What came before....

Yes, this is Little Sally so long ago. What's up with the Santa picture? Shortly after this very pic was taken I became skeptical of this Santa and pulled down his beard (note where my hands are, I remember saying just as this pic was snapped, "You're not really Santa, are you?" If there had been a second frame, you would have seen the beard down).

Many years later when I was a cub reporter, my first assignment was to interview a guy who considered himself the real Santa. I wanted to get the interview done, he wanted to have a drink or two in the back booth of a dark bar.... 17-year-old Sally got drawn into the story of the Darker Side of Santa.

Flash backward all those years before...I'm sure that the Santa who became enraged when I pulled his beard down and exposed him for the fraud he was -- okay, a bit harsh -- had inspired me to look deeper into this Santa's sinister soul. On my way out the door from having that picture taken, and I remember this clear as day, I was being led back down the line (my mom had managed to still get this photo that would be sent to relatives that year, but she had me by the hand and quickly in tow), but I remember telling all those kids waiting in line, some in tears, that he wasn't the real Santa - that it was all fake. I remember thinking that I had just unveiled the secret of a lifetime. But no one really wanted to hear this (my poor mother was so embarrassed, but as with all of my social mishaps, would retell the story with great humor to her friends year after year. Although that would be the last year I went to see Santa).

Years before that moment with the mall Santa, I had begun to set traps for Santa (the Easter Bunny, too) throughout the house waiting in the house's hall into the wee hours of the morning to capture the mythical figures -- out to prove my theories that...well, I don't know what I was trying to prove then, I suppose that I just wanted to catch one of them. I would wait up, slingshot in hand, until somewhere around 3 in the morning when I would eventually fall asleep (slingshot still firmy clutched). My parents had a tough job of stepping around plates of bells and tacks placed strategically throughout the house, along with tripwires and doorknob-triggered traps. Surely I thought far too much for a three-year-old.

All those years later, when I got done writing that Santa interview and my encounter with him in the bar (I had met Hunter Thompson by that time and he had a great influence on the rest of my career) the story I had was not the warm, fuzzy holiday section story for a "family paper" my editor had sent me out to get. It was the story of a lecherous Santa who tried to ply me with enough liquor to get me to imagine he was David Bowie (who wants to be a groupie for Santa?? ACK!)...a Santa who admittedly said that he really disliked kids. Well, I thought I had hit paydirt -- was on my way to a real effin' Pulitzer. I enthusiastically went home and wrote through the night and got that story written by morning. On Monday, my editor tossed the story back on my desk and said, "We need a rewrite, Lois Lane."

That's when I learned how publishing works in the real world. I wrote the warm holiday story he wanted, but never signed my check for that week (didn't feel like I earned my money), got some more stories under my belt and turned in my walking papers (that's when I learned that you should always maintain your walkaway power and always be able to walk out the door if you don't believe in something). Shortly thereafter I was turned on to great journalism by my first J-school professor "Dad" Mack and won two Woodrow Wilson scholarships for investigative reporting. Screw Santa, there's bigger fish to fry, man.

I guess we all have experiences in our childhood that may lead us into our careers. I didn't last too long in the Brownies, either (they wouldn't let us have pocket knives like our boy counterparts in that organization I can't even remember the name of). The badges were lame -- the boys got to do math and science projects for their badges, we were baking and sewing for ours...screw baking and sewing...two skills I still haven't mastered and never will. And I don't think I ever met a more uptight group of adults than those who headed up our chapter, even the Catholic nuns and padres in Catholic school had a sense of humor. And when I got busted rounding up some of the cooler girls to sneak over a river with me in a "borrowed" canoe (to get to the boy's camp) in the middle of the night for some mayhem, well...that was that.

The lessons learned? Question authority, especially when all of your peers around you seem to be buying into what's being doled out and the minority who look deeper are pulled over. Why are the .gov, .mil and .us three of the most common URLs to visit my site on a consistent basis? Baby, believe me, it isn't for my baking and sewing....