I started out writing record and concert reviews, 18 years' worth. Never missed a week. It became an opinion column on music, with occasional reviews. Soon, I had other opinion columns running here and there. When I became a cub reporter in Bermuda in my mid-40s, I'd already published about 1,500 articles. Ultimately, I wanted to write for Rolling Stone. I really wanted the groupies and depravity that I imagined went with Rolling Stone.
One day, years ago, out of the blue, the editor of Risk & Insurance® at the time, Matt Damsker, called from Philadelphia to ask if I'd write for this magazine. Insurance has little in common with rock and roll, other than depravity, so writing about insurance would mean turning away from the highway to hell.
Damon Runyan convinced me. "Hang around big money," he wrote, "in case some of it rubs off." I accepted both the gig and that I would never again rock, or indeed roll. It was insurance for me and damn the consequences. I mentioned my former hopes to Matt. Guess what? He'd been deputy editor of Rolling Stone. True story. One degree of separation was as close as I'd get to meeting Jan Wenner, as close as I'd make it to being a long-haired weirdo.
Matt had lived my dream. Now I was going to write about combined ratios and share buybacks. See the irony, and the pathos of my ruined life?
This column started evenly enough. I ventured the odd opinion, upset the odd broker (they're all odd). Mostly I wrote about insurance, which seemed sensible in these pages.
Matt then mysteriously departed--cherchez la femme, I heard--and suddenly a new editor, Jack Roberts, was scheduling a conference call with staff and columnists. They were and are an erudite bunch, I'll tell you that. One by one, they introduced their beats and interests and then it was my turn. "I do insurance humor," I said, to general laughter, there being nothing funny about insurance. "Stay on the line after everyone else leaves," Jack told me. I assumed I'd had my chips.
But, no. "Go with the insurance humor," Jack said. "Go as far out as you possibly can and stay there. I'll bring you back if you go too far." But how far was far, in the context of an insurance magazine? I have been too far out a couple of times, but mostly, I've been able to write whatever I like. I have offended lots of people, for which I am truly sorry from the heart of my bottom.
Then Jack went off to a new life and Paul Bomberger arrived instead. He flew to Bermuda some time after landing the job, wearing sunglasses that made him look as if he were doing 1,000 miles an hour, sitting still. Like Jack, Paul is a proper journalist, battle-scarred and actually good at big-time magazine stuff. I assumed I'd had my chips.
But, no. I was to be given a soapbox, an industry term, meaning "put the nutter near the end." I couldn't be happier. It's a tony neighborhood, d'après moi, editorial opinion!
I owe all these guys a huge debt for letting me get away with this. Most people, I'm told, have real jobs. How awful. And I owe you a huge debt for reading this. And now I'm going to cry.
ROGER CROMBIE is a London-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
December 1, 2010
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