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‘Grim and depressing’ Rochester welcomes NY Post columnist

Maureen Callahan.
Dorothy Hong
Maureen Callahan.
Maureen Callahan.
Credit Dorothy Hong
Maureen Callahan.

Maureen Callahan is making her pandemic-delayed journey to the city that the New York Post columnist has decreed “grim and depressing.”

And, since we are such good sports, Rochester is welcoming Callahan. Our hometown baseball team, the Rochester Red Wings, has declared Saturday “Grim and Depressing Night,” with Callahan as the guest of honor.

Please do not boo -- too loudly -- when Callahan is introduced. True, her piece also described Rochester as, “Not fashionable or hipster upstate New York.” But do such words call for the rude emails that Callahan reported receiving in a follow-up piece? (A less onerous example than the anatomically explicit suggestion from one Rochesterian: “You should be careful about throwing stones from your downstate high horse…”).

Indeed, getting stoned in return is hardly what Callahan should expect of Rochesterians traumatized by her words. We must show her that we are above petty name-calling. That we have an excellent sense of humor about ourselves. Let’s put our self-deprecation on display. And demonstrate that Rochester is actually quite pleased that a Big City Newspaper Columnist paid attention to us, like a dog wagging its tail when you hand it a scrap of food that you wouldn’t bother to eat yourself.

In fact, it’s surprising that Callahan finds the time to type about us, considering all of the other important subjects that her keyboard produces, like a cat spitting out a distasteful hairball. Callahan bravely documents the stories of families in distress. Such as British Royal Family castoffs Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, deemed by Callahan as “famous for being famous.”

Some might call it irony, but The Royals’ fame is derived from reporters such as Callahan reporting on The Royals. And apparently there is an audience in America for snarky comments about The Royals. Which is odd, because in the hierarchy of British governance, The Royals are at the same level as circus performers. They can’t even declare war on us. At least, not anymore.

Callahan’s targets are conservatively pruned. She questioned why Barack Obama, in celebration of his 60th birthday on Martha’s Vineyard, threw “a lavish party filled with hundreds of A-listers while America remained gripped by a pandemic?” Callahan rushed to the defense of an “already understaffed and emotionally depleted Vineyard.” Without considering that it was the management of those businesses that could have simply said "no thanks" if they didn’t have the resources to throw that party. And, as our economy struggles to its feet, perhaps at least a few of those caterers and restaurant employees were happy for the work.

For Callahan, Obama’s soiree was apparently a more ominous threat than the larger, vaccination-free, potentially super-spreader Trump rallies now creeping across the pandemic landscape.

Perhaps A-list envy is at work here. Obama gets Alicia Keys, Stephen Colbert, Don Cheadle, Questlove, Eryka Badu, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen at his party. Trump gets the MyPillow Guy.

Instead, she picks on low-hanging liberal fruit. Andrew Cuomo. Chris Cuomo. Bill de Blasio. Hunter Biden. Britney Spears. Anyone associated with Hollywood.

We will politely applaud as Callahan gently descends, like a carrion bird, on our “grim and depressing” city. And for sure, we have our serious issues. As do many urban cities. Especially if you saw “Escape From New York,” starring Kurt Russell that depicts the Manhattan of the future as a giant, maximum-security prison. Rural areas have their issues as well, for that matter, if you’ve sat through “Hillbilly Elegy.”

It’s a world of hurt.

When Callahan typed in late July that, as far as the pandemic goes, “We are long past the worst of this,” you are free to ask yourself: Who am I supposed to believe, world-acclaimed epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, or a newspaper columnist who debates which celebrity is more irrelevant, Gwyneth Paltrow or Orlando Bloom?

Callahan’s evaluation of Rochester as “grim and depressing” was actually in a column she typed about New York City dwellers welcoming the arrival of their first Wegmans grocery store. While Callahan mocks the idea of people getting excited over a decent shopping opportunity, she’s otherwise fine with life-enhancing goodness in New York City of which she approves.

Incidentally, you can buy a fine food-truck burrito in either city.

So here in the outdoor-toilet outback, we were years ahead of New York City when it comes to Wegmans. Similarly, Callahan has lamented the recent irrelevancy of radio shock jock Howard Stern. But he died in this market a couple of decades ago, when his brand of toxic juvenility was greeted with indifference.

Ultimately, Callahan’s dim view of us is elitism. A celebration of the Haves (New York City) over the Have Nots (Rochester, Niagara Falls, Rome, Utica, insert virtually any western New York city...). Places that are struggling not because of their people, but because of a society that encourages, and even applauds, economic disparity.

Memorial Art Gallery.
Credit Rochester.edu
Memorial Art Gallery.

Perhaps Callahan will have the opportunity to take a driving tour of Rochester. Eat in restaurants such as Tapas 177 and Good Luck, which are the equal to much of what she would find in New York City. Pick up a box of treats for her New York Post co-workers from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates. Perhaps a stop at the Memorial Art Gallery is called for. Her guide could pull up the driveway, Callahan wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. She could just roll down the window, look at the front door for a few moments.

Then roll up the window. And move on.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.

Copyright 2021 WXXI News

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.