Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

05 September, 2008

Brief Encounter (With Bill Lueders)

Yesterday evening I left work and unsuccessfully dodged the rain drops on my way up to the Square. The occasion was to meet reporter and Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders. Safely tucked away in my bag was a copy of his book Cry Rape which I would, in full fanboy mode, have him autograph for me.

Things began at Isthmus World Headquarters where I met Lueders. Now, from his reporting and sometimes harsh words for government officials, you might be inclined to think of him as being 6'6" 300lbs with a stentorian voice to match. But you'd be wrong. Instead he's of rather average height and weight and the roar is left to his writing. All in all, he's a very approachable guy. First came the tour. It being a Thursday with this week's issue on newsstands, there was a rather subdued atmosphere about the joint. Lueders said that he'd spent a good chunk of the day in meetings where the Isthmus brain trust tried to hash out what you and I will be reading next Thursday. His office is on the second floor tucked away into a corner. Perhaps tellingly, he opted not to show me his desk so I can only imagine what it must have looked like. In my mind, I envision a keyboard and mouse struggling against a mass of papers weighted down by a dog-eared copy of the AP Style Manual that is open to a particularly coffee-stained page relating to the use of semi-colons.

We decided to go get a cuppa joe at Ancora and would leave via the back door. Heading down an aisle, we found ourselves standing before an empty office. "This was Marc's office," my tour guide solemnly informed me. That would be former editor Marc Eisen, who left Isthmus just a few days ago in a bid to help out the paper during these trying times. It was rather spooky because the room looked as if Eisen had merely left for the day – the computer was still perched atop the desk, papers were strewn about randomly, and there was just this general sense of controlled clutter which I associate with newsrooms. I remarked that no one had touched a thing and Lueders said that people were afraid to go inside lest they get a dose of bad mojo. Perhaps they should just leave it as it is. The office would make a good cenotaph for all those newspaper workers who have seen their jobs lost as bloviators like me go to the Web for news.

Once at Ancora, Lueders kindly bought me a coffee. We went to the stand in the corner to get some cream but had to wait briefly as a couple who looked like they'd just walked down the aisle were dressing their drinks. Lueders immediately began to chat with the newlyweds. I suppose reporters can't merely be approachable; they must also be gregarious. A young woman near the fireplace abandoned a table just as we were surveying the scene for one.

Our conversation began with the pleasantries. "What do you do for a living?" he inquired.

"I'm at IT geek for the state," I replied. "It's not glorious but it's OK."

"At least you're a state employee."

I chuckled to myself as I pulled up my ID badge which I still had affixed to my belt loop with one of those retractable hoolies. "State employees get green badges", I lectured. "I'm a redback." That is, contractors get red ID badges. "I'm saving you taxpayers money. Or so Jimmy Doyle tells me."

Lueders smiled and remarked, "There's more people working at the state now than there was before the downsizing." I believe it. My friend doesn't call this the Golden Age of IT Contracting for nothing.

I asked him what his next book was going to be about and he replied that he wasn't going to write anymore books. This led the conversation moved to, Cry Rape, Lueders' account of Patty, a rape victim here in Madison who ended up having to defend herself against the Madison Police Department. It was sad hearing him relate all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the book only to have it ignored beyond a select few. The likes of Oprah and Dateline came a-nibblin' but, in the end, decided the story wasn't for them. I got the impression that, not only was he frustrated that Patty's tale didn't get wider play, but also that the whole experience was just mentally exhausting regardless of exposure.

Much to my surprise, Lueders told me that he'd recently given a speech to the Rotary Club about the decline of the newspaper and he'd incorporated an idea or two that came up during the interview I did with him last month. It was pleasing to know that I was able to contribute, ever so slightly, to his crusade to restore respectability to the newspaper.

Unsurprisingly, the topic turned to politics and I discovered that my interlocutor was insane.

I admitted to him that I hadn't watched any of the convention speeches up to that point. He replied, "Are you going to watch tonight?"

"Nope."

"You aren't very curious for a blogger." Well, I guess I've been called worse.

"What is John McCain going to say to me that would impress me?" I retorted.

He related to me the vicious attacks that Rudoplh Giuliani and Sarah Palin had made at the Republican Convention.

"Yeah, but people eat that shit up. That kind of stuff works," I offered.

