Hello and … farewell.
You’re reading my final column for The Spokesman-Review.
If that sounds weird, you should be on my side of the keyboard.
I’ve been writing three columns a week for this newspaper since 1985, or about two years after being hired away from my job as managing editor for the Coeur d’Alene Press.
I’ve always been terrible at math. But even counting vacations, a knee replacement and one dreadful bout of shingles, that’s like 4,500 columns or so.
God knows how many thousands of folks I’ve interviewed over the years. Even just the ones who wanted to see me fired are legion.
But now it comes to this: I have reluctantly accepted an offer that I can’t refuse.
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with finding the decapitated, bloody head of a prize racehorse under the sheets.
Ownership calls its offer a “voluntary reduction in force.”
I use the word reluctantly because this is a sweet-and-sour bowl of pork.
While leaving now is the right economic choice for a guy of my, um, vintage, I hate leaving the job that I poured my heart and my soul into.
Practically from the moment I got into journalism (way back in 1974), my dream was to one day become a columnist for my hometown paper.
Why a columnist?
It’s simply the best job at a newspaper.
A columnist gets to choose the subject matter. More importantly, the columnist gets to write from a point of view.
I always got a kick out of those angry readers who’d call or write to complain that something I had written was biased.
“I know,” I’d tell them proudly. “That’s what they pay me to do.”
Plus a columnist gets a little photo that runs with the column, proving why print journalists hardly ever wind up doing TV news.
Drab appearances aside, when the S-R columnist opportunity opened up, I grabbed it and never let go.
Until now, anyway.
My column took a lot of forms and shapes, which I believed contributed to its longevity.
I wrote about fascinating people.
Billy Tipton, say, whose death in 1989 at age 74 made global news.
Born Dorothy Tipton, the Spokane jazz musician and booking agent lived as a man for over half a century.
But that wasn’t the story. The jaw-dropper, as I wrote, was that Tipton “carried out a male masquerade so successful that it fooled his three adopted sons, at least three ex-wives, a score of fellow musicians and nearly everyone else who knew him or heard him play.”
Some of my columns were strictly for laughs.
The annual ugly tie contests I held for years, for instance.
I also commemorated our area’s dubious achievements year after year with the Budnick Awards, so named for a former Massachusetts social worker who used Spokane County to file his mining claims for the planet Mars.
A lot of columns were devoted to pointing out the gaffes and foibles generated by what passes for government around here.
I loved writing about the strange hex that accounted for Spokane’s inexplicable string of 10 one-term mayors that began in 1978 with the late Ron Bair.
Then David Condon came along and ruined everything by winning a second term.
Such a spoilsport.
Speaking of municipal voodoo, you newcomers should know that Spokane still remains under a Gypsy Curse. The spell was placed on the Lilac City after a botched 1986 police raid on the homes of Gypsy leaders Grover Marks and his outspoken son, Jimmy.
A flamboyant character with a rather rancid disposition, Jimmy, who died in 2007, compounded the curse after Grover’s death in 1997. Ordering the hearse to a halt in front of City Hall, Jimmy jumped out, opened the back doors and waved the spirit of his deceased dad into our hallowed halls of indecision.
There were the many parody songs I cranked out with Joe Brasch, my producer, best friend and bandmate.
Ballads to Spokane’s No. 1 methperado, Eddie Ray Hall, for example. Or our “Tap Three Times” send up to America’s original restroom romancer, ex-Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.
And dare I speak of the song we came up with following that unfortunately fatal human vs. equine encounter in Enumclaw?
We redid the “Mister Ed” TV theme song, which, I believe, set a new low for the decency bar in any family newspaper.
“Ohhhh, a man and horse …”
I can’t go there again. You’d best look it up.
Some columns were about injustice and sticking up for the underdog.
North Idaho’s neo-Nazi scum provided fodder for years until their leader did the world a favor by becoming a worm farm. Here lies Richard Butler – as always.
Overnight stays in haunted houses. Rattlesnake hunting near Wilbur. Wacky inventors. Love letters to Avista. Cool car tales and con artists galore.
How about the time I took my minister brother, Dave, on an unexpected trip to a nudist camp? “Gird up your loins,” I remember him hollering humorously at the unclad masses.
So much fun.
Ruckus scooter rides and other adventures with my buddy Scott Cooper.
The comic genius of Charlie Schmidt, Spokane’s “Nostrildamus” and creator of the world famous Keyboard Cat.
Hijinks with my friend Tom Keefe, who gave us Eddie Gaedel Day, which will be celebrated at 3 p.m. Saturday at O’Doherty’s Irish Pub & Grill in downtown Spokane. (See you there!)
Raising almost $175,000 for Second Harvest food bank through 15 years of Street Music Week with my pal Jim Lyons. (Never fear. The show will go on.)
Please remember Otto Zehm.
I know I always will.
I’ve had a wonderful time. And through it all I’ve enjoyed the loving support of my lovely wife, Sherry, and terrific kids: Ben and his fiancée, Heather; Emily and her husband, Shane, and their Baby Ronan, my sweetheart granddaughter.
I never envisioned retiring this way. This all came so soon that I haven’t thought much about where to go from here.
A cross-country tour in the beloved LaBoata boat car with Capt. Tim Lorentz would be a pretty cool way to spend some time.
If we could talk his wife, Kathy, into it, that is.
I’ll probably play my guitar a lot more. And book more gigs with my band, Trailer Park Girls.
There’s always whittling. I hear that’s a really popular pastime for geezers.
And finally, thanks to you readers who tagged along for the ride and all of my reindeer games. Never would have lasted this long or made it this far without you.
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