Friday, April 17, 2020

Concerning Those Who Were Once Called Reporters

     From one of the most deeply lamented writers of times past, the late, great Algis Budrys:

     Time was when men of Horse Watson’s profession typically never slept sober, and died with their livers eroded. It must have been fun to watch the literate swashbucklers make fools of themselves in the frontier saloons, indulging in horse-whippings and shoot-outs with rival journalists and their partisans. But who stopped to think what it was like to have the power of words and publication, to discover that an entire town and territory would judge, condemn, act, reprieve, and glorify because of something you had slugged together the night before? Because of something you had handset into type, smudging your fingertips with metal poisons that inexorably began their journey through your bloodstream? For the sake of the power, you turned your liver and kidneys into spongy, irascible masses; you tainted the tissue of your brain with heavy metal ions until it became a house haunted by stumbling visions. Alcohol would temporarily overcome the effect. So you became an alcoholic, and purchased sanity one day at a time, and made a spectacle of yourself. It was neither funny nor tragic in the end – it was simply a fact of life that operated less slowly on the mediocre, because the mediocre could turn themselves off and go to sleep whether they had done the night’s job to their own satisfaction or not.
     Time was, too, when men of Horse Watson’s profession had to seek out gory death because that was all their bosses were willing to either deplore or endorse, depending on management policy. But let no man tell you it’s possible to live like that and not pay. The occupational disease was martinis for the ones that needed a cushion, and, for the very good ones, cancer. For good and bad in proportional measure there was also the great, funny plague of the latter half of the century – nervous bowels and irritated stomachs. Who could see anything but humor in a man gulping down tincture of opium and shifting uneasily in his studio seat, his mind concerned with thoughts of fistula and surgery, his mind determinedly not preoccupied with intestinal resections and where that could lead? Loss of dignity is after all one of the basics to a good punchy gag.

     [Algis Budrys, Michaelmas, 1986]

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