Saturday, December 21, 2013
Thursday, December 19, 2013
The Deaf, Dumb Washington Post
It was strange going to work as it's getting dark and getting off in the dark too. We were all in the dark in those days thanks in a large part to the Washington Post but now - not so much so. Kids will always be kids I suppose. I hear my children debating this or that everyday. When I was their age I was no different. It could be my brother or with friends but when you are younger you have the energy combined with a overwhelming need to define your universe and how you fit into it. So we were always arguing over something. Who was the greatest Redskin quarterback? What was the name of the Indian in "My Little Chickadee?" How long was the "Ten Years War?" Okay I'll admit we were not great thinkers. Being that as it may, one damn sure fire way to settle the argument was if the Washington Post said it was this way and not that. When they reported the details of the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," there was not reason to argue. It was something that happened to us by those low down upstart Vietnamese who must not know who they were dealing with here. We're the Americans who just whipped the damn Nazis and you South East Asians think you can fire on our damn navy? Of course nobody was writing about war or anything as media like the Washington Post were all reporting that this was just an "incident." Because of this incident however the Post wrote more and more about this threat of communism spreading from Vietnam into the rest of South East Asia, over through India into Europe and finally across the pond to main street right here in America. This was the dreaded Domino Theory. So naturally we agreed with the media and felt giving the South Vietnamese a hand would be a wise thing to do.
My mom just can't stand a liar and that's how I was raised. My great grandfather was known for honesty as the first elected Cuban president. So before moving forward please allow me to be clear. Everybody today freely admits that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was complete nonsense and never occurred. It was a classic wag the dog operation aided and abetted by the Washington Post and it resulted in over fifty thousand dead young Americans and a million Vietnamese. In addition millions on both sides were maimed physically and psychologically. At the end of the day all the Washington Post has to offer is the truth.
When I began to realize that maybe the Post wasn't delivering the truth starting in the 1980's I was disappointed. But I thought it was just a business decision about what politics were relevant to their liberal readers. However, they were lying through omission. So I became suspicious nonetheless. It would not become apparent to me until after the turn of the millennium how many times the Washington Post had bold face Gulf of Tonkin lied to me. These editorial idiots thought they could fool all of the people all of the time and do it forever. They might have gotten away with it except for the Internet. With the Internet you can check facts and compare arguments to reach a logical conclusion. It quickly allows you to find out how many times media like the Washington Post has lied to you. That's the reason Congress wants to charge bloggers and information websites a tax then give the money to the newspapers and network TV dinosaurs. Everybody knows when you tax and regulate something it shrinks like George Castanza's pride and joy in a cold pool. Ah but subsidizing will at least keep business on life supports. In the end though businesses that need to be subsidized die a bloated undignified death brought about by their own greedy hands. The Washington Post shall not be immune to this law of the universe either. Their number of paying subscribers shrinks every day and were it not for federal advertising revenue I doubt seriously they could last a month. Well to be more accurate, Donny Graham sure would not waste any of his wealth subsidizing the Washington Post. So he and his minions will continue to pursue the creation of the newspaper life raft affectionately known on Capital Hill as the "Newspaper Revitalization Act." Just remember...it's all just an act that the taxpayers are subsidizing.
How dumb are the guys running things? Well first they let the Internet out of the bag. Then more and more Americans start to wise up and exchange information about how we've all been lied to by the Post and other newspapers and TV networks. So now these idiots want to tax us for spreading the truth and pay the Washington Post to keep on lying. Finally, they hope to pretend it is 1950 again, shut down websites the government doesn't like and hoping the people don't notice. Good luck because the horse has already left the barn. Even my formerly statist brother and my mother who worked for the Justice Department as the administrative assistant to a number of Assistant Attorney Generals as well as for John Fetters when he headed the SEC during the Reagan administration, know something is fishy about what we are all being told. The more the government tries to hide the truth the more suspicious the people will become so even when the government is telling the truth the people will think them liars. The people will simply email one another if the government shuts down website containing the truth.
None of these things were apparent to me or anyone back in the sixties when I made my first tour with the Washington Post. I met with the supervisor that Augie had arranged and he spoke briefly with me to describe the work. As far as I can recall those were the last words I heard until the end of the shift when he asked how everything went. It's not that the other workers were rude. They were all deaf.
I walked onto the collating floor and everywhere you turned workers were flashing sign language back and forth. Supposedly, they were handicapped but I was the only one who didn't know what the hell was going on. So by any definition I felt like the handicapped person. For all I knew they could have been talking about me like a dog. I didn't know any sign language except for the rude ones that all fifteen year-old boys know instinctively. However, I never recalled any of that vocabulary being used during the evening. The feeling was a lot like when I was in France years later. In Paris you can get by with English but in the countryside you better know some French. I did and would leave France after two weeks knowing a hell of a lot more. But when I left work that night the sign language was still completely Greek to me. One nice young deaf woman, who I think the boss got to keep an eye on me, showed me a couple different signs but I couldn't say now what they were. Obviously, they went into one ear and out the other so to speak. I always wondered if she was Penny Herbold, one of my assignment coordinators who I would work with during my second tour of duty with the mockingbird. Penny had about a decade on me and she did work in collating. What's collating? Well on Wednesdays the Post had inserts which had to be, well...inserted into the paper. So all of us were lined up standing by a conveyor belt which brought us stacks of newspapers. Five papers were stacked this way and five were stacked that way so the papers wouldn't topple over before we could get to them. Some toppled nonetheless. We would grab a stack off the conveyor, take the papers one by one and shove the insert into it. Finally, we would re-stack the freshly inserted Washington Post alternating them five facing this way and five facing that way so they would not slide off the conveyor. That's it! Not rocket science and I would have done the job but as is the case with my life, I got lucky.
Back in the late 60's the newspaper business was a highly toxic endeavor. The job was filled with lead type and chemicals too horrible to be legally exposed to today. I'm sure Augie is dead now but I can't say. He smoked heavily and worked his whole adult life in a toxic work environment as a printer so I would bet his chances for survival today are quite slim. Certainly, if the job had only been a bit more convenient then I might have continued to work there and God forbid - become a printer. I too would be a dead man today.
Whether or not it was Penny Herbold in the late sixties I'll never know. But she was nice to work with and spoke very clearly for someone with a hearing problem. So Penny could speak to you unlike most of the other deaf folks on the floor who needed pen and paper to get anything across to thick Tom - a dog too old by then to master the sign language trick. Penny's husband Dave also worked on the sixth floor in Ad Operations. Like me, he was a proofreader. He hated his job and being at the Washington Post in general. Like everyone there however, he enjoyed the nice paycheck as well as the worker's paradise benefits.
Every night Dave Herbold and most of the Post employees could be found traveling down the information highway surfing away during my first few years at the Post. On his desk would be just one ad jacket. He had already QCed the ad meaning checked it for errors. In QC the last thing you want to do is have the Washington Post get a write-off that has your signature on the ad. I don't care who you are or what union you belonged to. Nobody could get many write offs and keep a job at the Washington Post - at least not proofreading. The tactic used by absolutely every other proofreader the whole ten years that I worked in Ad Operations was simple but effective. Just reduce the number of ads with your name on them any way you could. This was especially easy for a deaf, union proofreader to do. Dave Herbold sat at his desk, strategically position to face Bob Tamoria's office and he'd be surfing away. Every so often out pops Bob from his office and the sign language starts to spread through shop floor before Bob had taken more than four steps. The other three union proofreaders hit the Step Done or Reject button to move the ad down the Track-It line and get up to file their ads appropriately. Then they'd grab another ad, return to their desk and start proofing the ad until Bob returned to his office. Continuing the cycle of life they would hit the surf once more with their insurance ad jacket at their side. I, on the other hand, had a pile of ad jackets on my desk. In a shift back in those pre-economic collapse days while the Federal Reserve was pumping up the economy with lots of space bucks I proofed over a hundred ads or more every night. Some nights there were so many ads in the QC rack that they would fall out occasionally because it was so stuffed. The guys in the union? They may have gotten twenty or so under their belt. With the union contract all they had to do was show up for work and look like they were working. They knew as long as they didn't get a write-off and showed up for work sober and the work got done they were safe.
