Early in my career, I was a green reporter who wrote purple prose that read like yellow journalism. But they printed the paper in black and white so no one ever noticed.
Now, I was just a hack, one who needed a story and needed it bad. The problem, as always, being that I'm not the type to make my own breaks. I'm not inclined to write a bogus memoir, say, or parade as a pillhead or claim to be the last, lone believer in my generation. I'm also not opportunistic enough to know a good thing when I've got it, so whatever it was, it won't make it into print – or pixels – let alone a bestseller list. Even if I did, the editors wouldn't believe it. Such is the hazard of being in the truth business, not the fact business.
Forgive me. I buried the lede...
You see, back in J-School, in the 90s, my future colleagues and I knew nothing of the then-nascent Internet and the havoc it would wreak on our prospective industry. We knew nothing because A) We had the misfortune of studying at Lumaville State and B) The web seemed little more than a computer lab curiosity responsible for introducing the tilda to English speakers. Web addresses may no longer look like cartoon talk bubbles full of profanity ("'#@%~!' you too, Dagwood!") but they don't look like broadsheets either. We had little reason to believe that its once blue "hyperlinks" and primitive grey screens would soon swallow all media that had preceded it and permanently reorganize the industry in its image.
It's as if some bastard offspring of Edison, Bell, Farnsworth, Gutenberg and the Lumiere Brothers cooked up a Dream Machine upon which all human desire may be projected, reflected and perhaps even perfected - always on, always aglow. Of course, the road from the boob-tube to YouTube, from movable type to blogs with typos is laden with casualties. There's an entire generation that will never purchase music in a record store or read a printed newspaper, let alone call a travel agent and say "Get me out of here before the Singularity and the sentient Internet turns us into slaves."
This is how I found myself on the lifestyle beat for a startup that required endless filing of snark and crap that met certain considerations of "keyword density" and adhered to the house style of punchy prose that was neither punchy nor prose by any definition of contemporary letters. IMHO. For the past five years, the work had been winnowed, watered and weighed down in equal measure. For the past five years I've been in psychic exile. For the past five years, I've been leaning on a pseudonyms to make the rent because...
I also buried an intern.
This is the truth: When you fail to talk your newsroom intern out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, prepare yourself for the following: Your intern will be dead, your career will be over and your newspaper will fold. And not into a paper hat.
That's really how I became a small town newspaperman without a town or a newspaper. I'm sure some even questioned whether I had the moral ground to call myself a man.
With some modest triangulating on Google it could be known that I was the writer who whose words - my stock and trade - had utterly failed to talk a young man out of taking two steps back onto the bridge's pedestrian walkway and into the rest of his young life.
"Is it going to get better, the newspaper, life, all of this?" he spat against the wind as it whipped his chestnut hair against his 21-year-old forehead.
"No. It's only going to get worse."
"Then why do we do it?" he asked.
I didn't have an answer. Or, I did, but it wasn't the right answer. He shifted his grip and the sweat from his palms darkened the rust-hue of the girder and I improvised.
This is much is certain: It was not the answer he was seeking. He let go and in one glib moment, with no foresight and no hindsight of which to speak, changed both of our lives forever.
There's more but we'll get to that. What's germane is from that moment hence I'd been searching for a story - a new story that would make my past and failures a footnote to the shiny future I'd lost, that my intern lost that everyone lost. Really, my new story needed to be an old story: a redemption tale, as they say in Hollywood; one with enough truth and triumph to clear my byline so that, among other advantages, I might use it again.
I found the story. Or I could get cute and say the story found me. Apparently, that's an antimetabole and some day I might look it up to prove it. In the meantime, not to fracture the fourth wall into constituent fractals of meaning but the story begins, as these things do, in a mirror.