Personalized Treatment

Olin Hampden, editor of the Hortense Union. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Olin Hampden, editor of the Hortense Union. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Most Mondays were the same. Olin Hampden was accustomed to it.

Minor crises took up as much time as major ones. The wife of the president of Hortense National Bank had a fender bender; she had backed her Escalade into the back of a Nissan that was backing out of a space behind her at the same time. The problem was that the Weekly Union’s intern happened to be uptown at the time and took a photo of two women arguing over which one was at fault.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

Hoke Talbott demanded to see Olin and proceeded to throw his weight around, telling the editor in no uncertain terms that his wife’s incident had no business in the newspaper.

Olin let him vent.

“You through, Hoke?”


“It’s my job what has business to be in this paper,” Olin said. “Now, if you’re interested, if you hadn’t come up here and showed your ass, we wouldn’t have put that picture in the paper, but, since you had to tell me that your position in the community, your prominence, should alone decide what makes the paper and what doesn’t, what I see that as is a gut check. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of thinking you can push me around. I’ll personally guarantee that picture is going to be in the Union on Thursday.”

“I’ll bury you, Olin, you hear me? I’ve got business with half the advertisers in your rag, and I’ll use some influence to make sure it costs you.”

“That’s your prerogative, Hoke. I don’t think you really believe that, in a free society, you ought to be able, by your power and influence, to control what people get to read about this community, and I don’t believe your advertisers believe that, either. You try to hurt me, and what goes around will come around. It’ll hurt you in the long run. It won’t do you a bit of good to be known as a bigger asshole than you already are.”

“Well, we’ll see,” the banker said, headed out the office door.

“I’ll see you at Rotary on Tuesday,” Olin said. “Give Marguerite my best.”

A few minutes later, Brenda Longstock, the receptionist, said a Mr. Horace Easterling wanted to show Olin something and he’d meet him outside the back door. Olin didn’t know any Horace Easterling, but he went outside, anyway.

Easterling looked to be about sixty-five or so. He was driving a ten-year-old Ford pickup.

“I bet you ain’t never seen nothing like this, Olin.”

Olin’s picture was in the paper every week. He wrote a column. Lots of people he didn’t know knew him, and they often acted like they were best friends. Olin sometimes wanted to say, “Excuse me, sir, but just who the hell are you?” but knew that never did any good. He’d just learned to act like he knew the man and all the other Horace Easterlings who lived and died in Hortense.

Easterling had a mushroom to show him. It was a large mushroom, but not the size of one that would merit publicity. Olin was pretty sure he had seen a mushroom from New Zealand or somewhere thereabouts that was as big as an easy chair. This was about the size of his foot.

“Where’d you find this, Mr. Easterling?”

“You know you can call me Horace, Olin. I was cutting grass.”

“Riding mower?” Olin was taking notes.

“Lawn tractor, yeah.”

“And it was where?”

“It was a-settin’ in the shade next to that line of cedar trees, down at the end of the yard. I ain’t never seen another one to match it.”

And Mr. Easterling had no doubt been mowing his yard for years, no, decades.

Knowing this was bound to come across as snarky, Olin said, “And you … you’ve probably been seeking out large mushrooms, wherever they grow, for most of your life.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Well, I’ve got to get back to work, Horace, but I’m going to send this nice young woman who’s interning with us this summer, her name is Catherine, and she’s studying at the college, and she’ll snap a picture of you holding it,” Olin said.

He went back inside, summoned Catherine, and told her to use the old camera on the shelf in the break room and go out in the parking lot to take a picture of Horace Easterling and his prodigious mushroom.

“I thought you said we don’t use that camera anymore.”

“We don’t,” Olin said.

“Then why do you want me to take a picture with it. It takes film, right?”

“Yes, but we don’t have any.”

“So …”

“I don’t want you to take a picture. I want Mr. Easterling to think you took a picture. If he calls back, I’ll tell him we just didn’t have room for it.”

“Oh,” Catherine said. Olin was sure he was giving her something to tell all her friends about the hillbilly who ran the newspaper where she interned.

Everything had to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Olin dealt with Hoke Talbott one way and Horace Easterling another.

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