One such city editor was Charles Chapin of the New York Evening World. He boasted that he fired 108 reporters, including the son of the great Joseph Pulitzer.
Chapin was so hated in the newsroom that when he called in sick one day famed reporter Irvin Cobb growled, “Let’s hope it is nothing trivial.”
So, no, I am hardly a Chapin throwback. What few UNR students know is that beneath my demanding, hard-shell exterior is guy who is all mush.
I wax particularly sentimental at the Yuletide, reading my three favorite Christmas stories: the beginning of Luke 2, the beginning of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and H.L. Mencken’s “Christmas Story.”
Luke 2 is not my favorite biblical reading. John 8: 3-13 is. Those verses sum up the essence of Christ.
John relates how the scribes and pharisees brought to Christ a woman caught “in the very act” of adultery.They ask him if she should be stoned to death according to the law of Moses.
“He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone at her,” Jesus replied.
The accusers, “convicted by their own conscience,” departed one by one.
(Read the King James Version published in 1611. It is literature. Modern translations may be more understandable and more accurate but they lack the poetry and majesty of the KJV.)
Luke 2: 1-20 is a marvelous account of the birth of Christ. Mary is “great with child,” not the prosaic pregnant. And then: “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Next, the Dickens classic. One of my bookshelves is full of Dickens. The book with “A Christmas Carol” is discolored at the base of the spine after decades of being pulled from the shelf.
The opening delights me no matter how many times I have read it.
Scrooge is as “solitary as an oyster”…“No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle”…Christmas? “Bah! Humbug!”
He declares that “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
When his nephew wishes him a Merry Christmas, Scrooge replies: “What right do you have to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
When two visitors ask for a donation for the poor, Scrooge replies starkly: “Nothing.” He cruelly adds that if people want to die they should do so in order “to decrease the surplus population.”
Then Scrooge “took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern.” Old, alone, bitter.
Ah, the Mencken story. HLM was vitrolic, acerbic, caustic, mocking, mordant, sardonic and iconoclastic.
He snarled about “the swinish multitudes.” He declared that “one horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms.”
“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” he snarled. Moreover, Americans were an “ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers” who “live in a land of abounding quackery.”
HLM was the great crusader against nonsense, a disturber of the peace. He hooted at the absurdities of boobus Americanus.
It sometimes seemed that nothing pleased him except Beethoven and German beer. But Christmas certainly did.
Mencken reveals a tender side in his wonderful Xmas tale. It is quintessential HLM but with a twist that few know except Menckenoids.
“Christmas Story,” first printed in The New Yorker in 1944 and published by Knopf in 1946, is gentle with its irony.
Fred Ammermeyer, a flaming infidel who sends Baltimore clergymen “The Age of Reason,” is determined that the waterfront derelicts celebrate Christmas without any of the usual holy roller calls for repentance.
But the bums, reverting to mission piety after several rounds of beer, begin singing mission hymns: “Throw Out the Lifeline,” “Where Will You Spend Eternity?” and “Wash Me and I Shall Be Whiter Than Snow.”
This was too much for a police lieutenant who had been watching the bums enjoy a Yule party without piety. He slouched off in disgust at the sad turn of events.
The next day he lamented: “Well, what could you expect from a bunch of bums? They have been eating mission handouts so long they can’t help it. Think of all that good food wasted! And all that beer! And all those cigars!”
(Reprint of column in Daily Sparks Tribune, Dec. 21, 2008)
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at email@example.com.