Saturday, July 7, 2018

Some headline writing tips

Twenty-three years ago! Thanks, Bill Hogan, for the great illustration
   A colleague who's relatively new to the newspaper biz recently asked me for some tips on writing headlines, so here goes.
   First, there's a paradox. Copy editors write headlines. As a copy editor, your job is to protect and defend the English language. What is that comma doing over here? I'm going to put it over there. Voila! Your job is also to make mundane copy sing like Beyonce. As a headline writer, your job often is to mangle that English language. Trump invited Tom Cruise to play golf? Headline: Trump considers climate Scientologist. And yet, the copy editor and headline writer are one and the same.
   Second, these tips apply primarily to print journalism. A print headline should present the essence of a story in a handful of words, sort of like in a crossword puzzle: What's a four word phrase that means Number 1 on the FBI's list of most wanted criminals has been apprehended ... hmm ... did I say apprehended? I meant caught ... no, nabbed, Most wanted guy nabbed, there you have it, although on the Entertainment page that might also apply to the conclusion of The Bachelor. Online the headline acts more as clickbait. "Why was this guy nabbed?" (Click here and find out).
   These suggestions don't apply universally. You have to use your judgment. If a story is about a budget, you ought to play it straight: Town Council rejects $262 million budget," not "Council has a cow," although atop a column that might be appropriate.

   That said, here are some tips gleaned from 50 years of getting yelled at by supervisors:

1) The overline. One of the opportunities to use a bit of creativity is in the headline that goes above a "standalone" picture, standalone being a photo in which the entire story is included in the caption. Take the picture of an oversize replica of a check being presented to a charity. "Bikers donate X thousand dollars to fight cancer." Nothing at all wrong with that. But if you publish the same picture, different check, different recipient, day after day, you might want to vary it a bit. "Check this check out out," or "Lions take a bite out of cancer." What you want to do is focus on a key word, like "Lions" or "Kiwanis" or check, and come up with a bit of alliteration or play on a word that anchors the overline.

2) Free association. Early in his career Alex Rodriguez came to be known as A-Rod. Then A-Rod begat K-Rod (Frankie Rodriguez? Wait, where did the K come from? Oh, that's the symbol for strikeouts.) But then ... A-Rod becomes embroiled in a steroid scandal, and now he's A-Roid. You see where this is going? Playing with names depends on how recognizable the name is, but this applies to words as well.

3) Copy editors get no respect. They're the Rodney Dangerfields of the newspaper business. Once  the copy editor  got a modicum of respect: In big city union shops, they were at a slightly higher pay grade than reporters, but as contracts were negotiated, that difference was whittled away until reporters gained parity. But reporters are visible, copy editors not so. Over my decades in this business, I've seen many reporters start out covering municipal stuff, then some municipal figure runs for office, and the next thing you know a reporter who covered him or her is their spokesperson, or some government agency that a reporter covered needs a communications director, nobody ever calls the copy editor with a job offer. There are a hundred career-making investigative reports for every headless body found in a topless bar. That said, the headline is the most visible element of a copy editor's job. Nobody ever says "Great comma," but a clever headline will at least elicit peer recognition and bring a bit of satisfaction to a thankless job.

4) A word of caution. Just like some people become addicted to crossword puzzles or Sudoku, over a great many years I've become addicted to writing headlines. I can't see a development in the news without mentally writing a headline for it. Case in point, see above, when Trump fired Pruitt, within eight seconds I'm thinking he should hire Tom Cruise because he's a Climate Scientologist. But the mixing and mangling of words, the creation of new words by adding on to old words, the deployment of double and triple entendres, is the stuff of which good headlines are made. Once when an auto maker was going to retire a number of models, the headline I came up with is an example of this: The Jurassic Parking Lot. A few letters here, a suffix there, and you can work magic. It used to help having a page designer who had a sense of humor, but now page designers and copy editor/headline writers are one and the same, so if you have an idea for a creative headline, you can tweak the layout to accommodate it. How cool is that?

