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:
(BLANK) DIES IN SHOTGUN SLAYING
MAN HELD IN BLUDGEONING OF LOCAL (BLANK)
POLICE SAY (BLANK) ‘FOUGHT HARD’ WITH KNIFE-WIELDING KILLER
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.