Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Can you ride a motorcycle? You'd better tell the truth

Jim Dance, liar.
"Can anyone ride a motorcycle?" the sergeant asked.

"I can," lied infantryman Jim Dance.

The result? Dance spent the next 14 hours "driving" a wheelbarrow.

The experience left him with a lifelong aversion to padding his resume. He regretted this handicap very much, as he viewed padding your resume as the surest way to get ahead in life.

Dance was a columnist for The Miami Herald newspaper until his death in 1983 at only 59 . I worked for the newspaper at the time, but it was a big enough operation in those days that I never met him.

I almost preferred it that way, so that I could imagine him as he portrayed himself in his column: a complete rascal, who viewed journalism not as a profession but "a dodge."

Unlike most columnists he didn't just poke fun at politicians. He poked fun — and worse — at editors. I assumed that is why, after rising at one point to the exalted rank of associate editor, he went on to write a column carried on the same page as the comics.

Editors never look at the comics unless Doonesbury is getting them in trouble with readers again. So Dance was free to carry on his insurgency under the radar.

I love the comics and so do most newspaper readers. That made Jim Dance our little secret.

The real Jim Dance might not have been an easy man to work with. Reading between the lines of his obituary in The Herald there is the hint that Dance was harder to handle than the smiling, bewhiskered face above his column implied.

Black Beard the pirate probably was no fun in person, either. But who hasn't chuckled at his supposed remark that he had to shoot someone from time to time, just so people would remember who he was?

Dance, too, was a master rogue, at least to hear him tell it.

He delighted at the disapproving glances of fellow passengers when he escorted a beautiful blonde on a cruise. She was young enough to be his daughter! — which, of course, she was.

Every Jim Dance column was a voyage over a waterfall, where the righteous were disarmed with a sly smile and the powers-that-be were torpedoed instead of triumphant.

I still miss his wit and the wisdom behind it.

If he never learned to ride a motorcycle, at least he had the gumption to lie to a sergeant about it.

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