Friday, June 15, 2007

Don't F*** with the Mamma Bear

My good friend Dave Connolly is the subject of an article in the Washington Post about online social networking sites, like MeetinDC. In fact, Dave and I met and became friends through Meetin. Dave is one of the more interesting cats I know - knows more about the outdoors than L.L.Bean if he worked at REI; brews his own beer; works out like a demon, and provides environmental controls with the military, trying to keep pollution from a base from getting into the surrounding neighborhoods.

He's from New England, lived in a tent in Colorado, and has been on top of more mountains than anything other than snow.

Put simply, he's one of those fellows who has done what he wanted to do, and enjoyed the path. A perfect subject for a newspaper article, right?

However, the article starts off:

Dave Connolly needed friends.

Which is a tricky predicament. Tricky and kind of banal. And -- let's be honest -- a little sad.

Wow. Banal? A little sad? continues:

By the time you're out there in the world, haven't there been enough opportunities -- in the sandbox and eighth-grade math class and the varsity tennis team and between dorm rooms and cubicle clusters -- to pick up a few good friends?


Whoa! Judge much?

Unless, you know, there weren't. Or there were. There were all those opportunities, and buddies were met and made and then, somehow, lost. Binding ties came unbound.

Maybe there was a marriage. A baby. A transfer, a taxing project, an illness, a changing lifestyle, diverging hobbies, a new neighborhood, a gradual maturing, a big dramatic fight over a guy you were both interested in. Maybe your new medical sales job has you sleeping in Reston and creeping along Interstate 66, shaking hands with lots of doctors and nurses and not really getting to know anyone.

Maybe you're Dave Connolly, 29, athletic and outgoing and fun and successful, and everything was great and your social calendar was booming until one day it just wasn't.

Banal. A little sad. And common enough for this town to support a whole host of organizations designed to help people reach out and meet someone. Probably lots of someones. Probably in similar predicaments.

Yeah, I got a 1300 on my SATs back when that still meant something, and I know what banal means. I had to look it up in case there was a little-known definition that few people would recognize, or some slang term that changes its meaning. Nope. According to, banal is :

ba·nal /bəˈnæl, -ˈnɑl, ˈbeɪnl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[buh-nal, -nahl, beyn-l] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–adjective devoid of freshness or originality; hackneyed; trite: a banal and sophomoric treatment of courage on the frontier.

Great. Hackneyed and trite. The writer just made Dave sound like Dane Cook.

The article goes on to describe how a group like Meetin can help people make new friends in an area, and does eventually give Dave a good quote:

Maybe even finding, like Connolly did, "the best sphere of friends I've ever had in my life."

Thanks for the plug, dude.

Still...small consequence after having the words "banal" and "a little sad" tied to every Google EgoSearch you do for the rest of your life.

The writer could have easily done the lede as the following:

Dave Connolly had moved to the DC area after years of living in Colorado, New
England, and other parts of the US. The outdoor enthusiast had friends
all over the country, but none in his new home.

Feel free to cut-n-paste, future journalists. Now, I know that *I* don't write for the Post, so, what do I know about writing, right? Well, I know this:

1) Mike's last name is H-E-A-R-D.
2) You don't write about private citizens with the same degree of detached cynicism that you hold towards athletes, politicians and celebrities.

Now, I know I only MAJORED in journalism at Virginia Wesleyan; TV and Radio Production at Towson; and only was a gawd-durned voice on the ray-dee-oh. The only news I wrote only ended up over-the-air, either on the radio or the evening news. I certainly could fact-check and research at CNN for Larry King Live while not actually being as vital to the show as Larry. And, I know my feature writing experience was pretty much regulated to bungee jumping in Ocean City and the morning show at 99.1 back in the mid-90s. I also wasn't one of the writers on the old weekend roundup on Digital City, DC. I didn't get a fancy piece of paper from Northwestern or Syracuse or that Sally Struther's piece of crap, so, maybe I'm just not qualified to accurately judge this work.

But I certainly remember walking down Locust Avenue in Des Moines about 9 years ago, meeting Rob Borsellino. You might be asking "who the hell is Rob Borsellino?" As well you should. See, when I first moved to Des Moines, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was thin, didn't wear Dockers, and looked at the complete and utter lack of people in Downtown Des Moines with a sense of shock and awe. Here's this clean, safe, fairly bland city, presumably with enough culture and entertainment to prove its worth, and a population that beelined for the suburbs at 4:45pm, CST, every working day. My first couple of months in Des Moines were rough. I missed my friends. I missed my family. I missed minorities. I missed homeless people. I missed urine on the sidewalks. I missed crime. I missed the excitement of living in the DC/Baltimore region, where every day could be your last. I walked down Locust Street, looking for a lively lunch spot on a glorious spring afternoon, wondering why the Iowan chose to walk in the climate controlled Skywalk instead of the fresh air.

Rob Borsellino was a firebrand columnist for the Des Moines Register. He was a champion of the little guy; pointing out social injustices, and skilled at showing the fallacies, fallibilities and contradictions in us all. He took a magnifying glass to those he felt needed to be exposed, and a mirror to those who needed to see their true reflection.

He also was wearing a black leather jacket and jeans on a 80 degree day. I recognized him immediately from his thumbnail in the Register, his black and grey hair and eyebrows working like trademarks. He'd have fit in perfectly in Jersey, and his slightly-aging hipster demeanor made me look like an Iowan lifer.

He saw me looking around, and since tourists in Iowa are as rare as Republicans at a Pride Rally, he asked if he could help me find something. I said that I was new in town and was looking for something that would remind me of home. To this day, I'm not sure why, but I told him that I had no idea I would be so homesick.

He asked where I was from, and why I moved to Des Moines. Next thing you know, we talked for 30 minutes, and shared our lives' stories. He was a New Yorker (I was close on my initial guess) and said that he stayed in Des Moines because it was full of real people - you just have to find them. The Iowan - even those absorbed in their career, trying to get ahead in any of the big firms in DM, like Principal Finacial, the publishing houses, the law firms, even the Register itself - was a sincere American who cared; they just didn't always know who to care for or about. But they felt the need to care, to give a rat's ass outside of the rat race.

Something about the simple elegance of that philosophy let him stay in Iowa, despite countless and repeated opportunities for him to flee to the hipper, happening coasts, no doubt for better exposure and bigger paychecks.

I never missed a Borsellino column after that, and was saddened to learn of his passing in 2006, like a true Yankee fan, from Lou Gehrig's Disease.

One thing I learned from reading his columns - he could be painfully liberal, sometimes to the point of madness, but he cared. He gave a crap about who he wrote about, and why.

He was gentle towards those who needed coddling, and vicious to those who needed scolding. And he'd NEVER make somebody out to be banal or a little sad if they truly weren't.

He was, for a New Yorker, a great Iowan.

He'd never throw somebody under a bus for a poorly-written lede, allowing snark to get in the way of a proper description.

Funny...he taught me how to be a better writer, and his tuition cost me 25 cents a day.

May all feature writers learn this lesson.

For now, Dave and I will knock back a couple of dark, unpronouncable beers, and ponder subscriptions to the Times (in jest, of course). Maybe we'll start a club for those who have been embarassed in the Post. Dave, me, and Marion Berry.

Sweet. At least we'll get the good drugs.

1 comment:

Jan Louis said...

You know... This article is banal... and a little sad.

Proud supporter of the Dave Connelly Friend club