The turn of the millennium found the Washington Post evolving to the desktop environment to make a newspaper. The management was switching over to these new computer systems and various software packages which all had to be integrated to work with one another without a font dropping out or a logo vanishing. Needless to say but I will, the bosses were just happy each night to survive one I.T. crisis after another during those early Track-It days when the systems crashed every other day it seemed and twice on Thursdays. Managers were busy smoothing out the kinks. They had not yet figured out how to use this new technology to gauge how much work their employees were cranking out each day. However, the Mockingbird would eventually sort out how to use their computers to maximize worker production in the paradise.
So the other proofreaders loved me right from the beginning. I did all the work and took all the chances of getting the write off. The work was getting done and write offs dropped. When I began at the Post in the late 90's the management had budgeted for a couple million in write offs and make goods (print the ad again for the advertiser but this time get it right). When I left the Washington Post in 2009 the budget for write offs was under $100,000.
Bob Tamoria was happy with me too because the work was getting done on time correctly. Sure I had a few write off during the decade but not as many as the other proofreaders who all were reading far fewer ads than me. At the Post they had a "don't ask don't tell policy." For example when I worked in digital pagination several years later I would collect all the close times and any other things I thought were important and send them to Ronnie. Before Ronnie was head of the night Ad Op department Paul Poteat had the job and we use to hand write all this stuff and walk it down to his office. Then Paul would create the report by retyping our close times and what not. Ronnie saw the wisdom being more computer savvy to bypass the paper and typing. He let me just email the data to him so he could cut and paste it into his report to his superiors. His superiors wanted to know how everything went every night. Somebody screwed up in our department but luckily I caught the mistake and proudly included it in the pagination report I emailed to Ronnie always looking for that "atta boy...good catch." Sure enough later or perhaps the next day Ronnie calls me into the office and does thank me for making the "catch." Then he tells me never to put that in a report again. "We don't air our dirty laundry." I caught his drift. Never tell the Washington Post hierarchy how to make Ad Operation sausage. Just keep grinding away every night getting perfect ads on the page by the hundreds for less and less employee costs with these new fancy computer machines making the mockingbird millions of dollars in revenue. Donald Graham and the top people who report to him always kept an eye on the bottom line. Those good old days they had bigger fish to fry with their time though. The result was the farther back I go into my time at the Post the more lavish soirees they threw on a more regular basis. Everybody from Don on down did a lot more smiling in those days.
Penny Herbold liked me well enough but she would get real cross at her husband from time to time. I'd see her dressing him down with sign language. In case you didn't know, you can tell when a deaf person is pissed off while signing to another deaf person. Well...you had no trouble telling when it was Penny pissed off at Dave anyway. Penny's fingers would be flying talking a mile a minute, slashing this way and that, because her husband was slacking and she needed to get the work done before she could go home. Her husband, on the other hand, would be groveling with signed excuses I could only imagine. "Baby, I'm sorry but I have a head ache and I'm still tired from mowing the lawn yesterday..." He was a bit out of shape as were most all of the Post workers. Penny however was very physically fit. She could have kicked his ass if she wanted to and I'm sure he knew it.
Dead men walking was the case mostly with the old guard. Cancer was big on the floor especially for the smokers of which their were many. You could still smoke inside in the smoking lounge back in those days next to the cafeteria. If you didn't have cancer then you certainly had high blood pressure and diabetes. Somebody was always celebrating something at the Post and the food flowed liberally resulting in the vast majority of Post Toasties being gravitationally challenged. These folks were big and sick. Many of them are dead today. All of them are gone from the Washington Post today accept for maybe Pete Gragnanni my old high school buddy down on the forth floor. When I left I was one of the old timers. Everybody I had worked with on the sixth floor was gone through retirement, death, termination or were paid to go away like me. My boss Ronnie retired and only shortly after we got the word that his wife passed away unexpectedly. This must be a bitter pill for the boss to swallow after working all those years to retire with his wife only to lose her just upon reaching the retirement promise land.
The Post never hired another deaf person after me of course. Maybe they would not have hired me if they knew how badly I scalded my ear drums with loud rock and roll growing up. When you don't hear well it can be a handicap because I speak fine but a bit loudly is all. I tried using a hearing aid but it turns out that this is too much information. I am overwhelmed by all the little buzzes and background noise. So people don't realize my hearing is bad and I do my best most time to hide it as well. Some mistake my volume for aggression. I hate to ask people to repeat themselves because I can't hear so I do lots of smiling, nodding in agreement and commenting where I sense it to be appropriate with phrases like, "I'm hip" or just "cool." If they laugh then I'll laugh too. I don't know what we're laughing about many times but at least we having fun. I think we are anyway.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Life In The Worker's Paradise
My first night I met Billy George and my boss Bob Tamoria. Bob Tamoria was a great boss to work for. He was a big part of working in the worker's paradise. You see, I had worked many hard jobs in the past with bosses who could give a damn about you. Bob really did care about his workers and so did the Washington Post apparently because they sure coddled employees - especially the union people. Billy George, on the other hand, was a union guy. He was one of the more friendly ones but that first night Bob had him showing me the ropes of how they were using the Track-It data basing system to move their ads from being created, to proofed and revised to finally being ready for press. He gave me a bum steer. Billy said I was working too hard and to slow up. Also he said every forty-five minutes I was to take a mandatory break. It seemed kind of kooky to me having worked real hard jobs my whole life. So I mentioned it to Bob and he set me straight. I could take a break every once in a while but not like that. So Bob and I became close since he was management and just about everybody else were union workers. They didn't have to speak to him and they didn't unless forced by some union contract agreed reason. So it was a lonely job for Bob and I know he appreciated the camaraderie and conversation.
Those first couple years in 1998 and 1999 that I was a temp at the Post were my final years in Virginia before moving back to Maryland. I don't even like driving into Virginia anymore. At this time I was making more money than I'd ever imagined but my credit was screwed by the mix up between me and my dead father. We have the same name but Bank of America somehow confused this eighty-six year old man and me. So now that they are having a rough time of it I'm not losing any sleep over their troubles. If they were to go completely out of business I think the world would be a better place for it. But as I said at first I was still living in Virginia planning our escape and raking in the dough from two jobs and now my wife was working too. Plus, the work at the Post was not like breaking rocks in the hot sun. I was in an environmentally control cubical sitting in a $1,200 ergonomically correct chair working with a computer. My boss thought I was great. I use to proof all of his reports and memos for errors and to make sure they were well written. I was hired to only proof advertising copy as far as upper management knew. Proofing Bob's reports was a task that I also did for several managers while at the Post because the paper had lots of smart managers but in Ad Operations not many great writers. The writers were on the fifth floor committing acts of journalism for the paper which, while well written and catchy, said absolutely nothing most times. I had already come to realize this years earlier. Even so I would punch up their prose a bit which made them look good for upper management who covet this sort of thing in their people. Being a manager at the post was like having a position in the Roman Senate. The compensation was great and you could afford nice togas but one of the other managers can always stick a knife in your back to enhance their own climb up the mockingbird ladder. Loose alliances formed between management factions. I was in a position to know about this, the situation with the union and its workers and just the general shop scuttle butt. So basically, I was familiar with who hated whom and who's team everybody allied themselves with especially at the top of the managerial ladder. When something big screws up heads can roll. For example, I saw a head of Advertising Operations go from being the night manager to being an ad makers the following week - and he was one of the luckier deposed managers. Most got lateraled into some bullshit position then paid to go away. Cold hard capitalism that the workers of the Washington Post did not experience...at least not at that time. But things change as I shall discuss.
