This will be this Observer’s last Observer column as a full-time employee of the mighty Arkansas Times. But never fear, Dear Reader. Through the miracle of modern anonymity, The Observer’s beat will go on in this space next week, and the next, our streak unbroken, hopefully forever and ever, amen. That’s the beauty of never having to sign this sucker: The Observer can be like James Bond and Tom Joad. We can live forever. We can be all around in the dark. We can be everywhere.
You shouldn’t take from our exit that there is a calamity looming; that some Bad Moon is rising, or that this tub is about to hit the iceberg that people have claimed was looming out of the darkness for us since virtually the moment we opened the doors way back in the hippified and free-wheeling days of 1974. The newspaper business is in the crapper, but the important work will go on around here in The Observer’s absence. Long may it be so.
This Observer is just tired, to tell you the truth. In preparation for blowing this popsicle stand, we recently spent a Saturday cutting and pasting all our contributions to The Observer into one electronic file, so they could be printed out and stashed under the bed in a fireproof box, thus dodging through physical, dead-tree permanence the heretofore unforeseen, wholly avoidable Trumpocalypse that’s sure to take down the internet soon and send us all back to the rotary phone days if we’re lucky, tin cans and string if not. Ever helpful, our computer says that since Sept. 16, 2004 (the earliest Observer by this writer in our online archives, even though Yours Truly had been on the job two years by then), we’ve contributed 235,436 words to The Observer column. That’s within spitting distance of eclipsing the word count for “Ulysses.” That’s just our contributions to The Observer, mind you, not including all the cover stories about heinous murders and the arc of the moral universe bending, slow as Christmas, toward justice for our LGBTQ friends; the shorter stories about army worms on the march in Blytheville and zombie Klanners on the lurch in Smackover; the dining reviews and movie reviews and blog posts; the letters of thanks to folks telling us how much they liked something we’ve written and the letters of shamefaced explanation to those who didn’t; the emails and snail mails, the 1 million Freedom of Information Act requests and 10 million reporter notebooks full of our hand-cramping scrawl. Like we said: bone tired.
While we probably won’t get a gold watch, we’re calling it retirement after 15 years of faithful service instead of capitulation or selling out. We’ve done our time in the gravel pile, The Observer has told the bedroom ceiling way down in the night, and can now hand over the news pen to younger, more go-getting hands without shame. Maybe someday, we’ll even believe it.
Mostly, though, we find that we’re just thankful for the years we’ve spent here. In those years, we have had the unique privilege of being part of this city we love and this state we love, in a way that has made us feel fully plugged in to the heart of what it is that makes Arkansas uniquely beautiful and special and — at times — terrible among all the places in the world. We’d had the joy of feeling truly present and accounted for, which is a skill a lot of people never master until the moment they wake up one day on their death bed. It has been the pleasure of this Arkansas boy’s life to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan for you, Dearest Reader. We hope there have been times we have accomplished the goal that gets every journalist worth his or her salt out of bed in the morning: the dream of moving the needle one skinny degree in a positive direction.
So, goodbye for now, friends. Thanks for the memories. We hope you are still reading. We hope you keep reading. It’s important. And you are important to your Old Pal. See you next week.