Here’s how you can be a columnist

I’ve been sick for a week. I had a sore throat, and I couldn’t swallow or write this column. That was a shame because I think it’s really funny.

Anyway, my illness made me realize that I’m not some kind of superman. I can’t just go on making light of the world if there are days when I have to go to student health and get coughed on by people who are really sick. In other words, the world is full of real problems, and I’m going to spend the rest of my time as columnist bemoaning them.

My strep throat was just the beginning: there’s also my credit card debt, my love life, the problems I have with some people – that’s you, Mike Peterson – and so on.

Some of you may miss the old columns, those senseless romps through current events. It’s not that hard to produce, and in fact I’m sure you (or your team if you’re in the business school) could write it yourself. Here’s a guide:

The first thing is to find out what everyone is talking about. Don’t worry, you don’t have to talk to anyone for this step. Just watch TV, especially the news.

Something is probably going on in one of the hotter, sweatier countries, but no one is going to care about that. This week most of the news is about the presidential race and Elian Gonzalez.

You could write about the presidential race. Everyone loves to make light of the democratic process and point out what a sham it is. You would want to suggest that it’s all the fault of journalists and the special interests, not a stupid public. That’s bound to be more agreeable to the public.

But you’ve got to remember your audience: GW. Everyone here is supposed to want to be president someday. I’ve never met even one such person, but I hear they’re out there, and you shouldn’t play to their expectations. Upset them.

With that in mind, write about Elian Gonzalez. It’s best not to have an opinion on the actual issue: Should Elian go home? Not only will the column not be funny, but you will have thought about a news item, and what good has that ever done anyone?

What you want to do is think of another issue that combines the problem with a real one. For instance, should Elian Gonzales be trained to use a handgun in accordance with his second-amendment rights?

You might worry that people will take you seriously and write all kinds of letters scolding you for being insensitive to the problems of public education, but that never happens. People only write letters about things that deeply affect them, such as election reform at GW or how they had to wait in line like a communist for their ground meat and nacho cheese platter at the Taco Bell Express.

How do you fill the rest of your space? That’s where you come in. Point out some of the idiosyncrasies that have made life especially trying for you lately.

If you’re anything like me, you’re from Southern California. That means the buckets of shaved ice falling from the sky of late have done you no good. Who would ever decide (you could ask) to live in a place where your toes might freeze and fall off a quarter of the year? And why would anyone stay after the invention of places like Arizona?

After that, you should point out something really stupid at GW. We haven’t had a groundbreaking recently, but I’ve heard the new School of Media and Public Affairs building is going to be named after Larry King. Opportunities are abundant to crack wise here. I would go with, What’s next, the Mr. Wizard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences?

Having done all that, how do you conclude? No logical connections exist among any of the things you’ve written about. I usually suggest that something apocalyptic is going to happen, but since neither Jesus nor the terrorists made it happen on New Year’s, it probably never will.

The way they teach us to end stories in journalism classes is to refer to the anecdote at the beginning.

I’m all better now.

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