AS WE DO annually in this space, it's time to look back on columns from the past year that offended readers, and see if we can't somehow make things right.
Topping the list of 2004's hugely aggrieved: fanatical pet owners.
After a column about an emergency visit to the vet with my dog - I shelled out over $200, even though the dog looked healthy enough to run the Iditarod - reaction from the pet mujahedeen was swift and uncompromising.
You should be ashamed of yourself, went the e-mails. All the love and affection the dog has given you? And you're whining about spending a few bucks on X-rays and medicine when he's sick?
Geez, you'd think I was denying medical care to my mother.
But the whole point was: There wasn't a thing wrong with the dog. He had choked on a chicken bone. But by the time we got to the vet's, he was practically singing show tunes, he felt so good.
Nevertheless, I have seen the error of my ways.
You pet-huggers don't want to hear me grump about high medical costs? Next time my dog goes to the vet, I'll send you the bill.
A column about a meal in a fine Baltimore County restaurant marred by an inattentive server - did I say inattentive? This woman was gone so long, the war in Iraq ended - also provoked strong reaction, mainly from other servers.
You don't know how hard this job is, they wrote. You don't realize how many idiots we have to put up with.
Actually, I do. Both of my oldest kids have waited tables. I've heard all the horror stories about rude customers, picky customers, cheap customers, customers you want to stab with a salad fork just to stop their complaining.
But if it'll make all you angry servers happy, I promise to write a follow-up about all these Customers From Hell - if my server ever comes back so I can pay the check and get back to the office.
Then there was the column about those annoying people who insist on backing into parking spaces in parking garages, thereby tying up traffic as other drivers are forced to stop and watch them make a big production out of it.
I thought people engaged in this bizarre ritual to save time when leaving.
But how much time could it save? I wrote. Five seconds? Ten seconds, tops?
Meanwhile, it took them 45 seconds to back the car in. So the net effect is: They actually wasted 35 seconds.
And that's 35 seconds of their lives that they'll never get back.
This time the angry mail came from people who said they back in because they invariably get stuck between a couple of monster SUVs and can't see around them when backing up to leave.
Fine. Look, I'm too tired to fight you people on this one.
So I apologize if I complicated your lives. If you want to continue to inconvenience hundreds of your fellow motorists with your selfish behavior, go right ahead.
A column about the coming of the cicadas provoked a reaction from readers who thought I was being an alarmist.
Excuse me? An alarmist?
Just because I basically wrote that we were looking at the insect equivalent of an asteroid slamming into the planet, and that swarms of cicadas would disrupt all outdoor life for months, and that the noise from their mating frenzy would literally drive people insane?
None of that ever happened, some readers pointed out.
OK, fine. But it could have. Then those same readers would have been really sorry.
Then it would have been: How come the newspaper didn't warn us? No wonder politicians don't talk to you guys.
I'll tell you, you can't win in this business.
Finally, a number of scotch-drinkers took exception to a column about a tasting of "lighter" and "more accessible" scotches conducted at a Fells Point saloon.
To the judging panel - look, we're cutting costs here, so it was just me and a Norwegian associate - these lighter scotches tasted as terrible as the more traditional scotches.
Sure enough, the e-mails rolled in. The gist of the complaints: You don't know what you're talking about, you're a light-beer-drinking wuss, scotch is the finest beverage known to man, etc.
Gee, I thought, maybe they're right. Maybe I missed something.
So the Norwegian and I considered going out again to taste a few more scotches - we really did.
But I didn't think I could get away with that scam again. After all, how much alcohol can you put on a company credit card before the bean-counters start cracking down?
By the way, the reason you bring a Norwegian into something like that - as explained in the earlier column - is because they have incredibly hardy gastrointestinal systems, due to the diet of dried fish and mead, or whatever it is, that has sustained them since the time of the Vik----.
OK. Something just occurred to me.
I hope we're not looking at a lot of angry mail from the Norwegian community over that crack about their diet.
But if so, we'll be sure to address it in next year's apology column.