The Midnight Call That Wasn’t
The call didn’t quite come at midnight, although it’s always so much more fun to say that it did because, after all, 12 a.m. is the witching hour, when, as is commonly speculated, nocturnal creatures – ghosts, witches, demons and the like – are thought to appear and be at their most active, fiendishly concocting magic of the darker variety, if you believe in that kind of thing, which I do whenever, in the guise of creative liberty, I use an embellished lie to trump a mundane truth, as in this case, though, for the sake of salving my conscience, I can always claim that when the call came it must have been midnight somewhere in the world even if it was closer to mid-morning in mine.
Though it emerged from the mists of an almost-forgotten past and was intermittently accompanied by the staccato, unsynchronised barking of dogs – three, as I was later informed – I recognised it to belong to the editor of this publication, although, at the time we had that first conversation, she didn’t exist, not as a practicing editor at least. Nor did this magazine, except as a concept in her mind, which, as I was quick to point out above the sound of canine conversation, appeared somewhat impaired if she were contemplating a new print publication at a time when magazines found accommodation only in doctors’ reception rooms and, that too, if they were at least six months old and the doctor was a dentist who wanted you to get used to the pain before he got to your teeth.
Subscriptions are bought more for the gifts that accompany them – the Black & Decker DIY drill kit, the collapsible telescope to see the stars even if you can’t ever reach them, the Weber BBQ grill to impress your friends with on warm summer nights and the chance, however remote, of realising the dream of owning a Mercedes Benz S-Class or taking a Caribbean cruise aboard a luxury liner – than the contents of the magazine itself, I told her, warming to my pet peeve of how television and the Web’s ready access to every form of news and entertainment at the mere punch of a few keys had killed the reading habit for anything that you could smell, swat flies with, turn the pages of and keep the sun out of your eyes with, magazines and books alike. “Ah,” she countered forcefully, amidst a renewed bout of barking that probably indicated that even the dogs eavesdropping on our conversation disagreed with my line of thinking, “the unfortunate state of serious publications can’t be compared with the gossamer, insubstantial, unimportant, whimsical, superficial, lighthearted and, in a word (if one more were needed), trivial stuff that this publication will be about and for which there’ll always be a place. If it was something significant, scholarly, consequential, profound, meaningful and, in a word (if one more were needed) serious stuff I was looking for,” she asked, sealing her argument and my fate, “would I have approached you to do the last page?”
Suitably chastised, adequately chastened and deeply appreciative of the onerous responsibility of writing a page that is almost always the first after the cover that one looks at while browsing through a magazine at a newsstand before, almost inevitably, replacing it in the stack and buying something less taxing, or while apprehensively leafing through it in a dentist’s den imagining the pain to follow even before the actual drilling begins, I ventured to ask what the last page would be about. “About anything and everything and nothing, or whatever catches your fancy, as long as you say what you have to say in ten sentences or less,” she said, with what seemed to be ambiguity at first hearing but wasn’t abstruse at all if you remembered that Seinfeld was a TV show about nothing that lasted seven seasons, set a new bar for audience appreciation and might well have continued for several years longer if the creators hadn’t cleverly decided to bail out at the height of its popularity.
“If you last even half as long as Seinfeld did, my cup would runneth over,” said my editor-to-be and, in appreciation of the solemn moment that a contract was verbally and wirelessly entered into, even her dogs kept their peace.
With one sentence to spare and, as is my wont, wishing to spread the responsibility for enduring the tests of time and circulation, I had the luxury of the last word: “I will, if you will,” I said.