Guest Commentary

Here's to my second-longest relationship--with the 'Tucson Weekly'

I'm thinking of Ted Williams, the greatest hitter ever, and his final game at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, 1960. My father took me.

In his last at-bat, the Splendid Splinter launched a home run, career No. 521, and the little ballpark rocked. What a spectacle, what theater, what joy.

That game effectively began my relationship with the Red Sox, which is now approaching 49 years.

I'm sitting in my office today trying to think of other relationships in my life that have gone on anywhere near that long, and I'm coming up with one--I've been writing for the Tucson Weekly for 22 years.

My first story, on April 29, 1987, profiled the Arizona Daily Star's longtime outdoor writer, Pete Cowgill.

Ted Williams, Cowgill ... sure, it works.

Add the name of America's greatest writer to that list. Seeing F. Scott Fitzgerald's books on my office shelf reminds me of his editor, Max Perkins, and the rarity of long literary relationships. After a very short while, editors and writers usually end up counting off 20 paces with pistols.

Perkins got his first look at Fitzgerald's fiction in 1918, saw the magic when others at Scribner's didn't, and asked for some edits.

The young writer complied, and the book became This Side of Paradise, the novel that launched Fitzgerald.

He and Perkins maintained a close relationship for--guess what!--22 years.

It ended Dec. 21, 1940, when Fitzgerald collapsed and died of a heart attack in the Hollywood apartment of his mistress, Sheilah Graham. (Gratuitous, but I wanted to toss it in. Wouldn't you?)

Pretty soon, the Weekly and I will zoom past Perkins and F. Scott.

Twenty-two years!

I remember sitting around the Star lunchroom when word hit that a couple of young fellows were starting a weekly here in town. The reaction of the assembled writers and editors could be collectively described as: "Those punks!"

Few places on Earth equal the modern newsroom for people who live in a state of ... how to describe it ... contemptuousness? Yes, that's it--for people who live in a state of utter contempt for the outside world, for the rubes beyond their bubble who never seem to measure up.

It's worse in newsrooms today, now that the world has so thoroughly rejected daily papers.

The Weekly has never really had what anyone would call a newsroom.

Mostly, the product has come out of a series of converted houses filled with little rooms with computers in them, and dogs and kids, and an assortment of, well, youngsters, all in the same rebel pose, same clothes, same ideas, same sneakers.

But I'll give them this--they never stood on ceremony, and several became friends.

When the Weekly's offices were on Cushing Street, I'd sometimes be running errands downtown, and if I had to go to the bathroom, I'd swing in to the paper.

I once read an interview with Calvin Trillin who was asked: Why do you write for The New Yorker? He said, "It's the magazine closest to my house." I get that.

At the Weekly, business accomplished, I'd flop down on the couch in editor Dan Huff's office and talk, nap, look at page proofs, maybe pitch a story.

Huff might be on the phone with somebody bellyaching about a story, and once in a great while, the conversation would end with Dr. Dan delivering a hyphenated expletive, and down the phone would go.


"Mr. Huff? ... Ah, Mr. Huff? ... Hell-eew?"

Dr. Dan understood something important: It's impossible to run a decent newspaper without, on occasion, telling your beloved readers to go hyphenate themselves.

I don't know what it's like these days at Weekly World Headquarters down by the airport, in that converted B-29 hangar they call an office. I don't go there much, because I wouldn't get past security, or the on-site gender-diversity-anger-management-sustainability goon, now required by federal statute.

Whereas I used to hand-deliver my copy, now I produce it on a computer--not with my fingers, mind you, which are all screwy-louie from years of typing, but with a fancy dictation program that allows me to talk the words onto the screen. Then I shoot it down to Weekly World Headquarters on thin air.

Twenty-two years!

Ted Williams played 19 seasons with the Sox. After his retirement, John Updike wrote for The New Yorker--Updike must live around the corner, too!--a classic essay on that final day, headlined "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu."

It was a beautiful piece of writing, unconventional and surprising, and, as long as we're delivering wild comparisons, here's another: The Weekly has lasted 25 years because it gives to writers the same freedom The New Yorker gives to theirs.

If we don't push the idea beyond those strict terms, it works.

The Weekly's editors have always let their better writers experiment with style and structure, flesh out a topic, use the techniques of fiction to move a piece to its conclusion.

The freedom drives some stories off the cliff, but at other times, it allows the flowering of that crucial element of surprise that keeps readers returning.

The key word is readers.

When people started picking up the Weekly in 1984, they did so to read it, and here we are 25 years later, the printed word in calamitous collapse, and people are still picking the thing up and actually ... reading it!

How old-fashioned can you get? Now you understand why I like it.

Happy 25th, old girl.

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