Selling papers.

Certain jobs are more than jobs. Every editor who’s written a headline knows this. Say you are violently murdered tomorrow. If you’re a systems analyst, the headline on your murder story won’t read SYSTEMS ANALYST DEAD IN GRISLY SLAYING. (In some smaller markets, the slaying will be “GRIZZLY” for the first few hundred papers. Until an editor we’ll call “Kirk” stops the presses and swallows five Valium in lieu of beating the offender with a pica pole.) No, you’ll be “local man” or “woman, 42,” but never “systems analyst,” and not because it’s too long for the headline. Accountants have the same problem.

Now, say you’re a nurse. Or a teacher. Or a dancer. But especially a nurse. Nothing like nursing to spice up a headline. NURSE FOUND STABBED TO DEATH IN APARTMENT — now there’s one to goose street sales. It doesn’t matter that the victim’s job had nothing to do with the crime. Some jobs simply transcend such trivialities. The death is not just a loss to the victim’s family and friends, a blow to the peace of the community; it’s one less nurse in the world. No one gives a crap about systems analysts.

I must point out the obvious — that many of these jobs-that-aren’t-just-jobs have distinct erotic overtones. Admit it: When your mind’s eye envisioned the stabbed nurse, didn’t you see her (never him; a male nurse would be “local man”) sprawled out in a short white dress with a spreading blood stain, starched cap askew? Of course you did, you pervert.

(Man, I can’t wait to see the Google ads on this one.)

Teachers are another. It’s more understandable with teachers; a dead teacher calls to mind a classroom full of sad children struggling to understand why Mrs. Whoever won’t be back the rest of the year, in fact forever. You think of hushed conferences at the classroom door between the flustered sub and the principal, of the grief counselors who will soon be descending in an unmarked van, each carrying a box of Kleenex.

(True story: Alan once sent a story about those satellite trivia competitions in bars to the copy desk. The opening anecdote was about a grade-school teacher who spent three nights a week sipping cranberry juice in her favorite tavern, playing electronic trivia contests. A copy editor replaced her actual name with her online handle, so horrified was she that we were TELLING THE WORLD that a TEACHER goes to A BAR. The next time someone mentions the olden days, when teachers used to have to resign when they got pregnant, remember we haven’t come so far.)

Doctor, lawyer — these are also more-than-jobs. But not all the professions qualify. ENGINEER KILLED IN STREET-DISPUTE CROSSFIRE…nah, just doesn’t work. Even dentists are borderline; no one ever wrote a successful one-hour TV drama about hot dentists in love. But a dancer? Oooh, yes. Doesn’t matter if the decedent hadn’t put on toe shoes, or tap shoes, or even a spangly thong, for years. Once a dancer, always a dancer.

Go ahead, try it at home. Insert your job title in any of the following headlines:


Some abbreviation is allowed. If you’re the second vice-president in charge of corporate donations for a well-established charity, you can call yourself NON-PROFIT EXEC. But not TYCOON.

OK, then. You can tell it’s exercise season again, because these are the things I think about on long bike rides. Nothing like sharing the road with cars to get one thinking of death and headlines.


Ken Levine’s going to build a franchise on his “American Idol” post-mortems alone. This one isn’t his best performance overall, dawg, but he starts out so strong — Getting it out of the way first, Sanjaya, with the new mohawk hairstyle is now just the Gimp from “Pulp Fiction” — that I’ll keep him around another week. (I missed much of Idol last night; kept switching back to “Elevator to the Gallows” on Flix. I came in 30 minutes late, but found it mesmerizing. How can you not love a movie that features both a gull-wing Mercedes SL and a Miles Davis score? Of course it’s not scheduled again for DVRing. Drat. Good luck finding that one at my local Blockbuster.)

Laura Lippman’s having quite a week: NYT bestseller list, full-page ad in NYT, and shooting a cameo on “The Wire.”

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was doing a radio essay, on a topic that failed to grab the attention of all the print editors I usually deal with. Working title: “Elmore Leonard’s Master Class on Detroit.” It came out…just OK. (My criticisms are all of myself and my stupid voice, not the production, which was excellent.) It aired last week, so I’m embedding the MP3 file here. (Requires QuickTime.) Thereafter it will live in The Clip File. And I recorded another this week, which I like better. It’s nice to learn new things at my age.

