Eons ago, I worked for the comedy icon Norman Lear as Useless Corporate Ant No. 14,487, crunching numbers. What struck me about the billionaire was his office. It was completely white. Carpet, walls, ceiling — everything — eye-hurt white. No desk. No art. No family photos or awards. Just his big, comfy throne with two not-as-comfortable chairs for guests. It was like appearing before God in judgment and that was no accident of design.
I’m sure Norman had other places to think, pound out ideas, pay bills, somewhere that housed photos of loved ones, silly toys, beloved memorabilia. We all do.
I have the coziest office, surrounded on all sides by book cases, shelves stacked with things near and dear, an ancient Tip’s menu, a boxing nun hand puppet. There’s a photo of my father, balancing on a log as he crossed Placerita Creek. The camera captured Pops with the hugest grin, that complete lack of self-consciousness when perfect joy overtakes us. A shelf over and years ago, I commissioned a dear and talented ex-sweetheart to paint a picture for Dad’s bedroom.
It’s a small painting, in a wooden frame. It’s of a glass of chocolate milk and stack of graham crackers. Growing up on a farm during the Depression, my father was strata below Dirt Poor. On Fridays, in second grade, classmates could buy a glass of chocolate milk and a few cookies for 2 cents. Dad never had the two pennies, While other kids laughed and swam in a sugar high, that little boy Walt buried his head in his arms at his desk, drowning out the merriment and shame of poverty. He lived with me his final years. On Fridays, my daughter and I would pour Pops an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk and serve cookies. It’s nice to change the end of certain stories in our lives.
Nestled between expensive cowboy boots, my published books and the Ruth Newhall Lifetime Achievement Award is a photo of my best pal, Phil Lanier. It’s the 1970s. We’re sitting on the tailgate of Tony Mason’s battered 1953 Ford pickup behind The Mighty Signal. Someone had spraypainted “NEWHALL” in giant graffiti on the wall. Thirty years later, and, for a couple hundred bucks, I’d end up buying that truck from Tony. The Ruth trophy? My pals, Signal Editor Tim Whyte and then-Publisher Will Fleet, with Herculean effort, kept the secret of my future receivership away from me for weeks. That night they presented the faux bronze newsboy? I was in giddy shock. Truly? Still am, a little.
In a maroon velvet frame, I keep the very first art my daughter drew. Recently, Miss Indiana Boston asked how old she was when she drew it. Straight-faced, I answered: “Nineteen …” OK. “Two.” Eons later, she’s a gifted professional artist, making the world her oyster. I have notes to me, Indy penned and sketched as a little girl, in frames, pinned to bulletin boards or stuck to the fridge with magnets. They have my favorite word: “Dad.” There’s two framed copies of the college satire magazine Phil and I edited — Amalgamated Buffalo Chips. Unfunny back then. Unfunny today. Lanier and I would hurt ourselves, laughing so hard while we created prose that would make Mark Twain’s upper lip curl.
I have an insulated white carrying case with ominous bright red letters — HUMAN ORGAN TRANSPLANT. It keeps steno pads safe and warm. There’s The Lisa Photo. Fifty years back, my dopey sister-like substance Lisa sits in tattered jammies, wearing an oatmeal face mask, curlers, no make-up and a look that would kill a Democrat. There’s a wind-up music box of three nuns in blue habits. That box was one of the few things in my mother’s haunted life that made her happy. There are two antique ivory elephant book ends, probably worth a fortune today, next to them, my first cell, the tiniest flip phone. I swore I’d never get one. Today? If I walk 8 feet from the office without it, I fall into a fetal ball of panic.
Coastal Eddie? He’s my nephew-like substance, whom I love. A couple Christmases back, he painted a portrait of me, in my Mr. Santa Clarita Valley persona. It is one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received. You see, Eddie’s a successful attorney in Chicago. Draws like he’s 7, but, Coastal’s nearly 40. That he’d take the time to create something that would make a Cro-Magnon cave artist proud fills my heart with delight.
On one wall rests a framed cover of New Yorker magazine. It’s a cartoon of several monkeys, sitting at typewriters, pounding away. It refers to an old adage about how a thousand apes, typing for a million years, could randomly pen a Shakespearean play. Story of my chimp-like life.
Just bought a new guitar. Teaching myself to play. I figure, by the time I’m 143, I’ll be pretty good. The other day, I called my childhood pal, Curtis Stone, in Nashville. He’s a famous Grammy-winning musician. I told Stoney I’m putting a band together. No promises, but I invited him to audition. Usually late at night, I’ll grab the defenseless musical instrument. Having elephant hooves for fingers, I’ll torture the angels with ruptured chords and flat notes.
I have old cigar boxes that house everything from batteries to Scotch tape and paper clips. I never remember which box hides which office supply. Or cherished notes. All of us? We have our desktop altars.
I have a God Box.
Many years ago, some enthusiastic soul suggested I write down all my cares and woes and drop them into my God Box. Under the wooden lid hide slips of paper, with problems I’ve begged to be solved, pieces of my heart I’ve prayed to be put back together again. Like a pile of losing Lottery tickets, I’m still waiting to hit the jackpot of happiness.
And, smiling, looking around at my toys and desktop treasures, I realize.
I already have.
Visit local writer John Boston’s bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com. Coming soon? “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Joe Biden.”