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Published Wednesday, June 10, 2020 @ 2:40 PM EDT
Jun 10 2020

I just learned today that Zay N. Smith died on May 11.

Zay (he preferred "Norty") was one of the few people I know who both had and deserved a Wikipedia entry.

I guess it's not that unusual in these Internet days, but I knew him for years and considered him a friend, but we never met in person. I wrote him a fan letter about something that appeared in his QT column in the Chicago Sun-Times that evolved into a correspondence that lasted over a decade. We sent each other holiday and birthday greetings, consoled each other on our losses, and made fun of the world in general. One of my favorites from him:

News Headline: “Scientists come a step closer to invisibility cloak.”
News Headline: “Sarah Palin to write Christmas book.”
In answer to your question:
Palin appears to be about a size 6.

As I wrote here in May 2012:

I stumbled across Zay N. Smith's "Quick Takes" column in the Chicago Sun- Times by accident.

From October 2000 through October 2005, I worked in Chicago and commuted between a mostly-unfurnished studio apartment there and my home in Pittsburgh, spending a not insignificant amount of time riding in assorted cabs, trains, and airplanes.

It was 5 am on a cold, snowy Saturday morning in December. I was on a Blue Line train heading toward O'Hare. I dreaded the inevitable weather delay that awaited me at the airport, and the endless gate reassignments that would keep me shuttling between terminals on the fluorescently illuminated underground moving walkway. (One interesting feature of this conveyance was that it had its own musical accompaniment, an endless loop of music box-like tinkling that achieved the impossible: making Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" as irritating as "It's A Small World After All." But I digress.)

I'd overslept that morning, and in my rush to catch the train had failed to stuff into my backpack the usual poundage of books and magazines that maintained my compulsive reading addiction. Desperate for material, I spotted an old Sun- Times on the seat across the aisle. It was folded and opened to an inside page. The first thing that caught my eye was a column by Zay N. Smith called "Quick Takes."

I was hooked.

The weather delay, a wi-fi connection and a wall outlet commandeered at great personal risk enabled me to fire up my laptop and read a couple years' worth of QT columns until United finally decided it was safe to venture to Pittsburgh.

Remember when you looked forward to the morning paper so you could read Gary Larson's The Far Side or Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes? Same deal with "QT."

Thanks to the Internet, my return to Pittsburgh in 2005 didn't interrupt my habit. Indeed, Smith's column attained a national and international readership, and was probably one of the Sun-Times' most read features.

Which is why the paper's decision in November, 2008 to drop the column after 13 successful years seemed so patently absurd. Throughout that year the Sun-Times had laid off or bought out dozens of its editorial staff as it tried to reduce its costs in a contracting newspaper market. Many thought Smith- like Sun-Times legend Roger Ebert- was untouchable, given his decades with the paper and QT's international popularity.

Ah, but stupidity knows no limits.


Zay transitioned to the internet, with his own website and, of course, a Facebook presence.

I began an e-mail correspondence with Zay and spoke with him on the phone a few times. During our last conversation, we regaled each other with old newspaper stories and our current misfortunes. Zay was in a nursing home, having lost a leg to undiagnosed diabetes.

"As Dr. Seuss wisely advised us," Zay told me, "Don't cry that it's over. Smile that it happened."

Goodbye, Zay. And thanks for the smiles.


His obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Categories: Zay N. Smith - Quick Takes


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