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Sunday, Dec 4, 2022

I Cover the Waterfront: On This Column

Take a course with John Bertolini, and you will undoubtedly encounter the T. S. Eliot phrase, “mature poets steal.”

Though I am certainly not a poet, and hardly mature, I had Eliot’s observation on my mind when I chose the title of this (hopefully) weekly column. I spent the summer trying to think of a witty and original title. But, after weeks and weeks of failure, I decided to take Eliot’s advice and, simply, steal. In fact, the title, “I Cover the Waterfront,” has a history of being stolen.

I stole it from Fran Lebowitz, who wrote a column with the same name for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. It is one of the many things I have stolen from Fran, whose levels of cynicism, wit, and sneering I can only dream of reaching.

She stole it from a novel by Max Miller, which was adapted in 1933 into a film directed by James Cruze. Though I have not read the novel, I watched the film this summer and can report that it is not good, save a few scenes featuring Claudette Colbert.

The film tells the story of a San Diego–based journalist who, as you may have guessed, covers the waterfront. While working on a story about a fisherman who is illegally smuggling people into the country, he falls in love with his subject’s daughter. I will refrain from summarizing the plot, but in the end (wait for it) the journalist gets the scoop and the girl.

The soundtrack of the film inspired a lyrical song of the same name. “I Cover the Waterfront” became a jazz standard, with many titans of the genre, including Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, interpreting the tune.

It’s pure serendipity that one title is connected to so many of the subjects I plan to write about in this column: journalism, film, jazz and sneering famous wits.

In the film adaptation of “I Cover the Waterfront,” there is a homeless man who casts his fishing rod into the harbor in search of valuables. He mostly ends up reeling in trash. That is more or less what I expect to happen with my version of “I Cover the Waterfront.” And that’s OK. After all, a college newspaper is the perfect place for the imperfect exploration of ideas.

As my hero Fran says, “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.”

After a year of writing this column, we shall see the group to which I belong.

Will DiGravio is the managing editor of this paper.