Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Day in the Life of the Fourth Estate

The phone rings. I push back my visor, stub out my cigar, put the cap back on the bottle of gin and pick up the receiver.

Me: City desk, Krupskaya.

Caller (male, middle-aged): OK, hey, hi. I was just calling because I think I got a story for ya.

Me: Tell me about it.

Caller: OK, um, yeah. Well, I was just over driving by Superior, over by the coal pile? You know?

Me: OK.

Caller: Well, I don't know if you've been over there lately, but that coal pile...

A pause.

Me: Yes?

Caller: Well, that coal pile, I mean, it's really big.

Me: ' ' '

Caller: Yeah, I dunno if they've got something going on there or what, but, I mean. It's just really...big.

Me: I see.

Caller: It's something else. You really should get someone down there and...I dunno. I don't know what they're planning to do there. It's just a really, really big coal pile.

Me: Well.

Caller: Yeah, I just thought you might want to check on that or something. Because it's...I've never seen anything like it.

Me: I suppose not.

Caller: It's big. You know, it would make a great photo or something, or maybe you could ask them what they're going to do with it all.

Me: Hm.

Caller: Because, it's like, they're bringing it in faster than they're using it, or, I dunno, the ships aren't coming in fast enough to get it out of here. I dunno. I mean, that pile. It's something else.

Me: I see.

Caller: Yeah, I dunno, I just saw it and figured I'd tell someone about it.

Me: OK then.

Caller: Anyway, I just thought you should know.

Me: Well, we'll see if we can check it out.

Caller: OK then! Thanks! Bye now!

I hang up and push my visor back over my eyes. Somewhere, Ben Bradlee closes his eyes for a moment in pain on my behalf.


  1. Anonymous9:07 AM

    Hey, when it turns out there's a gang of eco-terrorists who have built a cave inside the coal pile, complete with satellite TV and a flush toilet, and who are planning to smash all the glass in the Duluth aquarium in a misguided attempt to free all the captive fish, and it turns out to be the story of the century, don't say I didn't warn you.

  2. Clearly, Earth Penis doesn't have anything better to do than hide out in Superior.

  3. Anonymous11:27 PM

    fuolwThere was once a caller who didn't like my newspaper persona. He frequently called to argue. I projected myself as a moderate; he was a skeptic. He had all the good dormitory-room arguments of the counterculture; I responded with the rhetoric of main-street self-reliance. Over time, I learned of his life; sort of a Garrison Keillor existence in a small Iowa town, with rejection of his religious upbringing, a bout of substance abuse, political support and rejection in his little town and eventual retreat into a government job in the big city, using it as a podium for sniping at moderates and conservatives.
    He was smart, and he was eclectic. He could argue effectively that the alleged biblical injunction against homosexuality was historically inaccurate; at the same time he could bring a mathematical argument against some of the more expansive Holocaust claims.
    I hever met him. At some time, although he had always addressed me by my first name and I had always called him Mr. _____, I started calling him Dave.
    I still have, from the early days of computers, a CD he made with his teen-aged son in which they catalogued zoo animals, with photos, sounds and descriptions. He was totally proud of this enduring monument to the relationship that he -- as a socially difficult father, being a fat man and a crank -- was able to find with his son.
    He was always respectful, even when I was disrespectful to him. After he sent me the zoo CD, I started to see him as a fellow father.
    He emailed me once and said he was dying of cancer. I said whatever I could. We disagreed on a lot of stuff, but we were dads and fat old men from small towns in a certain era.
    There was a lull in the conversation. Eventually an email arrived, a posthumous one, prepared for his widow to send to me. He thanked me for our many conversations (in which I had often been an ass), and for opening his mind to perspectives, on issues he cared about, that made him think better. Soon after that, my old computer crashed and I bought a new one. Of all the unbackedup stuff I lost, his email is the one I regret most.
    And more than anything else, I keep thinking that I never met him.
    Old Journalist