I started my career penniless, and even though I had a phone, I couldn’t even afford to use it.
Let me pause here to explain something to the youth. Hello boys and girls. How’s unemployment? How’s economic uncertainty and the ever-present temptation to inherit your parents’ alcoholism as a coping mechanism? The 2020s suck so far. You missed the 00s. Cos even though you have better phones than we did back then, we had a far easier job market.
The only problem was that our phones, even before OTTT, cost money to use. You had to pay something called service fee before the phone company could let you make and receive calls. It was, we thought then, the most unjust thing a phone owner could endure.
Little did we know what was coming. Like revenge porn, OTTT, and people making you argue on twitter because they don’t know the difference between stating valid ignorance and stating a valid opinion.
Back then our phones could not even text.
But I was saying, even though I started my career penniless, I was working for a very good company and was soon being paid relatively well. It wasn’t enough to be Douglas Lwanga, but it was enough to dress better, to get clothing and caps that really highlighted the sexier aspects of my very attractive physique and face.
But it wasn’t just about the money. It was about the ego. Because back then I was, and yeah I said it, the best writer in the industry.
Really. Apenyo, Kintu and Namugoji had yet to begin their stints as columnists. Kalinaki was active but, at the time, he was yet to become better than I was.
I was the best thing typing on Microsoft Word 98 back then.
Unfortunately for me, this was not an indisputable fact.
You see, there was another writer who got there before me. Her name was Barenzi.
The fact that Barenzi was regularly feted and widely admired burned me inside. It made me even more furious that I was also one of her big fans, which I found perplexing and perverse and it pushed my envy even further towards the edge.
I wanted her spot.
So I went for it.
She had a column in the Sunday Vision. It took up three quarters of a page and readers enjoyed her wit, style and insight immensely. This pissed me massively off, especially when I, too, enjoyed it.
When she was invited to be interviewed on a TV show called Writer’s dawn and I was not, that was it. I googled workout exercises for fingers and began to plot her downfall.
Murdering Sagara and framing her for the crime, was my first thought, but I had to abandon that plot. Saggy was a sociopathic dipshit so anyone convicted of his dispatch would not be jailed, they would just be given a Heroes’ Day medal and made a presidential advisor. I had to type my way in.
That page had a third of paper left, and it was open for the taking.
I told Simon, my boss, that I wanted a column there.
He did the maths astutely and presented me with the conclusive findings that I already had three columns in different parts of the New and Sunday Visions, but I was able to convince him that overkill was not yet a serious media problem. After all, brands jumping on twitter hashtags and ruining them would not be a thing for several years to come.
He allowed it. He instructed me to bring him this column idea.
I slunk into my dank den of bitterness and jealousy and scratched things all over papers all night.
In 2003, rookie reporters didn’t have laptops. We used relics called notebooks. We also had real loadshedding, so it was mostly writing under candlelight because there was nothing to charge the laptop with even after you didn’t have it.
Eventually I emerged from the shadows with a scrap of squiggled nonsense. Nonsense, but hilarious nonsense. I walked to the New Vision from my Kyebando muzigo with The Slim Shady LP spinning in my discman (Look it up. I’m tired of parentheses for history lessons), typed it up on the office computer and filed it on Simon’s desk. I originally called it “Ernest Bazanye’s Column Idea” then, because I always feel profound doubt about what I write once I’m done, as opposed to the unassailable confidence I feel during the actual writing, a fit of modesty grabbed me and I added a note, “Is this a bad idea?”
The column began to run weekly soon after that. After the hefty meal of Barenzi came the little desert cookie of Ernest Bazanye’s Bad Idea.
I hated it. Being on the same page just made it inevitable that we would be compared and Barenzi always wrote in a glamorous ball gown with a glass of Chardonnay in one hand while typing with the other two.
Yes. Writers have three hands. An extra one for either a mug of coffee or alcohol. Ask Hemingway. He’ll tell you it’s true.
The fates were on my side. It was like when Jordan retired and the other team won the championship. Barenzi headed off to do a masters degree in the UK, leaving the page for me and me alone.
And that is how I became the man I am today: former star newspaper columnist. It was as easy as your nemesis being smarter than you so, whereas you were, for all intents and purposes, a Makerere dropout, she was clever enough to go do masters degrees abroad.
Oh, you didn’t know about the being a dropout part? I’ll make that my next post.
Meanwhile, okay. Bye. See you next week if you come back.
(Edit: All those typos in a post about being the best writer? Tuswale kko banange.)