April 17, 2014

Walking a mile in Ernie Pyle’s moccasins

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 6:44 pm

Listening to an old man in a tavern in Paris claim that, as a child, he had sat on Hemingway’s lap in the same bar and heard the world famous author tell interesting stories was an experience that epitomized our concept of what it’s like to be a columnist.  For a middle class kid the possibilities to travel the world, meet celebrities, see the iconic sights, and have fun doing it, seemed like a formidable challenge.  Our efforts to find a way to achieve that goal indicated that columnists were proxies for the middle class who were assigned to do those exact things and then write up a brief report on the experience for workers who craved a vicarious taste of the world outside their hometown.

A torn and tattered copy of Ernie Pyle’s “Brave Men” hinted that journalists, columnists, and war correspondents had a front row seat for some of the most dangerous facets of life in the fast lane.  April 18th has been selected by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists to be the annual day of celebration honoring the art and craft of column writing because it was on that date in 1945 that war correspondent Pyle was killed in action on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific Theater in WWII.

The World’s Laziest Journalist tries to mark Columnists’ Day in a different way every year.  We’re not going to do a column that recaps what Ernie Pyle did and why he was honored every year because that would become too predictable.  It may seem a bit arrogant and presumptuous to make the annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Day effort heavily autobiographical but this year it seemed that it was the best way to accurately tell the back story of why someone would want to become a columnist.

Some folks select a particularly exotic slice of contemporary living and specialize in a lifetime of examining something like auto racing for a specialized audience but for a kid in Scranton, Pa., embracing the “variety is the spice of life” philosophy, becoming a columnist seemed to be the best solution to the challenge.

Three of our heroes Hemingway, HST, and Jack Kerouac, wanted to be world famous writers.  They got what they wanted and it made them miserable.  (Two of the three were columnists.  Weren’t two, briefly, Berkeley residents?)  Berkeley writer Philip K. Dick wrote a book predicting that a world famous writer would live the life of a recluse in Colorado.  Nobody agrees with the World’s Laziest Journalist’s interpretation that “Man in the High Castle” was about Hunter S. Thompson’s career.

We think that B. Traven, Thomas Pynchon, and J. D. Salinger would endorse the idea that being an anonymous columnist living out his childhood dreams ain’t a bad way to go.

Young people at the Hostel in Fremantle who suggested that we should go to Kalgoorlie may have intended the suggestion as an elaborate practical joke because a good many travelers might not think it was worth the effort.  We had the last laugh because of our fascination with gold panning.  Travel writers are obliged to make the places they write about seem irresistible for every reader but a columnist can be brutally honest and say that if you don’t know who Fred C. Dobbs was and relish the prospect of a visit to the Prospectors’ Hall of Fame, then you better consider a different destination.

If a movie review columnist works for a corporate conglomerate that owns the TV network that broadcasts his verdict about a new flick also owns the film company that made the new release, then he might be required to announce it was a “must see” example for everyone to see.  It is rare that a movie is a valid example of the “one size fits all” philosophy.  So too, it is with travel destinations.

Being a columnist means that when the book by a teacher at Annapolis, John Beckman, titled “American Fun Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt” catches your attention in City Lights book store, there are two reasons for buying it:  1.  the fun of reading it and 2.  the chance to get an item for the next column.  Sometimes it seems that being a columnist means being an advanced scout for fun in all areas of culture.

What’s not to like about feeling a compulsion to discover esoteric topics such as snapshot collecting (See accompanying photo)  or finding out what “slack liners” do?  Being a columnist means taking a last nostalgic look at San Francisco’s art installation titled “Defenestration,” which is scheduled to be dismantled and the host building will be demolished.

Being required to go out and have fun is a great assignment.  It’s too bad that the contracting newspaper industry doesn’t offer J-school grads many prospects for snagging that plum assignment.  The odds of a newspaper writer getting subsidized to experience such antics are slim and none.

The old fellow in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris explained that the place had been owned by his father and he had inherited it.  He had spent many hours there as a kid when one of the regulars was a rookie writer named Hemingway.

If a columnist wanted to do a column about having a sarsaparilla at that place and others such as Hurley’s in New York City, Heinold’s in Oakland, and the Blue Fox in Tijuanna, then it might be a good idea to also visit Skimpy’s in Kalgoorlie.  Does the columnist reviewer Joe Sixpack ever get to go on assignment outside the Philadelphia area?

If a columnist writes for websites devoted to political punditry, then bits of arcane, esoteric information and obscure bits of history have to be strung together with items that have not saturated the mainstream media.

On the morning of Sunday April 13, 2014, while listening to KCBS radio for the nine a.m. network news we heard the In Depth program which delved into the topic of rents.  A guest casually mentioned that “we” want to revisit the question:  “Is Rent Control Unconstitutional?”  Since the US Supreme Court ruled on that earlier in the Obama era, we will have to check further into this story (and hope the NY Times assignment desk doesn’t read this column) before we do the fact checking and write our take on the topic.

When the Internet was in the formative stage, site owners and publishers were desperate to find “a unique voice” but as the corporatization of the web becomes ubiquitous, the trend is to prefer homogenized content providers.  (Think of Peggy Lee’s song “Is that all there is?”)  This week both Thom Hartmann and cartoonist Tom Tomorrow proclaimed that “we longer have a functioning democracy in America.”

If a political pundit working in the USA dares to suggest an unorthodox idea, he is immediately ostracized for being a conspiracy theory loon.  In a few short years, the political atmosphere in America has gone from JEB Bush being a pariah to the contention recently that JEB is the de facto frontrunner.  Is it a conspiracy theory for a columnist to irreverently ask: “Where is the ‘Democracy in action’ aspect of that transition?”?

