What the Burros Taught Me, Part II

How can you not want to pet this guy?

If you’re one of those charming, organized folks who prefers to read “Part Ones” before “Part Twos,” have no fear. My first burro post is right here. Enjoy!


My wife, Ellen, thinks she is The Burro Whisperer. She came to this conclusion largely because of Burrito, a denizen of an area petting zoo, who trots over to her every time she shows up and grunts with delight when she pets his nose.

Need more evidence? Fine. She also sleeps with a stuffed Eeyore. Case closed.

The problem with Ellen’s reasoning is that Burrito will trot over to anyone for nose pets and, well, Eeyore is a doll.

But that’s neither here nor there. When we visit burros that are not Burrito, Ellen (who, it should be said, is smarter than me on most other matters) has a difficult time grasping that all burros are not exactly the same.

This was brought into focus on a recent trip to Intercourse, Pennsylvania (which is just one of the many towns in Lancaster County with a sort-of-pervy name), at a place called Kitchen Kettle Village (which is a tourist shopping Mecca that sells everything you could ever possibly want – provided that everything you want is jam).

Kitchen Kettle Village also has a tiny petting zoo that no one ever visits. Petting animals, I guess, distracts from all of that jam-buying.

I kid you not.

The zoo has a burro, so Ellen was on cloud nine. She leaned over the fence to get his attention. She “hello-ed” and knocked on the split rail fence posts.

Mr. Burro, however, wanted none of this. He sat in the center of his pen and made a pretty good show of ignoring her. He positioned his ample burro butt in her direction and stared at a wall. The only thing he could’ve done to make his wishes more obvious was to bury his nose behind a newspaper.

Ellen, however, wasn’t getting the message. She redoubled her efforts, knocking louder and faster and switching from “hellos” to more urgent “yoo-hoos.” Alex, our six-year-old, and I were too busy introducing ourselves to a group of personable goats to notice what Ellen was doing at first, but her doggedness soon became hard to ignore.

Alex played the role of diplomat. “Momma,” he said. “I don’t think he wants to be pet.”

I was less diplomatic. “Geeze, Ellen. Knock it off. Can’t you see he wants to be left alone?”

But then, as if to prove me wrong, Mr. Burro stood up, stretched a moment, and sauntered toward her.

Ellen was flush with triumph. She shot me a look. I was familiar with this look. It was a look that said, “See? You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. As usual. But go ahead and keep talking. No, no, go ahead. I’m listening. I’ll listen while I pet this burro that doesn’t want to be pet.”

The burro approached the fence. He batted his eyelashes. Ellen was smitten. It looked like they were going to be fast friends.

Then, as Ellen reached into the pen to pet his nose, Mr. Burro lunged out in an attempt to bite hers off.

I’m pleased to report that Ellen has good reflexes. She lurched away just in time and her nose is where it’s always been. Which is good, to say the least.

You shoulda seen the look on your face when I tried to bite ya. Wooo!

What’s also good is that, for the second time in my life, a burro had gotten my creative juices flowing. After a lot of laughs and almost as many rewrites, this past week I sent out a new (Ellen-approved) picture book manuscript that is “inspired by actual events.” Momma No-Nose is the touching story of a mother who, with the help of an artistic son and a Play-Doh proboscis, learns to live life again after a startling petting zoo assault.

There are two lessons to be taken from this story, I think. The first is don’t pester the burros; when their dander is up they can be ruthless killing machines.

The second and far more important lesson is, inspiration is everywhere. So go out and get some!

Do you have an inspiration story you’d like to share? Then write me a comment! I do so love your comments.


Oh, and if you’re one of those devil-may-care nonconformist folks who prefers to read “Part Twos” before “Part Ones,” you’re in luck. My first burro post is right here. Enjoy!

What the Burros Taught Me

My plushy muse.

A long time ago, years before my son was born, my wife, Ellen, bought herself a stuffed Eeyore doll at the Disney Store. Her plan was to snuggle it while she slept. It turned out to be the perfect size and shape for someone who sleeps in the fetal position.

So, for the first time since I was seven, a stuffed animal was now resting on my bed. And, well, I guess I regressed.

I soon gave Eeyore a voice and a personality that bore little resemblance to the morose Milne/Disney creation. In the beginning, the persona I created was solely designed to make my wife laugh. As time went on, however, Eeyore – my Eeyore – became more textured and complex.

Eeyore never left the bed ­– so he became a self-appointed Bed Guardian, keeping watch while we were out. Upon our return home from the store or wherever, he would report to Ellen how, during our absence, he had single-handedly thwarted legions of “pirates, ruffians, scalawags, hoodlums, no-goodnicks, and counterfeiters.”

The counterfeiters part raised my wife’s eyebrows, so that became a running joke. (It was later revealed that, to Eeyore, counterfeiters were people who would break into our house and have fits on our kitchen countertops, “which,” Eeyore emphasized, “is quite unsanitary.”)

And, well, it went on from there. Ellen and I learned a new tidbit about Eeyore just about every day. Eeyore’s favorite song is “Funkytown.”  He is fond of ponies, guinea pigs, and Clint Eastwood movies (especially A Fistfull of Dollars, as that is the one where Eastwood kills four guys for scaring his mule.) Eeyore’s weapon of choice against pirates is a sock full of nickels (or as he describes it, “seventy-five cents worth of mayhem.”) He likes to help Ellen with Sudoku but always suggests the number 11. He often uses bad language, loves to dance, is not fond the pullout sofa, and has a seething dislike for the stuffed squirrel on the other side of the room.

As I write this, I fear this all makes me sound insane. I’m harmless, really.

I also have a point. Adopting this stuffed animal’s personality has stimulated my creativity on more occasions than I can count. Talking through Eeyore keeps me from censoring myself; it allows the ideas I might dismiss an opportunity to be heard out loud.

The most obvious Eeyore-inspired story is a manuscript I’m working on titled The Bed Guardian. Eeyore has also frequently inspired me in smaller ways, a turn of phrase here, a glimmer of a plotline there…

Eeyore has even pitched my wife a few children’s book stories. Mind you, I have him pitch ideas that are deliberately and aggressively terrible (my primary goal with Eeyore is still to amuse my wife, after all). But very few bad ideas – even deliberately bad ideas – are all bad. Once in a while I’ll be speaking as Eeyore and my Mike brain will kick in and think, “Hey! That donkey might have something there! Where’s my notebook?”

Getting that kind of inspiration is well worth looking a little crazy.

And that’s good because, now that I think about it, that stuffed squirrel has been kind of quiet lately. I wonder if he might have anything to add.