In humanity’s rankings, most of us live as pilot fish, doomed to fearfully follow a shark in its wake, hopeful that we will perhaps catch a crumb from its terrible meal. And so it was that I once snatched a scrap from the jaws of the great writers of The New Yorker. Here is my first piece for the magazine, reproduced in its entirety:
From an article about Randy Newman in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle:
“If you wanted salacious details on Newman, you probably came into this already knowing that he tells women to leave their hats on when he’s having sex. He’ll do that in front of the entire Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Twice, in fact, once Friday and once Saturday on the stage of the Eastman Theatre.”
My words were followed by one of The New Yorkers’ famed, dry rejoinders:
Anything for the Philharmonic.
I’ve written dozens of such well-crafted paragraphs during a professional, high-paying journalism career that began in 1979 as a sportswriter. So yes, I’ve seen Pete Rose naked. But for the last dozen years, I’ve been a professional, highly paid music critic. I shook Johnny Cash’s hand, and did a shot of whiskey with Bo Diddley. And I’ve descended to the lower levels of celebrity: Interviews with Oliver Stone, Gennifer Flowers and the porn star Traci Lords. None of whom I’ve seen naked.
OK, except Traci Lords. But that was research.
Admittedly, The New Yorker doesn’t pay much for these items, light-hearted little fillers at the end of a story, which it calls “newsbreaks.” In fact, I stopped skipping to the mail box each day, eagerly anticipating my check, some six months ago. Apparently, The New Yorker doesn’t pay at all for newsbreaks. That’s OK. The adulation of my co-workers was enough. In my Randy Newman double-entendre, I felt I had created a career epitaph worthy of other great writers who appear in The New Yorker. I need only to recall the words on James Thurber’s headstone: “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough.”
Unless your aim is to portray me as some kind of grammar-addled bumpkin. And here, I must plead guilty with pleasure.
Pleasure, because when the mailman brings my latest copy of The New Yorker up the half-mile long, mud-rutted road, past the three German shepherds chained to a bullet-riddled washing machine with the rusting car fender that serves as their water dish, just out of their reach, up to the abandoned school bus where I live with my mouthful of eight teeth, to be greeted by my wife, or sister, or whatever the hell she is, proud that she can still almost – almost! – fit into the same lilac polyester pants that she wore when she left vocational school with a near-degree in diesel repair some 20 years ago, I immediately tear through the pages in search of that week’s newsbreak.
They are difficult to find, and I root them out like truffles. Sometimes, there isn’t one at all: I stare at The New Yorker in disbelief, like a golden retriever who’s lost his tennis ball beneath a parked car.
One of my favorites:
Faux Pas of the Week:
From the Dallas Morning News.
“In Wednesday’s Metro section, Norma Adams-Wade’s column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.”
Norma! Would you call Rush Limbaugh a conservative radio commentator? No, he is a Big Fat Idiot. I read that somewhere.
So I’m happy to be a part of such a literary tradition. Have the newsbreaks been collected yet in a massive, coffee-table sized book, like the dog cartoons? Late at night, with my feet propped up on a dusty stack of unread Vanity Fairs, I wonder if there is an actual editor in charge of assembling the newsbreaks. So I called The New Yorker’s office. A nice fellow named Jeremy in the editorial department answered, and he assured me that yes, there is such a position at The New Yorker. I left a message for the Newsbreaks Editor to call. Then another message. Then another. Oh well….
Perhaps I seemed too eager, pried too much. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked if the Newsbreaks Editor has a wife and family. Where he lived. What kind of car he drives. If he has any pets. If he is a man of habit, who walks out to his mailbox at the same time every day.
Maybe he’s just very busy, sifting through hundreds of hometown papers in search of the perfect gaff. The guy maybe needs a break. I can help. Here are some that I’ve written, most used only once:
From a review of a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle:
The Peppers have been underestimated for years. It’s not easy keeping a strategically placed tube sock on while playing guitar. And believe me, it’s not easy writing a review of a Chili Peppers show while wearing one of those things, either.
From a story about the 1999 Woodstock festival:
Women flashed their breasts at Tibetan monks, perhaps sensing that even the enlightened need a little luvin’. Incidentally, once you’ve seen 125,680 female breasts, you’ve seen them all.
From a review of a LaToya Jackson concert:
On the question of which is the less-painful experience – having all of your wisdom teeth yanked from your mouth or a performance by LaToya Jackson – I’ll take the dentist after having undergone both procedures on Friday.
From a review of a Justin Timberlake concert:
You could say Timberlake is a white Michael Jackson, if Jackson hadn’t already beaten him to it.
From a review of a Shania Twain concert:
Shania Twain is the greatest entertainer of the century.
To which I supplied my own famed, dry rejoinder, which I will throw in at no cost:
Of course, we’re not quite three years into this thing, so let’s see how the remaining 97 play out.