With Democracy DOA and another war immanent we wonder on National Columnists’ Day, if we could have done something to avoid this mess.  Recently a comment was posted indicating that the World’s Laziest Journalist needs to put more work into the columns.  We know that if we took more time the end results would be greatly improved and with that in mind we’ll ask the site’ owner and publisher:  “Should we ask for a raise (to inspire the extra work) or should we adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra who, when told that the director of “Ocean’s 11” wanted to re-shoot a scene, responded by saying:  “That was good enough!”?

For the closing quote will use Hunter S. Thompson’s maxim:  “Buy the ticket; take the ride.”

Now the disk jockey will play Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regretted rein,” Waylon Jenning’s “I may be used (but baby I ain’t used up),” and Dooley Wilson’s “As time goes by.”  We have to celebrate the day with an extra ration of A&W diet root beer.  Have a “specialize in having fun” type week.

October 4, 2013

Dionysian vs. Apollonian

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:31 pm

What’s not to love about a split window V-dub van that’s been convertible-ized?

The penalty for reading Combat newspaper was death.

The writers, who provided content for the underground newspaper that reported information about the Resistance to citizens in occupied Paris, if caught, were tortured in such a precise way that they would beg for a coup de grâce to deliver them from their prolonged agony.

Richard C. Blum was featured in a recent issue of the East Bay Express in a story titled “Going Postal” that was touted on the front page with this teaser:  “The husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein has been selling post offices to his friends, cheap.”

That’s the same fellow who has been reported to be a driving force behind the Bullet Train that, according to recent polls, most California tax payers don’t want.

Since Senator Dianne Feinstein is currently leading a drive to define journalists as salaried people on the staffs of mainstream media and thus are on an “approved” list, (i.e. collaborators?) and since we don’t want to be appear on the lady’s s**t list, this column will be a review of the new movie “Rush,” which isn’t about the miracle working conservative pundit (soon to be officially canonized?) some folks call St. Rushbo.  It is a new movie about Formula One racing and that should be an innocuous enough topic for someone who doesn’t meet the Senator’s standards for superior journalism or, as some might call it, journalistic exceptionalism.

In 1966, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held an exhibition that featured Formula One race cars.  The spectacle of art aficionados walking around the silent machines talking in reverent whispers was a travesty of racing and a parody of the concept of a museum exhibition.

One particular spectator had to struggle for self control and refrain from screaming:  “Gentlemen, start your engines!”  (In 1966, Danica Patrick hadn’t even been born yet.  [For all of October, her Go Daddy race car will be pink to help raise breast cancer awareness.])  Quite is for funeral homes.  Anyone who has ever been in the pit area of a Grand Prix knows that the noise is palpable.  There’s no whispering at a Grand Prix.

[If you are in a band that is generating an extreme amount of audience enthusiasm and you want to speak to your bandmate, don’t try to shout over the noise.  Put a finger (yes, the middle finger works best) behind you pal’s ear and speak in a normal voice.  The sound waves will travel through your bones and be transferred to his skull and inner ear and he will hear you perfectly well.]

Film director Ron Howard got it right.  The engine noise in “Rush” deserves a credit for supporting role.  (Is that a subtle way of saying the sound men deserve a Nomination?)

The question “Is this the best car racing movie every made” will be discussed for many years to come.  Obviously some hypotheticals will spice up the debate.  If (big hypothetical) Elvis could have played the role of Clay Regazzoni and added some songs to the soundtrack album, it would have been even better, but critics have to deal with what was on the screen and not the realm of woulda/coulda/shoulda.  Doesn’t Monte Carlo need a theme song that’s just as upbeat as “Viva Las Vegas”?

What about the folks who don’t go nutty over cars?  The book crowd might want to discuss the possibility that this film is a classic example of the literary device known as “twinning.”  The film raises an age old philosophical question:  which is better: the spontaneous (Dionysian) approach to life or the careful and methodically planned (Apollonian) method?  Who said:  “Spontaneity works well if it’s planned right!”?

In the film Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) battle for the 1976 world championship for driving.  Lauda’s whole life is channeled towards achieving his goal; Hunt believes that life is an opportunity to maximize the number of ways to have fun.  (“Take it easy baby, specialize in having fun  . . .”)

Watching the film we noticed that the cinematographer’s work might earn a Best Photography Oscar™ nomination, which, in turn, made us think that “Rush” may be a serious contender for several different Awards next spring.

That, in turn, made us wonder if the Oscar™ Awards ceremony had changed much since we covered the ones for 1974 and 1975.  Back then getting a press pass was a Herculean task of the myth of Sisyphus level of challenge.  Odds are, it is much more difficult now.

The “Going Postal” article, which is a condensation of a chapter in a new book of the same name by Peter Bryce, exemplifies the kind of journalism that is displayed annually in the series of books published by Project Censorship.

Censored 2014:  Fearless Speech in Fearful Times goes on sale this week and the Censored Team will appear at Moe’s Books in Berkeley CA on the night of October 5, 2013.

Doing an article comparing and contrasting the 2013 Oscars™ with the events we witness back in the Seventies would not get any serious consideration from the evaluating committee at Project Censored, but . . . it would be hella fun, “n’est ce pas?”

Do the writers, whose work will be presented in the next edition of the Project Censorship series, also get the Dianne Feinstein Journalism seal of approval?

Would a whimsical article examining a thirty nine year gap in Oscar™ history, as an example of nostalgia laden coverage of the movie awards, be more likely to get a prize from the Dianne Feinstein Journalism Awards committee than from Project Censored?  There’s one sure way to find out.

Some cynics will say that since James Hunt was both very wealthy and very good looking, it was almost inevitable that he would enjoy living and that others who were not dealt such a good hand would have grounds for envy, but the sad thing about that is that the people who most need to learn Hunt’s “go for the gusto” approach to life, are the ones most likely to be diverted by resentment instead.  Didn’t we read somewhere that Summerset Maugham’s father was an ugly fellow who was married to the most beautiful woman in Paris?

