Thomas: Are you afraid of the dork?
Come on: What are you so afraid of?
It’s probably fair to describe newspaper business as scary in a few different ways: economic uncertainty, looming layoffs, the sometimes scary maniacs you work with, a business model that somewhat resembles a ghost ship crewed by undead pirates … and, if you’ve ever worked the copy desk, that familiar uneasy feeling of being alone in an old building at night.
The Vail Daily isn’t bad, but I’m still kind of new here after working in my share of creepy old newsrooms in towns that are probably crazy haunted if you believe in that kind of thing: Eden, North Carolina, Rutland, Vermont — which capitalized with a great Halloween parade — and Aspen. The Times’ current office was newly renovated the second time I worked there, but we had a copy editor named Karl at the old one whose Pennywise from “It” (the old one) was a little too close for comfort. The old Glenwood office was a nice modern place, but I’ve heard some weird rumors about that city and the building the Post Independent moved into a decade ago. It used to be standard practice for newspapers to archive old copies in a “morgue,” but one of my friends who used to work at the the Leadville Chronicle told me that building used to be an actual funeral home.
Beyond the morgue, though, the language the skeleton crew employs on a nightly basis makes us sound like serial killers: “If it bleeds, it leads” used to be the credo for prioritizing stories with high levels of trauma or drama that we then might cut, gut, slash or kill and bury, or perhaps impale on the figurative spike if it’s not quite ready for us to rip apart and bleed all over in red ink.
But if you’ve been a copy editor, you might be the scary one and not even know it: It’s not unusual for shifts on the desk to stretch to and beyond the witching hour, and if you’re not super-motivated and immune to depression, the temptation to avoid daylight altogether might be too much to overcome. Copy editor would be a perfect profession for a vampire, come to think of it: staying up all night doing the low-tech, baroque job of tinkering with things like fonts, which isn’t too far removed from tuning harpsichords or whatever else the cultured undead do.
I became a ghoul again this summer, hanging out with my familiar companion, a little gray cat named LucyFur who used to belong to my housemate in Basalt, and losing 7 pounds and the ability to sleep in July and August.
There was an ’80s horror movie called “Pumpkinhead,” starring Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, the owner of a general store in Appalachia whose kid gets killed by some big-city dirt bikers. So Ed goes looking for revenge and buys a demon that springs out of the pumpkin patch and starts exacting revenge. With each kill, the demon becomes more human and Ed becomes more demonic until he realizes what’s happening and goes to kill the Pumpkinhead. And when they stare at each other, they have the same face.
I’m not sure which one was Ed and which was the Pumpkinhead, but the Vail Daily copy desk and I were kind of turning into the same demon this summer — a kind of ghoulish convergent evolution.
“Pumpkinhead” sure looked corny when I saw it again a couple years ago, but it scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Despite being kind of a metalhead, I’m a little bit of a sissy kitty about scary movies: OK with the slashers but unsettled by anything supernatural, which seems like the opposite of how it should be for an agnostic who regularly works nights doing things that grinds the reading public’s gears in a building that only recently changed a very casual approach to security.
As far as situations that are actually scary, I’ve worked the desk for most of my career, along with arts and entertainment and sports, and so I’ve been a little lucky and a lot removed. The scariest thing I heard of was the New Year’s bombings in Aspen in 2007, but I was in Tahoe when that happened. There was one borderline supernaturally weird story at the Summit Daily News that we weren’t allowed to talk about outside the newsroom.
But what actually gets a panic reaction out of me is missing deadline and catching mistakes when it’s too late to fix them — 10:16. While you can chuckle with relief when you realize that what you thought was a ghost hanging from a noose in the corner was just somebody’s jacket, the copy that vanished from the page without a trace is really gone. As the clock creeps toward deadline, you realize that the error that appeared on the other local page, like a William Shatner mask in Lori Strode’s mirror, was horrifyingly real.
Now that’s scary.
Dan Thomas is the copy desk chief at the Vail Daily, a former sportswriter for the Vail Trail and a master’s degree candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Denver. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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