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December 04, 2013

My Opening Farewell


Remember when old timers regaled us with tales of the old days? Back then it cost a nickel to go to the movies, a steak dinner was two bucks and oh yeah, grandpa had to walk seven miles – through the snow with no shoes – to get to school.

It was hard for us to fathom. That's why it was a shock when someone mentioned to me that this week is my anniversary – the 25th year I've been writing a column.

I remember the beginning like it was yesterday. Linda Sherry was the editor of the Sag Harbor Herald, which was owned by the East Hampton Star. The paper had opened just a few weeks earlier.

Linda had moved to Sag Harbor when she was in the ninth grade (I think) when Pierson High School had the greatest group of athletes in its history. In fact, the basketball team led Bob Vacca and coached by the legendary Ed Petrie, was one of the best in the state. Linda lived on Howard Street – where I lived – and we were buds growing up. As it came to pass 20 years later she was frantically looking for a sportswriter to cover the basketball team and she knew I loved sports and was a good writer.

Naturally, the only person who said I was a good writer was me. I lied about my experience. I had none – except I did write an X-rated novel before I was 21, which I think was quite an accomplishment. I said I would cover the basketball team if she let me write a humor column. After a series of negotiations – Helen Rattray, the publisher, was apparently less than thrilled – the deal was made: $25 for each basketball article, and a column, which I would write for nothing.

I don't want to sound like some old coot – hell, I was a mere child when I started writing for the newspaper. That week the top movie was Rain Man. The top songs in 1988 were "Faith" by George Michaels, "So Emotional" by Whitney Houston, "The Way You Make Me feel" by Michael Jackson and "Could've Been" by Tiffany. The women used to swoon over Michael – that was before we found out he's gay. Jackson and Houston are both dead – we were all lucky we survived the drug era. I have no idea what became of Tiffany. There isn't a single song on that Top 50 list that is on my iPod today, not even "Foolish Beat" by Debbie Gibson.

It wasn't long before I started writing news articles as well – it was tough making ends meet when you were paid $25 a game. My first assignment was a Polar Beat Plunge someone was planning. I had never heard of such a thing.

For the record I'd like to state I've done a lot of foolish tings in my life, but I have never been stupid enough to take my clothes off and jump in the ocean when it is 10 degrees out.

In fact, if I recall, it was too cold that day to actually even go to the beach so I fudged the article by calling up the participants afterwards and let the photographer go catch pneumonia. Besides, it was New Year's Day – I was hung over: after all, it was the 80s.

I wrote over 200 columns for The Herald. On the anniversary of my 100th I had local dignitaries and loved ones write congratulatory letters to the newspaper. I promised Fred Thiele if he wrote something nice I would never write anything bad about him, ever. He did, and I kept my promise as well, even though he was spotted wearing a kilt in December 1988, the same week Pam Am Flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. I found that to be more than a little suspicious.

My girlfriend at the time, Wanda, wrote: "As Rick's live-in girlfriend I can honestly state Rick's column is the only big thing he has going for him." We broke up the next week.

After The Herald closed I continued writing the column intermittently – at The Star, online for Steven Gaines, even at The Independent, which we called "Rick's Place." That was years before I took the job as editor in 2003. Since then, by my count, I have written 532 more columns.

I know it's a cliché but it is mind boggling when I realize the things we take for granted now that didn't exist then, like cellphones. On the other hand, Quaaludes have disappeared from the face of the earth – they are like buffalo, extinct. How short-sighted we as Americans were not to protect that endangered species.

Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me through the good times and bad. My working philosophy has always been the same -- life is really all about the laughs, folks (and of course, bondage and discipline). When it stops being fun, it'll be time to get out.

I still have a few in me, though.

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