(I wrote an earlier draft of this before Art Buchwald died. I've been thinking about him this week and how he would have covered so many recent news events, from the firing of prosecutors to the Libby Lewis verdict)
Until his death on Jan. 17, Arthur "Art" Buchwald, 80, had been living, since Feb. 24, 2006, in a Washington, D.C. area hospice, and recently joked that if he is alive after 90 days, he will probably get evicted. He had decided to forego treatment for his failing kidneys.
That's typical of his style of humor, which is in that gray area between brutal honesty and humor. A sample: "You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
Or a less serious one: "People are broad-minded. They'll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife-beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn't drive, there's something wrong with him." Typical of Buchwald to throw a dig at his own profession.
While in hospice Buchwald asked radio interviewer Diane Rehm to visit and you can listen to the resulting interview. It gives you a feel for how he thinks and speaks.
Before he died newspapers and magazines ran many appreciation pieces, detailing his life and some of his writing gems. Columnists are rightfully also writing excellent pieces thanking him for his work, his encouragement, and his great sense of humor. For example, Al Martinez, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times had a good column about how he was touched and honored by Buchwald giving him some compliments.
I was looking the other day at some items I wrote in high school. Back then I would write what I thought were silly, zany, weird, satirical... I didn't even know what to call them. One day it'd be the Three Little Pigs done as a rap, the next it would be what happens when a terrorist attacks Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
Yes, at that point I was silly — as with this item I wrote about Gumby, Pokey and others — or I was really political. But I had no idea on how to merge the two.
I had no idea if my writing was good or not because I was finding humor, like poetry, to be so subjective and hard to evaluate. But I would bring 20 copies to school and give them to friends in the morning and by noon strangers would be giving me nods of approval. By the end of the day teachers would be complimenting on what I wrote. This was a weird, but thrilling, experience.
It was around then I started to think about how fun it would be to write a regular humor column, but one with some bite.
When I entered, at Cal Poly Pomona, the journalism profession I wanted to be like Art Buchwald. I also wanted to be a serious Dave Barry or a male Molly Ivins.
Buchwald's genius was taking on serious topics in a way that made the reader both laugh and think. He was good enough at it to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
One of his most famous columns was one about Thanskgiving, which has been reprinted in newspapers every November since he wrote it in 1953.
He also gained attention for successfully suing Eddie Murphy over the Coming to America movie which he said was a rip-off of a script he wrote.
In writing almost 8,000 columns, and more than 30 books, Buchwald made people laugh and think and for that I, for one, am eternally grateful.
Here are a few more gems from Buchwald:
"Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was."
"Have you ever seen a candidate talking to a rich person on television?"
"I always wanted to get into politics, but I was never light enough to make the team."
"Tax reform is taking the taxes off things that have been taxed in the past and putting taxes on things that haven't been taxed before.
"Television has a real problem. They have no page two."
The buffalo isn't as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo."
"The powder is mixed with water and tastes exactly like powder mixed with water."
"Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got."
Even at the end, Buchwald still had it, as he demonstrated last year with his take on the steroid situation in baseball, a column titled Casey On the Hill
It looked extremely muddy for the Mudville Nine that day;
Congress was in session and baseball was in play.
So when McGwire took the Fifth and Burrows did the same,
Congress knew there were steroids in the game.
Art, thank you for all you have done. I, Al Martinez, and others have learned from you and many others will long after I am gone.