Since we covered the 1974 and 1975 events as a reporter/photographer for the Santa Monica Independent Journal newspapers, and since the guy who helped us get that job is now a senior editor at Playboy, perhaps we could augment a trip to L. A. to cover the awards ceremony with a chance to revisit the Playboy mansion and trade some journalism gossip with the former editor of the Marina Mail.

Heck, if we get back down to “Shakey Town,” maybe we could visit the Marina Tenants Association and find out what’s up with the Los Angeles County Assessor.  The mainstream media is ignoring that intriguing story.  Did we just hear Fienstein’s voice saying:  “Good boy!  Want a treat?”?  Aren’t journalists who can “heel!” on command, worth their salary?  How can we submit a story pitch for possible inclusion in Project Censored’s book for the overlooked news from 2013?

Question for both of California’s Senators:  Why haven’t the Democrats who live in Tea Bag Republican Congressional Districts already started recall petitions for their representatives who seem oblivious to the wants and needs of their constituents?

Will older pundits compare the shutdown to the Chickie run sequence in “Rebel without a Cause” rather than the mandatory (?) reference to the film “Thelma and Louise”?

Are the approved journalists and pundits giving the voters a heads-up about what will happen if the impasse lasts until the 2014 mid-term elections?  If the situation disintegrates into a prolonged Mexican standoff, will the paid lackeys in the mainstream media dutifully report that this is a marvelous example of a democracy in action?

If Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and the others who risked their lives to provide content for Combat got a paycheck wouldn’t the existence of that slip of paper have been the equivalent of a death warrant?  If they didn’t; wouldn’t Senator Feinstein dismiss their efforts as useless examples of pathetic amateur scribbling?  Since possession of a copy of Combat was a capital offense, we wonder how often a mint condition issue is available on e-Bay and how much one usually fetches.

[Note from the photo editor:  Over the years the WLJ photo library with quality images of Phil Hill, John Surtees, and Dan Gurney has slowly evaporated.  (Is it true that Howell Connant’s photo library was destroyed when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed?)  The best we could do on short notice was to use a photo of the 1966 VW van, seen recently in San Francisco, that was channeled, shortened, and convertible-ized by folks who wanted to promote Tillamook Cheese.  We wanted to use those photos for a story idea tip to the ruling junta at Jalopnik but maybe a link to this column will serve the same purpose.]

Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, in a book titled “Last Chapter,” wrote (on page 37):  “I’ve always felt the great 500-mile auto race at Indianapolis was the most exciting event – in terms of suspense – that I’ve ever known.  The start of a B-29 mission to Tokyo, from the spectator’s standpoint, was almost the same as the Indianapolis race.”

Now the disk jockey will play Elvis’ songs:  “Spinout,” “Speedway,” and “Viva Las Vegas.”  We have to go and start the arduous process of applying for press credentials for the next Oscar™ Awards ceremony.  Have a “Boh Chi” type week.

June 28, 2013

(Gay) Pride and Prejudice and a comic book columnist

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:35 pm


On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made a decision because, they asserted, prejudice in the voter rights case was an outmoded consideration from the past, then the next day they struck a blow to protect gays from marriage discrimination.  Due to the fact that irony does not work well on the Internets, the World’s Laziest Journalist was on the verge of pulling the old “best of” dodge and skipping the weekend roundup column for the last full week in June of 2013.  One day the SCOTUS five are saying that racial prejudice is extinct in the USA then the next day a reconfigured majority of five says that since the work of eliminating discrimination against gays is still far from the finish line, they had to lend a helping hand.  Which is it? Is bigotry dead or not?

Will the late night comedian/political commentators try to get laughs by saying that the Supreme Court missed an opportunity when they did not get involved this week with the furor over Paula Deen’s use of the N-word?

Paula Deen suggested that she needed to be executed by a crowd of stone throwers and that got us to thinking that perhaps President Obama could offer patriotic Americans from the Democratic and Republican parties a chance to buy a spot on the firing squad that might be needed some day to deliver a death sentence to Edward Snowdon.

That, in turn, brings up this question:  If Snowden is stuck in an area that is not a part of Russia, why doesn’t the United States’ State Department send someone from the American Embassy in Moscow to meet with the suspect, shoot him, and then use diplomatic immunity to walk away from the event?  Would that be so very different (and less messy) than using a drone strike to “rub out” the fugitive from justice?

We had hoped to write a sensational column, for this week, about the decline of journalism in America and maybe link the work of real journalists from the past such as Ernie Pyle and Hunter S. Thompson to the comic book hero, Spider Jerusalem, who is a popular and highly paid columnist who exposes political corruption and scandal.

Has the story arc for Journalism in America gone from Edward R. Murrow’s “This is London calling” to a comic book hero with weird glasses in less that 75 years?

The World’s Laziest Journalist had assumed that conservative animosity would trump the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection” clause and deliver a ruling that rendered marriage rights for gays as being unconstitutional.  We were wrong.  It was just like the time we picked Native Dancer to win the Kentucky Derby.  We were wrong then, too.  Twice in one lifetime?  We won’t let it happen again!

A friend in the Eastern Time Zone called right after the decision was announced and said that the New York Time confirmed my erroneous prediction.  We were listening to Armstrong and Getty and challenged the accuracy of the headline on the Internets.  Our friend read more and amended her assessment because it seems that the great gray lady (as the famous newspaper is called in the gin mills that cater to journalists) had posted a bad (“Dewey wins!”) headline.

Randi Rhodes said that both landmark decisions, when considered together, indicated that the cause of States’ Rights had been bolstered by the week’s history and that continued political stalemate had been assured by the decisions.

Speaking of the status of Journalism in the USA, we had recently noted that some citizen journalists were advocating the use of a consortium approach to investigative journalism.  Since we have monitored the news media coverage of events in the Los Angeles area concerning the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and their administration of the Marina del Rey area, we are aware that the concept of investigative journalism is a complex and time consuming way to fight for gaining access to information that is deliberately put out of reach.

