Writer-Reporter Franz Lidz logged exactly 15,598 miles to research his story on Boogie board inventor Tom Morey (page 52), and that's about a mile for every time he has been asked whether he's related to Franz Liszt, the composer. Lidz is related to Woody Allen (albeit distantly), as is his sense of humor, which Lidz and his pet parrots, Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Falbo, recently made clear on Late Night with David Letterman. Lidz told Letterman, "Pete speaks 16 bird dialects, including Loon. He's learning Waring Blender, but I can't let him get too close to ours. He thinks it's a Jacuzzi."
When Lidz, a lanky 6'2", came to SI for a job interview two years ago this August, the temperature was 102° and he wore black Converse hightops, a wool sport coat and a hunted look. His résumé read like a picaresque novel. He'd been a DJ, a soda jerk, an improvisational actor, a wanderer through South America, a cabbie in Boston, a snail gunder in Philadelphia and a bus driver near Baltimore, which is where he met his wife, Maggie, when she was one of his passengers. ("She still owes me for the fare.") Lidz even did substitute teaching briefly at West Philadelphia High, where Gene Banks, now of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, was one of his math students. "He subbed for Mr. Steketee," Banks recalls. "He had us going real good."
Lidz finally chose journalism because "I wanted to find an 'ism' that wouldn't become a 'wasm.' " He signed on first with a weekly in Sanford, Maine and began banking occasional finders' fees from the National Enquirer for story ideas he'd pass along, e.g., WOMAN LOSES MEMORY FOR LAST 16 YRS. OF LIFE, FORGETS KIDS, and NORWAY BISHOP SAYS NUDISM MAKES FRIENDS, FIGHTS PROBLEMS.
When Lidz shuffled into Managing Editor Gil Rogin's office that steamy August day, Rogin was struggling to open a jar of orange juice.
May 9, 1982
"Here, open this and you can have the job," he told Lidz.
With a flick of the wrist, Lidz did it, handed the jar back and asked, "When do I start?"
For Lidz, lids proved easier than the Morey story, though Lidz's late father, an electronics engineer, designed the first transistorized portable tape recorder. "Morey tended to spin off in his own weird orbit like a runaway satellite," Lidz says. "I felt like mission control trying to guide him back on course."
Lidz, who's as likely to write about black flies as baseball, mixes the offbeat and sports, as you'd expect of someone who went to Rod Serling's college (Antioch) and Reggie Jackson's high school (Cheltenham, Pa.). But sports don't run in his family, even if inventiveness and humor do. "One of my uncles was a classic paranoid who couldn't sit through a football game," he says. "He thought the guys in the huddle were talking about him."
Suffice it to say, Franz is a prime suspect in any practical joke around the office, but when he gets too effervescent we simply parrot the punch line from a typical dialogue with Peter Rabbit.
Lidz: Peter Rabbit.
Peter: Peter Rabbit.
Lidz: Peter Rabbit.
Peter: Stop it.