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Return of the Prodigal Columnist

You know that dream? The one where you’re late for something and you can’t find your keys, and you turn the house upside down until you find them, and you’re just about to walk out the door when your cellphone rings, but it’s in one of your coat pockets and you can’t find it? It rings five, 10, 30 times, getting louder with each ring, and you still can’t figure out which pocket it’s in, and in the meantime your ringtone has changed from “ring ring ring” to that announcer from the Hindenburg disaster yelling “Oh, the humanity!” over and over again? And you finally locate the phone, but it stops ringing just as you flip it open, and the caller ID says szechuan dumplings? No number, just szechuan dumplings, so you shut the phone, thinking it just needs to reset, but when you open it, there it is again: szechuan dumplings? And you have this sudden tremendous craving for Chinese, but then remember you were late for something and you walk outside with your keys in one hand and the phone in the other and the front door locks behind you and you realize that you’re not wearing any pants? And as you go scrambling for an open window to climb back into the house to put on some clothes, just then, that little redhead you had a huge crush on in third grade, but who always thought you were icky, walks by your house, points at your 1959 astronauts-and-robots boxer shorts and laughs hysterically, screaming , “Look at the little wee wee!”? And your neighbors, roused by the commotion, all peer out their windows to witness your humiliation, while the bus you were supposed to catch whizzes by your house, and by now you don’t care, damn everything, you have to get that bus, and you run and run until you’re totally out of breath, and the bus speeds away toward the horizon while you fall to the ground, exhausted? Then everything is suddenly very still, and you sit up from your gasping and wheezing and look around and discover somehow you’re in Vilnius, Lithuania, which is nowhere near where you were trying to go?

You know that dream? That’s what it’s been like trying to resume this column.

My absence hasn’t been for lack of effort. For every special occasion—the opening of the track, the Sex Issue, the Local Music Issue, the Best Of, the Year(s) in Review, Metroland’s 30th Anniversary, Stephen Leon earning the croix de guerre for his heroism in the Kosovo War—I started a column with some sketchy notes saved to a text file. Before I could get around to fleshing any of them out, the events came and went. Today my Metroland directory is littered with dozens of cryptic little files that once made consummate sense, but now read like Rain Man on a thesaurus bender.

How long has it been? Damned if I remember. But Metroland, bless its noble heart, has left the porch light on for this prodigal son, keeping my name on the masthead despite my shameful nonproductivity. Squeezing one of these out every now and then seems the least I can do.

That’s not exactly all of it. In a way, you’ve shamed me into this, although you meant well. “You used to write for Metroland, right?” you’d say, then add, “Some of those columns really made me laugh.” I try to show gratitude and hope you can’t see me wince.

Having your accomplishments referred to in the past tense is like being famous for that one great touchdown pass you made as a senior in high school. This could shape up as one of those major middle-age faux pas where my bruised ego compels me to suit up again, hut 1, hut 2, the magic lives! (for three seconds before I’m clotheslined and carted off to the emergency room).

I’m promising neither frequency nor quality. I’m old and cranky. It’s entirely possible I now suck at this. Maybe I always did and you were all just humoring me for 20 years, who knows. But I still love writing, and the privilege of appearing in real ink in a real newspaper (sometimes even for real money) beats hosting some dorky blog any day of the week.

So here goes, I guess. If just once more I can provoke you to paste another stupid column to a refrigerator door, it’ll have been worth the effort.

—Al Quaglieri

althings@mail.com


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