500

And I ain't done yet!

| December 29, 2004

Question: Who wrote the following passage?

"Listen, this importance we attach to particular numbers ... this fetish we hold for certain figures--100, donuts by the dozen, the millennium, sweet sixteen, a 1,000,000 bucks--it's all capricious and superficial. Think of our animal friends. Does a wolf throw a party when he brings down his 100th mule deer? Does an aardvark worry whether he should get his ants in the handy six-pack or the timesaving 24-unit case? Does it matter to the fish of the sea that a nautical mile has 6,067 feet in it, or to a bird on the wing that a regular mile is 5,280 feet ... as the crow flies?"

Hah! It was a trick question. I wrote it. It comes from a column published in Boise Weekly over seven years ago. Or measured another way, eight editors and three owners ago. I wrote that piece because on the day it appeared in print, I was turning 50. If you've never turned 50 before, expect to go through an indeterminate interval in which you will be obsessed with either the relevance of numbers--especially in terms of how they relate to the normal human life span--or with trying to pretend that numbers are entirely irrelevant--as in: "It's not how old you are, but how old you feel that matters."

On the day I turned 50, I was even more intrigued with numbers than your average middle-age, out-of-shape, angst-ridden American male because that column--in which I desperately tried to argue that numbers don't mean squat--was my 100th for BW. Exactly 100. Remarkable. Three years earlier, when I wrote the very first opinion BW deemed suitable for publication, I couldn't have imagined I had enough opinions in me to put out 99 more. I figured I had eight, maybe 10, opinions, and then I'd be done. Dried up and useless like a bowl of applesauce someone had left out in the sun.

So even while I was less than ecstatic about reaching one numerical landmark--turning 50--I was pleased, proud and slightly amazed I had reached another, and both on the very same day. It wasn't exactly a confluence of a cosmic scale like when all the planets line up in a perfectly straight line, but it felt meaningful to me--if to no one else.

That was 400 more opinions ago. This, what you are midway through reading, is number 500. 500! Half-a-thou! One-quarter of a ton, if they were pounds. If they were miles, they would reach to Seattle.

Granted, not every piece has been a formal opinion. I include in this count every single thing that has appeared in BW with my name on it since January 1995--feature articles, profiles, interviews, obituaries ... everything you might expect out of a regular newspaper writer except for the teevee listings and the lottery results.

But from another angle, yes, every last one of them was an opinion--the interviews, the profiles, the obituaries. Everything I write--everything every regular newspaper writer writes, if you ask me--is an opinion. No matter how uncontroversial and colorless a subject happens to be, a writer is expressing an opinion about that subject if in no other way than he thinks it's worth the time and energy to write about it. The most insipid of writers, relating the most insipid of events, makes an editorial choice with every word she chooses over other words, with every sentence she chooses to place before or after other sentences.

That's not to say some things aren't true and others aren't false. If I didn't believe strongly there is a stout, unbreakable line betwixt what is true and what is a lie, I would have given up on this before I ever started. I would have looked for another line of work. A position with Fox News maybe.

But leading to every truth, Grasshopper, there are many paths. The one I chose--or chose me, if you are of a spiritual nature--is humor. (To the people who think I'm funny, that may seem obvious. But believe it or not, there are uncounted millions of people who don't think I'm one bit funny. Most of them have never read a word I've written, and still don't think I'm funny. Hard to believe, isn't it?)

I put much faith in humor, I consider it a truth onto itself--and one of the higher truths, to boot. If I had to define my idea of an ideal human being, it would be one who thinks a lot, loves a lot and laughs a lot. Hopefully, over the past 500 opinions, I have gotten a few you to think a little (though I realize that comes easier for some than others), and I doubt either I or anyone else can squeeze even a smudge of love out of people where none exists. But I'll bet a dollar to a dog turd I can get you to laugh, and to that end, I will go to any length. I would resort to gags as old as the hills. I would use puns, sarcasm, double entendres, slapstick, potty humor, teasing, wit as dry as Sahara dust, winks, bells, whistles, funny faces and fart jokes ... whatever ... to get nothing more than a half-hearted chuckle. I would even invent imaginary voices, scapegoats and fools (for God's sake, don't tell my friends Red or Badger Bob this) to get no more than a single, simple snicker out of your jaded, post-ironic sensibilities. That's how seriously I take humor.

I would even sacrifice my loved ones. Take my daughter ... Please! Since she was knee-high to a first-grader, I've been using her as fodder for funny stuff, and it's not because I think widdle kids are ridiculous. Certainly not. I think almost everyone else is ridiculous--from teenager-sized kids to Gen-X kids on up to Boomer-aged kids to senior-citizen kids--but not widdle kids. In fact, I have such respect for widdle kids and the way they experience the world that I try to measure everyone else against them. Christ said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me ...," and I would only add, "... so's we can poke fun at all the rest of us for being such insufferable buttheads."

So consider this, my hemi-millenarianth opinion for Boise Weekly, a position paper. Like it or not, this has been my position from No. 1 to No. 500. Simply put: The more seriously you take yourself, the less do I.

By the way, have you noticed yet that my 500th opinion falls on the last issue of 2004? That's kind of funny, don't you think?

No? Well, I think it is. And since this whole column has been about very little except for me, I consider it well worth mentioning.

Now, if I can just continue to find things to say about myself for another 10 years or so, you may look forward to a column very much like this one some day. I'm thinking of calling it "1,000."

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