Saturday, November 03, 2001

Milepost 300

As I sat down to pen this 300th installment of Glancing Askance, I paused to reflect on the act of filling this space on a regular basis. Perhaps the biggest challenge is simply that... filling the space. It's easy to think of ideas that might be of interest to the general audience. It's much harder to develop those ideas into readable selections that might strike a chord. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But there's an old saying that everything changes except the deadline. And so absent an act of God, every week for the last five and a half years I have delivered to my editor on Monday morning roughly a thousand printable words whether it's Pulitzer Prize material or...far more likely...not.

To fill this insatiable maw, I keep an idea file. It includes snippets of newspaper articles that strike my fancy, random jottings that reflect stray thoughts, email ideas sent to me by readers, notes of sayings or comments from friends and associates... any of which provide grist for the mill. Once called onto the screen, some develop into sturdy plants, while others poke up but a few inches, showing promise but never fruit.

Now, as my wife will attest, I have a brown thumb. My version of gardening is to never cut anything back that shows the slightest signs of life. As such, my file is filled with much deadwood in the form of half formed columns. Some are but a few sentences. Others extend to a few paragraphs. Still others are lacking merely a conclusion. But in my humble view, all involve ideas or concepts that warrant examination, even if I have been unable to do them justice and bring them to fruition.

In that light, following are some examples of those that I haven't been able to develop completely, but was also too squeamish to pronounce dead and buried. Some deserve to see the light of day. Others might be better remaining stillborn. I'll leave it to you to decide.

For instance, I was struck as I was driving along the highway one day by a strange sight. Out of the corner of my eye, I noted one particular tree that towered over the group of which it seemed to be a part. A second glance revealed it to be not a tree at all, but a cell phone tower made to look like a tree. However, it didn't really look like a tree; it looked more like a cell phone tower trying to look like a tree. So exactly who are they... and we... fooling? We all notice it, so it can't be for us. The only explanation is so we can say with a straight face to the next sparrow we chat with, "What do you mean, 'harm your habitat.' I don't think so!"

Or I noted that every person or politician who goes on the road feels they have to identify their journey thematically. Madonna has her "Drowned World" tour. During last year's election, Al Gore was on the "Prosperity Tour," while George W. Bush was on the "Marching to Victory" tour. My personal favorite was in New Jersey, where senate candidate Bob Franks crossed the state in his "Franks On A Roll" tour. Better they should call it what it is, as did the mythical band Stillwater from Cameron Crowe's film, with the "Almost Famous" tour. Perhaps this kind of honesty will continue, and we'll soon see the "Buy My New CD" tour, or the "Please Vote For Me" tour.

And then there's the legend that appears below the masthead of almost every publication that's on the newsstands or in your mailbox today. Regardless of whether it's a general interest sheet or a specialty rag, somewhere near the top is a small italic line of text to this effect: "For the latest news, check our web site at" Now, for Time or Business Week no one doubts that the events being covered are moving fast. But on other publications, you see similar lines such as "For the latest in breaking public relations news, visit our web site." Breaking public relations news? Such a thing exists? You mean it's possible some flak put out a press release about the fact that he's putting out a press release? Even in Lizzie Grubman's world, one wonders if any public relations news is that time sensitive.

In walking through a flea market in some metropolis somewhere, I passed the normal assortment of stalls selling cheap shirts, shoes, kitchen utensils, underwear and socks. All seemed to make a certain amount of sense for those looking to pick up basic necessities on a budget. But then I came to a guy who had an entire stand devoted to floor mats for cars. Now, I confess that I'm no salesman, but this would seem to be tough nut to franchise. Perhaps this entrepreneurial venture was the result of a marketing study, or an answer to a personal quest, or the fulfillment of a lifelong hobby. In any case, it's likely that the flea market is a good locale to start out, as it is unlikely that the venture capitalists in the crowd would jump aboard.

In a world of tough choices, we are all called upon to make difficult decisions. Judges do this everyday, most often involving weighty issues concerning freedom, custody and the like. So it's refreshing when they are called upon to make a call on more pedestrian items. In New York City, for a variety of political and health reasons, the powers that be banned barbeques at certain parades and festivals. A judge was asked to rule on the pronouncement. Using his best Solomonic wisdom, he neatly divided the baby in half. Ruling from on the high bench, he allowed sausage, hot dogs and hamburgers, yet banned chicken and chicken wings. Is this justice? Not if you're Frank Perdue.

And all that's just a smattering of the stuff lying around my hard drive. As I head into the sixteenth score, expect ruminations on root beer, parental report cards, company songs and the lack of status for the planet Pluto. I'll make a deal with you: you keep reading, I'll keep writing.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has been filling this space longer than he played Little League. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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