The image of the journalist brings up all sorts of lovely clichés.
When I broke into the business, the green eyeshade was already gone, but the newsroom, like many workplaces, was often full of stale cigarette smoke. You would hear stories about the days of keeping a bottle of bourbon within reach in a desk drawer, but that too is long past.
I remember hand-wringing among the elders about our business being overrun by earnest, ambitious young people more interested in Perrier, jogging and health – having a life – than in working too late, drinking too much and, perhaps, caring too much.
Of course, if you’re health conscious, you probably got out of journalism long ago, and if you weren’t smart enough to do that, the industry might well have done it for you in these years of downsizing and, shall we say, strategic realignment.
It’s not the same game. Past vices – the smokes and the booze – are long gone, at least from the newsroom itself. The colleagues are gone. The elders, were they still around, would gladly welcome those upstart Yuppies they sneered at years ago. The art of working the phone has been replaced by the art of touring the web, readers have been replaced by audiences, and news has been replaced by the deeply vacuous “content.”
And, mind you, life without vices is less than it’s cracked up to be. Basically what the hard-bitten surviving journalists are left with are the stress, the sleep deprivation and, as life is lived on constant deadline, a bit much familiarity with fast food.
A good cheeseburger is fine thing. Yes, it’s kiddie food, but old habits die hard. I know this is grading things on a sad curve, but I figure if it doesn’t have three layers, doesn’t have bacon and has two or fewer types of cheese, then you’re at least on the happy side of this big, greasy pile of bad choices.
So yes, I will cop to an uncomfortable fact: Among life’s small comforts – the morning paper, hot coffee, pizza with friends – I count the occasional cheeseburger.
Not that they ever get it right. I have years of data on this, which emphatically point to one conclusion: It doesn’t matter if it’s company A, B or C, you can place your order with all the precision of the guy ordering a double-mocha, half-caff whatever at Starbucks, but you’re still going to get what you get. Like so much of life, more effort on your part just means more frustration.
I must have a defective gene. I do not care for dill pickles on a cheeseburger. The rest of the usual adornments are good. Oh, I’d love grilled onions, but that’s a lost cause. So one cheeseburger, please, no pickles.
It’s impossible, of course. You can check the greasy ticket taped to the bag and, sure enough, it says no pickles. Yet more times than not thar be pickles, sometimes double pickles. Is this spitefulness back in the kitchen? I think not. The simplest answer – underpaid, overworked, radically unmotivated cooks – is probably closer to the mark.
The list of simple, dependable pleasures grows shorter and shorter. Maybe life would be easier as a monk.
Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @FoxEJC.