‘Loof Lirpa’

The newspaper office was in its post-deadline doldrums that Tuesday afternoon.

The financial editor, trying desperately to raise the price of two drinks at the bar next door, was busy conning the church editor into buying a half interest in a waterfront lot on Line Island. The police reporter, batting a swarm of fruit flies around his head was writing a think piece on preparations for adjusting all the parking meter dials to fast time.

And the managing editor, cocking an ear to listen for the rattle of at least one typewriter in the somnolent room, was rewarded instead with an angry jangle of a telephone. He laid down a California newspaper as he reached for the instrument.

“What are you doing? Are you busy?” queried a nasal voice.

“Well, I was just looking at the Stockton Record,” the editor replied in his best busy-busy voice.

“What’s the Stockton Record?” the caller asked, suddenly interested.

“Well, I knew a man who spent a week there on business one time.” the editor replied, grinning with fiendish delight.

As he started to hang up the receiver, he heard the nasal voice again.

“I called with a complaint,” the man said with a rising inflection. “Almost every day when I pick up your newspaper, I see a headline that says: ‘Chester Bridge Termed Shaky, Unsafe’ or ‘Chester Bridge Condemned By Engineers.’ I want you to put a stop to that!”

“I can’t understand why you’re so concerned,” the editor replied. “That condition has existed for a long time. Why are you complaining?”

“Because I’m Chester H. Bridge, that’s why!” the man shouted. The conversation ended with the crash of a receiver on the other end of the line. The editor was still staring at the phone with glazed eyes when it shrilled again.

“I want to put an article in the paper about our Campfire Girls’ meeting,” he heard a little girl say in a lisping voice.

“All right, dear, we’re always glad to hear from the youngsters,” the editor said. “Tell me,” he added in a patronizing voice, “what do Campfire Girls do at their meetings?”

“We ate Brownies!” the caller shouted, suddenly abandoning the lisp. And there was a cackle of laughter before the phone went dead.

Holding his head in both hands, the editor hurried blindly toward the water cooler. Visions of mayhem danced through his head. He nearly collided with a short, stocky man clad in an overseas cap of World War II vintage, walking shorts, knee high boots and a Salvation Army blouse.

The caller thumped the end of a walking stick against the editor’s chest and asked: “Do I have the honor of addressing the editor of this newspaper?”

“Tell me who you are first,” the editor replied warily. “If you tell me your name is Chester Bridge, I’ll jump out the window!”

“What a funny name,” the caller replied. “Absolutely peculiar! No, I am Harvey Avenue, better known to my friends as just plain Harvey. I am a nephew of Elizabeth Street. Surely you know my aunt or her husband, Putnam Street?”

Grasping a desk to avert a bad fall, the editor smiled and replied: “I believe I have heard of your aunt and uncle, Harvey. Now what can I do for you?”

“I dropped in to tell you, Mr. Editor, that you’re missing some of the best local stories every day. I see these things happening right before my eyes and yet there’s never a line on them in the newspaper. Perhaps you would like to take a little trip with me while I point out some of the local happenings that have not managed to get into the paper.”

“After those last two phone calls, I’m ready for anything,” the editor replied. “Is the weather chilly enough for a strait jacket?” “Just come as you are,” Harvey replied. “My motor bike is parked outside.” He mounted the seat, waiting for the editor to climb on behind and clamp his hat over his ears, and then kicked the motor into life. With a loud roar and a flourish of gears, he headed east on E. 4th St. and then turned south on Broadway.

“I want you to see the activity at the city wharf,” he shouted over his shoulder. “I think it deserves a story in the paper.”

He halted the motorbike on the ramp leading from the River Rd. and waved his hand expansively toward the stream. The editor saw a group of young men in Junior ROTC uniform milling about in symmetrical patterns in knee-deep water while an officer shouted the cadence count.

“What’s this?” he said. “What’s so newsworthy about all this.”

“Well, I’m surprised you’re so dense,” Harvey replied. “It’s the first case of offshore drilling in the Ohio River!” Dodging a blow from the editor’s fist, he pointed upstream.

The editor saw an elderly man with a big bamboo fishing pole, standing in a clump of willows. With a mighty over-the-shoulder heave, the man made a cast into the stream. A rectangular object nearly the size of a table cloth hit the water with a mighty splash and disappeared immediately. The elderly man smiled contentedly and assumed a batter’s stance with a firm two-handed grasp on the pole.

“What was that?” the editor demanded. “If that big thing was bait, what does he expect to catch?”

“No silly,” Harvey replied. “You’re watching my second cousin, Harding Avenue, inventor and manufacturer of the world’s only underwater kite. He sets new records every day for depth and maneuvering. It’s the only kite in the universe that can be flown regardless of weather and wind conditions. It never snags on electric wires or trees. He hooked a towboat’s screw one time and the kite went all the way to Cairo. Of course, he had to float a small loan to buy all the extra kite string…”

“Enough, enough,” the editor shouted. “Get me out of here before I decide to walk to Chester without taking the bridge.”

Harvey gunned the motor of the bike and retraced his route to the business district, heading west on E. 5th St. As they passed the doors of the First National Bank a screaming man ran onto the sidewalk, tossing ledgers to the winds and then leaping under the wheels of a passing car.

