Found in a dumpster behind New York Times headquarters (buried beneath a pile of junk bonds and overdue mortgage notices): first draft of licensed professional writer Timothy Egan's subliterate oped screed aimed at publishing world interloper Joe The Plumber. (Hat tip: Tim Blair)
By Timothy Egan
New York Times Guest Columnist
The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?
Ha! I didn’t think so, Baldy McUnlicensed O'Notaplumber. No more than an unlicensed cooker-person would entrust me with the cooking of his/her meals, nor the illegal blower of leafs with the operation of his/her leaf blowing machine. See, Joe? You fell right into my clever rhetorical hypothetical-toilet-fixing trap. And with good reason: because my skill is as a highly-trained journalism-writing professional, and even a failed unlicensed fitter of pipes such as yourself recognizes that I should be kept away from dangerous stovetops and power equipment and toilets.
And by the same token, you shouldn't be allowed near dangerous word processing machinery. Not when too many good, licensed novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when there are dozens of extra words in Roget's Thesaurus for "good" and "author" and "unpublished." Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate, wasting away in dank unlit torture cells, all because some stupid unlicensed plumber has hogged up all the publishing business advance money.
Does the guilt ever get to you, Joe? Because frankly, I don't know how you sleep at night.
You, Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a JTP, were no good as a citizen, having failed to pay your full share of good citizen taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. In fact, your audition for "American Icon" on "Faux TV" was so bad that even a drug-addled "Paula Q. Public" could see you were another "William Hung" novelty act. But as another member of the "judges panel," let me tell you, "dog": you trippin' if you think be you gettin' invited to "Hollyread."
With a résumé full of failing failure, you now think you have the "chops" to join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell, William Shakespeare, and award-winning New York Times Guest Columnist Timothy Egan? Think again, toilet-man. You're forgetting the one thing that Twain, Orwell, the Bard and I share that you'll never ever have: a degree in journalism.
Because of you, next, up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Hardy har har. Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who so endeavors to be so tortuously abuseful of the English language, on such a regular basis, in such a manner as thus aforementioned, should not be paid for the putting of said words between said covers.
Here’s Palin’s response, after Matt Lauer asked her when she knew the election was lost:
“I had great faith that, you know, perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting a vote for us, but having to put a lot of faith in that commitment we tried to articulate that we were the true change agent that would progress this nation.”
I have no idea what she said in that thicket of words. And if I -- a practitioning licensed professional in the arts of journalistic communication through wordsmithery -- cannot hack my way through Palin's verbal underbrush with my trusty J-school narrative machete, I can only think how extra-hard it is for you, the layperson.
Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they tragically labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace, forsaking lesser fields of knowledge like plumbing and math. They take out a loan to attend a creative writing workshop at the New School. They write a fascinating new novel about a writer who is struggling to write a novel about a writer suffering from writers' block. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal. And then, the final humiliation: having spent every waking, poverty-stricken moment crafting their writing craft, they suddenly realize they lack even the rudimentary hand skills necessary to commit suicide.
Writing is hard, even for the best smithers of word-things. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.” Heed this wisdom from my well-worn copy of Barlett's Familiar Quotations, Joe: not until you experience the total screaming scaredness and puking and diarrhea caused by a sheet of paper will you truly be a writer -- like a Hemingway, or a Churchill, or a Egan.
When I heard J.T.P. had a book, I thought of that Chris Farley skit from “Saturday Night Live.” He’s a motivational counselor, trying to keep some slacker youths from living in a van down by the river, just like him. One kid tells him he wants to write.
“La-di-frickin’-da!” Farley says, whom is now dead. “We got ourselves a writer here!”
I also thought of that other "Saturday Night Live" skit where Steve Martin and the other guy dressed up as foreign guys who said "we are tooo waaaald anda ca-razy guys!!!"
Let me ask you this, Joe: can you think of similar references to various classic "Saturday Night Live" skits like me, who has also won a Pulitzer Prize, by the way? Of course you can't. Which is exactly why I am a hiree of the New York Times, an experience of which you are not also going to have the pleasure of having.
So, Joe, if you really want to write, you should keep your day job and spend your evenings reading Rick Reilly’s sports columns, Peggy Noonan’s speeches, or Dostoevsky's famous War and Peace book. Because in the professional journalism writing business, Rick Reilly, Peggy Noonan, and Ted Dostoevsky are known as the "Big Three" of writing. You should also study Jess Walter, Norman Maclean, Frank McCourt, and Annie Dillard to understand that it's extremely important to have a good-sounding writer name to write under. Do you think someone really wants to say at a cocktail party, "say, by the way, have you read the latest novel by Joe the Plumber?" No because that just sounds stupid. Now try the same question instead with "T. Coraghessan Boyle."
The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers real sad, because it makes them think the world is unfair -- even after the 10% off Barnes and Noble discount. And do we really want to live in a world such that writers think it is unfair?
Our next president is a writer, which may do something to elevate standards in the book industry. The last time a true writer occupied the White House was a hundred years ago, with Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote 13 books before his 40th birthday.
Sometimes I imagine getting into a time machine and dropping in at a cocktail party in the Roosevelt White House celebrating his latest book release. After I came out of the smoke from the mysterious blinking machine I would tell Teddy, "don't shoot Mr. President! I am a writer too!" We would have a good laugh about the mixup, and then he would sit, rapt and delighted, as I told him all about the magical literary wonders awaiting in the future like Susan Brownmiller and Michiko Kakutani. But then I would warn him about how we future people were living under the threat of books by Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin. "Zounds!" he would shout through his big toothy mustache. "Let us get in your confangled time device and stop them with my Big Stick before it is too late, magic Journalist of the Future!" I'm not sure how that story ends but my draft is at Random House.
Barack Obama’s first book, the memoir of a mixed-race man, is terrific. Outside of a few speeches, he will probably not write anything memorable until he’s out of office, but I look forward to that presidential memoir. Of course, I don't mean that by that that I'm looking forward to him being out of office! I just mean that, as a professional writer, I expect this yet-to-be-written memorable memoir is really going to be excellent, as well as superbly extraordinary, with many very good mixed-race wordsmithings.
By the way, does anyone else like saltwater taffy? I guess I would say it is probably not the first candy that comes to mind when someone asks me, "as a professional Pulitzer Prize winning writer, what is your opinions as regards favorite candy." But I would probably not turn down a piece, especially, if it has the little minty pieces in it, because those are really good.
For the others — you friends of celebrities penning cookbooks, you train wrecks just out of rehab, you politicians with an agent but no talent — stop soaking up precious advance money. Your stupid anti-intellectual money-soaking is making it hard for serious toiling unread writer people such as myself, and time travel Teddy Roosevelt.
I know: publishers say they print garbage so that real literature, which seldom makes any money, can find its way into print. True, to a point. But some of them print garbage so they can buy more garbage. This cycle of garbage is stupid, and this is why I am glad I work for the New York Times, which is totally into having good quality writing, by professional writers, like this column, and not garbage.
There was a time when I wanted to be like Sting, the singer, belting out, “Roxanne ...” I guess that’s why we have karaoke, for fantasy night. If only there was such a thing for failed plumbers, politicians or celebrities who think they can write.
I also wanted to be like the A-ha guy, jumping in and out of the magic mirror comic book world in that one video, singing "taaaake meeee onnnn..." but it's real hard to hit the high parts. Hey! Maybe I could use that A-ha magic mirror in my Teddy Roosevelt story.
Does anybody here also like Men Without Hats? Because they were also pretty good.
Maureen Dowd is having toilet problems today.