Mulhall column: Farewell, grammar, Nazi | PostIndependent.com

Mulhall column: Farewell, grammar, Nazi

Mitch Mulhall

So former Post Independent editor Randy Essex has left the soon-to-be snow covered streets of western Colorado for Detroit’s?

Not a stellar trade-off from where I stand, but Randy seems pleased by it, and that’s really all that matters.

Randy was little more than an acquaintance — I only met Randy and his wife once, over coffee at the Bluebird Café in the spring of 2016. While Randy and I have exchanged numerous brief emails since, I really can’t say I know the guy all that well.

Not everyone was sad to see him go. One GSPI letter writer leveled some pretty harsh criticisms his way, contending for one that the PI is “routinely boring.”

That’s more of an observation than an attribution. Let’s face it, our communities may not be Mayberries, but they’re not that far removed. The PI, or just “Post” as it was known before merging with the Independent in late 2000, has evolved from its halcyon, Glady’s Kravitz days at least in part because back in the ’60s and ’70s there were no smart phones to shoot. Besides, on the scale of small-town journalism, our area’s “G” rating comes mostly by Aspen’s fuller-bodied affairs.

It’s a good problem to have.

The letter writer also declared Randy “an enemy of the written word,” which strikes me as an incongruity. Aesthetics like the written word don’t have enemies, and as a former CSU English composition teacher, I’ve read plenty of prose that tested this axiom. There are bad ideas written well, and good ones written poorly, and a whole lot in between, but from a rhetorical standpoint, no writer I’ve known —and there have been a few — would declare war on the written word.

The letter finishes by suggesting Randy was “an obstacle to useful knowledge.” I’ll stipulate that Randy is about as left-leaning as they come, and he didn’t miss an opportunity to publish his views. And why not? He was the freaking GSPI editor. But suggesting Randy’s columns constituted an obstacle to useful knowledge avoids a central dialectical element: Quality thought arises from a broad understanding, and one way to attain that is to explore views that don’t comport with your own. Randy and I didn’t agree on much, but perhaps on this we did.

So I don’t rejoice in Randy’s departure the way some do, but I do have reason to be pleased, for Randy did something so egregious, so over the top, so unashamedly biased that it gives me pause to even write the words: Essex removed my Oxford commas.

In English punctuation, an Oxford comma (aka “serial comma,” or “Harvard comma”) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more terms.

I ride pretty good herd on comma splices, so that was probably never much of an issue for Randy, but I write by default using the Oxford comma, and Randy made sure not a single one of them was ever published.

At first I was miffed. I could see Randy sharpening his red pencil, pouring a cup of Earl Grey tea, and grinning at the prospect of gorging his AP style sensibilities on little proofreader deletion squiggles as he read my latest column.

I considered composing lists with terms in the final positions that without the solitary Oxford comma would form indelicate compound nouns or phrases, testing Randy’s editorial metal by forcing him to choose between upholding AP style and perhaps compromising his sense of decorum. You know, something like, “Consider recent headlines: World leaders meet at G7 summit, Obama-Trump handshake, and Gay Marriage date set.” Delete that Oxford comma, Randy.

This comma roulette amusement extended to other grammatical adventures, too, and a fairly popular internet meme provided rich fodder. There’s the Shatner comma: “You know Bob, Sue, and Greg? They, came, to, my, house.” And if that didn’t do it, the Walken comma surely would: “You know Bob, Sue, and Greg, they came, to my house?” If constructs like these didn’t put Randy’s hands into spasms of grammatical recoil, fading his carefully rendered proofing marks with Earl Grey spew, nothing would.

I decided against these and other petty torments, however, when I realized that Randy’s disdain for the Oxford comma was not all his fault. He did, after all, study journalism in Nebraska.

The sad reality is that the next GSPI editor will no doubt take up where Randy left off, and my Oxford commas will still vaporize somewhere between the email attachment and the press.

Yet, if the worst I can say about Randy is that he nukes Oxford commas, he’s doing just fine, even if he just took up residence in the land of Michael Moore, labor unions, and half-empty high-rises.

What’s more, Randy gave me a chance to write a column, and for this I am grateful.

So thanks, Randy.

And on a final note, you can cast aside all rumors about why Randy left, for I figured it out: He just wanted to live in a place where the NFL home team still has an outside chance to make the playoffs.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime valley resident. His column (usually) appears on the second Friday of each month, but the 22-year-old subbing in for Essex got confused by the calendar. We miss you, Randy.