At last.

I’ve spent so much time on this blog complaining about other columnists, I should probably send a little love to the good ones. So indulge me:

Who are your favorite columnists, Nance?

There have been many over the years. I always liked Mike Harden, although he was sometimes uneven. (As are all columnists.) Carl Hiaasen had some gems, but was mostly Florida-centric, and so the bulk of his newspaper work was lost on me. Dave Barry, of course, but only in the early, funny ones. (That’s a joke.) Gene Weingarten. But through it all there was one guy I read religiously. His weekly column moved on the wire on Mondays, and I would actually wait for it, start checking around the time it usually moved, be sad if it wasn’t on time.

Pete Dexter.

Dexter is sort of famous in journalism circles. He wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News when that paper was unique among American newspapers, a tabloid with a real sense of humor about itself, and I guess he wrote your typical big-city newspaper column. Then he fell in with Randall “Tex” Cobb, whom most of you know as the evil biker in “Raising Arizona,” and the two of them got into a pretty serious bar fight. As Wikipedia tells the tale [citation needed]:

(Dexter) began writing fiction after a life-changing 1981 incident in which thirty drunken Philadelphians, armed with baseball bats and upset by a recent column, beat the writer severely.

Now that’s what you call reader feedback.

Anyway, Dexter spent a lot of time in the hospital, and then recovering at home, and somewhere along the line he relocated to Sacramento and then to Seattle, and there were novels and screenplays and a National Book Award, and this is about the time I started reading him. I think the first piece was in the mid-’80s, for Playboy, about a guy at the Philadelphia Inquirer who rebelled against being screwed over by management. He did so by erecting a puppet theater on his desk, and every so often a new puppet would appear that bore a strong resemblance to a top editor at the Inquirer. He arranged them in tableaux; my favorite was one where all the puppets knelt before the editor puppet. The Inquirer was, of course, a Knight-Ridder paper, and I was at another K-R property, one where the BS skills were quite as well-honed as they were in Philly, but I recognized it the way I do my own bedroom. It was a perfectly told story of life in a certain sort of newsroom at a certain sort of time, and I fell in love.

Anyway, over the years, Dexter wrote some of my favorite columns ever, but the best of them all was about Mike Tyson after one of the Holyfield losses, a grand tale of tragedy rendered in 650 words or so, and I’ve been waiting years to see it anthologized. Just the other day I learned that Dexter’s had an anthology out for a solid year and a half, and boy do I feel dumb. So I rush down to the library and get a copy, only to flip it open and discover there’s no table of contents, no index, no division by (or even acknowledgment of) publication, no nothing. The first column is 1 and the last one is 82, and if I’m going to find Mike Tyson, I’m going to have to start at the beginning and read right through to the end, and…

…OK. I’m starting to see the reasoning here.

But I have a bad feeling. I have flipped and flipped and flipped through “Paper Trails,” and Tyson’s name hasn’t jumped out at me. Neither has the word “puppet.”

A few years ago, I went into the Sacramento Bee archive (Dexter’s home base at the time) and bought the Tyson column, and ran it here on the blog, a total copyright violation, for which I received the following angry response from the paper’s lawyers: Silence. No one reads this blog.

But I noticed something. I had that column printed out and pinned to a wall in my cubicle at work, and whenever I felt in need of inspiration I’d take it like a vitamin, so after a while I got to know its phrasing pretty well. And when I saw the SacBee version, something was different. He’d described the people who flocked around Tyson after his success as “pimps, whores and gangsters,” a phrase some helpful editor recast as “men.” But remember: It’s the internet that’s killing newspapers.

[Long pause.]

OK, this is going to bug me all day. I just went into my hard-copy archives — the CD-ROM backups I did of this site back before it was a blog — and found the file on the first try. Here was the edited phrase:

By the time he went away, Tyson had replaced D’Amato, Jacobs and Rooney with an assembly of men who are there to this day and will be there as long as the smell of money is in the air.

That’s a real copy-editor’s trim, that. You can sit with one all day and explain how “D’Amato, Jacobs and Rooney” and “pimps, whores and gangsters” are parallel phrases, that they match rhythmically, that making this change is like playing “shave and a haircut” and then “fifteen dollars and forty-three cents, plus applicable taxes.” They don’t hear it. All they hear is some supervising editor dressing them down because an old lady called and is canceling her subscription after needing her smelling salts. Also, one of the pimps, whores or gangsters might sue.

Rant over.

Anyway, this is what I’ll be reading on the plane.


Things I just learned: Coozledad has a blog! (Suggestion: Disable the SnapShots preview. Irritating.)

