5 passages from David Carr’s memoir

February 16, 2015

The New York Post reported Friday that publisher Simon & Schuster has ordered 10,000 additional copies of David Carr’ memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” in wake of Carr’s death Thursday.

Since Carr’s death, his memoir and the anecdotes it contains have been discussed as journalists and other media professionals remember his life. Here are five passages from the book that span his nascent journalism career, his early run-ins with the law and his ascension to a job at The New York Times.

On getting his first big story in the Twin Cities Reader:

I was at my parents’ house one day in 1982 when my dad told me about his pal Peter, a guy who ran Catholic Charities. He watched as a couple of beefy cops pounded two black suspects already in custody. Peter stepped toward them to ask why they were beating up those guys and got a piece of same. It sounded outrageous.

“Somebody should do a story about this,” I said to my dad. Maybe, my dad said, it should be you.

I called the editor of the Twin Cities Reader. He sounded interested, in a bored, yeah-sure kind of way, committing only to read what I came up with. I pretended I knew what I was doing — isn’t that what most of life rests on? — and fumbled my way through police reports, disciplinary records, and relevant withnesses. With my pal David over my shoulder, I wrote it up. When it came time to deliver, I found myself chattering away in front of Brian, the editor, unable to hand it over.

Carr recounts getting arrested for possession of narcotics:

I already had a paper bindle folded. I went to the skanky bathroom at the back and locked myself into a stall. I tapped out the correct amount — I could eyeball a gram from ten feet away — and folded up the packet. I took the opportunity to take a pee, and it occurred to me in that thirty seconds that I might need a bump to get through the day. I’d been up most of the night. The bathroom door opened and closed, and from the stall I could see the heavy black shoes of the guy as he took a leak. I unfolded the paper, knocking a few more tenths into it.

The shoes moved suddenly. “You roll a noisy joint, pal!” the uniform cop said as he snapped open the door. I threw the canister in the toilet, but the bindle bounced off the rim. I was just reaching for it when his knee came so far up my ass I saw stars.”

Turning his life around through work:

Still, the fundaments of the genre require me to run close and careful analysis on how exactly I reversed course from certain damnnation and came to a professional life beyond all expectation. So here goes:

I worked a lot.

If memoir is an attempt to fashion the self through narrative, dreams simply reverse the polarity on the same imperative. The future is even more fungible than the past. We can make it up, assert it will be so, and no one can say it won’t happen with any surety. Herman Melville, in talking about history, said that the past is the textbook of tyrants, while the future is the bible of the free.

Excelling in the rat race, whether it is hunting down the biggest boar or getting the biggest piece while others do the killing, is an act of self-deception. To begin with, the striver must believe that the world is a fundametally meritocratic place, that hard work will out, that winning is just a matter of effort. And if the goals are accomplished, that person will believe he lives in a just, beautiful world. And if things don’t go well, he will be down at the bar muttering bitter oaths into cheap whisky about what might have been.

Meeting his wife, Jill:

She introduced me to Jillie, a brown-eyed blond who was classically beautiful with a Lord & Taylor sort of refinement. We shook hands, and I heard Wagner, my face got hot, and I lost track of my surroundings. We just kept shaking hands and looking at each other until the people around us began blushing.

Everything right about her was wrong for me. I had generally gone out with women who had a lot of dark hair falling into their faces, bee-stung lips, and remarkable leather jackets, with more tattoos than jewelry. As my friend Eddie once observed, “The women you date don’t just look bitchy. They are.” This Danish-Icelandic-Norwegian-Irish girl had worked in the U.S. Senate for a Republican, had her own house in South Minneapolis, and was just coming off a sales job and getting ready to go to grad school to become a teacher. Not. My. Type.

His interview at The New York Times and adjusting to daily newspaper writing:

When I interviewed at the Times at the end of 2001, I was doing fine until I bumped into Al, a large, indomitable masthead presence. He glanced skeptically over my background of magazines, alt weeklies, and dot-coms — not a whit of daily newspaper work — and probably saw a hot dog. The only way I got out of his office alive was by stating in plain terms that I clearly understood that the needs of the many frequently supersede the needs of the one. I could see him brighten when I said I was more interested in fitting in than sticking out.

Dave, the media editor, broke me in, and he was old school all the way. I picked up a few corrections early on — a dread that snapped me awake in the long sewery parts of the night — and he talked me off the ledge, patiently explaining that my tendency to lard a lot of detail into my stories was a great way to pick up minor corrections. “If you aren’t absolutely sure, just rip it out. Who’s going to know? You can’t get in trouble for something that didn’t run.”

You can purchase Carr’s memoir here.