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The year in review...
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It was Christmas time of last year when Jason Campbell and myself kicked around the idea of a “Manteca to a T”-type column. We had no idea if the Bulletin would go for it. That was up to Dennis Wyatt. We had no name for it. That was also Dennis Wyatt’s stroke of genius. We had no idea what It should be – or what it could become – and we still don’t.

The “work in progress” has lasted the year and I’m still unsure exactly what I’m doing, but I enjoy the fact the paper gives me no directive. They allow me write what I choose. Whether I go foot directly into mouth, or somehow manage to cobble together something of social value, they are letting me pick and choose my poison. And for that I am very appreciative. I’d like to give a special “Thank You” to James Burns. He has somehow become attuned to my style of writing and does an amazing job of cleaning up the ellipses and over worded jumbles I often turn in. (I’ve had the “jee” key busted on my keyboard for nearly three weeks, when I get tired of copy and pasting them, he inserts them in the right spots.)

And away we went…

I opened with my love of our town, my qualifications to be Manteca’s No. 1 son and my hate of the word “Mantweeka.” Cutting that word out of your vocabulary should be every Mantecan’s New Year’s Resolution.

A co-worker of my younger sister had this to say: “As with many others, I’ve never been a fan of your brother but what a wonderful first article.” It was the first of thousands of back-handed compliments I’d receive throughout the year. 

Thanks, I think.

I suddenly found out that many of the people that were at the places I was at were actually “not there” and learned of the new epidemic – “I wasn’t there-it is.” Your secret is safe with me.

We discussed Manteca sports history. We questioned who was the greatest football, softball and all-around athletes, amongst other sports. And truthfully, who cares?! All that matters is who your personal favorite is. My Tim Beattie poster speaks for itself.

People became annoyed at the fact I am highly biased towards Manteca High and refuse to use the actual name of “The Other School. (East Union High)” You know, the red and blue one not named Sierra. Well, when the paper gives you a column, feel free to call MHS whatever you’d like. Though I’d recommend the “Best” or “Better” school.

The spring hit and everyone started that yearly tradition of dumping their dogs and couches in the country. Thanks, city people.

I had former schoolmate and Manteca legend Ken Huckaby reach out to me. Ken is one of the few Mantecans to play Major League Baseball. He had read one of my columns. Let me repeat that – Ken Huckaby was reading my column! Upon reading my column about growing up an Expos fan with Tim Raines as my favorite all-time player, he arranged for me and Tim Raines to talk on the phone. And I did … from my mom’s kitchen. It was awesome! But not nearly as cool as talking to Ken and realizing that Manteca has never left his heart.

I got to be part of a comedy show at The Gallo Center along with Anthony K and Marcella Arguello – the first group of local comics to play the venue. The Stand-Up to Cancer benefit was highlighted by Marcella singing the Beatles’ “Yesterday” in tribute to her father who had succumbed to cancer a few months before. Her voice began to crack and waver near the end as emotion overcame her and the crowd took it upon themselves to sing with her. For her. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment – and my favorite of the year.

I asked to see the inside of the Bernacchi Building that sits at the northeast corner of Main and Yosemite and was turned down. I’ve moved on and found a new favorite building in town. She is younger and prettier than you Lady Bernacchi. P.S. You need a paint job. Signed, Not Bitter.

I got my first serious hate mail after writing a column about the “wussification” of children in America. “No playing tag – No rough housing – No trophies – No losers...our kids have NO chance” was met with “You are No parent – No teacher – No psychologist....Nobody cares what you think.” It was the first time I realized that some people in this town are actually taking this column serious. Bad idea.

We talked about the different types of Manteca “Birds.” Parrots, ostrich, and geese, and we all agreed that what we need is more Manteca “Crows.” CAW!!!

I challenged Tisha Herzfeld to strike me out. She still hasn’t. Well, at least not on the softball diamond. In life, the story is much different. Batter up, Herzfeld. I’m not getting any younger.

We got a new McDonalds, which apparently everyone hated ... except for the 80 people they employ. “I’m lovin’ it.”

