While we were up in Minnesota, my beloved picked up a copy of David Carr's The Night of the Gun. I finished it last night. Carr, the media columnist for The New York Times, has written an amazing, harrowing story of how he survived drug addiction. Clearly written in response to the James Frey debacle, Carr's memoir directly challenges the notion that anyone's memories, much less those of former addicts, are reliable. Rather than simply write what he recalled, Carr decided to "report it out" - to go back and interview people from his past, dig up old arrest reports, rehab records, anything that might tell him what actually happened. Much of what he discovers surprises him; for example, he discovers a fifth stint in rehab when he'd always told himself it was only four.
All of this is interesting enough, but one of the most striking things for me is the book's setting: Twin Cities journalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Carr wrote for, and eventually edited, The Twin Cities Reader. In reading his description of The Reader's drab, suburban highway office park digs, I realized I had been there on a story the summer I interned for a local TV station. I recall thinking that the place looked more like a day care center than an office; toys everywhere, nobody really appearing to do any work. Carr's description of life at The Reader does little to dissuade that initial impression.
Not only did I recognize locations and names of local Twin Cities journalists, musicians and newsmakers, I found reference to two of my former college teachers (one of whom is now incarcerated). And, in classic St. Small fashion, I realized about two-thirds of the way through the book that Carr is a cousin of one of my best friends from high school.
This memoir about tricks of memory called up a lot of them for me. I'll end with this eerie past meets present moment. Carr's book mentioned Deborah Howell, who during much of the 80s was an editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press; I knew Deborah because she worked for my dad. Just as I was reading the section of the book that mentions Howell, she was killed in a car accident while on vacation with her husband in New Zealand. Carr's touching reminiscence on his blog points out that the Pioneer Press won a Pulitzer in 1988 for a pioneering feature that Howell edited called "AIDS in the Heartland."
All this reading about Twin Cities journalism, plus Howell's death, caused me to remember something I hadn't thought about in years: I was in the newsroom when that Pulitzer was officially announced. I had gone to my dad's office to have our picture taken; I had won a small college scholarship from Knight-Ridder, the parent corporation, and they wanted a picture of us for the house organ. I don't know if it was happenstance or if Dad rigged it this way, but when we were done he said, "Hang around and come to the newsroom with me. Something exciting is going to happen." And so the news came across the wires (were they actually still called wires then? I don't know). People cheered. Champagne flowed. Speeches were made. And Jacqui Banaszynski and Jean Pieri got their due.
A random memory, an event I hadn't thought about in years. Somewhere my parents have a copy of that picture; I'm standing next to my dad, smiling, wearing a white and blue striped sweater.