Monday, February 11, 2013

If You Like Me, Check This Box

My wife and I when we were dating in 1994.

I was an advertising major in college. I wanted to write commercials for radio and television. My goal was to one day work at a large ad firm in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or San Luis Obispo. (I don’t think there are any large agencies in San Luis Obispo, but 1. I adore little beach towns, and 2. Don’t you kind of giggle when you say “San Luis Obispo?” Me too.)

In my dreams, I would have a little office with a window view of the ocean, an oversized poster of The Joshua Tree hanging on my wall, a mini-freezer filled with ice cream. Also one of those little basketball hoops rigged atop a little wastebasket for the ultimate cliché of the tortured writer who rips scarcely touched paper with half-written ideas on it out of the typewriter, wads it up into a ball, and throws it at the wastebasket. Also, everyone else in the office would give me a hard time for still using a typewriter in this day and age.

In an effort to stay true to my art form of writing and completely avoid developing any business savvy, I took only one business class in college. It was held in a stadium-style classroom with hundreds of savvy business students and me and my roommate/future commercial writing-partner – Lincoln Hoppe.

We always sat in the front row. I don’t know why we sat there; maybe because we felt out of place with all the snooty business students. What with their briefcases, collared shirts, and large brains. It seemed like the average age in the classroom was 42, and I was at all times slightly uncomfortable, like somebody might stand, call my bluff, and demand my dismissal from this and any business classes. “Pardon me, Mr. Professor, your Honor, but I object to this hoodlum occupying a coveted seat in the front row of this, your stadium classroom. Furthermore, I submit that he has neither the inclination nor the maturation or substantiation for comprehending the volumes of wise and insightful tutorials you have prepared for us, your insatiable business students. Plus I heard him make a fart joke when he walked into class today.”

But I remained dutiful in attending my big business class. After all, I’d paid for it, I needed the credits to graduate…and my future wife, Katie Fillmore, happened to have a class in that same building, about half an hour after my class had started. And she started this little tradition that I adored.

About 25 minutes into every class, I would receive a love note from Katie. As if we were in junior high. They were always thoughtful; but my favorite part was that she would write the note, fold it up, and on the outside of the paper write: “Pass this note to the handsome, dark-haired man on the front row named ‘Ken.’” She would then sneak in the door of this monstrous classroom, tap the suit in the last row, at the top of the stadium-style seating structure, and hand him the note. The guy would read the instructions to pass it down, and he would hand it to the guy in front of him. Down and down. Down and down. Down something like 36 rows of seats the note would go, until somebody would tap me on the shoulder and hand me the note.

Now, we had been dating several months at this point, and I think Katie truly loved me. I think she knew I appreciated getting these little notes. But somewhere in Katie’s psyche, I think she also got the biggest kick out of this little phenomenon. That amidst all the no-nonsense attitudes of these business students, who would just as quickly clock you with their Franklin Planners as shoot you a dirty look for disturbing them during a business lecture, she could single-handedly reduce them to schoolyard behavior in three seconds flat. Inherit in everyone who ever went through adolescence is the knee-jerk, sociological reaction to not ask questions, just do what the note says and pass it along to the receiving end. Like you have no choice in the matter. The instructions are clear; I must pass this note on or endure the consequences!

I loved Katie for that. I loved that she found hilarity in random acts of frivolity. I loved that she thought of me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 2:25 p.m. I loved that she would write “the handsome dark-haired man in the front row” and assumed everyone would know who that was. And I love that Katie still thinks no matter what other vocation I pursue to support our family, I should never give up on that little writing office with the typewriter that overlooks the ocean.

Happy Valentine’s Week to my very favorite person!

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