Newsroom

“Son of a bitch!” said Dana, scanning the computer on her desk in the newsroom. Her desk was piled with folders, books, magazines, papers, stacked two feet high in places. Here and there, papers appeared to be trying to squeeze out of a stack and crawl away. Dana was the executive editor of the Naples Tribune. Buxom, stylish, pushy. Her dismissiveness had a knack for making you feel hugged.

“This is all feature stuff,” she said, scrolling her mouse, her eyes a few inches from the computer screen. She refused to wear glasses. “I can’t run with this. I have no local news.”

“I’m working on the council meeting,” said Bill, a city desk reporter, a black Irish drinking man, from Brooklyn. We shared stories, landmarks and milestones, but unfraternally, the way ex New Yorkers do.

“Where’s Ashley’s story on citrus blight?” Dana demanded, unimpressed.

“She’s probably boffing the Department of Agriculture rep in the back of a pickup truck right now,” said Bill.

Three televisions, bolted to the walls, were on. One was tuned to CNN, one showed a live shot of the City’s empty council chamber. The other, back in the corner, was tuned to sports. The news channel was slightly audible, the volume turned low. “Seventy six percent fear that violence may strike someone in their household,” a voice said, over video of a truck exploding in Baghdad. Phones chirped.

Dana plucked the red plastic stir stick out of her coffee and threw it in a wastebasket. She glanced at the clock. “Has she called in? Anybody?”

“She called and asked me to Mapquest Palmetto Avenue,” said Barbara, blinking over her bifocals. “That was an hour ago. AP was down again, Dana, this morning, for almost two hours. How are we supposed to function?”

I was standing at my desk, half listening, flipping through my assignments, marginally elated by the routine editorial crisis. “Jesus, Dana” I said, staring at a the words Doggie Wash, Perkins Park. “Isn’t there anything happening this weekend that doesn’t involve pets or watercolors?”

“The mayor called me a whore,” Dana said. The newsroom seemed to pause. Bill looked up from his keyboard, smiling.

“And…?” said Bill sardonically.

“It’s on my voice mail. He seems to take issue with my support for the CRA’s proposed traffic calming techniques downtown. As if I had a financial interest in any of those boutiques and bamboo pushers. I just want to walk to lunch and not get run over by an Escalade. Does that make me a whore?”

“It’s what everybody wants,” said Bill, who went back to his keyboard. “Kramer’s a jerk.”

“Many people have too much credit card debt,” said the television. “Don’t let the word ‘bankruptcy’ enter your thoughts.”

The remains, a few slices, of chocolate cake from somebody’s recent birthday sat on a pile on a desk. I put a slice on a paper plate. At least the sports assignment looked promising. College baseball. The annual intercollegiate Copley tournament at Baskin Field, the quaint old stadium in Fort Myers.

Tom Harper, the sports editor, who had a desk near the photo desk, was reading the Wall Street Journal.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“A color and two black and white,” he said.

“Do we know who’s playing?”

“They’re playing all day Saturday and all day Sunday. Pick one.”

“Yee-hah!”

Tom gave me his dubious look.

I packed up a bag, an SLR, batteries, a couple zooms, extra chips, and headed out, with the cake folded up in the paper plate. This was when Dana usually chose to get clingy, disguised as an assignment revue. She stopped me at the door.

“Joe,” she said, staring at the screen, a statement, as if she had just noticed my existence in the computer. I turned and offered my attention.

“What have you got?” she said, scrolling and selecting and highlighting. Her inattention was reassuring. It meant that there were no real issues.

“Parks,” I said. “The Jacaranda fire. Dogs. Art. Weekend. Whatever.”

“Gas prices. Get something on gas prices. Dennis is doing a story for Monday.”

“Pumps? People in pickups, SUVs, feeding their Escalades and Hummers?”

“That sort of thing.”

“Imploding stock indexes. The collapse of civilization as we know it.

“That’s the general idea.”

“The Doggie Wash at Perkins Park.”

“Irony, Joe. It’s what we do.”

The post-rush hour Friday evening traffic outside had shifted to leisure mode. A vodka on the rocks awaited me at Ziggy’s. And maybe a fun-loving, sincere, no-drama, down-to-earth looker who likes long walks on the beach and Bobby Short. And hair that curls around the back of his ear, and a nice phallic vein, and who can find his way home. It’s what I do.