Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Look Back and Chuckle

Let's put this in context: I was chugging along under the periscope writing comedy for radio and the #1 late night talk show host. I was also a serial applicant - applying for jobs I had no experience at and then just having fun with the process. I'd often entitle my letters "Dear Jungle Out There" and I made it a point never to give them what they asked for in the ad. "You want an MP3 file of my voice? Fine. Here's some song lyrics I wrote in 9th grade." I thought that showed initiative. Most times I would apply to places without bothering to find out if there was an actual job opening. It was fun and I'll admit it: I was so tickled to be a comedy writer that it felt like bragging. I enjoyed the process. So one day I picked up the Willamette Week and there was Bob Pamplin, Jr. on the cover. The article was about the founding of the Tribune - something the WW inexplicably went out of its way to promote. One other thing: I always applied in person just as an outing. Why? As a comedy writer, I suddenly had tons of free time - something that continues to this day. Folks, I don't stress this enough, but if they ever really study my life, I'm going to get my own wing in the Slacker Hall of Fame. The reason? I can do the work of 2 comedy writers in around one quarter the time, and if that sounds like bragging, it is. Comedy allows me to be free - except for around two hours a day, and I'm working extra-hard to pare that down. The rest of the time I play guitar, write scripts, and hang out. I'm not saying my stuff is always brilliant, but, as I used to write on my applications: It's not that I'm so great, but the competition really sucks.
So as soon as I saw the WW piece on the Trib, I wrote a letter that started "Dear Bob" and applied for a job. I took it directly to Pamplin's office and slid it under his door. He wrote back a very classy letter and I eventually became a newspaper columnist for the Tribune. Now, I had never written a column and suddenly I was being paid $375 bucks for around 550 words - $750 a week that was on top of my regular gigs. I began to think that maybe I should try some practice columns just to see if I could do it. Sure, I had written one of my audition columns really quickly - it was about my plan to divert the Willamette and run it up 82nd. But I was about to plunge into a 2-a-week cycle and I was wondering how that would work out. Today, I was stumbling around looking for something else, and I found one of my practice columns. To me it has an innocence and charm. What do you think?

It’s 2-5-01 as I write this, the last Sunday before the launch of the Portland Tribune. I’ve decided to record my thoughts in real time so I can look back later, hopefully after being a columnist is more of a regular routine. Today definitely registered on the anxiety scale. I feel like I’m walking on one of those airport conveyor belts and everything is coming at me at a slightly faster speed. Strange, considering I first applied for the job back in October and signed the contract in November. It’s been quite a wait but it sure seems to have gone by quickly now. I’m anxious to see how this will affect my everyday anonymity. I even walked up on Mt. Tabor to eyeball the city for one of the last times in my current and quite satisfactory arrangement as underground comedy writer.
Two thoughts about Mt. Tabor: If you are calling your dog and it is not responding, the reason could be that it is embarrassed by what you have named it. I especially don’t get the mystical names like Chakra. And guess what? The dog doesn’t get them either. You cannot gain spiritual enlightenment from drinking out of a toilet.
Second: while the people who put up band flyers on telephone poles continue to get heat, does it bother anyone that you can see the electronic sign at the approach to the Morrison Bridge changing colors from the top of Mt. Tabor? There has to be a way to communicate. God forbid that Air Supply might be playing at a casino and we don’t find out about it. But maybe it’s overdoing it a little to have a sign this bright. Hmm, I’m flying East soon for a long weekend. Maybe I should try and see the sign change colors from the airplane.
I’m not recommending we go back to the days of the town crier here. Imagine someone clanging a bell walking down Hawthorne yelling, ”Hear ye, hear ye…the Five Fingers of Funk will be performing in the village square…” There has to be a way to disseminate information on a community level. And don’t get me wrong; I love the sign when I’m driving over the bridge. It’s like a little TV break; much more entertaining than watching the road. I just don’t want to have my eye drawn to it when I’m trying to contemplate my future on the top of Mt. Tabor.
Gee, all this hassle for a little communication and I’ve lucked into a twice weekly column. Today it doesn’t seem lucky though. It seems slightly ominous. The other columnists seem a little more acceptable in high society. Will I still be able to walk around in these same old clothes? I had a very simple solution for dealing with the jokes I sold Leno. I never really quite believed it. Something I wrote broadcast in over 70 countries? Please. But this column is going to be hard to ignore. I won’t be able to walk a block without passing it somewhere. I hope it doesn’t impact my sense of freedom. Wow, the Sunday before the launch. This thing’s going to be more visible than that electronic sign. And I could end up more spiritually lost than a dog named Chakra.


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