Most executives wield power from on, if not quite exalted, at least supremely officious high. They make or take this or that phone call to wheel and deal with other stone-faced, terminally self-impressed persons of consequence. You stop sometimes and wonder what they might be like in their hours away from being kings and queens of destiny. Do they ever smile out of pure fun and not just as a preamble to shafting whomever it is they’re shaking hands with? Do they experience pain that doesn’t come from the accounting department? When they nick themselves, do they bleed blood or ice water?
Over (give or take) ten years of writing for Minnesota Law & Politics and interacting with founding publisher Bill White, I’ve been fascinated to find the reverse. Out of sheer nosiness, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he’s handling some high-level pow-wow with hotshots in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or wherever. I’ve no idea what the guy’s like when he’s not being human. Anytime I swing by L&P‘s office and his door’s open (he closes it to confer with fellow captains of industry), I can count on an interesting, laid-back conversation peppered with some good laughs and wry comments. Some of the covers he comes up with for the magazine betray a mischievous streak wide as the day is long. He’s pretty much Dennis the Menace all grown up.
Like a lot of writers, I generally read whatever I wrote in a publication, then move on. When I pick up a copy of L&P, though, I always read White’s “All Seriousness Aside” column—I had to buttonhole White and editor Steve Kaplan the one time the column didn’t run. Opening a copy of L&P that doesn’t include White’s column is like cracking open an empty pistachio nut shell.
All of which leads to the collection of selected essays, All Seriousness Aside: Stories from the Back Page by William C. White. I got your William C. White. White may be William on business and formal occasions and when it comes to cashing checks. The rest of the time, he’s spirited, fun-loving Bill. L&P‘s “All Seriousness Aside” column gives him (with a bimonthly kick in the ass from Kaplan about meeting the deadline) an opportunity to reflect on varied aspects of his existence. It’s warmhearted wisdom, witty as hell.
All Seriousness Aside: Stories from the Back Page starts with a foreword by Steve Kaplan. Kaplan, the freelancer’s nightmare (I’ve had better luck selling stories to Kaplan than a snowball has in Hell, but not by much) attests to White’s chops. For the introduction, Bill recalls starting and sustaining Minnesota Law & Politics.
Then comes the goods. White is articulate. Fluid. Good-natured and determinedly irreverent. Do not—I repeat, not—expect to find pieces about either law or politics. These are breezy excursions into rib-tickling entertainment of no profundity whatsonever. Exactly what you need after a day of dealing with matters of consequence—or if you simply enjoy having a smile on your face. It’s about looking at the little (sometimes big) things in life and taking it all with a grain of salt.
For instance, in “Target: Right On Our Money,” White goes shopping for a shower curtain and returns with the winning observation, “The store is packed. Zombie shoppers look right through me with glazed expressions. It’s like Night of the Living Dead pushing shopping carts. Children whine, couples snap. ‘Tis the season to shop until you crack. I head straight to housewares determined to resist the seduction of the happy red signs proclaiming unbelievable savings. Whatever you need to run the infrastructure of your life—wiping, drying, cooking, cleaning, buffing, whatever—it’s all here in long neat aisles. And now, looking down on the row of Tidy Bowl and coffeemakers, are the wholesome images of Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart. It’s a Wonderful Life used to be a movie. Now it’s an ad. Every time the cash register bleeps, an angel gets his wings.” There’s also “Hard Times In Mexico,” about the time the poor bastard landed in a Mexican jail, a literal pisshole of a place, for having a misunderstanding—not even an argument—with a crooked cabbie.
All Seriousness Aside is that way, all over the place: no common theme among the essays except that they’re one man’s humor-laced reflections. Well, they do have another thing in common. There isn’t a lemon in the bunch.
My onliest problem with the book, is that he’s written about his wife, his son, and even his editor on occasion, but never said a mumbling word about me. Not so much as a sentence, in all the years I’ve been writing for him. Not that I’m hinting or anything. You listening, Bill?
For the time being, you can buy All Seriousness Aside: Stories from the Back Page only at allseriousness.com. Once the first printing sells out, that should change.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.