A loss.

It’s traditional that a newspaper’s editor-in-chief write a weekly column, usually on Sunday. Some do it more gracefully than others. Like the 900-pound gorilla, they write about anything they want, although many use the space to explain Why We Ran This Seemingly Stupid Thing in the Newspaper Last Week. In recent years, the job of explaining these things has fallen to the ombudsman/reader representative/public editor, and it seems I see fewer editor’s columns. Too bad. Even the atrocious ones are usually worth reading. I suspect many editors these days are such enthusiastic carpetbaggers, ticking off cities and newspapers on their career plan with cold-blooded efficiency, that they shy away from this job; they know anything they write about their current city will sound as sincere as the lead guitarist in the touring rock band down at the local arena, roaring, “Hello (checks note taped to back of guitar) Scranton! Are you ready to RAWK?!”*

All this by way of noting that Neal Shine, former publisher of the Free Press, died yesterday. I didn’t work for him. I met him once, at a Knight-Wallace Fellows event, and he was charming and gracious. But I felt I knew him, because I used to read his column, back when the Freep was passed around the newsroom in Fort Wayne. Unlike most editors/publishers, he could write.

The obit is here. He had a long and distinguished career. But if I were you, I’d skip right to the column archive (scroll down), where you’ll find gems like this:

After almost 34 years, I have made my peace with Jack Shook. It was a decision not lightly arrived at since I have a genetic tendency for simmering resentment.

But it seemed, somehow, the right time to set things straight and drop Mr. Shook from my selective roster of active grudges.

Grudges that are dated can distract you from the very serious business of dealing with contemporary resentments, so it is probably a good idea to purge the list from time to time.

It is not easy to sit here and admit to what might appear to some as a major character flaw. But I feel an obligation to expose a few minor truths about myself every now and then and keep the major character flaws a secret. I wish I felt worse about being an accomplished grudge-holder. The truth is, I have always felt that a good grudge can be a wonderful thing if you maintain a reasonable perspective.

A grudge that is bitter, corrosive or all-consuming is a grudge that has gotten out of hand.

A workable grudge is one you can call up on quiet winter evenings to fan the embers that have been cooled by the intervening years and bask in its warmth as you recall all the delicious details of the transgression. Control is vital.

In the 1920s a man sold my father shares of a worthless stock for $200. Whenever the memory of that unhappy transaction would begin to fade, my father would take out the worthless stock certificate and study it until the fraud was once again fresh in his mind.

When the man who sold him the stock died in the 1950s, my father studied the newspaper death notice for a while and then said: “I hope that when he gets to heaven, God asks him about the stock.” He never mentioned the incident again.

Which brings us back to Jack Shook.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to write like that? Look it over. There’s a chuckle, or a smile, in every paragraph, which naturally leads you to the next one, a little trail of bread crumbs that pulls you through to the end. You don’t get the pungent, flop-sweaty smell of someone trying to tell jokes, or impress you with their exquisite vocabulary. And yet, I bet it wasn’t particularly difficult for Shine. This is what storytelling is when storytelling is deep in your bone marrow. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Shine was Irish. Jon Carroll, another Irish storytellin’ fool, writes like this. He can write about his grandchildren, his cats, the infinitesimal details of his life, and I’m reading every word. (Little Jimmy Lileks could take a few lessons. Not that he would.)

For a long time, the Free Press had a well-deserved reputation as a writer’s paper. I’m not surprised, with Shine making so many hiring decisions. He heard the music. May he rest in peace.

* Image stolen from an old “Simpsons” episode. Mea culpa.

Lance Mannion is another Irish storyteller who hears the music. He tells, or rather, remembers how I told, a particularly good one from back in the day, here. Hats off to storytellers, today.

Posted at 1:19 am in Media |

14 responses to “A loss.”

  1. alex said on April 4, 2007 at 9:24 am

    Great storytelling not only draws you in but also makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange. As Lance Mannion does with Kubrick, about whom I knew little.

    Great reading.

