Thursday, August 26, 2004

woo-hoo!

Nothing definite yet, but it looks like my wife is going to be getting a full-time job at Rutgers, with full benefits. That will mean a slight drop in income, but there won't be all this extra mileage on the car, or our contribution to a mediocre health plan. With some free-lancing and minor P.R. opportunities, it might even work out to about even.

It also means she'll be getting experience and probably some field work in the field she has a master's degree in. She wouldn't have had this talk with her lab supervisor if I hadn't convinced her we just needed to up and up leave WCN.

On a lesser note, I got to tell my supervisor off today. (Not really. I'm being melodramatic, but I did politely and respectfully convey my disgruntlement in a nonconfrontational manner, and I got my point across.) The look on his face was priceless. I don't think it ever had occurred to him that other people might have been interested in the two posts they filled recently (associate editor and flagship managing editor), and that they might have angered or insulted employees by not advertising the posts before filling them.

Honestly, I don't know what the problem is with these people. I said last year in a meeting with the editor in chief and again with one of the owners that I was at a point of burnout and needed a major change. It's not something I've tried to keep secret, and I've made several suggestions of things I could do that would have been a better match for my interests and abilities than what I have now. (Naturally, as I went over some of my areas of concern/frustration today, Mark's whole suggestion was to spread the disease around by giving some of my writing responsibilities to the Cranford reporter.)

So now it looks like I might be able to give them two weeks' notice on Friday, about two weeks ahead of when I had planned to. And we'll have a stronger plan than we originally had hoped.

God willing, of course. The lab supervisor has to crunch the numbers properly and make sure she can give the job to my wife, but she seemed fairly confident of it when they spoke today.

Strictly speaking, I suppose there's no woo-hoo until it actually happens, but just the prospect has buoyed my spirits tremendously

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

a great way to turn 34

Fantastic birthday today. My 34th.

I got to go home early, thanks mostly to things being in disarray at the newspaper and a series of essential phone calls not being returned. So I went home and got to spend a few hours with the girls, unwrapping presents that E wrapped by herself, with help from her mother only on the tape. She also gave me a handmade card, the girls sang "Happy Birthday" to me -- even R, although she only got in every fifth syllable or so -- and well, heck, we had a great time.

Friday, August 20, 2004

requiem to the forbidden love of youth

Have you ever had a relationship so deep and meaningful that when it ended, you felt as though a part of you had died? I have.

For the entire second year of our marriage, my wife and I shared our house, our back yard — yes, our very lives — with a mattress called Spring Air. Initially, I admit, we regarded Spring Air as an inconvenience, a twin-size mattress left in the driveway by the house’s previous owner, but as time went on, Spring Air came to mean something more to me. Something special.

Natasha will always be the love of my life, but I can’t deny that Spring Air came to hold a place in my heart as well. Even now, years later, I still recall it with a sad wistfulness normally reserved for third-grade crushes.

The mattress grew on me slowly, but when we threw a housewarming party that July, Spring Air was there, along with some of our best friends from church and from college. It said little, being shy, and it mostly hung out on the side of the house away from the guests rather than mingle with them.

This behavior didn’t particularly surprise me. Mattresses are not social creatures, and they rarely spend much time with more than one or two people in the course of their lives. This also probably was its first party, so some bashfulness was to be expected.

But there was no mistaking the sensation it caused. In its own quiet way, Spring Air quickly became a conversation piece among our guests, who invariably revered it as the most unusual piece of patio furniture they ever had seen. Our picnic table and every one of our chairs have been used repeatedly, but not one person dared to use Spring Air for an afternoon nap. Such was the respect we held it in.

In time, Spring Air became something of an attraction, or perhaps a celebrity. People came from Maryland, from Pennsylvania, from Arizona and from Vermont and asked to see the mattress. Ours became known as the only house on the block — perhaps in the city or in all Iowa — to have a mattress in the back yard.

Spring Air became like family to us. It stayed with us all summer long and into the autumn. When Tropical Storm Floyd hit New Jersey in 1999, destroying communities like Manville and Bound Brook and wreaking havoc in places like Cranford, the mattress stoically braved the elements and protected our house as best it could.

When our first child was born, Spring Air kept vigil while we were at the hospital. And when we brought Evangeline home for the first time, it was there, waiting for us patiently, and never once reproached me for not telling it when she had been born.

