Life of a Columnist Not Too Earth-Shaking

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This column is about earthquake safety. But before I get to that, let me tell you what it’s like being a columnist.

There are several things that we columnists have to do frequently. The first thing is, we have to write columns. This is sometimes a big pain in the rear, particularly when we’d rather be out on a date with an attractive girl who thinks we’re funny, but NO! We have to sit in this cramped little newspaper office and attempt to type and keep some semblance of a train of thought despite that fact that whoever owns the portable radio has it permanently tuned to an oldies station that only plays Elvis Presley and whoever did “Duke of Earl” and it is driving us nuts and we are just about ready to stomp out the door in search of gainful employment without even storing our work on the computer first. That is how angry we are.

The second thing we have to do is suffer through conversations with people who don’t think that writing is an actual profession, which it’s not, but who are they to say so? I had to deal with one of these people a couple years ago, when I planned out my class schedule for my sophomore year. My regular counselor was busy, presumably with more important students, so my parents and I instead met with a woman whose name I won’t mention because 1) she has access to my transcript and 2) I don’t know how to spell it.

In the course of this meeting, she asked me what I planned to do when I graduated from college. I told her, just as I would tell anyone who cared enough to ask, that it was none of her dang business, and where was my real counselor. But I eventually told her I want to be a writer.

When I said that, though, she chuckled in the patronizing manner you might use if a relative came up and told you that he or she was going to fly off the roof of the barn. “A writer,” she said to my parents. “Yeah, my son always wanted to be a writer…”

My mother, offended by this obvious lack of faith in teenagers, attempted to choke the counselor to death with the strap of her purse and had to be restrained by my father. I found the whole thing pretty amusing.

The third, and perhaps most important thing we have to do is get paid. If it weren’t for the money, we columnists would probably chuck it all and get a real job. “Chuck it!” we would say. “I’m going to go get a real job.”

The only problem with the getting paid part is when you’re a “free-lancer” (or, in layman’s terms, “large pile of worthless gravy skin”), which means that you are not on the actual staff; you just write for the paper in your free time. The problem with this in regards to getting paid is that for a free-lancer to get any money, he has to write out a list of what he’s written and figure out himself how much he is owed by the large, faceless, company and then mail it off to the Payroll Department and wait for the Payroll Persons to send him a check, which sometimes takes several weeks, and the poor writer keeps putting off his Christmas shopping because he doesn’t have any money yet, and he FINALLY gets the check THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS and has to rush out and buy things at the last minute for his friends and loved ones, who have been telling him since he got this creepy job last May that he should find a slightly more stable occupation, such as time bomb deactivating, but did he listen? NO!! He’d rather rush around like a crazy person on Christmas Eve!

The fourth thing we columnists have to do sometimes is write columns in advance, which is what I’m doing now. I knew I would be busy about this time with finals at school, as well as my involvement with the school play, so back during Christmas vacation, I wrote a few spare columns, including this one, which is about earthquake safety. I tried to pick a topic that would be appropriate at any given moment, but then I got to thinking: What if, just the day before this column appears, a major earthquake strikes Southern California, one so large that vice-president Quayle flies out in a helicopter and frowns at what’s left of the area and makes an official statement such as “Golly!” or, perhaps, “Wow!”? Won’t I appear insensitive, making fun of earthquakes just the day after a big one hits?

Then I remembered the last thing we columnists must do sometimes, the thing that makes the world realize that we are, in fact, caring, responsible journalists with rational human emotions.

Sometimes, we have to say, “So what?!?” and do it anyway.

Next week: Earthquake safety. No matter what.

This was one of my favorites at that time; I don't care so much for it now. My mom really liked it because I mentioned her, and because I didn't make fun of anyone (except Dan Quayle, and that part was stolen from Dave Barry).

Eileen Haag, who was publisher of Community News Network, Inc. (which owned the Lake Elsinore News), didn't like this column at all, for perhaps understandable reasons. She said my job is to "comment on the human condition, not on working conditions." Yes, yes, fine, but let's get my paycheck mailed out a little sooner, OK, Toots?

When I began this column, I actually intended it to be on earthquake safety, but I got sidetracked. I eventually decided it was too late to turn back, so I went ahead with the angle I was using. The next couple weeks, where I continued to avoid the topic of earthquake safety, were engineered that way on purpose, however, almost like a TV "sweeps week" stunt.


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