A little background – I had a couple of beers tonight. Ok – I had a couple of pitchers. And a couple of beers on top of those couple of pitchers. I was at Dr. Dremo’s – I go there on Sundays to get work done if I have no other plans. Tonight I was busy generating critiques of a couple of projects. My laptop battery died and I spent some time with my marble notebook, compiling a list of people that I would like to write the introduction to Postcards.
Inspiration hit me – I’m passionate about this project. I love this project. I spend the majority of my day thinking about this project – shouldn’t I write the introduction? When I got home I composed this piece, it could serve as the introduction to Postcards but, if it doesn’t, I hope it at least gives a little insight to the background of this project and what it means.
I’m coming down a bit, I read it over, I think it’s good for posting. Either way – this is a first draft, pure enthusiasm streamed onto virtual paper. So, here it goes…
My fascination with postcards is fairly recent. It was January, 2006 – I was in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was Robin’s, my girlfriend’s, birthday. I took her to the spa at the Hotel Hershey for her gift, two nights of chocolate and pampering. This was our second trip to the spa – I took her there for Valentines Day a couple of years back and we’ve wanted a return engagement since.
On our second day out there Robin tells me she wants to go antique shopping. This was not my idea of a good time. I wanted a hot-stone message and a steak dinner – chocolate martinis and wasabi peas by the fireplace while a jazz quartet occasionally deviated from swinging music and pushed the well-to-do folks’ sensibilities with some improvisational jamming. It was her birthday, however, so I kept my mouth shut and we went to an antique mall a couple of miles from the hotel.
Despite my lack of verbal protests, I wasn’t the most supportive boyfriend in the world. I always walked two steps behind her, sighing heavily every time she paused to browse a cabinet filled with various knickknacks she had no intention of buying.
“If there’s anything you want, let me know. I’ll get it for you.” That’s code for “hurry up,” ladies, in case you’re wondering why your significant other seems so eager to shower you in presents when you take him out shopping with you.
About ten minutes in (we browsed through approximately 5% of the first floor at this point), Robin starts rifling through a shoebox filled with postcards. There must have been several hundred cards in there and I wasn’t having that – I let a “Jesus Christ” escape and received the nastiest look in return.
Now, unlike when other couples say, “It’s so weird – we never fight,” Robin and I have never really fought. She’s very non-confrontational and instead of fighting, she knows how to get me off her back.
“You know,” she tells me as she walks away from the shoebox, “some of these postcards were sent out. People wrote interesting things on them.”
I shot her an untrusting look, I knew I was being manipulated but I didn’t quite catch on to her scheme yet. But Robin knows me very well – she knows I’m the type of guy who likes to find stories in people’s residuals. I’ll type up detailed character sheets for people whose writings I’ve seen on bathroom walls or in the margins of used books and use them for future stories. I’ve always found that true characterization – true drama – comes out of someone when they don’t believe they’re being analyzed. A simple song lyric scratched into a bar table can give more insight into how someone’s feeling than an hour long conversation.
I did what Robin wanted me to do – I started rifling through the box of postcards. The first postcard I pulled out was a godsend. It was sent from a Private Earl Shafer to his mother in 1942, the day before Earl’s brother, Lehr, gets shipped out to fight in the war. Earl’s telling his mother he should be going soon, too, and he’ll write her when he gets back.
Earl Shafer went to fight in Eastern Europe. He left his family and his girlfriend behind. He was in the trenches, got injured several times. He fell for a nurse during a hospital visit. Hs father found out about his cheating ways, purchased an engagement ring, gave it to Earl’s girlfriend back home. Took a picture of the girlfriend with the ring and sent it to Earl, told him that he’s an engaged man now and he better start acting like it. Earl finishes his tour, gets several medals, comes home and marries his fiancé – opens a bar and becomes a neighborhood hero.
That’s not Earl’s story – that’s what I saw when I read that postcard. In fact, that’s my grandfather’s story. Maybe Earl died. Maybe he went MIA and spent the rest of his life roaming Europe without an identity. Maybe he came home disabled, found out his girl has fell for someone else, and had to put his life back together.
The only thing that we know for sure is that Earl Shafer was supposed to go fight in World War II. There’s a good chance that, with the exception of things like birth and death certificates, this may be all we ever know about Earl Shafer. And this one insight into his life was one sale at an antique mall in Hershey, Pennsylvania for fifty cents.
I fell in love with postcards at that moment. I went through that entire shoebox and pulled out about twenty postcards, many of which are featured in this book. People writing about quarantines and sickly mothers. Anonymous cards sent from secret admirers. Little mysteries, all of them, deserving more than the treatment they were getting.
The idea for this anthology naturally followed.
We went back to the hotel. As Robin took a pre-spa treatment shower I composed an email that went out to several friends: Josh Fialkov, Saul Colt, Matt Dembicki, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, and Jay Busbee. I transcribed several postcards and said that I wanted to produce an anthology where creators took one of these postcards and built the story around it as they saw it. They can write about what led up to the postcard, what happened after it was sent – they can jump forty years into the future and attempt to catch up on where the sender and/or receiver of the card were.
Everyone agreed – this is an anthology that needs to be made. I attacked this book like a man possessed, started pitching it to people I admired and the people I admired wanted to be a part of it. The book became my life.
At the same time, postcard collecting consumed me. On any given weekend you can find me at an antique shop or flea market, rifling through shoeboxes filled with postcards collectors deemed unworthy of display cases and high price tags. Looking for pieces of people’s lives that they left behind, pieces that reminds us of our own lives - that inspire us to tell a story that needs to be told.
Our heartache. Our desires. Our happiness. Our love. Stories people can relate to – stories that could just as well have happened to Earl Shafer, a private who went to fight in World War II just like millions of Americans. Fighting the great evil for the greater good overseas; in a foreign land. Some coming home in coffins, some coming home heroes. Like my grandfather. Like your husband or your brother or your best friend.
None of these postcards have over fifty words on them and yet there’s more life there than you’ll ever see in a novel or a movie or a TV show. Because it’s life in the raw. Unfiltered. It’s a moment from my Grandfather’s life. From my life.
From your life.
At the end of the day, when you’re not a movie star or a politician or a writer, this is what you are. This one postcard. This one paragraph. This one moment of regret or inspiration or fear.
All you are is the greatest story never told. And now we’re telling it.
Enjoy the book.