I hate thee, and I love thee. The first line of a poem by Catullus that was the first and last I read in the last Latin class I took, in tenth grade. (Thanks for the SAT help, it’s been good knowing you.)
Odi et amo.
Nowhere is this phrase so perfect, all-encompassing despite its brevity, as in my relationship to the Crimson. Ah, Ol’ Ruby Rag, I hate thee, I hate thee, but I love thee.
The Crimson’s offices at 14 Plympton Street offer an atmosphere that is brutally stifling—creatively, respiratorially—and yet, deliriously enticing. Every year, fresh-faced first-years glide like gazelles up the four steps to that big red door, their eyes narrowed into a determined squint, their lips locked in straight lines with curving corners that project the joy of the saboteur. “Today I will hold someone accountable,” they think. “Today I will earn a victory for the common man.”
They pace eagerly to the newsroom, down the corridor lined with framed photographs of Pulitzer-winning former editors, each face alongside a mediocre story that once ran in the Crimson—proof of humble beginnings, to inspire ambition.
Three and a half years later those same squinting first-years stumble out a little fatter, a little paler, squinting not with ambition but with aversion to the sunlight they had forgotten.
So goes the stereotype, and it’s unfair. Some people were already pale. But however partly true it may be—like all stereotypes, this one includes many morsels of veritas—I was determined not to let this happen to me. I had vague designs on a career in journalism, but no desire to make it the center of my undergraduate life. “I’ll be writing enough in my classes,” I figured. “I’ll take a four year break from journalism, and then break right into it.
I got a good start, and thought I might make it. But after three semesters of theater-dabbling and forays into other campus media (plus a brief stint in tutoring which proved that, despite my liberal leanings, community service just isn’t for me) I declared myself a piece of extracurricular detritus and threw myself at the Crimson.
In February of my sophomore year, I leapt up those steps and bounded down that corridor on my way to the newsroom. I paused to glance over J. Anthony Lewis ’48’s hard-hitting piece on a Nieman fellow reunion, and David E. Sanger ’82’s gripping analysis of over-enrollment in Ec10. I thought, “If that’s how they started out, maybe my student reaction piece on the winter’s first snow storm is only the beginning!” I narrowed my eyes, set my jaw, and dashed to an open computer to e-mail students from warm climates.
Over the next 14 weeks I wrote 20 stories—a moderate count for most Crimson writers, but not too shabby. I was in. And six months later—one year after my first story—I had somehow stumbled into an executive position.
The newsroom is a factory. The desks and walls are industrial gray, the bulletin boards on its walls lined with frayed red construction paper. The long neon bulbs that hang overhead are suspended by a lattice of steel supports that angle down from what appears to be corrugated tin. Like a Pompidou Center minus the art, a network of unabashedly exposed rectangular ducts, pipes of varying thickness, massive red steel columns, and I-beams lined with coffee-mug-size rivets frame the edges of the room.
Like anyone desiring entry to the Crimson newsroom, natural light must pass a few tests before arriving: it filters through the steel steps that lean over an alley behind the building, then angles into the room through a glass wall of thick square panels. There are no other windows.
The halogens are white and strong, stripping the building’s inhabitants of any sense of day or night.
But tonight, while wandering around the room to procrastinate on my final night proofing FM, I pass by the dilapidated metal file cabinets along one wall. On top of them are two fishbowls: one plastic, one glass; one filled with water, the other not. Neither has any sign of life, and hasn’t for many months. This building is filled with people, I am reminded, who love what they do, who are driven by what they do and do it with such energy and focus that they have not enough of either faculty remaining to remember to feed the fucking fish.
A mask mounted on a wooden screen hangs over the desk of the associate managing editor. Its eyebrows are steeply arched over wrinkled, squinting eyes. The smile is not subtle or confined to the corners but wide open, and the lower jaw is loose and can be manipulated. The mask, a token of thanks from a group of Korean tourists after receiving a tour of the building earlier this year, laughs. If that mask is having such a good time, anyone should be able to.