By Jerry Zezima
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Life, goes an old saying, begins at 40. When I passed that milestone, which was easier than passing a kidney stone, I wondered: “Have I just wasted 39 years?”
The answer: “Who the hell knows? But if life begins now, I am going to enjoy it.”
Likewise, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists will celebrate its 40th birthday next year. But this year, in Los Angeles, we will hold our 40th conference. (Don’t ask me to do the math. Just get a calculator. Or ask Ben Pollock.)
As I calculate being the “life begins at 40” of the party, I have been reminiscing about the seven conferences I have attended. (This year, as Ben will confirm, will be my eighth.)
My first conference was in 1987 in Phoenix. People kept telling me it was going to be 110 in the shade. They were wrong: There is no shade in Phoenix. And it wasn’t blisteringly hot. The 110 came into play because that was the approximate speed the cab driver went on my harrowing ride from the airport to the hotel. It’s a good thing I brought a change of underwear. Dave Barry was the keynote speaker, a year before he won the Pulitzer. And I got my first taste of the concept known as “the hospitality suite.” Many tastes, in fact. That’s when I fell in love with the NSNC.
Two years later, my wife, Sue, and I attended the conference in Mystic in our home state of Connecticut. We toured the Nautilus, the world’s first atomic submarine. “What’s this button do?” I remember asking. Everyone froze. Robert Skoglund, a Maine humorist, was the keynote speaker. If we meet next year in Portland, we should have him back. Even though we didn’t have Mystic Pizza, or meet Julia Roberts, the conference was great. That’s when Sue fell in love with the NSNC.
Two years after that, Sue and I went to the conference in Huntington, W.Va. My fondest memory from 1991: a steamboat cruise on the Ohio River. Sue’s fondest memory: drunken karaoke led by Big Bob Hill. Admittedly, both memories are a little cloudy, but we had a fantastic time.
Sue and I didn’t attend another conference until 2006 in Boston. Our older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave, both journalists, lived in Beantown at the time. I had nominated Art Buchwald for the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, which he won. Buchwald was too ill to accept it in person, but he did send a very funny (of course) video message with his daughter Jennifer. It was another fabulous conference.
My next conference was in 2013, back in Connecticut, this time in Hartford, where two incredible things happened: (a) I was elected NSNC vice president and (b) we were thrown out of the hospitality suite. The first was flattering, the second was legendary. I couldn’t have been prouder.
The next year, we met in Washington, D.C., where Katie and Dave had moved. Sue, who didn’t make it to Hartford, stayed with them, as did our younger daughter, Lauren, and our granddaughter, Chloe. The highlight (among many) was taking a taxi ride with a cabbie who was on his first day on the job. He didn’t know where he was going. I was his second customer. Fellow scribbler Michelle Freed was his first. Naturally, I got a column out of it. On Saturday night, Katie and Lauren joined me in the hospitality suite. They were duly impressed. The next morning, at the general meeting, possibly due to the lingering effects of beer and other libations, I was elected NSNC president.
Last year, the conference was in Indianapolis. It was one of the best. And it gave birth to another NSNC legend: The Devil With the Blue Dress On.
This year, June 23-26, we will be in L.A., singing (drunken karaoke, remember?) “Hooray for Hollywood.” Please sign up now. It promises to be another fabulous time. Who knows, we might even get thrown out of the hospitality suite.
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Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. His latest is “Grandfather Knows Best.”
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This piece first was published in the March 2016 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.