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For the love of the column

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POSTED July 24, 2014 12:48 a.m.

Happy 26th column everyone! That may seem like an arbitrary number to celebrate, but it means I’m halfway through. No, this column hasn’t been some court-mandated punishment handed down for years of bad behavior on the mean streets of Manteca. It means my goal of doing this for a year is halfway complete. I don’t often set goals for myself, or as I call it “Life Pacing,” but I’m finding there have been many ancillary benefits to striving for these things people call goals.

Last week having lunch with a buddy, I was asked the question I’ve been asked on numerous occasions since I started this back in January. “How much is the Bulletin paying you?” Like every other instance, my first thought is “What has happened to tact and decorum?” Then I remembered that I’ve known this idiot for 30 years and he knows all my deepest darkest secrets. So I did what any friend would do in this situation. I lied. Just as I’ve done with 95 percent of people that have asked me the same question. I’ve varied the answer from $20 to $300 a column, depending on the person – and my desire to irritate them. When I told him $50 a column, he gave me the same look I get regardless of my answer. That look a dog gets when he hears someone singing on television. That look that says “I’m not sure how to react.” And the reason is because most people are hard-pressed to put a value on something as obscure as a newspaper column. Most people under the age of 30 don’t realize that a newspaper is more than just fireplace kindling, but then I decided to come clean.

“I do it for free, because I love doing it.”

Now he was tail spinning. He couldn’t comprehend why someone would consume himself with such an endeavor. I slowly talked him off the ledge. “You do know that I love writing correct?” Yes. “You do know I love our town?” He gave a Yes, but I could tell he was needing something a little more substantial. “You do know that I love attention?” I nailed the landing, because in one sentence I had done all the explaining he would need.

It’s hard to express to those that don’t enjoy writing just how much joy those that do derive from it. I hate saying it is my passion; that sounds so cliché and overdone. How about we call it a hobby? Had I told my friend that for the last six months I’d been building model airplanes and I’d been getting to do it for free, he would’ve been all aboard. “You’re building a model airplane once a week — and it isn’t costing a thing?” Nope, not a thing. Just my sanity at times.

Building model airplanes doesn’t come with public scrutiny. I’m certain those building model trains don’t get emails letting them know “That last train was garbage. You are a clueless fool. I can’t believe they let you write a column.” But I’m not a model train builder, and responses to the column, whether positive or negative, feed the attention most writers crave.

Building model airplanes doesn’t come with deadlines. One of the main reasons, beyond the aforementioned (writing, town, and attention), that I took on the task of attempting 52 weeks of pen to paper was learning diligence. I have always been a proponent of this stupid thought “Diligence is for people without talent.” My parents, family, and teachers have spent 40 years trying to impart the lesson of diligence. But like most know-it-all 16 year olds, I knew that talent was all a person needed – so much that I was following that route as a know-it-all 38 year old. But something happened in recent time. I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Maybe I should introduce talent to a little lady known as diligence and see if they hit it off. Don’t get it twisted, I may have introduced a pinch of diligence to the talent stew, but I’ll always have a dash of laziness in the broth. I’m currently writing this on the hood of my Jeep at 6 a.m., hoping to get it finished in an hour so we can start chopping alfalfa. Oh wait, that’s right. I show up to work every day, so diligence may or may not have already been in the stew; just not being used to achieve one of those elusive “goals” that everyone talks about.

“Find what you love to do and figure out a way to earn a living at it.”

