Writing the Hackie column comes with a built-in contradiction. On the one hand, I have great respect for the privacy of the folks I drive in my taxi. Hailing a Burlington cab should not and does not imply consent to have your business revealed publicly. On the other hand, I write stories - week-in and week-out - about these very same people. Can you imagine my angst?
I have mechanisms to mediate this conflict. For instance, I regularly change locations and names, particularly if the portrait I'm painting is, well, less than flattering. But how I sleep at night primarily comes down to this: To the best of my limited abilities, I strive to write with compassion, even when the subject of the story is challenging or difficult.
But the issue never evaporates, even after 10 years of columns.
The story of 5/2/07 concerns a delightful guy who teaches at CVU High School and loves his job. Every one of my pieces is vetted first by my wife. Her concern is not strictly, or even primarily, grammar or syntax. As she knows me inside and out (which includes a near infinite capacity to fool myself), she reads between the lines to determine if I'm being unintentionally mean or insulting. For the column in question, she was concerned about my comparing the guy in the story to a leprechaun. CVU is a tight-knit community, she reasoned, and might not the man's students get wind of this and give him a hard time about it?
The truth is I hadn't even thought about this issue. Maybe it's that I really like leprechauns or maybe it's my thick-headedness. Maybe both. In any event, I gave this some thought - having learned to ignore my wife's advice at my own peril - but decided in the end that it was such a positive portrait of the guy, that the leprechaun shout-out could remain.
I then turned the story into my editors at Seven Days, and Ruth Horowitz emailed me as follows: It's a sweet story, but I've gotta say, it gave me some pause. How will this guy feel about reading about himself compared to a leprechaun? Isn't a positive stereotype still a stereotype?
Aye, Carumba! The message was now getting through.
In the end, I left in the leprechaun allusion but made clear that the guy really didn't look like an Irish elf; it was just a case of my over-active imagination. You got that, CVU students? He's not really a leprechaun.
One more thing. As she writes about so eloquently in the 7D issue of 5/2/07, Ruth Horowitz is leaving the paper. Heck, she's leaving Vermont, but for good reasons. For five years, Ruth has made me look like a better writer than I really am. I'll miss ya, Ruth. Thanks and safe journey . . .