Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Editor

I guess there comes a time when you have to look at your life, define what’s important and what isn’t, and get rid of what isn’t while you’re still wondering what made it loom so in the first place.

I never wanted to loom. I suppose I never I wanted to be loomed over, either, and that’s inherently a problem for the people who want to loom, because a loomer isn’t anything without at least one loomee.

In newspapers, they got away with avoiding excessive looming as long as the paper was small and manageable. Editors were editors, photographers, photographers, and reporters, reporters.

As soon as the newspapers got big enough to divide people into, “management,” and whatever was, “non-management” (It couldn’t be, “labor.” Photographers, reporters and artists would go crazy if they found out that guys they suddenly called, “management,” suddenly thought of them as, “labor.”).

I saw, and got caught up in, the transition from one to the other, and thought I would escape by declaring myself a, “columnist.” I didn’t actually declare myself a columnist, I just came back from any assignment with a story, whether it was the one I was assigned to or not, so that my member of management who had assigned me wouldn’t be embarrassed. It worked, and I was named columnist.

As columnist, I was able to assign myself three times a week. Some weeks were nerve-wracking, some were easy, depending on how lucky I was or how lazy. But I had conquered the looming. I was both management and (not “labor,” but we’ll call it that, here) labor—the loomer and the loomee.

An editor colleague (all right, a superior) noticed me around 1979 and set off to loom over me. I fought, until he demanded that I call the office every hour. One, two, maybe three days, and I confronted him. “What are we doing?” He said that he might someday have a column assignment for me and he wanted to be sure he knew where I was (this was in the days of pay phones, so I was calling from bars, and it was getting to me. Bar etiquette said a beer-in, a beer-out.).

I said, “Fine. Make me a general assignment reporter, again, and I won’t have to pretend that this three-columns-a-week [stuff] is important, any more.”

This was a mistake. I should have known—I did know—that he hadn’t made me a columnist, somebody higher than him had, so I was asking him to do what he could not do. I had just made an enemy for life.

He once asked me to write about Gov. Mario Cuomo’s plan to close Robert Moses State Park. I said, “You don’t want me to do that.” He said he did. He wanted me to write a column, as a resident of The South Shore, about my reaction to the plan. He thought I would write about Piping Plovers and seagulls. I was a fan of Mario Cuomo, but I felt this was a cheap trick. I wrote a column that began, “Ain’t nobody closing no Robert Moses State Park.” At 7 am, a panel truck pulled out of B & B Fish and Clam with a sheet across its transom that read: “Ain’t Nobody Closing No Robert Moses State Park.”

Cuomo was livid. He had his office call me all day. I never had spoken to a governor. He called my home and asked how I was going now to gain access to him. I said, “I never had access to you before. I’m a run-of-mill citizen.” Now, the newspaper and the governor were ticked off at me. I just wanted to be left alone, to be my loomer and loomee.

The editor and I separated, because I went into the Long Island edition, and he became the editor of The Queens Edition. I stayed as a loomer-loomee, while he amassed more people to loom over, eventually becoming the Editor of The Long Island Edition.

There, he asked me to consider an idea of my then wife’s: “The Fathering Series,” to alternate weekends with another series, “The Mothering Series,” about our respective relationships with our children. I had two girls from a earlier marriage and two boys from a current one.

I said, “As long as I own it.”

He said, “Well, you can’t.”

“Then, fine. Get somebody else.”

“Well, we’ll talk about it when it gets closer.”

“All right, but that’s my position. I write a series about my kids, you get to run it, and then it’s mine.”

Major dispute. Back n’ forth, me saying, “I understand. I really do. So, get another guy who doesn’t have this hangup.” Him saying, finally, “You know, we can make you write for Saturday.”

“You can make me write for Saturday?” I said. “Is that what this was all about? What about ‘making’ me write well? Can you do that? What about, ‘making,’ me write about my relationships with my children? Can you do that, too?”

I won, I thought, and I wrote a bi-weekly “Fathering” series for the next four years, when my wife said my writing about our marriage was getting in the was of our pending divorce. I agreed, and stopped. The irate editor said my stopping was his decision. I looked at him. I walked away.

Two years later, Tom Stites, a former Newsday editor, called from Kansas City to say congratulations on the book that Newsday was publishing with his company on the Fathering series. I hired a lawyer. After a year, we wrested a copywrite citation from Newsday. I had won again.

At long last, the editor became The Editor. So. he had to do it. I quit. Now, it amuses me.

1 comment:

  1. Man!!!! I DO love your moxie, edlowe!!! Gonna borrow some of it as I head into my uncertain future, and do some "wrestling" of my own.
    No one does it quite like YOU!!*
    <raising a (warm) pint o' Guinness (or 2 :) BooYahhh!! :)
    Finn :)