A web site that is intended as a central clearing house for altruistic investigative journalism projects was announced recently.  There is a tendency among writers to want to jealously guard against the theft of intellectual property but there is also a human tendency to want to participate in a community project that is working towards a large goal that is unavailable to the lone wolf rogue journalist.  (Insert nostalgic reference to Sartre, Camus, and Combat newspaper in Occupied Paris here.  [Them again?])  We will expand this topic in a subsequent column.

Speaking of lone wolves, citizen journalists, and the Internets, we went to San Francisco on Sunday June 23 to cover the City Lights Bookstore’s birthday celebration.  We got some OK photos outside the store but our tendency of avoiding claustrophobic situations to work “on spec” caused us to miss the chance to get to the poetry room to get a photo of Lawrence Ferlinghetti signing books.  It was amazing to see how much drawing power a beatnik could still have.

Berkeley is looking to increase tourism and the fiftieth anniversary of Mario Savio’s speech from on top of a police car is rapidly approaching, perhaps the city fathers should consider holding an anniversary event.

The saga of Spider Jerusalem, which is the product of the creative team of writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson, was told in the Transmetropolitan comic book series.  It was published in the late nineties and the early Dubya era, and contained a good number of accurate predictions of technological advances and political malfeasance.  The comic book columnist hero fits in with our recurring leitmotif of famous journalist, so we made an effort recently to chat with Robertson and get some photos of him doing a drawing of “the helmet,” which can be seen as a prediction of Google glasses.

If citizen journalists hope for fun, fame, and fortune, but get aced out of the fame and fortune by the proprietary attitude of the high priced media talent (and their “owners”?), then the Leprechaun attitude will become more prevalent in journalism than Hunter S. Thompson ever imagined.

Would it be rational to expect the Huffington Post to hire an Internets loose cannon (let alone Fox) or would it be more realistic to expect that only those who subscribe fully to the “ya gottta go along to get along” style of expressing opinions are acceptable to management as members of the team?

We picked up a bargain copy of Joseph E. Persico’s biography of Edward R. Murrow recently and were reminded of just how much time devoted to dealing with office politics was necessary at the time that he was reporting live from London during the Battle of Britain.

When Ernie Pyle showed up in England in December of 1940 to cover the effect that the Battle of Britain was having on the ordinary citizens, he stayed in a posh hotel and was not bothered by the riggers of rationing.

Did anyone hire Woody Guthrie to go to London to report on the effect on workers that the Battle of Britain was causing?

The dog days of summer draw neigh and so the next few weeks may be a very opportune time for a columnist to begin a whimsical attempt to find amusing and amazing feature material while the Supreme Court Justices do some relaxing and start to select the next batch of cases needing their attention.

Horace wrote:  “The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from is firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant’s threatening countenance.”

Now the disk jockey will play  “Here Come da Judge,” “Strange fruit,” and Waylon Jennings’ “WRONG!,”   We have to go look for a time travel machine.  Have a “Great Caesars’ Ghost!” type week.



April 17, 2013

Ernie Pyle or Herb Caen?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 6:19 pm

San Francisco named a street for a famous local columnist

[Note: The annual task of writing something to be posted honoring National Columnists’ Day on April 18, which was the day that war correspondent/columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific Theater of  WWII, is always a challenge because the intention is to keep the tone lighthearted and upbeat but this year, because it falls at a time when the national mood is very somber, we will, after a moment of silence, proceed with this year’s installment, for the same reasons that Boston will hold their marathon again next year.]

A hint of scandal for this year’s America’s Cup Races in the San Francisco Bay area will provide us with a chance to examine how two of our favorite columnists might take different approaches displaying their unique styles to the task of informing their readers of the looming potential for an economic blunder with dire implications for the taxpayers in the town Herb Caen dubbed “Baghdad by the Bay.”

While preparing to write this year’s installment of our annual National Columnists Day posting to mark the day which honors both war correspondent Ernie Pyle and the vocation of being a columnist, we decided to focus this year’s effort on legendary San Francisco scribe Herb Caen who served in the Army Air Force during WWII.

Pyle wrote from the point of view of the G. I. in the foxhole, while Caen, in his civilian phase, preferred to let his audience participate vicariously in his life as a flâneur, a boulevardier, and a bon vivant, who hung out with and traded gossip with “the swells.”  Caen’s first effort was published on July 5, 1938, and ended with his last column in 1997.

Obviously if both of them were still alive and churning out words, they would both take very different approaches to the growing grumbling about the Americas’ Cup races scheduled to be held later this year on San Francisco Bay.

The race’s lawyers seem to have outwitted the ones working for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and so the two parties signed a deal that, upon closer reading, will leave the citizens liable for a large financial shortfall.

We assume that Caen would look forward to rubbing elbows with the “swells” who will conduct the races and hold the accompanying “invitation only” parties and maybe he would also describe the spectacle as seen from a private airplane flying overhead.  Isn’t it logical to conclude that Pyle would side with the taxpayers who can only use binoculars to see some (three?) sailboats on the bay?

Caen’s pioneering approach to celebrity journalism made him a star in the ranks of columnists.  He coined the word “beatnik” and quite often his witty way with words won him a mention in the monthly “towards more picturesque speech” feature in the Readers’ Digest.

Caen was a staunch supporter of iconoclastic wit and provided a continuing source of publicity to Lenny Bruce for his pioneering efforts in the realm of “sick” humor.

In addition to honoring and remembering Ernie Pyle each year, the day is also intended to draw attention to the career of being a columnist, which in the Facebook era should make Pyle the Patron Saint of Facebook, since the mission statement for a columnist is essentially the same motivation for churning out the keystrokes for a Facebook page, i.e. tell the world what you are doing and thinking.  Ernie Pyle, Herb Caen, and Bill Mauldin all have a Facebook page.