To my knowledge, the mattress never once asked for anything. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Easter all came and went, and Spring Air stayed outside on the patio without once asking to come in and have a bit of turkey, to sing carols around the tree or even just to dry out.

And so the days passed. Snow fell, lingered and melted away. Winter turned to spring, and in their turn, spiders, insects and a few species of mold I’ve never identified made that mattress their home.

From time to time, Natasha, in a surprising bit of jealousy, gently would hint that Spring Air had overstayed its welcome, and she would ask me to escort it to the roadside.

“I think we have to make special arrangements before they’ll take it away,” I would say as I stalled for time.

Trouble began brewing in earnest in the spring. Leaves that had gone unraked over the winter because my time was needed inside with the baby had piled up against Spring Air, and as they rotted around it, the mattress began to make a stink. Its bright colors had faded, and visitors who saw Spring Air began to remark that it should go.

The fateful day arrived early one morning in late May. Coming back from her office one day, Natasha saw something that set her aquiver with excitement. A homeowner a block away from us had put a queen-size mattress and box spring out on the curb with his regular garbage.

I knew as soon as she told me that Spring Air’s days were numbered. Less than a week later, I dragged it out to the curb. Time and the elements had not been kind to our guest. Practically new when we had moved in, it had aged prematurely, and I knew it was time to put it down.

I leaned it against a tree between our house and the one next door in case there was an extra fee associated with leaving oversize items out for collection, and I said my goodbyes.

“I guess this is it,” I said. “It’s best if you leave tomorrow morning. I don’t want the zoning officer to fine us for keeping you outside. It’s probably against a city ordinance.”

Spring Air said nothing, and wouldn’t even look at me. I could tell I had hurt its feelings.

The next morning I watched, misty-eyed, as city workers picked up our mattress and threw it into the garbage truck. Even from where I stood, I could feel its resentment at this betrayal.

“I could have stayed forever,” it seemed to say sullenly. “See how your flowers and picnic table fare. I never would have biodegraded on you.” I watched as it rode slowly away aboard the garbage truck.

It never even tried to look back.


Copyright © 2000, 2004 by David Learn. Used with permission.







Retold from "Mattress of My Heart."

pondering the revolution

I wrote this elsewhere, as part of a discussion with other Christians about Jeffersonian ideals about the right of the citizenry to overthrow a government they consider unjust, such as with the American Revolution. I'm reposting it, primarily because I think it's an interesting line of thought.

Paul writes in his epistles that everyone should be subject to the authorities, for there is no authority that God did not establish. (Standard exceptions of conscience, although it's understood when the time comes to face the consequences for that defiance, there's a Christlike surrender.)

Paul wasn't talking about a democratic government with duly elected representatives, a Bill of Rights and trial lawyers to see that your rights were protected. He was talking about the Roman Empire, one of the greatest and sometimes most brutal empires in history.

The Roman Empire had a state religion, although it allowed people to practice other religions that had received state approval.

The Roman Empire through conquest and colonization had annexed most of Europe, along with parts of Africa and parts of Asia. (Evidence has been found of a Roman presence in North America, but we'll assume that was fluke rather than imperial policy.) It didn't care much for provinces that resisted their rule, as Judea discovered in AD 70 under Titus Vespasian, and again under Marcus Aurelius in the third century.

The Roman Empire also had some of the cruelest, most capricious and depraved emperors in history. Tiberius was a monster; Caligula, utterly insane, married his sister Drusilla, declared himself to be Jupiter, and when he bankrupted the empire's coffers, he refilled them by killing whomever he wanted and taking their property; Claudius was mentally retarded and while he was emperor, the empire was run through him by his wives and various advisers, who often worked to their own interests at the expense of Rome and its empire; Nero was as monstrous as the previous three put together, and then some; Domitian was well known for his persecution of Christians; Commodus was a sadist who enjoyed torturing people in the gladiator pit; and you had other emperors like Vespasian and Marcus Aurelius, who saw nothing wrong with destroying cities that were difficult to rule.

We all complain about taxes, but the tax system in Rome was horribly corrupt. Tax collectors were told to get a certain amount of money, and Rome didn't care how much else they got or how they got it, as long as Rome got its share.

