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Thanks all - it was a blast


They are cutting back on lots of things here on Morrissey Boulevard as in many other places. So, downsized but not downhearted, I take my leave. We are all renters, not owners, those of us with the good fortune to turn a crust by newspapering. But you never worked just for the ownership; you wrote for your readers, for the esteem of your peers and competitors, and for yourself. I know there are people who did not care for the views propounded here over 32 years, in thousands of columns, 150 a year on average this last decade. When I turned into the parking lot with a Mose Allison CD going full blast, he sang, "Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working overtime." And that's a sentiment shared by many who wrote, called, and e-mailed over three decades, from Nixon to Bush II. But I always heard from more pros than cons. I met thousands of you over the years, almost invariably, often quite thoughtful, at the counter of Dunkin' Donuts, in the beer line at Fenway, walking through Harvard Square, where I just wrapped up a fellowship at Harvard's Shorenstein Center.

As you can imagine, it is a vast privilege to be a columnist. When I sweated through a stint as an editor, I learned that when you create a columnist, you create a monster, unless the writer harbors a decent respect for the opinions of mankind outside his or her own noggin. I knew from Day One that you never know what you think until you write it down, as I've lectured a hundred classrooms. To get a column on a newspaper with clout is to be blessed, like one of Mose's Seventh Sons, whose words have their power to "make your little heart skip a beat."

Newspapering is not complicated. I always aimed for that niche where you write faster than those who write better, and write better than those who write faster. My training at the AP for four years and 18 months before that at the Salem Evening News under Bud Conley, put me on the road that was right for me. Tom Winship and the Taylor family made my Globe career.

This business is all about judgment, tempered by experience. Got to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, in A. J. Lieb ling's parlance. Got in a few whacks at the mighty when they turned mean or forgetful. Had a lot of fun with politicians, from Nixon to Bush II, and still marvel at the resilience of corporate America, which usually manages to buy its way through the political process.

Whenever you thought you'd seen it all, something pops up like the Florida recount, the grandest larceny in the history of American politics. Now the country's hostage to a domestic energy cartel, which owns the president and fellow oilman and viceroy, Dick "Sure, I got $40 million from Halliburton but the government had nothing to do with it" Cheney, and California pays through the nose for electricity at loanshark rates.

Do I miss weighing in and inveighing in? What do you think? I told Mary McGrory at lunch Monday the thing I'll miss most is the chance to shine a little flashlight on a dark corner, where a wrong was done to a powerless peon, where a scarred politician maybe deserved a better fate, where the process went awry, or the mob needed to be calmed down and herded in another direction.

I parked my car with Mose crooning "I found out things are gettin' better; it's just people that are gettin' worse." Things have gotten better in so many ways in my 32 years before the mast. But we have to keep an eye on them, those people with power and money and prestige and strength.

To my colleagues left paddling alongside fewer rowers, Godspeed. There is some wonderful talent and dedication still here. To my friends in other news outfits, all the best. To long-suffering readers, my sincerest thanks, for all the anonymity that separates us. You know who you are; and I know how grateful I am for your forbearance. I always felt that if I was financially secure, I'd do it for nothing. Turns out I was wrong. But it's been a blast.

I got to all 50 states, eventually (Idaho being the last, for reasons that now escape) and maybe two dozen countries. Met some fascinating folk, rascals and rogues as well as heroes and heroines sung and unsung. I still believe that you voters get a slightly better quality of politics and public service than you deserve. And I know there are many people in politics and public service who are better than the public typically thinks.

Will I miss it? Absolutely. The chance to rock the boat, to say "yeah, but . . ." in 800 or 900 words maybe chosen or not-so-well chosen. That's what Archimedes meant when he said give him but a lever and a place to stand, and he could move the world. Words work. John Stuart Mill put the best case for a newspaper's mission when he asked the basic question: who ever knew truth, in a fair and open encounter, to be put to flight? We've had some problems lately with the "fair" part of the question in the news biz, as we've made tremendous gains in the "open" portion. I'll be addressing that in other contexts.

For today, I bid farewell with a bit of lyric from "The Sick Note," a song about an Irish bricklayer. That was a trade I practiced before discovering newspapering, a vocation Marty Nolan encapsulated as "good indoor work, no heavy lifting." Our singing bricklayer is laid low by injudicious release of a rope hauling a barrel of bricks over a pulley:

The barrel then being heavier,
It started down once more.
And it landed right across me
As I lay there on the floor.
It broke three ribs and my left arm,
And all I have to say
Is I hope you'll understand
Why Paddy's not at work today.

So I'll see you around, "don't know where, don't know when," in the words of the World War II signoff anthem. And in the concluding cadence of countless Irish clerics and comedians: Thanks for the use of the hall.

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