The Washington Post is trying to kill me. I know that statement is grammatically incorrect, but it expresses my emotional reality, even if it’s only the editorial board that wants me dead. This claim may strike you as laughable, but that would be an inappropriate reaction. That would be a bad laugh. Here are the facts; please decide for yourself:
Several years ago, I left the field of journalism and began to write humorous op-eds and essays. I placed them in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, Christian Science Monitor, and, of course, NRO. Writing humor pieces is not a vocation that will pay the college-tuition bills–or even put a new boiler in the basement of my old house–but it is a satisfying hobby that keeps me away from the TV and low-fat potato chips.
I desperately want to appear in the Washington Post, given my teenage obsession with Woodward and Bernstein. (Yes, I hated Nixon as a child, but only because my boyhood pet was a field beagle named Humphrey.) In January 2004, I send the Washington Post a funny and insightful op-ed about my experience having an Iowa-style caucus at my home, suggesting that I might actually vote for Howard Dean if he would diagnose my upset stomach and make me poached eggs.
“Thank you for your submission to the editorial page,” reads the e-mail reply, three weeks later. “We will not be able to use it but we appreciate your interest in The Washington Post.”
The Post’s prompt and polite rejection energizes me. Most daily newspapers refuse to recognize op-ed submissions in any way other than cosmic silence. Obviously, I have caught their attention.
March, 2004: I e-mail a piece having a little friendly fun with Rush Limbaugh. One week later, I receive this reply: “Thank you for your submission to the editorial page. We will not be able to use it but we appreciate your interest in the Washington Post.” The e-mail is signed, “Super User.”
I am excited that the Washington Post has reduced its turnaround time by 50 percent and personalized their response. While unsure if “Super User” is a real person or a literary firewall, I see that my essays are receiving scrupulous attention!
April: I e-mail WashPo (my new pet nickname) my most challenging commentary yet, satirizing the marketing of The Passion of The Christ with proposed TV spin-offs such as Cookin’ With Christ and Christ: The Collectibles.
One week later: “Thank you for your submission to the editorial page. We will not be able to use it but we appreciate your interest in The Washington Post.”
I am feeling giddy, ecstatic. I know what is going on here. The WashPo editors are so enamored of my writing that they are waiting patiently for me to uncover the perfect subject for my penetrating wit. As my patrons, they cannot interfere in my “process” with trivial editorial suggestions.
My friend Super User suggests whimsical, Philip K. Dickian connotations. I know that “Super User” is really a small team of dedicated Bartlebys furiously scrivening away on my essays. The anonymous editors cannot simply announce to the world that I am an inch away from being published; this would deter and alienate the huge population of WashPo op-ed wannabes, each of whom invariably pays full retail price for a weekly subscription. I can read the subtext: Your turn is coming soon.
May 2: I submit an op-ed which describes how Israel has apologized to the Palestinian people for existing, and will turn over the entire state of Israel to the PLO as a housewarming present.
May 9: I wait by the phone, check my e-mail. This piece, which combines geopolitics, Biblical conflict and shopping for the home, must be irresistible.
May 11: “Thank you for your submission to the editorial page. We will not be able to use it but we appreciate your interest in The Washington Post.”
Room spin. Head race. Subjects predicate woozy. WashPo has hand-guided me for months, only to cruelly abandon me now, with this absurdly transparent form letter? How have I misread the situation?
Is it my politics? No, my columns are equally critical of left and right, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, male and female, blue and red. What is it?
June. Epiphany: WashPo is not rejecting me. They are testing my resolve. Any nincompoop with a Nobel Prize in economics and a part-time job at The New School can write an op-ed. But the professional humorist must strike a deeper, more universal chord. The humorist cannot settle for merely being funny. Without a molten, white-hot core of truth, humorous writing is just empty, promiscuous word-juggling.
August 17th: I submit an essay in which I admit to having an affair with New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, and how my approval rating among my suburban neighbors goes up 27 percent.
August 18th: “Thank you for your submission to the editorial page. We will not be able to use it but we appreciate your interest in The Washington Post.”
Oh, %&*@! my wireless mouse! WashPo has turned on me, viciously, like a pet ferret that ate a bowl of bad calamari. These sarcastic words repudiate my entire life’s work. To respond with such furious, efficient contempt requires a team of hackers working 24/7.
The Washington Post never supported my writing. Rather, they feared it. Large, entrenched institutions cannot tolerate the challenge of satirical thinking. The Washington Post, a malevolent mouthpiece for multinational manipulators, is trying to deplete my comedic resources. Tangential note: I look fat in my bathing suit.
November 3rd: I prepare on online trap, a hilarious piece that outlines the “deleted” portions of Osama bin Laden’s election-bending videotape, where bin Laden claims that Erik Estrada and Suzanne Somers are the best actors of their generation and that North Dakota properly belongs to Canada.
Ha! They’ll never see my endgame coming….
As I edit my essay, an e-mail arrives. I stare at my screen, dumbstruck. “Thank you for your submission…”
They are rejecting my work before it is even written. They are in my house, in my software, in my head.
Thought: Super User = Super Ruse? This is a darkly brilliant threat only I can decipher. Now I know how Charles Manson felt when he listened to The Beatles. The line between madness and brilliance is just a few picas wide.
I call the Washington Post’s editorial page, but my phone calls are mysteriously diverted to the paper’s overseas subscription line.
November 15th. Inexplicable disruptions to my phone, cable TV, and Internet service. My local utilities claim it is due to the recent electrical storms. What storms? And why is an ice-cream truck with Texas plates slowly circling my block?
November 21st: Why do I need the validation of strangers? Am I subconsciously trying to please my father, who always criticized my writing career and harangued me to apply to law school? Is the Washington Post–remote, imperious, and humorless–a symbol of my own twisted Oedipal drama? Or is it the opposite: Op Oed?
This morning, 2 A.M: Phone dead, power out, computer crashed. I hear the bells of the ice-cream truck a few houses away, pealing the four-note Intel theme.
I load wife, kids, and baseball-card collection into the Suburban and flee under cloak of darkness. The car is lit only by the screen of my wife’s Blackberry. As we pull onto I-87 North, I see the Blackberry flash an incoming text message. The words should be disturbing, but after all this time I somehow find them familiar and comforting, even pleasurable, like a favorite nursery rhyme from my childhood. “Thank you for….”
–Bruce Stockler is a media-relations consultant and humorist. He is author of I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets.