Columns » Bob Lancaster

The last word


A question from "Chris" (probably not this troublemaker's real name) for "Ask the Columnist," our occasional feature: "Is the reason they put your column at the very back of the newspaper because they're ashamed of it?" The Columnist replies: I could give you a song and dance, Chris, but you know and I know and the American people know the answer to that one. A follow-up question from "Chris": "If that's the case, why do they feel like they have to run the thing at all?" The Columnist again: They've been very conscientious trying to distance the column from the editorially respectable part of the paper. They've miniaturized it and tried hiding it in the pig cartoon, like George Fisher used to do Snooky. They've run it upside down and backwards. Blotted out most of the words like the FBI. Translated it prior to publication into a really hard foreign language, such as JavaScript or that African one with all the loud jaw pops and head thumps. Run disclaimers. Added cautionary inserts such as, "Really, folks, there's much better reading material than this up toward the front of the book." Was all of that, taken together, trying to give me a hint? Call me paranoid, I guess. But I've just played dumb, and so far so good. So thanks a lot, Chris, if you've planted a seed here. *** I have to say, though, I don't blame them for the distancing. This column's presence really might lower property values in the part of the paper that contains the weightier thinkers and more serious stylists. Those up-front contributors are class people. They know their stuff. You can trust them. They stick to the point. Some of them are bona fide sages. If Ernest Dumas were emperor of the world, it would be a mighty good world. A Robert McCord-run world would be a swell one too, though people whose hobby is recreational drugs probably wouldn't think so. The only one I'm not sure about is the Observer, a taciturn person who's all the time having sex-change operations, it seems like. The proper place for such eloquence as theirs is not back here in the caboose pages. It would just get soiled back here. It would feel like it was in a trailer park, or Mabelvale, and that would have to be discouraging. No muckraking, whistleblowing, exposaying or anything else worthwhile has been accomplished in this columnial dump since long before Gennifer Flowers peed in her bowl. I can't tell you why. It's not for lack of effort. Maybe superannuation. Old football blows to the head. I just lose track. I'll get 400, 500 words along into one of these treatments and suddenly look around and I'm Walter Mitty ukeing at a luau or yarnswapping around the chuckwagon beanpot with cowboys who play the lonesome French harp. That very thing happened just now. I had a topic well underway but the scene just shifted on me. The dogs barked and the caravan moved on. I don't understand the sequence, but it should make a nice case study for an intern, and you can understand why they'd want to tuck it discreetly into the back pages. The placement was explained to me one time this way: "What we want is for the reader to finish up the paper with a good feeling, with a smile on his or her face. Your dreck does that as well as anybody's. Or it does when you're not just being a jerk." I think that was meant as a compliment, but it reminded me of what State Rep. G.W. "Buddy" Turner used to say about reading the Pine Bluff Commercial and then going on to bed without supper and drifting into a peaceful sleep because he had nothing on his stomach and nothing on his mind. No complimentary intention in that, either. Don't misunderstand; I'm not contending the back pages are barren ground, or even less fertile ground. Indeed, much goes on in them - politicking, witnessing, gardening, wordplay, redbellying slimeballs - but back here it never seems to amount to anything. Investigations aren't launched. Hearings aren't scheduled. Documentaries aren't inspired. A piece may start strong but the weight of those preceding pages just seems to smother it. The material wants to escape into those well-lit, make-a-difference early pages, but the yearning is only momentary, and it soon sinks back upon itself, embittered and forlorn. And from that gutter the netherside columnist may very well descend into the Sheol of self-doubt that comes of imagining oneself having morphed into a kind of goomer hybrid of the back-pages puerile and the back-pages simplistic, half-and-half Werner Treischmann and Billy Graham you might say. A ghastly fate. But I know the remedy. The remedy is dogged, relentless sanguinity. Keep on the sunny side. Keep it lite. Avoid the dark profundities that engage, say, the philosopher-columnists of the New York Post. Fish stories; dog stories, what Karr Shannon called his daffynitions. Quotations from the domino parlor and Sunday school. The last word here might not move mountains or shake foundations - it likely won't even be gotten around to - but it IS the last word.

Add a comment