I have learned from dealing with agents, publishers, writers, book stores and marketeers – you may have a different name for them but you haven’t been there – will be of some assistance to other prospective writers.

I think the word “expert” is a gross exaggeration or misnomer. I really don’t believe these people can be found, as least not on this planet. For example, consider the phrase, “terrorism expert.” I feel the term is misguided, since these individuals don’t exist. If they did, why do we still have terrorism? Actually, it seems like those who strap explosives to their bodies or drive vehicles loaded with bombs are the “experts.” They have short lives, but of course need not worry about retirement or paying off their Discover Card bill.

I certainly do not claim to, nor will I ever be an “expert,” despite my dealings with the industry. There’s so much yet to be learned; my growth associated with the book business continues with each passing day. If writing a book is not on your agenda, then my hope is at least that you will be entertained. If authors can benefit from anything in it, this book will be a success. By the same token, this book is intended to convince people that not everyone can be an author. It’s not an easy trip.

They say that experience is the best teacher. Added to that might be that it’s a hell of a way to learn. Heuristic learning is probably the best way to obtain knowledge, despite what comes with it. The first book I published, The Read My Lips Cookbook tells of my journey in the kitchen, cooking for myself while not poisoning others. I did make chicken salmonella once – it wasn’t intentional – but I was the only victim and it wasn’t fatal.

After departing my parents’ home – I wasn’t booted out – I was forced to cook out of necessity, which you can read about in the cookbook. This book chronicles another trip. Along the way, I have had moments of great exhilaration and joy as well as times of disappointment. Most of the despair had to do with the fact that I had to deal with people who reached a level of incompetence.

There is another connection of the title to the book business, which deals with the piracy in the writing industry. When a writer winds up with under a dollar for a book that retails for twelve or thirteen dollars and the middlemen, such as the publisher and bookseller split the rest, a great injustice has been done. After all, the author is the one without whom there would be no book! I don’t feel that such a pittance is a fair compensation for the effort. You can only call the resulting scenario piracy. And these people don’t have eye patches. That, by the way, was another funny Seinfeld episode.

An additional significance of the title has to do with the life of a pirate. Being on the high seas, this individual certainly experiences adventure. Invariably, there comes a time when things aren’t so rosy. The fan keeps getting struck when things hit it! Suppose he boards a boat seeking booty only to find out that the people on board have no cash, only American Express Travelers’ Checks. These are worthless to him, as he doesn’t have the ability to match the signature. His writing hand is the one with the hook.

When he heads over to the cafeteria for some grub the dining room and chef have been replaced because of cutbacks in the corporation he finds the main entree is tripe, something he can’t quite stomach. The soup de jour is black bean soup, another choice he doesn’t favor. If you haven’t read my first book, you’ll miss the laugh with this bluish gray dish, or is it grayish blue? There are times when this pirate wishes his bird friend would find another home. Life, as he knows it may have its thrills, but there are bad times as well, not unlike the world of a writer.

Another meaning of the title concerns the career paths people take. In many cases they may study mathematics and wind up as social workers. That deviation may not be all that bad and the individual may even find a great deal of satisfaction in an alternate path. Parents may put pressure on their children to become doctors or lawyers. Other parents may even say that they don’t care what a child does in life as long as she is happy. The best part may be that the father and mother actually mean it. Other offspring may not be as fortunate and as a result, the son revolts and says, “I don’t want to be a pirate!” He doesn’t say anymore since he’s not sure about writing.

After finishing this endeavor, I thought of a slight variation in the title, with the change of a mere word. I’m sure that you can guess which one. I felt it was a great alternative, but after weighing all the possibilities, I decided not to alter what I had. You’ll have to finish the book to really appreciate this other option and its significance. However, once you complete the journey, I’m sure you will agree that it would have been appropriate as well. My thought was to replace “Pirate” with “Bullfighter.” 1. Don’t you understand English?

