Growing up on a large farm in rural Kansas, I've always yearned to see the city. Not the mid-sized, mall-ridden Topeka, but the huge, thriving East Coast metropolis where celebrities roam, television shows are filmed and no one ever sleeps. From the first time I heard Frank Sinantra's lovely devotional ballad about it, New York City has been my obsession.
I collected every imaginable type of memorabilia from NYC without ever visiting there. My methods were often quite creative. I ordered items from mail order catalogs, requested free samples, and extorted souvenirs from every lucky soul I knew who ever visited the Big Apple. My mom believes that I have the largest, most valuable collection of NYC hotel bath soaps in the midwest. I get giddy just thinking about them. Mom's puzzled by the New York fascination and has threatened to hide my Late Night with David Letterman tee shirt if I wear it one more time.
I think you get the point: I'm obsessed.
When I was 14, I set a goal of visiting NYC before my 16th birthday. I knew that I'd have to be creative in my approach, as the chances of getting my family to take me was slim. My parents run a 200 acre dairy farm and have never been outside the midwest. In fact, I'm the only one of their six children who envisions that there is viable life on the other side of the Mississippi. They wonder where they went wrong with me.
But they are great parents and they'd never deny me anything I truly wanted. So they threw me an olive branch, and a viable possiblity of seeing NYC, with an intriging offer. If I could teach one of our pigs a trick worthy of being selected by David Letterman's show, they'd pay for the trip to New York and go there with me. I was thunderstruck. I didn't know my parents had ever watched Letterman's show, much less be a fan of his "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment. I accepted the challenge, certain that I could train Spunk, our smartest 300-lb pig, to do something entertaining.
You can't honesty define the word "frustrating" until you've tried to train a pig. Spunk easily mastered his required skills of eating and sleeping but seemed resistant to higher education. I tried every day for weeks to get him to do simple things like chase a rabbit, dance to music or fetch a ball. It was hopeless. He stood silently during my efforts, viewing me with the amused tolerance that one usually reserves for small children. I began to wonder if the hog I saw on Letterman tapping along to bluegrass music was a fraud.
After a month of futility, I was ready to concede defeat. Spunk was simply not going to learn a new trick to impress David Letterman. As I left her for school one morning, I noticed that he swirled his tail around in circles as the school bus honked it's horn. Cute, I thought. He's saying high to the driver, Mr. Bass. After boarding the bus, I turned around to look at Spunk and noticed that he hadn't stopped swirling his tail. Everytime the horn blasted, he did it. I sensed the possibility! I began working with Spunk on the identical task. I'd blow on my dad's old French horn (similar in sound to the school bus) and reward him for the tail swirl. It worked every time! After a few hours of practice my parents videotaped our sessions and we sent the tape off to David Letterman. We received word of our acceptance just two months later. Spunk and I were going to be stars! I won't bore you with the details of the trip and the hassle of taking a 300-lb pig to NYC. I won't even complain that Spunk's performance on the show was haphazard and he only twirled his tail 75% of the time, rather than his usual 100%. We certainly don't need to discuss my mother's reaction to the crowds, pollution, noise and rowdiness. She's a country girl and not cut out for big city life. The important thing was that we went on the show, we didn't choke and we got a great laugh from the audience. I could have done without Letterman's obvious "corn-fed" description of us, but I attributed it to an awkward attempt at bonding.
NYC was everything I imagined and more. I loved the shows, the restaurants and the historic old buildings. I visited every tourist trap and attended every television taping possible. I also filled my purse, camera bag and suitcase with every freebie I could get my hands on. For three days, I was filled with the wonderful energy of fulfilling a dream and being "home".
My achievement was not actually going to NYC but in fulfilling the dream. It was the first time I set a goal, developed a plan to achieve it and succeeded. I suspected all along that was why my parents supported the plan. They saw their daughter's wanderlust and wanted to help me achieve my dreams, even if they were very different (and far away) from their own. This was the first of many goals I've set for my life, and my success made me confident that I will achieve future ones as well.
I love NYC so much that I want to live there after college. My television appearance whet my interest in a communications career, possibly in news reporting or television. Who knows, I might become the talent coordinator for Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks and train talented livestock. Now THAT'S something in which I am uniquely qualified!