Vegetarian Killed By Meat Truck

There isn’t a journalist who doesn’t have an archive of their personal best. These might not be the ones the public thinks are inspiring or thrilling or topical, but they’re the ones the writer remembers. Take this headline…

Not every writer goes to journalism school to cover a war or write about sleazy politicians. Some stay local and write about town board meetings and who grew the biggest pumpkin for the county fair. Thousands of us were taught by our betters to practice the upside down pyramid while drawing the reader’s eye using a great headline.

Admit it: you read the headline first and if it looks tantalizing or a bit salacious your eyes roam down to the first couple of paragraphs. We all do it. But not all journalists write headlines successfully. And not every journalist makes it out of today’s digital version of the ‘women’s pages’ or the obits.

There was a time when a female reporter got stuck extolling the merits of someone’s aunt and her cherry pie or visiting white glove parties for a scoop on how the genteel were surviving on champers and fish eggs on toast points. But you never complained or acted like Rosalind Russell calling out Cary Grant in the newsroom of the cringingly titled His Girl Friday. Where young men got a shot at real news, you got to make coffee and handle the stuff no one else would touch.

But the one place no one wanted to go was the Obituaries.

The Obits were the department of a very special kind of editor. You didn’t go out to cover a death, it came to you. Families and funeral homes would send in a memoriam and you’d tidy it up and make it fit in the section. Obituary editors were a weird lot, possessing all the charm of a vampire on the day shift and reminding you that you too could wind up doing the job if you pissed someone off.

If you were a kid studying journalism, it was a given that, at some point, one of your professors would get back at you for being young and decide you needed to contemplate your mortality and write your own obituary. Humor was never considered appropriate and would earn you both professorial side eye and a failing grade. And this is how I came to write the headline you see above that earned me a dressing down and a reminder to the entire class that death and journalism were both serious business. But it’s still my favorite headline.

When you’re young you can’t imagine anything could ever end, especially you. Pumped full of vitality and high on possibility, there’s nothing like writing your own death notice to ruin the moment. While the rest of my class was writing their sober, sad obituaries, I decided to ‘leave ’em laughing’. My death put me in the wrong place as a sausage truck came hurtling through a red light while I was on my way to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Several paragraphs of extolling my worthy life and stumping for a meatless diet and I was on my way to a D for the assignment.

A few decades later, it’s still the only obit I’ve ever written. Listen: everyone has at least one memorable headline for their life. Think about it. What’s yours?

About Phyllis Alberici

Hanging a few lanterns in the darkness. Let me know how it's going.
This entry was posted in Life n Death and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.