When I was about eight or nine years old, the coolest show on television was The A-Team. If you haven’t ever seen The A-Team, the basic formula for every episode was that four war criminals would roll into town in a black van, build a tank out of a broken-down tractor and some spare oil barrels, and rid the world of evil-doers by setting off bombs and shooting up the place with machine guns. If you remember the show at all, you probably remember it as a vehicle for Mr. T, who played big, bad B.A. Baracus.
All of my friends wanted to be Mr. T. Which was kind of odd, because all of my friends were skinny white kids who weighed about seventy or eighty pounds. Mr. T, by way of contrast, was a muscular African American man with a Mohawk who was prone to saying things like, “I pity the fool!” and “I ain’t getting on no plane.”
He’d say it very gruffly.
It was very intimidating.
Recognizing that there was very little likelihood that I’d ever be Mr. T, I gravitated more toward a character called Face, who was played by Dirk Benedict. Face was a con man. At least, that’s what everyone on the show called him. At the time, though, I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked my mother, and she told me that it was someone who is good at talking and tricking other people into doing things for him or giving him what he wants—usually money. This sounded pretty good to me, and I decided right then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up. (My novel, by the way, is available at Amazon.com and other online retailers.)
The trouble with aspiring to be a con man, I soon found out, was that there were no real opportunities for kids my age to break into the field or to get tips from professionals. Sure, there were movies like The Sting and Paper Moon, but they lacked the firepower of The A Team, so I wasn’t especially interested in them. Ten years later, I went to college and was further disappointed to learn that nobody offered a major in the art of the con. So I did the only thing I really could do given the circumstances, and I became an English major.
I’m guessing there are at least a couple of English majors reading this, so you’ll forgive me if I’m stating the obvious when I say that engaging in that particular field of study provides the perfect proving ground for anyone interested, as I was, in following in the footsteps of my favorite character from the A Team. People say things to you like, “English? What are you going to do with that?” And you have to be ready with all of the answers that English departments always give to justify what they do: “Well, I could always be a lawyer,” you say. (That’s the one they teach us to say first.) “Or a teacher. Or go into advertising.”
And then, if you’re like me, you make the most ridiculous claim of all.
“Or I could be a writer.”