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| Off-Kilter

Bittersweet Swan Song of a Soulful (but Not Pompous) Media Windbag

March 31, 2000|ROY RIVENBURG

Liquidation Bureau: For our final column, we wanted to turn in something brilliant, witty and touching, but it's illegal to plagiarize someone else's work. So we came up with this instead:

Impaled by the Light: In Off-Kilter's previous life as a "responsible journalist" (a term we use very loosely), we investigated near-death experiences and found the evidence unconvincing.

However, while panicking about what to do for our last column here, we suddenly found ourselves floating above our computer, staring down at our own body. We watched as co-workers rushed over to administer first aid and/or remove our wallet and valuables.

Next, all of our past columns flashed before our eyes, then we traveled through a dark tunnel toward a bright light. Along the way, we passed the great columnists who went before us: our hero Mike Royko, Herb Caen, Jim Murray, Goren on Bridge. Then a voice said: "Go back, it's not your time."

And instantly we were back in the office and our boss was standing over us saying: "No, really, it IS your time. Sorry."

Still, we were changed by this otherworldly experience. We vowed to write every column as if it were our last. OK, actually, this is our last, but that's beside the point. Life as a columnist is short, and every syllable and diphthong is precious.

Sadly, as we reviewed the past two years, we were seized with regrets. One of the biggest was the way we ridiculed certain celebrities. For example, we feel terrible about a 1998 column in which we referred to O.J. Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz as a "soulless media windbag." If we could do it all over again, we would add the word "pompous" to that description. We regret the oversight.

Another lesson from "the other side" is gratitude. Although we hate to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, we wish to thank the academy and several people:

* Our former boss, Michelle Williams, for being extremely susceptible to hypnosis and agreeing to launch Off-Kilter.

* Wireless Flash News Service and all our unpaid informants, especially Ann Harrison, Susanna Timmons, Allison Joyce and Martin Miller. Many of the column's best jokes were really theirs (including this sentence).

* Our editor, Elena Howe, for her skillful handling of our prose (such as improving this section by adding the phrase "for her skillful handling of our prose").

* The Los Angeles Times Syndicate and the L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service, for adroitly subjecting innocent readers in other states and nations to our misguided vision of the world.

* God, for blessing us with writing talent, although we're not sure he'd want to be associated with the results.

* We also can't forget ----- (insert your name here if we forgot you).

Finally, thanks to the hundreds of readers who sent encouraging letters, especially Anonymous, who recently eulogized Off-Kilter as "tiresome, unfunny and a colossal waste of space." We would add "pompous" to that description, but otherwise it's exactly what we were shooting for.

Last Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Some Near-Death Experience Survivors Return as Someone Else!" (Weekly World News)

So maybe we'll come back as Dear Abby, Dr. Joyce Brothers or some Internet site like http://www.offkilter.org.

* Roy Rivenburg can be reached at roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

* Beginning next week, "Tell Me About It" by Caroline Hax will appear here Mondays and Fridays and a column by Tony Kornheiser will appear Wednesdays.

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