The union workers on the sixth floor in Ad Ops where I worked fell into three groups. Most liked me and tolerated my scabby presence. Some were ambivalent like Lonny Chenery who didn't give a damn what your thing was as long as you didn't cross him or get in his way. I always obliged because I had to deal with a small percentage of workers who did despise me for being a temp working on their union turf. When I say workers I don't mean that in the literal sense. Some like this one "worker" Dee rarely did much work at all. Instead, I could on most nights hear her talking with her grandchildren on the phone and cackling loudly. But she certainly didn't want to work. She didn't want me to work either. All I wanted to do is show up and do what I was told to do and collect a paycheck. I still didn't agree with the Post's editorial position most times but it was their paper and I had to admit - they were making money. Lots of it. The ad rack was jammed every night with a hundred or more new ads. They just kept coming and coming and many nights we had to work past dawn to get caught up. An ad maker sometimes would shove an ad in my proof rack and three ad jackets would fall out it was so stuffed with revenue.
Putting together a newspaper is a hurry up and wait job. So you work hard and furious early getting the paper ready. Then you could have an hour or more at the end of your shift with nothing to do. Well, if you were in the union working under specific working condition legally binding and reviewable restricting you henceforth know as an "employee" to specified tasks and nothing else without prior notice and agreement with the said union then blah blah blah blah. In other words it was a legal pain in the ass to get any union worker to do anything more than the one job he was hired to do. The Post would just have to hire another worker while the union guys sit and do nothing. Which brings me to one night later in the shift when there was not any proof reading to do for the four of us proofreaders - so Bob Tamoria grabbed an ad from the rack and told me to build it. It was a Quark ad and I'd never used Quark before. I dove in as software is software to me and after about forty-five minutes I'd built the ad. I hit the Stepped Done button with Track-It and was up at the ad rack looking to grab another ad to do. That's when Dee walked up to me.
"Building ads now Tom?" She asked in a snide tone. But I responded politely, "Yes. We're kind of slow in Q.C. (That stands for Quality Control) and Bob Tamoria told me to build ads." Dee's rude response to my shock was, "That's right Tom. Keep sucking Tamoria's ass." A bit stunned I said, "Excuse me?" But Dee just walked way babbling to herself. She just despised me. I told Bob about it. Next thing you know there's a big investigation involving him, the head of Ad Ops, Legal, the Union...and of course Dee. They never contacted me about anything, most likely because Legal feared I may have an actionable claim against the Post for Dee's bad harassing behavior. The Post is real concerned about their public image and would not appreciate bad press about their contract temp employees being harassed by the Washington Post's employees. Even so Bob filled me in on all the details. It ended with Dee breaking down in tears and begging for mercy. She was only written up with a reprimand. She didn't speak to me again unless she had to due to work which she rarely still did little of. She did complain to me on one occasion after that but I can't remember about what. All I recall now is I responded that she should tell it to someone who gave a damn. She never spoke to me again which was a relief.
Her husband Joe hated me as well. He worked in Ad Operations too and did lots of overtime. He actually worked real hard I must say. But he was a union guy and his wife had gotten into trouble for telling me to suck Tamoria's ass which of course was really all my fault for being a temp worker trying to feed his wife and kids. One evening not long after the Dee affair Joe asked me a job related question to which I answered while referring to him as "Boss." He went off about him not being my boss and glad for not having the position. So DON'T CALL HIM BOSS ANYMORE! But I called everybody Boss at the Post because I was lower than whale shit at the bottom of the ocean. Everybody's my boss. So I replied, "Sorry Boss. I thought everybody here was my boss."
He walked away even more annoyed than before but before he too met his wife's fate with the grand inquisitors of the Washington Post. In the days ahead I too would find myself before the inquisitor of the mockingbird for various harassment thought crimes perpetrated by word of mouth.
It's funny now thinking about it. It ended by me being written up for "Instigating a Conversation." I'm not kidding. A conversation. The conversation I perpetrated dealt with economics with a recently hired temp who was a nice guy but flying left. He wanted the government deciding everything while I'm more of a Jeffersonian free thinker and actor who abhors interference into my private decisions by government or anyone for that matter. We're debating late that night and in the middle of my "conversation" which I may or may not have "started" when another proofreader tells me to shut up because she has to work with this other proofreader. In other words she felt my conversation might scare him away from work. But I'm relatively sure this middle-aged single woman was kind of sweet on this guy and this was her way to show she cared. But we ignored her and kept talking. But she kept telling me to shut up until I finally responded, "No I'm not going to shut up." To which she replied, "Would you like me to go home?" She was a typical union proofreader milking every ad and proofreading as few ads as possible to minimize her chances of being caught giving up a write-off. So her statement had nothing to do with my conversation with Brice who she was sweet on even though I'm sure he's gay. At the very least when he realized the whole affair might have been due to this worker being fond of him he needless to say was not pleased by the honor. But I told her I didn't care if she did go home because as usual she wasn't doing any work. She jumped up, grabs her things and turns to leave just as Bob Tamoria comes wheeling out of his office to see what the commotion is all about. He says, "What's going on?" Liz replies, "I'm going home because Tom told me to go home." Bob told her to go I suppose because there was only half an hour left anyway and it would diffuse any possible issues at least until Bob sorted it out. She left and I was still peeved she could be permitted to interrupt our conversation and tell me to shut up repeatedly. But Bob got me to settle down I after a bit I thought that was the end of it at least for me.
This was the end of the week and when I returned the following week this worker's schedule started one day earlier than mine had. She used the opportunity to claim that I had been somehow violent and made her feel, "uncomfortable," which a white, heterosexual male must never be found guilty of at the Washington Post especially against one of the protected groups of employees. If you somehow made a black, gay, lesbian woman feel uncomfortable then your ass was surely getting fired. It is fitting enough punishment for some of my genetic material still being composed of the DNA of white Europeans who perpetrated four hundred years of slavery and oppression. So I understood this naturally. Even so I had forgotten the whole issue when I arrived to work that next week and sat down to get busy. But the phone rings and it's the head of Ad Ops, Tom Glinka. That's never good the first thing when you get in. He tells me to come to his office and when I do Ronnie is there too and they ask me to shut the door behind me and sit down. I figured I wasn't going to get a Merit Pay bonus for good work. Then they tell me about this alleged violent behavior that had been invented in the mind of my accuser who possessed one third of the protected status criteria being a woman. She had me threatening her with violence and feeling uncomfortable all over the place. I knew I was in deep trouble. The trouble for her was no one on the floor ever heard any violence or anything that would make anybody feel uncomfortable. So Glinka wrote us both up, her for leaving work before her shift and me for that conversation instigation that was partly to blame because I should have known better than to say I wasn't going to shut up when a member of a protected class ordered me to do so. But that was the end of it for me though I never spoke another word to her the remaining years I worked for the mockingbird and most of those years were spent with her only two yards from me on the other side of the cubical. In fact she was so hysterical about it that when they moved me back to sit across from her after being in another department she had a fit and ended up being suspended herself.
