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Thanks to you, today (roughly) marks 20 years of The Slice

Back in 2005, Sly the cat couldn’t wait to see his picture in The Slice.
Back in 2005, Sly the cat couldn’t wait to see his picture in The Slice.

Spokesman-Review readers didn’t quite know what to think of The Slice at first.

For one thing, an oddball grab bag of opinions, observations and musings can seem incoherent. At best.

And the editors who had green-lighted the new column did not do an especially good job of introducing/explaining it to readers. It’s hard to blame them, though. The truth is they themselves didn’t really know how The Slice was going to shape up.

The thing that really threw people was the question at the end of each column. Where were the answers?

This confusion outlasted multiple early demonstrations of just how it was supposed to work. That is, the column asks and readers answer. A question appears on, say, Monday. Selected readers’ responses show up a few days later.

Simple, right? Not really, it turned out.

But eventually something seemed to click. People got it. A fair number accepted the invitation to interact with a newspaper feature variously referred to as almost everything from “offensive” to “different.”

The very first Slice columns did not actually appear until the first week of August in 1992. That’s when the Empire Life section turned into IN Life (which would one day become Today).

But the final planning conversations about this new column’s role in that transition would have been taking place in July of that year. So it seems OK to informally declare this The Slice’s 20th anniversary.

And to send a sincere thank-you card to those readers who have contributed to some 5,000 columns along the way.

There are no reliable statistics about just how many Spokane area residents have seen their names in The Slice. But if you include everyone who has been in it just once and all those who have made multiple appearances, it would add up to a significant number.

All had something to say – a story to tell or comment to make.

They understood that most of life isn’t front-page news.

For instance …

The guy who lost 16 wedding rings in 14 years of marriage.

A little boy so proud of his first jockstrap that he wore it (instead of traditional underwear) to the circus.

A Sunday school kid who assumed Jesus was baptized in Moses Lake.

A slug-eating South Hill cat who required her own face-wipe towel.

Explaining those noises mom and dad were making.

A guy who sold plasma to earn money to buy a tricked-out golf cart.

A Spokane family that couldn’t figure out why the piano didn’t sound right and the music store guy making a service call who discovered a teen boy’s porn stash inside it.

A little girl innocently referring to a certain Sunday in May as “St. Mother’s Day.”

Old-fashioned underwire bras setting off airport security sensors.

The frozen squirrel on the North Side power line that turned out to be a piece of wood.

A 12-year-old girl who packed her dad’s take-to-work lunch for him and included a beer.

Remembering the best dogs ever.

And on and on. The list stretches from kids vomiting in brand-new cars to surreal blind dates. From tales of annoying co-workers to requests for guidance on understanding Spokane.

Part conversation, part community, The Slice has been entrusted to tell stories of faking out the Tooth Fairy, setting fire to a hated recliner, and recalling the haunting sound of distant trains in the night.

“It must be nice to have other people write your column for you,” various charmers have droned, always assuming they are the first to say that.

Well, “nice” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Back in 1992, submitting something to The Slice required making a call or writing a letter. Can you imagine?

Contacting some stranger at the newspaper – who could turn out to be mean or dismissive – that takes a certain amount of courage.

The tipping point might have been when some unknown percentage of Slice readers stopped thinking of “that guy at the newspaper” as a stranger.

Nice to have other people write my column for me? No, it’s an honor. Wouldn’t trade it.

Twenty years is a long time. The deck of Slice contributors has been shuffled and reshuffled over and over.

Some of those who regularly submitted answers or pet peeves back in the early days are no longer with us. Others got bored and bailed. Some who wanted to cut out the middleman might be living on Facebook now. Still others recently moved to our area and don’t get why The Slice insists on real names.

But two kinds of contributors deserve special recognition.

A few readers keep sending in potential item fodder even though none of their previous submissions wound up in print. Others keep in touch despite the fact that once in a while The Slice rubs them the wrong way.

Both deserve a salute.

Readership surveys over the years made clear that a great majority of Slice readers regard the column as a spectator sport. They do not pick up the phone or fire off an email, even when faced with the tantalizing prospect of winning a coveted reporter’s notebook. (Yes, that started as a joke, but recipients really seem to get a kick out of them.)

That silent majority’s loyalty is appreciated, of course. It’s huge. But, for better or worse, The Slice wouldn’t be The Slice without those who have contributed to the column.

So thank you for sharing your stories.

And if you have never contacted me, just remember. There’s a first time for everything.

Back in 2002, on the occasion of The Slice’s 10th anniversary, a Q-and-A with myself ended this way.

Q: Ten more years?

A: Let’s worry about Tuesday’s column first.

Doesn’t seem that long ago.

The truth is, I was pretty confident. Still am. With all the help I get, why not?