We also complain about the justice system nowadays. In Rome, thieves were crucified -- the cruelest and most painful means of execution ever developed, and one which the Romans refined for further pain. This was a fate also used for murderers, brigands and runaway slaves. In fact, at the time Paul was alive, the Roman Senate ordered something like 700 slaves executed because *one* of them had killed their master in his sleep.

Freedom of speech? Forget it. People who criticized the empire disappeared. I read about one fellow who was locked in a cell and driven to such hunger that he ate his mattress before he finally hanged himself. Augustus, generally regarded as the best of Rome's emperors, banned men of noble birth from the stage and had one actor sent into exile because he had given the audience the finger after being booed for a lousy performance.

Rome was a fascist state, and yet Paul told people to submit to it.

Are you so sure it would be a good idea to rise up against the American government if it became what Jefferson feared it might?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

leaving hell

There's a great storyline in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" where the King of Dreams journeys into hell to free a woman he sent there for spurning his love from endless years of torment. Dream arrives at the gates of hell, expecting opposition, and finds instead silence. To everyone's dismay, Lucifer Morningstar has decided to quit. He is tired of being the Adversary, worn out from orchestrating the cries of the damned, and tired of overseeing all the many demons and other denizens of hell. So he has quit, thrown the dead out of hell, and is now locking the gate behind him as he leaves.

I'll ignore the unusual soteriology, and focus instead on an interesting point that Gaiman is making through his little horror story: There is no situation so bad that we can't leave it, and no hell so horrible but we are there by our own choice.

I've been fighting hard with this job for more than two years. The pay is miserable, the hours are unbearable, and I am overtaxed even as my skills are underused. At the end of the day, I have little to show for what I have done, while a number of things I would love to be doing -- things that I believe are a fundamental part of God's creation in me -- are being neglected.

It's time to quit.

I don't have another job to go to right now, which is a little unnerving, but I have to consider some other factors as well. I think things are in my favor.

Do we have the finances to last for a while without regular employment? We have about three months' worth of liquid assets if I were to quit now and stop drawing a paycheck. Not a lot, and I'm concerned about insurance, but there is some sort of cushion. Plus, my wife would be able to work more hours and draw a bigger paycheck at her part-time job, and I would be able to pursue other avenues of income, including my own PR business, which has a growing clientele. Additionally, added time at home theoretically translates to more time to look for work and find new clients, as well as pursuing some creative options I need to look into.

Is where I am at a good place to be? I think that's obvious. It's not. This job sucks at my time; it keeps me from my children and wife; it drains me emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally, and keeps me at a desk so that I could stand to lose 35 or 40 pounds. I miss two out of every seven days of my children's lives, and pour that time into a job that is increasingly difficult to do, doesn't match my lifestyle and is leading me to produce writing and editing that I'm not proud of. The hours are also insane -- somewhere between 50 and 60 a week, and it's about to increase, because my intern has gone, leaving me to write all the stories myself. I also can't trust my supervisors to care enough to do anything.

Will leaving give me opportunity to grow? I think so. I've got a few nice-paying clients, as I already said, including two I picked up just this week. That's something that will grow. Plus I have leads for part-time work, and have ideas for other challenging, interesting and productive ways to earn money that require time I don't have right now, ranging from a comic book idea I've discussed with Indigo, to ghost writing, free-lance copy editing and even writing a newspaper column from the point of view of the Religious Left.

What am I teaching my children? That they're more important to me than a job, or that I'd rather spend all my time in a dead-end position with a lousy employer than being with them? That it's important to chase your dreams and be what God has called you to be, or that you should settle for something less than what you are capable of?

What it boils down to for me is where God wants me. I think he wants me to leave, as evidenced by the complete misery I'm in by being here. And if that's what he wants, I'm prepared to take a step of faith and leave WCN behind.

The catch is that it can't be a step I take alone, because I'm not alone. I'm part of a family, and this decision has to be made with my wife's full consent. More than that, I'm part of a community, and any decision I make is going to have ramifications for my community of believers, whether it's hearing me whine and cry about how hard life is, or people stepping in and investing money in helping this to happen.