Well she just kill the goose that laid the golden burrito. I got this woman food at Burrito World every night for several years but no more since I wasn't taking orders from her. After three or four months again I arrive at work but the phone call I get is from Personnel this time. They ask me to come by right now. This doesn't sound good I thought as I walk to their office wondering if this had anything to do with the earlier incident. I thought, nah. I walk in and after a bit of friendly chit chat I'm told of a violent conversation I had with my supervisor several weeks earlier which of course made my accuser feel uncomfortable. The trouble was it never happened except perhaps in my accuser's mind. She used the opportunity to bring up the earlier incident in which she felt she had not received her adequate quantity flesh. But I knew this time she would never be a problem any longer as I never had any violent conversations with my supervisor whom she waited three weeks for him to go on vacation for two weeks before lodging her complaint. So I stayed for several hours in Personnel just chatting away about anything and everything to stall for time while I knew the managers in Ad Ops would be hopping mad because I wasn't there. This worker had taken off as well because I guess she was hoping they would fire me because of her delusions. When I finally went back to the sixth floor Ronnie asked where I'd been with a stern look like it better be good. I said, "Sorry boss but I've been up in Personnel discussing the fight that me and Randy had." Ronnie worked the same hours as we did and never missed a day at work or a thing that went on there. He said, "What fight?" I quickly replied, "You tell me boss. You know who said Randy and I had violent conversation several weeks ago and it made her feel uncomfortable." Ronnie screamed, "Bullshit! You and Randy never had any fight here." I smiled and replied, "I tend to agree with you, boss." Ronnie told me to forget about it and he would handle it. He must have because that's the last I heard of it and she never filed any further complains against me. She had destroyed her credibility but there were plenty more at the Post and they held higher social ranking as well.
It's funny but the joke was I was cheating at the employee appreciation soirees because I always won the baseball tickers - at least several years in a row. At one point as they are reaching into the hat to see who is going to win the baseball tickets someone yells, "This better not be Estrada-Palma again." Ned got the Kathryn Graham book and I joked, "Gee Ned...I was hoping for the Kathryn Graham book but all I got were these lousy Nationals tickets behind their dugout. He gave me that, "You bastard" laugh.
But my earlier accuser also won the tickets as well but didn't realize I had won the pair right next to her pair of tickets. That afternoon of the game a couple months later I'm sitting with my son Alex when she walks up with the usher alone then realizes it's me sitting there. She thanks the usher then walks away never to return. I figured she must have been embarrassed to be seen at the game by herself with two tickets.
So later that evening I call in at work because I had taken off to go to the game and I was telling Randy guess who I saw at the game as well as her walking away and not returning. Ronnie the night manager overheard our conversation as he was passing by and asked what's up. Randy told him what I said and I could hear Ronnie screaming from the other end of the phone. "God dammit! She told me she was taking off to fly to Florida to be with her sick father." She got the Ronnie riot act when she came to work that next week but I'm sure she had developed a lie by that time as an excuse for her being at the game when she said she would be at her father's sick bedside.
I survived this mockingbird investigation but there would be others to come. Again these would involve conversations and allegations of being uncomfortable. I survived them all and now I can tell the story. The Washington Post is still thought of in respectful terms by many even though some of the nonsense they charged me with will surely bring a smile when I tell the story. It's a story of the ridiculous wrapped in the foolish all conducted with a witch hunt flare on a journey to be like fair and stuff like equality and like stuff you know... I will tell you how it feels to be before snotty nosed little college graduates acting as lead investigator, prosecutor, judge and grand jury using secret evidence which we the accused are not permitted to view in order to render their verdicts. When you find yourself being a straight white guy as well you are already down two strikes before you ever sit down. Fortunately, the only punishment for my infractions were verbal and written reprimands mostly for not being sensitive enough to the feelings of others. That meant my accusers heard me talking to someone else because my hearing is bad and I speak loudly - I'm the first to admit. If they disagreed with my opinion I was expressing to someone else that could be grounds for an investigation. At the Post it is never wise to say anything above a whisper and only to trusted co-workers. Never put anything in writing unless you are forced to then make to real vanilla. At the Post there are no problem - only issues. At least that's what I was told by management.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Post Separation Syndrome
Well I was the chairman of the Maryland Libertarian Party. How could I actually subscribe to a newspaper that would not cover political candidates who were not first vetted and approved by the establishment who were always screwing things up just like today? Besides, we had the Moonie paper - the Washington Times. The Washington Times actually published lots of my letters and even had a few real American independent, Constitution supporting, Jeffersonian type commentators like Paul Craig Roberts, Joseph Sobran and James Bovard. I'm telling you - when you can read commentators relating examples of how in every case legalizing liberty is the best thing to do over all...it's refreshing! The problem then more so than now was that the vast majority of Americans were confused about the definition of liberty. They confused it with absolute freedom...to say - piss on your lawn or crap in your driveway. Liberty, if I may remind everyone just in case, is responsible freedom. In different words, liberty is engaging in any individual or group activity of free will that pleases you which does not infringe on the rights of others to do likewise. Dig?
How the devil is any public school educated American supposed to understand these American concepts when all the newspapers and the growing number television and cable networks never even acknowledge that there is any other way to go than to let the government do it and oversee it? I began subscribing to the Times and stopped reading the Post. It was the early years of the 90's decade and my wife and I bought a house in Prince William, Virginia. This was a big mistake for many reasons including having the bad luck to move right next door to a criminally insane woman who terrorized my family for almost the entire seven year sentence that we lived in Prince William county. Well...it felt like a sentence anyway. Prince William county is like P.G. county Virginia. Washington region life-long residents will know what I mean. What your government local central planners in both counties in their respective states of Maryland and Virginia across the river for the most part have designed is a high density region. Using zoning laws they cram as many people in as possible with tons of apartments, town homes and condos. No roads but lots of tiny domiciles. All the other counties pretty much ban apartments, town homes and condos. Under this central planning, the riff raff working class Joe Six Packs are crammed into these counties while the elites can live in the richer counties complete with adequate living space and even luxuries like plenty of nice roads and not having a strip mall every third traffic light. And speaking of traffic and lights, P.G. and P.W. both have plenty of each. In these counties it is all about control. The elites believe that the working class residents of both counties require micro management because most never made it to community college much less Harvard. So we're too stupid to mind our own affairs. If we have children then we must all have special oversight by the child protective authorities. One of the tactics used by my crazy neighbor was to call socialist services on me saying I was abusing my children. She had it backwards. My children were abusing me as they still do today somewhat even as young adults. It's what all kids do to their parents until one day they have kids themselves and must eat the crow they fed to their parents. But my wife and I were the subjects of bi-yearly investigations. Each time fortunately found innocent.
The fact is I picked up politically in Virginia from where I left off in Maryland. The Virginia Libertarians tried to get me to be the Virginia state chairman. But my home owners association had just elected me President so my time would be precious. However, I agreed to be Vice Chairman. I was reelected President of my association two more times - unanimously. I had to force out the old board who was squandering the owner's association dues. I fired everybody except the garbage company who were the only contractors doing a competitive job. I ended up running for the Chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors, which is the head of the county government. I was getting lots of letters printed in the local papers because they seemed to enjoy my libertarian Georgist perspective. A Libertarian Georgist by the way is an individual who loves freedom and agrees with Henry George on how to share the earth so we don't have to fight over it all the time for the rich guys. Read "Progress and Poverty" for more details.
Though I lost the election I was shaking things up locally and making politicos nervous. Hilda Barge, my local supervisor accosted me while I was gathering petition signatures to get onto the ballot for my race. She shouted at a person who was signing my petition, "Don't sign that petition! It's for Gerry Cleary!! That was her Republican opponent in the upcoming election. I said, "No it's not, Hilda. It's for me. To get me on the ballot." She replied, "For what?" I said, "Chairman of the Board of Supervisors." She grabbed the petition clipboard from the shocked person who still hadn't signed it. She took a look then threw it on the floor in absolute contempt and walked away. How dare I run for the top county position!
As I mentioned the socialist services kept investigating us even though our family was a typical Beaver Cleaver type family where I went to work while my wife stayed home and trained the children to be adults one day. At this writing I can say we are getting close to that ultimate goal after which my wife and I plan on making our kids miserable using the standard parental revenge - guilt. Still, it is scary, humiliating and stressful to be investigated by these local kid welfare Nazis. Then Tom Shultz, my neighborhood friend who was on the board with me and was well connected with local politics gave me a warning after hearing me complaining about another investigation. In essence he said I talk too much. Running for office I made a lot of local politicos look stupid and amateurish and I had too many of my ideas being printed in the papers. I was rocking the boat but I was real popular with the locals. So investigating us was like a weapon. We're talking about my children who now numbered four.
