As I write this, it is late October, and I’m returning home from a conference in Boca Raton, Florida, where the American Society of Magazine Editors handed out awards for the best magazine covers of the year. Our September 2006 “Parched” issue was one of three finalists in the news category, our competition coming from New York and The New Yorker. The latter is edited by a fellow named David Remnick. Before I left Dallas, I sent him an e-mail:
“David, greetings from Dallas. You are perhaps aware that your magazine and mine are two of the three finalists in ASME’s ‘news cover’ contest.
“I wonder if I might get five minutes of your time to discuss the long-standing, intense, storied rivalry between our publications. Phone or e-mail—your pick. If you would allow me to write a little something about your single-minded drive to beat us in the ASME competition every year since we launched in 1974 and first challenged the supremacy of The New Yorker, I would consider it an olive branch.
“Is it time for us to begin the healing process?”
Hours later, Remnick replied: “Dear Tim: You made my day. Your wit, not any contest. Let the olive branch begin.”
I told him: “I assume, then, that you’d like to do this via e-mail. I understand. Your nerves would probably get the best of you if we were to speak on the telephone. There you’d be, sitting in your spacious Condé Nast office, wearing your Savile Row suit—and then your throat would tighten and your voice would falter. Even for a man of your accomplishments, talking to an arch nemesis can be difficult. I’ll save you the embarrassment.
“Okay, first question: did you like our September issue better or our November issue? Be honest.”
I spent the next 24 hours obsessively checking my e-mail. In the middle of a conversation with a co-worker, I’d pull out my iPhone and say, “Sorry, I’m expecting a note from Pulitzer Prize winner David Remnick.” When it became clear that he wasn’t going to respond, I sent him another note and asked what his deal was.
“Dear Tim,” he replied. “Ah. I misread your note, getting the archness of it alright but not the interview/publication part. Why do I think I am in a kind of cyberspace Colbert zone in which the level of irony is so finely tuned that the ‘guest’—i.e., me—is bound to seem clueless. Which, I suppose, in this case, I am. Maybe I should pass then, don’t you think?”
I wrote: “I think I understand your reluctance. Like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, like Boss Hogg and the Duke boys, our very natures are defined by our relationships with our adversaries. A certain level of willful ignorance is healthy. If we were to get to know each other as the complex, frail humans we are, the hunger for battle wanes, our blows are dealt without conviction.
“So let’s keep it interesting. No questions. When I see you in Boca Raton, I’ll even pretend I don’t know you.”
As it turned out, Remnick didn’t go to the conference. And his magazine did, of course, win the award. Clear case of New York media bias. I’m sure Remnick would agree, but right now we’re not talking.
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