Did you hear the one about the copyboy who had no idea of who Bernie Bard was?
You'll love this one.
The year is 1978, and I'm busy sharpening pencils, getting coffee and running errands for the people at the New York Post who outranked me (which was everybody) when suddenly the city desk assistant hands me a pile of letters and says:
"Give Bernie Bard a call at the Board of Education, and read him his mail."
"The education reporter. Call him already, he's waiting!"
I dial the number. "Hiya kid!" says a man in a bright, chirpy voice. "What's your name?"
"Got a garbage can handy, Charlie?"
"A garbage can. Can't do journalism without a garbage can!"
For the next ten minutes I read Bernie his accumulated press releases. Every time we hit a useless one, he chants: "Throw it awaaaay….."
By the end of the phone call the garbage can is brimming and I'm laughing my ass off.
"Isn't journalism fun, Charlie?"
It sure was, whenever Bernie Bard was around. In an age of new journalism, he was strictly old school - white shirt and tie, manual typewriter, and a clean, crisp writing style. No wasted words.
Plus, the most expressive eyebrows I'd ever seen on a reporter. Whenever those eyebrows went up, something funny was coming.
Like the time in 1988, when the Post was (as always) in danger of shutting down forever.
"How you doin', kid?" he asked me in the midst of the crisis.
"I'm worried, Bernie. I'm going to be a father in a few months, and I really need this job."
Up went the eyebrows. "You're gonna be a father? Mazel tov, I didn't even know you were dating!"
Bernie was once pounding out a story on deadline and a frantic city editor eager for his copy asked how it was going.
"Finished the story," Bernie calmly replied. "Workin' on the screenplay."
Nobody laughed harder than the city editor.
A reporter once complained to Bernie about the newspaper business - the lousy money, the bad hours - and said she was thinking of another career.
Again with the eyebrows, as Bernie put a consoling hand on her shoulder and said: "Do journalism….and walk humbly with thine accountant."
The newspaper business is hard on marriages, and it seemed to me that Bernie was the only one happily chugging along as everybody else was consulting lawyers.
"How do you do it, Bernie?" I asked him. "What's the secret?"
He stopped typing, turned and smiled at me. "The key to a long and happy marriage?" Eyebrows up, almost to the ceiling. "Do not get emotionally involved."
Of course, he didn't mean it - but man oh man, what an amazing line!
Bernie will best be remembered by his line that's been repeated a million times: "If it ain't catered, it ain't journalism."
But I'll never forget something he said to me in 1993, as staffers at the Post marched around the old building on South Street in hopes of saving our jobs.
A bloodbath was imminent, and we all knew it. I fell into stride with Bernie on that chilly night, his eyebrows hidden beneath a wool hat. We both knew this could be the last time we'd ever see each other.
"I'll tell you something," he said, pointing at the building. "Whatever story I ever worked on, I always gave it my best. I tried to make it as good as it could be."
I already knew that, but I loved hearing it.
Hey - did you hear the one about the funny reporter, the guy we just lost at age 90?
Turns out he was a serious man. That's what I call a punch line.