Can a Facebook blurb make or break a restaurant?  Once, many moons ago, Caen wrote a blind item blurb about a restaurant that incurred his wrath.  After it was published, the owner of another restaurant that fit the vague description of the offending culprit, contacted Caen’s office and begged him to explain that their restaurant, which had suffered a consequent crippling of their usual business level, was not the one that folks should boycott.  He immediately cleared up the misperception.  Can a Facebook writer have that big of an impact on a community?

The fact that Caen’s style of quick verbal jabs was dubbed “thee dot journalism,” because he used the punctuation of three dots (called an ellipse) to separate items, preceded the Internet phenomenon of catering to an audience with an attention span that demanded items with the complexity level of a bumper sticker and that should endear him to the new generation that operates with a self imposed 130 word limit.  For example, isn’t just the fact that Anthony Grafton wrote a scholarly book, title “The Footnote a Curious History,” enough information for a great Herb Caen-ish column item?

A fellow who went AWAL from a military hospital, three weeks after the liberation, and went into Paris with a nurse who spoke French told us about going into a fine restaurant and ordering a “once in a lifetime” meal.  When the fellow asked for the bill, management considered it a matter of honor to refuse to let the sergeant pay for the meal.  We like to think that Ernie Pyle, if he heard about it, would have devoted a full column to that incident.  He would (we assume) have compared and contrasted the best that Paris had to offer with the famed K-ration that the GI’s often disparaged with very salty language.  (If the disk jockey is alert he will play “Moose Turd Pie” as part of the “outro” music at the end of this column.)  Herb Caen, who served in WWII, was a gourmet who savored fine meals and shared his enthusiasm with his readers.

Many Facebook entries include a snapshot of a meal.  Would young folks appreciate the subtlety if an Ernie Pyle wannabe posted a photo of a K-ration being served?

Once, according to an anecdote provided by one of Caen’s contemporary rivals in the realm of column writing, the two competitors for the right to the title of “Mr. San Francisco,” were out cavorting in some fog city bars after WWII.  They became a bit rowdy and a rookie policeman started to arrest them.  They simultaneously asked if the youngster knew who he was trying to arrest.  He didn’t know and didn’t care.  He led them down to the local station.  When the trio entered, the desk sergeant began to laugh boisterously and asked the newcomer:  “Do you know who you are trying to arrest?”  Case dismissed!

The San Francisco Chronicle would, when Caen was on vacation, run a box on the front page above the fold saying “Herb Caen is on vacation” to cut down on the number of complaints from people who would call and bitch about not being able to find that day’s installment of the column simply titled “Herb Caen.”

Once, back in the season when the Oakland Raiders won games when George Blanda would kick a last second field goal, a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune rushing a “starter” copy of the day’s publication, noticed that at the beginning of the lead story, the words indicated that the story was about the will a local celebrity had written “after” he died.  The ME had a “Stop the presses!” moment and the word was quickly changed to “after” and one of the typesetters was given a stern lecture about the rule that only editors could change copy.  The incident was quickly forgotten until the next week when the secret goof-up was prominently mentioned in Herb Caen’s column.

According to Barnaby Conrad, in his book “The World of Herb Caen,” the Frisco phenomenon produced enough columns of approximately 1,000 words (about three takes) that Caen’s lifetime total would verify this boast: “If laid end to end, his columns would stretch 5.6 miles from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge.”

At the height of his popularity Ernie Pyle was read by approximately 3 million readers nationwide.

Facebook posters might note with extreme envy that in his prime, Caen received 45,000 letters a year.  Isn’t a fan letter better than a quick “like” click?

Herb Caen wrote:  “If I do go to heaven, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to heaven. He looks around and says, It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.

Now the disk jockey will play the “Vertigo” soundtrack album, the “Moby Grape” album, and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealist Pillow” album.  We have to go reread Ernie Pyle’s very gruesome and lugubrious columns written on the Normandy Beach (as foud in the Random House book “Ernie’s War: the Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches” edited by David Nichols) immediately after the D-Day Invasion.  Have a “soldier on” type week.

March 4, 2013

Life is short; eat dessert first

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 5:58 pm

“Dogging Steinbeck:  Discovering America and Exposing the truth about ‘Travels with Charlie,’” by Bill Steigerwald, was reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday and we stumbled on that review just after we had decided to write a column lamenting the fact that books about traveling on the road in the USA have become an extinct subgenre of literature.  It was accompanied by a review of Dan Baum’s new book “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.”

Last week, we had just glommed on to a bargain bin copy of “Home Country,” by Ernie Pyle, which describes his search all across the USA for good feature stories. It was in mint condition at the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library’s bookstore. We intend on writing several columns this year about the topic of roaming about in the USA for several reasons and so finding out about two brand new books that fall into a category that we find irresistible didn’t discourage us; it strengthened our resolve to write several columns on this rather esoteric topic. Maybe that sub genre isn’t dead, maybe we just had to change the lead.

Pyle, who wrote approximately a million words about traveling around in America, sort of like a pitcher warming up in the bullpen, later achieved international fame as a war correspondent during WWII.  In “Home Country,” he wrote a piece about Adolph and “Plinky” Topperwein, who were a husband and wife team of famous shooters who worked for the Winchester Arms Company. We wondered if they were mentioned in Baum’s new book.

“Travels with Charlie,” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” had whet our appetite for the open road while we were in school.  Not long after finishing college, we had stuck out our thumb in a rural area in Pennsylvania and hoped to catch a ride to San Francisco hoping that maybe literary lightning could strike twice.

Two of our high school classmates had made different, more rational, decisions about the course their lives would take.  One of them is a retired Army colonel now living in Germany and the other is a retired teacher living across the Hudson River from NYC.  Both of them have decided to drive across the USA this year and since the World’s Laziest Journalist has accumulated a vast supply of travel experience, we have offered both of them our opinion on how to maximize the enjoyment of their adventure.

