Perishables

I sat in the break room with Frank West, who ate his microwaved bagel with a wad of cream cheese falling to the side. Frank said, “It’s not too late to be what you might have been.” Frank was taking early retirement to read lines with his wife, who was staging a comeback in community theater.

“This is my quest,” he sang out, “to follow that star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

I made my own plans after signing up for social media and receiving messages about the Champions Course. All it took was three hundred out of my pension and an Internet connection. Annie supported my plan. We moved the Buick to the driveway and swept out the garage. We ran a phone line and used extension cords to set up lamps and space heaters. My desk was a sheet of OSB plywood on top of sawhorses. I made my way through the course book designed by Melinda Pyle, an award winner who said you had to work hard if you wanted to become a reporter of news and human-interest features.

I didn’t think about television. I thought about big cylinders as they began to spin, ink on paper, and the sound of page proofs sent through pneumatic tubes with an airy pop. I decided I would write from home, crafting my sentences over the smell of the wood, and then visit the newsroom to drop off my finished copy once I’d established myself as a reliable freelancer.

I followed Ms. Pyle’s cues to find a story. With Annie’s help I made it to the garage by eight every morning, dressed in a white shirt with khakis because I’d learned that to make a thing real you had to get beneath it, step right into its skin. Soon enough I had my topic, based on an item in the local section of the Tribune: “Scientists have noted that one of the oldest, largest, and possibly heaviest living things on Earth is a fungus growing in the forests of northern Michigan.”

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