It’s tough to determine what really gets one going in an endeavor but I believe my writing adventure started way back before I was a teenager. I lived in the city of Buffalo, not far from St. Luke’s Church, where our family worshipped. I also attended the school of the same name. Today those buildings now house the St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, located at 325 Walden Avenue in Buffalo and whose most important product is love. It is run by Amy Betros and Norm Paolini, and it provides compassion, food and shelter for the less fortunate.

My mom and dad rented a place at 375 Walden Avenue for the five of us – this included my two brothers, Tom and Ken. We lived upstairs and my parents tended a butcher shop on the first floor. My Mom was the main proprietor of the store as my Dad had a few other full time jobs. The business truly was a “Mom and Pop” store – they sold soda too! Dad was a workaholic and set an example for my brothers and sister relative to the work ethic. He also inspired me to write a book on work, which unfortunately he didn’t live to see published.

That’s probably enough of a background so let me continue. I had yet to reach my teenage years but I can recall some really exciting and happy moments at that address. Those came about when I went down the street to the library. Our family may not have been rich enough to travel to the ends of the earth but I made my own journeys through books. That small building provided me with the means to go to Europe, Africa or Asia without buying an airplane ticket. Yes, there was air transportation at that time even though the term “concord” referred to a type of grape and not a mode of high-class transportation. I can still recall the thrill of walking into a room with so many books and so little time.

Obviously I didn’t read Shakespeare and Milton in those days. I really can’t recall that many of the titles, but books piqued my interest in reading, which I think is a requisite if you plan to be a writer. I’ll spend more time developing this thought later. However, I did check books out and read most if not all of them. Soon I’d returned for another batch.

At that time libraries didn’t have CDs or DVDs or even videos. “Uncle Miltie” wasn’t a relative of mine – one of my uncles reminded me of him, or maybe it was the other way around – but I did watch his program on a black and white screen. For those of you who are not older than dirt, “Uncle Miltie” refers to Milton Berle, the great comedian on the Texaco Star Theatre beginning in the late 1940s. Television was in its infancy and there were only two major networks. ABC had not yet arrived on the scene. Maybe I didn’t view that much TV because there were no “reality” shows. Perhaps my limited television viewing had something to do with a preference for the written word. One good thing about that situation is that it ingrained in my brain the conviction that books were so much better than the addictive box in the living room. Today, the gap has gotten even wider and there is no sign that it will ever get close again!

We moved from that home to the house on Borden Road in Depew that my mom sold in the fall of 2004. My siblings and I, including my sister Pat, who was born after we moved, lived there through most of our childhoods and all of our teen years while my mom and dad spent half their lives there. Though I wasn’t to see that library in Buffalo ever again, I found other ones. I continued reading and towards the end of my years at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster, I got involved with the school paper. This may have been the real beginning of my life as a writer.

Senior year I was the sports editor of the paper, The Lance and I became an ink-stained wretch. I wrote articles about the major sports: baseball, basketball and football. When you’re the boss, you can write about the sports you like and pass off the other less desirable work to your subordinates. I had a system for getting information for the games as I created a log of the game I covered. In football, I reported each play in a notebook and, in effect had a playby-play account of the game, which went something like this. Bob Gaiek, number 16 carried the ball for a 15-yard gain; I would write “16 – 15G.” Marty Scherrer, number 18 completed a 20-yard pass to Tom Schmitt, number 14; I would record, “18 to 14 – 20G.” Of course, to be able to accurately note each play, I roamed the sideline. This approach seemed to work quite well until one afternoon Coach Woj needed a person to work the chains and I was volunteered. The “chains” – still in use today, despite technology – consisted of a ten yard chain connected by two poles with a third pole, all of which determines where the ball is on the field and if enough yards were gained for a first down. You’ll have to look up the rest. Suffice it to say this additional assignment resulted in quite a challenge as now I had multiple tasks.

Somehow I managed, and throughout the year, I wrote the articles for these sporting events. Writing about the games was thrilling but I’m sure it wasn’t very exciting for people reading about the contests. As a writer in high school in 1960, even if I had a scandal to spice up the piece, I wouldn’t have added that to the article. My writing could only be described as ho-hum. It just relayed what had happened on the playing field in factual detail and wasn’t very colorful. I don’t recall any humor being tossed in.