There are so many books we would like to recommend that they read.  Here are some of the lesser known “on the road” books we wish they could read before shoving off:  “I see by your outfit,” by Peter S. Beagle, “America day by day,” by Simone de Beauvoir, Alistair Cooke’s “The American Home Front 1941 – 1942,” and “It isn’t a bus pioneering motorhomers cross the USA,” by Martha French Patterson and Sally Patterson Tubach (no relations).  This columnist has read the Beagle book and is halfway through all of the others.

The school teacher (AKA “Jersey Bill”) has strongly recommended that we read “Blue Moon Highway,” and some day we intend to do that.

Jersey Bill has driven from his adopted state to Oregon and another time he went the southern route and got as far as Joshua Tree National Park just inside of Cali, but he has studiously avoided exploring California.

The Colonel wants to drive the Southern route but notes that this trip of a lifetime will be a one time only, “get ’er done” operation.  He has budgeted only two weeks to achieve his goal.  He wants to follow a portion of Route 66.

Jack Kerouac concentrated on the personalities he met while on the road.  Our first night in Paris (France, not Texas) we went to Cactus Charlie’s and had a marvelous conversation about the specifics of the politics in California.  As we walked out, we regretted our decision.  “We could have had a great conversation about local politics at any bar in L. A. but we wouldn’t have had to buy an airplane ticket to get that payoff.”  So we resolved to “go native” and shun the ex-pat scene and see the things that are only available there.  We still follow that philosophy when traveling.

If the Colonel wants to talk to fellow Americans he can visit some wounded soldiers at the Landstuhl hospital.

My advice in both cases will be something they won’t want to hear, so maybe if they read it in a column posted for all the world to see, it might have a better chance of making a point and influencing their thinking (and if not, at least the Managing Editor [M. E.] will get a new batch of Google bate to lure others to the sites where this will be posted).

Jersey Bill and his wife like “the great outdoors,” nature and the like.  If a city slicker like the World’s Laziest Journalist can be profoundly impressed with Yosemite National Park, just think how much the teacher and his wife will like it.  Oh, yeah, California also has another park with big trees that are very old.  He might like that, too.  Some alarmists think that park will suffer if new bullet train routs are built.  Isn’t zipping past those trees at 100 mph better than never seeing them at all?

Jersey Bill likes automobiles and so we wonder why he has hung back from visiting a state that has two world class car museums in the L. A. area (across the street for each other) and two others that are still on our bucketlist.  Is he saving the best for last?

Jack London (reportedly) called the Monterey Peninsula the finest example of seashore scenery in the world.  We concur.

Our tourist exploration of Australia lasted ten fun filled weeks and we know that we barely scratched the surface of the subject but the colonel intends to make his jaunt across the USA a two weeks long venture.  Yikes!  We have to say that we strongly recommend that he forgets about an epicurean ten course meal approach to the task and cut directly to dissert and drive night and day until he gets to the state that offers Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the redwood trees, the Golden Gate Bridge, and some last vestiges of beatnik history.  Or he could make the arrangements necessary to extend the time spent on making the trek.

Telling a colonel what to do is one thing but someone who can remember his mom telling a story about how a baseball hit by Babe Ruth fell into her lap might get away with offering him our very strongly felt opinion base on experience.  [We have hitchhiked from Pennsylvania to Tonkawa and traveled by Greyhound coast to coast at least three times.]

Getting him to read “Watergate The Hidden History: Nixon, the Mafia, and the CIA,” by Lamar Waldron (from Counterpoint in Berkeley CA!) before the next round in our continuing Nixon vs. Kennedy debate will be a bit more of a challenge.

Our hope is that the colonel will change his own ground rules and take longer to do the trip or perhaps make the trip in annual installments of two weeks each for the next several years.  If he wants to see as many American icons as possible, we can’t offer much of an opinion about what to see until he gets to Route 66in Oklahoma, but we can strongly recommend that if he wants spectacular scenery, he should get to the Grand Canyon ASAP, and then budget time to see Yosemite, the redwoods, Lake Tahoe, and the Monterey Peninsula.  California is a very big state and it will take a few days just to skim the highlights.  At that point he can run down PCH and see Big Sur, the Hearst Castle, and the Bixby Bridge.  He’ll wind up in Santa Monica, where he can visit Venice Beach before going to the airport, turning in his rental and jumping on a plane back to Germany.

Our hope for the teacher is that he will get to California, have a St. Paul’s moment and when he returns to his luxurious home within sight of the Manhattan skyline sell it, put the money in a safe investment, and then jump back in his motor home and become a motorhome vagabond inside the California borders for the next 12 months (or more).

The hippie will (we hope) get to some California towns we have never seen and finally get to live out his Fred C. Dobbs wishes to find some nuggets of gold in a miner’s pan.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote (Ibid page 136):  “We do not see much of San Francisco because we stay only four days and don’t know anyone.”

Now the disk jockey will play the Cantina Band’s song “Out in California,” Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” and “Living on Tulsa Time.”  We have to go and contact the National Parks people and ask two questions:  “What state has the most National Parks? And “How many National Parks are in California?”  Have a “life is short; eat dessert first” type week.

April 17, 2012

Living legend columnists are a dying breed

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 8:18 pm

On the island of Ie Shima, on April 18, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed in action and that is why that date has been selected by the National Society of Newspaper Columnist to be designated as National Columnists’ Day.

After a few years of writing about Ernie Pyle for National Columnists’ Day, it grew a bit challenging, and so the focus for our annual column for that occasion was expanded to include homage to other famous columnists from the past such as Herb Caen and Walter Winchell.

