When I had a radio show, I used to buy the newspaper every day. I’d read it on the train and tear out articles I thought I might want to talk about on the air. I always had a small plastic bag of little torn-up bits of newspaper with me, just in case I suddenly had to go broadcast someplace. I once read that you can tell how much you like someone by how many newspaper articles you’d want to share with them, and if that’s true then I liked the Listeners better than anybody else in the whole world. But now that I’m not on WFMU, I’m also not buying the paper.
By “paper,” you know I mean the Daily News, right? Every time I mention how dreadful the New York Times is, people get all agitated and start missing the whole point of whatever it is I’m trying to say, so I’m not going to talk about that right now. I do just want to mention, though, that when I went to Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday, Hostess Listener Peggy was in a tizzy because the turkey was cooking MUCH too fast and it looked like dinner was going to have to be served an hour early, before some people even arrived. I asked her how she figured out how many minutes per pound to roast the bird, and she looked kind of panicked and said she’d found it “online.” But later I overheard her telling another guest that she’d got the minutes-per-pound info from the New York Times. (She knows how I feel.) “Wrong again!” I hollered. Well … I’m just saying.
Also, the price of the Daily News has suddenly gone up to 75 cents, a 50% increase, and there are free newspapers in New York: AM New York and Metro. I did a comparison study a while back, and decided Metro was better, so that’s the one I look at. Just after Mr. Obama was elected, Metro ran an article on the three major assumptions of white supremacists, which was very interesting and not something I saw anywhere else. But sometimes I do fear that by not reading the Daily News every day I am missing some excellent writing. Here’s an example of a lead sentence that was in the News one day a few weeks ago when I happened to buy a copy:
“Laughed at through her childhood and abandoned by her parents, a dwarf madam who led a runaway Brooklyn teen into a life of prostitution heads to prison today.”
“Wow,” I thought when I read it, “that sounds like Scott Shifrel.” In fact, it was; his byline was at the bottom of the piece. Scott Shifrel writes news leads that are like little 36-word Dickensian novels. He wrote my very favorite sentence ever, one of the best sentences ever written in the English language:
“A baby, jammed in a shoebox amid a swarm of cockroaches, a pile of drugs, and a loaded handgun, was well cared-for and loved, her teenage mother insisted as she was released from jail yesterday.”
I loved that sentence so much that I interviewed Scott Shifrel on my old FMU radio show, “Killing Time with Bronwyn C.” (Sorry I don’t have a link, but it was on the October 12, 2007 program, about 20 minutes in. If you want to hear it you have to look under the archives for a different show called “Bronwyn Knows Best with Bronwyn and Kelly.” But Kelly’s not on “Killing Time with Bronwyn C.”) Mr. Shifrel was a great guest, and very interesting, and also modest—he gave his assistant credit for coming up with the word “swarm” in relation to the cockroaches. After the show I emailed him and told him he could come on “Killing Time” anytime he wanted, which I suppose made me sound like the Kathy Bates character in Misery, but I meant it. Of course, so did she.
After that show, Listener John emailed me and recommended a book called Novels in Three Lines, by Felix Feneon, a collection of three-line items by M. Feneon that were published in a French newspaper in the early 1900s. And the fine writer Barbara Henry, who composes her poetry with words from that one newspaper I’m not mentioning here, has told me there’s another poet—the managing editor at another newspaper—with whom she discusses the literary merit of newspaper leads. (You can hear Ms. Henry read some of her poems on the April 25, 2008 “Killing Time” show.) So apparently there’s a little literary tradition here, but to me, Scott Shifrel is the king. I’m just sorry I’m missing all his writing now, and I’m sorry I don’t have time today to get into a critical review of those late-'90s Food Emporium flyers that used to be so genius.
Thanks for reading my blogpost this time, and may God bless.