Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Everyday I Have the Blues #10
Monday, September 29, must have been an extraordinary day at The Times, what with the bailout package collapsing and stock markets swooning. Just look at the lead story on the first page of Tuesday’s Business Day, “The Banking Crisis Trickles Up,” and let your eye travel down until it stops just above the fold. There you will see HEAD W. SANDWICHKICKER TAG, underneath which are two lines of what we call in the business Greeked type. Oops. Of all the things they hate in the newsroom, a big goof in a headline or caption is right up there at the top of the list. Maybe it was corrected in a later edition. I hope so.

But that’s not what gave me the blues. It was a story in SportsTuesday about Charles “Chongo” Tucker, a rock climber who lived in Yosemite Park: “His Roof Is the Sky” by Michael Brick. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I rarely read a sports story. It’s not a very Addison thing to do. This story piqued my interest, though, and I read it from beginning to end, stopping only to puzzle over two sentences.

The first was this one, on the first page: “Rumors of his whereabouts began to trade around the big rocks and rope-walking fixtures of the Western states.” Huh? Rumors traded? “Hold on a doggone minute, Mr. Brick,” I said to myself. “Rumors are not independent actors, no matter how much you may want them to be, and they’re not traveling around the West on their own.” The sentence reads as if he wanted to construct it without any people, who would be the ones trading rumors as they climbed the rocks. Why he’d want to do that I haven’t a clue but it didn’t work for me.

On the next page, Mr. Brick tries to strike another literary note in describing Chongo: “Leathery skin, knowing eyes and a dilettante’s smile gave him the cabalistic twinkle of a movie pirate.” Leaving aside the dilettante’s smile, which I still have trouble imagining, I was baffled by the cabalistic twinkle. If the second meaning of “cabala,” according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “a traditional, esoteric, occult, or secret matter,” then is a cabalistic twinkle “a way of looking at someone that implies possession of esoteric or occult knowledge,” a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean? It could be but just what was twinkling? His whole face? Just his eyes? If they’re already knowing how are they radiating cabalistic knowledge at the same time?

It’s a pity no one had the time to wrestle his meaning out of Mr. Brick when the story was being edited. Except for those two clunkers it’s a good story.

No comments: