Though he does not know it, Verlyn Klinkenborg is my nemesis. He's a member of the New York Times editorial board. Like all of the board's members, he has the privilege of using the most valuable op-ed space in American newspapers as a bulletin board for his personal musings. Verlyn takes advantage of this power to write regular items about "The Rural Life," all of which I can summarize as follows: "As I strolled through the country or gazed out my window, I saw nature, which I ruminated upon. Tra la, tra la, tra la." If I have to open up the Sunday paper one more time and see a chunk of editorial page real estate occupied by an "Editorial Notebook" essay inspired solely by window-gazing, I simply don't know what I will do. So Verlyn: I'd like to offer you a gentleman's agreement.
There's nothing wrong with nature writing, per se. But Verlyn's overwrought prose most often makes me think of a male Martha Stewart. Possibly one who smokes a lot of weed. Here is but a brief sampling of the man's whimsy:
This is a deeply contentious time of year. The rains have torn out the road without fully melting the soil. What the calendar promises, the day itself retracts. Unless you knew better, you'd hardly believe there was the readiness of spring to be found anywhere. The witch hazel is blossoming, but undemonstratively, not in a way that really means anything.
I keep a dead hummingbird and a downy woodpecker in a bag in the freezer. Down at the barn, the dead swallow lies beside a wren I found this winter, its tail as sharply cocked, as impertinent, as it was when alive. I don't know why I keep them, except to notice, as I often do, that among small birds, death is not very corrupting.
One afternoon last week, I noticed that one of our mares — a quarter horse named Ida — was stepping slowly as she came into the corral. A horse's mobility is everything, and I began wondering about a hoof abscess or a muscle strain. But when I walked over to Ida, I saw a gaping wound on her neck...
I held her head in my arms, but it made no real difference. My arms trembled the rest of the night from the weight. Somehow she kept her legs under her. I know that what I took as trust was mostly drugs. But it was also trust.
In addition to the bizarre writing, it's the stated inspirations that rub me harshly, like the rough bark on some type of tree that you would see out in nature. Verlyn says "I walked up the hill in the middle pasture after chores," or "I find myself looking at the waterline," or "I'm writing from Omaha, looking down from the 15th floor of my hotel at a section of the Gerald R. Ford Freeway." How about finding yourself doing something interesting?
The Times is doubtless enraptured by Verlyn's eloquence, and pleased that he brings a nice rural touch into the urban confines of the newsroom. But really: America is absolutely packed with small-town country papers that reflect on the weather, and the seasons, and livestock with no real purpose, because that's all that is going on in much of America. But we're blessed to live in the world's mightiest metropolis, with crime and politics and money and sex and celebrity and culture and pressing human issues that rise above the hypnotic drumming of the spring rain in a muddy puddle.
So Verlyn, here's my offer to you: Raekwon is playing at BB King's on 42nd St. on June 19. He talks about all types of urban things. I'll buy you a ticket, if you promise to write your next column about that, instead of about the way your mare's shiny coat glistens in the low, sultry heat of the coming summer. Wu-Tang, Verlyn. New York City. Tra la, tra la, tra la.