A smidgeon of background, first: One of a columnist’s greatest temptations is to update his/her readers with a list of the irritations he/she encounters in his/her day-to-day life. (Or, for the thankfully brief period of time I worked on a newspaper’s night desk, my night-to-night life.)
I stand accused. The process has its place, I believe, in part because it’s so greatly therapeutic for the writer. For the reader, such rants have all the allure of sitting next to an aggravated stranger at the bus stop who Just. Won’t. Shut. Up.
The only columnist who could get away with airing his gripes on a weekly basis was the late, great Andy Rooney. And despite his genius, truth be told, his 1000th ranting essay was probably not as enjoyable for his audience as the first 999 had been.
Seeing as I’m nowhere near Andy’s pantheon, I try to limit my columns of rant-lists to two a year — generally, spring and fall. So since fall is in the air, here goes. I’ll make the list as brief as possible.
•Why on earth do TV newscasters insist on describing young women whose lives are ended unnaturally soon, by accident or foul play, as “beautiful” and “popular”? In tabloid land, the implication is obvious: because they were good-looking and well-liked, the loss is greater for US, the audience. What a cheap bit of manipulation. There are millions of wonderful young people who are plain, homely, ungainly, whatever, and have few friends because they’re socially awkward and don’t “fit in” with the fast crowd.
This type of info is only revealed on TV, though, if the person in question has committed a crime. See the difference? If TV news is ever going to at least impersonate real journalism, it can start by omitting its beauty and congeniality categories when telling us about a human tragedy.
•On a more trivial note, it really hacks me off when somebody is taking my picture, asks me to smile, and then chides me “You’re not REALLY smiling!” Well, sir or ma’am, it’s a long story. We are each constricted by the genetic material we’re given at birth via our families.
While I’m technically a Short, I happen to have inherited, from my mom’s side of the family, the Brasfield Mouth. It’s a perfectly good mouth for the purposes of eating, drinking, spitting, talking, and even — for a brief period in junior high — playing a mean couple of tunes on a cheap, plastic flute-like instrument known as the “Tonette.” My abbreviated musical career is a long story for another time, but the point is that there’s one activity my existing mouth has a problem with: smiling. I can make a sort-of smile, which I’m told resembles an evil grin, but even when I smile for all I’m worth, the muscles in my lips don’t move. In the Brasfield Mouth model, the lips are clearly on a separate wiring system.
Thus the ever-present command to me, from photographers, “You’re not showing your teeth!” Yes, that’s correct. It’s a genetic defect. Would you like me to show my teeth anyway? Sure. Then comes the ever-present response from photographers that I now look like Hannibal Lecter, so please just forget it and smile the ordinary way.
No problem, sir or ma’am. I aim to please.
•In previous years, I’ve often gotten into a ranting frenzy about the over-commercialization of American holidays that are meant to be sacred times of quiet thought and reflection — such as Halloween and the start of college football.
And this year is outwardly no different. I’d swear I saw a back-to-school sale the same week as the Fourth of July, Halloween stuff has been on store shelves almost as long, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Christmas ornaments beginning next week, Ho, Ho, Ho. But this year, one thing is different: the commercialization trend no longer bothers me. As I grow older, I have bigger things to worry about: like blood pressure and mortality and the nature of good and evil.
Just as long as I get my Hannibal Lecter mask before the stores run out, I’m cool.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM and is archived afterward on his website.