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.
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 :
(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.
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.
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.