June 1, 2023

Picking a Fight


Thom Swingel’s repeated request for more favorable advertising rates in my newspaper, the Doodlebug Island Run-on, irked my past remembrance of those few religiously induced tolerances suggested to me at my mother’s knee and my father’s woodshed, and I finally told him to take his business elsewhere.

Well, he did, but was soon back. “Rates at other Sedona newspapers are no better, Bill. Do you guys get together?”

“The truth is we don’t, and actually, there’s no need. Publishing costs are the same for all of us, and that, after all, is what drives prices.”

After he left, I got out my financial records and began a careful analysis to see if there were any places I could legitimately cut costs and give advertisers a break. My six employees, it was clear, were earning every penny I could afford to pay them, and neither they nor I had had a raise in the devastating recession resulting from Republican mismanagement of Wall Street and the economy. Materials costs had experienced rather steep increases, but I had already offset most of those by decreasing expectations regarding my bottom line, a decision supported by my most loyal, loving wife whose frugality was never more challenged.

No, there appeared to be no place further savings could be had, and I began to entertain thoughts of shutting down, letting everyone go, closing the doors, and retiring. Hadn’t I devoted enough of my life to the newspaper and publishing business? Hadn’t I worked, worried, and sweated sufficiently to keep Island residents informed and entertained? Maybe it was time to take my collection of smoking pipes, hang the ‘gone fishing’ sign on the door and begin working on the restful relaxation I always promised myself but which had always hung mirage-like in the future.

This lasted all of three minutes before it began to dawn on me that there were too many things I would be giving up, things I would miss. Who would write those scathing editorials about a finger-waving governor, an off-the-tracks legislature, misguided members of city councils, zany ministers whose attachment to odd wisps of ecclesiastical lapses swayed the rational thinking of their flocks? Who would provide the moral compass by which members of the community could determine and regulate their individual deviations and idiosyncrasies? Who would ….?

About this time, I began to think of myself as indispensable, and thoughts of retirement dissipated like coastal fog in an offshore breeze. Truthfully, who would fill my shoes? And the thought that no one would began to irk me more than Thom’s repeated requests had. Publication results and influences are always questionable. They are made the more nebulous by virtue of the ‘flimsy’ on which they’re printed and by reason of multiplicity. But that doesn’t gainsay their importance, and though a lifetime in journalism might be of dubious merit, it appeared to be a necessary and honorable career if viewed so only by the individual undertaking it. Blast it all, I could no more retire than I could command the seasons.

There was but one thing to do, write an editorial asserting the need for each individual to remain a contributing member of society until death relieved him or her of that requirement, and this, quite naturally, led to an editorial on the questionable merit of retirement communities in a viable society.

The result was invigorating. Why, the prospects of picking a fight with Anthem or Sun City residents was more rejuvenating than winning the lottery and almost on par with the recent Democratic victory at the polls! Unaware of this mental turmoil, my wife—I teasingly call her my “first wife”—was waiting dinner arrangements when I got home. She listened attentively to a recounting of my day, described her own, and we decided on a simple meal of bread and milk.

“You know, dear, you ought not antagonize people the way you do. It may be a way for you to raise and regulate your own blood pressure, but it may bring on anxiety or even a stroke to others.”

She was right, of course, and I retained a kinder, more considerate resolve the rest of the evening. Morning, however, brought the same dissipation to that resolve as the off-shore breeze did to the fog previously mentioned. I could hardly wait to get to my word processor in whose murky workings all kinds of sharply-worded and argument-producing opinions waited to be brought to the light of day.


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