In honor of the impending release of “Grindhouse,” Kim Morgan assembles a list of her favorite car movies. As a Detroit partisan, let me point out that no one makes movies like this about Toyota Camrys. (And the Mini Cooper chase scene in “The Italian Job” doesn’t count. That was just a big fat product placement.) Got any favorite car movies? You know where to discuss.

Posted at 9:58 am in Media, Movies |

44 responses to “Selling papers.”

  1. Peter said on March 28, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Elevator to the Gallows (l’ancanseur pour l’echefaud, if I recall) is certainly a great film – better than anything Truffaut pushed out. If you like that one, you’re ready for hard core – try “Bob le flambeur” (Bob the Gambler) or Le Samourai from Jean Pierre Melville – superb!!

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  2. John said on March 28, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I must have seen Vanishing Point ten times in high school as it was always the B movie of a drive-in double feature.

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  3. Kirk said on March 28, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Thanks, Nance, it’s always nice to be remembered. As you know, the same principle applies to fatal accidents and — especially — sex crimes.

    And a version of it still comes into play in photos, too. A picture of someone riding a bicycle, playing catch, eating ice cream or engaging in any number of everyday activities doesn’t necessarily make for an arresting image. But put that person in Amish clothing, and you can’t keep the photographers away. The same used to apply to nuns, but they’re not as popular anymore.

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  4. Dorothy said on March 28, 2007 at 10:23 am



    Both of them kind of give me the creeps. Maybe I should change jobs? And I’ll work on avoiding anyone who looks like they mighit bludgeon me.

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  5. Kirk said on March 28, 2007 at 10:29 am

    “Administrative assistant” isn’t too sexy, but “secretary” can have the same kind of headline appeal as “nurse.”

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  6. Dorothy said on March 28, 2007 at 10:48 am

    I was thinking the same thing, Kirk. I don’t know exactly why “secretary” is no longer what we are supposed to call ourselves. “Administrative Assistant” is a real mouthful. Really we just say “admin” most of the time.

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  7. brian stouder said on March 28, 2007 at 11:00 am

    When I read this a day ago, I thought it wouldn’t have made the news if the WalMart executive were a man…but then thought it might still…but it wouldn’t have been news in the 1960’s…

    (an excerpt)

    Lawsuits are always written to make the target look guilty. But even by those standards, the countersuit filed last week by Wal-Mart against Julie Roehm is a devastating narrative. It alleges that before being fired in December, Roehm, formerly the retailer’s top ad executive, broke company rules by accepting meals and gifts, acted unethically to steer Wal-Mart’s $580 million account to an agency with which she’d discussed taking a job—and most sensationally, carried on an affair with a subordinate, Sean Womack. The lawsuit offers what it says are excerpts of their e-mails (“I think about … little moments like watching your face when you kiss me”), quotes an anonymous co-worker who saw them “pinned against the wall in an intimate pose” at a bar, and alleges that Womack told his wife how many times he and Roehm had sex on business trips.

    say – saw this about local fave The Sopranos

    this reviewer thinks it will end in a mess

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  8. Danny said on March 28, 2007 at 11:17 am

    I know I am probably stealing Connie’s thunder, but the first occupation that came to mind was librarian. Everyone knows the type. Long, mouse-brown hair kept in a tight bun. Small frame glasses that only partilaly hide deeply beautiful, brown eyes. Dark gray, skirt and jacket with white blouse that comes to up to the neck. Sensible shoes (but with a heel) and dark or opaque stockings. All designed to hide any clue of her real sensuality.

    At least, that is what I have heard about librarians.

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  9. Jessica said on March 28, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Didn’t the Bob Newhart show have a Dentist in Love subtheme? Not to mention Dental Assistant in Love sub-subtheme?

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  10. LA mary said on March 28, 2007 at 11:28 am

    My mother in law was a librarian, and she was nothing like that. She was born to be a mother in law first, a librarian second.

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  11. Marcia said on March 28, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Waaah. Nancy, you’re scaring me.

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  12. MarkH said on March 28, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Danny, you just described perfectly Donna Reed in Jimmy Stewart’s alt-life mightmare.

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  13. jcburns said on March 28, 2007 at 12:00 pm


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  14. brian stouder said on March 28, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    And Bedford Falls didn’t highlight the classic small-town newspaper editor….although Mayberry used to! Everytime Barney’s name got in the paper, it was “Bernard Fike” – which made him mad every time!