5) The best headlines I've ever seen. And these were not written by me. 1) Mila Andre, a Russian emigre working as a copy editor at the New York Daily News, was assigned to edit a review of a new Russian restaurant named Caucasus. Her headline? "Ve vas hungry, Soviet." This was before the breakup of the Soviet Union, mind you. It also got poor Mila chewed out by the copy desk chief, who told her it had nothing to do with the quality of the food. Her response? It made people read the review. 2) My late colleague Ed Reiter, who was treated horribly by the management of the Bergen Record after he recovered from a stroke, was assigned a story about an invasion of slimy creatures in lawns and gardens around northern New Jersey. His headline: "Slugfest in the Garden." 3) The late Hal Frankel, who was a revered copy editor at the Daily News and I always considered a mentor, following the New York Giants' victory in the 1986 Super Bowl, when the News ran a two-page spread and a story about how they were going to hold a celebration in Giants Stadium and all the fans were going to be given kazoos so they could make some noise. Hal's headline? In I'd say 180 point type across two pages: "Start spreading kazoos" 4) On the opposite end of the spectrum, a little  two paragraph story came across the News copy desk about a woman who advertised her colon cleansing skills on the back page of the Village Voice. The woman was arrested when one of her clients failed to survive the cleansing. The little 18 or 24 point headline written by Joe whose last name I can't remember, was: "Public enema number one."

We interrupt this blog for a comment. I can't stand it. A former colleague just posted a lovely picture of greenery on her facebook page with the notation "The lysimachia is up in our front yard. In the backyard, the phlox is beginning to open." And like a reflex I started typing (although I caught myself and stopped), Don't let the phlox get too close to the henhouse. But this is what I mean, writing headlines too long can be addictive.

And how could I forget one of my early all-time faves, written by an elderly copy editor named Lester Rose when I was just starting out at the Daily News circa 1980. This is similar to that giant check that keeps appearing in charity photos, except this was the back page of the Daily News where the main headline through baseball season always had YANKS or METS, and one other team in ALL CAPS, in probably 150 point type, which left room for one other five to eight letter word in the middle. Often on the radio when you listen to the sports scores you'll hear the announcer try to come up with fifteen or so different ways to say "wins," usually riffing on the name of the winning or losing team. So one day the Yankees were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, and Lester's imaginative was: MILWAUKEE WISCS YANKS. Lester finally did retire not long after that, and I eventually got kicked out of the sports department and wound up on the suburban copy desk, but that's another story.

   There are some more tips and tricks for writing headlines. I'll get to those in a future post. Now excuse me while I answer the door.

Knock knock
Who's there?
Lysimachia
Lysimachia who?
Lysimachia vote Democratic in November

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A total eclipse of the brain




Desk clerk: Good morning, Buffalo Hilton. How may I help you?

Me: I'd like to make a reservation for April 7, 2024

Desk clerk: That would be our Eclipse Special

Me: Oh, there's an eclipse then? I was just looking for a place to celebrate my 103rd birthday.

Desk clerk: We have just one room left.

Me: Whew, just in time. And what's the rate?

Desk clerk: One thousand forty nine dollars and twenty-three cents.

Me: One thousand forty nine dollars? That's outrageous. I could get the presidential/honeymoon/royal suite  for half that.

Desk clerk: And twenty-three cents. But you get 20 percent off at our breakfast buffet.

Me: What will they be serving?

Desk clerk: Bacon, we have an omelette bar, croissants, biscuits with sausage gravy ...

Me: Thank you, but I'll just watch the eclipse, if like you say there is one, on TV

Desk clerk: The Eclipse Special room has a 44-inch flat screen LSD television.

Me: Why would I want to watch an eclipse on TV if I'm paying a thousand dollars to see it live?

Desk clerk: And forty nine dollars and twenty-three cents.

Me: I'm calling Motel 6.

Desk clerk: They've been booked solid for that date for the past three years. Perhaps you'd like our Lunar Eclipse package for January 30 2018.

Me: What's the difference between a solar and a lunar eclipse?

Desk clerk: About eight hundred dollars.

Me: And twenty-three cents? I meant what's the difference in viewing experience?

