"Hey Mike, miss you in the State Journal-Register," wrote Springfield-area reader Gary DeCourcy in an e-mail I just received. "What's goin' on?"
I've been getting about five letters like this every week, Most (but not all) have come from long-time loyal Central Illinois readers, who at first thought I was taking an extended vacation but gradually started realizing something was amiss.
I explained to Gary what I've been explaining to everybody: GateHouse Media, the cash-strapped company that owns the SJR and nearly 100 other newspapers, eliminated the Chicago sports columnist position and made me an official government statistic.
Unfortunately, GateHouse never let me write a farewell column. Also, the Springfield and Peoria papers, two of the largest to publish my stuff these last 11 years, were instructed by the corporate suits to reject a letter-to-the-editor I had hoped to write; I had planned to thank the readers. Heck, those newspapers weren't even allowed to print a paragraph explaining to readers where I went.
Shhh. Maybe if they could pretend I wasn't canned, nobody would notice.
Readers aren't stupid, though. And those who hadn't heard through the grapevine and who aren't regular The Baldest Truth readers started writing to ask me what I'd been doing.
Well, one of the things I had been doing was trying to self-syndicate my column. Based partly on the overwhelming support I have received from readers, I thought that if I could get enough newspapers to agree to pay a bargain-basement rate for my work, I'd do a couple of columns a week and syndicate them to papers around the state.
Because there is so little money available in newspaper budgets nowadays, however, that effort appears to have hit a dead end.
Truly, a sign of the times.
Just as Obi-wan Kenobe felt "a great disturbance in the Force" when the Death Star blew Alderaan to smithereens, I felt a great disturbance in my industry Friday, when Denver's esteemed Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition.
I fear that scenario will be repeated over and over again in 2009 - and beyond. And, frankly, I'm a little worried about what it will mean for our country. Even with newspapers policing them, our politicians run amok. What will happen when most of our papers are blown to smithereens?
But hey, I don't want this edition of TBT to end on such a morbid note, so ...
I've decided to concentrate on helping those who are less fortunate, especially those who are having difficulty making ends meet in these troubling times.
That's right, I'm talking about Manny Ramirez.
Come on, Dodgers, cough up the dough. I mean, how is a man supposed to keep his braids looking good with deferred money?