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July 27, 2008

Acknowledging a debt

About four years ago, I fell in love with Jeff Goldstein's writing at protein wisdom. I think it started with the "Overheard inside a Fallujah bunker" series, one example of which is here.

A couple of years ago, Jeff bought a house, and while he was taking care of things, he opened pw up to guest-bloggers -- pretty much anyone who volunteered, which included me. I lasted only a week or so, because the pressure of writing for a large readership was too great, and because my abilities were too limited. I did post a couple of wry dialogues involving the guy who's now the Republican nominee for President: "Senator McCain goes to the public library" and "Senator McCain goes to the public library -- ALTERNATE VERSION."

Jeff later had problems with an online stalker, and he was also busy as a work-at-home dad for his son, so he didn't appear as much as pw as his readers might have liked. Fortunately, Dan Collins and later Karl (not to mention Darleen Click and a couple of others) have kept the joint open. Jeff has occasionally appeared, leading to huge excitement among the fans.

Sadly, Jeff announced this weekend that he's giving it up. Blogging isn't forever, and there's a time to call things to a close. But it makes me sad, for a rather selfish reason. And I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge a debt I owe Jeff.

Jeff opened me up to a new way of thinking about humor. Jeff's mind took him places that the rest of us can only marvel at. I was very much influenced by him. At first, I was doing imitations of him -- the McCain posts are examples of that. After a while, having assimilated some of Jeff's approach, I went off on my own. But I realize now that I never really left his orbit.

On Friday, before Jeff announced his goodby, he wrote a post called "what it might sound like were Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to carry on a conversation with a Swingline stapler." Brilliant. Classic Goldstein.

But it left me with the feeling that not only do I owe him a debt but I've actually been channeling him -- yet doing a lousy job of it. Case in point: My series of posts called "Ron Paul chats with his cocker spaniel." Click on the link and work backwards. I feel like the kid who tries to paint a Rembrandt with finger paint.

My all-time favorite Goldstein post is his interview with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the day after the Zark was killed by American pilots: "The protein wisdom interview: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." What I learned from this is that it's not enough to have the raw idea -- here, an interview with a dead guy who says nothing. I actually did a similar post the night before Jeff, and I stole the idea not from Jeff but from an old National Lampoon interview. Still, Jeff's was so many times better than mine that I said to myself, "Holy crap! This is how it has to be done!" His version was like the arc of a great breaking ball -- sort of like the one that ended the Mets' season later in 2006, when Carlos Beltran froze on a called third strike on Adam Wainwright's monster curve -- and you watch it arcing, dropping in over the plate, and you say to yourself, "How the hell did he do that?"

Thanks, Jeff, for teaching me so much.