However, I do remember writing an article for Mrs. Jack Cavanaugh’s English class that raised a few eyebrows. It was a humorous spoof on “women drivers.” It was tonguein-cheek and I apologize to all the females who were or may be offended by this. We all know that neither sex has a monopoly on atrocious behavior behind the wheel. But anyway, my teacher loved what I had composed and got a few laughs. She encouraged me in my writing and this may have been the spark that really got me going in the books that I have had published so far.

I had the pleasure of attending the 45th reunion of my high school class on Labor Day weekend in 2005. I was part of the committee for the event and some of my classmates brought in some memorabilia from our high school days. This included copies of the school paper, which had articles in it that I put together. I didn’t read them as I figured I had better things to do than read boring sports features.

On that Saturday before Labor Day, I saw one of my classmates for the first time in over thirty years. This individual also shares my sense of humor. On talking to this graduate, Mrs. Cavanaugh’s name came up again. I was told a story that reminded me of the comedian Gallagher, the king of the “Sledge-o-matic.” I had the opportunity to absorb his act at Melody Fair in North Tonawanda in the late 1990s. That town is a suburb of Buffalo to the north and Melody Fair still exists but the name has been changed.

When I walked into the “circle in the round,” I noticed that every seat was covered in plastic and there was an additional plastic bag on top of each chair. There’s a very good reason for this and you know what it is if you are familiar with this comedian. For those of you who have never heard of him, he is noted for smashing watermelons with a gigantic custom-made sledgehammer, thus the plastic on all the seats. The plastic bag on top of each chair is for the spectator to crawl into when melon meets mallet. As you can imagine, this encounter isn’t necessarily that spectacular, but it can be refined. Gallagher showed that he had made minor changes in his methods to enhance the viewing pleasure of those in attendance.

All around the performance hall stage sat perhaps a half dozen butcher-block tables. Eventually, each held an aluminum pie plate, whose contents would be introduced separately to the sledgehammer. As Gallagher got through his act, he described mixing foods to achieve better projective action and more dynamic visual effects. Of course, this would mean more people would get slimed, and with a greater quantity of whatever wound up in the pie plate. He mixed Pepto Bismol with dog food and then asked if that didn’t remind the audience of Spam. He wound up mixing quite a few of these concoctions, with Ragu being thrown in to the mix. Eventually, as the show ended, with just the right lighting, the smashing began. It was quite a show. Think of it as fireworks minus the gunpowder.

If you get a chance to see him perform, don’t miss the show, but wear clothes that are ready to be tossed into the laundry or into the garbage. Gallagher is very graphic, although he’s not rated X by any means; he is also a great cerebral artist. I recorded one of his appearances on the Tonight Show and he mentioned that when he was in school he got an “F’ on one of his papers. It was his opinion. He got an “F’ on his thoughts! It was his feeling about the school. He said, “Your home economics teachers are divorced, your physical education teachers are fat and your shop teachers haven’t got all their fingers.”

The reason I bring the Gallagher remark up is that my classmate of so long ago mentioned writing a paper for Mrs. Cavanaugh that she raved about, resulting in an “A.” However, she said she couldn’t return the paper but had to burn it. She didn’t want anyone else to see it as she could lose her job. What my classmate had written was a hilarious but scathing essay on the teachers in the school. I wonder if Gallagher somehow got a hold of the piece and used it in his act!

I did graduate from St. Mary’s – in four years – and went on to college. In the years after high school, I didn’t write for any school paper but was forced to come up with sociology, English, theology and philosophy papers from time to time. Fortunately I didn’t have to do any theses in all my years in college and at the universities I attended – undergraduate and graduate. Of course, I read extensively for one course after another, although if I had my way, I would have read books other than those assigned me. But I had no choice in the matter.

Throughout my life, I have always read a great deal: magazines, newspapers as well as books. I have subscribed to Time, Newsweek and News and World Report as well as more interesting publications like Gourmet, Prevention and Conservationist. I’m ashamed to admit I even had a subscription to TV Guide. If you want to be informed about what’s on the tube without actually turning on your television, read the Guide.

