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Looking back on more than two decades of colleagues and hate mail

I've been fortunate to know some great coaches in my life, including the legendary John Wooden, Lute Olson and Sahuaro High's Dick McConnell. They all have several things in common, but what stands out is that they all say they remember their losses more vividly than their wins.

Of course, that could possibly be due to the fact that their losses are much more rare.

Along those lines, I must say that as I look back over my years with the Weekly, I am far more likely to remember the hate mail than the nice mail. First of all, it's simple human nature that a columnist is going to receive far more negative correspondence than any other kind. If somebody reads a column and likes it, they'll think, "I should drop that guy a line and tell him how much I liked that column. (Pause) I'll do it after dinner."

But if somebody hates the column, he'll think, "I'm not going to eat, sleep or draw a decent breath until I let that idiot know what a jerk/clown/body part I think he is." Of course, being opinionated, abrasive and annoying can also help pump up the volume of hate mail, but that hardly ever applies in my case.

Not too long ago, I got an e-mail from a guy who signed it "crazywop13." This really bothered me, because not only did he steal my description; he also appropriated the number I always wore in sports. Anyway, he wrote, "You, sir, are an atomic asshole!"

Who knew Noël Coward was still alive? And "atomic"? Really?

Most hate mail is of the hasty, fuming variety. I've even received a few death threats. I try my best to respond to each e-mail. I've had some exhilarating correspondence with people, and sometimes we actually end up on friendly terms.

Political satirist Mort Sahl was once talking about J. Edgar Hoover's nearly 50 years as head of the FBI. Sahl said that Lyndon Johnson had considered firing Hoover, but thought better of it, believing that it would be hard to get good people if you threaten them with job security every 45 years or so. However, the downside is that Hoover was in his position so long, he came to view presidents as transients, just passing through.

So it has been with me and editors. My first editor, Howard Allen, was great, very funny, energetic and positive. Founder Doug Biggers was always good to me, too. He once told a mutual friend of ours that he didn't really understand any of the stuff I wrote about, but his friends told him that I was funny. Thank goodness for his friends.

I've only really clashed with two editors. They brought in this one woman from Phoenix and, bless her heart, she was all journalistic fire and brimstone. She arranged a lunch meeting with me at a Mexican restaurant on Fourth Avenue. They brought out a bowl of chips. I ate one or two; she ate one or two, and the rest of the bowlful ended up, in small pieces, stuck to the front of her sweater. It was most disconcerting.

I remember her saying, "I don't like first-person stuff; I don't like your point of view; I hate sports; and I don't get your sense of humor. Frankly, I don't understand why you write for this paper. Your next column and all of the columns after that have to have solid reporting, no first-person and no humor. Otherwise, you're gone."

The next column I turned in was, "Tom Goes to the Golf Tournament and Goofs on People." I figured I'd go out big. Fortunately, she ran afoul of others, too, and Doug got rid of her.

I really like our current editor (and not just because he's our current editor). He's got a great sense of humor, the patience of Job and a built-in reason to rag on him--he went to Stanford.

I've been fortunate to work with many outstanding and talented people over the years, people who are dedicated and caring and way out of my league. I can't name them all, but I certainly thank them all.

I especially want to remember a couple of people whom we lost far too early. I served as editor of Best of Tucson™ one year, and Christina Palacio, fresh out of college, was working with us.

Her boyfriend would come by late at night, and we'd sit around waiting for the copy to process. I'd give them trivia questions, and they had a great time. She left after a while to pursue her dreams in New York City. She died in her mid-20s. It's the kind of thing that makes me angry at myself for not squeezing the life out of every minute of every day.

And not a week goes by that I don't get a spontaneous smile or laugh thinking about Chris Limberis. We had both been over-motivated and under-talented college basketball players back in the '70s, and we would tell stories late into the evening. He liked to come watch the girls' basketball team that I coach play games. I invited him to sit on the bench with me, but he'd always decline. He'd sit in the stands, and then we'd go to Gus and Andy's to talk about the game. I miss him a lot.

Congratulations to the Weekly on 25 years. Anybody want to bet on 50?

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