The rabbi is a dog.
The first line of my first Inquirer column - a piece that generated 105 e-mails, dozens of phone messages, and a few letters written in cursive on floral stationery.
I know this because I'm a hoarder. Well, not exactly a hoarder, more like a selective saver of interaction that simultaneously strokes and shatters the ego. This obsessive filing system began as soon as readers began responding to that Nov. 2, 2001, debut.
The dog, Cherry Hill Rabbi Fred Neulander, was on trial for hiring a hit man to kill the wife he'd cheated on with supplicants across the suburbs. After enduring two days of Neulander's narcissistic testimony, I found him guilty of betraying his wife and mistress at the same time.
"Forget life in prison," I wrote in a leave-no-doubt-where-she-stands debut. "How about adding a bris with extreme prejudice to the penal code?"
So began the longest-running, most enlightening, and occasionally exhausting conversation I ever have had with folks I rarely met.
Readers I know only as "Louie from the Northeast" and "Ann from Pennsauken" became twice-weekly members of a dysfunctional media family. The group grew to include the well-read, but unrepentant, xenophobe I call "the Racist Lady" and "yantsrants," a Philly.com regular who cleverly appropriated my name to attack me online.
Consider this your last chance to blow a kiss or take a shot. After 1,061 columns - one written drunk, another after avoiding arrest - I'm leaving The Inquirer for a communications job at the University of Pennsylvania.
A pro who once graced this space schooled me on the difference between news and commentary. "A column," he warned, "isn't supposed to be fair."
Columns, I quickly learned, are works of partiality and pique. I picked sides by defending victims or blasting bullies. All columns are stories. But, as I regularly told those of you demanding balance, I failed if I failed to make a point.
The job I never knew I was born to do fit me better than the unflattering wetsuit I foolishly agreed to be photographed in after swimming with sharks at the Adventure Aquarium.
This gig was the most fun I could have while contributing to a 401(k). I'm not just saying that because I once got paid to chug Chianti and record a drunk-driving video that's still mandatory viewing for DUI offenders.
Venting about Pennsylvania's lame gun laws and dangerous reliance on casino gambling felt like community service. Spotlighting kids needing homes, surgery, and education gave readers a way to change strangers' lives.
I busted a former police commissioner for parking his Lexus illegally on Rittenhouse Square. I loitered in an alley as Philadelphia's high-tech but tone-deaf mayor, John Street, waited in line to buy a $600 iPhone.
When New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey abruptly resigned and came out of the closet, I interrupted a maternity leave to remind the calculating pol that he still hadn't come clean about corruption allegations many thought might get him indicted. Far less important, I typed with a baby drooling on my lap, was "that his mistress was a Mr."
On May 25, 2006, I wrote what many called my professional obituary: a column chiding my then-new boss, Brian Tierney, for old sins.
Once paid to bully journalists like me, Tierney led a local group that bought Philadelphia's two major newspapers for $562 million. The fit felt as binding as that hideous wetsuit.
"If we do our jobs correctly," I cautioned, "we will inevitably aggravate and outrage Tierney, his friends, and fellow investors."
Reader voice mail - 74 messages, I logged each call - included kudos and condolences. Most of you presumed the girl with "brass ones" would be fired.
Last week, for the first time, I asked Tierney if he considered censoring or sacking me as his first order of business.
"Never crossed my mind," he insisted. "When I ran the paper, I would tell people: 'If you think we made a mistake, let us know. If you don't like our opinion, well, that's kind of what we do. Write a letter to the editor.' "
Funny, I often urged harsh critics to do the same.
In 11 years, I tried to answer each e-mail, return every call. I owed my existence to readers. You needed to feel heard and appreciated even if you hung up after agreeing to disagree.
Journalism has changed profoundly in the 20 years I've been lucky to have desks in newsrooms. When I started, reporters typed a numeric code at the end of stories to give editors the official "over and out."
We don't use it anymore, but I will here to honor the career I cherished. Writing for you, and talking with you, has been my great fortune and privilege up until the very last word.