You know that filter we’re all supposed to have that keeps us from saying what we’re really thinking sometimes? Yeah, well, I don’t have one of those. Not having that filter comes in handy when you’re a small-town newspaper publisher and you aren’t afraid of stepping on toes. Of course, it makes you some enemies along the way, but it also makes you some friends, too.
In one of the small towns where I published a newspaper in northern Arizona’s White Mountains, in addition to the Mayor and Town Council members, who were elected officials, there was also a City Manager, who was a “professional” tasked with running the everyday operations of the town. This self-important gentleman and I did not get along for a myriad of reasons, the big one being that I called him out several times when he tried to do things that were not within his authority, such as interfering with the police department’s disciplining of an officer who had broken several rules.
At one point during a Town Council meeting, he said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what Nick Russell’s deal is, but he seems to think I have a problem running this town, and I’d like to see him come up with a solution.” You just know I couldn’t pass that up, don’t you? In the next issue of the paper, I quoted him and then replied that we all knew what his problem was and that I was pretty sure of the solution, too. I suggested a large bran muffin and two cups of strong black coffee every morning would clear it up. For some reason, he liked me even less after that.
Not long after that, I was in the local bakery one morning getting a blueberry donut to start my day when I overheard three older ladies sitting at a table talking. One of them had that week’s edition of the paper in front of her and said, “I don’t know who this Nick Russell guy is, but someday I’d like to give him a piece of my mind!” I couldn’t resist. I walked over, pulled up a chair and sat at their table and said, “Good morning, ladies. I’m Nick Russell,” with a big smile on my face. All three of them sat there, mouths hanging open for a moment, and then one of them got up and went to the counter and came back and handed me a bran muffin. Touché.
In the same county there was a good old boy network at work, and if you were a member of the predominant religion for that area, you could get away with darn near anything from a zoning violation to a felony. Meanwhile, someone else who did the same thing or requested the same services from the county, got completely different treatment. I wrote about this inequity many times. At one point, a county official who was a known womanizer, and of whom it was common knowledge that slipping him an envelope with a few bills in it could help your case if you had something going on, said, “I don’t know why Nick Russell keeps harping on me. Can’t he see my hands are tied?” My reply in the next editorial, after quoting him, was that I couldn’t see his hands because one was up a secretary’s skirt and the other was in the cookie jar. For some reason, he didn’t like me very much, either.
One of my advertisers was a bar. Every week when I went in to renew their advertisement, a guy in an army field jacket or fatigue shirt, depending on the time of year, was always sitting at the bar crying in his beer about how much the world sucked. I was there one day waiting for the owner to write me a check, and this same loser, what I call a professional veteran, said, “You were in Nam, too, Nick. You know what I’m talking about. Nobody cares.” I told him I did know what he was talking about, and that I felt sorry for him. He perked up at that, then I added, “I feel sorry that you were a truck driver in a rear echelon position, but that was the most significant thing that ever happened in your life, and it was 25 years ago.”
Another time, I was out refilling some of our newspaper racks when an old man approached me at the front of the store and asked, “Are you Nick Russell, the guy who writes this paper?” I told him I was, and he said, “I want to shake your hand,” and he did. Then, he said, “I think you’re a brave young man, saying the things you do in the paper.” I thanked him for the compliment, and he said, “Yeah, I think you’re very brave. I also think you’re one dumb sumbitch. But you got the gonads to say what you think.” Then he nodded his head at me and turned and walked away.
The least he could have done was buy me a bran muffin.
Congratulations Lynn S Beman, winner of our drawing for an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for campground reviews, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. We had 41 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Revenge sounds so mean. That’s why I prefer to call it “Returning the favor.”