Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003 / 6 Teves 5764

Paul Greenberg

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Where I went wrong | Her official title here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is secretary-receptionist, but Paula Robinson is really the non-com who runs the outfit. She doesn't just try to keep us misfits who write the editorials in line, but actually succeeds on occasion.

Mrs. Robinson schedules meetings, keeps the files in order, forwards calls, keeps track of our appointments and handles irate readers - always with a smile in her voice.

More than one angry caller has told me that, while I'm an irredeemable so-and-so, to use a more polite phrase, I certainly have a nice lady handling my calls. They're right on both counts.

What's most impressive about Paula is her concentration on each assignment, however small or routine or purely clerical or utterly maddening - as if it were the most important job in the world at the time.

You can't see them, but my office is filled to the ceiling with incomplete thoughts, unfinished reactions and half-finished sentences. ("Now let's see, where did I put that idea?") Which is why I need a Paula to keep things in focus and on schedule.

Sure enough, last week I got one of Paula's little notes. This one reminded me to do my annual Where I Went Wrong column. It's one of those annual columns I haven't done in a couple of years, just as I haven't called our annual staff meeting since circa 1996. (I hate meetings.)

"Mr. G," Paula's note/command said, "I don't think you did one of these last year. Will you consider one soon? Thanks." Attached was one of my Where I Went Wrong columns, this one from Dec. 31, 1995. Paula knows confession is good for the soul.

If I haven't got around to confessing my editorial sins as regularly as I used to, I have a simple explanation: It's all Mrs. Robinson's fault.

How's that? Because in addition to riding herd on just about everything else around here, she's taken to reading the page proofs, and almost invariably finds some embarrassing error that the rest of have overlooked.

Nobody asked Paula to take on this extra job; I guess she just got tired of watching us embarrass ourselves. And took pity.

So if I haven't submitted one of these year-end confessions for a couple of years, blame Paula. I do keep a little file folder of errors, but when I opened it last year, nothing fluttered out. This year it contained just one letter.

It seems I'd gone and used (or tried to use) a Latin phrase again, which is always a mistake on my part. When Latin and I meet, the result usually resembles one of those awful accidents you see on the interstate, with parts strewn all around.

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This time I'd hopelessly mangled the phrase, casus belli , and again lost my war with that dead but still feisty language. I've got a pretty good idea of how my mistaken version got into the paper: Paula doesn't do Latin or windows.

This being Arkansas, I immediately heard from one of the Brothers Arnold, both of whom are federal appellate judges and the state's resident Latin scholars.

This time it was His Honor Morris Arnold, aka Buzz, who caught me in flagrante delicto. I knew better than to try and beat the rap. I wrote him back posthaste and told His Honor he could expect a full confession at year's end, and here it is. I herewith throw myself on the mercy of the court - not for the first time.

My one-item list of errors scarcely matches my favorite roll call of inaccuracies. For both breadth and brevity, it's hard to beat the one Jamie Lee Curtis rattles off in that immortal work of art, "A Fish Called Wanda," when her character finally straightens out the assorted intellectual pretensions committed by Kevin Kline, who plays the insufferable (but hilarious) Otto. She goes right down the list:

"Aristotle was not Belgian. The central teaching of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' The London Underground is not a political movement. These are mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."

Also, FYI, the Boxer Rebellion does not refer to a failed attempt to unionize the New York fight game in the late 1940s.

Poor Otto. Poor Jamie Lee Curtis, who has to look things up. Clearly she does not have a Paula Robinson.

P.S. If there are any errors in this column, like extra spaces between words or too many dots in an ellipses - the kind of thing Miss Paula is especially good at picking up - that's because she's off this week.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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