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,, 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.