When I wrote this, it never occurred to me that the Sun-Times would refuse to print the offensive way that O'Rourke described a Korean political rally back in 1988. But we wouldn't. Respecting that decision, I won't share it here either. I realize that my bosses are just trying to protect me from being run out of town on a rail, a quivering ball of tar and feathers. Neither of us want that, and better safe than sorry.
Though you can be too safe, which is also a sorry situation. Nobody writes in to complain about that, so perhaps I should. This is an example of something we can think of as "N-Word Creep," where banning one word as being too disturbing to be mentioned in any context ever leads to other words receiving the same banishment, because it's the path of least resistance. I guess that's also why you can't guess "wench" or "slave" on Wordle. The danger is that you do it enough and it becomes, not a sign of enlightenment and consideration, but condescension and timidity. Maybe that day has already arrived. The bottom line is, I don't set newspaper policy, I follow it, sometimes grudgingly.
Every time another 1960s musician dies, Facebook keens with grief. Tears spatter Twitter, as people clutch at their hearts, decrying this latest loss.
And if the departed are in any way famous — say, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees — a process I call “The Full Diana” starts up, wheezing like a circus calliope, with the stacked teddy bears and cellophane-wrapped flowers.
“Save it for somebody you love,” I mutter.
Sitting at Denver Airport Tuesday, waiting for my flight home, I saw that P.J. O’Rourke had died. I felt ... well “sad” is overstating the case. “Sorry” is more accurate. I was thinking of him just last week, wondering what became of the arch, edgy humorist, so big in his day, and whether it might be worth tracking him down for a chat. Too late now.
Even “sorry” is too strong. “Grateful” might be more to the point. Not grateful he is dead, of course. But that he lived, and wrote, amusing millions while inspiring an army of lesser talents such as myself. He was frank and fearless.
When I got home, I went to the bookshelf and pulled down my O’Rourke books. “Parliament of Whores,” his keelhauling of the U.S. government, begins, “What is this oozing behemoth, this fibrous tumor, this monster of power and expense hatched from the simple human desire for civic order?”
Did I mention he was a Republican? He was.
My favorite of his 20 or so books is “Republican Party Animal,” containing the delightfully titled, “Ferrari Refutes the Decline of the West,” one of those delicious assignments freelancers once dreamt about:
“Ferrari North America, which is based in Montvale, New Jersey, had a 308GTS that needed to be delivered to Los Angeles by January 2, to be featured in a movie. Ferrari called Car and Driver and asked if they’d like to assign someone to drive it across the country. Car and Driver was good enough to ask me, and of course I said yes.”Though a member of the media — he was “international correspondent” for Rolling Stone; the title initially something of a joke — O’Rourke could be critical of the press. With good reason. I just waded through two long obituaries, in The New York Times and the Washington Post. Neither mentioned his most relevant story, “Seoul Brothers,” a report on the South Korean presidential election in 1988.
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