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November 25, 2005

Another Black Friday

Roy Meachum

Twenty one years ago, on another Friday after Thanksgiving, my first public life in Frederick began; my News-Post column failed to appear exactly 19 years 8 months and four weeks later, just shy of exactly nine months, as you can figure.

The longest professional relationship of a life spent wandering the media and several continents ended quickly and without warning: I was fired.

The underlying reasons for my hasty departure from the newspaper had most to do with the departure of Publisher and Editor George Delaplaine, a gentleman of rare perceptivity, intelligence and Christian grace. (All my personal contacts have already heard what I just wrote; it is no secret.)

The new owners and their new management decided that I should go for reasons never really explained; it was their game, in any event, and they wanted me gone. My exit was not mourned elsewhere.

Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty reacted happily to The Washington Post that the word made a birthday for her. Commissioner John Thompson told the same reporter that he had a wall plastered with my columns, all finding fault with his performance. (I still do, Lenny.)

All the columns in Winchester Hall presumably came down and that thought might bring a brief cloud to my light, except I never knew they were up.

Others in the community equally gave their bells a rousing “ding, dong” – as in “The Wizard of Oz” song celebrating the dead witch. Not the first time, nor the last, I was called a phrase that rhymes with the last sentence. Of course, I had heard worse before.

The most egregious crime in my critics’ eyes was my constant warning against invading Iraq. When the war started and I showed no inkling of changing my mind, “un-American” and “coward” were among the labels hurled in my direction, frequently by people who had never worn a uniform.

Nearly seven years in the Army, and 37 months overseas, should have, I reckoned, given me some right to disagree with a policy and an action that I knew to be intrinsically destructive to the United States and its young.

At the time, grandson Christopher was still in school, presumably headed straight to university and perhaps law school, in his father’s footsteps. When his life took a totally unexpected bounce, he wound up enlisting; he drives a tank today from a forward base somewhere outside Baghdad.

With or without my own flesh and blood on the line, I strongly objected to the human sacrifice, Iraqi and foreign, for a cause history and contemporary events teach is ill-fated.

But I digress. As readers know, a frequent habit.

No doubt the voices raised against my stance on what has become subsequently a generally deplored military adventure doubtless made it easier for the News-Post new powers-that-be to show me the door. readers witnessed the start to my second public life in Frederick. Most of my career demanded that I abandon all pretense of claiming status as a private citizen, if that had ever been my intent. Sometimes it was but those moments passed.

While still in high school I became what was later dubbed a “disc jockey” on WJBW radio, as New Orleans’ only non-network station programming came out of the “library,” a vainglorious way of described the stack of 78 rpm records passed around.

While my IQ fell slightly short of my grandson’s, I was welcomed to Tulane. But my university days were similarly abandoned in favor of a four-year enlistment.

While the Army decided I should go to counter-intelligence, after training in the German alps, the spell at WJBW caused me to be assigned instead to the American Forces Network, where I found a slice of celebrity that included appearances with stars who showed up to entertain our forces.

After the service, my first job was on The Washington Post, which led to television and those other lives known to readers with memories and some interest.

The point I’ve tried to make is simply this: The general reaction to losing my column was not unexpected, except in the degree of warmth accorded Pushkin and me. (Pushkin, as you doubtless know but my editor would like me to explain, is my best friend English pointer.)

More usual was the disappearance of a number of politicians and acquaintances who had formerly fawned, feigning great interest and even greater concern for my every thought and my general well-being.

They were still around but scarcely had the time of day for me, to borrow a phrase. Only a few were downright rude. The son of my deceased friend, Dan Weinberg, seized the opportunity to lambaste me, in a rather vitriolic fashion, while standing on North Market Street. Pushkin and I were on a bench. As he departed I made the observation: “Catharsis is good for the soul, Al.”

All those happy with my departure from the local public stage must have been at least surprised when I returned. Publisher and Editor John Ashbury let me know early that the latch was out for me here. But I was initially totally occupied with starting my memoirs – a continuing task – and licking wounds. It was not easy to be told abruptly to hit the sidewalk, after all those years.

While we disagree politically down to every dot and point, John and I have been friends from the start of a relationship that includes a lot of shouting and even more affection. He is, for me, the Preacher’s Kid, PK. (His late father was a long-time rector at All Saints Episcopal Church.)

Once these columns were launched I was welcomed to WFMD’s Bob Miller show; we yell at each other regularly on Friday mornings, somewhere around 8:40, if you care to drop by.

And then several months back, News-Post Publisher and Editor Myron Randall asked me to return, to write a Sunday piece. We talked about it on-line and in my home. My attorney, who is also among my closest friends, became involved.

And there I am: the same picture as before my hasty exit appears on the editorial pages where my face first popped up 21 years ago, on Black Friday. The face is different, of course; the beard didn’t appear until several months later, the hair was not so gray and there were fewer wrinkles.

In the event, Frederick, it’s lovely to grow older with you.

With special thanks to John, the whole WFMD crew, especially my Friday bud, and Myron who made me welcome back to where this part of the story began.

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