An author-signed book, a Hootie and the Blowfish CD, a Baltimore Orioles batting helmet, a curled newspaper with the look and feel of parchment, a certificate of journalistic excellence, a 1989 city-issued municipal telephone directory, a press kit filled with lies, a Howard Eskin bobblehead.
That was the top layer, the crust of one of the trash bins standing like corrections officers around our newsroom, a/k/a public housing for a several generations of interracial mice. We are about a month from moving day and, for many reasons, this is not a happy shop.
Each year one in six Americans moves, usually voluntarily, but in this time of underwater homes and pop-up foreclosures, many people are forced into it.
All moves can be wrenching and emotional, but ours feels like an eviction, the result of mismanagement and the last owners group’s greedy desperation to wring some shekels out of their bad investment.
That’s why they sold the historic Inquirer building (as it was known when built in 1925). Many of us thought we’d be the ideal anchor tenant when it was redeveloped by Bart Blatstein. Think again.
The hedge fund masters instead arranged for us to move into what they swore would be spacious quarters on the third floor of a now-closed department building at 8th & Market, Strawbridge & Clothier’s, itself an iconic Philadelphia brand. We are relocating from a building that symbolizes the Golden Era of Newspapers into a building that thrived during the Golden Age of Retailing (brick and mortar division.) Strawbridge died. We are on life support.
Except for the staff, the Daily News newsroom is colorless. It’s a vanilla wafer, mostly tones of cream and buff with splatters of off-putting brownish-red that not even the women can put a name to. In recent decades, this is where Pete Dexter and Larry McMullen and Larry Fields and Chuck Stone and Charlie Petzold and Maria Gallagher and Larry Merchant enlightened, entertained and outraged readers.
Now, flotsam and jetsam overflow yawning trash bins, like the litter now washing up on our western shores, an unwanted gift from the Japanese tsunami.
When moving day comes, each of us gets to take three medium-size boxes. That’s it. An old song says you can pack up your troubles in an old kit bag — but they ain’t coming to Strawbridge, across 8th Street from Lits, its bleached bones still standing, and across Market from the site of Gimbels, now a surface parking lot.
The way America is now, we need four different kinds of trash bins: Blue ones for sensitive documents that need shredding, gray bins for trash, cardboard bins for paper items and orange, I think those are for dismembered body parts.
Philadelphia’s Jim Croce wrote and sang "Time in a bottle." Here, time is on the walls and the shelves and the desktops. We’re told to remove the fingerprints of the time we spent in this now-sad place. It goes home or into the trash.
Files? In recent years they fired all but one of the insanely knowledgeable fact hounds that inhabited our amazing library, caretakers of the memory of everything we did, and more. Brainy, inquisitive, interesting people. Who needs them when you have Google? One problem: Not everything is available online. Ah, well.
Keep you own files, we were told. Now? The new place isn’t that big after all. There’s no room for all your files. Ditch them.
Three boxes, that all.
After we lobotomize ourselves, will we be happier? Maybe. Will we be smarter? No. Will our readers be better served? I don’t think so.
It’s like your dad has died and you show up at his house to go through his belongings, trying to decide what stays and what goes Dumpster. His high school graduation picture? His Army discharge papers? An award from a community group? Each of us is our own father (or mother) going through the myriad memories. Practically none of it has monetary value. Don’t look for it on eBay.
All it has is emotional, psychological value. Look for it in the landfill.
I’m thinking some of my awards, photos, books, collectibles (like a Charles Barkley souvenir mini-sneaker from his retirement ceremony) will be of interest to my kids. Then I ask myself, who am I kidding? I will save them the angst of some day throwing my life in the trash. I will do it myself.
Even before the move was announced, because of layoffs, the newsroom looked like a cemetery, each abandoned desk a tombstone.
The tragic, gold-domed, 18-story Tower of Truth (as we sarcastically call it) is now a city of the dead, filled with ghosts.
Unlike frighteningly combustible abandoned warehouses in Kensington, the elegant building at 400 N. Broad will find new life, new purpose. So will we, but moving day is going to be really moving, emotionally .
We’re professionals. We’ll do our job, you may not notice the difference, but inside Strawbridge and inside our human core, I don’t know if we will ever really be the same.