However, I think we have a job for Coozledad’s bull: U.S. exports cigarettes, bras, bull semen to Iran. I had a neighbor in Fort Wayne who bought bull semen, to inseminate his herd of comely Black Angus heifers. It arrived in straws frozen in liquid nitrogen, sometimes transported by a pretty vet student from MSU, and if you’re thinking that’s the setup for a dirty movie, why shame on you.

I’ve lived so long, I remember how Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen met. (She sent a nude photo of herself to his hotel room. How romantic.) So I guess it’s not surprising she would have a boob job on live national television. In Germany. During prime time. I guess they don’t have HBO there yet.

Off to do paying work. Enjoy your lovely summer day, if you have one.

Posted at 10:46 am in Current events, Media |

25 responses to “At last.”

  1. coozledad said on July 9, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Thanks again Nancy: Snapshots is now disabled.
    I still miss Spy magazine. They were so good at giving Sly and “The Donald ” the hell they so richly deserved.

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  2. Stephanie said on July 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Pete Dexter…the name sounds familiar. I’m going to Google him / check out his anthology. Recommendation from Nancy = I’m off to Barnes and Noble.

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  3. Connie said on July 9, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Hard to enjoy that lovely summer day when I can only see it out my office window, where I am trying to put together the 2009 budgets without any 2008 approved numbers yet. Repeat after myself: The sun will still be shining and you can go swimming after work.

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  4. derwood said on July 9, 2008 at 11:38 am

    I have a bull semen story.

    Don’t be scared.

    My neighbors got a divorce 5 years ago and their kid was 1 at the time. She moved out. Whenever she would come pick the kid up, the dad (who is a total ass) would make this huge production of saying goodbye to the boy. The most irrittating thing he did was kiss the back window(multiple times) of her car. The kid was in the car seat in the back. She asked him several times not to smear her window by kissing it. That just made him want to do it even more.

    She told me several months later that he stopped. She bought bull semen and smeared it all over the back window right before going to pick the kid up. It took about 3 times and he stiopped kissing the window.

    We cracked up.

    Okay, back to the regular commenting.


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  5. MichaelG said on July 9, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I also used to like Dexter. I still remember his last column in the Bee back in the mid 90’s wherein he basically signed off with a ‘screw you’. I wish he’d start writing again. I still miss Herb Caen from the Chron. The Chron has always had excellent columnists and still does today from the great Jon Carroll to the best sports columnist in the biz, Bruce Jenkins. You’ve got a new regular, C’dad.

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  6. Jen said on July 9, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I write a movie review every week for the newspaper where I work, and I have made at least one subscriber (a little old lady) call up and complain (I think she canceled her subscription, too). She was apparently pissed because I gave “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” a positive review, even though it has a couple of shots of a guy’s penis in it. I thought I was very good in using euphemisms like “naughty bits” and “the main character’s ‘co-star'” instead of just using the correct terminology. That really would have disturbed her delicate sensibilities.

    I also believe I was not allowed to use the word “butt” in one of my reviews. My editor suggested “hindquarters,” which I thought was about the stodgiest word I’d ever heard for “butt.” I think I grudgingly settled on “bottom” or “behind.”

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  7. Julie Robinson said on July 9, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Coozledad, I loved your bull story. When I was young, my grandparents still had a bull in residence at their dairy farm, and he was the scariest thing there. Of course that also meant we were fascinated by him, and the concept that he was fed and cared for all year long, when he only worked for a few minutes, a few times a year. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a dream job for most males?

    It’s great that you’re trying to reclaim a more retro farm life. Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver? Her family tried to “eat local” for a whole year. She’s also into heirloom seeds and animals. Her account of raising turkeys who had no idea how to mate is hilarious.

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  8. Sue said on July 9, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Yay for Coozledad! Another literate blog, even when the subject is bull.
    I remember reading, when Mike Royko died, that he was honestly puzzled that one of his columns had brought on serious, marching-in-the-street protests from Hispanic women. He was writing as he always had, but the politically correct world had caught up with him. I still find myself wondering, as various things happen (such as the Bartman debacle, the continuing Blagojevich saga and Palatine’s threat of secession from Cook County), what Mike would have written about them. No one yet has taken his place in my heart.
    And I will always miss Molly Ivins.

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  9. nancy said on July 9, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Where bulls go to work.

    We toured this place when the National Society of Newspaper Columnists met in Columbus a few years ago. I think the organizers thought we’d all get a column out of it, but the lady who showed us around got a little pissed at all the giggling. Like they hear anything else in a place where bulls are jacked off for money.

    (Note their euphemism for semen: “genetics.”)

