rather disturbing obituary page
Early in the summer of 1996, I wrote a spoof obituary of myself for an assignment at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. (Actually, it was supposed to be a serious obituary, but I couldn't manage that.) The obit has become one of the favorite stopping spots on my sprawling Web site.
Late in 2003, I applied for a obituary writer position with the Washington Post. I wrote my cover letter as a follow-up to my 1996 obit. I didn't get the Washington Post job, but I did hear that they "enjoyed" reading my writing samples -- which, of course, included the original account of my tragic death.
So, with apologies to The Associated Press, I offer both stories:
Bizarre Death Matched Strange but Obscure Life
David M. Lawrence, journalist, geographer, biologist, cook and student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, was killed in a bizarre shooting accident in Washington, D.C., on April 1. He was 35.
Lawrence was walking through Lafayette Square, a park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, when he was struck by a stray bullet from an attempted suicide who missed.
G. Gordon Liddy, spokesman for the Secret Service, said that the gun was fired by Alfred E. Neuman, press secretary for President Bob Dole. Neuman was apparently despondent over recent allegations that he had fathered several illegitimate cartoon characters with Betty Boop. After the shot was fired Neuman ran to a newsstand on I street, where he disappeared. He remains at large.
Witnesses reported that Neuman said, "What, me worry?" before fleeing the scene.
Lawrence was born on Nov. 12, 1961 at Westover Air Force Base, Mass. Shortly after his birth, his parents, George M. and Kathleen Y. Lawrence -- now of Annandale, Va. -- moved to his father's home town of Shreveport, La., where Lawrence grew up.
Lawrence was raised in a "box-on-blocks" house typical of white trash neighborhoods in North Louisiana. He spent his childhood playing in traffic, vandalizing property and shoplifting.
By all accounts he was a weird child.
"He was a weird kid," said a childhood friend, who preferred to remain anonymous.
The young Lawrence, who was raised as a Catholic, aspired to become a priest, a dream shattered by puberty.
"He felt his voice became too low for the job," Father Gerard Foley, his former parish priest, said.
Lawrence was an accomplished athlete as a boy. He played three years of baseball at Holy Rosary School, finishing with a lifetime batting average of .000. A right fielder, his defensive statistics were just as impressive, with no put-outs and no assists.
At Oak Terrace Junior High School and Woodlawn High School, Lawrence played inside linebacker. He wanted to be a middle linebacker in the NFL, but both college and professional scouts felt that his 5 foot, 6 inch, 120-pound frame would prove too revolutionary for the game.
Lawrence was also a pole-vaulter, specializing in mid-air collisions with immovable objects and in never landing on the mat. Unfortunately, these events did not catch on with the International Olympic Committee, and thus his brilliant career ended.
In his youth and early adulthood, Lawrence was an avid collector of head injuries. His collection came from an astonishing variety of sources, such as trees, concrete, masonry, windshields, steering wheels, dashboards, fenders, hoods, doors, baseballs, softballs, bats, fence posts, knees (or feet, Lawrence never could remember which), fists, and more. His collection eventually influenced Gerry Cooney's boxing career.
"Dave uh, he uh, uh, what was the question?" Cooney said.
Lawrence finished high school in 1979, and graduated from Louisiana State University in Shreveport with a Bachelor's degree in Biology in 1983. He then moved to the University of Oklahoma, to study geography and to achieve fame as the night and weekend short-order chef at "The Golden Cue" a restaurant and billiard establishment in the Campus Corner section of Norman, Okla. He achieved much renown for his creations at the grill and in the fryer.
"Dave was popular with the customers," his former manager Paul Araucolli said. "I used to tell him that portion control was the key to profitability, and he usually controlled large portions. He gave the customers so much food we eventually went out of business."
During that period Lawrence took a trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. On one dark night he hosted a black bear in the back of his truck. He took the bear for a ride through the mountains. On a brief stop his guest escaped.
"I wish someone would teach that SOB how to drive," the bear said.
