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Six Years of Watching

By Larry Gross · November 11th, 2009 · Living Out Loud
This past spring, I had a book come out with the same title as this column. This was mainly because a lot of the material in the book first appeared here. This sparked some questions at book signings and in interviews as to how long this column has been around. Each time I was asked, I had to guess. I lose track of time.

A couple days ago, I got curious as to the actual date we got started here and decided to look it up.

The first LOL column appeared on CityBeat’s Web site Nov. 12, 2003 — so we’ve been at it for six years. This week’s column basically starts our seventh year.

Well, sort of. When Brandon Brady, my first editor, came up with the idea for a Web column — and that’s what we were at first — he wanted to call it “Webitorial.” That actually appeared on Nov. 5, 2003.

I was to be one of the principal writers for the column, but I didn’t like the name of it, thought it was too limiting. I told Brandon if I had to write an actual opinion piece week after week, I would dry up pretty quickly.

I wanted to widen the scope. While talking to Brandon about a different title for the column, I mentioned a movie I saw some years earlier starring Holly Hunter. The movie was called Living Out Loud.

Hunter played a newly divorced New Yorker trying to get her life back on track. She poured her heart out to basically anyone who would listen and questioned all the changes going on in her life, talking to herself — and sometimes answering herself — out loud and often.

While the movie was only so-so, I loved the title of it. It implied living and paying attention to life, even the little things. I told Brandon I was a watcher of people, what they do and how they act in everyday life and this was something I wanted to explore in a column.

Brandon liked the idea.

The next week, we changed the name of the column, ripping off the movie title and I’ve been watching ever since.

Of course, things have changed over the years. Brandon left the paper, somehow I got put in charge of this space — either writing or editing it — and we’re no longer Web-only.

After a couple years on CityBeat’s Web site, we started appearing in the print edition of the paper once a month, then twice a month, then, at the beginning of 2008, in print every week.

Being in print every week enabled me to attract more professional writers to the column, and having to adhere to a strict word count every week, I think, has made the column stronger — or at least that’s what the increase in mail indicates.

While I’ve written about good people and/or odd characters I’ve encountered at bus stops, in bars, at the grocery store or in various other places over the years, many of you can’t help but make observations. Yes, you’re noticing me while I’m noticing you.

Some of you think I spend too much time in bars (guilty as charged) and that I drink too much in them (actually, I don’t think I drink enough).

I also get asked how many bus stories I’ve written over the years (please don’t make me count), why I reference my smoking habit a lot (because it’s part of who I am) or why I write so honestly about myself (my therapist thinks it’s good for me).

I get hate mail, of course. Even some local blogs here in town take notice of my views and opinions.

Some don’t like it when I get down on Cincinnati and business closings. Others get angry when I say the city is unfriendly or talk about bad parenting skills I’ve witnessed while minding my own business. Many will never forgive me for those terrible things I said last November about the people who work at a certain bar on Seventh Street downtown.

People ask me if getting negative comments about myself bother me. Answer? Not really. Just spell my name right.

Oddly enough, one question I never get asked as a writer is if I’m superstitious about my work. The answer might surprise you.

Whenever I finish a column and get ready to send it off to CityBeat, I always review the word count. Columns are to be between 900 and 950 words. I want my word count to always be an even number.

For example, if a column comes in at 937 words, that’s not good. I’ll go back and take out a word to make it 936. Whatever the editors do at the office is their business, but when it leaves my desk, I want that word count to be even.

Now, we’re starting our seventh year. Seven is an uneven number. Yes, I’ve heard the term “lucky seven,” but I’m not sure. I have a feeling for the next 12 months I’m going to be a bit uneasy. I’ll feel better when that odd number seven turns to an even number eight.

In the meantime, while I wait for that to happen, I think I can speak for the other writers who contribute here when I say thanks for reading us for all these years. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and life is short. We all really do need to live it out loud.

And, oh yeah, when this column left my desk, we were at 938 words. Just wanted you to know that.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



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