Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.
Usually I finish this column early. Days ahead of schedule. Suddenly, the Tribune disgorges some fresh Bob atrocity that snaps my head back and sends me rushing to the ramparts.
Not this month. For weeks it has been a greater act of will than usual just to read Bob. The thrill of the hunt was missing; I don't know why. The column came due. Then a day late. Then two. I ignored the polite inquiries from my puppeteers at the Reader.
Not that I lacked the material. Oh no, not with Bob, never that. The column where he does a computer search on variants of the phrase "I'll be honest with you" and spools off examples, one after the other? ("Why does everyone always have to be so honest?", Oct. 23) That would have sufficed. It has the trademark Bob lack of self-awareness. He is complaining that the variants of "I'll be honest with you" are meaningless filler that a careful editor would delete in a heartbeat. Then he gives 30 examples to prove his point, filling a column.
A year ago I would have had to gnaw on a towel to keep from screaming. But now, nothing. Just deadened recognition.
Or the weird column about how white people will someday be a minority in this country. I kept waiting for Bob to start spouting white-supremacist gibberish.
Or the column about the middle-age man writing pathetic, truckling letters to former baseball heroes. Those guys never got VD or became drunks or punched out fans. Not in Bob's beloved past.
All serviceable sins. Any one would do....
I started to go through the motions. And then I stopped. Isn't that the core of the Bobian crime? Forced repetition. The same quartet of emotions--fear, nostalgia, pity, and scorn--trotted out like exhausted circus ponies for yet another obligatory prance around the miserable ring.
That's a tendency every writer must fight. Bob wasn't always Bob, you know. What makes his story tragic and not merely sad is that he was once really good, a long, long time ago. He let himself deteriorate because to resist was difficult.
Ending Bob Watch is difficult. But as satisfying as it is to lash out at bogeyman Bob, the fact is I have written some two dozen of these over the past two years--almost a third of Bob's Baby Richard output. Certainly by now my point is made. The column in December's year-end issue will be this column's farewell--the breaking of the seventh seal to reveal the hideous truth behind Bob's psyche.
Until then, there's a penultimate, agonizing question to hurl against the barred oaken door of Bob Greene's soul. We of humble means can pack it in and walk away when the time is right.
So Bob, bloated as you are with the gains of your smarmery, why can't you?
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/ Jeff Heller.