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Forgiving Feirtag

For half a century, I hated Michael Feirtag for this scene:
It was a rainy Friday afternoon during my first week at MIT. Unbeknownst to me, that was the dullest time of the week in the office of The Tech. Normally, it would have been locked and empty. By coincidence, there was a single editor there, Michael Feirtag, the editor of the Arts Section. Michael was thin and gawky, with odd teeth and a prickly demeanor. In my hand, I had my typed review of the brand-new Firesign Theater album Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. I was a huge Firehead (devoted follower of the group).

“I’d like to write for The Tech,” I said.

Feirtag accepted my one-page review. He gave it a cursory glance. “This stuff is shit Schindler. Why don’t you write for some other paper?”
It worked out. I went to Ergo, where PSACOT started, and was then asked to move it to The Tech for a few weeks. Eventually I became editor-in-chief.

I can’t change the past, but I can change how I feel about it. I have recently realized that Feirtag (who went on to become an author and a writer for the Scientific American) saved me. He saved me from becoming a lackluster arts reporter, which led to my being a decent columnist and a great reporter.

Thank you Michael Feirtag. (I have tried to reach him, but his Internet profile is zero, other than articles and books from a few decades ago, by publishers who haven’t heard from him since).

Couldda Been 2: Raised Catholic

My mother was raised Presbyterian; her father even toyed with the idea of becoming a minister. But at age 15, after marrying my dad and leaving home, she went church shopping, because she no longer wanted to be a “namby-pamby grape-juice-drinking Presbyterian.”

This, I suspect, led her to favor denominations which used actual wine as a sacrament, so no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for her.

She attended the Sunday services of a half dozen different Christian denominations. It boiled down to Catholic or Episcopalian. She attended several services at each. She loved the smells and bells and the beautiful churches and the way the priests were dressed.

But she noticed that every Catholic sermon mentioned hell, and not a single Episcopalian sermon mentioned it. She was more interested in pomp than damnation, so she became an Episcopalian, and thus, in the way of these things, so did I.

I have always been grateful to her for that choice. No offense intended, but the ex-Catholics of my acquaintance (numerous friends, one of my lovers) seem to have been pretty badly damaged by the judgmental nature of that religion. As the National Lampoon once put it, God is either a hairy thunderer or a cosmic muffin. I prefer my God to be a cosmic muffin.

About Writing 3: The Stylebook in My Head

(Length Warning)

There are many writing stylebooks; too many to mention.

But there is only one I was simultaneously paid and ordered to memorize, and chastised severely and publicly for failure to follow: the AP/UPI Joint Stylebook, circa 1975.

For example, (I may have mentioned this before): there is almost no sentence in which the word “that” cannot be removed. “He said he remembered that he had done it,” is shorter and means the same if it is “He said he remembered he had done it.” I have spent four decades pruning the word “that” out of my copy and that (oops!) of others.

“Only buses and trains are due,” said my UPI boss. “The company failed due to management incompetence,” a frequently recurring trope, should be expressed as, “The company failed because of management incompetence.”

Never imply causation. “Meanwhile, elsewhere in Boston,” was almost always intended to imply causation or connection. If you can prove either of those things, explain WHY you have added the “elsewhere” information. Or be more direct: “As a result of the fire, trains were stopped.”

On the more informal radio wire, you could say “Jones said the budget was over three million dollars in the red.” But on the more formal newspaper wire, “There was a deficit of more than $2.97 million,  according to Jones.” Now, even the New York Times has given in, and allows “over” as a synonym for “more than.”

 UPI’s Don Davis must be rolling in his grave, picturing a bag of money floating in the air, an image he frequently invoked when chiding writers for violating the rule.

This and That

Old Pictures
I’ve been sorting old pictures. The golden glow of nostalgia? No. As Bob Violino put it in his gratitude blog, “This doesn’t have to be an exercise in dwelling on the past. Look at it as an opportunity to help count the blessings you’ve experienced, and captured, over the years.”

OOPS! Babbling Beaver (no link offered now that I know its true nature) is an abomination pretending to be a parody site. I apologize for posting the link in the first place and promise to d0 better Due Diligence in the future.


What’s the best predictor of success? Grit. Not IQ, test scores, economic class, none of the usual suspects. Grit.

Me=Edgar Alan Poe
I went to one of those “you write like” websites and fed it the last month of PSACOT. Turns out I write like Edgar Allan Poe.

Right Column Redux: John Carroll Cat Columns

The column to the right on this blog contains permanent content, most of which has appeared at one time or another in the main body. I’ve decided to include a reminder.

Jon Carroll Cat Columns
Jon Carroll, who succeeded Charles McCabe in 1982, wrote the world's best personal column for 32 years. He wrote many columns about his cats. I have compiled a partial listing. Hear me interview him during the Internet boom.