Collector's Item alert! The issue of Salem Weekly that hit the streets yesterday contains my final Strange Up Salem column, "Time to take back this town."
So be sure to pick up an issue. Then put it in a safety deposit box.
Given its historical significance, I predict that over time the current face value of the issue -- FREE -- will become, um, well, got to be honest here... still FREE.
Hey, it's not about the money.
For the past two years I've been pleased to write my Strange Up Salem column for the princely payment of nothing. This was my hard-nosed demand of Salem Weekly publisher A.P. Walther: pay me zero; just let me say what I want in the column.
That deal worked out great.
But Salem Weekly is heading in a new direction, and I've been told that it's time for the column to fade into memory. (And maybe a few safety deposit boxes?)
Naturally this led me to immediately think about several important questions.
(1) Is it time to put together an online literary compendium of The Collected Strange Up Salem Columns of Brian Hines in Salem Weekly, 2013-2015?
My answer: of course it is!
I'll be doing this fairly soon. It will include a few columns I wrote that ended up not being published, which, if I was a famous novelist, would arouse great interest among my devoted fans. As it is, maybe someone looking for something else via a Google search will come across them.
(2) Can I still call myself a columnist? Something I was thrilled to do when I got the Strange Up Salem gig, as noted in my May 30, 2013 post, "I become a columnist: Salem Weekly today, New York Times tomorrow?"
Being a blogger is sort of like being a columnist.
You get to write short essays about subjects that interest you. Those essays, a.k.a. blog posts, are published and made available to readers.
But I've always looked upon blogging as being to genuine column-writing as masturbation is to sex with another person: it's easier to do it all by yourself, yet less satisfying. It does indeed take two to tango.
So I'm thrilled to be able to say, "I am a columnist." In a real publication, made of paper (as well as pixels).
Which is published every two weeks. And is given away free. And is Salem's alternative print publication, albeit with a decent readership.
Still, hey, I'm a columnist!
Along with Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman. I'm just one (freaking gigantic) step from being read regularly by readers of this country's most respected newspaper.
Well, the way I see it this is like former presidents being called by their previous title, as in "Welcome to our guest, President Clinton."
Sure, I was disappointed to see that, technically, this is incorrect. (It should be Mr. Clinton or former President Clinton.) But informally, the Emily Post site says this is fine. So since I'm an informal guy, feel free to speak of me as Honorable Esteemed Columnist Brian Hines.
I had a difficult time deciding what to say in my final Strange Up Salem column, since I had bounced back and forth between the personal and the political over the past two years.
Last Friday I wrote a personal-themed column that, on Saturday, struck me as unduly warm and fuzzy given the Last Column occasion. If these were to be my final in-print Strange Up Salem words, I wanted them to reflect my concern about where the current leadership at City Hall is taking this town.
Here's my second effort, which appeared in yesterday's Salem Weekly issue.
Time to take back this town
Readers, I’ve enjoyed writing this column for the past two years. But Salem Weekly is moving in a new direction, so this will be my last Strange Up Salem offering.
I will, though, be keeping my Strange Up Salem Facebook page active. So give it a “like” if you want to read my musings about what’s happening in town, strangeness-wise. And I’ll still be blogging at www.hinesblog.com
At first it was tough for me to figure out what I should say in this final column. I felt pressure, like I was dying and the people around my bedside wanted to hear some marvelously profound Last Words.
Then I realized, it’s simple, just be real. Don’t try to be anyone other than who you truly are; don’t try to say anything other than how you really feel.
Authenticity. Ah, a theme.
After thirty-eight years of living in or near Salem, I realize that individuals in this town are creative, lively, and caring. When my wife and I consider moving, it’s the people we know and love that are a main magnet keeping us here.
In my previous Strange Up Salem columns I’ve bounced back and forth between the personal and the political.
What I’ve struggled to understand is how a city filled with so many wonderful people is so lacking in many ways. Somehow individual energy and enthusiasm gets sidetracked before it can impact serious problems.
Which gets us into the realm of the political. There’s a hard-heartedness lying under Salem’s feel-good veil that bothers me a lot.
Salem currently is being led by a Mayor and City Council majority who view citizen participation as an irritant. They put on outward happy-face smiles in public meetings while fuming inside when anyone challenges their predetermined policy pronouncements.
Their policies almost always bow at the altar of Salem’s version of the 1%, who already are rich and powerful, yet desire more wealth and influence. Not coincidentally, municipal elections typically are bought by money from the Chamber of Commerce and special interest groups.
So even though Salem’s citizens authentically want their town to be more environmentally friendly, caring of our historic heritage, compassionate toward those in need, and economically equitable, the Powers That Be divert our attention from pressing problems by trying to persuade us that everything is fine, don’t listen to the boo-birds, and, hey, how about that Angry Owl?!
Sadly, the Statesman Journal, a sorry excuse for a community newspaper, has surrendered its journalistic credentials, including any attempts at serious investigative reporting, and become a simplistic cheerleader for the Pollyannaish civic boosterism crowd, filling its pages with human interest stories.
Our City officials would rather waste half a billion dollars on an unneeded Third Bridge than deal with problems concerning the homeless, bicycle infrastructure, tree preservation, downtown vitalization, earthquake safety, and many other pressing concerns.
Salemians need to take back their town. Speak out loudly, confidently, passionately. And vote! In every election, May and November.