A word of advice to any cash-strapped editors out there. (Sorry, delete cash-strapped; redundant.) Don't waste money on reader surveys. If you want to know who your audience is, or if you have an audience at all, just run a piece about cats. Get a seemingly gentle soul like Jeff Klinkenberg to write something despicable, like "Cats kill birds." Or inhumane, like "Cats would live longer and happier lives cuddled on your lap rather than outdoors where they might get hit by a car and in the meantime eat a lot of birds." Commission a piece along these lines, fellow editors, and watch the letters roll in.
Don't just take my word for it; this month's in basket bristled with letters of outrage on behalf of cats. (Not one wanted to discuss the arduous life of Iris Kroener, a 95-year-old human being profiled in the same issue, though I was cheered to learn that some readers wrote to Leonora LaPeter Anton directly.) I offer a small sample below.
The one reader who didn't write about cats was upset about rats. She called for my head because I gave Susan Thurston the room to write her amusing account of dispatching a rat with the help of a stranger at a bar. If I am to be fired for this, I intend to go out swinging. That rat had it coming.
I say this because of the rat that I once failed to kill in my attic. Hunched under the sloping eaves, sweat trickling from the tip of my nose, I slathered peanut butter on the trap's trigger and cocked the spring. The trap slipped in my greasy fingers and gouged a chunk out of my thumb as it clapped shut. The trail of blood drops is still there. And as far as I know, so is the rat.
This news may cheer a certain fan of rattus rattus in Indian Shores. But I can assure you, my thirst for revenge is as fresh as the memory of my bloody retreat. So if you've got a story that involves a dead rat and a hungry cat, please send it my way.
I get lonely when no one writes.
Bill Duryea is the Tampa Bay Times' enterprise editor.