Daniel Ruth

Tallahassee's Balzac of the Banal

Perhaps in the riveting sequel to his blockbuster nonselling book, which could be titled My Pet Goat Meets the Florida Legislature, Senate President Mike Haridopolos might consider a chapter along the lines of: "What a Cravenly Ambitious Pol Should Do When Caught Receiving a $152,000 Gratuity for Penning the Great American Drivel."

The senator has come under renewed scorn, belittlement and mockery (all of it justly deserved, by the way) over his 2007 tome, Florida History & Legislative Processes, which is to the advancement of scholarship what Charlie Sheen is to parenting.

Good grief, Bubba the Love Sponge could have cranked out a more intellectually compelling examination of Florida history and legislative machinations than Haridopolos, who was paid the 152K by Brevard Community College. The school finally put it up for sale on Amazon.com's Kindle site earlier this month after treating the text as more secret than those high-level Scientology gospels one has to spend duffel bags of money to read.

Considering Justin Bieber could pen a more insightful textbook on 17th century British colonialism than Haridopolos' Snooker-of-the-Month-Club offering, a cynic might consider the Senate president's book deal as little more than the college's effort to curry favor with an up-and-coming pol.

You can't deny they picked a winner — so far. Haridopolos rose to become the leader of the Senate, which makes him one of the state's most powerful figures. Now he's also running for the U.S. Senate. And he just might get elected, if everyone would stop asking him about glomming on to 152,000 public dollars to scribble academia's answer to a mattress tag.

So it was a somewhat testy Haridopolos who arrived here at the newspaper editorial board recently for little chat. He wanted to talk about the coming legislative session. I wanted to ask him about golden nuggets in The Haridopolos Code, such as noting that volunteers are a good idea in a political campaign. So is having a cell phone. Don't forget the value of yard signs. And a candidate must know his own positions on issues.

Who knew?

Haridopolos grew defensive being asked about raking in so much cash for producing something that wouldn't even be considered for "Oprah's Pamphlet Club."

The senator insisted he had fulfilled the terms of his contract with the college, which one might gather consisted of: "Party A shall produce complete gibberish, and Party B will try to ignore it for $152,000."

Things were not going well. So I asked the Senate president if he could cite a single, revealing, insightful, thought-provoking, academically challenging passage in his book that was worth $152,000. Did I mention things weren't going well?

It was right about then that the Merritt Island Republican — although he was smiling at me much like Jack Nicholson in The Shining — snapped: "I don't know. How much are you worth?"

You have to admit, Haridopolos had a valid point. It is true, I am not worth anywhere near $152,000, although I'm certainly not averse to taking bids.

It occurred to me that perhaps the Ernest Hemingway of Hooey was on to something. Years ago I tried my hand at writing a very bad novel, which centered around the horrific, brutal, gory murder of an editor. The case is solved by a handsome, brilliant, daring and much-beloved columnist. Well, one has to find one's vicarious thrills wherever one can.

I never bothered to finish the novel. After dispatching the evil editor, the appeal had pretty much gone out of the creative process. Now it is obvious I had gone about realizing publishing immortality entirely the wrong way.

Maybe Brevard Community College might be interested in a completely useless book on "Florida Journalism and the Henscratching Process," filled with utter twaddle no one will ever read or care about — all for the bargain basement price of $152,000. If so, I'm just the chap to step up the keyboard.

To tempt the fine college folks to reach for the checkbook, here is a taste of the captivating inside baseball I could deliver to prepare generations of aspiring reporters.

Always carry a notebook and pen. Make sure the pen has ink in it.

It is a good idea to spell stuff correctly.

A savvy reporter will always hide the excessive bar tab as a cab ride on the expense account.

Learn how to type.

If possible, avoid giving your editors your mobile phone number since they will always insist on calling you.

Finally, if you decide you want to write a truly banal book, hire Mike Haridopolos as your agent. This guy really knows what he's doing.

Tallahassee's Balzac of the Banal 03/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 7:19pm]

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