Solitary man.

Last day before vacation, and it’s already filled with duties and errands. So not much today but a bit of attention that must be paid:

My ex-colleague William Carlton, arts writer for The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, died unexpectedly earlier this week. The story going around is that he called 911 in the middle of the night, and by the time the medics arrived he was unresponsive. Bill had a history of heart problems and lived alone, as befits the odd duck he was.

How odd? Well, let me tell you who Bill’s previous employer was, before joining the N-S when I did, in the large Class of ’84: The New York Daily News. That paper was already struggling then, and offered buyouts to reduce staff, and Bill took one. Why he was crazy enough to come to the opposite end of the earth from New York City remains a mystery to me, although I asked him several times, and got explanations that all boiled down to a shrug: Why not? He brought a lot to the newsroom — a certain tabloid, rat-a-tat-tat prose style full of puns and wordplay; a gruff personality that could still sparkle, usually when the topic was ribald; and a wide and deep knowledge of the arts that revealed itself in both his work and in his casual newsroom conversation. It was always a pleasure to talk to him and be surprised by his knowledge — he once explained to me why opera singers are the greatest musicians and the truest artists on stage today, and did it so concisely and expertly that I still believe it.

Not that he was a snob. He had an abiding love for boxing, and could explain the ballet of a heavyweight fight with equal authority. I once asked him how George Foreman or Buster Douglas or some unlikely victor had done it, and he pointed to a spot on his chin and said, “See this? There’s a button right here. If you look very closely, it says, ‘The Puncher’s Chance’ on it. Hit the button just right, and goodnight Irene.”

The paper asked Alan and I me for memories of Bill, but mostly they’re, um, unsuitable for a family newspaper. I remember when a local bail bondsman who owned a few massage parlors was on trial for pandering, and Bill, an unapologetic customer of one of them, explained to a rapt metro staff how the front-room procedure worked. (“But forget Friday nights. The high school football teams tie everything up.”) I remember his story about going out drinking with the Daily News staff after work, and the obscene Algonquin Round Table banter: A drunken photographer sat down opposite a crusty old national correspondent, a woman, and said, “Barbara? I want to eat your pussy.” Barbara took a world-weary drag of her cigarette and said, “Jesus. Doesn’t anyone just like to fuck anymore?”

Alan told them about the time a penguin at the zoo unleashed a torrent of digested smelt all over his brand-new Banana Republic khakis and Bill expensed them. That’ll probably make the paper.

When the turmoil at the paper started, the real downsizing, Bill stuck around to see what the new editor was about. He took her measure accurately in about five minutes, and decided to retire. I don’t know if he ever looked back. I got an occasional e-mail from him, and like so many people you spend eight hours a day with one day and zero the next, more or less disappeared.

Wherever he is now, I hope there’s a good title fight on pay-per-view and and opera across the street. Bill appreciated the whole spectrum. I guess that’s the point.

Posted at 8:49 am in Media |

28 responses to “Solitary man.”

  1. a c jones said on July 11, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Ok, the whole spectrum is the point. You’re a writer, though, and minor details like “the paper asked Alan and I for memories…” make for spoil spots on the spectrum.

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  2. coozledad said on July 11, 2008 at 9:34 am

    That exchange ought to be in any remake they do of “The Thin Man”. You’ve made me miss working in a bar.

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  3. lou gravity said on July 11, 2008 at 9:44 am

    “Alan and I?”

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  4. Dorothy said on July 11, 2008 at 10:36 am

    That story telling made me smile, Nancy. I need smiles today. The deal on our house might be falling apart and I’m trying not to fall apart myself. After 13 months we thought we had a good thing, but it might not be.

    We’re heading to Pittsburgh for a wedding tomorrow, and Kennywood the next day. Here’s hoping we’ll have good news sometime today to increase our happy quotient.

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  5. Lance Mannion said on July 11, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Oh, damn. I’m sorry to hear this.

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  6. Adrianne said on July 11, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I’m really sorry to hear about Bill’s death. He was one of those newspaper characters who are just enjoyable to be around. And I enjoyed his New York tab sensibility.

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  7. nancy said on July 11, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Usage error fixed, as well as a few other things. Thanks to all my editers.

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  8. alex said on July 11, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Ah, the old bail bondsman. I know the one. Outlaw Biker. First cousin of a federal judge who was raised in the same household as a sibling. Virtually impossible to serve with court papers in civil legal matters, or to attach to his considerable but well concealed assets, as I have found in my work.

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  9. Julie Robinson said on July 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    The NS is certainly not featuring info about William Carlton on their website; even a search on his name gives no matches. Kinda sad, but then what isn’t sad about the NS these days?

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  10. Hattie said on July 11, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    The use of “I” in the objective case is so common that it could be considered standard usage.
    So said one of my professors in a linguistics class.

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  11. Howie said on July 11, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    editers … too funny, Nancy!

    It’s a slow bloggage day, but since I’m posting and I previously asked advice here, my whirlwind NYC trip a couple weeks ago went great. We stayed in Newark, and took the NJ Transit train into the city each day. We traveled with my friend’s 7 year old son, so it was 2 days in NYC on a child’s agenda: FAO Schwartz, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Statue of Liberty, Yankees game, and always back to the hotel by 8 PM.

