If it reads easy, that’s because it’s writ hard. – Ernest Hemingway
It happens a lot more than I care to admit. I mean, sure, I’ve got the freedom to write about whatever I want. But I do have other things to do here, people! Like sometimes how I might have to go pick up lunch. For the entire office! And that Pignataro is no simple orderer, either.
Sometimes they make me field a call about whether this is the Maui paper that does that word scramble thing—or is it that other one? And do I have the number please?
More often I’m responding to emails regarding the enlargement of certain parts which I do not possess, the depositing of certain international funds into my severely depleted bank account or the “new addition to the family” announcement from my mom about her latest Rottweiler, Mademoiselle Petit Eschezeaux—75 pounds, three ounces.
What’s my point here again, exactly? Oh yeah! That all this glamorous work invariably leads to bouts of indecision as to what is appropriate subject matter for this week’s column.
Given my propensity to procrastinate—or what I tell my editor is my highly valuable trait as a journalist to “work better under pressure”—I am often scrambling to come up with some semblance of a good idea waaaaay past deadline. This means that Tuesday night generally has me pacing the weird stubby brown carpet of the editorial floor outside of Pignataro’s office, as puffs of smoke billow from the cigar dangling out of his stern, frowning mouth into the hallway.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing out there, kid?” he will ask me with a cantankerous growl. “You’re making me nervous.”
“Um, er, nothing, sir… everything’s cool here,” I will stammer. “I just, uh, I just kinda don’t know what to write for the column this week.”
“Is that so? Hmm…” And then he will lean back in his swivel chair, his naturally furrowed brow softening just a little, sighing as he stretches his arms back behind his head. “Have a seat, Campos.”
And thus begins the 367th retelling of the time he was a spry journalist at the Modjeska Tribune or some such venerable Orange County paper, and his boss used to sit him in his office and make him handwrite the preamble to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics over and over again until he came up with an idea. A good one, that is. Oh, and then he’d make him walk to the store to get coffee. In the snow. For 23 miles!
At this point, Pignataro will chuckle to himself. And I know this is my cue to take action.
“I’ve got it, boss!” I’ll exclaim with vigor. “I know exactly what to write! You’ll have it on your desk by morning!”
“And not a minute later, Campos,” he’ll say gruffly.
Despite my outward acquiescence, on this particular Tuesday I was feeling a little rebellious. So I called a buddy and headed straight to the bar. Besides, one thing I’ve learned in my few hard years as a reporter is that it’s impossible to write with a dry mouth.
Upon arriving at the watering hole, I thought I’d struck gold when the first conversation I overheard was of an older gentleman talking about the plastic-lined trash cans full of green slime he drank at some party in college.
“And at the end, everybody was slipping and sliding!” he was saying. But then he got a call on his cell and stepped outside.
I caught another potential lead from our bubbly waitress. She wanted to know why, when she recently went to the Tedeschi Winery, they told her the wine made from pineapple was still called “wine.”
“Shouldn’t it be called something else?” she asked. “Like, ‘Hoopla’ or something?”
My companion had other ideas. They varied from the documentation of the effects of wearing an adult-sized duck costume to researching the popular act of “noodling”—holding onto a log and plunging it into the river to have catfish attach themselves to your arms—in the Midwest.
But ultimately, it was the cute “Curveball” cocktail waitress who saved the day. She told us of a former boss from the South who used to charm her with such endearments as: “Peckerwood, you’re about as useful as a pork chop in a synagogue!” and “Peckerwood, you’re about as useful as a screen door on a submarine!”
Yeah… it kinda made me long for the smell of a cheap cigar and a long-winded story.
Samantha Campos would’ve totally won that Africa trip with New York Times’ columnist Nick Kristof had she not left out the sentence in her essay about wanting to use the experience as a means to continue her work with the children in East Hampton. MTW