Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Papers from a career in papers

To: The New York Public Library

Re: My "papers."

I note with interest that you have just paid the author Tom Wolfe $2.15 million for his papers, which include stories, drafts, notes and personal mail, including correspondence with his tailor and swatches of cloth. I am here to offer you a similar deal. My papers will include the following:

• A copy of the cover of my first book, The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death, which had been overnighted to me by the publisher at the last minute, as a courtesy. The cover looked handsome, but "Hypochondriac" was spelled "Hypochodriac." It was the first and only time I ever got to say, and mean, "Stop the presses."

• Multiple copies of a certain genre of fan mail, printed in block letters by Sharpie, across my column itself. In the era of snail mail, these would come regularly. They were seldom complimentary but always concise. My favorite one simply said, "YOU ARE AN IDOT."

• A clipping of my first story in the Detroit Free Press, which had hired me in 1976 to cover state government but whose city editor, John Oppedahl, liked to give all newbies, as a sort of initiation, the crappiest story possible. I was sent to check out reports of a runaway pig on the Ford Freeway. It turned out to be true, but I could not find the pig. Eventually I discovered, on deadline, that a city sanitation worker had subdued the pig with a ball-peen hammer, taken it home and eaten it.

• A clipping of my first Page 1 story in the Free Press in 1979, and a clipping of the following day's paper, containing my first correction. Because I wrote the correction, it was somewhat charitable to me. It said, simply, "In an article yesterday about the Michigan State Lottery, the name of a Michigan State University statistics professor was misspelled. He is James Stapleton." What the correction did not note was that the "misspelling" identified him, in all 13 references, as James "Templeton."

• A clipping of a sensational if irresponsible story of mine revealing that under an old law somehow still on the books, it was legal to kill house cats in Michigan at any time, in any way and for any purpose. The law was quickly rescinded before any cat holocaust occurred, but not before the newspaper received a mailbag of letters (included) from third-graders as part of an organized campaign to get me fired.

• Two sets of panties received in the mail, addressed to me, several years apart, that may or may not have been from ardent admirers. They are roughly size 64.

• An audiotape of a 1997 phone conversation between Rodney Dangerfield and me, which establishes that he really and truly talked like that.

• An audiotape of an impromptu living room concert by the hot British alt-rock band the Bevis Frond in which, lacking bongos, the drummer used, to excellent results, the somewhat overweight family dog.

That's all for $2.15 million. If you throw in an extra half mil, you'll also get this:

• A clipping of the Washington Post's Style Invitational humor contest, which I edited, from Feb. 5, 1995. It featured two large cartoons asking readers, "What is wrong with these pictures?" The joke was that everything was wrong with the pictures: They were a riot of three-headed people, upside-down houses, etc. But there was also, drawn very, very small, a crudely rendered, unmistakable, public-bathroom-style illustration of male genitalia. The artist had put it in as a joke, and I hadn't noticed it until it was in print, in the paper, and distributed to 600,000 households. I didn't get fired because my boss, Mary, looked at it, declared it could not possibly be that awful thing because the august Washington Post would never do that, that it must be "a gun or something." I kissed her.

© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Papers from a career in papers 12/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post - Writers Group.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: Wilson Ramos showing glimpses of what's possible in 2018


    The real payoff for the Rays signing C Wilson Ramos last off-season will come in 2018, when he can play a full season fully recovered from right knee surgery.

    And Ramos is giving the Rays a pretty good glimpse of what that can be like.

    In Friday's 8-3 win over the Orioles, he hit a grand slam - …

  2. Buccaneers-Vikings Scouting Report: Watching Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen


    No matter how much film we study, no matter how much data we parse, we just don't know how an NFL season will unfold.

  3. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Sue Carlton: Job or family when a hurricane's coming — a very Florida conundrum


    It must seem as foreign to Northerners as shoveling snow is to those of us raised in the Sunshine State: The very-Florida conundrum of having to choose between work and family — between paycheck and personal safety — when a hurricane comes.

    A hurricane helps the rest of us acknowledge the police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel, public works employees and others who stay on the job despite the storm. 
  5. After Tampa concert, Arcade Fire members party, preach politics at Crowbar


    After waiting more than a decade for Arcade Fire’s first appearance in Tampa, fans didn’t have to wait long for their second.

    DJ Windows 98, a.k.a. singer Win Butler of Arcade Fire, performed at a "Disco Town Hall" at Crowbar following the band's concert at the USF Sun Dome on Sept. 22, 2017.