Magazines and papers may be fine for information, but they are very limited, especially the latter. There’s much more knowledge in the books at the library. I mentioned my early adventures at that building but, even today, I spend a great deal of time going there to borrow books. Having moved so much in years past, I have had library cards in quite a few cities – probably most if not all. Of course, today not only can you get books, you can also find music and movies to borrow. You can also find back issues of magazines and newspapers. While living and teaching in Binghamton, New York in the early 70s, I even borrowed art from the library for my apartment. At that time, not only did I rent the rooms, I also rented – the wrong word, since I didn’t pay a cent, but you get the idea – what was on the wall! Today, I need not do that. However, my time in that part of the state had a great deal to do with my writing, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

You probably figured out that the title of this chapter refers to a rhetorical question made by many parents to their kids, “Don’t you understand English?” Since I talked about my youth, that specifically was the connection. However, I need to add that there is an answer to that question, although as a child you probably shouldn’t utter it. It comes from the sharp mind of George Carlin. His reply: “Not completely.” 2. Make some lemonade

You have to start somewhere or more specifically, if you’re going to be a writer, there has to come a time when you create your first book. Events may seem disastrous and though you might not realize it, they will lead you to happenings that will make a difference later. Though it may have taken time before I came to this understanding, my days in the Triple Cities of the Southern Tier of New York played a huge part in my becoming an author.

In the fall of 1972, I was teaching mathematics full time at North High School in Binghamton. Fran, a good friend and fellow teacher at the school, convinced me to join the male chorus in which he sang. My girlfriend had just moved back to Maryland at the end of the previous school year and I felt I needed to do something else to occupy my mind so I wouldn’t jump off one of the bridges – Binghamton has a few rivers and hence those things that traverse them. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but I had to keep my sanity. Love does that to you sometimes! So I decided to write a book on computer math for high school students – romance novels were out of the question, then and even now. I had been teaching mathematics for over five years and had recently received a degree in computer science from the School of Advanced Technology at Binghamton University, so I figured I had the qualifications.

The book would use the computer language, APL, which stands for A Programming Language. It is a very scientific language, not unlike C+ or C++ today and it was one of the languages we learned at the University. I got started and between teaching, writing, singing once a week and visiting friends on the weekend, I didn’t have much free time. You might say I had a relatively full schedule. I also was moderator of the chess club at school and during football season, I helped out at the concession stand and learned a great deal about popcorn. It cost a nickel to make and you could sell it for a quarter. In fact, the chess club borrowed the machine, sold popcorn and bought some nice chess sets for the group with the profits.

I really got going on the book and enjoyed every minute of writing. Sometime in the spring of 1973, the book was done. A few friends of mine at the University gave me some names of publishers that might want to print the book, so I sent off some queries. I couldn’t email them as my PC had crashed. The recipients asked for the manuscript so I sent out copies of what I had written. There was interest but eventually the book didn’t get published. I left Binghamton in the fall of 1973 and headed to a new teaching assignment in Wappingers Falls, New York, with the manuscript.

Despite the fact that it wasn’t published, a few things were accomplished by my efforts. I did teach a class in computer math at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction shortly thereafter, using another text but supplementing my teaching with the my computer math book. I also seemed to be cured of my “love sickness.” More important, I got the opportunity to conceive a book, design it and actually write it. I found confidence that I would later use when I decided to begin another book. Without this effort, I may never have attempted to undertake that a similar project. Of course, at the time, I had not come to the realization of the benefits of my endeavors.

The moral of the story – taught by the above experience – is never give up. The connection to the title of this chapter should be quite obvious. My lemonade may not have sold, but it didn’t go to waste and I got the benefit of the vitamin C. If you don’t know how to make lemonade, find someone who can. It’s really a shame to let all those lemons spoil.

