My letters editor, my friend
Thu, Dec 18, 2008 (midnight)
We tightened the screws on story deadlines and production, and we gave magazine-style hard-news journalism a higher profile at the Weekly that often got results. We helped get a retarded—and very possibly innocent—inmate off Nevada’s death row, for example, and one of our cover stories gave a new funding lease on life to a then-threadbare Las Vegas Zoo. A boatload of awards followed.
My favorite memory of that time, though? Letters Editor Buck Buffalo, the fictitious alter ego of former columnist Andrew Ramsay, who had previously messed seriously—but facelessly—with people’s minds through his eclectic and hilarious replies to readers’ letters and e-mails. Buck, however, now gave our letters section a provocative personality that people could really connect with—whether they liked him or hated him.
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Buck identified himself early on as a former black-budget CIA operative who now worked as a janitor for the Greenspun Media Group, and he occasionally wryly vented his spleen about even our employer’s organizational quirks. Later, Buck confessed that he’d once smuggled industrial-grade diamonds over the Ural Mountains while on one undercover mission or another, and he once devoted the better part of a long, rambling reply to the deliciousness of thinly sliced sandwich meat—when the letter-writer, of course, had written in to comment about something else entirely.
“Sweet suffering Buddha!” was a typical Buck rejoinder. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was known to him as “president-by-mistake.” And whether he’d just ripped a letter writer a new one or had just made a loyal friend for life, the irascible Buck Buffalo always ended his replies with a perky, “Hey, thanks for reading!” that alternately blunted or sharpened his bite.
Eventually, Buck Buffalo died a natural death at the Weekly. Ramsay left the paper, and we just couldn’t sustain the voice he’d given his creation.
But I’ll always remember a conversation I later had with my father—a card-carrying John Birch Society member—months after I had moved on from the Weekly myself:
“You know that guy, that Buck Buffalo guy who used to write for you?” my dad asked me one day.
“He’s an asshole, you know.”
“But, dad, he’s fictitious. He doesn’t even exist!”
“Well,” my dad paused. “He’s still an asshole, dammit.”
Now how could I ever forget an impact like that?
Chuck Nowlen edited the Weekly in 2000 and 2001.