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Thursday, May 31, 2007

So Many Words Left



Here is Al Martinez's final column.

Goodbyes are just too damned hard

Al Martinez

June 1, 2007

I don't know how to say goodbye.

The need to do so has been thrust upon me suddenly, like the quick strike of summer lightning from a nonthreatening sky. I wasn't prepared.

The editor of the section of which my column is a small and barely visible part telephoned on an otherwise uneventful afternoon to say that my column, in its present form, is ending and that I am being given a buyout.

No one asked if I wanted it. I would have said no. I would have said I'm not ready yet. My prose is strong and my mind is clear. I'm still climbing upward. There is still a summit I haven't reached, a sunrise I haven't seen.

But they didn't ask.

And so I sit in our gazebo on this gentle twilight and struggle to write a final column that says what I don't want to say, on a day that I don't want to end.

Cinelli walks up the pathway. "Are you writing the goodbye column?" she asks.

"Right."

"It makes you sad."

"Yeah. I guess."

I am suddenly adrift. Not that an uncertain future cowers me. Other possibilities with this newspaper are under discussion and, either way, I've never been afraid of a blank page. What bothers me most is the manner in which I was told to leave. It could have been better, gentler.

But then, I say to myself, watching the last rays of the sun set our garden aglow, newspaper owners have never been known for their compassion, or newspapers for their permanence.

"You have to say goodbye to so many," Cinelli says.

"I know," I say. "That's the problem."

Goodbye, teachers. Goodbye, bus drivers. Goodbye, housewives. Goodbye, cleaning ladies. Goodbye, restaurant owners. Goodbye, fellow writers. Goodbye valets and waiters and actors and dog walkers and mimes.

Goodbye, old men and little children. Goodbye, dancers and poets and lawyers and weed-pullers. Goodbye, right fielders and tree trimmers. Goodbye, cops and firemen. Goodbye to the frightened. Goodbye to the brave.

You meet a lot of people in 35 years. You watch lives begin and the young grow old. You watch old women die and losers win. You answer God only knows how many letters and respond to more telephone calls than you could ever remember. Questions, answers, comments, shouts, whispers.

And then there's e-mail.

Never have readers been able to react so quickly to a journalist's point of view. Praise comes flying out of cyberspace like the blast of a bugle, and rage like the thunder of drums. Critics rarely back off. Fans rarely abandon you.

I answer one by one, patient with most, respectful to all, in my way.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

"Well," Cinelli says, "at least you'll have more time to, well — "

"To what? Pump iron? Crochet? Bird-watch? I write. That's what I do."

She nods and says, "Yes. I know." Then, suddenly, "Can I fix you a martini?"

I look at her like she has suddenly gone mad. She has never before asked to fix me a martini. She has said, "Do you have to have a martini?" and "Please don't have a martini" and "Damned martinis," but never, "Would you like me to fix you a martini?"

I am a little stunned, the way I was when told that my career was over. "No," I say. "I think I'll skip the martini. For now." I hedge my bet in case I decide later that a martini would not be half bad when I finish this column. I rarely drink and write. When I do, I come off like an odd fusion of Dylan Thomas and James Joyce.

I'm running out of space.

Cinelli kisses me and goes back into the house. There are some trails one must walk alone. Although I do so today, I am aware that others occupy the same forest — those, who like me, are bidding newspapering farewell; some happy to do so, others facing a void in their lives they will never be able to fill.

How do I say goodbye?

Dusk reaches out in a warm embrace. Only vague shards of sunlight remain among the trees and bushes in Cinelli's garden, like Malibu lights emerging to greet the coming night.

It's time to go. I've decided that the best way to say goodbye is to say thank you for the pleasure of your company all these years. I never took you for granted. I never gave you less than my abilities allowed.

The day is over. I close my laptop. I walk to the house. It's too dark to write anymore. Maybe it's better that way.

Goodbyes are just too damned hard.

1 comment:

Kanani said...

Hi Ed,
When we were at Al's he told us he's working on a play.
I think it'll be at the Geffen Playhouse --not sure. But there's more of Al to come.