Since the book didn’t get published, I put it in a box in the closet. As you might guess, that box got moved from town to town, as I seemed to be a vagabond. Actually, that may be an incorrect term as I really wasn’t “homeless” although “wandering” definitely applied. There is a bumper sticker that says, “Not all who wander are lost,” and that applied to me. Since I moved out of my parents’ home in 1968 until the end of 1988, I had lived in eighteen different places. I’m happy to report that since late 1988, I have only had four addresses, so I seem to be settling down.

I mentioned starting out as a high school math teacher, which I did for eight years in five schools in four school systems. While in Binghamton I taught at Central High School as well as North High, which no longer exists. The two schools were merged into one, some years ago. While teaching at John Jay High, my girlfriend at the time suggested we head over to Nestle Foods and apply for jobs since they were hiring computer programmers.

I drove her in my orange 1975 Subaru, a car I really liked and I’m sure she did too. Its predecessor was a 1971 Audi Super 90, which I’m sure she was happy never to see again. Originally the Super 90 was a four speed but at its demise, it was reduced to two gears, second and fourth. Reverse was no longer an option. The car was fine if you only wanted to go forward – something I advocate – but it was quite a challenge for parking; I had to make sure that I could always pull ahead or find someone willing to push the beast. My girlfriend wasn’t too thrilled when we went to New York City for dinner and a play and reverse gear was missing. She was inside at the wheel, complaining; I did the pushing.

I did have the necessary parts ordered to bring it back to normal, whatever that was relative to an Audi. I mention that because whenever I started the vehicle, the back end produced a puff of white smoke and no pope was being elected. Later I was informed that this was not unusual! Maybe, what I went through was routine for that car. Well, I was tired of waiting for the parts so I bought the Subaru.

Anyway, we got to Nestle’s and applied for work. Shortly thereafter I was called in for an interview and hired, but she wasn’t. I guess that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. Some people just can’t take a joke. It probably was for the better.

I worked at the Nestle Company as a programmer analyst and eventually system analyst for almost four years. I met a guy who convinced me I should become a consultant and Sal introduced me to two brothers who ran a consulting firm. They grilled me and interviewed me on numerous occasions to see if I could fit in as a consultant. I journeyed to downtown Manhattan for an interview at Bankers’ Trust Bank, across from the World Trade Center and easily got the contract. Thus began my journey as a software consultant, which lasted for over 22 years. There’s an entire chapter on my consulting adventures in a book I completed in the summer of 2001, Tick Tock, Don’t Stop: A Manual for Workaholics. There’s also a chapter on management entitled, BOSS spelled backwards is double S O B.

It was during the time that I was a consultant in the early 1980s that I read Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein and Lee Lorentz. By the way, I don’t like quiche. The book is very short, about 85 pages but it’s somewhat amusing. It may even have made the best-seller list. After I got through it, I decided I could write a similar book. Don’t forget, by this time I had already written one book, even if it was sitting in a box, unpublished. I actually felt I could write a book that was better than the one I had just read. Boy, was I naïve!

Before I tell about that idea, I need to relate my recent Amazon search for Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. I found the book on Amazon and could have bought a used copy for one cent or a bit more. The shipping fee will be four hundred times that, although I would recommend getting the book from the library if you really want to read it. On Amazon, I saw a review of the book that used the words, “Real Men Don’t Buy this Book.” I guess the reader didn’t care for it. Perhaps I was right when I decided that I could produce something better than the Feirstein and Lorentz effort. However, that wouldn’t be for some years.

But getting back to my reading Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, I thought about writing a book about the English language with all its expressions, sayings and clichés. It would be an attempt at humor, just like the book I had read, dealing with phrases and words through the eyes of someone who initially had no knowledge of English. However, this person would sign up for courses in the language and would eventually graduate, learning the rules as well as the exceptions in the language.

By this time, my younger brother had studied Russian while my older brother got involved with Japanese, so much so that he spent two full years in Japan learning that tongue. Personally, I had only studied Latin, German and French, none of which I found difficult. I felt Russian and Japanese were tough but I find it hard to believe that English isn’t the most difficult language.

Returning to our foreigner who is ready to make it in a strange land by speaking her new adopted language, she is soon confused when she starts her job in corporate America