For a columnist named Bob Patterson, who was born and raised in Scranton Pa. and now lives in Berkeley CA, to celebrate National Columnists’ Day by writing this year’s installment about a columnist, scalawag, and rascal named Bob Patterson, who was raised about a hundred years ago in Berkeley CA, is a daunting challenge. In order to produce a column that doesn’t sound like a noteworthy example of shameless über-egotism and crass self-promotion, we will refer to the writer from the past by his pen name of Freddie Francisco and note that the facts for this column were contained in the “exposé” story Freddie Francisco wrote about himself for a weekly newspaper named “The City of San Francisco” in their August 10, 1975 issue.

Francisco revealed that during the Twenties Patterson landed a $47 a week reporter’s job on the New York Graphic and when he began to work the police beat Freddie/Bob was offered a $100 a week bonus from a Prohibition entrepreneur who wanted a phone call tip whenever the Prohibition agents left on a raid. That stunt got him fired. His confession relates that subsequently Freddie/Bob went to work for the fellow who had supplied the tip bonuses.

In the early Thirties, Freddie/Bob moved to Japan. To augment his pay while living there Freddie wrote about the forbidden topic of Tokyo’s notorious Yoshitwara district. That got him another pink slip and deportation status on the same day that he contracted malaria.

Freddie quickly transitioned to the staff of the China Press in Shanghai.

Freddy/Bob arrived in Shanghai between World Wars. Freddie described his reactions thus: “It was fine, fine, fine; Patterson decided to stay forever, and maybe three days over.” It took only two months for him to get the assignment of writing a daily column he dubbed “The Dawn Patrol.”

During Freddie’s stint in Shanghai, he gathered enough human interest stories to fill a thousand novels, if he ever retired from journalism.

In describing the conduct of a battle between rival houses of prostitution, he informs readers that the madam with seniority hired coolies to defecate on the front steps of the rival location just as the evening was about to begin.

One kindly Shanghai mortician used to offer free services to indigent Americans who died far from their native land. He also, Freddie reported, paid for shipping and interment back home in the USA. Customs started digging up the opium laden coffins before the morticians’ associates and then the concept of the altruistic motivation went up in smoke (as it were).

Freddie got to visit at Madame Sun Yat-sen’s home, thanks to Andre Malraux.

Freddie wrote a book about the glory days in Shanghai. When the book was republished in the USA, the American publishing firm gave Freddie the run-a-round rather than residuals.

In the 1975 article, Freddie glossed over the time line and ignored certain gaps in the narrative saying only that when it came time to apply for a job at the San Francisco Examiner, that “Sing Sing doesn’t provide irresistible references.”

Back in the day when Frisco was home for very memorable gin mills such as “The Fly Trap,” “Mark’s Lower Bar,” and the “Home That Jack Built;” Freddie/Bob became good friends with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, and the two gathered material by going bar hopping together. Feddie/Bob conceded that his arch rival was “a shade faster because of fancier footwork and better streamlining.”

Once, after the two purchased some toy machine guns and participated in some late night frolicking, they were apprehended by two rookie policemen and the columnists indignantly inquired if the youngster knew who they were trying to arrest. When they arrived at the station house, they walked in and the watch commander broke into a hearty laughing fit and finally managed to ask the two patrolmen if they knew who it was that they were trying to arrest. (Case dismissed – on the spot.)

Freddie pushed the boundaries and got in hot water with management when he used the word “poontang.” He was forbidden to use that word ever again and the top proofreader was charged with making sure the embargoed word was banished forever. In a description of a party that included a list of forty names, a mysterious guest named Poon Tang was listed and won Freddie a wager for a double sawbuck.

In a dispute about running a story about a business man and a bimbo, Freddie asked about using that information in the paper. His boss, out of concern for the fellow’s wife, replied “Forget the story and give him a call so he knows that we know.” Freddie elaborates the result: “Max dumped the doll and stayed away from expensive poontang from then on until coffin time.”

Freddie was involved in a plot that involved hush money for his prison record and he spurned the chance to cover it all up. His termination was reported to the readers in a box on a subsequent Examiner front page.

Freddie/Bob reports that he then went into business with “Honest” Luke Carroll playing poker on various passenger liners sailing the Pacific. The company that owned the vessels eventually stopped selling tickets to the two card players.

Freddie/Bob bummed around the Journalism Industry and picked up some writing assignments in Hollywood, but then: “In 1967, Patterson felt homesick for the Examiner and asked them for a job.”

In 1960, the Examiner had suffered some humiliation when (according to the Freddie exposé) Bud Boyd “was discovered (by Ed Montgomery) to be writing a wilderness survival series from the comfort of his living room.”

A few years after rejoining the Examiner staff, the rehired Freddie/Bob scored some exclusives from China; the newspaper’s managment didn’t take kindly to allegations that the scoops had been penned in Hong Kong and not the interior of China. It was time for another front page box informing readers that Freddie/Bob had been fired again.

A copy of the Freddie/Bob story was located in the San Francisco Public Library and other sources indicate that Freddie/Bob’s story didn’t end there. Due to a law suite, Freddie/Bob was suspended from writing assignments but was kept on the payroll at full pay until the legal matter could be clarified. (Some guys have all the luck?)

Like Elvis, Jim Morrison, and James Dean, Freddie Francisco (AKA Bob Patterson)’s death was well reported in the Bay area many years ago. The World’s Laziest Journalist intends on holding a brief memorial service on National Columnists’ Day for Freddie Francisco. Since one of the legendary Frisco bars, the Gold Dust Lounge (Est. 1933), which got fond mentions from Herb Caen, is in immanent danger of closure now, perhaps we will hoist a glass of diet cola in Freddie/Bob’s honor there as our celebration of National Columnists’ Day. What’s not to like about a fellow who loved traveling the world, having good times, and then writing about his own adventures? Putting it on the expense account could only have been putting frosting on the cake.

Freddie Francisco’s lead for his exposé provides an apt closing quote for this column: “Bob Patterson, erstwhile San Francisco Examiner newsman, China expert and scoundrel is a very misunderstood man. He is misunderstood by his critics, by two former wives and by at least one god-fearing and red-blooded former employer who recently fired him on the front page.”

