||PRINTS OF A GUY|
The Common Denominator
In the Headlines
by Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
illustration by Robert Neubecker
Local man rescues dog.
Local man finds lost family.
Local man arrested twice in same day for DUI.
Local Man is famous. He doesn't have a publicist, but he gets more ink than Madonna or
Michael Jackson. In some newspapers, Local Man appears in more headlines than the
president of the United States.
Local man discovers unnamed asteroid.
Local man's ministry a sign from God.
Judge finds local man incompetent.
Local Man is not, of course, just one man. Local Man is newspaper shorthand for somebody who
lives nearby and has done something noteworthy but isn't famous enough to identify by name in
a headline. Local Man comes from all walks of life. He comes in all shapes and
sizes. He is the common man, the man on the street, the salt of the earth. Local
Man is everyman. He is us.
He can be found wherever newspapers are printed in English:
In England: Local man up for top award.
In Canada: Local man fired shots at unwelcome visitors.
In Australia: Local man accused of trafficking eccies blows kisses to wife.
"Eccies" are ecstasy pills. Local Man was allegedly caught with 91,800 of them. As
police carted him off to jail, he blew kisses to his wife and mouthed "I love
you." Obviously, Local Man can get amorous in even the most inappropriate circumstances.
Local Man can be seen as a symbol of humanity in its current stage of evolution -- the
descendant, literally or metaphorically, of Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon Man.
For decades, anthropologists have attempted to piece together a portrait of Neanderthal Man and
Cro-Magnon Man by examining their fossilized bones, their decorative beads, their crude stone
tools. But for Local Man, all an anthropologist need do is type "Local Man" into
LexisNexis, the information database, to find thousands of newspaper stories:
Local man looks for love on ABC.
Local man arrested for sex crimes in Cambodia.
Spam sends local man into rage.
Sifting through these articles, the enterprising anthropologist can obtain valuable insights
into Local Man's thoughts and dreams, his hopes and fears.
"Local man develops helpful golf ball tool," the Star Press of Muncie, Ind., reported last
month. The "Shake'm Golf Ball Cleaner" looks like a spice bottle lined with a wet
sponge. You put a dirty ball in, shake it, then putt. "I like to be able to clean
my golf ball at the green prior to putting," Local Man explains.
Local Man is a toolmaker, an artisan. "Local man builds purple martin birdhouses as
hobby," reports Ohio's Coshocton Tribune. "They are three levels with 12 compartments in
the middle," says Local Man. "And I paint shutters, steps and a door on each one."
Local Man is a domesticated primate with drive, a go-getter. In Massachusetts, Local Man opens
two new go-kart tracks. In Texas, Local Man sells "Catfish Killer" bait, made from a
top-secret recipe, although he admits that the key ingredient is hog brains. "Man, those
catfish love hog brains," Local Man says.
In Pennsylvania, Local Man creates "logo chairs" -- recliners decorated with corporate logos,
like the cars of NASCAR. "Since I'm a nut who would buy something like this,"
Local Man says, "I think there'd be a lot of others." He's probably right.
Local man creates puzzles for the world.
Local man produces gay documentary.
Local man hopes to turn classic poem "Cloak" into the first American-Islamic musical.
Local Man is a Renaissance man. He's artistic. He feels compelled to express
himself. Local Man writes a book of poems that retell Shakespeare's plays in
limericks. He makes CDs of Christmas songs whose lyrics he has rewritten to pay homage
to pro football teams. Local Man builds a cardboard model of downtown Zanesville, Ohio,
in an upstairs bedroom in his mother's house in Zanesville, then explains to the Zanesville
Times Recorder: "It was just something to do."
Local Man is a man of God. He starts a ministry for the deaf in South Carolina. He
writes a book called "A Common Devotional From a Common Man," then sits in his "golf-themed
home office" in Indianapolis and explains that "God's spirit got into me and told me to start
Local Man is a good man who tries to help his fellow man. Local Man travels to Sudan to
dig wells. He flies to Iraq to work as a civilian paramedic. He puts on a fake
beard and a Santa suit and distributes toys to needy children.
"If you've never been Santa Claus," Local Man explains, "you've never experienced
But Local Man has his faults. Local Man has a hot temper and sometimes can be downright
Local man faces felony charges after weekend incident.
Local man charged with child molestation.
Local man charged with animal molestation.
Local Man is the subject of so many crime stories that you begin to wonder: Is this a
No, it isn't. It's just that Local Man sometimes does very bad things -- and frequently he
does them very badly. In New Hampshire, Local Man gets arrested for drunken driving
while riding his bicycle. In Massachusetts, he steals a manhole cover and a broken fire
hydrant from a construction site, then gets busted when he comes back the next night for
more. In Maine, he returns to his house after it's repossessed and uses his chain saw
to rip up the car in the driveway and the pumpkins on the doorstep.