The last two years have been my worst, careerwise. I've gleaned some good out of it by reaching the point that I have a better idea what I'm capable of and what I require, but I think I'm at the end of the road with this place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Sodom and Gomorrah, and gay marriage

Sodom and Gomorrah weren't destroyed because there were homosexuals there. They weren't destroyed even because all but five of the men who lived there were gay. (As a point of order, I feel I must point out that we don't know how many men and women who lived there were gay. The Bible doesn't address it.)

Here's what God provides as the reason for Sodom's destruction, as recorded in Ezekiel 16:48-50.

48As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.
49"'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
50"They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
If homosexuality is the "detestable" practice in question, I think it's worth noting that it's the last of several reasons given for God's judgment, after sins like arrogance, gluttony, apathy and indifference to the plight of the poor. In fact, pride is mentioned twice -- cf. the "haughty" charge -- suggesting that was the main offense.

Even looking at the Genesis account of Sodom's sin in the case of the angels who visited Lot, you can see this. Yes, the Sodomites tell Lot to bring the men out so that they can lie with them, but that's not just gay sex -- that's gay rape, a wholly different matter from consensual sex, and certainly in line with a charge of cruelty to foreigners and strangers.

There's a Talmudic tradition that explains neatly what a sodomite is. The man who says "What's mine is yours, and what's yours is yours" is a saint. The man who says "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine" is a simpleton. And the man who says "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" is a sodomite.

If we're concerned about God judging America, perhaps we need to be less concerned with how non-Christians behave in their bedrooms, and start thinking more about how our own behavior within the Church squares up against God's standards and the call Christ puts on those who presume to call themselves his followers. The harshest words in Scripture aren't for the unbelievers or those outside the Kingdom of God. It's for those of us who identify ourselves by his name and claim to be part of the kingdom.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

so long, mcgreevey

Big news in New Jersey: The governor has admitted to being gay, and has resigned from office.

My feeling is that the entire story hasn't broken yet. All McGreevey essentially said at his news conference today was "I'm gay, I committed adultery with another man, and now I'm resigning as governor." That doesn't flow. He never once during his speech provided a meaningful explanation for his decision to leave office.

The man he committed adultery with is Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen whom McGreevey tapped for a high-paying state post on the anti-terrorism commission. (I believe it's a cabinet post.) That was a mini scandal in itself, in that Cipel was a complete outsider. The first anyone in Jersey had heard of him was when the governor brought him here after a visit to Israel two years ago. And of course, the federal government wouldn't work with Cipel because he wasn't a U.S. citizen and therefore lacked security clearance.

Cipel reportedly is filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against McGreevey in state Superior Court in Mercer County, and I've heard that he allegedly was trying to extort money from McGreevey. I've no idea what that's about, though; this obviously is a big news story, and newsrooms everywhere in New Jersey have been going crazy as people try to sift the truth from the rumor and innuendo.

So McGreevey avoided the scandal of being outed by outing himself, but to be honest, I don't think that many New Jerseyans really care if he's gay or not. If he lived in the South, being gay cost him the respect he would need to work with state legislators and probably the trust of the public as well, but that just isn't an issue in New Jersey. It doesn't affect his ability to govern the state.

During his resignation speech this afternoon, McGreevey said something about exposing the governor's office and the state to some sort of risk through his affair. I'm not sure what he meant by that; doubtless the major news agencies like the Associated Press, the Star Ledger, Bergen Record et al are going to be revealing more details about the relationship, particularly once Cipel does file the lawsuit and all the prurient details are out on the table.

Politically this probably is a windfall for the Democratic Party. McGreevey has taken one battering after another almost since the beginning of his governorship, and he was seen as unlikely to win re-election next year. Now with his resignation, Senate President Rich Codey will become acting governor and presumably would have the incumbent's advantage during the 2005 gubernatorial election. If there are problems owing to McGreevey's budget failures and other expenses, all he has to say is, "It's Jim's fault. I've only been here a year." Or the party could simply make him a sacrificial lamb, and let him retire from politics with a hefty pension, and run U.S. Senator Jon Corzine for the governor's seat. Corzine probably would win, given his general popularity in the state as a man who ran for Senate on his own nickel instead of using taxpayer money.

Plenty of people in politics and the media here in New Jersey knew, suspected or had heard that McGreevey is gay, long before his revelation. I wasn't surprised or shocked at all when he said it. My reaction about five minutes into his speech was, "For crying out, just come out and say it."

