The accidental columnist retires |

The accidental columnist retires

I never intended to become a columnist.

I blame fellow Times columnist Su Lum and an undergarment oversight for the whole thing.

Lum was having a near-death experience in a Grand Junction hospital and I was night editor at the Times, which meant it fell to me to fill her Wednesday column slot with something other than her insights, given her unconscious state. So I filled it with some ramblings of my own.

I was, at the time, living the quintessential Aspen life ” skiing days and working nights ” when I headed out to Highlands on a powder day for an exceptional day of skiing ” exceptional as in, I didn’t suck at it for a change. (Powder was the bane of my existence in those early days.) I was riding the old, slow Cloud Nine chairlift at Highlands when I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing a bra ” apparently, I simply forgot to slip one on in my rush to dress, collect my gear and head for the slopes.

The night desk job involved a lot more downtime than it does now, so I killed time by writing about the skiing episode and pitched the result to my then-boss as a fill-in column for Lum. I suggested I might write a column on an occasional basis, filling in for vacationing columnists or whatever.

Instead, he deemed me fit for weekly column duty, and my inaugural effort, “Free the boobs, free the mind,” was published Feb. 3, 1999, in Lum’s Wednesday spot. To this day, I believe she sensed a vulture hovering over her space, shooed away the grim reaper and pulled through, eventually returning to work and booting the upstart out of Wednesday’s paper.

It was fine by me. I never wanted to be a regular columnist anyway. Except, the boss shuffled me to Fridays, and I’ve been tapping out 700 words or so on a weekly basis ever since.

When, I say weekly, I mean, sporadically ” as in, whenever I feel up the task or come up with a topic, which isn’t easy when one’s schtick is the column about nothing, which is how I’ve always described the inoffensive, often self-deprecating musings that have been the hallmark of this space.

I was allotted meager pay for the effort, though, and the boss, no doubt feeling guilty about my salary, tended to pay me for a column even when I didn’t write one. I suspect I’m the only Times columnist ever paid to not write a column, which I consider one of the greatest achievements of my career.

The effort never earned me much professional recognition ” it’s others on the staff who own a multitude of plaques for column writing from the Colorado Press Association ” but having my photograph published each week garnered me more recognition than I ever anticipated. For years, strangers have stopped me in the street or come over to my table in restaurants to let me know they were avid readers, or that they’d laughed their ass off over something I’d written, while I’d hem and haw and feel slightly uncomfortable about the unexpected attention.

Often, when I’d think I’d just written the lamest column yet and that it was time to give the whole column-writing thing a rest, someone would invariably tell me they found my latest installment hilarious. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more times than I can count.

But, I still think it’s time to retire and open this space to a fresh voice (who that will be remains to be seen).

To anyone who’s ever e-mailed or stopped to tell me they enjoyed the column, though, I offer my sincerest thanks.

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