I believe it was on the morning of Friday, June 18, 2004, when I answered my ringing desk phone.
"You wrote something."
I recognized the voice as that of (MR), the then Opinion Page Editor. I remember being initially confused as to what he was talking about and responded with, "I write a lot of things," as my fertile brain went into overdrive trying to determine what interest MR would have in any circulation reports I had been working on.
"I'm talking about your Reagan piece you sent to (PK)", who was the then Editor of the newspaper, and all around good guy.
"What about it," I inquired, as my synapses refused to make the connection on where this might be going.
"We're going to run you this Sunday as a guest writer in the Editor's column," MR stated. "That is, if that's OK with you?"
"Uhhhh. OK," I said (or something equally as cerebral). The Editor's column anchored the very popular Opinion section on Sundays and was prime print realestate, positioned directly under the widely read Talk Back box. "Did you check with (RS) about this?" (RS was the then Publisher of the newspaper).
"Don't need to," he answered. MR then asked if he could run the picture I had sent the editor as an attachment.
"No you can't use that," I told him, remembering that the picture in question was of my mug I had photoshopped onto Matt Drudge's pose. The same picture, coincidentally, that I regularly use as my Facebook avatar and later "Obamanized" at the bottom right column of this blog.
"No problem We'll use a library archive photo," he stated.
Let me back up a moment to tell you how this had come to pass.
President Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004, and his state funeral lasted through June 11th. A few days later, local columnist Andy Heller ran what I thought was a vicious attack column of revisionist history on Reagan he titled, "Dying has done wonders for Reagan." It was red meat for the overwhelming democrat majority in the market (BTW, how has hitching your wagon to the democrats and the unions worked out for all of you?)
Listen up people. You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind... and you don't mess around with Ronaldus Maximus.
What had upset me most wasn't the fact that Heller was expressing his opinion (that was his job after all, and he did/does it very well). No, what I found troubling at the time was that there was no local voice on staff to counter this drivel. So, after a departmental popcorn meeting that week with the Publisher, I pulled RS aside and shared my concerns of the above with him. I made a pitch for the need to add a local columnist with a conservative perspective so as not to completely alienate the portion of the market who held right-of-center views. RS listened and smiled, then stated he would consider it.
Please know that I was not making a play for myself to be this voice. That was not even considered, and as I told a friend sometime later, I couldn't have afforded the pay cut.
However, never being one to take a rebuff sitting down I penned my own Heller response. You'll have to trust me on this, but I did so with no expectations of it actually running. In fact my motivation was no more than what drives this blog, that being a need to express myself. I find the process soothing and quite a stress reliever. A "bloggers high" if you will. Since I had no blog back then, I emailed it to a few friends and relatives with the aforementioned silly picture as an attachment.
I had a good working relationship with the Editor, so I sent it to PK on a whim. In the email, I remember telling him of my pitch to RS for a conservative columnist, and that I was including my Heller response as an illustration. Apparently, PK forwarded it to MR with a subject line I'm guessing said something like "don't know if you can use this".
Next thing I know, I pick up my ringing phone to hear "You wrote something."
Click image for full size if you care to read. The only change was to the picture (I like this one better:)
I had wondered if I made a mistake in granting my permission for this to run. Unlike Heller, the company did not pay me for my political opinions, nor to alienate and offend a good chunk of the subscribers. It didn't matter that, at that time, we may have been averaging something like 10 cancellations per month over "editorial content" (If there is one thing we circ folks are good at, it's tracking numbers). To be fair, I have no doubt that for every subscriber that Heller drove to cancellation, he attracted a good many more to replace them.
My hands began to sweat in fear of the repercussions of losing just one subscriber because of my article, as that would be in direct contradiction to the mission of my day job. Maybe nobody will see it, I remember thinking.
Then again, I realized that with the multiplication factor of readers to paid circulation there was a good chance that over 200,000 people had read my scribblings. Based on my current daily average blog traffic, it would take me approximately 8 years to have attracted a comparable cummulative audience.
I received a phone call at home that morning from Pic Pic, an old friend and ex-colleague. He asked me in all candor, "so do you have another job offer in your pocket?"
You can ALWAYS count on your friends to give you assurances.
Later that week, the handwritten letters started coming in (think Miracle on 34th Street and the bags of santa mail in the courtroom). OK, not really that many. But I did receive dozens of emails, phonecalls, and letters. To my surprise, they were almost entirely positive. I handeled those with an inordinate and superhuman amount of grace and humility.
Most had three major themes:
* We loved it.
* We want to see more of you.
* We fear for your continued employment.
Here is one of my favorites...
I did get a few loose screws who called, and I politely and professionally agreed with them that I would stick to my abacus if they would continue taking the paper. As far as I know, not one subscriber stopped their paper over my piece.
A day or two later, I bumped into PK. He officially informed me that guest writing his column was a one-shot deal and I would not be getting a repeat performance.
And just like Apollo told Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch," I responded to PK in kind with, "Don't want one."