Where Did “That Guy” Go?

January16/ 2000

If I asked you to name the most significant cultural tsunami bearing down on America you might opt for the obvious ….. The extended 3-point line in NCAA BB …. the first POTUS with a Kenyan biological father …. Gil Grissom leaving CSI-Las Vegas …. etc.  If you said “the eminent demise of daily  newspapers”, BINGO,  Pick any prize off of the front row.

The demise of the daily newspaper It’s NOT a “good thing” regardless of your political wing.  It’s not a “good thing” at all.  As pathetically partisan as they have become – we need a 4th estate watchdog element.  We need someone to at least pretend to monitor the crooked politicians ….. even if they run interference for half of’em.

Two factors doomed newspapers – Technology and Arrogance.  But today I want to bemoan the passing of one particular element of that business culture …. “That Guy”.

    At our local paper “that guy” for 25+ years was a gnomish, scraggly-bearded, eccentric bags of bones named Dennis Rogers.  If you call central casting and order “that guy”, Dennis is who they would send over.  “That guys” were as far outside “mainstream” as the subjects they wrote about.

Dennis retired from the local paper three years ago.  True to the clique he sold his rural home, bought an RV and set out with his wife to “discover America”.

I read Dennis Rogers for over 20 years.  I have two of his column anthologies.  After 20 years, I have no idea what Dennis Rogers’ personal politics is.  Hoo-freakin’-Ray!  I tried to guess on many occasions.  Just when I thought he was tipping me off, he would throw a column curve ball and befuddle me.  I liked “that guy” a lot.

I recently discussed “that guys” with Carl Edwards’ step-daddy, and my buddy, Big Jim Sterling at the Mizzou J-School.  Big Jim knows more about small town newspapers than anyone having owned, ran, sold and consulted to them for longer than Dennis Rogers scoured the hinterlands for cucumbers that looked like Greta Garbo.

Every “that guy” had his specialty areas.  Column topics he would go to when the Muse put him on hold and a deadline loomed.   Dennis’ were barbecue ….. motorcycles …. and military veterans.

That guys were deliciously predictably unpredictable.  I think every “that guy” worked for the circus at one point.

EVERY newspaper had “their that guy (or gal but mostly guys) who wrote Dennis Rogers-type columns.  Like snowflakes ….. every one was unique but wonderfully alike.  If you moved to a new town there was a “that guy” there who found the man who carved glass eyes in his basement or the elderly widow lady who once had a blind date with Clark Gable.

Maybe your local paper still has “that guy” but likely not.  He might have morphed from “eccentric” to “crazy sumbitch” or died while interviewing a midget who raised black widow spiders.    One day you realized there had not been a column by him for a while.  You called down to the paper.  They said “that guy doesn’t work here any more” …… uh oh.

Send me the name of a “that guy” that you remember fondly.  Tell me his newspaper.  Syndicated “that guys” don’t count.

Trying to find a newspaper columnist today that does not reek of a political agenda is akin to finding an Indian restaurant that doesn’t reek of curry.  Today’s columnists write two types of columns (1) overtly political screeds and (2) overtly political screeds.

That guy” kept you off-balance from one to the next.  His columns made you mad, make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. …. Oh, and ENTERTAINED you.  If “that guy” was really on his game he packed at least three of those emotional triggers into his 600 words.  Every “that guy” had at least one “scar” and a great story about how he got it.

Subscribers tolerated the general arrogant crap of the paper just for “that guy”.  His annual vacations were dreaded by devoted readers.

As the modern newspaper sinks not so slowly into history’s quicksand, its EEOC-compliant columnist team is (1) the hip black dude ….. (2) the tree-hugging abortion-loving uber-feminist  …. (3) the androgenous metro-sexual.

Today’s Diversity First …. Last and Always columnists don’t know who Calvin Coolidge was much less if a casaba melon looks like him.  “That guy” knew and he knew a Coolidge melon from a Herbert Hoover squash.  I miss “that guy”.  “Human interest stories” have lost out to Push The Agenda diatribes.

Some of you are thinking “BobLee, you are a “that guy”.  Alas, I wanted to be one but I became a “Benjamin Martin” (insert obscure movie character here) .  The Mel Gibson character in The Patriot.  Like Benjamin, I wanted to stay out of the fray and just do my thing but the fray would not stay out of my front yard.  I became a guerilla columnist  who slips into “that guy” on occasion.

If your parakeet can whistle “Swing Low Sweet Chariots” let me know ….. “This guy” will do a column on it.

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