It sounds like a bad joke – a customer walks through the door of the city utility department and feigns shock. Only it wasn’t a joke. Worse, it wasn’t just any customer but a city commissioner, and judging by the look on his face, he was shocked.
“You no longer pushing ink?” asked the commissioner with a notable lift of one eyebrow.
I admit to hesitation for several reasons as my lower lip hung in a slight barn door droop. One reason is that I had no way to escape the conversation. I was trapped behind the counter unless a sudden hole appeared in the floor or I’d a heart attack, maybe burst into flames. Between you and me, I did not care about the method, only to bring it on.
Another reason is the sudden internal battle of whether the statement – pushing ink – was an insult.
Is that an insult? I’d no idea! Where’s that hole in the floor?
“Nope,” I finally managed, or now that I think about it, probably came out as a “nah” because I hold fast to informal, if not slightly teenage vernacular that consists of yeah, so-like, say what, and a whole lot of nah.
“Well, that’s interesting,” he said. I agreed, silently, of course. It was interesting that the city-beat reporter was now behind the counter at the city utility department. He wasn’t the first person to be surprised, but no one had made me question if I’d been insulted.
Pushing ink, what is that?
I fully expected a slew of questions to follow, such as what happened, why here, and if I was undercover. Instead, the commissioner, recalling the reason for his visit, said there was a burned-out streetlight in front of his house. I was both relieved and disappointed. The latter, as I thought how much fun it would be to say I was undercover. Granted, it would be Undercover Not-the-Boss and more along the lines of comedy, a Saturday Night Live skit.
“Wow, no longer pushing ink,” he repeated. I jotted down the location of the light. Said I’d get it taken care of, which proved to be an adventure for yours truly that I’ll share another time. Then the commissioner proceeded down the hall of the municipal complex without another word. I imagined him paying a visit to the city manager’s office to ask why a (former) reporter was working in utilities. The shrug of shoulders to follow, the response, “Because she applied?” and that would be the end of that boring exchange.
My life may be stranger than fiction, but it is still pretty bland.
Pushing ink? I fought the urge to text a former newspaper colleague to ask if those were fighting words. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I’d been in the newspaper business and other publications for over a decade. I first served as a stringer for the Daily Advocate before moving on to fulltime pagination around 2003. Around that same time, I started a column, Mother of the Munchkins. The column ran in the Daily Advocate and then in the Piqua Daily Call when I became their city-beat reporter.
I delivered the Early Bird to 100-some customers when I was a kid. If interested in minor details.
Sometimes a change of pace is a good thing, thus why I was in the utility department. However, judging the difficulty with that lightbulb fix (among a host of other challenges as a utility clerk), I did not last long. I moved on to program director for a non-profit where, ironically, the same commissioner walked through the door, and surprised to see me asked, “You no longer pushing ink?”
While I was caught off guard, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, I did not take it as an insult. I did reply, however, with my favorite old standby, “nope” or more likely “nah” because some habits are hard to break.
Now, five years later, I wonder if I will ever hear that question again. Granted, the commissioner I’ve mentioned is not from the area. Regardless, I’ll be prepared should we cross paths. It’ll be nice to say, yes, I am back to pushing ink as opposed to, you know, nah.
Bethany J. Royer-DeLong holds a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology with an emphasis in organizational psychology and a master’s degree in organizational leadership. She has held an assortment of jobs over four decades from columnist to librarian, newspaper reporter to program director for a nonprofit. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.