Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Occupational Hazard

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.”
Wilde may have been an ebullient 19th century foppish dandy with a wit sharper than the Hope Diamond and a cravat you could wind your pocket watch to, but he knew nothing about my line of work.
There are days when I feel like I’m on top of the world, when the words just tumble out and are arranged with superb skill befitting a master wordsmith. Other days…other days I feel like my brain has been replaced with a brick.
Working for a small town newspaper is like shoveling elephant shit at the circus, except in the circus you work with interesting people.
My quandary is that I can interview people and write the stories on deadline, but it just seems so futile. I write about the same issues over and over, endless column inches of ad nauseum descriptions, vapid quotations and information so monotonous that it would make a Chartered Accountant commit seppuku out of boredom.
Today an old guy called the assistant editor and asked if she was a reporter. She asked him what he was calling about and he said it was about the upcoming municipal election. She wanted to transfer him to me because I’m the political reporter.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” the old man said, and hung up.
It makes me feel so good about my job performance when a decrepit Abe Vigoda clone is sitting around some nursing home in Ensure-filled Depends cursing me out.
I got a similar call last week, when some curmudgeon left a message on my voicemail: “I was the guy who stormed out of your office. You just confirmed what I suspected. Have fun talking to your answering machine.”
First of all, Grandpa Munster: It’s not an answering machine. It’s voicemail. We’re in the 21st century now. Secondly, what the hell are you talking about? Why the cryptic riddles? If you want to talk to me, just tell me who you are and why you want my time. I’m a busy person.
Then there are the freaks who drop by the office and want to talk. They’re mostly harmless cranks, members of the tinfoil hat brigade who see conspiracies everywhere.
But every once in a while, the mental defectives are so memorable, that one must blog about them. There’s this old guy who was a former Philadelphia cop. He drones on and on about his run-ins with the wiseguys back in the 1950s. He tells me the time he dated a mob boss’s daughter and how crazy the drivers are here.
When he’s not regaling me of the past 80 years of American history, he’s talking about dog excretions.
Sometimes I wish I had an ejection seat or escape pod in my office that would jettison me to safety whenever one of these people shows up. An automated alarm system would trigger the klaxons, red whirling lights would flash, and a recorded warning would blare from the loudspeakers: “Danger! Unstable element has breached the outer wall! Evacuate! Evacuate! He might be extremely mind-numbingly boring! Evacuate!”
I’d dash to the escape pod, crawl in the protective webbing and blast off several miles away, preferably landing in front of the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.
Aristotle said, “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.”
The Philosophy King was probably too busy playing “hide the souvlaki” with Greek boys behind the Acropolis to consider a job where you have to deal with crazy people who hate what you do.
You know what I say? Life’s too short to worry about people who don’t like you, who insult or mock your performance without understanding who you are and what you’re capable of.
Most of the fogeys here read their newspapers. It’s the only thing connecting them to the town and to their past. It’s a non-threatening low-tech vehicle for transmitting information slowly, something comforting in an age of binary and instant gratification.
As many major dailies are cutting back, subscriptions to local weeklies are up. People want the news in their communities. Newspapers are cherished, antiquated things.
So when Wilford Brimley calls up and bitches me out, when he says things like, “reporters just twist stories the way they want” (I like that one. ‘cause you know, we all want to get sued for libel.) I really pity him.
I’d gladly swap places with any of them. They can write eight to ten stories a week while I shout at traffic and yell at the girl cashier at the CVS for wearing too much makeup.
Like a harlot, that girl is!

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