It’s not just because one of my old drinking buddies has been photographed wearing a fake mullet, but that’s part of it. It’s sort of a document of life on the Tampa Trib features desk, and a document of what they eat. I endured five years of hell on one of the Trib’s news desks, where we soldiered along in silent fury while laughter burst from the newsroom’s far corner — the features desk. They were the only happy deskers back then, and we figured they must be insane.
Now Kim’s one of the editors over there and Curtis is the rock music critic and I’m 3,000 miles from the place, but when I see Side Salad I’m back in that newsroom again, except I’m not yelling FUCK! at 4 every afternoon.
What has happened is that I have turned into one of the people yucking it up over on the features desk. We don’t get as loud as the Biz desk, but we do get loud enough to have the reporters thinking, “my God that’s MY copy they’re laughing at.” (No, really, we don’t do that much anymore. A memo was sent out to put a stop to it long before I arrived there.)
The most remarkable feature of the Mercury News features desk is the Richard Nixon Shrine — a ceiling support beam covered with loving homages to President Nixon. Several years back, somebody brought in a large portrait of Nixon and placed it in the general environs of the Shrine. One irony-deprived desker was so disturbed by the sight that a complaint was filed with the management and the Nixon portrait was taken down.
After that, people who equated Nixon with pond scum nevertheless started taping pictures of him — and anything else named Nixon — on that pole. Was it a mean thing to do to a co-worker? Probably, but the main point has endured: On this desk, humorlessness has a price.
Today we place baked goods and vegetables on a table at the Nixon Shrine, and we gather around it and sing “Happy Birthday” as a way to add just one more regret to the pain of getting a year older.
We edit the trite ramblings of movie stars and write clever headlines about tomatoes. And we laugh at the absurdity of it.
And that, to get back to the point of this post, is what’s so fun about Side Salad.