My first instinct was to sneak out the back door and not say a word to you. Not even leave a note. Just sort of slink away and assume you'd figure things out on your own.
Isn't that just like a man?
Then it dawned on me that I owe you a lot more than that.
So, here's how the note begins:
This is my last column for the paper.
Note the use of italics. That is an intentional rhetorical flourish, meant to suggest that this represents a watershed moment in journalism and, perhaps, in your life.
Typically, columnists who leave the stage after a long run -- 18 1/2 years in my case -- like to imagine that large swaths of the population simply won't be able to get along without them. I must confess that thought consoles me now.
I'll deal next week with the fact that it isn't true. I'll deal much later with the fact that many of you right now are saying: "I can't believe you lasted this long."
If truth be told, I can't believe it either. After I'd been on the job a while and had jabbed at some members of the local establishment, a sympathetic attorney telephoned and said: "You won't last long in this county."
I told friends I might well be assassinated. They laughed, but it made me feel important.
Now I come to the end of the line and not a single threat on my life in all that time. No horse's head on my bed. I can't even claim that anyone has ever said: "I'd like to punch you in the nose."
Kind of makes me feel like a failure.
That's where you come in.
It's hard to capture on paper the connection between columnist and reader. It caught me completely by surprise way back when. It's like a private relationship that only you and I knew about, but which grew over the years and sustained itself.
If I could, I'd cue the poet now to step in and express it for me, to memorialize what your readership has meant. You tell me I've added something to your life, but it's been more than a fair trade-off. It never got old to hear that a column touched you or entertained you or made you think, and it's equally cool to know you forgave the ones that missed by a mile. You came to understand that everybody has a bad day. Or week.
As for you critics who think I've had a bad career, I hope you don't mind that I also considered you part of the big family that at least took the time to gather over the column. When you were nice about it, I took your critiques to heart.
The changes that you'll see in the California section next week have led to my new assignment. I'll still be writing for the paper, but you just won't find me in the old familiar places.
The temptation in this final crack at you today is to go on and on, to recite my greatest hits and your most flowery e-mails and letters. Instead, I'm going to make this my shortest column ever.
After all this time, I think I know how you feel. I just wanted to make sure you knew how I felt about you, that your kindness and cleverness and resolve made me feel pretty good about the mass of humanity.
I also wanted one last chance to tell you that, yes, I was truly sorry about the new sketch.
By now, you're probably sobbing hysterically and asking yourself: "How will I get along without the column?"
Here's how we did it in the office:
We had a staff meeting Thursday about the coming changes, and my boss started it off with some nice words about me.
My colleagues clapped.
Then they went back to their pizza.
Here's a couple things you could do to make me feel good on what is something of a sad moment for me:
I wouldn't object to a little round of applause. And then go back to your pizza, secure in the knowledge you made my life better since we first met.