The first day had been hard, he had to admit. Mufflestonehaugh Tidgebrighamport (“It’s pronounced Marshton, actually”) had asked him what brand of boat shoe his father had been, and pursed her mouth politely when he told her his father had been a human man.
“Not a boat shoe?”
“No, his name’s Gordon. He lives in Ypsilanti with my mother.”
“Who is…also a human woman?”
“Yeah, she is. She’s a math teacher, actually.”
“Not an old brick building? Not a yacht?”
“No, I think–I think pretty much everyone in my family is just, they’re just people.”
“That’s so interesting,” Mufflestonehaugh said before transforming into an heirloom set of opal earrings. “You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime.” He hoped he’d never have to.
The first few weeks had been hard, to be honest.
But it had been a few months now, and Mike felt like he was finally getting the hang of things. Or he had, at least, before his editor Tilde had called him into her office. She never called him into her office. Or spoke to him, come to that. He closed the door behind him and sat down, pen and pad perched on his knee.
“Actually, it’s Mike? My name?”
“I want to talk to you about your real estate and style coverage. It’s not great, to be honest. And it hasn’t been great for a while.”
Fuck. His mind flashed back, trying to think of what he’d done in the last few weeks that could have been bad enough to merit an office visit.
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re a good kid. But you don’t have the instinct. You don’t capture what’s of the moment, and in a city like this, that’s a necessity. Remember when you missed the Ivy Oven trend? Remember that?”
“Well, I’m not really sure that that was, exactly, a trend. Exactly. Since it was only three people.”
“Myhrr, when three separate Harvard grads, one of whom was in my year, start keeping their diplomas in the oven to save space and cut down on their document-ironing time, that. Is. A. Trend. I shouldn’t have to explain that to you. It was an error. Let’s just acknowledge that. You missed semaphore parties and DIY kiln-wreckage, too.”
Mike nodded vigorously, then nodded again, just for good measure. Tilde slowly detached her jaw and swallowed a cluster of beets whole, dirt-tangled roots and all. That had taken some getting used to. The first time he saw her do that, he had cried out, then cringed when everyone smiled patronizingly at him. This was before he learned how chewing produced toxins.
“I think we put you on the city beat too soon,” Tilde continued, gobs of soil falling from her lips. “I think we need to start you on something a little more basic. I want you to cover the Hamptons for the next few weeks. There’s a new pop-up fruited ice concern opening by the beach called Chloe’s Soft-Serve Fruit Co., and I want you to write about what that means for the country as a whole.”
Not fired, then. “Oh,” Mike said, brightening, “definitely. I can definitely do that. Back home in South Haven, there’s a Sherman’s Custard off of Phoenix Street, and the lines in the summer wrap around the block.”
“Seminary,” Tilde said patiently, “Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. is not Sherman’s Custard. It’s not some…some arbitrary vendor of iced goods by a large body of water. It’s not Michigan.”
“Oh no,” Mike said, “of course not. I didn’t mean to imply it was.”
“Our readers are not interested in reading about people on vacation lining up for ice cream.”
“That’s not a story. That’s just what people do when they’re on vacation.”
“Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. is a new pop-up. Important people take time out of their day to stand behind each other, waiting to get in.”
“And that’s–that’s different from just standing in line at an ice cream stand.”
“And–and–” he looked down desperately at his notes– “‘fresh fruit, filtered water, and a dash of organic cane sugar’ is different from just sorbet?”
“Are you being willfully obtuse, or do you really not get this?”
“No, I get this, Tilde. I get this. I’m just trying to clarify the facts, for my story.”
“It’s Tilde. My name. You said Tilde.”
“Listening is a really important skill for a reporter, Marne.”
“Right. Right. Sorry.” He half-rose from the chair, then hovered awkwardly, unsure if he was being dismissed. “So I’ll just–I’ll just go to the Hamptons, now, then?”
Tilde, who was halfway through ingesting a purple cabbage, nodded her swollen head. She swallowed. “Write about the traffic. That’s important. Because people have to drive there, you know.”
Mike nodded, then wrote “Write about traffic” on his notepad.
“And there are only so many ways to get there. Driving and helicopters. Unless someone swims. If somebody swims there, I want you to write about it.”
“So there’s traffic, when everybody goes.”
“I’ll find an angle.”
“But don’t call it traffic, obviously.”
He was on the freeway by three.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.