    183 chars

  2. mtk said on April 4, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Dunno if there are any other fans of the new, updated “Battlestar Galactica” here, but they recently introduced a new character, a defense attorney for the notorious criminal Gaius Baltar. The attorney guy is very definitely toting an Irish accent and has an easy, sparkle-in-the-eye, knowing manner about him that makes the character memorable. Yet another of that show’s creative casting and character choices.

    412 chars

  3. Danny said on April 4, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    mtk, we’re big fans of that series, though we thought the quality was down until recently. You’re right, that new lawyer character was awesome. I also really enjoyed the scene from two episodes ago when Lee Adama took the stand.

    Note about spoilers, we record it and watch it a week later, so I will not see last Sunday’s episode until this weekend.

    354 chars

  4. brian stouder said on April 4, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    Hats off to storytellers, today.

    I took this as an assignment, and couldn’t work on it ’til now. Therefore, here’s a story with no moral:

    Years ago, before the age of the internet and online ticket buying, the traveling Sesame Street show was coming to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Knowing that this was a sure-fire winner with the young folks, I went there to buy tickets after work one evening.

    At 5 minutes before 6, I walked into the main entrance, and up to the ticket booth in the anteroom, where I was the second person in line. The fellow ahead of me thoroughly examined the seating charts and so on, before finally making his selection and buying 3 seats. I had the advantage of watching over his shoulder as he went through this process, and I had noted that there were many more seats in the same ‘good spot’ that he had divined.

    He collected his tix and headed for the door, and I stepped forward and said I wanted to buy 4 tickets right near where he had bought his, and the girl was just beginning to accept my order when a much older fellow with a scowl on his face came through a door at the back of her booth, and loudly declared “We’re Closed!”!!

    I looked up at him with what must have been a look of disbelief, and he repeated it, adding “It’s past 6”. Resisting the urge to over-react, I said I had come into the ticket buying areas before 6 – the door was unlocked! Meanwhile, the girl was visibly wavering; she could have made the sale and sent me away in the same time-span that this old goat was so busily demonstrating his territorial dominion.

    What was a taxpaying, law abiding citizen to do? I conceded defeat, turned on my heal and headed for the door; turning to announce (in as stentorian a tone as I could manage!) that I Was Not Coming Back….and the old guy said “GOOD!”!!!

    No kidding – I got back into my car and pounded the steering wheel!! “Son of a %$^%$# mother-#*(&^*#^% piece of #*&^#” etc etc)

    What especially grated me was that the ancient employee at the taxpayer supported institution turned away my business, ran me out (and quite unreasonably, I thought), and even denied me the #&*^#*%# LAST WORD!!!!

    So when I got home, I wrote a Letter to the Editor, which the good ol’ News-Sentinel printed, and I got the headline!

    Really, that made me feel better.

    2361 chars

  5. Danny said on April 4, 2007 at 11:27 pm


    6 chars

  6. michaelj said on April 5, 2007 at 3:09 am

    Yeah. And there was Judge Crockett, and newspapers stood for something, and the guitar players were Sonic Smith and Brother Wayne, Brother Wayne Kramer, or, even better, Gary Quackenbush. Holy crap. People used to believe in principle, civil rights, Coleman Young, the AFL, George Meany and the Constitution. Nobody even thought it was quaint to not torture people. Not even the Giacolones, who could teach those sensitivity classes these aholes attempting very badly to run things seem to be in such remedial need of.

    And if Gaius Baltar is a noted criminal, you know fictionally, well, I’m just sayin’. We have met the weasel the Short Boat Folks prefer, and, unfortunately, he appears to be us. But there will be beer at the O Club in Fort Worth.

    I know Nancy’s not old enough to remember the saga of George Crockett. But I’ll say this. If you lived and breathed around 12th Street and Tuxedo and Tiger Stadium, somewhere around 1964-1969, Detroit was special. Ever get checked for weapons in the lockdown doors at the Chessmate to get in to see John Lee (There are other blues artists, but, then, again, there really aren’t).

