March 06, 2008
Only rarely does a Seven Days reader write a letter to the paper commenting on a "Hackie" column. I used to worry that this means that no one is reading it, but then came to the conclusion that the lack of letters has more to do with the "vibe" of my stories.
Controversy breeds letter writing. Freyne's "Inside Track" generates stacks of letters. Art and music reviews are another biggie. It seems that, monthly, someone sends a letter reaming the paper's long-time movie reviewer, Rick Kisonak, for his utter lack of intelligence, aesthetics, etc. This personally affronts me, not because Rick is a friend and colleague, but because I find him to be a superb reviewer - historical, generous, open-minded and open-hearted in his opinions.
In "Hackie," I am not trying to stake out positions or to be judgmental about the people I observe. Therefore, I rarely get under people's skin or rub them the wrong way. Hence, why write to complain?
Someone did write a letter last week, infuriated about the story, "Coming of Age." Here it is in its entirety:
I have found Jernigan Pontiac’s submissions to be good and bad, but never until today offensive [Hackie, February 20]. So, Jernigan, rich daddy slips you three hundred bucks and you clean up puke with a smile on your face? And O.J. pays $2 mil to get off a murder charge while the average Vermonter couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer to defend against a jaywalking ticket. Would you have written a different story had daddy been working-class and only could have covered his fare? It is unfortunate that our so-called democracy is truly a plutocracy, and it is sad that our journalists are just as taken in by the aura of wealth as are the masses.
In this tale, I drive a quite wealthy man and his son. During the ride, the son vomits in the cab and the father lays a huge tip on me to make up for it. I am appreciative of this and end the story with me cleaning out the cab with, indeed, a smile on my face.
The letter-writer's ire, as I understand it, is with rich people getting away with stuff because of their wealth, and journalists, like myself, going along with it. He cites O.J. literally getting away with murder as an example. As the guy puts it, "Would you have written a different story had daddy been working-class and only could have covered his fare?"
Two things. First, I'm thrilled the guy cared enough to write a letter - I covet the attention. Second, he has apparently confused me with a journalist. I'm a story-teller, plus I am working-class, for crying out loud - a cabbie out there everyday trying to hustle-up a buck.
This was not the case of a rich guy using his money to cover-up some nefarious activity. Nobody did anything criminal or even unethical in this story. The guy's young son drank too much on his birthday and threw up in the cab, that's all. The fact that the father laid some heavy green on me was, in my view, a gracious act.
Here's my view about folks with money and folks without money. I've met street people who are nasty and selfish, and corporate bankers who are salts of the earth, generous and kind. And vice-versa. It's how you live your life, not the size of your wallet.
Now, that last paragraph should generate some letters!
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Couldn't agree more... with Jernigan. It's just too easy to take the black/white view that paints with a broad brush those with big bucks as heartless exploiters or users of wealth to buy their way out of trouble. Although there certainly ARE plenty of those, just one of the many exceptional things about Vermont is that we seem to have a pretty good share of wealthy folks (and as a retired teacher, I'm sure not one of 'em), who seem to understand their responsibility to give back and share some of their good fortune. Too bad that simple generosity of spirit can't be appreciated for what it is. Character, good or bad, isn't determined by financial status in and of itself, as you so correctly observe.
Posted by: exteacher | Mar 7, 2008 11:05:28 AM
Thanks for those thoughts, exteacher. I do respect the gist of Daniel's observation, that the nation's wealth and resources is increasingly concentrated at the top sliver of society. That trend, a result of benighted government policy, is a cancer on our democracy. But I don't take my displeasure with the state of affairs to the level of contempt for the rich.
Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Mar 7, 2008 11:43:41 AM
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