Lawrence achieved his big break in journalism in the mid-1980s. He began a successful stint as editor of the Caddo Citizen, a weekly in Vivian, La., managing to get laid off after a three-week run. Afterward he began to work as a sports correspondent for The Times in Shreveport. After two years there he was laid off by a new sports editor in an early effort at corporate downsizing.
The sports editor, who shall remain nameless, was downsized months later after verbally abusing the President of the Independence Bowl Committee.
For six months in 1986 and 1987 Lawrence experimented with medical school.
"But I didn't inhale," he would emphatically assert when pressed on the issue.
Lawrence also acted some during that period, not just reprising the roles of Jack Lemmon in "Days of Wine and Roses" and Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend," but combining them into a performance uniquely his own. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert once gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs down during a special taping of "Sneak Previews" at the Roman Forum.
His acting eventually led to two spectacular modeling successes at both the Shreveport and Bossier City, La., police departments.
Shortly afterward, Lawrence tired of his acting and modeling career and moved to Fairfax County, Va. He found work in the retail sector in downtown Washington, D.C. It was work that he found greatly fulfilling.
"Any day without killing a customer is a good day," he once said.
In 1989 Lawrence began a career in environmental consulting. After the first company he worked for was sold, Lawrence again found fulfillment in his work.
"Any day without killing my boss is a good day," he was reported to have said.
While living in northern Virginia Lawrence went back to graduate school, obtaining a Master's Degree in Geography from George Mason University. There he met Alison M. Sinclair, whom he married in 1991.
After completing his studies at George Mason, Lawrence moved to Charlottesville, Va., to begin a Ph.D. Program in Environmental Science at the University of Virginia. Again, he felt fulfilled.
"Any day without killing my major professor is a good day," he said in an interview shortly before his death.
Always short of money, Lawrence began free-lancing for the Sports Department at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. There he was an enthusiastic worker, occasionally covering events at opposite ends of the state in the same day, and even going to games which had been canceled.
"For 20 cents a mile I'd do anything," he'd say.
Faced with impending unemployment in 1995, Lawrence was forced to take a job at the Tree-Ring Laboratory at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in the City of New York. While there he applied to, and was accepted in, the graduate program in journalism.
"What a mistake," said several of his professors and fellow students, all of whom insisted on anonymity.
He is survived by his parents, his wife, and a dog, Curly.
All Rights Reserved
By G. GORDON LIDDY
Associated Press Writer
MECHANICSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- The journalist David M. Lawrence, whose obituary has been widely circulated on the Internet, has been discovered alive and working in Mechanicsville, Va.
"I'm not dead yet!" Mr. Lawrence said in a telephone interview from his dungeon office located in a drowsy region of Virginia characterized by tomato farms, Civil War battlefields, and rampant highway construction.
Mr. Lawrence was reportedly shot to death on April 1, 1996, in Washington, D.C., by Alfred E. Neuman in a failed suicide attempt. According to earlier reports, Neuman, who has not been seen since -- except for regular appearances in MAD Magazine -- fled the scene of the shooting after uttering the now-famous words, "What, me worry?"
The premature news of Mr. Lawrence's death apparently originated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, home of the Pulitzer prizes and regarded as a bastion of journalistic accuracy. Nicholas Lemann, dean of the school, could not be reached for comment on the source of the report.
When asked how he has spent his post-mortem life, Mr. Lawrence said, "I'm on deadline, go away!"
The Associated Press learned, however, that Mr. Lawrence was, in fact, on deadline. Since 1996, he has worked as a staff copy editor and Web producer for the Daily Record, in Parsippany, N.J.; the Daily Press, in Newport News, Va.; as a freelance correspondent for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and other publications.
Mr. Lawrence has also written a book, "Upheaval from the Abyss," which was published by Rutgers University Press in 2002. The book was nominated for a Library of Virginia Literary Award in non-fiction.
Mr. Lawrence also helped organize the first James River Writers Festival last October in Richmond. He now serves on the festival's board of directors.
When pressed on what he plans to do now that he has been discovered to be alive, Mr. Lawrence said, "I dunno, maybe I'll be an obit writer for the Washington Post. Now willya let me get back to work!"
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