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Speak volumes in just 6 words

May 24, 2008

Chris Satullo, Philadelphia Inquirer


Here's a challenge to crisp prose: Write your memoir in six words. Recapitulate life in a half-dozen strokes. A new book uses that premise: Not Quite What I Was Planning.


It offers mini-bios from many people. Some are famous; most are not. An online magazine, Smith, selected them.

There's this from singer Aimee Mann: "Couldn't cope, so I wrote songs."


The High Minister of Truthiness offered: "Well, I thought it was funny." So did we, Mr. Stephen Colbert.

Locally, the Economy League tried this. It asked civic leaders for micro-memoirs. Some approached life from the outside. Their bios stressed places, jobs, deeds. Others worked from the inside out. They expressed how the journey felt.


"Terrible towel waving, Cameron crazy wonk." That is Steve Wray, League head. Raised in Pittsburgh, he attended Duke.


"Messes, successes and lessons they taught." That's from new mom Laura Shubilla. She runs the Philadelphia Youth Network. David Brown of BrownPartners had this: "Pastor, ad guy, father, husband, bridge-builder."

I took several tries at mine. None of them really nailed it. This one perhaps said the most: "Rooted for losers, with stubborn joy."


Recapping other folks' lives proved easier. Six words can capture mayoral tenures. Reviewing Philly's last six top dogs:


Free-spending macho cop was adored, deplored.


Didn't suffer fools, preferred tending bar.


Bombed city. Bombed city!!!!! Still won.


Led cheers. Fixed budget. Failed schools.


Great day! Bad "bug." Lame duck.


Wonk with goatee becomes media darling.


Which names go with which bios? If you're struggling, here's the order:


Rizzo, Green, Goode, Rendell, Street, Nutter.


Six words can capture presidential campaigns:


She's dead, but doesn't know it.


The Chosen One chose pastor poorly.


Feisty prisoner of his party's mistakes.


Rendell, as governor, inspired a second: Big eater. Big winner. Big fan.


His counterpart in New Jersey, this: Worst crash came after Wall Street.


Here are more mini-bios, without names. Some are local; some are national. Guess, then find answers next door.


1. Weight up! Weight down! Income rises.


2. Anchor becomes unmoored, curses away gig.


3. Owner parlayed dead dog into millions.


4. Pioneered restaurants, then ate prison slop.


5. Hillbilly wins in Philly; few cheer.


6. Pill-popping blowhard still rules talk radio.


7. Profane genius gorged at public trough.


8. Fake news spawns very real fame.


9. Shot pal - least of his crimes.


10. Fiscal wizard, behind curtain of words.


11. Big bucks, big ego, Big Apple.


12. He couldn't govern his darker impulses.


13. Idolatrous fame, on so little talent.


14. Lost teeth, raised Cup, overstayed welcome.


15. Alas, 5 has never been 1.


16. Sixth sense for suspense is slipping.


17. Left Today for tonight; bad move.


18. Turned thin wires into fat fortune.


19. Knowing it all pays very well. (Clue: This fellow works for 18.)


20. Single bullet; Scotch law; staying power.


Send me six-word bios you've written. Can be yours, or a celebrity's. (Helpful rule: Contractions count as one.) I'll publish some in the future.






Here are answers to the quiz in Chris Satullo's Center Square on B1:


1. Oprah Winfrey 2. fired local newscaster Alycia Lane 3. My old colleague John Grogan, author of Marley and Me 4. Philly restaurateur/tax evader Neil Stein 5. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel 6. Rush Limbaugh 7. Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Fumo 8. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart 9. Vice President Dick Cheney 10. Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman 11. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg 12. former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer 13. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest 14. former Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke 15. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb 16. movie director M. Night Shyamalan 17. broadcaster Katie Couric 18. Comcast founder Ralph Roberts 19. Comcast executive and power broker David L. Cohen 20. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.