A gross national columnist

 

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published October 3, 1999)

As a professional newspaper columnist with both medical AND dental benefits, I receive many letters from people who'd like to get into my line of work.

''Dear Dave,'' they write. ''I'm sick of my boring, dead-end job as a (lawyer, teacher, office worker, politician). How do I develop the skills I need to obtain a job like yours, where you have an opportunity to make a difference, even though you never actually do?'' OK, then: Today I'm going to take you ''behind the scenes'' here at Dave Barry Inc., and reveal, step-by-step, exactly how I write a column:

Step One is to come up with a topic. I am always thinking about possible topics, from the moment my alarm goes off at 6 a.m., through the moment I actually get out of the bed, at around 10:15. During that period, I take a series of decompression naps while monitoring the morning TV news shows to find out what the news is. Unfortunately, the morning news shows no longer show the news. They're too busy showing the crowd of people who stand around outside the TV studio for hours on end waving at the camera and holding signs that say: ``HI!''

Evidently, these people are too stupid to operate telephones, and this is the only way they have to communicate with their families or ward attendants back home. Sometimes the TV personalities go outside; I always hope that they'll point firearms at the sign-holders and yell, ''GO HOME,'' but instead they ask the sign-holders where they're from. The fascinating answers never fail to amaze and delight everybody (''Ohio?? Great!!'').

So I have no column topic when I emerge from the bedroom to fix myself a hearty breakfast of coffee with extra coffee. My next step is to look through the daily newspaper, which I have found to be an invaluable and amazingly rich source of advertisements for women's underwear. Every other page has an ad featuring female models in lingerie; you get the impression, from newspapers, that at least 80 percent of the Gross National Product is brassieres. Why? Do women really need to be sold on the concept of underwear? Do they smack their foreheads and go, ``THAT'S what I need! Something under my outer clothing!''?

But you can't write a professional column about women's underwear. You need a topic with some ''meat'' to it, such as the U.S. trade deficit, which is an important issue that the newspaper often puts next to the brassiere ads. And so, with this topic in mind, I head for my home office, which is an area that I would estimate, for tax purposes, covers 94 percent of the total square footage of my home.

I work at home because, as a professional writer, I find that a solitary environment enables me, whenever the muse strikes, to clip my toenails. This particular muse strikes more often than a French labor union. I'll be pondering the trade deficit, and I'll glance at my toenails and think, ''Hey! Those babies have grown at LEAST three thousandths of an inch since I last clipped them!'' So I grab the clippers, which I always keep handy, and soon I'm hard at work. All your top writers do this. If you don't believe me, go up to, say, Norman Mailer, and have some friends hold him down while you remove his shoes and socks. If his toenails aren't trimmed to the base, I'll pay you $10. I'll need color photographs.

Another reason creative individuals prefer to work at home, as opposed to an office, is that when you need to scratch yourself, you don't have to sneak behind the copying machine and settle for a hasty grope. At home, you can rear back and assault the affected region with both hands, or, if you want, gardening implements.

But you cannot scratch yourself forever. You are not a professional baseball player; you are a newspaper columnist, and sooner or later you have to ''knuckle down'' and get to work on the task at hand, which is: lunch.

After lunch, it's time to get back to thinking about the trade deficit. The key, with a complex issue like this, is: research. A professional newspaper column has to be 800 words long, which is why I cannot say it enough: research, research, research. Among the questions that need to be answered are: What, exactly, IS the ''trade deficit''? For this kind of technical detail, I get on the telephone to my Research Assistant, Judi Smith, who is a wealth of information.

''Judi,'' I say, ``How come there are so many newspaper ads for women's underwear?''

''I think because men like to look at women in brassieres,'' she replies.

My wife, who also works at home and is listening to this discussion, notes: ``All those ads look the same.''

Both my wife and Judi agree that nobody ever buys a bra from an ad. It frankly makes me wonder if this could be a contributing factor to the trade deficit. Somebody should think about this. I'd do it, but these toenails are not getting any shorter.

© 2007, Dave Barry

Read more Dave Barry stories from the Miami Herald

  • A fuelish summer trip

    It's time for our annual Dream Summer Vacation Guide, wherein we reveal our list of ''special'' travel destinations that you will not hear about from the other travel writers, because they have standards.

  • Dave meets the death tree

    There is a simple explanation for why I wound up dangling from a rope 75 feet in the air over a beaver dam somewhere in Idaho: I was a house guest.

  • Heaven (Hell) on Earth

    So what's it gonna be: Tranquil beauty and cows in the coffee fields? Or surprise-a-minute excitement and bodies under motel beds?

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category