Desk clerk: A lunar eclipse is way more intense, because it only occurs when the sun comes between the moon and earth. If it happens at night, the moon disappears but the earth lights up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Me: Doesn't it get hot when the sun is that close to earth?

Desk clerk: During the last lunar eclipse, I was able to fry an egg on my forehead. But your room has solar powered air conditioning, and you still get 20 percent off our buffet breakfast.


Me: Why would I want a buffet breakfast when I can fry an egg on my forehead?

Desk clerk: Because your plastic cutlery is likely to melt.

Me: Are you in the path of totality for the lunar eclipse?

Desk clerk: According to Scientific Armenian, we'll have 99 and 44/100 percent totality.



Me: Are you sure of that?

Desk clerk: I'm 80 percent sure.

Me: If you're 80 percent sure it will be 99 and 44/100 percent totali -- oh heck, I'll take it.

Desk clerk: That will be two hundred twenty six dollars and 23 cents.

Me: What if it's cloudy when the moon gets 99 and 44/100 percent eclipsed? Do I get a refund?

Desk clerk: We're offering weather insurance.

Me: And how much is that?

Desk clerk: Eight hundred dollars and twenty-three cents.

Me: In other words I'm still out a thousand dollars if I want to see a lunar eclipse.

Desk clerk: And twenty three cents.

- - -

Saturday, August 12, 2017

47 reasons to stick your head inside the mouth of a saltwater crocodile




47) Take the picture, dammi -- ouch!

46) Your estate can collect the $5,000 reward for that missing chihuahua

45) Think how you'll look on the wall of Mr. Crocodile's croc cave

44) I'll bet this livestream goes viral. Now where's that darn record button . . .

43) Can you hear me now? I said there is only one tRuth!

42) What a great way to complete your bucket list

41) 5 bars, wow! Hello Mom, guess where I am ...

   We interrupt this list with a comment on headlines. Orange may be the new black, but in the world of headlines, 20, maybe 30, even 47 is the new 10. Back in the day when David Letterman made the Top 10 list popular, newspapers and the fledgling Internet were discovering the popularity of lists. But  whereas newspapers and magazines, where print, and in the case of magazines, glossy paper, were at a premium, 10, even 5, items on a list would suffice, web sites were learning to be sticky.
   I mention this because when I launched my first web site, tankbooks.com, which contained a wealth of stories and interviews from my conversations with World War II veterans, sometimes I would get an email from a visitor saying he read everything on the site. Someone I told this to said my web site was sticky. That was a good thing, he said, because the stickier a site was, the longer visitors would stay on the site, and the more any advertising on the site would be in front of their eyes.
   A few years ago, most lists on the Internet were still at 10. But then when the list titles got more compelling, and the web sites on which they appeared grew more ad-centric, throwing a big ad for something in between every three slides, or popping a video or a big ad between every few paragraphs, ten just wasn't cutting it anymore.
   The result? A veritable slew of sticky sites ... "20 of the Most Terrifying Animals in Australia" ... "30 Rare Photos of North Korea" ... "120 Bald-Faced Lies Told By Donald Trump ... Make That 121" ...

40) Wait ... This isn't a plush toy?"

39) Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

38) This is sure to get you a promotion to Lieutenant in the Fail Army.

37) Maybe even to general.



Q. What does a baby crocodile like for breakfast?  A. Lady fingers
36) Double dog dare me, will you?

35) I'll find that White House leak if it's the last thing I do!

34) I said "Let them eat cake," I didn't say the chef at Mar-a-Lago was going to bake it.

33) I thought this was an animatronic crocodile, now where's the plug? Uh-oh ...

32) So this is where all those absentee ballots that voted for Gore wound up.

31) No I'm not a Packers fan. What do you mean you ordered a Cheesehead?

Listen to sample tracks

30) Did I say 47 reasons? Help me out here, #FrederickClemens

29) Your bff is filming it for the Croc Challenge

28) You can't wait to tag five of your Facebook friends

27) Think these are getting lame? You should see the first 40 of the 50 Scariest Scenes in "The Sound of Music" list.

