Thursday, June 17, 2004

One for Susan Stamberg, and One Just for the Road

Let's see. What might a "personality" columnist do, approaching deadline and lacking the mental energy to accept a writing challenge, either in storytelling or in exposition?

He might choose to write about something that: a) reveals a little something about himself -- but not too much, really, because this is a long road we are on and we are dull with little to self-disclose; b) soothes the values of his readers -- or of those whom he would like to make his readers; c) allows him to use the word "whom" with great finesse and accuracy, enabling him to "pimp slap" those who would degrade our fine language; d) allows him to use the word "pimp slap," because he's all at once sick of this mental image of himself at the keyboard typing with his wittle pinkies extended, as if he's drinking tea; e) gives him motivation for looking up "pimp slap" on the Net, at which point he is sickened by its connotation -- but this is column writing cum blogging, and on deadline there's no going back!

For doesn't everything even remotely connected with newspapering come back to S.J. Perlman's boast about writing faster than anyone who writes better and better than anyone who writes faster?

Cue the simple but revelatory story:

As a big NPR fan, I am naturally fond of Bob Edwards, who was Morning Edition host for so many years. What did I like? The voice and the unhurried delivery and what I think were personal vignettes, though who really paid attention? I liked him. I was balancing my interest in what he was saying with my amazement at the audacity of the Audi passing me on the right. I wasn't cramming for an exam. I was multi-tasking.

Then NPR bounced him because they wanted to skew younger and hard-newsier, as if you couldn't already get enough on-scene, breaking-news reporting on other stations. I understand their fear that during big important national or international disasters you would jump to some AM news station and then forget to switch back to NPR for the insights and good judgment. But if NPR just turns into another "Here's our reporter at the scene duplicating all the other reporters at the scene" fact factory, why would I be listening to it in the first place? NPR is an oasis of moderate, middle-of-the-road news commentary in which the mouths talk slower and smarter.

This has all been chewed over already in the last two months. No breaking news in this space today. We’re doing commentary. But during those two months my wife pledged $60 to KQED, one of our local NPR stations. The vaguely indignant but mostly imploring letter saying Where Is It? fell into my hands.

So: I wrote a check for $30 to KQED and I wrote a second check for $30 to Bob Edwards and sent it to him at Morning Edition's D.C. address with a KQED envelope and a note suggesting he could either sign the back of the check and send it to KQED or cash it and buy himself a couple boutique Scotches at a D.C. newspaper bar.

I don't know which I'd prefer, his forwarding the check -- which I bet he will do since he doesn't strike me as a man who favors the bitter gesture -- or cashing it for his own pleasure.

I like to think of him as a newsman with a taste for feature-style journalism. And I tell you this from my own experience. There was never a newsman with a taste for feature-style journalism who did not enjoy a couple of free drinks, since doesn’t their "freeness" peel away at least one layer from that onion of guilt with which afternoon drinkers (and that was once an alternative definition of journalist) I am told are not altogether unfamiliar?

(Convoluted but elegant conclusion. Hint of personal problem to be disclosed over time. Good job! – Eds.)


edith said...

Smart. Thoughtful. Filled with impressive insights!
RE the "bob" episode was good, but might have displayed more of your personality, your edge! Let your stories roll just like your ideas! Hey, where is the spell checker on this damn website?

Anonymous said...

As one who has been on more than one of "those" afternoons, I feel I'm lucky - like Bob - who was old enough to have been part of that leisurly world of doing business, thoughtfully, without the buzzing pager (which descended into a lower circle to become the quacking cellphone) or the askance glance toward he-with-gin-on-his-breath-when-returning-to-the-workplace.

And how the hell are we going to make this week's numbers?

After all, there was a manly concept known as holds-his-liquor-well. And I never drank gin, anyway.

But I once drank in a booth next to DiMaggio's regular nest, who nodded to us slack jaws as he sat down. And I actually, no brag/just fact, made deals at the bar, notes sketched on a paper napkin with a felt tip pen. Once, on a coaster that slowly absorbed and dispersed the ink so thoroughly that it came out of my pocket looking like a take home rorschach.

All that's gone for now. And it's made the business of advertising (which was my "context," saith the historian in me) less interesting, less fun and less humanizing.

Sinking into my codger-hood, but got a few more afternoons in me.


....J.Michael Robertson said...

Living in the shadow of men like GP, I believe we may be proud of a generation that lived no wisely but TOO WELL!