Sam Smith, 1984 – I am not enthralled by the current tendency of journalists to write interminably of their troubles and illnesses, whether terminal or otherwise, but fate has intervened in the production of the Review with such bizarre consistency over the past year that I feel I should warn you that it in not unlikely that some forthcoming issue may be drastically delayed or disappear entirely on its way to your mailbox. That it hasn’t happened to date is purest luck which, judging from the way things have been going around here, is not my strong suit.
The trouble began in April when I pinched a nerve in my back while weightlifting. Thanks to my Radio Shack model 100 computer, which can be operated while prone, I was able to get the May, June and Summer issues out. I also found that my desktop computer could be operated on the floor if I wasn’t in a hurry and learned to read sideways.
Being something of a de facto Christian Scientist, I had self-diagnosed my trouble as a pulled hamstring and didn’t go see the doctor for two months. A couple of days before I as due to leave for a family visit to Chicago and Wisconsin, I finally submitted to secular science and was given a muscle relaxant that relaxed nothing except my sphincter muscle during the precise period when I was supposed to be pleasant to all my wife-s cousins in Chicago. As I churned back and forth from bathroom to living room I was certain I was confirming what Ronald Reagan had told them about people in Washington. Outside of a drive during a tornado watch through a town that had recently been evaporated by a twister, and a thunderstorm that lit up the fuse box in my Wisconsin cabin bedroom like RFK Stadium during the Michael Jackson concert, the rest of the trip was uneventful.
Upon my return, I had no sooner completed the last issue before the summer break when someone broke into the office and stole the aforementioned computers, their companion printers and the phone answering machine. Breaking into the office was no mean feat since it required access to tie roof and someone small enough to squeeze in betuaen an air conditioner and the window frame besiie it. The police arrived at the office of the Review, observed the editor excuse himself and take to the floor, and asked, “What sort of publication is this anyway?”
A detective later told me that someone they called Spiderman who could climb in anywhere had been working the neighborhood, but that he had been arrested and that the detective had a cousin in Boston who had taken laser treatment for his back and that seemed to be the way to go. “Back problems are the biggest thing in the police department,” he reassured me.
By this time I had discovered that approximately 87% of the American public had back problems and that 97% of the American public had cures for it — ranging from injecting oneself with the essence of avacado pit to the advice from a man seriously ill with cancer that “if you’ve got that siatica you might as well go out and shoot yourself.”
I closed up shop for August as usual and went off to Maine to recuperate. This worked reasonably well with the exception of the day that I found myself holding a 23 foot cruiser off the beach in the 40 knot winds of a surprise squall, waiting for my companions to return and watching the picnic flying down the beach, splattering taco sauce, Dorito chips and paper cups over the sands. This, so far as I’ve been able to determine, is not on anyone’s list of back cures.
Back in Washington, I put out the October and November issues without aid of a computer, recovered from my pinched nerve and generally put my life in order. There were bars on all the windows now and the insurance company had reimbursed me, so I went out and bought a new computer. One week later I walked into my office to find that a six foot by eight foot section of plaster ceiling had fallen. Christ, I thought, they’re coming through the ceiling now. But it wasn’t Spiderman or a terrorist action –although it certainly looked like what you would find when you followed the instruction, “For photos of the attack see page A3”– just fate back again. I spent a couple of days cleaning up the mess and when I returned to my computer found that some of my programs were sending me wierd messages, mostly encouraging me to “try another disc.” After a day of this, not even another disc worked.
Oh well, I told myself, one thing’s certain: my luck has got to change. I was still saying things like that to myself a few days later when I went to get the tire for my car which was being repaired after it had inexplicably gone flat (the fourth flat tire in a year). As I reached to put the tire in thecar, my back said in its own inimitable way, “I can take a joke as well as anyone but this is ridiculous” and out it went again. It chose to protest by a simple muscle seizure this time but for a day or so I could only have been moved by a fork lift truck.
So here I am, lying on my bed preparing yet another issue of the Review with a Radio Shack 100 propped against my knees and making plans for my forthcoming coffee table book, “Great ceilings of America.”
There is no moral here, I hope, and if there is a message, damned if I can find it. But I wanted you to know that if things are more erratic than usual around here there are some extenuating circumstances. As the Maine farmer said when his wife died, he smashed his thumb while making the coffin, the horse got loose from the wagon as he was driving to the church, the coffin bounced off and fell into a pond and the loose wagon rolled through the plate glass window of the post office with one pole ending up in the general delivery window and the other in the air mail slot, “my day’s been one long fizzle from beginning to end.” – 1984