So You Want To Be A Newspaper Columnist
I don’t mean to drop names, but when I was on Tony Macrini’s radio show yesterday morning we discussed newspaper columnists we loved. From the late Mike Royko to the talented Maureen Dowd.
We agreed that a former local columnist was easily as good as those legends: Dave Addis, who retired a while ago from The Virginian-Pilot. I told Tony that Addis was the most gifted writer I’d ever worked with.
And yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Deal with it.
No rules, remember?
Thinking about Dave, I recalled the years we sat near each other in the bowels of The Pilot building, writing our columns for alternating days.
I’d turned a supply closet into a stuffy little office. Dave, who preferred to breathe while he worked, had a desk about 10 feet away in the features department.
Each morning we’d laugh about the callers who’d left insane messages on our voicemail during the night. And we fumed whenever some curmudgeon would call one of us and grumble: “All you do is write three columns a week? Hah. How do I get a job like that?”
It happened more often than you’d expect.
We had ready-made retorts: A litany of all the soul-crushing jobs we’d had on the way to our “cushy” columnist gigs.
If memory serves, Dave began with his days as a brick-laying assistant to his dad.
Mine started with a job in a book bindery, where I was the only worker with all 10 fingers. (Everyone else, it seemed, had lost at least one digit on the three-knife machine we used to trim paperbacks.)
Next came college, a stint as a newspaper copy aide - where I spent my days changing typewriter ribbons for Ivy League cub reporters who had no idea how to work complicated machinery - and long nights as a young reporter listening to the police scanner and hoping for juicy crime stories.
Then I’d say, “After 25 years writing news story after news story, and missing holidays with your family and ruining marriages because of your demanding job, you, too might be surly enough to raise hell with city council, piss off readers and be a columnist.”
But I lied.
Looking back, I was ready for this job when I was in the 3rd grade.