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A fine gladness, saying hello instead of goodbye

July 02, 2007|Al Martinez

I don't know how to say hello.

The reason for my temporary inability to greet you with my usual loopy smile is that just a few weeks ago I wrote what seemed to be my last column for the L.A. by God Times, during which I said a pretty final goodbye.

I had been fired, axed, canned, sacked or whatever verb you prefer. My career was kaput.

The buyout package handed me like coins tossed into a beggar's basket used terms like "separated," but that evoked images of being slowly disjointed, and I don't think that having my arms torn from their sockets was part of the separation plan, but then who knows?

Because I do not go gentle wherever I go, I made something of a fuss about this in an e-mail to my bosses and then in that farewell column. This evoked a tidal wave of protest to my dismissal, I am pleased to say, which resulted in my being washed ashore once more.

The reanimation began with Times Editor Jim O'Shea asking me to lunch. The only reason editors have ever asked me to lunch was to tell me that I was doing everything all wrong, so naturally I was hesitant. I ultimately concluded that he was simply going to explain my ouster in more corporate terms. Doing it all wrong is apparently not a legal reason for dumping someone.

My wife, the wise Cinelli, suggested that I have lunch with him but skip the martini and make sure he paid. I took her advice and remained both martini-less and slow on the reach for my credit card. She gave me a high-five as I left for lunch, as though I was off to decapitate a quarterback.

What O'Shea wanted was to apologize for the abrupt manner in which I was tossed to the dingoes and to ask if I would like to return one day a week. I indicated I would, but not down there in the basement, crunched between the movie ads and the comic strip "Zits." He said we'd work it out.

Meanwhile, my situation, or lack of, was noted in a dozen or so blogs as an example of what was happening to Otis Chandler's old newspaper. National Public Radio interviewed me several times, and the local Topanga Messenger put me on its front page accompanied by a photograph that resembled an abandoned basset hound. "How could you not love me?" the picture begged.

The response to all of this soapy drama was thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls. My Juno and America Online programs received about 2,000 shots, and the letters came in like surrender leaflets over Nazi Germany.

You wrote in outrage and tears regarding my disjointment and demanded my return. Your protests came from as far away as Switzerland and Australia, and as near as Canoga Park, Pacoima, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, El Segundo, Watts, Malibu, Pasadena, Montebello, Whittier, Riverside and ... well, you get the idea.

During 15 minutes of unemployment, I came to realize the connections I had made with those to whom I had directed millions of words over the past years. It was like an army had assembled, and the battle cry was to bring the old guy back. It worked. I am here in a better place than I was, doing what I like to do, trying to ignore the feeling that I remain in a pro tem status, realizing that in a certain way we are all pro tem.

While I feel a little like I'm the former Al Martinez or maybe a sequel to an original drama, I blow past the shock of an abrupt dismissal and once more offer my efforts to help save the ship.

I don't want it to be found adrift in the fog someday like the Flying Dutchman with no one aboard and the coffee still warm.

I look at the near-death experience of my career with the same resilient attitude that has helped me manage to make it thus far down the corridors of my years.

I have survived a war, two heart operations, five editors and male menopause. I even survived my own obituary. This should be a piece of cake.

So I return with a whoop and a laugh, knowing that not much has changed in the month of my unemployment, except for Paris Hilton's rumored spiritual epiphany that will no doubt soon find her on a tramp steamer to Calcutta, there to live and work among the diseased and hungry as her gift to God.

What a month. Gimme five.

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