SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN--I am traveling from Kunduz to Heart via Mazar-i-Sharif and Mainana. By the time you read this, I should be about to turn south toward Zaranj on the Iranian border.
I could die.
I probably won't. Thousands of Americans and other Westerners go to Afghanistan every year. Only a few get killed. But it is a dangerous place. The possibility of death is something you have to consider when you go to Afghanistan, especially when you leave Kabul. Last time around, three of my colleagues came back in coffins.
If I die, I would like to ask my colleagues in the media--those assigned to write my obituary, should I rate one--to spare me hypocritical bullshit praise.
I don't believe in an afterlife. Still, whatever remains of my spirit would be incredibly annoyed if The New York Times were to give me the Howard Zinn treatment. Zinn, the brilliant leftist historian who wrote The People's History of the United States, was lauded both in a Times obit and an op-ed column by Bob Herbert.
When Zinn was still alive, however, you'd never know it by reading the Times. The Paper of Record never ran Zinn. If they reviewed him at all, his books were given the short shrift. He was correct about most things, and thus too far left for the Times.
During the 1990s, I was the most frequently reprinted political cartoonist in The New York Times. They ran my op-eds. Then 9/11 happened. Editors got scared. Publishers started sucking up to President George W. Bush and his right-wing supporters. I vanished from the print edition.
I'm not whining. It's their paper.
But, Times editors, please don't sing my praises in the obituaries. Don't talk about how I was once the youngest syndicated cartoonist in the country, how I won a bunch of awards, how I helped revolutionize an art form, how my work was controversial and widely discussed, how cool it was that I went to Afghanistan and Central Asia. If you really thought I was great, you would have run my stuff. You didn't. You thought I sucked. Or you didn't have the guts to deal with angry readers.
This also goes for USA Today. You never ran one of my cartoons. I've done more than 4,000 of them. Not one ever appeared in USA Today. If you mention my death, please include an explanation of why I'm worth mentioning but not worth publishing.
Newsweek deserves special mention as well. Newsweek publishes the worst cartoons by the worst cartoonists. If I die in Afghanistan, one advantage of being dead will be that I never have to lay eyes on that p.o.s. again. They ran me one time. Once!
Special you-ignored-me-my-entire-career-so-don't-suck-up-after-I-die shout-outs also go to The Washington Post, which canceled me in response to a write-in campaign by right-wing extremists, and The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR and every newspaper in my home state of Ohio. When I shed this mortal coil and shuffle off to the great open bar full of funny cartoonists and loose women in the sky, whenever that happens, I beg you to do me one last favor: say that I suck. Or, better yet, don't mention me at all.