Greenwich Time (Sunday)
When readers get mean
I’ve developed an addiction. I genuinely appreciate any reader who takes the time to send feedback about a column I’ve written (bonus points to the scribes who responded to my typewriter column by crafting notes on vintage keyboards). But a new year is upon us, a good time to come clean.
The notes I like best are the mean ones.
As addictions go, I’ll never draw as much vitriol as when I once wrote about how I have never smoked, never taken an illegal drug or gotten drunk. That really fired up Those Who Shall Not Be Named Because They Won’t Come Out of Hiding (“I’ll bet you drink coffee, doncha’ dummy?” was the most civil reply).
But as I continue my New Year’s tradition of cleaning out the previous year’s mailbox, my theory is proven anew that haters … just can’t spell.
“Your just sturring the pot for the sake of sturring the pot,” was a response to a column I wrote about the fatal backyard shooting of Newtown’s Bobbi the Bear.
At least we agree. Stirring the pot is in my job description.
Another reader took exception to my March column about a wayward “poll” gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski was conducting (“How would you rate Ned Lamont as Governor: 1) OK; 2) Bad; 3) Terrible; 4) Horrible”).
I wasn’t the only one who found the concept of the survey just … 2, 3 and 4.
“You lied about this being a real Stephanowski survey ... never happened. The ‘survey’ you quote never came from the Stephnowski campaign. You are a liar. No respectful journalist lies, so perhaps you should start lessons learning how to be a welder. Your career in journalism is finished.”
In my head I hear it read by Will Ferrell in the tone he used to chastise the faux Santa in “Elf ” (“You sit on a throne of lies”).
And who wouldn’t like to weld? It’s an honorable profession. I wonder if Bob Dylan started his welding side hustle after a folkie called him “Judas” for plugging in back in 1966. Of course, in that case it was Dylan who snarled back, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” Or perhaps Bob wrote me the note. He’s never been much of a speller. Handwritten lyrics for his unreleased 1961 song about “Wisconsin” namecheck “Wisconson,” “Milwakee” and “Wow Toaster” (Wauwatosa). Bob, if you need a welding buddy, I’m here for ya. I’ll toss in the editing for free.
Sometimes, readers don’t even limit the insults to me. They go after my subjects too. After I wrote about Bruce Springsteen ticket prices, a reader assessed that “he
has a couple decent songs thats it. to me hes terrible.”
I responded with the only logical question: “What are the decent songs?”
“Prove it all Night” and “Born to Run.”
See, it’s all about the conversation.
Not everyone agrees. My wife, my boss and my dog (I know that glare) all favor the “don’t engage” approach when it comes to hate mail. But people can surprise you. After I took shots at Darien’s exclusivity last month, a reader wrote back simply “I grew up in Darien in the fifties. All I have to say to you is that you are really tiresome.”
Her spelling offered a whisper of hope.
“That’s not particularly persuasive about Darien being a welcoming community,” I responded.
I didn’t hear back until my next column was published.
“I liked your column on power outages much better …”
See, now we’re having a conversation.
Spellcheck is already sending me hate mail about this column, but let’s give it a little more to chew on.
Maybe it’s just karma, but I continue to be haunted by versions of my column that have been swiped by murky sites and put through some kind of translator and back into English. Thus, the aforementioned column, “Darien’s tone-deaf decision in wake of Colorado Springs shooting at LGBTQ nightclub” turned into “Darien’s deaf-mute decision …” (like Darien would ever hush) and my observation that “Darien became a sort of unctuous shorthand” was transmogrified into “Darien became a kind of greasy abbreviation.” “Unctuous” wasn’t the only word that challenged the translation app. My reference to “dunderheaded videos” became “Bull!@#$” videos” (sans the grawlix).
It has occurred to me that some of the writers who tell me to “stop being a hopeless hack” could be innocently finding these unreadable versions of my columns. Along the same vein, a piece I wrote about The Voice of the Yankees, Mel Allen, went through some other contraption and wound up on YouTube being narrated
by a drunken, mechanical voice. I could only listen through the second paragraph and decided the author sounded like a hack too.
Fortunately, the copyright cops usually catch up with these scoundrels. On one occasion, they snared me as well.
My highlight reel of the past year is topped by an exchange with Stamford resident Michael Raduazzo, who emailed a tribute on a Friday in January after the death of the rock star Meat Loaf. Michael didn’t know him as “Meat,” “Marvin” or “Mr.,” but as “Coach,” in the early 1980s when Meat Loaf was living in Stamford and coaching a Little League team.
At 6:12 that night, Michael mentioned that the team had once been featured in “NBC Sportsworld” on a Saturday afternoon 40 years ago.
“I don’t have video of it,” Michael wrote. “I even asked my neighbor who works now at NBC Universal to try to find it in the archives a few years ago but no luck.”
A bell rang. Our former columnist Kevin McKeever once mentioned the same show, as he was in the lineup for the opposing team when the footage was shot. I texted Kevin. He’s no packrat, so if he had a video, he would probably be able to find it.
His detective work was stunningly efficient, but he then had to hunt for a more elusive working VCR. By 7:25 p.m. he was able to send a copy shot on his phone to his former sandlot rival. It’s a charming clip, though wildly inappropriate, as it uses Coach Loaf ’s lusty “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” as the soundtrack to kids playing baseball.
Kevin gave the footage a brief revival on YouTube before it was tossed from the game for breaking copyright rules. But at least the old lineup got to see it again.
“I was certain (it) was gone forever. Unbelievable!” Michael responded. “No one — and I mean no one — could have expected that it existed. WOW. I am speechless.”
See, good things can come out of a conversation.