In My Defense | Letters | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Letters

In My Defense


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe



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

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment