One evening in June 1986, I picked up the newspaper and learned that a popular columnist, Mr. J, would be on vacation for three weeks in July. The Powers That Be invited readers to submit stories to a Columnist for a Day contest. The contest judges would then choose twelve guest columnists to fill Mr. J’s slot.
I had taken several writing classes at the University of Arizona, so I figured I had a fair chance at getting published. However, I couldn’t decide what to write. The newspaper probably would be swamped with submissions. Would the judges read every entry? I had to choose the right topic and the right title—things that would make my story stand out from, most likely, hundreds of others.
I wanted to keep it nice, so anything controversial was out. Finally, I opted to write about my scary (to me) walk home one summer night during the 60s, when I was in my late teens.
I had walked to a friend’s house early that evening; she was supposed to drive me home around 9 p.m. However, her sister hadn’t returned with the car. By 11:30 p.m., I was half asleep, and I wanted to go home. My parents went to bed early. I didn’t want to call them, so I decided to walk the mile or so to our house.
We lived in one of those small towns where nothing ever happens. But I still felt a little skittish walking home alone. According to the local rumor mill, someone had recently spotted a prowler roaming around neighborhood yards after dark. If the prowler really existed, I hoped I wouldn’t run into him. (And, as it turned out, I didn’t.)
I put off writing the story until a week before the due date. I wrote the first draft, revised it, revised it again, and typed the final version. I titled it “A Walk on the Weird Side.” I was fairly certain that the title would get the judges’ attention and entice them to read the entire entry. I mailed it at the last minute and waited for a phone call from the newspaper.
I didn’t get one. Not that year.
(to be continued)