It may have been the best magazine cartoon – ever!
Penguins are the only animals in tuxedos. Imagine an Antarctic ice cap with hundreds of tuxedoed penguins, and one penguin wearing a natty beret, a gold chain, sunglasses and a checkered vest while sporting a rhinestone-studded cigarette holder. A curious gaggle of ordinary penguins gathers around him. The caption lets us know he’s telling them, “I just got tired of being so damned formal all the time!”
Well, as a columnist, I just got tired to being so damned important all the time or, at least, writing about important things. We’re subject to even less oversight than Obama fundraisers in Somalia, and that’s a good thing for us. Imagine if every column were preceded by a small-print summary of how accurately we’ve called the major eruptions of political gas pains around the planet. This time I want to hand each reader a useful piece of take-home advice. If you’re in the media, it can save your credibility. No matter what you do, this is valuable. If I were to offer this message at graduation, they’d never invite me back, and whoever invited me to speak would be fired. Why? They’d call me “superficial.” What that means is aiming for something below the stars and scoring a direct hit.
We lost Bert last year. Bert Sugar was the Boswell-of-Boxing, former editor and publisher of The Ring magazine and a continuously funny guy all the time. Bert wasn’t the only “print journalist” who wore those absurd wide-brimmed fedoras from the 1930 newspaper movies, but he was the only one who knew why they were worn. In newspapers of that era, the “city room,” where most of the writing went on, was one floor below the composing room, with its linotype machines spewing forth their painful venom of molten lead. Eventually, cracks would open in the upstairs floor, and molten lead would rain down upon the journalists at their typewriters. A few splatters of molten lead and you’d go looking for a wide-brimmed hat, too!
Bert told me he once went to a fight that was such a scandalous mismatch he told his cab driver to wait for him. “I knew the fight would end somewhere between ‘O, Say Can You See …’ and ‘By the Dawn’s Early Light …’,” said Bert. Bert and I accidentally teamed up to teach the world a valuable lesson.
Recently, some talk-show stars, several of whom I count as personal friends, have made bets on the air, in one publicized case for $5,000 and in another for $5 million! I can faithfully give you fly-on-the-wall coverage inside the headquarters of the loser of those bets, when managers, producers, spouses and clergymen all get together and solemnly agree, “You don’t have to pay. That’s ridiculous. You were obviously kidding. It’s an element built into the wall-paneling of the show. Forget about it!” It can get nasty. “What do you mean, ‘kidding’? Would you have been kidding if you’d won the bet?”
I may have been wearing short pants and speaking soprano, but I clearly remembered every detail of the 1947 heavyweight title fight between the murderously powerful Joe Louis and the out-of-sight underdog, Jersey Joe Walcott. At least I thought I remembered every detail! I was moderating a TV show with Sugar as a guest, and with the enthusiasm of a time-machine reincarnation of that fight I re-enacted Walcott putting the champion Joe Louis on the mat in round 2 and round 9.
“Close,” said the genial Bert Sugar. “Try round 1 and round 4.” True to my regressed age at the time of the fight, I threw a tantrum. “Sorry, Bert,” I condescended all over him. “You may be the editor of The Ring magazine and the most important ring journalist there ever was, but you’ve got to go to the library and look it up and write me a thank-you note. That night, that fight was the most important thing going on in my life. I clearly remember, it was round 2 and round 9!”
“Would you like to make a small wager on it?” smiled Sugar. “Why small?” I blustered. “I’ll bet you a hundred dollars!”
A hundred dollars, though far below 5 thousand or 5 million, was a staggering sum in the South of my upbringing. And we made the bet. And, of course, Bert was right.
I got all the “locker-room advice” I alluded to – “It was obviously a joke,” etc. However, another characteristic of the South was, if you lose a bet, you pay. I wrote Bert a check and forgot about it.
We live in a world today in which people pay millions to buy reputation, “image.” Fickle commodity. It’s got to be done my way.
I ran into Bert a few months later at a party. He pulled me aside and said, “Barry, I quit counting, but it was monumental. I couldn’t believe how many people went so far out of their way to ask, ‘Did Farber pay?’”
Sure, Farber paid.
But not nearly as much as Farber earned! And learned!