When I was a kid, my hobby was writing letters. I collected pen-pals.
My first pen-pal was my friend Julie Kaufer. Her family lived on our street in Encino, CA and they moved to Malibu. This was back in the elementary school era and, not having cars to travel that 30 or so miles, we started writing letters.
For a long time I saved all my letters but this eventually became ridiculous so I tossed most but I’m pretty sure I have a pile of Julie’s letters in a box somewhere. I think the last time I saw her was her Bat Mitzvah or possibly a high school graduation party, but by then we’d grown apart and the letter writing was long finished.
I also wrote letters to my cousins and sometime around middle school, I started writing to people looking for pen-pals who had their names and addresses in magazines. It’s hard to imagine now that there was ever a good time for a 13 year old girl to list her name and home address in a magazine, but there you go.
Turns out, it was a thriving subculture. There were networks of kids who shared addresses and put together these little handmade booklets called slam books that had variations but usually listed a different question on each page and you’d fill it in and send it on and ideally, it would eventually go back to the person who made the book. You could also write to other people listed in the book. Then there were these labels you could have printed up with your favorite band or a saying and you could get these with a friend and stick them in the slam book or trade them with people. Mine had Journey and Def Leppard sayings on them.
I have no sense of how much time I spent doing this, I don’t think it was ridiculous. And I have no idea how many pen-pals I had because there were always new one and old ones dropping off. Let’s say never more than 20 at one time.
There was one girl, Tami from Georgia, who got pregnant at 16. She moved to a special class at her school with the other girls who were pregnant where the school hoped to at least get these girls a diploma. She eventually married the guy and then had another kid before we lost touch. I had another pal from Tennessee who got married right out of high school with a big fancy wedding. She sent me pictures that I admired with a twinge of jealousy. It seemed so romantic.
Every once in awhile I wonder how these women’s lives turned out. They’re both probably grandmothers right now.
Somewhere along the way I also began corresponding with men in prison. My parents must have been clueless, although I don’t remember trying to hide it. I do remember more than one of my friends telling me that their parents though it was a bad idea. It’s hard for me to have any perspective now on the appropriateness of the situation. I wrote about being a high school student. They wrote about their lives. It didn’t seem weird at the time. I never worried that one of them was going to try to find me and none of them ever did.
Only one of these pals lasted for any length of time. Bill was in prison on the east coast and now that I think of it, I think he was busted for assaulting a woman. Okay, so this entire post is evidence of what a moron I am. At least nothing bad happened.
Bill and I wrote for a number of years and I occasionally sent him stationery, I think this was one of the few gifts he could receive, and we even exchanged a few cassette letters. He was not very bright but harmless enough. When he got out of prison he hooked up with another of his pen-pals. I’m sure her parents were thrilled. And the last letter I got from him he was having a tough time and had been working at Pizza Hut until he accidentally almost cut his finger off. I guess life was not easy for poor Bill.
By the time I got to college I didn’t have as much time. I still corresponded with friends that had moved or relatives but I dropped the pen-pal thing. Although it’s pretty much email now, I still have a few people in Germany that I send paper letters to and I still like to write a letter in a birthday card.
I’m still in touch with two of my pen-pals from back in the day. I met Debbie from a gymnastics magazine. She lived in Maspeth NY and came to visit me once when I lived in L.A. She now lives in Florida and we usually check-in during the holidays. Darren and I met from a guitar magazine and he lived in Wichita until he recently moved to S. Cal. We email on a fairly regular basis.
By all of this I guess I’m explaining that I have a long, long history of writing about what I’m up to for other people. You can see how this blogging thing would be natural for me.