The Lippman Lot
It used to be axiomatic in newsrooms that some stories were too good to check out, but I guess that joke will now go the way of the lusty schoolyard song about meeting the teacher at the door with a loaded .44. Some things are funny only until they happen. Now that we know lots of stories aren't checking out -- not because they were too good, but because they were too banal or played to readers' clichéd expectations -- I guess all stories will be scrutinized, at least for a while.
But, outside a newspaper's pages, one can be too much of a stickler for accuracy, even a killjoy. That's why I've given up on correcting people who make the logical inference that I am related to the Lippman Lot, the private parking lot adjacent to the Brass Elephant, long one of Tess Monaghan's hangouts in Baltimore. It's such a good little conspiracy theory: Lippman writes enticing descriptions of the food and drink at the Brass Elephant in order to lure people to the Lippman Lot and fatten her inheritance. The fact is, Tess spends more time than I do in the Brass Elephant because that lovely Midtown drinking establishment is no longer quite so convenient to my life. And I almost always park on the street.
But I showed up at the Brass Elephant last week to buy a drink for My Favorite Hiaasen -- Rob Hiaasen, a longtime co-worker and one of the best journalists I know. This year, the John S. Knight program at Stanford University agreed that Rob is world class, bestowing on him one of its annual. It seemed a good reason to buy a fellow a beer, if a reason is ever needed.
Rob and I were at the bar, revisiting the roll call of Brass Elephant bartenders we have known and loved, when two couples walked in, a pleasant-looking quartet. I am embarrassed to admit that Rob, who has lived in Baltimore for only a decade, made the connection first: "Isn't that ... Brooks Robinson?" And it was.
As a reporter, I have met presidents and would-be presidents, Pulitzer-Prize winning writers, a movie star or two, and even a few pro athletes. A journalist is supposed to be blasé in such moments, and I never found this attitude too difficult, even when meeting people I genuinely admire. But as a defrocked journalist, I felt I finally could embrace the experience of fandom. Brooks Robinson! Number 5! His 1967 baseball card has a prized position on my desk, along with the signed Johnny U. mini-helmet.
Rob and I introduced ourselves, and Mr. Robinson was gracious enough to introduce us to his wife, Connie, and the other couple. I then asked him to autograph the only thing I had on me - which was, I'm ashamed to admit, a galley of my own book. (More shameful still, I had it with me only because I wanted Rob to see my new author photograph,an extremely flattering shot by Marion Ettlinger.) We left them alone the rest of the evening, but Mr. Robinson made a point of saying goodbye to us and wishing us well. He even told us a few Roberto Clemente stories.
A few years back, a wonderful writer made a slight verbal gaffe at Bouchercon, confessing to his own fan moment in a way that made it sound as if fandom were a lowly thing. And perhaps some people feel that way. Me, I like being a civilian now, unfettered in my personal enthusiasms, terminally uncool and unhip. John Travolta is in Baltimore, making a movie about firefighters. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to stalk him, but he definitely meets Nora Ephron's definition of celebrity: Someone who could get me to stand up in a restaurant, in order to get a better look. Ditto: Paul O'Neill, Anne Tyler, Stephen Sondheim and Sophia Loren. There are more, but those are the ones that come off the top of my head natural, as the late Johnny Ketchum used to say.
Who's on your list? And who's on the list of people you admire and never, ever want to meet, lest you be disillusioned? Here's one of mine.
Off the Wagon
That sound you heard was my cracking resolve. I'm not sure what happened in May, but I lifted my self-imposed ban on buying books by people I don't know and went on what can only be described as a binge. Here's what I've read as a result: The Quality of Life Report, Family History, Good Faith, The Wife and Cooking for Mr. Latte. I also had a chance to check out a sharp new novel, My Ex-Best Friend, which will be published in July. I'm catching up with Edgar nominee, Savannah Blues, which is utterly beguiling. I've said often that I like my reading to be decadent, something I do for pleasure's sake, and breaking this arbitrary rule has given me the kind of thrill I haven't known since I had a copy of Lolita hidden under my bed. I can barely wait until Elinor Lipman's new novel is released this month.