That always seemed a scary idea to me. Case in point: When I was 9, I bellyached all summer about how I was old enough to drive tractor. As a farm boy, that is the ultimate rite of passage. You’ve spent years in the cab with your dad or uncle, and finally you are a farmer. That first summer you couldn’t get me off the tractor, sun up ‘til sundown I was ready to go. The exact date it all changed I cannot remember, but it did. “Wait a second, this isn’t fun. This is work!” It’s been that way ever since. Sure every few years the tractors would upgrade. “Wow, air conditioning!” That novelty wore off after a season. “No way, a tape cassette player?! ... This is more like a spaceship now!” No stupid Chris, it’s still a tractor. And no matter how much you used to love it, you are no longer “getting” to drive it. You are “having” to drive it. There is a big difference between the two that you learn as an adult and this is one of the fears of being paid to do the column. (Something that was kicked around initially, but I’ve never followed up on.) The fear being once this becomes a job, it will lose its luster. I enjoy the fact the Bulletin gives me absolutely no directive. The freedom to write whatever I want week to week is what makes it exciting, and I don’t want this column to become a tractor.

It’s funny that the same tractor I can’t stand having to sit in is the driving force in why I do comedy and write, because there is nothing more conducive to writing than 12 hours alone in the cab of a tractor. I don’t write the column until an hour before it’s due, because I’ve thought it in my head for 72 hours the previous six days. I’ve written 100 columns in my head that never make the paper, partly because Dennis Wyatt won’t let them see the light of day and I’d prefer keeping a veil of secrecy over the insanity the tractor causes. It’s like being in solitary confinement at times — just with sunflower seeds and empty Squirt bottles everywhere.

But I’m getting to live out my hobby/passion for free. To say that I’m not being paid to do this is a total misnomer. When my 10-year-old nephew tells me his teacher reads the column and likes it, that is payment. There is no price on being the “Cool Uncle.” When my cousin Denise Liberato Matthews tells me the column makes the family proud, there is no price for that. When I’m able to advertise an upcoming comedy show via the column, there is no pri ... well, actually there is a price on that one, but only $10 for “fine entertainment in Manteca at The Pub and Lounge.” And it’s great to hear from people you don’t know from Adam, sending an email just to say “We’ve never met but as a fellow Mantecan you nailed that last column.”

The truth is I’d pay to write the column, a fact I’m sure won’t help my case when I storm into Dennis’ office next week like LeBron James demanding a contract renegotiation.

I feel like for once, I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at exactly the right time. Were it not for friend Jason Campbell at the paper, this would’ve never happened. Somewhere, somehow he recognized a little bit of writing talent in me. I’m hoping with the addition of that good old diligence everyone swears by, I may be able to parlay this into something more down the road.

After all that is the ultimate “goal” here — turning this writing gig into a lucrative 20-to 30-year comedy/writer career, save up enough money to retire here in town, become the “Lifetime Mayor” and buy my own tractor. One that I don’t “have” to drive, but “get” to drive. Yup, it’s a little sad, and hopefully a little poetic, but all roads apparently lead back to the inside of the tractor I wanted to live in.

When I was 9 ... well, I better get going. The chopper just drove by with Richie Macahdo yelling to me “Get in the tractor, Hemingway. It’s not gonna drive itself.”Off to the salt mines. Thanks, Manteca Bulletin, for believing in a boy and his tractor. Twenty six down, 26 to go. Have a great Thursday people and free hobbies for everyone!

Heart to heart ...

This last week Manteca lost Pastor Joe Williams. Survived by his loving wife of 21 years, Pastor Kandee Williams, his son Jacob Williams, stepson Dana Eberle and stepdaughter Jamee Eberle Bell.

Joe was in the carpentry business for more than 40 years and spent the last few years teaching his son, Jacob, the trade. He was known for his service and dedication to our community by spreading the word of God and mentoring inmates in jail, many who gave their hearts to the lord. Alongside his wife, Kandee, Joe also built Heart2Heart (H2H) Deliverance Ministry here in Manteca. Husband, father, mentor, friend — all roles he played with his whole heart and will be forever missed. Joe leaves behind a legacy that should both inspire and influence us all.

There will be a car wash and bake sale on Saturday, July 26, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 119 Sycamore Avenue in Manteca to help with funeral costs. Please join in and help a family in need, or visit Pastor Joe passed away suddenly and unexpected. The Community that comes together, stays together.

“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do.”

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