I stared at my executive editor's e-mail to me with a mix of revulsion and horror, as though I had come into work and found the carcass of a slaughtered dog dumped on my desk. "Would you mind," my boss asked, "critiquing Sunday's paper?"
Writing a critique of the newspaper is an odious task to me, and I have done everything short of going into witness protection to avoid it. In my worst imaginings, I see a Telegraph reporter reading aloud my critique to the rest of the metro staff like a Nazi storm trooper fanatically denouncing communist literature at a book-burning. I then imagine the metro staff falling upon me with full-fledged mob rage.
So I had to get out of writing the critique. Or at least writing one that would get me torn limb from limb.
Maybe, thought I, I should run the critique through the filter of a writer whose style was so mystifying that nobody would know what the hell I was talking about. Yes, only Faulkner would do.
The old woman sat waiting in the early morning cool on the front porch of the house that the father of her father's father had built, the old house that was redolent of honor and sacrifice and valor of soldiers and a cause that was long past yet ever present and she waited for the paper that would recount the things past that would never be again, yet would be sanctified in print and so taken away from the vices and weaknesses of men, and she waited until she was rewarded by the indolent thump of the paper upon the porch (never meeting the eye of the delivery person, a person whose family lineage disqualified him from acknowledgement) and she picked up the paper, feeling its coarseness and heft and looked down upon it to see "Sewage main bursts into geyser downtown."
But this, too, sinks from its disadvantages. To write like Faulkner, you would have to read a lot of Faulkner, and that is something I will only do at bayonet point.
So maybe Hemingway would do. I like Hemingway.
The Macon Telegraph is 180-year-old paper and is said to have a circulation of 58,000. It's slogan is "Invite Us Home" and its lobby is dominated by a 6-foot, papier mache golden eagle. Nobody has ever explained why anybody would invite a 6-foot, papier mache golden eagle home. The inside of the building is a place where journalism breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. The breaking part happens when reading stories like downpage schools story on 1B, a story so poorly written it recalled the hopelessness of a luckless fisherman.
And so I tried to write as Hemingway would, but after the 10th or 11th drink I passed out at my desk and then had a lot of explaining to do to my boss. But at least I was free of the critique.