Friday, August 5, 2011

Make His Eggs Scrambled

It is a sin, no doubt, to gloat over another man's mistake. But, life without a little sin is hardly worth living. So we shall proceed.

One Saturday morning a few years ago, I was listening to Car Talk, and either Click or Clack asked, "What is the shortest measurable time span known to science?" The answer: The time between the traffic light turning green and the idiot behind you laying on his horn.

Maybe that's right, but I have my doubts. I lean toward that fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond between the Star Beacon hitting the streets and a reader finding a mistake made by some idiot sportswriter, such as myself. Readers who point out these errors do us a favor of, course, helping us to set the record straight while reassuring us that they do read what we write before they carpet the bird cage with our words.

Suffice it to say, as soon as the game ended, the clock started ticking. The ticking grew louder as I checked the statistics I'd compiled, tracked down players and coaches for interviews and drove back to the office. Then, in roughly the time allotted to a Super Bowl halftime show - no, it wasn't that long - there was a box score to type, a story to write and three or four phone calls to answer. When it was all over, I walked to the car unconcerned that I might have gotten one or two things wrong, but scared to death that I didn't get anything right.

Those of us who crank out twenty column inches in a half-hour have it pretty hard compared to those who author books, I thought. Look at the lead time those folks have, and the publisher's staff of editors and fact-checkers who wring out all errors, both factual and grammatical. And three to five pages of acknowledgements are de rigueur these days, so the author can list all the people he badgered for information, insight and inspiration.

Writing sports for a daily newspaper, by comparison, is working without a net. So I gloated while reading The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. In the book, Egan writes about the Dust Bowl and some of the people who were affected by it. Among them was the family of George Ehrlich. According to Egan, Ehrlich left Hamburg for America on an immigrant boat in 1890. Midway through the voyage the ship sailed into a storm and was in danger of sinking. On page 61, Egan writes, "The captain sent out an SOS and told everyone to prepare for death."

Those of you steeped in the history of the Titanic will recall that SOS was just gaining acceptance as the international distress signal when the iceberg got the best of the great ship in 1912. Ah, you say, quit being so pedantic; Egan is obviously using SOS in the generic sense so as not to bore the reader with the details of 19th-century German distress calls.

Perhaps. But according to the Web site, Guglielmo Marconi began his laboratory experiments with wireless telegraphy in 1895 and didn't receive his first patent for it until 1897. So, how did the captain of the immigrant ship send his SOS? I have this Monty Python vision of the crewmen huddled on deck chanting, "dit-dit-dit-dah-dah-dah-dit-dit-dit-dah-dah-dah-dit-dit-dit..."

No, it isn't nice to gloat. But is fun to see the egg on another face.

This appeared in the Star Beacon, February 23, 2008

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