― Charles Dickens
From, “A Christmas Carol”
Waking from my otherwise tranquil, midnight slumber, some might understand my alarm at gazing upon the fuzzy figure of what appeared to be a man standing at the foot of my bed.
It was either a man or beast. I guessed man.
Reaching for my glasses on the bedside table, I fumbled them across my nose in the bedroom dark. Squinting this time for clearer vision, I stared ahead. Yes, it was man. He was motionless, his arms crossed like an impatient traveler waiting for the next bus. Wearing a white business shirt with sleeves rolled to just below the elbows, his necktie was loosened and the collar was undone.
I thought I spied a trail of coffee stains to one side of the tie, but in the dim light who could be sure?
I looked to my left. My wife still slept peacefully, emitting a light snore though not one I would ever discuss publicly. My life and manhood rested on such decisions.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty!” the gravel voice erupted.
I glanced at my mate again, puzzled by her stillness.
“Don’t worry,” the visitor offered. “She ain’t wakin’ up.”
“How come?” I asked.
“’Cause this is just a dream,” he explained. “And only you and me are in it.”
I sat up, crawled from beneath the covers and landed on my feet.
“Nice PJs,” he chuckled. “What are those ... ducks?”
I glanced down at the pattern. “Yes ... yes, they are ducks,” I agreed. “But who the heck are you, why are you here, how’d you get in my house and let’s just let sleeping ducks lie.”
He laughed again, this time maneuvering the cigar stub from one corner of his mouth to the other. I could make out the heavy stubble of his unshaven face.
“Say,” I warned him. “This is a smoke-free household. How ’bout you dowsing that cigar, bucko?”
“And how ’bout you sliding into your bunny slippers,” he countered. “We gotta fly. Besides, the cigar ain’t lit and the name’s not bucko.”
“Then what is it?” I asked.
“Lou who?” I sought. “I don’t know any Lou’s, and I know even fewer at midnight at home when I’m supposed to be fast asleep in the comfort of my bed.”
“You might know me by another name ... the Ghost of Editors Past,” he clarified.
“Oh, well that lights a few hundred candles for me,” I smirked. “You mean like the Ghost of Christmas Past? And that would make you some kind of guardian angel ... and me, well, Ebenezer Scrooge? Is that where this is headed?”
He laughed. “You remind me of a reporter I used to know. Name was Rossi.”
“Rossi?” I asked. “You mean Joe Rossi? And that makes you Lou Grant ... TV Lou Grant?”
“As I said, the Ghost of Editors Past,” he repeated. “Now let’s go. This window will do.”
He opened it and motioned me to his side. In my dream, it was a second-story window with no screen. Dreams are convenient like that. Lou ... er, Ghost of Editors Past ... took me by one elbow and whisked me out the window. Not fond of heights, I stared straight ahead without regard to what was suspending me in space. We dodged a cloud, maybe two. Lou finally let go of my elbow and cautioned me to spread my wings. I assumed he meant arms. He said aerodynamics would do the rest.
One eye still closed in terror, I wobbled in mid-flight, but Lou calmed my pattern with a stabilizing hand to one arm.
“A little breezy up here, isn’t it?” I shouted. It was harder to hear at 10,000 feet ... at least, in my dream.
“We’ll be there in a few,” he told me.
“Exactly where are we headed?” I asked. “I mean, I’ve never flown without an airplane. Call me curious.”
Glancing in my direction, Lou smiled ... kind of a wicked, mischievous smile ... and offered only, “You’ll see.”
The rush of the wind against my hairless forehead ... Lou had the same shortage ... came to a sudden halt, my feet were on solid ground and we stood in the middle of a big room with lots of desks on all sides. The walls were a grey panel, the floor a dingy tile and stacks of newspapers lay everywhere. The smell of ink was dense like a fog is ... well, like fog.
My eyes widened. The Ghost of Editors Past grinned.
“Recognize it?” he asked.
“It’s my old newsroom!” I exclaimed. I started pointing fingers at coworkers of my past. “That’s George. And that’s Shelia. And Naomi ... Sandra ... Brooke, and even Beecher. And ... and ... and who the heck is that?”
My gaze targeted a desk in the newsroom’s distant corner.
“It’s December 1977,” Lou cited. “This is the old Cleveland Daily Banner newsroom. And him ...?” He smiled again.
“It’s me! Whoa! What happened? Look at all the hair! And talk about a pudge ball!”
“You ain’t exactly no ballerina 35 years later,” Lou reminded me. “This was you in the beginning, a wide-eyed, punk of a cub reporter fresh out of college. You wanted three things — a good story, a byline and a paycheck. You knew everything, would listen to no one and thought you were headed for the New York Times. You were a bundle of energy with an enthusiasm that wouldn’t quit. You joked with your co-workers. You were fun and alive. You could out-wordsmith a Webster’s. You were God’s gift to journalism.”
“Was I that bad?” I grimaced.
Lou chuckled, “You were just young. Full of ideas. Had lots of questions. Plenty of heart. And you believed in what you were doing. Today was the first day of the rest of your life.”
And finally, I asked the inevitable, “So why are we here?”
The ghost’s eyes met mine.
“Time passes,” he answered. “Life changes. People do, too.”
His deed now done, this Ghost of Editors Past added softly, “... Time to get back.”
Stirring from my sleep, I reached for the digital clock to shut off the irritating beep, almost knocking my glasses from the bedside table.
“Time to make deadline,” I mumbled in fatigue, wishing for another hour of quiet.
(Next: Another visitor comes calling in the night.)