Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Finding Cortez

First of all, an apology from the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, where we experienced the joy of an electrical system in an 81-year old house. We experienced plenty of windstorms back in Flagstaff - sometimes with 50 mph winds. None of them ever resulted in a power outage, nor affected our computer in any way. Meanwhile, back in Wauwatosa, we had 25 mph winds the other day, which not only knocked out our phone, cable, and internet service, but also zapped our power, and fried our hard drive. Two days and plenty of IT support later, we're back.


There's an interesting magazine/website that focuses on pieces of writing on scraps of paper people have picked up off the streets. (So, in a sense, the wind is really a friend to undiscovered writers.) The concept is that there's a lot of unintentional-yet-authentic prose floating around in the ether.

I discovered that a while ago in a stint in the adminstrative assisting arts I pulled in between college and my first reporting gig. I started as a one-day temp in an obscure office at Georgetown University - until the person for whom I was filling in never bothered showing up again. That left me to comb through her computer files to finish the variety of projects she had left undone. That was when I discovered a treasure trove of heartfelt letters she had written to a relative, detailing a heartbreaking variety of medical concerns and relationship issues involving her family, all written in the style of Appalachia. It was as though I had stumbled onto the draft manuscript of an unpublished Lee Smith novel.

(Naturally, I took it upon myself to archive all of the letters, including a few unfinished works. I'd do something more with them, but tragically, I don't have access to a computer with either a 5 1/4" floppy drive, or that's still running WordStar IV.

So when the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters moved into its vintage bungalow, I had high hopes for what we might find. Immediate rewards came in the form of a box in the garage with a bunch of VHS videos from the previous homeowners' collection - though my excitment was tempered a little by the sketchy taste they displayed ("For Love or Money"? Really? Someone bought that?)

Running shorts left in the laundry chute weren't much of an addition, nor the several dozen cans of paint in the work room, even though many appear unopened. I was rummaging around, looking for hooks in the work room, when I discovered an even less-promising archive of broken pieces of window glass and mirror. It was under that collection that I discovered the one piece of leftover prose: A sheet of notebook paper, with adult handwriting. It starts with this fascinating insight:

5. Cortez Watcher of the skies
It goes on to pose an obvious follow-up:

1. A person who discovers the soldier
What's wrong/why is he there?
But from this somewhat unpromising start, it builds to a rousing conclusion, which could have been copied from the files of a former Georgetown employee:

She tempted and misled him, made him think she loved him. Then she left him in his sleep. That the lady [of] his affection has made him powerless towards her, but her merciless nature ensures that she will abandon him.
Very dark, for a piece of notebook paper found underneath shard of glass. It's enough to lead the 19 Minutes staff to wonder about the circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous owners. If nothing else, it might explain the athletic shorts left in the laundry chute.

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