Thursday, August 22, 2019

"La Commedia è finita!" or, A Tale of Two Bobs

     You can see something every day, for years, but never really look at it. 
     Such as? This poster, which I created for The Reader when Bob Greene's career blew up in 2002 (if this is unfamiliar to you, I lay out the whole sordid tale for Salon here). I didn't draw it, but conceived it, and grabbed an Italian dictionary to make sure that the words  used were correct.  Then I worked with the talented Mike Werner, who did all the art for BobWatch. 
     Bob is seen as Pagliacci, murderous clown in the Ruggero Leoncavallo opera of the same name. "La Commedia è finita!" " is the final line: "The comedy is finished." That seemed apt. The weeping girl is of course the ruined Mother McAuley student who led to Bob's downfall. 
     I liked the end result so much I bought the original from Werner. 
     It's been hanging on my office wall for a decade and a half. I've thought about tucking it away. The past, be done with it and move on—is that not the moral of the Bob Greene Saga? But I liked the image, and displaying it, framed, was akin to a pelt on my wall, a trophy head. Bob in a case, gathering dust, while I remain among the land of the living and working.
     That said, I'd never have posted it here. While I'm proud BobWatch is remembered after more than 20 years, Bob did have friends, and when I run into an old crocodile who really, really hates my guts, who really get his back into expressing it — think of the trolls living under Robert Feder's bridge — I somehow naturally assume they're Bob fans yearning toward their lost idyll and seeking vengeance for the cashiering of their old friend. Which I did not cause, but certainly celebrated. 
    Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit; maybe they hate me on my own merits, no Bob necessary.
    Either way, my colleague Eric Zorn must have the original page torn from The Reader taped up somewhere because, passing it recently, he noticed the second name on the playbill. The first is Ann Marie Lipinski, the Tribune muckety-muck who tolerated Bob until she decided to have a sub-career glorying in his finally being fired after years of ignoring his excesses. 
    And that second name. Robert S. Mueller III. Yes, that Bob Mueller, the same Bob Mueller who just returned to the shadows after ineffectually gumming Donald Trump for several years. I completely forgot he was there, and never noticed it after Mueller exploded into the headlines. So, good for Eric and his sharp eye.
     Why is Mueller there? Because what people didn't realize, then and now, is that Greene wasn't shown the gate because he seduced a high school student. The Trib could shrug that off, and did. What got him into trouble was when, years later, as part of whatever intensive therapy a person requires to have any hope of recovery after the obvious trauma of having relations with Bob Greene, the former student, now grown to damaged adulthood, contacted him, as part of that therapy. To confront him, I suppose, hoping that might provide closure. He immediately turned her over, as a threat, to the FBI, the kind of cowardly, craven Bob move you would expect. The FBI was at that time headed by Mueller.
     Heck, I wasn't on the phone call. Maybe she was a threat. I can't judge. But my gut tells me Bob panicked and called some agent pal who was a fan of his high-quality brand of nostalgia/journalism.
     A bit of trivia, perhaps. But it is a swell poster, in my biased opinion, a token of the days when the Reader had some swagger and wit. And it will serve until tomorrow.


  1. Well, thanks for much this morning!
    I get to:
    - indulge and laugh at the poster, which I'd never seen
    - go back down the rabbit hole of Bob fame
    - digress from mundane "work" crap that I wasn't eager to delve into anyway.

  2. Never paid much attention to Bob Greene and his many travails, so the poster did not immediately bring back any memories. I noticed "Verde" and thought, "Who the hell was Robert Green?" And mulled over Ann Marie Lipinski, who I assumed was a relative of William Lipinski and his son, my State Representative, against whom I've voted the last 20 years or more. I couldn't figure out what Mueller (or Pagliacci ) was doing in there until I read the rest of the blog, but it certainly all came together then, most satisfactorily. Thanks, Neil.

    1. Giuseppe Verde...Joe Green.
      Roberto Verde...Robert Green...Bob Greene.
      Makes total sense...and is as funny as hell.

  3. Have to start out with a word to the wise, prior to calling law enforcement to file a complaint dealing with interpersonal relationships and no immediate threat, always consult an attorney. So amusing, poor Bob displayed a level of naivety typical of a small town rube. Most if not all FBI agents have a college level familiarity with criminal justice, which means they would get more details and provide sage advise before following through on such a request. More likely Bob's "pal" didn't care for his behavior and engaged in a version of the malicious compliance meme.

  4. I had cup of coffee with the Sun-times in the late Seventies (A "cup of coffee" is an idiom for a short time spent by a minor league ballplayer at the major league level...the idea being that he was only in the big leagues long enough to have a cup of coffee before being returned to the minors). So I have but one Bob Greene story.

    I occasionally saw Bob and his unfortunate hairpiece around the newsroom. We may have nodded or exchanged greetings, but we never had a conversation until the day he came into the wire room (where the teletypes and early fax machines were housed) to use our brand-new, high-end, state-of-the-art copy machine. He had a thick comic book of some sort in his hand. Instead of putting the page he wished to copy onto the glass, as is customary, or at least asking me for instructions, Bobby simply force-fed the entire comic book right into the automatic feeder slot.

    As I watched in horror, the machine made hideous sounds, as began "eating" the thick publication. He had succeeded in not only turning that expensive copier into a cut-rate shredder, but putting it totally out of commission for some time. Bobby shrugged, said he was sorry (in a thick Central Ahia accent), and walked away.

    Bottom line: A factory technician had to spend the next three days taking the machine completely apart, painstakingly removing countless bits and pieces of shredded material with a pair of needle-nosed pliers, and then reassembling the copier...all the while turning the air blue with curses and repeatedly wishing he could do bodily harm to the stupid so-and-so who had done such a boneheaded thing--and caused him such major trouble. I didn't tell him who the culprit was, and I just may have saved Bobby's ass.

    And I couldn't help but wonder if maybe they didn't have such newfangled devices as copiers in Columbus. But ignorance was certainly no excuse. I couldn't believe that a Medill grad, after a decade of living in the big city, could be such an ignorant rube.

  5. Great reminder of the Bob days and recalling the delights in finding a new Bob Watch in the Reader. Retrieving the Tribune from the stoop in those day I dutifully read Sports and the news pages before getting to the Tempo section, then hesitating, should I actually go through the pain of reading Bob's horrible column? It was worth it though just thinking about how it would be later be painstakingly dissected in the Bob Watch.

    It was such a different time though, was the Bob Watch only monthly?! Hard to believe in this day of instant daily updates. If only Ed Gold would come back and do a monthly Donald Watch, (I"ll read Trump Tweets so you don't have to). I'd gladly trade the torment of another Trump tweet for the mindless boredom of another Bob column.


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