Give me rewrite

When I was an enthusiastic young journalist in the post-Watergate 1970s, a T-shirt was popular with us ink-stained wretches. It showed an old-time reporter -- sleeves rolled up, press card in the band of his fedora -- shouting into a phone: “Hello, sweetheart, give me rewrite!”

That was the way it worked, kids, back in the days before cell phones and laptops. A reporter on deadline called a “rewrite man,” typically a grizzled, cigar-chomping veteran who could type faster than the wind. The reporter “fed” the rewrite desk all the information on the hot story, and the rewrite man fashioned it into a proper newspaper article, on the fly.

Filing a story through rewrite was a sort of magic, and I fear it’s lost forever. These days, reporters can write their own stories, wherever they are, and zip them into the mothership electronically. But some of us remember when a rewrite man could make a reporter look great, recasting excited gibberish into cool prose.

Yes, I am a dinosaur. Thank you for noticing.

Wouldn’t it be great if life had a rewrite man? Someone who could smooth over rough spots, remove awkward moments and recast our everyday babbling into concise, intelligent language. It would be the ultimate do-over, the end to regret. If we filtered our lives through a rewrite desk, we’d always hit our deadlines, make the right choices, impress our friends.

An example: You’re in traffic and another motorist does something exceedingly stupid right in front of you. You lean on your horn, shout curses and make an obscene gesture. Then you recognize the other driver. Worse, he recognizes you. Ouch.

Wouldn’t you love a rewrite man about then? He could change “curses” to “warnings” and “obscene gesture” to “friendly wave.” A potentially dangerous road rage incident becomes a neighborly encounter. And you wouldn’t feel so bad when you bump into that other motorist at church.

A rewrite man could fix a lot of things in the workplace. Let’s say you’re standing around the watercooler with your coworkers, talking about your boss, and you use the term “sniveling jerk” just as said boss comes around the corner. Hello, rewrite? Can you change that to “model citizen?” Or, um, “an inspiration to us all?” Thanks.

Certainly, a rewrite man could help one’s financial situation. Your life story could say you were always careful with your money as you amassed a fortune that you later gave to charity. That sounds so much better than “gambled on the stock market” or “wasted every nickel on liquor and lotteries.”

I could use a rewrite when it comes to parenting. I’d like to be known as “stern but fair” rather than “overprotective lunatic.” But I guess that’s a story that’ll be written by my kids.

A rewrite man could portray me as a “handy do-it-yourselfer type.” Just once I’d like someone to believe I could fix something around the house. Even if the statement required a correction later.

I want my friends to remember me as a witty raconteur who was always “the life of the party.” Think I can get that past the rewrite desk? That would be better than “last time I saw him, he was yarking into a flowerbed.” Friends’ memories can be so selective and cruel.

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