I often wonder if I hadn't stumbled into the newspaper business what I would have done. I say I fell into the business because I took a job at 11 selling newspapers on the street because there was this beautiful shiny red bike that cost $39.95 in the local Kress dime store. And once snared, I never escaped. I melted into the mailroom to insert comics Saturday nights and then my senior year of high school got a job as a proof reader and then as I started college a full-time reporting job.
An artist friend of mine once made me a card with a drawing of me typing away that said: "By the time I found out I wasn't any good at reporting, I was making too much money to quit."
She later made me a second card after I finished my baptismal first year on the job at the ripe old age of 19 that said: "Bob is well suited for journalism. He has a face for radio and a voice for newspapers."
But I digress. I guess I would love to have been an architect because I love nothing better than looking at wonderful old and new buildings. If you haven't been to the New York City Public Library, don't die until you do. It will give you a taste of what heaven looks like. It is oak paneled with winding white marble steps leading to the upper floor that has a mural over the curved ceiling reminiscent of the finest Sistine Chapel.
But I never was good at math and my buildings would probably have fallen down.
All the men in my family were lawyers and because I love to talk and argue, I probably would have been pretty good at it. But alas, math again. I couldn't figure out when two trains would meet or all the other questions meant to test my logic on the LSAT. Every lawyer I have ever known would have their secretary call Amtrak and find out when the two trains would meet. And if they were late they would sue them. It's like parallel parking. I did it once on my driver's test when I was 16 and once 20 years later. My late father, a funny, funny man, once had a client who didn't have two nickels to rub together who was sued by a finance company for defaulting on one of those 25 percent interest a month deals. After reading through about 12 pages of the lawsuit with the party of the first part, hereinafter known as ?, my father wrote what has to be the shortest answer in a lawsuit in the state of South Carolina. His total answer was: "You can't get blood out of a turnip."
So I guess being a wordsmith coming from a family with an odd sense of humor, I would have gravitated to the greeting card or bumper sticker business. Short, snappy concise statements. It's like five minutes into an explanation, say simply: Cut to the chase. If you can't put a political philosophy or notion on a bumper sticker you need to get it organized.
Consider a few of the bumper stickers I have seen. I saw one Saturday in Athens on a truck of a guy who looked like he was in his late 20s. It said: "Nixon in 2000. He's not as stiff as Gore." That same vehicle had one that said: "Friends don't let friends vote Democrat." A redneck one I saw once said: "Don't blame me. I voted for Jefferson Davis." Another I saw said: "I'm smart as a horse and hung like Einstein." Another said, "My seventh- grader can beat up your seventh- grade honor student." A friend saw one recently: "If our forefathers had gun control, we'd all be British." Years ago, a bumper sticker said: "If you love something set it free. If it doesn't come back, it wasn't meant to be." Later someone put out another: "If you love something set it free. If it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it." Another said: "He who dies with the most toys wins." Another said, "He who dies with the most toys is still dead."
Great political speech writers understand the catch phrase. Lincoln on the back of an envelope could write words that ring 140 years later. Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes combined destroyed many trees to fill up thousands and thousands of pages. Name one phrase that rings. Coming from the era of Betty Davis' "Buckle your seat belt. It's going to be a very bumpy ride," Ronald Reagan understood the bumper sticker, zinger line philosophy. "Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall!" If you can find a copy on the Internet, read Reagan's short, concise letter of having Alzheimer's. His aides swear he wrote it himself. It is eloquent. It concludes with this sentence: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
Long before the current batch of long-winded politicians, the American Indians spoke simple eloquent words. After his people were hounded and killed and chased across the West, Nez Perce Chief Joseph said simply in surrendering: "It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are ? perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
Oh what the heck, maybe I will just stay in journalism until I can write like that.
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.