Usually I do not like short stories. By the time you’re just getting into the story, it’s over. However, I have to make an exception for this compilation of short stories by Ryan Boudinot. Yes, I am biased as he grew up in the same town that I did and he writes about picking bulbs! Can you imagine a childhood summer sitting in the dirt and digging bulbs out by hand for $0.02 a foot? Here are two excerpts from his short story So Little Time:
“Picking bulbs sucks donkey ass.”
“After the third day or so of picking, holes start appearing in your gloves and when you blow your nose mud comes out. Five days a week, from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon. Sitting on bare ground, eating Hostess fruit pies with dirty hands.”
Of course, I never had anything as glamorous as a Hostess fruit pie in my lunch. I am reminded that this is a fictional story, as the characters picking bulbs here get a time-out inside when it rains and food from McDonalds. That never happened in my year-and-a-half of picking bulbs. I do remember being under the threat of being fired every day as I could barely make the 400 feet per day quota. I am sure that this ominous threat when I was 10 and 11 years old must have had some impact on my psyche.
But, back to So Little Time and the other stories in this collection. The bulb picking is simply background for a pretty depressing, yet eloquent, look at poverty through the eyes of a junior high student. Another story that I found interesting is Written By Machines, which explores the urban Seattle techie life and the idea that computer code can be a beautiful thing. The title story, The Littlest Hitler, begins with a fourth grader’s idea of going as something scary, Hitler, for Halloween. It doesn’t turn out so well when another classmate shows up as Anne Frank.
Pick up this collection if you get a chance, or encourage your library to order it. I have to admit I did not like all the stories equally and some are more violent or graphic than others, but they were all worth reading. And, interesting to consider how bulb picking may have impacted many kids growing up in one small county in Washington state.