I don't think the average New Jerseyan cares that the governor is gay, whether they voted for him or not. Probably most don't even care that he had an affair, homosexual or not.

The fact that he appointed Cipel to the homeland security post as an apparent form of cronyism IS problematic to me, and I think to others as well. But that also happened about two years ago.

I'm waiting to find out exactly what led to the resignation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

creative discipline

From the Washington Post:

Hot sauce adds a kick to salsa, barbeque, falafel and hundreds of other foods. But some parents use it in a different recipe, one they think will yield better-behaved children: They put a drop of the fiery liquid on a child's tongue as punishment for lying, biting, hitting or other offenses.

"Hot saucing," or "hot tongue," has roots in Southern culture, according to some advocates of the controversial disciplinary method, but it has spread throughout the country. Nobody keeps track of how many parents do it, but most experts contacted for this story, including pediatricians, psychologists and child welfare professionals, were familiar with it.


When Isaac was living with us, we had to discipline him for a number of things, mostly because he had never learned any sort of self-control or self-restraint. Trouble was, our preferred method of discipline — time out — is completely useless for a child who is accustomed to being ignored. If the child is unfazed by discipline, it isn’t working. Sometimes you have to be creative when you discipline a child.

I discovered after a few weeks that his main means of sensory stimulation were tactile, taste and visual. No one had ever talked to him, so speech meant nothing to him, and corporal punishment obviously is out of line for abused kids who aren’t your own, no matter what you may think of it for your own.

But he loved to watch things. When I took him to walk the dog with me, he tripped every 10 feet and would lie there watching cars go by because he found it interesting. I finally got him to stand up by pulling his hat down over his eyes until he did stand.

I found that worked for time outs as well. Isaac absolutely hated being unable to see. So for him, time out became time in a chair with arm rests, with a bag over his head. (When his sense of balance improved, we started having him stand in the corner.) His behavior improved immensely.

We used the food thing primarily as a means of controlling his behavior at the table. He was accustomed to leaving the table, running around and eating at his leisure. Since he needed structure and discipline, the rule became, “Leave the table, leave your food.” He stopped leaving the table.

He also would feed the dog or throw bits of food on the floor. When he did that, he lost the rest of his meal.
If he didn’t eat the meal we gave him — he wasn’t used to fresh produce or healthy food, and preferred chicken nuggets and other processed junk food — that was too bad. At snacktime he got a normal-size snack, and had to wait until the next meal.

His eating habits and table manners improved tremendously as well.

So you have to be creative when it comes to discipline, since not every child is going to respond in the same way. E would think having a hat on her head is funny, although she otherwise hates being in time out.

On those grounds, I understand the hot sauce technique although I don’t think I would use it. For starters, I’m concerned about the associations it could cause with hot foods — I don’t want the girls to think they’re in trouble every time we eat something spicy.

Additionally, when time out is over, I can let the child out of her chair, or I could pull the hat off Isaac’s head. If you spank, it stings for a little, and then the punishment is over.

Hot spices can burn for quite a while. I once picked my nose after chopping jalapeƱos — a bad idea — and was miserable for about half an hour.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

The hardest part of being an ex pat is the language

The worst part of living in a different country is not the diseases you may catch, it's not the new climes you must weather, and it's not the disorientation of being a stranger in a strange land.

The worst part is the language.

When you don't speak the same lanuage as everyone else around you, you have the mind of an adult burdened by the survival skills of a toddler. You're fully cognizant of your needs, and fully aware of how helpless you are to do anything about them, or even to articulate what they are. In the best of times, you bear this with grace and laugh at your difficulties. The rest of the time you want to run away and cry.

When you don't speak the local language, you are unable to communicate or understand the most basic aspects of life, from "Where's the bathroom?" to "How much do you want for that mango?" In no time at all, you feel like the stupidest person on the face of the earth, such as when I told the yard boy, "Remember, I am garbage" instead of "Remember to take out my garbage."

Eventually you learn important phrases like, "I don't speak your language." This helps, but only moderately. There are times that come too frequently when you trust this trusty phrase out only to discover that the national who is speaking to you is speaking English, and speaking it tolerably well, but they are putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, or pronouncing a silent letter, or committing some other minor gaffe that makes their speech unfamiliar to you.

