Carl Schoettler, my late colleague from the Baltimore Evening Sun and Sun, (photo) was the mentor and advisor for several reporters many years his junior, and I was lucky to have been one of them. Way back, when I was still feeling my way through a relatively new assignment — editors of the Evening Sun made me a columnist at 24 — I used to run column ideas past him. After listening to my ideas, Carl applied one of three adjectives to them: “Nah,” “splendid,” or “mildly amusing.” And while the latter did not sound like an endorsement, it was. “‘Mildly amusing,'” Carl explained, “was better than never amusing at all.”
(A mutual newsroom friend, Tom James, had a different way of declaring the relative value of a column to our readers. He once held up a piece written by a competitor and said, “Kid, there are a million stories in the big city, and this ain’t one of them.”)
In the current age, when hard news and political/cultural controversey get the most clicks from readers, there seems to be less room for the colorful feature Carl used to write so well and the “mildly amusing” slice of life or vignette of Baltimore life. But opinion writers need a break from issues of the day; we need to tell a story and take a walk through the whimsical or wistful once in a while. That’s why I wrote Sunday’s column about the strange sound that came from a pipe behind a wall in my house.
Here it is, in case you missed it: Riveting mystery: With apologies to Poe and my plumber