The Shock of the Bill Conlin Accusations

A longtime admirer of the sportswriter processes the news that Conlin allegedly molested children

“The soulless have no need of melancholia,” said Vladimir Odoevsky, a Russian writer who died in 1869 and is said to have prophesied the Internet Age.

Comforting words, and words worth keeping close, particularly in the granddaddy of melancholy seasons.

It is the melancholic season precisely because it is also the most joyous of seasons, whatever your tribe, and because what goes up must come down.

Joy and melancholy sit at a hair trigger this time of year. A single memory or event can unintentionally fire off a debilitating round of either.

So can a headline. Psychically wobbled by allegations of child molestation against one of the best modern day wordsmiths this city’s ever produced, I found myself seeking melancholic counsel from two writer friends who I hadn’t spoken to in some time.

Both writer friends are native Philadelphians. Both writer friends now live in New York. All three of us began writing at the same time.

We couldn’t express our horror at hearing the allegations fast enough.

All three of us, at a time when it really seemed to matter, stood in awe of a certain wide-bodied cantankerous Philadelphia sportswriter who could take Shakespeare, Bake McBride, a swirling dust of a play at second, the national anxiety of the moment, stir it all up into a literary cocktail, and pour out the bounciest 800 to thousand words your eyes would land on all day. His columns were, on their best days, Stan Lee meets Vonnegut.

Over lunch, back then, we’d read passages of the sportswriter’s columns to each other between bites of Lee’s hoagies.

The metaphors! The heady tangents! How could we ever be that good?

Now, all these years later, though we were all quick to express our collective shock, we didn’t stay on the topic of the sportswriter long.

What was there to say?

Childhood is the most precious of gifts. Lives and families are unbearably twisted by such perverse acts. The details sicken. If there was anything to glean, it was the reminder that child predators come to us in all kinds of disguises—as holy men, football coaches, and yes, as writers.

We talked instead of family, of people we used to know, of the people who used to make us laugh, of hijinks of yesteryear, all stuff that nourishes the soul. The melancholy of the distressing headline faded beneath memories of days remembered, of so many good days past, of so many good days to come.

Melancholy has its place. It’s how we process.

But the joy of the season simply must prevail.