I don't remember the date but I do remember the day. It was a miserable day. It was a bewildering day. It was the day in August, 1995, Bob Barnett lost his mind.
It was the pre-merger universe in Tiny Town. Whistler Mountain was still a family run operation, a bit stodgy, a bit old school, in other words, almost perfect. Blackcomb was the not-so-new kid on the block, corporate, steroidal, out to prove it wasn't an upstart, ruthless.
It was the one and only summer I worked for either, in this case Blackcomb. Earlier in the day, I'd been informed I wouldn't be rehired for the winter season. Based on the body language, shifty eyes, voice tinged with the unmistakable timbre of bullshit and inability to offer a believable reason as to why I was un-hirable for a job I'd performed well the winter before, I was left with only one explanation: I'd been too much of a pain in the butt to the folks who ran the mountain — long story — and was forever blackballed at Blackcomb. They didn't call it the Dark Side for nothing.
But I did have to finish out the summer and I was not a happy camper, standing at a desk trying to sell tourists on the various forms of excitement our happy mountain home had to offer.
That's when Bob walked in.
I knew him, not well. Based only on the strength of a handful of "letters to the editor" I'd sent in, he'd published a couple of features I'd written during that first year of Pique's publication, mostly stories about activities I couldn't afford to pay for but was keen to experience.
"Hey, Bob. What's up?" I asked.
"I... uh... was wondering if you had any interest in writing a kind-of-regular column for Pique?"
Insert pregnant pause here.
Dumbfounded is probably too kind a word to describe the complete disconnect between my brain and rational thought following that question. I knew he was speaking to me but there was no sense in what he said. It may have been the only time in our relationship I've ever shut up long enough for Bob to grow uncomfortable with the silence.
"So...?" He said, wondering whether he should perhaps check for a pulse.
"What did you have in mind?" I said, slowly regaining both thought and speech.
This is how I described what happened next.
"Well, something that would appeal to locals, mainly... tourists, too, of course. Something topical but not necessarily editorial; something with a distinct voice but not necessarily the ravings of a deranged lunatic; something people can laugh at without necessarily understanding they're laughing at themselves; something celebrating the wonders of Whistler without being too Chamber of Commerce; something poking fun at the foibles of our town without making the municipality mad enough to misfile our business licence; something that will boldly go where no...."
I suggested he really didn't have a very good grasp of exactly what he wanted. What I believed was, if he indeed had a grasp, he wouldn't have been talking to me.
But I recovered cheekily when he said, "I want to inject more personality into the paper."
"You mean you want to inject personality into the paper," I corrected.
Maybe that crack explains why it took him almost four months to finally ante up and publish the first Maxed Out, on December 8, 1995.
It pains me at this juncture to point out there are people working in Whistler right now who weren't born on December 8, 1995. Meh.
Why the trip down memory lane? Because this week's "Maxed Out" is number 1,000. That's about 997 more columns than I ever thought I'd write, having what behavioural psychologists call a short attention span coupled with an innate ability, call it a predisposition or, if you prefer, a gift, to piss people off.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there's a market for that!
Imagine Bob's surprise when, after only nine weeks of this uncontrolled experiment, his phone began to ring off the hook about an hour after Pique hit the newsstands with people threatening to sue him, me and Pique for what I'd written that week.
The first irate caller was Matthew Coté. Matthew's company, Columbus Properties, was building housing units at Millar's Pond for the Whistler Valley Housing Society. He was upset because I'd corrected his arithmetic mistakes, duly published in the Whistler Question.
Through the magic of compounding — or in this case erroneous calculations — he'd explained how people who won the Housing Society's lottery draw and earned the chance to purchase a townhome in Millar's Pond would earn an 18-per-cent return over five years on their $20,000 investment.
In what I have to admit in retrospect was an excruciatingly detailed explanation of the principles of compounding and the math of finance, I proved the actual rate of return was just a shade under five per cent. But I also laboured to encourage anyone lucky enough to be drawn in the lottery to go for it and finally enjoy secure housing in a town notorious for just the opposite.
Bob's ear was still burning and his phone still hot when it rang again. This time it was Max Kirkpatrick, who was the RMOW councillor sitting on the Housing Society board threatening to sue.
Bob was ashen when he came to see me the next day.
"Don't you have insurance for things like defamation?" I asked.
He didn't. Understandable given virtually no one at Pique was getting paid enough to live.
"Would this be a good time to tell you I — and you have to keep this to yourself — have an MBA in finance?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said, while colour returning to his face.
"And what if I told you — ditto about keeping this to yourself — I used to be a lawyer and there's nothing defamatory about this?"
"I'd have trouble believing that."
"Good. Let's keep it that way."
It took a couple of years before anyone actually did sue, unsuccessfully. It didn't take as long for Bob to be summoned by the mayor and others in town, various corporate interests and, of course, irate Whistlerites to defend something I'd written. But having lost his mind, he, and Kathy while she was with us, proved my staunch defenders.
So, I'm still here. And yes, it seems as weird to me as it must to you. It's been gratifying, humbling, hyperbolic, fun, sometimes even joyous. It's been the best gift anyone's ever given me and I know I wouldn't have survived this long if Bob and Kathy hadn't been the kind of people they are, the new owners weren't understanding and you readers weren't so obviously deranged. My thanks to all of you.
Where else but Whistler, eh?