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Penkava: Still crazy after all these words

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 11:25 p.m. CST

It was back in December of 2011 when I pitched my idea for this column. I carefully crafted my query letter. I poured hours and hours into how I would sell myself and my writing. I read and reread every word dozens of times. I edited and re-edited.

When I was finally satisfied, I gingerly placed my letter in an envelope, precisely positioned the stamp, and sealed it with a prayer. I then promptly mailed it to the wrong person at the newspaper.

I was later contacted by the lady who received it and was informed that, although she enjoyed my letter and was quite flattered that I thought she was so important, she had nothing to do with hiring columnists. But she promised to forward my letter to the proper person. Now that person will receive a letter addressed to another person asking that other person to hire me. That’ll get me the job. Geesh.

Feeling that my validity as a journalist had already been thoroughly compromised, I resolved myself to failure. Yet, I still had confidence in my letter. I had read somewhere that if you sounded straightforward and confident, then you might get somewhere. So my letter started out, “My name is Michael Penkava and I want to be your next new columnist.”

I had actually thought about starting it out, “My name is Michael Penkava and I want to be Emperor of the Universe, but I’d settle for being your new columnist.” I decided that was a bit too arrogant, and, besides, the emperor position was already taken by Justin Bieber.

In the letter I observed, “People need to take time off from the mundane and grim and once in a while go on vacation to the land of offbeat and unexpected.” I figured that some might enjoy a look at the lighter side of life as a change of pace from the hard news we read every day. I would call my column, “Just Humor Me” so the readers would know that, while I may appear to be serious about a topic, I’m just having some fun with them. You know, tongue in cheek, foot in mouth.

Unfortunately, some readers still think I am serious and they take exception to my observations. They think I really have shopping cart battles with little old ladies. They think I wear khaki underwear. They think my yard is filled with garden gnomes. And they think I advocate a diet of solely bacon. (That’s not true. You can throw in a burrito here and there and still be okay).

But the readers are right about what they think about my wife. Long-suffering. Wise. The voice of reason. Yep, although she’s married to a left-handed banjo-playing, Bollywood dancing, garage-sailing, apprentice-gardening, Twinkie-eating, always-forgetting-to-put-the-cover-back-on-the-peanut-butter-jar husband, she has always been at my side as we move through life together at the speed of love.

I do enjoy hearing from you readers. I have answered every email, even the one that referred to me as an “idiot” because I put a doughnut on the barbecue grill and called it a “Charnut.” Then there was the person who said that I needed to “get a life” when I recommended power washing as a stress-relieving hobby. Not to forget the comment that I cannot publish about what I could do with the perfect egg roll.

So that wraps up one hundred columns. With an average of 625 words per column, that makes about 62,500 words. The average length of a novel is 100,000 words. That means that in about 60 more columns I’ll have enough words for my first novel. I could call it, “Confessions From Page 2.” It’ll be a best seller. Just humor me.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He has rethought the title of his novel. Now he wants to call it, “The Catcher in the Bacon.” He can be reached at

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