Ralph Debumarsey picked up his cigarette from the ashtray and took a long, deep drag. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and blew the smoke out of his mouth in quick, short puffs. He could feel the sun's warmth on his face as it shone brightly through the window directly in front of his desk. He had opened the curtains all the way, as he always did when he was writing his column. His column? There's a laugh. No such thing as 'his column' here in Swaying Falls. The columns were written, the advertisements were strategically placed, and the local news was ready to roll. Anonymity seemed to be the catchword in this burg, Ralph thought, God forbid the folks knew the reporter's name. Like his having a byline would violate national security... And, what was with calling this outpost of the damned 'Swaying Falls'? First and foremost, no falls of any size or shape were visible for hundreds of miles. As far as the swaying crap was concerned, trying to figure that out made Ralph's head hurt.
Feeling the sun on his face while he was typing helped him to fantasize that he was somewhere else, anywhere else, preparing the final draft of the hottest story his newspaper had ever run. Next to him was a FAX machine that he would use to send it on to his editor, who was waiting on his end, planning to run it down to the presses to make the midnight deadline. His story would headline the morning edition and the calls and telegrams would start pouring in as soon as the paper hit the streets. He would be congratulated for getting the scoop no one else could or had, and his colleagues would regard him with awe at the tremendous personal risks he had taken to get the story in the first place. Just another day in the life of a newsman, he would respond to them all, just another normal day, and he would smile that haunting smile of his, get into his Jag, and head out to his next assignment. Maybe a nuclear missile site in Beirut? Perhaps a revolutionary camp in Central America? Or what about right here in downtown Swaying Falls covering a bank robber who was wearing a bomb and holding a pregnant teller hostage in a second story suite of the Main Street Hotel? Yeah. Uh-huh. Right. Ralph began to laugh out loud, and then caught himself. Crazy people laugh to themselves out loud, he thought, and I'm not quite there yet; the day was still young though.
He looked at the paper in his typewriter, and wasn't terribly surprised to see it was still blank. The 'hot' story he had to crank out in time to meet his editor's (the owner of the town's only general store, Chester Mankowsky) deadline (whenever Chester decided to close the store and go home for dinner) so as to appear in the first edition (the only edition, that became available whenever Chester finished running off a couple hundred copies on his two hundred year old printing press) was difficult to put into words. After all, it wasn't every day that Spengler's Feed Store began to carry a brand of feed previously available only in the state of New York. What a coup for Jeremy Spengler and frankly, for Swaying Falls. That will put us on the map, Ralph thought. Hopefully, anyway, since we aren't on any maps at present. He had to laugh again at that. Well, at least he could still laugh. He figured if the day ever came when he couldn't find any humor in how ridiculous this town, and even himself, were, he'd probably end up in the loony bin. Not that that would be such a drastic change...
Ralph decided to heat up another cup of instant on his hot plate. Mrs. Franovsky technically didn't allow hot plates in her rooming house, but she had never said anything to Ralph about it. He was sure Mrs. Franovsky kinda had the hots for him. Kinda. Maybe? No. Not really. Truth was, Ralph kept peculiar hours mostly, and his esteemed landlady wasn't too crazy about climbing all those stairs to reach Ralph's loft to say much of anything to him. Loft? There was another laugh. Ralph's digs were what had once been a large attic used for storage. The ceiling was level almost all the way around, but in one of the corners, there was a low spot where Ralph had to duck down to get to his small bookcase. He wasn't sure why it had been built that way since the roof did slant in from the outside in that spot and made the house look lopsided, but, since beggars couldn't be choosers, he simply adjusted. After all, it was a clean, quiet place to live, and he was able to pretty much keep to himself. Not that Swaying Falls was exactly a real estate developer's dream.
Most of the folks lived in small pre-fab homes scattered in and around town, or in the town's one apartment complex. Right. Apartment complex? It was one building with eight units in it. While they were cozy, two-bedroom apartments, they were inhabited primarily by twenty-something's in transition. Their transition being having graduated from high school and not really having any plans to attend community college or begin a career in the family business in town, whatever that may be. They wanted to get out from under mom and pop and have their own place so they could come and go at all hours. They would drive the two plus hours to the city to find work where they could make a decent salary, then come back to Swaying Falls and pay next to nothing in rent and living expenses. This was done, not for any noble reason like saving to buy a home and settle there and begin to give back to their community. Oh no. True, they did save what money they didn't spend on liquor and partying, but that was so they could afford what they considered a real apartment in the city. When they could afford to move, they did just that, at record-breaking speed frankly, and neither looked nor came back. This town was dying, Ralph knew that. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot anybody could do about it.
He had had his chance a lifetime ago. He had been young, had saved his money and had left Swaying Falls for the big city life and his dream of a career as a newspaper reporter. He possessed good instincts and a flare for the dramatic. He knew he would have to start at the bottom and work his way up, but all he needed was the chance to prove himself to an editor and he would be on his way. When he first arrived, he had picked up a newspaper and checked out the classified for a room to rent. He was surprised to find how many there were; most of which were in the most expensive section of the city. Since he had his own car and didn't have to be concerned with public transportation, he decided he would seek a place to stay in one of the gated communities that skirted the downtown area. Every room that he checked out though was inside the glitzy home of a widow or a divorcee, who was looking for just a little bit more than a paying border. Never really having pictured himself as a 'boy-toy', Ralph had felt extremely uncomfortable during each application process. Whether he was employed or had a steady paycheck always seemed irrelevant. He could feel their hungry eyes groping every inch of him as he tried to present himself as a decent, hardworking, moral human being. He envisioned being defiled by these Harpies in the dead of night and then locked in his room, never to be seen or heard from again. Or, at least annoyed when they tried to show him the film of their first, and only, failed screen test from 20 years ago while he was trying to do his laundry.
