Today marks a strange anniversary in these parts. December 9 marks a solid 30 years since I was let go from a job I hadn’t started at yet, when A.H. Belo, the parent company of the Dallas Morning News, bought up, shut down, and stripped out the competing Dallas Times Herald. At the time, my dream to work for the Times Herald (a dream held since my days as a Times Herald paperboy during the summer of 1980) finally realized itself as a mailroom position, back in the days when the mailroom was a potential gateway to a regular byline. The Sunday before I was supposed to start, I was having dinner with my then-girlfriend when the one and only Barry Kooda came by and asked “So, you getting a copy of tomorrow’s Times Herald?”
“Why? What’s up?”
“Tomorrow’s the paper’s last day. It’s shutting down.”
“Awww, no! I’m supposed to start work there tomorrow!”
“Well, I’d blow that off if I were you.”
I admit that I was angry about this for years, and not just because of the various details leading to that buyout and shutdown. For the next six months, the bus stop in downtown Dallas where I’d depart for various job interviews was right across the street from the old Times Herald building, so I got to watch the hurried stripping of the building’s marble facade and signage, the demolition of one wall to pull out the presses and other heavy gear, the crumbling of everything else, and even the overpainting of the scar where the building shared a wall with a parking lot with a mural particularly insipid even for 1990s Dallas. By the end of 1992, the effort to sanitize Dallas of any intimation that it had anything other than one daily newspaper was so successful that any trace of the Times Herald was one discovered accidentally, like discovering the stepping stones in your garden were unused gravestones. After a while, the only mentions of the Times Herald anywhere were in obituaries, such as when star columnist Molly Ivins died in 2007, and even then.
One of the things about starting a career as a science fiction essayist is that you can’t help but be immersed in the concept of alternate realities. The real fun is noting that the real changes occur due to the little things that set off the avalanches (remind me to tell you the Dallas Blade Runner preview screening story one of these days, if you haven’t read it already). A few years of little things, and the stories between two alternate timestreams go off further than with the blockbuster event. Today is a day to celebrate this, starting with the death of the Times Herald.
A few years back, I realized that my entire professional Day Job career was one massive case of dodging bullets, to the point where friends joke about renaming me “Neo.” Positions and companies fell apart, but staying, in the long run, would have been worse. Most of the time, the transition was painful — these things usually are — but necessary. Considering the current plight of print newspapers, there’s no guarantee that the Times Herald could have survived another five years had Belo picked its teeth with the bones: even if it had lived to see the 21st Century, the thought of celebrating 30 years’ employment there is considerably less appealing today than in 1991. More importantly, if things had lasted this long, I wouldn’t have had a minor writing career ending in 2002, which wouldn’t have led to my moving to Tallahassee to get away from it, which wouldn’t have led to my first encounter with a carnivorous plant in the wild. If the Times Herald had survived, I might have a minor journalistic career, but the Triffid Ranch never would have happened, and the people and places associated with the Triffid Ranch are so much more emotionally satisfying than anything I ever could have done while still working as a pro writer. I know I’ve made more money selling and trading carnivorous plants than I would have made in writing: two shows this year alone eclipsed my total writing income over 13 years, and the friends made in the process are people I’d never give up for the dubious promise of literary or journalistic success.
In his essay “Driving In the Spikes,” the author Harlan Ellison noted that most of the time, there’s no need to get revenge on those who wronged you, because they usually do something to themselves so much worse than anything you could do, and so much more satisfying. Instead of being overly petty, my picture has appeared in the Dallas Morning News multiple times, all of which making me feel like GWAR on the front cover of Tiger Beat, and all without paying for a print copy once in the last 30 years. That’s not a bad legacy with so many other things to focus on instead, and considering the Morning News‘s current financial and circulation issues, the real irony would be if the paper finally shut down or sold for parts a year from today, after all of the reasons why anyone would worry about a daily print paper in this age finish becoming irrelevant. And so it goes.