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Core Samples

"The devil’s aversion to holy water is a light matter compared with a despot’s dread of a newspaper that laughs."

–Mark Twain

It’s not like a lifelong lack of athleticism continues to haunt the nether regions of my self-esteem — actually, it seldom comes to mind. More than likely it’s just moved into the overall comfort zone. Or, maybe, it’s just been forgotten – or flat-out denied. You’ll have that. Reminders, however, of a general lack of foot speed have surfaced in recent times.

This is nothing really new, of course. In fact, it’s right there in the mental mirror each and every moment that requires getting from point A to point B quicker than the next guy. Like, for instance, getting to the betting window at the track before it shuts down or securing that favorite spot in front of the stage for an outdoor concert. The examples are endless.

Understanding these limitations, of course, is a great way of masking them — of keeping them from the bright glare of public scrutiny, as it were. You learn maneuvers requiring only minute moments of quickness, like, say, "jostling" or "misdirection" or "the blatant bald-faced lie." As they refer to it along a rugby sideline, you’re trying to "sell the dummy."

Recent hours spent at the microfilm machine at the Park City Public Library, however, uncovered a time when, not only was my somewhat less-than-brisk sway through life not a secret, but, rather, actually used in a newspaper article as an analogy for an irresolute brand of plodding – an overall malaise of sluggishness, as it were.

In order to understand the context of what today would, more than likely, trigger a libel suit, let us drift back to those days nearly 30 years ago when there were two newspapers in town.

The Newspaper, the new kid on the block, in staking out the equally newly arrived, ski-bum target demographic, flaunted an air of cutting-edge humor upon its pages that it hoped would set it apart from the more restrained and dignified Park Record. Suffice to say, The Newspaper never advertised itself as a "sober" journal. It left the serious, no-nonsense, composed approach to the competition.

Park City found itself in the early winter of what would have normally been the 1976-77 ski season in the grip of a massive drought that threatened not only businesses in town but, naturally, ski-bum jobs. Saloon owners tended bar. Ski Patrollers hung sheet-rock. The town abided at its wits end. They tried everything to attract snow.

One such ploy evolved under the banner of the local Chamber of Commerce and involved, among others, half of the ownership and staff of The Newspaper (actually, at that time, the ownership was the staff) in a not quite covert plot to kidnap a quorum of Salt Lake "personalities" and hold them hostage in Park City until it snowed.

Do not worry! We remain "on topic" here. If this seems more convoluted than normal (fathom that, if you would), you ought to get a load of the microfilm and The Newspaper article in question. These journalists, who, in their own words, often "fortified themselves with an energy-rich mixture of tomato juice and essence of potato," were post-modern before post-modern was cool.

But back to the ploy and the plot and the protagonists of the day. According to the "well-winged" piece, included on page two of the New Year’s 1977 edition, the kidnappings as a whole went relatively smooth. Businessmen, bankers, sporting good retailers, and politicos-of-note became easy prey for our heroes.

They were far from finished, however. And, herein lies the crux of this piece. They were about to enter a TV studio during a live broadcast and haul away the anchor chick, the weather chick and the sports dude. Now, that would be all well and good, except this is how it appeared in the newspaper account. "Next came a move so bold it made the raid on Entebbe look like Jay Meehan stealing second base."

Now, those among you who are not as old as dirt may have to Google a bit to understand why comparing a daring Israeli commando raid to rescue hostages a continent away to a decision on my part to steal a base during a softball game would have any ironic value whatsoever.

And irony is no doubt where the writer (more than likely editor Steve Dering) was heading. If memory serves, and I believe in this particular case it does, Dering and Jan Wilking, then business manager at The Newspaper, were members of an opposing team, and as such, quite frequent witnesses to my aforementioned lack of foot speed.

The reference to the seemingly unhurried manner with which I plodded the base-paths back in the day was not news in the sense that "man bites dog" is, and was, news. The fact that I enjoyed a reputation as the slowest-thing-to-hit-shoe-leather in the league back then had long been beer-keg banter.

And, therefore, to question the validity of its page-two inclusion is somewhat valid. But only somewhat. Actually, it was well within the rules of engagement of that time-space called The Newspaper to draw attention to flaws of friends, and, in this case, as he was also slow at meeting copy deadlines, the in-house music columnist.

There also existed somewhere in the off-handed wryness of the remark, a sort of Raymond Chandler-esque approach to that figure of speech we then called "simile." Thirty years in the blink of an eye. Or as Chandler might have said, "the time went by on tiptoes, with a finger to its lips."

There are worse things, of course, than becoming an icon for slow. The more things change, the more they remain the same.


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