The Three Taboos of Newspapering
OK, here’s the deal this cold Sunday morning. Basically, I got nothin’.
You might want to catch another hour of sleep before church or that walk around the reservoir.
That’s because on Friday I had a really fine column all polished up and ready to go when I discovered it would be far better suited for next Sunday.
For reasons I shan’t divulge, it will appear next week.
That’s what they call a “teaser” in the media trade. Tune in next Sunday and you’ll read something really swell, the theory goes, this I sincerely promise. Scout’s honor. “You really won’t want to miss this breaking news item — so come right back to the Situation Room,” as my friend Wolf Blitzer likes to say.
Meanwhile, this week, you’re left with whatever I can lay my hands on in a pinch to make something remotely resembling a decent column casserole. Fortunately I hail from a long line of great Southern cooks who could make a feast from a bare cupboard, though they couldn’t write worth a lick.
It just so happens that I have a notebook full of odds and ends that don’t match up, bits of stories that never got off the ground, ideas that failed to pan out, brainstorms that turned out to be brain cramps but might make a decent little stew of words for a chilly winter’s morning.
For a start, I’ve always wanted to write a sensational column about sex, religion and politics — the three newspaper taboos guaranteed to get your readership worked into a lather.
So let’s start with a nice and easy tidbit. Not long ago, a proud and slightly worried mama popped into my office to drop off a photograph of her daughter Gail, who was scheduled to soon return home from military service in Afghanistan. Gail’s mama had written a sweet little poem and asked if I might put it in the paper. Having had a doting mama myself, I assured her I would try my best. But dang if I didn’t promptly lose both the poem and the mama’s name somewhere on my insanely cluttered desk.
My mama would have said she could have predicted that.
So, Gail’s mama, if you’re reading this, so sorry about that. I hope Gail got home safely. I liked your poem, even if I can’t find it.
Speaking of mamas, Hugh Hefner’s mama once gave him $1,000 to help start a magazine. Hef just turned 84 and announced his plans to marry for a second or third time. This strikes me as either the highest definition of modern male optimism or a splendid endorsement for Viagra.
After years of declining subscriptions, the founder of iconic Playboy Magazine also purchased back the stock to his fading empire. I must confess a soft spot for Playboy Magazine, which debuted the same year I did, so to speak, and I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I keep a 40-year-old copy of the magazine in the rear of my desk drawer just to remind me of how relatively innocent and wonderfully mysterious “sex” seemed to be in American culture way back then.
Mystery Is Gone
The combination of the Internet and declining public standards has taken all of the mystery out of good old American sex — and thereby a lot of the fun. Hit a button and nothing is left to the imagination.
The year I went to college, on the other hand, one of out every four American college boys had subscriptions to Playboy Magazine, though I didn’t dare have one owing to an eagle-eyed Southern Baptist grandmother always on guard for teenage ruination and a mama who routinely went through my sock drawer.
“Who do you think you are?” she liked to say, looking at my messy bedroom, “Playboy of the Western World?”
Since we’re on the subject of Playboys of the Western World, a dozen years ago, I was invited by the French tourism folks to represent America with a fellow editor from Golf Digest at an international golf tournament along the Mediterranean.
My partner was named Peter Andrews, a charming, debonair character who turned out to have been the original Playboy Advisor. He was also a serious wine buff and finishing an ambitious biography of William Tecumseh Sherman.
“Does it make you feel strange to answer so many peculiar reader questions about, well, sex?” I worked up the nerve to ask Peter.
He smiled, lowering the tide in his wine glass; we were cruising first class in the nose of an Air France jumbo jet, living the life of Riley, if not Hef himself. “Not at all, dear boy,” he said. “Whatever I don’t know off hand, I merely make up. The truth in human relations basically boils down to this: Women humor us — and they’ll eventually take over the world. Mark my word. If you understand this fact, you’re halfway home. So bottom’s up. ”
For the record, Peter and I came in dead last among 30 international golf teams, but we had a lot of laughs. He told me some great stories I can’t repeat here. I was sorry when I learned he passed away a few years ago. Well, that pretty well covers sex. Are you properly lathered up yet? In that case, on to politics.
No More Wolf Blitzer
Let’s talk about the aforementioned Wolf Blitzer.
He may be a perfectly swell guy, but the truth is I can’t stand the sight or sound of him. Being a recovering political junkie, see, and I used to love to watch anything about politics on TV, the noisier the better. But over the past couple of years something in me has changed. I’ve grown so weary of the loudmouths of all political stripes on TV, I hardly watch any news at all nowadays.
Between you and me, I much prefer reruns of “The Gilmore Girls” or a nice old movie on AMC from back in the 1970s when politics was civil and sex had some mystery. Simply put, I don’t need to see Keith Olbermann hyperventilating about Dick Cheney’s ongoing dastardly influence or suffer through “Professor” Glenn Beck’s condescending lectures on our endangered Constitution. Ditto Wolf Blizter.
“You really don’t want to miss this, a major breaking story,” he constantly teases poor recovering political junkies like me, hinting at some breaking news item vitally important to the future of the world. “So come right back to the Situation Room.”
Following a report the other evening on the Chinese president’s historic first visit to Washington, I once again took the bait and waited to see what vital breaking news story I shouldn’t miss. It turned out to be a video of a poor woman who was so busy talking on her cell phone she accidentally tripped and fell into a water fountain at a shopping mall.
I was so disgusted, frankly, I was forced to turn over and watch back-to-back episodes of “The Gilmore Girls” on Lifetime just to calm down again. Finally, a bit about religion — or, in this instance, the voice of God.
Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s not really the voice of God I hear. God at least has a sense of humor.
This voice belongs to a woman who speaks out of the darkness every morning when I open my office front door.
“Alarm set for away!” she declares sternly from lord-know-where while I fumble like an idiot to find the key pad and remember the code to disarm the building security device. As a warning note beeps loudly, she repeats her command like a mama growing impatient with her dim-witted child. In fact, I’ve taken to calling her Big Mama.
Twice I’ve set off the alarm and had to prove to the cops that I’m not a burglar — just a guy whose office is so messy he can’t find items for his weekly newspaper column.
But God or Big Mama just won’t let up.
“Who do you think you are, Playboy of the Western World?” she said to me the other morning as I stumbled in from the dark. “Let’s clean up this place! And don’t think I don’t know about that old Playboy you’ve got stashed in the back of your office drawer!”
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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