No one is counting but my dad and me, and he really isn’t keeping track of such things because he is long gone. He was proud that he worked 24 years at this sheet, and not long ago someone mentioned that I have toiled here 73 years. Add the two together and it means that father and son have been 97 years at the Quad-City Times and its predecessors. If the editors can stand me a few more years, my dad (Bill, too) and I will have seen the same dark of print for a century, the same newsprint, the same essence of ink. I feel his hand tapping me on the shoulder every now and then.
Such sentimental banter prompts me to write an anniversary column. I do so every five years, more or less. But after this, I’ll never write another anniversary column. There’s no use overdoing a bad thing. Anniversary columns sound like epitaphs.
All of this is not to say that I’m going to throw in the towel, but I feel like a dinosaur in a newsroom of young j-school (as in journalism) grads. Once in a while, the whippersnappers peek into my office with the 10-foot pencil hanging from the ceiling. They must think of it as a tomb with an old locker door and a giant bass drum for a coffee table. Maybe some day, one of them will take over my office. Most newcomers in this racket think that writing a column is as easy as tossing some powder into cold milk and you instantly have chocolate pudding.
Strangers askwhat it takes to do a column and Red Smith, the late great sports writer for the New York Times, said: “You simply sit down at a typewriter, open a vein and bleed.”
I like to quote Herb Caen , the Pulitzer-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle: “All it takes to be a columnist is a desire not to do much of anything else.”
Whenever I go somewhere, I have to get a column item out of it. Everything must remind me of something that can be carved into a paragraph or a column ... a bit of wisdom or laughs or simple drivel. If I go someplace and don’t get a column out of it, it is a loss.
Going back about 175 years ago, I often repeat Horace Mann, the father of public education in America. When asked to write a monthly article, he replied to the publisher, “I have not the time to prepare it for the press. Besides, writing 12 pieces a year would exhaust a man too rapidly.”
Now, I’m regularly locked in at two columns a week and writing other pieces of my choice. But dear friends and foes, I sign off here as my last anniversary col. “I love all readers, and my detractors keep me humble. St, Luke said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you.”
There’s no chance of that, because I say never trust anyone who hasn’t written for at least 73 years.