March 29, 2006

Low Tidings

I was hired by The Independent almost exactly three years ago, and I met Lisa Cowley a few days later. At the time she was working a couple days a week, basically doing calendar items for the paper. I assigned her a story — mainly because the other reporters refused to pay attention to me. I remember it like it was, well, three years ago — the story was about The Vagina Monologues and I put it on the front page.

I didn't put it on the front page because it was good, I put it on the front page so I could send sophomoric e-mails to all my goofy friends saying "Look I put the word vagina on the cover of my first paper!" All the guys in my rotisserie baseball league were impressed.

While I was reading Cowley's article, though, I noticed something strange. Sure it was long — way too long — but that wasn't it. There were no typos, no misspelled words, nothing grammatically incorrect.

I had what I thought was a brainstorm: if I could hire six or seven more just like Cowley, I wouldn't have to edit anything. Then I realized there aren't many people out there that anal. That's when it struck me — I'll make her do all my work! With Fantasy Sports my Numero Uno concern in life, I figured I could pile the work on her and free myself to make important executive decisions that will benefit the newspaper's future, like who my backup catcher should be.

I immediately gave her a raise, something overly generous to get her attention, probably 20 bucks or so. With Fantasy Football looming four months later, I made her Associate Editor. The next year, just before baseball season, she rose to the position of Editor. Last week, we discussed making her Executive Editor, and that's when she dropped the bombshell: she's leaving The Independent.

She's going to travel the country, live the dream.

Big Deal.

I felt no elation for her, but I quickly sank into a deep depression. In fact, I was so hurt, confused, and yes, angry that I spent the entire weekend watching the basketball tournament and drinking beer.

Here is the picture here at The Independent: Consider management like the ruling party in an aristocracy, and me like a working peasant. They pile and pile the work on me while my knees shake and my muscles wither, then they pile on some more. Old but proud, grizzled but determined, the mule chugs onward, the exhaustion almost overcoming me at times, while they eat pork roasts and sip from gold goblets with money earned from my toil, toil that will only mercifully end when I'm called up to my reserved spot by the feet of My Lord, Jesus (Christ, I hope he washed those freakin' things).

Put another way, I write this column every single week! God, what more do they want of me? How much more blood can I give before my veins run dry?

I suggested a few alternative courses of action to Cowley. One, I offered an enormous raise ($17.43, everything I had on me) to stay. But she's determined to travel. Then I asked if she could edit via wireless computer while she traveled. She liked that idea, but she wanted to get paid for it, the shameless hussy she is.

So now I need a plan and fast. (My wife suggested I kill myself and get it over with, and that may be an option when baseball season ends.)

Hmmmm, we could do what Dan's Papers does, and just run the unedited swill they write and not give a crap how bad it is because no one reads it anyway. Or, we could go with all pictures, all of the time. I ran these ideas but the aristocracy of The Independent, and their response was I should find other laborers who would work in this sweat shop for pennies an hour and to leave them alone because their Beef Wellington was about to be served.

I looked around at the others in my newsroom, looking for one to pick up the slack. Erica Jackson, our Riverhead editor, would be good, but she's eight months pregnant — can you believe that ingrate asked for two days off to have the baby? Isn't that just like a woman for ya?

Lisa "Left Eye" Finn, our Southold editor, won't do — she'll turn the damn newspaper into Pravda in about two weeks. The obvious choice was Kitty Merrill. She's been with the paper 10 years, and she's the News Editor, so presumably she has editing experience. But she informed me that, much like I did, she persuaded The Independent to give her the title even though she has no editing skills. In fact, she confided, she figured out my scam of getting paid a small fortune for basically doing nothing years before I even thought about The Independent and said I should just go away before I blow it for both of us.

Hmmm. There must be someone na´ve enough to think this is a great opportunity. Someone who, like Cowley, will take years before she sobers up and realizes life has dealt her a losing hand. Let's see . . . who's low enough on the food chain to take the bait? Ah! C-Lo, Carey London, the Girl Reporter. Fortunately, I've become close to Jerry Della Femina and he knows the ins-and-outs of our operation.

I called to get his guidance.

"Jerry, this is Rick."


"Rick. I want to appoint Carey London editor of The Independent."

"Who? I'm going quail hunting. Don't ever call me again."

With his ringing endorsement in hand, I made the fateful call:

"Carey, this is Rick. I want you to do a story on The Vagina Monologues for next week."

"Low Tidings" is one of the most honored newspaper columns in the country, and that's why Rick shouldn't have to do any other work to collect his meager paycheck.

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