Friday, September 13, 2013
At Loose Ends
Settling in, trying to see where I fit in, what I'm supposed to do ... some days I'm at a complete loss. Some days I lay around and watch home improvement shows on TV. And try to improve my Candy Crush Saga score. Some days I have maniacal energy, trying to do everything at once because that's how I always got things done in the 37 years I've been working.
At 15 I tried selling Avon door-to-door. (I think that lasted about 10 minutes.)
Then I was slapping frozen "cheezeboigers" on the grill at the Markham Burger & Dairy Bar, where the scowling Greek owner named George, who sounded exactly like John Belushi on Saturday Night Live, was always telling me, "Coffy make coffee, two Peepsis, hamboiger, hamboiger."
I was a waitress. Once. For part of a summer. Until I was picking up plates one day and accidentally dropped a butter knife covered in yellow mustard all over a snooty man's white golf shirt. He had no sense of humour, and then I had no job.
I did these things – badly – knowing that I would go to college and become what I really wanted to be when I grew up.
(Imagine a glowing light surrounding that word, and angels singing from heaven.)
I studied community journalism but left school early to get a job because this was in the early 1980s and a recession was making jobs incredibly difficult to come by (thanks to my cousins Debi and John for putting me up and tipping me off about the job in the first place). I figured it was more important to get my foot in the door than finish up the last month of college and, as it turned out, I was right. Only a few of my classmates wound up pursuing newspapers as a career.
The job paid crap. By the time I paid my rent, car payment and bought gas, I was broke.
The hours were long. I had meetings just about every night (council, school board, community groups) and every weekend was full with events like fall fairs, regattas, hockey games, curling bonspiels and bowling banquets.
I spent every Monday morning in the darkroom, processing a week's worth of film and making prints. I'd be there for six or seven hours at a stretch, inhaling noxious chemicals and developing the eyesight of a mole. When I emerged, I had to finish writing any stories I had left to the last minute, then help out in the production room where the paper was laid out with the help of an x-acto knife and melted wax. It was a badge of honour to cut yourself but bleeding on the unfinished galleys meant starting over from scratch. By the time the paper was "put to bed," it was late. At one of my first jobs, the Milton Tribune, our crew didn't finish the paper until the next morning. Things were more coordinated at the Port Perry Star and we usually finished by 10 o'clock, which gave us time to have a drink at the local watering hole. (It's where I met my first husband – he was the bartender and he used to make fun of the "rag" I worked for.)
Sometimes I took the paper to the printer's and waited for them to fill the van with a whole town's worth of papers. If that was the case I was up at the crack of dawn. Usually though I wandered into the office around 8 a.m. to help stuff flyers into the paper and prepare issues for mailing. When that backbreaking work was done, I had my own delivery route: I took papers to post offices and stores in the northwest corner of our township. Like the mailman, I delivered papers in all kinds of weather, including one time during a wicked snowstorm when I put the van in the ditch.
Delivery took all day. If I was lucky, I'd get to go home and go to bed. Often I had to go home, grab a shower, and head out to cover a meeting.
By Wednesday morning I felt like had been run over. But I dragged myself into the office for our weekly "story meeting" in which we discussed news and events that needed coverage in the coming week. The rest of the week was a blur of covering stories, phone interviews, photo ops and writing, writing, writing. Newspapers were big empty vessels in those days, not crammed to the top with advertising as they are today. It took a lot of words to fill those pages and I became adept at writing long feature stories to take up space.
I remember, back in high school, freaking out about having to write a 1,000 word essay. We were given a month to write something that long! At the newspaper, it was nothing to crank out 5,000 to 10,000 words in a week. There was no time for agonizing over every word – it was a matter of typing your fingers to the bone and moving on to the next story.
There was no overtime. No lieu time. The job consumed all of my waking hours and I loved it and I hated it and I couldn't imagine myself ever doing anything else.
I left my last newspaper job in May and I doubt if I will ever work for another one. The internet truly has killed newspapers. People don't need to wait for the weekly newspaper to arrive in their mailbox – they see it on Facebook, or Twitter. They hear it on the car radio, or on the 6 o'clock news. Everywhere, all across the world, newspapers are dying. Even the biggest, most successful of the once mighty media giants are going out of business.
Some day I'm going to write more about my newspaper life.
For now, I'm just trying to figure out what to do with all this free time I suddenly have, now that I don't have to fit laundry, dishes, cooking and rest-of-my-life in the short time not spent at the office. I'm like a bird that has been encased in a gilded cage, suddenly freed, and not sure what to make of the wide world that is waiting for it to fly.
I think I'll take a lesson from my cat, who spends every morning in his chair, his ancient arthritic bones soaking up warm sunshine. He doesn't worry about the why, or the wherefore or the how-to.
He just does.
I think I want to be him when I grow up.