It was my last newspaper article, and then I’d be off for the night.
For the first time, Arturo persuaded me to go out for drinks after work. I’d only been working at the newspaper for a couple of months, and he was one of the first persons I’d met on the night copy desk who wasn’t old, boring, or just plain white. I mean, he was white— but he wasn’t just plain white, and he was far from old and boring.
Before he’d left my desk that night at work, he harangued me until I agreed to go out with him for drinks. Truth is, and despite his threat to start calling me “Herman the Hermit,” I was tired of going straight home after work, anyway. I’d recently finished arranging the furniture in my new place, and I’d emptied all the boxes in my downtown Hartford apartment, so there was just nothing left for me to do other than to stare at the four blank walls.
I rented a one-bedroom in central Connecticut for a quarter of the price of an apartment in New York City, my old hometown. Too bad it cost me so much to make the move to begin with.
My work nights up to that point were bland, and I’d gone around the city during the day to handle personal affairs, such as a multitude of errands, but up to that point my social activities were seriously lacking. I was adjusting quite well to my new home in the Nutmeg State by becoming boring. I sorely missed the abundant living of my existence in the famous city two hours to the south, at least in some ways.
The one thing I missed the most after moving from the City that Never Sleeps to Snoresville Central Connecticut was the gross lack of diversity. Never mind that I was one of only two black night editors at a newspaper with at least two dozen editors. I was rewriting articles on a white computer screen, coming up with catchy headlines and laying out stories and photos on off-white news pages, and working with reporters throughout the process who were all snowflake white.
Arturo was a wire editor, which meant he’d comb through the national and international news wires for stories that would interest our local readers. Speaking of international, he was born in Angola and raised in South Africa, of Portuguese descent, which meant that he was anything but just plain white. His international flair, foreign accent, and exotic worldliness, all made him as uniquely colorful as I was quote-unquote colored—whatever the hell that meant.
It was my job to clean up the sloppy articles filed on deadline by local reporters. I’m what’s commonly referred to as a copy editor. Arturo, on the other hand, sojourns with the thoughtfully-filed pieces of journalists who had already been edited, and therefore their stories by scope and veracity came across with a bit more gravitas than the locally filed stories I suffered through, which were all hurriedly handled by assignment editors whose sole purpose was to ensure that the stories were fit for print, but not quite fit to print.
Once Arturo got me to poke my head outside of my uber-anal editing shell, especially after hearing all the true-life stories he’d regaled me with about his exploits in the buzzing nightlife one town over, I actually found myself getting excited about going out that night. I’d worn clean and presentable underwear to work, and my apartment was mostly in order, just in case some poor and extremely desperate woman decided to follow me home. Only then did I deem myself ready. After all, it had been long enough—my mourning the loss of a wife, and the divorce I was going through, was getting old.
The only thing was my work was not very uplifting. If I wasn’t reading poorly written newspaper articles about boring town meetings and votes to build a new school or whatever, I was reading and editing annoying mistakes in articles that dealt with corruption, and grave consequences, like long prison sentences or even death.
It’s kind of hard to envision drinks and laughter after work when you’re job is combing through stories that deal with the worst that humanity has to offer. Like my last story of the night.
Although the initial reports were vague, there was enough detail to paint a pretty grim picture. According to the police statement the reporter cited, a nude body of a male was found badly burned somewhere near the border between Hartford and West Hartford. When I commented to Arturo that I had been assigned a story and had to edit it, he bugged me until I promised I’d finally take him up on his offer to get drinks.
“It’s going to be fabulous, Herman, just wait and see,” he’d said earlier. “And what’s this late story about anyway?”
“Police story; dead body found on the border of Hartford and West Hartford.” I rattled off the details like a robot because I was shifting into my micro-editing mode, in which I go through a checklist of all the elements that qualify a news story as serviceable and plausible to readers. Appropriate attribution: Check. Bite sizable sentences and paragraphs: Check.
“If the body was found between West Hartford and Hartford, it’s clear the killing occurred in Hartford.”
I looked at Arturo in that moment, removing my editor’s cap and replacing it with my black man cap. Even as a recent transplant, I knew that West Hartford was a small town with a lot of money, and more houses than apartments; moreover, I knew that the town had a higher population of whites than any other race, and that a great many of those whites were Jewish. On the other hand, Hartford was a city with more apartments than houses, poorer schools, and a higher population of nonwhites.
“What makes you say that the guy had to get killed in Hartford?” I asked him the question, even though I didn’t want to hear the wrong answer.
“It’s simple: people with money have better things to do than to kill each other.”
Part of me wanted to search for some double meaning to what he’d said, but up to that point he’d really only been an upstanding guy. 'OK—I guess he only sees green then,′ I thought.
“Anyway, I think we should check out the scene at Pant’s when we get off.”
I looked at Arturo again, this time thinking, 'what the hell is Pant’s?'
“Most of the spots on the strip are a straight shot from work, Herman; you can’t miss the spots once you cross into West Hartford on Farmington Road, and just park anywhere once you come across West Hartford Center.”
“How will I know when I’m at the center?”
“You can’t miss The Center.”
He said it like it was the center of the world, or at least his world. But I was still unclear on the plan.
“So, we’re meeting at a place called Pants?” I asked the question because I was hoping he’d correct me and say that the name wasn’t so ridiculous sounding.
“Yeah—Pant’s,” Arturo started. “On second thought, Let’s do Maxy’s, it’s across the street from Pant’s.”
“OK—whatever.” I only half agreed with Arturo because I just wanted to finish my shift. More and more my bed was looking mighty good, and especially since I recently purchased memory foam pillows that made me feel like my head was on a cloud.
As Arturo went back to his desk, and finally allowed me to get back to my work, I thought about the question of whether the body dumped after the heinous crime had really originated in Hartford, as Arturo deduced, or if money wasn’t so much a factor as the perpetrator being sick and homicidal was. Anyway, I dismissed my racial paranoia, and I just focused on the story about the sad, naked guy who died terribly.
According to the police report, the body was badly burned, but not from fire. The report stated that the body had been exposed to high voltages, which essentially cooked the corpse with electricity. The police quoted the witness who’d found the body as stating it looked “deep fried,” and I started to imagine what it must have looked like, but then quickly blocked the sick image from my mind.
By the time I finished editing the story, I knew that I'd struggle with the toughest job any copy editor has: In the fewest words, successfully summing up an article and so selling newspapers with the most attention-getting, and yet tasteful headline as possible, with the latter being optional as long as the headline caused readers to pick up the paper. I regretted writing the shameful headline, “Police Discover ‘Naked, Deep Fried’ Body,” but it was all I could come up with, and I couldn’t stop thinking ‘poor guy’ as I shut down my computer and started wrapping up my night at work.
Half ashamed, I looked back to Arturo, who sat a few rows behind me in the bullpen layout of the newsroom, working on something of national or international import, I was certain. He raised his head and mouthed 'thirty minutes,' while gesturing that I should just go on without him.