On page 14 we meet the first of our actual protagonists: Marshell Hogan, editor/owner of the Ashton Clarion. Much care is taken to point out that the paper was, as the text describes, a “low-budget operation”: it’s “grass-roots”, “small-town”, “little”, “quaint”, “small-scale”, “easy-go” – one wonders if Peretti’s thesaurus ran out before he got to diminuative, miniscule, or eensy-weensy. Hogan, meanwhile is not a small man – like most heroes of bad fiction, he is “strong,” “big-framed”, and apparently a “bustler hustler”, whatever that means. Not only is he a large man, he’s from a large city: he had apparently worked for the New York Times and had always dreamed of being an editor – or rather, having a glassed-in editor’s office, which is considered too “big-town” for this minute, pocket-sized, negligible newspaper. Apparently, according to Peretti, it’s impossible for such a petty, piddling, pint-sized newspaper to be “a quality paper, one that ran efficiently and smoothly and made its deadlines”, as “Attila the Hogan”is continually disappointed by such horrifying setbacks as papers handed in covered in parakeet droppings and having to save coffee grounds for the secretary’s compost heap.
Aren’t poor rural folk funny!
The staff appears to be four: “the typesetter, the secretary/reporter/ad girl, the paste-up man, and the reporter/columnist”. Two reporters – one of whom is also the secretary – are apparently responsible for at least seven pages of content (directly mentioned in the dialogue). Over the next page we’re given names slowly: Edie is the secretary, George is the typesetter, Tom is the paste-up man, and Bernice, or Bernie, is the columnist who is currently missing. Marshall and Tom, we are told, are bending over an easel trying to finalize the layout for the next day’s edition; George, when introduced, is just swiveling away from the typesetting machine.
Which makes this paragraph seem all the more out of place:
“On Monday morning, the traffic patterns were hectic, with no time for any weekend hangovers. The Tuesday edition was being brought forth in a rush, and the entire staff was feeling the labor pains, dashing back and forth between their desks in front and the paste-up room in the back, squeezing past each other in the narrow passage, carrying rough copy for articles and ads to be typeset, finished typeset galleys, and assorted shapes and sizes of half-tones of photographs that would highlight the news pages”
If Marshell and Tom are “amid […] rapidly moving bodies […] bent over a large, benchlike easel, assembling Tuesday’s Clarion out of bits and pieces”, then at most there are two people moving about at any given time. A staff of four, who had been working together at least since Marshell bought the paper “a few months” ago, bringing out a twice-weekly newspaper, and yet they’re frantically rushing to and fro? I just can’t see two people’s motions even counting as “traffic patterns”. I’ve worked in costume shops the week before a show opens with half a dozen student stitchers and four designers competing for their unpaid labor and not felt “labor pains” or “hectic traffic patterns”. Generally after a few times people fall into a pattern, developing a sense of what needs to go where and how to get it there efficiently. How incompetent are these munchkinesque people?
Apparently very – Marshall complains that Edie left galleys on the floor, and she insists it was the wind. Someone left a window open when there’s small bits of paper to be arranged? Meanwhile, Bernie hasn’t handed in her front-page article – meaning it’s not been edited or typeset – so of course Marshall is upset that she hasn’t shown up. George suggests filling with the Ladies Auxiliary Barbecue – Auxiliary what? The Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars? The AMVETS National Ladies Auxiliary? The South Carolina Ladies Auxiliary historical society? I’m going to picture these ladies for now, just because it amuses me – but Marshall refuses because the photo is apparently “spicy enough for a lawsuit”. Edie turns out to be the only one in the office who attended any part of the orgy – Tom’s wife is staunchly anti-ringtoss and George doesn’t have the stomach for cotton candy – so Marshall orders her to start writing so the have something to print.
Before we’re forced to stomach the secretary’s writing, however, the phone rings. Bernice is in jail!