Ralph thought life had beaten these ladies up pretty badly. After meeting the seventh or eighth one (he'd lost count), their faces, with the drawn-on eyebrows, lopsided fake eyelashes, surgically-implanted cheekbones and chins, and lips that had received about four too many injections that week, became a blur. It was as if they were all the same woman who just beamed herself from kitchen to kitchen throughout the subdivision just waiting for him to arrive. After a couple of days of this, he just knew he couldn't swallow any more vanilla-flavored coffee and scones, or look at any more polyester jumpsuits with open-toed spiked heels and toenails painted with blood-red polish and dotted with glitter. Maybe this was not the way to go, he decided; time to look for a 'Y'.
He found a clean, quiet room at the back of the second floor. It didn't take him long to realize that while this was a starting point for him, he'd better make sure it stayed just that. This was not somewhere he needed to remain for long. The other residents were all ex-wannabe something or others, and Ralph believed they were destined to remain that way, but not him; he was different. He was going to set the print world on fire with his dynamic reporting style and controversial commentaries. All he needed was an 'in'. He would take any position that was available in the newsroom - anything at all, even errand boy to the big shots. Wouldn't take them long to see what he had to offer. Wouldn't take long at all...
Eight months later, Ralph was still in his quiet room at the back on the second floor at the 'Y'. He had become quite close, in fact, with some of the ex-wannabe something or others. Most of them weren't all that bad, really. When Ralph's savings dried up because he couldn't seem to get on at any of the local papers, a couple of them hooked him up with a position at the burger joint on the corner. It only paid minimum wage, but it wasn't like Ralph had to spend any of his meager paycheck on gas to get to work. A couple of minutes' worth of walking and he was there. On his off days, he stayed in his room and slept mostly. What was the point of staying up, after all. No newspaper, periodical, magazine, or flyer shop in the city would hire him. It wasn't just that he couldn't get a job as a reporter. He couldn't even get a job mopping floors in any of the media buildings.
Ralph didn't understand where he had gone wrong. He had personally walked into the office of every editor of every publication in the city. No one had tried to stop him as he made his way through the maze of secretaries and reporters, and as he got closer to the editor's offices, the excitement in the air was palpable. He could hear the tick, tick, tick of the typewriters, phones constantly ringing on every desk, men and women literally running with articles in their hands trying to meet deadline. He could picture himself as one of them, a pencil behind one ear, a smoke behind the other, sipping on his twelfth cup of stale coffee, his editor putting everything on hold waiting for his brilliant headline copy... By the time he arrived at each editor's door, his head was swimming. This was the life he was born to live - this was his destiny. Unfortunately, no one had let any of the editors in on that little tidbit of information.
Every 'interview' was a carbon copy of the previous one. Ralph would knock on the door and a voice would tell him to 'come on in'. Friendly, but professionally detached. The voice of someone who controlled the dissemination of daily city-, state-, and world-wide occurrences. Ralph had never met or spoken with an editor, but he just knew they were the heart and soul of the newsroom. They decided who covered what and when, and how much of it actually hit the streets. So much responsibility - so much power. Ralph wasn't sure if he should sit down or remain standing once he entered, but decided to take his cue from the man he came to see. Once he did enter however, it didn't quite turn out the way he had anticipated.
In very newsroom, in every editor's office, he encountered a basically well-groomed, but extremely psychotic individual, sitting behind a desk covered with several stacks of papers each at least 15 inches high. When Ralph would walk in, the man would glance up with a look of utter confusion on his face, and say 'what'. Interestingly enough, it was not spoken as a question but more on the order of a brutal declarative. Once Ralph regained his composure, his response was always the same. He would state, quietly and respectfully, that he was a fledgling reporter looking for an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. He would begin to explain how that had been his dream since he was a youth, and, it was at that point that Ralph would receive the universal sign of dismissal - the sweep of the raised hand in his direction - and the man behind the desk would retreat back into one of his stacks of papers. Ralph figured it was a bad time; too close to deadline perhaps, so he alternated days and times and kept trying, but to no avail. After months of what he perceived as beating his head against a wall, Ralph decided it was time to go home, and crawl inside the black hole that was Swaying Falls.
Maybe he could speak to Chester Mankowsky about taking him on as a reporter, and about possibly spicing up the town's paper. While it would be difficult to come up with anything newsworthy there, it would be a beginning - a launching pad of sorts. Perhaps the timing just wasn't right - planets not aligned right, or some such other thing, Ralph wasn't certain. But, one thing he knew for sure. He had given it his best shot and since nothing was clicking for him, he'd just go back home and bide his time. He's save his money, and head for the city lights again. Only this time, he's probably skip the 'Y', with all its resident losers. There was no way he was going to be the backdoor boy-toy of some divorcee either. Maybe he'd just save up a bit more and he'd get his own apartment or maybe buy a condo. Give it a few months, maybe a year, Ralph thought, and I'll get on with a paper. I'l be a bit older and have more experience under my belt. Yeah. I'll just bide my time.