One of the last investigations is typical. I get home from work in the evening only to find a couple of cops and a socialist services worker sitting in my living room for another parental inquisition. They were there for me to explain myself about an allegation of me locking my children in my shed. After a couple minutes of polite chit chat the socialist worker got down to business. "We have information that you may be locking your children in your shed to discipline them." The disgust on my face was apparent as I hesitated then smiled. I let out a loud laugh because this was so stupid and easy to refute. I replied, "Of all the baseless accusations that your agency has leveled at my wife and I that you have always found us innocent of - this is the most ridiculous allegation I've ever heard. Come with me please. You too Mathew." I told the group and my son. We walked out to the small backyard and I continued to explain myself to the inquisitors for the county. "You see folks, this is my tool shed. The reason I have this lock on the door is to keep children out of my shed." I unlocked the shed, removed the pad lock, pulled the bolt back on one door away from the other door. Then I reached in and grabbed the metal rod on the inside that secured that door from opening making sure it was secure. "Okay Mat...get in." My son got into the shed and I closed the door, slide the bold into position and put the pad lock back on and locked it. "Okay Mat." I said at which point my son grabbed the metal rod holding the doors in position on the inside, lifted it out of its hole, pushed the doors open and walking out of the shed. "You see ladies and gentlemen...you can't lock a child in my tool shed. You can only lock them out. I'm locking children out of my tool shed because tools are valuable as well as dangerous." They glanced at one another sheepishly and I must say they looked the fools. Of course everybody wanted to go home now and make a quick escape but I punished them with polite conversation. I was talking them to death. After about an hour of them sitting their doing their best to be polite while I rambled and joked they said, "Well...we've got to be going." But I was still talking as they walked down my path and got into their cars. I knew right then that, while I could be investigated at any time in the future by the socialist services, it probably would not be this browbeaten group just freshly escaped from my conversational death grip.
I took my friend's advice and shut up though. I couldn't risk my children. I left the Presidency of the home owners association and I quit writing letters. But this was during the Clinton administration and my separation from the Washington Post was stretching into several years at that point. I was working for a company in DC called The LanguagExchange which later became Language One. It was Fall of 1998 when one of the temp companies I had worked with years earlier called to ask if I would work for the Washington Post proofreading at night. The economy was roaring so they were having a hard time filling the position since the hours were seven PM until two-thirty AM. However, for me this was perfect. I could still work my day job and work at the Post too. I needed the extra money because my wife and I were planning on buying another house outside of Virginia, moving there and turning the one in Prince William into a rental. We needed to escape my crazy neighbor who was throwing flammable liquids on my front door then cutting our phone line, shooting her pistol off in the back yard and I was to find out later held that gun to my five year-old son Andy's head on the playground and said, "Die!" My kids couldn't play in the back yard until I built a huge shed that got me into hot water with the homeowners association. The new President sited us for having a fence that was too high. I showed him the association's by-laws, which I had recently rewritten then had it ratified by the homeownership membership. So I knew what was legal. I pointed out that the document says fences should be approximately 6 feet high. Cortez our new President asserted that approximately meant less than six feet. I can't say enough for that public school education system. My new fence made it more difficult for Lynn the crazy neighbor to throw bricks over the fence and kill or maim one of my children.
So the extra work would facilitate our plans to flee. Let me say that plan turned into a fiasco when it ended in us losing the property after our renters turned into squatters. The Bank of America confused my credit with my father who had just passed away and we even ended up living in a hotel for several weeks and with friends until we could secure a rental. The stress damn near killed me and I got very sick. I started looking more like Ickabob Crane and less like big Bubba.
I had stopped working for the LanguagExchange by then and was solely working with the Washington Post. However, I was only a temporary surrounded by a floor full of old-timers still in the union. I was bound to have conflicts being a scab but I must say the money was great and I was working in the worker's paradise.
Monday, December 16, 2013
My Protest Gets Zero Coverage
But I was in my twenties in the 1970s. There was only one important thing - girls. Girls were always on my mind. And you could use the Washington Post to help you find them as well and the paper even had hints to coach you up on how to act around them so you could secure one for yourself. You needed all the help you could get too trying to impress the ladies on $42 bucks a week. To make matters worse we had gas shortages and had to get into gas lines at the crack of dawn to fill up the car. There was odd even rationing. On odd days only drivers with the last number of their license plate being an odd number could get gas. The Washington Post was right there with articles advising you how you could use your time constructively while you waited four hours creeping in line to fill up. The Post also told us about President Ford's WIN buttons. WIN stood for Whip Inflation Now. All you had to do is come up with an idea to whip inflation now and send it into Jerry at the White House and bingo! You got a WIN button. I didn't have a clue what caused inflation. I knew it meant higher prices. The Washington Post never wrote a word about the private Federal Reserve Board or the fact that they were printing up huge quantities of dollars. Today, even Joe Six Pack has heard of the Federal Reserve and knows that if too much money is printed up it causes inflation. But in the 70s nobody at the Washington Post knew this and apparently neither did President Gerald Ford. I certainly didn't. It was never in the paper or on TV.
All I knew is it was hard enough dating on $42 bucks a week without also having to spend 4 or 5 hours a week sitting in gas lines if you could even find gas to buy at all. It was all too much. I tuned the whole mess out and drank more beer and smoked more reefer and cigarettes. I was using a motorcycle by then. This was the answer to the gas lines. Sadly, almost as soon as I got the bike in the middle 70's the gas lines went away. Of course they stayed away until I got another car and sold my Suzuki. Then the gas lines came back with a vengeance. But while I had my motorcycle I had a job briefly as a motorcycle messenger for a photo reproduction place called Campbell Photo located at I Street between 14th and 13th Streets. That was when I Street ran one way to the East. In the 1990s the government reversed traffic to the West on I Street to thwart domestic terrorists after the Oklahoma building was bombed by a guy named Timothy McVeigh according to the Washington Post. Back in those days no body had a computer and everybody used Ma Bell to make phone calls. If you wanted anything reproduced you needed to go to a place like Campbell Photo. The company did everything like make blue prints, enlargements, posters, basic copies, etc. My job was to take the finished photos and artwork they created and run it across town to the customers like the federal government, L Street lobbyist and lawyers, and anybody that needed some kind of artwork reproduced.
This one nice summer morning I get a delivery to some place called "the Libertarian Party" which I mispronounced to their receptionist as the "Lie-ber-tarian Party." She corrected my pronunciation. Then I said "Libertarian Smibertarian. What are you guys?" I asked because the Washington Post always said there were only two real parties in America - the Democrats and the Republicans. Oh sure I heard there was some communists and socialists and fascists parties but the Post didn't write very favorably about them so I knew they must be bad for you. But the Post had never written about this Libertarian Party and here I was an enlightened American newspaper reader with a curious nature. So the receptionist handed me a couple pamphlets and sent me on my way. So before heading back to Campbell Photo I sat on my bike, fired up a Marlboro and started reading the first pamphlet titled, "What Is A Libertarian." At this stage in my life I was totally apolitical since neither main party seemed to offer me anything and were always making laws keeping me from doing what made me happy and making me do things that made me miserable at the same time. I sat there drawing one puff after the other reading about personal freedom and individual responsibility. The more I read the more I became intrigued. At one point I finally commented out loud to myself, "Hell...I'm a Libertarian!"
