Friday, June 30, 2006

I Coulda Been A Contenda

Ask Mr. Long IslandBY MICHAEL WATT

The month of July 2006 marks the 15th year I have been writing this column, more or less. In July of 1991 I started writing a humor column for a chain of weekly newspapers that no longer exists – despite my efforts to amuse the masses. That gig lasted for about nine years.

When the newspaper chain ceased to exist I had about a year to myself, with no one to share my weekly musings. At first I thought it was going to be great – all that extra time on my hands with no loss of revenue, seeing as how over the course of the nine years the closest I came to getting paid – or even thanked, for that matter – for my efforts was a $50 gift certificate to a meat market in Malverne. I was sure I would use that free time to write the book that I know is in me. Uh huh. Nearly a year went by. No book. No column. The frustration was building and the backlog of verbiage was beginning to bind me up like so many slices of American cheese. I can’t even begin to estimate as to how many bon mots and pithy observations were lost, never to be recovered.

By this time I was gainfully employed by the company that hosts and I had the bright idea to start a weekly newsletter. Ostensibly the purpose of the newsletter was to provide a weekend guide of activities for thousands of Long Islanders, but the reality is I would have pitched creating a weekly recitation of pork prices if it met developing a weekly vehicle for my humoristic pontifications. The newsletter started on Memorial Day weekend in 2000. I was back in business.

How long is 15 years? Let’s put it this way – when I started writing my oldest son was less than a year old. He is now less than an inch taller than I am. My wife, Sharon, and I lived in a one-bedroom co-op in Farmingdale and had pizza for dinner every Friday night. We now live in a three bedroom house in Babylon and have pizza for dinner every Friday night. Since I started writing I lost my dad – and wrote a column (“Don’t Worry, Just Juggle”) about it, of which I will be forever proud. I kept the essays going even while I was getting my MBA – even wrote one column during class, when I was supposed to be learning about modern technology in the business world. Speaking of modern technology, thanks to it I was able to write the column on airplanes, in the back of limousines and even during my son’s baseball games.

For those of you keeping score at home I figure that means I have written more than 700 columns since 1991. At 850 words per column that’s an estimated 606,000 words – enough for about 20 books. At an estimated two hours per column – I know, based on the carefully massaged syntax as well as the copious and clever alliteration one could be justified in thinking it took me a lot longer to crank these things out – that’s close to 1,500 hours of my life, or 45 weeks. Yikes!

As much as I enjoy the time I spend creating this thing – and I do enjoy it – the thought occurs to me that there were other – some might even say better – ways I could have spent my time. With that in mind, I thought I would jot some of those ways down.

I could have:

- been a roadie for Madonna’s “Blond Ambition Tour;

- learned to speak Lithuanian;

- learned how to box, taken on Mike Tyson as the next “Great White Hope” a la Gerry Cooney, pocketed a million-dollar payday and then figured out how to drink oatmeal through a straw;

- watched every James Bond movie – even the one with George Lazenby - ever made. Oh wait, I have done that;

- memorized the Suffolk County phone book (“Aaron Aardvark, 555-0052…”);

- taken singing lessons. No, on second thought, there’s not enough time in the world to overcome my vocal shortcomings;

- run for office (“if elected, I promise to do away with promises that can’t be honored and make Star Jones-Reynolds the Poet Laureate of Suffolk County;"

- edited and marketed a DVD called “Holy Cow and Pass the Cannoli” - the best of Phil Rizzuto as a baseball broadcaster;

- Speaking of Phi Rizzuto, I could have written (and still just might) a screenplay based on the fictional couple depicted in the song “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” Why is the guy “waiting for the end of time to hurry up and arrive.” What is it about the woman that makes one want to welcome death?

- Made millions by inventing something really useful, like a fruit bowl that keeps fruit slightly chilled during the summer so the fruit doesn’t ripen so fast;

I could have but I didn’t. I just kept writing. Why? I’m not sure I can answer that. I would like to think I do it to improve as a writer, but I have no way of measuring my progress because I am loath to read anything I write once it is written. I hate it all. (That’s also probably why I have never compiled all my columns.)

Regardless of why I do it, for the time being I will continue to do so. Unless, of course, I ever get around to finishing that book. Uh huh. Then maybe I’ll look into that roadie thing with Madonna.
Thank you for reading this column.

No comments: