Tailpipe was thrilled damned near to the auto parts graveyard when he opened the envelope to find signed, personalized notes from Dick Cheney and Bill Frist. President and Mrs. Bush wanted to honor this rusty cylinder, they said, for all the things it did to get Dubya reelected last year.
Come on up to Washington, Sen. Frist wrote. He and the guys were planning a "testimonial dinner for you... and a handful of other Republican men and women who played vital public, and in many cases, critical behind-the-scenes roles in President Bush's campaign."
It baffled the 'Pipe for a moment, given that he's just an apolitical, chrome-covered tube -- never registered as a Republican or voted for this particular president. But there was that racy New Times Tailpipe item about people dragging the Pants on Fire Mobile around town with a statue of Bush with flames shooting out of his butt. And oh yeah, that report about how the Bush Defense Department was shortchanging soldiers.
I deserve this honor, the 'Pipe told himself. But Tailpipe neglected to read the fine print. When he called the 2005 President's Dinner Committee to confirm, Joshua Novotny picked up the phone:
Novotny: All right. That'll be $2,500.
Tailpipe: Hold on. I'm an invited guest.
Novotny: Actually, most of the people who are invited are campaign donors.
Tailpipe: Aren't there any exceptions? You know, for people who really contributed to the campaign?
Novotny: Well, we're under legal contract. We can't make any exceptions.
Tailpipe: How about housing arrangements? For my stay in Washington?
Tailpipe: Well, can you at least set me up in the Lincoln bedroom?
Novotny (long pause): Can't do it. Not unless everyone else got it too. And that's not going to happen.
Tailpipe gloomily pictured himself spending the night in a small room on an antique bed with a hundred conservative Republicans. In their pajamas. Frightening. He hung up and fell into a black, smoky murk. No, this battered auto part would not make it to the dinner in his honor. Next time, the 'Pipe will think twice about helping those Republican cheapskates.
Miami Herald features editors were casting about for a book to serialize when Dish & Tell: Life, Love, and Secrets miraculously landed on Executive Editor Tom Fiedler's desk. It's a book by six local women who call themselves the Miami Bombshells, and they're straight out of a marketing researcher's wet dream.
"We thought, 'Well, hey. This sounds kind of fun. It sounds like it might appeal to women readers. It has this Sex in the City kind of feel to it,'" Fiedler recalls.
The book is more snivel than dish, and don't look for any hair-raising sexual revelations. But the authors are smart, articulate, and successful. And they have these really chummy Herald connections. One of them, Sara Rosenberg, was the paper's vice president of consumer marketing while the book was in its formative stages. Another, Patricia San Pedro, was also a former Herald marketing executive during that time. Liza Gross, the paper's current managing editor of presentations/operations, is not a Bombshell but a long-time friend of San Pedro's. Gross participated in brainstorming sessions for the book in December 2002, before joining the Herald.
Herald editors, marketers, and everyone in between has pitched in to sell the book. Rick Hirsch, managing editor of multimedia and new projects, and Features Editor Shelley Acoca have culled excerpts. A Miami Bombshells link was even added to the Herald website, and Acoca assigned not one but two Bombshell feature articles. "Dish & Tell, the made-in-Miami book that hits store shelves Tuesday, is all about the hype," Kathryn Wexler reported on May 22. The six authors, she continued, "may be poised to become a phenomenon... they're hoping to franchise friendship."
But when the first excerpt appeared on May 25, newsroom emotions exploded. The paper's internal computer bulletin board lit up with complaints. "Why are we publishing this absolute drivel?" wrote one reporter. "There are plenty of local authors, of fiction and non-fiction, who really write for a living and really deserve and need this publicity. Or was publishing self-indulgent crap part of Sara Rosenberg's severance package?"
So loud was the clamor, Fiedler called a meeting May 27 to talk about the Bombshell coverage. About 20 to 30 staffers attended. Some questioned the ethics of handing out "a windfall of free publicity" to "these people who are very closely identified with the Herald," as one reporter put it.
Fiedler insists he has no "qualms of conscience" about the project, comparing it to the Washington Post publishing excerpts of books by Bob Woodward. "We weren't going to benefit from what Pat San Pedro or Sara Rosenberg got out of this," Fiedler says, "other than -- hey, we got to print a story that we kind of hoped would be kind of edgy and fun and so forth. It turned out that the book is pretty lousy.
"This wasn't about literature," he adds. "I think Shelley [Acoca] described this as 'chick-lit. '" Which, Tailpipe thinks, is an insult to chicks. Even Oprah's Book Club is reading three classic novels by William Faulkner this summer.
How Low Can He Go?
Woe was Mike Lowell. The Marlins third baseman, off his third All-Star Game appearance and a career-high .293 batting average last year, slumped to one of the lowest averages in the majors in the first two months of this season. The Marlins' career leader in home runs couldn't hit better than .200 and went 161 at-bats without a homer. June has been kinder to Lowell, who's hitting .343 with seven RBI in his first ten games -- but the revival that skipper Jack McKeon kept predicting hasn't exactly ignited the club. To wit:
May 6: Lowell goes 2-for-2, raising his average from .196 to .213.
McKeon: "It was nice to see Mike get a couple. I hope this is the night he gets it started."
And then: Over the next three games, Lowell goes 0-for-9.
May 10: Lowell goes 1-for-3 with a key two-run double in a Marlins win.
McKeon: "It's got to give him a boost... I was so happy for him, because he's about killing himself."
Then: Over the next three games, Lowell goes 1-for-16.
May 20: Lowell goes 2-for-4 with three RBI in a one-run Marlins win.
McKeon: "[W]hen you're in a rut... nothing falls. Then all of a sudden, things turn around and every little bloop or broken bat, you find a hole."
Then: Over the next 11 games, Lowell goes 9-for-39 with just three RBI.
June 9: Lowell is 2-for-3 in a shutout loss to the Mariners. Unfortunately, as Lowell has heated up (including a grand-slammer against the Rangers on June 10), the Marlins have tanked. The Mariners loss was the 12th in 15 games for the Fish, who dropped from first place to percentage points away from the basement during the team-wide schneid.
McKeon: "We just can't all get on the wagon at the same time."
-- As told to Edmund Newton