Well, I have to admit now that I became a sort of pain in the ass for the next decade or two promoting the Libertarian Party. It's just that the whole thing lined up so perfectly with the ideals I had been taught about in school but never experienced in the real Democrat and Republican world. My mother summed up this period especially in the 1980s when she warned at family gatherings, "Don't get him started dammit!" That meant to the other family members to not broach any subject that would start up one of my ideological libertarian diatribes meant only to educate but usually evolving into a good browbeating. This warning was a cue to my brother and he'd say something like, "How about that drug war?" He might ask, "Who you voting for: Bush or Dukakis?" That would set me off ranting.
It was the drug war that was my linchpin issue too. I was busted for pot as a kid and I never forgot the incident. The ordeal was terrifying! There you are with grand juries indicting you and governments subpoenaing you. But the fact was I was just a kid playing with a harmless vegetable. You could drink legally too at eighteen and everybody did plenty of it. But I was sixteen and freshly finished with my legal ordeal. It was my first offense and I got off with a slap - scared but none the worse off. I was walking by the Helenwood high rise and was passing by a man walking a small dog. We looked at each other both knowing at first that we knew one other. Then simultaneously we both smiled and pointed at one another. He was one of the cops who had busted me for pot the previous year when I was fifteen.
Looking back, the whole affair was riotously funny. When it was happening to me that was a totally different matter. The year or so I went through the ordeal I was depressed and even thought about killing myself though not seriously. It disrupted my youth and forever changed the course of my life. It's fortunate that it has been for the better but I sure didn't realize it at the time. The cops sneaked up on my girlfriend and I. We thought the road behind us was a dead end down by the Helenwood high rise as I'm sure many teens did parking with their girlfriend. But the good cop lived in the Helenwood and obviously knew you could drive a cop car through that washed out path through the woods behind the Helenwood to reach the road where we were parked. To make matters more ludicrous we were sitting in a dip in the road staring towards what we foolishly thought was the only way in or out. When we saw the car headlight from the cop they were actually shining over our parked car and illuminating the hill in front of us. So Janet and I are passing the peace pipe back and forth as I warn, "Be cool now. Those lights up ahead could be a cop." We passed the pipe back and forth stoned as we stared at the lights that just stayed there. Of course the cops were parked behind us by then and the emergency light went on suddenly. I said to Janet, "Give me the shit!" and I grabbed the pipe and small quantity of pot then threw it out the window. It hit the cop in the foot. "Did you drop this sir" He asked lifting the baggie and pipe for me to see. "Ah...no sir officer." I replied sheepishly. Then the cop said several things that made me feel like an idiot for dropping marijuana on a cop's foot and I knew I was busted. So did my girlfriend and she was hysterical by this time. What to do? What to do? I figured both of us are going down or just me. So I decided it would be just me. After all most of the stupid things done that evening were done by me culminating in my throwing MARIJUANA ON A COPS FOOT! How goddamn stupid am I. So it was Janet's pot. It was Janet's pipe. This was only my second or third time smoking weed while she had been at it a while and some may say even enticed me to imbibe. But I took the rap. "Look officer. This is all my fault. My girlfriend was only sitting there warning me about the dangers of smoking pot and was pleading with me to give it up." Eventually the cops bought it because they let her go to mommy and daddy and she got off. Me? Not so fast.
The cops took me down to the station house, booked and fingerprinted me just like on Dragnet. They they called my mom who had already started her second martini. The call ended with the cop slinging his clipboard across the room hitting the wall with it. Mom's a tough negotiator after the second martini. When mom arrived on the other side of the station house I could hear her yell, "I've come to pick up my son...the drug fiend!" That morphed into the good Helenwood cop, the bad cop and my mom threatening me that if I didn't say where I got the dope from I'd be in real trouble. Hey guys! It's 2010 now. I got it from my girlfriend who you just let go because I told you she was innocent. Now you want my lying ass to tell you another story. Then my mom says, "Look you little son-of-a-bitch! Lay it on the table now god dammit! Where did you get that Marijuana?" To which I replied, "I ain't saying." My mom replied, "God dammit...tell us right now or I'll have you taken away as an incorrigible child!" The bad cops leans over and attempt to give a clipboard to my mother. He says coldly, "Here ma'am. Sign here and we can take him off your hands right now. The good cop bends towards me and whispers, "Better talk. He's serious." To which I replied, "I copped it from this guy with long hair down in Georgetown. I never seen the guy before" That was good enough to be enough to get me sprung. Everybody knew Georgetown was filled with hippies smoking pot.
This chapter of my life I thought ended in Court that day after my mom spent thousands of dollars to get the best lawyers her friends at the Justice Department where she worked could secure for my defense. I'd gotten off lightly as I was a juvenile first offender. But now this was different. I'd been busted a second time but was two weeks into adulthood and been charged the night we were celebrating my eighteenth birthday. The state had a big list of charges against me all because I went into a Dart Drug store with my friend John who was only seventeen and a half and thought it would be cleaver to swipe a pipe while I was buying papers. My girlfriend Ann had bought me a whole ounce of pot for my birthday. I'd giving him my birthday pot to hold while we were inside the store because I only had these stupid pants with pockets which were like slits and the dope would be hanging out. Doing these acts legally made me a multiple felon liable for ten or fifteen years in prison.
But it was not a cut and dry affair. I was never caught with any pot. As Johnny and happy go lucky me left the store a short, fat white guy and a big black guy followed as well. I had just noticed them closing on us from the rear as we walked outside. Then the fat guy says, "Hey we want to talk to you." I replied, "What for?" But I felt they were going to do something bad to us like rob or assault us. The fat guy says, "We want to talk to you about some pipes." And my mind raced back to just minutes earlier inside the store when I put the pipe back on the shelf commenting to Johnny, "Naw. I'm not paying five bucks for a corncob pipe. We'll get rolling papers." However, just as I was grabbing the papers Johnny remarked, "Doesn't seem expensive to me."
I had figured he was merely noting the fact that I was cheap which I did not even turn to him to acknowledge. I knew I was sort of cheap but clearing forty-two big ones a week forced cheapness upon me. And I was not even making that much yet. But it was in that instant that this scene flashed before me and I said to myself Johnny stole that pipe! These men are with the store and want to arrest me and Johnny and Johnny has my pot. RUN!
Mind you - all of this took place in the span of time it took to leave the store and walk ten yards from the door. The men were closing in fast and the fat guy was within a couple feet as I bolted. His fat ass gave chase for two seconds as I warped out of his reach making any further efforts futile on his part. For Johnny, that was a different matter. Johnny is a real nice guy but slow upstairs. He didn't budge and was apprehended - with my pot. The store detective said he was going to swear he saw me steal a pipe too. As I said I was charged with multiple felonies including the store detectives lies which he eventually didn't follow through on. But I had to sign a paper stating I would not sue the store because of his allegation against me that were not true. He was a narrow minded little man who I'm certain has eaten himself to death by now. The world is a better place as a result. But he really wanted to nail me as I was a long haired sort.
So apparently I was pleading down to simple possession when I had my day in Court. The first defendant before me had ripped off social services for some services including money. But the judge said something about times being tough and to pay the money back and keep you nose clean...now get out of here you big lug. I smiled thinking I had a compassionate judge. Next was a manager of a convenience store who had allowed a female customer to use their restroom then peeped in on her. Trouble was I think she saw his eye blinking on the wall in front of her where she sat. The judge spoke some Latin about he was the manager and therefore he was like the owner. It would be like allowing a person to use your bathroom then peeping through your own bathroom keyhole. You can't invade your own privacy. Not guilty. He walked out chewing gum if I recall never having said a word. Next case....that would be mine. After a brief explanation by the prosecutor to the judge, again apparently in Latin or Greek as far as I could tell with my head darting back and forth trying to follow the jib of the dialog, the judge began flipping through some papers. After keeping me standing there for what seemed like an eternity he finally spoke to me. "Mr. Estrada-Palma...do you realize that by pleading guilty to simple possession of marijuana I can sentence you to one year in jail and fine you one thousand dollars?" I replied that I did because I thought it was what he might want to hear. But I thought to myself hell no! I thought I was getting probation and a grand is like two years pay for me! Again keeping me standing there while he flipped papers and rubbed his chin I contemplated what it was going to be like in jail. Would I have to be somebody's bitch? I had just gotten all clean shaven for trial and now look what I've done to my pretty fine young tomboy looking ass! But he said probation and I walked free that day. But it scarred me for life. Sure girls were still important and all but I realized life could be cruel and real unfair.
