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Writing About Reality

Reporting politics may not get you a future in PR, but riling people up has its purpose.



For a couple of years, the back of the refrigerator nurtured a jar of home-bottled deer meat. The telephone-messaging system held on to a particularly poignant message from a P.O.’ed Jan Graham. And then there were the midnight phone calls from Merrill Cook and Joe Waldholtz, both of whom were having too much fun in Washington, D.C., and jail, respectively.

These are the perks of working for an alternative newspaper. These and “The Voice.” That’s what Mary Dickson called it. The ability to write reality without someone telling you how inappropriate it is. I’ve been doing it now since 1993, when I thought I’d make a temporary stop here, and make some money at something else later.

OK, the deer meat was a gift. Fred Hayes, the photographer, got the audiocassette. They were from Arva Lee Day, the wife of convicted murderer and easy mark Lew Day. He was easy because he was blind drunk when someone shot and killed a buddy of his down in Southern Utah. He was poor, and, well, unlucky as hell. The other witnesses to this shooting just up and died suddenly, and the one who was left pointed the finger at Day. Duh.

You had to believe in Lew Day. Everyone else—except the jury—did. Arva Lee—they called her Garg, but that’s another story—became kind of bipolar waiting around all those years, but stuck by him. We did, too.

My lawyer father un-retired for a while to help Day with an appeal. That’s what Day could get: retired, hard-of-hearing, but free.

The deer meat was a gesture, like the cassette Garg gave us of her singing Western songs when she used to “drive truck.” I think Fred still listens to that in his car. We had planned to give the deer meat to our vegetarian editor Ben Fulton, but it always seemed funnier in the fridge.

Some things you just have to keep to see how they age. That’s how it was with Jan Graham’s message. The story wasn’t really about the former attorney general. It was about how candidates win and influence people. But there was a little scene that had Graham doing a morning checklist that included family and calls to donors.

To say Graham was incensed is an understatement. It was sort of a how-dare-you message in which she said I had denigrated her role as a mother, or something along those lines.

Most people, however, prefer to scream at you in person. Or sue. That’s how it was with Bojidar Bakalov, the Bulgarian doctor who was charged with raping an unsuspecting Mormon convert and set off one of the most publicized rape trials the state has seen.

Bakalov’s victim was faceless until she decided to try to piece together her life again and went public with her story—and her name. The rape had evoked strange memories of abuse and released multiple personalities in their wake. When Bakalov read the account from jail, he not only sought a new trial, but also access to my notes of her accounts, claiming that one of the woman’s personalities had consented to sex.

It was ludicrous, but added a little more hell to the woman’s already shattered life.

Whatever you think of Rocky Anderson as mayor, you should know he’s a hell of a lawyer. Anderson did some work for what was then Private Eye Weekly, and took on Bakalov, who, let’s just say was way nuts, and consequently, was represented by that same nut. Anderson quickly determined that no reasonable English-speaking person would be able to decipher my penmanship, much less make a case of it. But we were going to protect it nonetheless.

Bakalov inevitably entered the courtroom or the prison, whichever, raving. Having read a sentence in which I used “apocalypse,” he sought to make me explain it. Both Anderson and the judge were the pictures of decorum, and never jumped up to strangle Bakalov or anything like that.

It just goes to show you what good behavior gets you. Anderson is mayor and the judge, Michael Murphy, went on to the federal appeals court. Bakalov was deported. And I’m still writing for John Saltas.

Who doesn’t like to be sued, but doesn’t like to be threatened, either? Like every time I mention the name Kelly Atkinson or his wife, Penny, in the paper, well, it sets the man off and he usually calls to threaten some kind of court action. Atkinson, if you remember, lost a West Jordan mayoral election after some accounts of a deleterious past. That’s all I’m saying. It’s not my fault.

That’s not what Dan Berman would say. He’s a lawyer, too, but not a judge. In fact, he was the lawyer for my colleague, Carolyn Campbell, who was being browbeaten for information about Utah’s favorite polygamist, Tom Green. So, Berman is a good lawyer. A lot of people said he wouldn’t be a good judge, and I wrote about the accounts of all that unjudicial conduct.

Now, if Berman had been David Bresnahan, the former Utah legislator, none of this public revelation business would have mattered. Outspoken and brash, Bresnahan was never one to stray far from a lie. You might remember the one about his chasing down some hit-and-run suspects, guns a-blasting. Or the ones he told to invest in a radio-station deal. But even when caught in a web of them, he persevered on air, on the Internet and beyond.

I just don’t hear much from these people anymore. Waldholtz hasn’t called since he got out of jail. But then, it’s long-distance for him.

Merrill Cook’s right here, and all I hear from him is on the radio. He was some wacky congressman, wasn’t he? He even asked me to do PR for him once. He probably thinks back on that as a delusionary time.

After all, there are a lot of perks working for City Weekly, but a future in public relations isn’t one of them.