“I know that fellow — Ashland Place, the bank examiner,” Harvey shouted over his shoulder. “He must have lost his federal reserve!”

The editor pulled his hat over his ears again to shut off the conversation. As Harvey wheeled his motorbike in a U-turn at 5th and Market Sts., he got a glimpse of an auto parked at the curb, canted on one airless tire. A signed propped against the wheel said: “Flat for Rent.”

Harvey wheeled the motor bike to a halt on Market St. and signaled to a man leaning against a storefront. “I want you to meet the only mound builder left in East Liverpool,” he told the editor. “And then you can tell me why he never gets any space in your newspaper.”

“Ridiculous,” the editor shouted. “You know and I know that the Mound Builder culture died out hundreds of years ago. If you don’t believe me, write the Chamber of Commerce in Moundsville.”

“All right, Mr. Wiseguy,” Harvey replied as the man with dirt-smeared fingers walked toward the motor bike. “George, tell this man what you do.”

“I’m a mound-builder,” George replied. “I’m particularly busy this year because of the changes made by the National and American Leagues.”

The editor goggled the headlines on a newspaper held by a passerby: “Amelia Earnhart Found!”

Peering over the man’s shoulder, he saw smaller type: “Famous flyer missing 32 years found circling in the holding pattern over County Airport, waiting for completion of runway.”

Harvey wheeled the motorbike away from the curb with a satisfied flourish and soon was tooling along the Pennsylvania Ave. “Hill Rd.” toward East End.

“If I ever get back to the office, I’m going straight to the composing room and pull myself together,” the editor shouted into Harvey’s ear. “While you’re about it, you better send those sloppy slacks to the pressroom,” Harvey replied.

He gestured to the graffiti painted on the cliffs high above the roadway.

“Try Eau D’Ohio River, Channel No. 5,” one read. Another said: “TST Bird, Come Home.” “Audubon Smokes Larks,” the third said.

“I’ll stop a moment and show you the potters’ bank,” Harvey volunteered. “Cut it out,” the editor replied. “Everybody knows that bank’s downtown.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t,” Harvey replied. He led the way up a steep grade to an exposed clay bank, from which protruded a rusty shovel.

“Now that’s the original potters’ bank,” he said. When Old Man Bennett needed clay for his ware, he came here with a wheelbarrow, took that shovel and dug into the potters’ bank. I thought everybody knew that.”

They mounted the motorbike again and continued toward East End. Harvey gestured toward a cocker spaniel trotting along the roadway.

“It’s a shame about him,” he confided over his shoulder. “He’s registered but they won’t let him vote…”

Dodging a blow from the editor’s fist, he pulled the motorbike to a halt to talk with the president of the NAACP branch. “I have a letter here I wish you fellows would mail when you go past the Station A Post Office,” the president said, “It’s an invitation for George Wallace.”

“An invitation for George Wallace! You must be kidding,” Harvey replied.

“No, it’s in earnest,” the president replied. “We arranged it just for him. We’re inviting him to a cave-in at that old clay mine along the Wellsville Road.”

As the motor bike sped onward toward the Post Office, Harvey and the editor saw a group of sign-bearing pickets dancing madly on the sidewalk at Pennsylvania Ave. and Boyce St. A puzzled Leo Lawrence stood in the middle of the circle, briefcase in hand, as the pickets shouted: “Equal space, equal space…”

Harvey wheeled the motor bike to the curb. The editor grasped one of the screaming demonstrators by the elbow and pulled him aside. The man laid aside a placard with the cryptic letters “DDT” and turned to answer the editor’s question.

“What’s going on here?” he asked. “Who would picket a nice guy like Leo Lawrence, rose-lover and gardener extraordinary?”

“That’s just it,” the picket replied. “We’re demanding equal space for those lovely plants like dandelion and crabgrass. We call ourselves the Downtrodden Dandelion Theorists, DDT for short. Lawrence and his cohorts are giving all their garden space to those other plants.”

“This is a thorny issue for us rose growers,” Lawrence interjected. But he was drowned out by a chorus of shouts: “Down with East Liverpool Dahlia and Floral Society.” “Think Thistles.” “Why condemn crabgrass?” “Take a skunk cabbage to lunch this week…”

The editor turned away and saw a nearby group clustered around a busy scene on the sidewalk. A young man with a yard stick was measuring the length of girls’ skirts.

We had an argument in high school the other day about the fashionable length of girls’ clothing.” he told the editor. “We decided not to skirt the issue, but go out and make our own measurements. We’ve found some that wear boots longer than their skirts. I know my job from the ground up. Some girls are hippie and some are hippy, but we don’t hem and haw, we just measure the skirts.”

“Get me out of here; take me to the martini and boomerang club,” the editor implored. “After I have my usual six martinis and toss my boomerang on Deidrick’s hill, I may be able to face my job tomorrow. How can I ever write a story about these experiences?”

“Don’t fret,” Harvey said. “See the motto on the breast of my jacket?” The editor looked and saw sheer gibberish, “Loof Lirpa.”

“Now look at it again in the bike’s rear view mirror,” Harvey said.

And looking again, with the letters reversed in the mirror, the editor reads: “April Fool.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)