April 5, 2013

“Free lunch, total wisdom, and full coverage . . .”

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:33 pm

The face on an Oakland threshold

After receiving a tip that some Phd’s are staying in a local shelter, and rejecting the possibility that it’s unlikely that a Republican majority United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) would issue a game changer liberal ruling, and wondering if some third party countries might be goading North Korea into a hostile action against the USA, why would a teetotaling columnist think that a new gin mill for journalists in the Oakland area would make the best topic for a new column?  The oil spill in Mayflower Arkansas isn’t getting any media mentions so scratch that off the possible topics list.  Updates on the nuclear plants in the Fukushima area of Japan won’t interest anybody but the treehuggers.  Kim Jong Un seems to have spoiled the news value of sequester cuts because there seems to be plenty of money available for Obama to do some “saber rattling” type diplomacy.

In a media market that has been inundated with analysis of the Gay Marriage issue, the fact that we have not encountered any commentary that points out that it is very unrealistic to expect a ruling from a conservative majority SCOTUS that would hand the liberals a “walk off grand slam” ruling and since there has been a surfeit of punditry that tries to keep a “think it through, Agent Utah,” outcome shrouded in a veneer of “anybody’s guess” mystery, writing a column with a tone of predestined inevitability seems like a waste of time and effort.

What good would it do to point out that some nefarious country with an Eddie Haskel type sense of humor might think it would be amusing to goad the leader of North Korea into renewing hostilities on the Korean peninsula because that would make it more difficult for the USA to resort to some of the “all options are on the table” solutions to the task of preventing Iran from manufacturing WMD’s?  Didn’t the USA show that they could successfully handle the challenge of a two ocean war back when FDR was President?

The possibility of doing an article about finding people with Phd’s in shelters located in close proximity to a world famous University might have some potential for landing a long and arduous assignment from the editor of the New Yorker magazine but doing all that work just to get a column for the Internets that would be just three e-takes long, seems a bit too Pollyanna-ish for the World’s Laziest Journalist.  Didn’t we already mention the New York Times writer who now lives in People’s Park?

The Don Quixote challenge of starting a new establishment that will gain a place on the list of the mythological watering holes for word slingers – now that’s worth writing about.

To write about that topic, wouldn’t the abstaining columnist have to have some first hand knowledge of places such as Hurley’s bar in the Rockefeller Center area of New York City where Frank McGee would huddle with his co-workers while members of the staff of the AP’s New York Bureau gathered at a separate table nearby?  Check.

Wasn’t The Keg near the Santa Monica Evening Outlook a legendary drinking place?

Wasn’t the hotel in liberated Paris, called the Scribe, the setting for some amazing feats of alcoholic consumption?

Didn’t the war correspondents in Saigon gather at the Hotel Continental each evening to watch the artillery shelling of the city’s outskirts?  Were journalists permitted entry into the Purple Porpoise bar in Vientiane Laos, if that city actually existed?

We noticed in the New York Times Arts & Leisure Section for Sunday March 31, 2013, an article about a new Broadway play titled “Lucky Guy,” which is based on the life of Mike McAlary who was a columnist with “high-octane swagger” who (reportedly) did cartwheels when “closing time” was announced at the bar where he happened to be imbibing.

Gonzo Journalism is starting the second half of its first century according to the way one of the founding fathers, Tom Wolfe, sees it, so the summer of 2013 might well be a time when America is awash in nostalgia for Gonzo journalism and that means that the idea of starting a new place in Oakland that will be gathering place for writers who grew up believing that they had to “go where the action is” has merit.  Do folks outside the Oakland area know that Lake Merit isn’t a lake?

The Tribune Tavern, which will be located on the ground floor of the Tribune building in downtown Oakland, has opening day scheduled for April 10th.  Wouldn’t the journalists who covered Saigon have preferred a bistro on the top floor?

There is one tavern in Oakland where police tend to gather and talk shop talk.  Journalists tend to “let their hair down” when they are among their own kind.  Motorcycle enthusiasts tend to go to biker bars.  So gin mills may be an example of the old folk wisdom “water seeks its own level.”