26) This should greatly improve your chances of getting the starring role in Crocodile Dundee IV

25) A great way to protect your eyes during the solar eclipse?

24) You might become the first person to receive a head transplant.

23) Then again you might not.

Check out Aaron's Amazon author page
22) Are we there yet?

21) No I don't come with a side of bloomin' onions.

20) Stick your head inside the mouth of a saltwater crocodile and kiss your dandruff goodbye.


19) You could set the Guinness record for world's shortest reality TV show.

18) Cut! Okay, you've got that cameo on Game of Thrones. I said Cut! Cut! Uh-oh...

17) What do you mean tastes like chicken?

16) Michael Rockefeller, I presume?

15) I think I just found the remains of Malaysia Air Flight 370. What a meal that must have been.

14) So you think you're the toughest saltwater crocodile east of Australia? Bite me.

13) On second thought. . .

12) Or should that be west of Australia?

11) Just one more take, and I'll show those producers that "Saltwater Crocodile Lagoon" will make "Shark Tank" look like the SS Minnow.

10) The game warden says this fellow is a vegan crocodile and only eats non-GMO people ... wait a minute, I'm non-GMO ... thank you Monsanto.

9) Help! My head is stuck in a bucket of Country Crock.




8) Holy Molar Batman! This guy's got more choppers than a Harley franchise.

7) If I can make this sale I'll be the dental implant salesman of the year!

6) Look Ma, I'm on the cover of the National Geographic!

5) Help me out here, #FrederickClemens, finishing this list is like pulling teeth

4) Go ahead and laugh, but according to climatologists, these puppies will be roaming the streets of downtown Miami by 2050.

3) What do you mean, I bring out the wildebeest in you?

2) No, that's not a crowbar in my pocket, I'm happy to see you.

And the No. 1 reason to stick your head inside the mouth of a saltwater crocodile (like you haven't scrolled down already) . . .


1) Live, from Lake Okeechobee, it's Saturday Night!

Check out this free World War II oral history sampler from an earlier post






Friday, July 28, 2017

Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be micro managers




   It's kind of a given that copy editors make mistakes. In many cases, a copy editor is the last line of defense from errors, but when correcting an error, a copy editor might introduce a new error, for instance, when rewriting a caption, he or she might misspell a word or name. Often, there is a reason a mistake was made or might have been avoided. I remember a time that a colleague of mine was called on the carpet, had the riot act read to him, and got reamed (figuratively, not literally) because a story he edited had the phrase "Jew Jersey" which appeared in the paper.
   How could that have happened?
   A little forensic copy editing would have shown that there was a recent rule passed by someone who enjoyed making up rules, kind of like our current embarrassment of a president, that, and I forget the exact wording of the edict, but that we on the copy desk were no longer to use N.J. in certain circumstances and had to write out New Jersey. Not a big deal, but the copy editor in question was simply following the rules.
   A forensic examination of the keyboard, however, will reveal that the letter "J" is above the letter "N" and 50 percent to the right. I believe the term is catty corner.
Oops, wrong catty corner 

Okay, correct keyboard. Note the position of the n and the j.
   So ... when following the new rule and thinking he was acting correctly, he accidentally depressed the "J" rather than the "N" and the result: Jew Jersey, for which said copy editor got his ass handed to him over a nothing little mistake that never would have occurred in the first place had a supervisor not been micro managing.
   That was then. This is now.
   The newspaper where I work has gone through a succession of managing editors in the few years I've been there.
   An email that arrived, addressed to the entire copy editing staff, particularly got under my skin. It contained the phrase "How did this happen" when all the managing editor had to do was ask me, as said managing editor knew that I had laid out the page, and I would have explained how it happened, but the point of sending the email to the entire copy desk was to reassert said managing editor's control by humiliating the alleged error maker.
   If this were the first "how did this happen" email it would have been like the proverbial water off a duck's back, but this is a pretty regular occurrence, so I decided to ask Mr. Google what are the characteristics of a micro manager, and the answer, although I am sure there are variations, fit this micro manager to a T.