Local Woman is not as famous as Local Man, but she, too, frequently makes news:
Local woman helped decorate White House.
Local woman sues novelist over use of her love letters.
Local woman, Reagan shared same birthday.
Local Woman does many amazing things. She wins an Emmy for a documentary on identity
theft. She writes a children's book about animals who hold wild parties in a barn when
the farmer is asleep. She reviews Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" on Oprah's TV
show. She proudly shows off her surgically enhanced breasts in a poster that the Irish
feminist group "Exploitation Busters" scrawls "victim" across.
When Local Man encounters Local Woman, sometimes magic occurs. Their eyes meet, the earth
moves, they fall in love. Often they get married. Occasionally they get married on the
"Today" show: Millions watch local couple say "I do." Frequently, they reproduce,
creating Local Children: Family carries on holiday tradition; Local children still get
Thus, the eternal cycle of life goes on. Local Man stops raising hell and starts raising
kids. He settles down and settles in.
Local man faces huge challenge.
Local man struggling back to normalcy.
Local man needs help with plumbing repairs.
Local Man finds work as a letter carrier, a pharmacist, a soldier. After being laid off
as a machine assembler, he finds a job as a mechanic and says, "I would have to consider
myself the luckiest man in the world right now."
Local Man becomes a professional boxer, explaining: "I want my friends and family to be
able to look at me as, 'He did something with his life.' "
He works as a firefighter and loves it: "You can go home and say, 'Yeah, I did
rescue somebody and they're walking and talking and playing with their kids because I was
there.' That's what it's all about."
Local Man is frequently underpaid, underrated and underappreciated. But occasionally he
gets recognition. He receives the Taco John International Pioneer Award. He wins
the 2002 Elvis Festival contest. He's inducted into the Iowa City Men's Bowling
Association Hall of Fame.
Local Man receives these honors with humility. Given an award for riding a bike across
Canada to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, Local Man says, "I wasn't really doing it for
an award or anything." Receiving the Bronze Star for valor in Afghanistan, Local Man
says: "There was other people involved in all that stuff that I did. It wasn't just me."
Local man named to fish panel.
Local man graduates from Santa school.
Local man makes a living as boxing's greatest loser.
Time passes and Local Man passes the time with hobbies. He builds miniature
ships. He makes marbles. He spends decades carving an elaborate hope chest for his
granddaughter. He collects beer cans or Hot Wheels or 200,000 postcards, including 10
depicting atomic bomb blasts and one depicting a 184-pound 4-year-old boy.
Local Man stuffs his three-story California townhouse with hundreds of old bicycles and piles
of old bicycle memorabilia. He hopes his stuff will someday become a bicycle museum, and
he's bummed out that nobody seems to want it.
"One day I'm going to die," he says, "and it would seem such a tragedy to me if I saved all
this stuff for nothing."
Local Man ages. His hair thins. His gut thickens. His eyes dim. He gets
wistful and thinks about the past. He tells stories about the old days to his kids, his
grandkids and reporters who come by to interview him for Local Man stories.
Local man remembers Reagan with affection.
Local man remembers old fire equipment.
Local man speaks about horrors of war.
"I'll never forget the first time I got shot at," Local Man says. It happened in France
in World War II. He was writing a letter home when a German plane flew overhead and
started strafing. He rolled into a ball and cradled his face in his hands. "I
didn't want to be shot in the face," Local Man says. "I stayed that way for three or
four minutes before I had the nerve to look up."
Sooner or later, Local Man dies. He's killed by cancer or a heart attack. He's hit
by a train in Mississippi. The van he's working under slips off its jack in
Saskatchewan. He's executed by lethal injection in Texas. He's killed by a roadside
bomb in Iraq.
The local paper prepares an obituary. A reporter interviews Local Man's family and
"He was well liked by everybody," says his high school coach.
"His faith and trust in God even impressed the doctors," says his pastor.
"He tried to teach the kids to always be truthful and always to try their best," says his wife.
"I still can't believe I'll never see him again," says his best friend.
Local Man lives and dies and occasionally wonders what it all means. He is a vexing
bundle of contradictions. He is noble and foolish, kind and cruel, violent and loving,
smart as a whip and dumb as dirt.
Local Man is many things, but mostly he's tenacious. He takes what life throws at him and
he keeps on keeping on. Hurricanes can't blow him away. Tsunamis can't wash him
away. Even his own stupid wars can't wipe him out.
Perhaps William Faulkner, a Local Man from Oxford, Miss., said it best in his famous Nobel
Prize acceptance speech: "I believe that [Local] Man will not merely endure: He
will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible
voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."
Local man ready for great chance.
Local man winner of great race.
Local man made others laugh.