ÒDid you see DunningÕs column yesterday?Ó chortles some joker as I settle down at my desk Wednesday morning. ÒHe says no one from Winters ever won his column contest.Ó
Like I need more aggravation. I work at the Express.
This particular joker (who moonlights as my boss) took great glee in this, because he knows that I won DunningÕs contest not once, but twice. And he further knows that the only reason IÕm even working at the Express at all is because that contest propelled me from a nice, cushy Yolo County social work position into the bowels of the weekly newspaper world. ItÕs like moving from Santa Barbara to Fresno.
I had my own cubicle, people. And it was pink!
Mr. Jokerman just loves to jab me whenever he can (as if the number on my paycheck didnÕt sting enough) because heÕs just sick that way, and he wasnÕt going to pass up this opportunity. Upon discovering that I hadnÕt seen the column yet, he scrambled for the news rack outside to get me a copy, and giggled like a schoolgirl while I read it with my own eyes: ÒÉthe contest is open to everyone, though I will admit weÕve probably never had a winner from Woodland, Winters, West Sacramento, Willows, Williams or Winnemucca É then again, this may be the year ÉÓ
Hello??? Dude Ñ the year was 1988, and 1991, too!
Either the Bobster has finally gone senile or heÕs denying he knows me. ThatÕs the second time this week IÕve been dissed. I walked into the Putah Creek CafŽ while they were filming for ÒDiners, Drive-ins and DivesÓ and the owner, Melanie, took one look at me, gasped, and murmured, ÒI canÕt be seen speaking to you.Ó
I canÕt tell you how often this happens.
But this time, it was Dunning Ñ whose name I can scarcely utter without gushing reverence. The one I look up to, the one I hope to be when I grow up (but maybe slightly less senile), the one whose love child I wouldÕve gladly borne (although my husband mightÕve had an issue with that).
IÕm crushed Ñ crushed Ñ by this slight. Exponentially so. ItÕs not merely that I think the Guy On Page A2 And Sometimes C1 walks on water. In my life, his Replace-The-Bobster contest is what they call in screenwriting a Òplot pointÓ Ñ the event that spins the entire story off into a different direction.
You see, back in 1988, life was less than kind. I was unemployed. The Person Formerly Known As My Spouse and I were in the midst of the first of three trial separations (third try was a charm). Yes, 1988 was one craptastic year. One of the few little happy spots was reading ÒThe Wary I.Ó
Unlike Erma Bombeck and Herb Caen, whom I also loved, Dunning wrote the way I think (which heÕll surely find unsettling). I was reading his column one day, and it occurred to me, ÒWowÉ you can put your snarky, wisecracks down in print and get paid for it? Cool gig!Ó
Then I saw that contest. I got out my typewriter Ñ yes typewriter Ñ and wrote a fluff piece on the loveliness of Winters and Davis, and the highway connecting them, and was stunned when I was picked. The prize: A Big Mac at McDonaldÕs, with Mr. Wonderful himself. (No, not Ronald.)
It was the first time IÕd ever won a writing contest, and amid all the 1988-ness, it was the most magical night of the year. Which illustrates how high the 1988 bar was not set.
Those were the days of paste-up, however, and in the process of putting my column on the page, the middle and the ending were flip-flopped, and the end result was a stream of hokey, nonsensical gobbledy-gook.
But, whatÕs printed is printed. ThereÕs no way to make it right. And IÕm sure everyone who read that pathetic little piece marveled at DunningÕs supreme kindness and pity in allowing the poor dyslexic gal a tiny ray of sunshine.
I took the paste-up disaster as a sign that winning and writing were just not in my tea leaves. But life goes on, and tea leaves shift. In 1991, I got a do-over.
I was working for Yolo CountyÕs Community Partnership Agency, the happiest place on Earth you could work without a giant mouse for a boss, and stumbled across DunningÕs contest again.
I remembered that sad, sorry year, and thought, Òwhat the heck.Ó In a burst of nostalgic whimsy, I whipped up another column on WordPerfect Ñ yes, WordPerfect Ñ and sent it in. To my sheer astonishment, The Great One chose me again. That was the epiphany Ñ hmmmÉ. maybe I could put my snarky, wisecracks down in print and get paid for it. Before long, Santa Barbara was growing smaller in my rear-view mirror.
The ironic moral of this story: Leaving the best job I ever had was absolutely the best thing I ever did. Turns out, there are better things in life than a pink cubicle. My career, my life, my second husband Ñ I can draw a line from all of them straight back to DunningÕs annual ÒDo my job for me while I still get paidÓ contest. Truly, and with all sincerity Ñ I owe everything to Bob.
Can you hear ÒTo Sir, With LoveÓ playing in the background?
And now, so casually forgotten. Debra who? Go away, kid, you bother me.
After all weÕve been through, Bob? Flung to the recycling bin like yesterdayÕs classified ads? ÒDevastatedÓ is too gentle a word for my pain. All I can say is É be glad your kids donÕt have a pet rabbit.
Ñ Follow Debra DeAngelo on Twitter. Links are posted at and http://www.edebra.com http://www.wintersexpress.com. Find DebraÕs columns online at http://www.wintersexpress.com, http://www.edebra.com and http://www.ipinion.me