A wise man that used to write a column, one kindred to my own for the Bulletin in the late 80s, once told me “You can only write about the column once a year, otherwise you’re a hack.”
That was from the Great Dennis Fleming. This Manteca Unified School District teacher wrote for the Bulletin from ‘84-’88, and then continued a weekly column for 10 more years! Talk about an ego, geez.
The message being: Writing about writing, is not writing.
He’d received this sage piece of wisdom from Manteca’s own bourgeois boulevardier Pat O’Leary. The man I model this column after.
Though I wasn’t of drinking age during Pat’s tenure as local raconteur, I’d met him on several occasions: Festas, County Fair, horse races, bars I shouldn’t have been in with my grandfather and uncles, and on one occasion post SJ County Fair at the Sampan with Pat and the late great Jim Turner. I always made sure to soak moments like those in as they’d ply me with quarters to shut-up and play Pac-Man in the corner. I was much more interested in documenting the movements of these peacocks in action. The subtle exchanges and turns of phrase in a group of Alphas with plumage fanned out. It definitely set a tone I’ve attempted to replicate within my own crew of colorful feathered friends.
There are boxes of his clippings at my grandmother’s house – a virtual cornucopia of the town’s underbellied history from the mid-70s to the late 80s. His tongue-in-cheek snark, dry wit, and ability to paint in tones, belied a man that mixed with the best of them. From mayor to bartender, field hand to teacher, mechanic to pancake waitress, he rubbed elbows and put his own spin on the extremely “non-essential” happenings of the day. And in all of his columns I’ve read, he never dealt with an unhappy reader.
Did he not have unhappy readers? I highly doubt that.
A column loaded with pictures of people night owling at haunts like Jackass Junction and Brawley’s, must’ve made for some awkward Tuesday morning newspaper reads for those in the “wrong place” at the fun time.
Did either Pat or Dennis receive email after email, correcting grammar, punctuation, and composition?
After all, this is a free form column, not bound by the constraints of a college thesis or the Magna Carta.
Most importantly, there was no such thing as email when these men sat at the table and shuffled their version column cards. It took time to write a letter to the Bulletin in those days, and I’ve been told an actual phone call to chastise Pat directly, was one you’d never make again.
But my email is met a few times a week, by bystanders sitting around the column card table, yelling out “You’re playing poker again! Why’d you do that? That was an odd bet. You’re obviously bluffing. Do you never fold?!”
“Those without the pluck to put their money on the table, should just pass out crackers and drinks. Nobody wants to hear you,” is advice offered by Lloyd Barbasol
Dennis Wyatt pisses off half of the town, half of the time. But does it with such frequency, his emails end up unread, or receive the attention of a windshield menu to Senor Campos.
Random email complaints should be treated like a baseball landing in your backyard, from kids playing catch next door — just politely toss it back and move on.
But I don’t have a yard full of baseballs like Dennis Wyatt and Jason Campbell must have. Their yards are reinforced with foam siding and nets, a direct result of the curveballs delivered with regularity. Taking their time to load up the wheelbarrow and return the misguided tosses at their leisure. Thick skin has empowered them to let the kids stew, peering over the fence, wondering if the ball will ever be returned.
This stupid Manteca to a T column however only comes out once a week. When I hear the sound of a ball or two skipping across my lawn, I can’t ignore them! Oh, I may let them sit there for a couple days. Knowing full well my right arm will start to twitch. Eventually picking up the ball and deciding whether to soft toss the thing back — or Kenny Huckaby it to second base. Fwpop!
Has it not been made clear that this is an entertainment column? Not to be taken as hard hitting journalism? One I only fired back up during the stay-in-place, because I cannot get out to doing actual stand-up comedy. The column with a pic of me ironically holding my dog up like a child, while shouldering a bright yellow rifle in my best Starsky and Hutch leather jacket? Tony Coit and myself going full Indiana Jones with a stack of nudie mags? None of these cues hinted at what this column intends to be? Lighten up Nolan Ryan’s of Manteca. I have a deaf dog that lives in my backyard, and she is incapable of hearing the whizz of your fastballs.
That leads me to this week’s unnecessary game of soft toss.
Let me openly acknowledge the hard work that 24 hour veterinarians do as well as last week’s tribute to overpriced rhinoscopy services. Of course my dog would need sedation. Of course without me hands on to hold him, it’d be a struggle (though I do believe they’ve invented a thing called a muzzle and restraints.) So, to the few in the animal hospital field that were offended and lost control of a throw: “Catch. Here’s your ball. Sorry about the teeth marks.”
And, finally with a long intentional windup.
Dear Email Emily – my dog is in fact deaf. Not sure what comedic edge, or fan favor you think I’m looking to gain, by pretending I own a deaf dog??!!
Is that a thing you’ve encountered? People capitalizing upon the faked special needs of their pets?! (Something I may or may not be guilty of. Oops.)
I am sorry, and empathize with your “close friend”, who has a deaf son. That must be a true daily struggle for her and that young man. But I am in no way attempting to “mock and belittle” (as you put) the deaf community. In fact, I find it slightly insulting when people give an “ahhh” upon hearing she is deaf, as she is an extremely capable and intelligent being. No need for sympathy “ahhh’s.” I’d bet-dollars-to-donuts your friend feels the same way.
My pup’s deafness and inability to read means she rarely has to suffer fools in email form. No such luck here though.
My friends and I have taken the time to teach my pup Banshee sign language. Nothing special. She can’t understand what I’m expressing, tugging my hair and furling my brow whilst reading your email. But if she could think “Balls in! Coming down!”
Next week I’ll get back to real column writing. All apologies to the late great Pat O’Leary.
“It’s not Where ‘ya do, It’s What ‘ya do”