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Old newspaper reporter has no doubt: He’s self-helpless

The appraisal came by way of our elder daughter — shared with her mother, serious mistake — when I left the room to fold laundry: “Dad’s a little neurotic, you know.”

Prompting the diagnosis was spirited discussion of a self-help program on which the generations parted ways.

My daughter was in favor while I am more or less in the self-helpless school, if you know what I mean. At this point, I am beyond improvement strategies. Philosophically, let’s face it, I am me.

Newspaper reporters — I worked at Newsday and other places — are impossible on this kind of stuff, anyway.

Doubt is a condition of employment. A politician tells you he’s quitting to “spend more time with the family”; better check his financials. Some celebrity crows about giving a million to charity; call and confirm. Corporate exec says she once was a rodeo rider and part-time astronaut; nail it down. Found a surefire way to get in touch with the inner you? Like Columbo, I’ve got a few questions.

There’s an old newsroom adage, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” How’s that for sentiment? Trust no one, not even Mom — wow. Could be all that attention she gave you — the chicken soup in bed when you had a cold and shirts she ironed at 5 in the morning — was just a scam. Check it out!

Around the city desk, nothing gets taken for granted. Editors are recruits from the Inquisition. Who says? How d’ya know? Talk to the neighbors? Sky’s blue? You sure? Make more calls. Get it right.

It’s exhilarating but an occupational hazard.

“Hi, Dad, beautiful day,” one of the kids might say.

“That’s your opinion,” I might reply.

In life, I want three sources on everything — like Woodward and Bernstein tracking down Watergate. This includes theories that pomegranate juice keeps your skin young or dark chocolate is worth the calories. You know how this works. One year butter is out and margarine’s in. Next year, it’s the other way around. Stay on your toes, is my advice.

Say things like this too often, you can get a reputation.

Maybe my daughter’s correct?

“She just thinks you’re wound tight,” said Wink, my wife.

“Wound tight? I am not wound tight. Ridiculous.”

“OK, then,” said Wink. “You’re a bit — intense.”

“Not buying that, either.”

“Oh, come on. Everybody says so.”


“I’m not mentioning names.”

“That’s what I thought. Bad rap. No evidence. Cleared on all charges.”

“Do you hear yourself?”

I can tell when Wink judges a conversation over.

A leading indicator is that she disappears from view. Otherwise, she might begin some urgent task like ironing napkins. If it’s baseball season, Wink will lament the latest Mets loss, always an option. Most often, she goes back to the book she’s reading — another dark novel by Joyce Carol Oates can mean real trouble — or, maybe, the AARP magazine for, say, a mellow retrospective on the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love.” No one was wound tight in those days.

Of course, you can push the skepticism routine too far. There are times you just have to believe.

Years ago, someone tried to swindle us.

A scary voice came on the phone while I was at work and told Wink I’d gotten into serious gambling debt — a riot since I can hardly buy a Powerball ticket without feeling guilty — and that $2,000 was due.

We were broke — young parents with four kids — and Wink was terrified. She called her father in Omaha, who wired the money, no questions asked, and told her to remain calm. He added the kindest thing anyone has ever said about me: “Gee, this doesn’t sound like him.”

Nothing came of it. The meeting demanded by the con man never got arranged. We told the police, who said this kind of thing happens all the time. Wink’s father let us keep the money — whatta guy! — and said, “Told you so.”

Likewise, I don’t need independent confirmation all the time. Friends, family — you’re safe from background checks and surveillance. As for self-awareness exercises, I’m withholding judgment. I bet they’re good for a lot of people. But, at this point, I’m not signing up. Too old, too stubborn, too me.

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