Letter to the editor makes imaginary bucket list 2015.09.16


It hasn’t been as easy to avoid seeing my name lately as it usually is. For a variety of reasons, I’ve recently submitted letters to the editor of several publications. All three submitted so far this year have been published, two in national magazines.

The first letter was sent to a Williams County newspaper after a visit to the county fairgrounds in Montpelier. I noticed that “Splinters,” the giant wooden bear carving that had graced the fairgrounds for years, was in dire need of maintenance.

Not only was the bottom of the carving around the bear’s hind feet rotting, there were holes from some sort of boring insect in other areas. My letter called for something to be done, and soon. The letter was published in early June and I stopped by about a month ago to check on the bear.

Something has been done, all right, but it didn’t look good. There was literally a pile of splinters where Splinters used to be. If he’s being restored somewhere, they’re keeping it a secret. I hate to think of the alternative. I’m sorry, Splinters, I tried to help.

My second letter appeared in the September 7th issue of Sports Illustrated. Two weeks before, SI columnist Steve Rushin wrote a column called “Dating Game,” where he listed dates on which several notable sports events or athlete births and deaths had occurred. In some cases, people or events outside the sporting universe were included as well.

I remembered a column I wrote a year or so ago mentioning that Abraham Lincoln’s death, the Titanic’s sinking, the Boston Marathon bombing, Jackie Robinson’s major league baseball debut and the income tax deadline all occurred on April 15, calling it perhaps the most important day in history. Since then, I’ve also discovered it was Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Rushin didn’t even include the date in his column.

I sent SI a letter pointing out the omission (by the way, Rushin called Feb. 22 the best day ever, mostly because that was the day The Beatles recorded “A Day In the Life”). Two weeks later, my letter appeared in SI, with a few alterations.

The non-sport references had been deleted, not a huge surprise since contributors are warned that submissions are subject to editing. What made me laugh was that my reference to Beatles fan Rushin’s “column” had been changed to “essay.”

Sorry, Steve, I didn’t realize you were actually an “essayist.” It sure looked like a column to me. If SI wants to be pretentious, why not go all the way and just call it a “dissertation?” Then again, when a magazine has 23 million readers, maybe a little pretension has been earned. But really, it’s only a column.

I also got a chuckle that one other letter writer chose August 16th as a date left out of the original column—wait, I meant essay. His reasoning was that it was the day Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley died, plus the day Madonna was born. Not only did he have only one sports reference, SI left in his shout-out to Madonna while deleting Lincoln and da Vinci from my letter. There must be a material girl in their editing department.

Finally, I had a third letter appear in print, this one making the October issue of Car and Driver. This is actually an accomplishment that would have made my bucket list, if I really had such a thing.

I’ve been a reader of the publication for much of the last 40 years or so. One of the great attractions, believe it or not, is their letters to the editor section, called “Backfires.”

Ever since I can remember, many of the letters received responses by a magazine employee known simply as “Ed.” Anyone criticizing the magazine or saying something dumb was fair game for a smart comment (or worse) from Ed. Car and Driver must be on their fourth or fifth Ed. by now.

In July, the magazine published their 60th anniversary issue. Reading it, I had a letter idea. I sent it in and three months later, there it was, ready for ten million readers to ignore.

Since the magazine is still available on newsstands, I won’t give anything away about my letter except to say that I mentioned both former General Motors CEO Roger Smith and pudding. It would probably take another “essay” to explain it. I’m just happy that Ed. saw fit to run the letter without making a comment. I’m definitely counting that as a win.