Monday, February 14, 2005


By Walter Guest
(This piece was published in the humor section of the LA times a while ago.)
I have to speak out. It’s time someone did. America is wasting one of its great national treasures, and it’s a disgrace.
I’m talking about the sad plight of the television, movie and literary critics. The recession has hit this group as bad or worse than any other and not one voice has been heard advocating its cause. Not one congressman has introduced a bill to relieve their distress. And yet the evidence of their plight is everywhere. I have never seen so many out-of-work critics.
Just the other day on the way to my office in Hollywood, I saw this poor fellow on the corner. He was holding a tin cup and had a sign that said, “Criticism: Five Cents.” I was wearing a large brass buckle and I wasn’t sure it went with my outfit, so I put a nickel in his cup and asked:
“How’s my buckle?”
“You could use a shine.”
I waited a moment but he didn’t continue, so I asked again, “How’s my buckle?”
“You only get one criticism for a nickel.”
I put another nickel in his cup.
“I’d change the tie.”
“I wanted to know about the buckle.’
“For nickel, I choose. For a dime, you choose.”
“It doesn’t say that on your sign.”
“It doesn’t need to. All my regulars know that.”
“When do you get to the buckle?”
“After you haircut and suit.”
“That’d cost 15 cents more?”
”OK. Here’s a dime. How’s my buckle?”
“Doesn’t work for me. I’d lose it.’
A couple of days later I saw a guy at the side of the road with a sign that said, “Will Criticize For Food.” He looked awfully hungry. Of course I pulled over right away because it looked like a great deal for me.
The guy was really good. Even before we got to my house he had straightened me out on my driving and told me everything wrong with my car. I had always like that car until then. If it hadn’t been for him, I would still be driving an inferior car and not even know it.
Just before we got to my place, on a whim, I decided to take him to a restaurant instead of my house. OK, it wasn’t just a whim. I had live in that house only a few months and didn’t feel like moving again.
But I made a mistake and took him to a restaurant that I kind of liked until then. Still, I found out a lot about the life of a critic.
Said he had a miserable home life. His wife wouldn’t let him alone. “Do you like this, dear? How was dinner, dear? Is my new hat all right, dear?”
He finally had to tell her, “Hey! I’m not working now. Can’t I rest?”
She wouldn’t quit so he had to leave her.
Friends were just as bad, he said, so he finally had to tell them: “If you made doughnuts, how would you feel if I kept asking you for free samples? Well this is how I make my living. No free samples.”
He also told me how he warmed up on the way to work: ‘There’s a nice car over there…. Look at that pile of junk…..Liked the way that light changed on time…. That driver is insensitive and obviously inexperienced.’
Our conversation certainly opened my eyes. These people are absolutely invaluable to us. There are countless things that we’d be perfectly happy with if a critic hadn’t pointed out their defects. There are many more things that we’re using right now that we think we like because no one has pointed out to us what’s wrong with them.
And that’s not right!
Things have gone bad, my critic concluded: The recession. There have been cutbacks. Lots of good critics are out of work.”
He sighed, then took a bite from his third piece of “barely adequate” pie.


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