HLS Letters

Winter Is Here

  • December 10, 1988

HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

December 10, 1988

Hey, there, Udo!–

Winter is here and the pool is full of leaves. I have to clean the filter once a day so the pool—sweep can do its job. Anybody tells you that retirement is easy, don’t believe it.

In case you haven’t heard from John Herzog lately, he is learning his lines for “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” in which he will play the homeowner whose house The Man occupies while recovering from his broken leg. John was offered The Man part, but declined for the following reasons: The Man appears in all scenes, and John didn’t want to memorize ten yards of dialogue; John is on the Board of the theatre group, and has additional responsibilities, like chairing a committee which has to decide whether to tear down the theatre and rebuild it, put it up for sale, improve it without tearing it down, etc.; he also writes a quarterly report that is distributed to Members (we are members, and receive the report plus appreciations for our support from the president of the organization); he writes fliers and draws posters; he gives the cast parties for every production. I think he also does other things, but they slip my mind. If they had a theatre—group pool, he could clean the filter every day.

If you haven’t heard from him, now you understand.

Which leads to the reason for the enclosure on SPELL. John joined this organization and enrolled me in it because I kept sending him clippings from The Sacramento Bee that demonstrated how they bruised English grammar, spelling and common usage in each edition, with dedicated journalistic indifference. The Bee may not have a style manual, but they admit to using word processors, and I suspect that here’s what happens: their word— processing program, like most, has a spelling guide; the reporter writing a story on tomatoes forgets how a word is spelled, so he calls up the guide on screen; the guide advises him that “there, their, and they’re” are all pronounced the same, but mean different things. At this point, The Bee has its Newsroom Rule: choose the first spelling and see what happens. The reason for the rule is that reporters and editors understand the differences in spelling, but not the differences in meaning, and they don’t have_the time to find out because the Press Room is screaming for “copy!” (Just like the movies.) So the reporter follows the rule and chooses the first spelling. His sentence reads: “The tomatoes left there packing shed and were driven to the depot.” The newsdesk sub—editor brings up the story on his screen and gives it the OK. (The Bee abandoned proofreaders long ago; sub— editors do all the “proofing.”)

But proofreaders are Out There, and The Bee hears from them. The next day an outraged English teacher calls in and blasts them for misuse. The sub—editor tells the reporter that next time he should try “their or they’re.” and after a while one of the readers will get it right for them. But that’s not the end of it. The Bee also has an Ombudsman, who gets the same complaint and investigates it. The following Sunday he prints in his column the results of his investigation: “I brought this to the attention of the sub—editor, and he acknowledged having been telephoned by a local English teacher. But he explained that in journalism quick decisions are required, and the approval of ‘there’ was a Judgment Call. He added that The Bee appreciates involvement by its readers.”

Judgment Calls also authorize ‘..the captain poured over his navigation charts,” “..the enemy was unphased by repeated attacks,” and other Creative Spellings practiced by The Bee. On the wall of the newsroom is the following motto, in letters a foot high: “A Judgment Call Permitteth All.” Every member of the staff is required to place his hand over his heart once a day and recite the motto aloud. (A reporter who claimed that the instructions should read “..place their hands over their hearts,” was called to the managing editor’s office and advised that the spelling was “..place they’re hands over there hearts.”)

If you would like to join SPELL, it costs ten dollars and you receive a stack of goof cards and a handsome membership certificate that looks like a diploma from medical school, and can be mounted on the wall over your Revolutionary War desk. The address is: 1527 Gilmore Street, Mountain View, California 94040. Why not combine Anne’s crusade to sink the prison barge with another crusade to Bring Back Spelling? The next time Koch shouts, “Everybody in this city is entitled to their own opinion,” send him a goof card. Let him know that Stamford Is Watching. And tell him at the same time to get rid of the barge. If he ever hopes to run for governor, he’ll need the Upstate Vote.

Must admit that I do not know Norman Mailer personally, or any of his five wives, but if you liked Adele best, she’s on our UK list, too. (My reference to Norman’s starting The Village Voice was based on something I read, and I do not know it from personal experience. It may be inaccurate, especially if it was printed in The Bee.)

That “strange character” you met at the Grand Union could have‘been avoided by a very simple tactic: shop at the IGA. No werewolves allowed. They are kept safe for decent people like Anne and Thomas and you. (Joe Uddo has been told to get lost.) Dean & DeLuca and Zabar’s also filter out the fangers, but they’re not too convenient. There’s also shop—by—mail, but it’s tough on ice cream. My suggestion, after discussing your problem with our panel of experts, would be this: cultivate The Stamford Werewolf and write an article about him for The Bee. In retirement you can become a feature writer, and earn millions (as John earns millions on the stage in Santa Fe). Feature journalism is easy if you follow the rules described above. The Bee will welcome you “with opan arms,” or is that “opin arms”?

Next Monday we all head for Lake Tahoe: us, three step-Children and their families (including six step—grandchildren and two dogs), to be met there by son—in—law’s father and spouse. We never feel uneasy about medical attention at Tahoe with two neurosurgeons in the house. The travel weather has been pretty good so far, and we hope it holds. We have never experienced any difficulty getting through Donner Pass either way on any of the holidays we’ve been up there. (That caokling laugh you hear is probably The Stamford Werewolf, reading this over your shoulder through the window as he stands outside in the snow, eyes gleaming. Does he plan to telepath a message to The Tahoe Werewolves? Stay tuned.)

Thanks for the copy of The Villager. They don’t seem to use Creative Spelling. Are they still in The Dark Ages and use a proof—reader? Tell them to get with it, or they’ll be hearing from the editor of The Bee.

And happy holidays to Anne, Thomas and you, and the whole gang down at the IGA. Or, as they declare in The Bee on December 24th, “Mery Crismast & Hapie New Yier” (a judgment call).

Fred C. (“Judge Not, Lest He Be Judged”) Dobbs

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