There is a very unpleasant little bug going around. It’s like the flu or the bubonic plague or something. It causes fever, makes breathing a chore, and makes one abnormally stupid. And I’ve got it. Which means that this would be the perfect time to run the “evergreen” column in this space. What is an evergreen column? Well …
People who write columns and other regular features, like anyone else, sometimes get sick. Less like anyone else, they might run off with a painted dancing lady or a bluejeans-wearing, country-blues-picking guitar girl. Columnists in cities have been known to go off on three-day benders (and when was the last time you heard that word?), disappearing entirely. Their fatherly editors, of course, forgive them these foibles but still have a newspaper to fill.
Thus the evergreen column. It’s a little insurance policy in the form of a column written long ahead of time that has nothing current or seasonable about it. That way, it can be used anytime a columnist’s indisposition or inattention precludes his writing his usual screed.
Evergreen columns are not without their perils. I know of a Florida columnist whose evergreen ran when he had failed to show up and write it one Monday. Just after the paper went to press the columnist’s body was found near the sailboat from which he had been knocked by a wave. His evergreen column was about the joys of sailing. While some thought it an appropriate tribute, there was the usual complaint that it was “insensitive.” (When did we become so thin-skinned?)
I had a similar experience, also in Florida, that was in its way even worse.
My editor had asked each reporter to produce an illustrated story that would take up an entire page, as a remedy in case a fullpage ad were canceled at the last minute. I dutifully put my piece together. It was a picture page involving a blind man who loved to fish in the canals near his home and who, despite his blindness, was very good at catching very big fish. I submitted the story and pictures and gave it no more thought.
Many months later the story appeared. The phones began to ring and my editor’s hands began to wring.
The blind fisherman, it seemed, had died some weeks earlier. There had even been an obituary in our own paper. People were very upset.
At least he hadn’t fallen into the canal, or been eaten by an alligator. And the fisherman’s family phoned later, now less angry with me, and asked for copies of the pictures.
The “evergreen” article has all kinds of hidden dangers. It’s not as easy to write as one might think.
A couple of decades ago I had the good fortune of working at a radio network with the brilliant Gil Gross. If you listened in recent years to the Paul Harvey broadcast you may have heard Gil, who frequently filled in for the ailing Harvey. Gil had his own commentary spot each day and had put together the only evergreen piece I’ve ever heard that ended up having nothing wrong with it. He said that this morning’s commentary was being run because he was sick, and went on to speculate as to the nature of his illness. He said he hoped he was home, with a thermometer in his mouth, something warm to drink, and cartoons on the television. It turned out, that was exactly what was happening. Brilliance is sometimes aided by luck.
I figured I had brought this bug or whatever it is onto myself. Not long ago I installed a new floor in my office, a nice laminate. It was not as easy as they say, but it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. I needed to cut some of the pieces, which produces a very fine dust. It was impossible to avoid breathing some of it. And I spent time in my workshop, where mice and chipmunks gambol in the winter. They might have left behind a little something that combined with spring dampness was all too ready to move into my lungs.
But then I learned that other people I know, who have not been installing flooring and who have not been in my shop, had come down with the same thing. So maybe it’s not my fault after all.
Whatever it is, it is both life- and mind-altering. It made me into a cranky guy, even though I did not care to be cranky. A close and considerate female friend was driven to observe, “Men are babies when they’re sick.” I plead guilty.
The whole thing caused me to think of the evergreen column and how very appropriate a time this would be to run it.
Problem is, I forgot to write one.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.