Blogging affords excellent opportunities for garrulous senior citizens to hone their typing skills. As a newly retired person, I honed mine in pre-blogging days by writing letters to the editor of the Naples (Florida) Daily News. Reading the feverish rants of right-wingers did it to me. People for instance who denounced talk of global warming, then pointed to heavy snow in northern states to support their position. Reading such “thoughts” day after day, I lost patience and sent off responses.
But I came to see the futility in this: the mad hatters on the right were impervious to factual arguments (it snows when the temperature rises, you dunce you). So, I turned to other topics. Most recently, The Daily News published a letter of mine calling for a more dog-friendly policy in Naples. I argued that since the real work of dogs in our time is to serve as companions—mental-health care givers—it made sense for dog owners to be allowed to share public places with their leashed pets.
Like other papers, the Daily News provides an outlet, through a website, for its more disturbed readers. Those whose inflamed rhetoric is unsuitable for a family paper are free to post their fulminations online. My lobbying for a more lenient attitude toward dogs led to a blizzard of lectures on the staggering effects of such a proposed change in policy. The world would be brought screaming and gagging to its collective knees, children’s bodies would be stacked up like cordwood by helpless public health employees, a dark cloud of disease and pestilence would descend, etc.
My wife Barbara is too level-headed to read such things, so that evening I told her about the hour I’d spent that morning in the cyberspace black hole of the Comment section.
--After all this time, after all the composting I’ve seen going on in the paper’s op/ed page, I still couldn’t believe it.
--It’s still troubling to think about. There are people, Barbara--people who walk among us—who write separate comments on all or most of the published letters. Daily.
--As John McEnroe might say, “You cannot be serious.”
--I am serious. Comment after comment, by the same persons, using their anonymous “handles.” Think about it. The paper arrives, say, at five or five-thirty in the morning. It has to be that early, it’s always on the driveway when I take Chelsea for her walk. That means the bottom feeders are up even earlier.
--There’s no other way to explain how quickly they get to work. They have to have the paper in order to read the published letters. Then they start pumping out comments.
--What on earth possessed you to look at them?
--Guilty as charged. “Possessed” is the operative word. I never do it unless one of my letters is published. I knew there’d be some kind of reaction. You can’t advocate in favor of liberalizing anything in this town without blowback.
--Sad, or mad?
--Both, but mostly sad. I can see them getting up and dressing, brushing their teeth, drinking coffee. Turning on the computer and limbering up their fingers, then going out for the paper. Coming back, closing the door and plopping down, throwing aside every section except the op/ed pages.
--Yes, I think that’s how it must be.
--You know, I bet ________ spends hours doing that.
--No. Surely not.
--I bet he does. Every morning. With the TV on the whole time.
--Soap operas, you mean.
--He says they’re just white noise, he’s only half aware of what’s on. As you say, he’s too busy getting the work out.
--I hope not. I hope you’re wrong.
--Except I’m sure his comments are readable and informative.
--Still, I hate to think of it. I’ve been there. In the belly of the beast. A chilling experience. Compulsion is not a pretty thing to see.
--When they were getting ready to move, I remember ______ insisting their next house had to have wings. To isolate him. He’s a little deaf and plays his soaps loud. It was making her crazy.
--My uncle was career Army. A colonel. One of his later postings was to Governor’s Island in New York. I remember my aunt telling me he used to drive home for lunch, in order to watch either “The Guiding Light” or “All My Children.” He’d watched this particular soap for over twenty years. When he was later posted to Korea, he went alone. He made my aunt back in the States send him plot summaries every week. Summaries of all the cases of amnesia, infidelity, concealed births.
--But you liked him.
--Very much. He was an odd duck, but I did like him. In the end, it’s the eccentrics who make life interesting. He and my aunt picnicked with friends on Siesta Key. Every week, or every other. He took black-and-white photos of these gatherings. He made his own photo albums, using stiff, gray cardboard. After he died, I went down to see my aunt. I remember leafing through some of the albums. There were the photos of the picnic group. Over and over, posed the same way each week, it seemed. You won’t believe it, but I’m sure I saw footprints in one shot, in the sand. When I looked at the snapshot for the next picnic, the prints were still there. There was something pure about his obsession, his craving for order and control. I’m pretty sure he also kept quantitative records of what his grapefruit and orange trees produced.
--Well, they were certainly good to us when we went to see them.
--They were. Generous and welcoming to a fault. We all have our little nooks and crannies, don’t we?
--Very true. Hardly open to question with us.
POSTSCRIPT: Wrong again. The Naples Daily News posts letters online the night before they appear in the paper’s print addition. That way, Those Who Walk Among Us are able to work all night. Shudder.