Art Linkletter, a popular TV host from the golden days of 1950s and ’60s comedy, is best remembered for turning faces red with “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” a sometimes embarrassingly funny studio hit that later became a popular book.
As most will agree, whether we’re talking 1957 or 2014, kids do say some funny stuff ... and sometimes not so funny.
So do adults.
The subject arose the other day in conversation about last Sunday’s column when I described the cross-state journey of a dozen, beautiful red roses that I had won for Valentine’s Day from local radio station, WOOP.
I delivered those sweet-smelling icons of love to my wife at the downtown bank where she works. She then brought them home that evening. And the next morning we took them all the way to West Tennessee as a gift to her aging mom and dad whom we were visiting for a long weekend. Due to the short life of these precious petals, we felt it better that they be admired by a crowd on the other end of the state rather than just sitting in our empty house six hours away.
Radio talk show host Mark Grissom — who some might view as Cleveland’s own Howard Stern, and I say that affectionately — mentioned that column on the air last Thursday morning. In our twice-weekly, live phone chat, Howard ... er, Mark ... was complimentary of the opinion piece.
But those who know Mark know the two sides of radio reality.
Good Mark admitted to being touched by the column’s message. Bad Mark asked if I sometimes just “... make up this crap.”
He was referring to the column’s first few paragraphs where I described the occasional dread of answering the office telephone, especially early in the morning.
On Valentine’s Day just passed, the popular part-time DJ had called me shortly after 8 a.m. to announce the good news of my prize of roses. Although the phone call turned out to be a treat, I treated it like most others: Prior to picking up the receiver, I wondered who I — or the newspaper — had offended this time.
So during our phone chat Thursday morning — as a followup to last Sunday’s column — Mark asked if those kinds of things really happen in my world.
I assured him they do occur in newspaper work, and with all newspapers. Not necessarily every day, but regularly. Regardless of what you’ve written, how you’ve presented it and where you’ve placed it in the paper, somebody won’t be happy.
Some will seethe in discontent, yet hold their tongues. Others will pick up the phone. In their vent, they will call you every name imaginable. Sometimes, they invent new words.
For those who sit in an editor’s office, it’s part of the job. Ears too tender for such games should avoid the role. But that doesn’t make it any easier, even for those who claim to be wrapped in skin as thick as an alligator’s.
Yet, irate callers often make valid points. And sometimes they don’t. Mostly, they’re just angry or saddened or disappointed or hurt. And they want to be heard. It is their right.
One call I’ll never ... ever ... ever forget came from a grieving woman. I don’t know if she was the mom, the grandmom or another. A beloved member of her family had been lost in a tragic traffic accident. It was a local person so the story was published on the front page, as was a photograph of the wrecked car. It was not graphic, but the photo carried a strong message that anyone — especially young people — behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle should see.
Through her tears, the bereaved caller described me as a “heartless monster.” Those words I will never forget — not in this lifetime, nor in the next. Whether I am a monster or whether I am not, only fate will decide. But the point is, this woman was hurting. It was a depth of pain many will never feel. Her words came from a broken heart, one that will heal but only by the stitch of time.
Mine was a mix of emotions. I’m not sure what I was feeling, but I remember a genuine sadness for this woman and her loved ones who were being asked to cope with a heartwrenching loss.
On another occasion we published an editorial cartoon depicting the caricature of an al-Qaida heir apparent to Osama bin Laden. An Egyptian, his name is Saif al-Adel. In real life, he bears a shocking resemblance to our President Barack Obama. The cartoon showed the al-Qaida leader in the crosshairs of a CIA assassin’s high-powered rifle.
People not familiar with the facial features of the emerging al-Qaida thug thought the cartoon had the CIA or FBI or somebody else taking aim at the U.S. president.
In turn, these folks took aim at our newspaper for publishing the cartoon. They felt we had gone too far. So they let me know.
I was called a racist.
I was called a bigot.
I was called un-American.
I was called shameless.
I was called all things shy of diabolical Klansman.
Like the phone call from the broken-hearted woman, those words stung like a thousand hornets. But these folks didn’t know the identity, nor the terrorist significance, of Saif al-Adel. They were simply confusing him with the American commander-in-chief. They were protecting President Obama. They were just doing what good people of conviction do. Although wrong in their message, they were right in their intent.
So yes Mark, newspaper folks get these kinds of calls. It really happens. Promise.
Like any profession, we have our good days and we have our bad.
What counts is not the numbers, but in what we have learned along the way.
My take on all this is to expect the unexpected, and to imagine walking in the shoes of another. The perspectives are rarely the same.
As I wrap up this column, it is Thursday night. I have no idea what Mark and I will talk about on the air Friday morning.
But I’m sure we’ll make up something.
After all, people say the darndest things.