The Redemption Unit, IV

(Earlier episodes here)

Act IV:

The Free Nameless News

The Free Nameless News started out as The Nameless News and cost 10¢ per issue. Vol. 1, No. 1 included a detailed account of Woodrow Wilson’s first foray into the Boston DO; a breathless report of a fire in the building the same week; and miscellaneous items such as this one:

Let’s Redo It Again, One More Time

We are saddened (as we know you must be) by the impending departure of the redecorating crew – that group of madcap craftsmen who have done so much to raise office morale of late. Their work has proceeded at a dignified and stately pace, nicely complementing the efforts of our own staff. Indeed, the office will seem a barren and lifeless place without them. A small party will of course be held – sometime this month, or possibly next month, but definitely no later than April 1. Forks are optional, as the cake will be Ivory or Lux.

(The redecorating crew’s lasting contribution to the DO was a genuine reproduction 18th century mural in the waiting room, which depicted either the Philadelphia or Boston waterfront. It included, from left to right: a young lad who looked like Tom Sawyer, a building in the Federalist style of architecture, a Greek revival building, an academic complex that vaguely resembled Harvard University, a fleet of ships flying the French tricolor, and what looked like a group of Colonial working girls waiting for the fleet to come in.)

The debut issue of The Nameless News also featured – predictably – a Name That News contest, which drew zero entries. On top of that the Nameless News editors were firmly advised by management that we could not profit from a publication produced on public-sector time with public-sector resources. So the 10¢ was out. The Free Nameless News, we decided, was a natural for the new name.

The paper itself was less of a natural, since it was published inside what can only be described as a Soviet-style bureaucracy – so much so that the editors sought a nihil obstat from the Assistant District Manager every week. No surprise, Vol. 1, No. 2. carried the paper’s first – but hardly last – apology.

How’s My Little Girl?

Due to misunderstandings beyond our control, we feel required to publish this lamentably businesslike statement:

It is the policy of this newspaper to provide entertainment for as many as possible, at the expense of as few as possible . . .

It continued in similar fashion from there.

On Valentine’s Day  (Vol. 1, No. 4) the News was printed on pink paper and contained the second of a special two-part series, “Bicentennial Sex and Violence: The Good Life in America.” On St. Patrick’s Day (Vol. 1, No. 8) the paper was green. In-season the News carried recaps of the games played by the Boston DO basketball and baseball teams (the SSADISTS and SSERFS, respectively, both of which waged fierce rivalries with the Lynn DO, for reasons largely unknown even at the time). There was also a regular feature called Edits & Rejects, a hodgepodge of gossip and inside jokes that are now largely incomprehensible. A sample:

Edits & Rejects

. . . whoever ate Manny Vaz’ sandwich today, please give it back to him . . . if every government employee took one SSI claimant home to live with him . . . BJPont assures me that Phyllis Wales is not throwing a delayed sweet-sixteen party for him. We’ll see . . . the Census Bureau predicts that 8 term employees (.00001% of the population) will commit suicide by June 1 . . . I just wish there was less sex in this newspaper . . .

The sex was exceeded only by the contests in The Free Nameless News, most of which were thoroughly ignored by the readers. In addition to the Name That News fiasco, the paper sponsored a Name That Team contest for the DO basketball squad, a Name That Tush contest following an especially provocative illustration on page one of Vol. 2, No. 2, and, for the softball squad, another Name That Team contest, which included this note: “As your editor, I’m sick of people not leaving their responses on my desk, so this time you are invited not to leave them on Ed Fitzpatrick’s.” (Fitzpatrick later earned the Quote of the Week for asking, “Is that why Jesuits don’t eat pork?”)

At one point there was also a Mother of the Month feature, which included the following exhortation: “This is a new feature of the News. If you wish it to continue, you know what you have to do.” The Mother of the Month, needless to say, didn’t last long.

Like a dog walking on its hind legs, the remarkable thing about the paper was not that it was done well, but that it was done at all. Even so, reading The Free Nameless News 25 years later can only be described as a sobering experience. The paper contained a startling amount of god-awful writing, much – although not all – of it contributed by me. Especially egregious was my 10-part series “A Modest Analogy,” which took place at the Ideal DO, featured a large cast of characters whose names were anagrams of the bosses’ (Barfe Nigley was my favorite), and earned first-ballot entry to the Bad Prose Hall of Fame.

Despite all that, The Free Nameless News published 22 editions in three stuttering volumes over the course of a year. And it produced the highest compliment I’ve ever received: One Friday three dozen hardened federal bureaucrats stayed fifteen minutes after work to get that week’s edition of the News.

The following Monday, the Assistant District Manager shut the paper down.

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5 Responses to The Redemption Unit, IV

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