Letters to Holly

Thursday, June 21

Toil and Try

The weather was perfect for yardwork. A little wind, a lot of clear air, many shady trees. The half of the garden that we didn't cultivate is overgrown. Well, was overgrown. It was a mess of ivy, weeds, and a thick-stalk brush. Attacking it made my weed-eater line vanish in a hurry. I fetched the hedge trimmer, squatted, and mowed the plants away. I think we're gonna have to -- excuse me, I'm gonna have to -- dig up the root balls. We won't grow anything on that half of the garden, not for a while anyway, so there's no hurry. I raked the successfully hewed greenery into the compost pile. I worked hard enough to skip running until later on today. The potato plants are about a foot tall.

I tried an experiment mixing honey, lemon juice, and pepper for a baste on broiled chicken. It may have worked better had I not used a frozen fillet pre-coasted with a "seasoning mixture." This mixture eclipsed the recipe and made it taste eggy, like a heavy pancake. This is not my favorite flavor. Thankfully, I made mac and cheese as the side.

I tried to watch a film called The Dreamers about three youngsters playing at sex and art in mid-'60s Paris. It's no fun. It's Moulin Rogue without the charm or energy. Also, the last ten minutes feels like a bad play. Watch only if you want to see lots of full frontal nudity. The gal from Casino Royale is starkers for half the film.

Picture of the Day
I often check in on my old newspaper's website to see how it's chugging along. The website is the same as before, but the publication is technically a new animal. The old paper is gone, and this new publication is a product of the former news editor dressing up his material in the clothes of the original publication. What was a small operation is now a tiny one, and he wasn't able to find a graphics guy with my expertise. He's making do with what he has, and I suspect he's trying to keep it afloat until he can sell it for a tidy profit. I don't think that's possible in such a glutted publication market, but that's another rant.

When I was there, we used to butt heads over packaging articles. He wanted certain art styles to accompany his cover stories. Once, he gave me a page from a Sunday New York Times with an industrial Soviet illustration and told me to hold on to it so I would make something in a similar style for a story he would write later. My point is, he would put the cart before the horse, packaging his story before he wrote it, and at the very least this puts into question his journalist ethic: Would he leave out crucial material in order to maintain his established desire package? I didn't appreciate this degree of input. We had specialized jobs; he'd write, I'd package. He criticized my covers often, not because they were bad, but because they weren't what he had in mind when writing the piece. He claimed more than once that he was the only one who cared about our product, and we were all letting down both him and our duty to the readers.

Anyway, I bring this up because the current issue includes what appears to be a sit-down with Barack. That's a very nice get for a paper this size. But, jesus, look at that headline.

Who pronounces his name "Buh-RACK?" Why reference a movie more than 20 years old? This cute style of headline removes any dignity and importance from the biggest story of the paper's short life. Here's how you package a story about a conversation with Barack Obama: "A Conversation With Barack Obama." Save the puns for county council scandals. And that top-left graphic looks like it took five minutes in MS Paint.

I hate to see the paper -- even a descendant of my old paper -- reduced to this. We won national awards when I was there. And despite our conversations on the subject, neither version of the publication contacted me for cover work when I moved here. Not that I think Jim would contact me; obviously we didn't get along well. Also, I hear he doesn't pay; he offers trade for advertiser coupons. He then likely can't attract the artists he needs, the artists the paper needs.

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