The wags hit me hard with their verbal onslaught the other night at a ball game.
"Struck, what's the matter with you? Did you quit writing columns? We haven't seen one since that stupid Christmas Letter column. Been sick? Or did you finally smarten up?"
Very funny, guys. Or may I call you, #$%^*!s?
Truth is, I haven't had much time lately to sit around and peruse the far reaches of my mind to come up with a novel idea for a column. And with the mellowness age brings, and an arrogance tank anymore running on empty, I tell you it's as hard as a Presbyterian hymn to continually create entertaining, meaningful, funny, titillating columns.
Besides, I lost Big Ben, my right (and left) hand man who was in charge of a bulk of the sports, manning our website, laying out the sports pages and special sections, and keeping everyone else in the newsroom laughing and on the straight and narrow.
For some yada-yada reason, our former sports editor Ben Carstens thought he must go back to his beloved Iowa State University and get the Journalism degree he's just a few semesters short of. But those ISU profs sure won't be able to teach him as well as the Chronicle Times staff did.
Know why? Because - and I'm very serious about this - I saw to it that we spent more time teaching Ben what NOT to do, instead of what TO do. And, because of this, the unrivaled freedom Ben experienced while spreading his wings here allowed him to soar to amazing new career heights once thought to be unattainable.
And he threw it all away for a measly ISU J-degree.
And a few Cyclones ball games.
And a few Cyclone co-eds.
And a few nights a week trippin' and tippin' the light fantastic in Ames and Des Moines.
And at the Houston Bowl in Texas, where he tells me the guests at the hotels really swing.
And a few more zeroes on his student loan debt.
Knowing I would have to go back to fulltime work if he left, I tried talking Ben out of leaving.
How can you leave your fab bachelor's pad in Cushing? I asked.
Can there be anything better on a cold, wintry night than a doubleheader basketball game in Whiting? A wrestling match in Kingsley?
You're right on track here, I said. Work at a small daily like this for five years (he was here a little over two years) and I'll get you a job with a big-city newspaper.
Actually, I was hoping in that five-year span he would meet some wonderful or even semi-wonderful girl and settle down here, and the CT and I could hum off into the future with Ben doing much of the heavy lifting.
Naah, said Ben. The 'Clones are calling and my folks want me to get my degree.
I knew then I was toast.
So, Ben left us at the end of the year and wrote a mighty fine exit column. He even was wise enough to dodge any sad farewells because he kept coming back every few days for about a week in his "see you later" mode that, I must say, worked pretty good.
So I'm back doing fulltime sports and we've hired a young Aurelia fellow named Dan Whitney in the newsroom to help pick up Ben's slack. More on Dan later.
As it is, Ben is back to playing... er plying his skills at ISU and, judging by his e-mails, appears to be one happy camper, I believe living in a van down by the river.
And, just like Cushing, the Old 20 Bar & Grill, and all the area schools' sports teams we cover, the Chronicle Times forges on with a big ol' hole in its heart.