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Monday, Aug 26 2013 05:18 PM

HERB BENHAM: Getting paid for a hobby -- that's luck

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Awhile ago, Californian photographer Felix Adamo and I visited Endeavor Elementary to speak at a career day. We were two of a dozen or so people who talked about our jobs to students who rotated in and out of the classroom. I'm not sure how many 10-year-olds will remember what we said years from now when it is time to choose a career path, but it seems like bad sportsmanship to turn down too many of these opportunities.

Career Day allows teachers to catch a breather for an hour, the volunteers realize how hard it is to keep a student's attention for more than four seconds and generally there are cookies, fruit and bottles of cold water in the library.

Several weeks later, I received a packet of thank-you letters from the class, some of which included hand-drawn pictures. One letter caught my attention because I remembered the boy for his excellent questions, and he also happened to be the son of a friend with whom I ride bikes. His name is Josh (JT) Laurente, the youngest child of Scott and Lisa, and he recently started sixth grade at Endeavor.

After saying that Felix and I were his favorites (that's always a good start) he said the following: "I'm not content with being a columnist, but I sort of want a hobby of mine to be writing stories and mini books."

I read his letter twice, both for the quality of his prose and because I was charmed that he called writing a hobby. Children can be honest, especially when they're not 16 and telling you a big whopper.

JT had already learned the difference between hobbies and real work, something his father, a physical therapist, did. In his estimation, writing was more like building model airplanes, putting together puzzles or collecting bottle caps.

I had been busted by an 11-year-old. Worse, I agreed with him.

I've been basically messing around for 25 years. Writing about the challenges of remaining dignified while carrying a banana in your pocket to work, the difficulty of selling a used Suburban when your potential buyer takes it for a test drive and it overheats, and opening a carton of yogurt the wrong way and having it splatter over your black pants.

I've been thinking about careers more these days both because I am a few months away from hitting what seems to me to be a birthday of consequence and also because the newspaper business is changing.

The Washington Post has been sold to Amazon's Jeff Bezos for $250 million, papers have gone online, and print -- charming as it is to some of us -- may not have the same appeal to younger folks.

Rather than do what many responsible people might do -- look at becoming a male model, an astrophysicist or a jockey -- I try not to think about anything but the next dumb column and how happy I am to have a paycheck.

Though this blissful attitude may catch up to me, mostly I feel lucky.

Getting paid for a hobby. Life is good. Real jobs are real hard. Hobbies you can do in your pajamas.

Give him credit. It takes wisdom, and JT knew the difference.

These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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