The Rant 

This is the last Charley Reese column, as the author is retiring.

Years ago, the first time I saw my friend Brother Dave Gardner after he had survived a plane crash, the comedian smiled and said, "The devil like to got me." That's a good explanation for my last trip to the hospital.

I've been running a footrace with piled-up years and bad living habits, and they have pulled even and will soon be ahead. I know it may not seem to normal people that writing three columns a week requires any hard work, but it does require energy to do the research and an alertness of the mind that I can no longer muster. Hence, this will be my last column.

It's been a difficult decision to make. In one sense, I'm not sure there even is a Charley Reese without the column, but I would rather quit now than reach a point where editors and readers know that I should quit. Those of you who have read my column have made me a sort of guest in your home, and I don't want to overstay my welcome.

I don't intend to croak, but that's not something we can control. I have some tidying up to do. One of the things I have to do is to say a heartfelt thanks to the readers and to the editors. I've stirred my share of controversy, and the easiest solution to controversy is to simply drop the column. I greatly admire those editors who stuck with me. I deeply appreciate the loyalty of my readers. The sales reps and the staff at King Features are the best in the business. I feel honored to have been associated with them. To them, freedom of the press is not a slogan.

I've had a good run. In 1955, when I started as a reporter, newspaper city rooms were full of tobacco smoke, alcoholics, glue pots, steel rulers, copy pencils, and typewriters. There was a lot of profanity and an occasional fistfight. Editors excelled in sarcasm. But they taught me how to write clear sentences.

One afternoon when I reported in, I asked an editor if he would like to get a cup of coffee. He glared at me and said, "Reese, I just spent $15 getting a buzz on, and I ain't about to ruin it with a [expletive] 10-cent cup of coffee."

Today's newsrooms look more like insurance offices. Computer keyboards don't make much noise. If the reporters smoke anything at all, it's not tobacco. Instead of greasy grills, most newspapers have salad bars. I'm sure H.L. Mencken would have seen salad bars as a sure sign of decline.

John McCain can have the last laugh, since I've said several times that he's too old to be the president. He is, even if he is more durable than I am. There are some who will celebrate my going, and it galls me to give them that pleasure. I was never ambitious, but I've always been competitive and pugnacious.

At any rate, it's a great time to be an American. George W. Bush, who turned out to be a gift to comedians but a blunderer of the first order, will soon be out of office. It is historic and a good sign that a black man, Barack Obama, can win the nomination of a major party. When I started in the business, the South was still segregated, and blacks were invisible both as employees and as subjects of news stories, with the exception of crime stories.

The great advantage of a free society is the capacity to self-correct itself. You'd think dictators would have figured that out, but if they are not paranoid when they seize power, they become so trying to hang on to power.

Well, enough random thoughts. My goal as a columnist has always been to stimulate and, if necessary, provoke people into thinking for themselves. If we fail to do that, a free society won't last. I wish you all a fond farewell.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years.

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