I hope you’re well and have the palmettos under control. Your recent essay in the Wall Street Journal was a delight, and your dog Lucy sounds like an abundantly qualified life coach. But it saddened me to think of you feeling lonely at age 70. If you were in the Park City, Utah vicinity I’d certainly invite you over for a dog playdate/coffee//beer/moose evasion workshop/jam with guitar-playing family members/yoga/hike/pre-hike mountain lion survival skills review/fresh juice or smoothie/backyard animal tracks analysis. Or whatever. Very casual.
You might decline due to your professed cynicism and shyness. But I’d keep trying – lawfully – to persuade you to come by.
Perhaps I should mention that I am happily married and mentally healthy, not one of those deranged stalker types. It just seems like we have much in common, particularly journalism, light beer- and cockroach-loathing and curmudgeonly inclinations.
At Fresno State, where I got a journalism degree in 1992, one of my friends was a photographer named Thor who interned at the Miami Herald when you were there. On his first day, you spotted him across the bustling newsroom and yelled something to the effect that he was a dork for wearing his press pass on his front shirt pocket. All heads turned. He was mortified, though not enough to refrain from telling everyone he knew about it.
That story has stayed with me for decades, surfacing periodically when someone does something JV or dorky. Even though I wasn’t there, an image of you yelling at Thor about his press pass springs to mind.
You are in a rarified group of adults I encountered in the media as a teenager who helped me realize adulthood could be fun and unserious, which was a powerful message of positivity and hope on a grim horizon. (That grownup group is so rarefied it contains only you and David Letterman.)
As an aspiring writer I admired your boundless wit and your deft, whimsical treatment of any subject that caught your attention. And obviously your laid-back blending of potty humor and current events.
When you won the Pulitzer and wrote a column expressing surprise that your fart-centric writing had received a prize for “distinguished commentary” I laughed and rejoiced for you. And I still reflect on a shocking factoid you once revealed in a column: That farts technically weigh something, so smelling them means someone’s particulate matter is in my nostrils.
It’s fair to say I wanted to be you. A younger, female, Californian you.
I carried messages gleaned from your work as I began my career. Mostly the message was “Stay nutty,” which actually applied more to after hours than on-the-job comportment. But you slipped in other messages that were totally useful at work: Don’t bore. Don’t overwrite. The writing needs rhythm. Make people care. Prize clarity. Drink beer. Wait, the beer-drinking was an after-work rule. So many life lessons, it’s hard to keep them in the right buckets sometimes!
In the early 90s, the Visalia Times-Delta was a small daily (so small that we had to pass the hat to buy big cans of crappy coffee for the office, even though we were owned by Gannett; and so early 90s that when I went to San Francisco and the conga player of the band at the bar asked me for my email address I had no idea what he meant) that required endless toil with little reward. It was exhausting, stressful, interesting, fulfilling work, as you know.
Eventually my wish to get married and have children eclipsed my taste for hunching over crusty brown word processors 70+ hours per week for paltry pay. Journalism is not exactly at the forefront of work-life balance opportunities. It is a calling, for sure, and I got called in another direction. Part of me is still sad about that. Yet my family is my greatest joy.
Anyway, since neither of us is in daily journalism any longer, we will have abundant time to hang out should you choose to visit.
I’m talk-a-dog-off-a-meat-truck chatty, which is an antidote to loneliness and also leads to non-stop learning. For example, I once met a woman in the waiting room of the gynecologist’s office – I was there for an infertility situation, which of course I told her – and while she didn’t divulge the nature of her visit, she did confide proudly that she was in her 70s and had been married for 36 years and “The sex is the best it’s ever been.”
Let me reiterate I am not hitting on you. This item is pertinent merely as a reminder to us all that there’s plenty of good living left, at least according to that woman.
If we crossed paths in a hotel bar and you pretended to be watching competitive lumberjacking, as you claimed you might in the Journal piece, I’d interrupt you and say, “Are you seriously into that? What are they even doing? It’s so anachronistic, you can’t just wander around cutting trees down for sport these days! Which reminds me, did you see that thing about the guy who shot the mountain lion and then got that internet backlash? Although I see the mixed blessing of online shaming and cancel culture. Isn’t the world complicated? Do you miss the days before social media? Remember the first cell phones? Remember texting with the numbers, my god! That reminds me of the time a guy wanted my email address and I didn’t know what that was. Are you eating those or can I grab a handful? Where is the bartender???”
It would just flow from there. In person it’s more interactive.
In your essay, you said it’s not just shyness and distrust of new interpersonal experiences that keep you from making friends but also your male inability to communicate meaningfully about non-sports matters. With all due respect that’s a bit of a copout. You’re conditioned, yes. Unable, no. Just jump in already. Be the change.
For example: At the gym awhile back a man started talking to me while I was wearing headphones, and I decided to shut him down by telling him that exercise relieved my menopause symptoms. He didn’t bat an eye, just started talking about his wife’s menopause experiences, which was so impressive we ended up speaking at length. He was great. You can do this.
Well, enough about the various stages of the female reproductive system. Thank you again for an excellent read, and for the laughs and inspiration through the years. As you adjust to your seven handle, bear in mind you’re younger than Mick Jagger, who is clearly nowhere near hanging it up yet. (He’s probably sleeping with that woman from the gynecologist’s office right now. Apparently she can get no satisfaction.)
A good motto might be, “While Mick Jagger frolics, we’re all young.”
Shout out if you’re ever in the area. We are 100% cockroach-free. We don’t even have mosquitoes! Lucy and our dog Porter will love each other. Your wife Michelle is invited too of course. My husband can discuss his feelings and is also an accomplished beer drinker. The microbrew scene here is incredible. Hope to see you soon!