The Perils of Picturesque

I meant only to glimpse today’s New York Times front page soft feature on the way to showering off the dirt of digging in the garden. Then I read this description of a maitre d’ in a Hollywood restaurant.

Dmitri Dmitrov, a 60-year-old Macedonian immigrant with Rudolph Valentino hair, a Chiclet smile, an Eastern European accent theatrical enough to seem invented and a manner so ostentatiously courteous it conjures up a Slavic geisha scripted by Mel Brooks.

Momentary thought: Gee, I wish I could write like that.

Then again, If I wrote so picturesquely about someone in Princeton, they might never speak to me again.

It becomes clear when I look up the byline, Guy Trebay, a fashion reporter known for being on the edge. If I were the “major studio executive who dines on successive nights with his daughter, wife and mistress” who is “guided to cozy spots at Tables 21, 22 and 12,” I would sue.

The rest of the article, of course, redeems the obnoxious copy in what the newspaper business calls “above the fold” or, in this case, “on the turn” to the second page. It always does. Fair and balanced, right? Try convincing the owner of the ox you gored on Page One.

When I was younger, I had more of an edge. But along the way I talked to a lot of owners of oxen. Now my mantra is the familiar “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary”. I admit that, for a journalist, especially one like Trebay, it’s indeed “necessary” to keep one’s edge.

But in general, I am often too quick with the quip and am working on holding my tongue. Among the dozen or so Biblical instructions on holding one’s tongue is Ephesians 4:29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Still. If I were the wife of the Hollywood executive, I would sue. Or at least demand not to sit at Table 22.

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