Now here is the good cop standing before me. We chit chatted briefly and he really was a good guy with pure motives in the way things were understood in those days. Those days everybody drank and smoked and it was considered an American thing to do. Pot was like communism, as it was portrayed by institutions like government and the Washington Post. But drugs and the Washington Post are another story hidden by the mockingbird that we shall delve into at a later point. But this good cop was concerned for the youth of his neighborhood. At some point after making sure I'd "stayed off the stuff" - which I assured him I had after my post traumatic legal experience, he grabs a note pad and pencil from his pocket and begins to write. He says, "I know how it is being young. But you have to stay off that marijuana because it's dangerous stuff. But if you feel like you have to have it I'm giving you my address here at the Helenwood and my phone number. DON'T SMOKE ANY MORE OF THAT SHIT! Call me and I'll get you a couple of six packs." He handed my the paper after tearing it out of the pad. I took it thanking him and we parted. I knew he was just trying to straighten out what he thought was a wayward youth. But I had smoked marijuana and I had drunk lots of beer and wine too. There was no comparison - alcohol could knock you out while most times the pot we got back then just gave you a sore throat, maybe a headache and a psychological high. We were probably most times actually getting hemp and in fact smoking rope rather than reefer. Still, I knew that this was absolute opposite to reality that pot was somehow dangerous while alcohol was the nectar of God as accepted by Jesus Christ who was everybody's lord and savior back in those days.
So I never got over that conflict. When those Libertarian Party pamphlets among other things spoke of legalizing pot they had me sold right there. Before the end of the 1980's I was married, with one kid and another on the way as well as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Maryland. Some of the party old guard like Dean Ahmed advised me to don't waste time writing letters to the Washington Post because they don't print letters from Libertarians. I thought this must be nonsense and tried anyway in my official Libertarian capacity. To my delight I did get a couple pieces into the Washington Post and maybe a hundred or so in other publications in those years. What I did not realize at the time was, for example, the one on legalizing marijuana that the Post published was way out of the mainstream as far as people's understanding of the marijuana issue for the times. Americans were still mostly of the belief that pot was as portrayed in the now famous comedy, "Reefer Madness." Though funny today it was originally a documentary film. So I now realize my letters to the Post were published by the mockingbird to make the Libertarian Party seem radical and dangerous. Of course Tomas Estrada-Palma coming off like Thomas Payne didn't help matters. In retrospect, though my beliefs are now accepted as mostly mainstream. During the Reagan administration followed by the Bush administration, my letters were more like idea bombs blowing up any hope that regular Americans might understand what we were pushing - not dope, freedom to act responsibly to make yourself happy while you are here on earth.
It was during that first and last Bush administration after Reagan that shook my faith in the Washington Post for the first time. I was present at my first Libertarian Party national convention in Philadelphia as a delegate. C-span was there too and I had planned just another one of my protests which were becoming more and more successful. Though old guard party members again assured me that there was no chance to get media as a Libertarian I again proved them wrong on a number of occasion. One lesson I did learn rather quickly as the Maryland Libertarian chairman was to do protest where the media will already be rather that schedule your own protest and expect the media to show up. So I knew Bush the first would be delivering a drug war speech in the coming days and I passed the word around to other Libertarians at the Philadelphia convention that I was scheduling another protest on that night of the Bush speech. At some point this was repeated over and over again over the public address system including my phone number and this new tool, my email or perhaps it was just my fax number. Whichever it allowed lots of people to contact me. Why? Because what I did not realize at the time was C-span was broadcasting this political event live then rerun on video tape numerous times nationally.
To get to the point, I was inundate by contacts. This was going to be the most successful protest I'd ever organized and it surely turned out that way when the night arrived. There was at least 5000 protesters but there could have been 10,000? Who knows who is a protester and who is a jogger out for a run? All I knew was this was not going to be one of those protests where I call a list of Libertarian but they all say how many other have agreed to come. Then they say they'll come if I can get 30 others to come and feel free to call back if I do find them. Most times this meant it was Tom Mathers and I protesting but we had great success getting media even so. We use to haunt Governor William Donald Shaefer whenever he wanted to hold a drug war summit. We'd chase him from entrance to exit because he didn't want to be caught in a picture with Tom and I protesting the drug war. Next day it would be the two of us smiling on the pages of the Baltimore Sun and not Donald.
Now it was evening and Bush was speaking to the nation. There were TV crews all over Lafayette Park that night amongst the throngs of protesters. Bush apparently I was to learn later claimed his agents had bought crack in the very park across from the White House where we all stood protesting the drug war. To be fair not everybody was protesting against the drug war. I noticed four or so Guarding Angels complete with their little Red hats watching TV huddled close together. They were surrounded by thousands of screaming protester and it made hearing the Bush speech difficult so they leaned in close towards the set. The night for a political activist was like a dream...then a nightmare. During the evening I stood there and thought I did this. I got thousands of people to show up and prove not everybody liked this drug war. Young black kids who obviously had been victims of the government's drug war fought mostly in their poor neighborhoods came up to me one after another riding their bicycles and thanked me for organizing the protest. I have to tell you I was feeling pretty good as I rushed home later to see the news coverage. It was my first conscious experience of the news black out. There were thousands of Americans protesting the drug war right across the street from where the president was chatting up the drug war. This WAS a news story and there were plenty of TV cameras doing interviews to prove it. But none of those interviews, several of which I did myself, ever made it over the airwaves - zero!
That's okay because I knew my Washington Post would be there on the stoop first thing in the morning telling the story. I was partly correct. On the front page they did have a story about Lafayette Park. To my dismay it also came complete with a front page tight shot of those Guardian Angels watching their little TV with Bush on the screen lying in the background. The thousands of protesters, as well as any word in the Washington Post of their existence, was nowhere to be found that day or any since in the pages in the Washington Post. It was just the first of too many blackouts by the mockingbird for me to remember now but it was the one that started to open my eyes to their bird droppings. But conditioning is a difficult thing for one to break free of. I soon moved forward and certainly never contemplated what the hell I would do in the morning with no Washington Post even if for some unknown reason they did blackout my protest. I moved forward towards the rest of my life with my wife and growing family.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Too Much Information Killed The Washington Post
I use to deliver the Washington Daily News. It was more convenient in many ways. It was a tabloid style like The City Paper is now and easy for little hands and arms to read. It was a smaller paper so those three flights of apartment stairs were much easier to deliver than my colleagues at the Washington Post had to deal with especially on Sundays. I believe the Star and Daily News themselves also operated out of convenience and tradition. They had always produced a paper in the afternoon since the beginning.
The history of this era is congruent with my family life. My father, like the vast majority in the middle to late 1950s, came home from work around 5 PM. On the three channels the cartoons that began at 3 PM were done entertaining the after school children. I preferred Captain Tug - a children's variety show playing cartoons intermingled with the host, the good captain. He was plying the waters of the Potomac River with his parrot Fantail sitting atop his shoulder playing the straight character. Incidentally, playing the straight character back then meant taking the role of say a dead pan actor setting up his comedic partner like Bud Abbott did for Lou Costello. It didn't mean you were necessarily heterosexual although we assumed everybody was back then. How times change. It was years before I realized that Captain Tug bugger was sitting in a studio the whole damn time and never got near the Potomac river. It was a good thing too. In the 50s and 60s the river smelled pretty bad. The fish floated on their sides most times and the water was always real foamy. It was something about phosphates I believe and the factories upriver all had discharge pipes that led directly to the Potomac.
