Stranger On The Shore
I began writing for one newspaper, with a circulation of around 10,000, in 2001. I’d been marketing this idea for over a year to this particular publisher, and he finally agreed to read and then to discuss. We had coffee and firmed up the deal, nothing much expected from him (I’m guessing); columnists come and go, particularly in this environment, and most of them were unpaid, just wanting a byline.
I was all over the byline, and it certainly wasn’t about the money, but money was part of it. Working for free is something you’re over by the time your early 40s come around.
And we talked about deadlines. For a publishing date of Wednesdays, my deadline would be Friday afternoon. Although, the publisher added, if I were to think of a change over the weekend, I could always fix something on Monday.
Maybe you’re not like me. Doesn’t matter. Monday became my deadline.
So every Monday is like today, more or less. I have an idea bouncing around, or sometimes nothing. Occasionally I’ll make notes, or bookmark links, but this rarely happens the way it used to. I sit down, stare at a blank screen, know I have to deliver 900 words that are, with luck, reasonably coherent. So far, so good.
And sometimes? That’s not nearly enough room. Even though your average newspaper column is now closer to 600 words. I’ve written sentences longer than that.
Today, Monday, was more of the same, then. I decided last week that I’d write about Mitzi Shore, in some fashion. Shore died last week at age 87, having been the owner of The Comedy Store in Hollywood since 1972. She was the matron behind the (mostly) men who became comedy legends, Seinfeld and Leno and Letterman. And Kinison. Marc Maron. Jim Carrey.
She was a big booster of female comics; it was just always an uphill battle, and still is.
I have a story about Mitzi Shore. It’s a part of my story, which is to say not all that earthshaking, just personal.
I began the column by writing about Miranda Lambert, who won the Best Female Vocalist (or something) award at the American Country Music Awards last night, making her the most-decorated performer in ACM history.
I’d never heard of her. I asked my wife, who had but wasn’t interested in her music. My wife, who knows about all kinds of music. My wife, born and reared in Texas, quite familiar with country music. So maybe it wasn’t as weird as I thought.
But it felt weird. How could I have no inkling that such a person existed? She’s the age of my daughter, but that’s old enough to make an impression, obviously. Just under my personal musical radar.
Anyway. I went on and on about this phenomenon, the Can’t Keep Up way of 21st-century life that we’re now all familiar with. It was probably 600 words, although in several sentences.
And that was too much. I had too much to say, so I ditched all but a sentence or two about Lambert and on to Mitzi.
That wasn’t enough, either.
It’s never going to be enough. If I can’t pull back far enough to be dispassionate—and I rarely can—I have to swim in the personal, and I’ve reached an age where that takes more words than one normally has time for. Not when it’s just about one guy and his dumb young self.
I wouldn’t be writing about Mitzi Shore otherwise, of course. She’s an important figure in the history of late 20th-century show business, but that’s a narrow history, with a narrow appeal. If I can’t conjure up my 21-year-old self, I can’t write this story. I’d have better luck with Miranda, honestly.
But I know that guy. I remember what he was like, what he was thinking, what he’d experienced already and what was to come. I know his history, and how he came to sleep on sofas in Los Angeles in the fall of 1979, stand in a long line on Sunset Boulevard, and end up speaking with Mitzi Shore.
It’s just going to take some time. I should probably do it, though. I’ll start tomorrow. I may finish then, too.
There will be words.