   I've made my share of mistakes, some of them clunkers. And I don't humiliate easily, so I wasn't humiliated by this particular email. But I did have my eyes opened to what is at times a stifling workplace environment. I'm not enough of an expert to say micro managing is any worse in a newspaper environment than it is in a corporate environment. But copy editors are often creative people, and micro managing in a newsroom stifles that creativity. The article points out that there is often a fine line between micro managing and effective leadership. There is also sometimes a hairline between an excellent, creative headline and a clunker of a headline, but if you don't consider the clunkers, you may never write the great ones.

PS: Thank you Victor Sasson for the kind mention in your excellent and evolving blog "The Sasson Report."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Copy editors don't get no respeck

The 1978 Newspaper Strike Daily News knockoff
   Recently I had occasion to flash back to the Great Newspaper Strike of 1978. I always thought it lasted 78 days, but memory is funny, a google entry pegged it at 84. Whatever. My supervisor at the News at the time, Chuck Slater, got a job as the sports editor of the "interim" Daily Press and brought me along. It was a way smaller staff, if I remember correctly the entire sports department was five or six people, but it might have been less.
   But the thing I remember most about that time was riding in the elevator one day with a couple of colleagues. The Daily Press was in an office building, unlike the Daily News, which had its own Art Deco building on East 42nd Street. There were a couple of secretaries or receptionists in the elevator and one of them asked one of my colleagues if we worked for that newspaper. He said yes, and one of the secretaries said something to the effect of Oh, that must be so exciting.
   At the time she was right. But she might also have said Oh, that must be so depressing, and she also would have been right. Because people who work for newspapers don't work normal hours, which might be called office hours, and if you do that for a certain number of years, like a lifetime, that can be pretty damn depressing. People who work for corporations, of course there are variations, but if you average them out, they come into the office at 9 in the morning and leave the building at 5 p.m. So the elevators are crowded, the subways are mobbed, the lunch lines are long. I often think of the rare time when I was in my twenties and got a weekend off and went to a movie on a Saturday night. The people on line were cursing the lengthy wait to get into the movie. Me, I was loving it, doing something normal on a weekend instead of leaving the office at 11 p.m. and wondering what am I going to do now, then going home and watching old movies on TV until I fell asleep.
   I flashed back to 1978 because the newspaper where I work part time moved last week. It's a pretty old newspaper, and once had its own building in town with its own presses. Then it moved into a four-story building a couple of blocks away that it shared with an engineering firm, the newspaper on the fourth floor and the engineers on the second and third floors, until the engineering firm went out of business and the second and third floors were vacant. But it was still basically a newspaper building. No corporate nine to five types coming and going. Some departments of the newspaper left at five like normal people but they had relatively normal jobs, selling advertising, secretarial positions, things like that, and because the main office was right by the elevator and the newsroom was around a corner and down a hall, their five o'clock departure wasn't very noticeable.
   Last week, the newspaper moved again, into a modern three-story office building, modern at least for the town, which hasn't seen any significant new office construction in about a decade. The main tenant in the building is a mortgage company, which is one of the more prominent members of the town's Chamber of Commerce. Before the move there was a tour of the new office, which I didn't go on, but my colleagues were raving about the breakroom, which they said had three or four of those single serve Keurig coffee things and vending machines and tables, they said it was really cool.
   The actual move was less traumatic than anticipated, and the staff's lone IT guy not only didn't have a nervous breakdown but is probably weighing offers from Marvel to star in its next movie.
   We've been in the new offices for a week now.
   My first day there is when I flashed back to the "interim" paper of 1978 because this was very much a corporate building. The newspaper is on the third floor, along with the mortgage company. On the first floor there's a cardiology practice, which explains why the fifteen to twenty handicapped parking spaces outside the building were all full when I showed up at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday for my first shift in the new building; and a probate court (the building is right next to the Superior Court building); I don't know which tenants are on the second floor, except one of them is a lawyer with an LLC after his name.
