I’m a writing junkie and this is my fix. Thirteen years after I quit journalism, I’m coming back to a medium that over the years has both excited my senses and bored me to tears – a feeling I can only liken to another life I’ve led since 9/11, that of a Marine infantryman. As Jimmy Chitwood humbly told a town hall in announcing his return to basketball in “Hoosiers:” “I don’t know if it’ll make any change, but I figured it’s time for me to start playin’ ball.” I definitely don’t expect a rousing ovation from you occupants of the blogosphere; in fact, I expect Shooter the town drunk to bust through the doors of this Coffee Bean in teeny, tiny South Pasadena, California, slurring and screaming about how bad a call this is. “C’mon ref! His feet were set!”
I hope I don’t come across as a pompous ass. However, some of you have told me – separately – that maybe I should start writing again, that I was denying myself an outlet that’s as much a part of me as the nose on my face. Well my friends, be careful what you ask for, because now you’re getting it. Start clapping it up. (Clap. Clap. Clap.) “Let me hear it!”
OK, that’s enough. Let’s get to work.
The Unabomber had a manifesto, so this will be mine. His ran 35,000 words and spanned pages of mind-numbing ramblings that were eventually published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. I promise to make mine (a little) shorter. I don’t get paid by the word. In fact, I don’t get paid anything for this (not yet anyway). My payment is the pure pleasure at using this virtual soapbox to express my opinions, tell some stories and get some laughs – or (more likely) piss many people off.
First, I promise to write with honesty. In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King discussed writing with courage. Tell ‘em how you feel, brother. This point resounded with me. This little website that could will showcase my opinions, some of which I’m certain you’ll disagree with. But this blog – I can’t believe this is an accepted term now, blog – will be an environment of mutual respect. Worlds collide in the comments sections of news websites and blogs, and the irrational vitriol that emerges makes me want to shut down the Internet forever. This website, run by me, your benevolent dictator-for-life, will not be one of those. So play nice, Republicans and Democrats, bed-wetting liberals and iron-fisted conservatives. I’ll be watching you and the delete button is easy to reach.
Second, the tone of this column will span the full spectrum of my emotions. I hope that most of the time, it’ll be lighthearted and make you chuckle. Other times, my column will be somber because of my mood or the seriousness of the topic. If you ever decide to return to this corner of the World Wide Web, you never know what you’re going to get.
Third, the topics will run the gamut of our everyday lives. I’ll write about everything under the sun, from politics to crime, from the military to sports, from pop culture to food. If this were a “Jeopardy” category, it’d be Potpourri and I’m Alex Trebek (circa the 1980s with the ‘fro and mustache). This is commentary, informed by a little reporting (any idiot can strike up a conversation) and stuff on the Internet that’s about 65% correct (Wikipedia). I may already know a little about the subject (such as sports, the news business or national security), but if I don’t we’ll learn about it together.
Fourth, if I plan to write about family and friends, I’ll ask for your permission before publishing. I’ll be sensitive to using real names and places of work. This is entertainment and commentary, not muckraking journalism. I’m not in this to get people fired or imprisoned. Not even my enemies. Well, not most of my enemies.
Fifth, I write for you, dear readers (not to be confused with “Dear Leader,” which is me). Your suggestions on column topics feed this machine. Recommendations can be issues big or small, things that are in the news or which are news in your living room. Review a movie or restaurant, run the Tough Mudder or shop for a Halloween costume. Pitch a subject and I’ll try to do it justice.
Finally, I should explain the name of this blog. In January 2003 as a thousand of my closest friends and I bobbed along the Atlantic Ocean aboard the U.S.S. Saipan on our way to Iraq, my friend Pat Hulsy asked me if my parents were members of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. For the uninitiated, Hulsy is a race riot waiting to explode. One night after dinner, Hulsy broke into a kung-fu accent and started screaming in the Officers Lounge: “Oy-y-y! Kow-tow to Chairman Mao! Or else he will put you in a re-education camp and make you eat your own liver! Oy-y-y!” Substitute the l sounds with r’s, and the r’s with l’s. The name stuck, especially because Hursy introduced me as “Chairman” to every stranger aboard the ship.
Marines began to call me that so often that I had to remind myself that I was neither conducting a guerilla campaign against Chiang Kai-Shek nor fleeing the Kuomintang on a Long March. I became him and he became me over the years. But please do me a favor and subtract the real Chairman’s penchant for intellectual purges and (ahem) pre-adolescent girls.
Why am I here, spending more time in front of a keyboard? I already do oodles of writing in my current job, but to put it mildly it can get boring. I’m not complaining about my job because I know what I signed up for, but I do need this outlet. Outside work, I don’t draw, paint, garden or sculpt. I don’t play an instrument, sing or dance. I used to write for a living. Now I live to write. Hopefully well enough to keep you around.
A special thanks goes to my long-suffering wife, Veronica. If I were the mercurial Coach Norman Dale, V would be my initially frigid, but later red-hot love interest, Myra Fleener. (Have you seen Barbara Hershey in flannel?) V has steered my creative mind back to the keyboard – not to do more work, surf Pinterest or update my status to “heart,” but to do what I probably should’ve resumed doing a long time ago. She was right and I love her for telling me.
Back to Hickory at a crossroads. It’s late fall and Coach Dale’s first assistant is forced from the pine because of a bad ticker. Coach Dale saw something in Shooter the drunk that no one else saw – especially not Shooter. Late in the season, after Coach Dale gets kicked out of a game on purpose, was it any surprise that Shooter pulled that hokey “Picket Fence” play out of his dusty tweed jacket? He probably kept it in the same pocket where he kept his flask. And it worked.
I think we’re all digging for our magic play, our own “Picket Fence” to win the big game and swell our hearts with pride. I’ve been digging around in my tweed jacket for quite some time now. I hope this is mine.