This was going to be what is known in the trade as a hot weather column -- light, breezy, irrelevant. That means I have nothing to say but I'd like to hold on to you as a reader.
That column will have to wait because instead of yielding to a temperature-induced listlessness, I'm hot under the collar. At The Post editors. Even at the advertising department. Both the classified and the display departments permitted ads last week I thought tasteless. One of them had a headline that read: "Drop Your Pants Sale." With it was an illustration, in case you couldn't read.
But mostly, I'm angry at the news people. There's a great story going on and The Post has been paying scant attention to it, although last March, when the venture was being planned, Outdoors Editor Angus Phillips did write a half-page about it.
It was only because of a column by William F. Buckley Jr. that I became aware Jim Dickson, 41 and blind, was en route to Bermuda, alone in his tiny sailboat, on the first leg of a historic voyage across the Atlantic. Mr. Buckley, noted for his advocacy of rugged individualism, wrote an erudite and not unkind op-ed column last Wednesday in The Post, decrying the venture because of the man's disability.
A young copy aide named David Lupi, working this summer in the newsroom, took umbrage at the column and asked for my help in responding to Mr. Buckley. He didn't need my help. Even his opening statement will hit Mr. Buckley where it will hurt him most -- right smack in his conservative proclivities. Mr. Buckley, wrote young David, has "struck a blow against American individualism."
"I am a deaf junior studying history at Cornell University," wrote Mr. Lupi, and "with William Buckley's philosophy in my heart, I would not have written for four years in my high school newspaper and ended up as editor in chief. . . . I am doing well at Cornell, gaining a 3.5 last semester.. . . I have aims and aspirations beyond college, and the word 'impossible' is not in my lexicon. . . . Who, may I ask, is William Buckley to decide what is or is not possible for a handicapped person to do? . . . Nothing is impossible once man sets his mind to it."
For a moment there, I thought I was reading Mr. Buckley. But it is all Mr. Lupi, totally without hearing and expert in lip reading. He does have a touch of Mr. Buckley in him, though, a bit of the wiseacre. He ended his message by suggesting that Mr. Buckley wrote the column because he obviously has a few blind spots himself.
Mr. Buckley has done a good deed, for otherwise no one would have realized The Post was practically ignoring the story. The day after Mr. Buckley's column appeared, the paper had a brief story at the bottom of Page 3 in the Metro section, a rather decent little piece put together from wire-service reporting that the blind sailor was riding out a severe storm 60 miles off Bermuda. I also learned for the first time that he was a resident of the District of Columbia, whence he'd set sail earlier this month.
That same day, the ombudsman, who had planned to knock out an amusing column that would not demand you to think as you sipped a cold martini at the beach, wrote a memo for internal distribution, blasting the editors for paying scarce attention to this bold story of high adventure, with some obvious sad undertones too.
There was a little buzzing around the huge newsroom. Rumors floated back to my office that the problem was that the assignment cut across several departments. It is a story that could have been a valid assignment for Sports, Style, National, Foreign or Metro, each with its own budget, and it is an expensive story to cover.
I can't say exactly what happened after my memo was distributed. There were a number of angry callers to my office. I did hear that Managing Editor Len Downie took the matter into his own strong hands.
That very night, Angus Phillips, who broke the original story last March, was on his way to Bermuda, and you may well see his signed piece on the front page of The Post today.
It may all have been a coincidence, but this morning I have a sense of real power and achievement