Everyone makes mistakes. Thirty years ago today, Southern Living made a BIG one. They hired me. To make it worse, I’m still here. What is wrong with these people????
After all, anyone who knows anything about Southern Living knows we’re a happy magazine. The last thing we ever want to do is offend someone, which is why Anthony Weiner’s job applications keep getting lost. Yet, during my inexplicable three decades here, I’ve managed to offend just about everyone. Such as:
* Squirrel lovers — Instead of just telling folks that daffodil bulbs are poisonous to squirrels, photographer Van Chaplin and I built a fake grave site complete with plastic flowers and a headstone that read, “RIP. Rocky. One bulb too many.” Sacks of hate mail from irate animal lovers, convinced that I had murdered a squirrel by jamming daffodil bulbs down its throat, filled the office. My favorite letter was addressed to “Steve Bender, Squirrel Nazi,” and began, “Herr Bender….”
* New Orleans Saints fans — Back when the Saints were a really bad team (Mike Ditka was coach), I suggested that people suffering from chronic insomnia should either watch C-SPAN or take in a Saints game and they’d be snoozing in 5 minutes. All three Saints fans took the time to write me a nasty letter. I appreciate it, guys.
* Texas A&M fans — After plant breeders at Texas A&M succeeded in transforming the bluebonnet, the Texas state flower, from its normal lovely blue to a washed-out lavender, I took them to task. I wrote, “Who wants a bluebonnet that fades in the fourth quarter?” Aggie fans were incensed, sure that I was a stooge for their arch-rival, the University of Texas (I went to school in Maryland and, yes, I know — our team is usually awful). But in a delicious bit of irony, the very week my comment was published, the Aggies were leading 28-7 in the fourth quarter. They lost.
* The entire population of West Virginia — Last year on our Facebook page, I asked readers to send me pictures of pretty gardens in West Virginia. “But, please,” I added, “no Clampetts.” Now you would have thought that resentment in the Mountain State might have ebbed since the last episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” aired in 1971, but you would be so wrong. I nearly got smeared with black gold and tossed into the cement pond.
* Misguided Bird Lovers — In a November 2009 post called “Burn, Squirrel, Burn!”, I told readers how they could keep squirrels from raiding bird feeders by using seed infused with Habanero pepper oil. It’s harmless to birds, I said, because unlike people and squirrels, birds don’t react to pepper at all. A reader named “Doomaflochee” commented, “Are we really so grumpy that we are potentially poisoning birds so that fat b******s can enjoy a squirrel-ess [sic] world. Get over your petty self.”
Wow, that’s certainly worth some self-reflection, Doomaflochee, but now let me ask YOU a question using proper punctuation and spelling. How come you weren’t upset by the picture of burning squirrels that ignited after eating the pepper-laced bird seed? I was trying to offend you there!
Sincere Thanks from a Void Where My Heart Should Be
I know I haven’t lasted at Southern Living for 30 years on talent alone. There were some serious bribes involved, convictions overturned on appeal, and the fact that I change offices every 5 days so my boss can’t find me. But, of course, the main reason I’m still here is the legion of sick, sick people like you who continue to read this schlock without remorse or shame. If I weren’t so grumpy, I would express my deep gratitude to each of you personally, but I believe the following perfectly captures the feeling of this special moment.