Welcome to this special 30th anniversary selection of the very worst stories that have appeared in the “Up Front” column in the last five years — which are the years that have passed since our 25th anniversary edition.
Here you will find the most absurd, ridiculous, foolish, inexcusable, lame, silly, dumb, preposterous, pretentious, grotesque and just plain silly prose and verse ever penned by human journalist. Only the very most appalling pieces have been chosen for your reading pleasure. Any writing that rises above that low water mark — any writing that so much as hints at substance or style — has been excluded.
The following selections will leave you shaking your head in disgust, certain of the demise of the press and fearful for the future of civilization. They may shake your confidence in the English language. If this selection doesn’t confirm your worst fears and suspicions about media, you’d better read it again.
For the most part, I think the selections are self-explanatory. But, on occasion, I’ll add a note that may make things a little more clear — assuming that clarity is possible in such a mess as this.
For instance, I’ll note that in the first selection, the headline — Have You Never Been Mellow? — is the title of a sappy 1970s pop song. It’s also meant to be considered as one of the Hot Toddies that are referred to in the selection.
Have You Never Been Mellow?
Here in Lake Charles and environs, people are used to watching the “Hot Button Editorial” on KPLC-TV. I guess all local stations have to have these thought-provoking topical videos and they all have to be called “Hot” something or other. For example, I see that the ones on a nearby station are called “Hot Seat.” Other stations probably have videos called Hot Pocket, Hot Shot, Hot Tub, Hot Tuna, Hot Mess. Some lucky station may even have a video series called Hot Air.
If they can do it, I can do it. I’m going to call my version Hot Toddy. Even though I don’t have video capacity, I can still come up with Hot Toddy topics, questions and issues. Here’s my official Hot Toddy archives:
When you make microwave popcorn, is it OK if you burn a little?
Only two kinds of people in the world — true or false?
Are hostile houseplants harming our kids?
What have the Romans ever done for us?
Exile On Main Street: Tons better than Beggars Banquet.
If all you need is one mic, one life, one try, one breath, isn’t that still a lot of stuff?
Question: What is the greatest danger facing the paper industry?
Is man no more than this?
NutriGrain: A poor source of beer.
Ever go for a week without a rationalization?
Pizza On Demand: What’s the hold-up?
Way too many: 76 trombones
Foghorn Leghorn and identity theft: The hidden connection.
Can’t you look where I’m going?
Jay Z: Did he really have 99 of them?
Ever stop to think
I get the feeling I could think up an awful lot of these.
— May 17, 2012
Lagniappe Quotes With Impunity
Up Front readers may think it’s a little late for one of those summaries of wacky stuff Louisiana political figures said in the previous year [of 2011]. But when The Political Blog, a new Louisiana news site, released a selection of juicy quotations for its New Year’s edition, well, it was hard to resist the temptation to write a little something about it.
So here’s the year 2011 as it was:
The Context: Edwin Edwards comments on getting out of jail.
The Quotation: “They sent me to prison for life, and I came out with a wife.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the rhyme.
The Context: State Treasurer John Kennedy (right) tells everybody his opinion about one more thing — in this case, D.C. politicians.
The Quotation: “They’re acting like Beavis and Butthead.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: At least they don’t look like Charlie Brown.
The Context: Terry Brown comments on his first run for the state Legislature.
The Quotation: “I never realized what a terrible guy I was until I ran for office.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: I realized what a terrible guy I was, so I never ran for office.
The Context: Buddy Roemer floats the idea of choosing Joe Lieberman as his running mate.
The Quotation: “The senator is grateful for the governor’s gracious bipartisan gesture, but he has been there, done that and has the t-shirt and chad to prove it.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: I don’t believe Lieberman has a chad.
The Context: State Rep. John Bel Edwards is, perhaps, letting off a little steam.
The Quotation: “The governor vetoes anything with impunity.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: A veto is the same thing as a veto.
The Context: The mother of state Rep. Jeff Arnold expresses her anger at the House’s inability to override Jindal’s cigarette tax veto.
The Quotation: “That’s just stupid.”
The Up Fronter’s Take: Mothers are more articulate and convincing than politicians.
— Jan. 19, 2012
Person In The News
Lagniappe editor Brad Goins recently announced that he was inspired to undertake a tremendous athletic challenge after the Up Front editorial offices received an email promoting the ideas of the late fitness guru Jack LaLanne. The email read: “For his 60th birthday, [LaLanne] swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat … I challenge you to live life the Jack LaLanne way. Step out of your comfort zone. Do something new and exciting every 90 days. It will keep you feeling young, vibrant and alive!”
“I am going to step out of my comfort zone!” said Goins, at a recent press conference at which he said that in 90 days, he would swim from the Civic Center Seawall to the Isle of Capri Casino. What stunned reporters were the details of how Goins will handicap himself for the swim.
