“I’ve got a great idea for The Closer.” Every day, I hear those eight words—from colleagues, friends, my grandfather, my dentist—and I listen. Judging from their ideas, people see this page as a freak show obsessed with death, conspiracy, and masochism. But as a wise man once said, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever,” so I jot down every idea just in case, and revisit it at my desk later. Usually it sounds unfunny or unfeasible or just ridiculous and disappears into The Reject File, a document nearing 1,000 ideas. I hereby open the file—and open myself to more pitches.
PITCH “Do a story about Jesus and Mary sightings in food, like the Miracle Tortilla, Grilled Cheese Mary, and the Nun Bun, a.k.a. the immaculate confection.”
WHY REJECTED? This initially amused me, I suspect, because I am Jewish. Then I saw Moses in my kishke, and the column was tabled indefinitely.
PITCH “My cabbie got pulled over for an illegal left turn, and the cop had to tell him to turn the meter off while he wrote the ticket. How about great taxi driver stories?”
WHY REJECTED? Periodically, someone suggests The Zany World of Cabbies—a tired theme that ranks just below Asking Chefs What’s in Their Fridge and just above doing the March issue’s Closer as an NCAA basketball–style grid comparing Chicago’s greatest mustaches.
PITCH “Passover’s coming. Find news stories that show each of the ten plagues is happening somewhere in the world.”
WHY REJECTED? Because nothing says “comedy” like cattle plague. Except, of course, incurable boils and the ritual slaying of the firstborn.
PITCH “Every restaurant in Greektown has the same menu. Do a column suggesting that there is one kitchen under Halsted for the whole neighborhood, and someone’s down there hollering, ‘I need two saganaki at Santorini and three moussaka at Pegasus!’”
WHY REJECTED? Couldn’t get anyone in Greektown to confirm or deny this on the record.
PITCH “There are tunnels under the city. Find out what they connect. Where they go. Print a map. Find a guy who works down there and listen to crazy stories.”
WHY REJECTED? This would involve actual reporting. Besides, the Greeks would never allow it.
WHY REJECTED? Every month since July 2003, I look at this mysterious fragment and wonder what the hell I was thinking. (“Come up with snarky variations on Mad Cow, like Embittered Chicken Disease . . . Underwhelmed Beaver Syndrome . . . Lethargic Yak Disorder. Etc.”)
PITCH “Challenge Ken Hedrich, an exercise physiologist in the western suburbs who was named Chicagoland’s Most Fit Man in 2005, to a series of physical contests.”
WHY REJECTED? Came up with a good list of challenges—mini golf, thumb wrestling, Ping-Pong, speed typing—but chickened out when I learned that Hedrich was also named Chicagoland’s Best Thumb Wrestler in 2002.
PITCH “You’ve got restaurants named Tsunami, Wildfire, Wave, Monsoon, and Heat. Contrast reviews of each with quotes from survivors of actual disasters.”
WHY REJECTED? My file contains an entire subsection called “Ideas That Sounded Decent at the Time, Usually as the Result of Alcohol.”
PITCH Remember that Northwest Side man who severed his penis and hurled it at police officers? For some reason, a half-dozen people sent me the story.
WHY REJECTED? Everyone’s got standards, and The Closer draws the line at penis-throwing journalism.
Photography: (files) © James Steidl/istockphoto.com, (Moses) Paramount Pictures, (muscle) © Oleg Prikhodko/istockphoto.com, (frog) © Steve Snyder/istockphoto.com,
(chicken) © Chris Hepburn/istockphoto.com, (miner) © Lisa F. Young/istockphoto.com