Friday, August 14, 2015

How to write a newspaper column

 Having never timed how long it takes to write one of these columns, I cannot say for sure. 

Generally, I write each one over a couple of days.  Three if you count the first day of thrashing about, gnashing teeth, pacing, procrastinating, punching pillows and the like. 

That’s how I get my ideas.

Second day I commune with the blank screen.  Sometimes, I ‘free write.’  That means I allow my mind to meander and my Spirit Guide Ethel to direct my fingers on the keys. 

Ethel’s quite a character.  A prankster really.  She goes on and on about ‘the other side’ and how Will Rogers and Nora Ephron never need any prodding.  They let it flow and write volumes!  Well, you know.

Then, third day, I’m like the Mighty Casey after strikes one and two:  the sneer is gone from my arrogant lip; my teeth are clenched in hate.  I pound with cruel violence the keys upon … OK.  I can’t make it rhyme right now.  That’s part of the problem. 

Also, there’s no pitcher winding up and ready to throw.  But now that I think of it, this is a good thing.  We don’t want to end up with a big ‘K,’ now do we?

So today, day three, I sit at my computer and call the Social SecurityAdministration first thing. 

I’ll get this little detail out of the way before I write.  It won’t be niggling in the back of my mind like a hole in the roof where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.


I’m new to all this government assistance, but I’m no dummy.  After receiving two letters that said I would be paying either 1) $272 or 2) $167 to supplement Medicare, I would rather pay one of those than the amount on this newly received Statement of Premium Due - $981.

Here’s the plan then:  Call and speak to a customer service rep, Asia, who is 1) alone on her first day because her trainer ran screaming into oncoming traffic, or 2) a thoroughly unpleasant person who knows only what the screen says - $981 – period. 

When I asked to speak to her supervisor, Asia put me on hold without comment.  Fine!  said I.  I’ll write while I wait!  Ha ha!

I had already waited 35 minutes for the Social Security Administration to return my initial call.  No worries!  Now, in the After Asia era, another 42 minutes pass and from the receiver set on “speaker” next to my keyboard, interspersed with some sort of clanging, a pleasant male voice intones:

Thank you for holding.  Someone will assist you shortly.  Please be sure to have your SSN and any mail we may have sent you.  This will help us serve you better in the unlikely event we stop this infuriatingly lurid 70’s psychedelic “music” and take your call.

Then – We regret that you have waited so long.  The Social Security Administration provides services for over 50 million people so we get a little backed up, particularly on a day like today when you have called with your paltry concern.

Thank you for holding.  We appreciate your patience.  We are helping someone else who’s really, really long-winded.  I mean yadda yadda yadda!  Get to the point, wouldja?!  YOU won’t be like this guy, will you?

We apologize for this delay.  Here’s an idea:  Why don’t you go to our website and leave us alone?  Maybe you can answer your own stupid questions from the comfort of your home.  We’re here in cubicles like so many eggs in crates, and it’s hard to muster much interest.  We can’t see into the future except to say that it’s looking pretty dim for you and your query. 

In fact, why don’t you just shut up and pay the bill?  So what if it’s three times more than our letter said it would be?  It’s worth it, wouldn’t you say?  Better than this purgatory! 

If we had known you were such hairsplitter, we would have taken you off the mailing list altogether.  Of course, we would have stopped your coverage too. 

Click, click – Please stay on the line for our customer satisfaction survey.

And that’s how columns are written.