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Here's to the big zero 

I was all set to write a snide, smug reminiscence in honor of New Times' arbitrary anniversary celebration. So we're officially some multiple of 10. Yeehaw. I've never understood why round numbers get everybody all excited, why a series of digits ending in 5 makes people put on funny hats and throw confetti, or one ending in zero makes people cry and tell you that they love you and that they've always loved you and that they're going to continue to love you. Puh-leeze.

Why can't we throw a party in honor of our 23rd anniversary? Or our 32nd? Those are just as important or meaningless as is the big 2-0.

Or what about 21? That's the age when American youth can trade in their fake IDs for real ones and legally get totally smashed.

Anyway, for this 20th anniversary sham, I had set out a fresh, white sheet of lined paper the kind that can give you a really nasty paper cut if you're not careful. I had sharpened my No. 2 pencil to a fine point the kind that can pop your eyeball like a grape in a microwave if you're running and you trip and land on it. I had sat down at my sturdy, industrial desk the kind that you can easily fall off of and break your neck if you're standing on it while trying to reach a bottle of tequila you just remembered you had stashed up on a high shelf 10 years ago, when you last sat down to write a round-number anniversary column.

My line of work can be very dangerous.

So there I was, standing on my desk, with one foot on the sheet of paper and one foot on the pencil. I leaned a little too far and lost my balance. As I unceremoniously flew through the air, my life flashed before my eyes, and since my life has consisted mostly of bad acid trips, the experience was mind-blowing, to say the least. I wish I could do it again.

But disaster was averted when I landed on a box of kittens, which broke my fall. No, not really. It was a pile of dirty laundry that I keep meaning to wash. I just can't bring myself to destroy what's become a full-fledged ecosystem in my own home. For all I know, there might have been some kittens in there after all.

Life is short, the experience taught me. Life is fragile. Life is precious, especially mine. I called up Glen Starkey to tell him about what happened, and he told me that he had written a commentary of his own for this week's anniversary issue. I took a look at it and discovered that he sounds more like me than I do. And since I'm talking about him in third person, this settles once and for all that I am not Glen. Obviously, we can't be in two places at once. So there.

With my original idea blown like a gasket in a Ford, I decided to wax pessimistic about the future of the print industry. If I was a magic 8-ball, I'd say "Outlook not good." Or something like that. I haven't seen one of those in years, although I might have caught a glimpse of one on the shelf next to my tequila.

While New Times staff is celebrating, some of our journalistic compadres are just trying to keep everything together. The Society of Professional Journalists is awarding executive editor Jerry Roberts and other former Santa Barbara News-Press staff members with ethics awards for walking out in protest of certain top-management decisions. I think the News-Press staff now consists of an intern and two copy-machine repairmen. Is there anybody left down there?

Word on the circuit is that the Tribune is losing some staff, too, though probably not for the same reasons. I've even heard that the Santa Maria Times may be thinning out a bit in the coming days, but I doubt anyone will notice.

Wannabe-Shredder Glen mentioned in his "commentary" that newspapers are archaic, a big word that means "now ancient and obsolete," like certain drug laws or religions.

I think he was being sarcastic, but I've never been good at reading Glen. He's inscrutable, a big word that means "hard to understand," also like certain drug laws or religions.

Whether he was trying to be funny or not, I know that more than a few people will agree with him that paper is out. Pixels are in. The Internet is immediate, and everybody wants everything now, whether what they get is accurate or not. Just look at Wikipedia, the online, user-written encyclopedia. The listing for SLO, instead of highlighting a history of the city and the local government in a factual way, harps on drunken students for ruining Mardi Gras and Poly Royal. Who's on the city council? The only person to get a mention is Dave Romero. Don't feel bad, Christine Mulholland. Wipe those tears away, Paul Brown. I'm not listed on there either. Yet.

The Wikipedia entry also notes that Bubble Gum Alley is unique, though I think lots of cities have trashy corridors filled with litter. What's unique is SLO's ability to parlay what other towns would consider blight into a tourist attraction. That's the magic of spin, which is something I've managed to master in my time here at New Times.

I started writing this weekly headache in 1992, which makes this year my 14th anniversary. If you want to celebrate this meaningless milestone with me, come on over to my place. I've got a bottle of tequila I'll share with you if you get it down for me. I'll even throw in a free kitten.



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