   When I arrived, the large parking lot was almost full, meaning I had to park out in what I used to affectionately refer to as god's country. On the other hand, walking is good for you so I shouldn't complain.
   Then five o'clock came around. I was busy editing copy and laying out pages, so I didn't notice the exodus, which, I should add, included a large portion of the newspaper's staff. But when I looked out the window, there were only a few cars left in the parking lot, so far off you could hardly see them.
   And that fantastic, luxurious breakroom? I paid it a quick visit and there were indeed a lot of coffee pots, it would be a great place to have AA meetings on weekends, except I don't think they use Keurigs at AA. And then the word came down from our nice neighbor the mortgage company: No one from the newspaper was to enter the breakroom after 4:30 p.m. This was very bad news for my copy editing neighbor to the right, who is a diabetic with a two can of Diet Coke and a pack or two of chips from the vending machine a night habit. The news meeting ran late a day or two ago and he glanced at his watch and said he hoped the meeting would end by 4:30. It ended at 4:45.
   The next harsh reminder that copy editors don't live normal lives came at sundown. At the former building, staffers parked in a large municipal garage about a block from the paper. The town's infrastructure never quite caught up to its municipal garage capacity, so that while there weren't many cars in the garage when people left work at 11 p.m., they didn't have to go to the fourth or fifth floor to find their car.
   At the new building, come 5 o'clock the parking lot empties out except for the handful of reporters and editors whose cars are in the farther reaches of the lot. And as the sun goes down, the lights that are spread in rows throughout the lot don't come on. It's pretty eerie looking out at the empty lot with the shadows of a couple of cars way off in the distance, or a single car parked in a far corner of the lot. And on a moonless night, the parking lot is pitch dark. Sure, it costs money to turn on the lights, but did anyone consider this when hammering out the terms of the lease? Just like the availability of the break room, another reminder that copy editors and reporters are second class citizens, although reporters at least get out of the office once in a while.
   The other night, after a few days in the new office, the colleague to my left began getting a headache near the end of the shift. His eyes were bothering him, too. So he asked Mr. Google "What is the proper distance from a computer screen for your eyes?" The answer came back 18 to 20 inches. The new desks are very narrow, whereas our former desks were pretty wide, with drawers even, never mind that an occasional mouse liked to forage in those drawers for the occasional stray piece of Halloween candy, but I digress. So he got out his Stanley tape measure -- the office is located in New Britain, after all, birthplace of Stanley Tools and still home to Stanley Black & Decker -- and counted nine inches from his nose to the screen. Then he wheeled his chair back so that his nose was approximately 18 inches from the screen, only to discover that he couldn't reach his mouse. So, like Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen," when he emerges with numerous leeches on his body and Katharine Hepburn has to burn them off with a cigarette, then after the Queen gets stalled again, right back into the river he goes, so went my colleague's nose back to nine or ten inches from his monitor.
   I was lucky in that I got laid off in 2008 before the Bergen Record moved from the spacious "Record building" to new, smaller headquarters in a corporate building in another town, which they had to do because the presses that took up the whole first floor of the Record building were no longer used and the staff which once filled the fourth floor was decimated.
   I wouldn't call it post traumatic stress because there's nothing particularly traumatic about such a move, but flashbacks are flashbacks, and I'm very much not liking this move because it's served as a glaring reminder of how far from a normal career my career as a newspaper copy editor has been. On the other hand, I'm still a couple of balloons short of throwing a pity party.







Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Top ten ways you can tell someone has been writing headlines too long


1) Believes Trump has a stake in Google because he keeps encouraging crowds to chant "Look her up!"

2) Former colleague notes on Facebook that he's a Leo and you respond so that's why you're named Claude

3) Thinks Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is a diet show

4) Doesn't know who invented the Internet, but is quick to point out that it's driven by Al Gore-ithms.

5) Takes a cue from gas rationing and lawn watering: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays hyphenates Wal-Mart, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays doesn't. (Alternates on Sundays if he can remember what he did the previous Sunday). This also applies to health care/healthcare and various other copy-editing scenarios.


6) When Cupid.com asks what type he likes, he says 120 point.

