I’ve been hanging out with a different group of people lately. Frequently imaginary.
When I was a kid, I had imaginary friends. My mom and her fellow parents discussed it and interpreted it as loneliness, because I was an only child. Little did they know that even when I was much older and not at all lonely, a fictional person would wake me up at 5 in the morning to tell me why he loved the New York Times.
His name is Justin Lieberman, and I’ve told his story nine times now without getting it quite right, but this time, it’s the definitive tale. Right or wrong, as good as Seth or as lame as Brown, whether I sell it or podcast it, it will be finished.
That’s still down the road a bit. I’m working on my treatment, from which I’ll write my draft, and I’ll give updates. But for now I’ll tell you what Justin told me, which he may or may not tell anybody else in the course of his story. But since he’s fictional and in the dystopian future, he won’t have a chance to read this blog, so I’ll tell you.
It was the New York Times. If I couldn’t be part of the Times, I couldn’t imagine being anything else.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor in my parents’ apartment with the Times spread out all around me, the smell and texture of the ink gradually modifying the chemistry of my brain. I couldn’t even read yet, but I stared at the pictures until they resolved into dots and back to pictures again. I looked at the stories until they resolved into letters and back into stories again. My parents carried on happy and rancorous debates about subjects I couldn’t understand, pointed at the graphics to back up their arguments, all the while hinting to me, whom they had forgotten sitting in the midst of their cast-off sections, that there was knowledge, mystery, power of information, community, a shared world, in those pages, if I only knew how to interpret them.
I was still a kid when the scandals hit — the plagiarism, the cooked stories, the revoked Pulitzers. I was angry, and my friends looked at me as if I had lost my grip on reality, but the scandals couldn’t break the spell. By then I was reading, and the world my parents had pointed to had opened out to me — the ponderous editorials, fashion glitz, emaciated models, a ream of book reviews every Sunday. Even more, there was a vast army of reporters going out into all the world to find out what was happening and what it all meant, and even then, even then, I knew I wanted to be one of them. The Times was the paper its enemies cited to prove they had done their homework. It arrived with the morning coffee of every head of state on the planet.
In middle school, I would cut class and take the subway to the Times Building to watch the shifts change. It seemed to me that if you were a reporter for the Times your footprints must glow on the pavement under ultraviolet light.
I didn’t give it up. It was pulled from my cold, dead fingers.