Sunday, March 16, 2014

What I'm Complaining About

I jump into today’s post fully aware of the hypocrisy involved.

But, dammit, I want to talk about this.

I’m a subscriber to the New York Times. I have been for as long as I can remember. In fact, up until the last few years, I subscribed to not just one, but two daily papers.

I finally had to give up on the daily SF Chronicle when the quality of writing – especially on the sports and arts pages – became too awful to condone. (Frankly, I think the sole purpose of the Chronicle is to publish photos of rich San Franciscans at the opera, the ballet, and other social events. It certainly can’t be to keep its readership informed as to world, national, or local events …)

When I was growing up in New York, my parents subscribed to the Journal-American and another paper (no idea what it was, but it wasn’t the Times).

When we lived in southern California, we subscribed to the LA Times in the morning and the LA Examiner in the afternoon. The Examiner – especially toward the end – was one of the great papers ever. Lively writing, great criticism – Jack Viertel is still the best theatre critic I’ve ever read – and a sense that it was staffed by smart – and funny –  people who were really dedicated to bringing you the news.

 A great city deserved a great newspaper

Eventually, the Examiner folded and we switched over to the New York Times. Even when I moved to Oregon, I took two papers – only now the “second” paper was the Eugene Register-Guard (or “Register-Fraud,” as it was more commonly called), a paper so ludicrous in its conception and execution, one wondered why they even bothered the pretense. The only thing that kept me from dropping that one and switching to The Oregonian, was that the latter was somehow even worse.

When we moved to San Francisco, the Examiner was, again, my paper of choice (different town, different paper, same sensibility), but these things being what they are, this Examiner  also folded – and was transformed into a freebie that seems overpriced even at that price – and I took up the Chronicle – until recently. We still get the Sunday Chron, if only for the Pink Section – though considering how that section gives so much space – and credibility – to the idiotic Mick LaSalle, I wonder if it’s worth the effort.

Anyway, what prompted this festival of diverging thoughts was today’s New York Times Magazine. Other than producing fodder for “Fresh Air” to generate stories (without the Times Magazine and The New Yorker, the show would have to be called “Dead Air”), I generally don’t see the point of the magazine, especially the front-of-the-book section called “The One-Page Magazine.”

To call this section inane and trivial beggars those adjectives. (And I acknowledge this is coming from a guy who spent nearly 400 words yesterday getting all dewy-eyed and nostalgic over haircuts.) The “highlights” of this section are a weekly “Meh” list (which covers such topics – and I am not making this up – as “Cabbage” and “Dyeing things green,” but somehow seems to leave itself off the list every week), an “advice” column that even the writing of John Hodgman can’t make entertaining, and a weekly columnette by Mario Batali called “What I’m Drinking.” There is no doubt that Mr. Batali is a talented and influential chef (despite his bizarre taste in footwear), but does anyone – even Mr. Batali’s most devoted fans and friends – need more than 200 updates on his drinking habits?

 Even the kid knows this is not a good idea.

But the Times somehow reached its nadir today when Richard Meier (a prominent architect of whom I had never heard – but I blame myself for that lapse) wrote the following, which I quote in its entirety:

How to Pick a Pair of Eyeglasses
By Richard Meier

If I walk down Madison Avenue, I look at what’s in the windows at all the eyeglass shops. Boy, there are a lot of awfully ugly eyeglasses! Finding simple eyeglasses is not so easy. Mine are about as minimal, I would say, as you can get. They shouldn’t distract too much from the face. As told to Spencer Bailey

It’s the “As told to” that kills me. I can just imagine the scenario. The tough and overworked city editor (think Perry White or J. Jonah Jameson) gets Spencer Bailey in his office. “Listen, Bailey!,” he barks. “We’ve got two column inches we can’t fill! Get Richard Meier on the phone! He wears glasses! Find out how he picks them!” The cowering Spencer Bailey (think Jimmy Olsen or Clark Kent at his meekest) replies “Yes, sir! Right away, chief!,” and, after consulting the Yellow Pages, connects with Richard Meier & Partners, LLP. Bailey, covering his anxiousness with bluff and false bravado, manages to work his way through multiple layers of secretaries and assistants before finally reaching the man himself. “Mr. Meier,” he says, somehow covering the shaking in his voice. “We were wondering if you could tell our readers how you choose your glasses. Nothing too detailed or interesting, though.” Meier gives his phone a “WTF?” look, shrugs, and dictates the above statement, desperately trying to end the call before his brain shuts down from the inanity of it.

 Mondays at the Times, apparently

Did I need this information? Did anyone? Is the nation crying to know his eyewear choices?

I’m just baffled by the intended audience here – or even the thought process that went into the selection. It’s like one of those awful SNL sketches (I realize that’s all of them, but go with me here) where one wonders not only what the pitch was, but who in the hell thought it was funny or even interesting?

And newspapers wonder why they’re dying?

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