I exposed the incident in which I was booted out of high school for what it truly was – my fault. But did expect a small apology from Dr. Spock and Bo Peep, the principal players in my dismissal. Olive branch not reciprocated, but I am waiting.

I didn’t win the MAMA Comedy award for the 6th year straight and I also wrote about my hate of horses.

And then it happened. My piece de resistance: My homeless in Manteca column. Oh boy!

The backlash was not only harsh – it was worldwide. The column made it onto a website that was calling Manteca to the table for its homeless ordinance. I received email from Europe and Australia and even caught local hate. “As a Christian woman I find you a repulsive piece of garbage…” Blah, blah, blah. “I pray that one day you know what it is to be homeless and suffer.” WOW!

I responded by letting her know that was quite un-Christian and quite unnecessary. “You didn’t need to send an email like that. I’m going to be at your house for dinner, Mom. Couldn’t you have just said this to my face?”

And through it all, I’ve tried to switch gears each week and keep it fresh. Many times waiting until a few hours before the column is due, hoping and praying for something inspiring. Something that at year’s end became increasingly tough. I began to question why I’m doing this column recently – and whether I wanted to continue it.

On Christmas Eve, I received a message from a Facebook friend Jami asking if I could cover an event for the paper on Christmas night. We have several mutual friends, but I don’t believe we’ve ever met face to face. Since I started doing this column, people have often mistaken me for an actual member of the Bulletin staff. I am far from it – and over the last few weeks had completely lost my desire to do the column any longer. It is a terrible feeling to have to explain to “Mrs. Smith” that “No, I more than likely will not be able to cover her bake sale. I’m not a reporter.” 

I’m a columnist – though I use that term in the loosest sense. It’s much harder than most people would imagine, and the responsibility of putting together what I consider a “good column” had become a burden. Maybe I had grown lazy or actually become somewhat of perfectionist. I have several columns that just sit in my computer – “fall back” columns, written in case I didn’t have anything topical for the week. But I couldn’t bring myself to send one of those when stuck; seemed like cheating. I was just hitting the wall and wondering what was the point of it. Either way, I had lost passion for it. 

I could easily fill this column each week with embellished tales of my life, which, believe me, I have done quite a bit this year. But that is an ugly self-serving position to write a column from in my opinion. My initial template for this was the Pat O’Leary column of the late 70s – a retired man with the time to have coffee at the VFW at 6 a.m. and make it to “Mrs. Smith’s” bake sale. He was built for this type of “man about town” column. 

And so here I was on Christmas Eve, being asked to possibly help cover an event. I let the Jami know she’d be hard-pressed to get anyone to be able to cover an event on such short notice, much less on Christmas Night. But I asked “What is the event?” She answered, “We are having a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of my brother Ryan Gomes.” (Ryan was senselessly murdered on Christmas morning of 2006 after attempting to stop a thief from stealing his pick-up from the driveway of his home. Ryan was a few years younger than me, always with a smile and a kind word.)

I thought about how hard the holidays must be for his family, and in an instant, all my fears and trepidations of continuing this column washed away. I realized that this column doesn’t always have to be a dissertation of my thoughts on the homeless or kids being coddled too much or even my hate of horses. Sometimes this column should just be about a few people in our town trying to do a nice thing; trying to keep the memory of a loved on alive on the night it was taken. 

I told her I planned to spend Christmas with family, but if she were able to take a few pics of the vigil – I’d make sure they made Manteca to a T. She was elated at that response. Little did she know, it was me that wished I could hug her through my phone. She reminded me that it is the small gestures in life that pile up into a person’s true worth. If writing a weekly column in our paper can lift just one person’s spirit, well, then it is a responsibility that I will gladly continue. 

Sometimes this column will write itself … if I just listen to the people of Manteca. Thank you Gomes family for reminding me that we do live in a “Family City” and it’s families like yours – and memories of people like Ryan – that make it worthwhile.

Thank you, Manteca, for allowing me to bend your ear each week. And please continue putting me in check when you see fit, because the pats on the backs are nice but the only thing nicer? The hate mail. “Boorish narcissistic oaf” and “Pompous tasteless windbag” are not only wonderfully creative, but are very close to hitting their mark. Happy New Year and see you in 2015.

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