There were rumors, vicious rumors, that the local Enquirer was being placed on the market. As with all such rumors, there were speculations that the new owners, whoever they would turn out to be, would replace everyone with their own people. I had to wonder. If these new owners, who had not even bought the company, who were as yet faceless, who we could not with certainty say they had both of their legs, were going to replace everyone, did this not mean that they already had the personnel necessary for running a newspaper? But if they already had the personnel necessary for running a newspaper, were they not rather foolish inasmuch as they were obviously paying these people but did not yet have a newspaper on which to work them?
I suppose my business sense was not as acute as these nameless, faceless, legless hypothetical new owners of the newspaper. My dullness in these matters might have been thought helpful to explain why I was not too concerned about losing my job, whereas all my fellow employees were in anguish (both real and imagined) and speculation (both imaginary and realistic). I was not too concerned with losing my job because, first, I was not paid to think. I was paid to be a writer, and nothing else. But second, this was only a temporary job for me while I put the finishing touches on my novel. I had been employed with the local Enquirer for ten years. I was on chapter three. The newspaper itself was close to chapter eleven.
The first hints the newspaper was going to be sold emerged when staff from various departments, including production -- ever wonder why the labor-intensive part of any system is called production, and all the other parts are, by comparison, just 'other parts'? -- Began disappearing. At first, I suspected foul play. It turned out I was simply never invited to any of their retirement parties. Nor was I invited to any of the firings, so I suppose everything worked out for the best. My suspicions about foul play, however, caused me several hours of wasted work on the novel. I had intended to write an historical fiction concerning the composition of the Gettysburg Address. When the murder and disappearance of several editors and secretaries and pressmen began evolving in chapter four, and stayed around until chapter twelve (when Detective Bowles himself announced that the plot was absurd), I knew I was in trouble. I virtually had to start over (but this should not have concerned me; I had several, and many of them unusual, beginnings. A novel, after all, is not like the birth of a human being. It takes time). A battlefield clouded over with dead journeymen and senior writers simply did not make sense.
My own thoughts were that driving a business into the ground did not represented a successful method of making the business look appealing on the open market. But, as I said above, I may not have a head for business. According to my way of thinking, the real suggestion that something was up occurred when the newspaper began expanding. Suddenly money - which I know was not being printed on the premises (see chapter seven and eight of the fifth revision notes). The metro section of the paper became a virtual tabloid. When it was a slow news day, items were invented to spice up the reader’s interest. The editors decided not to withhold the names of victims or supposed perpetuators of crime. They told everything. They told more than everything. They made up stories about alien sightings and falsified information about members of the police department. They did in-depth reportage on the principal of the high school in his secret life as a mass murdered. They told about the librarian in her former life as a hog butcher guard.
Not to be outdone, the two teenagers who wrote horoscopes began doing theology. Their little block of self-fulfilling prophecy and illusive hope became a six-page analysis of biblical themes. They began to investigate sophisticated theologies. They did so in an adolescent way. Nevertheless, their columns became the most popular features on the paper, with the exception of the metro section, which had to be checked daily to insure ones own name was not added to the list of spies, or criminals, aliens, adulterers, or poets.
Nor did the enhancement of the paper cease with these modifications. The comic strips became as thick as a comic book. Obituaries became extensive biographies. The Health Beat became a diet and exercise magazine.
Vendors began complaining of the space necessary to house the paper. They complained of the traffic jams, which resulted when former pedestrians had to go out and get mini vans just to carry the paper they had purchased. "What do they want us to do?" editors asked. "Stop printing the news?"
Carriers began complaining about the bulk of the newspaper as well. Rumors circulated, and subsequently were printed with or without verification, about boys who could no longer ride their bicycles and had to "borrow" their father's or mother's car, even though most of the newsboys (with the exception of 'Pop' Norton, who apparently was making pornographic films in his spare time which, it was reported, explained his "pet" walrus) were not yet of legal driving age. Stories were told, and printed, about '87 Chevy station wagons which tilted around curves and fell to the bottom of gullies, of doors torn from their hinges when the paper was finally heaved at homes. The metro carried an article about a family that was killed when the paper was hoisted through their window, but no one was sure whether the story was fact or fiction.
There was talk about different sections of the paper breaking away to become separate magazines. Management vehemently denied this. They stressed that the paper was growing and that growth was not a sign of degeneration. Their arguments were persuasively presented and, in a code (the key to which was given in the crossword puzzle section, pages 738 - 852), management stated that consideration was being given to raising the price of the paper from its current thirty-five cents.
"We are still a single daily," was the phrase heard everywhere. There was even an essay printed on the op-ed pages about the hypothetical size of dailies. The article concluded that there was no established size to which newspaper were expected to conform, even though there was a loose standard.
Only the front-page, with tidbits about world events, national news and local weather, remained the same. Otherwise, the newspaper was printed on glossy paper. Ink did not rub onto the reader's fingers. The read did, however, have to tilt the paper away from the rays of direct light if he or she was to read the news. This was not so much an inconvenience as you may think, however, inasmuch as the sheer bulk of the newspaper gave it a natural tendency to tilt on its own.
The Editorial department unabashedly changed the rider of their two dozen or so pages to "Propaganda - Pro/Con." The editorial section was soon bludgeoned by printing absolute every letter to the editor, in any language, on any theme, which was sent. The newspaper was now running into the thousands of pages.
The restaurant critic began folding almandine trout, steaks tartar, and various appetizers from his recently attended restaurants between the pages. (The August 7th veal scaloppini in mayonnaise yogurt was delicious; I tasted it before I read what it was). Not to be outdone, book critics began enclosing copies of books they found to be most exciting or entertaining.
The sports section became walk in centers. The girls in Horoscope opened a church. Short stories were elicited with desperate appeals that there was not a sufficient supply of writers, and those who did write were not producing their fiction sufficiently quick. Poets began clustering around the offices of the paper.
According to my calculations, we were ready for the next radical leap. My novel, in its seventeenth version, was finally complete. Although over 2500 pages, I did not see why the Lordly Ministers of Propaganda and Truth Pro/Con should not accept it. I submitted the manuscript, but never heard back from them.
A week later, the newspaper was bought by a klaig of kangaroos who turned the premises into a mini-mart. They kept a few human beings around as interpreters, but most were let go. I found work as a bank clerk. There are rumors the bank is going to be sold. I am not worried, though. This is only a temporary job.
About the author:
G. David Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue, and coauthor, with Jacqueline Winston, of Parables In Black and White. Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write essays and fiction.