The organization of copy editors of which I’m a member has flattered my ego three times in the past two years by inviting me to give presentations at training events the organization, well, organized. Curiously, all these invitations have been sight-unseen — that is, they don’t much know what I look like, nor have they seen me give a speech. They are bold, risk-taking people, which is to say, anybody who doesn’t have a speaking fee has a chance.
My latest presentation happened yesterday in Sacramento, where the summers are so hot that it’s easy to see why precious few sane people lived there for the 10,000 years before the white folks started showing up for the Gold Rush. Now I understand why they were so avid to find gold: to buy boat tickets back to a cool climate.
Anyway, ACES, the aforementioned organization, has a new chapter for Northern California, and the chapter brass asked me to speak at its first all-day conference. My topic was the ever-popular Banned for Life list, which I’ve maintained off and on for the past eight years. Got some good laughs, because Banned for Life readers are brimming with amusing vitriol regarding the most annoying media cliches. Note to would-be standup comics: when all else fails, go for the enema joke.
My favorite part of the presentation (apart from the applause), was something I called An Annoying Narrative, a story built completely from cliches submitted to the Banned for Life list. It goes like this (annoyances in bold):
I want to tell you about a special man, a man we all know as John Q. Public.
Mr. Public is an endangered species these days, a man determined not to re-invent the wheel.
Mr. Public has drawn a line in the sand with his rivals, determined to go the extra mile and take no prisoners.
These traits allowed Mr. Public to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.“
But alas, his dreams turned to a nightmare … it turned he’d been on a slippery slope all along, that he had failed to develop a worst-case scenario.
Mr. Public was a disaster waiting to happen. In the end, he fell on his sword, after which, of course, authorities found him in a pool of blood.
This bit got great laughs, I swear, but you really had to be there.
The event drew about 80 people from papers around the region. A couple of my co-workers from the Mercury News also gave presentations, but we couldn’t coax any more Merc folks to come up for the conference. The Chronicle, in San Francisco, also had a couple people giving talks but apparently their staff, as well, couldn’t be troubled to drive a couple hours on a Sunday.
I’m a bit shame-faced to see that the two largest employers of copy editors in Northern California, the Merc and the Chron, having so few copy editors interested in getting involved with others of their own kind (though, admittedly, if you knew us you’d understand the qualms. We’re like people who’d never join clubs that’d have us as a member).
I had dinner with my buddy Will from the Fresno Bee. His boss had a great idea: she promised a free meal and transportation to Bee copy-deskers who wanted to come along. A couple carloads of Fresno Bee deskers came up, many of whom had like two hours of sleep because they worked saturday night and had to leave Fresno at 5 a.m. to get to Sacramento in time for the first sessions.
My presentation was my abiding obsession for the summer, but with that out of the way I guess you’d call me obsessionless. But never fret; something always turns up.