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In My Defense




Dear Jack:

As a fan of clever juxtaposition, I enjoyed your article about cabbies/Bob Greene/myself [August 28]. I'm tempted to just leave it at that, as I hate it when people I've slagged in print come whining up to me with their explanations and justifications.

That said, I would nevertheless like to argue in my own defense in the two areas you fault me in, just because I think you are overlooking a few vital points.

First, the jukebox book. Do you think I wanted to show this guy around? I had never met him before. I never saw him again--he didn't even send me the book when it came out. I certainly didn't hold myself up to him or anybody else as Mr. Jukebox. We both had the same agent, so when he came to town, my agent asked me if I wouldn't take him around. What was I supposed to say: "No, I'm not schooled enough, jukeboxistically. I am not worthy"? So I endure his company, kill an evening to his quest, and am rewarded by being not only pissed on in his book (he refers to my apartment as "grandiose," as if I were Mussolini or something) but then I have to take heat from people such as yourself because his book is swill. Now tell me, is that fair?

Second, the Berea column. Yes, I instantly recognized the whiff of Bob Greeneism prior to publication. How could I not? In fact, I went ahead and published it because of that; I didn't want the monster dictating what I do. I mean, can I not feel longings toward my own hometown, once, because Bob Greene has murdered nostalgia as a legitimate emotion? Frankly, I felt proud of myself for writing it, because it was a dip into Bob's world. It showed I was not afraid.

I mean, if I had a good Elvis column, or a Michael Jordan column, or a TV column, or an airport column, I would publish that, too. At least I hope I would. Much of Bob's sin is head-cracking repetition, and that is something I can't be accused of. Recently my editor at the Sun-Times responded to my suggestion of a column topic with "But you wrote about that two and a half years ago!" I felt good about that.

You might find this hollow. But I mean it, utterly. BobWatch was all about confronting the monster, measuring it, staring into its eyes. It would do no good to run away. I wanted to stray into nostalgia, once, to see what it was like. I don't think there is crime there, and if there is, well, OK, I fucked up.

Let me tell you a story. As you may know, Bob was on the shortlist for the Pulitzer this year--one of three. A lot of my media pals were gnashing their teeth over what would happen if Bob won. I took the opposite stand; I maintained that I wanted Bob to win. Sure, it took effort; it was hard to force myself to feel that way. But I did, the best I could, because I felt in my heart that Bob's winning would be purgative. It would be self-flagellation--painful and perhaps redemptive--forever exterminating pride, obliterating within myself the desire for awards, revealing the world as a base and meaningless place where mediocrity of the lowest sort receives the highest honors.

By the end, I did sincerely want Bob to win, as a final, crowning gesture of obscenity, a Gotterdammerung after which I could happily walk away from the Bob issue and never think about him again.

And besides, I told anyone who would listen at the time, I would rather have Bob win the Pulitzer a hundred times than have another person on the shortlist, Pat Smith, win it. No more need be said on that matter.

So there's my defense. I hope I haven't presented it in the huffy, hemorrhoidal way that such defenses are inevitably presented. I did enjoy your piece, and felt sad about your ex-wife. She sounds very sharp. As it happened, my own wife refused to read BobWatch after the first several installments; she felt sorry for Bob, always picturing him face down on his pink bedspread, sobbing, the Reader crumpled in his hand. Maybe you should try for a reconciliation. A sharp-humored woman is hard to find.

Thanks again for your thoughtful piece. I'll look forward to reading others.

Neil Steinberg

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