7) Asked what he thinks Trump's chances of winning are he says "As good as the chances of the Cubs winning the World Series. Ha ha."

8) Believes "Ford to city: Drop dead" was about an automotive recall.

9) Gets thrown out of France for asking which came first, the Liberte or the Eggalite?


10) Goes to a topless bar hoping to find a headless body








Sunday, November 27, 2016

An existential crisis


   Over the years -- okay, okay, decades -- I've kept enough food on my desk while plowing my way through a nine hour shift of writing headlines and editing copy to open a restaurant, neigh (how did a horse get in here?), maybe a chain of restaurants, Aaron's Copy Desk Diner. Every Halloween I scare up a few dozen extra mini Kit Kats and about Three Dozen Mini Musketeers and secrete them in the back compartment of the bottom drawer on the right hand side of my desk, while the bottom drawer on the left hand side of the desk, behind a batch of file folders which contain I have no idea what because they were left by the former employee whose desk I appropriated or maybe even the employee before that, is where I place whichever cookies I've brought in to get me through the evening. These I pull out from time to time to have with two or three cups of coffee thanks to Mr. Coffee and Mrs. S., the human resources maven who bought the coffee maker for the staff despite the fact that I'm one of only three people in the entire newsroom, and that includes advertising people, who drink coffee at work. The last managing editor kept all kinds of exotic tea bags and a bottle of honey on his desk; he only lasted about a year before losing his temper and his job; imagine how short his career would have been if he drank the kind of rotgut coffee I brew up at the start of my shift. But I digress.
   The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is fast approaching, heck, by the time you read this it will probably have been three weeks or a year ago, and my publisher asked if I could find a few local citizens and write about what they remembered about that day. So one morning last week, I was running late, but I decided to walk the five blocks or so to the local senior center to see what I could find. When I introduced myself at the front desk, the senor center director came out and said something to the effect that gee, that was a long time ago, anyone who remembered what they were doing that day would have to be at least 75 years old, and if they were only 75, all they could remember was being born. But, he said, let's take a walk through the facility and see what we could find. In the gym area we found a 93 year old man but the director said he probably wouldn't remember what he was doing the day Pearl Harbor was attacked because he was in Poland or Siberia at the time. What the heck, I said, I had my tape recorder with me and I recorded a 20 minute interview with him, maybe a bit longer, about Poland and Siberia and Baghdad and his time in the Polish resistance, pretty dramatic stuff if I can understand what he was saying, I'll listen to it later.
   But that was it. I found one lady who refused to tell me her name and didn't want it in the paper, but she was at a friend's birthday party the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. You must have been seven or eight, I said. She didn't answer.
   And that was it.
   By now I was late for work and I had no food to get me through the shift; even my Halloween stash was whittled down by a month's worth of nibbling. Nibbling. In the realm of literature, that's what might be called "foreshadowing." There still were a few Lindor truffles that I bought about two years ago but they were hard as a rock and were classified as for emergencies only.
   On the walk to my office I passed a C-Town supermarket, which caters to the large Hispanic and Latino population in the neighborhood. I ventured inside and was amazed at the great selection of mangoes and avocados which are way overpriced and underripe at the supermarkets where I usually shop. But it wasn't Take an Avocado to Work Day, and never should be, it was Take a Cookie to Work Day. Browsing the cookie aisle all I could find on sale was a large bag of Oreo cookies that was on sale for $2.50, so I bought a bag, figuring it would last three or four days.
   When I arrived at the office, sat at my desk and entered the password for my computer, I opened the bag of oreos while I waited, and took four cookies out. I didn't have to make coffee because it was one of the rare days when our IT guy, another caffeine fiend, made the coffee, so I poured myself a cup, set my four cookies in front of me, and placed the opened bag of Oreos in the rear compartment of the lower left hand desk drawer.
   Can you see where this is going?
   Now, this is the middle of November. It wasn't a cold November of the soul, but it wasn't Tahiti in July out either. Now do you see where this is going?