Goins said that after he has both his wrists and ankles wrapped together with two 1,000-feet rolls of duct tape, he “will have both wrists and ankles covered by that stuff CDs are wrapped in.” As for what he will tow in his swim, by means of 15,000 feet of 2.8 inch-diameter stainless steel chain, Goins plans to tow a Hummer H2 (out-fitted with full artillery), a Dimpster Dumpster filled with lead and welded shut, an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, one Cray Supercomputer, Chicago’s Hancock Building and “an old toaster oven [he] bought at Trey Trey’s Dutch Pornography and Flea Market for $1.50.”
Goins was visibly excited by the challenge. “People think I’m nuts, but I’ve really been preparing for this. I’ve really gotten in shape. I’ve been going up and down the staircase in my house and am now able to do it eight times in a row. What’s more, I’ve gotten to the point that I can hold a six-pound medicine ball in a single hand. I’m more than ready. I’m toughed up and buffed up, and so stoked up I’m choked up.”
— March 3, 2011
Editor’s note: The following rather long series of stories all appeared in one issue in 2010. They’re all about a local periodical that ran a series of really, really big — and really impressive-looking — headlines about a story of vast significance.
Journalism does a lot of things well. Subtlety’s not one of them. That’s why any appearance of subtle journalism in our area should be noted and appreciated.
Subtlety was the very essence of the lead headline that ran on the front page of the American Press on Sept. 10. One or more Press writers somehow managed to reduce the headline to a single word:
Press staff stretched that one word all the way across the top of the page. They did that by subtle means — the use of unusually large letters.
How big were these letters? The “d” in Captured was almost 1 3/4 inches high, while the “c” that began the word was an inch and a half in width.
I don’t want to be critical, but I think as subtle as this headline was, with a little work, it could have been more subtle. To be precise, I think the letters could have been a little bigger. Yes, in my estimation, there was room for slightly larger letters. Still, the headline was, as has been stated, a masterwork of subtlety just as it appeared.
Now, the Up Fronter doesn’t want to create the impression that the American Press is the only paper making use of this sort of journalistic subtly. The New York Post has managed to span the width of a newspaper page with even shorter terms than
which, after all, has eight letters in it. The Post has made page-wide banner headlines with such short terms as HO NO! (Spitzer scandal); BAD LAY (Ken Lay); NOW DIE! (Sept. 11 trial); and, most eloquently, A-HOLE (Alex Rodriguez, a tasteful and nuanced cover that featured a photo of Rodriguez swinging a giant syringe instead of a bat). The Post was responsible for what’s probably one of the 10 best-known headlines in history: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. The Post’s ability to generate such headlines on a regular basis accounts for its reputation as the only newspaper of consistent journalistic subtlety in the U.S.
Why did the American Press marshal its subtlety for this one particular headline that could be read from outer space? Clearly, someone at the paper was trying to send a massage. And the message was simple: a suspect in a quadruple homicide case had been
That makes sense. A newspaper, or any periodical, has to determine what aspect of the community it wants to highlight. It could make gigantic headlines about such innovative business developments as geothermal and modular parts plants. It could make monster headlines about local arts, music and lectures. Or it could pump out supersized headlines about really gruesome local crime. The Press did a gut check, made the tough call and decided to take the high road.
It Was Just As Well
The above is just a plain, old, regular-sized headline. Sorry.
It was probably just as well that the Press ran its gargantuan headline about an arrest. The only other story on the front page on Sept. 10 was one about the aftermath of the Superbowl — you know, the Superbowl that took place eight months ago. Well, it was a Friday paper. Sometimes things just don’t happen on Thursdays.
Just As Big Letters
Five days passed before the next mammer jammer headline
appeared as the lead headline on the front page of the American Press on Sept. 15. The size of the letters was exactly the same — ranging from 1 and 3/4 inches high for the “d” to 1 1/2 inch wide for the capital “c.”
I figured the Press got some feedback during the five-day interim. Perhaps Press staff were told, “Hey that headline was really big,” and that comment was interpreted as a positive remark, as it should have been.
Anyway, the similarity between the two monster headlines is obvious. Both of the single words start with a big “c” and end with a big “d.” There is, in this, an elegant symmetry.
The Press reported that Sheriff “Mancuso said that with the arrest of Williams he is confident that authorities have gotten a ‘brutal murderer’ off the street …” I guess if I had news like that, I’d report it too. It’s good to see that some people don’t give in to the craven fear of taxpayers having to foot the costs of an expensive change of venue due to pre-trail publicity.
