The day-care project was the current megaturd. It was going to explain to the readers, in five parts with fourteen color charts, that there was a crisis in day care.
"Listen, Ken," said Eliot, "There are already five people working on the_._._."
"Eliot," said Deeber, the way a parent talks to a naughty child, "you were given an assignment."
Eliot's assignment was to write a sidebar about the Haitian community's perspective on the day-care crisis. Deeber believed that every story had to have the perspective of every ethnic group. When he went through the newspaper, he didn't actually read the stories; he counted ethnic groups. He was always sending out memos like: While the story on the increase in alligator attacks on golfers was timely and informative, I think more of an effort could have been made to include the Hispanic viewpoint. The main reason why Deeber's car ignition had never been wired to a bomb is that reporters have poor do-it-yourself skills.
"I know I had an assignment," said Eliot. "But I've been working on this story about_._._."
"The pelican story?" sneered Deeber. Eliot thought Princeton must have a course in sneering, because Deeber was good at it.
"Ken," said Eliot, "it's an incredible story, and nobody else has it. There's this guy, this old Cuban guy in Key West, and he trains pelicans to_._._."
"Drop bombs," sneered Deeber. "It's the most dumb-ass thing I ever heard."
"Ken," said Eliot. "This guy is amazing. He actually tried to use a trained pelican to kill Castro. Something went wrong, maybe the bomb malfunctioned, maybe the pelican got confused, but the thing apparently blew up outside a hotel in downtown Havana, sprayed pelican parts all over a bunch of French tourists, and the Cuban government claimed that it was some kind of atmospheric_._._."
"Eliot," said Ken, "I don't think we're serving our readers with that kind of story."
"But it's true," said Eliot. He wanted to grab Deeber by his neck. "It's a great story. The guy talked to me, and he_._._."
"Eliot," said Deeber, "Do you realize how important day care is to our readers? Do you realize how many of our readers have children in day care?"
There was a pause.
"Ken," said Eliot, "do you realize how many of our readers have assholes?"
Deeber said, "I see no need to_._._."
"All of them!" shouted Eliot. "They all have assholes!"
Quite a few people in the newsroom heard that through the glass wall to Deeber's office. Heads were turning.
"Ken," said Deeber, "I'm ordering you right now to_._._."
"Let's do a series on it!" shouted Eliot. "RECTUMS IN CRISIS!" The entire newsroom heard that.
Deeber, aware that people were watching, put on his sternest expression.
"Eliot," he said. "You work for me. You do what I tell you. I gave you an assignment. If you want to keep working at this newspaper, that assignment will be done, and it will be in here" --he pointed to his computer" --"before you go home tonight."
"Fine!" said Eliot. He stood up and crossed around to Deeber's side of the desk, which caused Deeber to scoot his chair backward into his credenza, knocking over several journalism contest awards.
Eliot said: "How about I put it in there RIGHT NOW?"
Then he put his left foot through Deeber's computer screen. His foot got sort of stuck in there, so when he yanked it back out, Deeber's whole computer crashed to the floor. In the newsroom, there was a brief but hearty outbreak of applause.
Except for the time a drunk loading-dock employee drove a new $43,000 forklift into Biscayne Bay, nobody had ever been fired from the newspaper faster than Eliot. His coworkers expressed their sympathy and support; in fact, Eliot became a minor cult hero among reporters all over the country. But it was pretty clear he wasn't going to get another job in journalism, especially not in Miami, where he wanted to stay so he could be near his son, Matt, who lived with Eliot's ex-wife.
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."
- PW Starred Review
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