A condensed version of a writing career

A condensed version of a writing career

Let me tell you what the end looks like.

Picture you’re Lee Harvey Oswald with only minutes to live.

You’re cuffed, being marched out of a holding cell in the basement of the Dallas Police Department and on your way to being transferred to the county jail where, presumably, you’ll be much safer.

Flanked by high-ranking law-enforcement officials, you’re steered directly into the path of a man with a gun, who shoots you in the gut at point-blank range on national TV on a Sunday morning.

You die less than an hour later.

You never had a chance.

A similar fate befell me, though most assuredly without much of an audience and, of course, no one actually killed me, though my career in journalism almost certainly took a significant hit.

And probably much like the accused assassin of President Kennedy, I knew it was coming.

There he was, dressed up and ready to be driven into eternity, wearing a black sweater and dark trousers, trusting his captors, when he had to be thinking, “This is not going to end well.”

Actually, I understood his frame of mind when my job got killed.

When I first got into the business of journalism, just after leaving college, it was considered a rock-star profession, due largely to the impact Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had, the way they drove Nixon from the White House and into political ignominy.

Every young would-be writer wanted a chance to be like them.

So I put in my 30-plus years, giving three different newspapers the best I had to offer, and I mostly loved the life, though I never made my age, which was a measuring stick for success among my peers.

For example, when I was 25, I made way less than $25,000.

And when I got here, I was even farther removed from that metric.


Making 45 grand at a small-town daily in Coastal Carolina?


Don’t make me laugh.

No one gets into journalism for the money, and if you made that mistake, it only took a few months to realize you were in the wrong line of work.

Colleagues of mine, who lacked the write stuff, quickly hit the eject button and landed safely in the comfy realms of public relations or advertising, where having a soul wasn’t required.

And I couldn’t blame them.

They were married with kids, wanted to buy a house, maybe even a car that was actually new, instead of renting a two-room walk-up and driving a metallic blue 1973 Buick Centurian.

Mine had air-conditioning and power seats but lacked a reliable transmission, a rather large handicap when you worked on the road.

Then again, I got paid two cents a mile, so that was kind of nice.

Even better was finding comfort in the arms of a lovely lady with whom I worked, and though I messed up that relationship with the steady deadeye aim of a longtime loser, we had fun while it lasted.

Workplace relationships weren’t exactly high on that place’s prohibition list. As long as you weren’t stupid enough to be embarrassingly public about it, no one seemed to care.

But, as I said, I lacked the moral fiber and emotional fortitude to be true to her, and as had happened before, my whole world blew up.

Then — I mean right then, within a matter of weeks — two things happened that helped reset my life, professionally and personally.

First, I got away from the sports gig and took a job as the arts and entertainment editor at the paper in the next county over; second, the woman who would eventually agree to marry me called me one Saturday afternoon in October and, basically, asked me for a date.

When you’re 32 years old and have already convinced yourself that among the things that your destiny will simply not allow are marriage, children, a mortgage and a car that can be relied upon … this is what was known in the Age of Aquarius as celestial karma.

So we started seeing each other at just the time I needed someone to tell me I could do a job I had grave doubts about, and it was her blind faith in me — and her beauty, brains and belief in a better tomorrow — that helped me establish myself in a new place.

That was one fantastic newsroom, with talent in every corner, the kind of place that, if you’re very lucky, you’ll find welcomes you.

I spent nearly a dozen years there, but then as was my wont, I bristled against the oppression of a new regime and simply quit.

I gave no two-week notice.

I took part in no mediation talks.

I simply toted in a couple of cardboard boxes, filled them with my belongings and said a few sad goodbyes on New Year’s Eve 1999.

My fiancée and I celebrated with Chinese food and Dick Clark.

Flash forward 10 months and there I was, interviewing for an editor’s position and, luckily, getting it, making the decision to leave home for the coast because, well, she and I wanted to do it.

And that was just the beginning of an eight-year run that saw us, among other milestones, get married on the beach at Kitty Hawk.

Sure, we were still renting — our house had one more bathroom than occupants — and my 1991 Honda Civic was closing in on 200,000 miles, but then something shifted under our foundation.

My job was about to be outsourced … and I knew it was coming.

So when I was escorted down that long hallway from the newsroom to the conference room, flanked by a couple of lackeys and a pig-eyed dweeb who wanted my job, I had to make a joke.

“I feel just like Lee Harvey Oswald,” I said. “Who’s Jack Ruby?”

So just like that — BANG! — I was another casualty in the war on local journalism, an insidious campaign that continues to this day.

It’s been 13 years since they cut me loose, but I’m still writing.

And that’s all thanks to you, who have given me a new life.

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