Of Columnists and Contests

by Steed Dropout
Nov. 20, 2015

I’m posting from Berkeley’s
Caffe Mediterraneum

Dustin Hoffman is looking over my shoulder. I don’t need to turn around to verify that. But when I do, I see that he’s not looking at me at all. He’s looking at Moe’s books.

Hoffman is trapped in a picture frame at the Med in “the Graduate,” 1967.

Hoffmann seems riveted to his view of Telegraph, which is Westward, but the best window view is Northward—where a stream of converging Southsiders and weekend slum- tourists from the burbs stumbles steadily nearer, like characters from “Night of the Living Dead.”

In twenty-odd articles in the Berkeley Daily Planet and at Berkeley Reporter, a dot-com Google calls a “news blog focusing on Berkeley’s less affluent south side,” I’ve tom-tom beat my jungle drum night and day to accompany a monotonous song: “Night and Day” the Med is notorious.

Notorious to Berkeley police, who arrive on business, like they were in business. The business of petty grievances, of fights, and gun threats.

Notorious to wimp-ass Med defectors who can’t take the “drip, drip, drip” of danger, which rivets true Med heads to their seats for hours on their ends.

I am reading the San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist, Jon Carroll’s, last column. He’s retiring at 73. I’m applying for his job at 76, which would make me an interim columnist.

‘You can’t just apply to be a Chron columnist; first you have to work you’re way up,’ you say. I agree, but the Chron could fill Carroll’s job from an announced open contest among the ranks of hungry—not to mention snarling—pack of out-of-work free-lance journalists, and bloggers. Paul Public, too.

The Chron, setting an early December deadline for its I-wannabe-a-columnist contest, solicited a 200 word “pitch,” and a few writing samples. Just when I was this close to pitching them independently.

Here’s my pitch, if you really want to know about it.

In Carroll’s last thirty (-30-), a typographer’s symbol for the end, he writes of his different “column voices.” He’s gone through three decades of voices. I am still working on my first voice. That voice, when full-throated, will be my one, only, and last. Arrrrrgh!

Carroll belongs to the ages, with Herb Caen, Stanton Delaplane, and Charles McCabe.

Carroll’s grand slam made Chron’s front page-banner, lead front-page story, and the entire last page of Datebook, which ran his fellow-columnist Leah Garchick’s tribute. Carroll made her “ “Swoon,” she discloses.

Carroll made Dear Abby and Don Asmussen’s Bad Reporter swoon also, making a clean sweep of an entire page. What a sign-off.

Carroll describes the Chronicle newsroom, 1962 with the eye of a feature writer, reminding me of my first newsroom at Springfield’s the Illinois State Journal, 1958.

Unlike Carroll’s Chron, no one had no whiskey bottles in their drawers, civil (as Carroll puts it) or otherwise. Not on a Copley Press rag.

After short stints on the Champaign-Urbana Courier and the Daily Illini, and a lapse as founder of a campus humor rag, I was urged by my draft board to join Uncle Sam, who’s beckoning finger haunted me from youth.

I edited our ship’s crew book in the Navy, and wrote for “Young Hawaii” while teaching at the University of Hawaii thereafter.

Ten years later, I was homeless and flopping in Berkeley’s North side Live Oak Park. I did some of my best long distance hill-running in the university’s Strawberry Canyon, high in the Berkeley hills.

While Carroll cranked out features and columns, I was dropped out for thirty-five years.

By applying for Caroll’s column, I’m not seeking election to the Chron’s columnist columbaria, although I could get there sooner than Carroll.

I’m just hoping to make enough money at the Chron to afford the cost of the paper.

More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/berkboy/

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