My first encounter with the marvelous, indispensable comedy-journalism of Chuck Shepherd and his syndicated NEWS OF THE WEIRD feature occured sometime in the mid-1980's, when he was written up in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY. At the time, Chuck still published both his main outpourings and a side-project, VIEW FROM THE LEDGE, as paper zines, and I was soon a subscriber, starting with a gift subscription from pal Andy Watson. Rapidly thereafter, I began reading my daily newspapers with a new eye, clipping and snail-mailing items that I thought would satisfy Chuck's need for bizarre news items, and appeal to his mordant sense of humor.
We even got to hang out occasionally, whenever Chuck would pass through New England, visiting relatives here. That's when Deborah and I discovered that Chuck was just as wonderful in person as the wry soul that peeked through the objective reportage. And the same went double for his charming partner Annie.
Twenty years have passed, and I still "clip" for Chuck, in the form of e-mailed links to strange news stories. And of course nowadays NEWS OF THE WEIRD comes to me online, still the gold standard of such reporting.
But aside from that, little has changed in this amazing chronicle of the follies, delusions and maladroitness of the human race. Oh, sure, Chuck has been forced to assemble a list of "topics no longer considered weird," stuff that has paled in the light of the rising tide of buffoonery, dumbness and chicanery that passes for human behavior. But what artform doesn't elevate its standards as it matures?
Looking back over two decades of wacky news, it's reassuring to see that we're all still here. The human species seems to have both an unquenchable urge to stick its head out the window of the speeding car of life, and also the resilience to survive any impact with the mailboxes of hard-edged reality along the way.
Without Chuck Shepherd and his efforts, I might actually worry about the fate of civilization.