Beware of benign-looking objects at your door, and other lessons

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It's only January 16, and I've already violated my three New Year's resolutions.

1. Never pick up strange things left on your stoop. Last Monday, I awakened at 6:30 a.m., as usual, put on the coffee, as usual, and opened the door, as usual, and discovered a copy of The New York Sun-not usual. I thought the weekly newspaper had been delivered to me in error. I did not read it. There are too many weekly publications about New York City, too many publications with off-color paper, and too many publications that don't understand how impolite it is to assault innocent bystanders with the political opinions of people under 40. This one venned too many of those diagrams.

On Tuesday, I awakened, put on the coffee, opened the door, and found another copy of The New York Sun. Thus I discovered it was not a weekly paper, but a daily. So I read it (it had a front page story on bras). I regretted my act. Do I need another update on Ariel Sharon's medical condition? Who are these unknown writers attacking something called "the Left"? (I mean, if there's any left, why can't I get some?) Most of all, why am I getting this paper for free?

2. Never read a memoir by someone you've never heard of. A glance at The New York Times's extended best-seller list indicates that the decade-old memoir craze remains in full Bellevue. At fourth position is "Marley & Me" by John Grogan, described as "life lessons from [a] neurotic dog" learned by "a newspaper columnist and his wife." At No. 9, there's "My Friend Leonard," the story of a mobster pal, by James Frey, whose credential is he wrote an earlier memoir (large parts of which, it transpires, may not have happened).

Look further, and there are works by unknown video vixens, women with scalawag fathers, former suburban sluts, men who once drank too much, and all sorts of other folks who clearly have too much time on their hands. I don't, so I vowed not to absorb such fare. Until, based on a rave review here and there, I picked up "A Tender Bar" by one J.R. Moehringer, the tale of the son of a distressed, single, Long Island mother, who was nurtured through his coming-of-age crises by the colorful denizens of a Manhasset bar.

Although author Moehringer describes himself throughout as a hapless ne'er-do-well, it becomes apparent that (a) he managed to put himself through Yale; (b) he got himself hired by The New York Times; and (c) he became one of the only members of his Times copyboy class to be offered a formal tryout for the paper. Oh, and (d): he later won a Pulitzer Prize. Roughly at the same time I began feeling the whole thing wasn't ringing true, I remembered the book that led me to this resolution: Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shoutin"'-another memoir by the up-from-hardscrabble son of an invincible woman, who mothered him to a Pulitzer Prize (and who also had issues with his story-telling).

At least in Long Island, they don't call them "Mammy."

3. Don't eat things that are bad for you. I had pepperoni pizza on New Year's Eve-and every other night since.

But I wouldn't have done it if they hadn't left the pizzeria menu on my doorstep-and if I hadn't had this damn memoir to finish.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton

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