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We journalists receive some of the most interesting, uh, “gifts” from our readers — some for which we don’t even need to call the bomb squad!
This time of year, the gifts “usually” tend to be candy, nuts, brownies, cookies and other delectables, which are sometimes the only way reporters get to eat. (Hint, hint!)
I say, “usually,” because just this week, I received a brown paper bag (red flag!) with a roll of toilet paper, paper towels and a bottle of mouthwash from someone named “Compassionate Bob.” My first thought, trying to read what he’d written on the mouthwash bottle, was that I shouldn’t have cancelled that dentist appointment.
DISCLAIMER: Company policy says we can’t accept gifts “of any substantial value,” but items worth $10 or less are OK: calendars, pens, caps, coffee mugs and chocolate!
Each item had something written on it, none of which I understood. I could read the word “egg,” so I assume the gift has something to do with my last column about my chickens (Henrietta has given me 11 eggs now, in 12 days!)
For the life of me, I can’t figure out who Compassionate Bob is. So it goes, in the life of a journalist.
Another anonymous person regularly drops off NRA magazine for my perusal. It sits on my chair like an insult. But I thought, well, it’s a nice gesture, so I’ll scan the articles and see what I can learn. I learned that the NRA is a rather … angry organization; the articles are overtly defensive, likely due to fear. (“They’re coming to take our guns — oh my!”) But I keep getting the magazines. From whom? You tell me!
Sometimes someone will leave a check on my desk (I walk dogs on the side). But ha! I’m onto them! Their NAME is printed in the top left corner! That’s clue enough to find them and collect the difference owed!
My friend, a fellow reporter I’ll call … “Jane” used to get the coolest things. Like chocolate and flowers.
But once, she got a note. It was from someone — I don’t know if we ever learned who — hinting about the misdeeds of a city manager who was handing perks to a big-box store as enticement to move to town.
The note was left on her desk, in a (sort of) secure building. Being a 24/7 operation, god alone knew who snuck in the pressroom at night to leave incriminating notes. We asked the press crew and they were either complicit or really didn’t know.
I was jealous. I wanted a secret note leading to a Pulitzer prize! All I ever got was permission to get really, really close to, say, a plane wreck “before the Denver press arrived.” OK. So that was pretty cool.
The suspense in the newsroom was palpable. We were excited, envious, curious, especially since the note was rather vague.
We knew the big-box store wanted in. We knew they planned to explode an entire hillside — below a dam and over an interstate to make a footprint for the big box. We knew they needed access over a Gold Medal river, into which one cannot even dip a toe.
At first we thought the note-dropper was starting rumors, plotting revenge — no way (!) would a city manager give tax perks, rights of ways and waivers to stay away from a Gold Medal fishing stream to a big-box store. Not without the permission of the city council, anyway. And they didn’t know a thing.
The notes kept coming, each divulging a little more. Oh, the curiosity was killing us! Who was leaving these notes! Is it true? And just how are they getting into the office?!
Each note gave her another hint, where to look, who to ask. Dig, Jane, dig!
We had the notes left on her desk deciphered by handwriting analysts. Sure enough. The writing was legitimate handwriting. Jane knew she was onto something big.
Long story short, her story breaks, the city manager gets fired, the big-box store trashes its plans and Jane gets an investigative reporting award. (The city manager went on to two more towns, but his history haunted him. “Someone” — and we assume it was the person who left the notes — would send her article to the next city that hired him and they’d can him too. Makes for an interesting resume.)
Here in Brookings, our copy editor got little hand-picked bouquets from a sweet old man who had a crush on her. My editor gets pecans and In-N-Out Burgers. Our features editor gets candy. The front desk folks get cookies.
And I got toilet paper?
Not that I don’t appreciate it! We all need toilet paper and mouthwash and paper towels, right?
But really, I just want a note, pointing to an incriminating incident that I can bust wide open and win awards, accolades and buckets of money.
Or chocolate. Chocolate will always do in a pinch.