It all began at a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California. Wait a minute, that's Ted Baxter's old line. For yours truly, it all began at a 61,000-circulation alternative newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, when I signed on to write the illustrious, outrageously popular, could-a-Pulitzer-be-far-behind-yes-it-apparently-could Mr. Right column. And who cares if that's where it's all ending, some 700 Pulitzer-worthy columns later? It's not like I thought I was Ann Landers or anything.
Actually, I did think I was Ann Landers there for a while - "Ann Landers with cojones," as I brashly announced in my very first column, back on Sept. 3, 1993. I went on to point out that, truth be told, Ann Landers had more cojones than I did, that she had more cojones than, say, Norman Schwarzkopf. (Remember Stormin' Norman?) Ann seemed to have it all, I wrote: wit, wisdom and frighteningly large hair. But there was one thing she didn't have. For perfectly understandable reasons, she didn't think like a man.
Neither do I, some of you have argued over the years. If I had a nickel for every time a reader asked whether I was really a woman pretending to be a man, I could afford the best gender-reassignment surgery money can buy. But no, I'm just a man pretending to be a man, and I like to think that's brought a whiff of testosterone to what has traditionally been an estrogenous zone, the advice column. Facial hair on women, breast implants for men, womb envy - I've always enjoyed the gender-bender topics you came up with for me to talk about. But no matter what the topic, I tried to go against the grain, revel in the absurd richness of life.
I was recently thumbing through my slip-cased columns, which I'll be sending off to the Library of Congress after finishing this last one, and I kept giggling at the subjects as they went by: chastity belts, codpieces, butt plugs, rimming, the cremasteric reflex, vaginal farts, the F-word, the C-word, Christ's penis, Bill Clinton's penis, my penis, porcupine sex, booger disposal, the Enema Bandit, the Spencer Spanking Plan, a history of the breast, a history of wiping your butt, the guy who filled a rubber glove with tapioca pudding "and took care of myself a few times," the gal who wanted to exhume her long-dead mother because she missed her so much.
Okay, so it wasn't all fun and games. I was capable of getting serious for short periods of time, when the need arose. And what readers of advice columns may not realize is that advice columnists can't help but take to heart the shy people, the lonely people, the sad people who write in and could truly use your help. I hope they did all right by me, and I wish I could have done more.
And then there were the topics that kept coming back, like swallow poop on the streets of Capistrano: not enough sex, too much sex, too much lousy sex, extramarital sex, marital sex, too much marital sex, not enough lousy extramarital sex. But the question I got asked, over and over again, which I'm both proud and embarrassed to say I attempted to answer only once in 16 years, was: Where do I meet someone? I'm sorry, people, but that's the one question I don't have an adequate answer for. We are all a dense mass of swirling electrons, sharing orbits for a while, then spinning off into space. And as I spin off myself, I want to thank each and every one of you electrons for sharing this orbit with me all these years. It's been great. Take care of yourselves.
Is that my final answer? Yes, but send questions for my successor to: Advice Column, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or call 251-1206, ext. 152. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.