And now the truth comes out ...

Friday, May 23, 2003

Andy Rooney, resident curmudgeon of "60 Minutes" fame, gave his fans quite a scare the other night.

At the end of the show's 35th anniversary special, Rooney said some things that led viewers to believe he was retiring. My wife gasped. So did I.

Rooney is -- how can I say this delicately? -- old enough to draw Social Security and then some. He has had a long and distinguished career dating back to World War II. He is entitled to an easy chair, although it would be hard to think of anything easier than working all week on a 3-minute diatribe against coffee companies that no longer put a full pound of grounds into a 1-pound can.

Here's how I see it: Rooney had his chance, and he blew it. He's not retiring.

Now it's my turn.

I've been connecting words together for one newspaper or another for 38 years come Memorial Day. It was on Memorial Day 1965 that I convinced the executive editor of The Kansas City Star to hire me for a summer internship. That was just two weeks before I was scheduled to show up at Wesley (before it was United) Methodist Church in Sweet Springs, Mo., to wed my first wife, who still claims me and doesn't act at all embarrassed when we're out in public together.

On my first day on the job I went to Tom Eblen, assistant city editor, and asked if I could have Friday off the next week. He said he had never had a new employee ask for time off so soon after starting work. But he said OK. As long as it was a wedding.

Tom recently retired from the University of Kansas after a distinguished newspaper career. Several of my high school classmates who became teachers have already retired, taking advantage of their well-earned pension program. A college classmate who became a city manager has retired and is teaching part-time. Do you see a trend here?

In the nine years that I've been in Cape Girardeau, I can't tell you how many of my doctors have retired. I was seeing a new face for every annual checkup.

With everybody around me opting for retirement, you can see how I would start giving it a lot of serious thought.

But it was the Jayson Blair affair that really pushed me over the edge. Blair, as you surely know by now, wrote a lot of make-believe stories for The New York Times -- a newspaper I can now say, with some pride, I never worked for.

Just about everyone in this great country of ours who creates 9-point type on newsprint for general circulation has had something to say about the errant Mr. Blair and his wobbly necked editors, so I ought to have a crack at it too -- except it could just as easily have been "the Sullivan affair," both as the creator of fairy-tale facts and wobbly necked editor.

This is as good a time as any to come clean. "A true confession maketh a pure heart." If I told you that came from the Bible or Shakespeare, some of you might quote chapter and verse or name the play. But some of you would say, "You just made that up." The rest of you wouldn't know one way or the other.

See how easy it is?

So it will come as a surprise to some of you and no surprise to others -- the rest of you will have a blank look on your faces -- when I tell you what I'm about to tell you.

Folks, the Amazing World Famous Downtown Golf Course you've been reading about all these years in this column isn't real. I just made it up.

I should resign for concocting such an outrageous fable and leading you on. But Jayson Blair held out for a book advance and a movie deal.

Sounds good to me.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor (for now) of the Southeast Missourian.

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