September 20, 2006

Low Tidings

Low Tidings

I guess you have to be a columnist to appreciate how difficult it is to write 2000 columns, especially if you write for a weekly newspaper. I know, I made a big deal on the anniversary of my 100th.

To be fair to me, I got into the game late. I was in my late thirties when David Rattray and my old pal Linda Sherry hired me to work at the brand new Sag Harbor Herald. Well, "work" wasn't the operative word. Linda, knowing I was a sports nut, offered me the opportunity to cover the boys' basketball team for $25 a story. I countered with the offer of a column. After much haggling (and the reluctant approval of the publisher, Helen Rattray), a deal was struck: a column AND a basketball story each week — for $25. That's when Jack Graves entered the picture.

click to see advertisement
Graves was (and is) the East Hampton Star's sports editor. Since The Star owned The Herald, he became my editor. Far from being a grizzled veteran, Graves was as enthusiastic about his job as a rookie. Unlike almost every other editor I've met since, he was also remarkably sure of himself, unfailingly generous, and most of all, nurturing. Under his guidance I flourished, and I soon found myself driving up and down the Island, and soon after that, the entire state, covering our local hoop teams and living the life I had always dreamed of.

Just a few weeks into my new career Jack announced he was taking a vacation, despite the looming basketball playoffs. He assured everyone I was up to the challenge, and though the skeptics in the newsroom felt he was just being selfish, the editors undoubtedly knew Jack would never leave the paper in the lurch. He went, and I had my first front page story the next week.

On the anniversary of my 100th column local dignitaries actually wrote in their congratulations (after much prodding and begging). Fred Thiele wrote in reluctantly, stating I had knowledge of "certain un-American activities" he engaged in as a teenager. My live-in girlfriend at the time wrote "As Rick's girlfriend I can honestly say 'Low Tidings' is the biggest thing he has going for him."

I wrote another hundred or so for The Herald before it closed, and many more for The Star under its "Relay" banner. Once I left my full-time job there, around 1995, "Low Tidings" returned on an every-other-week basis. Eventually it morphed into a sports column for The Independent called "Rick's Place," and then onto iHamptons, Steven Gaines's online magazine.

There I achieved a level of notoriety when Puff Daddy threatened to sue us for $80 million. That relationship came to an abrupt end when I wrote "Survivor: Gardiners Island," wherein Ron Perelman, Puff Daddy, Christie Brinkley, Alec Baldwin and other Hampton luminaries were placed on the island to survive using only their own guile. Gaines was game, but the powers-that-be (corporate backers) at iHamptons pulled the plug when they read such memorable lines as Caroline Kennedy wandering the bluffs saying, "I think my brother crashed his plane around here." Not funny, they decided.

I've probably written another 180 or so since I've been back at The Independent, leaving me with about 500.

Helen Rattray, who has written quite a few more than I, once came into my office forlorn on a Tuesday evening when her "Connections" column was due. She lamented that because she was so busy editing The Star, she often didn't give herself enough time to compose a proper column. "How do you do it?" she asked me.

"Simple," I said. "I write about myself."

"So, I should write a column about me?" she asked earnestly.

"No," I replied. "You should write your column about me."

My favorite Jack Graves story — after all, this column is supposed to be about him — occurred up at Glens Falls, the site of the state high school basketball championships. In those days, we found ourselves up there nearly every year, thanks to the Bridgehampton Killer Bees. We would go to the arena and watch hoop games all day and all night, then retire to one of the hotel rooms with a cooler full of beer to watch college games and talk more hoops. Jack, more erudite than most but always willing to party, would join the group but, at the same time, read a book.

Those of you who know Jack know he doesn't read mere books. He reads giant, obscure tomes, like Fourteenth Century Artisans and Their Apprentices and stuff like that. They invariably weigh in at 40 pounds and have 1800 pages.

On this night Jack joined me, Bryant Carpenter from The Southampton Press, the late, great Jimmy Spooner, a rabid Bees' fan, Gordon Grant, the photographer, Joe Zucker, who is now the Bees' assistant coach, and a few others as we drank beer and talked sports while Jack read. Every 15 minutes or so Jack would have to relieve himself, as beer drinkers are wont to do. As soon as the bathroom door would close, I'd jump up and put his bookmark back 30 or 40 pages. He'd return, pick up the book and start reading anew.

This went on over and over the entire night, so even though Jack read about 200 pages, his bookmark was on page 846 the next morning, the same place it was the morning before.

Which proves that the quest for knowledge is more important than actually acquiring it.

Jack, like me, seldom if ever re-runs a column, creating anew every week. (OK, in the interest of full disclosure I take the handful of decent jokes I've ever written and recycle them over and over.)

He has given me a plug more than a few times, but I think this is the first time I've ever returned the favor, because, the truth is, it's all about me.

Not this time, however.

"Point of View" turned 2000 this week! Congrats good buddy on this truly momentous occasion!

P.S. Jack, as the years continue to pile on, the time may come when you find yourself at a loss, unable to come up with a suitable topic as deadline looms. I just want you to know I'll be there for you.

Site Search

2107 Capeletti Front Tile
Gurney's Inn