Columnist Bruce Watson: Columnist bids goodbye to readers


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I’ve been putting this off for weeks but with an anniversary coming up, I can do so no longer. So … This is my last column for the Gazette.

“Say it ain’t so,” I long to hear. (I’m listening.) But as Shoeless Joe Jackson said in response, “I’m afraid it is, boys.”

It was 28 years ago, as the time flies, that my then fiancée saw that the Amherst Bulletin was looking for columnists. As the proud possessor of reams of unpublished fiction, I felt more than qualified. I sat down with the chisel and stone we used to write with back then and pumped out 500 words about our dog, Rosie, doing cold fusion in my coffee cup. I still insist it was all true but some thought I was joking and I was hired.

Ever since, people have sometimes laughed at what I wrote but I didn’t make up any of it. Except the fake news I slipped in, being ahead of my time.

Oh, but it was a different America then. You young’ns may not believe it, but the entire country had just 347 people. All were kind, regardless of political persuasion. Most of them got most of their news from this vibrant entity called a newspaper (NOOS-pay-per), and they trusted that news.

Cats sometimes went missing but were generally content and obedient. Dogs did cold fusion. Only geeks had heard of the internet and, believing that “information is power,” they promised it would make us better, wiser, happier. No, they really believed that.

Fast-forward 28 years and, by my calculation, 1,000-plus columns — here and in that other paper I just mentioned. Anyone paying strict attention has seen my children born and raised here. Readers (I know you’re out there) saw me drowned in diapers, struggling to surface, often with a quote from a precocious child.

Now those children have graduated from college and I’m gonna brag on ‘em one last time — Elena from Bard College and Nate from Cornell. So there! Alas, I have no idea what they are doing with their lives, but they seem to be, like cats in bygone America, content and obedient.

But anyone paying attention here knows that their growing up, combined with a meaner, angrier America, has left me with less to say. I have pushed on trying to warn of trouble on the horizon.

Stupid politics. Dumbed down celebrity culture. Relentless news of scandal and outrage that, in these 28 years, has grown from a nagging voice in the corner to a screeching maniac racing through the house. Did you listen, America? Sorry, I should have shouted louder.

So, although I am still able to spell and conjugate verbs, still the master of space, time, and punctuation, I cover my ears when news comes on. That’s a bad habit for a columnist, especially an aging one.

Because mockery is a young person’s game. Those who refuse to move on come to one of three fates — bitterness (Mark Twain), sentimentality (Garrison Keillor) or curmudgeonry (Andy Rooney). Unwilling to face those fates and, of course, not having any such audience, I am stepping aside while the stepping is good.

But I’m not gone. You can find me in The Attic (www.theattic.space). That is my online magazine, updated weekly, featuring short but true stories about America. Profiles of artists and writers, historical tidbits, occasional humor, tales from The Road — all written in hopes of finding a kinder, cooler America.

So thank you. To the many who stopped me on the street and said they enjoyed the column, thank you. To the folks who read my books, thank you. To the folks at the Gazette, thank you. Thanks to all.

Hope to see you in The Attic, or perhaps in the street. “Say it ain’t so,” you’ll say. Won’t you? I’m afraid it is, boys.

Bruce Watson, of Montague, is the author of the online magazine, The Attic — for a Kinder, Cooler America.