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I did a stint as a writer for a few months in the late 1980s for a trade publication called ‘The Griffin Report of Food Marketing.’ I was in charge of turning press releases into something akin to reporting. A mass mailing would go out with a headline along the lines of “Star Market promotes Joe Blow,” and I’d add a few paragraphs about Mr. Blow and how great he was going to be as deputy regional assistant apple buyer for southeastern Massachusetts. Sometimes, I’d call up and interview these people to see if they had anything to say to their fans in the Griffin Report.
Once, I trekked out to Troy, NY overnight to interview the Freihofer’s bakery people. I wore a jacket and tie and brought my notebook to record the Friehofer story. It was a small operation, and they spoke of the “trust” that people have in the Freihofer’s brand. I didn’t mind that trip, despite Troy’s gritty underbelly, because I got to see the factory where they made the bread I had eaten now and again as a kid. The piece I wrote became an insert in the Griffin Report that the Freihofer’s people paid thousands for. I later did another insert – a bigger one – featuring SS Pierce, whose foodservice division had just been bought by Kraft. Those SS Pierce interviews were insufferable, as I sat in executives’ offices and listened to them lavish praise on themselves and their new bosses at Kraft. Readers might have noticed that these inserts were ads, not reporting, but if so it wasn’t because we made it plain to them. It would have been very possible for the “casual” Griffin Report reader to come to the conclusion that we thought S.S. Pierce was a fascinating company and decided to pad our newspaper with several extra pages just to give those windbags a place to sound off.
During the two or so months that I was with the Griffin Report, my friend Roy was dying for me to break some huge supermarket scandal, something dark and sleazy with high stakes that would turn the supermarket world upside down, like a simmering botulism crisis or horsemeat being added to ground beef patties. Instead, I came to learn that the owner of the Griffin Report had badly fibbed about the number of responses he had received for our “best buyer” survey.
As media lies go, this was a minor infraction: the declared winner had indeed gotten the most votes, but the article claimed that about half the ballots sent out had been returned, when the truth was it was far less than that. But I already had lost respect for the publisher of the Griffin Report because he made me do beer runs in the late morning so he could drink his lunch, and believed that “writers should have their own pens and pencils,” and thus refused to stock the supply closet with them. Ultimately, I quit in an unseemly confrontation over his refusal to correct the story’s factual error, though it was actually the sum total of bad experiences that forced my hand.
I did, however, stay on through the next deadline because I liked the editor and other writer, and it’s even possible that I allowed my byline to be associated with the results of the survey, though I doubt it. I may never know that for sure because I can’t find my copy of the issue in question, having used it to line a birdcage or make a campfire years ago.
If the BBC asks me to write an epilogue to the 3rd season of Downton Abbey, I’m ready. In this 2-hour post-finale episode, the ghost of Lady Sybil will be hugely prominent. Dressed in the same night gown she wore when she perished in a fit of seizures, she sneaks back to retrieve part of her ample wardrobe and abscond with it into the afterlife, but accidently runs into her husband, the Irish republican chauffer Branson, on the stairs. Branson has been secretly going into town clad in tatters to down pints anonymously at local pubs, returning home later to raid the sherry and eventually stumble and belch his way up to bed. Coming upon his beloved (and sheet-white!) Sybil on the stairs really freaks him out, but he keeps telling himself it’s the alcohol talking, it’s the alcohol talking while she explains (unprompted) that she’s come back to snag ball gowns for some parties they are throwing in the afterlife, and no William isn’t involved! Before leaving, she plants a wet one on Branson. She’s real! So he starts making out with her just as Robert comes to the stairs to see what the hell the ruckus is. What does Robert see? Branson making out with the air! “Get hold of yourself, man!” says Robert.
Sybil has evaporated, and Branson jerks his head around and sees what would apparently be the trail of her nightgown disappearing around a corner. And you know what? Cora sees it too! But Robert doesn’t (metaphor? he’s blind!). Cora’s all, “Who was that?” and Branson pushes past her mumbling about needing to barf. Robert gives Cora a hopeful look, and I swear the glare she shoots back just about knocks him on his ass and down the stairs.
In his bedroom, Branson finds a note from the ghost of Sybil saying that she’s going to be coming back now and again to retrieve stuff like tiaras and pretty things, and please try not to be freaked out. The next night Branson gets himself tangled up with half a bottle of Irish whiskey and comes to the dinner table weaving. There are two empty chairs beside him because Matthew and Lady Mary are “under the weather” (yeah, right, wink-wink!) and can’t make it. Sybil materializes in one of the chairs and this time has brought William with her. Robert is speaking but notices Branson staring at an empty space at the table, his eyes wide and jaw slack, and looks over at Edith, who shrugs, and then at Cora, who’s all, “Sybil!” Branson says, “You see her!” She does! But a close up of Cora reveals: she’s out of her mind! During the ensuing silence, where Robert, Edith, The Dowager Countess, and Mr. Carson all look at each other like “What the...?”, Sybil suddenly demands that Branson release her so she can move on with her afterlife, which includes marrying William. Branson’s thinking, You're taking up with the dead second footman?, but he can’t say anything because: a) he’s hammered; and b) he’s speaking to an empty chair.
