THEIR WORDS COUNTED
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
The past two weeks I’ve been mostly traveling the highways. As much as I love seeing new places and meeting new people (and I really do), I’m a bit frazzled and writing this column on Wednesday, the 25th of June, designated as National Columnist Day. The notation on my calendar prompted me to think about columnists I’ve read – both past and present – that have influenced me in some manner along the way.
People who make us reexamine the way we think, talk and write amaze me. This past week we lost George Carlin. He didn’t really write columns or short stories, but his “stories” made us rethink just about everything.
When humor goes, there goes civilization. — Erma Bombeck 1927-1996
Carlin’s comedy routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” is legendary and prompted the Supreme Court to signify rules for what could be said on radio and television and at what times. Maybe Don Imus didn’t hear about that ruling.
I think it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately. — George Carlin 1937-2008
A few years ago, Carlin stopped in my small city on his way to Dallas where he was taping an HBO special. It was obvious he was using us to finetune his performance, just as off-Broadway productions usually do.
He simply walked out onto the stage with no introduction. When the audience erupted in applause, he shushed us rather angrily as if he was in a hurry and we’d annoyed him. He started one of his one-word-tumbling-after-another monologues and when the crowd again started applauding, he stopped mid-sentence and said something like, “I have this memorized, don’t mess me up.” I wonder now if he’d not been feeling his best. He was funny, but there was an edge about him I’d not seen before and part of his routine included a tirade. No one laughed at the end of it. This wasn’t the Carlin we’d expected. I haven’t seen the HBO production, so maybe he was just having a bad night. We all have them and I believe our work and relationships suffer when we do. All performances, short stories or columns are not surefire hits, but Carlin had enough to make us sad at his passing. I wonder what he would have tackled next. George Carlin made a difference in this world. He made us think, he made us gasp at his candor and oh, yes, he made us laugh while we did it. His words counted.
As I’m sure she did many others, Erma Bombeck re-routed my life. I remember reading one of her Wits End columns where instead of making me laugh, she was quite serious. The column talked about being a late bloomer and putting things she wanted to do in life on hold for one reason or another. The article ended with her saying although she’d wanted to be published and was told repeatedly she should write for a living, Bombeck waited until she was 37 years old before writing professionally. I got the messages: Life is short and It’s never too late to start. Her words counted.
Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. — Lewis Grizzard, 1946-1994
I often turned to humorist Lewis Grizzard’s column knowing I’d end the read with at the very least a smile, and more often, a laugh. He told great stories in the Good Ol’ Southern boy manner and managed to weave in a few words of wisdom as a gift to his fans. In the cemetery outside his beloved hometown of Moreland, Georgia, he is buried under the name “Word.” No, it isn’t his Final Word prank, but his mother’s maiden name. Grizzard rests in the grave beside hers. His words counted.
The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best. — Will Rogers, Illiterate Digest (1924), “Breaking into the Writing Game.”
I enjoy many political columnists, too, but since politics isn’t something we all agree on, I’ll keep my favorites to myself. Their words count, but something we all should realize is that all our words count. Make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t make me come after you.