Stupidest person on earth is too mild for how you feel on those occasions. Now you don't even understand English, and what's worse, you've just insulted someone who was trying to connect with you by inadvertantly telling him that he's too stupid to speak English properly.

Go get a shovel, dig a hole and climb in. Your only hope as a missionary whose enthusiasm outpaces your mastery of the language is that the Spirit will move, and people will connect with God despite your failings.

I was a missionary in Haiti, but not the sort who did led open-air services and tried to win converts. I initially worked with STEM Ministries, which brought teams to Haiti and other countries for two weeks at a time; and then with Cradle of Life Christian School, teaching English grammar and composition to middle-schoolers.

As a result, I didn't do much preaching in Haiti, but I did try to share the gospel with a other people occasion, if for no other reason than they expected me to and I had the feeling that I should. My first conversation along those lines went something like this:
"If you accept Jesus Christ, he will take away your dogs."
"My dogs? I don't have any dogs."
"Everyone has dogs, ma'am. But when Jesus forgives them, it's though you never had a dog your entire life."
Bill Smith, an Assemblies of God missionary whom I knew, told me he once preached an entire sermon in Kreyol once he felt he had gained sufficient mastery of the language. The sermon went well and the Spirit evidently was moving, so he decided to take an altar call and appeal to the congregation that if anyone wanted to follow of Christ, they should signify it by raising their legs into the air and coming forward on their hands.

He got plenty of puzzled looks, but very little response to the altar call. The Holy Spirit was quenched.

Still, my favorite embarrassing gaffe was committed by the late Dale Preiser, another Assemblies of God missionary who had left the country before I arrived. I met him once after I had returned to the United States, when he came to visit my church.

Dale had been in Haiti for a while, and was concerned that he saw a number of believers who were mixing voodoo and Christianity, and going to the voodoo priestess for help when problems arose. The word he wanted was mambo. Unfortunately, the word he used was mamba, and for three solid months he went along Highway One, using this word in his sermons.

"Stay away from the mamba," he warned them. "Mamba is of the devil. You cannot use the mamba without shipwrecking your faith and endangering the faith of others."

Mamba is peanut butter.

Still, the Spirit was moving. I am told that people were very open to this teaching, and sales of peanut butter plummeted wherever Dale went.



Copyright © 2004 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Thursday, August 05, 2004

more on the sucking chest wound

We got a third-party update on Christian the other day. The good news: He's still attending the day care where the state Division of Youth and Family Services set him up after he returned to his parents. He's getting daily interaction with other children his age and the last I knew had a personal teacher to work with him on his psychocognitive development, where he was majorly delayed.

And he's talking! He's still behind a bit, as is to be expected, and apparently is not the most verbal person -- but he's talking in complete sentences and is able to communicate fairly effortlessly.

Thank God.

Chris is also living with his father, grandmother, aunt and two cousins. So he has something approximating family relationships. E definitely did a lot to prepare him for that.

Now the bad news: His mother is back in the state. She returned from Florida, where she had been working as a stripper, and apparently already has made a bid to get full custody of her children. That was denied, and she also gave up after her daughter had a fit during a visit and Judy had no idea how to handle it. But she still has access to the kids for visits, which can be a bad thing, given that she's the cause of the bulk of their problems.

And the really bad news is that Judy and her latest boyfriend have a child. This is her fourth that I know of. The first was put up for adoption, and Chris and Dominique were the next two.

The more things change ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

man, this job sucks

It just gets weirder and weirder here...

Where to start? About a month ago, a co-worker of mine named Vince was fired. Vince technically was mid-management. He was the arts and entertainment editor, but also had a lot of training responsibilities and did a lot of pinch hitting when needed. Why he was fired is irrelevant, but it caught no one by surprise, including him.

Several months ago, he had told our editor in chief, Tom, that when it came time for him to leave, one way or the other, he recommended that his post go either to me or to another editor.

Well, even though Tom knew that we both were interested in the job, he decided to hire a sports writer with no editing or A&E experience and made him the new A&E editor. That's pretty much how they work here; when someone is fired, they have the replacement hired two weeks before the firee discovers he is through. There is no in-house advertising of the position or anything.

