September 27, 2023

No News from Doodlebug Island, by William F Jordan


Tuesday began on a disastrous note: the yoke on my ancient Merganthaler letter press broke mid-run on wedding invitations due for delivery by day’s end. Two irate subscribers to my newspaper The Doodlebug Island Run-on stormed in, one to complain about an editorial I’d written advocating acceptance of such slang expressions as ‘strugglebus’ and acronyms like ‘L-O- L’; the second miffed that I’d somehow failed to include notice of her son’s graduation from Harvard. About then, my pressman became ill and had to go home, leaving me to deal with the Merganthaler, the wedding invitations and any other angry patrons whose plans included pinning my mental hide to the office wall.

I was in the midst of a full-blown use of those lovely Anglo Saxon expressions which for some unfathomable reason are barred from sunday schools and polite society when the door to my office opened to admit a reporter from Flagstaff. He introduced himself, and in that moment I decided to take all my troubles out on him. It was unkind of me, I know, underhanded, impolite, journalistically unacceptable, and a rotten thing to do, but it had the redeeming quality of relieving pent-up frustration, so any sympathy I felt was from hindsight after I’d appropriately skewered him. Besides, he immediately got on my bad side.

“Mr. Jordan, I’m Danny Block from the Flagstaff Sun, and since you’re the oldest practicing editor in Arizona, I’d like to interview you.”

Now, if he’d have said ‘most senior’ instead of ‘oldest’, I may have changed my mind, but he didn’t. “Look, young fella, you’ve come a long way for very damn little, but I’ll hold still for it if you’ll lighten up with that ‘oldest’ business. I’m sensitive about the mention of age because it often implies a doddering quality. I may be a lot of things, but a doddering ancient isn’t among them!”

“I’m sorry. I only meant to express admiration that you’re still working when younger men than you have retired. Why is that?”

“That’s easy. When God and I were negotiating my contract, He said to me, ‘Bill, if you’re willing to deal honestly and work hard and forgo a few of the amenities like charm and personality, I’ll see that you live a long time.’”

“You negotiated a contract with God!?”

“Yes, and shook on it. Well, we didn’t actually shake, just kind of bumped knuckles. He’d been out creating firmament, so he was careful not to get any on me.”

“This is strange! My editor told me you were a practicing agnostic with atheistic tendencies, but you seem to have a clear vision of God and must therefor be a devout practitioner.”

“Why must I? I was flimflammed. I was so taken with the idea of living a long time I forgot to read the fine print about vacations, retirement, and quality of life that might be expected to accompany that longevity. My contract is up for renewal soon, and you can bet your next taco supreme that amendments will be the topic of the day!”

“In addition to an unambiguous supply of swear words and a highly refined sense of the irreverent, you’re having sport with me, aren’t you!”

“Yes, I am. My morning got off to a lousy start, so when you happened along, I decided you might be the means of taking the kinks out of things and helping me recover my usual affability. Now, what do you do besides roam the country looking for oddities? Do you happen to possess any useful skills”

“Yes sir, I do. Even better, I have print-shop experience although none with equipment like this. What can I do to help?”

It turned out Danny was good with his hands, and within fifteen minutes we had the old press splinted up and working again.

“Can I finish printing the invitations?” he asked.

“Absolutely, although you may want to count your fingers before and after. There’s zero tolerance between the type face and the platin when the two meet. Still game?”

“Absolutely,” he said, smiling.

“Within minutes, he was feeding in blank cards with one hand and removing printed ones with the other, and with the same deftness as my pressman. “Now, about that interview . . . ,” he said.

He had me. And he got his story. I stretched things a bit to keep his readers interested but I needn’t have. Danny wrote an embarrassingly complimentary piece that described someone my wife says she wishes she’d met and married instead.

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