   A copy desk shift at the paper where I work has moments of intense pressure followed by moments with little to do followed by moments of intense pressure. It's during those moments of intense pressure that I like to pop a cookie or a half a mini Kit Kat into my choppers or take my half finished cup of coffee to the microwave in the back and pop it in for thirty seconds.
   Such was the case on this particular evening when, having long finished the four Oreo cookies I initially removed from the bag, I pulled the lower left hand bottom drawer out and was about to retrieve the opened bag of cookies when I saw something scurry across the bottom of the drawer. It was a mouse.
   I slammed the drawer shut, trying to slam it without making too much noise. At least I succeeded in that.
   Now I had a problem.
   Luckily there was nothing in the drawer that I needed besides a few more cookies, but my appetite was history so I could do without, and leave the drawer closed for the rest of the shift. At least there would be no getting out of the drawer for Mister Mouse and he could eat the rest of the bag of Oreos for all I cared, except I don't know what a mouse on a sugar high is capable of, and I didn't particularly want to find out.
   There were still about five hours to go in the shift. The human resources lady's desk is only about fifteen feet from mine and I didn't dare say anything because that was sure to trigger a universal email chastising reporters and editors for even thinking about keeping food in their desk and threatening probation or worse for anybody caught doing so in the future.
   And I didn't dare say anything out of concern for upsetting the woman at the desk next to mine who sometimes has a three-day old clementine or apple on her desk.
   Fortunately, I'm usually the last person in the office at the end of the night because the newspaper is printed at a different location and I have to wait for the pressroom to call and let me know that the presses are running, and in the event of a breakdown or other problem I have to do what I can, resend a page or whatever. Usually by the time I leave, sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m., the cleaning guy has shown up and is busy emptying the waste baskets and cleaning the bathrooms.
   All of the other workers were gone when the cleaning guy arrived. I told him I had a favor to ask, I might have used the word "big," as in I have a big favor to ask. I told him about the cookies and the mouse, and I asked if he would open the drawer and see if the mouse was still there, and if it wasn't, would he toss the cookies in the waste basket?
   OK, so I'm a wimp. Sue me.
   He proceeded to open the drawer. No mouse. Whew. What am I saying, whew. That meant the darn thing got out of the drawer and hopefully went back to his hole but maybe through the nooks and crannies of the desk he was hiding in another drawer.
   Then the cleaning guy told me that that wasn't the first time a mouse had been seen in the office. There were three or four other sightings. Well, that made me feel good. For about a second. Then I thought, OMG, the place is infested. Almost everybody here has some level of food on or in their desk.
   So I didn't say anything. The next day, I cautiously opened the bottom left hand drawer -- there are two smaller drawers above it -- and glanced inside. No mouse. Whew. Then I began slowly opening the other drawers. In the drawer above the original perpetrator I found a wrapper of a small chocolate that had chew marks on it, and no more chocolate inside. In the bottom right hand drawer, home to the rock-like Lindor Truffles of two years prior, I found one empty wrapper with significant bite marks, and what appeared to be some mouse droppings (ewwww).
   And then I noticed all the little openings at the back of the drawers for the desk's legs and other parts to go through, and realized the ease with which the little reprobates could travel from drawer to drawer and in and out of the desk. No wonder the little guy who found my Oreos was gone, he'd probably returned to the mother ship with the good news that it was party time in Aaron's desk.
   Poor sucker. By the time he returned he was going to find not only no more cookies but not another piece of candy in the entire desk.
   I thought about putting a mousetrap with a piece of cheese in the bottom lower left hand desk drawer, but then all the Facebook videos of mice sunning themselves on the Riviera and playing catch and otherwise acting like human beings flashed before my eyes and I said I can't do that. There must be a more humane way to banish them. Maybe lacing a piece of cheese with a contraceptive would keep them from reproducing. Better yet, I could wrap a piece of cheese in a condom. That might not work, but it would go viral on YouTube.
   And that's where things stand now. I have not yet said anything to anyone other than the cleaning guy. All I've done is hung a sign in the lower right hand bottom desk drawer. It says "Aaron's Copy Desk Diner is Closed for Renovation."