Sunday, November 15, 2020

"Thank you for writing to the office of Neil Steinberg"


     As much as I complain about email, I still like it. Receiving email shows that what I'm writing is touching people, for good or ill. I read and respond to every one—with the exception of the perennially negative, who get one response, and then are immediately put into the filter and never read again.  My never responding does not seem to faze them. Many continue hectoring me, unperceived—I glance into the filter sometimes to see if anything wanted is there—like patients in some dim locked ward gibbering to the wall. I feel sorry for them, but helping is not within my power.
     The complimentary are received with gratitude. Those raising valid points have those points addressed. Rare is the email that evokes something extra, but such was the case with the email below, which arrived with the dawn Saturday. Why don't you read it and see if what leapt out to me leaps out to you:
Hello Neil, or Neil's staff,
     I want to comment that it looks like the Republicans have been holding their collective noses for so long that their noses have now become permanently pinched (hence, the label, "The Pinched Nose Party.")
     My dad was a staunch Republican all of his life, but he finally became disgusted with the GOP in the last years of his life and felt forced to switch allegiance.
     My father died in 2018, but I think that I can picture him, holding his fatherly nose and saying in a nasally voice, "desperado." It's not a good thing when our politicians, on either side of the aisle, become a bunch of desperate desperadoes.
     Notice anything? It's the salutation: "Hello Neil, or Neil's staff." I thought that was incredibly sweet. "Neil's staff"? I mean, who could possibly live in a world where a guy like me would have a staff? And suddenly I was plunged into the dream that my reader, who asked that her name not be used, had evoked. I thought a moment, and replied with the following:
     Thank you for writing to the office of Neil Steinberg. Unfortunately, due to the incredible volume of email he receives, not all correspondence can be shared with him. However, you can be certain that were he to read   your remarks about your father considering Republicans to be "The Pinched Nose Party,"     he would be gratified to learn them, and would in addition     express condolences for the loss of your father, 2018 not being all that long ago.
     Thank you also for reading the Neil Steinberg column. It is readers such as yourself, in Chicago, the United States and around the world, who have made the Neil Steinberg column a Chicago Sun-Times institution for nearly 25 years. Thank you as well for taking the time to write to Neil Steinberg. He highly values all his readers, and would wish you a good day, warmly and personally, if only he could.
          Best regards,
          Pierce Bronard
          Senior Assistant to Mr. Steinberg

P.S. Kidding. I'm lucky to have a job, never mind a staff. I've never had an assistant or legman and, the economics of newspapering being what it is, if I did I would have lost him long ago. But it gave me a smile to imagine what that might be like, having a staff, and I hope you will forgive me a bit of Saturday morning levity. I of course feel all the sentiments above, having written them myself. Thanks again for writing.
          Neil Steinberg

     Alas, no reply, so I have no idea how that was received, unless the reply is coming, via channels, some wildly indignant complaint even now filtering down through the Sun-Times hierarchy. But I didn't find anything offensive in it, and it certainly enlivened my morning, and as I say to new hires at the Sun-Times—or as I said, anyway, back when we actually had the chance to talk to each other—"Welcome aboard. If you're not having fun, you're doing this wrong."


  1. It's funny and I hope/bet the writer was glad to get it!

  2. As I write this, it's 8:00 A.M. Sunday. Your column was a great day-starter at our house, Neil. Hopefully, a nice escape for you, too. You didn't have to mention the t word once. And....What Caren said.

    1. I'm very glad. That's my goal. Someday he-who-shall-not-be-named will be an infrequent shudder, of interest only to historians, psychologists and the insane. The writer was ... I guess I'd say she was nonplussed.

  3. I so agree with Caren and with Doug - this was a great start to my morning, and just so very fun. Thanks!!!

  4. I thought you had an army of Elfs helping you crank out all this work you kindly put out every day.

  5. I've always been amazed that you answer your emails so diligently. I remember, years ago, calling you at the Sun-Times for some forgotten reason, expecting to get either an answering machine, or perhaps the dulcet voice of Pierce Bronard's junior assistant telling me that you were "in a meeting." To my astonishment, you just answered the call and talked to me.

    I think your reply above is funny and well-intended. If your correspondent doesn't realize that you taking the time to respond in such a witty manner is more than she ever could have hoped for, and heartily appreciate it, it's her loss.

  6. Even though he who will not be named has denigrate the press mercilessly for years. Many people still hold journalists in high esteem and remember a time when it was prestigious to write for a newspaper. When there were tv shows celebrating the proffession and superman was one of your ilk . Though at the height of print news I can't imagine too many colomnists had staff . Maybe dear Abby.

  7. On the one hand I think it’s great that you answer all your legit emails.
    On the other, my bubble has been burst. When I sent you an email soon after I began following your column, I said you reminded me of Sydney Harris. You responded, I felt special. With days seemingly as packed as yours, I wasn’t expecting a reply assuming you didn’t do this often. My experience with writers is that they don’t reply often. It’s okay.
    The fact that you do respond to almost everyone shouldn’t surprise me. The reason you have a following is that you connect with people in a very good way.

    1. I don't want you to feel less special. That caveat about ignoring negative remarks probably covers a third of all emails—hard to tell because a lot go straight to the filter and are never seen. My usual response is something akin to "Thanks" or "glad you liked it." So if I said anything substantive, that's unusual. I think mood enters into it. Sometimes I will go back and forth over some point. Sometimes I miss blocks of mail, if traffic is really heavy. I learn a lot—readers point out typos and mistakes which, because of our overburdened, diminished staff, sometimes get missed. They bring the whole "hive intelligence" quality to it. Besides, it's rude not to reply.


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