You know, this big hunk of newspaper real estate now called “Street Talk” was once meant to have a purpose.
When the idea was originally conceived, I was to go out into the neighborhoods and see what people were talking about on their front porches.
I think the editors who came up with this brilliant idea pictured me with a Howdy Doody haircut, a bow tie and really shiny shoes. Not to mention high-water pants.
I would skip down the sidewalks whistling, all freckle-faced and bright-eyed with hope, searching for people with whom to sit and talk.
“Howdy, fellas,” I would say to the friendly folks sitting on front stoops. “Gosh, would it be too much of an imposition for me to sit with you and share in your discourse?”
And we would talk about the news of the day. We would share our hopes for the future, these strangers and I, and perhaps exchange tips on cooking and child-rearing.
The column would have been called “The Stoop,” or “Porch Talk” and it would have sold a zillion copies of the newspaper each week. I think we all would be better people today if it had gone that way.
Only it didn’t.
The very first time I went out to talk with people on their front porches, I got chased by a dog. It wasn’t a very big dog, but I ran, anyway. I ran and the porch people laughed. They laughed!
The second attempt was better, but not much.
“Hi there,” I said, approaching a pair of women who sat on a porch (a requirement in those early days. It had to be a porch or it just wouldn’t fit with the column theme.) “I’m a reporter at the Sun Journal and I wonder if I could join you in your afternoon chat.”
One of the women – she was husky and wore giant hoop earrings – looked like she was about to call for the release of hounds. Then she said: “We’re talking about my dumbass brother getting thrown in jail again. You wanna talk about that, Mr. Reporter Man?”
I did. I did want to talk about that. I love it when people call me “Mr. Reporter Man.” It has an air of intrigue about it. Sort of like “The Smoking Man” from “The X-Files,” only less jowly.
So, I sat with them on the peeling-paint porch and the lady with hoop earrings started talking about how her brother got hammered and trashed his girlfriend’s apartment the night before.
“Not that she didn’t deserve it,” said the other girl. She was skinny and chain-smoking. “A total bitch. We hate her.”
“Yup,” said hoop earrings. “We do.”
“She steals drugs from her own grandmother and sells them,” the skinny one said. “Before she got hooked up with Ricky, she had guys from Massachusetts living with her. She was selling crack for them and doing all kinds of other stuff, I’m sure.”
“That’s how she got pregnant,” the hoopster said.
“You think that’s how she got pregnant.”
“Whatever. That’s what Ricky believes, too.”
“That’s not why he trashed her place, though,” the skinny girl said. “He did that because the scag pawned all his stereo equipment.”
“Not to mention his guitar. Which I bought him, by the way.”
“That totally sucks,” the skinny one said. She lit up another cigarette. “Ricky just started a new job, too. At one of the plastics places. Every time he gets a job, the bitch drives him crazy and he gets into trouble.”
“God,” said Hoop. She was getting more angry by the minute. “Like the time he stole a car and ran out of gas right in front of the police station.”
The skinny one snorted smoke through her nose. It really was kind of funny.
It was a good conversation; it really was. By the end of it, I had a solid picture of the hapless twit named Ricky and the women who dominated his life. It was almost dark when I got up to leave.
“Don’t be putting any of that in the paper,” Hoop said. “We’d get into all kinds of trouble.”
“Yeah,” said the skinny one. “God, don’t write any of that, Mr. Reporter Man.”
It really was a stupid idea, that porch business. The stuff people tell you out there isn’t fit to be printed. And anyway, how many people do you see sitting on porches these days? They howl from tenement windows, huddle all twitchy and secretive on street corners and hide in smoke-filled apartments, but nobody is out there on the stoop talking about the larger world.
I gave it up immediately and started writing about other things. I haven’t checked the figures lately, but I don’t think we’ve sold a zillion copies of the paper. Not since that mutant beast ate half of Turner.
I bring it up only because the weather is nice and now and then, I see people sitting on front steps. I even slowed down before one apartment house on Blake Street and thought of approaching a trio sitting out there with beer and cigarettes.
Then I saw that there was a dog among them and I scrapped the idea once and for all. It wasn’t a big dog, but you know what? Little dog bites hurt quite a lot, too.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can invite him to sit and chat on your porch at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Keep your dog in the house.)