    I liked the city, but is was a sampling, and I will like it better the next time I go, because I can build on the experience.

    I’ve yet to post this exchange on Overheard in NY, but here was the best thing I overheard, on NJ Transit.

    20-something Princess (loudly on cell): He said hello to Courtney and he said hello to Kendra, but he totally ignored me all night…

    No-nonsense Ticket Matron (quietly): Please keep your voice down

    20-something Princess (sarcastically quiet on cell, after making a bitch-face): I’m sorry, I have to talk softer, I was just told so by a very rude person. It’s terrible to have to deal with somebody who obviously hates their job so much. It’s not like I don’t pay $400 to ride this train.

    No-nonsense Ticket Matron (3 rows away, matter-of-factly): That doesnt mean we have to listen to all your personal business.

    It was probably funnier in person, because the humor was in the tone of voice.

    Have a great weekend everyone!

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  12. alex said on July 11, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Joan Didion on the nightstand! Yay!

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  13. Christine said on July 11, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Very nicely done, Nancy. It’s been at least 20 years since I worked with him, but your description and anecdotes brought him back to me. Ask Alan about the kitty box story.

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  14. Sue said on July 11, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Nancy’s either testing us or she’s really, really ready for a vacation.

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  15. John Bordsen said on July 11, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    N2 — Got your e-mail, went to your site, read the sad news.
    Yes, Carlton was quite a character; I was assistant features editor at the News-Sentinel when he was hired. A couple stray musings:
    * The job application required two references. He put down Frank Sinatra… and his mother. (Turned out he had done some glowing account of one of them for his NY paper).
    * His copy always came in at the right length, but occasionally with a glaring error. When asked about this, he usually said he was used to having a “rewrite man” cover his back.
    * Funniest Carlton recollection? News editor Steve Grimmer, a master of vocal disguise, noticed the previous day’s paper had a scathing Carlton review of an Andy Williams concert. A wheelbarrow of invective, nothing more.
    Grimmer, maybe 20 feet away at the copy desk, called Carlton and — in a mincing faux-gay accent — verbally gave Carlton what-for… saying anything/everything calculated to hit Bill Carlton’s hot buttons, while remaining cool and collected the whole time. In minutes, he had Carlton screaming into the receiver. And Carlton had quite a temper.
    After Carlton eventually slammed down the receiver, Grimmer wandered over to features, where Carlton was still trully pissed off.
    Grimmer, in the voice of the would-be reader, simply said, “Now, Bill. About Andy Williams…”
    And Carlton simply burst out laughing.

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  16. joodyb said on July 11, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Oh god, Kennywood. Do you have to? I can’t imagine what it looks like today.
    Do they still have Eat’n Parks? I will always love PGH.
    I’m thinking good thoughts, Dorothy.

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  17. LAMary said on July 11, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Free ice cream in the conference center today. It’s only there until five so hurry if you want some.

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  18. coozledad said on July 11, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Woefully off topic, but with this handy device, I’ve discovered that the anagram for Senator Phil Gramm is “Maternal Hog Prism”. I hope I spelled his name right.
    (Hat tip: Anthony S. from Reciprocal Crap Exchange)

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  19. LAMary said on July 11, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Coozledad, the woman who sits behind me has a name that generates “Camellia Swirl.” Best anagram name I’ve seen.

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  20. moe99 said on July 11, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Horribly OT, but just had to share. A fellow soprano from church has a cousin who has composed and directed a symphony of Grateful Dead music with the Russian National Orchestra. Those who might be interested, can listen to snippets here:

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  21. coozledad said on July 11, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    LA Mary: Sounds like a Roald Dahl or Thomas Pynchon name. It doesn’t have the lewd suggestiveness of Ian Fleming. We actually named of our milking ewes “Pussy Galore”, but after awhile, we began to find it was not only a problem during vet visits, but a pretty unwieldy name to begin with. It’s been shortened to Peegee.
    Fatima Blush still works, however.

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  22. basset said on July 11, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    >>Why he was crazy enough to come to the opposite end of the earth from New York City remains a mystery to me

    well, OBVIOUSLY there must have been something seriously wrong with him, or maybe he just wasn’t that good. there is no valid reason why ANYONE who could work in The Only City That Matters would voluntarily go anywhere else, right?