"I guess they do," he said before briefly going quiet, his gaze wandering to the world outside the window.

Nothing odd so far, right?. Then Lueders dropped the bomb – he watches the likes of Joe Scarborough and Bill O'Reilly every night. (With Keith Olbermann thrown in for a "progressive" respite.) My jaw hit the table. He and his wife watch these programs and laugh at them, commenting ala MST3K the whole time. I told him that, if I were to do so, I'd go insane. This blog would become nothing more than the ramblings of an H.P. Lovecraft character documenting his descent into madness from a cell at Arkham Asylum.

I will not deny, though my memory is uncertain and indistinct, that this witness of yours may have seen us together as he says, on the couch, watching Bill O'Reilly, at half past 7 on that awful night. That we bore popcorn, beer, and a curious remote control, I will even affirm; for these things all played a part in the single hideous scene which remains burned into my shaken recollection. But of what followed, and of the reason I was found alone and dazed on the edge of Lake Monona next morning, I must insist that I know nothing save what I have told you over and over again.

That and the fact that I don't have cable.

I told Lueders that I was lucky to have been put into a gifted & talented program starting in the fourth grade. In addition to the usual science, English, and math, I had a Logic and Philosophy class which means that my classmates and I were taught to detect bullshit starting at an early age. Ergo I can't stand the talk shows. All the ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations, examples of post hoc ergo propter hoc, double standards, and downright lies just repulse me. O'Reilly and his ilk couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag.

At least Lueders' brand of insanity is understandable to me even after our brief encounter. Newspapers are in his blood and he has an insatiable curiosity about news and current events. You could see this when he struck up a conversation with two passing strangers and in the way he'd look around the room. His eyes are always peeled because there is always something going that he wants to know about; there are good causes that need to be fought for and one must know one's enemy.

All too soon it was over. Lueders had some work to finish up and I a wet bus stop to amble over to. It was a success in my eyes due, in no small part, to the fact that I emerged unscathed. I figured that the newspaper reporter, when confronted by a blogger, would pull out a sharp instrument yanked from an old IBM Selectric and try to poke me in the eye. Luckily that never happened.

If you get the chance, say hi to Bill Lueders and then buy him a cup of coffee. Don't forget to ask him about the four most important things to impart to your children.
|| Palmer, 10:15 AM

5 Comments:

From Bill (whom I shall try to give a lesson to regarding commenting on Blogspot):

"Not bad, although you could have given me a heads up that you were going to write about EVERYTHING I SAID AND DID. Oh well, I always say, "I'm never off the record." I guess this is what happens.

Small things: I was kidding about Marc's office. I just walked in there a minute ago. I'm not afraid of anything. Except having wild boars eat my face.

Joe Scarborough is usually on in the morning, O'Reilly at night.

I'm not that huge a fan of coffee. The four things you should tell your kids to be sure and learn how to do are: Dance, swim, speak a foreign language and type using more than two fingers. I just typed this using exactly two
fingers. As for the other three things, that's private."
Blogger Palmer, at 12:06 PM  
Not bad?! My Lovecraft parody is worth the price of admission alone. How about "half good"? Sounds more positive. ;)

Re-reading it, I see that I neglected to mention your radio appearance and the dreaded c-word. So I didn't mention everything.

I stand corrected on the time of day when Scarborough is aired. Now that you've crossed the threshold into Marc's old office, we'll see what fate befalls you...
Blogger Palmer, at 12:16 PM  
Okay, it was half good.

You can't just drop that line about the dreaded "c" word. No telling what people will think. I told you I called the mayor and Common Council "cowards" for not standing up to the police, even in situations like the one I wrote about in this week's Isthmus, about how the cops didn't tell the public about a brutal, random attack. WTDY may have a podcast of it.
Blogger Bill Lueders, at 12:26 PM  
Thanks for sparing my delicate feelings.

I checked and there's no podcast yet. Hopefully soon.

Exactly. I wanted folks to ponder the mystery. Commonweal? Communism? Craven? Only the Shadow knows...
Blogger Palmer, at 12:49 PM  
Oh. Congrats on figuring out the comment system. I look forward to more comments about my writing being half-good. ;)
Blogger Palmer, at 12:50 PM  

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