I wrote my first newspaper column in 1986. Did it for free. The Springville Herald was a small-town weekly and couldn’t afford to pay me. That was OK because I was in it entirely for the fun.
Given that I was still a cop at the time, I wrote under a pseudonym. The idea was to keep the two sides of my brain separate. Didn’t work.
[The Salt Lake Tribune board of directors honors Robert Kirby for his contributions.]
I soon learned that what kept me sane as a cop worked in writing newspaper columns — namely, an appreciation for human irony. Humans are the only animal that can actually reason itself stupider.
In my early law enforcement days, I pulled over a car for clipping through a school zone. The driver was polite and respectful when I asked for his license and registration. Then he handed me his Latter-day Saint temple recommend.
Since it was the first time this had ever happened, I was confused. After a few minutes, I decided that, as a police officer and a Mormon, I had a job to do. So I wrote him a ticket and then wrote “void” on his recommend.
The driver understandably lost his mind when I gave that back to him. It was probably the first time that had ever happened to him as well. He complained to my chief, and it cost me a day off.
It’s probably no surprise that I’ve been suspended a lot during my life. While I took my lumps, the laughs ultimately were worth it.
In 1989, I left law enforcement and took up writing full time. I knocked out columns on various subjects, all with the intention of highlighting our collective sense of cluelessness as humorously as possible. It worked. Mostly.
One of my favorite responses came from a third grade girl who wrote to tell me how much I made her mother laugh.
“And than [sic] she peed her pants. It was halarrious [sic].”
Five years after leaving police work, I was freelancing when Jay Shelledy, then the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune and himself a former cop, tracked me down and basically told me I was now working for him.
When I began writing for The Trib, I wrote mainly about Mormons and Utah culture. It was a target-rich environment. Mostly because, as Walter Lippmann once said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”
While most people appreciated the humor, I did receive angry feedback from fellow Mormons accusing me of light-mindedness, heresy, and being in desperate need of excommunication or blood atonement.
Such intolerance wasn’t the case only for Mormons. It was just as true for those who took themselves and their cause so seriously that they actually attempted to change my mind through insult.
You’ve given me a lot of laughs over the past 26 years, as well as support when I wrote about my wife’s cancer, my dad’s death, my brother’s suicide and the death of a friend. I can’t thank you enough.
But it’s time for me to go. I’m retiring. I have far more time behind me than I do ahead, and there are other projects I want to pursue.
So, this will be the last newspaper column I write. Please continue to support The Salt Lake Tribune. Being informed is important, even if it means that you don’t always like what you read.
All my best,