Okay, that's annoying, but I can live with it. I think it's a piss-poor way to run a business, but it's not my business, and I'm tired of juggling editing and writing responsibilities anyway.

Last Thursday I came in to work and discovered that David Jay, the editor of our flagship paper, has been moved up to associate editor. (Vince's old title.) Jay has no writing responsibilities in his new post, will be in charge of backreading all newspaper copy, and is going to be the guru of pagination, layout and various other things. On top of that, his replacement is a 22-year-old college graduate whose only work experience is in a daycare and whose only newspaper experience was on the college newspaper. And she's editing our flagship?

I could kill.

No one -- not one person, except possibly Jablonski, knew about this change in the lineup. No one was given a chance to apply for the associate editor position, no one was given the chance to decide not to apply for it, no one was even given a chance to find out what the position would entail and whether they would be interested in it. What's worse, to create it, they apparently laid off two copy editors.

I could scream.

Tom knows I'm burned out on my current responsibilities. We've talked about it before, when he broke his promise that I was going to be reassigned to head up another office. I've mentioned before that I'd be interested in taking over the flagship paper -- and unlike Katie, I actually have eight years of professional experience in this business.

And -- this is going to sound all wrong, but I'm mad enough I don't care -- I'm a better editor and a better writer than Jay. He hasn't got a clue how to make a good layout, how to write a decent editorial, or even how to write a decent story. The previous copy editor told me she dreaded reading his papers, because he did virtually nothing with the news copy, leaving it entirely to edit and the stories for factual, grammatical and stylistic errors. Tom himself told me last year that he considers me the finest editor he has in this place. So why am I getting ignored for a position where I could conceivably help a number of other editors improve their work and thereby improve the quality of our final product? Why is responsibility for the flagship being given to a complete newcomer when there's another editor who knows the towns in covers inside and out?

Part of me is screaming that they're probably violating some sort of labor law in not even advertising these positions to staff first. It's certainly not taking the high road or trying to build employee morale or company loyalty.

I'm disgusted. I've picked up a client for the PR business and am on the verge of getting a few others, I think. Even if that doesn't work out immediately, I've also got resumes going all over the place for some other jobs.

I can't wait to shake the dust off my feet when I leave this place.

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'

I have mixed feelings about Tim Burton coming within 20 yards of a "Willy Wonka" remake. For starters, his remake of "Planet of the Apes" was awful, lifeless, uninspired and incomprehensible. And it wasn't any good either.

For a second, I enjoyed the original "Willy Wonka." I disagree with you that it was Disneyesque and the book darker; as I recall, it was the exact opposite. Think about all things that happened to the kids in the movie, that Wonka was completely dispassionate about. His cries for them to stop were so disinterested they were hilarious. "No, please, stop."

From what I've read of the remake, they're hoping to make Wonka and his factory brighter and less threatening than in the original movie.

Bleah. Hollywood needs to get over its remake fever.

As an aside, how's this for a thought: "Willy Wonka" was a horror movie. I contend that this is so because horror isn't gross-out, however much the purveyors of Hollywood flicks want you to think otherwise. It's the imposition of the unreal upon the real, the supernatural with the mundane, the extraordinary with the dull.

"Willy WOnka" is comedic horror, but it's horror nonetheless. The horror we're familiar with today, popularized by too many "Friday the 13th" sequels and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is not classic horror, but a vulgar imitation that settles for cheap scares and gross-outs.

Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" isn't scary in the sense we usually associate with horror today, but it is disturbing or disquieting in what it reveals about the human condition and the insatiable hubris that drives us to bring ruin to ourselves and all those around us. (It's only because of the Boris Karloff flicks that we think of Frankenstein as being about Victor's creation and forget who the real monster is.)

And anyway, genres like fantasy and science fiction technically have their roots in horror, although they've become vast enough bodies of work that we now classify them separately.

Willy Wonka's not pure horror, of course, and I'm not claiming that it is. Doing so would be like comparing Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" with Shelley's book. It's got too many comedic elements to be classified solely horror. My point at the beginning, which I've probably overstated in my zeal, is just that it can be considered a horror movie in the proper sense of the term, and there were enough disturbing elements in the movie -- particularly the way each of the children is done in through their defining flaw -- that the classification is appropriate.