My Back Pages
The Mystery Of Canyon News
May 1, 2003 - 11:46:00 PM
BEVERLY HILLS—This month marks my one year anniversary writing for "Canyon News", and I was thinking of throwing a party and inviting the staff to celebrate with me (any excuse to party) until I realized that I'd never met anyone on the staff. Heck, I've never even so much as talked to anyone on the phone! Not once. Which leads me to ask, "Is anyone really there?" If so, then where is everybody?! It's like the Twilight Zone. We're a phantom work force as envisioned by George Orwell. If one already has problems discerning reality, then working on this paper certainly doesn't help things. It's the journalistic equivalent of "The Sims". But such is the way of cyberspace. So, needless to say, I guess I won't throw that party after all, lest my fellow staffers find me even more repugnant in person than in print, and I find them about as interesting as my Uncle Frank. No use in taking those chances, so I'll just leave things as they are, I suppose.
Canyon News is an exercise in existentialism, which, beyond its entertainment, informational and editorial functions, contributes to the muddying of the restive waters of reality. One is never sure what's really there and what isn't; like voices in the dark. As a result, my imagination, in a desperate attempt to fashion something "conceptual" out of that darkness, has invented a staff, and in so doing, gives form to those voices. Here is some of what I see.
Canyon News covers some of the wealthiest communities in the country. Photo by Jessica Griffiths/Canyon News
To begin with, the paper itself never seems to stop changing! Now ordinarily, this is a good thing. The changes are invariably improvements, demonstrating a willingness by management to shun stifling routine so as to encourage progress and creativity, but I hate change! I'm a stodgy routine guy and changing things makes me nervous. Just since the introduction of the print version last September, the paper has had three names! There have been four logos! The staff has more than doubled and the number of pages has almost tripled. Again, these are positive developments, but I still hate change! Staffers keep changing their "nom de plume", which is O.K. only if you're Mary Ann Evans (i.e. George Elliott). Even the way in which we submit our articles to the editor keeps changing, leaving me in a continual state of unbalance. One thing hasn't changed, and that is the enthusiasm and dedication of a group of people contributing to a communal endeavor. At least, I think it's a group of people, although I don't know for sure. I've never actually seen anyone...
Canyon News' publisher is tall, slender with long brown hair and a serious demeanor, unless she is laughing, which is quite often. An altruistic and chaste young woman, her values are to be admired and emulated. I'm not sure just why she wanted to get involved with the newspaper business, but I suspect it was a sense of idealism and, like all idealists, she is a true believer.
Canyon News' editor is Rachel Greene. She is short with cropped black hair and glasses. She smiles a lot, is very patient and drinks wine. She is the "field commander" of the newspaper, without whose efforts, the nuts and bolts of running an enterprise would not get done. Her pragmatism keeps everything grounded. Rachel uses lots of exclamation points in her staff e-mails, which indicates to me that either she's extremely excitable, or she speaks loudly. I'm not sure of the reason for the third "e" in her last name.
Henry Meyerding (Ramblings) and Sean McConnor (McConnor's Corner) were staffers when I arrived a year ago. We now find ourselves grouped together on a "Point of View" page, which presumably makes it easier for management to disavow itself of our rantings. Meyerding is to the left of Karl Marx, and remains in a constant state of indignation, employing a writing style best described as "poetry of contempt". He likes to take platitudes and drop them into contexts different than those for which they were intended and, as a result, by the time I finish reading his column, I feel as though I've been drinking. McConnor wears different hats for Canyon News. He is a team player and shares the same altruistic values as management. As a staff reporter, he's thorough and disciplined and as an editorialist, he's suspicious and impatient. Sometimes he sounds as though he's campaigning for the city post of Police Commissioner. Though not paranoid, he is a believer in conspiracies.
Jim Lyons' column (Bean Ball) is for true fans of the game of baseball, of which I count myself. And if you don't love the game, then you're not a true fan. Who else, after all, could get excited about dry-as-toast stats like we do. God invented baseball and gave it to Abner Doubleday. Lyons understands this. The national pastime is in fact the great metaphysical metaphor: For eight innings, Life throws nothing but heat. Then in the ninth, with two on, two out, a full count and down by a run, you're sitting on the fastball when Life snaps off a nasty off-speed breaking pitch that drops off the table, catching you looking. Strike three, called... Lyons likes to shoot pool and drink beer.
Lily O'Hara (Dear Lily) once advised, "You are doing the right thing, even if you never get a job", to a middle-aged woman, thinking of going back to school, who was worried she wouldn't get a job because of her age! Following this reply, the woman probably hung herself from an overhead beam. But ya gotta love Lily's honesty.
Eric Schuman (Winks Witts) claims to be a huge sports fan, but he enjoys football games with scores of 68-55 (AFL)! That's not pro football, that's college basketball! Of course, he loves college basketball too and so maybe it makes sense in some sort of cross-over kind of way. He must have been bummed when the Raiders went to the Superbowl last January. A seemingly pleasant guy, Schuman fantasizes about kissing Halle Berry and being John Elway.
Just about anything is easier than being funny, but Conor (The Humor Is On Me) does a good job of finding good material; this despite the fact that he avoids the kind of dirty, racially insensitive, gender intolerant, rude, lewd and crude humor that most guys like. He's the only other staffer, besides me, that uses a single name (rather like Dante), and, like most clowns, probably uses humor to hide a dark and foreboding side.
Then there's the little column that takes me back to my childhood, watching my grandmother bake bread and cookies. That's Maxine Byrd as "Gourmet Grandma". Grandpa must weigh 300 pounds! Maxine makes me want to learn how to cook, which would make my family happy since I'm the one who does all the cooking. She adds class and quaintness to the paper.
Within Canyon News, I can indulge my every fantasy. I get to be creative and wise, handsome and dashing, poetic, witty and insightful, courageous, talented and romantic. I get to be Oscar Wilde meets Aristotle. Of course, I'm really none of those things, but nobody (except my wife) knows that and so it's good therapy. It's also something else. Canyon News is a successful experiment in true socialist theory; a selfless, dedicated communal effort toward a common endeavor, the rewards for which are determined by what the contributor wishes to take away from the experience. "Creativists" will tell you that they would continue to ply their trade whether being paid or not. To them, creation precedes pay, because that's when magic occurs. This newspaper is proof of that and I'm happy to be a part of it. It's been a good year.
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