While all of this history will surely bring a smile to any 50 something lifelong Washingtonian, the fact remains that my dad got home at 5 PM and took ownership of the TV. In fact, my role was reduced to the television technician. We had giant TVs a yard or two high and wide as well...but the screens were tiny and in black and white. Also TVs came with buttons not now found on today's models. There was the "horizontal" and the "vertical" as well. These allowed you to keep your TV from flipping. Well that's what we called it. You would be watching a show when a fat black line might appear at the top or bottom of your picture. Then it would begin to creep up or down taking that portion of the screen with it. As the top or the picture disappeared, it would ease up from the bottom of the screen under the black line. The technician, me, would need to get up and twist the knob clockwise or counter to force that damn line up and down. Finally, you'd get the picture centered perfectly and start to slip back to your seat. As you got about three feet away from the set the line would appear at the bottom again. I would stop and turn to go back and tune it in again. As I moved back towards the set the line would disappear. So I'd turn to go to my seat and only get a few steps when the damn line pops up again. Back and forth it was the duty of all of us 5 year-old television technicians to mainly control the horizontal. The vertical gave you much less problem but I can't say why. Also, the channel changer was a round dial with about thirteen clicks on it. But our network Washington channels were 4, 7 and 9 - NBC, ABC and CBS respectively. Naturally impatient kids everywhere twisted the dial violently left and right until it would no longer stay on the channel easily. Finally, there was the volume knob which my father used liberally meaning whenever a commercial came on the set. It was the only knob my father was technically qualified to use. There was no such thing as a remote control. Remote control was having to behave because your father would be getting home at 5. My father advised me once that if there were any problems at school they were my fault. So I said but what if.... He said it was always going to be my fault. So from his office he could remotely control my behavior. But I'm sure he might have killed for a real television remote control. Sadly, even though the last ten years of his life he spent with his remote control, by that time the technology was moving so fast that the technical requirements were far beyond his understanding of things electrical. But he learned how to work the mute and that seem to fill his needs.
As I said at 5 PM Dad commandeered the TV. The only time from then until your bedtime that he wasn't watching TV was when we all were eating dinner at the dinner table. In the modern world a little thing like dinner has little effect on one's ability to access video and all children now can work a joy stick in one hand and a sandwich with fries in the other. But dad would immediately watch the news - local then the national broadcast. We'd eat that real dinner table dinner then return to the living room to watch dad's TV shows. Mostly these consisted of the cowboy show. He had a fondness for these cowboy dramas. Every Sunday Bonanza would be playing and Raw Hide or Bat Masterson or the Rifleman during the weeknights. The point is there wasn't much on the three networks but it was relatively entertaining for those simple times. The last thing you'd catch dad doing was reading the paper...not when Chuck Conners was shooting outlaws anyways.
In the morning it was an entirely different matter. It wasn't until 6 or 7 AM that the networks would even have programming to watch. Before that it was a round looking test pattern with their network logos as well as a constant ringing tone that was certainly annoying. Then they'd start up with the Star Spangled Banner followed often by some religious show. Soon we kids got those morning cartoon fixes just before being rushed off to school. But it was a programming desert for the adults. Ah...but there laid the Washington Post on your doorstep. You could grab it while still wearing your pajamas and bring it inside to read. You could read it on the toilet. You could read it while eating breakfast at that same table where television viewing was verboten. Drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette or two and reading the paper were as natural as they were pleasing in their combined use. In the morning the only paper was the Washington Post. Those evening papers would be telling you the same things that the TV news would be broadcasting at the same time. The Post's subscriptions grew into the millions while their competitors shriveled and died.
After watching dad I followed suit with the morning trio of coffee, cigarettes and the Washington Post. Today I only still use coffee in the form of strong espresso. The other two I have sworn off. The cigarettes for obvious reasons. The Washington Post on the other hand was a process...one that went from love to disgust and mistrust. In the beginning it was the four of us every morning. I sipped my coffee, smoked my cigarette and read the Post. The paper had something in it for everybody. It had comic strips to hook the kids young on reading the paper. Of course I've found that many go through their entire adult lives and never progress past the funny pages and naturally the horoscope. If you wanted to buy or sell anything you called the Washington Post. On the retail level if you wanted to buy a second hand car you'd go to the classified section where you'd find pages of used cars being sold by owners and car dealers alike. The same for Real Estate, boats and you name it. If you can't there was a miscellaneous section. The point is there were literally dozens of pages just for cars. And don't forget about the employment section. If you needed a job or had a job to offer you went to the Washington Post. It was that simple. When I took the buyout at the end of 2009 the automobile classified section was the car classified column inch or two of perhaps eight or ten cars. They still had some classified display ads from the auto dealers but the dealerships were losing their asses off. So they figured out ways to engineer ad problems to get free or cheaper ads. DARCARS was especially good at getting free ads from the Post. My hat's off to them. They got me once for a write off.
Before moving forward I must stress how respected the Washington Post was. They broke the Watergate story that brought down a presidency for tapping one phone - the Democrat party office. Today's presidents tap everybody's phones but nobody blinks an eye or grins at the irony. However, the Post was a big part of our lives. It did have something for everybody organized in sections that you could go right to. It could be the Sports section talking up the Redskins especially during the 70's and 80's when they were competitive on the field and not just on Danny Snyder's bottom line. There was the main section for the dads complete with left/right commentary at the very back of the section. It showed them how they should think and feel about everything from God to politics depending if they identified themselves as liberal or conservative. For example, my dad read William F. Buckley. If Buckley was for it so was dad.
The Style section was there waiting for the mommies. Oh the average conditioned modern person will think "how sexist!" Perhaps so but it was the way it was. As I warned earlier, life was very structured. The roles for men and women were as well including in the papers and with television programming. That's why the soap opera dramas were on in the early afternoon for the many housewives of the day. My mom was one of the rare moms who worked. But grandma never missed one of her "shows."
My need for the Post even stretched into the late 1980s when in London for the first time I couldn't get a Washington Post or a decent cup of coffee. It made a guy want to take up smoking again just to get even with the universe for this barbaric outrage. But I didn't. By the 1990s I was much more politically active and began noticing omissions by the Post on some big stories. It was a process of several years to be finished with the paper. Once I began working at the paper again in 1999 the paper was already leaving a sour taste in my mouth. In 2006 after watching Richard Gage of Architects and Engineers of 9/11 Truth I realized two things. The 9/11 attack was done by rogue insiders within the very government now claiming to protect us and the top people at the Washington Post knew all about it. I sent them an email from my desk at work in Ad Operations explaining the cogent details of the plot. There I sat typing thinking myself the next Bob Woodward bringing another scoop to the Washington Post. I sat down with my manager and also told him what I'd learned and gave the Architects and Engineer's website. I was ignored by my manager and the editors at the Washington Post. How could each ignore something as simple as those three towers falling as fast as a rock free falls yet the government claims the buildings crashed through themselves floor by floor all the way to the lobby? That meant, in effect, that Newton's apple could drop freely to the ground while another apple hit tree branches yet both miraculously hit the ground at the same time. That notion would be patently stupid and the need for rocket scientists to sort it out completely unnecessary. I learned about the speed of free falling objects in eight grade, I remembered the lesson and I didn't even pay keen attention to my studies.
That's when it became obvious the Post was in on the job or at least helping the cover up after the crime. After 2006, though I worked there for three more years, I never felt the need to read the Washington Post except perhaps to see what they were trying to get me to believe. I've found you can get at the truth very often by seeing what liars wish to get you to believe.