Vol. 11, No. 2,553 - The American Reporter - January 5, 2005

Ink Soup

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.

SEATTLE, Wash. - The high temperature in Seattle yesterday was 78. Today it is in the upper fifties, I would guess. It is an adorable climate, Seattle's. It doesn't want to hurt anyone, just to keep people amused and satisfied, within limits. It reminds me of some kid about whom ugly rumors have circulated, so he goes out of his way to be nice to everyone, especially old people. I am seriously thinking of mentioning Seattle's weather in my will.

But none of this deludes me into thinking that the current mood is permanent. Like most people on my block, I have got the recycling and the garbage out to the curb betimes, lest tomorrow morning be, perish the thought, rainy.

Yesterday, in the locker room, I asked a fellow if he knew the temperature outside. No. Did he know of some thermometer on the street, in front of a bank, perhaps, that would tell one just how hot it was? No, again. "Though wait a sec," he said, "I did see a thermometer. Where was it? Oh, yes...in the sauna."

I searched his face for signs of humor or intelligence, and, finding neither, quickly changed the subject.

At this point my friend Dale came in. "Holy smoke," said he, "is it hot out there or what?" Before I could agree he said, "Where in the world do we get that expression, holy smoke, anyway?"

I said it meant the puff of white smoke sent up the chimney in the Vatican by the conclave of cardinals when they had finally voted in a new Pope. He looked at me, silently vowing never to put a simple question to me again, and quickly changed the subject.

Any cruciverbalist or enigmatologist among my readers will by now have spotted the hidden theme of this column: the quick change of subject. Like this. I review books more or less regularly for the Seattle Times. Mary Ann Gwinn, a Pulitzer winner for her part in the Exxon Valdez story, is the book editor there.

She recently sent me email to say that "a young and earnest copy editor" had queried my use of the phrase "terminally gullible" in a review of Charles Rowan Beye's "Odysseus: A Life." Would not "uninformed" be a better word? I replied that I was always ready to encourage y&e copy editors: change it.

The review appeared on Sunday, 28 March. The passage in question read "all but the very young and the terminally uniformed."

When I pointed this grotesque misprint out, Gwinn sent me an email shrug, saying "at least you can use it in your column." Who would have thought a Pulitzer-winning journalist would so crave even bad ink in an East Coast paper?

Ann Waldron, author of "The Princeton Murders," reviewed here when it came out, has sent me her latest, "Death of a Princeton President." I actually finish books before reviewing them, but I have read far enough in this one to recommend it. For an expat like me, it is enough just to be reminded of the good old places like Alexander Hall and Micawber Books, even though her novel is based upon a preposterous premise: that the President of Princeton might actually be a woman. But then what is fiction for?

Speaking of fiction ... but that is another subject.

Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.