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The Daily Tar Heel

Walking Off With a Final Column

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 ...

"Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, my column. But just because one has a column idea doesn't mean one has a column. So much goes into writing, more than I ever realized.

"How do I want to express my thoughts? How do I want to broach my topic? What stance should I take?

"Will what I've written offend anyone? Is it my intention to offend them?

"And there's proofreading. Does this sentence sound right, or do I need to polish it? Should this word be italicized, or is it that one?

"Furthermore, reading my e-mail never before was such an adventure. Getting feedback is a trip! Within one week I was critiqued and criticized, roasted and razzed; all because of the same column. Unbelievable.

"I was cheered. I was jeered. Some people wrote to tell me I'm the funniest columnist they've ever read. Others wrote to tell me I'm the funniest-looking columnist they've ever read. Hey, whatever it takes to put smiles on the readers' faces, right?

"Perhaps I, the Wednesday back-page columnist, brightened the middle of someone's week. Maybe, because of me, somebody read this semester's hump-day editions back to front. And maybe some didn't bother to read me at all. And so it goes, I suppose.

"Whatever the readers thought of me, my intention each week was to make them think. I want them to stop, catch their breath amid the rat race we call life and say to themselves, 'I've never thought about that topic like that.' After all, isn't that the mark of a good columnist? So that was my goal. Whether I succeeded, I suppose, is up to them.

"Regardless, I got quite the rush from reading myself in the campus paper - even if I happen to have the absolute worst thumbnail picture in the history of photography. But it's at least better than my mug shot. Just kidding.

"It certainly was an ego trip reading my own column in print. It allowed me to appreciate fully the following quote: 'I don't love to write; rather, I love having written.'

"Having done that for a semester, I feel my hard work paid off. I own a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Plus, I had enough foresight to buy considerable stock in Nabisco.

"So, yes," I said, finally concluding my extensive answer to a seemingly straightforward, simple question, "I've loved having written a column for The Daily Tar Heel during the spring 2001 semester. It has been tremendously rewarding, in more ways than I could ever mention."

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I smiled and sat back, relaxing for the first time all interview. I felt good. Real good.

In fact, so sure was I of having knocked that answer out of the park, it took considerable willpower not to leap out of my chair and trot around his office. Touch 'em all, Satter! I was thinking to myself, awaiting what surely would be an impending job offer.

Instead, he merely nodded.

"That's great, Dan," he finally replied, a painfully wicked smile overtaking his previously stoic face. "But what I meant was, how much did you get paid?"

Dan Satter, a junior history and journalism and mass communication major from Framingham, Mass., would love to hear readers' opinions about his column. Send your comments by e-mail to

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