My advice: If you ever consider writing an honest personal experiences book, start with the things that you're not proud of. Then write about the things that hurt the most. If you get past those two things, you'll finish the book--if it isn't already finished. Fortunately, Damaged Right Out Of The Box wasn't.
I wanted to write a book when I was 17--not just any book, but an indisputable triumph that would become a literary icon for the century. The book would be the filament that enlightened the masses and directed humanity's march toward spiritual renewal. It would be the fountainhead of intellectual stimulation, providing a cascade of contemplation that would drench the consciousness of a struggling world.
Instead, I wrote Damaged Right Out Of The Box 44 years later. Inspiration yielded to economic desperation sparked by a low balance in my 401k fund. The book is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes wistful memoir, and the title is derived from the experience I had coming out of the womb--the doctor used forceps to pull me out, and it left an indentation on my forehead.
So what kind of life does it describe?
I lived on a soon-to-be EPA Superfund site near Canon City, Colorado, and I cheated on every eye test administered in elementary school. I repeatedly bought beer when I was ten years old, and my sixth-grade teacher accused me of tracing a map of South America. How much more badass could I be?
Well, in junior high school, I carried a lump of uranium in my pocket, and, using a hand-crank churn, I could produce several pounds of butter during a single episode of Bonanza. (That's the REAL reason my right arm was bigger than my left in those days.) I sat next to the first girl expelled from school for becoming pregnant, and no one ever pinned the blame on me.
High school was just a progression. My football helmet was too tight, and I wasn't afraid to use a Magic Marker on the leg of the most beautiful girl in school. I kissed girls in confined spaces, and I even found a four-day relationship in the bushes of a college dormitory. I hung the American flag upside down at school, kept my shirttail out, and wrote a script censored by high school administrators because it parodied them.
Naturally, I was primed to become an out-of-control fraternity house member in college. When Thomas Wolfe said, "you can't go home again," he, too, may have eaten a pan of brownies laced with hashish and tried to find his house. I fell in love with a Jewish girl whose parents couldn't appreciate that I had been raised Roman Catholic by my own bigoted parents. She was followed by an unemotional, career-driven woman who was just too busy to be the perfect wife while she reached world-renown status in her field.
Even though I had been groundskeeper, ditch digger, road crew member, waiter, surveyor, houseboy, and taxi driver, I chose to become a journalist who left Walter Cronkite on hold and helped fire Clive Cussler. I also discovered a house of prostitution when I literally ran into and knocked down its negligee-clad madam in a hallway outside my office.
Later, after I became a technical editor, I spent 27 years working for on space projects like International Space Station and Mars Observer. And during that time I met a wife on an Internet chat line before it was vogue to do so.
I've survived asbestos, radioactive particles, talcum powder bombs, kidney stones, a massive butt-crack abscess, quadruple coronary bypass surgery. And if you're not mentioned in this book, there's still time for us to get together and do something outrageous for the next one.