Pink Me can't resist a funny man. It's true - you can show me your muscular prose, your scenes of wooing and swooning, but when a writer rips out something that makes me laugh out loud, well then, you can cancel my appointments for the next few days.
That is how, even though I have always foresworn the Blog Tour thing, I am a stop on Ellis Weiner's Blog Tour. Ellis Weiner is funny. His first book for children, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One, has made the rounds in my house (I read it, both boys have, it tops one of the stacks on our coffee table in the current banner photo, and our copy currently resides on my husband's bedside shelf alongside multiple back issues of The Economist (I assume for bedtime readalouds to the kids but after all I don't know what happens around here when I have second shift at the library)), and made each of us giggle. Why haven't I reviewed it? See about a dozen previous posts subtitled OH WOE I AM OVERCOMMITTED and GAH! LIFE!
Also, Ellis Weiner is from Baltimore, and my friend Eerily Similar Paula and I have been nagging the crap out of him to come home and visit our libraries and schools. So when I had the chance to solicit a guest post, I asked him to reminisce about growing up here.
“I bet you have some things to say about growing up in Baltimore--and growing up in Pikesville specifically—that are germane to your budding career as an author of humorous children’s books. Coddies, for example. Those have to have had some influence on your sense of humor. Swearing—in Yiddish or English—is acceptable.”
Pink Me is something of the slyboots, isn’t she. With the “coddies” and the “Pikesville” (the town in northwest Baltimore/southwest Baltimore County where I grew up). I’d love to know where she’s from (Wait a minute. Baltimore Books, huh?) but, given the excellent title atop the left-hand stack nearest the camera in the photo, I’ll keep my mouth shut and my hands to myself.
In any case, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck doesn’t like “Coddies,” but how could it? It’s from Redmond, Washington. It doesn’t know what Pink Me and I know: that coddies were little codfish cakes, about the size of crab cakes, displayed on a big tray on a counter at a grocery store, deli, or even a drug store. They just sat there, lined up on edge, leaning in columns, like dominos frozen in the act of knocking each other over. At room temperature, yes. You put them between two saltines, topped with mustard and--NO, NOT DIJON OR CREOLE OR “COARSE GRAIN” OR ETC. Regular yellow French’s mustard—and for 35 cents (or less) had a snack. One didn’t know how much of the filling was actual codfish, versus breading or potato or whatever. But one didn’t care. One was twelve.
Presumably some health code made them obsolete, because I haven’t seen them in Pikesville since the 1960s. Well, those were more innocent times, when cigarettes were still good for your “T-Zone.”
I’m not prepared to say that growing up coddified in Pikesville prepared me for what Pink Me astutely calls my “budding” career in kids’ humor, but certainly growing up Jewish did. (Although they’re inseparable; not for nothing was Pikesville and the surrounding area known, mainly to its own residents, as “the Golden Ghetto”). My middle class, secular Jewish upbringing made it easy and congenial for me to a) read a ton of books, carried home in stacks from the Reisterstown Road branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library; b) find and subscribe to Mad magazine; c) feel at home in and un-intimidated by the activity of writing; and d) identify with being-funny as a world-view, a Weltanschauung (Word has no problem with that), a modus vivendi, and so forth.
So it’s not so much the Baltimore thing as the Jewish thing that formed the seed-bed of the rich mulch of the compost of the, etc. As for writing for kids, aside from having had two of my own (now adults), there were those seven years I spent as a camper at Camp Airy in Thurmont, MD. (Take that, Pink Me.) And three as a counselor. Plus the ten years writing for children’s television, including but not limited to Ramona, Reading Rainbow, The Puzzle Place, and Shining Time Station.
In closing, let me say that, while I appreciate the invitation to curse in various languages—and while I avail myself of the opportunity to do so on Facebook and in emails and every other goddamn place—I couldn’t bring myself to do so here. It struck me as not-nice. And what am I, as a writer for children hailing from Baltimore, if not a nice Jewish boy?
HA! And now you see why Pink Me cannot resist a funny man! Take my advice, that of my kids, and of my husband - find The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, or one of Ellis's previous books, Yiddish with Dick and Jane, or The Big Jewish Book for Jews: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew. Or leave a comment on this post - you may win an autographed copy!
Please to also amuse yourself with the trailer for this book:
And, just for hometown boy pining (or not, they're really kind of gross) for the comfort food of his youth, may I recommend the Suburban House Deli, and this conversation with Baltimore historian Gilbert Sandler that aired on WYPR.