The Paper By Kate Maier

 

The Paper

By Kate Maier

 

I simply adored working for the paper. Make no mistake, I would never go back there, not after all the terrible things that happened. Most likely, I would never work for a newspaper again. But for the five years I was there, I would defend that place to the death.

It was a magically decrepit building, with moss covered roof tiles and a tired paint job that always seemed to be about three years behind the tired paint jobs of the other decrepit buildings on Main Street. I am not sure when it was built, or when the paper moved there. Perhaps it had been there all along.

By the time I arrived, it seemed to be near the end. Maybe that is why we clung to it with such tenacity. It was a horrendous work environment, but we revered our jobs with a perverse and masochistic loyalty. The building was full of history, and we were there to defend and preserve it. Who needs a paycheck, when you have such an important cross to bear?

We were East Hampton’s newspaper of record, since 1885. It would seem an awful shame to see it go down in flames, although burning the place down was an occasional fantasy for all of us.

Inside, the cracked plaster walls were pockmarked with pinholes. The stairs were as creaky and tired as the people who walked on them. The threadbare carpets were pungent from decades of dog urine. Piles and piles of books rested on warped shelves, covered in layers of dust.

And there was mold. You couldn’t always see it but you knew it was there. The threat of mold poisoning was one of our greatest grumblings. It didn’t matter that print was dead. We’d be dead from some fierce form of mold induced cancer soon enough. We complained about this in hushed tones while the editor was out of earshot, and sometimes we coughed as we typed.

We used floppy discs. Not the ones that were actually floppy, but the little black square ones that squeaked and groaned and chattered as our ancient computers laboriously transferred our files. Then we got up from our desks and marched across the newsroom, where an obscenely loud printer executed its own screeching routine as it spat ink onto paper secured with sprocket holes. We dropped our stories into a wire basket, with the first page wrapped neatly around the disc. And then we prayed that Helen wouldn’t get ahold of them.

The editors would rifle through the basket, carefully choosing their next torturous punishment. Would it be a play by play reconstruction of a school budget hearing? A calendar of movie times sandwiched between garbled bits of html code? When was the last time someone consulted a newspaper for a movie time, or for anything, for that matter?

But it was the publisher who disdained us the most. Oh, how we feared Helen. She would mutilate your story, just for the sheer pleasure of it. She could be sweet as pie and turn on a dime, spitting vitriol across the newsroom at your utter and hopeless incompetence. Her compliments were sparse and always underhanded. “I was very surprised to see that you did such a good job on that story.”

In spite of this I adored her. She reminded me of my drunk Irish grandmother, and her own underhanded compliments. There were legends, stories about Helen in the 1980’s, when she was at the helm of our wretchedly sinking ship. She threw things when she was angry — furniture, and on one alleged occasion, a steaming hot pizza pie.

In 2010, shortly before my exit as a news reporter, I disgraced the paper by wearing a ripped pair of dungarees to a film screening. This was as close as Helen ever came to hitting me, but in the end, we prevailed.

She pulled me to work on special assignments that my comrades, “all those useless people,” were sure to bungle up. She introduced me to Ben Bradlee at a cocktail party celebrating the premiere of HBO’s Grey Gardens. There were times she seemed proud of me. I called her terrible things behind her back but craved her approval nonetheless.

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