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Readers didn't always agree, but they didn't forget to write


One of my favorite routines of the week as the writer of this column has been reading the inevitable hate mail from Alert Readers that almost any opinion I expressed would generate.

Sometimes it was just one unsigned letter in a scrawl that made me think of "Night of the Living Dead." Sometimes it was a gusher of bloody wrath.

This will be my last Observer column. I will miss the weeklroutine of reading the hate mail and publishing those letters that wouldn't scare young children or make my life insurance agent edgy.

After almost five years having a smashing time at the helm of this bureau, I'm moving on to a new assignment, back to my first love in journalism -- reporting.

I'm looking forward to that enormously, but I'm gonna really miss the mail and the joie de vivre it inspired in me.

Let me give you a taste of what I used to feast my eyes on some weeks, and maybe then you will know my regret.

Once I got a letter from someone named "Betty in North Carolina." She wrote she had picked up the newspaper while driving through the area, read a column I had written berating teachers for bad-mouthing their pay while having a measly three months off a year, and was now beside herself with absolute loathing for me for being such a pin brain.

Actually, she had sent the letter to our publisher at the time, with a note that I should be summarily dismissed for my Neanderthal opinion.

He passed it on to me with a note that maybe her idea would not be a bad cost-saving move for the company. (Ha! Ha! I thought. Wacky publisher's wit.)

Then there was the mail generated by my recent column roasting the volunteer fire chiefs for their initial decision to back out of the Independence Day Parade because one department was upset it couldn't have all of its trucks in the event.

A lot of that mail was unsigned. Some of the letters were written using words cut out of magazines and newspapers, and included interesting phrases like "We are not kidding" and "better keep a watch over your shoulder, pal."

I now know how to pad into an expense statement the cost of hiring a body guard until things cool off. I'll be including this tip in my forthcoming book, "How to be a local columnist and not be kidnapped, have your kneecaps broken or have to sign up for the Federal Witness Protection Program."

Anyway, the fire fighters and "Betty from North Carolina" would probably have gotten along famously with the author of my favorite letter of all time.

The fellow, a Joppa resident, was mighty ticked about my column trashing several council members for refusing to make public a draft of a bill to regulate adult bookstores. They had stripped bare the Constitution itself, I reasoned.

The writer, who signed his letter "STOMACH UPSET," said the column -- or "trash," as he eloquently described it -- had made him want to "regurgitate (THROW UP)."

"I don't like to see this trash in print," he wrote.

"Where does it get you anyway? Is someone paying you?"

He was the only letter writer I ever wrote back to. I told him that, well, it is a wacky world and -- strange but true -- someone was paying me each week (!!).

My amazement was sincere, I swear.

L This is not to say I didn't have the occasional booster too.

times, I've gotten letters from people who wrote that they agreed absolutely, positively with my opinion.

They congratulated me for my courage and derring-do, takinstands on sensitive issues of vital concern to every person not comatose.

These letter writers, I must now confess, were all members of my family who owe me large sums of money.

CBut, alas, the majority of letters over the years I've been writing this column have been full of the death march for me.

gotten letters saying I was a terrorist, a pervert, and an ignoramus.

One author said I was "obsessed with the almighty condom."

(I did save that one so I can one day show it off to my grandchildren.)

Anyway, this is all to show that there is still a fire in the belly of the public out there and that readers do care about their communities, and they care about newspapers.

will miss that spark of passion and concern, however wacky at times, for this, boosters and hate-mailers alike, is my last hurrah on this page.

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