I’ve been aware of Salena Zito’s columns for a while now. The Pennsylvania-based writer, previously a nobody, rocketed to stardom after her work in 2016, where she essentially predicted Trump’s election, and came up with the “literally, not seriously / seriously, not literally” line that was quoted so often in the shellshocked days afterward.
I didn’t read many of them, though. I leave that to people like Roy, who carries the duty through life like Jesus’ cross. Someone has to do it; I’m glad it’s him.
Others have pointed out the gaping holes in her work – the jes’ folks sources, salt-of-the-earth Real Americans who turn out to be GOP county officials; the oddly well-constructed and perfect quotes that she just happens to overhear at gas station mini-marts; and so on.
The Detroit News has been carrying her work, and by Thursday, when she most often runs, my week has begun to slow down and I can savor every word. By the time I get to this kicker, the italic line at the end of most columns, I’m usually testy, and this doesn’t help:
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.
I read the one that ran today. It’s about minor-league baseball, because of course it is: It’s the sport most beloved by Everyman and Everywoman. Zito wore some leather off her shoes and took herself out to the ballgame, where she wrote this memorable scene-setter:
Altoona, Pennsylvania — As the scent of fresh-cut grass delicately fills the air, so do the aromas of hot dogs and hamburgers coming from the grill on the lower deck. Just past right field, there is an amusement park where you can hear the slow clink, clink, clink of the roller coaster as the carriage climbs its ancient wood scaffoldings. The kitschy music found at any ballpark in America echoes throughout.
The pitcher has taken the mound; the catcher is crouched in position; and an eternity passes as glances and signs are exchanged. The pitcher winds up, stretching his left hand behind his back. The ball sails toward home at a smidge over 90 mph, and POP! It lands in the weathered glove of the catcher.
POP! The clichés have really loaded the bases here, haven’t they? The scent of fresh-cut grass, hot dogs and hamburgers. Oh, and you say there’s an amusement park nearby? And can’t forget the sound a pitch makes in the “weathered” glove of the catcher, which in my world is called a mitt, but OK whatever.
I used to tell writing students: Tell me what you see, but learn the difference between meaningless and meaningful detail. If you’re describing something we’ve all seen, strive to describe it in fresh vocabulary. The sights and sounds of the modest, minor-league ballpark are pretty familiar in Zito country; think of something to notice besides the way the grass and hot dogs smell.
But what do I know? Nobody’s asking to put me on CNN.
This passage, describing the people watching from outside the fence, just chapped my ass:
Today, despite the relentless sun and heat, locals steal a peek of the taxi team from the fences located hundreds of yards away, along the parking lots or near the amusement park.
They say they are here just to hear the crack of the bat, or to follow the signals, or to see the game they love, or maybe even to catch a ball knocked out of the park.
I’ll bet my next 50-percent-smaller paycheck that there is no way in goddamn hell she hoofed it out to the cheapest seats to talk to any of those people. True, “they say” is pretty ambiguous in that she doesn’t quote anyone directly, or use quote marks, but if a normal Altoonan said they were there to
“hear the crack of a bat” (and aren’t they all aluminum these days?) or ** “see the game I love,” I don’t know Everyman and Everywoman the way Salena Zito does.
Finally, any column about minor-league ball in Pennsylvania that doesn’t shout out Jim Brockmire? I have no use for.
Then there’s Gary Abernathy, the other Luckiest Man in Journalism, whose podunk newspaper’s endorsement of Trump in 2016 won him a contributor’s seat in the Washington goddamn Post, tries his Everyman best to sneer at the Lincoln Project, and ends with this amazing paragraph:
Among Never Trumpers are consultants, officials and pundits who have long been at the center of the Republican world, respected by conservatives who shared their vision and worked to achieve their common goals. But many of them were always somewhat misled, mistaking respect for love. They tell themselves now that Trump has corrupted the GOP. In fact, the GOP has long been the party it is today, just waiting for Trump to come along. That’s the hardest truth of all for the Never Trumpers to accept.
I’m out at the tail end of an amazingly stressful week. I’ll debrief you all on the election here – an 18-hour day for yours truly, but a rewarding one – after the weekend. In the meantime, I will ask you: Note that the Republicans are not hesitating to use an unmedicated manic-depressive as a weapon against Joe Biden.
It’s only August! I can’t wait for the October surprise.
** Smarter sports fans have informed me pros don’t use aluminum bats. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.