The most tedious people in Missoula are the ones forever honking on about how much better everything used to be. Before everyone got here, before you got here.
Pffft. I refuse to give anyone the satisfaction of admitting that I missed out on some notional Golden Age. I've always felt like the golden age of anything starts the minute I show up. Why go through life feeling any differently?
Looking back now, though, I can't believe what a cocky little punk I was when I started at the Indy, fresh out of college, going from being the most self-indulgent Kaimin columnist ever to being the most self-indulgent Indy writer ever. Or at least until quite recently.
My specialty was writing movie "reviews" in which I didn't even mention the movie until the last paragraph. Also, music articles that devoted too much space to some personal agenda, like complaining about bad band names, and not enough to the band.
Then again, I never had much patience for local bands who felt like they were entitled to a laudatory Indy article within two weeks of getting together. Bar bands also had a tough time getting in the door, unless they played original material. Feelings got hurt, but there are musicians in town who will tell you they took my indifference or outright hostility to cover bands as a wake-up call to move beyond the likes of "Mustang Sally."
It was cool getting free stuff in the mail. Mostly music, and lots of it. Once a record company sent in a pair of promotional "tobacco" pipes printed with their company motto: "Because we need a hit...and so do you!" Unfortunately, there was nothing marijuana could do to improve on the music they were promoting. The pipes themselves mysteriously went missing from my desk in short order.
But that was nothing compared to what I gained at the paper. I got to interview "Weird Al" Yankovic. I got to ride an ostrich in an ostrich race. Got to get on the school bus with Willie Nelson. They sent me to a "Stone Age skills" retreat in Glacier National Park where I learned to make fireand string, which strangely was even more gratifying. I always heard about the anarchic early days at the paper when employees used to sprint with their paychecks down to the bank before the money ran out, or how sometimes people got paid with jelly beans or stuffed animals or whatever, but nothing like that ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, and also the last time, I had a steady paycheck for being creative fulltime, with benefits. Seemed like a dream. And being such a little punk, I took it utterly for granted.
I'm sure I also took for granted some of the responsibility and accountability that comes with having such a soapbox at one's disposal. But my opinions were always my own, and I usually didn't mind when people wrote angry letters to the editor about me. Unless they attacked me personally or called me names, or, as happened at least twice, tried to get me fired for some perceived breach of journalistic etiquette. If you did any of those things, I took an instant disliking to you. In fact, I still don't like you, and you probably know it.
On the other hand, I might not be doing what I'm doing now (right at this moment, taking a break from cutting out little paper army men) if it hadn't been for one sorehead writing to tell me how full of shit I was. So you're such a movie expert, he griped, why don't you actually try making one yourself?
Hmm, I thought. Maybe this jackass has a point. Maybe I don't want to write about other people's movies forever. Maybe I could make them myself, maybe even better. Why not try?
So there you are. It wasn't exactly the beginning of the end for me at the paper, but it planted that little irritant in my writing career that eventually helped drive me out of it. For a time I was content to let certain colleagues think they drove me from the Indy, and maybe at one time I really believed that myself, but if I ever saw it that way I don't anymore. My mother always used to say people rarely realize or admit they're burned out on a job until it's at least a year too late to extract themselves gracefully. And that's exactly what I was: burned out. I was lucky to leave gracefully, more or less.
And I was lucky to have had a job that let me do pretty much what I wanted for as long as I did. At a certain point even that wasn't enough anymore, but I rode it out to the end. And no doubt about it, it was a golden age.