September 27, 2013
OK, class, we are now in the home stretch of Vincent’s Famous Columnist School. After this, you will have just one class left before your final exam, after which each of you should be able to construct your very own guest column, send it to me and watch for it to be published in the Bladen Journal for all your friends and relatives to see — and chuckle.
And I’ll be sooooo darned proud.
But first, it’s class time.
Just about everyone who ever took a journalism class has had an exercise similar to the following …
“The World Series is tied at 3-3 and the seventh game has gone to the 27th inning. In the bottom of the 27th, the batter hits a grand slam home run which sails over the wall of Wrigley Field, travels an extra block and plunges into a crowd of inebriated dignitaries, killing the Canadian prime minister, upon which Canada declares war on the Cubs, Chicago and the United States. Write a lead paragraph for this story.”
As I recall, the way I got around this one was to create the following: “Things were pretty slow across Texas on Friday. In Chicago, however …”
Exercises like this are supposed to challenge a student, putting him or her at a disadvantage using a set of improbabilities. In that particular instance, improbability was not our friend. But it does not have to be thus, and we are about to see why.
Pay attention here.
The sky is falling. More specifically, pieces of man-made junk are falling out of the sky and things are not expected to get better any time soon.
According to a congressional report, during a recent 30-year span some 14,000 chunks of “space debris” have fallen to Earth from way up high, and at a speed faster than most Chevrolets can manage — even in a tailwind.
Space junk continues to re-enter the atmosphere at a rate of two or three items per day and, from the report now: “Although the probability for losses of life is currently small, this study predicts that, if left unchecked, space debris will be an increasingly troublesome problem.”
To which I would reply, “Ya think?”
This is simply further evidence of my personal theory that somewhere in the government is a Bureau of Thinking Up Bizarre New Things We Should Worry About.
And this, VFCS students, is the lesson for the day: How To Digest Information In Order To Produce Solution-Forming Decisions — Some Of Which May Even Be Printable.
If what we have just learned is true — and it is now in print, so it must be — before long the daily weather reports will include not only pollen and mold counts, but the chances for widely scattered white-hot shards of titanium, which may or may not be aimed at the Las Vegas desert.
Look, it’s not rare to hear of someone being struck by lightning on a golf course. But have you ever heard of the featured violinist for any major symphony being electrified thusly while performing Fromage Vauvin’s Requiem for a Goose? No. That’s because the fiddler put himself on the right side of probability.
So that’s what you should do when writing a column you hope will be ingested as the reader imagines your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. You construct a set of such improbable circumstances that adding another — to wit, getting pureed by astrotrash — sends the odds against it right off into Kentucky (the “It’s The Hatfields’ Fault” state).
Special note: Do not get elected to the legislature and hire a cousin to shoot you to set up a fraudulent argument that you were attacked by religious cultists and then be arrested while hiding in a stereo cabinet built by Joey Tribbiani. Believe it or not, this has happened — although the Joey Tribbiani was embellishment on my part.
So, students-o-mine who aren’t yet paying, as you begin to construct your very first column, feel free to use the space debris as your initial hook, which is journalism jargon for “grabbing a reader’s attention with the most outlandish part of the story, which should usually come first.”
As you write, feel free to add your very own embellishments. They might include:
— Calling your boos on a Friday and asking if it’s OK to work all weekend without pay.
— Sending flyers around the neighborhood asking for donations to help pay for that room you want to add.
— Offer to hire a maid for your wife or a Hooters girl to chauffeur your husband to work and back.
— Show up at Kenan Memorial Stadium and offer to show coach Larry Fedora how to improve the Tar Heels’ defense.
The odds of doing all these things AND getting kneecapped by a busted piece of satellite are pretty tiny — but not quite as remote as seeing the Cubs in the World Series, much less win it.
OK, since we have a little time left, consider the following extra credit for the upcoming exam — which is a quote that came directly off a place way up high on the wall at Joe’s Crab Shack in Louisville, Ky.: “As quietly to steal, he stole … his bag of chinky chunk. And many a wicked smile, he smote; and many a wink he wonk.”
Your mission? TELL ME WHAT THIS MEANS! Pleeease!
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.