Friday, February 13, 2009

“A Blast from the Bugle”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a busy morning at McDonald’s in Chardon. I huddled at a table by their rock fireplace, giving thanks for its extra warmth. Pale sunlight streamed through the window by my chair, without much effect on the day. Arctic air numbed patrons as they departed with steaming sacks of McGriddles and Breakfast Burritos.

I felt glad to be eating inside the House of Ronald.

Above the pit of flaming stones was a flat-screen television, tuned to CNN. News reports of economic chaos flickered on the screen, nearly without notice. Even my own attention span seemed decidedly short, under the weight of hunger and cold.

Breakfast was waiting! I couldn’t think of anything else.

While chewing through McFlapjacks and sausage, a familiar figure appeared from the doorway. His shaggy hair and beard were thick with snow. Ice crystals flew from his overalls.

“Hey, friend!” he bellowed. “I’m glad to see you didn’t forget the Tuesday roundtable!”

It was Ezekiel Byler-Gregg, journalist extraordinaire of Geauga County.

For several years it had been our tradition to meet with writers from other local newspapers, under the Golden Arches. But weather sometimes overwhelmed that habit.

Today, only Ezekiel and myself were present.

My colleague slipped off his Carhartt jacket, sat down, and stroked his whiskered chin. An armload of old newsprint hit the table.

“Well… we brought it back to life!” he proclaimed.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Ummm… Frankenstein’s monster?”

He frowned. “Be serious, Rodney!”

I bowed my head. “Serious. Yes. Go on…”

“I’m talking about The Bugle!” he explained with a growl.

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, of course… The Bugle… your reborn paper looks great, Zeke! Congratulations on landing the job as Editor-In-Chief.”

The grizzled newsroom vet smiled proudly. “I was the last editor, twenty-nine years ago. Now I’m the first…”

“Sounds like an appropriate way to tie it all together,” I said.

Ezekiel continued his reflection. “The Burton Daily Bugle was originally founded by a fellow named T. Hezekiah Cromwell, in 1889,” he said. “According to documents in the Geauga County Archives, he came here as a young man, from Syracuse, New York.”

I sipped coffee while considering his observations. “What a fascinating story…”

“The newspaper went through numerous changes of format as time progressed,” he continued. “It survived war, financial depression, and the rise of electronic media sources. But then, the publication closed in early 1980. Many hoped that it might someday be revived. Late last year, that yearning was finally fulfilled. An endowment from the Cromwell family made it possible. More history came alive, in Burton…”

“The Bugle sounded again,” I cheered.

He raised an eyebrow. “Blast it! That could’ve been a headline on the premier issue!”

“Never mind,” I said. “What are you working on for this Sunday’s installment of Editor’s Notebook?”

My journalist cohort raised his eyebrow again. “Looking to steal inspiration, Rodney?”

“No,” I protested. “Just a bit of professional curiosity.”

Ezekiel brightened. “Well then, listen to this!”

He began to read out loud from a sheet of paper:

Shuttin' Detroit Down
Written By: John Rich

“My daddy taught me that in this country everyone’s the same
You work hard for your dollar and you never pass the blame
When it don’t go your way
Now I see all these big shots whinin’ on my evening news
About how they’re losin’ billions and how it’s up to me and you
To come running to the rescue
Well pardon me if I don’t shed a tear ‘cause they’re selling make believe
And we don’t buy that here

Cause in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down
While the boss man takes his bonus pay and jets out of town
And DC’s bailing out the bankers as the farmers auction ground,
Yeah while they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,
Here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down.
They’re shuttin’ Detroit down.”

Well that old man’s been workin’ in that plant most all of his life
Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die
And it’s a crying shame, ‘cause he ain’t the one to blame
When I look down and see his callused hands,
Let me tell you friend it gets me fightin’ mad

Cause in the real world they’re shutting Detroit down
While the boss man takes his bonus pay and jets out of town
And DC’s bailing out the bankers as the farmers auction ground,
Yeah while they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,
Here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down…”

After he’d finished, I was speechless.

“Is that powerful prose, or what?” he laughed.

I took a deep breath. “Wow. A simple, yet elegant bit of social commentary there… by a Country Music performer?”

He nodded. “John Rich is in a duo with Big Kenny Alphin. He was also a judge on the ‘Nashville Star’ TV program.”

“Right,” I said. “Big & Rich. But… I didn’t think you liked modern Country music.”
My friend tugged at his overall braces. “Normally, I’d rather hear bluegrass or down-home, hillbilly folk. But this song is a statement for our times.”

I picked up the page, and read those words again:

“Yeah while they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,
Here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down…”

Ezekiel put his weathered hands on the table. “The people are losing faith in our institutions. Democrat, Republican, Independent, or indifferent. It doesn’t matter. Our nation is being robbed.”

“Those are strong words,” I said.

“Has even one banker been called to testify on Capitol Hill?” he thundered. “Has even one lost their job over this debacle?”

“Well, not yet.” I fumbled. “President Obama is talking about oversight in the future as part of the bailout…”

“Action after the fact,” he shouted. “Money in their pockets doesn’t offer real correction. So, where’s the outrage?”

I sighed. There was nothing to say.

My wordsmithing compadre grabbed the sheet of lyrics. “Your outrage is right here. In this song!” He waved the paper with defiance. “And on the lips of American citizens from Geauga County to the coasts, and back!”

By now, other visitors to the restaurant had stopped their routine. The McStaff was at a standstill, behind their lunch counter.

“Zeke,” I cautioned. “You’re getting awfully loud…”

“Loud??” he stammered. “No Rodney, the tone of this debate NEEDS to get loud! We are being ignored by Wall Street CEOs and their pals in the government. We need to rise and be heard!”

My face went red. “I think you’re being heard, all right. Calm down!”

Ezekiel surveyed the room. All conversation had stopped. Every eye was fixed on him.

Then, a handclap broke the silence.

Followed by another. And another. And another, until they spilled forth in a cascade of emotion.

The moment was punctuated with a standing ovation!

POSTSCRIPT: Ezekiel Byler-Gregg’s column appeared soon afterward in the all-new Burton Daily Bugle. The issue sold out by Sunday afternoon.

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