Now the disk jockey will play “On a slow boat to China,” the soundtrack album from “The Lady from Shanghai,” and the Flatlanders “My wildest dreams get wilder every day.” We have to go over to San Francisco and look for some very old books. Have a “stay out of jail card” type week.

June 26, 2011

A hard-boiled choice for a school kid

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 5:28 pm

The new special collectors edition cigarette packs with photos on them came out recently, but since the World’s Laziest Journalist doesn’t smoke, we are not going to be buying them. Their debut did remind us of how a long ago opportunity to get started on the cigarette addiction boiled down to an odd choice: a free pack of cigarettes or a trip to Paris.

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a young Ernie Pyle wannabe who was attending parochial school. After the lunch hour break, the classes would line up outside the schoolhouse and march in at the sound of the start bell.

On one particular day (was it during seventh grade or eighth? In all the intervening years we kinda lost track of the exact number), a group of adults approached and began handing out small sample packs of cigarettes. Some of the more sophisticated students (the boys were required to wear a suit coat and tie and the red jacket, white t-shirt, blue jeans uniform of the rebels was strictly verboten) snatched up the items with enthusiasm and then turned to the ones who seemed perplexed with the windfall and asked “You gonna use ‘em? If not; can I have yours?”

The columnist aspirant had been exposed to smokes many years previously. When he, at the age of seven, asked his mom about cigarettes; she pulled one out from her pack, told him to put it in his mouth and lit it up. She coached him through a few drags and a vehement coughing spell and continued the lesson in existentialism: “You can learn to overcome that taste and the negative reaction and learn to enjoy it if you so choose.” She added: “In the future your friends may start to try smoking in secret. If you want to smoke, come see me for your next lesson. Don’t let them goad you into sneaking them. You have permission to try again if you want another attempt to learn to like it.”

The free sample packs held no allure of the forbidden for the young Walter Winchell fan. He did, however, venture to ask his aunt why a company would give away a product that they usually sold. She responded with a lesson in marketing saying the product was habit forming and that if they could give away samples and get a customer for life in return it would be cost effective. (She may not have used that exact terminology.) Then she prompted the lad to see if he could use mathematics to figure out what one of his classmates could expect to spend for a life time supply of smokes.

At a quarter a day and seven days a week with 52 weeks in a year, it worked out to $91 a year. Since the US had not become embroiled in Vietnam, it was logical to assume that all his classmates would live to retirement age. (As it turned out some didn’t make it to their 25th birthday.) That would bring the expected cost up to $4,823.00. Then the aunt introduced the concept of inflation and added expected rises in price to the formula.

Can you believe that some conspiracy theory nuts in the fifties thought that a package of cigarettes would eventually go to a dollar a pack?

Five grand would surely cover a deluxe two week vacation in Paris. It was just about then that some guy named Papa Hemingstein coined the marketing slogan “Moveable Feast” for use in reference to trips to the City of Light. (Did he write for Clipper, which was Pan Am’s inflight magazine?) An opinion poll survey at the time said that a majority of high school students listed a trip to Paris as one of their lifetime goals.

Paris was considered the new destination of choice for young folks who yeaned to go on the road.

At one time in his career, wasn’t that Hemingway guy also a columnist? If columnists like Paris, it must be good.

The young non smoker finally made it to Paris much later in life. The first night in Paris, he didn’t expect that a trip on the Subway (to Cactus Charley’s place) would become a memorable part of the vacation. [In Paris they call the subway “le metro;” but what do they call a “Big Mac”?] In New York the subway to New Jersey goes under the Hudson River, but in Paris the subway comes up from under ground and goes over the Sein to get to the other side. When it emerged from below ground and came to a stop, between the rows of buildings adjacent to the subway station he could see a bit further away, a tower that was such an eyeful they actually call it the Eiffel Tower. He thought “Holy cow, batman, we’ve finally made it! We are in Paris!” It was a “lump in the throat” moment. It was time to scratch “Get to Paris” off his bucket list. Who’dda thunk that a subway trip could be such an emotional experience?

Sometime later, when a coworker complained to the boss that the nonsmoker, who was getting paid less than the complainer, could afford a two week vacation in Paris and he couldn’t, the columnist used math to explain why life isn’t fair.

The fellow (Let’s call him “Jim”) smoked a pack a day (which by the late Eighties had broken the buck a pack cost barrier). Jim usually drank a six pack a day. Jim went out to one of Santa Monica’s many fine coffee shops (Alas Zucky’s, the Broken Drum, and the former drive-in at Wilshire and Harvard [?] are history) for lunch, which would chew up (pun alert?) at least five dollars a day with more if he left a tip. The economical minded fellow (Let’s call him WLJ) had made sandwiches and did the brownbag lunch routine during the work week. The extra cost for the cigs, brewskis, and eat-out chow computed out to be almost exactly what it had cost the cheapskate to get to Paris and back.

Some fine minds are paid very well to come up with strong anti-smoking Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) for use on Television. You never see any of them use the “It’s the economy, stupid” approach. Who did the old comedy routine about telling kids they can do anything they want to do except they must not put beans into their ears? Isn’t telling them they could get cancer a lot like saying “we dare you to . . .”?

What would happen if someone did a PSA reductio ad absurdum ad offering kids a free (smaller than normal) sample pack of “coffin nails” or a trip to Paris and included a cost comparison?

Speaking of cigarettes, is it true that CBS radio is looking for a fearless journalist to do a series of live reports titled: “Tripoli calling!”?

Bartlett’s reminds us that it was Rudyard Kipling who wrote: “And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room,” Smokey Robinson (and the Miracles)’s album “I’ll Try Something New,” and Patsy Cline’s song “Three cigarettes in an ash tray.” We have to go see where we can buy a pack of the Fatima brand of smokes. Have a “memories of the Times Square billboard” type week.

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