Some background. In February 1995, my weekly column, Pseudoquasiesque (an Anasazi word meaning, "I serve you tea steeped from my loincloth") had its debut in this paper. Over the course of its run, Pseudoquasiesque was an enigmatic potpourri, an esoteric mélange, an alternating and eclectic mix of cultural commentary, political polemics, personal experience, absurdist fiction and, to the chagrin of both my editor and my spell check, "writing in tongues."
That the column was a total reinvention of the form and twice changed the course of Central American history is a topic of hot debate among that homeless guy who lives behind the bus station and talks to himself in four different voices.
But by the end of 2001, after nearly seven years, 300 columns and not quite two dozen original ideas, the ceaseless pressure of being a fourth-rate hack in a third-tier city finally depleted and defeated me. I left the paper. Less than six months later, my editor noticed my absence and, I'm told, very nearly phoned me to ask what was up. Not long after that, the public also seemed to be, if not aware that I specifically was gone, at least aware that someone somewhere was.
By that time, though, my columnizing was well behind me. In fact, America was well behind me. For mere days after hanging up my pencil, I set off for Asia in pursuit of my long-deferred childhood dream of someday oppressing the starving masses of North Korea.
In retrospect, I probably should have taken more seriously the admonitions of several of my white devil American lackey friends who, before I left, warned me that making the transition from effete dilettante journalist to merciless autocratic demigod would require long hours, hard work and uncomfortable footwear (three concepts I'd never embraced).
But my feeling at the time was that said lackeys were simply jealous that I, not they, would one day have the power to nuke my high school reunion.
Regrettably, there's not sufficient space here to fully detail my experiences within the Kim Jong Il organization. Suffice it to say that while I learned much during my time in Pyongyang, in the end Dear Leader Kim proved to be something of a micromanager. One who, contrary to promises made when I interviewed for the job, rarely delegates his unsparing suppression of thoughts and ideas. (That he, not I, was the one to command my housekeeper to dust with furniture polish instead of furniture wax will give you some indication of my frustration.)
As he said to me on the day I gave my two-week notice, "What can I say, Bob? I'm an oppressor-of-people person."
I suppose it was shortly after I returned from North Korea, sometime during my detainment by federal agents, that it occurred to me how sorely I missed my former life, the newspaper columnist's life. The life of cigarettes, liquor, STDs and paper cuts. Where superficial professional relationships blossom under fluorescent lighting. Where a strong, irresponsible opinion can be expressed at a far remove from those who disagree and who, by way of response, might wish to smite one with blows.
Like a man possessed, upon my release from custody (being neither Middle Eastern nor John Kerry, I was deemed "no threat" to national security), I immediately phoned my former employer, the editor of this paper, and arranged a tête-à-tête.
"Leaving here was a terrible mistake," my tête admitted to his tête. "I can't begin to tell you how much I grieve for the warming glow of my meager share of the public spotlight. And to that end, I'm prepared to do, say or suck anything to get back my byline and thus regain the life-affirming attention I've so desperately missed and so pathetically crave." That I delivered these words from my knees elevated my use of the verb "suck" beyond the metaphoric.
Persisting in my monologue, I informed him my creative juices were flowing once again, my batteries were completely recharged, I was ready to push the artistic envelope and that I'd thoroughly weaned myself from the wrinkled teat of tired clichés. Then I outlined my vision for a brand new column.
"Forget that 'enigmatic potpourri, esoteric mélange' crap from two years ago," I said. "I'm seeing something totally different. Totally fresh. More of an esoteric potpourri. Maybe an enigmatic mélange. Unless, of course, you have a different kind of rut you'd like me to get into..."
I had him nodding. As in "off," not "in agreement." Which was precisely my plan. Because while he was in this receptive, suggestible state, I gently hoed the soft soil of his subconscious and gingerly planted my rehiring as a "post-hypnotic suggestion." Where it rooted like some insidious species of cortical kudzu.
End of background. Start of new ground. People, I am back in the column business.
And, by the way, anxiously looking for a Korean intern.
This column appears here the last issue of each month.