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April 21st- 23rd only
n a cold day in the fall of
1997, a news photographer
snapped a shot of me waiting
in a line for extras in a Hollywood
At the time, I
was interning at a
local paper twice a
week. I would
show up in the
morning, my edi-
tor would give me
a quick assign-
ment, and I would
have a story done
KIRS BAUM by deadline that
day — quick, and
On this day,
Hollywood producers were in
Southfield looking for extras to fill
up the Joe Louis Arena for a scene
in a George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez
movie called Out of Sight.
My editor, who loved to put me
in unusual "fish-out-of-water" situa-
tions such as county fairs and
Christmas tree farms, sent me to do
a first-person story on the experi-
ence, which would run on the front
She told me to have fun with it,
and I asked her, "How far out there
can I go?"
Without knowing me as well as
she should have, she said, "As far as
Within the hour, I was in the
back of the line.
Hundreds of people were there,
dressed in a range of clothes from
business suits to stripper-like attire.
They came in whatever they
thought could get their faces on the
screen, and I was the only camera
shy one in the bunch.
For about five hours, I stood in
line in the cold, taking in the scene,
writing Dave Barry-esque observa-
tions in my reporter's notebook.
As the day went on, the weather
got colder. With no food and no
warmth from my leather jacket, my
mind became more "creative."
When I finally got to the front of
Harry Kirsbaum's e-mail address is
the line, filled out the forms and
had a Polaroid taken, deadline was
I raced back to the newsroom, sat
down at the keyboard and dumped
my notebook onto the screen.
Within 20 minutes, I had written
what I thought was a powerfully
funny piece of my day in line — of
leaves on small trees changing color,
then dropping off the branches
because of a sudden blizzard.
I also wrote about a mini-skirted
woman who became so cold, her leg
had frozen and fallen off her hip.
I wrote other goofy observations
that I don't recall now, and there's
no way to retrieve the story,
because, guess what? It never got
When one of the copy editors
read my masterpiece, she called me
to her desk and asked me a few
other questions to "round out the
When I read the printed version
the next morning — buried in the
first section and not on page one —
I noticed that all those clever "out
there" observations were gone.
After a few days of seething, I
learned a lesson: only Dave Barry
can write Dave Barry.
Newspaper readers want to read
about things that actually happened.
I learned this early in my career,
and I had editors who taught me.
I feel terrible when I read about
Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch
Albom, who wrote his Sunday col-
umn on a Friday deadline in the
past tense about an event that
would take place Saturday night —
and colored a scene with people
who would end up not being there.
The incident went national, and a
full in-house investigation now is
He's not guilty of a Jayson Blair-
New York Times offense, namely
making up stories.
He's a wonderful writer who did a
dumb thing, exaggerated something
an editor could have easily correct-
It's a matter of truth, a lesson
learned at all ages and career levels.
Learn from it and move on. El
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