This column made its debut almost 13 years ago, on the first Sunday of the year 2000.
In all that time, this space was empty on only one Sunday, when the impending marriage of my first daughter threw my mind into such confusion that I wasn’t up to the task of writing a column before I set off for the nuptials.
There was one other Sunday when, more or less on a lark, my editor Tom Tollefson wrote a column for me, describing his role in the weekly proceedings.
Other than that, City Lights has appeared in this space every week since the dawn of the millennium, on something like 650 Sundays.
But when I began this column, I silently repeated a promise made by my hero Joseph Addison, the principal author of a series of essays published in London in the early 1700s in a daily journal called The Spectator.
In an early number of issues of The Spectator, Addison said he had several friends and well-wishers who wondered whether he could maintain his grueling publication schedule.
“To make them easy in this particular, I will promise them faithfully to give it over as soon as I grow dull,” he wrote.
What, me dull?
I’m sure many readers would love to tell me just how dull they find me. As Addison said, after making his vow: “This I know will be matter of great raillery to the small wits; who will frequently put me in mind of my promise, (and) desire me to keep my word.”
Dull or not, I felt I was running my string out. I have been obliged to entertain and defend many more opinions than I would have arrived at in the absence of this column. I am not ordinarily contentious or even particularly public-minded.
Nor do I really care much about politics. But a column writer has to go with the flow to some extent and to write about what’s on people’s minds, and Americans are frightfully preoccupied by politics.
Now that I am getting out of the commentary business, I can make a confession, or rather a happy profession: I don’t watch TV. I watch a few shows on the Web, but honest to God, I don’t watch 10 minutes of television a month.
The result is that I am almost completely untouched by the torrent of political advertising that everyone else complains about so bitterly.
Maybe that’s part of my problem -- for various reasons, including the fact that I don’t watch TV, I am too happy to be a committed columnist, an agitator and rabble-rouser.
If, after almost 13 years of this, I have earned the right to dispense a bit of advice, it would be just this: Turn off your TV.
A little help from my friend
I hope I have also earned the right to make this acknowledgment: Tom Tollefson, whom I mentioned above, has read and made some improvement to nearly every one of these 650 columns.
On many occasions he did more than merely improve. He sometimes saved a column with a felicitous bit of editing, or by catching some stupid mistake.
More than a few times he has contributed whole sentences, and if a reader complimented me on a zinger I did not write, I was always careful to say whose handiwork it was, however painful it was to my professional pride.
I also thank the readers of The Gazette, especially those who reacted to a column by sending me an email or a letter or by making a phone call.
The compliments were welcome, but I most enjoyed the savage criticism. I hope it kept me on my toes.
I just thought I should go out, if not on top, at least before I hit bottom. Let me quote another hero of mine, Samuel Johnson, who followed Addison’s lead by publishing a series of essays called The Rambler in the mid-1700s.
This came out only twice a week, but it was still an onerous job. In the final issue, Johnson wrote: “He that condemns himself to compose on a stated day, will often bring to his task an attention dissipated, a memory embarrassed, an imagination overwhelmed."
Yes, all that and more. And Johnson rarely attempted to be funny, an added burden. I made the attempt quite often, though not everyone may realize it, even when I felt completely humorless.
I don’t know quite how to end this. Those damned endings were always the hardest part of this job.
Oh, well. I’m sure Tom will think of something.