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Handle with care: Contents under pressure

I was standing, face toward the back wall, in the smallest room of a preferred caffeinating hole — attempting to ward off the frustration mounting as I was thwarted from doing what comes naturally.

I speak, of course, of editing.

Right before my eyes was a poster — the sort with those inspirational sayings prefaced by a single, thematic word in capital letters.

Beneath a picture of a coffee cup, the poster reads “SEMANTICS” leading into the following bit of philosophy:

Pessimists will say the cup is half-empty.

Optimists will say the cup is half-full.

Either way, it’s not goingto be enough coffee.

At first, I laughed; then I groaned ... then I shook my head.


Whoever set the type didn’t proofread their work? No one scanned for typos?

They had one job.

Now, I was pissed off ... on top of which, I was forced to think and, in this room, that usually happens only when I’m sitting down.

I noticed that adding a space between the two words might have run the type over to another line can’t have that.

But “ isn’t going to be .” would have created enough room for the missing space. So would have “ it won’t be ” or even, since the intent was casual humor, the dreaded “ it’s not gonna be ”

Alas, no: The poster, which could be tormenting editors and teachers and spellcheck-program coders across this great nation, would now and forever contain its error — and I was filled with a simmering rage over being unable to do anything about it.

At least I was in the proper place for performance anxiety.

Here at the Muted Trumpet, when faced with a semantic crisis, a former editor and I would share our own inspirational bit of philosophy: “There are no problems that can’t be solved just obstacles that will be overcome.”

The coffee poster rattled that belief and, on a larger scale, I shifted such weighty thoughts to the entrance into our lives of the coronavirus.

Oregon health officials noted Friday the first case of the virus in the state — although federal authorities have yet to confirm the diagnosis (because their bosses were content initially to call the illness a hoax).

That’s just what we need to prevent a probable pandemic persnickety pedantic partisanship.

As soon as the coronavirus left the friendly confines of cruise ships and quarantined hospitals and found its way here, politicians across the spectrum began doing what they think they do best at the advent of a crisis.

They pointed fingers.

(Well, politicians across the spectrum except for the Republicans in the Oregon Legislature, who were busy this week doing what politicians actually do best ... nothing.)

The coronavirus was called a vast, left-wing conspiracy by half-vast right-wing conspiracy wingnuts who accused Democrats and the media of attempting to derail the Trump presidency.

Democrats, particularly the seven dwarfs still running for the chance to replace Trump (start with Bernie Sanders as Grumpy and make your own list), were quick to blame the administration for being caught with its pants at half-vast because of its mistrust of science and the budgetary parsimony inflicted on federal health agencies at the expense of other priorities.

Speaking of which, President Trump on Friday night was busy telling true believers at a rally in South Carolina that the border wall with Mexico would serve as a deterrent to the spread of such illnesses — because, you know, germs from foreign countries don’t have the proper paperwork to enter the United States.

In fairness, the president also channeled his inner Kate Brown and — faced with an obstacle to be overcome right in front of his nose – created a blue-ribbon committee to study what effects the coronavirus will have on the stock market and, while they’re at it, voters.

The initial response by our leaders has been, to be kind, piss-poor.

Donkeys and elephants flailed about like skittering quail, while official spokesfolks tried to allay fears by impersonating Kevin Bacon at the end of “Animal House” “Remain calm. All is well. ALL IS WELLLLLLL!!!”

(He gets crushed by a tank, right?)

In a moment that calls for leadership, we got a poo-poo platter of political pablum, pejorative palaver and pandemic panic. We don’t need our leaders to panic.

That’s our job. We know panic. Panic has served us well. Panic is a friend of ours.

Look, we have one job on this lousy Spaceship Earth. It’s a stupid job, but we’re going to do it. Okay?

If we weren’t holding up our end of the bargain by panicking with aplomb, would a survey this week announce that 38 percent of us won’t buy Corona beer “under any circumstances” as a way of building a wall between us and a Mexican alcoholic beverage?

It might be a futile and stupid gesture but we’re just the ones to do it.

A knock at the door startled me back to the task at hand and, while I knew that the missing space on the poster was a problem that couldn’t be solved, there remains hope that — whatever its true nature — the coronavirus might still be an obstacle that can be overcome.

Getting past ourselves to do so, though, will be the hard part.

To paraphrase Margo Channing, it’s time to buckle up, because it’s goingto be a bumpy fight.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin is hermetically sealed at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com