While traveling in Australia a few years back, we noticed that the smoking and drinking table found at most of the hostels where we stayed tended to attract the most loquacious of the travelers staying there and so we often found the best conversations at those gathering places even though we do not smoke or drink liquor.  Perhaps a non drinker can hold his own in this new watering hole where columnists should be welcome.

Speaking of the legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen and the fact that National Columnists’ Day is rapidly approaching, a recent Chronicle front page story detailing the attempt to assemble a list of San Francisco bars that are culturally significant makes all of Caen’s Bay Area fans a bit sad that he isn’t alive and fighting to augment that effort with a campaign to establish a “Gin Mill Hall of Fame” for the legendary bars that are gone but not forgotten.

What kind of chatter makes a journalists bar interesting?  About forty years ago, in a bar in a state known for gambling, a crusty old reporter told about the time he was a rookie who went with the old hands to a bar for a bit of liquid refreshment.  The journalist with a “white belt” level of experience got into a lively discussion with a veteran sports reporter about the legendary race horse “Man o’ War.”  The two had differing ways of speculating about the Triple Crown winner that couldn’t be settled until the bar tender jumped into the conversation and very emphatically said what the horse would have done under the hypothetical circumstances.  When the bar tender was asked “What makes you so certain?,” he replied “Because I was his trainer.”  That, in turn, led the young tenderfoot journalist to a high profile series of freelance articles about horse racing.

Realistically, when the Tribune Tavern opens, we don’t expect to find anything that we can use in a query letter to the assignment editor at Scanlon’s Magazine, but maybe we will stumble upon a source who can tell us if the “scientists” at the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory (ACTF) have made any progress on their investigation into the possibility that “they” can use a dormant wifi connection to hack into laptops that are turned off and look at your private photos and read your e-mails.

Speaking of the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory, we heard a recent radio news story that informed listeners that a recent Pew Research Center effort produced data that indicates that some classic conspiracy theories are gaining new adherents.

If journalists gather at the new Oakland location, maybe we can track down some facts to confirm or deny the rumor we have heard that preliminary work is being done in the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory’s Planning Department to build a wing to house a Conspiracy Theory Hall of Fame museum.

Sometimes when journalists talk among themselves they come up with new story ideas via the “catalyst” phenomenon.

Will the most cynical journalists look at the cheating teachers scandal in Georgia and start to wonder if doctors get commission checks (or free junkets to the Bahamas?) from pharmaceutical companies when they exceed a certain number for prescriptions of a particular medicine.

Most journalists who have spent any time observing humanity in a bar know that President Obama, in his war of words with Kim Jong Un, is rapidly approaching a tough decision that cause bar room brawlers to realize for both leaders it’s time to either throw a punch or shut up.

Hunter S. Thompson’s philosophy for journalists was “Free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage . . .” and that brings to mind the old question:  “How can you tell if someone is a journalist?”  The answer:  “He is the guy who goes up to the free food, starts shoveling it into his face and, with a mouth full of food, asks:  ‘Where is the Hand Out?’”   Hand Outs are prewritten news stories that save lazy journalists (moi?) a lot of time and work.

Journalists can only take so much of official BS.  How many toasts will be inspired by a society that continues to foreclose large numbers of homes while the local radio urges the listeners to save more money?   As an old coworker used to say:  “My car payments are driving me to drink.”

[Note from the Photo Editor:  We used a photo of a bit of artistic decoration from Oakland but not from the one that hasn’t opened yet, because we thought that the quaint example, of a nearby establishment’s threshold, of art for bars would help set the tone for this column and it gives us a chance to make a literary allusion to the “face on the barroom floor.”]

In issue 111 of Granta magazine, on page 210, Richard Russo wrote:  “After World War II, about the same time men stopped wearing hats, women stopped wearing gloves.”

Now the disk jockey will play Slayer’s “World Painted Blood,” the Celtic Cowboys “Kiss My Irish Ass,” and a ditty titled “The Alco-hall of Fame.”  We have to put on our Gonzo disguise and go incognito to cover this new place in Oakland.  Have a “there’s no ‘there’ there” type of week.

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