Late at night, there was always music coming from one end of the house. It was some kind of music with a flute, soft, coming through the jungle to Puggy. He liked to lie there and listen to it. He was very happy the way things were going, both with his career and with his tree. It was the most secure, most structured, least turbulent existence he had ever known. It lasted for almost three weeks.
"I look at this ad," the Big Fat Stupid Client From Hell was saying, "and it doesn't say to me, Hammerhead Beer.'_"
Eliot Arnold, of Eliot Arnold Advertising and Public Relations (which consisted entirely of Eliot Arnold), nodded thoughtfully, as though he thought the Client From Hell was making a valid point. In fact, Eliot was thinking it was a good thing that he was one of the maybe fifteen people in Miami who did not carry a loaded firearm, because he would definitely shoot the Client From Hell in his fat, glistening forehead.
At times like these --and there were many times like these --Eliot wondered if maybe he'd been a bit hasty, quitting the newspaper. Especially the way he'd done it, putting his foot through the managing editor's computer. He'd definitely burned a bridge there.
Eliot had spent twenty-one years in the newspaper business. His plan, coming out of college, had been to fight for Justice by using his English-major skills to root out and expose corruption. He got a job at a small daily newspaper, where he wrote obituaries and covered municipal meetings in which local elected officials and engineering consultants droned on for hours over what diameter pipe they needed for the new sewer line. Eliot, listening to this, slumped over a spiral reporter's notebook covered with doodles, figured there was probably some corruption going on there somewhere, but he had no idea how even to begin looking for it.
By the time he'd moved up to the big-time city newspaper, he'd given up on trying to root things out and settled into the comfortable niche of writing features, which it turned out he was good at. For years he wrote about pretty much whatever he wanted. Mostly he wrote what the higher honchos in the newsroom referred to, often condescendingly, as "offbeat" stories. They preferred issues stories, which were dense wads of facts, written by committees, running in five or six parts under some title that usually had the word "crisis" in it, like "Families in Crisis," "Crisis in Our Schools," "The Coming Water Crisis," et cetera. These series, which were heavily promoted and often won journalism contests, were commonly referred to in the newsroom as "megaturds." But the honchos loved them. Advocacy journalism, it was called. It was the hot trend in the newspaper business. Making a difference! Connecting with the readers!
Eliot thought that the readership of most of these series consisted almost entirely of contest judges. But more and more, he found himself getting ordered to work on megaturds, leaving less and less time for him to work on stories he thought somebody might actually want to read.
The end came on the day when he was summoned to the office of the managing editor, Ken Deeber, who was seven years younger than Eliot. Eliot remembered when Deeber was a general-assignment reporter, just out of Princeton. He was articulate and personable, and he could be absolutely relied on to get at least one important fact wrong in every story, no matter how short. But Deeber did not write many stories; he was too busy networking. He rose through the ranks like a Polaris missile, becoming the youngest managing editor in the paper's history. He was big on issues stories. That's why he summoned Eliot to his office.
"How's it going, Eliot?" Deeber had said, starting things off. "Everything OK with you?"
"Well," said Eliot, "I'm kind of_._._."
"The reason I ask," said Deeber, who was not the least bit interested in whether or not everything was OK with Eliot, "is that John Croton tells me you haven't turned in a thing on the day-care project."
Reprinted from Big Trouble by Dave Barry by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Dave Barry. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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