For more than two decades, whenever I'd run across an enticing news item, interesting trivia trinket, significant cultural tremor or notable observation from a notable observer— anything I believed could convert into column fodder—I saved it wherever it would fit on my writing desk, which is really a three-tiered wooden cart on wheels. When I write, I roll it to my nest on the couch, put the keyboard on my lap and the mousepad on my right. I've gone through four couches in that time. I plop so long in the same place to turn out these contributions, any couch I own inevitably develops a permanent sag under my butt and cigarette burns on the armrest on which I rest my left elbow.
The saved items—an amalgam of newspapers, glossy magazines and sometimes a book with the pertinent page marked—had a tendency to stack up. Every couple of months, I had to go through the stack and reexamine the materials to remind myself of why I saved them in the first place. More often than not, the moment in which they'd stricken my fancy had passed, and into the bin with the red lid they went. Somewhere, I'd guess, between a quarter and 40-percent were second-phase keepers: that being, stuff I expected to come around again in a cycle of rotating relevancy. Those went into another pile in another spot in the house to await their opinion-worthy resurrection.
It was especially bad back when one of my functions as a Boise Weekly freelancer was to write the annual "Spuds & Duds" feature, a recap of an entire year's worth of who'd done what in Idaho world. I'd start storing that pile in cardboard boxes first thing in January, knowing that if I didn't keep all of the evidence until December, I'd forget most of it ever happened.
As you can imagine, there were times when the sector of our home which was designated "Bill space" looked like it was well on its way to becoming one of those situations you hear about from time to time where the resident has been crushed to death under the collapse of his own refusal to throw anything away. I would tell visitors, "No, God dammit! I am not a hoarder. I am a columnist!"
The good news is that I won't be hanging on to newspapers and magazines anymore, not for any longer than it takes to read them and forget them. The bad news is that, as of this and one more week, I will no longer be a columnist. Due to circumstance beyond the control of either myself or that of the Boise Weekly, I am done.
For those who enjoy distraction (and occasionally solace) in numbers as much as I do, from the day my first effort appeared in BW to this time next week will be 21 years, four months and 13 days—which translates to 1,125 columns, features and sundry other items, plus 257 blog pieces that appeared only on the BW website. At an average of 1,000 words an article—a number I don't at all believe is exaggerated, considering the heftiness of my early columns and the feature pieces—I have had in the proximity of 1,382,000 words appear under the Boise Weekly banner. I calculate that if those words were all printed between the covers of one novel, that book would be about the size of War and Peace and Les Misérables combined, with On The Road thrown in for good measure.
That's 1,382 separate articles of writing, in all, and I have been proud of (nearly) each one of them. If some were of a lesser merit than others, I can still say I've never meant to mislead my readers in any way, that each and every piece was composed with the intent to pass my opinion on to you as honestly and completely as what talents I possess could manage. I have exposed my personal and emotional life to a degree that would alarm any insistent seeker of privacy or decorum. My daughter grew up on these pages. My parents died on these pages. And I have displayed on these pages a disposition for verbal cruelty and abuse that has often shocked even me.
When I started, I didn't set out to become such a long-termer. I submitted those first columns only because I saw the country slipping into a pattern of division and vitriol, and felt the need to respond, to defend the liberal values being so viciously attacked. I intended to keep it light, funny (hopefully) and utterly unlike any written punditry I had seen up to that point. Since then, the pattern of division and vitriol has evolved into a frenzy... a hysteria... a shitstorm of division and vitriol. Perhaps I was pulled too far into that ugly Maelstrom. I can only say that ensuing events—e.g., the Oklahoma City bombing, the theft of a presidential election, the sight of the Twin Towers collapsing into smoke and fire, the rush into immoral and self-destructive wars, the shameful way our first black president has been treated—have made it increasingly hard to keep myself light and funny. And I've become evermore convinced that, as verbally cruel and abusive as it may seem, it is vital to this country and to this world that we call "stupid" out for what it is.
Next week—my last week—I will thank those from whom I've been given the honor and privilege to have had this opportunity, and make my final goodbyes. Trust me when I say it will be a damn difficult thing to put on paper.