Some columnists stay around forever. Not me. I sense when a party is over and I become a burden on the hosts. After 30 years and thousands of stories, this is my last month at the Los Angeles Times. That’s right, the party is over.
I’m a little sad but a lot happy to be going. I feel like a kid on the last day of school. I never handled structure or authority very well. Even here, in one of the world’s most interesting newsrooms, I was always staring out the window, wishing I were someplace else.
So I am leaving. Not this week. But soon.
This is bound to come as good news to many of you. I’ve been writing about the suburbs forever, and I apologize for the monotony of that, like a song on a single-string guitar.
It’s just that I thought these little moments — the skinned knees, the bungled home projects — worthy of a great newspaper, not because they were happening to me, but because they were happening to everyone. And I was lucky to have editors who thought so too.
I hope my stories were somewhat engaging and relatable. It was the suburbs after all, hardly city hall. John Updike mined the angst of the suburbs so much better, as did John Cheever and Philip Roth. I was in it for the laughs.
As my family will confirm, I am always in it for the laughs.
And thanks to them, an entire month of columns could begin with the simple words: “Hey, Dad, can we get some frogs?”
You know, Los Angeles isn’t the city I signed up for. Outsiders don’t understand L.A. at all. It takes years to get a feel for it, so grand and phony is the myth. As a newcomer, you expect Charlie’s Angels to live next door. On the other side, Henry Winkler.
But once I figured out this city, I mined these real moments for all they were worth — the Cub Scout campouts, the photos before prom. To me, that’s the juicy stuff. To me, that’s life on a half shell.
Such moments could be magic or mundane, fun or fallow. I could devote an entire column to the existential joys of driving the kids’ car pool or raking an infield.
Yet, it was life. Over three decades, this column was my memoir.
I know my words were hardly polished pearls. They came to you still damp on the page, like undercooked linguini. Hope you occasionally had a laugh.
We also stood together in the cold rain, you and I. Sometimes sharing a tear or two.
I’ve been at this a total of 42 years. I never wanted to outlive newspapers, and now it seems I nearly have. My beloved business is in trouble. It needs you, and I want to thank you for sticking by it. Talk about relationships; few are more sacred than the one between a publication and its readers. Again, thank you.
Essentially, newspapers find and reveal the world’s secrets. When the status quo goes out of its way to keep secrets, we reveal them, whether it’s the Pentagon Papers or medical school deans with demons.
Some aren’t even that important, such as the secret to a good cherry pie. But in our best work, there is always revelation and surprise. There is life. A good story always has a kernel of usefulness and an abiding truth.
I don’t want to romanticize the biz. Like yours, there were good moments and bad, great bosses and real louts. And like teaching, salaries are never quite enough.
Thing is, consumers once gladly paid for all of this. Thirty years ago newspapers owned the ad market for sweaters, used cars, baseball gear, spark plugs. If you wanted to buy or sell any of that, you came to us.
Now advertisers and consumers go elsewhere. At this very moment, savvy, smart people are looking for solutions, and Lord hope they find some. I dread the morning that democracy doesn’t land on your doorstep, a small and essential thud.
Meanwhile, I will marry off a daughter or two and drop my last kid off at some lush and overpriced college.
Then I’ll get more into fly fishing and the better rye whiskeys. I want to perch on a bar stool in Little Tokyo at 4 in the afternoon. I want to buy a beer for perfect strangers and two beers for the imperfect ones.
There are about a thousand books I want to read and at least one darkly subversive TV show I’d like to write, probably about the fading, beautiful business of newspapers.
I hope it has a happy ending.
Because truly, I have been blessed. With you. With newspapers.
Next week: Memorable moments through the years.