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  23. Dexter said on July 11, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Ivan Lebamoff was defeated by Bob Armstrong and became mayor of Fort Wayne in 1975.
    I don’t really know much about local policies before Armstrong, but during Armstrong’s term, until 1979, Fort Wayne was a crazy place . Maybe it all started under Lebamoff’s watch, I don’t know, but the vice was unchecked. I heard enough from my work-buddies …for one case, the Godfather Club…guys would be dared to perform oral sex on the dancers and the dancers would comply…I don’t know what else went on, except I heard many stories of guys flashing the dancers with no repercussions. I mention this because I did happen to be in The Cats Meow club downtown in the Fall of 1974 when some dancers from The She Club came in and during a break between band sets these two girls played the juke box and shed all clothing …totlally nude…and danced around on the edge of the stage, but within three minutes cops came in and busted them for indecency…so I believe most of the XXX stuff went on under Armstrong’s leadership.
    One of the two papers did a special on the massage parlors, fer chrissakes!!
    They named the addresses…amazing! One line from the story read something like ‘ …if those walls could talk, the stories they could tell…’ Jeezuss! How trite! I seem to remember they were all over town, from North Clinton to Waynedale. I thought the mayor that followed Armstrong cleaned all that shit up, but if Nancy didn’t even start at the NS until 1984…guess not.
    Oh well. Of course the stories were abundant, as the guys told of their weekends…one simple motherfucker came in with a token for a “round the world”, courtesy of some parlor’s management…he showed it to us guys asking what it meant. “Pack your bags, youngun,” I told him.
    “You’re going on a trip!”

    But the story that lasted as bar gossip for twenty years involved an older employee, a man who was addicted to the whores at the parlors. He got the clap and gave it to his wife.

    She made him buy her a new car and then all was hunky-dory.

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  24. LA Mary said on July 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    My name, with middle initial, makes Sleepy Bathroom, and the in house Brit is Dr. Vidal Cute. Oldest son is So mop a hotel.

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  25. brian stouder said on July 12, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    OK Mary – when I finsihed chuckling about mopping a hotel or visiting a sleepy bathroom (which, come to think of it, would be preferable to an insomniac bathroom!), I visited coozledad’s anagram site and typed in my name – and got

    broadest ruin

    Debonair Rust (title of my musical project with Neil Young, no doubt)

    Airborne Stud (hahahahaha!)

    Brain Detours (title of my autobiography)

    Brains Routed (ain’t it the truth!)

    Barrio Nudest (gotta see the senioritas)

    Urban Steroid

    Ordinate Rubs (no such thing as INordinate!)

    Roasted Bruin

    Adorn Bustier (Yeah!)

    Bad Nurse Trio (now THERE’S a movie I’d watch!)

    …and this was only the top half of the first page!! (the first 1000 results, of a total of 57,156!!!) One shudders to think what else is buried in there!!

    So now – we all must go and anagram our names, and report back here!

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  26. brian stouder said on July 12, 2008 at 5:51 pm


    I typed in Nancy Nall, and got exactly one response:

    Call Nanny


    My best laugh of the day!!!

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  27. Andrew Jarosh said on July 13, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Bill is remembered as someone who could write about classical music, talk about why Peter Frampton was underrated as a musician and critique a championship boxing match between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard.
    He would have been a great promoter, like the time he said a boxing match with a fighter from Ghana should be billed, “The Ghana’s a goner.”
    And speaking of boxing, I can’t remember a closed circuit pay-per-view match we didn’t attend, whether it was at the Scottish Rite or Wrigley Field.
    He did a great imitation of Michael Bolton, mimicking Bolton singing and then talking in the same dramatic, histrionic pitch he was known for in his popular music.
    He loved New York City and the Jewish deli clerks making corned beef on rye sandwiches with greasy hands and with big cigars sticking from their mouths.
    He wore a hat and doused himself with sunscreen not to burn, but it didn’t deter him from riding the Beast at King’s Island or the Magnum at Cedar Point. He loved roller coasters.
    The more he spoke, the slower he drove. When he was on a roll, his Volkswagen would crawl 40 mph on the interstate leading to Cincinnati and King’s Island.
    He always bought me vending machine coffee in the downstairs cafeteria, never ceased to make me laugh with his mannerisms, always impressed me with his knowledge and made me comfortable with his warmth.
    And finally, the stories about the wannabe porn star women he would befriend in NYC, and his encyclopedic knowledge of porn movies from the 70s and 80s.
    He is missed.

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  28. caliban said on July 13, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    There once was a guy called William Carlton Orto.. He loved beer. He made beer and he loved beer, and he could wax eloquent. He knew about hops etc. He also knew more about music than anybody that ever lived. Actual music. Like why I Cover the Waterfront was John Lee’s fines hour, and Koko Taylor’s apotheosis. That would be talking about Raxor-totin’ Kim on Wang-Dang-Doodle. Ort loved some gitl that loved tje Wwatern Movies

    Legend has it he excised his own balls with a rusty pair of scissors in a church. Maybe so. One odd fellow. My friend. Detroit msic? It’s not all Nog Sehrt. It’s MC6 and the Rationals, amd SRC. Wish you’d been there for the Holden Agee, Nancy.

    I saw Procul at the Birmingham Teen Center. They played Devil Came From Kansas. Don’t beg for silver paper, when I’m trying o sell ypu cheap. I’m not sure what that means,, but if you listen to the astounding guitar, I guess Ort knew.

    Procul played awesome shows in Detroit. They played Salty Dawg at the Teen Center in Birmingham when nobody had ever heard it. My brother’s best friend, Danny Harteau was a keyboard match for
    Gary Brooker amd Matthew Fisher.

    Who’s tp say?

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