Keeping the ballon afloat |

Keeping the ballon afloat

It all started innocently enough. I write a cute letter to the editor of a local newspaper. She calls me up, tells me how much she likes it, and asks that I write a column once in a while as a contributing writer. Writer! I can’t believe it. I’ve had three careers, but never thought of writing. Anyway, she got me right where she wanted – smack dead center in the ego. Who can resist such an offer, even if it doesn’t bring in any bread? Who needs money (except, maybe, for medicines) when you’re in your 70s and still kicking? Not me! Of course I can write a column, even if I need to scratch a worn-out thesaurus for words.

My life suddenly changed, with a byline and a mug shot, to boot. People spot me in Raley’s, and say, “Aren’t you, er, the guy who writes for that paper?” Just like a celebrity! Friends (who else?) tell me how much they like my column. One even introduces me at a party as “a local writer.” My ego blows up exponentially, until it resembles one enormously fat balloon. I’m holding on for all it’s worth, remembering what happened to the Hindenburg. I didn’t want it to happen to this “berg.”

But as you probably guessed, after six or seven newspaper columns, I run out of gas and my balloon comes down. Not exactly what you would call a lengthy writing career.

When you’re young and brash, someone will sooner or later puncture your balloon and set you on a straight course once again. But when you’re old, your balloon starts to shrink by itself, without the help of punctures, except maybe from the good doctor as he reaches for another replacement part. For years the wife has been telling me I was shrinking and I wouldn’t acknowledge it. But come to think of it, that’s one advantage of aging. If there are no holes, just wrinkles, you can always blow yourself back up, and that’s exactly what I did.

I reinvented myself as an artist. This wasn’t too difficult, since I was already an art student at Lake Tahoe Community College. My art teacher, bless her soul, always made the class believe they were artists – this, despite the fact that very few could claim that distinction. She knew how to get the most out of her students. Then one day, at her encouragement, I submitted a painting for an art show. To my great surprise and delight, I actually won a green ribbon for “honorable mention.” Now there were at least five other jokers with honorable mentions. But that didn’t stop me from believing this was the most honorable thing I had ever done in my life. I ran out and got a frame to put around this precious work of art while it was still on display.

Needless to say, my career as an artist was even shorter than my writing career. Exactly one semester. The end came when, due to lack of objects and models, I frantically pressed my golden retriever, Sunny, into service. He was not too happy about it, since like most dogs, he couldn’t sit still for more than a second when you wanted him to. This caused me to make the greatest mistake of my artistic career. I got out an old photo I had taken of Sunny and painted away. Now, as all art students know, this is a no-no. But having sinned once, I would sin again. I recklessly painted by friend’s goldie, also from a photo. You could say that my career was now, literally, going to the dogs. There was no way out, and I was guilt-ridden. As a further ominous sign, winter was setting in. I couldn’t paint in the house or the garage. The back deck, which was a staging point during the summer and autumn, was now out of the question.

So I decided to blow myself up again for a new adventure – back country skiing, of sorts. I think we all know what happened to that career during this so-called winter. Even if we had had decent snow, I probably would have tried to avoid the same embarrassing situation I experienced one day while skiing down Luther Pass, when I had to greet a friend on the trail, from a prone position.

But the beat goes on, and so do the years. Where’s that darn balloon, anyway?

– Phil Steinberg is a resident of South Lake Tahoe

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