SUNDAY STARTS rudely when the visiting dog decides to inform his hosts that the paperboy is on time. Throwing heavy objects at 13-year-old golden retrievers is frowned upon, so my return bark has to do. A few hours later, Sunday starts when it's supposed to, a little after noon.
After rolling two friends from West Virginia, a photographer and a stereo salesman, out of their sleeping bags, I remember two things. First, there is no coffee, and second, there is no car. My car is sitting securely locked near the Psychi-Deli in Bethesda. So are my keys. I hope. I borrow a car and drive to the Grand Union for coffee.
We finally pile me my brother Bob, the photographer, the stereo salesman, the musician living in the basement and his girlfriend into a van and head for Bethesda to break into my car.
No problem. Pop the latch on the rear window with a piece of sturdy but thin metal, unscrew the clasp and reach in with a modified broom-handle and metal catch my brother cleverly fashioned, and we're through in under five minutes.
We are not destined to see "The Return of the Seacaucus 7," though in our Sunday-best we look like a group of evolutionary throw-backs to the late '60s. We miss the first show, and, after we finish killing time looking at skis we can't afford and eating ice cream at a Swensen's, we saunter to the theater for the second show. We find lines on Wisconsin and a sold-out sign at the box office.
Finally we end up at Quincy's in Arlington, somewhat flabbergasted at all the women who approach the table and want to dance with a group of aging hippies. Maybe the '80s will be good for the ego. About 1 a.m. Monday, it dawns on my brother and me that it's deadline week at work. Monday
After a quick, "Drive careful and say 'Hi' to the home front," to our West Virginia visitors, my brother and I head for work, after carefully adjusting our straight-ahead-empty-eyed-Metro-stares.
About 10 a.m., I look over my story list, try to find my notes and wonder if I'll finish by Thursday. I've never missed a deadline, but have worried a lot of editors. Until a few months ago, Alan Hodel, Journal editor, would spend the week before deadline motioning at his empty copy basket and make noises about cutting back eight pages because we weren't going to be able to fill the book. We've always filled the book and Alan's quiet now.
I decide to work on the stories I've completed my research on, and make a list of what needs to be done with the others. Much depends on finding a WATS line and hoping folks return my calls. One of the biggies this month depends on a package I hope was put in the mail Friday night in Spokane, Wash.
I fit together in a workmanlike but uninspired way, a story about some problems at a Canadian coal mine. Safety problems there led to a week-long shutdown, contract talks are stalled and the miners there are becoming upset at the firm's stubbornness. A handlful of shorter pieces and phone calls to Mine Safety and Health Administation officials about a court ruling on a new oxygen-producing mine self-rescuer take up the rest of the day.
We hit the Metro, snarl over the sport section and get home.
Rent and fuel oil from the same paycheck is the reason the cupboard is stocked with rice, beans and noodles. We find a pack of chicken in the freezer and rejoice.
The weekend has taken its toll and I go to bed about 10 p.m. and read. But the 11 o'clock news and "Nightline" force me to stay awake. Tuesday
Bob misses the alarm on his day-watch. The battle for the sports section almost leads to a fist fight and we remember we didn't get the trash out last night. There is always next week.
I used to hate going through the court records when I covered county government in West Virginia. But it has been almost a year since my last court visit and my three hours at the U.S. Court of Appeals is strangely satisfying.
In the afternoon, a 20-minute search for my file on self-rescuers finally uncovers my notes and the panic subsides. The story of the 11-year history of these very necessary and lifesaving devices flows easier than yesterday. I edit it, than take a second read and congratulate myself for boiling it down to nine takes.
Several times during the day we are interrupted by phone calls from newspapers and electronic folks with requests for information on our contract talks with the coal operators. Having worked the other side, I have to fight strong urges to tell reporters more than what we have decided, with great input from on-high, we will release today. I fight the urge.
A call to my Spokane person informs me the package hasn't been mailed. No panic but it makes things a bit more difficult. After several phone calls, I get what I need and set aside a whole day to write the story. One of the calls adds even more information than what I expected.
Late in the afternoon, our newsroom (all of us are former reporters and refuse to call it an office and are somewhat embarrassed by its official title, Office of Public Information) turns into a scene that's a cross between "Lou Grant" and a victorious basketball locker room.
I share by phone call with the others and "hot damns" and hand-slaps echo through the basement. Bob discovers some grand jury information about a story he has been working on for months. The scene is repeated. Herald ("like a newspaper") Grandstaff gets the first taste of a story about industry efforts to gut mine safety laws. Arnell Church discovers that a $200 valve and a hard-bitten company foreman have lead to a small strike and more than $100,000 in lost production at a West Virginia mine. Our union member, whom the foreman accused of stealing the valve, is absolved of all charges in arbitration. He was, as he told the foreman, simply turning the thing in. All this happens in a two-hour span and occassionally we find folks peering around the corner to try to figure out what is going on. Work ends on an upbeat.
Tonight, I go out with someone I met Saturday, who surprised me by calling Sunday and asking me out. She quickly grasps the concept of Dutch treat and I don't have to worry about using an already overburdened Visa card. I am home by 1 a.m. Wednesday
Small stories, which are sometimes as time consuming as large ones, take up the morning. My brother and I fight over the sports section at lunch. It's nice to have some constants.
Our contract with the coal operators expires at the end of March and we have added two newsletters to our workload. That takes a big chunk of the afternoon.
A request for a ruler by our department head turns into a battle of memos. He claims I have stolen the "tapered, eight-inch ruler." A shouting match ensues over the phone. I find out later that a couple of people thought we were serious and wonder when I'm going to get canned. He gets my ruler.
Tomorrow is deadline day and I have the whole day to work on one story, which I still find a luxury after working on daily newspapers.
Bob, Mickey, a next door neighbor, and I split a half-gallon of California wine and engage in megalomanic schemes about movies, music and books.
Tonight, my time belongs to the all-sports network and Warren Zevon, loud enough to bounce the headphones from my ears. Thursday
Today is fun. While I realized much of what I do now is nowhere as noble (by definition anyway) as newspaper work, I am convinced that much of it is genuine advocacy journalism.
A story in a newsletter has accused the UMWA of trying to murder a silver miner, his wife and children. It is loaded with mistakes, the first being we don't represent any silver miners. A check with several sources, including a number of journalists who worked on the story, presents a vastly different tale. The newletter people admitted the mistake of identifying the UMWA as the would-be assassins, but stood by the accuracy of the rest of the story. I give them one more chance to respond and they still stand by the story.
Bob and I leave work and I hand him the sports section. He seems disappointed.
Mickey and I spend three hours in a class on how to use video equipment so we can qualify to use the gear that will be made available on Metro-Cable's public access channel. Friday
All the copy is finished and now comes the monthly wait to see it in print. For some reason I don't feel the job is done until I can hold the magazine or newspaper in my hands.
A small case of post-deadline depression sets in, but the slowness is welcome and I am able to take a lunch away from my basement desk and spend an hour and a half out.
I turn down a dinner invitation. Bad takeout tacos, cheap beer and two pots of strong coffee get us through the first part of the evening.
During the past several months, we have set aside 11:30 to 1 a.m. for "Fridays." They started slow, but weird and absurd, and have built. After that, I read and listen to music until 4 a.m. and go to bed. Saturday
Breakfast is on the table by 2 p.m. and for some reason we wrap the leftover pancakes and mail them to my old managing editor in West Virginia. The weekend's excitement dwindles after that.