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alt | the banner years | prologue

by Jeff Carrie and Christin Keck

      You're in the basement at 2038 Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts.

      Welcome to the Boston Examiner. It's 3:15 in the morning, and that sound you hear is the press rolling off tomorrow's edition. We're the number three daily newspaper in the Boston area. Our circulation is a little over 300,000 souls, all eagerly (we hope) awaiting the morning issue to come smacking down onto the front porch, or get stuffed into the paper box, or shoved under the door. The Examiner can't keep up with the Herald or the Globe, but occasionally, like today, we get the big story first. It would be hard to miss this one, since it's about us. There's the banner headline in big, bold type, and below it is the staff photo from the publisher's office. That's me, there on the left--Winston Salem. I do some photography and some copy, if it's a real slow news day, which thankfully is pretty rare.

      The man in the middle is our publisher and managing editor, Ward Player. A widower since 1972, he inherited the Examiner from his wife's family. Once her assets had been divided he balked at the idea of sitting on the executive board of any number of large corporations, choosing instead to run a small newspaper because he thought it might be fun. Sometimes it is.

      Part of the reason for our modest success is our family-oriented style. Everyone knows Ward. The people on the street know that Ward mingles with the common man. He can frequently be seen stopping and talking to people as he wanders the streets of Boston. The people on the street think he is a good man. The people on the street are idiots.

      The main reason Ward spends so much time on the streets, is that he gets lost coming in to work. The streets in Boston were laid out by cows; Ward will occasionally make a wrong turn before finding Washington Street. He'll wander around for hours under the guise of a beat reporter, until he gets hungry, and calls me (usually around 11:30 or so,) and asks me to meet him for lunch in Chinatown, or Chestnut Hill, or wherever he's ended up that day. If I'm lucky, he hasn't taken the MTA to Braintree.

      There, on Ward's right, is his daughter, Paige, who lives with him in their immaculate home on Acorn Street. Paige has never left home. She's thirty-three, and she's been engaged too many times to count, but somehow, never ends up going through with an actual marriage. Ward has a soft spot in his heart for her. He's also got a soft spot in his head. And that brings me to Macadamia Attache, our Art Director, who also writes a column in our Sunday Magazine, (Decor and You: Winning the War.) That's her on Ward's left, still fixing her hair as the flash went off. Eccentric isn't the word for Macadamia. I don't think there is a word for her--I've heard plenty, but it wouldn't be polite to repeat them. She's been in love with Ward for years; occasionally, their bodies share a bed. If their minds could occasionally share a planet, they'd have something. Standing between Macadamia and myself is Cassandra Twitch. She is features editor, and does the horoscopes. I never put much faith in her ability to predict anything, but she was right about at least one thing--our romance was never meant to last. Ward trusts her implicitly, she advises him on everything. Of course, Ward can't remember most of what she tells him, so this arrangement tends to work out. It sure beats running a country with a ouija board, but that's another story. Living with Cassandra was strange; I swore she could really tell the future, but it was hard to tell because she's a pathological liar. I never knew whether to believe her or run in the opposite direction.

      In the front row, covering up Cass's legs (which really is a shame), is Dan Blander. You probably know him as "Auntie Blander", the advice columnist. Auntie has been dispensing helpful information for years on everything from waxing your legs to meeting serial killers on the World Wide Web. His advice is usually more believable than Cassandra's, but truthfully, if I ever need to make a decision, I generally flip a coin. Dan is good at giving advice, but not too great at taking it himself. I've tried to get him to see a doctor about his constant cough, but he dismisses it as being "just a bug that's going around." You'd think a bug that size would have been reported by the Defense Department.

      Seated next to Dan is Tim Speedo. He's a good photographer, certainly deserving of a better gig than doing full-page underwear layouts, (though he never complains much.) He's been secretly in love with Paige since she was six years old and sat on his lap at the office Christmas party. How do I know this tidbit of information? Easy. I'm a newspaperman. It's my job to know stuff like that. Also I'm the narrator. Also, his roommate, Tom B. Stone, is a loud-mouthed drunk. Well, that's a blatant falsehood. Tom is not always drunk, sometimes he's high. I don't know how many substances Tom is addicted to, but there's been talk about naming a chain of pharmacies after him as a memorial. (He offers to "hit" me all the time, but as everyone knows, Winston Salem is strictly a cigarette man.) Tom has been here so long, he predates the building. I'll find him in the morgue (ours, of course) reviewing past headlines--Tom writes them all. Coupled with his duties as assistant editor, he's kept busy enough so that he hasn't written his own obit. That job, of course, belongs to Tip Turner. Tip writes all the obits, even those that haven't happened yet. Yesterday he was working on President Clinton's. It's not that the President is ill, or anything, Tip just likes to have all the major world leaders up to date. Boris Yeltsin's gets updated hourly. "You never know, " says Tip, "When we'll get a spate of Russians dropping off like they did in the early 80's." (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko are all framed with pride behind Tip's desk.) Tip is somewhat of a workaholic--on vacation he visits major cemetaries. He's right in below Paige in the photo--an appropriate position for one of Paige's fiancees. (He's number 8, I think.) It doesn't matter anyway, because her heart always belongs to Daddy--you can lay odds on that engagement being broken.

      And those odds are posted by our resident sports writer, Marlin Piscatori. Today, you can find Marlin bemoaning the lack of pitching for the Red Sox: "If we had one more good arm in the rotation and a solid middle man we could contend for the wild card." Of course, last year the call was for "someone to back up Vaughn and Canseco--we're only a couple of good hitters away from contention." Marlin lives and dies with the Red Sox, and it's a good thing, too, because his wife Michelle, no longer will. She's currently seeing Tim Speedo. It's considered a sin when underwear ads get placed in the sports section.

      Seated next to Marlin is his best friend, Brad Vayer. He writes opinion pieces and journal articles, but as I said we were never meant to compete with the Herald. Brad mostly uses the company resources to further his aspirations of becoming a "serious" writer. Well, I give him credit--it beats stealing blue pens from the supply cabinet. And finally, next to Brad, is Katherine Eckhardt. She's our local stringer, and an amazing one at that. This picture was taken on her first day at work. She's the kind of woman that, when she walked into the room, made you wish you had used the new razor, instead of recycling the one from the previous week. Men fell in love with her instantly, but it wasn't anything you could put your finger on. (Literally.) She had the sexiest brain in the state--maybe in the country. When I first met her, I knew my only chance of getting her to notice me was to play it cool and act like she meant nothing to me. I lasted maybe 27 seconds. Luckily, it was enough.

      And that's the core team here at the Examiner. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say that was the core team. I read the headline one more time, close my copy of the paper and fold it across my lap.

      I check my watch. 15 more minutes should do it. I pull out a bottle of champagne and two glasses, and arrange, then re-arrange them until they look just right. The bottle is quite dusty. I rub away at it and check the label. 1963. Was that a good year for champagne? Beats me, but it sure was a good year for newspapers.

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