ROGER EBERT LOOKS BACK on the early days of a career as a good ol’ fashioned newspaperman, and it’s right out of All the President’s Men or the Daily Planet — except with a bit more booze and a little heavy petting.
Here, he’s a wide-eyed kid in the company of a Pulitzer Prize-winner:
I sipped the brandy, and a warm place began to glow in my stomach. I had been in Chicago four months and I was sitting under the L tracks with Mike Royko in an eye-opener place. A Blackhawks game was playing on WGN radio. The team scored, and again, and again. This at last was life.
“The Blackhawks are really hot tonight,” I observed to Royko.
He studied me. “Where you from, kid? Downstate?”
“Urbana,” I said.
“Ever seen a hockey game?”
“That’s what I thought, you asshole. “Those are the game highlights.”
Another anecdote ends with free blow jobs. On the eve of the death of newspapers as we know it, the full, romanticized blog post is worth the read.
ONE DAY, YOU, LIKE ME, WILL DISCOVER TEDTALKS, and, just like me when I was you, you won’t know where to begin. If I were you, and you were me, I’d start with these:
Also available on Ye Olde iTunes.
THIS JUST OCCURRED TO ME ABOUT THE HULK — the military was probably right in trying to bring that crazy mofo into custody. I mean, that guy was out of control, a serious threat to public safety. Sure, he was misunderstood. But he was a giant, violent, angry green ball of misunderstanding that could smash buildings and swing tanks over his head. So, yeah, let’s get the guy some professional help so he can work out his issues — but for god’s sake, let’s get him that help under federal custody. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me when I was a kid. Or maybe it’s yet another sign of being old and fearful now.
A COUPLE OF OLD GUYS SUBDUE A CRAZY PASSENGER on a Northwest Airlines flight while all the young dudes on the plane basically acted like weenies and “averted their eyes” to avoid involvement in the coming confrontation. Both of the old guys who stepped up are retired badasses — one is a former police commander, the other is a former marine captain. The best part though is how the wife of one of the geezer’s reacted:
Hayden’s wife of 42 years, Katie, who was also on the flight, was less impressed. Even as her husband struggled with the agitated passenger, she barely looked up from “The Richest Man in Babylon,” the book she was reading.
“The woman sitting in front of us was very upset and asked me how I could just sit there reading,” Katie Hayden said. “Bob’s been shot at. He’s been stabbed. He’s taken knives away. He knows how to handle those situations. I figured he would go up there and step on somebody’s neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how that situation would end. I didn’t know how the book would end.”
Clearly, all the excitement is gone from this marriage. I mean, what’s a guy got to do to impress a lady these days?
FOR ANYONE GOING THROUGH A MID-LIFE CRISIS, this should make for some excellent reading. Ostensibly, it’s about inventing yourself and making a good impression. But for me, it’s about confusion and angst:
It is said that we are all three different people: the person we think we are (the one we have invented), the person other people think we are (the impression we make) and the person we think other people think we are (the one we fret about). You could say it would be a lifetime’s quest to reconcile this battling trinity into a seamless whole.
THIS ISN’T THE GOOD PART, or the best part. This is the sentimental part. There are much better, much funnier, much more inventive examples of his writing than this. No, this is the part that made me dog ear the page like a schoolboy who looks for life’s answers in a comic book (and who quickly learns to believe more in the solitude and alienation of the alter ego than in the grandeur of the super hero). It’s also the part that makes me question why I picked up the book in the first place. It had been on my Amazon wish list for more than year, but just the other day while I was wandering around Union Square, a strange compulsion got me to go into Barnes & Noble and buy it. Then I come across these words, and they seem to perfectly echo some thought I’ve had just under the skin these last few months. I don’t know if I would have even recognized their meaning if I had read them at some other time in my life. Not like I do right now, anyway. Is there some strange coincidence that governs when we read the things we read? It’s either very good writing that makes the words seem as if they were written just for you just at that moment. Or it is simply our own weakness for sentimentality, which I willingly display here as evidence of my own:
RUTH: You know, the sad thing . . . The sad thing isn’t that love comes to an end. Or that people go out of your life, or die. The really sad thing about the world is that you get over it.