    I will say this: I have never seen large animals housed in a cleaner environment. You probably could, literally, eat off the floor. Certainly manure never made it that far; I think it was just atomized by lasers as it left the bulls’ butts.

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  10. beb said on July 9, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I’m puzzled why Brigitte Nielsen is having a boob job – now, since she obviously had one years ago before she became famous. All I remember of her was these huge unnatural looking spheres on her chest that looked nothing like boobs. So what is she having done to them? It is time to change the oil in them?

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  11. nancy said on July 9, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Do I have to do everything for you people? From the link:

    The viewer is spared no excruciating detail: fat is vacuumed from her thighs, her eyes are Botoxed and those famous upper-assets – she calls the left one Titsi and the other one Tatsi – are being drained of their silicon to bring her down to more manageable proportions.

    Titsi and Tatsi are being tightened.

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  12. Sue said on July 9, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    When ladies have the boob jobs that give them the “huge unnatural looking spheres” that beb mentions, I always refer to the finished product as “Tupperware Boobs”, because it always looks to me like they upended a couple of tupperware bowls on their chest. I’ve worked with plastic surgeons in the past; the best ones won’t take a patient who demands bigger boobs than her chest can handle. The ones who do the tupperware boob jobs are just in it for the bucks (sorry, sweeping generalization there, but still…).

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  13. Kirk said on July 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Not to change the subject, but I just read on the wire about a guy who runs the state standards lab in the N.C. Department of Agriculture. He told his staff to ignore the governor’s order to lower flags to half-staff in memory of Jesse Helms. The higher-ups told him he’d better follow orders or hit the road. He told them to get screwed and quit after 29 years with the state.

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  14. Peter said on July 9, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Kirk, I just saw that too. My hat’s off to that guy.

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  15. Kirk said on July 9, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Indeed. I’d buy that guy a beer.

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  16. MichaelG said on July 9, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    When my daughter was in high school she did a ride around with a local vet. This was a school approved deal. Our then vet (still my ex’s) does both large and small animals and they have a half dozen service trucks that travel to farms and ranches. She thought it was cool until the vet was armpit deep in a cow. It squicked her out and she dropped being a vet from her list of career possibles. As an aside, their large animal facility is said to rival that at UC Davis. They have all these cranes, slings, turntables and a host of other medieval looking stuff. The place was spotless.

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  17. coozledad said on July 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I have to confess to some nagging questions that often keep me awake. Do they market those electronic ejaculation systems to the public? Is there a suitcase model? And where might a farmer purchase one?

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  18. LAMary said on July 9, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Speaking of artificial stuff, I’m sitting her listening to two of my colleagues having a serious discussion of the outcome of The Bachelorette.

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  19. LAMary said on July 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    It’s been going on now for forty minutes. I just heard the line, “What is he going to do to support her when he can be a snowboarder anymore?” Just shoot me.

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  20. nancy said on July 9, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Well, I’m glad you’re writing this stuff down, nonetheless.

    I once had a dental hygienist who would stop in the middle of cleanings to make remarks about Cher’s love life. (This back when Cher had a love life.) Just when you thought teeth-cleanings couldn’t be worse.

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  21. LAMary said on July 9, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I knew my lunch hour was too good to be true. I had an appointment in the postpartum unit right before lunch, and a grateful grandparent had ordered huge trays of great Italian deli sandwiches for the staff. They gave me a few for lunch (free food! and it’s good food!) so I stayed in my cubicle to read news online and enjoy the bounty, and then this discussion started. The last line I heard was, “he makes good money snowboarding. Sponsorship is great. That watch he had on must be worth 50 thousand dollars.”

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  22. joodyb said on July 9, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    my dad took me to that place when i was 5, nancy. he was cross-breeding Holsteins in the 60s. i still have flashbacks. hand to god.

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  23. basset said on July 9, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Coozledad, I suppose you could Google “bovine” and “sybian,” but I’m afraid to…

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  24. harrison said on July 10, 2008 at 5:56 am

    nance, you said, and i quote/copy/paste:

    there were novels and screenplays and a National Book Award, and this is about the time I started reading him. I think the first piece was in the mid-’80s, for Playboy

    so you read playboy — but only for the articles.

    and i believe you — unlike any guy who says that.

    as for newspaper middle management — hell, all middle management is a plague!

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  25. harrison said on July 10, 2008 at 6:06 am


    i googled a hunch i had and i was right: pete dexter wrote the novel paris trout, which i read years ago and enjoyed. i recommend it.

    I also recommend the movie made from it, featuring barbara hershey, ed harris, and dennis hopper, and directed by the father of maggie and jake gyllenthal — i forgot his first name and i hoped i spelled his last name correctly.

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