The Early Works of Joe Lavin

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

The Early Works of Joe Lavin

May 20, 2003


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Few may have noticed, but an important literary discovery occurred last week when several early works of writer Joe Lavin were found in the basement of his parent's house. These pieces from 1979 to 1981 offer rare insight into the early influences of this (self)-important writer. Even in grades two through four, his distinctive style and sense of detail are clearly on display.

In perhaps the most stirring piece, Lavin carefully examines the Iranian hostage crisis in a January 1981 article. Despite the jingoistic title ("America Lives But Iran Will Never"), Lavin offers an even-handed and detailed account of the crisis. He writes, "In December 1979, Carter announced he would be in the 1980 election. Also 13 people were released. In February 1980, nothing too much happened." Of particular note: the nine-year-old Lavin was able to spell Ayatollah Khomeini correctly, a feat the 32-year-old Lavin is not so sure he could duplicate.

At this point in his writing career, Lavin was already a master of many genres. There is, for example, his 1980 foray into fantasy, "The Day I Woke Up As Carl Yastrzemski," in which the Boston Red Sox outfielder hits 62 home runs and leads the Red Sox on to win the 1980 World Series. "Life is pretty fun," Lavin writes of his life as Yaz. Is it the young Lavin causing Yastrzemski to reach such phenomenal heights, or is it Yastrzemski himself accomplishing these feats? The question is left tantalizingly unanswered, and the story is all the better for it.

A similar piece describes the play-by-play of a Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers basketball game. It is a vivid piece of sports writing at such an early age, though the teacher does complain that it was "a little confusing" at the end. Obviously, she was not much of a basketball fan, because the text is clear even today. Consider this section:

With 1 minute and a half left in the game, the 76ers were leading 103-101 and it went to 103-103, Celtics 105-103, 107-103, 107-105, 109-105, 111-105, 113-105, 113-107, 114-107 which the Boston Celtics beat the Phildelphia [sic] 76ers 114 to 107 in the Boston Garden.

How could anyone be confused by such compelling prose? Like all great sportswriters, Lavin makes us feel as if we are right there, or at least somewhere. To his credit, he seemed to know when to ignore his teachers. The final line -- "To be continued next game" -- leaves us hoping for yet another basketball story, though one can assume that Mrs. H, as she was known, was not so enthused at the prospect.

In "My Vacation," it is curious to note that Lavin's oft-used literary device of rambling on about the details of a subject until nobody cares anymore was learned at an early age. In this travelogue, Lavin seems more interested in where he is going and on what roads he takes than on the destination itself. He begins the story like so, "My vacation started on Friday the 13th of February. I left at 4 o'clock. We went on route 31 to route 9 and 49 and onto 20 and on 86. And then we went to 84 on to 91 and then on route 95 in Connecticut."

Many intersections later, the Lavin family finally arrives in Florida where young Lavin visits the "Jhon [sic] F. Kennedy Space Center" and sees "three alligators." The return trip home is sprinkled with his informative reviews. He visits Georgia ("I liked a Spanish Fort the best.") and Mount Vernon ("The mansion, I think, was the best"). "It was one of the best vacations I have ever had," he concludes, and due to his fervent enthusiasm, the reader is inclined to agree.

Finally, we also see some of Lavin's early family life. There is this description of his father from second grade: "My father works in Worcester. He makes money. His name is David. He likes to work on the car at home. He likes to go to bed at 12:00. My father has black hair. He likes to were [sic] glasses sometimes, and his mother died in 1975."

With writing like that, it was obvious that Lavin was special indeed. Here was one writer who was clearly going places. And, luckily, he was there to tell us exactly which route numbers he would be taking to get there.


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