Although I issued a brief warning that the Contest to Replace the Above-Pictured Columnist was fast approaching, this will serve as the first – and last – full-scale explanation of this annual competition.
I believe this is the 45th edition of the contest, matching the number of years I have toiled at this endless task, but since Davis’ recorded history doesn’t extend nearly that far back, I can’t be certain when it actually began. Like it matters.
In consideration of the effect our relentless drought has had upon the collective brain cells of everyone who attempts to put words onto paper, the deadline for essays has been moved back to Monday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.
This should eliminate all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth from those who have complained in the past that this contest was infringing on their enjoyment of summer. And even though Sept. 8 is still technically a summer date, it at least feels like fall in my book. For the record, my book says as soon as high school and college kids are tossing footballs, it’s fall.
Last year a woman named “Mary” pleaded for an 11th-hour “extension” and was roundly and rudely denied by the Large Judging Body (see photo above).
I responded to Mary in this very space, harshly noting that “This is not an eighth-grade term paper we’re talking about here, Mary, where you can cajole your English teacher into letting you turn it in after Thanksgiving. This is a newspaper, with the emphasis on ‘news.’ And, put simply, the news can’t wait. Never could.”
I then pointedly asked Mary if she thought that “John Lescroart, Davis’ most talented and prolific writer, pleads ‘writer’s block’ to his publisher” or if “Hemingway asked for a few more days on the water before finishing ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ “
I then retold the story about my first day of work at this esteemed gazette when I gazed at a sign on the newsroom wall that boldly stated “A deadline is a writer’s best friend.”
While that seemed all wrong at the time, it didn’t take long for me to realize it was deadly accurate. It’s a sink-or-swim business and there’s no time for a procrastinator. If journalists didn’t have deadlines, we’d still be waiting to hear if Barack Obama had won a second term or if the 49ers managed to beat Seattle in last February’s Super Bowl.
As I told Mary, “Writer’s block is a cop-out. It’s simply a euphemism for ‘my lazy bones would rather be doing something else right now.’ ”
The rules for the contest are simple. You may pick any topic, be it local, regional, national or international. It may be serious or funny. It can be about your mom or your dad or the Davis City Council or your dog. The only thing it can’t be is the dreaded “dead cat” story, which was banned forever three years ago due to excessive sappiness.
If you don’t like the new water rates, say so. If you love the new water rates, say so. If you remember a long-ago kindergarten teacher with particular fondness — or disdain — have at it.
No topic, with the exception of dead cats, is off limits. Seriously.
The competition is fierce and the judging harsh. The youngest winner was 14, the oldest 102. I’m hoping to extend those numbers in both directions this year.
Pope Francis has been invited to enter, but after serious consideration has declined because he says he has “considerable difficulty” with the English language and I refuse to accept entries in Latin.
Previous winners have included a nationally syndicated columnist, three UC Davis chancellors, one junior high school student, Davis’ current mayor, a truck driver, a slew of attorneys who all threatened to sue if they didn’t win, a resident of Woodland, one golden retriever and, believe it or not, two Sac State graduates.
Entries should be between 400 and 800 words (loosely enforced) and must include a brief embellished biography of the author, a mug shot suitable for publication and a cash-only bribe.
Entries should be emailed to the Large Judging Body at [email protected]
As I said 45 years – or so – ago, Ladies and Gentlemen, start your typewriters.
— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]