Barry Smith: Irrelativity
September 7, 2009
Within only a few months of starting to write “Irrelativity,” I’d already tackled such crucial topics as watermelons, yodeling, Californians, pecan logs, rickshaws and yodeling (again). This seemed like enough dues-paying to me. My confidence boosted by a passing mention that my “little” column was “cute,” I decided I was ready for the Big Time.
I put together a nice little photocopied presentation package of columns and a “funny” bio, sent out about 20 of them and waited for fortune to come a-calling.
The rejection slips started to roll in later that week. This quick turnaround time meant that someone had to get the rejection in the mail the same day that they received the package. Part of me can appreciate such efficiency.
Two months later nearly all of my requests had been rejected or returned unopened. I was disappointed, but not surprised. The world rarely recognizes greatness when it sees it. Lots of tortured geniuses experience rejection and scorn early on. And so forth.
Then came THE LETTER. It was in my return envelope, sent back from Universal Press Features Syndicate. There was a hand-written note: “Barry – still interested in syndication? Call me.” Yes! It’s happening! I celebrated that night by sitting on the patio and smoking two cigarettes in a row, lighting the second with the dying ember of the first! Party!
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Universal Press Features Syndicate! Wow! That’s an impressive name. And they wanted me! But of course they would. They must have been particularly impressed with my Christmas column, the one that featured the hilarious bit about the Three Wise Men discussing their gift purchases:
WISE MAN #1: Well, I got Him this gold. I sure hope He likes it. What’d you get?
WISE MAN #2: I was running a little behind schedule, so I just picked up some frankincense from the 7-Eleven.
WISE MAN #1: FRANKINCENSE!? What the hell would the King of Kings and Lord of Lords want with frankincense?! You may as well have brought something really useless, like Myrrh! How about you, what’d you bring?
WISE MAN #3: Um …
Comedy genius! About time somebody took note!
I called the guy at Universal Press Features Syndicate, and he confirmed my suspicions. He told me that I was amazing, a true find, exactly what the newspaper column world was waiting for, where have I been all his life, etc. …!
I started spreading the news the day I signed the contract. Hi, I’m Barry, syndicated columnist. I convinced the paper to run a story about it, with my picture. Syndicated columnist. Me. I made business cards. Well, I took my existing cards and wrote “syndicated columnist” on then. I even spelled “syndicated” correctly. Eventually.
A Universal Press Features Syndicate press pass arrived in the mail. I signed it, laminated it, and made sure it “accidentally” dropped out of my wallet often. The UPFS guy called me, said that things were moving along nicely. He just needed $500 from me so he could print up some glossy marketing materials. $500 was a lot of money, but I assumed that he wanted to have my name printed in gold leaf, so the extra expense would be worth it.
Hi. Barry Smith. Syndicated columnist. By no means a failure. Possibly even important. Nice to meet you. Oops – did I drop that card out of my wallet again? Clumsy.
I didn’t hear from the UPFS guy for a while. Phone calls were not returned. E-mail didn’t yet exist. I was practicing my card-drop routine in front of a mirror one day when I noticed that the number on the card was different than the UPFS number I’d been calling. I dialed it and got a machine. The message was by a little girl just barely old enough to speak: “Mommy and dada can’t come to de phone wight now – weave a message. Beep!” No kidding.
Oh dear. Lucky I checked that out before I tried to use the card to get backstage at Lollapalooza.
I never heard from the guy again. It’s been about 14 years, but I’m optimistic. Even though I’ve yet to see promotional materials or a royalty check and, as far as I know, my column has yet to actually run elsewhere thanks to the efforts of UPFS – I did sign a contract. I still have a copy.
So, technically, I’m a syndicated columnist for Universal Press Features Syndicate.
My card …