As I’m nearing my 500th post, and re-entering the job market as a writer after a 20+ year detour, I’m sharing a few stories of working for small publications in the early 90s, on the east coast. Blog title HT to Modest Mouse.
It was my first time pitching a story to an editor and I didn’t know what I was doing. The editor was cranky and dressed Carter-era still, pit stains and thick glasses. He was kneading his forehead, rubbing it, wincing, shaking his head No, no, No.
My mom worked at the newspaper and convinced him to meet me, fresh out of college. I’d spent the summer screwing around at the beach with my friends Dan and Richard. A test case to see if we could live together in Boulder. It failed.
I described the story: a dilapidated castle, right here in southeastern Pennsylvania! Out by Huff’s Church, up Keim road. Spooky: cult possibilities, eccentric old man with idiot brother. Old man has a way of rolling his eyes back in his head when he talks, they go all white. No electricity. Offers us a beer he keeps out in the stable with the goats, not altogether cold.
Enter another figure, Bob Thorn (real name I swear): slicked back hair and pewter rings on every finger, with faces. Flies a helicopter, lands it at the castle. References to bonfires and parties.
There’s something about the earth even, it’s giving something off or sucking something in.
The editor tells me to leave and mumbles something about my mom. I have a feeling it didn’t go well — he just gave me the story back and said good luck.
I’m staying at my mom’s in the basement, trying to find an apartment. I get a call from an editor at another paper who says she has an assignment for me and can I be there at 7 PM?
It’s my first paid writing gig, for the East Penn Press. I think the cranky editor called the other editor (who’s like a librarian or my grandma, she’s so nice) and set me up with work.
I put the Beastie Boys on as loud as it will go and jump up and down.
I cover stories every week for about a year, small government stories. Very small. There are developers wanting to put in a KFC/Taco Bell/Arby’s combo at the intersection of 100 and old 22. That’s the biggest story.
The Pennsylvania Dutch farmers are there in protest but the well-groomed politicians are smirking and making eye exchanges with one another and very polite as I interview them, coiffed beards, cologne.
Melanie (my editor) suggests I find ways to make more stories out of the story, that’s what you do. But I don’t understand, there’s nothing more to say. I was bored from the get-go, just glad to be done with it.
Loren and I talk about Keim Road, in Portland, OR. The time he went there with Gene and Ted’s sister, Eve. They had the headlights off and the windows rolled down, summer. There were small, gravelly country sounds in the middle of nowhere, with long wild grass and threatening trees. All at once a blast of voices like a scattering of birds, then silence. The voices, from speakers hanging in the trees.