An email arrived while I was writing a column about my childhood memories of Evansville.
The email: “Time for a quick call next week?”
The sender represented the Evansville newspaper
In the 1970s, being from Tell City, I was in awe of Evansville’s size. It was the NYC of Southern Indiana. I LOVE EVILLE. Three major network-affiliated TV stations operated from there. A Sesame Street channel also aired on our screen too but often blizzardy due to lousy rural route reception. Big Bird terrified me anyway.
My first TV personality crush was the host of WEHT’s “The Peggy Mitchell Show.” My dream to be one of the bratty Tri-state kids invited to appear on the show never happened. I’m still processing the disappointment.
It was exciting to visit Evansville with my parents, though our journey was not without trepidation. There was real crime there compared to our cat-trapped-in-the-treetop-front-page-news town! There was always the chance we might not return home alive. Dad filled the gas tank in Tell City, refusing to stop at a big city station, as if every Evansville gas station was the O.K. Corral.
We read about crime in the Evansville Courier. This daily newspaper was the window not only to the Tri-state but to the entire world. How I miss the morning arrival of that newspaper, rolled up in dog bone form, its black-inked secrets spilling out onto the kitchen tabletop before me after excitedly sliding off that tight rubber band. Often the rubber band of the Sunday edition simply snapped apart due to its blessed thickness.
Mom once recounted to me the same magic felt when she was a kid, beating her parents to the Courier.
The Courier’s Joe Aaron was the first columnist I ever read. He actually had a heart attack while doing what he loved, writing a column. I love writing columns, but not enough to die in the process. I’d rather die while doing something I hate. If I ever do die at the desk, let it be just after typing a column’s final period, not before. An unfinished column in process, for me, would mean eternal unrest.
By the time I got that aforementioned “Time for a quick call next week?” email, I had been freelancing a column (mostly humorous) for the Courier going on two years. The best day of my writing career was when then-editor Abbey Brown Doyle invited me to submit columns based on the merits of my long-running freelance humor writing for the Dubois County Herald. The Courier gig meant a wider readership and having a byline in the most significant newspaper of my youth. Mom proudly saved each print edition of my Courier column for me, and after she died last fall, Dad started texting pictures of the column to me instead, often relaying how fellow gamblers at the casino enjoyed my work. He felt pride hearing that.
While writing for the Courier, I received a fair amount of unsolicited emails from Tri-state readers, all favorable and often flattering, some saying my stories kept them subscribing. I love when my stories resonate. Why else write them? Reader feedback (there can never be enough) helps keep my fingers tapping the keys as I hammer out words to tickle funny bones and tug heartstrings. I reply to each email, giving sincere thanks to senders for reading and, even better, reaching out.
My last Courier column bemoaned the usage of “ish” in common speak, as in “let’s meet for coffee 9-ish.” I bemoaned how the “ish” gives people the license to be unpunctual. To my delight, the fine people at Debrett’s Everyday Etiquette Tweeted their thanks for “this lovely piece on the scourge of the ‘ish.’ ” A Courier reader emailed his own humorous thoughts about “ish” too.
While awaiting Monday’s call, I experienced delusions of grandeur. Was I getting a pay raise? Was the newspaper chain interested in syndication?
Alas, instead, I was told the bigwigs canned my column. Metrics regarding online reader engagement showed that my column didn’t ring the bell, unlike say restaurant reviews (which I enjoy). No cigar. No Kewpie doll.
“It’s not personal,” I was told, a parting trope I’ve heard at the dreadful end of many failed relationships. I halfway expected to hear, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
Ultimately, chiseling out a column for the Courier seemed nothing more than operating a lemonade stand on a dead-end road. My column remains in the Herald and Hamilton County Reporter, the latter resulting in three nice reader responses today, blessedly arriving at a tough time.
The downside is my potential readership is far less this week than last week. I once read that Joe Aaron dreamed of syndication, too. That this never happened makes his newsroom death much sadder, a lifetime of finger taps pursuing the ever elusive larger readership. Joe Aaron is dead, and, as of last week, I don’t feel so good myself. Tap. Tap. Taps.
But, hey, it gave me an opportunity to write a column about losing a column. Writing about something going wrong—this occurs often—tends to cure what ails me.
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