But when I tell them I write a newspaper column, their posture straightens and they give me a serious look. Perhaps it's the credibility of that label — newspaper columnist — or the tape recorder I just shoved in their face. Or the nifty little card in the brim of my fedora that says "Press."
Alas, their newfound respect vanishes when they ask their next question — "What do you write about?" — and I have no ready answer.
Truth is, I don't know the answer.
I'll tell them I write about whatever I want — and my editors just cringed. Or that I write about daily life, family, local oddities; the squirrel in my backyard, the weather or something interesting I saw while riding my bike. At least I thought it was interesting.
To this verbal dodge-and-weave the questioner tells me, "I'm sure Steve Lopez knows what he writes about."
In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a journalist (pause for gasps of disbelief). And yet, last week was the two-year anniversary of this column; 23 months longer than I thought it would last.
When I met with the editors to start this little project, I don't think even they knew what to expect each week. After a 20-minute conversation, they sent me down the hall to have my picture taken and told me to write something interesting every week until further notice.
So what is this? What qualifies as a Small Wonder? And what makes a wonder small?
It's hard to define even now. Like romance, wisdom, passion, talent and other such ephemeras, the moment you brand it — capture that firefly in a jar — it dies just a little.
So I looked through everything I've written over two years to see if I could find some common thread. I don't know if it helped.
I've written about supermarket cashiers who are too kind for those of us they serve.