By Sept. 15, I had the feeling the Press was going to chronicle each step of this suspect’s justice system experience with a Big Boy headline. And, frankly, I think we got cheated out of a few. At the very least, we should have had such huge single-word headlines as
and maybe a few others. I realize that none of those headlines start with a big C and end with a big d. Hey, I’m not saying I’m as talented at writing headlines as the people who wrote Captured and Charged. On the contrary.
Maybe this suspect really does deserve the celebrity these massive headlines bestow on him. In that case, perhaps it’s best that the area not be known as the cradle of Cajun culture, but rather, as the center of criminal celebrity. If we’re going to go that route, I think each time a murder suspect is caught, the Press should use its superbig headlines to make sure the suspect is
— Oct. 7, 2010
Editor’s note: The fire was in me when I composed the Up Front for Feb. 19, 2009. Two selections from that date made it into this prestigious selection.
Poetry A La Mode
The Beauregard Daily News recently ran a story with the immensely satisfying headline “Return of DeRidder Idol Contest.” My pleasure with the subhead — “Planning for History” — was almost too great to be borne.
While I’ve stayed true to my vow to remain the only person in Greater Calcasieu who knows nothing about American Idol, I’m happy to learn all about DeRidder Idol.
For me, the most tantalizing aspect of this talent contest was the category called “poetry writing.”
Poetry writing and reading in DeRidder. There aren’t many things I’m sorry to have missed. But I’m sorry I missed that.
I know from experience that every day there are several fantastic poems on pages 2 and 3 of the American Press. These poems are fantastic because the people who write them work hard and think long and hard before they put words on paper.
I can’t duplicate the heartfelt earnestness of the poetry that was read in DeRidder. But I can do my humble best to pay it an inadequate homage in a style that echoes, albeit weakly, the style of its models.
An Ode To Poetry
It is so very clear to me … My heart and soul love poetry.
When the sound of poetry sings … My heartfelt hearty heart just rings.
And also my young heart just beats … For poetry and all its treats.
In bars or on my ATV … I raise a can for poetry.
When I dance in my wedding gown, … The beer, like poetry, cascades down.
It’s sticky, and a little rank, … But dare we say that poetry stank?
Poems take flight, and fly like geese … And are as lovely as the fleece
Of sheep who graze on rice fields green … And bleat out their poetic spleen.
The sheep’s small feet make squishing sounds … When freely sheep roam through the grounds.
And bleat out poems to the cats … Who jump around like acrobats.
My earthly form will only roam … Until I hit the nursing home,
But once you let it out the door … My poetry roams evermore.
Oh how I love my poetry! … I love it, love it, love it, me.
— Feb. 19, 2009
The More Things Change
Surely I wasn’t the only one who raised his eyebrows at the news that Leon Panetta, President Obama’s nominee for CIA head, told a U.S. Senate committee that he would only hand over prisoners to prisons in the Middle East and East Europe if he were assured that the prisoners would not be tortured.
Now, just how does Panetta get that sort of assurance, I wondered. How exactly does that work?
Let’s imagine we’re going behind the scenes in Sednaya Prison in Syria. Here’s how I imagine the assurance thing going down:
CIA Agent W.B. Sternly: OK … I’ll hand over this prisoner to you. But only if you assure me [snicker] … ASSURE me … that you will not torture him.
[Raucous laughter all around.]
Lt. Sadiq Fayyad: Oh, you have it. You have it, Mr. Man. I ASSURE you I will not torture this prisoner. You have my word.
Agent Sternly: OK. Now that that’s taken care of, how about that coffee?
Lt. Fayyad: Coffee? Coffee? You want me to pour the coffee on him or you want to drink the coffee?
Agent Sternly: Oh, you’re a card, Fayyad, a real card.
To be continued …
— Feb. 19, 2009
Good News, Bad News
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, OK, it was just the worst of times. But some good things happened anyway. Let’s take a look at some places where we took one step forward and two steps back in 2010.
The good news: We finally quit hearing about Britney Spears.
The bad news: We started hearing about Justin Bieber.
The good news: Popular music and the big recording companies were more fragmented than ever.
The bad news: We couldn’t escape advertisements for recordings by people who used to be on American Idol.
The good news: Some books were still being published.
The bad news: People who maintained that graphic novels aren’t serious literature went into hiding.
The good news: There were novels that weren’t part of the Twilight series.
The bad news: All those novels were about vampires.
The good news: Bureaucrats were as funny as they ever were.
The bad news: Bureaucrats weren’t on the receiving end of budget cuts.
You may want to clip out this news summary just in case the good and bad news for 2011 are exactly the same as they were for 2010.
— Dec. 16, 2010
Intentionally Humorous Headline?
“Guy rows solo 2,950 miles, is exhausted!” — CNN, March 31, 2009
— April 16, 2009