What do we do when life seems so hopeless, so bleak, so utterly devoid of hope and promise, that lifting our faces out of our bowls of oatmeal and dragging ourselves toward the day seems pointless?
And no, I’m not talking about agonizing over the fact that an incompetent, unprepared, megalomanic, mental case may actually become our president. I’m talking about press day.
For a weekly newspaper, one day each week, there’s stifling, relentless tension in the atmosphere. There’s no light or air, only concentrated, unflinching laser focus. No joking. No smiling. No lunch dates with friends. Whatever it is — “No.” Those who wander into the Express office on a Tuesday are met with icy silence and stony stares. Want to know what “No” feels like? Come by on press day.
This has been the tradition ever since I arrived at the Express (God help me) 24 years ago: On Tuesday, we’re not your friends. The you-know-what hits the fan, and should you be foolish enough to stop by on a Tuesday, we’ll likely thrust your fingers into the moving blades.
Don’t become the next splatter pattern on our wall.
Visit on another day.
Why must Tuesdays be so prickly and tense? Is it because every other day is more laid back? On other days, there’s plenty of time to lean back slack-jawed in your broken chair, stare vacantly at the ceiling (which is literally decaying, and covered in a blue plastic tarp where the sun — and rain — come through), ponder your life choices and fantasize about going back in time to that exact moment when you could have chosen a more lucrative career path, like orthodontia or fast food.
But not on Tuesday. There’s no time for reflection and remorse. There’s a job to do, and it must be completed on time, come hell or high water. You set your sites on the goal with steely determination and let nothing stand in your way. But — why is it like this at the Express office?
Over at the Davis Enterprise, it’s essentially press day every day, and whenever I stop by there, everyone’s calm and pleasant, happily tapping away, lightly chit-chatting. And the luxury. Ah, the luxury. Like functional equipment, and water. (To be fair, our boss’s sweet wife started bringing us drinking water after noticing that we didn’t have any, surely realizing that even livestock deserve more humane treatment.)
Ah well. We try to make the best of it. For example, Linda, who works at our office on Tuesdays, named the spider living next to her desk “Mortimer,” just like life-termers befriend the mice that scurry into their prison cells. A little pet provides such comfort, as well as distraction from obsessing about the bleak path before you that offers no other destination than a dead end.
Did I mention I could have been an orthodontist?
Down there on Far East Grant Avenue at the Enterprise office, it’s a different world. Sometimes when I’m leaning back in my chair on a non-Tuesday, I imagine working there, knowing it’d never work because after 24 years, I’ve reverted to a feral state out of sheer survival. But yet, I dream. Pieces of ceiling probably hardly ever land on them, and they can just wantonly squash their spiders.
And press day? Psssshhhh. Chirping bluebirds surely light on their editor’s shoulder each morning, and they whistle Disney tunes all day. The only creature that would light on my shoulder in the dirty, decrepit cinderblock dungeon that has become our permanent home would be a vulture.
“Mortimer” would be a good name for a vulture.
Yes, cheery as a tomb it is, and just as silent, except for keyboards tapping, an occasional yawn or blubbery sneeze from Mortimer’s mom, and the squish of bloody fingertips against the wall.
Recently, the Tuesday trio — our proofreader Barbara, Linda and myself — were grumbling about how sitting for hours without a break makes us so sore. No, we aren’t chained to our desks (not that Charley wouldn’t if he could get away with it) — we just get hyper-focused (the sooner we finish, the sooner we can escape — that’s motivation, my friend) and we forget to get up until our bladders force us to.
One day, Linda started stretching at regular intervals, and I was inspired: We could dance! I set a timer and every 60 minutes, we jump up and dance to something from my iTunes. Oldies, disco, anything fun and bouncy. We wiggle and waggle, and began to notice that at the end of the day, we aren’t so stiff and sore. But here’s the really freaky part: While we’re dancing, we’re smiling and laughing! At the Express office! On a Tuesday!
We’ve also decreed that anyone who wanders in during our dance party must join us. And they do! And they start smiling too! One of the City Hall staff stopped by just as we launched into the Macarena, and she hopped right in — probably the most fun she’d had in weeks.
Yes — “fun.”
In the Express office!
On a Tuesday!
And our boss? No. Dancing isn’t his gig. He just burrows into the cocoon of jumbled papers and trash piled on his desk, glares at his monitor and tries to pretend we don’t exist.
You know — like every other day.
To his credit, he did show us how to use an empty coffee cup to make a “speaker” for my iPhone. That was pretty cool. However, lest you entertain the notion that Charley is softening into something resembling compassion for his lowly servants, let me disabuse you of such nonsense. Last Tuesday, as we capped off our dance session with an appropriate press day number — “Hard Day’s Night” — Charley responded with “Amazing Grace” from his computer.
Nothing kills a dance party, or says Tuesday, like funeral music.
I think I’ll name my spider “Osiris.”
— Email Debra DeAngelo at email@example.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com