    Speaking of librarians, though – many many (many) years ago, my mom would take me down the block when the library truck came (Tuesdays, I think) and the librarian was a crusty old white-haired guy (think of a grungy Cap’n Crunch figure) who was ALWAYS smoking!

    So in my subconcious – THAT is the classic librarian (not to say contrarian!)

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  15. nancy said on March 28, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Marcia, you may be too young to remember one of the most notorious double homicides in Columbus in the ’80s — the slaying of two NURSES in a small lab just off the ER at Riverside Hospital. (Kirk, I am certain, is not.) It was such a spooky crime, not just for the obvious idea that someone could kill (with a knife? I think) two able-bodied women so close to one of the busiest ERs in the city. You also had to consider that he’d done so, then slipped out, covered with blood, and no one thought anything of it, because of course you expect to see bloody people in the ER.

    The crime went unsolved for years until one of the victims’ husbands was killed in a shootout with the FBI down in Florida. He’d evaded suspicion and slipped out of town after a decent interval. It was only when he died in the proverbial hail of gunfire that cops figured out he probably wasn’t innocent in the murder of his wife, years earlier.

    But yeah, that was one time when designating the victim’s job actually was relevant to the story. Essential, even.

    It also seemed to underline a depressing reality in too much violence: Maybe it’s the junkie looking for drugs in the hospital, and maybe it’s the black-ops government agent seeking to silence the medical researcher for learning too much about the suspicious deaths down in the morgue, but more likely than not, it’s the husband.

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  16. Marcia said on March 28, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Um, yeah, thanks so much for that last paragraph.

    Anyway. I did read about that crime in a history of Riverside book someone had.

    I always figure if anyone does me in at work it will be a parent who has lost custody from Children’s Services. We get threatened with that sort of thing fairly frequently–not death so much as using violence to take a baby.

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  17. Kirk said on March 28, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Yes, I remember that one too well, and how the hospital people kept trying to chase our reporters away. “Spooky” is an apt description. It made people feel how I felt for a few days after JFK got popped: If they can get the president, they sure as hell can get me. (The missing logic of why they would want to bother escaped me, of course; I was, after all, only 11.)

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  18. LA mary said on March 28, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    There was that horrible murder of seven nurses by Richard Speck in Chicago in the sixties as well. I remember one nurse survived by hiding under a bed.

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  19. Kirk said on March 28, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    That might be the champion all-time nurse-murder story. Wasn’t it determined that he had weird chromosomes that made him a raving, murderous psychopath?

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  20. Susan Gillie said on March 28, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    I started with my official title,
    Line cook dies in shotgun slaying. Won’t sell papers…..
    I padded the resume,
    Man held in bludgeoning of local chef. Now, we’re getting somewhere…..
    Then I remembered, I write a dopey little food column for a nascent (read, amateurish) blog.
    Police say Food Writer Fought Hard with Knife-Wielding Killer.
    Oh yea, hot.

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  21. Lance said on March 28, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    The Minis in “The Italian Job” were an homage to the original movie.

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  22. MarkH said on March 28, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Absolutely, Lance. As well as to the chase vehicles, the Italian State Police Car, my beloved Alfa Romeo Giulia Super! THAT makes the original perferable to me anytime.

    Susan, you should be doing more than writing a “dopey little food column”, my friend.

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  23. nancy said on March 28, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    The Minis in “The Italian Job” were an homage to the original movie.

    Ouch. I stand corrected. That’s why you get for not watching enough originals, I guess.

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  24. Danny said on March 28, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Danny, you just described perfectly Donna Reed in Jimmy Stewart’s alt-life mightmare.

    Mark, that is too funny. Ever since I first saw that movie I thought of Donna Reed as one of the most beautiful women to grace this planet. I guess I really internalized that and didn’t realize as I was typing that I was totally but, subconsciously thinking of her.

    Michelle Pfeiffer kinda had that same look, but as an admin by day, Cat Woman by night, in one of the Batman movies.

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  25. Kirk said on March 28, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Danny, I was involved several years ago in a “TV Land”-type discussion in which several guys recounted lusting after Shelley Fabares when she was on “The Donna Reed Show.” I said, “Hey, I thought her mom was pretty strong.”

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  26. brian stouder said on March 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    and one occupation that will ALWAYS get the headline – is ‘dominitrix’

    (“Cops cite dominitrix for failure to yield”)

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  27. LA mary said on March 28, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I used to have a dominatrix as a next door neighbor. She drove a perfectly restored 1964 black cadillac with the license plate,
    “SUBMIT.” Surpisingly, she and her husband, broke up. She was busy with her job, which required frequent flights to UK. I guess her services were very popular there.

