Paul Greenberg

With the coming of a new year, it was time to refurbish my standard repertoire of cliches. As you may have noticed, I try to keep an ample supply on hand. Which requires replenishing the old bromides with entirely new ones every year. The chore's got to be done every year - regular as, yes, clockwork.

The prizes of my collection are those instant cliches that sound old the first time they're uttered. For there's nothing like staying up to dated. That's why I'm always on the lookout for phrases that sound right as rain, fit as a fiddle, smooth as a baby's bottom.

You get the tired idea. And who better to advise me in this matter than the Old Master, the Gray Eminence, the Whited Sepulchre, Pierre Cliche himself.

I try to visit M. Cliche every year for a new supply of old platitudes, but though his work seems everywhere - especially in an election year - he himself isn't easy to track down. He tends to blend into the background once he's reduced the art of conversation to a solemn exchange of old saws.

A determined recluse, Pierre seeks no credit for his solemn truisms. Indeed, man of taste that he is, he would deny authorship if he could. But he takes on the, yes, awesome job of supplying me with a carload of cliches lest I trip up and say something original. Can't have that. Too risky.

As the new year, yes, dawned, I went looking for the man whose very name is a cliche. He resides just where you'd expect - in an ordinary bungalow in a nondescript neighborhood of a small suburb of a standard statistical metropolitan area somewhere in the blank-as-snow Midwest, probably Iowa. He lives the humdrum life of your standard stoolie in a federal Witness Protection Program, lest editors driven beyond distraction by cliches hunt him down and put -30- to his incorrigible career.

It took a while to locate unlucky Pierre. The tip-off was the long row of vans outside his forgettable little house, every one of them full-to-bursting with last year's well-used platitudes. Inside the house, back in a den crowded with his favorite banalities, he was busy plying - what else? - his trade.

The man works even and especially on holidays, weekends and during political campaigns. There's not a speech given, toast delivered, anniversary observed, greeting exchanged ("Cold enough for ya?") that does not bear his ineradicable mark.

Certainly no presidential primary or national nominating convention is complete without M. Cliche's many contributions, for he has an extraordinary grasp of the excruciatingly ordinary, as the transcript of our conversation makes clear:

"Good morning, Monsieur Cliche, you look well this new year."

"Sound as a dollar."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.