    I compare the manufactured hoopla of the net to the rumor mill bracing a real live city when Martin Luther King was shot and the ineffectual vice principal told us to head out to Seven Mile Road, because the ‘motors are running’. Me and my brother left the car on Livernois, bought an irridescent paisley tie at Louis the Hatter and decided to go sip whiskey from a pint in dead center at Tiger Stadium with old black guys that are Tommy Lasorda in real life.

    Now Martin being shot was a terrible blow. But, you know, it was galvanizing. Bobby got shot, only thing I actually cared about was committing Sirhan’s murder. Bobby had recently been at the Michigan Democratic Convention, and we met him. And he was a guy to believe in. What sort of character assassination would be levelled against him by golems these days?

    John Kerry may be wooden, although I fail to understand why being overtly intelligent is a political deficit. But goddamn. He drove the swift boats, and his crew says he was a hero. He didn’t have to go. W didn’t show up in Alabama. Is there actually any doubt about these facts, and why one guy is somebody to pay attention to and the other is the dictionary photo of an asshole?? What the fuck is wrong with people?

    I used to work in 1969 at the incinerator door, next to the ER drive in, at Metropolitan Hospital. Few blocks away, 13th and Indiandale, TMU cops and Panthers shot it out, regularly. The cops actually mobilized in our parking lot. I could stand on the loading dock, while diseased limbs and organs burned, and basically keep score of who was winning by the ER arrivals. Back then, people said the TMU ran Detroit in daytime and the Panthers ran it at night. Not a really salubrious situation, but a damn site better than what we’ve got now. As brutal as the TMU and the Panthers were, they were not the insane running the asylum.

    3021 chars

  7. michaelj said on April 5, 2007 at 3:31 am

    Here‘s a fitting tribute to Neal Shine.

    136 chars

  8. michaelj said on April 5, 2007 at 3:36 am

    What the hell. When things actually meant…things. And Detroit had two newspapers, one of which was a racist rag.

    114 chars

  9. Marcia said on April 5, 2007 at 8:55 am

    It’s a good thing Nancy doesn’t enforce topicality in her comments section, ’cause she’d have to throw my tired butt out of here.

    So. Here is the comment I just posted to Laura Lippman’s place about What The Dead Know.

    “It’s bad enough that I started this book last night at work and got about a third through, and now I really want to peek at the end before I go to bed, and I’m trying to stop myself, but now I also have to refrain from clicking on the link with the possible spoiler! I don’t have that much self-control!”

    The link was to a NYT review, apparently, but I’m not clicking.


    And I’m not peeking at the end. I swear.


    692 chars

  10. brian stouder said on April 5, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Marcia – word! Indeed, the great thing about nn.c is its Seinfeld-like ‘about nothing’ (or nothing specific, anyway) approach. Anyway, as you say – if there Madam Telling Tales had any rigidity in topic policing, I’d have gotten run right at the get-go

    Michael J – Bravo! If I could write like you, then I could write

    329 chars

  11. MarkH said on April 5, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Covered a lot of late-night ground there, Michael. Fascinating stuff, and as Brian said…

    I’m sure the Detroiters understand.

    I’ll leave all swift-boat comment to those who actually served, but if you think the negatives of John Kerry stop at being “wooden”, well…

    Enough. The ’04 election is history, after all.

    “Vengeance is MINE!!”, sayeth the democrats.

    372 chars

  12. Dave K. said on April 5, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    I can’t believe little brother Joe hasn’t popped in to take a shot at Kerry and stick up for “W”.
    Maybe the unresolved question of what the bankruptcy laws will allow Dana to do to our retiree’s health care and pensions has given him pause?

    241 chars

  13. Danny said on April 5, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Dave, Joe probably doesn’t want to beat a dead horse. And he may also feel the same way as most of us conservatives feel about W. He made his own bed.

    Michael, you’re post was Keroucian. But I also started humming “Anyone here seen my old friend Martin?”

    260 chars

  14. Linda said on April 6, 2007 at 4:20 am

    That was so good, I copied it for quoting at an appropriate later time. With attribution, of course. Especially the part of dealing with old grudges to handle contemporary ones.

    179 chars