When I said it was my last column, they
all had suggestions. Write about neo-domesticity and gender roles,
they said. Write a really impassioned case against the Bush
administration, something so powerful it will bring readers to
tears and — more importantly — to the polls in
November. Write about kittens. Write about affirmative action and
unions and capitalism and don’t waste a single word, because
this is it, this is your last chance. Write about the Middle East.
Write about language. Write about the terrible history class
you’re taking and how if anyone is thinking about taking it,
she should e-mail you immediately so you can talk her out of it.
Write a sestina. Write porn.
Whatever you do, they said, don’t write a goodbye column.
Seriously. We’ll vomit.
Sorry, guys — there’s too much. Trying to pick a
topic for a last column is a lot like trying to do anything at all
when you’re waiting tables and your section is full and the
kitchen is a war zone and everyone needs something two minutes ago.
For every second you save, you need a hundred more. You
couldn’t get everything done even if there were two of you,
and sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all. Stop.
Get yourself a glass of water and lean on the service bar and ask
the service bartender if she’s heard the one about the ham
A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender
says he is sorry, but that’s out of the question. Confused,
the ham sandwich asks why. “I’m sorry,” the
bartender says again, “but we don’t serve food
When I was young and lacked confidence, a professor told me I
was digressive and uninteresting, and that this was never more true
than when I tried to relate literature to my own life. I was
willing to give her digressive, but I’ve never quite forgiven
that last part, the part about literature and life. Literature
— all writing, in fact — is worthless if it is not
personal, is a waste of time if it doesn’t demand that you
step inside it, feel it, empathize with it, be just as crazy as it
is, if only for a moment.
Shortly after that professor said that thing to me, I started
writing columns for the Daily. That was three years ago. Since
then, once every two weeks, for 750-800 short words, I have been
allowed to play the smartest person in the world, to insist
implicitly that no one could argue what I argued as well as I
argued it, to smile slyly at 40,000 people and dare them to
disagree. Meanwhile, I’ve been meeting people 10 times as
smart as I am, and far more interesting to boot. I’ve been
leading a double life, at once supremely confident in my words and
humbled beyond humble by the great and creative minds of those
I came into the Daily a reject, a column applicant who
hadn’t made the cut, a digressive and uninteresting freshman.
I might have stayed away, dejected, had it not been for a short,
friendly e-mail from the tall, friendly editor who’d read my
submissions. She thought I had potential and told me I should come
in and write other things for a while and see where that led. I was
terrified (not interesting! didn’t make cut!), thinking this
had to be a joke, a pity e-mail, but I walked in the door a week
later and never walked back out. I’ve thought often about
what would have happened if that editor had been just a little bit
busier that day, or just a little bit less thoughtful. This all
would have turned out very differently. This would be someone
else’s goodbye column.
That e-mail was nothing — a shrug — but I latched
onto it like it was my one and only chance to be interesting, to do
something worthwhile with my time here. Looking back, I think maybe
There’s got to be a metaphor for life in there somewhere.
But I digress.
Here’s what’s important: Vote Kerry in November,
support unions only when their demands are reasonable, watch
television, curse loudly in public, skip class, read everything,
wear comfortable shoes. If you must hate your job, hate it with
gusto. Learn things. Know that your friends are the best people in
the world. Make sure they know it, too. Say what you mean. Mean
what you say. Listen. Argue respectfully. Have fun.
Thanks for everything. I’ll miss you. So long.
Henretty can be reached at