Five years ago this week I became a weekly columnist for the Daily Pilot.
Today — some 250 published columns later — I'm still at it, and can scarcely believe it.
I received a call from a Pilot editor in April of 2009, asking me if I'd be interested in writing a column for the newspaper. The offer caught me by surprise.
Well, er, let me think about that, was my response.
I'd been retired for a year from my post as senior director of community relations at Orange Coast College, where I'd worked for 37 years. I was enjoying retirement. No niggling responsibilities.
As I've mentioned in this space previously, I was trained and worked as a U.S. Army sports editor, columnist and reporter. I'm also a Cal State Fullerton communications grad.
I worked as a stringer for the Pilot in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, covering high school and college sports. I did it for fun and a small stipend. My full-time profession for much of that period was public relations director at OCC.
A newspaper junkie since junior high, I'd always fantasized about someday becoming a columnist. I cut my journalistic teeth on Jim Murray, Herb Caen, Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck, not to mention the Pilot's colorful Bill Doner.
How exciting, I thought, to see your mug plastered in the middle of a page, and your name at the top of a column!
So, out of the blue, the Pilot gig came along. Would I be interested?
At the time, the Pilot had a number of very fine columnists, like Joseph Bell, Steve Smith and Peter Buffa. Why'd they need me?
Plus, I'd known the greatest Pilot columnist of them all, the late Tom Murphine. Tom — a newsroom icon — wrote "Just Coastin'" in these pages for decades. I wasn't worthy of planting my fingers on the home row of his Smith-Corona.
So, with that kind of talent serving as the standard, what do I do? I asked the one person in my life who was certain to give me a straight answer: my wife, Hedy.
"You love to write," she said. "And you're beginning to drive me crazy, anyway. What do you have to lose? It'll give you a weekly challenge. Just don't disgrace the family name!"
But what in heaven's name would I write about? The Pilot editor assured me I had carte blanche. He further added that since my family has lived for seven decades in the Newport-Mesa community, I could offer some insights into the history and nature of the place.
But I won't write about politics, I insisted. I don't want to bloviate about city counsel machinations, school board foibles or water agency leaks. No hustings from this soon-to-be ink-stained wretch.
That, the editor said, would be fine.
After hanging up I wondered aloud, do I have the background and insight to sustain a column for six months? I had no answer. Obviously, I wouldn't know until I tried.
If I make it six months as a columnist, I reasoned, I'll have exceeded my expectations by 100%. I can then, without embarrassment, tender my resignation.
I made it six months — and then a year. It's now been five years, and I haven't encountered a single fallow spell or missed a deadline.
Am I amazed? Truly!
Now, I actually have a couple of fans.
First and foremost is my 90-year-old mother. When I was 11, she would type the little neighborhood gazette that I wrote and distributed door to door. She has always believed in me.
I take her my Pilot column weekly when I visit her Huntington Beach mobile home park. Praise from her lips still gives me goose flesh.
My second fan is my wife. Hedy's more a critic than my mom, however, and lets me know when I've approached the periphery of journalistic bad taste.
Guess I'll keep penning this weekly commentary for as long as I can keep my two fans happy — and writer's block at bay.
JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.