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Carnett: 200 columns and still having fun

April 08, 2013|By Jim Carnett

It was as lame a salutation as I've ever penned.

Here's how it went:

"Have you ever tried skateboarding down the side of Mt. Everest wearing nothing but your insulated skivvies?

"You haven't?

"Well, I've never written a sports column for (this newspaper) before, so I guess that makes us about even."

It was June 1965 and I was a 20-year-old U.S. Army corporal who'd just landed the sports editor position for a weekly Army newspaper in Seoul, Korea. As part of my new assignment, I was required to cover the local Army sports beat and write a weekly column. The material quoted above was my feeble opening salvo.

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I fancied my nom de plume to be Cpl. Wit T. N. Clever.

The weekly column, by the way, was labeled "Bird's Eye View," as in ramblings hatched from on high — in a press box — by a sports scribe.

Three or four weeks after publishing consistently sparkling material in my new column, I received an unsigned note from someone — I think a fellow Army correspondent — stationed with I Corps near the DMZ. "Carnett, we've heard enough from you," he wrote. "You're a lousy columnist. Try some other vocation."

Thanks for noticing!

I was crushed. But I didn't give up. I kept churning out column after column for more than a year, until Uncle Sam reassigned me to head up a public information outpost in Inchon.

From about age 10, I'd dreamed of someday becoming a big-time sports columnist. In fact, for a while I published a little newspaper in my Eastside Costa Mesa neighborhood. I wrote the copy and my mom typed it up for me and made five or six carbon copies. I distributed it to lucky neighbors.

I took journalism classes in high school and college.

In 1961, as a 16-year-old Costa Mesa High School sports editor, I discovered Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray. It was love at first read. I savored Murray's wit, irreverence and gentle sarcasm.

He didn't simply offer bullet points or address a dozen brief topics per column. He wrote — really wrote! Virtually every column was a flawlessly constructed 800-word essay — crafted to Michelangelic and Beethovenesque perfection.

He was a colossus, a veritable writing machine! It's been speculated that he wrote more than 10,000 columns during his career.

I read Murray for decades and even followed him while stationed in Korea. His syndicated column appeared several times weekly in Pacific Stars and Stripes. GI's loved him.

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