Monday, July 25, 2011

Full Moon's Passage

The full moon has come and gone and everything was quiet in the newsroom of the Virginian Review, leaving behind an oppressive heat wave that has us all counting down to the cooler days of autumn. If you've ever worked in a job that deals with the public on a day-to-day basis, you'll understand the trepidation that a full moon brings each month. Every time I see a full moon coming up on the calender I cringe at the thought of what will be coming our way.

There are some of you out there that will scoff at the idea that a full moon affects people's behavior, twisting them toward doing and saying things that they never would at other phases of the lunar cycle. I assure you, it's true. If enough people come in with odd requests that we investigate a parking conspiracy in downtown Covington or publish letters to the editor railing against the rising price of ice cream, we immediately begin looking at the calendar. Two such events in the same day is a coincidence. Three means a full moon, without fail.

It was early in my days at the paper when I first met Mr. Givens (not his real name). He staggered into the newsroom, drunk or just unbalanced, I'm not really sure which, and demanded that we do a news story on him because he was a "great American hero" who had just returned to his hometown. He omitted the fact that he was returning to his hometown after a hitch in a mental institution. We dealt with him as best we could and sent him on his way, somewhat unhappily. Before he left, Mr. Givens staggered through the advertising department and, spotting the candy dish, immediately upended the contents of the dish into his pocket.

The next day, the staff photographer and I were walking up Main Street to attend a press conference at the local post office. I don't remember what it was for, but I distinctly recall the man that stopped us. "You boys from the Virginian?" Gavin kept walking and I stopped. I should have kept going, but I was young and naive enough in those days not to have realized who it was that was so blatantly questioning our credentials. Mr. Givens was sitting on the bench, in the same dirty coveralls that he wore into the newsroom the day before, and unwrapping a piece of pilfered candy as he looked up at us.

I had stopped walking. I had to answer. There was no getting around it. "Yes sir," I said politely, taking a step  further down the street.

"Then you tell that editor of yours he can kiss my ass," he said, popping the candy in is mouth. Having delivered his message, Mr. Givens got up and staggered down the street. It was the last time I'd ever see him. I think he passed away a few years later to little fanfare. Of course, I delivered the message to the boss as soon as I made it back from the press conference. After all, how often do you get to tell your boss that?

It wasn't too long ago that I experience another memorable full moon in the newsroom. It was a little after 9 o'clock and I had already made my morning phone calls to the four area funeral homes for the daily obituary count when this massive black dog came trotting through the newsroom. When I say massive, I mean this dog was big enough for me to ride like a horse and he had the kind of look about him that made you think he wanted to eat your face off and, if he did, there wasn't anything you were going to do about.

We all watched in confusion as the dog trotted through the newsroom, made the circle around the stations in the composing room, and reversed course and left the room and, we assume, the building. We have no idea what the dog was doing in there.

After a morning filled with random little nonsensical events just like that, I returned from lunch to a ringing phone. I picked up the phone and was immediately greeted by a woman's voice. "My obituary is not in today's paper." Immediately I pick up that day's edition off my desk and checked to see if I made a mistake. It would be so easy to leave an obituary out, but, fortunately, I hadn't, and I told the lady that it was in today's edition.

"I'm telling you it's not in there." It was at this point when I realized that it wasn't even 2 o'clock yet and the paper hadn't even made it to the box in front of the office.

"Ma'am, I'm holding today's paper in my hands. I'm looking at the obituary page and the obituary you sent us is in there. What paper are you looking at?"

"My paper isn't here yet," she said, as if it made all the sense in the world. "I'm looking at the Internet."

"Well, I can't speak for what you're reading now, but I can promise you that, when your paper gets there today, it will have the obituary you requested in it."

"Oh." A pause. "You sure about that?"

"Yes ma'am."

The sudden appearance of the dial tone in my ear told me she was finished with the conversation. She must have been satisfied, because I never heard back from her.

That's typical of a small town newspaper. The big headlines are rare in coming. In six years, I've only made the national wire once and have only covered three stories that merited more attention than our little community could give them. No, what's interesting about working for a small town paper is the odd stories that inevitably pile up over the years. Most of them are beyond belief, but I promise you, they're all true.

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