Every time I watch All the Presidents Men or the fifth season of The Wire, I give a loud cheer for the research librarians. Then I rewind and play the two seconds again.
It was sheer luck that I was able to work in such an anachronistic role for four years. This is not the kind position a lot of newspapers have around anymore. But the New York Post has a fantastic paper clip archive going back to its “Shipping News” days in the early 1800s. It probably would have cost half-a-billion dollars to digitize. Much less expensive to hire me to swat the rats away from the stacks in the basement.
The research part of the job sometimes required, if not smarts, then certainly the ability to finesse data quickly for reporters on tight deadlines. We usually got a call from one of them right after Mike Hechtman yelled at them.
Hechtman, by the way, was as much an institution at the city desk as he was a newsroom “featured personality”. He was one of those fast-talking, street-wise tabloid veterans, irascible and high-strung, but who knew his stuff and, in my movie, is played by an old Jewish woman who just found out her son is marrying a goy.
To tell the truth, I loved dealing with Hechtman for all those qualities, but unless we were chatting about our respective cats, I preferred it be over the telephone. He scared the shit out of me. He’s probably the reason why I didn’t step foot into the newsroom for three years.
But even if I kept to myself in the library (which I regretted later), there were moments of excitement back there too. It was nice getting a call from the newsroom. Once in a while, it felt like you were doing something important. Then you realize you’re searching Nexis for clips on how much Eliot Spitzer paid for a blowjob. Then you feel really, really proud, to boot.
I liked the people I worked with in the library, mainly because I was alone most of the time, but also because they were good company. I even liked Bruce Furman, despite our occasional differences. He liked to say that the librarians were “the ones that made the bullets”, in reference to our place at the paper. They were characters in their own rights, if not as brassily stress-inducing as Hechtman was.
For the most part, the reporters and editors were fine to work with as well. Except for Mandy Stadtmiller. She was something else.
Mandy Stadtmiller had the personality one might associate with the differently-abled love-spawn of two first cousins among the Landed Gentry; an outsized sense of privilege accompanied by a neo-cortex that only generations of inbreeding could come up with.
I came across Mandy Stadtmiller’s name today while pursuing a different blog idea.
I hadn’t thought about her since I left the Post in 2009. She is a standup comedian and a blogger who is now somewhat famous for writing explicitly about her painfully dull existence.
And she has received some attention recently, along with criticism for “oversharing” her personal life. I see her writing as the blog equivalent to a deranged stranger showing me the Biore strip she’d just pulled off her nose.
Speaking as an exhibitionist, both online and in shopping malls, I don’t see anything wrong with letting it all hang out. The problem with Mandy is that she doesn’t know how to finesse it. Just kind of chucks the dirty undies in your face while braying like a donkey.
Worse than her writing, and the more salient point to this post, is her personality.
One afternoon in 2008, Mandy emailed the library to ask for a search to be done. It was before the early deadline, which is the busiest time for Mike Hechtman to come talk to me about his cats. Requests for clips, addresses and dates of birth always piled up.
Mandy and another reporter were working on an assignment, and Mandy was in over her head. Every few minutes she sent a new request to the library for information, which were piling up and sometimes overlapping with the other reporter’s requests.
So I asked Mandy, “If it’s not too much trouble, could you please collect all subsequent requests in one e-mail?”
To which Mandy replied:
Sorry – I don’t have time – I’m scrambling just as much as you are – ****** put me on this yesterday – I’m not a political reporter so I don’t have time to be perfectly organized in my emailing requests to library – thanks for your help – please. I need you to be here to support, make my life easier, do the googling requests & anticipate instead of me having to do & beg for ur help – I shoulda been gone @ 6 just like ***** ****** but instead am here working late, pitching in, being a team player, trying to do what I can – so please, please, please do what you can as we;ll, ok? It’s really, really appreciated. Thanks a million. Truly appreciated – all your help.
Then I says to her, I says, I go
Unfortunately, you’re not the only reporter on deadline. I’ll do what I can.
It bothered me for hours after finished working on Mandy’s project that I couldn’t anticipate milady’s caprices. She was even more upset and forwarded our entire email exchange to my boss, who must have asked Mandy if I had fucked up in some way. To which Mandy replied:
Nope – he above & beyond met the needs – 1nce the attitude chnged was all the difference in the world. If reporters are asked 2 go above & beyond then other people shld approach w the same attitude – I leave early all the time – was saying ‘listen work w me – I wish I was gone like laura – but iv been asked 2 do this ridiculous task so am trying – so please 4 the love of christ work w me.’ & he did. & I am super grateful not 2 hv 2 play the game of how I can I best make simon’s life easier – & instead he anticipated & helped & was awesome. Was grt. Gotta do another interview – thanks 4 writing bck & all you do.
I don’t have anything to say about what Mandy wrote, or whatever verb applies to the above passage.
But I do realize that I owe News Whore an apology. So, Mandy. I apologize. The next time I smell you, I’ll anticipate that you’ve left another tampon in your no-no zone, and call the proper environmental agency. The rest of the news room doesn’t need to suffer just because you forgot there was foreign body in your vagina. But, there are all kinds of stuff up in that thing. I’ve read it on your blog.
[[Slightly edited second revision]]