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  28. michaelj said on March 28, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Dentists aren’t juicy as murder victims, but I think they rev up headlines when they commit mayhem. (We knew they were all former Nazi torturers; why would anyone want a career inflicting pain?) It’s also interesting to me that professions and, particularly, vocations that extract the most empathy and bathos for victims evoke maximum prurient interest in murderers and molesters.

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  29. brian stouder said on March 28, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Way way back when I was a kiddo (and had hair!) and worked in a supermarket, was when I first met a genuinely scarey person.

    He was a bitter old divorced meat cutter (back when they cut meat in supermarkets!); he had no end of black-hearted theories of the world.

    Quite an eye-opener for a 16 year old

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  30. michaelj said on March 28, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Now that I think about it, there’s also a decided inverse value involved in this calculation. The less jazzy a headline murder victim your job or circumstance make you, the more likely it is that you make a fascinating murderer. Spinster Librarian Aunts in Bachelor Caller Serial Murders. Autopsy Finds Traces of Elderberry Wine and Arsenic.

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  31. Danny said on March 28, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Hahaha. Good one Michael.

    Hey, Brian, what you posted reminded me of the recent story about the guy who killed and dismembered his girlfriend and cooked her remains to ashes on his grill over a two day period. The authorities were called because of the smoke and smell but, he was even successful at allaying the fears of the fire department by telling them everything was under control. One neighbor was curious because he was usually invited to barbecues at this guy’s place, but the guy told him he was cooking for a wedding (oh, the irony of that remark).

    Someone wrote that the woman must have been his “grillfriend.”

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  32. brian stouder said on March 28, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    what a great play! (the movie is ok, too) I played Teddy Brewster in our high school play, and had big fun

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  33. Bob said on March 28, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    Brian, it’s “dominatrix”, not “dominitrix”. How can you hope to find what you’re looking for, if you don’t spell it right?

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  34. LA mary said on March 28, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    The Dominatrix would correct his spelling for him.

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  35. Danny said on March 28, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Nancy, your voice sounds fine. I hate the sound of my voice too when I hear a recording of it. I think most people do.

    I wonder why it is that A) my voice sounds different in my head than from a recording, but B) when I do an impersonation of someone, others can think that I nail it. To me, an impersonation should suffer from the same auditory perception skewing.

    Hmmm. Now I must get back to crunching numbers.

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  36. ashley said on March 28, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    There’s no way “Professor” will ever make it as a headline — at least, not as a vic. As a perp, yes: PROFESSOR SLAYS GERMAN TOURISTS.

    So the best I can hope for is my role as family man: FATHER OF THREE BLUDGEONED TO DEATH.

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  37. basset said on March 28, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    >(back when they cut meat in supermarkets!)

    reminds me of the time my younger brother had a part-time job helping out at the local market in a small town in southwestern Indiana back in the Sixties.

    He wrapped up a… well, let’s just call it an artificial phallus of remarkable, although not humanly impossible, length, girth and pinkness… on one of those foam-plastic meat trays, stuck the shrink wrap around it and a price sticker on top, then set the whole package out in the cooler among the hamburger and the stew meat.

    I forget exactly what the price was per pound, it got snapped up pretty quickly though.

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  38. cce said on March 29, 2007 at 8:13 am

    Landscape Architect fought hard with gun wielding delusional client in the pink bathrobe? Does that work? I guess it all depends on how the public conjures an image of a landscape architect? Help me out here, I’m too close to the calling.

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  39. John said on March 29, 2007 at 8:17 am

    “Professor Found Skewered With Oversized Safety Pin”

    C’mon Ashley…use your imagination a bit!

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  40. brian stouder said on March 29, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Mine could be one of those hybrid news/entertainment headers –

    Death of a salesman investigated

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  41. Dave K. said on March 29, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    “Union Vice-President Dies In Shotgun Slaying”, “Man Held In Bludgeoning Of Local Union Grievance Committee Chairman”. That doesn’t look good at all, not while we are awaiting a federal bankruptcy judge’s ruling to cancel our contract.

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  42. LA mary said on March 29, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Consultant Found Dead, Multiple Confessions Pour In

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  43. joodyb said on March 30, 2007 at 12:12 am

    Police review death of salesman


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