Lite column a 'shaka' for Times reporter


POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I hate when this happens. I try to be funny, bring a few smiles to a few faces in a weary world and I always end up hurting someone's feelings. In this case, I hurt the feelings of a New York Times reporter who I poked a little fun at in a recent column because she mistook President Barack Obama's shaka sign to the Punahou Marching Band during his inaugural parade as a request to someone in the crowd to "call me" instead of the iconic "howzit, brah" island greeting.

Now, you would think a reporter for the mighty New York Times would have a thicker skin than to be offended by what a little humor columnist in Hawaii says about her. But Katherine "Kit" Seelye apparently is the sensitive type.

"I appreciate that you wrote you were 'just kidding' ... But it is clear from the e-mails I received that many of your readers did not understand that your references to me, including the supposed quotation, were fabricated," she wrote to me in an e-mail. She is so upset that she's also asking this paper to run a letter-to-the editor from her on the matter.

  First, the charge that I fabricated quotes really hurts. I don't fabricate, I make up stuff. I invent, concoct and create quotes, purely for the sake of humor and entertainment. I doubt any of "my readers," as Kit describes them, mistook anything in that column for anything other than a joke. But just to be fair, I'll abide by Kit's request that I "clarify the situation." I would like to make it clear that at no time did Ms. Seelye actually suggest that:

» Obama made a sign to members of the Harvard Skull & Bones secret society to meet up later and plan to take over the world.

» Obama was "signing" to a deaf tuba player in the marching band.

» Obama's shaka sign was actually a hand cramp caused by a vitamin deficiency.

And to clear up any other confusion that I may have caused regarding previous presidential inaugurals, I confess now that:

» Grover Cleveland DID NOT give his general election opponent the "one-fingered salute."

» James Garfield DID NOT pump his hand in the air at his swearing in and shout, "Woo! Woo! Woo! Yeah, Baby!"

» William McKinley DID NOT yell "Rock on, sisters!" to Carrie Nation and the hatchet-wielding Women's Christian Temperance Marching Band and Saloon Wrecking Crew.

» Franklin Pierce DID NOT "wave his hand like a girl" at the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and call him a "knucklehead."

I feel bad for any readers who mistook those "fabrications" of mine as actual history. (And I feel worse for their history teachers.)

But I'm a little worried about those people who e-mailed Ms. Seelye believing she would say in her New York Times blog that Obama was making secret signs to his Skull & Bones buddies to meet to take over the world or that his hand was cramped by a vitamin deficiency. Or any of the foolishness about the past presidents. I suspect it says more about Ms. Seelye's credibility and her readers than mine.