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The "SENTINEL-HERALD-INQUIRER-TIMES" was boldly spread in 72 point type caps
across the top of the city's only remaining newspaper. It represented the last
of four defunct dailies. With the coming of television the Internet and
twenty-four hour news radio, instant news saturated the air waves, newspapers
little to offer other than baseball stats and market closings. People got their
The Sentinel could not keep pace with current events. All of its headlines
were history by the time the paper hit the street. The fires were extinguished,
the victims had been pulled from the wreckage, and even elections had been
decided. But the public still loved the gossip column concerning the activities
of the rich and famous and the behind the scenes secrets of the dog eat dog
Judith Barberian prepared the gossip column for the Sentinel with a blind
disregard for the facts. Her column, "A Night With Judy" was devoured with
salacious satisfaction by New Yorkers in all walks of life. Barney Smith's,
Smith" was no less satisfying to underpaid office workers who couldn't wait to
see corporate executives led out of their boardrooms in handcuffs.
Neither Judith nor Barney were native New Yorkers. Judith hailed from Twin
Forks, a small town on the outskirts of Rapid City. Barney came from Flint,
Michigan where he had operated a fork-lift truck at a General Motors assembly
plant. Not only were they out-of-towners, they were not even newspaper people.
Both of them were hired blindly when the previous gossip columnist and business
editor left on the very same day for greener fields, one to an afternoon talk
show and the other to a cable television wall street network.
Judith arrived starry-eyed in the big city and made her first stop at the
Sentinel. Her application listed her previous employment as a "Cinema
Distribution Analyst." The title was meant to conceal her six months in the
of a Twin Forks multi-cinema movie theater. Barney, on the very same day,
wrote on his application, "Product Acquisition Consultant for General Motors."
Both of these impressive but ambiguous qualifications impressed the personnel
manager at the Sentinel whose only qualifications for his position was assistant
night manager for a Bronx 7-11.
In panic, he rushed both applicants to the Chairman and Chief Executive
Officer of Sentinel. Harassed as he was, the CEO never raised his head to look
them. There were no other qualified replacements for the gossip and business
columns so Judith and Barney were hired at salaries above and beyond their
wildest dreams back home in Twin Forks and Flint.
They were needed, not for their expertise, but because they were relatively
attractive people. For some time the paper had abandoned the idea of reporting
the news as it existed and was inventing it instead. The CEO had developed
swat teams of experts whose purpose it was to suggest what was going to happen,
rather than what did happen, therefore two wide eyed rubes, such as Judith and
Barney, were all the paper needed to put a face on whatever news it deemed fit
to print. It needed faces because Judy and Barney's pictures would be inset
in each column and convey the impression they had written them, furthermore
they could be held up in disgrace should things go wrong. Such was the low state
of the fourth estate. It was a coincidence that Judith and Barney chose The
Sentinel-Herald-Inquirer-Times for their first stop in the Big Apple. But
without the interference of chance this story could not be told.
They took up temporary residence at their respective "Y"s for a day or two,
and met by chance in the Sentinel's cafeteria. There, over tuna fish on white
toast, they decided to live together. "Living together" usually spawns tactless
innuendoes and snide observations, most of them concerned with the physical
attraction of opposite sexes. But in Barney and Judy's case it was a matter of
economics. Neither of them was physically drawn to the other. If you were to
ask Barney what color Judy's eyes were he'd shrug his shoulders and say, "I
never looked." If anyone asked Judy if Barney wore a wedding ring, she would be
at a loss to answer -- they were in New York after all. By the same token, no
one at the Sentinel knew they were living together, or for that matter, that
either of them worked for the Sentinel.
Central Park West was a convenient place to live. Neither of them could
afford an apartment in that part of town, but together they were sure they could
swing it. They found one on a Friday afternoon after their chores were done at
the Sentinel. There were two bedrooms at the east end of the apartment that
overlooked the park which could be converted into two high tech work rooms. The
kitchen was big enough for two refrigerators -- one for him and one for her.
The living room was large enough to partition off into two bedrooms. One for him
and one for her. They signed up with the landlord under the name of Barney
Smith. That seemed to satisfy the landlord, cohabitation is a far more
acceptable arrangement to rental agents and landlords than the prospect of two
professional people of the opposite sex who can't afford to live alone.
For the next three years they never ate together, slept together or used each
other's first names. The space in the kitchen where a breakfast table would
normally be, was used for Barney's refrigerator.
"But'cha got one," the man from P.C. Richards said after he wrestled the new
one into place.
"We need two," said Barney.
"Got no outlet over here, it's gonna cost ya extra."
"So go ahead, cost me extra," Barney shrugged.
The carpenter who installed the partition which converted the large bedroom
into two smaller ones kept his opinions to himself. Either of the bedrooms was
bigger than the one he and his wife slept in up in the Bronx.
They shared a taxi to the office every morning. It was easier finding one cab
than two. Barney would pay one morning, Judith the next. They made
adjustments whenever the need arose.
"I'm short, Barberian, I'll take tomorrow." Or perhaps ...
"Get it Smith, a twenty's all I got."
That was the sum and substance of their conversation. They ate breakfast at
their separate work stations, had lunch alone in the Sentinel cafeteria, and
rarely ate dinner at the apartment. They never shared their private lives or
their private time. They dated other people but never brought them back to the
apartment. Their soiled laundry went out in separate bags to the cleaner. It was
an arrangement not much different than that of many upwardly mobile married
couples with differing goals.
