What's a Newspaper Columnist Really Worth?
Okay, I’m not proud of this. I’m leaving cheese out for a mouse. I can’t even look my wife in the eyes these days.
But look, here’s what happened. I’m sorry it’s been a while since I posted, so you may have forgotten that last week, I got a note from racy h wondering why his (or her -- I’m still not sure) name had appeared on my neighbor’s computer screen. I can only figure that Lucy across the road had been reading DailyUV. So I fessed up. “I’m writing a blog about you,” I told the mouse. “It’s not everyone in the Upper Valley who’s got a literate mouse hanging around.”
And this is what I got back:
here’s the thing, Sir. for more years than i care to remember, i was a newspaper columnist.
i was okay. good days and bad days, you know how it is.
sometimes i wrote columns so sweetly beautiful i made people cry. sometimes i got up on my high dudgeon and made people with nothing better to do than cause pain squirm. and sometimes i wrote such clunkers my readers left my spirits in a tattered heap by the side of the road.
but the point is that good or bad, i got paid for what i did, because writing takes work and good writing takes soul and backbone and back then society understood that it was a craft wrested at great cost from the forces of chaos and procrastination. i know that words these days are like the rising ocean -- there’s more and more of them every day and they’re unstoppable because everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to be heard and everyone can publish just by pressing ‘publish.’
even so i have a question for you. Are you getting paid for your ‘blog’? if you are, don’t you think i should be sharing in the proceeds? money is pointless, what am i going to do except eat it, and do you have any idea how sick you could get from eating your average dollar bill? and don’t imagine you can get away with paying me with peanut butter, i know we’re supposed to like it but you want the truth? we eat the plastic coating off electrical wires, too.
no, give me cheese. you once left a rind of that woodcock farm you got at the farmer’s market, that was the best, but i’ll settle for cabot. Sir.
I think it was that final “Sir” that got me. Part request, mostly reproach. The way I see it, it’s a kind of partnership: racy pays me with words, I pay him/her with cheese. “Okay,” I wrote. “But on one condition: What does the ‘h’ stand for?”