Just a note – this exciting, bare-knuckle, so-real-it-bleeds expose re: my week in a guest house was written last week for posting this week. I’m back in Minnesota now. I’m also spending this week on some projects that need either attention, completion or beginning; more later. The column has resumed in the paper, if you care. Now, on with the remarks of a man on a foreign sofa in a room with the blinds down, listening to the deathless exhalation of the forced-air heater, contemplating his future! Enjoy.
If anything shows how the world & my industry in particular have changed, it’s that I found about the newspaper’s sale from Instapundit. Who linked to Ed and the Powerline guys. And so I started my third day of vacation in Arizona, thinking: In Chinese language, as I understand it, the character for “Change” also means “terrible pants-soiling panic.”
But I actually felt a surge of excitement, deluded as that might prove to be; for a moment I saw a Brand New Paper that looked like the old STAR of the 30s, brash and local, the sort of paper that looked like the product of a noisy room, written by people who could type a crackling lede while someone at the next desk was shouting “I DON’T CARE IF HE’S HAVING HIS APPENDIX OUT, LET ME TALK TO THE WARDEN!” into a phone. It could happen. Or everyone could be fired and replaced. Or both. In any case, if they clean house, then I do something else, like clean houses. If they don’t, I do the same thing for someone else - or do more. The new owners apparently are big on this internet thing the kids enjoy, which is a good sign. I like the Internet. Something tells me I could develop some content for the Strib site, if the need arose.
I know, I know: hubris and vanity, that.
Made some calls back to the office to see what the mood was like. Shock and aw-sh*t, you could say. I understand; I woke last night around 3AM and started spinning the sort of scenarios that come to one at 3 AM. (One never wakes up at 3 AM and spend an hour considering an ever-escalating series of encounters with gorgeous, smart, long-legged women with a wide variety of hairstyles and foundation garments, ending in a best-case-scenario at Enzo Ferrari’s Computer & Bourbon Emporium. No, it’s always the dank sweaty dreams of mid-life failure. It didn’t help that I’m sleeping on a sofa, and either I stretch out and twist my back by elevating my feel, or curl into a fetal position. And I will be damned if I curl into a fetal position while sorting through worse-case scenarios.) A shakeout could be good for the paper, but replacing a few old goats with young cheap labor wouldn’t necessarily change things. You need to change so many things about the profession and the business and the people drawn to it. You get people who consider themselves writers first, but write a peculiar form of English mottled with clichés that arose specifically from the rise of “creative” writing in newspapers. And many of these people (I’m talking about the profession in general, not my paper – some of these points apply, some don’t) not only can’t write well, they can’t write poorly on daily deadline. If you can’t produce 800 words on your beat by 5 PM, daily, I don’t know why you’re in a newspaper – but of course many papers don’t ask you to do that.
They did, once. Joseph Mitchell, one of the best color men in the business, described in one of his collection a typical day – interview a tattooed lady weightlifter in the morning, cover a shipment of ostrich feathers to the Stripper District after noon, write them both up then do an obit. The assignment desk would get a tip, they’d hand him the address, he’d head out, ask questions, come back to the office and type it up for the next day’s paper. It would appear between a row of ads for liver pills and beer and bread and other staples of life; ads for railroads and coal and hotels in Florida, ads for ipe tobacco and ties and radios that promised velvet tones and perfect reception. Every page of those old papers was crowded with life; you could spend ten minutes taking it all in. Not because everything was brilliant or deathless or necessary or, God help us, useful for your busy life, but because there was just so much of it – the throwaway profiles, the picture of the dog from Omaha that saved a family, a story about a member of European royalty who had divorced her husband (shocking, the morals of those people) a Hollywood celeb mugging for the camera, something about Hitler, a panel about Russia, car accident reports complete with the home addresses of everyone involved, and so on. And on and on. Before TV, this was how you surfed, and it was far more serendipitous and amusing than trudging up and down the steps of the cable-TV listings. Every page of every day: hash, buffet style. Take as much as you like.
So far we’ve had one warm day, but the heat evaporates the minute the sun moves away; I sat in the backyard reading, moving my chair to follow the light. As I write this now I have the heat on in the casita; it’s cloudy and – dare I say it? – cold. I don’t have the same tumble of emotions I had last year, when I really, really wanted to move here, now. I still love it and I still want to move here, but now it feels like “Someday” instead of “Yesterday at the latest.” And that’s good. Home will feel like home.
Finished one book, began another: “The Amber Room,” purchased at the grocery store at 11:15 PM. I bought it because the story of the Amber Room has long interested me – by which I mean I saw a documentary on the subject on Television and watched it to the end – and it seemed like a nice historical mystery. Plus, it starts out with Nazis, and you can’t beat Nazis for bad guys. Remember what I said yesterday:
“Irritation” usually arises from any of the following: gorgeous tall long-haired heroines who are nuclear biologists or genetic archeologists or any other such trade; if said heroine also has a father figure who’s very wise and kind and smart but Strangely Mysterious about a period in his life 30 years ago, I’m gone.
The opening section takes place at a concentration camp. Goering himself shows up to perform an interrogation. Hmmm. Well, a bit of creative license, that’s fine. It’s a flashback, seen through the eyes of an inmate who’s observing the interrogation of some German soldiers. Next we rejoin the present day, already in progress, and meet the hero – uh oh. The Heroine. A judge. Named Rachel. Please don’t make her a globe-trotting adventure seeking judge. Please. She deals with a piggish defense attorney, and in chambers accuses him of having a “chauvinistic attitude” towards women. I suspect that a pie made with clichés and minced crap has been in the oven for some time, and I will soon hear the timer announce it’s ready. . . ah, the lawyer is “unaccustomed to taking orders from a woman.” Ding! Oh, the profession abounds with those. Chauvinists who prefer to insult the judge rather than, you know, win the case. Next on her docket? An old, old man is petitioning for a name change. He wants to go back to the name he had in The Old Country before he got out of the concentration camp and came to America; we realize it’s the guy we saw in the flashback!
The judge approves his petition, then she leaves the bench and approaches the old man.
I swear to God, this is what happens next:
“Tears slipped down his stubbled cheeks. Her eyes had reddened, too. She hugged him and softly said ‘I love you, Daddy.’”
Honest to God.
Tomorrow: my life as a tech-support operative; plus, how to arrive at the airport two hours ahead of time and miss your flight.