The rest of this episode pretty much writes itself.
As of Tuesday, January 29, 2013, the Boston “Globe Reader” became a thing of the past, a relic of publishing history that had a brief life of – what – maybe five years? The Globe Reader was an installed program on your computer that delivered the Boston Globe newspaper to your breakfast table in a easily readable format without any ads. For a while, it had been promoted to old timers like me, who still pay real money to have some guy (or gal!) drive the print version to their home and hurl it at the front door, where it sometimes decapitates the tulips and, rarely, lands somewhere close enough for you to reach out and snag it from the porch without the neighbors seeing you in footy-pajamas or curlers.
Not long ago, the industry relied on mere children to get the days’ news from house to house. Paper routes were a rite of passage for youngsters like me, who started when we were barely tall enough to haul the sack of dead trees without dragging it through puddles. I delivered the Syracuse Herald Journal in an era when small Midwestern* cities could support fat versions of both morning and afternoon dailies. We walked our route and were told by the customer where s/he wanted the paper delivered (such as in the side door of the garage, where the family hound would quietly wait in the shadows, then leap out in a ferocious attack on the poor paper and, sometimes, your hand). The worst part of having a paper route was having to go door-to-door once a week to “collect” cash from the customers, then fork over money to the newspaper company that was paying 2 cents per paper to deliver the route (I know it sounds like 1910, when a nickel would buy you a cobblestone-size block of cheese, but it was really the 1970s). You’d go and ring the doorbell and say “collecting,” and they’d say something like “We’re eating dinner. Can you come back?” When you’d return they’d be watching All in the Family or mowing the lawn with a cigarette dangling from their lips – too busy to be bothered with paying the 11 year old kid – so you’d pay the newspaper company on the customer’s behalf from past wages and then collect for two weeks next time, when, inevitably, they’d claim to have paid you already.
I don’t know why I’m complaining. I made some money and got to “meet people,” like roughneck neighborhood dirtbags who’d want to kick my ass for showing up on their street from the other side of the main road. Anyway, at 11, if you wanted money it was either deliver the paper or trap muskrats, which some kids would do before catching the bus to school.
A not uncommon sight among the peers of my youth
I suppose I won’t really miss the Globe Reader, since I get the print version and can go to Boston.com to get the e-paper (if I could just remember my damned log in name and password). But for some reason that I can’t quite describe, I do miss the era of boys and girls ambling along the street in the morning or afternoon, pulling a wagon full of newspapers and sticking one of them between the inside and storm doors of each house. Soon, I'm sure there won’t even be guys in beat up sedans launching papers at front doors and decapitating the tulips.
*Syracuse, NY is, I contend, the eastern most city in the Midwest. Blog entry to follow, one day.
As the name suggests, this radio play is going to be entirely original. Set in a fictitious, awesome, futuristic world, where people not only have jetpacks but also jobs like “Head Beer Taster for the City of Boston,” (which come with old-fashioned “defined benefit” pension plans at a time when people are retiring at age 69 and ½ but then live to be, like, 250 years old), the story revolves around The Cook, who has built an enormously successful food empire in an awesome, futuristic Boston (either an underwater city, or a floating city, as I’m currently conceiving it).
One day, The Cook hears on the local sports radio station that a full-contact football league for bored middle-aged guys is forming, and, deciding that he’s bored with his empire, joins the league as a wide receiver and sustains a head injury from a violent helmet-to-helmet collision (much cheaper to do on the radio that in a movie!). He emerges from this experience as a fully-functioning human entity, except that he acts strangely, particularly with respect to his food empire, which he converts into a fry-only empire. Chicken Parm? Fry it! Filet mignon? Deep fry it! Baked Alaska? Try Fried Alaska!
At first, this causes a drop in patronage, as people are too worried that they’ll die before they reach 150 if they frequent his eateries. His restaurants fail and close; soon, The Cook’s lone, signature restaurant, “Duck, Duck, Goose Fat” is all that remains. However, the most respected food critic in Boston gives DDGF 5 out of 5 stars, raving like a lunatic at what a great idea frying everything is, and suddenly, you can’t get a reservation without pulling strings with descendants of the Meninos.
What we (the listener) don’t realize is that the food critic is also The Wife of a food-mobster, The Thief, whose role is to threaten distributors if they don’t get The Cook fresh food at the cheapest prices in town. The review of “Duck, Duck, Goose Fat,” it turns out, is an inside job!
As if this world isn’t cutthroat enough, The Wife discovers that Her Mother, head of the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Council, has overcharged the Cook, by about half a million dollars, for the Liquor License she procured for him, pocketing the difference. This means that, even as the restaurant is packed every night, selling wine at this huge 400% markup and requiring patrons to rent their tables out in half-hour-long increments, Duck, Duck, Goose Fat keeps racking up a financial losses in the books.
“…His Wife, Her Mother,” as this will come to be known in cult circles of the future, climaxes in a series of threats, veiled threats, non-threats, etc., to life, limb, and so forth. I really haven’t gotten that far. But the end will be either loud and bloody with lots of bang-bang sounds, or else an emotional roller-coaster, filled with characters shouting epithets at one another and culminating in tears and recrimination. (Or, ideally, all of that.)