– From “Ancient History” by David Ives
IRRATIONAL STANDARDS, from “The Art of Literature and Commonsense” by Vladimir Nabokov:
. . .[I]t is one thing to beam at one’s private universe in the snuggest nook of an unshelled and well-fed country and quite another to try and keep sane among crashing buildings in the roaring and whining night. But within the emphatically and unshakably illogical world which I am advertising as a home for the spirit, war gods are unreal not because they are conveniently remote in physical space from the reality of a reading lamp and the solidity of a fountain pen, but because I cannot imagine (and that is saying a good deal) such circumstances as might impinge upon the lovely and lovable world which quietly persists, whereas I can very well imagine that my fellow dreamers, thousands of whom roam the earth, keep to these same irrational and divine standards during the darkest and most dazzling hours of physical danger, pain, dust, death.
What exactly do these irrational standards mean? They mean the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole, of the little thing which a man observes and greets with a friendly nod of the spirit while the crowd around him is being driven by some common impulse to some common goal. I take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor’s child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy. I remember a cartoon depicting a chimney sweep falling from the roof of a tall building and noticing on the way that a sign-board had one word spelled wrong, and wondering in his headlong flight why nobody had thought of correcting it. In a sense, we all are crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an amoral Alice in Wonderland at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles – no matter the imminent peril – these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness, and it is in this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good.
LOVE’S PROMISE, from The Zig-Zag Woman by Steve Martin:
THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: You must miss her.
OLDER MAN: I do.
THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: How long has she been gone?
OLDER MAN: Twenty-three years. (Pause.) Divorced me, married an actor. In the beginning of something, its ending is foretold, and we met in an elevator going down. After she left, in my travels I would sit in hotel lobbies expecting her to appear, telling me what a mistake she’d made. I would land at airports, thinking that she got my flight number and would be waiting for me. When I went to a show, I would buy two tickets in case she had found out where I was and quietly joined me, nothing having to be said. I never figured out why she went away, but I did figure out this: love is a promise delivered already broken.
THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: I should go back in the box.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN BLAH? You really should try it sometime. It makes every other moment seem like a day at an amusement park with hot dogs and cotton candy and lines that move surprisingly fast for how long they are. (They must really have a system down.) Blah is like smog in your chest, an ice cube on your eyeball, a small poodle barking in the back of your brain. All. Day. Long. Blah is more fun than going to the dentist. But not by much. Blah is when you roll over and stare at the back of that other person’s head and think, “You? I’m still with you?” Blah is waking up in the morning and forgetting why. How did I get here? Is this as good as it gets? What’s that weird smell? Ah, blah. The best thing about it is that at the end of it all maybe someone will show up with ice cream. Just regular ol’ ice cream. Maybe not vanilla — something better than that. Maybe chocolate. Or pistacchio. Or pumpkin pie. And it will taste like the creamiest, tastiest, most scrumptious ice cream you’ve ever had in your entire life. That’s the good thing about blah. Ice cream tastes better. For no good reason at all, after the blah.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN LOVE? You really should try it sometime. It’s lots of fun. Much more fun than spinning around in circles until dizziness develops into nausea. More fun than jumping up and down on a bed like a maniac until you hit your head on the ceiling. More fun than seeing people trip on the sidewalk for no apparent reason and then watching as they turn back to inspect defects in the payment — as if it wasn’t just their own momentary absence of grace that caused them to nearly bite it in the first place. And much, much more fun than being sensible. When a person’s smile or frown can make you question the universe, well, you can’t beat that, can you? Go. Be in love. Believe. Be a fool. Thumb your nose at the world for being such a complicated, desperate place. Make strangers in the street think, “Oh god, have they no shame?” Be happy for no good reason at all. It will probably be worth it. (But, of course, I’m only guessing here.)