The Epiphanies of Western Waste

9 Oct

I’ve lived a lot of different lives, and each one has a specific demarcation point, a place in time that I can put my finger on and say, “There is where it began, and there is where it ended.” So there was the art school period, the struggling single mom period, the corporate p.r. period, and of course, the journalism period.

For a few years after I graduated from art school, I ended up as a reporter and editor for a now-defunct trade publication in San Francisco, serving–of all things–the Pacific maritime and transportation industry. How I got from art school to there is chronicled in my first book, a comical (I hope) roman-a-clef called The Epiphanies of Western Waste* (working title: not sure if it will stand.) Here’s an excerpt from the chapter about my very first day as a working journalist:

When I got settled in, Derek handed me a stack of press releases from a company that made a type of railroad car equipped with two sets of retractable wheels, so that it could move on the highway as well as on rail.

That was my first official story for the West Coast Weekly Shipper. I dived in with relish. I was amazed that my sources called me back, and allowed me to interview them about the new piece of equipment. At first I worried that they would catch on that I wasn’t really a professional journalist, but they treated me as if I was totally legit.

By lunchtime, I felt as if I had been a journalist all my life.

This is easy, I thought, as I typed my notes into the Veri-Typer computer screen and started to arrange them into the first draft of a story.

I’m actually starting to like this intermodalism stuff a little bit, I thought.

When noon rolled around, Derek, Tracey, Dal, and Stephen took me to a “first day at work” lunch at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant nearby.

“Be sure and try the Chicken Almond Ding,” Derek advised, as we pored over the menu and laughed at the hybrid “Chinglish” spelling errors. I did, and it turned out to be a passable vegetarian version of Chicken Almandine.

“Derek’s been a vegetarian for a long time,” Dal explained to me. “We tolerate vegetarian restaurants for his sake, if the food’s not bad.”

“Now, Dal, let’s get down to the important stuff. In other words, who should play Liz in Western Waste?” interrupted Tracey.

“Sissy Spacek,” replied Derek, not missing a beat.

“I can see it,” added Dal, giving me a somewhat disconcerting once-over.

“Sissy Spacek?  Western what?” I mumbled through mouthfuls of Chicken Almond Ding.

Western Waste, of course,” said  Tracey.

Western Waste?”

“You didn’t tell her about Western Waste?” she asked Derek.

“One can’t cover everything in a thirty-minute interview,” protested Derek. “Besides, I didn’t want to scare her off.”

“What is Western Waste?” I asked again.

Western Waste is the hilarious, engaging, multi-episodic story of a small put profitable weekly trade publication, based in a colorful, wino-infested San Francisco slum. The trade mag’s called Western Waste because it serves the municipal waste disposal industry. And the story features the adventures of the kooky and quirky—but very lovable—cast of employees from diverse backgrounds, who come together every week to publish it,” explained Tracey in a bored voice, as if describing an established fact that nearly everyone should know about.

“At some point we’re going to write it all up and sell it to Hollywood, and then we’ll all be rich,” added Dal. “The thing will practically write itself. All we have to do is copy down things that happen daily in the office, and throw in a few wino stories once in a while. It’s a T.V. series—you know, sort of like Night Court or Barney Miller.”

“But why is the magazine in the T.V. series about waste disposal, instead of about shipping?” I asked.

Four pairs of eyes stared at me, with a distinct look in each of them that silently read “How can anyone ask such a stupid question?”

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.

“Well, because waste disposal is funny,” Derek finally said, in a kind but condescending voice. “And shipping isn’t. Not funny at all.”

“These are small details,” snapped Tracey crisply. “The main thing is, we have to finish the most important part, which is casting ourselves, and after that, as Dal says, the thing will practically write itself. So, what do you say Liz? Are you up for Sissy?”

“Umm, I don’t think I look much like her,” I replied guardedly. “I mean, I think she’s known as ‘Sissy Spaced-Out’ – is that really me?” I didn’t pause long enough for an answer, fearing the worst.

“And besides,” I added quickly, “she’s years older than I am.”

“True,” said Derek. “I hadn’t thought of that. We have a rule that all cast members of Western Waste have to be approved by the person who is being portrayed by them. So how about, umm,  Roseanna Arquette?”

Roseanna Arquette was one of the year’s Hollywood “It Girls.” I didn’t think I looked or acted much like her either, but I thought she was a more flattering choice than Sissy Spacek.

I decided to quit while I was ahead.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m in. Roseanna Arquette, it is.”

“Congratulations, Liz. You are now officially a member of the cast of Western Waste. By the way, this one’s on Lord Kevvy,” said Derek, brandishing his corporate credit card when the bill came. “Lord Kevin Simkins, I mean. You know about Lord Kevvy?”

I nodded. “I read that he owns half of Canada.”

“And half of New Zealand, too. He’s a cheap-ass Kiwi bastard,” said Derek.

# # #

*The Epiphanies of Western Waste, copyright 2012, by S. K. Cole. All rights reserved.

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