It was fun at first. The acceptance letter in the mail. The photo shoot. The congratulatory wine and cheese basket. The cashmere jacket with COLUMNIST spelled out in gemstones. All very flattering, considering how expensive the stuff was, especially the jacket.
“Are these real rubies?” I asked my editor at the introductory columnist seminar.
“You bet your ass,” Eddie said.
The seminar was in the Columnist Lounge underneath the Memorial Union, all the incoming columnists looking spiffy in their new jackets and sprawled out in alligator skin armchairs. A fireplace kept the place toasty while a waiter served out cognac in goblets.
“But I’m not 21 yet,” I said.
“Get used to the flavor,” Eddie said. “That’s Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac, the most expensive bottle in the world. You’re a columnist now. The normal rules don’t apply.”
How right he was: After my first column came out, life never quite recovered. I had to change my e-mail address, for one thing. Within 10 minutes of my first publication, the old account was beyond capacity. Most were of the standard, “I liked your column” variety. But there were others, more along the lines of, “Let’s meet up in a dark place,” which were worrisome. Eddie hired me a personal secretary after that, and as he left the office he said, “It’s only going to get worse.”
I got home that day to several tents pitched before my triplex. A hostile-looking girl watched me work the doorknob, and being the timid boy I am, I hastily retreated inside, thinking she’d be gone by nightfall. The next morning, as I ate cereal at the dining table, her breasts were pressed to the kitchen window. She had written something across them, but I was trying my best not to stare. I left for school by the backdoor, as I would for the next few months
Not that I didn’t like the attention. Who wouldn’t? I was getting straight A’s, no matter what crap I turned in, or if I turned in any crap at all. The cashiers at the Coho gave me my food for free, pretending to swipe my card before whispering, “I love your columns. The burrito’s on me.”
Those were the golden times, in a way, until one day my secretary left a message on my desk which said, “The public wants funny columns.” This was toward the end of winter quarter. There had been another columnist seminar, where our writing coach had said, “If you can write funny, write funny.” I wasn’t writing funny, but some people were laughing over my columns anyway, and my secretary’s message worried me.
By then there was a medium-sized encampment based around my doorstep, complete with fire pit and totem pole. I had gotten used to breasts filling every window, including the bathroom’s, and even during the night I could hear them, scraping their nipples against the glass. My triplex remained depressingly dark during the day, due to perpetual breast eclipse.
I wrote serious columns after that, non-funnies, because I wanted my readers to think more than I wanted them to laugh. The torrent of e-mails slowed to a trickle, and soon Eddie dismissed my secretary, who had taken to playing Scrabulous in her newfound free time. I stopped wearing my gemstone jacket, and I started paying for my burritos. For the first time in months, I entered my house through the front door, into light-filled rooms.
Despite my dying fame, I had never been happier. The few e-mails I received for my serious columns were from interesting people who didn’t mind being sad if it meant they were learning something. So when Eddie called me into the Columnist Lounge this last weekend, I was smiling.
We were alone, our legs hooked over alligator skin.
“We’ll triple your pay,” Eddie said.
“Money’s not the issue,” I said.
“You’ll have to return the jacket.”
“That isn’t why I signed on,” I said.
“Then why sign in the first place?”
I swirled my cognac, staring into the fireplace.
“To write out a few of my thoughts,” I said. “To try this thing out. And I’ve done that.”
“I can’t convince you to stay?”
Eddie stood up then, holding out his hand.
“Get over here,” I said.
We embraced, and I let my enormous hands fall to his buttocks, to cup those supple cheeks.
“Tell my readers I love them,” I said.
“Tell them yourself,” he said.
And so I will. To you, generous reader, I address the following: Keep thinking. Keep reading. With you, I am desperately in love.
This is me, riding into that sunset.
KOJI FRAHM will not return. Fling farewells and good-riddances at email@example.com.