The New York Times is home to many of America's most annoying columnists: Mustachioed metaphor-mixer Tom Friedman; nature-gazing space-waster Verlyn Klinkenborg; unnecessary pop-politico nickname-giver Maureen Dowd. The paper's best columnist—against all odds!—is in the Metro section.
Susan Dominus writes the "Big City" column—the type of color-heavy, feature-y, slice-of-New-York-life column that has an infinite capacity for luring writers to their doom. Many, rewarded with a similar gig, have hung themselves on their own twee-ness. But not Susan Dominus! I can't explain exactly how she's avoided this trap, since writing—for example—stories about people you meet in the subway and how their adorably ignorant actions are indicative of some larger societal trend is almost guaranteed to make you, the New York Times columnist, sound like an asshole. But Susan Dominus, somehow, does not.
It was just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and I was catching up on the day's newspapers when someone else in my train car, a lank-haired teenager, looked up from his cellphone and called over to me. ''Excuse me,'' he said. ''Does it say anything in that newspaper about Michael Jackson dying?''
His friend had just texted him the news. I was not sure what to mourn first: the death of the King of Pop or of newsprint, a medium so unfamiliar to this 19-year-old that he seemed to think it could materialize in an instant to meet hot news. And why wouldn't he think that? All his other news sources could.
Perhaps it is the deprecation of print that pulls it off? Who knows? It's probably because Susan Dominus is not overly old and rich, and shares our own sexy taste (she used to be editor of Nerve.com). She retains the ability—common to all the best metro columnists, though usually absent at the NYT—to seek out people who repulse us for one idle reason or another, and allow them to hang themselves with quotes. She wrote the definitive takedown of New York's worst Food Nazi mom. She was admirably harsh on the bottom-dwelling Albany boys club. She talked shit about Caroline Kennedy.
No, we don't agree with Susan Dominus all the time. But we're willing to forgive her, unlike her some of her more famous mustachioed peers. Anybody who can do the "Ride along with an immigrant cabbie on his first day on the job" or "The sun is out, watch as the city springs to life" pieces without making us gag is a little bit of magic. All metro color columnists sooner or later end up writing the types of man-on-the-street stories beloved by first-year J-School students ("What wisdom a shoeshine man must possess!"), but very few can do it without sounding like first-year J-School students with 20 years of hack work in their pockets.
She also writes lots of pieces we are able to steal, for our blog here.
Susan Dominus, we salute you. If they ever promote you to the Op-Ed page, try not to start sucking.