Barney's daily "Street Smith" column was largely written for him by the swat
team assigned to business news. A brief sample may help us understand the
Sentinel's unorthodox tactics concerning news reportage.
... "An unconfirmed report from reliable sources has not been denied by
executives at Olympian Textiles relative to their hostile take-over of Fenwick
International. Should this action be permitted by the FCC, more than 35,000
Fenwick employees in Basking Ridge, New Jersey would be furloughed."
In fact Olympian Textiles had no intention of taking over Fenwick, or were
even aware it existed. The companies had nothing whatever in common and the
statement, when carefully read, meant nothing. When an enraged executive at
Fenwick called the Sentinel, the paper invoked the fourth amendment and was told
that Mr. Smith had to protect his sources.
Barberian's "A Night With Judy" column often went something like this ...
... "Rance Lunford would deny the rumor going around, (if he were asked) why
Lily Dangerfield was bounced from the cast of 'Heave Ho My Hearties,' but
Lily's drinking problem has not improved and reliable sources tell me that she
be in re-hab before the week is out. Her replacement? ... well, could she be
the platinum blond Rance escorted to La Marmite last night? Only time will
After ruining Lily's career for a drinking problem she didn't have and
getting Rance in trouble with his wife, when in fact the 'platinum blond' was
his elderly mother, you might think both Judith and Barney as members of the press
would be conscience stricken by the mischief their columns created. But they
were both pulling down $1500 a week after taxes and with money like that rolling
in, their respective consciences slept soundly. The code of silence
protecting the fourth estate continued and their nonexistent sources were
"You over there, Smith?" Judith mumbled from her work station one morning as
the sun glanced off the topmost branches of the sickly trees bordering Central
"Yeah, you O.K. Barberian?" Barney inquired.
"Something we gotta iron out, Smith. Got a minute?"
For the first time in three years Barney walked into Judith's work station.
She pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose and said, "I'm not saying a
word to you until you get your pants on."
"Sorry -- didn't know I had them off." It hadn't occurred to him that he was
in the presence of a woman -- he decided he'd better go inside and finish
dressing. There was something in Barberian's voice that concerned him, he put on
a fresh shirt as well. "What's to iron out?"
"I'm involved, Smith. Happened last night ... well, maybe even before last
night. The dining out guy, Devlin? You know him, right? He started with the
Herald and the Inquirer? He wants to hook up with me."
Barney looked at Judith in a way he never did before. What was the matter
with her! How could he stop her! He was struck with the terrifying possibility
of moving to a cheaper apartment. It was difficult to know where to begin and
he wished with all his heart his swat team was there to help him.
"Er ... Barberian ... Judith," he cleared his throat before beginning.
"Don't start Smith. I'll lay it out for you, okay? We've been here now, what?
three years, maybe more We teamed up because we wanted a fancy address
without paying for it. We were a lot different back then -- at least I was. I
you're always going to be what you are ... I'm not the person I was three
years ago. I need a relationship."
"I can give you ... "
"No you can't, Smith. You can't give anybody anything -- look at you, take a
look in that mirror -- that's you Smith, Bernie Smith -- you're a word
"Whatever. Anyway Johnny Devlin's quitting the paper. He's got a houseboat
out in Babylon and we're going to cut loose, both of us. We're going down the
Inland Waterway -- drop anchor at the first place that looks like home."
She wouldn't shut up, every time Barney opened his mouth to say something she
took off again. "I'm sick of New York, sick of this cheesy newspaper, and on
top of it all I'm ashamed of not even knowing the first name of the man I'm
living with. You know what's under my by-line this morning Smith?"
"I ... "
"I'll tell you what. The editor's got a bug up his ass about Michael Jackson,
wants to bring him down. He's got the swat team working on a scheme to prove
he's cloned himself. That new baby of his? He thinks it's him. Some Swiss
scientist was paid to clone Michael Jackson! That's why I want to get the hell
of here, Smith."
Some inner pecuniary urge made them both look at their watches at the same
"Going downtown Barberian?" Barney ventured to ask.
"Yes, I've to clean out down there, then I'll be back to pick up my stuff.
The paper will be up to clear out the PC and the files. Then you're batching it
The taxi driver was Indian and they were treated to raga music from 86th
street all the way down to 14th. There wasn't much chance to talk about what
have been. They sat as far apart as they could. Barney was on the starboard
side with his left leg over his right, Barberian, on the port side with her
right leg over her left. It was a language of the body that not even raga could
sweeten. They were too far gone -- both of them.
As they approached the freshly polished bronze doors of the Sentinel, Barney
ventured to ask Judy who her replacement was. If he had any residual hopes of
reconciliation, he couldn't have chosen a poorer approach.
"Lots of luck, Smith, her name's Simon. I'm a little short, pay the driver
and I'll leave my half on the kitchen sink. I'll drop you a card when I'm
The morning passed slowly for Barney. He couldn't get Barberian out of his
mind and his thoughts wandered from the column concerning the rumored downsizing
at Microsoft and the suspected recall of Mitsubishi air bags.
He sighed and punched in Barberian's number.
"This is Barney Smith, Simon ... thought I'd welcome you to the paper. How
you getting on?"
"Thanks Smith ... pretty well. You're business, right?"
"Yes, that's right -- 'Street Smith'. Got a place to stay yet?"
"Looking for one, pretty expensive town, New York."
Barney took a deep breath and decided to plunge ahead. "Maybe I can help you,
how about lunch? By the way," he added, "You got a first name, Simon?"
©Harry Buschman 1997
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