I was tenser than a driving school instructor. My knuckles, whiter than an Adolph Rupp starting lineup, gripped the armrests tight enough to rip them off the chair. My necktie knot would've supported a jib sail; my dress shirt was starched stiffer than cardboard. My Adam's apple was audible. All I remember thinking was, Do I have any lifelines?
So, at the very moment when I couldn't remember my birthday or telephone number - much less my scripted, rehearsed response about why I'd make a fine employee - I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when my interviewer tossed me a softball of a leadoff question, the exact inquiry I'd been up nights praying to be asked. After giving my resume the customary glance-over, he mercifully lofted me that fat pitch.
"It appears you've written a 900-word column during the spring 2001 semester for The Daily Tar Heel, a newspaper with a readership of more than 39,000," he said, still staring at my resume as if expecting, at any moment, for the piece of paper to answer him.
He eventually set it aside, peered at me over professor-like spectacles resting on the tip of his nose and, thanks to divine intervention, finally asked what I had hoped he would: "Did you profit from that experience?"
My eyes lit up like the Times Square Christmas tree. For a second I felt like Mark McGwire when, guessing belt-high fastball located on the inside corner, he sees that pitch approaching the plate. So naturally, like Big Mac, I swung for the fences.
"Did I profit from the experience? Ab-so-freakin'-lutely!
"In fact, writing a weekly column was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. What a terrific opportunity, sitting down each week in front of the computer monitor and deciding what issue to present to an entire university population.
"Do you know how hard it is, thinking up creative, original material each week? It got to the point where I'd get column ideas at the most random times and places. During class. In the shower. While running. While sleeping.
"It's a lot of pressure, the responsibility of filling 22 inches each week. I'm overdue for an ulcer. No wonder most writers smoke like chimneys. Fortunately, I opt for a different release: Double Stuf Oreos dunked in milk. Mmmm ... Double Stuf Oreos, tall glass of milk ... mmmm ...